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Rheumatic Heart Disease in Africa
Heart disease is a significant burden across the world. From the Americas to Africa, heart disease affects people globally. While heart disease affects people from all spectrums of the socio-economic ladder, it disproportionately influences the lives of those living in extreme poverty. Nowhere is this more apparent than with rheumatic heart disease in Africa.

What is Rheumatic Heart Disease?

Rheumatic fever is the precursor to rheumatic heart disease. Rheumatic fever affects the connective tissue in multiple areas of the body, particularly the heart. Prolonged exposure to the illness can cause rheumatic heart disease due to the heart valves becoming swollen and scarred. Over time, this can lead to heart failure. Undertreated or ignored strep throat is the precursor to rheumatic fever. Those with frequent bouts of strep infections are at an increased risk of contracting rheumatic fever, particularly children. Children between the ages of 5 to 15 are particularly susceptible to rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever and by extension, rheumatic heart disease, mainly affects children in underdeveloped nations.

Rheumatic Heart Disease in Africa: The Facts

Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of rheumatic heart disease cases in children between 5 to 14, with 1,008,207 cases.  In developed countries, the number of cases is drastically lower, with 33,330 cases. Thankfully, rheumatic heart disease is an easily preventable disease. Consistent, long-term treatment with penicillin can prevent rheumatic fever from progressing into rheumatic heart disease. Rheumatic fever is avoidable with early treatment of strep throat. This leaves the main reasons for the spread of rheumatic heart disease as a lack of resources, money and lack of knowledge about preventative measures.

How to Fight Rheumatic Heart Disease in Africa?

A multitude of nongovernmental organizations lent their services to the fight against rheumatic heart disease in Africa. One of these NGOs is the World Heart Federation (WHF), a group that dedicates itself to the eradication of rheumatic heart disease. On May 25, 2018, the global community put the World Health Organization’s resolution on rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease into action, and this led to the creation of the WHF Rheumatic Heart Disease Taskforce (RHDTF). This task force comprises three separate groups. The first group is the Access to Surgery group, which, as the name implies, focuses on developing strategies to bring lifesaving surgery to low-income countries. The Access to Surgery group works to create surgical centers dedicated to rheumatic heart disease surgery. The second and third groups in this task force are the Policy and Advocacy group and the Prevention and Control group. The Policy and Advocacy group works to increase access to penicillin in low-income areas by dealing with red-tape that can often affect the supply of penicillin. The Prevention and Control group focuses more on investing in projects that take on rheumatic heart disease at the local level.

The Future of Rheumatic Heart Disease

The future looks brighter for those suffering from rheumatic heart disease in Africa. Rheumatic heart disease is entirely preventable, with conventional prevention techniques such as avoiding sharing drinks, coughing away from others and even making sure to frequently wash hands.  With the help of NGOs like WHF and countries like Ghana hosting World Heart Day to raise awareness for rheumatic heart disease, there is hope that this disease’s days are finite.

Ryan Holman
Photo: Flickr

Breast Cancer in Senegal
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide—it affects 2.1 million women each year. According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer caused 15 percent of cancer-related deaths among women in 2018. While developed countries have higher rates of breast cancer, the disease is on the rise globally. Here are six facts about breast cancer in Senegal.

