west african super grain
Fonio is a millet with small grains native to West Africa. It is a staple of many dishes in the Sahel region of Niger, Chad, Nigeria and Mali. Also, it has been compared to quinoa and teff by several food scientists. The grain, which has a nutty flavor, can be roasted, pounded or boiled to make bread, couscous and porridge. Also, its swift maturity cycle of two months and its health benefits (gluten-free and fiber-rich) has skyrocketed the popularity of this West African super grain across the Atlantic to Western grocery shelves.

The rise of fonio will benefit the farmers in the Sahel struggling with food security and poverty. A semi-arid region, the 10 Sahel countries experience only 12–20 inches of rainfall per year, making it difficult to sustain agricultural prosperity. Additionally, the GDP in this area ranges between $900 to less than $3,000 per capita — with oil and minerals being the main sources of income. Importantly, due to these nations’ fragile, political environments, business relations tend to suffer. Financial experts are looking at crops like fonio already native to the region so citizens in these countries can help grow the economy. In this same vein, activities like farming will help. Here are some ways the West African super grain will bring prosperity to the region. 

Fonio: Loyal to the Homeland

For thousands of years, fonio has flourished in the arid soil of the Sahel region, just south of the Sahara Desert. Land that is not arable is beneficial for it, as the plant grows in poor soil with little to no need for fertilizers. Its long roots assist in providing topsoil and supplying the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. Farmers in the Sahel are familiar with its low-maintenance and use the crop’s ability to self-fertilize to grow other crops in conjunction. It is rotated with other crops to keep the desert land as fertile as possible. Since fonio favors dry, arid soil, the Sahel is one of the few regions in the world where mass production is possible. As the West African super grain continues to grow in popularity, its environmental selectiveness will be an advantage for Sahel farmers in monopolizing production and generating wealth in the region.

Fonio in the Culinary World

Pierre Thiam, an acclaimed Senegalese chef, restaurateur, author and culinary ambassador, founded Yolélé Foods to bring formerly unknown West African staples to the Western palate. In particularly, fonio. Earlier this year, Yolélé released a series of pre-seasoned fonio pilafs intended to be ready within minutes of opening. While the company focuses in the Brooklyn area, it imports fonio directly from the Sahel. To help farmers increase productivity, the company partnered with SOS Sahel, a nonprofit focused on improving conditions in the region. Additionally, Yolélé built the first industrial-scale mill in Dakar, the capital of Senegal (where Thiam is from). With the increased demand for the crop, hopes are high that farmers in the region will have a steady source of income for their labors.

Win-Win

If the popularity of the West African super grain is any indication, fonio could reach quinoa’s status in the culinary world. In Western homes, it is quickly becoming a key ingredient for those with celiac disease, as well as in gluten-free households. While citizens of these nations incorporate the grain into their salads, bread and cakes — farmers in the Sahel are working to ensure their way of life is not endangered by poverty and hunger.

Faven Woldetatyos
Photo: Flickr

Leblouh in MauritaniaThe Islamic Republic of Mauritania is a West African nation with a population of more than 4 million people. The country is a “deeply patriarchal society” in which women and girls are taught that they are inferior to men and must please men in order to have a fulfilling life. One manifestation of this culture is the standard of beauty for women, which emphasizes obesity as a sign of wealth, status and desirability. The importance of achieving this beauty standard has resulted in the practice of leblouh, or the force-feeding of girls as young as five until they become obese. The practice of leblouh in Mauritania has serious health effects, but women are fighting against it. Here are five facts about leblouh in Mauritania.

