Sickle Cell Anemia in Sub-Saharan AfricaThere are a total of 46 countries that compose sub-Saharan Africa. These countries account for 75% of the total cases of sickle cell anemia. Due to the high concentration of this disease in one area of the globe, high rates of early mortality have devastated sub-Saharan Africa. Researchers estimate that 50-90% of infants born with the disorder will die by the age of 5. In response, methodologies have been developed in hopes of eradicating sickle cell anemia in sub-Saharan Africa.

Early Screening

It is crucial to provide screening for newborns in order to diagnose children with sickle cell anemia as early as possible. Early detection of the disease is proven to increase survival rates. In under-resourced communities, many children have died without ever being diagnosed. Early detection allows for the initiation of treatments, therapies, physician follow-ups and medical attention. Previously, diagnoses of patients happened through isoelectric focusing and liquid chromatography, but they have shown to be inaccurate and expensive. Now, there are “point-of-care” diagnostic methods available that are affordable and provide accurate results.

Vaccinations

A consequence of sickle cell disease (SCD) is an exponential increase in the transmission of bacterial infections. The main vaccination that has resulted in improvement for patients with sickle cell disease is penicillin prophylaxis. With the increased availability of penicillin and medical monitoring, mortality rates for patients with sickle cell anemia in sub-Saharan Africa will significantly decrease.

Treatment Therapies

Once diagnosed, there are numerous preventive and therapeutic measurements that can alleviate the symptoms of SCD. Data collected through years of research have proven that hydroxyurea is the most effective therapy for patients with SCD. In addition, proper hydration and nutritious supplements are key to curing non-critical patients. The most critical patients receive blood transfusions. Lastly, stem cell transplantations provide great improvements in SCD patients; however, its high cost often prevents utilization of this method.

Health Education

A simple method to increase the life expectancy of SCD patients is to provide accurate and useful information about the disease. Parents well-informed on this condition can properly identify symptoms their children display and can seek immediate medical attention. This leads to early detection so their child can receive necessary medications, therapies, vaccinations and treatments.

Global Advocacy

In recent years, more institutions have recognized the prevalence of sickle cell anemia in African and have shifted their focus to aiding those countries. The U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Gates Foundation created joint efforts in order to cultivate gene-based cures for both sickle cell disease and HIV.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and American Society of Hematology announced one of their priorities is to support the impoverished, disadvantaged countries across Africa in regard to sickle cell anemia. Also, the NHLBI Small Business Innovation research grant allowed for the utilization of the affordable, precise “point-of-care” diagnostic methods for SCD patients. Further advocacy for underprivileged, poor families is necessary to continue the fight in reducing sickle cell anemia in sub-Saharan Africa.

Despite its challenges, Africa has made major strides in improving sickle cell anemia in the last forty years. Continuing to utilize these methods would not only save vulnerable children, but their economy would flourish as well. A higher life expectancy has a direct correlation with an increase in projected lifetime incomes. This would result in more people contributing to their country’s economy and mobilizing their personal socioeconomic statuses. It is vital to take the above approaches to support patients with sickle cell anemia in sub-Saharan Africa.

Bolorzul Dorjsuren
Photo: Flickr

sex education in the PhilippinesThe general purpose of sex education is to inform youth on topics including sex, sexuality and bodily development. Quality sex education can lead to better prevention in STDs and unwanted pregnancy. Furthermore, it decreases the risks of having unsafe sex and increases responsible family planning. To help address issues, like overpopulation, high rates of teen pregnancy and the rise of HIV, the Philippines is gradually implementing sex education and accessibility to contraceptives.

Reproductive Health Act

The Philippines passed the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (RH Act) after a 14-year wait. Through the act, the government integrated sex education into the public school curriculum for students ages 10 to 19. The Philippines also gave funding for free or subsidized contraceptives at health centers and public schools.

