Maternal Mortality Rate in GhanaIn September 2000, the United Nations launched the Millennium Development Goals (MDG): eight steps aimed at making the world a better place. These goals ranged from establishing universal primary education to slowing the spread of HIV/AIDS. The fifth goal in the MDG plan is to improve maternal health, with one of the specific targets being to reduce the maternal mortality rate by 75% between 1990 and 2015. The World Health Organization defines maternal death as “the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management but not from accidental or incidental causes.” Unfortunately, the World Health Organization could only report a 44% decrease in global maternal mortality by the end of 2015. The African nation of Ghana was one of these countries that sat right at 44%. In comparison to the original goal, the overall statistics seem poor; however, a 44% decrease is still a notable feat. Here are three factors that have been especially influential in reducing the maternal mortality rate in Ghana.

3 Reasons Why the Maternal Mortality Rate in Ghana has Decreased

  1. Free maternal health services. Free services for those who could not afford to pay full price made a huge impact on pregnant women in Ghana. This assistance was especially helpful given that, at that time, the country used a “cash and carry” healthcare system that required upfront payments to receive attention from healthcare professionals. This requirement restricted low-income women from obtaining adequate maternal care. In 2003, affordable services were extended to all Ghanaian womenregardless of economic statusafter the country adopted universal healthcare. The combination of universal healthcare and maternal health services provided by the United Nations enabled more women to schedule maternal care visits within their first trimester: in 2017, 98% of pregnant women received antenatal care by a professional, and 84% received postnatal care. With this improved accessibility, women could now monitor their babies’ health, prepare for any special cases and get the help they needed during pregnancy and following childbirth.

  2. Midwives. About 79% of women giving birth in Ghana were assisted by a nurse or midwife, a trained professional who helps during pregnancy and labor. Due to lower education requirements relative to medical professionals, midwives are often more accessible than doctors. Despite less schooling, these individuals are still able to provide physical and emotional support throughout pregnancy, write prescriptions and advise mothers on safely preparing for labor. Two training schools have recently opened in Ghana, accompanied by a 13% increase in national enrollment.

  3. High Impact Rapid Delivery Program (HIRD). The High Impact Rapid Delivery program was established by the Ministry of Health. This program addresses the need for quick and effective change in health policies to increase safety and maximize health within a given nation. Examples of high-priority items include promoting the use of iron tablets during pregnancy, guaranteeing skilled attendance during deliveries and regular de-worming. Of note, Project Fives Alive!, a group assisting HIRD from 2008-2015, advocated for stronger “coverage, quality, reliability and patient-centeredness” in the health industry. The initiative engaged future health professionals in a 12- to 18-month training program designed to quickly teach effective ways to improve their skills in caring for pregnant women and children under the age of 5. Project Fives Alive! made significant progress: the organization helped foster an 11% increase in skilled delivery, a neonatal care institution that boasted a coverage rate seven times higher than its baseline and representation in 33 of Northern Ghana’s 38 districts.

There has indeed been considerable progress in lowering the maternal mortality rate in Ghana over the past 25 years. However, there is still much progress left to make: the country still experiences an alarming rate of 308 deaths per 100,000 (2017), whereas the global rate stands at 211 deaths per 100,000. With continued help from the aforementioned initiatives, the development of new drugs and technology and a commitment to improving maternal health, there is hope that these numbers will further decline.

– Rebecca Blanke
Photo: Flickr

Property Rights for the World’s Poor
In poor nations like Ghana, it can be incredibly difficult for citizens to attain property rights. The lack of services to provide landowners with deeds and official paperwork poses a challenge in providing proof of ownership for the land they occupy. Bitland is an innovative nonprofit company that uses blockchain technology to help secure property rights for the world’s poor.

Land Rights in Ghana

Ghana uses largely informal land distribution processes. People inherit land from extended family, through membership of a certain clan or through traditional authority. These landowners do not typically keep written documentation of land transactions and ownership. Therefore, tracking proper ownership of land becomes difficult. A lack of adequate formal documentation of land ownership and previous transactions creates an informal land market, which in turn creates land conflict, lawsuits and multiple ownership claims of a plot of land.

Bitland in Ghana

African startup Bitland uses blockchain technology to help Ghanaians attain property rights and secure more financially stable futures. The startup launched its pilot service in Ghana due to a local need for autonomy through improved land rights. The CEO and founder of the company, Naringamba Mwinssubo, is also a resident of Ghana. Bitland’s main goal is to provide land registry services where they are functioning poorly, or where no land registry and title services available to locals.