5 Facts About Leblouh in Mauritania

  1. Force-feeding is a relatively common phenomenon: Nearly one out of five women in Mauritania have been force-fed. Leblouh is much more prevalent in rural areas, where traditions and customs are practiced more strictly. A 2007 study found that 75% of rural women had experienced leblouh in Mauritania. At the same time, less than 10% of women and girls in cities and urban areas had experienced force-feeding.
  2. Leblouh has severe consequences on the health and safety of women. During two months at a feeding camp, girls must consume up to 16,000 calories of meat, milk, grains and oils per day. Refusal to eat often results in physical repercussions. Of women in these camps, 60% reported physical punishments like beating. More than a quarter had their fingers broken as punishment. However, the health effects of obesity are a punishment on their own. Overweight women risk conditions like cancer, kidney failure, heart disease, diabetes and sleep apnea. They also often face harmful psychological effects as well as a short life expectancy. Additionally, obesity puts women at risk for complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
  3. The Mauritanian government is working to combat obesity. It started a media campaign encouraging weight loss and healthier living habits in 2003. Doctors and experts throughout the country supported the campaign, which emphasized the health effects of obesity. However, the lack of media access in rural areas made it hard to communicate these messages to rural communities, where leblouh is more common. Only one-quarter of Mauritanian women watch TV. Additionally, just 27% of women listen to the radio on a weekly basis, and 11% read newspapers. This made it difficult for the government’s campaign to reach its intended audience.
  4. Women-only gyms have opened to encourage weight loss and healthier living habits among Mauritanian women. The first women-only gym opened in the capital city of Nouakchott. As of 2011, it had 300 members. Women joined the gym for various reasons, including doctors’ orders, self-image and the infiltration of Western culture and its emphasis on thinness.
  5. Women-led NGOs have been founded to fight against the practice of leblouh and advocate for women’s empowerment throughout Mauritania. One such organization is Espoire. The leader of Espoire is Fatma Sidi Mohamed, who experienced force-feeding as a child. The organization aims to provide women with more opportunities to earn an income. Mohamed believes that if women can earn their own incomes, they will be less likely to pull their daughters out of school in order to “fatten them up for early marriage.” Espoire teaches women to read, provides classes on health and grants microcredit to women in Nouakchott. This all has the end goal of encouraging women to join the workforce and live healthier lives.

As these five facts about leblouh in Mauritania demonstrate, force-feeding is a widespread and serious issue. The cultural emphasis on obesity poses severe threats to women’s health and social wellbeing. However, this culture seems to be changing in favor of healthier lifestyles, especially in cities.

Sydney Leiter
Photo: Flickr

Chocolate Production and Child Labor
When a person craves a quick snack or pick-me-up and runs to the store to grab their favorite chocolate bar, they may not wonder where the chocolate came from in the first place. However, much of cocoa production takes place in West African in places like the Ivory Coast and Ghana. The result of this cocoa harvest is sweet, but the process is quite bitter. Currently, 2 million children in these countries labor to produce chocolate. Over the last few years, measures have removed children from this labor. However, the problematic relationship between chocolate production and child labor has increased from 30% to 41%.

The Conditions of the Children

Children often work on small cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast, and mostly as victims of human trafficking. They work day in and day out using machetes and harmful pesticides to harvest cocoa pods. The children are very young and overworked with hunger. Most of them have not even gone to school for many years.

Raising Awareness

The world’s chocolate companies are aware of the atrocities of chocolate production and child labor that are part of their products’ creation. Many have pledged to eradicate child labor in the industry, but have consistently fallen short. In an article in the Washington Post, Peter Whoriskey and Rachel Siegel addressed this issue. They outlined the continuous failure of many large companies to remove child labor from their chocolate supply chain. As a result of these companies’ negligence, the odds are substantial that a chocolate bar in the United States is the product of child labor. Some of the biggest chocolate brands, such as Nestle or Hershey, cannot even claim that child labor is not involved in their chocolate production.

Addressing the Issue

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) is combatting child labor in the chocolate production process. It has been creating plans and programs to break the cycle. Its research and data show that the Ivory Coast and Ghana produce 60% of the world’s chocolate, with a steadily increasing demand for chocolate worldwide. This will likely exacerbate child labor issues instead of stopping them. As the leading funders of child labor combatting programs, ILAB has raised $29 million to fight child labor in chocolate production in the Ivory Coast and Ghana.

ILAB formed the Child Labor Cocoa Coordinating Group (CLCCG). It brought together the governments of the Ivory Coast and Ghana and representatives from the International Chocolate and Cocoa Industry together. They had essential conversations that are integral in eradicating child labor in the chocolate industry.

