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introvert's guide to fighting global povertyThere is a common misconception that activism with a physical presence, like attending protests or lobbying, is the only kind that can make a difference. While these are effective ways to influence legislation, there are many other ways to create change and contribute to the fight against global poverty. An ordinary individual can play a role in creating global change by taking action online, without ever needing to leave their home. An introvert’s guide to fighting global poverty shows that anyone can contribute to addressing global issues regardless of personality type.

Fighting Poverty by Influencing Legislation

One of the most effective ways to help in the fight against poverty is to influence legislation. While lobbying is an effective way to do this, most U.S. congresspersons give their constituents the option to contact them by calling or emailing their offices. With the option to contact Congress in this way, constituents can voice their concerns easily and effectively.

Grassroot efforts such as calling and emailing Congress as well as advocacy helped pass integral pieces of legislation such as the Global Fragility Act and the End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act. For an easy way to contact Congress about poverty-based legislation, interested persons can access a pre-filled email template from The Borgen Project.

Fighting Poverty Through Apps

Apps and social media movements can also be very effective tools in the fight against poverty. The World Food Programme (WFP) recognizes this and has created various apps through which users can help mitigate hunger in their spare time. With the Freerice app, users can earn rice for those in need just by answering trivia questions. The app earnings are supported by “in-house sponsors.” According to the WFP, Freerice has raised and donated 210 billion grains of rice since 2010.

Additionally, the WFP has created an app called ShareTheMeal. The meal donation app aims to improve food security throughout the world. With a click of a button, an ordinary individual can contribute to a day’s worth of meals for a child at the cost of just $0.80. Through ShareTheMeal, more than 115 million meals have been provided to those in need as of July 16, 2021.

Knowing the Facts

While it may not seem like the most effective form of activism, one of the easiest ways to spread awareness about an issue is to talk about it within one’s social network. But, in order to effectively discuss global issues, an individual should familiarize themself with the facts.

Some of the most well-known humanitarian organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization, offer educational resources about hunger, health and poverty. To expand awareness into one’s social network, it is important to know these facts and statistics.

Every year, the WHO publishes a World Health Statistics report. In the 2021 report, the WHO describes the connection between exacerbated poverty and COVID-19 as well as the way that diseases like tuberculosis can impact poverty due to a lack of healthcare.

By understanding the nuances of global poverty, one can become a more informed advocate for a global issue, increasing the power of influence and the likelihood of persuading friends and family to support legislation.

Looking Forward: Advocacy, Education and Mobilization

With these methods in mind, one of the most effective ways to be an activist from home is to mobilize within one’s own social network. By ensuring that friends and family are also advocating for a cause, one can effectively create a much larger web of support for a cause.

An introvert’s guide to fighting global poverty shows that there are vast ways to support global issues without needing to step out of one’s comfort zone. Whether one is voicing support for particular pieces of legislation or whether an individual uses one of the many apps that help alleviate hunger, garnering more supporters will ultimately help sustain a grassroots effort and fight global poverty.

– Samuel Weinmann
Photo: Unsplash

military robotsResearchers have recently discovered that military-designed robots have the ability to save lives. Humanitarian assistance through robots can help tackle poverty and provide support to those in need on land, air and sea. These robots are especially important in impoverished, war-ridden areas. Overall, robotic resources can help tackle crises that would otherwise be dangerous, deadly or impossible for humans to enter.

Terrestrial Robots

Terrestrial military robots, also called throwable robots, serve as life-saving engines on land. The robots work by entering confined spaces, searching through debris and disposing of bombs and hazardous waste. Throwable robots are light, easily transportable objects that are shock-resistant and often remote-controlled. The robots are designed to enter tight spaces and transmit live audio and video to users. Footage from throwable robots can help rescue teams locate people who are trapped in confined spaces and monitor their wellbeing until the civilians reach safety. Currently, more than 550 U.S. law enforcement agencies and military units use throwable robots to assist in their missions and help preserve human life.

