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COVIS-19 vaccine distribution
Vaccines for the COVID-19 virus are emerging at an increasing rate around the world. The COVID-19 vaccine distribution is a primary challenge for political leaders. Ensuring that everyone has access to vaccines is imperative to achieving global recovery. In many countries, COVID-19 cases are still at large. National leaders put individual national laws in place to fight against the rising numbers. Though they have helped lower those rates, the number of cases has not yet begun to level out. The vaccines that nations have currently distributed should curb those numbers further. This will allow vaccinated individuals to resume their pre-pandemic daily routines slowly.

Inequal COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

Some countries have priority access to vaccines, which is largely due to national wealth. This leads to poorer nations not having the ability to purchase vaccines. To combat this for the betterment of global health, France, in particular, has begun to put forth ideas and efforts with the intent to help such nations gain access to vaccines.

French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed that richer countries ought to transfer roughly 3-5% of their vaccines to countries in need. According to an interview with the Financial Times, he said, “This would have no impact on the rhythm of vaccine strategies (in rich countries). It won’t delay it by a single day given the way we use our doses.” According to Macron, German Chancellor Angela Markel has no problems with the initiative, and he hopes to convince the United States to share their vaccines as well.

African leaders have put forth the request for 13 million doses of vaccinations to help its population. The leaders plan to give a large portion of those to caretakers, allowing them to help patients in need. Currently, COVAX will be making accessible vaccinations available to African countries. However, the countries will use the vaccine only for emergencies. Thus, the calls for more vaccines are important.

France’s Plan for Vaccine Distribution

To help fight for better COVID-19 vaccine distribution in African countries, France has established a designated four-part plan to help affected communities efficiently. These steps include support of African healthcare systems, aiding African research and supporting humanitarian and economic efforts. The goal is for France to support various healthcare systems to ensure that patients and citizens receive the best treatment until a vaccine can be distributed. Until these countries have proper access to vaccines, the World Health Organization (WHO) will work with the financing they received from wealthier governments.

Many other countries worldwide are also working to help one another receive the help needed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Chinese scientists developed a vaccine that is currently in use in Hungary and Serbia. Beijing and Russia are selling and donating their own vaccines to nations abroad. If the number of cooperations increases in the upcoming months, there will be more vaccines available worldwide. Since the virus can still spread with mutations from other parts of the world, this is also crucial to rich nations’ national security.

– Seren Dere
Photo: Flickr

10 Years of Helping Babies Breathe
The first few minutes of a baby’s life have a significant impact on their chances of survival and their life quality. Statistically speaking, risks for newborn deaths are at their highest at that time. A main reason for the increased risk is asphyxia, a dangerous lack of oxygen right after birth. Every year, approximately 10 million newborns are unable to breathe on their own and require immediate help. In 2010, as a response to the medical issue, Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) was born. Recently, Helping Babies Breathe celebrated its anniversary for 10 years of work. Here is some information about the successes during the 10 years of Helping Babies Breathe.

USAID: An Important Partner

A partnership of many different agencies and organizations like Save the Children, Laerdal Global Health and the World Health Organization (WHO) launched the program Helping Babies Breathe. Another very important partner in the creation of HBB was the United States government’s agency USAID. After receiving Congress-approved funds from the federal government, USAID was able to be a key figure in establishing the program. The agency contributed significantly to HBB’s success by mobilizing more than $120 million to save newborns over the last decade.

Educating People

When HBB launched, its approach to fighting newborn mortality was based on creating a global movement. The goal was to raise awareness for the complications of asphyxia and to educate and train medics around the world. Thus, HBB focused on making educational materials and necessary equipment accessible for everyone. Furthermore, it supported training people in the resuscitation of newborns. When the program began, all the partners involved agreed on one ultimate goal. The plan was to assure that every infant started life with access to at least one person with the training to resuscitate babies after birth.

When HBB taught medics all around the globe how to reduce the risks of newborn mortality, it addressed several different approaches. One of HBB’s top priorities was to increase general hygiene and, thus, prevent potential infections. Helping Babies Breathe further gave clear instructions for the evaluation of a newborn. These included understanding crying as an indicator for whether or not a baby was receiving enough oxygen and examining the baby’s breathing more thoroughly. The program also taught providers how to react in the case of a newborn not being able to breathe. In order to do so, HBB focused specifically on the method of drying the baby to facilitate breathing. It also encouraged using ventilation and chest compression if drying was not enough.

