Posts

Insecticide-Treated Bed NetsDespite the overall decrease in malaria deaths, which comes in at a solid 29 percent drop from 2010 to 2016, the reality is that the fight against malaria is still an ongoing battle with massive casualties. Some 429,000 malaria deaths occurred in 2015 alone. In fact, over half of the world’s population is still at risk of malarial contraction, and those living in sub-Saharan Africa are particularly vulnerable due to the area’s malarial-conducive environment. The risk of contraction in this particular region can be greatly mitigated through the use of a simple tool: insecticide-treated bed nets (ITN). The product has revolutionized the fight against malaria and ultimately become the cornerstone of malaria prevention in sub-Saharan Africa.

In a study conducted in the three northern regions of Ghana in 2015, it was found that the mortality rate for children under five that slept beneath ITNs was 18.8 percent lower than those that did not sleep beneath an insecticide-treated bed net. Furthermore, the majority of gathered research shows a significant correlation between widespread ITN usage and decreased malarial death levels. This is attributed to the fact that insecticide-treated bed nets prevent the spread of malaria by not only physically inhibiting mosquitoes from infecting individuals, but also by killing those mosquitoes which encounter the net. This is significant, as it reduces the population of malarial transmitters.

The fact that insecticide-treated bed nets actually kill, and consequently decrease, potential malaria transmitters is exactly why insecticide-treated nets are so essential in the campaign against malaria. Yet, most ITNs require that the nets be periodically retreated with insecticides every three to six months. Such repeated treatments are both expensive and time-consuming, a combination which means that most re-treatments are never done. This ultimately means that ITNs are no better than the average bed net. The identification of this weakness led to the birth of the long-lasting insecticide net (LLIN).

The LLIN was a product that was created in 2003, in a Tanzanian textile factory called A to Z Textiles. After gaining support from Acumen Fund, an internationally-renowned venture-capital organization, A to Z was able to collaborate with Sumitomo Chemical and ExxonMobil to begin producing chemically-treated bed nets that are effective for up to 5 years. This is a huge shift from the previous technologies that required repeated treatments.

By injecting the nets with long-lasting insecticide, A to Z ignited its collaboration with the World Health Organization and UNICEF in an effort to distribute the nets to the most vulnerable individuals. Today, the factory employs over 7,000 people, most of whom are women, and is the largest producer of LLINs in Africa, with a total production of over 29 million bed nets a year. It maintains a commitment to accessibility and has engineered a way to reduce production costs to only five dollars in order to make the nets more financially accessible to those who need it the most.

Though the battle against malaria in sub-Saharan Africa is ongoing, it is greatly aided by the increased usage of ITNs, and LLINs specifically. As long as organizations like A to Z continue to innovate new and accessible methods of prevention, there can be hope for a malaria-free world.

Kailee Nardi

Photo: Flickr


Approximately 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, or two-thirds of the population, are living without access to proper electricity. However, there is a possible solution. Solar energy has the power to reach rural areas and costs less than fuels like diesel or kerosene. African families could potentially cut their spending on electricity from nine percent of household income to two percent by replacing kerosene with solar energy. Zambia is taking the first steps in making the switch to solar power and eradicating poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.

Nkandu Luo, the higher education minister of Zambia, wants to provide clean and renewable power to rural communities to lift people out of poverty. Off-grid solar power helps improve and enhance education through access to computers and the internet.

The clean energy movement is called the Lundazi Green Village project, after the first village that will benefit from the new energy source. Egichikeni primary school in the Lundazi Green Village is the intended site for phase one of the program.

In addition to improving education, the project will improve safety, healthcare and agriculture in rural communities. This will facilitate people in escaping poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. Parts of the Lundazi Green Village project include new security technology, street lighting, medical equipment and irrigation methods.

Luo’s long-term goal is sustainability. The use of solar energy addresses the specific needs of rural communities and grants them financial independence. About 300 households plus public buildings like schools and hospitals will benefit from the project. New access to electricity makes job creation and higher incomes inevitable.

Another plus? Access to solar power in sub-Saharan Africa tackles climate change. It also connects people to the global network, allowing them to increase their economic prospects.

Zambians are not the only ones attempting to solve poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. Azuri Technologies, a global organization, has introduced ‘entry-level solar systems’ that give people eight hours of electricity each day. Customers pay an initial installation fee and then pay weekly or monthly through pay cards or with their phones.

Access to power encourages people to buy and use more technology, especially resources that connect them to the rest of the world via the internet. The pay-as-you-go format is successful because it allows people without bank accounts to use their phones to operate their finances.

