AUSTIN, Texas — Oftentimes people believe that solving poverty requires the delivery of food and cash to vulnerable groups in developing or war-torn countries. Although these solutions are necessary, they are not the only solutions out there for reducing poverty globally. The declining quality of health care services is also a reason why poverty rates increase around the world. Therefore, people should also view health as a key pathway out of poverty. The success of HealthRight International, a global health organization, serves as an example of why health care is just as important as food and cash delivery in tackling poverty.
The Borgen Project spoke with Peter Navario, Executive Director of HealthRight International. According to Mr. Navario, in 1990, Dr. Jonathan Mann founded HealthRight International “to improve the health and wellbeing of marginalized communities around the world.” HealthRight International does that by establishing health system strengthening projects in countries such as Kenya and Ukraine. These projects “systematically engage and connect the public health system” by conducting “intervention design, implementation and evaluation.”
The health system strengthening projects focus on helping patients with HIV, mental health disorders, violence and maternal health. The main goal of these projects is to reduce poverty in countries where health is one of the contributors to poverty.
The health system strengthening system projects established by HealthRight International have been successful so far. In fact, HealthRight International has served 3,633 mental health patients, 13,293 at-risk adolescents, 559 migrants, 197,034 women and children and 363 sexual and gender minorities.
HealthRight International helps these patients by working with community health workers and community-based organizations as well as other local entities.
Dr. Zick and Eleanor: Child Psychology as a Pathway to a Better Life
Eleanor is a 4-year-old daughter of a mother who suffered abuse from her husband inside their home in rural Guatemala. As a result of the constant domestic abuse, Eleanor’s mother took her and her sister and fled to the United States to seek asylum, Mr. Navario explained. However, the immigration court in the United States required proof that Eleanor and her family are in real danger so they can be eligible for asylum.
HealthRight International intervened at the request of their attorney and sent Dr. Elizabeth Zick, a child psychologist, to speak with Eleanor who can provide strong evidence of the abuse inflicted upon her mother.
Dr. Zick met with Eleanor to “assess the status of her mental health,” to see if she is experiencing any trauma. The assessment allowed the doctor to give the immigration judge an evaluation that highlights “the trauma Eleanor suffered from witnessing the ongoing domestic violence,” that her father committed.
Eleanor and her family received asylum in the United States in 2021, four years after they arrived, because Dr. Zick’s evaluation was “critical to the judge’s decision to grant asylum,” according to Mr. Navario. Eleanor’s story shows that, for asylum seekers, health is a key pathway out of poverty and into a safer life.
Susan: Obstacles to Overcome
Susan is a 28-year-old Kenyan woman living in West Pokot County (WPC) which is “one of the most marginalized counties in Kenya,” according to Mr. Navario. She has a disability that does not allow her to walk and has experienced “the horrors of sexual and gender-based violence, including sexual assaults.”
She is also “greatly disadvantaged in seeking health services,” in her county and has no access to a wheelchair since she and her family cannot afford one. As a result, she can only move with the help of a family member by “being carried or dragged outside.” Susan also has five children that she has to take care of and does not know the identity of their father since multiple men assaulted her at night.
HealthRight International assisted Susan through their Delivering Equitable sustainable increase in Family Planning (DESIP) program. This program aims to help individuals with disabilities have “increasing access” to family planning. Susan “received the FP” which “guaranteed her three years protection,” and received nutritional support from the health facility.
Additionally, Susan finally got a wheelchair from “the National Council for persons with disability.” The story of Susan’s successful treatment with HealthRight International shows that health is a key pathway out of poverty, especially for women who also struggle with disability. Although Susan could have benefited from the traditional food and cash aid, health-based aid helped her more than any other approach could.
Mr. D: A Life of Pain Transformed into a Better Future
Mr. D is a 41-year-old Ugandan who rebels kidnapped and tortured in Uganda in 2003. The rebels cut his body with machetes and then left him to suffer from keloids on “his neck, ear, chest and back.” Mr. D also had trouble turning his neck and “smelly fluids came out of the keloids,” which alienated him from his people. As a result of the isolation he was experiencing, Mr. D “worried about his future” and also contemplated suicide because of his medical condition, Mr. Navario explained.
In April 2021, The Village Health Team (VHT) in Uganda helped Mr. D receive health care services from a HealthRight International counselor and eventually go into surgery. Additionally, Mr. D received psychosocial support before and after his surgery, including “stress management, coping with adversities and dealing with social networks,” according to Mr. Navario.
After the surgery, Mr. D’s physical condition improved which meant that he can turn his neck and the keloids are no longer smelly and itchy. This meant that Mr. D was no longer suicidal and can socialize with people again without experiencing stigma.
Mr. D’s story illustrates how good mental and physical health could be the best solution to helping vulnerable communities struggling with poverty. This shows that good mental and physical health is a key pathway out of poverty.
Looking Ahead for HealthRight International
The stories of Eleanor, Susan and Mr. D are just a few examples of what HealthRight International is doing. Currently, HealthRight International is working with a donor to fund “an integrated mental health solution alongside HIV prevention care,” because better mental health leads to better “HIV treatment adherence,” said Mr. Navario.
Furthermore, HealthRight International is working on expanding its mental health care services because of the “unmet need that existed pre-COVID-19,” which has increased rapidly since the pandemic began.
Looking Ahead for the International Community
HealthRight International is not the only entity working on providing health services to developing countries to reduce poverty. On July 14, 2022, The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and The World Food Programme (WFP) teamed up to launch The Resilience and Social Cohesion project. This project provides “health, nutrition, child protection” to the “vulnerable populations in Borno and Yobe states” in Nigeria. This highlights the international community’s commitment to making health care a strategy to reduce poverty.
– Abdullah Dowaihy