Global Citizen Helped Reduce PovertyIn 2008, Hugh Evans, Simon Moss and Wei Soo co-founded Global Citizen, a movement to reduce global poverty and create lasting change. Global Citizen is working to end extreme poverty by 2030 by mobilizing people around the world to use their “collective voice” to garner change. These are four ways Global Citizen helped reduce poverty in 2021.

4 Ways Global Citizen Helped Reduce Poverty in 2021

  1. Global Citizen Live: 24-Hour Concert. Global Citizen helped reduce poverty in 2021 on September 25, 2021, by hosting a 24-hour-long concert to raise awareness on the inequality of vaccine distribution and the extreme famine caused by the increasing spread of COVID-19. Highlights of the event include performances by Billie Eilish, Elton John, Jennifer Lopez, Ed Sheeran and Coldplay. Interestingly, the event’s main aim was not just fundraising but rather using “participation as evidence for world leaders that people support bold action on the issues.” These efforts proved successful as several leaders and companies announced their pledges. USAID Administrator Samantha Power stated the U.S. would pledge more than $295 million to fight hunger and address gender-based violence and other humanitarian issues brought about by COVID-19. Lego and Verizon also committed to donating to the cause of ending global poverty. Global Citizen was able to fundraise $1.1 billion to help fight poverty in the most vulnerable countries.
  2. VAX LIVE: The Concert to Reunite the World. On May 8, 2021, this Global Citizen event brought together various “big names,” such as Jennifer Lopez, Joe Biden and Prince Harry, pledging for help to end vaccine inequities in vulnerable countries during COVID-19. However, the televised event was not live, but rather, pre-taped. Fortunately, the event was able to raise $302 million from “several philanthropic and corporate commitments,” exceeding the event’s fundraiser goal. With this money, Global Citizen was able to obtain 26 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for impoverished countries.
  3. Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100. On December 8, 2018, Global Citizen hosted a festival in Johannesburg, South Africa, honoring the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. Mandela’s vision for global peace and equality remains a struggle that Global Citizen is trying to achieve. More than 70,000 Global Citizens, world leaders and music artists attended the festival in hopes of making a difference in the fight against global poverty. At the event, “Global Citizen and its partners announced key pledges across Health, Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH), Food Security, Agriculture, Environment, Education, Finance and Innovation.” In 2021, Global Citizen used about $783 million of $7.2 billion raised through commitments made during the 2018 event to improve the lives of 12.4 million additional people. In total, since the event in 2018, Global Citizen has brought positive impacts to 117.8 million people.
  4. Global Goal: Unite for Our Future. On June 27, 2020, Global Citizen held a benefit concert with music performers and world leaders to help raise awareness about the hardships impoverished countries are experiencing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. With Dwyane Johnson as the host, the event included performances by Coldplay, Chris Rock, Shakira and more. This concert was integral considering that the world hunger rate rose to 690 million people in 2020. Fortunately, in February 2021, Global Citizen distributed the $1.4 billion fundraised during Global Goal to support organizations playing an integral role in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, such as UNICEF, the Global Fund and the World Health Organization. In particular, the U.S. pledged $545 million at the event, a pledge that is now “supporting COVID-19 response efforts in 120 countries” through USAID and the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.

Looking Ahead

Since its inception, Global Citizen has hosted many events to help the organization reach its goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030. With the help of motivated leaders and individuals using their voices to express the change they want to see in the world, Global Citizen has garnered significant support from the international community to contribute to the cause. Through generous donations, Global Citizen is able to positively impact the lives of millions of people in disadvantaged countries.

– Kayla De Alba
Photo: Flickr

Reopening Schools in the Philippines
The Philippines has had school doors’ closed for almost two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Philippines’ Department of Education is wary of potential spikes in COVID-19 cases. However, it also believes that reopening schools in the Philippines and re-introducing students to in-person education models are beneficial to students’ future education and eventual economic earnings.

Education in the Philippines

The government mandated that all Philippine children receive a minimum of 12 years of education. Students in Filipino public schools must graduate from elementary school, junior high school and high school.

Private education institutions in the Philippines typically produce students with high reading comprehension levels and excellent understandings of basic science and math concepts. In contrast to the quality of private education in the Philippines, public schools fall drastically short of meeting educational goals.

A 2018 study focused on high school-aged students from 79 different nations and found that public Filipino schools rank last for reading comprehension. The gap in educational quality between the Philippines’ private and public schools is because the Philippines’ public schools receive extremely limited funding.

Public schools in the Philippines also struggle to maintain running water and basic hygiene supplies. Many of the issues with school upkeep stem from a lack of funding. In the past decade, the Philippines’ government has spent less than 5% of the country’s overall GDP on public education annually.

Impacts of COVID-19 and Poverty on Education

The COVID-19 pandemic halted education worldwide, and the Philippines was not an exception to this rule. As of January 2022, the Philippines recorded more than 2.8 million positive COVID-19 cases.

To avoid spreading the virus to students, their families and their communities, schools in the Philippines halted all in-person classes. It would be beneficial for them to reopen soon to counteract the damage to education.

