11/08/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Health Centers: One of the Keys to Eradicating Poverty

While Garth Brooks may be best known for his country music, he is also a devoted philanthropist. Through the joint efforts of his Teammates For Kids Foundation and Rwanda Works, the critical message that poverty and health are directly related is about to be demonstrated in a very tangible way. The world's poorest citizens simply can't build better lives or look forward to future prosperity unless they are healthy enough to learn, to work, and to grow.

The people of Ngeruka, Rwanda, are a case in point. Located in Bugesera district, the epicenter of Rwanda's genocide, Ngeruka is a rural community that faces an array of health problems compounded by the fact that there is merely one, small four-room health post servicing the entire community. Nearly 50 percent of kids are underweight or malnourished. More than one-tenth of children here die before their fifth birthday. Those who survive the first five years of life still have to contend with malaria, respiratory and diarrheal illnesses, and parasites such as intestinal worms that exacerbate poor nutrition and lead to learning deficits and high rates of school absenteeism. These illnesses are preventable and treatable as long as children have access to quality primary health care, but can lead to severe disability and even death if basic health services are financially or geographically inaccessible.

If Ngeruka's cycle of suffering and privation is ever to be broken, a health center is the best place to start. Health centers are the first point of care for most Rwandans; they are one-stop shops for everything from immunizations and injury care to treatment of most common ailments. For adults, health centers provide reproductive health care -- family planning, pre-natal care, safe childbirth -- as well as AIDS treatment. Rwanda Works, through the support of the Garth Brooks Teammates For Kids Foundation, is championing better health by funding construction of a new health center in Ngeruka, Rwanda.

The Ngeruka Heath Center, scheduled to open in early 2010, will provide services to 27,000 local residents, including thousands of children who will have access to life saving health care that was previously absent. Small, simple health posts even closer to communities will provide easier access to basic care for children and their families. With a healthier population, Ngeruka will be able to take the critical first step towards prosperity: Its people will finally look forward to a future where their children live without the double burdens of disease and poverty.