affordable satellite imagingSatellite imaging is an amazing technology that allows humans on Earth to see pictures of space without having to leave the surface of the planet. More than that, satellite data can give vital information that will help solve problems and make changes to better society and the planet. Since this technology is expensive, organizations are trying to prioritize affordable satellite imaging.

Affordable Satellite Imaging

Satellite imaging is more complicated than it appears. Satellites are extremely expensive to create and put into use because they need to survive in space. As of April 2021, more than 6,000 satellites are orbiting Earth. About 3,000 of those are inactive, and more than 700 are imaging satellites. However, only the most wealthy and educated experts have access to the images that these satellites create and can interpret them correctly.

With an expansion of access to the information that satellite imaging collects, there could be more solutions for problems in society, including poverty. A group of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley may have made that possibility a reality.

The Creation of MOSAIKS

On July 20, 2021, Nature Communications published a study by the researchers stating that “combining satellite imagery with machine learning (SIML) has the potential to address global challenges by remotely estimating socioeconomic and environmental conditions in data-poor regions.” However, SIML has limited accessibility and use because of the resources it requires. The Berkeley team aims to lower the computational cost with a new system that rivals competitors. 

The team creating the machinery consists of the Global Policy Lab directed by Solomon Hsiang and Benjamin Recht’s research team in UC Berkeley’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences.

After a great deal of hard work, the team created a system called Multi-Task Observation using Satellite Imagery & Kitchen Sinks (MOSAIKS). The system has the power to analyze hundreds of data variables that satellite imaging picks up while making it affordable and easy to use.

Co-author and Ph.D. student Esther Rolf said that “We designed our [satellite images] system for accessibility so that one person should be able to run it on a laptop, without specialized training, to address their local problems.”

How MOSAIKS Affects Global Poverty

If developing countries implement MOSAIKS, it could help decide something like where is best to build a road. This knowledge would help under-served communities that currently have low access to infrastructure.  

MOSAIKS can find the best freshwater source, farmlands, highest human populations and more. MOSAIKS does all of this at a low cost and in a user-friendly way. For developing countries, affordable satellite imaging could be the key to growing further out of poverty.

Both Rolf and Hsiang are hopeful for the further development of MOSAIKS and what it can do for the future. With affordable satellite imaging technology on the horizon, the eradication of global poverty could become more of a reality.

– Riley Prillwitz
Photo: Flickr

Student Organizations Can Improve Global Health
Many of the health crises in the world today are not only preventable but often man-made. However, disease outbreaks, conflict-created health emergencies and inefficient healthcare systems continue into 2019. Though there are very real threats to global health, there are also organizations working tirelessly to tackle these global health challenges. The efforts of internationally-focused college clubs, like GlobeMed at the University of Denver and Global Medical Training at the University of California, Berkeley, demonstrate that student organizations can improve global health.

GlobeMed at the University of Denver

GlobeMed at the University of Denver started in 2011 and is one of 50 college chapters across the U.S. The broader organization focuses on health disparities across the world by encouraging each chapter to partner with a grassroots health organization to work on local community health projects. GlobeMed at DU partners with Buddhism for Social Development Action (BSDA) in Kampong Cham, Cambodia, an organization started by Buddhist monks with the intention of bettering their community.

Jakob Allen, a Global Health Unit Coordinator for GlobeMed at DU, told The Borgen Project that their co-founders, Victor Roy and Peter Luckow, “realized that the key to sustainable project implementation was to listen and form a relationship with the local community. Too many NGOs today do not assume the population they are working with knows what is best for their community; GlobeMed at DU works to shatter this fallacy by working with our partners to find out what the community believes to be the best solution,” said Allen. “We then work to help make their visions a reality.”

How GlobeMed at DU Helps

Currently, GlobeMed at DU has two active microloan income generation projects, Chicken Raising Project (CRP) and Financing Futures (FF). The money generated by GlobeMed at DU goes towards financing these current projects, which were decided upon by BSDA with input from the community, according to Allen.

The beneficiaries of CRP are families with at least one member living with HIV/AIDS. Allen told The Borgen Project that the goal is to provide each family with a loan to purchase chickens and supplies, “thus enabling sick beneficiaries to cover their own medical transportation costs and receive appropriate treatment.” For the Financing Futures project, the beneficiaries are families with school-aged children. The intention of this project is to provide families with a microloan to start or expand a current business. The reduced cost to run the business encourages families to send the children to school.

