Information and stories about developing countries.

m-Health in developing countriesMobile healthcare, known colloquially as “m-Health,” just may be the key to revolutionizing healthcare and access to medicine in developing countries. m-Health allows anyone with a mobile device to access various facets of healthcare such as educational resources, notifications about nearby testing and vaccination diagnosis and symptom help and telehealth appointments.

Lacking access to healthcare is one of the major drivers of poverty across the world. The World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO) state that “at least half of the world’s population cannot obtain essential health services.” This inaccessibility perpetuates the existence of infectious diseases specific to developing countries. Similarly, poverty itself is a public health crisis. As indicated by the WHO, poverty directly causes sickness “because it forces people to live in environments that make them sick, without decent shelter, clean water or adequate sanitation.”

In addition, healthcare expenses cause 100 million people to fall into “extreme poverty.” Extreme poverty is defined as less than two dollars a day each year. Thus, even if people in developing countries can access to medical care, the expenses often put them into another devastating health situation.

However, m-Health may decrease these numbers. Read below for some key benefits of m-Health in developing countries.

m-Health is Adaptable and Available

m-Health is becoming more and more accessible to developing countries due to widespread mobile phone use around the world. A study from the PEW research center on global mobile phone ownership revealed that mobile phone ownership is growing in countries with developing economies. 83% of citizens in emerging economies (South Africa, Brazil, Philippines, Mexico, Tunisia, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria and India) own a mobile phone. Another PEW study found a majority of adults own their own mobile phones in a separate group of 11 developing countries.

67 countries in the world have less than two hospital beds per 1,000 people. However, many of those countries (including countries from the PEW research studies) have high rates of mobile phone ownership. Therefore, some developing countries would have better access to telehealth than in-person health.

In addition, m-Health is adaptable. WHO reported that the most widely-used m-Health initiatives around the world are “health call centers/ health care telephone helplines (59%), emergency toll-free telephone services (55%), emergencies (54%), and mobile telemedicine (49%).” This shows that different regions can implement different programs depending on the need.

m-Health Can Track Disease Outbreaks, Epidemics and Natural Disasters

Tracking disease outbreaks and natural disasters is a huge advantage of m-Health. WHO reported high implementation rates of this m-Health initiative in South East Asia and the Americas. Africa uses this feature of m-Health the most for public warning systems.

m-Health Avoids Poorly Maintained Health Clinics

In an article by the World Economic Forum, the author described how many health clinics in developing countries, particularly in Africa and Indonesia, may be doing more harm than good. If low-income countries rush to build multiple health facilities, the quality of these pop-up clinics is often low. They tend to be “lacking in the equipment, supplies and staff needed to deliver vital health services effectively.” In addition, the sheer volume of poorly-constructed clinics often competes for resources. Medical equipment is often left unsanitized, therefore becoming dangerous. This contributed to Ebola killing more people in health facilities than outside areas during the West African epidemic in 2014-2016.

However, m-Health reduces the need for going to an in-person clinic. In this model, concerned individuals can schedule a “virtual first” consultation and then attend an in-person appointment only if needed.

m-Health Raises Awareness and Mobilizes Communities to Receive Vaccines and Testing

Many countries have also implemented mass SMS alerts to alert their citizens of nearby testing sites for HIV. These alerts educate recipients on health concerns related to HIV and other infectious diseases. They also outline why it is necessary to receive testing and treatment. Similar alerts exist for vaccine knowledge and care.

As m-Health is a new and continuously developing idea, there are still problems with its potential to provide widespread care. For example, even though virtual appointments and care are possible through m-Health, many developing countries lack a sufficient number of health workers to keep up with m-Health services. One study affirms this, stating, “There are 57 countries with a critical shortage of healthcare workers, [creating] a deficit of 2.4 million doctors and nurses.”

In addition, different health conditions may receive disproportionate care through m-Health. For example, women’s and reproductive health is at a large deficit in the developing world and globally. One study revealed that “women are 21% less likely to own a mobile phone than men, and this difference is higher in South East Asia.” Another study in Kenya also reported that “ownership of mobile phones was 1.7 times and SMS-use was 1.6 times higher among males than among females.” This ownership deficit, coupled with the fact that women are more likely to be in poverty than men due to gender inequality, makes m-Health more accessible to men’s health or less gendered health issues.

Still, m-Health in developing countries is an extremely promising enterprise to relieve the developing world of its widespread healthcare deficits. As this study concludes “m-Health has shown incredible potential to improve health outcomes” – and it can only continue to progress from here.

