Treat Sickle Cell DiseaseCRISPR gene-editing technology is now being used to treat various illnesses. This holds the potential to be a life-changing development for many people and may treat those plagued with sickle cell disease around the world.

What is Sickle Cell Disease?

Sickle cell disease is most prevalent in African countries, where having one copy of the sickle cell gene helps protect people against malaria. However, having two copies of this gene results in sickle cell disease. Sickle cell disease occurs because of a genetic mutation that causes red blood cells to develop a sickle-shape and this obstructs healthy blood flow. The condition can cause serious pain and negative health effects, usually resulting in early death. When considering children with the disease, 70% are born in sub-Saharan Africa. Unfortunately, these countries do not have adequate resources to properly alleviate the symptoms of this condition, let alone treat them.

A Potential Cure

In recent months, it has been discovered that CRISPR gene-editing technology may be the key to curing sickle cell disease. CRISPR–Cas9 is a naturally occurring defense system that edits DNA sequences to fight viruses in the human body. In the past decade, scientists have discovered how to harness this system’s ability to manipulate DNA in chosen ways. The result of this is CRISPR gene editing is a powerful technology that can correct genome defects and even alter entire genomes.

CRISPR technology works by editing genes, which modifies how the body functions. First, medical professionals remove patients’ bone marrow and treat it. Then, CRISPR allows scientists to “cut and paste” bits of the genome by either cutting or adding a sequence of DNA into the genome. This can correct genetic mutations, ultimately improving a patient’s health.

In the U.S., a trial of using CRISPR to cure sickle cell disease is yielding promising results. The treatment uses CRISPR technology to activate a gene that instructs the body to produce fetal hemoglobin instead of adult hemoglobin. The presence of fetal hemoglobin prevents the blood cells from sickling. In this way, the treatment alleviates the health complications typically resulting from sickle cell disease. The subject of this trial is much healthier and has made exceptional progress in her recovery. These spectacular results have left many people hopeful that CRISPR technology could successfully treat sickle cell disease, with more widespread results by 2022.

The Future of CRISPR Treatment

For CRISPR treatment to reach its full potential, it must become more accessible to those who need it most. Therefore, the underprivileged in sub-Saharan Africa would benefit greatly. One suggested way to overcome accessibility barriers is through a tiered-pricing system. This system would offer gene therapy treatment to patients in developing countries at a reduced price, while patients in high-income countries would be expected to pay for the treatment in full.

There are currently logistical barriers to this solution, as gene therapy can cost thousands of dollars. The cost of CRISPR treatment would have to be greatly reduced (beyond the normal price drops of tiered pricing) to be successfully made available to the underprivileged. Additionally, this treatment requires consistent doctor visits. Much of sub-Saharan Africa lacks access to health clinics and other essential resources, such as refrigeration.

Breaking Down Barriers

Organizations are helping to eliminate the barriers blocking CRISPR treatment for sickle cell disease in developing countries. The National Institutes of Health and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated $200 million to this cause in 2019. This money will help make gene therapy accessible throughout the world and improve the quality of life for thousands. With the promise of affordable CRISPR gene modification therapy, there is hope for individuals worldwide to treat sickle cell disease. Permanently improving the quality of life is the end goal. Those living in developing countries, the global poor and those vulnerable to falling into poverty will be the most to benefit from this exciting, technological development.

– Hannah Allbery
Photo: Flickr

Influenza in sub-Saharan AfricaAfrica is known for being one of the world’s poorest continents. Poverty directly affects a person’s susceptibility to diseases like influenza. To combat this disease, the future of healthcare in Africa requires funding to improve accessibility in rural regions. Here’s what you need to know about influenza in sub-Saharan Africa.

Influenza in Sub-Saharan Africa

While sub-Saharan Africa only accounted for an estimated 7,000 influenza deaths in 2015, this remains the most common and deadly global disease. The mortality rate of influenza in sub-Saharan Africa affects children under the age of five and those over 75. Though the mortality rate seems low compared to the U.S., it does not take into account the presence of healthcare services in Africa versus the U.S. In contrast to Africa, the U.S. had 22,705 influenza deaths in 2015. While these statistics are higher, the U.S. also has more accessible healthcare.

Furthermore, studies have shown that influenza affects many more people than accounted for. Research from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows 40% of antibodies for flu (B) were found in community members 40 years of age and older. This reveals that the virus continued to circulate with no monitoring processes. Importantly, this lack of surveillance contributes to countries’ and NGO partners’ ability to prepare for the next outbreak.

