Information and stories about developing countries.

Transnational CompaniesA transnational company is a global company that has factories and offices in different countries around the world. The headquarters are usually in advanced countries and its factories and manufacturing facilities are in less developed countries. Most of the transnational companies have home headquarters in Western Europe, Japan or the United States. Suppliers can be anywhere in the world depending on the necessary goods. However, companies usually set up their manufacturing centers in places where labor is cheap to keep operating costs low.

The operation of transnational companies in less developed countries where rates of poverty are high can be helpful in aiding people to break out of the cycle of poverty, but the risks of exploitation and low wages are still present.

Advantages

  • Creating jobs for the local population – Undoubtedly, transnational companies create jobs for the local population; they account for at least one-fifth of total paid employment in manufacturing in a number of developing countries. The creation of more and more jobs not only boosts the economy of the country but also provides local workers with a stable income, albeit that pay is low. Furthermore, these jobs help in improving the skills of its employees, which can then be transferred to future jobs and taught to others in their communities.
  • Economic growth for the country – Transnational companies bring much-needed money into a developing nation. Although most of the profits do return to the company’s country’s headquarters of origin, the local economy does benefit. By boosting business activities in the country, transnational companies contribute to economic growth and development. They could also act as growth poles for other similar companies by encouraging them to locate to that country, thus bringing in even more economic support.
  • Developing infrastructure and technology – Developing countries do not have sufficient resources needed to boost research and development, leaving them technologically behind. Transnational companies however bring in technology and knowledge that the host country does not possess, consequently furthering their development. They are a source of inventions and innovations. Also, infrastructure in the ways of transport links, airports and services are also developed as a result of transnational companies.

Disadvantages

  • The exploitation of workers – Even though transnational companies do provide employment opportunities, they also can exploit the employees. The minimum wage rate for the workers is very low when compared to the work that they complete and the long hours spent, commonly with little or no breaks. The income that workers receive may be stable, but it is not enough to survive on, let alone enough to live a decent quality of life. In a desire for cheap labor, working conditions may also be poor and sick leave that workers are entitled to may be refused.
  • Environmental damage – Transnational companies often receive critics for their harm to the environment. The use of cheaper, non-renewable resources limits sustainability and the burning of materials such as plastic and rubber pollutes the environment. Developing countries need environmental sustainability since for many their health and livelihoods greatly rely on the natural environment and the risks of air and water pollution further diminish their development.

H&M in Ethiopia

One example of transnational companies operating in a less developed country are the textiles and fashion companies such as H&M, Guess and others in Ethiopia. They create job opportunities for local people and particularly for women. However, as mentioned above, the risks of exploitation are prevalent. Garment workers in Ethiopia are among the lowest paid, with a 2019 study from the Center for Business and Human Rights reporting that they have an extremely low pay of just $26 a month. This does not cover basic needs thus not enabling the workers to live a decent quality of life.

There are several NGOs who work towards tackling exploitation in the garment industry; one such example is CARE International, one of the biggest defenders of workers’ rights in all areas, including the fashion industry. It currently has work going on in 95 countries around the world, reaching 56 million people directly via approximately 1,000 projects and indirectly working towards 340 million lives globally.

The Overall Impact on Poverty

So, transnational companies do provide jobs and boost a country’s overall development, but at what cost? There are other ways to help local workers in improvising their livelihoods without the risk of exploitation and capitalist benefits. One such example of this is Farm Africa, a more sustainable and locally oriented initiative. Farm Africa is a charity that helps to reduce poverty by helping local people in eastern Africa to earn more from their produce. Working in DR Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, Farm Africa works to boost the economic welfare of the people, whilst also ensuring environmental sustainability, thus protecting their environment for generations to come.

For a transnational company to be effective, it would need to involve the local people, not just use them for cheap labor to boost its own profits. It is imperative for an initiative to tackle poverty to be sustainable not only environmentally, but also socially and economically.

– Ruby Wallace
Photo: Flickr

MinecraftWhen thinking of Minecraft most people will associate it with kids playing something akin to digital Legos, building worlds and if everything goes according to plan, defeating the Ender Dragon. At its core, this view effectively captures the game at the surface level. Partnering with U.N.-Habitat, Minecraft developer Mojang has harnessed the game concept and applied it to sustainable solutions for developing public space and addressing global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Since 2012, the aim has been to integrate Minecraft into urban planning on a local level, prioritizing the involvement of community members, particularly those that lack a voice in public development initiatives such as women, children, refugees and the elderly. The space they are working with is for the people and designed by the people. Behind the success of the Block by Block methodology lies the simplicity of Minecraft, providing an exceptionally effective lens for visualizing a three-dimensional environment that an untrained eye can make sense of, and propter hoc contribute to.

Block By Block

Pilot ventures in Nairobi and Mumbai in 2013 evolved the methodology into what it is today, built on the central tenet of collaboration. Block by Block provides community residents with the training, tools and platforms to develop and share their ideas on how best to transform public space. The exchange of ideas broadens the considerations of all those involved in the collaborative planning process.