– Grace Ganz

Photo: PXFuel

COVID-19 on Migration
The novel coronavirus spread at dramatic rates since its discovery in Wuhan, China in late 2019. Some countries including China, Vietnam, New Zealand and Norway have successfully stopped the spread with an aggressive response; other countries, however, have been unwilling or unable to make similar progress. Worldwide confirmed cases currently top 20 million. While the virus is certainly transforming many aspects of life, the impact of COVID-19 on migration has become especially significant.

How COVID-19 Affects Refugees

About 80 million people have experienced forcible displacement from their home countries throughout the world. Additionally, 72 million of those asylum seekers are currently living in developing countries that lack the resources to aggressively fight a pandemic like COVID-19.

The International Rescue Committee estimates that up to 1 billion cases of COVID-19 could hit fragile countries housing the world’s refugees, such as Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen. Yemen has struggled with a major humanitarian crisis since its civil war escalated in 2015. Today an estimated 24 million people within the country are in need of assistance, with half of those individuals being children.

In most refugee camps, social distancing is impossible. One can find a prominent example of this difficulty in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. This camp crams more than 850,000 Rohingya refugees into a very small, dense area. These refugees have severely limited access to health care. The lack of clean water for handwashing could prove disastrous when attempting to combat COVID-19. In addition, malnutrition and poor sanitation make refugee camps like Cox’s Bazar a potential hotbed for viral transmission. Medical depots at the camp only have 300 beds available and will be overrun if an outbreak emerges. These makeshift hospitals lack the lifesaving respirators needed for those in critical condition. In addition, medical workers must deal with COVID-19 on top of other preexisting health crises. Diseases like cholera, malaria and tuberculosis remain a constant issue.

The impact of COVID-19 on migration is evident in the record low numbers of refugee resettlement. For the time being, the United Nations has suspended relocation. People living in these unsuitable conditions are in dire need of help. Rather than taking in these refugees, most countries have chosen to lock down their borders without exception.

The Fate of Migrant Workers

Many industries in developed and undeveloped countries alike rely on a steady stream of foreign laborers. In the age of COVID-19, there is a premium on skilled workers in key industries like healthcare. As such, some countries have expedited the migration process for doctors, nurses and scientists.

Other job types have not experienced such demand. In countries like the United Arab Emirates, migrant workers are unemployed or have unpaid wages as a result of the pandemic. These men and women have no income to send back to their families and home villages, and many face a difficult decision: return home to their families where work is even rarer or scramble to find another job under their visa before being deported.

An Opportunity for Change

The long-term impact of COVID-19 on migration remains unclear. Asylum seekers in refugee camps will likely be the last on the priority list when vaccines become available, thus delaying their relocation even further. Until refugees obtain similar health protections to citizens, coronavirus will never fully resolve.

As lockdowns gradually end, the countries hit hardest by COVID-19 will face the immense task of rebuilding their economies. As part of this process, there will likely be a focus on hiring citizens over migrant workers. Governments may choose to distribute funds to domestic industries and put foreign aid on the back burner.

There is, however, a chance to reimagine human mobility. Portugal, Ireland and Qatar moved to ensure everyone has access to health care, regardless of their citizenship status. Several European Union countries have emptied their immigration detention centers to avoid outbreaks. Italy’s new amnesty law has granted 200,000 work permits to migrant workers.

Migrant workers are a major contributor to the global GDP, performing jobs across skill levels. Foreign labor is vital to successful economies, and a more fluid entry system would help expedite the road back. It is finally in the self-interest of governments worldwide to provide an easier path for these workers and mitigate the negative impacts of COVID-19 on migration.

– Matthew Beach
Photo: Pixabay

Stunted Growth in Children
In 2019, 149 million children under the age of 5 around the world experienced stunted growth. Children that stunted growth affects are 33% less likely to evade generational poverty as adults. By continent, 36% of children in Africa under the age of 5 are malnourished. Around 40-45% of “all preventable child deaths” are due to undernutrition. In 2012, this meant that more than 6 million children died from stunted growth disorders.

Stunted Growth in Children

Malnutrition in the early stages of a child’s life causes stunted growth. Stunting correlates with impaired physical growth and cognitive development, a weakened immune system, higher mortality rates and overall poor health. Stunted growth is a chronic condition that appears within the first two years of a child’s life.

Children who experience stunting are more likely to be fatigued and less curious, which naturally lessens their psychosocial development. Additionally, they tend to face disciplinary challenges as well as possess less developed motor function and social skills. These challenges perpetuate the cycle of poverty, as stunted growth in children leads to higher dropout rates and a 22% reduced earning capacity in the workforce.