The government passed the RH Act in response to the many health issues impacting the country, such as infant mortality, pregnancy-related deaths and a rise in HIV/AIDS cases. Moreover, teen pregnancies in the Philippines are common, where 9% of women between the ages of 15 and 19 start child bearing.

Lack of knowledge about reproductive health is significantly associated with poverty, especially in regard to overpopulation. Therefore, the RH Act aims to help the population make informed decisions about their reproductive health. It provides more equal access to sex education, while also ensuring that the government reaffirms its commitment to protecting women’s reproductive rights, providing accessible family planning information, and hiring skilled maternal health professionals to work in both urban and rural areas of the Philippines.

Opposition from the Catholic Church

Around 80% of the Philippine population identifies as Roman Catholic. Accordingly, the Catholic Church largely influences the state of sex education in the country. The Catholic Church opposes sex outside of marriage and fears sex education will increase sexual relations. The Catholic Church consequently remains critical of the RH Act, increasing difficulties in putting the RH Act into concrete action.

Additionally, the Catholic Church opposes implementing sex education in schools as well as the distribution of contraceptives. The Church prefers to rely on parents to teach their kids about reproductive health. However, many families are either unequipped to do so or will not address the subject directly with their children.

The Implementation of the RH Act

In an effort to reduce the country’s rate of poverty, Philippine President, Rodrigo Duerte, ordered the government to provide access to free contraceptives for six million women in 2017. Duerte aimed to fulfill unmet family planning needs. This came after a restraining order was placed on the RH Act in 2015. However, the government appealed to lift the restraining order to continue applying the RH Act and addressing issues due to overpopulation.

In 2019, Save the Children Philippines — an organization with the purpose of supporting Filipino children — advocated for the Teenage Pregnancy Prevention bill. The organization also fought for requiring schools to fully integrate Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) into their curriculum. Save the Children Philippines hopes to combat the country’s high rate of teen pregnancy. CSE in the Philippines includes topics such as consent, sexual violence, contraceptives and others. The bill would also advance access to reproductive health services, further supplementing the goals of the RH Act.

Increased Conversation Surrounding Sex Education

In addition to greater governmental action, there are various organizations that are working to increase access to sex education and services in the Philippines. The Roots of Health is a nongovernmental organization that provides sex education to women in Palawan and Puerto Princesa. Started in 2009, the founders, Dr. Susan Evangelista and Amina Evangelista Swanepoel, initially provided reproductive health classes at Palawan State University in Puerto Princesa and have since expanded into free clinical services for young women. The Roots of Health provides services that assist with birth, reproductive healthcare, contraceptives, prenatal and postpartum check-ups, and ultrasounds. By 2018, they served 20,000 women and adolescents in the Palawan and Puerto Princesa communities, demonstrating that there is a growing grassroots movement towards reframing reproductive health in the Philippines.

Sex education will remain a controversial subject in the Philippines. Nonetheless, it is a developing matter that is expected to evolve with continued conversations between governmental, faith and nongovernmental actors.

Zoë Nichols
Photo: Flickr

Innovations in the PhilippinesOver the past decade, there have been drastic innovations in the Philippines. The country has experienced dramatic economic growth and development. In 2019, the Global Innovation Index (GII) found that the country improved on all metrics used to calculate advancement.

Economic Growth

In 2019, the Philippines appeared for the first time in the “innovation achievers group.” The country outperformed many other countries in the area.  Some of the metrics used to calculate these scores included increased levels of creative exports, trademarks, high-tech imports and employed, highly educated women.

As a country, the Philippines has risen 19 spots in the ranking since 2018, to 54th out of 129 participating countries. This indicates a significant increase in the standard of living for many Filipinos. This is apparent in the significant decrease in the poverty rate over the past few years. From 2015 to 2018, the national poverty rate dropped a total of 6.7%, or by 5.9 million people.

Prosperity is largely due to the success of local business owners and entrepreneurs. They have used their influence and prosperity to help those in need in their communities and countries, especially in the health sector. Coincidingly, there was a significant increase in global trade. Both factors have propelled the Philippines into the global economy as an important emerging market to keep an eye on.