Higher rates of influenza in sub-Saharan Africa are typically found in low to middle-income regions with little resources and access to sanitation and healthcare. In particular, influenza puts nearly “two-thirds of the 34 million” persons infected with HIV at a higher risk for infection and mortality. Existing diseases such as HIV thus put a significant amount of the African population at risk for influenza.

Healthcare in Africa

Africa continues to possess one of the world’s worst healthcare infrastructures, despite funding from the U.S. In 2006, the U.S. gave R100 billion to the South African National Health Insurance (NHI). However, the U.S. provided $28.8 billion to those uninsured in the U.S. during that year, nearly twice the amount granted for all international health.

Rural regions in sub-Saharan Africa account for 60% the population, while urban areas contain 40%. Rural regions lack accessible healthcare compared to urban regions. Due to industrialization, urban areas have greater access to healthcare facilities and university hospitals.

Across many parts of Africa, the ratio of doctors to patients “is below 1/1000 population, with the ‘ratio of physicians per 1000 population essentially unchanged between 2004 (0.77) and 2011 (0.76).” Demand for physicians within these regions is increasing. However, although Africa is producing more physicians, many migrate to the U.S. This leaves rural regions of sub-Saharan Africa with few qualified healthcare providers.

Solutions and Aid

Awareness and aid are crucial to improving infrastructure and healthcare in Africa, so that it can respond to influenza outbreaks. The W.H.O. has created the Africa Flu Alliance, finding factors leading to the underfunding of healthcare to assess its overall impact. Similarly, the Africa Flu Alliance created a “strategic road map” of targets to control influenza in sub-Saharan Africa. It hopes to influence organizations, private funding and projects to support the organization’s initiatives.

Private sectors and nonprofits contribute to approximately half of Africa’s total healthcare funding and expenditures. Twenty-two organizations and nonprofits are working to combat the gap between health services in rural and urban areas. In addition, The African Network for Influenza Surveillance and Epidemiology (ANISE) was created in 2009, with a growing network alongside the CDC. Continual meetings from 2009 to 2012 allowed officials and representatives to discuss achievements and areas of improvement.

Reducing Aid Dependency: Can It Work?

Despite the reliance on Western assistance for years, President Trump’s foreign aid budget cuts could be incredibly harmful or begin for Africa. Given the situation, governments within Africa will need to strive for improvements in monetary policies, transparency and reduced corruption. To improve self-sufficiency, experts recommend regional integration, or “the process by which two or more nation-states agree to co-operate and work closely together to achieve peace, stability and wealth.” Initiatives like Africa’s Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) will enable 54 countries to trade freely. This will improve Africa’s economic stability by an estimated 50% increase in trade.

The battle of influenza in sub-Saharan Africa correlates directly with the absence of monitoring for significant health concerns. Expanding upon the existing healthcare infrastructure can not only contain and treat disease but also help grow Africa’s economy. Surveillance will be key in this process, as statistics tell actors what they need to improve. But with the support NGOs, funding can help control influenza in sub-Saharan Africa.

Allison Lloyd
Photo: Flickr

u.n. eradicates povertyThe United Nations (U.N.) is an international organization designed for countries to work together on human rights issues, maintain peace and resolve conflicts. Currently, the U.N. consists of representatives from 193 countries. In the general assembly, nations have a platform for diplomatic relations. One of major missions of the U.N. is the eradication of global poverty. The U.N. eradicates poverty comprehensively and works to address current poverty levels and their resulting crises. Additionally, it works to prevent the causes of poverty from spreading on a global level.

What Is Poverty?

The U.N. defines poverty as “more than the lack of income and productive resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods.” The organization asserts that poverty affects people in many ways, including “hunger and malnutrition, limited access to education and other basic services, social discrimination and exclusion, as well as the lack of participation in decision-making.” Poorer countries that suffer from a lack of basic resources face all of these problems.

Around the world, more than 730 million people live below the poverty line. Many of these people live in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. These poor countries also often suffer from internal violence that impacts their ability to address the needs and vulnerabilities of their citizens. As such, poverty and conflict have a reciprocal relationship, both contributing to the other.

The U.N. eradicates poverty through multiple commissions that address specific populations and the issues they face. For example, UNICEF, the U.N. children’s commission, works specifically to address children living in poverty globally. It does so by promoting education access and healthcare, as well mitigating the damaging effects of armed conflict. Through “fundraising, advocacy, and education,” this division of the U.N. eradicates poverty and helps children around the world.

Poverty and Human Rights

The U.N. outlines inalienable international human rights as the following: “the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more.” One of the many detrimental effects of global poverty is high death rates. Poverty may cause death through water and food insecurity, as well as a lack of healthcare and medical access. This is why poverty is truly a human rights issue.

