Healthcare Crisis in Yemen Escalates
The healthcare crisis in Yemen was introduced in 2014, as rebel forces banded together following a long period of political unrest, corruption, unemployment and food insecurity. In its wake, the conflict has left a growing number of casualties and healthcare facilities unequipped to deal with the rising tides of people in need of medical attention. According to statistics released by the United Nations, over 6,800 people have been killed and 35,000 injured since the start of the Saudi-fronted coalition air strikes against the Houthi rebels in March 2015.

As the war in Yemen surpasses its first year and a half of violence, the healthcare has become more vital and more precarious. As of March 2016, 600 healthcare facilities were deemed nonfunctional because of conflict-related damages. These damages ranged from bombed buildings to a shortage of staff and supplies. Over 80 percent of the population, roughly 21 million people, are in need of humanitarian assistance, many of which need medical attention. Meanwhile, Yemen’s healthcare is on the brink of collapse. Many patients need to be treated for bullet wounds, broken bones, blunt force trauma and various vascular injuries. Oftentimes, the issues medical professionals face is not singular in an individual. They could be up against multiple life-threatening injuries, all on the same body, all at once.

Consequences of the healthcare crisis in Yemen are far larger than the immediate wartime implications. With such a lack of resources and a climate of fear surrounding medical buildings, even basic medical needs are not being met. According to Pranav Shetty, a health coordinator with the International Medical Corps, “There are thousands of children going unvaccinated, terminally ill patients not being able to receive regular treatments, and pregnant women missing out on crucial check-ups.” This year alone, 10 thousand children are predicted to die of preventable diseases.

This is in part due to the violence faced by medical personnel at the hands of the Houthi rebels. The rebels attack hospitals, ambulance and medical staff directly, which often robs medical professionals of the opportunity to do their work or scares them out of coming to work entirely. Since the beginning of the crisis, 20 percent of all hospitals in Yemen have been rendered useless. Yemen was ill-equipped to deal with this dilemma in the first place. It is one of the Arab world’s poorest countries, with many of its citizens living below the global poverty line. Thus, in many respects, the healthcare crisis in Yemen is only just beginning. The health ministry is unable to purchase new supplies.

An unheard of amount of people are going unvaccinated for preventable diseases. The impact on mental health, specifically PTSD in the wake of the crisis, has yet to be measured but conjectures can be made that the outcome will not be good.

To meet the increasing need for medical staffers, hospitals have begun training local volunteers and medical students in basic emergency responses in exchange for small stipends. Organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) have begun stepping in and offering medical aid, particularly for malnourished children in the region. This is a step in the right direction, but more can be done. It will take aid from countries around the world and selfless individual effort to help alleviate the burden of the healthcare crisis in Yemen, and as a global team we are capable of making a change.

Kayla Provencher

Photo: Flickr

solar-powered water purifier
Recently, scientists at Stanford University and the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have developed a tiny, solar-powered water purifier resembling a rectangular bit of black glass. The new device does not have a name yet, but is being referred to as a “tablet.”

Access to safe drinking water is a problem for 663 million people in the world. The World Health Organization reports that unsafe water supplies, sanitation and hygiene are responsible for 842,000 deaths every year, 361,000 of which are children under the age of 5.

What sets this device apart from other water purifying gadgets on the market is its use of a wider range of light. According to the Global Citizen Organization, the device absorbs 50 percent of incoming sunlight energy, while other purifiers only absorb 4 percent.

According to project leader Chong Liu, “This can greatly enhance the speed of water disinfection. It does not need any additional energy or effort for treating water.” In an experiment, the tablet took only 20 minutes to function. In contrast, other purifying systems that use only UV rays can take up to almost 48 hours.

On the surface of the tablet is a layer of nanoflakes and a small amount of copper. The nanoflakes’ exposure to sunlight and water excites electrons in the device and results in the release of hydrogen peroxide. This chemical kills bacteria in the water, making it safe to drink. As of now, however, the tablet is only capable of killing E. coli and lactic acid bacteria.

