Information and stories about Africa.

Social Skills to Young Girls
Asante Africa Foundation, which Erna Grasz co-founded in 2007, is a Foundation to alleviate poverty and encourage the development of youth through quality learning in the classroom, gender equity and work-life skills. Its motto is to “Educate and empower the next generation of change agents, whose dreams and actions transform the future for Africa and the world.” Here is some information about how Asante Africa Foundation is working to promote health knowledge and education for young girls.

About Asante Africa Foundation

The Foundation comprises a global team that connects youth from Kenya, Tanzania, California and Uganda through three effective interconnected programs that work to promote education through low-cost resources and train teachers how to educate youth. These programs, called Accelerated Learning in the Classroom Program, Leadership and Entrepreneurship Incubator (LEI) Program and Wezesha Vijana Program, are active in East Africa in Narok, Kenya; Arusha, Tanzania; Livermore, California and Kassanda, Uganda.

The LEI Program, founded in 2010, is a three-year program that provides students with job readiness skills, entrepreneurship skills and personal development skills that will allow students to enter the job market and start their own businesses in the future. The Accelerated Learning in the Classroom Program is a program that works to provide intensive teacher training and utilization of technology in the classroom to better prepare students. In this way, both students and teachers gain the necessary skills to thrive and excel in modern academic fields.

The Wezesha Vijana Program, also known as the Girls’ Advancement Program, is a school-based program that works to provide a safe space for young girls to discuss their challenges and to create solutions to those problems. This program allows community support, parental engagement and peer mentoring. Young girls become armed with the knowledge and recognition of their rights and their collective power. The Foundation has changed over 600,000 youth lives by encouraging the development of cognitive skills, decision-making capacity and leadership qualities for the next generation.

Providing Education for Girls

In a virtual event that took place on October 17, 2020, called Creating Opportunity from Chaos, people received opportunities to create changes in their communities and voice their understanding of the struggles that young girls face. Participants had to describe what implementations they were making in the community to foster change and growth. The theme of the panel was to create solutions for the predicament of a young girl facing issues such as gender-based violence and limited educational and economic opportunities. Simon Kinyanjul, the representative from Asante Africa Foundation, answered that he was promoting change in the community through providing education for girls about their sexual rights, hygienic practices and financial/business knowledge.

Kinyabjul emphasized how the start of after-school clubs and activities play an important role in functioning as a safe place for girls to learn how to obtain skills such as financial education, skills training and community support. Some afterschool activities that Asante Africa Foundation has created involved building peer support networks through the administration of girl-led school clubs that educated girls in sexual maturation, reproductive health, financial knowledge, social skills and personal rights. These afterschool clubs allowed greater communication among the girls and also taught the boys to act as a support system and ally to the girls. The implementation of after-school activities and clubs has led to fewer early unintended pregnancies, reduced early marriages, increased school attendance/completion and increased financial earnings/savings for girls.

The Wezesha Vijana Program

Simon Kinyanjui took the time to explain the Wezesha Vijana Program, a program to give young girls knowledge about hygiene, finances and business, along with social skills to help them in their communities and their lives. The help gained from the local government, local chiefs and schools serve as important constituents that will aid as a support structure for young girls to pave their way into the world. This program has impacted over 125,000 youth lives and the number continues to grow. The average attendance rate in schools in Africa has increased by 7%, academic performance in schools has increased by 38% and pregnancy dropouts have decreased by 75% in 2019 alone.

During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, young girls and children do not have the opportunity to gather and learn these important lifelong skills. Therefore, Asante Africa Foundation has been reaching out to communities and distributing Youth Essential Kits which contain feminine hygiene products and learning products that allow these girls to become healthy women in their business and their lives.

The prolongation of the COVID-19 pandemic has denied youth the ability to attend sessions in the community that served as a place for the girls to meet regularly and discuss and share issues. It is also impeding the process that allowed girls to discuss their knowledge of financial stability, hygiene and personal health. However, through the creation and distribution of the hygiene kits, adolescent girls have the feminine hygiene products that will allow them to stay clean and that they may not have been able to afford. The pandemic has resulted in reduced earnings and increased unemployment in the African economy which, in turn, has increased poverty. As a result, these Youth Essential Kits are providing adolescent girls with the feminine products that they cannot afford due to the economic decline.

To help ease the trouble that the pandemic caused, Asante Africa Foundation has also been working with students and alumni to identify what is necessary within different communities. The effort of Asante Africa Foundation to provide a source of outreach and connection among the students through the pandemic has allowed students to remain active in their endeavors and have a positive outlook for their futures.

