Information and stories on health topics.

Hospitals Empower Women Amid ConflictAmid ongoing crises around the world, hospitals help women deliver babies and maintain good reproductive and sexual health. Supporting hospitals in conflict-ridden countries empowers women and can drastically reduce maternal mortality rates. In Afghanistan, maternal mortality rates have reduced by more than 50% in the past 20 years due to advancements in public health infrastructure. Hospitals empower women amid conflict by providing lifesaving support to new mothers and women of all ages.

Conflict-Ridden Areas

Hospitals and clinics in conflict zones save lives every day, in areas ranging from maternal care to helping the sick and wounded. When conflict strikes, though, medical care facilities experience difficulties procuring medicine, equipment and supplies. The hospitals and clinics may also struggle to maintain a steady supply of fuel and heating. NGOs often help hospitals and clinics in conflict-ridden areas obtain supplies.

In 2021, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) provided two hospitals in Afghanistan with emergency kits containing medicine and equipment to support the “reproductive, maternal and newborn health needs” of more than 300,000 people. In combination with NGO efforts, governmental investments in hospitals and other public health infrastructure are necessary to ensure adequate medical care in conflict zones, especially for women. Well-funded hospitals empower women amid conflict by safeguarding their reproductive health and ensuring safe deliveries.

Health Care for Women

Conflict zones make it difficult for women, children and newborns to access health care. For example, the war in Yemen has prevented many women and children with health emergencies from accessing medical facilities. Limited access to medical care for the Yemeni people has led to an increase in deaths, leaving pregnant women, newborns and children the most vulnerable.

Developing countries are unlikely to have enough fully functioning hospitals to support everyone’s medical needs, especially in times of conflict. Many patients in conflict zones must travel through dangerous sites to receive medical attention from a hospital. Such endeavors are particularly dangerous for pregnant women and women traveling with young children. High-functioning, accessible hospitals are highly beneficial to public health and safety in times of conflict, especially for women and newborns.

Improving Health Care in Conflict Zones

Improvements to health care in conflict zones may involve public and private coordination, addressing context-specific needs and developing sustainable responses to medical emergencies. Public and private coordination efforts may include governmental bodies, humanitarian organizations and other global public health actors including the World Health Organization.

When public and private actors collaborate, the efforts can provide optimized health care to those in need. Context-specific health care initiatives tailor medical care and responses to the most common or urgent needs of a community. Such initiatives involve speaking with local actors and communities to gauge their medical needs. States can improve health care sustainability in conflict zones by improving existing health systems, securing funding and prioritizing the treatment of chronic illnesses.

Robust medical systems are necessary to promote health, safety and peace in conflict-ridden areas. Access to health care is particularly important for pregnant women and newborns as these are highly vulnerable groups in conflict zones. Hospitals empower women amid conflict by providing access to maternal and reproductive health care, which saves lives and ensures safe pregnancies.

– Cleo Hudson
Photo: Flickr

Waste Management
Laos, known as the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, is one of the most impoverished countries in Southeast Asia. However, over the last 20 years, its economy has been one of the fastest-growing in the region, resulting in an increase in the amount of waste generated. Waste management systems struggle to keep up with this increased waste. Waste management in Laos is “limited to urban centers” and tends to be poorly managed with just 40%-60% of waste collected. Pollution affects the Lao people negatively, resulting in around 10,000 deaths per year, according to a 2021 study by the World Bank. With waste management emerging as a dire issue, the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) are offering support to address the issue.

The Larger Part of the Issue

Around four million tonnes of plastic waste discharges into the world’s seas annually, mostly originating from rivers in Asia such as the Mekong, which goes through Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. About 70 million people rely on this river for food and resources, especially in Laos, though it is “one of the dirtiest in the world.” The Laotian lifestyle is transitioning from a “traditional and subsistence-based lifestyle” to a more urban lifestyle that focuses more on consumerism and imported goods.

The lack of waste dump sites and formal infrastructure significantly and directly impacts the health of citizens, especially when resorting to disposal practices such as burning, burying trash and discarding waste in rivers. Testing of the water sources across more than 3,000 households in Laos shows that  E.Coli in drinking water contaminated 86% of the household population. Furthermore, even for homes using bottled water, a staggering 85% of individuals had E. Coli in their bottled water.

