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Turkey-Syria Earthquake
Following the devastating Turkey-Syria earthquake on February 6, 2023, both governments and NGOs alike have begun mobilizing much-needed aid to the most affected areas. What one cannot overlook, however, is the trauma and mental health effects that the earthquake induced. The psychological impact that devastating natural disasters can have is significant on its own. Together with previous traumas, including war, disease and other natural disasters, mental health support becomes a crucial part of providing aid to victims, which is the case in both Turkey and Syria.

Natural Disasters and Mental Health

According to a review of various studies by the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, a sudden disruption of victims’ lives, which “brings loss for individuals, families and communities,” heightens the despair and shock that often follows the immediate aftermath of a devastating natural disaster. Individuals’ roles in their respective communities are also experiencing disruption, which can lead to a loss of identity. A lack or loss of resources and a disruption in daily routine further worsen acute psychological stress, which often results in overwhelming stress, grief and sadness, leading some to turn to substance abuse to cope with their new conditions.

The experiences of natural disaster victims can manifest into serious prolonged psychological issues, including “emotional instability, stress reactions, anxiety, trauma and other psychological symptoms.” Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is also very common and coexists with feelings of “unnecessary fear, hopelessness, worthlessness and helplessness.” Although the journal notes that “most affected individuals recover with time” when they receive care, some individuals have a far more difficult path to recovery and can even begin experiencing persistent and severe psychotic symptoms.

Trauma in Children

The psychological impacts of the Turkey-Syria earthquake are present in both countries, particularly among children, who are perhaps the most vulnerable population that the natural disasters affect. According to Save the Children, numerous psychologists showed concern about the mental well-being of the roughly 7 million children that the earthquake affected, citing various indicators of acute stress, including “nightmares, aggression or being withdrawn.” The potential long-term effects are concerning as well, as these stressors can impact school performance and overall quality and enjoyment of life. Save the Children also stresses that mental health aid is evermore crucial considering that many caregivers do not have information or resources on how to treat or manage these symptoms.

Pre-Existing Mental Health Crisis

The Turkey-Syria earthquake only adds to pre-existing mental health issues in Turkey and Syria. Significant numbers of people in both countries suffer from mental health disorders. In Turkey, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 17% of Turkey’s population faces mental health issues, while only about 10.8% seek mental health treatment each year. WHO also states that cases of anxiety and depression have significantly increased in recent years, citing “repeated natural disasters, migration, economic downturn and the COVID-19 pandemic” as primary causes.

In 2022, the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) conducted a study that demonstrates the severity of the mental health crisis in Syria. The results showed that male household members showed signs of distress in 60% of households surveyed, with that number being 58% for women. Additionally, 27% of households report psychological stress in their children, and 26% of children stated that the reason they do not want to attend school is because of depression, unhappiness and/or lack of motivation.

Syrian refugees in Turkey are also at risk of mental health disorders. According to 2020 data from the World Health Organization, the depression and PTSD rates among Syrian refugees in Turkey who have experienced the conflict were 11% and 15%, respectively. WHO also estimates that 22% of overall suffer from a mental disorder.

Potential Solutions

Providing much-needed mental health services to those who the Turkey-Syria earthquake affected is a crucial aspect of aid. Enhanced Learning and Research for Humanitarian Assitance (ELRHA) has recommended its own Community-based Disaster Mental Health Intervention (CBDMHI) manual as a relevant and potentially useful tool for mental health support. Developed in October 2016 following a devastating earthquake in Nepal in April 2015, the manual aims to teach mental health service providers about various self-care practices, as well as how to effectively treat mental health symptoms in earthquake survivors. The organization distributed more than 2,000 manuals to local governments and NGOs and found that the intervention helped both mental health service providers and vulnerable community members alike, reducing depression and increasing job satisfaction for the former and reducing depression and PTSD for the latter.

Save the Children is also mobilizing mental health aid to areas that the Turkey-Syria earthquake affected. It currently has mental health support teams in the region who are instructing caregivers on how to support their children through their trauma. The organization is also “setting up child-friendly spaces and child-focused psychosocial support activities” along with other forms of assistance to children and families.

