Spread of Ebola in West Africa Leads to Drastic Measures

55Right now, the small African country of Sierra Leone is in the midst of a 3 day lockdown. The drastic measure, which requires all 6 million citizens to remain at home, is the latest attempt to stop a devastating Ebola epidemic in the region.

Also known as the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), Ebola is a “severe, often fatal illness in humans”. In fact, it “can kill up to 90%” of those infected. Symptoms of the disease include fever, sore throat, muscle pain, and headaches. This is often followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, and bleeding (both internal and external), leading to organ failure and death.

The first EVD outbreaks occurred in 1976 in remote villages in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The latter occurred near the Ebola River, giving the disease its name. Researchers believe that infected animals, likely fruit bats, transferred the disease to chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, antelope, porcupines, and humans directly. Infected humans then spread Ebola to others through bodily fluids, often during their treatment, embalming, or burial.

Since then, the 2014 West African Ebola epidemic has become the “largest and most complex”. In fact, with over 2630 dead, the outbreak has killed more individuals than all previous outbreaks combined. It has also spread to multiple countries. Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia are the hardest hit, each with over 900 cases.

Unfortunately, many experts are skeptical that the government lockdown will have the desired impact. They argue that volunteers, who are travelling door to door providing soap and education, will struggle to identify Ebola cases. After all, Ebola has a lengthy incubation period (2 – 21 days) and “many of the early symptoms are the same as ordinary illnesses like malaria or food poisoning”. Furthermore, when volunteers do identify a case, “there will not be enough Ebola management centers to care for them.” Having recently emerged from “long periods of conflict and instability”, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia all suffer from “weak health system, lacking human and infrastructure resources”.

Some experts even maintain that the lockdown could exacerbate the crisis in West Africa. According to Doctors Without Borders, “Forced quarantines and lockdowns are driving people underground and jeopardizing the trust between people and health providers”. The public may even turn on the volunteers, fearing that they will spread the disease. Last week, for example, residents of a remote Guinea village attacked and killed 8 delegates trying to raise awareness of Ebola. Similarly, an attempted lockdown of a neighbourhood in Monrovia, Liberia triggered violent riots.

On a positive note, several countries and international organizations are taking further actions. The World Organization is “on the ground establishing Ebola treatment centres and strengthening capacity for laboratory testing, contact tracing, social mobilization, safe burials, and non-Ebola health care”. Doctors Without Borders has 5 treatment centers in the region, staffed by over 1860 workers. Canada has promised to donate 800 to 1,000 doses of an experimental Ebola vaccine. And just days ago, the United States agreed to send up to 3,000 US military personnel to Liberia to “battle the Ebola virus”.

So how can you help? Please consider donating to Doctors Without Borders, Direct Relief, or Op4G partner Develop Africa, which is providing personal protective equipment to healthcare workers fighting Ebola.

Flickr photo credit: NIAID 

Speaking Up for Girls’ Education

paVanThis Monday marked the 3 month anniversary of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping in Nigeria. Orchestrated by Boko Haram, an Islamic Jihadist and terrorist organization, the event involved the kidnapping of over 200 girls from a boarding school in the northeast of the country.

Since then, only a small fraction of the girls have escaped. The remaining girls are believed to be held in capacity in the Sambisa forest, more than 200 miles (320 km) away. Parents of the victims fear that the girls will not return and will be raped or involuntarily married off to movement fighters. Western diplomats are also losing hope, as efforts to locate the girls have barely progressed since May.

However, information has surfaced about the motivation behind the kidnappings. In a series of videos, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has claimed that he will “sell them in the marketplace” as slaves. Shekau has also explained that he will release the girls in exchange for the group’s fighters in Nigerian jails (“Bring Back Our Girls… bring back our army”). Finally, any remaining girls will “remain slaves with us.”

But why did Boko Haram specifically target female students? The group believes that Nigeria should be a pure Islamic caliphate governed by strict Sharia law.  Women should be “at home raising children and looking after their husbands, not at school learning to read and write”. In fact, the name Boko Haram roughly translates to “western education is a sin”.

Regrettably, the situation in Nigeria is not unique. Girls in numerous countries around the world are denied the right to an education. According to Save the Children, “social traditions and deep-rooted religious and cultural beliefs are most often the barriers”. For example, in the Sahel and Middle East, a dowry system encourages girls to leave their studies. In the Horn of Africa, girls avoid walking to school for fear of abduction for marriage. And in parts of Latin America, indigenous girls are “often forced [to care for] siblings, marry early, or leave school to help support the family”. As a result, studies suggest that over 70% of the 125 million children not in school are girls.

These girls pay a steep price for their absence. Research suggests that educated females “lead healthier lives and have healthier families”, with fewer children. They have increased awareness of their rights and the “institutions established to protect and enforce them”, i.e. from violence, rape, and genital mutilation. Furthermore, they earn higher wages and are more productive workers, “boost(ing) their country’s entire economy”.  In these regards, education truly is “a fundamental tool of empowerment and a vehicle through which girls realize their full potential”.

Malala Yousafzai, 17, knows the power of education. Shot by the Taliban in 2012 for her determination to attend school, she is now a leading global education advocate. Last weekend, Malala visited the parents of the kidnapped Nigerian school girls. She stated “I did not think that just one year after my UN speech, more than 200 girls would be kidnapped in Nigeria by Boko Haram simply for wanting to go to school. I can see those girls as my sisters … and I’m going to speak up for them until they are released”.

We should all speak up for the Chibok schoolgirls and all girls who want an education. That means more than joining a twitter campaign (#bringbackourgirls). It means pressuring our governments and international organizations to take action. It also means donating to charities like the Malala Fund, Share in Africa, Girls Education International, and our partners, World Teach and Education For All Children.

For more information on girls’ education, please click here.

Flickr photo credit: paVan

 

Africa’s Recent Economic Gains: Who is Benefiting?

africa2Africa is rising. According to a World Bank report released this week, the continent is enjoying a natural resources boom and increasing foreign investment (particularly from China, India, and Brazil). It is also benefiting from a surge in tourism, remittances worth $33 billion/year, and strong government investment in key sectors.

These factors have translated into growth rates of 4.9% for Sub-Saharan Africa in 2013. Almost “a third of countries in the region are growing at 6% and more, and African countries are now routinely among the fastest-growing countries in the world”. Such rates are expected to rise further in coming years, to 5.3% in 2014 and 5.5% in 2015.

But not all Africans are benefiting from the continent’s mounting wealth. Staggering inequality has contributed to “unacceptably slow” poverty reduction in Africa. In fact, almost half of all Africans still live in extreme poverty (defined as an income of $1.25 or less per day).

Of further concern, “sustaining Africa’s strong growth over the longer term while significantly reducing poverty and strengthening people’s resilience to adversity may prove difficult”. The continent faces great environment risks (including droughts and floods) and the threat of conflict (as in Mali and the Central African Republic). Moreover, the continent’s dependence on a few commodities (oil, metals, and minerals) leaves it vulnerable to fluctuations in global prices.

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So what does this mean for poverty reduction in Africa? Will it be possible to achieve the World Bank and UN goal to eradicate extreme poverty within a generation? In the words of a UN working group, the goal is “ambitious but feasible”. However, as economist Jeffrey Sachs notes, it “can’t be achieved by free markets alone”. It will require continued government investment, sound public policy, and international aid.

To do your part, please support our Op4G partners: Develop Africa, African Soup, and Plant a Seed Africa.

Flickr photo credit: calips96