Elderly Poverty in South Korea

While South Korea is home to great technological developments and world-famous rising trends, it also has one of the highest numbers of impoverished elderly in a single developed country. Around half of the senior citizens are living in poverty with little to no support from relatives or the government. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, consists of over 30 countries that work with one another to encourage economic development. Unfortunately, despite all the economic progress it has made, South Korea has the highest elderly poverty rate of all OECD countries.

How Elderly Poverty in South Korea Came to Be

In the 1970s, a financial crisis hit South Korea that caused around 2 million people to be unemployed, many of these workers being senior citizens today. When the country began building its economy back up, many companies decided to replace the older generation of workers with younger ones. While the younger workers did not cost as much, the newly jobless population was left with no other choice but to retire earlier than expected.

In the present day, the now elderly population who was affected by the financial crisis have to support themselves by working non-conventional jobs. These jobs include picking trash off the street, cleaning or in the most extreme cases, elderly prostitution. Since this way of living is detrimental to the mental wellbeing of the older population, senior suicide rates have risen over time. Just three years ago, for senior citizens around 70 years old, nearly 50 people out of 100,000 committed suicide. For senior citizens around 80 years old, that number went up to 70 people per 100,000.

South Korea’s Welfare Programs

  • Comprehensive Welfare Program: In 2012, South Korea began the Comprehensive Welfare Program to benefit the impoverished elderly population. Senior citizens who are physically compromised were given assistance in everyday routines, such as housework or laundry. Meals are provided at senior citizen dining halls and even delivered for those who cannot make it to a meal service location. Social service and activity programs were implemented as well, which helps boost the mood of the elderly who would not have otherwise gotten a form of entertainment anywhere else.
  • Community Care Program: In 2019, South Korea announced the Community Care Program to aid senior citizens as well as other vulnerable groups. This program is spread all throughout South Korea, with application booths in plenty of local areas. Similar to the Comprehensive Welfare Program, the Community Care Program also provides in-home care services for physically compromised seniors, as well as food deliveries. This program also provides public housing and elderly daycare for those in need of special assistance and care. Additionally, 12 million won (nearly $12,000) will be provided as subsidies for senior citizens who continue to reside in the Community Care Program.

Creating Jobs for Seniors

In late 2019, South Korea’s employment rate continued to grow over 300,000 new jobs every month. Employment in late 2019 was around 27.5 million jobs, which is over 330,000 more jobs from the previous year. This hiring growth was because of the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s plans to increase senior jobs using the over 1.5 trillion won (nearly $1.5 billion) from their budget. Those who were out of a job previously were able to get a chance at improving their lives and livelihoods through becoming employed again.

– Karina Wong
Photo: Needpix

ice stupasIn the mountain desert of Ladakh, a region located in Northern India, water has long been a valued and scarce resource. Ladakh is located in the Himalayas with a base elevation of roughly 8,000 feet and peaks reaching over 25,000 feet. Ladakhis rely almost entirely on glacial and permafrost melt for water. However, in recent years, due to rapidly receding glaciers, water shortages in Ladakh have become more severe. In years to come, experts expect this problem to worsen. Despite this issue, Ladakhis continue to innovate and adapt to the harsh and changing climate. Ice stupas are one example of this innovation.

Melting Glaciers Causing Spring Water Shortages

Water shortages in Ladakh are worst in the springtime, when farmers, who make up roughly 80% of the Ladakhi population, need to sow their fields. During the spring, glacial streams have not begun to flow yet since most glaciers are located higher in the mountains where temperatures are lower. As glaciers continue to recede, streams start flowing later and the water shortages of spring become longer and more damaging. The later farmers have to wait to start sowing their fields, the lower their yields and profits become.

Ladakhis have highly organized water management systems that have been developed over thousands of years. They primarily rely on mud canals and dams to distribute and store water as well as strict water usage rules to ensure water is used efficiently. These systems have been successful in Ladakh for generations but have proven to be insufficient in handling the changing climate.

Storing Winter Water in Ice Reservoirs

Observing the intensifying water shortages in Ladakh, Chewang Norphel, a local civil engineer, set out to design a method of storing water during the winter so that it could be used in the spring. There are many stories of Ladakhis creating man-made ice structures to store water, but many were inefficient, and there were no scientific methods to the practice. Norphel created his first artificial glacier in 1986 by creating a series of embankments along a stream that slow the water and create shallow pools just a few inches deep to ensure the water freezes. Built in October, these ice reservoirs collect and store water that would otherwise be wasted throughout the winter months. In the spring, they begin to melt, providing water for farmers that need it for irrigation.

