Human Trafficking in Mali
Mali is a country where human trafficking is widespread, according to the U.S. State Department. This suggests that the government of the western African country is failing to achieve the bare minimum for abolishing the practice. Instead, Mali has increased some of its prevention efforts — at least since 2017. Mali is not overlooking trafficking, according to many observers. In fact, the government is attempting to stop human trafficking in Mali.

The Situation in Mali

Despite its ranking, the Malian government is making strides to remedy its human trafficking conundrum. These initiatives include educating judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers on human trafficking, as well as issuing a directive prohibiting minors from entering military installations.

Further actions aimed at combating human trafficking include government collaboration with international groups such as the Fodé and Yeguine Network for Action, and the Ministry of Women, Children and Families. In addition, the government has concentrated efforts amending an old anti-trafficking law as recently as 2019.

Mali’s justice minister has issued an order requiring judicial officials to give priority to cases brought under the original statute. Due to the absence of an integrated process to gather anti-trafficking statistics, law enforcement material previously was fragmentary and thereby challenging to access. The 2019 amendment sought to establish a unified strategy for data collection.

Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world, with more than 42% of its total population living below the poverty line, according to the World Bank. The coronavirus pandemic didn’t help, as a recession dropped Mali’s gross domestic product by nearly 2%. Additionally, nearly seven in 10 adults in Mali cannot read or write, indicating a scarcity of education.

The Correlation Between Malian Poverty and Human Trafficking

Mali has been beset by instability and violence since a 2012 military coup d’état and the capture of the northern territory. The country remains in a state of desperation due to its economic and social crises. The financial insecurity has made it simple — as many observers viewed — to fall victim to human trafficking practices.

Mali falls short of meeting the minimal benchmarks for the abolition of human trafficking. As a result, human traffickers can continue to exploit both internal and international victims. Many of these migrants are fleeing crisis zones in Mali, Nigeria and Senegal.

Mali is a supplier, route and destination country for international trafficking, according to the State Department. Lured to Mali with assurances of high-paying jobs, organizations, which include violent fundamentalists like Al-Qaeda “affiliates” abduct many of them. Job seekers also labor to “pay off” fictitious debts that the organizations that invited them to the country in the first place tell them they owe.

Why Mali?

Despite its poverty, Mali is rich in gold and oil. Yet, to benefit from those resources, Mali needs miners. This attracts refugees, women and children, who traffickers could ultimately coerce. Juvenile prostitution and child sex trafficking are common at mining sites. In fact, more than 12% of sex workers at these locations are as young as 15 and as old as 19, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.

A disproportionate number of males work in certain mines, exposing them to the most heinous types of child labor, including physical, sexual and psychological abuse. “Children are being forced to fight by armed groups, trafficked, raped, sold, forced into sexual or domestic servitude or married off,” Gillian Triggs, the Refugee Agency’s assistant high commissioner for protection, told Reuters in December 2020.

Assistance to Mali

There are many human trafficking solutions, yet they are difficult to implement. Global attention and vigorous effort to alleviate Mali’s exploited and trafficked workers dilemma remain in initial phases. While the U.N., the State Department and a number of non-governmental organizations said they are aware of trafficking issues in Mali, the magnitude and precise volume of trafficking and coerced laborers continue to remain unclear.

To help with these issues, the Roman Catholic Church-affiliated Caritas Mali has assembled an international team to build an initiative alongside the International Catholic Migration Commission,  providing underprivileged individuals and children with alternative income and skill development opportunities.

Mali’s education system is deficient, and this new initiative may make fewer people desire to work in deplorable conditions. Many believe that human trafficking thrives on the instability that poverty creates. Thus, eliminating poverty could then, in turn, mitigate trafficking problems.

Many groups are attempting to assist those in poverty in Mali including Action Against Hunger. To date, it has helped more than 400,000 people gain access to nutrition and health programs, food security programs and sanitation programs. Another organization providing aid is the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Food for Peace, which collaborates with the U.N. World Food Program to deliver financial assistance and meals to families that dislocation, violence, environmental catastrophes and other crises have impacted.

