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Finding Hope for Women with FistulaFistula is a medical condition faced by women of every nationality, background and income level. However, these factors affect the rate at which women encounter fistula. Although income level is the largest determinant, nationality is also highly influential in countries where women have limited economic opportunities. However, recent developments are providing hope for women with fistula.

What is Fistula?

Fistula is an abnormal connection between the organs that often occurs when women have troubles with pregnancy and laborspecifically when labor is prolonged. When fistula occurs, especially in places where women have financial and geographic access to medical care, medical experts can normally address the problem with procedures such as C-sections. However, for women who lack access to these services, the issue worsens.

The labor period can last for days, which causes extreme pain and usually causes the baby to die in the process. During labor, the baby’s head presses against the mother’s pelvis and disrupts blood flow. This disruption creates holes, or fistulae, between the vagina and bladder or rectum. Permanent leakage of waste occurs in the mother if the condition goes untreated. Thus, women’s health and well-being directly impact access to emergency medical treatment.

Women with fistula usually live in underprivileged parts of Africa and Asia. To make matters worse, these countries largely lack access to sanitation services or goods like running water and incontinence pads. Fistula causes severe physical and psychological pain in affected women: in addition to uncontrollable leakage of urine and stool, women with fistula also face social issues. For example, this condition causes an unpleasant scent that repels family and friends. This condition can also cause a plethora of infections with the potential to impact others.

One Woman’s Story

Edis, a Ugandan woman suffering from fistula, provides a powerful example of the struggle to receive adequate urgent care. With a recently deceased husband, Edisa gave prolonged birth at home because she could not access a nearby hospital to go through labor. As a result, she contracted a fistula with all of its negative side-effects. Fortunately for Edisa, she was eventually able to receive a treatment procedure. Despite accessing care from a USAID-funded hospital, however, Elisa was forced to travel 11 hours away and incur significant transportation costs as a result. For financially struggling women like Elisa, these expenses can become highly burdensome.

Many other women also face hidden costs when seeking fistula repair surgeries, even if the surgery itself is free. These expenses can include loss of income, child care during recovery and food. USAID is using this information to improve conditions for these women by drafting actions like providing financial support for these hidden costs.

Hope for the Future of Fistula

While women with fistula are still suffering across the globe, especially in impoverished areas, this condition is now much less common than in the past. Additionally, many efforts are being initiated to provide funding and support to women in need of care.

– Fahad Saad
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare Apps in Sub-Saharan Africa
Although sub-Saharan Africa accounts for nearly 11% of the world’s population, it carries approximately 24% of the global disease burden. The region spends less than 1% on global health expenditure and lacks a strong infrastructure to address its citizens’ healthcare necessities.

Advancements in technology may be the solution to this crisis. The mobile industry in sub-Saharan Africa is growing rapidly. In 2012, only 32% of the population had access to a mobile subscription. By 2018, the mobile industry saw a 12% increase in mobile penetration rates. As a result, innovative healthcare apps are being released on the market, allowing individuals to access medical services remotely. This article will focus on three innovative healthcare apps in sub-Saharan Africa that can be accessed through a mobile device.

Hello Doctor: Providing Remote Medical Assistance

Hello Doctor is a mobile healthcare app that was developed in South Africa. It is currently one of the most popular mobile healthcare apps on the market and is available in 10 different countries. The app allows patients to have healthcare that is accessible, affordable and personalized.

The app requires a subscription of $3 per month. It allows a subscriber to “carry a doctor in their pocket.” After filing a request, subscribers are connected with a doctor via text message or phone call. All requests are responded to within an hour. All doctors accessed through the application are registered medical professionals.

The app also has a symptom checker in which patients can note their concerns and are provided with a list of potential diagnoses. It is also updated daily with new content to provide fundamental healthcare advice to patients. This app is most beneficial to citizens who may not be able to easily travel to their nearest healthcare clinic.

