The World Bank has predicted that 70% of children in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) could face learning poverty because of COVID-19. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many children without access to technology were already at an educational disadvantage. The surge in digital learning during COVID-19 made it worse. Computers can reduce learning poverty when children in low-income communities receive them. Also, access to computers helps children develop the skills they need to succeed in school and beyond.

The “Homework Gap”

Even if students access technology during school, a lack of access outside of school hinders many. Students may be at an additional disadvantage if they live in areas without libraries, churches or other community organizations. These places have computers that students use. Without a personal computer or a local public facility that offers one, students may have a hard time studying and completing homework.

Access to computers can reduce learning poverty by bridging the gap between students who can readily complete homework and those who cannot. As digital learning becomes increasingly popular, unequal access to digital learning tools becomes a more urgent problem to address.

COVID-19’s Devastation on Technological Learning Gaps

Technological learning gaps became more damaging during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some schools taught classes online. However, others had to shut down completely due to a lack of resources and funding. The World Bank found that some schools in LMICs have been closed for up to 250 days since the pandemic began. Some are unable to reopen. As a result, hundreds of millions of children around the world have lost a full year or more of schooling.

Girls in low-income communities are at a heightened disadvantage because school closures can perpetuate inequality and poverty. Access to computers can reduce learning poverty by giving children and teachers the opportunity to continue their courses online, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the World Bank, studies in Brazil, South Africa and India concur that a month of school closure translates into a month of learning loss. These learning losses then translate into a 10% lifetime earning loss for children in countries where school closures are long.

Camara Education

Camara Education is a charity that provides computers, learning programs and teacher training to schools in Africa. The charity, founded in Ireland in 2005, receives donations of computer equipment from companies that no longer need it. Camara works with specialist partners to wipe the technology and remarket it. This raises money for refurbished computers. Then, the charity sends the refurbished computers to schools in Africa. “Hubs” of Camara staff in Africa help schools install the computer equipment and download software. They also train teachers on the technology. Camara has provided more than 3.7 million children with computer access since 2005.

Camara as a Model for Decreasing Learning Poverty

Access to computers can reduce learning poverty by closing the “homework gap.” It allows children to continue their education online until COVID-19 no longer poses health risks. Organizations like Camara Education are working to help provide low-income students with the technological resources they need to escape learning poverty. As the pandemic continues to close schools and force them to teach online, millions more children could benefit from access to digital learning resources.

– Cleo Hudson
Photo: Flickr

Mitigate Poverty in South Asia
More than 33% of people living in extreme poverty globally reside in South Asia. The poorest countries in the region, Afghanistan, Nepal and Pakistan presented GDP per capita rates of $544, $972 and $1,555. Respectively, this is a result of issues across these countries such as poor infrastructure, poor economic practices, political uncertainty and poverty. For many countries in South Asia, like India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, the COVID-19 caused millions of people to fall back into poverty. Policymakers must now reverse the increased food and commodity prices that result in economic insecurities in order to mitigate poverty in South Asia.

Pre-Pandemic Progress

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, South Asia countries made “significant progress” to help communities move out of poverty. Between 1990 and 2015, its poverty rate declined from 52% to 17%. The Asian Development Bank has projected that the trade-dependent economies of Southeast Asia will recover from the effects of the pandemic, growing to 5.1% in 2022 from 4.4% in 2021, therefore, helping to mitigate poverty in South Asia.

There are multiple reasons why South Asian countries have high levels of poverty and low GDP rates. According to The Conversation, governments do not allocate enough state resources on social development, such as education and health. In addition, “limited effectiveness” goes into delivering public services to the communities, such as health and education, or implementing policies to reduce poverty.

Further, government investment to improve public services, such as making tax systems more efficient and increasing vaccine availability in local health services, would improve the nation’s economy and help mitigate poverty levels. Countries with higher levels of state capacity have done relatively better to control the spread of COVID-19 and reduce mortality rates.

The World Bank Strategy

Now, the “impressive” reduction in poverty can connect to South Asia’s growing economy, as it is the world’s second-fastest-growing economy. According to the U.N. Chronicle, “India, Bangladesh and Nepal lowered their poverty rates by 7%, 9% and 11%” in the 1990s. India is South Asia’s largest economy and could grow by 8.3% in the 2021-2022 fiscal year with aid from public investment and incentives to boost manufacturing.

International organizations aided South Asia nations during the pandemic. They ensured the nations were able to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 and limit the number of people vulnerable to poverty. For example, the World Bank focused on promoting inclusive and sustainable growth, investing in people and strengthening resilience in South Asia.

