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Childhood Cancer
Cancer is a disease that has gripped the nation for decades. Given its aggressive nature and ability to target anyone, the illness has earned significant public attention and resources. In the United States alone, approximately 10,500 children aged 15 or younger were diagnosed with cancer in 2021. Thankfully, the survival rate for children diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. is about 80%. Yet in low- and medium-income countries (LMIC), where this disease is even more prominent, the survival rate is less than 30%. That is why the World Health Organization (WHO) and St. Jude Research Hospital are teaming up to target LMIC with high childhood cancer rates and poor access to cancer medication.

Moreover, pediatric cancer has substantially increased since the 1970s. Since 1975, the cancer rate in children under 19 has increased by 27%. Less mentioned is that 85%-90% of childhood cancer cases occur in LMIC countries that possess less than 5% of the world’s resources.

St. Jude Research Hospital and WHO Partnership

On December 13, 2021, WHO and St. Jude announced the Global Platform for Access to Childhood Cancer Medicines, their partnership to fight cancer in LMICs. St. Jude is a research center and hospital that seeks cures and prevention for diseases that target children. The team pledged $200 million for use between 2022 and 2027. The two-year pilot phase will target 12 countries and after that, the program will expand to 50 LMICs. In addition to aiding countries in need obtain cancer medication, this process includes consolidating and shaping global markets, setting new treatment standards and improving the information systems used to track innovations. While St. Jude and WHO have not yet selected the countries, all will be countries with high rates of childhood cancers and limited access to available treatments.

Program Launch to Raise Awareness

WHO has used this program to shed light on the difficulties that developing countries face when addressing the health of young children. A WHO Noncommunicable Disease Country Capacity survey published in 2020 reported that of all low-income countries, only 29% reported availability of cancer medications within their populations. Contrastingly, 96% of developed countries attested to having consistent and reliable access to cancer treatments.

A Symbol of Hope

The next few years will serve as a pilot period for testing the new program and its distribution methods on a global scale. Childhood cancer rates require a diligent focus given the widespread nature of the disease. Nevertheless, St. Jude Research Hospital and WHO are making history through their dedicated partnership addressing global health needs. The wide scale of the program, although it still has a long way to go, presents significant hope in the long battle against childhood cancer in developing countries.

– Chloé D’Hers
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Air pollution in Sub-Saharan Africa 
Air pollution is the release of pollutants into the air that are harmful to human health and the environment. Such pollutants could be gases, particles or biological molecules. The slightest increase or decrease in the structure of gases could lower the survival chances of any living thing. Air pollution in sub-Saharan Africa is a particular challenge that requires attention.

Why Are Low-Income Populations Home to Air Pollution?

“Air pollution is a threat to health in all countries, but it hits people in low-and middle-income countries the hardest,” said World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The relationship between poverty and air pollution in sub-Saharan countries is evident since poor people are most likely to be exposed to higher concentrations of air pollutants. In contrast, high-income countries seem to have a lower rate of exposure to air pollution.

Environmental experts Paul Mohai and Robin Saha conducted a study in 2015. It examined the U.S. communities before and after hazardous waste facilities were present. The study found that facilities between 1966 and 1995 chose to locate in areas with low-income family populations.

Mohai and Saha believe that facilities move into low-income areas because of the cheap land cost, low cost of labor and minimum community resistance. The presence of these facilities and air pollution leaves low-income countries to face the consequences.

What Are the Health Effects of Air Pollution?

Air pollution holds the largest environmental impact on human health. It can cause a reduction in lung growth and function, respiratory infections and aggravated asthma in any child exposed. According to CNN, all adults are at risk for developing cancer, chronic bronchitis, asthma and other respiratory diseases.

More specifically, cardiovascular disease is an ailment that plagues sub-Saharan Africa due to household air pollution. Solid fuels for cooking, heating and lighting are the main perpetrators of this disease.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), household air pollution (HAP) was responsible for 4.3 million premature deaths in 2012 from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and cancers. Research proves that the level of HAP surpasses the recommended WHO guidelines and the number of people exposed to pollutants has increased from 333 million to 646 million.

Respiratory ailments are very common amongst children in cities with high concentrations of pollutants. According to the Open Knowledge Repository, this impairs their learning and development capabilities. Unfortunately, as adults, they end up with minimum qualifications and skills. With little education and experience, they struggle economically and live life in poverty.

Treatments are available for many of the ill-health issues that occur with air pollution. However, living in low-income countries makes access to affordable health care impossible. The relationship between ill-health and poverty seems inevitable because of this fact.

