COVID-19 Vaccine
The World Health Organization (WHO) is making plans for how a life-saving COVID-19 vaccine could be distributed around the globe.

COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

There are concerns about countries “hoarding” stores of vaccines for their own citizens. The countries that have the most money on hand will have the ability to buy a larger portion of available vaccines for citizens. While global leaders have come together to pledge $2 billion towards the creation of a vaccine, there is currently no formal worldwide plan to successfully manage the future COVID-19 vaccine and its distribution.

The public-private partnership that lead to this $2 billion pledge, Gavi, focuses on increasing childhood vaccinations in underdeveloped countries. It has support from WHO, UNICEF and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Bill Gates himself has promised $1.6 million towards Gavi, along with $100 million to help countries that will need aid to purchase COVID-19 vaccines.

U.S. Involvement and WHO

The U.S. government has decided to stay out of the recent Gavi-organized funding pledge. The country has also pulled monetary support from WHO. In the past, the U.S. has been a large supporter of the creation of the HPV and pneumococcal vaccines, which has left many experts confused by the recent moves of the U.S. to disassociate itself from the larger global race towards a COVID-19 vaccine.

Beyond hoarding concerns, there are always issues surrounding legal and sharing agreements between countries, quality control, civil uprising and unrest and natural disasters when it comes to vaccine distribution.

A recent example of how the world dealt with vaccine distribution during a pandemic is the 2009-2010 H1N1 swine flu pandemic. With the money they had, wealthier countries purchased most of the vaccine available through early orders, leaving developing countries to scramble for leftover vaccine stores. Eyjafjallajökul’s eruption in Iceland in April of 2010 also created vaccine shipping delays. Many countries, such as the U.S., Australia and Canada would not let vaccine manufacturers ship vaccines outside of their countries without fulfilling their people’s needs first.

Going Forward

To create a successful global vaccination program requires the cooperation from all countries involved, not just a few. Many may die without the equitable sharing of vaccines as this pandemic will flourish in underdeveloped nations. It may be seen by the rest of the global community as selfish to not try and help other countries in their fight against the virus.

Even after a vaccine is created, different strains of COVID-19 could easily return to Australian, Canadian or American shores, wreaking havoc all over again. While there are efforts being made to prevent distribution issues with the future vaccine, without the help of the United States,—one of the wealthiest countries on Earth—it may be long before a COVID-19 vaccine is fairly distributed.

Tara Suter
Photo: Flickr

Polio Program in SomaliaSomalia is one of the few countries remaining with a risk of poliovirus transmission. The polio program in Somalia was established as a way to eradicate the virus completely as part of the global immunization effort. However, with the arrival of SARS-CoV-2, the polio program in Somalia has been stifled. Somalia ranks 194 out of 195 on the Global Health Security Index. The international recommendation for healthcare workers is 25 per 100,000 people; however, Somalia only has two per 100,000 people. The country also has only 15 intensive care beds for a population of 15 million. It is considered to be among the least prepared countries in the world to detect and execute a quick response to COVID-19.

Effects of the Pandemic on the Polio Program in Somalia

Many of the workers that are part of the polio program in Somalia have suspended all door-to-door immunization due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. With travel kept to a minimum, polio samples cannot be flown abroad to external medical labs for testing. In addition to this, millions of polio vaccines will expire in a matter of months.

The global polio immunization program paused at the end of March 2020, leaving more than 20 million workers and medical practitioners without work. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the number of unvaccinated children could reach 60 million by June in the Mediterranean region.

The Polio Program Fights COVID-19

Polio surveillance systems are developed disease surveillance systems. This network of disease surveillance has been able to track the poliovirus and deploy medical teams throughout the world. Now, the polio program in Somalia has shifted its efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The system’s infrastructure, its capacity and the experience of its medical staff make it prepared to deal with the novel coronavirus. As of July 2020, Somalia had approximately 3,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 930 recovered cases and 90 deaths. The number of actual cases is likely significantly larger, but many cases go undetected due to a lack of testing.

