Inflammation and stories on healthcare

Telemedicine in Rwanda

With a startling low physician density of 0.064 for every 1,000 people, Rwandans seeking care were used to waiting in long lines or traveling long distances for medical attention. However, thanks to near-universal broadband access, now Rwandans need only reach for their phones — such is the status of telemedicine in Rwanda.

In partnership with London based telehealth startup Babylon and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rwandan Ministry of Health launched an app called Babyl Rwanda, which connects users with an artificial intelligence chatbot to triage medical complaints, make recommendations and schedule remote physician appointments. The app is programmed with several languages including Kinyarwanda, English and French. Those without phones need only visit a Babyl Booth to access the necessary technology.

The Bigger Context

Since the devastating genocide in the 1900s, the Rwandan government dramatically increased its investment in healthcare from 4 percent in 2000 to its peak in 2007 at 9.6 percent. As of 2016, government spending on health care in Rwanda was around 7 percent; despite the increases in spending, the physician density remains very low at 0.064. Large changes, such as the implementation of a mandatory health insurance scheme in 2008, accompanied these government investments, and they have led to a 90-percent insured rate among its citizens. The national health insurance scheme and increased government spending on healthcare have both paved the way for the development of sophisticated telemedicine in Rwanda.

Rwanda’s choice to amplify its current physician base through the Babyl Rwanda app has made great strides in overcoming its problems with physician density. A team of 25 physicians staffs the phone/video-based remote consultations through Babyl. Each consultation typically costs the patient 65 cents. Since its inception in 2016, the app has been downloaded two million times and purports to have facilitated over 500,000 remote consultations.

Babyl Rwanda and Telemedicine

Here’s how Babyl Rwanda works: The phone user dials #811 and registers using their National ID number, which is linked to the SIM card in their phone. After the National ID is verified and payment via mobile money has been received, an SMS confirms when a nurse will call. The triage nurse schedules the next steps in treatment— laboratory, specialist visits, or simply a visit with a GP. Babyl seeks “to put an accessible and affordable health care service in the hands of every person on earth.”

Such telemedicine success depends upon broadband connectivity and a public IP address that will allow users to connect with people in other countries. Rwanda has heavily invested in its information and communications technology infrastructure. According to the Rwandan Development Board, the country has a “National Backbone”: an IP/MPLS network with 10 Gbps capacity for each district. A 2,500 km fiber optic network connects all 30 districts and each of the nine major border points. The capital Kigali also boasts its own network, the Kigali Metropolitan Network. As of 2018, 3G signal blanketed 90 percent of the Rwandan population, compared to 75 percent of Senegal in the same year.

Equipping Physicians

As Rwanda looks to improve its physician density, it must increase its production and retention of physicians. The university system is underprepared for this burden, and doctors working within the government system are poorly compensated; as such, many leave the profession for more financially sustainable pursuits, such as working for health NGOs.

At the Military Hospital in Kigali, telemedicine in Rwanda facilitates remote instruction for medical students, connecting them to leading health professionals around the world. In this context, telemedicine’s goal is “to improve student training and consequently medical service delivery through regular consultation of experts on advanced medical cases.” The idea is that with access to both quality instruction and leaders in the field, physician retention will improve.

Telemedicine in Rwanda seeks to revolutionize both the care of patients now and the training of physicians for the future. Kirsten Meisinger M.D., medical staff president at Cambridge Health Alliance, argues, “Rwanda shows us a perfect example of how to make crisis an opportunity by investing in a technology solution.”

– Sarah Boyer
Photo: Flickr

Airstrikes on Syria's Health IndustryIn recent months, Syria has been subject to a series of airstrikes often brought on by its own government, which have had devastating effects on the country. In particular, Syria’s health industry has taken a hit from these bombings with the complete destruction of many medical centers, and the displacement of many doctors and other qualified medical officials. The harsh effects of airstrikes on Syria’s health industry have been devastating.

Located between Lebanon and Turkey and bordering the Mediterranean Sea, Syria is a tiny Middle Eastern nation with a massive global presence. Almost 20 million people make up the population of this country which is roughly one and a half times the size of the state of Pennsylvania. Particularly since 2011, Syria has been involved in a civil war with multiple failed resolution efforts. As a result, as of December 2018, more than 11 million Syrians remain displaced both internally and externally. Roughly 5.7 million Syrians have registered as refugees across Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and other parts of North Africa.