Disadvantaged people are unable to afford health care, making poverty an obstacle to overcome before receiving adequate care. As a result, families have to deal with the loss of income from out of pockets fees. To care for relatives, some family members may have to quit school or their jobs. Thus starts the never-ending cycle of struggling low-income families.

Air Pollution Monitoring

There is a significant problem with air pollution. However, the exact extent of the problem is unknown and immeasurable due to the lack of monitoring. Aware of the situation in 2019, Dan Westervelt, an associate researcher at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory received funding to install an air-pollution monitoring network in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); Kampala, Uganda; and Nairobi, Kenya. Westervelt believes that the problem of air pollution cannot reach a resolution without quantifiable data.

Monitoring provided data in Kinshasa, depicting the average fine particulate matter level to be five times greater than the normal level. Like Kinshasa, more data will be provided in the other two megacities and studied in order to address the air pollution epidemic.

Updated WHO Air Quality Guidelines

Luckily, the World Health Organization provides guidelines to ensure good health. After 15 years, WHO updated its guidelines to improve air quality. The new guidelines specify the damage that air pollution causes the human body. Their solution to revitalize human health is to reduce levels of key air pollutants and emissions.

Six pollutants could have major impacts on health if exposed to them. Those pollutants are “particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide.” Fossil fuels, wildfires and agriculture produce particulate matter.

Ground-level ozone comes from the emittance of cars, factories, plants and even some solvents. Burning fossil fuel produces nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide pollutants. Incomplete combustion containing fuel creates carbon monoxide pollutants.

If countries stay below-suggested air quality guideline levels, significant health risks could decrease. Although this may have a small impact on communities with low rates of air pollution, it would immensely impact those suffering from higher rates. With lower rates of air pollution, disadvantaged communities could have a higher survival rate and fewer health challenges.

Air pollution dominates those who are unable to afford higher quality living. Additionally, to that inability, health issues burden them further which in return starts the cycle of some poverty in sub-Saharan Africa countries.

WHO’s updated air quality guidelines have a goal to eliminate future problems of air pollution and save millions of lives. With these guidelines, air pollution in sub-Saharan Africa should reduce and sub-Saharan countries could inevitably see improvement in their quality of life.

– Destiny Jackson
Photo: Flickr

Infectious Diseases in Madagascar
Madagascar is an island country off the southeastern coast of Africa. It is famous for its unique climate, vibrant ecosystems and a Disney movie bearing its namesake. However, despite its colorful outward appearance Madagascar is not only a country that has been struggling with the burdens of extreme poverty. It is also a country that has strived to respond to the constant risks of infectious diseases in Madagascar that are rampant throughout its population.

5 Facts About Infectious Diseases in Madagascar

  1. Of the top 10 leading causes of death in Madagascar, four are infectious diseases. Compared to the United States, which only has one infectious disease in its top 10 causes of death, Madagascar’s rate of death due to these largely preventable illnesses is staggering. These four killers are diarrheal diseases, lower respiratory infections, malaria and tuberculosis. Diarrheal diseases and lower respiratory infections, the top two leading causes of death in Madagascar, are not on the lists of countries such as the United States. Easily preventable simply through clean water and relatively basic medical equipment and treatment, these infectious diseases are just one of many lethal circumstances stemming from poverty.
  2. More than 60% of the population of Madagascar lives far from health centers. Additionally, the methods of travel are dangerous and difficult. Underdeveloped and often undermanaged roads and means of travel are when coupled with the scarcity of adequate care, literally a hard road to health. All four of the leading causes of death by infectious diseases are prevalent in Madagascar are preventable and treatable given adequate recovery time, proper equipment, medication and access to proper nutrition. However, if travel is expensive and exhausting those in need will not have the time or resources to spare to travel to one of these remote health care facilities.
  3. Diarrheal diseases are the leading cause of death in Madagascar. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2018, diarrheal diseases were responsible for 10,832 deaths or 7.88% of deaths in Madagascar. These diseases are particularly deadly due to the high rates of malnutrition in the population. Diarrheal diseases are especially draining and resource-heavy upon one’s body and for those without healthy and consistent diets coupled with the lack of potable water and adequate hygiene that may have caused the disease in the first place. Although attention for this issue is very minimal, there are efforts to help the people of Madagascar prevent these diseases through the allocation of health hygiene products and the spread of health information. Project WASH Madagascar provides information to children and adults about the importance of cleaning their hands and drinking clean water. It has been distributing WASH kits that contain additional information as well as cleaning products.
  4. Malaria rates have been steadily climbing since 2009. Deaths due to malaria in Madagascar increased by 7.5%, between 2009 and 2019. The United Nations OCHA reported an increase of malaria cases from 402,385 in 2019 to 663,558 in 2020. This may be partly due to the decrease in incoming aid and available health services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Malaria is an infectious disease that, with the proper resources, is entirely preventable and treatable. However, just as with these other infectious diseases, circumstances from poverty block the road to health and kill thousands.
  5. After a measles outbreak in 2018 – 2019, infection and death rates are almost completely down. Madagascar has been struggling to address these issues even amidst the hectic state of the world. However, it is important to acknowledge the successes that Madagascar has seen through coordination between The Ministry of Public Health and WHO and partners in combating these infectious diseases. The distribution of vaccines led to vaccine information, education and free emergency care to those in critical condition, helping control the outbreak. Between January and April of 2019, 46,187 people became infected with measles and 800 dead during a widespread measles outbreak. Medical science and collective human effort contained the measles outbreak with only 34 cases since January 2020, according to Outbreak News Today.

