Information and stories on health topics.

Top 5 Nonprofit Foundations
Throughout the world, millions of people face the development of disease. Many of these diseases are not yet curable, which has forced many to be fearful for their lives. Several organizations have come up with ways to fund research and provide information to those suffering from these diseases so that they can live longer and happier lives. These top 5 nonprofit foundations are among the many nonprofit organizations that have dedicated their lives to curing disease.

The March of Dimes Foundation

The March of Dimes Foundation is a U.S. nonprofit organization that works to improve the health of mothers and babies. Formed the day before World War II, the March of Dimes Foundation, formerly the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (NFIP), became very popular like its founder, Franklin D. Roosevelt. With the war in full effect, the Foundation was able to gain its rise through “radio, Hollywood and the personal appeal of the president.” The organization established the Office of Global Programs, that allowed worldwide partnerships with communities in Latin America, Europe and Asia bringing in prenatal education and care. The March of Dimes Global Network for Maternal and Infant Health has supported programs in China, Brazil, Lebanon, the Philippines, Malawi and Uganda.

United Way

United Way’s mission is to improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of communities around the world and advancing the common good. The organization collaborated with the Shanghai Charity Foundation to provide teacher training, a place for children to learn, educational toys and other learning materials for 20 kindergarteners. In 2010, the United Way worked with the Airbus Corporate Foundation to create the Flying Challenge, which encourages at-risk middle and high school students to stay in school. So far, the challenge has allowed more than 600 students from Wichita, Kansas to Getafe and Cadiz, Spain the opportunity to receive mentorship through the Flying Challenge initiative.

The Global Fund

Among the top 5 nonprofit foundations listed, the Global Fund is the newest organization to raise, manage and invest the world’s money towards infectious diseases. Since 2002, the Global Fund has focused on three infectious diseases; AIDS, TB and malaria. The organization has invested more than $4 billion a year to support programs in more than 100 countries. Many of these programs are occurring in countries within Eastern Europe, Central Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Pacific, and mainly, Sub-Saharan Africa.

The WHO

The World Health Organization formed in 1948 and is a specialized agency of the United Nations that is concerned with international public health. WHO has six regional offices, including its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The WHO regional office in Africa and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention work together to end disease outbreaks and build stronger health systems. WHO has provided technical leadership in surveillance, vaccination and case management, and has deployed 700 international experts that respond to disease outbreaks. On July 2019, the Ministry of Health reported 2,620 Ebola cases with 1,762 deaths and 737 survivors.

UNAIDS

UNAIDS is the main advocate for accelerated, comprehensive and coordinated global action on the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Young women between the ages of 15 and 24 are more likely to obtain the virus. Four in five new infections in Sub-Saharan Africa among adolescents aged 15 to 19 years are girls. More than 35 percent of women around the world have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some time in their lives. This makes it 1.5 times more likely for them to obtain HIV than women who have not experienced this form of violence. Towards the end of 2018, UNAIDS used $19 billion towards the AIDS response in low-and middle-income countries, which was $1 billion less than the previous year. UNAIDS believes that the AIDS response in 2020 will require $26.2 billion.

These top 5 nonprofit foundations have continued to raise money to fund research for cures that impact millions of people in the world. They have made it their responsibility to ensure that patients and their families gain the necessary care to gain power over their lives.

– Emilia Rivera
Photo: Flickr

Wasted Medical Supplies
The United States generates over two million tons of wasted medical supplies each year. Facilities do not use many of these supplies such as unexpired medical supplies and equipment. People even throw away completely usable, albeit expired medical supplies. This surplus exists because of hospital cleaning policies, infection prevention guidelines and changes in vendors. Additionally, because equipment must always be ready, replacements are always in order. As such, in the U.K., medical facilities replace equipment before the old versions are out of commission. Waste ranges from medicine to operating gowns, all the way to hospital beds and wheelchairs. Beyond consumables like medicine and one-time supplies like syringes, the need to replace before equipment is sub-optimal leaves a margin for waste on big-ticket items like MRIs.

Many hospitals have dumped their garbage from the reception and operating rooms along with usable medical surplus into incinerators. Although this burning is a source of many pollutants, it is still common practice in many developing countries.

This issue of medical supply waste intertwines deeply with a lack of access to medical equipment in the developing world. While developed countries live in a world of sterile excess, developing countries and remote villages with little access to suitable equipment to meet their needs suffer.

How Does this Waste Relate to Poverty?