The CLCCG works toward eradicating child labor. It has also been integral in raising awareness about this issue and creating resources to combat it. However, it cannot do it all by itself. Governments, stakeholders and large chocolate companies must commit themselves to removing children from harmful environments for the sake of cocoa production.

Looking Ahead

Chocolate production and child labor have gone hand in hand for decades. However, through the efforts of government organizations, the cocoa production process could become as sweet as its end product.

Kalicia Bateman
Photo: Unsplash

Last Mile HealthLiberia borders Sierra Leone, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire and the Atlantic Ocean. The West-African nation was established as a settlement by freed American slaves in 1820. Despite gaining independence in 1847, the country suffered from years of instability brought on by the military coup of 1980. Civil war broke out in Liberia in 1986 and endured until late 2003. With 14 years of civil war devastating both the population and the economy, Liberia, now home to nearly five million immigrant and indigenous peoples, has shifted its focus towards recovery. Many efforts acknowledge the inadequacies of healthcare in Liberia, one of them being Last Mile Health.

Founded by Liberian civil war survivors and American healthcare workers in 2007, Last Mile Health is a nonprofit organization dedicated to rebuilding healthcare in Liberia by creating a stronger, more resilient public health infrastructure within both urban and remote regions of the country. To date, Last Mile Health is responsible for a plethora of noteworthy improvements in healthcare and health outcomes in Liberia.

Healthcare in the Past

Between 1986 and 2003, 80% of healthcare clinics across Liberia closed their doors as a result of looting, destruction and the exodus of healthcare workers. Only 168 physicians remained in Liberia, predominantly in the capital city of Monrovia. Medical training systems stood on the verge of collapse. Today, nearly 1.2 million people throughout Liberia live more than an hour’s walk from the nearest healthcare facility.

Lack of access to quality healthcare in Liberia has resulted in poor health outcomes for Liberians. Alongside suffering from one of the world’s worst maternal and under-5 mortality rates, malaria, diarrhea, HIV/AIDS and other preventable and treatable illnesses are amongst the leading causes of death and disease in Liberia. A mere 39% of children under two in Liberia have received their recommended vaccinations.

Bringing Care to Patients

Last Mile Health builds community-based primary health systems within Liberia to bring healthcare to the poorest and hardest-to-reach regions. In 2012, Last Mile Health piloted a community health worker program in the Konobo District of Liberia that resulted in an unprecedented 100% coverage of the district by healthcare personnel. This pilot program has since been replicated, extending primary healthcare in Liberia to 1.2 million people.

Training Healthcare Workers

In 2017, Last Mile Health launched the Community Health Academy to strengthen the clinical skills of community health workers in Liberia. The Community Health Academy provides training to health care leaders to help them build resilient and effective public health infrastructure. As of 2019, more than 16,000 healthcare personnel from around the world have enrolled in the academy’s courses.

Improving Health Outcomes

In 2010, Last Mile Health launched Liberia’s first rural, public HIV/AIDS treatment program. The program exists in over 19 of Liberia’s public clinics.

By increasing access to and quality of healthcare in Liberia, Last Mile Health has increased the number of children receiving malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea treatment by over 40%, resulting in a significant reduction in under-5 mortality rates and improvement in child health outcomes. Maternal health outcomes have improved as more women can access skilled birth attendants and facilities for delivery and maternal care.

Increasing Average Life Expectancy

The average life expectancy for Liberians continues to increase each year as healthcare in Liberia rebuilds and recovers. By linking community healthcare workers with nurses, doctors and midwives at community clinics and equipping workers with the knowledge and skills that they need, Last Mile Health continues to fulfill its mission of bringing life-saving care to people in even the most remote areas of the country.

Last Mile Health promises a future in which no patient is out of reach from quality healthcare in Liberia. In the years to come, the nonprofit organization intends to expand its reach within Liberia and across Africa.