Looking Ahead

As the world collectively becomes intimately aware of the threats of infectious diseases, especially in cases where there is no supporting health infrastructure, the circumstances of people like those in Madagascar become plainly dire. There are measures to take and aid to disperse that would solve many of these problems. While there is a long way to go, Madagascar continues to work in the hopes of preserving its people and ensuring their safety.

– John J. Lee
Photo: Fickr

moldova's-battle-against-alcoholism
Despite only having a population of roughly 2.6 million people, alcohol consumption in Moldova has consistently been among the world’s highest. In 2016, the country was number one, with a per capita consumption of 15.2 liters among people ages 15 and up. Focusing only on the members of the population who drink, the per capita consumption was 22.8 liters. Yet, countries like Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, which consumed 27.9 liters and 24 liters respectively, passed Moldova’s consumption.

WHO reported that Moldova also had the highest percentage of deaths from alcohol-related causes – 26.1% of total deaths. About one in four deaths have a link to alcohol compared to the world average of one in 20. To put the matter in greater perspective, the population of Moldova was roughly 2.8 million in 2016, while the crude death rate was 11.45 deaths per 1,000 people. That means there were about 32,060 deaths, around 8,368 of which occurred due to alcohol-related causes.

About Alcohol Consumption in Moldova

To better understand the heavy alcohol consumption and the high number of alcohol-related deaths in Moldova, it is important to ask how and why drinking became such an issue, even when compared to countries notorious for drinking like Russia, Ukraine and Germany. One of the main contributing factors is Moldova’s wine-drinking culture and the prevalence of homemade wine. In 2016, wine made up 56.6% of the recorded alcohol consumed. Beer accounted for 16.2% and spirits made up 25.2%, according to the WHO report.

A WHO report shows that 60% of the total alcohol that people consumed in Moldova was unrecorded, compared to Russia, which had an unrecorded consumption of 24%, and Ukraine, which showed that 36% of its alcohol consumption was not on record. The majority of the unrecorded alcohol Moldovans consumed was homemade wine. However, if one bases alcohol consumption in Moldova strictly off sales data, an entirely different narrative unfolds.

According to Moldova’s official sales data from 1970 to 2015, wine consumption appears to have peaked at more than 50% of total consumption in the late 1980s. Following the 1980s, wine consumption experienced a rapid decline until 1995. After this, consumption rose slightly before falling to its lowest point in 2005 when wine consumption made up about 10% of the total. From there, it rose to just below 20%, as a study published in the European Journal of Population showed.

Understanding Wine Consumption in Moldova

The sales data makes it appear as though spirits have dominated alcohol consumption since the 1980s, it is on the decline while beer is on the rise. Meanwhile, the data implies wine consumption has accounted for the lowest share of consumption since before 2000. However, further research states that most of Moldova’s alcohol consumption is unrecorded, wine consumption is the main type of unrecorded consumption and that Moldova has a wine-drinking culture. This demonstrates how significant the issue of homemade wine really is.

There are a few significant points about the fact that people are making, buying and consuming so much homemade wine is significant. Firstly, there is the issue of the circumstances when people consume wine instead of beer and spirits. People generally consume beer and spirits for leisure, like when someone is at a party or goes out with friends, usually in the evening or at night. On the other hand, they often consume wine with meals anywhere from the afternoon onward. In addition, people also consume it at celebrations, according to the previously mentioned study.

