Afghanistan Teenage Girls Innovate Low Cost VentilatorThe Afghan Dreamers is a group known for its impressive list of feats. The group consists of young women between the ages of 15-17. It was the first-ever all-girls robotics team from Afghanistan. The team overcame many challenges in order to compete in the FIRST Global Robotics Competition in the U.S. in 2017. Now, the girls on the Afghan Dreamers team are adding a new achievement to their list; the group has engineered a low-cost ventilator out of car parts.

Covid-19, Ventilators, and Afghanistan

One of the major challenges facing countries around the world during the Covid-19 pandemic is a lack of essential supplies, specifically ventilators. The virus oftentimes infects people’s lungs and makes it difficult to breathe. Ventilators work as life-saving equipment and help people breathe when they can no longer do it on their own. However, they are extremely expensive pieces of machinery. It usually costs around $30,000 per ventilator. As a result, this makes them highly inaccessible, especially when there is an influx in demand.

Afghanistan has 15,750 confirmed cases of Covid-19, though experts believe this number to be an underestimate due to a lack of available tests. Herat, home of the Afghan Dreamers, has 2,689 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and is the second most affected city in the country. As of April 2020, the entire country of Afghanistan had only approximately 300 ventilators.


Armed with this information and a passion to help the world, the Afghan Dreamers set out to make a low-cost ventilator. They engineered their machine using a design from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T) and parts from old Toyota Corollas. Producing their ventilator cost around $500, a steep decline compared to the machinery’s aforementioned $30,000 price tag.

Though the girls may make innovation look easy, creating their ventilator was no simple task. First, they had to find a design to follow. After much searching, they came across the design from M.I.T., which was open source and purposefully low cost. Once they were able to get to work, they had to ensure they were staying safe. They all worked on a different part of the ventilator. When they had to meet up, they made sure to take precautions, such as wearing gloves and masks, to protect themselves from potential health risks. They did all of this while fasting for Ramadan.

What’s next?

The next step for the Afghan Dreamers is getting the Health Ministries in Herat and Kabul to approve their prototype ventilator. If the Health Ministries approve the design, then factories can begin replicating the girls’ machine. This would speed up production and allow the country to create many more of the life-saving devices. Though getting their ventilator approved may seem like a challenge, the young women are no strangers to hard work.

The Afghan Dreamers is a remarkable group that strives to change the world. The young women on the team are innovative, strong-willed and dedicated to creating solutions to difficult problems. By engineering a low-cost ventilator, they have provided an opportunity not only for improving healthcare but also hope and inspiration to people—especially women and girls.

Paige Musgrave

Photo: Flickr

Jobs in PakistanDue to the coronavirus pandemic, many people around the world lost have their jobs and are now facing financial hardship. The economic impact is projected to increase global poverty. This will be the first time since 1998 that the world sees an increase. Luckily, countries have been creating new job markets to aid the unemployed and fight poverty levels. A new market of jobs in Pakistan has been created for those laid off because of the coronavirus: tree planting.

“10 Billion Trees Tsunami”

In 2018, Pakistan started a campaign called the “10 Billion Trees Tsunami” program. The project goal: to plant more trees and fight against deforestation. Additionally, this program will help the environment. Jobs in Pakistan have already been affected by the pandemic, and it is projected that as many as 19 million people will be laid off due to COVID-19. To combat this, Pakistan started employing those who lost their jobs because of the virus to plant trees as a part of their “10 Billion Trees Tsunami” program. Though this program was not specifically created for those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, it is greatly helping those who did. These new laborers have been dubbed “jungle workers.” This program aims at creating more than 60,000 jobs as a way to help citizens and the economy and fight against climate change. In order to help as many citizens as possible during this devastating time, the program has tripled the number of workers hired.

These jungle workers are mostly seen in rural areas. Hiring is aimed primarily at women, unemployed daily workers and those who are from cities in lockdown. A large portion of the workforce is also made up of young people. As tree planting does not require much past experience, many unskilled workers are still able to be employed during this harsh economic period. There are still strict precautions in place for those working, such as having to wear a mask and continuing to keep a social distance of 6 feet while working.