Pelebox: Delivering Essential Medication

Communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDs remain a growing problem in sub-Saharan Africa. These chronic diseases must be treated with medication that is picked up from the clinic. However, the limited number of clinics, a shortage of healthcare professionals and a high patient volume create excessive wait times for patients.

Pelebox, a South African app, manages smart lockers that dispense refills of prescriptions to patients. Instead of waiting hours to be seen in the clinic, patients can retrieve their prescriptions within a matter of seconds. Pelebox’s goal is to reduce the burden on hospital staff so that they can focus their attention on patients in critical care.

Here is how the app works. The patient is enrolled in the clinic’s collection program, the prescription is issued and the medication is placed into the locker. Clients will receive a one-time-pin via text message from the system. Patients enter their phone number and PIN at the self-service interface and retrieve their prescriptions from the cubicle. The cubicle is accessible at any time. Through its innovative approach in delivering essential medication, Pelebox has reached approximately 3,000 patients. The company is also planning to set up an additional 30 units in the next five years to continue to expand its reach.

MedAfrica: An All-in-One Healthcare App

MedAfrica, a product of Shimba Mobile, is one of the most popular healthcare apps in sub-Saharan Africa. It was first launched in Kenya in November 2011. By March 2012, it had approximately 70,000 users and was released into several other countries.

The app was created to make healthcare more accessible, affordable and safer. The app is free to use and works on any operating system. It is an all-in-one healthcare app that has various features. It provides users with a directory of qualified doctors and hospitals that are nearby. It also has a symptom checker available to its users so they can decide whether they’d like to pursue further medical advice or treatment. After the diagnosis, they can easily connect with the proper specialist. Users also receive first-aid advice and health updates from local hospitals.

Advancements in Healthcare Through Apps

An underfunded infrastructure, shortage of medical professionals and high patient volumes make for a fragile healthcare system. The surge of healthcare apps in sub-Saharan Africa is a great start to combating these issues. The innovative technologies that are being released for consumer use may be the key to granting much-needed healthcare access to individuals who need it the most.

Jasmine Daniel
Photo: Flickr

 

Healthcare in AfricaMany think that underdeveloped countries in Africa will forever be stuck with poor healthcare. Yet, few media outlets show the innovative approaches African countries are taking to address this issue. In reality, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa are turning to the tech world to build better healthcare in Africa.

Mobile Technology Maps Medicinal Needs

The inefficient infrastructure in Africa puts people’s health at risk. Health clinics, which take some people hours to reach, are not always stocked with the medicine being requested by patients. For this reason, Uganda is utilizing mTRAC to construct a proper supply cycle.

On a weekly basis, healthcare workers report diseases, malaria cases and stock quantities of medicine via SMS. Then volunteer health workers in the Villiage Health Teams (VHTs) monitor the weekly count of malaria cases, severe malnutrition, ACT and amoxicillin stock.

The communities themselves provide the most impressive source of data. The people getting these services have the opportunity to provide feedback on healthcare issues such as the absence of health workers and out-of-stock medication. The data is processed onto a dashboard for the District Health Teams. The information is then filtered to the Ministry of Health in Kampala. Reporting their specific district and health facilities helps biostatisticians identify alerts and make informed decisions on drug redistribution and disease response initiatives.

There is a similar mobile pilot known as mHealth in Kenya. Novartis created mHealth to study medicine supplies for a more efficient distribution system. Pharmacists in Nairobi and Mombasa register patients in an SMS survey. The input creates a map of locations where medicine is needed. These digital technologies go a long way in delivering better healthcare in Africa.

A.I. Diagnostics Save Children

Mobile Apps also improve diagnostic procedures. Birth asphyxia is one of the world’s three leading causes of infant mortality. Annually, around 1.2 million infants die or suffer from disabilities such as cerebral palsy, deafness and paralysis due to perinatal asphyxia.

