Inflammation and stories on medicine

m-Health in developing countriesMobile healthcare, known colloquially as “m-Health,” just may be the key to revolutionizing healthcare and access to medicine in developing countries. m-Health allows anyone with a mobile device to access various facets of healthcare such as educational resources, notifications about nearby testing and vaccination diagnosis and symptom help and telehealth appointments.

Lacking access to healthcare is one of the major drivers of poverty across the world. The World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO) state that “at least half of the world’s population cannot obtain essential health services.” This inaccessibility perpetuates the existence of infectious diseases specific to developing countries. Similarly, poverty itself is a public health crisis. As indicated by the WHO, poverty directly causes sickness “because it forces people to live in environments that make them sick, without decent shelter, clean water or adequate sanitation.”

In addition, healthcare expenses cause 100 million people to fall into “extreme poverty.” Extreme poverty is defined as less than two dollars a day each year. Thus, even if people in developing countries can access to medical care, the expenses often put them into another devastating health situation.

However, m-Health may decrease these numbers. Read below for some key benefits of m-Health in developing countries.

m-Health is Adaptable and Available

m-Health is becoming more and more accessible to developing countries due to widespread mobile phone use around the world. A study from the PEW research center on global mobile phone ownership revealed that mobile phone ownership is growing in countries with developing economies. Around 83% of citizens in emerging economies (South Africa, Brazil, Philippines, Mexico, Tunisia, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria and India) own a mobile phone. Another PEW study found a majority of adults own their own mobile phones in a separate group of 11 developing countries.

67 countries in the world have less than two hospital beds per 1,000 people. However, many of those countries (including countries from the PEW research studies) have high rates of mobile phone ownership. Therefore, some developing countries would have better access to telehealth than in-person health.

In addition, m-Health is adaptable. WHO reported that the most widely-used m-Health initiatives around the world are “health call centers/ health care telephone helplines (59%), emergency toll-free telephone services (55%), emergencies (54%) and mobile telemedicine (49%).” This shows that different regions can implement different programs depending on the need.

m-Health Can Track Disease Outbreaks, Epidemics and Natural Disasters

Tracking disease outbreaks and natural disasters is a huge advantage of m-Health. WHO reported high implementation rates of this m-Health initiative in South East Asia and the Americas. Africa uses this feature of m-Health the most for public warning systems.

m-Health Avoids Poorly Maintained Health Clinics

In an article by the World Economic Forum, the author described how many health clinics in developing countries, particularly in Africa and Indonesia, may be doing more harm than good. If low-income countries rush to build multiple health facilities, the quality of these pop-up clinics is often low. They tend to be “lacking in the equipment, supplies and staff needed to deliver vital health services effectively.” In addition, the sheer volume of poorly-constructed clinics often competes for resources. Medical equipment is often left unsanitized, therefore becoming dangerous. This contributed to Ebola killing more people in health facilities than outside areas during the West African epidemic in 2014-2016.

However, m-Health reduces the need for going to an in-person clinic. In this model, concerned individuals can schedule a “virtual first” consultation and then attend an in-person appointment only if needed.

m-Health Raises Awareness and Mobilizes Communities to Receive Vaccines and Testing

Many countries have also implemented mass SMS alerts to alert their citizens of nearby testing sites for HIV. These alerts educate recipients on health concerns related to HIV and other infectious diseases. They also outline why it is necessary to receive testing and treatment. Similar alerts exist for vaccine knowledge and care.

As m-Health is a new and continuously developing idea, there are still problems with its potential to provide widespread care. For example, even though virtual appointments and care are possible through m-Health, many developing countries lack a sufficient number of health workers to keep up with m-Health services. One study affirms this, stating, “There are 57 countries with a critical shortage of healthcare workers, [creating] a deficit of 2.4 million doctors and nurses.”

In addition, different health conditions may receive disproportionate care through m-Health. For example, women’s and reproductive health is at a large deficit in the developing world and globally. One study revealed that “women are 21% less likely to own a mobile phone than men, and this difference is higher in South East Asia.” Another study in Kenya also reported that “ownership of mobile phones was 1.7 times and SMS-use was 1.6 times higher among males than among females.” This ownership deficit, coupled with the fact that women are more likely to be in poverty than men due to gender inequality, makes m-Health more accessible to men’s health or less gendered health issues.

Still, m-Health in developing countries is an extremely promising enterprise to relieve the developing world of its widespread healthcare deficits. As this study concludes “m-Health has shown incredible potential to improve health outcomes” – and it can only continue to progress from here.

