Annah Margarita Montesa, a project officer with Save the Children, meets with a family in the Philippines
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3 Under-30 Health Leaders Who Want to Help Make Today's Kids the Healthiest Generation
3 Under-30 Health Leaders Who Want to Help Make Today's Kids the Healthiest Generation
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The first few years of a child’s life are pivotal when it comes to future health and well-being. Just ask these young men and women—all 2018 One Young World Summit Scholars—who won't rest until they've given children a chance to reach their full potential.

hen you hear the term "return on investment"—that is, the payoff you get for the resources you put into something—you probably think about finance, right?

Well, health researchers also use the term when looking at the first few years of a child’s life because data shows that the highest return on investment in humans happens during the period from birth to 5 years old.

The investments, in this case: top-notch prenatal and newborn care, immunizations, quality nutrition and good hygiene. The return, if those investments are made? Healthy mothers and babies—and children who have a better shot at being healthy for the rest of their lives.

"In the past decade, data has shown that if you have a very healthy pregnancy and birth, and know how to take good care of your baby, you will boost the health outcomes of your child into adulthood,” says Joy Marini Joy Marini, Director of Global Community Impact, Johnson & Johnson, Director of Global Community Impact, Johnson & Johnson. “What we know unequivocally is that having the healthiest start in life leads to a healthy future."

That's why, at this year’s One Young World Summit, which kicks off this week in the Netherlands, Johnson & Johnson is sending its largest delegation to date to the gathering—an impressive group of under-30 movers and shakers all focused on helping solve some of the world's greatest health challenges, including setting babies up for success starting in pregnancy.

This is the sixth year that Johnson & Johnson is collaborating with One Young World, which includes sponsoring One Young World Scholars with one-on-one coaching from senior Johnson & Johnson leaders to help further develop their programs.

"Investing in young leaders and building their leadership skills is a key priority for Johnson & Johnson," says Annet Eijkelkamp Annet Eijkelkamp, Director, Employee Engagement, Global Community Impact EMEA, Johnson & Johnson, and the One Young World Program Lead, Director, Employee Engagement, Global Community Impact EMEA, Johnson & Johnson, and the One Young World Program Lead. "Our partnership with One Young World empowers them to make a positive impact and help change the trajectory of health for humanity."

We caught up with three of these young men and women to learn more about where their passion for health was born—and why they are so dedicated to improving those key "return on investment" years for children around the world.

  • Radhika Batra, founder and president of Every Infant Matters, an NGO in India Share

    Radhika Batra Founder and President, Every Infant Matters, India

    How are you helping to promote healthy mothers and children?
    "Every Infant Matters is an NGO dedicated to promoting good health for children in the first 1,000 days of life.

    Two areas of focus are vitamin A deficiency—the biggest cause of preventable blindness in the world—and worm infestation, which can cause chronic abdominal pain and discomfort, anemia and other nutritional deficiencies, and failure to thrive. So we distribute vitamin A and medication to treat worm infestations free of cost.

    We also promote healthy practices like breastfeeding and good hygiene, and work to dispel some of the myths and misconceptions—like vaccine skepticism—that can be detrimental to children's health.

    What inspired you to get into this work?
    As a medical student, I did my internship in a busy public hospital in Delhi, and I quickly realized that the public infrastructure is overburdened and understaffed. Doctors in government hospitals in India are struggling against odds to cope with the huge rush of patients—and doctors and nurses have no time for talking to patients about good health practices.

    So I decided to invest my own time and resources to make a difference.

    In India, only about 45% of children under 5 are fully immunized, despite the government’s free and ubiquitous immunization program. Because of this, I realized I must work at the grassroots level to fill the gaps.

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    Last year, there was a family with three small children who would come to me regularly for treatment. The mother would follow my advice in every respect but one: She refused to get her children immunized. I would explain to her again and again the importance of immunization, but to no avail.

    In India, only about 45% of children under 5 are fully immunized, despite the government’s free and ubiquitous immunization program. Because of this, I realized I must work at the grassroots level to fill the gaps, which is why I founded my NGO to promote immunizations among other lifesaving health practices.