The Philippines closed its borders and all public and private businesses made workers operate remotely if possible. Additionally, school plans and teaching methods changed.

The Philippines’ government’s plans for remote public educations were difficult for many families. The plans demanded access to technology and resources many students and their families do not have. Most schools began operating remotely and in some areas, the government and schools coordinated efforts to present lessons on television as the internet is not always reliable in the rural Philippine regions. Even with all the efforts that the Philippines’ government made, Filipino students, four out of 10 at least, do not have proper access to technology to continue with remote education systems.

Many families cannot afford the essential technologies necessary for the new way of learning and working. The average salary in the Philippines is $3,218 per year. With such a low salary, technology updates are not an immediate need in comparison to other essentials. It is not surprising that schools and families have struggled to provide children with the education they deserve. Reopening schools in the Philippines would support the future endeavors of children.

What Does Reopening Schools Mean for Children in the Philippines?

The Philippines had remarkably low records of positive COVID-19 cases for several months, but a spike in cases occurred at the beginning of fall 2021. Since then, the number of positive recorded cases has decreased again. According to the U.S. News, the government believes that it has developed the proper methods to keep the number of positive COVID-19 cases low for most, if not all, public work environments and schools.

In the Philippines, inadequate education has been a clear reason why Filipino citizens live in poverty. Many employers in the Philippines refuse to provide job opportunities to people who do not make it through all mandated education levels. Without education, people may have a challenging time obtaining jobs, resulting in a continuation of the cycle of poverty.

Furthermore, the higher-paying jobs in the Philippines require advanced degrees. The Asian Development Bank has predicted that the pauses in children’s education will decrease Filipino students’ future earnings by $1.25 trillion. Schools in the Philippines are crucial to fixing this expected drop in income.

Returning the children to their education will preserve more opportunities to increase future earnings. Reopening schools in the Philippines is coming at a critical time as Filipino students are not reaching the global benchmarks. Bringing students in on a volunteer basis right now could increase the students’ chances of escaping poverty.

Improving Education Inside the Home

Education is vital to a child’s chances at a future with higher wages than a peer without an education. To stay on this path and continue a children’s education and promote education in the home as well, Filipino-based organizations have been working to bring technology into the hands of children outside the classroom. Not only will this encourage education for children, but should the Philippines deem in-person classes unsafe again, the children will have the tools to continue with their studies and not lose any more future wages. This has been coming about in two major ways: one is with the assistance of Microsoft in the Philippines, but the other is with the assistance of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Microsoft Philippines and Felta Multi-Media Incorporated

Microsoft Philippines and Felta Multi-Media Incorporated partnered in 2015 to begin an initiative to put technology in the hands of schoolchildren. Their goal was, and still is, to help motivate the children to continue their education both in schools and at home. The partnership designed the technology so that it is safe with children (i.e. waterproof) and has features perfect for exploring outside of the classroom, such as specialized cameras and educational programs. These pieces of technology are the kinds that are best for helping children grow intellectually even if school doors remain closed.

The BEACON Project

The second method to improve a child’s access to technology and enhance their education is with a partnership between USAID and the Philippines’ government, called the Better Access and Connectivity (BEACON) project. The partnership is working to improve internet access across the nation’s rural regions, which will improve the children’s ability to attend classes remotely. The project should take five years to implement. Nonetheless, as soon as the project is in full swing, internet connectivity for children in rural areas will provide access to online education platforms used in the at-home schooling models. The ability to attend classes remotely and improve a child’s chance at a future full of more opportunities will grow exponentially with the increased internet connectivity and the availability of Microsoft and Felta technology.

The two together promise great things for a Filipino child. If schools cannot open in-person, such as is the goal, then they will be able to open remotely with the improved technology access, thus improving a Philippine child’s chances to build a career and avoid poverty.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Peru
Compared to other countries, Peru has the worst COVID-19 death rate, with “nearly 6,000 deaths for every 1 million Peruvians.” On the other hand, the United States has recorded 2,400 COVID-19 deaths per 1 million people. When Peru reached 71 COVID-19 cases, it implemented strict lockdown restrictions on March 15, 2020. In fact, Peru was one of the first countries to take action against COVID-19. The Peruvian government closed the country’s borders and advised its citizens to refrain from leaving their homes unless they went to work or bought any necessities for their families. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Peru has continued to worsen, but some are taking action to help slow the problem.

Economic Challenges in Peru During COVID-19

Even with lockdown restrictions in place, Peru continued to see an increase in COVID-19 cases because people needed to leave their homes to survive. According to the World Bank, Peru has a poverty rate of 27%, which is about 2 million people. As a result, about 70% of the population have informal jobs that do not provide them with basic health care benefits, social protection or education due to the lack of legal recognition. Most street vendors, domestic workers and waste pickers only make about $100 a month, making it impossible to stay home because they need to work to afford necessities for their families.

