Posts

ErveboIn 2014, an outbreak of Zaire ebolavirus in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone resulted in more than 28,000 cases and 11,000 deaths. Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreaks were documented since the 1970s. However, the widespread nature of the 2014 epidemic caused global fear. Many countries responded by imposing travel restrictions against West African nations. Fortunately, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first Ebola vaccine (Ervebo) in December 2019.

10 Facts About the Ervebo Ebola Vaccine

  1. Trials began in 2018. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) began to trial Ervebo in 2018 as an investigational vaccine under an expanded access program. The DRC experienced the world’s second-largest Ebola outbreak. The vaccine use aimed to prioritize people most at risk such as healthcare workers.
  2. Roughly 290,000 people received vaccinations. In response to the Ebola outbreak in the DRC, more than 290,000 people have received the Ervebo vaccination under compassionate use protocols. Compassionate use allows for the limited allocation of an unlicensed vaccination due to a dangerous public crisis.
  3. Ervebo is 100% effective. A study in Guinea during the 2014-2016 outbreak indicates that Ervebo was 100% effective for individuals 18 and older. In a comparison of cases, Ervebo was 100% effective in preventing cases of Ebola with symptom onset more than 10 days after inoculation. The comparison involved 2,108 participants in an “immediate” vaccination group and 1,429 participants in a “delayed” vaccination group.
  4. Trials outside of West Africa. In addition to West Africa, trials of the Ebola vaccine occurred in Canada, Spain and the United States. Because Ebola is not endemic to Europe or North America, researchers wanted to measure the antibody response among individuals with no history of previous exposure. The antibody responses among participants in Canada, Spain and the U.S. were close to that of individuals in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
  5. Ervebo is safe for all participants. Roughly 15,000 individuals in Africa, Europe and North America were part of vaccine trials. The trials determined that the vaccine is safe and effective for all individuals. Individuals reported only minor side effects.
  6. Ervebo is a single-dose vaccine. Ervebo is a single-dose injection that does not require boosters. This allows for faster distribution and protection against EVD. The vaccine is a “live, attenuated vaccine that is genetically engineered to contain protein from the Zaire ebolavirus.”
  7. The vaccine received priority review. Due to the importance of developing an Ebola vaccine as a public health measure, Ervebo received a priority review and a tropical disease priority review voucher by the FDA under a program supporting the development of new drugs for the prevention and treatment of tropical diseases. Ervebo also received a breakthrough therapy designation to assist with the development of the vaccine. The FDA worked closely with the company, Merck & Co., Inc., and completed the evaluation in less than six months.
  8. The vaccine will be available to those most in need. Due to limited supplies of Ebola vaccines, Ervebo will be available as part of a ring vaccination strategy during future outbreaks. This strategy means that those most at risk will receive first priority. Vaccination efforts will start with people like healthcare workers and extend outward to other members of the community.
  9. A global stockpile will be available in January 2021. Beginning in January 2021, a global stockpile of the vaccine will be available through the International Coordinating Group (ICG) on Vaccine Provision. The ICG also manages stockpiles of cholera, meningitis and yellow fever vaccines and will be responsible for decision-making on allocation.
  10. Four African countries have licensed the vaccine. In February 2020, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burundi, Ghana and Zambia licensed the Ervebo vaccine. The license means the manufacturer can stockpile and widely distribute the vaccine within these countries. No further research or clinical trials are necessary with a license.

The Future

One cannot undo the damage of past outbreaks but the Ervebo Ebola vaccine may be a valuable tool for future Ebola prevention efforts. As the vaccine becomes widely available in future years, the World Health Organization hopes the population of West Africa will achieve herd immunity against the disease, eradicating the spread of EVD. The technology used in the development of the Ebola vaccine will also aid in the quick development of vaccines for future global outbreaks. As the world continues to struggle against COVID-19, the success of Ervebo provides a blueprint for the prevention and mitigation of future epidemics.

