Help Reduce Poverty
In light of the global pandemic, Pope Francis has kept busy advocating for poverty reduction around the world. Francis spent the year 2021 mending relationships between the Catholic Church and the Middle East and offering support to healthcare workers. Here are some of the most important things the Pope did in 2021 to help reduce poverty.

Advocation to Reduce the Debt of Impoverished Nations

Pope Francis delivered a statement in April 2021 at a meeting that the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund (IMF) hosted. Mostly, he discussed how impoverished nations should receive a greater share in decision-making for the international market. He also pushed for debt relief and reduction for nations struggling during the pandemic. “The pandemic, however, has reminded us once again that no one is saved alone,” Francis wrote.

He also stated that “a spirit of global solidarity also demands at the least a significant reduction in the debt burden of the poorest nations, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Relieving the burden of debt of so many countries and communities today is a profoundly human gesture that can help people to develop, to have access to vaccines, health, education and jobs.” The Pope’s statement highlighted the “ecological debt” all nations owe to the environment. He also remarked that ecological degradation and biodiversity loss are manmade issues. He asserted that the issue could come to a resolution if impoverished nations, generally the ones environmental challenges most affect, can put their finances toward combating it.

Francis Became the First Pope to Visit Iraq

With the events of 9/11 and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict long exacerbating Islamophobia, Pope Francis’s arrival in Iraq marked a new beginning for Catholic-Muslim relations. Nostra Aetate, which Pope Paul VI issued in 1965, decreed that the Catholic Church must examine its relationships with non-Christian religions. The declaration contains a section dedicated to Islam, which urges mutual understanding in the name of peace and freedom. Pope Francis attempts to follow Nostra Aetate and continues to extend respect for the Islamic religion. He desires to mend the relationship between the two faiths.

While in Iraq, Francis met with Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the leader of Iraq’s Shiites, twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The Pope also met with Daesh’s terror survivors and called for peace between Christians and Muslims. Pope Francis urged that Christians and Muslims let go of their past and work toward rebuilding Iraq.

Pope Francis has Continued to Donate Around the World

Throughout the pandemic, the Pope continued his charity work for healthcare workers and affected families. During his trip to Iraq, Francis donated $250,000 to families in Baghdad. Francis also extended support to a women’s healthcare center in India. In May 2021, Francis donated 20,000 euros to the Shanti Ashram women’s health and social center in Coimbatore, India, which supports around 50,000 women and children. The center had hosted an international online conference with a goal of raising 60,000 euros, but it fell short. Pope Francis donated 20,000 euros to make up the difference.

Pope Francis did not just donate financially, he also supplied several medical facilities with medical equipment. The Apostolic Nuncio in Colombia confirmed that the Pope sent PPE and four respirators to the San Francisco de Asis Hospital and the Santiago Clinic. The pandemic hit their area particularly hard. The Pope donated respirators to eight other countries as well, including Bolivia, Syria and South Africa.

Moving Forward to Help Reduce Poverty

Pope Francis has shown that generosity always comes first, especially in a global pandemic when poverty is on the rise. Under his leadership, the Catholic Church will continue to promote charity work and peace in the Middle East and help reduce poverty.

Camdyn Knox
Photo: Pixabay

The UAE’s Foreign AidMany know the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as one of the richest countries in the world, thanks to its abundant reserves of oil and natural gas. One of its most popular cities, Dubai, is home to some of the world’s most extravagant and expensive buildings, while artificial islands shaped like palm trees dot its coast. Putting its riches to a good cause, the UAE’s foreign aid program is remarkably well-funded and successful.

