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Burden of COVIDThe most recent pandemic has wreaked havoc on countries all over the world and has stagnated, or even reversed progress in many developing communities. While officials have been trying to reduce the number of cases worldwide, there have also been many tech developments that help alleviate the burden of COVID-19. Various apps and websites allow us to spread information, contact-trace and even enforce quarantine.

6 Ways Technology Helps Alleviate the Burden of COVID-19

  1. Afghanistan- Without proper guidance, misinformation can spread like wildfire and can be deadly. For this reason, the Ministry of Public Health joined forces with the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology to create software that provides health information to Afghani citizens. Corona.asan.gov.af translates virus updates and information into three different languages, making it easily accessible for all people.
  2. Bulgaria- Local IT developers created a free app that connects citizens to health authorities to help ease the burden of COVID-19. Users verify their identity and can input various symptoms they are experiencing. A doctor will then review their symptoms and decide whether or not to send the patient to the closest medical facility for treatment. In addition to this, the app also can predict the future growth and spread of the virus. The developers are also willing to sell the software to other countries for a symbolic one euro.
  3. Germany- A Berlin-based tech startup created an initiative that would work on Android devices in developing countries throughout South America and North Africa. The project, called #AppsFightCovid would display health information on popup ads that already exist on different apps. The ads take info from the WHO website and advocate for frequent hand washing and wearing a mask in public. Because of these efforts, underdeveloped communities now have access to important COVID-19 information.
  4. Mexico- The Mexico City government created a screening service that determines how likely a user is to contract the coronavirus. The website also features a map that displays the closest hospitals and how much space is available in each of them. People can also filter the map based on whether they need a general care bed or a ventilator bed. In addition, users can input their symptoms and determine whether or not they require hospitalization. This helps alleviate the burden of COVID by reducing the number of unnecessary hospital patients during a global pandemic.
  5. United Nations- It is extremely difficult to get access to personal protective equipment and accurate information, especially for developing countries. Because of this, the U.N. partnered with the WHO and launched the Tech Access Partnership or TAP. This initiative helps reduce the burden of COVID by connecting expert manufacturers with developing manufacturers in poorer countries all over the world to share resources, knowledge and technical expertise. TAP will also aid countries in creating affordable and safe technology.
  6. Argentina- In hopes of reducing the number of coronavirus cases, a company is looking into enforcing quarantining and social distancing through a tracking app, though it is not yet operational. This would be a way to prevent the spread of COVID since the app would send an alert each time a person leaves their home. In addition, the Argentinian Ministry of Health created an application that allows people to evaluate their symptoms and see whether or not they require hospitalization.

 

Though the novel coronavirus has thrown us all for a whirlwind, many countries are doing their part to alleviate the burden of COVID by using technology. Whether it is through self-assessing symptoms, tracking hospitals or enforcing quarantine, government officials everywhere are trying to flatten the curve through the use of technology.

– Karin Filipova
Photo: Unsplash

TB in the Marshall Islands

Tuberculosis in the Marshall Islands is one of many health issues decimating the Central Pacific civilization. The country, which encompasses around 1,200 islands, struggles with high poverty rates and little access to sustainable health care and medicine.

General Facts about TB

Tuberculosis is one of the longest-lasting pandemics in modern history. As the deadliest infectious disease in the world, it kills approximately 4,000 people a day and most commonly affects the lungs. Colloquially termed “consumption” in the 1800s, tuberculosis, if untreated, overwhelmingly consumes an individual’s body. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the disease affects around one-quarter of the world’s population with latent tuberculosis, but only a small percentage of those cases become active.

Tuberculosis becomes active due to public health issues that accompany poverty, such as malnutrition, overcrowding and lack of accessible healthcare. In the Marshall Islands, 30% of the population lives under “the basic-needs income line,” and more than 75% of the population resides on its two main islands: Ebeye and Majuro. This population density places the country’s population at severe risk for tuberculosis.

Marshall Islands Risk Factors

The PBS documentary, “Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making us Sick?” explores the tuberculosis crisis in The Marshall Islands. The sixth episode of the series on the Marshallese explains that the rate of tuberculosis is 23 times higher than in the United States, partially due to overcrowding. Ebeye Island is more densely populated than Manhattan, with Majuro trailing close behind.