Eliza Browning
Photo: Flickr

Way to Support Albania
Since the beginning of COVID-19, the unemployment rate in Albania increased from 12.33% to 12.81%. As thousands of Albanian people have entered poverty, UNICEF Albania and other humanitarian organizations are leading the way to support Albania during these trying times.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Albania started its COVID-19 response on March 9, 2020, by helping the Regional Local Democracy Programme (ReLOaD). The ReLOaD program helps update projects that deliver hygiene packages to vulnerable households. It also supports Albanian farmers with seeds and Albanian children with online learning materials. Support has reached 11 areas from Tirana to Lezhë, Albania. The UNDP even created an International Romani Day campaign where approximately 1,150 Albanian households received food and hygiene packages in April 2020.

UNICEF Albania

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Albania works to protect child rights with government and organization partners. Through programs supporting social and child protection, education and early childhood development, UNICEF Albania has three priorities: respecting child rights while implementing social inclusion through maintaining family access to the Albanian justice system, reforming the social care system and keeping children in school with NGO support.

In April 2020 and amid the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF Albania supported a child protection organization statement about how thousands of children can receive protection from violence. This can occur through phone helplines, temporary shelters and professional workforces in Albania. In response to the call to action, child protection helplines underwent initiation in June 2020 through UNICEF and The Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action (CPIHA) support.

Educational Support in Albania

World Vision Albania and Kosovo Education and Youth Technical Advisor Brisida Jahaj told The Borgen Project that, “There was a huge challenge with families in poorer households.” This is because the families do not have the IT equipment or the internet for children to continue their education in Albania. The Ministry of Education in Albania found that 10,000 children lost educational resources over COVID-19.

Regarding education, UNICEF Albania has partnered and supported the Akademi.al online learning platform since 2019. Plans intend to implement it online and on television for all students by 2021. Funding from UNICEF and support from the Ministry of Education in Albania gave Akademi.al the opportunity to put approximately 1,100 lessons online for students taking Matura exams in Albania. Jahaj describes the platform as a “backup plan that if we go into the third level scenario,” wherein Albanian schools shut down in 2021.

In August 2020, UNICEF Albania worked to combat poverty due to COVID-19 by initiating its first Albanian cash transfer program to approximately 1,700 vulnerable families in Shkodër, Korçë and Durrës, Albania.

UNICEF Albania and the World Health Organization (WHO) also established an online training program to teach professionals about Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) and how to implement support to vulnerable populations during emergencies from May to July 2020. The eight module training course helps professionals master how to support mental health and psychosocial issues during emergencies. Approximately 230 frontline professionals obtained certification by September 2020.

Red Cross and World Vision

Albania experienced a series of earthquakes on November 26, 2019, which impacted approximately 200,000 Albanians. The Albania Red Cross responded to the earthquakes by sending 160 volunteers and providing 4,500 shelter relief packages to families who lost homes. The Albanian Red Cross received a 2020 Coca-Cola Company $100,000 grant in the wake of the pandemic to give community food aid and medical equipment to Albanian hospitals.

The Qatar Red Crescent Society partnered with the Albanian Red Cross to provide food package relief to 700 vulnerable families as a way to support Albania. Following the initial response, the Albanian Red Cross collaborated with Better Shelter. A total of 52 Better Shelters underwent construction in Durrës, Krujë, Laç, Shijak and Tirana, Albania, while home reconstruction continues through 2021.

World Vision Albania also helped with the earthquake response in Durrës, Lezhë, Kamëz and Kurbin, Albania by giving food and hygiene aid to 1,019 families and materials to help 27 families with home reconstruction. Jahaj told The Borgen Project that food and hygiene aid will continue in 2021 as World Vision and other humanitarian organizations including Save the Children and UNICEF provide “a lot of the masks and hand sanitizers for the schools” in Albania.

Where is Albania Now?

As of 2021, several humanitarian organizations are working to protect children and vulnerable individuals from the impact of the Albanian earthquakes and COVID-19 on the ground and online. Jahaj explained how World Vision Albania utilizes the Building Secure Livelihoods economic development program to help alleviate poverty while helping parents provide for their children from 2019 until 2023.

