COVID-19 Affected Poverty in the Philippines
The COVID-19 pandemic could push an additional 207 million people into extreme poverty based on predictions, bringing the total to over 1 billion by the year 2030, according to research from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). COVID-19 has affected poverty in the Philippines, an archipelagic country in Southeast Asia, with no exception. The COVID-19 pandemic is significantly impacting the Philippines when it comes to the economy, jobs and poverty incidence. Here is some information about the effects of COVID-19 on poverty and how the government of the Philippines plans to address them.

Poverty Reduction

Prior to COVID-19, the economy of the Philippines made progress in delivering national, inclusive growth, as indicated by an impressive decline in poverty rates. Poverty rates declined from 23.3% in 2015 to 16.6% in 2018. The Philippines expected this trend to continue and impact household incomes throughout the country in a positive way, particularly wages from those of lower-income groups.

The COVID-19 pandemic had negative consequences for poverty reduction in the Philippines. The World Bank projected that the Philippines’ GDP would shrink by 8.1 % in 2020, from the previous forecast of 6.9%. Rong Qian, a senior economist with the World Bank, attributed the downgraded 2020 forecast to the GDP contraction of 11.5% during the third quarter of 2020. The third-quarter contraction came as a string of typhoons hit the country from October to November 2020.

Economic Effects of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a contraction of economic growth driven by significant declines in consumption and investment growth. The pandemic has also led to profound disruptions in areas like manufacturing, agriculture, tourism, construction and trade throughout the country. This feeds into how COVID-19 affected poverty in the Philippines on different levels. The impact on the country’s economy has been severe, leading to the lowest consumption growth in over three decades. The effects on the economy began to take place in February 2020 with a considerable decline in the arrival of tourists, falling by 41.4%. Coupled with this, private consumption growth declined to 0.2% in the first quarter of 2020 from 6.2% in the previous year. Both the hotel and restaurant industries suffered considerably, shrinking by 15.4%.

The economic collapse in 2020 has also led to high unemployment throughout the country. The economy will lay off people with service jobs in several different fields. Many others will be on unpaid leave from their companies. Employment recovery can lag the country’s economic growth by six to 18 months. Estimates have determined that unemployment will remain at elevated levels, moving from 12.4% at the end of 2020 to 9% by June 2021.

Possible Financial Support

Prior to COVID-19, the government of the Philippines reduced poverty from 23.3% in 2015 to 16.6% in 2018. This was a result of steady economic growth, the creation of new jobs and social assistance programs. The COVID-19 pandemic will likely reverse the recent gains in addressing extreme poverty. COVID-19 related restrictions have cut off income for seasonal workers, entrepreneurs and low-end service jobs. They were the country’s drivers of poverty reduction in recent years. Achim Fock, the World Bank Acting Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand hopes that offering “financial support to affected firms, especially small and medium enterprises, to prevent job losses and bankruptcy, can help ensure that the recent shocks do not cause permanent damage to the country’s productive capacity and human capital.”

Social Amelioration Program

The government of the Philippines introduced a social protection program during the country’s quarantine to address how COVID-19 affected poverty in the Philippines. The government provided emergency subsidies through its Social Amelioration Program (SAP). SAP covered 18 million poor households, making up 70% of the entire population that it granted coverage to. SAP beneficiaries include 4.4 million households enrolled in the safety net program Pantawis Pamilyang Pilipino Program along with other vulnerable Filipinos such as informal workers.

Projected Improvement

Economic managers assert the Philippines will remain under a less restrictive quarantine throughout the beginning of 2021. They are hoping the economy will open 100% once vaccination levels reach at least 60% of the population. The growth of the economy could still improve and poverty could reduce in the coming years as long as there is a rebound in consumption, a significant push in public investment and great strides in the recovery of global growth. Predictions have stated that economic growth will return to at least 6% in 2021 and 7% in 2022.

Elisabeth Petry
Photo: Flickr

Way to Support Albania
Since the beginning of COVID-19, the unemployment rate in Albania increased from 12.33% to 12.81%. As thousands of Albanian people have entered poverty, UNICEF Albania and other humanitarian organizations are leading the way to support Albania during these trying times.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Albania started its COVID-19 response on March 9, 2020, by helping the Regional Local Democracy Programme (ReLOaD). The ReLOaD program helps update projects that deliver hygiene packages to vulnerable households. It also supports Albanian farmers with seeds and Albanian children with online learning materials. Support has reached 11 areas from Tirana to Lezhë, Albania. The UNDP even created an International Romani Day campaign where approximately 1,150 Albanian households received food and hygiene packages in April 2020.