Save the Children is another organization helping nearly 1.5 million Malian children in 2020 by giving food and protection. The organization says it effectively raised 232,000 children out of poverty.

The work of Save the Children, Action Against Hunger and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Food for Peace are helping reduce the symptoms of poverty such as food insecurity and poor sanitation. These efforts should subsequently reduce people’s vulnerability and eliminate human trafficking in Mali.

– Tiffany Lewallyn
Photo: Flickr

Olympic Stars
There are three Olympic stars who have not only earned gold medals in their individual and team competitions, but also in providing support for children around the world. During the late months of July 2021 and early August 2021, these stars’ faces were present on television stations, as people watched them compete against other nations in sports. However, media does not always show their behind-the-scenes work.

Despite traveling to new countries every four years and having children of their own, these stars have devoted both time and money toward organizations. They are not just traveling around the world, they are also changing it. Here are three Olympic stars making a difference.

Allyson Felix

Many people know Allyson Felix for her speedy running skills on the track, competing in the past three Olympics and bringing home six gold medals. However, the star does much more than this. Since 2011, Felix has been a supporter of Right to Play, after visiting a program in Lebanon and continuing to devote funds toward vulnerable children.

Right to Play is an organization with a focus on providing children with an education and protection. Its main goal is to protect these children from the harsh realities of war and abuse and teach important life lessons regarding relationships and sexual health, by teaching children the importance of graduating from school and receiving a degree.

The main areas of focus are games, sport, creative and free play. Through these areas, Right to Play is able to engage these children in healthy ways that allow them to express themselves in a safe way, and overcome obstacles they see and experience each day within their countries. Right to Play has helped reach over 2.3 million children each year, in 14 countries such as Ghana, Mali, Thailand and Uganda.

In a chance to win yet another gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, Felix has committed to donating a portion of her earnings toward Right to Play. Through her continued advocacy and visits to other countries along with Right to Play, Felix has continued this organization’s legacy, as well as the importance of helping children in underdeveloped countries.

Michael Phelps

Phelps is one of the most decorated Olympians and many know him as one of the best swimmers in history. Phelps’ love for swimming prompted the creation of the Michael Phelps Foundation in 2008 with the money he earned from the Beijing Olympics. The Foundation’s main focus is to promote water safety and to provide children with the encouragement that all their dreams can come true.

Named as a Global Ambassador in 2011 from Special Olympics China, Phelps has continued to provide opportunities for children through the use of his IM program. The IM program is a program that the Michael Phelps Foundation designed to help children overcome the fear of drowning and other water-related accidents. Since 2011, children from more than 35 countries have received the opportunity to become more confident and faster swimmers through the work of Phelps and his program.

Serena Williams

Tennis star Serena Williams created the Serena Williams Fund, which has the main goal to create equity and promote education for children in other countries. Over the years, Williams has partnered with various organizations in a quest to design and build new schools. In 2019, Williams helped build the Salt Marsh Elementary School in Jamaica through her Foundation, in partnership with Helping Hands Jamaica.

Currently, Williams serves as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF continuing to build schools and provide an education for vulnerable children. UNICEF mainly tailors these initiatives toward children of Africa and Asia, but Williams’ work in providing an education for children extends far beyond that.

These three Olympic stars have made significant strides in combating inequities through work with several organizations. Through their continued work, circumstances should only improve.

– Nia Hinson
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Mali
Mali, an agriculturally economic-based country, has faced several challenges throughout its history. The impact of COVID-19 Mali has greatly affected the country as well. Challenges in Mali, like an economic recession heightened due to COVID-19 and multiple military coups, have pushed thousands of citizens into poverty but global organizations are aiming to mitigate the nation’s challenges.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Mali

Though the COVID-19 numbers are significantly lower in Mali than in other countries, the overall “strained” healthcare systems throughout developing countries in Africa have grand economic impacts. In Mali, for example, cotton production decreased by 79% in 2020 due to lower international prices and “disputes” over the distribution of fertilizer to farmers, as a result of the pandemic.

