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Mental Health in VietnamWhile Vietnam’s growth and development have led to investments in infrastructure, but unfortunately not within the health sector, specifically in terms of mental health care. A 2011 study of “144 low and middle-income countries” ranked Vietnam last in terms of “the availability of mental health care,” with only “1.7 psychiatrists and 11.5 psychosocial care providers” for every 100,000 people. Recognizing the dire need for change, domestic and international organizations are working to improve mental health in Vietnam.

Beautiful Mind Vietnam

Beautiful Mind Vietnam is a nonprofit organization founded in 2015 with a goal of promoting mental health well-being across Vietnamese society. The organization offers cost-free “peer consultation” to people struggling with mental health issues. The organization specifically focuses on the mental health well-being of youth between the ages of 16 and 25 years old.

As Vietnamese society still stigmatizes mental health illnesses, Beautiful Mind Vietnam’s staff members consist of young people seeking to turn the tide of mental health stigma. From diverse backgrounds, the team “[specializes] in psychology, counseling, mental health, biomedicine and pharmacology.” Operating under the guidance of “professional psychologists and psychiatrists,” the organization aims to raise public awareness about mental health “and provide free support for people with mental health concerns.”

Beautiful Mind Vietnam raises awareness on mental health issues and provides educational information to the public “by translating and writing high quality and reliable articles about mental health, mental disorders and related issues that are relevant to Vietnamese context.” In addition to the peer counseling support the organization offers, Beautiful Mind Vietnam offers a safe space for people to express themselves and feel heard. The organizations also sets up mental health workshops and seminars within communities in order to increase mental health awareness and share practices to promote positive mental health.

BasicNeeds Vietnam

BasicNeeds Vietnam is a non-governmental organization that facilitates the elimination of stress and emotional pain and emphasizes “joy and positive energy” in the Vietnamese mental health landscape. Founded in 2010, the organization seeks “to establish a system that supports community development,” nurtures people’s mental health well-being and educates the public on mental health. Through these goals, BasicNeeds Vietnam ensures that Vietnamese people have a deeper understanding of mental health along with tools to manage their stress and mental issues.

BasicNeeds Vietnam intends to provide accurate scientific information on mental and psychological health, contribute to developing Vietnam’s mental health care and advance “basic mental health knowledge professionally.” The organization develops training workshops for the public, provides mental services to those in need and collaborates with other organizations to better facilitate the conversation surrounding mental health. Through these efforts, the organization envisions a Vietnam where everyone can access proper mental health services.

Medical Committee Netherlands­-Vietnam (MCNV)

MCNV is a non-governmental organization founded “in the Netherlands in 1968 to support health development in Vietnam.” The organization seeks to confront the mental health services gap that the Vietnamese government struggles to address while combating mental health stigma in communities. To improve the quality of life for people with mental illness and their families, MCNV partners with “the INGO Global Initiative for Psychiatry and the Provincial Health departments” to implement community-based mental health care in several districts. This community-based model involves training health workers in order to advance their mental health care skills, among other efforts.

These efforts have seen success. The mental health services of health workers who received training improved and “home-based care and counseling” ensured more people can access mental health services. The development of self-help groups in communities helped provide “social support” to people suffering from mental health conditions while reducing societal stigma associated with mental health conditions.

Together, these three NGOs are fighting to improve mental health in Vietnam. Through these combined efforts, Vietnamese people struggling with mental health issues will receive the help they need.

– Tri Truong
Photo: Flickr

Covid -19 in Malawi
Malawi, a landlocked southeastern nation in Africa, faces hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of October 2021, COVID-19 in Malawi say a rise in over 61,700 COVID-19 cases and over 2,200 deaths. The biggest spike that Malawi experienced began on January 25, 2021, with a seven-week average case count of 994. The cases diminished significantly by September 2021, with most 7-week average counts bordering 40 cases. Already deep in poverty, Malawians certainly did not benefit from imposed lockdowns and a rising unemployment rate.

Effects on Poverty

Malawi continues to be one of the poorest countries in the world. It ranks 222 of 225 countries in terms of the greatest GDP per capita, with 526.93 in December 2020. Additionally, Malawi’s poverty rates can be attributed to its economy, which employs about 80% of the population in the agricultural sector. The COVID-19 pandemic greatly affected most urban areas and forced services and businesses to terminate.

