Inflammation and stories on medicine

Antimicrobial resistanceAntimicrobial resistance, or AMR, is a growing trend among newly discovered viruses. The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies 30 new diseases that threaten half the world’s population, which are particularly prevalent in developing nations.

Background of Antimicrobial Resistance

Drug-resistant diseases (AMR) have grown in prevalence over the past 40 years. Many of the medicines used to treat common infections like the flu and pneumonia have been around for decades. Eventually, viruses and bacteria develop their own microbial methods of fighting back against these drugs and inevitably become fully resistant to treatments.

Perhaps the most well-known example is the virus known as pneumococcus, or streptococcus pneumoniae. Penicillin has been used to treat pneumococcus since the early 1950s, giving it plenty of time to develop a strong resistance to the drug. Now, pneumococcus is practically untreatable, killing over 300,000 children below the age of 5 annually.

The CDC explains that germs that grow resistant to medications can be almost impossible to treat, often resulting in severe illness or death. This problem is only getting worse, as the U.N. finds that while 700,000 people die every year due to AMR diseases now, by 2050 that number will skyrocket to 10 million people.

The AMR crisis has severe economic implications as well. Antimicrobial diseases affect livestock as well as humans, leaving our international agricultural sector to collapse if not dealt with. All in all, the AMR crisis is projected to cause $100 trillion worth of global economic damage by 2050, only pushing people further into poverty.

Three organizations have stepped up to address the issue of antimicrobial resistance.

The AMR Action Fund

The AMR Action Fund is a financial project created by an international group of pharmaceutical companies. It aims to bring four new antibiotics that combat AMR to the consumer market by 2030. The fund expects to invest over $1 billion into late-stage antibiotic research by the end of 2025.

The AMR Alliance

The AMR Alliance is a massive coalition of more than 100 of the most powerful pharmaceutical companies, dedicated to fighting AMR. In 2016, the AMR Alliance signed the Industry Declaration, an agreement promising the development of anti-AMR medicines.

In 2018, the AMR Alliance spent a record $1.8 billion in the war against AMR. In 2020, the  AMR Alliance released its second progress report, detailing the progress made so far. The results are promising: 84% of relevant biotechnology companies are in the late stages of research and development for AMR cures and more than 80% of them have strategies in place for releasing the drugs.

UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

The FAO is taking serious steps to battle antimicrobial resistance. These dangerous antimicrobial superbugs threaten livestock in farms throughout the world. The FAO explains that two-thirds of future antimicrobial usage will be in livestock. These AMR superbugs will only increase in danger over time, as they develop stronger resistance to medicines.

The FAO has worked to improve agricultural practices across the world, specifically in developing nations. The FAO is raising awareness about this issue with rural farmers and is providing millions of dollars in funds to combat AMR.

World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW) is an annual campaign designed to increase awareness of the issue and encourage best practices among the general public, health workers, and policymakers to avoid the further emergence and spread of drug-resistant diseases. Over the week of November 18, millions of posts are made around the globe in support of antimicrobial resistance awareness. Expanding awareness is key, as the WAAW campaign website explains that less general use of antibiotics could help to mitigate the effects of this issue.

– Abhay Acharya
Photo: Flickr

How COVID-19 Has Slowed Nigeria’s Access to MedicineNigeria, a country with both bustling cities and green plains stretching for miles, has earned the nickname “Giant of Africa.” Although Nigeria isn’t the largest country in Africa, it has the largest population with 206 million people calling it home. Even though the population in Nigeria has grown in 2020 by 2.58%, the country still has a high mortality rate and life expectancy of 54 years. Nigeria has one of the biggest HIV pandemics as well as a high risk for malaria. Access to medicine and vaccines have always been limited in Nigeria; however, COVID-19 has exacerbated the issues facing Nigeria’s healthcare system. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased restrictions on international trade, which has greatly impacted Nigeria’s pharmaceutical needs for people with pre-existing conditions, particularly those with HIV/AIDS or malaria. As 70% of Nigeria’s medical products are shipped from China and India, COVID-19 has interrupted an important part of Nigeria’s basic health needs.