Providing mental health services during this time is crucial to ensuring that victims can return to their pre-disaster lives as soon as possible. The work of NGOs, as well as funding from the U.N., will be valuable in achieving this.

– Adam Cvik
Photo: Flickr

Crisis in Haiti
Haiti has been experiencing political, economic and social conflict since someone assassinated the former president, Jovenel Moïse, in July 2021. Haiti’s parliament has become ineffective as it struggles to govern amidst the recent earthquake and the prominence of gang violence in Haiti. The crisis in Haiti does not only involve one issue but rather multiple crises all at once. The three most predominant crises in Haiti are gang violence, the cholera outbreak and the aftermath of a deadly earthquake in August 2022.

Gang Violence

The number of gangs in Haiti has grown over the past five years. With more than 95 gangs occupying large portions of Port-au-Prince Bay, the crisis in Haiti has accelerated into deeper chaos. Organized crime disproportionally affects vulnerable communities, especially children. UNICEF’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean has warned that women and children have become targets of gangs. She stated that “more and more incidents of gang violence have involved children and women in the past few weeks and months,” referring to kidnapping, rapes and killings.

The crisis in Haiti is worsened by gangs developing strong political and economic footing as they make themselves mercenary partners of politicians and administrators. Recently, gangs seized Haiti’s fuel terminal (its main source of energy), thus sending the country into an economic and health crisis. Many schools and hospitals have no power and small businesses have shut down completely. The Inter-American Foundation (IAF) has increased funding for 22 grassroots organizations focused on helping Haitians adapt to the various political, economic and environmental collapses. The fuel crisis has prevented more than three-quarters of hospitals from operating. The IAF has been able to supply the country with community clinics and ambulances to meet the pressing need for medical care in the midst of the cholera outbreak.

In terms of suppressing gang violence, there is disagreement on which strategy is the best. The U.N. has issued $5 million to help those that the violence has affected, as humanitarians try to negotiate with the gangs. Other experts and Haitians suggest that intervention may be a more plausible step as a large portion of money meant for more diplomatic relations has been relatively ineffective.

Health and Environmental Concerns

More than a quarter of all suspected cholera cases are children under 9. Cholera is much more likely to infect children, according to the Health Ministry. Between October and December 2022, there were reports of 13,672 cases of cholera, with 86% being hospitalized. From 2010 to 2019, there were reports of 820,000 cases in Haiti. U.N. agencies and Médicins sans Frontières (MSF), along with local organizations, have distributed medicines and treatments throughout the country. They have also established some clean water centers free of cholera while pushing for the development of vaccines for Haiti. Human Rights Watch believes that there is still a great deal that is necessary to resolve the health crisis in Haiti.

There are also environmental concerns for Haiti. A 7.2 earthquake shook the country in April 2021, leaving 620,000 people in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. The earthquake destroyed 70% of schools. UNICEF is continuing to provide water, food and shelter to vulnerable populations.

As violence proceeds, the crisis in Haiti will require more aid and assistance to help rebuild and develop a more resilient political and economic order. Organizations within Haiti and around the world have already begun to provide relief but more must happen to ensure vulnerable peoples are safe.

– Anna Richardson
Photo: Flickr

Violence in Haiti
In February 2023, UNICEF reported a ninefold increase in acts of violence against schools in Haiti over the period of 12 months. Schools have been the locus of attacks and violence by armed groups and this has a direct impact on one of the most fundamental human rights of children: education. Education is not only the pillar of a welfare state but is also fundamental for the development of social capital in the country. Violence in Haiti stands as a barrier to the progression of children’s education.

Violence in Numbers

According to reports by UNICEF partners, armed gangs targeted 72 educational institutions in Haiti in the first four months of the scholastic year (October to February) compared to eight during the same time the year prior. In particular, armed groups attacked a minimum of 13 school facilities, set a school on fire, murdered one pupil and kidnapped a minimum of two school staff workers.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that armed factions rule 60% of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital. Gangs targeting schools also steal critical educational supplies, such as desks, blackboards and computers. Along with cafeteria equipment, gangs steal vital supplies of “rice, dough and maize” used to provide school lunches, which are sometimes the only meals Haitian children eat in a day.