In an experiment published in the Nature Nanotechnology journal, researchers placed the solar-powered water purifier in a container with 25 milliliters of water for 20 minutes. It killed 99.99 percent of the bacteria in the water, an impressive amount for such a short amount of time. Even Liu said, “We didn’t expect it to work that well at first.”

Since the device is new and not ready for the market yet, it has no fixed price. But according to Liu, “The material itself is cheap and the synthesis process is facile. So we assume that the device would be of low-cost.”

More experiments and field tests must be done before the tablet can be distributed. Nonetheless, this solar-powered water purifier has the potential to cheaply and quickly help people who struggle to obtain clean drinking water.

Karla Umanzor

Photo: Flickr

Joan Rose: World Water Week's Champion
The 2016 World Water Week, attended by 3,100 people from more than 120 countries, was held in Stockholm, Sweden, where the theme was “Water for Sustainable Growth.” While this year’s World Water Week was primarily focused on water as it relates to the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the U.N. General Assembly and last year’s COP 21 climate agreement, many issues, such as pollution and sanitation, were raised.

The worldwide contamination of water is one of the greatest health threats of our time, as many experts believe that our oceans, rivers, lakes and wetlands are more polluted now than at any other time in history.

A recent report released by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) found that as many as 323 million people in Africa, Asia and Latin America are at risk of contracting infections from pathogen-ridden water. Apart from being a health issue, polluted water in these continents negatively affects food supplies, economies and inequality experienced by women, children and the poor.

Professor Joan Rose, a microbiologist and the Homer Nowlin Chair in Water Research at Michigan State University, is one of the foremost scientists working to end worldwide water pollution. At this year’s World Water Week, Rose won the 2016 Stockholm Water Prize, the greatest honor that an individual working in water research or development can receive.

Rose has dedicated most of her life to this field, working in countries such as Malawi, Kenya and Singapore, as well as numerous organizations including the World Health Organization, the International Water Association and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Throughout her career, Joan Rose has led research, set standards and educated the public about water pollution. While the issue may seem overwhelming, Rose believes that the future is bright, stating in an article published by the Guardian that, “There is more public support, more money, more political will to clean up water. We have more knowledge and more willingness to pay.”

Liam Travers

Photo: Flickr

Diseases in Eritrea
Located in the Horn of Africa, the country of Eritrea is bordered by Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti and has a population of about 5.6 million. Constant conflicts, the threat of war and severe droughts have transformed Eritrea into one of the poorest nations in Africa. Because the country has little money to spend on health care, many diseases in Eritrea remain a constant threat to travelers and citizens.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), individuals traveling to Eritrea are at risk of contracting typhoid, malaria, meningitis, rabies, yellow fever and hepatitis A and B. These diseases can be contracted through contaminated food and water, sexual contact, mosquito bites or non-sterile medical or cosmetic equipment. Many of them, however, are highly preventable through vaccination.

Diseases such as rotavirus are the leading causes of fatal diarrhea in children under five in Eritrea. In 2010, an estimated 1,201 children under five died from rotavirus.

The Zika virus is also a growing concern among Eritrea’s citizens. As in many countries, non-communicable diseases in Eritrea are steadily growing more prevalent. These diseases include cardiovascular diseases, malnourishment, hypertension, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and cancer.

However, it is also important to note that Eritrea’s government has made substantial progress in disease control and improving the overall health of its citizens. In 2000, as a member state of the United Nations, Eritrea adopted the eight Millennium Development Goals, committing to further development and human security. Since then, Eritrea has made tremendous strides in providing health care to its 5.6 million citizens.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that eight of Eritrea’s major vaccine-preventable diseases are no longer a public health issue. Cost-effective vaccinations for diseases in Eritrea that still pose a concern, such as rotavirus, have also become available.