Thousands of frontline workers for the polio program in Somalia started curbing the spread of the coronavirus. These workers form rapid response teams trained to detect COVID-19 cases as well as to educate and raise awareness about the ongoing pandemic in Somalia. WHO’s national staff and local community healthcare workers have joined theses polio response teams, utilizing their resources and skills to tackle the virus.

WHO Support

These teams have traveled to remote areas in Somalia, providing critical information regarding physical distancing, hand-washing, detection of symptoms and prevention. With WHO’s aid, the program has acquired testing kits and equipment to evaluate potential cases of the virus. The surveillance teams have adopted the same procedures that they used for the polio program in Somalia for COVID-19. After collecting potential COVID-19 samples from suspected cases, the rapid response teams transport the samples to external laboratories for testing. Outside humanitarian agencies use the same protocols and operations that they used for the poliovirus.

Furthermore, the response teams continue polio immunization simultaneously with the COVID-19 response. It is essential for the polio program to continue immunization, as Somalia experienced a polio outbreak earlier this year.

How Other Countries Have Adapted

Other countries in the same region have realized the practicality of the polio network. They have accordingly redeployed their own immunization programs to fight COVID-19. For example, South Sudan has converted approximately 80% of its polio workforce to track coronavirus cases in the country. It has trained polio contact tracers to evaluate people for symptoms of COVID-19. Mali has also been engaging its own polio program in response to the ongoing pandemic.

Even though polio and COVID-19 do not have much in common, the polio program is an important tool to fight the pandemic. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in partnership with the WHO, has been working to equip these polio networks to help countries deal with the pandemic. The suddenness of the pandemic has left no time for countries such as Somalia to prepare. As such, the global polio immunization campaign is a valuable resource for this unprecedented emergency.

Abbas Raza
Photo: Flickr

Mobile BankingMicrofinance programs are a popular development tool that gives poor households loans and access to formal banking and other financial services so that they can generate income and market their enterprises. Others have questioned the true extent of the effectiveness of this bottom-up approach to development in actually reducing poverty in recent years. However, the rise in access to mobile banking in the developing world brings hope of a new generation of microfinance.

Microfinance as a Development and Poverty Reduction Policy

Mobile phones have been one of the fastest-growing devices in the developing world. International reports found that global mobile phone ownership is growing exponentially, especially among young people in emerging economies. Although ownership is higher in developed economies, a median of 45% of people in developing countries now owns a cell phone compared to only about 25% 10 years ago. The new groups of people with access to technology have created opportunities both for investors and the world’s poor.

Mobile banking accounts and transactions are now accessible in two-thirds of the developing world. Moreover, they are beginning to exceed the number of traditional banking methods in some regions. This growing market is not only multiplying the success of banks but also giving entrepreneurs new ways of selling and profiting from their labors. Through mobile banking services, customers are also gaining access to loans and insurance to protect themselves and their families if they become vulnerable to falling back into poverty.

Mobilizing Myanmar

Mobilizing Myanmar is a prime example of the impact of these new financial programs. A woman from Myanmar started this program to increase tech and communication access for women and the poor with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She was inspired by having limited connections during her childhood in Myanmar. In 2013, the program noted that SIM cards cost over $2,000 USD and now, thanks to its hard work and partnerships with the Myanmar government, over half of the adult population has a cell phone. The successes of this approach to microloans and development has gained the attention of major international aid organizations due to its potential to boost people out of extreme poverty. This is because reports have indicated that users had better health outcomes, more financial stability and security and new sources of income.

Benefits of Mobile Banking

Mobile banking has also been more accessible for users who are illiterate as many apps are pictorial, especially those pertaining to farming. Agricultural productivity is yet another opportunity for mobile finance services to increase market access and demands. Mobilizing Myanmar also cites access to a phone and mobile money as an opportunity for online learning for children unable to attend school. It also presents new opportunities for women in the developing world as approximately 42% of women across the globe are not incorporated into the formal financial system. Mobile banking can help women gain control of their household finances. It has also proven effective as a means for group savings in parts of Myanmar.

