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The Humanitarian Benefits of Rescuing Dogs in Developing CountriesOnly 5% of dogs have owners in most economically developing countries. In comparison, about 95% of dogs have owners in the United States. Animal shelters and dog rescue organizations work globally to reduce stray dog populations, which benefits both dogs and people. In addition to saving canine lives, rescuing dogs can reduce poverty by improving human health and safety.

Health Benefits of Rescuing Stray Dogs

Every year, around 55,000 people die from rabies, and half of them are children. According to the World Health Organization, 99% of people who die from rabies live in economically developing countries. Rescuing stray dogs can reduce the number of people who contract and die from rabies. It can also minimize the transmission of other canine diseases onto humans, including viral, parasitic and bacterial diseases. Disease prevention tends to be less expensive than treatment; as such, limiting the spread of diseases like rabies can be economically friendly.

While some organizations try to find homes for stray dogs, others simply focus on stray dog sterilization and vaccination. For example, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) aims to reduce stray dog populations by capturing, sterilizing, then releasing stray dogs. As a result, fewer stray dogs repopulate and spread diseases over time. Dog vaccinations can also improve public health by preventing the spread of canine diseases to humans. Moreover, rescuing dogs can reduce poverty by improving canine health, which often improves human health as well.

Safety Benefits of Lowering the Stray Dog Population

Large stray dog populations put humans at risk of dog bites and attacks, and children tend to be affected by these attacks the most. Dog bites can transmit diseases to humans like rabies, but they can also cause serious physical damage and pain, especially to small children. In impoverished communities where many people lack access to healthcare, animal rescue organizations and shelters can reduce people’s need for medical assistance by reducing the prevalence of dog-related injuries.

With fewer stray dogs on the street, people in developing countries are less likely to experience physical harm from stray dogs. As a result, they are less likely to need expensive medical assistance. Animal shelters help impoverished communities by removing dangerous animals from the street and consequently improving public health.

An Ethical Solution

Some countries have attempted to reduce stray dog populations with euthanasia programs, but ethical dog rescue programs have shown to be equally, if not more effective. Organizations that spay, neuter and vaccinate dogs for free tend to be particularly valuable for shrinking the size of stray dog populations. According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, one female dog who has not been spayed can produce up to 67,000 offspring in just six years. Spay and neuter programs, often called “catch-neuter-return” programs, can drastically reduce stray dog populations without resorting to euthanization.

Dog vaccinations and sterilizations are potentially the most sustainable and ethical solutions to the stray dog crisis. People and dogs alike benefit from animal rescue, sterilization and vaccination efforts. Rescuing stray dogs can reduce poverty by saving human lives, especially in impoverished communities with high stray dog populations and limited access to healthcare.

– Cleo Hudson
Photo: Unsplash

Water Crisis in Kenya’s SlumsKenya, a country in East Africa, has a population of more than 50 million, with about 4.4 million people residing in the capital city of Nairobi. The combination of a dry climate and a rapidly growing population has caused a water crisis in Kenya’s slums, where citizens in poverty live in informal settlements without water infrastructure.

Origins of the Crisis

Urbanization plays a large role in the water crisis. While 90% of urban residents had clean water in 1990, this figure fell to 50% in Nairobi as the city’s population nearly quadrupled. The city began rationing water in 2017. The Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company estimates that supply still falls 25% short of demand. Informal settlements lack piped water and the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that water from vendors or surface sources often contains contaminants.

The Kenyan government struggles to address the water crisis in Kenya’s slums due to the informal nature of the urban settlements. Aid organizations and private nonprofits also fail to provide long-term relief, with more than 60% of water projects failing in their first year.

Well Aware Executive Director Kareece Sacco told The Borgen Project that “There’s the first water crisis that everyone is aware about that’s left people lacking access to reliable clean water. But the second one, as we have termed it, is the failure of the system.” Well Aware is a nonprofit with more than 70 successful water projects in East Africa.

In 2021, the organization plans to complete a new water project for the Ingrid Education Center in the Kayole-Soweto slum in Nairobi. Speaking on the systemic failures that perpetuate the water crisis, Sacco explained that “a lot of organizations doing similar work don’t have these long term relationships with these communities and they’re just not being empowered in the correct way to help maintain them [water systems].” Strengthening local partnerships with aid organizations empowers Kenyans in poverty to solve the water crisis in Kenya’s slums.