The last demographic statistics of Malawi dates back to 2016 and recorded a poverty rate of 69.2%, which increased from the previous statistic of 62.4% in 1997. This means that this population lives with an income averaging below the extreme poverty line of $1.90 per day. Though no definitive statistics of Malawi’s current poverty rate exist, experts estimate it to be near or greater than the last census of 69.2% due to the unemployment rates caused by COVID-19. The unemployment rate of Malawi increased from 5.6% in 2019 to 6% in 2020, accounting for the jobs terminated by COVID-19.

Economic Development

As mentioned previously, the agriculture business in Malawi accounts for 80% of jobs. However, agricultural production is not necessarily abundant. By September 2020, over 2.6 million Malawians suffered food shortages from a combination of COVID-19 and weather complications.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Malawi experienced economic development with 3.5% economic growth in 2018 and 4.4% in 2019. The Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) was created in 2017 to aid Malawi in several different sectors, including industry, health and poverty. However, the pandemic abruptly paused the project, and some fear that the effects of COVID-19 in Malawi will reverse the progress made in previous years. The Malawi Economic Monitor (MEM) predicts long-term and widespread negative effects from the pandemic, even though measures such as the Emergency Liquidity Assistance should mitigate some of the damage. If the effects do not worsen by the end of COVID-19 in Malawi, the nation will likely be able to reconstruct its economy with the 5-year installment plans within the MGDS.

Social Conditions

One of the greatest worldwide challenges of the pandemic continues to be providing schooling for students at home. With Malawi’s poor standards for education, where only 8% of students finish secondary school, the pandemic posed a great challenge. In a survey of 100 parents of school-attending children, 86% reported that they had no contact with any teachers or the school throughout the lockdown. Additionally, there is a lack of school materials in Malawi, making learning at home even more difficult.

Another social issue due to COVID-19 in Malawi is the rise in suicide rates. The lack of professional services available for mental health in Malawi resulted in drastically increased suicide rates. In 2020, the Malawi police service reported an increase of up to 57% during the pandemic. Additionally, statistics found that 92% of suicides in Malawi during this period were men, with 8% being women. Certain psychologists associate this with the loss of jobs and rising poverty levels in Malawi. These struggles place intense pressure on the men of a household to provide for their family during drastic times.

All Is Not Lost

Though it may seem like the current conditions in Malawi are beyond hope, there is still a chance that Malawi can recover from the pandemic and return to its course of economic improvement. With COVID-19 cases lowering, Malawi may be seeing the end of the pandemic. Also, the implementation of The Malawi Growth and Development Strategy will help with Malawi’s economic reset and assist the country in its recovery.

– Andra Fofuca
Photo: Wikimedia

 

Poverty In Denmark
Denmark has one of the lowest poverty rates in the world, and it is important to look at what allows the nation to have such a low rate. With aggressive public health programs and a well-rounded social welfare program that
brings aid for unemployment, disability and old age, the people of Denmark can often receive proper help and assistance in times of need.

Social Welfare Aid

Widespread access to welfare in the country stems from a systemically upheld belief that welfare is a right of the people and not a privilege as it is all paid for through taxes. The benefits received by those who are unable to properly support themselves or their children work to lower poverty in Denmark. Furthermore, while the Danish have access to assistance programs, one poll suggests that nearly 60% of respondents believe that the economic gap between the upper and lower classes needs to be reduced.

Social responsibility is a large key ideal held by many people in Denmark. Social responsibility carries into the ideas of the social welfare programs and correlates to funds allocated toward helping members of the community. Because of governmental and social efforts, the level of poverty in Denmark is able to stay relatively low. For instance, funds and programs go to help parents raising new children, allowing a year of paid paternity or maternity leave.

