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Female Genital Mutilation in Côte d’Ivoire
Female genital mutilation is the process of partially or totally removing the external female genitalia, and is a violation of the human rights of women and girls around the globe. While many strive to ban this non-medical practice, FGM still has a grip on many countries. One such country where FGM is prevalent is Côte d’Ivoire. Here is some information regarding the practice of female genital mutilation in Côte d’Ivoire and the measures to eradicate it.

Female Genital Mutilation in Côte d’Ivoire

Côte d’Ivoire, also known as the Ivory Coast, is a country located along the south coast of West Africa. With a population of about 25 million, FGM practices affect approximately 36.7% of women ages 15-67, the highest prevalence being 60% to 75% among the ethnic groups of the northwest regions of Nord, Nord-Ouest and Ouest. However, girls and women of all ages and from all different regions of Côte d’Ivoire are at risk of FGM.

The prevalence of female genital mutilation in Côte d’Ivoire stems from two reasons, the first being social and cultural traditions. Those who perform the actual cut are typically the older women that make it their living and perform the procedure without anesthesia and the use of medical facilities. Pressure for older girls to undergo FGM often takes place when the prospective husband and his family will not accept a bride that has not experienced it.

The second reason for FGM’s prevalence in Côte d’Ivoire traces back to the large migrant population coming in and out of the country. Many migrants originate from countries where there is little to no legal action against FGM, such as the border nations of Guinea and Mali. The frequent crossing of borders attributes to the high percentages of women and girls who experience FGM in the northwest regions.

Harms of Female Genital Mutilation

Of the four major types of FGM that the World Health Organization (WHO) identified, Côte d’Ivoire practices Type 2. There are no health benefits to any type of FGM, as the non-medical practice mutilates a normal organ of a woman’s body. Instead, FGM harms those who undergo the procedure, and the victims become increasingly at risk to develop health complications in the present moment or in the future. Women and girls who experience FGM largely suffer from the following:

  • Severe pain
  • Infection
  • Urinary and vaginal problems
  • Childbirth complications

Steps Against Female Genital Mutilation

The government of  Côte d’Ivoire created legislation targeting the practice of FGM. Article 5 of the Constitution of Côte d’Ivoire prohibits “female genital mutilation as well as any other forms of degradation of human beings.” Law No. 98-757 of 23 December 1998 criminalized the practice of FGM in all forms, which includes actions by medical professionals and by those who aid in its performance.

Since the creation of Law No. 98-757, few people who practice FGM have experienced prosecution. The Ministry for Women and the Protection of the Child and Solidarity is a major government authority in Côte d’Ivoire. It protects the country’s women and girls and ensures equality in economic, social and cultural areas. From 2008-2012, the government put a National Action Plan in place that protects women and girls from sexual violence, including FGM. Since the National Action Plan’s end, there have been no new talks to implement a new plan.

Looking Ahead

While more work is necessary to completely end female genital mutilation in Côte d’Ivoire and the Ivory Coast, the work of those advocating to end FGM is making a difference in the local communities. Many are starting to see the harms that the practice inflicts. Small steps are still steps toward a brighter future for the women and girls affected.

– Grace Ingles
Photo: Flickr

AstraZeneca's Role in the Global Vaccination EffortThe Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine made many controversial headlines in mid-March 2021 because of a suspected link between it and a rare and sometimes fatal blood clot that forms in the brain. However, the AstraZeneca vaccine will be a crucial part of the global vaccine rollout effort. Not only is it a safe and effective vaccine approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), but it may also be the best candidate to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable populations in developing countries. AstraZeneca’s role in the global vaccination effort is key in ensuring the global eradication of COVID-19.

The Science Behind the AstraZeneca Vaccine

The AstraZeneca vaccine is around 70% effective against COVID-19 with some studies suggesting it can be up to 90% effective. Although it is less effective than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it is still more effective than what many experts anticipated any vaccine would be.