The World Bank also provided $922 million to purchase and deploy COVID-19 vaccines in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In Pakistan, the World Bank supported efforts to implement nutrition-sensitive cash transfers for the most vulnerable populations and policy actions to help put children back in school. Meanwhile, a COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health System Preparedness Project is working on multiple projects, including equipping hospitals as pandemic response centers in Sri Lanka.

Additionally, in Nepal, the World Bank focused on the agriculture sector by allocating $80 million to strengthen rural market linkages and promote entrepreneurship. International efforts are a vital resource to help mitigate poverty in South Asia.

If policymakers allocate resources toward programs that help sustain their growing economy and mitigate the negative results of COVID-19, South Asia communities could have a better chance of avoiding poverty.

– Makena Roberts
Photo: Flickr


From November 29 to December 1, 2021, the Philippines vaccinated 7.6 million people in three days. This was part of a mass vaccination campaign called “Bayanihan, Bakunahan.” The intense Philippines vaccination drive exceeded expectations by about 200,000 vaccines. A second wave of the “Bayanihan Bakunahan” campaign ran later in December.

According to Our World in Data, the Philippines lags behind the global average for the vaccinated population. However, the Philippines vaccination drive shows a stark improvement from the beginning of the year.  At that time, vaccines were scarcely available. The government hopes to have 77 million fully vaccinated. Filipinos by the end of the first quarter of 2022. Here are some facts about the Philippine’s mass vaccination program.

The Philippine’s Mass Vaccination Program

  1. COVID-19 Vaccines: The Philippines has approved eight COVID-19 vaccines for usage. The vaccines include Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Vaccines from other countries include China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm, Russia’s Sputnik V, the United Kingdom’s AstraZeneca and India’s Bharat BioTech. The vaccines range in efficacy from 51% to 95%, but the Philippine government encourages vaccination by any brand despite variance in efficacy. The vaccine variety helps ensure there is vaccine availability in the case of delayed shipments or shortages. The Philippine government purchased most of these doses from their respective producers. It also received more than 53 million doses through the COVAX initiative.
  2. Vaccine Access: There was easy access to vaccination due to 8,000 vaccination centers being open across the Philippines. Even during Typhoon Odette, which hit during the Philippines vaccination drive, the Department of Health vaccinated millions of people. To hit the government target of fully vaccinating 77 million Filipinos by the end of March 2022,  local vaccination centers have extended their hours to remain open on weekends.
  3. Vaccine Hesitancy: Vaccine hesitancy has been decreasing in the Philippines. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Filipinos have been concerned about the safety of the vaccine due to a controversy over the government rollout of a dengue vaccine in 2017. With time, seeing that adverse reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine are very rare, people are becoming willing to get vaccinated.

Lagging Vaccination During Philippines Vaccination Drive

Vaccination rates in the Philippines still lag behind the rest of the world. The pandemic pushed millions of Filipinos into poverty. The Philippines Statistics Authority reported 3.9 million more people living in poverty since 2018. Some blame the pandemic lockdowns. These reduced economic demands and therefore jobs. However, as a result of the Philippines vaccination drive, cases have been dropping so the government has been able to ease restrictions. While the Omicron variant may disrupt this progress, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has encouraged vaccination as the best protection against illness and death from COVID-19.

Expanding Vaccination Access

One next step for the Philippines is to expand vaccination across all population groups.  Another step is to begin providing booster shots to the fully vaccinated. On December 22, the Philippines approved the Pfizer vaccine to vaccinate children aged 5-11. The government also recently shortened the interval between the second and third doses, which will allow people to receive a booster dose after three months.

The Philippines vaccination drive has increased interest in vaccination. This interest has kept many temporary vaccination sites opened during the drive stay open. With President Duterte’s adamant pleas for Filipinos to get vaccinated, similar vaccination drives will likely take place again and inch the country closer to herd immunity.

– Emma Tkacz
Photo: Flickr

The Weeknd’s Charitable Work
Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd to R&B fanatics, is one of the world’s most well-known musicians. However, his passion extends far beyond his love songs. The Weeknd’s charitable work positions him as a humanitarian celebrity as he uses his celebrity platform to help those in need.

The Weeknd’s Biography

The Weeknd was born in Toronto, Canada, to parents who are immigrants from Ethiopia. The musician grew up in Scarborough, Canada, where “the working poverty rate” stands at roughly 10% and 13% of the population is non-working poor. These circumstances of poverty prompted The Weeknd to take action to reduce poverty in the area and beyond.