The Challenges

Without connections to a water source, residents of the Kayole-Soweto slum often trek long distances to provide water for their families. This chore falls mostly on women and girls, which worsens gender inequalities in the area. The World Bank interviewed residents of Kayole-Soweto, with many respondents reporting that they often resort to purchasing water at high costs from vendors who take advantage of this need. The vendors also sell water of questionable quality to slum dwellers for discounted rates, which causes health and sanitation issues throughout Kayole-Soweto.

The Impact of Local Partnerships

Aid and non-governmental organizations that effectively engage in local partnerships directly address these issues. For example, Well Aware maximizes its impact by partnering with local schools to drill wells, which increases education rates overall by 34% and increases education rates for girls by 58% on average.

Sacco told The Borgen Project that “if we do a drill at a school, most of the time, we’ll set up a kiosk at the road for the community to be able to come too.” This is how water projects with local partnership components make a larger impact. By engaging directly with local partners, projects to solve the water crisis in Kenya’s slums are more responsive to the needs of those in poverty.

Slums also struggle with incorporating traditional connections to water sources. Piped water requires large initial investments that individual households in slums cannot bear, and this has adverse health and sanitation effects. As a result, the decision to implement piped water systems in the slums of Kayole-Soweto and other locations favors landlords who pool money from multiple sources. This poses additional barriers to clean water for slum-dwellers in poverty.

Water projects that provide innovative solutions to the water crisis in Kenya’s slums circumvent traditional barriers to water access. For example, Stanford University water projects in Kenyan slums recognize the fact that around 70% of urban Kenyans own cellphones. Bearing this in mind, Stanford innovates apps and mobile services that help slum dwellers pinpoint water locations. Similar ideas come from courses at Stanford University that prioritizes local partnerships and requires in-person meetings in Kenya with local leaders. This demonstrates how local partnerships foster innovative solutions that accurately meet the needs of locals in poverty.

The Future of the Water Crisis in Kenya’s Slums

The water crisis in Kenya’s slums becomes more urgent as infrastructure fails to keep up with population growth. USAID reported that the Kenyan government drastically increased spending on the water sector as sufficient progress requires $14 billion in the next 15 years.

As a result, the Kenyan government needs international aid and private assistance from humanitarian organizations to bridge the gap. Current water project financing in the country consists of 64% donor funds. This creates an opportunity for donors to find new methods of delivering water access apart from traditional government-provided public goods.

Rapid urbanization in Kenya exacerbates the existing water crisis in the country. With many new arrivals to Kenya’s cities ending up in slums, inequality and failures of traditional water systems to adequately serve the needs of citizens in poverty have further worsened the water crisis. As donors continue to drive the financing of the water sector in Kenya, opportunity grows for innovative partnerships with local actors in Kenya’s slums. Kayole-Soweto exemplifies this by using conventional and unconventional tools for water access, including building wells on school land and incorporating cellphone technology. Local partnerships empower residents of Kenya’s slums to find the best solution to the water crisis for themselves.

– Viola Chow
Photo: Unsplash

Female Genital Mutilation in ChadThe World Health Organization defines female genital mutilation as “any procedure that involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” Despite constituting an international human rights violation, FGM remains a pervasive issue affecting the lives of many women, especially in developing countries. According to UNICEF, at least 200 million girls and women have undergone genital mutilation globally. FGM is particularly prevalent in Chad, a landlocked country in Northern Africa, despite laws banning female genital mutilation in Chad. Over the years, steps have been taken to reduce the prevalence of FGM in Chad.

The Prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation in Chad

BMC Public Health explains that, in Chad, the citizenry continues FGM practices in both religious and traditional contexts. FGM is a hazardous practice, often done without anesthetic, putting girls and women at risk of both short and long-term health effects. These effects include genital swelling, bleeding, the inability to pass feces and urine, urinary tract infections and birth complications, among other consequences.

