Information and stories about Africa.

African Women
One area where the fight against poverty in Africa has had significant support is the continent’s tech industry. As more tech companies and startups move into Africa, the result is an increase in opportunities for Africans to enter the sector as developers and IT experts. In 2020, the number of professional software developers in Africa rose from 690,000 to 716,000, which is due in part to countries like Kenya making it mandatory to teach programming in school. The tech industry continues to provide many amazing opportunities for Africans and African women to rise out of poverty.

However, one group that has not experienced the full positive impact of Africa’s tech industry is women. Today, women make up less than 20% of the digital workforce. Despite making up about 60% of Africa’s workforce, women often find themselves in low-income and labor-intensive jobs such as farming that provide little opportunity for economic and career development. By not being as readily included in Africa’s tech industry, African women – especially those who are in deeper poverty – are at a strong disadvantage.

Thankfully, there are those who realize this discrepancy and are working to provide opportunities for women to enter Africa’s tech industry. Two of these organizations are Mukuru and WeThinkCode, a financial service company and an educational institution, respectively, that recently hosted a hackathon to help female developers show their skills and gain impactful career opportunities.

Opportunities Through Coding

Both institutions have great influence in the sphere of Africa’s digital economy. Mukuru is an innovative money transferral service located in South Africa, while WeThinkCode is an academy that provides top-class coding education to residents of Johannesburg in the Gauteng province. In September 2022, both organizations teamed up to host a woman-only hackathon, to which they invited female students of WeThinkCode and bursary recipients of the Mukuru Education Fund.

A “hackathon” is an event where multiple people get together and work on one or several coding projects over a specific period of time. The goal for this hackathon was for the selected female programmers to create either a financial education or management tool that Mukuru would then use to serve its customers. Designed to allow the attending women to put their coding skills on display, the event helped women win internships and important job shadowing opportunities.

Deidré Vrede, Mukuru’s CSI manager, cited the problem of women in Africa’s tech industry making up less than 20% of the workforce, and how she felt their hackathon was a great step forward in remedying this issue. “Judging by the innovation, skills and creativity on display [at this hackathon], the future of women in IT is bright,” she said. Nyari Sumashonga, the CEO of WeThinkCode, concurred, stating her belief that the young women that participated will be role models for future generations of women wishing to enter the tech industry.

Woman Leading Tech

Mukuru and WeThinkCode’s hackathon serves as a great example of the work occurring to provide African women with opportunities to gain meaningful careers in the tech industry, regardless of their economic status. Providing opportunities for impoverished women to prove their skills and climb the professional ladder will not only help raise them out of poverty but will also be a boon to Africa’s tech industry.

– Elijah Beglyakov
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Universal Patient Portal
AfyaRekod, a Kenyan health-related business launched a completely computerized universal patient access system that gives patients and medical personnel immediate access to health information and medical records. The system has more than 150,000 users in Kenya and it utilizes a blockchain-powered technology and intends to revolutionize the way patients receive care throughout Africa and around the world. 

The History of AfyaRekod

In 2019, John Kamara established AfyaRekod as an Adanian Lab start-up, financially backed by Mac Venture Capital and Next Chymia. This came about due to Kamara’s personal experience of how the absence of medical records and static data can lead to substandard medical management when his friend tragically passed away after receiving the wrong medical attention in an emergency room. Consequently, Kamara created an AI platform to monitor health data, with the intention of connecting the dots between health care and treatment anywhere and anytime for patients, medical experts, providers and organizations.

AfyaRekod Universal Patient Portal

AfyaRekod Universal Patient Portal presents a safe, distributed and intelligent telehealth option to individuals, as well as a broad selection of healthcare facilities, trackers, reminders and notifications that people can access through various channels and devices. This portal is especially helpful for those living with chronic diseases, pregnant women and those with hereditary conditions, in addition to parents. Moreover, the AfyaRekod platform provides healthcare practitioners with an electronic health management system with digital tools to oversee essential aspects of hospitals and clinics. It encompasses many features, such as hospital and patient management, knowledge management, inventory management and an AI-driven reporting tool that permits organizations to make informed decisions, and forecast and spot illnesses in the early stages.