5 Facts About The Weeknd’s Charitable Work

  1. Supporting Scarborough with COVID-19 relief. Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, The Weeknd began donating profits from the sales of his popular range of face masks, which carry an “XO” label, matching every dollar for COVID-19 relief in Scarborough. In June 2020, the popular singer and songwriter donated $500,000 CAD to the Scarborough Health Network Foundation to provide COVID-19 relief to his hometown. The Scarborough Health Network Foundation began in 1977. It works with volunteers and members of the Scarborough community to build infrastructure and purchase medical technology. This is especially important during the COVID-19  pandemic as hospitals work to fight off the virus. Since implementing a COVID-19 Emergency Fund, the Foundation has raised more than $3 million for COVID-19 relief.
  2. Supporting Musicians During COVID-19. The Weeknd donated $500,000 to MusiCares, a charity that supports musicians with programs to “address financial, medical and personal health issues.” The charity created a COVID-19 Relief Fund to support musicians facing the impacts of COVID-19 and “the cancellation of multiple music events” due to social distancing protocols. The relief fund has provided more than $13 million worth of assistance to about 14,000 people in the music industry.
  3. Providing Food Aid to Tigray. An “ongoing conflict between the government” and the people of the Tigray Region within Ethiopia prompted The Weeknd to give back to his parent’s home country. The conflict arose in November of 2020 after the Ethiopian Prime Minister “ordered a military offensive against regional forces in Tigray” after “an attack on a military base,” home to government troops. The conflict led to thousands of deaths and more than 2 million displacements. A June 2021 article on GlobalGiving indicates that Ethiopia’s Tigray Region now faces the most severe food crisis in 10 years as more than 350,000 people endure “severe famine conditions.” Soldiers within the region “are accused of blocking food aid and stopping farmers from harvesting, plowing or planting” while “killing livestock and looting farm equipment.” Feeling a personal connection to Ethiopia, in April 2021, The Weeknd vowed to donate $1 million through the United Nations World Food Program U.S.A., which would ultimately provide 2 million meals for the people in this region.
  4. Supporting Ethiopic Studies. In 2016, The Weeknd made a donation of $50,000 to the University of Toronto’s Ethiopic studies program. This program commits to helping those of Ethiopian descent with academic, personal and professional achievements. The program works to teach the ancient Ethiopic language of Ge’ez to students in hopes of decoding “excerpts of history” that are rarely understood. The musician also made a donation of $30,000 to the program in 2020.
  5. Assisting Beirut, Lebanon. On August 4, 2020, an explosion in Lebanon’s capital of Beirut led to the deaths of more than 200 people while destroying a majority of the city. In response to his Lebanon-born manager’s call for aid to Lebanon, in August 2020, The Weeknd made a donation of $300,000 to the Global Aid for Lebanon fund which his manager created. The funds went toward supporting “the Red Cross Lebanon, the Children’s Cancer Center of Lebanon and the United Nations World Food Programme.”

Descending from parents who immigrated from Ethiopia to Canada jumpstarted The Weeknd’s strong passion for helping people in Ethiopia, Canada and beyond. His desire to provide people with entertaining music has made him into a household name throughout the United States, but his ability to influence does not end with just that. Through donations and a commitment to use social media to raise awareness of global issues, The Weeknd’s charitable work makes him a rockstar, both on and off stage.

– Nia Hinson
Photo: Flickr

Digital Healthcare in Ethiopia
Ethiopia is a land-locked country located on the eastern side of the African continent, making up the greater part of the distinctive “Horn of Africa.” It is home to one of the fastest-growing populations in the world, increasing by around 2.5% annually. Ethiopia’s manual, primarily paper-based health care system has proven to be ill-equipped and ineffective at efficiently providing for citizens. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic made the inadequacy of the country’s current system even more apparent. It propelled the development and expansion of digital health care in Ethiopia.

The Need for Digital Health Care

As of 2020, the World Bank still classifies Ethiopia as a low-income country (LCI). Nearly half of the country’s population lives below the international poverty line. More than 18% were in need of humanitarian assistance in 2021. This is a result of the pandemic among other recent hardships, including drought and internal conflict.

The current life expectancy in Ethiopia is 66.24 years at birth, well below the world average of 72.6 years. This is largely due to the “severe underfunding of the health sector,” resulting in an inadequate number of existing health institutions, the inefficient delivery of medical supplies and great challenges when it comes to extending much-needed health services to those living in pastoral areas.

With 79% of Ethiopians residing in rural lands, this is a huge problem. Furthermore, greater than 50% of the population must walk more than 6 miles to reach the nearest health facility, according to the JDC study. This means that many Ethiopians go untreated for conditions such as malaria, tuberculosis, meningitis and COVID-19. The expansion of digital health care in Ethiopia will help mitigate disparities between rural and urban areas. It could extend the reach of health care providers to those in need.

