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Air Quality
The COVID-19 pandemic has renewed interest in air quality as lockdowns and public health restrictions have led to improved quality in many areas. Additionally, research has found a link between poor air quality and poor COVID-19 outcomes. The decline in pollution will be only temporary, and in many areas was actually smaller than scientists anticipated.

The impacts of poor air quality on global health beyond COVID-19 are numerous. However, curbing emissions and improving quality where it is already poor are huge undertakings. Nonetheless, looking at those living in urban areas where quality is monitored, more than 80% of people are experiencing air pollution in excess of the limits suggested by the World Health Organization (WHO). This makes air quality a pivotal global health issue.

Another important factor in addressing this issue is the distribution of the negative effects of poor air quality. In other words, the development of any program or policy interventions ought to consider the inequitable distribution of those effects. Research in the United States and the United Kingdom indicates that while wealthier people tend to be responsible for the majority of air pollutants, those living in impoverished areas disproportionately experience the harmful effects of those pollutants.

A. What Compromises Air Quality

There are two main categories of air pollutants: those naturally occurring and those human-made. While dust storms and wildfires can introduce harmful particulate matter, there are also numerous sources of pollution driven by human activities. These include automobiles, certain types of power plants, oil refineries and more. In addition to particulate matter, other pollutants that adversely affect health include sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone.

Finding new yet affordable ways to decrease the pollutants we release into the air is challenging but not insurmountable. Putting this into perspective, 90% of people around the world are breathing unclean air according to WHO guidelines.

B. What Poor Quality Air Does to Our Health

Beyond the link between air pollution and poor COVID-19 outcomes, research also shows the negative impact air pollution has on the risk of stroke and heart disease, certain types of cancer, lung infections and diseases and even mental health. Furthermore, both air quality and environmental quality tend to be worse in areas of the world already comparatively disadvantaged.

According to research on the effectiveness of European climate and pollution policies, the number of people prematurely dying after exposure to fine particulate matter pollution decreased by approximately 60,000 between 2018 and 2019. Better yet, between 2010 and 2020, there was a 54% drop in premature deaths attributable to nitrogen dioxide pollution. Despite these positive outcomes, they also demonstrate the extent of the damage airborne pollutants can do to human health.

C. What Has Proven Successful in Protecting Air Quality

Like health policy progress, innovations in air quality programs and policies often start at the local government level. According to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), cities around the world are implementing ultra-low and zero-emission urban access zones, deploying hundreds of thousands of electric buses, and learning from their own successes in moving to clean municipal transportation in order to teach other cities to do the same.

The EDF notes the importance of gathering detailed data on air quality. This data allows organizations to identify communities disproportionately affected by pollution and develop targeted approaches to protecting and improving air quality. This type of data can help localities not only measure levels of pollutants over time but pinpoint hotspots. Hotspots include, for example, those caused by construction sites and manufacturing facilities. The need for this type of data is worldwide, but developing nations are in particular need of the tools necessary for thorough air quality monitoring.

Highlighting the successes experienced in air pollutant reduction efforts in wealthier counties may seem counterintuitive given the importance of addressing inequalities across the world. Still, they also represent numerous lessons for developing cities and countries to learn. The negative experiences of areas already developed have yielded data, technology and sample policies from which leaders worldwide can draw. Moving forward, it is essential that organizations and leaders around the world prioritize improving air quality.

Amy Perkins
Photo: Pixabay

Women in NigeriaDespite the United Nations’ global commitment to improve the health of pregnant mothers and reduce maternal death, the loss of women’s lives as a result of complications during pregnancy has been on the increase in most sub-Saharan African countries. In Nigeria, there are 59,000 maternal deaths annually. Compared to those in advanced nations, women in Nigeria are 500 times more likely to lose their lives in childbirth. At 545 per 100,000 births, maternity care for women in Nigeria is the worst in all of Africa. This means that out of every 20 live births in Nigeria, there will be at least one case of maternal mortality.

