Human trafficking in the Republic of the CongoThe Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is an African country that is home to more than 105 million people, forming the second-largest country on the continent. The DRC is rich in natural resources such as coal, gold and petroleum, which provide the country with economic sustenance. However, human trafficking in the Republic of the Congo stemming from governmental corruption and internal conflicts continues to plague the country.

Economic Background of the DRC

Economic growth in the DRC decreased from 4.4% in 2019 to merely 0.8% in 2020. The slowed growth rate correlates with limitations related to COVID-19. Private consumption, government investment and non-mining sectors dipped because of pandemic-related complications and limited government spending. The Democratic Republic of the Congo falls in the bottom 10 countries in the Doing Business 2020 annual report. The Human Development Index (HDI), which measures holistic standards of living, placed the DRC in the bottom 15 countries for 2020.

The pervasiveness of poverty in the DRC is reflected in the estimated 73% of Congolese people who lived on less than $1.90 a day in 2018. About one in six people living in conditions of extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa are from the DRC, with more than four in 10 Congolese children classified as malnourished. The Human Capital Index (HCI) indicates Congolese children operate at roughly one-third of the potential productivity possible with full education and complete health. The DRC ranks below average in the HCI compared to other sub-Saharan African nations.

Human Trafficking in the DRC

In a 2019 report, the U.S. Department of State classified the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a Tier 3 nation in its handling of human trafficking. The classification is due to the Department of State’s determination that the DRC “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so.”

While the Congolese National Army (FARDC) showed no cases of child recruitment for the fourth year in a row, the FARDC is said to have recruited child soldiers through partnerships with local militias. The Congolese government reported additional cases of sexual violence but did not differentiate sex trafficking crimes from general sexual violence crimes. Furthermore, there continues to be a lack of victim identification procedures and criminalization of trafficking crimes.

The U.S. Department of State recommends several mitigation methods for handling human trafficking in the Republic of the Congo. Some overarching recommendations include efforts to “develop legislation that criminalizes all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties which are sufficiently stringent.” Additionally, the U.S. Department recommends the use of “existing legislation to increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict and adequately sentence traffickers, including complicit officials.”

United Nations Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking

Human trafficking in the DRC is not going unnoticed. In 2020, the United Nations Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking announced its commitment to a short-term program to deliver humanitarian aid to human trafficking victims or those who are fleeing crises. For the DRC, the project focuses on “supporting underage girls trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation in artisanal mining zones in Kamituga, Mwenga territory, South Kivu province in eastern DRC.” Additionally, the project will provide clothes, shelter and mental support to trafficked women and young people in the DRC.

US Assistance

In 2020, the U.S. ambassador to the DRC, Michael Hammer, initiated a $3 million program with the U.S. Agency for International Development focusing on combating human trafficking in the Republic of the Congo. The program prioritizes three tasks:

  1. Create effective anti-trafficking legislation and initiatives.
  2. Gather and communicate data on human trafficking.
  3. Reform “existing legal and medical services for victims of trafficking.”

The program also aims to strengthen prosecution efforts against human traffickers, reflecting the recommendations of the U.S. State Department. “The best way to prevent trafficking is to hold those responsible for it to account and to end impunity for this heinous crime,” said Ambassador Hammer at the program’s introduction. Hammer believes that the program, along with increased accountability for human traffickers, will provide pathways for development, security and humanitarian progress in the DRC.

International aid and development programs from prominent figures such as the U.S. can aid in eliminating practices of human trafficking in the Republic of the Congo. With international assistance, human trafficking may no longer be a prevalent humanitarian problem for Congolese people.

Jessica Umbro
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Global Startup Awards Recognize Top Technology InnovatorsThe Global Startup Awards (GSA) Africa is an initiative spotlighting the top technology innovators across the continent. African citizens from all 55 states will participate in the world’s largest independent startup competition for the first time.

GSA Africa is rapidly growing its community by bringing local tech innovators together from all regions within the continent. This includes Southern, Northern, Eastern, Central and Western Africa. The expansion is possible due to the accelerating progress of Africa’s tech ecosystem. According to Partech’s Africa Tech Venture Capital Report, activity grew by approximately half in 2020 despite the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic. 