The United States’ Role

In December 2019, just before the onset of the pandemic, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) partnered with Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health. It invested $63 million in Ethiopia’s health sector. The project launched in Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa, with the name “Digital Health Activity” or DHA.

The Digital Health Activity aims to modernize Ethiopia’s health information systems in the following ways:

  1. Consolidating patient medical information by transitioning from paper-based records to an electronic medical record (EMR) system.
  2. Training both policymakers and health care providers in the utilization of technology to better reach rural Ethiopians in need of health care.
  3. Partnering with local universities to develop courses in innovative health and inspire young Ethiopians to choose career paths in the health sector.
  4. Creating a digital COVID-19 surveillance system that allows for better contact tracing and expedited test results.
  5. Supporting the development of the Digital Health Innovation and Learning Center in Addis Ababa to encourage the continued modernization of Ethiopia’s existing Health Information Systems.

By the end of its first year, the DHA had already made great progress. Its first annual report showed that the DHA provided supervised assistance to more than 3,000 health facilities.

It trained 1,100 health care professionals in open-source software to better collect and manage health data. The DHA also created an online ordering system. This allows health facilities to process orders more efficiently and provide medications to patients in a more timely manner.

Digital Health Care and COVID-19

The Digital Health Innovation and Learning Center (DHILC) experienced its inauguration as the first of its kind in August 2020 in Addis Ababa. The Ministry of Health funded the center in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It serves a variety of purposes, including the development and testing of new digital applications. This will help revolutionize health care in Ethiopia as well as the establishment of a call center to offer remote support to users.

The prediction is that the DHILC would solve approximately “85% of users’ minor health information system-related problems.” It has been crucial in the testing and development of applications related to COVID-19.

There are now several apps that aid in the management of COVID-19 in Ethiopia. This includes a toll-free recording app that has provided accurate and reliable COVID-19 health information. Various applications work to educate patients on COVID-19, screen travelers for the virus and deliver timely test results. They provide contact tracing services and help manage the spread of the virus in Ethiopia.

The development of digital health care in Ethiopia was long overdue. But thanks to the innovative efforts of the Ministry of Health and USAID, citizens who once struggled to obtain access to quality health care can now access it remotely.

By providing more accurate information and up-to-date training for professionals, this new age of digital care has the potential to raise Ethiopia from low to middle-income status. It could improve the health and well-being of citizens in every area of the country.

– Hannah Gage
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in the United Kingdom
In April 2021, psychiatrists warned that the United Kingdom may be in the depths of a mental health crisis. The number of people seeking help for issues such as anxiety and depression climbed to record numbers in 2020. In fact, these numbers were so high that the National Health Service (NHS) struggled to meet the demand for mental health services. Affirming this in October 2021, Somerset, a mental health organization, said that the U.K. is facing a “mental health pandemic.”

4 Facts About Mental Health in the United Kingdom

  1. COVID-19 significantly impacts mental health in the United Kingdom. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported in October 2021, that at the height of the pandemic, 21% of adults in Great Britain suffered depression. This is an uptick from the pre-pandemic level of 10%. Furthermore, nearly 75% of these adults reporting symptoms of depression attribute those symptoms to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. Mental illness is on the rise among the youth. The U.K. Children’s Society indicates that “in the last three years, the likelihood of young people having a mental health problem” has risen by 50%. Exacerbating these issues further, about 75% of youth suffering from mental health issues do not receive the mental health assistance they require. Dr. Santiago Nieto, a general practitioner who works at Northampton’s County Surgery, told the BBC in November 2021 that “there is far more anxiety, more depression, more cases of suicide or attempted suicide and more serious self-harm.”
  3. Geography matters in the case of mental health in the U.K. Research shows that mental health issues are more common in certain areas within the U.K. For example, the Health and Social Care Board finds that mental diseases such as anxiety and depression are more prevalent “in children and young people in Northern Ireland” in comparison to other areas of the U.K. This survey is the first of its kind, and though it is unclear why this disparity exists, researchers find that an array of factors contribute to the rising levels of depression, including “family trauma, adversity, poor health and disability.” Furthermore, according to the ONS, “adults living in the most deprived areas of England” are twice as likely to experience depression as those living “in the least deprived areas of England.”
  4. Unemployment strongly affects mental health. According to the ONS, adults facing unemployment are 50% more susceptible to depression than employed adults. Noting a situation prompting further inquiry, The Health Foundation released a report in April 2021 examining the relationship between mental health and unemployment, especially amid COVID-19. The report finds that “the relationship between mental health and unemployment in the U.K. is bi-directional,” meaning that strong mental health can help an individual secure a job and losing a job can damage mental health. The report estimates that the rising unemployment rate in the U.K. will worsen the mental health of “an additional 200,000 people” by the end of 2021.

