Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Armenia
As of August 2021, the World Bank found that increases in food prices account for about two-thirds of Armenia’s rise in inflation. The World Bank also pointed to rising transportation and health prices as contributors to inflation. COVID-19’s impact on Armenia has resulted in increases in unemployment, food insecurity and poverty. Accessible medicine and transportation would stimulate Armenia’s economy following its economic shutdown.

Since July 2021, Armenia’s currency has depreciated by 2%. In December 2020, the World Bank estimated that Armenia’s economic reaction to the pandemic could impoverish 70,000 Armenians and cause 720,000 people to experience a downward economic shift.

The pandemic expanded Armenia’s lower welfare group considerably. In 2019, about 26% of Armenia’s population lived below the poverty line. The 2020 economic shutdown will ultimately expand Armenia’s impoverished population. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is not the only stressor on Armenian welfare.

Conflict and COVID-19’s Impact on Armenia

Before the pandemic, Armenia was working to recover from the first Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which lasted from 1988 to 1994. In September 2020, the dispute arose once again and ended after six weeks. Although Russia brokered a cease-fire between Azerbaijan and Armenia in November 2020, the conflict’s effects persist. The second Nagorno-Karabakh dispute exacerbated the effects of the pandemic by displacing 100,000 civilians.

In an interview with UNICEF, Dr. Naira Stepanyan, an infectious disease specialist in Yerevan, compared the sobering effects of the war to the pressures that the pandemic brought on. Together, conflict and COVID-19 place a significant burden on Armenians in need. Additionally, as of October 8, 2021, Armenia has had 269,874 confirmed cases and 5,499 deaths. Reuters estimates that only about 8.7% of the population has been fully vaccinated. Slow vaccination turnout curbs economic recovery.

International Aid

The COVAX Initiative and the Ministry of Health have spearheaded vaccination efforts in Armenia. In March 2021, the Ministry of Health received 24,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Additionally, UNICEF and USAID united to provide and distribute personal protective equipment and hygiene materials to Armenia.

Armenia also received aid from the World Bank’s development projects. The World Bank has provided 70 ventilators and 80 patient monitors to Armenia. The World Bank’s Country Partnership Framework established the State Health Agency and the Disease Prevention and Control Project in Armenia, creating a more secure infrastructure to address the COVID-19  pandemic. The framework’s goals include:

  • Saving lives
  • Protecting the vulnerable and impoverished
  • Encouraging economic growth
  • Reinforcing policies, institutions and investments within the country

Cohesive COVID-19 responses, economic stimulation and international partnerships are working to place Armenia back on the path to recovery.

The Path to Recovery

Although COVID-19’s impact on Armenia has been significant, the path to progress is not far. Despite the increased inflation and unemployment rate, Armenia’s macroeconomic recovery continues to develop. For instance, foreign trade continues to increase along with copper, agriculture and textile exports.

Additionally, Armenia’s government outlined a series of actions to address the pandemic’s economic impact. For instance, Armenia established a loan program aimed to support agriculture, small businesses and tech industries. Armenia’s domestic investments offer stability to citizens in need.

Aid and support significantly shifted the pandemic’s course in Armenia. The World Bank’s continued help through the Country Partnership Framework supports the economy and serves to reduce the unemployment rate. Overall, international aid, domestic investment and growing vaccination rates work to ease the pandemic’s effect on Armenia.

– Dana Gil
Photo: Flickr

USAID Programs in Bosnia and Herzegovina
After the conclusion of the Bosnian War of 1992-1995, USAID has been instrumental in charting a path forward for positive economic development in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In fact, since 1996, USAID has helped provide more than $1.7 billion in assistance to foster democratic, social and economic growth. This has significantly improved the standard of living of Bosnian citizens over the past two decades. USAID programs in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been especially noteworthy in their outcomes of significantly reducing poverty.

For instance, USAID’s initial business development loan program aided private businesses in restarting operations and increasing job opportunities for citizens. It helped massively decrease the country’s unemployment rate from 50% in 1996 to 29.3% in 1998. USAID’s 1,600 projects in the country over the past two decades have been crucial in minimizing poverty as well as improving the health and education infrastructure of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Previous Major Programs

In just three years prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were multiple USAID programs in Bosnia and Herzegovina targeting job creation and community investment. There were two notable programs, which began in 2017, that proved key in addressing the aforementioned goals.