Effects of Airstrikes on Syria’s Health Industry

Since late April 2019, Idlib, a northwest province in Syria, has been under constant attack by government forces as well as its militia and Russian allies. Reports state that the violence has hit or completely destroyed 19 hospitals and medical centers in this time, leaving doctors without a location to practice. However, since the civil war began in 2011, others have attacked roughly 350 health care centers throughout Syria on more than 500 individual occasions, leaving almost 900 medical workers dead.

As a result of both the immediate violence that citizens face on a daily basis and the decreasing access to health care, life expectancy in Syria has dropped from almost 76 years in 2010 to 55.7 years in 2015. Additionally, many children under the age of one can no longer access vaccinations for preventable diseases such as measles. At the start of the civil war, 20 percent of these children were without access to vaccinations; by 2014, that percentage went up to 46. By 2017, that number had decreased to 33 percent, as medical professionals made efforts to reach and vaccinate children in areas often more challenging to access.

Due to the decrease in the availability of health care facilities and personnel, Syrian citizens are the ones who face the effects of airstrikes on Syria’s health industry the most. Much of the remaining medical care is focused on treating emergencies such as people injured from explosions or car accidents. Thus, specialized care like gynecologists or orthopedic care is limited. While people can still find emergency care, physical therapy and additional follow-up care are extremely challenging to locate. The violence has to have externally displaced many citizens for them to get this follow-up care to their injuries.

Efforts to Help

An organization called Hand in Hand for Aid and Development (HIHFAD) has been active in providing aid to those still living in Syria. It has mobilized on the ground in teams and worked diligently to provide care to patients. These teams specialize in diagnosing patients, providing equipment and treatment of said patients. Additional NGOs working to provide medical and health-related aid to Syria include Handicap International, International Medical Corps, CARE U.S.A, Save the Children and UNICEF U.S.A.

There is no way of knowing for sure when the civil war in Syria will end and the effects of airstrikes on the health industry continue to devastate Syrians that remain in the country. However, many NGOs are attempting to provide medical care, as are countries harboring an influx of Syrian refugees. The futures of the medical centers and personnel that remain in Syria are undetermined. But for as long as they can, they will continue to provide the best care they can to those in need.

– Emily Cormier
Photo: Flickr

Improvements for Healthcare in India

Technical advancements are revolutionizing the health care industry in India. The country is now experiencing a rise of entrepreneurs and start-up culture, with a promising GDP that is expected to expand to 7.5 percent by 2020. In return, the health care industry of India can expect to see more personalized and accessible health options as well as better infrastructure. Below are five recent improvements for health care in India worth noting.