Upfront costs of solar energy are high compared to fuels like kerosene or diesel, so some are hesitant to make the switch. However, the cost of installing off-grid power is expected to decrease by 60 percent in the next 20 years and has already fallen in cost by about 80 percent since 2010. Renewable energy could be the solution to ending poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and millions of communities around the world.

Rachel Cooper

Photo: Flickr

Toy Inspires Low-Cost Lab Aid to Detect Malaria
Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. In 2015 alone, there were 212 million cases of malaria and 429 thousand deaths. Suffice it to say that malaria is a global health problem.

Even worse is that Sub-Saharan Africa continues to carry a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. In 2015, the region was home to 90 percent of malaria cases and 92 percent of malaria deaths.

The good thing is that malaria is preventable and curable, given the proper tools to do so. A device called a centrifuge that spins a blood sample very quickly and separates different cells can detect malaria. Centrifuges, though, are expensive, bulky and require electricity – which makes it inefficient in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa.

A low-cost lab aid to detect malaria is in dire demand, which is exactly what Manu Prakash, a professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, realized on a trip to Uganda. On his trip, Prakash says he found centrifuges used as doorstops because there was no electricity.

Back in California, Prakash experimented with spinning toys in his search for a model for a low-cost lab aid to detect malaria. Though toys are not the conventional approach to developing a lab aid, Prakesh argues that toys hide profound physical phenomena we take for granted.

After experimenting with several spinning toys, including a yo-yo, they stumbled upon the children’s toy known as the whirligig or buzzer. The toy is made of a disk that spins when the strings that go through it are pulled.

This new low-cost lab aid to detect malaria dubbed the paperfuse, can separate pure plasma from whole blood in less than 1.5 minutes, and isolate malaria parasites in 15 minutes. The paperfuse has an ultra-low-cost of fewer than 20 cents, weighs only two grams and is, therefore, field-portable. The paper fuse could be the tool that helps detect and end malaria in low-income countries in the near future.

Mayan Derhy

Photo: Flickr

Africa Smartphone Plant
When discussing typical hotspots for smartphone usage, Sub-Saharan Africa isn’t usually the first place that comes to mind. However, thanks to a recent software licensing deal with Google, a South African startup is set to open Africa’s first smartphone plant. After receiving $10.8 million in funding, the Johannesburg-based Onyx Connect is set to begin production in the first quarter of 2017.

Why is Africa’s first smartphone plant so important? While some companies in South Africa are already assembling smartphones from imported kits, Onyx is taking advantage of local talent by manufacturing the device and saving on import duties. The plastic cases are being produced locally, and Onyx has its own research and development capability. Because of this, Onyx claims that it could make a smartphone with one gigabyte of memory and a camera for roughly $30.

The company is licensed to load Google software, including Android and Chrome, onto devices sold under its own brand or products it makes for others.

Africa’s remarkable average annual growth rate of 5.1 percent over the past decade is largely due to increased trade. This continued growth in the world’s most underdeveloped continent creates good jobs and reduces poverty, which in turn helps Africa gain strong economic and trade ties with the U.S. and serves to benefit both parties.

The region has already seen massive leaps into the 21st century with the number of smartphone connections across the continent almost doubling over the last two years, reaching 226 million. Though this is a significant advancement, it leaves ample room for growth to supply Africa’s population of 1.2 billion.

By supporting local production, this deal also helps Google boost sales in Africa, which is one of the few regions where it isn’t the outright browser leader. The company is setting up a distribution center in Ethiopia within the next 12 to 18 months which will create 600 jobs, according to Bloomberg Markets.

Africa’s first smartphone plant is likely to be a big step towards the region’s digital revolution.

Mayan Derhy

Photo: Flickr

Mamaope Jackets
A new innovation from Uganda aims to reduce the often fatal misdiagnosis of pneumonia by providing jackets that identify symptoms unique to the disease.

A Ugandan man named Brian Turyabagye designed the biomedical smart jacket to identify such symptoms of pneumonia as breathing rate, temperature and sound of the lungs and to make a diagnosis three or four times faster than a doctor. The jackets are called “Mamaope,” meaning Mother’s hope, as they aim to provide hope to mothers in Sub-Saharan Africa where pneumonia killed 490,000 children under the age of five last year.