Mali’s population includes more than 20 million people and is located in Western Africa, landlocked between five countries. The pandemic caused international trade to decline in the nation and therefore slowed domestic revenue, causing the country to enter a recession. Public debt in the country increased by more than 44% for the nation’s overall GDP. According to a Business Pulse Survey, more than 83% of enterprises interviewed in the country lost revenue in 2020 and 12% had to shut down.

The health, security, social and political crises in 2020 caused the nation’s poverty levels to increase by 5%. More than 900,000 individuals ended up in poverty in Mali during the pandemic.

“Widespread” poverty exists in Mali with almost half or 49% living in extreme poverty. This is the third youngest country in the world where the mean age of the population is 16.2 years. Rapid population growth with more than five children per woman in Mali contributes to the rising levels of poverty because there are so many people living in confined spaces with limited access to daily needs.

In addition to the economic recession, international support was slow in Mali after another military coup. On May 24, 2021, military forces arrested Mali’s transitional President and Prime Minister after their announcement of a new cabinet did not include previous higher-up individuals who expected to serve in the new government. Almost 15,000 United Nations peacekeepers are stationed in Mali for fear of growing ties with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State and no one is currently running the country “effectively,” according to The Washington Post.

How Mali’s Government is Providing Aid

The government plans to issue COVID-19 relief assistance to its citizens, like implementing tax breaks and increasing social spending by 100 billion CFAF. It plans to allocate a COVID-19 fund of 500 billion CFAF, amounting to roughly $898,000. The report issued from the World Bank does not specifically outline how the tax breaks will undergo distribution to citizens, however, the report suggests that the government might have to reduce “non-essential expenditures” to reallocate funds to its citizens.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), an organization aiming to provide clean water, shelter, health care, education and empowerment support to “refugees and displaced people,” is aiming to provide increased resources for citizens’ economic well-being, health and education. The committee intends to support public health services already in place in Mali to sustain the healthcare services and create public health “structures.” The programs included in their goals will focus on addressing “recurrent” food shortages, asset losses and poor harvests due to climate “conditions and conflict.”

In 2012, IRC aided Mali community members through outlets like loan assistance and “income-generating activities,” to women, in particular, providing clean drinking water, treatment kits, water rehabilitation sites and health care supplies. IRC also facilitated community health training for workers in the area.

The Feed the Future Initiative

Other programs, like the Feed the Future initiative under USAID, address poverty in Mali through the investment of cereals and livestock. These two agricultural products provide the most food security, nutrition and poverty reduction for the country’s people. More than 400,000 Malian farmers applied Feed the Future concepts to their work and increased technology or management practices to further their production.

The World Food Programme (WFP)

The World Food Programme (WFP), a food assistance program that is part of the United Nations, also supplied food assistance in 2019 to more than 700,000 individuals. About 18% of the population or 3.6 million people experience food insecurity in the nation every year since a 2012 crisis occurred in Mali. The U.S. Agency for International Development, also partnered with WFP, established “in-kind” food and cash transfers for households affected by challenges like displacement, conflict and natural disasters as of May 6, 2020.

Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic has been detrimental to many of the world’s poorest countries but social programs have come to light during the pandemic to help impoverished countries. The number of social protection programs increased from 103 in 2015 to 1,141 by December 2020 to help reduce the impact of COVID-19 on Mali and other developing nations.

– Makena Roberts
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in Mali
Mali currently has no legislation that criminalizes female genital mutilation (FGM). In 1997, the government committed to criminalizing FGM. Two years later, the Ministry of Health issued a directive banning it in public health facilities. However, despite a comprehensive reform plan, Mali did not implement any laws against FGM.

