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Children with Disabilities
A staggering amount of children live with disabilities. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the global average of children with disabilities is at 15%. However, in Tajikistan, only 0.8% of the child population lives with disabilities according to UNICEF. Although this may be a small number, UNICEF believes that this official statistic of children with disabilities in Tajikistan may be much lower than than the actual number of children.

One of the main reasons for the lowered report is that the process to have children screened is quite complicated and nonuniform across Tajikistan. Parents must have their children evaluated through the Pedagogical, Medical, Psychological Consultation and Medical, Pedagogical Commissions in order for their children to receive an official diagnosis of having a disability. Furthermore, children with disabilities frequently experience discrimination due to social stigmas and incorrect perceptions about disabilities in general. The children may not receive adequate education due to the lack of resources and training to facilitate children with disabilities. Their families may even abandon or institutionalize them due to poverty and social stigmas. Thus, local and international organizations such as UNICEF, Association of Parents of Children with Disabilities and Association to Aid Refugees Japan have come together to help support vulnerable children.

UNICEF Tajikistan

UNICEF Tajikistan has been working fervently to advocate for children’s rights in Tajikistan so they can live a life free of discrimination and social limitations. The organization supports the children and their families with the proper tools along with working with the government. In 2018, the government put the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into action. That year, it also worked with UNICEF to establish the National Disability Inclusion Campaign.

The campaign works to transform social perceptions and stigmas so that children with disabilities may enjoy rights equal to their counterparts who do not live with disabilities. UNICEF also works with civil society organizations such as the Association of Parents and Children with Disabilities and the National Association of Persons with Disabilities of Tajikistan. Furthermore, it also advocates for community-based rehabilitation so that persons with disabilities may use their skills to their maximum potential and experience full integration into society.

Association of Parents of Children with Disabilities

In Tajikistan, a network of parents has come together to support children with disabilities in Tajikistan by advocating for their rights and inclusion in society along with access to health care and education. The Association gained permission from its local government to build a center for support groups and provide resources for parents of children with disabilities. One of the special projects that the group took was to go around schools in Dushanbe to carry out the “Lessons of Kindness” in classes. These lessons allowed students to learn how to treat and engage with children with disabilities. They learned to value the lives of every individual with or without disabilities. Children with disabilities also lead these lessons, building more confidence and creativity in themselves.

Association to Aid Refugees Japan (AAR Japan)

With the funds received from the Japanese government, Association to Aid Refugees Japan (AAR Japan) works with the Ministry of Education and Science and the Dushanbe City Department of Education to advocate for inclusive education in Japan. AAR Japan works to transform school buildings and provide materials for children with disabilities. It has installed wheelchair ramps and handrails in order to create a disability-friendly building in several Dushanbe schools. Furthermore, it has provided educational materials, equipment and devices to further assist children with disabilities in the classrooms. Along with providing tangible equipment and materials, AAR Japan also holds seminars, training and activities to educate students, teachers and government officials on how to create an inclusive environment for children with disabilities.

The road to having a fully inclusive society for children with disabilities in Tajikistan may still be far ahead, but UNICEF, the Association of Parents of Children with Disabilities and AAR Japan, among many, are working towards seeing that future realized. With the helping hands of these organizations, children are receiving the education and materials they need to succeed, and families are understanding what it means to reverse social stigmas and provide for the needs of their children.

– Hakyung Kim
Photo: Flickr

Suriname is Changing
Suriname is among the many countries that COVID-19 has affected, specifically in its health care and political systems. The pandemic revealed the underbelly of Suriname’s existing health system. The country has since been guiding officials toward a more adequate system and the political climate in Suriname is changing. The election on May 25, 2020, brought in Chan Santokhi as the new president succeeding the decade-long leader, Desi Bouterse.

Former President Desi Bouterse

Desi Bouterse tightly held the reins in Suriname for years as an influential political force. Bouterse was a prominent figure in overthrowing the first leader of Suriname, Henck Arron, after the country’s independence. He was chairman of the National Military Council for a majority of the 80s and became president in 2010.

