Burden of COVIDThe most recent pandemic has wreaked havoc on countries all over the world and has stagnated, or even reversed progress in many developing communities. While officials have been trying to reduce the number of cases worldwide, there have also been many tech developments that help alleviate the burden of COVID-19. Various apps and websites allow us to spread information, contact-trace and even enforce quarantine.

6 Ways Technology Helps Alleviate the Burden of COVID-19

  1. Afghanistan- Without proper guidance, misinformation can spread like wildfire and can be deadly. For this reason, the Ministry of Public Health joined forces with the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology to create software that provides health information to Afghani citizens. Corona.asan.gov.af translates virus updates and information into three different languages, making it easily accessible for all people.
  2. Bulgaria- Local IT developers created a free app that connects citizens to health authorities to help ease the burden of COVID-19. Users verify their identity and can input various symptoms they are experiencing. A doctor will then review their symptoms and decide whether or not to send the patient to the closest medical facility for treatment. In addition to this, the app also can predict the future growth and spread of the virus. The developers are also willing to sell the software to other countries for a symbolic one euro.
  3. Germany- A Berlin-based tech startup created an initiative that would work on Android devices in developing countries throughout South America and North Africa. The project, called #AppsFightCovid would display health information on popup ads that already exist on different apps. The ads take info from the WHO website and advocate for frequent hand washing and wearing a mask in public. Because of these efforts, underdeveloped communities now have access to important COVID-19 information.
  4. Mexico- The Mexico City government created a screening service that determines how likely a user is to contract the coronavirus. The website also features a map that displays the closest hospitals and how much space is available in each of them. People can also filter the map based on whether they need a general care bed or a ventilator bed. In addition, users can input their symptoms and determine whether or not they require hospitalization. This helps alleviate the burden of COVID by reducing the number of unnecessary hospital patients during a global pandemic.
  5. United Nations- It is extremely difficult to get access to personal protective equipment and accurate information, especially for developing countries. Because of this, the U.N. partnered with the WHO and launched the Tech Access Partnership or TAP. This initiative helps reduce the burden of COVID by connecting expert manufacturers with developing manufacturers in poorer countries all over the world to share resources, knowledge and technical expertise. TAP will also aid countries in creating affordable and safe technology.
  6. Argentina- In hopes of reducing the number of coronavirus cases, a company is looking into enforcing quarantining and social distancing through a tracking app, though it is not yet operational. This would be a way to prevent the spread of COVID since the app would send an alert each time a person leaves their home. In addition, the Argentinian Ministry of Health created an application that allows people to evaluate their symptoms and see whether or not they require hospitalization.

 

Though the novel coronavirus has thrown us all for a whirlwind, many countries are doing their part to alleviate the burden of COVID by using technology. Whether it is through self-assessing symptoms, tracking hospitals or enforcing quarantine, government officials everywhere are trying to flatten the curve through the use of technology.

– Karin Filipova
Photo: Unsplash

Afghan Women's Writing Project
Writing in Afghanistan has typically been a taboo craft for women. Especially under the influence of the Taliban, women and girls were not able to go to school or learn to read and write safely. The Afghan Women’s Writing Project is an innovative writing program for empowering female voices in Afghanistan.

Founded in May 2009, the project gives Afghan women a way to publish their writing directly onto the internet. Although the Writing Project’s existence can only spread by word-of-mouth for security reasons, it has empowered more than 100 women in Afghanistan. Here are five facts about the project.

5 Facts About the Afghan Women’s Writing Project

  1. Marsha Hamilton is the founder of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. Hamilton started the program after viewing the execution of a woman named Zarmina by the Taliban. Zarmina allegedly killed her husband, but Marsha Hamilton felt that Zarmina did not have the chance to tell her side of the story before her brutal execution. Hamilton also witnessed how women publish their writings. In Afghanistan, women usually publish their work through the men in their family or the media. This prevents some women’s voices from being heard due to the possible censorship that may occur through these channels. Zarmina’s execution and the less-than-ideal way of publishing led Hamilton to decide to create an online platform that allows women to publish their writings.
  2. The Afghan Women’s Writing Project uses Dari and English writing workshops to help educate women. The project collaborates with Afghan-based agencies to provide Dari and English writing workshops. These workshops teach women different techniques and skills to further their writing. Additionally, the program conducts “Reading Salons” every month. These meetings take place in secret locations in Kabul and Heart to avoid retribution from various groups in Afghanistan or writers’ own families. During the reading salons, women are able to read their work and talk about their writing experiences in an encouraging space.