On all fronts, UNICEF, World Vision, Save the Children and the Albanian Red Cross responded to Albanian communities. By providing everything from medical care, earthquake shelter, child protection and online learning directly to families, these organizations have found a way to support Albania. As of January 2021, humanitarian organizations continue to work on home reconstruction, mental health support and flood response. Furthermore, Albania acquired 500,000 COVID-19 vaccines to distribute in 2021.

– Evan Winslow
Photo: Flickr

STIs in Tanzania
In spite of medical advances, diseases continue to thrive in the world. Those affected suffer severe illness and even death in many cases. The most troublesome factor is that the majority of diseases are either curable or highly preventable. For example, STIs in Tanzania are prevalent but preventable.

History with Disease

Disease is not an altogether new issue within Tanzania. The African continent in particular has been host to a large percentage of notable diseases, such as malaria and Ebola. In fact, 94% of malaria cases worldwide occurred in Africa in 2019. Yet, when it comes to preventable diseases, most of the African continent has shown exceptional preparedness concerning preventable diseases in comparison to other countries.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Africa had some of the lowest case rates in the world, despite its large populace. Some have attributed this to Africa’s experience with multiple past outbreaks. Many African countries that the disease ravaged had become experts in preventative healthcare measures. The continent displayed a greater sense of governmental readiness, such as sanitation standards to dissuade future diseases. Other measures include “isolating the infected, tracing their contacts and getting them quarantine while they get tested.”

How STI Transmission is Different

Cases of death due to STIs is high. The WHO estimated that over 90,000 people died as a result of STIs in Africa in 2004. The majority of individuals who contract STIs in Tanzania are young; most individuals with STIs in Tanzania are between the ages of 15-22. The high youth population is one component of the high STI rates. Another is education.

Reports found that adolescents throughout sub-Saharan Africa used condoms infrequently and practiced other high-risk sexual behaviors. Chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhea specifically have a reported prevalence of 0.4% to 5% in Tanzania. One can attribute this to the lack of educational awareness in Tanzania regarding safe sex and the effects of STIs in general. A study showed that less than 15% of children in secondary school had an effective knowledge basin regarding STI symptoms. Further, it reported that only 50% of males and less than 33% of females 15-30 years old possessed any effective knowledge concerning STI transmission.

Tanzania is not sitting idly by during this crisis. Rather, the country is tackling this issue multi-directionally.

Tanzania’s Fight Against STIs

In response, both NGOs and the government have been working to combat the high rate of STIs in Tanzania. NGOs have been focusing on educating people about this issue and have shown positive results. The African Youth Alliance program exemplifies this, which encourages protected sex for males and females. A study found that young people visited clinics and outreach services over 2.5 million times as a result of this program. The Tanzanian government is also striving to provide life-saving aid. Its proposed healthcare financial strategy focuses on combating HIV. The emphasis will be on increasing health insurance coverage and economic improvement overall.

The country still has a long way to go in fighting STIs in Tanzania. However, increasing education and governmental intervention are steps in the right direction. Improved public health and an economy not directed at disease control might be on the near horizon for Tanzania.

Jacob Hurwitz
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Morocco
A 60-year-old royal decree largely dictates mental health in Morocco, but the government and outside institutions have been working to address this outdated decree in the last decades. A Dahir, or King’s decree, emerged in 1959, which determines Morocco’s mental health program, rights of patients and other aspects. Due to the inadequacy of the law, the Ministry of Health has and still is working on a new law to address treatment for mental health in Morocco.

The Current Situation for Mental Health in Morocco

In 2009, the government published a mental health profile of the country’s general population. The government’s report on mental health in the country used a random sample that it took of the population. Researchers interviewed nearly 5,500 people and over 40% of those interviewed had an active mental disorder.

Mental health disorders were more frequent among women, the divorced, unemployed and those in urban areas. More recent data on Moroccan mental health add credence to these older findings.

