Mental Health and Poverty
Although mental health and poverty are two things that one might not always group together, there is a serious link between people living below the poverty line and mental health disorders. According to a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration SAMHSA report, around 9.8 million people living in the United States had mental health disorders in 2015, and 25 percent of those people were living below the poverty line.

Both poverty and mental health can bring about the other. For instance, a Gallup poll found that about 15.8 percent of people not living in poverty reported having diagnosed depression, while 31 percent of people living in poverty reported depression. In addition, a McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research study based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics found that a household is likely to experience a 50 to 80 percent increase in food insecurity if the mother has diagnosed depression. While it is not clear whether the depression leads to living in poverty or living in poverty results in depression, the link between the two issues is clearly prevalent. Therefore, it is crucial that others address and treat the mental health of people living in poverty.

Ways to Treat Mental Health

One large issue with impoverished people having mental health disorders is that they often do not have the insurance and money to seek therapy and get medical help. This can be especially harmful to children living in poverty. The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics has three main recommendations for low-income families to seek help for mental health disorders, including education and training, establishing relationships with providers and creating multidisciplinary teams.

The best way to help and treat mental health in low-income families and communities is education. By integrating mental health education in schools and free programs that schools offer to families and communities, more people can learn about how to cope with mental health disorders and keep themselves and their families healthy and happy. In addition, integrating mental health services into school health services allows children to seek help for any mental health disorders right at school.

Further, establishing relationships with school health providers and counselors allows children to feel comfortable enough to seek the help that they need, in a safe space that they are used to. Communication between children/families and health care providers also allows the providers to be available more quickly and could result in more effective treatment.

Effects of Improving Mental Health

Poverty can strain a person’s mental health due to stress and instability. Therefore, public mental health has a huge impact on communities and the mental health of the people. People do not widely recognize public health, which is why is it crucial that communities are actively working to prevent mental health problems and to educate the community on how to cope with mental health strains.

Mental health problems and poverty have a serious link and it is vital that people are aware of the strains of poverty and understand their community and who is at risk. Only by monitoring and evaluating impacts of mental health, creating educational programs and addressing both physical and mental health, both mental health and poverty can improve together.

Paige Regan
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Life Expectancy in MalawiThe landlocked country of Malawi has a life expectancy rate of 60.2 years for males and 64.3 years for females. While this is much lower than the global average of 69.8 years for males and 74.2 years for females, it represents an improvement from previous years. These eight facts about life expectancy in Malawi will help shed light on the reasons for the low rate as well as what the country has done, and can still do, to improve it:

