Champions of Health is a program launched as part of the Rufiji River Project by the African Community Advancement Initiative. The Champions of Health program is a combination of improved access to healthcare, research and nutrition training to promote healthy diet and eating habits. This facet of the project also introduces orange-fleshed sweet potatoes to farmers in the area to ensure that this nutritious food becomes a staple of a healthy diet for the community and the region. Champions of Health has three phases simultaneously enacted by experts to create a healthier community in Chumbi and the Rufiji River region.
Phase I: Access to Healthcare
The ACA Initiative Training and Research Center in Rufiji hosts a free health clinic, open to all residents in the area. This clinic is
outfitted with improved medical supplies and run by an on staff medical doctor. In addition, due to the inability of many remote farming families in the area to reach the clinic, the staff has vehicles to reach remote children to provide examinations and administer vaccinations off premises. The current clinic lacks simple medical supplies such as gauze and gloves to ensure sterility. Champions of Health will provide better equipment to promote improved treatment for patients.
Phase II: Education and Nutrition
The second phase of the Champions of Health program improves general nutrition in the area. First, education is provided on proper diet, nutrition and hygiene to make inhabitants more health conscious. Also, by introducing orange-fleshed sweet potato seed to farmers and educating them on the benefits of the food, ACA Initiative will help diversify eating habits and ensure necessary vitamins are part of the community’s diet. These potatoes have proven resilient in Sub-Saharan Africa as they produce larger outputs, with less labor and continue to thrive even under dryer conditions or poor soil health. These sweet potatoes are high in beta-carotene, which helps combat vitamin A deficiencies among rural communities. An estimated 43 million children under the age of five suffer from vitamin A deficiency which leads to blindness, disease and even death. Vitamin A is also crucial to nursing mother’s diets as these same nutrients can be passed on through breast milk. Through the combination of nutrition and agricultural training, as well as making sweet potato seed available in the Rufiji region for the first time, Champions of Health is combatting Vitamin A
deficiency through a long-term, sustainable solution.
Phase III: Research
Despite being an area that provides ideal conditions for schistosomiasis, little research on this communicable disease has been done in the Rufiji River area. This disease, derived from parasitic worms that live in fresh water snails, is considered one of the Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) as over 200 million people are infected worldwide. It is second only to malaria as the most devastating parasitic disease. Children infected with the disease can develop anemia, malnutrition and learning disabilities. After years of infection the parasite can damage the liver, intestine, spleen, lungs, and cause bladder cancer.
In order to combat this disease, a systematic research program, based out of the ACA Initiative Training and Research Center, will commence to study the disease and its prevalence in the area. This will enable researchers to develop and implement viable and effective strategies to combat this disease and promote a healthier community. Simple solutions such as educating people on how best to avoid these parasitic worms can be monumental and halting the spread of disease.
Hook worms are also a common problem in Rufiji, as shoes are a luxury many people do not have. These parasitic worms can penetrate the skin through the feet and live in the small intestine causing gastrointestinal disorders, protein loss and blood loss, leading to anemia. Simple methods such as shoe distribution can prevent these infections in the community.
Only by conducting thorough research can ACAI and its partners identify NTDs and provide simple but impactful solutions to stop the spread of communicable diseases.