In mid-March, some European countries paused the AstraZeneca vaccine rollout based on claims that it caused a rare blood clot. A lack of evidence led every country to resume production and use of the vaccine. Out of 11 million people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine in the U.K., five people reported developing this blood clot. Though there has been no sufficient data to suggest any correlation, British officials and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will continue to monitor the vaccine in case of other side effects.

Because of its effectiveness against COVID-19, the AstraZeneca vaccine has joined the ranks of other WHO-approved vaccines, like Pfizer and Moderna. Here are some reasons why AstraZeneca is better than other vaccines in leading global vaccination efforts.

Benefits of AstraZeneca

  • Cost: The AstraZeneca vaccine will not be marked up. This means it will cost less than $5 per dose. By contrast, the Pfizer vaccine is $20 per dose, and the Moderna vaccine is around $35. This makes the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine a more feasible option for developing countries with limited funds.
  • Temperature: The AstraZeneca vaccine does not need to remain at the astronomically low temperatures the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require. Instead, it can stay at standard refrigeration levels for months. Thus, for developing countries, which often lack the distribution infrastructure and/or are very hot, the AstraZeneca vaccine is the ideal option.
  • Commitments: Oxford/AstraZeneca has already promised it will provide the developing world with more than a billion doses of the vaccine. Of that, 300 million vaccines will come through the WHO’s COVAX initiative. While Moderna has recently joined the COVAX initiative, the bulk of its agreement of 500 million doses will not be distributed until 2022. Pfizer has joined Oxford/AstraZeneca in the COVAX initiative.
  • Production: A major barrier to widespread vaccine rollout is that countries and companies often lack the infrastructure or ability to produce the vaccines fast enough. The solution would be for vaccine companies to relinquish intellectual property (like patents) to let others produce generic versions. Unlike other WHO-approved vaccines, AstraZeneca has shared its patent information with manufacturers in some low-income/developing counties that need the vaccine desperately, like India and Brazil.
  • Current events: In mid-February, COVAX supplied 600,000 AstraZeneca vaccines to Ghana. As of the beginning of March, Cote d’Ivoire also received and began rolling out approximately 500,000 vaccines from COVAX. The initiative is using AstraZeneca because it can be kept at a temperature that makes it a simpler vaccine to distribute. The AstraZeneca vaccines given to these two countries came from a factory in India.

Why is it Important to Vaccinate the World?

Developed countries cannot focus only on their own vaccination efforts and neglect the needs of low-to-middle-income countries. If vaccines do not reach developing countries effectively and quickly, these countries will face even more severe economic distress. This will worsen inequality between wealthy and impoverished nations. Until developing countries have significant access to vaccines, the global economy will lose around $150 billion in output every year. AstraZeneca’s role in the global vaccination effort is essential in ensuring this does not happen.

Additionally, many epidemiologists argue that developing countries must receive substantial amounts of the vaccine at the same time as wealthier countries for the global rollout to be the most successful. Otherwise, the virus will continue to spread and mutate, leaving the vaccine efforts in developing countries to be less effective.

President Biden recognizes that the U.S. population will not be safe from the pandemic if people in developing countries are not protected. Following this, Biden has promised that any surplus vaccine doses will go to developing counties. AstraZeneca’s role in the global vaccination effort is essential in ending the global pandemic and ensuring safety for all nations.

– Elyssa Nielsen
Photo: Flickr

foreign aidAs the COVID-19 pandemic spread over the world, so did foreign aid in many forms. Countries were sending masks, money, equipment and even healthcare professionals. Despite suffering from the effects of the pandemic themselves, China, Taiwan and South Korea all contributed to providing 16 countries around the world, including in Europe and Asia.  Even the U.S. became among those who were aid recipients when a shipment of masks and equipment from Russia arrived in April 2020. Perhaps most notably, Italy received foreign assistance from the U.S., China, Cuba and Russia among other countries.