UNICEF Albania

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Albania works to protect child rights with government and organization partners. Through programs supporting social and child protection, education and early childhood development, UNICEF Albania has three priorities: respecting child rights while implementing social inclusion through maintaining family access to the Albanian justice system, reforming the social care system and keeping children in school with NGO support.

In April 2020 and amid the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF Albania supported a child protection organization statement about how thousands of children can receive protection from violence. This can occur through phone helplines, temporary shelters and professional workforces in Albania. In response to the call to action, child protection helplines underwent initiation in June 2020 through UNICEF and The Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action (CPIHA) support.

Educational Support in Albania

World Vision Albania and Kosovo Education and Youth Technical Advisor Brisida Jahaj told The Borgen Project that, “There was a huge challenge with families in poorer households.” This is because the families do not have the IT equipment or the internet for children to continue their education in Albania. The Ministry of Education in Albania found that 10,000 children lost educational resources over COVID-19.

Regarding education, UNICEF Albania has partnered and supported the Akademi.al online learning platform since 2019. Plans intend to implement it online and on television for all students by 2021. Funding from UNICEF and support from the Ministry of Education in Albania gave Akademi.al the opportunity to put approximately 1,100 lessons online for students taking Matura exams in Albania. Jahaj describes the platform as a “backup plan that if we go into the third level scenario,” wherein Albanian schools shut down in 2021.

In August 2020, UNICEF Albania worked to combat poverty due to COVID-19 by initiating its first Albanian cash transfer program to approximately 1,700 vulnerable families in Shkodër, Korçë and Durrës, Albania.

UNICEF Albania and the World Health Organization (WHO) also established an online training program to teach professionals about Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) and how to implement support to vulnerable populations during emergencies from May to July 2020. The eight module training course helps professionals master how to support mental health and psychosocial issues during emergencies. Approximately 230 frontline professionals obtained certification by September 2020.

Red Cross and World Vision

Albania experienced a series of earthquakes on November 26, 2019, which impacted approximately 200,000 Albanians. The Albania Red Cross responded to the earthquakes by sending 160 volunteers and providing 4,500 shelter relief packages to families who lost homes. The Albanian Red Cross received a 2020 Coca-Cola Company $100,000 grant in the wake of the pandemic to give community food aid and medical equipment to Albanian hospitals.

The Qatar Red Crescent Society partnered with the Albanian Red Cross to provide food package relief to 700 vulnerable families as a way to support Albania. Following the initial response, the Albanian Red Cross collaborated with Better Shelter. A total of 52 Better Shelters underwent construction in Durrës, Krujë, Laç, Shijak and Tirana, Albania, while home reconstruction continues through 2021.

World Vision Albania also helped with the earthquake response in Durrës, Lezhë, Kamëz and Kurbin, Albania by giving food and hygiene aid to 1,019 families and materials to help 27 families with home reconstruction. Jahaj told The Borgen Project that food and hygiene aid will continue in 2021 as World Vision and other humanitarian organizations including Save the Children and UNICEF provide “a lot of the masks and hand sanitizers for the schools” in Albania.

Where is Albania Now?

As of 2021, several humanitarian organizations are working to protect children and vulnerable individuals from the impact of the Albanian earthquakes and COVID-19 on the ground and online. Jahaj explained how World Vision Albania utilizes the Building Secure Livelihoods economic development program to help alleviate poverty while helping parents provide for their children from 2019 until 2023.

On all fronts, UNICEF, World Vision, Save the Children and the Albanian Red Cross responded to Albanian communities. By providing everything from medical care, earthquake shelter, child protection and online learning directly to families, these organizations have found a way to support Albania. As of January 2021, humanitarian organizations continue to work on home reconstruction, mental health support and flood response. Furthermore, Albania acquired 500,000 COVID-19 vaccines to distribute in 2021.

– Evan Winslow
Photo: Flickr

Private Sector BusinessesThe U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be met by 2030, are 17 goals aimed at increasing environmental and socially sustainable solutions to poverty, inequality and injustice, among other things. The goals are both ambitious and achievable but funding gaps hamper the progress of these goals. Through conscious investments toward SDGs, private sector businesses could close this gap. The U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres calls on business leaders to use their positions of power, finance and influence to help meet the SDGs, to the benefit of the entire globe.

