Information and stories about Africa.

lack access to clean waterAbout 2.1 billion people around the world do not have access to clean running water and sanitation facilities. Another 2.3 billion people do not have the luxury of accessing toilets. Clean water is important because it is directly linked to “better health, reductions in parasitic infections, increased child growth and lower morbidity and mortality.” Here are 10 countries that lack access to clean water.

10 Countries That Lack Access to Clean Water

  1. Afghanistan: With only 22 percent of its population having access to clean water, Afghanistan has one of the lowest rates of clean water access in the world. About 87 percent of the nation’s water is contaminated.
  2. Cambodia: Since the majority of the population is dependent on catching and storing rainwater, it leaves an estimated 84 percent of the population with no access to water. This leaves 5 percent of the population dependent on water deliveries.
  3. Congo: 75 percent of the country’s 51 million people do not have access to clean water. About 21 percent of people in rural areas can not reach pure water, which is double the level it was five years prior.
  4. Pakistan: Pakistan is known for having the biggest gap between the rich and poor when it comes to basic hygiene. This leaves 22 million people, or 64 percent of the nation, with no access to clean water.
  5. Uganda: About 40 percent of the population has to travel more than 30 minutes to reach drinkable water. A little over 61.1 percent of the 42.3 million population has access to safe drinking water.
  6. Ethiopia: The high mortality rate in Ethiopia is linked to the quality of water in the country. Due to poor water management and water-intensive farming, 60.9 percent of people have no access to water.
  7. Somalia: Water delivery systems have been destroyed due to post-war problems. This has left 60 percent of the population with no basic access to water and 11.7 percent of people consuming untreated surface water.
  8. Nigeria: Even though Nigeria is one of the fastest-improving countries in regards to water sanitation, 15 percent of its residents have no access to this vital resource.
  9. Chad: Chad has a square mileage of 800,000, which is three times the size of California. But only 15,000 square miles of the country has water. This leaves 33 percent of the nation’s population with the struggle of accessing clean running water.
  10. Syria: The Syrian conflict is hindering humanitarian aid agencies from delivering water and supplies. As of right now, only 10 percent of people lack access to water.

NGOs Helping On The Ground

While these populations of people are suffering due to their lack of access to safe, clean, drinkable water, there are many foundations and NGOs helping to fight this issue.

Water.org is an NGO focused on helping people find a way to be able to attain safe clean drinking water. The organization offers small and affordable loans called WaterCredit to help families obtain sanitized water. Water.org has helped more than 223,000 Ethiopians with improved water, sanitation and hygiene services. WaterCredit has also reached 40,000 people, providing them with clean water for five years.

UNICEF along with the Ministries of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, Public Health and Education, as well as local and global partners have come together to resolve the water crisis in Afghanistan. The plan is to end open defecation by 2025 by using their Community-Led Total Sanitation approach. This approach is a combination of “shock, shame, disgust and pride” to motivate people to build their own toilets. In 2017, the partnership has helped 300,000 Afghans reach clean and safe water. This initiative has also helped girls stay in school by installing washrooms so that they can manage their periods and feminine hygiene needs in school instead of staying home.

– Isabella Gonzalez
Photo: Flickr

Sanitation in AfricaAccording to rehydrate.org, “One flush of your toilet uses as much water as the average person in the developing world uses for a whole day’s washing, cleaning, cooking and drinking.” This is the case in the second largest continent on Earth: Africa. It is home to bountiful wildlife, hot sun, and cultural life; but unfortunately, clean water and sanitation are not as boundless of a commodity. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Africa to explain the depth of the issue.

