enslaved children in GhanaTouch A Life is a nonprofit organization located in Dallas, Texas that rescues enslaved children in Ghana. Randy and Pam Cope co-founded the Touch A Life Foundation in November 1999. After reading about child labor trafficking on Lake Volta in 2006, the couple decided to focus their organization’s contributions to Ghana. Touch A Life seeks to further expand its accomplishments, by liberating as many slaves as possible and providing rehabilitation services.

Enslaved Children in Ghana

The International Labour Organization reports that an estimated 20,000 children are currently enslaved on Lake Volta, working for fishermen who are considered their “masters.” Typically, the traffickers trick families into selling their children for roughly $250, promising the families that the children will receive an education. Most children, some as young as 5 years old, come to the lake from Ghanian villages hundreds of miles away.

Working in partnership with a devoted team of Ghanaians and the Ghanian Department of Social Welfare, the Touch A Life Foundation has rescued hundreds of trafficked children. The organization does not reunite the children with their families due to fears that the cycle of trafficking will persist. Instead, Touch A Life provides housing for rescued children.

A Holistic Approach

Through the housing programs Touch A Life offers, the organization administers holistic and customized child care. Their procedures include regular medical and mental assessments, rehabilitation arrangements and educational and vocational empowerment. By offering these services through their housing accommodations, Touch A Life provides hope to the children in order to help in restoring their lives.

In 2012, Touch A Life manufactured its first long-term rehabilitative care center for trafficked children. Located in Kumasi, Ghana, the Touch A Life Care Center is home to more than 100 rescued children. At the Care Center, the children receive the education that was promised by traffickers but resulted in enslavement. In 2015, the organization constructed an all-girls children’s dorm called Zachary’s House in Kumasi, Ghana. The home now fosters 14 young girls who were rescued in the fall of the same year.

Later in 2016, Life Academy Center launched in Accra, Ghana, helping transition the children from the Care Center to independent adulthood. The Academy currently serves eight students in their mid-20s. The students are offered professional skills education related to banking, health awareness, public speaking and goal development. They are also a part of the Ghana Sewing Collective, which is led by the Life Academy Mentor, Eunice. The Ghana Sewing Collective teaches the students the basics of sewing to make products, introducing the students to working for a small business owner and working with a team towards a shared goal.

Furthermore, all of the housing campuses include rehabilitative art centers. In 2016, Kim Lewis Designs and the team from Art Feeds aided Touch A Life in crafting a therapeutic space where the children can express their emotions creatively. Kwame Ayensu is the current Art Director for the center and engages the children in art healing practices.

Beyond Ghana

Touch A Life also offers rehabilitation centers in Vietnam and Cambodia. In Vietnam, the organization operates a house in Saigon in order to protect vulnerable children from trafficking in Southeast Asia. The home currently supports 30 abandoned children. The identities of the children are withheld due to safety concerns. Rapha House in Cambodia works to rescue and heal AIDs orphans and sexually exploited children. Rapha House is home to 220 children, 25 adult women and has two art centers on its campus, including the Selah Art Center and Lilly’s Art Center.

Touch A Life in Ghana has educated hundreds of rescued children who have moved on to Ghanian boarding schools and even university. The organization enables and equips rescued children with opportunities to pursue a new life filled with freedom and hope. Touch A Life continues to rescue children in the Lake Volta region and plans to advance their ambitions to end child exploitation. Touch A Life’s website provides multiple options for those interested in getting involved with the cause.

– Kacie Frederick
Photo: @touchalife

Witch camps in Ghana
A modern-day witch hunt is taking place in Northern Ghana, where witch camps are still prevalent. Neighbors continue to turn on women in their communities, accusing them of practicing witchcraft. Due to discrimination, threats and fear for their own lives, these women have to flee from their own homes. Once exiled from their homes, hundreds of these accused women end up in “witch camps.” As of 2018, up to 1,000 women lived in the witch camps, which act as a place of refuge for these women. Below are the top five things to know about witch camps in Ghana.