While the effects of stunted growth are largely irreversible, reducing malnutrition will lessen underdevelopment and other illnesses that stem from malnourishment. The World Health Organization (WHO) has plans in place to reduce the prevalence of this disease by 40% by the year 2025.

Physiological Explanation

Malnutrition causes diminished cognitive function and psychosocial adversity in children by altering neurological function. This, in turn, leads to reduced income as adults. Dendrites are neurons that communicate with nerve cells and pass on signals in the brain. Malnutrition in young children decreases the density of dendrites in the brain and therefore reduces the number of neurons. This process negatively affects critical brain development such as memory formation, locomotor skills and other neurological functions, which are critical to healthy brain development.

Links to GDP Growth

According to the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, malnutrition drains the global economy of approximately $3.5 trillion per year from lost productivity. Individuals often experience a lack of brain development during the first years of their lives from undernourishment. They later suffer from diminished productive capacities in their livelihoods. The Global Panel reports that a 3% to 16% annual GDP loss results from malnutrition. Simply put, better-nourished children grow into more productive adults.

Policy Changes and Solutions

As with many public health problems worldwide, foreign aid investments may be a critical starting point for reducing malnutrition and stunted growth in children in poor regions. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that if the U.S. invested $1.2 billion per year in the global fight against malnutrition, the decrease in deaths and an increase in “future earnings” (GDP income and relative economic benefits) would generate $15.3 billion for the U.S. per year. This calculation represents a thirteen to one benefit-to-cost analysis.

An Ethical Approach

Much more than an economic incentive, there is a moral imperative to improve nutrition globally. Eliminating malnutrition would increase the overall health of populations. Poor communities that lack consistent access to nutritious food and healthcare would particularly feel this effect.

Research shows that, while the impaired cognitive state is not necessarily permanent and can improve incrementally, there typically remains overall “cognitive dysfunction” in stunted children in comparison to healthy children. The FAO’s recommendations include dietary supplements, food fortification (the addition of nutrients to food to increase the nutrient content) and biofortification (agricultural practices that incorporate DNA recombination to augment nutritional content in primary crops).

Along with FAO dietary solutions, the WHO has developed policy aims to reduce stunted growth in children by 2025. Its policies include collaboration between organizations such as Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN), which works to reduce global malnutrition and the health disorders that accompany malnourished children. SUN helps countries develop and implement government policies to improve nutrition during the critical period before a child’s second birthday. Through collective action efforts, SUN, WHO, governmental entities, the U.N. and individual stakeholders are joining forces to eliminate malnutrition.

Nye Day
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

international food tradeMalnutrition, the state of nutrient over-consumption or under-consumption, plagues every nation in the world. Every day, one out of every nine individuals around the world goes hungry, while one out of every three is overweight. What causes this problem? The growth of the international food trade has stoked the flames of a malnutrition crisis that already disproportionately impacts impoverished countries. Nevertheless, governments and major firms in the international food trade can take simple steps to transform markets and reduce malnutrition all over the globe. Here are three ways that rethinking the international food trade can help impoverished regions deal with malnutrition.

Rethink Pricing Policies

It’s simple economics that when products drop in price, they become more widely purchased and distributed throughout the world. Unfortunately, many of the foods priced lowest in the international food trade fall into the category of “ultra-processed.” Consumption of these nutrient-poor foods is increasing due to their low price. In October 2019, sugar was priced at around $0.13 per pound, and its consumption was set to increase by 1.4%. Comparatively, meat saw a 1% decrease in production from 2018 to 2019 when its prices increased moderately.

With reduced national wealth, impoverished countries must often resort to purchasing these cheaper, unhealthy commodities. Driven by lower sugar prices, the consumption of sugar is expected to grow in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean. Less wealthy countries will therefore continue to purchase “ultra-processed” foods linked to heart disease and diabetes. In doing so, they will provide their citizens with potentially harmful food that will only worsen the malnutrition crisis.

Rethinking trade policies can solve this issue of imbalanced prices. Many processed foods made with sugars or fatty oils have low international safety standards, which allows them to be sold within markets for low prices, whereas healthier fruits and vegetables have high international safety standards, which causes their prices to rise. This makes healthier foods less affordable for impoverished regions.

By applying high safety standards to sugar- and oil-based foods, the international food trade could equalize prices of healthy and unhealthy products. Healthy foods would then be more accessible to malnourished communities and help to reduce the impacts of malnutrition. Additionally, individual countries can redesign national trade policies to subsidize the production of healthier foods like fruits and vegetables so as to make them more affordable for impoverished countries.