10 Facts About Sanitation in Africa

  1. One of the starkest of the 10 facts about sanitation in Africa is just how widespread the problem is. Of the 54 countries in Africa, 16 have less than 25 percent sanitation coverage. While statistics vary depending on the country, the bottom line is that it isn’t an isolated issue. Nearly 45 percent of all people in Africa will face unclean sanitation conditions in their life.
  2. Not only is this an uncomfortable way of life, poor sanitation is a key cause in many of the prevalent diseases in Africa. Diarrhea, cholera, dysentery and typhoid are all transmitted by unclean water and account for a large majority of infant deaths. More than 315,000 children in Africa die annually from diarrheal diseases that result from a lack of sanitation. Providing clean water and proper sanitation could reduce diarrhea by 15 to 20 percent.
  3. A lack of clean drinking water causes more than disease. Multiple problems like swelling of the brain, seizures, kidney failure, and comas are extreme results of continuous dehydration. Additionally, daily life becomes much harder to live when basic needs like hydration are not first fulfilled. It’s hard to think and perform at your best when you are constantly thirsty.
  4. When water is available in most rural African villages, it is often in far away locations. This leaves children and women forced to walk many miles a day in order to access water. The United Nations estimates that Africa loses nearly 40 billion hours per year due to collecting water- roughly equivalent to a whole year of labor from France’s entire workforce. This is time that could be dedicated to education or pursuing careers if enough clean water was easily accessible for all.
  5. Most of Africa has yet to see a strong private sector develop for water and sanitation. Having a sturdy and ethical private sector would lead to a growth in affordable sanitation services for many people.
  6. Many issues with poor sanitation lie in the age-old cultural practices common in rural regions of Africa. Open defecation is one of the biggest of these. Though this is largely because of a lack of toilets and waste management systems, even when these systems are put into place, people’s beliefs must change with the infrastructure. Proper education and awareness is necessary to overcome sanitation habits ingrained in many people’s daily routine.
  7. Ultimately, governments of each individual African country must prioritize providing clean water and sanitation to their population for largescale progress to be made. It is encouraging to note that South Africa has made this a high priority goal and has already seen an improvement of 62 percent to 82 percent of households gaining access to improved sanitation.
  8. Having a lack of clean water makes life physically unbearable. Finding clean water takes precious time of out people’s lives. Drinking unclean water causes diseases and more physical discomfort. As a result, poverty in areas of poor sanitation remains stubborn. People cannot escape the vicious cycle of poverty without first having their basic needs met. Only when clean water becomes freely available can people in these places of Africa have enough time, energy and health to pursue a poverty-free future.
  9. One of the greatest bright spots in 10 facts about sanitation in Africa is the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. Created by Bill and Melinda Gates, the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge asks innovators to create affordable solutions to poor sanitation in developing countries. As a result, 20 different engineering companies created low-cost and sanitary toilets. These projects still need work being implemented on a large scale, but nevertheless they offer hugely promising results for our future world.
  10. Along with this hopeful initiative, other improvements to sanitation in Africa have been made. Open defecation has dropped from 32 percent in 1990 to 25 percent in 2006. Additionally, between the years of 1990 and 2006, 146 million people in Africa gained access to sanitation. Finally, in 2006, 354 million of the 1.2 billion people in Africa used an improved sanitation facility.

– Hannah Stewart
Photo: Wikimedia

Hope for Slums in Kenya

A homeless child is wandering the streets of the largest slum in Africa. The child steals a mango, his meal for the next two days. An angry mob seeks justice and starts beating the hungry child. For some reason, a man saves the child from further punishment by paying for the mango. The man carried on with his day, but that boy’s life was changed forever. His name is Kennedy Odede and he is the founder of the multimillion-dollar nonprofit organization called Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) to create hope for slums in Kenya.

Odede was forced to the streets at the young age of 10 because of poverty and violence in his family. After being saved from the angry mob, Odede met a Catholic priest who helped him go back to school. In addition to school, Odede was working a factory job that paid him only $1 for 10 hours of work. The kindness from strangers in the face of these struggles is what inspired Odede to create Shining Hope for Communities as a way to give back to his hometown and help the urban poor.

SHOFCO started in 2004 with, “passion, 20 cents and a soccer ball.” The grassroots organization works to transform urban slums into communities of hope. They do this in three ways. The first is by providing life-saving services like healthcare and clean water. As a grassroots organization, they also promote collective action, so that the struggling communities can advocate for lasting change. Finally, SHOFCO also works to educate young girls and allow them to be leaders because they are the key to advocating for and maintaining positive change in Kenya and Africa’s slums.

Here are a few ways that SHOFCO has benefited Kibera:

  • Over 500 students received free education from kindergarten to eighth grade
  • SHOFCO created 24 water kiosks that provided low-cost water to over 30,000 Kibera residents
  • The water kiosks served around 300,000 people in the region

The progress SHOFCO has made in Kenya and other African nations are remarkable. Grants and donations are SHOFCO’s main source of funding. They have yet to receive foreign aid, but the possibility of funding from the Kenyan government is looking more likely. SHOFCO could give hope for slums in Kenya and so many other slums in Africa if they received foreign aid. The impact that they have already made is astounding and they can only go up from here. In 2018, SHOFCO had some remarkable achievements:

  • Over 90 percent of students passed their KCPE exam which is an exam given at the end of primary school
  • The average school score on the KCPE was a B+
  • SHOFCO trained almost 1,500 new entrepreneurs

Fifteen years ago a boy who had struggled for most of his life started an organization that would change the lives of thousands. From earning $1 for 10 hours of work, Kennedy Odede used 20 cents of that dollar to create SHOFCO. With his amazing passion and kindness, SHOFCO has given hope for slums in Kenya. Together, Odede and SHOFCO have provided essential services to the poor and empowered young girls and women to create lasting change.

