Government Policy

Economic Development, Government Policy, Inequality, International Aid, Political Instability, Poverty

Aid Dependency: The Damage of Donation

~Written by Victoria Stanford, University of Edinburgh (Contact:

"The Culture of Aid Dependency Need to Change," David Sengeh, Sierra Leone. Photo Credit:

"The Culture of Aid Dependency Need to Change," David Sengeh, Sierra Leone. Photo Credit:

Aid has long been the response of richer countries to the imbalance of economic development seen across the globe. In the last two decades however, relatively non-intrusive in-kind giving has been re-branded and intensified to the point where aid today is arguably used as a strategic force in increasingly interventionist global development policy. The aid industry has seen a rapid expansion, characterised by an increase in the number of organisations, amounts of funding and geographical reach (Collinson and Duffied, 2013). The question of aid dependence is an important one; many argue that international assistance paradoxically poses a barrier to recipient country development and sustainable economic growth (Moyo, 2009).

Recent rhetoric surrounding aid dependency is clear- it is an unwelcome and unfortunate side effect of aid and its diminishment is high on the aid policy agenda (Thomas et al., 2011). What is becoming increasingly clear however is that there is an emerging type of aid-related dependency that does not refer to economic or financial factors, but political. Cases of corruption in recipient country governments have been met with the development of more complex modes of donation, including direct programme funding, conditionalities, tied aid, and grants, which give donors more control over the direction and ultimate use of their funds. This often means that those providing aid are increasingly entwined in political processes. This combined with aid uncertainty, questionable sustainability, and a tendency of top-down approaches to political involvement, create a situation where countries in need of aid are dependent upon foreign agendas.

How has aid caused dependency?

Aid dependency refers to the proportion of government spending that is given by foreign donors. Since 2000 this has in fact decreased by one third in the world’s poorest countries, exemplified by Ghana and Mozambique where aid dependency decreased from 47% to 27% and 74% to 58% respectively (3). Aid is not intrinsically linked to dependency; studies have shown that dependency is influenced by many factors, mostly length and intensity of the donation period, and 15-20% has been identified as the tipping point where aid begins to have negative effects (Clemens et al., 2012). What causes dependency is when aid is used, intentionally or not, as a long-term strategy that consequently inhibits development, progress, or reform. Food aid is particularly criticised for this; increasing dependency on aid imports disincentivises local food production by reducing market demand. This is compounded when declining aid is replaced with commercial imports rather than locally-sourced food, either because of cheaper prices or a lack of recipient country food production capacity because of long-term aid causing agricultural stagnation (Shah, 2012). This is exemplified in the situation of Haiti, which is dependent on cheap US imports for over 80% of grain stocks even in a post-aid era, or countries such as the Philippines where aid dependency has forced an over-reliance on cash crops. Dependency relates not only to commodities but also technical expertise and skills which donors often bring to specific aid schemes and projects, which when not appropriately coupled with education create an over-reliance on donors (Thomas et al., 2011).

A more concerning type of dependency

The nature of aid almost intrinsically causes what is increasingly known as ‘political dependency’ by encouraging donor intervention in political processes. Donors need to satisfy the interests, values and incentives of the home country, whilst also providing them with expected results in order to maintain the cash flow. This has resulted in donors either bypassing and therefore destabilising government service provision processes to establish donor projects, a strategy often favoured by USAID and the World Bank (Bräuntigam and Knack, 2004), or intervening directly in policy-making and implementation (Bräutigam, 2000).

The involvement of donors, either foreign governments or international agencies, in recipient country political processes has been shown to reduce the quality of governance (Knack, 2001). It reduces leader accountability; the government is “playing to two audiences simultaneously”- the donors and the public (Hayman, 2008). This means the direction of accountability is between government and donor rather than the public, risking government legitimacy and delaying the progress of political reform and development (Bräutigam, 2000). This is particularly damaging in countries where the need for aid stems from political upheaval or civil unrest such as the Democratic Republic of Congo or Zimbabwe, which have a lengthy history of aid dependence (Moss et al., 2006). The risk here is that donors have political leverage, thus decisions and planning become reliant on donor involvement whose motivation and values may not necessarily align with those of the public or government.

