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Online businesses in GhanaPreviously, issues such as limited internet and bank access and informal home addresses made digital selling challenging for Ghanaian companies. However, advancement in these areas has allowed online businesses to grow, creating jobs in Ghana. Many college graduates in Ghana have started digital companies selling a wide range of products, including bags, footwear, clothes, grocery items, electronic goods and advanced cellular devices, among others. Some start companies also offer services such as repairing, cosmetics, interior decorating and photoshoots digitally. The growth of such companies has enabled them to offer many different types of employment to a greater population in Ghana.

Job Creation

From consumer services to promotions, financing to administrative tasks, retail managing to image consulting, online selling has many job opportunities to offer in Ghana, which had a 4.5% employment rate in 2020. For example, while the digital firm Jumia employs only around 500 people directly in online work, it employs more than 10,000 people indirectly. Online work does not always require people to have advanced technological abilities, only a willingness to learn. Online businesses also create associated non-online jobs.

For example, when people purchase meals and other items digitally, they require delivery. Nowadays, many companies offer delivery by motorcycle or van, creating many delivery jobs. Online businesses in Ghana also provide new jobs through collection posts, which have become more popular during the pandemic. These posts provide a safe and convenient way for customers to collect their goods while minimizing their risk of exposure to COVID-19. Collection posts hire post managers, shipment organizers and receptionists. In addition, some companies, such as Jumia, have encouraged digital businesses to expand by allowing people to collect their online purchases in-store.

Working from Home and New Digitial Stores

Many online businesses offer home-based and other off-site positions. Working from home not only enhances employees’ welfare and decreases stress, but it also helps reduce pollution as fewer people have to travel to work. Virtual connections allow people to associate with a worldwide community and conveniently work and buy what they need without having to travel. Additionally, digital companies can more easily provide short-term work such as contract, part-time and freelance work, which also helps to reduce poverty.

Moreover, in May 2018, a digital food store named Homeshoppa Ghana was introduced in Accra, the country’s capital. Homeshoppa Ghana matches its competitors’ prices in order to provide easily accessible, low-cost, standard groceries to every citizen. Access to stores like Homeshoppa Ghana allows people living in poverty to buy essential items at low prices.

Internet Advancements

The introduction of higher internet speeds and advanced cellphones in Ghana has helped prepare the marketplace for online retailers. By the end of 2017, 10.1 million Ghanaians, or 34%, were using the internet. As of January this year, the number of internet users had increased to 15.7 million. As more people begin to use the internet, online businesses are creating more new jobs in Ghana.

Jannique McDonald
Photo: Unsplash

Computer Access in GhanaAs one of the world’s poorest African countries, Ghana has a poverty rate that touches roughly 55 percent of its population, with only 24% possessing internet access. This acute problem owes itself in part to a large number of its youth, who grow up in the absence education accessibility. However, educators have begun to combat the ailments of impoverished Ghanaian communities. To do this, they utilize the fundamental cornerstone of a globalized world- computer technology. Computers have empowered Ghana’s poverty-stricken youth. As a result, they gain greater access to future job security and change the course of their own lives, along with the communities they inhabit. Below are three ways that computers and new technologies are improving the standard of living in Ghana.

Teaching 21st-Century Job Skills to Teens

The inclusion of computer access within the Ghanaian education system allows teens to develop valuable 21st-century technology literacy. It stands to open critical doors to higher education. In an era that is inarguably dominated by mobile phones, laptops, and wireless communications, access proves paramount. Programs like those presented by Ghana Code Club, which has taught nearly 1,700 students and trained over 300 teachers, enrich Ghana’s youth specifically with computer science as well as coding languages classes, paving the way for future innovations, as well as national economic growth.

Increasing Earning Potential

A Pew Survey showed that computer users connected to the internet are more likely to have higher incomes. The University of Ghana offers a dedicated computer science course that nurtures software programmers, who have the potential to earn up to three times as much as their professors. However, only through expansion will these opportunities allow them to truly reach a wide demographic. Increased computer access in Ghana is difficult to ensure. Currently, only around 36 people graduate from the University of Ghana’s technology program annually. Vast areas of the country are still shielded from these positive impacts.