The Poverty Rate

As of 2018, Denmark had a poverty rate of around 0.30%, which was a 0.1% increase from the previous year. Those living with fewer than $5.50 U.S. dollars per day are counted within the poverty figures. This is one of the lowest poverty rates in the world, around 10% less than the United State’s poverty rate in 2020. With a high poverty rate in the late 1980s of around 1.2%, the decline has occurred steadily over the years. While the poverty rate tends to fluctuate from year to year, it remains relatively low. Currently, Denmark is often compared to nations like the Netherlands, Malta, the Czech Republic and Norway. However, changes in social spending correlate to the fact that poverty seems to be been rising despite the high levels of support offered by the system.

Child Poverty

Despite Denmark’s reputation for strong welfare programs, child poverty rose in the country from 2016 to 2017. In the span of that year, the number of children recognized as living in poverty rose from around 40,000 to more than 60,000. Despite the level of social welfare benefits, employment rates have remained largely unchanged among certain groups. Among those affected by reduced social spending are refugees and minority groups in the country. As of 2017, the number of children under the poverty line accounts for more than 5% of the child population. Programs like the Integration Benefit are targeted to those living in extreme poverty in Denmark.

With many different social programs, poverty in Denmark has been able to stay relatively low in recent years, notably due to social programs and community mentalities. Despite the rising poverty rates among those in danger of falling below the poverty line, the Danish government has been implementing programs to try and reduce these issues like the Integration Benefit. Lastly, the programs afforded to parents allow for a stable environment for parents to raise their children. The solutions to these issues through more aid and higher access to aid stand to lower the poverty rate further.

– Jake Herbetko
Photo: Flickr

Vaccines in SyriaDuring the Eid holidays, the number of border crossings in and out of Syria drastically increased. As a result of such rising travel, the subsequent transmission of COVID-19 and reported cases additionally increased. With the remnants of the aforementioned influx continuing into late August and September 2021, vaccines in Syria are desperately needed, due to Syria being home to one of the fastest increasing rates of infection in the world. Thus, the early September shipment of over 358,000 vaccinations from WHO Turkey came as a welcome respite.

A Broken Healthcare System

As Syria nears the peak of its second infection curve, outside reporters and internal government agents look back at the path that brought Syria to its position of viral precarity. Syria entered the pandemic in a state of civil war that suffered the healthcare system as the most severe casualty. Since the inception of the Syrian civil war, there have been nearly 600 documented attacks on medical facilities. Of these, Physicians for Human Rights attributes over 90% to the state government. As a result of such unabashed violence, nearly 70% of healthcare workers fled the country. The shortage of workers placed yet another strain on an already damaged healthcare infrastructure. Such was the initial state of Syrian healthcare at the genesis of COVID-19.

A Worsening Crisis

Syria, the home to the largest population of Internationally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the world, found itself massively unprepared for the ills of COVID-19. In the Northwest, nearly 4 million IDPs were equipped with a total of 212 ICU beds designated for pandemic patients. Such a dearth of medical supplies represented the norm across nearly all of Syria.

According to the WHO, COVID-19 transmission in IDP camps increased 200% since August 2021, with over 1,000 new daily cases. Dramatically ill-equipped to address the initial wave of COVID-19, this infrastructure proved similarly ill-equipped for the dissemination of vaccines.

Early estimates of the Syrian government’s capacity to vaccinate its population suggest that as of October 2021, only 2.6% have received both doses. At such a pace, the medical system would require a further 490 days simply to achieve a 10% vaccinated threshold. These predictions arrive in tandem with Syria’s highest infection rate to date, with a daily average of 347 reported on October 20.

New Vaccines, New Hope

Amidst all of this difficulty, NGOs and global organizations such as WHO and the U.N. have sought to aid nations struggling to vaccinate their citizens. One example is the shipment of over 358,000 vaccinations from WHO Turkey, a much-welcomed respite in Syria. In early September 2021, WHO reported the delivery of these vaccines to Northwest Syria by way of the Adana airport. These doses represent more than double the number of previously administered vaccines before their arrival. This arrival resulted from a collaboration between WHO Turkey, UNICEF and the Syrian Immunization Groups.  Their massively helpful collaboration presents just one example of the necessity of international aid in vaccinating the global population, and subsequently, beating this pandemic.

– Jonah Stern
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Afghanistan Period poverty in developing countries, such as Afghanistan, is a public health crisis and global poverty exacerbates the issue since it leads to individuals being unable to afford menstrual hygiene products. The American Medical Women’s Association explains period poverty as “inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and educations, including but not limited to sanitary products, washing facilities and waste management.”