For someone to have a guarantee to life and liberty, they cannot be living in abject poverty. Education and the “right to work” are also rights affected by living in poverty. Education is sparse in many of the world’s poorest countries, which often suffer from high unemployment rates. This contributes to household income and citizens’ inability to provide for themselves and their families. Thus, poverty is a complex and multifaceted issue that affects all aspects of people’s lives, from their health and well-being to their futures.

The International Poverty Line

According to the U.N., as of 2015, there were “more than 736 million people liv[ing] below the international poverty line.” The international poverty line (IPL) quantifies people’s standard of living. This helps researchers, aid workers and governments assess people’s situation. It also allows these actors to assess their success in mitigating harm and promoting development. Foreign Policy explains that “The IPL is explicitly designed to reflect a staggeringly low standard of living, well below any reasonable conception of a life with dignity.”

The U.N. eradicates poverty by examining not only measures like the IPL but also the effects of extreme poverty. The number of people below the poverty line is important, but the U.N. focuses on what this means for people living in such poverty. For example, the U.N. notes that “[a]round 10 percent of the world population is living in extreme poverty and struggling to fulfill the most basic needs like health, education.”

The Future of the U.N. and Poverty

The U.N. is likely to remain one of the leading forces in the eradication of poverty and the promotion of human rights. Its unique history, size and diverse commissions make it a powerful organization. In particular, the commissions that work with vulnerable populations will be essential to securing the safety and prosperity of those living in poverty. Importantly, the U.N. eradicates poverty with the support of its 193 member states, as it depends on their sponsorship and help in conflict resolution. Just as poverty has no borders, neither should the solutions we use to solve it.

Kiahna Stephens
Photo: Flickr

Maternal MortalityMaternal mortality refers to the death of a woman due to causes related to or aggravated by her pregnancy and childbirth. Almost all (99%) of maternal deaths occur in developing countries, and 68% occur in Sub-Saharan Africa alone. The Trends in Maternal Mortality 2000-2017 report is a joint effort by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, World Bank Group and the United Nations Population Division. Its statistics showcase huge global health disparities that leave African mothers extremely vulnerable. Maternal Mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa is a prevalent issue.

Health Inequality in Maternal Healthcare

Almost all maternal deaths can be prevented, yet in 2017, Sub-Saharan Africans suffered from the highest maternal mortality (MMR). The ratio was 533 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, or 200,000 maternal deaths a year. All three countries with the highest MMR globally with over 1000 deaths per 100,000 live births, considered a too high rate, are in Sub-Saharan Africa. South Sudan has 1150, Chad has 1140 and Sierra Leone has 1120. In comparison, the 2017 MMR in North America and Western Europe is 18 and 5.

The fact that MMR is under 10 in many countries means that current technology and medical knowledge are already capable of reducing MMR to almost zero. The global imperative is to improve health infrastructure and education in developing nations to access services and resources available to protect mothers in the developed world.

The Importance of Access

Also, the lack of access to health facilities and medical professionals is among the main reasons for maternal deaths. In Africa, there are 985 people for every nurse or midwife and 3,324 people for every medical doctor. This means that many pregnant women do not receive antenatal, delivery and newborn care. Consequently, there is a dramatic increase in their risk of dying from severe bleeding, infections or other complications. Ensuring accessible and affordable health facilities for all women would eliminate risks of preventable and treatable deaths.

Adolescent Pregnancy

Additionally, improving sexual health education is the key to eliminating adolescent pregnancies. These pregnancies account for a significant portion of maternal mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa. Teenage girls, especially those under 15, have a higher risk of maternal mortality than older women. For example, in 2014, there were 224 adolescents per 1,000 cases of pregnancy in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is the highest teenage pregnancy rate globally, followed by Liberia, which has 221, and Niger, which has 204. Improvements in sexual health education would inform young girls of contraceptive options, family planning methods and safe abortion facilities.

Progress Tracker

Furthermore, significant efforts have succeeded in reducing maternal mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa. From 2000 to 2017, Sub-Saharan Africa has achieved a substantial reduction of 39% of maternal mortality. This percentage is from 870 to 533 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. A significant number of countries in this region have reduced their MMR by more than half. Rwanda is at 79%, Mongolia is at 71%, Eritrea is at 63%, Zambia is at 60% and Cabo Verde is at 51%.

Overall, WHO has stated that improving maternal health remains one of their key priorities. In 2015, the global health organization launched the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health. It aims at ending all preventable deaths of women, children and adolescents. UN’s Sustainable Development Goal target 3.1, also launched in 2015, aims at reducing global MMR to less than 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030. The current MMR in Africa is still seven times less than the target. Nevertheless, promising results from past and current campaigns indicate that a better future is within reach.

