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homelessness in italyItaly has a population of just over 60 million people and boasts a per-capita GDP of roughly $34,000. This makes it one of the world’s most developed countries. Further, Italy’s location in the Mediterranean and its rich, diverse cultural history make it a land of opportunity. Some of its most profitable industries include tourism, agriculture, fashion, wine, olive oil and automobiles. However, despite having such a strong economy, homelessness in Italy remains an issue. Here are seven facts about homelessness in Italy.

7 Facts about Homelessness in Italy

  1. Official statistics may undercount the number of people facing homelessness in Italy. Roughly 3.2% of the country, or 2 million people, make under $5.50 per day. Of those people, more than 50,000 are homeless. However, because these figures come from major cities, there are likely more people facing homelessness in Italy. The country counts people as homeless if they are living in a public or outdoor space, an emergency shelter or a specific accommodation for the homeless. This does not include people in jail, receiving medical care or living with family. As such, official numbers often do not reflect Roma, Travellers and Sinti people who live in subpar housing.
  2. Middle-aged people and migrants are most at risk for homelessness in Italy. Half of all homeless people are between the ages of 35 and 54. Further, Migrants make up 58% of people facing homelessness in Italy. In Milan, 90% of people living in slums are foreign-born. Similarly, in Naples and Bologna, 77% and 73% of homeless people are migrants, respectively. Between 2011 and 2014, the average duration of homelessness migrants faced went up from 1.6 to 2.2 years. This is still less than native Italians, whose duration of homelessness was 3.5 years on average.
  3. As a result of the global recession in 2008, the rate of homelessness tripled. In Italy, the loss of a stable job contributes significantly to homelessness. Additionally, the rate of economic recovery has been slow. By 2016, an estimated 3,000 more people became homeless in Italy compared to 2011. Even in 2011, one in every four families in Italy was unable to make mortgage payments. This implies an increased rate of evictions and families made newly homeless. At the same time, the unemployment rate nearly doubled from 6.7% in 2008 to 12.7% in 2014. As of 2020, estimates place it at 9.1%.
  4. Italy fares worse on homelessness than many of its E.U. neighbors. For example, Italy spends the equivalence of $12 per person on housing. The United Kingdom, in contrast, spends more than 40 times the amount Italy does. In Italy, the financial crisis led to funding cuts for housing. Additionally, only 4% of Italy’s housing stock is public, which is one-fifth of the E.U. average.
  5. Homelessness in Italy is geographical. Specifically, about 56% of all reported homeless people live in the northern part of the country. Of all northern cities and cities across Italy, Milan has the highest amount of homeless people. Estimates suggested 12,000 homeless people in Milan in 2014. Central Italy contains roughly 24% of Italy’s homeless population, while Southern Italy contains 20%. Rome and Palermo report the highest number of homeless people in their respective regions.
  6. In 2018, the Salvini Decree ended humanitarian protection for migrants not eligible for refugee status. Most people who arrived to Italy receive humanitarian protection, and 100,000 hold work permits. With protections removed, the migrants faced evictions. These occurred in parts of southern Italy.
  7. Homeless people face unique struggles as a result of COVID-19. When Italy went into a full lockdown to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, police started fining homeless people for violating lockdown, simply because they could not follow lockdown rules. Additionally, building shelters amenable to social distancing proved challenging. Many homeless people also lack information about the virus and proper personal protective equipment. Finally, obtaining food became a struggle for many people facing homelessness in Italy.

Organizations Fighting Homelessness in Italy

Several organizations are helping to fight homelessness in Italy. Baobab Experience wrote an open letter to the minister of health, Roberto Speranza. It urged for health checks for migrants, many of whom were afraid to go to hospitals due to their immigration status. The organization also pleaded with the minister to find housing options for homeless people so they would not spread the virus to anybody else.

Emergency, another NGO, established temporary housing units for homeless people, including those requiring isolation. It hired educators, social workers and health providers to assist in the operations and show them how to use PPE properly. Similarly, between 2012 and 2013, Doctors Without Borders began providing free healthcare to homeless people in Milan. The organization reported that about 70% of those seeking care were migrants, mainly from Africa and Eastern Europe.

Additionally, the Community of St. Egidio has worked with Pope Francis to help poor people and refugees. The organization offers 100 beds, hot meals, counseling, hand sanitizers and masks to homeless individuals. Another Catholic organization, Caritas Italy, has also provided food and sanitation to people facing homelessness in Italy. Regular citizens have jumped in to help as well: in Naples, residents lowered food baskets from their balconies to feed people who were on the streets.