Five Improvements for Health Care in India

  1. The National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS), also called the Ayushman Bharat, is one of the biggest advances in Indian health care to date. The initiative provides health care coverage for 100 million low-income families in India — nearly 40 percent of the population will have secondary and tertiary care procedures handled for them. Priority is given to women, children and senior citizens. Another component of the NHPS involves setting up 150,000 wellness centers to take care of primary health. In poor regions of India where people have remained dependent on government hospitals, their lives should improve as the NHPS improves health care infrastructure and creates more job opportunities.
  2. In March 2019, Esri, a global company developing location intelligence software, opened its latest research and development center in New Delhi. Esri is bringing improvements for health care in India through geospatial mapping technologies with the software ArcGIS, which can assist health organizations in making decisions that impact the health of India’s population. In developing countries, the demand for health service can outweigh the availability of service. As a result, geospatial intelligence has not been a priority in India’s government policies. The infrastructure for health care networking in India is limited, but there is a possibility for growth with Esri building a hub in India. Medical mapping, or health geo-information, is an efficient way for countries to monitor disease outbreaks, flood risks, and many other functions that improve overall public wellness. For example, in 2013, African organizations used ArcGIS to find the regions of Africa most afflicted by the eye disease known as trachoma; health workers were then able to reach out and provide antibiotics and corrective surgery to these areas.
  3. The startup company Niramai is developing an affordable screening tool called Thermalytix to counter the high rate of breast cancer-related deaths in India. According to WHO, one in every 12 women have the risk of a breast cancer abnormality, and Indian women have a 50 percent chance of survival. By using thermography for early detection, the screening tool is radiation-free, non-invasive, privacy-sensitive and accurate. Thermography reading has been around for a while, especially in the world of holistic medicine, but Niramai’s device uses machine learning algorithms to ensure an accurate result, making it one of the most innovative improvements for health care in India yet.
  4. Phillips and GE Health care have made it possible for doctors in urban cities to see rural patients through an apparatus called Tele-ICU. Since most hospitals in India are not equipped with high-quality intensive care units to handle the high demand, Tele-ICU provides a new option and eliminates transportation risks for patients. It uses video cameras, microphones, alarms and other tools to monitor patients in need of intensive care. By establishing an intensivist and a nurse within a command center, doctors can review patients’ records electronically through Phillips’ Clinical Decision Support software. Through the InTeleEye Mobile Cart, the command center can enter the ICU and oversee a patient’s physical condition through a screen. Tele-ICU thus upgrades the care and reduces the length of stay, therefore diminishing overall hospital costs, too.
  5. Several phone apps have made improvements for health care in India with the goal of helping women. Maya, a comprehensive health tracker app, provides a tool for women to manage their menstrual health. The developer, Plackal Tech, claims that only 12 percent of women at reproductive age in India use sanitary napkins, likely due to the country’s stigma of menstruation. To combat this stigma, Maya helps educate and empower women to understand and nurture their bodies. Another app, Celes Care, has become India’s first virtual health clinic for women. In 2015, the World Bank found that 174 women died per 100,000 live births, which is an improvement from the 215-figure in 2010. This number is still high, however, compared to developed countries where the mother’s mortality rate stays in the single digits range. Apps like Celes Care are necessary to provide long-distance preventative health care and deliver prescriptions to women in India. Within a minute, users can connect privately with a female physician who will address issues concerning fertility, pregnancy, thyroid, PCOS, weight control and menopause.

Such innovative solutions provide hope for reducing health risks and increasing access to health care in India.

– Isadora Savage
Photo: Flickr

Drones Can Address PovertyTechnology is not inherently good or bad; it’s how it’s used. From music videos to saving lives, drone operations span the spectrum of ethics and morality. Drones are able to travel in minutes to places that would normally take hours or days by traditional methods. As a result, social entrepreneurs and humanitarian organizations are utilizing drones to deliver medical supplies, survey the aftermath of natural disasters and even plant trees to combat deforestation. In developing countries, drones can be used to save countless lives. Here are five ways drones can address poverty across the world:

5 Ways Drones Can Address Poverty

  1. Delivering Medical Supplies
    Over one billion people in low-income countries do not have access to reliable roads, jeopardizing their access to proper medical care. Enter drones. Companies like Matternet are creating UAV supply highways that can quickly reach people in remote areas. By partnering with organizations like Doctors Without Borders, Matternet is running trials in Papua New Guinea and Haiti. These are trials to reinvent healthcare access and battle tuberculosis epidemics.
    Drones are also being used by the United Nations Population Fund to deliver contraceptives to remote regions of Ghana. This is a place where was almost no access to birth control. Approximately 225 million women in developing countries are in need of birth control but do not have access to it. Drones can cut contraceptive delivery times down from two days to 30 minutes.
  2. Reforesting (and Protecting) the Planet
    Approximately 1.6 billion people rely on forest resources for food, fuel, shelter, clothing and medicine. Yet, 15 billion trees are cut down every year.
    To reverse deforestation, drones are being used by companies like BioCarbon Engineering. They do this by planting tree seedlings, along with other microorganisms and fungi, to increase soil health. For instance, in just one day, BioCarbon planted 5,000 trees in Dungog, Australia, a region ravaged by coal mining. BioCarbon has planted 25,000 trees since the company’s inception. Additionally, it is working towards a goal of planting one billion trees every year.
    Not only can drones restore forest ecosystems, but they can also catch illegal loggers from destroying them in the first place. Indigenous communities in the Amazon and southern Guyana have employed drones to document illegal loggers and miners, using the proof to demand public officials to take action. In this way, drones can address poverty and also improve the planet.
  3. Assisting in Search and Rescue
    Search and rescue missions are one of the five ways drones can address poverty. In 2015, during the European migrant crisis, an estimated 5,000 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean. Certainly, many organizations found this completely unacceptable.
    The start-up NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) began employing drones in 2015 to find boats carrying refugees lost at sea. Christopher Catrambone, the founder of MOAS, has stated that drones are responsible for locating five of the eight boats that MOAS rescued in 2015. “Prior to using the drones, we felt like trying to find a needle in a haystack,” explained Catrambone.
  4. Providing Disaster Relief
    Another way that drones can address poverty is in how they are incredible tools for disaster relief. They allow organizations to map out the aftermath and locate target areas for immediate aid. After Super Typhoon Haiyan killed over 6,000 Filipinos and destroyed approximately one million homes, drones were deployed by aid organizations to assess the damage and bring relief.
    When every minute could be a life saved, drones can begin assessing disaster aftermath in three minutes. Helicopters, on the other hand, take up to an hour. From locating mines displaced after the Balkan floods in 2014 to functioning as mini-ambulances, equipped with defibrillators and EMS supplies, drones have the capability of saving countless lives.
  5. Helping Farmers and Local Businesses
    Drones are helping farmers around the world monitor the health of their crops by taking multi-spectral aerial images. Combine this information with weather data, and farmers can better understand how water, fertilizer and types of soil positively or negatively affect their crops.

