Telecommunications provides long-distance healthcare in Thiès, Senegal

Josephine Trenchard, Counterpart Country Director, and Lewis Lukens, U.S. Ambassador to Senegal.

by Jennifer O'Riordan

Patients in Thiès’ rural areas now have access to a new method of medical treatment. In 2010, the regional hospital in Thiès, which is 60 kilometers east of the capital Dakar, purchased “telemedicine” equipment, medical technology used to provide healthcare from a distance.

The technology allows the hospital to reach out to patients via live video streaming, increasing the amount of consultations it provides to rural patients. With video link capabilities, doctors at the hospital can now discuss symptoms and treatment with patients, saving hundreds of people the burden and cost of a long trip to Thiès’ regional hospital. 

With funding from USAID’s Food for Peace (FFP) program, Counterpart constructed a new facility that not only houses the telemedicine center, but also accommodates conferences and internal meetings that previously had to take place outside the close-quartered compound – all at an extra fee that added financial pressure to the hospital’s budget.

At an October 17 dedication ceremony at the Thiès Regional Hospital, Counterpart, USAID and the Government of Senegal officially opened the telemedicine center for Thiès residents, particularly those living with HIV/AIDS.

Already, the University in Thiès has signed an agreement to regularly rent out the center for meetings and classes, and discussions with similar groups are taking place. The hospital intends to share this income with local groups who support those living with HIV and AIDS.

“What we really appreciate about this project is the possibility to continue care and support activities for people living with HIV/AIDS in the long term due to funds generated from the telemedicine and conference center rental,” says Medoune Diop, Counterpart’s Deputy Country Director in Senegal.

The local Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) was having trouble finding places to hold group discussions and training activities due to a lack of privacy at most out-door meeting places. At the new conference center, PLWHAs can hold their meetings regularly without fear of stigmatization. 

Once regular rentals begin, catering for this facility will be managed by an Economic Interest Group made up of PLWHAs that Counterpart trained in cooking techniques.  Several PLWHA group members will also be hired as full time cleaning staff for the facility.

“The donation of this facility by the United States will be hugely beneficial to the people of Thiès,” said U.S. Ambassador Lewis Lukens, who attended the dedication ceremony. “It will help bring care to hundreds of people who otherwise could not access it, while helping to meet the financial needs of the hospital.”

Zema Semunegus, USAID/Food For Peace team Leader, the President of Thiès Regional Council, Mr. Idrissa Camara, and Mr. Mamadou Sow, National Director of Health Structures joined other government representatives at the October 17 event.

Counterpart has a history in the Thiès region. Since 2005, through the Food For Peace, program, Counterpart has distributed more than 384 metric tons of food to the region’s nine health districts. In addition to food commodities, the organization has also provided nutritional counseling for residents of the nine districts, specifically for people living with HIV and AIDS.

Augmented by home and intra-hospital visits and group discussions, these sessions have helped reduce malnutrition rates among people living with HIV and AIDS from 59.60 percent in 2003 to just 7.4 percent in 2011. The region’s HIV rate of 0.4 percent is even lower than the national average of 0.7. However, in some districts, such as Mbour, the HIV rate can be as high as 2 percent.

November 14th, 2011 | Tags: Government of Senegal, HIVAIDS, Senegal, telemedicine, USAID | Category: | Leave a comment

Yemen campaign encourages students to go back to school

By Michael J. Zamba

Yemen’s education officials faced a two-pronged crisis. Political instability and street protests caused parents to doubt that schools would open in September, compounding an existing problem of low levels of enrollment, particularly among girls.

As the new school year approached, the Education Ministry asked Counterpart and other non-governmental organizations to help with a back-to-school campaign informing parents that the academic year would start on schedule.

“We’re on the side of children and ensuring that they continue their studies, despite the country’s political crisis,” says Abdul Karim Alaug, Counterpart’s Deputy Country Director.

The nonprofit is implementing a three-year, U.S. Agency for International Development-funded Responsive Governance Project (RGP) in Yemen. USAID agreed to dedicate a portion of Counterpart’s grant to supporting this direct-response initiative.

With only four weeks before the first day of school, Counterpart and other groups rushed into action. Joining in the effort was one of Counterpart’s Yemen-based civil society partners, the All Girls Association, as well as UNICEF, CHF International and two local media companies.

Together, they produced a series of three television commercials, including one that features famous Yemenis, religious leaders and political figures who encouraged children to go back to school on Sept. 17. The campaign launched on Sept. 7, with the television spots airing four times a day.

The television public service announcement features a variety of voices that promote the value of education, with one person saying: “Everyone has the right to learn,” followed by children saying “It is my right to learn.”