A 2019 study in the Annals of General Psychiatry outlined that one in five children in Morocco suffered from insomnia, depression or anxiety. Half of the mental health issues in Morocco’s children started at the age of 14. The Moroccan Ministry of Health published that nearly half of all adolescents it studied suffer from a mental health disorder. Morocco’s adolescents make up nearly 9% of the country’s total population. Outside institutions like the World Bank state that women and those who are young require special attention. The World Bank described the important relationship between education, work productivity, family care and mental health.

Solutions

The Moroccan government and the World Health Organization (WHO) are addressing mental health shortcomings with three major goals; drafting new legislation on mental health, building more hospitals and increasing the psychiatric workforce. The WHO’s “Country Cooperation Strategy for 2017-2021″ focuses on the entirety of the health care system in Morocco. However, legislative scrutiny is addressing mental health in Morocco, specifically.

Addressing the 1959 Dahir

The government adopted draft legislation in 2015 that addressed the outdated nature of the 1959 Dahir. The law emerged to protect the rights of those with mental health disorders. After scrutiny from health care professionals in Morocco, the government announced that the law would go under review in consultation with the Moroccan Society of Psychiatry or other leaders in the mental health field. The draft law is currently still under review.

Building More Psychiatric Hospitals

Morocco’s mental health infrastructure is currently getting a boost. The government is building psychiatric hospitals, one of which has already started construction. These hospitals are part of a greater initiative to increase regional access to health care. In fact, a psychiatric clinic finished construction in late 2020. All of these health infrastructure creations are part of a cooperative between the WHO and Morocco.

Increasing the Mental Health Workforce

The WHO reported that the ratio of psychiatrists was at 0.4 per 100,000 in 2005. However, in 2017, that ratio was at 0.84 which means it has doubled in 12 years. The WHO’s numbers show a steady increase in this workforce. A case study of under-resourced areas in Morocco has proposed peer-therapy as a solution to the lack of available mental health physicians.

A 2017 case study in Morocco gives hope to under-resourced areas. Sixty people ages 18-33 engaged in a rehabilitation program. The researchers found that the sessions were successful. They believe peer-therapy can make up for the lack of an available workforce.

While treatment for mental health in Morocco has presented some challenges, the country is working to improve the situation. Through the implementation of new hospitals and clinics as well as peer-therapy, access to mental health care should improve for Morocco’s residents.

– Jacob Richard Bergeron
Photo: Flickr

all-girls Afghan roboticsAs the COVID-19 pandemic continues to stretch across the globe, all areas of the world have been impacted in various capacities and have been approaching the virus in numerous ways. With growing numbers and many hospitals at full capacity, innovation and new technology become a much-needed crutch. In early March of 2020, the virus began to spread in Afghanistan and the cases steadily increased to almost 1,000 new cases in early June. As of December 2020, Afghanistan had more than 50,000 confirmed cases. Though the World Health Organization (WHO) had been providing personal protective equipment to Afghanistan since February 2020, there was still a strain on doctors and nurses who lacked sufficient resources to treat patients. An all-girls Afghan robotics team aims to reduce the strain on the healthcare system with a ventilator prototype.

The Afghan Dreamers

In June 2020, the demand for oxygen was higher than the supply and many doctors and hospitals expressed concerns about both costs and scarcity. An all-girls Afghan robotics team saw the severity of this issue and took action to attempt to combat this shortage and fight against COVID-19.

The “Afghan Dreamers” are a robotics team from Afghanistan comprised of all girls between the ages of 14 and 17. The group has reached impressive heights including winning a silver medal in 2017 for “courageous achievement” in an international robotics competition called the FIRST Global Robotics Competition in Washington D.C. In light of the pandemic and increasing ventilator prices, the Afghan Dreamers decided to utilize their skills to design effective and more low-cost ventilators to combat the lack of affordable oxygen in Afghanistan.