The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, the U.N. created 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030. The overarching aim of the SDGs is, “peace and prosperity for people and the planet.”

The goals principally involve less discrimination worldwide, eliminating poverty, giving more individuals more economic and educational success, increased justice, prioritizing the environment, improving global health and more.

The SDGs are meant for everyone to tackle, from the average person to national governments and major corporations such as private sector businesses.

The Need for SDG Funding

Reaching all 17 SDGs by 2030 will cost between $5-7 trillion per year, according to the United Nations. Although in 2016, development assistance funds hit a high of $142.6 billion, there is still a need for a much greater infusion of funds and a significant need for the support of private sector businesses.

The lack of available funds from the public sector, specifically, is the main reason why there has not been more progress toward the SDGs. Public sector sources of funding are predominantly national governments and government organizations.

Referencing this lack of funding, Guterres lamented the lack of progress made toward the SDGs and urged business leaders in the private sector to step up. “We need business leaders to use their enormous influence to push for inclusive growth and opportunities,” states Guterres. “No one business can afford to ignore this effort and there is no global goal that cannot benefit from private sector investment.”

Businesses Leading Change Through SDGs

Because there is an apparent need for more corporations to invest in SDGs, it is important to recognize those businesses fighting poverty through a commitment to achieving the SDGs.

The U.N. and 30 leaders of multinational companies created the Global Investors for Sustainable Development Alliance in September 2019. They immediately began supporting initiatives for clean energy in Latin America, Africa and Asia, among other goals.

The United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative drafted the Principles for Responsible Banking to serve as guidelines for banks to commit themselves to the SDGs. Worldwide, more than 200 banks have committed to these principles. This figure represents more than one-third of the global banking industry. The signatory banks must report on their achievements, goals and growth regarding the principles. They must also accomplish all principle requirements within a set timeline. This ensures tangible strides toward actualizing the SDGs.

The company, PepsiCo, is also making good strides with the SDGs. It is committed to multiple projects in agreement with specific SDGs. The company established a “Green Bond” worth $1 billion in 2019 to do so.

A notable project is the company’s aspiration to restore 100% of the water it uses for manufacturing to areas that are “high water risk.” It aims to do this by water reuse and recycling initiatives, supplying smallholder farmworkers with “water-saving technologies” and sustainable agricultural techniques. PepsiCo cites SDG 6, “Clean Water and Sanitation,” SDG 15, “Life on Land” and SDG 12, “Responsible Consumption and Production,” as aligning with this particular objective.

The Contribution of Foundations

Private sector businesses fighting poverty go beyond business transactions and profitable decisions. Many companies commit to progressing the SDGs by supporting foundations. Top contributing foundations include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund and Gothic Corporation. Total global funding for the SDGs from foundations is upwards of $216 billion.

All these examples of private sector businesses committing to the SDGs prove it is a worthwhile endeavor that needs support on a broad scale. In the words of Guterres, “Corporate leadership can make all the difference to creating a future of peace, stability and prosperity on a healthy planet.”

Claire Kirchner
Photo: Flickr

solar microgridsThe United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) helped establish three solar microgrids in rural Yemeni communities. Earlier this year, the British charity Ashden honored the scheme as one of 11 recipients of its prestigious Ashden Awards. These annual awards recognize initiatives whose efforts to deliver sustainable energy have produced important social and economic advantages.

Solving a Fuel Shortage and Economic Crisis

Yemen’s energy infrastructure cannot transport power to rural towns and villages. Thus, many of these communities depend upon highly-polluting diesel generators. However, longstanding conflict and crippling embargoes have made fossil fuels scarce and expensive. Moreover, oil prices have fluctuated in recent years, and poverty has skyrocketed. This crisis has affected approximately three-quarters of Yemen’s population. Current estimates indicate that more than two out of five households have been deprived of their primary source of income. It’s also been found that women are more acutely impacted than men.

Now, the energy situation is shifting. The UNDP has provided funding and support to three different groups of entrepreneurs that own and operate solar microgrids. The three are located in Abs in the district of Bani Qais in the northwest and in Lahij Governate in the south. Their stations provide clean, sustainable energy to local residents and at a much lower price. The solar microgrids charge only $0.02 per hour as opposed to the $0.42 per hour that diesel costs.

