According to the U.N., poverty-reduction in Latin America has hit a snag.

The U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, or ECLAC, recently put out an annual report, showing that 28 percent of the region’s population was living in poverty in 2014. Of those 167 million people, 12 percent were living in extreme poverty.

Economic growth in Latin America has slowed recently. The region registered 1.1 percent growth in 2014—its smallest growth rate since 2009. Alicia Barcena, head of the ECLAC, blamed ineffective policy for much of the region’s woes.

“It seems the recovery from the international financial crisis was not taken advantage of sufficiently to strengthen social protection policies that reduce vulnerability from economic cycles,” said Barcena.

ECLAC has called on regional governments to put mechanisms in place that would improve the region’s resilience in the face of global economic downturns.

“Now, in a scenario of a possible reduction in available fiscal resources, more efforts are needed to fortify these policies, establishing solid foundations with the aim of fulfilling the commitments of the post-2015 development agenda,” said Barcena.

While the regional poverty rate has stagnated, some countries, such as Paraguay (from 49.6 percent in 2011 to 40.7 percent in 2013) and Chile (10.9 percent to 7.8 percent), have made significant progress in reducing their poverty rates. Peru (25.8 percent to 23.9 percent), Colombia (32.9 percent to 30.7 percent) and El Salvador (45.3 percent to 40.9 percent) also made positive progress.

ECLAC’s latest report also showed that while the income-based poverty rate has languished in recent years, multidimensional poverty has indeed fallen significantly since 2005.

According to the report, the percentage of the Latin American population living in multidimensional poverty dropped from 39 percent in 2005 to 28 percent in 2012.

Despite the current state of relative economic stagnation, preliminary ECLAC projections for 2015 suggest that there is cause for optimism, forecasting a 2.2 percent regional increase.

The ECLAC’s Third Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States will be held in Costa Rica, January 28-29.

– Parker Carroll

Sources: Andina, El Universal, Mercopress, Reuters, Telesur 1, Telesur 2,
Photo: Huffington Post

After decades of searching, scientists may have finally found a vaccine for dengue, one of the developing world’s most feared infectious diseases.

Researchers released a new report confirming the efficacy of the vaccine after the conclusion of a study lasting four years and involving over 20,000 school-aged children in Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Honduras. The study has proven the new drug to be overwhelmingly effective, and both scientists and doctors around the world are celebrating this monumental achievement. The efficacy of the vaccine against severe dengue was 95.5 percent.

Dengue is a mosquito-borne viral infection that affects nearly 400 million people annually. It is a leading cause of serious illness and death among children in many Latin American and Asian countries, and has been spreading violently throughout the developing world since the late 1950s.

The absence of a dependable treatment for the disease has made dengue a particularly terrifying illness in the global south. The debilitating muscle and joint pains associated with cases of severe dengue have earned the disease its nickname, ‘break-bone fever’. Infected individuals can also suffer crippling headaches, nausea, vomiting and a painful rash across the back and chest. Nearly 500,000 people, most of them children, die from the disease each year.

Initial news of the drug’s potential broke in late 2011, when French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur announced plans to release the new antiviral medication by mid-2015. Since that time, research teams have been working tirelessly in many countries spanning both Asia and Latin America, where the disease is most prevalent. Meticulously testing patients, administering vaccinations and recording their findings, scientists have emerged from the study with new certainty in the drug’s effectiveness.

Relaying the good news on Jan. 8, Sanofi Pasteur reported the overall efficacy of the drug to be 60.8 percent for children between the ages of nine and 16 who received three doses of the vaccine over a 12-month period. Furthermore, the study confirmed 80.3 percent reduction in the risk of hospitalization for dengue-infected individuals. The crowning achievement of the study, however, was the accomplishment of a 95.5 percent protection rate against the most deadly form of the disease, a discovery that is projected to save countless lives in countries from India to Brazil.

Past efforts to control dengue have relied heavily on preventative practices such as destroying mosquito egg-laying habitats and spraying insecticides intended to kill the disease-carrying mosquito vector. Without an effective antiviral medication available to treat infected individuals, however, the fight against dengue has been violent—and often deadly—for economically disadvantaged communities in tropical areas of the world. Because of the mosquito’s ability to adapt to many diverse environments, and its skill for finding hidden deposits of stagnant water in both rural and urban areas, regions affected by dengue quickly find the disease to reach epidemic proportions amongst their populations.

