Information and stories about global health.

Cholera Outbreaks in Lebanon
As of November 4, 2022, Lebanon has reported 18 deaths and more than 400 others infected with the notoriously contagious digestive disease, cholera. The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified the disease as a global threat to “public health.” Because the disease is so virulent, it has the ability to affect hundreds of people at once if spread through sewer and water systems within a community.

Current State of Lebanon

Since July 2021, the economic crisis in Lebanon seems to be one of the worst in the world since the 1800s. Banks are beginning to freeze withdrawals. As hospitals and pharmacies began to run out of medication and services to provide patients, the health of not only the people but also the economy began to take a dark turn. As of 2020, approximately 1.7 million refugees could be residing in Lebanon in extremely close-contact, low-budget camps. Furthermore, as of late 2019, “approximately three-quarters of Lebanon’s population” lived below the poverty line.

What is Cholera?

Cholera is a disease that spreads through the ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium. The disease causes infected persons to experience a harsh acute diarrheal infection, eventually leading to severe dehydration. It can kill in hours if left untreated. The World Health Organization has reported that cholera transmission is “closely linked to inadequate access to clean water and sanitation facilities.” Commonly referred to as a “disease of poverty,” cholera outbreaks typically affect the world’s poorest people due to a lack of public sewage systems. As a result, human waste can mix with water that people use for drinking and cooking.

Cholera Outbreaks in Lebanon

After almost 30 years without a single case, cholera has re-appeared in Lebanon following a recent outbreak in Syria. Syria has recently reported more than 20,000 suspected cases and 75 deaths. There has been a high influx of Syrian refugees traveling to Lebanon. Consequently, the transition of the disease most likely occurred because of high population densities within the refugee camps. Reporter Daniel Stewart writes that the increase in cholera outbreaks is “mainly due to increased flooding, drought, conflict, migration and other factors affecting access to clean water.”

A Disease Linked to Poverty

In his research published in the National Library of Medicine, Arturo Talavera wrote that cholera outbreaks are key indicators of social development within a region. Cholera outbreaks remain a serious challenge in countries where people do not have assured access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. Talavera explained that cholera outbreaks affect low-income countries more than middle or high-income countries. Economic development is an important factor in determining how deadly an outbreak may be.

Solutions to the Cholera Outbreaks in Lebanon

Thankfully, France is delivering vaccines to Beirut. However, the World Health Organization warns that if not curved soon, the disease may begin to spread more rapidly. French Ambassador Anne Grillo explains that the recent cholera outbreaks in Lebanon are “a new and worrying illustration of the critical decline in public provision of access to water and sanitary services.”

The key to stopping cholera outbreaks is to provide communities with water security. Furthermore, vaccines can drastically curve the contraction of the disease. As more than 13,000 doses have already arrived in Lebanon with more to come, hopefully, Lebanon will be able to halt the spread of the disease with the help of foreign aid.

– Opal Vitharana 
Photo: Flickr

tackling-hiv-aids-in-barbadosHIV/AIDS rates in the Caribbean are the highest in the world after Sub-Saharan Africa. With the prevalence rate within the region being 1.6% in 2005, the National Strategic Plan of Barbados marked HIV/AIDS as one of the nation’s biggest threats. Its small size and population mean that Barbados, and the Caribbean as a whole, tend to be overlooked in discussions of HIV/AIDS. Despite this Barbados has since, with foreign help, embarked on a mission to reduce the transmission of HIV/AIDS within the nation.

Understanding the Problem

HIV/AIDS transmission in Barbados saw a significant uptake in the early 2000s. This upward trend was mirrored across most of the Caribbean region. The Barbadian government identified that disfranchised groups were overrepresented in statistics regarding HIV/AIDS transmission.

A range of factors led to the higher than global average rate of HIV/AIDS in the nation. One of the largest factors contributing to the relatively high rate of HIV/AIDS in Barbados was the low rate of condom usage among the nation’s youth. In 2006, only 21% of Barbadians between the ages of 15 to 24 reported using a condom in their most recent instance of sexual intercourse.

Men who have sex with men, sex workers and other venerable groups also accounted for a disproportionate share of those infected with and dying from HIV/AIDS. These vulnerable and at-risk groups later became the focus of transmission reduction and treatment efforts.

Most recently the COVID-19 pandemic distracted from efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in the country. Initiatives such as the Man Aware event, which seeks to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS among Barbadian men, were canceled. The risk of spreading COVID-19 meant such face-to-face events could not be held.