Bouterse has a significant history of controversial actions. In November 2019, Surinamese judges decided that Bouterse was guilty of murder and found him responsible for the death of 15 of his opponents in December 1982 because he commanded his soldiers to kill them. This long-standing trial started in 2007 when he stated that he had “political responsibility” but took no personal responsibility for what had happened. Although he received a 20-year sentence, the police did not issue any arrest warrants for Bouterse. He also denied allegations of smuggling more cocaine into the Netherlands, which the Dutch court convicted him of doing in 1999.

President Chan Santokhi

In 2020, Desi Bouterse saw the end of his long career. Chan Santokhi was victorious over Bouterse in the elections in May 2020. Mr. Santokhi was a former police chief who investigated the past president for his alleged murders in 1982. Although he has won the seat as leader, there are still many obstacles he must overcome after inheriting Bouterse’s Suriname. Suriname is battling a horrible financial crisis, political corruption and the coronavirus.

The new president has much to accomplish, but there may be hope for Suriname. Chan Santokhi may be able to overturn the economic crisis in Suriname by utilizing its newly found offshore oil by 2026.

Health Care Deficiencies

COVID-19 is touching the lives of those in Suriname, and the virus is quickly exposing the deficiencies in its health care system. First, tropical rainforest covers most of the land and houses many Indigenous and marginalized populations. Those who live in these deeply remote areas are unable to receive essential health care.

Second, Suriname has an insufficient workforce in the health care sector at about eight physicians and 23 nurses per 10,000 people. It is also suffering from a lack of specialists who can work in ICUs.

Third, Suriname does not have a structured effective response plan in case of emergencies as the country is not susceptible to natural disasters except for the occasional flooding. With resources going toward COVID-19 treatment, Suriname is recognizing its lack of resources to provide other health services not pertaining to the virus.

Actions to Fight Against COVID-19

At the beginning of 2020, the country’s ministry of health took immediate action and gathered a public health response team to combat the virus. This team worked with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), World Health Organization (WHO) and Universal Health Coverage Partnership to bolster the health care system and provide effective plans for current and future disease outbreaks.

The organizations are also working to implement universal health coverage in Suriname. With the help of these organizations and international funding, Suriname is working to effectively save lives through a better health care system, a protected workforce, containment of COVID-19 and preparation for future epidemics. Suriname is changing and improving its current public health system for the present as well as the future.

Regardless of the brutalities many face due to COVID-19, it has also brought positive changes to the people of Suriname. The country was able to take down a controversial leader and new plans to improve its emergency response and public health system are in progress. Hopefully, with the turn of a new post-COVID-19 era, Suriname is changing for the better.

San Sung Kim
Photo: Flickr

Economy in the DRC
On June 25, 2020, the Ministry of Health of the Democratic Republic of Congo declared that the 10th Ebola outbreak was over in three provinces. With the rise of COVID-19 cases in the country, Ebola cases have also increased significantly as social distancing became difficult in medical facilities. As of August 13, 2020, there have been 86 confirmed Ebola cases in the northwest Equateur province. As of July 3, 2020, there were a total of 3,481 cases in the entire country. With Ebola and COVID-19 cases rising, medical costs, personnel and resources will heavily affect the economy as government officials scramble to contain the outbreaks. Here is some information about how Ebola has affected the economy in the DRC.

Keeping Inflation in Check

The recent outbreaks in the Equateur province are in remote areas, regions that are difficult for medical supplies to reach. The lack of access to these areas requires an increase in medical cost support, however, the DRC currently cannot shoulder the financial burden due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The economy in the DRC has been stressed because of COVID-19 costs and has been adjusting rates in order to control inflation. During the week of August 10, the Central Bank of DRC increased the key interest rate from 7.5% to 18.5% in order to prevent inflation. Despite the pandemic, Central Bank experts are expecting an increase in the economic growth of 2.4% at the end of 2020. This would be a downward trend from expectations at the beginning of 2020.

Tracking COVID-19 and Ebola

The DRC will only be able to contain both viruses if it can properly document progression and transmission. However, the DRC has more than 500 regions of difficult terrain that do not have access to basic resources. These remote, populous areas are unable to receive medical resources or be properly tracked. They have less access to electricity, medical personnel and resources. The economy in the DRC has exacerbated most funds in order to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that almost 13,000 people have received vaccinations since the 11th Ebola outbreak that started near the end of July 2020.