Maternal Death Leads to Poverty

In Nigeria, a high percentage of pregnant women do not receive adequate healthcare. This is either because their community does not offer services or because the women cannot afford healthcare. Many pregnant women in Nigeria do not seek care because they fear that the services are not high quality. In addition, the country’s patriarchal society and suppression of females can keep a pregnant woman from receiving adequate care. Cultural issues, lack of education and poverty can influence the healthcare choices of many pregnant women.

The toll on a family is enormous if a mother dies during childbirth. A mother’s death can force a family deeper into poverty and cause the daughters to be taken out of school to care for the other children and the household. For these young girls, the death of a mother perpetuates a cycle of poverty that can be hard to escape.

The difference in maternal death rates between the wealthy and the poverty-stricken is the largest among all of the health indicators tracked by the World Health Organization. Yet, mortality can be reduced by 80% with better access to reproductive health services along with high-quality care and skilled providers.

High-Quality Maternal Care for Nigerian Women

After losing a friend during childbirth, Michael Iyanro, a social entrepreneur and healthcare development expert, wanted to do something to ensure that top-quality maternity care for women in Nigeria was accessible to all.

He and other concerned individuals founded Tomike Health to address the problem. The organization launches clinics that provide high-quality maternal healthcare at affordable rates across neighborhoods in Nigeria. Tomike Health prioritizes the low-income residential areas on the outskirts of cities. These are the fastest-growing population centers as people migrate from rural areas to seek work. Tomike Health centers serve women who are often the primary breadwinners in their families.

Clinical Innovations

Rather than relying on donations and grants, the organization’s founders wanted their operation to be self-sustainable. To meet this goal, Tomike Health has combined job training and business expertise with clinical innovations. This approach creates self-sustaining solutions for maternity care. Its partners include Easier Health Consult, the Almonsour Women Foundation and the Gender Development Initiative. The organization and its healthcare providers continue to work hard to reduce maternal mortality rates in Nigeria, saving women’s lives and keeping their children from descending into poverty.

Sarah Betuel
Photo: Flickr

Congenital Anomalies
Worldwide, congenital anomalies cause approximately 295,000 deaths of children within their first 28 days of life. Every year, about 7.9 million children are born with life-threatening defects and 3.3 million children under the age of five5 die from congenital disabilities. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), congenital anomalies are structural or functional aberrations that occur during intrauterine life. The most common congenital disabilities include heart defects, cleft lip (palate), down syndrome and split spine (also known as spina bifida). Although 50% of all congenital disabilities do not have a single definite cause, common causes include genetic mutation, environmental factors and various other risk factors.

Geographic Disparities

Although congenital disabilities are widespread globally, they are particularly prevalent in developing countries. Developing countries account for 94% of worldwide congenital disabilities.

The level of income -both individual and national- in developing countries is a crucial factor that indirectly influences the high incidence of congenital disabilities. Low income affects the incidence of congenital disabilities in developing countries in the following ways:

  • Poor Access to Adequate Maternal Healthcare for Women During Pregnancy: About 99% of the global maternal mortality cases occur in low-income countries due to inadequate maternal care.
  • Poor Maternal Nutritional Condition: Deficiency of vitamin B can, for instance, escalate chances of birthing a baby with neural tube defects.
  • Excessive Prenatal Alcohol Consumption: Pregnant mothers’ consumption of alcohol increases their risks of giving birth to a child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). FAS is a total of the damage – both physical and mental – to an unborn child as a result of their mother’s alcohol consumption.
  • Presence of Other Infections: Some sexually transmitted diseases can transfer from a pregnant mother to her child. For example, syphilis during pregnancy accounts for an estimated 305 000 fetal and neonatal deaths annually. It also jeopardizes 215,000 infant lives due to congenital infections, prematurity or low-birth-weight.

How WHO is Taking Action

The World Health Organization has taken and implemented various measures to fight congenital anomalies. In the 2010 World Health Assembly, WHO took on a resolution encouraging its member states to fight against congenital anomalies by:

  • Raising awareness throughout governments and the public about congenital disabilities and the risk they impose on children’s lives
  • Developing congenital disabilities surveillance systems
  • Providing consistent support to children affected by congenital anomalies
  • Ensuring that children with disabilities have the same rights and equal treatment as children without disabilities
  • Assisting families whose children have congenital disabilities

In addition to the resolution, WHO designed a manual that showed illustrations and photographs of selected birth defects. The manual’s primary purpose was to foster further development of the surveillance system, especially in low-income countries.

The Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health

In 2016, WHO went an extra mile and published the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents Health 2016-2030, an updated version of the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health devised five years prior. The Global Strategy’s grand theme was “Survive, Thrive, Transform.”

  • Survive: “Survive” encompassed various goals that the Global Strategy hoped to accomplish. These include ending preventable deaths, lowering maternal mortality rates and newborn deaths among others.
  • Thrive: The main target was promoting health and wellbeing by responding to the dietary needs of children, adolescents and pregnant & lactating women.
  • Transform: This objective’s primary goal was to create a safe and nurturing environment by terminating extreme poverty. Poverty one of the leading causes of congenital disabilities.

Results

Over the years, the World Health Organization’s relentless efforts in battling against congenital disabilities have made remarkable progress in alleviating the issue. For instance, the number of newborn deaths has plummeted from 5 million to 2.4 million between 1990 and 2019, thanks to the various innovations and programs put in place. Although the current state of affairs is far from ideal, past accomplishments lay the groundwork and identify clear steps for future progress.

Mbabazi Divine
Photo: Flickr

Maternal Mortality
Maternal mortality is a devastating cause of death for women around the world, especially those who live in low-resource communities or developing countries. Many conditions that cause maternal mortality are preventable. However, progress is occurring to save the lives of mothers and babies all over the globe.

Maternal Health Issues

The World Health Organization (WHO) has a commitment to reaching maternal health goals and improving healthcare systems. It is reaching towards this by working with partners to address inequality of access to healthcare, researching all possible causes of maternal deaths and providing clinical and programmatic guidance and more.

 The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is a global leader in solving maternal health issues. It has a commitment to improving maternal, newborn and child healthcare services. In fact, it has partnered with governments to help meet the needs of mothers and babies with country-specific plans. USAID has saved the lives of over 340,000 mothers. It also protects the life of the mothers’ babies after delivery with immunization and sanitation resources available.

Merck for Mothers, or MOMs, is a global initiative that focuses on creating a world where no woman dies while giving birth. MOMs boasts helping over 13 million mothers deliver their babies safely. In addition, it also supports over 100 strategic investments aimed at programs that help the cause. Its focus countries are India, Nigeria, Kenya and the United States. It also has a global corporate grants program supporting nongovernmental organizations worldwide.

MOMs in India

India has a high maternal mortality rate of 145 deaths for every 100,000 births (56 highest of 182 countries in January 2020). MOMs focuses on supporting programs that help struggling mothers in India use technology. One such partnership is with USAID, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other organizations that work with the Alliance for Savings Mothers and Newborns (ASMAN) to digitally monitor the health of mothers during labor and delivery.

ASMAN provides links to healthcare providers for a Safe Delivery App – a smartphone application that shows “up-to-date clinical guidelines on obstetric care and can be used as an immediate life-saving reference during complicated deliveries.”

Solving delivery complications requires quick thinking and action on the spot, which is a MOMs specialty. The initiative utilizes MOMs’ resources to enhance already existing solutions. It creates a “failing fast” learning method to quickly get hands-on experience that can save lives.

An Indian digital health company, Avegen, has also partnered with MOMs to help release a web-based platform to educate women about quality maternal care. It gives them the ability to rate the services they receive on a public platform for others to read. This gives women the power to educate themselves and choose an accessible healthcare provider that meets their needs. It also gives healthcare providers the feedback they need to improve the quality of care.

MOMs in Africa

Developing nations such as Nigeria are more susceptible to maternal mortality and other delivery complications because of poor healthcare systems. Nigerian women are around 500 times more likely to die during childbirth compared to the most advanced nations. Nigeria’s high level of maternal mortality comes from a multitude of factors such as poverty, food insecurity and low healthcare resources.