Decreasing the Number of Newborn Deaths

In the last 10 years of Helping Babies Breathe, the program has successfully increased the chances for newborn survival. HBB has trained approximately 1 million people in more than 80 countries in resuscitating babies right after birth. A study in several different countries like Tanzania and Nepal has shown the huge impact of the program on the lives of infants. The number of stillborn babies has gone down by 34% and the number of newborns that die on their first day has reduced by 30% in places that have been working with HBB.

Governmental Independence

After initially investing in equipment and training birth attendants to help babies breathe, many places no longer need HBB. Seeing how successfully the program increased newborn survival, many of the countries that HBB was working with started to include the resuscitation techniques and new standards for medical providers into their governmental budgets. Since many countries now have the knowledge and determination to fight newborn deaths on their own, HBB partner and important sponsor USAID is able to slowly stop the financial support that the agency has been giving to the program for the last 10 years.

Bianca Adelman
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Impact of COVID-19 on Cabo Verde
To say that the impact of COVID-19 in the Cape Verde Islands, officially Cabo Verde, is gigantic is an understatement. Unlike any other epidemic or disease, the novel coronavirus threatens lives, the economy and social life in Cabo Verde. The islands are located 375 miles off the coast of Senegal, which has made the latter a prime destination for its people in the last 200 years. Cabo Verde achieved its independence in 1975, having been a Portuguese colony. This explains its lack of economic self-sufficiency which persists to the present day. Like many other former colonies, it relied on the economic sectors of Portugal, its former colonizer, for food, medical infrastructure, manufacturing, imports and more. Given all these socio-economic and political realities, COVID-19 was devastating.

Impact on Lives

COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on lives throughout these Islands. More than 15,000 confirmed cases and more than 150 deaths have occurred due to COVID-19. Paradoxically, Cabo Verde had witnessed a rapid development of its healthcare system after 1975. With six hospitals and 80% of its population within 30 minutes of a healthcare facility, most richer African countries are lagging behind Cabo Verde in service delivery.

Due to the viral shockwave on Cabo Verde, the nation finds itself at a level four regarding COVID-19. Furthermore, the entire Cape Verdan is suffering from its economic dependence on tourism and reliance on numerous experts from other countries in all its sectors. This made it difficult for this island nation to firmly close its doors as stronger economies had done. Since September 2, 2020, the government has now imposed “State of Calamity” which forces restrictions on all businesses, gathering in public places including time restrictions.

Impact on Tourism

The tourism sector accounts for nearly half of its GDP. Cabo Verde adopted a market economy that attracts much foreign investment, with tourism being mostly privatized. This means that if business on the islands is not profitable, investors will leave. Even though many knew the risks, no one could have predicted a pandemic wiping an entire sector literally overnight. The virus restrictions immediately affected the tourism industry. Prior to COVID-19, Cape Verde was a beautiful country to visit.

Not only did tourism bring in revenues, but it also created jobs in the formal and informal sectors. In addition, it provided exposure to foreign investors and trade. Therefore, the contrast with today’s situation is stark; hotels are empty and local employees have returned to their respective homes on other islands empty-handed. Many who were the breadwinners must now rely on their struggling communities to survive. One former hotel employee revealed her predicament stating that “I worked in the Iberostar hotel for almost four years, but now I am jobless. I’ll be getting unemployment benefits for five more months, but after that, I won’t know how to feed my kids.” Sadly, the pandemic has affected thousands. Bars, restaurants, small vendors and taxis are now all idle.

Other Economic Sectors

For decades, the country had put all its assets in the tourism and real estate basket and clearly overlooked manufacturing, fishing, trade and modern technologies. Manufacturing only produces limited production in textiles, tuna fish canning, frozen seafood processing, ceramics, mining and timber. As a result of its poor ecology, agriculture was for local consumption and small-scale farming. With the impact of COVID-19 on Cabo Verde, fishing, communication technologies, e-commerce and renewable energies require investments.

What is Next?

It is amazing that in an archipelago of 10 islands fishing is not a leading industry. However, that could change in the immediate future if the country wants to thrive rather than just survive. One should note that Cabo Verde’s GDP had grown by 5% just a year ago. It was a rising star in the developing world. Its people are hardworking and resourceful, but better economic planning has become imperative. Diversification should become the modus operandi of government agencies, policymakers and should be on the minds of Cabo Verdians who saw their businesses or jobs fall apart so quickly.