Rethink Market Orientations

By 2022, the global fast food market is expected to grow by $188.4 billion. From 2018 to 2019, the international trade of oil crops reached an all-time high, and experts also expect the international market of sugar products to expand through 2020. Comparatively, the international market for healthier products like coarse grains may soon undergo a “sharp anticipated drop” in consumption and production.

The international food trade is therefore oriented toward distributing foods around the globe that contribute to the growth of obesity-related diseases and malnutrition. Given that the international food trade continues to prioritize markets for “ultra-processed foods,” it becomes even more likely that poor individuals will have to purchase and consume these foods. In turn, this will lead to poor regions eating increased amounts of refined foods linked to chronic diseases while consuming fewer natural foods that contain essential nutrients.

Such a market orientation stands to further deprive already starving individuals of the few nutrients remaining in their diet, thus worsening the global malnutrition crisis. In this case, governments and major food producers can help reduce malnutrition in impoverished countries by reorienting international food markets toward the production and consumption of healthier commodities like fruits, grains, vegetables and meats. These food groups currently make up only 11% of global food production.

By overhauling what gets sold within the international food trade and by emphasizing the commercialization of healthier foods, governments can work together to provide nutritious food to every country. These foods would help eliminate, not contribute to, cases of debilitating malnutrition.

Rethink Food System Investment

According to the WHO, 42 million children worldwide under the age of five are overweight or obese, while 50 million children are too thin for their height. Both of these conditions are associated with massive health risks as well as massive risks to the health of global economies. By 2030, the economic cost of diabetes, a disease linked to obesity and highly processed foods, could increase to $2.5 billion a year.

Through micro-financing and “multisectorial investments in nutrition,” governments and international food trade firms can grant increased buying power to communities with particularly high malnutrition levels. This type of investment could provide impoverished communities with food or direct cash grants that could help them reduce malnutrition and stimulate economic growth. Domestic financing has the potential to kickstart the economies of impoverished regions, which gives them the opportunity to purchase healthful foods crucial to reducing malnutrition rates.

Many current food systems lack any outside investment. For this reason, countries around the world would need $9 billion per year over the next five years to meet nutritional goals. By rethinking investment into international food markets and systems, the global community can come together to stimulate the economies of impoverished countries. This would give them a dignified way to access markets, purchase healthy foods and reduce malnutrition in the communities most in need.

Overall, although the current mechanisms of the international food trade foster malnutrition, countries can easily redesign them in ways that will actively help to reduce malnutrition worldwide. By rethinking trade policies, market orientations and community investments, governments and major firms in the international food trade can begin to address malnutrition and help provide impoverished individuals with the wholesome food crucial to lifelong health and happiness.

– Nolan McMahon
Photo: Flickr

road safety in developing countries
When people help developing countries — they usually support policies that provide food, medicine and machines that will prevent malnourishment. Perhaps all to ease the transition into a stable society. All those efforts certainly benefit people, as 50 million fewer children around the world are malnourished compared to 20 years ago. Yet, the sometimes overlooked policy area of improving road safety in developing countries is also very important.

Lesser Income Countries Are Most Affected

Even if we save the world from malnourishment — it would not help the 1.35 million that fall victim to road accidents, every year. Also, 93% of road fatalities occur in middle or low-income countries, which impedes growth and hurts regions already suffering from other effects of poverty. International agencies around the world are proposing solutions to stop preventable deaths due to traffic accidents. Here are three agencies working to improve road safety in developing countries and thus — save lives with tried and true methods.

3 Agencies Improving Road Safety in Developing Countries

  1. WHO: The World Health Organization within the United Nations is primarily responsible for informing and organizing information about health-related issues, such as road safety in developing countries. In 2017, they released a guidebook for governments called Save LIVES, which outlines ambitious goals, such as reducing accident fatality by 50% by 2020. While the data is not yet available for 2020 — it may have happened, if only because of the coronavirus pandemic. Save LIVES suggests mitigation strategies as well, like lowering and enforcing speed limits. For instance, lowering the speed limit by just 1% holds the potential to reduce fatal crashes by 4%.
  2. Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety (BIGRS): This philanthropic organization, funded by the Bloomberg financial company, uses evidence-based approaches to increase road safety in developing countries. They started in some of the hardest-hit countries in their pilot program. E.g., Cambodia, Mexico and Vietnam. In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, BIGRS focused on reducing drunk driving through a combination of advertisements and increased enforcement as well as improving the existing transit system. As both efforts reduced deaths, Bloomberg has since expanded its efforts to other countries and is currently trying other approaches. For instance, working with manufacturers directly to make airbags and seatbelts standard, across the world.
  3. Global Alliance of NGOs for Road Safety: While this group does not directly build better roads or encourage legislation — it does organize and compile data from other NGOs. On the website are many articles about the impacts of those nonprofits. For example, ASIRT Kenya encouraged the creation of Nairobi Metropolitan Services in the neighboring country, to make journeys to school easier. Les Ambassadeurs de la Sécurité Routière (ASR) in Tunisia created a summer of road safety to encourage drivers and passengers to wear seatbelts and motorcycle helmets. Through a media campaign, they hoped to reduce road deaths by approximately 40%.

