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Healthcare in Barbados

Healthcare aids in the prevention, treatment and diagnosis of an illness. Healthcare has greatly improved through research and newly discovered science and medicine. Although, the outbreak of COVID-19 has hurt many populations around the world. As a result, healthcare was forced to adapt radically and rapidly. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost every country experienced a disruption to its health services. Low and middle-income countries reported the greatest difficulties. However, Barbados’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has proven to be more successful than other nations.

Barbados

Healthcare in Barbados is of high standard and easily accessible to everyone. The Queen Elizabeth hospital has about 600 beds and offers care in areas such as radiology and obstetrics. Furthermore, there are eight government Polyclinics that provide free medical treatment for minor ailments, five Geriatric hospitals for elderly care and a network of Child Care facilities. With a population of about 287,375 people, the country has seen around 365 COVID-19 cases and seven deaths.

Combatting the Virus

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) planned to strengthen laboratory capacity for early detection of COVID-19. Barbados ‘Bet-dos Santos Public Health Laboratory’ became one of the first in the Caribbean to acquire test kits and reagents for COVID-19 detection. Additionally, Barbados received concurrent training of laboratory personnel in the new testing protocol.

According to Barbados Today, COVID-19 patients were receiving an experimental drug called Remdesivir and were recovering quickly in April. The doctor leading the trial said, “the patients taking part in a clinical trial of the drug have all had severe respiratory symptoms and fever but were able to leave the hospital after less than a week of treatment.”

Barbados’s government established a COVID Rapid Response Unit and a COVID Engagement Unit to monitor quarantine sites and crack down on violation of COVID-19 protocols. A Cuban medical team in Barbados won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for its outstanding work in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in December. David Comissiong, the Ambassador of Barbados to CARICOM (Caribbean Community) nominated the nation. Additionally, medical teams have gone to up to 38 countries and 12 Caribbean countries.

Adjusting for Visitors

Barbados is a popular tourist hotspot and it still wishes to accommodate visitors. The government created the Welcome Stamp, a new visa for remote workers. This visa allows visitors to stay for up to 12 months and work remotely. According to the Insider, Barbados’s new incentive allows people to relocate to a popular destination and still continue to work from home. Barbados had 1,693 Welcome Stamp applications by the end of October. Travel guidelines have been implemented to prevent the spread of the virus. Thus, airports require health screening procedures and quarantine procedures.

Barbados is a thriving country that successfully utilizes its accessibility to healthcare. Healthcare in Barbados is vital. The country is not selfish or prejudice with its medical management. Furthermore, it lives by an egalitarian system regarding health protection. Barbados has used its resources to aid other countries and provide solutions and trials to carriers of the virus. The country and its medical teams will continue to take the proper precautions to protect its inhabitants and those in other countries.

– Thomas Williams

Photo: Flickr

Education in India
Schools in India shut down in March 2020 due to COVID-19. While a lot of schools transitioned into online curriculums, many were unable to make this infrastructural shift. More than half of India’s population lives in rural areas. Furthermore, only 15% of rural households have access to the internet. The pandemic has put a spotlight on the digital divide within the country. NGOs, foundations and other social enterprises have become key to improving education in India.

Sampark

Sampark Foundation has reached more than 10 million children in six states throughout India. It focuses on education equality, providing low-cost educational services in order to broaden its reach. Sampark Smart Shala uses innovations such as board games, mobile applications and rechargeable audio devices to keep students engaged in lessons. These innovations specifically cater to students in rural areas.

Sampark’s COVID-19 response utilizes the national television channel Doordarshan and language-friendly apps to share quizzes and improve education in India. Furthermore, this organization posts ideas on a crowdsourced platform called Baithak for teachers to use. Teachers are also encouraged to keep in touch with their pupils.

Recently, Sampark has launched a program called Har Ghar Science STEM for Girls. This program’s goal is to establish science labs in rural schools and adopt an ascending approach to educating girls. As a result, education in India continues to evolve positively within rural communities.