Making the Effort

Laos citizens view plastics as a luxury item, portraying a sign of economic progression. However, this mindset also contributes to plastics becoming the second-largest type of waste, accounting for up to 24% of total waste generated by Laos. But, even as plastic and other wastes are prevalent, cities such as Luang Prabang are making an effort to keep the area’s streets clean. With the locals taking action to actively keep the city clean, these city-dwellers set the example for other city-dwellers in Laos. Responsibility is on communities and households, especially as Laos has a small budget for addressing the waste management issue.

A World Bank 2022 Get CLEAN and GREEN – Solid waste and Plastic Management in Lao PDR report recommends strategies to resolve the waste management issue. One strategy is to move from a linear to a “circular economy.” This would reduce waste by “reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products.”

The UNDP’s Work

The UNDP gathered a focus group of around 30 university students from diverse economic backgrounds, finding that close to 90% of students realize how poor waste management impacts the planet. The organization gave students suggestions for taking action, such as establishing task forces in communities and using social media to share information on helping as green advocates.

The UNDP also found that students who learned to separate waste in schools were eager to follow waste separation procedures. An online UNDP survey shows that social media would influence the mindsets and behaviors of more than 80% of respondents. The UNDP considers the immediate banning of plastic as critical.

The GGGI is aiding in solid waste management in the capital city of Vientiane, formulating a 10-year Strategy and Action Plan. It also has created four project activities:

  • Decentralized garbage collection services
  • A Waste Bank and the designation of the role of waste pickers
  • Organic waste segregation systems and private composting companies
  • Glass recycling involving 10 elementary schools to maximize waste disposal

Looking Ahead

While the Lao PDR transitions to a more urban economy and struggles with waste, organizations have offered solutions to support a more sanitary Laos, which will benefit the health and well-being of people. As education reaches citizens and offers them pathways out of poverty, Laos can create a safer, cleaner and more prosperous country for its populace. And if the country does lean more toward a “circular economy,” Laos could be on its way to reaching a net carbon neutral status by 2040.

Jerrett Phinney
Photo: Flickr

Everything to Know About Poverty in Lebanon
It has been almost three years since Lebanon, previously labeled as the “Switzerland of the Middle East,” began to slowly drown in poverty. As the ESCWA report stated, 82% of the Lebanese and non-Lebanese population lives in multidimensional poverty while 40% of them live in extreme multidimensional poverty. Those numbers result from an unprecedented economic crisis that started in October 2019 and kept on worsening with the COVID-19 outbreak, the Beirut Port explosion, the ongoing corruption and the war in Ukraine. Here is everything to know about poverty in Lebanon.

Health Care

One of the most important and dangerous symptoms of the poverty increase in Lebanon is the degradation of the health care system. The Lebanese lira has lost more than 90% of its value since 2019, making it impossible for many health care professionals (nurses and doctors) to live decently with their salaries, thus leading them to leave the country for better opportunities abroad. In addition to that, the country imports many medical care products and medicines, leading to a huge increase in their prices, making them unaffordable for many. Lebanon has the means to produce its drugs, an action that the actual government is encouraging while it still needs time before being fully implemented.

Public Utilities and Food Security

Another dimension to know about poverty in Lebanon is the lack of public utilities available to the people. The most famous, touching a majority of people, is the lack of electricity the state provides, forcing the Lebanese people to reach out to owners of private generators to have a few hours of electricity a day. However, this alternative has a considerable cost to Lebanese households. The fuel that powers the generators comes from abroad, requiring payments in USD and making it impossible for many to subscribe to this service amidst the severe economic crisis the country is going through.

A more recent issue Lebanon must face as a result of the War in Ukraine is the wheat crisis and with it a risk of shortage in bread production. The country imports more than 60% of its wheat from Ukraine. The urgency of this new issue also depends on the government’s capacity to secure enough quantities before any increase in the price of wheat.


The numerous challenges Lebanon has faced over the past three years have also had their effect on education. According to UNICEF, 260,000 Lebanese children risk interrupting their education. Whether it is the COVID-19 pandemic that forced the students to stop their studies because of the lack of means to pursue them online, the destruction of some schools in Beirut after the port explosion and the economic crisis forcing some schools and universities to increase their tuitions making them unaffordable for many.

Efforts to Help Lebanon

A year ago, the World Bank approved a $246 million project to provide 147,000 households with basic needs as well as cash transfers. More recently, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reached an agreement of $3 billion with the Lebanese government to help Lebanon get out of the crisis. On another note, local NGOs are playing an important role in helping people in need. Private actors are also taking initiatives to benefit from this situation, by enhancing made in Lebanon products, thus relying less on imports.