Contributing to the Tech Startup Ecosystem

Africa is experiencing monumental changes in the tech industry. More startup companies are being recognized for innovative methods. Startups have been finding solutions in food security, food production and farming methods that will strengthen industries throughout Africa. Caitlin Nash is the co-founder of the Global Innovation Initiation Group which hosts the GSA. She aims to showcase Africa’s innovative community on a global stage. Additionally, she shares the benefits of global exposure. Startups have an opportunity to gain access to a global network and collaborate across borders.

The GSA will reward participants in all aspects of the startup. This includes the startup itself, the people behind the startups and the organizations that support the creators. The GSA’s mission is to feed, industrialize and integrate Africa. This ties into the goal of improving the lives of people living in Africa. With rapid technological developments happening across the world, many countries are more capable of taking those opportunities to keep up. However, this leaves most developing countries behind in these innovations. Thus, these awards shed light on the importance of technological development in those nations.

According to the U.N.’s Technology and Innovation Report 2021, frontier technologies represent a $350 billion market that can potentially grow to $3.2 trillion in 2025. However, developing areas like sub-Saharan Africa are unprepared to adopt and adapt to these technological changes. The GSA will bring forward the innovations needed to help developing countries in Africa and around the world stabilize resources and improve the lives of citizens.

The Contest Categories

The Global Startup Awards will present 12 categories for the 2021 contest. Women in Tech represents tech startups owned and founded by women. AgriTech will award solutions in food security, production, farming methods and nutrition. In addition, HealthTech recognizes startups initiating medical innovations in BioTech, HealthTech, wellness and telemedicine (virtual care for patients) to improve the quality of life. CommerceTech will award the startup that works on using technology to enable commerce in Africa. This will range from mobile commerce to blockchain and cryptocurrency.

Another category is IndustrialTech. This category provides Africa’s industrialization with solutions for safety, mining, manufacturing, production, logistics, mobility and supply chain management. ESG Tech, or environment, social and governance tech, will award startups aiming to improve environmental, social impact and social government solutions. These solutions include areas like renewable energy, sustainability, recycling, water and sanitation. Startup of the Year will award the startup that is making the biggest impact on the economy and the world.

The Best Newcomer category will recognize a startup less than two years old that is already making a big impact within the tech industry. Moreover, Founder of the Year will award a startup founder or co-founder making progress with their leadership skills. It will highlight a role model for the next generation of founders. VC of the Year will recognize those achieving financial success while investing in innovative companies that can positively impact the economy and the world.

Finally, Best Accelerator and Incubator Program will recognize programs that help empower entrepreneurs to grow their craft by providing tools and resources to thrive. The Best Co-Working Space category will award a co-working space that provides services, support and resources to create an environment that fosters innovation.

Moving Forward

The Global Startup Awards will find, recognize and connect new innovators around the world. These startups have the potential to better the lives of people living in developing countries, and the GSA will help bring these companies to life.

– Nia Owens
Photo: Flickr

Women in African energy
Energy and utility companies can play a significant role in financial growth and social progress within lower-income countries. Through employment and expansion of electricity access, these companies provide infrastructure crucial to development, especially in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa with wide disparities in access. However, established gender inequalities have prevented women from obtaining the same opportunities as men within the energy sector. In partnership with African governments, USAID is sponsoring the Women in African Power Network, which promotes women in Africa’s energy industry and their equal opportunity to join the workforce.

Access to Power in Sub-Saharan Africa

Approximately two-thirds of individuals in sub-Saharan Africa are without reliable electricity, according to USAID’s Power Africa. Limited access to power in sub-Saharan Africa has led to gender disparities because it poses a challenge to women’s health, employment and education. Access to electricity ensures safer childbirth procedures and allows for greater numbers of women to be employed or attend school. Another challenge to limited access to electricity is that women in sub-Saharan Africa frequently experience ill-health effects due to fuel-based electricity as they generally remain in the home for longer periods of time. Thus, many governments have begun to recognize the importance of including women in the implementation and decision-making of energy expansion initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa.

Gender and the Energy Sector

Studies by the International Union for Conservation of Nature occurred jointly with USAID and Power Africa in 2019, which found that women held only 6% of executive and leading roles in the energy sector in sub-Saharan Africa. Women also comprised roughly 16% to 20% of the general power sector workforce.

USAID has stressed the importance of closing this gender gap. According to an article on its strategy to increase the number of women in Africa’s energy sector, the U.S. agency described the “strong correlation between gender diversity and a company’s financial performance.” When women enter leadership positions, this beneficial economic trend is even more pronounced: companies that ranked highest in gender diversity in administrative roles had 14% higher return on investment than other corporations. Due to gendered differences in energy usage, women have valuable perspectives as decision-makers and consumers that provide crucial insight into the design and execution of new energy technologies.

