Private health care for diarrhea in Africa kills 20,000 kids annually | 

A nurse gives oral rehydration salts to a two-year-old in Sierra Leone.
A nurse gives oral rehydration salts to a two-year-old in Sierra Leone.

Children in sub-Saharan Africa who suffer from diarrhea are receiving lifesaving treatment at a lower rate when visiting private hospitals as compared to public ones. Closing that gap would save an estimated 20,000 lives each year.

When a child present signs of diarrhea, hospitals are supposed to instruct parents to give the child oral rehydration salts (ORS). The basic mixture of water with a little bit of sugar and salt prevents the child from dying from dehydration. It’s wide use over the past few decades has saved millions of lives. However, it is not always available nor is it recommended in every case.

“Clearly the private sector is not following public health guidelines in the way that the public health sector is doing,” said Zachary Wagner, co-author and doctoral student in public health at the University of California, to Humanosphere.

The findings from his research, with Neeraj Sood, PhD, the study’s senior author and director of research at the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, were published yesterday in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

Continue reading

TOMS wins over water partner, takes on coffee business | 


TOMS CEO Blake Mycoskie took the stage at the South by Southwest Festival last week to make a big announcement. The man behind the company that has pioneered the one-for-one model through its sale of shoes revealed the company’s new venture: coffee.

The sky blue label with a white stripe, a nod to the flag of Argentina, where the design for TOMS shoes were discovered, will now adorn bags of coffee in the company’s expanding stores and neighborhood Whole Foods. Money from each bag or cup sold will help bring clean water to more people in the world. Or as the tagline says: ”Coffee for you, Water for all.”

The coffee itself aims for the middle of the market, something that is better than Starbucks, but not quite at the high end of Counter Culture and Stumptown. Mycoskie and TOMS got a fair share of attention for the new business. He revealed that TOMS will continue to add new ventures each year to extend the organization’s impact and grow the overall business.

The coffee comes from Guatemala, Honduras, Malawi, Peru, and Rwanda and will sell for $13 per twelve ounce bag. TOMS says a bag of coffee will deliver clean water for one person for a week. That comes thanks to a partnership with the Denver-based Water for People. A yet-undisclosed amount of money made from the sale of TOMS coffee will be given to Water for People for its work in the same countries where the coffee originates.

“We have this philanthropic and aid problem where we have long term issues to deal with and the grant cycle does not match,” said Water for People CEO Ned Breslin to Humanosphere. ”We have been looking for ways out of that funding cycle.”

Continue reading

What’s to be done about the stalled decline of fertility in Africa? | 

The fertility rate across Africa has not declined as quickly as the rest of the world. The Economist recently raised the alarm about the problem, but some experts have said that it is not all bad news.

Given the strong correlation between lowering birth rates and improving life outcomes, the news is a bit disappointing.  The population of Africa will reach 2.7 billion if current trends hold, a near tripling in a matter of only 40 years.


“This extra half-billion people will damage Africa’s prospects. The continent will find it hard to educate the next generation—and education is the most important step in realizing the demographic dividend,” warned The Economist in an article from earlier this month.

There are thirteen countries on the continent that are doing well and moving in the right direction. The rest, accounting for roughly 78% of the population in Africa, are not doing so hot. They include places like Kenya and Madagascar, where fertility rates are below 5 births per women, but have stagnated. Places where rates exceed 5 births per women, reaching a global high of 7.5 in Niger, are showing weak signs of progress.

The British publication pins much of the problem on the lack of access to modern contraception. It suggests that the wide population distribution as compared to the densely packed Asian countries makes things more difficult, but the rate is far too low. It argues that the evidence is clear that contraception can reduce fertility, citing the difference between neighboring Tanzania and Uganda.

Continue reading

West should compensate poor nations for trained health workers, say advocates | 

Patients lay down in a corridor of the pediatric area of El Fasher Hospital, North Darfur.
Patients lay down in a corridor of the pediatric area of El Fasher Hospital, North Darfur.
Albert González Farran/UNAMID

Western nations are benefiting from the migration of skilled health professionals trained in Africa. A new report by the UK-based advocacy group Health Poverty Action says that Western countries should pay back the poor countries for the training.

One of the challenges to health in sub-Saharan African countries is a lack of health workers. Africa bears 24% of the global disease burden, but only 3% of the health workers in the world are on the continent.

This shortage is exacerbated by the migration of health workers from African countries to the West, says the report The Health Worker Crisis: an analysis of the issues and main international responses. It uses four case studies to show the impact of health worker shortages in sub-Saharan Africa. It seeks to draw attention to the problem of a too small health workforce and the factors that contribute to the problem.