Furthermore, ‘earmarking’ is a strategy favoured by many international donors who fear corruption in recipient governments, therefore ‘earmark’ direct sector or programme funding rather than general government budget support (Foster and Leavy, 2001). This not only shifts the agenda-making power to donors who have the authority to set priorities and direct funds accordingly, but also creates patchy and unsustainable development where some sectors outperform others.

An additional significant problem of dependency upon international agenda-making for countries receiving aid is that globally recommended ‘best practice’ policies often lack appropriate contextualisation to cultural, religious, or social values. A top-down, uniform approach to policy implementation by donors also has logistical barriers whereby local infrastructure is incapable of carrying out donor projects effectively and producing satisfactory results. A good example of this is the widely-disseminated policy encouraging syndromic management of sexually transmitted diseases, which was coercively incorporated into aid channels in Mozambique, despite the clear lack of the technical expertise and human resource capacity that such a robust policy requires (Cliff et al., 2004). This then perpetuates aid dependency because donors do not receive satisfactory project results and may consequently reduce funding without actually solving the problem, thus the poverty cycle continues and aid is required once again.

Demolishing aid dependency

Ending or preventing aid dependency will be contingent on affirmative action from both donors and recipients. Botswana is a key example of recipient-led aid policy that effectively resulted in rapidly reducing aid and therefore dependency. Botswana began receiving aid shortly after gaining independence in 1966 (Bräutigam and Botchwey, 1999). Of primary importance here is that Botswana largely decided the direction and use of funding; areas of priority were identified and donors were matched accordingly, thus avoiding reliance on donor ideas and agendas. Only projects that the predicted government capacity could absorb once aid was reduced in the long-term were undertaken, which ensured sustainability. In contrast, the relative ‘success story’ of Taiwan can be explained by donor-led project planning. Taiwan received much aid from the US in the early 1960’s which focused mainly on building infrastructural capacity-docks, railways, factories-with the aim to increase trading systems and boost the economy. In fact, this scheme was so effective that the US eventually withdrew aid for fear of creating competition (Chang, 1965).

It seems evident that recipient-led schemes and projects are more effective and reduce the risk of dependency. Technically speaking, some argue that aid should only ever be in the form of general government budget support rather than selective sector or project aid because it reduces donor involvement in political processes. It is also less bureaucratic, is less influenced by donor missions who need to produce and report results, and avoids the risk of uneven service provision (Moss et al., 2006). Ideologically speaking, the aid industry today is at risk of forming a novel kind of colonialism where ‘Western’ ideas of development and progress are used to influence and hold power over governments of countries receiving aid.

Concluding thoughts

The aid industry must respond to the problem of economic and political dependence. Coordinated efforts to more effectively monitor donor-recipient relationships, using a widely implemented human rights-based legal and moral framework for aid policy should be the ultimate, collective goal (Ooms and Hammonds, 2008). The reality is however that with increasingly complex humanitarian disasters and the destructive forces of climate change looming, the aid industry will be called upon to increase capacity and intensity which may perhaps re-direct focus from implementing ideological change. Nevertheless, the opportunity to ‘get things right’ in aid policy and practice persists, and it is a moral imperative that the industry and its participants make the attempt.


Bräutigam D and Botchwey K (1999) The institutional impact of aid dependence on recipients in Africa. Chr. Michelsen Institute;Working Paper 1.

Bräutigam, D. (2000). Aid dependence and governance, Almqvist & Wiksell International;Stockholm pp.14.

Bräuntigam D and Knack S (2004) Foreign aid, institutions and governance in Sub-Saharan Africa, Economic Development and Cultural Change, Vol 52;2, pp.255-285.

Chang D (1965) US Aid and Economic progress in Taiwan, Asian Survey, Vol 5;3, pp.152-160.

Clemens MA, Radelet S and Bhavnani R (2012) Counting Chickens when they Hatch: Timing and the Effects of Aid on Growth, The Economic Journal, 122(561), 590-617.

