Within the Cusp of Ending Malaria
The end of malaria could possibly be closer than expected. With the recent success of Sri Lanka officially declaring itself as Malaria free after withstanding three years without a single case of infection. The World Health Organization (WHO) Reported a 60 percent decrease in global malaria mortality rates between 2000 and 2015.

According to the Guardian, “Public health officials said 13 countries, including Argentina and Turkey, had reported no cases for at least a year and may well follow the success of Sri Lanka…” Sri Lanka was near ending malaria 50 years ago and it has finally been able to do so becoming a catalyst for other countries.

The local transmission of malaria is slowly but surely being reduced as countries invest more in treatment and prevention strategies. Earlier this year the WHO estimated that “21 countries are in a position to achieve this goal, including six countries in the African Region.”

The Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016–2030 is currently in place. Four crucial points make up the plan, which includes reducing the rate of new malaria cases by at least 90 percent, reducing malaria death rates by at least 90 percent and eliminating malaria in at least 35 countries.

This plan was devised before the triumphant victory of Sri Lanka over malaria. Recently the members of the WHO of the African Region have adopted a framework that goes hand-in-hand with the goals outlined by the Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016–2030.

Within the document issued by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) titled President’s Malaria Initiative Strategy 2015-2020 the optimism to end malaria within this time period is evident. The document goes on to state “Innovative approaches to deploying existing tools also are being tested, including presumptive insecticide rotation to mitigate the spread and intensification of resistance.”

The U.S. has made it a priority to partake in ending malaria along with the other countries trying to terminate the disease from its country by 2020.

Mariana Camacho

Photo: Flickr

Sri LankaRecently, many acres of Sri Lanka have been deluged by torrential rains from a slow-moving tropical depression in the Bay of Bengal. 22 of the nation’s 26 districts have suffered heavily from flash flooding and landslides. Officials say this is the worst flood to hit Sri Lanka in over a quarter of a century, and with the monsoon season set to arrive within the next few weeks, there will be no chance of a reprieve. International aid in Sri Lanka is sorely needed to help house and feed displaced persons.

According to Sri Lanka’s Disaster Management Center, 82 people have been killed and over 500,000 have been displaced by the flooding and landslides. The death toll could rise even higher as 118 people are still missing, according to the Press Trust of India.

Displaced persons are being housed in 594 temporary camps across Sri Lanka, according to a press release by Sri Lanka’s Red Cross.

The UN’s Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka has met with President Sirisena. Together, they discussed the emergency provisions needed to provide life-saving aid in Sri Lanka.

The UN released a statement, saying: “We met the president this morning for a briefing on emergency response and coordination. We remain committed to assist all the affected people.”

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has deployed 10 medical teams with supplies in the areas of Kolonnawan, and Kaduwels MOH divisions and the Columbo Municipal council area have been given medical supplies, according to the World Health Organization.

However, it seems the Red Cross has taken the lead in the effort to provide aid in Sri Lanka. As soon as the landslide occurred, the Sri Lankan Red Cross Society’s Kegalle Branch deployed its Disaster Response Team to Aranayake.

Shortly after their arrival, Red Cross officials coordinated with government authorities in search and rescue efforts, as well as in creating temporary camps where they have provided food, first aid and psychological support to survivors.

In Gampaha, one of the worst affected districts in Sri Lanka, Red Cross volunteers provided evacuation via boats and first aid support to people stranded in Biyagama.

The predominant presence of the Red Cross is notable since they have been previously denied access to victims of displacement in the region. In 2009, the Sri Lankan government denied the Red Cross and many other NGOs access to civilians in refugee camps following the Tamil Tiger rebels’ final battle.

Veronica Ung-Kono

Photo: Flickr

Food Insecurity in Sri LankaThe World Food Programme (WFP) recently announced it will award a $20 million grant over the next two years to fight food insecurity in Sri Lanka.

Health officials say the grant will primarily be used to improve childhood nutrition in rural communities, where an estimated 21 percent of children under the age of five are moderately or severely underweight. More than 17 percent of children in Sri Lanka are also victims of stunting

“Poor nutrition in the first 1,000 days of children’s lives can have irreversible consequences…so, we must do what we can, as fast as we can, to give the most disadvantaged mothers and children dependable, quality nutrition,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said.