 AfyaRekod Patient Portal Alliances

AfyaRekod Universal Patient Portal is currently active in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Cameroon, Zambia and the United States. It is a part of the NVIDIA AI program via AICE Africa and is accessible through an app (for Android and iOS) and a web portal (rekod.com). It has formed various key alliances, such as The Association of Sisterhoods of Kenya (AOSK), Healthy Mind Foundation (Nigeria), Alchemy (South Africa), AURA (South Africa), GE Healthcare, Telkom, The Africa Block-Chain Center, The AI Center of Excellence, Adanian Labs and Lishe Living.

The Kenyan health tech startup AfyaRekod also recently linked up with United Kingdom-based Medi-science International Limited with the common goal of developing technology that provides working solutions to people across the globe.

Looking Ahead

AfyaRekod has revolutionized the way people access health care in Kenya with the introduction of its Universal Patient Portal. The portal provides immediate access to health information, medical records and more via easy-to-access computer systems, allowing both patients and medical personnel to make well-informed decisions regarding their health in a timely manner. This revolutionary new patient care system promises to revolutionize the healthcare industry in Kenya and beyond making it easier than ever before to make well-informed decisions about one’s own health while receiving the care they need.

Frida Sendoro
Photo: Flickr

World Bank’s RESPITE Initiative
West Africa consists of 16 countries with a population of 419 million people. West Africa’s access to electricity is one of the lowest on a global scale, with “only 42% of the total population and only 8% of the rural population having access to electricity.” The COVID-19 pandemic has also contributed heavily to West Africa’s energy poverty. More recently, the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine has significantly contributed to the rising food, oil and energy costs throughout the world and Africa has experienced the brunt of these consequences with high electrification costs, food crises throughout the region along with adverse effects of changing weather patterns.

However, with the World Bank’s introduction of the Regional Emergency Solar Power Intervention Project (RESPITE), the solution to sustainable and cost-effective and reliable access to electricity throughout West Africa will be more transparent with the introduction of solar and hydroelectric power along with answers to the issues that Africa is currently facing. Here is some information about the World Bank’s RESPITE initiative.

What is the World Bank’s RESPITE Initiative?

The World Bank in collaboration with the International Development Association (IDA) introduced RESPITE in December 2022 as a response to West Africa’s energy crisis through the introduction of renewable energy. The IDA is financing the initiative. The project has the approval for $311 million coupled with an additional $20 million in grants “to help facilitate future regional power trade and strengthen the institutional and technical capacities of West Africa Power Pool (WAAP) to undertake its regional mandate.”

The initiative involves the nations of Chad, Sierra Leone, Togo and Liberia. RESPITE’s main objective is to “rapidly increase grid-connected renewable energy capacity and strengthen integration in the participating countries.” RESPITE involves the “installation and operation of approximately 106 megawatts of solar photovoltaic with battery energy and storage systems, 41 megawatts expansion of hydroelectric capacity and will support electricity distribution and transmission interventions across the four countries,” the World Bank reports.

RESPITE’s Necessity

RESPITE comes as a necessity since West Africa suffers from the lowest access to reliable electrification, which has resulted in millions being unable to live in comfort as food is unable to be refrigerated and fans or air conditioning does not function, and children are unable to do their homework. The gravity of the energy crisis that all of Africa not just West Africa, faces is dire because, by 2030, there will be only three countries in West and Central Africa that will have the capability to supply their people with stable electricity, which means that more than 263 million people will be unable to have access to electricity by 2030, according to the World Bank.

RESPITE’s necessity also comes from the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic that adversely affected Africa’s development within the energy sector. The pandemic caused more than 100 million people to lose access to electricity and slowed the region’s progress toward affordable accessibility. Furthermore, with the rise of supply chain issues beginning in 2021, when countries began to recover from the pandemic, costs for batteries, solar panels and other essential parts increased significantly.

Furthermore, access to energy is detrimental to daily activities, including but not limited to education, health, hygiene and food. With the pandemic disrupting the affordability and access to electricity, by 2030, more than 2.4 billion people in Africa will be unable to access clean cooking, according to Energy Monitor. Remedying Africa’s energy poverty comes with its challenges. However, the solution to this is introducing off-grid renewable energy. Access to energy is critical to the region’s economic development.