Daniel Rinner, a Global Health Unit Coordinator for GlobeMed at DU, told The Borgen Project it is extremely important for GlobeMed at DU that health is not thought of solely in terms of medicine and healthcare institutions. “We also have to consider the social determinants of health: why certain health problems exist in the locations and communities that they do,” said Rinner. “We’ve had chapter meetings on how we can analyze gun violence as a public health issue and how Puerto Rico’s economic and political circumstances coincided with Hurricane Maria to create a public health disaster in our own country, for example,” Rinner added.

The ability to think critically regarding the larger dynamics of globalization and poverty and then utilize this knowledge in local communities is one of the reasons student organizations can improve global health.

Global Medical Training: University of California, Berkeley

Another example of how student organizations can improve global health is Global Medical Training (GMT) at the University of California, Berkeley. GMT is a national organization offering the opportunity to go to Latin American countries and experience “hands-on” clinical work for college students interested in policy or health care careers, according to Angela H. Kwon, President of U.C. Berkeley’s GMT chapter.

Andrew Paul Rosenzweig, Vice President of U.C. Berkeley’s GMT chapter, told The Borgen Project their goal is to reach communities with little access to healthcare. “Many Latin American countries’ health care is focused in populated cities, so we provide more rural communities with these resources,” said Rosenzweig.

In addition to providing healthcare resources to rural Latin American countries, GMT at U.C. Berkeley focuses on implementing public health and sustainability projects. “We recognize the limitations of being in a host country for only a week at a time…[so] the goal of these [public health] projects is prevention rather than treatment,” said Rosenzweig. “Educating individuals on how to live healthier lives can have tremendous impacts on not only their own life but the lives of their family and community.” GMT has worked with rural Latin American communities to teach the significance of healthy eating, reproductive health, dental hygiene and hypertension.

GMT: A Piece of a Larger Movement

When asked whether the “hands-on” approach of GMT at U.C. Berkeley has been successful in creating change in Latin American countries, Kwon told The Borgen Project that this “would be an overstatement. It’s only a very tiny step and the beginning [of] a bigger movement, which is sustainability and health equity.” Though Kwon stated that week-long trips to rural areas do not create immediate or lasting effects, she claimed “it’s a start and any contribution can help. It’s like a ripple effect.”

Kwon added, “Of course, as college students, our knowledge of medicine is limited but…we’re educating future practitioners or professionals about global health and sustainability. Although cliché, we’re making a difference in the patient’s day by providing them with answers, medication and showing them that we care.”

GlobeMed at DU and GMT at U.C. Berkeley’s efforts, with their dedication to education and prevention, understanding of the larger dynamics of poverty, and care for international communities, are a perfect example on how student organizations can improve global health.

– Kara Roberts
Photo: Flickr

Katya Cherukumilli Takes On Poverty in India

Living in poverty often means consuming contaminated drinking water. Assembled by the Blum Center for Global Engagement, Katya Cherukumilli earned recognition in June 2015 at the University of California Irvine’s Designing Solutions for Poverty challenge. She has been addressing and innovating ways to cheaply eradicate fluoride from drinking water by using a remediation solution in groundwater. In doing so, she is helping to protect those without any other source for cleaner water.

Katya Cherukumilli developed a cheap way to use bauxite, a material that produces alumina and aluminum, in order to filter out fluoride in drinking water. She is a PhD student at the University of California, Berkley, set to complete an Environmental Engineering Degree in 2017. Her work with the Gadgil Lab for Energy and Water Research found a cheap solution to the problem concerning fluorosis.

The Gadgil Lab is located at the University of California, Berkley. Its mission is to alleviate poverty using research and engineering studies. Katya Cherukumilli is working specifically with fluoride removal. Having been born near the district of interest, Nalgonda, she feels, according to Alex Chan with Daily Pilot, “This is something that is very close to my heart. Access to clean water does not seem like something people should die for.”

According to Gadgil Lab, drinking excessive levels of fluoride, above 1.5 mg/L, can cause anemia, discolored enamel and bone deformities, also known as skeletal fluorosis. Affected groundwater exists on a global scale in places like Sri Lanka, China, Est African Rift Valley, northern Mexico and Argentina.

With 200 million people drinking toxic water, 66 million in India are at risk. A site is open for examining the water in Telegana, where contamination is the most acute and fixated. Ten percent of this district has been affected and 10,000 are permanently deformed.