5 Things to Know About Witch Camps in Ghana

  1. There are six witch camps in Ghana. Spread out across the Northern Region, the six confirmed witch camps reside in Bonyasi, Gambaga, Gnani, Kpatinga, Kukuo and Nabuli. Some sources state the possibility of more camps, but these camps are more remote and there are not many records about them. Several of these camps date back to well over a century ago. In 2014, the government created a plan to shut down the camps in an effort to stop the stigma and mistreatment of these women and reunite them with their communities. The Ghanaian government began the shutdowns with the Bonyasi camp. However, activists feared that communities would refuse to reaccept these “witches” and the women would no longer have a home. The government has since halted its plans to shut down the camps, as many of the accused witches fear returning to the communities that sent them away.
  2. The population of the witch camps is mostly women. It is almost undeniable that the communities’ accusations that these women are witches have a lot to do with sexism and misogyny. These women are often vulnerable, such as older women, single mothers, widows and unmarried women who do not fit the stereotype that their society sees as desirable. Furthermore, these women do not have a male authority figure to protect them, so it is easy for their communities to cast them out.
  3. Communities often accuse these women of things out of their control. Communities often accuse women of witchcraft because they believe they are guilty of circumstances like bad weather, disease and livestock death. Some communities exile women simply for appearing in someone’s dream. Showing signs of dementia or mental illness also leads to witch accusations. Often, communities’ accusations are based on superstition. In 2014, a woman received an accusation of witchcraft and her community compared her to Maame Water, a sea goddess that lures men to their deaths, because a man drowned beside her. The method that communities use to determine if a woman practices witchcraft involves slaughtering a chicken and taking note of its posture as it dies.
  4. Women are not the only ones who reside in the witch camps in Ghana. Children occasionally accompany women to the camps. A child may go with the accused witch in order to protect them. Often, a woman’s own children accompany her. These children suffer greatly from the discrimination of their previous communities. The camps have no access to education, little access to water and insufficient food. Most of these children go their whole lives with no formal education and spend their time completing chores. While the camps may not have the best living conditions, the inhabitants believe it is better than facing discrimination and possible violence.
  5. ActionAid is pushing to improve the conditions for women and children in these camps. ActionAid, an organization that fights for and protects women’s rights, strives to provide aid for the accused witches. ActionAid works to dissolve the camps and reintegrate the accused with their past communities. However, the organization understands that that cannot happen without ending the superstition and stigmas surrounding witchcraft. Until that day arrives, ActionAid is prioritizing the current needs of the women and children of the camps. Its work includes increasing the accused witches’ self-confidence, teaching the women their rights and finding ways they can support themselves. ActionAid promoted the creation of a network of alleged witches, Ti-gbubtaba, that works to register the camp’s inhabitants on the National Health Insurance Scheme and gain food aid. In 2011, ActionAid brought the inhabitants of all six camps together in a two-day forum. This forum was space for the accused women, children, priests, local government and organizations to come together to discuss future solutions for the camps.

These five facts about witch camps in Ghana give a look into the accused women’s lives, as well as the organizations trying to help. While organizations are making great strides to better the lives of these women and hopefully reintegrate them into their communities, much more is necessary for the future.

– Lilith Turman
Photo: Wikimedia

Democracy in GhanaGhana, formerly known as the Gold Coast, was Sub-Saharan Africa’s first nation to declare the end of British colonial rule. Kwame Nkrumah led the country into independence in 1957. The newly formed country became a catalyst for independence movements across the continent. Ghana was seen as a stronghold for a well-functioning democracy that few other nations have established since garnering their independence. Since holding its first elections in 1992 under Jerry Rawlings, democracy in Ghana has had a strong influence on the standard of living in the country and on its political and economic institutions.

Country Profile: Then and Now

When Jerry Rawlings won the 1992 election with the National Democratic Congress, it the beginning of a road to change in Ghana. A referendum pushing for a new constitution passed in April of 1992 that allowed for the reintroduction of a multiparty system. The first democratic elections were representative of the future development the country would undergo in the coming years. Previously, the nation underwent a series of military-led coups that ultimately undermined efforts to create a unified nation after independence. Ghana struggled, as most countries have, after the throws of colonial rule and the quick, jarring shift from little independence to that in full.

Under Jerry Rawlings and his Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC), Ghana created “a structural adjustments economic reform” in 1983 that carried them into a new democratic regime and greatly affected the economic development of the country. Empirical data concerning factors such as GDP, life expectancy and primary school enrollment rates can give valuable opportunities for analysis of the upward trajectory that Ghana experienced after 1992.

In 2018, Ghana’s GDP was $65.56 billion while, in 1992, it was almost 10 times lower at $6.4 billion. Life expectancy has risen from 57.4 years to more than 63. The infant mortality rate, a common indicator of development and the degree of public service provisions in developing countries, has dropped drastically from 75.6 percent to 35 percent. Furthermore, primary school enrollment has undergone a 24 percent increase.