Vulnerability to malnutrition affects many Sri Lankans who have been displaced by 30 years of internal conflict. The problem occasionally escalates when seasonal tsunamis and droughts pass over the island nation.

In partnership with Sri Lanka’s Ministries of Health and Education, WFP currently reaches children in school and at home.

WFP’s Schools Meals Program provides rice, dhal and vegetables to 160,000 students in 958 schools across the Northern Province. For many of the students served by the program, these school lunches are their only nutritional daily meal – a safety net, which has increased school enrollment and attendance.

Through regional health clinics, WFP distributes a nutritional supplement called Super Cereal Plus to 4,300 new and expectant mothers and over 10,000 children under the age of five. The supplement is a blend of corn, soy, vitamins and minerals and provides a guard against acute malnutrition.

The $20 million grant from WFP will help maintain funding levels for these programs as well as expand them to more provinces and more rural communities. The WFP said it hopes every child in Sri Lanka will receive reliable nutrition.

WFP also partners with the Ministry of Environment to strengthen agricultural resilience to climate shocks like drought and flooding. Their programs have reached 14,000 farmers. The organization hopes by empowering farming communities to be efficient and sustainable, they may be able to mitigate the effects of future climate shock, and thereby food insecurity in Sri Lanka.

Ron Minard

Sources: News.lk, Scaling Up Nutrition, UNICEF, WFP, WHO
Photo: IPS

Child Empowerment International provides schooling for underprivileged children in Sri Lanka
Children living in areas in Sri Lanka affected by war commonly do not have access to the resources and funds needed to receive an education. Many of these children suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder and issues due to their harsh living conditions. Child Empowerment International works to help children who have been negatively affected by war and other violent experiences overcome difficulties, cope with reality and receive an education.

Child Empowerment International establishes day schools in the refugee centers and communities these children live in. Over the past 17 years, the organization helped increase an individual’s future earnings by ten percent through education and training. Their staff of over 200 teachers prepares students for testing in Sri Lanka, which is based on the British education system. Studies conducted by Child Empowerment International have shown students graduating from their program score in the top five percentile on these standardized exams.

Students are taught basic school subjects like grammar and biology and receive career training to become carpenters, seamstresses, chefs, mechanics and hotel managers. Many students are also taught English and computer skills.

Child Empowerment International was started in 1998 to provide children living in war ridden zones holistic care. The organization started with 17 schools, but by the following year they were up to 29 schools. Child Empowerment International began by training teachers and counselors to mentor children who had suffered from sexual abuse and other traumatic experiences.

Founder Adam Salmon worked to establish a textbook-exporting company in Sri Lanka in 1994, but decided to change his line of work when he realized there were large numbers of abandoned children not receiving aid from other organizations. As the founder, he manages the hundreds of teachers working for Child Empowerment International and dedicates his time to improving the lives of the 6,800 children impacted by the organization.

The organization also dedicated themselves to helping the survivors of the tsunami that struck Sri Lanka in 2004. Several hundred students were orphaned by catastrophe and Child Empowerment International lost 126 of their students. The organization worked to find homes for children, provide resources and rebuild the schools lost to the storm.

Today, Child Empowerment International has over 80 schools established in Sri Lanka and other impoverished communities. Their newest project enacted in 2010 is working to provide education and healthcare to children in Uganda.

Students at their schools have successfully graduated from university and gained professional experience in the profession of their choice, with many of them becoming teachers or health professionals. Child Empowerment International is gathering quantitative data of the impact of their work on an individual’s success. Publication of this is set for 2017.

Julia Hettiger

Sources: Child Empowerment, Global Giving, Matador Network
Photo: Porticus

On June 24, 2015, The World Bank approved a $50 million loan to be issued from one of its principal lending arms, the International Development Association, to Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs. As part of The World Bank’s larger education strategy “Learning for All: Investing in Peoples Knowledge and Skills to Promote Development,” the loan is exclusively intended for investment in early childhood development. The World Bank anticipates the loan will advance the goals of the Country Partnership Strategy, a strategy forged between The World Bank and Sri Lanka’s government in 2013 to make Sri Lanka’s transition into a middle-income country a sustainable and equitable one.