  3. In 2018, Afghanistan reported that only 10% of the population had access to the internet. Due to the lack of reliable internet and computer access, the Afghan Women’s Writing Project provides many members with laptops and internet access. This enables every woman in Afghanistan, regardless of status, to participate in the program. According to the website, it costs about $2,500 to provide each woman with a laptop, internet, workshops and books. This amazing opportunity is funded by small contributions as well as fundraising initiatives by volunteers and readers.

  4. Writing has long been a form of expression and empowerment. Through the work of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, Afghan women are changing themselves and the world around them. The project website claims, “In telling their own stories, we’ve seen these women gather strength, courage, and self-confidence. They become empowered to make change within their homes, their communities, and eventually their country. They also gain computer literacy and skills of language and critical thinking, which increases their job-related skills.” The skills and empowerment that women gain from this program help them empower themselves and others, as well as change the way people around the world see Afghanistan.

  5.  The Afghan Women’s Writing Project is currently working on an “oral stories component.” This project will allow disabled or illiterate women to share their stories as well. Human Rights Watch reports there are about 3.5 million children out of school and 85% of them are girls. Additionally, with about 2.7% of the population disabled, there are not many programs in place to help them succeed. Disabilities are often stigmatized in Afghanistan as “punishments from God” and it is difficult to find work. These women are often marginalized by their community. The Writing Project hopes to empower them to share their experiences and triumphs despite the obstacles they may face.

Women across Afghanistan continue to step up and speak their mind through the few means available to them. The Afghan Women’s Writing Project is working hard to give women’s voices a platform in Afghanistan.

– Ashleigh Litcofsky
Photo: Wikimedia

Human Rights in Afghanistan
Human rights have long been a concern in the country of Afghanistan. The country suffers from extreme poverty that terrorist forces bringing destruction and violence intensify. As a result of these dire conditions, many Afghan citizens do not receive basic rights. While these conditions are extremely bleak, there are a few endeavors working on improving human rights in Afghanistan.

United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan

In 2019, Afghanistan saw an excessive amount of violence. From the beginning of January through September, there were over 8,000 civilian casualties. The Taliban specifically targeted some of these attacks on women and health care providers.

One organization, The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), has devoted itself to eliminating the harsh conditions of typical Afghan life. UNAMA is using its research, reporting, advocacy and engagement to tackle this endeavor.

Specifically, UNAMA aims to protect civilians from armed conflict, defend against the violation of child rights, eliminate violence against women, halt arbitrary detention and prevent torture during detention. So many civilians, women and children, in particular, experience great suffrage as a result of the violence in Afghanistan.

Despite the bleakness of 2019, UNAMA has made progress. Large-scale suicide attacks decreased by 79 percent in 2019 when compared to 2018. Torture in conflict-related detainees decreased by 7 percent as well. Maintaining the mission and engaging in strategic partnerships are key aspects to improving the living conditions of the public and at-risk Afghans. By continuing the impactful research, reporting, advocacy and strategic relationships, UNAMA is improving human rights in Afghanistan.

Human Rights Defenders

For a long while, human rights defenders have been victims of violence and intimidation within Afghanistan. Specifically, in 2019, escalated tensions surrounded human rights workers where there were specific activities of attacks and/or kidnapping. During that escalation in violence, the Taliban announced that there would be an attack on all media outlets responsible for criticizing Taliban fighters. These defenders are vital to aiding the protection of people’s human rights in Afghanistan. In turn, these defenders must also receive protection. 

Response to Rising Tensions

In January 2020, at an Amnesty International event, the authorities publicly committed to protecting the defenders of human rights in Afghanistan. Other organizations that support human rights throughout the nation attended the event. All of these groups designed a strategy outlining the actions they should take to protect human rights defenders.

This support launches initiatives that will investigate attacks, respond to incidents and/or threats of attacks, offer relief to human rights defenders and enable human rights defenders to continue work without the fear of retaliation. Helping these human rights defenders is vital to changing the situation of human rights in Afghanistan. If these defenders are unable to safely complete the work, then the human rights of Afghans will never improve.