8 Facts About Life Expectancy in Malawi

  1. HIV/AIDS: As of 2017, an estimated 1 million people in Malawi were living with HIV/AIDS which places the country at 10th in the world in terms of the number of people living with HIV/AIDS. In addition, there were also 13,000 deaths from the virus in the same year. Still, the government has made major strides to curb the epidemic in the last 10 years. Part of its strategy includes providing free condoms as well as educating young people. As of 2018, 78 percent of all people living with HIV in Malawi are on medication. There was also a decline in the number of new infections from 55,000 in 2010 to 38,000 in 2018.
  2. Maternal Health: In 2015, maternal mortality stood at 634 deaths for every 100,000 live births. This is considerably higher than the global average of 216 deaths per 100,000 live births. However, it represents a significant improvement as the government along with support from USAID has been able to reduce maternal mortality by 53 percent between 1990 and 2013. Today, more expectant mothers in both rural and urban areas are now receiving prenatal care as well as skilled birth assistance.
  3. Child Health: Great improvements have also been made in terms of child health, as most children under 5 in both rural and urban areas are vaccinated. This has helped reduce deaths from communicable childhood diseases such as measles, tetanus and pneumonia. The Ministry of Health has also implemented strategies like deworming and has also distributed vitamin A supplements to deal with other major causes of childhood death.
  4. Fertility Rate: In the 1980s Malawian women had about seven children per woman. Today, that number is at 5.5 children per woman. The high fertility rate affects life expectancy in Malawi as it puts pressure on the government to provide adequate social amenities in order to improve people’s lives.
  5. Population Growth: According to a 2018 census, Malawi’s population is 17.6 million people. By 2020 this is projected to hit 20.2 million, before doubling by 2050. This rapid population growth puts a lot of pressure on the country’s land, water and forest resources and threatens life expectancy as most Malawians derive their income from agriculture. The Third Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS III) sets out a number of policies including promoting family planning and sexual and reproductive health rights as a means to slow population growth, and better managing migration and urbanization.
  6. Infectious Diseases: Malawians are at very high risk of contracting infectious diseases. Food and waterborne diseases include diarrheal diseases and typhoid fever. In order to deal with diarrheal deaths, Malawians are in need of nutritious food as well as an unpolluted environment. Other diseases include malaria, dengue fever and rabies from animal contact. The country has been dealing with malaria by subsidizing mosquito nets. Additionally, Malawi is one of the three African countries taking part in a malaria vaccine pilot. The pilot aims to reach 360,000 children each year across Kenya, Ghana and Malawi.
  7. Water and Sanitation: One in three Malawians do not have access to clean water while 9.6 million people do not have a decent toilet. This affects the life expectancy in Malawi as it leads to an increase in diarrheal diseases. With the support of UNICEF and organizations such as Water Aid, the government of Malawi has made significant progress in reducing the number of people who lack access to safe water. Additionally, the rate of open defecation has declined from 29 percent in 1990 to four percent in 2015.
  8. Education: Malawi introduced free primary education in 1994 which put a strain on the education system. This is because the infrastructure, number of teachers and number of teaching and learning materials were inadequate when compared to the number of students who enrolled. It resulted in poor performance by the students, especially in terms of literacy.  The government of Malawi has been making an effort to improve the education sector by allocating more than 20 percent of the national budget to education.  It has also partnered with bodies such as USAID and UNICEF to improve literacy levels as well as student enrollment and completion rates. An educated and skilled population will help increase Malawi’s economic growth. Educational reforms will help reduce the unemployment rate which is currently more than 20 percent.

Malawi is considered one of the poorest countries in the world, and a lot still needs to be done to improve the lives of its people. It is however clear that the government is working with the support of nonprofit organizations around the world to make life better for its people.

Sophia Wanyonyi
Photo: Flickr


The UN’s 2016 High-Panel report on global access to medicine opens with an inspiring message: “Never in the past has our knowledge of science been so profound and the possibilities to treat all manner of diseases so great.” It is hard to debate that recent advancements in targeted cancer therapy and HIV drug development indicate a bright future for the Rx world. The potential for positive change may go unrealized, however, if access to medicine remains limited. To serve the 3.5 billion people without basic medical services, along with the 100 million who find themselves in extreme poverty because of high medical costs, governments and organizations have to confront the complex economic forces undermining global access to medicine. This article will discuss two such forces and consider how international actors have responded.

Too Big to Heal?

Economic orthodoxy holds that the equilibrium of a product’s supply and demand will determine its price, but medication prices do not adhere to this rule. This is because firms in the pharmaceutical industry possess the key to market distortion. Monopoly power or the ability for firms with outsized market shares to raise prices without experiencing a corresponding drop in sales. Pharmaceutical companies tend to obtain monopoly power for several reasons, such as:

  1. High entry costs, especially those associated with research and development. This excludes smaller, potentially disruptive firms from the market.
  2. The continuation of company consolidation. In the past 20 years, a group of 60 different pharmaceutical companies shrank to a mere 10.
  3. Large profits. Profits are huge, with the 10 highest-earning companies netting a 20 percent profit margin on average. This allows these companies to fortify their already-large market share. Most importantly, once a company patents a drug, it holds exclusive title to the production and distribution of that drug for 20-25 years.