In the Marshall Islands, most people cannot afford to go to the hospital. Instead, they rely on public health outreach to hand-deliver tuberculosis medication to them on a daily basis. Although tuberculosis is highly treatable, the cost and strict daily medication regimen lasting from six months to two years also contribute to the Marshallese becoming increasingly susceptible to tuberculosis.

“What tuberculosis needs to flourish in a person’s body is a broken down immune system,” said Jim Yong Kim, MD, a doctor from Harvard University. “The stress itself of poverty can contribute to the likelihood of developing active tuberculosis.”

Multidrug-Resistant TB

Furthermore, if someone stops taking their medication when they have not finished the full course, they are at risk of developing multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. Antibiotics do not affect this strain of the disease and therefore are virtually impossible to treat.

In 2010, the Marshall Islands declared “a public health emergency” due to a sudden rise in multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. While the country made the effort to quarantine the infected, most Marshallese do not have the economic option to quarantine and stay home from work.

Treatment Rate and Projects

Yet, among these harrowing tales of tuberculosis, the global rate of the disease is decreasing at approximately 2% per year, according to the World Health Organization. In addition, the Marshall Islands, as of 2017, has an 83% treatment success rate.

While tuberculosis in the Marshall Islands presents a scary feat, some outside groups are also working in the country to combat the disease.

Notably, a group from the Migrant Clinicians Network (MCN) embarked on an ambitious 24-week project in 2018 to screen every person on Ebeye island for tuberculosis. The group managed to screen 70% of the population, making the project hugely successful considering the amount of time and manpower it takes to test an entire densely populated island.

MCN identified more than 250 cases of active tuberculosis and set all cases into a strict treatment regimen. Dr. Zuroweste, MD, one of the doctors who worked on the project, also noted the extreme need for widespread testing not only for health but for economic reasons. “Anytime you have TB incidence that’s over 1%, it’s been shown to be cost-effective to screen the population for the disease,” said Zuroweste, noting the 1.5% incidence in the Marshall Islands.

In addition, MCN noted that testing and treating the Marshallese would have “downstream effects.” Most active tuberculosis cases in Arkansas, U.S., are from Marshallese immigrants, so identifying the problem at the source can prevent its spread to other nations.

While tuberculosis poses a significant threat to the Marshall Islands, medical missions to the islands and concentrated efforts to reduce dangerous strains of the disease are already underway. Building awareness of the disease and its harmful complications can also encourage more efforts to help the public health issue worldwide.

Grace Ganz
Photo: Flickr

8 Quotes About How to End HungerMore than 820 million people are suffering from hunger. Further, 2 billion are suffering from malnutrition. However, there is enough food, knowledge and resources to end hunger. First, society must address the root cause to effectively end world hunger. Here are 8 inspiring quotes about how to end hunger.

8 Quotes About How to End Hunger

  1. “If with so little we have done so much in Brazil, imagine what could have been done on a global scale if the fight against hunger and poverty were a real priority for the international community.” -Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva. Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva is a former Brazilian president, with enormous popularity across Brazil. Lula Da Silva made the poor his central focus. He put into place many social welfare programs and was able to bring millions out of poverty.
  2. “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” -Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa is widely known for feeding the hungry one person at a time. She also set up programs that assisted in resolving world hunger.
  3. “You cannot tackle hunger, disease and poverty unless you can also provide people with a healthy ecosystem in which their economies can grow.” -Gro Harlem Brundtland. Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland was a physician and scientist for the Norwegian public health system and the Prime Minister of Norway. She later became the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). Brundtland believes in being the moral voice in improving health and alleviating suffering for people around the world.
  4. “We cannot fight against the poverty and hunger in the world when our stomachs are full of delicious food… the fighters must feel the poverty not imagine it.” -M.F. Moonzajer. This quote comes from M.F. Moonzajer’s latest book titled “Love, Hatred, and Madness.” Moonzajer is a journalist and a former intern for the United Nations Secretariat in Bonn as well as a policymaker for an international NGO in Afghanistan.
  5. “Nowhere in the world, in no act of genocide, in no war, are so many people killed per minute, per hour and per day as those who are killed by hunger and poverty…” -Fidel Castro. Fidel Castro was the former Prime Minister of Cuba. Castro felt strongly about human rights, particularly the right to food accessibility. He accused wealthy nations of tolerating the genocide of starvation. He addressed the United Nations during the organization of a multinational force to aid “1 million Rwandan refugees in eastern Zaire where rebel fighting cut off the country’s food supply.”
  6. “When you see in places like Africa and parts of Asia abject poverty, hungry children and malnutrition around you, and you look at yourself as being people who have well being and comforts, I think it takes a very insensitive, tough person not to feel they need to do something.” -Ratan Tata. Ratan Tata is an Indian philanthropist working to improve conditions in India by honing in on the malnutrition of children, fortifying staple foods and aiming to alleviate poverty. The Tata Trusts are providing 60,000 meals a day.
  7. “If you want to eliminate hunger, everybody has to be involved.” – Bono. Bono is a band member of the group U2 and is a leading voice for the world’s poor. His efforts mainly pertain to fighting hunger and poverty, particularly for those in Africa. The musician donates his time to philanthropic causes such as creating charities such as the ONE Campaign and the clothing line EDUN to stimulate trade in poverty-stricken countries.
  8. “If everyone who wants to see an end to poverty, hunger and suffering speak out, then the noise will be deafening.” -Desmond Tutu. Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa is an advocate for human rights, particularly the right to food and clean water. Tutu received the Global Champion Against Hunger award from the United Nations World Food Program for his efforts to defend the weak and the hungry.