Pratham

Pratham is an NGO based in Mumbai. Its goal is to bridge the gap in the Indian education system by implementing high-quality, low-cost and replicable interventions. This organization’s programs have improved education in India tremendously. Additionally, Pratham aids the government in encouraging children to regularly attend school. The organization relies on parents, local communities, volunteers and state governments to create personalized models of learning.

Currently, Pratham is working to engage underprivileged children and improve education in India through new programs. Karona Thodi Masti Thodi Padhai (Do it: A Little Fun, A Little Study) is a new program developed to aid students during the COVID-19 pandemic. This program uses popular messaging services, radio and WhatsApp to check in with students virtually. This new aspect of learning prioritizes “fun” and “study” to motivate students during this stressful time.

Eklavya

Eklavya is an NGO that works in education resource centers in Madhya Pradesh. This organization focuses on helping impoverished children become self-sufficient learners. Eklavya has published several books on education, children’s literature and other resource material, believing that education should be based on curiosity and experiences to motivate students. This NGO aims to enhance education in India by focusing on rural areas. Eklavya trains eligible parents, siblings and local youth to teach at well-ventilated spaces within local, socially distanced locations. Additionally, it has established a mobile-library system that rotates between localities.

Vidya

Vidya is an NGO that has served 3.7 million people in major cities such as Delhi, Gurgaon, Bangalore, Pune and Mumbai. This organization aims to provide education on life-skills, vocations and mental and physical wellbeing. Vidya’s goal is to improve education equality throughout India.

In response to the pandemic, Vidya developed strategies to combat the effects of COVID-19 on education in India. The NGO divided its solutions into technology and organization-based approaches. Solutions include reorganized exam schedules, adjusted syllabi and increased planning for a teaching aid for the next academic year.

The technological divide has made it difficult for students living in impoverished areas to access education in India. However, Vidya has received donations for phones, laptops and other devices to improve access to education. It arranges for students to pick up these devices at their convenience.

Thinkzone

Thinkzone is a social enterprise that aims to improve educational outcomes for children living in vulnerable communities. It uses “tech plus touch” models to combat inequality in education. Similar to other organizations, Thinkzone uses community-based approaches. This organization’s COVID-19 response is rooted in home-based learning that relies on phone calls and SMS to interact with parents who have started teaching their children. Fortunately, automated calls and interactive voice response technologies are accessible in many different languages. These automated calls provide pre-recorded course material to improve education in India.

This organization also strives to train community educators and assess the needs of students for further improvement. Furthermore, Thinkzone has partnered with various organizations and the government to improve education in India. Its home-based initiative has successfully reached more than 10,000 children in India.

These organizations have taken significant steps to improve education in India and aid the government in creating a more sustainable way of learning. With improved access to technology, education equality will continue to improve long after the pandemic has ended.

Anuja Mukherjee 
Photo: Flickr

Myanmar’s EconomySmall businesses are the “backbone” of Myanmar’s economy. Not only do they create jobs, but they provide higher levels of fulfillment, support and cultivate communities and neighborhoods. Overall, small businesses improve Myanmar’s standard of living. The World Bank reports that Myanmar’s economic growth baseline will drop to 0.5 from 6.8 due to COVID-19. The pandemic could reverse Myanmar’s significant progress in poverty eradication. Even so, there are businesses that are still operating and contributing to Myanmar’s economy’s recovery.

Meet U Min Htin

U Min Htin is an education service provider in Myanmar. Before the pandemic, the education market flourished. Now demand is slowing as citizens focus on surviving the pandemic rather than honing professional skills. Like most institutions worldwide, U Min had to transition services online. Although the business is not doing as well, as usual, he counts his blessings. The service is still available, and he has not gone bankrupt. The need for education services will rise again. As Myanmar’s economy recovers, the demand for educated professionals will naturally increase.

Meet Javier Phua and Melissa Koh

They are the owners of Easy Speciality Coffee. Their business suffered considerably at the start of the pandemic. Most of their customers are from outside Myanmar, and border restrictions forced them to return and remain home. However, Easy Specialty Coffee is recovering strong. Incredible menu changes as well as food delivery services have helped their business stay alive. They have begun providing relief to those struggling from COVID-19 through their new Coffee for Food initiative. All proceeds from selling coffee beans go to this initiative. They also offer free coffee to frontline medical workers.

