Inflammation and stories on healthcare

Eye Care and COVID-19
Globally, more than 1 billion need eyeglasses but do not have them. VisionSpring is an organization that recognizes that the lack of access to eye care worldwide highlights the link between poverty and vision impairment. To improve the situation, VisionSpring provides eyeglasses for individuals who need them the most. Currently, the organization fights the lack of access to eye care in the world in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seeing the Connection Between Poverty and Eye Care

Poor eye health and poverty link in a feedback loop. Poverty can worsen eye health due to lack of resources, and worsened eye health can cause or intensify poverty. For example, estimates have determined that vision impairments like cataracts and trachoma are more prevalent in impoverished communities due to missing clean water access and overcrowded environments. Once individuals become significantly vision-impaired or blind, they are not able to access beneficial opportunities as easily.

Subsequently, people with compromised eye health or eye disabilities are negatively affected in multiple aspects of their normal lives. This impacts a wide range, including employment, health, education, material wealth, social prosperity and access to aid. In summary, poor eye health lowers a person’s quality of life, especially if that person is or already was in poverty. Now more than ever, this issue draws attention as the quality of life worsens for those experiencing poverty due to inadequate eye care and COVID-19.

VisionSpring’s Intentions and Influence

VisionSpring’s mission is to provide eyeglasses to those who need them. Eyeglasses are instrumental in furthering social, economic, educational and personal advancement. Proper eyeglasses can correct about half of the world’s vision impairment problems. Supplying vision-challenged individuals with eyeglasses can boost their productivity up to 32%, which in turn can allow them to have greater opportunities for income.

Giving students the eyeglasses they need can increase their learning gains by up to one full additional year of school. VisionSpring aims to make these empowering changes in peoples’ lives. It specifically focuses on providing eyeglasses for people in new or growing markets, typically living on less than $4 a day. The organization does this through a mix of revenue, generated by “high-volume low-margin sales,” and philanthropic contributions.

For every $4-5 donation, VisionSpring can give one pair of glasses to someone struggling to see, which can then translate into an average 20% growth in their income. VisionSpring has screened millions of people for vision correction, including garment workers, students, drivers and more.

Over the years, the organization provided 6.8 million pairs of corrective eyeglasses in 24 countries. It has seen an increase in productivity between 22-32% among those receiving eyeglasses and witnessed $1.4 billion in economic influence. Despite all this momentum, however, VisionSpring’s global service slowed in 2020 due to the pandemic. It is now navigating the process of tackling eye care and COVID-19.

VisionSpring Through a COVID-19 Lens

Eye care and COVID-19 alleviation fit together under VisionSpring’s scope of action. Although it has scaled back efforts to provide eye care services in the midst of COVID-19, VisionSpring has ramped up its efforts to serve in other ways.

“Because our eye screening work intersects with community health workers, hospitals, government health ministries, supply chain providers, and the manufacturing sector, we have built in capabilities that have been helpful in the COVID-19 response,” said VisionSpring in a statement.

Accordingly, it established multiple “COVID-19 response goals.” These include obtaining and sending two million units of PPE, including goggles, face shields, gowns, masks and more, to health workers VisionSpring has an association with. Additionally, VisionSpring intends to provide 250,000 cloth masks to people and health centers in low income communities to curb the spread of COVID-19. It has employed and commissioned people it works closely with in the garment industry to make these masks.

VisionSpring also works to deliver 300,000 food and hygiene care kits to people who need them due to lockdowns. In particular, it has targeted transportation drivers, migrant workers and others with the kits and is working to implement handwashing stations outside health facilities in communities it is present in.

VisionSpring’s Impact During the Pandemic

As of December 2020, VisionSpring delivered over 2.1 million units of PPE, exceeded its cloth mask distribution goal by a factor of two and sent out about 304,000 kits to communities. At the same time, due to limitations, the organization scaled back its eye screening services because it lacked the ability to conduct them while social distancing.