These 8 inspiring quotes about how to end hunger show that there are people in the world trying to make a difference. But, as Bono said, everyone has to be involved to truly end world hunger.

Na’Keevia Brown
Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in ThailandSanitation and hygiene have improved in the past 20 years for the nearly 70 million people that live in the Kingdom of Thailand. Prior to the year 2000, many people lived without access to basic hygiene necessities or clean drinking water. Left untreated the domestic water could pose the risk of infectious disease. In some areas, this surface and groundwater is the primary source of water despite its contamination. Irregular flood and drought patterns could continue to pose a threat to Thailand’s future in terms of water scarcity. This is both a domestic and global issue that needs to be addressed before water resources are endangered any further. These five factors that affect water quality in Thailand highlight the country’s progress with regard to sanitation quality and practices as well as the problems they continue to face.

Water Quality and Scarcity

The Thai government’s Pollution Control Department (PCD) has monitored the state of water quality since 1990. Overall, the trends in water quality in Thailand between 1993 and 2003 were average and stabilizing. With both agricultural and industrial pollution at play, poor water quality was reported in certain bodies of water including the Chao Phraya River, the Tha Chin River, the Lam Takhong River and Songkhla Lake. The following decade’s rise in population size and economic development is now causing a strain on the availability of water resources.

Waterborne diseases can be contracted through eating or drinking contaminated substances from the local economy. Hepatitis A, Hepatitis E and Typhoid fever are the three leading infectious diseases in Thailand. All three are viral infections that can easily spread in areas of poor sanitation.

Droughts and Flooding

Thailand’s water resources have diminished over the years due to disappearing wetlands, corroding watersheds and pollution. The climate in Thailand was not always erratic, but now intense flooding during the wet season and droughts during the dry season are commonplace. Wetlands used to be abundant, but today only 2 percent of the original wetlands still exist. Thailand has lost nearly 96 percent of its wetlands. Unless water resource management is improved, water shortages remain a potential threat to Thailand’s future.

Flooding has been just as detrimental to Thailand’s water supply as have repetitive droughts. Standing water from floods poses serious threats. Contaminated floodwater contains many unknown threats that can be harmful to health, causing symptoms like rashes, infections and illness. Severe flooding has left countless dead and thousands displaced. In September 2019, Thailand experienced extreme floods, resulting in 19 deaths. Although an assessment of the total is ongoing, floods have affected more than 150,000 households. The water quality in Thailand is heavily impacted by the continual irregular weather patterns that have taken over Thailand’s climate.

Legislation

Sustainability in terms of water development and sanitation has been a part of Thailand’s legislative value since 1980. The nation continues to support and attempt to improve sustainable natural resource management and environmental protection. It believes both are vital tools for the sustainable development of resources. Legislation has also placed value on addressing sanitation inequality by recognizing proper sanitation and water access as a human right. In addition to laws and efforts on Thailand’s part, the U.S. has dedicated resources to improving sanitation in countries around the world as part of their Millennium Development Goals

Sanitation and access to clean water have a profound impact on the quality of life, especially in more impoverished areas. It has been shown that United States money that is invested in sanitation in developing countries is reintegrated at a rate of more than five times the original value since people are more likely to be happy, healthy and able to work. Promoting investment in global sanitation will help improve the quality of water in Thailand and have a lasting impact on Thai citizens’ lives.