“Health systems can’t function without health workers. This issue is key in meeting the health related MDGs, achieving UHC etc. Yet this issue often gets sidelined,” said Natalie Sharples, Senior Policy Advisor for Health Poverty Action, to Humanosphere.

A 2006 survey by the World Health Organization identified thirty-six sub-Saharhan African countries as having critical health worker shortages. Norway has the highest density of doctors, nurses and midwives with 361 professionals for every 10,000 people. Conversely, countries like Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Ethopia and Malawi have 3 or less professionals for every 10,000 people.

Continue reading

US power is declining and it’s a good thing | 

The rest of the world is catching up to and will soon pass the dominant US.  It is estimated that today’s developing countries will be responsible for roughly two-thirds of the global GDP by 2030.

That is great news for the US and Europe, if the right steps are taken, says Charles Kenny, resident optimist and Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development. His book The Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest is Good for the West describes why the future is rosy for the world. Although the economic center of gravity is heading back East, there is reason to be excited about what is to come.

The rise of the economies of China, India and Brazil are all but a foregone conclusion. Recent hiccups aside, the emerging economies of today will be meaningful economic forces in the coming decades.

The once dominant US will concede its top spot in the coming years. What it means for the world is where experts begin to diverge.

“[T]he fortunes of Americans have irreversibly declined and their future has been mortgaged,” has repeated Shanghai venture capitalist Eric Li in the Huffington Post, New York Times and elsewhere.

Fears emerged during the recent financial crisis that China would take advantage of the fact that it holds a large amount of US debt. Such concerns overstated the ability of the Chinese economy. Current trade deals and organizations are already normalizing trade, and China is not at a point where it could weather a serious global trade disruption.

“If China was to really strong arm the rest of the planet some way or another—try to push a really biased trade deal or manipulate its currency—the cost would be greater to it,” said Kenny to Humanosphere. “It is far more exposed, when looking at its trade, than the US.”

Continue reading

MTV show helped reduce teen pregnancy, say researchers | 


The rate of teen pregnancy in the US has been falling at a rapid rate since 2008. A significant contributing factor is the MTV reality show 16 and Pregnant.

The show is about the trials and tribulations of teen pregnancy. It also happens to be a great reality check for the problems faced by teen pregnancy and raising a child as a young person.

Melissa S. Kearney of the University of Maryland and Phillip B. Levine of Wellsely College determined that both searches for and tweets about birth control and abortion rose due to the television show. More surprising is that the show helped to reduce teens giving births by 5.7% eighteen months after its debut.

The findings were published in a paper titled Media Influences on Social Outcomes: The Impact of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant on Teen Childbearing. Roughly one-third of the overall decline in teen pregnancies can be attributed to the show, say the researchers. Half of the cut is due to the recession and the rest is a part of a continuing overall downward trend.

“The finding that 16 and Pregnant had an impact suggests that MTV drew in teens who actually were at risk of teen childbearing and conveyed to them information that led them to change their behavior, preventing them from giving birth at such a young age,” conclude the researchers. Continue reading

Child marriage seen as a girl’s health issue | 


The development community is starting to pay closer attention to the problem of child marriages.

Long considered an issue of human rights, the conversation about child marriage is shifting to that of health and education. Girls married too young are denied the educational opportunities of their peers and are put at greater health risks, such as HIV and teen pregnancy.

What may seem like a distant problem, child marriage is found in every part of the world. Ending the global practice will unleash opportunity for millions of women and girls.

The number of global child marriages is declining, but not quickly enough. Rates are staggering in places like Chad, Niger and the Central African Republic. More than two out of every three girls are married before eighteen. Roughly half of the girls married early in Niger do so before turning fifteen.

The global rate of child marriage is alarmingly high in developing countries where one out of every three girls will marry before turning eighteen. It is estimated that 142 million girls will marry before the age of eighteen this decade. The majority of cases are found in South Asia and West and Central Africa, but it is India that carries the majority of the burden, 40% to be exact.

It is not only a problem in Africa and Asia. Closer to the US, Haiti has a child marriage rate exceeding thirty percent. Continue reading

Think things are bad? Here are 14 Reasons the World is Getting Better | 

Roughly 10% of the whole world lives in extreme poverty, the youngest nation is falling apart and inequality is rising just about everywhere. That is only a sliver of the terrible things happening around the world right now. Thinking about (and reporting on) such topics can get depressing and lead one to think that all is bad.

The fact is, the world is getting better across just about every measure. Extreme poverty is at an all time low, more girls are getting an education and fewer children are dying. There is a long way to go, but progress is being made.

In short: People are living longer, less hungry and better connected than 10 years ago. How awesome is that?

For those of you feeling a bit down, here are a fourteen reasons to be optimistic, according to vlogger and author John Green:

Continue reading