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Biotechnology in UgandaBiotechnology’s recent rise has led many countries with abundant resources to further their healthcare services and agriculture. Embracing this innovation movement has led Uganda to improve its economic growth and the country’s development significantly. By doing so, Uganda progresses to have an edge in growing a bio-resource economy due to the country’s rich resources. The constant advancement of biotechnology in Uganda has led to improved farming, toxic waste management and medical diagnostics and treatments. Continued improvement depends on the governmental support to the science and technology field.

About Uganda’s Biotechnology

While this form of technology covers a wide range of live organism manipulation, biotechnology in Uganda solely deals with technology associated with transgenic organisms and recombinant DNA alteration. This form of modern scientific technology became prominent in 1993. This was when the Ugandan Department of Animal Science and Faculty of Agriculture at Makerere University proposed using the transgenically derived bovine somatotropin (BST) hormone for cattle growth and lactate production. Genetic engineering of agrobacteria produces the BST hormone and boosts the agriculture economy in return. However, due to the controversy over growth hormones at the time, the import of BST halted.

Two years later, biotechnology usage was necessary for Phase 1 trials of a potential HIV-1 vaccine (ALVAC vCP 205). It was the first HIV-1 preventative vaccine study in Uganda and Africa as a whole. This vaccine was a live recombinant canarypox vector expressing HIV-1 glycoproteins. Both the BST and HIV-1 vaccine proposals provided a basis for the foundation for the national biosafety guidelines. They led to the establishment of the National Biosafety Committee in 1996.

Research into biotechnology continues to pose an advantage for Uganda. Moving these transgenic products to the commercial market requires a full governmental understanding within the biotechnology innovation market.

Effects on Ugandan Healthcare and Agriculture

Over the years, Ugandan biotechnology has widely helped both the healthcare and agriculture industry. Laboratory projects regarding genetic resistance to pathogens, droughts and other disasters aid the crop growth throughout the nation. Ongoing research on animal vaccines such as East Coast Fever and Foot and Mouth Disease has facilitated the animal life expectancy. The study has also improved food production in Uganda.

Characterization of crop pathogens such as sweet potato feathery mottle virus through molecular markers has led to better disease prevention techniques. For example, east African Highland bananas are being genetically modified to resist banana bacterial wilt, weevils and overall improve the nutritional value of the plant. Established in 2007, these modified bananas have been able to confer resistance against the black Sigatoka disease.

Additionally, the crops’ genetic diversity multiplies more now than ever, prompting a path towards a more complicated and safe GMO industry. Bananas and pineapples are artificially bred using tissue culture techniques, providing more products annually. Agro-Genetic Technologies Ltd’s (AGT) coffee bean proliferation is also underway.

Regarding the health sector, pharmacokinetics and drug resistance techniques receive heavy study. Multi-drug and drug-resistant diseases widespread in Uganda, such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria, are especially heavily studied. Clinical trials for DNA-based vaccines utilizing the recombinant adenovirus five vectors are also in progress.

Population Participation Increases

In the past few years, an average biotechnology worker in Uganda earned around 3,520,000 UGX per month. Biotechnology in Uganda has led to sufficient wages. However, this form of science has also increased the participation of different demographic groups, namely women. Women in the field have strongly encouraged the use of agricultural biotechnology.

Dr. Priya Namanya Bwesigye is the lead Ugandan banana researcher at the National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL) in Kawanda. She claims that African women are looking for new solutions. They are also looking into how they can use technology to give their people and themselves better and improved crop varieties to fight hunger and improve living quality. Bwesigye and her team use genetic engineering to make disease-resistant bananas and provide more nutrition. One of these modified bananas provides vitamin A as well. Her program provides farmers with these improved bananas and a foundation for the multiplication of said fruit with proper restraints.

For biotechnology in Uganda to take off, the population must be adequately educated about the effects of this form of science and its changes. Bwesigye, for one, explains agricultural biotechnology to farmers and why it is necessary. The Uganda Biosciences Information Center (UBIC) began training teachers in this modern form of science. This was done to popularize the technology in local communities. UBIC trained 27 teachers and 12 textbook authors after the education department mandated that the national curriculum in secondary schools integrated this new form of science. The National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) held a one-week training course. Participants visit field trials of genetically modified crops and other research laboratories. These trials and laboratories involved different aspects of agriculture and health.

