Mental Health in SloveniaSlovenia has made notable efforts to alleviate mental health difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is especially remarkable considering the Slovenian government’s substantial battle in improving mental health in Slovenia over the past two decades.

Mental Health in Slovenia

In 2006, an HBSC survey provided some insight into the extent to which the population was coping with mental health difficulties. Notably, of girls aged 11-15, “only 39% estimated their mental health as excellent” while the percentage among boys of the same age was higher at 53%. Additionally concerning is that 16% of girls and 12% of boys surveyed expressed dissatisfaction with their lives. A more recent WHO-conducted Mental Health Atlas Country Profile report also sparks concerns as the WHO official estimate of Slovenia’s burden of mental disorders in 2014 is noteworthy. Particularly concerning is the fact that the figure of disability-adjusted life years due to mental disorders was 4.3 years and the age-standardized suicide rate was 12.4 suicides per 100,000 people.

Connection to Poverty

Slovenia’s fight to improve its population’s mental health cannot be disconnected from the issue of poverty, especially when it comes to mental health among adolescents. The evidence that best demonstrates this link to poverty comes from a 2014 mental health inequalities study. The principal finding was that adolescents in lower socioeconomic standings display poorer mental health outcomes than those in higher socioeconomic positions.

The study also demonstrates that the connection to poverty goes further, with results showing that the adolescent perception of an impoverished familial financial position will both decrease their “life satisfaction” and increase the risk of the adolescent enduring mental health problems. These extensive facts and figures demonstrate that mental health in Slovenia also constitutes a poverty issue and is representative of the byproducts of wealth inequalities.

Slovenia’s Past Mental Health Efforts

During the past two decades prior to the pandemic, Slovenia’s government progressively increased its commitment to addressing mental health in Slovenia with several services from newly formed institutions and programs. One of the nation’s key initiatives was outlining principal aims to strive for in its Programme for Children and Youth 2006-2016, which included ensuring children and young adults live a healthy life.

This involved not only improving the mental health of those targeted but also improving their financial and nutritional stability. Another massive initiative launched was a significant extension of the Slovene Network of Health Promoting Schools (SNHPS) in 1998 and 2008 to include more than 130 schools. The strategy aimed to promote health at schools in a more holistic manner and place greater emphasis on mental health. In addition, in recent years, the number of mental health-related seminars in school settings has also increased.

But, the country’s most notable act addressing mental health was the establishment in 2002 of health promotion centers (HPCs) within all of the country’s 61 primary healthcare centers. These HPCs function as the first-contact providers of mental health promotion services to the country’s population, especially the most marginalized and vulnerable communities.

Current Services and Solutions

Amid a global health pandemic with devastating effects on mental health in Slovenia, the Slovenian government is doing commendably in weathering the storm. At the height of the pandemic, 43 HPCs reported almost 1,500 telephonic calls between March 16 and May 24, 2020, with 67.4% of these calls stemming from “the psychological impact” of COVID-19. These statistics highlight the extent to which the pandemic exacerbated mental health conditions in the country.

Additionally, as the majority of the calls came from families and individuals with low incomes,  it is clear that the pandemic disproportionately impacts the impoverished. The brilliant work of HPCs, however, proved instrumental in minimizing the damage. Due to their phenomenal support, by the end of May 2020, calls to HPCs declined to a tenth of the number of calls made during the height of the pandemic two months before.

Another group that has done exceptional work in mitigating the country’s mental health difficulties during the pandemic is the Community Health Centre (CHC) Ljubljana. The WHO has praised CHC Ljubljana for its provision of strong primary mental health support during the pandemic, while also conducting research and development to ensure similar quality care is given long-term after the pandemic’s end. The CHC’s efforts include marginalized communities that are often overlooked in emergency relief efforts.

Overall, Slovenia is making significant efforts to address mental health afflictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the aim of improving mental health in Slovenia as a whole.

– Gabriel Sylvan
Photo: Flickr

Decreasing Poverty

With all the bad news about the pandemic over the past eighteen months, it’s easy to get dispirited about the future of the world. And indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many to slide into poverty across the globe. However, over the past half-century, the world has achieved miracles in decreasing poverty. The pandemic’s setbacks come nowhere near to erasing the progress of past years.