– Isha Bedi
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Equatorial GuineaIn the small Central African nation of Equatorial Guinea, the healthcare system is lacking in many ways. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, “45 other countries in Equatorial Guinea’s per capita GDP range spent at least four times as much on health and education during the same period.” A study by the Pan African Medical Journal has reported a “lack of resources and trauma care facilities” and that  “training and informational programs for both healthcare workers and the general public may not be effectively transmitting information to the intended recipients.” Overall, it can be said that healthcare in Equatorial Guinea is in a dire state that certainly calls for assistance.

Things to Know About Healthcare in Equatorial Guinea

  1. Empty Promises. Following the discovery of oil in Equatorial Guinea in 1991, President Obiang promised investment in social services, primarily healthcare and education. Despite repeatedly saying he would prioritize those two services, financial allocation for funding has been disheartening. According to the World Bank, as of 2017, only 3.11% of the country’s GDP has been spent on healthcare, an increase since 2012, when it stood at 1.26%.
  2. Incorrect Priorities. Instead of allocating money towards improving its healthcare system, Equatorial Guinea has been investing in large infrastructure projects. In 2011, the country spent 82% of its total budget on such projects, a move that was heavily criticized by both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
  3. Treatable Diseases are Deadly. Lack of funding means healthcare in Equatorial Guinea lacks diagnostic tools, trained staff, laboratory supplies, vaccines, cheap medication and condoms. The lack of affordable medicine and resources results in patients being reluctant to seek care and also means the most common treatable diseases become the deadliest. According to the Pan African Medical Journal, diseases like malaria, typhoid, sexually transmitted diseases, diarrhea and respiratory illnesses are the most common diseases, but also have the highest rate of mortality.
  4. Underfunded Healthcare Sector. The lack of funding to the healthcare sector in Equatorial Guinea also acts as a deterrent for people to join the profession and causes many to leave, due to the lack of pay. Data indicates that Equatorial Guinea has only three doctors per 10,000 people. Furthermore, because patient payments are not enough to keep facilities running, many also leave due to the difficulties in their ability to provide care.
  5. Traditional and Modern Medicine Conflict. There is a conflict between traditional and modern medicine, which many healthcare practitioners consider a “negative healthcare outcome.” Indeed, the reluctance for many families to consult hospitals to receive care due to the high cost of medication may drive them to traditional medicine methods instead. Though this conflict has been noted before, not many steps have been taken to help mitigate the gap.

Despite the dire state of healthcare in Equatorial Guinea, research does not indicate that the country is receiving much help from aid organizations or other countries to improve the situation. This conclusion indicates a desperate need for aid to better the country’s healthcare system. With help, healthcare in Equatorial Guinea can be drastically improved.

Mathilde Venet
Photo: Flickr

locust plaguesDuring the past several years, Eastern Africa has experienced the worst swarms the region has seen in decades. Typically, the arid desert environment kills off locusts but multiple tropical cyclones have hit the region thereby creating wetter soil conditions that are more hospitable for these insects. Due to the weather patterns within the last few years, several overwhelming locust plagues have occurred. Not only are the swarms of locusts unsettling and bothersome, but they threaten food security and the livelihoods of the people within the affected regions.

The Impact of Locust Plagues

One of the most troubling effects of the locust swarms is their consumption of green vegetation, in particular, crops within agricultural regions and pastoral communities. In a single day, a swarm of locusts that covers one square kilometer can consume more food than 35,000 people would in the same time frame. In a region already affected by food insecurity, the locust outbreak only exacerbates the problem and could potentially lead to five million people in Africa facing starvation.

In order to fight locusts, governments often resort to aerial or on-the-ground pesticide spraying. While The Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa exists specifically to take these actions, there are many obstacles in the way.

  • The organization is underfunded and disregarded by many countries in the region.
  • Even with proper funding, finding and spraying all locust infested sites is challenging.
  • The effects of COVID-19 have left many governments under financial stress and unable to contribute to locust-fighting and food security efforts.
  • Political instability and civil unrest make accessing some locust breeding sites very difficult.

How the United States Can Help

Given the lack of resources of many East African countries and the additional impact of COVID-19 on these countries, it is necessary for developed countries like the United States to provide aid. Fortunately, a bipartisan bill aimed at doing just that is currently moving through the House of Representatives.