International Aid

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is delivering an additional $7.5 million in humanitarian assistance to the DRC for Ebola. With these funds and WHO’s vaccine distribution procedures, testing facilities and medical personnel volunteers, the DRC will be able to more efficiently combat these pandemics.

Additionally, the DRC is receiving a $363 million loan from the International Monetary fund, $47 million from the World Bank and $40 million in emergency funds from the United Nations to strengthen the economy. These monetary aids will go toward the COVID-19 medical response, 11th Ebola outbreak vaccinations and necessary medical facilities.

Conclusion

Despite battling two pandemics at once, the DRC has maintained its composure and enacted the proper medical responses with the resources it has. The economy in the DRC has suffered because of the new Ebola outbreak. However, the DRC’s mission and determination to wipe out the last of the Ebola infections are unparalleled by previous responses. The DRC is on track to declaring another Ebola outbreak over.

Aria Ma
Photo: Flickr

Diseases in Sao Tome and Principe
Sao Tome and Principe is a developing country located on the African west coast. More than two-thirds of the population of this small island state lives on under $3.20 a day and faces the effects of critical disease. However, many organizations are working with the country to fight the war against diseases in Sao Tome and Principe.

Common Diseases in Sao Tome and Principe

Three of the most common diseases in Sao Tome and Principe are tuberculosis (TB), malaria and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

TB is an airborne disease caused mainly by air droplets that someone infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis transmits; it is endemic in Sao Tome and Principe. TB can cause various pulmonary symptoms and affect the lymphatic system, joints and even the central nervous system.

Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease; it is common in the country. Malaria can be very fatal to the victims and cause them to suffer from flu-like symptoms and high fevers.

Finally, HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system and can lead to dangerous acquired immunodeficiency symptoms (AIDS); it is still a significant problem in Sao Tome and Principe.

Key Players in Supporting Sao Tome and Principe

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Fund have been key players in supporting the fight against diseases in Sao Tome and Principe. Since 2005, the organizations have funded the country in its efforts against HIV, TB and malaria.

Over the years, the organizations have spent $4.5 million for HIV, $3.9 million for TB and $25.4 million for malaria. Through this funding, the UNDP has been able to ally with the National TB Program to develop various treatment and education plans for patients. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2016, there was a 63% decrease in TB mortality since 2000, a 95% detection rate for the disease and a 78% success rate in treating patients.

The UNDP also runs an HIV program; it supports those living with HIV and counsels populations who are at a higher risk for HIV about preventative actions. From 2008 to 2014, the prevalence rate of HIV among 15 to 49-year-olds declined from 1.5% to 0.5%. According to UNDP’s data from 2018, 249,700 people received counseling and HIV testing.

Sao Tome and Principe observed its greatest success in defeating malaria. Mortality rates from malaria have declined from 3.9 to 0.5 cases per 100,000 people. Although the Global Fund is no longer supporting the malaria program, it helped distribute 503,000 bed nets, reaching 100% of the population, and treated 56,800 cases of malaria according to UNDP in 2018. The incidence of malaria morbidity decreased from 65.5 to 11.3 cases per 1,000 people in the time frame between 2012 and 2016. Further, UNDP has granted approximately another $6 million to support the complete eradication of malaria and further control TB and HIV.

Others in the Fight to Eradicate Diseases in Sao Tome and Principe

Although UNDP and the Global Fund have been the major players in supporting the country, there are other groups that have helped toward the goal of eradication of critical diseases in Sao Tome and Principe. In 2015, Brazil spent over $500,000 to build a laboratory that would be focused on diagnosing and treating TB. This laboratory would ensure that the patients would receive quicker lab results and correct diagnoses.

Medical Care Development International, a nonprofit organization, has also taken up a project that will last from 2019-2023. It aims to bolster the ability of the military to provide HIV/AIDs care for its members and population in Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe. The project will increase its capacity to provide care in the military health facilities and laboratories.

A Ray of Hope for Sao Tome and Principe

Despite the dangers of malaria, TB and HIV, the people of Sao Tome and Principe can have hope in the fact that there are many international allies willing to provide support in their fight against these diseases. These common diseases in Sao Tome and Principe may still impose fatal effects on its victims; however, Sao Tome and Principe is not alone in its fight to protect its people.