6 Facts About Breast Cancer in Senegal

  1. Breast Cancer Cases: The prevalence of breast cancer in Senegal is on the rise. A study by the Global Cancer Observatory in 2018 shows that the incidences of breast cancer reached 1,758 cases per year. This is in comparison to 869 cases in 2012. The disease ranks second in terms of new cases. In terms of mortality rate, it falls only behind cervical cancer.
  2. Chemotherapy Training: There is only one medical oncology specialist in Senegal. Therefore, general practitioners, as well as oncology surgeons, carry out chemotherapy. The government is working to improve on this by trying to ensure 50 percent of doctors undergo chemotherapy training by attending seminars as well as doing practical internships. The government also offers fellowships for people to fully specialize in medical oncology.
  3. Cancer Treatment: There is only one center dedicated to cancer in Senegal—the Joliot Curie Institute which is the cancer department of the Le Dantec Hospital. Most breast cancer patients receive treatment at the Hospital Center University Aristide Le Dantec which sees 350 new patients every year. Others attend the Principal Hospital, which is the second-largest university hospital in Dakar, or to smaller private centers and public hospitals. There is low accessibility for those in rural areas as these facilities congregate in Dakar and other major cities.
  4. Challenges: A challenge that people face when it comes to the treatment of breast cancer in Senegal includes late consultation, with most patients only finding out they have breast cancer when it is in the advanced stages. People might also face a lack of human resources and adequate equipment. Additionally, both the public and health care providers require further education on available treatments.
  5. Funding for Free Chemotherapy: The government of Senegal announced that it have set aside an estimated $1.6 billion to provide free chemotherapy in public hospitals for those with breast and cervical cancer starting in October 2019. By doing this, it is following in the footsteps of other African countries such as Rwanda, Namibia and Seychelles. While this is a positive step in the right direction to see the mortality rate drop, a challenge remains as women often require both radiotherapy and chemotherapy to control the spread of breast cancer.
  6. Benefits of Free Chemotherapy: The introduction of free chemotherapy treatment for patients of breast cancer in Senegal will surely help reduce the mortality rate as the high cost of treatment refrained patients. The expenses of breast cancer treatment were wholly the responsibility of the patients. While a few covered the expenses themselves, the families foot most expenses for a vast majority of patients. The high cost of treatment and debt faced that patients and their families faced meant that they typically did not attend follow-up treatment after the initial sessions.

Senegal is taking important steps to ensure that it improves the outcome and survival rates of those breast cancer affects. Beyond providing free treatment, there is an urgent need to ensure that the disease receives an early diagnosis. By providing education, free treatment and increasing the number of trained practitioners, the deaths that breast cancer causes in Senegal will hopefully decrease.

– Sophia Wanyonyi
Photo: Pixabay

Life expectancy in Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a country known for its natural beauty, from Mount Wilhelm, the highest mountain in the country, to the cuscus, a marsupial that roams its rainforests. When it comes to its people, the government has made strides to improve life expectancy with life expectancy at birth totaling 64 years as of 2017 compared to only 39 years in 1960. Still, life expectancy in Papua New Guinea falls far below the global average of 72 years.

Here is a look at the factors that influence life expectancy in the country as well as efforts to further improve longevity in PNG.

Country Cooperation Strategy

The World Health Organization (WHO) launched the Country Cooperation Strategy (CCS) in 2016 to improve health facilities and access to health care in a country that is mainly rural. The CCS aims to tackle many issues that are standing in the way of attaining sustainable health outcomes for PNG citizens:

  • User fees: User fees refer to the cost of medical services, drugs and entrance fees when seeing a health care provider. In countries where the majority of the population lives in poverty, user fees serve as barriers to health care services for those who may need it the most. One of the goals of the CCS is to eliminate these fees so that that the poor will have equal access to services that are essential for good health.
  • Vaccinations: Better access to vaccinations is another way the CCS plans to ensure that the life expectancy in Papua New Guinea increases. To that end, the country’s National Department of Health, in coordination with the WHO and UNICEF started a three-week campaign in June 2019 with the goal of vaccinating 1 million children against measles-rubella and polio. As Prime Minister Marape stressed in an address to parents at the launch: “We must make Papua New Guinea polio-free again.”
  • Newborn and Maternal Health: PNG has one of the highest mortality rates in the world. The main cause of mortality in mothers is exposure to infections and high blood pressure, which can interfere with kidney and liver function and also cause anemia. Infant mortality is mainly caused by infection and asphyxia. By providing more supervision during deliveries and by promoting community-based support through non-governmental organizations, the CCS plans to change this. Care for mothers and newborns will be addressed in the CCS with a focus on support for mothers before, during and after birth.
  • Health Care Providers: A lack of health care providers is a large problem affecting life expectancy in Papua New Guinea because there are not enough doctors to care for the sick people in the country. In 2009, there were only 330 doctors nationwide for a country of 8 million. The CCS plans to work with the government to increase access to education and create better facilities for learning for those who wish to pursue careers in the medical field, therefore increasing the number of doctors.

Other Factors Affecting Life Expectancy in PNG

  • Natural Disasters: PNG is in an area that is susceptible to natural disasters and the CCS plans on implementing new strategies for dealing with these kinds of events when they occur. After a 7.5 magnitude earthquake in PNG in 2018, the death toll was estimated to be 145 and about 270,000 people needed aid. Be it a volcanic eruption, earthquake or drought, the CCS wants to make sure that the people of PNG are ready for these disasters when they inevitably occur. More surveillance of these natural occurrences and emergency planning is necessary to make sure the country is secure in case of a natural disaster.