Furthermore, 40% of households lack access to a refrigerator. Because of this, families do not have the option to stock up on food for a couple of days. To have enough food to eat in their homes, families need to venture out to busy food markets, a place where COVID-19 can easily spread among people. To illustrate, “when authorities shut down one of Lima’s more than 1,200 food markets and performed rapid discard tests on traders, 163 of 842 came back positive.”

Due to these economic challenges, the Peruvian government provided disadvantaged families “grants of around $200 each to help them weather the crisis.” However, people from the poorer areas of Peru do not have bank accounts, causing them to get their money by traveling to the banks in person. As a result, COVID-19 spread in the long lines people waited in.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Iquitos

One city that the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Peru most affected is Iquitos, a port city on the Amazon river that many refer to as an island. Many believed the pandemic would not reach the island because of how secluded it is from the mainland. However, unfortunately, COVID-19 reached Iquitos, and it did not have the proper equipment to treat people for the virus. The Loreto Province hospital consisted of 12 ICU beds, but it used seven of them as designated COVID-19 treatment beds. “By mid-May of 2020, that hospital was on the verge of collapse.” With increasing COVID-19 cases, hospitals began to use army cots to treat virus-infected patients.

The Challenges of Acquiring Supplies

Peru struggled with the pandemic because it did not produce its own medical supplies, causing it to rely on imports. When the pandemic first began, every country wanted to stock up on surgical face masks, ventilators and protective equipment to protect their citizens and stop the spread of COVID-19. Because of this, Peru had to compete against wealthy countries, such as the United States. However, it did not have the money to do so. Without any of the proper medical equipment, Peruvian doctors continued to help their COVID-19 patients any way they could. Unfortunately, the staff at the hospital worked long shifts with a single mask, causing many of them to get sick.

A Catholic priest and physician, Raymond Portelli, posted a request for donations on his Facebook page to invest in an oxygen bottling plant when he realized oxygen was the pivotal treatment to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Peru. Portelli’s fundraiser succeeded, which led him to buy four more plants for Iquitos. Moreover, “Peru also lacked the stable political leadership needed to address the crisis at home and negotiate for medical supplies from abroad.” According to Mariana Leguia, an infectious disease expert, Peru had four presidents in 2020. This made it impossible for the government to act on the medical, economic and social crises.

Garnering Vaccines

Although the FDIC has approved a COVID-19 vaccine for people 5-years-old and older, Peru’s vaccination rate is only 4%. “Peru has secured enough doses to vaccinate its population,” but it is waiting for the delivery of the vaccines to reach its country. Once Peru receives the vaccines, it will need to keep them at the correct room temperature. Luckily, UNICEF is helping ensure careful distribution of COVID-19 vaccines by “bolstering Peru’s cold chain capacity,” which includes social freezers and refrigerators. So far, UNICEF has provided Peru with 1,100 solar-powered freezers to store the vaccines.

Lastly, the World Bank Board of Directors allocated $68 million in loans to help strengthen “epidemiological surveillance and response capacity to public health emergencies in Peru.” By doing this, hospitals will be able to detect any new COVID-19 cases in a timely manner, helping them have a better response system towards any health emergencies. To add, in July 2021, the United States government decided to provide Peru with $36 million to afford new resources and 2 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. By doing this, the United States will help Peru’s emergency efforts reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Peru led to people not complying with lockdown restrictions because they needed to continue working to survive. Luckily, UNICEF, the World Bank and the United States are providing COVID-19 relief to stop the spread of the virus in the country.

– Kayla De Alba
Photo: Flickr

Universal Poverty in Afghanistan
According to the UNDP, 97% of Afghanistan could be in poverty by 2022. This would be a quick plummet considering current UNDP data shows that only 54.5% of Afghans live below the poverty line. This is not particularly good either but is significantly better than the predicted more than doubled rate. This drastic predicted change is a result of a combination of things. Food prices and food insecurity are skyrocketing while economic and essential services experiencing interruption. COVID-19 is still prevalent and presents an active struggle. Those in rural communities and poor urban areas are feeling these problems quickest and hardest. If drastic change does not occur soon, there will undoubtedly be universal poverty in Afghanistan.

UNDP Predictions

The political turmoil of the Taliban resuming power, paired with economic and humanitarian issues, is creating a “full-on development collapse,” according to UNDP regional director Kanni Wagnaria. The UNDP’s 97% prediction is a worst-case scenario.

The prediction is based on 2018 estimates of the country’s GDP declining between 3.6% and 13.2% in the 2022 fiscal year. This depends on how the crisis continues and how other economies interact with the new Taliban leadership. This is a huge contrast to the previously predicted 4% GDP growth under the previous Afghan government.

Local Area-Based Programme

In response to these predictions, the UNDP has created a proposal of strategies to intervene and improve the current living conditions for those in poverty in Afghanistan. The “Local Area-Based Programme,” has four core elements: “provision of essential services, community-based livelihoods and local economies, disaster and climate-resilient response and social cohesion and inclusion participatory processes.”

The major goal of the program is to support approximately 9 million impoverished people over the course of 24 months. Another goal is to ensure the prediction of universal poverty in Afghanistan does not occur.