The first project, USAID’s Workforce and Higher Access to Markets (WHAM) Activity, underwent implementation in June 2017 and sought to further integrate Bosnia and Herzegovina into E.U. and regional trade markets. The results were notable for jobs with the creation of nearly 2,000 new jobs, allowing for “female participation [at] 31 percent and youth participation [at] 56 percent.”

The second program that USAID launched, called the Diaspora Invest project, began in April 2017. It proved instrumental to investment in Bosnia’s diaspora communities to tackle poverty and enable socioeconomic development. The outcome of the project is evident; as of February 2020, the project has supported 86 diaspora companies, created nearly 300 jobs and has produced around $9.5 million in new investments.

COVID-19 Initiatives

Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, USAID has significantly stepped up its initiatives in Bosnia to address multiple aspects of poverty that have worsened as a consequence of the pandemic. One of the most crucial policies USAID conducted in April 2021 was to coordinate with UNICEF. The coordination provided $4.8 million in additional funding for pandemic relief for the country. Bosnia and Herzegovina plan to use the relief over the next two years. Beyond COVID-19 relief policies, USAID has additionally established two significant programs in the country as part of COVID-19 recovery and poverty reduction in the long term.

  1. The Sustainable Tourism Development Project: The first program established is called the Sustainable Tourism Development Project. USAID launched this five-year, $20 million project in January 2021 to substantially improve the country’s tourism industry through three main facets: strengthening the quality of tourism services, expanding access to finance for businesses connected to tourism and opening the country to broader international tourism markets. The program will look to have a notable simultaneous effect on reducing poverty in the nation as it expects to create more than 3,000 jobs associated with tourism and inject over $40 million in private investment. This will improve the standard of living of communities within numerous tourist hotspots.
  2. The CARE-GBV Program: Another notable USAID program in Bosnia and Herzegovina that underwent implementation as recently as the beginning of August 2021 to tackle a sporadically spoken aspect of poverty. As part of its $500,000 grant to multiple countries, the Collective Action to Reduce Gender-Based Violence (CARE-GBV) Small Grants Program is contributing significantly to Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is a part of its mission to address gender-based violence, a phenomenon that is increasingly characteristic of low-income family households in the country. By giving grants to the local organization Žene sa Une (ZSU), USAID aims to establish a Staff Wellness and Resiliency-Building Program which will cover a planned 30%-40% increase in aid for household safety services as part of domestic violence prevention. In addition, the program will also accommodate the increased support necessary for its childcare center.

As efforts continue to address issues in Bosnia and Herzegovina, USAID programs in Bosnia and Herzegovina will work to tackle different dimensions of poverty in multiple ways throughout the region.

– Gabriel Sylvan
Photo: Flickr

Ghana's #FixTheCountry Protests
Recent protests have broken out in Accra, Ghana, as Ghanaians express their displeasure with the nation’s current democratic government. Rallying behind the hashtag #FixTheCountry, an overwhelmingly youthful group of protesters has taken to the streets, donning red and black and chanting patriotic songs. As these protesters call for change, it is worthwhile to investigate what they are fighting for and how certain conditions in Ghana have precipitated their outcry. Here are five facts about the causes, execution and stakes of Ghana’s #FixTheCountry protests.