Benefits of the World Bank’s RESPITE Initiative

RESPITE helps to create a path towards providing electricity to every person in West Africa that it is a part of because it answers the current power supply crisis that it is currently facing and simultaneously solves issues such as changing weather patterns through renewable energy and the food crisis. According to the World Bank, RESPITE was introduced as an emergency measure to address West Africa’s energy poverty by introducing renewable energy. In addition, the introduction of RESPITE in the nations of Chad, Libya, Sierra Leone and Togo creates the foundation for establishing a stable power trade since these four countries are members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

According to Boutheina Guermazi, World Bank Director for Regional Integration for sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Northern Africa, RESPITE helps enhance the existing regional integration with ECOWAS members within the energy sector. At the same time, the initiative helps “create economies of scale, increases the potential for regional trade through investments in transmission and generation infrastructure to integrate the markets physically, and develops regional public good by facilitating knowledge sharing and capacity building,” the World Bank reports.

Forward Thinking

The IDA, also known as the “World Bank’s fund for the poorest,” has supported the development of more than 113 countries. On average, it has contributed more than $21 billion, which continues to increase. More than 61% of the funds have gone to Africa alone. In addition, the World Bank over the last three years has “doubled its investments to increase electricity access rates in Central and West Africa. We have committed more than $7.8 a billion to support 40 electricity access programs, of which more than half directly support new electricity connection,” the World Bank stated.

– Arijit Joshi
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Partnership with Africa
In December 2022, the United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) launched a partnership with Africa to push the goals of health care infrastructure. This partnership will continue the goals of Africa to get health care to those underserved and finance previous projects. Within this partnership, the U.S. will work with both the public and private sectors while providing support through technical assistance and training.

“Through the Coalition, we will take a holistic approach toward addressing the priorities that Africa has established for itself. Our goals are to facilitate health care accessibility for the underserved and develop a sector that is resilient in the face of the greatest public health challenges,” said Enoh T. Ebong, USTDA’s Director.

This newest partnership is no surprise as USTDA has worked with Africa for more than 30 years on multiple initiatives including the U.S.’s Prosper Africa and Power Africa Initiatives.

Overview of the Partnership

USTDA’s Global Procurement Initiative will support the partnership with training on how to obtain top-tier health care products as well as technical assistance. Here are the goals the partnership will look to achieve:

  • Entice financing for vital health care infrastructure across all of Africa.
  • Raise the resilience and accessibility of the health sector, including digital connectivity and electricity.
  • Supporting the frameworks for Africans to gain access to innovative health products.
  • Strengthen the delivery of health-related services.

Within the partnership, the initiative laid out these projects:

  • Lily Urban Hospital Resuscitation
  • Cedarcrest Comprehensive Cancer Treatment Center
  • Mobihealth Multi-Country Telehealth Expansion
  • Zipline Aerial Health and Distribution Service Expansion

The partnership will also promote the goals of the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment which is a key priority of the U.S. government.

Global Procurement Initiative

Started in 2013, “USTDA’s Global Procurement Initiative (GPI) educates public officials in emerging markets on how to establish procurement practices and policies that integrate life-cycle cost analysis and best value determination in a fair, transparent manner.”

Partner countries of the GPI located within Africa include Botswana, Ethiopia and Kenya. Partner/collaborator organizations of the GPI located within Africa include African Development Fund, African Development Bank, the World Bank and Power Africa. These partnerships are vital in getting the most out of the GPI.

Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment

Announced in a joint statement from a number of global leaders, during the 2022 G7 Summit, the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII) was born. The PGII aims to gather $600 billion, “for global infrastructure investments by 2027.” During the 2022 G20 Summit, the President of the United States, the President of Indonesia and the President of the European Commission cemented their support for the PGII.

The partnership works to invest in the middle to low-income countries’ infrastructure which in turn will benefit these countries’ food security, global supply chains and the overall health of the world.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen said, “The Partnership Global for Infrastructure and Investment is an important geostrategic initiative in an era of strategic competition. Together with leading democracies, we offer values-driven, high-standard, and transparent infrastructure partnerships for low- and middle-income countries.”