The Biosafety Bill of Uganda

With the use of biotechnology rising, ethical problems have started to arise. To ease integrating this new form of technology into the mainstream market, the Ugandan government established the Biosafety Bill of Uganda. This bill’s mission is to provide a proper framework that enforces safe development and biotechnology in Uganda. Its mission is also to regulate research and the release of these GMOs into the public. The population was torn between the ethical controversy surrounding biotechnology. However, the bill was able to go into effect in 2018 after much deliberation.

Overall, Ugandan biotechnology has dramatically impacted the country, especially in its agriculture and the healthcare industry. As time progresses, biotechnology in Uganda has improved and heavily aids as an asset to the country.

Aditi Prasad
Photo: Flickr

MamaOpe smart jacketIn 2014, Olivia Koburongo lost her grandmother to pneumonia after she was misdiagnosed with malaria by doctors in Uganda. In response to this tragic misdiagnosis, Koburongo and Brian Turyabagye decided to put their engineering skills to the test and solve the problem of pneumonia misdiagnosis and slow diagnoses, a problem which is common in many African countries. With the help of Dr. Cosmas Mwikirize, a professor at Makerere University, they designed the MamaOpe smart jacket, a “biomedical application for early diagnosis and continuous monitoring of pneumonia patients,” according to the company’s website.

Effects of Slow Diagnoses and Misdiagnoses of Pneumonia

Studies show that patients are often wrongfully diagnosed with malaria. Over-diagnosis of malaria means that other life-threatening conditions, such as pneumonia, are not treated. Misdiagnoses end up contributing to the death rate associated with other ailments, including pneumonia. Children, in particular, are adversely affected as pneumonia accounts for 15% of deaths among children under the age of five. Every year, one million children under the age of five die from pneumonia. Pneumonia causes more deaths than malaria, diarrhea and HIV/AIDs combined. In 2015, more than 490,000 children died from pneumonia in sub-Saharan Africa.

Between 2001 and 2016, childhood pneumonia deaths had fallen by only 50% relative to an 85% decrease in childhood deaths due to measles and a 60% decrease in childhood deaths due to malaria, tetanus and AIDS. According to UNICEF, slow or limited progress in the diagnosis and treatment of pneumonia is associated with poor funding for preventative care and treatment management. In 2011, for every dollar spent on global health, just two cents went toward pneumonia.

MamaOpe Provides a Solution

The MamaOpe smart jacket, which was shortlisted for the prestigious Africa Prize for Engineering in 2017, is designed specifically for children from the ages of zero to five who are particularly vulnerable to pneumonia. “Mama” is shorthand for “Mother,” and “Ope” means “Hope.” MamaOpe thus signifies “Hope for the Mother.” It is also a reference to the 27,000 children in Uganda who die of pneumonia annually.

In order to monitor patients’ chests and heartrates, listen to their lungs and check their breathing rates and temperatures, MamaOpe utilizes a stethoscope, which is embedded in a jacket that patients wear. The jacket covers the patients’ entire chests and sides. It is made from polymer, a material selected to reduce the risk of spreading infection when the jacket is shared among patients.

The jacket itself is connected to an android application on a mobile device via Bluetooth. The technology helps eliminate human error. According to the company, measurements made by the device assist doctors in diagnosing pneumonia three to four times faster than when doctors use a normal stethoscope. MamaOpe displays the results after three minutes of tracking a patient’s vitals.

Hope for the Future

The MamaOpe smart jacket is still in its prototype and testing phase but reports suggest that the company plans to bring the product to market in 2021. The current cost of the jacket is $60 and the price will likely decrease when full-scale manufacturing begins and the jacket tests successfully in Uganda.

As MamaOpe strives to prevent cases of pneumonia misdiagnosis and decrease the child death rate associated with pneumonia, the company is proving just how important innovation can be in combatting deadly illnesses. If governments ramp up support for pneumonia prevention, management and treatment, the lives of hundreds of thousands of children can be saved annually.

–  Zoe Engels
Photo: Flickr

While it may not always seem like it, the services provided by the U.S. government are vast and exceptional. For example, Americans do not have to panic over the possibility of waste runoff contaminating their water or having to dispose of their week’s worth of garbage by themselves. For services like these, Americans usually have government-sponsored help that is reliable and guaranteed. However, what is typical in the U.S. is not the norm for developing countries. This is particularly the case in Uganda, where poor waste management leads to poor public health in Kampala.