The introduction of the new dengue vaccine serves as a beacon of hope in the world’s fight against deadly pathogens, and will prove to empower millions of people in the developing world in their own fight against poverty.

– Brady Thomas Mott

Sources: New England Journal of Medicine, WHO
Photo: Top News

The Latin American economy has experienced a period of great fluctuation since 2010. Whenever there is good news, there seems to be an equal and opposite force of bad news applied. Constant fluctuation has curbed poverty and opened the door to the middle class, only to have that door slam close. There are several key points to consider as to why this is.

In the past decade, nearly 50 percent of those in poverty have risen above the poverty ranking. But many are still struggling to enter the middle class. Around 200 million, or over two-thirds of the population, are at a high risk of falling back into poverty.

To fully understand this, it is necessary to know how economic divisions are classed in Latin America. Twenty-five percent of Latin Americans are earning less than $4 USD per day and this is considered living in poverty.  Some 34 percent  earn between $10 and $50 USD per day and these individuals are judged to be middle class. When someone earns between $4 and $10 USD, they are part of the vulnerable class. This final group accounts for 38 percent of the population.

The UNDP disclosed this information in the 2014 Human Development Report; a report that uses data as recent as August 24 of the same year.

But not all news is bad.

The middle class of the combined Latin America and Caribbean grew from 21 percent to 34 percent equaling 81 million individuals in the time period form 2000-2012. The vulnerable population grew from 35 percent to 38 percent. The UNDP recognized poverty dropping from 42 percent to 25 percent over that same time period as a significant regional achievement.

Now, Jessica Faieta, the UNDP Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, says the good news might be running out unless a change is made.

“It is very clear that using the same policies will not provide the same results,” said Faieta. “More than ever, the region must invest in universal social protection, particularly in the most critical phases of life, as is the case with children, the elderly and youth entering the labor market.”

Other analysts agree with her conclusion. The region lacks critical social protection, a defense that has been pinpointed as crucial to long-term economic growth. Nearly 50 percent of the country lacks access to medical services, a retirement pension or a labor contract. If this is not amended, the region cannot be expected to grow at the same rate indefinitely.

– Andrew Rywak

Sources: UNDP, The Economist, BBC

Social Inclusion
Latin America is known for its poor record of income equality, but the 2014 Social Inclusion Index from Americas Quarterly reveals that in terms of civil, women’s and LGBT rights, several Latin American nations outstrip even the United States.

The Index pulls together data on 21 different variables, including GDP growth, enrollment in secondary school, access to housing and formal employment, financial inclusion by gender and political rights, to name a few.

The Social Inclusion Index approaches development from a multidimensional perspective, considering many factors that go beyond the scope of cut-and-dried economic growth.  This year’s report is the third in the Americas Quarterly series and it reveals an encouraging amount of poverty reduction and social inclusion in the region.

Uruguay remains at the top of the Index, receiving high scores in women’s rights, civil rights, LGBT rights and formal job access. According to the Index, the U.S. lags behind four Latin American countries on women’s rights, including Uruguay, Costa Rica, Argentina and Peru.

Argentina and Costa Rica are tied in second place, scoring well due to high spending on social programs and women’s rights. The United States falls into fourth place because, although its social spending is the highest in the region, murder rates, particularly femicide, remain high, as well.

The report also points out that some of the region’s larger economic powers like Brazil and Mexico could greatly improve their scores by placing more emphasis on women’s rights, access to education and access to formal jobs. For example, only 37 percent of the working population in Mexico has access to formal employment. Increasing this number has great potential to reduce poverty.

Significant economic growth and increasing stability in Latin America means that more and more people are emerging from poverty and entering the middle class. This trend is allowing for important conversations on social inclusion to take place.

There are still many gaps in security, gender equality and inclusiveness in Latin America. The region remains the planet’s murder capital and violence against women is rampant. Yet the Social Inclusion Index does reveal positive change and provides valuable direction for further progress.