About Female Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation is the practice of removing some or all of the external female reproductive organ for no medical purpose. The World Health Organization (WHO) divides FGM into four types. Type I is the removal of the clitoral hood and/or the clitoral glans. Meanwhile, Type II is the removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, possibly accompanied by the removal of the labia majora. Type III involves narrowing the vaginal opening, leaving only a very small hole for menstruation and urination. Finally, Type IV is any other mutilation to the external female reproductive system, such as piercing or cauterizing. The most common forms of FGM in Mali are Types I and II, although some southern regions of the country practice Type III.

The Dangers of FGM

FGM has no health benefits and many side effects, some of which are deadly. It can cause chronic pain, mental health issues, scarring, future surgeries, risk of childbirth complications, urinary, vaginal and menstruation problems and other issues.

The History of FGM

Research traces the origin of FGM to Egypt in the fifth-century B.C.E. The original reasons for the practice are unclear, but evidence from Somalia and Egypt ties it to preventing female slaves from reproducing. Today, the practice is widespread across the northern half of Africa.

FGM is largely a cultural practice, and in Mali, societal pressures often result in mutilation before 5-years-old. Communities practice FGM for a variety of reasons, from decreasing girls’ and women’s libido to fulfilling a prerequisite for marriage. Although no religion endorses FGM, 70% of Malian women aged 15-49 believe that it is a religious requirement, and 75.8% believe it should continue.

Nearly 90% of Malian women and girls aged 15-49 have at least one type of genital mutilation. The regions with the highest rates of FGM are Kayes, Koulikoro, Sikasso and Ségou and Bamako, the capital. All have rates above 90%.

The Path to Legislation Banning FGM

As of June 2021, Mali has not criminalized female genital mutilation despite the harm that the procedure does. Millions of girls remain at risk not only in Mali but across the world. Thirty countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia still have not outlawed FGM.

However, advocacy groups and global governments are working to end FGM, and they have made great progress over the past 20 years. Since 1997, 26 countries in Africa and the Middle East have outlawed FGM. Furthermore, members of communities that practice FGM have begun to oppose the procedure in increasing numbers.

Communities abandoning FGM of their own volition is the fastest way to end the practice. Since 2019, the organizations Healthy Tomorrow and Sini Sanuman have worked to end female genital mutilation in Mali by changing minds. With the help of donations, they have renewed three anti-FGM billboards in Bamako and also created a TV trailer, “In the Name of Your Daughter,” which shows how Tanzanian police officers, courthouses, and safehouses protect young girls from FGM.

Despite the existence of FGM in Mali, the fact that many nearby countries in the area have banned it shows promise for the country. Hopefully, through the work of organizations like Healthy Tomorrow and Sini Sanuman, Mali will soon eliminate FGM as well.

Ana Golden
Photo: Flickr

fight against poverty in MaliMali ranks 175th out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index. Due to a complex web of social and geographical problems, more than half of the population in Mali lives below the poverty line. The combination of a harsh, unforgiving climate and severe political instability leaves Mali extremely vulnerable to the onset of poverty and food insecurity. However, in response to these conditions, organizations are entering the fight against poverty in Mali through strategies and solutions.

The State of Poverty in Mali

Geographic complications constitute a significant source of poverty in Mali. Agriculture is the number one employer in Mali, yet roughly 65% of Mali’s geographic area is designated as desert or semi-desert. This means that most of the agricultural activity in Mali is restricted to the fertile area near the Niger River. As a result, the country is vulnerable to changes in the climate as well as natural disasters like droughts. Mali’s tenuous agricultural dependence means that food insecurity is a major issue in the country. In fact, malnutrition is the second leading cause of death in children age 5 and below.

Mali’s situation has only grown direr since 2012 when civil war broke out after a coup d’etat by insurgents. In the years since, violence has been a constant. After the initial coup, other insurgent groups like ISIS seized the opportunity to move into a volatile area, further exacerbating Mali’s problems.