Since creating his first artificial glacier in 1986, Norphel has created 16 more artificial glaciers. Sonam Wangchuk, inspired by Norphel’s artificial glaciers, put together a team in the fall of 2013 to create an improved ice reservoir. Wangchuk and his team developed a prototype for the ice stupa, a large cone of ice that can store more water and melts slower than Norphel’s design. When the small-scale prototype provided water well into May, Wangchuk knew they had discovered an important solution.

Ice stupas, named after the Buddhist structures that are built to house sacred relics, can be complex projects to build but work based on simple concepts. Water runs through an underground pipe from higher elevation down to the site of the ice stupa where, due to natural water pressure, it rises up through a vertical pipe without any pump. The water sprays out of a sprinkler at the top of the pipe and freezes as it falls onto a conical shape of branches. The conical shape gives the ice stupas a large advantage over Norphel’s artificial glaciers, as direct sunlight hits less surface area, meaning that the stupas melt slower and provide water for longer. Throughout the winter, this water freezes into huge cones of ice that can reach 30 to 50 meters high.

Each of these ice stupas can store millions of liters of water, enough to support farmers through the crucial spring months until the summer when glacial streams start flowing. Many of the ice stupa projects to date have been designed to support poplar and willow tree fields, which are two of the most profitable crops to grow in the area and require large amounts of water.

A More Comprehensive Solution

As the glaciers continue to recede, the need for ice stupas and other innovative water management solutions will only keep increasing. Darren Clark, a member of the ice stupa project from 2014 to 2019, says the ice stupas have benefited communities and are important symbols that alert Ladakhis of the changing climate and increased water shortages. Many Ladakhis were skeptical of the ice stupa projects initially, but, as spring water shortages in Ladakh continue to worsen, ice stupas are becoming more essential each year.

Clark sees ice stupas as just part of the solution for the future of water management in Ladakh. He would like to see improved water infrastructure and plumbing systems that can collect more meltwater throughout the year and distribute it more efficiently. One system could create ice stupas in the winter months and act as regular water distribution throughout the spring, summer and fall. Clark views such a system as an essential adaptation for Ladakhis in future years as snowpacks continue to diminish and glaciers recede.

Issues of water shortages in high mountain deserts are a growing problem in mountain communities everywhere. Clark has helped design and build similar ice stupa systems in Peru and Switzerland and is currently in the process of writing a book on how improved water management systems could benefit high mountain desert communities around the world. With millions of people living in mountain deserts relying primarily on glacial melt for water, improved water management systems — including ice stupas — will be an essential part of combating climate change in years to come.

– William Dormer
Photo: Flickr

garment industryThe garment industry in Asia, particularly South and East Asia, is one of the largest industries in the region. For example, in 2017, the textile industry was India’s second-largest industry, valued at about $108 billion and accounting for 5% of India’s total GDP. Since the 1960s, Asia has sent $670 billion’s worth of clothes, shoes and bags annually to Europe, the United States and wealthier Asian countries.

The novel coronavirus, however, has brought the global economy to a halt. As demand for clothing has fallen, many retailers have canceled orders from factories, forcing many to shut down. For example, in Cambodia, more than 250 garment factories have suspended operations, putting more than 130,000 workers out of work. Myanmar has seen around 150 of its roughly 600 factories shut down. Despite COVID-19’s effect on the global economy and apparel market, the garment industry could be critical in restarting South and East Asian economies. Here are five reasons why the garment industry will help Asia’s poor recover economically from the COVID-19 pandemic.