Bitland operates in three key phases: land survey, preparation of titles and land registry and land tokenization. During the land survey phase, the company leaves approximately 30 markers with members of the local community. The community members then place the markers in agreed-upon spots to mark boundaries between individual plots of land. Survey markers placed during this phase serve as landmarks of property boundaries.

In the second phase, land registry, blockchain creates titles for the land. The titles are prepared by verifying the GPS coordinates of the land with the owners of the land. Once the coordinates are verified, the company creates a land title contract that includes owner names, GPS coordinates, map references, block numbers and addresses. This information then receives a timestamp and stored in a database.

In the land tokenization phase, the land titles and accompanying files are turned into a token that is both tradeable and traceable. Various parties use these tokens when making land transactions such as renting and buying/selling. The traceable nature of these tokens makes them an ideal choice for ensuring security and transparency between potential buyers, sellers and renters.

Impact on the Ground

Bitland’s services provide consumers with greater security and transparency when it comes to property rights for the world’s poor. The service also helps document marriages, birth certificates, escrow accounts and mutual savings. As of 2018, Bitland had plans to expand its land registry services to Kenya and Nigeria. The unalterable nature of blockchain records is key to building credit for users and helping them secure a more financially stable future. By allowing landowners to rely on digital traceable records rather than verbal customary agreements, Bitland is establishing strong property rights for the world’s poor and improving their economic outlook for the future.

Maddi Miller
Photo: Flickr

Distance Learning in Ghana
Education is a key tool that people can use to effectively fight intergenerational poverty. Education boosts workers’ resumes and skillsets, diversifies career opportunities for young people, helps women gain skills to bring in income and provides essential information to improve returns in existing economies like agriculture. In Ghana, the government has prioritized widespread education through various programs, public funding legislation and goal setting since the 1980s. However, primary, secondary and higher education can still be hard to come by in Ghana, where growing demand for education outpaces the available supply of teachers and infrastructure. Luckily, distance learning in Ghana is becoming a priority.

The Situation

Primary school students can sometimes be in classrooms with 80 to 100 other students, while secondary students must alternate when they can attend school. Additionally, students who live in rural areas often lack access to educational hubs, especially since these areas typically suffer a shortage of qualified teachers. As a result, Ghana has led the way in developing extensive distance learning programs at all levels of schooling, such as university. Distance learning uses technology to enable fewer teachers to publish educational information for a much wider, and widespread, audience. Distance learning cuts down on travel time and cost, diminishes the need for large schooling infrastructure otherwise needed to accommodate every student taking a given class, provides flexibility for employed individuals seeking to improve their resumes and makes education available to a broader array of families. Here are four facts about distance learning in Ghana.

4 Facts About Distance Learning in Ghana

  1. Constantly improving technology paints a bright future for widespread distance learning in Ghana. As of 2015, 50% of students in Ghana had internet access, while almost every university provided 24-hour access to the web. Additionally, 70% of the population owned a mobile device by the end of the same year. However, internet access can still be spotty and unreliable. In response, in May 2020, tech companies like Facebook, China Mobile International and others launched 2Africa, a project to bring high-speed internet access to Africa via a 37,000 km submarine optical cable. The project will improve essential reliable internet access and speed to 16 African countries including Ghana by 2023. Surveyed students in Ghana expressed that they hope the project will reduce the national illiteracy rate, which currently measures at 21%.
  2. Distance learning in Ghana includes broadcast television, radio and internet programs. The Government of Ghana launched a program in 2002 called The President’s Special Initiative on Distance Learning (PSI-DL) which pre-recorded and broadcasted math, English and science lessons on national television for junior high and high school students. It also broadcasted additional elective programs related to specific vocational skills, like “Block Laying and Concreting,” and started training workshops in 2007. The final phase of the PSI-DL program targets teacher training to improve the skills and teaching abilities of existing in-person teachers. In higher education, many Ghana universities like the University of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and Cape Coast University have pioneered extensive online course offerings in sub-Saharan Africa. Most recently, the Ghana Minister of Education, Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh, partnered with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to create a national reading program over the radio for students in response to over 25,000 primary school closures from COVID-19.
  3. Distance learning in Ghana’s universities is widespread. Between 2014 and 2016, distance learning enrollment increased by 39.4%. Before that, 45,000 students were enrolled in distance learning university courses in 2013 alone. By 2016, however, about half of university enrollment was through distance learning. Distance learning enrollment increases by about 8,000 students per year.
  4. A wide variety of distance learning programs exist for accreditation, job training, primary and secondary education and college-level education. Beyond widespread Ghana university programs for accreditation and online classes, many organizations have adopted distance learning programs to reach students at all levels. A study that broadcast satellite lessons for rural primary students from Accra, Ghana found “significant gains . . . in rural students’ numeracy and foundational literacy skills.” The Varkey Foundation, partnering with UNHCR, uses satellite lessons to teach math, English, and “gender empowerment” to Cote d’Ivoire children living in Ghana refugee camps. Online training programs like Moodle help Ghana nursing students have access to a wider variety of educational resources like training videos and online textbooks. The United Nations’ iLearn Umoja program teaches online courses and provides certification for business and systems skills training. Similarly, the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council recently launched an open-enrollment accreditation program in June 2020 with 36 subjects, including business finance and project management.