Such savings for households and businesses have greatly impacted the local economies. Not only can people work after sunset, they also possess more disposable income. According to Al Jazeera, approximately 2,100 people have been able to save money and put it toward creating their own small businesses. These include services for welding, sewing, grocery stores and other shops. So far, a total of 10,000 Yemenis have benefitted from the energy provided by the three solar microgrids.

Empowering New Leaders in Business

The entrepreneurs who founded and now run the microgrid facilities in Bani Qais and Lahij Governate are young men. However, the power station in Abs is completely owned and operated by women. These Abs women receive training in necessary technical skills and study business and finance.

Some expected the scheme to fail due to the sophisticated knowledge it required and the relative inexperience of the facilities’ operators. Well, one year has passed, and the solar microgrids are running at full capacity. The project thus offers a valuable model for creating jobs in a country where civil war has shattered the economy and hobbled basic infrastructure.

Specifically for the women in Abs, though, a steady income and the ability to provide a much-needed service have increased their self-confidence. These women can feed their families and use the university educations they each worked for to a great extent. As the station’s director explained, their work has even earned them the respect and admiration of those who used to ridicule them for taking on what was once considered a man’s job.

Looking to the Future

The success of the UNDP’s project’s first stage shows a possible solution to Yemen’s problem of energy scarcity. The UNDP now works to find funding for an additional 100 solar microgrids. Since civil war began in 2015, both sides have tried to limit each other’s access to the fossil fuels that Yemen depends upon. Pro-government coalition forces have prevented ships cleared by the U.N. from unloading their cargoes in the north. On the other side, Houthi-led rebels have recently suspended humanitarian flights to Sanaa, the country’s largest city and its capital. This is all in the midst of hospitals struggling to care for patients during the pandemic.

The UNDP’s solar microgrids are a source of hope among the many conflicts plaguing Yemen. More still, it is likely others will soon follow in the footsteps of the three initial young entrepreneurs. These solar microgrids stations have empowered Yemeni communities to build better and more sustainable futures and will for years to come.

Angie Grigsby
Photo: Flickr

SDG 1 in Pakistan
Pakistan has reached a 56.2% completion rate for the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Although Pakistan ranks 134th out of 193 countries, recent years have seen several developments toward achieving SDG 1 in Pakistan. For instance, planned initiatives and anti-poverty legislation are creating a substantial and meaningful impact.

Poverty in Pakistan

According to the Sustainable Development Report, which is a global measure of countries’ progress toward the SDGs, the main indicators for SDG 1 are poverty headcount ratios of $1.90 per day and $3.20 per day. As of 2020, less than 1% of the population in Pakistan lives under the $1.90 per day poverty threshold. This figure not only places the country on track for the achievement of SDG 1 but it also represents distinct progress since 2011. During that year [2011] 9% of the population lived in extreme poverty.

Reaching the threshold of $3.20 per day remains a goal for the country. Approximately 20.7% of the current population lives under these poverty conditions. This, in turn, poses major challenges to the achievement of SDG 1 in Pakistan. Large portions of the country’s population remain vulnerable to the conditions of poverty. Notably, though, poverty rates in Pakistan have consistently declined throughout the past decade.

Recent Updates

Since the creation of the SDGs, Pakistan has taken key measures to achieve them. The country submitted its Voluntary National Review (VNR) in 2019. In this same vein, the country made the fulfillment of the SDGs by 2030 a national priority. There are now specific budget allocations, national monitoring of 46 indicators and stakeholder engagements in the country. All of these factors are clear indicators of SDG progress in Pakistan, even beyond SDG 1.

The current Pakistani government has created multiple pieces of legislation that align with SDG 1. The Balochistan Senior Citizens Act of 2017 made provisions for the well-being of senior citizens in Balochistan. Furthermore, the act implemented other financial and social measures to account for the aging population in Pakistan. The government also took steps to register and regulate charity funding through The Punjab Charities Act of 2018. These are just two examples of laws designed to help mitigate and eradicate poverty within the country. Parliamentary Task Forces have also been created to fill legislative gaps for each goal and keep track of SDG fulfillment.