After a few days into the new school year, education officials were relieved that children were going back to their classrooms – despite the ongoing political struggles. In a few cases, attendance was up. Even with the early success of the initiative, the campaign will continue through Oct. 17.


Education for girls

The back-to-school initiative also gave the nonprofit groups and ministry officials an opportunity to drive home two additional messages to parents – children are better off in school than working and that girls should be educated.

“It is an unfortunate fact that many parents either do not send their daughters to school or remove them from classrooms after only a few years of formal education,” says Mehboob Karim, Counterpart’s acting Country Director in Yemen. “The campaign seeks to break the cycle of illiteracy and poverty. Educating girls is good for their families, their communities and their country.”

More than 82 percent of boys were enrolled in elementary school, compared to only 67.9 percent of girls, according to UN figures for 2008.

Because of low attendance levels, it is estimated that more than 60 percent of adult females in Yemen are illiterate, compared to 29.6 percent of adult men, according to the UN.

The ideas of educating young girls and sending children to school instead of making them work were each addressed in separate public service announcements on television.

In one TV spot, a husband and wife watch as two neighborhood girls enthusiastically walk to school. Seeing that their neighbors are educating their daughters, the couple is convinced that they should send theirs as well. They happily place school supplies into a backpack, pull the girl out of the field and the father proudly hugs her before she leaves. Once inside the classroom, their daughter is fully engaged in the instruction and shows her eagerness to learn.

The other message – promoting early education instead of putting children into the workforce – was well produced and powerful.

The television public service announcement shows an older man watching children enter school. He thinks back to his childhood that was cut short because he was sent to work. He returns to his workshop where a boy is laboring with adult-sized tools. The man gives the child a backpack and sends him to school.

The television spot ends with a voice over that says: “It is my right as a child to learn, not to work.” At the end, the text reads: “Back-to-school campaign. Let’s enroll our children in school.”

The back-to-school campaign, including education for girls, is an addition to the USAID-funded RGP initiative, which started in 2010. The RGP works to strengthen government institutions and improve the delivery of public services, which continues to be the primary focus of the group’s work in Yemen.

It also seeks to enhance its policy formulation, analysis and implementation capacities, as well as working with key agencies to promote accountability and strengthen government financial management and accountability. The initiative also helps civil society organizations and citizens to play a role in public policy development and monitoring.

Counterpart implements RGP together with the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). The Yemeni government is a partner.


Student turnout for exams

Counterpart was invited to work on the back-to-school campaign after its success with a national initiative to convince students to take their standardized tests. Given once a year, these exams determine whether a student will advance to the next grade.

“These exams are vital to a student’s academic progress and educators were afraid that the political crisis would overshadow this critical moment,” says Karim.

Set for June – at one of the peak moments of the political turmoil – the Education Ministry estimated that fewer than 50 percent of students would show up to take the standardized exams. Approximately 560,000 students were eligible for this year’s exams.

Officials reached out to USAID and the Counterpart-run RGP team in the capital of Sana’a to help with an awareness initiative.

Counterpart and other partners collaborated in a seven-day campaign with the message “Let’s work together for the successful completion of national exams.” That message reached more than 8 million people via mobile phone messages, display ads in newspapers, two national television stations and radio stations.

It worked: 85 percent of students sat for their standardized exams.

“Through these education-focused campaigns, we were able to unite people to support activities that directly affect their children’s future,” Karim says. “At the same time, we were able to give our civil society partners an opportunity to develop and carry out sophisticated campaigns.”

October 4th, 2011 | Tags: | Category: | Leave a comment

Yemen program shows flexibility during volatile times


By Joan Parker, President and CEO

One of the pillars of locally-owned development is that the priorities of national and local stakeholders – government, civil society, businesses and individuals – are at the core of any effort. But what happens to an international development program when its national and local stakeholders need to make adjustments – such as expanding into new areas of work – because of changing conditions on the ground?

Let me highlight how Counterpart and its donor used an existing initiative and modified a portion of it to respond to a truly locally-driven initiative.

The USAID-funded Responsive Governance Project (RGP) in Yemen – which is implemented by Counterpart, along with Research Triangle Institute and the National Democratic Institute – was first conceived a year ago to improve the capacity of the government to serve its citizens.

In a short amount of time, the RGP team made progress in the program’s core work of holding the government accountable to its citizens and addressing issues related to health, education, economic growth, agriculture and water.

As Yemen’s political environment became increasingly volatile, officials in key government ministries asked if the project could expand its focus to accommodate a new activity: A partnership to achieve priorities designed to improve the welfare of their citizens despite disruptions.