5 Facts About the UAE’s Foreign Aid

  1. The UAE’s foreign aid program is one of the largest in the world. In 1970, the U.N. first agreed on its percentage target for official development aid (ODA): 0.7% of gross national income (GNI). Since 1970, growing numbers of developed countries have officially committed to this target. However, most fail to meet it each year. For example, the United States, while the biggest donor in terms of dollar amount, only donated 0.17% of its GNI in 2020, making it one of the lowest contributors in terms of the U.N. ODA agreement. In contrast, since 2013, the UAE has remained one of the highest-ranking ODA donors and has consistently surpassed the 0.7% of GNI target. In 2018, the UAE devoted 0.93% of its GNI to foreign aid.
  2. The UAE’s foreign aid program was private until 2009. Surprisingly, the UAE’s very public devotion to foreign aid only began around a decade ago when it began to submit detailed foreign aid data to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Since then, the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, along with the president and prime minister, have been very vocal and open about foreign aid. This openness has led some to suspect that the UAE intends to improve its global image through its interest in foreign aid.
  3. Most of the UAE’s foreign aid goes to other Middle Eastern and Arab countries. While the UAE has sent foreign aid to hundreds of nations in total, the majority of its foreign aid goes to nearby countries. The UAE makes significant donations to developmental projects and humanitarian aid in countries experiencing violence and natural disasters. In 2015, the majority of the UAE’s humanitarian aid went to refugees in Syria, Yemen and Iraq. These countries, along with Egypt, Jordan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, are consistent recipients of UAE aid. In 2019, UAE foreign aid dropped below the 0.7% of GNI target for the first time since 2012. The preliminary data for 2020 shows foreign aid accounting for 0.48% of the UAE’s GNI. These lower levels of aid may be due to the UAE’s need to devote resources to the fight against COVID-19 within its own borders. The vast majority of the UAE’s aid in 2020 went toward COVID-19 related medical and food aid. In total, 47 countries around the world received COVID-19 aid from the UAE in 2020.
  4. The UAE’s foreign aid likely has some political motivation. After 2013, the UAE’s foreign aid portfolio became less diverse and more focused on a small selection of countries. The UAE claims that its aid “has only humanitarian objectives.” However, there are often clear correlations between the UAE’s political interests and its top aid recipients. For example, in 2013, the UAE’s foreign aid to Egypt massively increased. The country likely increased it in order to support the military coup in Egypt at the time. Additionally, despite Yemen’s pressing need for aid, it did not receive significant aid from the UAE until 2015.
  5. The UAE’s foreign aid officially goes toward “reducing poverty and improving quality of life.” Despite the UAE’s somewhat political motivations, its foreign aid program is both impactful and extensive. Among its top goals for foreign aid, the UAE lists “humanitarian assistance, elimination of poverty, support for children, transportation, infrastructure, government support and empowerment of women.” Much of the country’s foreign aid goes to development projects aimed at long-lasting infrastructure improvements in countries such as Egypt and Afghanistan. It also goes toward aiding refugees in Syria and Yemen or to sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. The UAE hosts several large charity aid programs such as the Emirates Airlines Foundation, which has supported various humanitarian aid projects in 18 countries for nearly two decades. One of these projects include the Emirates Friendship Hospital Ship, a mobile hospital currently located in Bangladesh. The vessel provides mobile medical assistance to those in need.

Looking Ahead

Given its clear commitment to increasing levels of valuable foreign aid, the UAE continues as one of the world leaders in aid. Wealthier countries of the world need to follow suit and contribute more to helping struggling nations around the world.

– Anneke Taylor
Photo: Flickr

Bosnia and Herzegovina Vaccine Rollout
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been quite profound. The country has been experiencing a severe recession, the worst in 25 years. Due to government borrowing in an effort to ease the strains stemming from the crisis, the national debt has soared. As a result, the Bosnia and Herzegovina vaccine rollout has been slow because its government has been unable to afford vaccines.

However, due to Russia, China and Europe providing donations, the country has received a large number of vaccines. On top of this, overseas organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have been continuing to advocate for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most vulnerable citizens.

The Lack of Purchase

In stark contrast to neighboring Serbia’s successful vaccine rollout, Bosnia and Herzegovina has not bought a single vaccine. Due to a disorganized government and the impact of a steep recession, the country has been relying on donations. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Bosnia and Herzegovina has prevented the nation from organizing a rollout of its own, thus endangering its citizens.

Pilgrimage to Serbia

Because of the slow vaccine rollout in Bosnia and Herzegovina, many Bosnians have migrated to neighboring Serbia, which has had an exponentially more successful vaccine rollout, to receive their vaccine. This is particularly striking because of the tensions between the two countries. The Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić is well-known for downplaying the Srebrenica genocide, which took place in 1995. This was during the Yugoslavian wars of independence and took the lives of many Bosnian Muslims.

Donations are Keeping the Country Afloat

Because of the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the country has been relying on large donations from countries that are further into their vaccine rollout than Bosnia and Herzegovina. After initial donations from Russia and China, the E.U. provided vaccines to Bosnia and Herzegovina. This also included Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia, with 651,000 doses of BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine in April 2021. In June 2021, Austria committed to donating 1 million doses of mainly AstraZeneca vaccine to the Western Bulkan bloc.

