SEATTLE, Washington — For families in Cameroon, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on nutrition. For children, the lack of trade between regions has led to increased rates of acute malnutrition, which has been made worse by the ongoing pandemic. However, numerous organizations have gone to Cameroon and other developing nations to distribute essential supplies to fight malnutrition and prevent COVID-19 transmission. To help countries end acute malnutrition and slow the spread of COVID-19 in developing countries, Helen Keller International programs are working to increase vitamin A supplement output and collaborating with other organizations.
New Programs during COVID-19
Since 1915, Helen Keller International has focused on preventing childhood malnutrition and the preventable conditions that lead to malnutrition by distributing vitamin A supplements. However, due to outbreaks of COVID-19, it has jumped into action to help nullify the effects of the pandemic through nutrition and infrastructure.
Since malnutrition increases a person’s chances of contracting any disease, the acute malnutrition found in people with vitamin deficiencies would increase the likelihood of them contracting COVID-19. While Helen Keller International already helps distribute vitamin A supplements that would help prevent the spread of the disease, they have expanded their efforts to address hunger and sanitation.
Working in over twenty-one countries, Helen Keller International has been utilizing various programs to help regions in need. The organization has also been expanding to ensure that vitamin A supplementation becomes part of routine care in the countries it has worked in.
The World Health Organization recommends that children receive vitamin A supplements every four to six months to reduce the risk of acute malnutrition and prevent immune system deficits. Following this protocol, Helen Keller International has been working with international organizations and local governments to establish plans to continue distributing vitamin A drops and other supplementation forms.
For example, with help from USAID, Helen Keller International founded Project Neema in Senegal to strengthen the country’s healthcare system. Thus, vitamin inoculations will become part of a children’s healthcare routine instead of a final effort during a pandemic. With others like Project Neema, Helen Keller International programs have helped ensure long-term effects that will last beyond the pandemic’s end.
Helen Keller International Programs for Nutritional Deficits
While Helen Keller International has focused on nutrition since its founding, the COVID-19 pandemic has led it to focus more on hunger and food security. The World Food Programme reported that the pandemic could jeopardize food resources for over 10 million children, most of whom live in developing nations. Both through an inability to work and through decreased trade, many families are unable to afford the nutritious foods necessary to lower their chances of developing a severe case of COVID-19.
To help communities become self-sufficient during the pandemic, Helen Keller International has teamed up with USAID to help communities in Bangladesh and other South Asian countries defeat food insecurity during the pandemic and beyond.
For families in Bangladesh, Helen Keller International programs such as SAPLING have helped increase food and health security in the country. SAPLING—created and funded by USAID to help encourage peace and reduce conflict between communities in Bangladesh—helps families learn how to grow food on their own land, increasing self-sufficiency and food security. The SAPLING program also helps families learn how to sell the excess food they produce, helping them make money and making sure that everyone has access to adequate nutrition.
Alongside programs to focus on healthcare and food security, new Helen Keller International programs have also helped distribute sanitary products such as handwashing stations and hand sanitizer to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus. With the help of Irish Aid, which has been aiding foreign countries for decades, Helen Keller International has established new programs to increase sanitation in countries impacted by COVID-19.
One of their largest programs in Vietnam has the organizations send thousands of bars of soap, bottles of hand sanitizer and masks to three Centers for Disease Control in the country. From there, the CDCs distribute the supplies to those in need. As a result, they ensure that families in Vietnam’s three largest provinces have the resources to prevent COVID-19 transmission. Alongside the direct distribution of the supplies, Helen Keller International is also giving out information on how to properly wash hands and use personal protective devices such as masks. This information ensures that once a person receives their soap and masks, they know how to use them correctly.
Through their numerous new programs, Helen Keller Internal hopes to continue supporting developing countries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Subsequently, by helping with the countries’ infrastructure through their health care and food security plans, the organization can help create long-term change that will persist after the pandemic ends.