Ubenwa is a Nigerian A.I. that is programmed to detect asphyxia by analyzing the amplitude and frequency of an infant’s cry. The algorithm has been made available to smartphone users for an instant diagnosis. The availability of this app empowers Nigerian communities that do not have access to or cannot afford clinical alternatives.

Ugandan children between infancy and five years of age can receive an early diagnosis of pneumonia with a biomedical smart vest called Mama-Ope. Because of the similar symptoms of diseases like malaria, asthma or tuberculosis, it is not uncommon for pneumonia to be misdiagnosed. Mama-Ope is designed to avoid such inconsistencies in these diagnostics.

Patients with pneumonia die when the severity of the disease is not recognized. It is vital that viral and bacterial pneumonia are differentiated during diagnosis. Otherwise, the result is an improper, life-threatening prescription of drugs. The smart vest measures all vital signs simultaneously, which reduces diagnostic time. Health workers are also able to use the telemedicine device for tracking and monitoring their patients’ records. With the capability of cloud storage, Mama-Ope can change healthcare in Africa.

3-D Printer Transforms E-waste Into Prosthetic Limbs

In the small country of Togo, wedged between Ghana and Benin, lies the tech hub WoeLabs, famous for using toxic e-waste to create the first 3-D printer in Africa. Electronic waste shipped from Western countries has polluted Africa with digital dumps. The material is burned, leaving behind hazardous gases.

Togo’s neighboring country Ghana holds the largest scrapyard to cushion the globe’s annual 42 megatons of e-waste. WoeLabs in Togo’s capital, Lomé, made a 3-D Printer with Ghana’s digital scrap in one year. To date, WoeLabs has produced 20 printers. This work inspired other labs to change healthcare in Africa. Sudan is now using 3-D printing to make prosthetic limbs, and Not Impossible Labs is also helping amputees through this innovative and unconventional use of technology.

Through mobile systems such as mTRAC in Uganda and mHealth in Kenya, healthcare systems are better able to improve drug redistribution in health centers in need of medical supplies. The smart vest Mama-Ope contributes to healthcare reform by not only by diagnosing patients but also by storing records in the virtual cloud. Finally, the 3-D printers built in Togo ultimately exemplify how these communities of underresourced people can transform a hazardous situation into an opportunity to improve healthcare in Africa.

Crystal Tabares
Photo: Flickr

Innovations in sub-Saharan Africa are emerging, aiming to improve sanitary conditions and facilitate access to medical care, directly combatting some of the region’s most prominent health crises. Due to health and sanitation concerns being a primary factor in high rates of illness and morbidity, advances in technology are progressively bettering the quality of life of many citizens in these regions.