High Cost of Waste Management

Creating sustainable and effective waste management systems is incredibly expensive. According to the World Bank, efficient waste management services can require 20% to 50% of a government’s budget. This makes such services frequently unattainable for municipalities in developing countries. Indeed, this is exactly the problem posed by waste management in Kampala, Uganda.

On the outskirts of Kampala is the Kiteezi landfill. Opened in 1996, the landfill was intended to last until 2010, but it is still in use today. Not only has the landfill been used far past its capacity, but due to rapid urbanization, the city has generated substantially more waste than originally projected. This has culminated in a dire state of public health in Kampala.

Waste Management and Public Health in Kampala

The lack of residential services in Uganda only serves to exacerbate this problem. Kampala, like many cities, is not homogenous. There are a wide variety of infrastructure accommodations, socio-economic conditions and community engagements involved in municipal services. Poor road conditions can make it difficult for collection trucks to pass through living areas. A lack of communication regarding sanctioned dumping sites can lead to confusion and improper disposal practices, such as burning waste or piling it in an area where the waste will not be collected or sanitized.

What are the repercussions of all of this? Firstly, it can degrade residents’ quality of life. Seeing and smelling waste build up is enormously unpleasant. Additionally, that waste buildup can have serious public health consequences. The burning of garbage can produce methane, exacerbating climate change. Waste sites are the perfect breeding grounds for mosquitos, which, for countries riddled with malaria, can make exposure to infectious disease much more likely. Rain can allow waste to flow into water sources and contaminate food sources, making illnesses like cholera and bacterial infections more prevalent. Ultimately, poor waste management in Kampala is a public health hazard.

Building a New Landfill

Currently, the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) is negotiating with investors to build a new landfill and work with the city to revamp waste management services with private contractors to improve public health in Kampala. This agreement will cap the Kiteezi landfill, create a new landfill with the city’s needs in mind and allow Kampala to utilize recycling processes to generate revenue for the municipality. This type of agreement is known as a public-private partnership (PPP).

PPPs are a popular way to get better services to more people, as these agreements allow municipalities to delegate certain services to companies that have the resources and experience to implement them. The End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act, passed by Congress in December 2019, supports the use of PPPs to combat similar issues. This legislation utilizes the resources and expertise of both local and U.S. governmental agencies, as well as private-sector health institutions, to combat debilitating ailments such as malaria and dengue fever in developing countries. Public health in Kampala, as well as in other similarly situated cities, relies on measures like the End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act.

Much-Needed Funding

However, treating these diseases after their infliction is not the only way public health can be bettered in developing cities. Indeed, the best solution to public health crises is to cut off these ailments at their sources, which in many countries requires proper waste management and sanitation. According to The World Bank, investment in infrastructure, education and citizen engagement is the best path to making waste management sustainable and safe.

Whether this investment is through private contractors partnering with developing governments or urging the U.S. to increase its funding for international health projects, cities like Kampala need solutions to manage waste effectively to ensure the safety and health of their citizens.

Cecilia Payne
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Uganda’s 2021 Scientific ElectionsBeing in office for over 30 years, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has implemented limitations on the nation’s 2021 parliamentary elections. Due to the outbreak of COVID-19 worldwide, the President has decided to enforce a “scientific election.” The scientific campaign is encouraging to ensure the nation’s safety during the pandemic. With that said, Ugandans have grown increasingly more dubious towards President Museveni over the years. Thus, this election year has erupted anger among citizens, as well as concerns over the potential motives. Here is what you need to know about Uganda’s president and the upcoming election.

Politics in Uganda

Uganda, a presidential republic, has universal suffrage for all citizens over the age of 18. As a multi-party system, Ugandan politics remain democratic. With that said, a 2019 study conducted by a civil action group, Democratic Action and Engagement, stated that the 2021 election may bring unrest amid civilians and authorities. Around 89% of the 450 interviewed stated that they were fearful of the violence the upcoming election may bring. This is due to a handful of issues Ugandans face daily.

Said-issues include a “lack of electoral reform” as stated by VOA News. Electoral reform has been a large concern for Ugandans since 2006. While there have been movements towards reform, citizens are also concerned about security agencies’ presence in partisan politics and tribal unrest.

