Information and stories on health topics.

Elderly Poverty in BrazilOver the past few decades, Brazil has experienced explosive development. Increased exports driven by increased growth within its manufacturing center, combined with a newly developing service sector and a rise in foreign investment have contributed to an increase in its citizens’ well-being and life expectancy. That said, as Brazilians are living longer, more attention is needed to address elderly poverty as the country’s social safety nets are already strained.

Daily Struggles

Currently, only around 4% of Brazilians aged 60 and older live in poverty. Though this is lower proportionately than other age demographics within Brazil, due to its social safety net and poverty reduction programs, the impoverished elderly within Brazil struggle greatly on a day-to-day basis. Brazil lacks age-friendly cities for its elder citizens, and while San Paulo and other cities have pushed for change, efforts have been slow to catch on across the country. Disability and illness affect many and worse health outcomes have been shown time and time again to disproportionately affect the elderly who are in poverty.

Though policy experts, data analysts and advocacy organizations warn of potential negative consequences in the future, multiple policy suggestions could prevent an overwhelming of Brazil’s social safety nets. Furthermore, private companies and non-governmental organizations are working right now to alleviate said consequences.

Prolonged Engagement With The Workforce

Policymakers have recommended that Brazil ought to encourage its elderly citizens to remain a part of the workforce as they age, according to the AARP International report. They have noted later retirement as a priority in order to prevent the rise of elderly poverty in Brazil because it reduces the number of people who are relying on Brazil’s social programs at any one time. Data has consistently shown that Brazil’s safety net and poverty reduction programs have been incredibly effective in reducing poverty and helping people in Brazil obtain their basic needs.

Most notable is the Continuing Benefits Program (BPC). These cash transfer programs contribute significantly to reductions in elderly poverty within Brazil and an increase in financial independence among those who receive payments from it. However, if people in Brazil continue to retire early, the BPC could have to spread its resources more thinly and thus become less effective in reducing poverty.

Increasing Job Availability

Many of the elderly people in Brazil choose to retire early because there is a lack of stable, good-paying jobs for people in their 50s and above. While both the government and the private sector have been slow to respond to this demand, when they have done so, there has been real success. The Ministry of Education launched the National Program of Access to Professional Education and Employment (PRONATEC). Although the elderly population is not primarily a target of the program, it still focuses on “promoting social and productive inclusion and offers financial assistance to low-income individuals” by providing them with educational opportunities through the program, according to the AARP International report.

Furthermore, the companies that choose to give the elderly a chance or create positions for elderly employees, notably Dotz and Pizza Hut, received a barrage of applications and have indicated that they want to tap further into the workforce of older applicants. While there undoubtedly ought to be more growth within this realm, the progress that has been made shows real promise.

On-the-Ground Solutions

Advocates have suggested several direct policy solutions in order to help the impoverished elderly within Brazil, there are NGOs in Brazil also playing their part in the solution. Velho Amigo is a notable nonprofit organization that advocates for elder rights as well as social inclusion of the socially and economically vulnerable elderly through its Heliopolis Coexistence Center. In 2019, it developed the Revitaliza program, which engages directly with shelter centers and long-stay institutions for the elderly, assisting in the improvement of service quality, engagement and sustainability.

Although there is uncertainty about whether Brazil’s social programs will be able to support the expected increase in the elderly population, the work of agencies and nonprofits is helping to stem further increases in elderly poverty rates.

– Alexander Pommells
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDS IN NIGERIAHIV/AIDS is a prevalent health problem in Nigeria, with 1.3% of the adult population living with the disease as of 2021. Prevention, detection and treatment have improved in recent years, but considerable progress is necessary to move closer to ending HIV/AIDS in Nigeria by the end of the decade.

Key Statistics

Approximately 1.9 million Nigerians lived with HIV/AIDS in 2021 and the country noted 74,000 new infections in the same year alongside 51,000 AIDS-related mortalities. The country’s large population of around 213 million people means that, despite a relatively low prevalence rate, Nigeria has suffered the most significant HIV epidemic in West and Central Africa.

Women in Nigeria are at higher risk of contracting HIV than men, with an infection rate of 1.6% compared to 1% for men. This gender imbalance is even more pronounced in those aged 15-24, the age group which accounts for 40% of HIV/AIDS cases in the country. Many children suffer, too. Nigerian children make up 14% of the global total of childhood HIV/AIDS cases, with 260,000 new cases recorded in children aged up to 14 in 2015 alone.