Lack of Menstrual Education and School Absenteeism

Period poverty negatively impacts female education due to menstrual-related absenteeism. The Child Deprivation Analysis of 2020 indicates that “30% of girl students in Afghanistan are absent during menstruation because schools do not have adequate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.” Explaining the severity of girls’ school absenteeism, UNICEF says that “This, in turn, translates to significant economic losses later in life for themselves — and their nation that is deprived of their talents and productivity.” For this reason, addressing period poverty in Afghanistan essentially means “safeguarding the dignity, education and overall life opportunities of girls and women.”

With support from the Finnish government, the Ministries of Education and Rural Rehabilitation and Development and UNICEF provided menstrual education training to more than 500 female Afghan teachers. UNICEF also distributed more than 100,000 menstrual hygiene management (MHM) educational booklets to teachers and girls. In 2021, UNICEF aims to train more than “550 male and female teachers in 130 schools across Afghanistan.”

Menstrual Stigma and Health Consequences

The cultural stigma surrounding menstruation worsens period poverty in Afghanistan. The conservative culture of Afghanistan is a prevailing reason for the taboo surrounding menstruation. Whilst menstruating, women and girls are regarded as unclean and as a result, they are prohibited from engaging in certain daily activities, eating certain foods and participating in religious practices. The stigma surrounding menstruation continues to exclude and discriminate against women and girls. As a result, women and girls feel persistent shame and their daily lives are disrupted due to a natural biological function.

Period poverty also poses negative health consequences. Without access to menstrual-related information and sanitary products to properly manage menstruation, girls and women are at more risk of infection as they resort to using “potentially harmful domestic alternatives such as wood shavings, dried leaves, hay, old socks filled with sand” and more.

There are additional risks when there is limited access to clean water. The lack of clean water has the potential to lead to urinary tract infections and yeast infections, which is why some organizations are providing developing countries with menstrual hygiene management facilities to encourage better menstrual hygiene practices.

Organizations Fighting to End Period Poverty

Multiple organizations aim to alleviate the negative impacts of period poverty. For instance, Safepad hopes to empower Afghan women and schoolgirls through work opportunities and access to reusable menstrual products. Located in Kabul, Safepad provides professional training and employs Afghan women to sew, make and pack Safepad products. Safepad not only empowers Afghan women through adequate access to menstrual products but women also benefit from a reliable source of income.

UNICEF works to keep Afghan girls in school by focusing on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities. This includes ensuring access to water, constructing gender-segregated bathrooms, including “washrooms in girls’ toilets” and adding menstrual education to the school curriculum.

The Menstrual Equity for All Act

In a March 6, 2021, press release, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng urged President “Biden to take action to end period poverty.” The Menstrual Equity for All Act, reintroduced by Rep. Meng in March 2019, aims to ensure U.S. foreign assistance incorporates principles of menstrual equity. Although the Menstrual Equity for All Act did not progress any further, it conveys an important message that “Menstrual equity is the issue of ensuring equitable access to menstrual products. One’s ability to access and afford these products is a basic need and a health care right; it is a human right.”

Looking Ahead

Poverty and humanitarian crises can limit women’s and girls’ access to culturally appropriate, high-quality menstrual supplies and safe, private washing facilities. Period poverty in Afghanistan widens the gender gap, which is a result of extreme poverty and stigma. This can harm those who menstruate due to a lack of education, adequate facilities and clean water.

Access to menstrual education and products to properly manage menstruation empowers Afghan girls and women. In turn, girls and women are able to rise out of poverty as they continue their daily lives without disruption and pursue education and employment.

– Grace Watson
Photo: Flickr

Period Products Bill in ScotlandOn November 24, 2020, a groundbreaking moment occurred that changed the struggle against period poverty. The Scottish Parliament passed the Period Products Bill in Scotland. This new bill guarantees free access to necessary hygienic period products to all who require them. Member of the Scottish Parliament, Monica Lennon, championed the fight against period poverty in Scotland and played a significant part in passing this revolutionary legislation.