Bomb squads also use military robots to locate, defuse, detonate and dispose of bombs. Occasionally, bomb squads deploy throwable robots before bomb disposal robots to inspect the scene and search for potential bombs. Amid war and natural disasters, terrestrial military robots can offer ample humanitarian assistance. The military robots can douse fires, enter small spaces and search through rubble without experiencing the harm of smoke, dust or extreme heat. The future of terrestrial robots is promising as recent innovations of better sensors and robust agility will elevate the technology to the next level.

Aerial Robots

Aerial military robots impact people’s quality of life in areas hit badly by natural disasters. One example illustrates drones transporting humanitarian aid and collecting data to assist in natural disaster recovery. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) started using aerial robots in 2012 to measure the extent of displacement and physical damage from natural disasters in Haiti. Furthermore, the World Health Organization and Médecins Sans Frontières have used aerial robots to deliver medical supplies to Papua New Guinea and Bhutan.

Aerial robots can also assist in search and rescue efforts in a similar way to terrestrial robots. In war and disaster zones, aerial robots can quickly locate people in need of medical assistance. Drones are often faster and more affordable than other modes of transportation. In many circumstances, drones can capture higher quality data better than humans, for instance, detailed aerial view photographs of flood zones and refugee camps. Aerial robots can also protect humans from entering dangerous situations. Alongside terrestrial robots and bomb disposal robots, drones can scope out potential explosives and identify the best strategy for removing the explosives.

Maritime Robots

Nicknamed “robotic lifeguards,” maritime military robots can save lives at sea. In 2016, a fast-swimming maritime robot named Emily saved more than 240 refugees from drowning on the coast of Greece. Maritime robots have the potential to endure extreme temperatures and are not vulnerable to exhaustion, allowing these robots the capability to become highly effective lifeguards in the future. Additionally, maritime robots are significantly faster than human swimmers. With this ability, robots can use heat sensors to quickly locate people underwater. In shipwrecks or other sea accidents, maritime robots can carry several people to shore. Maritime robots are still relatively rare, but as they become more popular, the robots can be especially effective in places like the Mediterranean Sea where refugees are frequently at risk of drowning.

Overall, robotics technology has the potential to transform disaster and crises relief efforts. Able to withstand vulnerabilities that humans cannot, these robots illustrate the increasingly important role of technology in rescue, relief and aid endeavors.

Cleo Hudson
Photo: Flickr

Africa's Digital solutionsThe COVID-19 pandemic presents a chance for Africa to modernize by going digital, even after the socioeconomic consequences COVID-19 has wrought. Policies and economies have to be rebuilt and Africa has taken the steps to restore its nation with digitalization at the forefront. Through Africa’s digital solutions and technology innovations, the nation will become more sustainable, competitive and creative.

The Aftermath of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has helped increase the spread of new technology across Africa. The pandemic has spurred incredible creativity when it comes to technological innovations. According to a study conducted by the World Health Organization, Africans are responsible for 13% of all new or improved COVID-19 technology created. Two countries that have specially crafted technologies specific to the pandemic are Ghana and Tunisia.

Ghana created a COVID-19 tracking app and drones that deliver at-home COVID-19 tests as well as handwashing stations that are solar-powered. In Tunisia, a government ministry invented a robot to assist in enforcing lockdowns. Africa has made striking technological enhancements in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, COVID-19 has also highlighted the digital divide between the wealthy and impoverished, online and offline.

The Digital Divide

The unequal access to information and communication technologies, or the digital divide, shines a light on the technological gap in developing countries. Due to the general delayed adoption of internet technology, Africa experiences difficulties overcoming barriers to long-term growth. Civil society and the commercial sectors cannot produce transformational progress alone. The digital divide in Africa is fueled by the continent’s socio-economic disparity. In order to transition to a digital society, governments must accelerate the use of digital technologies in all sectors.