Concerns About Aid Effectiveness

A common misconception regarding aid is that developed countries rarely benefit from foreign aid. Studies have shown that most Americans think the U.S. spends too much on foreign aid. Moreover, many aid opponents argue that aid is ineffective, costly and creates dependence.

Even Africans, who receive 20% of U.S. aid, have raised concerns about aid effectiveness. In 2002, Senegalese President, Abdoulaye Wade, said “I’ve never seen a country develop itself through aid or credit. Countries that have developed—in Europe, America, Japan, Asian countries like Taiwan, Korea and Singapore—have all believed in free markets. There is no mystery there. Africa took the wrong road after independence.”

Foreign Aid to Developed Countries

The pandemic has shown that strong relations and aid are necessary for countries to overcome economic and healthcare challenges. Foreign aid has a complicated history, but many developed countries were recipients of aid in the past and still benefit from it in many ways.

Italy received around $240 billion in aid from the E.U. during the pandemic. If a similar aid package was given to Sub-Saharan Africa, it could provide primary healthcare to every African. If used to relieve food insecurity, $240 billion could end world hunger by 2030. That is not to say that foreign aid to developing countries should come at the expense of the recovery of developed countries. But contextualizing the funding helps demonstrate what foreign aid could do if distributed equally.

During the destruction of Notre Dame in Paris, France received $950 million in total from donations globally. The White House also pledged to help rebuild France, a year after announcing a reduction to the foreign aid budget. When it comes to aid, the question is not whether to provide it or not—it is about who to provide it to.

Foreign Aid to Developing Countries

Contrary to popular belief, the developing world does not receive nearly enough aid. The average Sub-Saharan African country receives less than $1 billion in aid annually. Following the Ebola outbreak in 2013 – a crisis that is most notably remembered for U.S. involvement – the WHO received around $460 million to help affected West African countries. The World Bank estimated that the outbreak cost $2.2 billion for these countries.

As African and Latin American countries see their first huge waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is now crucial that the U.S. and other countries continue to increase their foreign aid budget to help these nations recover. In addition to the pandemic, most developing countries are dealing with food insecurity as well as continuing political and civil unrest. Although aid alone will not resolve all these issues, it can alleviate the impact of the crisis. By being aid recipients themselves, Western and European countries can understand the importance of foreign assistance and take the necessary steps to help those in need.

– Beti Sharew
Photo: Flickr

Human trafficking in BangladeshHuman trafficking is defined by the United Nations as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception.” Put simply, it is the sale of human beings for labor, sexual abuse or forced prostitution. Trafficking affects people across almost every nation, but the U.N. has seen recent trends that show developing nations are a breeding ground for human trafficking. These nations generally have a higher percentage of people who are at risk of human trafficking. This is because there are many vulnerable impoverished people and undocumented immigrants who can be easily manipulated.

The most common tactic used by traffickers to attract men and women for illegal labor is the promise of a better life, better pay to feed their families and security from the violence and war in their nations. This is often due to a lack of support, opportunities and help from their own governments, which make it tantalizing for people to accept all offers of better wages and a new life.

Human Trafficking in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, the majority of traffickers look for Rohingya migrants from Myanmar, promising them asylum and work in Europe. This is the result of a large influx of Burmese migrants in 2017 due to violence and discrimination. Approximately one million Rohingya are undocumented in Bangladeshi refugee camps, meaning they are desperate for work, homes and support. Traffickers prey on undocumented immigrants because they are invisible to their communities and to the government. Thus, their disappearances go unreported due to the families of victims fearing deportation or imprisonment.

Rohingya women and children are the most vulnerable for human trafficking in Bangladesh. They are often promised housekeeping and nanny work in private homes and hotels. However, this is only to have their passports and identification stolen and to be sold into sex trafficking. Girls are sold into prostitution as young as 10 years old. It is also worth noting that Bangladesh has the highest rate of child marriage under age 15, although a 1929 doctrine outlawed marriage under age 18. In Bangladesh, 59% of girls are married before age 18, and 22% are married before age 15. Girls trafficked in Bangladesh are often forced to marry, another tactic used by traffickers to create bonds with their victims.