Meet Daw Moe Moe Kyaw

She is a sugar trader in Myanmar. The pandemic has significantly slowed operation and increased costs. New restrictions prohibiting Myanmar truck drivers from entering China now forces her to switch drivers at the border. Now it takes double the time and capital to move her products. Also, communication with her Chinese partners is continuously interfered with as China hardens regulations on chat services. Also, foreign bank transactions take five times as long to get approved, affecting cash flow. Despite these drawbacks, Daw’s sales are still increasing. Sugar is one of those commodities that will likely maintain its high demand.

Meet Myint

Myint makes and sells multipurpose cloth bags in nearby villages and markets. The local government restrictions on social gatherings are slowing sales. However, she has been able to stay afloat thanks to a grant she received from the United Nations Women’s Rahkine Program. Rather than close her business, Myint is transitioning her business online. She is also seeking other ways that will allow her to sell in compliance with COVID-19 guidelines.

A New Economic Pillar

E-commerce is a potential saving grace for Myanmar’s economy. Myanmar has seen a significant increase in online sales since COVID-19. The government’s new economic relief plan now prioritizes the protection and support of e-commerce. Online businesses are now considered a pillar of Myanmar’s economy. Although e-commerce looks hopeful, supply chain disruptions, expense increases and demand declines are still real problems that will not go away.

In Conclusion

The Myanmar Times reports that almost a third of businesses have closed temporarily due to COVID-19. Naturally, small businesses are limited in cash flow and have slim profit margins. The effects of this pandemic stress the strain even more. However, these businesses and many others provide hope for a fully recovered Myanmar economy. With their ability to adopt new business models, change operating procedures and provide relief to their neighbors, all businesses worldwide should take notes.

LaCherish Thompson
Photo: Unsplash

COVID-19Japan has handled the COVID-19 pandemic much better compared to other nations. For example, the death rate for COVID-19 in Japan is one death per 100,000 people. This number is much lower than other countries, with the United States death rate at 59 deaths per 100,000 people and the United Kingdom rate at 62 deaths per 100,000. Japan also has a lower rate of infection than other nations. Japan had less than 101 per 1,000,000 new cases of  COVID-19 reported while the US has between 501-1000 per 1,000,000. What is Japan doing differently to make the mortality infection rates so much lower than other high-income nations?

Culture of the Japanese

One reason Japan has so few coronavirus cases is built into the culture of the Japanese. Japanese people have worn face masks since the flu pandemic in 1919. Masks are also common to wear in Japan when it is cold and flu season. So, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, wearing masks as a protective measure was widely accepted and used by the Japanese population. Also, the Japanese culture is more socially distant. For instance, Japanese do not hug or shake hands when making acquaintances like Americans do. Social distancing and mask-wearing came naturally to the people of Japan, so the infection rate is very low for them.

Japan’s Healthcare System

Japan has a highly regionalized healthcare system that has helped them minimize the impact of COVID-19. Japanese healthcare institutions, called Public Health Centers (PHCs), are similar to the Center for Disease Control but at a much more local level. However, when COVID-19 hit its peak in Japan, the PHCs struggled to keep up with the surge of patients. So, the PHCs reacted quickly and would send patients to available PHCs and resources to the PHCs that had shortages. Japan’s quick actions and regionalized healthcare system allowed the COVID-19 death rates to stay low and spread to be minimum.

Negatives Impacts of the Virus in Japan

Though Japan has a relatively small infection and the death rate for COVID-19, the Japanese people’s lives have been greatly affected. Japan’s suicide rate has risen considerably since the pandemic hit. There have been 13,000 suicide deaths in Japan this year; a number much higher than the 2,000 COVID-19 deaths. The suicide rates for August were 15.4% higher than those of last year. Economic hardship, unemployment and isolation from society as a result of COVID-19

Japanese women have been disproportionately affected by the secondary effects of COVID-19. The suicide rate for women specifically has risen 40%. Also, 66% of people in Japan who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic were women. In response, Japan has increased its funding towards suicide prevention resources by 3.7 billion yen ($35,520,000).