Cliff J, Walt G and Nhatave, I (2004) What's in a Name? Policy transfer in Mozambique: DOTS for tuberculosis and syndromic management for sexually transmitted infections. Journal of Public Health Policy, 25;1, p.38-55

Collinson S and Duffied M (2013) Paradoxes of Presence:Risk Management and aid culture in challenging environments, Humanitarian Policy Group, Overseas Development Institute [Online] Available at: [Accessed 02 January 2015].

Foster M and Leavy J (2001) The choice of financial aid instruments. London: Overseas Development Institute, pp.4.

Hayman R (2008) Rwanda: milking the cow. Creating policy space in spite of aid dependence. The Politics of Aid, 156.

Knack S (2001) Aid dependence and the quality of governance: cross-country empirical tests, Southern Economic Journal, 310-329.

Moss T, Pettersson G andVan de Walle, N (2006) An aid-institutions paradox? A review essay on aid dependency and state building in sub-Saharan Africa, Centre for Global Development; Working paper No. 74.

Moyo D (2009) Dead Aid, Penguin; London, pp.12

Ooms G and Hammonds R (2008) Correcting globalisation in health: transnational entitlements versus the ethical imperative of reducing aid-dependency. Public Health Ethics, 1(2), 154-170.

Shah A (2012) Food aid, Global Issues [Online] Available at: URL: http://www. globalissues. org/article/748/food-aid [Accessed January 02 2015]

Thomas A, Viciani L and Tench J et al (2011) Ending Aid Dependency, Action Aid; London.

Disease Outbreak, Economic Burden, Government Policy, Healthcare Workforce, Health Systems, Infectious Diseases

Lessons, Impact, and the 'Fearonomics' of the Ebola Outbreak in Nigeria

~Written by Sulzhan Bali, PhD (Contact:

Also published on the DGHI Diaries From the Field Blog

Passport Sticker with Ebola Symptoms and National Helpline. Photo Credit: Sulzhan Bali, PhD

24th of July.

The day Macchu Picchu was discovered in 1911.

The day Apollo XI returned to the Earth after the first successful mission of taking humans to the moon in 1969. 

Yet, in Nigeria, that day in 2014 will always be marked as the day Patrick Sawyer—the index patient of Ebola—died and set an outbreak in motion in one of the most populated cities in Africa. Patrick Sawyer was a Liberian-American citizen and a diplomat who violated his Ebola quarantine to travel to Nigeria for an ECOWAS convention. His collapse at the airport, coupled with an ongoing strike by Nigerian doctors in public hospitals, landed him at a private hospital in Obalende, where he infected eight other people. 

Patrick Sawyer’s death marked the beginning of an Ebola epidemic in Lagos, a city of 21 million. Lagos is a major economic hub in Africa and one of its biggest cities. An uncontrolled Ebola epidemic would have a far-reaching economic impact beyond the borders of the city, its country, and even its continent.

A recent study has shown that Ebola virus remains active in a dead body for more than a week. Add to this that the body is most infectious in the hours before death, and it is a "virus bomb" waiting to happen if handled incorrectly. West Africa, especially Nigeria, has a strong funeral culture. This Ebola-infected Liberian diplomat’s body was transported and incinerated in accordance with the WHO and CDC protocol. This feat was achieved despite immense political and diplomatic pressure to return the body for funeral rites. It represents one of the many cases of collaboration and "clinical system governance" that are at the heart of the successful containment of Ebola in Nigeria. It is one of the many stories that I'm hoping to highlight in my research on the role of the private sector in Nigeria’s successful Ebola containment.

One of Many Ebola Information Posters Around Lagos. Photo Credit: Sulzhan Bali, PhD

As part of my research, I am looking at 10 different economic sectors to understand how the Ebola outbreak impacted the private sector and how the private sector dealt with the challenges that the Ebola outbreak posed. My hope is that this research will lead to lessons for the private sector on how, in times of an epidemic, they can help the government to mitigate the disease’s economic impact. I also hope that the resulting report will help governments engage with the private sector more effectively in times of emergencies.