Co-created public spaces come into existence, designed by different people and as such take into consideration the needs and concerns of all those involved in the process, resulting in a ubiquitously accommodating locality. Furthermore, what develops as a by-product is a shared sense of ownership and responsibility for the area, increasing the likelihood of maintenance and endurance, whilst simultaneously strengthening the bonds of the community.

Block by Block selects projects based on financial sustainability, accessibility and potential impact. They tend to target youth empowerment, refugee rights, climate change, accessibility, cultural heritage, social inclusion and human rights involving health and safety.

Kosovo

Following the success of a 2015 project in Pristina, Kosovo, that saw the transformation of an abandoned marketplace into a vibrant public space with a range of facilities including children’s playgrounds and Kosovo’s first skatepark, the Block by Block methodology was implemented once more in Mitrovica, some 40 km north of Pristina.

Located on the banks of the Iber river and divided by The New Bridge, the administrative center of the district is burdened by the ethnic divisions between the Serbian and Albanian communities on either side of the river. A symbol of division, the bridge separates the 80,000 Kosovo Albanians living in the north and the community of 20,000 Serbians in the south. In 2016, Block by Block hosted a workshop bringing together residents of both communities to explore ways how to transform the area and collaboratively design their ideas using Minecraft. The approach aimed to negate the divisions between the communities, changing social attitudes towards the city’s unity through democratizing urban planning’s development process. Construction began in 2017, focused on community interaction and urban redevelopment and has had knock-on effects on intercity cooperation to bring about enduring changes across Kosovo’s socio economic landscape.

Nepal

Dey Pukhu, literally translated to “state pond,” as found in the Kirtipur settlement of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, is as one would expect, a pond, typically used for daily gathering and steeped in tradition, having been designed for socio-religious functions. Rapid urbanization across the area threatened the water systems and affected the use of Dey Pukhu for social and traditional gatherings, with other public spaces similarly experiencing some form of deterioration as well. In 2013 Block by Block selected it for restoration with the aim to sustainably revitalize the area and for the methodology to gain traction and lead to further development initiatives across Nepal.

Gathering local stakeholders to propose ideas for restoration and development, the initiative noted the rise in youth engagement with the project and the notion of public space. As Pontus Westberg of U.N.-Habitat outlined, the young people’s confidence, effort and pride in their work was perhaps the most rewarding outcome from the project. The positive response led to further development programs put in place across the Kathmandu metropolitan area.

Noteworthy is the 2015 Kirtipur project that proposed the development of a site with a school, temple and a water system amidst large open areas of green and vegetation. Following designs and finalized models of the site, the earthquake hit Nepal in April 2015, delaying implementation. U.N.-Habitat allocated $50,000 in emergency response, repairing a damaged local school and providing essentials for survival including water tanks and emergency shelter. By June 2016 the project was running again, with a trash-covered hillside converted into an open park with recreational space and access to clean water as well as a Public Space Revitalisation Plan put in place for the entire municipality of Kirtipur.

Successful Stories

The Block by Block applied its methodology to other cities across the Kathmandu Valley and is active in over 35 countries. The examples above have set off a chain reaction in the areas of implementation. More recent projects include the likes of public gardens as safe spaces for women and children in Beit Lahia. The successes are a momentous use of technology for the public good and make one wonder what other global concerns can have a solution in something as simple and commonplace as video games.

– Bojan Ivancic
Photo: Unsplash

AI technology
AI technology is all around and many use it without even knowing it. However, many people in developing countries cannot access this technology without help. WorldData has reported that there are 152 developing countries worldwide, with a population of 6.69 billion. The entirety of Central and South America and Africa are developing nations, along with the majority of Asia and other island states. About 9% of the global population is living in extreme poverty, earning less than $1.90 per day, and living below the higher poverty line. More than 20% earn less than $3.20 per day and more than 40% earn less than $5.50.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is basically coding and software that help people in daily life. While people know it best for its role in science and medicine, it also has a role in the productive robots in factories, the voice recognition in smartphones, the software that detects online viruses and the drones that deliver packages and help farmers. While there is no official definition for AI, it is typically a man-made machine that does things humans cannot do in a timely manner or at all. The term “artificial intelligence” or “AI” was created in 1956 at a conference in New Hampshire, the United States, but AI machines existed before that.

How is AI Technology Helping Developing Nations?

Agriculture. AI technology supports many different aspects of agriculture, particularly in Africa. It helps farmers take care of their crops by detecting when is the best time to plant and harvest. It can also help detect when crops are sick. For example, mCrops is a form of AI that helps diagnose crop diseases in Uganda. Additionally, another AI that is helpful in agriculture is drones that spray pesticides on sick plants. However, they can also spray water and help plant new crops in the healthiest parts of the ground. An example of this is Aerobotics, which works in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Education. AI technology can help developing nations, especially in rural areas, with education because it is effective for illiteracy, coursework and general school subjects, and can alleviate the short supply of teachers and supplies using tutoring technology. Sites like Dapito, Eneza Education and Tutorful help people connect around the world. For example, they teach English to non-English speakers, customizing content and lessons for a specific student. Students in developing nations are intelligent, but they lack qualified teachers and are sometimes unable to travel to school. For example, travel might not be available when there are floods and when they are sick, especially when many schools are far away.