5 Facts About Ghana’s #FixTheCountry Protests

  1. A young social media influencer masterminded the protests: People know social media influencer Joshua Boye-Doe as Kalyjay. With Twitter as his primary platform, Kalyjay, who boasts more than 450,000 followers on the site, began the movement back in May 2021 in response to raised prices and tax increases. On Kalyjay’s Twitter account, one might discover an interesting variety of memes, videos and retweets about Ghanaian soccer players and other Ghanaian athletes. Most significant, however, are the tweets that end in #FixTheCountry —“Enough is enough,” one reads, or “Tomorrow we go on a peaceful walk to rewrite history.” Each one of his tweets reaches hundreds of thousands of followers, and on August 4, his movement came to a head as he helped organize several thousand people to peacefully protest in the nation’s capital.
  2. Discontent and turmoil have been brewing since President Nana Akufo-Addo’s December reelection: The current democratically elected President of Ghana is Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party. He narrowly won reelection in December 2020 in a race against John Dramani Mahama of the National Democratic Congress. According to the BBC, Ghana has a history as one of the more stable democracies in all of Africa when it comes to fair and legal elections. At the same time, there has still been plenty of public outcry to Akufo-Addo’s reelection. In the week following the December election, at least 60 incidents of violence related to the election took place, with five Ghanaians killed as a result. Though independent officials described voting and polling as fair and free, Mahama refused to concede the election for several days after the announcing of the results.
  3. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated Ghana’s economic problems: Following a difficult economic year during the COVID-19 pandemic, President Akufo-Addo promised to reinvigorate Ghana’s economy, which had suffered due to price fluctuations of oil and cocoa, two of the nation’s key exports. Now in mid-2021, #FixTheCountry protesters are frustrated with the administration’s apparent inaction. Prices of basic goods and services have risen over the past year, and the government has imposed several new COVID-era taxes. Some are particularly displeased with the president’s decision to build a $200 million national cathedral, asking for $16 monthly donations from citizens. Many protesters view this project as non-essential, urging the administration to focus on fixing the economy at large.
  4. This kind of public protest is unusual for Ghana: Due to its strong democracy, Ghana is not a country well known for large, public demonstrations from its citizens. Ghana has a history of maintaining free media and holding relatively peaceful elections with subsequent transfers of power. Ghanaians typically utilize the power of the ballot box to voice their dissatisfaction. The 2020 election saw a voter turnout of 79%, higher than the U.S.’s 67% turnout in the same year. Though the population is incredibly politically active, perceptions abound that individuals cannot influence or pressure political officials. Eighty-five percent of responders from a 2019 survey stated that they had never contacted a member of parliament. The #FixTheCountry protests are thus somewhat unusual to see, but they connect to the fears of poverty that worry many young Ghanaians.
  5. This nonpartisan hashtag has become a movement: Ghana’s #FixTheCountry protests have denounced both of Ghana’s primary political parties. Rather than focusing on partisan politics, the #FixTheCountry movement has swelled around passionate, frustrated young people. With more than 70% of Ghana’s population younger than 35, this young crowd hopes to tackle and address unemployment and other economic issues. Just 10% of graduates from Ghanaian universities find a job within their first year of graduation. Among the movement’s specific demands is a new constitution with limits on the power of the executive and an economic charter that directly guarantees economic liberty, ensuring liberation from poverty.

Looking Ahead

Accra’s recent #FixTheCountry demonstration highlights the ways in which the fight to downsize poverty is continually evolving. In a developing nation like Ghana, where poverty and inequity continue to plague many pockets of the population, young people have found a voice through Ghana’s #FixTheCountry protests, organized through social media, to fight economic inequality.

– Sam Dils
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Reduction in Brazil
The COVID-19 pandemic placed a lot of countries in difficult positions regarding their economies and poverty rates. Those already struggling were unable to make progress, and in some cases, poverty rates even increased due to the stress the pandemic placed on society. Brazil is just one of the many countries facing an increase in poverty today. However, five strategies exist to progress poverty reduction in Brazil.

About Poverty in Brazil

Before the pandemic, Brazil already faced difficulties in the country with many lower-class citizens facing extreme poverty. Since 2014, the poverty rate grew steadily, and by the beginning of 2020, almost 11% of the population of Brazil was living on a statistically meager amount every day. Because of the pandemic, about an estimated 13% of Brazil finds itself in poverty as of March 2021. In order to combat the rising poverty rates throughout Brazil, there are certain steps that the country can take. Here are five strategies to progress poverty reduction in Brazil after the COVID-19 pandemic.