Ending Period Poverty in Scotland

Even with the United Kingdom being one of the world’s wealthiest countries, period poverty remains a recurrent problem. In 2018, more than 20% of those polled in Scotland stated that they either had limited or no access to period products. Another 10% had to sacrifice food and other necessities to afford them. One in 10 experienced bacterial or fungal infections due to a lack of sanitary products. These rates have gone up to nearly one in four during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new Period Products Bill in Scotland practically eliminates these problems. Accessibility to sanitary products must be made by the Scottish Government and organized countrywide. Public restrooms in educational institutions must contain a variety of period products without charge and it also allows oversight over local jurisdictions to ensure enforcement of the law.

Ending Menstruation Taboos

Menstruation has become a stigmatized topic worldwide, despite half the population experiencing it. The dangerous and outdated idea that periods are not appropriate for discussion and seriousness is damaging to those subjected to these taboos.

From South America to Africa, antiquated menstruation views have led to long-lasting negative consequences for those suffering from period poverty. In some cultures, menstruating girls and women must separate themselves from the rest of their community. In Nepal, so-called ‘menstruation huts‘ have dire consequences for women, with local organizations stating that many deaths associated with the practice go unreported.

The importance of ending taboos about menstruation is evident. The Period Products Bill in Scotland is a meaningful step to engage the rest of the world over these unsound presuppositions of menstruation and begin addressing period poverty globally.

Implementing Period Poverty Legislation Worldwide

There has already been worldwide attention brought to the neoteric Period Products Bill in Scotland. Lennon has been fielding communications from leaders and lawmakers around the world, ready to implement similar laws in their own countries. According to Lennon, “Scotland has provided a blueprint and shown how it can be done.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, logistical problems of supplying period products and economic suffering are causing governments to reevaluate the impact of period poverty. Countries with strong infrastructure can utilize Scotland’s approach to combat the worsening situation fast and effectively. The rest of the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia have already taken note of the problem and Scotland’s practical policy.

Ending Global Period Poverty

In underdeveloped countries, Scotland’s lead in the battle against period poverty can pave the way for education and destigmatizing menstruation. Poverty-fighting organizations can create similar international implementation plans in developing nations with little investment. Thanks to Scotland’s leadership, period poverty may soon become as antiquated as the stigmas surrounding it.

– Zachary Kunze
Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid in MozambiqueThe provision of foreign aid from the United States serves as a multifaceted solution and preventative measure to many issues that ultimately impact the United States. In assisting with the development of under-resourced countries and those afflicted by natural disasters and conflict, the country’s interest in strengthening U.S. eminence in the global political ecosystem is served, as is the initiative to foster and stabilize democracies that are essential in maintaining global peace. Mozambique is one such country that receives aid from the United States. Nearly half of the population lives in poverty and while having managed to combat that statistic with an annual decrease of 1%, the country continues to see rising levels of inequality. USAID’s 2019 assistance investment in Mozambique totaled $288 million. Foreign aid in Mozambique is being used in several key developmental areas.

Developing Education

A significant portion of U.S. foreign aid has been invested in providing basic education. This foreign aid in Mozambique has been applied in conjunction with the country’s national budgetary allocation of 15% for basic education. This initiative has led to improved access to education with the abolishment of enrollment fees, an investment in free textbooks, direct funding to schools and the construction of classrooms. With access to education improving, Mozambique now moves to focus on developing the quality of education it provides and extending the initiative of improving access to those who are in the early learning stage. Only 5% of children between the ages of 3 and 5 have access to such services. Moving forward, educational initiatives aim to focus on the improvement of teacher training, the retention of students (as only 8% continue onto secondary level) and optimizing the management and monitoring of education nationally.

Addressing Humanitarian Needs

A large part of foreign aid in Mozambique has been committed to battling humanitarian crises. Cabo Delgado is the northernmost province of the country and is experiencing an insurgency that is decimating its infrastructure and food security. As a result, there is an ongoing displacement of the population. In November 2020 alone, more than 14,300 displaced people arrived in the provincial capital Pemba. The World Food Programme estimates the cost of feeding internally displaced people in northern Mozambique to be at approximately $4.7 million per month, aside from the housing costs and the complexity of managing the crisis amid a global pandemic. This allocation of the country’s foreign aid will be vital in maintaining the wellbeing of people during the conflict and restoring the country’s infrastructure once the insurgency has subdued.