Ventilator Prototype

One prototype they produced was based on a model from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and another utilized car parts. The gear-based model based on designs from MIT is low-tech, meaning that it can be duplicated from machine parts that are more easily sourced and widely available. The team’s ventilator designs are estimated to cost around 200 to 300 dollars, which is a 99% decrease from the original cost of $30,000. If the prototype does get approved, the ventilators will be used for emergency cases when there are no alternatives.

Car Parts for Ventilator Model

The Afghan Dreamers faced many obstacles during the course of the building process. While in the middle of a pandemic, the girls were also fasting during the month of Ramadan. In addition, they also had to look for
ways to source materials efficiently and effectively, which led them to look at car parts as Toyota Corollas are a common car driven in Afghanistan. Despite these potential barriers, the all-girls Afghan robotics team was determined to continue researching and problem-solving all while trying to keep themselves safe and healthy.

The Afghan Dreamers: Breaking Barriers

In Afghanistan, as many as 85% of girls do not receive a proper education. Due to many cultural barriers and stigmas, girls typically do not engage in endeavors as ambitious as the Afghan Dreamers. The all-girls Afghan robotics team has changed the narrative for many girls and hope to continue to help others and achieve more in the future. While the COVID-19 pandemic crippled many across the world, it certainly served as a large source of motivation and inspiration for the Afghan Dreamers.

– Grace Wang
Photo: Flickr

Antimicrobial resistanceAntimicrobial resistance, or AMR, is a growing trend among newly discovered viruses. The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies 30 new diseases that threaten half the world’s population, which are particularly prevalent in developing nations.

Background of Antimicrobial Resistance

Drug-resistant diseases (AMR) have grown in prevalence over the past 40 years. Many of the medicines used to treat common infections like the flu and pneumonia have been around for decades. Eventually, viruses and bacteria develop their own microbial methods of fighting back against these drugs and inevitably become fully resistant to treatments.

Perhaps the most well-known example is the virus known as pneumococcus, or streptococcus pneumoniae. Penicillin has been used to treat pneumococcus since the early 1950s, giving it plenty of time to develop a strong resistance to the drug. Now, pneumococcus is practically untreatable, killing over 300,000 children below the age of 5 annually.

The CDC explains that germs that grow resistant to medications can be almost impossible to treat, often resulting in severe illness or death. This problem is only getting worse, as the U.N. finds that while 700,000 people die every year due to AMR diseases now, by 2050 that number will skyrocket to 10 million people.

The AMR crisis has severe economic implications as well. Antimicrobial diseases affect livestock as well as humans, leaving our international agricultural sector to collapse if not dealt with. All in all, the AMR crisis is projected to cause $100 trillion worth of global economic damage by 2050, only pushing people further into poverty.

Three organizations have stepped up to address the issue of antimicrobial resistance.

The AMR Action Fund

The AMR Action Fund is a financial project created by an international group of pharmaceutical companies. It aims to bring four new antibiotics that combat AMR to the consumer market by 2030. The fund expects to invest over $1 billion into late-stage antibiotic research by the end of 2025.

The AMR Alliance

The AMR Alliance is a massive coalition of more than 100 of the most powerful pharmaceutical companies, dedicated to fighting AMR. In 2016, the AMR Alliance signed the Industry Declaration, an agreement promising the development of anti-AMR medicines.

In 2018, the AMR Alliance spent a record $1.8 billion in the war against AMR. In 2020, the  AMR Alliance released its second progress report, detailing the progress made so far. The results are promising: 84% of relevant biotechnology companies are in the late stages of research and development for AMR cures and more than 80% of them have strategies in place for releasing the drugs.

UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

The FAO is taking serious steps to battle antimicrobial resistance. These dangerous antimicrobial superbugs threaten livestock in farms throughout the world. The FAO explains that two-thirds of future antimicrobial usage will be in livestock. These AMR superbugs will only increase in danger over time, as they develop stronger resistance to medicines.

The FAO has worked to improve agricultural practices across the world, specifically in developing nations. The FAO is raising awareness about this issue with rural farmers and is providing millions of dollars in funds to combat AMR.