Impacts of Escalating Violence in Haiti

Due to the rising violence in metropolitan areas, 30 schools closed their doors in just the first six days of February 2023 and more than 25% of schools have stayed closed since October 2022, a decision that principals took to protect staff and students. Students missed an average of one and a half school days per week in January 2023 due to the risk of violence. By the end of June 2023, according to UNICEF, pupils could miss out on 36 days of education if no one took action to safeguard schools from violence. Despite the risk, the Haitian Ministry of Education has pushed for schools to reopen. As a result, three out of four schools reopened by December 2022, up from fewer than one in 10 reopenings in October.

Taking Action

A UNICEF report for the period July to November 2022 highlights the organization’s efforts to safeguard children’s rights to education. In Haiti, during the summer vacation, UNICEF funded a summer children’s camp in Lycee National de la Saline, providing 803 Haitian children with “a safe space for children to express themselves through plays and other activities.” UNICEF also gave cash transfers to 1,200 impoverished families with school-age children in Port-au-Prince and areas that the most recent earthquake affected. UNICEF is also providing support for the renovation of three educational facilities in Cité Soleil along with the supply of school furniture and learning materials.

UNICEF urges the Haitian government to make sure that schools are secure and to prosecute organizations and people who endanger or hurt children while attending school. The U.N. praises education for not only imparting knowledge and skills but also for transforming lives and propelling growth for individuals, groups and nations, saying that schools “must be places of learning, safety and harmony.”

Overall, the U.N. urges all nations to sign the Safe Schools Declaration, “an inter-governmental political commitment to protect students, teachers, schools and universities, from the worst effects of armed conflict.” This declaration has received support from 111 nations so far and lays out specific actions that governments can take to safeguard educational institutions. In line with this, U.N. head António Guterres said at a virtual event in September 2021, “We urge Member States to go beyond their obligations under international law and implement national policies and laws that safeguard schools and learners.” The loss stemming from education disruptions is significant. By upholding children’s rights to education, the international community safeguards the future.

– Carmen Corrales Alonso
Photo: Flickr

Crisis in Haiti
Haiti has been engulfed in political, economic and social conflict since the assassination of former president Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. The parliament has been ineffective as it struggles to govern amidst the recent earthquake and the prominence of gang violence. The crisis in Haiti does not only include one issue but rather multiple crises at once. The three most predominant crises are gang violence, the cholera outbreak and the aftermath of a deadly earthquake in August 2021.

Gang Violence

The number of gangs in Haiti has been growing for the past five years. With around 95 gangs occupying large portions of Port-au-Prince bay, the crisis in Haiti has accelerated into deeper chaos.

Organized crime disproportionally affects vulnerable communities, especially children. UNICEF’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean has warned that women and children have become targets of gangs, stating that “more and more incidents of gang violence have involved children and women in the past few weeks and months,” referring to kidnapping, rapes and killings.

Gangs developing strong political and economic footing have only made the crisis in Haiti worse by making gangs “mercenary partners of politicians and administrators,” according to the Global Initiative Report.

Recently, gangs seized Haiti’s fuel terminal, the country’s main source of energy, which sent the country into an economic and health crisis. Many schools and hospitals have no power and small businesses have shut down completely. The Inter-American Foundation (IAF) has increased funding for 22 grassroots organizations focused on helping Haitians adapt to the various political, economic and environmental collapses. The fuel crisis has prevented more than three-quarters of hospitals from operating and the IAF has been able to supply the country with community clinics and ambulances to meet the pressing need for medical care in the midst of the cholera outbreak.

In terms of suppressing gang violence, there is disagreement on which strategy is the best. The U.N. has issued $5 million to help those that the violence affected, as humanitarians try to negotiate with the gangs. Other experts and Haitians suggest that intervention may be a more plausible step as a large portion of money meant for more diplomatic relations has been relatively ineffective.

Cholera Outbreak and Environmental Concerns

Cholera outbreak and environmental shock: “more than a quarter of all suspected cholera cases are children under 9.” Children are much more likely to contract cholera, according to the Health Ministry. Between October and December 2022, there were 13,672 cases of cholera, with 86% of hospitalizations within these cases. From 2010 to 2019, there were 820,000 cholera cases in Haiti.