Moving Forward

These organizations bring hope to the fight against homelessness in Italy. As the facts above illustrate, homelessness remains a serious problem in Italy, one that primarily affects marginalized groups. However, the work of NGOs and other organizations can help reduce this problem and bring Italy more in line with its E.U. neighbors in reducing homelessness.

Bryan Boggiano
Photo: Flickr

healthcare in kashmirFor months, people in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir have struggled during a debilitating security lockdown. With phone lines cut and internet access heavily limited, the lockdown in Kashmir is the longest in recorded history. While the lockdown has heavily impacted all aspects of society, healthcare in Kashmir has taken a particularly significant hit.

The Conflict in Kashmir

Located at the intersection of some of the highest mountain ranges in the world, Kashmir is a region unlike any other. Often termed as “paradise on Earth,” the region’s picturesque landscapes and critical geopolitical location have made it a coveted jewel for powers vying in the region. For the past 80 years, India, Pakistan and China have clashed over the region, with each side claiming different swaths of the territory. With a majority-Muslim population, Kashmir has witnessed a popular resistance movement since 1989, which aims to achieve independence or unification with Pakistan.

However, in 2019, India announced a new approach toward Kashmir, implementing a set of draconian laws and procedures in the Indian-administered portion of the region. Under these laws, the territory lost its constitutional “special status.” The Indian government also reorganized its administrative divisions.

Critically, the territory is now in a crippling lockdown, including a stringent curfew, restrictions on movement and a blackout of all communications. The Indian government has arrested thousands of civilians and local politicians and shut out foreign media from the region. Indian-administered Kashmir, with a population of more than 12 million people, has struggled to deal with the effects of this clampdown.

Healthcare in Kashmir Under Lockdown

The lockdown has particularly affected healthcare in Kashmir. Less than three weeks after the start of the lockdown, pharmacies in the region began to report dire shortages of essential drugs. With stocks running low on anti-diabetics, anti-depressants and cardio-vascular medications, Kashmiris must travel miles in search of these essential medicines. Drugstores in the capital city of Srinagar have only filled half of all requested prescriptions.

Much of the problem arises from the communications blackout. With phone lines cut, stores cannot effectively communicate with dealers and medication suppliers. This makes their stocks vulnerable and the Kashmiris reliant on these medications even more so.

However, the problem with healthcare in Kashmir under lockdown exceeds medicine shortages. In 2019, the Lancet, a leading medical journal, declared that the lockdown puts patients at serious medical risk. With public transport halted and vehicles restricted, people in need of medical attention too often cannot obtain the care they need.

The lockdown has not spared mental health services in the region either. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) had maintained counseling centers in Kashmir since 2001, but closed their facilities with the start of the lockdown. Given the decades of traumatic conflict that have afflicted Kashmir, residents in the region rely on these mental health services.

As the world reels from COVID-19, Kashmir has also felt its effects. In the early months of 2020, the region saw the easing of several restrictions, including access to 2G internet. However, following Kashmir’s first case of COVID-19 in March 2020, restrictions returned with full force. In the following months, newspapers operating in the region have reported a shortage of hospital beds and dwindling supplies of oxygen and ventilators. Given the already fragile state of healthcare in Kashmir, COVID-19 has only aggravated conditions in the region.

Improvements in Healthcare in Kashmir

Although healthcare conditions in Kashmir remain heavily impacted by the ongoing lockdown, local and international actors have made several improvements. One development is medical treatment and consultations through phone calls and mobile applications. The novel approach hopes to provide a degree of healthcare access to Kashmiris while adhering to the lockdown guidelines. An estimated 630,000 families are eligible for the program.

In August 2020, a year after the start of the lockdown, the Indian government laid forth 10 fields of focus for Kashmir. This included the growth of the health sector as a top priority. In the same report, officials also declared progress in implementing the Swachh Bharat Mission in Kashmir, part of a national campaign to end open defecation and improve sanitation practices. The government also claimed to have distributed 1.2 million health cards to school-aged children in the region, providing access to much-needed health services. The cards come with up-to-date vaccination records as well as required biannual checkups.

While the military lockdown continues to exact a harsh toll on the people of Kashmir and its fragile healthcare system, the steps above have helped improve access and treatment in the region. If all goes well, India’s lockdown of Kashmir may soon end. With it would come an increase in the health and welfare of the Kashmiri people.