– Alana Castle
Photo: Flickr

Ebola outbreakThe Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) has ravaged countries in sub-Saharan Africa since its identification in 1976. Overall, there have been 34 outbreaks of Ebola in Western Africa, 11 of which have occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The largest Ebola outbreak, considered a global pandemic, lasted from 2014 to 2016. It mostly affected countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. At the time, a total of 11,310 deaths were reported due to the disease.

The fatality rate for Ebola has ranged between 25% and 90%, depending on the severity of the outbreak and on the healthcare infrastructure of affected countries. The more modern and accessible these systems were, the more efficient the surveillance and treatment options. The second-largest outbreak of Ebola began in the Kivu region of the DRC on Aug. 1, 2018, and was only declared over as recently as June of 2020.

Containment in the DRC

Comparing the 2014 Ebola outbreak with the one that occurred in 2018 reveals a relative improvement. From 2014 to 2016, there were 28,616 EVD cases that resulted in 11,310 deaths. On the other hand, from 2018 to 2020, there were only 3,481 cases and 2,299 deaths reported.

DRC’s commendable public health response to the 2018 Ebola outbreak led to this outcome. Pre-existing infrastructural inadequacies and a lack of trust in health care officials have been the major challenges faced during Ebola occurrences. Though many of these problems continue, the better use of surveillance, contact tracing, prevention strategies and safe burial practices have greatly shaped how the most recent outbreak developed. Additionally, the global health community has made strides in vaccine development and treatment programs, making the defeat and containment of this epidemic possible.

Safe and Dignified Burials

Because the virus is transmitted through direct contact with an infected individual (living or deceased), traditional burial practices that require family members to wash the body pose a significant risk to communities during Ebola outbreaks.

In 2014, rural populations of Sierra Leone experienced surges in reported Ebola cases as a direct result of community members’ attending funerals and touching infected corpses. Since then, the CDC, the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation and the WHO have provided guidelines for safe protocols when handling potentially infected corpses. These protocols involve trained personnel and extensive personal protective equipment (PPE). During the recent contained Ebola outbreak, 88% of funerals utilized safe and dignified burial practices.

Vaccination Efforts

As a result of the most recent epidemic, 16,000 local responders and 1,500 WHO health workers collaborated to provide effective vaccines to 303,000 people. Individuals were considered eligible for vaccination if they had previous contact with an infected individual or were a frontline worker in an affected or at-risk area. Treatment centers, field laboratories and an Ebola national care program were also set up to care for patients, providing weekly test samples and follow-up with survivors.

EVD versus COVID-19

The world has seen other deadly viruses before COVID-19. SARS, Ebola and even the annual flu are some examples. COVID-19 stands out because it is easily spreadable and the rate of asymptomatic transmission is high. Asymptomatic transmission occurs when individuals don’t know they are infected and, as a result, spread the virus without knowing. Even though Ebola is highly contagious toward the end of the infection period, infected individuals show intense symptoms, so it is not easy for the virus to fly under the radar as COVID-19 tends to do.

Moreover, while health responses against Ebola are significant in fighting the spread of the virus, the vaccine and treatments are the real superheroes in protecting large populations and infected patients from the virus. As the world witnessed in the 2014 outbreak, Ebola left a devastating death toll in its wake without a vaccine. There are currently no viable vaccine or treatment options for the coronavirus, although development is currently in progress.

Moving Forward

Because preparedness plays a large role in within-country health responses, it is hopeful that future Ebola outbreaks will be contained. The health responses, vaccination programs and treatment options utilized by the DRC are applicable to other countries as well. Aid from WHO and other health agencies will lessen the threat of Ebola in Western Africa and the world.

– Nye Day
Photo: Flickr

Fighting extremism in West AfricaWhile mainly known for causing violence and havoc in the Middle East, Islamic extremists have been expanding their presence in the West African and Sahel regions for years. Most of these groups are affiliated with either the Islamic State (such as Boko Haram) or Al Qaeda (such as Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimi). These groups have carried out unspeakable atrocities in the West African region: kidnapping schoolgirls, recruiting child soldiers, targeting civilian markets and villages, committing massacres against herders and killing American special forces operators. As a result of these actions, nearly one million people in Burkina Faso have been internally displaced, along with 240,000 in Mali and a near half-million from Nigeria.