As mentioned in Democracy in Africa, President Museveni has faced significant opposition for many years. Around 76% of Ugandans live in rural areas. These citizens are less likely to stay up-to-date about political activity and the desired reforms in urban areas. This “winning strategy,” as described by Democracy in Africa, has created a political bias for many years. Considering 2021’s scientific elections, this bias may persist even further given the lack of resources to stay informed in rural areas.

COVID-19 Impact on 2021 Election

As with many worldly events, the global pandemic has impacted Uganda’s parliamentary general election. To keep Ugandans safe from COVID-19, President Museveni has enforced “scientific elections.” Ultimately, Uganda’s 2021 elections will be almost entirely virtual. Citizens will vote for their leaders through radios, TV and other social media sites. This is the currently proposed safest way to endure an election, as large gatherings are not permitted.

While many recognize the importance of social distancing, Ugandans are skeptical about the election’s validity. Specifically, Ugandan politician Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, stated his concerns regarding a scientific election. According to The Observer, Kyagulanyi feels as though normal elections can be held as many other countries have done so safely. As of June 2020, Uganda saw less than 1,000 COVID-19 cases and no deaths. Politicians and citizens alike feel as though a scientific election is unnesscary at this time.

Concerns for a Scientific Election

Utilizing technology for something as important as a general election is inevitably accompanied by questions of the security and validity of the results. In a 2018 article, it mentions the incorporation of technology is done so mostly on the basis of “the fetishization of technology rather than by rigorous assessment of their effectiveness.” Considering the years of opposition against President Museveni and the desire to utilize technology despite effectiveness, perhaps enforcing a scientific election is another mode of creating bias within rural areas.

Senior research fellow Joseph Mukasa Ngubwagye of Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) emphasizes Uganda’s relatively minimal Coronavirus cases. In his own opinion, he believes that the Ugandan election may be executed as normal via masks and social distancing. Ngubwagye’s skepticism corresponds with many Ugandans, especially considering President Museveni’s history of public opposition.

COVID-19 has impacted politics across the globe. With the years of political anger that Ugandans have faced, a 2021 scientific election has proved to only further ignite frustration. Navigating an election during a global pandemic is difficult. However, Uganda may continue to see civilian unrest due to the history of bias. There still is time, though, to reroute the direction of the election year and give the voices back to Ugandans.

Anna Hoban

Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in AfricaOn a world map of the distribution of COVID-19 cases, the situation looks pretty optimistic for Africa. While parts of Europe, Asia and the United States are shaded by dark colors that implicate a higher infection rate, most African countries appear faint. This has created uncertainty over whether or not the impact of COVID-19 in Africa is as severe as other continents.

Lack of Testing

A closer look at the areas wearing light shades reveals that their situation is just as obscure as the faded shades that color them. Dark spots indicate more infections in places like the U.S. However, in Africa these are usually just cities and urban locations, often the only places where testing is available.

Although insufficient testing has been a problem for countries all over the world, testing numbers are much lower in Africa. The U.S carries out 205 per 100,000 people a day. Nigeria, the most populous country, carries one test per 100,000 people every day. While 8.87% of tests come back positive in the U.S, 15.69% are positive in Nigeria (as of Aug. 4, 2020). Nigeria was one of 10 countries that carried out 80% of the total number of tests in Africa.

As a continent that accounts for 1.2 billion of the world’s population, the impact of COVID-19 in Africa is even more difficult to measure without additional testing. To improve this, the African CDC has set a goal of increasing testing by 1% per month. Realizing the impossibility of reliable testing, countries like Uganda have managed to slow the spread by imposing strict lockdown measures. As a result, the percentage of positive cases in Uganda was only 0.82% (as of Aug. 4, 2020).

A Resistant Population

COVID-19 in Africa has had a lower fatality rate than any other continent. Fatality rates may even be lower than reported. Immunologists in Malawi found that 12% of asymptomatic healthcare workers were infected by the virus at some point. The researchers compared their data with other countries and estimated that death rates were eight times lower than expected.

The most likely reason for the low fatality rate is the young population. Only 3% of Africans are above 65 compared with 6% in South Asia and 17% in Europe. Researchers are investigating other explanations such as the possible immunity to variations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as well as higher vitamin D in Africans with more sunlight exposure.