People view access to the level of health care service in the developed world as the standard rather than a privilege. In places of poverty like Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo, facilities are in desperate need of supplies and equipment to treat patients in their region.

Inadequate provisions leave patients on the floor or in out-of-date hospital beds paired with another patient. In the DRC, rape is a common weapon of war. The U.N. Human Rights Security Council passed a resolution that described the problem as “a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.” Many of the patients at the doorstep of Burhinyi Central Hospital are suffering from rape-related ailments. Some examples are HIV/AIDS, fistulas, bladder and intestinal damage and infections. Without the necessary equipment to handle such cases, impoverished areas, which are already more prone to injury and disease, deteriorate.

How Can it be Fixed?

Again, the issue of wasted medical supplies id deeply connected to poverty. In fact, they are complementary. The solution lies in moving the surplus from areas of excess to people in need. This reduces the waste in developed countries by giving supplies to hospitals that need them. Therefore, one can convert wasted medical supplies to usable surplus.

There are many NGOs like Medshare and Supplies Over Seas (SOS) that follow this process. These nonprofits operate based on collecting, sorting and sending the usable medical surplus to hospitals in need.

SOS has a container shipment program that sends cargo containers filled with medical supplies. These containers would have otherwise ended up in the landfill. A typical container contains six to eight tons. Its medical contents value conservatively at $150,000-$350,000. Since 2014, SOS has shipped containers to 20 countries in need.

A volunteer at Medshare outlined her experience working with surplus medical supplies, saying that, “It was shocking how much waste there actually was. Warehouses full of totally usable stuff all ready to be thrown away.” She added, “[she] sorted through things like syringes and gauze packets which were all put into huge containers for hospitals that need it. It feels like a difference is being made.”

Stop Wasting and Start Donating

Wasted medical supplies and impoverished areas without access to proper medical equipment are issues that people can resolve simultaneously by salvaging usable supplies and equipment that were ready to go to landfill and sending them to communities in need. Regarding medical waste and poverty, the best solutions occur when those who have more give to those who have less.

– Andrew Yang
Photo: Flickr

Living Conditions in San Marino
In the northeastern part of the Italian Peninsula lies San Marino, one of the world’s tiny micro states surrounded entirely by the country of Italy. Its modern form has shaped since 1463 and the country has maintained its autonomy until today. In fact, it is the world’s oldest republic. Here are the top 10 facts about living conditions in San Marino.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in San Marino

  1. Population: As of 2019, there are 33,683 people living in San Marino. It has the fifth smallest population on Earth. Roughly 15 percent of the population are migrants and 53 percent are individuals within the working ages of 18 to 65. The nation’s official language is Italian. The poverty rate of the country is very low, so the country does not officially measure it.
  2. Education: Education is compulsory until the age of 14 and attendance is free. Almost the entire population has completed secondary school as the country has a 91 percent completion rate. Over 10 percent of government spending goes towards education. Citizens of San Marino mostly pursue college degrees in surrounding Italy or abroad.
  3. Economy:  Economic output relies heavily on finance and manufacturing. The banking sector accounts for more than half of the country’s GDP at roughly 60 percent. Corporate taxes are low in comparison to the EU and the standard of living is high.
  4. Health Care: Life expectancy in San Marino is 83.4 years old. Health care is not free, but a universal system exists parallel to a private system.  The Azienda Sanitaria Locale insurance fund provides the government system. There are six physicians for every 1,000 inhabitants as of 2014. Child mortality is extremely low with only one death in 2018.
  5. Government System: San Marino has nine municipalities and the country is a parliamentary, representative, democratic republic. The legislation is within two chambers and there are two captain regents as heads of state. The country directs foreign policy mostly towards aligning with the EU. Therefore foreign aid policy is similar to that in the European Union.
  6. Social Security: There is social insurance for the elderly and the disabled. Furthermore, there are survivorship benefits for the unemployed and the widowed even though the unemployment rate has reduced in the past years.
  7. Communications: As access to information can make a big difference in human development, an important aspect of the top 10 facts about living conditions in San Marino is the country’s access to this right. Its living standards reflect this. More than half of the population are active internet users and broadband is widely available. There are 38,000 cellphone subscriptions active today which is more than the entire population.
  8. Labor Conditions: The law forbids workplace discrimination for any reason. The state guarantees contracts and the minimum wage is 9.74 euros per hour. In general, labor conditions are safe with an eight-hour working day in guaranteed humane conditions. Meanwhile, as of 2018, the unemployment rate was only eight percent.
  9. NGOs in San Marino: There are no specific NGO projects in San Marino, but a number of NGOs do exist from time to time specially aiding in education and training as well as health. For instance, the British organization, Hope is Kindled, was present in 2006 with a project to advance health through medical and technological research.
  10. The Serene Republic: As a small enclave, San Marino does not have large natural reserves within its territory. Nonetheless, it shares the geography of surrounding Italy which is slightly mountainous and mild. It imports most of its resources and food. To be able to keep its stable political and social system while being dependant on other countries, it must be in good terms with its neighbors and the international community.