While questions remain in many regions of access to a cell tower of even basic electricity to power cell phones in order to operate mobile banking, the cost of setting up these systems is a relatively low-cost investment. Also, once set up, these financial systems and microcosms, with regulations in place, can sustain themselves and reinvest in their communities. Thus, although mobile banking is by no means a perfect solution to lifting the world out of poverty, it has proven to be an effective development tool and a reliable investment. Mobile banking is just one way that modern technology can help the world’s poor lift themselves out of poverty.

Elizabeth Stankovits
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Reduction Advocacy in Pakistan
Pakistan is a South Asian country with a population of approximately 212 million people. According to the World Bank, the population of people living below the national poverty line in Pakistan decreased from 64 percent in 2001 to 24 percent in 2015. However, as of 2015, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) revealed that in rural communities in Pakistan, 35 percent of people lived below the poverty line. This highlights that rural communities in Pakistan need the most aid. However, there are significant examples of poverty reduction advocacy in Pakistan.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)

IFAD is a U.N. based agency that focuses on helping rural communities. IFAD aids these communities by strengthening food security and local businesses. Southern Punjab, cited as the poorest part of Pakistan, is a major center point for IFAD in the country. In 2010, IFAD initiated the Southern Punjab Alleviation Project and it is still ongoing until 2020. The project seeks to enhance agricultural productivity in Punjab by aiding laborers, farmers and women-led households.

As of May 2019, working with the government of Punjab, IFAD raised approximately $195 million for the project—Punjab governmental and beneficiary donations included. IFAD reported in 2019 that 5,500 new community organizations started in Punjab, with 70 percent of women forming these groups. The report also cited that 50 percent of people became newly or self-employed after receiving vocational training from IFAD. Moreover, as of 2018, IFAD reached 92 percent of women-headed households. IFAD also uploaded a YouTube video in September 2018 to highlight specific people and families in Punjab that benefited from its projects. The organization prominently initiated poverty reduction advocacy in Pakistan.

The Ehsaas Program

The Ehsaas Program is a government-led poverty reduction program initiated in 2018. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Dr. Sania Nishtar are responsible for the program. Ehsaas focuses on economic growth and obtaining sustainable development goals in Pakistan. The program uses a strategy of four pillars that include addressing the elite and making the government system work for equality, as well as providing safety nets, human capital development and jobs and livelihoods.

The Ehsass Program will push to increase social protection funding by providing an additional $80 billion from 2019-2021. The Kafalat program will give around 6 million women financial inclusion through a one woman, one bank account policy. Nutrition initiatives will address malnutrition and health issues impacting stunted children. The Solution Innovation Challenge will address citizen employment by developing micro-credit facilities for daily wages so that those in poverty can afford monthly groceries. The Ehsaas Program plans on developing rickshaw garbage collectors to employ people and benefit the environment and water sanitation simultaneously. The Ehsaas Program also seeks to build 20 centers for physically challenged citizens and create orphanages for 10,000 homeless children. These are just some of the programs Ehsaas plans to initiate to implement poverty reduction advocacy in Pakistan.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Ehsaas Program

As of September 2019, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supported the Ehsaas Program through a Memorandum of Understanding between Bill Gates and Khan. This collaboration prompted the Gates Foundation to plan on spending $200 million toward poverty reduction in Pakistan by 2020. Bill Gates and Dr. Nishtar conducted an interview in September 2019 with the U.N. SDG Action Zone to educate others about the Ehsaas Program and answer questions. This is an example of a multicultural support system toward poverty reduction advocacy in Pakistan.

To alleviate poverty in Pakistan, the government recently started initiatives that the people support. Examples such as the IFAD and the Ehsaas programs show that partnerships between governments, organizations and citizens work to tackle poverty. With these organizations and funds in place, poverty reduction advocacy in Pakistan has a positive outlook for the future.