Healthcare in Nigeria

Nigeria has always had trouble accessing medication as the country has a great dependency on imported products. According to Medrxiv, a server for health sciences, in 2013, only 25% of kids under the age of 2 had been vaccinated. In an attempt to secure a more efficient healthcare system, Nigeria began to manufacture its own pharmaceuticals but lately, production has been on a decline due to high prices, poor quality and a shortfall in access to medicine. Nigeria has 115 pharmaceutical manufacturers but they mainly rely on large imports from neighboring countries.

Before the virus swept across Nigeria, the country only had 350 ventilators and beds for the entire population. In April 2020, Nigeria obtained 100 more ventilators. But, what has actually been done to improve Nigeria’s basic health needs?

Changing Nigeria’s Healthcare

In 2018, four policy documents were presented to Nigeria by the Federal Minister of Health. The four policies acknowledge Nigerians need for access to medication and control of narcotics.

  1. The National Policy for Controlled Medicines — This policy, with support from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the European Union (EU), aims to improve healthcare services in Nigeria. By properly training healthcare professionals, narcotics can be safely monitored for medical and scientific use while avoiding abuse. The policy ensures that Nigeria will have better access to medication so citizens do not have to silently suffer. In 2012, as reported by The Global Access to Pain Relief Initiative, Nigeria only used 0.01% of narcotics to manage pain. The UNODC states, “This was largely attributed to limited or poor quantification of annual estimates, inadequate and irregular release of funds for procurement, limited knowledge and poor attitude, or issues of fear and stigma among many healthcare workers and the general populace.”
  2. National Guidelines for Quantification of Narcotic Medicines — This policy is continuous of Nigeria’s efforts to have access to “narcotic medicines.” It is a way to know how much medicine is required to fulfill Nigeria’s basic health needs. By creating a standardized system, Nigeria can estimate which and how many narcotics are needed for the country.
  3. National Guidelines for the Estimation of Psychotropic Substances and Precursors — This policy regulates “psychotropic substances,” such as alcohol, caffeine and marijuana. These drugs, according to the UNODC, can be used for “pain management including treatment of neuropathic pain and in the management of obstetric emergencies including hemorrhage, thus critical in reducing maternal deaths.” The policy verifies that these substances are and will be used for legal use only.
  4. National Minimum Standards of Drug Dependence — In the past, Nigeria treated addiction as a psychiatric condition or mental illness. Although Nigeria does not have the data to see how many people in the country have a drug dependency, treatments of addiction are changing. The policy’s goal is to have adequate care such as “counseling, vocational and occupational rehabilitation” available across Nigeria.

According to a 2020 Statista analysis, the budget for Nigeria’s healthcare is expected to increase, eventually reaching 1477 billion Nigerian naira by 2021. This can create more opportunities for Nigeria’s healthcare system, increase access to medicine and fulfill Nigeria’s basic health needs.

– Jessica LaVopa
Photo: Flickr

Medical Advancements in IranIran is a developing country located in western Asia as part of the Middle East. In the past several decades, Iran has accomplished major strides in terms of its health care system and medicine. The following list details only a few of the successful medical advancements in Iran that have been developed within the last decade.

The Health Care System

Iran adopted the Primary Health System in the 1990s, which revolutionized its health care system. Since its initiation, the country’s life expectancy has increased by eight years. This has had positive effects on both their economy and poor communities. Also, Iran has done tremendous work in improving the accessibility of health care. Currently, more than 90% of rural populations have access to affordable health care. Previously, there was a major gap in providing health care to their less populated, rural areas where many vulnerable groups resided.

Local Production

Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the country has made initiating the production of locally produced medicines and drugs a priority. Prior to the revolution, Iran relied on imports from foreign countries for about 70-80% of its pharmaceutical ingredients. As of 2018, it is estimated that around 97% of their drugs were locally produced and manufactured.

Focusing on local production boosted Iran’s economy, making the country a major competitor in the world market. It also increased their GDP through the exportation of their locally produced pharmaceuticals. Furthermore, the country has strict regulations in place for importation. Iran both follows American guidelines and creates its own rules, which ensures high-quality, safe products.

Iran’s health minister stated that the country saves around 700 million euros simply by producing their own products. The country can now allocate this money to other necessities, which displays the importance of medical advancements in Iran.