Breaking the Gender Stereotype

Despite the computer’s role in expanding social and economic standards in Ghana, many traditional African communities restrict women and girls on the basis of acceptable gender roles. Although, new non-governmental organizations like STEMbees, a Ghana-based organization, inspire and allow young girls to break the stigma and enter into the fields of coding science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Other organizations, like UNESCO’s Girls Can Code, also work to fight the ongoing battle against gender stereotypes in the African educational sphere. Methods that implement computer stations in Ghanaian villages and equip new schools with current technology continue to increase computer access in Ghana.

Ghana now finds itself in the unique position of being on the verge of a technological revolution that coincides with its industrial revolution. Each of the two transformational eras is set to drive the country towards a prosperous future. This future, additionally, carries with it the promise of greater opportunity for Ghanaian children. Average Ghanaian students gaining access to computer technology furthers the assurance of a better standard of living for Ghanaian citizens. Over time, this development can carry on for generations to come.

Mihir Gokhale
Photo: Flickr

The Effects of Fast Fashion in West AfricaIn Accra, Ghana, landfills of rotting garments flood dumpsites. The place is overwhelmed with the results of fast fashion that no longer serves a purpose—but to take up space. In 2018, the United Kingdom’s interest in fast fashion has resulted in as many as 300,000 tons of clothing to be sent to landfills. This has resulted in the Kpone landfill being one of the main targets for the landfills in Accra. With the capacity of the landfills being quickly met, sanitation risks come into play. Residents of places like Kpone are now dealing with the blow of disease and solutions are needed to address the effects of fast fashion in West Africa.

What is Fast Fashion?

Fast fashion is the creation of quickly made cheap clothes that aim to fit the ever-changing trend of fashion. These clothes are likely to be advertised on Instagram and by retailers, such as Zara, BooHoo or ASOS. A majority of its operations are online and due to the popularity, 24% of all U.K. apparel sales were online in 2018. The continuous growth of the fashion industry has resulted in an expansion of landfills being filled with tossed clothing that no longer fit the trend. According to studies, the U.K. sends 10,000 items of clothing to landfills every five minutes, with places like Accra being overflooded.

The Kpone Landfill

In 2013, Accra’s most prominent landfill in Kpone opened. It served the purpose of receiving 700 tons of waste daily. The Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), the local government, has also allocated the pick up of 70 tonnes of clothing waste from Kantamanto, Accra, daily.

This process began in 2016 and four years later Kpone is now overflowing with waste. However, despite Kpone receiving Kantamanto’s clothing waste, most of it does not reach the landfills and instead gets swept into gutters due to AMA’s inability to finance transportation for the waste.

Risks of Fast Fashion

Clothing waste tends to get tangled up in big knots that clutter up gutters and stop the flow of water and waste. These tangled messes lead to life-threatening floods and the spread of diseases such as malaria and cholera, which are especially devastating to the poor. The waste is leading to fatalities.

Kayayei, female transporters for waste, live near landfills in Old Fadama, Accra. These women breathe in the toxic air and carry up to 200 pounds of clothing to transport to retailers. It is not uncommon for these women to die by the weight they carry while on their travels, which could be up to a mile long. The sad reality of this is that women are risking their lives for less than a dollar to transport waste.

Efforts Being Made to Address Fast Fashion in West Africa

As of 2020, 7,800 men and women have worked toward the goal of collecting and recycling the waste in Kpone. These waste pickers are paid for their efforts and the work serves as a key survival tactic for those struggling to find employment. Approximately, 60% of recyclable waste has been collected by these workers.

However, despite the workers’ efforts being beneficial they are often looked down upon and are regularly met with harassment. Also, poor sanitation from the landfills put waste pickers at risk for health hazards. Yet, mobilizations among these workers have become common in recent times. International waste pickers associations have worked to have the local government in Kpone establish health posts near landfills and enforce sanitation rights.

The Future of Fast Fashion

The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have brought fast fashion to a halt. Christian Orozco, an associate of The OR Foundation, is optimistic about the future of fast fashion amid the pandemic. “The coronavirus has forced retailers that support fast fashion to close down their stores. This creates a big impact on the distribution of clothes and can slow it down,” explains Orozco.

Fewer people are purchasing clothing online due to the question of when they will be able to wear them out. Places like H&M, a huge retailer for fast fashion, have also been affected by COVID-19, leading to the closing of 250 stores worldwide. Additionally, clothing sales altogether have dropped by 34%, bringing forth the question of how the future of fast fashion will impact regions like West Africa.

