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immunization in pakistanDuring the COVID-19 pandemic, 63 polio cases were reported in Pakistan. Four months after the COVID-19 outbreak occurred in Pakistan, more than 50 million children did not receive a polio vaccination, as immunization in Pakistan was delayed. At the end of July 2020, Pakistan was able to complete a round of vaccinations to cover 780,000 children.

Vaccinations and COVID-19

On April 1, 2020, Pakistan went into a nationwide lockdown for a month due to COVID-19. During the lockdown, immunization in Pakistan reduced by more than 50%. This reduction occurred mainly in impoverished regions and areas that were far from service delivery.

Healthcare workers’ contracting COVID-19 led to a halt in immunization services in some areas. More than 150 Expanded Programme on Immunization healthcare workers contracted COVID-19. Additionally, shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) further reduced immunization, as healthcare workers were concerned about the risk of transmission while providing immunizations without proper PPE.

Transportation Interruptions Delay Immunization

Many immunizations in Pakistan were not delivered due to flight disruptions from COVID-19. Reduced immunization in Pakistan can lead to new outbreaks of other preventable diseases, like measles. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, an area with a large refugee population and limited healthcare access, has already seen an increase in measles cases.

The lack of public transportation available during the pandemic also made it difficult for many to travel to receive immunizations. People who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 were often afraid to go out in public and get immunized.

New mothers in particular were not willing to risk the travel to hospitals to get their children vaccinated. One new mother expressed her concern that the absence of vaccinations could lead to contracting preventable diseases, but she was also worried about the coronavirus. Furthermore, multiple private and public hospitals were overwhelmed with COVID-19 and did not allow babies and mothers to receive their immunizations.

WHO’s Restrictions Led to Vaccination Difficulties

After the World Health Organization advised countries to postpone their immunization campaigns, Pakistan halted its door-to-door polio immunization program. The postponement of mass vaccination programs may lead to 117 million children worldwide not receiving a measles vaccine. Countries that have low immunization rates are at the highest risk. Pakistan’s routine vaccination campaign for tuberculosis, for example, reached only 66% of its slated coverage this year, compared to 88% in 2019.

In Karachi, the Health Education and Literacy Programme (HELP) works to support maternal and child health and maximize vaccination coverage. Founder of HELP, Dr. D. S. Akram, said that the delay in immunization could lead to hundreds of thousands of young Pakistanis missing their tuberculosis and polio vaccines. On average, 12,000 to 15,000 children are born in Pakistan every day. Since polio is still endemic in Pakistan, the suspension of the door-to-door polio immunization program may lead to more outbreaks in the future.

Once Pakistan started to come out of its lockdown in May 2020, clinics began to reopen in an effort to continue vaccination campaigns. Pakistan faced two obstacles in attempting to increase routine vaccinations: both opening hospitals and ensuring that parents felt safe to bring their children there. Hospitals had to ensure not only that there were enough vaccinations in supply but also that parents would be willing to get their children immunized.

In Pakistan, children who belong to poor households are affected by vaccination coverage the most. The reduction of immunization in Pakistan has occurred mainly in slum areas, where it is difficult to deliver healthcare products. Despite the delay in immunization caused by COVID-19, Pakistan continues to adapt in its efforts to return to routine vaccination.

– Ann Ciancia
Photo: Flickr

Yemen's Coronavirus Crisis
Yemen’s civil war and the resulting violence considered currently the ‘worst humanitarian crisis in the world,” a crisis that is heavily rooted in the regional divide coupled with resource insecurity. The coronavirus pandemic which broke out at the beginning of 2020 and spread globally has only increased the strain on war-torn countries. Yemen’s coronavirus crisis strained the country’s already heavily underfunded healthcare system and its ability to reach the most vulnerable.

The Conflict in Yemen thus far:

To understand just how urgent the need is to address the coronavirus crisis in Yemen, one must first understand the already raging crisis for Yemeni civilians caught in this conflict.