– Alice Nguyen
Photo: Flickr

water politicsWater scarcity and unequal water access are two pressing problems facing the global community. The political response to this crisis has created the field of water politics. In order to address this crisis, the global community must consider water as a human right and prioritize implementing sustainable solutions for the future.

The Problem

Water is one of humans’ basic needs. However, every continent has regions experiencing the effects of water scarcity. With experts predicting that one in five people will live in areas with unsatisfactory resources to meet water needs by 2025, this is an urgent issue.

Although water is a renewable resource, restored by snowmelt and rainfall, human practices are depleting the world’s water supply. Diverting water for agriculture, households and industry has become so taxing that some of the largest rivers run dry before reaching the ocean. Human activity can also pollute water sources to such an extent that they cannot support aquatic life or be used as drinking water.

Water Scarcity and Conflict

Water Politics Limited, a geopolitical risk advisory and consulting firm, found that water scarcity could lead to conflict or political instability in many countries. Sources including the Euphrates, Tigris, Jordan, Nile, Danube and Okavango rivers as well as the Tibetan watershed and resources will become insufficient to support the surrounding areas. These sources currently provide water to dozens of countries across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Water scarcity will therefore affect communities across the globe. Importantly, it may spark conflict over remaining water resources, within a nation or even between nations. Anya Groner at The Atlantic points to evidence of past conflicts that have revolved around water. These include the riots in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2012, which responded to inequality in the distribution of water resources.

The Pacific Institute put together a timeline of water conflicts from the earliest records until 2019. Causes of these conflicts include territorial disputes, drought, inequities and municipal water cuts. The severity of conflict may range from protests and theft to more violent killings and bombings. This makes it clear that decreases in water access may lead to political or violent conflict if the world does not take action to ensure sustainable, equitable water access for all.

Water Politics: Managing the Resource

Countries facing water scarcity have the difficult task of allocating a limited resource. To ensure that everyone can access water, these countries must take many different steps. Cape Town, South Africa, is an apt case study. In 2018, a combination of a dry climate, a three-year drought, and high water usage all put the city within 90 days of running out of water. The severity of this crisis required the whole region to pull together to decrease their water usage.

To avoid turning off the taps, the government restricted residents to 50 liters of water a day. Violators faced large fines for overusing water. Further, the government banned wasteful activities like refilling swimming pools and washing cars. Residents also took to social media to share tips about saving water. Specifically, the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” campaign emerged to encourage everyone to resist flushing when applicable.

Social media, however, was not just useful as a tool to disseminate information and motivate residents to conserve water. Perhaps more importantly, it also drew the global community’s attention to the state of the world’s water resources and the consequences of water scarcity. The Environmental Protection Agency has also used social media to inform the public about the value of safe drinking water. The agency aims to get users to create their own water conservation campaigns to implement into their communities.

Technology and Water Politics

However, awareness about this issue cannot solve it on its own. Innovators around the globe have engineered new ways to collect freshwater and provide clean water to communities worldwide. These solutions may be as simple as rain barrels used during monsoon season in Vietnam, or as complex as a nylon net hoisted into low clouds to collect condensation in island nations. Technologies like desalinization and iodine tablets have also helped transform water sources into safe drinking water.

Additionally, Water Politics Limited is conducting research on how to maximize water access through political action. It is investigating water transport and pipeline initiatives, exporting water, worldwide water rights and public participation in water conservation.

Moving Forward

As nations move forward with water politics initiatives, we must pay attention to regions most at risk of experiencing severe water scarcity. Places like sub-Saharan Africa with dry climates have already been plunged into prolonged droughts, facing political conflict as a result. Thankfully, public awareness campaigns, technological innovations and governmental cooperation can ensure that everyone has a right to safe drinking water.

Ellie Williams
Photo: Flickr

Sub-Saharan African SlumsSub-Saharan Africa is experiencing a housing crisis. While around one billion people live in slums around the globe, 200 million of those live in sub-Saharan African slums. This number represents “61.7% of the region’s urban population,” making sub-Saharan Africa the highest in the world for urban poverty.

Sub-Saharan African Slums and Urban Poverty

Singumbe Muyeba, assistant professor of African Studies at the University of Denver, spoke with The Borgen Project about development intervention and sub-Saharan African slums. Muyeba’s expertise in these areas stems from his academic work but also from his work for the United Nations’ High Commission for Refugees and Development Program.