Throughout the pandemic, digital media and technology have been critical, allowing for the continuance of work, communication and instruction. According to research by the International Telecommunication Union, only 28% of the African population has access to the internet. It is crucial to consider the many obstacles Africa has to overcome when it comes to digital technology. Not only is there a lack of internet access in Africa but the country also lacks electric power, access to education, social inclusion and more.

Africa cannot regress to pre-pandemic conditions as it recovers from COVID-19. Instead, Africa must create a brighter future that acknowledges the importance of digital transformation, particularly modern technology. Africa’s digital solutions can help overcome the continent’s complex challenges, including poverty, healthcare, industrialization, environmental degradation and government administration.

The Missing Piece: Policy

The majority of studies indicate that digital technologies are critical for solving global issues. However, technologies implemented without laws and policies that support new technological infrastructures rarely succeed long-term. With Africa’s digital solutions, the continent will be able to accelerate its transition to a sustainable and equitable economy.

For example, Rwanda, a country in Africa, is an excellent example of how the development of sustainable legislation can provide benefits to its citizens. Rwanda’s government has made significant investments in digital technology facilities, which resulted in 90% of the population having internet access and 75% of the population having mobile phones.

Enabling policies that provide digital technologies and promote their use will enhance Africa’s recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, it is essential to realize the importance of innovations through digital technologies and put action behind policies that support socioeconomic equality in Africa.

– Anna Lovelace
Photo: Unsplash

COVID-19 Vaccination in Dominica
In the Caribbean island nation of Dominica, many people are now receiving COVID-19 vaccinations. Through the combined efforts of several world organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dominica has received a steady supply of vaccines to help combat COVID-19.

Vaccines from COVAX

As of July 2021, the island of Dominica had seen 194 coronavirus cases and no deaths since the outbreak back in March 2020. As of April 2021, Dominica has received 28,800 doses of the vaccine through the COVAX Mechanism, which it will distribute throughout the country. Dominica is one of the 10 countries in the Americas that have received doses of COVID-19 vaccinations at no cost through COVAX.

“We will continue to work with the country to support vaccination along with the entire package of known public health and social measures that we know can help stop the spread of [COVID-19], protect health services and save lives,” said Dr. Yitades Gebre of the PAHO and WHO in an interview with those organizations.

Campaign for COVID-19 Vaccination in Dominica

As of early July 2021, Dominica has administered nearly 40,000 doses to its population. More than 20,000 people, or around 29% of the population, have received at least one shot, and nearly 20,000 more have received both doses of the vaccine. However, even though the COVID-19 vaccination in Dominica is underway, it will still take some time. Recently, the government has been able to give about 25 doses per day and it is on track to have another 10% of the population fully vaccinated in the next 585 days.

People are still contracting the virus as vaccination levels increase, but the U.S. has deemed Dominica a low-risk country. However, the Dominican government has declared that travelers must submit a negative COVID-19 test 24-72 hours before entering the island. People traveling from Dominica must also submit another negative test before reentering the United States, and the Centers for Disease Control advises that they self-quarantine for seven days upon their arrival.

With the majority of Dominicans still not fully vaccinated, the country’s basic COVID-19 prevention tactics are still in full effect. All residents must continue to socially distance themselves from one another, wear masks at all times in public areas, keep up personal hygiene and self-quarantine if they have contracted the virus or been in contact with someone who has. However, the Dominican government and organizations like the U.N. and PAHO remain hopeful that the pandemic will be under control soon enough on the island.

Economic Support for Pandemic Recovery

Not only have WHO and PAHO helped more Dominican citizens receive COVID-19 vaccination in Dominica, but the World Bank Group has also offered support to help Dominica recover from the pandemic. It has given the Dominican government $25 million in COVID-19 relief to help lay the foundation for long-term economic recovery. As of 2009, Dominica’s poverty rate was about 30%. Funding from the World Bank Group will improve the island’s economy by helping restore stability and jobs as the government works to combat the coronavirus.