World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW) is an annual campaign designed to increase awareness of the issue and encourage best practices among the general public, health workers, and policymakers to avoid the further emergence and spread of drug-resistant diseases. Over the week of November 18, millions of posts are made around the globe in support of antimicrobial resistance awareness. Expanding awareness is key, as the WAAW campaign website explains that less general use of antibiotics could help to mitigate the effects of this issue.

– Abhay Acharya
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Bosnia and Herzegovina
In the past half-century, mental health treatment has become a hallmark of national development and Europe has been no exception. Nations of the former Soviet Bloc have seen major developments in the last several years. Before violence broke out in the former Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina had a fairly strong psychiatric care system with wards in larger hospitals. However, since the stabilization of the region, the system has undergone rebuilding with a focus on not only hospital wards, but also community mental health care clinics.

Despite its small population of only 3.5 million, Bosnia and Herzegovina have been a model of mental health care in the Balkan region. Mental health care in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been extremely important since the deadly conflicts within the former Yugoslavia, particularly the Bosnian Genocide from 1992-1995. Additionally, it continues to be important into the 20th century with high rates of mental illness among survivors of the conflict.

The Situation

While mental health in Bosnia and Herzegovina has not received a lot of study, it is clear that post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina has comparatively high levels of mental illness stemming from trauma. This includes but is not limited to mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and personality disorders. Many citizens have experienced internal displacement or repatriation or suffered violent trauma during the period of unrest in the Balkans in the 1990s and early 2000s leading to extensive need for mental health care both long term and in crisis situations. While this suffering is certainly not ideal, it has encouraged a number of organizations to assist in not only the implementation of systems of accessible mental health care but also campaigns to destigmatize mental illness in new and innovative ways.

These systems have been highly successful and have provided care for thousands of individuals through 74 community mental health centers, several teaching clinical centers in major cities and nine full psychiatric wards all of which can handle both acute and chronic mental health concerns. The involvement of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs has helped make these achievements possible. It has made a major effort to structure and fund the creation of vast mental health programs and networks along with the help of several international NGOs including HealthNet International, the World Health Organization (WHO), Medica Zenica and the Red Cross. All of these organizations have contributed to funding, training and organizing clinics around the country. This has allowed for a complete restructuring of the mental health care system in the country including international advocacy groups collaboration on legislation to improve the lives of mentally ill citizens.

Government-Provided Mental Health Care

While Bosnia and Herzegovina have an absolute poverty rate of over 16% which is above the global average, citizens can rely on government-provided mental health care through the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare operates through a decentralized system and receives funding through citizens’ mandatory national health insurance.

In addition to improvements in mental health care, new programs have seen extensive success in destigmatizing psychiatric illness. In the last several years, mental health in Bosnia and Herzegovina has improved through the implementation of mental health promotion programs in schools as well as in communities, which serve to normalize mental illness and discuss mental health. The success of these systems offers an example by which to construct mental health systems in smaller nations that desperately need access to these services.

Despite the struggles of the past half-century, Bosnia and Herzegovina has become an example of positive mental health care restructuring. Moreover, it seems likely that the system will continue to make improvements over time.

– Che Jackson
Photo: Flickr

Trachoma in developing countriesTrachoma, an unsung yet highly infectious disease, is listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the leading cause of blindness across the world. Data from March 2020 indicates that 137 million people live in areas that put them at risk of trachoma. It is estimated that several million people suffer from the disease worldwide, across 44 different countries. The disease is easily transmitted between two people and its effects can be devastating. The WHO has prioritized the elimination of trachoma in developing countries, where trachoma is common.

Trachoma and its Effects

The WHO reports that “transmission occurs through contact with infective discharges from the eyes and nose, particularly in young children, who harbor the main reservoir of infection. It is also spread by flies which have been in contact with the eyes and noses of infected people.” If left untreated, it can cause irreversible blindness. Trachoma also deeply affects the quality of life of families and entire communities where it is present as people with trachoma are often prevented from working and providing for their families. Additionally, women get trachoma at much higher rates than men because they are much more exposed to potentially infected children.