5 Strategies to Progress Poverty Reduction in Brazil

  1. A Rise in Vaccination Rates: So far, the vaccination rates in Brazil have remained quite low in comparison to other advanced countries across the globe. Though infection rates in Brazil have not returned to their pandemic peak, cases still tend to rise after they are brought down and the country opens up again. This has proven to be hard on the economy because communities have to continuously lockdown and then reopen time and time again. With a rise in vaccination rates, however, this would no longer have to be the case. As Deloitte Insights pointed out, “Evidence from the United States, for example, shows that consumer sentiment and willingness to spend has gone up with rising vaccinations.”
  2. American Involvement Can Help: The United States is equipped with resources to aid other countries with global poverty relief. Over the past century, other efforts have proved the U.S.’s ability to deliver effective assistance. Kate Schecter wrote for New Security Beat, saying, “There have been notable successes, such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which started in 2003.” As the U.S. appears to be recovering financially from the pandemic, it could utilize aid resources to assist other countries’ recoveries as well, including Brazil’s.
  3. A Commitment to Investments Within Local Communities: In order for poverty-stricken communities within Brazil to build themselves up financially, an effort to helping communities create jobs and access to resources remains essential. “These investments can both reduce poverty and mitigate out-migration by reducing ‘push factors,’ such as lack of jobs and food scarcity which force people to leave their homes and seek basic subsistence in other countries,” wrote Schecter.
  4. Open the Economy: Brazil has some of the lowest import and export rates among countries with major economies. In 2017, it recorded a less than 30% GDP sum in terms of imports and exports. International Money Fund (IMF) states that “opening up to more trade is essential to improve competitiveness and could give a much-needed fillip to investment.”
  5. Increased COVID-19 Aid from the Government: During the initial economic blow from the pandemic, the government implemented an emergency aid program to help families in need of financial support. Consequently, poverty levels throughout the country took a dramatic decline. This positively impacted the country, but “the aid program is not sustainable and the positive trend in terms of poverty reduction is likely to reverse once the benefit ends,” based on a study from the think-tank Fundação Getúlio Vargas. A better-supported and considered aid program to mitigate the effects of the pandemic could still reduce the poverty rate with careful planning.

Looking Ahead

The recovery process is still ongoing, but as Brazil continues to improve, it can now look forward to poverty reduction throughout the country. Effectively considering and enacting policies throughout Brazil could alleviate the difficulties of the nation’s poor and reduce poverty broadly.

– Riley Prillwitz
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Vaccine Equity
Vaccine equity is important when it comes to distributing COVID-19 vaccines within different parts of the world. Some global initiatives plan on reaching out to many communities by spreading the importance of getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Additionally, other factors exist that one should consider when it comes to the importance of promoting vaccine equity.

COVAX Initiative

The purpose of the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, also known as COVAX, is to promote vaccine equity by increasing the availability of vaccines globally. COVAX’s main focus is on providing vaccines to citizens of many countries between now and the rest of 2021. This includes prioritizing countries that would benefit from receiving free vaccines. While working with organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, COVAX will receive enough support to ensure that more people will contribute to improving vaccine access.

Voices for Vaccines

The goal of one global challenge is to expand information regarding COVID-19 vaccines around the world. In collaboration with the Nursing Now Challenge Global Solutions Initiative, the Voices for Vaccines challenge encourages healthcare workers to spread awareness about COVID-19 vaccines and help improve vaccine equity. Anyone who applies will be able to share experiences they have had with other patients, along with sharing their personal knowledge. This challenge will also give workers the opportunity to have open discussions about the importance of promoting equal access to vaccines.

Intrepid Travel’s Vaccine Equity Campaign

One company recently came up with a plan to promote vaccine equity in different parts of the world. One of the things Intrepid Travel’s campaign focuses on is increasing the availability of COVID-19 vaccines. This will occur by informing people about COVID-19 vaccines and expanding access to improve access to vaccines. A donation from the Intrepid Foundation will also go towards supporting the cause. Some places such as Peru and Sri Lanka have provided transportation and hosted informational sessions to help increase people’s access to vaccines.

Other Ways to Increase Vaccine Equity

 One fact that one should consider when it comes to increasing vaccine equity is the creation process of COVID-19 vaccines. The process of tech transfer makes it more difficult for manufacturers to prepare vaccines due to supply, leading countries that need more vaccines to lose access to them. Some forms of technology can help increase the availability of needles and other important items. Companies choosing to work together will be helpful in promoting vaccine equity and saving lives.

The COVAX initiative plans to prioritize expanding access to COVID-19 vaccines and help improve access to vaccines. The Voices for Vaccines challenge is a way to encourage health care workers to emphasize the importance of receiving vaccinations. Intrepid Travel’s vaccine campaign focuses on eliminating barriers to vaccine access. Focusing on where vaccines go after manufacturers create them can have a positive impact on vaccine equity.

– Chloe Moody
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

The covid-19 vaccination in HungaryThe coronavirus infection rate is dropping rapidly throughout Hungary thanks to a steadily increasing rate of COVID-19 vaccination. From a peak of around 10,000 daily new cases in March 2021, as of June Hungary sees fewer than 200 daily new cases.

In May, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyas announced that Hungary will not join the new vaccination deal. As part of the deal, Pfizer and BioNTech will provide an additional 2.6 billion doses throughout the European Union (EU). Hungary is the only EU country that has opted out of the deal.