Organizations Working to Address Poverty in Mali

There are several organizations working toward poverty eradication in Mali today. From foreign aid agencies to nonprofit organizations and think tanks, diverse groups are working to address poverty in Mali. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) addresses poverty in Mali on multiple dimensions. This includes agriculture and food security; democracy and good governance; environmental changes; education; global health and climate management. USAID has had particular success employing poverty reduction strategies in the agricultural sphere. Through USAID assistance in 2018, more than 404,000 farmers in Mali were able to apply improved technologies to their agricultural practices.

In 2016, Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative, started the Innovation Lab for Food Security in Mali. The innovation lab conducts research on things such as the type of fertilizer farmers in Mali use and how potential innovations in agricultural technology can help fight food insecurity.

Innovations for Poverty Action

Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) is another organization taking action to spur innovations in poverty eradication in Mali. The IPA first opened an office in Mali in 2010. However, the IPA relocated its base from Mali to Burkina Faso after the coup but remains active in Mali to this day. Much like USAID, IPA conducts research on different factors that exacerbate poverty in Mali. IPA is studying innovations in agriculture, global health and other fields to evaluate their potential utility in the fight against poverty in Mali.

The fight against poverty in Mali includes fighting political instability as well. There are several successful innovations in this area. For example, the global cybersecurity company Kaspersky expanded into West Africa in 2020. Kaspersky’s expansion will drastically improve intelligence capabilities against violent insurgent groups. With intervention from foreign aid and collective action to eradicate poverty, Mali’s future is looking brighter.

Leo Ratté
Photo: Flickr

Mali's Shea Butter
As the sun rises over the wild-growing shea trees in Mali, West Africa, women from surrounding villages frequently work at the base of the towering trees gathering up the precious shea fruit. Encased within the fruit’s delicious pulp is the invaluable shea nut. Once their containers are full, the Malian women walk several kilometers back to their villages with up to 50 kilos of fruit in teetering baskets upon their heads. There, the fruit heads storage until it is ready for processing. Mali’s shea butter production has the potential to uplift the country’s economy significantly.

Great Demand and Inadequate Supply

Mali is the second-largest producer of shea nuts. It supplies more than 20% of the world’s shea nuts, which primarily go toward making shea butter. Shea butter’s primary use is in food and cosmetic products. The shea butter industry has grown over 600% in the last 20 years and is still on the rise. West Africa exports more than 350,000 tons of shea butter annually. In short, demand is not an issue but due to inadequate processing technology, Mali’s full wealth potential of shea butter production has not undergone realization. With over 42% of the country’s population living in poverty, the untapped possibilities of a modernized, efficient shea butter production practice desperately needed unearthing. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) decided to do just that.

The IFC Lends a Hand

The IFC is loaning approximately $3 million to Mali Shi, a shea nut processing plant located just outside Mali’s capital city of Bamako. The goal is to build a new, more modern plant with updated technology to boost efficiency and promote a better product. The IFC has also committed itself to offering training in business and finance as well as management skills to the shea nut suppliers in Mali. The shea supply chain in Mali mostly consists of women. Therefore, the bolstering of the shea butter industry in this region will allow these women to pay for their children’s schooling, invest in a family business and access transportation.

Prioritizing the Valuable Resource

The shea butter industry is not slowing down any time soon and women in low-income countries are on the frontlines. As the shea fad continues, more and more companies that use shea butter in their products are working to keep their focus on the hard-working women supplying the shea nuts. As companies bring in profits, many are fighting to ensure the suppliers of the valuable shea nuts are reaping the benefits of the backbreaking work.

Ghanaian American Rahama Wright is one of them. Rahama’s company, Shea Yeleen, has a business model that benefits the suppliers in the West African countries producing the shea butter. Shea Yeleen offers shea producers five times the typical income. Instead of an average of $2 per day for the labor-intensive work, many suppliers are now receiving $10 per day from Rahama’s company. Additionally, many of the women who belong to the cooperatives Shea Yeleen supports receive health insurance, training and access to savings groups. Shea Yeleen ensures its suppliers receive compensation by processing payments through the cooperatives and requiring signed payment receipts from cooperative members.

