11/26/2013 02:35 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2014

Education Can Be The Best Medicine Of All

Ever since I was a young girl, I've wanted to help Haiti. During my time at medical school in Haiti, and when studying for my master's degree in public health at Johns Hopkins University, I knew I wanted to return to my country and help residents get the healthcare they needed. And, as a mother of two, I recognize children's healthcare as exceptionally important.

Unfortunately, this passion comes with pain. Haiti has the highest mortality rate among children under five in the Americas: 88 per 1,000 live births, according to UNICEF. Every day, I witness Haitian children as they struggle with common, preventable maladies such as pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria, which produce significant barriers to optimal health. I look at my own beautiful children, both grown now, and realize how lucky we are that they have not suffered the need for good health care that afflicts so many of the children I see every day.

Action for Family Health, a project that is supported by Johnson & Johnson and led by Daughters of Charity, is geared toward mothers and children living in Cite Soleil, a marginalized community located in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area of Haiti. The poverty I see as I walk through Cite Soleil is unimaginable, yet I am filled with hope when I visit a key part of the project, an initiative called the mothers' clubs.

Through the Action for Family Health project, mothers' clubs meet weekly for 12 weeks and receive health education regarding family and community health practices. The ultimate goal is to improve child health through education. Mothers receive advice on various and important ways to keep their children healthy. The health education provided in the clubs is based on the sixteen Key Family Practices identified by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, and have been adapted for use in Haiti. The practices include exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, immunizing children, and providing adequate fluids and seeking appropriate health care when the child is sick, and are reinforced in the hope that mothers will institute what they have learned within their families.

The results of the mothers' clubs have been outstanding: Since the program started in 2012, the immunization rate for the children under 1 participating in this program has increased to 78 percent, and 90 percent of the children between 1 to 4 have received health screenings.

In addition to sharing experiences and learning best practices from one another, moms also learn from Community Health Workers (CHWs). They turn to the CHWs for advice when their child is sick, which demonstrates the utmost trust they have in these dedicated health providers. Through Action for Family Health, over 3,000 children were visited by CHWs at their homes to follow up with those that were ill from diarrhea, fever, malaria, typhoid, and malnutrition.

As I reflect back on Universal Children's Day, it's important to remember the impact of providing health care to children and the communities in which they live. A healthy child is an empowered child with a healthy future -- a future in which they can thrive and contribute not only to their local communities, but to the global community at large.

CMMB has been committed to Haiti since our founder, Dr. Paluel Flagg, traveled there in 1912 to provide health care to people living with leprosy. That visit marked the beginning of CMMB. Today, CMMB's programs in Haiti focus on primary health care, maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS treatment, care, and prevention, malaria, and services for the disabled. Watch this short video highlighting our success in Haiti.