According to Muyeba, sub-Saharan African slums began when African countries gained independence from colonialist rule from the 1960s through the ‘80s. Since colonialists always reserved major cities for themselves, Africans everywhere migrated from rural to urban areas after independence. However, that meant infant governments had to keep up with increasing urban populations. They were unable to do so due to the skyrocketing rates of urbanization.

With housing rapidly diminishing as Africans moved into cities, they began settling onto common land, eventually creating the sprawling slums that still exist today. Even now, the sub-Saharan African urban population is annually growing at 4%. A projection from the U.N. reveals that “the world’s 10 fastest growing cities, between 2018 and 2035, will all be in Africa.” In addition, there is a backlog of 51 million housing units in Africa. The region’s supply of housing is “about nine years behind current demand,” according to Muyeba.

Slum Upgrading Programs

The World Bank has funded slum upgrading programs to combat rising urban poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. These programs assigned property rights and provided access to services in hopes to empower slum residents with their own land. However, as Muyeba explained, these programs were largely “self-help” models. The World Bank simply gave impoverished individuals property rights and no means to build their own housing.

Since “about 97% to 99% of people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to formal financing” that allows them to build or buy a home, people haphazardly build their own informal housing or remain in slums. Formal and sustainable housing only accounts for 10% of all urban African housing. While handing out free titles and property rights looks good on paper, this “slum upgrading” has not improved slums.

Ongoing Problems in Slums

While sub-Saharan Africa housing conditions improved by 11% from 2000-2015,  this improvement was “twice as likely in the wealthiest households” and “80% more likely among more educated households.” The reality is that 80-90% of Africans work in the informal sector, and the majority of people living in sub-Saharan African cities live in slums. Therefore, this housing improvement did not occur in the slums, which many people cannot escape.

George Compound, a slum in Lusaka, Zambia, serves as a perfect example of a poorly executed upgrade program. It is a major slum with 400,000 inhabitants, but it does not have adequate running water. The water it does have from makeshift wells is contaminated with nearby ground toilets.

In Muyeba’s opinion, government involvement is necessary to fix the African housing crisis. While he is not against privatization, he believes the neoliberal model is not working to improve sub-Saharan African slums.

Can Governments Fix the Housing Crisis?

However, even if African governments want to get involved in building housing, they cannot. This is because of the World Bank’s international economic rulings on aid and upgrade programs. “The system is set up in such a way that the World Bank advocates for less involvement of the government following the Structural Adjustment Programs implemented in the 80s and 90s,” stated Muyeba.

In order to receive aid through the World Bank’s structural adjustment programs, governments often have to delegate building to the private sector. However, the private sector cannot make a real profit from low-income housing because so many Africans and slum-dwellers are part of the informal sector. People in poverty cannot get mortgages because they lack access to credit or insurance. This prevents the private sector from serving poor Africans.

Muyeba firmly believes “there are wins everywhere” if governments (with the help of communities and the private sector) build housing. The construction sector can benefit from large-scale projects, while infrastructure creates jobs. Individuals in slums can focus their attention on making income rather than worrying about basic housing needs.

Muyeba offered Kenya as an example of combined state, private and community partnerships to combat urban poverty. Currently, the country has implemented its own kind of slum upgrading program in which the government builds housing and guarantees mortgages.

Organizations Helping People in Sub-Saharan African Slums

Outside organizations and NGOs are actively working to help housing poverty in sub-Saharan African slums. Habitat for Humanity completed a six-year program in 2018 called “Building Assets, Unlocking Access.” This program worked in Uganda and Kenya to offer technical help and “develop housing microfinance products and services.” Habitat for Humanity’s approach allowed Africans to progressively build their own housing, access small-scale loans and set up small payments.

More than 42,000 individuals accessed microfinance loans through the program, which impacted more than 210,000 people in total. In addition, 32.9% of loan recipients built entire houses for themselves and their families.

A report from the project found that recipients also upgraded their housing with improved roofing, walls, sanitation and electricity. Additionally, the program caused trickle-down effects in health. Fewer people reported common ailments like “sore throats, shortness of breath, itchy eyes, blocked noses, vomiting and rashes” due to healthier housing. The most improved group was children under six.

Hopefully, all African cities struggling with urban poverty can create domestic housing projects or find new, inventive ways to help the housing crisis. All in all, the solution to sub-Saharan African slums is housing. According to Muyeba, “It’s a no brainer.”