– Shayaan Subzwari
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Organizations Helping During the Yemen CrisisLocated on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen is a developing country that has faced numerous hardships within the last decade. Known as the worst humanitarian crisis, the country is having difficulties obtaining sustainability as it is currently undergoing a five-year-long war. This has increased poverty and caused uncontrollable famine. In response to the extreme and harsh living conditions, several nations and organizations are trying to provide any sort of relief. As nations contribute funds and donations, it is difficult to believe that one person can make a difference. However, every little bit counts. Here are five organizations helping during the Yemen crisis.

5 Organizations Helping During the Yemen Crisis

  1. U.N. World Food Programme: Yemen is experiencing an extreme shortage of food and everyday necessities. The U.N. World Food Programme supports several countries that lack such necessities. Unfortunately, the organization had to cut food rations in April. However, the U.N. World Food Programme still hopes to aid malnourished families and children in Yemen. It has provided food to 12 million people.
  2. UNICEF: As a non-profit organization, UNICEF finds ways to provide relief and emergency support to those in need. Emergency relief and support may include necessities such as vaccines, water, nutrition and school supplies. During the Yemen crisis, UNICEF has been able to provide support within each government in Yemen. During the COVID-19 crisis, UNICEF has provided testing equipment, respirators and face shields. It is also helping train 30,000 healthcare workers in hygiene and prevention.
  3. Save the Children: More than 12.3 million children are in need of assistance during this horrific time in Yemen. Save the Children is an organization that devotes time and effort to children in need. The organization hopes to provide as much assistance to the children as possible, whether it be food, water, shelter or education. As numerous schools have been destroyed or shut down, Save the Children has transferred numerous training teachers to provide education for the two million children who are out of school.
  4. Baitulmaal and Mona: Baitulmaal and Mona are both small, local organizations within Yemen where volunteers provide meals, medical assistance and supplies to nearby communities. Baitulmaal has provided more than 158, 000 meals as well as antibiotics and medical tests to people in need. Mona has reached tens of thousands of people with food, clothing and hygiene kits. Small organizations are incredibly important to consider as they have the ability to possibly bypass blockades within Yemen.
  5. Doctors Without Borders: Another way people are helping out during the Yemen Crisis is through Doctors without Borders. The organization consists of numerous doctors that travel to foreign countries in hopes of providing any medical assistance needed. Currently, the organization operates within 13 hospitals in Yemen. As numerous medical facilities have been shut down, Doctors Without Borders provides limited medical assistance that is needed during humanitarian crises.

As Yemen experiences supposedly the worst humanitarian crisis, it is necessary to target the several ways people can help. While there are several of organizations providing assistance in the Yemen crisis, these five organizations allow quick and accessible aid towards medical assistance and famine control.

Elisabeth Balicanta
Photo: Flickr

Worst Humanitarian Crises
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) ranks the world’s top 20 countries experiencing the worst humanitarian crises annually in order to identify and aid the countries that need it most. For the 2020 Watchlist, the top five countries experiencing the worst humanitarian crises are Yemen, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Syria, Nigeria and Venezuela. All five were also in the top 10 countries in 2018’s watchlist.

