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Solar-Powered Mobile Clinics to Boost Rural Healthcare in Africa

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Around the world, innovative thinking is finding new ways of using solar power technology to bring electricity to underserved areas of the global South. Innovators are experimenting with new technologies, new business models and new ways to finance getting solar power into the hands of the poor.

One recently launched new solution is a solar-powered mobile health clinic that is bringing 21st-century medical diagnostic services to rural areas.

The US $250,000 Solar Powered Health Centre has been built by the Korean technology company Samsung (http://www.samsung.com/africa_en/news/localnews/2013/samsung-launches-solar-powered-health-centre-model-to-bring-quality-healthcare-to-rural-areas).

A truck packed with medical equipment that draws electricity from solar panels, it is traveling to rural, underserved parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

The truck is seven metres in length and comes packed with medical goodies, including a fully equipped eye and blood clinic and a dental surgery. It hopes to make it easier to reach the six in 10 residents of sub-Saharan Africa who live in rural areas, and who are often very far from affordable medical services. There is a blood analyzer, spectacle repair kit, and a non-contact tonometry test to measure the inside of a person’s eye. People can also be tested for HIV, malaria and many other conditions.

Samsung (samsung.com) developed the truck as part of its efforts to create “Built for Africa” technologies. The truck was built in Johannesburg, South Africa, helping create local jobs and skills.

Samsung hopes to scale the initiative to a million people in Africa by 2015.

The clinics were launched in Cape Town at the 2013 Samsung Africa Forum and are being rolled out by Samsung Electronics Africa (http://www.samsung.com/africa_en/#latest-home) as part of what the company calls a “large-scale medical initiative on the continent”.

The roaming trucks will be staffed by qualified medical professionals and will educate people about the importance of preventive medical screening.

Targeted conditions include diabetes, high blood pressure, tooth decay and cataracts. The clinics will also conduct public health education campaigns about the importance of preventive medicine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preventive_medicine).

“What many see as minor health issues will not only get worse over time, but will affect other aspects of quality of life. The child that cannot see properly cannot learn properly,” said Dr. Mandlalele Mhinga, a member of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital (http://nelsonmandelachildrenshospital.org/). “Mobile solutions help address this issue by making medical services accessible to more people in rural areas, and educating them about health care at the same time.”

The mobile clinics hope to reduce the vast difference between the quality of health care available to rural residents and people in urban areas.

Even in countries such as South Africa with the highest level of development in the region, medical care coverage is patchy and unreliable. For those who can afford it, 20 per cent of the population, there are private medical schemes. But everyone else must rely on an over-stretched and under-funded public health sector.

Samsung has based this innovation on its first-hand experience with providing medical services to rural areas in Africa.

“This experience has shown us how desperately medical treatment is needed across the continent, and inspired us to develop a sustainable and innovative solution to reach the people who need it most,” said Ntutule Tshenye, Business-to-Government and Corporate Citizenship Lead for Samsung Africa. “While our CSR (corporate social responsibility) strategy in Africa is largely focused on education, our efforts to enrich lives will not be felt if people’s basic needs, such as access to healthcare, are not met.”

Samsung’s “Built for Africa” product range (http://www.samsung.com/africa_en/africancitizenship/home4.html) also has a wide range of other projects and initiatives to boost health and living standards on the continent. These include education programmes, such as the Samsung Electronics Engineering Academy, Samsung Solar Powered Internet Schools, the Samsung Power Generator, and the Samsung eLearning Centres.

Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. is a consumer electronics multinational and employs 227,000 people worldwide.

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: August 2013

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

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Feds Call For AIDS, Blood System Inquiry: Some Seniors Infected

By David South

Today’s Seniors (Canada), July 1993

HIV-tainted blood transfusions given in the early 1980s have left some seniors with AIDS, but it is feared many are unaware of their HIV-positive status. 

Between 1979 and 1985 – before testing of blood products for HIV became mandatory – 266 transfusion recipients and over 677 hemophiliacs are known to have been infected in Canada, according to the Centre for AIDS Statistics. 