Grace Ganz
Photo: Flickr

Groundwater in Sub-Saharan Africa
Freshwater is universally recognized to be foundational to the health and well-being of every human being on the planet. Despite this fact, water scarcity continues to pose a threat to many parts of the world today, as drought and famine continue to be an ever-present reality. Nowhere is this reality more pervasive than in Sub-Saharan Africa. Highly variable rainfall there can often lead to common sources of freshwater, such as streams and reservoirs, to dry up for months at a time. For communities in countries like Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, reliable sources of groundwater in Sub-Saharan Africa are vital for survival in the arid and semi-arid climates. However, because of the inherent challenges of accessing water underground as well as development trends in Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, many are now calling attention to how sub-optimal groundwater management could potentially threaten poor communities in the region.

Groundwater Reserves in Sub-Saharan Africa

The vast majority of Central Africans rely upon groundwater as their primary water source since 2017. Unlocking Potential of Groundwater for the Poor (UPGro) began in 2013. Its goal is to comprehensively analyze groundwater reserves in Sub-Saharan Africa. As a result, regional governments and local municipalities will better understand and harness this vital resource. Over the past seven years, UPGro has united researchers from around the world to document the current state of groundwater in Sub-Saharan Africa and determine where efficiency in its management could be improved.

Across the world, groundwater is collected in natural, underground reservoirs called aquifers. Rainfall replenishes them as water drains down through soil and rock. Boring holes through the soil and extracting water through wells and pumps access aquifers. In 2019 alone, thousands of these wells were drilled across the African continent. The importance of reliable pumps is undeniable in places where alternatives are scarce. Research has shown that the quantity of such devices is not the only concern when considering the question of resource management.

The Challenges of Groundwater

African aquifers can oftentimes extend for thousands of miles underground. They provide water not only to numerous communities but also to multiple countries simultaneously. This reality can make managing groundwater in Sub-Saharan Africa difficult. This applies to determining who has the most access and in regulating the quality of the water itself. As groups like UPGro have observed, harnessing the potential of groundwater reserves in Sub-Saharan Africa is crucial to the region’s future agricultural and industrial development. However, pollution of the aquifers that millions of people rely upon for daily life is a growing concern. This issue disproportionately affects poorer rural communities, which in many cases use the same groundwater sources as larger urban centers. These centers engage in large-scale aquifer pumping in order to build and sustain new infrastructure.

Protecting Poor Communities

As populations continue to grow across the continent, the effect that growing urban populations will have on groundwater volume and quality is beginning to garner more attention. As a result of projects like UPGro, ensuring mutual equity in this vital resource between communities, regions and institutions requires facilitating dialogue between these parties. This ensures that all entities have a full understanding of their shared resource. UPGro refers to this process as “transition management.” Other organizations have facilitated similar processes. However, new discourses will develop organically due to new drilled pumps. They will also develop as groundwater in Sub-Saharan Africa becomes more central to agriculture in both smaller and larger population centers across the region.

For many in Sub-Saharan Africa, the region’s vast groundwater reserves provide an essential resource in certain areas. Without them, these areas would be otherwise uninhabitable due to the scarcity of aboveground water sources. They provide a greatly needed buffer against natural disasters. They could also allow for substantial economic and technological development in the coming years and decades. This would result in raising communities, families and individuals out of poverty. As many in the region know, groundwater reserves in Sub-Saharan Africa can offer a precious source for a brighter future. However, before aquifers build that future, communities must first ensure that prosperity for some is achievable without sacrificing the wellbeing of others.

Matthew Otey
Photo: Pexels

Crops That Are Fighting PovertyAcross the world, agriculture remains one of the primary sources of income for those living in poverty. A 2019 report by The World Bank reported that 80% of those living in extreme poverty reside in rural regions, and a large majority of these individuals rely upon agriculture for their livelihood. The World Bank also notes that developing agriculture is one of the most effective ways to alleviate poverty, reduce food insecurity and enhance the general well-being of those living in a community. Potatoes in China, cassava in sub-Saharan Africa, rice in Sierra Leone, pearl millet in India and bananas in Costa Rica are five examples of crops that are fighting poverty.