5 Reasons Why the Garment Industry Will Help Asia’s Poor

  1. Asia is the West’s biggest supplier of apparel. The West and other advanced, wealthier Asian economies account for 60% of the Asian garment market. From January to May 2020, more than 80% of U.S. apparel imports, measured by value and quantity, came from Asia. With no other major alternative suppliers, Asia can continue to be the main source of garments for these nations.
  2. Asian garments are competitive in the global market. The low cost of labor in Asia makes prices competitive, and Asian garment manufacturers are viewed as reliable, flexible and fast to market, all of which are benefits that many other textile producers cannot consistently offer. Additionally, thanks to a highly integrated regional supply chain, garment factories can produce goods using automated technologies from advanced Asian nations, making Asian garments technologically competitive.
  3. Asia itself is one of the largest garment consumption markets in the world. China is the largest consumer of apparel, with around 40 billion units of apparel sold annually, above India (6 billion) and Japan (3.3 billion). As these economies continue to expand and advance, consumers will experience a rise in purchasing power, which could further increase the demand for garments. The rising trend of products “Made in Asia for Asia,” then, could significantly benefit garment manufacturers.
  4. Garment-making is a low-skill job. Low-skill jobs create work opportunities for those in poverty, who may not have had access to an education. Many countries in South and Southeast Asia suffer from high poverty rates: from 1990 to 2013, South Asia’s share of the global poor increased from 27.3% to 33.4%, despite the number of impoverished people in South Asia decreasing by 248.8 million. This means that South Asia is falling behind the global pace of eliminating poverty. The garment industry could be a solution to this problem, presenting a unique opportunity for the poor as a low-skill industry with quickly rising demand worldwide.
  5. The garment industry has lifted Asian citizens out of poverty in the past. For example, in 2016, the Cambodian garment industry provided jobs for 930,000 workers, nearly 79% of whom were female. Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, the garment industry was the fastest growing industry in Myanmar, accounting for 10% of its exports and providing jobs for hundreds of thousands of workers, many of whom were migrants from rural villages. In 2018, the garment industry employed 1.6 million people in Vietnam, accounting for more than 12% of the country’s workforce. The garment industry is particularly noteworthy for providing jobs to female workers: women’s share of apparel employment is much higher than women’s share in most other industries in nearly every country in South and East Asia.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the Asian garment industry to a standstill, with thousands of factories shut down and millions of workers kept from work and a source of income. However, the world’s largest markets still depend on Asia for apparel, and demand will surely increase as the global market recovers. The garment industry could provide jobs to millions in Asia who were pushed into poverty by the COVID-19 pandemic and potentially help to lift them out.

Harry Yeung
Photo: Flickr

inequality in chinaChina, a vast country harboring nearly 1.4 billion people, is situated in East Asia. In 1944, China, one of the four Allied powers during the Second World War, became a pillar in forming what would later become the United Nations. Furthermore, China has become one of the fastest growing nations throughout the world. Despite its longstanding partnership with the U.N. and its rapid economic growth, widespread inequality and poverty still exist in China. Here are seven facts about inequality in China.

7 Facts About Inequality in China

  1. Income inequality is due to many systemic factors. Location within the country, families, lineage and hukou (home registration) play a vital role in individuals’ income. Another element is the swift economic expansion that has overtaken the country, which many view as a necessity for the country’s development.
  2. Rapid economic expansion has both hindered and helped China. In 1978, China opted to expand its economy, which has made its GDP rise by nearly 10% annually. The swift growth has allowed over 850 million people — more than half of the population — to remove themselves from poverty. However, 373 million people still make $5 a day on average in China. Due to China’s rapid expansion, inequality across social, economic and environmental spheres persists.
  3. The merit-based Hukou system plays a pivotal role in the income gap between urban and rural locations. Moreover, it hinders rural workers from migrating and contributing to the larger urban centers spread across the country. China’s eastern seaboard is home to numerous densely populated cities, which has left the western regions predominantly rural. This system favors the upper echelon of society while discriminating against former farmers from villages.
  4. China has 23 provinces, yet five are autonomous. These self-governing regions include Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. Taiwan is considered a province yet it still has its currency, localized government and the national flag. Hong Kong and Macau are considered administrative regions, with the former set to be absorbed by the mainland in the coming years.
  5. In 1979, Mao Zedong, founding father of the People’s Republic of China, implemented a one-child policy that aimed to control the rapidly growing nation. More than three decades later, the country changed the policy to allow for two children per family in 2015. Despite strict efforts to diminish the surge in population, China still has a large proportion of children across all developing nations and a significant child poverty issue.
  6. Child poverty is a big issue in a country of nearly 1.4 billion. China holds one out of every five children across the developing world. Child poverty in China is a generational issue that can be traced back to family dynamics. However, the country is providing social assistance for children attending their education and for being fed an adequate amount. This strategy is known as a conditional cash transfer, and it helps children climb out of poverty.
  7. Healthcare hurts the poor. Nearly 200 million farmers have fled their respective regions to find work in cities, but the China has adopted a “pay first, claim later” form of healthcare. China has aimed to tackle healthcare through its rural poverty alleviation program; however, high medical expenses have adversely affected rural populations.