Poverty Brings Extremists to West Africa

West Africa is an attractive target for jihadist groups because of its extreme poverty levels, lack of government law enforcement and scarcity of basic services. In West Africa, 30% of the population lives on around $1.90 a day; in Nigeria, 60% of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day. Government services such as electricity and education are also lacking; 70% of impoverished girls in Niger never attended primary school.

In exchange for recruits, jihadist groups are providing services such as medical aid, protection and access to water. It is widely known that poverty creates conditions advantageous to radical groups. For instance, Boko Haram has pushed into the Lake Chad region, which suffers from particularly poor governance. They use the area as a base to conduct offensive operations against the surrounding villages. The same strategy has helped many radical groups gain traction in West Africa. Knowing this illuminates how to fight extremism in West Africa.

The Path Forward

One path toward fighting extremism in West Africa is providing basic services to the local population. Many governments’ military forces have had a reputation for human rights abuses. They are now trying to win over local populations by providing vital services. This helps governments gain legitimacy in the minds of the people, while it helps them combat terrorism.

Another solution is an initiative known as African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA), which aims to create a single market in the African Union. Such an agreement would create a large free trade zone that would increase the prosperity of many countries in the African Union. This will address some of the socioeconomic conditions that create weak states. These conditions often make regions vulnerable to radical groups, so AfCTA can also help fight extremism in West Africa. The United States, particularly Congress and the White House, has largely supported this initiative.

Fighting extremism in West Africa will require multi-level analysis and solutions. Focusing on military-oriented solutions may seem tempting, but these are only short-term quick fixes. Instead, new organizations and initiatives must address the root causes of extremism. Increasing governmental support and bringing prosperity to the people of West Africa is the surest way to prevent jihadist groups from gaining greater influence in the region.

Mustafa Ali
Photo: Flickr

Ghana, a small country located in West Africa, has dealt with tremendous economic struggles since the 1990s. Positive strides are being made to alleviate the economic crisis and improve the situation today, specifically for people experiencing poverty in Ghana. For example, in recent years, Ghana has achieved astronomical progress toward alleviating the economic burdens on its citizens. In the last two decades, Ghana has lowered its poverty rate by more than 30%. Its GDP increased 8% by 2006, the highest it has ever been. Significant changes were made to facilitate this progress in Ghana. First, the nation diversified its economy to create more products and services in different sectors. This led to increased consumerism and employment amongst the residents, which allowed Ghana’s economy to flourish.

Ghana Still Faces Poverty Challenges

Although many improvements were made to foster a steady economy in Ghana, many of its citizens still face significant challenges. Similar to the United States, when Ghana adopted a consumerist culture it consequently increased the wealth disparity within many regions. This affected the Upper West and the Upper East Regions, where the poverty rate has either increased or remained static.

The disparities among poverty rates in Ghana are a direct effect of geographical locations and climate. The lack of infrastructure, such as roads, in the Northern Region of Ghana, makes it difficult to transport goods and products. Despite these disparities, many families in both the Upper West and Upper East Regions have found creative means of accumulating extra income, such as the production of Shea butter. Some businesses, like Star Shea, provide loans for women as a means of starting production and accommodating transportation costs. 

In fact, many women believe these loans were advantageous in pursuing more educational opportunities. For example, Mrs. Atorneygene, a local resident in Ghana, utilized the proceeds from her Shea butter production to provide educational tools for her granddaughter. Changes being made on a local level, such as the production of Shea butter,  have proved to be beneficial in providing opportunities to marginalized regions.

Big Changes for Ghana

Changes on a national scale have also been instrumental in Ghana’s progress toward poverty reduction. According to the United Nations, Ghana plans to enact a Development Fund for its northern regions, especially areas with limitations in technology and other resources. In contrast to past politicians, John Nabila, former President of the National House of Chiefs, reinstated $1 billion toward the Development Fund. The government plans on prioritizing funds toward infrastructure and communications in order to unify Ghana and limit the economic disparities between these regions.