Influence of Democracy

When Jerry Rawlings ended his two terms as president in 2000, the handover of government to John Kufuor was peaceful and without incident. In the 2008 election between former Foreign Minister Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and former Vice-President John Atta-Mills, the Electoral Commission did as they had done for previous elections and invited foreign observers to oversee the production of the election. Again, the transition was smooth and transparent.

Advancements in democracy in Ghana are due, in part, to the fact that it puts politicians in a position to appeal to the needs of their constituents. The 1992 election is a prime example of this. The PNDC became popular with rural Ghanaians because of its role in the allocation of government funds to development projects in rural areas that were headed by local District Assemblies. The rural sector represents a large majority of Ghanaians, a majority that previous administrations had long since neglected.

The representation of all Ghanaians strikes at the core of the importance of providing democratic practices to transfer power to those who have traditionally and historically had none. Political incentives for leaders to invest in the needs of their people allow for the decentralization of economic power so citizens can keep their governmental institutions accountable.

Enhancing the Lives of Ghana’s Citizens

Democracy in Ghana has provided more than a baseline of free and fair elections. The day to day aspects of people’s lives change when they are accurately represented in their leadership. According to a transformation index set by a project by Bertelsmann Stiftung, which aims to understand the transition from authoritarianism to democracy in various countries, Ghana stands at 32 in a list of 129.

Indicators are measured on a scale from 1-10 and demonstrate the degree to which the country has made advancements in their transformation to inclusive institutions. Political participation and the stability of their democratic institutions are 8.5. International cooperation comes in at 8.3 while political and social integration is 7.8. These measurements provide evidence that democracy in Ghana has extended beyond promises on paper to protect civil liberties and the wellbeing of its citizens.

Perhaps the most important change that has come out of Ghana’s transition to democracy is the shift in reality for the millions of citizens who depend on their governmental institutions to provide inclusion and transparency. The implications of democracy run through their daily lives, specifically through increased attention by their leaders to the protection of human rights, civil liberties and the provision of public services. Democracy in Ghana has granted opportunities for representation and participation. Ghana’s economic, societal and political future beam with promise as the nation continues to make its way as an example of democratic rule in a developing country.

Jessica Ball
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Sanitation in GhanaGhana is one of the most urbanized countries in Africa and has an increasing population of 29 million people. Despite its urbanization effort, there is still a lack of access to basic sanitation services in many areas. A significant portion of the people in Kumasi depend on public restroom facilities, and in low-income areas, there is little to no access to water. This is a large drawback of Ghana’s rapid urbanization. Here are eight facts about sanitation in Ghana.

8 Facts About Sanitation in Ghana

  1. WSUP Water Utilities: The Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) has been working with the Ghana Water Company to help advise and facilitate ways to provide water to low-income districts. WSUP has encouraged local communities to contribute to the success of the service so that the result ends in proper water access to the residents. WSUP’s initiative attempts to close the gap between poor water and sanitation access and the socio-economic development and political position of women. The support of WSUP has resulted in more than 100,000 residents in low-income communities gaining access to water services.
  2. Clean Team: A project called “Clean Team” was set up by WSUP in Ghana in 2012, and works using container-based toilet systems. Residents who use Clean Team are charged a low monthly fee to access the system. Clean Team won USAID’s Digital Innovation Award in 2017 following the success of this program. WSUP was able to achieve this win after partnering with MTN to allow customers to use mobile banking to pay their fees instead of cash.
  3. UNICEF Rural and Urban Sanitation: Ghana’s open defecation rate was reported at 18.06 percent in 2017. UNICEF has been encouraging and promoting behavior changes through the Rural Sanitation Model and Strategy in Ghana to tackle this problem. The main aim is ending open defecation and advocating for the construction of household waste facilities. UNICEF has also partnered with charities that provide loans to help community members build toilets and practice cleaner and safer habits. At the end of 2018, UNICEF launched the Basic Sanitation Fund together with Apex Bank, the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources and the Embassy of the Netherlands. The loan program is targeted at developing more products to improve sanitation conditions in households.
  4. Water.org WaterCredit: Water.org has partnered with three Ghanaian micro-finance institutions for its WaterCredit program. So far it has succeeded in reaching more than 380,000 people and provided more than $2.4 million in loans. The program is aimed at providing communities with credit to invest in the construction of wells, latrines and rainwater harvesting equipment, all in an effort to reduce the cost and restrictions of clean water.
  5. School Toilet Blocks: More than 7,000 public schools in Ghana are without basic toilet facilities. WSUP is working with the Ghanaian Ministry of Education to provide schools in Accra and Kumasi with toilet facilities for children specifically, as well as hand washing blocks extensively available for both students and teachers. Of note, the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly (KMA) has received support from WSUP and managed to provide toilet facilities in seven schools. The KMA hopes that this initiative acts as a model for other schools to improve their sanitation positions.
  6. Urban Sanitation Research Initiative Ghana: This initiative is a 2017 to 2020 program aimed at extensive research work around sanitation in three countries including Ghana. Led by WSUP, the program’s goal is to encourage sector changes surrounding sanitation and gather evidence that will allow the country to receive aid and funding to improve its conditions. The research exercises are only the first but very vital step in achieving success to improve Ghana’s sanitation plight.
  7. Sanitation Surcharges: Effective January 2017, a sanitation surcharge was introduced in Ga West Municipal Assembly. WSUP supported this innovation to be included with property tax in an effort to remove any heavy dependence Ghana has on donor funds to help solve its sanitation problem. The surcharge policy has been successful in that the revenue generated at the end of 2018 was over 30,000 GHS. Several similar approaches are being conceived in the country with the same aim.
  8. Health Rank: In 2015, Ghana was ranked the seventh dirtiest country by sanitation standards by the WHO with over 7,000 children dying every year from conditions such as cholera and diarrhea. Today WSUP has managed to extend hygiene training to over 2 million people. These types of approaches are ongoing to battle the links between poor sanitation and poor health.

