Information and stories about Africa.

Epilepsy Treatment in Developing CountriesAround 50 million people experience recurrent and unprovoked seizures globally. People living with this condition have many triggers for these seizures such as psychological stress, missed medication and dehydration. Half of those living with the disease also have additional physical or psychiatric conditions.

While the physical toll of epilepsy is difficult to manage, the emotional toll is equivalently burdensome. In many countries, a large stigma surrounds patients as people perceive those with the disease as insane, untreatable and contagious. As a result, epilepsy affects people’s education, marriage and employment opportunities. The exclusion of epilepsy patients from society can even lead to increased mental health issues and delay access to proper healthcare treatments.

Epilepsy is a treatable condition if people have access to anti-seizure medication. However, roughly 80 percent of all cases are found in low or middle-income countries. Three-quarters of epilepsy patients living in low-income countries do not have access to life-saving treatment. This fact has sparked a movement in global organizations to raise more awareness about the issue of epilepsy treatment in developing countries.

Three Organizations Raising Awareness about Epilepsy Globally:

World Health Organization (WHO)

Up to 70 percent of people living with epilepsy could become seizure-free with access to treatment that costs 5 dollars per person. In order to address this treatment gap, epilepsy awareness must be prioritized in many countries. The WHO suggests that by labeling epilepsy as a public health priority the stigma surrounding the disease can be reduced. The organization believes that preventing acquired forms of epilepsy and investing in better health and social care systems can truly make a difference in alleviating millions.

Since 2012, the WHO has led a program centered around reducing the epilepsy treatment gap. The projects were implemented in Ghana, Mozambique, Myanmar and Vietnam, and utilized a community-based model to bring early detection and treatment closer to patients. Over time, the program yielded some major results in each of the countries it assisted.

Within four years, coverage for epilepsy increased from 15 to 38 percent in Ghana. The treatment gap for 460,000 people living with epilepsy in Vietnam decreased by 38 percent in certain regions. In Myanmar, over 2,000 health care providers were trained to diagnose and treat epilepsy, and around 5,000 community stigma awareness sessions were held. Continued efforts like the ones found in these countries can help spread treatment to regions of the world that need it most.

 

International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE)

The ILAE is another organization raising awareness around epilepsy treatment. The organization consists of health care professionals and scientists who help fund global research for treatment and potential cures to epilepsy. The major goals of the League are to spread knowledge about epilepsy, promote research, and improve services for patients globally.

With six different regions, the ILAE finds various ways to reach its goals of promoting epilepsy awareness, research and access to care globally. For example, the African region will conduct the 4th African Epilepsy Congress in Uganda to share new developments in epilepsy research in August 2019. These types of Congresses are held once a year in certain regions to continue spreading new information effectively.

The ILAE regularly publishes journals to show research findings and breakthroughs in epilepsy treatments and cures. The organization also provides information to patients themselves on topics such as psychological treatments, diet therapies and information for caretakers. With so many resources available, the ILAE has done a major service by spreading information about epilepsy treatment in developing countries.

 

International Bureau for Epilepsy (IBE)

The IBE focuses primarily on improving the social conditions and quality of life for people living with epilepsy. By addressing issues such as education, employment and driver’s license restrictions, this organization helps create environments free of detrimental stigmas. The IBE’s social improvement programs, designed for people with epilepsy and their families, are some of the main ways this organization impacts epilepsy awareness.

International Epilepsy Day is an example of an initiative created by this organization to promote awareness in over 120 countries. On that day, many global events are held to increase public understanding of epilepsy and new research developments that are available. In addition, the Promising Strategies program also funds initiatives improving the quality of life for people living with epilepsy. The program supports 81 projects in 37 countries and provides $300,000 in support of the projects. For example, Mongolia: Quality of Life was a program designed to improve public knowledge and reduce stigma in Mongolia after the number of epilepsy cases increased by 10 percent in 2004. Soon after the program started in 2008, the quality of life in Mongolia for people with epilepsy increased and better services were given to those in need.

These three organizations often collaborate to create new programs to spread information about epilepsy treatment in developing countries. By raising awareness of the condition and providing better healthcare services, the efforts of these organizations have created a more inclusive and helpful environment for those living with epilepsy in countries around the world.