Recognition. This method of AI includes location and supports many fields, such as health care, natural disasters, deliveries and shipments, and more, generally by the use of drones. An earthquake hit Nepal in 2015 where the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) used AI in relief to locate damage from social media posts, mobile devices, satellites and multiple other devices. Currently, the World Wildlife Fund uses drones in Kenya to arrest wildlife poachers, and UNICEF is building a machine to detect malnutrition using facial recognition.

AI Technology and Health Care

AI technology is helping globally, especially in rural countries in Africa. It is constantly undergoing development for health care but relies on the government, NGOs and medical professionals to authorize machines for medical use and support. AI can diagnose patients, recommend treatments and discover global viruses. For those living in rural and developing nations, AI is lifesaving as it can locate injured people which a normal navigation or GPS system cannot do, and send medicine and medical supplies via drones. It also provides qualified doctors to countries with a lack of medical professionals and to those who need a second opinion on diagnoses, treatment and surgery. This reduces costs, manual labor and mortality rates and develops education in health care and literacy.

In 2022, the University of West Scotland developed new AI technology that enables lung diseases to be identified faster with an accuracy of 98%, meaning diseases are less likely to spread and more people will be correctly diagnosed before a disease progresses and can receive treatment. Further research has found that it can detect COVID-19 cases. This technology is especially useful in developing nations during winter periods especially and globally in general. This will not replace human labor but will support hospitals. This AI technology cuts short the long wait and use of CT scans, blood tests, x-rays and ultrasounds, cutting down further costs and time taken to identify disease and illness.

– Deanna Barratt
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Fiscal policy
In developing nations, as well as nations recovering from a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic,
fiscal policy is an instrumental tool in revitalizing the economy and alleviating poverty levels. The policies are more than simply “good” or “bad” economics as they are key indicators of a nation’s true political priorities.

In low and middle-income nations, foreign aid and debt relief are invaluable in uplifting their economies. On the other hand, the contributions cannot be fully effective without an effective fiscal system. According to the United Nations, a good fiscal policy centered around poverty reduction, reconstruction and growth will focus on raising the growth rate and fostering lasting economic stability. 

Rising Growth Rate

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) emphasizes that “economic growth is the single most important factor influencing poverty, citing a recent study of 80 countries that revealed that the income of the bottom one-fifth of the population increased in exact proportion with the overall growth of the economy as measured by per capita GDP. In countries recovering from crises, a rising growth rate is one of the most effective ways for an economy to bounce back.

Key Fiscal Policies that Can Promote Economic Growth

  • Shifting Government Spending Away from Subsidies: The World Bank categorizes subsidies as a short-term solution and has indicated that they are typically politically popular because the benefits distribute widely. On the other hand, the World Bank reported that “about half of spending on energy subsidies go to the richest 20%,” as they tend to consume more energy and receive more benefits, leaving the lower-income households with little to show.
  • Investment in Cash Transfers as an Alternative to Subsidies: There is increasing data showing that direct cash transfers are a better solution to important long-run investments within households, such as education. These transfers are more beneficial to the bottom 40% and can stimulate economic activity within communities, and indirectly increase government revenue in both the short and long-term through higher tax revenue. 
  • Implementing a Progressive Tax Structure: A progressive tax structure enables governments to increase welfare benefits, such as unemployment, food stamps and housing benefits to the poor. Tax revenue sources do not change rapidly and improved progressivity in personal income tax, corporate, property, health and carbon taxes offer feasible ways to raise revenue without worsening conditions for the poor. Furthermore, nations may consider indirect taxation, as some of the above methods may not be as effective due to the informality of work in certain economies. Progressive tax structures are most effective in upper-middle-income countries. 
  • Having a National Minimum Wage: National Minimum Wages directly benefit the lowest-paid workers in an economy and reduce wage inequality. A universal basic income (UBI), wherein all citizens receive a weekly benefit to ensure a minimum income guarantee may also be effective.

Economic Stability

Prioritizing spending with long-term impacts is vital in creating a self-sustaining economy that alleviates poverty. Good policies will vary in different country contexts while acting with the future in mind even in crises, despite the fact that the benefits will come to fruition later. Below are some fiscal concepts to stabilize a nation after a crisis and to better prepare for any future challenges. 

  • Debt management is essential to maintain the “fiscal space” for crisis recovery and stabilization. Regulatory reform for financial markets, debt transparency and the implementation of a common blueprint for debt relief and restructuring are useful tools for properly managing national debt. 
  • There are many elements that can equip countries with a strategic plan for an unknown future crisis. First, expanding the reach of automatic stabilizers, such as employment guarantee schemes in nations with a large informal sector, in case of crisis. Setting up adaptive cash transfer programs that can be scaled up when necessary is also a good preparatory measure. 
  • Research and improved data, particularly on the costs and ramifications of certain policy implementations, are essential to maximizing the effectiveness of these policies. Long-term evaluations and research can provide decent indications of long-term outcomes, which is important in deciding which policies are best for unique country circumstances. 
  • In developing economies, a focus on education and diversification of the economy from agriculture to manufacturing fosters a more independent and stable economy. Increased government spending on education cultivates a higher-skilled workforce, and a push towards manufacturing pushes economic development, though proper skills and infrastructure are necessary to accomplish this.