With many outbreaks, especially of highly fatal diseases such as Ebola, fear is the biggest demon. This fear has led to the crippling of economies of Ebola-affected countries. This fear has cost Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia 12 % of their GDP in foregone income and unraveled the years of progress made by these countries. However, this fear is not just a phenomenon limited to West Africa. I had a very personal encounter with this fear recently, when I was quarantined for a few hours in the United States (despite Nigeria being declared Ebola free since October 2014). 

It has been a humbling experience so far, as I try to understand how this fear and the hysteria around Ebola can lead to significant behavioral changes—some of them necessary but some extreme. Everyone I speak to has a story to share. Some people tell of how they bought more than two bus tickets to prevent sitting next to other people. Others tell of hospitals resembling "ghost buildings" as people avoided hospitals and doctors like the plague. Many tell of the "Ebola elbow-shake" that replaced the usual handshake or hug. The reality is that although the Ebola outbreak infected 21 people in Nigeria, it actually affected the lives of 21 million people in Lagos alone, in one way or another. I have come to realize that there is a thin line between precaution and hysteria. Maintaining the equilibrium between the two is the key to controlling the disease and mitigating its economic impact.

As I wrap up my interviews, a few questions resonate with me time and time again from these sessions.

“Are we prepared for the next time?” 

“Ebola is back in Liberia. What can we do to prevent Ebola from coming back to Nigeria?” 

 For the doctors who died in Nigeria’s fight against Ebola:

“Can we truly say our country is a safer place after their sacrifice?” 

And for myself:

“How will your report help Nigeria?”

These are the questions that keep me going. Although my report may not be able to answer all of the aforementioned questions, I do hope it will at least get policy makers, students, and advocacy groups talking about how countries can be better prepared for the next big outbreak and how public-private collaboration can lead a country out of an epidemic and on a path of recovery.

To end on a positive note, 24th July, 2015 also marked one year since the last polio case in Nigeria—an achievement that clearly shows what collaboration in global health can achieve.

(To learn more about my research or to contribute/collaborate in my study, please contact me.)

Built Environment, Economic Development, Government Policy, Innovation, Poverty, Water and Sanitation

Climate Change and Health, Part 1: Floods

~Written by Joann Varickanickal (Contact:

The Lancet recently published an article on climate change and health, extensively examining the types of health risks related to climate change as well as recommendations for policy changes, in order to address these risks (Watts et al., 2015). This article re-emphasized how complex this issue is because there are several contributing factors, and elements that can be potentially impacted (Figure 1).  As there are so many aspects of this topic, for my next few blog posts I will focus on briefly highlighting some of the health risks associated with climate change. This post will focus on natural disasters, specifically looking at floods.

Figure 1: Relationship between health, climate change and greenhouse gas emission (Watts et al., 2015)

Since 1900, floods have left more than 88 million people homeless, $595 billion in damages, and the deaths of nearly 7 million people (Khedun & Singh, 2013). Overall, climate change will have a direct impact on human health through natural disasters, such as flooding. South Asia is especially at risk as there is already regular flooding. A change in climate can affect the onset of monsoons. For example, in Kerala, a state in southern India, the monsoon season generally begins on June 1st and ends in early September, with a standard deviation of about seven days (Mirza, 2011). However, in the last 50 years this has more than doubled with the earliest onset on May 14th, and the latest date of onset on June 18th (Mirza, 2011). While this may not seem significant, it can influence the level of preparedness in communities that are at risk. Furthermore, the frequency and intensity of rainfalls will also increase. According to climate models, monsoon intensity increases during the summer, as the air over land is warmer than air over the oceans (Mirza, 2011). Floods, that result from the monsoon weather, not only increase the risk of drowning, but also affect the quality of water, thus increasing the exposure to waterborne diseases such as dysentery and diarrhea (Mirza, 2011).

Mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, can also develop after losing property or facing a financial crisis after a flood (Khedun & Singh, 2013). Furthermore, the impacts of climate change, such as increased flooding, disproportionately influence certain populations such as marginalized communities, women, children, and the elderly (Watts et al., 2015). Thus, they suffer most of the negative health consequences associated with flooding and other disasters related to climate change (Watts et al., 2015). This highlights the complexity of the issue in terms of trying to address how to help those who are most impacted by floods.