-Kayla Strickland

Sources: Americas Quarterly, VOXXI, Wall Street Journal
Photo: Global Public Square

Development in Latin America
Multidimensional poverty is a widespread problem throughout Latin American and the Caribbean, marked by deficiencies in education, health and standards of living. In 14 countries in the region, close to seven percent of the population is familiar with this degree of poverty and an additional 9.5 percent stands on the brink.

United Nation Development Programme expert Alfredo González stated that “there are 45 million people that are living at the limits of their capacities and could fall back into poverty if faced with a negative shock.”

Such a shock could be caused by anything from a financial crisis, such as Argentina’s newest default debacle, to environmental catastrophe, seen in severe flooding and droughts throughout the region.

The UNDP reports that, while Latin America continues to enjoy the greatest amount of human development of any developing region in the world, this progress is being threatened by inequality and a lack of access to formal employment.

In fact, since 2008, the region’s progress toward human development has slowed by 25 percent according to UNDP figures.

The UNDP’s yearly Human Development Index, calculated based on a combination of factors including life expectancy, educational opportunity and purchasing power, rates the long term human development of every nation on a scale of zero being the worst to one being the best.

Chile, Cuba and Argentina topped the region’s HDI charts with respective scores of 0.82, 0.81 and 0.80, while Haiti, Nicaragua and Honduras came in last place.

This year’s HDI report highlights the important role formal employment plays in human development in Latin America. Increased incomes, gainfully employed youth and increased labor regulation are all benefits that communities stand to gain from better access to full employment.

Liliana Rendón, economics professor at the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico, observes that “the poor do not only suffer from an income deficit; poverty also includes shortcomings in healthcare, education and other problems. Income must translate into wellbeing, taking social, environmental and policy aspects into consideration.”

In order to make strides toward greater wellbeing the UNDP recommends that countries in Latin America and the Caribbean push for policies that facilitate universal access to social services, which, in turn, may serve to bolster formal employment and lift more people out of poverty.

-Kayla Strickland

Sources: Independent European Daily Express, Nearshore Americas, Buenos Aires Herald
Photo: The Guardian

debt crisis
For the second time in 13 years, and the eighth time in its national history, Argentina is defaulting on internationally held bond payments. The default has been accompanied by negotiations in New York between Argentina’s economy minister, Axel Kicillof, and U.S. bond holders, raising considerable disagreement concerning hedge funds, external bonds and what the word “default” actually means.

No agreement has yet been reached, and the Republic of Argentina is now considered to be in selective default, having failed to pay interest on some of its debt.

Attorney Daniel Pollack, the court-appointed mediator during the proceedings in New York, outlines what this means for the various parties involved:

“Default is not a mere ‘technical’ condition, but rather a real and painful event that will hurt real people: these include all ordinary Argentine citizens, the exchange bondholders (who will not receive their interest) and the holdouts (who will not receive payment of the judgments they obtained in court).”

Pollack goes on to observe that “the full consequences of default are not predictable, but they certainly are not positive.”

These economic decisions made by South America’s third largest country certainly have noticeable effects on the pockets of its citizenry.

Argentina’s 2001 default involving $95 billion worth of failed payments on internationally-held debt triggered a nationwide recession and sparked deadly violence. It was during this period of economic hardship that cartoneros started filling the streets of Argentina’s cities.

The cartoneros spend their days pulling large carts through city streets, collecting paper, cardboard, glass and other recyclable materials. Each evening they exchange their harvest at a wholesaler, receiving 6 pesos, equal to about 75 cents, for every 10 kilograms of material they collect.

The cartoneros have become a symbol of economic crisis in Argentina. Their presence is a reminder that the country’s national debt crisis does have consequences for its citizens – in the case of Argentina, financial blows over the past two decades have cast many middle class families into poverty and made life even harder for those already struggling to make ends meet.

Kayla Strickland

Sources: Deutsche Welle, Financial Times, Business Week, Business Week 2
Photo: Treehugger

food insecurity
A study done by Oxfam finds that large agricultural companies are displacing small farmers in Latin America, creating food insecurity and hindering community development.