VisionSpring CEO Ella Gudwin says VisionSpring plans to return to its full services with a priority on reading glasses due to current specializations and COVID-19 safety precautions. Through VisionSpring’s efforts, past, present and planned, it shows a commitment to the wellbeing of people and communities it serves. By working to maintain priorities and expand impact, VisionSpring strengthens both vision and economic capabilities for individuals, even in challenging times.

Claire Kirchner
Photo: Flickr

Formative SupervisionWith a population of about 30 million, many Angolans do not have access to adequate healthcare. The limited access to quality healthcare is due to decreased funding due to the Angolan Government’s budget restrictions. The lack of funding affects the quality of public healthcare which people can receive at no cost. The public healthcare sector in Angola does not have enough healthcare providers with proper training and resources. The lack of resources in healthcare reflects in the low ratio of about one health center per 25,000 people and more than 50% of people are without access to healthcare services. In recent years, USAID’s Health for All project, using the Health Network Quality Improvement System (HNQIS), has implemented formative supervision in Angola. Implementing formative supervision in Angola has shown to improve the quality of healthcare by increasing the number of healthcare providers with proper training.

USAID’s Health for All Project

USAID’s Health for All program is a five-year project that began in 2017. It works with the Angolan Government to help improve the quality and access to healthcare in the country. The project’s focus is on addressing the issues of malaria and reproductive health since those are two of the main health concerns affecting the people of Angola. With the current funding being at $63 million, the program has been able to train 1,489 health professionals on how to diagnose and treat malaria and created reproductive health services in 42 health facilities.

The program’s use of formative supervision in Angola has helped in educating and providing healthcare workers with the necessary tools to effectively care for patients. The Health Network Quality Improvement System is the main tool that USAID uses to help improve the quality of healthcare because the system is used to evaluate the performance of individual healthcare providers. By tracking the performance of the healthcare providers in Angola, USAID can more easily determine which areas of the healthcare system need improvement. Under the Health for All program, USAID has been using formative supervision with healthcare providers who specifically tend to cases of malaria and reproductive health.

The Benefits of Formative Supervision

From October 2019 to March 2020, the Health for All project recorded improvements in the quality of healthcare through the use of formative supervision in 276 out of 360 Angolan health facilities with prenatal services. In addition to tracking the performance in maternal and reproductive health, the supervision has also helped in finding the areas in which the management of malaria has been lacking. There are now about 1,026 health providers that have been properly trained in managing malaria cases as a result of the project. This has in turn indirectly improved the quality of care regarding maternity since malaria causes 25% of maternal deaths in Angola.

Besides increasing the amount of funding that goes toward healthcare, the Health for All project has used such funding to be more interactive with healthcare facilities through the use of formative supervision in Angola. Formative supervision has shown to drastically improve the quality of care in the areas of malaria and reproductive health as supervision allows trained health officials to identify and fix integral issues pertaining to healthcare in Angola.

Zahlea Martin
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in ColombiaColombia’s healthcare system is not perfect but it also far from inadequate. Located in the northernmost part of South America, Colombia has estimable healthcare provision for the country’s people. With both public and private insurance plans, reputable facilities and well-equipped healthcare providers, Colombia sets an example of what sufficient healthcare looks like in a developing country. To understand this better, it is necessary to know some key facts about healthcare in Colombia.

