Sunday, 12 August 2007

Why Concern?

As some of you may know, I've recently become a new trustee of Concern Worldwide UK. So, what's so special about Concern - what do they do?

Concern started out with a shipload of emergency aid sent from Ireland in 1968 (when it was nowhere near the Celtic Tiger it's become) to what was then known as Biafra. It is now an international, humanitarian, non-denominational NGO active in 30 countries across the world.

It's focus is on reducing suffering and working towards an ultimate goal of eliminating extreme poverty in the world's poorest countries. (Cynics or sceptics may view this is as an "unrealistic" objective but that's the mission, and all we can do is aim towards it and start walking a step at a time - see the title of this blog! And if I may revert to my own cynicism, I think it's a better and more meaningful mission statement than any corporate one I ever came across in my banking days!).

I've followed their work for many years, and have been very impressed by their dedication, tenacity and most importantly their strong focus on results. This has led them to work very closely with others (whether they are other agencies, or indigenous partners in the field), and has resulted in the development of innovative and highly effective programmes with a very high marginal return. Such a field-based approach, in my opinion, also means that they stay close to the frontline of what is actually needed, what will work, and how that can be improved.

Working with partners also means that wasteful duplication is minimised or avoided, and working with indigenous partners means that solutions are built around the people who need them (not imposed by well-meaning outsiders) and that significant spin-off capacity building benefits also arise.

I'm fairly certain I'll be posting more about Concern in the future, so for this posting, I think I'll give just one example - Community-based Therapeutic Care ("CTC").

Initially devised by an organisation called Valid International, Concern and Valid have been collaboratively pushing this forward since 2001. You can find much more details on, but I'll summarise my own key takeaways here (they may well seem over-simplified for any expert readers, but they are not the intended audience for this).

Basically, traditional nutrition interventions in areas afflicted by drought and malnourishment have involved setting-up Therapeutic Feeding Centres, where severely malnourished people come for treatment.

This is obviously necessary for people who have reached such an unfortunately critical stage. But what if somehow nutritional supplements could be delivered to people before they reach this stage?

That's what CTC does. By using Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food ("RUTF") which is delivered through already established local facilities and community channels, CTC gets a very high nutritional package to people in the field through 'Outpatient' style sites.

RUTF is itself a complex carbohydrate based product, so high in slow-release nutritional value (for those of you who are marathon-runners, you'll click with this!) - which needs no refrigeration or water. This means it can be kept for longer time periods in the actual environment found in the field (no reliance on clean water or electricity).

By being delivered in the field, it also reduces the considerably disruptive process of people having to physically get to TFCs (often when they are physically compromised, and very typically over arduous terrain in acutely challenging conditions) - which also means taking them away from their homes and livelihoods.

This means that people who are moderately or severely malnourished but do not (yet) have any medical complications get nutritional aid in a more effective manner, and that the TFCs are then able to focus more on the people with medical complications who have to be treated on such an "in-patient" basis.

CTC has been recognised by organisations including the World Health Organisation, and UK's DFID as an innovative and effective treatment technique, with a significantly better effectiveness rate than traditional legacy methods. CTC is now being implemented in a number of countries and regions (including Malawi, Darfur, Southern Sudan, Ethiopia, Niger, Kenya, Bangladesh among others).

I'm sure this is a slightly over-simplified description for field-professionals (eg, it doesn't even touch upon second-stage developments such as interplay with HIV/AIDS strategies and collaboration with local domestic health authorities and infrastructures etc), but I find it helpful as a summary from my perspective as a layman. If you want more details, feel free to ask, or check out their website.

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