According to Gulyas, the Hungarian government is confident in its current supply. Gulyas stated that in the event a booster becomes necessary, “there are plenty of vaccines from Eastern and Western sources as well.”  Orban used his strong ties with Russia and China to purchase and deploy vaccines from those countries even before the EU approved them.

Vaccination Campaign Successes

Since January, almost half of Hungarians have received their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. As a result, infection rates have declined rapidly across the country. Compared to the rest of the EU, Hungary had a relatively low infection rate throughout the pandemic.  Hungary peaked at about 10,000 new cases per day. In the first week of July, there was an average of 41 new infections reported per day. That’s less than one percent of the daily average during the country’s peak on March 25. Furthermore, the country has seen fewer than one million COVID-19 cases overall.

Hungary has also expanded vaccine eligibility quickly. It is the first EU country to approve vaccination for citizens as young as 16, who are eligible to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech doses. Around 90,000 young people have already registered for the shot, accompanied by parental permission for those under 18. Euronews reported that “according to government plans, by mid-June, all Hungarians willing to get a Western-developed jab can be vaccinated.” Hungary is hoping to be able to vaccinate children as young as age six which would mean virtually all schoolchildren by early fall when school starts.

Low-Income Families and Vaccination

The percentage of Hungarians at risk of poverty has declined steadily in recent years, dropping around 3% from 2013 to 2020.  Hungary’s at-risk poverty rate was 12.3 % in 2020.  COVID-19 has been harsher on the at-risk population, especially the Roma population living in poor settlements.  The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU), a human rights non-governmental organization (NGO) advocates for targeted measures to protect the Roma from COVID.  HCLU claims that the Hungarian government has overlooked the fact that the Roma have been more vulnerable to COVID’s economic consequences because they lack any financial reserves and rely on day-to-day odd jobs.

A Promising Start

With half of Hungarians vaccinated and many more eligible, working life is returning to normal, allowing the economy to thrive. As low-income citizens including the Roma get vaccinated, they will be able to return to work without fear of illness. Also, fewer people will lose their jobs due to business closures. This successful COVID-19 vaccination campaign is leading Hungary toward a safe return to life as it used to be. Furthermore, the government is confident that its current supply of vaccine doses can sustain the campaign’s success.

– Riley Prillwitz
Photo: Unsplash

Hurricanes Eta and Iota
Honduras is a Central American country bordering the Caribbean Sea. Because of its location, Honduras is able to produce valuable goods like textiles, sugar cane and coffee. However, 2020 proved to be a challenging year for the country and its economic output. COVID-19’s impact on Honduras was undoubtedly destructive but the added impact of Hurricanes Eta and Iota further affected Honduras’ economy and overall conditions in the nation.

COVID-19 in Honduras

Honduras confirmed its first official case of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in early March 2020. Schools closed shortly after March 13, 2021, and businesses were limited to 50% capacity per a nationwide mandate. These commissions stunted the economy and placed Honduras in a financial crisis. While the country’s GDP contracted, Honduras experienced a period of inflation. Prices of everyday items, like coffee, skyrocketed. In addition, a decrease in worldwide tourism led to growing economic instability. The World Bank reports about 45% of Honduran households facing income losses in the wake of the pandemic. Suspended operations and businesses put approximately half of Honduras’ citizens out of work. The emotional toll of the virus itself is equally notable. The significant number of deaths reflects COVID-19’s impact on Honduras. More than 9,000 citizens have died since the start of the pandemic.

Hurricanes Eta and Iota and Honduras

On November 3, 2020, Hurricane Eta made landfall in Honduras as a Category 4 storm, affecting more than 1.8 million people. Not even two weeks later, Hurricane Iota made landfall on November 17, 2020. An astounding number of vulnerable families experienced displacement, forcing many to relocate to crowded collective shelters. Helpful and necessary resources in shelters dwindled fast and the lack of proper social distancing mandates contributed to Honduras’ increase in COVID-19 infections. The devastating effects of Eta and Iota’s flooding had major impacts in the flooded San Pedro Sula airport, restricting people’s abilities to seek refuge elsewhere via flights.