Currently, human rights in Afghanistan are in need of remarkable improvements. Organizations are aiming to develop response mechanisms and preventative strategies toward improving human rights in Afghanistan. UNAMA is aiming to utilize research, reporting, advocacy, strategic partnerships and the protection of human rights defenders to help the Afghan population.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Wikipedia

Literacy Rates in Afghanistan
Afghanistan, a landlocked country in south-central Asia, houses many different ethnic groups and extremely important trade routes. The country also has a longstanding history in literature, with poets such as Reza Mohammadi and Khaled Hosseini. Unfortunately, due to the spread of the Taliban regime and devastating wars, literacy rates in Afghanistan are among the lowest in the world at about 45 percent for men and 17 percent for women. In 2018, Idress Siyawash had the vision to raise literacy rates in Afghanistan with the implementation of his mobile bicycle libraries.

Mobile Bicycle Libraries

Read Books, or Ketab Lwast, is a program that Idress Siyawash started to provide books and learning experiences for children in Afghanistan, especially in rural areas. Siyawash is a student at Jahan University in Kabul, Afghanistan. Each week, he and his team travel to rural areas in Afghanistan to deliver books to children. They ride around town on bright blue bicycles with baskets full of books in order to excite the children and motivate them to learn. Then, they gather all the kids and teach them to read, write, speak and understand the importance of learning. Female volunteers travel from home to home working to encourage mothers and fathers to send their daughters to school. The female volunteers serve as models for parents who want a better, more equal life for their daughters.

Motives and Inspiration

Education rates in Afghanistan are significantly lower than those of other countries. For example, Afghanistan has an average literacy rate of 38 percent, while the international average is 84 percent. Education in rural areas is especially low. Gender inequality also affects education in Afghanistan, as many women do not have permission to attend schools, and in most provinces, the amount of female teachers is below 10 percent.

Siyawash had the determination to raise literacy rates in Afghanistan and also change Afghani attitudes regarding gender equality in terms of education. In an interview, Siyawash said, “Our idea is to show that reading is fun and explain why education is so important. If we give the children books, it might help end the way of thinking that is holding this country back.”

Obstacles and Solutions

One of the main obstacles to education in Afghanistan is distance. Some children, especially in rural areas, must walk for hours to reach their schools. For example, children in the Badakhshan province walk four hours each day to go and come back from the closest government-supported school. Siyawash’s bicycle idea tackles this obstacle effectively, bringing education straight to the children.

Another obstacle is the fear of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, especially among females. Unfortunately, Taliban members have confronted and threatened Siyawash and his team twice, but they continue to travel and provide services to children because they believe in a “different future for Afghanistan.”

Read Books has had success in its goal to raise literacy rates in Afghanistan. Over the span of just a few years, the literacy rate in Afghanistan grew from 38 percent in 2015 to 43 percent in 2018. Overall, the future of education in Afghanistan is looking brighter.

– Shveta Shah
Photo: Flickr

Eight Facts about Food Insecurity in Afghanistan
Afghanistan, although rich in natural resources, has high rates of poverty and food insecurity. More than half of the population lives below the poverty line, and conflict has caused food insecurity to increase. Other challenges include climate change and natural disasters, which will only exacerbate the nation’s struggles in the coming years. Here are eight facts about food insecurity in Afghanistan.

8 Facts About Food Insecurity in Afghanistan

  1. Food insecurity is defined as the lack of access to healthy, affordable food. In Afghanistan, food insecurity is driven by a number of factors, including droughts, flooding, climate shocks and insufficient infrastructure.
  2. Between 2014 and 2017, food insecurity in Afghanistan increased significantly, reaching 13.2 million out of a total population of 35.7 million. Approximately 54 percent of the population lives in poverty and an estimated 41 percent of Afghan children under the age of five are stunted due to food insecurity.
  3. Food insecurity is worsened by conflict. Due to the seemingly unending conflict in the Middle East, the people of Afghanistan have been denied access to the most basic human right: food. Years of oppression from the Taliban regime along with drought further worsened food insecurity in Afghanistan.
  4. Bombings conducted by the U.S. and the U.K. have also driven many people into camps where food delivery is nearly impossible. As of Dec. 2018, there were more than 2.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Afghanistan. Even outside of camps, displaced individuals are more likely to experience food insecurity.
  5. Groups like the World Food Program (WFP) assisted more than 3.6 million people in 2015. Most of the assistance came in the form of food deliveries to people in rural areas where food insecurity is the highest. The WFP’s work aims to protect the most vulnerable and impoverished families and illiterate schoolchildren. They also place a particular emphasis on protecting women and girls.
  6. In 2015, the WFP also reached more than 814,000 women and children with take-home food baskets. Along with these baskets were small tablets that provide nutrients that those who are food insecure often lack.
  7. The nonprofit organization Action Against Hunger was able to help 374,814 people in 2018. In the same year, conflict escalated even further in Afghanistan, forcing 278,000 Afghans to flee their homes. Action Against Hunger has operated in Afghanistan for two decades. Since 1995, this program has worked to alleviate malnutrition in children, build safe sanitation services and create food security across the nation.
  8. The Save the Children Initiative has also worked to quell the extreme food insecurity that has resulted from years of war and conflict in the Middle East. Save the Children has helped 24,733 parents to provide food for their children so they do not become malnourished.