Medical Biotechnology

Biotechnology is the production and development of products by manipulating living organisms. Medical biotechnology has the power to uplift health care systems for countries across the globe. Iran’s advanced health care system has allowed them to become a leader in medical biotechnology across the Middle East and North Africa.

Iran’s boost in local production stems from pharmaceuticals to biotechnology. As of 2012, the country had 12 approved products and 15 more products pending approval. These products placed Iran among the frontrunners of biotechnological production. Other countries now rely on Iran for medical trade. Biotechnology has the potential to produce a multitude of medical advancements in Iran. If the country earns the spot as the leading country of biomedical technology, the benefits for their economy and citizens would be numerous.

New Medical Treatments

Medical advancements in Iran have also led to new medical treatments. The country has developed new, upcoming medicines and treatments in hopes to cure certain diseases. Just this year, a group of scientists announced they developed an herbal treatment for epilepsy, Fenosha, that resulted in successful outcomes during their clinical trials.

Reza Mazloom Farsibaf, the founder of the medicine, stated there is no other medicine that competes with Fenosha. The treatment is non-toxic and has minimal side effects and symptoms. If approved, mass production is expected for Fenosha. The herbal medicine could potentially become a viable option for the 340 million people across the world that require treatment for epilepsy. The country is expected to continue generating products that will further mobilize its position in medicine.

Bolorzul Dorjsuren
Photo: Flickr

.Project C.U.R.E.
Dr. James Jackson, an international economic consultant, went on a trip to Brazil. While there, he visited an empty, under-equipped clinic near Rio de Janeiro. Inspired to help under-resourced parts of the world, he came back to Colorado to create Project C.U.R.E (Commission on Urgent Relief and Equipment). With a $50,000 donation from his friend, Dr. James Jackson founded his nonprofit in 1987. In just 30 days, he collected $250,000 worth of medical supplies — all in his garage. Now, his son, Dr. Douglas Jackson, runs Project C.U.R.E. as CEO and President. This article will explore how Project C.U.R.E. helps clinics worldwide by providing them with the necessary equipment.

Company Accomplishments

Project C.U.R.E. helps clinics and hospitals around the world by providing them with life-saving medical equipment and supplies. It has shipped 2,078 containers to 132 countries since June 2000. Since its inception over three decades ago, Project C.U.R.E. operations have expanded across the United States. Its distribution centers are located in Chicago, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Nashville and Phoenix. Additionally, small collection centers span multiple states. The organization has projects in countries such as Mexico, Nigeria, Uganda, Myanmar and the Dominican Republic.

In 2019, Project C.U.R.E. sent 145 containers to 42 countries with the help of nearly 30,000 volunteers. Forty-two global locations received 322 C.U.R.E. kits, and 12,624 patients received treatment at C.U.R.E. clinics in 2019 alone. From 2017 to 2018, the nonprofit trained 584 medical professionals in six different countries. In most of the countries that the nonprofit has worked in, people earn under $5 per day. People in these communities are often unable to afford basic health care and have a lower standard of living.

Methodology

Project C.U.R.E. does not go into these communities at random. It goes into areas that have suffered natural disasters or other desperate situations only after receiving an invite. Once someone identifies a “want,” someone from the organization personally visits the hospital and meets with the doctors for an 18-page need assessment. This need assessment ensures that Project C.U.R.E. can formulate a customized plan that specifically meets the needs of that hospital. After that, Project C.U.R.E. picks items out from the warehouses and ships them in containers from the distribution centers straight to the hospital.

The nonprofit delivers two to three cargo containers of medical supplies every week. With just $25, one can sponsor a delivery of a box of supplies with a $500 value to any country that Project C.U.R.E. does work in.

Partnership with AmerisourceBergen

Project C.U.R.E. works with the AmerisourceBergen Foundation, an American drug wholesale company that specializes in pharmaceutical sourcing and distribution services. Through this partnership, Project C.U.R.E. is able to make a positive impact on developing countries and their communities through improving access and quality of health care. Together, the partnership has gathered donations of medical equipment from medical facilities in the Chester County area. Distribution centers received the supplies for packaging and will eventually send them out to clinics all around the world.