But the final numbers are unkown – estimates range from 400 to 1,000 cases of HIV transmission among the 1.5 million Canadians given blood products during this time. 

This uncertainty is fueling public concern. With such a serious public health danger, many are shocked by the confusing messages being sent by governments, the Canadian Red Cross Society and hospitals. 

But it took the report of an all-party Parliamentary subcommittee on health, released at the end of May, to shock the federal government into calling for a public inquiry into the blood system. The report is highly critical of the decision-making process involved in blood collection and distribution. 

“We have members of our group who are seniors,” says Jerry Freise, spokesperson for advocacy organization HIV-BT (Blood Transfusion) Group, whose wife was infected with HIV due to a blood transfusion. “And many of them went for years being misdiagnosed and treated for something other than HIV. Others have gotten sick, and one died without knowing it because nobody told him. 

“A classic case is Kenneth Pittman who was infected in 1984. The Red Cross found out in 1985 and they allegedly took two years to tell The Toronto Hospital. The hospital took two years to tell his doctor, and his doctor decided not to tell anybody. 

Infected

“Another couple, a lady of 59 and a man of 64, called us April 1. She found she was infected, and the reason she took a test is because her husband turned out to be HIV-positive three weeks before a transfusion in 1983. He had gone for years without a diagnosis from doctors.” 

This runs counter to the Red Cross’s story. 

“Whenever a blood donor tests positive for HIV antibodies, we go back and trace the prior donations,” says spokesperson Angela Prokoptak at the Society’s national office. “The Red Cross supplies blood to hospitals, so we know which units went to which hospital. But the hospital must go through their records to find who they transfused. 

“After identifying the recipient, the hospital contacts the recipient’s physician, and then they have them tested. There are of course limitations.

“Since 1987, the Red Cross has been advising people who may be concerned to consult their physician for counselling and advice.”

But subcommitte member Chris Axworthy, an NDP MP, found that hospitals and the Red Cross hesitated to notify former patients for fear of lawsuits. He says the federal government should show some leadership and stop passing the buck to other agencies and departments. 

Only two hospitals in Ontario – Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and Princess Margaret Hospital – have tried systematically to contact former patients. 

Ontario health ministry spokesperson Layne Verbeek says it is a laborious and costly task for hospitals to notify former patients. “We’ve always informed people if they are thought to be at risk, but many hospitals aren’t in the position to trace. If people are at risk or have doubts, they should be tested.”

Verbeek says recent media coverage has caused an increase in the number of people seeking HIV blood tests – requests for the test doubled after the Sick Kids hospital went public. The provincial government’s lab went from 700 tests per day to 1,300, but Verbeek says that has started to taper off. 

The ministry of health is happy with the number of people coming forward to be tested, says Verbeek. 

But Friese says the different players are more concerned about lawsuits than informing the public. He is especially upset at the Red Cross for not taking a leadership role in disseminating information. 

“The Red Cross and the medical system have failed miserably to contact people. Even today they are reticent to tell people they were part of a risk group and should get treated.” Friese feels the various governments and the Red Cross are leaving the job of informing the public to his group and the Canadian Hemophiliacs Society. 

Beat the drums

“It’s my job to beat the drums for the media while I’m dealing with my wife being infected? That’s my job, when these are the ministers of health?”, Friese says with anger.

The effect of AIDS on seniors isn’t new to US-based National Institute on Aging researcher Marcia Ory. She and colleagues helped sound the alarm back in 1989 with the book “AIDS In An Aging Society: What We Need To Know.” In the US, over 10 per cent of AIDS cases have occurred in people over 50. 

“Surprisingly, people have ignored older people and the AIDS issue,” says Ory. “You had older people in hospitals who might have complained about fatigue which was thought to be age-related. Older people aren’t as likely to be diagnosed as early because of the assumption that they are not at risk from AIDS.

“We don’t want older people in general to be overly fearful, but we want them to acknowledge the possibility, and to engage in good preventative practices if they are at risk.” 

Ron deBurger, director of AIDS prevention for the Canadian Public Health Association, would like assurances that the security of the blood supply has improved. 