Global Benefits

In 2018, the Philippines and the United States trade relationship developed significantly. The total goods trade was $21.4 billion collectively, in the petroleum and coal, aerospace and computer software, motor vehicles and travel/hospitality sectors. This is beneficial to the U.S. because international trade employs over 39.8 million Americans. As the Philippines becomes more prosperous, more Filipinos are able to pour money and resources into helping marginalized communities across the country. As such, there has been an increase in innovations in the Philippines, notably in the health and medical sectors.

RxBox

A distinct industry on the frontlines of innovations in the Philippines is the health sector. Increased health for a population is directly related to better access to opportunity and a higher standard of living overall. One company doing this important work in the Philippines is RxBox.

RxBox was developed by the country’s Department of Science and Technology. It is a biomedical telehealth system that provides health care and diagnoses to people in communities that are remote, difficult to access. The service is additionally available for people who do not have access or the ability to travel for health care.

It is a game-changer for disadvantaged people who would otherwise not be able to get fast, effective medical care. RxBox reduces costly hospital and medical visits, which facilitates better health for people. Communities are then better able to care for themselves and for their families, providing greater opportunities for everybody.

Biotek M

There is another player in the innovations in the Philippines: Biotek M. It is a revolutionary diagnostic kit for Dengue. A local team at the University of the Philippines-Diliman were the creators of this new technology.

Traditionally, the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test is used to confirm the disease but can cost up to $8,000 and takes 24 hours to get results. That is inaccessible to lower-income people who are oftentimes the demographic most commonly afflicted by the dengue infection. The kit helps reduce resource usage for both medical centers and patients by making the diagnosis process significantly more streamlined.

In 2017, 131,827 cases of Dengue were recorded with 732 deaths, mostly affecting young children aged 5 to 9-years-old. Being able to quickly diagnose and treat people who contract this illness makes a huge impact on people living in poverty.

When people spend less time, energy and money on being healthy, they are able to use their resources more efficiently. In this way, medical innovations in Philippines and a growing economy directly increased the standard of living for people living in poverty within the country.

Noelle Nelson
Photo: Flickr

 Amref Health Africa
Amref Health Africa is a NGO based in Kenya that works to empower young Africans. They provide people with the skills necessary to become innovative and ethical leaders of Africa. The group created several leadership programs and research programs to renovate Africa. Their new program, LEAP, is a mobile phone training platform designed to train employees and students about health precautions and safety outside of the classroom setting.

Who is Amref Health Africa?

Amref Health Africa is an African led organization that works to train African workers. The NGO works to improve health care from the people in Africa while also strengthening health care systems. They partner with different organizations around the world to promote power and unity. Amref Health Africa currently collaborates with 22 global offices and 35 different programs in Africa to bolster health care efforts.

Through Amref Health Africa’s partnership with Accenture, Kentan Ministry of Health, M-Pesa Foundation, Safaricom and Mezzanine, LEAP — the mobile health learning application — was created. The application has allowed health care workers and students to work effectively outside of a classroom setting.

LEAP during the Pandemic

Recently, LEAP users employ the site to train in order to craft a COVID-19 response. The program instructs community health workers on how to raise awareness about the virus. LEAP also provides information on the best precaution methods for the community. Thanks to LEAP, health care workers have learned to take the necessary steps to promote safety and awareness in Africa. So far, over 78,000 community health workers and health workers have been trained and are using their education to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

In response to the pandemic, LEAP launched a two-month campaign in Kenya. Through the campaign,  health care workers were trained to identify, isolate and refer suspected COVID-19 cases. Participants were also taught how to identify high-risk areas and suppress the transmission of the disease.

Results

The app allows customization of the training content to fit the needs of the audience. It takes into consideration the skill level of the people using the app and modifications can be made to the language and audio section depending on user preference. LEAP allows personalization to ensure that the user has the best results with the program.