Weak Healthcare Systems

Despite these factors, the impact of COVID-19 in Africa is likely high. Under-reporting and under-equipped hospitals contribute to unreliable figures. Most hospitals are not prepared to handle a surge in cases. In South Sudan, there were only four ventilators and 24 ICU beds for a population of 12 million. Accounting for 23% of the world’s diseases and only 1% of global public health expenditure, Africa’s healthcare system was already strained.

Healthcare workers have the most risk of infection in every country. In Africa, the shortage of masks, equipment and capacity increases the infection rate further amongst healthcare workers. Africa also has the lowest physician to patient ratios in the world. As it can take weeks to recover from COVID-19, the recovery of healthcare workers means less are available to work.

Additionally, those that are at-risk and uninsured can rarely afford life-saving treatment in Africa. For example, a drug called remdesivir showed promising results in treating COVID-19. However, the cost of treatment with remdesivir is $3,120 – an unmanageable price for the majority of Africans. These factors will determine the severity of COVID-19 in Africa.

Economic and Psychological Factors

Strict lockdowns have helped some nations in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in Africa but at a very great price.

Lack of technology often means that all students stop learning and many lose their jobs. More than three million South Africans have become unemployed due to the lockdown. The lockdowns have also resulted in much higher rates of domestic violence, abuse and child marriage. Many such cases go unreported and mental health services for victims or those struggling through the pandemic are unavailable. In Kenya, the U.N. has appealed for $4 million to support those affected by gender-based violence.

The slow spread of COVID-19 in Africa has allowed the continent and leaders to prepare, and the young population will lessen the impact. Although there’s reason to be hopeful, there’s no doubt that there will be an impact on Africa’s economy and future. This calls for the need of foreign assistance – not only in controlling COVID-19 in Africa but in the recovery of the continent for years to come.

Beti Sharew
Photo: Flickr

Water Crisis in UgandaWater is a necessity for all living beings, and access to safe water is a basic human right. Despite the world’s experiencing exponential growth in all areas with advances in science and technology, 663 million people are without access to clean water. The country of Uganda is no exception: 51% of Ugandans are in need of safe water resources. This lack of clean water affects the health of the Ugandan people, their productivity and their economy. Here are some of the realities everyone needs to know about the water crisis in Uganda.

The Current State

Currently, 21 million Ugandans lack access to safe water. One in nine people lack quality water and have no alternative to dirty, contaminated water sources. The stress of economic growth over the last two decades put an enormous strain on the land and its resources. Up to three-quarters of the surface water in Uganda is polluted, making it unsuitable for consumption. With no other choice but to drink contaminated water, people are often too sick to work or attend school.

Human waste, soil sediments, fertilizers and mud all run into drinking water sources due to the widespread absence of proper toilets and showers. Additionally, the lack of adequate filtration systems and the loss of vegetation, which acts as a natural filtration system, creates dirty water that leads to various health problems. 144 million Ugandans are still collecting water directly from these rivers, lakes, and other surface water sources. According to the World Health Organization, over 3,000 small children die a year from diarrhea in Uganda. Other waterborne diseases include hepatitis A, dysentery, typhoid and cholera.

The water crisis in Uganda also makes 40%  of Ugandans travel more than 60 minutes to access safe drinking water. Some travel up to three hours a day, without a guarantee of finding water. Excess time spent on water provision hinders people’s ability to work, maintain the household and take care of children.

Initiatives for a Better Future

Many initiatives are underway to address the water crisis in Uganda and the problems it has created. For example, in 2013, Water.org launched its WaterCredit solution, which has led growth for water and sanitation loans. This initiative has reached 259,000 people and disbursed $10.3 million in loans, helping to create long-term solutions to the water crisis in Uganda.

Another program addressing water in Uganda is the Uganda Women’s Water Initiative, which transforms contaminated water into clean and drinkable water for school children. Over 300 women in Gomba, Uganda were trained to build rainwater harvesting tanks and Biosand filters. The simple filter consists of layers of rock, sand and gravel that remove 99% of bacteria from water. Funded by Aveda and GreenGrants, this initiative also conducts programs about hygiene and sanitation to support these women. Thanks to this program, school children are safe from typhoid and diarrhea that could keep them sick and out of school. Remarkably, Gomba saw a reduction of school absences by nearly two-thirds thanks to filters and harvesting tanks.