Progress in Ending Human Trafficking in Bangladesh

In 2019, the United States made a major stride in punishing and resolving human trafficking in Bangladesh. USAID’s Bangladesh Counter for Trafficking in Persons partnered with the Forensic Training Institute and the Bangladesh police on a five-day training program on human trafficking. This event was highly successful, and the U.S. continues to work closely with Bangladesh on the issue. Furthermore, the U.S. has invested $8 million in shelters and programs for trafficking victims. The Bangladeshi and American governments also created a program to take place from 2018 to 2022 that works to reform trafficking policies. It creates new standards for officers and works to improve interagency communication through protocol. This partnership has led to a new awareness of human trafficking. Thanks to these new initiatives, Bangladesh has improved from Tier 3 to Tier 2 on the Human Trafficking Watchlist.

Bangladesh, with the assistance of USAID, is making strides in prosecuting traffickers and making resources for victims more accessible, such as taking the mental and physical effects of trafficking more seriously. Hopefully, this new motivation will continue, and Bangladesh will see less trafficking and stricter punishment of traffickers.

Raven Heyne

Photo: Pixabay

Mental Health in AfghanistanDecades of violent civil war and political unrest have debilitated Afghanistan’s healthcare system and led to the populations’ exceedingly high rates of mental illness. In 2004, Afganistan’s Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) declared mental health in Afghanistan a top priority. Today, the National Strategy for Mental Health (NSMH) is taking a multifaceted approach to improving the mental health of Afgan citizens.

The National Strategy for Mental Health aims to provide a “community-based, comprehensive” system with “access to treatment and follow up of mental illness and related conditions.” One of the primary goals of this system is to integrate mental health services into Afghanistan’s Basic Package of Healthcare Services (BPHS). Within the first 10 years of mental health integration into the BPHS, 70% of patients utilizing mental health services reported “significant improvement.” Other developing countries may wish to follow Afghanistan’s lead and to begin implementing their own mental health initiatives.

Women in Taliban-controlled Areas

Mental health surveys of Afgan women in Taliban-controlled areas exemplify the link between stress and mental illness. Women living in these areas report experiencing gender segregation and violent treatment. This includes restricted employment and education as well as domestic abuse and lack of health resources.

A survey of 160 Afghan women during the 1996-2001 Taliban regime showed many Afgan women suffer from mental illness. The survey results displayed that out of the 160 women,

  • 42% had PTSD symptoms

  • 97% had major depression

  • 86% had severe anxiety

Additionally, Afgan women living in Taliban-controlled areas suffered from depression at almost three times the rate of women living in non-Taliban-controlled areas (78 % versus 28 %).

Integration of Mental Health Services

In many countries, mental health support falls under general health funding, which results in very little direct funds for necessary mental health resources. However, as a result of successful integration by the Afghan government and restructuring of its healthcare system, resources for mental health in Afghanistan are available within the national healthcare infrastructure. The critical decision to absorb mental health in Afghanistan into general health has allowed mental health training to become a priority among all general physicians in addition to specialists.

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that people suffering from mental illness can potentially die anywhere from 13 to 30 years before their counterparts with no mental health problems. The integration of mental illness into general health equips primary physicians with the resources and training to diagnose and treat conditions. Transferring training and resources to primary health caregivers makes mental health services more accessible to the general public.

Afghanistan’s NSMH recognized that medication alone cannot fix mental health problems in Afghanistan. Medication treats the symptoms of trauma, not the source. This can lead to social isolation. This research led the NSMH to switch from a strictly medical treatment plan to a biopsychosocial treatment plan. This provides patients with counseling services, including stress management and domestic violence training for community health workers and teachers.