San Sung Kim
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Palestine
Palestine is an occupied state in West Asia with scattered claims over territories now under Israeli occupation, including Gaza, which borders the Mediterranean Sea and West Bank bordering Jordan. The territories of West Bank and Gaza alone are home to 5 million Palestinian people. Decades of conflict with Israel over territorial disputes has left the country ravaged. Poverty, malnutrition and the worsening humanitarian situation in the region have deeply affected the living conditions in Palestine. This has caused increased child poverty in Palestine.

A UNICEF report in 2018 predicted that around 1 million children in Palestine were in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Additionally, it stated that one-third of the population was living below the poverty line with unemployment rates in Gaza peaking at 53.7%. The current COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation worse for Palestinian children. The Ministry of Social Development of Palestine suggested in April 2020 that nearly 53,000 families in Palestine were at risk of poverty in the very first few months of the pandemic. Here are some facts about COVID-19 and how it has impacted child poverty in Palestine.

5 Facts About Child Poverty in Palestine During the COVID-19 Pandemic

  1. Crisis in Gaza: The territory of Gaza, which is one of the most populated areas in the world, has been under a blockade that Israel imposed since 2003. This has further severed access to humanitarian assistance in the region. In September 2020, the Special Rapporteur of the situation of Human Rights in Palestinian Territory commented that Gaza was on a brink of being unliveable. The prolonged blockade also led to a weak healthcare system in Gaza with hospitals lacking funding, medications, equipment and supplies. With closely packed settlements devoid of any prospect of physical distancing, frail healthcare systems and lack of basic humanitarian access, the COVID-19 virus has been ravaging the area and is massively affecting Palestine’s children. As of April 2020, over 17% of the population with COVID-19 in Gaza and West Bank were children.
  2. Education: According to a UNICEF report, as of 2018, nearly 25% of boys and 7% of girls in Palestine had to drop out of school by the age of 15. With an inflating economy, numerous job losses and an increasing number of parents unable to afford expenses related to education and transportation, these numbers may be higher by the end of 2020. The closing down of schools and transition to remote learning has had a deep impact on the education of children in Palestine. Data by the World Health Organization (WHO) suggested that around 1.43 million children in Palestine were required to learn remotely, while 360,000 children lacked access to the internet.
  3. The Detainment of Children: Israel has detained a large number of Palestinian children. According to the U.N. Human Rights Office in the occupied Palestinian territory, 194 children were facing detention as of March 2020. Children in detention do not only face a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, but they also experience torture and violence. A large number of children have also received convictions without committing any offense. The U.N. has called for the immediate release of Palestinian children in Israel, expressing valid concerns over the status and condition of detained children at a time when Israel has put a hold on legal proceedings and has suspended visits to prisons. With no foreseeable help, several Palestinian children are still in detention centers.
  4. Electricity and Water: Living conditions have degraded further due to the recent decision of the Government of Israel to block the fuel necessary for the operation of the only power plant in Gaza. Electricity supply, water treatment and sewage facilities in Gaza were heavily dependent on the power plant in Gaza. However, the lack of fuel has severely impacted health facilities, electricity supply and access to clean water to children in Gaza. Families in Gaza are struggling to thrive on reminiscent fuel resources, and are able to access electricity for only three hours in a day. This has also had a major impact on hospitals and healthcare systems as a lack of electricity is challenging their effectiveness. The region may soon run out of clean water, leaving children devoid of water to drink or wash hands with.
  5. Solutions: Amidst this double crisis lingering upon the children of Palestine, agencies of the United Nations including UNICEF, the United Nations Relief Works Agency and World Health Organization (WHO) have been working intensively to provide relief to children and eradicate child poverty in Palestine. UNICEF and the Government of Palestine have issued recommendation-based solutions in order to ensure the rights of children during the pandemic while the UNRWA continues to provide aid to displaced Palestinian children. WHO has also come up with a response strategy through coordination of the various U.N. agencies and NGOs in order to combat violence and poverty among children, food insecurity, fragile health care systems and more. However, these organizations lack the funds to operate at their full capacity.

In the face of the current pandemic, child poverty in Palestine may spike at a rapid rate, which could result in a setback of a whole generation. Children in Palestine need the immediate and urgent attention of the world community so that another generation does not have to live with poverty, malnutrition and underdevelopment with immensely poor living conditions.

