Eight months pregnant and traveling alone, Muna boarded a small boat in Turkey that was to take her to an island in Greece she had never heard of before. The trip would be dangerous, she knew, but it would bring her one step closer to her husband, who was already in Germany. “She told me she was terrified when she saw that the boat was being driven by a 14-year-old boy who had no experience and was under threat from the owner,” says Lenio Capsaskis, a member of the medical team provided by International Medical Corps’ local partner, Programs of Development, Social Support, and Medical Cooperation (PRAKSIS). “She said the boat nearly capsized four times before it ended up on a military island called Farmakonisi, and that she was stranded there for three days without food, water or shelter with hundreds of other refugees. Eventually the group was taken here, to Leros, and that’s where we met her.” Muna told the International Medical Corps and PRAKSIS team that she had stopped feeling her baby move a few days earlier and was afraid she might have lost it. After we referred Muna to the proper obstetric care, she was tearful when she learned that both she and her baby were healthy.
Muna’s story illustrates the dangerous journey so many refugee women face. By the end of 2015, more than 1 million refugees and migrants had crossed the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe and more than 3,700 people lost their lives or went missing during the journey. With the generous support of GlobalGiving and other donors, International Medical Corps remains on the frontlines of this crisis, prioritizing lifesaving care as the refugee and migrant flow continues in 2016.
In Greece, International Medical Corps and PRAKSIS are providing medical, psychosocial, and hygiene and sanitation assistance to newly arriving refugees and migrants on the Greek islands of Leros, Kos and Samos. Two mobile teams have conducted medical consultations on these islands for 2,227 patients, who also meet with a social worker for psychosocial support and receive referrals for additional assistance. To thwart the spread of disease, International Medical Corps and PRAKSIS have distributed 454 personal hygiene kits, which include towels, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap and bandages for treatment of wounds and injuries.
As refugees transit through Serbia by train headed for countries further north, International Medical Corps and local partner International Aid Network (IAN) are providing services seven days a week to those in need at the railway station in Sid, near Serbia’s border with Croatia. As of January 10, International Medical Corps and IAN had provided medical care for 4,683 patients, noting that acute respiratory infections were the most common illness. International Medical Corps and IAN have also provided 2,224 psychosocial support consultations, to impart positive coping strategies and provide information about stress reactions. Teams are continuously linking refugees to other available assistance, for example, with Serbian asylum procedures, and food and relief supplies as they continue their journey.
When reflecting on the crisis, Sanja, a member of International Medical Corps’ emergency team in Serbia recalls, “What you learn is that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, all displaced people suffer the pain of leaving what they love behind and even use the same phrases to describe what they’ve lost, what they need, what they hope for,” she says. “Whether you’re a Sudanese refugee fleeing to Uganda or a Syrian refugee fleeing through Serbia, you end up with a small bag in your hand and all you have from home is your memories.”
International Medical Corps thanks GlobalGiving and other donors for their critical support as we continue to respond to this refugee crisis.
The 2015-2016 El Niño phenomenon is one of the three strongest since 1950, and has the potential to surpass the strongest on record. El Niño is affecting different parts of the world with above- and below-average rainfall. Across Eastern Africa, the lack of rainfall has resulted in drought-like conditions, with 22 million people expected to be food-insecure in Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti and South Sudan. The effects of El Niño could last as long as two years.
Ethiopia is, in fact, experiencing its worst drought in over 50 years and the number of food-insecure people has grown from 2 million at the start of 2015, to 8.2 million in October and 10.2 million in December 2015, with the potential to increase further in 2016. Today, more than 430,000 children are severely malnourished, with the potential to rise to 500,000, while 1.7 million children and pregnant and lactating women require specialized nutritional support. From September through November, El Niño’s impact led to the displacement of 180,000 people within the country.
In response to the rising levels of food insecurity and resulting malnutrition, International Medical Corps is providing lifesaving relief to those in need in some of the most drought-affected areas of Ethiopia. We are seeking to scale our response efforts from our current 18 woredas or villages to 40. Our strategy emphasizes supporting acute malnutrition programs and preventive efforts, including infant and young child feeding programs; improving food security and livelihoods; increasing access to clean water and promoting proper hygiene practices; and providing comprehensive health care including primary, and sexual and reproductive health care, as well as psychosocial support for those in need.
Because of the critical need to help build local capacity for future resiliency, International Medical Corps trains community volunteers to screen, treat and follow up on undernourished and malnourished children, and hires local mothers to teach their communities about healthy nutrition. Since 2009, we have successfully treated more than 51,600 severely malnourished and more than 40,500 moderately malnourished children and pregnant and lactating women in Ethiopia. We have also provided vegetable seeds, tools and training to more than 5,000 female-headed households in food-insecure woredas in Ethiopia’s Oromia region. Finally, International Medical Corps works with communities to construct latrines and rainwater-harvesting systems and rehabilitate water supply systems as needed. Trained volunteer hygiene and sanitation promotors have reached nearly 187,000 community members with proper handwashing and related practices that help prevent the spread of diarrhea and communicable diseases. The aim is to reduce the impact of malnutrition and unsafe water supplies resulting from the drought.
As the El Niño conditions continue into 2016, the timely and generous support of GlobalGiving and other donors is critical to International Medical Corp’s ability to provide lifesaving services for those who are most vulnerable and affected most deeply.
When Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Philippines, it caused widespread and severe water and sanitation infrastructure damage. Such destruction threatened the health of affected communities and put children, in particular, at risk for contracting communicable diseases. As a result, International Medical Corps has prioritized water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) interventions since the typhoon hit in 2013. Teams ensured increased access to clean water and improved sanitation facilities, while building awareness about practices for safe hygiene.
International Medical Corps has provided WASH services throughout the typhoon-affected areas of Leyte province. To date, teams have built latrines to support 12,071 households, rehabilitated handwashing stations in 57 schools, and provided urgently needed hygiene kits, including soap, toothbrushes, and toothpaste in 18 daycare centers. As many poor hygiene practices were in place before the typhoon, International Medical Corps prioritized behavior change to instill sustainable healthy WASH habits in both the local communities and their schools, while promoting positive celebrations like Global Handwashing Day to motivate and mobilize individuals to improve their handwashing habits.
Throughout its response, International Medical Corps trained more than 440 teachers and students to be hygiene champions who continue teaching topics like safe food preparation, recycling and garbage disposal, proper tooth-brushing and handwashing practices, and hygiene while using latrines. The students received soap, toothbrushes, and toothpaste and participate in special clubs focusing on continuing proper WASH practices organized in their schools.
Kate is a Hygiene Champion at MacArthur National High School. Before the high school received its new handwashing station, complete with a dozen faucets and new tiles, many students frequently fell ill from the poor hygiene practices and had low school attendance as a result. Now, student absences due to illness have dropped thanks to the new handwashing station and hygiene promotion activities, which have helped prevent the spread of infectious diseases among students. “Before, we had no handwashing station and we could not ensure sanitation for ourselves,” Kate recalls.
Due to the generous support from GlobalGiving and other donors enabling International Medical Corps’ response, to date, 75 barangays, or villages, in the Philippines have achieved zero open defecation. This designation means that individuals in these areas no longer defecate outside a toilet or latrine—critically helping reduce the prevalence of water-borne diseases and improving the overall health of men, women and children for the long-term.