 More than 1 million Cabo Verdians living abroad. As emigrants, they are also assets to their families, specifically by sending remittances to their relatives. With these new gaping holes in the economy and the livelihood of so many, the government will hopefully build more bridges between these sons and daughters abroad who can bring back investments, technologies and their creativity to their motherland.

Finally, it is noteworthy that since 2016, the Cape Verde Islands’ National Association of Cabo Verdean Municipalities Healthy Cities Initiative has been working diligently towards increasing its health protocols and standards with the institutional and technical support of WHO. According to the WHO website: “[Cabo Verde] was the first country in the African region to embrace the WHO Healthy City approach.” The Healthy Cities Network became a model for 240 million living in  Communities of Portuguese-speaking Countries (CPLP) since 2018. Owing to this officially recognized structure, China has granted substantial funds in 2019. With such commitment locally and abroad, Cabo Verde has been increasingly prepared to respond to the impact of COVID-19.

Elhadj Oumar Tall
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

5 Ways the DRC Can Slow the Spread of COVID-19
On November 18, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) and government officials in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) announced the end of the latest Ebola outbreak. This outbreak started in June 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic and was the 11th Ebola outbreak in the DRC since the first recognition of the disease in 1976. “It wasn’t easy, but we’ve done it!” tweeted the Regional Director of WHO, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti. The DRC, one of the most impoverished countries on earth, emerged from the wake of the most recent Ebola outbreak after learning some important lessons. The information gained from this occurrence has offered insight that can help slow the spread of COVID-19 on a global scale.

At the start of the pandemic, the country’s COVID-19 mortality rate was 10%. In just six months, that rate decreased to 2.5%. Here are the five key components the DRC discovered are vital in its attempt to slow the spread of a viral outbreak.

5 Ways the DRC Can Slow the Spread of COVID-19

  1. Community engagement is of extreme importance in slowing the spread of COVID-19. The Ebola aid response initially failed due to significant mistrust from people in the communities that needed help. The continuous conflict between the militant groups and the government made it difficult to earn the trust of DRC citizens. As the outbreak grew, aid workers realized that spending more time directly engaging with individuals in affected communities made them more trusting. Workers built confidence by increasing the community’s knowledge of the virus. Engagement from spiritual advisors, educators and other community leaders in addition to politicians and law enforcement is essential. These varying perspectives are useful in soothing fears, offering guidance and rooting out rumors and misinformation.
  2. Involving social scientists as soon as possible is paramount. Epidemics often sow seeds of resentment and suspicion within communities. As a result, these “seeds” often impede recovery and prevention efforts if allowed to grow. When scientists use their experience to analyze community structures, they can quickly identify areas of distrust. Their unique perspective on human behavior and cultural practices can then assist in developing solutions that are acceptable to all. Communities are then more likely to take ownership and come together to work towards strategies to slow the spread of the disease.
  3. Prioritizing the patient experience is mutually beneficial to the infected person as well as those providing the treatment. Stigma often follows survivors of Ebola with families and communities, with others expressing fear toward individuals even after they have recovered. Those recovering from COVID-19 often experience similar shaming. Conditions that result in trauma or embarrassment for the patient provide those who the virus may infect with a reason to ignore their treatment options. Performing care with respect, empathy and dignity offers a positive experience. This increases the chance that newly infected patients will seek help. Outreach in the form of education can reduce a community’s discontent. A better grasp of how the virus works and the recovery process provides understanding and relief.
  4. Deploying familial leaders for monitoring, early case detection, contact tracing, quarantine and follow-up is beneficial. As many see the leader in their family as a protector, this role is uniquely advantageous in increasing understanding of the disease itself. Family leaders are also in good positions to be the ones who take on the role of bolstering understanding of personal and family precautionary measures. An entire household working to slow the spread of COVID-19 can have a greater impact than individual effort.
  5. Taking action to ensure swift turnaround times for labs is important. One priority during the Ebola outbreak was getting lab results back to patients as quickly as possible. Primarily, this is to relieve any existing anxieties for the patient and the patient’s family. Additionally, quick turnaround allows for quick, public safety protocol execution to prevent the further spread of disease. This strategy is equally effective in the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Even with one lethal and viral outbreak in the DRC finished, COVID-19 remains a very real and deadly threat. Through surviving Ebola, the DRC government grasped valuable, global lessons. The DRC government is using the tactics that proved successful in defeating the Ebola virus outbreak to slow the spread of COVID-19. As world leaders plan and devise strategies, the DRC’s successes serve as experienced examples in this globally critical situation with little precedent.