Drones Testing in Malawi

USAID has been funding a project in Malawi. The project is employing drones to help farmers increase crop production and fight hunger. Malawi has also recently opened a Humanitarian Drone Testing Corridor. This attracts industries, universities and individuals who want to test their drones for humanitarian and development work.

Fighting Poverty in China with Drones

In China, rural communities are being uplifted by being drones are being used to uplift rural communities by connecting them with the larger economy. Many villages are located in rough terrain, making it difficult and time-consuming to transport products to outside markets. JD, one of China’s biggest online retailers, has been using drones to help people deliver their products within a 150-mile radius. In fact, this method has a top speed of 62 miles per hour. JD is committed to fighting poverty. Additionally, it is operating in over 30 villages.

Positive Impact of Drones

These five ways drones can address poverty highlight what is possible when technology, social entrepreneurship and humanitarian issues collide. But at the end of the day, drones are one tool in the fight against poverty. However, they do have inevitable drawbacks and limitations.

Drone strikes have traumatized many communities. They may even invariably associate UAVs with the military. It is also important to be aware of the structure of privilege and deep-seated inequalities that continue to determine access to technology around the world. Overall, drones are little without people. Yet in the fight against poverty and inequality, it’s people who must embody change.

– Kate McIntosh
Photo: Pixabay

Living Conditions in MauritiusMauritius is a beautiful island nation located in the Indian Ocean, just off the coast of Southern Africa. Long-renowned for its beautiful beaches, Mauritius celebrates a vibrant history and complex mix of cultures. Vestiges of Portuguese, French and British control and long periods of labor migration left clear marks on the current society. Recent decades have been transformative for the country, starting with its independence in 1968. To grasp a better idea about how life evolved on the island, keep reading to learn 10 facts about living conditions in Mauritius.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Mauritius