On June 18, 2020, Rep. Christopher Smith and Rep. Karen Bass introduced H.R. 7276, the East Africa Locust Eradication Act. This bill seeks to create an interagency working group that would form a thorough plan to eradicate current locust plagues as well as create an infrastructure to prevent future outbreaks. Should the bill pass, the interagency group would consist of members from the Department of Agriculture, the Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and more. Additionally, the interagency group would work with regional governments and international organizations in order to develop a comprehensive eradication and prevention plan for the entire affected region.

Action in Progress

Currently, regional governments and international nongovernmental organizations have taken a disjointed response to the outbreaks. For example, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is working on the ground in the East African region to provide direct support to farmers and help some of the most vulnerable people survive. However, without a comprehensive, multilateral and international plan to address the locust outbreak, the IRC’s measures to support communities will be insufficient.

For this reason, it is essential that Congress pass the East Africa Locust Eradication Act. United States aid as well as aid from other developed countries is required in order to save millions of people from the effects of the worst locust plague the region has seen in decades.

Alanna Jaffee
Photo: Flickr

Solar Energy is Transforming Africa
Photovoltaics panels, more commonly referred to as solar panels, are often cited as the best way to decarbonize the world’s energy grids and reduce emissions. According to MIT, the price per solar cell has decreased by 99% since 1980. These incredibly low costs have now unlocked the use of solar panels for the world’s poorest continent, Africa, with incredibly positive ramifications for the local environments of its citizens and the international effort to reduce emissions. Beyond emissions, however, cheap solar energy also improves the prospects for poor and rural Africans to access electricity, opening new opportunities to enhance standards of living and reduce poverty rates. With the majority of the world’s poor now located in sub-Saharan Africa, these cheap panels, along with the innovative thinking of African communities across the continent, have created new use cases for solar energy that are increasing water security, improving rural access to electricity and increasing economic resilience for Africa’s developing economies. Here are three ways solar energy is transforming Africa.

3 Ways Solar Energy is Transforming Africa

  1. Kenya’s Solar Desalination Plant: Kenya, a former British colony located in eastern Africa, is home to a population of approximately 50 million people. With an annual population growth rate of 2.2%, Kenya has one of the fastest-growing populations in the world and is set to see a population of 85 million by 2050, according to the World Bank. While a significant amount of Kenya’s population growth will be in urban developments, only 28% of Kenya’s population is urban today, meaning that Kenya’s government will need to find ways to provide water and energy infrastructure for its rural communities for decades to come. One small Kenyan fishing village known as Kiunga, home to about 3,500 individuals, has found a solution. Partnering with an American NGO known as GivePower, this village uses solar panels to desalinate ocean water, with the capacity to deliver water to 35,000 residents, 10 times the village’s current population. Today, over 300 million sub-Saharan Africans struggle with water insecurity, often leading to conflict and instability that causes poverty, according to global NGO The Water Project. Developments that can reduce such insecurities can go a long way in improving the future for Africa’s poor. While much more progress needs to occur on this front, this village of Kiunga is providing a template for villages across Africa to harness the power of the sun for water security.
  2. Tanzania’s Rural Mini-Grids: Tanzania, a neighbor of Kenya and a former British and German colony, is home to about 58 million people. Tanzania is East Africa’s largest nation and is home to its largest population and its lowest population density. With its urban population constituting only 35.2% of the country, Tanzania faces the challenge of providing electricity to rural communities far from its city centers. Solar power is uniquely capable of delivering power to these rural communities, and Tanzania has embraced new economic models called “mini-grids” in order to deliver this power. While traditional fossil fuel power plants rely on extensive supply chains and infrastructure in order to deliver electricity, in part due to the weight of the fuels, solar panels generate power on-site, directly from the sun. These “mini-grids” allow small Tanzanian villages to afford electricity for the first time, creating opportunities for rural education and improving security, ultimately contributing to the reduction of rural poverty in Tanzania. Although the current situation is poor, with more than 70% of Tanzanians lacking access to electricity, by 2040, 140 million Africans – including many in Tanzania – will get electricity from these mini-grids, according to the World Resources Institute.
  3. Morocco’s Mega Solar Plant: The North African nation of Morocco is becoming an increasingly important economic power in Africa, with a growth rate of nearly 4.1%. Despite this progress, however, Morocco’s rural poverty rate remains high at 19%. Though one cannot fault Morocco for prioritizing its economy over its environment, given its current poverty rate, Morocco has committed to ramping up its solar energy production, seeking a 50% renewable energy capacity by 2030. The benefits of this development, however, are more than environmental, as Morocco is now a net energy exporter to Europe, decreasing its domestic electricity costs and enhancing its economic resilience, all while improving its economic and political relationships with Europe. Thus, Morocco has used solar energy to not only maintain its commitments to emissions reductions but also as a tool to diversify its economy, allowing the nation to not only lift its citizens from poverty but to sustain its citizen’s incomes in good times and bad.