  • The Civil War:                                                                                                                                                                                                  The civil war in Yemen started in 2015 and has caused an already poor country to continue to deteriorate under the strain of war. The conflict’s main actors are the government on one side and the Houthi led rebels on the other. The civil war has in many ways acted as a front for the proxy war raging between the two hegemons of the region: Saudi Arabia (which backs the government forces) and Iran (which backs the Houthi forces). Most of the conflict occurs on the west side of the country, where many of the major ports are located. This has heavily affected the ability for humanitarian aid to get to vulnerable civilians. These resources vary from food, water, to medical supplies. In addition, the final destination of the aid that is being delivered to Yemen is being contested by major aid donors like the World Food Programme. The organization has accused the Houthi rebels who control the northern part of the country of stealing aid meant for civilians according to a June report by Al Jazeera.

Results of the conflict in Yemen:

Results of Coronavirus in Yemen:

Around 80% of the country is dependent on humanitarian assistance. The United Nations (UN) has projected that there could be more casualties as a result of COVID-19 than have “been caused from the last 5 years of conflict, which is estimated at 100,000.”

Due to COVID-19, the number of children left without access to educated has more than tripled, totaling 7.8 million children. Aden, a major city in Yemen is struggling with a rising casualty count with “roughly 950 deaths in the first half of May” reported by CNN. Yemen is currently fighting two other major contagious diseases, and the rise of COVID-19 as a third has affected Yemen’s ability to distribute funding and medical resources, as they are already scarce due to the conflict casualties and the other viruses. (CNN) Many cities have filled hospitals to their full capacity and cannot admit any more people despite the growing number of cases (CNN).  People are being turned away due to a lack of access to ventilators (with some cities having less than 20 total). (CNN)

Steps being taken to control Yemen’s coronavirus crisis:

The dead are not allowed to be visited and mourned by friends and family to prevent social gathers and spread of the virus.

UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is” increasing aid to Yemen” to address the COVID-19 crisis and its effects on civilians affected by the conflict (Al Jazeera). The situation in Yemen is bleak and represents the worst of what a global pandemic can do to a country whose systems and infrastructures are depleted from years of war. The best hope Yemen has for addressing their civilians in need is to use the aid they receive from the Un and similar actors and seek out the most vulnerable populations first and prioritize investing in more medical necessities like ventilators and other essential equipment.

Kiahna Stephens

Photo: Pixabay

corruption in healthcare
The healthcare sector in several countries around the world is commonly referred to as being among the most corrupt sectors. A 2013 Transparency International Study reported that more than 50% of citizens viewed their country’s health sector as corrupt in 42 out of 109 countries surveyed. The World Bank has regarded corruption in healthcare as a major barrier to achieving social and economic development.

Corruption and Poverty

Informal payments are a very specific form of corruption prevalent in weak health care systems around the world. Informal payments refer to under-the-table payments to receive services that are otherwise free or which are requested in addition to officially sanctioned required payments.  They are prevalent in the healthcare sector of many countries globally. For example, in Azerbaijan, informal payments account for 73.9% of all medical spending. This form of corruption often arises due to inadequate healthcare management, including inadequate public spending, resource deprivation, governance and human resource constraints and scarcity of providers.

Informal payments negatively affect healthcare at the individual and governmental levels. Due to the secrecy that often shrouds the transaction of informal payments, these payments are often made in cash and do not contribute to the collection of taxes. This translates into less money available to be reinvested in the healthcare system.

Further, informal payments are often regressive in nature, meaning that low-income individuals often tend to pay a larger proportion of their income respective to high-income individuals.  One study in sub-Saharan Africa identified informal payments as being highly prevalent among the poorest segments of society.

Informal payments represent severe barriers to accessing care for those living in poverty. In some cases, informal payments can push low-income individuals to borrow money often with high-interest rates. This indebtedness can lead to financial ruin for low-income families and can potentially push them into the poverty trap.  More concerning is the potentially deadly impact of patients to delay or forego medical care due to the inability to cover the expected informal payments.  Further, the informal nature of these payments makes exemptions to protect those in poverty increasingly difficult to enforce.

The Impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis can lead to further barriers to accessing care and may bring an increase in the prevalence of informal payments. Overwhelmed, weak health care systems around the world with resource and provider scarcity may push those seeking treatment to use informal payments as a means of accessing better care and at other times may be required to make up for inadequate funding. It is known that informal payments are tied to these scarcities. These factors are increasingly relevant in COVID-19 responses around the world.

