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Newport woman houses World Medical Relief office in home

Ruth Calkins’ effort to help combat HIV and AIDS through an educational website she started from her home in Newport, opened her to involvement with World Medical Relief (WMR) as another way to address her concerns about Africa.

Ruth Calkins and World Relief Aid
Ruth Calkins

A TV special on AIDS in Africa introduced her to the World Medical Fund. In 2004, she emailed the founder, who wanted to expand in the United States.

Ruth offered to help. Now her home address is the address for World Medical Relief USA.
The organization established mobile children’s clinics, operating in Malawi with three Land Rovers equipped with medical supplies. They travel to villages to give medical treatment and provide anti-retrovirals to children born with AIDS.

Three medical officers go in each Land Rover with a pharmacist and a nurse. There are 10 volunteers for every paid person. When they come to a village, more than 100 people line up. Children are weighed and measured to address malnutrition. Every day, they visit three villages, revisiting each every four months in the Nkhotakota Western Lake District of Malawi.

At each village, they train volunteer health workers to weigh and measure children. Pharmacists give out medicines and mosquito nets.

In August 2006, WMR held an education program to help protect African girls, who are sexually active at early ages, Ruth said. Education also discourages them from sexual activity as the best way to prevent AIDS.

“Families are so poor that a girl will offer herself in exchange for a meal,” she said, “even though children can see the ravages of AIDS in their villages.”

World Medical Relief wants children aware early that those outcomes connect with being sexually active at an early age.

“We seek to have churches, mosques and schools cooperate in a program of education for children. Where the program has been done, the rate of HIV has dropped from 16 percent to 2 percent,” she reported.

In 2006, World Medical Relief treated nearly 14,000 children for malaria and bilharzi—a parasitic flatworm—and distributed 362 mosquito nets. They reach a total of 30,000 sick children a year.

Michael Burt, WMR founder, said they have given out 5,000 nets, but there is need for 100,000 nets in 586 villages.

Beginning in 1984, he often traveled to Malawi on vacations, volunteering for agencies working with AIDS victims. He became disillusioned with administrative costs of clinics and offices.

So he retired early from his job with the British Health Services in 1997 to start World Medical Relief to aid children in hard-to-reach areas with few medical resources. The average daily income in those areas is 41 cents from subsistence farming or fishing.

To save administrative costs, Michael operates WMF from his home, just as the treasurer and Ruth work from their homes. They keep careful records, she said, both to justify expenses and so their work can be duplicated.

A Quaker most of her life, Ruth has also been involved in United Methodist, Unity and now United Church of Christ churches.

Her first husband’s work with Rutger’s Agricultural College took them overseas, from 1959 to 1963, in Sri Lanka—then Ceylon. Then he worked with U.S. AID from 1963 to 1972 in Nigeria. They returned because he had a head injury in a car accident. He died in 1974 in Arlington, Va. Ruth was a legal secretary there, where she married Dan Calkins. They moved three years ago to settle near grandchildren in Newport.

Knowing what native villages look like from having lived in Nigeria, Ruth realizes how AIDS adds to the burdens. With this work, she has less time to keep up the website, which includes statistics and descriptions of AIDS in South Africa, Somalia and Uganda. She prepares the newsletter for World Medical Relief and gives talks to area groups about the program.

For information, call 447-5957.

Mary Stamp - The Fig Tree - © March 2007