7 Facts About Healthcare in Colombia

  1. Healthcare in Colombia ranked 22nd out of 191 healthcare systems in overall efficiency, according to the World Health Organization. For perspective, the United States, Australia, Canada and Germany ranked 37th, 32nd, 30th and 25th respectively.
  2. Colombia’s healthcare system covers more than 95% of its population.
  3. Indigenous people are considered a high-risk population due to insufficient access to healthcare in indigenous communities in Colombia. Specifically, they are more vulnerable to COVID-19 due to this lack of healthcare access and significant tourist activities in indigenous regions increase the risk of spread. Robinson López, Colombian leader and coordinator for Coordinadora de las Organizaciones Indígenas de la Cuenca Amazónica (COICA), said in March 2020 that tourism in indigenous territories in Latin America should stop immediately to curb the spread of COVID-19.
  4. There are inequities in the utilization of reproductive healthcare by ethnic women in Colombia, according to a study. Self-identified indigenous women and African-descendant women in the study had considerably less likelihood of having an adequate amount of prenatal and postpartum care.
  5. The Juanfe Foundation is a Colombian-based organization that promotes the physical, emotional and mental health of vulnerable and impoverished adolescent mothers and their children. So far, the organization has supported more than 250,000 people. The Juan Felipe Medical Center served 204,063 individuals — 20% of the population in Cartagena, Colombia. The organization also saved the lives of 4,449 infants through its Crib Sponsoring Program.
  6. In 2019, four of the top 10 hospitals in Latin America were in Colombia and 23 of the top 55, according to América Economía.
  7. Colombia secured nine million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson in December 2020. Combined with the doses it will receive from Pfizer, AstraZeneca Plc, COVAX and other finalizing deals, Colombia will be able to vaccinate 35 million people within its population of 49.65 million, striding toward herd immunity.

Recognizing Colombia’s Healthcare System

Simultaneously recognizing the current inequities and challenges alongside the positives in Colombia’s healthcare system is the true key to understanding it and the individuals depending on it overall. Despite attention-worthy deficits, healthcare in Colombia stands out in Latin America and in the world as high quality, widespread and respectable. The country’s healthcare is contributing to the well-being of many and the future ahead looks promising.

Claire Kirchner
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Ghana
Healthcare in Ghana has many levels to it. There are three primary levels: national, regional and district. Within these, there are different types of providers: health posts, health centers/clinics, district hospitals, regional hospitals and tertiary hospitals. On average, Ghana spends 6% of its gross domestic product on healthcare, and the quality of healthcare varies by region. Here are four facts about healthcare in Ghana.

4 Facts About Healthcare in Ghana

  1. Ghana has a public insurance system. In 2003, Ghana made the switch from the “cash and carry” system to public insurance. The “cash and carry” health system required patients to pay for their treatments before receiving care. Because of this process, few people were able to afford treatment. In response, the government established the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). This system provides wide coverage, covering 95% of the diseases that affect Ghana. The coverage includes treatment for malaria, respiratory diseases, diarrhea and more. Between 2006 and 2009, the proportion of the population registered to NHIS increased by 44%
  2. Child mortality rates have decreased. Data from 2019 showed that 50 out of 1000 babies die before the age of five. While this may appear unsettling at first, the twice as high a few decades earlier. In low-income communities, there is a higher risk of death because of limited access to healthcare. To help prevent this, the NHIS provides maternity care, including cesarean deliveries. In the 1990s, Dr. Ayaga Bawah began a study to provide healthcare in rural areas to see if it would decrease mortality rates. Between 1995 and 2005, the study showed that when qualified nurses were working in communities, there was an equal distribution of child mortality throughout the country, rather than mostly in rural communities.
  3. Access to health services has increased. In rural communities, health posts are the primary healthcare providers. A 2019 study found that 81.4% of the population had access to primary healthcare in Ghana, while 61.4% have access to secondary-level, and 14.3% to tertiary care. Despite these relatively high rates of accessibility, approximately 30% of the population has to travel far to access primary facilities or see a specialist. To increase access to services, Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, stated in June 2020 that he intended to build 88 more district hospitals.
  4. More and more scientists are being trained. Throughout Africa, scientists are being trained to improve research and the dissemination of information. The World Economic Forum has pushed for research in programs such as Human Health and Heredity in Africa. This program is dedicated to helping local institutes manage the diseases and conditions that affect its area. Another group, H3-D, trains scientists in many African countries, including Ghana, to focus on conditions that are prevalent in Africa, such as malaria, tuberculosis and cardiovascular disease.

These four facts about healthcare in Ghana illuminate the progress that has been made, as well as the work that still needs to be done. While healthcare has improved, the government must take more steps to increase accessibility for all throughout the country. With a continued focus on healthcare, Ghana will hopefully continue to provide more communities with health services.