There is a high risk of the prevalence of informal payments increasing in reaction to the pandemic. For those who cannot afford the cost of informal payments, the catastrophic virus may cause families to take on a high-rate of debt, pushing low-income families further into poverty. If individuals choose to forego testing or treatment for the virus due to a lack of financial ability to cover informal payments it could impact the response to fighting COVID-19 by accelerating the spread of the disease.  With the number of people living in extreme poverty projected to rise by 71 million due to the economic shocks brought on by the pandemic, there is an urgent need to address the issue of informal payments and broader corruption in the healthcare sector.

How to Take Action

According to the Carnegie Endowment, the spread of coronavirus, with corruption acting as a catalyst, poses a serious threat to U.S. interests and foreign policy objectives. There are a number of ways the U.S. can address the problem of corruption and the prevalence of informal payments around the world through the U.S. Global Coronavirus Response. The Countering Russian and Other Overseas Kleptocracy (CROOK) Act aims to address corruption through rapid action. The act has been introduced in the Senate after passing the House of Foreign Affairs Committee and shares bipartisan support. USAID in partnership with the State Department is addressing the corruption-coronavirus nexus by supporting transparent emergency procurement mechanisms and providing support to anti-corruption law enforcement.

Due to the discrete nature of informal payments and the provider-patient relationship, the U.S. influence is limited in combating informal payments. In low-income countries with weak healthcare systems, the most effective means of mitigating the impact of informal payments on those impacted by COVID-19 is prevention. The United States can help curb the spread of COVID-19 around the world by providing adequate funding for global health security in the next emergency supplemental COVID-19 response.

– Leah Bordlee
Photo: Flickr

Maternal Healthcare in Zimbabwe
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the structure and function of healthcare systems all across the globe as a great influx of patients to hospitals has led to a strain on medical personnel and funding. Some of the greatest losses that healthcare systems are taking around the world due to this COVID-19 strain are the reduction or the complete elimination of certain specialties or services for a specific population. In Zimbabwe, a country in Southern Africa with a population of around 14.4 million, pregnant women and new mothers have suffered from a lack of quality maternal healthcare.

Inaccessibility

Pregnant women and new mothers in Zimbabwe face a difficult challenge, not only because the funding of a lot of maternal healthcare units has been depleted, but because of the dangers in commuting to the health centers or hospitals.

The lockdown in Zimbabwe due to the pandemic has been strictly enforced and has inspired an increase in violence on the streets. If a woman cannot find a medication or reach a local pharmacy during its newly limited hours, she may have to travel past checkpoints and on streets that contain a higher amount of police brutality than normal. There are several accounts of women deciding to stay home as it would be a greater risk to travel.

The restricted travel limits medical attention for pregnant women (check-ups and childbirth) and postpartum treatment (both physical and mental). Without the ability to contact people personally or to travel for help, women who have just given birth have a higher risk of postpartum depression and of physical complications as they live their lives in quarantine.

Violence

There has been an uptick in violence in the new pandemic-stricken world, especially for the women of Zimbabwe. Police patrolling the streets are often violent and “have not been sympathetic to pregnant women, insisting the need for a clearance letter from the police sanctioning movement.”

Additionally, pregnant women and new mothers at home are subject to more domestic violence. The restriction of movement makes leaving an abusive situation even more difficult. In combination with the aforementioned inhibition in the disbursement of contraceptives, assault in the home is a cause of an increase in unplanned pregnancies.

Mistreatment

Because of the fear of COVID-19 transmission within hospitals, women in Zimbabwe are asked to come into the hospitals only when they are deep into their labor and nearly giving birth outside of the hospital doors. Pregnant women who have started labor are often not permitted to enter health facilities because they are not close enough to delivery. When they do enter the hospital, mothers are often mistreated — not being permitted to have a companion or to stay long enough after giving birth.

This mistreatment and inaccessibility lead to an increase in complications for mothers and children during birth as they often arrive too late to the hospital for proper delivery or they give birth at home. Due to the mistreatment and lack of accessibility, women may also have unsafe “underground” abortions, which can lead to severe health complications.