In response, governments are creating more inclusive frameworks to advance the recruitment of women in Africa’s energy sector. As of 2018, almost 75% of energy-planning frameworks address gender inequality and several recognize the capability of women to lead the energy sector in innovation, efficiency and problem-solving.

USAID and the Power Africa Campaign

As part of the Power Africa campaign devoted to bringing electricity to all in sub-Saharan Africa, USAID partnered with African governments and IUCN to launch the Women in African Power Network (WiAP) in 2015. WiAP empowers women in African energy companies through professional growth opportunities, skill development workshops and networking facilitation that encourages connections between women in the industry. These connections also facilitate important mentorship opportunities for those who wish to join the workforce or rise within its ranks. Regional networks such as Women in Rwandan Energy and Women in Renewable Energy Nigeria promote more focused conversations among women within specific nations or departments.

By fostering professional advancement opportunities, WiAP aims to increase the number of women employed in the energy sector and to empower women who already work within it. With the skill development and empowerment cultivated within the network, the USAID initiative is working to close the gender gap in the energy sector and stimulate the accompanying economic benefits.

Though there are considerable gender disparities in employment in the energy sector, governments and outside organizations have begun to implement policies and plans to promote the inclusion of women in Africa’s energy sector. The Women in African Power Network, a network that emerged under USAID’s Power Africa initiative, aims to establish women’s networking groups and to develop their professional skills. WiAP operates with the knowledge that women are critical to the energy industry as female leadership has historically correlated with economic and social development.

– Sarah Stolar
Photo: Flickr

International Telehealth CollaborationsDuring and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, physicians used telehealth technologies to share knowledge, experience and provide technical assistance. International telehealth collaborations have proved particularly beneficial to low-income countries where healthcare workers often lack the resources of their peers in higher-income nations. One recent example of a telehealth collaboration took place when British physicians offered up virtual services to assist India’s overworked healthcare staff. Elsewhere, international telehealth collaborations have increased the quality of care in low-income countries.

Collaboration During COVID-19

Presently, international telehealth collaboration is underway between British and Indian physicians. On May 6, 2021, India reported the highest daily average of COVID-19 cases in the world. As the country’s doctors work tirelessly to care for patients, the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) has sought to lend a helping hand. Yet, instead of traveling to the afflicted country, the BAPIO has reached out to Indian peers via the internet.

More than 250 physicians partnered with BAPIO are providing assistance to junior doctors in India by way of video calls. BAPIO’s physicians tackled a surge of cases earlier on in the pandemic and are using the experience to advise Indian doctors during this time of increased strain. Virtual conferencing tools provide a quick way to share information in the chaotic environment of India’s ongoing health crisis. Indian physicians have also been taking advantage of BAPIO’s resources by sending digital medical documents for medical professionals in Britain to review. In this case, telehealth is used to facilitate on-the-spot medical assistance during immediate health crises, but examples of international telehealth collaboration between high- and low-income nations can be found well before the COVID-19 pandemic started.

Collaboration Before the Pandemic

By creating links between medical professionals in high- and low-income nations, telehealth has proven an invaluable tool for strengthening healthcare institutions lacking access to adequate resources. One of the early successes in fully digitized cooperation between high- and low-income healthcare institutions is that of the Swinfen Charitable Trust. In 1998, the United Kingdom-based trust was established in order to fund a communications network that would link healthcare professionals across the globe.

The network, which is still in operation, allows medical professionals in resource-scarce healthcare systems to email questions to affiliated physicians in better-equipped healthcare systems. The physician best qualified to respond will then do so within 48 hours. Though not particularly high-tech, this rudimentary telehealth network has nevertheless been a valuable resource for medical professionals in low-income parts of the world. Since the establishment of the Swinfen Charitable Trust, the scope and quality of such international collaboration programs have only increased.

The University of Virginia (UVA) maintains numerous collaborative telehealth programs with healthcare systems in low-income countries across the globe. One program connects medical experts at UVA with teams at both the National University of Rwanda and Ethiopia’s Jimma University Hospital. As part of the program, participants discuss surgical and anesthesiological cases over the internet. The programs do far more than answer a few questions though. For underdeveloped healthcare systems, connections with resource-rich nations can improve the overall quality of care.