Nigeria has not yet met the UNAIDS 95-95-95 targets for 2025 concerning testing and treatment with only 90% of Nigerians knowing their status as of 2021.

Barriers to Elimination

Barriers posing difficulties in addressing HIV/AIDS in Nigeria range from difficulties in accessing treatment, particularly for children and those living in rural areas, to the widespread stigma around the disease which discourages people from seeking life-saving treatment. Late diagnosis is a key issue, with around a third of people only receiving a diagnosis after HIV has already progressed to AIDS. Progress in reducing mother-to-child transmission has been slow too. The prevalence of this form of transmission only dropped by 15% between 2010 and 2020, compared with a reduction rate of up to 70% in other countries, such as Uganda.

Moreover, the Nigerian government has not, thus far, dedicated a significant portion of its budget to the HIV/AIDS response. The majority of funding for programs dedicated to tackling prevention, care and treatment comes from international organizations and donors.

Solutions and Progress

In recent years, significant progress has been made in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Nigeria. Since 2017, the number of people receiving treatment has almost doubled and 98 more treatment centers have developed. Of the 1.9 million Nigerians living with the disease, approximately 1.62 million are on antiretroviral treatment.

HIV/AIDS prevention in Nigeria takes many forms. This includes the introduction of medications like PEP and PrEP, targeted services for girls and young women in areas with a high prevalence of the disease and the dispersal of barrier methods of contraception such as condoms.

Testing is available in a multitude of venues, including community spaces, homes, workplaces and after-hours clinics that serve communities most at risk. New infections are falling, with the number of recorded cases dropping by more than 10,000 between 2019 and 2021.

The work of organizations plays a critical role. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, for example, conducted the first countrywide survey to assess the state of HIV/AIDS, health care and drug reliance in Nigerian prisons, and as part of this, provided HIV-related training for health workers in Nigerian prisons.

A Look Ahead

Efforts toward tackling HIV/AIDS in Nigeria have greatly reduced the number of Nigerians living with the disease. For those who are infected, health programs have improved both their prognoses and quality of life. More work is necessary for the country to realize its target of eliminating the disease by 2030. The importance of foreign aid to support these efforts is especially important, considering the lack of funding from the country’s own government. The international community can do more to ensure an HIV/AIDS-free future for Nigeria.

Martha Probert
Photo: Flickr

World Vision Birthday Celebrations
For many children, birthday parties are annual celebrations that children anticipate months in advance. But, for many children living in impoverished countries, a birthday celebration is a luxury uncommon to most. World Vision birthday celebrations work to change this and simultaneously eliminate global poverty.

Child Poverty is a Global Issue

When one thinks about aid for children living in poverty, thoughts go to efforts such as providing clean drinking water, administering vaccines, reforming education or other big-picture efforts. While these are all extremely necessary actions, recognizing the simple pleasures children of impoverished countries are deprived of can often be an afterthought.

Across the world, more than 700 million people live on less than $1.90 a day and children make up about half of this number. This means extreme poverty affects roughly 365 million children around the world. The total number of children living in poverty globally can fill up the National Football League’s largest stadium, the MetLife Stadium, more than 4,424 times. Child poverty is a significant issue, but according to UNICEF, few governments have declared child poverty a national priority. These millions of children live without access to basic needs such as education, health services, nutritional food and even clean drinking water.

Child Poverty Impacts Health in Adulthood

Not only does child poverty impact children’s health in the present time but it also can affect health during adulthood. According to a study by Dennis Raphael published in the National Library of Medicine, child poverty can increase the risk of noncommunicable diseases later in life. This refers to diseases that are not contagious but arise due to poor diet and lifestyle, for instance, cardiovascular diseases and Type 2 diabetes. This displays that child poverty has a far-reaching impact on a large part of the global population. Considering the severity of child poverty globally, World Vision addresses child poverty in several manners, such as through World Vision birthday celebrations.

World Vision’s Birthday Celebrations

World Vision is a global humanitarian organization focused on diminishing global poverty through donations from sponsors. It has worked to combat poverty since 1950, and, as of 2023, serves more than 3.5 million children in almost 100 different countries. World Vision implements programs that directly aid impoverished children, families and communities in the areas of health, education, clean water access, food and nutrition, child protection and more.