A wine drinker could easily consume wine every day at dinner and think nothing of it. A social drinker who likes beer or spirits might at most only go out and drink with friends once or twice on weekends. In wine-drinking cultures, wine is practically a necessity with certain meals, so people in countries that have such cultures drink wine ritually. Chronic conditions like cirrhosis of the liver frequently occur due to the regular wine-drinking Moldovans engage in. The same study shows that since homemade wine is unregulated, it is unknown what all could be in it. As a result, it could be more harmful than legally distributed wine.

Anti-Alcohol Measures

Although alcohol consumption in Moldova has been significant, the situation has improved as the government and NGOs make efforts to reduce consumption, alcohol-related diseases and deaths. For decades, Moldova did not take any anti-alcohol measures after experiencing the increased life expectancy benefits of measures the Soviet Union took in 1985. Without measures in place, alcohol consumption rose to more than 23 liters per adult in 1997. By 2004, it was above 21 liters.

Efforts to Reduce Alcohol Consumption and Deaths

In 2012, the government adopted the National Program on Alcohol Control that would be in effect until 2020. A few of the measures within the program were raising the age requirement to buy alcohol, reducing the legal blood-alcohol level for drivers and raising the price floor on certain alcohol products. The first and third measures, however, could simply drive people to consume cheaper, homemade alcohol.

In a low-middle income country, heavy alcohol consumption can slash deep into many Moldovan’s budgets. Homemade wine that is cheaper than milk is alluring to drinkers living in poverty. It is satisfying and worsening their alcohol addictions, which in turn leads to spending more money on alcohol. This is why the charity Mission Without Borders has provided regular food packages to 500 families struggling with alcoholism. However, according to Time, people sometimes exchange these packages for alcohol.

In 2014, Dr. Andrei Usatîi, Moldova’s Minister of Health, initiated a nationwide alcohol awareness campaign to inform Moldovans about the dangers of alcohol abuse. The automobile club “Automobil Club din Moldova” conducted a survey of 9,000 drivers as part of its 2015 anti-drunk driving campaign. Only 15% of Moldovan drivers knew the legal blood alcohol content for drivers. However, 16.75% of respondents claimed they were used to driving after drinking heavily. In 2012, WHO found that 69% of Moldovan drinkers are unconcerned about future alcohol-related health problems. Also, 81% do not plan to start drinking less.

The Future of Alcohol Consumption in Moldova

With alcohol-related causes accounting for 26.1% of deaths in Moldova, a country that at times has consumed more alcohol than anywhere, serious changes must occur. WHO projects that alcohol consumption will only be down to 15.1 liters from 15.2 in 2025. However, government and NGO efforts can bring consumption down further. Informing the people and taking measures against alcohol, particularly homemade wine, is essential for reducing casualties and chronic diseases.

Nate Ritchie
Photo: Flickr

infectious-diseases-impacting-malaysia-during-covid-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has diverted the world’s attention from the spread of other infectious diseases across the globe. However, the battle of the Malaysian government against other infectious diseases has never stopped. According to Health Minister Dr. Adham Baba, despite the pandemic, efforts to prevent and control the spread of infectious diseases in Malaysia are still ongoing. In fact, as of March 2020, the government has updated The Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases (Measures within the Infected Local Areas) Regulations to better coordinate the measures it was implementing between controlling the COVID-19 pandemic and the transmission of other infectious diseases in Malaysia. Here is information about three infectious diseases impacting Malaysia as well as how the country is dealing with them.

Dengue Fever

Dengue fever has existed in Malaysia since 1902 when reports of the first case emerged. The bite of infectious mosquitoes spreads dengue fever, resulting in it affecting a large fraction of the population in Malaysia. Most affected are those living in impoverished areas because they have an abundance of stagnant water bodies that are ideal for the breeding of Aedes mosquitoes.

Surprisingly though, from January to August 2021, the Malaysian government reported only a total of 16,565 dengue cases as compared to the 63,988 cases in 2020. With an approximately 94% decrease in the total number of dengue cases across the nation, the government is optimistic about continuing and committing to the current effective measures, maintaining overall cleanliness in residential areas as well as public spaces with frequent mosquito fogging operations.

Tuberculosis (TB)

Tuberculosis (TB) is an air-borne infection affecting the lungs. Like dengue, it is also one of the most common infectious diseases primarily impacting those living under the strain of poverty in Malaysia. Overcrowded and poorly ventilated residential areas facilitate TB in low-cost flats all around Malaysia. On average, the number of cases documented throughout the nation has fluctuated and varied in its trend but up to 2019, around 92 in 100, 000 people have been diagnosed in Malaysia.