In addition, external organizations, such as The Hunger Project, are working toward alleviating poverty in Ghana. Since 1995, The Hunger Project has aided over 300,000 people by focusing on improving infrastructure, education reform and sanitation. The project focuses on building community centers, or “epicenters”, in order to collectively unify communities within Ghana and provide resources, such as electricity and clean water. As of now, over 40 epicenters receive clean water and sanitation, and almost all of them have health committees and clinics.

Even with the problems that Ghana has faced in the past, the nation has reached tremendous milestones and has made effective improvements within the last decade. With the help of the government, The Hunger Project and people in the community, Ghana has been able to make positive changes relating to its economy and wealth disparities. Now, a precedent has been set by Ghana regarding the instrumental changes needed to alleviate poverty.

– Aishwarya Thiyagarajan
Photo: Flickr

Child Labor in the Cocoa Industry
Chocolate is a staple dessert in many American households. However, journalists have recently helped expose the reality of the chocolate industry, revealing how most chocolate companies, including Hershey, Lindt, Mars and Nestle take advantage of child labor in the cocoa industry to increase profits. The cocoa that chocolate companies use to produce their products grows in the tropical climates of West Africa, Asia and Latin America, with West Africa producing 70% of the world’s cocoa. On average, the income of cocoa farmers is less than $2 a day. This income, which is below the poverty line, causes farmers to seek out cheap labor. Many children in West Africa live in poverty, so some children looking for work turn to cocoa farms, while others are sold into labor. Children as young as five work on these farms, enduring physical abuse and hazardous working conditions. One recently freed child slave said, “When people eat chocolate, they are eating my flesh.”

While child workers continue to be exploited, here are five chocolate companies that do not support child labor in the cocoa industry.

5 Chocolate Companies That Fight Child Labor in the Cocoa Industry

  1. Divine Chocolate: A group of farmers in Ghana founded this company in the early 1990s and set up a farmers’ co-op that traded its own cocoa and managed the entire sales process. The co-op, Kuapa Kokoo, aims to empower farmers by giving them a voice and providing ethical working conditions. The company also works to provide opportunities for women through literacy and numeracy programs, as well as training women to be buying clerks. The company is fairtrade certified and works to be environmentally conscious in its production.
  2. Endangered Species: This company focuses on farming cocoa in ethical working conditions and preserving wildlife diversity in its practice. In doing so, the company donates 10% of its annual profits to organizations that work to protect wildlife and animal habitats. Endangered Species is also the first chocolate company to source all of its cocoa from West Africa through fair trade, showing that it is committed to supporting cocoa farmers and their communities.
  3. Alter Eco: Alter Eco’s chocolate bars and truffles are made with cocoa from South Africa and only use ingredients that are clean and certified organic. The company is fairtrade certified, while also providing its partners with assistance by addressing concerns such as food security, biodiversity and gender equality. The company also aims to offset the effects of its chocolate production by practicing agroforestry, which copies the natural evolution of the forest and improves the wellbeing of its farms.
  4. Theo Chocolate: Theo Chocolate’s mission is to produce chocolate in a way that allows every member of production to thrive in the process. The company works directly with farmers in the Norandino Cooperative in Peru and Esco-Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to source its organic and fairtrade cocoa. As a fairtrade company, Theo Chocolate pays farmers above-market prices and prioritizes purchasing from smallholder farms.
  5. Shaman Chocolates: Shaman is a fairtrade certified company that donates 100% of its profits to the indigenous Huichol tribe in Mexico, which is the last tribe in North America to maintain their pre-Columbian traditions. A leader of the tribe, Brant Secunda, founded the company in order to provide financial support to allow the tribe to continue practicing their traditional lifestyle, keep conducting their ceremonies and create artwork. One of the company’s projects sent the first Huichol member to college, while other projects involve building schools and supplying beads.

In recent years, journalists have exposed the child labor that occurs in the cocoa industry. Children living in poverty sometimes turn to this industry for work and are subject to hazardous working conditions and abuses. While child labor is still used by some companies, through things like fair trade, these five companies fight child labor in the cocoa industry.