Top 5 Countries Experiencing the Worst Humanitarian Crises

  1. Yemen: For the second year in a row, Yemen is at the top of the list as the worst humanitarian crisis. Most of Yemen’s troubles are due to the civil war that began in 2015. With failed peace talks and a shaky government, the Houthi insurgents, who began the civil war over high fuel prices and a corrupt government, and the Saudi-led coalition of Gulf forces continue to fight. The ongoing conflict has greatly destabilized the country, its infrastructure and its ability to provide services to its people. Around 80% of Yemen’s population (more than 24 million people) need humanitarian assistance. Attacks on infrastructure have further weakened the ability to provide healthcare, education, food, fuel, clean water and sanitation. More than 1.2 million Yemenis face severe food insecurity and around 68% of Yemenis do not have access to healthcare. In 2019, cholera began to spread through Yemen, placing even more pressure on the extremely limited and unprepared healthcare system. The outbreak eventually killed more than 3,700 people.
  2. The Democratic Republic of the Congo: The DRC has been in a state of crisis for nearly 30 years. It began with conflict and corruption fueling under-development and instability in the country. This lead to 17% of the population needing humanitarian aid. Fighting between the military and different ethnic militias is common. Most recently the fighting has been in the East and Central DRC. These internal conflicts have displaced 4.5 million Congolese. These people had to flee their homes and agricultural livelihoods, which also drives up food insecurity. Around 15.6 million Congolese are experiencing severe food insecurity. In 2019, the DRC had both the second-largest Ebola outbreak in history and a measles outbreak. Measles alone has killed more than 4,000 people.
  3. Syria: The home to the largest displacement crisis in the world, Syria has been at war since 2015. As a result, 65% of the Syrian population requires aid. The complex civil war has dilapidated the infrastructure, leaving 54% of health facilities and 50% of sewage systems are non-functional. The conflict has displaced more than 12.7 million Syrians. More than 6 million people are internally displaced and around 5.7 million Syrians are refugees in Europe or neighboring countries.
  4. Nigeria: Nigeria faces internal conflicts in the north, a cholera outbreak and high levels of food insecurity. Around 7.7 million Nigerians need aid, mainly from the northern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. There is a significant difference between the developed areas, like the cities of Lagos and Abuja, and the less developed areas in the north. The north has experienced conflict with Boko Haram, a terrorist group, and its splinter faction, the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP). Operating in Nigeria’s North-East region since 2009, Boko Haram and ISWAP present a dangerous threat to Nigeria’s military. As a result, local militias and vigilantes responded against these groups. Due to the conflicts between the terrorist groups and the militias, 540,000 Nigerians are internally displaced and 41,000 people traveled north into Niger. On top of the ongoing fighting, endemic diseases, such as cholera and Lassa fever, are spreading throughout the country.
  5. Venezuela: Due to the near-collapse of Venezuela’s economy and the continued political turmoil, basic systems that provide food, clean water and medicine are in short supply. Hyperinflation drove up the prices of basic goods and services, leaving households without enough money to purchase food. At least 80% of Venezuelans are experiencing food insecurity. Additionally, only 18% of people have consistent access to clean water. Without healthcare, people are unguarded against disease. With 94% of households in poverty, Venezuelans are compelled to leave the country. By the end of 2020, the IRC estimates that 5.5 million Venezuelans will emigrate. This will cause the largest internal displacement in Latin America and the second-largest refugee crisis in the world behind Syria.

Help on the Ground

There are many NGOs working to alleviate the situation in these countries. Organizations like the Red Cross, IRC and Doctors Without Borders among many others, have been working for years in conflict-heavy countries. For example, Doctors Without Borders set up mobile health clinics to provide maternal health, vaccinations and treat non-communicable diseases in Syria. The International Committee of the Red Cross increased its budget to $24.6 million in 2019 to ramp up efforts to improve “health, water and sanitation” in Venezuela. The International Rescue Committee brought health, safety and education to 2.7 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo 2019. It provided healthcare, supplies and sanitation aid to the area.

David Miliband, the president and CEO of IRC, stated, “It’s vital that we do not abandon these countries when they need us most, and that governments around the world step up funding to these anticipated crises before more lives are lost — and the bill for humanitarian catastrophe rises.” These five worst humanitarian crises in 2020 show the world that there is much work still needed. With continued aid and funding from all governments, the U.N. and its agencies and NGOs, millions of people can receive the help that they so desperately need.

Zoe Padelopoulos
Photo: Flickr

Yemen's Healthcare System
For people across the globe, the battle against COVID-19 can feel hopeless. Developed countries like the U.S. have struggled to contain the virus; COVID-19 has infected over 5 million Americans since March 2020. However, extensive healthcare resources have helped developed immensely. Ventilators and ICU beds, access to proper sanitation, and the technology to work from home have left many unscathed and have allowed many to make a full recovery. Therefore, it is important to remember the countries that do not have these resources. For example, COVID-19 has been particularly devastating in Yemen, in part, due to Yemen’s healthcare system. 

Conflict, Cholera and COVID-19

Yemen has been enduring a civil war for over five years. The main conflicts are between Houthi rebels and the government of President Hadi. In addition to claiming over 100,000 lives, the violence has exacerbated already daunting public health statistics. Currently, about 50% of the country’s medical facilities are nonfunctional. The U.N. has reported that Yemen is enduring the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with about 80% of the population (or 24.1 million people) in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. In addition, the country is enduring the worst modern-day cholera crisis, reporting approximately 110,000 cases in April 2020.

With the backdrop of the ongoing civil war, Yemen’s healthcare system is unable to support the country. Yemen has 500 ventilators and 700 ICU beds for a population of over 28 million. The Associated Press reported that there are no doctors in 18% of 333 Yemeni districts. Although the country has reported one of the lowest transmission rates in the Middle East, this is largely due to an inability to test. In fact, the country has processed fewer than 1,000 tests; this is about 31 tests per 1 million citizens. There is also evidence of purposeful under testing. The Houthi Ministry of Public Health and Population stated that reporting statistics have negative effects on the psychological health and immune systems of citizens.

