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CATCH Technology for Virus DiscoveryAccurate and efficient virus detection is needed now more than ever. In areas like Africa, one of the most prevalent diseases is the viral disease of HIV/AIDS. Thousands of people die every year due to viral diseases like HIV/AIDS and even the seemingly harmless flu. The most recent of viruses is COVID-19, the rapidly spreading virus that has led to a global pandemic. CATCH technology for virus discovery provides hope for a less disease-stricken future.

CATCH Technology for Virus Discovery

First developed in 2019 by scientists at the Broad Institute, CATCH provides scientists with an efficient new way to detect and code viruses. In scientific terms, CATCH stands for Compact Aggregation of Targets for Comprehensive Hybridization. CATCH is a computational method that allows scientists and users to design probes that then catch genetic material for all viruses known to humans. This tool is particularly helpful for viruses like Zika, which is very difficult to see in clinical samples. CATCH is able to very accurately and quickly detect even viruses that occur in low abundance in clinical samples. Due to these abilities, CATCH could play a key role in future disease prevention and treatment.

Advantages of CATCH

  1. It is adaptable. As new mutations and strains of viruses are discovered and uploaded to the GenBank database, CATCH users can quickly redesign a set of probes with up-to-date information.
  2. It is efficient at detecting viruses. The Zika outbreak in 2015 proved to be particularly problematic because the Zika virus was not easily detectable within the human body. Zika is difficult to detect because even in patients who contract the virus, blood samples would often have a very low amount of actual Zika virus particles. This is where CATCH proves to be such a groundbreaking method for virus detection. CATCH can detect even the lowest amount of virus particles present in a sample.
  3. It has the power to detect all human viruses. While the first version of CATCH only targeted 20 viruses, as the software developed, the number of viruses it targeted expanded. Now, CATCH has the ability to target all forms of viruses known to infect humans. As more viruses are discovered, they can be easily added to CATCH.
  4. It is accessible. The software for CATCH is available to any member of the public on Github and the development and validation of the tool is available via an online scientific website, Nature Biotechnology.

Impact of CATCH in Africa

In a study by researchers Hayden Metsky and Katie Siddle, data gathered using CATCH helped discover that the ZIka virus was present in several regions, months before scientists could detect it.

At the time of the Lassa outbreak in Nigeria in 2018, the Lassa virus was difficult to sequence and hard to detect. The researchers proved that by using CATCH, content of the samples of the 2018 Lassa virus could be rescued. This means that the Lassa virus will be more easily detectable.

The above results warrant the use of CATCH technology for virus discovery and for future outbreaks. The CATCH tool can be used to provide low-cost disease surveillance and the information required to control outbreaks. In the very depths of a viral pandemic like COVID-19, the CATCH tool creates hope for the future of global health.

Lucia Kenig-Ziesler
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 In TaiwanWith a population of approximately 23 million people and a location that is in close proximity to China, epidemiologists expected that Taiwan would be the next epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. After having 668 reported cases of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003, Taiwan was well equipped to contain and slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

5 Things About COVID-19 in Taiwan

  1. Although Taiwan is close to China and has a population of nearly 23 million, it has done remarkably well in its response to COVID-19. As of July 30, 2020, there have been 467 positive cases and just seven deaths reported. This translates to 20 cases of COVID-19 per one million people living in Taiwan.

  2. In an effort to help citizens locate where they can purchase masks, more than 1,000 Taiwanese software developers created applications to help citizens understand where masks were available. In early March there were “59 map systems, 21 line applications, three chatbots, 23 mask sales location search systems, 22 apps, five audio systems, two information-sharing systems and one online mask reservation system.”

  3. Wearing a mask in public to prevent the spread of COVID-19 was an early practice in countries like Taiwan. Prior to the rise of the pandemic, Taiwanese manufacturers were producing 1.88 million to 2.44 million face masks per day. In an effort to ensure masks were available to those who needed them, the Government of Taiwan banned the export of masks on January 24, 2020.