    What keeps you inspired to help the next generation?
    I believe that, as they grow, today's children will be instrumental in building a healthy world. This inspires me to help the next generation thrive, so they can become leaders and visionaries."

  • George Nkhoma, a registered nurse midwife at Chitipa District Hospital in Malawi Share

    George Nkhoma Registered Nurse Midwife, Chitipa District Hospital, Malawi

    How are you helping to promote healthy mothers and children?
    "I'm a nurse midwife, as well as a safe motherhood coordinator, which means that I provide maternal and newborn health services in my area.

    I am also involved in training community-based health workers—health surveillance assistants, volunteers and community health nurses—in maternal and newborn health.

    What’s more, I work in community outreach, educating people about the importance of immunizations, early diagnosis of disease in infants, and prenatal and postpartum care.

    What inspired you to get into this work?
    I originally wanted to become an engineer, but when I finished high school, I learned that my mother died giving birth to me. She lived in a rural area, and passed away during labor as she walked to a health facility 45 kilometers away from home. She was accompanied by her mother-in-law, who helped her deliver me when she couldn't make it to the facility.

    This is what inspired me to become a midwife, and to make this work my passion.

    I’ll never forget one patient who lost a lot of blood. It was so much like my own story. I made sure to do everything I could to save her. Ultimately, she made it—and the baby is named George, after me.

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    All of my friends knew I wanted to become an engineer, including my secondary school teachers, and after changing my mind, everyone laughed at me.

    In Malawi, the nursing and midwifery professions are more feminine than masculine. Plus, it's a profession that would pay much less than engineering would. I had to make some tough decisions, but I wanted to work in the service of humanity—and to give back for my mother.

    What keeps you inspired to help the next generation?
    I’ll never forget one patient who delivered on her way to the hospital, and lost a lot of blood. It was so much like my own story.

    I was moved, and made sure to do everything I could to save her. Ultimately, she made it—and the baby is named George, after me.

    I will always be inspired by the desire to see a healthy mother and baby."

  • Annah Margarita Montesa, a project officer for Save the Children in the Philippines Share

    Annah Margarita Montesa Project Officer, Save the Children, Philippines

    How are you helping to promote healthy mothers and children?
    "I'm a registered nurse and I work with Save the Children, where I manage a project in the Philippines that focuses on maternal, newborn and child health and nutrition, with a particular focus on pregnancy through age 2.

    We support health facilities by providing them with necessary equipment, as well as connecting them to health centers, birthing units and hospitals to ensure that patients get the right services at the right place.

    I also train doctors, nurses, midwives and nutritionists so they’re able to provide quality services. And I work with local leaders, educating them on the success of certain health and nutrition programs to try to get more funding.

    It breaks my heart to see people deprived of opportunities because of poor health, and I find it rewarding to nurse sick people back to wellness.

    Share

    What inspired you to get into this work?
    It breaks my heart to see people deprived of opportunities because of poor health, and I find it rewarding to nurse sick people back to wellness. Pursuing public health lets me reach a greater number of people—I’m inspired by the fact that my work can save lives even after I leave a project area.

    For example, I trained community health volunteers to advise pregnant women in one community to deliver their babies in birthing facilities, rather than in their homes.

    Home birthing has been one of the identified causes of maternal death due to unavailability of proper equipment, infection and untrained birth attendants—whereas birthing centers are equipped to provide these services, and are able to refer patients if there is an emergency.

    The nature of Save the Children puts a lot of emphasis on partnerships, discussions and engaging everyone for the cause. We can easily go into a community to deliver services ourselves, but that’s not the path that will lead to sustainable changes. That's why the hard work we do to coordinate so many efforts is so important.

    What keeps you inspired to help the next generation?
    To be able to help a family give their children the best, and to be able to contribute to providing better healthcare in my country."

See how other young leaders, hailing from Samoa to Guyana, are pursuing programs to help change the world.

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