5 Crops That Are Fighting Poverty

  1. Potatoes in China: In 2019, China was the world’s number one potato-producing country. With a rural population of 45.23%, the nation greatly relies upon agriculture to provide food as well as income to its citizens. In Ulanqub, otherwise known as the “potato city” of China, potato farming is one of the primary means for farmers to rise out of poverty. Due to the fact that viruses have the potential to destroy up to 80% of potato crops, potato engineers in Ulanqub have developed seeds that are more impervious to viruses. These engineers place a sterile potato stem into a solution filled with nutrients to create “virus-free breeder seeds.” The seeds are then planted and produce potatoes of higher quality, ensuring that farmers are able to generate sufficient income and climb out of poverty.
  2. Cassava in sub-Saharan Africa: Cassava is a principal source of calories for 40% of Africans. This crop has traditionally been important during times of famine and low rainfall because it is drought-resistant, requires easily-accessible tools and is easily harvestable by one family. The organization NextGen utilizes genomic technology to isolate beneficial cassava traits that increase plant viability, root quality and yield quantity. By analyzing crop DNA and statistically predicting performance, NextGen is creating cassava crops that are fighting poverty.
  3. Rice in Sierra Leone: Agriculture accounts for 57% of Sierra Leone’s GDP, with rice reigning as the primary staple crop. However, in 2011, the nation was a net rice importer due to struggles with planting efficiency. The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) was developed to increase rice crop yield and decrease the labor necessary for upkeep. This method requires the use of organic fertilizers, tighter regulations for watering quantities, greater spacing between seeds to decrease plant competition and rotary hoes for weeding. As of 2014, 10,865 individuals had implemented this strategy in Sierra Leone. SRI has enabled rice to become one of the crops that is fighting poverty by increasing crop production from two to six tons per hectare.
  4. Pearl Millet in India: In India, agriculture employs 59% of the nation’s workforce, with 82% of farmers operating small farms that are highly susceptible to the negative impacts of climate change. As temperatures rise to a scorching 114℉, crops that are able to survive extreme heat are becoming necessary. Wild pearl millet, a relative of domestic pearl millet, is one crop that can withstand such temperatures. Researchers in India are breeding wild pearl millet seeds with domestic pearl millet in order to enhance resistance to heat and the common “blast” disease. With breeding innovations, pearl millet is one of the crops that are fighting poverty.
  5. Bananas in Costa Rica: One out of every 10 bananas produced in 2015 hailed from Costa Rica, the globe’s third-largest banana producer. This industry generated $ 1.1 billion in 2017 and provides jobs for 100,000 Costa Ricans. However, approximately 90% of banana crops across the nation are at risk of nutrient deprivation from a pest known as nematode, which has the potential to obliterate entire plantations. An article by CropLife International reported that a sustainable pesticide has been created by plant scientists in order to mitigate poverty-inducing crop loss and provide environmentally-conscious methods for banana farmers to ward off pests.

Developing crop viability and agricultural technology is important for poverty alleviation as agriculture possesses twice the likelihood of creating financial growth than other economic sectors. Innovations in crop production that decrease the likelihood of failure from drought, disease and changing weather patterns are important for the well-being of rural communities across the globe. Potatoes, cassava, rice, pearl millet and bananas are just five examples of crops that are fighting poverty, but improvements in different facets of agriculture have the potential to enhance the livelihoods of those who provide the world’s food.

Suzi Quigg
Photo: Flickr

Telemedicine in Africa
In 2019, there were 747 million SIM connections in Sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for 75% of the population. While each SIM connection does not necessarily constitute a unique user, this number represents an unprecedented rate of access to mobile connections in Sub-Saharan Africa. As a result of this radically increased mobile connection, public services have been able to reach populations that people previously considered to be extremely remote due to lack of nearby roads or airports. Among these services, telemedicine has been one of the most effective ways to fill gaps in healthcare systems for rural Sub-Saharan Africans. Here are three startups transforming telemedicine in Africa.

mPedigree

Aiming to address the issue of counterfeit drugs plaguing Sub-Saharan Africa, mPedigree is a drug authentication service that allows customers themselves to be sure their medicine is genuine. Over 122,000 children across the continent die annually from counterfeit antimalarials, a number that the company’s founder, Bright Simons, sought to slash to zero when he launched mPedigree in Ghana in 2007.

To authenticate the drug, the company first prints 12 digit codes onto drug packaging. Users then text this code to mPedigree’s customer service number, and the company confirms or denies the validity of the code in its database. Not only does this prevent users from consuming counterfeit drugs, but it also allows the company to trace fraud back to the source. As founder Bright Simons reported, “in Nigeria, our technology has helped regulators pinpoint where fraud is happening and catch the fraudsters.”

Simons estimates that 75 million Africans have benefited from mPedigree’s services, with more than 2,000 products registered in the company’s database. Through its simple yet effective method, mPedigree not only saves lives but marks a major milestone for the implementation of telemedicine in Africa.

Zipline Rwanda

When Silicon Valley drone startup, Zipline, partnered with the Rwandan government to deliver to remote rural villages, vital medical supplies became infinitely more accessible almost overnight. The startup’s main focus is blood delivery, a vital resource in a nation where maternal mortality rates, largely due to postpartum hemorrhaging, are 20 times higher than those in the United States. On top of this, Rwandan hospitals often lack the refrigeration and electricity necessary to keep blood on hand.