During that period, no lower-priced, generic substitutes can enter the market. Equipped with this uncontested control, these companies can charge high prices for their products, as those who need them will have no other choice but to bear the cost. Yet some, especially individuals in poorer countries dealing with diseases like Hepatitis C and cancer, simply cannot afford these costs.

There are many individuals and corporations who are attempting to solve this problem, however. For example, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), a pharmaceutical company based in London, England, is trying to put an end to exorbitant prices for prescription drugs in low-income countries. In March 2016, it announced that it would not seek patent protection for its drugs in 50 of the world’s poorest countries. By doing this, the company opened the path for smaller companies to bring lower-priced, generic versions of their drugs to the market. So far, the approach has been effective, earning GSK the top spot in the 2018 Access to Medicine Index. The positive publicity it receives from the ranking will hopefully motivate other companies to follow suit.

R&D Incentives

While the economics of monopoly power generates the problem of overpricing, the incentives of research and development make it such that many medicines needed in low-income countries go underproduced. As mentioned above, patents spell large rewards, but it costs $800 million on average for a company to obtain one and to bring a drug to the market. This pressures companies to develop the drugs that are most likely to produce a substantial financial return. Additionally, as the UN High-Panel notes in its report, this means that widespread, treatable diseases can oftentimes go unaddressed. For example, antimicrobial-resistant viruses and parasites threaten to kill as many as 10 million people annually by 2050, yet drug companies worldwide have developed virtually no new antibiotics in the past 25 years. In the absence of this innovation, however, public-private R&D partnerships have proven to be a successful substitute. The Global Fund is an example as it has saved 27 million people that malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis threatened by raising money from both public and private sources and collaborating with domestic task forces and commissions.

A Reconceptualization

Economic barriers to improve global access to medicine remain, but more and more people are starting to conceptualize the problem as an ethical one rather than an economic one. However, ensuring access to health care and maintaining market efficiency are not mutually exclusive. For example, cost-efficient drug production techniques are necessary to disseminate medicines at reduced prices. But other times “policy incoherencies,” as the UN High-Panel report calls them, force decision-makers to choose between the promotion of economic innovation and the provision of public health. Thanks to leading companies like GlaxoSmithKline and compassionate organizations like the Global Fund, the international community is starting to opt for the latter.

James Delegal
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

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Iceland
Iceland, one of the healthiest European countries, lies between the Greenland Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. Icelanders tend to outlive people from other richer, warmer and more educated countries. Below are 10 facts about life expectancy in Iceland that determine what factors may help Icelanders live longer lives.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Iceland