Demetrous Nobles
Photo: Flickr

Tajikistan’s Response to COVID-19In February 2020, many countries arranged a summit to discuss how they would assist countries with weaker health care systems due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tajikistan’s response to COVID-19 was one of the topics at the summit.

Tajikistan, a small country in Central Asia, is regarded by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the most impoverished countries. Primarily private out-of-pocket deals run the country’s health care system. According to the WHO, this process undermines the system’s ability to grow in equity, efficiency and quality.

Combating COVID-19

Tajikistan was one of the first countries to receive COVID-19 support. In April 2020,  the World Bank provided emergency relief to Tajikistan, along with aid from various other countries. The World Bank said that it is a continuous goal to strengthen Tajikistan’s response to COVID-19 by improving its health care system.

On June 7, 2020, Tajikistan received emergency medical teams (EMTs) and mobile laboratories from Poland, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom. After this support, the country began to see an increase in COVID-19 contact tracing, testing and optimization of patient care. The EMTs gave Tajikistani health care workers advice on how to handle severe COVID-19 cases.

Tajikistan enacted a national COVID-19 laboratory upscale plan, and with help from international aid, the Tajikistan government established a Public Emergency Operations Center. On July 22, 2020, Russian lab experts arrived in the Central Asian country to help strengthen its data management system. Now, Tajikistan is seeing an increase in testing and staff capacity.

In addition, USAID donated $7.17 million to the Tajikistan government. Tajikistan used the funding to support migrants that traveled into the country. The country is also buying new, life-saving equipment and medical supplies. In April 2020, the USAID and other American organizations sent 58,620 kilograms of food to more than 100 health and social welfare institutions. These donations totaled approximately $171,000.

Further, the World Bank allocated $11.3 million to a grant for the Tajikistan Emergency COVID-19 Project. The project works to improve healthcare for Tajikistan’s citizens, sending funds to impoverished households and informing the public on COVID-19 safety measures.

Hope for Tajikistan

The Intensive Care Unit in Varzob, Tajikistan, was one of 10 hospitals chosen for refurbishment with funding from the World Bank. The hospital received upgraded medical equipment and supplies to strengthen Tajikistan’s response to COVID-19The Tajikistan hospital can now serve all district citizens instead of only private out-of-pocket citizens.

Several hospitals throughout Tajikistan received batches of medical equipment. Donations included 68 ICU ventilators, 68 ICU beds with patient monitors and 400,000 pieces of personal protective equipment.

According to the World Bank, 41% of Tajikistani households reported that they had to reduce food consumption, while 20% of families could not afford health care. With international funds, the Tajikistan government sent out one-time cash payments of 500 somonis to approximately 65,000 low-income families with children less than three years old.

In February 2021, Tajikistan received a grant for COVID-19 vaccines and to increase the oxygen supply in 15 of the country’s hospitals. Most of the funding went to Tajikistani patients suffering from COVID-19 to receive top-of-the-line care. Subsequently, the remaining grant money provided one-time cash assistance to an additional 70,000 poor households.

Future of Tajikistan

On June 16, 2021, the Asian Development Bank approved a grant of $25 million to strengthening Tajikistan’s response to COVID-19. This grant helped the country procure COVID-19 vaccines and improve its vaccination system. On the same date, Tajikistan created a goal to vaccinate about 62% of its population. This grant is one of many that allowed the country to strengthen its supply of medical equipment and care for the maximum number of high-risk COVID-19 patients.

As of July 9, 2021, Tajikistan has vaccinated 1.2% of the population, administering 223,648 doses. With help from international aid, the country is giving out approximately 9,273 doses each day. It will take more than 200 days to vaccinate 10% of the population, but Tajikistan is steadily recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

– Rachel Schilke
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Bangladesh
Out of the entire Bangladeshi population, 4% of people suffer from depression. This statistic trails just around 2% behind the world’s most depressed country, Ukraine, with 6.3% of its population suffering from depression. The government, with the assistance of organizations, is taking positive action to address mental health in Bangladesh.