According to Turyabagye, many of these deaths are due to misdiagnosis. He explains that pneumonia is often misdiagnosed as malaria in regions where the latter is prevalent. Since the symptoms of pneumonia and malaria are very similar, Mamaope Jackets will focus on identifying symptoms that can differentiate them and lead to a more accurate diagnosis.

When Turyabagye was an undergraduate student in Uganda he accompanied a friend’s grandmother to the hospital after she became seriously ill. Doctors initially diagnosed and treated her for malaria, only realizing that she was dying of pneumonia when it was too late. This inspired Turyabagye to create a more effective and simple way to diagnose pneumonia.

According to UNICEF, pneumonia kills nearly 1 million children under five each year globally which is more than HIV/AIDS, diarrhea, and malaria combined. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for half of the pneumonia deaths of children worldwide, and the region lacks critical funding for prevention and treatment.

If mass-produced, the jackets will be distributed to health centers and hospitals where it will be used to more accurately diagnose pneumonia. Mamaope Jackets will focus on symptoms unique to pneumonia, which usually occurs on the sides of the body rather than just the chest or the back. Turyabagye believes that being able to distinguish between what is healthy and what is not is a significant step to preventing misdiagnosis.

If Turyabagya secures funding for mass production, there is hope that the jackets will create awareness and increase funding for pneumonia treatment and care. The jackets have the potential to make waves in the global health community and thus securing funding for the fight against pneumonia globally.

The jacket is currently a prototype, but it is expected to undergo a medical examination this month. If this is successful, the jacket will be certified for medical use this spring. Mamaope Jackets are on the shortlist for this year’s Africa prize for engineering innovation, and if they win Turyabagye hopes to use the £25,000 prize money to begin mass production and distribution.

Eva Kennedy

Photo: Flickr

Palm Tree Oil Plantation
With notoriety for being one of six leading oil producing countries in Africa, Gabon embarked on a new project — developing palm tree oil plantations aimed at reducing the poverty gap and encouraging sustainable development.

Since 2013, Gabon has been facing a decline in its oil reserves. The government committed up to one million hectares of sustainable land to appeal to investors in agricultural development and spawn economic diversification.

Collaboration With Olam Palm Gabon

Olam Palm Gabon, Singapore’s Olam International Ltd and Gabonese government-owned company made an agreement with the government of the Republic of Gabon to utilize 50,000 hectares of land for palm plantation.

The development of palm tree oil plantations will enable the country to diversify its dependency on oil and instead invest in a more lucrative and long-term venture. Palm oil trees can produce fruit for more than 30 years with a plant yield far more advantageous than any major oilseed crop.

Sustained Economic Livelihood

Gabon has a population of 1.9 million, the highest urbanization quota in Africa with more than four in five Gabonese citizens residing in the metropolitan area. With an additional unemployment rate of 20%, partnership with Olam to build plantations will generate a revenue of $400 million and up to 5,000 new jobs.

Planting began in 2011; currently, 31,000 hectares exist. Upon complete production, the plantation is expected to yield 24 metric tons of fruit bunches per hectare and 5.2 metric tons of oil per hectare. The total estimated investment in phase one development of plantations, palm oil mills and related assets was $500 million.

Six thousand five hundred and two hectares have been sold and leased for $130 million. This proves Gabon’s ability to support innovative financial structures designed for the growth of the palm oil sector.

Job and Investment Opportunities

Experts believe that investment in the palm tree oil plantations in Gabon and the rest of Africa is thriving and will create local jobs and guarantee the stability of the local economy. Ali Bongo Ondimba, the head of State, commissioned on Sept. 16 the new production site of sustainable palm oil of Olam, in Kango, in the Estuaire province. Eight hundred jobs have been created in this location, with an inevitable 120 contracts planned. Social contracts signed by Olam ensure small farmers are key sellers in the project with a mutual benefit of electricity, road repair and water supplies.

Falling oil prices in Gabon have had the most severe effect on the country’s poor. The project also entails support of local community farming around Kango with the construction of 400 accommodations and social infrastructures.

“In Sub-Saharan Africa, many countries rely on extractive industries for revenues, but extractive industries don’t create a lot of jobs, and so countries are beginning to invest more in agriculture as a means of job creation,” said Gagan Gupta, chief executive at Olam Gabon Enterprise. “To succeed, however, agriculture projects must take into account, and invest in, local communities.”

Given the attention Gabon has received for their actions, it is hopeful that such efforts will continue to yield fruitful results encompassing economic growth.