Looking Ahead

Fiscal policy shaped around economic growth and the reduction of inequality has the potential to make great strides toward minimizing poverty. There are limits to the types and degrees of these policies in each country. Therefore, other national policy reforms implemented in tandem with economic policies lead to the best outcome in stimulating growth. Regardless of fiscal policy, foreign aid and international cooperation are invaluable in reducing poverty levels in low-income nations and around the globe.

– Carly Ryan Brister
Photo: Flickr

new technologies in South SudanTechnology increasingly offers more and more solutions to help reduce poverty across the globe. Considering South Sudan’s unpredictable climate and scarce resources, new technologies in South Sudan can provide a gateway of opportunities and security to the locals. This can be through new farming methods and equipment, schooling, banking and monetary management.

The Problems in South Sudan

South Sudan’s current climate is posing many challenges to its poverty-stricken population. The World Bank describes poverty as ‘ubiquitous’ across South Sudan, with it estimating that two-thirds of the population requires humanitarian assistance.

Estimates stated that floods are affecting up to 1 million people every year because the floods have forced many to evacuate their homes. This has had an impact on education with floods affecting 100 schools. As a result, more than 60,000 students have reduced access to education.

In the short term, people in South Sudan have had limited access to nutrition and health care. This has contributed to the fact that 60% of the population is facing malnutrition.

It is not just flooding that impacts South Sudan. Excessive drought, temperature changes and unpredictable rainfall have all damaged day-to-day life in South Sudan. Droughts have resulted in food insecurities leading to a loss of livestock and crops.

This is severely impacting the economy in South Sudan considering that 95% of the population work in sectors that rely on the climate. This includes agriculture, fishing and forestry resources.

In the 2020-2021 period the South Sudanese economy reduced by 5.4% due to lower exports of oil and agricultural output. This is having a large impact on the living conditions of individuals in South Sudan.

The Conflict in South Sudan

As a result of the unpredictable climate in South Sudan, many have had to migrate. In fact, up to 4 million people as of 2022 remain displaced due to climate-induced dangers – 1.6 million internally and 2.3 million in neighboring countries.

Migration has led to enhanced homelessness across South Sudan. This has reduced living standards and increased disease. A lack of infrastructure has led to more exposure to malnutrition, mosquitos and climate-induced diseases such as malaria and cholera.

Serious conflicts over resources in South Sudan between groups, especially in areas of extreme drought, has led to livestock raiding and exacerbated the displacement of people into concentrated areas making resource scarcity even more serious.

Furthermore, the large weaponry market that has spread throughout the territory to the failure of the South Sudanese government, fuelling the problem and resulting in wider political instability in South Sudan. Resource conflicts have increasingly become a method to gain political support and power.

UNHCR’s Efforts

To solve the issues of conflict and lack of institutional and infrastructural support in South Sudan, the resource and climate problems require mitigation and resolution. Technology could be a solution, but South Sudan has limited new technologies presently.

First, and foremost, technology can make farming more efficient and sustainable. For example, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is trying to develop sustainable and resilient infrastructure such as dikes and drainage systems to try and appease the problems in South Sudan. Moreover, UNHCR has provided flood-tolerant seeds and training for locals. To help with droughts, it has introduced new irrigation systems and set up tree nurseries to regrow forests. In Maban, five tree nurseries underwent establishment in four refugee camps. These activities are introducing new skills and opportunities for the locals, that are more resistant and malleable to the changing climatic conditions. Other technologies include high-efficiency cooking stoves, reusing agricultural waste and using solar energy to extract water from boreholes.

How the US is Helping

Next, greater investment into education and human capital development is vital for presenting more opportunities for the locals to be able to use new tech. The U.S. has provided more than $117 million to South Sudan on top of humanitarian aid. This is helping the government to invest more money into their infrastructure, allowing more to access education.

The U.N. has also been providing increased support across Africa. It is important that this continues as, alone, South Sudan does not have the fiscal capacity to create a stable socioeconomic climate.

A further key area for South Sudan is taking full advantage of technology to provide education to rural areas that otherwise do not have access. This seems to have had little traction so far but could prove to be a very advantageous development.

Lastly, introducing these new technologies and skills in South Sudan will help to address the migration problem, reducing the levels of migration and allowing the population to become more dispersed again. This will hopefully help to reduce conflict in South Sudan as well.

Looking Ahead

Behind this shift to new technologies in South Sudan in the long run, support through charity and initiatives will help to smooth the transition. For example, to help with conflicts UNHCR has started several peace initiatives in Eastern Equatoria to reduce further conflict between herders and farmers, and to incentivize the use of new technology in pastoralists’ original locations, rather than internally migrating.