U.N. agencies and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), along with local organizations, have distributed medicines and treatments throughout the country. They have also established some clean water centers free of cholera, while pushing for the vaccine development for Haiti, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

There are also environmental concerns for Haiti, as a 7.2 magnitude earthquake shook the country in August 2021, leaving around 650,000 people in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. The earthquake destroyed 70% of schools. UNICEF is continuing to provide water, food and shelter to vulnerable populations.

As violence extends outwards from the capital and inflation rises, the crisis in Haiti will require more aid and assistance to help rebuild and develop a more resilient political and economic order. Organizations within Haiti and around the world have already begun to provide relief, but more must happen to ensure vulnerable peoples are safe.

– Anna Richardson
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDS in South Sudan
The Republic of South Sudan is located in Eastern Africa. Many know it for its newly-gained independence from Sudan and its status of being the youngest nation in the world. However, South Sudan is also one of the poorest nations in the world and is listed as 185 out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI). Due to ongoing conflict in the region, such as the recent civil wars, South Sudan has seen a spike in issues related to the country’s health system and many of its citizens are impacted by HIV/AIDS. Nevertheless, international and domestic institutions are taking major steps in combating the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the region.

The Reality of HIV/Aids in South Sudan

One can characterize the issue of HIV/AIDS in South Sudan as being more concentrated in certain social groups and geographical areas. For example, HIV and AIDS are more prevalent in the southern regions of the nation and even more prevalent among female sex workers within those regions.

The transmission of HIV is a topic that is studied at length to combat the spread of the virus. According to the South Sudan Mode of Transmission Report (MoT), a study that occurred in 2014 regarding forms of transmitting HIV, the majority of the newest cases came from heterosexual sexual relations and mothers transmitting to their newborn children. Mother-to-child transmission often happened in cases of birthing, breastfeeding and pregnancy.

Another statistic that researchers often analyze when discerning the severity of the issue within a certain region is the percentage of the general population that has the virus. The U.N. Progress Report for monitoring HIV/AIDS in South Sudan states that around 2.5% of adults (ages 15-49) are living with HIV. This number, however, is improving due to help from institutions such as the Ministry of Health (MoH) and the U.N. These institutions are working on new ways of preventing the spread of HIV and treating those who have already been affected.

Something else that institutions take into consideration when attempting to combat viruses such as HIV is the general public’s knowledge of that virus. According to a survey on the attitudes and knowledge of HIV in Nimule, most adolescents had “fair” knowledge of HIV with 82% of the surveyed youth being aware that HIV can spread through sexual intercourse and 98% being aware that it can spread through blood. While the researchers concluded that there were some misconceptions surrounding the virus, it is commendable that most adolescents in the survey had a basic knowledge of the subject.

How Institutions are Battling HIV/AIDS in the Region

According to an article that the U.N. published, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in South Sudan – and Africa as a whole –  is declining rather quickly. This is due to international institutions such as UNAIDS and the governments of Africa funneling money into their health programs. However, this article also stresses the need for continued monetary support to help these countries become healthier and safer.

One way that UNAIDS and African governments are helping combat this virus is through HIV testing. According to the MoH, there were around 32 facilities in South Sudan that provided HIV-related assistance, like testing. The South Sudanese government has also made it its mission to “Test and Treat all.” These testing efforts have made it a lot easier for institutions to pinpoint certain concentrations of affected individuals and allocate their resources accordingly. These measures to “test all” have been successful. The total number of people receiving antiretroviral treatment increased by around 20,300 between March 2013 and March 2018.

Another way in which institutions are helping the cause is by amping up anti-retroviral therapy (ART). This is an HIV treatment that helps to contain HIV replication. This therapy greatly reduces the mortality rate of HIV and even allows some patients to live completely normal lives. The “test all treat all” initiative has certain guidelines, one of which includes a minimum amount of time one can wait to receive treatment after testing positive for HIV (one week). Guidelines like these make it easier for governments and other institutions to manage the spread and treatment of the virus.

The Road Ahead

Although HIV/AIDS in South Sudan continues to be an issue, it is critical to note that governments and organizations are working to combat it. With the help of both international and domestic institutions, the cases of HIV continue to decrease year after year. However, it is still crucial to take into account that the issue has not reached its end, and continued support for South Sudan is of utmost importance.