Distance learning is changing the game for widespread education in Ghana and setting an example for the rest of the world. Distance learning in Ghana allows primary and secondary students in rural areas to access adequate educational material despite limited local resources, provides accreditation opportunities for working adults and equalizes individuals’ opportunities to enroll in higher education. As enrollment in distance learning programs continues to increase and technology continues to improve, it is safe to say that the best is yet to come.

– Elizabeth Broderick
Photo: Flickr

diarrheal disease in sub-saharan africaEvery year, millions of children under the age of 5 die. Of those children, almost 40% come from Africa. The chance of death for a child living in Africa is seven times higher than that of a child in Europe. This marks the need for improved medical care and foreign aid, especially because many of these deaths are caused by diarrheal diseases. Diarrheal diseases are the second highest cause of death around the world, with over 1.5 million deaths each year. While any country’s children can be susceptible to this illness, developing countries have a marked disadvantage. Many of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where the disease is prevalent, don’t have access to proper sanitation, clean water or viable medical care. Here are five facts about diarrheal diseases in sub-Saharan Africa.

5 Facts About Diarrheal Diseases in Sub-Saharan Africa

  1. Mortality varies greatly by region. There is a higher prevalence of diarrheal diseases in sub-Saharan Africa, but especially in impoverished nations. Additionally, within sub-Saharan Africa, certain countries have much higher mortality rates than others due to these diseases. More than half of the global deaths that occurred in 2015 due to diarrheal diseases came from just 55 African provinces or states out of the total 782 that exist.
  2. The problem is partially economic. Diarrheal diseases don’t only impact the health of these countries’ citizens, but they also take a massive toll on the economy. An estimated 12% of governmental budgets go toward treating these diseases in some countries. Moreover, the World Bank estimates that almost 10% of these nations’ total GDP goes toward the treatment of these health issues. Individual members of each country also feel the monetary blow of obtaining treatment. In many of these countries, the salary of the average citizen is around $1.00 a day. One Kenyan mother named Evalyne was unable to save her son from a diarrheal disease because she couldn’t afford the $0.25 needed for oral rehydration therapy.
  3. There are more victims of these diseases than just children. A lot of the information about diarrheal diseases in sub-Saharan Africa focuses on children under the age of five. However, people over the age of 70 are also very susceptible to diarrheal diseases. The demographics of these two groups are unique. Most children die from diarrheal diseases in Chad, the Central African Republic and Niger. Nevertheless, most elderly people die from diarrheal disease in Kenya, the Central African Republic and India. The differences don’t end there. Most children who contract a diarrheal disease are plagued by the rotavirus, but the elderly have proven to be most prone to another virus named shigella.
  4. The diseases are treatable and even preventable with the right precautions. There are many precautions that can be taken to avoid catching diarrheal diseases in sub-Saharan Africa. One of the most important preventative actions is to do everything possible to consume clean water. Around the world, 40% of the population doesn’t have easy access to adequate sanitation. Many children and adults don’t have soap to wash their hands with after using the bathroom, and oftentimes, the water they use is contaminated. Washing one’s hands and working to improve local water supplies can drastically improve one’s chances against diarrheal diseases. Treating citizens with supplements like zinc and vitamin A can also lessen the severity of diarrheal episodes. Other than supplements and better water, oral rehydration therapy is a great way to treat the illness. Families can use oral rehydration at home by combining salt, sugar and clean water to prevent crippling dehydration. Another potential solution is a rotavirus vaccine.
  5. Education and competition can change the future. In some countries, access to clean water and proper sanitation seems impossible. However, providing communities with the resources and knowledge of how to improve sanitation and lower the risk of diseases has demonstrated that change is possible. In Cameroon, the World Wildlife Fund partnered with Johnson and Johnson to provide training and resources to the members of various communities. This helped them build more sanitary bathrooms and create new and viable water sources. One reason that these programs were so successful is that they created competitions among villages. This became a friendly way of motivating each other toward success.