These top 10 facts about living conditions in San Marino demonstrate why this small nation has been able to maintain such serenity for more than six centuries. As a result, it has been able to ensure its citizen’s freedom and security in all aspects.

– Diego Vallejo Riofrio
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in LichtensteinLiechtenstein is a little-known principality located between Austria and Switzerland. Despite its small size (roughly 38, 000 inhabitants) it has a growing economy, which allows for residents to have a high standard of living. Here are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Liechtenstein.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Liechtenstein

  1. Liechtenstein provides its workers with some of the highest wages in Europe – Because of the growing economy, citizens of Liechtenstein benefit from one of the highest wage levels across Europe. On average, citizens make about $92,000 annually. When compared to the average gross salary of Germany’s citizens, Liechtenstein’s citizens have a higher income by about $15,000.
  2. Living costs are high – While the country has high wage levels, it also has high living expenses. The average citizen spends about half their monthly income on their fixed costs, which usually include housing, utilities, transportation and health insurance. Despite the high living costs, Liechtenstein has a zero percent poverty rate with poverty being defined as those living at or below $5.50/day.
  3. The country offers universal health care – Health insurance is required and guaranteed to all people living or working in Liechtenstein. Individuals’ insurance is financed by their insurance holder and their employer as well as by state subsidies. Although there is no current data with regards to the increase in healthcare costs over time in Liechtenstein, in 2016, the government spent $188 million on social welfare programs such as healthcare.
  4. The government provides its residents with a high-quality education – Liechtenstein relies on its excellent education system to provide the economy with highly qualified workers. After completing the mandatory schooling period of 11 years (from primary school to high school), individuals are left with a range of options to pursue further education. These options include vocational training, higher education (college or university), and apprenticeships.
  5. A high percentage of Liechtenstein labor force commutes into work – The Feldkirch-Buchs railway connects Switzerland to Austria, passing through Liechtenstein on the way. This railway allows workers to commute into Liechtenstein. Since a majority of the country’s workers, (55 percent) are from neighboring countries, this system is crucial in maintaining Liechtenstein’s labor force. The reason behind the high number of commuters is because Liechtenstein’s economy has grown so quickly over the past years that its domestic labor force has not been able to keep up.
  6. Liechtenstein has a strong economy – Liechtenstein has one of the highest measures of GDP per capita in the world ($168,146.02) and a low inflation rate of 0.5 percent. Although not officially recognized by the European Union, it does receive some of the monetary and economic benefits of the organization because of its deal with Switzerland, which stipulates that they import a large percentage of their energy requirements from the Swiss and use the Swiss Franc as their national currency.
  7. Residents have religious freedom – Although an overwhelming majority of the population is Roman Catholic (the official state religion), there remain many individuals in the country who practice other religions or other forms of Christianity. The state is currently in the process of separating itself from the church, however, this is largely considered a symbolic move, as the current union does not appear to affect adherents of other religions. The government is pursuing this initiative by creating a provisional constitutional amendment to establish new regulations between the state and the religious communities. Additionally, there has been mention of providing more equitable funding for all the different religious organizations, rather than solely giving the Catholic church more funding.
  8. The country provides immigrants with good living conditions – Immigrants make up about 65 percent of the total population in Liechtenstein.  Many of these immigrants come from nearby countries such as Switzerland, Austria and Germany. Although the requirements for the naturalization process are quite lengthy, (an individual has to live in Liechtenstein for 30 years before beginning the process) immigrants receive all the same benefits that natural-born citizens receive.
  9. Liechtenstein has low unemployment – Liechtenstein has an unemployment rate of 1.9 percent. Most of its labor force is employed in the services and goods sectors, with only 0.6 percent being employed in the agriculture sector. About 40 percent of the workforce is employed in the industrial sector, which, combined with the manufacturing sector, make up about 40 percent of the country’s gross value added. Its economy is focused primarily on high-quality exports, services and goods such as machine and plant construction, as well as precision tools and dental instruments, among other items.
  10. Liechtenstein has had issues with spreadable diseases in the past – Some of the most common diseases include influenza, hepatitis B and tick-borne encephalitis. The country has since introduced several initiatives to address these issues, signing treaties with Switzerland and Austria in order to provide its citizens with better healthcare options.

