International Support and Partnership for Health (ISAPH)  

1. ISAPH: An Introduction

The International Support and Partnership for Health, known as ISAPH (pronounced EYE-sap), is an international non-governmental organization with a mission to promote healthy communities in developing countries across the world. It was founded in 2004 by an association of health-related organizations called St. Mary’s Group, the central figure of which is the renowned St. Mary’s Hospital in Kurume City, Fukuoka Prefecture. Drawing on the more than thirty-year experience of St. Mary’s Hospital in the field of international health, ISAPH engages local residents and leaders in carrying out activities at the grassroots level.

ISAPH conducts activities in the following three areas:

  • Advancing community health through involvement of local citizens
  • ➤Since 2005 ISAPH has spearheaded projects in both Laos (Asia) and Malawi (Africa) to improve
      the health of mothers and children, especially the nutritional status of infants.

  • Supporting disaster medical relief operations in areas affected by natural disasters
  • ➤ Relief efforts have covered floods, tsunamis and earthquakes in several countries including Laos,
       Thailand, Indonesia, Pakistan, etc. in addition to domestic relief efforts when needed, including
       the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.

  • Building capacity of health personnel by drawing on the wealth of mutual knowledge and
    experience between countries
  • ➤Since 2005 when the first ISAPH project in Laos was launched, over 40 groups of Japanese health
      personnel have participated in ISAPH study tours to Laos, providing an important opportunity to
      observe not only a new culture but also issues surrounding healthcare in a developing country.

2. An Overview of ISAPH Activities in Laos and Malawi

Since 2005, Japanese medical staff have been working together with local residents in Laos and Malawi to promote the health of citizens, especially mothers and children, through various activities that directly involve those receiving aid. ISAPH works with the Provincial Health Department in Khammouane Province (central Laos) and the Southern District Health Department in Mzimba District (northern Malawi) as counterpart organizations when planning and conducting projects.

ISAPH staff are dispatched to the project site to focus on key activities that address critical needs in the area, which range from developing medical staff and volunteer health personnel to strengthening health screenings for children and pregnant women, promoting health education, and improving the nutritional status/healthy growth of infants. For Laos and Malawi, emphasis is placed on improvement of infant nutrition due to the crisis of malnutrition among the young and vulnerable members of society. ISAPH also provides medical treatment and supplies of milk to those infants in immediate danger of losing their lives from starvation.

3. Project Results

  1. Laos: Maternal and Child Health Project
  2. ISAPH initiated the Maternal and Child Health Project in the Xe Bang Fai District of Khammouane Province in 2005. The target region faced an unusually high infant mortality rate, with one particular area suffering a loss of over 30% of all newborns (24 mortalities out of 76 deliveries). A Cause of Death Investigation was conducted in November 2006, the results of which revealed widespread bouts of infantile beriberi caused by a severe vitamin B1 deficiency. Based on these findings, ISAPH secured support from the JICA Partnership Program and in 2009 launched a 3-year project focused on improving the nutritional status of infants in the area. Its twofold goal of reducing underweight by improving nutritional intake and reducing infantile mortality caused by nutritional deficits saw drastic improvement in both areas, with a drop in underweight from 23% to 8% and a sharp decline of B1 deficiency-related deaths to almost zero. In April 2016, the target area was moved to Saybouathong District, and in April 2017 ISAPH received financial support from the Ajinomoto Company in support of a new project aimed at improving the nutritional status of both mothers and children.

  3. Malawi: Child Friendly Community Health Project
  4. Unicef’s 2014 State of the World’s Children Report revealed an astounding 48% of the country’s children experience stunted growth due to malnutrition, and in ISAPH’s project target area of Mzimba District the figure, although slightly less than the national average, was still at a dismal 33%. With the help of the JICA Partnership Program, in May 2013 ISAPH launched the Child Friendly Community Health Project with a goal to improve the nutritional status of children in the local region. By the time the project came to an end, not only was there a measurable improvement in the nutritional status of children aged 1-5, but the community also saw an increase in knowledge of proper nutrition that led to a more balanced intake for children and families alike. Despite these improvements, however, no progress was seen among those less than 1 year of age. To address this gap, attention was shifted to the nutritional status of breastfeeding mothers, whose health exerts a direct influence on that of their young. Continued efforts are underway to train both government health personnel as well as local volunteers in ensuring these vulnerable members of society experience a measurable improvement in quality of life.

4. A New Challenge

ISAPH’s key efforts have, until now, focused on the improvement of maternal and child health across the world. Engaging local community members has brought about an increase of knowledge among local citizens, raised awareness of the importance of nutrition, and fostered positive changes in customs and habits surrounding food. Despite these accomplishments, however, a large number of people in developing countries are still not able to sustain a balanced diet for long periods, whether due to poverty, lack of training in proper agricultural techniques, or weather conditions that negatively affect crop availability. Tackling the problem of nutrition from a holistic perspective, ISAPH is currently working with knowledgeable local organizations to develop initiatives to promote home and community gardens as well as home cultivation of fish, rabbits, and edible insects.