  4. During the 2003 SARS outbreak, Taiwan had a robust contact tracing and quarantine system, border and travel regulations, a SARS advisory committee and training on infection control. Although these efforts were initially effective, Taiwan ultimately reported 668 probable cases of SARS. As a result of the severity of the SARS outbreak in the country, Taiwan stepped in quickly with stricter policies to slow the spread of COVID-19 by hosting virtual lectures about COVID-19, implementing travel restrictions, prohibiting large events and quarantine and isolation measures.

  5. Because Taiwan has been able to successfully control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, many aspects of daily life have resumed. After approximately three consecutive weeks of no community spread, the Taiwanese Baseball League became the first in the world to allow spectators and fans back into games. On May 8, 2020, the professional baseball league allowed 1,000 fans into their scheduled games to spectate.

As a result of its swift and effective response to COVID-19, Taiwan has been able to return to a semblance of normalcy. Taiwan’s success stems from the government’s quick action, technological assistance as well as hard lessons learned from the SARS pandemic. In light of all the above, it comes as no surprise that Taiwan’s response to COVID-19 ranks as one of the world’s best.

Maddi Miller
Photo: Flickr

Life Expectancy in Tonga
Tonga is a country located in the South Pacific Ocean, within the South Pacific archipelago. The sovereign state consists of a total of 176 islands that spread across 270,000 square miles, 36 of which contain a fast-growing population of 100,651 people. About 70% of the 100,651 people live on the main island, Tongatapu. While life expectancy is on the rise throughout the country, there are still many health concerns. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in Tonga.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Tonga

  1. Life expectancy rates in Tonga have been steadily rising for the past 70 years. In 1950, the average life expectancy was 55.78 years. Today, the life expectancy is 70.97 years. As of 2018, male life expectancy was 68.9, and female life expectancy was 72.8. This is most likely due to improvements in sanitation, housing and education. According to the U.N.’s projections, Tonga’s life expectancy will continue to increase and grow to 74.30 by 2050.
  2. The leading cause of death for all ages in Tonga is non-communicable diseases (NCDs). According to the Tongan Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO), NCDs account for the majority of deaths in Tonga. These include cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory diseases, diabetes and more. Factors such as lack of physical activity, smoking daily, alcohol use, obesity, high blood pressure and eating less than five servings of fruit and vegetables per day increase the risk of developing NCDs. Of the population, 60.7% is at high risk of developing or having an NCD and 39.2% at moderate risk. One study even found that one out of every ten hospital patients in Tonga was admitted due to an NCD.
  3. The NCD that kills most people in the country is coronary heart disease. The latest data from 2017 reports that of every 100,000 Tongans, 128.72 (16.64% of the population) die from coronary heart disease.
  4. Tonga’s fertility rate has been decreasing since the 1950s. However, despite the steady decrease, Tonga’s fertility rate remains high compared to other countries. In 1955, the fertility rate in Tonga was 7.3 births per woman. Today, it is currently at 3.2 births per woman. In comparison, in Australia, there were 3.0 births per woman in 1950 but only 1.86 births per woman in 2015.
  5. Obesity is extremely prevalent among Tonga’s population. An important risk factor to NCDs, obesity has been increasing in Tonga since 1975. In 1975, 47.8% of people 18 and older were obese. In 2016, the obesity rate had jumped to 75.6%. This year, Tonga ranks number two in the world for the highest body mass index (BMI) with its population having an average BMI of 31.9. Tonga falls just below the world’s most obese country, Nauru, which has a BMI of 32.5. Tonga’s obesity rate is due to a couple of factors, including low levels of physical activity and poor diets.
  6. The diet of Tongans plays an important role in the level of obesity throughout the country. Most Tongan’s diets once consisted of root vegetables, coconuts and fish. Since joining the global economy, diets have become highly processed and fatty. The average diet is now made up of rice, bread, canned fish, sugar, salt and packaged noodles.
  7. Tobacco use, another risk factor for NCDs, has been slowly decreasing in Tonga. In 2000, 36.3% of the population used tobacco. The most recently projected smoking rate puts tobacco use at 27.9%.
  8. Health-related issues make up most of Tonga’s other top causes of death. Other top causes of death in Tonga include diabetes (13.63%), stroke (9.91%), influenza and pneumonia (7.26%), breast cancer (2.83%) and lung disease (4.60%).
  9. More people have slowly moved into Tonga’s urban areas in recent years. In 1955, the urban population was at just 15%, while today the percentage has risen to 76%. This urbanization results in a more sedentary lifestyle, which, in turn, becomes a risk factor for developing obesity.
  10. Tonga is the first country in the Pacific Islands to develop a plan to fight obesity. In 2017, the Tongan government implemented a tax on imported foods in hopes of discouraging people from purchasing them. The tax included items such as mutton flaps, industrial chicken and turkey tails. There are also groups such as Tonga Health Promotion Foundation (TongaHealth) that fight obesity in hopes of improving life expectancy. TongaHealth was established in 2007 by the Health Promotion Foundation Act. Dedicated to the prevention of NCDs in Tonga, the group recognizes the urgency in the country’s rising number of NCDs. It fights the risks by focusing on educating the population on topics such as healthy eating, physical activity, tobacco control and alcohol control.