These top 10 facts about living conditions in Liechtenstein demonstrate the quality of life with which residents of Liechtenstein experience on a daily basis. While the country certainly has some very positive trends going for it (namely, unemployment, wages, GDP, and its education system) it also has some things to improve upon, such as reducing living costs, which make it hard for many individuals to live in the country. Nevertheless, Liechtenstein appears to be in a good state presently, as it provides many services and freedoms that make it a desirable place to live.

– Laura Rogers
Photo: Flickr

Affordable Medicine in Developing Countries
In 1997, thousands of people in low-income, developing countries died every day from treatable diseases because they could not pay the high price pharmaceuticals charged for medicine. Today in these same regions, millions are receiving treatment and mortality rates have dropped dramatically as drugmakers around the world are providing affordable medicine in developing countries.

Pharmaceuticals in the Past

In 1997, AIDS was killing thousands of Africans each day. In the same year, people with AIDS in the U.S. were enjoying greater life expectancy and quality of life, with AIDS-related deaths dropping by 42 percent thanks to the use of anti-HIV drugs.  With a $12,000 per patient per year price tag and strict patent laws forbidding the purchase of generic types, these life-saving drugs were inaccessible to millions of AIDS victims in developing countries. Unwilling to lower their prices, the pharmaceutical industry looked on while thousands of people died with treatment just beyond their reach.

Refusing to sit by as its people died every day while a treatment existed, South Africa legalized the suspension of drug patents in 1998, making it possible for South Africans to purchase generic anti-HIV drugs at affordable prices. Thirty-nine top pharmaceutical companies promptly engaged South Africa in a lawsuit, attempting to keep them from accessing HIV drugs at a reduced cost for fear that other countries would follow and the industry would miss out on profits.

The pharmaceuticals soon dropped the lawsuit when the international community received word that drug companies were keeping poor and dying people required medicines. However, drug prices remained inaccessibly high.

Finally, a turning point came in 2001 when Indian drug-maker Cipla shocked the international pharmaceutical industry by announcing its plan to sell anti-HIV drugs directly to poor nations and to Doctors Without Borders for only $350 per patient per year (less than $1 a day). Cipla’s offer exposed the huge markups pharmaceutical companies were profiting from, prompting several major drug-makers to lower their prices and make drugs more accessible to developing countries.

Pharmaceuticals Today

Today, the pharmaceutical industry’s attitude and approach toward providing affordable medicine in developing countries have greatly shifted. The Access to Medicine Foundation shares that nearly all major drug companies have goals for addressing access to medicine now, while many have pioneered innovative ways to reduce costs and create medicines and vaccines for low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). In the past 10 years, drug makers have doubled the number of medicines they are developing for LMICs.

Nine companies that own patents for HIV/AIDS treatment now use their IP rights flexibly to allow LMICs to import and purchase generic supplies. As a result, over 14 million Africans are now on HIV drugs, and AIDS-related deaths dropped drastically by nearly 40 percent over the past 10 years.

Seven drug companies have made efforts to include the poorest populations in their customer base, focusing on products for diabetes, heart disease and other NCDs which are a rising problem in the developing world. In 2017, the leading drug maker, Pfizer, partnered with Cipla to sell chemotherapy drugs to African countries at prices just above their own manufacturing cost, selling some pills for as little as 50 cents.

Several leading pharmaceuticals now partner with generics to produce affordable drugs for Africa, Asia and Latin America, and a fair price strategy now covers 49 percent of products. Thanks to the improvements in the pharmaceutical industry, hundreds of thousands of people now have access to affordable medicine in developing countries.

– Sarah Musick
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 

What is Hunger?
Every day, people around the world experience those familiar sensations of emptiness and rumbling pangs in their stomach, signaling that it is time to eat. At this point, most people would get something to eat and go on with their day. Sadly, many people in the world, especially those in developing countries, do not receive this luxury. They experience chronic hunger, which is undernourishment from not ingesting enough energy to lead a normal, active life. It is difficult to empathize with what hunger feels like, to live with a body longing for nourishment, weakened by a lack of energy and unable to fulfill its basic need for food.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, an estimated one in nine people, 821 million, live with chronic hunger. It also states that the number of people living with the condition has been on the rise since 2014, with a staggering 98 percent living in developing countries.