Diarrheal diseases in sub-Saharan Africa continue to plague areas without clean water or access to healthcare. However, as time goes on, more and more programs and organizations aid in the control of these illnesses. For example, since 2018, ROTAVAC, a rotavirus vaccine, was prequalified by the World Health Organization for use in Ghana. This qualification is specifically focused on providing vaccines to those in countries without easy access to vaccination. Ghana is now the second country in Africa to place ROTAVAC as part of its program to immunize citizens against diarrheal disease. Doing this raises awareness across regions about a future where disease prevention is all the more possible.

Lucia Kenig-Ziesler
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in GhanaGhana has a population of 30.4 million people, and over 100,000 of these people are homeless on any given night. Though most of the population does have access to safe, affordable housing, not every Ghanaian does. Here are five facts about homelessness in Ghana.

5 Facts About Homelessness in Ghana

  1. Around 39% of Ghana’s urban population lives in slums. This equates to roughly 5.5 million people. Poor households and domestic violence victims are at higher risk for homelessness. In urban areas, single women with children are also at risk for homelessness. Obtaining ownership of a house can be difficult for some women because in matrilineal tribes when a man dies, there are limits for women regarding inheritance of spousal property.
  2. In urban areas, there is a shortage of housing. These shortages are caused by a lack of adequate financing, costly building materials and delays in getting permits to build. It is also challenging to gain access to urban land in order to build there. There are not enough governmental rental properties available, and those that do exist are mostly inhabited by government workers.
  3. COVID-19 has made things worse. Many homeless Ghanaians cannot comply with lockdown orders, and do not always have access to masks, gloves and hand sanitizers. Their previous jobs of carrying shoppers’ wares or helping to load passengers became obsolete during the pandemic. Some volunteers are helping to distribute food and water to the homeless, though others argue that the government should distribute raw ingredients and money instead of cooked food.
  4. Housing policies and programs are being implemented. One such project is the Tema-Ashaiman Slum Upgrading Facility (TAMSUF). This project aims to upgrade slums, develop low-cost housing and facilitate urban development projects. TAMSUF completed its first housing project in 2011, which involved constructing a building that contained 31 dwelling units and 15 commercial shops. In addition, it also involved a commercial toilet and bath facility. TAMSUF also constructed a sanitation facility containing six bathrooms, which can hold 12 people. Similarly, The Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor Fund (G-FUND) seeks to grant homeless Ghanaians access to funds in order to provide for themselves. Created in 2010, this fund provides low-income households in Ghana with credit for housing and business development. This funding also improves infrastructure.
  5. The Urban Poor Fund International is working to improve living conditions. UPFI has built over 60,000 houses and improved 3,000 dwelling units in various countries. Examples of their projects include a community-led waste management initiative and also a housing construction in Amui Dzor, Ashaiman, in Ghana. The Amui Dzor housing project has housed 36 families and provided many dwelling units, bathrooms and rental stores since its creation in 2009. One of the project’s most famous sponsors was the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Many of Ghana’s homeless require help from the government and housing projects to get back on their feet. Efficient rental control laws and housing for low-income individuals are just some of the many policies that can help lower or diminish rates of homelessness in Ghana.

– Ayesha Asad
Photo: Flickr

Ghanaian women in poverty
It is undeniable that, right now, the makeup, skincare and haircare industries are flourishing globally and are predicted to continue their economic rise well into the future. According to Euromonitor International, in 2020, the beauty industry’s net profit reached $500.5 billion — a more than 5% increase from 2019. Broken down by category: general cosmetic care earned $307 billion, skincare acquired $145.2 billion, haircare collected $79.2 billion and premium beauty earned $139 billion. The industry’s forecast predicts an annual net profit of $756.63 billion by 2026

Right now in Ghana, the beauty industry is experiencing a cultural role shift and growth in profit. The increasing population of young people is beginning to explore skin, beauty and hair care — and they’re looking locally. As this industry grows, Ghana-based brands are looking to do more than just provide beauty products. Through outreach programs and innovative business plans and programs, personal care companies are working to provide financial aid, job opportunities, equitable support and empower Ghanaian women. Here are three Ghana-based beauty brands empowering Ghanaian women in poverty.