Gaurav Shetty
Photo: Flickr

 

Studying Human Behavior Can Help Eradicate MalariaBed nets. Insecticide. Preventative medicine. These are the tools that are most known for fighting malaria—and for good reason. Tactics like these have saved millions of lives. However, when a country manages to eliminate most incidences of malaria, the traditional techniques lose their impact. One group of researchers, realizing the need for new strategies against malaria, decided to not focus on mosquitoes (the traditional tactic) but on humans themselves. Ultimately, studying human behavior can help eradicate malaria by targeting weak spots in preventative plans and providing a clearer implementation of resources. To better understand malaria, its far-reaching impacts and the importance of a new human-centered technique, it is helpful to start from the beginning.

What is Malaria and How Was it Treated in the Past?

Malaria has plagued humans for, quite literally, as long as humanity remembers. The earliest written records  — Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets — describe symptoms characteristic of the disease. Scientists found human remains dating back to 3200 BC with malaria antigens. Ancient scholars called the illness the “king of diseases.” It certainly lives up to the title. It is thousands of years old and it has killed hundreds of millions of people.

Anopheles mosquitoes, most active at dusk and night-time, are responsible for the malaria parasite’s spread. Carried in the insect’s stomach, the parasite enters the human bloodstream through the mosquitoes’ saliva (the same substance that makes bites itch and swell) as they feed.

Humans first exhibit symptoms a week or so after infection. If untreated, the disease quickly becomes serious. Sufferers feel flu-like symptoms, including body aches, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea. Patients can die within 48 hours after they first exhibit symptoms.

In 1820, chemists developed quinine, the first modern pharmacological treatment for malaria. In the 1900s, the men who identified the malaria parasite, demonstrated that mosquitoes were responsible for transmission and developed the mosquito-repelling insecticide DDT all won Nobel Prizes for their respective discoveries. Understanding and preventing malaria were matters of great international importance.

What is Malaria’s Global Presence Today?

Fighting this disease remains a top global priority. Modern preventative measures now include insecticide-treated bed nets (to keeps the nocturnal malaria-carrying mosquitos away) and indoor sprays. Children in high-transmission areas are also eligible for seasonal malaria chemoprevention. Thanks to a surge in global humanitarian attention, the disease’s presence has fallen worldwide. Between 2010 and 2017, malaria incidence decreased by nearly 20 percent and fatalities decreased by nearly 30 percent.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 216 million clinical cases still occurred worldwide in 2016 alone, resulting in 445,000 deaths. The disease causes a massive drain on economies, due to healthcare costs and loss of workforce efficiency. In sub-Saharan Africa, where potent strains of the parasite thrive, those damaging effects are especially notable. Malaria and its effects cost Africa a stunning $12 billion every year and, because people living near unclean water sources and insecure housing are most at risk, malaria disproportionally affects the impoverished. By prohibiting individuals from attending work or school, let alone its potential to kill, malaria perpetuates the cycle of poverty. While reducing prevalence is a key factor, eradication continues to be the ultimate goal. That means the end to malaria’s ill-effects on communities, particularly impoverished ones.

How Studying Human Behavior Can Help Eradicate Malaria

When regions successfully employ traditional tactics, as many have, they find themselves with a new problem. “Lingering cases” is a term used to describe when a region no longer experiences outbreaks, but that the disease still exists locally. In general, eliminating any illness gets harder the fewer instances of it that occur. Tracking the carrier mosquitoes is infeasible, if not impossible. However, researchers in Zanzibar took a new approach – they decided to track humans instead.

In July 2019, the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs published an article in Malaria Journal that details the reasoning behind the new technique. While indoor measures work, people are not necessarily confined to the home at nighttime. One Zanzibari woman remarked in an interview, “When you are outside, you can’t really wear the bed nets, can you?” Existing steps against malaria are not effective outdoors, which makes it nearly impossible to eliminate the last few cases.

Researchers conducted over 60 in-depth interviews and studied routine human movements: between homes, stores, public spaces, religious services and even special events, like weddings. They found many insights. For example, men were at the highest risk for infection because they most often work or socialize outside after dark. There is also a notable population of seasonal workers that come to Zanzibar from Tanzania’s mainland. These individuals rarely own mosquito nets nor insecticides to spray their residences. Better understanding the movements of people vulnerable to malaria, as well as those that find themselves periodically unprotected, is important. That information allows scientists to create better-targeted interventions, including community support programs, outdoor areas with preventative measures, and basic indoor resources for those without.

Small scale use of these techniques has proven effective, and the researchers behind this investigation believe they could be scaled up successfully. Best of all, 26 other countries have similarly low rates of malaria incidence. If Zanzibar, a high-transmission area for the parasite, could push back against this disease so successfully, other countries could benefit greatly from the same changes.