Natascha Holenstein
Photo: Pixabay

  Togo is a country in West Africa that borders Ghana, Burkina Faso and Benin. The nation gained independence from France in 1960, and has a population of 7.89 million people. Despite the country’s success in phosphate production, more than 50% of the Togolese population lives below the poverty line. Togo is considered a “Least Developed Country” by the United Nations.

The extreme poverty that exists in Togo disproportionately affects women, as they are not granted equal opportunities for work and education. Togo ranks 115th of the world’s 129 countries on the Sustainable Development Goals’ gender index, which measures each country’s gender equality in terms of the sustainable development goals. These goals include access to education and health, among others, as well as addressing the prevalence of gender-based violence. Despite the many difficulties that still exist in almost every sector of daily life, there have been significant improvements for women in Togo over the past few decades.

5 Improvements for Women in Togo

  1. The maternal mortality rate decreased. The rate declined from 489 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2000 to 396 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017. Togo’s decline in its maternal mortality rate is largely due to the efforts of nonprofits working to improve access to and the quality of healthcare. In a partnership with World Centric, the nonprofit Integrate Health provides training and education to nurses and midwives and employs Community Health Workers to provide health services on the front lines in Togo. The organization also improves the management and infrastructure of existing clinics and removes user fees that prevent many Togolese people from seeking healthcare. Across 13 clinics, Integrate Health intends to “perform 20,497 pre- and post-natal consultations and 2,862 facility-based deliveries.” Additionally, since Community Health Workers are predominantly women, Integrate Heath also provides economic opportunity and medical training for Togolese women.
  2. The adolescent fertility rate declined. The rate decreased from 130.17 births per 1000 women between the ages of 15 and 19 in 1985 to 88.69 births per 1000 in 2018. Togo is making significant strides in educating its youth about contraceptives, as 410,000 young people now participate in a sex education program. These are significant improvements for women in Togo. The Association Togolaise Pour Le Bien-Etre Familial (ATBEF) is a nonprofit organization that has been working in Togo since 1975 in the sexual and reproductive health sector. ATBEF aims to reduce infant and maternal mortality by organizing mobile health clinics and going door-to-door to discuss the benefits of contraceptive use. Additionally, ATBEF reached more than 870 villages in Togo that chose to sign onto protection charters that safeguard girls from gender-based violence, encourage them to finish school and teach village chiefs about the importance of educating young people about contraception. Since ATBEF began working in the Haho health district in 2011, the use of contraceptives doubled.
  3. Education for women increased while the overall fertility rate decreased. The steady decline of women’s fertility from 7.21 births per woman in 1980 to 4.32 births per woman in 2018 could be a result of increased education efforts. As women become more educated and countries become more developed, fertility rates decline. Although there is still a disparity between male and female literacy rates, female literacy rates increased from 38.5% of literate women over the age of 15 in 2000 to 51.24% in 2015. Additionally, youth literacy rates for females increased from 63.5% to 78.37% in 2018, indicating that younger women are receiving more education and may be less likely to have many children or to become pregnant as teenagers.
  4. Employment opportunities increased. In 2019, 88.79% of Togolese women were reported as self-employed. Additionally, Togo’s Labour law, passed in 2006, prohibits workplace discrimination based on gender and allows for up to 20 weeks of paid maternity leave with job security. However, husbands can still limit women’s choices to work and have control over their finances according to customary law. Nonprofit organizations such as CARE are working in Togo, and across West Africa, to empower women as participants in the economy. CARE’s Women on the Move program encourages women to join savings groups, in which women pool their savings and loan each other money to start businesses or to pay for healthcare and education. Women on the Move empowers women by educating them about their economic rights and mobilizes women across West Africa with a goal of improving their socio-economic status. The program aims to reach 8 million girls in West Africa by the end of 2020. As a result of influence from Women on the Move, the Togolese government planned to include savings groups in the national financial inclusion strategy.
  5. Child marriage decreased. Togo is one of the many countries in West and Central Africa to experience a decline in child marriage, with a 2% average annual reduction rate. Additionally, Togo has the third-lowest number of girls married between the ages of 15 and 18 in West and Central Africa. Although the government has committed to ending child marriage by 2030, 600,000 Togolese girls today are still married in childhood. To eliminate child marriage, the government will need to work to ensure that girls stay in school and are educated about their rights, as many girls are still taught that violence against them by their husbands is justified. Girls Not Brides, a global partnership with the mission of eradicating child marriage, works in Togo to develop country-specific strategies that encourage governments and communities to take action.