NHS to the Rescue

Despite the challenges of mental health in the United Kingdom, there is a strong apparatus in place to address the challenge. In 2008, the NHS introduced the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) program, which has since become one of the most recognized mental health programs in the world. The IAPT utilizes talk therapies to treat people with anxiety and depression in England. Due to its success, the NHS is expanding the program. New goals aim to reach nearly 2 million adults with IAPT services by 2024. Program expansion will also focus on “supporting people to find or stay in work” amid rising unemployment.

COVID-19, rising unemployment, growing depression and anxiety rates among the youth as well as unequal access to care presents a complicated problem for the United Kingdom, which will require creative solutions. However, the nation remains steadfast in its commitment to improving mental health in the United Kingdom with the support of the NHS and countless organizations.

– Richard J. Vieira
Photo: Unsplash

The Maasai
When the COVID-19 pandemic decimated Kenya’s tourism industry and forced the closures of livestock markets, food insecurity became a reality for many of the Maasai people. Here is information about how the Maasai of Kenya are facing hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Heart of Kenya’s Tourist Industry

Traditionally, the Maasai people’s pastoral life meant there was no need for the modernities of money. Cattle stood as a source of both food and currency, with Maasai livelihoods depending exclusively on the tribe’s “cattle economy.” However, as prolonged droughts ravage grazing lands and privatization and wildlife conservation lead to the displacement of the Maasai, the tribe has had to supplement its semi-nomadic lifestyle with income from tourists: selling souvenirs, conducting safaris and guiding tours of Maasai villages.

Visitors travel to Kenya from all over the world to witness Africa’s wild animals, and when it comes to spectacles, the Maasai of Kenya have an advantage. The majority of tourists flock to the Maasai Mara National Park to witness a yearly phenomenon known as the Great Migration — the largest animal migration on earth. Although much of the migration takes place from the Serengeti in Tanzania, the most sought-after scene for nature enthusiasts occurs when the animals cross the crocodile-populated Mara River into Kenya.

Severe Weather and COVID-19 Create a Food Crisis

Prior to 2020, tourism accounted for 10% of Kenya’s economy, employing more than 2 million citizens, many of whom “lost their jobs due to the pandemic.” In March 2020, after Kenya’s first report of COVID-19, President Kenyatta canceled “all international flights scheduled to enter the country,” allowing access only to Kenyans or foreigners with permanent residency. Although the government’s efforts proved crucial in preventing the spread of the virus at the time, the result was an 80% plunge in Kenya’s tourism during 2020, causing an economic loss of more than $1 billion.

Exacerbating circumstances further, flash flooding in April 2020 and severe hailstorms in September 2020 followed the collapse of tourism. The deadly storm patterns led to severe crop destruction, damaging homes throughout southern and eastern Kenya, including Narok county, home to the Maasai Mara National Park.

Despite standing as a hub for Kenya’s tourism, Narok county has an absolute poverty rate of 33.7%, with 12% of the population enduring food insecurity and 32.9% of children experiencing stunting. During the pandemic, when government mandates included the closures of livestock markets and the Maasai lost all income from tourists, hunger became a reality for many of the Maasai who also could not afford to purchase hygiene products such as soaps and hand sanitizers.

Nashulai Maasai Conservancy Supports the Maasai

The Nashulai Maasai Conservancy protects 5,000 acres of critical habitat and is the only conservancy that the Massai people entirely govern and run. During the COVID-19 pandemic, residents of Nashulai organized a crowdfunding plan and sought the help of Avaaz, an international advocacy campaign that promotes community-organized humanitarian movements.

The campaign mobilized 100,000 people who helped to pay ranger salaries and secure sanitation, medical supplies and food for communities living within the conservancy. Recognizing a need to reduce the Maasai’s reliance on tourism, Nashulai also began training people in farming, beekeeping and making hygiene products such as soaps and sanitary pads to sell at local markets.

The Maa Trust

The Maa Trust is a nonprofit organization that partners with nature conservancies in the Maasai Mara region to “increase the benefits of wildlife conservation to Maasai families.” The organization promotes sustainable businesses for Maasai women, such as jewelry-making and honey production. The organization also supports conservation education, builds schools and invests in clean drinking water, solar energy and alternatives to using firewood as fuel.