One of World Vision’s most interesting programs, funded by sponsors, is its annual communal birthday celebrations for struggling children in impoverished countries. The goal of these celebrations is to show impoverished children love and support while also giving sponsors the opportunity to meet the child they sponsor if they so wish. World Vision’s birthday celebrations host about 1 million attendees per year. Celebrations have taken place in Ecuador, Vietnam, Mexico, Ghana and Romania along with various other impoverished countries.

World Vision’s birthday celebrations consist of brightly colored balloons, dancing character animals, singing, games, sports and lots of cake. These celebrations provide a day full of laughter and joy, but also can bring families, and even communities, out of poverty.

The Far-Reaching Impacts of the Celebrations

Matthew Sakala, who was once also a sponsored child through World Vision, now runs World Vision sponsorship programs in Moyo, Zambia. In an interview with World Vision, he says he has personally seen growth in his community due to the resources provided through birthday celebrations and continuous donations from World Vision sponsors. Sakala speaks of various opportunities, such as a training base provided through sponsorship donations so community members could learn skills in plumbing, carpentry, baking and more. Birthday celebrations enable connection and fellowship between sponsors and residents, making donations all the more meaningful.

In addition to typical children’s birthday gifts, World Vision gifts, through the support of sponsors, including audiovisual equipment, educational tools such as books, games and backpacks and recreational supplies including basketball, soccer and volleyball equipment. Other necessities, such as blankets, bedding, computers and water purification systems, are also accounted for, depending on the needs of the community. These items all contribute to uplifting communities even after the celebration ends.

Recognizing the Simple Joys

World Vision’s effort to recognize the simple joy in a birthday party and the lack of these experiences for impoverished children has led to the creation of a unique and impactful program. World Vision birthday celebrations provide joy and care to impoverished children while also fostering opportunities for growth and poverty minimization in entire communities.

– Leah Smith
Photo: Flickr

Health Care in the Central African Republic
The Central African Republic (CAR) is a sub-Saharan nation comprising a population of approximately 5.5 million. Its capital is Bangui. Similar to many regions of Africa, the country has poor health care with limited access to clean water and sanitary spaces. Health care in the Central African Republic is in an extremely poor state with the country having a life expectancy of just 55 in 2020. Here are six facts about health and health care in the Central African Republic. 

1. Diseases

Common diseases in Africa such as malaria, yellow fever and diarrheal-related diseases exist in CAR. Tropical diseases spread easily through the country with insufficient medical resources. The National Library of Medicine shows that malaria accounts for 40% of all illnesses in the country.

Yellow fever is also prominent in the country, as with much of north and central Africa. Although some action has occurred in the roll-outs of vaccines, with a 2021 UNICEF statistic illustrating that 41% of the population is vaccinated, the country is still far from reaching the 80% threshold which indicates a country’s immunity.

Diarrheal-related illnesses are similarly frequent, particularly in children. Although organizations such as WaterAid have taken action in the construction of clean water pumps, water insecurity provides a constant risk for the country’s majority. A statistic from the National Library of Medicine shows an average of seven episodes per child per year.

2. Children’s Health Care

Life is especially tough for children living in the Central African Republic. Conflict within the region has left many children homeless and without an education. A 2021 UNICEF statistic illustrates that 370,000 children are internally displaced across the country as a result of widespread violence. Civil unrest in the country has forced children to join armed groups or flee their homes. To aid children’s well-being, UNICEF is introducing community-based interventions to support children’s mental health.

3. Malnutrition

UNICEF also helps children formerly a part of armed groups through programs that reunite them with their families. Malnutrition is also very common among children due to a low intake of healthy food. A statistic from UNICEF predicts that a minimum of 24,000 children under the age of 5 will suffer from acute malnutrition. The Central African Republic has one of the least funded childcare health care programs in the world and continues to struggle with this issue.

4. Access to Sanitation and Clean Water

Similarly to much of Africa, access to clean water remains a serious problem in the present day. Despite charitable efforts to introduce water pumps and sanitary spaces, much of the country, especially rural communities, go without the human right of access to clean water.