In Selangor alone, more than 3,500 cases have also been reported in 2020, making it essential for public awareness programs and governmental allocations to be implemented to mitigate the spread of this infectious disease in Malaysia. At the moment, the Malaysian Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis (MAPTB) is diligent in its efforts to educate the public on TB prevention and provide financial aids to diagnose and treat individuals from higher-risk groups. MAPTB is gradually making progress in educating the public about proper prevention methods and ultimately controlling the spread of TB in the country. Its plan is to do this through various online forums, conferences, newsletters and collaborations with Malaysian NGOs.

Hepatitis B

The Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is most commonly transmitted through infected blood products and unprotected sex. Affecting more than 1 million people nationwide, Hepatitis B causes acute and chronic liver infections particularly in male adults between the age of 30 to 49. In rural areas with little to no access to health care, the adverse environmental conditions and lack of proper treatment among the infected are exacerbating the infection rate of HBV.

With the hopes of eradicating the threat this infectious disease poses to the country, the Malaysian government has been proactively working toward a strategic and sustainable plan to combat the spread of HBV in Malaysia via the National Strategic Plan for Hepatitis B and C (NSPHBC) to strengthen national policies regarding prevention measures, control of transmission and the diagnosis, treatment and care of patients with the virus. By 2030, the government hopes to reduce the number of new viral hepatitis cases in Malaysia by 90% with proper diagnoses and treatment methods. This includes encompassing free HBV vaccination programs as well as mandated education for children and teenagers throughout the nation.

Solutions for Infectious Diseases Impacting Malaysia

In partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), Malaysia used to receive generous financial support from countries like Japan, Denmark and Germany up until 1998. However, the country is receiving little to no direct aid to the health sector since 2000. In regards to professional and technical development, WHO remains active in providing medical fellowships and training to health care workers in Malaysia. It is also contributing invaluable advice on disease control and specialized support for disease outbreaks in the country.

Various local NGOs such as the Consumers’ Association of Penang are also supportive in their efforts to fund novel research projects aiming to create new solutions that could mitigate the spread of infectious diseases across the country better than existing strategies.

The Future

All things considered, the Malaysian government is slowly gaining a foothold in the uphill battle of preventing and controlling the spread of infectious diseases in the country. While the future remains unknown, the Ministry of Health is resilient in its implementation of more sustainable health care policies. It is also working on the development of systems to aid in the recovery of the COVID-19 pandemic in Malaysia.

With the help of WHO and several significant NGOs across the nation, it is only a matter of time before Malaysia can truly gain control over the spread of infectious diseases. The country should effectively manage diseases’ effects on the country’s politics and the economy as a whole.

Low Xin Yi
Photo: Unsplash

Malaria in Malawi
Malaria in Malawi remains a top concern for public health and the safety of the country. On a global scale, Malawi accounts for 2% of all malaria cases, placing it in the leading “20 countries with the highest malaria prevalence and mortality rates.” In 2019, Malawi’s population totaled more than 19 million. That same year, health facilities in the country reported almost 5.2 million cases of malaria. The sheer amount of malaria cases in Malawi is alarming in comparison to the total population number.

Malaria-endemic Regions

Looking at malaria objectively helps explain its high prevalence throughout Africa. As the World Health Organization (WHO) reported in 2019, Africa accounted for 94% of the 229 million malaria cases and 409,000 deaths worldwide. WHO notes that children younger than 5 made up 67% of these deaths. The transmission of the deadly parasite allows it to thrive in many countries throughout Africa, specifically after the spike in annual rains in November. The malaria parasite thrives in very humid, often hot and wet conditions, making Malawi a prime location for the spread of the parasite. While the country has worked to control rates of malaria in Malawi by offering health services, the country still struggles to control the sheer amount of cases present.

The Beginning of the Malaria Vaccine Pilot Program

In 2019, Malawi welcomed the world’s first malaria vaccine pilot program. The vaccine, referred to as RTS,S, targeted children ages two and younger. GlaxoSmithKline is the producer of RTS,S, which underwent clinical trials after 30 years of refining. The vaccine trials found that RTS,S was able to prevent about four out of every 10 cases of malaria. The pilot project in Malawi aimed to gather observations and evidence of actual vaccine implementation to guide WHO in its policy recommendations for the use of RTS,S on a broader scale. The criteria observed included child mortality, vaccine follow-up and vaccine safety. Although the intention of the vaccine is not to replace other preventative measures, WHO hopes to add it to its bundle of malaria prevention recommendations.

