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Elderly in BangladeshThe world currently has approximately 720 million people over the age of 65. By 2050, about 22% (36 million) of Bangladesh’s people are projected to be in this age category. With this in mind, it is important that this growing demographic is taken care of. In particular, the poverty affecting the elderly in Bangladesh is a concern that should be attended to.

Elderly Poverty in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is one of the most impoverished countries and the effects of poverty are felt hardest by vulnerable populations like the elderly. The Global AgeWatch Index ranks countries by how well their older populations are faring socially and economically. Bangladesh is considered a distinctly tough country for older people as HelpAge International ranked Bangladesh 67th out of 96 countries on the 2015 Global AgeWatch Index.

The organization notes that a considerable amount of the hardship inflicted upon older people in Bangladesh is due to natural disasters and extreme weather. Cyclones, floods, and heatwaves destroy the homes and livelihoods of elderly people. Additionally, HelpAge notes that elderly people in Bangladesh are often refused healthcare due to ageism within the country’s public health system.

Elderly people in Bangladesh also struggle to maintain a dependable income since finding employment is harder with age, especially with common and physically demanding jobs like rickshaw pulling or soil digging.  As in many other lower-income countries, elderly people in Bangladesh have to look for employment in old age due to inadequate livelihood support and insufficient social security measures.

While by no means exclusive to Bangladesh, another problem that the elderly face in Bangladesh is stigma, as pointed out by Dr. Atiqur Rahman. The stigma described is one that views the elderly as unproductive, unhealthy and needing intensive and constant care. Dr. Rahman describes the idea of the elderly being a burden as both morally and economically incorrect.

Old Age Allowance Program

The Old Age Allowance (OAA) program is a government social pension scheme that assists the elderly in Bangladesh. Originally implemented in 1997, the program provides welfare payments to qualifying elders in order to help them get by. The overall size of the program was rather small at its inception, supporting about 400,000 people. Since then, the OAA has come to cover 4.4 million elderly in Bangladesh and the size of the payments increased from 100 to 500 Bangladeshi takas (around $6). Granted the growth is a step in the right direction, the program is not yet at a point where it can help in the broad sense. Elderly poverty has still increased since it started. The OAA program accounts for a minuscule portion of Bangladesh’s budget (0.53%) and covers only 2.25 million elderly people.

Additionally, much of the fund is going to the wrong people. A study by the University of Dhaka’s Bureau of Economic Research and HelpAge International discovered that elderly people who are not impoverished are getting 50% of the total benefits and about 33% of the fund is going to those who are younger than the eligible age. Another study found that local governments lack the knowledge and interest to properly target relevant beneficiaries most in need.

Organizations Supporting the Elderly in Bangladesh

HelpAge International provides early warning systems for potential natural disasters. In times of these disasters, the organization ensures the elderly have shelter, food and access to services. For long-term relief, HelpAge restores livelihoods by supporting small business enterprises with low-cost community loans. The organization also provides training for healthcare workers to treat conditions affecting the elderly and works on improving healthcare infrastructure and referral systems for the elderly.

The Care First Foundation is an organization that offers the elderly in Bangladesh risk monitoring, referrals, counseling, medicine and medical support, home care and activities. Its goal is to expand its initiatives to alleviate elderly suffering through proper community support and services.

With more support from organizations and improvements to the social support system provided by the government, the elderly in Bangladesh can thrive and not just simply survive.

Sean Kenney
Photo: Flickr

Russia’s AIDS EpidemicAmid a global pandemic, Russia is fighting a medical war on two fronts; as Russia deals with the spread of COVID-19, Russia’s AIDS epidemic is worsening. As the HIV  infection rate continues to decline in the rest of Europe, the transmission rate of HIV in Russia has been increasing by 10 to 15% yearly. This increase in transmission is comparable to the yearly increase in transmission of HIV in the United States in the 1980s at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

The AIDS Epidemic in Russia

Among other factors, the erosion of effective sexual health education and a rise in the use of opioids has led to a stark increase in the transmission of HIV/AIDS in Russia. The epidemic of AIDS in Russia has received little attention from the Russian Government and the international community, partly because of the nation’s social orthodoxy and the stigma surrounding drug use and HIV/AIDS.