Lack of Resources

If mothers can reach a healthcare facility, they often do not receive the treatment they need because of a lack of resources. Health facilities and clinics in Zimbabwe have drained supplies and funding during the pandemic. Physicians can no longer give out contraceptives or educate women on family planning due to a shortage. Family health planning services also had to cut down their educational programs. The lack of education and accessibility has increased the amount of unplanned teenage pregnancies as well as an increase in maternal mortality.

Aid

Though there have been many discouraging events for maternal healthcare in Zimbabwe, there has been a recognition of the events that are unfolding and several organizations are making great progress in fighting for maternal healthcare rights.

The White Ribbon Alliance (WRA) is a nonprofit, international coalition that fights for “reproductive, maternal and newborn health” among other rights relating to women’s freedom. This organization has created powerful campaigns in the wake of COVID-19’s impact on maternal care such as Respectful Maternal Care, which helps to educate others about women’s health and the rights they are entitled to when giving birth. This campaign can help stop the mistreatment of women and keep them safe during treatment and delivery.

Maternal healthcare in Zimbabwe faces many hurdles in becoming is safe and accessible. Childbirth and postpartum care have suffered because of the strict environment in the streets and healthcare facilities that the coronavirus has brought on. With organizations like the WRA, these women can gain access to the quality healthcare they need.

– Jennifer Long
Photo: Flickr

gender gap in Latin AmericaRanked the third-highest after Western Europe and North America, Latin America has an average gender gap of 29%. Many Latin American countries are seeing improvements in education, healthcare and shortening the gender gap. According to the World Economic Forum in their Gender Gap Report for 2020, Nicaragua was ranked 5th globally, with 80% of its gender gap closed. On the lower-ranking end of the gender gap in Latin America, Guatemala and Belize have closed 66% and 67% of their gap, respectively. While these percentages are promising, the current COVID-19 pandemic poses a threat to gender equality.

Looming COVID-19 Crisis

Decades worth of progress toward eliminating the gender gap in Latin American could potentially reach a halt or decline with the impending COVID-19 pandemic. Since the onset of the pandemic, stay at home orders have caused an increase in domestic violence. A few examples from Latin America expose the enormity of the issue. In Colombia, the domestic violence helpline has risen by 9%, and by 36% in Mexico. Also, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, a city in Bolivia, has reported the highest number of cases of both domestic violence and COVID-19. The issue is exacerbated as women avoid reaching out to health services in fear of getting the virus.

The other obstacle COVID-19 leads to is losses in jobs, more specifically, the availability of jobs for women. According to the World Bank’s Gender Dimensions of the COVID-19 Pandemic brief, women engaged in informal work such as self-employment and domestic works are unable to receive unemployment insurance. Since COVID-19 has restricted travel, Latin American countries that depend on retail, hospitality and tourism will see half of their working population lose jobs. Additionally, the effects of COVID-19 will force women to stay at home to care for children and the elderly, thus reducing working time and possibly excluding them from the labor market.

Lastly, the COVID-19 crisis will cause setbacks to efforts to reduce teen pregnancy. The shift in resources can interfere with health services for women and girls, including reproductive and sexual health services and family planning. In similar crises, lack of critical resources led to a surge in teen pregnancy and maternal mortality. Although COVID-19 causes a lot of complications surrounding the future of gender equality, there are actions regarding the gender gap in Latin American that governments and institutions such as the World Bank and the United Nations can take to continue progressive efforts.

Thus, The World Bank has outlined the following four methods to approach gender equality.

  1. Improving Quality of Life: Latin American countries need to reduce teen pregnancy and maternal mortality, improve water and sanitation services, secure women’s access to healthcare and close educational gaps. The World Bank Group (WBG) supports removing negative gender stereotypes in curriculums and is helping train teachers to create classroom environments that encourage inclusivity. The WBG is also backing programs aimed at supporting girls to enter STEM fields.
  2. Increasing Female Employment: Latin American countries should change gender norms about career choices, provide adequate child care services, create connections for women entrepreneurs and allocate time-saving resources. In Mexico, the WBG partnered with the National Institute of the Entrepreneur to devise and evaluate the institute’s first national program to promote female entrepreneurs, Women Moving Mexico. The pilot was launched in five states and “provided close to 2,000 women with a mix of hard skills (better management and business literacy), and soft skills (behaviors for a proactive entrepreneurial mindset)”.
  3. Removing Barriers to Women’s Financial Independence: The WBG supports efforts to provide land and property titles to women and to increase access to capital and financial services. In partnership with indigenous women’s organizations in Panama, the WBG designed a pilot intervention in six indigenous communities. The pilot supports training designed for indigenous women, technical assistance for women’s producer organizations and financial inclusion through the founding of community banks and financial management training.
  4. Enhancing Women’s Voice & Agency and Engaging Men and Boys: Latin American countries can support gender equality by acknowledging a woman’s right to control her own life. For example, giving women control over income and the capacity to move freely and have a voice in society, including the ability to “influence policy and family formation, and have freedom from violence.”