– Sydney Blakeney
Photo: Flickr

E-Commerce Markets in Africa
Africa holds less than 2 percent of the global e-commerce market, but an increase in participation could benefit the continent on a massive economic scale.

In fact, it has been shown that e-commerce allows consumers to connect to businesses as well as to other consumers in order to exchange goods via the Internet. E-commerce benefits global markets by improving efficiency in distribution channels and creating a more prominent market presence for individuals or businesses trying to sell products. For developing countries in Africa, one of the main obstacles in gaining access to e-commerce markets is limited access to banks.

Mobile Money

Globally, roughly 1.7 billion adults remain without access to a financial institution.

In order to alleviate this problem, mobile banking services focus on the high percentage of adults who have mobile phones in Africa. In South Africa, about 90 percent of the adult population owns a mobile device; whereas, Tanzania has the lowest with only about 75 percent of the adult population owning a mobile device.

The integration of mobile banking companies has increased dramatically over the past decade with 135 live mobile monetary services available in 2017. In fact, the number of subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa hit 44 percent in 2017. Mobile banking is attractive to people who do not physically have access to a bank or who do not have a permanent home address. It allows them to set up an account and protect their money electronically while giving them the freedom to interact financially on a global scale through e-commerce.

The Problem of Rural Communities

A smaller density of people lives in rural areas so there is a lower prospective income for operators who wish to set up mobile services in these regions. Roughly 20 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is spread over 70 percent of the land. Consequently, operators in rural communities only secure a revenue of about one-tenth compared to those who work in urban areas.

Since many individuals rely on mobile banking to engage in the global market, reducing this barrier is essential to the continued development of e-commerce markets in Africa. As a result, in 2018, Uganda’s Communications Commission decided to pair with satellite firms Intelsat and Gilat in order to help increase access for those living in two rural communities.

The Prospective Value of E-Commerce Markets in Africa

A study by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates 3.7 trillion dollars (6 percent of GDP) could be added to the developing world’s collective GDP by 2025 due to a growing digital finance sector. It is 80 to 90 percent less expensive for financial institutions to provide mobile banking services than it is to create new physical branches. This method allows financial institutions to penetrate more of the population in developing and rural areas.

The e-commerce market has the potential to grow enormously over the next five years. Although access to financial institutions is an obstacle that many less privileged individuals face, an increase in mobile money services is helping to create parity. Financial inclusion means an upward trend in the global market participation, and through the development of internet-based trade, the global economy will experience more consumers, products and efficient distribution.

Tera Hofmann
Photo: Flickr

technological InnovationsTechnology has the ability to change the way the world works and assist people currently living in poverty. Developing countries are often plagued by issues in sanitation as well as energy and medicine shortages that can hinder their economic security. Listed below are 4 new technological innovations that have the potential to reduce the effects of these issues and reduce poverty.

4 Technological Innovations That Can Reduce Poverty

  1. Sewage-free sanitation systems: There are roughly 2.6 billion people in the world without access to proper sanitation infrastructure. Some of the countries most affected by poverty, including India, Kenya and Pakistan, have millions of people living without proper sanitation systems. Without these systems, human waste is improperly disposed of into lakes and rivers, which can lead to health problems in the local population. Issues resulting from improper sanitation kill an estimated 1.4 million children each year. Researchers at Duke University, the University of Florida and Biomass Controls have been developing an energy efficient toilet that does not require a sewer system to operate. These toilets look like ordinary toilets. As of now, several different prototypes have been developed. One prototype, developed at the University of Florida, is able to filter out pollutants. Another prototype, developed by Biomass Controls, is able to heat waste and transform it into a carbon-rich material that can be used as fertilizer.
  2. Advanced fusion and fission reactors: New forms of nuclear power are expected to become available in the coming decades that will be both safer and cheaper than current nuclear power sources. Approximately 1.3 billion people live without access to energy. Energy poverty is unique because it is both a cause and a consequence of economic poverty. New nuclear designs that could help alleviate the issue of energy poverty include generation IV nuclear fission reactors, small modular reactors and fission reactors. Two companies, Terrestrial Energy and Terraworks, are hoping to use generation IV fission designs for grid supply in the 2020s. Small modular reactors are cost effective and reduce safety and environmental risks. While fission reactors seem to be a long way off, there has been some progress and they will be less controversial for public use since they create less long term waste and are safer than current nuclear sources.
  3. Blood testing for premature birth: Premature birth is a healthcare problem that disproportionately affects the developing world, particularly countries in Asia and Africa. Premature birth is linked to numerous health problems in newborns including increased risk of cerebral palsy, learning disabilities and respiratory illnesses. Recent blood tests are now analyzing RNA instead of DNA, and scientists have identified seven genes linked to premature birth. This discovery of the genes related to premature birth could lead to future treatments for the problem.
  4. New desalination tech: Water scarcity is a huge problem that is linked to poverty. It is estimated that one in nine people (844 million) lack proper access to safe, clean water. Over the past few decades, scientists have developed a new method called desalination to turn saltwater into consumable fresh water. This process, however, is very expensive and requires a high amount of energy. New technology uses reverse osmosis for desalination. This process is not new, but instead of being powered by a battery, the new technology can be powered by solar energy, which is significantly more cost-efficient.