These eight facts about food insecurity in Afghanistan highlight that while Afghanistan has seen years of conflict and still wears the scars of war, there are always organizations working to alleviate the hunger crisis. There are many things people in the U.S. can do to help alleviate this conflict as well, including voting to continue foreign aid to the Middle East and supporting candidates and congressional leaders who wish to end the war in this region of the world.

William Mendez
Photo: Flickr

5 Ways Music Helps Impoverished Youth
For many cultures, music is a primary form of expression. It serves as an outlet for struggles with identity, relationships, politics and even poverty. Since music encapsulates various elements of a culture, it is essential for heritage preservation and for spreading awareness about the adversity that the respective cultures face. Music is a universal language, capable of reaching out and touching the hearts of any listener. This includes children, who are extremely receptive to music and are capable of learning of its benefits and values. Here are five examples that show how music helps impoverished youth cope with their experiences and spread awareness of the world’s poor.

5 Examples of Music Helping Impoverished Youth

  1. A group of Yazidi girls formed a choir to preserve their cultural identities after suffering through sex slavery. Yazidi was recently overrun by the Islamic State military, resulting in thousands of young girls being sold into slavery. One of these girls was Rainas Elias, who was taken by ISIS at the age of 14. Two years after her kidnapping, Elias is one of the 14 young women who formed a choir that performs traditional Yazidi songs as a means of coping with their past traumatic experiences. In early February, the girls took a trip abroad to perform at the House of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Since Yazidi music is not traditionally written or recorded, British violinist Michael Bochmann has been working with the choir. They are recording the songs, which are then archived in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. This work helps preserve an important piece of Yazidi culture while simultaneously providing a healing experience to the girls involved.
  2. “Fresh Kid” is an 8-year-old rapper from Uganda who sings about his family’s struggles with poverty. His real name is Patrick Ssenyonjo and he began hearing songs on the radio at a very young age and could immediately memorize and repeat them. Soon, Fresh Kid was performing for his local community, rapping about struggles that he, his friends and his family face. Uganda’s lack of electricity and poor transportation standards are two primary causes behind the nation’s impoverished circumstances. Although the country has seen vast improvements in recent years, there are still many developments to be made. Fresh Kid’s music draws attention to this issue while his success provides hope to impoverished youth across the globe.
  3. Schools in Venezuela are teaching classical music to students as a means of transcending poverty. Venezuelan conductor Jose Antonio Abreu established the State Foundation for the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Venezuela in 1996. Otherwise known as The System, the program educates students on how to read and perform classical music. The System provides students with an artistic outlet in a professional atmosphere, resulting in the development of discipline and passion that is often unattainable by impoverished youth. Students living in poverty have made up 70 percent of the program’s participants since its creation. The foundation has produced world-renowned talents such as Gustavo Dudamel, conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, and Edicson Ruiz, the youngest bass player to ever perform with the Berlin Philharmonic. Venezuela continues to suffer from a collapsed economy and corrupt politics, with an unemployment rate of 44 percent. The System grants Venezuela’s poorest children the chance to rise above these issues while spreading an appreciation for classical music.
  4. The Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) teaches traditional music to students. Half of these students come from poor backgrounds. The school instructs both Western and Afghan classical music as well as basic subjects like math and science. The school prides itself on embracing the education of Afghanistan’s less advantaged youth including girls, orphans and street-working vendors. One significant product of ANIM is Afghanistan’s first all-female orchestra. Not only does the school provide a well-rounded curriculum, but its music-oriented focus promotes the resurgence of cultural factors that were once banned by Taliban rule. ANIM demonstrates the influence music has by bringing social change and emotional healing to impoverished youth.
  5. Ghetto Classics is a youth orchestra featuring more than 500 children from Korogocho. The orchestra is a result of the Art of Music Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of impoverished youth in Eastern Africa by integrating classical music studies into schools. The director of the Art of Music Foundation, Elizabeth Wamuni Njoroge, founded Ghetto Classics in 2008 after a local Catholic priest requested that the foundation start teaching classical music to the youth. Njoroge states that the community was skeptical of the idea at first, partially because of distrust in NGOs and partly because classical music is quite different than the hip-hop and reggae that locals are accustomed to. However, Korogocho soon warmed up to the idea, and Ghetto Classics is now one of the most valued and successful community projects to exist in Korogocho. Since its foundation, the orchestra has extended to 14 other schools in Eastern Africa. Ghetto Classics and similar programs help students to grasp core life values and provides a fresh outlook on life.