Poverty remains a significant problem in Africa, with more than half of the world’s deeply impoverished peoples living in sub-Saharan Africa. However, through remarkably low costs and a variety of unique use cases across Africa, solar panels are now increasingly capable of delivering energy, water security and economic growth. From LED-powered lights in rural African schools to increasingly reliable electricity for African small businesses, solar energy is transforming Africa by contributing to its economic rise and modernizing its rural life. And, with solar-powered desalination moving from fiction to reality, water security is increasingly possible across the continent, leading to greater community stability and resilience. All of these factors play an essential role in decreasing poverty rates and improving the quality of life on Earth’s poorest continent. Sunlight, it seems, will brighten Africa’s nights in the future.

– Saarthak Madan
Photo: UN Multimedia

Dairy Production in Africa
Dairy production in Africa plays a central role in the region’s economic and sustainable development. It contributes to food security, combats malnutrition and reduces poverty in the region. Dairy production in Africa has also created rural employment (nearly 80% of the African population resides in the countryside), and increased the economic potential of pastoral areas. Experts even expect strong production growth in the region due to an abundance of cows, goats and sheep.

Local Milk Production

Local milk production in West Africa has already risen by 50% between 2000 and 2016 to about 4 billion liters in 2019. Producing and selling milk provides an important source of income for locals. Around 48 million nomadic herders and agro-pastoralists participate in the milk sector, while others work in the trading and transportation of products. Additionally, the sector produces jobs in processing and marketing.

Despite substantial growth in recent years, the dairy sector in Africa faces major drawbacks such as high production costs and low yields. This is due to the lack of infrastructure and appropriate equipment in the production process. Another factor is the low-grade feed that affects animal health.

Local production does not yet have the capacity to meet 100% of demands in the sector. Only 50% of consumption comes from local production, and imported milk powder helps meet the remaining needs. On top of existing internal constraints, dairy production in Africa has to compete with cheap milk-based products imported from the European Union (E.U.). These foreign products continue to increase in quantity and threaten to overtake the African market.

Impact of Fat-Filled Milk Powder Imports

In 2018, the European Union exported 92,620 tons of milk powder to West Africa and 276,982 tons of fat-filled milk powder. That is an increase of 234% since 2008. Fat-filled milk mixtures comprise of milk constituents and vegetable oils, such as palm oil, enrich them. This milk derivative sells for 30% cheaper than whole milk powder in African markets, generating unfair competition for African dairy farmers.

For instance, in Burkina Faso, 1 liter of pasteurized local milk costs 91 cents in comparison to only 34 cents for milk made from E.U.-imported powder mixtures. Since competition is almost impossible, local livestock farmers suffer huge financial losses as imports increase. “I’ve tried selling my milk, but most of the time it goes to waste and ends up being poured away,” said Hamidou Bande, the president of Burkina Faso’s National Herders’ Union.

Furthermore, experts say that the milk lookalike does not contain the same nutritional value as whole milk with regards to its fatty acids, minerals and vitamin content. Locals are concerned about the health impact the milk import could have on their community. “It’s a milk that is flooding our schools and is very unhealthy for our children,” said Sommanogo Koutou, Burkina Faso’s minister of animal resources. Nevertheless, these products sell at wide availability because of their large consumer base, who have less purchasing power and thus prefer the cheaper option.

Change is Forthcoming

Members of the E.U., West African governments and private companies have all taken actions to support the local dairy market.

Vétérinaires Sans Frontières is a Belgian NGO supporting agriculture and breeding in eight African countries. It has involved itself in helping farmers improve all stages of production including livestock feed, herd health and animal hygiene, milk collection and processing as well as marketing for their products.

Fairebel, a Belgian milk brand, created the “advocacy brand” Fairefaso. It has partnered with local milk producers in Burkina Faso to support small-scale local farmers by helping them maximize sales and profits.