  1. Mauritius was once a country with high fertility rates, averaging about 6.2 children per woman in 1963. A drastic decline in fertility rates took place, dropping to only 3.2 children per woman in 1972. This shift comes as a result of higher education levels, later marriages and the use of effective family planning methods for women. This is especially important for the island nation, as space and resources are limited.
  2. Mauritius has no indigenous populations, as years of labor migration and European colonialism created a unique ethnic mix. Two-thirds of the current population is Indo-Mauritian due to a great influx of indentured Indians in the 1800s, who eventually settled permanently on the island. Creole, Sino-Mauritian and Franco-Mauritian make up the remaining one-third of the population. However, it is important to note that Mauritius did not include a question on its national census about ethnicity since 1972.
  3.  The population density in Mauritius is one of the highest in the world, with 40.8 percent of the population living in urban environments. The greatest density is in and around Port Louis, the nation’s capital, with a population of 149,000 people living in the city proper alone.
  4. Close to the entire population of Mauritius has access to an improved drinking water source. In urban populations, 99.9 percent of the population has clean water access. There is a negligible difference in rural populations, with 99.8 percent of people accessing clean water. This is essential for the health and protection of populations from common waterborne diseases, like cholera and dysentery.
  5. In 2012, the government allocated 4.8 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) to health care. For this reason, an effective public health care system is in place, boasting high medical care standards. The government committed to prevent a user cost at the point of delivery, meaning that quality health care and services are distributed equally throughout the country regardless of socioeconomic status or geographical location.
  6. Non-communicable diseases accounted for 86 percent of the mortality rate in 2012, the most prevalent being cardiovascular diseases. This contrasts with communicable diseases, like measles and hepatitis, which accounted for 8 percent of all mortality in that same year.
  7. Since gaining its independence in 1968, the island’s economy underwent a drastic transformation. The once low-income and agriculture-based economy is now diversified and growing, relying heavily on sugar, tourism and textiles, among other sectors. The GDP is now $13.33 billion. Agriculture accounts for 4 percent, industry 21.8 percent and services 74.1 percent. Government policies focused strongly on stimulating the economy, mainly by modernizing infrastructure and serving as the gateway for investment into the African continent.
  8. Currently, 8 percent of the 1.36 million Mauritian total population is living below the poverty line. Less than 1 percent of the population is living on $1 a day or less, meaning that extreme poverty is close to non-existent. In the hopes to fully eradicate poverty, the government has implemented the Mauritius Marshall Plan Against Poverty which works with poor communities to give greater access to education, health, and social protection measures.
  9. Many environmental issues threaten the island nation, including but not limited to water pollution, soil erosion and endangerment of wildlife. Main sources of water pollution include sewage and agricultural chemicals, while soil erosion is mainly due to deforestation. In the hopes to combat negative outcomes, the government created and published the Mauritius Environment Outlook Report. It recognizes the importance of environmental issues and acknowledges its integral link to the pursuit of sustainable development in the country.
  10. In 2017, the education sector received 5 percent of GDP. Approximately 93.2 percent of the population over the age of 15 can read and write. Gender disparities do exist, as 95.4 percent of males and 91 percent of females are considered literate. Unfortunately, this disparity persists in the job market as well: female unemployment is high and women are commonly overlooked for positions in upper-tier jobs.

The island continues to prioritize health, education and boosting its economy, all of which are essential for the improvement of living conditions in Mauritius. With positive momentum building since its independence in the 1960s, the country propelled itself into a stable and productive future.

Natalie Abdou
Photo: Pixabay

Women’s Health care in CambodiaThe Southeast Asian nation of Cambodia is currently experiencing its worst in maternal mortality rates. In Cambodia, maternal-related complications are the leading cause of death in women ages 15 to 46. The Minister of Health has created several partnerships with organizations such as USAID to help strengthen its healthcare system. Here are five facts about women’s health care in Cambodia.

Top 5 Facts About Women’s Health Care in Cambodia

  1. Health Care Professionals and Midwives
    USAID has provided a helping hand when it comes to educating healthcare professionals and midwives. Since USAID’s partnership with the Ministry of Health, USAID has helped raise the percentage of deliveries assisted by skilled professionals from 32 percent to 71 percent. The Ministry of Health was also able to implement the Health Sector Strategic Plan to improve reproductive and women’s maternal health in Cambodia.
  2. Health Care Facilities
    Between 2009 and 2015, the number of Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric and Newborn Care (CEmONC) facilities increased from 25 to 37. With more access and an increase in healthcare facilities, 80 percent of Cambodian women are giving birth in health care facilities.
  3. Postpartum Care
    The Royal Government of Cambodia renewed the Emergency Obstetric & Newborn Care (EmONC) Improvement Plan and extended the Fast Track Initiative Roadmap for Reducing Maternal and Newborn Mortality to 2020. This aims to improve women’s health care in Cambodia to improve the lives of women living with postpartum depression. It is also used to improve newborn care and deliveries.
  4. Obstetric Care
    Obstetric care has improved rapidly. According to a 2014 Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey, 90 percent of mothers receive obstetric care two days after giving birth, and three-quarters of women receive care three hours after. Intensive obstetric care has helped drop Cambodia’s maternal mortality rate significantly. In 2014, Cambodia’s maternal mortality rates decreased from 472 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2005 to 170 deaths per 100,000 live births.
  5. U.N. Women
    U.N. Women is working closely to help address the AIDS epidemic in Cambodia. The organization’s efforts to reduce the epidemic focus on protection and prevention. In 2003, 3 percent of Cambodian women reported being tested for AIDS. It has also been observed women in urban areas are more likely to get tested than those in rural areas. Ultimately, Cambodia has set a goal to eradicate AIDS from the country by 2020 through prevention and protection.