In April 2020, The Maa Trust partnered with the Mara Elephant Project to distribute food donations from the Sidekick Foundation to 637 Maasai families “in the Talek and Pardamat regions of the Maasai Mara.” The Sidekick Foundation is an international force that works both on the ground and politically to combat poaching, collaborating with organizations such as The Maa Trust and the Mara Elephant Project to protect elephants and aid local humanitarian efforts.

The Rotary Club of Nome Assists

In November 2021, the Rotary Club of Nome, Alaska, worked with local contacts in Narok, Kenya, to provide a month of food security to 450 residents in the Maasai village of Nkorkorri. The project to assist Nkorkorri village stands as part of the Rotary Club of Nome’s 75-year commitment to humanitarianism. The Rotary Club of Nome is part of a worldwide network of more than 1.4 million Rotarians who work together to reduce poverty, fight diseases, support local economies and protect the environment.  In an interview with The Borgen Project, club member Marcy O’Neil says that Nome Rotarians hope to turn this emergency donation into a long-term program.

Although tourism has helped the Maasai survive in a challenging economic landscape, the industry’s fall during the COVID-19-pandemic put a spotlight on the tribe’s increasing vulnerability. As a result, organizations are answering the call for help. Whether the support comes from near or far, ongoing efforts to assist the Maasai are crucial to ensure the tribe’s ability to survive while maintaining traditional values.

– Jenny Rice
Photo: Flickr

covid-19s-impact-on-uganda-and-what-other-countries-are-doing-about-it
With more than 126,000 cumulative cases overall, the coronavirus is spreading fast through Uganda. As a result, the East African country is exhausting its health and safety resources, impacting the livelihood of its people. However, hope may be on the horizon thanks to the U.S. embassy. One of its newest missions invites a roster of vendors to supply high-quality medical equipment to Kampala, the Ugandan capital, as a means of alleviating COVID-19’s impact on Uganda.

The Way COVID-19 Intensified Poverty in Uganda

An international psychogeriatric study interviewed dozens of older Ugandan adults in an effort to capture their post-COVID-19 struggles. Its analysis describes five overarching themes: economic impacts, lack of access to basic necessities, impact on health care utilization, social impacts and violent reinforcement of public health restrictions.

During the pandemic’s first eight weeks, 1.9 million Ugandans fell into poverty, increasing that rate by nearly 16%. Some would resort to self-started businesses in times of economic hardship, but this is no longer an option for many Ugandans due to heavy health restrictions.

“I used to work for myself,” one 82-year-old Ugandan told researchers backed by the University of Liverpool and the National Institute for Health Research Applied Research Collaboration North West Coast in December 2020.

“I could eat and drink because I used to make roasted g-nuts and I sell them in this area. But when (the coronavirus) came, there is no moving. People have no money.”

An estimated 60% of informal business owners lost their livelihoods in the first eight weeks of the pandemic, all while the overall unemployment rate in Uganda increased from 1.8% in 2019 to 2.4% in 2020.

The inability of older Ugandans to commute or work because of the heavy health regulations and curfews is pushing younger generations to stay home and take care of their elders. Many of the older adults participating in the Liverpool study stated they were no longer able to pay their grandchildren’s school fees.

Some 15 million Ugandan learners — and 600,000 refugee learners — are currently out of school, according to the country’s education ministry. Since learning serves as a ticket out of poverty for many Ugandan youth, poor access to that and health care have resulted in children possibly lacking vital elements to construct any sort of livable circumstance.

A Struggling Health Care System

Uganda has a dozen post-graduate medical colleges and 29 nursing schools. Even so, there remains a shortage of health care workers and tools.

One of COVID-19’s impacts on Uganda is that it is experiencing an influx of patients. As a result, Ugandan doctors have been turning to Indian laboratories, sending patients abroad and violating health and travel restrictions. Ugandan health experts assert that poor government investments in health care are the reason for hospital inadequacies. For example, the medical sector represented only 5% of national spending in Uganda during the first full fiscal year of the pandemic compared with about 8% the year before. That decrease is due to a 90% decline in on-budget external financing for health care—from $332 million to just under $28 million.

The deadly mix of COVID-19 and economic instability has left an impact via a “domino effect” of multiple large-scale problems. Wealthier countries with greater ability to mitigate the virus can salvage key economic sectors like income, transportation and other aspects of poverty. Thus, a crucial step in relieving the medley of issues Uganda is experiencing may be to address the root of it all — the coronavirus. This could lead to the lifting of public health restrictions, allowing businesses to recover. The first step in this direction could involve making health care more accessible.