LEAP has strengthened the health care system in Africa by helping to stop the spread of the virus. The mobile training app also diminished the spread of misinformation on the virus. LEAP has provided Africa with the knowledge necessary to arm and defend themselves against COVID-19.

– Isha Bedi
Photo: Flickr

.Project C.U.R.E.
Dr. James Jackson, an international economic consultant, went on a trip to Brazil. While there, he visited an empty, under-equipped clinic near Rio de Janeiro. Inspired to help under-resourced parts of the world, he came back to Colorado to create Project C.U.R.E (Commission on Urgent Relief and Equipment). With a $50,000 donation from his friend, Dr. James Jackson founded his nonprofit in 1987. In just 30 days, he collected $250,000 worth of medical supplies — all in his garage. Now, his son, Dr. Douglas Jackson, runs Project C.U.R.E. as CEO and President. This article will explore how Project C.U.R.E. helps clinics worldwide by providing them with the necessary equipment.

Company Accomplishments

Project C.U.R.E. helps clinics and hospitals around the world by providing them with life-saving medical equipment and supplies. It has shipped 2,078 containers to 132 countries since June 2000. Since its inception over three decades ago, Project C.U.R.E. operations have expanded across the United States. Its distribution centers are located in Chicago, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Nashville and Phoenix. Additionally, small collection centers span multiple states. The organization has projects in countries such as Mexico, Nigeria, Uganda, Myanmar and the Dominican Republic.

In 2019, Project C.U.R.E. sent 145 containers to 42 countries with the help of nearly 30,000 volunteers. Forty-two global locations received 322 C.U.R.E. kits, and 12,624 patients received treatment at C.U.R.E. clinics in 2019 alone. From 2017 to 2018, the nonprofit trained 584 medical professionals in six different countries. In most of the countries that the nonprofit has worked in, people earn under $5 per day. People in these communities are often unable to afford basic health care and have a lower standard of living.

Methodology

Project C.U.R.E. does not go into these communities at random. It goes into areas that have suffered natural disasters or other desperate situations only after receiving an invite. Once someone identifies a “want,” someone from the organization personally visits the hospital and meets with the doctors for an 18-page need assessment. This need assessment ensures that Project C.U.R.E. can formulate a customized plan that specifically meets the needs of that hospital. After that, Project C.U.R.E. picks items out from the warehouses and ships them in containers from the distribution centers straight to the hospital.

The nonprofit delivers two to three cargo containers of medical supplies every week. With just $25, one can sponsor a delivery of a box of supplies with a $500 value to any country that Project C.U.R.E. does work in.

Partnership with AmerisourceBergen

Project C.U.R.E. works with the AmerisourceBergen Foundation, an American drug wholesale company that specializes in pharmaceutical sourcing and distribution services. Through this partnership, Project C.U.R.E. is able to make a positive impact on developing countries and their communities through improving access and quality of health care. Together, the partnership has gathered donations of medical equipment from medical facilities in the Chester County area. Distribution centers received the supplies for packaging and will eventually send them out to clinics all around the world.

Current Aid

Due to the pandemic, Project C.U.R.E. has shifted its focus to local needs. It packs and delivers personal protective equipment and ventilators to hospitals.

Yet, its mission remains the same: providing medical equipment and supplies to offer relief and critical resources to under-resourced communities. Project C.U.R.E. helps clinics so that they are able to perform safe medical procedures and offer quality health care to those most vulnerable.

Mizuki Kai
Photo: Flickr

tobacco in myanmarMillions of people worldwide use tobacco every day. Though tobacco usage has decreased in some countries, it still remains a significant public health concern for various populations. This is especially true for lower-income countries all over the globe. Myanmar is no exception. With the highest rate of tobacco usage in Southeast Asia, tobacco in Myanmar runs rampant with limited regulation.