Calls to Action

Various national and international actors have had a hand in combating HIV/AIDS transmission and AIDS-related deaths within Barbados. The World Bank provided one avenue of initial support. The World Bank’s Adaptable Program Loan, known as APL, provided the nation with additional health care funding. The main purpose of this program’s adoption in Barbados was to combat HIV/AIDS transmission and quell deaths from HIV/AIDS, according to The World Bank. One way Barbados achieved this was by providing free antiretroviral to HIV-positive citizens.

The U.S. Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), created in 2003, partnered with the Barbadian government, among other developing nations, to combat HIV/AIDS transmission. The U.S. organization contributed over $80 billion to this global project so far. PEPFAR also oversaw the wide-scale adoption of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) HIV prevention treatment in the nation. The Barbadian Ministry of Health and Wellness worked closely with PEPFAR to adapt HIV/AIDS treatment services to each vulnerable group.

As well as partnering with American-led organizations, Barbados also partnered with the governments of other Caribbean nations under the Pan-Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP). This regional collaborative effort sort to connect HIV/AIDS funding, on the governmental and intergovernmental level, to local services. This aided research within research facilities and supported the functioning of further treatment centers. Barbados, along with its partners in the PANCAP has seen the most progress in combating HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean region.

Progress

The action taken to combat HIV/AIDS in Barbados by both internal and external actors have brought about significant progress in the fight against the disease. Through these various initiatives, Barbados embarked upon a U.N. set a target of having at least 90% of HIV-positive citizens know their status and receive treatment by the year 2020. As of 2020, Barbados has reached 89% of HIV-positive citizens knowing their status, according to the U.S. Embassy in Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean and the OECS.

This promotion and uptake of testing began saving lives immediately upon its adoption as a major priority by the Barbadian government. Between 2001 and 2006 the number of AIDS-related deaths in Barbados plummeted by 72%. Within the same time period, new AIDS diagnoses fell by 46%, according to The World Bank.

The education which accompanied testing and treatment has helped quell much of the further spread of HIV/AIDS in Barbados. The education of Barbadian youth resulted in 72% of young people aged 15 to 24 stating they used a condom during their most recent sexual encounter in 2014. This rose significantly from the 21% reported in 2006, The World Bank reports.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has continued much of the positive work pioneered by the Barbadian government, U.N. and previous U.S. interventions. The CDC established its regional office in the Caribbean region in 2002. The CDC has paid particular attention to ensuring testing and treatment for men who have sex with men, one of the most vulnerable portions of Barbadian society. Today the CDC continues to work with its ministries to improve the quality of testing and treatment services. CDC funding also continues to create great outreach for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment efforts.

These progressive strides made within Barbados over the last two decades to tackle HIV/AIDS have been a result of the collaboration between numerous stakeholders. Although it still needs more progress, Barbados has come a long way in combating the disease over the last 20 years.

Bryce Mathurin Lindsay
Photo: Flickr

Help Pay Ukraine’s Health Care WorkersOn July 12, 2022, the U.S. and World Bank announced the provision of $1.7 billion in aid to help pay Ukraine’s health care workers and supply “other essential services.”

Ukraine’s Health Care Workers

Despite the ongoing Russian offensive, many Ukrainian health care workers have opted to remain in the country, performing their duties under extreme strain and hardship. These individuals are key to Ukraine’s continued resistance, providing essential medical services for soldiers and civilians alike. Ukraine’s minister of health, Viktor Liashko, expressed that “the overwhelming burden of war” has made it more difficult to pay health care workers, emphasizing the urgency of continued financial support.

Importance of Humanitarian Assistance

The latest aid package brings the total U.S. budgetary assistance to Ukraine, via USAID, to $4 billion as of July 2022. Ukraine has used this aid to maintain essential social services, such as ensuring schools and medical facilities receive gas and electricity, providing basic humanitarian supplies and supporting civil servants. USAID Director Samantha Power expects that Ukraine’s dependence on foreign aid will continue as the Russian offensive continues targeting Ukraine’s public services.

The importance of supporting Ukraine’s hospitals cannot be overstated. Russia’s offensive strategically targets health care institutions alongside other public works. Ukraine noted 269 attacks on Ukraine’s public health institutions as of June 2, 2022. Russia’s strategy has decimated vital supply lines and infrastructure. The recent U.S. aid to help pay Ukraine’s health care workers is a step in the right direction, however, continued international support for Ukraine’s humanitarian services remains essential.

