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The Right Medicine
A look at how we help children by shipping medicines
by Dr. Mark Wise, Past Board Chair
My background as a doctor is in Tropical Medicine. Back in 1977, I trained at the London
School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in England. At that time, I learned about many
fascinating and debilitating illnesses that were called tropical diseases. Time, travel and
experience has taught me that most of these are not tropical at all, but rather, diseases of poverty.
Yes, a warm climate is a factor some of the time, but not always.
Malnutrition, measles, pneumonia, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS …. None of these has anything to do
with the warm weather. But they sure claim a lot of lives.
Health care in an impoverished, lesser developed country has the same requirements as it does
here in Canada. Wherever we are, we need hospitals, or clinics, or somewhere for people to go
when they are sick. We need skilled health professionals – doctors, nurses, midwives,
physiotherapists. And we need medication.
Canadian Feed The Children is active with its partners in all aspects of health care. But here, I
would like to highlight the medications which we send to our partners abroad. Without these
medications, more children and their families would suffer and die. There is often little a doctor
or hospital can do if there are no medications, or if the patients can’t afford them.
So how do we help? We consult with our community-based partners to determine their needs,
then obtain high-volume, high-quality medicines and arrange to have them shipped to the
communities that need them. The range of vital medicines includes:
Malaria should be a preventable, but if not, a treatable condition. Yet more than one million
children die of this infection each year in Africa alone. Quinine is one of the oldest, yet most
effective drugs in treating malaria, especially in life-threatening cases. Fansidar is another
medication that can be used for treatment. As well, it can also be used by pregnant women to
lessen the likelihood of them getting malaria, which often leads to miscarriage or a low birth
weight baby.
We tend to treat almost everything here in Canada with antibiotics, the latest and the more
expensive the better. Thankfully, in lesser developed countries, our older and less expensive
antibiotics are still very useful. Due to the extremely crowded conditions in which people live
(often six people to the room rather than the house), respiratory infections are very common.
With simple antibiotics like penicillin, ampicillin and erythromycin, these can be cured. Typhoid
fever is passed via contaminated food and water, another feature of poverty. Ceftriaxone,
chloramphenicol and ciprofloxacin are all effective for this illness.
There are many different parasitic infections, but they generally have to do with people’s habits,
their way of life, and poverty. Intestinal parasites, such as roundworms, are extremely common,
and come from eating food that has been contaminated with human feces (common in areas
where there are no toilets or latrines). They account for the swollen tummies you see in some
children living in impoverished areas. Hookworm, which also inhabits the intestine, is contracted
by walking barefoot in the soil where human feces lie. Again, no toilets, no latrines …illness.
Albendazole and metronidazole don’t solve the underlying problem of poverty, and poor
sanitation and hygiene, but they do lessen the burden which these worms place on many of these
already malnourished children.
Schistosomiasis is a fascinating worm (in my opinion), which people, especially children,
contract by swimming and washing in fresh water that has been contaminated by human feces
and urine. We supply praziquantel to treat this infection.
There are many reasons why anemia, or low blood, is common in lesser developed countries.
Diets may be lacking in iron and other vitamins. Recurrent bouts of malaria destroy the red blood
cells, leading to anemia. Hookworms live in our small intestine and live on our blood. And
pregnancy tends to lead to folic acid and iron deficiency. Canadian Feed The Children supplies
ferrous sulphate and folic acid to women and children.
We spend millions on vitamins here. Considering our more than adequate diets, I think we could
survive quite nicely without most of them. Not so “over there”. Children and mothers are most in
need of supplements, and this is one of the medications that Canadian Feed The Children
Burns, cuts, lacerations and other wounds are part of daily life in the tropics. Keeping these clean
is of utmost importance. Surgery, when it is available, needs to be done under antiseptic
conditions, or postoperative complications will occur. We supply several different antiseptics to
fill this need.
No North American child is likely to die from diarrhea. But in impoverished countries, this,
when compounded by malnutrition, is sadly quite common. Diarrhea, when treated early, can be
cured with the simplest of remedies – oral rehydration salts. This lifesaving miracle consists of a
powder containing sodium chloride (salt), glucose or fructose (sugar) and bicarbonate. When
mixed with clean water and given by mom to her baby, it is often all that is needed. We supply
For more serious conditions, such as severe diarrhea, malaria, or during childbirth or surgery,
intravenous fluids are necessary. These are the same bags of fluid you have seen in your local
emergency department or on TV. We ensure that these are available to children and mothers in
need. Ergometrine is a medication that is used to ensure that the womb or uterus contracts, and
stops bleeding after childbirth. Maternal and infant mortality is extremely high in the countries
where we work. This medication makes a difference.
People in lesser developed countries suffer many of the same conditions that others do around
the world – high blood pressure, heart failure, headaches, arthritis, angina, heartburn. Many
medications are not available or are not affordable to those who need them. Through our valued
community partners, we make sure these medications are made available when needed.
In my role with Canadian Feed The Children, I see how absolutely vital this type of support is in
protecting the health and well-being of children and their families. On their behalf, I thank all of
our donors for helping us deliver these valuable medicines. Along with everything else we do,
they help us fulfill our vision – A world in which children thrive, free of poverty.
Mark Wise M.D., D.T.M. & H. (London)
Past Board Chair, Canadian Feed The Children


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