There are several mitigation efforts that can be taken in order to reduce the impact of floods. For example, urban planners and engineers can work to ensure that forested areas are preserved and development occurs in areas where soil and vegetation conditions work best to reduce the risk of flooding. Many non-structural methods can also be implemented. For example, in some areas it may be beneficial to create zoning laws that would prohibit development in areas that are prone to flooding (Watts et al., 2015). Government officials and private officials can also work together to improve early warning systems and develop better policies for flood-insurance and emergency preparedness (Watts et al., 2015). Taking these steps can help to ensure that health issues associated with floods will not be exacerbated.


Khedun, C. P., & Singh, V. P. (2013). Climate Change, Water, and Health: A Review of Regional Challenges. Water Quality, Exposure and Health, 6(1-2), 7–17. doi:10.1007/s12403-013-0107-1

Mirza, M. M. Q. (2011). Climate change, flooding in South Asia and implications. Regional Environmental Change, 11(SUPPL. 1), 95–107. doi:10.1007/s10113-010-0184-7

Watts, N., Adger, W. N., Agnolucci, P., Blackstock, J., Byass, P., Cai, W., … Costello, A. (2015). Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health. The Lancet, 6736(15). doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60854-6

Economic Burden, Economic Development, Government Policy, Health Insurance, Inequality, Poverty

Investing in Healthcare to Put a Dent in Poverty

~Written by Hussein Zandam (Contact:; Twitter: @zandamtique)


Poverty and Healthcare, Two halves. Photo credit: Our Africa

Health and poverty are intricately related. Evidence suggests that there is a positive correlation between health and poverty. People with limited resources in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are reported to have limited access to healthcare compared to their wealthier counterparts (Wagstaff, 2002). However, other evidence has shown that health expenditure can push households into poverty (Kruk et al, 2009). Tackling either is a priority for governments to improve the welfare of people. The poor are more likely to need healthcare for many reasons including a lack of safe drinking water, a balanced diet, adequate shelter, and protection against harsh environmental conditions. Because of the increased need for healthcare, the poor incur increased spending on already limited resources, and are likely to experience catastrophic expenditure. Reducing healthcare expenditure by the poor has the potential to be a viable mechanism against deepening of poverty.

Reducing extreme poverty is a major goal of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and was also considered in the formulation of the post-2015 agenda. Countries all over the world are grappling with measures to reduce income inequality and poverty. In developing countries, this is more apparent through the increase of micro credit schemes, subsidies, and social safety nets for the most vulnerable. However, evidence has shown that in spite of efforts from nations and development partners, more needs to be done to eradicate extreme poverty (Laterveer et al. 2003). Poverty and access to healthcare have been subjects of research and policy. Poverty can be viewed not only as a conception of material and income deprivation (Deaton and Zaidi, 2002) but also as the lack of opportunities for an individual to lead a life he/she values (Sen, 1999). Using this concept, empowering people to live healthy lives can be seen as an initiative to overcome poverty. However, when poverty is viewed as a deprivation of income and assets, initiatives are channeled that directly improve household expenditure; when in relation to health, initiatives that lower expenditure on health to avoid catastrophic expenditure.

The World Health Organization (WHO; 2000) has advocated for health financing measures that provide financial protection from catastrophic health expenditure. Catastrophic expenditure is a leading cause of impoverishment in many countries. Efforts to prevent catastrophic expenditure oh health have been primarily through insurance. However, in many LMICs it is not effective and/or is beyond the reach of the poor either by being too costly or by not providing adequate coverage (McIntyre, 2006). Thus, the world health report (WHO, 2010) advocated for universal public finance (UPF) as a strategy to promote universal health coverage. UPF means that governments finance interventions for people regardless of who receives it and who provides it. UPF has been in practice in many high-income countries where many necessary interventions are covered. In LMICs however, UPF is limited by targeting a set of interventions tagged as the essential health package, which means many services are excluded and require user payments at the point of care.