3 Beauty Brands Empowering Ghanaian Women in Poverty

  1. FC Beauty Group Limited: Established more than 30 years ago in Ghana, FC Beauty Group Limited (FCBGL), not only provides and distributes high-quality hair and beauty products at a wholesale price to local salons but also hosts extensive outreach programs for impoverished women. FCBGL launched the Grace Amey-Obeng Foundation International in the summer of 2007. This foundation has made it a priority to aid Ghanaian women in poverty, with the purpose of providing young women an education, training and a sense of self. Through this program, FCBGL has focused its outreach to young homeless women, some of whom must engage in prostitution to financially support themselves. For women who engage in transactional sex consensually, the foundation provides them with skills to prevent difficulties in their profession. These skills include preventing pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and exploitation. For women who do not wish to continue this work, the brand offers job prospects and training that allow them to change their economic direction. The brand continues its outreach work by partnering with the Osu Girls’ correctional facility to provide inmates with hirable skills for future economic success. FC Beauty Group Limited hosts another program titled the “Tutsi Project.” The Tutsi Project’s agenda is to act as insurance for the women who have completed FCBGL’s training programs and are now pursuing a career. Since its conception, the FC Beauty College has trained more than 6,000 economically successful students. Seed money is provided to women looking to start their own businesses. Many trainees are full-time mothers as well as entrepreneurs and FCBGL’s investment at the beginning of their career allows them to feel financially supported.
  2. Nokware Skincare: With old-school natural products and innovative ideas, the brand Nokware, meaning “truth,” creates all products from recipes and raw materials passed down through Ghanaian women’s lineage. Remaining local is an important piece of Nokware’s business plan and the brand solely uses materials that can be found and farmed by local African women. By practicing fair trade and pricing deals, Nokware can work towards its overall mission: economic inclusion. Recognizing the financial disparity many Ghanaian women face, this brand works to exclusively buy locally to put money back into the community and create a space for those who have been neglected in the workforce. By situating “community commerce” at the forefront of its company, Nokware works to stimulate the Ghanaian economy from the inside out. Empowerment of Ghanaian women in poverty is very important to Nokware Skincare. The brand works to accomplish that goal by primarily hiring women who face a substantial wage gap. Recognizing them as powerful resources, Nokware also staffs its executive boards and factory floors with Ghanaian women in an effort to minimize the prevalent wage gap in the country. The company’s “Nokware for Women” fund is an educational scholarship program available to the daughters of Nokware employees to diminish gender inequalities in education.
  3. True Moringa: Named after the extensive benefits of the plant found in northern Ghana, True Moringa is a brand that creates a diverse selection of products that all contain the oil of the True Moringa tree. On a trip with MIT’s D-Lab to Ghana, Kwai Williams and Emily Cunningham learned about the aforementioned tree, known as the “miracle tree,” from local farmers. The plant contains high levels of Vitamin A, calcium and protein. It also has the ability to grow and strengthen other crops in any climate. After learning this, Williams and Cunningham realized that the plant could minimize poverty and malnutrition in the country, and bring economic opportunities to farmers while providing consumers with high-quality skin and hair care products. The founders were aware of the lack of training, reliable commerce and income insecurity Ghanaian farmers face. As a result, they created a business plan that could compete with more established beauty brands and source locally to raise the monetary value of the brand’s contributing farmers. The company’s website states that the creation and application of the True Moringa brand has served more than 5,000 farming families, planted more than 2 million trees and increased local Ghanian farming revenue tenfold. In addition to the economic growth created through local sourcing, True Moringa allows customers to make an impact. With every purchase made, True Moringa will plant a tree which, in turn, combats deforestation and malnutrition in the small farming communities the brand works with. The True Moringa skin and hair care brand not only works to contribute to the beauty industry and empower Ghanaians by providing high-quality products, but also looks outside to create sustainable incomes and resources to empower Ghanaian women in poverty and their families.

All of these brands have created a positive impact on Ghanaian women in poverty. They have done so by looking beyond the cosmetic aspects of their products and focus on empowering women through their incomes, access to food and financial well-being. These brands have given hope to women and families for a better future, and have continued to walk alongside them as they move into a more financially secure future.

– Alexa Tironi
Photo: Flickr

skin bleaching in AfricaThe continent of Africa is revered as one of the most diverse continents on Earth, toting genetic, linguistic, cultural and phenotype diversity. Unfortunately, some of that diversity is lost when beauty standards are dictated by other cultures that are not native to Africa. Skin bleaching in Africa is one result. While many African women prefer to refer to this method as “heightening your glow” or “skin lightening,” it involves skin bleaching. Market trends project these bleaching products, many containing mercury, will make $31.2 billion in profits by 2024.

A Legacy of Colorism

Skin bleaching in Africa is not a new beauty phenomenon. The practice finds its roots in the transatlantic slave trade and continued during the European colonization of African nations. The caste systems that entitled European slave owners and traders to reduce African blacks to indentured servants perpetuated disparities in political status, wealth and beauty, furthering discrimination based on skin color.