The Future of Japan Amid COVID

Looking into the future, vaccine security looks very good for all Japanese citizens regardless of economic status. The Japanese government recently approved a bill to provide all of the citizens of Japan with COVID-19 vaccines free of charge. Providing a free vaccine will ensure everyone will have the opportunity to receive one. Since the vaccine cost is covered, the vast population of Japan can be protected from COVID-19 in the future.

Not only is Japan thriving in the fight against COVID-19, the country is also providing aid to help other nations overcome this disease. Recently, Japan recently donated $2.7 million to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to help Latin American countries with the fight against the coronavirus. Specifically, this aid will provide Pan-American nations with slowing the spread by implementing preventative measures and providing information for citizens about the disease.

Overall, Japan has handled the pandemic really well. Their unique approach to regionalized healthcare along with their willingness to wear masks have greatly decreased the COVID-19 damage in Japan. Other countries should use the Japanese response to COVID-19 as an example. Japan’s quick and regionalized response to COVID-19 attributed to the small death and infection rate. Countries should also consider providing their citizens with vaccines to ensure everyone is protected from COVID-19. The wealthy nations should take into account the countries that cannot afford to provide vaccines for their citizens. To ensure our world overcomes this pandemic, resources like vaccines, masks and ventilators will need to be allocated to lower-income nations.

– Hannah Drzewiecki
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in ColombiaColombia’s healthcare system is not perfect but it also far from inadequate. Located in the northernmost part of South America, Colombia has estimable healthcare provision for the country’s people. With both public and private insurance plans, reputable facilities and well-equipped healthcare providers, Colombia sets an example of what sufficient healthcare looks like in a developing country. To understand this better, it is necessary to know some key facts about healthcare in Colombia.

7 Facts About Healthcare in Colombia

  1. Healthcare in Colombia ranked 22nd out of 191 healthcare systems in overall efficiency, according to the World Health Organization. For perspective, the United States, Australia, Canada and Germany ranked 37th, 32nd, 30th and 25th respectively.
  2. Colombia’s healthcare system covers more than 95% of its population.
  3. Indigenous people are considered a high-risk population due to insufficient access to healthcare in indigenous communities in Colombia. Specifically, they are more vulnerable to COVID-19 due to this lack of healthcare access and significant tourist activities in indigenous regions increase the risk of spread. Robinson López, Colombian leader and coordinator for Coordinadora de las Organizaciones Indígenas de la Cuenca Amazónica (COICA), said in March 2020 that tourism in indigenous territories in Latin America should stop immediately to curb the spread of COVID-19.
  4. There are inequities in the utilization of reproductive healthcare by ethnic women in Colombia, according to a study. Self-identified indigenous women and African-descendant women in the study had considerably less likelihood of having an adequate amount of prenatal and postpartum care.
  5. The Juanfe Foundation is a Colombian-based organization that promotes the physical, emotional and mental health of vulnerable and impoverished adolescent mothers and their children. So far, the organization has supported more than 250,000 people. The Juan Felipe Medical Center served 204,063 individuals — 20% of the population in Cartagena, Colombia. The organization also saved the lives of 4,449 infants through its Crib Sponsoring Program.
  6. In 2019, four of the top 10 hospitals in Latin America were in Colombia and 23 of the top 55, according to América Economía.
  7. Colombia secured nine million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson in December 2020. Combined with the doses it will receive from Pfizer, AstraZeneca Plc, COVAX and other finalizing deals, Colombia will be able to vaccinate 35 million people within its population of 49.65 million, striding toward herd immunity.

Recognizing Colombia’s Healthcare System

Simultaneously recognizing the current inequities and challenges alongside the positives in Colombia’s healthcare system is the true key to understanding it and the individuals depending on it overall. Despite attention-worthy deficits, healthcare in Colombia stands out in Latin America and in the world as high quality, widespread and respectable. The country’s healthcare is contributing to the well-being of many and the future ahead looks promising.