  • Tuberculosis: Protection against epidemics is another issue affecting the life expectancy in Papua New Guinea, malaria and tuberculosis (TB) being two of the most pressing. In 2017, there were 27,935 cases of tuberculosis. The WHO plans to investigate the causes of outbreaks by identifying TB early on and reducing the transmission of the disease. The WHO also plans to strengthen training programs that deal with treating conditions like these.

– Joslin Hughson and Kim Thelwell
Photo: Pixabay

Eldercare in Sub-Saharan AfricaThe world is experiencing rapid demographic aging. In sub-Saharan Africa, a population of 165 million people above the age of 65 is expected by the year 2050, a number more than three times greater than today’s demographics in the region. The care needs of the elderly are much greater in developing countries than in developed countries. However, the WHO works to create sustainable, organized, affordable and accessible long-term care infrastructure that will protect the rights and dignity of vulnerable elderly people. Implementation of universal health coverage, which will make quality eldercare feasible, is its biggest priority in this regard.

The most successful models for eldercare in sub-Saharan Africa are collaborative and meet the rights, needs and preferences of individuals while encouraging their purposeful participation in society and their independence to the greatest extent possible. Oftentimes, this effective care allows for the elderly to remain in the home of a relative but with in-home care visits and access to a variety of supportive programs that meet their basic needs and also combat loneliness and isolation. A few innovative programs in sub-Saharan Africa meet the long-term care needs of the elderly. The study of these models facilitates their recreation for greater numbers of elderly citizens.

Examples of Successful Models for Eldercare in sub-Saharan Africa

  • Ghana: Care for the Aged Foundation provides organized, in-home care visits and assistance with personal care errands. Volunteer workers receive free health care in exchange for their service. Trust has grown in the community for this type of care and there is a long waitlist to participate.
  • Kenya: Private Nursing Agency [name protected per WHO policy] is a private company also providing individualized, in-home care from professionals. This efficient model is growing in popularity, but it is inaccessabile for those without insurance due to the cost.
  • South Africa: Rand Aid is a nonprofit organization with a retirement village model. Residents have security, a high quality of life and care as needed. The returned equity for their spot in the village (as with a condo as opposed to non-returned rent or nursing home expenses) draws people in. Care focuses on freedom of choice and autonomy, translating to the best quality of life.
  • Tanzania: HelpAge International works to improve access to in-home health care services to combat symptoms of poverty and alleviate long-term illnesses. HelpAge implements the Better Health for Older People in Africa program funded through U.K. aid. The program is widespread, individualized and collaborative with families. The program assists physical, emotional, spiritual, social and even the economic wellbeing of the clients.

These programs have the following characteristics in common:

  1. Involvement of family members in plan implementation
  2. Taking into consideration the preferences of the elderly person in care
  3. Adequate training of the caregivers
  4. Integration of comprehensive healthcare services
  5. Equitable access
  6. Quality of conditions for care providers
  7. Financial sustainability of programs

Filial Piety in sub-Saharan Africa

Currently, in sub-Saharan Africa, tradition and societal norms, as well as the lack of large-scale organized infrastructure, dictates that children of the elderly carry out the majority of eldercare in their homes, known as filial piety. The overwhelming burden of long-term care falls on girls and women. Most elderly requiring long-term care (those who no longer live independently) receive that care in an unregulated manner. This strain can prolong the cycle of poverty for far too many households.

In addition, the quality of care can be highly inconsistent leaving room for neglect and lack of basic needs being met. Girls and women who care for the elderly may miss out on education or employment opportunities because of this expectation. Furthermore, their own physical and mental health may suffer.

Continued research will increase understanding of the dynamics of eldercare globally. A Health and Retirement Study in the U.S. has expanded to several international sister studies and the World Health Organization is conducting a longitudinal study collecting data on adult health and aging.

What Can Be Done?

In order to meet the needs of the elderly in sub-Saharan Africa and establish integrated long-term care systems in the decades to come, several steps are needed according to the WHO:

  1. A comprehensive understanding of how people age and what their needs are.
  2. Analysis of deficits in current care models as well as the burdens placed on others.
  3. Close mapping of successful models and how to replicate them.
  4. Sharing of information and best practices cross-culturally and cross-nationally.
  5. Nurturing cultural acceptance of effective models that may differ from current practices.
  6. Coordinating and establishing national efforts, including funding; build infrastructure. Training and monitoring of caregivers are essential to this structure.