Looking Ahead

The government of Pakistan has pledged to reduce poverty by 6% between now and 2023. Moreover, the government pledges to further develop social protection policies that align with SDG 1 and create a database that will “ensure better targeting of poverty reduction measures.” It also committed to increasing poverty alleviation expenditures and ensuring that vulnerable groups such as women, children and people with disabilities receive needed aid. As an example, the government currently fulfills this promise through the Ehsaas Emergency Program. This program enables organizations to deliver aid to people experiencing economic hardship due to COVID-19. With key stakeholders in the country now becoming champions of poverty eradication and committing to achieving SDG 1 in Pakistan, an end to unjust living conditions is now possible for many. While there is still much work remaining, the multi-dimensional efforts to reach this goal are promising.

Rachel Moloney
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Montenegro
Montenegro rests on the Balkan coast, bordering four Southeastern European countries: Bosnia, Albania, Serbia and Croatia. Though small, with a population of 622,359, Montenegro caught the attention of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The UNDP critiqued the country’s high employment rate and its “lack of citizen participation in social processes.” To “combat poverty and social exclusion,” the UNDP suggested Montenegro’s government “effective[ly] and adequate[ly] target health, employment and social services.” In 2019, the conversation shifted toward healthcare in Montenegro and potential reform.

3 Factors Affecting Healthcare in Montenegro

  1. Deficient Government Budgeting and Spending: According to Pacific Prime Insurance, Montenegro has “the most backward health system in Europe.” While this statement might seem hyperbolic, the UNDP highlighted issues within Montenegro’s central government. A closer look at its Ministry of Health’s policies reveals deficient government budgeting and spending. In 2019, China-CEE Institute found that Montenegrins readily critique their government for inadequately spending 9% of the state’s budget on healthcare. That is more than 4% of the country’s total GDP, making the cost of its healthcare system relatively high. Yet, medical and insurance programs continue to suffer. China-CEE Institute argued that the country needs a new model for financing healthcare, one that can provide fair insurance policies, quality hospitals and ample medical equipment.
  2. Poor Quality of Care: Inadequate budgeting affects the implementation of quality healthcare in Montenegro. China-CEE Institute registered hospitals’ critiques and discovered that their personnel lacks the means to systematically control the spread of diseases. Montenegrin hospitals do not monitor proper hand-washing procedures or maintain hygienic policies. As a result, they also claimed that “[in] Montenegrin health institutions, 265 hospital infections were registered for the first six months of 2019, while only 28 were recorded in 2014.” Without proper sanitation practices, people cannot prevent or suppress diseases, so healthcare in Montenegro continues to suffer.
  3. Lack of Medical Professionals: Improper sanitation might stem from a shortage of medical personnel in Montenegrin hospitals and pharmacies. One study discovered a significant “outflow of human resources” from Montenegro as doctors often leave to work in other countries. This suggests that doctors might have some frustrations with Montenegro’s healthcare system. In 2018, Pacific Prime Insurance found 2,061 doctors working in the Montenegrin healthcare system. That is about 3.3 doctors per 1,000 people, which is slightly lower than the European average at 3.4. Pacific Prime Insurance also found Montenegro has the “lowest proportion of pharmacists per head in Europe – 17 per 100,000.” Due to insufficient budgeting, Montenegrin hospitals and pharmacies require effective healthcare teams.

While these statistics appear pessimistic at first glance, Montenegro’s government strives to amend its healthcare system. The Ministry of Health took its citizens’ considerations to heart by holding a discussion panel in 2019. Alongside the Association of Professional Journalists in Montenegro, the Challenges of Public Consumption: How Much Does Health Cost discussion panel sought to reform the country’s health financing.

To maintain their human resources, the Ministry of Health will provide better training for doctors and specialists. This will increase the number of medical professionals in hospitals and hopefully improve sanitation practices. While the UNDP awaits the results of these decisions, it is clear that healthcare in Montenegro is taking a step in the right direction.

Kyler Juarez
Photo: Pixabay

Plastic Waste in IndiaIndia produces 15 million tonnes of plastic waste annually, and most cities and towns in the country do not have the means to manage this. The lack of integrated solid waste management systems leads to numerous health and ecological crises. The burden of this issue falls on the Safai Saathis, or waste pickers, who collect and sort through waste daily. The job is dangerous and has little reward. Stepping in to tackle this issue is the United Nations Development Program’s Plastic Waste Management Programme. This project improves upon existing waste management systems to mitigate the dangerous effects of plastic waste in India. Before delving into the project, it is important to understand why plastics are so harmful in the first place.

Why Are Plastics so Harmful?