Helen Schwie
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Dengue Fever in Bangladesh
Dengue fever is a severe virus that claims the lives of hundreds of thousands of people every single year. It is present in over 100 countries worldwide, including the Philippines, Honduras and Sri Lanka; however, the country of Bangladesh is currently experiencing the worst outbreak in history.

Not only is dengue fever in Bangladesh a serious threat, but according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the virus is now a rising threat to the entire world.

What is Dengue Fever?

Mosquito bites spread the virus dengue fever. There are multiple strands and severities of the sickness, including severe dengue, which is the deadliest. Symptoms of dengue, which include a fever accompanied by a rash, nausea, vomiting and pain, can last up to seven days. Severe Dengue will make itself manifest within 24-48 hours of infection and generally occur after the fever has dissipated. These symptoms are more severe in nature and include pain, vomiting blood, bleeding from the nose or gums, fatigue, irritability and restlessness.

One of the Top 10 Threats to Global Health

Although dengue specifically affects mosquito prone areas, these areas still include over 100 countries worldwide and 300 million people. This equates to almost 40 percent of the world’s population who are at risk of contracting dengue.

Every year, the virus infects close to 400,000 individuals. From there, over 22,000 die from severe dengue. This virus has slowly increased in prevalence and severity throughout the years, and in 2019 the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that dengue fever is one of the top 10 threats to global health in 2019. The organization explained this was not only due to the hundreds of thousands of cases that emerge every single year, resulting in horrible death tolls across multiple countries but also because the prevalence of dengue has increased 30 percent in the last 50 years.

What is Happening in Bangladesh?

Bangladesh is currently experiencing the worst outbreak of dengue fever to date. Dengue has been a growing threat for decades, with longer seasons of infection, rising death tolls and changing symptoms. Now, dengue has infected Bangladesh with previously unforeseen ferocity.

Since January 2019, there have been almost 40,000 cases of dengue in Bangladesh alone. The virus has spread throughout all of Bangladesh, but over 86 percent of cases of dengue fever come from the capital, Dhaka. The number of reported deaths in Bangladesh due to dengue is 29. However, that number could be much higher. This is due to the difficulties of determining if a death was the direct cause of dengue. Without proper blood samples and information from those who pass away, determining if a death was the direct cause of dengue is impossible.

Efforts to Aid the Dengue Fever Situation

With such a severe outbreak in the country, Bangladesh is doing all it can to ensure the health of its people. For example, The Communicable Disease Control (CDC) unit of The Directorate of General Health Services (DGHS) releases regular updates on the situation of dengue fever in Bangladesh in order to inform the public of the outbreak and it is doing. It reported that as of August 2019, almost 30,000 dengue patients were able to go home since the beginning of the outbreak. On the other hand, there are almost 10,000 currently admitted patients, and this number is rising by the hundreds every single day.

In order to combat dengue, the DGHS has implemented several strategies. At the beginning of August 2019, doctors in all 64 districts of Bangladesh received training on dengue treatment and management. The DGHS is also focusing on informing the public of prevention measures against dengue by sending messages of awareness through various media platforms and informing journalists in media briefings on various preventative measures.

Dengue fever is a severe and often fatal illness, and a serious threat to global health. Bangladesh is not the only country at risk, and the outbreak of dengue fever in Bangladesh could very well develop in countless more countries. Without serious attention given to the treatment and eradication of this virus, dengue fever will continue to claim more and more lives.

– Melissa Quist
Photo: Flickr

ChlorhexidineAn estimated 390,000 babies die within their first months of life annually due to severe infections. For the past decade or so, USAID has been combating this number with a low-cost yet highly effective antiseptic called Chlorhexidine. The chemical is typically used in hospitals to either disinfect the skin before a surgery or to sterilize surgical equipment, but USAID says that the antiseptic “can also be used to protect the umbilical stumps of newborns to prevent life-threatening complications from an infection.” These infections, USAID explains, can in part be a regular consequence of the traditional home birthing practices found in poorer countries. After conducting multiple studies, it has been shown that even a “one-time chlorhexidine treatment can lower the risk of severe infection [in infants] by 68 percent and infant death by 23 percent.”