– Tim Ginter
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Foreign Aid to Yemen
Yemen is facing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the U.N. The civil war has been going on since 2014 and the country is not facing another challenge due to the Russia-Ukraine War.

The Civil War and its Impact on the Yemeni People

Two main groups are controlling different parts of Yemen. The internationally recognized government (IRG) is controlling the south and east of the country, and the Houthi group is controlling the west of the country and its capital, Sana’a. The IRG is also supporting the Southern Transitional Council (STC). The situation caused around 377,000 casualties between 2015 and 2021. Although casualties slowed down in 2022 due to the ceasefire which took place between April and October 2022, Yemeni people are in need of humanitarian assistance. According to a U.N. report, more than 23.5 million people of Yemen’s 31.2 million population need humanitarian assistance.

Food insecurity, disruption of education, scarcity of health care facilities, severe drought and intense flooding are among many issues people are facing in Yemen. The issues require humanitarian assistance in relation to the problems.

Education

The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) estimates that primary and secondary school attendance has fallen sharply since the beginning of the conflict, from 100% to 75% and from 50% to 28% in 2021, respectively. Girls often endure the most challenges due to a lack of education.

Health Care

In February 2021, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees stated that “Yemen cannot even afford to worry about the coronavirus” because of famine risk and other infectious diseases such as diphtheria and measles. The outbreak of cholera in Yemen in 2016 was also one of the worst in recent history. Moreover, only half of Yemen’s sanitary facilities were fully operating in 2021.

Food Security

Even before the current war, food insecurity was a problem. For the period from October to December 2022, the World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that 54% of the population of Yemen suffered from extreme food insecurity while 2.2 million children and 1.3 million pregnant and nursing women experienced acute malnutrition.

The WFP is also facing underfunding as it stood around $1 billion short of its $1.98 billion requirements for 2022. As a result, in both December 2021 and June 2022, the organization expressed that it has had to reduce the rations it provides.

The Russia-Ukraine War also deeply impacted Yemen’s food security, as the country used to import 40% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine.

Main Donors of Foreign Aid to Yemen

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released a report on March 16, 2022, stating the countries’ foreign aid to Yemen pledges. The U.S. and the European Commission were the first two potential donors of foreign aid to Yemen in the previous year.

The U.S. pledged around $500,000 and donated more than $1 billion. Also, the European Commission pledged $173 million USD and donated €170 million.

The U.N. is appealing for large amounts for Yemen. The March 2022 appeal was the largest amount for Yemen since the conflict began, which was $4.3 billion. However, the U.N. could receive only 54% of the required funds at $2.3 billion.

In addition to the efforts on brokering for peace, the international community should also increase the amount of foreign aid to Yemen to respond to the world’s humanitarian crisis.

– Murathan Arslancan
Photo: Flickr

Smart Farming
In many parts of the world, communities hugely rely on the success and yield of various crops to feed and financially support their inhabitants. As both weather patterns and air temperatures continue to fluctuate, smart farming could offer opportunities to adapt to those who these situational changes affect the most.

What is Smart Farming?

Smart farming is the use of various new technologies to allow farmers to improve both the quality and quantity of crops. This includes the use of AI, Wi-Fi-enabled machinery and drones. The use of such technologies could help improve productivity and lead to more sustainable farming practices.

Why Do Farms Need To Become Smart?

The Paris Agreement states that countries worldwide should reduce global emissions by the year 2030 to minimize the changing weather patterns. As environmental conditions change so too will farming. A number of these changes could impact farming including soil degradation, temperature differences and changes in rainfall and weather patterns, negatively affecting the productivity and yield of crops. In the face of this feedback loop of unsustainable farming leading to unsustainable environments, research suggests that technological advancements are necessary to break the cycle.

In the current global system, those principally responsible for environmentally damaging practices are not necessarily the ones that weather patterns affect the most. It largely falls on already disenfranchised communities, such as those living in the Global South, to bear the brunt of others’ pollution.

Smart Technologies 

Smart farming is just one example of the kinds of smart technologies which are increasingly becoming a part of our everyday lives. From watches to fridges, more of the things that surround us are using Wi-Fi. This growing digitization is known as the Internet of Things.