The Future Looks Bright

In a nutshell, as demand for Mali’s shea butter continues to rise, investment in shea entrepreneurs is vital. The efforts to modernize shea processing in Mali offer a bridge between a life of poverty and one of financial stability. For more than 120,000 individual shea nut suppliers to Mali Shi (95% of which are women) the ability to process shea butter with a higher level of efficiency means a brighter future. This empowerment not only benefits the farmers directly affected but also provides an opportunity for serious economic growth for the country.

– Rachel Proctor
Photo: Flickr

Mali and the TNA Project
Mali is a West African country with a population of 20 million people. The country’s high poverty levels have long-term impacts on the physical health of citizens. With a poverty rate of 42.7% in 2019, many citizens suffer from malnutrition. In response, the Technology Needs Assessment (TNA) project’s overall focus on environmental health helps mitigate the long-term effects of poverty within the country. Mali and the TNA project have helped the country utilize agricultural technology to develop programs and projects centered on these impacts of poverty.

What is TNA?

The U.N. Environment Programme and the UNEP DTU partnership (U.N. Environment and the Technical University of Denmark) created the Technology Needs Assistance project in 2001. The Global Environment Facility helps finance this multi-phased project.

TNA has helped people in more than 80 countries, with a primary focus on environmental health. It uses a country-led approach in order to develop accountability. TNA generally helps countries make improvements to many of the programs and projects already in place.

The work of TNA aligns with the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs emerged to end poverty and other deprivations through global partnership. TNA recognizes the role technology can have in achieving these goals, especially in the area of environmental health.

Mali and TNA

Mali faces a serious risk of droughts. Droughts can have disastrous economic and environmental effects by damaging agriculture, water supplies and more. In response to this risk, Mali and the TNA project helped develop field contouring. Field contouring prevents soil erosion and water run-off. In one rural part of the country, Koutiala, the water run-off has reduced by at least 20% and the crop yields have increased by 30%. Additionally, Mali and TNA developed micro-hydroelectric stations that benefit the rural and urban areas of the country by providing clean energy.

Although Mali completed its TNA in 2012, the Institute of Rural Economy measures the progress and impacts of the technology that this project introduced. This research agency mainly focuses on agricultural, livestock and food technology. TNA focused on the agriculture, water resources and energy sector of the country to improve overall environmental health. Despite the country’s completion of TNA almost a decade ago, there are still clear benefits from the project. For example, the Institute of Rural Economy continues to hold training sessions and collect data to ensure the country is advancing in technology. Overall, TNA in Mali aligns with five SDGs: clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, responsible consumption and production, climate action and life on land.

CORAF in Mali

Since the TNA project in Mali officially ended, the country has taken steps to continue improving its practices for environmental health. The Conference of the Agricultural Research Leaders in West and Central Africa (CORAF) is an international nonprofit organization that focuses on agricultural production. Currently, Mali has implemented 23 CORAF projects. This organization works with different agricultural programs in Mali to improve and strengthen its agricultural technology. Its main goal is to reduce poverty and malnutrition in the country.

Although Mali has phased out of the TNA project, the nation is still working to improve its agricultural technology. Utilizing technology is one step toward mitigating the impacts of poverty within Mali.

– Mia Banuelos
Photo: Flickr

Universal Healthcare is Saving Children in MaliBeing a child in the impoverished, conflict-riddled country of Mali is not easy. Lack of healthcare is one of the major factors contributing to the issue of child poverty. One in 10 children does not live to see their fifth birthday. The primary causes of death are pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria. All these diseases are completely preventable. Children who survive must often work to help provide for their families instead of getting an education. The Malian government is aiming for universal healthcare in Mali, starting with a focus on pregnant women and children under 5.

