During post graduate studies in the US, a Norwegian family doctor learned that the complete eradication of guinea worm disease was theoretically within reach. Dr Anders Seim was inspired by efforts at the Carter Center and decided to devote the rest of his professional life to this cause. He founded Health & Development International (HDI), registered in Boston, USA, and Norway. Dr Seim has since worked for the World Health Organization in Geneva, but is back in Norway, now engaged full time in HDI’s efforts to eradicate guinea worm, stop lymphatic filariasis (“elephantiasis”), and prevent women from dying and getting obstetric fistula as consequences of giving birth.
HDI remains a small non-governmental organization, concentrating on diseases deemed to be eradicable or that can be eliminated. Where simple interventions are at hand but insufficiently implemented, HDI’s aim has always been to advance world public health, strengthen economic development, and augment human dignity among some of the world’s most unfortunate people by helping to permanently free them of specific diseases.
HDI’s distinctive characteristic is the combination of catalytic functions with the use of modest funds to open bottlenecks. HDI gives special emphasis to the development of “south-south collaboration” and regional networking of programs and activities.
A solid track record at low cost
In guinea worm eradication, HDI has mobilized support from big business and governments in North America and Europe since 1990. We introduced rewards to help find the last cases—a tool now used in almost all endemic countries. And HDI provides field advisors or operations-support at critical times when others cannot.
In 1997, HDI initiated and co-sponsored a “Global Policy Retreat” where major directions for elephantiasis elimination were charted. To again stimulate clear thinking on a complicated issue, HDI convened a defining workshop on drug distribution two years later. We developed a popular advocacy brochure with WHO, and stimulated early inclusion of French speaking African countries in the program. At country level, HDI has particularly supported Ghana and Togo in the area of lymphatic filariasis (LF) elimination, encouraging collaboration across their border. And HDI runs the West African LF Morbidity Project under which surgeons in 12 countries are to be introduced to improved techniques for surgery on men with accumulation of fluid in the scrotum as a result of LF.
Since 2004, HDI has been working to introduce a community-based system to prevent deaths during childbirth and prevent obstetric fistula afterward for survivors of obstructed labor. A UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), CDC (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), HDI-sponsored global policy meeting broadly endorsed HDI’s proposed approach. And in December 2007, HDI launched the world’s first community-based program for rapid prevention of obstructed labor deaths and obstetric fistulas as a pilot project in Bankilare, Niger.