Claire Kirchner
Photo: Flickr

investing in BrazilThere are numerous reasons to invest in foreign aid in general. That can include partaking in growing the global economy, promoting international human rights and opening donor countries to potential investment returns. What makes Brazil a particularly good market to invest in is its promising role in the global economy. There are several reasons why investing in Brazil is beneficial.

COVID-19 Response

As of January 2021, Brazil has the third-most COVID-19 cases worldwide. The Brazilian economy was not in its best shape at the start of the pandemic because it has not fully recovered from the 2014-2015 recession. This made the economy vulnerable to precarious economic shocks that resulted in increased poverty, unemployment and small business fragility.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left countries like Brazil with possible lasting economic damages. Many emerging and developing countries rely heavily on foreign aid for financial and humanitarian support. Offering foreign aid to Brazil will not only help pave the way for a domestic post-COVID recovery but also alleviate some of the negative impacts of the pandemic through humanitarian benefits.

Diversified Opportunities in Emerging Markets

The Brazilian economy is classified as an emerging market. Emerging markets are economies that are transitioning into a developed economy. Since the launch of the MSCI Emerging Market (EM) Index in 1988, which measures portfolio performances of emerging markets, investing in emerging countries proved to create new and diversified opportunities outside of common markets.

Market Expansion and Economic Growth

Since 2016, Brazil has shown an increase in GDP growth with approximately a 1.3% increase. In 2020, Brazil fell back into recession because of COVID-19. However, Brazil’s economy displayed growth and has played an important role in the growth of the Latin American economy as it makes up 35% of the Latin American GDP. It is approximated that the Brazilian market reaches 900 million consumers in just the Americas.

On how quickly the Brazilian economy rebounded, Bloomberg reports boosted domestic demand and exports with a 9.47% rise in economic activity index from July to September of 2020 in comparison to the previous months.

As Brazil recovers from COVID-19’s economic impact, it leaves opportunity for foreign investors to take advantage of Brazil’s growing market, especially with its low interests. Some of Brazil’s profitable sectors include real estate and agricultural goods like coffee, sugar cane, corn and soybean. Participating in these sectors expands Brazil’s domestic market and hence the world market size.

Geographical Location

Especially for the United States, Brazil’s proximity allows easier trade. For other advantages, Brazil’s geographical properties for the agriculture sector also make its commodities attractive. Approximately 28.7% of land is used for agricultural production which makes up more than 4% of the annual Brazilian GDP. Following China, the United States and Australia, Brazil has the fourth-most amount of agricultural land.

Foreign Investment Returns

Encouraging enterprises to invest in foreign aid can ultimately result in great returns. A common type of foreign aid for these corporations is Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Through FDIs, corporations can potentially gain lasting interests, multinational consumers and flexible production costs. This type of foreign aid also brings developing countries like Brazil innovative technology, investment strategies, jobs and infrastructure from investing corporations of developed nations.

Foreign investment is critical to developing and emerging markets. Investing in Brazil promotes development and sustainability and also benefits foreign investors greatly. Furthermore, foreign investment assists economic recovery following unforeseen economic shocks like that of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Malala Raharisoa Lin
Photo: Flickr

Telemedicine Clinics in GuatemalaNew telemedicine clinics in Guatemala are providing vital resources to women and children living in remote areas with limited access to healthcare specialists. This advancement in healthcare technology increases Guatemala’s healthcare accessibility and follows a trend of a worldwide increase in telemedicine services.

Guatemala’s New Telemedicine Clinics

Guatemala’s Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance (MSPAS), in conjunction with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization, launched four new telemedicine clinics in Guatemala in December 2020.

The clinics were designed to improve accessibility to doctors and specialists for citizens living in rural areas, where unstable or lengthy travel can deter patients from getting the care they need. Lack of staff is another barrier telemedicine hopes to overcome. Special attention will be given to issues of child malnutrition and maternal health.

