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Fragile Vaccines

Researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, have developed a possible breakthrough with regards to the storage of certain fragile vaccines. They have found a way to protect these vaccines from direct heat, negating the need for them to be stored in a cool environment. The implications of this innovation are massive. If organizations like Health Canada approve it, the reach of vaccinations to rural areas will increase, and with that, disease and sickness should decrease.

Coating on Vaccines

The researchers found that placing a gel-like coating over the vaccines was the best way to protect them from the heat. To make this coating, researchers mixed two sugars, trehalose and pullulan, with the vaccine and let it dry. As the sugars dried, the researchers coated the vaccine, making it resistant to heat and rendering the cold chain (the process of storing vaccines at temperatures ranging from 2 C to 8 C) unnecessary. Heat resistance is important because many people living in more rural areas of the world do not have access to refrigeration. Now, individuals living in impoverished areas will have access to a number of vital vaccines, helping protect them from diseases such as Ebola and influenza.

The technology’s development was the result of countless years of testing and hard work. But it is clear that the end product will be more than worth the time spent. When asked about the significance of the technology, Vincent Leung, an Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering at McMaster and one of the masterminds of the testing, said that it is “very exciting that something we worked on in the lab has the possibility of saving people’s lives one day.” Leung has reason to be proud; the technology is filling a clear need and will undoubtedly have a massive impact upon its implementation.

What Happens Next

Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration must still provide approval for the new technology. These organizations will analyze the effectiveness, practicality and safety of the technology. These organizations are likely to approve it because both have already accepted trehalose and pullulan.

The researchers have received funding from many organizations around the world, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They are now working with commercial partners in an effort to get the technology to market upon approval. Once accepted, it will likely see heavy usage in more rural parts of the world, such as in many regions of Africa. In many of these areas, individuals do not receive vaccinations for preventable diseases. In fact, more than 7.6 million children in Africa are not vaccinated each year.

This new innovation to transport fragile vaccines has immense potential to shape the future in a positive way. Vaccines will now become cheaper and more efficient to transport around the world. In addition, as more individuals obtain vaccinations, rates of disease and poverty should decrease and life expectancy should increase. While there are still many steps for this new technology to take before implementation, the promise of the technology provides immense hope.

– Kiran Matthias
Photo: Flickr

Speed Breeding Technology
While the earth’s rapidly changing climate and growing global population have caused concern about the future of the agriculture industry, there now appears to be a reason for optimism. Researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia have recently developed a new speed breeding technology that allows for quicker harvesting of plants. Researchers have been developing the technology for almost a decade and NASA’s past experiments with growing food in space are an inspiration. This technology has massive implications for the agriculture industry; with it, food production should significantly increase, which will be a necessity since the global population might grow to 9.8 billion by 2050.

How it Works

To speed up the harvesting process, special red and blue LED lights are shone on the crops (which are kept in greenhouses) for up to 22 hours a day at temperatures between 62 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. This near-constant lighting and precise temperature help speed up the photosynthesis process, allowing for crops such as wheat, barley and chickpeas to grow up to three times faster than with traditional practices.

Crops produced with speed breeding technology also show to be of higher quality than those harvested with more conventional methods. In addition to increases in speed and quality, crops bred in this new way can be more resistant to extreme heat and droughts. To do this, speed breeding is combined with the usage of tools like CRISPR, a family of DNA sequences that allows for the removal of unwanted portions of a crop’s DNA. Such unwanted portions are often ones that cause decreased yield for a given crop; for example, CRISPR could remove a gene that causes a crop to prematurely germinate after rainfall.

Implementation and Implications for the Global Poor

Currently, the researchers from Queensland are traveling to locations such as Mali and Zimbabwe, as well as India, to train farmers on how to use these new techniques. The researchers receive funding from organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics. This funding is likely to have a massive impact on individuals in developing countries, as speed breeding has enormous potential to help the world’s poor. Part of the reason for this is that people can use this technology anywhere. For example, people can power LEDs using solar power instead of electricity in countries where electricity is lacking. This makes the technology one that people can easily implement throughout the developing world.