– Prathit Singh
Photo: Flickr

local production of medical suppliesAs developing countries struggle to meet their medical supply needs, many organizations have attempted to address these needs through the global supply chain. However, this system is often inefficient and inadequate for helping developing countries. Empowering struggling communities through the local production of medical supplies may be the key to improving medical care throughout the world.

Not Enough Oxygen

When working to improve healthcare in developing countries, aid organizations often struggle to supply adequate medical supplies in a timely manner. Supply shortages mean that these organizations fail to provide enough medical resources for these countries.

This lack of medical supplies is especially problematic during a pandemic such as COVID-19. While the pandemic has increased the need for oxygen in medical care, developing countries face the worst oxygen supply shortages. Estimates place the annual number of newborn deaths due to lack of oxygen at around 500,000.

In regions struggling with COVID-19, like Africa and the Middle East, oxygen shortages can be disastrous. Transporting oxygen tanks to these countries from the U.S. and Europe is often not efficient in cost or time. As such, the global supply chain for oxygen cannot supply these countries with what they need in a timely manner.

Not Enough Equipment

What’s more, the current response assumes that developed countries have enough supplies to meet global medical needs. This is not the case, however. According to the WHO, the global supply of personal protective equipment needed to effectively prevent the spread of COVID-19 only meets 60% of global demand. The WHO estimates that the world needs 89 million medical masks and 76 million medical gloves each month to combat the virus effectively.

These global supply chain shortages affect access to vaccines in impoverished communities in particular. More than a quarter of all vaccines have three or fewer distributers. This severely limits the access that poorer communities have to vaccines. Further, these distributors often headquarter exclusively in developed countries. This can make it even more difficult for developing countries to acquire enough vaccines to meet their own medical needs. Africa, for example, only has one vaccine manufacturer that is a member of the Developing Countries Vaccine Manufacturers Network.

Encouraging the Local Production of Medical Supplies

Rather than relying on an already struggling global supply chain, it may help more to encourage the local production of medical supplies in these countries. Having local manufacturing plants would allow vital medical equipment to reach impoverished communities much more quickly and efficiently than it otherwise could.

Since April 2020, an organization called Assist International has worked with manufacturing plants in Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia. These plants provide a local source of oxygen tanks to hospitals in these countries. So far, the program has helped more than 40 hospitals in Africa, creating a cheap and efficient system for the local production of medical supplies.

Implementing Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing also provides a possible solution to the problem of medical supply shortages. This style of manufacturing allows for the quick and cost-effective production of important medical supplies. These may include mechanical parts for ventilators, surgical equipment and even prosthetics. 3D printing is a particularly versatile tool, since it can produce different kinds of equipment without unique machinery for each. Once installed in local production facilities, 3D printers can then support a variety of production purposes. They would therefore streamline the process of the local production of medical supplies in impoverished communities.

Medical supply shortages for developing countries are an especially pressing issue. As the world faces a pandemic and global supply chains begin to fracture, many developing countries cannot meet their medical needs. Working to empower impoverished communities through the local production of medical supplies and additive manufacturing may alleviate the strain on these countries’ medical systems.

Marshall Kirk
Photo: Wikimedia

Influenza in sub-Saharan AfricaAfrica is known for being one of the world’s poorest continents. Poverty directly affects a person’s susceptibility to diseases like influenza. To combat this disease, the future of healthcare in Africa requires funding to improve accessibility in rural regions. Here’s what you need to know about influenza in sub-Saharan Africa.

Influenza in Sub-Saharan Africa

While sub-Saharan Africa only accounted for an estimated 7,000 influenza deaths in 2015, this remains the most common and deadly global disease. The mortality rate of influenza in sub-Saharan Africa affects children under the age of five and those over 75. Though the mortality rate seems low compared to the U.S., it does not take into account the presence of healthcare services in Africa versus the U.S. In contrast to Africa, the U.S. had 22,705 influenza deaths in 2015. While these statistics are higher, the U.S. also has more accessible healthcare.

Furthermore, studies have shown that influenza affects many more people than accounted for. Research from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows 40% of antibodies for flu (B) were found in community members 40 years of age and older. This reveals that the virus continued to circulate with no monitoring processes. Importantly, this lack of surveillance contributes to countries’ and NGO partners’ ability to prepare for the next outbreak.

