Visiting Nepal – Why we need new pneumonia diagnostics.

A personal reflection from Laia Ruiz Mingote, Alliance Corporate, UNICEF Spain

A mission to Nepal

Last December, a work team of UNICEF visited Nepal. Through visiting communities and health posts, and talking to health workers and female community health volunteers (FCHV), we’ve learned about the great efforts of UNICEF Nepal in reducing child mortality and improving the diagnosis and treatment of pneumonia.


A key aspect of the reduction of maternal and child mortality is the participation of women – more than 50,000 women volunteers coming from various regions of the country. These women assist the diagnosis, and treatment of different diseases such as pediatric pneumonia, diarrhea, or malaria, and raise awareness about neonatal care within their communities. They are also the backbone of a health system that assists millions of people within a complicated and diverse geography (infrastructures still being built and rebuilt especially after the earthquake of April 25, 2015).


Rupa Joshi, colleague and Chief of Communication in UNICEF Nepal shared the importance of their role perfectly: These women have defended the fort since 1990 and during all crises. Without them, none of the objectives would have been fulfilled”. Within this context, the ARIDA project will be another piece of the puzzle to keep going.


I started to work with the ARIDA project in March 2016, as a focal point between UNICEF and our partner, “la Caixa” Foundation. The ARIDA project aims to identify devices which are capable of automatically counting the number of breaths per minute of children affected by pneumonia. These devices could be key to combat this infectious disease –typically affecting children under 5 and causing approximately 1 million deaths per year. Finding a better diagnostic tool which can be implemented in the most vulnerable communities and health systems can empower frontline health workers to provide timely, accurate treatment to those who need it most.


During the first months, I worked with a great team compromising my colleagues at UNICEF Spain, the Innovation Unit in Copenhagen, the Program Division in New York, and the Private Fundraising and Partnerships in Geneva. Over the course of the project, I was also advised that I will meet colleagues who will support the ARIDA project’s field trials.

Dr. Hayalnesh Tarekegn (UNICEF Program Division) and Dr. Ashish K.C. (UNICEF Nepal) explain how pneumonia is affecting Nepal’s communities, and how the FCHVs have been key to reduce the burden. ©UNICEF FundaciónBancaria”laCaixa Sergiocarocadenas

On December 13, 2016, I traveled to meet the team at UNICEF Nepal –tasked to support field trialing the first commercially available product that could help improve pneumonia diagnosis. I traveled with Diana Molina and Ariadna Puig, from “la Caixa”, and journalists from La Vanguardia and ABC. In addition, Dr. Hayalnesh Tarekegn (Bissie) and Cindy McWorther, who were managing the project from UNICEF Program Division and UNICEF Supply Division respectively, also joined us in Kathmandu.


Nepal: A Closer Look

Since 1990, Nepal has reduced maternal mortality by 79% and had avoided 1,1 million of deaths in children under five. It is one of the few countries to achieve the Millennium Development Goal 4 (Reduce by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate) and Goal 5 (Reduce by three-quarters, between 1990 and 2015, maternal mortality).


Accurate and timely diagnosis of pneumonia, and proper treatment is an ongoing challenge for health workers around the globe –and the FCHVs are not exempt on this. During the field trials, which will start during 2017 first semester, Nepal will work on engaging in a multi-site trial that can bring new technologies long-term, but also strengthening the health system through training FCHC’s and other the health workers in the country. These efforts are all to support that appropriate care is given to children.

Sun setting over Kathmandu, Nepal. ©UNICEF FundaciónBancaria”laCaixa Sergiocarocadenas

The success of the field trials and the ARIDA project has a great opportunity to accelerate results that reduce inequities for children and help save lives. Seeing firsthand how this change is brewing it is impressive. This trip has given us even more strength to continue working leading the fight against pediatric pneumonia.

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