Additional International Support for Ukraine

The U.S. has sent the most aid to Ukraine since the start of the war, however, many other countries have also stepped up to support Ukraine’s humanitarian and military needs in this time of crisis. As of July 4, 2022, the U.K. had committed about $3.5 billion and the European Union had pledged nearly $1.5 billion to the cause. The IMF and World Bank have also sent multiple aid packages worth several billion U.S. dollars since the conflict began. The private sector is also a valuable source of aid for Ukraine, with major corporations such as IKEA, Adidas and Google pledging millions of dollars worth of assistance.

Fund-tracking platforms such as Devex estimate that there are a total of about $100 billion in aid commitments to Ukraine as of July 2022. Unfortunately, only about $8.5 billion will be allocated toward humanitarian aid, with the remaining funds being tied up in military packages or loans that cannot be allocated toward emergency services.

The $1.7 billion in U.S.-World Bank aid to help pay Ukraine’s health care workers and sustain essential services will bolster Ukraine’s health system and public institutions. As Russia’s offensive grows more protracted, the continuance of such humanitarian assistance is crucial.

– Mollie Lund
Photo: Flickr

Middle-Income Countries
In 2019, the United States donated $8.1 billion in official development assistance (ODA) to the global health sector, according to the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This kind of government aid, alongside other contributions, explicitly aims to promote economic development and welfare in developing nations as the OECD has defined. The Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the OECD, an international forum of some of the largest providers of aid, including the United States, adopted ODA as the “gold standard” of foreign aid in 1969 and continued to be the primary source of financial assistance for development in other nations. Foreign support for health often prioritizes low-income countries over middle-income countries (MICs). According to a policy report, the national average income level for nations fails to reveal poverty and inequality. Millions of people living in poverty in MICs end up behind as donors focus on the poorest countries.

Who are the Middle-Income Countries

According to the World Bank, MICs are home to around 75% of the global population and 62% of the world’s poor. Middle-income countries also have two categories: lower-middle-income and upper-middle-income economies. Finally, the gross national income (GNI) per capita for MICs ranges between $4,046 and $12,535. Middle-income countries are diverse in terms of region, size, population and income level. Countries considered MICs could be nations with small populations such as Belize to larger countries such as China and India. Since the category of MIC expands to a multitude of different nations, there are a variety of other challenges. For those in the lower-middle-income category, one of the most significant issues may be providing citizens with essentials, such as water and electricity. The most critical challenges could potentially be corruption and governance for upper-middle-income nations.

How Health Donors Target Poverty

Duke University’s Center for Policy Impact in Global Health “analyzed donors’ allocation policies to determine if they reflect subnational poverty trends.” In addition, researchers aimed to identify ways funders can adapt their policies to ensure that no one ends up behind.

The researchers found four key features of the allocation policies including an overreliance on national poverty indicators, focus on critical and vulnerable populations, future subnational targeting and health system strengthening.

Health aid funders relied on national-level economic indicators for a country’s aid eligibility. There was also a high correlation to most health donors prioritizing epidemic control over poverty elimination, especially for organizations that target specific diseases. Through targeting diseases, health aid funders define populations by their epidemiological risk profile rather than making an explicit link to subnational poverty that may be causing a higher exposure to the diseases. Many donors also direct their funds to two different pathways of either “a ‘health systems strengthening (HSS) window or a cross-cutting HSS approach.” Organizations including the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) use HSS to reach people considered the poorest. Unfortunately, the organizations do not often track poverty-specific metrics linked to their HSS portfolios even while trying to reduce poverty.

Due to a focus on elements that poverty or national-level economic indicators cause, donors often overlook the poor in middle-income countries.

The Importance of Donors

To ensure impoverished people can benefit from health aid, eliminating poverty should be a central goal for donors. They should use geospatial data sources and methods, consult the citizens living in poverty and use other indicators and factors to assess poverty. This would ensure that donors deliver the best aid to the community. However, donors should also acknowledge that poverty is a “complex, multidimensional and context-dependent social phenomenon that cannot be captured by monetary indicators alone.” Donors have to realize that the value for money approach may not align with the idea of ensuring that no one ends up behind.