ECOWAS, short for the Economic Community of West African States, has launched the Regional Offensive for the Promotion of Local Milk. It aims to increase the production and collection of fresh milk.

With cooperation from European producers and institutional support, change is forthcoming for African livestock keepers and farmers. With increased funding and new import regulations, projections have determined that dairy production in Africa will continue growing to meet the needs of the local communities and beyond.

Alice Nguyen
Photo: Flickr

Agenda 2063The Organization of African Unity (OAU) officially disbanded on July 9, 2002. OAU accomplished its primary goal after nearly 40 years: independence. Nearly every former European colony on the African continent had gained its sovereignty in the decades following the end of the Second World War. The replacement for the OAU came in the form of the African Union (AU). It is a new continental organization born to continue and expand on the work of the OAU. In addition, the AU created Agenda 2063 as a part of the 50th anniversary of the OAU.

The African Union

The African Union is a sort of ‘United Nations’, exclusive to the African continent. Consisting of 55 member states with its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the AU was founded on the basis of Pan-Africanism. Pan-Africanism is the ideal of collaboration and unity among all people of African descent, whether they live on the continent or not.

The AU came into being at a time of great change in the world order. African leaders found themselves struggling to keep up with current affairs and often react rather than govern. The various heads of state of the members of the AU ultimately decided that they needed a plan to make Africa the global player they believed it truly could be. As a result, they created Agenda 2063.

Agenda 2063

The goals of Agenda 2063 are to transform the nations of the continent into democratic, peaceful and innovative powerhouses that will aim to be global players in the next 50 years. Included in Agenda 2063 are what are known as the Seven Aspirations. These objectives encompass all the goals of Agenda 2063 and are crucial to the success of the agenda. The aspirations are as follows:

  1. A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development
  2. An integrated continent politically united and based on the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the vision of African Renaissance
  3. An Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law
  4. A peaceful and secure Africa
  5. Africa with a strong cultural identity common heritage, values and ethics
  6. An Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential offered by the African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children
  7. An Africa as a strong, united, resilient and influential global player and partner

Each of the Seven Aspirations makes up a key to Africa’s future on the world stage, particularly at its inception in 2013. Seven years on, each of Africa’s five regions is still working towards completing all of the aspirations. Some regions have had more success with some aspirations than others. However, it is important to note how much progress has been made and how much more there is to go.

Southern Africa

Southern Africa has made significant progress in Aspirations one, two and four. Protected fresh waters sites have become widely available across the region. Internet access has increased by over 200% since the Agenda was introduced. Additionally, all Southern African states have established stable peace and security councils in their respective governments. Good progress has been made in these areas. However, Southern Africa has not devoted as many resources to advancing in Aspiration five, which is crucial to an educated and culturally strong Africa.

East Africa

In East Africa, notable progress has been made under Aspirations four and six. Similar to Southern Africa, East Africa established responsive security councils across the region. This contributed to a drastic decrease in armed conflicts in the coastal areas, where piracy had been a major issue for years. Furthermore, the number of women with access to sexual health and reproductive services has seen a large increase since 2013. Despite this, Aspiration three has not seen much progress. Several states have not been able to establish heavily influential governmental institutions to get a handle on, for example, human rights issues.

West Africa

West Africa has seen substantial advancement in Aspiration two and four since the inception of Agenda 2063. The tourism industry in West Africa has seen substantial growth over the last seven years, as have fishery industries in the coastal nations. Regional access to electricity saw its highest increase in 2019. With these successes, progress has stalled in other areas, particularly in Aspiration three and five. In a region that has great agricultural potential, reports have noted that attempts to revitalize this industry have failed to meet set targets in 2019.

Central Africa

Of the five regions, Central Africa has seen the lowest amount of progress across the Seven Aspirations. The only tenet where some significant headway has been made is Aspiration two. Similarly to West Africa, many more families have access to electricity as well as the internet. Little to no progress has been made in most of the other objectives, particularly in Aspiration six and seven. This is due in part to low enrollment in primary and secondary education across the region.

North Africa

In North Africa, serious progress has been in Aspirations two and four. Notably, the number of malnourished children under the age of 5 in the region has been reduced by 97% since introducing the Agenda. In addition, the rates of malaria and tuberculosis have seen a remarkable decline, exceeding their 2019 target. However, more progress is needed in Aspiration five and six. The number of women facing violence and discrimination in the region has not seen the decreases projected in 2019.