Nigeria had the fourth highest maternal mortality rate in the world of 182 countries ranked in January 2020. In 2021, Merck reported it as the highest.

In Nigeria, health conditions like diabetes and hypertension are on the rise. These health risks can be precursors to eclampsia/preeclampsia, a high cause of maternal death. MOMs has a dedication to locating indirect causes of maternal mortality such as malaria and cardiovascular disease by partnering with Nigerian healthcare initiatives to identify how to manage these risks.

MOMs is bringing unidentified maternal death statistics to light by collaborating with Africare and Nigeria Health Watch to support an advocacy program, “Giving Birth in Nigeria.” The program lets communities report otherwise unreported maternal deaths online. Many maternal deaths do not get reported because they do not happen in hospitals or do not receive confirmation. However, communities need to understand why women in certain areas are at risk and how their deaths can undergo prevention.

MOMs began partnering with LifeBank, a technological healthcare supply distribution system based in Nigeria. LifeBank aims to bring much-needed medical supplies to patients quickly with a multi-modal transportation network. It has saved the lives of over 10,000 people and served 676 hospitals, with a focus on providing blood and other medical supplies to mothers during childbirth.

Continuing Maternal Health Success

MOMs provides service around the world to help mothers before, during and after pregnancy survive and live a healthy life with their babies. Measures can sometimes prevent the loss of a woman to maternal mortality, especially in impoverished countries. MOMs and its partners have been working to ensure that healthcare systems are more efficient, that women are empowered to share their experiences and to ensure that healthcare workers are up-to-date on childbirth procedures.

– Julia Ditmar
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and Heart Disease
Heart disease has a reputation as a “first-world problem,” the inevitable result of a fatty diet and little to no exercise. Despite this common correlation, the link between poverty and heart disease is becoming increasingly visible. As of 2015, 80% of global deaths from cardiovascular disease were in low to middle-income countries (LMIC). According to The World Health Organization, 37% of premature deaths (<70 years old) in LMIC’s caused by non-communicable diseases are attributable to cardiovascular disease.

Heart Disease and Poverty

Prior to 1990, most deaths in LMIC’s were caused by communicable diseases like HIV, malaria and ebola, or complications from malnutrition. As urban areas grow in developing nations, lower physical activity and access to mass-produced and nutritionally-poor food contribute to the rise in heart disease-related deaths.

Heart disease is often the result of atherosclerosis, a build-up of plaque in the arteries of the cardiovascular system, or thickening that narrows the space for blood to flow. Heart attacks, stroke, arrhythmias and physiological deformities of the heart result from these blockages and can be fatal.

Major factors leading to heart disease include a poor diet, tobacco use, high blood pressure and high blood sugar. Additionally, a lack of diagnostic tools in LMIC may contribute to increased mortality from cardiovascular disease. A delayed diagnosis can result in irreparable cumulative damage and adverse cardiovascular events. Similarly, distributing affordable medications for managing heart disease in LMIC’s (ACE inhibitors, statins, beta-channel blockers and aspirin) is an ongoing challenge.

Non-communicable diseases like heart disease are often contributing factors to continued or extreme poverty due to lost wages, incapacitation and the generational effects of losing caregivers and wage earners. Patients in LMIC’s who survive heart attacks and strokes may need years of costly follow-up care and medication. The increases the likelihood that the dual burden of poverty and heart disease will prove fatal.

A New Baseline

Establishing effective preventative care in LMIC’s is one of the biggest obstacles to reducing cardiovascular disease. Lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation, dietary guidance and increased exercise can make a significant difference. Health professionals should recommend these changes to those screened as at-risk or suffering from high blood pressure.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has programs designed to treat and prevent cardiovascular disease globally. The WHO launched the Global Hearts Initiative in 2016 to provide support to governments in their efforts to prevent heart disease. The approach is multi-faceted and includes improvements to the health care sector, the nutritional quality of food and more.

The World Heart Federation (WHF) is an NGO focused on global cardiovascular care and outreach. Founded in 1978, it is internationally recognized as an authority on preventing, treating and diagnosing cardiovascular disease in children. The WHF provides training and networking opportunities to public health officials and caregivers worldwide, emphasizing practical methods of prevention and treatment.