The UNHCR Advocate for the Vaccination of Asylum Seekers

While the Bosnian government is reluctant to vaccinate its population of refugees and asylum seekers, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) continues to advocate for the vaccination of those within the country without international protection. Previous successes have been seen in Serbia where the UNHCR has managed to vaccinate a large number of refugees, with 53 having their vaccine on the first day of operations.

The Future

Despite the crushing impact that the recession has had on the vaccine rollout, with international collaboration the future is looking brighter for the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina. With organizations such as UNHCR advocating for the nation’s most vulnerable, few will slip through the cracks in the vaccine initiative.

Augustus Bambridge-Sutton
Photo: Flickr

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in the Palestinian Territories
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in the Palestinian territories has been extensive. COVID-19 devastated the previously struggling economies of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the last quarter of 2019, the Gaza Strip had a 43% unemployment rate while the West Bank had a 14% unemployment rate. Moreover, the recent conflict between Hamas and Israel, lasting from May 10, 2021, to May 21, 2021, further disrupted the Palestinian economy.

COVID-19 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip

In March 2020, the Palestinian Authority (PA) identified the first cases of coronavirus in the Palestinian territories. Surges in cases since August 2020 have resulted in intermittent lockdowns and stressed an already burdened Palestinian healthcare system. The Palestinian healthcare system’s already limited capacity and dearth of specialized medical care workers means the Palestinian territories have an insufficient ability to handle large influxes of COVID-19 patients. Also, Israeli-implemented movement restrictions between the Palestinian territories and Israel have constrained Palestinian efforts to combat COVID-19 by delaying the Palestinian territories’ acquisition of necessary medical equipment.

As of June 2, 2021, the vaccination campaign across the Palestinian territories has vaccinated 344,260 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip or 7% of the population. Thus far, COVAX has heavily supported the Palestinian vaccination effort and aims to vaccinate 20% of the Palestinian population.

State of the Palestinian Economy

Coronavirus-induced social distancing and lockdown measures have further weakened the fragile Palestinian economy. Even before COVID-19, political instability, periods of violence and Israeli restrictions on human and material movement in and out of the Gaza Strip were already causing a state of humanitarian emergency in the Gaza Strip. In the West Bank, the PA’s suspension of coordination with Israel between May 2020 and November 2020 intensified the impact of COVID-19 on poverty. The suspension led Israel to suspend tax transfers to the PA, which account for the majority of the PA’s budget.

Due to the health and socioeconomic crisis, the Gaza Strip’s unemployment rate jumped to 49% by the end of 2020. Likewise, the pandemic has caused wages to decline by 50% or more in nearly 40% of West Bank households. In the West Bank, the pandemic and tax revenue crisis caused the PA, the territory’s largest employer, to cut its staff’s pay in half.

The pandemic also intensified Gazan food insecurity. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reported that “food expenditure declined in 40% of surveyed households in Gaza once lockdowns went into effect.” As of early 2021, 68% of Gazans were food insecure.

Altogether, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in the Palestinian territories has been drastic as experts project the pandemic will push many households below the poverty line. Specifically, estimates indicated the proportion of Gazan households living in poverty would jump from 53% in 2019 to 64% by the end of 2020 and the proportion of West Bank households living in poverty would rise from 14% to 30% in the same period.

Israel-Hamas Conflict

The May 2021 conflict between Israel and Hamas worsened already dire living conditions in the Gaza Strip and may increase COVID-19 cases in the territory. The conflict damaged 57 Gazan educational facilities and 29 Gazan health facilities. Moreover, the conflict damaged the Gaza Strip’s water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure, which serves 1.2 million people.

When the conflict caused the number of Gazan internally displaced persons to temporarily spike to 77,000, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) raised concern that the displacement may spread COVID-19. Following the conflict, positive cases in the Gaza Strip increased and now account for 84% of all COVID-19 cases in the Palestinian territories.

Renewal of US Aid to the Palestinian Territories

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in the Palestinian territories has been stark. However, the Biden administration recently ended a nearly three-year U.S. hiatus on aid to Palestinians. On April 7, 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced an aid pledge promising $275 million. The pledge dedicates $150 million to fund UNRWA, which serves nearly six million Palestinians across the Middle East.