Local community groups, NGOs and small businesses will lead and implement this program. Within the plan, the most vulnerable would benefit significantly from cash-for-work grants for small and medium businesses and specifically within women-owned businesses. Households including children, the elderly and those with disabilities would receive a temporary basic income as well. There will also be assistance for natural disaster mitigation such as flood protection for farmlands.

ABADEI

The UNDP officially launched the program called ABADEI in October 2021. The primary goal is providing “immediate humanitarian assistance” while keeping the local economies moving. The first priority of the program is to help the people of Afghanistan meet their basic needs, with a focus on health and food security. As it raises more funds and receives more donations, ABADEI will be able to move into other priorities outlined in UNDP’s intervention strategies.

A significant indicator of outcome in the coming months and into 2022 will be how Afghanistan will do in the coming months and how the Taliban chooses to lead the country. The Taliban should be able to avoid the possible universal poverty in Afghanistan but it must make the decision to do so.

As of early September 2021, the Taliban had not reopened government offices. This is leading to many other industries such as banks and universities remaining closed as well, according to the UNDP. This has led to unstable employment and grave uncertainty among most of the country.

Additionally, expectations have determined that the Taliban could restrict capital, likely leading to inflation. This would reduce purchasing power and cause food prices to rise. The number of people below the poverty line would be even higher.

Much of what will happen to Afghanistan is relatively uncertain, yet rather imminent. Nevertheless, there are organizations such as UNDP that are being proactive and involved before universal poverty in Afghanistan becomes reality.

– Alex Mauthe
Photo: Unsplash

COVID-19 in Thailand
COVID-19 and the economic consequences of its spread have caused greater levels of poverty in Thailand since 2020. Reports determined that the COVID-19 pandemic plunged almost 800,000 people into poverty in 2020. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Thailand has primarily manifested as a spike in unemployment. By spring of 2021, Thailand’s job market had 710,000 fewer jobs compared to the previous year. The pandemic also adversely affected tourism flow to the nation, which accounts for about a fifth of GDP and 20% of employment. Thailand’s economy and poverty levels have not experienced such a negative impact since the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997.

Government Initiatives to Mitigate Poverty

The government’s initiative, however, in responding to this crisis has somewhat curbed the pandemic’s potential for further devastation. Authorities were quick to introduce quarantine measures that were effective in containing the virus during most of 2020. Though several waves of infections have exacerbated the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Thailand, the policy packages were effective in creating fiscal stimulus.

The support ranged from financial assistance for debtors to health-related spending for affected households, including those outside the social security system. Simulations suggest that more than 780,000 additional people could have fallen into poverty in 2020 if the government had not bolstered social support.

Thailand’s Continued Alleviation of Poverty

Thailand’s efficient response to the pandemic is impressive, but not surprising. Since 1988, the country has reduced its poverty levels from 65.2% to 6.2% in 2019, according to the World Bank. Its most effective initiative was to scale up cash transfer programs such that it became one of the largest scale fiscal responses to COVID-19 in the world.

“The crisis in 2020 demonstrated Thailand’s ability to leverage its robust and universal digital ID, sophisticated and interoperable digital platform and a number of administrative databases to filter eligibility for new cash transfer programs,” said Francesca Lamanna, the Senior Economist at the World Bank.

The Current Status of Poverty Levels in Thailand

While the government has responded relatively well, the country continues to struggle as it enters the fourth wave of COVID-19. The official unemployment rate was 2% in the first quarter of 2021 due to COVID-19, with the loss of jobs most concentrated in the services sector. On the one hand, slow vaccination rollout and widespread doubt seem to be stalling recovery. On the other, some infected individuals living below the poverty line may go so far as to violate quarantine rules in order to continue earning much-needed income.

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Thailand and its economic dependence on contact-intensive sectors means the continuing waves of infection prolong unemployment, with financially vulnerable groups bearing a disproportionate burden of economic insecurity.

Volunteer Workers Spearhead Poverty Aid Missions

In response to these conditions, the number of volunteers in Thailand has also been surging. Bangkok Community Help is one such organization. It has grown to more than 400 participants since its founding early in the pandemic in 2020. Greg Lange and Friso Poldervaart are two restaurant owners that spearheaded the community initiative after neighbors approached them to inquire if they could use their empty restaurant kitchens to prepare hot meals.

While the scale has transformed considerably, Bangkok Community Help’s main objective remains to assist vulnerable sections of Bangkok through volunteer and donation initiatives. “After [last April and May], we decided to focus more on more long-term projects, like building houses for people, turning a garbage dump into a park, and teaching kids,” Lange and Poldervaart told TimeOut.

Donations vary in scale and source. Individuals may hand out meals they prepared themselves to hungry construction workers, while foreign aid initiatives fund larger-scale operations such as survival packages of preserved goods. Australian Aid paid for rice recently distributed outside of Bangkok’s main port facilities through the Australian Government Aid Program. The program provides small grants in support of local, non-governmental organizations in Thailand.

