WASHINGTON, March 4 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Anna Kournikova has just returned from her first visit to Haiti, where she witnessed firsthand the combined effects of years of poverty, violence and natural disasters on the health of the local population.
"It was completely and devastatingly humbling to experience it all," said Kournikova, following her visit. "This trip made a huge impact on my life, both mentally and emotionally."
The visit was part of an awareness-raising mission organized by PSI - a leading global health organization - and was focused on drawing attention to the innovative solutions available to some of the world's most complex health problems.
In what she described as one of the most moving moments of her trip, Kournikova met with a group of young girls who had been sold into domestic servitude by their parents, for a modest profit and a seemingly better future. These youth, known in Haiti as restaveks, work long hours, with little protection, and are dangerously vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation.
"One little 'restavek' girl was telling us about how her family had sold her to another family when she was 8 years old and that she does everything for that family," recounted Kournikova. "She gets them water from the well each day, walks their kids to school, washes the clothes, cleans the house. She's not allowed to attend school, not allowed to have any kind of life of her own and she's being abused sexually and physically."
Current estimates suggest that more than 300,000 restaveks are living in Haiti and that more than 75% of them are young girls. The World Bank reports that 1 in every 2 girls has been sexually abused, with the abuse often resulting in HIV infections or other sexually transmitted diseases.
With a donation from H&M's Fashion Against AIDS campaign, PSI is building a youth center to provide children living in domestic servitude (restaveks) and on the streets with vocational training, clinical services and health education. The little girl Kournikova met comes regularly to PSI meetings to receive support and education to help her survive daily life. Out of fear of additional beatings and abuse, she's forced to do so in secret, telling the family she works for that she's doing something else.
In addition to meeting with restaveks, Kournikova also visited the hurricane-ravaged town of Cabaret. There, Kournikova said she could "see the hair of the children turning yellow due to malnutrition" and she noted the high rates of disease among children due to a lack of clean drinking water.
To reduce the rate of disease and to promote proper water treatment, PSI has launched a USAID-supported child survival program, focused on the social marketing of two key health products. "Sel Lavi" and "Dlo Lavi" have been proven effective in reducing the severity and duration of diarrhea episodes in children and in properly purifying unsafe water. PSI provides these products at affordable prices to those who need it most. PSI also builds education and behavior change communication campaigns in Haiti around proper water treatment, storage and sanitation.
While participating in a "Dlo Lavi" educational session in Cabaret, Kournikova also helped PSI distribute insecticide-treated malaria nets to children and their families - another key health product provided by PSI to prevent thousands of deaths due to the insect-borne disease. Long-lasting nets are funded by the Fondation Sogebank with the support of the Global Fund.
Kournikova also took part in an HIV prevention program - "Condomania" - in which PSI trains local sex workers as peer educators, teaching them how to persuade their customers to use condoms, promoting the use of female condoms and helping them to share their knowledge with other female sex workers.
Kournikova's trip helped draw much-needed attention to the health services PSI offers women and children in Haiti to help them live longer and healthier lives. Now that she has returned to the United States, she continues to draw attention to these life-saving initiatives. You can read a first-person account of her experiences on her blog at: http://www.kournikova.com/blog/2009/02/26/my-life-changing-trip-to-haiti
Or view video of her trip on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSQnExVjFRI
PSI is an international nonprofit organization operating in more than 65 countries. With programs in malaria, reproductive health, child survival and HIV, PSI promotes products, services and healthy behavior that enable low-income and vulnerable people to lead healthier lives. www.psi.org.
For further information or for more photos, please contact:
Senior Manager, Communications
Phone: 202 469 6673
|SOURCE Population Services International|
Copyright©2009 PR Newswire.
All rights reserved