The Biden administration earmarked another $15 million to aid the Palestinian response to COVID-19 and provide food assistance. Furthermore, the aid plan will provide the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with $75 million to fund economic and development assistance projects and $10 million to fund peace-building programs. USAID will use more than half of the $75 million to improve access to water and sanitation and upgrade Palestinian infrastructure.

During Secretary Blinken’s visit to Ramallah, he announced another $112 million of aid to Palestinians. Specifically, the U.S. will provide another $32 million to fund UNRWA. The pledge will also provide another $75 million in economic and development assistance to Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and $5.5 million in immediate assistance to the Gaza Strip. During the visit, Secretary Blinken also outlined the United States’s goal to procure 1.5 million COVID-19 vaccines for Palestinians.

Future Outlook

While the U.S. only recently announced its Palestinian territories aid plan, the pledge will contribute to combating COVID-19 and provides a hopeful outlook for reversing the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in the Palestinian territories. Additionally, international efforts to procure vaccines and support COVAX have the potential to increase Palestinian access to COVID-19 vaccinations.

Zachary Fesen
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 Vaccination in San MarinoSan Marino is a small Southern European state surrounded by Italy. Despite having a small population of just 33,000 people and a mountainside location, the country is surprisingly one of the wealthiest in the world based on GDP per capita. San Marino acquires most of its wealth from tourism and the sale of local goods. However, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic nearly destroyed the country’s tourism industry. The campaign for COVID-19 vaccinations in San Marino will allow the economy to recover as industries begin to reopen, igniting economic activity.

The Impact of COVID-19

In terms of the poverty rate in San Marino, minimal data exists. But, like the rest of the world, San Marino’s economy has also experienced adverse impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, tourism rates decreased due to stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions. Before the pandemic, the small country averaged around two million tourists in 2019, a clear indication of the significant economic role of the tourism sector. With regard to COVID-19 rates, San Marino has confirmed 5,092 cases and 90 deaths. The campaign for COVID-19 vaccinations in San Marino has been successful due to small population numbers and a steady supply of vaccines.

COVID-19 Vaccinations in San Marino

All of San Marino’s people have either been partially or completely vaccinated against COVID-19. The country administered mostly Sputnik V vaccines after signing a deal with Russia. Starting May 17, 2021, San Marino is offering a COVID-19 vaccine holiday package to boost tourism with an incentive. The holiday package allows non-residents access to vaccines in San Marino by booking accommodation for a certain duration at one of 19 hotels.

“The initiative is open only to those coming from countries that Italy has opened up to for tourism.” Two separately administered Sputnik V doses are available at a cost of €50. To receive the second dose of the vaccine, tourists must return to the country and stay in a hotel for at least three days. This way, San Marino makes up for its loss of tourism revenue while helping to eradicate the virus with vaccines.

The Road to Recovery

More than 66% of the population has been fully vaccinated through the campaign for COVID-19 vaccinations in San Marino. With no patients hospitalized for COVID-19, the country is effectively controlling its COVID-19 infections. With an adequate vaccine supply to cover its population, San Marino has found an innovative way to put the vaccine surplus to good use while boosting the tourism industry. The COVID-19 vaccination holiday package in San Marino is a unique solution to ignite economic recovery in the country. The offer has caught the attention of tourists who trust in the efficacy of the Sputnik V vaccine. Through innovative solutions, San Marino is finding creative  ways to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic

– Matt Orth
Photo: Flickr

The Impact of COVID-19 on poverty in South SudanAs the world’s youngest country, South Sudan faces many obstacles to economic and political stability. Continued conflict, natural disasters and COVID-19 further exacerbate the developing nation’s economic strife in the aftermath of years of civil war. Outside of foreign aid, South Sudan’s economy heavily relies on two main sources: oil production and agriculture. Both these sources experienced the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, negatively affecting economic growth and livelihoods in the country. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in South Sudan calls for the support of foreign aid in order for the country to successfully recover.

South Sudan’s Oil Industry

South Sudan is one of the most oil-reliant countries in the world. More than 90% of its revenue and more than 70% of its GDP stems from its abundant oil fields. Since gaining its independence, South Sudan produces nearly three-quarters of former Sudan’s entire oil output, equating to almost 500,000 barrels per day. However, the volatile oil industry is experiencing a lower demand and a decline in prices due to the pandemic. Regarding the global oil demand, “containment measures and economic disruptions related to the COVID-19 outbreak have led to a slowdown in production and mobility worldwide, producing a significant drop in global demand for oil.”