The New Zealand – Thai Chamber of Commerce, an organization dedicated to promoting commerce between Thailand and New Zealand, donated apples. These organizations have even employed volunteers to bring oxygen tanks to the homes of the infected when hospitals were overcrowded, in the hopes of keeping them alive until a hospital bed becomes available. Bangkok Community Help continues to inspire individual and government action through its aid, opening aid centers and converting unused schools and auditoriums into treatment centers.

Future Possibilities

Looking towards the future of COVID-19’s impact on poverty in Thailand, there are different projections. The devastation of the pandemic is a large-scale issue that called for radical measures, but the methods of mitigation employed may be useful in shifting political focus towards strengthening social support systems in the future. These circumstances have the potential to catalyze an economic reform in Thailand, such that its industries can become more digital.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the authorities see this as an opportunity to transform tourism from low-cost, high-density travel, to high-end, low-density travel. This would allow for other domestic industries to flourish without wreaking havoc on the country’s economy. It may also be more ecologically friendly, offering greater protection of natural resources on which the tourism industry is dependent. All of these factors have the potential to gradually reduce the number of people living below the poverty line, by strengthening Thailand’s social and fiscal fiber.

– Arahi Fletcher
Photo: Unsplash

Renewable Energy in Portugal
Portugal is taking advantage of its Atlantic coast by investing in offshore wind farms. These developments occur in an effort to reverse the negative economic effects of COVID-19 and downsize energy poverty in the country. The expansion of renewable energy in Portugal has the potential to reduce the country’s expensive dependency on imports while simultaneously creating new local jobs and domestic industries.

The Issue of Energy Poverty

The United Nations defines energy poverty as a lack of “access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy.” Compared to other countries in the European Union, Portugal endures some of the highest rates of energy poverty, with nearly 20% of the country’s population reporting that they were unable to properly heat and cool their homes in 2018. Compared to the E.U.’s average of 6.9%, Portugal has a notably high rate. Energy-inefficient homes result in extremely high energy bills for citizens when temperatures fluctuate, especially in the winter. Recent studies show that 75% of the buildings in Portugal fail to meet the required guidelines for heating. This is an issue that has devastating impacts on the overall health of residents.

The Portuguese government does provide discounts on gas and electricity for households that meet certain socioeconomic criteria, and in 2020, nearly 753,000 households in Portugal received the electricity social tariff. Additionally, approximately 35,000 received the natural gas social tariff. However, the development of renewable energy and the subsequent reduction of overall energy costs could eliminate the need for these social tariffs altogether.

The Economic Effects of COVID-19

Like many countries, Portugal’s economy has faced huge setbacks as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its GDP decreased by 8.4% in 2020, “the largest annual decline since 1936.” In order to combat this decline, the country is making strides to expand its renewable energy sector.

The hope is that it can transition from the expensive task of importing fossil fuels to finding innovative ways to generate its own clean energy. Renewable energy in Portugal has expanded greatly in recent years, providing more than 50% of the country’s electricity needs in 2019, with hopes to reach 80% by 2030.

Innovations in Wind Energy

One area of renewable energy in which Portugal has become a leading European country is the development of wind energy. In 2019, Portugal’s Atlantic coast became home to the second floating wind farm in Europe, an alternative to onshore turbines which can disrupt tourism and generate noise complaints. Previously, offshore wind farms were limited to shallow waters, preventing countries like Portugal from taking advantage of the industry due to their deep Atlantic waters.

However, incredible innovation by the Windfloat Atlantic Project produced three wind turbines located 20 km offshore from the port city Viana Do Castelo, minimizing disruption to the local fishing industry and taking advantage of more powerful winds and deep water storms. These three turbines alone possess an installed capacity of 25 megawatts. This is “roughly equivalent to the energy consumed by 60,000 homes in one year.” The cutting-edge feat of the Windfloat Atlantic Project has captured the attention of many other coastal countries who hope to develop similar technology and presents great potential for a resurgence in Portugal’s economy.

Renewable Energy and Economic Growth

COVID-19 caused unemployment in Portugal to skyrocket by 36.2% between May 2019 and May 2020. Throughout the pandemic, workers without degrees in higher education were most affected, with an average increase in registered unemployment of 38.3% between the same dates. However, the expansion of offshore wind energy is creating new job opportunities for this demographic which do not require higher education.

Wind energy in Portugal currently employs approximately 22,000 people, and the Windfloat Atlantic Project, which Ocean Winds implemented in 2011, has created 1,500 jobs for local citizens. Increased dependence on renewable energy in Portugal will also decrease electricity bills for residents and become a pivotal agent in combating energy poverty. Many expect that the pioneer project will grow in the coming years. Portugal is in the perfect position to capitalize on that growth, improving the lives of its citizens and revitalizing its economy in an earth-friendly way.