A statistic from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) shows that only 37% of Central Africans have access to clean water. As a result, the majority of its population have exposure to dirty and germ-infected water for their everyday needs including drinking, washing and cooking. As a result of this frequent intake of dirty water, the country suffers from a high rate of water-borne diseases such as typhoid disease and diarrhea.

5. COVID-19

COVID-19 had severe impacts on underdeveloped countries. With a lack of medical knowledge, the virus spread rapidly across CAR with 15,367 cases reported to the World Health Organization (WHO).

As a result of the lockdown and school closures, COVID-19 also increased the frequency of gender-based and child abuse. This has resulted in many people suffering mental health issues and requiring psychosocial help.

6. Hospitals

A key reason for the country’s failing health care system is the extreme lack of hospitals and medical facilities. There is one major hospital located in the capital Bangui and a few more around the country. However, these hospitals are low-staffed and poorly equipped to deal with the high number of patients requiring medical attention. Health care in the Central African Republic lacks so much funding that humanitarian organizations provide 70% of health services within the country. 

Solutions

Although the current health care system is failing, with help from charities, hope exists for significantly better health care in the Central African Republic. UNICEF has put projects in place for 2023 to improve the quality of health in the country through a humanitarian approach. UNICEF’s programs prioritize children’s protection and set out to provide 140,000 with psychosocial care. In regard to combatting malnutrition, UNICEF plans to provide 60,000 children with medical treatment for this preventable condition.

In response to the low accessibility of drinking water, Concern Worldwide is conducting a project which plans to construct five water well boreholes in Mobaye town to provide people with safe and germ-free drinking water. Combined with the restoration of five damaged water wells, this project will increase the number of people who have access to clean water in Mobaye town by 50%.

Despite the challenges that the health care system is facing in CAR, several organizations are making a difference regarding its population’s health. Through their continued work, hopefully, health and health care will continue to improve in the Central African Republic.

Freddie Trevanion
Photo: Flickr

Crisis in Haiti
Haiti has been experiencing political, economic and social conflict since someone assassinated the former president, Jovenel Moïse, in July 2021. Haiti’s parliament has become ineffective as it struggles to govern amidst the recent earthquake and the prominence of gang violence in Haiti. The crisis in Haiti does not only involve one issue but rather multiple crises all at once. The three most predominant crises in Haiti are gang violence, the cholera outbreak and the aftermath of a deadly earthquake in August 2022.

Gang Violence

The number of gangs in Haiti has grown over the past five years. With more than 95 gangs occupying large portions of Port-au-Prince Bay, the crisis in Haiti has accelerated into deeper chaos. Organized crime disproportionally affects vulnerable communities, especially children. UNICEF’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean has warned that women and children have become targets of gangs. She stated that “more and more incidents of gang violence have involved children and women in the past few weeks and months,” referring to kidnapping, rapes and killings.

The crisis in Haiti is worsened by gangs developing strong political and economic footing as they make themselves mercenary partners of politicians and administrators. Recently, gangs seized Haiti’s fuel terminal (its main source of energy), thus sending the country into an economic and health crisis. Many schools and hospitals have no power and small businesses have shut down completely. The Inter-American Foundation (IAF) has increased funding for 22 grassroots organizations focused on helping Haitians adapt to the various political, economic and environmental collapses. The fuel crisis has prevented more than three-quarters of hospitals from operating. The IAF has been able to supply the country with community clinics and ambulances to meet the pressing need for medical care in the midst of the cholera outbreak.

In terms of suppressing gang violence, there is disagreement on which strategy is the best. The U.N. has issued $5 million to help those that the violence has affected, as humanitarians try to negotiate with the gangs. Other experts and Haitians suggest that intervention may be a more plausible step as a large portion of money meant for more diplomatic relations has been relatively ineffective.

Health and Environmental Concerns

More than a quarter of all suspected cholera cases are children under 9. Cholera is much more likely to infect children, according to the Health Ministry. Between October and December 2022, there were reports of 13,672 cases of cholera, with 86% being hospitalized. From 2010 to 2019, there were reports of 820,000 cases in Haiti. U.N. agencies and Médicins sans Frontières (MSF), along with local organizations, have distributed medicines and treatments throughout the country. They have also established some clean water centers free of cholera while pushing for the development of vaccines for Haiti. Human Rights Watch believes that there is still a great deal that is necessary to resolve the health crisis in Haiti.