These shared goals across the PGII, GPI and the newly introduced health care infrastructure partnership with Africa have the potential to help with the delivery of quality resources and training to Africa. The goals will greatly benefit those who are underserved including those who are in poverty.

– Sean McMullen
Photo: Flickr

Irish Aid
Located in East Africa, the Horn of Africa consists of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia. The area is experiencing an unprecedented drought, “following four consecutive failed rainy seasons in parts of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, a climatic event not seen in at least 40 years.”

Because of this unprecedented drought, many have come to the aid of the area including government agencies, nonprofits and other agencies with local presence in the area. One of these contributors is Irish Aid, Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs, which provided an additional €30 million to the area in November 2022, bringing its total contributions to the Horn of Africa in 2022 to more than $100 million.

Damages and Lasting Consequences

The drought affected more than 36 million people within the area with 23 million of these people facing food insecurity. This food insecurity has come from the loss of livestock lives with almost 10 million livestock dead because of the drought. Kenya’s government translated this into an economic loss of more than $1.5 billion. It will take farmers within the area years to rebuild due to the severity and duration of the drought. “A recent IOM assessment in Garissa county, Kenya, found that over 72,600 pastoralist households had lost their capital and livelihood opportunity,” OCHA reports.

More than 5.7 million children under 5 are experiencing acute malnutrition while about 1.3 million are experiencing severe acute malnutrition. Related to this, more than 1.2 million nursing and pregnant women experience malnourishment, with the highest affected population living in Ethiopia.

The Allocation of Irish Aid’s Funds

With Irish Aid sending these additional funds to the Horn of Africa, here is an insight into the allocation of the funds in the most effective way:

  • Irish Aid will deliver more than half of the funds to the worst affected areas. UNOCHA will put these funds into place in Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan, UNICEF in Kenya and Ireland’s own embassy in Ethiopia with the assistance of local partners.
  • The program will contribute €5 million of the funds to the U.N.’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) in the area.
  • Multiple Irish NGO partners will receive €5 million to provide life-saving care, monetary relief and sanitation and replenish food supplies.

Irish Aid in the Horn of Africa

These additional funds bring the total for Irish Aid’s contribution to the Horn of Africa up to more than €100 million just within 2022. With the announcement of additional funding, Ireland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney stated on the matter: “The Horn of Africa is on the brink of disaster. The prospect of starvation and famine across swathes of the Horn is imminent. The combined effects of drought, conflict, ongoing political struggle and the global impact of the war in Ukraine have been devastating. Ireland is stepping up our support to respond immediately,” the Department of Foreign Affairs reported on its website.

Economic aid from Irish Aid and many others is vital to lessen the humanitarian crisis within the area. These contributions can drastically reverse the effects and help the countries in the area rebuild.

– Sean McMullen
Photo: Flickr

Africa's Digital Economy
As the world’s digital economy expands at an exponential rate, it continues to be a vital component in raising the world’s impoverished nations and people out of poverty. By the end of the decade, 70% of new value in the global economy will transpire from digitally-enabled businesses. There is a great opportunity for impoverished and developing countries to boost their own economies and raise their people out of poverty by having access to these emergent digital markets.

However, Africa has been lagging behind in its digital economic growth. That is why Visa, a large multinational financial services corporation based in the United States, has pledged to invest $1 billion in Africa’s digital economy by 2027, helping create opportunities for more Africans to engage in the digital market, as well as have access to safe, reliable financial services and technologies. 

Identifying the Problem

The growth of Africa’s digital economy has been stunted and uneven. As of 2015, almost 500 million adults in Africa or nearly 40% of Africa’s total population lack access to formal financial services including banking services and access to digital purchase platforms. Compounding this issue is the fact that things like digital payment methods are not readily available. More than 40 million merchants (i.e, stores, vendors, etc.) in Africa do not accept digital payments and less than 50% of the entire adult population have made or received digital payments of any sort as of December 2022. 