While life expectancy rates are on the rise in Tonga, there is still work to be done to improve the health of Tongans and further increase life expectancy. Tobacco use, alcohol use, a lack of physical activity and poor diet are all putting Tongans at risk for obesity and NCDs. Moving forward, the government and other humanitarian organizations must focus their efforts on improving health and life expectancy in Tonga.

– Marlee Septak
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Sierra LeoneSierra Leone is a small nation located on the coast of West Africa. While the country boasts an abundance of natural resources, it is also a poor nation, with a healthcare system in dire need of improvement. Here are 9 facts about healthcare in Sierra Leone.

9 Facts About Healthcare in Sierra Leone

  1. Sierra Leone has one of the lowest life expectancies on the globe. In 2018, the average life expectancy in Sierra Leone was 54.3 years. This places the nation among the bottom five in the entire world. In comparison, the average global life expectancy is 72.6 years.

  2. Sierra Leone faces high rates of infant and maternal mortality. Similar to life expectancy, infant and maternal fatality rates help gauge the quality of a nation’s health care system. In 2015, 87.1 infants died per 1,000 births in Sierra Leone, while 1,360 mothers died per 100,000 births. In the U.S., just 5.4 infants died per 1,000 births, and only 14 mothers died for every 100,000 births. Birth-related deaths generally occur when there are delays in women seeking, reaching and receiving care.

  3. All people living in Sierra Leone are at risk of malaria. Malaria is endemic to the nation, and poses a great health risk. In fact, four out of every ten hospital visits in Sierra Leone are due to malaria. Children are at particular risk, and the disease contributes to the nation’s high number of child fatalities. However, rates of the illness are falling across the country due to preventative practices such as sleeping under insecticide treated nets. Earlier diagnoses and treatments also contribute to the lowered rates of illness. By the end of 2020, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in Sierra Leone hopes to have decreased cases by 40 percent.

  4. The Ebola outbreak of 2014 hit Sierra Leone particularly hard. Despite its relatively small population, there were more cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone than any other country. To be exact, there were a total of 14,124 cases in the country, including nearly 4,000 deaths. The first case was reported in May 2014, and Sierra Leone was not declared Ebola-free until February 2016. According to the World Health Organization, the virus was able to spread so widely due to the weaknesses of the healthcare in Sierra Leone. These weaknesses included too few healthcare workers, not enough oversight and a lack of resources.