Hospitals have seen a 40% mortality rate and have resorted to admitting patients based on age and odds of survival, reported Marc Schakal, Doctors Without Borders’ Deputy Operations Manager for Yemen. The country’s health system has “collapsed” according to the UNHCR. Lise Grande, the U.N. head of humanitarian operations in Yemen reported that the COVID-19 death toll could “exceed the combined toll of war, disease, and hunger over the last five years.”

COVID-19’s Impact Beyond the Healthcare System

The virus has also driven up the prices of food necessities, adding to the high toll of families that rely on aid to survive day-to-day. The U.N. has been attempting to help, but with a lack of funds, it is only possible to provide half-rations for the 8 million-plus hungry people. Hunger has hit women and children the hardest; over 2 million children under the age of 5 are suffering from acute malnutrition.

The lack of international aid in the face of such a tragedy is saddening. Millions of people are essentially being left to die. The United States cut $73 million of aid towards Yemen in March 2020, just as the virus was becoming a global issue. The statistics clearly show it will take a greater effort from the global community to improve Yemen’s outlook.

How to Help

As Sara Beysolow Nyant, UNICEF’s representative to Yemen, expressed, without urgent funding, “The international community will be sending a message that the lives of children in a nation devastated by conflict, disease, and economic collapse, simply do not matter.” Unfortunately, most countries have focused on containing the virus internally. Hopefully, some of the international community will turn its attention to the countries in the greatest need.

For individuals looking to help, donations to groups like UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam will provide aid. Additionally, calling and emailing Congress can also have a profound impact.

Abigail Wilson
Photo: Flickr

Polio Eradicated in Africa
On August 25, 2020, the World Health Organization officially declared the African continent free of wild poliovirus after reports of zero cases since August 2016. This achievement comes after decades of ambitious initiatives that distributed vaccinations to the African population in an effort to stop polio’s spread. In what many are describing as a “momentous milestone,” the news of polio eradication in Africa provides hope that other preventable diseases will one day be eliminated too.

What is Polio?

Polio, the disease that the poliovirus causes, is a highly contagious and potentially deadly illness commonly spread through feces. While one in four people infected merely experience a flu-like illness or are asymptomatic, polio presents serious symptoms to vulnerable populations, especially children.

Severe symptoms that people associate with polio include paresthesia, meningitis and paralysis. Paralysis, the most dangerous and most well-known, occurs in roughly one out of every 200 cases. The muscle and nerve damage that these side effects cause can permanently disable or even kill an infected person if vital organs, like the lungs, become paralyzed. Even after recovering, many younger patients suffer post-polio syndrome (PSP) which may cause muscle pain, weakness or paralysis in adulthood.

In the early ’90s, an estimated 75,000 African children became paralyzed each year due to polio. Due to Africa’s poor healthcare system and sanitation infrastructure, preventing the disease’s spread proved difficult. There is currently no known cure or treatment for polio, making it especially dangerous for children in poor regions suffering other medical issues like malnutrition. However, through multinational and multi-organizational efforts, polio rates began to decline as immunization rates rose.

How Did Africa Eradicate Polio?

The fight toward polio eradication in Africa began with the creation of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in 1988, followed by Nelson Mandela’s Kick Polio Out of Africa campaign in 1996. These efforts aimed to combine resources from governments, U.N. bodies and organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to sponsor massive surveillance and immunization campaigns throughout the continent.

The combined efforts of these groups brought nearly 9 billion polio vaccines to Africa, according to the World Health Organization. Braving wilderness and war zones including territory held by the terrorist group Boko Haram, 2 million volunteers from organizations like Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF and Gavi immunized even the most isolated African villages.

The report of the most recent wild polio case was in August 2016 in northeastern Nigeria, within Boko Haram territory. However, the Nigerian government and outside supporters were able to quell the outbreak’s spread; since then, zero wild polio cases have occurred in Africa. This years-long feat allowed the World Health Organization to declare polio in Africa eradicated in 2020, a major feat for the continent’s residents and healthcare systems.

What Now?

Estimates determine that international efforts to defeat wild poliovirus in Africa have averted 1.8 million cases and 180,000 deaths. However, these figures only apply to the wild poliovirus—they fail to account for vaccine-derived polio.