– Susan Niz
Photo: Wikimedia

Dengue FeverAccording to the World Health Organization, dengue fever is one of the ten major global health threats of 2019. The mosquito-borne illness results in flu-like symptoms that can kill up to 20 percent of those infected. Approximately 390 million cases of dengue fever are reported each year across 100 different countries, although, many cases go unreported. Cases of dengue fever have also increased 30 times in the last 50 years, meaning that today, 40 percent of the world’s population is at risk of contracting the disease.

Why the Increase?

While dengue fever used to be concentrated in countries with extreme tropical climates, such as India and Bangladesh, the disease is now prevalent in countries that have more temperate climates, such as Nepal. With higher than average temperatures, rainy seasons are lasting longer which creates the perfect environment for the Aedes mosquito, the carrier of the disease. Unfortunately, the geographic regions that the Aedes mosquito inhabits coincide with low and middle-income countries. Many of these countries do not have sufficient health care systems to cope with this major health issue. Therefore, the effects of dengue are even more severe.

Protection from Mosquitoes

The World Health Organization is leading efforts to reverse the increasing threat of dengue fever. One common tactic used is immunization. The first immunization for dengue fever was approved in 20 countries in 2015. However, follow-up data from 2017 showed that the vaccine was actually harmful to those who had never contracted the disease, putting people at a higher risk of more severe cases of dengue. Now, the vaccination is recommended as a measure for those who have already been affected.

In addition to immunization, people can inhibit the Aedes mosquito’s survival and procreation by properly disposing of human waste, and not leaving out any stagnate, uncovered containers of water, as mosquitoes thrive and lay eggs in both environments. It is also advised to use spray insecticide to repel bugs and invest in screened windows and sleeping nets for protection in homes.

Combatting the Threat

The World Health Organization is partnering with local organizations and governments in affected countries to ensure that the number of deaths caused by dengue fever will decrease by 50 percent in 2020. In order to reach this goal, however, additional funding and research are needed so that the scope of dengue fever is properly understood. Health care providers also need the training and resources to properly address the issue and detect the disease in its early stages as well. If dengue fever is diagnosed before the symptoms become too severe, mortality rates of the disease become much more optimistic.

 

Madeline Lyons
Photo: Flickr

Smoking in Developing Countries
Smoking rates among adults and children in developing countries have been increasing for years. In developed nations, such as the United States, people have implemented certain policies in order to increase taxes and therefore reduce tobacco consumption, successfully. Such policies have not yet enacted in areas of extreme poverty around the world. In fact, tobacco companies have responded by flooding low-income areas with reduced-priced cigarettes, tons of advertisements and an excessive number of liquor stores and smoke shops. It is time to have a conversation about smoking rates in developing countries and whether or not tobacco control policies are the best approach long-term, worldwide. Here are the top 6 facts about smoking in developing countries.