COVID-19’s Effects on Agriculture and Food Security

The agricultural sector accounts for 15% of GDP in South Sudan and employs roughly 80% of South Sudan’s population. With more than 80% of the population residing in rural areas, agriculture, livestock farming and fishing make up the livelihoods of many households.

A devastating combination of flooding, drought, locust swarms and the pandemic created high levels of food insecurity in South Sudan. More than 6 million people are facing crisis-level food insecurity and roughly 1.4 million children under 5 may suffer from acute malnourishment in 2021.

The IMF Assists

In response to the worsening humanitarian crisis, the world continues to reaffirm its commitment to eliminating poverty in South Sudan. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a disbursement of  $174.2 million in March 2021 for emergency assistance to South Sudan in the wake of COVID-19. The assistance aims to provide economic relief due to the collective impact of plummeting oil prices, floods and the pandemic in general. According to the IMF, the funding will “finance South Sudan’s urgent balance of payments needs and provide critical fiscal space to maintain poverty-reducing and growth-enhancing spending.”

World Bank Projects in South Sudan

On June 8, 2021, the World Bank announced two new projects equating to $116 million to curb poverty in South Sudan by committing to “strengthen the capacity of farmers, improve agricultural production and restore livelihoods and food security.” The first project, the South Sudan Resilient Agricultural Livelihoods Project (RALP), amounts to $62.5 million and commits to training farmers to better manage their businesses, utilize new agricultural technology and implement climate-smart practices to improve agricultural output. The project will also assist farmers with “tools, machinery and seeds required to improve productivity.”

The second grant of $53.7 million supports the Emergency Locust Response Project (ELRP). The grant will fund South Sudan’s response to desert locusts. The project will provide income opportunities to vulnerable people to assist them in producing more food and improve their economic situation. The project also encourages “the restoration of pasture and farming systems” in the region.

The Road Ahead

The World Bank expects levels of poverty in South Sudan to remain high for the time being due to food insecurity and the lack of access to essential goods and services. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in South Sudan is harsh. Data as of April 2021 indicates that 82% of the population lives below the poverty line. However, the recent aid to South Sudan gives the country’s oil industry and agricultural production an opportunity to recover to pre-pandemic levels. The government’s priorities lie in addressing the lingering conflict and stabilizing its economy amid an economic, humanitarian and public health crisis. With continued aid and support, South Sudan can successfully recover and achieve stability.

Gene Kang
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Syria
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Syria and other war-torn nations has been severe. Some countries have cut foreign aid to Syria amid the pandemic, which will greatly affect Syrians already living in dire circumstances. Other countries and organizations have increased aid, recognizing that now more than ever, foreign aid is urgently needed in Syria.

The Crisis in Syria in Numbers

During the pandemic, many Syrians have lost sources of income. A drastic rise in food prices and a drop in the value of the Syrian pound are further exacerbating the country’s humanitarian crisis. In 2020:

  • About 4.5 million people became food insecure, bringing the total to about 12.4 million food-insecure people, nearly 60% of the population.
  • Food prices in Syria increased by 236%.
  • The poverty rate increased to a staggering 90%.
  • Roughly 24 million people require humanitarian aid to survive.

Decreased Foreign Aid

Global economic struggles have led to cuts in foreign aid budgets across the globe. At a March 2021 Brussels donor conference, the U.N. asked countries to pledge $10 billion to alleviate the effects of the Syrian civil war, which the pandemic has further aggravated. The international community only pledged $6.4 billion in aid to Syria. A clear example of the impacts of reduced aid is apparent in the humanitarian relief efforts of the World Food Programme. The organization had to reduce food apportionments to Syrians by 30% in order “to stretch existing funding.”

Adding to aid concerns, the United Kingdom, normally a world leader in foreign aid, plans to donate almost 50% less in 2021 than it did in 2020. The cut has been met with much domestic and international backlash. However, other countries have dramatically increased aid. Germany’s 2021 pledge is its largest in four years, promising more than $2 billion worth of aid to Syria.

Organizations Aiding Syria

Funded by national governments and private donors, various organizations are working to alleviate the effects of COVID-19 on poverty in Syria. The World Food Programme (WFP), which provides food to nearly five million of Syria’s most vulnerable people every month, won the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts in 2020.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF have started coordination and planning for the vaccines promised through COVAX to cover the priority 20% of the Syrian population. Boosting the low vaccination rate in Syria will undoubtedly help alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Syria.