Donors should also work alongside domestic policymakers to achieve long-term sustainability for a clear action plan for vulnerable groups. The donors have to define who will receive the program, how these people will access the program and what benchmarks will determine progress. The donors should also ensure that the community involves itself in a meaningful way to create change. In addition, medical interventions including vaccines should have mechanisms in place to set reasonable prices.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

Middle-income countries have garnered the attention of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). As U.N. General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir said that “The international community must urgently address the structural obstacles holding back progress…” Specifically, when middle-income countries experience exclusion from relief initiatives, they cannot respond effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic and the other social and economic effects. UNCTAD Acting Secretary-General Isabelle Durant said, “If the international community fails to support middle-income countries, the debt crisis will threaten global efforts to tackle poverty, inequality and climate change for years to come.” To help, UNCTAD developed the Productive Capacities Index (PCI) that would measure “how far productive capacities and benchmark their achievements.” This will help nations to formulate and implement better policies and benchmarks in terms of development and country-specific conditions.

Hope exists that the correct aid will uplift the community and implement sustainable solutions to today’s health issues ranging from parasites to chronic and infectious diseases. Middle-income countries will continue to grow their health infrastructure to give their citizens the best future possible.

Gaby Mendoza
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDS in Mexico
To better understand the HIV/AIDS crisis in Mexico, looking at the numbers alone is only half the equation. In 2020, UNAIDS reported 340,000 people living with HIV, a 55% increase from 2018’s report of 230,000. The stigma surrounding positive HIV status plays a significant role in discouraging HIV testing and treatment. However, several programs in Mexico aim to make treatment more accessible and address the underlying issues relating to HIV/AIDS in Mexico.

HIV/AIDS in Mexico

HIV prevalence in Mexico is notably high among gay men, prisoners, transgender people and sex workers. Men who have sex with men (MSM) account for the highest number of infected people, with approximately 1.2 million men affected in this category. Despite this fact, only about 40% of these individuals go for HIV testing and know their HIV/AIDS status. Homophobia and a machismo culture mean that “sex between men is highly stigmatized.” Therefore, individuals within this category are hesitant to access HIV testing. Regular HIV testing is significantly higher in the transgender and sex workers communities at 62% and 66% respectively. The stigma surrounding HIV leaves many unaware of their status and exposed to potential transmission.

“PrEParing” for a Better Future

The fight against HIV/AIDS in Mexico starts with the United Nations PrEP program. On September 13, 2018, the U.N. launched its pilot PrEP program with the goal of targeting high-risk HIV-negative individuals. PrEP or (pre-exposure prophylaxis), is a preventive treatment for HIV-negative people who have an increased likelihood of coming into contact with the virus, such as sex workers and individuals whose partners have HIV.

The program received $26 million in HIV treatment funding to assist “7,500 at-risk people in Mexico, Brazil and Peru” until 2020. In Mexico, the PrEP program was open to assist up to 3,000 people with free treatments across four Mexican cities including Puerto Vallarta, Mexico City, Merida and Guadalajara. Additionally, patients received STD testing, counseling and condoms free of charge.

In a 2018 press release, Dr. Ariel Campos of Jalisco’s State Council for AIDS Prevention (COESIDA) said that in Puerto Vallarta, 300 people would receive a one-month supply of Truvada through the program. After the first month, the plan was to re-test patients for HIV and other STDs and then put them on a “three-month schedule” of Truvada. Studies show that PrEP is 99% successful at preventing HIV infection “when taken as prescribed.”

Protecting Prisoners

The Mexican Movement for Positive Citizenship (MMPC) helps combat HIV/AIDS in Mexico by helping those “invisible to society.” Many living with HIV in Mexico’s prisons often lack basic medical treatment, including prisoners in the advanced stages of the AIDS illness. People living with HIV in prison have personally affected each woman working with the MMPC.

For 30 years, Georgina Gutiérrez, a human rights activist and representative for the MMPC, has worked with Mexicans living with HIV. Her partner faced eight years of imprisonment in the Santa Martha Acatitla Penitentiary where the reality of the prison system opened her eyes. MMPC is one of 30 UNAIDS initiatives encouraging community-based HIV work. MMPC “received an award of $5,000” to carry out its work. To date, the MMPC has helped 180 HIV-positive prisoners at the Santa Martha Acatitla Penitentiary, providing both COVID-19 PPE and HIV/AIDS training. An additional 1,000 prisoners and staff have “benefited from the project.”

The efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Mexico continues to grow with help from everyday citizens, commitments from organizations and advancements in medicine. If support continues to grow, the stigma behind HIV/AIDS in Mexico will soon be a thing of the past and Mexico will have its HIV/AIDS crisis well under control.

– Sal Huizar
Photo: Flickr

Maternal Mortality in South SudanOne of the happiest moments in a mother’s life is taken away from her in South Sudan. With 789 deaths amongst 100,000 births, South Sudan’s maternal mortality rate ranks as one of the highest in the world. The probability of death when giving birth is higher when a woman is in poverty. Also, with little access to professional assistance and resources, death becomes far more likely. 