The World Health Organization Approves the Vaccine

On October 6, 2021, WHO officially endorsed the use of the RTS,S vaccine worldwide, now called the Mosquirix malaria vaccine. This approval comes after two years of trials in three African countries (including Malawi) where more than 800,000 children received the vaccine. The vaccine can prevent severe and fatal cases of malaria at a rate of 30%. Since the pilot program implementation in 2019, WHO has been able to justify the ability of countries to roll out the vaccine safely. Although the vaccine itself is not 100% effective, it works as a preventative measure, reducing the likelihood of contracting a deadly case of malaria in Malawi. The rollout of this vaccine comes after decades of unsuccessful attempts to find a form of protection against malaria.

Economic Benefits of a Preventative Measure

Access to the Mosquirix vaccine will not only protect public health and safety but will also relieve the stress on Malawi’s economy. For years, programs focused on treating malaria in Malawi reactively. Given that treatment options are more widely available than prevention methods, health system responses have centered on reactivity rather than proactivity. As a result, the first response to malaria cases is often drugs. Drugs are both expensive and difficult to obtain. Furthermore, the malaria parasite adapts over time, becoming resistant to medications and decreasing the efficacy of drugs. Access to a proactive vaccine addresses the issue beforehand, saving costs in both healthcare visits and treatments in the long run.

Moving Forward

Malaria is a unique illness in that it involves a parasite that can strike an individual several times. In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, this reality is concerning. On a yearly basis, children average a total of six malaria infections. The continued attacks on their immune systems leave them susceptible to other diseases. However, with the new vaccine comes new hope in the fight against malaria in Malawi. While the approval of the vaccine is only the first step in widespread change, the next few years present a strong opportunity for progress in some of the most vulnerable communities.

– Chloe D’Hers
Photo: Flickr

Mexican Farmers
Warmer temperatures across the globe have drastically affected farmers’ ability to produce crops, especially in arid communities. Rising temperatures increase evaporation, reducing surface water and drying out the soil. Farmers in Mexico have experienced severe drought since 2012. As of April 15, 2021, nearly 85% of Mexico’s population faced one of the worst droughts in the nation in decades. However, a local engineer in Jalisco, Mexico, created a possible solution, called the “solid rain” technique, to help struggling Mexican farmers through times of drought.

The “Solid Rain” Technique

The “solid rain” technique involves a very absorbant powdery polymer substance that farmers can mix into a formula before adding to the soil. The mixture allows moisture to stay in the ground for up to 40 days, even during times of drought. In 2012, Sergio Rico Velasco, the person who came up with the formula for “solid rain,” told Aljazeera that he sold the idea to farmers in Peru and Ecuador and intended to receive funding from the Mexican government to expand the project to help more farmers in Mexico.

In 2013, the company said the government tested the “solid rain” technique and found that crop production increases by 300% when the technique is used correctly. More than 90% of Mexico’s crops are rainfed and farmers use 90% of the arable land for annual crops like forages and grain maize. Farmers cannot adequately produce the large supply of crops that rely on rain during Mexico’s ongoing droughts. As a result, technological advances like “solid rain” are even more crucial for farmers.

The United States directly benefits from agricultural production in Mexico. For example, in 1998, Mexico’s fruit and vegetables to the U.S. amounted to $2.9 billion and meat and fish exports generated $71 billion. Coffee and cocoa exports from Mexico to the U.S. equaled $682 million.

Water Access

Natural disasters and a changing environment negatively affect access to resources in Mexico. For example, clean water in Mexico is limited due to the hotter temperatures and drought, subsequently drying up Mexico’s water resources. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), increased levels of arsenic exist in about 60% of Mexico’s water resources, affecting 6.5 million children that drink hazardous water.

In Mexico’s valley, communities rely on water sources like rivers and lakes. However, these sources are dwindling due to an overharvest of river and lake resources.

Other organizations, like One Earth, are regularly visiting homes throughout Mexico City to supply communities with a technological system to harvest rainwater. Workers gather supplies like a “first flush diverter,” a water tank, piping and filters, and install the systems on the roof of houses in Mexico City. Ten years after it began, the organization has been installing around 50 systems per day. Thousands of homes that did not have a connection to the Mexican City’s water system now have access to rain harvesting systems and no longer need to rely on trucks to deliver water to their homes.

Though long-term drought is not likely to change soon in Mexico, initiatives to increase crop production through the use of “solid rain” and technology advances like rainwater harvesting systems are helping to mitigate the challenges individuals face in the nation. Hopefully, with new technological advancements, Mexican farmers will be able to produce crops more efficiently.