The Syria Cross-border Humanitarian Fund (SCHF) is also essential in coordinating aid. Since the U.N. created it in 2014, the SCHF has worked to increase the quality of humanitarian assistance in the country. It assigns funds to the NGOs and aid agencies best suited to meet shifting needs so that funding has the greatest reach and is utilized most effectively for the most significant impact.

The SCHF has already laid out its first “standard allocation” strategy for 2021, dividing the money among efforts that will improve living conditions, provide life-saving humanitarian assistance and foster long-term resilience by creating livelihood opportunities. Its “reserve allocation” sets aside funds to address unforeseen challenges that may arise.

The Road Ahead

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated poverty and food insecurity in Syria. Due to the global economic crisis caused by COVID-19, there will likely be more gaps in humanitarian relief funding. Wealthier countries need to step in to assist more vulnerable countries during their greatest time of need. While organizations commit to helping Syrians most in need, support from the international community will ensure a stronger and more comprehensive response.

Hope Browne
Photo: Flickr

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Venezuela 
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Venezuela has been significant in regard to food security and medical care, but food shortages and malnutrition were already rampant between 2015 and 2017 in Venezuela. By the end of 2018, wholesale prices doubled nearly every 19 days due to inflation. More than 3.4 million Venezuelans migrated in search of more stability and opportunity.

In response to these issues, Venezuelans protested against the authoritarian leader, Nicolas Maduro, in 2019. The outbreak of protests demanded a new constitution addressing issues related to economic instability and medical care. Then, on March 13, 2020, the first COVID-19 case occurred in Venezuela.

Since the first case of COVID-19 in Venezuela, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 250,309 confirmed cases and 2,814 deaths. The impact of COVID-19 on Venezuela compounded on preexisting humanitarian issues of economic instability, health and food insecurity. In response, nonprofit organizations and international government organizations began providing aid to people in vulnerable situations in Venezuela.

Life Before the Pandemic

Prior to the spread of the coronavirus, Venezuela’s economy experienced a debt of higher than $150 billion. In addition, the GDP shrunk by roughly two-thirds, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Due to this, Venezuela experienced the highest poverty rates in Latin America, affecting 96% of the people. These issues resulted in a lack of essential products such as medical care, potable water, food and gasoline.

Health Security in Venezuela

In the past five years, over 50% of doctors and nurses emigrated from Venezuela to escape economic instability. This is according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. A declining health system was unable to provide aid for infectious disease, malnutrition and infant mortality. As a result, the spread of COVID-19 resulted in heavily populated hospitals with minimal resources.

Without adequate pay and protection for medical professionals, as well as a shortage of potable water and protective medical gear, Venezuela’s hospitals experienced difficulty in responding to COVID-19. According to WHO, around 3.4% of confirmed COVID-19 cases resulted in death. WHO predicts this number to be much higher in Venezuela. This is because the country’s hospitals lack basic X-rays, laboratory tests, intensive care beds and respirators.

In response to these issues, the National Academy of Medicine in Venezuela, a politically independent medical organization, sought to reduce the impact of the pandemic on existing health care systems. The Academy made a request to the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, James Story, on May 2, 2021, for the U.S. to add Venezuela to its international donor list for millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccinations. Venezuela already received around 1.4 million vaccines from China and Russia.

However, the National Academy of Venezuela stated that to control the pandemic, the country needs to vaccinate 70% of the adult population. The vaccines they received represent less than 10% of what Venezuela needs.

Food Insecurity During the Pandemic

At the end of 2020, with exports at a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, food inflation rose to 1,700%, resulting in a significant increase in food prices. As a result of inflation and international sanctions, the WFP also projected that Venezuela will experience a slow recovery to intensifying humanitarian issues, including food insecurity.

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Venezuela has resulted in 65% of families experiencing the inability to purchase food because of the hyperinflation of food products and inadequate income. In order to survive while experiencing food shortages, families in Venezuela reduced the variety of food and portion sizes of meals.

However, those in vulnerable positions, such as children, pregnant women, those with preexisting health conditions and the elderly, experienced malnutrition because of the inability to meet nutritional needs. The World Food Program (WFP) estimated that one of every three people in Venezuela is food insecure. During the pandemic, those experiencing food insecurity continued to increase. The U.N. reported that prior to the pandemic, one in four elderly people, a demographic that maintained the majority of wealth in Venezuela, skipped meals. During the pandemic, more than four in 10 have been skipping meals.