The Feedback Loop: Tobacco and Poverty

Worldwide, 1.8 billion people smoke, with 84% of smokers from underdeveloped countries. The world’s poor are prone to spending their limited income on tobacco. However, smoking comes at a high opportunity cost. Money spent on tobacco could instead go toward food, education and health care. In countries such as Bangladesh, the poorest households spend 10 times more on tobacco than they would on education. In Mexico, the poorest 20% of households spend at least 11% of their income on tobacco. Overall, the world’s poor sacrifice significantly more of their income to satiate tobacco addiction than do richer households.

In addition to being a financial drain, tobacco also presents numerous health risks. Users of tobacco are at risk for cancer, respiratory diseases and heart problems. These illnesses create higher medical and insurance costs, which could cause households to spiral deeper into poverty.

Tobacco in Myanmar

Currently, around 1.6 million people in Southeast Asia die from tobacco-related illnesses each year. Myanmar currently has the region’s highest prevalence of tobacco use. Approximately 80% of men use tobacco in Myanmar. In this country alone, over 65,600 people die from tobacco-related diseases annually. Regardless of this risk, more than 5 million adults in Myanmar continue to use tobacco every day.

The lack of regulation of tobacco in Myanmar puts millions of individuals at risk of exposure to secondhand smoke. Currently, 13.3 million smokers and individuals exposed to secondhand smoke are at risk of developing tobacco-related diseases such as CVD (cerebrovascular disease). CVDs are one of the most common ways tobacco claims lives. They are also the leading cause of death in the country, contributing to 32% of all deaths.

Premature deaths have also greatly affected Myanmar’s economic growth, severely limiting income opportunities for the nation’s poor and middle-class families. In 2016, economic losses due to tobacco-related mortality were estimated at MMK 1.32 trillion. Overall, the economic loss caused by tobacco-related health complications places a huge strain on Myanmar. Most importantly, without explicit programming efforts, very few users have successfully quit tobacco in Myanmar.

So, What’s Next?

A number of efforts are looking to minimize the harmful effects of tobacco in Myanmar. For example, Myanmar’s government created various changes to its Tobacco Control Laws upon joining the World Health Organization’s FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) in 2005. Despite these changes to the law, however, there are insufficient funds for smoke-free enforcement in public spaces. Currently, smoking remains legal in pubs and bars, indoor offices and public transportation.

A comprehensive tobacco control program is therefore necessary to limit the prevalence of tobacco in Myanmar. Luckily, many organizations are willing to assist in this fight. The World Health Organization released plans for its Tobacco Control 2030 campaign, which includes Myanmar. It will be one of the 15 countries chosen to receive aid from the U.N. to support its battle against tobacco.

In 2019, the People’s Health Foundation also implemented a four-year plan to turn Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, completely smoke-free. This organization plans to raise public awareness of the dangers of smoking and passive smoking on various media platforms. The People’s Health Foundation also partnered with the Ministry of Health and Sports to minimize smoking and overall tobacco usage in the country. Already, the organization has converted regions including Ayeyarwady, Bago and Mon into smoking-free zones. While much work still remains, Myanmar these efforts to minimize the use of tobacco among its citizens are showing some signs of success. This provides hope that the epidemic of tobacco in Myanmar may soon end.

Vanna Figueroa
Photo: Flickr

Health and Human Rights of RefugeesOne of the most important factors in beating the coronavirus is ensuring that everybody has access to public health. According to The New Humanitarian, this has pushed numerous governments to double down on their efforts to protect the health and human rights of refugees, migrant workers and asylum seekers who may have not been able to afford access to these services pre-COVID.

In March as the worldwide outbreaks quadrupled and human rights organizations around the world urged governments the dangers the coronavirus would impose on refugees and asylum seekers. The World Health Organization, the UNHCR and several other organizations put out a joint press release that pressured governments to release migrants and undocumented individuals from immigration detention centers as well as include them in public health relief efforts. Here are three countries that have prioritized protecting the health and human rights of refugees during COVID-19. They show that these policies could be sustained even beyond the crisis.