  5. Disabled residents face tough conditions. Approximately 450,000 disabled people live in Sierra Leone, including those who were maimed in the decade-long civil war that ended in 2002. The government does not currently provide any assistance to the disabled. Those with disabilities resort to begging on the streets of Freetown, the nation’s capital. Disabled youth turned away from their families (due to the family’s inability to support the youth) often form their own communities on the streets. Employment can also be hard to achieve due to discrimination. Julius Cuffie, a member of Parliament who suffers from polio, brings awareness to the disabled’s struggles. Hoping to bring the disabled’s issues to the forefront, Cuffie pushes for the Persons with Disabilities Act.

  6. Corruption exists in Sierra Leone’s healthcare system. According to a 2015 survey, 84 percent of Sierra Leoneans have paid a bribe just to use government services. Additionally, about a third of the funds given to fight the Ebola crisis are not accounted for. This translates to roughly 11 million pounds, or almost 14 million dollars. Sierra Leone has a literacy rate of about 40 percent. As a result, many health care services overcharge unknowing residents for basic services. A new initiative, put together by the nation’s Anti-Corruption Commission, advises residents to report cases of bribery.

  7. In 2010, Sierra Leone began offering free health care. The Free Healthcare Initiative (FHCI) aims to decrease the nation’s high maternal, infant and child mortality rate. The government also hopes the initiative improves general health across the country. The ordinance provides a package of free services for pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under the age of five. The program has not been without its challenges, however, due to the aforementioned weaknesses of previous systems of health care in Sierra Leone. That said, the initiative has resulted in a number of positive changes. For example, there has been an increase in the number of healthcare staff, a larger willingness for parents to seek care for their children and a reduction in mortality for those under five.

  8. There has been an increase in efforts to strengthen emergency medical response in Sierra Leone. Road accidents kill thousands each year in the country. In response to this, the First Responder Coalition of Sierra Leone (FRCSL) was created in 2019 to improve the state of urgent medical care. Five national and international groups in Makeni, a city in northern Sierra Leone, founded the coalition. The group aims to provide emergency care, treat the high numbers of injuries and resolve the low amount of pre-hospital treatment in Sierra Leone. In its first two months, the FRSCL trained 1,000 Makeni residents, equipping each one with a first aid kit. The coalition hopes to train 3,500 more in the next six months. It also plans on expanding out of the northern province in the next five years. Hopefully, the FRCSL’s efforts will save thousands of lives from vehicle accidents in the coming years.

  9. CARE is working to improve sexual and reproductive health for women and girls in Sierra Leone. The humanitarian agency began working in the country in 1961. Goals of the organization include providing medical supplies and contraceptives, giving training to healthcare workers and working with the community to eliminate attitudes that prevent women from discovering their rights to sexual and reproductive health. CARE is currently present in approximately 30 percent of the country’s communities, particularly in areas that have high rates of HIV infection and teenage pregnancy. One Sierra Leonean mother, named Fanta, credits CARE with educating her about proper breastfeeding and health practices, leading to the survival and continued health of her daughter.

Healthcare in Sierra Leone is an issue that is complicated by the nation’s high rates of poverty, many endemic diseases and tumultuous political history. While shocking statistics, such as the country’s low life expectancy and high maternal and infant mortality rates paint a grim picture, there are signs of progress being made, and there is potential for much more change on the horizon.

– Joshua Roberts

Photo: Flickr

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

Lockdown

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

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

Numbers

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

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

Social Distancing

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

Moving Forward

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

– Cleveland Lewis 
Photo: Flickr

Malaria in ThailandThailand is home to nearly 70 million people. The Asian country is known for tropical beaches, opulent palaces and lush elephant rainforests. This extravagant subtropical climate is perfect for tourism but also serves as a breeding ground for mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria. Symptoms of malaria range from fever, seizures and even death. 