A BMC Public Health research article based on data from 2014-2015 indicates that, in Chad, 50.2% of women and 12.9% of girls have been genitally mutilated, endangering their health. There are multiple conditions that affect this staggering statistic. First, BMC Public Health explains that women with lower levels of education are more likely to experience FGM. Poverty levels also drive the practice as impoverished families have their daughters undergo FGM with the intention of marrying them off, granting impoverished families dowries and the benefits of marrying into a wealthier family. The practice of FGM tends to follow ethnic and religious traditions and is most common among the Sara ethnic group and other Muslim tribes.

Addressing FGM in Chad

While FGM prevalence has been decreasing throughout much of the world, Chad, Mali and Sierra Leone have seen an increase of 2–8% over the last 30 years. This increase in prevalence demonstrates the importance of efforts addressing FGM in Chad, especially now, when poverty rates are heightened due to COVID-19. With the help of NGOs, the U.S. government and tribal leaders, Chad is fighting the deeply entrenched traditions of FGM to protect the well-being of young women and girls.

NGOs play a vitally important role in the creation of long-term programs aimed at changing societal and cultural norms surrounding female genital mutilation in Chad. These NGOs can expand their reach with support from the Chadian government. For example, the Chadian government aided the Chadian Association for Family Well-Being in its work surrounding FGM education and awareness. This education includes seminars, campaigns and conferences explaining the dangers of FGM.

The Role of the US

Not only has Chad’s government stepped up to combat FGM but the U.S. has played a critical role in education surrounding FGM practices. From 1997 to 1999, the U.S. Embassy’s Democracy and Human Rights Fund supported a locally implemented FGM education program to change norms surrounding FGM in Chad. This resulted in a roundtable meeting with “doctors, judges, parliamentarians and NGO representatives, a national seminar” and four regional seminars, all of which helped spread awareness of the dangers of FGM in Chad.

Mobilizing Tribal Leaders to Fight FGM

Due to the cultural and ethnic ties surrounding the practice of female genital mutilation in Chad, tribal leaders have played an important part in the movement to end FGM. Because of the trust bestowed upon tribal leaders, they can increase awareness about FGM’s consequences and generate support for the laws banning its practice among ethnic groups throughout the country. In order to motivate and educate tribal leaders, the Red Cross of Chad set up an advocacy program that creates initiatives and training sessions for tribal leaders to combat FGM in their communities.

While the inhumane practice of FGM continues in Chad due to deeply entrenched cultural roots, the U.S. and Chadian governments play consequential roles in combating the prevalence of FGM. This support is crucial as female genital mutilation in Chad severely harms girls’ and women’s health, impacting their futures and their abilities to rise out of poverty.

Haylee Ann Ramsey-Code
Photo: Flickr

Female genital mutilation in TanzaniaThe WHO estimates that more than 200 million women and girls across the world have experienced female genital mutilation (FGM). The culturally entrenched practice holds no benefits for girls and women. In fact, FGM puts girls and women at risk of severe health complications. Despite constituting an international human rights violation, in countries such as Tanzania, cases of FGM persist. The government of Tanzania, individuals and organizations aim to address incidents of female genital mutilation in Tanzania.

Female Genital Mutilation in Tanzania

In the year 1998, female genital mutilation became illegal in Tanzania through the Sexual Offences Special Provisions Act. However, the legislation only criminalized the act for women younger than 18. Law enforcement officials intervened in rituals where young girls received their rite of passage through mutilation. The country hopes to end all harmful actions against women and children by 2030. This includes FGM practices.

A few issues surrounding the prosecution of FGM cases include victims refusing to testify against the perpetrators, especially if they are family members. Additionally, bribery by perpetrators is common to avoid prosecution. Inadequate evidence and “witnesses failing to appear in court” also contribute to low prosecution rates.

At times, “community leaders pretend to abandon the practice then organize alternative rite of passage festivals for girls only to continue with female genital mutilation in disguise.” Despite these barriers, Tanzania has seen a decrease in mutilations from 18% in 1996 to around 10% in 2021.