Countries Protecting the Health and Human Rights of Refugees During COVID-19

  1. Italy: Italy has one of the highest infection rates with 238,159 confirmed cases and 34,514 deaths. Italy’s fields have also attracted migrant workers from Eastern Europe. On May 13, the Italian government passed an amnesty law allowing around 200,000 migrant workers and undocumented refugees to apply for healthcare and 6-month legal residency permits. The downside of this new step is that the bill only applies to agricultural workers, leaving out many of the workers in the informal sector who perform labor in construction or food services.
  2. Portugal: Migrants and asylum seekers in Portugal with applications that are still in process are now being granted early access to public services that include welfare, rental contracts, bank accounts and national health service. Claudia Veloso, the spokesperson for Portugal’s chapter of the Ministry of International Affairs, told Reuters that “people should not be deprived of their rights to health and public service just because their application has not been processed yet.”
  3. Brazil: Brazil has the highest rate of outbreaks second to the United States, and President Jair Bolsonaro has continuously dismissed the severity of the virus and failed to respond effectively to outbreaks. So, it has fallen to local community organizations, donors and local authorities to enforce these regulations and double down on the effort to get everybody treated. The Paraisópolis community group started running a quarantine center in partnership with health workers, NGOs and medical centers. The center has around 240 volunteers monitoring the health of at least 50 families at a time. It acquired sanitation supplies and personal protection equipment through crowdfunding. The group is providing food and medical aid to undocumented migrants.

Amnesty International stated that in order to fix the refugee crisis “the world urgently needs a new, global plan based on genuine international cooperation and a meaningful and fair sharing of responsibilities.” Policy experts are hopeful that these new policies will help governments to consider new possibilities for a more humane approach to helping displaced migrants and asylum seekers in the future. The health and human rights of refugees need to be protected.

Isabel Corp
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous Peoples
Indigenous peoples in Canada have roots in poverty tracing back to the 19th and 20th centuries. They had to relocate to small plots of land called reserves where destruction of their traditional way of life “combined with the poorly organized set-up of reserves resulted in impoverishment for those on the reserves.”

In Canada, 25% of Indigenous peoples live in poverty with 40% of those living under the poverty line being Indigenous children. Many Indigenous peoples died due to lack of shelter, adequate food, access to health care and lack of federal relief services. Today, Indigenous communities continue to suffer at the hands of institutionalized colonial violence.

Housing Inequalities

Several cross-country reserves have declared a State of Emergency due to poor living conditions. Statistics deemed only 56.9% of homes on reserves adequate in 2000 and 43% unsafe and in need of repairs in 2016. In 2016, both reserve shelters and Inuit homes qualified as overcrowded — 28% and 30% respectively.

Some Indigenous people moved off of reserves and into urban centers. Even there, they continued to face economic struggles. Indigenous peoples are twice as likely to live in poverty in comparison to non-Indigenous folk. In 1995, 55.6% of Aboriginal people in urban centers lived in poverty. Meanwhile, in 2003, 52.1% of Indigenous children lived in poverty.

Income Disparities

Impoverishment within the Indigenous community has resulted in fewer on-reserve schools, rising illiteracy and rising unemployment. Indigenous households making an income below $20,000 represented almost 20% of the entire Canadian population; whereas, non-Indigenous homes only represented 9.9%.

Non-Indigenous folk in lower-income homes have a 12.9% outcome of people with major depressive episodes. Meanwhile, Indigenous folk in lower-income homes had a 21.4% outcome — almost double. The values for higher incomes families are much closer; 6.3% for non-Indigenous and 7.7% for Indigenous.

Health Inequities

The Well-Being Index determined that First Nation and Inuit communities ranked on average 20 points lower than non-Indigenous communities. Despite being only 4% of the Canadian population, Indigenous people make up 14% of the population relying on food banks. Smoking and lung cancer statistics also show an overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples. Lower-income Indigenous households reported daily smoking levels at 48.8%.