New Tools for Ugandan Health Care

The embassy issued equipment and supply requests at the beginning of November 2021 to alleviate COVID-19’s impact on Uganda, allowing U.S. companies to bid on and deliver easy-to-use, cutting-edge items ranging from integrated wall systems — that include vital equipment like blood pressure cuffs, devices that check ears and thermometers — to laryngoscopes, which can examine a patient’s larynx. Just days after these requests, Uganda mission director Richard Nelson kickstarted the process by donating more than $2 million worth of safety necessities.

Another useful procurement is COVAX, a global initiative working to supply vaccines. COVAX raised more than $2 billion, ultimately distributing some 700 million vaccine doses worldwide. However, Uganda only administered eight vaccines shots for every 100 people as of April 2021. With COVAX, Uganda is guaranteed 3 million new doses by spring, already collecting some 196,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in October 2021.

However, this is not enough to ensure herd immunity — what public health experts say could be necessary to stop the spread of the coronavirus overall. To seal such gaps, 49 countries and 51 organizations are donating to COVAX, with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledging more than $200 million. TikTok, Google and the Coca-Cola Co. are some of the other significant names making donations. A German business delegation that H.E. Matthias Schauer led said it was directly donating 5.5 million new Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses in early November 2021.

COVID-19 has deeply impacted Ugandan businesses and stripped the livelihoods of young and old alike. However, the U.S. is helping reduce COVID-19’s impact on Uganda through a foreign aid program, especially as the pandemic’s mortality rate continues to grow.

Fidelia Gavrilenko
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19’s Impact on Ireland
After introducing one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, Ireland ranked first on Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking in September 2021. According to the Financial Post, “Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking scores the largest 53 economies on their success at containing the virus with the least amount of social and economic disruption.” Ireland’s high vaccination rates and economic plans likely contribute to it securing the first-place ranking. By September 10, 2021, 90% of Ireland’s adult population was fully vaccinated. However, as Ireland slowly eases its restrictions, there are concerns that COVID-19’s impact on Ireland may be lasting.

COVID-19’s Far-Reaching Impact

By November 27, 2021, Ireland reported more than 556,000 COVID-19 cases and 5,652 deaths. However, the death toll is not the only measurement of COVID-19’s impact on Ireland. As the government attempts to combat the pandemic, there is evidence that COVID-19 also impacts Ireland in several other ways:

  1. High unemployment rates plague Ireland. In 2020, the unemployment rate in Ireland reached an all-time high of 31.5%. However, despite COVID-19’s impact on Ireland last year, unemployment has dropped to 7.9% in October 2021. Ireland’s Finance Ministry estimates that the rate will reduce further to 7.2% in 2022.
  2. COVID-19 harshly impacts certain industries. Across the world, the tourism and hospitality sectors faced the most severe impacts of COVID-19. Border closures, travel restrictions and limitations on gatherings significantly impact these sectors. According to the Northern Ireland Hotel Federation, in April 2020, about 90% of hotel staff in Northern Ireland were “furloughed or laid off.”
  3. COVID-19 impacts education in Ireland. In September 2021, Irish schools noted a high absence of school children due to an uptick in COVID-19 cases. In the second week of September alone, 12,000 children in Ireland missed school because of close contact with COVID-19 positive individuals. One official describes the school system as “overwhelmed,” prompting the Northern Ireland Assembly to schedule an urgent meeting to address the situation.
  4. Ireland’s health care system is under pressure. A sudden surge in COVID-19 cases has led to absent health care workers. In October 2021, approximately 2,700 infected health workers did not attend work due to COVID-19. The decreasing staff numbers in hospitals has major consequences. Hospitals across Ireland had to cancel more than 400 medical procedures in October 2021 due to staff shortages.

A Hopeful Look to the Future

Despite COVID-19’s Impact on Ireland, hope is on the horizon. In June 2021, the Irish government revealed its National Economic Recovery Plan. The plan commits €3.6 billion to assist employees and businesses enduring the harsh impacts of COVID-19. The plan also involves “a phased ending to pandemic unemployment payments, property tax increases for some and an emphasis on the green economy.”

One of the plan’s most salient features is its attempt to combat the unemployment rate. The plan extends the Public Employment service, increasing its caseload by 100,000 per year. The strategy also supports the upskilling and reskilling of the labor force. The plan also seeks to increase incentives for recruiting unemployed youth.

In October 2021, the Irish unemployment rate fell to a level of 10%, which is the nation’s lowest rate since the inception of the pandemic. The represents a sharp decline from not just the previous month’s 12.4% unemployment rate but also the 31% all-time high from the previous year. In addition, the youth unemployment rate is falling and the Central Bank predicts that Ireland’s recovery plan could create 160,000 jobs before the end of 2023.