Digital economic inequality is not only present when comparing Africa to developed nations, but also within its own borders as well. For example, in Central Africa, only 11% of adults have a bank account, compared to 51% in the far more developed region of South Africa. This stark divide is especially present in access to financial technologies. For example, while there are 50 ATMs per 100,000 individuals in South Africa, there are only 11 per 100,000 individuals in North Africa and less than five per 100,000 individuals in all other African sub-regions.

Visa’s Pledge

This lack of access to financial resources and technologies, especially in the global digital market, is a large issue facing the impoverished populations of Africa. It is not insurmountable, however. Visa believes that Africa can overcome its issues, which is why the company has pledged to invest $1 billion in Africa by 2027 to accelerate the growth of the continent’s digital economy. Visa, one of the largest financial companies in the world, has established a plan to upscale the company’s African operations on all fronts, including the deployment of new technologies and providing opportunities to educate locals in digital economics.

Over the next five years, Visa will establish local operations for the first time in several impoverished African countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia and Sudan. Part of this growth involves the implementation of new technologies that make it easier for both consumers and merchants to make digital payments, like Tap to Phone, a technology that allows people to make purchases with a simple tap on one’s smartphone. Such innovative solutions will not only encourage more consumers and vendors to make digital payments but will also make it easier and safer for them to do so.

Visa has also pledged to invest in education and empowerment for those especially struggling to enter the digital economy. For example, the company has teamed up with She’s Next, a global advocacy program for women-owned small businesses, which brings funding, mentoring and networking opportunities to female entrepreneurs across sub-Saharan Africa. Visa’s plan to increase financial literacy also focuses on crossing language barriers; for example, it is working on the first-ever Arabic version of its financial education program, Practical Money Skills.

Visa’s Pledge to Develop Africa’s Digital Economy

There is still a long way to go to connect Africa’s impoverished people with the world’s digital economy. However, thanks to the work of Visa and other organizations, and to increasing awareness of their need, there will be great progress in accelerating Africa’s entrance into the global digital economy.

Elijah Beglyakov
Photo: Flickr

Electricity in UgandaElectricity in Uganda remains a fundamental need many citizens live without due to poor infrastructure and high prices far outside the budget of average Ugandans. Uganda’s president has repeatedly complained about the electricity tariffs and soaring fees from private companies. As a result, the Ugandan government decided not to renew its contracts with Eskom, one of South Africa’s top electricity providers. The government is taking Eskom’s plants over with the Uganda National Electricity Company Limited (UNCEL) to control electricity prices, expand access to electricity and decrease multidimensional poverty in Uganda.

Overall, access to electricity is essential for economic growth. Without it, people are fighting to attain a proper education, access to social services, clean water and countless other necessities for living a life free of poverty. As access to these necessities expands, the quality of life could improve and so could the economic productivity of Uganda where 42.1% of people live in a complex web of multidimensional poverty.

Changing Infrastructure of Electricity in Uganda

Electricity in Uganda does not reach the majority of the population. Currently, around 42% of Uganda’s population has access to electricity, leaving the internet penetration rate at 26.2%. Electricity in Uganda has the opportunity to be innovative because it is typically non-reliant on fossil fuels. Uganda’s energy suppliers use biomass, hydropower and wind power more often than fossil fuels. Two hydropower stations are Uganda’s primary sources of electricity: the Nalubaale Power Station on the White Nile and the Kiira Hydropower station. Both hydropower stations have been under lease by the South African company Eskom since 2003. The lease will end in 2023.

Uganda’s government announced that it does not plan to renew the Eskom lease for the hydropower plants. Instead, it will take control of them through the state-run branch, the Uganda National Electricity Company Limited (UNECL). This decision stems from the incredibly high electricity costs limiting Ugandan’s electricity access.

Power Africa in Uganda

Power Africa is a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) initiative striving to bring electricity to all regions of Africa thereby ending energy poverty and improving well-being. Power Africa in Uganda has already brought significant improvements to Ugandans. To date, Power Africa in Uganda has increased electricity access rates by 63% in urban Uganda and 11% in rural Uganda, creating more than 1.5 million new electricity connections in the African nation.