The Consequences of Hunger

Hunger brings along with it many problems other than an aching stomach. Prolonged lack of adequate nourishment results in malnutrition, which causes the stunting of growth and development in children and wasting syndrome. Wasting syndrome is a side effect of malnutrition, in which the victim’s fat and muscle tissues break down to provide the body with nourishment. The condition results in an emaciated body and in some cases, death. In fact, malnutrition links to around 45 percent of deaths among children under the age of five, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).  Fortunately, some have made progress. Since 2012, the number of stunted children in the world has decreased by nine percent from 165.2 million to 150.8 million, a significant improvement.

Hunger and Poverty

Poverty is the underlying determinant in who suffers from chronic hunger. Impoverished people are unable to consistently provide substantial amounts of food for themselves or their families, as they simply cannot afford to. This inability to provide nourishment creates a vicious cycle of hunger and poverty.

Undernourished people lack the energy required to perform basic tasks and therefore are less productive. Those who were malnourished as children develop stunted physical and intellectual abilities, which results in a reduction in the level of education achieved and the individual’s income, according to UNICEF.

What Can People Do?

People can break this vicious cycle and help people suffering from chronic hunger. Organizations such as The Hunger Project, the FAO and the Gates Foundation all have initiatives aimed at helping those in need get on their feet.

The Hunger Project works to empower those suffering from hunger with the tools they need to become self-reliant.  In Mbale, Uganda, the organization partnered with the local community to build a food bank where farmers are able to safely store grain, which has greatly increased their food security.

The FAO focuses on aiding governments and other organizations in implementing initiatives that aim to decrease hunger and malnourishment. A great example of this is Africa Sustainable Livestock 2050, in which the FOA helps countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia develop livestock infrastructure that will support the countries as their populations increase over the coming years.

Bill and Melinda Gates formed the Gates Foundation in 2000 with the main focus of providing internet to those who do not have access to it. Since then, the scope of the foundation’s mission has expanded to help the impoverished through global health and development initiatives. One of the foundation’s major initiatives is Seed Systems and Variety Improvement, which aims to improve seed breeding systems in Africa and India in an effort to make agriculture in those countries more sustainable.

With projects that aim to give impoverished people access to clean water, infrastructure, sustainable farming, disaster relief and education, these organizations have made significant strides.

Individuals can help eradicate chronic hunger by donating to charitable organizations or by contacting their government representatives, encouraging them to support bills and initiatives that aim to combat global hunger. Everyone can play a role and spread the word. There is a long road ahead, but with the tools available, chronic hunger can become a thing of the past.

– Shane Thoma
Photo: Flickr

Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo
With a population of more than 85 million people, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has struggled with political and social instability since the Belgian conquest in the early 20th century. More than 100 armed groups are active in the DRC to this day. The second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, where more than 1,600 people have died, rages against this backdrop of violence. Since the virus’s discovery in 1976, the DRC has had 10 documented Ebola outbreaks, including this most recent one.  Despite these grim circumstances, a group of Congolese tech-savvy youth has developed an unlikely weapon against Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; an app called Lokole.

Ebola is a virus that causes fever, sore throat and muscle weakness and later progresses to vomiting, diarrhea and internal and external bleeding. Patients die due to dehydration and multiple organ failure. Developed during the West African epidemic of 2014-2016 where more than 11,000 people died, the investigational vaccine called rVSV-ZEBOV is currently in use to fight the outbreak in the DRC under the Compassionate Use Clause since no one has commercially licensed it to date.

What is Lokole?

In addition to medical interventions, the Congolese Ministry of Health is seeking technological tools. Through collaboration with Internews and Kinshasa Digital, it organized a hackathon in March 2019 which brought 50 students in communications, medicine, journalism and computer science together. These students divided into teams of approximately seven members, and each team sought to answer the question: “How can Ebola response teams leverage new technologies to achieve their communication goals at the local, national and international level?” Thrown together for the first time, Emmanuel, Ursula, Aurore, Joel, David, Israël and Maria worked for 24 hours and emerged with Lokole, the winning technology.

Lokole is an Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) mobile application that is “designed to facilitate the real-time transmission of data and information between communities and the Ebola response teams” despite poor internet connectivity in rural areas. This team of seven chose the name Lokole because it is the name of a traditional Congolese drum Congolese people use to transmit messages over long distances. With this app, they hope to increase communication about the spread of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

USSD technology is a text-based communication system used by Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) cellphones, which are used in most countries except for the U.S. and Russia. Even though text-based communication might seem outdated with smartphones in the picture, smartphone use across Africa is less than 35 percent and even those with smartphones might not have access to data plans. As such, a real-time mobile to mobile communication platform based on USSD technology is inherently more inclusive, cheaper and more useful.