The Value of Collaboration

Healthcare quality suffers in low-income countries, such as those in sub-Saharan Africa, where per-person spending on healthcare is only a fraction of that in higher-income nations. Polling in the region shows that sub-Saharan Africa’s population has the lowest rate of satisfaction with healthcare out of any global region. Only 43% of those surveyed were satisfied with the healthcare in their area. Furthermore, the region suffers from numerous health crises including maternal mortality and the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

In areas where financial limitations clearly impact healthcare resources, international telehealth collaborations can provide a low-cost solution to some of the deficiencies of underfunded healthcare systems. In many cases, international telehealth collaborations have facilitated technical training for healthcare professionals, provided logistical support for the expansion of healthcare infrastructure and created research opportunities.

University Collaboration

International telehealth collaboration programs such as that undertaken by the UVA in Tanzania have successfully changed the way that healthcare is administered to low-income communities. The UVA connected a gyne-oncological expert with teams at Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center in an effort that educated local medical personnel on women’s health and led to the development of breast cancer testing infrastructure. The UVA is not the only university working on collaborative telehealth projects. A survey of four African universities identified a total of 129 inter-institutional healthcare programs in the universities alone. The sheer number of these programs suggests the value to both the participating medical professionals and the supported communities.

With the increased availability of advanced communication technologies, the ability to establish and maintain international telehealth collaboration is more possible now than ever before. Virtual spaces have provided medical professionals with platforms that can be used for immediate consultation or long-term development. No matter how the technology is used, it is undoubtedly creating connections that are beneficial to communities around the globe.

Joseph Cavanagh
Photo: Flickr

Extreme Poverty in Botswana
The nation of Botswana, home to approximately 2.3 million people, has undergone an amazing change over the past three decades, transforming from an impoverished nation to one of the wealthiest nations in sub-Saharan Africa. While many of its neighbors have lagged behind—in fact, the United Nations classifies sub-Saharan Africa as the poorest region in the world—Botswana reduced the percentage of its population living on less than $1.90 a day from 29.8% between 2002-2003 to 16.1% between 2015-2016. What are the secrets to success in combatting extreme poverty in Botswana that have allowed it to prosper relative to its neighboring African nations?

A Brief Look at the History of Botswana

Botswana gained its independence from Great Britain in 1966 and quickly adopted a parliamentary constitutional republic. In fact, Botswana is the oldest democracy on the continent, though one party—the Botswana Democratic Party—has dominated elections since the adoption of the country’s constitution. Compared to its neighbors, Botswana began with a commitment to free enterprise, rule of law and individual liberties. Its first president, Seretse Khama, had a devotion to fighting corruption, which was critical to Botswana’s success.

To fight extreme poverty in Botswana, the country invested in four critical pillars: public institutions, education, economic diversification and women’s rights.

4 Pillars to Tackling Extreme Poverty in Botswana

  1. One of the most remarkable aspects of Botswana is its extraordinarily low levels of corruption as a result of institutional checks and balances. According to the 2017 Corruption Perception Index, Botswana was the least corrupt nation in Africa, with its score twice as high as the average sub-Saharan African nation. Botswana is one of only a handful of nations that outperform parts of Western Europe, with its score outpacing Spain in 2018. This is as a result of institutional checks and balances, including the Corruption and Economic Crime Act of 1994 and the development of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime, an agency tasked with investigating and preventing corruption. As a resource-rich state known for diamond mining, Botswana was careful to prevent government employees from benefiting from what the nation’s first president deemed public resources.
  2. Botswana invests a considerable percentage of its GDP in education; this percentage was more than 20% in 2009. Botswana’s investment in education translated to a literacy rate of 87% in 2019, compared to a regional average of 65%. High rates of education have contributed to Botswana’s increased economic diversification and strong political stability, making the nation one of the more attractive places to do business in Africa.
  3. Smart economic development has contributed to Botswana’s high living standards and low corruption levels, placing it ahead of its peers. Botswana derived much of its early economic growth from diamond extraction which, among other exports, accounts for approximately 40% of Botswana’s GDP composition by end-use. However, consistent investment in other sectors of the economy has remained a strategy for the ruling party, and the government has increasingly diversified its economy towards the service sector and tourism jobs. Investment in conservation and wildlife has grown the tourism industry to approximately 14% of Botswana’s GDP,  nearly doubling since 1999. Remarkably, Botswana’s commitment to managing its domestic ecosystems allowed it to sign one of the first “debt-for-nature” agreements with the United States, which forgave more than $8 million in debt in exchange for the continued protection of the Okavango Delta and tropical forests.
  4. In addition to the high rates of women’s education and literacy, Botswana remains committed to a strong National Family Planning Policy and healthcare service. Botswana has experienced a rapid decline in fertility, according to the CIA World Factbook, with the total fertility rate falling from over five children per woman in the 1980s to 2.42 in 2021. Easy access to contraception and above-average rural and urban access to healthcare facilities have not only contributed to a decline in fertility but emboldened women’s rights and improved standards of living.