New technology has the potential to address many of the issues relating to poverty. Issues including energy, health and sanitation have long afflicted those in poverty and have hindered efforts to alleviate economic impoverishment. New technological innovations that are being developed today have the potential to be vital tools for reducing economic poverty in the future.

-Randall Costa

Photo: Flickr

Informal Schools in African Slums
The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) estimates that, as of 2010, more than 200 million people in Africa reside in slums. This means more than 200 million people are living their lives in inhumane conditions and circumstances. The children living in these slums have a compromised opportunity at education. According to UNICEF, the youth residing in slums are some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable youth in the world. Due to the burgeoning need for educational institutions in Africa, informal schools in African slums are gaining popularity.

What are Informal Schools?

Informal schools are unregistered educational institutions that are not recognized by the government. Traditional schooling comes in the form of either private or public schools, and informal schools are a sort of middle ground. They typically operate in impoverished areas and are mostly geared around offering the same education as a primary school. These institutions are funded by private parties and non-profit organizations.

Increasing Need

The main reason that the number of informal schools in African slums has been on the rise has to do with a surge of enrollment in public schools. This is, in part, due to the initiative of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which pushed toward target goals that would reduce poverty, such as improved access to education. This enrollment surge is a positive factor in Africa’s education sector, but comes with a downside: there are not enough public schools to meet the rising need of educating African children, and the usual alternative, private schools, are not financially accessible to most African families. Overcrowding in African schools has been an increasing problem; the pupil to instructor ratio in African primary schools is 42:1.

In response to the need for more educational institutes, informal schools have been sprouting up all over Africa, especially in slums. Characterized by the same steel and dirt architecture in the surrounding slums, these schools offer an alternative option for education. There is a lack of government schools in slums, so private sectors and organizations provide funds for the informal schools.

The Benefits of Informal Schooling

Informal schools in African slums not only facilitate access to education but also offer a safe space for the youth. Many of these schools, such as the Destiny Junior Education Center, offer meals and restrooms, which are not commodities in slum-living. Informal schools keep African children off the streets and in the classrooms, which potentially helps them stay away from the vices that are rampant in slum environments like drugs and alcohol.

The Future of Informal Schools

The next step regarding informal schools is to put policies in place to protect them. There are members in the education committee of the National Assembly that are working toward informal schools being recognized by the government so as to strengthen the quality of education in them.

Overall, informal schools in African slums are an attempt to meet the increasing need for education in slums. By offering an alternative to the congested public schools, these informal education centers provide hope for African youth.

– Paula Bouza
Photo: Flickr

Fair Trade TourismSouth Africa is home to sprawling plains with amazing wildlife, stunning mountain ranges and crystal blue coastlines. It is no wonder that it remains a supreme vacation destination for many people around the world. Despite its physical beauty, the country continues to struggle with high crime and violence rates due to large poverty gaps. The Fair Trade Tourism industry in South Africa is helping boost the country’s overall economy. Visitors help boost the country’s GDP when they choose to invest in travel experiences and accommodations that respect Fair Trade Tourism practices.

Fair Trade Tourism

Fair Trade Tourism is a non-profit organization that promotes responsible tourism in Africa through sustainability. They currently certify fair trade products and companies in South Africa, Mozambique and Madagascar in the Southern Africa region. Additionally, these countries have recognized agreements with other partner programs across the rest of the continent.