As a result, it becomes clear that South Sudan can reduce conflict across the country if it introduces more sustainable technology to help with the unpredictable climate. This requires the support of other countries and the cooperation of the South Sudanese government if this is to successfully reduce poverty.

– Reuben Cochrane
Photo: Flickr

DharaviMumbai’s Dharavi is one of the world’s largest slums and is home to roughly 1 million people since it was established in 1884. Dharavi was initially inhabited by fishermen and later extended to migrant workers from south Mumbai. The slum’s conditions are dire and inhabitants have suffered from the spread of numerous epidemics and diseases due to the lack of sanitation, drinking water, roads and basic healthcare services.

Hidden Markets

Despite its harsh economic and social conditions, Dharavi is close to Mumbai’s two main suburban rail lines, which has made commuting to work easier for workers. Over the years, Dharavi has also developed a large number of thriving small-scale industries that produce embroidered garments, quality leather goods, pottery and plastic. Furthermore, there are estimated to be 5,000 businesses and 15,000 single-room factories located within Dharavi, making it a prime entrepreneurial realm with potential revenue that can total anywhere from $700 million to $1 billion USD a year.

Many of these initiatives are undertaken by women living in the slums, many of whom have taken the lead and become the main breadwinners of their families. In fact, out of the 65,000 rural markets in India, almost 75% are run by women.

Renuka Shinde’s Story

One such example is Renuka Shinde, who was forced to take up the role of the breadwinner after her husband left her and their three sons. Renuka traveled to Kolkata from her home in Dharavi to buy handloom saris to start her small business. At the end of a month’s hard work, Renuka brings home Rs 3,000 or roughly $48 by selling saris and other garments around Mumbai. Renuka makes a profit of Rs12,000 ($200) a month and this tends to increase during Indian festivals such as Diwali and also during wedding seasons.

Pushpalata Chittikindi’s Story

Another example is Pushpalata Chittikindi, who is left to fend for her two sons in the absence of her alcoholic husband. Pushpalata started making metal buckles and sold them piece by piece to nearby factories in the neighborhood. The businesswoman also worked as a cook and cleaner in her spare time. Following the advice of her friends, Pushpalata took a loan to set up her machine but lacked financial knowledge and experience with banks. Pushpalata took the help of a local NGO that gave out small loans to support local women.

With help from the NGO, Pushpalata started making Rs 250, about $4, per day. The businesswoman later pivoted to buying biscuits and snacks from wholesale stores and selling them from her home to nearby school kids. With the money she earned, Pushalata was able to pay off her loans in a year and rented a small store nearby, which she later named after her son, Sagar.

Women in Poverty

The biggest challenge to women looking to follow in the footsteps of Renuka and Pushpalata is access to credit – a first step to overcoming their financial struggles. In India, the poverty rate for women ages 25 to 34 was roughly 12% in 2020 and is said to increase to 14% following the dire effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. On the other hand, Indian men in poverty are roughly 100 men to every 120 women in poverty. The statistics highlight that there is disparity even within the parameters of poverty and that Indian women need support and guidance in their economic endeavors.

Addressing Credit Challenges

Thanks to the Vandana Foundation, an organization that provides low-interest micro-loans to female entrepreneurs in Dharavi, this challenge has become easier to overcome. In addition to the Vandana Foundation, many other NGOs such as the Light of Life Trust, Human Capital For Third Sector and Catalyst For Social Action, also play a big role to support India’s entrepreneurs and inhabitants.

A Take-away from Dharavi

The story of these women stands to show that although we tend to underestimate the power of small-scale local entrepreneurs, they are capable of making a considerable impact. If given the opportunity and starting resources, people have the power to change their financial circumstances and thus their lives, even in slums like Dharavi. There are hidden markets similar to the ones in Dharavi all over the world. By understanding where the opportunities lie and how to best support them, we can help people to help themselves and their communities.

Samyudha Rajesh
Photo: Flickr

Public Health in AfricaFor many people around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic was an eye-opening event that revealed the dangers and inadequacies of the world’s global health systems. However, for other people, outbreaks of epidemic diseases might be more of a lived reality. On the continent of Africa, many know a certain geographic region in sub-Saharan Africa as the “meningitis belt.” These 26 countries face the dangers of meningitis more than other places around the world, and the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the vaccination of the MenAfriVac meningitis vaccine to 50 million children in these countries. African governments collaborated with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and PATH, a nonprofit health organization, to develop the MenAfriVac vaccine and distribute it to more than 350 million people living in areas of high risk. While this scientific effort made an incredible difference in public health in Africa, the COVID-19 pandemic largely disrupted the processes that allowed these successes to continue. The pandemic reduced services aimed at preventing meningitis by 50% from 2019 to 2020. Despite recent setbacks, WHO developed a plan to address meningitis.

Meningitis: The Disease

Meningitis is a complex disease with several variations. It arises in viral or bacterial form with several types of viruses or bacteria causing meningitis. Some meningitis vaccines protect against several forms of meningitis.