Ashleigh Jimenez
Photo: Flickr

BACE API:Charlette N’Guessan, a 26-year-old Ivorian and CEO of the BACE Group based in Ghana, is the first woman to win the United Kingdom’s Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. N’Guessan and her team earned £25,000 ($32,000) with the 2020 award for their BACE API digital verification software.

BACE API Facial Recognition Software

BACE API verifies identities remotely and instantaneously using artificial intelligence (AI) and facial recognition by matching the live photo of the user to the image on their official documents. This use of live images and video rather than still images is unique to BACE API and improves the success rate in matching faces and verifying that the images are of real people rather than preexisting photos. Judges for the Africa Prize stated that facial recognition software in Africa is becoming increasingly important and BACE API is just the beginning.

Issues in Identity Verification for Africans

Most facial recognition tools on the market use white faces in their dataset, which leads to higher rates of misidentification of black faces. BACE API, however, was designed with the express intention of improving the design of facial recognition software in Africa. The algorithm of BACE API is designed to draw from a more diverse data set to address racial bias and bolster its accuracy.

Moreover, N’Guessan stated that she created the BACE API tool to address high rates of identity fraud and cybercrime in Ghanian banks. Financial institutions in Ghana spend approximately $400 million per year identifying their users. Not only is BACE API more functionally accurate but it is also convenient as no special hardware is needed and the software can be combined with existing identification apps. So far, the software is being used in two financial institutions for identity verification and one event platform to manage attendee registration.

Identity Verification and Poverty

Facial recognition software in Africa has recently become an important tool to address poverty. There are approximately 1.1 billion people worldwide who lack an official ID, 500 million of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa and 40% of whom are under the age of 18. Women are disproportionately more likely to lack identity documents compared to men. The population of people without an official ID are unable to access basic socio-economic and legal rights, including healthcare, education, voting and legal protection in court. Moreover, people without identity documents are barred from entering the formal economy, for example, starting a business or gaining official employment. The widespread lack of official identification is largely due to the difficulties, inconveniences and expense of registering for an ID, including the common requirement for multiple forms of ID for different functions.

Digital technology, however, is leading the charge to address unequal access to ID’s and basic services, and BACE API is a unique solution to this issue by serving as a one-stop-shop for remote identification. After verifying their identity through the program, users gain access to necessary financial services, education and voting rights.

BACE API’s Benefits During COVID-19

During COVID-19, BACE API is a viable alternative to the in-person verification processes used by most such as fingerprints or personal appearances. Companies and organizations can now remotely authenticate and onboard people without ever meeting them.

Moreover, the demand for healthcare and welfare programs has skyrocketed in the wake of the widespread economic downturn. With BACE API, governments are relieved of the burden of identity verification and can operate more efficiently to provide essential services to people struggling during COVID-19.

– Neval Mulaomerovic
Photo: Flickr

Ending Child Labor in cocoaGhana and Côte d’Ivoire are responsible for collecting around 70% of the world’s supply of cocoa beans and the industry as a whole is worth over $100 billion. However, despite the economic importance of cocoa farming for these nations, there has been controversy surrounding the people doing the farming. A large proportion of those working at these cocoa farms are children, some as young as 5 years old. These children are subjected to health and safety hazards in the form of unsafe pesticides and dangerous tools. They are also exploited and paid less than adults doing the same job. Additionally, this practice pulls children away from possible education. In a broad sense, this issue of child labor in cocoa production has gone unsolved and ignored by the governments of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire as well as the companies profiting off of the work. The World Cocoa Foundation has asserted its commitment to ending child labor in cocoa production.

Child Labor in Cocoa Farms

According to a recent study done by NORC, the number of children working in cocoa farms has not been improving and could possibly have increased in the past few years. It found that nearly 45% of children living in agricultural homes of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire work in cocoa production. This adds up to about  1.5 million children. The same study found that in the last decade, the proportion of child labor in cocoa production has increased from 31% to 45%. As the cocoa industry continues to rapidly grow, there are no signs that child labor will decrease unless there is immediate and substantial intervention.

Past attempts to eradicate child labor in cocoa production have been poorly implemented. In 2001, a number of the largest producers of African cocoa agreed to end 70% of child labor by 2020. Significant progress toward this goal has not been achieved. A similar pledge was made in 2010 but has seen the same shortcomings. When asked of past failures in these areas, the president of the World Cocoa Foundation, Richard Scobey, said that targets were set “without fully understanding the complexity and scale” of issues of poverty and child labor in these African countries. With studies by the NORC and other groups, it seems as though the issues are better understood now than they were in past decades.