– Rachel Proctor
Photo: Flickr

 Address Neglected Tropical DiseasesOn November 12, 2020, members of the World Health Organization (WHO) voted overwhelmingly to adopt a bold set of plans to address the threat of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) throughout the next decade. With this vote, the WHO endorsed a “road map” written by the Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases team to address neglected tropical diseases in the world’s most vulnerable regions. The decade-long project aims to establish global programs with international partners, stakeholders and private organizations. These partnerships will work to accomplish an ambitious set of goals that will end the spread of certain neglected tropical diseases and improve the quality of human life in regions susceptible to neglected tropical diseases.

Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs)

Neglected tropical diseases are commonly defined by global health organizations such as the WHO and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases as a group of diseases that primarily affect those living in tropical and subtropical climates and disproportionately spread in remote areas or regions afflicted by poverty. Among the 20 diseases that the WHO categorizes as neglected tropical diseases are dengue, rabies, leprosy, intestinal worm and sleeping sickness.

Tropical and subtropical regions include Central America and the northern half of South America in the Western Hemisphere, most of sub-Saharan Africa as well as island nations in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Many of the countries in this range are developing or impoverished nations. A lack of development and healthcare infrastructure in nations that lie in tropical regions, such as lack of access to clean water and health education, creates a more fertile breeding ground for the spread of dangerous diseases.

The reason that these diseases are considered “neglected” is that regions where neglected tropical diseases cause the most damage are populated by people with little political power or voice, a result of widespread poverty, location and other socioeconomic factors. As such, the spread of these diseases goes largely unnoticed and there is little incentive at the international level to take measures to combat these ailments. Though NTDs do not receive high-profile attention in the larger medical community, the WHO estimates that more than one billion people are affected by NTDs. The WHO sees the urgency to address neglected tropical diseases.

WHO’s 2021-2030 Road Map

The WHO outlined a set of “overarching global targets” that it will pursue over the course of the next decade in work with foreign governments, community organizations and NGOs. These overarching goals, to be accomplished through achieving a number of “cross-cutting targets” are the primary effects the WHO hopes to achieve by 2030:

  1. Reduce number of people requiring treatment for NTDs by 90%. To attain a 90% reduction rate of those requiring treatment for neglected tropical diseases, the WHO altered its approach to disease treatment from a vertical, single disease eradication method to a horizontal, cooperative effort across several countries. This would require 100% access to water supply, greater international investment in healthcare and action at the federal level to collect and report data on infection.
  2. Eliminate at least one NTD in 100 countries. There are a number of neglected tropical diseases that the WHO lists as “targeted for elimination”: human African trypanosomiasis, leprosy and onchocerciasis. In the WHO’s road map, elimination of a disease means complete interruption of transmission, effectively stopping a disease’s spread. For eliminating diseases such as leprosy, the WHO hopes to assist 40 countries to adopt epidermal health strategies in their healthcare systems.
  3. Completely eradicate two NTDs. The two diseases listed as “targeted for eradication” by the WHO are yaws, a chronic skin condition, and dracunculiasis, an infection caused by parasitic worms in unclean water. Both diseases are, according to the WHO, either easily treatable or on the verge of eradication. Dracunculiasis, for which there is currently no vaccine or medical treatment, only affected a reported 54 people in 2019. Yaws is still endemic in 15 nations but can be treated with a single dose of antibiotics.
  4. Reduce by 75% the disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) related to NTDs. The implementation of increased prevention, intervention and treatment can increase the quality of human life in tropical and subtropical countries. This final overarching goal aims to create nationwide efforts to alleviate or eliminate the chronic symptoms of those infected with neglected tropical diseases as well as prevent the further spread of debilitating neglected tropical diseases.