Top 6 Facts About Smoking in Developing Countries

  1. Smoking affects populations living in extreme poverty differently than it does those in wealthy areas. Stress is a harmful symptom of poverty and contributes to smoking rates in low-income areas. Oftentimes living in poverty also means living in an overcrowded, polluted area with high crime and violence rates and a serious lack of government or social support. Stress and smoking are rampant in these areas for a reason. It is also important to note that smoking wards off hunger signals to the brain which makes it useful for individuals to maintain their mental health of sorts if food is not an option.
  2. Smoking rates are much higher among men than women across the globe. While the relative statistics vary from country to country, smoking rates among women are very low in most parts of Africa and Asia but there is hardly any disparity in smoking rates between men and women in wealthy countries such as Denmark and Sweden. The pattern of high smoking rates among men remains prevalent worldwide. One can equally attribute this to two factors that go hand-in-hand: the oppression of women and the stress that men receive to provide with their families.
  3. The increase in smoking rates in developing countries also means an outstanding number of diseases and death. The good news is that countries have succeeded in reducing consumption by raising taxes on the product. Price, specifically in the form of higher taxes, seems to be one of the only successful options in terms of cessation. Legislation banning smoking in certain public spaces is one example of an effort that places a bandaid on the problem instead of addressing the root cause. There is no data that shows a direct correlation between non-smoking areas and quitting rates among tobacco users.
  4. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports an estimated 6 million deaths per year which one can attribute to smoking tobacco products. It also estimates that there will be about another 1 billion deaths by the end of this century. Eighty percent of these deaths land in low-income countries. The problem at hand is determining how this part of the cycle of poverty can change when it has been operating in favor of the upper class for so long.
  5. Within developing countries, tobacco ranks ninth as a risk factor for mortality in those with high mortality and only ranks third in those with low mortality. This means that there are still countries where other risk factors for disease and death are still more prominent than tobacco use, but that does not mean that tobacco is not a serious health concern all over the world. Of these developing countries, tobacco accounts for up to 16 percent of the burden of disease (measured in years).
  6. China has a higher smoking rate than the other four countries ranked highest for tobacco use combined. The government sells tobacco and accounts for nearly 10 percent of central government revenue. In China, over 50 percent of the men smoke, whereas this is only true for 2 percent of women. China’s latest Five-Year Plan (2011 – 2015) called for more smoke-free public spaces in an attempt to increase life expectancy. A pack of Marlboro cigarettes in Beijing goes for 22元, which is equivalent to $3. This is far cheaper than what developed countries charge with taxes. This continual enablement is a prime example of why smoking rates in developing countries are such a problem. While many people mistake China for a developed nation because it has the world’s second-largest economy and third-largest military, it is still a developing country.

In countries like China where smoking rates are booming and death tolls sailing, tobacco control policies may not be the best solution. While raising taxes to reduce consumption may seem like a simple concept, when applied to real communities, a huge percentage of people living in poverty with this addiction will either be spending more money on tobacco products or suffering from withdrawals. While it might be easy for many people to ignore the suffering of the other, in this case, a lower-class cigarette smoker, one cannot forget how the cycle of poverty and addiction and oppression has influenced their path in life.

Helen Schwie
Photo: Flickr

Health Care in Ghana The West African nation of Ghana is a vibrant country filled with natural beauty and rich culture. However, like many of its neighbors in sub-Saharan Africa, Ghana suffers from a high poverty rate and lack of access to adequate health care. In fact, according to the Ghana Statistical Service, 23 percent of the total population lives in poverty and approximately 2.4 million Ghanaians are living in “extreme poverty.” That being said, many organizations and groups — both national and global — are working to improve health care in Ghana.

Malaria in Ghana

A disease transmitted through the bites of infected mosquitoes, malaria is a common concern throughout much of West Africa, including Ghana where it is the number one cause of death. In fact, according to the WHO’s most recent World Malaria Report, nearly 4.4 million confirmed malaria cases were reported in Ghana in 2018 — accounting for approximately 15 percent of the country’s total population.

All that in mind, many NGOs, as well as international government leaders, have taken up the mantle to eliminate malaria in Ghana. This includes leadership from the United States under the President’s Malaria Initiative or PMI which lays out comprehensive plans for Ghana to achieve its goal of successfully combating malaria.

With a proposed FY 2019 budget of $26 million, the PMI will ramp up its malaria control interventions including the distribution of vital commodities to the most at-risk citizens. For instance, the PMI aims to ensure that intermittent preventative treatment of pregnant women (IPTp) is more readily accessible for Ghanaian women. Progress has been made, too, as net use of IPTp by pregnant Ghanaian women has risen from 43 percent to 50 percent since 2016. This is just one example of the many ways in which PMI is positively contributing to the reduction and elimination of malaria in Ghana.

National Health Care System

National leaders are also doing their part to positively impact health care in Ghana. In 2003, the government made a huge step toward universal health coverage for its citizens by launching the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). As of 2017, the percentage of the population enrolled in the scheme declined to 35 percent from 41 percent two years prior. However, 73 percent of those enrolled renewed their membership and “persons below the age of 18 years and the informal sector workers had significantly higher numbers of enrolment than any other member group,” according to the Global Health Research and Policy.