Overall, the progress on Agenda 2063 across the continent has been focused primarily on governmental destabilization, defense and security in each of the five regions. Most states have set up individual security councils and work with one another to preserve peace and settle conflicts. On the other hand, the areas of the Agenda that have seen the least amount of progress include human rights, democracy and education in Africa’s rich culture and heritage. Individual states have held back resources that could be spent on educating their youth and preparing them for the future. This can make the continent more secure in terms of security and defense. While there is still undoubtedly a long way to go before Agenda 2063 is achieved, the progress made in the last seven years is noteworthy.

Alexander Poran
Photo: Flickr

African Vegetable StaplesAfrica has millions of hectares of viable land for large-scale agricultural operations. Many large regions of Africa are the last locations on the planet with large plots of land rich in soil nutrients and water sufficiency. New government infrastructure, a global investment and advanced technology has allowed sub-Saharan African farmers to raise crop yield. The agriculture industry is the most viable way to feed families on a small scale in villages. African vegetable staples are important as they are the bulk of the famous nutritional African diet.

Approximately 65% of the African labor force involves itself in agriculture, with the agriculture industry accounting for 32% of the region’s GDP. Governments have attempted to increase crop yield by utilizing agriculture marketing boards in order to provide more stable and standardized prices, credit extension services, technology and improved seeds. Additionally, more companies in the private sector have improved rural marketing and supply lines. These advances in extension services improve land and water management, introduce new farming techniques and provide new, efficient technology.

Essential African Vegetable Staples

Essential African vegetable staples include yams, green bananas, plantains and cassava. There are a plethora of different and unique ways of preparing dishes particular to each region and culture. Vegetables such as beans and lentils accompany almost every meal in order to provide a balanced nutritious diet. People in Africa consider meat a side dish rather than the main dish, and vegetables the main dish. Typical African vegetable staples specific to a region are dependent on the location, land viability, soil richness and water availability. Rice is more common where there is more water whereas cash crops such as groundnut are common in every household.

Many African staple foods provide a base diet for African families. African vegetable staples provide the necessary proteins, vitamins and nutrients that combat the alarming, wide-scale malnutrition issues that run rampant in many small villages that are not connected to large cities. With no access to large-scale trade or industrial resources, villagers take care of each other with personal farms. Additionally, many African vegetables also double as medicinal uses as well, allowing improved community health and nutrition.

Many staple meals accompany African’s rich variety of culture and history. The thousands of various African cultures utilize varieties of spices to prepare the same ingredient to uphold their respective traditional values and ideas. Diverse food choices are unique in each region and can range from fermented beans, sweet potato greens, teff and varieties of dumplings, to corn-based porridges, millet, kenkey, fontou and fonio. The diverse sets of languages within each region also have their own unique menus specific to their culture and certain traditions.

Case Study: The Democratic Republic of Congo

Vegetables grown in the DRC include peanuts, yams, beans, peas and maize. The political instability of the DRC has led to problems of malnutrition and lack of food access for millions of people. However, vegetables are used as an efficient solution because of the mass remote lands DRC controls for horticulture. The agriculture industry supports more than half of the DRC population. Although farming provides less than 10% of DRC’s GDP, land use is minimal to only 3.5% of DRC’s land and accounts for over 50 tons of subsistence foodstuffs.

What Next?

African vegetables have been the bulk of the African diet for millennia. Not only is it an efficient and effective way of utilizing rich soil and plentiful land on the continent, but it is also one of the most viable ways to aid the economy while doing so. Vegetables in Africa are the staple food not just for the famous nutritious diets, but also because they are an important characteristic of African identity and culture. Many African recipes eaten today have passed down generation after generation in an effort to maintain and uphold tradition. The African vegetable staples are one of the most unique characteristics of African culture and are a testament to their devotion to their diverse ideas and traditions.

Aria Ma
Photo: Flickr

Diabetes and COVID-19
Africa has a total of 1,067,573 confirmed COVID-19 cases spanning across 47 affected countries. The continent has not seen a dramatic spike like the rest of the world, but COVID-19 poses a serious complication for Africa’s other prevailing pandemic — diabetes. An estimated 19.4 million adults across 48 sub-Saharan countries have diabetes. This far exceeds COVID-19 cases and persists as a problem for Africans in general. South Africa’s dual epidemics of diabetes and COVID-19 may prove to be a challenge for the country. However, the situation is not completely bleak. Effective actions are taking place to help those suffering from both illnesses.