There are also environmental concerns for Haiti. A 7.2 earthquake shook the country in April 2021, leaving 620,000 people in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. The earthquake destroyed 70% of schools. UNICEF is continuing to provide water, food and shelter to vulnerable populations.

As violence proceeds, the crisis in Haiti will require more aid and assistance to help rebuild and develop a more resilient political and economic order. Organizations within Haiti and around the world have already begun to provide relief but more must happen to ensure vulnerable peoples are safe.

– Anna Richardson
Photo: Flickr

Toxic Skin-lightening Cosmetics
The fact that mercury is a common ingredient in skin-lightening cosmetics poses serious human health concerns. Furthermore, many cultures continue to use toxic cosmetics to lighten skin by suppressing melanin production. Luckily, global humanitarian organizations are now collaborating with several countries to ban toxic skin-lightening cosmetics.

The Harm of Toxic Skin-Lightening Cosmetics

Women and men both use skin-lightening cosmetics to lighten their skin, fade blemishes and freckles and treat acne. However, people who use these products do not realize the damage they can cause because they contain mercury. Toxic skin-lightening cosmetics can cause skin rashes, scarring and digestive, neurological and immune system damage.

Not only are those who use mercury-laden products at risk, but the toxic skin-lightening cosmetics harm children through breastfeeding and other family members when users wash off the products. The washed-off products contaminate the family’s food chain. Moreover, these washed-off products can travel far without breaking down, contaminating both soil and water.

Global Demand for Skin Lightening

The skin-lightening cosmetics industry is slated to grow to $11.8 billion by 2026. High demand stems from a growing South Asian middle class and changing demographics in the Caribbean and Africa. Although the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) bans cosmetics with mercury, it recently found mercury in numerous products that did not indicate its presence on their labels.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury

As more becomes known about the harm of toxic skin-lightening cosmetics, countries and global organizations are mounting campaigns to reduce or eliminate their use. Gabon, Jamaica and Sri Lanka are collaborating as part of a $14 million comprehensive strategy to prohibit mercury from skin-lightening cosmetics and promote the beauty of all skin tones. Their Minamata Convention on Mercury strives to severely limit mercury in cosmetics.  This group set a limit of 1 mg/kg of mercury in cosmetics; however, tests have proved it is difficult to get compliance. In 2018, tests showed that 10% of 300 tested cosmetics in 22 countries exceeded the limit and worse yet, some exceeded the limit by 100 times.

Still, the Mimamata collaboration continues to work towards its goal. The Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury (COP-5) will have its fifth summit in Geneva, Switzerland during the fall of 2023.

World Health Organization and the Biodiversity Research Institute Leadership

The World Health Organization and the Biodiversity Research Institute are now collaborating with the governments of Gabon, Jamaica and Sri Lanka. They are leading the effort for the Global Environment Facility (GEF)-funded, United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)-led campaign “Eliminating Mercury Skin-Lightening Products.” This project hopes to eliminate skin-lightening cosmetics that include mercury by:

  • Assisting governments by creating new laws and regulations as well as strengthening those that already exist all in accordance with the Minamata Convention.
  • Improving national capabilities for evaluating and tracking skin-lightening goods.
  • Increasing awareness of the problem in the project nations as well as on a global scale.
  • Enlisting participants in the supply chain in an attempt to prevent the manufacture, sale and distribution of skin-lightening goods.

Moving Forward

The collaboration between Gabon, Jamaica and Sri Lanka and global partners in the “Eliminating Mercury  Skin-Lightening Products” campaign is significant and the fifth Minamata Convention should synergize global efforts to raise awareness of the harmful effects of skin-lightening cosmetics.

– Lauryn Defreitas
Photo: Flickr

Improving Health in Africa
According to a 2021 report by the Africa Health Agenda International Conference Commission, only about 52% of people in Africa have access to essential health services. Furthermore, annually, 97 million individuals in Africa, equating to 8.2% of Africa’s population, bear the burden of “catastrophic healthcare costs.” Each year, about 15 million individuals may fall into circumstances of poverty as a consequence of these out-of-pocket health care costs, the report says. In particular, five startups are committed to improving health in Africa.