Mental Health in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, there are only 270 psychiatrists and roughly 500 psychologists serving a population of more than 166 million. This equates to 216,000 people per specialist. Most mental health professionals are located in urban areas so people in rural areas have limited access to mental health services. Furthermore, the country’s one government-run mental hospital has only 500 beds. Mental health also has limited funding. Only 0.44% of the government health budget is allocated to the mental health sector.

Mental Health Stressors

Foreign and domestic stressors can contribute to the decline of mental health. For example, recurring natural disasters, the current refugee crisis and overpopulation all affect the mental states of the Bangladeshi population. The country faces recurring floods, tornados and cyclones. A 1996 infamous tornado left 66.6% of its victims psychologically traumatized and in need of emergency psychological assistance. This statistic illustrates the severe psychological effects of natural disasters and the need for more mental health resources.

Since 2007, Bangladesh has taken in nearly 1 million refugees from Myanmar following a military crackdown on Rohingya citizens. This upsurge in population weakened the country’s already limited capacity to respond to both regional disasters and mental health crises. Many of these refugees experienced acute stress and post-traumatic stress disorder, requiring immediate health assistance. This spur in overpopulation certainly strains resources, exacerbating mental health even further.

Mental Health Stigma in Bangladesh

An estimated 10,000 Bangladeshi people die by suicide annually. However, households and the greater public are reluctant to speak out about mental health problems in fear of societal judgment. Mental health stigma is common throughout Bangladesh and there are many superstitions surrounding mental health conditions. Some believe that evil spirits cause mental health issues.

Others often ostracize people suffering from mental health conditions, leading others to hide their mental struggles and suffer in silence without help. Some people turn to traditional healers for cures. These traditional practices sometimes amount to human rights abuses and may have fatal repercussions. Traditional healers are more prevalent in the countryside where a trained mental health specialist is hard to come by. In rural areas, “village doctors with no formal training provide 65% of healthcare.”

The Good News

Bangladesh passed a new Mental Health Act in 2018, replacing a 105-year-old piece of legislation. The act aims to protect the property rights of those suffering from mental illness and includes provisions for mental health services. However, the act does not address the issue of low mental health funding, which plays an important role in increasing mental health resources. While the act faces some criticism, increased attention on mental health through legislative action is an accomplishment nonetheless.

Bangladesh finalized its National Mental Health Strategic Plan in 2020 and started implementation. In support of this plan, the WHO Special Initiative for Mental Health provides assistance to the Ministry of Health in Bangladesh to ensure the effective implementation of the strategy.

Bangladesh is taking concrete action to address mental health in the country. With commitment and support, mental health in Bangladesh can improve.

Caroline Bersch
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Syria
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Syria and other war-torn nations has been severe. Some countries have cut foreign aid to Syria amid the pandemic, which will greatly affect Syrians already living in dire circumstances. Other countries and organizations have increased aid, recognizing that now more than ever, foreign aid is urgently needed in Syria.

The Crisis in Syria in Numbers

During the pandemic, many Syrians have lost sources of income. A drastic rise in food prices and a drop in the value of the Syrian pound are further exacerbating the country’s humanitarian crisis. In 2020:

  • About 4.5 million people became food insecure, bringing the total to about 12.4 million food-insecure people, nearly 60% of the population.
  • Food prices in Syria increased by 236%.
  • The poverty rate increased to a staggering 90%.
  • Roughly 24 million people require humanitarian aid to survive.

Decreased Foreign Aid

Global economic struggles have led to cuts in foreign aid budgets across the globe. At a March 2021 Brussels donor conference, the U.N. asked countries to pledge $10 billion to alleviate the effects of the Syrian civil war, which the pandemic has further aggravated. The international community only pledged $6.4 billion in aid to Syria. A clear example of the impacts of reduced aid is apparent in the humanitarian relief efforts of the World Food Programme. The organization had to reduce food apportionments to Syrians by 30% in order “to stretch existing funding.”