Ending Neglected Diseases

To address neglected tropical diseases, the fulfillment of the goals outlined in the WHO’s road map will require a multilateral and thorough implementation as well as cooperation and leadership from each of the partner countries affected. The WHO seeks to encourage each tropical and subtropical nation to take ownership of their healthcare programs, which will create a sustainable, international network to strengthen global health in some of the world’s most vulnerable regions. Putting the fight against neglected tropical diseases in the spotlight as well as dedicating time and resources to taking on these diseases, can remove the “neglected” from neglected tropical diseases and put the global community on a course toward eradicating these diseases.

– Kieran Graulich
Photo: Flickr

SDG 3 in South SudanProsperous health and well being are the backbone of a progressive society. Unfortunately, countless people in the developing world struggle to access affordable and effective healthcare. South Sudan is an Eastern African country riddled in an ongoing ethnic conflict. In addition, it is one of the hardest-hit nations on the issue of healthcare.

So far, South Sudan has dealt with over 3,500 cases of COVID-19. While that number may seem small, it’s astronomical for a country with such sparse medical supplies and trained personnel.

Thankfully, South Sudan has been working with the international community for the past couple of years. They are working to bolster its progress toward better healthcare, otherwise known as Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG 3). As outlined by the United Nations Development Programme, the SDGs are a set of benchmarks to help developing nations overcome structural poverty. The third goal, good health and well-being, focuses on resolving “account widening economic and social inequalities, rapid urbanization, threats to the climate and the environment, the continuing burden of HIV and other infectious diseases and emerging challenges such as non-communicable diseases.” The fundamental goal of SDG 3 is universal healthcare.

Out of the 1.6 billion people worldwide who lack sound healthcare systems, a portion lives in South Sudan. Thus, it is important to understand and explore the implications of SDG 3 in South Sudan.

Progress Overview

As part of Sustainable Development Goal 3, South Sudan has been working with international partners to implement a new universal healthcare system. In 2018, the South Sudanese Ministry of Health (MoH) announced it would be working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners on the Boma Health Initiative (BHI). The BHI will deliver healthcare packages to communities for no charge. It will also place an extra focus on those living in hard-to-reach rural areas.

The program came out to address SDG 3 and the country’s lack of access to healthcare services. As of 2018, “only 44% of the population [is] living within a 5-kilometer radius of a health facility.”

So far, the WHO and South Sudanese MoH are still debating the costs and budget gaps to finance the program. These debates especially focus on maternal care. Fortunately, policymakers have the 40-year-old primary healthcare system to build off of. With the said system in place, the WHO and South Sudanese officials focus on critical areas of healthcare disparities. They want to ensure the universal system will be efficient and effective once it rolls out.

COVID-19 Response

However, with the recent pandemic, South Sudan’s MoH and other officials have focused on the response to COVID-19. So far, they have made substantial progress. In May 2020, South Sudan successfully trained over 100 health workers on “COVID-19 case management and infection prevention and control.” Participants were said to have “knowledge and skills on patient screening, isolation, contact tracing, use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and waste management.” The rapid increase in health management training is especially helpful to expand contract tracing and to limit the severity of COVID-19 in at-risk communities.

Additionally, The South Sudanese MoH recently partnered with the World Food Programme and the International Medical Corps to expand infectious disease units. The initiative has equipped South Sudanese hospitals with a “new 82-bed capacity treatment unit [with] a temperature-controlled dispensing pharmacy and a fully equipped laundry to boost infection prevention and control.”

Aid From Other Countries

Moreover, to ensure long-term success for SDG 3, South Sudan is partnering with other countries to improve its health infrastructure. For instance, CARE, an international non-profit, received part of a $2 million grant to “strengthen healthcare infrastructure through preparedness, surveillance and response; empower, train and educate local women leaders, including community health workers; and increase water, sanitation, and hygiene support.” Furthermore, CARE is also coordinating with the Sudanese Education and Health Ministries. Their goal is to expand medical education in local communities and fight off misinformation.

In addition, the U.S. recently announced a $108 million aid package for South Sudan to develop more advanced health infrastructural systems.

From targeted efforts from international organizations like the WHO to non-profits and world superpowers like the U.S. donating aid, the world is gradually taking action. South Sudan is facing its darkest hour and limited healthcare options. Therefore, the international community must continue its efforts to help South Sudan realize its goal.

– Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr

tobacco in myanmarMillions of people worldwide use tobacco every day. Though tobacco usage has decreased in some countries, it still remains a significant public health concern for various populations. This is especially true for lower-income countries all over the globe. Myanmar is no exception. With the highest rate of tobacco usage in Southeast Asia, tobacco in Myanmar runs rampant with limited regulation.