Additional projects that focus on drilling new boreholes in barren areas and repairing existing boreholes help relieve long travel times for water. Generosity.org has concentrated on rehabilitating boreholes by working closely with the District Water Departments of communities in need. Generosity.org also aided in the development of water user committees, which create an infrastructure to ensure the boreholes are maintained and cleaned through fee collection. Its work aims to achieve the sustainability of these boreholes for the future, putting an end to the water crisis in Uganda.

Looking Forward

Ugandan leaders have recognized that water is a basic human right and understand that better water and sanitation systems are critical for a healthy society and a stronger economy. The Ugandan government now aims to have clean water and improved sanitation for everyone by 2030. Uganda plans to reach this goal by investing in quality water infrastructures, which involves restoring and maintaining clean water sources as well as promoting hygiene and investing in sanitation facilities. The organizations that are providing loans for wells, restoring boreholes and creating filtration devices are helping realize this ambitious goal. This focus on making clean and safe water available to everyone is critical. Without water, there is no life.

Tara Hudson
Photo: Pixabay

Deforestation-in-Uganda
With only 10% of the rural population of Uganda having access to electricity, it is no surprise that the rest of the population is forced to rely on other sources for food and energy. Unfortunately, this means that many people cut down trees leading to one of the highest global deforestation rates. Each year, nearly 3% of Uganda’s forests are cut down for fuel, agriculture and to make room for an increasing population. At the current rate of deforestation in Uganda, the country is likely to lose all of its forests in the next 25 years.

The repercussions of these actions are clear to see. Besides the landscape almost being completely devoid of trees, the dry season has become longer and filled with more droughts. The loose soil has caused heavy rainfall to turn into deadly floods, while crops are producing less and less yield. The wood from cut trees is mostly used to fuel stoves for cooking. But this has caused a separate issue where the smoke collects inside homes and causes respiratory issues for family members who stay at home and cook.

How Mud Stoves Can Help Reduce Deforestation

Badru Kyewalyanga, a local man frustrated by the minimal action from the government on the matter, developed a solution to this issue: mud stoves. The stoves are made of mud, water and straw, and require little time to be constructed. Balls of mud are thrown into the ground to remove air bubbles and prevent cracks. The mud is then molded around the trunk of a banana-like plant called the matooke tree. The stove is cut and arranged to form a combustion chamber, a chimney and several ventilation shafts. After two weeks, the mud hardens and can be removed from the tree and is ready for use.

The stoves are incredibly efficient as they require only half the amount of wood for fuel compared to a traditional stove and oven. In addition, the placement of the chimney when attached to a wall of the house means that the wood smoke can escape without being trapped inside. Kyewalyanga, along with local and international volunteers has worked together to build over 100 stoves helping villagers to breathe cleaner air, while also reducing the rate of deforestation in Uganda.

Use of Mud Stoves in South Sudan

The stoves have now begun to spread their usefulness to other groups of people in Africa as well. Refugees from South Sudan are often forced to venture into the forests for firewood or charcoal to prepare meals, which is risky due to the prevalent violence in the region. Unfortunately, they are left with little choice if they are to survive. However, they were introduced to a newer and more efficient method of cooking by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA).

ADRA’s mission was to provide necessary supplies to the refugees escaping South Sudan. One of the items provided to the refugees was the mud stove developed in Uganda. Because the stove emits a smaller amount of smoke than a conventional stove and minimizes the number of trees to be cut down to collect fuel, they became incredibly popular. Members of ADRA were able to give demonstrations and trained women and children on its usage. These projects have shown that mud stoves are a useful and efficient way to provide a cheap way to cook food as well as fight deforestation in Uganda and other parts of Africa.

Aditya Daita
Photo: Pixabay

Ugandan Women in PovertyPoverty affects millions of people around the world. What is often overlooked, however, is that women are deeply impacted by the struggle of poverty and are threatened by it in ways that men may not always be. One nonprofit, The Greater Contribution, has been tackling these issues in their battle against Ugandan poverty in the wake of the coronavirus.

Background

Ugandan women, not to mention women across Africa, have been uniquely affected by not just the pandemic but also poverty. Over 70% of African women who don’t work in agriculture work in the informal sector—work such as market and street vending. Many of the women working in these jobs in Uganda don’t simply have to worry about law enforcement confiscating their goods being sold in undesignated markets. They now must also worry about how they will survive in a severely slowed economy. Furthermore, the work that is most threatened by the crisis—such as accommodation, food service, real estate and business services among others—employs 41% of the female workforce worldwide.