Higher rates of influenza in sub-Saharan Africa are typically found in low to middle-income regions with little resources and access to sanitation and healthcare. In particular, influenza puts nearly “two-thirds of the 34 million” persons infected with HIV at a higher risk for infection and mortality. Existing diseases such as HIV thus put a significant amount of the African population at risk for influenza.

Healthcare in Africa

Africa continues to possess one of the world’s worst healthcare infrastructures, despite funding from the U.S. In 2006, the U.S. gave R100 billion to the South African National Health Insurance (NHI). However, the U.S. provided $28.8 billion to those uninsured in the U.S. during that year, nearly twice the amount granted for all international health.

Rural regions in sub-Saharan Africa account for 60% the population, while urban areas contain 40%. Rural regions lack accessible healthcare compared to urban regions. Due to industrialization, urban areas have greater access to healthcare facilities and university hospitals.

Across many parts of Africa, the ratio of doctors to patients “is below 1/1000 population, with the ‘ratio of physicians per 1000 population essentially unchanged between 2004 (0.77) and 2011 (0.76).” Demand for physicians within these regions is increasing. However, although Africa is producing more physicians, many migrate to the U.S. This leaves rural regions of sub-Saharan Africa with few qualified healthcare providers.

Solutions and Aid

Awareness and aid are crucial to improving infrastructure and healthcare in Africa, so that it can respond to influenza outbreaks. The W.H.O. has created the Africa Flu Alliance, finding factors leading to the underfunding of healthcare to assess its overall impact. Similarly, the Africa Flu Alliance created a “strategic road map” of targets to control influenza in sub-Saharan Africa. It hopes to influence organizations, private funding and projects to support the organization’s initiatives.

Private sectors and nonprofits contribute to approximately half of Africa’s total healthcare funding and expenditures. Twenty-two organizations and nonprofits are working to combat the gap between health services in rural and urban areas. In addition, The African Network for Influenza Surveillance and Epidemiology (ANISE) was created in 2009, with a growing network alongside the CDC. Continual meetings from 2009 to 2012 allowed officials and representatives to discuss achievements and areas of improvement.

Reducing Aid Dependency: Can It Work?

Despite the reliance on Western assistance for years, President Trump’s foreign aid budget cuts could be incredibly harmful or begin for Africa. Given the situation, governments within Africa will need to strive for improvements in monetary policies, transparency and reduced corruption. To improve self-sufficiency, experts recommend regional integration, or “the process by which two or more nation-states agree to co-operate and work closely together to achieve peace, stability and wealth.” Initiatives like Africa’s Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) will enable 54 countries to trade freely. This will improve Africa’s economic stability by an estimated 50% increase in trade.

The battle of influenza in sub-Saharan Africa correlates directly with the absence of monitoring for significant health concerns. Expanding upon the existing healthcare infrastructure can not only contain and treat disease but also help grow Africa’s economy. Surveillance will be key in this process, as statistics tell actors what they need to improve. But with the support NGOs, funding can help control influenza in sub-Saharan Africa.

Allison Lloyd
Photo: Flickr

traditional healers in africaTraditional medicine, while not as popular or widely accepted as Western medicines, is a vital part of African communities. Traditional healers in Africa are more accessible, affordable and culturally and spiritually relevant for many African people. This contributes heavily to their popularity, and it also enables them to play a role in helping respond to COVID-19.

What Is Traditional Medicine?

The World Health Organization describes traditional medicine as a practice or skill resulting from cultural beliefs and ideologies. Similar to Western medicine, traditional medicine prevents and treats physical and mental illnesses; however, traditional medicine usually uses herbs, plants or even spiritual therapies.

While traditional medicine may seem ineffective and useless to some, it is the main source of medicine for many. Due to its convenience and affordability, over 70% of Africans use herbal treatments. Given that one third of the African population does not have access to essential medicines, traditional medicine plays a central role in their health. A study in 2011 illustrated the accessibility of traditional practitioners. While most medical doctors practice in urban areas, rural areas are less fortunate. For this reason, many people rely on traditional health providers and their medications. These three countries reveal a large gap between how many traditional healers and doctors are available in a community:

  • Zimbabwe: There is one traditional practitioner for every 600 people, while there is one medical doctor for every 6,250 people.
  • Ghana: There is one traditional practitioner for every 200 people, while there is one medical doctor for every 20,000 people.
  • Mozambique: There is one traditional practitioner for every 200 people, while there is one medical doctor for every 50,000 people.