The legacy of racist views which positions white Europeans as superior has remained a structural belief system among the women who choose to use the skin lightening products. They believe that darker skin is associated with unsatisfactory traits such as inferior beauty, education and social class. In other words, darker skin is stereotypically associated with a life of economic disadvantage and struggle. Consumers of these bleaching products, wanting fairer skin, believe they will achieve a higher level of social capital, be viewed as “pure” and more desirable for marriage.

Doctors who have studied the phenomena of skin bleaching in Africa have concluded that while some women bleach their skin for vanity reasons, others are very calculative in their decision. The retailers selling these products sometimes refer to and promote skin lightening creams as “up-marketing” one’s appearance. The pay-off comes in the form of job security, progress, and power. Skin bleaching in Africa is therefore a business-oriented decision. Anecdotally, the appearance of lighter skin means faster and easier access in landing higher paying jobs, particularly in sales and marketing.

Education Is Key: Addressing the Trend as a Public Health Problem

The messaging surrounding these products, whether via word of mouth or straight from the packaging, appear to be working. Data collected by the World Health Organization (WHO) determined that 40% of African women regularly use skin lightening or bleaching creams. The trend is not isolated to one specific region either. Nigeria leads the purchasing trend with 77% of women using skin bleaching products (cream and non-cream based), followed by 59% in Togo, 27% in Senegal and 25% in Mali. It’s estimated about one of every three women in South Africa uses the products, even though mercury-based products have been banned in the country since the late 1970s.

The modality for these products used in skin bleaching in Africa varies by age group as well. While the older generation prefers lotions and creams, the younger generation opts for injections and pills such as glutathione capsules. More concerning is pregnant women’s use of glutathione capsules to manipulate the skin tones of unborn children.

Common health issues related to regular use of skin lightening products are mostly topical, but nonetheless dangerous. The most common side effect of topical lotions and creams is skin thinning due to the high-dose steroid, hydroquinone and mercury ingredients. Other effects include burning, scaling, scarring and boils. These applied products can also trigger further skin discoloration, also known as exogenous ochronosis, or blue-black pigmentation of the affected areas. Other, more serious health issues including blood cancers like leukemia and cancers of the liver and kidneys have prompted doctors monitoring the skin bleaching trend to call the phenomenon a public health crisis.

Appreciating Natural Beauty

African nations spread across the continent are moving toward full or partial bans against skin bleaching creams and lotions, citing their dangerous topical and chronic health implications. Most notably, the countries of Rwanda, Ghana and the Ivory Coast have banned these products. More recently, the #BlackLivesMatter protests have prompted top beauty and skin brands such as Unilever and Johnson & Johnson to scrub manipulative marketing and even pull some products promoting fairer skin from their portfolios.

Unfortunately, skin bleaching in Africa is persistent, even in countries where these products are banned. Many experts and medical professionals assert that in order to fully eliminate the skin bleaching industry, the idolatry of fair or white skin needs to be eliminated. In other words, we must create a world where dark-skinned women are welcome in all spheres of society, not discriminated against. Thankfully, a number of nonprofit organizations, including The Beautywell Project and Melanin Foundation, are tackling skin bleaching in Africa and its harmful effects.

– Vicki Colbert
Photo: Flickr

Technology in Ghana
Ghana has been the hub for technology production in sub-Saharan Africa for decades. In terms of recent technology progression, Ghana stands out for its IT programs, sustainability training and more. Accra is one of the metropolitan cities in the country, known for its technological innovations. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Accra has been working tirelessly to safely and efficiently produce technology that provides aid to sub-Saharan Africa. Here are six facts about technology in Ghana during the COVID-19 pandemic.