Conclusion

Malaria, a disease that has lasted for around 5000 years, has never been closer to eradication. The last century has seen a great surge in momentum for fighting this illness. The results are stunning; millions of lives saved, several countries eliminated the disease entirely, and dozens more are nearing that goal. In turn, people have prospered. For every dollar invested in African malaria control, the continent sees 40 dollars in economic growth. Much of that prosperity goes back to impoverished people, who can thrive with less illness and more economic efficiency. Now, researchers are pursuing the “last mile” strategies. Studying human behavior can help eradicate malaria by preventing remote cases. Total eradication and the end of malaria’s drain on the impoverished has never been closer.

– Molly Power
Photo: Wikimedia

Energy Use in Sub-Saharan AfricaEnergy demand is estimated to increase by 85 percent in Africa between 2010 and 2040. To compensate for growing infrastructure and population, the cheapest and most environmentally-friendly energy sources are in high demand as well. Countries within sub-Saharan Africa have taken numerous measures to improve affordable living through receiving aid and implementing programs to promote efficient energy use. However, challenges hinder the implementation of efficient energy use in these countries. For example, the trained workforce that could take on massive energy projects is very small. There is also very minimal awareness of the benefits of efficient energy use so many people prefer to stick to traditional sources. Governments and global organizations are combating these challenges as they work to advance energy efficiency and indirectly reduce poverty and over-spending in sub-Saharan Africa.

Energy Efficiency in Emerging Economies Training Week

The International Energy Agency and the Department of Energy of South Africa hosted the very first Energy Efficiency in Emerging Economies (E4) Training Week for sub-Saharan Africa in Pretoria, South Africa from Oct. 14 to Oct. 17, 2019. The objective of the training was to educate junior policymakers from all over sub-Saharan Africa to model future politicians into environmental activists. The week included courses on the ability of energy-efficient sources to reduce extra expenses and, therefore, improve living conditions. The courses taught participants about energy efficiency policy in buildings, appliances, equipment, industry, cities and indicators and evaluation. E4 Training Week also made a key point to encourage women to apply for the program.

Numerous organizations supported the E4 Training Week, including Global Environment Fund (GEF), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), East African Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (EACREEE) and SADC Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (SACREEE).

The Domestic Energy and Rural Access to Basic Sources Project

The World Bank’s Domestic Energy and Rural Access to Basic Sources Project (PEDASB) worked to install a 52-kilowatt plant in Zantiébougou, south of Bamako in the Sikasso region. The plant has provided electricity to 765 people and allows women to carry out other economic activities and trades as they are no longer concerned about gathering fuel, such as wood. PEDASB also implemented a hybrid electricity system that combines solar photovoltaic and diesel power in Niena. The system improved the quality of health care in local clinics and increased school performance in students. This energy sector as a whole is contributing to the economy of sub-Saharan Africa and increasing the wealth of its people.

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Ethiopia’s government is taking the initiative to improve efficient energy use. Through a collaboration with the World Bank Project, the Ethiopian government introduced compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL), which help rural families save money. 80 fewer megawatts of electricity is used by distributing 2.5 million CFL bulbs, which quantifies as $100 million saved. Through a $4 million investment, 5 million CFL bulbs were distributed all over the country. Households under the poverty line were able to reduce their energy usage by 55 percent which significantly cut utility costs for families. Beyond lightbulbs, 2.5 million efficient cookstoves were distributed in Ethiopia, reducing 40 to 60 percent of wood fuel. This not only helps the environment but also boosts families’ lifestyles all over the country.

The Electrify Africa Act

In 2016, President Barack Obama signed the Electrify Africa Act (S.2152) into law. The Electrify Africa Act ensures that the Obama Administration’s Power Africa initiative remains in effect, providing millions of sub-Saharan Africans with access to electricity which in turn, increases economic growth and development.

So far, the Electrify Africa Act is a great success. As of January 2019, Power Africa, with the support of the Electrify Africa Act, achieved the following results in sub-Saharan Africa:

  • 20.5 billion invested in Power Africa transactions
  • 58,552,435 beneficiaries gaining access to electricity
  • 10,095 megawatts (MW) reaching financial close
  • 2,652 MW moved from financial close to operation

In conclusion, sub-Saharan countries are breaking the cycle of poverty through creatively implementing efficient energy sources. From educating young policymakers to governments distributing free equipment and implementing laws, numerous countries are able to benefit from efficient energy use in sub-Saharan Africa.

Haarika Gurivireddygari
Photo: Flickr

 

Rainforests in Gabon

Gabon is a country on the west coast of Central Africa, the equator passing through its center. The country is known first and foremost for its rainforests, which cover more than 80 percent of its terrain. Due to a historic deal with Norway, there now exists a financial incentive for preserving rainforests in Gabon.