Examining the Larger Context

The World Bank recently estimated the COVID-19 could push as many as 150 million people into extreme poverty. This means that the current situation would force millions more to live on less than $1.90 a day. This is an enormous shift to fight, acknowledge and remain aware of. Yet, even that number pales in a larger context to the amount the world has achieved in reducing extreme poverty.

In 1981, 41% of most of the developing world’s population lived in extreme poverty. Over the last four decades, an incredible international effort has reduced that number to 25% in 2008. On average, millions upon millions rose out of poverty because of annual global efforts focused on decreasing poverty. A similar trend is visible in literacy rates since literacy and education are one of the best ways to reduce extreme poverty. Due to the pandemic, school closure and slashed budgets, an estimated 100 million more children may be unable to achieve sufficient skills in reading.

Paradoxically, global literacy has never been higher. Two centuries ago, global illiteracy rates hovered around 90%. By 1970, world literacy stood at almost 70%. Today, thanks to even more steady improvement, literacy is almost 90%. The worrying effects of the pandemic remain priorities, but the hundreds of millions lifted out of illiteracy, even in only a few decades, cannot be obscured.

Perception and Action

Despite positive trends, public perception remains negative. A 2017 survey found that a majority of Americans believe that worldwide extreme poverty rates have increased over the past twenty years. Perhaps news coverage and dismal portrayals of the situation overall have contributed to this perception. Furthermore, COVID-19 has led more people to believe that poverty is growing more desperate, but in reality, the pandemic stands as one tiny step back in a marathon of progress.

How has the world achieved such an impressive reduction in extreme poverty in just a few short decades? Though complex, part of the answer centers on the fact that much recent economic growth has taken place in populous, less-developed countries, such as China and India. These countries deserve much credit for progress in reducing poverty, yet wealthy countries like the United States have also helped by giving many countries access to the wealth of global trade, as well as spending billions annually on developmental aid.

There’s no doubt that the pandemic has dragged millions into poverty around the world, but a broader evaluation gives a reason for hope. In just forty years, the way countless people live has transformed, turning poverty into the exception, rather than the norm. If this effort continues, there’s no telling how much more progress the world will make in decreasing poverty.

Thomas Brodey
Photo: Unsplash

COVID-19's Impact on South KoreaOriginating from Asia, it is no surprise that COVID-19 has affected many Asian countries. However, there is one prominent country that has persevered despite the drastic impacts of the pandemic — South Korea. Shrouded in technology, entertainment and education, South Korea has transformed itself from a lower-developed economy to a high-income leader in innovation. COVID-19 has impacted South Korea for better and for worse. Here are six facts about COVID-19’s impact on South Korea.

6 Facts About COVID-19’s Impact on South Korea

  1. With a strong economic connection to China, South Korea was one of the first countries to report coronavirus cases. Forty days after South Korea’s first case on January 20, 2020, the country confirmed close to 1,000 cases. The cases only increased in number due to inadequate understanding of the severity of the virus. Therefore, after this spike, the country made great efforts to contain the outbreak and educate its citizens. For instance, South Korea successfully implemented mandatory masking and accessible testing as well as advanced contact tracing. Currently, although there were more than 269,000 COVID-19 cases in South Korea as of September 10, 2021, the country has a contrasting number of around 2,300 total deaths.
  2. Multiple countries praise South Korea’s well-executed plan to persist during the pandemic. Korea is notable for these concepts: early plan, speed and awareness. To begin with, there was an immediate and early response to the first case, allowing for fast prevention. Also, the government focused on moving quickly in implementing COVID-19 regulations and notifying the public with information and safety guidelines. Hence, internationally, South Korea became a top model for dealing with the virus.
  3. To prevent the spread of the virus, the world and South Korea limited travel. Travel in and out of South Korea decreased significantly along with tourism. The OECD has stated that these financial risks of limited travel can lead to rising unemployment, which can be detrimental to those in poverty. Korea’s exports have reduced as well, decreasing dramatically as China started shutting down certain systems for safety and health purposes. For instance, in April 2020, 24.3% of exports dropped and caused many losses. In response, South Korea developed a plan called the Korea New Deal in order to invest in advanced technology and the well-being of workers.
  4. South Korea has one of the highest rates of elderly poverty. Most elderly South Koreans sell box scraps, run street food stations and clean unsanitary areas to survive. Thus, the country implemented stronger social protection and stable labor market regulations. South Korea also implemented safe social distancing procedures in 250,000 jobs.
  5. The eruption of COVID-19 negatively impacted many lives but accelerated research efforts. Multiple health authorities collaborated in private laboratories to uncover the efficacy of contact tracing, rapid regulatory tests and screening clinics. The country attempted several data tests and experiments, and in doing so, South Korea discovered more about the actual SARS-CoV-2 and better prevention methods. Scientific and mechanical technology has also improved for the better and advancements have become more rapid. Therefore, seemingly, COVID-19’s impact on South Korea includes more than direct health-related scenarios.
  6. Leaders of South Korea prioritize providing the public with current and up-to-date information and distinct guidelines on how to prevent infection. According to Exemplars in Global Health, South Korea was able to respond fast to COVID-19 due to its experience with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) back in 2015, which presented a similar health crisis. To fight misinformation during the pandemic, authorities are focusing on providing the nation with regular and accurate COVID-19 information.