Despite both a 26-year ethnic conflict, which officially ended in 2009, and a tsunami which ravaged the country in 2004, Sri Lanka has experienced impressive economic growth throughout the past decade. An average of 6 percent annual growth in the past seven years has lowered the percentage of the population living in poverty by nearly 9 percent – to 6.7 percent – while also enabling Sri Lanka to chart significant progress towards other Millennium Development Goals. Yet, these gains are skewed. The ethnic conflict between Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese government and Tamil insurgent population left 500,000 people displaced and agricultural communities’ productive capacities severely diminished. This history has loomed over Sri Lanka’s development, contributing to a large gap between urban and rural communities. The Early Childhood Development Project (ECD Project) promises to narrow this gap, estimating that every US$1 invested will increase social mobility and earn between a US$7 to US$18 increase in wages by improving cognitive development and raising secondary school enrollment.

The World Bank categorizes early childhood development services by age group: a child’s home environment primarily shapes their development from ages 0-2, while center-based services begin providing foundational skills for literacy and numeracy from the ages of 3-5. While home-based childhood development largely falls under the realm of public health projects, center-based development was previously provisioned in Sri Lanka by NGOs and CSOs. Sri Lanka’s early childhood development centers – each consisting of a small classroom of 20-30 children – are currently understaffed, with 29,340 teachers at 17,020 centers (less than half of whom meet the state qualifications to teach); poorly equipped, with over 25 percent of centers lacking clean drinking water; and lacking in national curriculum to guide equitable development and by which to hold centers accountable. As part of its larger development strategy, codified in the Mahinda Chintana or “Vision for the Future,” the Sri Lankan government established the State Ministry of Child Affairs (SMCA) to standardize center-based services and invest in one of Sri Lanka’s most critical resources for future economic development: its human capital.

The joint intervention of The World Bank and Sri Lankan government is necessary to fight cyclical poverty, in which a child’s potential labor skills, and thereby economic prospects, are strongly influenced by their family’s economic class. Data enrollment in early childhood development centers is 17 percent higher for 3-4 year olds in the highest economic quintile than for their counterparts in the lowest quintile. In response, the ECD Project details plans specifically tailored for the poorer plantation sector, in which the Sri Lankan government and the International Fund for Agricultural Development have also established post-conflict resettlement and community building projects. Targeting human capital uniquely improves social equity by compensating for the educational drawbacks poorer children face, better preparing them for primary education and ensuring a base standard for cognitive development. In tandem with programs such as the Plantation Human Development Trust, which will actually administer early childhood development construction, improvements and monitoring in plantation communities in place of the SMCA, the ECD Project’s goals are to increase the number and quality of service centers that promote a higher standard of living and greater social mobility and inclusion, both stated aims of the Sri Lankan government and of the World Bank.

The ECD Project will aid Sri Lanka’s broader efforts to build a more equitable future in more subtle ways as well. By enabling women to join the workforce, for example, the establishment of more early childhood centers in rural communities works towards national goals of gender equality and inclusion, while also increasing household incomes. Gender equality is very much embedded in the project design itself: while “the Project will cover the entire country and will not include interventions targeted at specific communities or social groups,” one of the main indicators which the secretary of the SMCA is charged to judge center progress by is enrollment by gender.

In addition, as a network of institutions, childhood centers will enhance community-based efforts to improve childhood nutrition and overall health. One of the few development goals in which Sri Lanka has made poor progress is nutrition, with 21.9 percent of children from 0-5 underweight.

Ninety percent of the proposed budget will be allocated towards improving the delivery and quality of center services, as well as towards the creation of an evaluation system to standardize them. The World Bank has classified poor investment in early childhood development as a market failure, born from several factors. Awareness gaps of childhood development programs exist between richer families in urban areas and poorer families in the rural plantations to disparately inhibit demand. Meanwhile, credit constraints prevent municipal governments from constructing new centers and prevent families, who cannot afford it, from sending their children to centers.

