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disease in Sub-Saharan Africa
The threat of disease transmission plays a significant role in the life of sub-Saharan Africans. Diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, heart disease and diarrheal diseases remain leading causes of death for African citizens. Of particular worry is HIV/AIDS, the fourth leading cause of death on the continent. Furthermore, urbanization has direct links with reducing disease in sub-Saharan Africa. The United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS estimates that 25.5 million people currently live with HIV/AIDs in sub-Saharan Africa, representing approximately 64% of the world’s cases. The transmission rate is particularly high in sub-Saharan Africa due to high rates of poverty, with over 60% of the population spending less than $1 a day.

Fortunately, in recent years, sub-Saharan Africa has witnessed a downturn in disease trends. For example, in the last six years, Africa has reduced AIDS deaths by over 30%. One can partly explain the successes in stopping the transmission of disease in sub-Saharan Africa by the process of urbanization that sub-Saharan Africa has undergone in recent years. Physician’s Medical Center Labs explains this relationship, highlighting factors such as sex work, migration, polygamy and teenage marriages, all of which increase with higher poverty levels.

What is Urbanization?

Urbanization is the process of making an area more urban. Characteristics defining urban areas include higher population density, greater infrastructure and non-agricultural opportunities for specialization. Urbanization has been ongoing since the 1950s in sub-Saharan Africa – however, its pace has increased in the past few decades. The rate of urbanization in sub-Saharan Africa is the highest globally, with an average annual growth rate of 4.1%. Urban growth results from a multitude of factors, including migration and the reclassification of cities. Migration from rural areas to urban centers is predominantly based on educational and financial concerns.  However, seasonal and forced migration can also play a role in the growth of urban centers. This fast-paced urbanization is not without its challenges, including income loss, weak investment and less productivity. Nevertheless, urban areas can create circumstances that can reduce the transmission of disease in sub-Saharan Africa.

Improving Sanitation

Improved sanitation follows urbanization. Even in the most impoverished urban areas, sanitation conditions are still better than those in rural communities. The key factors contributing to sanitation levels are clean water and flush toilets. Poor urban areas remain two times more likely to have clean, piped water. They are also four times more likely to have flush toilets than rural areas. This is vital to disease prevention as poor sanitation in human waste is a key driver of disease transmission, specifically diarrheal diseases. Piped water can also reduce the threat of mosquito growth. Large amounts of stagnant water provide breeding grounds for dangerous mosquitos, which transmit viruses such as malaria. Piped water decreases the need for stagnant storage sites, diminishing this problem.

Empowering Women

Urban areas provide greater educational opportunities. While schools in rural areas remain understaffed, urban schools can cater to more students with a higher quality of education. This access to education is essential for females as women are 20% more likely to attend school in urban areas. Education for women is key to increasing awareness of sexual health needs and reproductive control. Along with education, the increase in infrastructure that results from urbanization can also increase access to resources for women. They can access the clinics and facilities necessary to control their fertility and protect themselves during sex. This is especially important for female sex workers in the region. In urban areas, the infrastructure of clinics, reproductive health resources and educational opportunities provide women with solutions that can decrease the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases and infections.

Tracing Diseases

Urbanized areas have the infrastructure necessary to support cell towers and the internet. Because of this infrastructure growth, urban settings allow for high rates of cell phone usage. Meanwhile, rural areas tend to lack access to personal technology devices. In South Africa, around 50% of the rural population do not have access to a personal cellular device. The increased prevalence of mobile phones in urbanizing areas could play a consequential role in combating disease transmission in sub-Saharan Africa. The success of mobile phone contact tracing apps that some utilized during the COVID-19 pandemic highlights this. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study has found that these apps can decrease the infection rate and break transmission chains even with limited use. People could utilize these tools, thanks to urbanization, to decrease the transmission of disease in sub-Saharan Africa.

US Foreign Assistance is Vital

When looking at the benefits of urbanization throughout the world, it is important to focus on the dangers it can present. While urbanization can foster gender equality, education and quality healthcare, poorly managed urbanization can worsen inequality and destabilize governments. The work of U.S. Foreign Assistance plays a consequential role in the lives of Africa’s urban population. However, U.S. assistance remains disproportionately focused on rural settings, leaving these urbanizing areas in danger. Thus, the continued role of the U.S. in supporting poverty reduction initiatives throughout sub-Saharan Africa is vital to support and foster long-term, stable urbanized growth. One cannot discount the role of urbanization to impede the transmission of disease in sub-Saharan Africa.

Haylee Ann Ramsey-Code
Photo: Unsplash

sanitation_crisis
Today, cities in Africa are rapidly urbanizing. The population is growing faster than infrastructure is being built, which causes a shortage of sewage and sanitation systems, especially in impoverished areas.

Over 2.6 billion people do not have access to sanitation. Every day, thousands of tons of feces are not disposed of properly, polluting water and spreading diseases among women and children.