Concluding Thoughts

COVID-19’s impact on South Korea comes with twists and turns, however, although there are many troubles, the country has solutions. History has seen South Korea rise up from its colonization to a booming economy. This East Asian country is now attempting to prevent an increase in COVID-19 cases through a comprehensive plan.

The virus is mutating and the Delta variant is only worsening countries’ conditions. As a result, the mask mandates that South Korea recently lifted are back in place. However, South Korea’s progress and plans so far indicate that it is well-prepared to mitigate any further consequences of COVID-19.

– Minjae Eum
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in India
Soon after her wedding to a man seven years older than her, 14-year-old Muskaan told Delhi photojournalist Saumya Khandelwal that her marriage “had to happen.” Muskaan, who is from India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, reflected on the region’s social acceptance of child marriage in India.

Child Marriage in India

Despite India’s attempts to curb child marriage through legislation, the damaging practice persists. About 27% of all Indian girls marry before their 18th birthday, with this statistic being higher in rural areas. Meanwhile, the northern states of Bihar and Rajasthan see between 47% and 51% of their young girls married as children.

Still, progress has occurred. While almost 47% of Indian girls 18 and younger married between 2005 and 2006, this rate dropped to 18% between 2015 and 2016. Key influences have been government programs that promote women’s education and empowerment. The improvements were undoubtedly clear and especially impactful in increasing the presence of women in higher education and the workforce, paving the way for a generation of independent and educated young women. However, local developments under COVID-19 have unearthed the social acceptance of child marriage in India and the factors that erode local approval.

COVID-19 in India

India’s official COVID-19 case count stood at a staggering 32.2 million as of August 14, 2021. The country faced a four-phase lockdown in 2020 along with several states instating rigid curfews. The economic impacts of these necessary public health measures have been disastrous as the Indian government estimates that the nation’s GDP shrank by almost 8% since the beginning of the pandemic. Meanwhile, up to 75 million people have slipped into poverty, only earning a meager income of 150 rupees or around $2 per day.

Specifically, the Indian informal economy seems to have taken the hardest hit. Comprising farm workers, construction workers and migrant laborers, this sector has no access to political support or union representation. With meager amounts of government aid reaching these vulnerable workers, many headed back to their homes in rural India hoping for reduced living costs.

Government Aid

Many of the Indian government’s schemes to help lower-income families centered around schools to encourage education. Government-run schools provided breakfast and lunch to their students free of cost prior to the pandemic, but with students learning from home, the program quickly ended. Parents who sent their daughters to school received compensation under one of the “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” campaign’s many programs in 2015.

However, the education programs faced a lack of funding despite being instrumental in balancing the male-female sex ratio in 108 districts. Simply put, the government’s programs have not met their full potential, limiting how well Indian leaders can address child marriage. The pandemic has only worsened access to the Indian welfare system, especially for migrant workers from rural areas who see child marriage as a solution to better their daughters’ financial opportunities.

Families facing dire financial situations often contemplate marrying their young daughters off to men who belong to local, stable families. A daughter’s departure from her home means that her parents no longer have to provide her with food, clothing and education. Provided she is young and healthy, she may marry a groom with plenty of money to provide for her needs. For parents burdened with the pandemic’s economic consequences, the route seems appealing.