Cambodia has seen much economic growth over the years, but the money provided for health care is minimal. Consequently, it is difficult for the government to provide all services. However, there have been great strides in improving women’s healthcare in Cambodia. By fighting to better the lives of women, the Cambodian government has set a goal to establish universal health care by 2030.

Andrew Valdovinos
Photo: Flickr

top 10 facts about living conditions in trinidad and tobago

North of the coast of Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago is a wondrous country with elements that make the island unique. Living conditions in Trinidad and Tobago are bewildering due to its economic growth and the risks of HIV. There are many factors that affect living conditions on this island that make it whole. These are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Trinidad and Tobago.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Trinidad and Tobago

  1. Trinidad and Tobago is regarded as one of the wealthiest countries in the Caribbean due to its oil reserves and rich resources which help boost the economy in great ways. It is also regarded as one of the top three wealthiest countries in the Americas because of the amount of oil and gas throughout the island allowing for the economy to thrive and helping people live well throughout the island.
  2. Public healthcare is provided for free for citizens on the island, but there are private healthcare providers that can be paid for if it is affordable. There are numerous healthcare centers established around the island making it easily accessible for the citizens in Trinidad and Tobago.
  3. Although the economy has seen a significant boost since its independence in the 1960s, 26 percent of the population is living in poverty, surviving on less than $2.75 a day.
  4. Education is free to children between the ages of 5 and 16. There are private institutions that citizens can pay for but public education provides children with free transportation, books, and meals while in school giving children the opportunity to learn effectively.
  5. Trinidad and Tobago suffer from an increase in crime rates compared to 2016. There has been a 5.5 percent increase in crime rates, which are mostly violent crimes including murder and robbery.
  6. Trinidad and Tobago have a rich cultural life throughout the island celebrating historical African music, dance and literature.
  7. Housing has become a primary concern throughout the country due to the increasing population throughout the island. Many people struggle to find housing in urban areas due to the increasing shortage of land and high construction costs.
  8. Housing conditions vary throughout the urban and rural areas of Trinidad and Tobago. Families in rural areas usually inhabit wooden huts and have various family types where women are typically the head of the household.
  9. The unemployment rate has reached its lowest in 2015 with a rate of 3.5 percent. It has seen a significant decrease since the 90s where it was 17.2 percent.
  10. HIV has become a prevalent disease affecting a large amount of the population. Nearly 11,000 people are living with HIV but with access to free public health care, nearly 75 percent of the population is receiving treatment for the disease.

Trinidad and Tobago is experiencing great economic growth due to the vast amount of resources and has seen progress regarding education and health care but still see issues regarding diseases, housing and poverty. Although these may be factors that can affect the country negatively, Trinidad and Tobago have the potential to combat these elements to help the country thrive. These are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Trinidad and Tobago.

Elijah Jackson
Photo: Flickr

Quality of Life in IcelandSituated about 400 miles west of Greenland in the northern Atlantic, Iceland is a mid-sized island with a population of around 340,000. Given its high latitude, Iceland’s climate is unexpectedly temperate. Its dramatic landscapes draw millions of tourists each year from around the world. Iceland is governed by parliamentary democracy and has a strong tradition of center-left politics.

Top Ten Facts About Quality of Life in Iceland:

Gender Equality

Iceland has consistently held the number one spot in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap index over the past several years. An article published by The Guardian in 2016 traces this back to a time where Icelandic men would leave their villages for long hunting trips, leaving the women to take charge of the key political and economic decisions in their absence.

Strong Economy

Although hit badly in the 2009 global recession, Iceland has since bounced back, and now ranks among the wealthiest countries in the world. According to data from Focus Economics, Iceland ranked fourth highest in the world for GDP per Capita in 2017.

High Life Expectancy

With a life expectancy of 83.1 years at birth, Iceland ranks seventh in the world for this metric. Iceland also has very low infant mortality rates at just 2.1 deaths out of every 1000 births.

