I am always happy when World Breastfeeding Week rolls around each year. It gives me a chance to hear about the latest programs that are working around the world to increase breastfeeding rates. This year I learned about how World Vision is promoting breastfeeding in the Philippines through its 7-11 Core Intervention Framework which includes 7 interventions for women and 11 for children 0 – 24 months of age.
The way in which we discuss breastfeeding is different depending on the country and the context. While in the United States we talk a lot about infant feeding choices, in other countries, especially those that have thousands upon thousands of yearly infant deaths caused by diarrheal diseases, infections, and sub-optimal feeding, the context changes. In these cases, it is nearly always critical that mothers breastfeed their children up to two years of age.
In the Philippines, parents spend $240 million on breast milk substitutes and multinational formula feeding companies spend $100 million on marketing in the Philippines alone. Those numbers account for the fact that only 34% of infants under the age of six months are exclusively breastfed. While providing the best start in life for infants, many mothers are convinced that formula is better and easier for their lifestyles. But, often times women in low-and-middle-income countries like the Philippines do not always have access to clean water for formula. Dirty water can cause deadly diarrheal diseases that kill infants.
PET bottles, one of the most widely used materials in the world, are used to package foods and drinks from soda and juices to salad dressings and cooking oils. It is also completely recyclable. In the United States alone, 1.5 billion pounds of PET bottles are recycled annually.
Throughout my travels to low and middle-income countries I see PET bottles thrown haphazardly in fields and streams clogging waterways and dirtying sidewalks and walking paths. In countries such as Nepal (where I visited last year with Coca-Cola), there are concerted educational efforts by environmentally focused NGOs to change behaviors around discarding PET bottles. There are recycling centers in Nepal, but not enough to completely clean its streets and countryside. It seems to be a sisyphean battle to combat PET bottle waste, but there are some who are using the bottles in innovative ways.
When I visit low- and middle-income countries like Ethiopia, Zambia, the Philippines, and Tanzania, I am always heartened by the number of mothers I see breastfeeding their babies. Breastfeeding for so many of these mothers is the best and most affordable way for them to nourish their babies. While every mother does not breastfeed to be sure, the sheer number of mothers I see breastfeeding at local clinics, while walking with their baby strapped to them or taking a break on a city bench, gives me hope.
Across the globe 748 million people still lack access to clean drinking water every day. Dirty water leads to a whole host of waterborne diseases including diarrhea, one of the top three killers of children under the age of five. One of the main challenges that NGOs face when providing clean water to people is that there is rarely a guarantee that when clean water is provided to a village or community it will continue to flow.
World Vision is the largest NGO provider of clean water in low- and middle-income countries. In fact, in 2014, World Vision provided clean drinking water to people in 2,416 villages in Africa. And, because of their work, one person gets access to clean water every 30 seconds.
On a recent trip to the Philippines with World Vision USA I saw some of their water projects in small, rural villages. AfterTyphoon Haiyan World Vision worked to get clean water flowing via gravity from springs to villages at the base of mountains. In addition to providing water to the villages, World Vision also provides community awareness programs to also teach the community members about sanitation.
The first time I saw open defecation was in a slum in Delhi. I was taken aback. I had always heard about open defecation, but until that point I had never seen it and couldn’t imagine it happening in an overly crowded urban area. It was also at that moment that I knew I had to learn as much as possible about the ways in which people use the bathroom, if they have one at all.
2.5 billion people lack improved sanitation and 1 billion people do not have access to a bathroom and must resort to the undignified practice of open defecation. There are 7 billion people on the planet.
Women who must defecate in the open and who also have to use the community toilets are at increased risk of violence and rape.
When I visit communities and families in low-income countries I always look for toilets and latrines to see the conditions in which people relieve themselves. Below are some photos of toilets I took in India, Ethiopia, Philippines, and South Africa.