Relief for the Unemployed

The program’s creation of new jobs in Pakistan allows its citizens to continue making enough money in order to provide for their families. A construction worker named Abdul Rahman lost his job when the coronavirus struck and began to face financial instability. Once employed as a jungle worker for the “10 Billion Trees Tsunami,” he was able to start providing for his family again. In an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Rahman said “Due to coronavirus, all the cities have shut down and there is no work. Most of us daily wagers couldn’t earn a living.” Rahman is now earning around ₹500 a day, which translates to about $3. Though this payment is about half of what he would have made on a good day as a construction worker, he says it is enough “to feed our families.”

Pakistan’s Positive Example

Through this program and its employment of more citizens, Pakistan is taking a step towards rebuilding its economy and aiding poor citizens. The project aims at having planted 50 million trees by the end of this year and, with the addition of more workers, this goal is achievable. The presence of such jobs in Pakistan is an example of hope during this time and, as the economy improves, Pakistani citizens can earn living wages and the environment reaps the benefits.

Erin Henderson
Photo: Flickr

Combating Intensified Hunger in ZimbabweSince the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, Zimbabwe has faced crippling issues of hunger, starvation and high malnutrition rates. The World Food Programme (WFP) recorded in December 2019 that 7.7 million people living within Zimbabwe were food insecure. Moreover, Global Citizen reported that approximately 90% of children between the ages of 6 months and 2-years-old may die without food aid. Here is some information about intensified hunger in Zimbabwe.

COVID-19 is Intensifying Hunger

The population of people lacking sustenance in Zimbabwe–half of its total population–has only grown since the conception of COVID-19. There has been an increase of nearly 10 million people surviving on less than one meal a day since COVID-19.

Reginald Moyo, a resident of Cowdray Park, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe told The Borgen Project that the “majority of the people don’t have permanent jobs and they [live] by hand to mouth, so [with] a month without working[,]…they are now facing starvation.” Many people are working to address this growing crisis. The people of Zimbabwe, international organizations and the Chinese government have provided aid to Zimbabweans in need.

Efforts from International Organizations

On May 4, 2020, the U.N. entities of Zimbabwe, working with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), released an official food analysis report in response to the growing hunger in Zimbabwe. The report stated that “The total funding required to assist the 3.7 million people by the international humanitarian community for July 2019 to April 2020 amounts to USD 331.5 million.” The effects of COVID-19 have intensified hunger in Zimbabwe and increased the need for assistance. The Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP) requested an additional 6.7 billion USD to combat hunger in order to protect lives.

However, aid is not only monetarily based. In 2002, the nonprofit group Action Against Hunger set a goal to provide food aid, healthcare, sanitation/hygiene needs and water to countless Zimbabweans in need. It estimated in 2018 that its efforts aided 25 Zimbabweans through nutrition and health programs; gave 52 people water, food and healthcare; and dispensed 3,187 people with food. Action Against Hunger not only gave the required resources for survival but also provided education on how local Zimbabwe efforts could improve hunger in their country.

Response from Zimbabwe’s Government

On March 30, 2020, President Mnangagwa reopened the markets to aid small-scale farmers and traders in the difficulties they faced since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. While this may seem to not directly address hunger in Zimbabwe, the decision has determined their survival in the upcoming months. Prior to this change, farmers and traders could not go outside or attend to their crop which limited their income as well as their food supply.

The Borgen Project interviewed Nkocy Thando, a farmer living in rural areas within the Bulawayo area of Zimbabwe. Thando stated that since the markets have opened up again, locals have been able to “work when they open in the morning to three [in] the afternoon.” He expressed his immense gratitude for this change and stated that he felt that “all would be okay soon.”

