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The battle goes on against tropical diseases

Everyone has seen images of stick-thin children with distended stomachs.

Everyone has seen images of stick-thin children with distended stomachs.

But not everyone knows they are sick in part because of intestinal worms that cause neglected tropical diseases.

Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief (CPAR) wants to help protect 101,692 children and adults in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia from those diseases through a three-year initiative that includes a de-worming campaign, water and sanitation projects.

CPAR volunteer Beulah Phillpot, 73, of Red Deer is spreading the word about the national campaign to raise over $400,000 to fund the project — at a cost of only $1.30 per person per year.

“It’s ready to start the moment the money is there,” said Phillpot who visited the region with her husband Norm, 75, in November 2012.

Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief was founded in 1984 in response to extreme famine and works in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda and Malawi.

The Red Deer couple was invited to see CPAR projects in action by Beulah’s sister, Jeannette Mergens, 70, of Kelowna. a long-time supporter of CPAR.

As seniors who grew up in rural Canada during the 1940s, Phillpot said they could understand the struggles of people living in the remote region of Ethiopia.

“We were taken back to our own childhood growing up on a farm in the era before electricity,” said Phillpot who grew up in the Dawson Creek, B.C., area where her grandparents were homesteaders.

“That’s exactly where these people are at the moment so it was very heart touching. We also had a complete sense of hope because we have all become professionals and have travelled the world and done all the things we wanted to do.”

During their two-week visit to Ethiopia, the couple sometimes stayed in bare-bone camps where other CPAR projects were underway to grow farm crops, raise chickens, support bee hives and dig wells.

“People are very optimistic about what they can do. They know they have challenges but they also have lots of enthusiasm to work for the changes they want.”

She said the eradication of intestinal worms is one of the top issues for the World Health Organization.

People become infected through contaminated water, poor sanitation and by walking barefoot.

Worms that live and feed on their human hosts, especially children, disrupt nutrient absorption. They impair physical and mental growth and contribute to the spread of disease like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria because of their affect on the immune system.

She said deworming medication is not enough to solve the problem. Clean water and adequate sanitation facilities, and education to maintain water sources and sanitation, are required to end the cycle.

Phillpot said proper health care is a basic service that people need to help them build better lives.

“My sister and I are both educators and we’re really very much aware of how valuable education is. Our focus is on education. But education isn’t easily acquired if you’re otherwise ill.”

For more information on CPAR’s three-year initiative or to donate call Phillpot at 403-347-4450 or CPAR in Toronto toll-free 1-800-263-2727.

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