5 Facts About Malaria in Thailand

  1. Around 45 percent of the population is at risk of contracting malaria. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 32 million people are at risk of being infected with malaria in Thailand. The country is filled with more than 46 million acres of thick jungle and rainforest. Many citizens live in these dense ecosystems, along with several species of mosquito. The most dangerous areas of transmission are border regions, like the borders with Myanmar and Cambodia. These regions have an abundant population of highly infectious female Anopheles mosquitoes.
  2. The wet season poses the highest risk. The highest risk of malaria in Thailand lies during the rainy season when mosquitoes are most active. The wet season typically occurs from mid-May to mid-October. During this period the presence of the mosquitoes that carry malaria parasites is much higher than other seasons. Of note, the rural areas of Thailand tend to be more affected while larger cities such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Pattaya do not experience a high risk of malaria even during the wet season.
  3. Malaria control mechanisms greatly reduce the risk of spreading the disease. Mass free distribution of materials such as insecticide-treated nets (ITNs), long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLIN) and the practice of indoor residual spraying (IRS) reduce the risk of contracting malaria substantially. By eliminating the transmitters, these insecticides are simultaneously eliminating the parasite. The WHO attributes Thailand’s advancement in preventing the spread of the disease to these materials and methods that have proven to provide powerful results.
  4. The Global Fund and UNICEF are helping. In 2010, Thailand’s funding for malaria control exceeded 7 million dollars. Funding has gradually increased year by year, mainly financed by the Global Fund and UNICEF. Thailand, a still-developing country, relies heavily on external aid to support health initiatives. Organizations like Global Fund and UNICEF are saving lives from preventable diseases like malaria through continuous aid.
  5. Cases and deaths of malaria in Thailand are declining. New malaria cases have declined since 2000 and continue to do so rapidly. There are less than 70 annual deaths of malaria in Thailand, which is almost a 90 percent reduction from 20 years ago. The nation’s successes in reducing malaria mortality are attributed to the increased funding for malaria control mechanisms, such as ITNs, LLINs, IRS and other forms of insecticidal materials.

These five facts about malaria in Thailand indicate a positive turn for the developing nation. Although, in rural areas, the disease persists with severity. With continued support from humanitarian aid organizations, Thailand can achieve minimal malaria cases with various control mechanisms.

– Hadley West
Photo: Pixabay

 5 Facts About Heart Disease in India
The rates of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and respiratory diseases are increasing at alarming rates in developing countries around the world. However, heart disease in India has had a particularly high impact on the nation’s population. This increase requires attention and action to reduce the strain of heart disease on the Indian population.

5 Facts About Heart Disease in India

  1. Rising rates of cardiovascular disease have rapidly increased in India. The number of cases within the country has more than doubled from 1990 to 2016. In comparison, heart disease in the United States decreased by 41% in the same time period. Death as a result of cardiovascular disease has increased by 34 percent in the country in the past 26 years alone. In 2016, 28.1 percent of all deaths were caused by heart disease and a total of 62.5 million years of life were lost to premature death. Heart disease in India accounts for nearly 60% of the global impact of cardiac health even though India accounts for less than 20 percent of the global population.
  2. The burden of heart disease, while high throughout India, varies greatly from state to state. Punjab has the highest burden of disease, with 17.5 percent of the population afflicted, while Mizoram has the lowest burden, a full 9 times lower than Punjab. These immense disparities between Indian states are dependent upon the level of development and regional lifestyle differences. Understanding prevalent risk factors in different regions allows for more effective interventions. Specifically tailored programs are needed, rather than viewing India as a monolith.
  3. Rates of heart disease are far higher in the urban Indian populations when compared to rural communities. Urban areas record between 400 or 500 cases in every 100,000 people, while rural populations record 100 cases per 100,000 people. Risk factors for heart disease include a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, central obesity, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. All of these factors are abundant in urban populations and limited in rural populations, thus accounting for the discrepancy.
  4. On average, heart disease in India affects people 8 to 10 years earlier than other parts of the world, specifically heart attacks. This huge discrepancy can be explained by increased rates of tobacco consumption, the prevalence of diabetes and genetic predisposition for premature heart disease. A common genetic determinant of heart disease in Indians is familial hypercholesterolemia, a lipid disorder. Although this disorder is treatable with lifestyle changes and pharmaceuticals, it is often undiagnosed. This causes an increased likelihood of heart disease. Furthermore, stress levels in young Indians have been on the rise due to hectic lifestyles and increased career demands. Mental stress compounded with genetic predisposition and environmental factors like diet, sleep, and exercise has resulted in higher rates of heart disease in India’s younger population.
  5. The India Heart Association is committed to increasing awareness of the severity of heart disease in India. This organization is nongovernmental and launched by individuals who have been personally affected by heart disease. The organization’s major goals include increasing awareness of heart disease in India through online campaigns and grassroots activities. The organization has been appointed to the Thoracic and Cardiovascular Instrumentation Subcommittee of the Bureau of Indian Standards by the Indian government. Efforts are multi-faceted, operating through partnerships with local governments, hospitals, and programming with donors. Organizations like this one are making effective strides in addressing the burden of heart disease in India.