Latin America is a region rich with fertile land for crops. Enough food is produced every year to ensure each individual has enough to eat, but the crops are not reaching the hands of its hungry farmers.

The central-west region of Brazil produced 78.5 million tons of soybeans and maize in 2013, a record for the country. Most of the crops, however, did not return to those who farmed them, but were exported to produce biofuels.

Agribusiness has not only had a negative effect on Latin America’s hungry, but also on the environment. Natural resources are contaminated and soil is becoming infertile. As a result, food prices have increased.

Agroecology is emerging as an answer to the problems agribusiness creates. Defined by Agroecology in Action, it is “concerned with the maintenance of a productive agriculture that sustains yields and optimizes the use of local resources while minimizing the negative environmental and socio-economic impacts of modern technologies.”

In other words, agroecology is an interdisciplinary approach to agriculture that takes into account communities, social conditions, environmental health and production. At its base are small farmers,  a sector agribusiness has ignored.

The largest supermarket chain in Ecuador decided in 2002 to make a shift from 2,500 small producers to 250 large producers. This move has caused many families who hold small farms to suffer.

“I used to work in a big farm, applying pesticides,” says Emilia Alves Manduca, a farmer in the central-west region of Brazil, “I had to go to the hospital twice because of the side effects.”

Manduca spoke at an agroecology conference, where she shared the success story of her community, Mato Grosso. By moving away from the monoculture design of big agriculture business, and growing more than 30 types of crops with no pesticides, Mato Grosso became a self-sufficient community and brought itself out of poverty in six years.

As the Guardian writes, “the problem of hunger [in Latin America] is not due to lack of food, but a lack of access for the poorest.” Agroecology ensures that land and healthy agricultural practices are accessible to all levels of society, including the poorest. The result will be more communities like Mato Grosso.

“Agroecology is the only viable option to meet the region’s food needs in this age of increasing oil prices and global climate change,” says Miguel Altieri, professor of Agrecology at the University of Berkeley.

– Julianne O’Connor

Sources: Agroecology in Action, Oxfam, The Guardian
Photo: The Alternative

The World Bank reports that low teacher effectiveness causes children attending public schools in Latin America and the Caribbean to miss the equivalent of one school day every week. Public education in Latin America is plagued by teacher absenteeism, low pay and poor school leadership; all contribute to this troubling inefficiency.

Latin America has enjoyed significant growth in recent years, paving the way for the reduction of poverty and inequality, yet in order for the region’s economic engine to continue running efficiently, its youth must have access to educational resources.

The recent World Bank study, “Great Teachers: How to Raise Student Learning in Latin America and the Caribbean,” draws on data from over 14,000 classrooms in seven countries in the region. It seeks to determine how teachers, who make up 20 percent of Latin America’s labor force, can improve their performance given the significant role they play in regional economic development.

Barbara Burns, the author of the report, states that “virtually all countries in the region appear trapped in a low-level equilibrium of low standards for entry into teaching, relatively low and undifferentiated salaries, weak instruction in the classroom and poor educational outcomes … moving to a high-level equilibrium will be difficult but it is an effort that the region can’t afford to postpone.”

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, a standardized assessment of students on a global scale, reveals that Latin American and Caribbean children fall short in the middle-income category, yet researchers estimate that if Mexico raised its PISA performance to the level attained by the average German student, the country’s gross domestic product could jump two percentage points.

The World Bank publication determines that public schools in Latin America need better and younger teachers. Teacher salaries in the region are consistently lower than salaries in other professional fields, meaning motivation can be lacking. Additionally, data from university entrance exams show that although students pursuing education degrees receive high levels of formal education, they have been found to possess weaker cognitive skills.

The good news is that teacher quality has become a major development focus of Latin American countries in recent years, while researchers and academics are communicating just how essential education is to continued economic development and poverty reduction.

Kayla Strickland

Sources: Kansas City infoZine, Plano Informativo
Photo: Plano Informativo

Our knowledge of HIV/AIDS is continuously expanding 30 years into the AIDS epidemic. Researchers are discovering that–given the right treatment and precautions–people living with HIV can greatly reduce the risk of transmission to partners and can even safely conceive and give birth. Yet many health care providers in Central America are misguidedly pressuring HIV-positive women into sterilization.