Road Safety and Poverty?

These organizations use many of the same solutions — encouraging people to wear seatbelts, increasing enforcement and decreasing speed limits. All of these efforts are for the same end goals of road safety in developing countries. Reducing traffic deaths has many benefits that people may not initially realize and can directly reduce poverty. The GDP growth of many developing countries could happen faster if they did not have the burden of losing citizens to the roads. An estimate by the WHO states that developing countries miss out on 7–22% of their potential GDP increase, because of such deaths. Countries with higher productivity (measured by GDP) tend to have less poverty because they can participate more in international trade. These countries also tend to produce more resources like food and medicine.

With safe roads both coming from and encouraging a greater GDP, impoverished people can continue their ascent out of poverty as road safety in developing countries and GDP simultaneously improve.

 Michael Straus
Photo: Flickr

Innovations Fighting Poverty
Many citizens of developing countries struggle with poor living conditions and a low quality of life. They often do not have access to what they need to stay healthy, and are no stranger to the issues of malnourishment, disease and high infant mortality rates. Luckily, people around the world have begun to take notice, developing innovations designed specially to combat these issues. These innovations are being produced and delivered across the globe, saving countless lives. Here are five of the leading innovations fighting poverty.

NIFTY Cup

Some infants are unable to breastfeed due to medical conditions, premature birth or the death of their mother. Unable to get the nourishment they need, these babies are at risk of malnourishment and death. The NIFTY Cup is designed to help infants receive breastmilk without the risk of choking and other complications. The cup is made of soft silicone that holds a small amount of breastmilk, which flows into a small reservoir at the edge, allowing the baby to drink easily. This simple invention is helping to save the lives of children in Malawi and Tanzania, especially premature babies, who are less able to breastfeed safely.

Embrace Warmer

The Embrace Warmer is another among many innovations fighting poverty by treating hypothermia in infants. It is a portable warmer specifically designed for infants, and is much less costly than other warmers and incubators. Many hospitals in developing countries are ill-equipped to save the lives of hypothermic babies due to underfunding and overcrowding. The cost-effective Embrace Warmer, therefore, is just what hospitals and mothers need to keep their children safe and warm. So far, it has reached over 200,000 infants in 20 developing countries.

Jet Injector

Developing countries often have issues with sanitation, and diseases can run rampant. Vaccination is important to keep the population of a developing nation safe, but ensuring the cleanliness of the needles can prove to be a challenge. The Jet Injector reduces the risk of using improperly sterilized needles by using “a high-pressure, narrow stream of fluid to penetrate the skin.” It offers the same protection as a vaccine given through a traditional needle while reducing the risk of infections due to improper sterilization.

Lucky Iron Fish

Iron is an essential nutrient especially important to pregnant women and infants. Unfortunately, it is easy to develop a deficiency, particularly in developing countries. Lack of a sufficient amount of iron can lead to the development of anemia, a condition in which one’s body weakens from the inability to get enough oxygen. The Lucky Iron Fish is an easy-to-use supplement that combats this issue, and it is much more affordable and long-lasting than typical iron pills. When left in water or other liquid-based meals, it releases iron that enriches the food. One fish costs less than $50 and can be reused for up to five years.

Life Saving Dot

Iodine is another important nutrient commonly found in seafood and vegetables. It can be a challenge for those in developing countries to obtain iodine if they do not have access to either of these food groups. Iodine deficiencies are especially widespread in India, where the soil is notoriously iodine-poor and many citizens are vegetarians. The Life Saving Dot, another among many innovations fighting poverty, fuses culture and innovation to solve this problem. While a bindi is a traditional dot Hindu women wear on their foreheads, the Life Saving Dot is a bindi adhesive with added iodine that absorbs into the skin, providing wearers with the dose of nutrients they need. It is extremely affordable, simple to make and easily incorporated into these women’s lifestyles.

