As a young child, Bonnie Nang picked, hauled, and sold for scrap huge bags of rubbish, cans and plastic bottles, for an income for her family.
Now, as a testament to the power of education and books, she works as a doctor, in the same village in which she grew up.
Dr Nang, from Cambodia, was helped by Edukid, one of a dozen organisations to receive an award from the BMA Information Fund in its twentieth year.
Since 2000, it has helped hundreds of similar organisations in more than 70 low-income countries to access books, and more recently, digital resources.
The resources awarded to Edukid in 2020 is for its work in Uganda to help children out of poverty and give girls and young women opportunities which would otherwise be out of their reach, says Nicky Morgan, a trustee, and associate specialist in sexual health based in north Devon.
Decades on from the end of its civil war, a generation of former child soldiers suffer psychological problems. HIV and poverty are prevalent.
‘As a result of the conflict and gender norms, there’s a lot of gender-based and sexual violence,’ says Dr Morgan, who sponsored Dr Nang’s education through the charity.
‘Girls who had been sexually assaulted often have to marry the men who assaulted them. People in the villages feel this is wrong but think that is just how it is. There is a huge lack of knowledge and understanding and COVID has made all this worse.’
Books from the fund will tackle gender and social norms linked to sexual violence and the spread of HIV and also the stigma of disability, which stops children in rural areas from going to school.
‘We want to do something to help get children with disabilities into school, train teachers how to educate them, and tackle the stigma,’ says Dr Morgan.
This award is so important to the rural health centres. Without it, access to these vital materials would be completely out of reachMadeleine Bates
‘Some of the books are going to be used to help tackle that.’
The BMA Information Fund is run with Practical Action Publishing, which sources and distributes practical and accessible health information and educational materials for use in areas where they are scarce.
Successful applicants show how the resources would help significant populations and help meet one or more of the UN Sustainable Development goals.
Another successful applicant, the Kaloko Trust, operates in Luansobe and Kashitu, rural but mineral-rich, copper belt regions of Zambia.
Some of its books will be housed at Kaloko RHC (rural health centre), one of 360 across the country, which acts as an information and reference hub for 42 health workers in surrounding centres.
‘There is no computer at the rural health centre, and there is no access to resources on the internet,’ says the trust’s UK director Madeleine Bates.
Resources on water, sanitation and hygiene programmes will be kept at its central office in Zambia where staff plan, deliver, and evaluate health improvement projects.
‘Health workers at the RHCs have very little access to up-to-date clinical information appropriate to the context in which they are working, where diagnostic and treatment options are limited,’ Ms Bates adds.
‘This award is so important to the rural health centres. Without it, access to these vital materials would be completely out of reach to these health workers.’
The Navtarang Foundation, a not-for-profit in India, will use its resources to reduce neonatal and maternal mortality, and stem the spread of infectious disease, including COVID-19.
‘It will help medical students, community health workers, doctors, nurses, researchers, nutritionists, mid-wives, paramedical staff and pharmacists,’ says co-founder, Abhishek Mittal.
‘The books and educational material will be used to conduct training programmes, seminars, group discussions for disseminating information about various health issues such as neonatal mortality, maternal and child health, nutrition, lifestyle disorders, menstrual hygiene, COVID-19 pandemic,’ he adds.
These projects demonstrate the power of medical education to make a real difference in the lives of healthcare workers and the populations of some of the poorest countries of the worldHelena McKeown
BMA representative body chair Helena McKeown, who helped assess applications, says it is humbling to see their effects in communities, with little reading resources but dedicated clinicians and students.
‘These projects demonstrate the power of medical education to make a real difference in the lives of healthcare workers and the populations of some of the poorest countries of the world,’ she adds.
‘The role of the BMA Information Fund can only become even more important as we continue to battle the historic pandemic of COVID-19 and redouble our efforts to meet the UN Sustainable Development goals by 2030.’
Images by Tony Atkinson
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Listen to Ruth Nyaga, human resources for health specialist with AMREF Health Africa in South Sudan