Shanique Wright

Photo: Flickr

Malaria Eradication
Over the last decade and a half, the world’s fight for malaria eradication has yielded tangible results. According to the 2015 World Malaria Report, there has been a sharp decline in the global malaria incidence since 2000 with the malaria-related targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) achieved.

In 57 countries malaria cases reduced by 75%. In addition, the European region reported zero indigenous cases of malaria for the first time since the World Health Organization (WHO) began keeping track.

Globally, the number of malaria cases fell from an estimated 262 million in 2000 to 214 million in 2015, a decline of 18%; the number of deaths fell from an estimated 839,000 in 2000 to 438,000 in 2015, a decline of 48%.

Sadly, most cases and deaths in 2015 are estimated to have occurred in the WHO African region, 88 percent, followed by the WHO Southeast Asia region.

The overall numbers are encouraging. In the four decades before this, malaria eradication had almost slipped off the global health agenda despite a much-trumpeted Global Malaria Eradication Program in 1955.

While this campaign succeeded in eliminating malaria from Europe, North America, the Caribbean and parts of Asia and South-Central America it made no headway in sub-Saharan Africa. The program was abandoned in 1969 largely on account of the failure in tackling the technical challenges of executing any reasonable strategy in Africa.

Subsequently, the attention of the world shifted to other scourges like HIV. In small pockets research was being done on advances in drug and vaccine development, vector control and insecticide-treated nets, but little was achieved on the ground.

The latest numbers then, showing the real gains made in the battle against the disease particularly in Africa, are a welcome sign and owe much to initiatives by Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and faith-based organizations (FBOs).

They bring much-needed technical as well as cultural expertise along with economies of scale to reach larger sections of populations in afflicted countries. Prominent among these are The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Malaria Eradication Project (MEP) and the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI).

In the fight against the killer disease, insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs), indoor residual spraying (IRS), chemoprevention in pregnant women and children and treatment with artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs), have been the most effective methods.

Despite this tremendous progress, much more needs to be done to further reduce malaria’s burden. The Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016–2030 approved by the World Health Assembly in May 2015, set ambitious targets for 2030, including a reduction of at least 90% in global malaria incidence and mortality.

There are major challenges ahead. Decreases in malaria incidence and mortality have been slowest in countries that had the highest number of malaria cases and deaths in 2000.

As expected, malaria is concentrated in countries with weaker health systems and lower national incomes. In sub-Saharan Africa in 2014, some 269 million of the 834 million people at risk of malaria lived in households without nets or access to spraying.

In addition, the effectiveness of insecticide-based vector control is threatened as malaria mosquitoes develop resistance to the insecticides used in ITNs and IRS.

These are going to be the biggest hurdles in the way of eventually eliminating malaria from most parts of the world. However, with continued assistance from the global community, it seems likely that malaria will go the way of polio and smallpox over time.

Mallika Khanna

Photo: Flickr

Millennium Villages Project
Bollywood printed silks garnished with sequins are exchanged at a West African shop in the Potou market. Shop owner Thiama Diaw is the president of Bokk Jamm, one of 25 women’s business associations in Potou. The village associations collectively pool their profits, so group members can obtain loans. Participants have used the money to cultivate hibiscus, invest in sustainable cookstoves, relinquish owed school fees or make home improvements. These women associations provide training sessions in farming techniques, nutrition and money management.

Throughout the Tibias Canal, members in Mali grow melons for their fund contribution. While Rwandan basket weavers used their loan share for roof replacement and school supplies for their children, a woman in Malawi ran a cassava bakery to pay for her loan cooperative share.

From 1990 to 2001, Sub-Saharan Africans who lived on less than $1 a day increased by 86 million. The poverty rate jumped from 45% to 46%. One-third of the region’s population is below the minimum nourishment level, making it the most undernourished area. Inhabitants are disease-stricken, living in a drought-prone climate that lacks proper irrigation and safe infrastructure.

The Millennium Villages Project (MVP) launched in 2004 as a holistic, science-based approach to global poverty and empowerment for Sub-Saharan Africans. The program has benefited more than 500,000 people. Their development efforts have received generous donations from actress Angelina Jolie and the U.N.’s Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Safe drinking water and firewood require people to travel every day for several miles. The Millennium Villages Project aims to reinvent empowerment for Sub-Saharan Africans through sustainable development of healthcare, education and employment. The project operates with limited aid support and integrates science and technology.

For example, their services have decreased malaria in villages by 72%, access to clean water has tripled and maize productivity has doubled. The budget allots $60 per person for services, according to MVP. “The project’s approach has potential, but little can be said for sure yet about its true impact,” Nature stated.