7 Health Care Innovations in sub-Saharan Africa

  1. The Mamaope Jacket
    In Uganda, a leading cause of infant mortality is pneumonia. In its early stages, pneumonia can be difficult to distinguish from malaria. As a result, misdiagnosis is the leading cause of infant and toddler deaths attributed to pneumonia. One of the innovations of sub-Saharan Africa became the solution to reducing the impacted community. The Mamaope Jacket was created by a Ugandan engineer, Brian Turyabagye. This Mamope Jacket records audio of a child’s breathing via a modified stethoscope inserted into a vest. Analyzing this data aids in detecting key signs of pneumonia. It is estimated that the Mamaope Jacket’s diagnostic rate is three to four times faster than a traditional doctor, and also greatly reduces the risk of human error.
  2. SafariSeat
    Access to wheelchairs and other assisted mobility devices is severely limited in rural regions of developing nations. However, the SafariSeat is changing this; the SafariSeat is an inexpensive, durable wheelchair. This offers both a solution to individuals living with limited mobility in rural areas and is environmentally sustainable. SafariSeat is both produced and maintained using bicycle parts to create a wheelchair suitable for use in all terrain types.
  3. NIFTY Cup
    The NIFTY cup is lowering the rate of infant deaths from malnourishment by providing a cost-effective, convenient way to feed newborns unable to breastfeed. Some causes of not being able to breastfeed include birth defects such as a cleft palate or premature birth. Amongst the other innovations of Sub-Saharan Africa, the NIFTY cup funnels breast milk from the main cup into a small reservoir that a baby can sip from easily without choking or spilling. The creator, a mother herself, Trish Coffey, created the NIFTY cup after giving birth to her daughter prematurely. Manufacturing a NIFTY cup costs just $1, a viable alternative to breastfeeding for impoverished rural communities such as Tanzania and Malawi. In addition, it is reusable.
  4. Flo
    In developing African nations such as Kenya, on average, girls miss a week of school per month due to menstruating. This is because of the stigma associated with periods and limited sanitation resources. That being said, Flo is a reusable menstrual hygiene kit equipped. Within this kit, are reusable pads, a discreet carrying pouch, and a container used while washing clothes to avoid soiling other garments. This offers a cost-effective, environmentally friendly method for women lacking disposable alternatives. Flo opens the door for greater educational and occupational opportunities. It also lowers the rate of reproductive diseases resulting from poor menstrual hygiene.
  5. LifeStraw
    With more than 10 percent of the global population lacking access to sources of clean drinking water, diseases resulting from consuming contaminated water are a major contributor to high child mortality rates. Approximately, illnesses from drinking contaminated water kill a child every 90 seconds. The high temperatures and unpredictable climate shifts in the sub-Saharan region make potable water extremely valuable, but can also cause availability to fluctuate. Innovations in sub-Saharan African, such as LifeStraw is a simple, portable device that uses a mesh fiber to filter out bacteria and parasites commonly found in contaminated water. The LifeStraw corporation works with major humanitarian organizations such as World Health Organization and the United Nations to provide both individual LifeStraw filtration devices and larger filtration systems to developing communities in need.
  6. Speaking Books
    There is a lack of information about mental illness available to impoverished communities in Sub-Saharan Africa. As a result, there is a higher rate of suicide among younger populations. Just a decade ago, more than 15 percent of South Africans afflicted with mental illness had little to no access to any kind of treatment. Zane Wilson, the founder of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, created a range of free audio pamphlets on mental health. Innovations in sub-Saharan Africa like Speaking Books have a goal to combat the lack of access to treatment, which in many rural areas, also reflects high rates of illiteracy. The Speaking Books series now offers 48 different booklets explaining and destigmatizing mental health disorders. Furthermore, these pamphlets are available in 24 languages and distribution spans among 20 African countries.
  7. Tutu Tester Van
    Although HIV is a global epidemic, South Africa has especially high rates of infection. As a result, the country’s rate of tuberculosis has dramatically spiked over the last two decades. However, because of the stigma surrounding HIV, very few communities have access to effective counseling, testing and treatment methods. The Tutu Tester van, introduced by the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation, is a fully-staffed clinic on wheels. They visit rural and impoverished communities to provide health screenings using modern equipment – including tests for HIV and TB. As a result, this reduces the stigma attached to these diseases, as patients retain anonymity once they enter the van. Globally, increasing availability to testing is a primary goal of the United Nation’s plan to eliminate the epidemic of HIV by 2030.

Access to these health care innovations in sub-Saharan Africa is having numerous impactful effects: reducing mortality rates, advancing mental health awareness, contributing to greater longevity and improving quality of life for people in impoverished communities across the region. With improved healthcare and sanitation access,  communities have greater chances of reducing poverty and increasing economic and cultural growth.

– Emmitt Kussrow

Photo: Flickr

Health Media Campaigns in Africa Save ChildrenApproximately 5.6 million children younger than five die each year, more than half from preventable causes. Development Media International (DMI) aims to lower this statistic through informative health media campaigns in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. DMI has run educational media campaigns in over 30 countries and is currently focused on large-scale campaigns in Burkina Faso, Tanzania and Mozambique.

