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Poverty Alleviation Projects

April 4, 2009

Dear Friends:

Welcome to your March 2009 report for The $10 Club.

A ten year old Indonesian girl had a horrible infection in her knee for two years that constantly drained pus. She couldn’t walk for more than a year and her mother simply could not afford to take her for medicine. Then she discovered the Alam Sehat Lestari clinic, one that allowed mom to pay for her daughter’s treatment with a contribution of work. Antibiotics were prescribed and after a week of daily injections her pain dissipated; after two weeks she was able to walk on crutches.

Health in Harmony, formed in 2005, believes that the key to protecting human health around the world is recognizing and guarding the important link between human and environmental health at the local level. The goal of Health in Harmony is to support Alam Sehat Lestari, a program that works to address human health needs and protect critical rainforest habitat among the communities that surround Gunung Palung National Park in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, which include approximately 60,000 people. Alam Sehat Lestari is an Indonesian phrase meaning “healthy and everlasting nature”.

The communities around the Park are severely impoverished, with an average income of $13 per family per month. Most have little or no access to good healthcare or are unable to pay for treatment, though life-threatening illnesses such as tuberculosis and malaria are common and 10% of the households have experienced a medical emergency that costs, on average, well more that the family can afford. Out of desperate financial need, many individuals participate directly in illegal logging or allow outsiders to log within the national park near their villages.

Local health care options are limited and expensive. The infant mortality rate, a strong indicator of health conditions, is eight times that of the US. Local health clinics are of marginal quality and are staffed by physicians working with minimal resources and inadequate levels of training – if they are staffed at all.

Most local people simply cannot access or afford quality healthcare or are forced to pay interest rates as high as 150% per month to moneylenders if they take loans to pay for treatment.

One-third of the households surveyed last year reported that they previously had to choose between food and medicine. Poverty and poor health are locked together around Gunung Palung in a mutually-reinforcing pattern.

The nearest hospital to communities bordering Gunung Palung is two hours away when the road conditions are good, and many communities are over 12 hours from a hospital. Access to health care is a severe challenge, which inhibits appropriate treatment.

This month, 360 of us joined together to donate $3,600 to Health in Harmony to fund the addition of a portable microscope and laboratory supplies for the ASRI mobile clinic to improve diagnosis and treatment of the patients served in remote areas. Thank you.

The portable microscope is lightweight, and runs on rechargeable batteries, a huge boon to the ASRI team, as it would allow for more, accurate diagnostics on mobile clinics visits. Currently, malaria and TB diagnoses in the mobile clinic are performed using a very simple microscope (monocular with limited optics), and slides are reviewed using a more accurate scope located at the main clinic.

In order to see the small structures necessary to determine if a patient has malaria and/or TB, one needs to use a special oil immersion objective. These structures are difficult to see using this limited scope. This new portable microscope is binocular and has much improved optics in addition to an objective specifically designed for oil immersion microscopy. Missing a diagnosis of TB means potential spread of infection, in addition to continued, treatable suffering.

The laboratory supplies will also allow clinic staff to test for parasites other than malaria, do blood counts (white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelet counts) and test for syphilis. All of these tests are essential to improve diagnosis and treatment. The quantity of supplies ordered is estimated to last one year or more.

Gunung Palung National Park is a critically important stronghold for the country’s remaining orangutan populations and a valuable conservation area for other animals and plants. The park is home to a natural, breeding population that is estimated to represent 5-10% of the total remaining orangutans, as well as a wide variety of other rare and endangered animals. Within the boundaries of the protected area lies a rich diversity of habitats; in addition, the park comprises a watershed that is the major source of water for agriculture and human consumption in surrounding communities.

This month we show quite clearly that compassion for people and protection of the environment in which they live can go hand-in-hand. A noble pairing indeed.

Saving the world, ten dollars at a time,

PS. Please send in your April donation right away or sign up online through the website for automatic monthly donations. And please forward this report to everyone in your contact list encouraging them to join, too!

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