– Grace Ganz
Photo: PXFuel

Healthcare in VietnamIn the fourth century BCE, China became the primary ruler of a northern section of Vietnam. Before this period, northern Vietnam and southern China shared multiple ethnic groups, many of which held traditional healing beliefs. As a result, traditional forms of medicine in Vietnam are very similar to those in China. Shared herbal medicine practices and theoretical frameworks continued to spread when China began its 1,000-year occupation of Vietnam, in 111 BCE. During this time, Vietnam’s medicinal use of plants and China’s theoretical framework around traditional healing merged to create an alternative form of medicine that persists today in healthcare in Vietnam.

Traditional Medicine in the East

Alternative, or traditional, medicine is often overlooked in Western contexts and seen as less effective or taboo. This is because of medical hegemony, or “the dominance of the biomedical model [and] the active suppression of alternatives,” as defined by the International Journal of Complementary & Alternative Medicine. Medical hegemony indicates an underlying power dynamic between the East and the West. While many people in the West believe that Western medicine is best, many others around the world believe that traditional medicine is legitimate. People in Vietnam, China and other countries have used traditional medicine for over 4,000 years. It actually inspired the growth of Western practices, though its treatment methods are now entirely distinct from biomedicine.

Since its origin, traditional medicine has been prescribed by healers and traditional medicine doctors primarily for its preventative properties. Healers commonly use herbal medicines in an oral or topical form to treat developing symptoms of a certain ailment. Traditional healing can also commonly include physical exercise, massage or acupuncture to promote the flow of blood and energy. In addition to the physical effects of treatment, traditional medicine is theorized to have hormonal and energy-balancing properties, like the Chinese concept of yin and yang.

Vietnam’s Healthcare System

While the use of traditional medicine is still common throughout cultures that partake in traditional healing, it is often not used on its own. In contemporary Vietnamese medical culture, individuals seeking care consult both traditional and biomedical practitioners for treatment. The two systems can be complementary: biomedicine aims to physically eradicate an illness, while traditional medicine treats the symptoms and psychosocial harm of the ailment. For example, if a person develops cancer in Vietnam, they might consult a biomedical physician for chemotherapy and a traditional medicine doctor for a remedy that counters the symptomatic effects of chemotherapy.

Gaining a dual perspective from biomedicine and traditional physicians in Vietnam is so common that this practice is reflected in the country’s health insurance system, which makes both kinds of medicine accessible. The payment method for healthcare in Vietnam varies based on the sector in which a person obtains treatment, whether public or private. Treatment in the public sector is covered in full, with an occasional co-pay expense, as public health insurance is compulsory in Vietnam. Private health insurance is paid out of pocket. Both public and private insurance can cover traditional medicine hospital expenses, though the costs for traditional medicine are generally paid privately.

However, when a person is unable to pay for either public or private insurance, they are still able to access traditional forms of medicine. In Hanoi, a major city in Vietnam, there is a full street of vendors that sell traditional medicinal herbs. These vendors can even help to fill prescriptions from hospitals at a reduced price, making traditional medicine more accessible to the public.

Improving Public and Personal Health

The accessibility of traditional medicine with and without health insurance fills gaps in healthcare in Vietnam, making the population healthier overall. In addition, the Vietnamese prioritize preventative medicine because the population is familiar with traditional health values. With ready access to health resources, along with a generalized understanding of the values of self-care, healthcare in Vietnam excels.

Lilia Wilson
Photo: Flickr

Chinese Herbal MedicineThe country of China is geographically diverse, from coastal foothills to desert basins to lush mountains. China’s beautiful, towering mountains are home to many rural villages and rare plants, like huanglian, that don’t grow anywhere else in the world. These are some facts to know about how Chinese herbal medicine helps poor farmers.

What is Chinese Herbal Medicine?

Huanglian, also known as Chinese goldthread, is a bitter Chinese herbal medicine. Its uses include treating ailments such as vomiting, jaundice and eczema. It is one of many herbs used in Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), a natural method of healing that has changed little in the thousands of years it has been practiced.

TCM is based on restoring the vital life force, called Qi, in the body. Imbalances between the yin and yang that make up Qi are purported to cause diseases and illnesses. Herbal medicine is just one aspect of TCM. Other practices that have made their way into the Western world include acupuncture, fire cupping and massage.