This non-profit works to help travelers in Africa seek out meaningful and authentic experiences and products that maintain high standards. Standards must include “fair wages and working conditions, fair purchasing and operations, equitable distribution of benefits and respect for human rights, culture and the environment.” In order to meet these standards, the organization has put in place six pillars for guidance with their own unique subcategories.

Pillars of Fair Trade

  1. Fair share: For tourism to be “fair share,” all participants in an activity, both the locals and the natives, should get a fair and direct cut of the income based on their unique level of contribution to it.
  2. Fair say: All parties involved in tourism should be able to voice their concerns and make decisions based on their values. These values should never be invalidated.
  3. Respect: Both those that host and those that participate should make sure they are respecting “human rights, culture and environment.” They can do this by choosing companies that enforce safe working conditions, protect young workers, promote gender equality, understand socio-cultural norms, reduce water and energy consumption as well as recycle, conserve natural habitats and their biodiversity and bring awareness to HIV/AIDS research.
  4. Reliability: Reliability is met via basic safety and security measures protecting all parties involved.
  5. Transparency: Tourism companies should make clear who owns a business, who shares the profits and where the money raised goes as well as be willing to answer any questions openly and honestly that tourists might have about the company’s missions, practices and values.
  6. Sustainability: Companies should seek sustainability via open-mindedness to increased knowledge, continuous improvements to resources via networking and relationship building, responsible use of resources for economic and environmental safety and support to marginalized groups.

The Importance of Fair Trade Tourism

Seeking out experiences that value these standards helps South Africa on the micro and macro level. On the micro level, it helps individual people working in the tourism industry to gain access to better benefits and working practices, improving their quality of life.

On the macro level, investing in these practices will have an overall better impact on the environment and the culture while simultaneously boosting South Africa’s global economy. The more money earned from the tourism industry, the more it will continue to improve in both environmentally and people friendly ways. This creates a virtuous cycle moving forward.

For South Africans, tourism remains one of the top industries for the economy. The Western Cape, where the bustling city of Cape Town is located, is South Africa’s most developed tourism region. It has grown faster than other areas and has created more jobs than any other industry in the province.

The National Development Plan names tourism as one of the top creators of employment and economic growth. Tourism, directly and indirectly, supported about 1.5 million jobs in South Africa in 2017. If the industry continues to grow at the pace it has been, it has the potential to create a real economic and social transformation for South Africans.

How People Can Help

There are several Fair Trade Tourism partners that tourists can seek out if planning a trip to South Africa or the Southern African region. Potential tourists should make sure they are checking any booked accommodations or experiences to ensure they are practicing Fair Trade. It is an easy solution to the problem of exploitation in the tourism industry. It makes for a better experience for both the locals benefitting from tourism as well as for the visitors themselves.

Meredith Breda
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and Terrorism in AfricaOn March 22, the Trump administration repeated its assertion that ISIS had been defeated in Syria. For the past two decades, Americans have focused exclusively on the Middle East when it comes to strategic counter-terrorism efforts. Since September 11, the U.S. military has involved itself in the affairs of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other countries in order to stamp out terrorism. However, poverty and terrorism in Africa are going unchecked.

These military campaigns and several other military operations took place during the contentious “War on Terror.” Now, nearly eighteen years after the attacks, the American public is ready to lessen its intervention in the Middle East. By announcing ISIS’ defeat and pulling the military out, the President is suggesting that the U.S.’s role in the Middle East is nearing its end.

Violent Extremists Organizations

Though leaders of terror groups, like Osama Bin Laden, can be stopped, ideologies on terrorism still hold critical importance. Professor Paul Holman of the University of Maine has been an expert and educator on terrorism and politics for nearly four decades. He did not agree that ISIS had been “defeated” in Syria. This comes down to the root of what terrorism actually is.

In correspondence with the Borgen Project, Professor Holman defines terrorism as “violence against innocent civilians for political reasons.” He notes that both governments and violent extremist organizations (VEOs), like ISIS, use terrorism to further their ideals. Though Syria is no longer under its control, ISIS is more than a national movement.

ISIS is not simply trying to seize and hold territory in Syria and Iraq. Instead, Holman notes, ISIS is a transnational movement based upon extreme religious views, which exist in many other countries. Now that the United States military has weakened many VEOs in the Middle East, where do these organizations go next? Poverty and terrorism in Africa reveal the influence of these VEOs.