– Richard J. Vieira
Photo: Flickr

infectious-diseases-impacting-malaysia-during-covid-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has diverted the world’s attention from the spread of other infectious diseases across the globe. However, the battle of the Malaysian government against other infectious diseases has never stopped. According to Health Minister Dr. Adham Baba, despite the pandemic, efforts to prevent and control the spread of infectious diseases in Malaysia are still ongoing. In fact, as of March 2020, the government has updated The Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases (Measures within the Infected Local Areas) Regulations to better coordinate the measures it was implementing between controlling the COVID-19 pandemic and the transmission of other infectious diseases in Malaysia. Here is information about three infectious diseases impacting Malaysia as well as how the country is dealing with them.

Dengue Fever

Dengue fever has existed in Malaysia since 1902 when reports of the first case emerged. The bite of infectious mosquitoes spreads dengue fever, resulting in it affecting a large fraction of the population in Malaysia. Most affected are those living in impoverished areas because they have an abundance of stagnant water bodies that are ideal for the breeding of Aedes mosquitoes.

Surprisingly though, from January to August 2021, the Malaysian government reported only a total of 16,565 dengue cases as compared to the 63,988 cases in 2020. With an approximately 94% decrease in the total number of dengue cases across the nation, the government is optimistic about continuing and committing to the current effective measures, maintaining overall cleanliness in residential areas as well as public spaces with frequent mosquito fogging operations.

Tuberculosis (TB)

Tuberculosis (TB) is an air-borne infection affecting the lungs. Like dengue, it is also one of the most common infectious diseases primarily impacting those living under the strain of poverty in Malaysia. Overcrowded and poorly ventilated residential areas facilitate TB in low-cost flats all around Malaysia. On average, the number of cases documented throughout the nation has fluctuated and varied in its trend but up to 2019, around 92 in 100, 000 people have been diagnosed in Malaysia.

In Selangor alone, more than 3,500 cases have also been reported in 2020, making it essential for public awareness programs and governmental allocations to be implemented to mitigate the spread of this infectious disease in Malaysia. At the moment, the Malaysian Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis (MAPTB) is diligent in its efforts to educate the public on TB prevention and provide financial aids to diagnose and treat individuals from higher-risk groups. MAPTB is gradually making progress in educating the public about proper prevention methods and ultimately controlling the spread of TB in the country. Its plan is to do this through various online forums, conferences, newsletters and collaborations with Malaysian NGOs.

Hepatitis B

The Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is most commonly transmitted through infected blood products and unprotected sex. Affecting more than 1 million people nationwide, Hepatitis B causes acute and chronic liver infections particularly in male adults between the age of 30 to 49. In rural areas with little to no access to health care, the adverse environmental conditions and lack of proper treatment among the infected are exacerbating the infection rate of HBV.

With the hopes of eradicating the threat this infectious disease poses to the country, the Malaysian government has been proactively working toward a strategic and sustainable plan to combat the spread of HBV in Malaysia via the National Strategic Plan for Hepatitis B and C (NSPHBC) to strengthen national policies regarding prevention measures, control of transmission and the diagnosis, treatment and care of patients with the virus. By 2030, the government hopes to reduce the number of new viral hepatitis cases in Malaysia by 90% with proper diagnoses and treatment methods. This includes encompassing free HBV vaccination programs as well as mandated education for children and teenagers throughout the nation.

Solutions for Infectious Diseases Impacting Malaysia

In partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), Malaysia used to receive generous financial support from countries like Japan, Denmark and Germany up until 1998. However, the country is receiving little to no direct aid to the health sector since 2000. In regards to professional and technical development, WHO remains active in providing medical fellowships and training to health care workers in Malaysia. It is also contributing invaluable advice on disease control and specialized support for disease outbreaks in the country.

Various local NGOs such as the Consumers’ Association of Penang are also supportive in their efforts to fund novel research projects aiming to create new solutions that could mitigate the spread of infectious diseases across the country better than existing strategies.

The Future

All things considered, the Malaysian government is slowly gaining a foothold in the uphill battle of preventing and controlling the spread of infectious diseases in the country. While the future remains unknown, the Ministry of Health is resilient in its implementation of more sustainable health care policies. It is also working on the development of systems to aid in the recovery of the COVID-19 pandemic in Malaysia.

With the help of WHO and several significant NGOs across the nation, it is only a matter of time before Malaysia can truly gain control over the spread of infectious diseases. The country should effectively manage diseases’ effects on the country’s politics and the economy as a whole.

Low Xin Yi
Photo: Unsplash