First, there is enough plastic waste on this planet to cover it four times over. Plastic waste can be found from the deepest depths of the ocean all the way to the clouds in the form of air pollution. There are even microplastics in people that come from food and water. Plastic waste build-up clogs sewage systems, thereby polluting rivers, groundwater resources and the air.

There are numerous implications of plastic waste in India. The waste harms animals who ingest or entangle themselves in it. The carcinogenic chemicals found in plastic can cause severe issues for human health, such as hormonal or genetic disorders, interference with the endocrine system and damage to reproductive health. Land pollution is yet another consequence of plastic waste. The plastics leach hazardous chemicals into the land, which destroys its capacity to support life.

More than this, plastic waste never actually goes away, and 95% of that waste does not get recycled. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, almost every piece of plastic ever made is still on Earth today. This is why it is mandatory to have waste management systems that can recycle old plastic and manufacture new things out of it. In other words, plastic waste is the ideal candidate for a circular economy.

UNDP Plastic Waste Management Programme

The work of this project can greatly aid in the fight against plastic waste in India. The main objective of the project is to establish a sustainable, community-led approach to efficient recycling. The initiative operates in 20 cities throughout India with 22 Swachhta Kendras (material recovery centers). It is designed to lower the devastating impacts on environmental and human health through the enhancement of sustainable plastic waste management practices.

According to the UNDP, the four main components of this project are to:

  1. “Create a socio-technical model for taking plastic waste management from informal to formal economy.
  2. Establish Material Recovery Centres for sustained practices in waste management.
  3. Institutionalize Swachhta Kendras within governance framework structures and improved socioeconomic conditions of waste pickers.
  4. Develop technology-supported knowledge management: Promote Cloud-based traceability, accountability and digital governance along waste value chain through our technical partner Mindtree through field implementing partners.”

According to a source from UNDP India, the greatest challenges to this program lie within the general lack of awareness by citizens of the threats related to handling plastic waste in India. For example, better waste management programs and access to education can prevent deadly practices like burning plastic waste and open dumping in channels and gutters. This project enhances methods of material recovery, separation and recycling. In addition, it also creates jobs, addresses better social security measures and positively impacts the livelihoods of waste pickers.

Safai Saathis

One of the most profound outcomes of this ongoing project is the initiative to improve the standards of living of Safai Saathis. Before the UNDP stepped in, waste pickers worked without the use of any safety equipment. Exposure to so much waste puts their health at risk. Because of the UNDP Waste Management Programme, the lives of many Safai Saathis strengthen in safety and social security.

Safai Saathis are deprived of social benefits and stuck in an abusive system. A great emphasis of the UNDP’s work is to ensure their dignity and social inclusion, as well as to increase their access to health care and self-help groups. As a result of the help of the UNDP, many have seen an increase in income. The workers also experience social upliftment from opening bank accounts and improved working conditions.

The fight against plastic waste in India is multifaceted and constantly progressing. Circular innovations like this Waste Management Programme turn unfathomable amounts of waste into new and useful materials, empowers communities and protect the health and safety of everyone in India.

Rochelle Gluzman
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Somalia
Many challenges come with being one of the poorest countries in the world. In Somalia, a country located on the Horn of Africa, garnering a quality healthcare system for everyone is a major struggle. With a population of over 12 million, the people of Somalia have one of the lowest life expectancies in the world. Grappling through years of civil war and natural disasters, it has been difficult to overcome widespread disease, malnutrition and an overall lack of healthcare resources. Thankfully, organizations have noticed the absence of a healthcare system and many efforts are going towards improving healthcare in Somalia.

United Nations Development Program

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), 58% of Somalis are without healthcare. Recognizing this issue, the UNDP set the goal to have complete universal healthcare in Somalia by 2030. Since the COVID-19 global pandemic, the UNDP has realized how destructive a pandemic can be in all facets of life in a developing nation. In addition to the goals for universal healthcare, it aims to set up structures to strengthen resilience to any future disasters. The UNDP created a blueprint proposing a multi-step initiative to improve healthcare and ensure that it does not leave anyone behind. The program would provide basic healthcare consisting of two tiers of costs and services to choose from. However, the core service will involve the implementation of telemedicine. This will be an immense advancement, considering that most Somalis have to walk miles to get to their nearest healthcare facility.