The Silent Spread of HIV

A significant number of Russians infected with HIV are those who inject drugs. Roughly 2.3% (1.8 million) of Russian adults inject drugs, making Russia the nation in Eastern Europe with the highest population of those who inject drugs. Due to the stigma associated with drug use as well as the threat of harsh criminal punishment, few drug users who have been affected by HIV seek treatment. A study from the Society for the Study of Addiction found that in St. Petersburg only one in 10 Russians who inject drugs and are living with HIV currently access treatment.

A large part of the stigma surrounding AIDS in Russia comes from the return of traditionalism to the Russian government following the election of Vladamir Putin in 2012 and the strong connection between the traditionalist Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Government. The Orthodox Church, in particular, has blocked efforts to instate sex education programs in schools and campaigns to give easier access to safe sex tools like condoms. While methadone is used worldwide to treat opioid addiction to lower the use of drug injection and therefore HIV transmission, the Russian Government has banned methadone. Any person caught supplying methadone faces up to 20 years in prison.

HIV During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Studies conducted during 2020 have shown that Russians living with HIV and AIDS have faced difficulties in accessing treatment. According to UNAIDS, 4% of Russians living with HIV reported missing medical treatment due to the pandemic and roughly 30% of respondents reported that their treatment was somehow impacted by the pandemic.

The same study found that HIV-positive Russians had a positive COVID-19 diagnosis at a rate four times higher than HIV-negative Russians. However, HIV-positive Russians were less likely to seek medical attention for COVID-19 despite the high health risks, such as a weaker immune system that can accompany HIV. More Russians are contracting HIV yearly but the stigma of living with HIV is preventing HIV-positive Russians from seeking medical treatment.

Destigmatizing HIV/AIDs in Russia

With little national attention paid to the epidemic of AIDS in Russia, the movement for change has come from individuals looking to give visibility to and destigmatize HIV/AIDS. In 2015, after television news anchor, Pavel Lobkov, announced on-air that he had been living with AIDS since 2003, Russian doctors including Lobkov’s own doctor, saw a surge in people seeking HIV tests and treatment. In a nation where AIDS is highly stigmatized, a national celebrity showing that one can live a normal life with AIDS brought comfort to many Russians living with HIV/AIDS.

More Russians living with HIV/AIDS have made efforts to shed light on Russia’s HIV epidemic and destigmatize HIV to the public as well as in the medical community. Patients in Control, a nongovernmental organization run by two HIV-positive Russians, Tatiana Vinogradova and Andrey Skvortsov, set up posters around St. Petersburg that read “People with HIV are just like you and me,” and encourage HIV-positive Russians to seek antiretroviral treatment. HIV-positive Russians like Skvortsov and Vinogradova are trying to bring national attention to a health crisis that is seldom discussed, hoping to create a national conversation and put pressure on Russian officials to take action on the worsening epidemic.

A Call for Urgent Action

HIV-positive Russians and AIDS activists like Skvortsov have argued that until the Russian Government puts forth an “urgent, full forced response” to Russia’s AIDS epidemic, the rate of transmission will continue to climb. Many Russians on the ground are making public campaigns to destigmatize and normalize living with HIV, hoping to persuade the government to take action.

In 2018 alone, AIDS took the lives of 37,000 people across Russia. As of May 2020, more than 340,000 Russians have died of AIDS. While the social atmosphere of Russia, influenced by Putin’s government and the Orthodox Church, has created a shroud of secrecy and shame surrounding the AIDS epidemic, many HIV-positive Russians hope that the intensity of the epidemic will force the Russian Government to make a concerted effort to address Russia’s AIDS epidemic.