As unemployment rises, it’s predicted that women will take the brunt of the damage and that the number of Ugandan women in poverty will increase. While illustrating the extent of the issue, humanitarian group CARE pointed to Guatemala, where 96% of the women benefiting from their entrepreneur programs are no longer able to afford basic food items, as an example of the issue. In many of these cases, Ugandan women are not wealthy business owners but are simply seeking to make a living day-to-day and hand-to-mouth. This is as true regarding poverty in Uganda as it is anywhere else.

The Greater Contribution

The Greater Contribution is working to amend these issues. The NGO, which has been in operation since 2006, primarily focuses on providing microloans to and organizing literacy programs for Ugandan women in poverty or on the cusp. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve been adopting new strategies in order to best aid impoverished women. As of late, they have started a virtual event running through the month of July called Lift&RaiseHER. The program is designed to raise funds for struggling female-owned businesses that have been hit hard by the pandemic. Supporters will make a donation and take a picture of themselves lifting a household object, meant to reflect how they are working to lift up Ugandan women in poverty. They’re then asked to share the photo on social media in order to get the word out and encourage others to contribute. The financial goal of the event is to raise $20,000 between July 4th and July 31st.

This hasn’t been the only action that The Greater Contribution has taken. After an emergency appeal, they raised $5,000 in order to deliver basic foodstuffs and emergency supplies to over 800 of their borrowers. Furthermore, their staff has manufactured and delivered their own hand sanitizer after price gouging made it all but unavailable to the impoverished. These steps, while not always massive, are nonetheless important to effectively combat poverty in Uganda.

Conclusion

The impact that the global epidemic has had on the impoverished is undeniable. But thanks to the work done by nonprofits like The Greater Contribution, some semblance of recovery is being offered to the women who are on the precipice of poverty, particularly Ugandan women in poverty. They provide a model others should seek to emulate worldwide.

– Aidan O’Halloran
Photo: Flickr

The Pratt PouchThose living in poverty often have limited access to basic necessities such as food, water and shelter. Beyond these basic necessities lies the need for free or affordable healthcare, yet so many countries are still lacking in that regard. Insufficient health centers and medical treatments do little to stop the spread of life-threatening diseases such as HIV. Mothers with HIV have up to a 45 percent chance of transmitting the disease to their babies during childbirth and breastfeeding. The invention of the Pratt Pouch has helped in the reduction of that risk to just 5 percent.

How It Works

Every year, 400,000 children are diagnosed with HIV as a result of their mothers being HIV positive. Robert Malkin of Duke University hopes that the Pratt Pouch will reduce that number to fewer than 100,000 cases a year. Malkin and his team created the Pratt Pouch at the Pratt School of Engineering. The “foilized, polyethylene pouch” is filled with pediatric doses of antiretrovirals. The pouch gives the medication to have a shelf- life of up to twelve months. Other containers such as cups, spoons or syringes have a much shorter shelf-life because the containers absorb the water inside the medication, causing it to solidify.

The medication is provided to mothers during prenatal visits, but it is usually administered to the baby at home. The Pratt Pouch has a perforation, so it easily tears open. Since it contains a pre-measured dose, there is no need for a syringe, and it is taken orally. To be effective, the medication should be administered within seventy-two hours of birth; however, the ideal window of time is in the first twenty-four hours. The child takes the medication for six weeks.

The makers of the Pratt Pouch have partnered with IntraHealth International, which is providing training for pharmacists and community health workers. These trained individuals then go out and educate mothers about the proper methods to use to treat their children.

Who Is Using It?

So far, Uganda and Ecuador use the pouches. Malkin partnered with Fundación VIHDA in 2012. Since then, they have distributed the pouches to four hospitals in Guayaquil and Quito. Humberto Mata, the co-founder of Fundación VIHDA, estimates that more than 1,000 babies have received antiretroviral medication through the use of the pouches.

In Ecuador, a pharmacist manually fills and seals the pouches. However, a high-tech facility constructed at Hospice Uganda in Kampala is equipped with special machines that fill and seal the pouches in four seconds. That is a fraction of the time it takes a pharmacist to fill by hand.