Improving the Health Sector

The bulk of foreign aid in Mozambique goes toward the many challenges the country faces with regard to health issues such as funding family planning, battling tuberculosis, maternal and child health as well as water and sanitation. More than $120 million goes toward this initiative but the most pressing of the issues is mitigating the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In 2014, Mozambique ranked eighth globally for HIV cases. With the support, antiretroviral therapy and testing has expanded, which is evidenced by more than a 40% drop in new cases since 2004. Additionally, with a sharp increase in the treatment of pregnant women who carry the virus, one study recorded a 73% drop in cases among newborns between 2011 and 2014. The executive director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibe, has claimed that the epidemic could be completely eradicated by 2030 if such a rate of progress continues.

The developmental progress in Mozambique is reflective of the substantial impact that foreign aid has on developing countries. As U.S. foreign aid to developing countries continues, the hope is for other well-positioned countries to follow suit.

– Christian Montemayor
Photo: Flickr

Life Expectancy in JapanYear after year, Japan consistently ranks as one of the top countries for life expectancy. These top 10 facts about life expectancy in Japan is a reflection of economic developments that occurred since World War II.

Top 10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Japan

  1. Japan ranks second in the world for life expectancy, with the average Japanese citizen living to 85.0 years. The life expectancy for the average female in Japan is 88.1 years and 81.9 years for males. There has been a fairly consistent difference in the life expectancy between women and men in Japan. Currently, women are expected to live around 6.2 years longer than men. Prior to 1990, the country had not even made the list of the top 100 countries with the highest life expectancies.
  2. The fertility rate in 1955 for Japan was 3.0 live births per women, which has decreased to 1.4 in 2020. A decrease may appear worrisome but there is a clear correlation between fertility rates and wealth. Poorer nations tend to have high fertility rates which continues a cycle of poverty but intermediate levels of fertility tend to represent an economically stable, wealthy country.
  3. Infant mortality and overall child mortality rates have greatly decreased since the 1950s. In 1950, the infant mortality rate was roughly 47 deaths per 1,000 births and the number of deaths for children under 5 was 72 per 1,000 births. As of 2020, the infant mortality rate and deaths for children under the age 5 is 1.6 and 2.2 per 1,000 births, respectively. These statistics display growth that has contributed to a higher life expectancy in Japan.
  4. Diet and lifestyle are major contributors as well. Japanese people tend to enjoy well-balanced, nutritious meals that consist of vegetables, fruits, fish and high-grain based foods. This diet is low in saturated fats and includes mainly natural, unprocessed foods. In addition, the country has succeeded in promoting a healthy and active lifestyle. Even in their old age, many Japanese seniors continue to exercise regularly.
  5. Rapid economic growth was seen in the country in the 1960s and the Japanese Government made great efforts to invest in the country’s healthcare system. In 1961 the country adopted universal health insurance for their citizens which included vaccination programs and medical treatments that greatly decreased both adult and child mortality rates.
  6. Increased economic prosperity is a contributing factor. After World War II, Japan experienced an extremely rapid growth in its economy. Increased economic prosperity led to medical technology advancements, universal healthcare access, improved diets and lifestyles, decrease in disease and deaths, improvements in education and lower mortality rates. Economic prosperity and life expectancy rates are related, as seen in Japan.
  7. A smaller poverty gap can also account for life expectancy in Japan. In the 1970s, Japan had a smaller income and wealth gap in the population compared to many other developed countries and it has been proven that a higher inequality in wealth correlates to higher mortality rates.
  8. Successful health education and a well-established health culture is what Japan is known for. Majority of citizens engage in regular physician check-ups and receive vaccinations and immunizations. Furthermore, Japanese people are encouraged to reduce their salt intake and red meat consumption, advice the people take seriously.
  9. Practice of good hygiene is another factor in explaining the high life expectancy in Japan. Common practices such as handwashing and cleanliness is normal in Japan but the country also has sufficient access to clean, safe water and sewage systems as well.
  10. Decreased cerebrovascular diseases. Historically, Japan has always had low rates of ischemic heart disease and cancer compared to other developed, high GDP countries. However, Japan had one of the highest rates for cerebrovascular disease from the 1970s-1980s. Thanks to health developments, Japan has greatly decreased their rates of cerebrovascular diseases within the past 20 years.