5 Startups that are Improving Health in Africa

  1. ApiAfrique. Marina Gning and Jeanne-Aurélie Delaunay began the ApiNapi startup in France in 2020. The startup focused on zero waste and making reusable nappies. Later Marianne Varale, a creator of reusable hygiene products, joined the team. After visiting Senegal with her husband, Gning realized that ApiNapi’s products suit the needs of the Senegalese population. In 2016, she and her husband moved to Senegal and ApiAfrique was born. The startup now produces menstrual hygiene products and baby hygiene supplies that reduce waste and protect health. Also, ApiAfrique creates safe and just working conditions for women. The startup has reduced waste by 4,549 tons, prevented the purchase of 53 million unsustainable disposable napkins and diapers and established 28 job opportunities.
  2. Afia Pharma. This Rwanda-based licensed online pharmacy sells medication at a cheaper price and delivers it to patients’ homes. Its main goal is to make quality medications both accessible and affordable for people all across Africa. By using Afia Pharma, a person can save up to 20% on medications and other products. It also offers a pill reminder service and provides a large selection of more than 4,000 medical products. Afia Pharma provides private advice from a trained pharmacist about sensitive issues like HIV, vaginal discharge, erectile dysfunction and more. The pharmacy runs 24/7 and customers can order medication via WhatsApp, email, website or phone.
  3. MaiSoin. Based in Côte d’Ivoire, MaiSon provides a web and mobile-based platform that simplifies the interaction between patients and health care professionals while gathering information to enhance decision-making and the efficiency of public health interventions. Dédé Zeinabou Cissé, an expert in public health, and her partner, Mario Romero, established the startup. The co-founders have a combined 15 years of experience in undertaking community-based public health projects for NGOs around the world. During this time, they recognized a problem across health clinics in Africa — patients cannot book appointments. Instead, patients have to come to the clinic at a certain time and wait in line for hours, which deters people from visiting medical centers. MaiSoin allows people to book an appointment with a skilled health professional in Abidjan without having to spend hours in a waiting room. MaiSoin’s goal is to eliminate obstacles and increase peoples’ access to health care.
  4. Urukundo Initiative. The Urukundo (“love” in Kinyarwanda) Initiative is a social company that a team of four young individuals with medical backgrounds created in 2019. The team created Rwanda’s first licensed evidence-based health education board game that helps initiate a conversation about sexual and reproductive health with young people. The game focuses on educating the younger generation on teen pregnancies, unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV/AIDS. The game can be played in school or at home if parents wish to educate their kids about sexual and reproductive health without fear of embarrassment. The startup also has a Urukundo Board Game Center in Kigali, Rwanda, where anyone can play the game and get advice about sexual/reproductive health.
  5. OPISMS. This startup is located in Côte d’Ivoire, established by four co-founders in 2012. It is an online tool that keeps track of vaccinations and sends out notifications for future vaccinations. Parents and medical professionals can easily verify and monitor vaccine administrations with the help of the electronic vaccination record. Also, users who sign up for the program can also get voicemail and SMS reminders. To sum it all up, the platform strives to improve mother and child health care and decrease childhood disease-related mortality.

Looking Ahead

These startups are committed to improving health in Africa through creativity, technology and innovation. Their continued work should only enhance the quality of health in Africa going forward.

– Elizaveta Medvedkina
Photo: Unsplash

Maternal and Child Health
USAID recently unveiled its Roadmap to 2030 for Maternal and Child Health and Nutrition, a plan that seeks to help countries reach the target date for completing part of their Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG 3) targets in 2023. USAID’s Roadmap to 2030 identifies areas where the agency can shift its work in order to help countries achieve certain targets for completing SDG 3, many of which poverty and access to basic needs directly impact.

Current Data

Globally, the under-five mortality rate (U5MR) has fallen according to UNICEF, and as of 2021 stands at 38 deaths for every 1,000 births. While some of USAID’s “target countries” have made tremendous progress in maternal and child health and are currently on track to meet some of their SDG 3 goals by 2030, many have not, according to the agency. In order to meet their SDG 3 goals, countries must meet four criteria by 2030 according to USAID:

  • A projected under-five mortality rate (U5MR) of ≤25.
  • A nation-specific projected maternal mortality ratio (MMR).
  • A projected neonatal mortality rate (NMR) of ≤12.
  • A projected postneonatal mortality rate (PNMR) of 13 for children under five.