Trachoma Elimination Progress

Over the past two decades, significant work has been done in countries where trachoma is endemic, in order to eradicate the disease once and for all. This work has been extremely effective. Since 2002, those at risk of trachoma in developing countries and across the world have dropped 91%. Although that equates to 142 million people, the number is down from 1.5 billion people in 2002, which is progress on an incredible scale. Anthony Solomon, a medical officer in charge of WHO’s global trachoma elimination program, states that “We should be able to relegate trachoma to the history books in the next few years but we will only do so by redoubling our efforts now. The last few countries are likely to be the hardest. This is great progress but we cannot afford to become complacent.”

The Carter Center

In addition to the WHO, a number of different NGOs have been working to lower rates of trachoma, in developing countries especially. The Carter Center, founded by former U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, is an organization with a huge scope. Causes that the organization supports include peacebuilding, healthcare and human rights across the globe. The Carter Center’s commitment to ending trachoma is integral as it has provided resources such as eyelid surgery and other medical services for trachoma and is working to improve the environmental conditions of trachoma endemic countries. The Center states that “Over the course of 20 years (1999 to 2019), the Center has assisted national programs in providing 846,219  trachomatous trichiasis surgeries in Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, South Sudan and Sudan.” Although Trachoma can be potentially life-changing if left untreated, there are definite medical steps that can be taken before it reaches that point. The Carter Center and other organizations like it are providing crucial resources in order to save lives and eliminate trachoma in developing countries.

Trachoma’s Link to Poverty

Ultimately, eliminating trachoma in developing countries not only means improving the physical health of those who are currently at risk but it would greatly lower poverty rates in those same countries as well. Trachoma hurts the local economy, which in turn has a global impact. Providing the necessary healthcare and aid to those struggling with trachoma will in turn boost the quality of life in dozens of countries, therefore improving the global economy and allowing trade to flourish worldwide. The WHO Alliance for the Global Elimination of Trachoma by 2020 (GET2020 Alliance) set a target to eliminate trachoma entirely by 2020. While that goal may have been missed, significant progress has been made and blindness rates are likely to continue falling rapidly in the coming years.

– Leo Posel
Photo: Flickr

dual outbreaksThe impact of COVID-19 has resulted in fractured economies and health care systems all around the world. While some countries are trying to recover, others just cannot catch a break. Papua New Guinea is a country that finds itself in a unique and desperate situation. With the onset of COVID-19, the country was also hit with a resurgence of polio. Dual outbreaks are a cause of significant concern for Papua New Guinea. Australia is coming to the aid of its neighbors with a substantial financial assistance plan.

Resurgence of Polio

Papua New Guinea is one of the most poverty-stricken countries in the pacific region. The country was declared officially polio-free 18 years ago, but in 2018, the virus was rediscovered in a 6-year-old child. Shortly after, the virus also emerged in multiple other children from the same general area. Polio is especially harmful to children under 5 years old and can lead to lifelong paralysis.

A few months after the polio outbreak, the Australian Government stepped in and responded by giving $10 million to Papua New Guinea’s polio immunization crusade. A few weeks later, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) received another $6 million, which an additional $15 million dedication followed in November 2018. Rachel Mason Nunn, an experienced social development worker in Papua New Guinea, stated that “We have a window right now to invest heavily in infectious diseases in Papua New Guinea. Australia should continue to invest in health care in Papua New Guinea, if not just because it is the right thing to do, but because helping our region acquire strong health systems is a vital element of Australia’s own health security.” Australia is the largest contributor to the development of Papua New Guineas’ struggling health care system.

COVID-19 in Papua New Guinea

In an extreme case of bad luck, Papua New Guinea experienced two disease outbreaks within two years of each other. In a frantic request for aid, the government reached out to the World Health Organization (WHO) in an effort to take some weight off its already overburdened health care system.  When COVID-19 hit the county, there was a limited number of testing kits available and a shortage of medical staff as well as medical supplies and protective gear. The WHO responded by deploying emergency medical teams and supplying necessary resources to upscale testing in Papua New Guinea.