  1. On average, males and females in Iceland have a life expectancy at birth of 81 and 84 years respectively. Life expectancy increased from a combined national average of 78.8 years in 1994 to a combined national average of 82.4 years in 2016.
  2. Iceland has one of the lowest mortality rates in Europe. The average mortality rate is 6.5 per 1,000 inhabitants and the infant mortality rate is 2.7 per 1,000 live births, both below the European average of 10.2 and four. Not only do children under the age of five have better survival rates, but they also have a better chance of growing into healthier adults.
  3. Compared to the OECD average of 3.4 and three per 1,000 population, Iceland has a higher number of doctors and nurses with 3.8 doctors and 15.5 nurses per 1,000. A higher proportion of medical practitioners is a reflection of Iceland’s well-performing health care system.
  4. The health expenditure in Iceland picked up in 2012 after a dip following the 2008 financial crisis. The expenditure of $4,376 per capita is higher than the OECD average of $3,854 and accounts for 8.7 percent of its GDP. It has universal health care, 85 percent Icelanders pay through taxes. Private insurance is almost absent. This shows that health care is affordable and accessible in Iceland.
  5. The diet of the Icelandic people contains more fish and less meat. Fish is more beneficial for heart health due to the presence of omega-3 fatty acids. Healthier diet choices could be one factor that helps Icelandic people live longer.
  6. Research shows that the environment is a major determinant of health, and therefore, longevity. Iceland boasts clean air and water. Its dependence on geothermal resources for energy instead of fossil fuels ensures an unpolluted environment. Further, natural hot springs occur all across the country. The cleaner and colder environment protects people from many communicable and infectious diseases which may help them live longer and healthier lives.
  7. Iceland is the eighth-most urban country in the world. Ninety-four percent of its population lives in urban areas and cities with access to basic amenities like electricity, clean drinking water and sanitation. Life expectancy for a country increases with an increase in urbanization.
  8. Good genetics may have played a role in higher life expectancy of Icelanders. Studies showed that those above 90 years of age share more similar genes compared to control groups. One possible explanation could be the harsh environmental conditions that Icelanders faced historically, which filtered their genes so that they would pass on the ones that helped them survive.
  9. Despite the harsh weather conditions, Icelanders have higher physical activity when compared to other European nations. Almost 60 percent of the Icelandic people perform some form of exercise for at least 150 minutes per week. Icelandic people like to participate in outdoor activities such as hiking, swimming and skiing.
  10. Iceland has the lowest proportion of substance abusers among all European countries. It reduced its percentage of drug users from 42 percent in 1998 to five percent in 2016. By imposing curfews and keeping teens busy in sports and activities, Iceland was able to divert them from drugs towards healthy habits. This is an important factor when considering the life expectancy of a nation. People do not tend to die from drug-overdose and they also live healthier and economically stable lives.

Icelanders show that lifestyle can have a major effect on how long people live. Both the Icelandic people and their government made efforts to improve their health statistics by reducing the consumption of fossil fuels and drugs and increasing physical activity. These top 10 facts about life expectancy in Iceland are full of lessons that people of other nations can learn and apply as successful health interventions.

– Navjot Buttar
Photo: Flickr

 

Health care in the Democratic Republic of the CongoThe Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), once lauded for its health care system, is now a country with a lack of resources and access. In the past few decades, the DRC has experienced political unrest, war and military disputes, leaving the country’s health care system in shambles. Now, almost 70 percent of Congolese people have little or no access to basic health care.  Here are the top four facts about health care in the Democratic Republic of the Congo:

Top 4 Facts About Health Care in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

  1. Hospitals- As of 2016, there were 401 hospitals in the DRC.  Despite this, access to medical care remains sparse in rural areas. In fact, it is still difficult for many citizens to obtain necessary medical aid. Additionally, these hospitals often lack proper equipment and staff to meet some of the needs of the patients. Many times, hospitals run out of essential medicines and supplies required for various treatments. Multiple organizations recognize the gravity of this situation and are reaching out to help. This includes a health program from USAID, which provides more than 12 million citizens of the DRC with primary health care services.
  2. Vaccines- In 2018, The Emergency Plan for the Revitalization of Immunization was implemented with the goal of increasing vaccinations for children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This plan is also known as the Mashako plan, in honor of the DRC’s former minister of health, Professor Leonard Mashako Mamba. The goal of the Mashako plan is to increase the coverage of children vaccinated by 15 percent by 2020. This means that, under the Mashako plan, 220,000 children who would otherwise be susceptible to life-threatening, preventable diseases will now have access to vaccines.
  3. Health Care Workers- The number of health care workers in the DRC averages out to .09 physicians to 1,000 individuals. This is drastically less than many other countries, such as the United States with almost 3 physicians per 1,000 individuals. Additionally, there are more than 4 physicians to 1,000 individuals in Italy. Furthermore, one-third of health care workers are over 60 years old. These numbers are odd and surprising, considering the country produces up to 9,000 new health care workers each year. Despite this, there is a significant shortage of health care workers in many areas and facilities in the DRC. This is due to a lack of proper record keeping. In recent years, however, the DRC has been working with IntraHealth International to implement iHRIS. This program aims to aid the country in recording and managing data pertaining to the health care workforce. The goal of iHRIS is to help record missing information and better disperse doctors throughout the DRC.
  4. Government Spending- The Government of the DRC (GRDC) has recently given more attention to health care and is making the health of its citizens a higher priority. In 2015, the government increased health care spending to almost 9 percent of the overall budget, in comparison to 3.4 percent in 2011. Also in 2015, and for the very first time, the GRDC reserved funds specifically for drugs and contraceptives, which are crucial for various parts of the population. Despite these improvements, government spending on health care in the DRC continues to be among the lowest in the world.