Kieran Graulich
Photo: Flickr

Bipolar Awareness in IndiaIndia is the second-most densely populated nation in the world, with more than 1.3 billion people. Of that number, more than 82 million citizens suffer from bipolar disorder, according to data from 2019. Bipolar disorder in India often goes undiagnosed and untreated for reasons ranging from ancient superstitions to the cost of treatment, but, bipolar awareness in India is steadily progressing.

Bipolar Disorder in India

Improved bipolar awareness in India exemplifies how a concerted effort can reduce stigma and create an affordable and readily available avenue for treatments such as therapy and medication. Indians, mostly women, have been disowned and abandoned by family or a spouse after receiving a bipolar diagnosis. In a country where the consequences of a mental condition are isolation and disconnection, the need for awareness and education is paramount.

A nation that once attributed bipolar disorder to demonic spirits, planetary alignments or a sinful past life, has come extremely far in its understanding of the illness. But, the stigma surrounding the disorder is still prevalent in India, and many, especially those from rural locations, believe bipolar disorder is a choice or an illness reserved for the rich and privileged.

BipolarIndia Organization

One resource improving bipolar awareness in India is the organization BipolarIndia. The community was created in 2013 by Vijay Nallawala, an Indian man that suffers from bipolar disorder, and his mentor and friend, Puneet Bhatnagar. BipolarIndia’s mission is to create an empathetic, judgment-free environment for bipolar people to find information, treatment, and most of all, support from those that can relate to their struggle.

BipolarIndia hosts a National Conference every year on World Bipolar Day to create awareness for the illness and educate residents from all over the country. In 2015, the organization began hosting monthly support meetings for individuals to speak with peers that can understand their struggle. It has also recently developed a way for patients to receive real-time support through the Telegram App when they feel they may need immediate help. Resources such as the Telegram App are invaluable due to the lack of mental health professionals in India.

The Mental Health Care Bill

Data from a 2005 report shows that there are only three psychiatrists per million citizens and only 0.06% of India’s healthcare budget goes toward improving mental healthcare. The Indian Government passed a Mental Health Care Bill in June of 2013 laying out a mission to improve bipolar awareness in India as well as reduce stigma surrounding all mental health issues. The bill has been undergoing revisions and policy modifications based on the guidance given by the Indian Association of Psychiatry.

Efforts to Raise Awareness

The government’s efforts to raise awareness about the complexity of bipolar disorder and the number of Indians that suffer in silence is vital to the disorder being understood. The Indian government aims to provide communities with adequate care and reliable information, leading the nation to a better understanding of a complicated mental disorder.

Bipolar awareness in India has improved with private organizations such as the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF) funding research on effective treatments and raising awareness across the globe.

Also fighting for bipolar awareness, Indian celebrities, including Deepika Padukone, Rukh Kahn, Yo Yo Honey Singh and Anushka Sharma, have stepped forward and opened up about their personal battles with bipolar disorder, combatting the stigma surrounding the illness.

The Road Ahead

Bipolar awareness in India has slowly improved but still has a long way to go. If the government aims to change the attitude toward bipolar disorder and improve treatment, a significant investment in research is vital as well as a comprehensive understanding of the disorder.

–  Veronica Booth
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

HIV/AIDS in JamaicaAs of 2018, 32,000 people were living with a positive HIV diagnosis in Jamaica, with 44% of this population receiving treatment. This has been attributed to the stigmatization of HIV/AIDS, which can make those who live with it unwilling to pursue help. In response, Jamaican activists have campaigned and advocated for the destigmatization of HIV/AIDS because they believe it is the first step to completely eradicating the disease in Jamaica.

USAID’s Health Policy Project

International initiatives, such as the Health Policy Project, have been an important resource for activists because it focuses on training and educating. This project is a part of USAID’s mission to counter HIV/AIDS around the world and USAID is its chief source of funding. Within the Health Policy Project, HIV positive individuals have been invited to larger conferences where they are able to learn more about how to counter stigmatization and how to mobilize others. Because these individuals are Jamaican and their stories are personal, their message tends to be more positively received by audiences. This has allowed for a greater discussion of HIV/AIDS because it gives faces to those who are being discriminated against.