These innovations fighting poverty are saving lives and keeping people healthy in developing countries, showing just how powerful technology can be in the fight against poverty. Through current and future innovations, conditions will hopefully continue to improve for the impoverished.

Alison Ding
Photo: Needpix

COVID-19 in Nigeria
Nigeria is located on the western coast of the African continent. Home to more than 200 million people, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. The nation is no stranger to diseases: a dense population, frequent travelers and the Ebola outbreak have impacted thousands. Although the government successfully contained the Ebola outbreak, similar action was not taken to deal with COVID-19. As COVID-19 surges, several global humanitarian organizations are working with Nigeria’s government to combat the virus. Here are four organizations fighting COVID-19 in Nigeria.

The World Health Organization

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been actively involved in projects promoting health and safety in Africa for years. During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, the WHO helped contain the virus in Nigeria. Recently, the organization has shifted its focus to COVID-19. In early June, the WHO recognized a lack of COVID-19 testing in many of the country’s rural communities. In response, the organization planned to educate health officials and community members on the pandemic’s severity.

The WHO has since been working with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to conduct country-wide testing and sample collection. The two organizations are now locating and mapping at-risk communities to better coordinate treatments and procedures.

World Food Programme

World Food Programme (WFP) is a food-assistance branch of the United Nations. The WFP has been especially active in recent months, combatting the food insecurity accompanying economic hardships caused by COVID-19. The program has also established and deployed food assistance task forces to reach the country’s remote communities.

Throughout the pandemic, WFP has assisted more than 715,000 of its targeted 890,000 beneficiaries. The organization continues to offer life-saving food assistance to Nigerians while providing valuable education about sanitation and safety measures.

WaterAid

WaterAid is a nonprofit humanitarian aid organization focused on providing clean water and promoting hygiene and sanitation across the globe. Amidst COVID-19, WaterAid has been collaborating with Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Water Resources to incorporate clean water resources and hygienic behaviors into communities across the country.

The organization is placing an emphasis on implementing routine hand-washing practices using clean water. WaterAid is also working to educate Nigerians about the importance of staying hygienic and sanitized to minimize the risk of contracting the virus.

The World Bank

The World Bank is an international financial institution that provides countries with loans and financial services. Its current work involves collaborating with the Nigerian government to monitor and analyze the impact of COVID-19 on the country’s socioeconomic health. The World Bank is also working to determine the amount of financial aid the country requires to adequately address the pandemic. The organization has initiated a household survey called the Nigeria COVID-19 National Longitudinal Phone Survey to assist in this endeavor.

In early March, the World Bank prepared initial financial packages of up to $12 billion to assist more than 60 countries heavily affected by COVID-19. Such financial packages have helped countries like Nigeria strengthen their healthcare systems and reduce the damage to the economy. The $12 billion funding includes contributions from various facilities within the World Bank, including International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), International Development Association (IDA) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

When Nigeria’s first cases of COVID-19 emerged, international humanitarian and financial organizations quickly prioritized containment. While COVID-19 in Nigeria continues surging, organizations like the World Health Organization, World Food Programme, WaterAid and the World Bank Group have stepped in to support the country. As these organizations work to promote hygiene and offer treatment, the risk of contracting COVID-19 in Nigeria continues to decrease and ultimately brings hope to the nation.

– Omer Syed
Photo: Flickr

Polio Eradicated in Africa
On August 25, 2020, the World Health Organization officially declared the African continent free of wild poliovirus after reports of zero cases since August 2016. This achievement comes after decades of ambitious initiatives that distributed vaccinations to the African population in an effort to stop polio’s spread. In what many are describing as a “momentous milestone,” the news of polio eradication in Africa provides hope that other preventable diseases will one day be eliminated too.

What is Polio?

Polio, the disease that the poliovirus causes, is a highly contagious and potentially deadly illness commonly spread through feces. While one in four people infected merely experience a flu-like illness or are asymptomatic, polio presents serious symptoms to vulnerable populations, especially children.

Severe symptoms that people associate with polio include paresthesia, meningitis and paralysis. Paralysis, the most dangerous and most well-known, occurs in roughly one out of every 200 cases. The muscle and nerve damage that these side effects cause can permanently disable or even kill an infected person if vital organs, like the lungs, become paralyzed. Even after recovering, many younger patients suffer post-polio syndrome (PSP) which may cause muscle pain, weakness or paralysis in adulthood.

In the early ’90s, an estimated 75,000 African children became paralyzed each year due to polio. Due to Africa’s poor healthcare system and sanitation infrastructure, preventing the disease’s spread proved difficult. There is currently no known cure or treatment for polio, making it especially dangerous for children in poor regions suffering other medical issues like malnutrition. However, through multinational and multi-organizational efforts, polio rates began to decline as immunization rates rose.