Counterpart and its donor said yes. While a majority of RGP’s focus continues as previously planned, a portion of the initial RGP funds was re-directed to support selected “rapid-response initiatives,” which are activities in support of service delivery across multiple sectors. Counterpart is now working as a partner with the ministries to accomplish their goals. The result is development dollars programmed jointly by USAID and national entities that produce immediate and measurable results for distressed populations.

For example, the Education Ministry asked Counterpart to help launch a back-to-school campaign telling parents that the academic year would start on time. Parents were concerned that the street protests would force all the schools to close, postponing their children’s education.

With only four weeks to launch the campaign before the first day of school on September 17, Counterpart worked with a Yemen-based civil society organization named the All Girls Association, USAID and two local media companies to produce a series of television spots, newspaper advertisements, street banners and mobile phone messages. UNICEF and CHF International also participated in the nationwide campaign.

Just a few days into the school year, officials said students were heading back to their classrooms. Even with the early success of the initiative, the campaign will continue through October 17.

The campaign gave education officials a chance to drive home two additional messages to parents – children are better off in school than working, and girls should be educated.

This “just-in-time” support is needed by local leaders, not only to build their capacity over months or years, but to help them be successful, responsive leaders on a day in, day out basis.

Counterpart’s RGP continues to work on long-term government capacity development goals with the majority of the project funds, including constitutional reform and elections. Although these efforts have been slowed by the political turmoil, when the opportunity arises to re-engage government on these challenging issues there will be a foundation of partnership to build upon.

I leave you with a question: Could each traditional development project include a window for locally-led development? What would be the harm? Just imagine the potential.

October 4th, 2011 | Tags: attendance, children, Joan Parker, President's column, RGP, school, Yemen | Category: | Leave a comment

Both potato-soy mix, corn-soy blend can meet food aid needs, study says

© Chandra Almony/University of Arizona

By Jennifer O’Riordan

Providing malnourished children with a potato-soy mix ration rather than the traditional corn-soy blend achieved similar health results, according to a study published in the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development.

While the potato mix as a ration had the same impact on growth as the standard corn mix, it required less fuel to prepare and takes less time to cook. The potato-based blend was also found to be more easily digested since it has less fiber than corn, thus leading to less discomfort for the children.

“Multiple food rations are available yet few studies have compared their differential effect on the growth of children,” wrote Mel and Enid Zuckerman of the College of Public Health at the University of Arizona in the Journal. It was funded by the U.S. Potato Board.

Undernutrition plays a huge part in the death of many young Senegalese children – contributing to 31 percent of deaths in those aged five and younger.

A total of 345 children from Counterpart’s Maternal and Child Health Nutrition (MCHN) component under the Development Assistance Program (DAP), supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Food for Peace program, were recruited for the study in Senegal’s Podor Department.

One hundred and seventy eight children were assigned to the corn-soy blend group and 167 to the potato-soy protein concentrate blend group. During a four-month period, differences in their weight, height and mid-upper arm circumference were measured for progress and against what their average weight and height should be for their age. 

The results of the study showed that targeted food supplement programs are an important component in improving the nutritional status of a region, especially when combined with better primary care, sanitation, a better water supply and economic reforms that focus on poverty reduction.

In order to be eligible for the trial, villages had to be a DAP program site and not more than 12 miles from Counterpart’s field office in Ndioum. Seven villages were randomly chosen from the 13 meeting the eligibility criteria: Bode, Diomandou, Toulde Galle, Sinthiou Penaka, Doumga Lao, Gawdi Gotti and Olol Diaobe.

To take a closer look at the study, follow this link:

September 21st, 2011 | Tags: children, corn-soy blend, malnutrition, Podor, potatoes, Senegal | Category: | Leave a comment

This Week in Guatemala: New World Crafts Trade Fair

An eclectic mix of textures, materials and surfaces will be on display this week at the 4th Annual New World Crafts Trade Fair! The Trade Fair be held at Casa Santo Domingo in Antigua Guatemala on September 21st and 22nd, 2011.

Counterpart has been working in Guatemala since 2003, teaming with local communities to create economic opportunities around tourism – one of the country’s key drivers. We work closely with AGEXPORT, international design firms, local universities and handicraft designers and exporters to produce and sell new products in international markets. Counterpart’s programs have helped create more than 2,100 jobs, train nearly 5,000 people and strengthen 800 tourism businesses and organizations.

For additional information, you may visit, or read about Counterpart’s Community Tourism Alliance in Guatemala on our Web site.

September 19th, 2011 | Tags: Antigua, economic development, Guatemala, handicrafts, livelihood, tourism, trade fair | Category: | Leave a comment

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