Conflict in Mali

Mali is a landlocked country located in West Africa and one of the most poverty-stricken nations in the world. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) reports that 49% of Malians live below the extreme poverty line. With more than half of the country’s entire population under the age of 18, child poverty is an ongoing crisis.

Mali gained its independence from France in 1960 and has since struggled for stability. Decades of conflict have wreaked havoc on the people living within Mali’s borders.The most recent conflict began in 2012 when a group of rebels, backed by several Islamic militant groups, overthrew the government in a military coup. These alliances did not last long, and as a result, sparked violence that spread across the country. The struggle for land and power continues to this day. In 2018, nearly one-third of Mali’s population lived in areas directly affected by the conflict. As war wages on, child poverty in Mali continues to increase.

A Child’s Life in Mali

Mali’s youth have taken the brunt of the devastation caused by the continuing violence. Many lack necessities like access to clean water, food, education and healthcare. Children under the age of 5 are most vulnerable, and without accessible healthcare, many preventable diseases turn deadly.

Before the 2012 conflict, great strides were being made in the development of programs and policies to improve the conditions of child poverty in Mali. Infant mortality was on the decline, the number of children enrolled in school increased by 10% and there was a dramatic rise in birth registries. Registry of birth is extremely vital because when a child is unregistered, they do not carry the same rights and protections as those who are. Registration at birth assists in securing a child’s access to human rights protections under laws against child marriage, labor and recruitment into armed forces before the legal age. Without documentation to prove identity, education, healthcare and the right to vote become inaccessible.

UNICEF’s Efforts

The country’s instability has halted much of the progression. However, humanitarian organizations like UNICEF, continue to work toward the goal of ensuring every child’s rights are upheld. UNICEF is currently working on four key elements of child welfare in Mali:

  1. Vaccinations: UNICEF targets communities with the highest number of unvaccinated children and uses proven strategies to supply vaccinations for the most common diseases.
  2. Malnutrition Prevention: Educating families within the first 1,000 days of life on proper nutrition, vaccination benefits and hygiene has been successful in decreasing infant mortality rates.
  3. Education: Distributing learning materials and helping train teachers to ensure children have the best quality education possible is a high priority.
  4. Child marriage: UNICEF is assisting the Malian government in developing policies to end the practice of child marriage. This entails encouraging leadership on local levels to adopt progressive policies that promote social change for the betterment of the female children in their communities.

The Good News

The Malian government says it wants to see improvement in the lives of its people. For this reason, it is actively working to ensure free healthcare is available to all citizens. The ultimate hope is for universal healthcare in Mali.

Data obtained through a lifesaving pilot program that began in 2008 provides promising news. This trial program provides door-to-door healthcare in the town of Yirimadio, which is located just outside Mali’s capital city of Bamako. When the trial began, the child mortality rate was 154 deaths per 1,000 births. Upon the trial’s completion, the child mortality rate had decreased by a staggering 95%.

This free door-to-door health care program was so successful that Mali’s government has committed to having this healthcare program available nationwide by 2022. At this time, the plan is offered to pregnant women and children under the age of 5. Mali’s health minister, Samba Ousmane Sow, said, “We are trying to make Mali be great again, to improve our healthcare system and save lives and we are hoping this will help us reach universal healthcare with a very powerful, improved system.”

The Road Ahead

The primary concern is ensuring healthcare professionals have the training and provisions to provide the service. The Malian government is seeking ways to become self-sustaining in its quest for universal healthcare as it is saving children in Mali. Currently, it is reliant on external donors to supplement government funding. Nonetheless, amid conflict, there lies hope for the future.

Rachel Proctor
Photo: Flickr

Universal Healthcare in Mali
In early 2019, the Malinese government made an announcement that shocked the global health world: it would make healthcare free at the point-of-service to pregnant women and children under 5 years of age. The country had achieved universal healthcare in Mali.

The Situation

In a country where poverty and healthcare outcomes were in dire straits, the move to provide universal care for the most vulnerable demographic in Mali was welcome and necessary. Previous to the 2019 decree, Mali had disastrous health outcomes.