Sarah Kirchner
Photo: Flickr

Disability and Poverty in Lebanon
According to a U.K. study, 10-15% of Lebanese residents have a disability. In Lebanon, like many places around the world, a direct link between disability and poverty exists. Disabled individuals in Lebanon are less likely to complete elementary school and more likely to face unemployment and poverty than the abled population. As a result, disability is one of the leading causes of institutionalization in Lebanon. Here is some information about disability and poverty in Lebanon.

In the Context of COVID-19

The Lebanese government has recently come under fire for providing disabled individuals with little, conflicting or no information regarding the virus. Aya Majzoub, a Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that “This exclusion is robbing people with disabilities of potentially life-saving information and services that they need to weather this crisis.” Restricting access to this information limits the ability of those with disabilities to social distance and access resources, as they must rely on word-of-mouth to make important safety decisions. This puts Lebanon’s disabled population at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, simply due to the fact that they do not have the information necessary to protect themselves.

However, even if the Lebanese government decided to give the disabled population accurate information, there is no guarantee that they would have the technology necessary to receive it. Although international law dictates that governments must use technologies such as interactive voice response and TTY/TDD to provide information in accessible formats, not everyone may be able to afford the technology necessary to receive those messages.

UNICEF and other NGOs have produced accessible materials for people with disabilities to gain accurate information regarding COVID-19.

Medical Care

People with disabilities in Lebanon cannot always access medical care. In an American University of Beirut study of disabled Lebanese citizens and refugees living in Lebanon, 78.5% said that financial ability was a barrier to health care.

Arceniel, a Lebanese nonprofit founded in response to the high number of disabilities caused by the Lebanese Civil Wars, provides pay-what-you-can health care. Specializing in disability care, the organization provides mobility equipment, specialized therapies, clinician visits and other resources.

Education

By law, all government buildings, including public schools must be accessible. However, a study found that only five of all Lebanese public schools were accessible. As a result, 85% of individuals with disabilities did not complete the Lebanese equivalent of elementary school.

During this time of working and studying from home, children with cognitive disabilities who rely on in-person learning to grasp material have experienced a significant impact. Fista, a Lebanese organization that works with children and adults with cognitive disabilities, moved its entire program online. Children with cognitive disabilities can now access instructors and therapists to continue their education toward bright futures.

Workplace Inequity

Law 220, a hopeful measure from the year 2000, set a quota for the percentage of disabled employees in a company. However, the lack of physical accessibility to most Lebanese buildings makes meeting that quota improbable, if not impossible. Moreover, the government rarely enforces Law 220’s quota at all, leaving prospective disabled employees with few employment options. As a result, 74% of the disabled population does not have employment.

According to the Lebanese Physical Handicapped Union (LPHU)’s estimate, of disabled individuals who are capable of working, only 26% have employment. The union seeks to change that. LPHU offers on-the-job training, job placement, advocacy, business development services and counseling to those with physical disabilities.

Disability access is an issue in all countries around the world. Although the Lebanese government has taken legislative actions to improve the lives of the disabled population, enforcement of these laws for schools, workplaces and government outreach programs is lacking. The Lebanese government can and must do better to create accessible environments for its disabled population and reduce the link between disability and poverty in Lebanon.

– Monica McCown
Photo: Flickr

Côte d’Ivoire Health Care
Côte d’Ivoire health care has faced challenges in recent years and even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a 2020 Helen Keller International report, Moriame Sidibé, a mom and homemaker from northern Côte d’Ivoire was a “Vitamin A Hero” because every six months for the past three years she spent three full days walking door to door and village to village to give young children Vitamin A and deworming pills. Sidibé faced challenges because sometimes she needed to convince mothers of the importance and safety of the pills, coax the children to swallow the pills and mark the children’s fingers with black ink so she would not accidentally give them a second pill.

Sidibé left her own four young children to do this, but it was worth it to her because she has training as a community health volunteer who is part of a collaboration between the Ivorian government, Helen Keller International, the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Nutritional International fighting the extreme form of malnutrition in children called micronutrient deficiency or “hidden hunger.”