Governmental Initiatives for Anti-Discrimination

On a legislative level, the Jamaican Government has pushed multiple initiatives and studies to better the living conditions and access to care for those living with HIV. For example, healthcare discrimination is countered through the Client Complaint Mechanism and the Jamaica Anti-Discrimination System by educating the population, monitoring minority communities and training healthcare workers. In addition to that, these organizations collect reports of discrimination from around the country and help to investigate and correct them. These bodies are also working to provide free HIV treatment across the country and hope to accomplish this in the coming years.

Jamaica AIDS Support

Jamaica AIDS Support is the largest non-governmental organization working to counter and destigmatize HIV/AIDS in the country. Besides the promotion of education and treatment, the organization also provides access to mental health treatment for those who are HIV positive. This has allowed for a larger discourse about mental health and how it relates to this disease as well as a greater social acknowledgment of how stigmatization hurts others. In 2016, Jamaica AIDS Support began the Greater Treasure Beach Area pilot project, which aims to educate young people on HIV/AIDS so that in the coming generations there will be more tolerance and acceptance of those living with HIV.

Eve for Life

Local organizations, such as Eve for Life, have also been instrumental in the fight against HIV/AIDS discrimination by approaching the issue through empowerment. Eve for Life specifically works to empower women living with HIV through multiple education initiatives as well as smaller groups meant to support these women. One such group, Mentor Moms, works to help young mothers living with HIV to secure treatment and it provides smaller meeting groups where these similar women can find community. So far, it seems these initiatives have been overwhelmingly successful as more female activists have become involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS, which has led to greater social consciousness about the disease.

Conquering Stigma and Countering HIV/AIDS

Destigmatization initiatives in Jamaica are the key to countering HIV/AIDS and the country is off to a promising start. By utilizing personal narrative and education, activists hope to secure a world that is more welcoming for their children than it was for them. In the words of UNAIDS country director, Manoela Manova, “The more we do to ensure that people feel safe and respected, the closer the country will come to ending AIDS.”

– Mary Buffaloe
Photo: Flickr

First FortnightIn the 2018 Health at a Glance report, Ireland tied third for the highest rates of mental health disorders in Europe. These include higher rates of anxiety, depression and other mental disorders, with 18.5% of the population having at least one of these disorders. First Fortnight is challenging this mental health statistic through creative means.

Mental Health Stigma

First Fortnight is a mental health charity organization based in Dublin. Tying together creative expression and awareness, the organization takes on the greatest challenge towards mental health: stigma.

The stigmatization of mental health prevents individuals from seeking the necessary help needed. Several factors impact the perception of mental health, such as personal experiences, media representation and culture. Portrayals of people with mental health disorders as dangerous or weak, hinders progress to creating a healthier world. Should this perception be negative, individuals become isolated and less inclined to seek proper treatment.

One of the main objectives of First Fortnight is to create an open environment for discussion about mental health. The space for these discussions allows perceptions towards mental health to be changed. Stigma can be dismantled through education and awareness, letting individuals be more than their defined diagnosis.

First Fortnight’s Mental Health Events and Initiatives

First Fortnight hosts annual festivals celebrating various art forms, and each year, the festivals grow in size. In 2020, the charity was able to organize over 60 events across Ireland with the help of more than 140 volunteers. Adapting to COVID-19, the organization will host its first virtual festival in January 2021. First Fortnight is hoping the change will allow it to reach a wider, global audience.

A proud achievement of the initiative is its Centre For Creative Therapies. This project utilizes art therapy to help the homeless populations. Working with a therapist, the client is given guidance and the ability to express themselves through art. This method allows individuals a safe and healthy outlet to process their emotions and share their experiences. Alongside art, the Centre For Creative Therapies also advocates for music therapy.