It is difficult to truly understand Ghana’s health issues without considering firsthand perspectives. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Dr. Enoch Darko, an emergency medicine physician who graduated from the University of Ghana Medical School, commented on some of the health issues that have plagued Ghana in recent decades. “A lot of problems that most third world countries, including Ghana, deal with are parasitic diseases such as malaria and gastroenteritis. Though health issues like diabetes and hypertension still remain in countries around the world, and even the United States, the difference is that some diseases that have been eradicated in Western countries still remain in countries like Ghana,” Darko said. “Many people in Ghana simply do not see a doctor for routine checkups like in the United States. Rather, most people will only go to see a doctor when they are feeling sick. As a result, lesser symptoms may go unchecked, thus contributing to the prevalence and spread of disease and infection. Combined with the fact that many Ghanaians in rural communities may not have sufficient money to afford treatment or medicine, this becomes a cycle for poor or sick Ghanaians.”

That said, it is hoped that with continued support from international players as well as government intervention, the country can continue to make strides in addressing health care for its citizens.

Ethan Marchetti
Photo: Flickr

 

What is Hunger?
Every day, people around the world experience those familiar sensations of emptiness and rumbling pangs in their stomach, signaling that it is time to eat. At this point, most people would get something to eat and go on with their day. Sadly, many people in the world, especially those in developing countries, do not receive this luxury. They experience chronic hunger, which is undernourishment from not ingesting enough energy to lead a normal, active life. It is difficult to empathize with what hunger feels like, to live with a body longing for nourishment, weakened by a lack of energy and unable to fulfill its basic need for food.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, an estimated one in nine people, 821 million, live with chronic hunger. It also states that the number of people living with the condition has been on the rise since 2014, with a staggering 98 percent living in developing countries.

The Consequences of Hunger

Hunger brings along with it many problems other than an aching stomach. Prolonged lack of adequate nourishment results in malnutrition, which causes the stunting of growth and development in children and wasting syndrome. Wasting syndrome is a side effect of malnutrition, in which the victim’s fat and muscle tissues break down to provide the body with nourishment. The condition results in an emaciated body and in some cases, death. In fact, malnutrition links to around 45 percent of deaths among children under the age of five, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).  Fortunately, some have made progress. Since 2012, the number of stunted children in the world has decreased by nine percent from 165.2 million to 150.8 million, a significant improvement.

Hunger and Poverty

Poverty is the underlying determinant in who suffers from chronic hunger. Impoverished people are unable to consistently provide substantial amounts of food for themselves or their families, as they simply cannot afford to. This inability to provide nourishment creates a vicious cycle of hunger and poverty.

Undernourished people lack the energy required to perform basic tasks and therefore are less productive. Those who were malnourished as children develop stunted physical and intellectual abilities, which results in a reduction in the level of education achieved and the individual’s income, according to UNICEF.

What Can People Do?

People can break this vicious cycle and help people suffering from chronic hunger. Organizations such as The Hunger Project, the FAO and the Gates Foundation all have initiatives aimed at helping those in need get on their feet.

The Hunger Project works to empower those suffering from hunger with the tools they need to become self-reliant.  In Mbale, Uganda, the organization partnered with the local community to build a food bank where farmers are able to safely store grain, which has greatly increased their food security.

The FAO focuses on aiding governments and other organizations in implementing initiatives that aim to decrease hunger and malnourishment. A great example of this is Africa Sustainable Livestock 2050, in which the FOA helps countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia develop livestock infrastructure that will support the countries as their populations increase over the coming years.

Bill and Melinda Gates formed the Gates Foundation in 2000 with the main focus of providing internet to those who do not have access to it. Since then, the scope of the foundation’s mission has expanded to help the impoverished through global health and development initiatives. One of the foundation’s major initiatives is Seed Systems and Variety Improvement, which aims to improve seed breeding systems in Africa and India in an effort to make agriculture in those countries more sustainable.

With projects that aim to give impoverished people access to clean water, infrastructure, sustainable farming, disaster relief and education, these organizations have made significant strides.

Individuals can help eradicate chronic hunger by donating to charitable organizations or by contacting their government representatives, encouraging them to support bills and initiatives that aim to combat global hunger. Everyone can play a role and spread the word. There is a long road ahead, but with the tools available, chronic hunger can become a thing of the past.