The types of meningitis are important to consider because historically, different types of meningitis affected African communities. Prior to 2010, only 10% of meningitis cases were a form other than meningitis type A; however, after the introduction of the MenAfriVac vaccine, the number of cases of meningitis type A decreased significantly. Since 2017, no person has experienced a case of meningitis type A in the region. While deaths due to meningitis still totaled 140,552 people in Africa in 2019, the elimination of meningitis type A means that about 95% of people diagnosed with meningitis survived in 2021. Since 2013, however, meningitis type C led to several outbreaks in the meningitis belt.

At the end of 2021, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) reported 2,662 cases of meningitis along with 205 deaths due to meningitis. Local mobile clinics and vaccination drives from WHO helped reduce the outcome of death from 85% of cases to 10% of cases fairly quickly.

The Defeating Meningitis Road Map

WHO assists with suppressing the outbreaks of meningitis such as in the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo in late 2021; however, it also develops long-term plans to improve public health in Africa overall. In November 2020, the World Health Assembly approved the Defeating Meningitis by 2030 roadmap. WHO will implement the $1.5 billion plan in January 2023, which will begin the fight to control meningitis in Africa by 2030. The plan includes a goal to achieve a 90% vaccination rate using a new vaccine that will hopefully protect communities against new outbreaks of the disease. From 2023 to 2030, the plan also hopes to reduce deaths of meningitis by 70% and reduce cases of meningitis by 50%. Several steps to achieving these goals include increased disease surveillance to catch meningitis early and increasing awareness of services to improve overall public health in Africa.

With WHO’s plan to defeat meningitis by 2030, public health in Africa will greatly improve the lives of millions of people within the meningitis belt. Meningitis is mostly a preventable disease with the efforts of vaccinations and other measures of public health. As the rest of the world encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic, collaboration within a community goes a long way to keeping everyone safe.

– Kaylee Messick

Photo: Flickr

Health in the Pacific IslandsHealth in the Pacific Islands recently improved due to the elimination of a disease called trachoma on the island of Vanuatu. This island is located to the north east of Australia in a region called Melanesia. Vanuatu is the first of the Pacific Island countries to eliminate the disease, and the only one of 14 to complete this goal. Health in the Pacific Islands and around the world has improved significantly over time as public health measures reduced the number of people at risk of contracting trachoma by 92% over the past two decades.

Vanuatu

Vanuatu is composed of 83 islands and relies on agriculture. Due to the separation of islands, health in the Pacific Islands, including Vanuatu, is often inadequate. Access to health care remains a challenge to many residents, and there also exists a lack of resources and medical personnel. Though there are six hospitals located throughout the country, many people must rely on health centers due to the rural areas in which they live. The recent success story of the elimination of trachoma follows another success back in 2016 when the country eliminated lymphatic filariasis, a disease that affects the lymphatic system.

Trachoma

The bacterium, Chlamydia trachomatis, causes trachoma, which leads to a visual impairment that is, at times, severe enough to cause the patient to become blind. The bacterium has caused visual impairments in about 1.9 million people in the world so far, and 136 million people remain at risk of contracting the disease as of June 2021. The disease spreads through contact with discharge coming from the eyes or nose, whether through direct contact or intermediates such as flies. Trachoma is classified as a neglected tropical disease (NTDs).

People often find these diseases in countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Though there are many NTDs, trachoma is one of the known diseases in this category that can be eliminated from a population through the use of public health measures. Improvements to hygiene and access to clean water help control the spread of the disease, as well as control the spread of possible vectors such as flies. The push to eliminate trachoma began after data from 2014 indicated that trachoma infected 12% of children between the ages of one and nine years old. This means these children were at risk for serious visual impairment that would affect their future. Trachoma also holds a significant economic impact on countries that trachoma impacts, where these countries may lose up to $5.3 billion per year.

A Path Toward Elimination

Other countries can follow the success of Vanuatu by abiding by the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) and mobilizing medical professionals and communities in places of at-risk individuals. The acronym for the policy toward eliminating trachoma is SAFE. It stands for “Surgery for trichiasis; Antibiotics to clear infection; and Facial cleanliness and Environmental improvement to limit transmission.” Communities pair this process with education on avoiding health risks, proper treatment and providing antibiotics to populations, especially rural individuals. Governments, such as the case in Vanuatu, also often partner with international organizations such as WHO, and with organizations that specifically work with treating diseases related to blindness such as the Fred Hollows Foundation.

The Fred Hollows Foundation is particularly important to the regions in and around Australia because it focuses on diseases related to sight. It helps to reduce poverty by providing medical treatments, education and training. It builds health facilities and works with local communities to end preventable blindness.

Looking Ahead

These ongoing partnerships and procedures that WHO outlines eliminate NTDs such as trachoma, allowing medical professionals to greatly improve health in the Pacific Islands. In 1998, WHO set a goal to eliminate trachoma by the year 2020. As of 2020, the new goal for the NTD elimination plan is now 2030. Trachoma remains a health problem in 43 countries. Hopefully, other countries in the Pacific Islands and around the world can use Vanuatu as a role model in eliminating more NTDs to improve health in the Pacific Islands and abroad.