The organization’s work goes beyond Ireland. First Fortnight was one of 22 organizations to take part in the Network of European Festivals for Mental Health Life Enhancement (NEFELE). The NEFELE Project, founded by the European Union, aims to establish art festivals for mental health across Europe. In addition to its annual charity festivals, First Fortnight hosted the European Mental Health Arts and Cultural Festival. Taking place in January 2019, the festival saw over 12,000 in attendance.

First Fortnight has also been supportive of the Mental European Network of Sports (MENS) since 2017. MENS focuses on uplifting mental health through the encouragement of physical activity.

The Future of Mental Health in Ireland

First Fortnight recognizes the importance of policies put into place. As part of its mission, the organization develops research needed to implement effective change. With the charity’s help, the Irish Government is acknowledging the value of mental health services. The nation’s 2021 budget includes €38 million toward mental health funding.

– Kelli Hughes
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in KenyaIt is estimated that 11.5 million, or one in every four Kenyans, have experienced mental illness. Common mental health issues in Kenya include disorders due to substance abuse, neurotic and personality disorders, as well as dementia. However, the country has limited resources for those struggling with mental health issues. As of 2015, there were only around 12 neurologists and 100 psychiatrists in Kenya. Furthermore, mental health-related stigma decreases the accessibility of care since it can lead to discrimination. Greater awareness of mental health issues as well as providing more resources for those suffering from mental illnesses and disorders can aid in increasing the quality of life of those struggling with mental health issues in Kenya.

Mental Health Care Project

In 2015, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Forum on Neuroscience and Nervous System Disorders and Board on Global Health created a demonstration project with the goal of improving the state of mental health in Kenya. The project focused on mental, neurological and substance use (MNS) disorders in Kenya, specifically alcohol abuse, depression and epilepsy because of the high burden of these conditions. The project addresses the limitations of Kenya’s healthcare infrastructure, lack of availability of medication and data in regard to MNS disorders. Additionally, the project emphasizes the potential benefits of incorporating traditional and faith healers (TFHs) into the Kenyan healthcare system. Kenyans who struggle with mental illness often rely on TFHs for care because of their wide accessibility. Because TFHs are viewed with acceptance among communities, the project encourages the collaboration between TFHs and healthcare practitioners.

Mental Health Stigma

Kenyans living with mental disorders often experience stigma on multiple levels. Stereotypes surrounding those with mental illnesses lead to public stigma, especially since many people associate mental illnesses with evil. Furthermore, those struggling with mental disorders may internalize others’ negative perceptions of them, impacting how they view themselves and their overall quality of life since it can lead to loneliness and isolation. Stigma is a factor preventing Kenyans from receiving efficient treatment. Therefore, greater public education on mental disorders and providing more resources for treatment can improve the lives of those living with mental disorders in Kenya. A better understanding of mental health in Kenya will aid in the destigmatizing of mental disorders, leading to effective treatment.

Kenya’s  Mental Health Response

In 2005, in collaboration with WHO, Kenya created a program to implement mental health into the country’s healthcare system. This was done by training healthcare staff across the country. The outcome of the project proved the possibility of educating healthcare workers through courses in mental health.

Furthermore, in 2014, Kenya presented the Mental Health Bill, which proposed providing resources for those with mental illnesses, including treatment, care and rehabilitation. The law has yet to be enacted. If implemented, the legislation aims to address the inequality in mental healthcare and to ensure greater accessibility of mental health services in Kenya.

Despite the strides taken by the Kenyan Government to address mental health, it is necessary to further these efforts in order to improve the overall healthcare system. Greater awareness of mental illnesses and how they can be treated is imperative to advance mental healthcare in Kenya.