Over time, recent government changes and shifting priorities are making significant and notable improvements to the health care system in the DRC. These top four facts about health care in the Democratic Republic of the Congo demonstrate that access to health care is critical in both citizens and the country’s future.

– Melissa Quist
Photo: Flickr

The Future of PeekThe world is experiencing a vision crisis. In total, over 200 million people around the world are visually impaired, and 7 million people develop blindness every single year. One-third of those who seek help and health care for their eyes are unable to obtain it. Developing countries are the most at risk, with 90 percent of individuals suffering from vision impairment living in underdeveloped nations. The organization Peek is seeking to change this, and the future of Peek could mean health care for everyone.

What is Peek?

Peek is proof that great things often come from small ideas. The organization began as a simple, developing research project in the International Centre for Eye Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Now, Peek consists of two entities: The Peek Vision Foundation, an official charity in the United Kingdom, and Peek Vision Ltd, a manufacturing company that develops medical devices for people all over the world.

Peek began with smartphone apps and hardware that provided affordable and accessible eye examination kits that could be used in every home, school and community. This hardware, the Portable Eye Examination Kit (PEEK), was used in 50 schools in Kenya in 2015 to evaluate 20,000 children who otherwise would have been left in the dark concerning their eye health. Further, Peek’s individual products, Peek Acuity, the smartphone app that examines vision, and Peek Retina, a portable ophthalmoscope that captures detailed images of the retina, are currently being used in over 150 countries around the world.

The Future of Peek

Now, Peek is moving beyond portable eye examination kits and onto how technology can play a role in making sure health care is readily available for everyone, everywhere. Concerning Peek’s future journey, Daisy Barton, head of communications and PR at Peek, wrote, “Today, we’ve moved beyond developing and validating our basic technology to building software systems that capture the information from smartphone-based eye health screening and surveys. To bring better vision and health to everybody, we need to understand where people fall through the gaps when trying to access eye care and how eye care providers can ensure their systems improve.”

Their smartphone-based eye care kits laid the foundation and proved that there was a viable way to test vision anywhere in the world using only a smartphone. Now, Peek is building upon that foundation to ensure nobody gets left behind when it comes to vision health.

Tracking Universal Health Care

Universal health coverage seems like a tall order, but Peek is following the lead of organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and Global Goals for Sustainable Development to make it possible. For example, officials from the WHO along with the United Nations are working to develop specific indicators of health that enable different countries to mark their growth and advancements along their journeys toward universal health care. These indicators cover a variety of topics concerning different aspects of health. While the official list of indicators will not be announced until later in 2019, a preliminary list announced that there would be at least two indicators involving eye health.

Part of the struggle in making universal health care a reality is the impracticality of measuring every single aspect of a country’s health coverage; however, Peek is playing an important role in overcoming this challenge. Peek is using their smartphone-based software to provide countries and organizations with raw data that can be used to help develop certain health care indicators. This data allows health services to analyze and evaluate statistics pertinent to making universal health care a reality. Barton said this information includes “who is attending treatment, where they are based, and what the outcome is.”

Peek, along with the development of the rapid assessment of avoidable blindness eye health survey, is using and developing advanced technology and software to measure the aforementioned vision indicators as well as to develop treatments in a cost-effective, accurate and practical way. Their work will be fundamental in ensuring universal health care and improved vision worldwide.