Global Impact

Speed breeding will help produce crops at a quicker rate so that more people around the world can receive food. In addition to this, speed breeding technology is a sustainable technique that, if growers implement in conjunction with other practices (such as the usage of tools like CRISPR) could make crops more resistant to heat and disease. All in all, speed breeding technology is, without question, an integral part of the future of the agriculture industry.

– Kiran Matthias
Photo: Flickr

hygiene and sanitation
In November 2018, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation hosted the Reinvented Toilet Expo in Beijing. The Expo was the latest iteration of the Reinvent the Toilet challenge that was started in 2011 to help bring clean, safe sanitation to millions of people living in poverty in the developing world. The expo unveiled the world’s first pathogen killing toilet along with small-scale wastewater treatment plants ready for sale to both private and municipal entities. Innovations showcased at the Expo have the potential to greatly decrease human and economic losses because they provide improvements in sanitation and hygiene.

The Importance of Sanitation and Hygiene

Unlike most modern toilets, where waste is flushed away with water, these reinvented toilets separate the waste and water and were designed to be used in areas where no sewer systems exist and to safely reduce waste byproducts  With 2.3 billion people worldwide not having access to basic sanitation facilities, it is no wonder that as many as 892 million people defecate in open places like street gutters and bodies of water. This creates serious sanitation concerns as it contributes to the spread of diseases including Hepatitis A, typhoid and polio, as well as intestinal worms, schistosomiasis and trachoma.

Poor sanitation and hygiene along with inadequate water kill as many as 842,000 people in low and middle-income countries each year, affecting children under five the most. According to a 2013 UNICEF report, “2,000 children under five die every day from diarrheal disease, and of these 1,800 deaths are linked to poor sanitation, water and hygiene.” These figures underline the importance of hygiene and sanitation around the world, showing just how important the work done with the Reinvented Toilet Expo is.

Decreasing the Number of Sanitation and Hygiene Related Deaths

The innovative ideas displayed at the Reinvented Toilet Expo aim to significantly decrease the number of deaths from poor sanitation over the course of the next 10 years, especially in urban areas.  The World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the African Development Bank were among the financial institutions that have pledged financial commitments with the potential of reaching $2.5 billion toward urban sanitation projects, which is the largest ever coordinated commitment to urban sanitation.

Currently, 55 percent of the world’s population resides in urban areas, and that number is expected to increase to 68 percent by 2050. This poses a growing challenge for sanitation and hygiene for impoverished people in urban areas where sanitation is at a premium. What limited data exists on urban sanitation suggests that human waste is discharged directly into rivers, lakes and oceans. Making improvement in sanitation and hygiene in urban areas will not only create a healthier population but it also is good for the overall economy.

Better Sanitation Equals a Better Economy

According to The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, poor sanitation and hygiene lead to more than $200 billion lost in healthcare costs, decreased income and productivity. The new toilets would greatly reduce that number. The reinvented toilet could represent an estimated $6 billion in the global market by 2030 and could even help open up a new sanitation sector. The World Health Organization reported that every dollar invested in global sanitation could have an average return of $5.50.

Since 2011, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested over $200 million towards improvements in sanitation and hygiene and plans to invest another $200 million into decreasing the cost for nations where improved sanitation and hygiene will have the most impact. The continued improvements in sanitation and hygiene will decrease the mortality rate, boost the global economy and have the potential to offer new sources of renewable energy and water.

Peter Zimmerman
Photo: Flickr

PATH: A Global Health InnovatorFour of the U.N.‘s sustainable development goals in some way deal directly with health issues, whether they are concerned with decreasing world hunger or improving maternity health. Many of these goals have been addressed in a significant way, with improvements in health made across the board. However, there are still limitations on surveying health innovation effectiveness, as well as accessing and administering new technology.