Recommendations From WHO

According to the World Health Organization, nine out of 10 Tanzanian women are against FGM practices. Because the practice is culturally entrenched, it is more difficult to completely abolish. The WHO recommends raising awareness about FGM in order to communicate the dangers the practice holds for girls and women. Furthermore, health professionals should be trained to “manage and prevent” cases on FGM. Furthermore, law enforcement needs to be better supported in order to ensure cases are investigated and prosecuted.

Solutions to FGM in Tanzania

Tanzania has developed a national strategy to address FGM in the country. The strategy launched on March 15, 2021, and will run for four years. The strategy involves “running campaigns on the health consequences of FGM for girls and women, recruitment of change agents from within the communities and the enforcement of legal mechanisms.” Though FGM rates in Tanzania have reduced to 10%, the fight to abolish the practice continues.

Men in the community have also joined the fight to end FGM. Chief Girihuida Gegasa Shulumbu is a traditional leader in the Mara village of Tanzania. As a father of three daughters, Shulumbu works with other male leaders to end the practice and find “alternative rites of passage.” Shulumbu recognizes that FGM impacts the most impoverished people and impacts education by keeping girls out of school due to recovery time and health complications that may ensue.

A lack of education keeps women in poverty, economically impacting Tanzania as a whole. Due to individual efforts and efforts from organizations, in the past three years, 96 ritual leaders have stopped FGM practices in Mara. Furthermore, more than 1,500 girls between 9 and 19 were protected from FGM practices through campaigns and programs.

Efforts to decrease female genital mutilation in Tanzania have proven successful. Although the fight continues, there is much promise that the practice may be eliminated by 2030.

– Selena Soto
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 Vaccination in UruguayAt the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Uruguay had some of the lowest infection rates in Latin America. On June 30, 2020, Bloomberg reported that while its bordering country Brazil had 1.34 million total cases, Uruguay had only 932 cases. Now, about a year later, COVID-19 vaccination rates in Uruguay are among the highest in Latin America, with more than four million doses received by citizens.

Impacts of COVID-19 in Uruguay

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Uruguay’s unemployment rates have increased dramatically. In March 2020, more than 86,000 citizens applied for unemployment insurance. Before the pandemic, applications averaged 11,000 per month. A complete vaccination rollout is critical for Uruguay’s citizens to return to work.

Uruguay has already started to reopen businesses, but since only about half of the country has been vaccinated, infections are increasing. In order to avoid another shutdown of the country and another fall in employment, efforts for COVID-19 vaccination in Uruguay need to receive continued support and funding.

Vaccine Success

On June 8, 2021, Uruguay released reports about the success of the Sinovac Biotech vaccine along with more information about the Pfizer vaccine. According to Reuters, Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine was more than 90% successful in preventing intensive hospitalization and death. Further, the vaccine reduced COVID-19 infections by 61%. The Pfizer vaccine was 94% effective in preventing intensive care hospitalization and death and 78% effective in reducing COVID-19 infections.

Increasing COVID-19 Cases in Uruguay

COVID-19 vaccination in Uruguay has been very successful so far, with 52% of the population given at least one dose of either the Sinovac, Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines. Despite this success, Uruguay is also facing a crisis as COVID-19 infections skyrocket.

For several weeks in late May and early June 2021, Uruguay had one of the highest global COVID-19 related death rates per capita. In the last week of May 2021, the small nation of just 3.5 million residents recorded an average of 55 deaths per day. Many experts blame public health guidelines that have become increasingly lax as the pandemic continues. Not enough of the population is vaccinated to support the less restrictive public health measures and Uruguay is now rushing to further increase its vaccination rates.

Global Support

The United States is working with COVAX to improve the vaccine rollout around the world, which might help Uruguay. COVAX is led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, the World Health Organization, Gavi and UNICEF. Its goal is to vaccinate at least 20% of every participating country’s population by the end of 2021. NPR notes that it may not be able to meet this goal due to the global vaccine shortage. Wealthier countries that have already secured enough vaccines for their populations need to step in to help struggling countries with vaccine donations.

Supporting the Global Vaccine Rollout

According to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, there are many ways in which organizations can support the global vaccine rollout. First, it is important that there is a level of trust between citizens and the distributors of the vaccine. Many people are hesitant about vaccines because they do not necessarily trust the intentions of vaccine developers. With trustworthy messengers such as community leaders and trusted organizations working to combat vaccine hesitancy, people may be less reluctant to receive a vaccine.