“The subcommittee came to the right conclusion asking for a public inquiry,” says deBurger. “I would hope the terms of reference are broad enough to take a look at the whole issue of the safety of the blood supply, not only in terms of what happened in the past, but, more importantly, what’s happening today.”

Other than hemophiliacs, who require large quantities of blood, deBurger believes anybody who received one transfusion has a small risk. “If you had blood once, I think the odds are pretty long that you are going to end up with tainted blood. But AIDS does take eight to 10 years to manifest itself, and we might still be picking up pieces for the next four to five years that we don’t know about yet.” 

Friese recommends that anybody who received blood or blood products between 1979 and 1985 get an HIV test. If their doctor says it isn’t necessary, they should call the AIDS Hotline about anonymous testing. 

Anybody who has tested positive for HIV and would like support and counselling can call Robert St-Pierre of the Canadian Hemophilia Society at 1-800-668-2686.

For information on anonymous testing call the Ontario government’s AIDS Hotline in Toronto at 416-392-2437. For support write HIV-BT Group, 257 Eglinton Avenue W., Suite 206, Toronto, Ont., M4R 1B1. 

Read more of David South’s 1990s health and medical journalism here: Taking Medicine To The People: Four Innovators In Community Health

More from Canada’s Today’s Seniors

Feds Call For AIDS, Blood System Inquiry: Some Seniors Infected

Government Urged To Limit Free Drugs For Seniors

Health Care On The Cutting Block: Ministry Hopes For Efficiency With Search And Destroy Tactics

New Seniors’ Group Boosts ‘Grey Power’: Grey Panthers Chapter Opens With A Canadian Touch

Seniors Falling Through The Health Care Cost Cracks

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Philippine Conference Tackles Asia’s AIDS Crisis

Mongolians attend for first time

By David South

UB Post (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia), October 28, 1997

Manila, Philippines – More than 2,500 delegates have gathered in the steamy hot Philippine capital to renew the fight against HIV and AIDS.

Working up a sweat alongside other participants at the Fourth International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific are nine Mongolians – a first that isn’t going unnoticed.

The Congress opened Saturday (October 25) to the pounding beat of a theme song performed by teenagers, championing defiance of death and celebration of life.

That tone was echoed by Dr Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. He said the epidemic can be slowed down with the right public health measures – a positive message for Mongolia as it grapples with an STD crisis that many believe leaves the country at risk of an HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The magnitude of that epidemic outside Mongolia is startling. Around the world, 23 million people are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Between 5 and 7 million of them live in the Asia/Pacific region.

“The point is that prevention is feasible,” Piot told the Congress. “The results can be seen in those countries in the Asia-Pacific region where the epidemic has stalled or is in retreat.

“A good indicator for unsafe sexual behaviour is the STD rate. I am impressed at the sustained decline in STD rates in Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand over the past decade.

“But I am concerned actual declines in HIV in this region have occurred only in Australia, New Zealand and Thailand.”

The countries to Mongolia’s immediate south and north are experiencing exploding health crises. In China, HIV/AIDS is increasing at a rapid rate due to factors including growing prostitution, drug use and travel – all by-products of a booming economy. The infected population is estimated at 400,000 and is expected to reach 1.2 million by the year 2000, according to China’s national AIDS committee.

To the north in Russia, a complete collapse in the public health system has dramatically slashed life expectancy and led to an upsurge in many diseases, including tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

With many Mongolians doing business in both these countries, there are numerous opportunities for AIDS to enter the country.

A wide range of topics is under discussion at the gathering, with women, youth and STD-control measures of particular interest to the Mongolian delegates.

For the Mongolians, the Congress is an opportunity to learn from other countries’ successes and failures in the fight against AIDS.

Mongolia’s nine-member delegation includes four doctors – Dr K. Davaajav, head of the AIDS/STD Department of the Research Centre for Infectious Diseases, Health Ministry representative Dr S. Enkhbat. Medical University director Dr Lkhagvasuren and Dr Darisuren from the United Nations Population Fund.