Moving forward into a world where most people live in cities, vital infrastructure and basic medical services are necessary to improve the quality of life in developing nations and impoverished communities globally. Combating the rising incidence of heart disease is a major battle inequitably affecting the world’s poor. Cardiovascular screening, patient education and dietary guidance are all important steps in the right direction.

Katrina Hall
Photo: Flickr

Electrifying Transportation
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recorded seven million premature deaths globally as a result of elevated levels of air pollution. In 2016, the WHO reported that 91% of the world’s population reside in areas that did not meet the threshold for acceptable air quality. Such conditions escalate the effects of and increase mortality from strokes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and infections, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In 2010, the World Bank along with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation reported that over 180,000 deaths and 4,100,000 disability life adjusted years of healthy life lost were directly attributable to road transport air pollution. Also, when declaring the ‘best practice group’ for policy handling of air pollution, the list consisted mainly of high-income countries that can afford preventative measures like electrifying transportation.

Air Quality and Poverty

The WHO reports that low-and middle-income countries suffer the highest effects from elevated exposure to harmful air pollutants. In fact, the majority of the world’s cities with the highest Air Quality Indices (AQI) are found in developing nations. These countries typically do not have adequate laws or enforcement to protect against air pollution. They tend to contain a higher prevalence of coal power stations, and less stringent restrictions on vehicle emissions.

Further, developing nations experience great disparity in the effects of air pollution and the burden typically falls on the countries’ poorest populations.  The reason being, the poor usually reside in highly concentrated areas with dense harmful emissions. This is due to their exclusion from suburban areas where there are fewer pollutant generating spaces.

Despite air pollution challenges, clean air has been deemed a human right and is covered under the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals. In order to improve air quality, amongst others, one of the UN’s main suggestions has been to adopt clean and renewable energy and technologies.

Electrifying Transportation

The emission from our current fuel and diesel-powered traditional transportation systems consisting of fossil fuel-powered cars, trucks and buses have been found to generate pollutants that have adverse effects on every organ in the human body. It is also responsible for approximately half of all the nitrogen oxides in our air and is amongst one of the greatest sources of green-house gases. Given the large contribution or main-stream fuel and diesel vehicles make to air pollution, electrifying transportation systems is anticipated to be one of the most effective, shorter-term solutions to air pollution, and thus lifting some of the burdens on poor and vulnerable populations.

One of the main advancements in renewable technology has been the use of electric vehicles. One estimate finds that with the widespread accelerated adoption of clean transportation through the electrification of vehicles and fuel, an approximated 25 million aggregate years of life would be saved by 2030. Included in this figure is at least 210,000 reduction in premature deaths in 2030 alone. These gains would primarily occur in China, India, the Middle East, Africa and developing Asia, all locations with amongst the highest rates of poverty.

So far, there are three classes of electric vehicles:

1.       E4W – Electric four wheelers

2.       E2W – Electric two-wheelers

3.       HEV – Hybrid electric vehicles.

Access in Developing Countries

One of the main barriers to electrifying transportation in developing nations is the fact that Electric Vehicles (EVs) are typically more expensive than traditional fuel and diesel-powered vehicles. However, switching to EVs can prompt savings. Developing nations exist on a spectrum of development. For those with public transportation systems, working police and emergency health care fleets, the governmental investment in the transition towards electric vehicles and trucks would not only help to improve the air quality in the respective nations but would also prove to be cheaper and more sustainable in the long run. Of the available classes of electric transport options, the E2Ws would be most beneficial in developing nations. This is because E2Ws have the lowest energy consumption rating. Unlike E4Ws, the E2W class’ of EV ability to be charged via regular home outlet means that there are no substantial charging infrastructure investment requirements.