The funding of the program was made possible through financial assistance from the Government of Sweden and the European Union. aimed at increasing healthcare access in rural areas across the world.

Guatemala’s State of Healthcare

Roughly 80% of Guatemala’s doctors are located within metropolitan areas, leaving scarce availability for those living in rural areas. Issues of nutrition and maternal healthcare are special targets for the new program due to the high rates of child malnutrition and maternal mortality in Guatemala.

Guatemala’s child malnutrition rates are some of the highest in all of Central America and disproportionately affect its indigenous communities. Throughout the country, 46.5% of children under 5 are stunted due to malnutrition.

Maternal death rates are high among women in Guatemala but the country has seen a slow and steady decline in maternal mortality over the last two decades. The most recently reported maternal death rate is 95 per 100,000 births.

Guatemala does have a promising antenatal care rate, with 86% of women receiving at least four antenatal care visits during their pregnancies. By increasing the access to doctors through telemedicine clinics, doctors can better diagnose issues arising during pregnancy and prepare for possible birth difficulties that could result in maternal death.

Guatemala’s COVID-19 rates have also impacted the ability of patients to seek healthcare. The threat of the virus makes it difficult for those traveling to seek medical treatment due to the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Trends in Worldwide Telemedicine

The world has seen a rise of telemedicine clinics as the pandemic creates safety concerns regarding in-person visits with doctors. Doctors are now reaching rural communities that previously had little opportunity to access specialized medicine. Telemedicine is an important advancement toward accessible healthcare in rural areas. While the telemedicine clinics in Guatemala are limited in numbers, they set an important example of how technology can be utilized to adapt during a health crisis and reach patients in inaccessible areas.

June Noyes
Photo: Flickr

RCEP will benefit Asia's impoverishedOn November 15, 2020, 15 Asia-Pacific countries signed The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The RCEP is a free trade agreement (FTA) establishing new relationships in the global economy. The 15 countries that signed the trade deal account for 30% of all global gross domestic product and impact more than two billion people. The new economic opportunities that will emerge from the RCEP will benefit Asia’s impoverished.

The Introduction of the RCEP

In 2011, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit introduced the RCEP. Simultaneously, another free trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), was undergoing development. The TPP’s existence failed to come to fruition when former U.S. president, Donald Trump, removed the U.S. from negotiations in 2017. Consequently, this led many Asia-Pacific nations to negotiate with each other to make the RCEP become a reality. The ASEAN Secretariat has declared the RCEP as an accelerator for employment and market opportunities. The RCEP has been seen as a response to the absence of U.S. economic involvement and a form of stimulating the economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

RCEP Regulations

The RCEP has a set of new regulations that made it enticing for many nations to join. As much as 90% of tariffs will be eliminated between participating countries. Moreover, the RCEP will institute common rules for e-commerce and intellectual property. The trade deal will also include high-income, middle-income and low-income nations.

RCEP Benefits for the Philippines

Allan Gepty, a lead negotiator from the Philippines, assures that the RCEP will benefit the low-income country in many ways. The RCEP will mean more investments in sectors such as e-commerce, manufacturing, research and development, financial services and information technology. Moreover, the trade secretary, Ramon Lopez, also believes the Philippines will benefit because the RCEP will bring job opportunities. In a country where the poverty rate stood at 23.3% in 2015, the RCEP will benefit Asia’s impoverished.

Supporting Myanmar’s Economic Growth

According to the World Bank, a way to promote the reduction of poverty in Myanmar is supporting the private sector to create job opportunities. Furthermore, vice president of the Asian Investment Bank (AIIB), Joachim von Amsberg, also believes the RCEP will benefit Asia’s impoverished. He sees the RCEP as a way to grant small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) more access to markets, thus creating more job growth and promoting infrastructure development.

Industries Impacted by the RCEP

Many other nations will benefit from the RCEP as well. Textile and apparel (T&A) is a key sector under the RCEP. While countries such as Australia and Japan have high labor and production costs, many others do not. The RCEP will increase investment to lower-cost and less skilled countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. The trade deal will also impact the country of Vietnam. Vietnam will benefit from its exports which include footwear, automobiles and telecommunications. Furthermore, Vietnam is could also benefit from the exporting of agriculture and fisheries products. Malaysia anticipates greater opportunities in travel, tourism and the aviation industry. Malaysia is expected to increase its GDP between 0.8% and 1.7% through the RCEP.