How Will Lokole Help?

The Lokole app allows community workers to note and document Ebola symptoms through questionnaires, which are then relayed to Ebola response teams and the Ministry of Health.

“Real-time management of information by the different components of the Ebola response will help detect and provide treatment to patients more quickly and deploy resources on the ground more swiftly, which will help lower Ebola mortality rates,” David Malaba, one of the app’s developers, said.

While analog in comparison to smartphone technology, Lokole’s USSD platform offers the potential for real-time communication without having to invest in widespread expensive improvements in its internet connectivity infrastructure. Lokole empowers the everyday Congolese person with the tools to fight Ebola. It is a democratic grassroots health care model. In fact, similar USSD technology which connects the average citizen with a nurse or physician in a matter of minutes powers large-scale telemedicine platforms, such as BabylRwanda in neighboring Rwanda.

The development of the Lokole app is exciting in its fight against Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but the galvanization of local Congolese talent is a game-changer. Hackathons that bring disparate youth together to problem solve big, often overwhelming, issues inspire others to pursue change. Lokole is just the beginning.

– Sarah Boyer
Photo: Flickr

sustainable farmingHunger and food insecurity are major issues in India; the nation is home to 15 percent of the world’s undernourished people. The United Nations’ FAO estimates that every single day, more than 195 million people in India suffer from hunger.

The nation seriously lags behind other major nations like Brazil and China when it comes to crop yield for cereal and rice, which are India’s two key crops. India’s slow and inefficient agricultural sector is the result of limited access to modern technology, inefficient systems for transporting goods and urbanization. And on top of that, 63 percent of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall, so years with low rain devastate crop production. Despite all of this, farmers in India have started movements to utilize more sustainable farming methods and practices that work to make the agricultural system more efficient in order to increase outputs and improves people’s lives.

Sustainable Farming Methods

Sustainable farming practices are used to improve agricultural output and efficiency, which means that more food is produced, less resources are used and more profits are made by farmers. Examples of sustainable farming methods include using a biodegradable mulch film instead of one made from Polyethylene. While Polyethylene films require intense labor to remove, and can affect soil quality and crop growth if done improperly, biodegradable films are naturally absorbed by microorganisms in the soil, and help maintain the quality of soil while reducing costs of labor. Farmers will also use fungicides and insecticides on their seeds in order to improve the health of their crops and enhance their productivity. In addition, due to the fact that agriculture relies so heavily on rainfall, effective sustainable water management is crucial for a successful harvest.

Along with how crops are grown, how they are stored and distributed is a crucial aspect of agriculture. An estimated up to 67 million tons of food are wasted every year in India. Perishable goods end up often rotting as a result of a lack of modern technology, pests, or weather. Sustainable initiatives like using more efficient insulation and special tarpaulins that keep fruits and vegetables at proper temperatures during transportation work to reduce the number of perishables that rot. Reducing the amount of food that rots means that there is more food available to eat, which combats food insecurity and ensure that more food items are available without even increasing crop yield. And of course, combining these efforts with initiatives to produce food more sustainably and efficiently does even more to fight food insecurity.

The Natural Farming Movement

India’s Natural Farming movement plays a massive role in promoting sustainable farming practices that improve health, create jobs, cut labor costs and improve peoples’ overall quality of life. The use of pesticides has devastated farmers across India which has led to the loss of crops, debt, illness and even death. In 2000, villagers from the village of Punukula, Andrha Pradesh, launched a grassroots movement against the use of pesticides, focusing on non-pesticide management techniques that employ natural alternatives like chili pepper and planting trap crops like castor.

Within a year of the start of the movement, farmers saw pesticide-related health issues vanish, expenses drop, and profits increase. In addition, new jobs were created as a result of the need to create repellents from natural products. Villagers reported that the movement improved their quality of life — improving their financial situations, their health and their overall happiness. More villagers began to reject the use of pesticides, and the village declared itself as pesticide-free in 2004.

Zero Budget Natural Farming

A similar natural farming movement is Zero Budget Natural Farming, which began as a grassroots effort led by people in the state of Karnataka. Zero Budget entails that farmers do not spend money on inputs for their crops and that they would rather use resources from nature to grow and tend to their crops instead of chemicals, thus Zero Budget Natural Farming. Using natural products instead of taking out loans to spend on chemicals allows for farmers to save money, which improves their financial stability and allows them to focus more on tending to their crops.