Second, the delivery of vaccinations requires innovation. A major problem for those in rural and low-income areas is a lack of access. Many cannot travel far to receive a dose, therefore, investing in creative ways to deliver vaccines to remote locations is important. For example, implementing mobile vaccination sites.

Finally, supporting the training of local healthcare workers in contact tracing, COVID-19 education and vaccination means more people will be qualified to address the pandemic. Thus, COVID-19 vaccination in Uruguay can continue long after global organizations leave the area, ensuring efforts are sustainable. With private and public sector groups working together, combating the COVID-19 pandemic and improving global health is not a distant goal.

Jessica Li
Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid in Central Asia
Central Asia comprises Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. The combined population of these countries is about 72 million. Promising foreign aid efforts in Central Asia are working to combat a variety of issues in these countries.

Food Distribution

One critical area for foreign aid in Central Asia has been food security. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been leading a program to provide food to impoverished children in Tajikistan. This program has given vegetable oil and flour to more than 22,000 households in Tajikistan.

This has been part of a more significant effort by the WFP School Feeding Programme to ensure student food security in Tajikistan. The School Feeding Programme has helped more than 600,000 students across the country.

Russia is a critical contributor to these aid programs. Since 2012, Russia has given more than $28 million to the School Feeding Programme to facilitate food distribution and the modernization of food infrastructure for schools.

The World Food Programme and Russia are not the only sources of food aid in Central Asia. The United Arab Emirate’s 100 Million Meals campaign has distributed more than 600,000 meals to Central Asia as of June 2021.

The organization gave out food baskets with enough food to feed an entire family for a month. It assists families in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The campaign coordinated with other charity organizations within these three countries, and the campaign target has already increased from 100 million meals to more than 200 million meals.

Electrical and Water Supply

Another critical area for foreign aid in Central Asia is the development of electrical infrastructure and water management. The U.S. recently started an effort via USAID to develop a sustainable and reliable electricity market in the region. An October 2020 agreement between USAID, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan planned to create an electrical market with “expected economic benefits from regional trade and… reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

USAID also recently started the Water and Vulnerable Environment project, which will help all five Central Asian countries. The project aims to “promote regional cooperation to improve natural resources (water) management that sustains both growths, promote[s] healthy ecosystems, and prevent[s] conflict.” This is the second water management project USAID has supported in the region in recent years, as it recently completed the Smart Waters project.

The Smart Waters project successfully ensured that dozens of citizens received degrees in water management or received additional training in the field. The project also trained almost 3,000 people in “water resources management, water diplomacy, water-saving technologies, and international water law through 100 capacity building events.”

Medical Assistance

USAID partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2021 to help Uzbekistan address the management of drug-resistant tuberculosis. The project’s goal is to better manage the disease by providing assistance to Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Health. The program conducted 35 training sessions throughout Uzbekistan, which resulted in more than 600 specialists receiving certification to prevent, identify and treat drug-resistant tuberculosis.

In recent years, foreign aid in Central Asia has resulted in food distribution, medical assistance, efforts to develop an electrical grid and assistance in water management. The U.S., Russia and the United Arab Emirates have contributed to these efforts alongside various international and local organizations.

– Coulter Layden
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in Senegal
Female genital mutilation in Senegal is still happening. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is an internationally acknowledged human rights violation. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines it as any procedure involving the partial or total removal or other injury to the female genital organs without proper medical cause.

Estimates have determined that internationally, there are 200 million women alive today who have undergone the procedure. FGM, while incredibly detrimental to long-term health, has been devastatingly popular for so long because of its cultural significance. Female genital mutilation in Senegal, in addition to Africa, the Middle East and Asia, has the purpose of controlling sexual behavior. This is to prepare young girls for marriage and keep girls ‘clean’ and ‘feminine.’

The Costs of Female Genital Mutilation

The practice leads to incredibly painful lifelong complications like horrific problems with childbirth, urination, menstruation and safe sex. Moreover, WHO estimated that the international monetary costs of treating health complications from FGM were $1.4 billion in 2018. Unfortunately, this figure could almost double by 2037.