Botswana is by no means a perfect nation. It has extremely high rates of HIV/AIDS, like many of its African peers, and its single-party government has been criticized by some international organizations for suppressing competition. However, decades of consistent improvement in education and women’s rights, increased economic diversification, high levels of economic freedom and a commitment to fighting corruption have made Botswana the most prosperous nation in sub-Saharan Africa and a model for its peers.

– Saarthak Madan
Photo: Flickr

Dr. Angeli Achrekar
On January 20, 2021, President Joe Biden appointed Dr. Angeli Achrekar as the new U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy, which means she will be leading the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

Who is Dr. Angeli Achrekar?

Dr. Achrekar is remarkably qualified for her position. She has earned her doctorate from UNC-Chapel Hill, a master’s degree from Yale and her bachelor’s degree from UCLA. In addition to her academic accomplishments, Dr. Achrekar has a career of public service under her belt, involving combating HIV/AIDS around the globe, public health development and women and girls’ health. She originally worked in India and with UNICEF. She then started working with the CDC starting in 2001, where she led the National Initiative to Improve Adolescent Health. This initiative spanned across multiple agencies and consisted of professionals from a variety of disciplines in more than 100 organizations.

Following her leadership of the National Initiative to Improve Adolescent Health, Dr. Achrekar started her work with PEPFAR to fight HIV/AIDS around the world in 2003. In working with PEPFAR, she traveled to South Africa. There, she coordinated with local governments to assess risk patterns that occur through drug use and among sex workers. Dr. Achrekar then became Senior Public Health Manager for the CDC in its Division of Global HIV/AIDS. Lastly, she started in 2011 with the U.S. State Department where she helped come up with and develop the Saving Mothers program, as well as the Giving Life program.

Developments Since Her Appointment

Since her appointment, Dr. Achrekar has already made strides in her position to fight AIDS and other diseases around the world. Notably, under her leadership, PEPFAR has been part of a joint effort with other organizations and agencies including USAID which will bring a new treatment to TB patients in Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Rather than patients needing to take a combination of drugs for treatment, the new treatment will combine two drugs so patients will be able to take fewer drugs in total. The new development is a big leap forward and Dr. Achrekar said, “The availability of a shorter, more easily tolerated, and safer regimen for TB prevention that is also affordable is critical for accelerating the fight against TB. The new development is big news as latent tuberculosis is said to affect up to a quarter of the world’s population.”

The Importance of Fighting AIDS in Relation to Global Poverty

PEPFAR’s work to fight AIDS holds much significance to the fight against global poverty because the two interconnect considerably. AIDS disproportionately affects those in poverty. Considering that the prevalence of AIDS has been commonly linked with poverty, a critical component of fighting the disease is fighting poverty. In his article “Is HIV/AIDS Epidemic Outcome of Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa?” Noel Dzimnenani Mbirimtengerenji wrote, “Unless and until poverty is reduced or alleviated, there will be little progress either with reducing transmission of the virus or an enhanced capacity to cope with its socio-economic consequences.”

Sean Kenney
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Sub-Saharan Africa Digital Divide
Sub-Saharan Africa is home to some of the world’s poorest and most marginalized people. More than 1 billion people, constituting more than 14% of the world’s population, live in extreme poverty in the region. A multitude of problems plague sub-Saharan Africa, ranging from disease to malnourishment and violence. The crux of the matter lies in its deep history of a developing nation hindered by imperialistic roots. Through the progression of time, it has become clear that there is one major obstacle in the region’s way to betterment – technology. In other words, a stark digital divide in sub-Saharan Africa exists.