A key aspect of Zero Budget Natural Farming is the use of the fermented microbial culture Jeevamrutha (a mixture of water, cow urine, cow dung, flour, soil, and brown sugar) on soil. Jeevanmrutha acts as a catalyst in promoting earthworm and microorganism activity within the soil, while also providing the soil with additional nutrients. Using natural products instead of taking out loans to spend on chemicals allows for farmers to save money, providing them with more financial stability and thus improving their quality of life.

The Zero Budget Natural Farming movement actually runs training camps that receive support by the state government. These camps last five days, with eight hours of classes per day. Attendance ranges from 300 to 5000 farmers, and topics covered include philosophy, ecology, successful farming practices, and of course, Zero Budget Natural Farming methods.

A Promising Future

The people of India suffer enormously from hunger and food insecurity. India’s weak and inefficient agricultural and food storage and distribution systems, coupled with devastating years of low rain often leads Indian farmers into bad health, hunger, and poverty. However, farmers in India have started a movement towards a more efficient, sustainable, and eco-friendly farming techniques that fight against poverty and hunger. Using these sustainable techniques means that farmers have fewer costs upfront, ensuring that they are able to make higher profits and worry less about having to take loans or to pay off debts. Sustainable farming in India reduces poverty, fights hunger, and changes lives.

Nicholas Bykov
Photo: Flickr

 

Poverty's effect on health in argentinaThough Argentina does not suffer from the same issues of illiteracy and income inequality that other countries do, the South American nation has other problems to focus on, namely national health issues and their intersection with poverty. According to 2017 estimates, about one in every four Argentinians lives below the poverty line.

This means that many in Argentina do not have access to proper medical personnel or equipment, as well as medicine. Though this number may seem fairly standard compared to other South American countries, Argentina’s largely agrarian communities suffer from extremely limited access to sufficient education or medical facilities. As a result, even those not considered impoverished may not have the proper means to receive medical treatment, thus creating a vicious cycle of poverty’s effect on health in Argentina.

An Unstable System

Argentina’s health system is in part to blame for this issue. Argentina created a system comprised of a public and a private sector, the former of which is meant to provide all Argentinians with universal healthcare and free coverage. In theory, this seems like an advantageous idea as it is meant to directly address everyday health issues for every citizen. However, it actually perfectly exemplifies poverty’s effect on health in Argentina. The reality is that problems like regional socioeconomic disparities have caused the system to work inefficiently, meaning that those in less educated, more rural areas do not usually receive the same quality of care and coverage as those in wealthier urban communities. This unfortunate issue is quite cyclical since poorer communities simply do not have a viable way to resolve it.

Local Perspectives

Zack Tenner, a Pre-Med university student who spent a month earlier this summer working in Argentina with Child Family Health International, commented on Argentina’s health and poverty issues in an interview with The Borgen Project. “Argentina prides itself on a universal healthcare system which guarantees the ability for all citizens and tourists to see a doctor without cost. Despite its attempts to create a working and efficient system, Argentina’s emergency departments are overburdened,” said Tenner.

“The homeless and impoverished populations do not have enough access to education on how to properly use the system to their benefit, meaning that they end up being stuck with the same limited healthcare and access to medicine as before. This is definitely a timely issue that should be one of Argentina’s top priorities, as national health is a huge factor in so many different facets of everyday life.”

Rural Challenges

The flawed healthcare system is not helping poverty’s effect on health in Argentina. In more rural and agrarian communities, Argentinians are exposed to more risks of disease and injury as well. Aside from the constant risk of minor injuries from agriculture and operating machinery, diseases and viruses like Typhoid and even Zika occur in Argentina.

In other words, the Argentinians with probably the highest risk of injury or disease and subsequent healthcare and medicine are also the citizens with the least sufficient access to viable sources of healthcare. Argentina is on the right track in terms of creating a universal healthcare system.

That said, the South American nation needs to implement a more complete system that truly affords people from all walks of life with adequate medicine and treatment. Otherwise, poverty’s effect on health in Argentina will continue and, with it, a seemingly inescapable cycle.

NGO Involvement

All that in mind, there are still several NGOs focused on improving the healthcare and treatment situations in Argentina. Child Family Health International, for example, aims to increase awareness of primary care and treatment issues in Argentina by bringing in students and doctors from other countries to work with Argentinian physicians and patients. Aside from that, other larger entities such as the World Health Organization are also working to increase awareness of health issues in Argentina. This organization provides pertinent data and information regarding Argentina’s healthcare and coverage system to incite activism and aid for the South American nation.