In terms of operational costs, all classes of EVs were found to have lower operational costs than their corresponding fuel vehicles. However, the E2W class was found to have benefits ranging from 24% less, up to eight times less of an operating cost than their corresponding fuel-based transportation. Many developing nations might not yet be in a position to invest in and benefit from the E4W or HEV EV classes due to its high initial investment and required charging infrastructure investments. The E2W class by contrast has been found to be a feasible investment for electrifying transportation for poverty reduction. Not only will this contribute to a significant reduction in air pollution, lightening its burden on the poorer populations, but it will also prompt savings for governments and stimulate economic growth. Additionally, as investments in EVs continue to rise, the initial purchase prices will fall and so developing countries might be able to afford higher classes.

Rebecca Harris

Photo: Flickr

Addressing migrant and Refugee HealthAt the end of 2019, there were 79.5 million recorded forcibly displaced people in the world, with 26 million labeled as refugees. Roughly 68% of those displaced come from just five countries, which means that resources can be scarce for many of these people and their physical and mental health may become less of a priority in lieu of other needs. More focus needs to go toward addressing migrant and refugee health in order to protect the well-being of one of the most vulnerable populations.

7 Facts About Migrant and Refugee Health

  1. The Immigrant, Refugee and Migrant Health Branch (IRMH) is a branch of the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine that works to improve the health and well-being of refugees. The IRMH also provides guidelines for disease prevention and tracks cases around the globe in migrant populations. The organization has three teams and five programs that work both in the U.S. and around the world to combat infectious diseases.
  2. Refugees are affected by illness and health issues through transit and in their host communities. Most refugees are likely to be in good health in general, according to the CDC, but migrating tends to be a social determinant in refugee health. Health inequities are increased by conditions such as restrictive policies, economic hardship and anti-migrant views. Poor living conditions and changes in lifestyle also play a role.

  3. Refugee health profiles are compiled through multiple organizations to provide information about important cultural and health factors pertaining to specific regions. Refugees from different areas often have very different health concerns. For example, anemia and diabetes are priority conditions in Syrian refugees but parasitic infections and malaria are the focus for Congolese migrants.

  4. About one-third of migrants and refugees experience high rates of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders. Mental health is a vital part of all refugee health programs and the priority for youth mental health programming is especially necessary. Forced displacement is traumatic and while there is likely a reduction of high anxiety or depression levels over time after resettlement, some cases can last for years.

  5. Healthcare is often restricted based on legal status within refugee populations. The 1946 Constitution of the World Health Organization articulated that the right to health is an essential component of human rights but many people are limited to claiming this right. Activists for refugee health along with many NGOs call for universal health care and protection for migrant populations.

  6. Important needs in refugee health include the quality and cost of disease screenings. HIV, hepatitis, schistosomiasis and strongyloidiasis are diseases that are prevalent among vulnerable refugee and migrant populations. However, ease and quality of medical screenings are not guaranteed in many centers or camps.

  7. Mothers and children face many barriers due to their unique needs and few refugee health care providers are able to properly address them. There is an increased need for reproductive health services and many of the barriers provide more difficulty than aid to many women. These include language, costs and general stigma.

Prioritizing Vulnerable Populations

The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is well known for its work to safeguard the rights and well-being of people who have been forced to flee. Refugee International is another organization that advocates for the rights and protection of displaced people around the world. Awareness of refugee health facts and concerns enables organizations to take a direct stance on improving conditions and procedures. With the growing number of refugees around the world today, addressing migrant and refugee health must be prioritized in order to better protect these vulnerable populations.

– Savannah Gardner
Photo: Flickr

Goldie HawnFor over 16 years, The Goldie Hawn Foundation, through its MindUp program, has been teaching children how to effectively manage stress, regulate emotions and face challenges head-on with positive mechanisms. MindUp has recently revealed a free service that families can access at any time. For instance, short, five-minute exercises teach daily gratitude. The audio exercises are “designed to help children regulate emotions and increase overall wellbeing through positive psychology, mindful awareness and social-emotional learning.” To increase accessibility, programs are available in most languages.

What is The Goldie Hawn Foundation and MindUP?