Music has the power to preserve generations of cultural value. It can also spark interest and motivation in the minds of impoverished youth. These stories demonstrate the potential music has to raise awareness for issues such as sex slavery and poverty. Since music is directly tied to heritage and tradition, it can bring about major social change without eliminating the cultural identity of a society. These five examples of how music helps impoverished youth serve as proof that something as simple as the beat of a drum can contribute to the fight against global poverty, one tap at a time.

Harley Goebel
Photo: Flickr

12 Facts About Hunger in Afghanistan 
Due to decades of conflict, environmental disaster and economic instability, Afghanistan is one of the world’s poorest nations. One of the largest issues to building national stability for Afghanistan is the remaining issue of food insecurity. Hunger and malnutrition are the biggest risks to health worldwide, according to the United Nations. Hunger prevents people from reaching their full potential by limiting their ability to work and learn. Here are 12 facts about hunger in Afghanistan.

12 Facts About Hunger in Afghanistan

  1. By the end of 2019, average wheat and staple food production contributed to stable pricing. Even though food prices have been stabilizing, households are unable to purchase necessary food because there are few opportunities to work. Even when work is available, the pay is not high enough to account for all living costs. People in Afghanistan, on average, spend 60 percent of their income on food.
  2. It is essential to invest in agriculture in Afghanistan, as it is almost 25 percent of the GDP. At least 50 percent of all households attribute at least part of their income to agriculture. The World Bank suggests that the most promising agricultural opportunities will be to invest in growing irrigated wheat and horticulture and to raise livestock. With the combination of investing in the growth of investment in these agricultural products, the World Bank estimates that there is the potential for the growth of 1.3 million jobs over a period of 10 years.
  3. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) estimates that approximately 38 percent of rural households face food shortages. It also determines that 21 percent of the rural population lives in extreme poverty due to continuing conflict in the region, drought and floods. In addition to this range of factors, agricultural production has decreased due to insufficient investment in the sector, crop diseases and pests.
  4. The World Bank also reports that over the past decade, hunger in Afghanistan has risen from 28 to 45 percent. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) works closely with the Afghan government and development partners to reduce gender disparities and increase the social and economic status of vulnerable and marginalized communities. IFAD does this by increasing access to financial institutions in remote or rural areas, enhancing the skills of rural households and strengthening local infrastructure.
  5. From November 2019 to March 2020, the IPC, a coalition of U.N. agencies working on food insecurity, predicts that the number of people experiencing severe food insecurity will rise to 11.3 million. According to the IPC, continued conflict, mass migration back to the region, predictions of rising crop prices in the winter and unemployment are the main contributors to rising hunger in Afghanistan at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020.
  6. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network, predicts that 820,000 people will require food assistance through January 2020 in Afghanistan. It expects this number to rise between these dates because of the returning displaced citizens from Pakistan and Iran. USAID’s Office of Food for Peace, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and local NGOs will provide food assistance.
  7. High rates of malnutrition and lack of the right variety of food for children in Afghanistan have contributed to a variety of health issues. Only 12 percent of children from 6 months to 2 years old receive the correct quantity of food in order to grow, according to UNICEF. This results in problems such as stunting, wasting and anemia. These problems result in ongoing health issues throughout a lifetime.
  8. Mercy Corps, a global humanitarian organization, provides extensive support to farmers in Afghanistan through a U.N. grant. From 2015 to 2019, the $34.6 million grant supported more than 7,380 farmers by training them to plant and produce opium alternative crops including grapes, almonds, pistachios, saffron and vegetables.
  9. One of the largest supporters of ending hunger in Afghanistan is the U.N. World Food Programme. The World Food Programme provides monthly food and cash for a period of six months while vocationally training men and women. In 2018 in Afghanistan, the WFP program had 14,000 women and 3,000 men graduate and learn income-generating skills. Additionally, between January and June 2019, WFP assisted more than 3.2 million people across 31 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
  10. UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) set up a national surveillance system in Afghanistan in 2013. The purpose of it is to guide the government and NGO partners to collect and analyze data in order to quickly address nutritional challenges or emergencies. Since 2013, the WHO has trained 1,500 community health workers to accurately collect nutritional metrics and quarterly report data from 175 sentinel sites around the country.
  11. A paper in partnership with the World Bank in 2018, the Investment Framework for Nutrition in Afghanistan, examined what would be necessary for Afghanistan to improve nutrition. This endeavor also included efforts to reduce stunting and invest more in children’s health for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health’s (MOPH) Basic Package of Health Service implementation for 2018 to 2021. The total estimated public investment necessary would be $44 million a year for five years. This money would prevent 25,000 deaths, 90,000 cases of anemia and 4,000 cases of stunting in children.
  12. Since 2005, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. has worked to improve the production of dairy in collaboration with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock. The results of this partnership have been the establishment of five dairy process plants and 64 milk collection centers. From 2005 to 2017, production per cow went from 3.5 to 9.1 liters, resulting in annual household income growing from $371 to $852 through the sale of extra milk.