Current Aid

Due to the pandemic, Project C.U.R.E. has shifted its focus to local needs. It packs and delivers personal protective equipment and ventilators to hospitals.

Yet, its mission remains the same: providing medical equipment and supplies to offer relief and critical resources to under-resourced communities. Project C.U.R.E. helps clinics so that they are able to perform safe medical procedures and offer quality health care to those most vulnerable.

Mizuki Kai
Photo: Flickr

Herbal Remedies
The COVID-19 pandemic has created many discussions and debates, especially when it comes to treatments. Though it may take more than a year to create a vaccine, many countries and individuals are using herbal remedies for COVID-19. These remedies have been in their cultures before the new coronavirus and now aid in the prevention and treatment of it. For centuries, especially in countries where medications, prescriptions and hospital visits are inaccessible and/or expensive, people have been creating their remedies. They then pass them on, generation to generation. This article discusses such remedies, both ancient and newly discovered.

Traditional Remedies

When the coronavirus broke out in December 2019, many people in China used various traditional remedies. For centuries, Chinese medicine has been popular across the world. Whether it is with more serious viruses and illnesses, such as COVID-19, or something more common, such as a sore throat. They are believed to alleviate symptoms, reduce the severity of the virus, improve recovery rates and reduce the mortality rate. Herbal remedies for COVID-19 (commonly used) include jinhua qinggan capsules, lianhua qingwen capsules and shufeng jiedu capsules.

In Madagascar, the president endorsed the launch of Covid-Organics, claiming that it was safe enough for children to drink. A key ingredient in these herbal remedies is sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua), which is a traditional ingredient that gave rise to the antimalarial drug, artemisinin. According to the WHO, about 87% of African populations use traditional medicine. This is especially prevalent in poor and rural areas where hospitals, pharmacies and health care professionals are difficult to find. It is common to use herbs and roots as replacements for these medications in many countries in the southern hemisphere. Additionally, modern medicine is often unaffordable, which is why many Malagasies and other African populations use traditional medicine.

Modern Remedies

In Kenya, many people are drinking fruity, gingery dawa as a remedy for the coronavirus. In Kiswahili, dawa means medicine. This drink has become especially popular in Kenyan street markets and vendors arrange the ingredients. They include lemon, ginger and garlic. However, each drink is different — some have aloe vera and some have turmeric. Despite the popularity of this remedy, people have still been taking proper precautions, such as wearing masks and washing hands. In a time of uncertainty, dawa brings comfort to many Kenyans. Markets flood the streets of Kenya, with vendors selling various versions of dawa. Understandably so, it is one of the most popular items.

In the U.S., many people are turning to elderberry, zinc and vitamin C. In fact, along with toilet paper, these vitamins were in the top items consumed on Amazon. Elderberry has long been known to be an immune-boosting vitamin. However, it is unclear whether or not it is effective in treating coronavirus. It may, however, bring a sense of comfort — especially in a time of such uncertainty. Many grocery stores now have their vitamin sections cleared out.

For centuries, herbal remedies have treated viruses and infections, including the common cold, influenza, fever, herpes and more. People around the world rely on traditional medicines, which is understandable given the  inaccessibility of modern medicines or medical care in many areas. Though there may be benefits to traditional medicine, it is still unclear whether or not there are any real remedies to the coronavirus. Yet two important factors that these herbal remedies for COVID-19 bring are comfort and hope.

Naomi Schmeck
Photo: Wikimedia

traditional healers in africaTraditional medicine, while not as popular or widely accepted as Western medicines, is a vital part of African communities. Traditional healers in Africa are more accessible, affordable and culturally and spiritually relevant for many African people. This contributes heavily to their popularity, and it also enables them to play a role in helping respond to COVID-19.

What Is Traditional Medicine?

The World Health Organization describes traditional medicine as a practice or skill resulting from cultural beliefs and ideologies. Similar to Western medicine, traditional medicine prevents and treats physical and mental illnesses; however, traditional medicine usually uses herbs, plants or even spiritual therapies.

