Santa Barbara nonprofit launches Healthy Futures Initiative to help world’s vulnerable communities
COVID-19 can prove disastrous for communities that already lacked fundamental health and nutrition services before the pandemic started.
To address long- and short-term impacts, Vitamin Angels, a Santa Barbara nonprofit, is striving to raise $500,000 through its new Healthy Futures Initiative.
Vitamin Angels is a global public health and nutrition organization that reaches 70 million at-risk mothers and children under age 5 in 70 countries
“Our work has never been more important than right now,” said Howard Schiffer, the Vitamin Angels founder and president. “Our Healthy Futures Initiative will help us meet the increased demand for our nutrition interventions and ensure that nutritionally vulnerable populations receive access to the essential vitamins and minerals they need right now.”
Mr. Schiffer told the News-Press he has seen that any time there is a catastrophic event such as a natural disaster or civil strife, the situation for vulnerable communities becomes increasingly devastating.
Developing communities often are unable to recover, said Mr. Schiffer, who has overseen Vitamin Angels for 26 years.
Evidence looking into the potential long-term effects of COVID-19 is being gathered. So far, Mr. Schiffer said the projections showing the potential long-term effects of COVID-19 inside vulnerable communities looks “pretty dire.”
According to this year’s “State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World” report, the COVID-19 pandemic could tip more than 130 million more people into chronic hunger by the end of this year. (The United Nations considers the annual report to be the authoritative global study tracking progress toward ending hunger and malnutrition.)
“People don’t realize that in poor communities, these things don’t end when it’s over,” Mr. Schiffer said. “These long-term impacts are significant, and now is the time to start building the response so that they can be minimized. Right now, it’s heading in the wrong direction.”
Mr. Schiffer said another thing people don’t realize is the aftereffect of the pandemic could be even more severe due to a large population dying from the aftereffects of malnutrition.
To get ahead and begin building a response, the funds raised from the Healthy Futures Initiative will be used to expand Vitamin Angels’ current programs as well as expand the availability of digital training and learning to more communities with overwhelmed health systems.
“Our focus has been to just try and keep the supply chain open which we have done successfully,” Mr. Schiffer said. “Getting them training on the best practices for distribution with the pandemic going on is important. We certainly want to make sure that everyone that’s working with us and everyone that we are working for are safe.”
Mr. Schiffer said that through its work in 70 countries, Vitamin Angels sees first hand which nations require the most help in responding to COVID.
Vitamin Angels is working to fill gaps in health coverage among vulnerable communities caused by disrupted health systems that leave malnourished pregnant women and children more vulnerable for disease and infection. Efforts include expansion of its program to introduce and scale-up multiple micronutrient supplementation (MMS) for pregnant women and its Vitamin A supplements program for young children.
Mr. Schiffer said moving forward in expanding Vitamin Angels’ reach both internationally and domestically is vital because “whenever you have malnutrition out of control like this you’re gonna have a lot more risk.
“We know if we can just get to these women and get them an MMS, there is a lot greater chance they will have a healthy pregnancy and healthy birth.”