Response by the World Cocoa Foundation

In October 2020, the World Cocoa Foundation responded to the situation of child labor in cocoa farming. The Foundation came out strongly against the practice of child labor in cocoa production and set new goals to deal with the issue. Focused on Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, the first goal set is an increase in the availability of anti-child labor monitoring to 100% of locations and farms by 2025.

The World Cocoa Foundation has also announced other efforts to combat child labor that include efforts from companies, the governments of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire and other stakeholders. Firstly, the Living Income Differential pricing policy is expected to provide $1.2 billion in additional revenue for cocoa farmers. For children specifically, the government of Côte d’Ivoire will launch a $120 million pooled funding facility for primary education that aims to reach five million children, with $25 million expected from the cocoa industry. Additionally, to boost household incomes and yields, leading companies will supply training, coaching or farm development plans to local farmers.

The Road Ahead

Past attempts to end child labor show that the situation in the cocoa industry is severe and complicated and therefore must be prioritized. As the World Cocoa Foundation recommits to ending child labor in cocoa production, collaboration and commitment will serve as important factors for the success of the endeavor.

– Matthew McKee
Photo: Flickr

Government of GhanaThe African country of Ghana, home to over 30 million people, is a particularly influential nation in the region and a capable force for innovation. It is recognized as the third most peaceful country in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the U.S. State Department asserts that Ghana’s economy has been “historically  regarded as one of the drivers for West Africa.” Unfortunately, due in major part to the COVID-19 pandemic, this economy has suffered robust declines, with Ghanaian annual GDP growth falling almost 80% between 2019 and 2020. National leadership from the government of Ghana, and particularly the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology & Innovation, stands as a testament to still capable strides being made in gender equality initiatives, natural resource protection and climate action spheres.

GIRC Centre

The Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology & Innovation (MESTI) is heavily involved in promoting both research opportunities and funding the next great wave of Ghanaian technology to put the country on the cutting edge.

To that end, the Ghana Innovation and Research Commercialisation (GIRC) Centre, which is newly established, has already inspired initiatives to be introduced to the national parliament. Support for Ghana’s modernization and continued movement into the research effort has been given by the Science Granting Councils Initiative, which “aims to strengthen the capacities of 15 science granting councils in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

The GIRC Centre, to begin its ambitious scientific goals and in conjunction with the government of Ghana, will also be setting up a National Research Fund, into which financial backing measured by Ghana’s GDP will be introduced. The fund is meant to be all-inclusive and only has the pursuit of scientific development in its intentions; notably, equal disbursement, regardless of gender or disability, has been a focal point in the ministry’s announcement, signaling that the nation’s STEM-based progress is also progressive toward inclusion.

National Biodiversity Steering Committee

An already critical part of Ghana’s relationship with poverty is its relationship with natural resources. The country’s strong development propelled its poverty trends into lower and lower bounds, from a national poverty rate of over 50% in 1991 to a rate of less than 10% in 2013. Urbanization, reliant on oil, gas and other natural resources, also requires a careful level of balance with the environment, particularly for long-lasting sustainability. Recognizing this, the government of Ghana has established a recently equipped National Biodiversity Steering Committee.

Functioning under MESTI, the Committee’s primary directive is to maintain policy that ensures Ghana’s environmental strength, which is a particularly staggering responsibility in a nation whose primary exports of cocoa, gold and sawn wood, are all dependent on conscientious management of Ghana’s environmental resources.

Climate Development Revision Goals

Equally in line with Ghana’s focus on future resiliency is a national push for redevelopment under the Paris guidelines for climate aware policy. Ghanaian efforts have been met with logistical and financial difficulty but meaningful steps have helped deliver more efficient energy to areas and even supply grants to northern areas in order to facilitate community-wide adaptations to projected climate changes. Partnered efforts with the UNDP have also led to cross-cultural inroads to other nations, such as Switzerland, which lends the government of Ghana greater resources, greater economic strength that can then be used to weather poverty and health crises as well as greater international legitimacy.

These combined efforts all play into larger plans for Ghana’s advancing growth, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many poverty and health alleviation goals are inexorably tied to the status of the government and country at large. Progressive policies that put growth on track, encourage innovation from all sectors and actively ensure natural balances between communities, protect not only a government but an entire country.