The Feedback Loop: Tobacco and Poverty

Worldwide, 1.8 billion people smoke, with 84% of smokers from underdeveloped countries. The world’s poor are prone to spending their limited income on tobacco. However, smoking comes at a high opportunity cost. Money spent on tobacco could instead go toward food, education and health care. In countries such as Bangladesh, the poorest households spend 10 times more on tobacco than they would on education. In Mexico, the poorest 20% of households spend at least 11% of their income on tobacco. Overall, the world’s poor sacrifice significantly more of their income to satiate tobacco addiction than do richer households.

In addition to being a financial drain, tobacco also presents numerous health risks. Users of tobacco are at risk for cancer, respiratory diseases and heart problems. These illnesses create higher medical and insurance costs, which could cause households to spiral deeper into poverty.

Tobacco in Myanmar

Currently, around 1.6 million people in Southeast Asia die from tobacco-related illnesses each year. Myanmar currently has the region’s highest prevalence of tobacco use. Approximately 80% of men use tobacco in Myanmar. In this country alone, over 65,600 people die from tobacco-related diseases annually. Regardless of this risk, more than 5 million adults in Myanmar continue to use tobacco every day.

The lack of regulation of tobacco in Myanmar puts millions of individuals at risk of exposure to secondhand smoke. Currently, 13.3 million smokers and individuals exposed to secondhand smoke are at risk of developing tobacco-related diseases such as CVD (cerebrovascular disease). CVDs are one of the most common ways tobacco claims lives. They are also the leading cause of death in the country, contributing to 32% of all deaths.

Premature deaths have also greatly affected Myanmar’s economic growth, severely limiting income opportunities for the nation’s poor and middle-class families. In 2016, economic losses due to tobacco-related mortality were estimated at MMK 1.32 trillion. Overall, the economic loss caused by tobacco-related health complications places a huge strain on Myanmar. Most importantly, without explicit programming efforts, very few users have successfully quit tobacco in Myanmar.

So, What’s Next?

A number of efforts are looking to minimize the harmful effects of tobacco in Myanmar. For example, Myanmar’s government created various changes to its Tobacco Control Laws upon joining the World Health Organization’s FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) in 2005. Despite these changes to the law, however, there are insufficient funds for smoke-free enforcement in public spaces. Currently, smoking remains legal in pubs and bars, indoor offices and public transportation.

A comprehensive tobacco control program is therefore necessary to limit the prevalence of tobacco in Myanmar. Luckily, many organizations are willing to assist in this fight. The World Health Organization released plans for its Tobacco Control 2030 campaign, which includes Myanmar. It will be one of the 15 countries chosen to receive aid from the U.N. to support its battle against tobacco.

In 2019, the People’s Health Foundation also implemented a four-year plan to turn Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, completely smoke-free. This organization plans to raise public awareness of the dangers of smoking and passive smoking on various media platforms. The People’s Health Foundation also partnered with the Ministry of Health and Sports to minimize smoking and overall tobacco usage in the country. Already, the organization has converted regions including Ayeyarwady, Bago and Mon into smoking-free zones. While much work still remains, Myanmar these efforts to minimize the use of tobacco among its citizens are showing some signs of success. This provides hope that the epidemic of tobacco in Myanmar may soon end.

Vanna Figueroa
Photo: Flickr

healthcare in tokelauThe dependent territory of New Zealand, Tokelau, lies in the Pacific Ocean. It consists of three atolls, or islands made up of coral: Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo. Tokelau has the world’s smallest economy, with an annual GDP per capita of $6,275 and a population of only 1,500 people. A lack of human resources and considerable financial constraints severely limit the Department of Health in Tokelau in addressing the population’s healthcare needs. Here are seven facts about healthcare in Tokelau.