Controversy Around TCM

Many people regard TCM as a pseudoscience because it hasn’t undergone as much scientific testing as Western medicine. However, many people experience benefits from using alternative therapies alongside Western medicine. Organizations like the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine regulate and certify practitioners of TCM in the U.S. While not understood to the degree that prescription drugs are, TCM works for many people as complementary therapy or treatment for lesser ailments.

Identifying the Problem

Southwest China’s mountainous regions are some of the poorest in the country. Since China started its fight against poverty, one of the big questions was how to reach and help remote villages like Zhongyuan and Huangshan. These small mountain villages have barren soil, few industries and little access to the outside world. Their populations are small, with only a few hundred residents. Most are very poor.

Jun Wu is an associate professor from the Jiangxi University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Wu was appointed as a poverty-alleviation Party official for the Zhongyuan Village in 2018. He and his team encouraged the villagers to grow white lotus and gualou, crops used in TCM to treat various health issues.

Herbal Medicine Provides Industry

Zhongyuan Village’s white lotus plantation reached nearly one million yuan — or around $150,000 — in revenue in 2019. Gualou is grown by individual farmers rather than in a plantation. The plant also brings in about 30,000 yuan or around $5,000 per hectare each year. Per capita disposable income for villagers in Zhongyuan grew 21.3% over the past year as a result of the Chinese herbal medicine industry.

Huangshuan has also seen similar economic growth to Zhongyuan, growing herbs like lily bulb, turmeric and hogfennel root. The TCM industry has also created jobs for villagers in related work such as washing harvested herbs, weeding farmland and keeping away insects and other pests. Households are expected to have their income increased by at least 5,000 yuan or $700 this year.

The Chinese herbal medicine industry promises a brighter future for everyone involved. Unused land is given a purpose, household income increases and more job opportunities emerge. The village as a whole becomes more prosperous. Growing crops for TCM is an innovative and effective way to help China’s most impoverished and isolated citizens become economically self-sufficient.

– Kathy Wei
Photo: Pixabay

Healthcare in Jamaica
In the tourist’s eye, Jamaica is an enticing island with constant summer sun and alluring beaches. However, behind this guise, Jamaicans face a complicated reality. Healthcare in Jamaica is in desperate need of improvement. There is an increasing obligation to balance public access to health services with the practitioners’ ability to keep up with the enlarged workload.

Health Problems in Jamaica

Jamaica has many health issues that require an effective healthcare system. The top health issues that lead to premature death in Jamaica include stroke, diabetes, neonatal disorders, Ischemic heart disease and HIV/AIDS. Along with these issues, mental illness and STDs disproportionately affect Jamaica’s youth, and these often correlate with social and economic factors. The 2017 Global School Health Survey found that 24.8% of students seriously considered suicide and 18.5% of students attempted suicide over a 12 month period. In terms of STDs, only 31% of Jamaicans over the age of 15 and 51% of Jamaicans under 15 living with HIV were receiving treatment in 2018.

In order to try to make healthcare accessible to all Jamaica introduced free public health services to its citizens in 2008 by removing user fees. On the surface, this appears to be a positive step in removing the economic barrier that prevents the poor from receiving adequate healthcare. However, this has revealed deeper issues for healthcare in Jamaica.

Issues with Free Public Health Services

With the increase in patients, health practitioners have found themselves experiencing overwork and extreme stress. This shift has negatively affected the performance of these practitioners as patient demand has increased, but facilities remain understaffed. In 2016, researchers evaluated how the removal of charges has directly affected the workload. The study found that before the instigation of the free services, 50% of health practitioners had satisfaction with their workload. By 2016, eight years after the introduction of free healthcare, only 14% had satisfaction with their workload.

Some doctors interviewed for the study indicated that both the clinics and hospitals were seeing more patients daily after the elimination of charges. The quality of care worsened as medical professionals did not account for waiting times and availability of resources. The size of health clinics and the number of staff pale in comparison to the number of Jamaicans seeking care.

Along with the insufficient number of health practitioners, Jamaica’s medical infrastructures often do not match the demand of patients. Those in rural areas especially must travel long distances to access health care. The expansion of health facilities is extremely expensive. With Jamaica’s financial debt, this is not a project that it can take on lightly.

Also revealed in this situation is the scarcity of resources available to health clinics. The flood of patients has caused issues such as a delay of bloodwork and a shortage of medication. There have even been situations where patients had to purchase the medical supplies necessary for their surgery, costing an extreme amount that counteracts the efforts of free healthcare.