Vaccine Rollout in Honduras

COVID-19’s presence was difficult for most countries to endure, but with the destructive addition of Hurricanes Eta and Iota, the year was undeniably life-threatening for Honduras. Honduras has vaccinated about 24% of its total population. Compared to other countries, it also has a decreasing number of peak cases. However, as of April 2021, COVID-19 vaccine rollouts have slowed in Honduras because of the United States’ own complicated vaccine rollout.

As newly mutated strains of the virus can easily prolong Honduras’ medical and economic ruin, COVID-19’s impact on Honduras is apparent. With the introduction of the COVAX initiative in August 2020, co-led by WHO, CEPI and Gavi, more developing countries will be able to access vaccines. However, with the United States’ slowed distribution and environmental challenges like Hurricanes Eta and Iota, it is difficult to ascertain how long it will take Honduras to rebuild itself. Addressing the country’s needs with sufficient funding and resources will, most likely, be an incredibly instrumental means of aiding Honduras.

The Road Ahead

Caritas Internationalis created a two-month-long emergency relief program to assist Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala in recovery. Each nation received €250,000 worth of aid for “food, hygiene kits, access to safe drinking water and ensuring people can protect themselves from COVID-19.” Caritas committed to aiding in the recovery and well-being of about 2,500 families in this period, which equates to 12,500 citizens. Additionally, increased congressional support of the COVAX initiative could help Honduras access more vaccines, stabilizing the nation and protecting it from further impacts of the virus.

– Maia Nuñez
Photo: Flickr

Vaccinating refugeesVaccine rollout plans around the world often overlook the world’s 26 million refugees. A whole 126 countries have refugee populations of more than 500 people. As refugees make up a significant part of the population, during a global health pandemic, the world will not truly be safe until nations safeguard the health of refugees too. Although many countries are making efforts to protect refugees, barriers remain prevalent. Global inequalities continue to exacerbate the situation. Wealthy countries administered 85% of the world’s vaccines, however, 85% of the world’s refugees live in developing countries that struggle to access vaccines. Bangladesh is prioritizing vaccinating refugees and the rest of the world needs to follow suit by including the most vulnerable populations.

Bangladesh’s Vaccine Campaign for Rohingya Refugees in Cox’s Bazar

In August 2017, spikes of violence in Myanmar forced 745,000 Rohingya citizens to flee into Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Cox’s Bazar is now the world’s largest refugee settlement with more than one million refugees living in the cramped camps.

At the end of July 2021, devastating monsoons in Cox’s Bazar killed about eight refugees and displaced 25,000 people, simultaneously destroying thousands of facilities, including health clinics and latrines. Damaged roads hinder humanitarian access, making Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh more vulnerable than ever.

In addition to the recent natural disasters, Bangladesh is experiencing an upward trend in positive COVID-19 cases. Bangladesh authorities recognize the extreme vulnerability of the refugee population. As such, on August 9, 2021, Bangladesh launched a vaccine drive in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps. With the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Health Organization (WHO) and other humanitarian organizations, Bangladesh plans to vaccinate all refugees in waves. The first cohort includes 65,000 refugees made up of community leaders, health volunteers and anyone older than the age of 55.

The Importance of Vaccinating Refugees

Although refugees seem to be the last group receiving vaccines, the WHO has placed refugees in the second priority group for vaccinations. Refugees fall into the same group as at-risk people and those suffering from serious health conditions because refugees tend to live in crowded communities that lack clean water and basic healthcare, making the spread of COVID-19 cases inevitable. No country can curb the spread of COVID-19 while the virus continues to ravage its way through refugee communities.

Barriers to Refugee Vaccination

Most countries understand how crucial vaccinating refugees is to ending the pandemic, however, these major barriers remain:

  • Language barriers lead to misinformation and vaccine distrust.
  • Online registrations exclude those who lack access to the internet.
  • Volunteers are registering refugees at camps, however, a portion of refugees do not live in camps, they live with relatives or family friends.
  • Many refugees fear arrest or deportation at vaccine sites.
  • Vaccine shortages as some countries like India paused vaccine exports due to rising cases in India.
  • The question of liability — who will take responsibility for refugees that suffer serious side effects from the vaccine?

The world not only needs to make vaccines accessible for refugees but must also make refugees feel safe enough to pursue vaccination. Refugees are among the most vulnerable people on the planet, therefore, it is imperative for the world to join Bangladesh in prioritizing the vaccination of refugees because no one is safe until everyone is safe.