Bettering COVID-19 Response

The United Nations has also developed a response to the pending COVID-19 and its effect on gender equality. The U.N. seeks to recognize the “impact of COVID-19 on women and girls and ensure a response that addresses their needs and ensures that their rights are central to strengthening prevention, response and recovery efforts.” Institutions like the World Bank and the United Nations make it possible for girls and women in Latin America to aspire for more for themselves in education and career, despite the current setbacks prompted by COVID-19. Within the next couple of years, the gender gap in Latin America could be significantly reduced by promoting women’s rights and giving them access to education and career opportunities.

Mia Mendez
Photo: Pixabay

delivery appsWhen China was at the peak of its COVID-19 outbreak, unexpected lockdowns affected well over 700 million people. Hundreds of thousands of these people grew anxious and engaged in panic buying, leaving essential stores depleted. Many people suffered from a lack of necessary supplies as a result. However, within days, supplies from all around the world began flowing into China. In order to comply with lockdown measures, many people turned to digital delivery apps to continue receiving their basic necessities.

Efficient Delivery

Despite its new uses during the pandemic, delivery technology is not a new concept in China. In fact, China has one of the most efficient delivery systems in the world. While other globally renowned companies, such as the U.S.-based e-commerce platform Amazon, pride themselves on rapid, two-day delivery, China’s home delivery apps can be at your door within minutes.

These digital delivery platforms, better known as wai mai xiao ge (which directly translates to “takeaway lad”), have flourished throughout the country. Whether users need to order takeout, groceries or even a portable phone charger, these delivery apps can do it within minutes. Though these platforms were originally seen as a convenient method to receive goods, they soon turned into a vital lifeline after China enacted stay-at-home measures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Creating Jobs

Besides aiding those at home in need of essential goods, wai mai platforms have also greatly benefitted the deliverers themselves. Meituan Waimai, one of the most prominent on-demand delivery companies in China, created over 336,000 jobs for wai mai drivers as the coronavirus surged. These new jobs were vital opportunities for those who lost their primary source of income during the crisis.

Zhang Shuai, a 24-year-old delivery driver from Zhengzhou in Henan province, works in Shanghai, one of the largest and wealthiest cities in China. Shuai signed up to work with Meituan Waimai when COVID-19 cases began to grow because it was too difficult to find any other job. However, his delivery job with Meituan Waimai now provides him with $1,400 per month, a wage that is higher than the average urban salary in Shanghai.

Many workers from remote, rural villages also use these jobs with delivery apps as an opportunity to move to more urbanized cities and establish a less regimented life for themselves. While living in the village, many people from rural China worked in factories that often required a specialized skill set and a peer who could provide a recommendation for them. However, the same workers can get hired as a deliverer in a metropolitan city soon after verifying their identity and credentials. Once hired, they can receive better pay than what factory work would provide.

The Future of Meituan Waimai

As the pandemic continues, home delivery systems also continue to grow with it. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Meituan Waimai was a $46 billion business. However, within the last few months, it has reached a record high at $100 billion amid the virus and is projected to continue growing from there, providing more job opportunities as it does so.

– Heather Law
Photo: Pexels

Morocco is a water-scarce country. It is greatly impacted by the effects of rapid desertification, poor water management and high susceptibility to droughts. Water resources in the country have fallen by about 71% since 1980. In rural communities it is common for families to rely on one water source, meaning water scarcity can have profoundly negative impacts on Morrocan families and their livelihoods. Drought, in particular, occurs on average once every three years and can have devastating effects on the livelihoods of Moroccans. About 51.5% of the Moroccan population is negatively impacted by droughts. With drought on the rise, sustainable water management is integral to the development of the economy. As a result, an organization called Dar Si Hmad is stepping in to use CloudFishing to combat poverty and water scarcity in Morocco.