Reversing the Digital Divide

As technology spreads over the developed world at a record rate, lesser developed and developing countries fall behind. Tech giants like Apple, Google and Microsoft only cater to major markets in the United States, China, Europe and India. As a result, the 14% of the world population in sub-Saharan Africa that can barely afford a basic cell phone, much less a smartphone, usually cannot access these technologies. Around 90% of children in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to a computer and around 80% do not enjoy a basic internet connection. Thus, the sub-Saharan Africa digital divide has emerged as a major source of its current predicament.

To make matters worse, the global COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the issue and revealed new technological problems. However, hope is on the horizon. New nonprofit companies and the aid of notable philanthropists around the world are hard at work to eradicate the sub-Saharan Africa digital divide. Due to this, the field of STEM is heating up as a hot prospect for economic and developmental opportunities. Here are three strategies that sub-Saharan Africa has implemented and can work to implement to industrialize and develop the region.

3 Strategies For Reversing the Digital Divide in Sub-Saharan Africa

  1. Making investments for a digital future. Investing money into digital-based infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa is a future-proof way of bettering the region. Specifically, the distribution of technologies like phones, computers, cell towers and adequate internet connections continues to be a major priority for organizations based in the region. A survey revealed that only one in 100 people on average have access to television in sub-Saharan Africa. In contrast, this rate becomes only one in three when the sample size focuses on cities. The results of this survey unequivocally show that industrializing the region holds many positive results. In recent years, organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Computers 4 Africa have donated more to fuel this purpose. Computer drops for schools and other university institutions have also been a major part of this concerted effort. The results are showing. Since the early 2000s, internet penetration in the region has grown by a factor of 10. This increase shows the region drawing closer to bridging the gap of the sub-Saharan Africa digital divide.
  2. Creating new jobs in the Information Technology (IT) sector. Increasing employment opportunities in the IT sector is a major way to boost sub-Saharan African economies. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Jaishree Mahalingam, current project manager for AIG and former IT professional for Toyota in Dallas, said that “in the future, IT will have far more importance…[translating to] greater social mobility for many people who are interested in STEM.” For critics who argue against the viability of a proper university education system in computer science and IT, Mahalingam goes on to state that higher degrees like a Ph.D. are not necessary for a sufficient education. Instead, “a Master’s degree [is] more than sufficient in progressing in a career.” However, Mahalingam does acknowledge that there should be a balance in the education system, encouraging its teaching outside of high school because doing so allows “greater exposure to the field.”As for finding new solutions to address the digital divide, Mahalingam recommends “greater government investment into STEM schools and digitalization through banking and other mechanisms to help expand the IT field.”
  3. Tackling the finance sector through technology. As cell phone use expands in sub-Saharan Africa, more and more individuals look to the future of the financial industry. Now, banking applications that are common in the United States must transition over to another continent. Enter FinTech: the newest player in revolutionizing African financial technology. Currently, only around one-third of the sub-Saharan African population holds bank accounts. However, the ongoing mobile revolution has led to an increased demand for an easier money transaction system. FinTech allows for easy financial exchanges across countries in the region through a mobile platform. Additionally, it is not the only one of its kind. Startup companies like 22Seven, Nomanini, Cellulant and GetBucks are all growing in Africa as easy money-transfer digital networks. Collectively, they serve more than 45 million customers in Africa and hope to greatly expand beyond that figure. Mahalingam agrees that “expanding things like access to bank accounts would greatly add to the interest of millions.”

Sub-Saharan Africa is slowly digging its way out of the digital divide it faces today. With the help of several organizations, more emphasis on economic growth through STEM and new financial-based breakthroughs, the region is constantly facing more opportunities for improvement. By catalyzing a technological revolution in sub-Saharan Africa, the world is ensuring that its inhabitants lead more enriching, productive and prosperous lives for years to come. Technology drives the future; sub-Saharan Africa is taking one large step to embrace it.

Mihir Gokhale
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa has a direct impact on poverty in the region. When adults are too ill to work, they and their children can quickly fall into extreme poverty, which leads to hunger and malnutrition. Around 46% of Africa’s population lives on less than $1 a day; an even larger proportion than was the case 15 years ago. Despite these challenges, organizations like Wild4Life are working to expand the reach of healthcare into these underserved communities.