In turn, when maternal mortality occurs, the risk for child mortality increases. Orphaned children are more likely to become subject to child labor. They also tend to have limited access to high-quality education and encounter more obstacles that prevent them from reaching their highest potential. Maternal mortality in South Sudan is an urgent issue not only because mothers die, but also because maternal mortality leads to the ongoing suffering of the children left without moms.

Causes of Maternal Mortality in South Sudan

First, studies have shown that many women do not receive professional assistance when giving birth. In Juba, the capital of South Sudan, only a quarter of the women go to a hospital during the time of labor. That low figure partially stems from a lack of South Sudanese trained in maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH). With only one physician per 65,574 people and one midwife per 39,088 people, the country has a severe lack of professionals at hand. For this reason, mothers are forced to request assistance from non-certified individuals.

Poverty is a significant cause of maternal mortality risk factors. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 4.8 million people in South Sudan, mothers included, suffer from food insecurity. Additionally, only 7% of the population has access to sanitation resources, which further prevents safe births. Poverty also influences South Sudan’s high illiteracy rate of 88% among women. In turn, that high illiteracy rate limits awareness of healthy birth practices.

Finally, communicable and chronic non-communicable diseases contribute to maternal and child mortality. Tuberculosis, a risk factor of maternal mortality, is high at 146 cases per 100,000 people in South Sudan.  Second, HIV/AIDS is at epidemic levels in South Sudan. Finally, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases are on the rise and elevate maternal mortality risk factors.

 A Focus on Increasing Trained Labor and Delivery Staff

Several initiatives have been launched to reduce maternal mortality rates in South Sudan. One significant example is the Global Health Innovation Laboratory’s Maternal, Newborn, and Child Survival (MNCS) program. Launched in 2010, MNCS has worked to increase training for MNCH professionals throughout South Sudan. Importantly, MNCS trainees learn how to identify and prevent major threats that women face during labor. In its first two years, MCNS trained 732 healthcare workers who are now providing assistance in labor and delivery patients in South Sudan.

Also, in 2012, the Ministry of Health in South Sudan, the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) and local nonprofits collaboratively launched the Strengthening Midwifery Service to train midwives and nurses. Additionally, three years later, the Ministry of Health also began partnering with the Canadian Association of Midwives and UNPFA to foster professional mentorships between midwives in Canada and South Sudan so they can exchange expertise with each other.

On the Path to Save South Sudanese Women and Children

Maternal mortality in South Sudan has been an urgent issue since the beginning of the South Sudanese Civil War. It puts both the mother and child at risk of death and may permanently jeopardize the future of a baby. Fortunately, the South Sudanese government and international organizations are working to improve that dire situation. With more professional help available to mothers, slowly, South Sudan is saving its women and children.

– Mariam Kazmi
Photo: Flickr

Global hepatitis eliminationHepatitis-related illnesses kill someone every 30 seconds. While many strains have treatments, the disease is incredibly prevalent. About 354 million people have hepatitis B or C and around 80% are unable to receive the appropriate care. The illness appears all over the world, as 116 million have it in the Western Pacific Region, 81 million in Africa, 60 million in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, 18 million in South-East Asia, 14 million in Europe and 5 million in the Americas. Global hepatitis elimination is possible with additional steps and education. However, as of right now, hepatitis is clearly very significant across the globe.

What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver often from infection or liver damage. While acute hepatitis often does not have symptoms, some symptoms can occur including:

  • Muscle and joint pain
  • High temperature
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dark urine
  • Pale, grey fecal matter
  • Itchy skin
  • Jaundice

Types of Hepatitis

There are five prominent types of hepatitis:

  1. Hepatitis A: Caused by the hepatitis A virus, people usually catch it when consuming food or drink contaminated with the fecal matter of an affected person. It is more common in places with poor sanitation and typically passes within a few months but could potentially be life-threatening. While there is no specific treatment, professionals recommend vaccination if a person is at “high risk of infection” or traveling to an area where it is more prevalent.
  2. Hepatitis B: Caused by the hepatitis B virus, hepatitis B spreads through “the blood of an infected person.” Hepatitis B is very common globally and typically spreads from an “infected pregnant woman to her babies or [through] child-to-child contact.” Sometimes it spreads through injecting drugs or unprotected sex but that is fairly rare. This strain is significant in southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Most adults who get it recover in a couple of months, however, children often develop a long-term infection that can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. A vaccine exists for hepatitis B.
  3. Hepatitis C: The hepatitis C virus causes this strain and is fairly common globally. Typically, the virus spreads through blood-to-blood contact with an infected person, so sharing needles is significant. Since many do not have symptoms, most people may not know they are sick without testing. One in four people is able to fight off the infection, however, it will stay in others for years. Chronic hepatitis C could cause cirrhosis and liver failure.
  4. Hepatitis D: Caused by the hepatitis D virus, this strain only affects those with hepatitis B. Spread through blood-to-blood or sexual contact, it is prevalent in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South America.
  5. Hepatitis E: Caused by the hepatitis E virus, people usually catch it by eating raw or undercooked pork, venison, shellfish or offal. Typically, it is a “mild and short-term infection that does not require any treatment,” but people with a weakened immune system may be more at risk.

Other forms include alcoholic hepatitis, which occurs when a person drinks large amounts of alcohol. There is also autoimmune hepatitis, which is rare and occurs when “the immune system attacks and damages the liver.” A medication to reduce inflammation is available. Global hepatitis elimination needs to focus on all strains but especially B and C.

Methods of Reduction

By 2030, diagnostic tests, awareness campaigns, testing and vaccines could prevent 4.5 million deaths in low and middle-income countries. Currently, only 42% of children receive the birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine. Nevertheless, global hepatitis elimination is very possible. A daily medication taken for 8-12 weeks cures most with hepatitis C and medications for hepatitis B are available. Both hepatitis A and B are preventable with safe and effective vaccines. Vaccinating more children would significantly reduce cases and be a major step towards global hepatitis elimination.

Additionally, since hepatitis A and E both spread mostly in areas with poor sanitation, improvements in sanitation could drastically reduce infections. Testing is another important step as many do not know they have it. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) “estimated that only 10% of people with hepatitis B and 21% of people with hepatitis C worldwide knew they were infected. Of these, 22% and 62% had received treatment, respectively.”

Goals for 2030

The World Health Assembly called for the near or total elimination of viral hepatitis by 2030. This would entail:

  • A 90% reduction in new cases of hepatitis B and C
  • A 65% reduction in deaths
  • Treatment for 80% who have the illness

The Global Immunization Strategic Framework has laid out how to achieve global hepatitis elimination. Goals include strengthening vaccination services, helping improve access to testing and improving the response to outbreaks. Safe vaccines for hepatitis A and B already exist, so improving access to them is important. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that only 10% of people with hepatitis B and 21% with hepatitis C know they are sick. That means that improvements in both testing and education are vital first steps before improving vaccination rates. Therefore, global hepatitis elimination is possible with increased testing and vaccination rates.

– Alex Alfano
Photo: Flickr

Mental health awarenessMental health is an issue that, until recently, people shied away from talking about. While it can be a sensitive topic for people, it is one that society needs to talk about. By discussing mental health, people can help raise awareness of the issue. Celebrities are known to have an influence on their fans, so when they speak about a cause they care about, people tend to listen. Here are a few celebrities who are known mental health awareness advocates.