6 Facts About Technology in Ghana

  1. The Ministry of Health established a partnership with Zipline, a U.S. company that delivers medical supplies using drones. Zipline is distributing supplies and test kits to 1,000 medical facilities across the country. The company loads the drones with tests and return packets to go back for testing. This has helped Ghana complete 68,000 tests during the lockdown and distribute more supplies as the virus has spread.
  2. Cognate System, a software company, is tracking cases of COVID-19 throughout Ghana. Cognate System uses a platform called Opine Health Assistant (OHA), a phone app that people use to report and record their symptoms. Once someone tests positive, they can use the platform to report their symptoms and determine when they are COVID-free. The application asks questions like where the user has traveled recently and whether they are in need of food, shelter or water. After the lockdown, OHA tracked and recorded approximately 3,000 cases.
  3. As the COVID-19 virus spread through Africa, hospitals began to fill up and medical personnel quickly realized they did not have adequate supplies to prevent further spread of the disease. Ultra Red Technologies (URT), a 3D printing company in Nairobi, got to work immediately to help. The company printed out plastic face shields to send to Ghananian medical staff to help them protect themselves while tending to patients. Mehul Shah, at the URT, wanted to do his part and find a way to help without needing to import products. His work represents the benefits that technology in Ghana has had on the country’s coronavirus response.
  4. Fablab, an innovation hub in Kenya, has been developing tracing applications. The applications track positive patients on public transport to determine who experienced exposure to the virus. If users are in a taxi, for example, they could scan the code onto the application to mark the vehicle as exposed. If everyone uses the application properly, it could trace the positive patient and notify others who may have had exposure to the virus.
  5. The Academic City College in Accra worked alongside the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, located in Kumasi, to build a ventilator that takes merely an hour to assemble and costs only $500 to $1,000. This effort resulted from students who noted that most oxygen bags required hand-pumping to keep patients breathing. The low-cost ventilators use a wooden box with pipes and electrical programming that push oxygen into the patient’s mask, eliminating the need for hand-pumping. Ventilators are quite difficult to distribute as they are expensive to build and maintain, even in wealthy nations. Lowering the cost and production of ventilators can save the lives of millions of COVID-19 patients.
  6. Ghana has been able to test 100,000 people through drone testing. This has likely contributed to the country’s relatively low death toll, which rests only at 486, or 18% of the 2,700 positive cases recorded. Each death has been due to previous underlying conditions that prevented patients from fighting off the novel coronavirus.

Technology in Ghana during the COVID-19 pandemic relies on the good use of resources and accounting for cost and efforts. During the pandemic, Ghana and its neighboring nations have stepped up to the plate to prevent further spread and manage cases so that citizens can get back to work soon. Since March 2020, Ghana has cut down on costs for ventilators while reducing importation needs and sustaining the current quality of production. The sooner the case numbers fall, the sooner citizens and students of Accra can get back to working on more technology to sustain and grow the region. Technology in Ghana has only progressed during the COVID-19 era, and is working toward helping the nation get rid of the virus.

– Kim Elsey
Photo: Flickr

Solar WashWith the rapid spread of COVID-19, public health and hygiene habits are being promoted unlike ever before. The importance of handwashing has been particularly emphasized as it is, according to The World Bank, “one of the most effective ways to prevent transmission of disease,” including COVID-19. However, in many countries where access to clean water is rare, disease and unsanitary conditions present an even greater threat.

Access to Water in Ghana

In Ghana, more than five million people utilize surface water to meet their basic needs.  Utilizing contaminated water is often the only option many people have. However, it leaves populations vulnerable to water-related diseases, infections and illnesses. In many cases, this discourages populations from practicing handwashing, taking daily baths, and ensuring their body is sufficiently nourished. As a result, the transmission of water-related diseases increases. This establishes and encourages poor hygiene, sanitary and personal care habits.

Solar Wash

Two native Ghanian brothers, Richard Kwarteng and Jude Osei, have developed a solar-powered handwashing basin in efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 and “encourage regular hand-washing etiquette,” Kwarteng said. The invention, called Solar Wash, uses just a few components. It comprises of an alarm, a sink, a sensor, a faucet, a motherboard and a solar panel. Solar Wash resembles a regular hand-washing sink but works in an even more hygienic, sustainable and cost-efficient manner.

Solar Wash’s sensors ensure users do not have to physically touch the faucet’s tap. First, upon sensing motion, the sensor dispenses soapy water and enacts an alarm for 25 seconds. This is in accordance with the guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). After the 25 seconds, the tap dispenses just enough water for users to conclude washing their hands. Solar Wash acts as a handwashing station for 150 people during just one charging cycle.

The Ghanaian Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation is working with Kwarteng and Osei. They are working to ensure the continuation of Solar Wash manufacturing and its accessibility to people in all of Ghana.

Global Potential of Solar Wash

Solar Wash emerged in Ghana as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, continued manufacturing and placement of the invention would greatly improve conditions around the world, particularly those living in poverty. Continued use of Solar Wash, or similar technology, would:

  1. Reduce the spread of water-transmissible diseases – According to the CDC, “about 1.8 million children under the age of five die each year from diarrheal diseases and pneumonia.” The spread of pneumonia and diarrheal diseases can be significantly reduced with proper handwashing practices, protecting “about one out of every three young children who get sick with diarrhea and almost one out of five young children with respiratory infections like pneumonia.”
  2. Offer a sustainable solution to the global water crisis – In 2019, about two billion people were living in a country engulfed by high water stress. In other words, there were about two billion people without access to enough water to fulfill their basic needs. To globally address the water crisis, the world needs an affordable, sustainable and accessible solution, which Solar Wash offers.
  3. Reduce global poverty – UNICEF and the WHO said, “over half of the global population or 4.2 billion people lack safely managed sanitation services.” This contributes to the spread of many diseases and illnesses, including COVID-19, diarrheal diseases, cholera, adenovirus and salmonella. By reducing the spread of these infections, illnesses and diseases, populations have a lower chance of being engulfed by poverty. They will be able to work, attend school and so forth.