– Zoë Nichols
Photo: Flickr

Fighting Period Poverty in TanzaniaPeriod poverty, or the inability to access sanitary products for menstruation, remains a problem in many impoverished areas of the world, with millions of women and girls denied access to products and forced to stop attended school during their menstrual cycles. This problem persists in Tanzania, where only 8% of girls finish secondary school and the average menstruating student misses three to four classes during each cycle. Menstruation is a taboo subject in many developing countries, teaching young girls that their cycles are unhealthy, dirty or something to hide and be ashamed of. However, several organizations are fighting period poverty in Tanzania to ensure that all girls receive the sanitary products and education they need to continue school and defeat the stigma around menstruation. UNFPA Tanzania, WomensChoice Industries and Made With Hope are just a handful of the groups working to make sure that period poverty in Tanzania becomes a thing of the past.

UNFPA Tanzania is Educating Both Girls and Boys on Menstruation

The United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) branch in Tanzania has noted the lack of education surrounding menstruation for both men and women. In various places throughout the nation, the organization has noted girls being taught that menstruation is shameful and should be hidden (even from other women) or that they are taught nothing about it at all. That is why UNFPA Tanzania has enacted various programs in the country’s Kigoma region to normalize education around menstruation for both sexes. These initiatives include Ujana Wangu Nguvu Yangu (My Youth, My Power), a four-year series of classes that teach Tanzanian adolescents about sexual and reproductive health, including menstruation.

In addition to initiating these programs, UNFPA has taken further steps to ensure that period poverty in Tanzania does not worsen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has kept its Adolescent and Youth Centers open with proper social distancing protocols in place so that women and girls in Tanzania still have access to the sanitary products and support they need during their menstrual cycles.

WomensChoice Industries

Lucy Odiwa, a Kenyan woman, grew up surrounded by harmful stigma about menstruation. This experience inspired her to establish WomensChoice Industries, which creates reusable sanitary products in order to decrease period poverty in Tanzania and ensure that girls in the region do not grow up in the same way she did.

Many women in rural Tanzania cannot afford sanitary products so Odiwa began selling her Salama pads, which can be reused for up to three years, for Sh5,000 ($2). In addition to the pads, WomensChoice Industries also manufactures tampons, breast pads and diapers for children and adults, all at a low cost so that they are more accessible to Tanzania’s low-income communities.

And the work does not stop there. Like UNFPA, WomensChoice Industries provides reproductive education to Tanzanian boys and girls. Representatives from the organization travel across the region to reduce the stigma around menstruation and ensure that adolescent girls are aware of their own sexual and reproductive health. The group has reached over 1.8 million women with its menstrual health programs as well as 1.2 million with its affordable and reusable sanitary products.

Made With Hope

Made With Hope is an organization based in the United Kingdom that focuses on increasing access to education for children in Tanzania, whether that be building schools or working to improve those already implemented by the government. As girls frequently miss class due to their menstrual cycles, the organization has made it a priority to combat period poverty. In addition to increasing education surrounding menstruation, Made With Hope has created a clean space in the schools it has built for girls to change their sanitary products safely. It has also helped to create local income-generating programs that manufacture these products. The organization has also worked to spread awareness of period poverty in Tanzania around the United Kingdom, inspiring others to get involved with the issue, even from abroad.

While period poverty in Tanzania remains an issue, UNFPA Tanzania, WomensChoice Industries and Made With Hope are all fighting period poverty in Tanzania to ensure that all Tanzanian women and girls receive the sanitary products and menstrual health education they need.

– Daryn Lenahan
Photo: Flickr

Eating Disorders' Global SpreadEating disorders are often presented as a western-world problem. Portrayals of eating disorders (EDs) to the general public suggest white, middle to upper-class females are the ones mostly affected. However, ED statistics demonstrate that all races, genders and ethnic groups are susceptible. As westernization continues, eating disorders’ global spread ignites.

Eating disorders cause approximately one death every 62 minutes. Medical professionals agree this number is likely higher because many ED cases are overlooked and not recorded as the cause of death. Out of all mental illnesses, “eating disorders have the highest mortality rate.” In developing countries where mental health resources are scarce, untreated people live dangerously exposed.