The UNDP has also been addressing HIV/AIDS issues in the country since 2004. It has implemented investment programs totaling $5.4 million between 2005 and 2009. Its work includes creating knowledge and awareness programs, increasing testing for Somalis and lobbying for HIV/AIDS legislation. The impact of the program’s efforts is notable. As of 2019, there were approximately 11,000 children and adults living with HIV in Somalia in comparison to the approximate 22,810 in 2008.

For immediate attention to the fight against COVID-19, the UNDP is supporting an emergency call center that the Somali government runs. The UNDP contributed by offering transport to volunteers, office equipment and staff. Anyone needing advice on COVID-19 or feeling ill can simply call the center and find assistance from volunteers comprising of medical students, doctors and other health professionals. Additionally, if a patient has severe symptoms or is sick with underlying health conditions, an ambulance can transport them to their local hospital. The center helps roughly 8,000 people a day.

The World Health Organization (WHO)

The World Health Organization (WHO) pledged to assist health authorities in Somalia in increasing the number of healthcare workers and stabilizing primary healthcare services in the country. In September 2019, the organization assisted in launching the plans for universal health coverage (UHC) for the time period of 2019-2023. The WHO understands the importance of improving health systems in the country and hopes to develop powerful health systems to prevent future epidemics. Thus, the UHC initiative aims to give all Somali people improved protection from healthcare emergencies.

The WHO has declared maternal health one of its priorities and advocates for maternal health as a human right. About one in 20 women die during labor due to an overall lack of health resources, which gives Somalia one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. The WHO is bolstering investments in the issue, mobilizing health resources and strengthing healthcare systems to decrease maternal mortality rates.

UNICEF

UNICEF is also fighting to improve healthcare in Somalia. One focus has been to develop safe motherhood and child healthcare programs. The organization worked with Somali health authorities to provide the Essential Package of Health Services (EPHS). Predictions determine that these packages will aid 4.2 million Somalis. The EPHS structure is an extensive range of free health services that will help establish a medical standard for the country. The goal is to provide essential medicines, supplies and equipment as well as train and expand human resources. The program includes aid for neonatal and reproductive health, child immunizations and treatment of widespread diseases like HIV.

Somalia has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world. Due to the lack of sanitation, medical resources and vaccinations, one in seven children will not make it past age 5. Since 1990, deaths among children under 5 have reduced by half. Deaths have decreased thanks to the vaccine initiative that UNICEF and WHO launched in 2013. The program consisted of 1.3 million doses of an innovative “five-in-one” vaccine for the prevention of the top fatal childhood illnesses along with a parental awareness campaign.

The Integrated Community Case Management (ICCM) that UNICEF and WHO organized has also improved healthcare systems. This community-based approach brings experienced and supervised health professionals to the area to help decrease the common childhood illnesses contributing to the high child mortality rate. The system plans to continue developing a solid staff of health leaders and administrators to manage future health disasters.

Moving Forward

Some organizations are making great progress in improving healthcare in Somalia. Since the efforts to create an overall healthcare infrastructure, the country has seen improvements in how it controls widespread diseases. In 2004, the average life expectancy was 50, but as of 2018, it was 55. Life expectancy should increase as chronic malnutrition, infant mortality rates and the spread of preventable diseases decrease with improved healthcare systems. Thanks to these resolutions, overall health and wellbeing in Somalia should be on the horizon.

Tara Hudson
Photo: Pixabay

Poverty in Laos
The Lao People’s Democratic Republic, or Laos, is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia. One of the fastest-growing economies in the world, the country has halved its poverty rate in the past 20 years. This is an impressive feat for the import-heavy country given that less than 5% of its land is suitable for agriculture. Poverty in Laos, however, remains a formidable issue. Laos faces a significant wealth gap between its capital Vientiane and poorer rural areas. Foreign aid and international efforts strive to reduce poverty in Laos.

The World Bank and the Poverty Reduction Fund

Created in 2002, the Poverty Reduction Fund (PRF) linked Laos to the international community through the World Bank, aiming to reduce poverty in Laos. The goals of the PRF have progressed over time, reducing poverty at a grassroots level and helping the Laotian poor achieve self-sustainability.

PRF has positively impacted more than 10,000 Laotian women and their families – self-help groups in different villages provide microloans, monthly household income has increased exponentially over the years and nutrition centers, roads and schools are constantly improving and serving Laotian villagers.