Despite these issues, there are several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working toward bridging the gap between technology and innovation where these services are needed the most. PATH and its partner organization, Innovation Countdown, are doing just that.

Path is a global health innovator that has inspired and pioneered global health solutions. PATH has built its vision on accelerating technology availability by arming its team with entrepreneurial insight, scientific proficiency and public health knowledge, in order to produce measurable outcomes across many sectors in the healthcare industry. PATH was founded on the idea that healthcare should be available to everyone – especially women and children – and most importantly, where it is the least accessible. PATH believes that the antiquated notion of “population control” is not the solution to extreme poverty issues, but instead the solution lies in providing a more wholesome life that will in turn empower millions of people to take control of their lives and health conditions. The trickle-down, beginning with adequate health, has the potential to stabilize populations and churn out productive members of society.

Innovation Countdown, led by PATH, is a nonprofit dedicated to providing a platform for global health innovation, providing data resources and technology resource information. Supported by the Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, Innovation Countdown brings together different donors and investors in order to raise awareness of technologies and make them more accessible to areas that are difficult to reach or have minimal resources.

The work of PATH, along with Innovation Countdown, brings hope for all people – no matter of their socioeconomic status – to be able to access and reap the benefits of necessary global healthcare innovations.

Casey Hess

Photo: Flickr

Blockchain Technology and PovertySince its conception, blockchain technology has become widely synonymous with the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. However, the utility of blockchain comes not necessarily from its manifestation in online currency but the nature of its security and accessibility. These two features are what make blockchain technology and poverty so interlinked. It holds promise as a secure and equalizing tool for the world’s poorest and most rural.

The inner mechanisms and mathematical coding of blockchain are highly complex. The principle is simple. It is a public ledger, stored and spread across multiple networks in countries around the world, making an impermeable information network. The decentralized nature of the data stored on blockchain allows for its application across all sectors without risk of disruption.

Significant to alleviating poverty, blockchain technology’s secure nature allows for it to be used as a financial services platform. In both urban and rural areas of developing countries, banks can be hard to come by, expensive to set up an account in and somewhat unreliable.

Cryptocurrency services can be scaled up and down to be incorporated into everything from the most basic phones to the world’s most sophisticated smartphones. This cryptographic technology would allow its users to send money directly to other individuals without a middleman or “trusted third parties” which take a percentage as a fee for its services and can be largely inaccessible.

Estimates suggest that by 2020 over 70 percent of the world will have access to smartphones. With financial technologies such as blockchain services, there is a real chance for those in rural or economically unstable countries to secure themselves without huge risk. Blockchain technology and poverty could have a progressive and important relationship.

By using cryptocurrencies or internet-money, individuals in financially insecure nations can take steps to avoid financial vulnerabilities, such as fraud or hyperinflation. M-PESA, a mobile money-transfer and micro-loan financing company, operates all across Africa and in parts of central Asia. Numbers from early 2017 suggest that M-PESA’s user base allowed approximately 186,000 families, two percent of Kenyan households, move from poverty into sustainable working conditions.

Blockchain’s financial services allow for mass participation in the most remote parts of the world. A wide range of business owners can build financial credibility. Currently, Chinese pharmaceutical companies receive assistance from Yijan, a blockchain created by IBM and Hejia, a Chinese supply management company.

Significant and notable players on the international landscape are quickly getting involved in blockchain techniques. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Level One Project aims to use digital financial services to bring the impoverished into the formal economic ecosystem, providing them with the tools necessary for financial mobility.

In early 2017, the United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP) incorporated blockchain technology and cash-based transfers into its humanitarian aid outreach in Pakistan. By using mobile-transfers, the WFP ensured that those in need were receiving financial aid without the risk of the disruption possible with cash-based aid. The technology-based transfers also allowed for the WFP to streamline its tracking system. Since the success in Pakistan, the WFP has chosen to expand blockchain to other humanitarian efforts.