Hence, having presented everything to know about poverty in Lebanon, shows clearly that the country is not in its best phase. However, hope is always there with small steps taken towards a better future and especially with a young generation who is learning from the mistakes of the older. Helping Lebanon is therefore helping a country full of potential and showing once again that it will rise despite all.

Youssef Yazbek
Photo: Flickr

Aviro Health
In 2015, a quarter of the global disease cases existed in the sub-Saharan region of Africa. Yet, only 3% of the world’s doctors reside in this region. Access to health care is crucial in maintaining a functioning society. Aviro Health, a company based in Cape Town, South Africa, is extending accessible health care and information to patients across the country while improving treatment options and the overall health of sub-Saharan Africans.

Health Care in South Africa

There are more than 600 hospitals in South Africa, including the third-largest globally, the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, which holds 3,400 beds and 6,760 staff members. Around 400 of these hospitals are public and the remaining 200 are private. Public health care is available to all people living in South Africa “regardless of nationality or immigration status.”

Many people face challenges when physically traveling to medical centers despite their availability. According to the World Bank, only one-third of those living in rural areas of Africa reside within two kilometers of adequately paved road systems. Technological advancements that allow health care practitioners to virtually conduct appointments would greatly benefit those in desperate need of health care.

About Aviro Health

Aviro Health in South Africa began in 2012. It is a technology company based in Cape Town that develops digital innovations that assist both health care practitioners and patients. The established vision of the company has stated that “We see a world in which everyone gets medical information and healthcare that is accessible, efficient, and delivered with empathy and understanding.”

Aviro staff members aim to provide services through technology, which would allow those who encounter difficulties traveling to medical centers in person to still receive information and treatment. Medical practitioners receive further training in the form of e-books and videos and patients can learn more about testing and diagnoses through e-learning. Technology benefits that Aviro Health in South Africa developed are also available to health care professionals in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi. Since its foundation, Aviro has assisted more than 50,000 users in accessing medical services.

The Pocket Clinic

A significant technological innovation developed by Aviro Health in South Africa is the Aviro mobile Pocket Clinic. This innovation is a digital counseling service used by health professionals in both the private and public sectors in South Africa. The Pocket Clinic allows medical counseling through mobile phones or other technological devices. Patients can manage their health care digitally while also connecting to health care providers.

The service provides users with a medical content plan based on their medical tests that users can receive via the web, the platform app or Whatsapp. The Pocket Clinic can also connect patients to other health experts and services that could provide hands-on treatment. The Pocket Clinic serves as a life-changing tool that the medical field can use to assist health care practitioners and patients in delivering and efficiently receiving care. The Aurum Institute partnered with Johns Hopkins University offering self-HIV tests in the lobbies of health care centers “supported by the Aviro Pocket Clinic on tablets.” This led to a “40% increase in testing” along with an 80% increase in HIV treatment uptake.

HIV/AIDS Testing

South Africa is home to the world’s largest HIV treatment initiative. Yet, as of 2021, South Africa noted 7.8 million HIV cases, with only 4 million people receiving treatment in the country. In the age of COVID-19, many people find it difficult to travel to medical facilities to receive testing and treatment.

Fortunately, the Pocket Clinic offers self-tests for patients without requiring the presence of a health care professional. This method also promotes increased patient privacy. A soft launch of self-HIV tests by Aviro Health in South Africa generated positive results. In Kwazulu-Natal, 7.5% of service users tested positive for HIV and began ARV treatment in contrast with only 2.5% in conventional clinical-based testing.

Pocket Clinic also connects those who test positive to an HIV hotline. In the next five years, Aviro Health anticipates making self-tests available to 10 million people in the sub-Saharan region.

A Future of Health

Technological advancements in health care that Aviro Health in South Africa developed improve overall health in the country. Innovations that individuals can access virtually will provide better testing and treatment for patients across the nation.

– Megan Quinn
Photo: Flickr

Water Systems
Since 2000, Morocco has been quite successful in reducing poverty and increasing its citizens’ quality of life. During those years, the poverty rate decreased by almost 30%. Despite significant progress, numerous challenges remain for rural Moroccan communities, one of which is rapid deforestation. In 2020 alone, the country lost approximately 3,62 hectares (more than 13 square miles) of forest cover. To address landslides as a consequence of deforestation, the High Atlas Foundation is building landslide-preventing water systems in Morocco.