Although there are many challenges in the region to building local capacity to handle food insecurity, there are many Afghani and global organizations that are continuing to help formulate strategies to bring about change. These 12 facts about hunger in Afghanistan shed some light on these issues.

Danielle Barnes
Photo: Flickr

Health Improvements in Afghanistan
Conflict has torn Afghanistan apart. Like all conflicts, it is the innocent civilians that suffer the most. Afghanistan continues to face a great amount of insecurity within its borders. Yet, despite the harsh conditions that are an everyday reality for civilians, the country continues to make additional health improvements. Here are seven health improvements in Afghanistan.

7 Health Improvements in Afghanistan

  1. Increased Health Facilities: Readily available health facilities initiated health improvements in Afghanistan, according to the Senior Health Specialist at the World Bank, Ghulam Dastagir Sayed. As of 2003, there were only 500 health facilities available for Afghan civilians. As of 2018, that number skyrocketed to 2,500 facilities. These facilities are located all over Afghanistan, but USAID makes it clear that low-income populations and rural areas are the most important to reach.
  2. The International Midwife Association: NGOs in Afghanistan have trained over 4,000 community midwives around the country and provided them with the necessary information to provide anti-natal care, postnatal care,  deliveries and immunization services to the people of Afghanistan. The NGO International Midwife Association has helped women in Afghanistan. Before it provided this help, many women did not have the necessary knowledge and help to have a safe pregnancy.
  3. Infant Mortality Rate: Afghanistan has the highest infant mortality rate in the world. However, from the year 2003 to 2015 the number of children dying before their 5th birthday has dropped by a total of 34 percent. This has lowered deaths from 137 per 1,000 births to 91 per 1,000 births. Health services and a better health care system in Afghanistan have caused these numbers to drop.
  4. Pregnant Women: Health care available to pregnant women in the country has also been among the health improvements in Afghanistan. From 2010 to the year 2018, health professionals have seen pregnant women at an increase of 3.5 percent each year. Additionally, women’s use of contraceptives and the number of births that professionals aided increased by 2 percent during the same eight years. The Afghani government has launched effective national health campaigns that have educated Afghani women and led them to seek out professional help during pregnancy. Women in the country are benefiting greatly through these increased health services. From the year 2003 to 2015, the number of women dying per 100,000 births has reduced by 64 percent. Similar to the improved child mortality rate above, a better health care system that reaches and educates Afghan women about their health has caused these improvements.
  5. The Afghanistan Development Association (ADA): NGOs are working to contribute to health improvements in Afghanistan. Seventy-two percent of the NGOs in the country are Afghan and are on the front lines providing medical treatment. One such NGO is the Afghanistan Development Association. ADA provides development and humanitarian aid to the country of Afghanistan.
  6. Drug Availability: Drug availability has risen in the country. It rose from 13.8 percent in the years from 2004 to 2010 and an additional 0.6 percent in the years 2011 to 2016. The government established the National Medicine and Health Products Regulatory Authority (NMHRA) that regulates medicines and other health products. This is one such program that is helping medicinal drug availability. Many Afghans have had to resort to smuggling medicinal drugs from neighboring countries or rely on traditional medicine. While Afghanistan has improved this problem, it can only continue its progress through programs like the NMHRA.
  7. Patient Counselling: Patient counseling is an important part of health care. From 2004 to 2010, patient counseling saw an increase of 6 percent annually followed by an additional 1.3 annually between the years 2011 and 2016. Patient counseling is important in the realm of family planning and child services.