Countries Adopting Chlorhexidine

Because it is relatively cheap, easy to manufacture and proven to be effective, around 30 nations throughout Africa and Asia either expressed interest in the antiseptic or have begun working with USAID to integrate the antiseptic into their healthcare system over the past several years.

Case Study: Nepal

Nepal was the first nation to implement the treatment back in 2011. It has since reduced the likelihood of infant illness and mortality by 34 percent. The success in Nepal is what inspired a chain-reaction that lead to the antiseptic being adopted into a variety of different countries—but the success of the disinfectant did not come without its challenges.

Before Chlorhexidine was initiated into their health system, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that the nation adopt a dry care system to treat the umbilical cord; this system required that the mother keep her child’s umbilical stump clean and dry until the stump fell off on its own while she kept an eye out for any signs of infection.

Due to cultural barriers, this suggestion was not followed. USAID said that mothers in Nepal had been used to routinely applying unsanitary substances such as turmeric, ash, cow dung or a mercury-based red cosmetic powder used by Hindu women to the umbilical stump by hand. Thankfully Nepal has been impressed with the results Chlorhexidine has supplied but the earlier setbacks in treatment shed an important light for USAID and its partners on how complex assimilating a scientifically safe treatment into impoverished nation’s culture can actually be.

Today, both single-dose tubes of the antiseptic are freely distributed to all expecting mothers in their eighth month of pregnancy and a one-on-one training session explaining how to safely apply the gel after cutting the umbilical cord.

Case Study: Pakistan

Pakistan implemented the treatment in 2014. Pakistan reportedly has the third-highest newborn mortality rate in the world, with umbilical cord infections serving as the second leading cause of death to Pakistani newborns. Seeing as Pakistan is a much larger and complex country, it faced a different set of challenges than Nepal when it came to making the antiseptic widespread.

There were some cultural barriers to overcome in Pakistan as well—many Pakistani women used to treat umbilical cords with surma, a lead-based concoction)—but the main challenge the nation had to overcome was to bring together all the government and private offices working towards a Chlorhexidine treatment program independently. To convene all of these health offices together and collaborate on an implementation plan was no small feat and took around a full year, and then the plans were formally adopted another year later, in 2016.

Of course, Chlorhexidine comes with its own set of risks. Although it has been found to reduce infections, it has also been discovered to cause rashes and burns on some skin types. Even so, the use of Chlorhexidine in both Nepal and Pakistan shows that although the process of assimilating treatment is not always easy or quick, it yields hopeful results that encourage nations in the surrounding areas to adopt the life-saving drug as well.

– Haley Hiday
Photo: Flickr

healthcare systems in Togo

Togo, a country located in West Africa is occupied by eight million people and currently faces a healthcare crisis. Nations across the globe have been successful in transforming inadequate healthcare systems into those that successfully prevent and treat ailments. That said, according to a 2017 story by Development and Cooperation, Togo is often referred to as having the worst health systems in West Africa.

Many factors contribute to the sub-par healthcare systems in Togo, including insufficient staff, outdated medical instruments and practices, and ineffective financial and insurance resources. These components combine to create the current healthcare system in Togo.

Despite this complicated health matrix, efforts have been made by the government in tandem with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to reduce the burden of disease and to improve the healthcare systems in Togo.

Diagnosing the Problem

According to a story run by Deutsche Welle (DW), a German international broadcaster, Togo only sports three healthcare workers for every 10 thousand residents, which DW claims is approximately a quarter of the number of healthcare workers per 10 thousand residents for Ghana. Insufficient staff across the nation – not only in the larger centralized hospitals of Togo, contribute to the poor health systems present.

Inadequate staffing at clinics and hospitals alike can escalate quickly. Lack of properly trained and licensed doctors, nurses and medical personnel often leads to overcrowding in emergency and waiting rooms alike, which complicates matters further. Keeping patients awaiting treatment in confined places increases disease transmission between patients, especially those that can be transferred via skin contact and via the air. Furthermore, the same 2017 Development and Cooperation story recounted several instances where patients tragically passed away while awaiting treatment in some of Togo’s largest hospitals.

In addition to overwhelmed and insufficient staffing, the hospitals themselves are not properly stocked with the supplies necessary to diagnose and treat incoming patients. Outdated medical instruments and practices also have the potential to contribute to inadequate healthcare systems in Togo. Equipment may become faulty over time, or the technology used may simply just not be correct.