Affordable and Culturally Relevant Medicine

Not only are traditional healers in Africa more accessible, they also have affordable medicines that don’t always require payment upfront. A study conducted by the WHO in 36 middle- and low-income countries revealed that medications were too expensive for a large majority of the population. Similarly, a study on healthcare in Zimbabwe reported that traditional healers are usually the main source of care for poor communities because they have no other options.

Furthermore, traditional healers in Africa and their medicines are widely accepted by African people and culture. Even if people can afford Western medicine, then, many prefer traditional medicines. For example, some healers say that they can channel the ancestral spirit through their patients’ bodies. This is one service that professional doctors cannot provide.

How Traditional Healers in Africa Help with COVID-19

While traditional healers in Africa provide many benefits to African communities, health officials strongly advise against the use of untested traditional medicine to treat COVID-19. The WHO encourages people to wait until medicines have been tested and investigated before consuming them. In South Africa, traditional healers have been advised to refer patients experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to a higher level of care. However, the role of traditional healers during the pandemic is not limited to referrals. Here are eight jobs traditional healers in Africa perform:

  1. Referring patients to correct and suitable levels of care
  2. Educating the public to combat the spread of false information regarding COVID-19
  3. Teaching about prevention methods
  4. Helping to spread public health messages
  5. Informing people about the necessities of personal hygiene
  6. Providing counseling services
  7. Postponing large gatherings
  8. Working with the Department of Health to aid screening and messaging

Health Officials and Traditional Healers: Better Together

To effectively combat COVID-19, experts believe that health officials and the government need to work with traditional healers and not against them. Because traditional healers live in the same community as many of their patients, they have the advantage of possessing important relationships with them. Patients may therefore disregard the advice of a doctor and trust a traditional healer instead. This points to the necessity for cooperation between healers and doctors.

An example of this cooperation comes from Tanzania, where scientists are working with herbalists to help with HIV/AIDS symptoms. Some of the herbs the group is testing are known for strengthening the immune system and increasing appetites. While the team recognizes that herbal remedies won’t cure HIV, they can lessen patients’ symptoms.

With regard to COVID-19, the WHO, which accepts both traditional and alternative medicine, is doing similar tests. For example, it is currently testing plants like Artemisia annua to see if they could possibly aid in the fight against COVID-19. If more scientists, governments and health officials can work with traditional healers like this, all of their patients and communities stand to benefit.

– Sophie Dan
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 Vaccine
The World Health Organization (WHO) is making plans for how a life-saving COVID-19 vaccine could be distributed around the globe.

COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

There are concerns about countries “hoarding” stores of vaccines for their own citizens. The countries that have the most money on hand will have the ability to buy a larger portion of available vaccines for citizens. While global leaders have come together to pledge $2 billion towards the creation of a vaccine, there is currently no formal worldwide plan to successfully manage the future COVID-19 vaccine and its distribution.

The public-private partnership that lead to this $2 billion pledge, Gavi, focuses on increasing childhood vaccinations in underdeveloped countries. It has support from WHO, UNICEF and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Bill Gates himself has promised $1.6 million towards Gavi, along with $100 million to help countries that will need aid to purchase COVID-19 vaccines.

U.S. Involvement and WHO

The U.S. government has decided to stay out of the recent Gavi-organized funding pledge. The country has also pulled monetary support from WHO. In the past, the U.S. has been a large supporter of the creation of the HPV and pneumococcal vaccines, which has left many experts confused by the recent moves of the U.S. to disassociate itself from the larger global race towards a COVID-19 vaccine.

Beyond hoarding concerns, there are always issues surrounding legal and sharing agreements between countries, quality control, civil uprising and unrest and natural disasters when it comes to vaccine distribution.