Like many countries, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were detrimental to Portugal’s economy. However, the success of the WindFloat Atlantic project has resulted in more job opportunities for those who became unemployed during the pandemic, a decreased dependence on energy imports and the downsizing of energy poverty due to the more affordable prices that renewable energy sources are able to offer. The cutting-edge technology of Portugal’s offshore wind farm has sparked excitement in many other European nations who hope to develop similar projects along their coastlines. As a new leader in the development of renewable wind energy, Portugal will continue to innovate and pave the way for cleaner, more affordable energy for all.

– Hannah Gage
Photo: Unsplash

COVID-19 Antiviral Pill
The developing world is fighting for greater access to lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. If regulatory bodies approve it, a new COVID-19 antiviral pill called molnupiravir could bring relief in the next year because it would be affordable, easy to distribute and easy to administer. Approval is all but guaranteed, however, several NGOs and manufacturers are jumping into high gear to help ensure equitable access to the drug throughout the world.

The Current Situation

No nation, no matter how wealthy, is exempt from the heartache and struggle that COVID-19 brought. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 has led to the deaths of more than five million people worldwide. In addition to the many lives lost, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, has also left many survivors with long-lasting negative health effects. Then, there is the economic toll — experts consider the global economic contraction that the pandemic caused to be the most severe since the aftermath of World War II.

Now, nearly a year after the arrival to the market of the first COVID-19 vaccines, the developed world is wondering if the end is near — if the world can get back to a pre-pandemic sense of normal. However, in the developing world, the end does not appear to be near because many developing countries have yet to gain adequate access to vaccines. For instance, in September 2021, WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that “more than 5.7 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered globally, but only 2% of them in Africa.” Africa, however, makes up nearly 16% of the global population, making it clear that the push for vaccine equity must continue.

However, the developing world is now finding some hope in a COVID-19 antiviral pill that a partnership between Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics brought to market. Researchers invented the drug, called molnupiravir, at Emory University with research funding from the U.S. government. In the Phase 3 clinical study, the pill proved efficient in reducing risks of hospitalization and death by 50% in at-risk individuals when administered before symptoms increase in severity. Following these promising outcomes, Merck has applied for Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) so that it can bring this promising COVID-19 antiviral pill to the market as soon as possible.

3 Advantages of Molnupiravir for the Developing World

  1. Affordability. Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics have agreed to license the production of their COVID-19 antiviral pill to several generic drug manufacturers in India. In addition, they have signed a royalty-free licensing agreement with the United Nations-backed Medicines Patent Pool (MPP). The agreement remains valid so long as WHO classifies COVID-19 as a global public health emergency. MPP will sublicense production of the molnupiravir to qualifying generic drug manufacturers in the developing world. In turn, those manufacturers will be free to market the drug to a collection of 105 low- to middle-income countries for around $20 per five-day course of treatment. For reference, in its initial purchase agreement for the drug, the U.S. government agreed to pay about 35 times as much per treatment.
  2. Ease of Distribution. Depending on the brand, COVID-19 vaccines require either freezing or refrigeration up until the time of administration. The Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine even requires sub-zero freezing at -80℃ to -60℃, thus requiring specialized sub-zero freezers. These cold storage requirements for vaccines, while not insurmountable, do provide logistics challenges for the delivery of vaccines in rural areas of low-to-middle-income countries (LMICs). On the other hand, molnupiravir is shelf-stable, meaning its attributes allow for safe storage at room temperature. This element will make distribution much easier in LMICs with limited cold storage facilities.
  3. Ease of Administration. Even in high-income countries, there are many accounts of hospitals stretching themselves dangerously thin on resources because of aggressive surges in infections. The limited clinical capacity of LMICs means that the ideal COVID-19 therapeutic would allow for home-based patient administration instead of clinical administration. Because molnupiravir is an oral medication that is shelf-stable, it would meet this need.

Improving Production Capacity

There is some concern that ongoing COVID-19-induced supply chain disruptions could interfere with the mass global production capacity of molnupiravir should the disruptions result in inadequate supplies of the base ingredients needed for manufacture. For its part, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged $120 million to help ensure equitable distribution of molnupiravir. Part of the initiative is to fund research to look into the most efficient and streamlined manufacturing methods to maximize the production capacity of the drug. These efforts bring hope that production capacity goals will meet their mark. Only time will tell, but for many in the developing world, molnupiravir may bring COVID-19 relief before vaccines do.

– Jeramiah Jordan
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Mental Health in Norway
Mental health is a disease that affects an estimated 792 million people worldwide. Yet when people live in poverty and lack the money to attain basic needs, mental health often falls on the back burner. This is especially true in Norway. Though the country has a low poverty rate coupled with substantial efforts to improve access to and quality of mental health care, about half of all people in Norway experience a mental health disorder at some point in their life, and these numbers are rising in the wake of COVID-19.

Health Care in Norway

Norway offers universal health care coverage to all of its citizens and extends this service to all citizens from the European Union. It receives funding through general taxes and payroll contributions by employees, and provides a variety of services, with mental health being one of them. In 1956, this system, called the National Insurance Scheme, became a right for all Norway citizens. Though it ensures access to local municipalities and general practitioners, patients that require long-term or outpatient care must pay a fraction of it, making services unattainable for some poorer citizens.