More than 15,000 children in developing countries die each day due to conditions resulting from extreme poverty. Simple, and often free, actions like frequent handwashing, recognizing and treating illnesses sooner, breastfeeding and using bed nets would lower the child mortality rate in these developing countries.

Educational media campaigns have the potential to save one in five of these young children, or approximately 3,000 children per day. The London School of Hygiene estimates that by running campaigns in just 10 countries, DMI can save a million lives.

Development Media International produces educational media content, including radio and TV announcements, focusing on lowering the mortality rate of children under five. Informational broadcasts discuss topics like hygiene, family planning and ways to treat malaria and diarrhea. The content is chosen based on the country’s needs and is tailored to the host country’s religious and cultural norms.

Radio is still the main source of information for families in sub-Saharan Africa. Approximately 59 percent of households with a radio in sub-Saharan Africa listen to programming at least once a week. DMI broadcasts the health media campaigns in Africa several times a day in the local language and partners with the most popular regional radio stations to reach the widest possible audience.

Unlike other nonprofits that focus on supplementing the “supply-side” of relief by funneling aid to hospitals, schools and infrastructure, DMI targets the “demand side” of relief. This means that DMI aims to increase the demand for relief services provided through educational media campaigns. Targeted informational campaigns, like radio announcements that clearly explain the benefits of bed nets for malaria prevention and where to collect free bed nets, can breach the cognitive gap preventing families in developing countries from utilizing available resources.

For example, 600,000 children under five died from diarrhea, pneumonia or malaria in Central and West Africa in 2015. Two-thirds of West African children displaying symptoms of these diseases are not taken to a hospital. All three of these illnesses can be easily treated by a healthcare provider. DMI’s health media campaigns in Africa — specifically in Burkina Faso, Tanzania and Mozambique — address the signs and treatments of common diseases to increase child survival rates.

Limited data exist on the effectiveness of educational media campaigns. However, findings from a randomized controlled trial of DMI’s child survival messaging in Burkina Faso had promising results. The organization found there was a 35 percent increase in the number of children under five who were brought for treatment for diarrhea, pneumonia or malaria after its educational radio messages were broadcast. This is a promising result that shows the great potential for DMI’s programs to help millions of children.

 – Katherine Parks

Photo: Flickr

women's health in AfricaWomen’s health is of great importance to social and economic development in Africa. Representing over 50 percent of the country’s human resources, women’s health in Africa has major implications for the nation’s development. Overwhelming evidence shows that by supporting women’s health status and income levels, both households and communities are drastically improved. Therefore, women’s disempowerment must be regarded as a human rights issue. These are a few facts about women’s health in Africa today.

Maternal Deaths Are Still High

Although woman’s life expectancy at birth in more than 35 countries around the world is upwards of 80 years, in the African region, it is only 54 years, according to recent World Health Organization statistics. Sixty-six percent of maternal deaths happen in sub-Saharan Africa. One in 42 African women still dies during childbirth, as opposed to one in 2,900 in Europe.

Teenage Pregnancy Education

Due to the lack of education and healthcare, teenage mothers experience many complications and premature deaths since their young bodies are still developing and not ready for the physical and emotional trauma of childbirth. Because of this, according to the Center for Global Health and Diplomacy, teenage pregnancy needs to be at the top of the education agenda in Africa among young girls if they are going to be empowered to take control of their bodies, their futures and their health.

Improving Infrastructure Can Save Women’s Lives

Several of the major issues affecting women’s health in Africa are associated with poor living conditions. As the main gatherers of food for their households, women are exposed to particular health risks. There is ample evidence that improving infrastructure such as access to roads and providing safe and accessible water sources can considerably improve women’s health and economic well-being.