– Alan Mathew
Photo: Flickr

Efforts to Eradicate PovertyOn July 29, 2020, Ghana released its Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) report, which outlines the various conditions that contribute to poverty in the country. Instead of using a monetary metric, the report looks at education, health and living standards to interpret the rate of poverty and determine the efforts to eradicate poverty in Ghana.

Using data collected between 2011 and 2018, the report found the rate and severity of multidimensional poverty have reduced across Ghana, with significant improvements in electricity, cooking fuel and school attainment.

Overall, Ghana reduced its incidence of multidimensional poverty by nine percentage points from 55% in 2011 to 46% in 2017. This indicates that poverty itself has been reduced and the experience of the impoverished has improved.

Each dimension examined in the report is measured through specific indicators relevant to poverty in Ghana. The government then prioritizes the country’s needs by examining the various deprivations that the poor experience most.

The report concludes that the indicators that contribute most to multidimensional poverty are lack of health insurance coverage, undernutrition, school lag and households with members that lacked any education.

The report also reveals stark differences between poverty in rural and urban populations, with 64.6% of the rural population and 27% of the urban population being multidimensionally poor.

Based on the results of the report, it is paramount that resources must be allocated to the health and education sectors to improve the quality of life for the most at-risk members of Ghana, particularly in rural areas.

Efforts to Eradicate Poverty: Healthcare

The USAID is addressing the need for comprehensive healthcare reform through a multi-pronged approach to improve care for children and women in rural Ghana.

Since 2003, the Ghanaian government has developed and expanded the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), which provides residents with public health insurance. The program has provided many improvements to the healthcare system, but systemic barriers continue to limit the quality and accessibility of care.

In particular, a 2016 study published in the Ghana Medical Journal found that rural hospitals’ lack of personnel, equipment and protocol put women and children at the highest risk. This is attributed to poor nutrition, inability to seek neonatal care and lack of health insurance.

To address barriers to healthcare, the USAID first compiled a network of preferred primary care providers to allow healthcare workers to communicate, educate and synchronize their standards of quality care.

“The networks help connect rural primary health facilities with district hospitals, enabling mentoring between community health workers and more experienced providers at hospitals,” the USAID stated.

The second prong was providing training to government staff and frontline healthcare workers to better understand health data and its uses for maternal and child health decision-making. By using the network of providers and standardizing data, doctors are better equipped to determine whether patients need a referral to a specialized caregiver.

The USAID reports that these improvements have resulted in a 33% reduction in institutional maternal mortality, a 41% increase in the utilization of family planning services and a 28% reduction in stillbirths.

As the healthcare sector has grown stronger and poverty has decreased, the USAID and other outside support have scaled back aid to allow the network of health providers to operate autonomously.

This is a positive indication that the country is moving in the right direction to end poverty and improve the quality of life in the coming years, but it is also a critical moment in its development. The Duke Global Health Institute warns that the country must secure a robust medical infrastructure for the transition to independence to be a success.

According to the Duke Global Health Institute, if global aid is removed too early, the poor will suffer the most. Therefore, they state that it is essential that the government has a firm grasp on funding and organizing principals before they move away from outside aid.

Efforts to Eradicate Poverty: Education

The level of deprivation of education is also heavily dependent on rural or urban residence. The educational dimension is measured by school attendance, school attainment and school lag. In rural areas, 21.1%, 33.9% and 34.4% of the population is deprived of each respective indicator. In contrast, the deprivation is only 7.2%, 10% and 12.8%.

To combat education deprivation, the current government has vowed to make secondary education free in an attempt to retain students who cannot afford to continue their education past primary schooling.

Before secondary school was made free in 2017, 67% of children who attended elementary went on to secondary school. In 2018, the ministry of education reported that attendance had increased to 83%.

To promote education in rural areas, this past March the ministry of education presented over 500 vehicles, including 100 buses, to secondary schools throughout the country.

Efforts to Eradicate Poverty: Living Standards

Deprivation of proper sanitation ranked highest out of all indicators for living standards, health and education. The report stated that sanitation deprivation affected 62.8% of the rural population and 25.8% of the urban population.

Although more than 75% of the country lacks access to basic sanitation, little improvement has been made. Between 2000 and 2015, access only increased from 11% to 15%.

To encourage private investments in the sanitation sector, the ministry of sanitation and water resources hosted a contest between public and private entities to design liquid waste management strategies for different localities throughout the country.