Notably, Power Africa in Uganda has provided loan guarantees to several of the energy providers in Uganda to build miniature hydropower plants. It has also financially supported projects in Uganda to guarantee the building of full-size hydropower plants to secure funding from organizations such as the African Development Bank.

Implementing Plans

Much of the electricity in Uganda comes from hydropower plants. When drought hit in 2005, there was a severe shortage of electricity available in the years since there has been an incredible surplus and increased electricity generation. The surplus has caused high tariffs, making access to electricity challenging and continuing the limited access to the internet. The tariffs are set by Eskom and are free from government regulation, which is why the Ugandan government is taking control of the hydro plants to have proper access to expanding internet penetration at reasonable prices without tariffs.

The government has implemented many plans to boost electricity penetration rates. Coupled with help from USAID’s Power Africa initiative, the future looks bright for Ugandans.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

Prison Conditions in Kenya 
The prison system in Kenya is one of the worst prison systems in the world. Prison conditions are gruesome. Hygiene is very low and violence is very high among inmates. Starvation and a lack of medical care are also very common throughout prisons in Kenya.

Poverty and Prison Conditions

Within the prison system in Kenya, inmates have to endure cruel and horrible conditions. The majority of inmates that are in prison suffering from these gruesome conditions are poor. According to Prison Insider, “A study on death-row convicts found that poor and uneducated Kenyans are languishing in prison for either robbery with violence or murder.” Whether on death row or not, poor Kenyans are living in degrading prison conditions just because they are poor.

Kenyans that are poor end up in prison because the police purposely target them. Police officers in Kenya have a history of abusing their power and harassing poor and marginalized people. Since these individuals are very poor, they cannot bribe police officers to release them and they cannot defend themselves due to a lack of legal knowledge. They also cannot hire an attorney so their only option is to go to jail and live in conditions that are inhumane.

Poor Hygiene

Poor inmates in prison have to “wallow in misery and want.” While on the other hand, inmates with money can have self-contained cells with amenities such as flushable toilets and TVs with satellites. Omar Ismael, who is 64 years old and served nine years at Manyani prison, explained that close to 100 inmates share one bathroom and one toilet. Inmates in prison usually end up catching diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumonia as well as scabies and diarrhea due to how unsanitary things are. Terrible conditions within prisons also consist of overcrowding which is a result of poor infrastructure. Aging buildings and inadequate cells are also part of the problem when it comes to harsh prison conditions.

In western Kakamega prison, inmates have gone five years with no clean running water. Clean water for drinking and showering was not available to inmates. Since inmates didn’t have access to clean water, their poor diets got worse. Water shortages in this prison also led to toilet clogging and overflowing.

Women Facing Poor Prison Conditions

Females that commit crimes often have a background of poverty. Poverty forces women to commit crimes because they have to find a way to support their families. Women in certain countries are often imprisoned for offenses such as prostitution and adultery which are criminalized and called status offenses.

Women that are imprisoned in Kenya often face two of the worst prison conditions which are a lack of sanitation and a lack of proper hygiene products. In May 2020, the Kenya Prisons Service stopped all visits to prisons in order to control the spread of COVID-19. In Korinda Prison, the suspension of all visits severely impacted more than 100 women because these visits supplied women with the necessary hygiene and sanitation products from family members and organizations. Mary Makokha, who is executive director of Busia-based organization REEP, told NATION “They had no panties, no sanitary towels. Women were walking around with blood running down their legs.”

Improving Hygiene and Sanitation

Despite cruel and inhumane prison conditions plaguing inmates in various prisons across Kenya, some are taking measures to improve and fix conditions. Nestle Kenya and the Rotary International District 9212 collaborated with National Business Compact on COVID-19 to improve hygiene conditions in prisons through Nairobi. This collaboration allowed the Kenya Prisons Service to administer 20,000 liters of water a day along with soap and 18 hand washing stations. The National Business Compact on COVID-19 donated soap and hand washing stations to promote and allow inmates to wash their hands more often.