 

These five improvements for women in Togo depict the country’s steady progression toward gender equality. Togo’s improvements in healthcare, education and economic opportunities for women contributed to a higher female life expectancy, which rose from 54.29 in 2000 to 61.61 in 2018. However, Togo must continue to address the problem of child marriage, as it is still legal for families to marry off their daughters to receive a dowry.  Although the legal age for marriage is 18 in Togo, marriages can be arranged before the age of 18 with parental consent. There is still work to be done in Togo, to reform laws in order to give women more power over their marital choices and educate parents about the harm child marriage can have on young girls and their futures.

– Melina Stavropoulos
Photo: Flickr

Drones in AfricaThe mission of Zipline, a company started in 2014 and based in San Francisco, is to “provide every human on Earth with instant access to vital medical supplies.” To accomplish this goal, the company has created a drone delivery service where drones in Africa distribute lifesaving medical supplies to remote clinics in Ghana and Rwanda. More recently Zipline has expanded to other locations across the globe, including the U.S.

Poverty in Rwanda and Ghana

Rwanda is a rural East African country that relies heavily on farming. Although the country has made improvements in recent years, the 1994 Rwandan genocide damaged the economy and forced many people into poverty, particularly women. As of 2015, 39% of the population lived below the poverty line and Rwanda was ranked 208th out of 228 countries in terms of GDP per capita. On top of this, Rwanda only has 0.13 physicians per 1,000 people, which is insufficient to meet health care needs according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Ghana, located in West Africa, has fewer economic problems than neighboring countries in the region. However, debt, high costs of electricity and a lack of a stable domestic revenue continue to pose a threat to the economy. The GDP per capita was $4,700 as of 2017, with 24.2% of the population living below the poverty line. Although Ghana has a higher ratio of physicians per 1,000 people than Rwanda, with 0.18 physicians, it still falls below the WHO recommendation of at least 2.3 physicians per 1,000.

Benefits of Drone Delivery Services

On-demand delivery, such as drone delivery services, are typically only available to wealthy nations. However, Zipline evens the playing field by ensuring that those living in poorer and more remote regions also have access to the medical supplies they need. Zipline has made over 37,000 deliveries. In Rwanda, the drones provide deliveries across the country, bypassing the problems of dangerous routes, traffic and vehicle breakdowns, speeding up delivery and therefore minimizing waste. Additionally, Zipline’s drones in Africa do not use gasoline but, instead, on battery power.

Drone Delivery Services and COVID-19

Zipline’s services have been especially crucial during the COVID-19 response. Zipline has partnered with various nonprofit organizations (NGOs) and governments to complement traditional means of delivery of medical supplies on an international scale. This has helped to keep delivery drivers at home and minimize face-to-face interactions. As there are advances in treatments for COVID-19, delivery by drones in Africa has the potential to provide access to the vulnerable populations who are most at risk. At the same time, it can help vulnerable people stay at home by delivering medications directly to them or to nearby clinics, minimizing travel and reducing the chance of exposure. Zipline distribution centers have the capability to make thousands of deliveries a week across 8,000 square miles. Doctors and clinics simply use an app to order the supplies they need, receiving the supplies in 15 to 20 minutes. The drones are equipped for any weather conditions.

New means of providing medical equipment are helping to ensure that the world’s poor have access to the supplies they need. A company called Zipline has been using drones to deliver medical supplies to Africa, specifically in Rwanda and Ghana. During the COVID-19 pandemic, drones have been crucial in providing people and clinics with the medical supplies they need.

Elizabeth Davis
Photo: Flickr