– Bolorzul Dorjsuren
Photo: Flickr

Suaahara II ProjectIn Nepal, 36% of children who are under the age of five remain underdeveloped in terms of growth and health despite progress in recent years. Through cooperation with USAID, the Nepalese Government and local private sector groups, Hellen Keller International (HKI) has provided impactful services that have helped rectify the systematic obstacles causing these health issues. Hellen Keller International is a non-profit organization that aims to reduce malnutrition. The Suaahara II project takes a pivotal role in these efforts.

What is the Suaahara II Project?

One of HKI’s most notable services is the Suaahara II project, which started in 2016 and was initially set to end in 2021. However, it will now extend to March 2023 due to COVID-19. Operating in 42 of Nepal’s districts with a $63 million budget, HKI partnered with these six organizations for the project:

  • Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, Inc. (CARE)
  • Family Health International 360 (FHI 360)
  • Environmental and Public Health Organization (ENPHO)
  • Equal Access Nepal (EAN)
  • Nepali Technical Assistance Group (NTAG)
  • Vijaya Development Resource Center (VDRC)

Hellen Keller International’s primary role in the Suaahara II project deals with the technical assistance of child and maternal nutrition. This means that its tasks are oriented around building the skills and knowledge of health workers. This includes teaching health workers how to adequately measure and evaluate assessments; additionally, another technical facet relies on promoting governance that invests in nutrition.

A Multi-Sectoral Approach

Kenda Cunningham, a senior technical adviser for Suaahara II who works under HKI, told The Borgen Project that the Suaahara II consortium has taken a “multi-sectoral approach.” She believes in the importance of this as it pushes individuals to “learn and think beyond their sector.” The Suaahara II Project’s demonstrates its integrated strategy in the initiatives below:

  1. The WASH program focuses on water, sanitation and hygiene through WASHmarts, which are small shops dispersed across districts that sell sanitary products like soap and reusable sanitary pads. Kenda explained how this has helped “bridge a gap” so that poorer households can access hygiene enhancing products. This also allows assistance from private actors, who can expand their markets in rural areas.
  2. The Homestead Food Production program (HFP) encourages households to grow and produce micronutrient-rich foods through vegetable gardening and raising chickens, for example. As a result, 35 districts have institutionalized HFP groups.
  3. The Bhancchin Aama Radio Program is a phone-in radio program that runs twice every week. It hosts discussions among marginalized communities and demonstrations for cooking nutritious foods. It has encouraged the Nepalese to socially and behaviorally alter their health habits.

Advancements from Suaahara I

The Suaahara II project’s contribution to improved health and nutrition in Nepal is also illustrated in its progression from the Suaahara I project’s framework. In addition to understanding the changes made in household systems and at a policy level from Suaahara I, Cunningham told The Borgen Project that technological developments have elevated the Suaahara II Project’s impact in Nepal.

Specifically, smartphones expedite the data collection process when studying trends pertaining to the 2 million households across the districts. The development of new apps provided more households with access to smartphones and key information. This therefore allowed officers to transition from pursuing “a mother-child focus to a family focus” in terms of the Suaahara II project’s accommodations and services.

Challenges with Suaahara II

While the Suaahara II Project has led to institutional and social enhancements regarding health and nutrition, some districts had access to the project earlier. This created a dissonance in the rate of health improvements amongst the districts. Cunningham reported that “far western areas are much more remote and therefore disadvantaged and food insecure.”

This inconsistency was largely due to the “Federalism” that took place in Nepal in 2017, which was a decentralization process that created 42 municipalities for 42 districts. Since every municipality has a different political leader, some districts had the advantage of assistance from foreign NGOs while others did not because their leaders rejected involving foreign NGOs. In these cases, as Cunningham explained, it is like “you are creating your own NGOs from the ground up.”