These eight facts about sanitation in Ghana show that the country remains in disparity while experiencing progress. With the help of global institutions and non-governmental organizations, the country can be set in a position to experience a safe and sanitary future.

Regina-Lee Dowden
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Limit the Spread of Epidemics
In the past, there has been some difficulty in tracking and containing epidemics. In 2014, the Ebola virus killed thousands in West Africa. At the time, many national health systems had trouble properly addressing and controlling its spread. With aid agencies not knowing where to dedicate their attention, more people fell to Ebola. Determining where to distribute a vaccine is critical for the future of any region. It is often difficult to make the correct decision when there is not enough information on human mobility, the spread of an epidemic and its lethality in certain areas. People could have better contained Ebola had newer technology been available to help aid agencies track its spread. The Global Epidemic Prevention Platform (GEPP) may be able to limit the spread of epidemics.

A Solution for Limiting the Spread of Epidemics

The Global Epidemic Prevention Platform (GEPP) is a project that Korea Telecom (KT) Corporation and the Ghanaian government created to improve Ghana’s health information system and limit the spread of epidemics. The project employs information and communications technology (ICT) to gather data on epidemics. It works by gathering existing data and by incorporating newer input from its users. It analyzes Call Detail Record (CRD) data to determine the spread of people such as cross-border movement. Its main goal is to prepare its users for possible epidemics, whether its users consist of the general public or the Ghanaian government. Its existence helps detect the early spread of an epidemic, allowing governments more time to respond and giving humanitarian agencies and NGOs the opportunity to identify possible relationships and trends.

GEPP Explained

There are three parts to the GEPP: GEPP Public, GEPP Clinic and GEPP Gov. The GEPP Public’s intention is to inform Ghanaians of epidemic-prone areas. When someone is nearing one such area, they receive a notification and warning of its status. If a user is in an area that may become contaminated soon, the app provides disease information and prevention measures for pre-response during their stay. They also receive a list of nearby hospitals.

The GEPP Clinic is for the public to make real-time reports to nearby health centers in the event of an epidemic outbreak. Users can fill out a report for either themselves or another individual with their symptoms. This report goes into the GEPP Clinic’s database and gives the government a better idea of what is happening in a particular region.

The government uses GEPP Gov, which allows it to access the data gathered from GEPP Public and GEPP Clinic to monitor any possible health crises. As a result of the digitization of airport immigration information, the government can consider immigration levels when monitoring. This also takes away the need to manually compile this information. All of this aims to help developing countries and their governments prepare for and reduce the impact of epidemics.

If a disease has already spread and it is too late to prevent infection, the GEPP can also address the aftermath of disease by conducting communications in the area. Not only can it address health crises, but it can also apply to natural disasters and their control. In the event of a natural disaster, the GEPP can help aid workers provide shelter, food and health care to victims. If an area does not have a working mobile network, as a result of a natural disaster or not, the GEPP can use its collected data to contact them via satellites and Geographical Information Systems (GIS).

GEPP Support

The Ghana Health Service, KT, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), Resolution 202, Resolution 136, Resolution 36 and WTDC Resolution 34 support the Global Epidemic Prevention Platform. While all of these play a large role in assisting the GEPP in its goal to limit the spread of epidemics, MNOs arguably do the most. MNOs provide the app with its official data. It gathers data from around the world and its software anonymizes it to protect privacy. This data then stays on a server or an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) cloud and can go towards creating a dynamic map for the ITU. Humanitarian actors and NGOs can, with permission, view this data through MNOs.