Upgrading Health Facilities

However, the failings of healthcare in Jamaica does not mean that the country is beyond help. In fact, the Minister of Health and Wellness announced in 2019 that over the next five years, Jamaica will be upgrading public health facilities with the funds of $200 million. The Minister plans to upgrade nine public health centers and six hospitals, one of which is the Cornwall Regional Hospital, which will benefit more than 400,000 residents. The Minister also plans to build a new Western Child and Adolescent Hospital, in addition to developing more sophisticated healthcare technology.

NGOs such as UNICEF are also doing work. The agency has established a Health Promotion program that works to provide quality health services to babies, adolescents and young mothers. The two goals of this program are to enhance institutional capacity to deliver effective health services and to boost the access of adolescents to these health services. By partnering with groups such as the Word Health Organization and Jamaica’s Ministry of Health and Wellness, UNICEF is carrying out its Baby-Friendly Hospitals Initiative, Adolescent-Friendly Services and Empowerment of Girls and Young Mothers.

Healthcare in Jamaica is lacking in many areas, but the country is doing continuous work to enhance health facilities and services. This progress shows that the country should see improvement in the future.

– Natascha Holenstein
Photo: Pixabay

3D Printing in Impoverished Nations
3D printing is a technology that has existed since the 1980s. Over time, additive technology has increasingly progressed where various medical applications can use it. 3D printing in impoverished nations has several benefits specifically in medicine and medical services relating to the affordability for the general populous of these nations. 3D printing for medical applications is the process of utilizing a digital blueprint or digital model, slicing the model into manageable bits and then reconstructing it with various types of materials, typically plastic. Here are three examples of 3D printing in impoverished nations.

3 Examples of 3D Printing in Impoverished Nations

  1. Custom Surgical Elements: The use of 3D printing has significantly increased in the manufacturing of customized surgical elements, such as splints. Manufacturers can make these devices and components quickly at a relatively low cost, which would greatly reduce the price of sale to the consumer. The reason for the reduced cost of production compared to conventional manufacturing systems is primarily due to the additive nature of 3D printing. For example, 3D printing actually adds material onto each layer, rather than subtracting (cutting/slicing) and combining material. This results in smaller opportunities for error to occur and the wasting of fewer materials in the long run.
  2. 3D Printed Organs: Many know this particular field of 3D medical printing as bioprinting. According to The Smithsonian Magazine, bioprinting involves integrating human cells from the organ recipient into the “scaffolding” of the 3D printed organ. The scaffolding acts as the skeleton of the organ and the cells will grow and duplicate to support physiological function. Although this particular method is still in the experimental stages, there have been successful procedures performed in the past. Researchers at Wake Forest have found an effective method for bioprinting human organs; they have successfully implanted and grown skin, ears, bone, and muscle in lab animals. Further, scientists at Princeton University have 3D printed a bionic ear that can detect various frequencies, different than a biological, human ear. The researchers behind the creation of this bionic ear theorized that they could use a similar procedure for internal organs. Similar to surgical components, 3D printed organs would greatly reduce the cost of organ transplants. Additionally, it would increase the availability of organs, which are nearly impossible to find. Locating an appropriate match within a specific proximity of the patient has resulted in a global organ shortage. Whilst some have presented a solution in the form of international organ trade, WHO states that international organ trade could provide a significant health concern because of the lengthy trips the organs would experience. 3D printed organs may be a sustainable method to help impoverished nations with supply organs quickly and cheaply.
  3. Prosthetics: 3D printing in impoverished nations could also allow people to print custom prosthetics for those in need. The lack of access to current prosthetics creates a lot of obstacles for people living in impoverished nations. Creating prosthetics with 3D printing technology has the potential to provide a person the ability to accomplish basic, daily tasks in order to support a family. Not only are current prosthetics expensive, but they are also often inconvenient or they prohibit natural motion. For example, Cambodia treats a prosthetic hand as a cosmetic item, leading the majority of the population to refuse the prosthetic due to the lack of functionality. The Victoria Hand project is currently attempting to change this perspective by providing functional, 3D printed prosthetic hands to Cambodia and Nepal. The team has performed user trials, where the aim is to distribute the 3D printed hand to the general populace. Subsequently, the design will go to multiple fabrication services to maximize accessibility.

These three examples of 3D printing in impoverished nations show just how important 3D printing is and will continue to be to aiding those in need. With further development, 3D printing should allow people to receive prosthetics and organ transplants more easily.