Also in the team are Democrat MPs B. Delgermaa and Saikhanbileg, UNICEF’s B. Bayarmaa and two representatives from women’s NGOs: S. Tsengelmaa from the Women’s Information and Research Centre and N. Chinchuluun, executive director of the Mongolian Women Lawyers Association.

On Sunday, several presentations focused on the difficulties of getting people to use condoms.

In Fiji, studies found the majority of the population was aware of AIDS and had access to condoms, but still chose not to use them.

Lisa Enriquez, a Filipino woman who is HIV-positive, gave a sobering speech on the epidemic.

“One of the most important things I’ve learned from the epidemic is human nature. AIDS is such a humanizing disease. It reminds us of being human, complete with all the weaknesses and imperfections of being human.

“Let us not kid ourselves: changing behaviour is not easy. One doesn’t change because somebody tells him or her to do so.

“We will need to get our act together, institutionalize our efforts and continue working harder with passion and perserverance.”

The Congress continues until October 30.

More on the Congress here: Fourth International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific

“The Fourth International Congress on AIDS and Asia in the Pacific convened 3,000 scientists, people working in the communities, and people living with HIV/AIDS to discuss the state of AIDS in Asia and the Pacific and how the problem is being addressed now and into the future. The following topics addressed at the Congress are explored: the extent of the HIV epidemic, HIV risk behaviors, women and HIV, clinical manifestations of HIV infection, antiretroviral therapy, and perinatal HIV transmission. HIV is spread differently among these countries and a nation’s wealth largely determines its ability to execute prevention programs and patient access to therapy. Most patients in Asia pay for their own medications. It is hoped that more prosperous and technologically advanced nations will demonstrate stronger leadership and commitment in the fight against AIDS in the region.” Phanuphak P. Fourth International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific. J Int Assoc Physicians AIDS Care. 1998 Feb;4(2):22-5. PMID: 11365085.

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Lamas Against AIDS

By David South

UB Post (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia), November 5, 1997

Manila, Philippines – Since HIV is contracted through sex, the disease has always been a difficult subject for the world’s religious leaders. When there is sex to be discussed, no religion can do it without bringing up morality.

This moral debate about bedroom behaviour has tainted discussion of AIDS in many countries. At the extreme end of the spectrum, some evangelical Christian leaders in the US have painted AIDS as an apocalyptic disinfectant for humanity.

Not surprisingly, this attitude has not helped in educating the faithful that AIDS can happen to anyone and its victims should be treated like any other ill person.

The Philippine conference heard that the standoff between the world’s leaders and public health authorities must stop. Dr Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, pointed to the numerous delegates from the world’s religions and called on others to follow their example.

“In Myanmar, the Myanmar Council of Churches, the YWCA and other community-based organizations have joined hands with local authorities, health workers and Buddhist groups for community-based prevention, care and support programmes,” he told the assembly.

“This is the best practice in action.”

Mongolian delegate Dr Altanchimeg thinks a similar approach could work in this country.

“Now every Mongolian goes to see lamas. It’s a good channel to advocate for AIDS education. In Thailand, lamas are very experienced at this. People believe in lamas.”

Like their colleagues in Thailand and Myanmar, Cambodian lamas have been in the forefront of AIDS education.

Lamas there use festivals and ceremonies to raise the issue.

You Chan, a 30-year-old lama from Tol Sophea Khoun monestary in Phnom Penh, likes to raise the issue delicately, by referring to diseases in Buddha’s time.

“I feel it is difficult to speak about sexual methods with a large audience – I will not speak to sexual methods.

“At first, it was very difficult. People would ask why a monk would say such things. But I tried and tried and the people understood who is helping them.

“My message to Mongolia’s lamas is this: you have a moral responsibility to educate the people about AIDS, that it is happening all around the world and there is no medicine to cure it.

“You have to take care in the name of Buddhism to help people in this world.”

You Chan teaches lamas at 15 temples in Cambodia, who pass the message along to other lamas and congregations.

Update: Interestingly, two decades after this story was written, it seems the other kind of llama’s antibodies can “neutralize a wide range of circulating HIV viruses”. From ScienceDaily: How llamas’ unusual antibodies might help in the fight against HIV/AIDS

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