Public health concerns such as measles, maternal and neonatal tetanus in Eritrea have been reduced to less than 90 percent as of 1991. Eritrea has been certified as dracunculiasis-free and polio-free due to an increase in vaccinations. In addition to this, the country is seeing a steady decline in the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, with HIV infection rates in the population at less than 1 percent.

Shannon Warren

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Hurricane Matthew
Hurricane Matthew was a devastating category four hurricane sustaining winds of upwards of 140 mph when it first swept through into the Southern peninsula of Haiti on October 3-4, 2016.

Hurricane Matthew was the strongest natural disaster to hit the country in a decade, completely destroying towns and villages. Food reserves and roughly 300 schools have been damaged.

Haiti Liberte, a local news source of Haiti, estimates nearly two feet of rain impacted the area during Hurricane Matthew.

Reuters estimates that the death toll in Haiti is currently at 1,000 and rising, causing the community to create mass graves for their deceased. The death toll is continuing to rise due to the cholera outbreak in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew. Thousands are also displaced in the wreckage.

Cholera Rises in Aftermath of Hurricane Matthew

According to CNN, Haiti has the highest rates of Cholera worldwide. An estimated 10,000 people have died from the epidemic since 2010 when soldiers from the U.N. accidentally brought the disease to the area in the aftermath of an earthquake. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported in 2016 that 880 new cases each week arise out of Haiti.

With cholera projected to increase in the aftermath of Matthew, WHO is sending one million cholera vaccines to the area in hopes of preventing an outbreak of the waterborne disease.

Developmental Struggles to Haitian Economy

Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas and the Western hemisphere. The New York Times reported that, prior to the devastation left by Hurricane Matthew, Haiti was on the path of developing into a more prosperous country. Cell phone services were widely enabled in the community, and farmers and businesses were improving.

Forests, swamps and other forms of vegetation are now ruined. Roadways are blocked and destroyed and homes are no longer standing as they once were. Only the mounds of stones that were used as the foundation for homes still stand in Jérémie, Haiti.

Minister of commerce and industry in the Grand Anse department Marie Roselore Auborg of Jérémie stated, “Instead of going forward, we have to restart…This storm leveled all of the potentials we had to grow and reboot our economy.”

Widespread Famine

BBC reported from U.N. officials and the Haiti government that widespread famine will impact Haiti in the three to four months to come if the situation is not addressed properly and promptly. Haiti Interim president Jocelerme Privert states that “real famine” following the “apocalyptic destruction” made by Hurricane Matthew could prevail.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is proactively responding to the crisis by investing $120 million in the three months following the hurricane to aid in the restoration of Haitian infrastructure and provide medical and famine relief.

France and the U.S. have pledged to send aid to Haiti. The American Red Cross is providing $6.9 million to aid in relief efforts as well.

Haylee M. Gardner

Photo: Flickr

Within the Cusp of Ending Malaria
The end of malaria could possibly be closer than expected. With the recent success of Sri Lanka officially declaring itself as Malaria free after withstanding three years without a single case of infection. The World Health Organization (WHO) Reported a 60 percent decrease in global malaria mortality rates between 2000 and 2015.

According to the Guardian, “Public health officials said 13 countries, including Argentina and Turkey, had reported no cases for at least a year and may well follow the success of Sri Lanka…” Sri Lanka was near ending malaria 50 years ago and it has finally been able to do so becoming a catalyst for other countries.

The local transmission of malaria is slowly but surely being reduced as countries invest more in treatment and prevention strategies. Earlier this year the WHO estimated that “21 countries are in a position to achieve this goal, including six countries in the African Region.”

The Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016–2030 is currently in place. Four crucial points make up the plan, which includes reducing the rate of new malaria cases by at least 90 percent, reducing malaria death rates by at least 90 percent and eliminating malaria in at least 35 countries.

This plan was devised before the triumphant victory of Sri Lanka over malaria. Recently the members of the WHO of the African Region have adopted a framework that goes hand-in-hand with the goals outlined by the Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016–2030.

Within the document issued by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) titled President’s Malaria Initiative Strategy 2015-2020 the optimism to end malaria within this time period is evident. The document goes on to state “Innovative approaches to deploying existing tools also are being tested, including presumptive insecticide rotation to mitigate the spread and intensification of resistance.”

The U.S. has made it a priority to partake in ending malaria along with the other countries trying to terminate the disease from its country by 2020.

Mariana Camacho

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Polio-Free Nigeria July 24, 2016, marks Nigeria’s two-year anniversary without any new polio cases. This is a significant step toward certification for polio-free Nigeria in 2017.

Known to mainly affect young children, poliomyelitis (polio) is spread through fecal-oral transmission and by consuming contaminated food or water. The virus multiplies in the intestine, and can invade the nervous system and cause paralysis.

On September 25, 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) removed Nigeria from the polio-endemic list. The disease only remains endemic in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

This is the longest Nigeria has gone without signs of the poliovirus and is certainly an important milestone.  However, President Muhammadu Buhari highlights that “we have not recorded any case of polio in the last two years, but we should not be complacent.”

In order to declare Nigeria completely polio-free, authorities are now focusing on  vaccinations – and making sure everyone gets them. According to WHO, failure to treat just one person could lead to additional run-ins with the virus, up to 200,000 new cases each year, all around the world.

In 2012, Nigeria accounted for more than half of all polio cases worldwide. However, with the combined efforts of the government, leaders and thousands of health workers, that statistic has greatly diminished and Nigeria is moving toward a polio-free state. Volunteers have immunized more than 45 million children under the age of five.

The establishment and funding of health programs have also had a serious hand in Nigeria’s success. The Hard-to-Reach project has gone the extra mile, operating in high-risk states in Nigeria. While polio is the main focus of these camps, other services such as prenatal care, routine vaccines, basic medicines, screening for malnutrition and health education are also offered.

If the country continues to follow through with the necessary medical procedures and protect new individuals from contracting the virus, a polio-free Nigeria could be a reality in the very near future.

Mikaela Frigillana

Photo: Flickr

polio vaccineIn a coordinated effort of unprecedented size in vaccine withdrawal, 155 countries switched polio vaccines. The switch to the newer form of the polio vaccine occurred between April 17 and May 1 and could help stop the trend of polio-based paralysis in hundreds of thousands of children.

Monitors from the World Health Organization are following up in various countries to confirm that stocks of the old vaccine have been properly disposed of. The switch was the second phase of the WHO’s Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan 2013–2018.

Eventually, the WHO’s plan anticipates a complete withdrawal from oral polio vaccines in 2019 or 2020.  In addition, it foresees a complete reliance on inactivated vaccines, which contain dead forms of the virus.

Health care providers use oral vaccines because they are cheap and easy to administer. These vaccines work by containing a weakened, but still live, form of poliovirus and exit in the stool shortly after vaccination. In areas with very inadequate sanitation, the viruses have an extremely small chance of spreading between children and redeveloping the ability to cause paralysis.

The switch is from a trivalent form of the polio vaccine that protected against three strains of the virus. The newer, bivalent form no longer contains the type 2 strain, which has been declared eradicated in its “wild” form with no new cases since 1999. Because the Type 2 vaccine viruses can reduce immunity to the other strains and increase the chance of redeveloping paralysis, removal of the type 2 component was the next step in the long-term polio eradication plan.

The global polio eradication has found success in all but two countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, since it began in 1988. The U.S., which discontinued use of the oral vaccine since 1999, relies on the injectable polio vaccine and was not involved in the recent switch.

The slight possibility of a Type 2 poliovirus outbreak exists because of the switch. Therefore, a stockpile of monovalent oral polio vaccine containing only the type 2 virus will be kept. Synchronizing the switch across the globe was thus crucial in minimizing the risk of the Type 2 poliovirus reemergence.