Impact of Mental Health Services

Before 2004, there were no psychiatrists working for the government. Furthermore, mental health receives less than 1% of physician training. After the integration of mental health services into the BPHS, each district hospital in Afghanistan has a full-time mental health physician who has received a two-month training in psychiatric care.

In regions that previously had no access to mental health services, there are now health facilities with health workers trained in identifying mental health disorders and creating treatment plans. These facilities can provide services for up to 60,000 people. Between 2002 and 2012, when mental health service programs were implemented, more than 900 community health workers and hundreds of doctors, nurses and midwives received training in mental health services.

Furthermore, in 2001, only 10% of the Afghan population lived within a one hour walk from a health facility. The BPHS increased the presence and accessibility of health facilities serving mental health in Afghanistan. Afterward, the overall patient visits to health facilities grew from two million to more than 44 million per year, which shows that the facilities were utilized frequently. In 2004, 22% of the health facilities served a minimum of 750 new patients per month. In 2008, 85% did.

Economic Incentive

Especially in developing countries, prioritizing mental health creates a more sustainable economy. According to the World Health Organization, depression and anxiety account for $1 trillion per year of lost or diminished output in the global economy. Additionally, when workplaces do not provide mental health resources, they lose the equivalent of 45 years of work per year. Mental health consequences on the economy and a population’s health are even greater in low-income countries due to the increased prevalence of stigmatization, superstition and treatment inaccessibility.

In addition to ethical incentives, governments have economic incentives to provide mental health services and resources because there is an economic advantage to having a healthy workforce. A failure to recognize and support populations suffering from mental health problems leads to a loss in economic productivity. Globally, every $1 that is invested in mental health disorder treatment translates to $4 in productivity and well-being.

Global Investment

Afghanistan’s next goal is to increase access to the BPHS for the remaining quarter of the population who still struggle to acquire health care. The growth of the BPHS and the Afghan government’s promise to expand its services to reach every citizen requires some economic input from international donors; however, the BPHS does not intend to rely on international donors forever. The World Bank, European Union and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have been the largest donors to Afghanistan’s BPHS since the creation of the BPHS. However, each has diminished their contributions over the years.

Between 2003 and 2009, each of their individual financial contributions funded about one-third of the BPHS resources for mental health in Afghanistan. These contributions also supported technical and infrastructural support by funding construction and renovation of health facilities as well as road work projects to increase accessibility for rural populations. Between 2010 and 2012, USAID cut its contributions from $4.5 billion to $1.8 billion. Until the MOPH finds permanent funding for mental health in Afghanistan, the funding will come from donors, taxation, public spending and out of pocket pay for patients.

To fully universalize accessible and affordable mental health resources, the world, and particularly global leaders such as the United States, must continue to invest in mental health and commit to fighting poverty worldwide. Reducing global poverty reduces civil unrest, which decreases the rate of mental health problems. The World Bank, European Union and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) are the largest donors to Afghanistan’s BPHS. Continuing global support for mental health strategies helps not only poverty-stricken countries address mental health needs, but supports the global economy by increasing each populations’ well-being and productivity.

Nye Day
Photo: Flickr

food safety in el salvadorThe ability to have access to safe and nutritious food is essential to maintaining life and good health. Unsafe food contains harmful parasites, viruses and bacteria that can lead to more than 200 diseases, from diarrhea to forms of cancer. Approximately 600 million people become ill after consuming contaminated food each year, which results in 420,000 deaths and the loss of thirty-three million healthy life hours. Food safety and nutrition are linked to cycles of health. Unsafe food causes disease and malnutrition, especially with at-risk groups.

Education on Food Safety in El Salvador

Women in El Salvador are participating in an educational program supported by the World Health Organization that teaches safe hygiene practices and food safety. The WHO works in collaboration with El Salvador’s government and other United Nations partner organizations like the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), UNICEF, UNWomen, and the World Food Program (WFP). The program aims to address foodborne illnesses and poor nutrition by educating local women who then pass on their knowledge to other women in the community.