The Situation

Twenty-five percent of Ivorian children get enough calories, but not foods with sufficient Vitamin A, zinc, iodine or iron.  That “hidden hunger” puts one in four Ivorian children at risk of blindness, impaired brain development and some fatal infections. Deworming pills kill the parasites that prevent children from absorbing micronutrients including Vitamin A, and together the deworming pills and the Vitamin A can save children’s lives. In December 2019, the campaign reached 5 million children or 98% of all Ivorian children, an incredible accomplishment of a ministry of health working with international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and trained community health volunteers.

Côte d’Ivoire, the West African nation of 25 million, enjoyed a strong 8% average GDP growth between 2011 and 2018. According to the World Bank, the country had one of the strongest economies in sub-Saharan Africa due to an expanded middle class that supported demand in industry, agriculture and services. The Côte d’Ivoire health care indicators, however, lagged behind other less-developed nations, and in 2018, Côte d’Ivoire ranked 165 of 189 countries on the U.N. Human Development Index.

As noted in a 2020 Oxford Business Group report, planned increases in health care spending should improve these indicators. Côte d’Ivoire spent $1.8 billion on health care in 2016, $2 billion in 2019 and intends to spend $2.3 billion in 2021. The country invested in access to services, renovation and building of medical facilities, and development of technical platforms aligned with international health standards. The Ivorian government worked with a number of programs like the Helen Keller International Vitamin A Heroes; however, then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Despite COVID, Côte d’Ivoire Health Care Initiatives Regroup to Persevere

Based on the World Health Organization COVID-19 transmission guidance, the Vitamin A Heroes collaboration discontinued its door-to-door campaign. Nevertheless, during the pandemic, the campaign has resolutely distributed Vitamin A and deworming pills at local health clinics when children come with their families for other reasons. Once the pandemic subsides, it will renew its crucial Vitamin A Heroes campaign.

Predicted to Rebound Post COVID and Target Health Care

Côte d’Ivoire’s pre-COVID targeted investment in health care services, facilities and technical innovation gives Côte d’Ivoire health care a positive outlook according to the Oxford Business Group report. The International Monetary Fund predicts that Côte d’Ivoire’s GDP growth will climb back up to 8.7% in 2021 as the new investment in Côte d’Ivoire health care parallels the successful investment in other sectors.

Moving Forward, Côte d’Ivoire to Roll Out Planned Health Care Initiatives

One example of a Côte d’Ivoire health care collaboration of governmental, NGO and local organizations that launched during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 is Harness the Power of Partnerships. Harness the Power of Partnerships is a Côte d’Ivoire health care initiative to use faith-based organizations in the HIV response. Faith-based leadership is working with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) on long-term strategies to reduce the stigma of HIV/AIDS and to keep Ivorians on their antiretroviral therapies. This PEPFAR/UNAIDS program exemplifies how the Ivorian government continues to partner with non-government groups, including local groups, in order to improve Côte d’Ivoire health care indicators.

Improving Côte d’Ivoire health care will not be an easy task, but creating collaborations with international powerhouses like PEPFAR, UNAIDS, Helen Keller International and local nonprofits and community leaders is definitely a strategy worth watching as COVID-19  subsides and the Ivorian economy rebounds.

– Shelly Saltzman
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Poverty Eradication in Dominica
In a significant step towards poverty eradication, the Caribbean country of Dominica is using the funds it garnered through a program called Citizenship by Investment (CBI) in order to become the world’s first climate-resilient nation. This effort would both prepare the island for the future while addressing poverty in the present. Dominica’s poverty rate is 39%, higher than that of neighboring countries, due in large part to its economy’s reliance on banana exports, an industry that extreme weather events increasingly impact. In the wake of Hurricane Maria in 2017, the government committed to the construction of affordable, weather-resistant housing that strengthens the social safety net, the expansion of its health care infrastructure and the support of its jobs program, all with CBI funding. Here are seven facts about CBI and poverty eradication in Dominica.