While traditional medicine may seem ineffective and useless to some, it is the main source of medicine for many. Due to its convenience and affordability, over 70% of Africans use herbal treatments. Given that one third of the African population does not have access to essential medicines, traditional medicine plays a central role in their health. A study in 2011 illustrated the accessibility of traditional practitioners. While most medical doctors practice in urban areas, rural areas are less fortunate. For this reason, many people rely on traditional health providers and their medications. These three countries reveal a large gap between how many traditional healers and doctors are available in a community:

  • Zimbabwe: There is one traditional practitioner for every 600 people, while there is one medical doctor for every 6,250 people.
  • Ghana: There is one traditional practitioner for every 200 people, while there is one medical doctor for every 20,000 people.
  • Mozambique: There is one traditional practitioner for every 200 people, while there is one medical doctor for every 50,000 people.

Affordable and Culturally Relevant Medicine

Not only are traditional healers in Africa more accessible, they also have affordable medicines that don’t always require payment upfront. A study conducted by the WHO in 36 middle- and low-income countries revealed that medications were too expensive for a large majority of the population. Similarly, a study on healthcare in Zimbabwe reported that traditional healers are usually the main source of care for poor communities because they have no other options.

Furthermore, traditional healers in Africa and their medicines are widely accepted by African people and culture. Even if people can afford Western medicine, then, many prefer traditional medicines. For example, some healers say that they can channel the ancestral spirit through their patients’ bodies. This is one service that professional doctors cannot provide.

How Traditional Healers in Africa Help with COVID-19

While traditional healers in Africa provide many benefits to African communities, health officials strongly advise against the use of untested traditional medicine to treat COVID-19. The WHO encourages people to wait until medicines have been tested and investigated before consuming them. In South Africa, traditional healers have been advised to refer patients experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to a higher level of care. However, the role of traditional healers during the pandemic is not limited to referrals. Here are eight jobs traditional healers in Africa perform:

  1. Referring patients to correct and suitable levels of care
  2. Educating the public to combat the spread of false information regarding COVID-19
  3. Teaching about prevention methods
  4. Helping to spread public health messages
  5. Informing people about the necessities of personal hygiene
  6. Providing counseling services
  7. Postponing large gatherings
  8. Working with the Department of Health to aid screening and messaging

Health Officials and Traditional Healers: Better Together

To effectively combat COVID-19, experts believe that health officials and the government need to work with traditional healers and not against them. Because traditional healers live in the same community as many of their patients, they have the advantage of possessing important relationships with them. Patients may therefore disregard the advice of a doctor and trust a traditional healer instead. This points to the necessity for cooperation between healers and doctors.

An example of this cooperation comes from Tanzania, where scientists are working with herbalists to help with HIV/AIDS symptoms. Some of the herbs the group is testing are known for strengthening the immune system and increasing appetites. While the team recognizes that herbal remedies won’t cure HIV, they can lessen patients’ symptoms.

With regard to COVID-19, the WHO, which accepts both traditional and alternative medicine, is doing similar tests. For example, it is currently testing plants like Artemisia annua to see if they could possibly aid in the fight against COVID-19. If more scientists, governments and health officials can work with traditional healers like this, all of their patients and communities stand to benefit.

– Sophie Dan
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Iran
The Islamic Republic of Iran is an ancient country with a special geostrategic location in the Middle East and West Asia. Iran throughout its history has faced revolutions, wars and periods of instability that might make people believe that its healthcare system is underdeveloped. Additionally, sanctions from the West have had a direct effect in the medical field, specifically in the access of certain pharmaceuticals. Nevertheless, in the last decades, Iran’s motivation to improve the healthcare infrastructure has resulted in surprising figures and has contributed to rural poverty alleviation. Today, Iran’s healthcare system includes both public and private facilities and services. Here are eight facts about healthcare in Iran.