High “Subjective Happiness” Levels

According to the World Happiness Report, ranking each country according to “subjective happiness” indicators, Iceland comes in at number four, behind Finland, Norway and Denmark. The authors of the report argue that the happiness scores—generated from survey results—closely follow six quality of life indicators. These factors are GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, generosity, freedom and absence of corruption.

Low Exposure to Sunlight

Despite its high World Happiness score, Iceland has the 40th highest suicide rate of any nation on earth with 14 suicides for every 100,000 of the population. Iceland’s Nordic neighbors Sweden, Finland and Norway all have high suicide rates despite impressive scores in other quality of life indicators. These numbers led some to draw a link between suicide and low exposure to sunlight during the winter months.

Low Poverty Risk

According to data collected in 2016, less than 9 percent of Iceland’s total population is at risk from poverty, which is about half the combined rate for the 28 countries that make up the European Union.

Political Corruption Rates

Although Iceland suffers from low political corruption compared to global averages, corruption levels in Iceland are the highest of all Nordic states, and recent reports suggest they are growing worse. During her election campaign in late 2017, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir spoke about rebuilding trust after two years of political instability preceding her administration.

Education Quality

Although education in Iceland is funded entirely by the state, from preschool to university, one international education survey calls its quality into question. According to test results collected from 45 countries by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Icelandic children scored below the group averages in math, science and reading.

Homelessness

Despite having one of the world’s most generous welfare systems, Iceland is reportedly struggling with a growing homelessness problem. According to one study, the number of homeless people living in Reykjavik—Iceland’s capital—nearly doubled between 2012 and 2017 from 179 to 349, or about three out of every thousand.

Healthcare

Iceland has a nationalized healthcare system that is largely tax-funded. A recent study ranked the Icelandic healthcare system second in the world, based on a review of comprehensive criteria.

The combination of market forces with a generous welfare system crafted a model that secures a high quality of life in Iceland for the majority of its citizens. But a closer look into Iceland’s education, corruption and homelessness problems shows that even the most affluent and equitable societies carry their share of problems. Historically, Iceland has found success by addressing society’s problems collectively— continuing this approach will serve it well in the future.

– Jamie Wiggan
Photo: Flickr

AIDS in ArmeniaArmenia is a landlocked country sharing borders with Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Iran. Throughout history, this key location rendered Armenia vulnerable to the Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Persian and Ottoman empires. Most recently in 1920, the Soviet Red Army ruled the country until 1991 when Armenia regained its independence. The following year Armenia joined the United Nations and in 2001 it became a member of the Council of Europe. This is a country with a long, rich and complex history infused with religion, national strife, war and genocide.

Like every other country in the world, present-day Armenia battles a deadly condition: HIV/AIDS. HIV attacks the body’s immune system, rendering it vulnerable to other infections and even various cancers. Globally in 2017, 1.8 million people were newly infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). If untreated HIV results in acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). In 2017 AIDS took the lives of 940,000 people worldwide.

4 Facts About the Status of AIDS in Armenia

  1. In 2016, the World Health Organization recognized Armenia as one out of four countries that eliminated mother-to-child transmissions of HIV. Additionally, since 2010, new HIV infections in Armenia decreased by 31 percent.

  2. Although new cases of HIV declined within the last decade, AIDS-related deaths increased by 26 percent. Although there isn’t a known cure for HIV or AIDS, antiretroviral therapy (ART) can suppress the virus and prevent its spread to others. However, in 2016 only slightly more than one-third of Armenians with HIV sought out ART.

  3. There are ways to continue the fight against AIDS in Armenia. In 2017 there were an estimated 3,400 Armenians living with HIV or AIDS. One of the key issues surrounding AIDS in Armenia is that nearly half of Armenians with the virus don’t know that they have it. Preventative measures such as comprehensive and inclusive sex education, increased use of protection during sex and regular HIV testing are key in lowering the number of AIDS-related deaths and fighting AIDS in Armenia.

  4. Key populations most affected by AIDS are sex workers, LGBTQ+ individuals, people who inject drugs, prisoners and outbound migrant workers. These groups oftentimes face social stigma and discrimination which render them more vulnerable to contracting HIV. They also tend to have reduced access to HIV testing and ART.