Diabetes and COVID-19

Diabetics who are well-managed are at a lower risk of suffering from the disease COVID-19. In contrast, patients who do not manage well are more likely to experience fluctuations in blood glucose readings and an increased risk of complications related to diabetes. For those with co-morbidities, such as heart disease — the chance of becoming seriously ill if they develop COVID-19 is much higher. As with most viral infections, the body has a difficult time staving off infections. These infections can cause internal swelling or inflammation, which can exacerbate further complications.

Type 1 diabetics contracting a viral infection are at a higher risk for diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which can cause septic shock or sepsis in  COVID-19 patients. Moreover, those with type 2 diabetes share this increased risk of getting severely ill.

Impact on South Africa

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, diabetes ranked among the world’s leading causes of death. In South Africa, the number of diabetics is still unknown, as an “accurate current date on the prevalence of diabetes in South Africa is quite difficult to find as there are no recent robust studies in all provinces in South Africa.”

Since July 16, 2020, approximately 42% of diabetic patients with COVID-19 have died from the virus. While this data does not indicate that diabetes creates a higher risk of contracting the illness, it does demonstrate that a higher risk of becoming severely ill upon infection. In the Western Cape, 52% of COVID-19 deaths were diabetics. Those with inadequate blood glucose control had an increased chance of infection.

One apparent reason that many diabetics in South Africa have succumbed to the virus is due to patients delaying hospital care until becoming seriously ill.

Diabetes Action Plan

The Western Cape has taken significant measures to create more promising outcomes for people living with diabetes. The Department of Health, for instance, has committed to contacting all known diabetics and assisting with COVID-19 symptom monitoring, diabetes management and early admission into hospitals.

This intervention has proven successful. As department spokesman Mark Van der Heever stated, “out of the 63 [patients receiving government intervention], three of the admitted patients have died, 40 of the admitted patients have been discharged and the remaining 20 patients are not in clinical distress.”

Diabetes Focus

Sweet Life, is an NGO at the forefront of the diabetes epidemic in South Africa. Notably, it has amassed a following of 22,000 members in its Facebook Community. The organization aims to deliver information and guidance to those living with diabetes in South Africa. Also, it has created a partnership with the National Department of Health (NDoH) to achieve this goal.

Sweet Life works with the Diabetes Alliance to deliver training and education to those in need. The Diabetes Alliance was formed in September 2019. It has been instrumental in unifying companies, organizations and associations in the fight for effective diabetes management. The Alliance has partnered with the NDoH to create an education project to help healthcare providers and patients learn more about diabetes. Moreover, these initiatives have compiled helpful tips and information for those impacted by diabetes and COVID-19.

Prevention is Key

Diabetics living in South Africa can remain healthy during the pandemic by ensuring their conditions are properly managed and monitored. Maintaining notes of blood glucose readings, regular exercise and healthy diets should be sufficient to stave off serious complications.

South Africa’s dual epidemics of diabetes and COVID-19 have undoubtedly taken a toll on the nation. However, with effective intervention programs from organizations like the Department of Health, there is hope that the country will continue to see improvement among diabetic patients.

Michael Santiago
Photo: Flikr

Glasses for developing countries
A variety of NGOs have been working for decades to provide glasses for developing countries. Most models for this operate in similar ways, either by donating glasses or offering low-cost glasses for communities to purchase. These programs have been successful in helping people correct their vision, as well as creating more education and economic opportunity. They only lack one thing — innovation. Choosing to apply a solution designed for a developed country to a remote village is not always the best option. This is where Child Vision comes in.

The Statistics

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that nearly 80% of all persons in Africa have unaddressed vision impairment. Additionally, 33% of the world’s poor population suffers from vision impairment. There are 123.7 million people with a refractive error, which can be solved with glasses that have the correct strength. On average, glasses cost approximately $343, despite the average manufacturing cost of $10. Clear vision drastically reduced education access for children, which in turn created less economic opportunity as they moved into adulthood. Lack of clear vision loses $202 billion in global productivity each year.

The Standard

Some of the biggest names in glasses for developing countries are NGOs like Eyes on Africa, Vision for a Nation, VisionSpring and the WHO.

The WHO has been working on the Global Action Plan for eye health since 2014. The plan has one main objective — to encourage and enhance global eye health. The Global Action Plan has several initiatives. These include identifying what is causing vision impairment, understanding where the gap is in eye health access and bringing cataract surgery to developing countries. VisionSpring works by allowing those in developed countries to purchase glasses for developing countries through the VisionSpring website. VisionSpring donates those as well as letting communities purchase low-cost glasses. It also provides bulk purchase discounts and sell glasses individually and by the box. On average, one pair of bifocals in a box set costs just 85 cents. The price point is low, but still unmanageable for many villages, especially in areas with little to no internet access.