8 Facts About Healthcare in Iran

  1. Healthcare is a constitutional right. After the 1979 Revolution, Article 29 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran established that every Iranian citizen has a right to enjoy the highest attainable level of health. The Ministry of Health and Medical Education is responsible for providing the enjoyment of this right by designing and implementing coordinated health policies and plans at a national level.
  2. Iran’s health investment has increased significantly in the last 10 years. The country’s focus on expanding and improving its healthcare system is evident. In 2014, when initiatives had already started, the health expenditure was 6.89%. By 2017, it increased to 8.7% out of a Growth Domestic Product of $1.64 trillion. Comparing this figure to a Western country to place it in context, the United Kingdom’s health expenditure that same year was 9.6% out of a GDP of $2.93 trillion.
  3. Public facilities are the main provider of healthcare. During the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, the Islamic Republic of Iran was in miserable conditions and it was difficult to visualize progress in the Iranian health system, especially the access of health services to rural areas. Nonetheless, the Iranian government has made many efforts to reduce rural poverty, extend the healthcare structure through health houses and provide primary, secondary and tertiary services, especially to rural areas. Today, more than 90% of Iran’s 23 million rural population has access to free healthcare services such as prenatal care and vaccination.
  4. Health houses are the principal access point for rural residents to receive health services. Health houses are small public medical facilities that provide health services to the rural areas surrounding them. Generally, trained medical workers that manage vaccinations, maternal health care and child health care integrate these facilities. There are approximately 17,000 health houses in Iran or one for every 1,200 residents. Health Houses have had a tremendous impact on Iranian rural societies since they have improved the health infrastructure and reduced the distance that people need to travel to receive medical care. Health Houses have become an efficient and cost-effective healthcare network that has met the needs of rural communities that can sometimes experience neglect.
  5. Urban residents can choose between public and private services. In 2016, there were 773 hospitals in Iran, which is one for every 92,100 residents. These are located mainly in cities, so urban residents have the advantage of having access to specialized healthcare. Additionally, the private sector plays an important part in the healthcare provision, focusing principally on secondary and tertiary health services in urban areas. Urban residents can decide between public and private facilities, even if the private sector tends to offer higher quality care, it is still more expensive.
  6. The urban-rural disparity has declined significantly. The country has almost eliminated basic public health indicators, such as the neonatal mortality rate, infant mortality rate and maternal mortality rate. Four decades ago, the urban-rural disparity was significant due to inadequate coverage of the population and general instability. In fact, in 1974, the infant mortality rate in urban areas was double the rural numbers with 76 versus 130 per 1,000 inhabitants. By 1996, the indicators were almost identical with 27.7 versus 30.2 per 1,000 inhabitants. The Health House system, which has permitted access to improved healthcare around the national territory, has softened this gap dramatically.
  7. There are many non-Governmental organizations (NGOs) active in health issues in Iran. Many NGOs are operating inside the Iranian territory offering care for more specialized issues like childhood cancer, breast cancer and diabetes. MAHAK, for example, is a nonprofit, non-political and non-governmental charity that works toward the reduction of pediatric cancer by offering comprehensive and advanced treatment services to children with cancer and their families. In 2007, MAHAK established a Pediatric Cancer Hospital that by 2014, had diagnosed and treated over 23,000 cancer-stricken children; today, this hospital plays a major role in the region for its access to the latest technology of the field. Additionally, the Ministry of Health and Medical Education supervises and supports the NGOs’ efforts to help them obtain the necessary permits in providing medical care to the Iranian population.
  8. Medical tourism has boosted in the country. Another of the facts about healthcare in Iran is that it has become a leading country for medical tourism in the region. Many people travel to the country for its high-quality health services and advanced equipment and affordable medication and treatment compared to other countries of the region. In 2016, around 100,000 travelers visited Iran to receive medical treatment that varies from rhinoplasty to infertility treatments. Every year, healthcare in Iran is growing and calling for more patients from regional countries due to its expanded system and infrastructure.

Despite the challenges in the fields of sustainability of resources and health governance, these facts about healthcare in Iran show that it is exceptionally modern in different ways. Overall, Iran has managed to improve health indicators, reduce the urban-rural gap and develop a system that grants basic healthcare to almost every geographic area in the territory. These efforts have improved the quality of life, contributed to the development of human capital and played an important role in helping rural areas alleviate poverty and health insecurity. In recent years, Western sanctions have made it more difficult, but still, Iran’s health-related figures have improved dramatically and health expenditure has increased. Thus, Iran is becoming a leading nation in the region for its healthcare system because many consider it a secure destination for patients from countries nearby.

– Isabella León Graticola
Photo: Unspash

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