Adding to aid concerns, the United Kingdom, normally a world leader in foreign aid, plans to donate almost 50% less in 2021 than it did in 2020. The cut has been met with much domestic and international backlash. However, other countries have dramatically increased aid. Germany’s 2021 pledge is its largest in four years, promising more than $2 billion worth of aid to Syria.

Organizations Aiding Syria

Funded by national governments and private donors, various organizations are working to alleviate the effects of COVID-19 on poverty in Syria. The World Food Programme (WFP), which provides food to nearly five million of Syria’s most vulnerable people every month, won the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts in 2020.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF have started coordination and planning for the vaccines promised through COVAX to cover the priority 20% of the Syrian population. Boosting the low vaccination rate in Syria will undoubtedly help alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Syria.

The Syria Cross-border Humanitarian Fund (SCHF) is also essential in coordinating aid. Since the U.N. created it in 2014, the SCHF has worked to increase the quality of humanitarian assistance in the country. It assigns funds to the NGOs and aid agencies best suited to meet shifting needs so that funding has the greatest reach and is utilized most effectively for the most significant impact.

The SCHF has already laid out its first “standard allocation” strategy for 2021, dividing the money among efforts that will improve living conditions, provide life-saving humanitarian assistance and foster long-term resilience by creating livelihood opportunities. Its “reserve allocation” sets aside funds to address unforeseen challenges that may arise.

The Road Ahead

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated poverty and food insecurity in Syria. Due to the global economic crisis caused by COVID-19, there will likely be more gaps in humanitarian relief funding. Wealthier countries need to step in to assist more vulnerable countries during their greatest time of need. While organizations commit to helping Syrians most in need, support from the international community will ensure a stronger and more comprehensive response.

Hope Browne
Photo: Flickr

South Africa’s Vaccination EffortAs COVID-19 cases soared in South Africa in June 2020, the country endured a severe lockdown. During this lockdown, 27-year-old Clementine gave birth to a baby boy, Lelo Matthew. With a mask covering her face in the delivery room, Clementine feared contracting COVID-19 while at the hospital. Fortunately, no one in Clementine’s family tested positive. Unfortunately, giving birth during a global pandemic gave Clementine more anxiety than the average new mother. Based on the experience, Clementine named her son for the word hope. It has been a year since Clementine gave birth to her son. South Africa’s vaccination effort coincides with rising COVID-19 infections and an economy threatened by COVID-19.

COVID-19’s Impact

Before the pandemic began, South Africa faced a recession. The closure of businesses and decreased consumer spending because of COVID-19 damaged the economy even further. In 2021’s first quarter, the unemployment rate in South Africa jumped to 32.6%. Specifically, the industries with the most prevalent job losses included construction, trade, private households, transport, and agriculture. Trade accounts for nearly 20% of employment in South Africa, so the job losses in this industry are especially worrisome. This rising unemployment rate will likely cause more South Africans to fall into poverty as 10.3 million South Africans already live below the international poverty line of $1.90 per day.

In June 2021, South Africa remained the most COVID-19-affected country in Africa. As this “third wave” caused devastation, the South African government enforced a minimum lockdown of 14 days starting on June 27, 2021. Measures included school and restaurant closures and prohibited gatherings will occur.

A Promising Future

Although COVID-19 cases continue to flood the country, South Africa’s vaccination effort does not look bleak. A South African consortium is creating the first COVID-19 mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub in a historic decision. This technology will be possible with support from the World Health Organization (WHO). Through the establishment of this facility, manufacturers from developing countries will master vaccine production techniques. Additionally, the manufacturers will receive licenses to produce vaccines. Consequently, South Africa and other African countries will have greater access to COVID-19 vaccines. This access is a considerable feat, given South Africa’s current vaccination rate rests at less than 1%.