7 Facts About Healthcare in Tokelau

  1. Population health: Tokelau’s central health issues are non-communicable diseases (NCDs), especially cerebrovascular and cardiovascular diseases. From 2007 to 2010, cardiovascular diseases in Tokelau had a mortality rate of 17%. Aside from viruses, other principal causes of death in Tokelau include old age, neoplasms (unusual growth of body tissue) and accidental death, often the result of trauma. Because of minimal amounts of physical activity, about 75% of Tokelauns are obese, and close to 50% of Tokelauans smoke daily.
  2. Hospital access: Each of the three atolls has one hospital. Every hospital has some medical and diagnostic equipment available for use, along with 12 beds. However, the hospitals lack some basic technology, like x-ray machines.
  3. Lack of healthcare workers: As of October 2012, there were only 37 healthcare workers across all three atolls. Each hospital has one medical officer, four to five nurses, four to five nurses’ aides and a porter. Healthcare in Tokelau suffers from a lack of doctors and specialized professionals in particular.
  4. Lack of secondary and tertiary care: While the three hospitals can provide some level of care for their patients, they cannot afford specialized employees and more intensive treatment. NCDs, the primary healthcare needs faced by Tokelauans, require intensive care. Currently, patients requiring such services go offshore to either Samoa or, in more critical cases, New Zealand.
  5. Funding: A combination of grant money from New Zealand, local revenue and international aid funds healthcare in Tokelau. However, the budget for healthcare is insufficient. Tokelau relies on aid from international organizations because it still lacks the means to invest in healthcare infrastructure on a large scale.
  6. Lack of transportation: Healthcare in Tokelau also lacks an inter-atoll transportation system. This creates a decentralized hospital system, with three separate hospitals. Climate change and natural disasters further strain healthcare in Tokelau.
  7. High life expectancy: Despite its unique challenges, Tokelau has worked to improve its healthcare system. Tokelauans have a reasonably high life expectancy rate compared to other countries in the Pacific region. In addition, Tokelau does not have high maternal or infant mortality rates.

Tokelau Health Strategic Plan 2016-2020

In August 2016, Tokelau launched a new initiative to better its healthcare infrastructure, called the Tokelau Health Strategic Plan. This plan has three parts: short-term goals in 2016 to 2018, intermediate goals from 2018 to 2020, and long-term goals for 2020 and beyond. Furthermore, Tokelau’s healthcare plan has created four key ideas to help guide the country’s healthcare initiatives. These ideas are developing healthcare infrastructure, improving general public health, improving governance of healthcare services and creating better clinical services for the island’s population.

The most important aspect of the plan is the construction of a National Referral Hospital in Nukunonu, the largest of the three atolls. With the creation of the new National Referral Hospital, Tokelau would be able to alleviate the issues caused by its decentralized healthcare system.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been working in conjunction with the Tokelau government to see this plan through. WHO outlined these priorities to oversee the advancement of Tokelau’s healthcare:

  1. Monitor the healthcare situation in Tokelau and develop strategies that would work in tandem with Tokelau’s healthcare strategies.
  2. Monitor NCDs, improve treatment regulations and care for patients and increase access to medication.
  3. Develop healthcare infrastructure to minimize tobacco use in Tokelau and implement strategies to strengthen immunization.

Tokelau faces many challenges ahead as it looks to improve its healthcare system. The majority of these challenges come from a lack of economic means and a decentralized healthcare system. However, with international aid and the healthcare plan, the government can work to improve healthcare for all of its citizens’ benefit.

Anushka Somani
Photo: Flickr

COVAX InitiativeThe COVID-19 pandemic arrived on the world scene at an inopportune time in terms of international relations, given the current state of global division and isolationist nationalism. Cooperation between nations is extremely important in containing a pandemic. However, this sentiment was sparse during the early stages of the virus’ spread due to the prevailing geopolitical climate. Now that COVID has expanded across the world and endangered millions, international cooperation is perhaps more important than ever in the urgent search for a vaccine. The World Health Organization, GAVI and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) have united to form the COVAX Initiative: a program providing promise for both global teamwork and COVID mitigation.

What is the COVAX Initiative?

According to the WHO, COVAX is a coalition designed to “…accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.” The goal of the COVAX Initiative is twofold: to facilitate the creation of a vaccine and to ensure any eventual vaccine is made available to as many people as possible, regardless of national identity or socioeconomic status.

While many wealthy countries may succeed in vaccinating their populations without assistance from COVAX, all nations would still benefit from the Initiative: recent events have proven that in order to guarantee true safety from COVID-19, the disease must be eradicated worldwide. Thus, it is in everyone’s interest to provide access to as many people as possible. COVAX is working to create a coalition of member nations, both wealthy and poor, to achieve this mission.