Preserving Rainforests in Gabon

The deal, which took place at the 2019 Climate Action Summit in New York, will reward Gabon with $150 million over the course of the next 10 years. In preserving Gabon’s rainforests, the U.N. hopes to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the century.

Norway has been involved in similar preservation efforts in the past, most notably through its partnership with Liberia in 2014. Much of Norway’s partnership with Gabon is mirrored in its work with Liberia, in which Liberia was offered a maximum of $150 million by 2020. The main difference between the two deals involves their retroactive and proactive natures: the deal with Liberia was based on future preservation efforts, whereas the deal with Gabon is based on past accomplishments, as well as future goals for the nation.

Gabon has a quickly developing reputation for preservation. In 2002, the country established its first national park system. The national park system is comprised of 13 parks, one of which, Lope-Okanda national park, is a registered UNESCO natural heritage site.

The new deal was announced by a representative for the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI). CAFI is a partnership between six Central African countries, the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Bank, and a coalition of foreign donors, including the Kingdom of Norway, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

CAFI was launched at the U.N. Sustainable Development Summit in September of 2015. Its goal, to put it simply, is to assist the governments of the six partnered Central African countries (Gabon, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and to aid in reform efforts. These reforms are far-reaching, addressing issues of climate change, food insecurities and poverty.

How Does Preservation Help Address Poverty?

Preserving Gabon’s rainforests is currently a central focus of CAFI. What follows are just a few of the ways in which preservation can help alleviate the symptoms of poverty:

  • Climate change and the progressive loss of natural environments have a drastic impact on the availability of food and water. Land set aside for agricultural use often experiences extreme flooding or droughts as the problem worsens. Approximately 80 percent of drought damage was absorbed by agricultural land. By preserving the natural environment in Gabon, this danger can be largely avoided.
  • Conflict is one of the leading causes of poverty and tends to further divide the classes. By maintaining Gabon’s natural resources, and in turn reducing scarcities of resources, the country will likely continue to be largely at peace.
  • When the climate changes, so do prices. As shortages occur, prices rise, and the world’s poor are the most heavily affected by this. It is estimated that those living below the poverty line have experienced a 62 percent spike in their budgets for food in recent years. By preserving Gabon’s rainforests and the country’s environment as a whole, Gabonese people will likely avoid the impacts of further volatility in the market.

– Austin Brown
Photo: Flickr

Rheumatic Heart Disease in Africa
Heart disease is a significant burden across the world. From the Americas to Africa, heart disease affects people globally. While heart disease affects people from all spectrums of the socio-economic ladder, it disproportionately influences the lives of those living in extreme poverty. Nowhere is this more apparent than with rheumatic heart disease in Africa.

What is Rheumatic Heart Disease?

Rheumatic fever is the precursor to rheumatic heart disease. Rheumatic fever affects the connective tissue in multiple areas of the body, particularly the heart. Prolonged exposure to the illness can cause rheumatic heart disease due to the heart valves becoming swollen and scarred. Over time, this can lead to heart failure. Undertreated or ignored strep throat is the precursor to rheumatic fever. Those with frequent bouts of strep infections are at an increased risk of contracting rheumatic fever, particularly children. Children between the ages of 5 to 15 are particularly susceptible to rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever and by extension, rheumatic heart disease, mainly affects children in underdeveloped nations.

Rheumatic Heart Disease in Africa: The Facts

Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of rheumatic heart disease cases in children between 5 to 14, with 1,008,207 cases.  In developed countries, the number of cases is drastically lower, with 33,330 cases. Thankfully, rheumatic heart disease is an easily preventable disease. Consistent, long-term treatment with penicillin can prevent rheumatic fever from progressing into rheumatic heart disease. Rheumatic fever is avoidable with early treatment of strep throat. This leaves the main reasons for the spread of rheumatic heart disease as a lack of resources, money and lack of knowledge about preventative measures.

How to Fight Rheumatic Heart Disease in Africa?

A multitude of nongovernmental organizations lent their services to the fight against rheumatic heart disease in Africa. One of these NGOs is the World Heart Federation (WHF), a group that dedicates itself to the eradication of rheumatic heart disease. On May 25, 2018, the global community put the World Health Organization’s resolution on rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease into action, and this led to the creation of the WHF Rheumatic Heart Disease Taskforce (RHDTF). This task force comprises three separate groups. The first group is the Access to Surgery group, which, as the name implies, focuses on developing strategies to bring lifesaving surgery to low-income countries. The Access to Surgery group works to create surgical centers dedicated to rheumatic heart disease surgery. The second and third groups in this task force are the Policy and Advocacy group and the Prevention and Control group. The Policy and Advocacy group works to increase access to penicillin in low-income areas by dealing with red-tape that can often affect the supply of penicillin. The Prevention and Control group focuses more on investing in projects that take on rheumatic heart disease at the local level.