In December 2019, the World Bank approved additional funding of $22.5 million as a soft loan to Laos. This loan supports the Laotian government’s National Nutrition Strategy, which seeks to improve rural conditions by developing agricultural infrastructure.

The Asian Development Bank

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) grants loans, technical assistance and equity investments to promote development in Asian countries. The ADB has assisted poverty-reduction operations in Laos since 1968 and still finances assistance to the country. As of 2019, it has provided Laos with a total of $2.91 billion.

The ADB generally focuses on sustainable development in Laos but also funds education to achieve social and economic development. Because of its early involvement in Laos, the ADB’s efforts have yielded impressive results, having connected more than 20,000 households to electricity and water and providing education facilities to more than 100,000 Laotian students.

The United Nations Development Program’s Brand Laos Initiative

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) fights global poverty, seeking sustainable development and global equality. The UNDP has several ongoing projects in Laos supporting gender parity and government transparency. One notable initiative is a project it calls Brand Laos – a mission fighting for a unique Laotian brand and niche.

Brand Laos researches Laotian economic niches in order to create a unique marketable perspective for the country, finding viable products for farmers, producers and service providers. This economically benefits Laos, raising income for agricultural workers and producers. A Laotian niche could reduce poverty while bringing spurring development.

In particular, these types of projects seek high-quality products for international markets where consumers pay extra for ethically produced foreign products. Brand Laos has looked into products and services such as tea, silk-based clothing and ecotourism.

Conditions in rural Laotian households have improved drastically in recent decades, thanks to these international efforts. The Laotian national poverty rate was 46% in 1992 and fell to 23% in 2015. Additionally, households have greater access to electricity, water and even extraneous symbols of development like smartphones. With continued work, the poverty rate in Laos should continue to go down.

Maggie Sun
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in RwandaRwanda is now using five anti-epidemic robots to help combat COVID-19. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), an organization working to end global poverty using sustainable practices, donated the robots. The robots’ names are Akazuba, Ikizere, Mwiza, Ngabo and Urumuri. The country received the robots on May 19, 2020, at its Kanyinya Treatment Centre located in the capital city of Kigali, which has taken the brunt of cases of COVID-19 in Rwanda.

About Anti-Epidemic Robots

The robots have the capacity to take temperatures of patients and screen up to 150 people every minute for symptoms. They can also store medical records and capture visual and auditory data for later use by medical personnel. According to Minister of Health Daniel Ngamije, the robots can detect when someone is not wearing a mask. They can then notify staff so the issue can be swiftly and safely resolved. Additionally, the robots can deliver food and medicine to both COVID-19 patients and healthcare workers. They are also able to communicate accurate information about the virus.

Since the outbreak, more than 90,000 healthcare workers around the world have contracted COVID-19 as a result of contact with patients. By utilizing anti-epidemic robots, the Rwandan Ministry of Health hopes to keep medical personnel safe by reducing contact with patients. The robots can also get people the help they need faster and can partially make up for low physician density. As of 2017, Rwanda has only 0.13 physicians per 1,000 people. According to the World Health Organization, anything less than 2.3 physicians per 1,000 of the population is insufficient.

Impact of COVID-19 Globally

COVID-19 has rapidly spread across the globe in a matter of months. Although the outbreak impacts many lives, the lives and futures of vulnerable populations have been particularly affected. The UNDP predicts human development—health, education and standard of living—will decline in all regions of the world. This would be the first decrease in the 30 years the measure has been in use. The World Bank says people living in extreme poverty could increase by 40 to 60 million this year. At this rate, up to 50% of people could lose their jobs and the economy could potentially lose $10 trillion. In addition, more than 250 million people worldwide could face hunger. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are projected to take the biggest blows.

Rwanda, in particular, is quite vulnerable in these aspects. As of 2015, 39.1% of the population lives below the poverty line. In addition, 23.9% do not have access to an improved water source and 38.4% of the population does not have access to improved sanitation facilities. These issues, on top of the high population density, mean COVID-19 has the potential to spread faster and more easily. COVID-19 in Rwanda has the potential to push these vulnerable populations deeper into poverty.

Despite these issues, Rwanda’s introduction of anti-epidemic robots is a step in the right direction. The country has the potential of both slowing the spread of COVID-19 and improving the quality of medical care. Reducing poverty in Rwanda will take time and a coordinated effort. As of right now, battling the effects of COVID-19 is of the utmost importance.

– Elizabeth Davis
Photo: Flickr