– Makena Roberts
Photo: Flickr

Delay in Administering Booster Shots
In early September 2021, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and other WHO officials called for a delay in administering booster shots until the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more accessible to low-and middle-income countries. While wealthier nations are already offering booster shots to their fully vaccinated citizens to protect against COVID-19, other low-income countries, such as the African nation of Burundi, are just recently rolling out their first round of vaccines. WHO officials argue that these doses of booster shots would be more beneficial in ending the global pandemic if countries allocate them to developing nations instead.

Prioritizing Developing Nations

This is not the first time WHO officials called for a delay in administering booster shots as Ghebreyesus previously recommended the postponement of boosters until at least the end of September 2021. However, with many nations disregarding this request, the WHO is now calling for nations to pause booster shots until the end of 2021.

Burundi, a poverty-stricken country in Africa, has noted more than 12,000 cases of COVID-19 as of September 1, 2021. However, Burundi accepted its first supply of COVID-19 vaccines only in August 2021. Thus, at this point, a significant portion of the nation remains unvaccinated. These circumstances stand in stark contrast to countries such as Israel that are now offering booster shots to all vaccinated individuals ages 12 and older.

Each booster a nation dispenses comes with opportunity costs. Researchers argue that every booster shot a nation administers constitutes an inoculation that could go toward vaccinating an individual from an underdeveloped nation. These booster shots in wealthier countries ultimately deprive many at-risk populations within low- and middle-income countries of a chance at surviving COVID-19. Without a majority vaccinated population, these nations struggle to thwart the overall spread of the virus in their countries.

The Need for Booster Shots

While Ghebreyesus accepts that higher-risk portions of the population may benefit from booster shots, he believes boosters are unnecessary for low-risk groups. “We do not want to see widespread use of boosters for healthy people who are fully vaccinated,” he said. Furthermore, WHO officials maintain that there is a lack of evidence to suggest that booster shots are beneficial for protecting against COVID-19. Until this proof is available, vaccine doses will likely be more useful if the world prioritizes redirection and distribution of these shots to developing nations.

Compliance for the Moratorium on Boosters

Despite the initial failure of the first moratorium placed on booster shots, WHO officials believe that this time, nations are taking the moratorium more seriously. WHO official Dr. Bruce Aylward has stated that several countries are taking this plea into consideration, delaying their distributions of booster shots. Additionally, some vaccine manufacturers are pledging to supply lower- and middle-income countries with vaccines rather than wealthier nations that already have an ample supply.

As of September 1, 2021, about 73% of the global population was not vaccinated. Many of these unprotected individuals come from underdeveloped nations with lacking resources. Meanwhile, several wealthy nations are administering booster shots to healthy individuals. As the world continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to prioritize global vaccine equity as even one nation without adequate protection from COVID-19 means the whole world is without protection.

– River Simpson
Photo: Flickr

Upcycled Water Bottles
The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that, since January 3, 2020, there have been more than 1.6 million official cases of COVID-19 in Thailand. While the country has around 70 million people, the data demonstrate a significant rate of infection. As of October 4, 2021, approximately 55 million of Thailand’s citizens have had vaccines administered to them. Thankfully, this is not the only good news to come out of the country’s battle with the COVID-19 pandemic. The textile company Thai Taffeta has recently come up with a sustainable means of fighting off the virus, involving upcycled water bottles.

Reduce: How Thai Taffeta PPE Came to Be

During the height of the pandemic, personal protective equipment (PPE) in Thailand was alarmingly scarce. This shortage increased medical staff’s risk of contracting COVID-19 while also exposing them to other hazardous diseases and potential injuries. At the same time, as the Southeast Asian country with the second-largest economy, Thailand’s consumerism creates a lot of plastic waste. When the general rate of infection of COVID-19 in Thailand grew and protection gear started dwindling in hospitals, a textile company based in Bangkok introduced a new, life-saving technology. As of September 3, 2021, Thai Taffeta has been using the nation’s overabundance of plastic waste — mostly upcycled water bottles — as an advantage, subsequently saving lives and helping the environment.

Reuse: How Thai Taffeta Makes its PPE

According to Thai Taffeta, it takes about 18 upcycled water bottles to make one PPE suit. Thus far, Thai Taffeta has collected about 18 million plastic bottles to create personal protective equipment. The process is relatively simple and involves reducing the typical resources necessary for making protective gear and breaking down the plastic waste into malleable filaments that then get upcycled. Donated fibers are combined with the upcycled material. The product is the PPE necessary for doctors and medical staff to better equip themselves with while facing the threat of infection.