These are a few of blockchain’s many applications. Its reach and potential as a tool for poverty alleviation are great, especially if utilized jointly by governments and NGOs. Although it may be no panacea, the incorporation of blockchain technology may be a significant macro approach in solving the systematic issue of poverty. Blockchain technology and poverty disruption may be one of the most exciting aspects of the new digital age.

Sydney Nam

gates_foundationThrough innovation and funding, Kenyan bitcoin startup Bitsoko promises to revamp the way commerce is conducted in bustling markets in Nairobi and cities across Africa. The company has invented a digital wallet that employs blockchain technology to allow a smoother, cheaper transfer of funds between individuals.

Used in Bitcoin, blockchain technology saves and encrypts transaction records that allow for safe, speedy monetary transactions at a low cost.

This form of technology expands access to financial services for merchants and their customers. For sellers, such programming allows them to view and track customer payments while aggregating this data to produce complete financial and stock records, customer invoices and receipts, financial statements, and tax returns.

The acceleration of blockchain technology will also make transferring funds between individuals cheaper, encouraging mobile commerce.

Developments such as this will provide an alternative to inconvenient, slow transactions using cash or credit cards and will follow at the heels of the economic boom occurring in Africa. Such technology will foster economic growth and pair customers with suitable goods and services in a more efficient way.

According to Allan Juma, co-founder of Bitsoko, the brand hopes to be a leader in mobile finances, noting how “the financial structure in Kenya and throughout Africa has changed rapidly since the birth of mobile money by M-Pesa. We believe that this will only continue to grow”.

The company has recently attracted attention from international investors and organizations as well. It was recently awarded $100,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation through the Global Challenges Explorations, an initiative providing support to groups working toward solutions to global problems.

Programs such as this one provide an incentive for entrepreneurs who have experienced societal challenges to develop efficient, sustainable strategies for improvement.

With its GCE funding, Bitsoko plans on expanding its access internationally, bringing mobile banking services to Ghana, Zimbabwe, and Sierra Leone in a project co-founder Daniel Bloch has named “Enable Universal Acceptance of Mobile Money Payments”.

Bringing this technology to new countries will spur economic growth and technological innovation that has been heating up Africa in recent years. With increased transactional accessibility, sellers can expect to create a larger, more diverse consumer base and enhanced output.

Partnerships between international organizations such as the Gates Foundation and local businesses can lead to far-reaching global solutions that empower entrepreneurs and their communities.

Jenny Wheeler

Sources: Disrupt Africa, Grand Challenges in Global Health, Bitsoko
Photo: Coin Telegraph

solar-powered_iShack
In 2012, South Africa’s subsidized housing program had built about 2.8 million houses since 1994. As impressive as that is, the country still faced a backlog of nearly 2 million homes. Facing these numbers, the government decided to shift its focus from providing new-made homes for every household to improving current living conditions. Approximately 1.2 million households, or 3 million people, are still living in informal homes today. These shacks have no electricity or running water. Many are uninsulated and poorly ventilated, creating unhealthy environments for those inside.

Mark Swilling decided to address this problem back in 2011. Swilling, the academic head of the Sustainability Institute in Stellenbosch, asked his students, “‘What can be done while people are waiting?’ We wanted to orientate [our research] towards what the average shack dweller could do while they are waiting for the state.”

His question led to the solar-powered iShack. The shiny metal walls of these ‘improved shacks’ stand out in shantytowns where wooden pallets and corroded sheets of zinc are the building norm. The shacks also feature insulation made of recycled plastic products, a layer of insulating bricks around the bases of the walls, windows designed to improve airflow, and a coat of fire-retardant paint.

The most popular feature by far, however, is the solar electricity. The shacks are equipped with a photovoltaic panel on the roof that powers a porch light and interior lights, as well as an electrical outlet that makes it possible for residents to charge their cell phones.