Suaahara II Achievements

These obstacles, however, have not been pertinent enough to counter the consortium’s efforts in fulfilling the Suaahara II project’s objectives. For example, a primary objective for Suaahra II is to increase breastfeeding amongst babies under six months of age. Exclusive breastfeeding of children under six has increased from 62.9% in 2017 to 68.9% in 2019, according to data that Cunningham shared with The Borgen Project.

Expanding children’s access to diverse and nutritious foods is another objective that has been achieved under the Suaahara II project. The dietary diversity among women of reproductive age (WRA) has increased from 35.6% in 2017 to 45.3% in 2019, according to Cunningham. Given the efficient rate of improvement in women and children’s health, governance and equity in only the first two years of the Suaahara II project, it can be inferred that the consortium will continue to progress in achieving its targets among the Nepalese in the three years that remain.

Regarding how HKI has responded to challenges with the Suaahara II project, Cunningham said  “[We] don’t use a one size fits all approach.” The advancements in Nepal’s health and nutrition systems can be largely attributed to HKI’s multifaceted and integrated strategy, a model that could yield prosperity in the rest of the developing world.

Joy Arkeh
Photo: Flickr

Sickle Cell Anemia in Sub-Saharan AfricaThere are a total of 46 countries that compose sub-Saharan Africa. These countries account for 75% of the total cases of sickle cell anemia. Due to the high concentration of this disease in one area of the globe, high rates of early mortality have devastated sub-Saharan Africa. Researchers estimate that 50-90% of infants born with the disorder will die by the age of 5. In response, methodologies have been developed in hopes of eradicating sickle cell anemia in sub-Saharan Africa.

Early Screening

It is crucial to provide screening for newborns in order to diagnose children with sickle cell anemia as early as possible. Early detection of the disease is proven to increase survival rates. In under-resourced communities, many children have died without ever being diagnosed. Early detection allows for the initiation of treatments, therapies, physician follow-ups and medical attention. Previously, diagnoses of patients happened through isoelectric focusing and liquid chromatography, but they have shown to be inaccurate and expensive. Now, there are “point-of-care” diagnostic methods available that are affordable and provide accurate results.

Vaccinations

A consequence of sickle cell disease (SCD) is an exponential increase in the transmission of bacterial infections. The main vaccination that has resulted in improvement for patients with sickle cell disease is penicillin prophylaxis. With the increased availability of penicillin and medical monitoring, mortality rates for patients with sickle cell anemia in sub-Saharan Africa will significantly decrease.

Treatment Therapies

Once diagnosed, there are numerous preventive and therapeutic measurements that can alleviate the symptoms of SCD. Data collected through years of research have proven that hydroxyurea is the most effective therapy for patients with SCD. In addition, proper hydration and nutritious supplements are key to curing non-critical patients. The most critical patients receive blood transfusions. Lastly, stem cell transplantations provide great improvements in SCD patients; however, its high cost often prevents utilization of this method.

Health Education

A simple method to increase the life expectancy of SCD patients is to provide accurate and useful information about the disease. Parents well-informed on this condition can properly identify symptoms their children display and can seek immediate medical attention. This leads to early detection so their child can receive necessary medications, therapies, vaccinations and treatments.

Global Advocacy

In recent years, more institutions have recognized the prevalence of sickle cell anemia in African and have shifted their focus to aiding those countries. The U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Gates Foundation created joint efforts in order to cultivate gene-based cures for both sickle cell disease and HIV.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and American Society of Hematology announced one of their priorities is to support the impoverished, disadvantaged countries across Africa in regard to sickle cell anemia. Also, the NHLBI Small Business Innovation research grant allowed for the utilization of the affordable, precise “point-of-care” diagnostic methods for SCD patients. Further advocacy for underprivileged, poor families is necessary to continue the fight in reducing sickle cell anemia in sub-Saharan Africa.

Despite its challenges, Africa has made major strides in improving sickle cell anemia in the last forty years. Continuing to utilize these methods would not only save vulnerable children, but their economy would flourish as well. A higher life expectancy has a direct correlation with an increase in projected lifetime incomes. This would result in more people contributing to their country’s economy and mobilizing their personal socioeconomic statuses. It is vital to take the above approaches to support patients with sickle cell anemia in sub-Saharan Africa.

Bolorzul Dorjsuren
Photo: Flickr