While outdated medical technologies are certainly lacking, hospitals also appear to lack basic amenities such as beds. In 2011, Togo only sported seven hospital beds per 10,000 population.

Insufficient staffing and medical supplies seemingly stem from one arena, however: lack of financial resources available. As of 2015, over 55 percent of Togo’s population lived under the global poverty line – approximately four million people. Because of this extreme poverty, patients cannot afford the necessary treatments which leads to a lack of funding for hospitals, resulting in smaller staff and inadequate supplies.

As of right now, healthcare systems in Togo seem to operate on a “pay or die” approach, according to the Development and Cooperation story. Patients and loved ones of those who have fallen ill often have to borrow money in an effort to receive treatment for diseases and ailments. Even then, sometimes it is not enough.

Current Remedies

Global efforts have been to improve the inadequate healthcare systems in Togo. Currently, Togo is in the midst of a five-year project aimed at ending neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). This integrated NTD control currently receives funding from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, and both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) among others.

This funding goes directly to combatting and administering diagnoses and treatments for neglected tropical diseases present in Togo. Furthermore, a significant portion of the funds dedicated to reducing the burden of these NTDs in Togo is allocated toward the training of health workers, hopefully providing stability in the healthcare sector for years to come.

Aside from these efforts to combat NTDs, other global institutions have made efforts to improve Togo’s healthcare system in general.

The International Association of National Public Health Institutes (IANPHI), an institution set on improving healthcare systems and structures using peer-to-peer models, has begun to lay the groundwork for strengthening the healthcare systems in Togo. Much of IANPHI’s work goes toward strengthening disease surveillance, as well as equipping Togo’s Ministry of Health with laboratory and research facilities, hopefully promoting new science and health-related job opportunities.

Moving Forward

The healthcare systems in Togo have a significant and difficult path in front of them. The issues of staffing, supplies and financial insecurities must be addressed in order to increase health promotion and disease prevention in the country. That said, significant progress has been made in laying the groundwork of the future of Togo’s healthcare systems, hopefully paving the way for significant reform and a brighter future.

– Colin Petersdorf
Photo: Flickr

VISION 2020 initiativeBlindness, as well as moderate to severe visual impairments (MSVI), affects hundreds of millions of people around the world. An estimated 217 million people suffer from MSVI, and 36 million are blind. However, despite the fact that 89 percent of all visually impaired people live in developing countries, blindness tends to be one of the more overlooked aspects of anti-poverty and development efforts around the world.

In 1999, the World Health Organization (WHO), in partnership with more than 20 other organizations, launched the VISION 2020: The Right to Sight campaign, which intended to “eliminate the main causes of all preventable and treatable blindness as a public health issue by the year 2020.” Since the beginning of the campaign, much progress has been made in reducing preventable blindness around the world. However, preventable blindness continues to be an issue around the world, particularly in impoverished countries.

Before diving into the origins, objectives and accomplishments of the VISION 2020 initiative, it will be useful to understand how blindness, MSVI and global poverty intersect.

Blindness and Global Poverty

Due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of blind and visually impaired people live in poor and middle-income countries, poor eye health has become deeply intertwined with global poverty. In general, blindness and MSVI are common among the global poor because of their inability to afford health services, which puts them at an increased risk of contracting eye diseases. Additionally, a lack of awareness about eye health exacerbates this problem.

Unfortunately, poverty can cause blindness just as much as blindness can cause poverty. Blindness can impose severe economic burdens on those affected by drastically reducing their ability to work and provide for themselves. Ninety percent of blind people around the world cannot work. High levels of blindness also create economic problems for whole countries, and even the world economy. In 2000, it was estimated that visual impairment cost the global economy between $19,223 million and $22,764 million in GDP.

Blindness can also bring negative social consequences, such as a loss of social standing and authoritative decision-making. This social stigma is particularly prevalent in blind women, 80 percent of whom report a loss of authority within their families. Additionally, the economic impact of blindness can lead the afflicted to feel an increased sense of social isolation and alienation from their communities.

The VISION 2020 Initiative

The VISION 2020 initiative is a multi-organization campaign, launched by the WHO in 1999, which aims to eliminate preventable blindness by the year 2020. In order to achieve this goal, VISION 2020 has used three core strategies. These include using specific programs to control and treat the major causes of blindness, training ophthalmologists and other eye doctors to provide eye care to those who need it, and improving technology and infrastructure to increase the accessibility of eye treatment.