As heart disease in India is on the rise, it is important to understand the impact on global health. Non-communicable diseases have an undeniable effect on development. The World Health Organization stated, “Poverty is closely linked with NCDs, and the rapid rise in NCDs is predicted to impede poverty reduction initiatives in low-income countries.” In an effort to reduce global poverty, attention should move to heart disease in India, and further, to non-communicable diseases in developing countries globally.

Treya Parikh
Photo: Flickr

five global healthcare organizationsIn 2017, the World Health Organization and the World Bank have reported at least half of the world’s population does not have access to essential health services, such as medical care and health care. WHO and the World Bank have also reported this causes millions to live in extreme poverty, as they must pay out-of-pocket health care expenses. Although this is a global and life-threatening problem, there are many nongovernmental organizations dedicated to providing care to those who in need. Here are five global health care organizations you should know, all of which accept donations.

5 Global Health Care Organizations Everyone Should Know

  1. Doctors of the World
    Doctors of the World is an international human rights nonprofit committed to providing long-term medical care to those who cannot afford it. With over 400 programs in more than 80 countries, this organization is located in war zones, refugee camps and even rural communities. Doctors of the World successfully provides emergency and long-term medical care to those who greatly need it. In doing so, this organization treats those afflicted by poverty, disease, armed conflict, natural disasters or chronic, structural disparities. Doctors of the World helps treat 1.6 million people each year.
  2. Medic Mobile
    Medic Mobile is a nonprofit organization that strives to improve health care for those living in hard to reach communities. To do so, Medic Mobile builds software to ensure health care workers being able to deliver equitable care to communities everywhere around the world. Moreover, the organization is the core contributor to the Community Health Toolkit. CHT is a software that helps health workers deliver medical items safely, track outbreaks of disease faster, treat illnesses door to door, keep stock of essential medicines and communicate emergencies. Medic Mobile now impacts 14 countries in Africa and Asia, having trained and equipped 24,463 health workers.
  3. International Medical Corps
    International Medic Corps is a nonprofit organization with a mission based on improving the quality of life by saving lives and relieving suffering through health care training and relief and development programs. Based in the United States and the United Kingdom, International Medic Corps offers training and health care to local populations. The organization also provides medical assistance to those at the most risk. In 2017, International Medic Corps estimated it performed 4.8 million medical consultations, benefitting 8 million people directly and 50 million people indirectly.
  4. Mothers 2 Mothers
    Mothers 2 Mothers is a unique nonprofit organization dedicated to employ, train and help to empower HIV-positive women as community health workers in Africa. The “Mentor Mothers” work in local African communities and understaffed health facilities. They provide advice, essential health education and support to other HIV-positive mothers on how to protect their babies from HIV infection. Mothers 2 Mothers also works to ensure women and families are getting proper health advice and medication, are linked to the right clinical services and are supported on their treatment journey. Since 2001, Mothers 2 Mothers has reached over 10.5 million women and children. In 2017, the organization reported it had served 1 in 6 of the world’s HIV-positive women.
  5. Mercy Ships
    Mercy Ships is an organization committed to helping those struggling without medical services in Africa. To do so, the organization uses the Africa Mercy, a floating hospital ship with volunteer medical teams and sterile operating rooms. As a result, Mercy Ships directly aids those who would otherwise receive no care. Aboard the Africa Mercy, medical treatments are free of charge, such as removing tumors, correcting clefts and straightening legs. Since being founded in 1978, Mercy Ships has reported it has performed more than 100,000 surgeries.