Aid from China

The Chinese Embassy and the private sector are also combating hunger in Zimbabwe by addressing COVID-19 needs. RFI, a worldwide French news and current affairs broadcast reported that China’s efforts have included:

  1. Completing an upgrade worth $500,000 to the Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital, which is the main COVID-19 center in Harare, Zimbabwe.
  2. Two Chinese firms providing 1,000 goggles, 50,000 masks and 510 protective suits to a charity that the First Lady, Auxillia Mnangagwa, runs.
  3. The Chinese Embassy equipping Zimbabwe with 7,600 suits for protection, 166,000 masks, 20,000 testing kits, 12,000 pairs of gloves and five ventilators.
  4. The China International Development Cooperation Agency donating $3 million to UNICEF Zimbabwe.

Diverse Responses

There are many organizations working to address the existing and intensifying issues of hunger, starvation and high malnutrition rates in Zimbabwe. However, their solutions range from governmental mandates reopening markets to increased funding for poverty-reduction organizations in the United Nations (UN). While the current responses to hunger in Zimbabwe seem mainly focused on COVID-19 efforts, they still are making a difference in combating intensified hunger in Zimbabwe.

– Alexis LeBaron
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in South Africa
Reports of COVID-19 fill the news and media daily. From increases in cases and closures to decreases in fatality rates and re-openings, the news channels are consumed by COVID-19 headlines. However, one thing not covered much in the media is how African nations are faring during these uncertain times. South Africa is currently leading the African continent in the number of COVID-19 cases, and there is seemingly no end in sight. Here is a look at the specific impact of COVID-19 in South Africa.


COVID-19 in South Africa follows a similar origin path as the rest of the world, where the virus went undetected or misdiagnosed for weeks, maybe months, before its first confirmed positive case appeared. South Africa, like most nations, went into lockdown in late March. The South African government, as of April 27, 2020, planned to gradually loosen restrictions beginning on May 1, 2020.

The level of strictness for lockdowns varies from country to country. South Africa is one of the nations implementing strict restrictions for its lockdown. The country has been on Level 5 restrictions. Level 5 restrictions prohibit citizens from performing the majority of activities, including leisurely ones such as exercise or going to the convenience store. Furthermore, the police may confront anyone who leaves their dwellings.


The reported numbers in South Africa are much lower than those reported around the world. This may be the result of strict lockdown enforcement as opposed to some nations with looser lockdown restrictions. As of April 28, 2020, the African country reported 4,996 confirmed coronavirus cases and 93 deaths. South Africa is also experiencing a recovery rate of approximately 25 percent, which is a significant factor in the government’s decision to begin loosening restriction laws.

Despite large numbers of recovering patients, COVID-19 in South Africa has not gone away. The number of cases continues to rise, much like the rest of the world. On March 5, 2020, South Africa diagnosed its first patient with COVID-19. On April 15, 2020, the nation had a total of 2,605 confirmed cases, with 4,996 by the end of April. Although the virus is not going away anytime soon, South Africans are certainly doing their part to reduce the spread of the virus.

Social Distancing

Social distancing is the practice of remaining apart from others to decrease the spread of the virus. South Africa has been on lockdown and enforcing social distancing since late March, about a month after the nation diagnosed its first COVID-19 patient. On May 1, the government loosened the restrictions to Level 4. Level 4 restrictions consist of the ability to travel nationally, but not internationally. A few small local businesses also opened.

Moving Forward

In South Africa and around the world, people are social distancing and quarantining. For COVID-19 to be successfully tackled in South Africa, the nation must continue to prioritize the health of its citizens and financially support those who are struggling with unemployment and poverty. This will hopefully result in a significant drop in the number of cases in the country. Moving forward, South Africa and other nations around the world should use the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic to prepare for future pandemics and epidemics.

– Cleveland Lewis 
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in MalaysiaThe organization of Malaysia’s healthcare system is a two-tier system that is comprised of public universal access for all the country’s citizens and private access for others. The government works closely with the healthcare industry to improve and promote the system of healthcare in Malaysia. As a result, the nation takes pride in being a medical tourism hub and holding the status of the “world’s healthcare marvel.”

Past Healthcare Accomplishments

In October 2018, Malaysia became the first country in the Western Pacific region of the globe to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of the diseases HIV and syphilis. Prior to this accomplishment, about 1,000 Malaysians were born with HIV/AIDS in 2007. According to the World Health Organization, Malaysia began the effort to combat HIV/AIDS transmission in 1998 with antenatal screenings.