Current Member Countries

A total of 172 countries have joined the COVAX Initiative so far. 80 wealthy countries have made commitments to the Initiative, including the UK, Norway and Japan. Additionally, 92 lower-income countries including Afghanistan, the Philippines and Yemen have become involved. According to the Director-General of the WHO Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, COVID presents a challenge that necessitates an unprecedented level of international cooperation.

Life-Saving Potential

COVAX aims to deliver two billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021. Currently, the COVAX Initiative has nine vaccines under development and is evaluating nine more. According to the WHO, these innovations imply that the Initiative has “…the largest and most diverse COVID-19 vaccine portfolio in the world.”

Healthcare workers will recieve the first round of vaccinations; higher-risk patients will receive the second round. Member nations will recieve doses in amounts proportional to their population. To ensure widespread delivery of the vaccine, the Initiative plans to help fund infrastructure development as necessary in poorer member countries.

The COVAX Initiative is built on the idea that, for anyone to be safe from COVID-19, everyone must be safe. The Initiative represents a positive step towards international cooperation, a crucial aspect of effectively eradicating this destructive and deadly pandemic. Once a functional vaccine is in circulation, the world’s poor will likely have the least access. This structural inequity means that projects like COVAX could save countless lives and prevent future resurgences of COVID.

– Dylan Weir
Photo: Wikimedia

COVID-19 in Nigeria
Nigeria is located on the western coast of the African continent. Home to more than 200 million people, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. The nation is no stranger to diseases: a dense population, frequent travelers and the Ebola outbreak have impacted thousands. Although the government successfully contained the Ebola outbreak, similar action was not taken to deal with COVID-19. As COVID-19 surges, several global humanitarian organizations are working with Nigeria’s government to combat the virus. Here are four organizations fighting COVID-19 in Nigeria.

The World Health Organization

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been actively involved in projects promoting health and safety in Africa for years. During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, the WHO helped contain the virus in Nigeria. Recently, the organization has shifted its focus to COVID-19. In early June, the WHO recognized a lack of COVID-19 testing in many of the country’s rural communities. In response, the organization planned to educate health officials and community members on the pandemic’s severity.

The WHO has since been working with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to conduct country-wide testing and sample collection. The two organizations are now locating and mapping at-risk communities to better coordinate treatments and procedures.

World Food Programme

World Food Programme (WFP) is a food-assistance branch of the United Nations. The WFP has been especially active in recent months, combatting the food insecurity accompanying economic hardships caused by COVID-19. The program has also established and deployed food assistance task forces to reach the country’s remote communities.

Throughout the pandemic, WFP has assisted more than 715,000 of its targeted 890,000 beneficiaries. The organization continues to offer life-saving food assistance to Nigerians while providing valuable education about sanitation and safety measures.

WaterAid

WaterAid is a nonprofit humanitarian aid organization focused on providing clean water and promoting hygiene and sanitation across the globe. Amidst COVID-19, WaterAid has been collaborating with Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Water Resources to incorporate clean water resources and hygienic behaviors into communities across the country.

The organization is placing an emphasis on implementing routine hand-washing practices using clean water. WaterAid is also working to educate Nigerians about the importance of staying hygienic and sanitized to minimize the risk of contracting the virus.

The World Bank

The World Bank is an international financial institution that provides countries with loans and financial services. Its current work involves collaborating with the Nigerian government to monitor and analyze the impact of COVID-19 on the country’s socioeconomic health. The World Bank is also working to determine the amount of financial aid the country requires to adequately address the pandemic. The organization has initiated a household survey called the Nigeria COVID-19 National Longitudinal Phone Survey to assist in this endeavor.

In early March, the World Bank prepared initial financial packages of up to $12 billion to assist more than 60 countries heavily affected by COVID-19. Such financial packages have helped countries like Nigeria strengthen their healthcare systems and reduce the damage to the economy. The $12 billion funding includes contributions from various facilities within the World Bank, including International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), International Development Association (IDA) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

When Nigeria’s first cases of COVID-19 emerged, international humanitarian and financial organizations quickly prioritized containment. While COVID-19 in Nigeria continues surging, organizations like the World Health Organization, World Food Programme, WaterAid and the World Bank Group have stepped in to support the country. As these organizations work to promote hygiene and offer treatment, the risk of contracting COVID-19 in Nigeria continues to decrease and ultimately brings hope to the nation.

– Omer Syed
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