As a result, the SMCA has designed a “market-based intervention” that addresses these specific issues. On the demand side, access to centers will be expanded through parent awareness programs, subsidies for poor households and the provision of transportation. Meanwhile, on the supply side, maps of center locations and the distribution of children age 3-5 will identify underserved areas to receive project funds. By integrating lessons learned from prior early childhood development projects in other countries, sponsored by The World Bank as well, this intervention will be partially community-based. Parental support is sought to improve outcomes, and community members advise district offices on the distribution of project funds to centers and families. Project evaluation will be composed of teacher training, center management and curriculum development, notably in English, Tamil and Sinhalese – a gesture of social inclusiveness.

Although only worth a nominal US$50 million, the loan has a strong multiplier effect. The “long term strategic development goals” – including building a skilled labor force, promoting social equity and inclusiveness and increasing economic competitiveness through a knowledge-based economy – are all mutually reinforcing. They will hopefully prove attainable as well now that the Sri Lankan government has shifted its focus to the country’s future, resting in the hands, and moreover, the minds, of its children.

– Jacqueline Fedida

Sources: Council on Foreign Relations, International Fund for Agricultural Development, The World Bank
Photo: Telegraph

E-Libraries Bridge Digital Divide Across Sri Lanka-TBP
The Sri Lankan government installed e-library computer centers in hundreds of community centers and places of worship across Sri Lanka to combat the country’s digital divide, increase digital literacy and stimulate the economy in rural areas.

The Program, e-Library Nenasala (eLNP), is completely free to the public, no matter what background a person comes from. “The eLibray Nenasalas have literally opened the gateway to wisdom and knowledge in rural Sri Lanka,” explains Nenasala’s website.

The program originally began in an environment of despair and desparation— the tsunami in the Indian Ocean of December 26, 2004. A total of 35,000 Sri Lankans died that day. Family members and friends urgently needed access to communication and information, and both were facilitated by the e-library program.

The computer centers across Sri Lanka have increased the country’s computer usage and technological literacy rate from below 10 percent in 2004, to nearly 40 percent today.

Computers and internet access have given communities access to life-changing services and information. Children can stream videos on learning the English language; women can learn about nutrition, breast-feeding, sanitation and vaccinations. Farmers can learn how to increase their crop yields, and entrepreneurs have access to information on how to start a business. Migrant workers staying in Sri Lanka can also Skype with family members in far-away countries.

Community members, thanks to their access to computers, now have access to assistance with how to write a resume or conduct a job search. Adults can fill out important applications online such as passports or driver’s licenses; they can also take government examinations.

The Nenasala computer centers also bring the community together; teens are trained in computer skills, and then volunteer to teach older community members.

“Without a doubt, the e-Library Nenasala Program is making a real and lasting impact on the lives of poor rural residents throughout Sri Lanka. People are getting locally relevant information and hands-on experience in the subject areas that matter most to them. Community members have a real investment in these centers, which promotes their longevity and sustainability for many years to come,” explained Deborah Jacobs, who directs the global libraries initiative at the Gates Foundation.

So far, 283 e-Library computer centers have been built. When the program first began, the government “knew that the low-income, rural residents it was targeting wouldn’t necessarily flock to the Nenasalas, or ‘wisdom centers.’ Fear, distrust, or just plain unfamiliarity would likely keep them away” explained Impatient Optimists, The Gates Foundation’s website.

For this reason, the e-library computer centers are based in some of the most trustworthy places of all— places of worship. This unconventional cultural adaptation has been critical in the success of the E-Library Program. “These institutions are seen as community centers and places of learning. They are familiar, welcoming, and trusted,” said Impatient Optimists.

E-Libraries can be found in Muslim Mosques, Buddhist Temples, Christian churches and Hindu Kovils across Sri Lanka.

Temples have been an especially effective location for the e-libraries because of their traditional, ancient association with learning as well as their role as the center of the village. The temples of Sri Lanka are also open to all people, no matter the race, gender, age or even religion. Small donations from the community help to keep the e-libraries functioning and up-to-date.

