GK Urban gardens project

Back in 2016, Zandrow conducted an initial childhood malnutrition study at Ark of Noah, a GK community in Bocaue, Bulacan, in the Philippines. Zandrow’s research revealed that 30% of the children were suffering from signs of malnutrition - wasted or stunted - putting this population at risk of poor brain development, increased susceptibility to disease, and increased risk of dying, particularly in younger children. With the help of the Departments of Agriculture and Health, and with the support of the local barangay, and GK volunteers, Zandrow developed an intervention that introduced a nutritious, vegetable-heavy diet by distributing seedlings of okra, peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, kamote tops and malunggay to 54 families. Zandrow and volunteers worked with the families to distribute the seedlings, provide instructions for their care and share easy-to-follow recipes to utilize the vegetables.

In 2017, volunteers took follow-up measurements of the participants at GK Ark of Noah and discovered that 100% the children had recovered to a healthier weight, all but eliminating the prevalence of malnutrition Zandrow had identified a year earlier. These data were presented in Orlando, Florida USA at the American Academy of Pediatrics General Assembly 2018 and won the Section on International Health’s Best Program Evaluation Award.

This year, armed with the previous data and an effective intervention, Zandrow and his volunteers fanned out across seven GK communities in the hopes of introducing this proven program in other needy villages. They took baseline measurements on population health metrics and distributed seedlings to start implementing the previously successful malnutrition program. However, the data they collected revealed more striking health problems in these villages than what was discovered in 2016. A cross-section of these villages, comprised of 400 individuals, revealed that:

45% of adults were overweight, 21% were obese, 51% have high blood pressure, and 28% were found to be diabetic. These data dwarfs the reported national rates and raise serious concerns for high rates of future heath attacks, strokes, kidney failure leading to dialysis, and death in these villages in the next few years. Diet and medical misconceptions contributed heavily towards these high rates of disease. For the children, 26% were underweight, 30% were stunted, and 36% of the children have at least one malnourished metric. The average household income is ~3,000 PHP a week, while the average household food expense is ~2,000PHP a week, yielding a cripplingly high food expense rate of ~67%. Households, on average comprised of 6 persons (3-4 adults and 2-3 children), all have food insecurity.

The health problems discovered during this project were unexpected and are in desperate need of quick correction. While large-scale countermeasures are needed to combat these issues, Zandrow and his small team of volunteers have taken a valuable first step in providing a path to a solution.

The community health survey revealed a clear, consistent message: there is a health crisis in these villages and the adults are at high risk of catastrophic health consequences from preventable diseases. Inspired by the previously successful and economical malnutrition project, Zandrow and his team are developing an intervention curve the rates of heart disease in these communities. It is critical that thoughtful interventions be brought forth quickly to prevent unnecessary loss of life and the subsequent devastating emotional and financial consequences for these families.

Zandrow, a future emergency room physician in July, 2019 at Temple Hospital in Philadelphia, PA, USA and a non-voting member of the GK USA Board of Trustees, is currently recruiting collaborators in the Philippines to help address these issue. Current collaborators include Civika, a public health group, and Saint Louis University of Baguio’s engineering, business, and medical schools. Anyone interested in collaboration or who wants to help support these projects can make an online donation here or contact mher@gk-usa.org or donate online through the Paypal Button below.