– Ella LeRoy
Photo: Flickr

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

Vaccine Inequality and VariantsCOVID-19 has displayed the vast interdependence of the world in 2021. The pandemic disrupted global supply chains, highlighted the impact of migration and travel and prompted international coordination on an unprecedented scale. The distribution and administration of vaccines during the pandemic has varied greatly among continents and countries, with high-income countries in Europe and North America inoculating their populations far faster than middle and low-income countries in Africa and Asia. The rapidly spreading Delta variant revealed that vaccination is not just an issue for each independent country. Expanding vaccine access in lower-income countries with large, dense populations in Africa and Asia is necessary for wealthy and impoverished countries alike. COVID-19 discourse under-represents the relationship between vaccine inequality and variants and highlights the need to expand vaccine access to lower-income countries.

Vaccine Inequality in Africa, Asia and Latin America

Vaccine inequality is no more acute than in Africa. As of September 11, 2021, less than 4% of Africans received full doses of COVID-19 vaccines in comparison to more than half of the population in North America. The leading reason for this is drastic inequality in economic power and state capacity. Not only must countries be able to afford the vaccines but they must also have the infrastructure to administer the vaccines. This task is nearly impossible for countries such as Afghanistan, Mali and Myanmar while embroiled in domestic conflict.

Developing countries are mostly reliant on COVAX, the WHO’s initiative to distribute vaccines equitably, which is struggling to provide the number of vaccines it planned to. This is in part a result of wealthy nations ordering millions of vaccines directly from manufacturers, limiting the supply available to the WHO program before it was up and running. Assistance from and coordination with wealthier countries will be necessary in order to increase global vaccination levels before more variants develop.

Vaccine Inequality and Variants

The Delta variant has been the most important development in the global pandemic in recent months. Originating in India, Delta arose at a time when no one received vaccinations. Since then, it has spread around the world and prompted new lockdowns and countermeasures in countries on every continent. With less than 30% of the world fully vaccinated, there is good reason to believe that Delta will not be the last variant of COVID-19 that the world will see and the Lambda (originating in South Africa) and Mu (from Colombia) variants are already making way across borders.

As long as the majority of the world is unvaccinated, there is a worryingly high chance of the COVID-19 virus continuing to mutate. A sufficiently unique strain could potentially render the vaccine ineffective and reignite the pandemic. The Delta variant’s rapid spread across the globe proves that vaccinating just the domestic population will not bring about a certain end to the pandemic. As the most important factor in determining the rate of mutation is the rate of infection, an international agenda focusing on swiftly expanding vaccine access in order to mitigate the threat of future mutations would also best serve the United States.

US Leadership

The topic prompts the discussion of actions the U.S. is taking to rapidly increase global vaccination rates and whether there is room for more effort on the part of the U.S. In May 2021, the Biden administration voiced its support for abrogating the patents of vaccines in order to facilitate their production in lower-income countries and reduce vaccine inequality.

However, the United States does not have unilateral power to waive patents and the World Trade Organization is unlikely to advance this position. Furthermore, many contend that IP waivers are a poor solution to vaccine inequity. Manufacturing vaccines, especially mRNA vaccines, is a difficult and highly technical process with a small margin for error. Countries must also possess the infrastructure to produce vaccines quickly, safely and in large numbers.

It would be ideal if fixing global vaccine access was as simple as waiving patents, but unfortunately, the matter is more complicated. The United States can safeguard its own interest as well as the world’s interests by addressing the economic inequalities forming the root cause of vaccine inequality. Increasing COVAX funding is likely the most effective way in which wealthy countries can help address the global vaccine shortage while addressing the connection between vaccines and variants in the immediate term.

Donating Surplus Stock

Another way that the United States is helping to increase worldwide vaccination is by donating surplus vaccines. By early September 2021, the U.S. had already donated more than 114 million vaccines, making it the “largest donor of COVID-19 vaccines globally.” The U.S. can continue this trend as the country possesses more than 1 billion surplus vaccines, many of which are destined to expire this summer. Millions of people in Africa and Asia would jump at the opportunity of receiving a vaccination if only their country had the supply to meet the demand.

The most cost-effective way to end the global pandemic is to address the causal relationship between vaccine inequality and variants by providing vaccines to those who would be able to obtain them if not for their country’s economic incapacity. Global vaccination is a non-zero-sum game that demands the whole world’s involvement.

Will Pease
Photo: Flickr