Deforestation and Water Access in Morocco

As it is, Morocco is susceptible to droughts and deforestation exacerbates this issue as the removal of trees causes a decrease in soil moisture and leads to desertification. Deforestation can also diminish soil quality and lead to poorer crop yields. For communities in the High Atlas mountains of Morocco, the reduction of forest area was also linked to landslides that destroyed crops and houses.

Another threat to rural Moroccan communities is a lack of access to water. In 2020, only 61% of rural Moroccan citizens had access to “safely managed drinking water services.” Around 77% had access to “at least basic drinking water services.” That leaves 23% of the rural population without a safe and reliable water source.

Experts agree that planting trees (reforestation) is a crucial step in combating these issues. Not only does it stabilize the water cycle and improve soil quality; the crops harvested from trees provide diversity to the agricultural economy and give an extra measure of economic security to nearby communities. If hypothetically, cereal crops were to fail in an area, farmers would still have crops to sell and eat.

The High Atlas Foundation

The High Atlas Foundation, commonly called HAF, has done admirable work when it comes to reforestation. The Foundation dedicates its time and resources primarily to reforestation efforts but also helps provide access to clean water throughout the High Atlas Mountains. In the 2020-2021 planting season, HAF oversaw the planting of more than 700,000 trees. Three new nurseries have undergone construction in the last year and a half, resulting in a total of 11 HAF-managed fruit tree nurseries throughout Morocco.

HAF’s efforts do not stop there. High Atlas Foundation has initiated projects that go above and beyond when it comes to efficiency; it has found a way to address three community threats with a single project. The Foundation noticed in 2011 that landslides and a lack of food/water security particularly plagued the Toubkal community and HAF devised a one-stop solution to assist the rural area as landslides led to crop destruction.

With carefully designed water systems, the High Atlas Foundation was able to provide clean water to 14 villages. The system, located on a hill, also steadied the area and provided the stability needed to prevent soil erosion and frequent landslides. Additionally, HAF planted fruit trees in the area, and through community training and newly possible irrigation, the Toubkal area was able to start producing new crops. The new nursery and reforestation will improve soil quality and eventually contribute to a healthier water cycle.

Looking Ahead

Morocco is well on its way to see victory over poverty; with help from NGOs like the High Atlas Foundation, reforestation is increasing food and water security for thousands. Due to innovative solutions like the stabilizing water systems, life in rural Moroccan communities is drastically improving.

Mia Sharpe
Photo: Flickr

Unemployment in South AfricaUnemployment in South Africa reached new highs at the end of 2021, equating to more than 7.9 million individuals between October and December 2021. Typically, high unemployment rates spur predictions of economic decrease and little mobility for the coming fiscal year. The finance ministry expects South Africa’s economic growth rate to reach 2.1% in 2022, however, experts say this is insufficient “to make a meaningful dent in unemployment and poverty.” Despite the economic downturn that South Africans face, especially South African manufacturing and construction workers, there is some hope.

History of Unemployment in South Africa

Unemployment in South Africa has an extensive history and myriad reasons. The unemployment rate is dependent on which unemployment type one is referring to. There is the “standard definition” by which people between 15 and 64 actively search for employment while without a job for a specific time. Then, the expanded definition of unemployment refers to the unemployed “who have stopped looking for work.”

By the end of 2021’s third quarter, unemployment in South Africa stood at 34.9%, according to the standard definition, but stood at 46.6%, according to the expanded definition. Countless factors contribute to unemployment in South Africa. The most significant factors stem from the nation’s “legacy of apartheid,” shortages of jobs and “slow economic growth.”

Unemployment began to drop in South Africa after 2002 when the nation’s unemployment rate was about 34% if using the standard definition. It fell to 22%, the lowest percentage for decades, in 2008, but then, the unemployment rate began to rise again over the years. The 2008 recession hit the global economy and impacted jobs worldwide. South Africa has yet to recover from its losses in 2008. Furthermore, COVID-19 exacerbated the economic downturn and unemployment issues in South Africa.

COVID-19’s Impact on Construction and Manufacturing Workers

Specifically, the losses seem to be impacting the construction and manufacturing industries most in South Africa. Across South Africa, all the provinces had more than 1.3 million employees in the construction industry in the first quarter of 2020. By the last quarter of 2021, the construction industry lost at least 25,000 jobs.