Social Pressures

Many parents view marriage as a way to provide stability for their daughters in a country with much gender-based violence. Police reports from investigations into local child marriages show that parents of young girls worry that letting them go to school and work while being unmarried may signal their availability to predatorial men.

This mindset typically prevails in rural areas. Data from Bihar, an Indian state that reports the highest number of child marriages, has shown that 44.5% of women from rural areas married before the age of 18 from 2015 to 2016 compared to 29.1% of women from urban areas. In rural areas, the local community has united and affirmed that marriage provides financial security, respect and safety to young girls.

Solutions

Landmark legislation such as the 2006 Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) has created a jail sentence of up to two years for parents and village elders authorizing illegal child marriages in India. The act also established local committees to intervene in individual cases but left enforcement up to state governments. In many cases, state officials simply did not appoint committee members or assigned committee work to social workers with already high caseloads. While child marriage statistics have been continually dropping, much of this progress is due to similar growth in literacy and access to education instead of PCMA’s impact. Indian legislation is powerful, but it faces setbacks in actualizing its potential.

Currently, local police are instrumental in stopping child marriages by arriving on the scene and arresting elders arranging weddings, but they work through anonymous tips and face resistance from locals. They are unable to stop all child marriages or truly fight the mindset of parents. Specialized teams with social workers will be able to communicate with parents and village elders and prevent future weddings. It is important that these groups receive funding and support from global governments as these solutions stretch beyond simply sending individuals to jail — the true solution to child marriage in India is through changing mindsets.

Looking Ahead

Despite determined attempts by the Indian government to limit child marriage in India through legislation, the destructive practice still continues. The COVID-19 pandemic has unearthed the economic and social motivations that drive child marriage forward in Indian society. Solutions include realizing the potential of legislation and promoting the presence of social workers and NGOs working on the ground to change the social acceptance of child marriage in India.

– Shruti Patankar
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

COVID-19’s Impact on Ethiopia 
As of August 2021, Ethiopia had 292,731 documented COVID-19 cases and 4,518 deaths in a population of more than 118 million. However, COVID-19’s impact on Ethiopia is far more complicatedAside from the clear health (medical and mental) implications of COVID-19, the pandemic affected other areas significantly, including poverty, nutrition and sanitation. The United Nation’s Ethiopia Assessment explored the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ethiopia.

Health and Nutrition

Despite being one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, 26% of Ethiopia’s population lives below the poverty line. In April 2021, there were studies on maternal and child nutrition and health during the early days of the pandemic compared to 2019. The studies showed a decline in these services in March and April 2020. The COVID-19 surge redirected nearly all resources and services. Therefore, there were few resources and services for other programs.

Healthcare workers, government and non-governmental organizations alike helped restore the services. A major factor in mitigating the negative impact of COVID-19 on Ethiopia’s health and nutrition was an awareness campaign. The campaign aimed to teach COVID-19 prevention utilizing volunteers in the community, including frontline workers and university students.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

A major factor in winning the battle against COVID-19 is appropriate hygiene, such as handwashing. However, people in Ethiopia do not always have adequate access to water. This places further strain on the community. In Ethiopia, “60-80% of communicable diseases are attributed to limited access to safe water and inadequate sanitation and hygiene services.” For example, people in Ethiopia do not always wash their hands after using the latrine. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the many areas in which lower-income countries are at a disadvantage when it comes to keeping their citizens protected.

However, UNICEF partnered with the ONEWASH National Programme in 2013. This partnership established projects to guarantee access to a safely managed water supply, specifically to vulnerable groups like children and women. UNICEF and the ONEWASH National Programme aim to increase not only equitable and sustainable clean water supplies and sanitation services but also proper hygiene practices in rural and urban areas.

Government and Human Rights

The U.N. assessment on Ethiopia reported that the human rights situation in Ethiopia was improving. Due to government reforms and restructuring, opposition parties, women and different factions had a newfound voice in the government. However, human rights abuses remained. The pandemic exacerbated these abuses resulting in a state of emergency followed by delayed elections.

When the government postponed elections, the Tigray region chose to defy these orders and hold them anyway. This caused tension between the Tigray region and the federal government. Prime Minister Ahmed ordered military action against the Tigray region in retaliation for an attack on the federal government purportedly from the Tigray region. Additionally, in the western and southern parts of the Oromia region, “government counterinsurgency campaigns against armed rebel groups resulted in serious human rights and abuses against local communities by all sides.”