Despite this prediction, Senegal has presented a fascinating case that defies international trends. Grassroots organizations and leadership from women in Senegal have demonstrated the resilience and power of localized movements and communities in effectively denouncing this practice. Because of this, the rates of female genital mutilation in Senegal have decreased in contrast to its persistent presence globally.

Senegal’s Progress in the Fight Against Female Mutilation

The action that some have taken against female genital mutilation in Senegal is especially promising given its past prominence in the national culture. In 2017, the Senegal Demographic and Health Survey found that almost 25% of 15 to 49-year-old women had undergone the procedure, as well as 14% of girls ages 0-14.

Since 2017, Senegal has made impressive strides to lower these numbers. The nation is now on track to become the first African country to fully make genital cutting a thing of the past.

Tostan is an NGO that has been working within communities in Senegal to put a stop to human rights violations like female genital mutilation and cutting. Tostan works with villages to increase literacy rates and bolster education initiatives including topics like proper healthcare, feminine hygiene, child welfare and human rights. Along with this advocacy work, Tostan encourages mothers, typically those who have undergone FGM, to speak out against the practice. Encouraged to not cut their daughters, these mothers now condemn it at community gatherings. Tostan’s work has helped 5,300 villages put a complete stop to the execution of this practice.

Tostan’s methods became replicated throughout Senegal and have led to surges of mothers speaking out for the cause. Following Tostan’s work, artists, rappers and other members of communities creatively engage in initiatives to spread awareness and promote discussion about the ramifications of FGM.

Looking Ahead

The progress in the fight against female genital mutilation in Senegal stands to teach international leaders and governments a lot. While regulation and legislation are important to stop this human rights violation, Senegal is showing how attitude and cultural shifts are the keys to real change.

Female genital mutilation in Senegal became illegal in 1999. However, this strong symbolic gesture only stopped medical professionals from administering the procedures. Determined parents were still able to cut their daughters, just without properly sanitized tools or medical care.

It is all the more important to educate communities of the very real and life-long ramifications of female genital mutilation, as well as empower women’s voices and grassroots movements to truly end this practice. Since many in Senegal still consider FGM to be a part of their cultural identity, the voices of women within communities, rather than external influence and legislation, are incredibly important to create change.

Jaya Patten
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 and poverty in the Democratic Republic of Congo
The intersection of COVID-19 and poverty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has worsened health and economic crises. In 2019, after years of political dissent, Félix Tshisekedi became president of the DRC. Prior to 2019, the nation had faced human rights violations as the previous president, Joseph Kabila, delayed elections and violently squandered peaceful protests to maintain his power beyond the constitutional two-term limit. Kabila killed hundreds of civilians in his quest to stay in power. Rebel groups have also displaced citizens and targeted healthcare workers for decades. Because of those groups and a new and fragile government, the DRC was particularly vulnerable to both COVID-19 and high poverty rates. Here is some information about the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in the DRC.

COVID-19 and Poverty in the DRC

When the coronavirus first appeared in the DRC, restrictions provided hope that conflicts would pause in the name of public health. However, rather than being able to safely receive necessary medical attention, persisting conflicts displaced at least 300,000 Congolese in Ituri Province. The mass displacement of Congolese made social distancing guidelines difficult to uphold, increasing individuals’ susceptibility to the virus. As of July 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported there have been 43,333 confirmed coronavirus cases and 973 deaths in the DRC since January 2020.

The pandemic reinforced the link between poverty and disease in the DRC. The DRC has the third-largest population of people in poverty globally – an estimated 73% of Congolese lived on less than $1.90 per day in 2018. Furthermore, particularly high numbers of people in the eastern part of the country are battling preexisting conditions ranging from diabetes and high blood pressure to Ebola, putting them at an elevated risk of contracting COVID-19. In a study of 766 COVID-19 cases in the DRC, only 2.6% of patients with mild or moderate health conditions died from the virus, compared with 45% of patients with a severe condition. The DRC’s struggle against other public health issues exacerbates the threat of COVID-19, especially among those living in poverty.