There are two main types of polio vaccinations: oral and injected. Because the oral polio vaccination is much cheaper, it is most commonly used for widespread polio immunization campaigns in developing countries. However, this vaccine relies on a weakened version of the poliovirus to immunize rather than the inactive virus utilized by the injected vaccine. This disparity has led to occasional outbreaks of vaccine-derived polio in some African nations.

Currently, GPEI and its associated NGOs in Africa are working to curb any vaccine-derived polio outbreaks while frequently updating vaccinations for vulnerable children. There are only two remaining countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, that have reported cases of wild polio in the past 12 months. However, by following Africa’s lead and adopting immunization initiatives, there is hope that wild polio can subside permanently in all countries.

– Aidan Sun
Photo: Flickr

South African PovertyThe battle against poverty has always been a difficult one, but the novel coronavirus pandemic has presented many new challenges. Actions currently being taken to combat South African poverty and COVID-19 have proven that, with new options and renewed commitments, there is still much that can be done to alleviate poverty. Impoverished people around the world need aid now more than ever.

An Ongoing Struggle

Historically, South Africa has struggled to aid its most economically vulnerable citizens. According to the most recent government analysis, almost half of the adult population is living under the poverty line—an alarming figure. It seems apparent that this South African poverty crisis would be seen on nearly every level of society. Sadly, this widespread poverty has had a notable impact on which necessary resources are available to people. While electricity infrastructure is fairly widespread, between 28% and 30% of poor households lack access to water and sanitation services. As is relatively common in cases of inequality, the most vulnerable frequently lack access to basic necessities, making their struggles far more urgent.

COVID-19 Developments

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic is poised to exacerbate South African poverty. The World Bank has predicted that while the pandemic will increase poverty worldwide, the hardest-hit region will be Sub-Saharan Africa. Although South Africa has been relatively spared from the worst of COVID-19 on a health level, the poverty-inducing effects of the pandemic are daunting—it is projected that some 23 million South Africans will be pushed into poverty in 2020. Beyond the immediate tragedy, this decline will present new challenges. In order to protect them, governments will need to find new ways to offer meaningful support throughout the crisis.

Innovation Brings Hope

Fortunately, the government of South Africa has begun to take steps to properly aid its impoverished citizens during this time. They have rolled out a new, easily accessible digital tool called HealthCheck in order to provide self-assessment resources. Members of the public can download the program, which will ask them a few simple questions and then provide a COVID-19 risk prediction along with a pertinent guideline and suggested actions.

While HealthCheck is designed to be available to the entirety of the South African populace, it aids low-income South Africans in particular. Although only a third of the population uses smartphones, feature phones enjoy more widespread use, so a lack of hardware is not necessarily an issue. For many impoverished people in South Africa—and across the world—receiving the proper healthcare needed to determine a risk of infection may be difficult or outright impossible.

Partnerships Increase Access

To further alleviate this issue, the South African government has coordinated with network operators MTN, Vodacom and Telekom, to have facilitate free access to the USSD line. This way, South Africans who could not typically afford cellular or wi-fi services can make use of the HealthCheck tool. As a matter of fact, they have—authorities have reported that so far, over one million members of the public have used HealthCheck.

The digital tool has been utilized in conjunction with NGOs like Doctors Without Borders.  The NGO has worked to fill the gap in fighting South African poverty by creating impromptu field hospitals in otherwise-ignored townships. In Khayelitsha, it has opened up 70 additional beds in a basketball arena in order to serve as many people as possible in the area. This was part of a broader government plan to have over 1,400 extra beds ready as needed. Providing aid such as this is an important part of the battle against poverty.

Just a Start

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the growth of the continental African economy, and threatens its growing middle class. Across the entire continent, nearly eight million people are predicted to fall into poverty, in many cases due to the lack of a social safety net. By providing essential resources, NGOs like Doctors Without Borders are working to limit the economic burden that falls on the South African populace.

While it’s just a start in terms of supporting the impoverished population, these initiatives have clearly provided accessible ways for low-income citizens to keep themselves and their loved ones safe and healthy. There are still many hurdles to overcome in the fight against South African poverty, but these recent initiatives have shown that we can still work to effectively aid the poor.

Aidan O’Halloran
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Central African RepublicViolent conflict that has surged since 2007 in the Central African Republic (CAR) has created challenges for the nation’s healthcare system. Humanitarian organizations, which provide the majority of the health services available, have continued working to provide adequate healthcare despite threats of violence from militia groups.

Providing Healthcare Amid Conflict

The CAR is facing a humanitarian emergency. Even after the introduction of a peace agreement among the 14 armed groups in the country in 2019, attacks against civilians and humanitarian workers persist. It is estimated that out of more than 4.6 million people living in the CAR, 2.9 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. NGOs have not stopped attempting to provide services to those displaced and hurting from the violence.