The Potential for Poverty Reduction

The RCEP is the biggest trade deal in Asia-Pacific’s history. The trade deal is predicted to add US$186 billion to the global economy and 0.2% to the gross domestic product of each participating nation. Also, free trade agreements allow emerging economies to become more sustainable. According to the World Bank, poverty is reduced by boosting international trade. Global trade expands the number of quality jobs and encourages economic growth. The RCEP came at a time when there are future uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impacts. Many anticipate that the RCEP will benefit Asia’s impoverished.

Andy Calderon
Photo: Flickr

Russia’s AIDS EpidemicAmid a global pandemic, Russia is fighting a medical war on two fronts; as Russia deals with the spread of COVID-19, Russia’s AIDS epidemic is worsening. As the HIV  infection rate continues to decline in the rest of Europe, the transmission rate of HIV in Russia has been increasing by 10 to 15% yearly. This increase in transmission is comparable to the yearly increase in transmission of HIV in the United States in the 1980s at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

The AIDS Epidemic in Russia

Among other factors, the erosion of effective sexual health education and a rise in the use of opioids has led to a stark increase in the transmission of HIV/AIDS in Russia. The epidemic of AIDS in Russia has received little attention from the Russian Government and the international community, partly because of the nation’s social orthodoxy and the stigma surrounding drug use and HIV/AIDS.

The Silent Spread of HIV

A significant number of Russians infected with HIV are those who inject drugs. Roughly 2.3% (1.8 million) of Russian adults inject drugs, making Russia the nation in Eastern Europe with the highest population of those who inject drugs. Due to the stigma associated with drug use as well as the threat of harsh criminal punishment, few drug users who have been affected by HIV seek treatment. A study from the Society for the Study of Addiction found that in St. Petersburg only one in 10 Russians who inject drugs and are living with HIV currently access treatment.

A large part of the stigma surrounding AIDS in Russia comes from the return of traditionalism to the Russian government following the election of Vladamir Putin in 2012 and the strong connection between the traditionalist Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Government. The Orthodox Church, in particular, has blocked efforts to instate sex education programs in schools and campaigns to give easier access to safe sex tools like condoms. While methadone is used worldwide to treat opioid addiction to lower the use of drug injection and therefore HIV transmission, the Russian Government has banned methadone. Any person caught supplying methadone faces up to 20 years in prison.

HIV During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Studies conducted during 2020 have shown that Russians living with HIV and AIDS have faced difficulties in accessing treatment. According to UNAIDS, 4% of Russians living with HIV reported missing medical treatment due to the pandemic and roughly 30% of respondents reported that their treatment was somehow impacted by the pandemic.

The same study found that HIV-positive Russians had a positive COVID-19 diagnosis at a rate four times higher than HIV-negative Russians. However, HIV-positive Russians were less likely to seek medical attention for COVID-19 despite the high health risks, such as a weaker immune system that can accompany HIV. More Russians are contracting HIV yearly but the stigma of living with HIV is preventing HIV-positive Russians from seeking medical treatment.

Destigmatizing HIV/AIDs in Russia

With little national attention paid to the epidemic of AIDS in Russia, the movement for change has come from individuals looking to give visibility to and destigmatize HIV/AIDS. In 2015, after television news anchor, Pavel Lobkov, announced on-air that he had been living with AIDS since 2003, Russian doctors including Lobkov’s own doctor, saw a surge in people seeking HIV tests and treatment. In a nation where AIDS is highly stigmatized, a national celebrity showing that one can live a normal life with AIDS brought comfort to many Russians living with HIV/AIDS.