Afrigen Biologics, a biotech company, plays a critical role in the project as it will produce mRNA vaccines and educate Biovac, an additional manufacturer, in vaccine production. Soon, the WHO will be responsible for supervising the quality of COVID-19 vaccine production and implementation.

The True South Africa

While the leaders of this project foresee the vaccine hub taking critical leaps in South Africa’s vaccination effort, the hub also has implications for the future of South African medicine. WHO chief Tedros Adhamon anticipates that the hub will be essential in COVID-19 vaccine production and the production of future vaccines. The hub could create remedies that impoverished individuals struggle to access, an achievement that is especially opportune as the unemployment rate of South Africa and other African countries rises.

South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, sees the hub as having large-scale benefits for Africa’s portrayal. Ramaphosa remarked that the world often stigmatizes Africa as the center of disease and poor development. The innovations of this hub will provide African countries with the opportunity to correct the globe’s inaccurate perception.

In Ramaphosa’s words, Africa is “on a path to self-determination.” This vaccine technology transfer hub only brings South Africa and other African countries closer to demonstrating that fact to the rest of the world.

– Madeline Murphy
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in Mali
Mali currently has no legislation that criminalizes female genital mutilation (FGM). In 1997, the government committed to criminalizing FGM. Two years later, the Ministry of Health issued a directive banning it in public health facilities. However, despite a comprehensive reform plan, Mali did not implement any laws against FGM.

About Female Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation is the practice of removing some or all of the external female reproductive organ for no medical purpose. The World Health Organization (WHO) divides FGM into four types. Type I is the removal of the clitoral hood and/or the clitoral glans. Meanwhile, Type II is the removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, possibly accompanied by the removal of the labia majora. Type III involves narrowing the vaginal opening, leaving only a very small hole for menstruation and urination. Finally, Type IV is any other mutilation to the external female reproductive system, such as piercing or cauterizing. The most common forms of FGM in Mali are Types I and II, although some southern regions of the country practice Type III.

The Dangers of FGM

FGM has no health benefits and many side effects, some of which are deadly. It can cause chronic pain, mental health issues, scarring, future surgeries, risk of childbirth complications, urinary, vaginal and menstruation problems and other issues.

The History of FGM

Research traces the origin of FGM to Egypt in the fifth-century B.C.E. The original reasons for the practice are unclear, but evidence from Somalia and Egypt ties it to preventing female slaves from reproducing. Today, the practice is widespread across the northern half of Africa.

FGM is largely a cultural practice, and in Mali, societal pressures often result in mutilation before 5-years-old. Communities practice FGM for a variety of reasons, from decreasing girls’ and women’s libido to fulfilling a prerequisite for marriage. Although no religion endorses FGM, 70% of Malian women aged 15-49 believe that it is a religious requirement, and 75.8% believe it should continue.

Nearly 90% of Malian women and girls aged 15-49 have at least one type of genital mutilation. The regions with the highest rates of FGM are Kayes, Koulikoro, Sikasso and Ségou and Bamako, the capital. All have rates above 90%.

The Path to Legislation Banning FGM

As of June 2021, Mali has not criminalized female genital mutilation despite the harm that the procedure does. Millions of girls remain at risk not only in Mali but across the world. Thirty countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia still have not outlawed FGM.

However, advocacy groups and global governments are working to end FGM, and they have made great progress over the past 20 years. Since 1997, 26 countries in Africa and the Middle East have outlawed FGM. Furthermore, members of communities that practice FGM have begun to oppose the procedure in increasing numbers.

Communities abandoning FGM of their own volition is the fastest way to end the practice. Since 2019, the organizations Healthy Tomorrow and Sini Sanuman have worked to end female genital mutilation in Mali by changing minds. With the help of donations, they have renewed three anti-FGM billboards in Bamako and also created a TV trailer, “In the Name of Your Daughter,” which shows how Tanzanian police officers, courthouses, and safehouses protect young girls from FGM.