The eLNP program has been so effective that it received the Gates Foundation’s Access to Learning Award, a one million dollar value. The award began 15 years ago to promote providing the world’s poor with access to technology.

The organization plans to use the money to upgrade hardware at various locations. eLNP also plans to begin a new program where community members can temporarily rent tablets and install education software for children where there is not ample access to schooling.

The Sri Lankan government hopes to increase computer literacy and usage rates through the Nenasala computer centers to 75 percent by 2016.

– Aaron Andree

Sources: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Impatient Optimists, Philanthropy News Digest

Sri Lanka is an island that sits just off the eastern coast of India in the Indian Ocean. It is comparable to about half the size of Alabama, but with about 10 times the number of people. Its population currently exceeds 21 million, with a life expectancy rate of about 75 years of age.

The island nation was first known as Ceylon and was a British colony from the late 1700s until 1948. On February 4, 1948, Ceylonese leaders took over and finally made the nation its own self-governing entity.

Following this breakthrough in independence, education in Sri Lanka went through dramatic changes. Literacy rates rose to 97 percent and there was a greater emphasis on improving overall education for Sri Lankans. Today, Sri Lanka has 10,390 schools and school is mandatory for children up to age 13. Schooling is free until this point, along with textbooks and other school materials.

Despite a more involved secondary education, it seems that there is a sudden drop off when it comes to higher education in Sri Lanka. A test comparable to the U.S.’ Scholastic Aptitude Test is taken in order to apply to universities. Yet, because the Sri Lanka has only 15 universities, and very limited space, only six percent of those who apply are accepted.

Thus, Sri Lankan students are beginning to look elsewhere around the globe to further their education. In fact, an information session was just recently held by the Sri Lankan education board to assist those who need to access a United States Student Visa due to furthering their education in the U.S. this fall.

Other nations are stepping up as well. The Embassy of Japan is holding an information session on Sept. 20 in Colombo, Sri Lanka to encourage and assist any students in enrolling at university in Japan. At the meeting, eight Japanese universities will be represented. This is actually the fourth information session held in Sri Lanka by the Japanese.

Improving global education is an issue that requires a collective effort and with nations coming together as they are, literacy rates and education may improve across the entire world.

– Kathleen Lee

Sources: InfoPlease, Fulbright, Colombopage
Photo: Amnesty International Blog

free speech in sri lanka
The Sri Lankan government’s crackdown on NGO’s this month has initiated claims that President Mahinda Rajapakse is paranoid he will be overthrown, and is quieting critics to strengthen his control and power.

The defense ministry has banned NGO’s from disseminating press releases and holding awareness campaigns, press conferences, workshops and training for journalists. They claimed the ban was necessary in order to stop NGO’s from functioning “beyond their mandate.” The minister said the administration is worried that NGO’s will fuel criticism of Rajapakse and his family.

“The government panicked when they heard that USAID was trying to educate voters about their rights,” the minister said.

However, NGO workers claim that the ban was cracking down on dissent right before the presidential elections. They say it is unconstitutional and violates basic rights of free speech in Sri Lanka.

Civil rights groups have long highlighted problems for the media in Sri Lanka, where most journalists have to practice self-censorship due to the killings of media workers and journalists in recent years.

Activists and civil rights groups have burned notices issued by the government that demand NGO’s to not engage in activities that are “outside the groups’ mandate.” Almost 1,500 NGOs have gotten notices from the government.

Protesters chanted and carried banners during a rally that took place in the capital city of Colombo to protest against the government’s crackdown on free speech in Sri Lanka.

Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Center for Policy Alternatives said that the government’s ban violates the rule of law and the basic principles of a democracy. He said it is an attempt to hush alternative public opinions of citizens.

The United States government has voiced worry over the crackdown on free speech in Sri Lanka.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki urges the government of Sri Lanka to, “…allow civil society organizations and NGO’s, which play a vital role in supporting Sri Lanka’s democratic values, to operate freely.”