Damian Conway, manager and director of the Sustainability Institute Innovation Lab, the main team behind the implantation of the iShack, says that part of their research methodology was paying close attention to what they community really wanted. “Electricity is the number one thing that most people in Enkanini say they need,” Conway says. “The needs are all there: sanitation, water … but the main thing is energy.”

The iShack has been warmly received. Nosango Plaatjie, a mother of three living in one of the iShack prototypes, commented that the ability to keep her phone charged and her lights on has made a huge difference to her family.

“The solar [lights] are better,” Plaatije said. “Now we don’t need to go to sleep early anymore because now we have lights. My daughter must do her homework now, she doesn’t have any more excuses. And I like the light outside because we can see what is going on, I feel safer.”

The iShack model of incremental improvements to already-existing settlements has a lot of people excited. In 2013, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supplied the organization with a grant that would allow the project to roll out across the informal settlement of Enkanini.

With much success and steadily rising support from the local community, other groups are beginning to take notice. Slum Dwellers International, a global nonprofit that serves the urban poor, is watching iShack with an eye toward implementing the project across many countries in Africa.

The secretariat-coordinator Joel Bolnick gave the impression of hopeful patience when he said, “Our intention is to give the institute some time to develop the model. They’re almost there now.”

– Marina Middleton

Sources: Mashable, The Guardian iShack Project CNN Live Science Mail & Guardian
Photo: Street News Service

Mobile_Financing
It can get hard to save for the future, plan and invest in a business and survive economic reversals if one lacks access to finances or bank accounts. This is a reality for many individuals who live in poverty.

When the concept of microfinance was developed, people with extremely low incomes had the opportunity to acquire small loans with which they could start businesses and generate income. A revolution at the time, microfinance gave the poor a chance to get loans without a credit history and large collateral needed by the traditional banking sector. However, these kind of loans are still hampered by access and the need to handle finances which can drive up costs and interest rates. This hole is now being filled by mobile finance.

Electronic solutions are making banking options much more accessible across the world. They reduce the cost of infrastructure needed, and the administrative costs associated with maintaining financial accounts. Such remittances can be much more secure than traveling long distances to deposit cash in a bank. Government disbursement programs can also use mobile financing to directly remit payments to the welfare dependents. This cuts out the intermediaries, reduces opportunities for corruption and allows the beneficiary to get their monies quicker.  Worldwide, 170 million people who receive payments directly from their governments stand to benefit from this approach.

M-Pesa, launched in Kenya by Safaricom, is one of the most wide-reaching mobile financing solutions. Over 17 million people in Kenya now use this product and over 25 percent of their GDP is moved through this system. Originally designed to facilitate microfinance loan repayments, M-Pesa allows cash deposits, withdrawals and cash transfers between people in the same way you would credit a phone with talk time. It has now expanded to Tanzania and Afghanistan.

Some of these initiatives are supported by development organizations. For instance, Bangladesh based Bkash is supported by BRAC Bank, IMF and The Gates Foundation among others. The Gates Foundation and other such organizations are closely involved in the process of making these solutions hit their stride.

The Gates Foundation assists in finding innovative new solutions and researches factors that would encourage their adoption. The foundation also works with governments to develop and implement policies that would stimulate this sector and develop suitable methods for oversight and accountability among the providers. As the technology slowly becomes mainstream and more competitors enter the market, governmental regulations will start to become more and more important.

In the words of Jim Kim, President of the World Bank, “More than one in three people on earth now lacks access to basic bank accounts or any kind of credit. Our goal is to bring that number to zero in just five years. Doing so will be an incredible challenge, but the reward will set us on a path to end extreme poverty by 2030.” Mobile financing is going a long way to bridge this gap and help achieve this goal.

Mithila Rajagopal

Sources: Bkash, Economist, The Gates Foundation, LinkedIn Pulse, World Economic Forum
Photo: flickr

fight against poverty
In the fight against something as daunting as extreme poverty, success often gets buried under all of the staggering statistics. Looking at how far the world has come in the fight against extreme poverty involves observing what has been done and what is possible in the coming years. This lens makes it clear that the humanitarian efforts of thousands of people have made a very clear difference in the lives of millions exposed to poverty.