– Kaylee Messick

Photo: Flickr

education in MexicoMuch of Mexico’s population faces economic struggles that have only magnified amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, one of which includes the high dropout rate for school-age children, a challenge education in Mexico is facing.

Mexico Faces High Student Drop-Out Rates

Mexico’s enrollment rate is one of the most successful out of the Latin American countries. By the start of the 21st century, almost all of Mexico’s age-eligible population was enrolled in primary and lower secondary school. A study found that the enrollment rate for students in grades one to nine as of 2007 was around 95%. Yet, the country fails to secure a high rate of student enrollment through the end of lower secondary schooling, with the overall drop-out rate being close to 50%

Data shows that less than 60% of students finish upper secondary school (high school level) and of that percentage, a large number of children age-eligible for high school do not even attend, according to a University of Nebraska-Lincoln study. Many students decide to end their educational pursuits around the age 15, due to financial reasons. Additionally, an estimated 5.2 million students, around 14% of Mexico’s school-aged children, had dropped out of school since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, citing financial hardship as the reason for their educational termination.

The Impact of Poverty

Although the government made secondary education mandatory in Mexico, it doesn’t directly enforce it. Additionally, “children marginalized by… poverty experience particularly high risks of dropping out” due to financial burdens, according to an article published in the International Journal of Educational Development. As children age, their school curriculum tends to become more difficult and financial costs tend to increase. Coupled with that fact, as children grow older they become more capable of contributing to their family’s financial status, whether that labor is through household duties or in the formal job market, the same article reports.

Mexico’s high dropout rates for school-aged children during and prior to secondary school therefore can have two reasons: the country’s poverty rates and the dependency on children’s labor to supplement household income, all of which especially escalated following the onset of COVID-19.

The Cancellation of Prospera

In recent news, Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador canceled Prospera, a governmental program intended to keep children in school and improve education in Mexico, according to Social Protection. The government developed the program in 1997 in response to Mexico’s economic crisis during the years 1994-1995, renewed it as Oportunidades in 2002, then renamed it Prospera in 2014. Following its cancellation, a new program, the Benito Juarez Scholarship Fund, replaced the educational components of Prospera.

What was Prospera?

Prospera was a conditional cash transfer program (CCT) that not only focused on child education but health and nutrition; it supplied monthly cash subsidies to poor households, primarily those belonging to single and/or unemployed mothers, under certain conditions, Social Protection reports. These conditions included school enrollment and regular trips to health clinics for children.

The CCT program reached 6.2 million households and researchers found that during its implementation, educational attainment for children increased by about 10%, according to Social Protection. Other short-term positive impacts thanks to the program’s conditional healthcare visits included a decrease in maternal death by 11% and infant mortality by 2% and an average improvement in children’s nutritional health.

Long-term impacts of Mexico’s Prospera are still being studied, but one study found that the program’s beneficiaries were “37% more likely to have a job” than those who did not participate and the World Bank attributes one-third of the decrease in Mexico’s rural poverty rates to the program. The World Bank also notes that over 50 countries have replicated Mexico’s Prospera model, adopting similar CCT programs.

Reasons Behind Cancellation

Despite this, Prospera was not particularly popular among voters and Mexico’s president Lopez Obrador eventually canceled it. Data has shown that the program’s beneficiaries received 30% to 40% less in cash value than what was originally intended.

Additionally, the program failed to include 55% of families living in poverty and with household incomes that should have qualified for program consideration, according to Development Pathways.

The Benito Juarez Scholarship Fund

That being said, President Lopez-Obrador and his administration intend for the Benito Juarez Scholarship Fund, Prospera’s replacement, to serve children’s educational pursuits without Prospera’s past corruption. In an effort to confront Mexico’s low enrollment and high dropout rates in secondary education and beyond, the fund will give monetary grants in the form of scholarships to teenagers attending upper secondary (high) schools, Social Protection reports.

This fund, however, does not account for “the removal of conditional health and nutrition requirements of Prospera,” Social Protection reports. Despite this fact, the Benito Juarez Scholarship Fund aims to “encourage [children’s] school enrollment and graduation” without making subsidies conditional upon parents meeting certain requirements.

The program targets families with school-aged children whose monthly income falls under the extreme poverty line and Mexico’s government claims “priority is given to families that live in areas of indigenous populations, areas with high degrees of marginalization or with high rates of violence,” according to Observatory on Social Development.

Mexico’s government has made efforts to improve education in Mexico and school enrollment through programs such as Prospera and, more recently, the Benito Juarez Scholarship Fund.

– Ashley Kim
Photo: Flickr

Safaricom’s Job ExpansionIn a move to fight competition, Safaricom in Kenya expanded its technical staff by hiring 400 employees with one new deal. The deal, completed in July 2022, will not only create new jobs for Kenyans and open the door for future employment but also will improve Kenyans’ access to technology. Nationwide access to the internet and reliable technology is critical to fighting poverty in Kenya.