The Democratic Republic of Congo

In April, Congolese President Tshisekedi discussed the future of terrorist violence in Africa: “It is easy to see how the defeat of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq could lead to a situation where these groups are now going to come into Africa and take advantage of the pervasive poverty and also the situation of chaos that we have, for example, in Beni and Butembo, to set up their caliphate.” Beni and Butembo are northeastern cities in the DRC that have faced a substantial amount of violence.

No doubt, ISIS and other VEOs are capitalizing on the extreme poverty and the chaos of certain regions in Africa. In fact, on April 16, ISIS claimed its first attack on the DRC, killing eight soldiers. A statement made by Islamic State propagandists, to take responsibility for the attack, described Congo as the “Central Africa Province of the Caliphate.” Though these attacks by extremist groups in Africa are not new, American’s realization of their strengths seems to be.

Extemists Groups Gaining Power

As poverty and instability lead to upticks in violence by VEOs, regions in Africa are becoming more susceptible to extremist attacks. For the past ten years, Islamist militant groups have been gaining ground in Africa. In 2015, in the poverty-stricken region of northern Nigeria (the largest nation within Africa), Boko Haram became “the world’s deadliest terror group” while at the same time pledging allegiance to ISIS. Though several African militaries, with aid from France and other Western countries, decimated the land control of Boko Haram, the group still maintains a strong influence within Northern Africa.

With African militaries and other nations are fighting against its influence, Boko Haram focused on the Lake Chad region that borders Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. Lake Chad is not only one of the poorest regions in the world but a region that remained largely ungoverned. In 2016, Boko Haram split into two, the new group being the Islamic State of West Africa. The Islamic State of West Africa is offering protection to locals from Boko Haram in exchange for economic reimbursement.

Other extremist groups are adopting the strategy of exploiting extreme poverty as well as profiting off of regional and tribal conflicts while diseases spread. According to the Global Hunger Index, some of the hungriest places on Earth are in Africa as are also some of the least peaceful countries. Northern and Central Africa have similar scores in hunger and peace rankings to those of Syria and Iraq where extremist groups have thrived in the past.

VEOs in Nigeria and Sudan

Professor Holman identified a few African nations that are of higher risk of violent attacks by extremist groups, such as Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Kenya and Nigeria. “The country [Nigeria] is polarized between extreme wealth and extreme poverty, suffering from endemic corruption as well as ethnic rivalries and religious differences.” Libya has been in a civil war since the Ghadaffi regime was overthrown. Sudan has had political turmoil both before and after Bashir’s regime was ousted, and Somalia has a weak government.

It is clear that these terrorist groups thrive in poverty-stricken countries fraught with political strife. Therefore, it is essential that poverty and terrorism in Africa be combatted. Governments and organizations must ensure that the innocent civilians have the education, food, water and financial stability needed to secure themselves from violent extremist groups that prey on the poor and the weak. Foreign aid along with maintaining diplomatic relationships with governments from African nations will be a huge part of that. This fosters strong governments that are able to coordinate a defense from extremist groups.

– Kurt Thiele
Photo: Flickr

Crispr techWith the rise of biotechnology, CRISPR gene editing is on the cusp of eliminating global poverty. CRISPR research began in Asia, the U.S. and Europe, but has since spread to Africa. Gene editing in humans offers a promising resolution for eliminating disease, but it is still undergoing research and development. In agriculture, however, it is already showing more promise. These are four ways CRISPR gene editing could transform and eliminate global poverty.

Although humans have been altering the genes of plants and animals through selective breeding, CRISPR is different in that it does not combine the DNA of different organisms. In CRISPR, a section of one species’ DNA is deleted or altered. This is a different process than with GMOs where insecticide is taken from the soil and inserted into the crop.