Access to medical care and healthcare are necessary, affecting global health, economy and living conditions. To learn more about any of these five global healthcare organizations, visit their sites. All five global healthcare organizations accept donations to continue providing much needed medical and healthcare. While a country’s infrastructure may not currently be equipped to meet the needs of its population, NGOs, such as these, can make a significant difference.

Natalie Chen
Photo: Flickr

HIV in Africa: Myth vs Fact
The existence of HIV and AIDS may be widely known, but there are plenty of misconceptions lingering about the viruses. This epidemic is serious and scary for many people, sometimes causing excessive stigma. HIV is a global issue but remains most largely concentrated in underdeveloped regions, most notably, Africa.

Knowledge about HIV, early detection, diagnosis and treatment has improved markedly since it was first recorded. Below are some commonly accepted beliefs regarding AIDS and HIV in Africa and a breakdown of the myths and facts associated with each.

HIV-Positive Individuals Are Highly Contagious

Though HIV can be spread from person to person, it does not occur as easily as some may believe.

MYTHS — HIV cannot be transmitted through saliva, skin-to-skin contact, or sharing common facilities such as bathrooms, kitchens or living/working spaces. It is safe to casually touch an HIV positive individual, or even share a drink with them.

FACTS — HIV can be spread through only these specific bodily fluids: blood, semen and pre-seminal fluid, breast milk, and vaginal and/or anal fluids. Even when these types of contact have been made between an infected person and a non-infected person, transmission is not absolutely certain.

Spreading HIV is Reckless Behavior That is Easy to Prevent

MYTHS — People who have been diagnosed with HIV infect other people intentionally and should be more careful in stopping the spread of HIV.

FACTS — Many infected people do not know that they are HIV positive. In fact, nearly 70 percent of individuals living with the virus are unaware. Symptoms of HIV can be very subtle, so when a person becomes infected it can easily go undetected. Many people living in Africa do not have access to contraception, testing, or treatment due to poverty and thus, the spread of HIV is not due to reckless behavior.

Contracting HIV Can Be Easily Prevented by Living a Respectable Lifestyle

MYTHS — HIV and AIDS are the results of unprotected or gay sex, or from injecting drugs with infected needles. Women, straight men and people who do not use drugs cannot get HIV or AIDS.

FACTS — While the most common methods of transmission are through sharing infected needles and unprotected sex (for both women and men), other methods exist. Mothers in Africa have been known to spread the virus to their babies through pregnancy, birth, or breast milk. If a non-positive person has an open wound, they may contract HIV if in contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids.

HIV in Africa is Due to Irresponsible Africans and Therefore It Is Their Responsibility

MYTHS — HIV and AIDS only exist in Africa and other poor countries; western countries should not be concerned.

FACTS — Seventy percent of all HIV cases are in Africa, while 30 percent are not in Africa. Swaziland, Africa has an infection rate of more than one-fourth of the population, and continent-wide, roughly one million deaths occur on an annual basis.

Though HIV in Africa is much more prominent than in other parts of the world, it takes effort and support from those in power to end the epidemic and provide care for those suffering in all parts of the world.

There is No Hope for the Deadly HIV Epidemic in Africa

MYTHS — Once HIV is contracted, the immune system shuts down, the quality of life degrades and life expectancy significantly decreases.

