Q&A: Holistic Health and Hope

Why World Vision? Today's Q&A with Dennis Cherian, World Vision's senior director of health and hope, explores how our work and innovations in the health sector impact children and strengthen the communities in which they live.

1. World Vision is built on child sponsorship, and our work in other areas is focused on children. Is our work in the health sector also child-focused?

Yes. Health is a fundamental aspect of child and family well-being, and as such, every health intervention we design and implement takes into account the child well-being perspective. Our work prioritizes the important issues of nutrition, diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria, HIV, and maternal health, which naturally support mothers and children. As a child-focused organization, we emphasize and prioritize child well-being, but we also see that the health of their family members and community is important to their well-being.

2. What are some other ways that our interventions for children also help adults and communities?

World Vision’s health interventions do not differentiate between child and adult. Instead, we take a holistic approach that seeks to improve the health of all members of the communities in which we work. For example, in some contexts, neglected tropical diseases have ravaging effects on children and adults, so we address those problems as well.

Another example would be how our HIV interventions focused on the adult also address the welfare of the child. We all know how the loss of a parent is detrimental to a child’s survival. As the saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child.” While focus on the individual is important, the success of the individual depends on the success of the community.

Finally, our work in economic development also has benefits for health. While we may think of economic strengthening strictly as financial support for adults, it has been shown to have many positive impacts on the lives of children in the households where economic interventions exist. These include improvements in education, food security, nutrition, and health. We seek to ensure that all interventions improve the well-being of the entire household and community.

3. Which diseases right now are of greatest concern globally? How does World Vision plan to address these concerns?

High maternal mortality from lack of access to safe delivery, newborn illness, malaria, diarrhea, and pneumonia -- aside from HIV -- are some of the leading causes of concern. Some of the ways we address these concerns include our child survival work in Afghanistan and South Sudan, where we introduced home-based life-saving skills and the application of mobile technology. These programs increase access; improve case management and referrals for pregnant women and newborns; improve community-based management of childhood and newborn illnesses; increase access and use of bed nets in the household to prevent malaria; and improve home-based care for those already ill.

4. Health is about more than just treating diseases. What are some of the ways that World Vision works to improve health proactively?

I remember a World Vision t-shirt that says: "Childhood for Children." We are committed to children, and in that spirit, take into account the spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical well-being of the child. Economic strengthening can increase access to quality education, thereby reducing school dropout or allowing parents to pay for their children’s medical needs, school fees, personal items, etc. For example, our STEPS OVC program in Zambia has the mandate to prevent HIV and lessen the impact of the disease. However, instead of just focusing on HIV, the program provides services in education, water, legal protection, economic strengthening, and food security, as these are all integral to the HIV response.

Health is more than just treating disease; it’s creating an environment at the individual and community level that can foster the growth of the child. That is when our vision for every child "life in all its fullness" is fulfilled.

5. Are there any new, innovative approaches to World Vision's work in health you'd like to tell us about for the future?

We are constantly on the lookout for innovative approaches in health. I am glad to say that the health and hope team is a leader in that effort. It’s a topic that I am very passionate about. As a team, we strive to identify new ideas from our existing projects and new designs that would help us respond to some of the global challenges in providing primary healthcare services.

From a technical perspective, through some of the most rigorous global competitive awards, we have successfully accessed a number of innovation health grants. These include World Vision’s pioneering work in the area of mobile technology for health and integration of community case management, as well as newborn work in a few countries. Currently, we’re increasing these initiatives aimed at making health and community systems more efficient and effective.

Another innovative intervention is Citizens Voice and Action, which empowers communities and enhances social accountability and governance in healthcare delivery. Lessons learned from these projects are supporting our partnership initiatives and scale-up plans as well as the external development community. To facilitate this learning, the health and hope team is committed to developing a team that will bring together individuals to generate and develop ideas. I believe the future lies in our ability to identify such innovations, increase access and ownership of them at the community level, and develop an evidence base.

Building the capacity of community-based organizations is another innovation aimed at strengthening local capacity, ownership, and sustainability. For example, we partner closely with local governments and community structures to reach every district in Zambia for program implementation. However, we have taken that to a new level in building local community-based organizations.

These partners, who were unlikely to acquire funding from a major government agency or donor, have undergone significant capacity-building so that the 388 local partners are implementing all activities of the grant. Their capacity has also reached significantly higher levels in the past two years, and many have been able to register locally, develop boards, and begin applying for major donor funding. This shift toward building the capacity of local NGOs shows our commitment to building communities from the child, to the adult, to the local organization.

World Vision's holistic approach to health and community development all begins with child sponsorship. We believe in children, and we believe that the best way to provide a better life is to build up their communities around them. Join us! Change a child's life -- for good! Consider sponsoring a child today!

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