7 Facts About CBI and Poverty Eradication in Dominica

  1. CBI: International Investment, Local Impact: CBI issues citizenship in exchange for monetary investment. According to the Financial Times, Dominica’s CBI program is the best in the world. It is relatively affordable at $100,000, efficient due to Dominica’s experience in administering the program and has a commitment to integrity, thoroughly vetting the source of every cent that goes to the country. Recipients enjoy the business and travel opportunities that having a second citizenship affords them while the issuing country is able to invest the revenue at the local level. Though the program has been in place in Dominica since 1993, it has only recently become the primary source of the climate-resilient investments that are helping to progress poverty eradication in Dominica. This shift in focus follows the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
  2. The Storm that Changed the Face of the Island. Hurricane Maria made landfall in Dominica, aptly known as “The Nature Island,” on Sept. 18, 2017. Winds reaching up to 160 mph battered the island, triggering landslides, destroying infrastructure, washing away crops and either razing or damaging an estimated 90% of homes, left tens of thousands of people without a roof over their head. The prime minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, took to Facebook to announce that the hurricane blew his own roof off his residence in an effort to draw attention to the crisis as it was still ongoing. When the storm abated, the government endeavored to put the CBI funds, and the people of Dominica, back to work.
  3. The Housing Revolution. In September 2018, one year following Hurricane Maria, Dominica partnered with the Montreal Management Consultants Establishment (MMCE) to build homes across the island. As of September 2020, this initiative, known as “Housing Revolution,” has built over 1,000 affordable, weather-resistant homes, with plans to ultimately construct a total of 5,000 of these units. CBI funds support the program entirely.
  4. An Emphasis on Community. The nascent neighborhoods include commercial centers, sports fields and farmers’ markets, a reflection of the Housing Revolution’s commitment to fostering communities, not simply constructing houses. To that end, the CBI-sponsored Trafalgar Community Centre, which opened in August 2020, features a sickbay, an events space, clinic and a dining and activity hall. The government heralds the Centre as “a place where at-risk youths can receive help, neighbors can socialize with each other and anyone can receive educational classes and participate in recreational activities.”
  5. Health Care: Prior to Hurricane Maria, the Dominican health care system centered on its four national hospitals. Care was specialized and reactive rather than general and preventative. After Maria’s devastation forced every sector to re-examine priorities, the Ministry decided to use CBI funds to strengthen its primary care system. In addition to a state-of-the-art hospital, Dominica is building 12 new primary health centers that will emphasize community-based care. Further, CBI funds subsidized the complex medical treatment abroad for 16 Dominican children.
  6. Jobs: The National Employment Program (NEP), which helps young people secure internships, jobs and develop vocational skills, has stayed afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic due in large part to the CBI. The NEP has provided support to 4,500 businesses and 3,896 interns.
  7. Economic Growth. An Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) report indicated that Dominica is the fastest growing economy in the region, its GDP up 9% in 2019. One can attribute this growth to both the CBI program and the rise in ecotourism as world travelers seek out Earth’s most rugged, unspoiled gems.

Looking Ahead

The rise in GDP is an indicator of the country’s economic upside, but one will soon be able to see whether it will correlate with the eradication of poverty in Dominica. The country is still rebuilding and the people are still getting back on their feet. If poverty rates do tick down over the coming years, then the investment of CBI funds into community-based, climate-resilient infrastructure and jobs could serve as a blueprint for other developing countries as they work to lift their people from poverty while investing in their future.

– Greg Fortier
Photo: Flickr

all-girls Afghan roboticsAs the COVID-19 pandemic continues to stretch across the globe, all areas of the world have been impacted in various capacities and have been approaching the virus in numerous ways. With growing numbers and many hospitals at full capacity, innovation and new technology become a much-needed crutch. In early March of 2020, the virus began to spread in Afghanistan and the cases steadily increased to almost 1,000 new cases in early June. As of December 2020, Afghanistan had more than 50,000 confirmed cases. Though the World Health Organization (WHO) had been providing personal protective equipment to Afghanistan since February 2020, there was still a strain on doctors and nurses who lacked sufficient resources to treat patients. An all-girls Afghan robotics team aims to reduce the strain on the healthcare system with a ventilator prototype.