4 Ways CRISPR Gene Editing Could Eliminate Global Poverty

  1. Farmers in Africa could breed better livestock. The dairy cow that survives in hot tropical climates, known as the Ankole-Watusi, produces far less milk than the Holstein breed. Holsteins are better off in moderate climates and their productivity is a result of naturally occurring mutations that breeders have aimed for over the course of many years. Scientists at the Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health at the University of Edinburgh are working with scientists in Africa to study ways to edit the genes of the tropical cow and boost their milk production to that of the Holsteins. At least 80 percent of the world’s poor living in rural areas are smallholder farmers, with livestock being a pivotal component of both their nutrition and income.
  2. Gene editing could improve crop yield. “Africa’s population is expected to more than double by 2050.” In a climate where the yield of basic cereals is five times less than in North America, food production and supplying the demands of the growing population is going to be a challenge. For 40 percent of Africans, the cassava plant is an important food source. While the crop represents security because of its ability to withstand drought, it also faces many issues. Cassava usually has a prevalent amount of toxic cyanide, which must be removed post-harvest. In combination with malnourishment, people who ingest cyanide can get konzo, a neurological disease that affects around 100,000 people in poverty each year. Scientists at the Genomics Institute are working to reduce the cyanide levels in cassava through CRISPR. Unfortunately, diseases like brown streak can wipe out a farmer’s entire field. Scientists in Africa are also exploring ways to make the plant more disease-resistant, so the crop yield will be sustained and improved.
  3. CRISPR may be humanity’s hope in eliminating malaria. In 2017, malaria was the cause of death for at least 435,000 people around the world with 93 percent of all cases occurring in sub-Saharan Africa. CRISPR could change the three species of mosquito most responsible for the disease’s transmission either by making all offspring male and eliminating the species or by adding a gene that makes the mosquito resistant to the malaria parasite. Not only could this cure malaria but it could stop other illnesses carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, such as dengue, yellow fever and Zika. Although the technology is already effective in labs, inserting it into the world could redesign the entire ecosystem, which comes with a heavy burden on the hands of the scientists involved.
  4. New diagnostic methods can easily hunt down the correct genetic sections. Such diagnostic tests could eliminate the spread of diseases like Lassa fever as well as provide a better means of cancer detection. This year, the Lassa fever in Nigeria has killed 72 people and is only expected to get worse. A CRISPR-based test could reduce the death rates of many diseases in impoverished regions. Scientists in Africa are also hoping that these new diagnostic tests could lower the death toll of cervical cancer in Africa where the disease is typically diagnosed too late.

Gene-edited crops are expected to hit the Western market in the next year or so, but Africa is just beginning to see the effects. CRISPR gene editing could transform and eliminate global poverty on a massive scale. With rising population numbers, climate change and urbanization, it’s important that agriculture adapt. The benefits of this technology, which could save the lives of millions of people, should be equally accessible to those in developing countries. These four examples show the ways that CRISPR’s research could eliminate global poverty.

Isadora Savage
Photo: Pexels

 

Healthcare in AfricaMany think that underdeveloped countries in Africa will forever be stuck with poor healthcare. Yet, few media outlets show the innovative approaches African countries are taking to address this issue. In reality, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa are turning to the tech world to build better healthcare in Africa.

Mobile Technology Maps Medicinal Needs

The inefficient infrastructure in Africa puts people’s health at risk. Health clinics, which take some people hours to reach, are not always stocked with the medicine being requested by patients. For this reason, Uganda is utilizing mTRAC to construct a proper supply cycle.

On a weekly basis, healthcare workers report diseases, malaria cases and stock quantities of medicine via SMS. Then volunteer health workers in the Villiage Health Teams (VHTs) monitor the weekly count of malaria cases, severe malnutrition, ACT and amoxicillin stock.

The communities themselves provide the most impressive source of data. The people getting these services have the opportunity to provide feedback on healthcare issues such as the absence of health workers and out-of-stock medication. The data is processed onto a dashboard for the District Health Teams. The information is then filtered to the Ministry of Health in Kampala. Reporting their specific district and health facilities helps biostatisticians identify alerts and make informed decisions on drug redistribution and disease response initiatives.

There is a similar mobile pilot known as mHealth in Kenya. Novartis created mHealth to study medicine supplies for a more efficient distribution system. Pharmacists in Nairobi and Mombasa register patients in an SMS survey. The input creates a map of locations where medicine is needed. These digital technologies go a long way in delivering better healthcare in Africa.

A.I. Diagnostics Save Children

Mobile Apps also improve diagnostic procedures. Birth asphyxia is one of the world’s three leading causes of infant mortality. Annually, around 1.2 million infants die or suffer from disabilities such as cerebral palsy, deafness and paralysis due to perinatal asphyxia.

Ubenwa is a Nigerian A.I. that is programmed to detect asphyxia by analyzing the amplitude and frequency of an infant’s cry. The algorithm has been made available to smartphone users for an instant diagnosis. The availability of this app empowers Nigerian communities that do not have access to or cannot afford clinical alternatives.