How Did Africa Eradicate Polio?

The fight toward polio eradication in Africa began with the creation of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in 1988, followed by Nelson Mandela’s Kick Polio Out of Africa campaign in 1996. These efforts aimed to combine resources from governments, U.N. bodies and organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to sponsor massive surveillance and immunization campaigns throughout the continent.

The combined efforts of these groups brought nearly 9 billion polio vaccines to Africa, according to the World Health Organization. Braving wilderness and war zones including territory held by the terrorist group Boko Haram, 2 million volunteers from organizations like Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF and Gavi immunized even the most isolated African villages.

The report of the most recent wild polio case was in August 2016 in northeastern Nigeria, within Boko Haram territory. However, the Nigerian government and outside supporters were able to quell the outbreak’s spread; since then, zero wild polio cases have occurred in Africa. This years-long feat allowed the World Health Organization to declare polio in Africa eradicated in 2020, a major feat for the continent’s residents and healthcare systems.

What Now?

Estimates determine that international efforts to defeat wild poliovirus in Africa have averted 1.8 million cases and 180,000 deaths. However, these figures only apply to the wild poliovirus—they fail to account for vaccine-derived polio.

There are two main types of polio vaccinations: oral and injected. Because the oral polio vaccination is much cheaper, it is most commonly used for widespread polio immunization campaigns in developing countries. However, this vaccine relies on a weakened version of the poliovirus to immunize rather than the inactive virus utilized by the injected vaccine. This disparity has led to occasional outbreaks of vaccine-derived polio in some African nations.

Currently, GPEI and its associated NGOs in Africa are working to curb any vaccine-derived polio outbreaks while frequently updating vaccinations for vulnerable children. There are only two remaining countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, that have reported cases of wild polio in the past 12 months. However, by following Africa’s lead and adopting immunization initiatives, there is hope that wild polio can subside permanently in all countries.

– Aidan Sun
Photo: Flickr

ASD in Developing CountriesAutism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) awareness and subsequent treatment are much lower in developing countries than they are in the United States. Early intervention is crucial to treating this condition. However, in countries with low levels of awareness and limited resources, many children do not receive the attention they need to mitigate the effects of their ASD. A new prescription drug called bumetanide shows positive results in reducing core ASD symptoms. It might be a promising way to treat children with ASD in developing countries.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a disorder that causes developmental delays due to atypical neurological development. In those affected by ASD, delays are identifiable in early childhood and persist throughout the lifespan, varying in intensity based on the severity of the disorder.

Some symptoms of ASD are atypical eye contact, repetitive behaviors and the inability to consistently understand social cues. They also include the difficulty in communication and cognitive impairment.

Many people with ASD are smart individuals capable of independently living. However, sometimes, the disorder prevents people from properly functioning or taking care of themselves. To ensure people with ASD are as successful as possible, doctors encourage early intervention that helps children learn skills to combat ASD. Intervention strategies teach these children how to communicate their thoughts and understand what others are thinking, as well as other general coping skills that offset the difficulties of ASD. The earlier these skills can be learned, the more beneficial and effective they are.

ASD in Developing Countries

ASD occurs worldwide, but many countries have strong stigmas against it that discourage openly treating or even talking about ASD. Additionally, there is a large deficit of information about ASD in developing countries. In many of these countries, doctors are not easily accessible. Even when they are, they are not properly trained on how to treat ASD. Thus, a large number of children and people in general with ASD remain undiagnosed and, consequently, untreated.

85% of people with ASD are estimated to live in developing countries. As a result, organizations such as the Global Autism Project strive to raise awareness of ASD. The Global Autism Project is in the process of training teachers to work with those with ASD in developing countries. This provides important tools for destigmatizing and diagnosing ASD.

However, studies have identified that the best intervention strategy currently obtainable is to provide information about behavioral treatment to family members. Providing them with this information allows them to implement the treatment. While this holds the potential for success, it has also been found that this is extremely hard to consistently execute in families that are suffering from poverty.

Bumetanide: A New Drug to Reduce ASD Symptoms

There are countries that lack these resources to holistically work with children with ASD. As a result, a new drug called bumetanide could improve symptoms. It could also work as a treatment system for those who lack other resources and options.

