Bill Frist and Jill Biden: A call for better health and learning (The Tennessean)

THE TENNESSEAN | At Carpenters Middle School in Blount County, exercise and reading go hand in hand.

Nearly 200 students participate in the “Pedal Power” program, spending 20 minutes a day reading a book they select while riding a recumbent bike.

Students say that when they are physically active while they learn, they notice a difference, with one sharing that before the program he “used to not focus on reading” and another explaining “I’ve been reading more.”

Blount County’s program is not an outlier.  We are increasingly learning that students’ overall well-being and their academic achievement are intrinsically linked.  In our experiences—as a physician and as an educator who has taught at the high school and college level — we both have seen firsthand that good health helps our youth prosper.

Frist Visits Refugee Camp in East Africa

This week I traveled with Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden to refugee camps in eastern Kenya along the Somali border to witness the impact of the most acute food security emergency on earth.We need your help, and your help I promise will make a difference.

Yesterday we visited intake centers just on the border where over 1500 Somalis who walked for weeks with their starving children (over 29,000 young children have died of malnutrition and disease in Somalia alone over the past 90 days) arrive each day to find food and a safe place to live. But the camps are at capacity (the Dadaab camp has 430,000 refugees today; it was designed for 90,000) and new arrivals are left to fend for themselves on the outskirts of the camp.

Over the years I have delivered medical care in refugee camps on a number of trips, to camps in Darfur, Chad (on the border of Sudan), and in boy soldier camps in southern Sudan. I go as a doctor – and an observer of how we as individuals back at home can make a difference. Providing age appropriate health care to the vulnerable and malnourished children and adults is crucial to combat rapidly spreading disease and death. I see how we can use medicine and health as a currency for security and peace.

At Dadaab, I met with the nurses and doctors in clinics closed to the press.  Vaccinations for measles and polio are in need.  The crowded conditions in the camps make the kids especially susceptible to these deadly infectious diseases. That’s why we are seeing the current outbreaks of measles in the camps. Measles are preventable and treatable but we need more help. And that is where each of us comes in.

I saw the miracle of inexpensive oral rehydration with nutrients for babies and children who would otherwise die from the common diarrheal diseases that come from malnutrition. Much needed vitamins bolster the children’s immune systems. These are all simple, cheap interventions that are needed today. And they are all within our reach to provide.

The American people have done and are doing a lot (we are contributing over 47% of the current food aid coming to the Horn of Africa) which has markedly lessened the unfolding tragedy in the region, but the need today is growing faster than we and the entire international community are responding.

Dr. Biden and I, accompanied by USAID administrator Rajiv Shah, also saw in the field how our nation’s past investments are paying off. Due to our country’s investments in agricultural and livestock advancements in Kenya and Ethiopia over the past decade, they are able to handle the drought without the death associated with famine. But, lacking these investments over the past decade in war-torn Somalia, thousands have died and millions are at risk.

Aid agencies estimate that over $1 billion more is needed during this critical period to stop further deaths and get proper food, water, and health care, especially to the children who are most vulnerable.

How can you help? Hope Through Healing Hands is launching an East Africa Famine Campaign to raise funds to provide assistance to aid agencies who are on the ground now in the Horn of Africa. Based on my personal experiences, we will select beneficiaries whom we know and trust, who are on the ground now delivering care, and who will be providing both food and medical care to the victims of the famine.

Over 12 million are being affected. They need your support today.

Bill Frist, M.D.

P.S. Please follow our blog and our Facebook updates for more about the East Africa Famine Crisis.