For the last three years, Armenia has upheld its status as having ended mother-to-infant transmission of HIV. This is a massive success for Armenians and the fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS worldwide. However, there are many more steps that Armenia and other countries can take to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS and lower the number of AIDS-related deaths. Comprehensive sex education, access to condoms, HIV-testing and antiretroviral therapy are key in fighting this deadly condition. Additionally, combating stigma and reducing discrimination against vulnerable populations will greatly impact the prevalence of HIV and AIDS worldwide.

– Keeley Griego
Photo: UNFPA

John OliverJohn Oliver, comedian and the host of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, is renowned for putting a comedic spin on recent news stories. Indeed, he has mocked everything from horses to cereal mascots to his own self-professed bird-like appearance. However, fans of Last Week Tonight know that he has a soft spot for the less fortunate and endeavors to help them. What they may not know, however, is that John Oliver also supports the Touch Foundation.

John Oliver’s Philanthropy

Fans of John Oliver will know that his penchant for philanthropy is nothing new. On his show, he has been known to do outrageous, often hilarious, things to help those in need. Sometimes, this comes in the form of a plea made from the set of Last Week Tonight. For example, during the 2017 French election, John ended an episode by switching to a film noir style and urging the people of France not to vote for the far right extremist candidate Marine Le Pen. Another time, he hired singer Weird Al Yankovic to sing an accordion-filled song begging North Korea not to nuke the U.S.

Sometimes, however, John Oliver’s contributions to helping people are much more tangible. For instance, his team created a children’s book called A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo. This book, which stars Vice President Mike Pence’s rabbit, supports the Trevor Project and AIDS United by allowing people to donate to one or both of those charities to receive a free ebook. The profits from sales of physical copies of the books also go towards those charities.

Another time, he bought several items from Russell Crowe’s The Art of the Divorce auction, including the jock strap from Cinderella Man, and donated them to one of the last remaining Blockbusters in the U.S. to help it keep its doors open. However, the fact that John Oliver supports the Touch Foundation financially was never mentioned in the show.

About the Touch Foundation

The Touch Foundation is an organization that seeks to improve healthcare in Tanzania. Healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa is lacking, as is evident by the fact that the life expectancy of the average adult is 20 years less than that of the average American. In fact, one in five children won’t even live to see his or her fifth birthday. Tanzania, in particular, suffers from an abysmal number of healthcare workers, a high rate of childbirth complications, limited access to basic healthcare services and many deaths from treatable and/or preventable diseases.

The Touch Foundation fights the poor healthcare in Tanzania by looking for flaws in the country’s healthcare system, bringing them to the attention of the Tanzanian government and obtaining funding for long-term programs that teach sustainable techniques for good health care. They do all of this by using institutions that already exist in Tanzania.

The Touch Foundation’s focus is spread across the healthcare system. One of their main goals is training new healthcare workers and helping existing ones improve. That way, access to healthcare will become much more widespread. They also target specific healthcare priorities that impact Tanzania the most, including maternal and newborn health, non-communicable diseases and cardiovascular health. On top of that, they send detailed reports of their results to their local and international partners.

The Touch Foundation’s Impact

The Touch Foundation has spent more than $60 million improving Tanzania’s healthcare system. This has resulted in better lives for 17 million Tanzanians (one-third of the people who live there). The Touch Foundation has trained more than 4,000 healthcare workers. For the ones who are still in training, 900 of them are housed in new and refurbished dormitories. Also thanks to Touch, the enrollment rate at the Weill Bugando Medical College has increased from 10 to 900 since 2004, and 96 percent of graduates remain within the healthcare system.

The Touch Foundation has helped reduce maternal deaths by 27 percent. The number of surgical centers at the Bugando Medical Centre has increased from 7 to 13, allowing for 30 percent more surgeries. The Touch Foundation has also worked to install electricity generators, water pumps, high-speed Internet, waste incinerators and laundry facilities at medical centers across Tanzania.

John Oliver is very outspoken about what he believes in. He will do ridiculous things for those who he feels needs his help. However, the fact that John Oliver supports the Touch Foundation is relatively obscure. Despite this, his contributions go to making Tanzania a better, healthier place to live. He doesn’t need to do something insane to show that he cares about Tanzania; his quiet contribution to the cause is enough.

Cassie Parvaz

Photo: Flickr