Groundwater in the Nalgonda District in India has a toxic amount of fluoride that causes deformities with excess intake. Skeletal fluorosis patients reside here. Granite rocks underground are breaking apart and contaminating drinking water with fluoride.

A toxic level of fluoride in drinking water is a problem that has been known for six decades. When rural areas cannot reach safer alternatives, the problem continues. Responding to this issue takes time and manpower. Areas where innovations are costly, difficult to set up or culturally ineffective make it difficult to introduce defluoridation. Gadgil Lab lists a few requirement guidelines addressing the issues.

Any technology useful to the cause must be local, affordable, and appropriate for the culture. It should require minimal maintenance and must function very successfully in the rural area.

To satisfy these requirements, Cherukumilli has been researching bauxite ore. She found that remediating groundwater fluoride needs to be more cost-effective. Cherukumilli is refining bauxite in order to minimize expenditure per person per year from $50 to $1.

Her method to reduce cost includes improving sustainability, so less material is required. Also less energy and carbon costs are needed to solve the issue.

Forty community leaders, scientists, business partners and investors at the competition agreed her progress in this field of study has absolute potential. It will protect the less fortunate from further disfigurement that affects them socially, economically and medically. Her presentation at the Irvine’s Designing Solutions for Poverty challenge received the popular vote among three others.

– Katie Groe

Sources: GADGIL Lab 1, GADGIL Lab 2, The Orange County Register, The Daily Pilot, GADGIL Lab 3
Photo: Daily Pilot

The connection between health and poverty is not a new one. The lack of access to healthcare, overcrowded healthcare facilities and the sometimes high costs of medications are major barriers for the poor to take appropriate steps to treat any health problems. Often, people turn to self-medication as an alternative to the expense of consulting a physician.

Paul J. Gertler, professor at the University of California Berkeley’s School of Public Health, said for the Washington Post, “Delaying medical care is a characteristic of poverty. For people living close to the edge, taking off a day to visit a doctor or staying home sick is literally taking food out of their mouths.”

It is no wonder that people facing such circumstances seek healthcare where they can get it cheaply. Sometimes this means going to a spiritual or traditional healer or taking the advice of family or friends. However, it can mean sharing medication, self-medicating or not completing a full-dose of a prescription so that it can be saved for another rainy day. These practices can be more dangerous than they seem.

Self-medicating can of course lead to using an incorrect medication, unsuitable for the medical condition, but it can also lead to overuse or underuse of the correct medication. A study based in a Nigerian community hospital concludes that a whopping 85 percent of the patients practiced self-medication and used an array of analgesics and anti-malarials either alone or in combination. According to Leadership, a local Nigerian newspaper, 75 percent of the populace rely on self-medication. This allows the market to flood with counterfeit drugs, low quality alternatives and charlatans selling ineffective herbal remedies.

From a public health point of view, incorrect usage of medication is a major cause of the rise in drug resistant infections. When patients do not complete a full dosage of antibiotics or use anti-malarials to treat unrelated infections, the disease-causing organisms have the chance to evolve to become resistant to these medications. Such resistant organisms then become untreatable and the resistant infection spreads among the population. Furthermore, the longer it takes to cure an infection due to use of incorrect medication, the higher the chances of an infection spreading.

The incorrect use of anti-malarials led to treatment failure and resistance to mainstay drugs like Chloroquine. This led to a shift in treatment policies worldwide and treatment with Artemisin Combination Therapy (ACT) began. Now, malarial infections resistant to ACT are spreading across Southeast Asia much faster than expected and can soon spread rapidly across the world if not contained. This story is frighteningly similar for a whole range of infections.

As science struggles to keep up with the evolution of drug resistance, policy can do its part. Increasing awareness and education about the disease causing organisms and the dangers of self-medicating is one approach. Improving infrastructure, the accessibility of healthcare facilities, resources at existing healthcare facilities and subsidies for medications will go a long way toward weaning the population away from self-medication.

There is another angle to this problem. In a survey in a district of Bangladesh, 100,000 doses of antibiotics were dispensed without a prescription. In Manila, Philippines, 66 percent of antibiotics were dispensed without a prescription. Heavily regulating pharmacies and preventing the sale of medication without a prescription can cut off one of the sources of self-medication.

More avenues will have to be explored to provide adequate healthcare and make good health a fulfilled right for each individual person so that the global population benefits.

Mithila Rajagopal

Sources: Annals of Ibadan Post-Graduate Medicine, Devex, Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, Leadership, Malaria Journal, Washington Post
Photo: Flickr