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Helping with a hepatitis epidemic

Helping with a hepatitis epidemic

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When Meredith Potts, director of Flagstaff International Relief Effort (FIRE), returned to the U.S. from a recent humanitarian visit to Mongolia, she received wonderful news: Her organization had received a grant for $21,000 to help prevent the spread of hepatitis in Mongolia.

The homegrown FIRE organization was established in 1999 by David Edwards and is a community-based, well-respected organization that works to help those in need in Mongolia.

While on photographic assignment in Mongolia, Edwards had seen great need for many services that were lacking in that country, including the sorry state of orphans there.

Thus was born the Mongolian Orphans Association, which was renamed FIRE in 2000.

HEALTH WORKERS AT RISK

The grant to help fight hepatitis was engineered by Dharmesh Vora of Vora Financial Group in Flagstaff, through the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) Foundation, to which he belongs.

"At the annual meeting, I said I'd love to see a Flagstaff organization get it, and it did," Vora said. "I'm so excited they picked FIRE."

Vora has been serving the financial needs of Flagstaff for more than 20 years and is a life member of the Million Dollar Round Table and a Top of the Table for the past six years.

The Million Dollar Round Table Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT), a premier association for financial professionals.

The money will be used by FIRE in its Health Safety Training Program, which targets at-risk health care workers to help prevent the spread of hepatitis in the health care facilities of Mongolia.

"Health care facilities are second leading form of transmission for hepatitis in Mongolia," Potts said.

HARSH CLIMATE, CONDITIONS

Familiarity with some of the basic facts about Mongolia makes it possible to better understand the scope of what amounts to a hepatitis epidemic there.

According to FIRE literature, Mongolia is a landlocked country nestled between northern China and Russia. It has a population of 3 million people, with approximately 1 million of those living in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar.

It has the lowest population density compared to any other country and an estimated 30 percent of the population maintains a traditional nomadic lifestyle, spreading themselves over the 1.62 million square kilometers of land within its boundaries.

The population density in some parts of Mongolia is as low as 0.5 persons per square kilometer, such as in the south near the Gobi Desert, which often makes access to health care difficult.

Additionally, harsh winter conditions exist where temperatures can reach minus-50-degree C for days at a time.

IMPACT ON GLOBAL PROBLEM

Mongolia also has a hepatitis epidemic.

"I think it's incredible that a community such as Flagstaff is having such an impact on such a global problem," Potts said about the grant.

Citing FIRE sources, she said Mongolians have amongst the highest rates of Hepatitis B and C in the world, with studies showing that 10 to 15 percent of the general population are infected with Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C.

Multiple studies conducted in Mongolia from 1992-2007 also have shown that more than 50 percent of health care workers are co-infected with both Hepatitis B and C. Most developed countries have been successful in reducing Hepatitis B rates below 10 percent in health care workers through aggressive vaccination, safety and health education, as well as monitoring and reporting strategies, these figures are unacceptably high and demand similar action for control.

Potts said that Hepatitis C may first have been introduced to Mongolia during the mass vaccination of small pox in the 1930s.

Subsequent transmission has come from re-use of contaminated or inadequately sterilized syringes and needles during the Soviet era, transfusion of blood products without screening (especially in emergency situations), poor handling of medical waste and poor health safety practices, including frequent needle sticks, parental exposures in healthcare settings and exposure by household contact.

How FIRE has helped

To date, FIRE has also distributed 47,000 safety boxes (more commonly known as "sharps containers") to more 67 health care facilities throughout three provinces.

That's enough for a two-year supply for every hospital and health care clinic in these three provinces.

FIRE also provides important training to health care workers, waste handlers and inspection agents about the proper use of "safety boxes" and safe disposal of sharps waste nationwide.

The objective is to substantially reduce the number of inadvertent needle sticks and lacerations with contaminated needles or other medical sharps waste.

The MDRT grant will support FIRE's Health Safety and Medical Waste Management Training Program.

In partnership with several national and international organizations focused on improving the health care system in Mongolia, including the World Health Organization, Asian Development Bank and Millennium Challenge Account, FIRE is developing and expects to implement a comprehensive medical waste management training program inclusive of health and safety best practices, infection control and patient safety that will be disseminated nationwide throughout all three health care levels of Mongolia as well as the general public and policy makers.

If you want to help

For more information about FIRE, visit www.fireprojects.org or call 779-2288.

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