The lowest-income Indigenous populations also experience disproportionate difficulties in accessing health care. Popular barriers are that Indigenous peoples are “unable to arrange transportation (19.6%); not covered by Non-Insured health benefits (NIHB) (18.4%); could not afford transportation costs (14.6%); prior approval by NIHB denied (14.2%); could not afford the cost of care, service (11.4%).”

Aid

Many community activists and grassroots organizations work tirelessly to help support the Indigenous communities in Canada. Dismantling generational poverty is another focus of activists and organizations. True North Aid is just one of those in the fight for Indigenous peoples in Canada.

True North Aid has decades’ worth of experience. It has an advisory council of four Indigenous Elders, partners and a Board of Directors with over 35 years of experience. Under such leadership, the organization successfully raises awareness for Indigenous struggles. Additionally, it provides home reconstruction aid, water purification technologies and health care aid to Indigenous communities in Canada.

Activists and organizations supporting Indigenous peoples are imperative in the fight to end poverty for Indigenous people. Indigenous communities suffer disproportionately and need advocacy and action.

– Jasmeen Bassi 
Photo: Flickr

Psychiatric hospital Skopje, Macedonia
Healthcare in Macedonia utilizes a mixture of a public and private healthcare system. All residents are eligible to receive free state-funded healthcare and have the option of receiving private healthcare for treatments that the public system does not cover. Public healthcare in Macedonia often comes with long wait times and although public hospitals have basic medical supplies, they do not have specialized treatments. For these specialized treatments, residents typically seek private treatment where they must pay out of pocket or buy private insurance on top of their free healthcare.

Improvements in Overall Health

North Macedonia did not become a part of NATO until 2019, and still has not received admission into the E.U. As a result, its healthcare system has developed slower than member countries. Despite this, North Macedonia has shown growth in overall health. The introduction of private healthcare allowed residents to seek a wider range of treatments and cut down wait times. Life expectancy has grown from 71.7 years in 1991 to 75.1 years in 2010. However, this is still lower than the E.U.’s average life expectancy which is 80.2.  Although life expectancy has grown, North Macedonia’s infant mortality rate is still above average.

North Macedonia reached a European record of 14.3 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2015. To compare, the average mortality rate in Europe for 2015 was 5.2 deaths per 1,000 live births. The high infant mortality rate is likely the result of outdated equipment at public health facilities and a shortage of qualified health workers. Only 6.5% of North Macedonia’s GDP goes towards healthcare, and therefore healthcare in Macedonia is often reliant on outside donations. These conditions have caused health workers to leave the Macedonian healthcare system in search of better working conditions. The health ministry has worked to purchase new equipment as well as increase the amount of qualified staff in public hospitals by hiring more workers. Today, the infant mortality rate in North Macedonia is 10.102 deaths per 1,000 births. This is an improvement, and hopefully, with continued programs, the numbers will continue to decrease. Organizations such as Project HOPE and WHO have already made a direct impact on Macedonia’s healthcare system.

Organizations Combating Infant Mortality

Project HOPE has donated over $80 million worth of medicines, medical supplies and medical equipment to hospitals throughout North Macedonia since 2007. Starting in 2017, most of these donations went to hospitals specializing in infant care. Project HOPE also provides training for healthcare workers so they can adapt to the updated equipment. The current drop in the infant mortality rate is due to these donations that allow hospitals to buy updated equipment and retain healthcare workers through training. There is only one hospital in North Macedonia that accepts low birth-rate and premature babies, University Clinical Center at Mother Theresa. Therefore, Project HOPE’s donation has greatly lessened the burden on this hospital to care for infants. Since Project HOPE implemented this program, the number of deliveries at Mother Theresa has increased by 40%.