– Jacob Creswell
Photo: Wikimedia

Technological Innovation in Sierra Leone
After a civil war in the 1990s and early 2000s and an Ebola outbreak in 2014, Sierra Leone is slowly recovering by investing in its future through technological innovation. The President of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio, stated that “Science and technology is the bedrock for the development of any modern economy.” With its labor force consisting of more than 60 percent of subsistence farming and its GDP being agriculture-based, the West African country has its sights on technology to help diversify its economy. UNICEF, Sierra Leone’s Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) and businesses are working together to improve the lives of Sierra Leoneans.

UNICEF and DSTI

President Bio created the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) in 2018 to further his vision of developing a technology sector in the country. Dr. David Sengeh is the first Chief Innovation Officer of DSTI. UNICEF and DSTI have partnered to support the use of digital data. One result of the partnership is the Free Quality School Education Initiative. The initiative uses data science to help grant free education to every child and give fast feedback on test scores and the quality of education. MagicBox is an open-source data-sharing platform that UNICEF is investing in which includes partners such as Google and IBM. People can use MagicBox to map epidemics in order to reduce the spread of disease and it has helped Sierra Leone since 2014. Its first use was during the 2014 Ebola Crisis in West Africa. It can also collect private and public data on education and poverty.

Drone Medicine Transportation

UNICEF and the DSTI are also testing drones that could deliver medicine and vaccines. Drones could also send pictures and digital data of natural disasters to mitigate hazards to the public. Sierra Leone is the fourth country that UNICEF drone-tested. Aerial imaging, used for mapping infrastructure, transportation and agriculture, helps elevate the country’s development. Since it is one of the least developed countries in the world, drone data pertaining to infrastructure is a good first step in development. For example, only 10 percent of the roads are paved, making transportation slow and difficult. During the rainy seasons, rural floods cut off communities for up to six months. Drones could reach the communities, especially those with HIV and AIDS.

GEN-350

The GEN-350 is a new technological innovation in Sierra Leone that produces drinking water out of the air. Watergen created the generator called GEN-350 in its mission to provide affordable water to countries that lack clean drinking water. The generator simply needs electricity to operate. The GEN-350 can produce up to 900 liters of water a day. About 50 percent of the population lacks clean drinking water, so the generator reduces the possibility of waterborne disease. Waterborne diseases are one of the main causes of death in the country. Water sources for Sierra Leoneans include ponds, puddles and wells that chemicals from mining and agriculture have contaminated. Watergen’s GEN-350 is a long-term solution to clean and affordable water for those in poverty in Sierra Leone and the world.

Technological Innovation Ongoing

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s $773,000 grant to DSTI’s GIS Portal in 2019 expresses increased interest in Dr. Sengeh’s goal to provide “real-time information for timely access and receipt of services, and optimize service delivery specifically in the provision of maternal healthcare services.” Although technological innovation in Sierra Leone is in its infancy, the government shows initiative with the creation of the DSTI.

A civil war between 1991 and 2002 tarnished its economy, but the country is seeing development as companies such as Watergen and organizations such as UNICEF provide solutions to alleviating the effects of poverty, such as poor education and polluted water.

– Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Flickr

Fake Medicine in Benin
Benin, a West African country about the size of Pennsylvania, has a tumultuous history. The site of the former Dahomey Kingdom, a kingdom that experienced rapid growth due to its involvement in the slave trade, Benin has since faced colonization, war, strife, civil unrest and a flood of pseudo-pharmaceuticals. With such struggles, a country can react in perpetuation or recovery and Benin has chosen the latter. This is most noticeable in the recent progress against fake medicine in Benin.

Fake Medicine in Benin

The origin of the issue of fake medicine in Benin likely relates to the country’s impoverished state. Benin had the 27th lowest per capita GDP as of 2017, at approximately $2,300. In terms of medical intervention, Benin has been desperate for some time now. The CIA lists the risk for Beninese citizens contracting infectious diseases as very high. The diseases responsible for the highest percentage of illnesses are bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A, typhoid fever, dengue fever, malaria and meningococcal meningitis. Benin also faces struggles relating to HIV/AIDS, which resulted in 2,200 deaths in 2018.

As of 2016, the nation spent only about 4 percent of its GDP on the health sector. This lack of financing for government-sponsored health care left an opening for black market interference and fake prescription drugs quickly flooded stores and pharmacies. These drugs often have no active ingredient and do little to fight the diseases that marketing suggests they cure. Instead, they lead to a litany of new health issues, often causing ulcers and organ failure. People have linked over 100,000 deaths to fake medicine in Benin.