There are long-reaching implications of postponed elections. However, Ethiopia finally held elections in June 2021 with the ruling party winning a second term.

Looking Forward

COVID-19’s impact on Ethiopia is evolving as the vaccine rollout continues and the country implements information campaigns on COVID-19 prevention and hygiene and sanitation programs. The World Health Organization (WHO) through COVAX and the ACT accelerator shipped 38 million COVID-19 vaccine doses worldwide, providing vaccines to more than 100 countries. The efforts to fight COVID-19 in Ethiopia are not in vain and continue to positively impact countries around the globe.

– Tiffany Pate
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Iran
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Iran is severe. The pandemic accelerated the decline of Iran’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the rise of unemployment. Despite the economic crisis, Tehran’s massive natural resources allow the country to effectively recover economically if the newly elected Ebrahim Raisi is willing to end the country’s decades-long hostility with the United States.

The US Sanctions and Economic Crisis Before COVID-19

Before analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Iran, one needs to understand the context in which the pandemic took place. In May 2018, under President Trump, the U.S. withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). As a result of the U.S. withdrawal, a “maximum pressure” campaign that consisted of unilateral sanctions against the Middle Eastern country replaced the Obama-era Iran foreign policy.

The sanctions contributed significantly to the downfall of Iran’s economy. The country’s GDP went down by 11% and average living standards have reduced by 13%. The “maximum pressure” campaign also caused an inflation shock. The sanctions cut oil exports, which reduced the supply of foreign exchange and resulted in hyperinflation. For example, the sanctions were one of the main reasons for prices rising by 41% in 2019.

How COVID-19 Worsened Iran’s Economic Crisis

The pandemic has further accelerated the crisis of the already declining Iranian economy. The mismanagement of the COVID-19 outbreak resulted in Iran being one of the worst impacted countries in the world, with almost 94,603 deaths and more than four million overall cases. Considering how widespread the highly transmissible Delta variant is and the fact that only about 4% of the country’s 83 million citizens are fully vaccinated, the future seems even more pessimistic.

Observing the health effects of the pandemic, it is not surprising how severely COVID-19 damaged Iran’s economy. In 2020, an estimated three to four million Iranians were at risk of losing their jobs, with the potential of increasing the actual (not official) unemployment rate from 20% to more than 35%. The country’s GDP shrunk by 5% in 2020 and inflation nearly doubled from February 2020 to February 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a decline in GDP and an increase in public spending led the government to take extensive debt and sell its assets on the stock market. As a result, the fiscal deficit-to-GDP ratio more than doubled.

The Lives of Impoverished Iranians During the Pandemic

COVID-19 forced working-class, low-income Iranians to choose between their health and earning a basic income necessary for physical survival. In previous decades, the combination of charity work and welfare ministry, which provided financial assistance to economically vulnerable families, managed to maintain poverty below the 10% threshold. However, sanctions and the pandemic have put the survival of millions of Iranians, particularly informal and daily workers, at risk.

Around six million Iranians (a quarter of the overall workforce) work in the informal economy and earn daily wages. They often have no fixed salaries, minimal or no savings and little insurance from the social protection programs. Although these workers face a greater risk of infection, their financial situation does not allow them to stop working. Due to the fragile economic reality of Iranian people, particularly low-income citizens, the government cannot afford strict quarantine measures because these restrictions can push an additional 20% of Iranians into extreme poverty.

Moreover, according to a World Bank report, consumer price inflation stood at 30.6% from April to November 2020 and reached 46.4% in November 2020. The hyperinflation caused drastic price increases in food and housing, which disproportionally harmed working-class families.

The Way Out of the Economic Crisis

Various international and local nongovernmental organizations work tirelessly to alleviate poverty in Iran. One of the most significant NGOs that provides financial and educational resources for Iran’s vulnerable is Relief International. The organization has been particularly active since the outbreak of COVID-19. Relief International has provided multi-purpose cash assistance for 26,000 families who lost their income due to the pandemic.