– Nyssa Jordan
Photo: Flickr

Ghana's Poverty Rate
Ghana is a West African country that has made considerable progress in reducing poverty. Ghana’s poverty rate gradually lowered since the 1990’s. Poverty reduced from 52.6 percent in 1991 to 21.4 percent in 2011. Ghana slashed its poverty rate by more than half and became a middle-income country in 2011. The three reasons for this huge reduction are economic growth, diversification and education development.

Poverty Reduction in Ghana: 3 Keys to Success

  1. Economic Growth: Ghana’s 2017 GDP growth rate was about 8.4 percent, which was the seventh-fastest GDP growth rate in the world. The economy is developing quickly, as the country sets a few policy barriers to investment and trade in relation to other African countries in the region. Due to the few barriers, investment in natural resources such as oil and gold are common. Gold alone brings about 48 percent of the country’s revenue and is one of the main reasons for economic growth. Gold production amounted to about 590,000 ounces in 1990 and increased to 4.6 million ounces in 2018. As of 2018, Ghana is number seven in the world for gold production.

    Oil is also an important export but is relatively new. The oil sector is less than 10 years old, yet is growing at a rapid rate. In 2017, more than 500 million barrels were produced from the Sankofa fields. Ghana’s growth averaged about 4 to 5 percent in the 1990’s and has gradually increased over time. Thanks to steady growth, Ghana’s poverty rate was 21 percent in 2012, which is less than half the African average of 43 percent.

  2. Diversification: Oil and gas are two areas that helped diversify the economy and reduce Ghana’s poverty rate by creating jobs and increasing wages for those transitioning out from low-wage occupations and into more lucrative fields. The service industry is 57 percent of GDP and remains the largest sector and another important area in Ghana’s growth. The service sector also employs about 40 percent of the population.

    Agriculture still employs a little more than a quarter of the population, yet the service and manufacturing sectors have steadily grown since 1991. Developing economies are mainly agriculture-dependent economies. As a middle-income country, the amount of the population employed by Ghana’s manufacturing and service sector expresses transitioning into a developed and stable economy. In 2008, employment in agriculture was 52.5 percent and reduced to 33 percent in 2018. Service employment rose from 33 percent in 2008 to 47 percent in 2018. In only 10 years the service sector has grown 14 percent. The industry grew 4 percent during that same time period. Telecommunications and tourism are two services that helped grow the service sector.

  3. Focus on Education: A better educated and trained country leads to more opportunities. The number of people in Ghana’s workforce without education dropped from 41 percent in 1991 to 21 percent in 2012. Almost 90 percent of children attend school, which is a big difference from other African countries. Only 64 percent of Nigerian children attend school. Ghana spends about 8 percent of its budget on education, which is more than the United Nation’s 6 percent benchmark. For reference, the U.K. spends a little more than 6 percent on education. Ghana’s progress in education began with the U.N.’s millennium development goals that the U.N. set in 2000, and it developed at such a fast rate because it pushed for education.

Ghana’s poverty rate slashed in half thanks to education development, diversification and fast economic growth. The economy is still strong despite its 2015 recession. The economically diverse and natural resource-rich Ghana has made tremendous progress in poverty reduction and is projected to continue reducing its poverty rate in the future.

Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Flickr

countries that have eliminated trachoma

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) affect more than 1.4 billion people in 149 countries. These diseases flourish in areas of the world where there is a lack of basic sanitation, which means that the global poor have the highest risk of contracting them. These diseases are preventable and treatable, but due to a lack of resources and aid, millions of people still suffer from these diseases that can cause them to be disfigured, disabled and may even result in death.

However, with the help of several different organizations and national campaigns, many countries have successfully eliminated some NTDs, including trachoma, which is the leading cause of blindness in the world. Trachoma is a bacterial eye infection that affects the eyes and eyelids, causing the eyelashes to turn inward toward the eye leaving patients blind.

Here are three countries that have eliminated trachoma.