Safaricom and its Role in Kenya

Safaricom is a mobile network and internet company based in Kenya. The company hires directly for countless fields, including tech, cybersecurity, commercial, corporate and more. Indirectly, the company is responsible for sustaining thousands of jobs, almost millions, of jobs. Indirect jobs, like contractors, have connections to the production or maintenance of a company’s products. Indirect jobs are also ones where someone’s business or employment is reliant on the services that the company produced. The jobs are indirect because they result from Safaricom’s internet spread or use of Safaricom’s technology and would not exist without Safaricom. Safaricom operates in at least 10 other countries, with recent expansions and more to come.

Allot, a secondary company that tracks cybersecurity and reliability, described Safaricom stating that “With 29 million connections, they are the largest telecommunications provider in Kenya and one of the most profitable companies in the East and Central African region.” In the fiscal year 2020-2021, Safaricom contributed $4,642,499,981.43 in earnings to Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP). Safaricom’s earnings amount to almost 5% of Kenya’s entire GDP. The economic impact of Safaricom’s work is indisputable, and Safaricom’s job expansion exemplifies its effects on technology usage and poverty reduction in Kenya.

Technology in Kenya

Kenya has the “best e-infrastructure in Africa,” making the country known for its technological development and innovation. Kenya’s information, communications and technology sector (ICT) is at the core of Kenya’s government’s latest projects to strengthen the country’s economy. The World Bank has reported that the ICT sector in Kenya still requires significant work to increase its impact on Kenya’s economy and to completely help its poorer citizens.

In April 2022, Kenya’s government created and began implementing the Digital Master Plan 2022-2032. Safaricom will be one of the companies tracking the Master Plan and its progress, specifically regarding data usage. The plan outlines goals, strategies and necessary steps to have Kenya align with global technological infrastructure advancements, and to strengthen and secure Kenya’s “digital economy.” A digital economy is the economic income and improvements from technology use, online activities and all the businesses that depend on the use of technology to strengthen their work and employee retainment. The Digital Masterplan, while not a direct plan to decrease poverty rates or unemployment rates, is meant to enhance the economy, which will result in reduced rates.

One of the key technological advancements in Kenya is the use of M-Pesa. M-Pesa stands for “mobile pesa” and allows users of M-Pesa to make secure transactions from their phones. Vodacom, a partner of Safaricom, and Safaricom itself produced M-Pesa first in 2007. M-Pesa has become a critical connector between rural and urban Kenya. It pre-dated apps such as Venmo and Paypal and has been a part of daily life with further expansions underway. M-Pesa is one of the primary technological tools in Kenya that have lifted thousands out of extreme poverty. Safaricom’s job expansion will help even more escape poverty once the expansion is underway.

Poverty in Kenya

Extreme poverty is when a person lives on less than $1.90 daily. Kenya’s extreme poverty rates were at their highest at 21% in 2016 but have since dropped to 17% as of 2022. Projections for Kenya’s poverty rate show the percentage of Kenya’s population in extreme poverty decreasing to 14% by 2025.

Poverty in Kenya has many causes including lack of education, poor health, and, as technology becomes a key source of income and infrastructure for Kenya, a digital divide. The World Bank noted that 44% of the urban population has access to the internet, compared to the rural population’s meager 27%. Older Kenyans know there are not enough basic skills for technology usage, especially in rural areas. The lack of skills will result in their being economically disadvantaged as technology becomes Kenya’s dominant source of income. Younger age groups are beginning to participate in courses in technology usage or computer science. However, not enough of the older Kenyan population, who struggle to escape poverty, are learning these skills. This is furthering the poverty rates and the technology divides.

Safaricom’s Work In Kenya and Its Future Impact

Safaricom’s job expansion continues the work of the company’s efforts to fight poverty and reduce unemployment rates. Safaricom has created access to financial services for almost 80% of Kenyans. Before Safaricom began operations, the number of Kenyans with access to financial services was 20%. Safaricom has closed education gaps by providing updated technology to schools or has supported local communities or refugees as they find their footing. The technology demand is growing in Kenya, and Safaricom’s job expansion of 400 new employees for the tech team will help meet these demands.

M-Pesa, a product of the tech team, has become one of Safaricom’s most economically valuable ventures, connecting poor rural Kenyans with financial services and mobile usage. M-Pesa earned Safaricom $896,454,132.48 in 2020-2021.

Safaricom is hiring new employees to meet demand and further the company’s reach with M-Pesa and projects like it. Safaricom’s job expansion might seem small. Safaricom is hiring 400 new workers compared to the 6,230 the company already has working as full-time, part-time or contract workers. However, the new workers are invaluable to the company and its ability to serve those who have become reliant on the company and its technology. Safaricom’s job expansion might not seem like a grand move, but there are now 400 tech developers who will benefit from a steady income. There will also be thousands more Kenyans lifted out of extreme poverty by Safaricom’s projects and technology advancements that rely on these new 400 tech developers.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr