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Human Genome EditingAfter two years of study, the World Health Organization (WHO) released two reports on how to use human genome editing safely and inclusively. The editing technology has significant potential to cure many diseases but the drawbacks must be considered, experts say. Human genome editing safety remains a priority and ensuring everyone has access to the technology could lead to significant improvements in the fight against poverty. The process warrants significant attention: It could further inequality but could also be a massive step toward eradicating poverty.

What is Human Genome Editing?

Somatic and germline editing are two primary types of genome editing. Somatic editing is surface-level and can be used to treat a disease with genetic origins. For example, a scientist can take a patient’s blood cells and utilize CRISPR technology “to edit blood cells as a treatment” for “blood disorders.” This genome editing type does not get passed down to any children.

Germline editing, the more controversial type, changes the genome of a human embryo at the earliest possible stage. It impacts all cells, which could affect any children one has in the future. Although germline editing raises significant ethical questions, it does have the potential to prevent several diseases from manifesting in a child. Currently, international policies limit germline editing, sometimes allowing it for only research purposes. If an individual utilizes edited embryos to “initiate a pregnancy,” this would be considered heritable genome editing.

Heritable genome editing makes changes to the “genetic material of eggs, sperm or any cells that lead to their development,” which includes early embryos. Human genome editing safety sparks serious ethical and controversial concerns, thus, restrictions and guidelines exist worldwide.

Considering the Positives

The potential to cure serious diseases is enormous despite ethical questions. Faster diagnoses, accurate treatments and disorder prevention efforts all could be achieved or improved through genome editing, according to the U.N. In fact, somatic gene therapy made significant strides toward treating HIV and sickle-cell disease in recent years.

Fertility and disease resistance could both improve with the technology’s use. Human genome editing can and already is a way to treat or prevent many serious diseases, and overall, improve life for many. If used correctly, in a safe and efficient manner, the entire world could benefit.

Considering the Negatives

The potential is enormous, but so are the risks. Political and social justice issues are very important to consider, especially when it comes to germline and heritable genome editing. Editing could affect the very issues movements fighting for a broad range of social and economic issues raise.

Germline and heritable human genome editing both have ethical and moral questions. There is a possibility the genetic changes can be passed down to future children. It could be used as a way to improve traits in an irresponsible manner and access could vary for many.

Somatic editing also faces challenges. Rogue clinics and “illegal, unregistered, unethical or unsafe research” pose serious threats. Also of concern are “activities including the offer of unproven so-called therapeutic interventions.” Human genome editing safety is a difficult but important task to undertake as the treatment could be harmful if used incorrectly.

Another serious issue to consider is who would receive the treatment. This could just further the medical inequality divide between wealthy and lower-income nations as the treatment is expensive. As many nations with fewer resources have more difficulties with diseases, the treatment will be especially beneficial for them. However, these nations might not have effective access.

How Genome Editing May Help Those in Poverty

Diseases that tend to affect those in poverty because of a lack of treatment could be treated with human genome editing. These include diabetes, alcohol-attributed diseases, malaria and others. Improved treatment from human genome editing could lead to significant strides in reducing poverty. For those with the least access to or possession of societal resources, editing could potentially be a benefit. Other diseases like “cystic fibrosis, cancers, muscular dystrophy and Huntington’s disease” could also be treated or cured.

If properly managed, the impact of human genome editing on those in poverty could be significant, increasing health across the board. If recommendations from the WHO are properly followed and scientific progress continues, the benefits for the global population could balance the risks.

– Alex Alfano
Photo: Flickr

Social inequality in GermanyResearch shows that levels of social inequality in Germany could increase COVID-19 transmission rates among people experiencing poor living and working conditions. Evidence does not conclusively determine that poverty directly causes Germany’s COVID-19 cases. However, it is apparent to scientists and medical professionals that a large number of COVID-19 patients come from low socioeconomic standing. In 2015, 2.8 million German children were at risk of poverty. The influx of migrants flowing into Germany has also increased rates of poverty in Germany.

Poverty and COVID-19

According to the CIA World Factbook, 14.8% of the German population lives below the poverty line as of June 2021. According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), the North Rhine-Westphalia area has the highest number of COVID-19 cases. The area is home to Gelsenkirchen, the most impoverished German city based on a 2019 report by the Hans Böckler Foundation.

Risks of Overcrowding

Overcrowded living areas are more susceptible to airborne illnesses, medical sociologist Nico Dragono said in an interview with The Borgen Project. In 2019, 8% of Germans lived in overcrowded dwellings, meaning there were fewer rooms compared to inhabitants. This percentage has increased in recent years, according to Statistisches Bundesamt (German Federal Office of Statistics).

In November 2020, statistics showed that 12.7% of the population residing in cities lived in overcrowded dwellings. Comparatively, 5.5% reside in small cities or suburbs and 4% reside in rural areas. Dragono says that social inequality in Germany plays a significant role in the spread of disease across the country’s large cities. This especially impacts those living in close proximity to others. “Infections clustered in the areas of the city where the poor live because there simply was no space,” Dragono says. He says further that with many people living in one household, traveling to school, work and other places holds an increased risk of bringing infections into the home.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated on February 26, 2021, that COVID-19 is transferable through respiratory droplets from people within close proximity of each other. This puts those in poverty at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Those living in areas such as refugee camps and impoverished neighborhoods are especially vulnerable. Therefore, social inequality in Germany may contribute to the spread of COVID-19.

Migrants Potentially at Higher Risk

Dragono says that, unlike the United States, Germany does not document patients’ ethnicities. In other words, Germany cannot collect the demographics of who contracts COVID-19. He said it appears the association between COVID-19 and social inequality in Germany is universal for migrants and non-migrants. However, many hospitals across Germany reported that close to 90% of COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit have an immigrant background, according to Deutsche Welle.

“Migrants are more often poor because they do many of the bad jobs,” Dragono says. There are indications that COVID-19 is more prevalent in the areas inhabited by migrants. “Migrant workers, as they grow older, many have diseases, because in general, they are doing hard work… so their hospitalization rates could be a bit higher.” Dragono says Germans’ social status and income determine how much access they have to quality resources. It is easier for upper-class citizens to purchase masks and use personal travel and they do not have to rely on public transportation or low-quality protective gear.

On June 5, 2021, the German health ministry came under fire regarding a report that dictated its plan to dispose of unusable face masks by giving them to impoverished populations. However, the health ministry released a statement that all of its masks are high quality and receive thorough testing. Any defective masks are put into storage.

Assistance From Caritas Germany

As the virus continues to spread, many organizations are extending assistance to disadvantaged citizens in Germany. Some services translate COVID-19 information into migrants’ languages or modify other services to fit COVID-19 guidelines. Caritas Germany, one of the largest German welfare organizations, typically operates childcare services, homeless shelters and counseling for migrants.

To comply with COVID-19, Caritas began offering online services such as therapy and counseling. The organization also travels to low-income areas and focuses on providing personal protective equipment to those working with the elderly. Many Caritas volunteers use technology to maintain distance while also maintaining communication with patients. Since the beginning of the pandemic, hundreds of volunteers have trained in online counseling.

However, Dragono says that while the country has systems in place to avoid broadening the poverty gap, the serious implications of COVID-19 on social inequality in Germany are yet to emerge. Fortunately, organizations are committed to mitigating some of the impacts of COVID-19 on disadvantaged people in Germany.

– Rachel Schilke
Photo: Unsplash

Vector-borne diseasesDisease and poverty are two deeply interconnected issues affecting many countries across the world, particularly those in Africa. Among the most pressing diseases are those that are vector-borne, (illnesses caused by pathogens and parasites in the human population) such as malaria and dengue fever. Unfortunately, these diseases foster ideal conditions for poverty, given their effects on the working population. Moreover, poverty also creates conditions that foster vector-borne diseases, such as underdeveloped healthcare, a lack of information and poor living conditions.

About Vector-Borne Diseases in Africa

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), malaria is the most deadly vector-borne disease. It leads to approximately 1.2 million deaths annually. A 2017 report from the WHO shows that 90% of the roughly 219 million global malaria cases are found in Africa. Dengue fever is also a particularly concerning vector-borne disease. As of May 2021, dengue is endemic in more than 100 countries. Dengue fever can develop into a lethal form of the illness, called severe dengue.

Impact on Poverty

In order to eradicate poverty, there must be a working population that can sustain itself. With the devastating symptoms of diseases like malaria and dengue, many are forced out of work, unable to sustain themselves. According to a 2019 study in BMC’s Malaria Journal on a farm in Zimbabwe, absenteeism among those affected by malaria was between 1.4 to 4.1 business days during the 5 month study. This is especially concerning given that in 2019, 15 countries in both Sub-Saharan Africa and India carried 80% of the world’s malaria burden. This means that in African countries where malaria is prevalent, millions of workers are unable to sustain themselves as they fight for their lives.

Current Solutions

Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are aiming to combat vector-borne diseases on both domestic and global scales. Initiatives by the CDC and WHO are invaluable ways to mitigate this health crisis. Even with this, one of the most influential solutions is foreign aid. As one of the most powerful and influential countries in the world, the U.S. can distinctly impact the global disease burden.

Malaria is one of the biggest health priorities of USAID, with funding going toward research and the development of vaccines and insecticide tools. USAID also collaborates with other groups and organizations, like the RBM Partnership to End Malaria and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. There is also the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative, which is led by USAID and includes 27 different programs in Africa and Asia aimed toward building treatment capacity for malaria and other vector-borne diseases.

Aid Looking Forward

Despite this funding into research, African countries desperately need more aid. As of 2019, nearly 95% of malaria deaths were in Africa. It is evident that current aid is useful, yet the gravity of the current disease burden requires further U.S. commitment. Research funding, treatment capacity building and development in African countries are crucial initiatives. Organizations like USAID are important vessels to create necessary change.

While initiatives solely targeted toward poverty reduction are necessary, they cannot completely eradicate poverty. This is largely because poverty is such a multifaceted issue.

As vector-borne diseases create conditions for poverty, poverty exacerbates vector-borne diseases. Therefore, they must both be approached in tandem, with further aid and support from the United States.

– Samuel Weinmann
Photo: Unsplash

healthcare access in LMICs
Around 2 billion people around the world lack proper access to surgical care or advanced medical care. On average, low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs) have fewer than two operating rooms and one trained surgeon per 100,000 people. Due to this, treatable maladies often result in death. In 2011, around 5 million people died of injuries in LMICs. The barrier between proper medical care and patients is the cost of care. More often, the costs of admission, medications and food are based on the strained economic conditions of impoverished countries. The shortage of medical professionals in LMICs has been identified as one of the most significant obstacles to achieving health-related U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). One can see the severity of this lack of healthcare access in LMICs in countries such as Mozambique, with only 548 doctors for more than 22 million people.

Lack of Medical Professionals

The absence of medical professionals in LMICs is often due to the poor economic situation of these countries. This results in limited financial resources to support a good healthcare system and provide proper training for doctors. Even when training is available, many skilled doctors work overseas due to others offering them a better medical career abroad, leading to a lack of healthcare access in LMICs. The British Medical Journal claims that “African countries have lost about $2.6 billion…training doctors who are now living in western countries.”

On average, there is less than one doctor for every 20,000 people in Chad. In addition, an equipment shortage in Chad means there are fewer than four hospital beds for every 10,000 people. Furthermore, inequitable distribution of service is a major problem in these countries. Due to a limited number of doctors being available to treat millions of people, often patients with a higher income receive what little medical support is available. Those of a lower income in these countries find it more difficult to afford treatment and especially cannot afford emergency medical procedures.

Consequences for Patients

Lack of trained medical professionals often means that diseases, surgeries, injuries and complications often result in death. Disease is excessive and often untreatable in these countries. Medical procedures often require advanced training and experience to be conducted successfully. The demand for these procedures greatly exceeds the supply of surgeons and institutions, leading to low healthcare access in LMICs.

For example, 90% of those who are visually impaired live in LMICs. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 80% of cases involving visual disability are preventable. Eye surgery, an effective method of treating blindness, is rarely available. Furthermore, according to the National Library of Medicine, 6 billion people in LMICs lack access to safe and affordable cardiac surgery.

According to WHO, 94% of all maternal deaths occur in low- and lower-middle-income countries. Many women facing birth complications rarely have access to trained professionals who can handle these complications. Sometimes, doctors with insufficient training may perform emergency procedures improperly, resulting in debilitating injuries or even death. Furthermore, 99% of hemorrhage-related peripartum deaths occur in LMICs. These problems all stem from the fact that a qualified medical professional attends less than 50% of all births in LMICs.

Rising Cancer Rates

Another consequence of a poor global healthcare system is the rising cancer mortality rates in LMICs. More than half of the 10 million cancer deaths in 2020 occurred in LMICs. When comparing the healthcare systems of different regions, high-income countries usually spend around five to 10 times more per person. As a result, less than 50% of those diagnosed with cancer in high-income countries die from the disease. On the other hand, 66% of those diagnosed with cancer in LMICs die from the disease. This is mostly due to the fact that LMICs do not have the resources for treatment facilities or radiation therapy centers.

Organizations Making an Impact

Organizations like the Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI) support the training of doctors to improve healthcare access in LMICs. MEPI works to increase the number of new healthcare workers, strengthen medical education systems and build clinical and research capacity in LMICs. Charities such as Mercy Ships send volunteer surgeons to provide lifesaving surgical procedures and invite local doctors to expand upon their surgical skills alongside the volunteer surgeons. Mercy Ships also provides mentoring programs for surgeons, anesthesia providers, ward nurses, operating nurses and biomedical technicians. By providing new medical tools and resources, constructing new medical facilities, providing training for local professionals and working with local governments, Mercy Ships leaves a long-lasting impact.

Poverty and disease are closely related. In order to have significant improvement in global health, economic development of LMICs and improved medical education is essential. The growing disparity in surgical access and other health services requires urgent attention. We can put this into action through the comprehensive development of healthcare access in LMICs.

– Arya Baladevigan
Photo: Unsplash

The ActivistToday’s youth continue to make headlines by showing their passion for global activism. The increase in mass action against global injustices amplifies awareness of some of the world’s most pressing matters. The top five areas of concern for Gen Z youth are mental health, disease and famine, environmental issues, unemployment and education. According to a survey done in 2020, 20% of Gen Z youth often “donate or volunteer time to a cause.” The increased interest in global activism has captured the attention of major television networks, including CBS. The network plans to bring activism to primetime in fall 2021 with its new competition series, “The Activist.”

The Premise

The new show will center around six enthusiastic activists who will be split into three teams. A high-profile public figure will lead each team. The teams will compete to improve one of three critical global issues: education, health or the environment. The teams will receive judgment on how well they successfully campaign for their causes. The objective of each team is to establish influential movements that will publicize their message, spur action and propel the teams to the G20 Summit in Rome, Italy. From there, the activists must gain funding and support from world leaders. During the season finale, the team with the most support will be crowned the winner. Some of the world’s most noteworthy musicians will also perform at the finale. The series is produced by Global Citizen, a “movement of engaged citizens who are using their collective voice to end extreme poverty by 2030.”

Relevance to Global Poverty

One of the issues participants in “The Activist” seek to address is education. In 2016, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reported that roughly one out of five children do not attend school worldwide. The “upper-secondary out-of-school rate” is highest in low-income countries at almost 60%.

The show will also tackle public health issues. Governments in low-income countries spend an average of $23 per person per year on health. This is extremely low when compared to the staggering rate of $3,860 per person spent by the U.S. government. Furthermore, child mortality rates in low-income nations are more than 10 times higher than in wealthy nations.

Lastly, “The Activist” plans to emphasize environmental issues. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that climate change will cause more than 250,000 deaths by 2030 due to heat stress, malaria and malnutrition. Climate change is especially troubling for low-income countries because of their susceptible geographical locations and their weakened ability to survive damage caused by extreme weather and elevating sea levels.

Inspiring Action

“The Activist” will be a platform to educate viewers on these imperative global issues and motivate the global population to support laws and policies beneficial to improving conditions in developing countries. By showcasing the hard work and commitment of Gen Z activists, others will hopefully be inspired to take action themselves. In all global issues, the commitment and activism of the youth will certainly have a marked impact.

Tiara Tyson
Photo: Flickr

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

Mental health in ItalyItaly is the fourth most populous nation in Europe, with a population of 60.36 million people as of 2019. As it stands, Italy remains one of the most COVID-19 affected countries, and the resulting lockdown has had a noticeable impact on the mental health of the Italian population. However, there is more to the story of mental health in Italy than the effects of the pandemic.

Italy’s Past Relationship with Mental Health

Italy passed Law Number 180 in 1978. Law Number 180 blocked all new admissions to Italian mental hospitals. This subsequently led to all mental hospitals in Italy closing by the year 2000. This change came about so that mental patients would receive similar treatment to other patients with physical ailments. Psychiatric wards that still exist in the country are located inside general hospitals with roughly 10 available beds in these wards per 100,000 people, and only 46 beds per 100,000 people in community residential facilities. These numbers can also vary significantly between geographical areas.

The State of Mental Health in Italy

In the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, Italy had been doing relatively well in terms of mental health. For example, in 2016, Italy had one of the lowest suicide rates among G7 countries, at 6.3 suicides per 100,000 people. This is less than half the rate of the United States in 2016, which was 13.3 suicides per 100,000 people. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that in 2017, 5.1% of the Italian population suffered from some form of depressive disorder and 5% of the population suffered from an anxiety disorder.

The Effects of COVID-19

The full effects of COVID-19 on mental health in Italy are unknown. However, psychological studies conducted while lockdown measures were in place provide some clarity on the subject. One online survey issued approximately four weeks into lockdown measures in Italy showed notably increased rates of post-traumatic stress syndrome, symptoms of depression, insomnia, symptoms of anxiety and perceived stress.

The Future of Mental Health in Italy

According to experts, there are going to be psychosocial and economic ramifications resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, due to the trauma associated with being a frontline worker, there is a projected decline in the mental health of frontline doctors and nurses. This decline will also affect members of the Italian population that have undergone any psychological distress because of the pandemic.

Steps have already been taken to help those suffering from COVID-19-related stress. In March 2020, the Italian government launched a national mental health service intended to combat the rise of mental distress in Italy. The program works with institutions and regional associations to provide free emergency help from psychoanalysts and psychologists. The new mental health service can also provide necessary mental resources to low-income families and individuals living independently as they are more at risk of developing mental health disorders.

Additionally, SOS Children’s Villages, an organization that has also taken action on the issue of mental health in Italy during COVID-19, has partnered with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the City University of New York and the WHO to train individuals on how to provide low-intensity psychological interventions to individuals in need of psychological aid.

The “Living with the Times” toolkit made by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Reference Group on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support also helps to provide adults with the tools necessary to support one’s mental health, as well as the welfare of those around them.

Italy has a unique relationship with mental health treatment, and COVID-19 presents an unusual challenge for the nation. Efforts by the institutions that have partnered with the Italian government, as well as local NGOs and nonprofits, aim to reduce the damage caused by COVID-19 by making mental health care widespread and accessible.

– Brendan Jacobs
Photo: Unsplash