The Afghan Dreamers

In June 2020, the demand for oxygen was higher than the supply and many doctors and hospitals expressed concerns about both costs and scarcity. An all-girls Afghan robotics team saw the severity of this issue and took action to attempt to combat this shortage and fight against COVID-19.

The “Afghan Dreamers” are a robotics team from Afghanistan comprised of all girls between the ages of 14 and 17. The group has reached impressive heights including winning a silver medal in 2017 for “courageous achievement” in an international robotics competition called the FIRST Global Robotics Competition in Washington D.C. In light of the pandemic and increasing ventilator prices, the Afghan Dreamers decided to utilize their skills to design effective and more low-cost ventilators to combat the lack of affordable oxygen in Afghanistan.

Ventilator Prototype

One prototype they produced was based on a model from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and another utilized car parts. The gear-based model based on designs from MIT is low-tech, meaning that it can be duplicated from machine parts that are more easily sourced and widely available. The team’s ventilator designs are estimated to cost around 200 to 300 dollars, which is a 99% decrease from the original cost of $30,000. If the prototype does get approved, the ventilators will be used for emergency cases when there are no alternatives.

Car Parts for Ventilator Model

The Afghan Dreamers faced many obstacles during the course of the building process. While in the middle of a pandemic, the girls were also fasting during the month of Ramadan. In addition, they also had to look for
ways to source materials efficiently and effectively, which led them to look at car parts as Toyota Corollas are a common car driven in Afghanistan. Despite these potential barriers, the all-girls Afghan robotics team was determined to continue researching and problem-solving all while trying to keep themselves safe and healthy.

The Afghan Dreamers: Breaking Barriers

In Afghanistan, as many as 85% of girls do not receive a proper education. Due to many cultural barriers and stigmas, girls typically do not engage in endeavors as ambitious as the Afghan Dreamers. The all-girls Afghan robotics team has changed the narrative for many girls and hope to continue to help others and achieve more in the future. While the COVID-19 pandemic crippled many across the world, it certainly served as a large source of motivation and inspiration for the Afghan Dreamers.

– Grace Wang
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and Heart Disease
Heart disease has a reputation as a “first-world problem,” the inevitable result of a fatty diet and little to no exercise. Despite this common correlation, the link between poverty and heart disease is becoming increasingly visible. As of 2015, 80% of global deaths from cardiovascular disease were in low to middle-income countries (LMIC). According to The World Health Organization, 37% of premature deaths (<70 years old) in LMIC’s caused by non-communicable diseases are attributable to cardiovascular disease.

Heart Disease and Poverty

Prior to 1990, most deaths in LMIC’s were caused by communicable diseases like HIV, malaria and ebola, or complications from malnutrition. As urban areas grow in developing nations, lower physical activity and access to mass-produced and nutritionally-poor food contribute to the rise in heart disease-related deaths.

Heart disease is often the result of atherosclerosis, a build-up of plaque in the arteries of the cardiovascular system, or thickening that narrows the space for blood to flow. Heart attacks, stroke, arrhythmias and physiological deformities of the heart result from these blockages and can be fatal.

Major factors leading to heart disease include a poor diet, tobacco use, high blood pressure and high blood sugar. Additionally, a lack of diagnostic tools in LMIC may contribute to increased mortality from cardiovascular disease. A delayed diagnosis can result in irreparable cumulative damage and adverse cardiovascular events. Similarly, distributing affordable medications for managing heart disease in LMIC’s (ACE inhibitors, statins, beta-channel blockers and aspirin) is an ongoing challenge.

Non-communicable diseases like heart disease are often contributing factors to continued or extreme poverty due to lost wages, incapacitation and the generational effects of losing caregivers and wage earners. Patients in LMIC’s who survive heart attacks and strokes may need years of costly follow-up care and medication. The increases the likelihood that the dual burden of poverty and heart disease will prove fatal.