For example, extended cost-effectiveness analysis (EECA) was used to assess the effectiveness and reduction in financial risk afforded by a public package of interventions initiated by the government of Ethiopia (Verguet et al, 2015). The interventions examined included services for vaccination, treatment of some conditions, caesarean section surgery, and tuberculosis DOTS. Their analysis focused on UPF where there is no out-of-pocket expenditure to cover costs incurred for each of the nine interventions. They estimated the annual number of deaths averted and the annual total financial protection afforded by the reduction in out-of-pocket expenditure associated with each intervention. The results for intervention costs, health gains and financial protection varied across the interventions but it was concluded that the interventions were cost-effective and prevented cases of poverty among those at lowest income level. Such evidence can be used to convince governments to increase funding of health services with the objective of improving health status of citizens and eradicating extreme poverty among the population.


Deaton, A. and Zaidi S. 2002. Guidelines for Constructing Consumption Aggregates for Welfare Analysis. World Bank. 

Kruk et al. 2009. Borrowing and selling to pay for health care in low- and middle-income countries. Health Aff. 28: 1056–66.

Laterveer et al. 2003. Pro-poor health policies in poverty reduction strategies. Health Policy Plan. 2: 138–145.

Mcintyre et al. 2006. What are the economic consequences for households of illness and of paying for health care in low- and middle-income country contexts? Soc. Sci. Med. 4: 858–865.

Sen, A. (1999). Development as Freedom, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999.

Verguet et al. (2015): Health gains and financial risk protection afforded by public financing of selected interventions in Ethiopia: an extended cost-effectiveness analysis. Lancet Glob Health 2015; 3: e288–96.

Wagstaff, A. 2002. Poverty and health sector inequalities.Bull. World Health Organ. 80: 97–105.

WHO (2000). World Health Report. Health systems: improving performance. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2000.

WHO (2010). World Health Report. Health systems: improving performance. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2010.

Built Environment, Economic Development, Government Policy, Poverty, Water and Sanitation

Examining How Women are Influenced by Inaccessibility to Clean Water

~ Written by Joann Varickanickal (Contact:

Since 1990, 2-3 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources, however, much is yet to be done, as billions still do not have access to safe drinking water (Dora, et al., 2015). This has led to several negative health consequences among many communities, as one-third of deaths are linked to the intake of contaminated water in low-resourced countries (West & Hirsch, 2013). Women are often responsible for housework such as cooking, cleaning and maintaining good hygiene. They are also mainly responsible for the care of children and the sick. As all of these tasks require the use of water, women in low-resourced countries are disproportionately affected by the inaccessibility to safe water.


Risks Associated with Water Collection

In 71 percent of households in sub-Saharan Africa women are responsible for collecting water (West & Hirsch, 2013).  As a result, in places such as the mountainous areas of Eastern Africa, women use up to 27 percent of their caloric intake to get water (West & Hirsch, 2013). Sometimes, they must travel a long distance, often several times in one day. This can lead to physical strain, especially among the elderly. This strain can be exacerbated by extreme heat or with heavy pumps at well sites. Water collection can also be dangerous in remote locations where there is increased risk of rape or other forms of violence.


Impacts on Women as Caretakers, and the Terminally Ill

With a high prevalence of HIV and AIDS in these regions, there has also been an increase in care needed for the terminally ill, and once again, it is the responsibility of the woman to provide the needed care (West & Hirsch, 2013). This involves emotional support, but also other aspects such as bathing and toileting. Providing this type of assistance can become more difficult when there is little accessibility to clean water. Furthermore, caregivers also have an increased chance of developing physical pain and infections because of the risks they are exposed to. Increasing accessibility to clean water will not only improve the outcomes of HIV treatment, but it will also reduce the burden of care on women. As a result, this can improve the quality of life for both groups (Figure 1).



Figure 1: How improved water and sanitation influences the health of those with HIV/AIDS, and caretakers (West & Hirsch, 2013).

Overall, inaccessibility to clean water increases the emotional distress on women and reduces the level of care they are able to provide to those around them. When mothers have poor health status they are unable to provide the adequate resources needed for the well being of their children, which can lead to growth stunts (Requejo, et al., 2015).