Despite the existence of FGM in Mali, the fact that many nearby countries in the area have banned it shows promise for the country. Hopefully, through the work of organizations like Healthy Tomorrow and Sini Sanuman, Mali will soon eliminate FGM as well.

Ana Golden
Photo: Flickr

Immunization AgendaAs the 18-month mark of COVID-19 nears, people around the world are eager to return to normalcy. However, according to The New York Times, as of March 2021, more than 75% of all vaccine doses have gone to the wealthiest countries. Meanwhile, organizations are committed to fighting for vaccine equity so that lower-income nations are not overlooked in global vaccination plans for any diseases. The World Health Organization, UNICEF and Gavi, among other partners, launched the Immunization Agenda 2030 on April 26, 2021. The Agenda aims to “maximize the lifesaving impact of vaccines through stronger immunization systems.” This includes securing vaccines for developing countries.

Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP)

Prior to the Immunization Agenda, there was the Global Vaccine Action Plan, spanning from 2011-2020. The ultimate goals of GVAP were providing universal vaccination access and “reducing vaccine-preventable diseases.” Under GVAP, poliovirus types two and three were eradicated and measles incidents decreased by more than 80%. GVAP did not meet all of the goals it intended to, however, it did succeed in laying out a steady framework to proceed with the Immunization Agenda 2030.

The Immunization Agenda 2030 focuses on global participation in improving global vaccine access to reduce the threat of preventable diseases and ensure vaccine equity This requires strengthening healthcare and immunization systems and increasing accessibility. The strategy has primary targets to achieve the goal of saving more than 50 million lives through vaccines.

Targets for 2030

  • Reach at least 90% coverage of core childhood and adolescent vaccines
  • Reduce by 50% the number of children who go entirely unvaccinated
  • “Complete 500 national or subnational introductions of new or under-utilized vaccines — such as those for COVID-19, rotavirus or human papillomavirus (HPV)”

Immunization for Global Development

Since “immunization is the foundation of a healthy, productive population” vaccines contribute to global development. Children who are in full health have better chances of educational success, which contributes to economic prosperity and reduces poverty. Furthermore, preventing diseases means easing the burden on healthcare systems throughout the world.

The Agenda hopes to completely eliminate yellow fever outbreaks by 2026 and “reduce viral hepatitis B deaths by 65% by 2030.” According to the WHO, 47 countries across Africa and Central and South America are most burdened with yellow fever. In 2013 alone, yellow fever is estimated to have killed up to 60,000 people. Additionally, Africa has the highest cases of viral hepatitis in the world. According to WHO global data, in 2015, almost 260 million people had hepatitis B. As these diseases are less prevalent in wealthier countries, the Immunization Agenda calls for accountability to ensure high-income nations are doing their part for global immunizations.

Challenges

Achieving universal vaccine coverage comes with its own challenges. Vaccine hesitancy poses a threat to immunization. Founding partners of the Agenda place an emphasis on the trustworthy spread of information and an increase in health literacy to ensure vaccinations become a social norm. Additionally, the present threat of climate change greatly increases the risk of future pandemics and the spread of infectious diseases, especially via mosquitoes. The Agenda itself is working to limit the “environmental impact of vaccine waste.”

Moving Forward

The Immunization Agenda provides reachable goals to greatly reduce preventable disease deaths. The Agenda is calling for leaders in global health to make their commitments to the Agenda explicit. It also encourages leaders to urgently invest in strengthening their health systems, especially in the wake of COVID-19. The Agenda prompts leading governments and scientists to invest more time into vaccine research and development to strengthen the impact of vaccines and combat global diseases more effectively. Vaccines are the foundation of global health security and the Immunization Agenda 2030 commits to achieving vaccine equity and ensuring vaccines reach the people who need them most.

– Monica Mellon
Photo: Flickr