In 2019, nine public and six private partners were announced as winners of a total prize of £1,285,000 and US$ 225,000 respectively – for excellence in the implementation of urban liquid waste management strategies.

Winning strategies included an aquaponic system that sustained vegetable growth with treated water and the rehabilitation of a treatment center to raise fish.

Overall, the competition provided education about sanitation to rural communities, increased access to private toilets and spurred economic interest in developing the sanitation system in Ghana.

Sophie Kidd
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in GhanaGhana has a population of 30.4 million people, and over 100,000 of these people are homeless on any given night. Though most of the population does have access to safe, affordable housing, not every Ghanaian does. Here are five facts about homelessness in Ghana.

5 Facts About Homelessness in Ghana

  1. Around 39% of Ghana’s urban population lives in slums. This equates to roughly 5.5 million people. Poor households and domestic violence victims are at higher risk for homelessness. In urban areas, single women with children are also at risk for homelessness. Obtaining ownership of a house can be difficult for some women because in matrilineal tribes when a man dies, there are limits for women regarding inheritance of spousal property.
  2. In urban areas, there is a shortage of housing. These shortages are caused by a lack of adequate financing, costly building materials and delays in getting permits to build. It is also challenging to gain access to urban land in order to build there. There are not enough governmental rental properties available, and those that do exist are mostly inhabited by government workers.
  3. COVID-19 has made things worse. Many homeless Ghanaians cannot comply with lockdown orders, and do not always have access to masks, gloves and hand sanitizers. Their previous jobs of carrying shoppers’ wares or helping to load passengers became obsolete during the pandemic. Some volunteers are helping to distribute food and water to the homeless, though others argue that the government should distribute raw ingredients and money instead of cooked food.
  4. Housing policies and programs are being implemented. One such project is the Tema-Ashaiman Slum Upgrading Facility (TAMSUF). This project aims to upgrade slums, develop low-cost housing and facilitate urban development projects. TAMSUF completed its first housing project in 2011, which involved constructing a building that contained 31 dwelling units and 15 commercial shops. In addition, it also involved a commercial toilet and bath facility. TAMSUF also constructed a sanitation facility containing six bathrooms, which can hold 12 people. Similarly, The Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor Fund (G-FUND) seeks to grant homeless Ghanaians access to funds in order to provide for themselves. Created in 2010, this fund provides low-income households in Ghana with credit for housing and business development. This funding also improves infrastructure.
  5. The Urban Poor Fund International is working to improve living conditions. UPFI has built over 60,000 houses and improved 3,000 dwelling units in various countries. Examples of their projects include a community-led waste management initiative and also a housing construction in Amui Dzor, Ashaiman, in Ghana. The Amui Dzor housing project has housed 36 families and provided many dwelling units, bathrooms and rental stores since its creation in 2009. One of the project’s most famous sponsors was the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Many of Ghana’s homeless require help from the government and housing projects to get back on their feet. Efficient rental control laws and housing for low-income individuals are just some of the many policies that can help lower or diminish rates of homelessness in Ghana.

– Ayesha Asad
Photo: Flickr

Some developing countries are using a forgotten testing method called pool testing to control COVID-19 spread. This method requires fewer tests, costs less and provides a quicker turnaround time than the traditional method of testing each person individually. This article will explain three main points about this form of testing:

How Pool Testing Works

The basic principle behind pool testing is as follows: between five and 50 samples are collected from different individuals. These samples are then all mixed together and tested as one big pool. If the pool results are negative, it can be safely assumed that none of the individuals are COVID positive. If the pool results are positive, each individual’s sample must be tested separately to determine which sample contained the positive test.

In regions expected to have generally low rates of positive tests, this method saves an enormous amount of materials, as well as reduces cost for individuals and government agencies. A recent paper that details the optimal algorithms behind the testing hypothesizes that this method could reduce costs by a factor of “ten to a hundred or more.” The paper also recorded data from real-world settings. They took 1,280 real samples from Rwanda, and found only 1 positive test. It only took 64 total tests rather than the 1,280 it otherwise would have taken.

Pool testing was originally developed in the 1940s to test US army drafts for syphilis, by Robert Dorfman. Developing countries such as Rwanda and Ghana have been the first to implement this strategy in response to COVID-19. This form of testing is most effective, though, in regions with an expected low density of positive tests. In an area where lots of positive tests are expected, such as New York City, a large pool would more often come back positive, requiring more tests. This would mitigate much of the benefits that this form of testing provides.