5 Celebrities Advocating for Mental Health Awareness

  1. Demi Lovato. Actor and singer Demi Lovato has frequently spoken about their struggles with mental illness. Lovato has been a mental health activist since 2015 when they revealed they were diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Wanting to help others struggling with mental illness, Lovato started the Mental Health Fund, which provides people with free counseling during the COVID-19 pandemic. In society, asking for help can be seen as a weakness. Lovato believes otherwise. In an interview with Deseret News, Lovato said, “The strongest thing someone can do is take that first step in getting help, whatever shape or form that is.” This charity raises money for the Crisis Text Line and crisis counseling options in Canada and the United Kingdom. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the public’s mental health so organizations like these have a significant impact on society.
  2. Kristen Bell. Actress Kristen Bell is a longtime and well-known advocate of mental health awareness. Fighting the stigma that surrounds mental illness, Bell believes mental health check-ins should be as common as going to the dentist or doctor. Bell has struggled with depression and has spoken about why mental health screenings should be taken more seriously. There are often stereotypes surrounding depression, but like Bell said in an interview with NAMI, “You can’t tell someone has depression just by looking at them, especially since it’s such an internal battle.” With celebrities like Bell speaking about their own struggles with mental illness, fans will better see that there is no shame in asking for help.
  3. Simone Biles. Simone Biles is the most awarded gymnast in history. The Olympian also has her own battles with mental illness. Biles goes to therapy on a regular basis and takes anxiety medication. These revelations arose after Biles stood up as a survivor of Larry Nassar’s abuse. Victims of sexual assault have an increased risk of developing PTSD, depression and anxiety. In 2017, Biles partnered with the #BeUnderstood campaign, which advocated for learning disabilities and ADHD awareness during the month of October. Biles has also spoken out about her experience with ADHD.
  4. Chyler Leigh. Chyler Leigh, known for her roles on Grey’s Anatomy and Supergirl, has not shied away from sharing her experiences with bipolar disorder. As the new face for the Be Vocal: Speak Up campaign, Leigh shared her experiences of growing up without a diagnosis. Leigh says that she did not have an environment where she could speak up, so she kept quiet. She also spoke about self-medicating with alcohol and the struggle she went through with getting help. Joining Be Vocal was a way of opening up to the public. By sharing her story, Leigh hoped for people to hear her experience and relate, knowing that they are not alone in feeling that way.
  5. Justin Bieber. In his YouTube docuseries “Seasons,” Justin Bieber gave his fans an inside look at his struggles with addiction and mental health challenges. His addiction to marijuana became so serious that he became dependent on it. He also spoke about his use of stronger substances like MDMA or hallucinogenic mushrooms. Bieber got help and replaced illegal substances with antidepressants. In his efforts to help advocate for mental health, Bieber gave a fan $100,000 to support her career in social work. Part of the donation helped the fan attend grad school while the rest of it went to Active Minds, an organization that raises mental health awareness for college students.

Global Mental Health

Though raising mental health awareness domestically is essential, there are many people without access to proper mental healthcare globally. As of 2016, high-income nations spent around 5% of their health budgets on mental health. For lower-middle-class nations, that number fell to less than 2%. There are fewer trained psychiatrists in developing countries, which makes it hard to address everyone’s illnesses.

In Indonesia, there was one psychiatrist for every 350,000 people. Haiti, a country with roughly 10 million people, has only about “10 licensed psychiatrists.” Without the proper funding, developing countries struggle to make mental health a priority.

Spreading Awareness

Mental health issues are very common in society, but they often do not spark the necessary discussion. Part of this reason is because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. Everyone is capable of contributing to mental health awareness. By posting about mental health on social media, donating to mental health organizations or supporting people with resources, an ordinary individual can contribute to improving mental health globally.

– Ariel Dowdy
Photo: Flickr

End Global Poverty by 2030In 2015, the United Nations (UN) created the Sustainable Development Goals, a group of 17 goals that aimed to create an equal and prosperous society. Many of the goals are centered around ending discrimination, providing quality education to all, and other measures to improve equality. However, the most important goal out of the 17 developed is to end global poverty by 2030, which would significantly impact the lives of billions around the world. With America having the strongest economy in the world, even during the pandemic, the U.S. has many ways to reach this goal and finally end global poverty.

Provide Natural Resources

Currently, the U.S. holds the greatest amount of natural resources in the world, especially oil and natural gas. These resources are extremely important to help those in other countries. For instance, in countries without access to electricity, life expectancies are 20 years shorter. Electricity is necessary to provide better education, improve food supplies, upgrade healthcare and so much more. Thus, by improving electricity, America can provide the resources necessary for families to survive and potentially end global poverty by 2030.

Similarly, while electricity is essential to uplift people in developing countries, it also provides profits to America itself. The most important of these benefits is that when the U.S. exports more energy, allied countries have to rely less on authoritarian countries such as Russia and China. This helps reduce prices for these countries to purchase energy and improves confidence in the energy supply. For America, it means that trade will boost the economy and will invest in American citizens.

Improve COVID Aid

In countries across the globe, COVID has been surging due to a lack of vaccines. In fact, in Africa, the number of cases rose by 39% in June 2021. Similarly, at least 20 countries in Africa have experienced a third wave of infections. Nevertheless, wealthier nations have only promised to deliver vaccines to Africa by 2023, prolonging the spread of COVID throughout the continent.

While the U.S. has tried to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Africa, they failed in 2020 to meet the requirements for a sustainable recovery. For example, out of the $9.5 billion that the U.S. was required to contribute as part of a 2020 COVID global response, they only contributed $3.8 billion. In fact, in countries like Bangladesh and the Philippines, the U.S. only contributed 27.2% of the necessary funds.