Manufacturing in South Africa is suffering just as much economic downturn as construction, though, having lost 80,000 jobs in the last quarter of 2021. The manufacturing sector faced a 3.3% economic contraction in 2008. Like many areas of South Africa’s economy after the recession, manufacturing is still working to bring back more jobs and support all its workers. Though the outlook may be grim, critical steps can address South Africa’s unemployment drop.

How South Africa Can Recover

According to the standard and expanded definitions of unemployment, South Africa has many courses of action that can help those facing unemployment. The most significant hope across South Africa is that the government will intervene and create policies to help all business sectors in South Africa, not only construction and manufacturing.

There are hopes that more trade in 2022 with the U.S. and China will secure enough work for the country to help the manufacturing industry rebound.

Experts predict that the construction sector will bounce back. Projections indicate that the industry will “rebound in 2022 and expand by 9.1% in real terms.” Then, the construction sector will “stabilize at an annual average growth of 3.1% between 2023-2025, although output will not return to pre-pandemic levels during the entire forecast period.” Government investments in large-scale projects will support this recovery.

Presidential Employment Stimulus

The South African government initiated the Presidential Employment Stimulus (PES) in response to COVID-19’s impact on employment in South Africa. Overall, the program’s “aim is to create jobs and strengthen livelihoods, supporting meaningful work while the labor market recovers.”

The government implemented the PES in October 2020 to provide economic support to publicly-funded jobs. The stimulus has two phases. Phase 1 worked with regional and national departments to invest in job creation to provide the unemployed with new skills in jobs that could lead to long-term employment. As of January 2022, the PES created more than 673,000 jobs while supporting more than 140,000 livelihoods. Youths made up 85% of the program beneficiaries and females made up 63% of all program beneficiaries.

Officially, Phase 2 is currently in progress with no specific end date as yet. Overall, the PES is beneficial to South Africa in combating unemployment. PES encapsulates several different unemployment-fighting programs in South Africa, which serve to boost the economy and reduce poverty.

Looking Ahead

Several strategies have the potential to decrease unemployment and, in the long run, reduce poverty. In April 2020, the poverty rate in South Africa stood at 55.5% and the predicted economic growth in 2022 is only 2%, which would not significantly improve South Africa’s poverty levels. However, if the government continues to prioritize programs to provide employment opportunities and fund projects to ignite growth in struggling sectors, 2022 may hold greater improvements.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

Health in the Philippines
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic up until April 2022, more than 3.6 million people living in the Philippines have contracted the virus. With nearly 60,000 of those cases resulting in fatalities, health in the Philippines must be a priority. Community Health Worker groups, specifically Barangay Health Workers (BHW) and Barangay Nutrition Scholars (BNS), are working to improve the health of those living in the Philippines.

Health Care in the Philippines

In February 2019, the Philippine government passed the Universal Health Care Act Republic Act into law. This act sought to improve health care for Filipino citizens by making these services more affordable, especially for those without medical insurance. Through the Universal Care Act Republic Act, all Filipinos can enroll in the National Health Insurance Program to allow health insurance coverage for all. To finance this, the Philippine government extended its health care expenditure to almost 6% of its total GDP.

Despite these efforts, access to health care is not equal for all. It is challenging for rural and low-income areas to receive the same treatment as those living in upper-class communities. Private and more expensive medical facilities where those of higher-income regions receive treatment are often better equipped than public hospitals. Health care for all must be a priority in the Philippines, especially after the nation’s polio outbreak in September 2019. Community health workers like BHW and BNS are essential to the nation during outbreaks and epidemics. These workers provide health information and primary care to those in more vulnerable areas.

Barangay Health Workers

Barangay Health Workers (BHW) consist of trained volunteers within the community who provide information regarding overall health. They also offer first aid, maternal and child health care, environmental health care and connect patients to health care centers.

BHW has been present in the Philippines for about 40 years and they receive government support. In 1995, Philippine Congress passed the BHW Benefits and Incentives Act, which encouraged the group “to self-organize, to strengthen and systematize [its] services to communities and to create a forum for sharing experiences and recommending policies and guidelines.” The act also required the government to provide benefits to BHWs, such as “scholarships for their children” and an allowance.

BHWs play a significant role in improving health in the Philippines. In 2014, after Typhoon Haiyan ravished island barangays, Direct Relief financed a training program for 50 BHWs to educate them on recognizing and treating illnesses that affect children. To this end, the health workers participated in the Community Integrated Management of Childhood Illness training program. The module emphasized “the 12 key childhood illnesses danger signs” in order to avert preventable child deaths.