Conclusion

Innovations like Solar Wash demonstrate simple but important practices and solutions needed to alleviate poverty. Solar Wash offers a simple, affordable and sustainable means of practicing handwashing with its simple build and technical structure. An innovation like Solar Wash can play an immense role in reducing health-related concerns in Ghana. It can also help throughout the world with continued production and implementation.

– Stacy Moses
Photo: Flickr

the Marist Brothers
Saint Marcellin Champagnat formed the Institute of the Marist Brothers in 1817 with the mission of helping poor and marginalized children around the world. The community of Marist Brothers has now grown to include almost 3,000 members. In 2007, in the spirit of Champagnat’s vision, the Congregation of the Marist Brothers of the Schools established the Marist International Solidarity Foundation (FMSI) in Rome. Its mission is to provide quality care and education for all children. Today, the foundation directly improves the lives of more than 650,000 youth around the world. It does so through its presence in educational, social and youth centers. Three of FMSI’s important mission projects are in Ghana, Haiti and Lebanon.

Ghana: Marist Junior High School

With a fast-growing youth population, experts claim that Ghana has a unique opportunity to utilize its “demographic dividend” as a positive force for its society and economy. Without a strong educational system, however, the growing demographic could exacerbate the country’s poverty. Problems in the Ghanaian educational system, especially in rural settings, include shortages of qualified teachers, adequate teaching spaces and school materials. Additionally, literacy and learning standards are low. Educational institutions struggle to provide quality, inclusive teaching across gender and socioeconomic disparities. Thousands of children drop out of school because their families cannot afford the economic burden.

Fortunately, the Marist Brothers have been quietly contributing to the betterment of Ghanaian education. In 1998, the Marist Junior High School emerged in Sabin-Akrofrom. In this rural area, families cannot afford the transportation costs to send their children to city schools. Since its establishment, the Marist Junior High School has taught more than a thousand students who would have not received schooling otherwise. Its students meet high academic standards, and the facility is now prominent for its effective, inclusive and quality education for children living in remote areas of Ghana.

Haiti: the Collège Alexandre Dumas

In Haiti, thousands of children do not receive an adequate education because families cannot afford to make such financial sacrifices. Because of this, child labor is widespread in Haiti. As of 2019, more than 34% of children between the age of five and 14 were in the labor force. Child labor drastically reduces children’s opportunities to go to school. The government is unable to enforce a minimum age requirement for its workers or prohibit the use of children for dangerous work. Children left at orphanages also often work in hard domestic work.

The Marist Brothers have taken action to advocate for child rights and reduce child labor in the region of Latiboliere. The mission of the Collège Alexandre Dumas secondary school is to improve the lives of children who are vulnerable to exploitation. After successful negotiations with children’s families, the Marist Brothers are now able to host 100 boys and girls per year. In addition to providing basic schooling, this program offers nutritional meals, medical care, and recreational activities like sports and arts. These activities contribute to the Haitian children’s academic, emotional and social advancements. Overall, the school reduces the labor exploitation of minors by educating their families on the importance of schooling.

Lebanon: the Fratelli Project

Lebanon also faces the issue of widespread child labor, which impedes youth access to school. Immigrant children, whose parents experience exclusion from the Lebanese labor market, are especially vulnerable to labor trafficking. They can receive less pay and employers do not require identification papers. However, Lebanese families living in the poorest areas of the country face similar problems to those of immigrant families. Thus, Lebanese child labor is also on the rise. This cycle forces children to become the only source of income for many poor families who cannot afford to lose their support by sending them to school. Consequently, even the children enrolled in an educational institution have poor levels of attendance when due to seasonal labor.

The Marist Brothers’ school, Les Frères, has been helping children in Lebanon since before the Lebanese civil war. Now, in cooperation with the La Salle Brothers, the Marist brothers in Lebanon have introduced a new educational project called Fratelli. The Fratelli project supports hundreds of Lebanese and refugee children who have fallen behind in school. It incorporates socio-academic and vocational training to help them reintegrate into the Lebanese education system. FMSI provides funds to buy school materials, pay activity costs and finance the enlargement of buildings to make Les Frères accessible to more children.

Ghana, Haiti, and Lebanon are just three of the 81 countries around the world where the Marist Brothers have improved children’s lives. By protecting the world’s children, the Marist Brothers are effectively protecting the world’s future.

– Margherita Bassi
Photo: Flickr