Since the VISION 2020 initiative launched, some progress has undeniably been made toward reducing preventable blindness worldwide. Between 1999 and 2015, the prevalence of visual impairment decreased from 4.58 percent to 3.38 percent. Additionally, many low and middle-income countries are seeing increased rates of cataract surgery.

However, despite the fact that the campaign is in its final year, it will not achieve its goal of ending preventable blindness around the world. Compounding this problem, researchers are pointing to emerging global health trends that are expected to cause an increase in visual impairments around the world. For example, an increase in the elderly population will likely give rise to an increase in age-related visual impairments, like cataracts. Increased rates of diabetes around the world are causing higher rates of diabetic retinopathy.

It is important to recognize that while these health developments may complicate efforts to reduce blindness worldwide, the fact that researchers have knowledge of these trends can shape the strategies of future anti-blindness campaigns. Despite the failure of the VISION 2020 initiative to end preventable blindness around the world, experts can learn from the program’s shortcomings and build on its successes going forward.

– Andrew Bryant
Photo: Flickr

Effects of Poverty While PregnantWomen represent more than half of the world’s poor and make only a small percentage of the world’s income. This is influenced by various factors, including lack of access to education, abuse and gender inequality. Because women are already at a higher risk of facing the crippling effects of poverty, their situation becomes more precarious when they are pregnant or new mothers. It is estimated that 99 percent of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries.

Furthermore, in food insecure and unstable countries, adolescent pregnancy is the leading cause of death in young women, ages 15-19. Some of the leading causes of maternal death include severe bleeding, infection and delivery complications due to a lack of proper health care facilities.

Physical Effects of Poverty While Pregnant

In developing countries, where there is often little access to high-quality food and water, one of the most common effects of poverty while pregnant is malnutrition. Underweight and malnourished mothers are at an increased risk of mortality, miscarriage and preterm labor. Because they lack proper access to antenatal care, they are prone to infection and morbidity.

The WHO Millennium Goals Progress Report showed that 60 percent of women in Africa give birth without the presence of a skilled attendant. In addition, nearly 50 percent in Africa lack any antenatal care.

As it relates to malnutrition, more than half of all pregnant women in developing countries suffer from anemia. In South Asia, for instance, 75 percent of pregnant women have anemia versus 18 percent in developing countries. Aside from the low energy levels associated with anemia, anemic pregnant women face a heightened risk of death from bleeding during childbirth.

Malnourished mothers are also at risk of developing hypertension. Although hypertension is associated with higher risks of preterm birth and lower child birthweights, the most severe risks include preeclampsia and placental abruption. The former can cause kidney, liver and brain damage for the mother. Although this is a treatable condition if caught early, many women in developing countries have little access to health care that would offer a proper diagnosis or treatment.

With regard to placental abruption, the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus and can cause severe bleeding for the mother and prevent the baby from receiving enough oxygen. Like anemia, hypertension is a severe physical side effect directly correlated with higher rates of poverty that puts malnourished mothers and babies at great risk.

Emotional Effects of Poverty While Pregnant

In many developing countries, women do not have equal access to education or career opportunities, making them dependent upon their spouses or families. Such dependency can lead to feelings of helplessness that can affect the health of pregnant women. Evidence suggests that pregnant women who face extreme poverty are more likely to face inequality and develop mental illness.

Furthermore, humanitarian crises, such as conflict and post-conflict situations, can increase the risk of violence against women. It is estimated that 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced physical and emotional violence. In places such as West and Central Africa where child marriage still exists, women are more likely to face violence and domestic abuse.

In sub-Saharan Africa, Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) has a 61 percent prevalence in some areas. Abuse in any form, physical, psychological or sexual, can have dire consequences on women and their health during pregnancy. Victims of abuse often face physical harm and mental health issues, such as depression, post-traumatic stress and anxiety. Some victims turn to alcohol or drugs. In addition, women who suffer abuse often face unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions. The stress of abuse can affect many aspects of a person’s life but puts pregnant women at a much greater risk due to their already vulnerable physical state.

Efforts to Lessen the Effects of Poverty While Pregnant

Programs such as the U.N.’s Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescent’s Health, the U.N. Millennium Development Goals and WHO Global Action Plan have made strides in reducing the effects of poverty while pregnant. Between 1990 and 2013, the global maternal mortality rate has decreased by 50 percent.