FACTS — HIV only progresses to AIDS when left untreated. Treatment for HIV does exist, suppressing the infection and allowing for a long and healthy life for those infected. However, treatment for HIV in Africa is less available.

In the southern parts of Africa alone, about one million HIV/AIDS-related deaths are recorded annually, and the regional life expectancies range from 49-54 years old due to HIV/AIDS. To combat this, UNAIDS developed a plan to end the AIDS epidemic by the year 2030. The steps include early detection, immediate and affordable treatment, gender equality, family planning, and an emphasis on the most susceptible populations.

The PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) has brought hope to ending the epidemic, and in 2017, decreased the number of newly reported HIV infections in young females by as much as 40 percent.

Moving forward with HIV in Africa, there is great hope in combatting the infection. As more medical knowledge is gained worldwide and acceptance of infected individuals is increasing, so is the quality of life for those living with HIV. The continued attention on the spread and prevention of HIV will be a substantial contributor to the successful end of this global health risk.

– Heather Benton

Photo: Flickr

Medical humanitarian aidAccording to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an epidemic is a significant and sudden increase in the number of cases of a particular disease in a specific area or within a certain population. Epidemics can present themselves all over the world. However, epidemics are most common in impoverished, war-torn and developing countries.

Medical humanitarian aid can help end epidemics in many impoverished countries. Most countries that receive foreign humanitarian aid are not properly equipped to deal with disease outbreaks, nor do they have the trained medical professionals needed. This is how a disease outbreak quickly turns into an epidemic.

Many international medical relief groups focus their efforts on controlling epidemics by providing adequate medical training, professionals and equipment. Listed below are some of the international medical relief groups that are working toward ending epidemics.

Medical Teams International

Medical Teams International is a Christian-based international relief group that has been using medical humanitarian aid to help end epidemics. The group works by delivering medical supplies and trained volunteers to areas in need. The mission of the group is to provide medical, dental, humanitarian and holistic relief to diverse areas without discrimination.

For over 25 years, Medical Teams International has been providing relief for refugees in impoverished and war-torn countries. For example, in 2017 the United Nations declared a famine in South Sudan as a result of the civil war that has been ongoing since 2013. Shortly after the declaration, Medical Teams International dispatched massive relief efforts to combat the Cholera and Malaria epidemics.

Currently, Medical Teams International has provided medical humanitarian aid to over 520 thousand Sudanese refugees, severely curving the disease epidemics in that area.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)

Medecins Sans Frontieres, also known as Doctors Without Borders, is one of the most well known international medical-based relief groups in the world. For over 45 years, the group has dispersed trained medical professionals and medical humanitarian aid across the globe. Medecins Sans Frontieres is also on the cusp of many medical initiatives in impoverished countries.

Medecins Sans Frontieres is known for tackling large disease outbreaks and epidemics in poor and dangerous areas. In 2017, Medecins Sans Frontieres dispatched relief efforts to Uganda after the country was declared in a state of humanitarian emergency. The group focused its efforts on the recent Cholera outbreak spreading through Uganda, setting up multiple Cholera clinics to help treat and prevent the spread of Cholera to other refugees in Uganda.

Direct Relief

Direct Relief is another nonprofit humanitarian aid organization that primarily focuses on medical relief to devastated areas. The goal of the organization is to provide proper and comprehensive medical aid for impoverished areas and emergencies. In 2017, Forbes ranked Direct Relief among the top United States charities.

Over the past five years, Direct Relief has provided medical humanitarian aid to over 80 countries, many in Africa and South Asia. They have supplied over two thousand healthcare facilities and have sent billions of U.S. dollars worth of medical equipment and supplies.

These international organizations and many more have worked hard to make medical humanitarian aid more accessible to impoverished countries. Many epidemics that have started due to unsafe food, unsafe water and a generally poor environment have been contained and even eliminated by medical humanitarian aid. These organizations believe that with the right aid and volunteers, diseases around the world can be eradicated.

– Courtney Wallace

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