Ugandan children between infancy and five years of age can receive an early diagnosis of pneumonia with a biomedical smart vest called Mama-Ope. Because of the similar symptoms of diseases like malaria, asthma or tuberculosis, it is not uncommon for pneumonia to be misdiagnosed. Mama-Ope is designed to avoid such inconsistencies in these diagnostics.

Patients with pneumonia die when the severity of the disease is not recognized. It is vital that viral and bacterial pneumonia are differentiated during diagnosis. Otherwise, the result is an improper, life-threatening prescription of drugs. The smart vest measures all vital signs simultaneously, which reduces diagnostic time. Health workers are also able to use the telemedicine device for tracking and monitoring their patients’ records. With the capability of cloud storage, Mama-Ope can change healthcare in Africa.

3-D Printer Transforms E-waste Into Prosthetic Limbs

In the small country of Togo, wedged between Ghana and Benin, lies the tech hub WoeLabs, famous for using toxic e-waste to create the first 3-D printer in Africa. Electronic waste shipped from Western countries has polluted Africa with digital dumps. The material is burned, leaving behind hazardous gases.

Togo’s neighboring country Ghana holds the largest scrapyard to cushion the globe’s annual 42 megatons of e-waste. WoeLabs in Togo’s capital, Lomé, made a 3-D Printer with Ghana’s digital scrap in one year. To date, WoeLabs has produced 20 printers. This work inspired other labs to change healthcare in Africa. Sudan is now using 3-D printing to make prosthetic limbs, and Not Impossible Labs is also helping amputees through this innovative and unconventional use of technology.

Through mobile systems such as mTRAC in Uganda and mHealth in Kenya, healthcare systems are better able to improve drug redistribution in health centers in need of medical supplies. The smart vest Mama-Ope contributes to healthcare reform by not only by diagnosing patients but also by storing records in the virtual cloud. Finally, the 3-D printers built in Togo ultimately exemplify how these communities of underresourced people can transform a hazardous situation into an opportunity to improve healthcare in Africa.

Crystal Tabares
Photo: Flickr

Cyclone Idai Health CrisisOn March 14, 2019, disaster struck southern Africa in the form of Cyclone Idai, a category 2 tropical storm that ravaged through Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Idai made landfall in Beira, Mozambique, a large port city of more than 530,000 citizens. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies asserts that 90 percent of Beira has been destroyed in the wake of Idai. The subsequent Cyclone Idai health crisis continues to challenge Southeast Africa.

As Idai strengthened along the coast of Africa, Mozambique and Malawi experienced severe flooding resulting from heavy rainfall. The cyclone destroyed roads and bridges, with a death toll of 1007. Hundreds more are still missing. Sustained winds of over 150 mph damaged the crops, homes and livelihoods of thousands throughout southeast Africa. To top it all off, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe are experiencing a major health crisis in southeast Africa in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai.

Cholera and Malaria

As of May, more than 6,500 cases of cholera have been reported. This intestinal infection is waterborne, commonly caused by drinking unsanitary water. In Mozambique, a country already vulnerable to poverty, the cholera outbreak exacerbates the adverse effects of Cyclone Idai. Cholera can be fatal without swift medical attention, though prompt disaster relief response and a successful vaccination campaign made significant strides in containing the outbreak.

In addition to cholera outbreak, cases of malaria are rising, with nearly 15,000 cases reported since March 27. Malaria is transmitted through Anopheles mosquito bites, insects that flourish in the standing flood waters of Idai. According to WHO, almost half of the world’s population is at risk of malaria, with the majority of cases and deaths in sub-Saharan Africa. Relief efforts prepared for the outbreaks by arming health professionals with antimalarials and fast-acting diagnostic tests.

Cyclone Idai Health Crisis Relief Efforts

The health crisis in Southeast Africa following Cyclone Idai received swift aid response. Disaster relief efforts prepared vaccinations and medications beforehand, ensuring that medical response was efficient and effective. The total recovery cost for the damage inflicted on Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe is estimated at over $2 billion. The tropical storm affected upward of three million Africans.

WHO delivered 900,000 doses of oral cholera vaccine retrieved from the global emergency stockpile. Further, the organization plans to create multiple cholera treatment centers in hopes of containing the outbreak. World Vision is concentrating their efforts on the spread of this infectious disease. The humanitarian aid group is working alongside UNICEF to distribute cholera kits with soap and water purification tablets.