Thai Taffeta’s executive vice president, Supoj Chaiwilal, said that the fabrics are “made of 100% recycled PET yarns to produce Level 3 PPE coveralls.” This particular level of protection ensures that the suits are water-resistant and can even keep out blood and viruses from the external environment. Manufacturers dye some of the gear a reddish-orange color for a select group of the PPE’s recipients: Buddhist monks.

Recycle: Accessibility of PPE

While Buddhist monks have access to this textile innovation, needing it to conduct cremation processes safely, it is also available to high-risk patients. Though Thailand’s response to the pandemic was relatively strong, it was not without weaknesses. Had the government not responded to the economic crisis with relief measures, the poverty rate in Thailand would have increased to an estimated 7.4% in the span of one year. However, the 6.2% of Thailand’s population living under the poverty line, who are more susceptible to infection and fiscal devastation, could certainly benefit from a maintained social protection program implemented by the country’s government. Therefore, the introduction of sustainable personal protective equipment in Thailand is critical for health safety in the fight against COVID-19. PPE to more individuals better allows for a deceased spread from continuing to permeate and affect the lives of low-income families.

Looking Forward

Thai Taffeta’s website boasts, “All for one[,] the journey of sustainability.” Indeed, the upcycled plastic waste personal protective equipment in Thailand is an innovation many people marvel at. Operating in a cyclically economic mode, the broken down plastic serves to benefit the environment and reduce the number of resources needed to create new goods while also combatting the rate of infection. The slogan also touches on the immense value of a unified fight against the virus, pressing for eradicating disparate circumstances while simultaneously urging the upper classes to be considerate in their consumption and contribute funding toward these suits.

– Maia Nuñez
Photo: Flickr

HIV and AIDS in Kyrgyzstan
Human rights groups and legal organizations are working to protect the rights of Kyrgyz living with HIV and AIDs. As it currently stands, in a country already plagued with poverty and inequality, those with HIV and AIDs in Kyrgyzstan experience discrimination and violence, and have inadequate access to state services. Organizations aim to change this.

Kyrgyzstan’s HIV and AIDs Epidemic

Beginning in 1996, but growing immensely in 2001, HIV and AIDs in Kyrgyzstan rapidly spread throughout the nation. The virus was especially prevalent among the impoverished, which at the time, around 2003, affected 68% of the population. Fueled by poverty and unemployment, prostitution and injected drug use promoted the spread of HIV and AIDs.

Despite all the aid Kyrgyzstan received during the HIV/AIDs epidemic, such as when the World Health Organization (WHO) provided affordable antiretroviral drugs to the country, the government did not handle the overall HIV/AIDs crisis well. For instance, the government failed to adhere to a 2005 law passed per “international norms of eligibility” guaranteeing “social protection for people living with HIV/AIDs and social security assurance” for citizens living with HIV and AIDs in Kyrgyzstan. Instead, these people live in constant fear of losing their homes and jobs, face deportation and illegal detention as well as violence and stigma simply because of their HIV/AIDs affliction. These people need help in the form of improved access to treatment and equality.

Besides the discrimination that Kyrgyz with HIV and AIDs endure, the government did not take advantage of the WHO’s support with care protocols and control and prevention measures. The government also mismanaged the millions of U.S. dollars received from the Global Fund to Fight AIDs, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the United States Agency for International Development, the United Kingdom Department for International Development and the World Bank. This is evident in the rising number of children and adults living with HIV, with less than 500 people in Kyrgyzstan living with HIV in 2003 in comparison to 9,200 as of 2020.

Taking Action

Adilet, “the largest human rights and legal services organization in Kyrgyzstan,” and an NGO called The Public Foundation “Positive Dialogue,” are doing a lot to help people living with HIV and AIDs in Kyrgyzstan. The organizations protect their rights and provide them with legal services for free.

For example, Adilet lawyers and activists convinced the country’s Constitutional Court to allow people with HIV to adopt children and become parents. Additionally, in July 2021, they won a case for a child infected with HIV in a Kyrgystan medical institution in the mid to late 2000s, getting the child more than $20,000 in compensation.

The 10-10-10 Targets

To make further progress in the HIV/AIDs arena and to create a more “enabling environment for ending AIDs,” global organizations have presented the 10-10-10 targets:

  • “less than 10% of countries have punitive legal and policy conditions that prohibit or restrict access to services.”
  • “less than 10% of key populations and people living with HIV face discrimination and stigma.”
  • “less than 10% of women, girls, people living with HIV and key populations face violence and gender inequality.”

Organizations are hoping to reach these targets by 2025. Hopefully, with the help of groups like Adilet, Kyrgyz affected by HIV/AIDs can look to a brighter future.

– Jared Faircloth
Photo: Unsplash