Although the work of Relief International and other NGOs is significant for mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Iran, NGOs have limited resources. Therefore, the Iranian government should play a greater role in the process of poverty reduction. For easing the short-term economic impact, the government should provide direct income assistance to its vulnerable citizens. More importantly, for a meaningful, long-term change, the Reisi administration should end the four-decade-long animosity with the U.S. and agree to the new nuclear deal. The precedent of the 2015 JCPOA agreement shows that lifting sanctions will reverse the negative economic impact of COVID-19.

– Aleksandre Jgarkava
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Iraq
Iraq has suffered from past wars, a security-challenged and corrupt government and the recent withdrawal of the United States troops. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Iraq adds another challenging element to this underdeveloped country. More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s impoverished communities are struggling. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed 4.5 million Iraqis below the poverty line. Job losses and a rise in prices for goods have contributed to the increase in poverty.

The Children

The pandemic has impacted Iraqi children the most. According to a UNICEF Iraq study, one out of five Iraqi children were already impoverished before the crisis. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the number has doubled to two out of five children. The study also revealed that the increase in poverty has affected school enrollment, nutrition and children’s development and coping skills.

UNICEF Iraq has recommended that the country needs more social services programs that protect children and that the Iraq government should take prompt action in making these programs more accessible in rural areas. The Iraq government has the funding to promote these programs and health-related public service announcements as well as awareness campaigns on gender-based violence awareness and prevention. However, the government has not always been consistent.

Employment Challenges

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, Iraqis have faced an increase in employment challenges. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research in collaboration with the Cash Consortium for Iraq (CCI), COVID-19 has had a catastrophic impact on vulnerable households’ income and employment. Younger workers and people in informal employment make up 3,265 of the households in the study.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Iraq unemployment rate was at 12.76% and rose to 13.74%, after the pandemic. Research also determined that the majority had no health insurance or social security. One-quarter of citizens that had employment prior to the pandemic lockdown experienced permanent lay-offs, with 36% of those in the age group of 18-24 permanently dismissed from their jobs. Further assessment revealed that those employed under verbal agreements had a 40% reduction in income. Only 16% had savings and 85% only had savings to last less than three months.

The International Labor Country Coordinator for Iraq, Maha Kattaa, stated that COVID-19 has limited the availability of resources to vulnerable households and has affected their ability to cope. It has also created barriers to retaining good jobs.

The Government and Solutions

UNICEF Iraq has recommended that the Iraqi government establish long-term policy measures for impoverished communities to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Iraq. It suggested that the government create accessible support packages and provide cash and in-kind support to those who have lost their jobs. UNICEF Iraq also suggested that the Iraqi government make equal social security benefits available for public and private employees.

Despite the fact that the United States has withdrawn troops from Iraq, it is continuing to provide aid to the country’s impoverished communities. In August 2021, it donated 500,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has prepared labs for large-scale testing of COVID-19 and will continue to do so long-term. USAID has also implemented public health emergency plans, provided more than 19,000 food baskets and distributed cash-based transfers to the most vulnerable Iraqi citizens.

The Iraq government has been open to aid from other countries. The government wants to combat the negative effects of COVID-19 but realizes it needs help from outside sources. On the other hand, the government has not led a consistent vaccine awareness campaign and many Iraqis are skeptical about the COVID-19 vaccines. On April 24, 2021, Iraq had more than one million COVID-19 cases.

Looking Ahead

The Iraqi government has made efforts to protect its citizens from COVID-19. However, the inconsistent messaging, limited resources and rise in COVID-19 cases have made it difficult for impoverished communities to thrive. The resources for new jobs, healthcare, education enrollment and coping skills will need to be steady and must align with the current needs of the country. Continued studies on COVID-19 and the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Iraq as well as aid from other countries could help Iraq significantly.

– Dana Smith
Photo: Flickr

Rihanna’s foundationSinger and businesswoman Rihanna has taken on many ventures including a music career, a lingerie brand, a makeup brand and more. However, many Rihanna fans do not know about her work to help people in global poverty. Rihanna founded the Clara Lionel Foundation, which helps people in global poverty recover from natural disasters as well as funding education initiatives.

Rihanna, whose birth name is Robyn Fenty, founded the Clara Lionel Foundation in 2012. Rihanna’s Foundation is named after her grandparents, Clara and Lionel Braithwaite. The Clara Lionel Foundation’s work focuses on the Caribbean and Africa. It promotes education and emergency preparedness while responding to natural disasters.