Although maternal mortality rates remain high in developing countries, programs such as the U.N.’s Agenda for Sustainable Development and numerous nonprofit organizations are working to provide access to antenatal care and technology that would assist in identifying health problems for pregnant women. With increased food security, access to antenatal care and an increase in education and gender equality, the U.N. Agenda For Sustainable Development hopes to decrease the maternal mortality rates by at least two-thirds by 2030.

In keeping with this sustainable development agenda, the Reach Every Mother and Child Act (S.1766) is a bipartisan bill that would allow for mothers and children in these impoverished nations to receive the care they so desperately need while also providing a foundation for them thrive and contribute to the global economy. Because the U.S. already has the expertise in ending preventable maternal and child deaths, we must play a larger role in this global fight to help mothers and their children.

 

Send an email to your Senators today asking them to support the Reach Every Mother and Child Act.

 

In addition to increasing access, a greater focus is being placed on the quality of care for these vulnerable groups led by the WHO and UNICEF. The two organizations recently launched a Network for Improving Quality of Care for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health to “cut preventable maternal and newborn illness and deaths, and to improve every mother’s experience of care.” In 2017-2019, Bangladesh, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda signed on as partners and more countries are expected to join this effort in the future.

– Christina Laucello and Kim Thelwell
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in IndiaIndia is home to more than one billion citizens. According to a 2015 World Health Organization (WHO) report, of that billion, 56 million suffer from depression and 38 million have anxiety disorders. When adjusted for population size, India is the country with the greatest burden of mental and behavioral disorders, leading some to call the lack of mental health care in India a burgeoning crisis.

Although India is working to improve the mental health of its citizens, initiatives have been slow going. Some roadblocks to improving mental health are the social stigma, its low priority in the healthcare budget and a shortage of mental health professionals.

Stigma

One major barrier to improving mental health in India is the social stigma around mental illness. According to a survey by the Live Laugh Love Foundation, of the 3,556 respondents, 47 percent could be considered judgmental of people with mental illnesses while 26 percent were categorized as being afraid of the mentally ill. This study looked at people between the ages of 18 and 45 from different socio-economic backgrounds. Surprisingly, most of the respondents in those categories were well educated and from higher social classes. When asked to describe the mentally ill, many used derogatory terms or harmful stereotypes.

However, 26 percent of the respondents were categorized as supportive of people with mental illnesses. These respondents tended to be younger—between the ages of 18 and 24—and from a relatively lower educational and socio-economic background.

Advocates and activists are also working to destigmatize mental health in India. Recently, India passed the Mental Health Care Act of 2017, which protects the rights of people with mental illnesses so that they are treated without discrimination.

Low Priority

According to a 2015-16 survey by the Bengaluru-based National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience, 150 million Indians are in need of mental health care, but only 30 million have access to the care they need. Although India began implementing its National Mental Health Program in 1982 with the goal of integrating mental health care with general care, the rollout has been slow. As of 2015, only 27 percent of the 630 districts intended to have a mental health program had created one. The District Mental Health programs have also struggled with inaccessible funding and administrative issues like an inability to fulfill the required number of professionals for each district.

While this program has struggled, the government has been working on other means of improving mental health in India. In 2014, it began implementing its first National Mental Health Policy, which aims to increase funding for training mental health professionals and universal access to mental healthcare.

A Need for Mental Health Professionals

Perhaps one of the biggest roadblocks to improving mental health, though, is the extreme shortage of mental health professionals. In 2014, the WHO found that there is on average only one mental health professional for every 100,000 citizens. These doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists tend to be overworked leading to misdiagnoses in too many cases.

One way the government of Karnataka in southwest India has been trying to fill in the gap is with community health workers called accredited social health activists or ASHA workers. Though they usually are women who council other women in their communities on pregnancy, breastfeeding and parenting, in 2016, they began training these workers to identify and deal with mental health issues. While ASHA workers can help fill some of the gaps, there remains a need for more specialized care. India’s National Mental Healthcare Policy and District Mental Healthcare Policy is a good start, but for it to be successful, the Indian Government has to be proactive in training mental health professionals.

While people with mental illnesses are still struggling, the topic of mental health in India is gaining traction. Activists are working to destigmatize and protect people with mental illness while the government is working to increase accessibility to mental health professionals.

– Katharine Hanifen
Photo: Flickr