– Shane Thoma
Photo: Flickr

Living Conditions in Papua New Guinea

With hundreds of ethnic groups indigenous to Papua New Guinea, the nation is made up of predominantly rural villages with their own languages. These top 10 facts about living conditions in Papua New Guinea gives an insight into what life in these communities is like.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Papua New Guinea

  1. Papua New Guinea’s vast natural resources are being threatened. While 80 percent of Papua New Guinea is covered in forest, the resources are predicted to be used up in a generation, possibly just a decade. Home to what conservationists call “the last rainforest,” Papua New Guinea is home to massive resources loggers are rushing to exploit due to it being one of the last nations to legally permit the exportation of raw logs. As Vincent Mutumuto, a local of rural Papua New Guinea told the Gazette, the foreign logging is destroying many tiny farms such as his banana tree and watermelon farm, which brings in his family of 16’s only income. While loggers are thriving on the nation’s resources, Papuans and the economy of their nation are suffering from it.
  2. Papua New Guinea has failed to meet the Millennium Development Goals. With an average life expectancy of 62.9 years, the nation is ranked 157 out of 187 countries on the Human Development Index. Healthcare, water and sanitation, civil unrest and education are all behind this statistic. The nation is one of only a handful to not reach these goals.
  3. Tuberculosis incidences are highest in the region. Humid air and weak immune systems due to malnutrition allow the disease to stay strong. While much of the world sees tuberculosis as a thing of the past, it remains one of the most infectious killers in Papua New Guinea. The region of Daru Island in the country has been called by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a “global hotspot” for drug-resistant tuberculosis. The World Bank has contributed $15 million in the form of aid in screenings and programs diagnosing and treating the disease. Results of this multi-nation effort have proved positive thus far, and the programs are seeing expansion.
  4. Vaccinations aren’t accessible. For the population of 8.25 million, vaccinations must be helicoptered into the remote areas many locals live, if they are available at all. The World Health Organization has been sending aid to the authority on vaccinations in Papua New Guinea, the 1981-born Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) in the form of cleaner injections, safer waste disposal, accessible screening processes and setting up effective domestic production. Additionally, the WHO sent a score of important immunizations, such as those for maternal and neonatal tetanus, measles and hepatitis B.
  5. Water is a luxury. Many towns across Papua New Guinea have no central water supply system. Children must travel long distances to lug jugs back to their families. According to data from the World Bank, Papua New Guinea’s increase in accessible drinking water increased by an insignificant six percent while its overall sanitation index decreased by one percent, and that overall Papua New Guinea has the lowest water and sanitation access indicators among the 15 developing Pacific Island nations. Furthermore, the lack of water is impacting children’s education. As one teacher explained to World Bank, “I have seen that the problem of water is a major problem that affects many of our students in learning especially during the dry season.” Students are sent home early (around 12 p.m.) in order to help their parents gather water. During the dry season, students often miss school for days at a time.
  6. Violence is a side effect of poverty. Physical and sexual abuse are common in Papua New Guinea, and many occurrences committed by the police themselves. According to Human Rights Watch, police beat 74 men and slashed their ankles after a street brawl in the capital of Port Moresby this past May.
  7. Papua New Guinea is living in the dark. Only 20 percent of the nation’s population had access to electricity as of 2017. While PNG Power Ltd, the company running the nation’s electricity, is working with rural communities to provide power, development is still necessary.
  8. Businesses are improving. Rural wellbeing is being raised by a ‘bottom-up’ approach. This entails private sector involvement in isolated villages, focusing on improving family businesses such as local farms where the majority of citizens make their livelihood. This is not only generating entrepreneurship but also improving living conditions for the communities. Roberta Morlin is leading the trend of young entrepreneurs in Papua New Guinea. She said, “When I first started in 2015, I had 30 different ideas and I had to validate (reduce) those ideas down to 15. I had to further validate over the next 15 months down to four, which I am currently working on.”
  9. Papua New Guinea is experiencing economic growth. With abundant national reserves and improving family businesses, Papua New Guinea has experienced 14 years in a row of positive GDP growth. Between 2003 and 2015, the nation’s economy grew and proved that with the right involvement the country can develop further.
  10. People are migrating to Papua New Guinea. A new trend for Australians to move to the country is bringing Papua New Guinea hope. According to People Connexion, the decision is due to the slower pace of living and sense of community present there. This new trend to move and work in Papua New Guinea could hopefully greatly boost their economy.

As Papua New Guinea strives to meet future Millennium Development Goals, there must be an improvement in the economy, education and healthcare. Attention must be focused on locals, preserving natural resources, and helping improve productivity within small businesses in order to improve overall living conditions in Papua New Guinea.

– Maura Byrne
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Vaccines in Developing Countries “Thanks to vaccines, more children are now living to see their fifth birthday than at any point in history.” Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, said.