Increased Risk in Developing Countries

The long term health consequences associated with EDs are brutal. Typically, in countries where psychiatric help is unavailable, general healthcare services are lacking for those below the poverty line. Furthermore, in countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), mental illness is a serious taboo. Although sterilization is no longer a treatment for people experiencing mental health problems, there are still a lot of stigmas associated with them. They often lead to discrimination and prevent people from seeking help when needed. In these countries, psychiatric professionals able to help are nearly impossible to find.

In circumstances where someone living with an ED is not able to access medical assistance, the lack of access to treatment has persistent ramifications on a person’s body, such as experiencing pain caused by blocked intestines, muscle deterioration, cardiac pain, tooth decay or swollen jaw.

People living long-term with an ED have higher mortality rates. Living with an ED in a developing country is often a death sentence. Causes of death can include stomach ruptures, esophagus tears, kidney failure and cardiac arrest. To see reduced ED fatality rates, countries need psychiatric and medical resources. The number of countries that cannot provide these services advances the global spread of eating disorders.

Why Eating Disorders Occur in Impoverished Countries

The expansion and acceptance of Western culture are largely responsible for increasing ED cases around the world. Multiple studies evaluated the extent to which Westernization affects the elevated rate of eating disorder populations.

On the islands of Fiji, researchers conducted an observational study of EDs. The results of the study showed the impact of Western media. In the past, Fijians valued heavier body types as the image of beauty. When TV became commonly available in Fijian society during the late 1900s, ED rates were less than 1%. Three years later, a survey found 15% of teenage girls in Fiji vomited to keep their weight down.

An article published by the University of Columbia in the Journal of Eating Disorders analyzed Asia’s reaction to Westernization. The findings disprove the notion that eating disorders occur only in Western cultures. The article concludes by expanding the concept to all developing countries. These results strongly suggest that “eating disorders are not culture-bound or culture-specific, but rather culture-reactive.”

Westernization influences nearly every country in the world. Urbanization, population growth and newly introduced media further perpetuate eating disorders’ global spread. The most vulnerable countries are those that have little protection against virtually any form of addiction.

Outreach Combating Eating Disorders’ Global Spread

Eating disorder communities and organizations reach beyond their home countries. Outreach projects, such as international conferences, online training and collaboration between countries’ healthcare services, help protect people who are living with an ED and deprived of treatment. 

Originally the national charity Beat was solely based in the U.K. Now, Beat partners with international efforts in providing ED relief. The charity’s most well-known contribution is its international helpline service. Beat responded quickly to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, seeing helpline calls escalate by 30%. In response, Beat offers an online training course to recruit more volunteers.

The International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals Foundation (IAEDP Foundation) plays a role in halting eating disorders’ global spread. The IAEDP Foundation provides high-quality ED education to international multidisciplinary groups. Core courses and certifications are available in a home study format. The goal is to improve ED knowledge amongst medical professionals so people living with EDs have more opportunities for support. 

The Austrian Society on Eating Disorders (ASED) dedicates itself to establishing a network of occupational groups with ED experience. As an international network, ASED creates guidelines catered specifically to each country’s culture. ASED encourages countries to begin scientific research in ED detection, treatment and prevention. By fostering international co-operation and education, ASED hopes to expand ED resources.

Hope for the Future

Eating disorders are complex and threatening illnesses. In the Western world, health checkups and residential treatment options, in addition to emotional and nutritional therapy, encourage recovery. However, even with these resources, ED recovery can take years; if unsuccessful, EDs may result in death. For those living in highly impoverished countries, years easily turn into lifetime struggles with EDs that could end one’s life abruptly. Luckily, outreach programs enhance efforts to bring awareness and ultimately decrease ED casualty rates. Without these promising efforts, eating disorders’ global spread would continue to permeate communities around the world.

Grace Elise Van Valkenburg

Photo: U.N. 

 

Epilepsy Treatment in Developing CountriesAround 50 million people experience recurrent and unprovoked seizures globally. People living with this condition have many triggers for these seizures such as psychological stress, missed medication and dehydration. Half of those living with the disease also have additional physical or psychiatric conditions.