Very few countries are on track to achieve some of these goals, according to the framework. Out of 24 target countries, six are on track to meet the U5MR target, and projections have indicated that three will meet their specific MMR target, three will meet their NMR target and 12 will meet their PNMR goal.

The Goal of the Roadmap

The self-stated main goal of USAID’s Roadmap to 2030 is to help put target countries on track to meet their SDG 3 targets and to “save lives, decrease morbidity and disability, and increase the potential of women, newborns, children, families, and communities to thrive.” Through a series of five intermediate results, the agency seeks to achieve some of the following in regard to maternal and child health:

  • Improve access to pre and postnatal care, as well as childcare.
  • Improve health care systems and providers’ ability to deliver high-quality care.
  • Support programs that work with local actors.
  • Continuing to improve the nutritional status of women and children, while also increasing access to water and sanitation.

Many of these proposed programs would combat the effects of poverty on child health, putting target countries closer to being on track to meeting SDG 3 in 2030.

Shifts in USAID’s Work

While significant worldwide progress has occurred toward achieving SDG 3, which seeks to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages,” the COVID-19 pandemic has threatened “decades of progress” toward achieving the goal, according to the United Nations. As a result of the pandemic, 22.7 million children did not receive basic vaccinations in 2020, putting children at significant risk of infection or death from preventable illnesses.

Due to the fact that many countries are at risk of not meeting some of their SDG 3 goals, USAID’s Roadmap to 2030 identified three areas where they can shift their current work in order to further assist these countries. One of these areas is in primary health care approaches, as the pandemic “underscored the need for more resilient systems,” according to USAID. On top of millions having missed essential vaccinations, the report also projected that 3.6 million children would experience growth stunts due to the disruption to global food systems in 2022 as a result of the lasting effects of the pandemic.

The other two areas are localization and private sector engagement, both of which the agency seeks to use in order to provide more local engagement in combating these issues — ensuring that progress toward the goals involves both local government and private sector participation. 

With COVID-19 having exposed flaws in some approaches to combating the effects of poverty on maternal and child health, USAID’s Roadmap to 2030 identifies and adjusts approaches in order to further combat these issues. With the pandemic on the back burner, this roadmap provides a much-needed “renewed sense of urgency” on the issue of maternal and child health and represents an effort to put countries back on track to meeting SDG 3 by 2030.

– Mohammad Samhouri
Photo: Unsplash

Health Crisis in South Sudan
The health crisis in South Sudan consists of unprecedented flooding, disease outbreak and a lack of food. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), maternal mortality ranges from 789 to 1,150 per 100,000 live births in South Sudan. Additionally, only about
41% of people have access to safe drinking water and only 11% can access adequate sanitation facilities. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) increased its efforts to provide the most vulnerable populations with basic health protections. Here are five ways UNICEF is solving the health crisis in South Sudan.