Bumetanide works to stabilize the ratio of two important neurotransmitters: GABA and glutamate. A study observed the effects of this drug. When bumetanide was implemented consistently in three to six-year-olds, the severity of their ASD symptoms declined. For example, many showed improved eye contact and cognitive processing. There are other prescription drugs that have been used to treat ASD, but they all cause multiple and sometimes severe side effects as well. Bumetanide had few side effects, with none proving to be severe.

 

The improved ratio of GABA to glutamate aids children with ASD in learning. It helps promote the development of healthy brain pathways. Forming these beneficial pathways early on can hold lifelong benefits by permanently improving brain development. Thus, bumetanide can serve as an accessible treatment for children with ASD in developing countries. It creates lasting improvements without requiring continuous doctor appointments and therapy sessions.

Hannah Allbery
Photo: Flickr

Farm Radio International
In 2016, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a report stating that most of the world’s poor are small-scale farmers living in rural areas. Without targeted efforts to improve the lives of these rural farmers, “the eradication of poverty by 2030 will be impossible.” Fortunately, many organizations are committed to these targeted efforts. For example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supports research into drought and flood-resistant crops that can withstand environmental challenges. Additionally, the foundation supports the World Food Program’s (WFP) initiative to purchase excess yields from small-scale farmers. This gives farmers a source of income and allows WFP to provide food aid quicker because their supply is local. Along with these forms of aid, a Candian NGO, Farm Radio International uses radio, a vastly accessible and effective tool, to provide essential information geared towards community development.

Farm Radio International

Farm Radio International focuses its efforts on rural communities in Africa. It has developed broadcasting partners in 41 African countries and has over 100 partners working on radio projects in 11 countries in Africa. In these rural communities, radio is often the primary source of information for small-scale farmers. Farm Radio International recognizes this key avenue of communication and has spent the last 40 years developing radio resources, technologies and projects committed to providing development information to impoverished rural farming communities all over Africa.

Radio is a tremendous tool for development for various reasons. It is widespread and accessible — radio can reach billions of people every year, even rural communities, and it can do so in their native languages. Radios are cheap and convenient. Since they are portable, listeners can work or travel while listening to radio programs. Radio is also often an interactive, allowing listeners to call in and ask questions or provide feedback to broadcasters. Lastly, radio is capable of providing information quickly, making it essential for emergency situations.

Not only does Farm Radio International recognize the usefulness of radio, but it also works to make radio as effective and impactful as possible through three programs: Radio Resources, Radio Innovations and Radio Projects.

Radio Resources

Radio Resources focuses on making broadcasters and their stations the best they can be for small-scale farmers. It provides training and packages for broadcasters to help them improve their stations and connects broadcasters to facilitate online discussions. Radio Resources also relays relevant news to small scale farmers.

Radio Innovations

Radio Innovations develops new technologies that make radio more interactive and a staple in these communities. It uses new technologies to connect audiences and broadcasters. For example, it developed text message alerts to notify farmers when it is time to tune in for the broadcast. The project is working to create a large range of programs to have the greatest impact possible such as cooking series, drama series, farmer development strategies and weather advisory.

Radio Projects

Radio Projects uses on the ground research and consultations to develop radio programs that target specific needs in the community. Some Radio Projects topics include:

  1. Agriculture: Agriculture explores the best farming practices and ways to prevent, control and get rid of pests, such as the fall armyworm.
  2. Environmental Sustainability: Environmental Sustainability teaches sustainable practices such as plowing across the slope, planting cover crops and how to build stone boundaries that prevent runoff and soil erosion.
  3. Gender Equity: Gender Equity addresses the specific needs of women. For example, one program sought to reduce maternal and infant mortality by facilitating conversations about proper nutrition and addressing cultural taboos about breastfeeding.
  4. Health and Nutrition: Health and Nutrition educates about nutritious crops and how to grow them, such as sweet potatoes. Additionally, it encourages the consumption of local nutritious crops and livestock, like teff, sorghum and guinea fowl.

Farm Radio International works directly with communities and individual farmers. For example, in Ghana, Farm Radio International started radio programs addressing the chronic malnutrition found in the country. These programs educated farmers on low-cost and highly effective behavioral changes to increase yields.

One man, Peter Bongkumum, explains the impact of Farm Radio International; he now uses strategies such as planting in rows, using fertilizers and reducing the number of seeds in each hole to have better and cheaper yields.

Bongkumum says, “I am very happy and very proud of myself and my farm… I’m using the higher yield and income to pay my school fees, as I am doing an online learning course on education.”

Farm Radio International is uplifting small-scale farmers, a group disproportionately impacted by global poverty, by putting information and resources directly into their hands. Through interventions like these, global poverty reduction is within reach.

– Paige Wallace
Photo: Flickr