There are inadequate numbers of trained health workers in the CAR, as reported by the World Health Organization. Therefore, it has become a primary concern to increase the number of healthcare providers. This year, in addition to providing water, sanitation and hygiene assistance, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has begun training 500 individuals to respond to the protection and healthcare needs of vulnerable communities in the CAR.

After the conflict damaged or destroyed 34% of the CAR’s healthcare infrastructure, NGOs are focused on supporting the remaining hospitals and clinics. ALIMA, an NGO committed to providing quality healthcare services to those in need, has been working in the CAR since 2013. They have provided nutritional and medical care in the Bimbo and Boda health districts and outside the nation’s capital of Bangui. Pregnant women and children under the age of five have received free healthcare through ALIMA. Just in 2016, the organization carried out more than 17,320 prenatal consultations and treated close to 75,000 children for malaria.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) began its involvement in CAR in 2006. The health services provided by this organization target the mental health consequences of gender-based violence. Psychosocial support to women survivors of violence has remained a priority. The IRC also implemented discussion groups aimed to expand gender-based violence awareness and share strategies for prevention.

Combating Infectious Disease

Malaria, HIV and tuberculosis are a few of the prominent diseases that require intense prevention and treatment in the CAR. Doctors Without Borders has been one of the principal actors in delivering these services, treating nearly 547,000 malaria cases in 2018. The organization generated community-based groups in multiple cities to pick up antiretroviral medications needed to treat HIV, while also working to decentralize HIV and AIDS treatment in the city of Carnot. UNICEF has given additional HIV screening to pregnant women during prenatal consultations, and those who tested positive were promptly placed on antiretroviral treatment.

On Jan. 24, 2020, the Ministry of Health declared there to be a measles epidemic in the CAR; cases had been on the rise since the previous year. Between January 2019 and February 2020, there were 7,626 suspected measles cases. A significant public health response has begun to target the spread, including the development of vaccination campaigns, an increase in epidemiological surveillance and the distribution of free medical supplies.

CAR has been impacted by the current coronavirus pandemic, as the country has recorded nearly 4,000 cases as of July 3. UNICEF and partners have been able to provide free essential care, sanitation services and psychological support.

The Need for Humanitarian Assistance

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is a major contributor to humanitarian aid in the CAR. It was with the financial assistance of USAID in the 2019 fiscal year that the IRC and the NRC were able to provide healthcare resources for risk prevention. The preservation of humanitarian funding to the CAR has proven to be crucial, as conflict has further weakened the healthcare system.

Humanitarian organizations have made significant progress in recent years to combat the spread of infectious disease and provide more widespread healthcare in the Central African Republic. There is a need to expand these efforts and improve quality of life during the nation’s continued fight for peace.

Ilana Issula
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Niger
About 20% of people in Niger are food insecure due to a growing population, regional conflict and environmental challenges. Though that percentage is rising, international organizations and governments are finding innovative ways to end hunger in Niger.

Threats to Food Security in Niger

According to the World Bank, Niger’s population is increasing annually by 3.8%, well above the average for countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Coupled with a large number of refugees from countries like Mali and Nigeria, an extremely high birth rate is driving Niger’s population growth and ultimately causing food resources to become scarce.

As a result of the conflicts on the borders of Mali and in the Lake Chad Basin, an influx of refugees has migrated to Niger. Further, these regional conflicts have caused widespread displacement among Nigerien citizens domestically, resulting in a major displacement crisis. According to the Norweigan Refugee Council, Niger’s displacement crisis is severe and worsening from the lack of international aid and media coverage. Because food resources are scarce, this displacement crisis is intensifying hunger in Niger.

In addition to the upsurge in Niger’s population, environmental challenges pose a threat to food security. Niger experiences an annual dry or “lean,” season where a lack of rainfall limits crop production and thus lowers the availability of food. A dry season is regular and Niger’s people expect it; however, in the past 20 years, rainfall and temperature have become increasingly irregular, causing more severe food shortages. Nigerians are concerned that desertification and rising global temperatures will only extend and intensify the dry season, disrupting the livelihoods of the majority of rural Nigerien households that rely predominantly on agriculture to survive.

Although food insecurity affects all types of Nigerien communities, it more heavily affects two demographic groups: women and children. Women and children in Niger are more likely to experience malnourishment, which leads to higher rates of anemia. According to the World Food Programme, estimates determined that 73% of Nigerien children under the age of 5 and 46% of Nigerien women are anemic.