Water Scarcity and Poverty

The citizen’s organization ‘Social Watch’ identifies the poor management of scarce water resources as a serious aggravator of rural poverty in Morocco. Farmers and women in Morocco are particularly burdened by the effects of water scarcity. Forty percent of working Moroccans are employed in the agricultural sector and 70% of farmers struggle due to the impact of frequent droughts. Women in rural communities in Morocco spend on average 3.5 hours a day seeking and carrying water, restricting their time in pursuit of other activities.

CloudFishing to Solve the Water Crisis

Dar Si Hmad, a female-led non-governmental organization (NGO), is taking an innovative approach to solving the crisis of water scarcity and alleviating poverty in Morocco. The NGO’s vision is to “enable sustainable livelihoods and create opportunities for low-resource communities to learn and prosper.” It is pursuing this vision, in part, by using ‘CloudFishing’ to combat poverty in Morocco. CloudFishing is an approach to solve the water crisis by utilizing the abundant resource of fog. In Morocco, fog gathers from the ocean and is captured in the mountainous landscape for about 140 days out of the year. Dar Si Hmad uses fine mesh to ‘fish’ for droplets of water within the fog which, once it accumulates, drops into a basin and is then filtered through a process of solar-powered UV, sand and cartridge filters.

The water collected by Dar Si Hmad is piped to 140 households providing approximately 500 people in southwest Morocco with access to sustainable clean water. Dar Si Hmad has developed into the largest functioning fog collection project in the world and is directly contributing to poverty alleviation in the country. The project is partly funded by USAID in Rabat, Morocco. Sustained foreign aid from the U.S. is integral to the organization’s continued success. CloudFishing has a positive impact on women in the community who now have more time to devote to pursuing economic activities to help them rise out of poverty. Sustainable access to water also allows poor farmers to have more stable livelihoods and escape the cycle of poverty in Morocco.

Looking Forward

While clean water is a human right recognized by a number of international organizations and countries, in water-scarce Morocco it has become a luxury. Dar Si Hmad is continuing its work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and is preparing to build two new CloudFishers to provide water to 12 additional rural villages in Morocco. Dar Si Hmad plays an integral role in providing solutions like CloudFishing to combat poverty and water scarcity in Morocco.

– Leah Bordlee
Photo: Flickr

illicit trade in kenyaKenya’s 48.5 million people have chronically suffered poverty because of rampant unemployment, crime and drought. Among other factors, illicit trade in Kenya has contributed to these stressors in a damaging way. Here are five things to know about the illicit trade in Kenya.

5 Things to Know About Illicit Trade in Kenya

  1. Illicit trade in Kenya robs its economy of $900 million every year. Kenya’s largest economic sectors like food and construction frequently fall victim to piracy. Criminals steal from these industries and sell their products illegally on the black market; this causes Kenyan companies and the government to lose money they could have made conducting legal business. Firms in Kenya reportedly lose 37.69% to 42.14% of their profits to illegal trade.
  2. Illicit trade contributes to unemployment as well. Unlawful practices like piracy and the production of counterfeit products caused the loss of 7,484 jobs between 2016 and 2018. The rise of COVID-19 has already threatened the livelihood of Kenya’s 15 million informally employed laborers as people grow less comfortable doing businesses with individuals; illicit trade has only harmed Kenya’s job market further. Kenya’s unemployment has remained fairly stable over the last couple of decades, ranging from 2.6% to 2.9%. However, data has yet to be collected on unemployment in 2020 and across the globe. Unemployment rates have shot well beyond established averages as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  3. Inattention to the issue may be its biggest propagator. Only 30% of the companies experiencing theft by illicit trade are even aware of the crimes against them. Due to the disproportionately high number of foreign banks and poor economic regulation in Kenya, discovering illegal trade proves difficult. The Financial Sector Deepening (FSD) Kenya conducted a study from 2015-2016 to look into complaints about Kenyan banks issuing unwarranted charges. The FSD discovered that many banks charged its customers odd quantities in an opaque manner and the surveyors had great difficulty obtaining any further information on the subject due to the industry’s opacity.
  4. Illegal trade is a global issue and Kenya has joined in the fight against it. The international trade of products like cocaine and tobacco has sparked movements across the globe. In 2020, Kenya joined The Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, a treaty signed by 59 countries to universally end the illegal trade of tobacco. The Protocol will lower tobacco smuggling by an estimated 60% and Kenya has already seen success in combating the illicit tobacco market. “The Kenyan Revenue Authority estimates that the illicit cigarette trade market share declined from 15% in 2003 to 5% in 2016, a direct result of the implemented measures [taken],” reports Michal Stoklosa of the Tobacco Atlas.
  5. Kenya’s government has decided to tackle this problem head-on. Kenya’s Anti-Counterfeit Authority, established in 2008 as part of the Anti-Counterfeit Act, has declared its mission to end illicit trade in Kenya. The organization has created jobs, spread awareness of counterfeit activity and its harmful effects, and marked World Anti-Counterfeit Day this year by holding a ceremony and destroying $270,000 of counterfeit goods.