While Afghanistan is still a country with many problems, one cannot deny that the progress it is making deserves celebration. The Afghan government partly made many of these improvements by actively engaging NGOs to tackle the health issues within its borders.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 

Sanitation in Afghanistan
Following decades of civil war and negligence, Afghanistan has been experiencing a crisis regarding clean water and sanitation. The lack of an internal plan and a water infrastructure deficit had elicited urgent consequences such as various waterborne diseases and diarrhoeal diseases. Many organizations such as UNICEF took notice and decided to address this issue at its core. By providing funding and necessary resources, there has been evident progress within Afghanistan towards clean water and better sanitation. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Afghanistan.

 10 Facts About Sanitation in Afghanistan

  1. Limited Sanitation: According to the State of the World’s Toilets 2007 report, about 92 percent of Afghanistan’s estimated 26.6 million population did not have access to proper sanitation. Meanwhile, the number reduced to 61 percent by 2017. With this being said, poor sanitation exposes people, mainly children and elders, to life-threatening diseases. This issue also affects women and girls, putting them at risk for both physical and psychological damage. It affects menstrual, pregnancy and postnatal periods and creates an unsafe environment when in these periods.

  2. Turmoil: One can see the increasing number of cases surrounding poor sanitation as a direct consequence of the damage inflicted by years of war. Beginning in 1992, constant fighting between different mujahidin groups left cities such as Kabul in ruins, further damaging the water infrastructure. Following in 1996, the Taliban took over but did little to nothing to improve the already damaged water infrastructure, including necessary water pumps. Afghanistan, to this day, is still in turmoil, leaving no priority for local governments to improve sanitation and increase access to clean water.

  3. Lack of Reservoirs, Canals and Infrastructure: One major aspect as to why Afghanistan has a difficult time accessing clean water is the evident lack of water infrastructure. Geographically, Afghanistan is a landlocked nation that automatically creates a difficult landscape to receive clean water; therefore, Afghanistan depends on the natural flow of the snow runoff coming from the mountains. There are reservoirs to collect this water, but it is just not enough. Because of the lack of proper water infrastructure, only 30 percent of the water derived from the runoff stays in Afghanistan. Investment towards improving infrastructure is also scarce as the government does not see it as a prominent issue.

  4. Open Defecation: Open defecation is an issue that many countries face on a daily basis; however, it has been an astonishingly prevalent issue in Afganistan. It places many of the individuals and families leaving near waterways in much danger as human waste spreads disease quickly. To combat this issue, UNICEF alongside the Ministries of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, Public Health and Education have partnered to end open defecation by 2025. They are pushing for the Community-Led Total Sanitation approach which advocates for people to build and use their own latrines.

  5. Increase Water Supply: In addition to implementing a plan against open defecation, UNICEF and the Ministries of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, Public Health, and Education have been working to increase water supply to impoverished communities. They aim to steer the public to get clean water through the reliance of rivers, streams, wells, etc. Also, UNICEF aims to increase the government’s capacity to construct local water supply systems. Because of this new agenda, more than 300,000 new people living in Afghanistan received clean water in 2017.

  6. Water Systems: UNICEF is prioritizing gravity-fed piped drinking water systems or systems with solar pumps instead of regular boreholes with handpumps. These methods should provide more water, easy maintenance and close proximity even though they are slightly more expensive. Right now, most of the water comes from the five major rivers in Afghanistan, but this system brings water in an efficient and sustainable way.

  7. Action Within Schools: An important place to advocate for proper sanitation would be in the school environment, and UNICEF has done just that. Working with the Ministry of Education, UNICEF has aimed to create clean school environments and provide proper hygiene information in Afghanistan. This plan includes providing clean water, separate bathrooms and new handwashing stations in schools. This program is growing and is starting to enter more schools.

  8. Sanitation Efforts Aimed at Women: Some have also taken action towards improving sanitation conditions within schools and workplace settings for women and girls. By installing separate bathrooms for males and females, it provides women the opportunity to manage menstruation in a clean environment. Also, the ongoing introduction of curricula surrounding menstrual hygiene promotes rehabilitation and helps girls all around Afghanistan.