BHWs also educate and encourage citizens to receive immunizations against illnesses such as polio to contain the spread. In 2016, the Philippines had 216,941 BHWs in the nation.

Barangay Nutrition Scholars

Like BHWs, Barangay Nutrition Scholars (BNS) promote and educate on proper health in the Philippines. However, their primary focus gears toward improving nutrition. In 2011, 25% of Filipino “women of reproductive age” suffered from anemia. For children younger than five-years-old, this statistic reached almost 35% in that same year.

BNS is essential to combating malnutrition in the Philippines. The group conducts growth monitoring for clients, provides nutrition education and collaborates with local organizations that encourage citizens to achieve sustainable nutrition by gardening and raising livestock.

BNS members must complete training that involves a 20-day practicum where trainees learn how to weigh young children and measure their heights to ensure that children are receiving proper nutrition at home. In addition to monitoring children’s health, BNS also provide classes for parents who may be unaware of how important nutrition is for their children’s development. These classes educate on balanced diets and how to prevent malnutrition. By July 2020, 49,779 BNS members had worked across 39,942 barangays in the Philippines.

Looking Ahead

Groups like BHW and BNS are crucial for ensuring proper health in the Philippines. Volunteers are making a significant difference within their communities. The more healthy people there are, the more contributions that can go towards the Filipino workforce, improving the economy and quality of life in the nation overall.

– Megan Quinn
Photo: Flickr

Lifelong Learning and Poverty
Lifelong learning is the ongoing development of personal, social, civil and employment-related skills, an endeavor continuing throughout life. The acquisition of learning past one’s initial education is becoming more important in finding new opportunities. High-skill jobs are becoming more prevalent in many parts of the world, creating a larger demand for skilled workers. For this reason, lifelong learning can be a powerful tool in addressing poverty across nations. By 2030, 600 million people will be living in poverty, according to the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD). The United Nations acknowledges the role lifelong learning can play in dwindling this statistic through its inclusion of lifelong learning in the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To that end, here are three ways that lifelong learning can address poverty.

3 Ways Lifelong Learning Addresses Poverty

  1. Financial Literacy: Financial literacy is the ability to apply various skills to effectively manage one’s finances. It can be a strong tool against poverty as families with this knowledge can take advantage of helpful tax credits and public programs. Unfortunately, this is a skill that seems to be lacking even in developed nations. Through a survey, the OECD found that only 52.5% of respondents across 12 member nations had sufficient financial knowledge. Financial literacy has only become more important as people have more choices regarding retirement planning, investment strategies and tax programs. Focusing on initiatives that support the acquisition of these skills for all ages can be an effective strategy to address this issue. A 2007 study by Peng et al shows that personal finance lessons enhanced rates of savings and investment knowledge “among high school and college students.” Financial literacy classes with a focus on lifelong learning and poverty relief strategies could help reduce the economic pressure many families face.
  2. Health Literacy: Health literacy is “the ability to process and understand basic information needed to make appropriate health decisions.” People with poor health literacy skills are more likely to have poor physical health in general. In addition, these people “receive less preventative care,” struggle to manage chronic illnesses and have higher rates of hospitalization. People who do not manage their health are more likely to require costly medical services in the future for avoidable ailments. Maintaining one’s health is important to be able to participate in the labor market. Those living in poverty can rarely afford to miss out on employment. Knowledge on health and self-care must be accessible among people of all ages and literacy skills are a major factor in accessing these competencies. Children who are born to literate mothers are 50% more likely to live beyond the age of five than children of women who are illiterate. A study in Indonesia revealed a 19% vaccination rate among the children of uneducated mothers in comparison to 68% among mothers with at least secondary level education. It is clear that health literacy is crucial in maintaining the health of the next generation.
  3. Income: Educational attainment closely links to income. Those with more education are likely to earn more than those with less education. Frequently, many find that their jobs do not provide the level of compensation necessary to meet their needs and those of their families. To find better employment opportunities, it is important to continually develop one’s skills and education. In fact, just one more year of education has the power to increase income by 10%, according to World Bank data. Despite this, many of those who would benefit the most from lifelong learning find it difficult to access these opportunities. A 2007 survey in Kenya revealed that 30% of individuals did not participate in literacy programs due to a lack of learning centers nearby. Programs promoting income growth must integrate lifelong learning and poverty relief solutions in an appealing and available manner to better support marginalized groups.