Despite China’s rapid economic growth, the country has suffered and experienced backlash over its imbalance in the social welfare of its citizens, its impact on climate change and the economy. These facts about inequality in China highlight elements that have played a role in perpetuating inequality and how it has predominantly affected those from rural settings. However, the country is determined to turn the tide on these challenges and has made headway moving forward, supported by the U.N.

– Michael Santiago
Photo: Needpix

American ExportsThroughout the past several decades, nations in Southeast Asia have seen significant declines in extreme poverty rates. As poverty has fallen and these nations have developed economically, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has become the United States’ fourth-largest trading partner. While the United States does rely heavily on this region for imports, trade with ASEAN also supports American exports and bolsters nearly 346,000 American jobs. The following five countries in Southeast Asia are critical trading partners and demonstrate the economic benefits that can coincide with a decrease in extreme poverty:

1. Malaysia

Malaysia has been extremely successful in reducing poverty throughout the past several decades. According to the United Nations, “… in 1970, 49.3% of Malaysian households were below the poverty line.” As of 2015, the figure had fallen to 0.4%. As poverty has fallen, Malaysia has also grown economically, developing profitable manufacturing, petroleum and natural gas industries.

As the country has reduced poverty and developed economically, it has become an important trading partner to the United States. The United States imports electrical machinery, tropical oils and rubber from Malaysia. It also exports soybeans, cotton and aircraft to the nation. In total, the trade between the two nations totals around $57.8 billion each year and supports nearly 73,000 American jobs.

2. Thailand

Thailand is another country that has seen impressive levels of poverty reduction in recent decades. According to The World Bank, poverty rates fell from around 65% in 1988 to under 10% in 2018. The nation has also evolved economically, developing large automotive and tourism industries as poverty rates have fallen.

Trade between the United States and Thailand has steadily grown, totaling $48.9 billion in 2018. When analyzing imports, the United States relied on Thailand for machinery, rice and precious metals. In terms of exports, the United States provided the nation with electrical machinery, mineral fuels and soybeans. In total, the exports to the nation supported nearly 72,000 American jobs. Additionally, exports to Thailand have been increasing in recent years, growing nearly 14.5% from 2017 to 2018.

3. Vietnam

Vietnam is perhaps one of the most astounding examples of poverty reduction and economic development. The World Bank reports that “the poverty headcount in Vietnam fell from nearly 60% to 20.7% in the past 20 years.” As it has done so, the nation developed one of the most rapidly growing middle classes in Southeast Asia, became a center for foreign investment and developed key industries in electronics, footwear and textiles.

While the United States has come to heavily rely on Vietnamese imports, Vietnam is also a rapidly growing market for American exports. In fact, American exports of goods to Vietnam increased by 246.9%, and American exports of services to the nation increased 110% since 2008. According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, “U.S. exports of Goods and Services to Vietnam supported an estimated 54,000 American jobs in 2015.”

4. Indonesia

Though the nation still has significant progress to make, Indonesia is another nation that has seen a reduction in extreme poverty rates. Since 1990, the nation has managed to half its poverty rate and make significant economic advancements. Currently the largest economy in Southeast Asia, the nation has developed notable industries in petroleum, natural gas, textiles and mining.

Trade with the nation totaled around $32.9 billion in 2019. While the United States imported apparel and footwear from the nation, it also exported soybeans, aircraft and fuels to Indonesia. In total, American exports to Indonesia are growing, increasing 19.1% from 2017 to 2018 and supporting nearly 56,000 American jobs.

5. Philippines

While poverty is still an issue in the Philippines, it has seen significant declines in recent years. According to the World Bank, poverty fell from 26.6% to 21.6% from 2006 to 2015. The nation has also made significant improvements in developing industries outside of agriculture. While agriculture composed nearly one-third of the nation’s GDP in the 1970s, it currently represents 9.3%, split between an emerging industrial and service sector.

Trade with the nation currently provides $29.6 billion each year, and exports to the Philippines grew 3% from 2017 to 2018. Mainly, the Philippines relies on American exports for electrical machinery, soybean meal, and wheat. Overall, exports to the Philippines support an estimated 58,000 American jobs.