Disaster Response and Emergency Preparedness

Rihanna’s Foundation responds to disasters in the Caribbean and Africa both financially and on the ground. The Foundation has nine active projects related to disaster relief and has committed $10 million over the course of its establishment.

The Foundation’s most recent response occurred when Hurricane Dorian struck The Bahamas, which has a poverty rate of 11.1%. The response included donating $1 million in emergency grants to relief partners on the ground, rebuilding healthcare facilities, mobile medical care, the distribution of food in impoverished areas and providing portable satellite communications systems. This type of support in The Bahamas is a characteristic of the work the Clara Lionel Foundation does to alleviate the effects of natural disasters for those living in poverty. The Foundation recognizes that natural disasters affect those living below the poverty line the most, as the populations lose their shelter, food and water sources, jobs and more. This impact is why much of the work focuses on impoverished and hard-to-reach areas.

The Foundation achieves its mission of emergency preparedness by educating people about what the populations need as well as establishing health clinics. The Clara Lionel Foundation partnered with the International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region (IPPF/WHR) and Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB-USA). The partnership is working with health clinics to strengthen the clinics structurally and in scope. The partnership is helping add a focus for reproductive health as many women in poverty do not have anywhere to turn to after a disaster. The clinics become hubs for healthcare following a disaster, making communities more prepared.

Education Efforts

The Clara Lionel Foundation contributed $5 million to education, helping more than 7,000 children get access to schooling. The program financially supports schools in different countries including Rihanna’s home of Barbados, as well as individuals looking to participate in higher education. After Hurricane Maria in Dominica, the Foundation also helped rebuild schools and built the schools to serve as a shelter for incoming disasters.

COVID-19 Relief

The Clara Lionel Foundation contributed over $36 million to COVID-19 relief. It served 30 countries by donating to 45 organizations. Much of this went towards providing relief in the Caribbean and Africa.

Rihanna’s work as a philanthropist helps people in global poverty lift themselves out of natural disasters and prevents the population from falling back into an insecure situation in the chance of another disaster through preparedness and education.

– Sana Mamtaney
Photo: Flickr

Nepal’s COVID-19 ResponseCurrently, approximately 26.4 million refugees worldwide have had to flee hardship in their countries of origin. Though international laws protect them, refugees are often denied basic human rights such as protection from violence, stable employment, safe housing and adequate healthcare. Access to reliable healthcare is critical to preventing diseases, treating underlying conditions, providing medicinal resources and offering immunizations. Because refugees are often unable to join national health plans in the country in which they settle, lack of access to healthcare is a common experience. Nepal’s COVID-19 response intends to include vulnerable and marginalized populations such as refugees.

How COVID-19 Threatens Refugees

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the need for reliable healthcare access among refugee populations, who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Many live in densely populated areas and lack face masks and adequate sanitation, such as handwashing facilities. This increases their risk of contracting the virus. Many have also lost their sources of income and are unable to pay for medical care. In addition to the high rates of poverty refugee populations experience, being too sick to work or caring for sick loved ones only compounds this issue.

The world’s ability to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic is incumbent on ensuring that all populations can limit case numbers and treat the infected. While the best way to mitigate the virus is to provide vaccinations, many countries are not yet offering them to refugees. As a result, many refugee populations live in a constant state of crisis and are unable to return to normalcy at the same rate as the general public.

The Nepalese Example

There are now more than 19,000 refugees in Nepal, most of them from Bhutan and Tibet. These communities experience high rates of poverty and are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Nepal’s COVID-19 response has been markedly different from other countries in the region as it was “the first country in Asia and the Pacific to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to refugees.” Starting March 7, 2021, refugees older than 65 were eligible to receive the vaccine along with other eligible citizens. As of March 24, 2021, 668 refugees had received the vaccine and many more are set to be vaccinated as the country obtains additional doses.

Nepalese officials have made it clear that they believe ensuring the health and safety of the entire country means providing healthcare for everyone. Nepal’s COVID-19 response is unique because Nepal is deliberate in ensuring that refugees have access to healthcare that is on par with the rest of the country. Equitable access to vaccinations remains an important step to ensuring the country is able to fully recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

Next Steps

Nepal’s COVID-19 response sets an example of measures that other nations should take. As other countries observe Nepal’s vaccination procedures, refugees and other marginalized communities exist in an important context. Organizations like CARE Nepal advocate for a vaccine rollout with “the most vulnerable groups” being prioritized.