Poverty and Health Care in sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa is the poorest region in the continent. Close to 60 million children under the age of 17 work instead of attending school in an effort to help their families rise out of poverty. Every fifth child is forced into child labor. This effectively means that when grown, that person will lack education and most likely remain in poverty. This social plight creates a vicious cycle in which chronic malnutrition, growth disorders and physical and mental underdevelopment occur. These health issues further limit an individual’s opportunity to earn a living later in life. In addition, 25 million Africans are infected with HIV, including almost 3 million children — the highest rate of infection in the world. Many of these children have lost one or both parents and are living on the streets.

Government expenditure on healthcare in Africa is very low; typically about $6 per person. This means that medical workers experience huge pressures, operating with little-to-no equipment or means to reach rural populations, Such challenges make healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa difficult to provide.

Good News about Health Care in Rural Communities

The good news is that organizations such as Wild4Life are working to reverse these disturbing healthcare trends. The NGO’s mission is to expand the reach of health services to underserved remote, rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa that have limited or no access to healthcare. To achieve this goal, Wild4Life has developed an incredibly innovative service delivery model. The aim of this model is to reach more people than previously would have been possible. Wild4Life works to establish the basic building blocks of a healthcare system. It believes that a well-functioning system has a lasting effect on a community’s overall health and longevity.

Expansion to Twelve African Countries

The Wild4Life model involves partnering with organizations that are already established in remote locations, and that have put together links with people in the local community. This approach leverages the existing infrastructure, social ties and knowledge bank in cooperation with Wild4Life’s network of health providers. This allows support and treatment to impact some of the hardest-to-reach people and places on earth.

Wild4Life began as an HIV/AIDS program in Zimbabwe, but it has expanded throughout sub-Saharan Africa.  Now operating in twelve countries — Botswana, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe —the organization delivers extremely low-cost healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa and provides interventions that are scalable yet sustainable.

Community Partnerships to Improve Health Care

The goals of the NGO include assessing the needs of rural populations and targeting the health issues that most affect them. It also seeks to build clinics in remote areas; strengthen rural healthcare networks; provide quality healthcare and improve community partnerships so that creative ways to address problems become permanent solutions. For example, Wild4Life trains community leaders to mobilize local demands for healthcare services and advocate for quality care from clinic staff and maintain facilities. This results in significant infrastructure improvements. The NGO also organizes events around such topics as improving healthy behaviors and coming up with strategies for the best way to use clinic funds.

Five Clinics in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe alone, Wild4Life has a network of five clinics. These clinics have achieved remarkable results, including hundreds of lives saved by new diagnosis and treatment of HIV as well as other preventable diseases. The organization believes that there is not one single technology or innovation that will create a lasting impact on the health of people living in rural communities. Instead, it partners with all levels of the healthcare system to locate the gaps in the extant setup. By doing this, it hopes to leave behind a resilient, local healthcare system for those who need it most.

During comprehensive clinical mentoring, well-trained, multi-disciplinary teams composed of six specialists comprehensively mentor clinic staffs on primary care conditions. These conditions include HIV, TB, Integrated Management of Childhood Illness and testing for anemia. Such services also aid in labor and delivery. This process also covers monitoring and evaluation of data quality, pharmacy management and clinic management over a two-year period.

Scaling Up to Improve Healthcare in Africa

Wild4Life has significantly scaled up since its inception, through government, nonprofit and for-profit connections. It has gone from delivering care to remote areas, to building healthcare networks in rural populations. As a result of its expansion plan, 70,000 more people will have access to high-quality health services in their communities. By training clinicians and community members in the most up-to-date medical care delivery, the NGO is changing the way that rural healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa is delivered.

Sarah Betuel

Photo: Flickr

Mobile Data TrafficMany poverty-stricken individuals do not have access to the internet, creating a digital divide. The COVID-19 pandemic has revolutionized mobile data traffic around the globe, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Mobile broadband supports access to education, work, healthcare, goods and services. It plays an imperative role in reducing poverty. With nearly 800 million people in the region still without access to the mobile internet, it has never been more urgent to close the digital divide.

The Need for Mobile Broadband

According to Fadi Pharaon, president of Ericsson Middle East and Africa, the increasing demand for mobile broadband provides an unprecedented chance to improve economic conditions for Africa. Currently, Africa is one of the quickest growing technology markets.

In addition to younger populations requiring technology to develop practical computer skills, during the COVID-19 pandemic, access to the internet is also crucial for remote learning and remote work to continue development and economic progression.

In response to the pandemic, sub-Saharan African countries that were able to implement telework adaptations had considerably greater access to the internet, as much as 28 % of the population, as opposed to countries that were not implementing telework, at 17 %.