Affecting nearly one in five American jobs, international trade is a critical part of the American economy. As demonstrated by Southeast Asia, a reduction in global poverty rates not only contributes to global economic development but also supports the export industry and American jobs.

– Michael Messina
Photo: Pexels

Cambodian art
Worldwide, COVID-19 has impacted many countries and peoples’ daily lives. While not all countries have been affected in the same manner due to their respective population demographics, economies, etc. — places with a contained outbreak are far from lucky. As of the beginning of July 2020, Cambodia has had 141 confirmed cases of the new virus and zero deaths; possessing one of the world’s most desirable records for disease containment. However, citizens canceled many gatherings and traditions due to the constant spread of the new virus, in order to stave off the increasing numbers of infected. In a country filled with culture and art, postponing annual festivals poses a significant threat to society — both from an emotional and economic standpoint. As a result, many long-standing art troupes are facing closures and this, in turn, is negatively affecting the Cambodian art industry.

A Brief History

In the past, Cambodia faced a difficult battle with its culture. The country underwent a prolonged civil war and genocidal regime, forcing many traditional forms of Cambodian culture to the brink of vanishing. In addition to the political stress on the art industry, many artists faced financial struggles and gave up their passions in return for a stable outcome. Although the Cambodian arts encountered numerous obstacles, certain traditions have outlasted these struggles. Albeit, the impact of COVID-19 stands to be the most difficult obstacle for these troupes yet.

Kok Thlok Association of Artists

One of the most popular forms of Cambodian art is through traditional shadow puppet plays. Kok Thlok Association of Artists is a group of artists that includes a majority of French nationals performing this art form. Since March of 2019, this troupe has been entertaining the public by putting on shadow puppet plays (also known as a Sbek Touch) and Yike (a Cambodian art form of Khmer musical theatre). They perform these traditional art forms to showcase and instill their culture into the younger generation and earn income for the artists. With theatre being their primary source of income and the new virus spreading, no performances occur, which in turn prevents these artists from earning their wages.

A Drastic Decrease in Income

Soon after the discovery of Cambodia’s first COVID-19 case in January of 2020, the government ordered the temporary shutdown of places such as schools, museums and cinemas. The government canceled public events, including art performances and heavily encouraged people to refrain from gathering in crowds. As a result, the Kok Thlok Association of Artists was unable to perform and gain income. With this drastic decrease in income, these artists are finding it difficult to feed themselves and pay for expenses like rent. Even in these severe circumstances, however, the association is still committed to preserving the art form.

Siem Reap’s Phare Cambodian Circus

In addition to collecting revenue from Cambodian residents, many art performances have a large following of tourists. Due to the new virus, tourism has halted — which has consequently impacted many other industries and companies as well. The Siem Reap’s Phare Cambodian circus is popular for its ability to combine the Cambodian art of storytelling effectively and artistically with dance, music and other forms of performing arts; the circus is a very popular tourist attraction. With almost no tourist arrivals, establishments like the Phare circus have been deeply affected. The effects of COVID-19 will have a long-lasting impact on the economy and the tourism industry, meaning that entertainers and artists will remain in this situation for some time.

With most of the artists’ primary and part-time jobs lost, many participants are attempting to stay above the poverty line by moving to cheaper areas and by selling goods. In addition to their dire circumstances, there is the aforementioned cultural battle in Cambodia which leaves local residents unable or unwilling to provide monetary support. Apart from monetary issues, these performances helped artists from challenging backgrounds to put aside their problems and focus on the art form. Now, with their primary outlet of expression gone, many artists are facing both financial and emotional problems.

An Adaptive Look to the Future

While these artists are managing to barely stay afloat, many theatres are unable to do so. The long-standing Sovanna Phum Theatre — a shadow puppet theatre that blends puppetry with traditional Khmer dance — closed down in May 2020. However, the ministry provides alternate ways for these artists to make money, e.g. through media outlets and other online platforms. In fact, The Sovanna Phum Theatre relocated to the School of Fine Arts. Although their performances are online and difficult for the performers to adjust to — the government has provided them with a temporary solution. It is unknown how long this solution will last, but the Cambodian artists hope for the best and pray that COVID-19 does not hurt their chances of performing in the future.

