Meeting Bill Clinton - One day in Ahuàs, Honduras

By Danielle Duran Baron, Senior Communications Specialist

Bill Clinton and his siblings in HondurasPHOTO: Bill Clinton (right) and his siblings live in Ahuàs, Honduras.

We met Bill Clinton today. He is three years old, lives in Honduras and has malaria. He is not the only one; all of his siblings are being treated for the tropical disease that has now reached very high levels in Ahuàs, a community of almost 2,000 in the region of La Moskitia, in the northern part of the country.

Despite the disease, Bill Clinton is an active little boy who seems in awe with our camera, he is also lucky to have received prompt diagnosis and treatment, thanks to a partnership forged between the local government, CHF International and the Global Fund for distribution of medicines and medicated bed nets.

Working together with the Honduran Department of Health’s National Malaria Program and the Department of Health of La Moskitia Region, CHF International – Honduras is the main recipient of the Global Fund – Malaria Initiative whose main goals are to implement strategies for promotion, prevention and control of risk factors and provide effective and prompt treatment to everyone diagnosed with malaria in the 48 municipalities from 2009 to 2014.

In Ahuàs, the cases of malaria have skyrocketed in recent years. Once you are there, it is easy to see why. Latrines are nowhere to be found, trash and manure are disposed of everywhere. According to the newly-elected mayor, Lucio Ordoñez Vaqueadano, recent infrastructure projects brought some progress to the community but also left an undesirable legacy: potholes and gutters that have become breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

“The community lacks education and understanding. They can’t quite grasp how serious of an issue this really is,” says Celio Aureliano, an environmental health technician whose job is to work together with the community and local authorities to improve conditions in the area. Originally from Puerto Lempira, a larger town in La Moskitia, Aureliano has been working in public health since 1996. In a region where only 2% of the population speaks Spanish fluently, Aureliano’s knowledge of the local Miskito language goes a long way. He visits community members every day to make sure they receive prompt diagnosis and follow-up care; it is his job to also make sure they complete their treatment. He is part of a four-person health unit in Ahuàs. “I see it as a joint effort,” says Lizeth Cartagena, a physician and head of the health unit. “We must educate our community and make sure they understand the important role each one of them plays in our fight to eradicate malaria in this region. It can be a daunting task, but we are committed to it,” she explains.

“People here have lived with different diseases for so long that they believe that getting sick is just part of life. ‘If I get it, I will feel bad and sweat for a week, but that is it,’ seems to be the local take on malaria, dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases,” adds Ordoñez, who before being elected was one of the community leaders who participated in CHF’s distribution of medicated bed nets, in November 2009. “I know that sometimes if you are not directly affected by the disease, you are not likely to get involved in the cause, but we must change this. We need to know why we are doing it and the importance for our community as a whole,” he explains. “It is also paramount that we know how to use the tools we are given.” He recalls that when he first brought the medicated bed nets home, his wife complained about the strong smell. “She thought the insecticide was toxic and needed to be washed off with chlorine. But I knew better,” he adds.

Bill Clinton's homePHOTO: Bill Clinton's home.

“That’s why we need to educate the community: to ensure they get the protection they need by using the medicated bed nets correctly,” emphasizes José Ramon Valdez, CHF’s malaria expert, who works closely with authorities in different communities of La Moskitia, a region of tropical forest isolated from the rest of the country due to difficult access. “The insecticide is what makes a real difference,” he insists. CHF distributed 3,000 bed nets, reaching nearly all households in Ahuàs, last year. “We had to prioritize children under the age of five and pregnant women, but studies show that a medicated bed net acts as a protective barrier that may benefit an entire household,” Valdez explains. “With bed nets, prompt diagnosis and treatment we are in a much better position to fight malaria. It is also mandatory that we keep the ditches and gutters clean, so we must work closely with the local government and the communities on different levels and orchestrate a coordinated effort to eradicate this disease.”