Kenya’s situation may appear difficult, particularly with the added stress of COVID-19, but its government and hardworking people have taken important steps to end illicit trade and its detrimental effects on the Kenyan economy.

– Will Sikich
Photo: Needpix

Mass Incarcerations in ColombiaThere is currently a problem of mass incarceration in Colombia. This South American country has a population of nearly 50 million people as of 2018. Currently, Colombian prisons have a capacity of 80,928 people. However, as of May 2020 the incarcerated population reached 112,864, or 139.5% of capacity. The Colombian prison system is known to be very overcrowded. Overcrowded prisons infer and amplify broader social issues. These prison environments amplify the spread of infectious diseases like HIV, tuberculosis and, most recently, COVID-19.

Effects of Mass Incarceration in Colombia on Health

  1. Capacity Rates: There are 132 prisons in Colombia with a total maximum capacity of just over 80,000 people. Despite this capacity, Colombian prisons have reached 139.5% of occupancy, or just over 112,000 people. Women make up about 6.9% of this number—about 7,700 women. Currently, there are no incarcerated in Colombia. Congress has actively fought against the release of prisoners, instead choosing to keep the prisons full.
  2. Effects of COVID-19: Prison riots are becoming increasingly common in Latin America with the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Mass incarceration in Colombia has created panic amongst prisoners, who have demanded more attention to their conditions. The Colombian Minister of Justice, Margarita Cabello, has not outwardly acknowledged the prison riots as demands for better care against COVID-19. Rather, Minister Cabello stated that the riots were an attempt to thwart security and escape from prison. Furthermore, due to the scarcity of doctors, prisoners continue to contract and/or die from complications of COVID-19.
  3. Infectious Diseases: Besides COVID-19, mass incarceration in Colombia has allowed the spread of diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis. Many Colombian prisons have a designated cell block for those who contract HIV, as it is common for prisoners to engage in sexual relationships with guards. Healthcare facilities are not readily available in prisons and condoms are in scarce supply. Active cases of tuberculosis also correlate with mass incarceration in Colombia. Approximately 1,000 per 100,000 prisoners have been diagnosed with tuberculosis. Unfortunately, mass incarceration has further limited prisoners’ access to affordable care.

Striving for Improved Conditions

Local citizens Mario Salazar and Tatiana Arango created the Salazar Arango Foundation for Colombian prisoners. After being imprisoned on fraud charges in 2012, Mario Salazar’s experience drove him to find ways to make prison sentences more tolerable. Salazar and Arango Foundation provides workshops for prisoners in the city of La Picota and puts on plays for fellow inmates. Prisoners have found the organization to be impactful to their self-esteem and their push for lower sentences.

Mass incarceration in the Colombian prison system is both a result and driver of poverty. Issues of food shortages and violence have created poverty-stricken conditions within prisons. Despite these conditions, organizations such as the Salazar Arango Foundation seek to improve the lives of prisoners. Hopefully, with time, external forces will help to reduce the rate of incarceration in Colombia. In essence, efforts to due so would have considerable impact on the lives of prisoners and their families.

– Alondra Belford
Photo: Flickr