Natalie Casaburi
Photo: Pixabay

Polio in Nigeria
This year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will start paying off Nigeria’s $76 million debt over the course of the next 20 years. The money was originally borrowed from Japan by Nigeria to fight the polio epidemic in the country.

In 2017, Nigeria had no new cases of polio, which is a significant improvement compared to 2012, when Nigeria accounted for half of all cases worldwide. The Gates Foundation decided to repay the debt on the premise that Nigeria would ramp up its polio vaccination efforts.

The Importance of Polio Eradication

Polio cripples and can potentially kill those who suffer from it. The disease damages spinal nerve cells, causing temporary and sometimes permanent paralysis. Paralysis can sometimes occur within a matter of hours. It is often spread through contaminated food and water. Up to 10 percent of those who become paralyzed die.

Thankfully, there is a vaccine that has contributed to the almost total eradication of polio worldwide. The main problem is getting the vaccine to the children who need it. In order for Nigeria to receive the money from the Gates Foundation, it has to provide vaccine access to at least 80 percent of the country.

The key to eradicating polio in Nigeria is to send health workers across the country to provide the vaccine. Children and families are unable to travel to receive the vaccine, so Nigeria has begun a campaign to bring the vaccine straight to people’s homes, with the support of the Gates Foundation.

Fighting Polio in Nigeria a Priority of the Gates Foundation

Polio in Nigeria was by far the biggest issue in the overall epidemic, which is why Bill and Melinda Gates honed in on the country after announcing that the eradication of polio was their highest priority. In addition to beginning to repay Nigeria’s loan, the Gates Foundation donated $3 billion in 2017 to polio eradication.

The change these donations have made in the epidemic of polio in Nigeria is tangible, since there are currently no known cases in the country. Worldwide, there are only 22 known cases, down from 350,000 cases 30 years ago.

Children today are walking that would have been paralyzed were it not for the generosity of the Gates Foundation and organizations like it. Volunteers on the ground are also the unsung heroes.

On his blog Gates Notes, Bill Gates wrote, “The heroes who have made this progress possible are the millions of vaccinators who have gone door to door to immunize more than 2.5 billion children. Thanks to their work, 16 million people who would have been paralyzed are walking today.” The efforts of these workers should not go unnoticed, as the progress made would not have been possible without people like them.

The progress towards mitigating polio in Nigeria has been phenomenal, with the disease now entirely eradicated from the country. It only takes one child or one traveler for polio to begin to spread again, so it is essential for the countries with a history of the disease to continue their efforts to fight it. Continual vaccinations and immunizations are necessary to maintain the current polio-free Nigeria.

– Amelia Merchant
Photo: Flickr

Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes
This June, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it would be investing over $4 million in support of Oxitec — an Oxford-founded group that focuses on reducing insect-borne disease around the world. Specifically, the Gates Foundation and Oxitec are partnering to fight malaria with genetically engineered mosquitoes.

The Threat of Malaria

Mosquitoes kill more humans each year than any other creature — a total of 830,000 — and can carry a number of diseases including dengue fever and zika virus. The most deadly of these is malaria.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that there were 216 million cases of malaria in 2016, which resulted in nearly 450,000 deaths. Malaria hits the very young the hardest, and most fatalities are children under the age of 5; even the children who survive may develop intellectual disabilities.

Malaria occurs in nearly 100 nations. The world has made great progress fighting the disease, including eliminating it in much of Europe and North America, but progress has stalled. Support for fighting malaria has stagnated and the disease is starting to develop a resistance to the drugs which treat it.

A New Strategy

This is where Oxitec’s genetically modified mosquitoes come in. Oxitec introduces a self-limiting gene in male mosquitoes. When these lab mosquitoes mate with females in the wild, any male offspring are unharmed and continue carrying the gene. Female offspring, though, will die before they reach adulthood.