Humanitarian Response to the Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Venezuela

In 2020, the U.N. developed the Venezuela Humanitarian Response Plan, which seeks to provide 4.5 million adults and children throughout Venezuela with access to humanitarian assistance, according to OCHA. The plan requires $762.5 million to provide health care, water, sanitation and hygiene, nutrition, shelter and educational support. The plan carries out objectives of providing emergency relief, improving access to basic services and providing protection for the most vulnerable in Venezuela, especially during the pandemic.

Over 129 humanitarian organizations, including agencies associated with the U.N., will implement the Humanitarian Response Plan in Venezuela. It has already responded to emergency relief to COVID-19 and led to the return of tens of thousands of Venezuelan refugees, according to OCHA.

Throughout 2020, the U.N. received $130 million in support of this Humanitarian Plan. This allows humanitarian organizations to reach 3.3 million vulnerable people in Venezuela with basic necessities. This will include humanitarian assistance, per OCHA’s report. Additionally, the Plan allowed for 1.4 million people to receive humanitarian assistance in response to COVID-19.

The global pandemic and humanitarian issues are continuing in Venezuela, leading to a necessity for improved food security and medical care. As a result, throughout 2020, the United Nations, as well as humanitarian organizations, increased their presence in Venezuela. They will continue to encourage additional humanitarian organizations to provide humanitarian aid.

Amanda Frese
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

COVID-19 Vaccination in Bhutan
COVID-19 vaccination in Bhutan began in March 2021. The long-term impact of COVID-19 remains limited to an economic slowdown from the country’s lockdowns. This is allowing the government to smoothly pivot to its long-term recovery goals.

Bhutan’s citizens are responsible for the global pandemic’s minimal impact on the Bhutanese population’s health. There was a consistently high amount of attention toward preparing response efforts. A high level of lower-income communities in Bhutan’s outskirts has expressed the country’s willingness to help its worst-off endure the crisis.

COVID-19 and Vaccinations in Bhutan

Reuters’ COVID-19 Tracker and its latest data from July 8, 2021 indicate that Bhutan’s infection rate stands at an average of 21 new cases each day. Broader statistics are a testament to successful containment efforts. The relatively small country’s 763,000 citizens boast a mere 2,249 infections and only one fatality. Meanwhile, vaccination rates trend at 92 doses per day. However, this is because the Bhutanese government already distributed its vaccine stockpile to an overwhelming majority of its citizens.

As a nation that uses the philosophy of “Gross National Happiness” as a guide, a ready amount of native volunteers answered the call to bring vaccines to those in need. Avoiding a national health crisis means enduring an economic slowdown. However, Bhutan’s most vulnerable citizens can expect a consistent level of support while recovery continues. A hallmark of this success is its sheer rapidity. For example, “…within two weeks, it had reached more than 90% of the adult population eligible for vaccination,” observed The Lancet in its retrospective on how COVID-19 vaccination in Bhutan led to distributing the first of two doses.

Garnering Vaccines

Bhutan did not receive its total Covishield supply all at once. The first shipment of aid from India arrived in the form of 150,000 doses on January 20, 2021. Rather than delivering vaccinations in a staggered fashion as new doses arrived, the Ministry of Health selected March 27, 2021 to begin distribution due to the day’s astrological significance.

This decision left enough doses available to completely sidestep the issue of managing a chain of priority groups for the first wave of COVID-19 vaccination in Bhutan. Combining this with a willingness to confront the challenges of shipping Covishield to rural areas resulted in poorer communities facing relatively insubstantial delays.

Participatory Spirit

While the practical hurdles of COVID-19 vaccination in Bhutan stem from its public servants’ sound preparation, the dearth of registrations is a credit to the government’s ability to mobilize its population. In this respect, further Ministry of Health action in the two months before March 27, 2021 encompassed a campaign to invigorate national spirit concerning the vaccine.

Aside from the publicity of choosing to begin distribution on an auspicious day, The Lancet reports on a series of regular broadcasts by Prime Minister Tshering to provide facts on the vaccine and ward off misinformation that could increase hesitancy to register. “It helps in making rational and well-informed decisions when you have in-depth knowledge of the subject yourself,” says Health Minister Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo on his government’s attention to keeping medical expertise at the center of its strategy.