– Aditi Prasad
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Tuberculosis in BangladeshTuberculosis (TB) is an airborne disease; common symptoms include cough with sputum and blood in some cases, chest pains, weakness, weight loss, fever and night sweats. TB can lead to the death of an infected person when left untreated. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), TB has caused about 2 million deaths worldwide, and 95% of deaths were recorded in developing countries. Bangladesh ranked sixth among high TB burden countries. The National Tuberculosis Control Programme (NTP) has attained more than 90% treatment success and more than a 70% case detection rate. Despite these successes, tuberculosis in Bangladesh remains a serious public health problem.

Reasons for Higher Infection of Tuberculosis in Bangladesh

  1.  Delays in the Initiation of Treatment: Patients in Bangladesh often receive late treatment. Delays in treatment increase chances of negative treatment results, death and community transmission of TB. A study on 1,000 patients reported that, on average, there were 61 days of delay in the treatment of women and 53 days of delay in the treatment of men.
  2.  Role of Informal Health Practitioners: Most of the impoverished people in Bangladesh prefer to go to their local practitioners due to the ease of accessibility and low cost. A recent survey showed that approximately 60% of the Bangladesh population prefers to go to these uncertified doctors. However, such doctors typically lack formal training. This may lead difficulties in accurately diagnosing and treating TB.
  3. Lack of Awareness: Directly observed treatment short-course (DOTS) has been recognized as one of the most efficient and cost-effective approaches for treating TB. In 1998, the DOTS program became an integrated part of the Health and Population Sector Programme. The inclusion of the DOTS strategy in the Programme helped TB services transition from TB clinics to primary level health facilities. These health facilities typically incorporate GO-NGO (government-organized non-governmental organization) partnerships, and the NGOs have advocated for work on literacy, social awareness along and health care development. As part of the Health and Population Sector Programme, DOTS is freely available to the public. Unfortunately, many remain unaware of the treatment option.  As a result, detection of new TB cases has stagnated at around 150,000 cases per year since 2006.
  4. Poverty: A large portion of the country is still suffering from poverty. Poverty can often lead to overcrowding and poorly ventilated living and working conditions. People with less income also cannot afford food, leading to higher incidences of malnutrition. The culmination of these factors typically make the impoverished population more vulnerable to contracting TB.

The Effort to Combat TB

Tuberculosis is a major public health problem in Bangladesh. However, continuous efforts by the NTP and various NGO organizations have played an important role in decreasing the spread of the disease. DOTS, for instance, demonstrated a 78% cure rate in 1993. Due to its success, a phase-based treatment plan was implemented in 67 million rural populations in 1996.  Since implementation, the NTP has attained a 90% treatment success rate. Further efforts to combat the disease include development of the FAST program (Find cases Actively, Separate safely and Treat effectively). The program intends to detect active TB cases and decrease spread of the disease in healthcare facilities. However, despite efforts by the NTP and a number of NGOs, significant delays in care-seeking and treatment initiation still exist as major hindrances to the program’s goals. 

Challenges to TB Programs

Tuberculosis in Bangladesh kills more than 75,000 people every year. Despite free services like DOTS and other NTP programs, limited access to quality service, lackluster funding and insufficient screening prevent adequate detection and treatment of the disease. The lowest quartile of the population is still five times more likely to contract TB, potentially due to a lack of awareness of TB-treatment programs among the general public. Adding to the problems for TB programs, private health professionals are typically inactive in national programs. While NTP programs have made progress in addressing the disease, these challenges persist, and tuberculosis remains a major health problem in Bangladesh.

Solutions

To stop the growth of tuberculosis in Bangladesh, community organizations such as the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) have shown impressive results in lowering the percentage of those afflicted by TB. Effective treatment of TB includes investment in medicine, local health services and diagnostics. To ensure full recovery, social protection of patients is also required. Multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB), for instance, requires two months of drug treatment and a four month continuation period. If treatment programs can satisfy requirements investment and social protection requirements, the chance of curing TB patients reaches 92%. The application of a more successful method will help in curing the most complex TB cases, such as drug-sensitive TB, with improved results. With the implementation of proper and effective treatment strategies, we can eliminate tuberculosis in Bangladesh and the benefit even the poorest members of society.