Every year, 1.8 million people die from waterborne diarrheal diseases. Ninety percent of these deaths are children under five-years-old.

Clean Team Ghana has made it their mission to fix this sanitation crisis. The company has invented an inexpensive toilet service to help low-income citizens.

“People of all ages, regardless of circumstance, deserve the right to perform their necessary bodily functions in safety, without the risk of spreading or contracting disease. Our mission is to ensure as many people as possible can enjoy that right,” explains the company’s website.

Kumasi, where Clean Team Ghana has focused its efforts, is Ghana’s second-largest city; here, rapid urbanization and development issues are rampant. Unplanned slum areas do not have any type of sewer system. Half of the population of Kumasi uses public toilet blocks.

According to How We Made it in Africa, public toilet blocks are “often over-burdened, poorly maintained and unhygienic. Those that cannot brave the stench would prefer to do their business openly–or in packets that are then thrown into gutters, polluting water supplies and causing diseases such as cholera.”

Families without proper sewage can rent out Clean Team Ghana’s portable toilets, which the company installs and treats three times per week, exchanging the used canister for a fresh one. The dirty canister is treated at a processing site and reused.

One toilet provides service to five to seven people, and only costs $2.50 to install. The service costs a family $8.90 a month for one toilet. Clean Team Ghana offers weekly payment services, as very few customers earn monthly salaries.

“Most of our customers are traders and earn daily sums of money, maybe even weekly sums. So we have account managers who visit these customers at least once a week so they can pay in bits,” said Clean Team Ghana CEO Abigail Aruna.

The toilets are odorless: the company uses chemicals to mask the smell. They do not require water or pipes, only some space.

So far, Clean Team Ghana has installed over 1,000 toilets across Kumasi. The company aims to install 1,500 more by the end of 2015. Clean Team Ghana markets their toilets by going door-to-door in settlements and explaining how the toilet works.

Aruna believes that in the next few years, Clean Team Ghana can install 10,000 toilets in Kumasi. Once they reach 10,000, the company plans to expand to other cities in Ghana.

“Research is ongoing around that. There are regional differences and we will take them into consideration before we expand. The situation in Kumasi is quite different from the situation in Accra or in Tamale, or in other towns,” explained Aruna.

Clean Team Ghana began when the nonprofit Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor partnered with Unilever, a company that produces cleaning agents. IDEO.org designed the toilets, and at the beginning of 2012, the project was funded by the Stone Family Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Innovative ideas like ours are really necessary in Ghana and other African countries that cannot afford to put adequate sewage systems in place in their towns and cities. So I think the future of Clean Team Ghana and other sanitation companies is very bright–and is a way forward to solve the sanitation issues in Africa for now,” said Aruna.

Margaret Anderson

Sources: How we made it in Africa, Clean Team Toilets
Photo: Core 77

african_urbanization

More and more young Africans are picking up their possessions and leaving their rural villages for lives in the big city. And while this influx of migrants is creating a new wealth of potential laborers for Africa’s generally growing economy, the sheer number of new residents is causing housing prices in cities to skyrocket.

According to an article by Gant Daily, a CNN News affiliate, UN-Habitat estimates that by the year 2030, more people in developing regions will live in urban than rural environments. The UN-Habitat report specifically highlighted Sub-Saharan Africa as an affected region.

With so many young people uprooting themselves for city life, it appears to be a good sign that the African economy is growing and more jobs are consistently being created to retain the influx of immigrants. Unfortunately, most major Sub-Saharan economies are facing a serious housing shortage. Some cities, according to a survey by the Ministry of Lands and Housing, are estimated to face a housing deficit of two million units in the next 10 years.

This high demand and low supply has made city slums an even bigger issue than before. And even among nicer accommodations, living and office space is in such high demand that landlords can demand exorbitant prices.

The upwardly mobile youth are not just moving to cities seeking better jobs and improved housing conditions. As the average income of African youth increases, educated and career-focused individuals are moving to cities looking for ways to spend their disposable income. This means that, in addition to an increased demand for additional housing, there is also a demand for better infrastructure and better retail and commercial opportunities, according to an article by AFK Insider.

While the dramatic housing deficit facing rapidly burgeoning African economic centers could be a recipe for disaster, it also presents an excellent economic opportunity for investment in the real estate and development sectors.

According to AFK Insider, Africa as a whole saw a 46% increase in investment in the construction, transportation and energy projects sectors in 2014; Central Africa alone experienced a 117% increase in the value of construction projects.

Investment in constructing additional affordable housing, improving infrastructure and expanding business opportunities stimulates the economy through job expansion and the creation of a wider consumer marketplace. It is a proven trend that, as people’s quality of life improves, they spend more, thereby inject more money into the economy.

Africa’s urbanization boom may soon lead to its largest economic boom in centuries, and to a new and better quality of life for Africa’s poorest.

Gina Lehner

Sources: Gant Daily, AFK Insider
Photo: NEO