In preparation for the village workshops, there are two ‘train the trainers’ workshops held to train health promoters who can then go on to educate women in other villages. The women teach others how to host their own educational workshops. Women are chosen as leaders since they play a vital role in food preparation and safety.

Teaching Subsistence Farming

In El Salvador 1 in 10 people live on less than $2 U.S. a day, which makes it hard to buy food.  A large sector of the population lacks the proper education about nutrition needed to grow food themselves. This program provides women with education about farming, specifically focusing on five keys to growing safer fruits and vegetables.

  1. Practice good personal hygiene. Good hygiene begins in the home with a clean body, face, and clothes. People must maintain cleanliness to curb the spread of pathogens and prevent food contamination. A toilet or latrine must be used for proper sanitation.
  2. Protect fields from animal fecal contamination. In areas where animals live in close proximity to humans and fields, it is imperative to control the risk of exposure to fecal matter. Exposure to animal feces is correlated with diarrhea, soil-transmitted helminth infection, trachoma, environmental enteric dysfunction and growth faltering.
  3. Use treated fecal waste. Waste may be reused as a fertilizer for agriculture, gardening or horticultural, but must be safely handled, treated, stored and utilized.
  4. Evaluate and manage risks from irrigation water. Be aware of all risks of microbial contamination at all water sources and protect water from fecal matter.
  5. Keep harvest and storage equipment clean and dry. Wash harvest equipment with clean water and store away from animals and children. Remove all visible dirt and debris from all products.

Results

After participating in the program, the women involved began to change their lifestyles and safety habits. Women use mesh to protect fields from contamination from animals and can grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables while practicing food safety. Foodborne illnesses decreased in households where safety measures were practiced. Families that utilized the five keys at home reduced their chances of getting diarrhea by 60% compared to families in communities where these hygiene and safety measures were not applied. Families that began to practice food safety also had a more diversified crop production that contributes to improved nutrition.

 

Many people in El Salvador live on less than $2 U.S. a day and education on nutrition needed to grow food independently is sometimes lacking. In order to address these issues, The WHO, and other organizations, partnered with El Salvador’s government to host workshops on food safety and hygiene practices. While food safety remains an important issue in El Salvador, the workshops positively impacted food safety in the country by decreasing foodborne illnesses in households that applied the safety measures.

– Anna Brewer
Photo: Flickr

 

Vaccines in Africa during COVID-19Medical progress in developing countries could unravel during COVID-19 because the global shutdown is preventing important vaccines from reaching Africa. In fact, global health organizations struggle to dispatch health care workers, make shipments, and store medical supplies and vaccines. Health care systems have halted vaccinations for cholera, measles, polio and other diseases in order to focus on stopping COVID-19. Also, parents are afraid of bringing newborns to get vaccines during the pandemic as many health care workers have been repeatedly exposed to COVID-19. Although the WHO says that children are not a high-risk category for COVID-19, the fear of exposure could perpetuate the vaccination gap and exacerbate the problem even as governments ease restrictions.

Effects of Halting Vaccine Distribution

The postponement of vaccines in Africa during COVID-19 could lead to a dramatic resurgence of measles, cholera and other diseases that have been decreasing worldwide. Children in countries with low-quality health care might not receive these vaccines. This inequality is a problem that many organizations are trying to combat. Experts are also recommending that leaders should track and trace unvaccinated children to administer the vaccines on a later date. These proactive measures could help prevent future outbreaks.