As for organizations focused on more specific health-related issues, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation has worked since its creation in 2013 to provide support for testing and treatment of HIV/AIDS in Argentina. In fact, the organization supports seven Argentinian clinics and their nearly 12,000 patients and has performed more than 120,000 HIV tests for citizens in the last six years.

As long as organizations like these continue to create awareness and provide assistance, the healthcare and treatment situations will continue to improve, thus lessening poverty’s effect on health in Argentina.

Ethan Marchetti
Photo: Flickr

 

Food security for refugeesAround the world, a record number of people have become forcibly displaced due to violence, natural disasters or a variety of other reasons. According to the U.N. Human Rights Council, 70.8 million people are forcibly displaced, and 25.9 million of those are considered refugees. At the same time, millions of people lacked food security around the world. The Peace Corps defines food security as “when families are able to afford and obtain enough nutritious food.” In 2018, more than 700 million people faced severe food insecurity.

Food security and refugee issues are deeply intertwined, as refugees are particularly vulnerable to becoming food-insecure. Worldwide, millions of refugees face food insecurity. Thankfully, many organizations are using their resources to create innovative solutions to provide healthy food to refugees who are not able to afford or access it. Here are three organizations that are improving food security for refugees:

African Women Rising

The Palabek refugee camp in northern Uganda hosts more than 38,000 refugees who have fled the brutal civil war in South Sudan. Humanitarian organizations have been struggling to find a long-term solution to food insecurity in the camp. While the Ugandan government allocates plots of land for refugees to farm on, these plots of land are usually too small for traditional farming techniques to work. However, the NGO African Women Rising (AWR) thinks it has found an innovative solution to malnutrition among refugees. In 2017, AWR introduced the camp to 30 by 30-meter plots of land known as “permagardens”.

AWR’s permagardens are specially cultivated in a way that allows them to maximize the number of crops, trees and plants that can be grown in them. It can take anywhere from a few months to a year to teach someone permagarden farming techniques. The total cost of developing, training and supporting a permagarden is just $85. The gardens primarily grow various fruits and vegetables, which provide vital micronutrients and vitamins that are not present in their monthly World Food Programme portions. Many other organizations are already starting to replicate the microgarden approach in refugee settings, including the U.N., the Danish Refugee Council and USAID.

Sunrise-USA

Sunrise-USA was founded in 2011 by a group of Syrian-American professionals and claims to be one of the world’s leading humanitarian aid organizations focused on victims of war inside Syria and in refugee camps in neighboring countries. In addition, to providing food security for refugees, Sunrise-USA provides refugees with healthcare, orphan sponsoring services, education, water and sanitation. The organization also helps Syrian refugees, who are mostly Muslim, observe Islamic religious traditions such as Ramadan, Udhiya and Zakat.

Within Syria, Sunrise-USA works to deliver badly needed food baskets to besieged cities. These baskets typically contain chicken, eggs, dates, oils, margarine, tuna cans, sugar and powdered milk, and only cost $45 to produce. While the city of Aleppo was under siege, the organization delivered over 5,000 food baskets, as well as two containers of jackets, sweaters and mattresses. Sunrise-USA’s “Feed Them” campaign has delivered food aid to 30,000 families in need and has provided milk and baby formula to 20,000 vulnerable families with children.

Action Contre La Faim (Action Against Hunger)

Action Contre La Faim (ACF) is a French organization that works in more than 45 countries to treat and prevent malnutrition. For more than 40 years, it has provided various forms of food aid where it is needed most. Its 7,500-member staff currently assists 21 million people worldwide. The organization has responded to various humanitarian crises that have generated large numbers of refugees, including the civil wars that have taken place in South Sudan and Syria, as well as the genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar.

In Bangladesh, ACF works to increase food security for refugees who have escaped into the country from Myanmar. Every day, the organization provides 83,000 hot meals and 551,497 liters of water to Rohingya refugees. The organization has also conducted malnutrition screenings for 100,000 Rohingya children and has diagnosed over 11,000 malnourished children. These malnourished children were then referred to ACF’s emergency nutrition programs for treatment through mobile clinics.

As the global refugee crisis continues to intensify, more and more organizations will need to come together to provide both short-term and long-term solutions to food security for refugees. These organizations have shown they are more than willing to rise to this task and have each made a measurable impact on the wellbeing of refugees around the world.

– Andrew Bryant
Photo: Flickr