A New Baseline

Establishing effective preventative care in LMIC’s is one of the biggest obstacles to reducing cardiovascular disease. Lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation, dietary guidance and increased exercise can make a significant difference. Health professionals should recommend these changes to those screened as at-risk or suffering from high blood pressure.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has programs designed to treat and prevent cardiovascular disease globally. The WHO launched the Global Hearts Initiative in 2016 to provide support to governments in their efforts to prevent heart disease. The approach is multi-faceted and includes improvements to the health care sector, the nutritional quality of food and more.

The World Heart Federation (WHF) is an NGO focused on global cardiovascular care and outreach. Founded in 1978, it is internationally recognized as an authority on preventing, treating and diagnosing cardiovascular disease in children. The WHF provides training and networking opportunities to public health officials and caregivers worldwide, emphasizing practical methods of prevention and treatment.

Moving forward into a world where most people live in cities, vital infrastructure and basic medical services are necessary to improve the quality of life in developing nations and impoverished communities globally. Combating the rising incidence of heart disease is a major battle inequitably affecting the world’s poor. Cardiovascular screening, patient education and dietary guidance are all important steps in the right direction.

Katrina Hall
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in MozambiqueThe state of healthcare in Mozambique has drastically changed in the last few decades. While Mozambique was once a country with little access to healthcare services, the country has decreased mortality rates since the launch of its Health Sector Recovery Program after the Mozambican civil war, with assistance from the World Bank.

History of Mozambique

The Mozambican civil war that took place from 1977-1992 had lasting effects on the country’s healthcare system and economy, resulting in limited funding for health services and insufficient access to care providers.

The Health Sector Recovery Program was launched in 1996 in order to refocus on funding healthcare in Mozambique, which desperately needed expanded resources to address the growing health crises. New health facilities were constructed throughout the country increasing accessibility to healthcare. The number of health facilities in Mozambique from the start of the civil war to 2012 quadrupled from 362 to 1,432 and the number of healthcare workers increased along with it.

Improvements to Healthcare and Accessibility

About 30 years ago, Mozambique had one of the highest mortality rates for children under 5 but was able to significantly reduce this number after the success of the Health Sector Policy Program. In 1990, this rate was 243.1 mortalities per 1,000 children. The rate has been reduced to 74.2 mortalities as of 2019. Maternal health was also targeted by the program, with increased health facility births from 2003 to 2011.

Conflict in Cabo Delgado

Despite these improvements to healthcare in Mozambique, Cabo Delgado, a northeastern province, is facing one of the worst healthcare crises in the country since violence struck the area in October 2017. Conflict between non-state armed forces clashing with security forces and other armed groups has caused more than 200,000 people in the area to become internally displaced. Coupled with the aftermath of Hurricane Kenneth, one of the strongest hurricanes to hit Africa, the area is facing severe food shortages and lack of shelter for people.

Cabo Delgado has also seen a rise in COVID-19 cases and other diseases such as cholera, diarrhea and measles, resulting from inadequate clean water and sanitation.

Intervention by UNICEF

On December 22, 2020, UNICEF shared a press release on the increased need for healthcare in Cabo Delgado. As the rainy season begins, there is an increased risk for deadly disease outbreaks. It appealed for $52.8 million in humanitarian assistance for 2021 projects aimed at aiding Mozambique.

UNICEF is expanding its water and sanitation response in order to prevent the outbreak of water-borne diseases like cholera and the further spread of COVID-19.

UNICEF also aims to give crucial vaccines to children in Mozambique, increasing its numbers from 2020. The 2021 targets include vaccinating more than 67,000 children against polio and more than 400,000 measles vaccinations. Children will also be treated for nutritional deficiencies from food insecurity and UNICEF plans to screen more than 380,000 children under 5 for malnourishment and enroll them in nutritional treatment programs.

Mental health support services will be provided to more than 37,000 children and caregivers in need, especially those experiencing displacement from armed conflict and those affected by COVID-19.

The Future of Healthcare in Mozambique

While healthcare in Mozambique has significantly improved in the last few decades, a lack of health services still affects the country’s most vulnerable populations. Aid from international organizations like UNICEF aims to tackle these issues to improve healthcare in Mozambique.

– June Noyes
Photo: Flickr