Measles Vaccinations

Measles cases have risen globally in recent years due to growing misinformation, low-quality health care and other cultural or societal issues. Coronavirus has stalled everyday life, international travel and vaccination campaigns. Because of the impact COVID-19 has had, it is now estimated that over 117 million children in 37 countries, in which the majority are located in Africa, will likely not receive their measles vaccine. The World Health Organization and other global health foundations have expressed concerns over this new problem. Data is now showing that deaths from other diseases will likely compare to COVID-19 deaths in Africa by a ratio of 100 to one because these preventable diseases will have been overlooked. 

What is Being Done to Help

Global health organizations such as UNICEF, the Gates Foundation and other private groups provide most vaccines. Most African health care systems are already not well equipped to handle basic care and disease management. The pandemic, as well as the threat of diseases becoming more prevalent, puts a strain on these health care systems. Organizations like the Gates Foundation have noticed this excess burden on the African health care system, so they are working to help improve Emergency Operations Centers and local disease surveillance and testing. The Gates Foundation is also focusing on providing routine care as that often goes overlooked during a pandemic. The foundation is working to build up their health care systems as a whole to fight other diseases.

Most world leaders are prioritizing the containment of COVID-19; however, global health organizations are encouraging governments to do more to prevent diseases that can be treated with vaccines. 

– Jacquelyn Burrer
Photo: Flickr

clean water in Mexico
Water is fundamental to human survival, yet half of the population of Mexico lacks drinkable water. These seven facts highlight how limited access to clean water in Mexico can intensify poverty.

7 Facts about Access to Clean Water in Mexico

  1. Water Scarcity: Over 50% of people in Mexico face water scarcity. Mexico has an insufficient water supply that cannot sustain a population of 125.5 million people. As a result, an enormous 65 million people are struggling with water scarcity. This issue intensifies during Mexico’s driest month of April as people face droughts preventing accessible water.
  2. Natural Disasters: Natural disasters negatively affect access to clean water. Climate change brings hotter temperatures and droughts that can possibly dry up Mexico’s vital water sources. Earthquakes can destroy water purification plants and break pipelines, leading to floods of toxic waste. These sudden events can lead to an unpredictable water crisis for large numbers of Mexican citizens.
  3. Water Systems: An aging pipe system can also cause an inadequate water supply. Around 35% of water is lost through poor distribution, while faulty pipelines lead to pollution. Plans of the neighboring purification plant should be reconsidered as the city of Tijuana is overwhelmed with toxic sewage water from failing pumps.
  4. Mexico City is Sinking: The populous capital is sinking up to 12 inches annually due to the lack of groundwater. Consequently, floating houses pollute waterways and lead to further destruction of infrastructure. The city plans to modernize hydraulics or implement artificial aquifers to combat water scarcity.
  5. Rural Mexico: Rural regions are often overlooked in favor of cities. Water systems that run through rural towns are riddled with pollutants, making the water undrinkable. The town of Endhó dangerously uses Mexico City’s polluted water for farming because it does not have access to clean water. Some households have no running water, so they drink from polluted lakes to avoid the expense of bottled water. To prevent these dire conditions, government agencies are working to expand waterworks throughout rural areas.
  6. Water Laws: Water laws in Mexico are not enforced. The Mexican government is responsible for regulating access to clean water, but the laws are often disregarded. Citizens demand water for agriculture, which results in over-pumping of groundwater. Environmental problems such as 60% of groundwater in use being tainted are preventable by upholding Mexico’s Environmental Standard.
  7. Children’s Health: Children are vulnerable to arsenic and fluoride that contaminate the drinking water. Mexico’s regulations allow µg/L of arsenic in the drinking water which considerably surpasses the World Health Organization’s (WHO) suggestion of a maximum of 10 µg/L. This poses a dire situation in which 6.5 million children drink this hazardous water putting them at risk of severe health consequences including cancer.

These seven facts concerning water quality in Mexico focus on the importance of having clean drinking water. Access to clean water is necessary in order to maintain good health. The nation is working to fix its outdated infrastructure to bring improvements necessary to solving the water crisis in both urban and rural regions.

Hannah Nelson
Photo: Pixabay

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