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Tufts E-News --Time Magazine Highlights Tufts Grad Saving Lives in Nepal

Tufts E-News --Time Magazine Highlights Tufts Grad Saving Lives in NepalTufts graduate and health expert Ram Shrestha got involved with Nepal’s vitamin program over a decade ago; today, millions of children benefit each year from his creative efforts to broaden the distribution of vitamin A throughout his native country.

Boston [11.16.05] In Nepal in the 1980s, the effects of poverty and a lack of access to vitamin A were claiming the lives of a young population: infants. At the time, 133 of every 1,000 babies died shortly after birth, mostly from pneumonia or diarrhea linked to vitamin deficiency. The government had tried to tackle the problem, but its vitamin program needed a boost. That’s when Tufts graduate and Nepali Ram Shrestha stepped in to lend a hand.

“As a Nepali, I figured it was my duty,” Shrestha told Time magazine, which reported on his work as part of a cover story on 16 individuals around the world who are saving lives one person at a time.

Shrestha, who earned a master’s degree in nutrition from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy in 1990 (known then as the School of Nutrition Science and Policy), had some strong ideas about what it would take to make a vitamin program work in the country where he was born. According to the article in Time, “the first thing he realized was that no matter who sponsored the program, the villagers were not going to be receptive unless they felt some ownership of it.”

According to the magazine, Shrestha took his campaign on the road and traveled around Nepal promoting the benefits of vitamin A and looking for volunteers to help further his cause by distributing pills. Time pointed out that the potential benefits were great: the pills, taken as infrequently as twice per year, could help in reducing infant mortality and preventing a form of blindness.

“When he signed someone up, he would return for a follow-up visit, accompanied by the district chief,” the magazine reported. Shrestha – who was dubbed the “Vitamin Sherpa” by Time – added, “Whole families had to feel it was important.”

To engage the volunteers and provide them with a concrete sense of their mission, Shrestha gave them green canvas bags with vitamin A logos and asked them to carry the bags with them at all times.

“Shrestha clearly had a knack for this kind of thing, but his next idea was pure genius,” Time reported about the former Peace Corps worker. “As the need for volunteers grew more acute, he started thinking about which individuals in Nepalese society – or most societies, for that matter – have the most influence in the family but are the least utilized. That’s when he came up with the grandmothers.”

Grandmothers, Shrestha figured, had ample time to dole out vitamin A pills coupled with the right to enforce their ingestion. If the elderly women were too weak to actually make rounds in the community, villagers could come to them, Shrestha explained to Time.

Thanks to Shrestha’s hard work, 49,000 grandmothers have joined the volunteer ranks, providing 3.5 million Nepalese children with vitamin A each year, according to Time. Additionally, Nepal’s infant mortality rate has been cut in half in the past 25 years and eye disease among pregnant women has dropped from 23 percent to three percent, the magazine reported.

“Even within a limited physical environment, the grandmothers can do a lot,” he told Time about his clever plan, which now saves children’s lives every day in Nepal.

 

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