Future Goals

It is one of Malkin’s goals to help medicate 40,000 infants in Uganda over the course of the next three years. In addition, Malkin hopes to use the pouches to deliver treatments for diseases besides HIV. “For example, HIV and pneumonia often occur together, so I could imagine giving mothers two sets of color-coded pouches, one set for HIV and one for pneumonia,” said Malkin.

The Pratt Pouch has been effective in decreasing the chance of an HIV positive mother transmitting the disease to her baby during birth. By making the antiretroviral medication easily accessible and easy-to-use, the creators of the Pratt Pouch have helped put the minds of worried mothers at ease. A mother can be at peace knowing she has done everything she can to keep her child healthy.

– Sareen Mekhitarian
Photo: Pixabay

Ebola Virus DiseaseImagine traveling 1,316 kilometers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to Uganda seeking medical help for your nine-year-old daughter who seems to have been infected with the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).

On August 29, 2019, a nine-year-old girl from the DRC was exposed and later developed symptoms of this rare and fatal disease. She was identified at the Mpondwe-Kasindi border point and then sent to an Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC) in Bwera, Uganda. Sadly, not too long after her arrival, the child passed away.

This sporadic epidemic has come back yet again and bigger than last time. This disease has infected the North Kivu Province and has caused more than 2,200 cases, along with 1,500 deaths just this year. Thus, making this the second-largest outbreak in history following behind the 2014-2016 outbreak that killed about 11,000 people. As of September 4, 2019, a total of 3,054 Ebola Virus Disease cases were reported. Out of that total number of cases, 2,945 of them were confirmed reports and the rest of the 109 were probable cases. Overall, 2,052 of those people died.

This disease has had a total of 25 outbreaks since its first flare-up in the Ebola River in 1967. It has plagued countries spanning from the West to sub-Saharan Africa and has a 25 to 90 percent fatality rate. Even though reports are coming from 29 different health zones, the majority of these cases are coming from the health zones of Beni, Kalunguta, Manima and Mambasa. About 17 of these 29 health zones have reported new cases stating that 58 percent of probable and confirmed cases are female (1,772), 28 percent are children under the age of 18 (865) and 5 percent (156) are health workers.

This 2019 case is different because of the way that Ebola Virus Disease is affecting an area of the country that is undergoing conflict and receiving an influx of immigrants. The nation’s “political instability,” random acts of violence and “limited infrastructure” also contribute to the restricted efforts to end the outbreak.  As of June 2019, the disease started its expansion to Uganda, with four cases confirmed near the eastern border shared with DRC, South Kivu Province and Rwanda borders. The World Health Organization (WHO) Country Representative of Uganda, Yonas Tegegn, stated that whoever came into contact with the nine-year-old patient had to be vaccinated.

Out of the five Congolese who had contact with the little girl, four of them have been sent back to their country for “proper follow-ups.” Another 8,000 people were vaccinated against Ebola due to “high-risk areas in the country.”  Overall, 200,000 people in DRC have been vaccinated against EVD along with “health workers in surrounding countries.” With this being said, there is no official vaccination that is known to effectively protect people from this disease. Therefore an “effective experimental vaccine” has been found suitable enough for use. Also, a therapeutic treatment has shown “great effectiveness” in the early stages of the virus.

Ugandan authorities have taken matters into their own hands, strengthened border controls and banned public gatherings in areas that have been affected by EVD. According to the August 5, 2019 risk assessment, the national and regional levels are at higher risk of contracting EVD while the global level risk is low.

The Solutions

The World Health Organization (WHO) is doing everything they can to prevent the international spread of this disease. They have implemented the International Health Regulations (2005) to “prevent, protect against, control and provide international responses” to the spread of EVD.

This operational concept includes “specific procedures for disease surveillance,” notifying and reporting public health events and risks to other WHO countries, fast risk assessments, acting as a determinant as to whether or not an event is considered to be a public health emergency and coordinating international responses.

WHO also partnered up with the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) to ensure that proper “technical expertise” and skills are on the ground helping people that need it most. GOARN is a group of institutions and networks that use human and technical resources to “constantly alert” one another to rapidly identify, confirm and respond to “outbreaks of international importance.”  WHO and GOARN have responded to over 50 events around the world with 400 specialists “providing field support” to 40 countries.

– Isabella Gonzalez Montilla
Photo: Flickr