However, in 2021, America has made many improvements to its foreign policy to aid countries in fighting COVID. The most significant of these is the $11 billion of foreign aid issued as part of the American Rescue Plan in March 2021. Furthermore, the U.S. has provided over $2 billion to COVAX, an organization that provides COVID vaccines to 92 low-income countries. With the vaccines helping potentially millions of people, the U.S. is aiding these countries to exit the current pandemic-induced recession. Although this effort likely won’t be able to end global poverty, America is providing a strong foundation for families in low-income countries.

Help Children in Poverty

Even though billions of adults live in poverty, children are twice as likely to live in poverty. Over 1 billion children worldwide are multidimensionally poor, meaning that they have no access to education, nutrition, housing, water, and more. Children who experience multidimensional poverty die at twice the rate of their peers from wealthier families.

To address this, the United States needs to recognize the flaws currently in place with regards to aiding children. For instance, only 2.6% of humanitarian funds go to education, stifling 128 million children from going to school and having the necessary abilities to succeed in the future. Financial contributions by the U.S. could help millions achieve a quality education. With better education, these students will have the resources to economically support themselves and ultimately lift themselves out of poverty.

While economic problems continue to persist, especially during the pandemic, the U.S. can help millions of families. If the U.S. uses its economic might, it could finally remove burdens for families and end global poverty.

– Calvin Franke
Photo: Pixabay

Vatican Pontifical CouncilEvery other year, the Vatican Pontifical Council is held in Vatican City for the purpose of improving human health and well-being. From May 6-8, 2021, the Cura Foundation and the Science and Faith Foundation joined the Pope, influential scientists, Christian leaders, humanitarians, ethicists and lawmakers to discuss recent advances in technology and medical science that will make for a better world.

The Cura Foundation and the Science and Faith Foundation seek to improve global health by partnering with doctors and researchers who are nearing medical breakthroughs. At this year’s Vatican Pontifical Council, they and other foundations took center stage. The Cura Foundation’s mottos, “unite to prevent,” and “unite to cure,” described the purpose of the discussions. Here are five promising developments from the Council.

Top 5 Highlights of the Vatican Pontifical Council

  1. The solution to global health spending according to Dr. Mark McClellan, director of Duke University’s Robert J. Margolis Center for Health Policy. Recalling the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. McClellan explained why the U.S. and other wealthy countries need to increase their spending on aid for developing countries. He explained that meeting countries on their level will mean considering digital care, care teams, medicine availability and more. In addition, prioritizing healthcare equality will not just benefit developing countries, but wealthy countries as well. The U.S. will see minorities such as Black and Native people, who statistically earn less money than whites, gain more equality. Focusing on health equality for the world will lead to more open-minded communities and better quality of life for minorities.
  2. Pope Francis explains the union of mind, body, and soul. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the union of the mind, body and soul is essential. Many factors can cause division between them, but unity encourages intellect and progress. Interdisciplinary research that works toward uniting mind, body and soul is the reason various leaders and initiators have been able to improve global health as they have.
  3. Sanford Health shares its findings on regenerative medicine. Many retired athletes and elderly people experience chronic joint pain that seems untreatable. However, Sanford Health explained that regenerative medicine can be useful in combating chronic pain. Regenerative medicine helps to speed the healing process and can especially aid practitioners in orthopedics. If regenerative medicine is integrated into care more widely, the physical quality of life will improve greatly for many people worldwide.
  4. Rick Anderson advocates for digital technologies. According to the president of DarioHealth, Rick Anderson, digital technologies are particularly beneficial for those with chronic diseases since they offer a wide variety of treatment options. For example, people with diabetes can use digital devices to test their blood sugar. Getting these devices to people who need them worldwide is a challenge, however. Anderson says the aid needed most in this scenario is internet access. Even low-speed internet can let people order what they need.
  5. New treatments for rare diseases. Dr. Michael Yeaman of UCLA has been studying neuromyelitis optica (NMO), a rare disease that disrupts proteins in the eyes and spinal cord and can lead to mobility loss. Different people can have widely different manifestations of NMO. Dr. Yeaman focuses on personalized medication to meet each patient’s needs. Dr. Jill Weimer, a senior director for Sanford Research, also discussed changing patients’ gene mutations as a cure for disease. While this possibility needs more research, it shows much promise.

The innovations in health and technology discussed at the fifth Vatican Pontifical Council will help minimize not only disease but also poverty. Worldwide improvements in health lead to fewer preventable deaths, more stabilized economies and more people finding jobs. Though this was the fifth Vatican Pontifical Council, it was the first virtual one, demonstrating that the Council is adapting to the pandemic and continuing to make a difference.

– Selena Soto
Photo: Wikimedia Commons