The Future of Rheumatic Heart Disease

The future looks brighter for those suffering from rheumatic heart disease in Africa. Rheumatic heart disease is entirely preventable, with conventional prevention techniques such as avoiding sharing drinks, coughing away from others and even making sure to frequently wash hands.  With the help of NGOs like WHF and countries like Ghana hosting World Heart Day to raise awareness for rheumatic heart disease, there is hope that this disease’s days are finite.

Ryan Holman
Photo: Flickr

Data Privacy in AfricaIn the developed regions of the world, data privacy has been a topic of public discourse for some time. From the European Union’s adoption of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to smaller laws that have passed in many U.S. states, the developed world has recognized that data privacy laws are important to modern digital society. Now, as the burgeoning tech industries in many developing countries push them into fast-paced versions of the West’s digital revolution, many developing countries are also beginning to put similar laws into effect. In particular, data privacy in Africa has become a major concern as the region steps into the digital age.

Data Privacy in Africa

In June of 2019, leaders from across Africa gathered in Ghana for the groundbreaking Africa International Data Protection and Privacy Conference. At this conference, African leaders such as Ghanaian Vice President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Right to Privacy Joe Cannataci, and Chairperson of the Information Regulator of South Africa Pansy Tlakula spoke about ways to advance data privacy in Africa. Topics ranged from convincing African nations to fall in step with international laws about data privacy to integrating data privacy laws with religious groups in Africa.

This conference came at a crucial time in the development of data privacy in Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa alone is expected to add more than 250 million internet users by 2025, and the Sub-Saharan mobile industry is expected to add $185 billion to GDP by 2023. Despite this growth in internet use, the continent is currently behind on data privacy laws. Only 17 out of 54 countries in Africa have passed data privacy laws, and 15 African countries have yet to ratify the African Union’s Convention on Cybersecurity and Data Protection. The leaders assembled at the conference hoped to change this. “Data protection in Africa is a prerequisite” to joining the Fourth Industrial Revolution, said Hon. Vincent Sowah Odotei, Ghana’s deputy minister of communications, in his final remarks of the conference.

Improved data privacy in Africa has several benefits. According to the Global System for Mobile Communications Association, improving data privacy, “allows countries to trust each other and enforcement bodies to cooperate. In turn, this can boost the economy by allowing data to flow within the region and it is more attractive for external investors who prefer not to be confined to keeping data in one place.”

How a Lack of Data Privacy Harms Poor Communities

Beyond large-scale economic benefits, improved access to data privacy will have specific benefits for low-income Africans. A 2017 study from Washington University in St. Louis found that poor people are more vulnerabilities when it comes to data privacy, facing vulnerabilities such as a greater likelihood of having their personal data used against them and more devastating consequences from identity theft. Poorer people are also much less likely to have basic digital literacy skills, thus increasing their vulnerability to digital threats, with 64 percent of poor Americans reporting that they do not have a good understanding of how the privacy policies of websites they visit apply to them.

Michele Gilman, one of the authors of the study, said in an interview with The Borgen Project that data privacy is tantamount to improving the lives of those in poverty. Gilman said, “Technology can be a tremendous resource for people living in poverty to access services and opportunities as a ladder out of poverty—but without controls or regulation, it can also further entrench poverty.”

Gilman pointed out that identity theft can wreak particular havoc for people living in poverty. When people living in poverty are victims of identity theft, according to Gilman, their lack of a social safety net coupled with the sudden loss of most of their financial assets can lead to dire consequences. Because poor people tend to lack the resources to undo the consequences of identity theft, the American Bar Association reports that they are more likely to be wrongfully arrested and hounded by collection agencies for crimes they didn’t commit and loans they didn’t take out. This is all in addition to the usual consequences of identity theft, which can take months to resolve. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that in the U.S., 43 percent of households that were victims of identity theft made less than $75,000 per year. In South Africa almost half the consumer population either has been, or knows someone who has been, the victim of identity theft.

Gilman also illuminated the broader threat that a lack of data privacy can pose for those in poverty. Big data coupled with societal discrimination can lead to low-income people systematically being denied access to resources and they are more often targeted by government surveillance. For instance, 40 percent of colleges and universities use applicants’ social media profiles to make decisions through a process known as social analytics, where algorithms go over applicants’ social media behavior as well as who they are friends with in order to determine their qualifications to enter.

Up to 27 percent of poor social media users don’t use any settings at all to make social media profiles private, and because poorer students tend to rely more on financial aid, there is a concern that social media analysis will allow universities to selectively avoid recruiting low-income students. In a similar vein, police departments have begun to use a process known as threat scoring, where they analyze crime statistics to determine how likely a given individual is to commit a crime using data from social media and other sources, essentially creating guilt by association.