Rapid aid efforts also met the spike in malaria cases to combat the Cyclone Idai health crisis. WHO secured 900,000 bed nets treated with a strong insecticide to prevent the spread of the mosquito-borne disease. However, children and infants are at major risk, as malaria is considered the third most deadly disease to this population. The hefty humanitarian response and support necessary to help Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe has prompted UNICEF to launch an appeal for $122 million for the next nine months.

-Anna Giffels
Photo: Pixabay

Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus
The silent killer, otherwise known as maternal and neonatal tetanus, is a life-threatening bacterial infection in newborns and their mothers that is associated with nonsterile delivery and cord-care practices. Although it is vaccine-preventable, when tetanus develops, mortality rates are extremely high. This is especially true when the appropriate medical care is not available, which is often the case in low-income counties. In 1999, there were 57 countries where tetanus posed a considerable risk for women giving birth. Today, that number has dropped significantly, but maternal and neonatal tetanus remains a public health threat in 13 countries: Afghanistan, Angola, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen.

Kenya has put in great effort to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus where it once was a common problem. The commitment the country made has drawn global attention and is inspiring other countries to do the same.

Kenya’s Initiative

As of 2018, Kenya has been removed from the list of countries that sees maternal and neonatal tetanus as a public health threat by attaining elimination status. Elimination is only attained when there is a reduction of neonatal tetanus incidences to below one case per 1,000 live births per year. Kenya’s progress towards achieving this important public health milestone began in 2001, proving that this process takes time. A pre-validation assessment took place in Kenya in September 201 by the Ministry of Health with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF. A WHO-led validation process took place in 2018 to confirm the elimination of the disease.

Eliminating maternal and neonatal tetanus takes a lot of planning, and Kenya has set a great example. In 2002, Kenya introduced a five-dose tetanus toxoid vaccination schedule and in 2003, the country began to implement immunization campaigns in high-risk areas. Kenya also focused on providing free maternity services to increase skilled birth attendants. Over time, they began including tetanus toxoid vaccines into the routine antenatal care packages. Today, Kenya is still working on strengthening health facilities and resources and plans to provide free medical care to children under five years of age.

The involvement of schools is another factor that helped Kenya eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus. Aliaphonse’s Katuit primary school is a prime example of the success seen from the campaign. Ann Talam, one of Katuit primary school’s teachers, explained in an interview with UNICEF that the campaign not only reaches members of the student body but also their sisters or relatives who may not attend school. Education ensures that all girls, even those from poverty-filled communities, are immunized.

Kenya’s Impact

Reducing deaths from neonatal tetanus is one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to reduce the neonatal mortality rate. As of 2012, Kenya’s immunization coverage for newborns protected against tetanus reached 73 percent — and it continues to rise. WHO estimates a 94 percent reduction in neonatal deaths from 1988, when an estimated 787,000 newborn babies died of tetanus within their first month of life.

As Kenya eliminates maternal and neonatal tetanus, it has inspired the country to combat other diseases as well. They plan to identify the unreached and design an innovative approach to reach these populations with immunizations. On February 22, 2019, WHO representative, Dr. Rudi Eggers, addressed the recent measles outbreak in the country, attributing it to lapses in the routine immunization system since the previous measles and rubella outbreak in 2016.

“There is an urgent need for all stakeholders to come together and work to increase immunization coverage and address inequities,” Eggers said.

The Kenya campaign also aims to vaccinate nearly 14 million children between the ages of nine months and 14 years — nearly 40 percent of the population — for other common viruses.

Since Kenya’s elimination of maternal and neonatal tetanus, more than 153 million women around the world have been immunized with two or more doses of vaccines fighting against tetanus. The Eliminate Project, funded by the Kiwanis Children’s Fund, plans to learn from Kenya’s success and use it to inspire other countries to follow their lead. In 2018, The Eliminate Project raised a total of $502.282.72 to save and protect mothers and their babies worldwide.

Along with planning and taking initiative, Kenya recommends planning outreach activities for remote places, promoting delivery in health facilities and strengthening knowledge of health workers on the immunization schedule. Kenya sets an example of how small changes can overcome the silent killer of maternal and neonatal tetanus.

– Grace Arnold
Photo: Flickr