Bouncing Back

Now that the immediate danger of an unvaccinated population has passed, the long-term benefits of resolving this crisis are apparent. Despite what the Bhutan Times characterizes as “challenging circumstances” over the course of 2020, it nonetheless describes progress toward achieving its development goals as “tremendous.”

A series of initiatives with the United Nations illustrates an optimistic attitude for the future as the economic climate slowly becomes more conducive to attracting young and newly enfranchised demographics to growing sectors of the economy. Plans are in development to a self-sufficient agricultural sector in line with 2030’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with the pandemic’s economic impact doing little to slow Bhutan’s process of positive systemic change.

Samuel Katz
Photo: Flickr

tuberculosis in PeruCOVID-19 has ravaged populations and economies alike. It has also exacerbated the impacts of previous conditions that threaten the developing world. In particular, the lung-damaging disease known as tuberculosis has seen an alarming resurgence. The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified tuberculosis as one of the 10 leading causes of death worldwide as recently as 2019. Furthermore, the Stop TB Partnership asserts that in just one year, the novel coronavirus and its wide-reaching implications have delayed progress on the eradication of tuberculosis by 12 years. The problem is especially grave in Peru where both COVID-19 and a tuberculosis resurgence are impacting healthcare resources. Cases of both viruses have only multiplied the threat of each, calling for swift solutions.

The History of Tuberculosis in Peru

Tuberculosis in Peru was a pressing issue long before the emergence of COVID-19. Peru reports the second-highest rate of tuberculosis in the Americas and WHO has classified Peru as one of the countries with the most cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) worldwide. Peru’s economic landscape makes it the perfect hotbed for highly contagious diseases such as COVID-19 and tuberculosis. Roughly 27% of Peru’s population lives in poverty, with a lack of proper housing confining many to dense slums in urban centers. When combined with restricted access to healthcare, these circumstances worsen the spread of disease.

In recent years, Peru has made strides in combating the spread of tuberculosis. For example, the Peruvian government has revamped its tuberculosis control program by establishing multiple committees to guide tuberculosis containment. It has also increased funding for tuberculosis efforts. However, COVID-19 has become a serious roadblock to this mission.

The Impact of Two Pandemics

Upon the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Peru in early 2020, nearly all the country’s healthcare equipment and resources went toward its treatment and containment. Peru’s healthcare system lacked the capacity to continue fighting tuberculosis as it had, thus, COVID-19 and tuberculosis cases rose simultaneously. Lockdown has also limited the availability of tuberculosis testing, making it harder for doctors to track the disease’s spread. Doctors fear inadequate access to proper medical care and resources will contribute to the development of new strands of MDR-TB.

Continuing to Fight Tuberculosis

The COVID-19 pandemic will undoubtedly continue to impact how Peru addresses tuberculosis. However, efforts have occurred at every level of society to keep combating the latter’s rise. For example, the government is continuing the TB Móvil program which it established in 2019 to increase access to tuberculosis testing by mobilizing vans across the country. The program will provide wide-reaching tuberculosis diagnosis and treatment options.

Non-governmental organizations are working on the ground in Peru as well. Socios en Salud (Partners in Health), which has been active in Peru since the mid-1990s, created its own programs and tools to increase access to tuberculosis treatments. The tools include Mochila TB, individual backpack machines that are useful for tuberculosis testing. The portable and compact machines “[take] testing directly to patients.” One device can test as many as 80 people per day. Solutions like Mochila TB make healthcare more accessible to the rural population. The devices can therefore greatly reduce the impact of tuberculosis in Peru.

Descriptions have determined that Mochila TB is a combination of “digital radiology, artificial intelligence and molecular biology” and has already made a significant impact. Since early March 2021, Mochila TB has reached 3,491 people in the most remote communities of Peru. The mobile testing capability eases the strain on healthcare systems to accommodate for COVID-19 care.

Paving the Way Forward

Healthcare professionals have identified another key step in mitigating COVID-19’s effect on the spread of tuberculosis in Peru: using the healthcare system to combat both diseases simultaneously. Given the diseases’ many similarities in infection, containment and spread, using the same strategies and principles for COVID-19 and tuberculosis in Peru can help stop the spread of both. Through innovations and strategizing, Peru should be able to successfully combat both pandemics.

Nathan Mo
Photo: Flickr