About 106 children out of 1,000 live births would not survive delivery. Adding to the issue was the fact that 587 per 100,000 mothers would not survive delivery either, one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world. Only malaria and digestive diseases claim more lives in Mali.

In order to diagnose the problems with Malinese healthcare, a historical context is necessary. With that understanding, the new approach reveals itself to be necessary, positive and inclusive.

Post-Colonialism

After Mali’s liberation from France in the 1960s, the nascent country fell back on the healthcare system that was already in place. That system emerged 50 years prior and had not evolved with the needs of the populace. It would not change until the 1980s.

The Bamako Initiative

Launched in 1987, the initiative came under recommendation from both UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO). Named after the capital city of Mali, the initiative proved problematic, pushing the Malinese into poor health outcomes.

The initiative called for patients to pay for things like health services and drugs to offset costs and insufficient funds. The system requirements led the impoverished to avoid seeking care.

Post-Implementation

The free to pregnant mothers and under 5-year-old children policy has already yielded benefits. The new model re-centers care away from costly hospital services to community-based care.

Nurses can now travel door-to-door to service mothers and children under 5-years-old without fees. The results have been stunningly effective, with infant mortality dropping by 95% in the Bamako district.

Dr. Ari Johnson, a professor of global health sciences at the University of California, San Francisco heralded the approach: “The ministry of health [in Mali] has taken a very brave and bold political move to make real, evidence-based healthcare change.”

The approach serves as a model example; One that Mali hopes will become the standard across Africa. Johnson continues with optimism, stating that he hopes the new approach will: “make Mali a leader in health sector reform on the African continent.” Universal healthcare in Mali was no longer a dream.

The COVID-19 Pandemic

Although Mali has experienced strain due to the pandemic, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Gutierrez has noticed Mali’s new model of healthcare. He called on nations to implement Universal Health Care for all nations in order to beat COVID-19. He stated that “The pandemic has revealed utterly inadequate health systems, yawning gaps in social protection, and major structural inequalities within and between countries.”

Gutierrez continued on to make the connection between robust systems and access, stating that “ . . . we cannot wait 10 years. We need Universal Health Coverage, including mental health coverage, now, to strengthen efforts against the pandemic and prepare for future crises.”

Foreign Aid

A number of Western nations have come to Mali’s aid. The impoverished nation, just starting on its new policy, has found itself hobbled by the current crisis. Experts see support for the nation, and its new health policy, as crucial.

The Netherlands

The Project to Accelerate Progress Towards Universal Health Coverage (PACSU) is a joint effort between the Dutch Embassy and the Global Financing Facility, the World Bank and the Ministry of Health in Mali. Learning from the impact of previous health crises in the region, the Netherlands’ support will focus on pregnant mothers and newborns.

When the Ebola crisis hit the region in 2014, a startling trend of infant and maternal mortality gripped Mali. Resources were scant and pregnant women were unable to secure the necessary health services to ensure a successful birth. PACSU will provide facilities, professionals, equipment and any other resources necessary to the ailing system during COVID-19.

The US

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will join the fight as well supplying $45 million to Palladium, an international development firm. The organization will provide support to reinforce Mali’s health systems and financing, providing access to high-quality care. Two programs, the Human Resources for Health 2030 (HRH2030) and the Human Resources for Health Strengthening Activity (HRHSA), have not been successful and will undergo expansion.

These programs, in concert with Mali’s Ministry of Health, will focus on the decentralization of health services. Training, motivation and safety for new medical professionals, particularly in the prevention of illness among both patients and healthcare workers is crucial to the program’s success.

Universal healthcare in Mali is critical from many standpoints. Not only does it provide relief for the historically impoverished Sahelian country itself, but it serves as a model for the rest of Africa. The refocus on community health improves access and financing. Once again, Africa leads the way in methodology, access and care during the struggle against COVID-19.

– Christopher Millard
Photo: Flickr