Economic Growth During COVID-19 Pandemic

In addition to the threat of increased COVID-19 cases and deaths, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in the DRC has thus far been drastic. In 2020, the unemployment rate reached 4.6%, a 10.17% jump from the previous year. As of October 2020, expectations determined that COVID-19 would push approximately 4 million people into poverty by the end of that year.

The DRC’s rate of economic growth fell from 4.4% before the pandemic to 0.8% in 2020. The contribution of extractive industries such as mining to the DRC’s economic growth fell from 0.28% in 2019 to 0.17% in 2020. Attempts to contain the virus via government restrictions also impacted the manufacturing and commerce sectors. According to the African Development Bank Group, non-extractive sectors’ contribution to economic growth fell from 4.1% in 2019 to -1.9% in 2020. However, recent analyses are pointing toward a relatively quick recovery in 2021 and 2022.

Vaccine Rollout in the DRC

Vaccine rollouts are increasing globally, a trend that predictions have determined could continue. At the G7 Summit in 2021, the United States shared its plan to donate 19 million vaccine doses to the WHO initiative COVAX, which will distribute them to low- and middle-income countries. In March 2021, the DRC received 1.7 million Oxford-AstraZeneca doses from COVAX, but returned them due to potential health concerns. Around the same time, many European countries had also suspended the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine because of possible blood clots. In early July, the health minister of the DRC reported the country was in its third wave of COVID-19. Donating new vaccine doses to the DRC is vital.

Community Efforts to Increase Vaccination Rates

Even with vaccines available, Congolese must elect to receive them. Bélle-Surprise Makaya, a health worker native to North Kivu, advocates for vaccines in local communities. She and colleagues initiated their campaign in April 2021, when the first shipment of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines arrived in the DRC.

Makaya recognizes many Congolese people’s anxiety about receiving the “jab.” She told Gavi, an organization that works to provide immunizations to low-income countries, that she is “committed to dispelling such hesitations.” Makaya notes that her coalition has led to higher turnout among local populations and not just healthcare workers.

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in the DRC has been drastic. However, initiatives like COVAX are providing vaccines, and Congolese people are learning why they should receive the vaccine. More vaccinations will not only slow the spread of the virus, but will also aid economic recovery as the country will spend less money on public health. Economic recovery is undoubtedly on the horizon in the DRC as long as vaccine rollout continues.

– Krystal Koski
Photo: Flickr

Malaria Vaccine BreakthroughMalaria is a life-threatening disease, but it is both preventable and curable. Malaria is transmitted through the bites of a specific type of female mosquito. In 2019 alone, there were almost 230 million cases of malaria worldwide and the estimated death toll stood at 409,000. Of these global deaths, 67% were children under the age of 5, making them the most at-risk group in terms of malaria. A malaria vaccine breakthrough has the potential to save millions of lives, especially in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa where malaria is endemic.

Malaria’s Impact in Africa

The African region carries the highest percentage of the global malaria burden. The region accounted for 94% of total malaria cases and deaths in 2019. Transmission is most common in areas where the mosquito lifespan is longer and where mosquitoes prefer to bite humans rather than animals, both of which are features of the specific malaria-spreading mosquitos present in Africa. Another reason for widespread malaria in Africa is the lack of resources across Africa to promptly prevent and treat malaria cases. Many people in malaria-riddled regions of Africa live in poverty with no access to basic healthcare or educational, preventative tools, leaving much of the population at risk of contracting malaria.

The Search for a Vaccine

Malaria is a leading cause of death among thousands in low-income African countries. Thus, a malaria vaccine breakthrough could be lifesaving. More than 100 malaria vaccines entered clinical trials in recent decades, but all of them failed to meet the 75% efficacy target established by the World Health Organization. Before the University of Oxford’s breakthrough malaria vaccine, the most effective vaccine had only shown 55% efficacy, which is well below the established target. Such limited success has caused some criticism, especially following the speedy development of multiple COVID-19 vaccines. However, scientists have responded that a malaria vaccine has taken longer to come to fruition because malaria has thousands of genes. People need a much higher immune response to fight malaria than COVID-19, which has around a dozen genes.