Researchers of Millennium Villages Project started measuring the villages’ success rate, who had access to full intervention services. They compared the results to villages who didn’t receive aid, but data collection challenges prevented statistically sound results.

While children are dying of malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa every 30 seconds and one in 16 women die during childbirth, the Millennium Villages Project teaches valuable skills to members. They stimulate empowerment for Sub-Saharan Africans, who learn alongside each other in improving their community’s infrastructure, health and economy.

Rachel Williams

Photo: Flickr

How the UN Plans to Achieve Global Education Goals?
In 2015, the international community came together to set new goals for development. These consisted of 17 main goals to be achieved by the year 2030. These goals are built to transform the world and lead it faster towards further development. Goal Four of the Sustainable Development Goals is to ensure inclusiveness and quality education for all and promote life-long learning.

The United Nations believes that global education goals are important to improving the lives of individuals, particularly in developing countries. This is essential as it would lead to sustainable development for future generations.

A lot of progress was made in terms of enrollment rates, particularly for girls. Basic literacy rates are on the rise and there is a general desire toward achieving universal education goals. The 2030 goals will further work on providing free, accessible and equitable education while removing disparities based on poverty, gender and skills.

At the World Education Forum in 2015, UNESCO adopted the Incheon Declaration. This declaration affirms the global community’s dedication to achieving global education goals. UNESCO is mandated to work and supervise the goals. This includes country level and partnerships with governments by involving multi-stakeholders into the process.

On the other hand, a study by the UNESCO discussed the student-teacher gap in different communities. The study found out that on the global level the gap was the worst in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. To fill this ratio gap between students and instructors, 69 million teachers need to be recruited globally by 2030. Both regions mentioned above will need 32 million teachers alone.

This is the necessary number to meet global education goals. Currently, low pay is a challenge. However, an increase in pay is known to improve student performance. Thus, there are hopes in the international community to fund such an initiative.

Noman Ahmed

Photo: Flickr

Health DatabaseIn Sub-Saharan Africa, nearly one in every 25 people lives with HIV. With a population of around 1 billion people, this number is astounding. In fact, according to the WHO, those living with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa account for nearly 70 percent of the population of HIV carriers around the entire world. There is no question that a health database would be invaluable for tracking HIV and other diseases in this region.

HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa

Although the prevalence of HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa has been declining since 2000 due to prevention education and treatment programs, but it is a slow process. And where these programs are lacking, infection rates tend to rise.

Without the proper information regarding how to protect oneself, HIV can be spread easily throughout a population. Unfortunately, HIV prevalence can only currently be reduced through prevention education and treatment programs due to the nature of the virus.

HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus gradually attacks the body’s ability to fight infections and diseases. With this symptom comes a serious need for medical assistance. Regrettably, medical assistance in Sub-Saharan Africa is limited in terms of accessibility and effectiveness.

One doctor, Judy Gichoya, saw how difficult it was for medical personnel to treat patients in Sub-Saharan Africa, mostly due to a lack of proper patient information. When patients come for medical help, doctors had very little idea of what the patient had received in terms of previous medical assistance and what they currently needed.

Essentially, without an efficient system for storing patient information, doctors have to dedicate more time to diagnosis and learning clerical information about the patient rather than giving treatment.

OpenMRS

As a result, Gichoya joined a group of others who noticed the same issue and were working to fix it. From here, OpenMRS was born. OpenMRS is a software platform for an open source health database well as a reference application that allows users to create a system of medical records to fit the specific needs of a hospital or health center.

According to the OpenMRS website, no knowledge of programming is necessary to use the software successfully. It is secure, easy to use, summarizes information without difficulty and allows many computers to access a server at the same time. This accessibility allows an ease of adoption and hopefully a reduction in unnecessary effort, allowing more time to be focused on patient treatment.

Aiding a Variety of Groups

Currently, OpenMRS is being used in developing countries including South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and others. The software is currently used by non-profits, government aid groups, for-profit groups and NGO’s. This is where OpenMRS’s open source origins shine. Its ability to be modified allows it to be changed for every specific need of each user and could even potentially allow it to be used in a variety of fields.

So far, the wide adoption of the health database created with OpenMRS shows that it is not only usable but also effective. Open source technology is becoming very prevalent and it seems to be the perfect format for technology destined to help those in poverty around the world. Hopefully, this trend continues and great minds keep working on technology, improving it and making it more accessible to those in need like those who struggle with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Weston Northrop

Photo: Flickr