3 Countries That Have Eliminated Trachoma

  • Ghana – In 2018, Ghana became the first country in West Africa to eliminate blinding trachoma. Three groups were instrumental in this effort: FHI 360 – a nonprofit human development organization; END in Africa Project (financed by USAID) and Ghana Health Service’s NTD program. Working together, the three organizations eliminated blinding trachoma over an eight-year period. From 2010 to 2018, the END in Africa Project supported the global distribution of more than 464 million NTD Program treatments for trachoma and other diseases. They also mapped disease distribution, treated at-risk populations and monitored treatment impact while also documenting successes along the road to eliminating this terrible disease. FHI 360 provided technical and financial assistance for trachoma post-treatment surveillance, which will help with further prevention of the disease. The program’s long surveillance and treatment of patients is a testament to its dedication and commitment to ending NTDs.
  • Laos – In 2017, Laos became the fifth endemic country in the world to eliminate blinding trachoma as a public health problem. Blinding trachoma was especially common among young children. The United States government had been supporting Laos since 2012 through several USAID projects, such as END in Asia and ENVISION. These projects assisted the Ministry of Health in collecting reliable data on the status of trachoma, which helped determine the correct approach to eradicate the disease. Laos was able to place ophthalmologists at national, provincial and district levels to detect and operate on cases of patients with the disease. The projects also trained primary health care workers to screen patients for trachoma, and they gave patients with less severe conditions the antibiotic eye treatments they needed. Nongovernmental organizations also helped train health volunteers in villages on ways to prevent trachoma. Education ministries invited volunteers to come to their schools and educate their students on facial cleanliness and showed how the infection spread from person to person. Laos achieved amazing success with its partners, working to not only diagnose and treat the disease but also to educate people on how to prevent trachoma.
  • Mexico – Mexico became the first country in the Americas and the third country in the world to officially eliminate trachoma in April 2017. In 2004, the Secretary of Health of the state of Chiapas formed a group of health professionals called Trachoma Brigades to implement SAFE, the strategy recommended by the World Health Organization to eliminate the disease. In their fight against this disease, Mexico provided surgery for people at imminent risk of blindness, administered antibiotics in affected communities to reduce infection in children as well as to stop transmission, promoted personal hygiene and improved environmental conditions. The SAFE strategy’s 4 interventions have been especially successful in the state of Chiapas. Trachoma was endemic in 246 communities in the state and affected over 146,000 citizens. Trachoma Brigades, alongside national, state and community efforts and international partners, eradicated this disease. Trachoma Brigades visited communities several times a year to conduct surveys, eye examinations, identify cases, administer antibiotics, educate children about proper hygiene and perform surgeries.

These three countries worked for years to eradicate this trachoma and improve their citizens’ quality of life. The combined efforts of multiple organizations and governments brought medication, surgeries and public education to these countries toward achieving this goal. In addition to Ghana, Laos and Mexico, countries such as Cambodia, Togo, The Marshall Islands, Oman and Morocco have also made progress against this disease.

It is a U.S. foreign policy objective to support the treatment, control and elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). The World Health Organization recognizes 17 NTDs which currently afflict 1.4 billion people around the globe. Urge Congress to support the End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act to advance U.S. foreign policy interests and safeguard national security.

Email Congress to End NTDs

Jannette Aguirre
Photo: WHO

Rheumatic Heart Disease in Africa
Heart disease is a significant burden across the world. From the Americas to Africa, heart disease affects people globally. While heart disease affects people from all spectrums of the socio-economic ladder, it disproportionately influences the lives of those living in extreme poverty. Nowhere is this more apparent than with rheumatic heart disease in Africa.

What is Rheumatic Heart Disease?

Rheumatic fever is the precursor to rheumatic heart disease. Rheumatic fever affects the connective tissue in multiple areas of the body, particularly the heart. Prolonged exposure to the illness can cause rheumatic heart disease due to the heart valves becoming swollen and scarred. Over time, this can lead to heart failure. Undertreated or ignored strep throat is the precursor to rheumatic fever. Those with frequent bouts of strep infections are at an increased risk of contracting rheumatic fever, particularly children. Children between the ages of 5 to 15 are particularly susceptible to rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever and by extension, rheumatic heart disease, mainly affects children in underdeveloped nations.

Rheumatic Heart Disease in Africa: The Facts

Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of rheumatic heart disease cases in children between 5 to 14, with 1,008,207 cases.  In developed countries, the number of cases is drastically lower, with 33,330 cases. Thankfully, rheumatic heart disease is an easily preventable disease. Consistent, long-term treatment with penicillin can prevent rheumatic fever from progressing into rheumatic heart disease. Rheumatic fever is avoidable with early treatment of strep throat. This leaves the main reasons for the spread of rheumatic heart disease as a lack of resources, money and lack of knowledge about preventative measures.

How to Fight Rheumatic Heart Disease in Africa?