– Colleen Moore

Sources: Global Post, NDTV, UCANews, ColomboPage
Photo: Kuwait Times

asylum seekers in australia
A group of 157 asylum seekers from Sri Lanka have been held at sea for over a month by Australian officials. After a long detention and questionable treatment, Australia’s immigration minister Scott Morrison has announced that the group will be brought to the mainland.

Nevertheless, the future of the asylum seekers in Australia remains unknown, as they will be brought to shore to be detained a second time until a decision is made regarding whether or not they will be sent back to Sri Lanka.

Officials have not released any information about where the group will be taken.

The group includes Tamils—a group that still faces repression and violent attacks in Sri Lanka even though the civil war ended five years ago. The civil war took place between the majority Sinhalese Sri Lankan military and the Tamil separatists.

While the Australian government claims its policies are aimed at saving lives by preventing people from boarding dangerous boats and enduring a rough journey, the conditions of Australia’s detention camps have received harsh criticism both from human rights advocates and the United Nations.

UNHCR, a department from the U.N. who specializes in refugees, has spoken up, questioning whether or not on-water screening of asylum claims is at all fair.

The Australian government has been known to enforce tough policies aimed at ending the arrival of asylum seekers on boats. Just last month Australia detained a separate boat populated by Sri Lankan asylum seekers, and returned them to their country after “screening” their claims.

Reports have also come to light noting that Australian officials have been towing boats back to Indonesia, the most common area where refugees originate.

Activists have filed a legal challenge with the goal of preventing this current group of asylum seekers from being treated the same way. Under international law, Australia cannot return refugee seekers who may face maltreatment upon returning back to their homeland.

According to Graeme McGregor, the group’s refugee campaign coordinator, asylum seekers should be given the rights to undergo a “full, fair and rigorous assessment for refugee status” regardless.

Amnesty International has voiced their opinion, which aligns with McGregor’s concerns stating, “Stranding a boatload of people in the middle of the sea, in an effort to ‘stop the boats’ has achieved nothing.”

Indian officials from the Indian High Commission will be given full access to determine the identities of the asylum seekers to see if there is a potential for any of the refugees to be returned to India.

Morrison maintains that regardless of how the rest of the claims are addressed, no members of the group will be allowed to settle in Australia. Next month, the High Court will hear the asylum seekers case.

Until then, 157 men, women and children remain in limbo—awaiting their fate.

-Caroline Logan

Sources: BBC News, ABC News
Photo: News First

dengue fever in Sri Lanka
A recent epidemic of dengue fever in Sri Lanka has inspired one of the most unlikely sectors of society to innovatively combat the disease that infects between 50 and 100 million people globally every year.

Sri Lanka’s national newspaper, Mawbima, worked in conjunction with Leo Burnett to create the world’s first mosquito repellent newspaper. By combining ink with natural citronella essence, readers were able to reduce the risk of being bitten while educating themselves on current events.

The population reads the newspaper mostly in the early morning and in the evening. Because the Aedes Aegypti mosquito that transmits dengue is a daytime feeder, these are the times when they are most active.

Dengue fever causes an intense fever along with other symptoms such as severe headaches, nausea, pain behind the eyes or muscle and joint pains. Severe dengue is the more dangerous version of dengue fever, which can be lethal if not properly dealt with by professional medical care.

In many areas of the world, receiving professional medical care is not affordable or accessible for those in remote areas or those living in poverty. Prevention is a more cost effective way of addressing dengue fever.

Prevention of dengue fever is also vital because there is currently no vaccine or treatment, despite the increase of incidence worldwide in recent decades. In 2013, 30,000 Sri Lankans contracted dengue fever, which is considered “epidemic proportions.”

For National Dengue Week, several actions were taken to bring awareness to the disease. The citronella ink was used on large advertisements at bus stops to prevent those waiting for the bus from being bitten. When the paper was released, it contained articles on how to prevent dengue fever and even included repellent patches for schoolchildren to wear.

The innovative paper was so popular, it sold out by 10a.m., increasing sales by 30%. Not only was the risk of contracting dengue fever reduced, readership increased by 300,000, allowing the public to be both safe and well-informed.

Kim Tierney

Sources: CDC, Huffington Post, The Daily Star, IFL Science, World Health Organization
Photo: Black Tomatoe