HIV Affects More Women than Men

In 2015, 20 percent of new HIV infections among adults were among women aged 15 to 24, despite this group only accounting for 11 percent of the global adult population, according to Avert.com. “In East and Southern Africa, young women will acquire HIV five to seven years earlier than their male peers. In 2015, there were on average 4,500 new HIV infections among young women every week, double the number of young men.”  In west and central Africa, 64 percent of new HIV infections among young people occurred among young women. Location has a lot to do with this, as adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 are five times more likely to be infected with HIV than boys of the same age in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea.

The Fight for Empowerment

U.N. Women, in partnership with the International Rescue Committee, puts great effort into the protection of women’s empowerment in Africa. This organization supports critical policies for social protection for women. Partnerships with national banks are expanding access to finance to make that happen, along with collaborations with regional and U.N. economic commissions. Although women’s health in Africa is in desperate need of reform, there are many organizations like this one fighting to make that possible.

Policy reform designed to improve women’s health in Africa must address the issue of women’s place in African society so that the health of women can be seen as a basic right.

– Kailey Brennan

Photo: Flickr

Africa

The causes of poverty in Africa cannot be narrowed down to one single source. As a developing country, Africa has a lengthy history of external, internal and man-made forces at work to bring about the circumstances this continent suffers from today.

In sub-Saharan Africa, almost 220 million people, half the population, live in poverty. Worsened by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, cultural conflict and ethnic cleansing, Africa faces many challenges that directly correlate with its impoverished status.

Poor Governance

Poor governance, one of the major causes of poverty in Africa, involves various malpractices by the state and its workers. This malpractice has led many African leaders to push away the needs of the people. Having created the “personal rule paradigm,” where they treat their offices as a form of property and personal gain, these leaders openly appoint underqualified personnel in key positions at state-owned institutions and government departments. This type of governance affects the poorest people and leaves them vulnerable, as they are denied basic necessities such as healthcare, food and shelter.

Corruption

Corruption has been and still is a major issue in the development of and fight against poverty in Africa, specifically sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). SSA is considered to be among the most corrupt places in the world. According to a survey conducted by World Anti-Corruption, corruption in Africa is “due to the fact that many people in Africa believe that family relations are more important than country identity. Therefore, those in power use bias and bribery for the gain of their relatives at the expense of their country.”

Corruption costs SSA roughly $150 billion a year in lost revenue. While some countries in Africa, such as Ghana, Tanzania and Rwanda, have made some progress in the fight against corruption, there are still many lagging very far behind. A lack of effort to solve this issue only worsens the causes of poverty in Africa today.

Poor Education

Lack of education is also a serious issue that contributes to the causes of poverty in Africa. This absence is especially felt in sub-Saharan Africa, which has the highest rates of educational exclusion. Over one-fifth of children between the ages of about six and 11 are out of school, followed by one-third of youth between the ages of about 12 and 14. Almost 60 percent of youth between the ages of about 15 and 17 are not in school.

Education for girls has become a major focus of support groups like UNICEF, UNESCO and the UIS. With poor access to school, lack of sanitary facilities and social norms like female genital mutilation and child marriage, the right to women’s education is even less of a priority in impoverished communities.

However, education, especially girls’ education, has been proven to be one of the most cost-effective strategies for promoting economic growth. According to UNICEF, “studies have shown that educated mothers tend to have healthier, better-nourished babies and that their own children are more likely to attend school; thus helping break the vicious cycle of poverty.”

Healthcare

Poor healthcare is a major cause of poverty in Africa because the poor cannot afford to purchase what is needed for good health, including sufficient quantities of quality food and healthcare itself. With a lack of education on preventing infectious diseases like malaria and HIV/AIDS, as well as the costs of consultations, tests and medicine, people living in poverty are at a severe disadvantage that only perpetuates the poverty cycle.

With a strong fight against many forces still ahead of this nation, Africa must weed out the corruption and poor government, and promote strong education and efficient healthcare for all, in order to take a big leap forward in its development as a continent.

– Kailey Brennan

Photo: Flickr