In 1990, the global poverty rate was at 36 percent, which decreased to 18 percent in 2010. This fulfilled a Millennium Challenge Goal to cut the global poverty rate in half, and it did so five years ahead of schedule. The call to action outlined in the Millennium Challenge Goals has inspired many to rally around the cause and make improvements.

In addition to the poverty rate changing, the number of children who die from preventable diseases every year has decreased by 30 percent in the past 15 years, indicating an improvement in the standards of living for thousands of children.

Education in developing countries has seen improvement with higher annual enrollment rates, which will see more apparent return in the future when these children are more prepared and qualified to support their families and contribute to a more stable society.

The future of the fight against poverty smacks of success, given that the fight maintains momentum. Were progress to continue at the current rate, or better yet, speed up, the goal of lifting one billion people out of poverty could be met between 2025 and 2030. Bill Gates posited that there could be almost no impoverished countries by 2035.

There are various initiatives being developed by various humanitarian organizations that show promise of success. In December of 2013, 46 countries all over the world stepped up to accelerate the fight against extreme poverty by committing to a composite $52 billion donation over a period of three years that will go directly to the International Development Association, a fund established by the World Bank to support the world’s poorest.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Clinton Foundation, Warren Buffett, Feed the Future — the list of people and organizations willing to help is endless. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. In a world that is more technologically capable than ever with the resources necessary to feed the whole world and the money to establish stable communities around the world, the fight against extreme poverty is more manageable.

The fight is not over, nor will it be an easy fight to win. Worldwide, there are nearly 1 billion people who survive on $1.25 or less every day. Proportionally compared to the world population, we are facing a smaller fraction, but it is still an overwhelming number. Keeping in mind the progress of the past and the promise of the future, the world can continue to successfully fight against extreme poverty.

– Maggie Wagner

Sources: The World Bank, MSNBC, The World Bank, Mic.com
Photo: Konnect Africa

Bill_Gates_poverty_fighting_poverty’s_end
The World Economic Forum is held every year for top leaders, thinkers and businessmen around the world to meet in Davos, Switzerland. The topics and discussions are over a range of ideas, but they all focus on making and shaping the world into a better place for everyone and achieving  poverty’s end. Bill Gates has been a regular attendee at these meeting and his newsletter that was released by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation lays out the three myths about poverty that do more harm than good.

The first myth is that poor countries are doomed to stay poor. Gates cited China as a prime example of this. He cites the transformation places like Mexico City have undergone from 1980 to 2011 as an example of how poor countries have the ability to truly transform themselves. Bill Gates goes on to note that seven of the 10 fastest growing economies of the past half-decade have been in Africa.

Gates go on to say optimistically that by 2035  he believes that there will not be any country that is consider “poor” by the current World Bank standards. He see countries either being in the “lower-middle income or rich” category, he sees poverty’s End.

Bill Gates’ second myth is that foreign aid is a big waste. He cites the eradication of polio as an example of aid working. Today, there are only three countries that have never been polio-free: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. There is now a global effort to eradicate the disease completely by 2018, which will not only save the lives of scores of people, but also save about $2 billion dollars per year in preventative treatments.

Bill Gates’ third myth is that saving and prolonging life leads to overpopulation. He cites Thailand in the 1960’s as an example. Child mortality rates began to decrease, then in the 1970’s the government invested in a strong family planning program. Now Thailand’s child mortality rate is as low as the United States and Thai women are only having about two kids each.

The message is that if child mortality is high, then families will have more children in case a fair amount of them die. But if one invests in a strong family planning program and lower child morality, families will have fewer children because they are living longer.

Gates’ foundation does amazing things every year, and by issuing this information to the public he is helping to educate and make sure that people and governments have their facts straight.

– Arthur Fuller

Sources: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg
Photo: The Butterfly Project