How Does Economic Status Influence Mental Health?

 Mental health problems can arise in anyone, regardless of age, socioeconomic status or demographic group. The ways these disorders affect the individual vary. However, people in poverty are more susceptible, as a large factor fueling these disorders is one’s life situation. In fact, life factors like disability, unemployment, sicknesses and others drive common mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.

A study that the International Journal for Equity in Health published found “the prevalence of psychological distress increasing by decreasing social status,” and noted economic problems as a major factor of it. Life factors, like living in poverty, have proven to increase levels of mental health disorders, but so do perceived living situations. Another study, published in Science Direct, investigated Norwegian adolescents’ view of living status. It found that if people felt they were impoverished or living in a low-income household, they had higher instances of mental health disorders. This perception, it found, might even be more influential than actual living conditions.

Impact of Mental Health Disorders on Norwegians

Estimates have determined that nearly 15% of children worldwide suffer from a mental health disorder. In 2018, 16.5% of  Norwegians 15 to 24 years old reported experiencing “severe psychological distress.” Typically, mental disorders manifest as early as 14 years of age, with personality and anxiety disorders developing as early as 11 years old. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said that “without early and effective treatment and inclusion in society, young people with mental disorders risk becoming lifetime users of adult mental health services.” On top of this, instances of mental illness in children and young adults are particularly concerning since they lead to poorer education and difficulty transitioning into the workplace. Consequently, affected individuals earn lower incomes as adults if not treated properly at a young age.

Concerningly, in the last decade, Norway experienced an increase in permanent poverty among children, a factor that directly relates to mental health. Oslo, the country’s capital, has notable disparities in income throughout the city’s districts. This impacts mental health in Norway since living in city districts with high-income inequality, like in much of Oslo, lowers the probability of accessing mental health services, according to a study by Jon Finnvold of Oslo Metropolitan University. The study also highlighted that kids living in lower-income households experienced a higher risk of behavioral, or mental, problems.

What is Norway Doing to Improve Mental Health Services?

Notably, in the past few decades, there has been substantial investment in mental health services in Norway. Between 1999 and 2008, it invested NOK 6.3 billion ($735, 739, 200) into the Escalation Plan for Mental Health. This investment lowered suicide rates and helped improve services already provided by municipalities and increased access to children.

However, there are still discrepancies in access to care for mental health in Norway, largely based on socioeconomic status. Any problems Norway faced with its mental health care system only became more pronounced during the pandemic: like all countries, it saw an increase in patients requesting mental health assistance, especially in early 2020, the onset of the pandemic. A lot of these increases, as scientists speculate in a study that VOX EU published, come from the effects of lockdown and movement restrictions. Scientists are looking to policymakers, as they enforced said lockdowns, and draw on this evidence to show the harm isolation has on people’s overall mental health.

In no way do mental health problems only affect Norway; they also affect the entire world without discrimination, planting its seeds in the minds of the richest and the poorest of citizens belonging to any race, ethnicity or income level. Yet, people with lower incomes and of a minority ethnicity are particularly vulnerable to feeling the weight of these illnesses, as they have less access to services.

In Norway, the government’s universal health care system calls for equal access to all health services, including mental health, but it is just not the case. Those needing more comprehensive care still must pay a portion out of pocket, a bill that not everyone can afford to pay. Oslo specifically is home to unequal access, a direct result of the stark income discrepancies throughout the city. Norway has made substantial progress through mental health investment, but there is always a need to reach more people, to focus on the vulnerable populations to ensure they have the same opportunity for care as everyone else. There are still people not receiving care, as costs remain a barrier for those needing extensive treatment.

– Cameryn Cass
Photo: Unsplash

Vaccine Success in South Sudan
Gaining independence from the Republic of Sudan in 2011, South Sudan, “the world’s youngest nation,” now struggles with several economic, health and political challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By November 6, 2021, South Sudan reported 12,453 COVID-19 cases and 133 deaths. In particular, the country is facing several obstacles in distributing COVID-19 vaccine doses. Confronting these difficulties, South Sudanese community leaders and international organizations are stepping up to ensure vaccine success in South Sudan. These efforts showcase how a country can turn challenges and tragedies into victories and triumphs.

Logistical Challenges in Vaccine Distribution

As a land ravaged by decades of war, underdeveloped South Sudan has one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates globally, with just 0.8% of the population receiving one dose and 0.3% receiving both doses by October 15, 2021. Lacking road infrastructure significantly contributes to the nation’s low vaccination rate as much of “the country remains largely inaccessible by road.”

A country roughly “the size of France,” the nation grapples with governmental neglect, political challenges and ethnic violence, which has led to a poor infrastructure system, among other issues. Lacking road infrastructure means South Sudan must transport its vaccines by air, a very costly endeavor that makes vaccine distribution efforts in South Sudan significantly more expensive than the cost of purchasing vaccines.