The MindUP program partners with The Goldie Hawn Foundation, established in 2003 to encourage mindfulness practices among children. This foundation works directly with neuroscientists to establish boundaries and promote brain development. Goldie Hawn comments, “we’ve demonstrated that if students take two minutes for a brain break three times a day, optimism in the classroom goes up almost 80%. On the playground, aggression goes down about 30%.” Moreover, different exercises within the curriculum offer suggestions on how to manage emotions and behavior. For example, one exercise is labeled as a gratitude circle. Hawn describes this activity as “where kids go around saying what they’re thankful for.” This allows children to feel like they are in a safe space where they can adequately show their emotions.

The Goldie Hawn Foundation Helps Families Despite Difficult Circumstances

Unfortunately, the pandemic has closed many schools across the world, putting many families in vulnerable and stressful situations. Parents that work full-time jobs simply don’t have time to homeschool their children. Online school is seemingly impossible for younger kids who can’t seem to sit still. The World Health Organization has reported that “more children are struggling with concentration and nervousness amid lifestyle changes during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Mindfulness helps combat this restlessness. MindUP has partnered with Insight Timer, the world’s largest free meditation app, to provide free audio and visual exercises that teach daily gratitude. Recognition by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has given these short but highly effective exercises a platform to continue mindfulness teachings. Children learn techniques to improve focus, develop empathy and encourage relationship-building through optimism, resilience and compassion. These lessons are available in an array of languages to encourage participation around the world.

Experimental Learning Leads to Success

A 2015 study analyzed MindUP by measuring the effective nature of mindfulness within schools. A random assessment was conducted on a group of 100 fourth and fifth graders within a public school district of Canada. Half received the mindfulness program, while the other half maintained their regular program. The two groups were compared subsequently. Focus on upper elementary school children in this study was one of the main components. This is because “it is during this developmental period that children’s personalities, behaviors, and competencies begin to consolidate into forms that persist into adolescence and adulthood.”

Findings concluded that mindfulness does, in fact, work in favor of effective teaching styles and promotes valuable lessons that ought to be learned. Similarly, this may lead to increased social and emotional competence among elementary students. Benefits would result from adding mindfulness practices to any regular school curriculum.

Quotes from Goldie Hawn

  1. I’ve learned to manage the fear and pain. It’s not easy, but with a few life tools, you can control the monkey mind. I’d say it’s my life’s mission.”

  2. “I’ve meditated since the 1970s, but now I really see the results. People talk about how the brain weakens as it ages. Mine feels stronger. Meditation thickens the cortex, where we make decisions, analyze, feel more connected to others and dream.”

  3. “If you supplant each negative thought with three positive ones, you begin to restructure your brain. Research has proven that this practice can lift people out of depression. That’s a powerful force.”

  4. “Slow down. Enjoy this ride. It’s all we’ve got.”

Natalie Whitmeyer
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Lebanon
Conflict has impacted Lebanon over the past few decades, including civil war, revolution and occupation. As a result, many children in Lebanon grow up and live in harsh conditions. Here are five things to know about child poverty in Lebanon.

5 Facts About Child Poverty in Lebanon

  1. Poverty by the Numbers: There is severe inequality in Lebanon as 5-10% of the population receives more than half of the total national income. Around 25-30% of Lebanese people live in poverty. Refugees and other populations face an even higher rate of poverty. For all of these groups, families with children are more likely to live in poverty. Current estimates say 1.4 million children in Lebanon are living in poverty. This affects their ability to receive an education, adequate nutrition and water and future standard of living and employment.
  2. Education: An estimated 10% of children in Lebanon do not attend school. The schools that do exist are low quality in both education and the physical state of the buildings. The poor education in Lebanon causes less young people to acquire jobs in technical or competitive fields. Armed and violent conflicts in Lebanon have also damaged school buildings. Furthermore, children’s access to education is hindered by the 1925 Nationality Law, in which only children with Lebanese fathers receive citizenship. If a child’s only parent is their mother or the father is not Lebanese, public schools will not admit them until all other Lebanese children are enrolled.
  3. Child Labor: Lebanon has lower rates of child labor than many of the surrounding countries, but still 7% of children work. Many of these children work to support their families, though their salaries are often low. Boys often work in factories or agriculture which have inhumane and very harsh working conditions. Lebanon has signed on to the ILO’s Convention on Child Labor, but this has not decreased child labor.
  4. Refugee Children: Lebanon has a very high number of refugees living inside its borders because of its geographical location. These refugees come from Iraq, Syrian, Palestine and more. The majority of refugees live in extreme poverty. Refugee children often work in poor conditions to make money. Many also suffer from mental health problems due to their trauma. In refugee camps, children face many dangers, including domestic violence, drug use and minimal health care and basic hygiene. Lebanon has not ratified the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and does little to protect these people living inside the country. The country also lacks the resources to address children’s mental health problems, but NGOs are working to provide more medical help inside the refugee camps.
  5. Reducing Child Poverty: The Government of Lebanon launched the National Poverty Targeting Program in 2011. The World Bank provided technical and financial assistance to this program to provide a safety net for families living in extreme poverty. Families are chosen based on level of food security, labor force status and other variables. This program currently helps 43,000 households, although more than 150,000 families are in extreme poverty and more than 350,000 qualify are in poverty. The families benefiting from the program receive a “Hayat Card,” which gives them access to free health care and educational services, and the poorest receive a debit card for food.