Looking Ahead

Lifelong learning opportunities can influence many areas of one’s life. In promoting education, it is important to remember that people can develop new skills at all stages of life regardless of age. Programs focusing on lifelong learning and poverty show promise in improving conditions for many global citizens.

– Gonzalo Rodriguez
Photo: Flickr

EpigeneticsEpigenetics is a recently developing branch of genetics that rose to prominence in the 21st century. Recent research has shown the biological effects of poverty through epigenetics. Epigenetics goes further than the genes a person inherits from their parents by showing how the individual’s genes react to their environment and other factors. One study that Molecular Psychiatry published concluded that children who grow up in families below the poverty line are “more prone to mental illness and alterations in DNA structure.” Since poverty brings numerous stressors such as poor nutrition and physical or psychological trauma, it can affect a child’s biological development, particularly in the brain. Epigenetics can help shape the future and bring to prominence that poverty can cause acute and chronic conditions.

What is Epigenetics?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defined epigenetics as “the study of how your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work.” Epigenetics affects gene expression, specifically the process of protein creation. The environment and a person’s behaviors correlate with epigenetic changes; the connection becomes evident between a person’s genes, behaviors and environment.

There are three different mechanisms in epigenetics that can affect gene expressions, including DNA methylation, histone modification and non-coding RNA. DNA methylation turns the genes “off” and demethylation turns the genes “on.” More specifically, DNA methylation can directly inhibit the expression of genes. In this process, information from the gene becomes a functioning product such as proteins, which are essential molecules that help bodies function. Histone modification occurs with the adding or removal of chemical groups from histones. More specifically, it can also change if a gene is “on” or “off.” Finally, non-coding RNA is a biological function that helps control gene expression.

The Relationship Between Epigenetics and Poverty?

A 2019 article from Northwestern University explains that poverty can implement itself across genomes — “poverty leaves a mark on nearly 10% of the genes in the genome.” Previous research demonstrated that socioeconomic status is a significant determinant of human health and disease. For example, some factors such as lower educational attainment or lower-income increase the risk for heart disease, diabetes, different forms of cancers and other infectious diseases. Also, lower socioeconomic status is associated with other physiological processes that could “contribute to the development of diseases such as chronic inflammation, insulin resistance and cortisol dysregulation.”

In one recent study led by Dr. Adam R. Wende, researchers learned that end-stage heart failure patients had “cytosine-p-guanine, or CpG, methylation of the DNA in the heart.” This methylation was associated with race as the only variable between African Americans and Caucasians. In addition, researchers discovered through census tracking that African American patients lived in neighborhoods with higher racial diversity and poverty. This difference suggested to the researchers that “the underlying variable may be socioeconomic difference.”

Wende spoke about the impact of the study with UAB News. Wende stated that “we provide preliminary evidence that socioeconomic factors are likely associated with racial differences in cardiac DNA methylation among men with end-stage heart failure.”

Differences Between Children in Poverty and Higher Income Households

In another study published in 2016, scientists found that children who grew up in poverty had more DNA methylation than other children who came from higher household incomes. Researchers thought that this difference might have suppressed the impoverished children’s “production of serotonin transporter protein.” As a result, the kids in the impoverished households had less serotonin in the brain, which can lead to depression and other mental conditions.

Dan Notterman, a molecular biologist at Princeton University, found in his research that telomeres, the caps at the end of chromosomes, “[shorten] in children from impoverished families.” Research shows a link between telomere length, aging and poor general health, meaning that the shorter telomeres are, the worse a person’s health is and the faster the aging process is. In layman’s terms, poverty can cause children and adults alike to be more prone to mental and physical illnesses and hinder physiological processes at a genetic level.

Can Epigenetics Help Reverse Negative Health Outcomes?

Robert Philibert, a behavioral geneticist at the University of Iowa in Iowa City stated that “what this points out here is that if you really want to change neurodevelopment, alter the environment.” Epigenetics shows that the environment affects gene expression, and thus, the body’s biological functions.

Social determinants of health (SDH) are, as the World Health Organization (WHO) defines, “the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live and age and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life.” SDHs can influence health and gene expression through “income and social protection, education, food insecurity, social inclusion and nondiscrimination.” According to the WHO, SDH plays a significant role in 30-55% of health outcomes. Epigenetics shows people must address the systems that allow poverty to thrive in order to ensure people do not experience a disadvantage at the beginning of life.