Polio is at its lowest rates in history. Leaders of the eradication program foresee that if no additional cases occur in the next three years, polio could be declared fully eradicated by 2019. However, countries should continue vaccination for at least five years afterward. If success continues, polio will be only the second disease after smallpox to be eradicated by vaccines.

Esmie Tseng

Ebola CrisisSince 2013, the Ebola crisis has devastated countries across the world, from the highly contagious West Africa to the United States. Not long after the outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the disease a “public health emergency of international concern,” on August 8, 2014.

However, in a statement made earlier this year, the WHO declared that the “likelihood of international spread is low.” As of January 6, 2016, the number of Ebola outbreaks since 2013 totaled 28,637. In addition, there have been eight cases of Ebola between February and March.

According to the New York Times, on April 6, officials from the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Health and Human Services and the State Department announced the reallocation of its $510 million Ebola budget towards combatting the Zika virus.

The government, however, is far from declaring the Ebola outbreak over and the two deadly viruses are non-competing. Of note, the Obama Administration’s 2014 Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) was a response to crippled infrastructure in countries impacted by health crises.

In promotion of the WHO’s International Health Regulations and other global health security frameworks, “the GHSA serves to stimulate investment in the needed capacity – infrastructure, equipment, and above all skilled personnel – and empowers countries, international organizations and civil society to work together to achieve focused goals.”

This entails a U.S. commitment to the eradication of the ebola crisis, mitigation of recurring outbreaks and partnerships with affected countries for infrastructure enhancement.

An article in the New England Journal of Medicine compares the diagnoses and treatment techniques of the Ebola and Zika viruses.

In explaining the improved sharing mechanisms and response techniques, Dr. Charlotte Huang writes, “Many lessons learned from the response to the recent Ebola outbreak have helped in the response to the ZIKV outbreak. Most important, there is general agreement on the need for international collaboration on regulatory issues, research, and data sharing.”

Nahid Bhadelia, an infection disease physician at Boston Medical Center has also noted the importance of “[having] continued vigilance in West Africa,” due to likely flare ups and the potential transmission by the 17,000 Ebola survivors who still might have the virus.

Nora Harless

Photo: Flickr

According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), maternal mortality is a prominent issue in many developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Deaths from childbirth disproportionately impact the poor as well as women living in rural areas. According to the WHO, “99 percent of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries.”

In addition, more than 50 percent of deaths during childbirth occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

The WHO also asserts that many complications that arise during pregnancy are treatable. The organization states that complications that present before birth may worsen during pregnancy and consequently become fatal.

Common complications accounting for deaths during pregnancy include severe bleeding (mostly after childbirth), infection, high blood pressure while pregnant, problems with the delivery and unsafe abortion.

According to the U.N., girls aged 15-19 are especially likely to experience fatal births.

The WHO explains that only 51 percent of women can afford skilled care by “a midwife, a doctor, or a trained nurse”. Therefore, millions of women face risks from unmonitored pregnancies. The WHO goes on to say that women need access to skilled care, not only during pregnancy, but also during childbirth and afterward.

A report from the U.N. shows that significant progress has been made in addressing the issue of maternal mortality. The organization states that Equatorial Guinea has achieved its Millennium Development Goals, reducing death during childbirth by 81 percent. Additionally, Eritrea reduced maternal mortality by 77 percent; Ethiopia saw a 69 percent decline and Rwanda reduced maternal mortality by 76 percent.

Moreover, U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon has launched a program named the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health, 2016-2030. The strategy “seeks to end all preventable death of women, children and adolescents and create an environment in which these groups not only survive, but thrive and see their environments, health and wellbeing transformed”.

Mayra Vega

Sources: World Health Organization, United Nations 1, United Nations 2, Central Intelligence Agency
Photo: Flickr