Like any other public health issue, this one is complex. Many factors must be examined to determine how improvements can be made to increase the availability of safe water, while also empowering women. For example, while women have to travel long distances in order to get clean water, this also gives them a chance to socialize with other women and spend some time away from the home. Thus, what can be done to preserve this time for social interaction, while minimizing the health risks?  In order to answer this and similar questions, governments and NGOs must critically analyze social systems, specifically gender norms, health systems and physical infrastructure in low-resourced countries.



Dora, C., Haines, A., Balbus, J., Fletcher, E., Adair-Rohani, H., Alabaster, G., et al. (2015). Indicators linking health and sustainability in the post-2015 development agenda. The Lancet , 385 (9965), 380-391.

Requejo, J. H., Bryce, J., Barros, J. A., Berman, P., Bhutta, P., Bhutta, Z., et al. (2015). Countdown to 2015 and beyond: Fulfilling the health agenda for women and children. The Lancet , 385 (9966), 466-476.

West, B. S., & Hirsch, J. S. (2013). HIV and H2O: Tracing the connections between gender, water and HIV. AIDS Behaviour , 17 (5), 1675-1682.  

Government Policy, Health Systems, Infectious Diseases, International Aid

Program Science: Improving Public Health Interventions

~Written by Theresa Majeski (Contact:

Program science is a relatively new term being used to describe the application of scientific knowledge to improve the design, implementation, and evaluation of programs. Evidence-based interventions are becoming more mainstream in public health but there is still work to do to ensure that public health concepts work the way we hope they will. That’s where program science can help.

Program science extends beyond looking at the implementation of a program, which is the logistics of developing and implementing evidence-based interventions, and focuses on the bigger picture. Program science looks at entire programs, which may include more than one intervention, for a particular population in a specific context. For example, program science may look at efforts to decrease HIV rates in youth of color in a specific borough of NYC. There are probably many interventions working on this issue, targeting different populations of youth via different methods. Program science would look at how all of these interventions work together to achieve the overarching goal of decreasing HIV rates in youth of color in that specific borough of NYC.

Program science focuses on questions like, "Who should be targeted and for how long?," "What is the best combination of interventions to achieve our goal?." " How can we sustain the program?," and "What quality improvement processes exist?" Program science helps to bring together researchers, policy makers, program planners, frontline workers, and communities for an ongoing engagement to help the program succeed.

Source: Sevgi O. Aral, 2012. Program Science: A New Initiative; A New Approach to STD Prevention Programs. 2012 National STD Prevention Conference

Program science is popular in HIV/STI work right now because such work involves long-term complex population-level behavioral interventions. For HIV/STI work, program science can be especially useful in determining why some interventions aren’t as effective as they were in the past and why some disease incidence rates are leveling out (or increasing) instead of continuing to decrease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) focused on program science at their 2012 National STD Conference. In the US, HIV/STI program science can be used to strengthen public health initiatives in a time when public health funding is decreasing and funders want to see substantial impact. Program science can ensure that money is allocated to the most effective interventions that will have the greatest impact on the population.  HIV related program science can be useful on a global scale to ensure that we fully understand the epidemic, who is impacted, and to ensure that the “money follows the epidemic and the interventions follow the evidence”.  Because each HIV affected population of the world has different characteristics it is important to not just apply one intervention to everyone but to really understand how each population is affected and what interventions would work best for each population.  

Program science is a logical progression from a focus on developing evidence-based interventions and rolling them out to a target population, to a more comprehensive focus on how various interventions are impacting the target population. this progression into a "big picture" way of looking at things will hopefully create more effective and efficient programs that contain targeted interventions to increase health of the target population. As program science continues to gain traction in public health, I believe we will see a shift to "big picture" thinking for all sorts of public health activities currently operating without this broad focus.

Government Policy, Poverty, Economic Burden, Infectious Diseases, International Aid

Sustaining the Fight against Malaria

~ Written by Randall Kramer, PhD, M.E. (Professor of Environmental Economics and Global Health, Duke University) & Leonard Mboera, PhD, MSc (Chief Scientist, Tanzania National Institute for Medical Research)

*Also published on the Duke Global Health Institute Website 

On World Malaria Day, April 25, there’s much to celebrate and acknowledge when it comes to the fight against malaria. Over the past 15 years, we’ve seen a huge ramp-up of international funding, and the latest statistics show impressive progress—a 46% decrease in malaria infections among children in sub-Saharan Africa and an estimated 4.3 million deaths averted globally over time.