While the physical toll of epilepsy is difficult to manage, the emotional toll is equivalently burdensome. In many countries, a large stigma surrounds patients as people perceive those with the disease as insane, untreatable and contagious. As a result, epilepsy affects people’s education, marriage and employment opportunities. The exclusion of epilepsy patients from society can even lead to increased mental health issues and delay access to proper healthcare treatments.

Epilepsy is a treatable condition if people have access to anti-seizure medication. However, roughly 80 percent of all cases are found in low or middle-income countries. Three-quarters of epilepsy patients living in low-income countries do not have access to life-saving treatment. This fact has sparked a movement in global organizations to raise more awareness about the issue of epilepsy treatment in developing countries.

Three Organizations Raising Awareness about Epilepsy Globally:

World Health Organization (WHO)

Up to 70 percent of people living with epilepsy could become seizure-free with access to treatment that costs 5 dollars per person. In order to address this treatment gap, epilepsy awareness must be prioritized in many countries. The WHO suggests that by labeling epilepsy as a public health priority the stigma surrounding the disease can be reduced. The organization believes that preventing acquired forms of epilepsy and investing in better health and social care systems can truly make a difference in alleviating millions.

Since 2012, the WHO has led a program centered around reducing the epilepsy treatment gap. The projects were implemented in Ghana, Mozambique, Myanmar and Vietnam, and utilized a community-based model to bring early detection and treatment closer to patients. Over time, the program yielded some major results in each of the countries it assisted.

Within four years, coverage for epilepsy increased from 15 to 38 percent in Ghana. The treatment gap for 460,000 people living with epilepsy in Vietnam decreased by 38 percent in certain regions. In Myanmar, over 2,000 health care providers were trained to diagnose and treat epilepsy, and around 5,000 community stigma awareness sessions were held. Continued efforts like the ones found in these countries can help spread treatment to regions of the world that need it most.

 

International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE)

The ILAE is another organization raising awareness around epilepsy treatment. The organization consists of health care professionals and scientists who help fund global research for treatment and potential cures to epilepsy. The major goals of the League are to spread knowledge about epilepsy, promote research, and improve services for patients globally.

With six different regions, the ILAE finds various ways to reach its goals of promoting epilepsy awareness, research and access to care globally. For example, the African region will conduct the 4th African Epilepsy Congress in Uganda to share new developments in epilepsy research in August 2019. These types of Congresses are held once a year in certain regions to continue spreading new information effectively.

The ILAE regularly publishes journals to show research findings and breakthroughs in epilepsy treatments and cures. The organization also provides information to patients themselves on topics such as psychological treatments, diet therapies and information for caretakers. With so many resources available, the ILAE has done a major service by spreading information about epilepsy treatment in developing countries.

 

International Bureau for Epilepsy (IBE)

The IBE focuses primarily on improving the social conditions and quality of life for people living with epilepsy. By addressing issues such as education, employment and driver’s license restrictions, this organization helps create environments free of detrimental stigmas. The IBE’s social improvement programs, designed for people with epilepsy and their families, are some of the main ways this organization impacts epilepsy awareness.

International Epilepsy Day is an example of an initiative created by this organization to promote awareness in over 120 countries. On that day, many global events are held to increase public understanding of epilepsy and new research developments that are available. In addition, the Promising Strategies program also funds initiatives improving the quality of life for people living with epilepsy. The program supports 81 projects in 37 countries and provides $300,000 in support of the projects. For example, Mongolia: Quality of Life was a program designed to improve public knowledge and reduce stigma in Mongolia after the number of epilepsy cases increased by 10 percent in 2004. Soon after the program started in 2008, the quality of life in Mongolia for people with epilepsy increased and better services were given to those in need.

These three organizations often collaborate to create new programs to spread information about epilepsy treatment in developing countries. By raising awareness of the condition and providing better healthcare services, the efforts of these organizations have created a more inclusive and helpful environment for those living with epilepsy in countries around the world.

– Sydney Blakeney
Photo: Flickr