The Road Ahead

Due to the support of contributors like the WHO and Australia, millions of child polio vaccinations have been administered and a sufficient number of COVID-19 testing kits are available in the country. For a country that is still dealing with diseases like malaria and polio, the people of Papua New Guinea are pushing ahead. This unique situation serves as a global reminder that the prevention and treatment of other diseases should not be neglected during the COVID-19 pandemic and that inter-country support is essential in addressing dual outbreaks.

– Brandon Baham
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Italy
Many know Italy to have one of the best healthcare systems in the world, with the sixth-highest life expectancy, and a low rate of preventable and treatable deaths. Everyone benefits from high-quality care and the Italian government takes measures to ensure the most vulnerable populations receive care. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Italy hard which overwhelmed the hospitals and will have lasting damage on the low-income population. Here is some information about how healthcare in Italy works for vulnerable populations.

Everyone Has Access

Healthcare in Italy is universal, meaning that while private insurance options are available, everyone qualifies for public healthcare coverage regardless of income. This covers hospital visits, preventative treatment, medications, pediatrics and all necessary medical procedures for free or a small copay. One drawback is long waiting times to receive services. Italy has greater disparities in healthcare quality between regions and income classes than the rest of the European Union, but even so, less than 6% of low-income residents have any trouble accessing services.

Mental Healthcare sets an Example for the World

  In 1978, Italy passed legislation expanding mental health services. The city of Trieste replaced its 1,200-bed mental health hospital with a network of person-centered care facilities, including:

  • Four Community Mental Health Centers housing four to eight residents each.
  • One General Hospital Psychiatric Unit with six beds for short-term emergency stays.
  • The Habilitation and Residential Service, a network of voluntary communal housing with 45 beds that works with NGOs and provides various levels of supervision and services to residents based on their needs.

Instead of just treating a mental illness, the mental healthcare system in Trieste works to integrate patients into the community so they can lead fulfilling lifestyles. Instead of police, trained psychiatrists respond to mental health emergencies. In 2017, a group of Los Angeles County officials traveled to Trieste to find that it had eliminated the need for involuntary psychiatric care, there was no mentally ill homeless population and jails were not overcrowded with those needing mental health treatment. By investing in person-centered care, Trieste was able to reduce social injustices and bring vulnerable groups back into the community.

Refugees Qualify for Healthcare

Immediately upon arrival, asylum seekers receive access to public healthcare in Italy. Some difficulties can occur in receiving care, such as language barriers or legal processes delaying healthcare qualification by several months.

Many asylum seekers are torture survivors or deal with other trauma and can be eligible for specific mental health treatments. Redattore Sociale is a Doctors Without Borders project in Rome that has dedicated itself to ensuring torture survivors from all around the world receive the comprehensive psychiatric care they need.

Pandemic Crisis

Italy had an early spike in COVID-19 cases which overwhelmed the healthcare system. Italy has the fifth-highest coronavirus deaths per capita worldwide.

The situation is especially bleak in nursing homes, where the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that half of all Italy’s COVID-19 deaths have taken place. The country’s failure to properly test, distribute personal protective equipment, isolate residents and staff experiencing symptoms and openly report infection statistics have caused high death tallies and led to lawsuits against many nursing homes by relatives and other concerned parties.

The pandemic has also hit the economy hard, with low-income families suffering the most. Lack of support from the government has forced those who lost their source of income to turn to organizations such as the European Food Bank Federation, founded in 1967, which distributes 4.2 million meals every single day through a network of charities.

Although the economy may not fully recover, COVID-19 cases have been dropping steadily since late November 2020, and with doctors starting to administer vaccinations, there is hope for the future.

Though people usually consider healthcare in Italy to be high-quality in how it provides care for vulnerable groups, it was unprepared to deal with the pandemic, devastating the aging population and low-income families. Accountability for nursing homes and aid to impoverished citizens must be part of the plan going forward, as well as more efficient central planning to deal with future emergencies.

Elise Brehob
Photo: Flickr