In the context of smart farming, digitization could allow farming technologies to effectively communicate with one another using sensors and automation to adapt to light and moisture levels in real-time, according to IoT For all. This leads to a huge increase in the efficiency of the farming practice and a much higher yield for farmers.

Agricultural Drones Offering Opportunities

Agricultural drones are a growing example of the kinds of technologies people will use on farms in the coming years. Drones are currently able to conduct imaging and monitoring of crops, however, Global Data explains that by 2030 drones will also be able to conduct advanced crop spraying and terrain monitoring.

According to the U.N. smart farming offers huge opportunities for communities that are struggling with the adverse effects of fluctuations in weather and climate. The donation of and investment in smart farming technologies provides communities with a long-lasting solution. Unlike food donation, an approach used in traditional foreign aid strategies, investment in these technologies would grant communities greater autonomy and provide them with a future-focused solution.

The Use of Agricultural Drones in Nigeria and Malawi

One strong example of the use of smart farming to improve access to food is in the West African nation of Nigeria where people use drones to plan design and construct rice irrigation systems. Using the drones on a farm near New Busa, situated 700 km from the nation’s capital Abuja, enabled farmers to adopt irrigation and drainage systems to the natural landscape. The resulting rice paddies were much more efficient leading to greater crop success and more food for both sale and the local community.

Malawi is a Southeastern African nation that has been facing big consequences of the recent droughts. High-precision drones and weather station data have been used to accurately predict crop yields. These images were then used by researchers to help devise solutions for the 80% of Malawi’s population who make their living as small-hold farmers.

– Florence Jones
Photo: Flickr

Lesotho’s Healthcare Crisis
Lesotho, a land-locked nation in Southern Africa, with a majority of its population living in poverty or constantly at risk of falling into poverty, has an ongoing health care crisis. Lesotho’s health care crisis includes low numbers of nurses and doctors per capita, the third-highest HIV/AIDS rates worldwide, a short life expectancy and lacking facilities for all needed treatments in Lesotho. Recent advancements have brought new facilities and care teams to assist Lesotho’s extremely underprivileged, starting with oncology treatment as part of a more significant movement to improve health and poverty throughout Lesotho.

Lesotho’s Health Care System

Numerous challenges riddle Lesotho’s health care system, many of which are contributing to the ongoing health care crisis. The most recent data shows Lesotho’s government spending approximately 11% of the nation’s GDP on health expenditures, amounting to $105 per person — an incredibly low amount compared to Lesotho’s neighbors. The expenditures are the primary source of funding for the health care system. Moreover, government spending sustains the publicly-owned hospitals and clinics, pays the salaries of healthcare professionals and provides funding for imported pharmaceuticals as Lesotho has no local pharmaceutical production.

There are only 0.9 doctors per 10,000 Basothos (citizens of Lesotho), and no medical or nursing schools exist. For rural Basothos, getting to any of these doctors is an immense challenge. Rural residents of Lesotho — 70% of the country — are at one of the greatest disadvantages in receiving aid in Lesotho’s ongoing health care crisis. Basothos in rural areas are among the nation’s poorest, with poverty rates of more than 60%. Rural Basotho often trek for miles, on a trip that may take up to several days, with the goal of securing an appointment with one of the few doctors in Lesotho.

Lesotho’s Persisting Health Ailments

Lesotho has the third-highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world, with one in five adults testing positive for the disease. In addition, with HIV so widespread in Lesotho, the nation’s average life expectancy is 54 years. When living in poverty, as many Basothos do, a person is likelier to partake in risky behavior. One form of risky behavior includes transactional sex, a common practice among women in poorer regions, as a method of obtaining food. It results in unprotected sex, which is a leading cause of the spread of HIV.

Women living with HIV are six times more likely than healthy women to develop cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is the leading cause of death in women living with HIV. The lack of treatment for all Basothos means a lack of treatment for all individuals living with HIV, and all women living with cancer as a result.

Lesotho’s ongoing health crisis, with its limited treatment options across the nation, has convinced NGOs, foreign partners and international benefactors to expand access to treatment within Lesotho’s borders.