5 Ways UNICEF Is Solving The Health Crisis in South Sudan

  1. Disease ControlSouth Sudan is battling communicable diseases such as pneumonia, which has a 13% prevalence in the country, and malaria, which accounts for 35% of visits to the hospital. The health facilities in the country were destroyed and looted because of the previous conflicts, which further spread communicable diseases. However, UNICEF provided 174,577 people and 86,846 children with primary healthcare services. At the start of January 2022, 21 counties experienced a measles outbreak. In response, UNICEF and other partners organized a vaccination measles campaign for about 300,000 children ages six months to 15 years at the beginning of October 2022. These immunization efforts spread to children under one to stop the health crisis in South Sudan. 
  2. WASH ServicesThere are many people without water, sanitation and hygiene because of the yearly floods in various regions of South Sudan. Additionally, the previous conflicts in South Sudan destroyed the country’s most basic water and hygiene facilities. However, UNICEF provides safe drinking water to various communities in South Sudan by drilling boreholes and giving families purification tablets. There are additional services that UNICEF implemented in the country as well, such as the construction of bathrooms and the encouragement of washing hands to prevent the possible spread of diseases.
  3. Food and NutritionAccording to the Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) analysis, about 54% of the population in South Sudan lacks food. The health crisis in South Sudan continues with seven of the country’s states with severe food insecurity for 15% of the population. Data shows that 25,000 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition in some states. UNICEF provides nutrition services for the two most vulnerable populations: women and children. The organization treated 235,967 children (127,535 girls and 108,432 boys) with Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) by allocating resources towards inpatient and outpatient therapeutic programs, targeting 78% of the burden. Lastly, with feeding and counseling services, UNICEF reached 1,755,674 pregnant women or caregivers of children 0-23 months.
  4. Media Literacy – In October 2022, UNICEF increased its Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) efforts for Ebola. Through community engagement, UNICEF supported the National Malaria Control Program and launched the “Zero Malaria Starts with Me” campaign. Data demonstrates that UNICEF worked with the government to broadcast 18 talk shows and 1,674 radio jingles in eight languages more than 40 local radio stations, reaching more than 40% of the population. The broadcast messages educated the public about nutrition, immunization and infant diseases. Furthermore, educational materials for high-risk areas of illness or low health reached about 15,000 people. Lastly, UNICEF supported the Integrated Community Mobilization Network (ICMN), which included COVID-19 prevention information for 175,780 households and face-to-face interactions spreading scientifically accurate vaccine information to local communities for the health crisis in South Sudan.
  5. EducationThe health crisis in South Sudan is one of the worst in the world, especially for children. Furthermore, there is a maternal mortality rate for children under 5 of 135 per 1,000 live births. However, UNICEF is educating the local health workers in South Sudan. The organization provides local health workers with the necessary knowledge and tools to cure diseases in most rural communities. Additionally, there are essential drugs along with education to increase the complete eradication of dangerous and prevalent diseases.

The amount of work and effort UNICEF provides to various countries in need worldwide is insufficient to list it all. Whether through WASH services or food nutrition, the organization is helping to solve South Sudan’s major health problems. UNICEF demonstrates that intergovernmental humanitarian organizations are essential to the world’s global health.

– Andres Valencia
Photo: Flickr

RSV in Developing CountriesAs of 2022, pandemics such as COVID-19 and tuberculosis are still rampant around the world. But there is another respiratory virus called the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) that poses a risk, especially for those living in low-income countries and young children.

RSV in Developing Countries

RSV is a contagious virus that affects the lungs and breathing passages. The reason why RSV is not as well known is because its symptoms are the same as a cold. These include cough, a runny nose and fever. RSV can infect people of any age, but elderly people and children ages 2 and under are at the most risk of catching the virus. And much like the flu and COVID-19, it spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes when around others and touches surfaces and objects.

People infected with RSV may even develop severe infections such as pneumonia or bronchiolitis which is the inflammation of the small airways in the lungs. Despite the danger, however, RSV is preventable. People can protect themselves from infections by simply washing their hands with soap and hot water for 20 seconds, covering coughs and sneezes, wiping surfaces that have been frequently touched and maintaining distance.

With these simple prevention methods, one might be asking just why is RSV so dangerous. While cases of RSV can be mild and clear on their own, a person can be infected multiple times in their lifetime. Furthermore, for those with severe symptoms who lack access to health care services, the outcomes can be devastating.

The Importance of Medical Care

“A seasonal virus that emerges during the winter months” causes RSV. Infants are more at risk for catching RSV since they do not have immunity compared to adults. Not only that, but in recent months the virus has been surging and that is ironically due to the prevention protocols against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prevention methods such as social distancing, hand washing and mask-wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic helped to limit the spread of RSV. As a result, there have been no RSV infections over the past few years. That also means that there are two to three-year-olds who have no immunity to RSV. 

The situation is most worrisome when it comes to tackling RSV in developing countries. Many kids in low-income countries may also live in remote areas without access to medical assistance. “More than 95% of RSV deaths occur in low-income countries,” according to Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Unfortunately, a percentage of those who do survive may suffer from long-term health issues such as lung damage.

The Future

Currently, there is no known drug or vaccine for RSV. However, a vaccine to prevent RSV is in development by Pfizer who announced at the end of 2022 that its vaccine “showed an efficacy of 82% against hospitalization among infants under 90 days old and 69% among those younger than six months.”

The only challenge left is facilitating vaccine access to low-income countries. On that note, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced a grant to support the development of affordable multidose vials for delivery. The foundation is “optimistic that this vaccine could be available to low-income countries at an affordable price by 2024.”

– Aaron Luangkahm
Photo: Flickr