Effectiveness of Data Privacy Laws

In places where data privacy laws have already taken effect, the results have been significant. Since the passing of the GDPR, record numbers of data breaches that otherwise would have gone unreported, have been reported to the relevant authorities, with 36,000 breaches reported in 2018 compared to between 18,000 and 20,000 in 2017. Countries around the world, from Brazil to Hong Kong, have passed GDPR-like bills, and many other countries are looking to follow suit. The implementation of these laws has not been without hiccups—many businesses in the EU have struggled with the implementation of new regulations, and the EU has been slow to actually enact fines for companies that break GDPR rules—but in the end, these laws will help to dismantle the structures that keep people in poverty.

Data privacy laws protect low-income people from negative consequences such as identity theft and algorithmic discrimination. The creation of laws to increase data privacy in Africa, therefore, will increase protection for Africans who are being kept in poverty by lenient data privacy regulations. As the region’s tech develops, its laws are also developing to ensure that increased access to technology also means increased possibility to alleviate poverty.

– Kelton Holsen
Photo: Flickr

5 Facts About the Technology Renaissance in Africa
As of 2019, 11 percent of the world’s internet subscribers are from Africa and only 39 percent of Africans use the internet. However, Africa is quickly closing the digital gap with the developed world. Here are five facts about the technology renaissance in Africa, as digital technology rapidly expands across the continent.

5 Facts About the Technology Renaissance in Africa

  1. Africa is Ripe to Enter the Tech Economy: Africa has multiple advantages over other regions in developing a technology-based economy. The continent has the youngest population in the world with an average age of 19.5, meaning that there is a large population of young people looking for a chance to break into the technology industry. Because of the continent’s late entry into the global tech economy, African tech companies can learn from the early mistakes of tech hubs like Silicon Valley. Further, Africa is entering the digital market at an ideal moment – by entering the industry late, African techies can immediately take advantage of globalized internet technology, bypassing outdated infrastructures such as landlines and branch banking and directly adopting mobile phones or mobile money.
  2. Technology is Revolutionizing Other Sectors: Technology is not just good for the technology industry – as many countries have discovered, one can apply tech to a multitude of industries. Technology is revolutionizing education in Africa through digital books and online classes with global universities such as Harvard and MIT. An app called iCow helps farmers manage their cattle populations. Africans can attend church services online, solving problems of limited religious resources in smaller communities. Additionally, mobile phones and increased connectivity have already been critical in responding to crises like Boko Haram kidnappings in Nigeria.  New technology has already had a profound effect on both commercial and social industries.
  3. Tech Education is Booming: Recognizing the critical need for technology-based education, multiple universities in Africa now offer software engineering, computer science and other tech programs that compete with established universities such as Yale or Stanford. Further, technology accelerators are rapidly growing. French telecommunications company Orange opened its first African digital center in Tunis, Tunisia in April 2019, which will support startups and educate young entrepreneurs. Nairobi, Kenya-based Andela is the top computer engineering accelerator in Africa, connecting its students with tech jobs around the world.
  4. Africa is Building its Own Tech Economy: The technology renaissance in Africa means that the continent will eventually have its own independent tech market. For example, in October 2019 President Paul Kagame of Rwanda inaugurated Africa’s first smartphone factory. The factory does not produce iPhones – instead, it produces the Mara, a mobile phone that the pan-African Mara Group developed. The Mara is unique in that it is the first phone a company entirely assembles in Africa. Other African companies entering the smartphone market include Onyx Connect from South Africa and AfriOne from Nigeria.
  5. Growing Tech Industries Raise GDP: The increase in access to technology is critical to increasing African countries’ economies. The World Bank reports that a mere 10 percent increase in internet penetration represents a 1.38 percent increase in GDP for a developing country. The growth of African technology also attracts international business – IBM, Google, Facebook and Microsoft have all begun investment projects in Africa based on the continent’s technological growth. Though getting widespread technology access across dispersed communities is a challenge, African governments are coming together and developing plans to move the technology renaissance in Africa forward.

Though African countries are still developing, the continent is becoming a major player in the global technology economy. From international investment to country-specific development, a technology renaissance in Africa is truly underway. The next decade will only see more development and innovations from the “Silicon Savannah.”

Melanie Rasmussen
Photo: Flickr

Eliminating HIV In Kenya

The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa affects adolescent girls more than any other group within the population. As a public health response, a new approach for the elimination of HIV in Kenya emerged which addresses the gender and economic inequality that aid in spreading the disease. This new approach is related to female empowerment eliminating HIV in Kenya with new effective methods.