Lesotho’s Recent Health Care Advancements

International aid has come from the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), the U.N., and most recently, The Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation (BMSF) to tackle Lesotho’s ongoing health care crisis. The BMSF nonprofit funded a new clinic to treat Basothos living with cancer. BMSF granted Lesotho’s government $1 million to set up the clinic with the proper equipment and ensure that the working personnel have adequate training. The expansion of the BMSF in Lesotho resulted in the nation’s first oncology treatment clinic. Within the first few months, the clinic treated 20 patients and has remained a thriving practice with relatively easy access for those in rural areas.

Lesotho’s health care crisis is struggling to make progress due to the low expenditures the government allocates per person, but the outside assistance is helping Lesotho’s poorest citizens fight for their health. The BMF, the CDC and the U.N. are all providing assistance to end AIDS. The U.N. has acknowledged that it is necessary to end poverty to end AIDS. The international assistance provided brings new hope to Basothos struggling with health problems. As assistance and treatment for HIV and cancer increase, the poverty rate will be able to decrease with more Basothos healthy and able to work. Despite Lesotho’s health care crisis, there is hope. As international aid continues to arrive, more and more Bsothos will see a positive change in their health, economic status and futures.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

AIDS in Children
In August 2022, numerous intergovernmental agencies, civil society movements and a dozen countries congregated in Montreal, Canada to establish the Global Alliance for Ending AIDS in Children by 2030. Recognizing that only 52% of children with HIV access treatment, the newly created alliance strives to guarantee that all children living with HIV can access treatment by the end of the decade. Specifically, by closing the treatment gap between children and adults living with HIV, the alliance aims to ensure that all youth deserve the chance to progress into adulthood unimpeded by HIV.

Tackling HIV Treatment Disparities

According to the U.N., one of the most significant issues affecting AIDS response is the disparity between treatment provided to adults versus children. While 76% of adults received anti-retroviral therapy (ART) in 2021—treatment designed to control HIV infection—only 52% of individuals ages 0-14 years accessed ART. Furthermore, only 55% of children ages 15-19 in 21 sub-Saharan countries were on treatment in 2021. Despite technological advancements in HIV testing, “800,000 children and adolescents living with HIV (0-14 years) are untreated,” and “another estimated 400,000 adolescents (15-19 years) many of whom were likely recently infected are not receiving treatment.”

In recognition of these devastating figures, the U.N. believes that the low prioritization of HIV treatment on a national scale is the root of this problem. Specifically, inadequate investment in treatment strategies and national plans to mitigate societal inequalities has exacerbated the discrimination targeting those living with HIV. Although numerous similar plans have been implemented in recent decades—such as the Global Plan towards the Elimination of New HIV Infections Among Children by 2015 and the Start Free Stay Free AIDS Free Partnership—previous movements primarily focused on raising awareness and fostering engagement among leaders.

The Formation of a Global Alliance

Hoping to expand HIV treatment to millions of youths across the world, the alliance prioritizes creating a sustainable framework for HIV prevention in the next 8 years. UNAIDS, UNICEF and WHO are primarily leading the Global Alliance for Ending AIDS in Children by 2030. Beyond U.N. agencies, the alliance consists of “civil society movements…national governments in the most affected countries, and international partners.” The 12 countries involved in the alliance include Angola, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The alliance’s mission is four-fold:

  1. “Close the treatment gap among breastfeeding adolescent girls and women living with HIV and optimize the continuity of treatment.
  2. Prevent and detect new HIV infections among pregnant and breastfeeding adolescent girls and women.
  3. Promote accessible testing, optimized treatment, and comprehensive care for infants, children, and adolescents exposed to and living with HIV.
  4. Address gender equality, and the social and structural barriers that hinder access to services.”

The Global Alliance for Ending AIDS in Children by 2030 seeks to foster a sense of unity within the international community. The alliance stresses how collaboration is the key to eradicating HIV; only by pooling resources, committing to global mobilization, and creating holistic solutions can the world prevent AIDS in children by the end of this decade.