With members of Peek all over the world, and offices in England, Pakistan, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Botswana, it is only a matter of time before Peek’s vision of eye care and universal health care is achieved. The future of Peek along with their groundbreaking work will ensure that those who so often fall between the cracks will no longer be left behind.

– Melissa Quist
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in KenyaLocated on the mid-eastern coast of Africa, the nation of Kenya is home to more than 50 million people. Despite the country’s strong tourism industry, which centers around internationally renowned landmarks such as the Musai Mara National Reserve, it still struggles with issues pertaining to extreme poverty.

One of the main effects resulting from this poverty is a very low life expectancy rate. The inverse relationship between wealth and life expectancy is largely due to the nature of poverty. For instance, the inability to see a doctor, access contraception, buy medicine, etc. all compound the chances of early mortality. Poverty has impacts beyond general health too, like exposing people dis-proportionally to unsafe living conditions.

This informs the reality in Kenya, where people over the age of 65 make up only 2.7 percent of the population, and the average life expectancy is only 59 years. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in Kenya to help explain why that number is so low.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Kenya

  1. High poverty rates: More than 50 percent of people live below the poverty line. In addition, in Kenya, 40 percent of people live on less than two dollars a day.
  2. High child mortality rates: The under 5 mortality rate in Kenya lands at 85 deaths per 1,000 births. This number is dramatically higher than the global average of 40. This is a huge issue, as the World Bank claims the number one way to increase life expectancy is to reduce child mortality.
  3. Number of physicians: There is one doctor for every 10,000 people in Kenya. In addition, the country’s health care system has historically been dysfunctional. This manifested into a 100-day strike in 2017 by doctors over poor working conditions and pay. It was followed, late that year, by a nurse’s strike for similar reasons. This has led to overloaded and under-resourced facilities, which dis-incentivizes people to go into the field.
  4. Lack of admittance to public hospitals: Because of the disorganization in the public health system, almost no patients get admitted into Kenya’s public health facilities. This creates an especially tremendous impact on the maternal mortality rate, as women do not have access to proper birthing spaces. This is one unfortunate truth in the 10 facts about life expectancy in Kenya.
  5. Lack of medical student retention: The presence of a broken health care system establishes a negative image of the medical field in Kenya. Therefore, 40 percent of Kenyans who graduate with medical degrees choose to find work elsewhere. This furthers the national shortage, preventing millions of people from having access to medical needs.
  6. Lack of access to clean water: While millions of people in first world countries do not stop to think about how much water they use on a daily basis, around 60 percent of Kenyans do not have access to clean water. Thus, there is an extremely high nationwide risk of contracted water-borne diseases such as malaria, cholera and typhoid fever.
  7. No universal health care system: Kenya’s government does not offer a universal health care system, so millions of people are uninsured. On account of this, many avoid clinical care–which is oftentimes necessary. Under this system, small treatable issues tend to develop into potentially fatal diseases.
  8. Poorly kept health facilities: Since the government lacks adequate funding to keep the hospitals clean and sanitary, many fall into disrepair. Additionally, the lack of resources creates a shortage of medical equipment and a poorly operated management system.
  9. Kenya Quality Model for Health: In 2018, Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development partnered with the group Amref Health Africa to create a set of national health standards called the Kenya Quality Model for Health. Currently, workers are being trained in KQMH nationwide in over 47 facilities, while they receive monthly visits from Amref trainers. This program will hopefully improve the quality of care in Kenya and in turn life expectancy.
  10. Expansive treatment measures are being implemented: The lack of health care access mainly centers around rural western Kenya, where transportation is frequently an issue. In 2018, the Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH) joined with the Abbott Fund to help solve this problem. The partnership has trained more than 1,000 workers to deliver doses of insulin to people with diabetes mainly in western Kenya. They have also invested $5 million to screen people for diabetes and provide them with the proper medical instruments. This unique approach to health care will hopefully expand to other treatments, decreasing the number of people who do not receive care.

– Liam Manion
Photo: Flickr