Rwanda and Ghana’s Success With Pool Testing

Rwanda has responded quickly and effectively to COVID-19, partially due to recent experiences with other outbreaks, but also in part because of pool testing. The country is home to 12.3 million people, but has only reported five deaths. Similarly, Ghana has seen impressive results. As of July 22, the country, with 30 million people, has only had 153 deaths.

The Chinese city of Wuhan, the former epicenter of the pandemic, was able to conduct over 6.5 million tests in only nine days due to the utilization of pool testing.

Applications for developing countries in the future

As was mentioned earlier, pool testing is far more effective in areas with a lower density of positive cases. Most of Africa, home to lots of poor and developing countries, has yet to see the cases spike as they have in Western Europe and the United States. Since pandemics have the potential to cause far more damage to economically fragile countries, implementation of pool testing as early as possible would be incredibly beneficial for developing countries. Since costs are a particularly pressing issue for poor countries, pool testing’s reduction in costs would help immensely. Beyond mere financials, the logistical problem of the raw number of tests is aided through pool testing.

Novel solutions to the COVID-19 crisis exist. Strategies such as preemptive pool testing in developing countries could save millions of dollars and, more importantly, thousands upon thousands of lives. Developing countries should implement pool testing whenever possible, and continue to search for unique solutions to help minimize the negative impacts of COVID-19.

Evan Kuo
Photo: Department of Defense

Drones in AfricaThe mission of Zipline, a company started in 2014 and based in San Francisco, is to “provide every human on Earth with instant access to vital medical supplies.” To accomplish this goal, the company has created a drone delivery service where drones in Africa distribute lifesaving medical supplies to remote clinics in Ghana and Rwanda. More recently Zipline has expanded to other locations across the globe, including the U.S.

Poverty in Rwanda and Ghana

Rwanda is a rural East African country that relies heavily on farming. Although the country has made improvements in recent years, the 1994 Rwandan genocide damaged the economy and forced many people into poverty, particularly women. As of 2015, 39% of the population lived below the poverty line and Rwanda was ranked 208th out of 228 countries in terms of GDP per capita. On top of this, Rwanda only has 0.13 physicians per 1,000 people, which is insufficient to meet health care needs according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Ghana, located in West Africa, has fewer economic problems than neighboring countries in the region. However, debt, high costs of electricity and a lack of a stable domestic revenue continue to pose a threat to the economy. The GDP per capita was $4,700 as of 2017, with 24.2% of the population living below the poverty line. Although Ghana has a higher ratio of physicians per 1,000 people than Rwanda, with 0.18 physicians, it still falls below the WHO recommendation of at least 2.3 physicians per 1,000.

Benefits of Drone Delivery Services

On-demand delivery, such as drone delivery services, are typically only available to wealthy nations. However, Zipline evens the playing field by ensuring that those living in poorer and more remote regions also have access to the medical supplies they need. Zipline has made over 37,000 deliveries. In Rwanda, the drones provide deliveries across the country, bypassing the problems of dangerous routes, traffic and vehicle breakdowns, speeding up delivery and therefore minimizing waste. Additionally, Zipline’s drones in Africa do not use gasoline but, instead, on battery power.

Drone Delivery Services and COVID-19

Zipline’s services have been especially crucial during the COVID-19 response. Zipline has partnered with various nonprofit organizations (NGOs) and governments to complement traditional means of delivery of medical supplies on an international scale. This has helped to keep delivery drivers at home and minimize face-to-face interactions. As there are advances in treatments for COVID-19, delivery by drones in Africa has the potential to provide access to the vulnerable populations who are most at risk. At the same time, it can help vulnerable people stay at home by delivering medications directly to them or to nearby clinics, minimizing travel and reducing the chance of exposure. Zipline distribution centers have the capability to make thousands of deliveries a week across 8,000 square miles. Doctors and clinics simply use an app to order the supplies they need, receiving the supplies in 15 to 20 minutes. The drones are equipped for any weather conditions.

New means of providing medical equipment are helping to ensure that the world’s poor have access to the supplies they need. A company called Zipline has been using drones to deliver medical supplies to Africa, specifically in Rwanda and Ghana. During the COVID-19 pandemic, drones have been crucial in providing people and clinics with the medical supplies they need.

Elizabeth Davis
Photo: Flickr