As of 2016, Zipline has delivered more than 4,000 units of red blood cells, platelets and plasma to 12 hospitals across Rwanda. As Dr. Roger Nyonzima, the head surgeon in the maternity ward at a hospital near the nation’s capital, said, “before it took at least 3 hours to get blood in an emergency. Three hours can make a difference between saving and losing a life. Now we get blood in 15 minutes.”

Zipline Rwanda has thus far completed over 14,000 life-saving blood deliveries, with plans to expand into its neighboring country, Tanzania. By cutting around the need for paved roads or airports for medical deliveries, the company provides one of the most essential resources to those who would otherwise have the least access.

Ubenwa

Founded in 2014, this Nigerian application uses AI to detect signs of infant asphyxia in a child’s cry. Today, infant asphyxia, or, loss of oxygen, causes about one-third of deaths in children under the age of 5. By a simple downloadable application, Ubenwa seeks to give parents the ability to prevent asphyxia before it starts.

Taking just 10 seconds to detect signs of infant asphyxia, Ubenwa is faster than a traditional blood test detection, which can take hours to process. Additionally, the app is non-invasive, needing only the child’s cry. It is also roughly 95% cheaper than a traditional blood test. In other words, the app seeks to give detection ability to any parent, at home, in real-time.

Currently, the app is in the final stages of fine-tuning its AI algorithm but has been deployed in several Nigerian hospitals. During testing, Ubenwa attained 95% accurate prediction rates among the 1,400 baby cries that underwent testing. With its easily accessible platform, Ubenwa represents a major achievement for the use of AI in telemedicine in Africa.

As rates of smartphone ownership increase across the continent, telemedicine continues to fill gaps in Africa’s healthcare systems, providing vital services to those who would otherwise be left underserved.

– Jane Dangel
Photo: Flickr

internet access
In sub-Saharan Africa, more people own a mobile phone than have access to electricity. About 41% of sub-Saharan Africans use the internet and 33% own a smartphone. Importantly, these numbers are on the rise. The region’s internet access has greatly expanded in recent years, especially in rural areas. This, in turn, allows for more people to use digital services such as online education and telemedicine. Widespread access to these key services benefits rural communities across sub-Saharan Africa by promoting socioeconomic development. All of these benefits, made possible through internet access in sub-Saharan Africa.

Expanding Access to Telemedicine

Rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa typically have fewer health resources and doctors readily available. Moreover, people may need to travel long distances to reach the nearest hospitals. The region holds 13% of the world’s population, but only 2% of the world’s doctors. With mobile devices and reliable internet access, people can access basic healthcare regardless of their geographical location. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, 41% of respondents in sub-Saharan Africa “use the internet to access information about health and medicine.”

By facilitating telemedicine systems, internet connectivity can improve the quality of care in community health centers and reduce patients’ transport times and medical costs. For example, the Novartis Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on projects that improve health, launched a telemedicine system in Ghana in 2011. This system allows frontline health workers to connect with medical specialists across the country. Available 24/7, doctors and specialists at teleconsultation centers provide advice for treatments and help manage emergency cases.

Increasing Literacy Through Online Education

According to the Pew Research Center, the large majority of surveyed sub-Saharan Africans believe that “the increasing use of the internet has had a good influence on education in their country.” As internet access has increased dramatically in recent years, digital learning has become a more promising opportunity to improve literacy rates in the region. Also, because more people own smartphones, online learning resources are more widely available and ubiquitous.

Digital learning is a more cost-effective way to increase access to education, which will directly benefit impoverished communities. Educated people are more likely to be employed, earn a higher income, participate in politics and ensure that their children are also educated. Therefore, increased access to education can lift individuals and communities out of poverty — having a lasting, positive impact on the sub-Saharan region as a whole.

Looking Ahead

Numerous governments, telecommunications providers, nonprofit organizations and private companies have invested in sub-Saharan Africa’s internet connectivity in the last decade. Telecom providers have expanded internet connectivity by selling and distributing solar off-grid kits to individuals. This, in turn, also helps to promote renewable energy in the region. In May 2020, Facebook, along with African and global telecom partners, announced plans to build 37,000 kilometers of subsea cable infrastructure. This project, called 2Africa, will create a direct high-speed internet connection between 16 African countries, Europe and the Middle East.

Overall, as internet access expands across sub-Saharan Africa, more people will be able to access digital services with extensive socioeconomic benefits. Telemedicine and online education are accessible only to those with a reliable internet connection. However, these benefits can have a massive impact on health, literacy and poverty rates in sub-Saharan Africa — especially in rural communities.

Rachel Powell
Photo: Flickr