– Anuja Kumari

Photo: Pixabay

Inclusiveness in NepalIn 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the South Asian country of Nepal, killing 9,000 people, injuring 168,00 more and destroying tens of thousands of homes. The tragedy and ongoing reconstruction that followed sparked the scarred nation to adopt a new constitution. This act is in an effort to create more transparency and equality. However, Nepal’s traditional society that remained provided little support for the lower class including women. USAID has stepped in to aid with reconstruction and support Archana Tamang as a USAID-funded gender and social inclusion (GESI) advisor to the government. She wants to ensure that women, as well as other marginalized people, have a voice in creating a sense of inclusiveness in Nepal and helping lead it into the future.

A History of Gender Inequality and Violence

Women, especially those from lower castes in Nepal’s Hindu culture, have little opportunities for education, health care and work outside the home. A woman has no choice but to marry into what are often arranged marriages that define her life. Husbands control the family resources leaving women often shunned and impoverished should they be divorced or widowed. These marriages can often be oppressive and even abusive.

“During the first earthquake in 2015, Archana was traveling to Afghanistan for work; but the quake ‘was a real wake up call.'” Tamang’s choice to fight GESI issues is inspired by her experience. She got married at the early age of 17 to a man from India. Tamang lived with emotional and physical abuse for five years before escaping back to Nepal with her daughter. In Nepal, she later became involved in GESI efforts. She was working in Afghanistan when the earthquake hit and quickly returned to her home to help rebuild.

On the Road to Change

The National Reconstruction Authority is the sector of the Nepalese government that has overseen rebuilding after the earthquake. As Nepal’s government moves toward a more transparent leadership, the National Reconstruction Authority had pledged to help defenseless populations. However, a focused approach was lacking. Tamang developed a research-supported GESI Action Plan for the government where she would “empower women and ensure that they were able to earn a living.”

Tamang makes it her mission to visit women and other powerless people in their home villages to educate them on their liberties and duties. She wants to make sure they are heard in the reconstruction process. Her GESI Action Plan mandates that at least two of five posts in local governments are to be held by women. Plus, women make up at least one of two mayoral or deputy mayoral candidates in each Nepal district. The plan has also called for women to get paid the same as men for their labor helping to rebuild, further nurturing inclusiveness in Nepal.

A Future for Inclusiveness in Nepal

In 2017, Nepal had its first election in over 20 years under the new constitution and more than 1.7 million Nepalis — most of whom were women and lower-class people — registered to vote for the first time. The elections brought more than 14,000 women into government. This demonstrates the effectiveness of Tamang’s Action Plan to the point where it received full government financial support. She is happy to report that in 2019, 40% of elected officials were women. In addition, more and more girls are being educated and finding their voice to help heal their scarred nation.

– Joseph Maria
Photo: Flickr

HIV in ThailandHIV is a leading cause of death for people under the age of 50 in Thailand. Of those with HIV in Asia and the Pacific, 9% live in Thailand. In 2019, about 470,000 people were living with HIV in Thailand. Sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender individuals and people who inject drugs are most affected by the epidemic. Thailand has made progress in combating the disease, especially in regard to mother-to-child transmissions, which the country eliminated. However, HIV stigma is a factor both preventing people from seeking treatment and causing discrimination in healthcare. The stigma surrounding HIV can also lead to mental health issues such as depression.

HIV-Related Stigma

HIV stigma includes negative attitudes and judgments toward people living with HIV. Discrimination can occur when a healthcare professional refuses to provide services for people living with HIV. It can also occur when someone receives a lack of social support due to being HIV positive. The stigma and discrimination resulting from living with HIV can lead to internalized stigma. This stigma is when people living with HIV develop a negative self-image impacting their mental health. As a result, higher rates of loneliness and depression have been reported among people living with HIV.

HIV Research in Thailand

The National Institute of Nursing Research conducted a study in Thailand in 2007 which revealed information about the impact of HIV-related stigma on mental health. The researchers interviewed people living with HIV in northern and northeastern Thailand to collect data. Data was collected by measuring stigma on a scale of “Internalized Shame” and “Perceived Stigma.” They concluded that there is an association between depression and internalized shame, as well as between depression and perceived stigma.

Additionally, the study’s conclusion included strategies to improve the mental health of people living with HIV through treatment programs. The researchers emphasized the importance of boosting self-esteem and creating a sense of belonging to a community. Doing this would combat the effects of isolation often felt as a result of stigma. Furthermore, addressing HIV stigma in Thailand in addition to providing social support could positively impact the overall health of people with HIV.