More Russians living with HIV/AIDS have made efforts to shed light on Russia’s HIV epidemic and destigmatize HIV to the public as well as in the medical community. Patients in Control, a nongovernmental organization run by two HIV-positive Russians, Tatiana Vinogradova and Andrey Skvortsov, set up posters around St. Petersburg that read “People with HIV are just like you and me,” and encourage HIV-positive Russians to seek antiretroviral treatment. HIV-positive Russians like Skvortsov and Vinogradova are trying to bring national attention to a health crisis that is seldom discussed, hoping to create a national conversation and put pressure on Russian officials to take action on the worsening epidemic.

A Call for Urgent Action

HIV-positive Russians and AIDS activists like Skvortsov have argued that until the Russian Government puts forth an “urgent, full forced response” to Russia’s AIDS epidemic, the rate of transmission will continue to climb. Many Russians on the ground are making public campaigns to destigmatize and normalize living with HIV, hoping to persuade the government to take action.

In 2018 alone, AIDS took the lives of 37,000 people across Russia. As of May 2020, more than 340,000 Russians have died of AIDS. While the social atmosphere of Russia, influenced by Putin’s government and the Orthodox Church, has created a shroud of secrecy and shame surrounding the AIDS epidemic, many HIV-positive Russians hope that the intensity of the epidemic will force the Russian Government to make a concerted effort to address Russia’s AIDS epidemic.

Kieran Graulich
Photo: Flickr

Vanuatu's Graduation From the LDCsSince the United Nations created the least developed countries (LDCs) list in the 1970s, only six nations have moved off of the list to a higher ranking of development. Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific, became the sixth country to do so on December 4, 2020, after being designated an LDC in 1985. Vanuatu’s graduation from the LDCs list can serve as a beacon of hope for more LDCs to achieve higher rates of development.

Economic Growth

The U.N. Committee for Development Policy (CDP) identifies LDCs based on their level of human assets, environmental and economic vulnerability and per capita income. Since 1991, Vanuatu has met the CDP’s income per capita threshold and was recommended for graduation in 2012, having more than twice the income per capita threshold and also meeting the threshold for human assets. In an effort to pursue graduation, Vanuatu began shifting its economic policies to decrease reliance on imports, increase exports and create employment and income-generating opportunities. Vanuatu’s rural economy grew after improvements in the livestock sector in addition to the country’s diversification of agricultural activities to include timber, kava, coconut oil and copra. The tourism industry and real estate investments were also an aid to Vanuatu’s economic growth as income per person increased by more than 2.5 times between 2002 and 2017.

Vanuatu’s Setbacks

Throughout Vanuatu’s progress in economically developing the country, the nation has also been stymied by recurring natural disasters. The U.N. Conference on Trade and Development estimates that Vanuatu is affected by an average of two to three natural disasters per year and noted that Vanuatu is uniquely affected by natural disasters as its size causes the entirety of the country to be affected as opposed to just specific regions. In 2015, Vanuatu was hit by Cyclone Pam, a Category 5 cyclone that destroyed 50-90% of the country’s shelters and 95% of crops. Cyclone Pam delayed Vanuatu’s previous progress toward graduation and warranted an extension of the country’s grace period to 2020. Additionally, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a decrease in the country’s tourism industry. While Vanuatu’s first case of COVID-19 was reported only in November 2020, the pandemic has impacted the nation and its economic sectors.

A Pathway for LDCs

While Vanuatu is the third country in the Asia-Pacific region to graduate from LDC status, following Samoa in 2014 and the Maldives in 2011, it is only the sixth country to graduate overall. On track to move up from LDC status are Angola in 2021, Bhutan in 2023 and São Tomé and Príncipe and the Solomon Islands both in 2024. Vanuatu’s graduation can bring hope to the other 46 countries on the LDC list, especially given the global circumstances in which Vanuatu achieved this feat. The COVID-19 pandemic has effectively stalled worldwide markets and further excluded many LDCs from international supply chains. With the encouragement of Vanuatu’s graduation from the LDCs list during a global pandemic, hope for the four countries scheduled for graduation in the near future increases alongside support from the international community to ensure an eventual zero countries on the LDCs list.

Caroline Mendoza
Photo: Flickr