Health Care System in Kenya

Kenya is home to the world’s third-largest HIV epidemic. Kenya’s diverse population of 39 million encompasses an estimate of 42 ethnic tribes, with most people living in urban areas. Research shows that about 1.5 million, or 7.1 percent of Kenya’s population live with HIV. The first reported cases of the disease in Kenya were reported by the World Health Organization between 1983 to 1985. During that time, many global health organizations increased their efforts to spread awareness about prevention methods for the disease and gave antiretroviral therapy (ART) to those who were already infected with the disease. In the 1990s, the rise of the HIV infected population in Kenya had risen to 100,000 which led to the development of the National AIDS Control Council. The elimination of HIV in Kenya then became a priority for every global health organization.

The health care system in Kenya is a referral system of hospitals, health clinics, and dispensaries that extends from Nairobi to rural areas. There are only about 7,000 physicians in total that work within the public and private sector of Kenya’s health care system. As the population increases and the HIV epidemic intensifies, it creates more strenuous conditions for most of the population in Kenya to get the healthcare they desperately need. It is estimated that more than 53 percent of people living with HIV in Kenya are uninformed of their HIV status.

In addition, HIV disproportionately affects women and young people. After an initiative implemented by UNAIDS in 2013 to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV through increased access to sex education and contraceptives, significantly fewer children are born with HIV. Today, 61 percent of children with HIV are receiving treatment. However, the young women (ages 15-24) in Kenya are still twice as likely to be infected with HIV as men their age. Overall HIV rates are continuing to decrease for other groups within the population, but studies show that 74 percent of new HIV cases in Kenya continue to be adolescent girls.

Female Empowerment Eliminating HIV in Kenya

Women’s empowerment is an overarching theme for the reasons that HIV is heavily impacting the young women in Kenya. A woman’s security in the idea that she is able to dictate personal choices for herself has the ability to hinder or help her well-being.
Female empowerment eliminating HIV in Kenya uses these four common conditions to eliminate HIV:

  1. Health Information – Many girls in Kenya lack adequate information and services about sexual and reproductive health. Some health services even require an age of consent, which only perpetuates the stigma towards sexual rights. Also, the few health services available are out of reach for poor girls in urban areas.
  2. Education – A lack of secondary education for young women and girls in Kenya often means that they are unaware of modern contraceptives. A girl that does not receive a secondary education is twice as likely to get HIV. To ensure that adolescent girls have access to sexuality education, the 2013 Ministerial Commitment on Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Eastern and Southern Africa guaranteed that African leaders will commit to these specific needs for young people.
  3. Intimate partner violence –  Countless young women and girls have reported domestic and sexual violence that led to them contracting HIV. Something as simple as trying to negotiate contraceptive use with their partners often prompts a violent response. There has been an increased effort to erase the social acceptability of violence in many Kenyan communities. An organization called, The Raising Voices of SASA! consists of over 25 organizations in sub-Saharan Africa that work to prevent violence against women and HIV.
  4. Societal norms – Some communities in Kenya still practice the tradition of arranged marriages, and often at very young ages for girls. The marriages usually result in early pregnancy and without proper sex education, women and babies are being infected with HIV at a higher rate. In 2014, the African Union Commission accelerated the end to child marriages by setting up a 2-year campaign in 10 African Countries to advocate for Law against child marriages. Research suggests that eliminating child marriages would decrease HIV cases, along with domestic violence, premature pregnancies by over 50 percent.

Young women in Kenya face various obstacles in order to live a healthy life, and poverty acts as a comprehensive factor. Studies show that a lack of limited job opportunities leads to an increase in high-risk behavior. Transactional sex becomes increasingly common for women under these conditions, while they also become more at risk for sexual violence. An estimated 29.3 percent of female sex workers in Kenya live with HIV.

Solution

The most practical solution to tackling the elimination of HIV in Kenya combines HIV prevention with economic empowerment for young girls. The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is an organization that has worked hard at implementing strategies, and interventions across Africa that highlight women’s access to job opportunities and education. In 10 different countries in Africa (including Kenya), young women can attend interventions in which they learn about small business loans, vocational training and entrepreneurship training. One way that more women in Kenya are able to gain control over their financial resources is by receiving village saving loans. To participate in village saving loans it requires a group of 20-30 to make deposits into a group fund each week. Women within these groups can access small loans, which enables them to increase their financial skills while gaining economic independence. The Global Fund to fight AIDS has cultivated a space for numerous empowerment groups for young women out of school called the RISE Young Women Club. The young women in these clubs often live in poverty and receive HIV testing as well as sexual health education.

Overall, the global health programs that aid in the elimination of HIV in Kenya are continuously improving their strategies by including young women in poverty. The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Kenya steadily sees progress thanks to the collective efforts of programs that empower young women.

– Nia Coleman
Photo: Flickr