Due to the increase of digitalization during the pandemic, these developments are expected to positively contribute to the region’s economic recovery post-pandemic. Research suggests that expanding internet access to cover an additional 10% of the region’s population has the ability to increase gross domestic product (GDP) growth by one to four percentage points.

The Mobile Broadband Demand

Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) delivered over 4G or 5G is a more affordable alternative to providing broadband in areas with limited access. By 2025, FWA connections are expected to reach 160 million, accounting for 25% of global mobile data traffic.

The estimated total growth of mobile data traffic is from 0.87EB per month in 2020 to 5.6EB by 2026, an increase of 6.5 times the current figures.

To keep up with the demand, service providers are predicted to continue upgrading their networks to meet their customers’ evolving needs.

Additionally, networks expect to see an increase in customers purchasing mobile data subscriptions. Long-term evolution (LTE) was predicted to amount to 15% of subscriptions at the conclusion of 2020.

Novissi Digital Cash Transfers

The Novissi cash transfer program in Togo is an example of why mobile broadband access is important in developing countries. To support struggling people in Togo during COVID-19, instant mobile cash payments were made to their mobile phones to address urgent needs. The program provided more than half a million people with financial assistance during a crisis.

Closing the Digital Divide Reduces Poverty

Experts suggest that funding infrastructure, increasing electricity access and developing approaches to support digital businesses will aid in economic recovery and continue to close the digital divide. While sub-Saharan Africa has seen an acceleration of mobile data traffic during COVID-19, more action still needs to be taken to support its citizens post-pandemic. Providing affordable access to mobile phones, mobile broadband subscriptions and internet access will help support the recovering economy and alleviate poverty in the region.

Diana Dopheide
Photo:Flickr

Environmental Impacts on DiseaseHuman health and environmental concerns are commonly thought of and treated as unrelated issues. However, environmental degradation has an unquestionable impact on a community’s health. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) recently released a report underscoring this point. The UNEP finds environmental impacts on disease are especially apparent in Africa, where large numbers of people are directly reliant on natural resources. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 35% of the total burden of disease in sub-Saharan Africa is caused by environmental hazards. For example, contaminated water and air pollution commonly cause diarrhea and respiratory issues.

Indoor Air Pollution

Indoor air pollution is one of the leading environmental impacts on disease and death in Sub-Saharan Africa. People living in extreme poverty primarily depend directly on solid fuels (i.e. biomass fuels) for their heating and cooking needs. The harmful biomass fuels such as crop waste, coal and wood cause significant air pollution, especially when burned by inefficient and poorly ventilated stoves. Biomass smoke contains thousands of health-damaging substances. These pollutants penetrate deep into the lungs and initiate the development of acute lower respiratory disease, cancer and multiple other diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Women and young children are at the highest exposure to the fumes and have the highest rates of mortality resulting from indoor air pollution. WHO estimates that Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of indoor air pollution deaths in the world, along with parts of Southeast Asia.

Improving the Environment and Fighting Disease

Shifting from solid fuels to cleaner energy technologies can have a major impact on indoor air pollution levels. For instance, liquid petroleum gas (LPG), biogas and solar power generation all produce less indoor air pollution. Governments and NGOs alike should plan to help communities make this transition. However, air pollution is just one environmental concern that needs addressing.

Simple solutions to environmental concerns include safer storage of water and dangerous chemicals; these relatively cheap improvements can be highly effective in reducing disease. Ultimately, providing low-cost storage containers to urban and rural communities will result in prominent and lasting gains in health and economic development. Additionally, improving common household appliances can reduce indoor air pollution in poor communities; for example, stoves and ventilation systems often contribute to or fail to reduce indoor air pollution. Lastly, increasing education and public awareness about the environmental impacts on disease is critical; many environment-related health issues are preventable. For instance, educations can encourage mothers to keep small children away from constant contact with fires while cooking.

In Conclusion

It is imperative to address the upstream determinants of Sub-Saharan Africa’s high morbidity and mortality rates. Clean water and air are powerful preventative medicines. Implementing simple, yet effective solutions and sustainable management of natural resources is crucial to ending poverty. By helping people to treat the environment well, governments and NGOs can reduce diseases and child mortality; additionally, their work will improve maternal health and education across sub-Saharan Africa.

Samantha Johnson
Photo: Flickr