HEAR Project Takes Crucial Steps to Long-term Development of Children
July 15, 2008
The HEAR Sudan project has embarked on a health program which provides vitamin A supplements and de-worming tablets to more than 10,000 children. This simple but crucial measure seeks to reduce the high rates of student absenteeism and lethargy in the classroom.
The Health, Education and Reconciliation project, known as HEAR Sudan, is supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Creative Associates International and its partners, the Education Development Center (EDC) and John Snow, Inc. (JSI). It operates in the Three Areas of Sudan – Abyei, Southern Kordofan (Kauda) and Blue Nile (Kurmuk).
Adopting a holistic approach, HEAR Sudan recognizes that many children suffer debilitating illnesses caused by drinking contaminated water, a problem exacerbated by a lack of knowledge of basic hygiene and insufficient access to vitamin A.
To improve student health and school performance, HEAR Sudan distributed vitamin A and de-worming supplements to children last fall and again in February and March 2008, in Abyei and Kauda. The supplements, supplied by the World Health Organization (WHO), are one of the simplest and most cost-effective interventions for improving a child’s health and, as a corollary, academic performance.
According to the WHO, vitamin A deficiency does its worst damage during childhood and is a major contributor to childhood mortality and illness. In its early stages, vitamin A deficiency causes blindness. In addition, the WHO maintains that vitamin A is also essential for the functioning of the immune system, a fact less well known. Even before blindness occurs, vitamin A deficient children are at increased risk of dying from infectious diseases such as measles, diarrhea and malaria. By taking vitamin A supplements, child mortality can be reduced in at-risk populations by as much as 23 to 34 percent.
Vitamin A deficiency usually coincides with worm infection, which is why HEAR Sudan emphasizes de-worming to help reduce such incidences. Through JSI’s efforts, HEAR Sudan has also distributed de-worming medicines along with the vitamin supplements. Worm infections are associated with a significant loss of micronutrients and can impede the absorption of vitamin A, contributing to retarded growth, anemia and low cognitive performance in school.
“As a result of treating school-age children, we can reduce the burden of disease due to intestinal worm infection by so much as 70 percent in the community as a whole,” said John Boveington, HEAR Sudan’s Chief of Party.
HEAR Sudan’s other components involve providing students with well-skilled teachers and supportive PTAs to ensure they have a safe learning environment. By its scheduled completion in September 2009, HEAR Sudan will have increased the number of school-aged students enrolled and retained in primary school in the Three Areas by 9,000. Expected outcomes include improving the quality of teaching by training 380 teachers; strengthening 180 PTAs and completing 90 community-development projects. Nearly 200 communities and 380 health workers will be involved in strengthening school and health services. HEAR is a project being implemented under the USAID Assistance to Basic Education/Linkages in Education and Health (ABE-LINK) Indefinite Quantity Contract.
— Alexandra Pratt