The International Community’s Role in Ending Hunger in Niger

Countries like the United States are supporting programs like the World Food Programme, Mercy Corps and Doctors Without Borders to relieve both the immediate and long-term effects of food insecurity in Niger. Each organization takes unique approaches to end hunger in Niger.

The World Food Programme, for instance, focuses on land rehabilitation programs that provide food and financial aid to families who are trying to recover unproductive farmland. The hope is that healthy land will allow agriculture in Niger to be prolific in the future.

Mercy Corps works with mostly Nigerien citizens on projects that encourage people in Niger to diversify their livelihoods in order to ensure that families have several opportunities to earn income in the event that climatic shocks should continue to stunt the agricultural industry. It helped more than 130,000 people in Niger in 2018.

While the World Food Programme and Mercy Corps focus largely on developing a self-sufficient Nigerien economy, Doctors Without Borders works to alleviate the immediate consequences of hunger in Niger by treating acute malnutrition, especially in children. The organization provided 225 families with relief kits in Tillabéri.

While regional conflict, a rapidly growing population and unpredictable weather further food insecurity in Niger, the international community is seeking a multidimensional solution to stimulate the Nigerien economy, end hunger in Niger and help communities flourish.

Courtney Bergsieker
Photo: Flickr

measles in democratic republic of congoThe Democratic Republic of the Congo declared a measles outbreak in June 2019. Since then, more than 310,000 have been affected by this epidemic. Measles is an extremely contagious and airborne disease that can cause rashes, fevers and coughing. The virus is especially dangerous for children. Most developed countries can combat measles through vaccinations, but developing countries aren’t able to fully eradicate and achieve a herd immunity of a sizeable population majority, leading to constant outbreaks.

How COVID-19 is Affecting the Situation

Due to COVID-19, more than 117 million children could not receive their measles vaccine following the halt of vaccination campaigns. Measles may kill more people in developing countries than COVID-19 if outbreaks continue. At least 6,500 children have already died from measles in the DRC. Most world leaders are focusing on COVID-19 rather than the vaccine-preventable diseases that could potentially wreak havoc on developing nations. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is currently leading the world in the highest numbers of measles cases. This trend is likely to continue without significant aid and the continuation of vaccination campaigns. The DRC also has an incredibly weak healthcare system, so it greatly relies on NGOs and foreign aid to administer vaccines & life-saving medicines to the country.

Other Diseases in the DRC

In addition to measles, the DRC is currently combating cholera, polio, COVID-19 and Ebola. “On June 1, 2020, the Democratic Republic of the Congo declared its eleventh Ebola outbreak.” This is before the tenth outbreak was declared over on June 25, 2020; however, WHO has stated that these two outbreaks are separate. Due to the limited resources caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this outbreak will be harder to contain than previous outbreaks.

In the past, multiple Ebola outbreaks have drawn more attention than the measles in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Now, COVID-19 is drawing more attention than measles. However, all three diseases need to be dealt with alongside the other diseases harming the DRC. During an Ebola outbreak in earlier months, measles was overlooked, which led to a resurgence. Measles in the Democratic Republic of the Congo must receive the attention necessary to combat it. In addition to the disease itself, the DRC is also suffering from malnutrition, food insecurity and economic uncertainty. All of these factors make the population more vulnerable to other diseases, particularly children.

How To Help

The best way to help combat measles in the DRC is to ensure vaccination campaigns can start again. An increase in foreign aid will help the nation reach this goal. The DRC needs to achieve 95% vaccination to recover, but that goal seems incredibly unlikely due to the current COVID-19 panic. With the majority of the world also focused on COVID-19, it is unlikely that the DRC will receive all the international aid they require at this time. An additional $40 million will be needed on top of the $27.6 million received to successfully fight measles in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Organizations like Doctors Without Borders are continuously working to fight measles outbreaks in DRC. As of June 2020, the organization has succeeded in vaccinating 82,000 children after “three back-to-back campaigns.” Doctors Without Borders cautions the world that measles cannot be ignored even with the current COVID-19 crisis. They are taking extra precautions during this time to reduce the risk of co-infection.

While COVID-19 is an important and urgent issue, it is imperative that leaders continue to send help to those abroad struggling with the fall-outs of poverty whenever possible. Measles in the Democratic Republic of Congo is one example of how important foreign assistance and vaccination campaigns are in saving lives in developing countries.

– Jacquelyn Burrer
Photo: Flickr