Only adult female mosquitoes can bite and spread diseases. The self-limiting gene effectively targets this portion of the mosquito population while also allowing new males to survive to carry and spread the gene after the original lab mosquitoes have died.

These genetically engineered mosquitoes would be one of several vector control methods (such as mosquito netting and repellant sprays) aiming to reduce the number of disease-carrying mosquitoes in affected areas.

The Oxitec mosquitoes have already proven effective in recent field tests in Brazil where they were released to combat the zika virus and dengue fever. Areas where modified mosquitoes were released showed an 82 percent reduction of larvae and a 91 percent reduction of dengue fever cases. This may have been a relatively small test, but the lab mosquitoes were incredibly effective and even outperformed tried and true traditional methods like insecticides.

Safety and Precision

Similar to many other genetically modified products, many have met the Oxitec mosquitoes with some suspicion. In 2016, residents of the Florida Keys voted against a planned field test in their communities, and environmentalist groups have also opposed Oxitec in the past.

Concerns with protecting the earth’s ecosystems are understandable and commendable. Still, genetically engineered mosquitoes have the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives, protect children from the risk of lifelong disabilities and accomplish all of this with minimal and controllable impacts on the environment.

The modified mosquito strategy is not intended to cause the mass extinction of mosquito species. The self-limiting gene only lasts up to ten generations, which ideally will allow for long-term reduction in disease without leading to an unstoppable downward spiral in insect populations.

Long-Term Goals

The gene is also designed to only affect a single, specific species of insect at a time. This specificity allowed Oxitec field tests to target the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that were instrumental in spreading zika and dengue fever in Brazil while leaving other insect populations unaffected.

Whatever the case, both the precision and effectiveness of the genetically engineered mosquitoes doubtless played a role in convincing the Gates Foundation to back Oxitec. Philip Welkhoff, the malaria program director at the Gates Foundation, has affirmed that new, innovative ways of fighting malaria are necessary to eradicate the deadly disease once and for all. The second generation of Oxitec’s mosquitoes are set to be field tested by 2020, and countless lives hope for a breakthrough.

– Josh Henreckson
Photo: Flickr


The Gates Foundation, alongside government organizations from around the globe, is working hard to eliminate the polio virus. Rob Nabors, Director of the Gates Foundation, who oversees policy, advocacy, government relations and communications says he doesn’t think the general public realizes that, in the next two years, polio could be completely eradicated on a global scale.

The poliovirus is passed through contaminated feces and is spread as a result of poor hygiene and sanitation. It is responsible for millions of people becoming paralyzed before vaccines became widely available in the 1950s.

Since the launch of global eradication efforts in 1988, polio incidences across the globe have dropped more than 99 percent. The disease’s occurrence rate plunged to 233 recorded cases in 2012 and occurred in only three countries: Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. India, which was once considered to have the greatest challenge of eliminating polio, was declared free of the disease in February 2012.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, four of the six regions of the World Health Organization have been certified polio-free. This includes the Americas in 1994, the Western Pacific in 2000, Europe in 2002 and Southeast Asia in 2014. This constitutes 80 percent of the world’s population currently living in polio-free areas.

Nabors and the rest of the Gates Foundation work hard to educate nations around the globe on the impact of their help. The organization believes it is up to those educated on polio to explain to audiences in the developed world exactly how important the leadership of polio-free countries actually is.

Unfortunately, budget cuts could have a significant impact on the complete eradication of the disease. Proposed cuts in the United States would shrink the budget from $30 billion in 2017 to $20.7 billion in 2018. These proposed budget cuts would make it difficult for organizations such as the Gates Foundation to interact with federal programs. The result would be that areas in need of polio vaccinations and education would not receive nearly as much help.

If polio were to be eliminated, it would become the second disease, the first being smallpox, to be eradicated globally. Proper funds for the delivery of polio vaccinations to areas in need is crucial for the disease’s eradication.

Drew Hazzard

Photo: Flickr