Helen Keller Intl Ramps up Lifesaving Strategy to Combat Hunger during COVID-19

New approaches to screening and treating malnutrition provided millions of children critical care in 2020, and will save lives as pandemic rages on

New York, NY, Feb. 25, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Helen Keller Intl has implemented a science-based strategy to address the far-reaching ripple effects of COVID-19, including rising poverty and extreme hunger. This hunger strategy, put into effect in 2020, has already delivered lifesaving outcomes in some of the world’s most impoverished communities. The strategy -- which includes community-based malnutrition treatment, new approaches for vitamin A supplementation, and methods to bolster local food supplies -- will continue to address major causes of hunger and poverty with effective solutions.

“As we’ve all learned over the past year, COVID-19’s impacts extend beyond the deadly virus. In many of the communities where we work, children and their parents are more likely to die from the indirect effects of COVID-19 – chief among them, greater malnutrition and the resulting ill health -- than of the virus itself,” said Kathy Spahn, Helen Keller CEO. “Our strategy is focused on addressing these serious challenges by working with partners at the local level so we can ensure a future for the world’s most vulnerable families.”

As part of its hunger strategy, Helen Keller is applying community-based approaches to diagnose and treat malnutrition. These are simpler, less expensive, and can be administered by trained community members, saving families a weekly clinic visit. This approach has been developing for several years, but COVID-19 was a catalyst to speed up its implementation.  

In communities in southern Senegal, a staggering 30% of the population does not have access to sufficient nutritious food. Helen Keller trained community health workers to detect and treat malnutrition in the villages where children live. These workers now visit homes, and get visits from concerned parents; they test children for malnutrition, and treat those children with malnutrition who need it, unless they  have additional complications that require a visit to a nurse or doctor. This new approach is increasing the number of children who receive treatment. Early analysis suggests that it is also increasing the number of treated children who are cured. It also saves families a time-consuming and often expensive visit to a health facility.  

Locally-built methods have also allowed Helen Keller to provide nearly 15 million children with life-saving vitamin A supplements.  The pandemic shut down Helen Keller’s usual approach to distribution of vitamin A supplements, which involves gathering large numbers of children in the middle of a village. Instead, Helen Keller staff pivoted to household-to-household approaches, using masks, gloves, frequent handwashing, “no touch” distribution, and other  precautions to prevent coronavirus spread.  

“We knew it was crucial to continue our work during the pandemic, because the immune-building impact vitamin A has on children and families was more urgently needed than ever,” said Spahn. “While lockdowns, fear, and medical precautions created new obstacles, the strategy we developed overcame these short-term hurdles and will change lives far into the future.”  

Donors in the US and around the world have responded generously to the rising tide of hunger and malnutrition. Helen Keller’s hunger strategies have been funded generously from thousands of donors in the US and around the world who gave more than $1M in flexible funds during the year-end season of giving, donors following GiveWell's recommendation, and others who have helped ramp up Helen Keller’s provision of vitamin A supplements. Yet, the need still far exceeds donations to date. More information can be found at hki.org.

About Helen Keller Intl

Helen Keller Intl is a global health organization dedicated to eliminating preventable vision loss, malnutrition, and diseases of poverty. Co-founded by Helen Keller — and guided by her fierce optimism and belief in human potential — the organization delivers life-changing health solutions to vulnerable families in places where the need is great but access to care is limited. In the U.S., Africa, and Asia, Helen Keller’s proven, science-based programs empower people to create opportunities in their own lives and build lasting change. Learn more at hki.org.


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