Responses to the Impact of HIV on Mental Health

TREAT Asia (Therapeutics Research, Education and AIDS Training in Asia) is an organization working toward increasing access to psychiatric care. It also works toward improving mental health services for those living with HIV in Thailand. The organization is conducting a study on depression and anxiety among Thai adolescents with HIV. By evaluating participants, the study team aims to improve the health of Thai adolescents living with HIV. It does this through developing a better understanding of how to address mental health in the treatment process.

Service Workers in Groups (SWING), a Thai organization, provides HIV services and supports sex workers. COVID-19 left about 145,000 sex workers in Thailand without an income source. As a result, they are in greater need of support to cover basic necessities such as food and housing. Barriers preventing access to HIV treatment have only strengthened due to the coronavirus crisis. Sex workers are at a disadvantage in terms of social protection. SWING has made efforts to confront the new challenges due to COVID-19. It continues to provide HIV healthcare, including mental health services, for sex workers amid the pandemic

By 2030, the Ministry of Public Health of Thailand plans to reduce HIV discrimination in healthcare settings by 90%. While Thailand has enacted policies and laws to protect people living with HIV, they continue to endure the negative effects of HIV stigma. This prevents them from receiving efficient treatment. Greater efforts and more research are necessary to break the cycle of mental health issues created by HIV stigma to improve the quality of life for those living with HIV in Thailand.

Zoë Nichols
Photo: Flickr

asian development bankThe Asian Development Bank (ADB), which was established in 1966, attempts to alleviate poverty in Asia by funding numerous welfare projects in the region. Many Asian countries are members of ADB, which provides them with loans and monetary assistance, as well as providing general technical help with different projects. ADB aims to achieve “a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific.” Here are four countries that ADB has benefited positively.

4 Countries the Asian Development Bank Has Helped

  1. China: The People’s Republic of China is a country that has experienced uneven development in the past century. Major cities are urbanized, while rural areas remain in extreme poverty. ADB has funded and overseen numerous projects to attempt to lift these areas out of poverty and improve the standard of living in the country. One project in Yunnan, for example, pays and trains women to maintain around 5,000 kilometers of rural roads. This offers economic opportunities to rural women while facilitating more transportation between rural towns. Another project funded the purchase of 1,860 clean buses to combat China’s pollution problem.
  2. Cambodia: While Cambodia has undergone positive development in recent years, poverty still exists in the country, and many of its residents live in adverse conditions. In 2017, for example, 21% of the Cambodian population did not have access to clean water. The Asian Development Bank has encouraged sustainable development in Cambodia through many large-scale projects. In 2003, the bank allotted $15.6 million to Cambodia as part of a project to attract tourists and benefit local economies. More recently, ADB approved a loan of $250 million to support Cambodia’s economy through the COVID-19 pandemic.
  3. Thailand: In recent years, poverty has unfortunately increased in Thailand, with the poverty rate growing from 7.8% in 2015 to 9.8% in 2018. According to the World Bank, this has been due to several “economic and environmental challenges,” particularly because individual Thai households are highly susceptible to variable economic conditions. Projects by ADB attempt to combat this—one 2017 program introduced around 500 farmers to the organic farming market. This connected them to a greater, more profitable market in order to attain a self-sufficient income. In 2012, a solar power plant funded by ADB was also completed, which generated enough power to provide clean electricity to 70,000 households. The plant also helps to keep greenhouse gases from being released into the atmosphere.
  4. Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka is a relatively small country, with a population of around 22 million. In 2016, 4.1% of the population was below the national poverty line. ADB has mainly funded rural development projects in Sri Lanka but has also focused on social justice and creating better living conditions for Sri Lankan residents. From 2000 to 2018, ADB helped connect more than 200,000 households to electricity and built or upgraded just under 4,000 kilometers of roads. The Asian Development Bank has also funded support for around one million residents affected by the Sri Lankan Civil War, which lasted from 1983 to 2009.

Since its conception, ADB has made incredible progress in fighting poverty and assisting development in Asia. In 2019 alone, ADB committed $21.64 billion in loans, grants and other investments to various countries and provided $237 million in technical assistance. Still, much poverty remains to be fought—while Asian countries have experienced massive development in the 21st century, many rural areas have been left behind. Poverty remains a pervasive issue in Asia. The Asian Development Bank has changed the lives of many Asian residents, but much remains to be done.

– Maggie Sun
Photo: Flickr