The Fight Against Fake Medicine

Corruption has been inherent in most of Benin’s history. The issue of fake medicine in Benin is simply another facet of the same problem. Thankfully, the country is taking steps to address the endemic nature of this devastating problem.

For all intents and purposes, the fight against fake medicine in Benin began in 2009 with the Cotonou Declaration. This declaration focused on addressing the rampant fake medicine black market at the international level, as opposed to limiting the fight to within Benin’s borders. The declaration called for a raised awareness of drug trafficking and a limiting of the freedoms that often occur for those involved. Unfortunately, not much changed following the Cotonou Declaration. Benin raised awareness, but only for a moment, and it did not take any legitimate steps to combat the issue.

True progress began with the launching of Operation Pangea 9, a government organization founded under Benin’s current president, Patrice Talon. The organization works as a task force, set on fighting the manufacturing and selling of fake medicine through raids and legislation. In 2017 alone, the organization seized over 80 tonnes of fake medicine in Benin. This serves as a sign of drastic progress. For comparison, in 2015, the organization seized only about four tonnes of contraband.

The seizures took place throughout a multitude of marketplaces in Benin, resulting in the arrest of over 100 fake medicine traders. These raids and seizures served as stage one of Operation Pangea 9’s plan to eliminate the distribution of fake medicine in Benin. It was extremely successful, yet only addressed a fraction of the issue.

After the success of the seizures, in order to prevent a lapse back into the country’s past, President Patrice Talon’s government went after the suppliers. Many knew that corruption thoroughly aided the success of the selling of fake medicine in Benin. In December 2017, the police staged a raid at the home of Mohammed Atao Hinnouho, a member of Benin’s parliament. The police seized hundreds of boxes of pseudo-pharmaceuticals and arrested Mohammed Atao Hinnouho. This raid led to the outing of a vast number of those involved in the illegal trade and sent a definitive message that no matter the sources or persons responsible, they would face justice.

Conclusion

As of 2019, the country almost entirely eradicated the issue of fake medicine in Benin. The shelves of grocery stores that once held fake medicine now stand empty, and open-air pharmaceutical markets are a thing of the past. People should take the way in which the Beninese government dealt so swiftly with this issue as an example, a sign of what is possible when a country properly focuses attention and resources. Although Benin requires more in terms of setting up a proper health care system, these advancements serve as a sign to the end of an endemic issue and should not be overlooked.

– Austin Brown
Photo: Flickr

Worms in Nigerian Children

Soil-Transmitted Helminths (STHs) are a type of macroparasitic nematode intestinal infection that transmits to humans through infected soil, more commonly known as worms. These worms typically infest soil when it comes into contact with infected fecal matter, and can directly find its way to a person’s mouth from one’s hands, unwashed vegetables, undercooked meat or infected water supplies. Since STHs become more prevalent with a lack of proper sanitation services, they affect impoverished and developing countries disproportionately more than already developed countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates about 1.5 billion people worldwide have an STH infection. In particular, worms in Nigerian children are a cause for concern.

Types of Worms

The three most common worm infections in humans are hookworms, roundworms and whipworms. Hookworms are the most infectious type since their larva can hatch in the soil and penetrate the skin of whoever comes into contact with it. Infected people with a large number of worms – typically people who go for a long time without receiving treatment – have a high level of morbidity (risk of death). Those with serious infections can suffer significant malnutrition, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, general weakness and physical impairment.

Nigeria’s Struggle

Nigeria is one of the most at-risk countries for communities suffering from STH outbreaks due to improper sanitation in many urban slums and the warm, tropical climate that worms thrive in. There is a much higher prevalence of worms in Nigerian children – especially when they are of the age to attend school. Overcrowding and improper sanitation of impoverished communities are amplified when children attend school without proper waste or washing facilities. In addition, younger children do not have a fully-developed immune system yet, creating the perfect condition for worm infections.

A study conducted in the slums of Lagos City, Nigeria concluded that the overall prevalence of worms in Nigerian children was at 86.2 percent; of these children, 39.1 percent had polyparasitism. These figures are startling and daunting, but there are effective treatments and preventative measures available. The problem is making the methods of control affordable and accessible for people in poverty.