The Promise of the New Oxford Vaccine

The breakthrough malaria vaccine was developed by the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute, and trials for the vaccine began in 2019. In its most recent clinical trial, the vaccine showed 74% to 77% efficacy in one year in West African children — a promising sign for a potential breakthrough in public health. The vaccine trial took place in Burkina Faso. Exactly 450 participants aged 5-17 months old were vaccinated. Researchers recruited the toddlers from 24 villages in the area of Nanoro, Burkina Faso.

Such successes are encouraging, and researchers are moving toward a phase three trial in 2021. Researchers will conduct vaccine trials on 4,800 children in Burkina Faso, Mali, Kenya and Tanzania. If the phase three trial is successful, researchers hope that regulators will issue emergency authorization for the malaria vaccine as was done with the COVID-19 vaccines. The Serum Institute of India has committed to manufacturing 200 million malaria vaccine doses in the coming years. The malaria vaccine has the potential to have a major public health impact if scientists achieve licensure. A successful malaria vaccine will prevent millions of deaths in endemic areas and protect the lives of the most vulnerable children.

Lizzie Alexander
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in YemenFemale genital mutilation (FGM) is a procedure that is still being performed in parts of Yemen and is rooted in social concepts of femininity. Female genital mutilation is a practice that is inhumane and has many adverse side effects. In Yemen, 15% of women have been mutilated. However, humanitarian organizations are proactive in alleviating the tradition of female genital mutilation in Yemen by raising awareness.

Cultural Pressures for Women

The justification for female genital mutilation stems from a long-held social belief backed by gender inequality practices. The procedure intends to help maintain a woman’s clean, feminine and virtuous ways. The World Health Organization claims FGM is “associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are clean and beautiful after removal of body parts that are considered unclean, unfeminine and male.”

However, female genitalia mutilation has costly effects for women in both the short term and long term. It is excruciatingly painful in the short term, causing excessive bleeding and urinary problems. In the long term, women experience an increased risk of vaginal cysts, wound infections, menstrual issues, childbirth complications and reoccurring pain.

Although Yemen has outlawed female genital mutilation in medical facilities, it is a practice within homes. The woman of the family usually performs the act using a razor blade or scissors. This usually occurs a few days after a female is born, but records show that girls have undergone the procedure as old as 15. Unfortunately, since FGM is illegal in medical facilities, families cannot provide further care to the girls if it is necessary.

Finding Solutions for Female Genital Mutilation in Yemen

UNICEF estimates that 19% of females in Yemen have experienced female genital mutilation. However, the Yemen Demographic Mother and Child Health Survey of 1997 shows that 48% of Yemen’s population believes it should be against the law.

The resistance to outlaw this practice traces back to a lack of education for young girls. DVV International studies show that 60% of Yemen women are illiterate, while 70% of men know how to read and write.

It will take time and education to criminalize female genitalia mutilation in Yemen to enlighten the practice’s truths. Without a full grasp of the pain of female genitalia mutilation, women cannot understand why the procedure is criminal. By utilizing the community and educational tools, knowledge about female genitalia mutilation will increase and awareness spread.

Raising Awareness for Female Genital Mutilation in Yemen

As said by Moroccan human rights activist Khadija Ryadi on the opposition to outlaw FGM, “This is because these laws require that society prepares for them. Society cannot prepare automatically, as these are the responsibilities of governments and civil organizations. Governments must work harder to change the attitudes, customs, and the inequality of women.”

However, there is a growing awareness of the practice in Yemen. Many women are advocating for laws and regulations to end female genital mutilation. However, there are no other bills within Yemen’s republic that protect women from gender-based violence or child marriage. A 2020 report by 28 Too Many found that since the onset of civil war in 2015, Yemen has seen a 63% rise in violence against women. However, because of the lack of government protection, the women of Yemen are vulnerable.

Looking Ahead

The World Health Organization has made February 6 Zero Tolerance Day for those affected by female genitalia mutilation. This showcases that more than 200 million women worldwide have seen the direct effects of female genital mutilation, thus bringing more attention to the issue. With growing knowledge and awareness around this act of abuse, there will be reform and change.

– Rachel Wolf
Photo: Flickr