WHO has also assisted North Macedonia in developing a new 2020 healthcare plan for infants and mothers. This plan would link healthcare facilities in the country and classify them by level of service to ensure everyone is receiving the appropriate care. It should also improve transportation between hospitals to increase the continuity of care between locations. This shared communication and learning between healthcare facilities is imperative since there are only nine hospitals in Macedonia for 2.08 million people and seven of those hospitals are in the country’s capital, Skopje. Increasing transportation and communication will ensure that those living outside of the capital are receiving quality healthcare. Slowly but surely with these new policies in place, North Macedonia’s infant mortality rate will continue to drop.

Rae Brozovich
Photo: Flickr

South African PovertyThe battle against poverty has always been a difficult one, but the novel coronavirus pandemic has presented many new challenges. Actions currently being taken to combat South African poverty and COVID-19 have proven that, with new options and renewed commitments, there is still much that can be done to alleviate poverty. Impoverished people around the world need aid now more than ever.

An Ongoing Struggle

Historically, South Africa has struggled to aid its most economically vulnerable citizens. According to the most recent government analysis, almost half of the adult population is living under the poverty line—an alarming figure. It seems apparent that this South African poverty crisis would be seen on nearly every level of society. Sadly, this widespread poverty has had a notable impact on which necessary resources are available to people. While electricity infrastructure is fairly widespread, between 28% and 30% of poor households lack access to water and sanitation services. As is relatively common in cases of inequality, the most vulnerable frequently lack access to basic necessities, making their struggles far more urgent.

COVID-19 Developments

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic is poised to exacerbate South African poverty. The World Bank has predicted that while the pandemic will increase poverty worldwide, the hardest-hit region will be Sub-Saharan Africa. Although South Africa has been relatively spared from the worst of COVID-19 on a health level, the poverty-inducing effects of the pandemic are daunting—it is projected that some 23 million South Africans will be pushed into poverty in 2020. Beyond the immediate tragedy, this decline will present new challenges. In order to protect them, governments will need to find new ways to offer meaningful support throughout the crisis.

Innovation Brings Hope

Fortunately, the government of South Africa has begun to take steps to properly aid its impoverished citizens during this time. They have rolled out a new, easily accessible digital tool called HealthCheck in order to provide self-assessment resources. Members of the public can download the program, which will ask them a few simple questions and then provide a COVID-19 risk prediction along with a pertinent guideline and suggested actions.

While HealthCheck is designed to be available to the entirety of the South African populace, it aids low-income South Africans in particular. Although only a third of the population uses smartphones, feature phones enjoy more widespread use, so a lack of hardware is not necessarily an issue. For many impoverished people in South Africa—and across the world—receiving the proper healthcare needed to determine a risk of infection may be difficult or outright impossible.

Partnerships Increase Access

To further alleviate this issue, the South African government has coordinated with network operators MTN, Vodacom and Telekom, to have facilitate free access to the USSD line. This way, South Africans who could not typically afford cellular or wi-fi services can make use of the HealthCheck tool. As a matter of fact, they have—authorities have reported that so far, over one million members of the public have used HealthCheck.

The digital tool has been utilized in conjunction with NGOs like Doctors Without Borders.  The NGO has worked to fill the gap in fighting South African poverty by creating impromptu field hospitals in otherwise-ignored townships. In Khayelitsha, it has opened up 70 additional beds in a basketball arena in order to serve as many people as possible in the area. This was part of a broader government plan to have over 1,400 extra beds ready as needed. Providing aid such as this is an important part of the battle against poverty.

Just a Start

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the growth of the continental African economy, and threatens its growing middle class. Across the entire continent, nearly eight million people are predicted to fall into poverty, in many cases due to the lack of a social safety net. By providing essential resources, NGOs like Doctors Without Borders are working to limit the economic burden that falls on the South African populace.

While it’s just a start in terms of supporting the impoverished population, these initiatives have clearly provided accessible ways for low-income citizens to keep themselves and their loved ones safe and healthy. There are still many hurdles to overcome in the fight against South African poverty, but these recent initiatives have shown that we can still work to effectively aid the poor.

Aidan O’Halloran
Photo: Flickr