Organizations Taking Action

Organizations are taking steps to bring proper deworming treatment and sanitation to children in Nigerian slums. The WHO has a comprehensive strategy for combatting STHs in developing countries that the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control is trying to follow. Nigeria is trying to equip school teachers with the proper training to administer worm medicine for children in slums when they attend class. This medicine would be available to school children twice a year, or as needed in some cases.  Even children that do not have worms will be able to access this medicine in order to take precautionary measures against future infection. Even though Nigeria’s infrastructure is not in the right place to make widespread and accessible sanitation a reality for low-income communities, administering affordable medicine to children is a great first step.

The problem of sanitation has fallen to international humanitarian organizations like the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). UNICEF has conducted talks in Nigeria to educate the general populous about the importance of sanitation and taking infectious diseases seriously. With the help of the European Union, UNICEF has also installed a WASH facility in a northern Nigerian rural community. This facility consists of a solar-powered borehole that pipes up fresh well water from the ground into a 24-liter capacity tank to store the clean water safely. With further policy development and implementation measures, these facilities can expand to cover some urban slums as well.

The case of worms in Nigerian children looks bleak at the moment, but the ball is rolling with eradicating the worm epidemic. The increased sanitation of impoverished communities and more affordable and regularly-distributed medicinal treatment can very well make the dream of taking worms out of the equation for Nigerian children a reality.

– Graham Gordon
Photo: Pixabay

Improving Ghana's Local Health
Ghana is a small West African country located on the Gulf of Guinea. Agricultural and mineral outputs mostly make up the country’s income. Ghana was the first African state to gain independence in 1957 and has a population of approximately 28,102,471 people. Although Ghana is one of the more stable countries in Africa and has one of the lowest reported HIV infection rates, the country still faces a multitude of health care issues. However, there has recently been a partnership between the Ghanian government and a tech company to work towards improving Ghana’s local health.

Illnesses in Ghana

A variety of illnesses in Ghana are similar to those occurring in developed countries, however, some of these illnesses can be more potent in areas like Ghana. These illnesses include trauma, women’s health issues, pregnancy complications and infections. HIV/AIDS hit Ghana slightly less than other African countries, but it still caused the deaths of 10,300 people in 2012. HIV/AIDS now stands at number six on the list of the top 10 causes of death in Ghana after malaria, lower respiratory infections, neonatal disorders, ischemic heart disease and stroke.

The anopheles mosquito can transfer malaria, but people can also transmit the illness through organ transplants, shared needles or blood transfusions. Malaria most commonly affects pregnant women and children. In 2012, malaria caused the deaths of 8.3 percent of the Ghanian population. It was also the leading cause of death among children under 5, dealing fatal damage to 20 percent of children in that age group. One of the primary reasons for visits to the hospital is infections. Medical professionals can easily treat most malaria cases with three days of pills from the government, however, some may suffer repeated bouts of malaria and it can be fatal is they do not receive treatment.

Ghana’s Medical Drone Delivery Program

In April 2019, Quartz Africa detailed that a community health nurse at the New Tafo Government Hospital in Ghana’s Eastern Region, Gladys Dede Tetteh, ran out of yellow fever vaccines. Mothers and their babies had to wait in a long line in the hot weather. The facility made an order for more vaccines, but in the past, deliveries often took two hours or more to arrive by road from the central medical stores. However, 21 minutes later, from 80 meters in the sky, a drone released a box onto a small lawn quad in the hospital. New Tafo Government Hospital was the first to sign up for Ghana’s new medical drone delivery program to receive medical products from unmanned aerial vehicles. The aim of this program is to reach hard-to-reach communities quickly and efficiently.

The Ghana Health Service’s Partnership with Zipline

The Ghana Health Service recently began a partnership with Zipline, a drone company with the mission of giving every person instantaneous access to medical supplies. Ghana’s Vice President, Mahamudu Bawumia, officially launched the medical drone program on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. Zipline is a partner of the United Parcel Service (UPS), which also provided support when it opened its Rwanda program. Zipline also gained support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Pfizer. Zipline’s Omenako center in Ghana is the first of four centers that the company plans to construct by the end of 2019. Zipline also plans to provide supplies to 2,000 health care facilities in order to serve 12 million Ghanaians once it completes all four centers.

Each distribution center will have 30 drones that will work together to make 500 deliveries a day. Zipline approximates that it will be able to make 600 delivery flights a day in total. Many claim that the drones are some of the fastest delivery drones in the world. The drones can fly up to 75 mph, transport around four pounds, fly as high as 99 miles and operate in various types of weather and altitudes.