A multitude of nongovernmental organizations lent their services to the fight against rheumatic heart disease in Africa. One of these NGOs is the World Heart Federation (WHF), a group that dedicates itself to the eradication of rheumatic heart disease. On May 25, 2018, the global community put the World Health Organization’s resolution on rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease into action, and this led to the creation of the WHF Rheumatic Heart Disease Taskforce (RHDTF). This task force comprises three separate groups. The first group is the Access to Surgery group, which, as the name implies, focuses on developing strategies to bring lifesaving surgery to low-income countries. The Access to Surgery group works to create surgical centers dedicated to rheumatic heart disease surgery. The second and third groups in this task force are the Policy and Advocacy group and the Prevention and Control group. The Policy and Advocacy group works to increase access to penicillin in low-income areas by dealing with red-tape that can often affect the supply of penicillin. The Prevention and Control group focuses more on investing in projects that take on rheumatic heart disease at the local level.

The Future of Rheumatic Heart Disease

The future looks brighter for those suffering from rheumatic heart disease in Africa. Rheumatic heart disease is entirely preventable, with conventional prevention techniques such as avoiding sharing drinks, coughing away from others and even making sure to frequently wash hands.  With the help of NGOs like WHF and countries like Ghana hosting World Heart Day to raise awareness for rheumatic heart disease, there is hope that this disease’s days are finite.

Ryan Holman
Photo: Flickr

Fight Against Asthma
When people think of asthma, the first thought is usually a minor annoyance at worst. It is far more crippling in lower-income countries, however, than it is in regions with widespread access to health care facilities. The fight against asthma may be a tough conflict, but there are plenty of allies working to make asthma a manageable disease.

Asthma: The Facts

Asthma is a widespread disease, however, there are still common misconceptions about how it functions, perpetuating the fight against asthma.

  • Asthma is a respiratory disease that people commonly associate with fits of breathlessness and coughing. The intensity and frequency are different from individual to individual.
  • When an asthma attack occurs, the bronchial tubes swell, restricting airflow to and from the lungs. These recurring attacks can cause truancy, fatigue and decreased activity levels.
  • Approximately 235 million people have asthma across the world.
  • Asthma has been on the rise the past few decades, with industrialized nations suffering the brunt of it.
  • There is a multitude of risk factors when it comes to asthma. These risk factors include genetic predisposition, obesity, living in an urban environment and lack of exposure to infections during childhood (the hygiene hypothesis).
  • Triggers for asthma are numerous and they include but are not limited to smoke, air pollution, pet dander and even extreme emotional duress (fear, anger, etc.).

While asthma may not be curable, it is not nearly as fatal as other respiratory diseases like COPD. With proper medication and avoidance of certain triggers, it is possible to live a normal, fulfilling life with asthma.

Asthma, Children and Poverty

Asthma is a disease that occurs predominantly in children, with 10 to 20 percent of children aged 13 to 14 in sub-Saharan Africa exhibiting asthmatic symptoms. Asthma has become far more prominent in lower to middle-income countries; suggestions state that this is due to increasing amounts of children living in urban environments.

A study that Addo-Yobo et al conducted in 1993 showed that children in urban rich schools within Ghana had exercise-induced bronchospasms (EIB) at a percentage of 4.2 percent. This is rather high as urban poor and rural schools had an EIB percentage of 1.4 and 2.2 percentages respectively.

Another study that Odhiambo et al conducted in remote and urban Kenya found that rural children had lower rates of asthma (3.0 percent) while their urban counterparts had far higher rates (9.5 percent). The factors influencing asthma formation in children are extremely varied; while location certainly plays a role in asthma formation, so too does socioeconomic status and lifestyle choices.

Global Alliance Against Chronic Respiratory Diseases

Thankfully, there are groups working around the clock to spread medication and asthma awareness. One such group is the Global Alliance against Chronic Respiratory Diseases (GARD). GARD has recently enacted its Practical Approach to Lung Health in high-HIV prevalence countries (PALSA Plus) in South Africa to help combat asthma and other respiratory diseases. PALSA Plus works by ensuring primary care nurses have proper access to the corticosteroids that asthma sufferers need to manage their attacks while also giving guidelines for the treatment of high-priority respiratory diseases such as tuberculosis.

With the help of GARD and its PALSA Plus plan, the fight against asthma has never looked so promising. Asthma may be a debilitating disease, but with proper care, knowledge and support, anyone suffering from this disease can live a long, rich and prosperous life.