  9. Proper Sanitation in Emergencies: Launched in 2005, UNICEF created the WASH emergency center in Afghanistan. This group of various organizations respond during emergencies and help provide clean water, hygiene education and sanitation facilities to the people. For example, they gave hygiene kits to displaced families in the village of Kamalpoor. The kits included soap, detergent, towels, sanitary pads and a plastic bucket to collect water.

  10. Health Centres: Most importantly, UNICEF has aimed to make sure that hospitals and health centers are in proper condition to treat patients. The WASH program implemented focused on improving infection programs and patient safety. It is important to pay attention to the health of patients and to decrease as many cases of disease and death as possible, especially in the case of women and children.

Although Afghanistan still has some way to go, it has made tremendous improvements to its sanitation systems. With continued aid from organizations like UNICEF, it should only continue its progression towards clean water and sanitation for all.

–  Srihita Adabala
Photo: Flickr

Although there is a vaccine, Polio is still a global problem. Here are some facts on eradicating Polio in developing countries.
People often think of polio as a disease of the past; but for many in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, it is still a very real threat. Poliomyelitis, more commonly known as Polio, is an infectious disease that can result in base level symptoms similar to the flu, or on the more extreme end, it can invade an individual’s spinal cord or brain causing paralysis. Paralysis is the symptom people most commonly associate with Polio because of how deadly it can be. As the disease progresses slowly, the individual eventually loses function across their body and requires outside assistance to do even the most basic task of breathing. Without medical assistance, the individual will asphyxiate. Here is some information about eradicating Polio in developing countries.

Eliminating Polio

Vaccination is the only way to eradicate Polio. Children’s bodies become prepared to fight the disease more effectively with vaccination. Almost all children or 99 out of 100 will have protection from Polio as long as they receive all recommended courses of the vaccination.

However, sanitation also plays a key role in preventing the spread of Polio in the interim. The virus lives in individuals’ throats and intestines, so open sewage systems can leave a community more vulnerable to the spreading virus. The virus can thrive in feces for weeks before dying, leaving plenty of opportunities for people to come into contact with the virus and spread it.

Eradicating Polio is highly dependent on herd immunization, so it is integral that mass vaccination initiatives go to all corners of a country. By immunizing everyone who can take the vaccine, the risk of the disease spreading and those unable to take the vaccine contracting it reduces.

The Reasons Polio Still Exists in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria

Though there have been major advancements in eradicating Polio in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, they still remain vulnerable due to the fear that the vaccine may cause fainting spells and death in children, which are false claims. Additionally, open sewage systems in rural areas and the difficulty to dispense full courses of vaccination to individuals in rural areas play a role in the continued life of Polio.

There is also the issue of spreading. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the majority of new cases of Polio are often in the tribal areas surrounding the shared border of the two countries. The unchecked border often has people traveling back and forth so they are hard to pin down to receive their full course of vaccinations. This also allows for the virus to spread faster and makes it more difficult to isolate the infected.

Nigeria is doing relatively well with the fight towards eradicating Polio. The country no longer has an active outbreak, but it is at high risk of having an outbreak. This is due to active initiatives within the country to assure widespread vaccination and hygiene education to prevent the spread of the virus.

Mutations

Another massive issue these countries and doctors are having with eradicating Polio is that the virus is mutating. In June 2017, there were 21 cases of vaccine-derived Polio in the world. This has been caused by remnants of the oral vaccine getting loose in the environment where it is regaining strength and infecting people. The oral vaccine is from a weak form of the Poliovirus that allows the recipient’s immune system to fight off the virus and become more adept at fighting the active virus if it ever enters their body.

Many also consider the mutated and strengthened strain of the vaccine-derived disease to be more deadly as it has a higher risk of causing paralysis in those infected.

Solutions

The organization, Global Polio Eradication Initiative, is a public-private partnership working in tandem with national governments and private partners including the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Together, they are attempting to roll out vaccines and education programs to aid in eradicating Polio internationally. The organization works with 200 countries and 20 million volunteers to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to live a life free of the pain Polio brings upon individuals and communities.

As of 2019, it has vaccinated over 2.5 billion children, and the number is only growing. This is an incredibly important program, as the alleviation of the threat of infection for every reduces the stress on government health programs. There is also a reduction in the personal and financial burden of contracting and surviving Polio from the shoulders of millions of families.

Through vigilant vaccination distribution and educational programs, the hope is that in the near future, people will be able to live in a world free from the crippling implications of the Poliovirus.

– Emma Hodge
Photo: Flickr