Zipline’s Role in Reducing Deaths and Providing Vaccinations

The World Health Organization states that “severe bleeding during delivery or after childbirth is the commonest cause of maternal mortality and contributes to around 34% of maternal deaths in Africa.” Ghana’s policymakers expressed that they believe that this new drone delivery system is the first step to improving Ghana’s local health by decreasing maternal and infant mortality rates.

The drones will deliver to 500 health facilities from the Omanako center which has vaccines and medications. With the aid of Ghana’s Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI), Zipline drones will be able to provide support to those suffering from yellow fever, polio, measles & rubella, meningitis, pneumococcal, diphtheria, tetanus and more. Gavi provides the vaccines, which is an international organization with the intention of improving children’s access to vaccines in poor parts of the world. Drones will be able to pass where ground vehicles cannot, such as where there is underdeveloped or poorly maintained road infrastructure. Many also expect that the drone delivery program will reduce wastage of medical products and oversupplied hospitals.

Zipline aims to improve access to vital medical supplies, which in turn will hopefully reduce mortality rates and add to efforts in improving Ghana’s local health. Zipline’s mission in Ghana has only just begun, but so far it has been able to significantly reduce the time it takes to deliver important health supplies. Getting medical supplies and vaccines faster may be able to save a few lives in the future as well. Health issues and diseases like malaria continue to be the major causes of death in Ghana, but Zipline and the Ghanian government are making steps towards improving access to health care.

– Jade Thompson
Photo: Flickr

Wasted Medical Supplies
The United States generates over two million tons of wasted medical supplies each year. Facilities do not use many of these supplies such as unexpired medical supplies and equipment. People even throw away completely usable, albeit expired medical supplies. This surplus exists because of hospital cleaning policies, infection prevention guidelines and changes in vendors. Additionally, because equipment must always be ready, replacements are always in order. As such, in the U.K., medical facilities replace equipment before the old versions are out of commission. Waste ranges from medicine to operating gowns, all the way to hospital beds and wheelchairs. Beyond consumables like medicine and one-time supplies like syringes, the need to replace before equipment is sub-optimal leaves a margin for waste on big-ticket items like MRIs.

Many hospitals have dumped their garbage from the reception and operating rooms along with usable medical surplus into incinerators. Although this burning is a source of many pollutants, it is still common practice in many developing countries.

This issue of medical supply waste intertwines deeply with a lack of access to medical equipment in the developing world. While developed countries live in a world of sterile excess, developing countries and remote villages with little access to suitable equipment to meet their needs suffer.

How Does this Waste Relate to Poverty?

People view access to the level of health care service in the developed world as the standard rather than a privilege. In places of poverty like Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo, facilities are in desperate need of supplies and equipment to treat patients in their region.

Inadequate provisions leave patients on the floor or in out-of-date hospital beds paired with another patient. In the DRC, rape is a common weapon of war. The U.N. Human Rights Security Council passed a resolution that described the problem as “a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.” Many of the patients at the doorstep of Burhinyi Central Hospital are suffering from rape-related ailments. Some examples are HIV/AIDS, fistulas, bladder and intestinal damage and infections. Without the necessary equipment to handle such cases, impoverished areas, which are already more prone to injury and disease, deteriorate.

How Can it be Fixed?

Again, the issue of wasted medical supplies id deeply connected to poverty. In fact, they are complementary. The solution lies in moving the surplus from areas of excess to people in need. This reduces the waste in developed countries by giving supplies to hospitals that need them. Therefore, one can convert wasted medical supplies to usable surplus.

There are many NGOs like Medshare and Supplies Over Seas (SOS) that follow this process. These nonprofits operate based on collecting, sorting and sending the usable medical surplus to hospitals in need.

SOS has a container shipment program that sends cargo containers filled with medical supplies. These containers would have otherwise ended up in the landfill. A typical container contains six to eight tons. Its medical contents value conservatively at $150,000-$350,000. Since 2014, SOS has shipped containers to 20 countries in need.

A volunteer at Medshare outlined her experience working with surplus medical supplies, saying that, “It was shocking how much waste there actually was. Warehouses full of totally usable stuff all ready to be thrown away.” She added, “[she] sorted through things like syringes and gauze packets which were all put into huge containers for hospitals that need it. It feels like a difference is being made.”

Stop Wasting and Start Donating

Wasted medical supplies and impoverished areas without access to proper medical equipment are issues that people can resolve simultaneously by salvaging usable supplies and equipment that were ready to go to landfill and sending them to communities in need. Regarding medical waste and poverty, the best solutions occur when those who have more give to those who have less.

– Andrew Yang
Photo: Flickr