– Ryan Holman
Photo: Flickr

Improving Ghana's Local Health
Ghana is a small West African country located on the Gulf of Guinea. Agricultural and mineral outputs mostly make up the country’s income. Ghana was the first African state to gain independence in 1957 and has a population of approximately 28,102,471 people. Although Ghana is one of the more stable countries in Africa and has one of the lowest reported HIV infection rates, the country still faces a multitude of health care issues. However, there has recently been a partnership between the Ghanian government and a tech company to work towards improving Ghana’s local health.

Illnesses in Ghana

A variety of illnesses in Ghana are similar to those occurring in developed countries, however, some of these illnesses can be more potent in areas like Ghana. These illnesses include trauma, women’s health issues, pregnancy complications and infections. HIV/AIDS hit Ghana slightly less than other African countries, but it still caused the deaths of 10,300 people in 2012. HIV/AIDS now stands at number six on the list of the top 10 causes of death in Ghana after malaria, lower respiratory infections, neonatal disorders, ischemic heart disease and stroke.

The anopheles mosquito can transfer malaria, but people can also transmit the illness through organ transplants, shared needles or blood transfusions. Malaria most commonly affects pregnant women and children. In 2012, malaria caused the deaths of 8.3 percent of the Ghanian population. It was also the leading cause of death among children under 5, dealing fatal damage to 20 percent of children in that age group. One of the primary reasons for visits to the hospital is infections. Medical professionals can easily treat most malaria cases with three days of pills from the government, however, some may suffer repeated bouts of malaria and it can be fatal is they do not receive treatment.

Ghana’s Medical Drone Delivery Program

In April 2019, Quartz Africa detailed that a community health nurse at the New Tafo Government Hospital in Ghana’s Eastern Region, Gladys Dede Tetteh, ran out of yellow fever vaccines. Mothers and their babies had to wait in a long line in the hot weather. The facility made an order for more vaccines, but in the past, deliveries often took two hours or more to arrive by road from the central medical stores. However, 21 minutes later, from 80 meters in the sky, a drone released a box onto a small lawn quad in the hospital. New Tafo Government Hospital was the first to sign up for Ghana’s new medical drone delivery program to receive medical products from unmanned aerial vehicles. The aim of this program is to reach hard-to-reach communities quickly and efficiently.

The Ghana Health Service’s Partnership with Zipline

The Ghana Health Service recently began a partnership with Zipline, a drone company with the mission of giving every person instantaneous access to medical supplies. Ghana’s Vice President, Mahamudu Bawumia, officially launched the medical drone program on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. Zipline is a partner of the United Parcel Service (UPS), which also provided support when it opened its Rwanda program. Zipline also gained support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Pfizer. Zipline’s Omenako center in Ghana is the first of four centers that the company plans to construct by the end of 2019. Zipline also plans to provide supplies to 2,000 health care facilities in order to serve 12 million Ghanaians once it completes all four centers.

Each distribution center will have 30 drones that will work together to make 500 deliveries a day. Zipline approximates that it will be able to make 600 delivery flights a day in total. Many claim that the drones are some of the fastest delivery drones in the world. The drones can fly up to 75 mph, transport around four pounds, fly as high as 99 miles and operate in various types of weather and altitudes.

Zipline’s Role in Reducing Deaths and Providing Vaccinations

The World Health Organization states that “severe bleeding during delivery or after childbirth is the commonest cause of maternal mortality and contributes to around 34% of maternal deaths in Africa.” Ghana’s policymakers expressed that they believe that this new drone delivery system is the first step to improving Ghana’s local health by decreasing maternal and infant mortality rates.

The drones will deliver to 500 health facilities from the Omanako center which has vaccines and medications. With the aid of Ghana’s Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI), Zipline drones will be able to provide support to those suffering from yellow fever, polio, measles & rubella, meningitis, pneumococcal, diphtheria, tetanus and more. Gavi provides the vaccines, which is an international organization with the intention of improving children’s access to vaccines in poor parts of the world. Drones will be able to pass where ground vehicles cannot, such as where there is underdeveloped or poorly maintained road infrastructure. Many also expect that the drone delivery program will reduce wastage of medical products and oversupplied hospitals.

Zipline aims to improve access to vital medical supplies, which in turn will hopefully reduce mortality rates and add to efforts in improving Ghana’s local health. Zipline’s mission in Ghana has only just begun, but so far it has been able to significantly reduce the time it takes to deliver important health supplies. Getting medical supplies and vaccines faster may be able to save a few lives in the future as well. Health issues and diseases like malaria continue to be the major causes of death in Ghana, but Zipline and the Ghanian government are making steps towards improving access to health care.

– Jade Thompson
Photo: Flickr