Tamil Kendall, a Harvard School of Public Health research fellow with 10 years of experience in gender and HIV in Latin America, reports that “health care providers [in Central America] are expressing the view that living with HIV means that you don’t have reproductive rights, that you can’t choose the number and spacing of your children, that you can’t choose the contraceptive method that you would like to use.”

Kendall is the driving force behind a recently-published study on health care practices in El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua, one which reveals antiquated attitudes toward HIV and troubling reproductive rights violations throughout the region.

The results show that, out of the 285 women studied across the four Central American countries, 23 percent have been pressured by health care professionals to go through a sterilization procedure. Rates in individual countries range from 20 percent in Nicaragua to 28 percent in Mexico. Additionally, only half of the women surveyed reported being told that an intervention in the form of antiretroviral drugs exists, which can reduce mother-to-child transmission of the virus by 98 to 99 percent.

Women with HIV are coerced by doctors and nurses unethically. Kendall reports that one Mexican woman was sterilized while under anesthetics during a Caesarian section. Another young mother from El Salvador claimed that doctors refused to perform a Caesarian until she consented to sterilization. Many women are told that another pregnancy will result in their own or their child’s death.

Kendall’s study reveals that socioeconomic status and ethnicity do not play a part in this kind of discrimination and that it is driven solely by an HIV-positive diagnosis.

Yet amid this troubling news, there is reason for optimism. As Kendall observes, “There is some promising research… indicating that health care providers are becoming increasingly aware of the possibility of preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission as well as sexual transmission with antiretroviral therapy—and that this knowledge is starting to transform attitudes.”

Moving forward, she recommends that health care providers be held accountable for their actions in courts, and that policy makers become aware of new research on HIV/AIDS and begin investing more in reproductive health and women’s rights.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: Thomson Reuters Foundation, Harvard School of Public Health
Photo: Fabulous-City

Dangerous Roads
A recent study by the University of Michigan has found that Africa, Latin America and the Middle East host the world’s most dangerous roads, and that traffic accidents in developing nations claim more victims than in wealthier countries.

Similar conclusions have recently been drawn by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) which specifically examined this year’s mortality rates due to traffic accidents in Latin America. The FIA study reports that Brazil has the worst record, at 20 traffic-related deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.

FIA regional representative Leandro Perillo of Argentina observes that “the biggest problem we face [in Latin America] is the lack of enforcement of the rules.”

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) sees dangerous roads as a serious development issue in Latin America, reporting that “at 17 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, this region’s roadway fatality rate is nearly double that of higher income countries.”

Leading reasons for this discrepancy besides lax law enforcement include roadways clogged with bicycles, motorcycles and all around bad driving. Anyone who has traveled throughout Latin America understands that traffic lights, lane markers and warning signs are more like suggestions than rules. Poor infrastructure, including the infamous baches (potholes that many times resemble sinkholes) and lomadas (mountainous, unmarked speed bumps,) can also play a part in driving accidents.

Automobile wrecks take more lives in Latin America each day than does HIV/AIDS, and road incidents kill 100,000 people every year in Latin America and the Caribbean. Additionally, car crashes have become the leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 15 and 29.

Injuries due to poor roads and bad drivers also have a high social and economic cost. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates that Latin America loses two percent of its GDP to traffic accidents each year.

Speaking on the importance of road safety in Latin America, IDB Transport Division Chief Nestor Roa states that “when it comes to improving road safety, isolated efforts will only get us so far. Curbing our region’s high traffic death rates requires making this issue a priority for our national development agendas and committing everyone to achieve this goal.”

The IDB is becoming more involved in the region’s transportation situation, performing vehicle evaluations and overseeing the design of better roadways. The institution states that successful confrontation of this issue will require “the coordination and collaboration of virtually all sectors of society, from governments to schools, NGOs, motor vehicle manufacturers, drivers, passengers, cyclists and pedestrians.”

Although road safety is not typically seen as a central development concern, addressing this issue will help pave the way to a safer and healthier future for developing nations.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: Global Post, University of Michigan, Inter-American Development Bank
Photo: GravityBolivia