Unfortunately, prison conditions in Kenya are very grim. Inmates that are poor have to endure a lack of hygiene and sanitation which is not safe at all, especially during a deadly pandemic. Poor inmates should not have to face such grueling prison conditions just because they are poor but if more programs and organizations partner together to supply more water and hygiene products to prisons, living conditions can improve for inmates.

– Yonina Anglin
Photo: Unsplash

Child Marriage in LiberiaChild marriage in Liberia is not uncommon. According to Girls Not Brides, 36% of girls in Liberia enter into marriage before reaching their 18th birthday and Liberia ranks 20th in the world for the highest rates of child marriage.

UNICEF defines child marriage as “any formal marriage or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child” and warns that the effects extend not only to the girl’s health and future prospects but also to the economy through economic detriment on a national level. A 2017 study by the World Bank and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) projects that the prevalence of child marriage “could cost developing countries trillions of dollars by 2030 – the year by which the U.N., through its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), calls for the elimination of the practice.”

Child brides are more likely to face domestic violence and early pregnancy before their bodies have even fully developed. Child marriage also increases the risk of HIV among young girls.

The prevalence of child marriage in Liberia will continue to hinder progress toward gender equality in Liberia unless the government introduces legislation and improvements in policy. For as long as child marriage exists, Liberia will not see significant strides in education or the economy.

Reasons for Child Marriage in Liberia

Plan International describes the generalized reasons for child marriage prevalence in countries as systemic gender inequality, poverty and societal customs/traditions, among other reasons. In terms of poverty, according to the World Bank, 34.6% of the population in Liberia lives under the international extreme poverty line ($2.15 per person per day in 2017 PPP). Due to entrenched gender discrimination and inequalities, impoverished families often view daughters as economic burdens. Parents push young daughters into marriage to ease the household’s financial burden and bring in finances in the form of the “bride price.”

Regarding customs, Plan International details that some families push their daughters into child marriage to safeguard family honor by ensuring that sexual relations outside of marriage do not occur. Child marriage in Liberia persists despite domestic legislation setting the legal age of marriage for girls as 18. Humanium explains that “the lack of consistency of customary and statutory laws” and engagement with traditional leaders means people routinely break these laws and forced marriage practices persist.

It is also important to note that while 36% of girls younger than 18 enter into marriage, this figure stands at 5% for boys in Liberia, highlighting obvious gender inequality and disparities that need to be addressed. Gender-based violence and inequality in Liberia extend to female genital mutilation (FGM). According to Equality Now, Liberia is one of the three remaining West African countries that have not legislated FGM as a criminal offense.

Organizations and NGOs Striving to Reduce Child Marriage in Liberia

BIRD-Liberia (Brighter Initiatives for Revitalization and Development) was founded by Sammenie O. Sydney in 2014. The organization’s latest efforts include working with youth activists to eliminate child marriage. BIRD-Liberia began the Power to Girls campaign, in collaboration with Girls Not Brides, to raise awareness of child marriage.

“The activists will go around the country to speak to students and school administrators,” Emmanuel Quiqui, BIRD’s Office Administrator, said to Girls Not Brides. “They’ll go to radio stations around Liberia and meet with the national legislature to spread the campaign message.” Bird-Liberia has trained 10 activists to educate fellow Liberians on the detriment of child marriage with the aim of ending the practice entirely.

Though child marriage persists, activists and organizations on the ground are showing their commitment to ending the practice and safeguarding children’s rights.

– Priya Maiti
Photo: Flickr

Counterfeit Pain Relief in Côte d'IvoireCôte d’Ivoire — the world’s largest cocoa producer has beautiful landscapes that attract thousands of yearly visitors. It is also a breeding ground for the distribution of counterfeit and illicit drugs. Though the use of counterfeit medicines carries many risks, many Ivorians still seek them out. The growing need for counterfeit pain relief in Côte d’Ivoire has resulted in the expansion of a new sector dominated by adolescents and those in need of a different form of relief.