A Promising Future

Going forward, the alliance will ensure that there is accessible treatment and care for children and adolescents living with HIV for at least the next eight years. According to a report published by UNAIDS, the alliance will promote leadership to execute plans on a national level, advance previous programs hoping to end AIDS, collaborate with global organizations to promote advocacy, ensure that governments have access to financing and advance accountability by fostering a sense of collective responsibility. As the Global Alliance for Ending AIDS in Children by 2030 continues to expand HIV treatment to millions of deprived children, the world will inevitably see a new generation devoid of stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV—a promising future that allows children to prosper as they venture into adulthood.

– Emma He
Photo: Flickr

Child Soldiers in Afghanistan
Since the Taliban overthrew the Afghani central government in 2021, the nation has experienced increased human rights violations such as the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Afghanistan.

Rise of the Taliban

The Taliban, meaning “students” in Pashto, is a conservative political-religious movement founded during the 90s amid the Afghan War which lasted from 1978-1992. The group originated as a modest band of religious scholars and students whose aim was to fight crime and corruption in Afghanistan. After deposing the Soviet-sponsored government, the group went on to establish the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and institute rigid Islamic law significantly impacting women’s livelihoods, religious minorities and political opponents.

Current Humanitarian Crisis in Afghanistan

On August 15, 2021, the Taliban launched its campaign to take over Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. Soon after the initial assault on September 7, 2021, the Islamic fundamentalist group declared itself as the interim government without communicating its plans for establishing a new central government. Since the hostile takeover, the U.N. has observed growing human rights violations, including forceful censorship of journalists and protestors, regression of women’s rights, worsening socio-economic conditions, an increase in child marriage and the recruitment of child soldiers.

Child Soldiers

The U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report identifies a state’s ability to combat human trafficking and assess the implementation of child soldiers. The Department of State reported Afghanistan as a “Tier 3” country, indicating failure to report cases of trafficking and a lack of serious reduction efforts.

The use of child soldiers in Afghanistan is not a new phenomenon. Before the insurgency, the Afghan government made an effort to address the symptoms of trafficking by developing awareness programs to prepare officials to respond to such cases. Through government-sanctioned Child Protection Units (CPUs), between April 2020 and March 2021, Afghani authorities thwarted the recruitment of more than 5,000 children into armed government groups and programs and identified 20 within the military.

However, the effects of the Taliban’s takeover and the COVID-19 pandemic have hindered the state’s capacity to protect, maintain or counter threats to civil liberties, including the use of children in the militia. Before and after the insurgency of August 15, 2021, the Taliban continued to illicitly use child soldiers in combative roles such as planting and setting off IEDs, carrying out suicide attacks, transporting weapons, standing guard and spying. The Taliban has ceased to investigate, prosecute or prevent cases of trafficking or recruiting. The Insurgent forces continue to eliminate shelters and protective services for victims, resulting in a more vulnerable population.

Without a centralized infrastructure or agency to provide services, Afghan children are more susceptible to recruitment and trafficking. The Taliban has made NGOs operating within Afghanistan useless as the group has imposed crippling restrictions on humanitarian aid, ransacked the few remaining shelters and threatened humanitarian staff. The Taliban has recruited children in Afghanistan from madrassas or religious schools. The children are indoctrinated and prepared to fight in exchange for protection. Moreover, the Taliban also targets children from Afghanistan’s more impoverished rural regions, exemplifying the role of poverty in the assimilation of children into the armed forces. Young boys living in dire economic circumstances see fighting as a means to a better life. Unfortunately, this is seldom the case.

The Road Ahead

It has been a year since the collapse of the central Afghan government, and conditions within the state remain concerning. Without proper protective and preventive services, children and women and girls remain Afghanistan’s most vulnerable. The U.N. has documented hundreds of human rights violations against children along with increased attacks on schools, hospitals and humanitarian shelters. The Taliban’s presence continues to exacerbate Afghanistan’s worsening socio-economic systems, poverty and food insecurity, thus, increasing the presence of child soldiers among their ranks.

The Taliban’s continued presence in Afghanistan and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic remain the biggest threat to the well-being of Afghan citizens. Thousands of children stay within the Taliban’s ranks serving in dangerous combative roles. With the U.N. and NGOs calling for urgent humanitarian aid, hope remains for a decrease in the number of children becoming child soldiers in Afghanistan.

– Ricardo Silva
Photo: Flickr