While this is an inspiring fact, the truth is that immunization rates in some developing countries are becoming stagnant.

The Plateau of Immunization Rates

The immunization rates of the vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP) usually reflect the quality of the overall immunization coverage within a nation. In the last three years, the immunization rate for the third dose of DTP in Chad has remained at 55 percent. The immunization rate for DTP in Somalia has been about the same since 2009. Guinea, whose DTP immunization rates used to be around 70-80 percent 10 years ago, now has had a rate of 63 percent for the last four years.

This data is somewhat shocking, considering a global effort to prioritize vaccines began in 2000. The same year, Gavi, a global Vaccine Alliance, was created with the help of a $750 million donation from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Since 2011, Gavi has surpassed its own goals of decreasing child mortality, averting future deaths and increasing child immunization in the more than 60 countries that are Gavi-supported. In just five years, Gavi was able to provide vaccines to 34 million more children than what was anticipated, and the group began administering vaccines for pneumococcal and rotavirus one year ahead of schedule.

Maintaining the Vaccine Schedule

Nonetheless, groups like Gavi struggle to keep immunization active in developing countries after the child is no longer an infant. For example, the vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV) is typically administered in two doses within 1-2 years for children above the age of nine. HPV can cause cancer, especially in those with weak immune systems, so it is important to time the vaccine administration effectively in order to be nearly 100 percent protected. Since there is no health plan that puts emphasis on older children, HPV becomes more of a threat in countries that do not enforce the strict vaccine schedule.

The World Health Organization has a plan to fix this. The Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) is set to address health program expansion to include services beyond infancy by 2020. Ministers of Health from 194 countries agreed to support the GVAP, which includes nation-specific health program monitoring and strengthened leadership.

Negative Attitudes About Vaccines

Despite intervention from non-governmental groups, the plateau of immunization rates still exists. This may be due to negative attitudes towards vaccines in developing countries. The attitudes stem from the idea that vaccines are harmful or that the health workers are ingenuine. Citizens of three Nigeran states believed that the administration of the polio vaccine would spread AIDS in 2003, and in India, people believed that vaccines were a Western plot to instigate an undercover method of family planning to threaten Muslims. Researchers cite that a way to eliminate this anxiety is to take into account sociocultural behavior when implementing vaccine programs and to strengthen communication and advocacy in order to increase participation.

While negative attitudes towards vaccines contribute to plateauing immunization rates, the expensive price of vaccines may also be a contributing factor. In 2001, six vaccines from the World Health Organization cost less than $1. Now, 12 vaccines from the WHO cost up to $45.59. This can obtaining a vaccine for someone living in Madagascar extremely difficult – the monthly salary in Madagascar is $33.

Immunizations Eradicate Disease

By increasing immunization rates, diseases can begin to disappear. In the U.S., immunization rates in 2000 were at 91 percent for the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, and the Center for Disease Control declared measles to be officially eradicated. Since then, diagnoses of measles have increased slightly among populations that are unvaccinated.

Despite these few diagnoses, the majority of the U.S. will never come in contact with measles. Dr. Jean Campaiola, hospital psychiatrist, describes this result as “herd immunity.” Herd immunity occurs when a certain percentage of the population receives the vaccine for a particular disease. For some diseases like measles, the percentage is at least 90-95, but for polio, the percentage is 80-85. This means that 20 percent of people could deny receiving the polio vaccine and still be protected from the disease because the remaining 80 percent were vaccinated.

“If this occurs rarely in a population, it’s not a big deal, but if it becomes more common, then previously eradicated diseases could make their way back into the general population,” says Dr. Campaiola. She said fears that the anti-vaccine attitude in the U.S. could cause previously eradicated diseases to re-emerge.

By administering more vaccines in developing countries, an entire community can be protected by herd immunity. Those most vulnerable to diseases (infants and the elderly) can be immune to certain diseases if more people around them receive vaccines.

In third world countries, governments spend $29 for each person’s health. In the U.S., the government spends $4,499. There is a clear need for vaccines in developing countries around the world, including a larger-scale project to improve coverage. Gavi’s next step in revolutionizing immunization is a five-year program to introduce sustainable health programs in low-income countries and to increase equitable use of vaccines. The U.S. has the power to spread the good message of vaccines, and someday, we can eradicate most major diseases all around the world.

– Katherine Desrosiers
Photo: Wikimedia