Just back from Antarctica and was inspired to see this story of passion and purpose in my news feed this morning —
In a nutshell – British adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes aims to be the first to walk across the Antarctic continent during the winter. As part of his effort, he hopes to raise US$ million to to fight avoidable blindness in low-income countries. The money will be donated to UK charity Seeing is Believing and donations will be matched dollar for dollar by Standard Chartered Bank for a potential total of US$10 million.
In the world’s poorest countries, lack of access to basic eye care, Vitamin A deficiency and vulnerability to water-related eye infections can cause blindness, and this is often preventable. For example, corneal scarring – the most common cause of childhood blindness – can be prevented with two drops of Vitamin A which costs just US$0.05. (Facts sourced from Kids with Vision and World Health Organization.)
The journey will not be easy. It has been completed during the summer season, when the extent of sea ice is much reduced, temperatures are warmer and weather conditions are not as harsh. But during the Southern Hemisphere winter (which starts in March), temperatures can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit (-73 degrees Celsius) and there is near 24 hour darkness. Starting on the first day of next year’s winter season – March 21 2013 – Sir Ranulph and his team plan to walk some 2500-3000 miles over the course of their six month adventure. No one has ever done this before.
Just in case you thought there weren’t any adventures left to be had, guys like this with balls the size of coconuts come along and show us that there is always a record waiting to be broken. And kudos to him for doing it for a good cause!
Watch Sir Ranulph’s recent interview with CNN, below. You can also read more about the initiative on Seeing is Believing’s website.
The Ministry of Health of Malawi hosted a meeting yesterday morning to seek input on a “zero draft” of its national action plan on home-based water treatment and safe storage. In Malawi about 20% of the population obtains their drinking water from unsafe sources: lakes, rivers, or unprotected wells or natural springs. The microscopic creatures living in the water can lead to diarrhoeal diseases such as cholera, dysentery and typhoid which kill more than 1.5 million people worldwide every year, most of these children, and Malawi is no exception to this global trend. Treating the water at home through filtration, chlorine or other means and storing it safely in a proper container afterwards can improve the quality of the water and reduce the chances of getting sick with diarrhoea by up to 47%.
In addition to household treatment of drinking water, there are two other key practices that can reduce the burden of diarrhoeal disease: hand-washing with soap and the safe disposal of human faeces. The Government of Malawi has developed national approaches on both: the National Handwashing Campaign and the Open Defecation Free Strategy, leaving household water treatment as a key gap to be addressed and providing the impetus for the current initiative.
Efforts to develop a national action plan began earlier this year at a workshop hosted by the World Health Organization and UNICEF in Mozambique. Following the workshop I was invited to Malawi by the government to provide technical assistance to their work in this area. At the moment, the technical assistance consists chiefly of a review of the status of household water treatment in Malawi, specifically the policy environment, key stakeholders, current practices and products available in the market. The next step is to provide some input into the drafting of the action plan and help the Ministry implement it in months to come. This work has been generously funded by Aqua for All, a Dutch NGO, with input and support from 300in6, a safe water advocacy group.