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