Nepal is far from the only country in the world, or even in the Asian Pacific region, with a large refugee population. All populations must have access to adequate healthcare to ensure everyone can recover from the COVID-19 crisis as quickly and effectively as possible. Ensuring that everyone has access to the vaccine is one of the best ways for countries to achieve this.

Harriet Sinclair
Photo: Flickr

Costa Rica, Pura Vida, Central America, Jungle, Green

In 2021, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to provide Costa Rica with a $1.7 billion loan “to support Costa Rica’s recovery and stabilization from the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.” Although the Costa Rican government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was effective, economic improvements are stagnant. Costa Rica’s economy relies heavily on tourism and the COVID-19 pandemic created a significant halt in this sector. The IMF’s assistance in Costa Rica would help create jobs in high-demand areas and improve the resiliency of businesses.

Economic Challenges During COVID-19

The World Bank indicates that Costa Rica’s economy expanded over the last quarter of a century, with poverty rates lower than other Latin American countries. However, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the economy to decline by 4.6% in 2020. As a result, “one out of five workers” experienced unemployment by the last quarter of 2020 and the poverty rate in Costa Rica increased to 13%. As the situation improves, the economy expects to grow by 2.6% in 2021 and 3.3% in 2022.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reports that besides the pandemic, Costa Rica’s increased budget deficits and debt could have played a role in the recent economic destruction. Since the Costa Rican government had to provide additional funding for social and health programs, the budget deficits would grow further. Therefore, a strong recovery plan is necessary to lower deficits and improve Costa Rica’s economic situation.

Tourism: A Struggling Industry

According to Reuters, Costa Rica’s economy struggled since “hotel and trade shrank by 40% last year.” The pandemic and tourism produced 8.5% of its gross domestic product. At the beginning of 2021, fewer tourists visited than in previous years, indicating that economic recovery could take a while. However, officials in the tourism industry remain optimistic for more tourists in the future since many attractions are outdoors and there are fewer concerns about the virus spreading in open areas.

However, the amount of COVID-19 cases in Costa Rica was at its highest point from the end of April 2021 into early May 2021, leading to decreased levels of tourism. The U.S. even issued a travel advisory warning for citizens planning to visit Costa Rica. The Costa Rican government attempted to help the tourism sector by indicating that industries such as tourism did not need to impose new COVID-19 restrictions. Nevertheless, several groups of international tourists canceled their plans to visit.

Officials aim to improve economic conditions by expanding sustainable tourism. This would benefit the environment and help small businesses. The Minister of Tourism explained that expanding this industry would increase employees’ incomes and allow tourists to see different attractions. Officials introduced this plan to the national bank to see if it could consider using additional recovery strategies such as credits or implementing changes in rates.

Overcoming the Economic Challenges

So far, the Costa Rican government has made several efforts to assist those most impacted by the pandemic. It distributed grants to at least 700,000 citizens who suffered the most during the pandemic. It also had businesses impose strict health precautions, preventing a massive spread of the virus and further economic downturn.

Al Jazeera states that the Costa Rican government began working with the IMF to obtain a loan that would go toward tax reform and selling assets. The IMF’s assistance would also help Costa Rica pay off part of the significant debt accumulated within the past few decades.

The IMF’s assistance expects to cover a three-year time frame to improve economic conditions and reduce poverty rates. The Costa Rican government also plans to put the loan toward strategies that could boost employment. The IMF reports that the majority of those facing unemployment are women and youths. Various career fields in Costa Rica need employees and many companies are struggling to hire due to the pandemic.

The Costa Rican government thinks increased spending on social services would allow more women to enter the workforce since these programs will ease the burden of many familial caretaking responsibilities often resting on the shoulders of women. In addition, the government wants to pass legislation that aims to improve the education system to increase the possibility of employment opportunities in higher-paying jobs.

Moving Forward

The IMF’s assistance in Costa Rica would mitigate the current economic situation by addressing the root causes of high unemployment rates and income inequality. This effort would contribute to further development and potentially allow Costa Rica’s economy to reach pre-pandemic rates of growth.

Cristina Velaz

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