These barriers to vaccine distribution have led to monumental consequences. In May 2021, COVAX donated 132,000 COVID-19 doses to South Sudan. However, these doses “went to waste” as South Sudan had no choice but to return the doses. According to CARE, “the logistics did not exist to get the doses from the capital city Juba into the arms of the South Sudanese people” before the vaccine expiry dates. These challenges exacerbate the inequality in vaccine distribution between South Sudan and other developed countries, which are already vaccinating children while administering third booster shots. Coordinating the entire procedure and timing correctly are vital factors for vaccine success in South Sudan.

Addressing Distribution Bottlenecks

In light of these vast logistical problems, South Sudan aimed to turn this situation around by the time it received its next shipment of doses in July 2021. South Sudan raced to obtain “surge funding from CARE’s Fast & Fair Campaign, South Sudan’s Health Pool Fund, UNHCR and UNICEF.” Although South Sudan did not have enough time and resources to build road infrastructure, the nation used the funding for “investing, building staff capacity, addressing staff gaps” and enhancing vaccine confidence in communities.

This helped address some of the other “distribution bottlenecks” South Sudan experienced in May 2021. As a result, South Sudan was able to administer all 60,000 vaccines from the July shipment. However, the vaccine delivery process was significantly “more expensive than what COVAX currently budgets for.” COVAX “budgets $1.41 per dose for vaccine delivery, but South Sudan had to spend about $10 per dose to successfully deliver vaccines.” These are costs that South Sudan cannot bear alone. Therefore, international support to South Sudan is essential.

These efforts continue to boost vaccine success in South Sudan, and with dedicated community leaders, the country is on track to deliver more vaccines to its people. In October 2021, South Sudan began “a new vaccination campaign” following the delivery of roughly 60,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccines from the United States. These single-dose vaccines eased the logistical burden of getting vaccines to citizens.

Aid to South Sudan

Because the vaccine distribution process in South Sudan is so costly, the nation may require “as much as $126 million for delivery alone.” These costs highlight the need for more grants and donations from international donors to ensure vaccine success in South Sudan. Despite South Sudan’s struggles in vaccination distribution, there is hope as organizations step in to support the nation. With continued support, South Sudan can dramatically increase its vaccination rate despite its standing as an underdeveloped nation.

– Tri Truong
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 and Poverty in North Korea
North Korea has not reported a single case of COVID-19. According to NPR, the government has tested only 30,000 of the country’s 25 million people for the virus and has not reported any infections. Without any data to examine, global health experts and the international community have little understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in North Korea.

Yet, North Korea’s longtime despot Kim Jong-un recently announced that the country is amidst a “Great Crisis.” Jong-un cited the government’s failure to establish appropriate pandemic measures as the principal cause of the crisis. Jong-un’s statements have raised considerable questions about the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in North Korea, questions which have largely gone unanswered.

North Korea Before the Pandemic

Before the pandemic, North Korea’s population faced significant economic hurdles. The Heritage Foundation created an Index of Economic Freedom in 1995 that analyzes a country’s levels of various economic freedoms such as government spending, labor freedom, trade freedom and others, by using a score that falls between one and 100. The Foundation then ranks the country globally and regionally using an overall score. According to the Foundation’s 2021 report, North Korea’s economy has received a classification of “repressed” and has ranked lowest in the world on the Foundation’s Index since the year it began.

North Korea’s starving population bolsters the Heritage Foundation’s findings on economic freedom. North Korea has suffered yearly food shortages for decades, and in the year leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation expected still worse food shortages than usual. Poor harvests and international sanctions battered the North Korean economy as the U.N. reported that 40% of North Koreans would need food aid and more than 10 million were in “urgent need of assistance.”

The “Hermit Kingdom’s” Response to COVID-19

Once the COVID-19 pandemic began, North Korea quickly imposed strict measures to fight it. In one of the most comprehensive and swiftest responses to COVID-19, the government sealed its borders from virtually everyone, including China, its largest trading partner.

Some believe that the government’s isolationist policies were necessary. “North Korea’s all-of-government, comprehensive approach and the repeated holding of large-scale public gatherings suggest that it may have prevented any major outbreak,” said Harvard Medical School’s Kee B. Park.

However, the coronavirus and the government’s response have only bludgeoned an already starving people. According to Radio Free Asia, starvation has caused deaths, and those who cannot receive support from family have resorted to begging. Though the number of people infected is unclear, the increasing number of starving people in an already malnourished nation shows the tremendous impact of COVID-19 on poverty in North Korea.

Despite the worsening situation, North Korea still rejected deliveries of nearly 3 million Chinese-made Sinovac vaccines and more than 2 million Astrazeneca vaccine shipments. The government has expressed concerns about the viability of the vaccines it rejected.

Signs of Progress

Though there is a dearth of information regarding the impact of COVID-19 in North Korea, there have been moments that warrant optimism. For Instance, Kim Jong-un has now acknowledged the food shortages plaguing the country and has even signed an order that may open wartime food supplies to the North Korean people. In addition, the North Korean government has started to ease its closures by accepting shipments of medical supplies including health kits and medicine from the WHO, U.N. and other agencies.

– Richard J. Vieira
Photo: Flickr