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Players Trust, Medicines for Humanity help eliminate malnutrition in D.R. province

In 2008, more than one in 20 children under five years of age were dying from preventable causes in the province of Barahona, located in the western region of the Dominican Republic near the Haitian border.

As inconceivable as this sounds, it was true. Extreme poverty and the lack of basic medicines, health and nutrition services were resulting in children dying from malnutrition, pneumonia and dehydration caused by diarrhea.

That's what prompted Caritas Barahona, a local service agency, to seek assistance and expertise from Medicines for Humanity, a non-profit organization with a successful track record of reducing child mortality in some of the most desperate places on the planet.

After assessing the challenging circumstances, Medicines for Humanity turned to its long-time partner in the Dominican Republic, the Players Trust, the charitable foundation of the Major League Baseball Players Association.

Together, the organizations planned and implemented a vital project to save the lives of today's children in Barahona and establish a system of nutrition services and access to basic medicines that would enable Caritas Barahona to prevent the needless deaths of children in the future, as well.

"We initiated a nutrition program and established community pharmacies to make basic medicines available 24/7 in the neediest areas in Barahona, providing resources to treat the other killers like pneumonia and diarrhea," said Melissa Persaud, director of the Players Trust.

Five years later, malnutrition has been all but eradicated in Barahona, thanks to the collaborative efforts of the three organizations.

"When we started this project, the Diocese of Barahona wasn't convinced that we could reach our goals," said Tim Bilodeau, founder and Executive Director of Medicines for Humanity. "Now they take tremendous pride in what we have accomplished by working together."

Recently Manuel Perez, the Director of Caritas Barahona met with Bilodeau to celebrate the culmination of this project.

"When you came to Barahona five years ago and told us what we could accomplish together… we really thought you were crazy," Perez told Bilodeau. "Now that you have helped make our dreams a reality, we still think you are crazy, but 'crazy good -- bueno loco!'

"Children in the areas we serve are no longer dying from malnutrition, and we have basic medicines available in self-sustaining botiquines (small pharmacies) staffed by pharmacy aides trained through this program."

Considering the bleak prospects facing the children of Baharona just five years ago, there was good reason for the organizations to pause and take stock in what they had accomplished in such a short time.

 "The Players Trust, the Diocese of Barahona and Medicines for Humanity saw a need, worked in partnership and refused to give up until we reached our goals," Persaud said.

"Together, we have achieved something extraordinary for families in Barahona. We improved critically needed health services for the children who needed our help the most."

But the work in the Dominican Republic is not over for the Players Trust and Medicines for Humanity.

A grant from the Trust is helping to fund the La Loma Health Education project. In its fifth year, the program provides a rigorous certification training for a group of 60 community health workers in San Pedro de Marcoris. 

Another Trust grant to Medicines for Humanity is addressing poor water quality and lack of sanitation in Quisqueya through the Water, Sanitation and Hygeine (WASH) project.

And the The Strong Mothers, Strong Babies program entered its second year in 2014, reducing infant mortality and building the capacity of the healthcare system in Las Matas de Farfan, an area with one of the highest mortality rates in the Dominican Republic.