Gaby Mendoza
Photo: Flickr

Social Protection Programs in Eritrea
Eritrea is an African country with an area size of 45,406 square miles, which is slightly larger than the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. Eritrea has a coastline on the Red Sea that shares maritime borders with Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Additionally, bordering Eritrea is the East African countries of Sudan in the west and Ethiopia in the south. Ongoing challenges have led to UNICEF’s implementation of social protection programs in Eritrea, which aim to improve nutrition, health, education and more.

About Eritrea and UNICEF’s Work

Eritrea is a former Italian colony that Ethiopia annexed in 1952. It became a sovereign state in 1993 after a referendum. Eritrea has received the designation of Africa’s most secretive and repressive nation as it imposes restrictions on freedom of expression.

Eritrea operates under a unitary system of government with no legislature or independent judiciary. The country has been in conflict in the Tigray region with Ethiopia for more than three decades. The heightened crisis in the region has continued to push Eritreans into exile. In November 2000, more than 96,000 Eritreans including children fleeing the conflict were registered as refugees with an increased call for humanitarian assistance.

UNICEF has stepped up with an emergency relief effort to provide lifesaving services to support Eritreans. In 2020, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Japan, Italy and the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) donated $6 million to UNICEF Eritrea’s Humanitarian Action for Children Fund. UNICEF in collaboration with the Government of Eritrea expeditiously utilized these resources in the provision of social protection programs in Eritrea for thousands of vulnerable Eritreans.

UNICEF’s Social Protection Programs in Eritrea

  • Nutrition. UNICEF procured life-saving medicines and supplements in 2020 to treat maternal health conditions and childhood nutrition concerns. More than 69,000 children younger than 5 years of age received treatment for malnutrition while about 250,000 children received vitamin A supplements. UNICEF distributed folic acid supplements to 170,000 expectant mothers and managed diarrhea-related conditions in 116,600 children. UNICEF procured 236 units of cold-chain technology to replace outdated equipment in Eritrea’s six regional facilities for effective storage of life-saving vaccines and inoculated more than 150 children against infectious diseases ranging from poliomyelitis to tuberculosis.
  • Health. UNICEF-led hygiene initiatives through the Community Sanitation program engaged 500 Eritreans in the production of sanitary kits and hygiene supplies. Approximately 12,000 hand sanitizers underwent distribution to more than five regional health centers while 20 disability centers and orphanages received 90 handwashing stations. UNICEF conducted mass media campaigns on public health awareness, sending out health information to about 500,000 Eritreans on effective hand washing and hygiene safety techniques. Home health training programs for 100 community health workers emerged, which aimed to meet the needs of children and pregnant women. The training programs led to a 10% decrease in infant mortality rates. The neonatal intensive care unit began in the Barentui region in 2019 as part of the community-based health program to cater to sick children. Health outcomes of more than 100 children have improved as a consequence of specialized health services in Eritrea.
  • Education. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted learning opportunities for children in Eritrea due to lockdown restrictions on public facilities. UNICEF, through the Mine-Risk Education program in schools, established 20 community education centers to provide learning opportunities in Eritrea to support 5,000 overage out-of-school children and provide training programs for 180 teachers. Educational supplies went to 7,220 vulnerable school children at the commencement of learning activities following the reopening of schools. Additionally, about 800 disabled children benefited from community-based rehabilitation services that UNICEF organized. The social services received support from community volunteers and behavioral health providers.
  • Cash Assistance. UNICEF coordinated disaster relief efforts for more than 5,000 Eritrean families. It mobilized resources to engage families in the production of household sanitary supplies at community rehabilitation centers while 494 vulnerable families obtained cash grants that benefited 2,000 children. The disaster response aimed to mitigate some of the socioeconomic effects caused by COVID-19. UNICEF coordinated efforts with the Eritrean government to provide welfare support and behavioral health services for about 500,000 families, including women and children.

Looking Ahead

UNICEF humanitarian interventions in Eritrea have been far-reaching and impactful but vulnerabilities from the Tigray conflict, harsh climatic conditions and the COVID-19 pandemic have created a significant humanitarian need with 1.2 million Eritreans experiencing poverty. Disruptions in supply chain platforms negatively impact food security in the country, thereby increasing child malnutrition concerns. UNICEF is requesting $13.7 million to meet the humanitarian needs of children in Eritrea in 2022. There is an urgent need to respond to the clarion call for humanitarian aid and support the people of Eritrea. The resources will provide and expand life-saving aid to this community and the vulnerable population within it.

Sylvia Eimieho
Photo: Flickr