The Dilemma

In sub-Saharan Africa, counterfeit drugs run rampant, but in Côte d’Ivoire, they run everything. Pharmacies produce only 30% of the drugs circulated in Côte d’Ivoire while the other 70% are counterfeits. Overall, about 42% of the world’s counterfeit drugs were found in Africa, a continent whose inhabitants are the most susceptible to poverty. Since 1998, Côte d’Ivoire’s percentage of counterfeit drug usage has increased by 50%, but the rate of health care availability has remained stagnant.
A 2020 World Bank report found that 33% of Ivorians did not live in close proximity to a hospital or clinic. In two regions, this percentage exceeded 50%. Health care specialists mainly work in major, more developed cities and government spending typically goes for the more developed parts of Côte d’Ivoire. Furthermore, many Ivorians do not have health insurance to aid payments towards their medical bills. As a result, they are at risk of adopting high health expenditures— 74% of it due to their overspending on medications, according to a World Bank report.

Availability

Non-branded or generic medications cost seven times higher than the international standard. Brand-named medications cost 18 more than the international guidelines, according to the same report. The quantity and variety of available medications differ depending on the sector. Just 32% of drugs essential to Côte d’Ivoire’s population made their way into the public sector while 57% of essential drugs are available to the private sector— one that comprises 80% of wealthy Ivorians.

Getting medications after obtaining prescriptions is a time-consuming process. At times, drugs are not readily available for patients. Sometimes, restocking and transferring to neighboring pharmacies can take a while. Consequently, patients will purchase counterfeit drugs from local street vendors as it is a more convenient alternative.
Over a two-year span, law enforcement seized almost 400 tonnes of counterfeit pain relief in Côte d’Ivoire and pharmacies suffered a $173 million loss that was later attributed to the presence of counterfeits. Authentic medications will run the average Ivorian 10,000 CFA or $15. For most, this is too much to pay. Ivorians typically bring in $200 a month.

A Cheaper Alternative

Unlike pharmacies, counterfeit drug markets are open around the clock. Due to the unregulated nature of the informal sector, people in need of medications can purchase any quantity of their desired drug, according to a 2021 research article. A patient in need of just a few pills of their prescription can buy medications individually instead of buying them in a pack like most pharmacies require, further lowering their expenses. However, there are some who take advantage of the cheapness of the drugs and the illegality of counterfeits, buying them to fulfill an addiction, according to the same article. Others buy from counterfeit drug markets because they can’t find traditional forms of medicines in pharmacies, due to cultural or religious reasons.

Many street vendors sell counterfeit pain relief in Côte d’Ivoire to relieve themselves of poverty. Among them are children and teens who function similarly to cashiers, negotiating prices with customers and finding drugs that match a given description.
Counterfeit drugs present buyers with what they perceive to be a cheap alternative with good enough quality. In reality, these drugs are adulterated. Meaning an active pharmaceutical ingredient is present, but is coupled with inferior substance(s). The most common replacement for starchy components found in drugs is flour with water being the substitute for liquid components. Or the counterfeits consist of entirely different substances.
Taking poorly made counterfeits result in the annual deaths of more than 100,000 people in Africa. The cultivation of counterfeit drug products has allowed their effects to go undetected and has started to show signs of the fostering of antimicrobial resistance, according to a WHO study.

Encouraging A New Côte d’Ivoire

Ten years ago Côte d’Ivoire’s government launched a new initiative that provided affordable health care to millions. Unfortunately, it ended up downsizing after government spending exceeded the allocated amount, limiting coverage to women and children under the age of 6.
But in recent years, Côte d’Ivoire began with a universal health coverage plan that is said to broaden the scope of health care and increase its accessibility. The plan includes financial reforms, medical assistance schemes, larger medicinal access and an increased budget to ensure that every Ivorian receives quality health care.
Meditect is a social enterprise that aims to put an end to counterfeit drugs by increasing access to ones of quality. The app tracks the medicine supply from the time it hits the pharmacy to the time it reaches the street, ensuring that the drugs in circulation are authentic and of good quality. It directs patients to a nearby pharmacy that presents them with the best financial and medical options.

Currently, Meditect is available in three francophone countries in West Africa, providing services to the Senegalese, Cameroonian and Ivorian people. Its goal is to expand this initiative to more countries until no African country is facing the issue of the presence of counterfeits.

– Dorothy Quanteh
Photo: Unsplash