Children in Lebanon are still heavily affected by poverty, whether it is through health care, education or labor. Refugee children and girls are particularly vulnerable as they lack basic rights under law. Although strides have been made in recent years to eradicate poverty, the government and other organizations must prioritize addressing child poverty in Lebanon.

Claire Brady
Photo: Flickr

India's AIDS EpidemicIndia is the most populous country on the planet and one of the most densely populated countries. With over 1.38 billion densely packed people, diseases spread quickly and HIV/AIDS is no exception. Although only 0.2% of adults have HIV/AIDS, this equates to roughly 2.4 million people, a total far higher than any other country in Asia. For this reason, many new programs have started. Although their tactics differ, each program works to fight India’s AIDS epidemic.

Causes of the Epidemic

The causes of India’s HIV Epidemic stem from multiple, diverse issues. Two primary causes include the practice of unprotected sex between sex workers and the injection of drugs using infected needles. These two practices are most common among vulnerable populations such as low-income communities. Thus, India’s AIDS epidemic is centered in select regions; although only a small percentage of the total population has HIV, this number is high in certain regions, and extra precautions are necessary for prevention in these areas.

Despite these overwhelming statistical figures, recent research has provided optimistic results. The number of HIV infections per year decreased by 57% between 2000 and 2011, and the annual deaths from AIDS decreased by 29% from 2007 to 2011. Bold government programs inspired by independent research instilled this change within the Indian population. The programs’ success stems from a variety of HIV treatments and from education, challenging the stigma and misconceptions about the disease.

Methods of Success

One of India’s renowned HIV treatment methods is the Antiretroviral Therapy program, known as ART. ART is the provision of supplements and antiviral drugs for citizens infected with HIV. In 2004, the Indian government sponsored the program, striving to place 100,000 infected Indians on the program by 2007. This program likely played a major role in the steep decline in HIV-related deaths from 2007-2011.

Noticing the success of the ART initiative, the Indian government took a further step in 2017 by initiating the World Health Organization’s Treat All policy; this policy focuses on making the ART program accessible to all disadvantaged Indians. The Treat All policy increased the number of new monthly joiners by several hundred.

Along with these programs, the Indian government has sponsored adolescent education programs centered on preventing the spread of HIV; they aim to end the negative stigma towards the disease and those infected. These programs also provide basic sex education. Studies on these programs have shown extraordinary results; samples of students understand essential facts about the disease such as how it spreads and the current lack of a cure. Although direct government intervention is vital, ending India’s AIDS epidemic starts with educating the youth.

Plans for the Future

With such a large number of people carrying the disease, managing HIV in India is no small task. Although the aforementioned methods have shown optimistic results, the involvement of local communities, governments, and NGOs is essential to maintaining the trend. When discussing diseases such as HIV, the intervention of international bodies cannot maintain the health of individual citizens; ending India’s AIDS epidemic is ultimately the responsibility of Indians, and these new programs enable them to do so.

Joe Clark
Photo: Flickr