A recent example of how the world dealt with vaccine distribution during a pandemic is the 2009-2010 H1N1 swine flu pandemic. With the money they had, wealthier countries purchased most of the vaccine available through early orders, leaving developing countries to scramble for leftover vaccine stores. Eyjafjallajökul’s eruption in Iceland in April of 2010 also created vaccine shipping delays. Many countries, such as the U.S., Australia and Canada would not let vaccine manufacturers ship vaccines outside of their countries without fulfilling their people’s needs first.

Going Forward

To create a successful global vaccination program requires the cooperation from all countries involved, not just a few. Many may die without the equitable sharing of vaccines as this pandemic will flourish in underdeveloped nations. It may be seen by the rest of the global community as selfish to not try and help other countries in their fight against the virus.

Even after a vaccine is created, different strains of COVID-19 could easily return to Australian, Canadian or American shores, wreaking havoc all over again. While there are efforts being made to prevent distribution issues with the future vaccine, without the help of the United States,—one of the wealthiest countries on Earth—it may be long before a COVID-19 vaccine is fairly distributed.

Tara Suter
Photo: Flickr

Mental Illness in EthiopiaEthiopia is the second most populated country in Africa, with a population of over 100 million. With such a large population comes a prevalence of poverty as well as disease. In an estimate from 2014, around 30% of Ethiopia’s population was below the poverty line. According to statistics from this year, Ethiopia also makes it onto the list of the world’s poorest countries, ranking 7th poorest in the world in both GDP growth and GDP per capita. Along with this poverty comes a myriad of diseases. The top four causes of death in Ethiopia are, in order, neonatal diseases, diarrheal diseases, lower respiratory infections and tuberculosis. While these diseases are quite well-known, Ethiopia is also plagued by another type of disease: mental illness. Mental illness in Ethiopia may not be as recognized as the other diseases that plague Ethiopian citizens but mental illness can impact overall general health and the ability to provide for one’s family.

A Troubled Past

Despite the fact that an estimated 15% of Ethiopians suffer from mental illness and substance abuse disorders, for decades almost nothing was done to address or treat these issues. In the 1980s, there was only one psychiatric hospital in the entire country and such an insignificant number of psychiatrists, that it was almost impossible to find treatment. Moreover, the psychiatrists who did practice at the time were often not interested in developing new research and treatment techniques. Because of this, most cases of mental illness went untreated, leaving mental health sufferers to face both isolation and discrimination.

A Passionate Doctor

When Dr. Atalay Alem started his medical work, there was only one psychiatric hospital in the country. After his decades of work, spanning from the 1980s until modern day, his efforts to improve the psychiatric treatment of Ethiopians have had a massive payoff. He started as a medical doctor before receiving his degree in psychiatry. After that, he became a psychiatric professor at Addis Ababa University, where his research and his passion for better mental health services were instrumental in the expansion of Ethiopia’s mental health care. Alem was also a key founder of the graduate psychiatry program at Addis Ababa University, giving more Ethiopians a chance to make a difference in the field. Today, there are almost 90 psychiatrists practicing in Ethiopia. Apart from these psychiatrists, there are hundreds of psychiatric nurses as well. These nurses are part of what has made such widespread psychiatric care possible and their presence has aided in the addition of mental health services at most Ethiopian hospitals. For his efforts, Alem was awarded the Harvard Award in Psychiatric Epidemiology and Biostatistics in 2019.

A Positive Future

Though Ethiopia has a total of under 100 psychiatrists, the current number is a great improvement from just a few decades ago. Moreover, with the help of Alem and other passionate psychiatrists, research efforts continue to grow. Alem is currently working on a study that looks at the way severe mental illness impacts rural Ethiopian communities in order to evaluate how to improve treatment and maximize impact. The Ethiopian government is also invested in improving the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. The government, starting seven years ago, created a mental health strategy to aid the country’s mentally ill and allocated government funds to the overall improvement of mental healthcare. These funds have gone toward improving health services, such as more adequate healthcare training and increased access to psychiatric medications. Part of the reason Ethiopia’s mental health treatment has improved so much is due to the partnership between the Ethiopian government and the World Health Organization. WHO was absolutely key in providing guidelines for how to implement these new mental health care strategies.

Though progress always takes time, with the help of doctors like Alem and partnerships with organizations like WHO, Ethiopian mental health care has better days ahead.

Lucia Kenig-Ziesler
Photo: Flickr