Ms. Sherene Azli, Chief Executive Officer, Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council, shared with The Borgen Project that healthcare in Malaysia has three selling points: it is high quality, cheap and the doctors speak English. Not only are most medical staff fluent in English, but some hospitals have translators for over 22 languages. International Living recognized Malaysia as the “best nation in the world for healthcare” from 2015 to 2019 and ranked the nation as the seventh-best place to retire in 2020. Healthcare in Malaysia is highly affordable, said Azli, and therefore, it is very competitive compared to the Western world. Healthcare costs can be anywhere from 40 to 70 percent cheaper compared to the U.S. or U.K.

Further, healthcare in Malaysia adheres to Muslim standards, and therefore it can accommodate any citizen or medical tourist with strict religious restrictions. Azli told The Borgen Project that “Malaysia is a Global Halal Hub, which is good news for Muslim healthcare travelers. Malaysian society is Muslim-friendly. All Malaysian hospitals serve halal food and provide prayer facilities. Porcine-free medical products, such as sutures and vaccines, are also available at medical facilities. Many Malaysian medical professionals and personnel are Muslims too.”

Malaysia is one of two Muslim nations in Southeast Asia; Indonesia is the other Muslim nation in Southeast Asia. Due to the superior accommodations to Muslim populations, Indonesians make up 60 percent of total healthcare arrivals, according to the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC).

Medical Tourism as a Thriving Industry

The MHTC is an initiative under the Malaysian Ministry of Finance that works to grow the healthcare travel industry by building Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) that combine state-run industries with private companies. From a conversation with the MHTC, the organization spoke about a planned campaign for healthcare travel throughout the year 2020. Unfortunately, in March 2020, MHTC announced the program’s deferment to the following year.

“We serve as a driver and catalyst towards positioning the country as the leading global destination for healthcare,” said Sherene Azli. “Malaysia is one of the few countries in the world where healthcare travel is a government-supported industry while being driven by the private sector.” 

Many people from surrounding countries come to Malaysia for healthcare needs. Most of the doctors have Western training and speak English, making healthcare in Malaysia perfect for tourists and expatriates. The Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council reported an increase in 2011 from 643,000 medical tourists to over 1 million in 2018. Some in-demand fields are cardiology, oncology and in-vitro fertilization (IVF).

“In 2018, Malaysia Healthcare attained RM1.5 billion [Malaysian ringgit] in hospital receipts which resulted in an economic impact of RM6.4 billion as stated in the Malaysia Healthcare Chronicles,” Azli said.

Healthcare in Malaysia in Response to COVID-19

Much like the shelter-in-place orders in the U.S., Malaysia imposed a Movement Control Order (MCO) after the outbreak of COVID-19. This movement restriction encourages Malaysians to practice social distancing. The nation was the first in the region to impose such restrictions. As a result of these orders, the MHTC reported a 45 percent recovery rate.

The government has scrambled to help its citizens. For example, shelters have been providing protection for the nation’s homeless from the virus. The Malaysian government is also collaborating with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to protect people in Malaysia with refugee status. In addition to these actions, Malaysia passed RM260 billion as a stimulus package for the nation’s people.

The largest glove manufacturer in the world, Top Glove Corporation, resides in Malaysia. It manufactures one in five gloves around the world. Malaysian manufacturers are working to help flatten the curve of COVID-19 by converting facilities and providing more PPE. Top Glove Corporation plans to produce face masks in two months at a facility that retrofitted itself for the new product. Another company, Karex, will convert two lubricant lines into hand sanitizer manufacturing.

Although the MHTC acknowledges the hardships the pandemic has caused and will continue to cause the industry, it should continue to prepare for an economic rebound. “Over the next five years, Malaysia healthcare will focus on three key initiatives namely, the Fertility and Cardiology Hubs, being the Centre of Excellence for Oncology, as well as the Flagship Medical Tourism Hospital Programme,” Azli said.

Going forward, it remains a priority to position healthcare in Malaysia first so that it can prevail as a global medical leader.

– Annie Kate Raglow
Photo: Flickr