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Americares President and CEO Michael J. Nyenhuis leads a health-focused relief and development organization that saves lives and improves health for people affected by poverty or disaster.
Hearts are everywhere in February. Not only is Valentine’s Day front and center, but February is American Heart Month and promotions abound. Go Red for Women focuses on women’s heart health, you can join a community walk to raise awareness and more. Altogether, this means that both your emotional and physical hearts will be the centers of attention.
But I’m going to take a different tack and tell you about some recent health-focused happenings that have broken my heart. (If you prefer to stay upbeat, you can read my January 2019 health awards blog.)
Here are my heartbreakers, February 2019:
People who suffer from heart disease needlessly, especially because of cost or access. Cardiovascular diseases are the №1 killer in the U.S. and globally. It’s easy enough for most of us to ascertain our heart health with tests for cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes. But low-income, un- and underinsured people and those without access to quality health services are at risk — one reason my organization works to increase availability of clinical and community health services. If you have insurance or can afford it, protect yourself with a checkup and follow your doctor’s advice.
Shirley has a diagnosis of heart disease. When Hurricane Michael blasted the Florida panhandle, she didn’t have access to the cardiovascular medicine she needs until she visited a temporary Americares clinic in Panama City. Photo by William Vázquez
The measles outbreaks. That preventable disease is even a topic of concern in 2019 is a heartbreaker. With an effective vaccine available, measles should be a non-issue. The highly contagious disease can cause brain damage, leading to deafness and even death. But especially in places where people are hesitant to vaccinate, such as Washington state, or where a crisis has made the vaccine unavailable — in Venezuela, for example, and the Philippines — measles outbreaks are putting health at risk and even killing vulnerable people. The more people who are vaccinated, the less risk there is to all of us. When that herd immunity breaks down, even a trip to the grocery store can put vulnerable people at risk. That’s what happened in Madagascar, where more than 300 people — mostly children — have died and 50,000 been infected in just five months, since an outbreak began in October, 2017. Health officials estimate only half the population was vaccinated before the outbreak. I’m happy to see that in Yemen, site of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, 40,000 health workers are out in force, vaccinating children against this highly infectious disease.
Not even Hurricane Harvey could keep this family from getting immunizations for school. They’re protected thanks to a mobile clinic supported by Americares. Photo by Annie Mulligan
The neglect of children’s mental health. At a time when suicide in the U.S. is on the rise, it is distressing to hear that nearly half of an estimated 7 million children in the U.S. with diagnosed mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, are not getting treatment or counseling from a mental health professional. But addressing mental health is critical to each child’s — and our nation’s — future: More than one-third of students age 14 to 21 with a mental issue drop out of school — the highest dropout rate of any disability group — according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. We should invest in our children’s physical and mental health if we want them to reach their full potential.
In Puerto Rico, Ivelisse Morales is supporting survivors’ mental health after the stress and trauma of Hurricane Maria. Photo by William Vázquez
Let me end on a brighter note: In February, the sun begins to be noticeably stronger here in the northern hemisphere. Let’s use that as a reminder that the future can be brighter, too — with our attention, each of these dangerous trends is reversible.