Child Vision

Child Vision is a program within the Centre for Vision in the Developing World (CVDW). The CVDW looked at the statistics of vision impairment then accepted the challenge of creating a solution that worked for the developing world. The main struggles the CVDW found in the traditional programs were a lack of optometrists and the high cost of traditional glasses. There is one optometrist per 1 million people in the population in developing nations. While 85 cents for a pair of glasses may seem affordable, it is a great financial strain for the world’s poor, many of whom survive on less than a dollar a day.

Child Vision, after identifying the root problems with getting glasses to developed countries, created a successful prototype within two months. The CVDW created an inexpensive, adjustable lens that sets into durable frames.

How the Glasses Work

The round lens is composed of two walls made of a flexible plastic membrane that the wearer fills with liquid silicone. The lens is then set into plastic frames that have dials on both temples of the glasses. The plastic frames are filled with the same liquid silicone that is in the lens. The wearer puts on the Child Vision glasses, covers one eye and using a tumbling “E” chart, adjusts a side knob to move more or less fluid into the lens until they can see clearly. They then repeat on the other side.

The wearer simply removes the knobs from the glasses and throws them away after the lens is set. They now have durable, functional, cost-effective glasses. With a $20 donation, CVDW can provide a pair of self-adjusting glasses to a developing country. A 1–2-hour training session with a local community leader to show them how to use the tumbling “E” charts to check vision and make sure the glasses are adjusted correctly is also provided. This is not only an immediate solution and innovation to provide glasses to developing countries but it creates generational empowerment of checking eyesight and promoting educational and economic growth within each community.

– Madalyn Wright
Photo: Flickr

Infertility in Developing CountriesAn estimated 49 million to 180 million couples  suffer from infertility, globally. Moreover, the majority of those affected live in developing countries. The most common cause of infertility in developing countries are STDs and pregnancy-related infections. With the focus of most poverty reduction efforts aimed at lowering overpopulation the health concern of infertility is often overlooked. Women who suffer from infertility in developing countries often face ostracization and struggle to get the healthcare they need. Thankfully, there has been an emergence of programs to help these women.

Causes of Infertility in Developing Countries

The most common cause of infertility in developing countries is untreated STDs since treatment is often unavailable or costly. In Africa, more than 85% of women’s infertility resulted from an untreated infection compared with 33% of women, worldwide. The most common STDs involved are chlamydia and gonorrhea. Other risk factors increasing the chance of infertility are poor education, poverty, negative cultural attitudes towards women. Finally, a lack of access to contraception is a huge risk factor.

The Sexist Effects of Infertility

The burden of infertility in developing countries falls on women although male infertility is the cause in 50% of cases. When a woman is unable to conceive, her husband will often divorce her or take another wife if permitted in the country. Women who are deemed infertile also suffer discrimination from the community.  In some cultures, society views these women as having a “bad eye”, which can pass on infertility from person to person. This results in infertile women missing important events such as weddings and other social gatherings since they receive no invitations.

Combating Infertility in Developing Countries

A campaign initiated by the Merck Foundation, “Merck More than a Mother,” seeks to heighten access to education and change the stigma for infertile women in developing countries. The program has provided training for fertility specialists and endocrinologists with more than 109 specialists trained since 2016.

Also, the foundation has created music videos, songs and fashion shows in African countries to send the message that women should not be blamed if they cannot have a child. More than 14 songs have featured singers from Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and Sierra Leone.

Women Deliver

In 2016, women’s infertility was a topic of discussion at Women Deliver — the world’s largest women’s health and rights conference held in Copenhagen. There were more than 5,500 conference participants, including government ministers, policymakers, business leaders, NGOs and activists. The WHO brought the topic to the conference, with the Director of Reproductive Health and Research giving a speech about the detrimental effects of infertility.

The WHO and Women Deliver, along with the International Committee Monitoring Assisted Reproductive Technologies and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics have partnered to increase global advocacy for infertility in developing countries. The partnership aims to achieve this through advancing education and research in the field.

Hopefully, with these increased advocacy efforts, the world will start to recognize the health concern of infertility in developing countries.

Rae Brozovich
Photo: Wikimedia Commons