One of the most effective malaria control measures has been the free distribution of several hundred million insecticide-treated mosquito nets that protect people from mosquitoes while sleeping. In 2004, only 3% of at-risk people in sub-Saharan Africa had an insecticide-treated mosquito net available to them, compared to 49% in 2014 after an international campaign.

The U.S. government is among the major funders of malaria control, and it’s one of the few international assistance programs that has garnered bipartisan support through the Bush and Obama terms. But despite the upsurge in spending and the laudable success of these programs, malaria remains one of the leading causes of death in poorer and tropical parts of the world.

The need for continued support is critical; it’s estimated that eliminating malaria as a major global disease threat would require double the current $3 billion invested annually in malaria control. But in the face of so many other pressing needs, why should we continue to invest in malaria?

In the last year, nearly 200 million people suffered from malaria, and its death toll—more than 500,000—was 50 times greater than that of the widely publicized outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. And malaria takes a particularly devastating toll on the young. More than 80% of the deaths from malaria are in children under five, and those who manage to survive the illness often suffer lasting effects on development, school performance and lifetime earnings.

Because malaria is such a resilient killer, we can expect to see these malaria losses continue and potentially rise in the absence of continued financial support. In fact, with temperatures steadily increasing throughout the world as a result of global warming, malaria-transmitting mosquitoes have begun to take residence in new regions, raising the specter of malaria spreading far beyond its current boundaries.

In addition to the physical suffering malaria causes, the disease stunts national economic progress.

Studies by Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs suggest that, if not for malaria keeping children out of school and agricultural workers out of the fields, the rate of economic development in sub-Saharan Africa would have been much higher in the past few decades.

And lastly, we can’t underestimate the goodwill generated by our investments in mosquito nets and other malaria-defeating approaches in recipient countries. As one community member told our research team in rural Tanzania, “Mosquito nets have been a great help to us. The day when mosquito nets were distributed, people were very happy, because many people in our community could not afford to buy the mosquito nets.”

The malaria parasite, a resilient and opportunistic pest, has successfully co-inhabited with humans for thousands of years, and it continues to adapt and evolve, damaging populations and economies across the globe. We now have the knowledge, technology and health systems to significantly reduce its devastating human impacts. But putting these assets into action will require renewed political will and financial commitment from rich and poor countries around the globe—including the U.S.

Economic Burden, Traffic Accidents, Government Policy

Motor Vehicle Accidents - A Growing Public Health Burden

~ Written by Mike Emmerich, Specialist Emergency Med & ERT Africa consultant (Contact:

“Road Traffic Crashes do not just happen! They are caused by Fatal Moves (actions) by a driver. The message is simple - DON'T DO FATAL MOVES!”@FatalMoves* 1990 to 2010: Deaths from road traffic injuries increased by almost half.*

The largest category of fatal events are transport related. In 1990, according to Global Burden figures, these were the 10^th leading global killer. By 2013, they were fifth! Ahead of malaria, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cirrhosis or any kind of cancer. In part, this is because of progress against these diseases. But it also because as incomes have risen worldwide, more people are buying, and crashing, motorbikes and cars.

Most global road traffic deaths occur in low and middle-income countries and are rapidly increasing because of the growth in motorisation. Mortality rates caused by traffic related injuries are increasing in low and middle-income countries and they account for 48 percent of the world’s vehicles but more than 90 percent of the world’s road traffic fatalities. Pedestrians are most often affected, followed by car occupants and motorcyclists. Alcohol plays a key factor in the drivers and pedestrians, notably in South Africa, where as many as 65% of all pedestrians have increased blood alcohol levels. Conversely, traffic deaths are decreasing in high-income countries, Sweden is an excellent case study that we will review further on in this article.

10 countries are responsible for 600,000 road traffic deaths annually (see this link to see if your country is on the list). Each year, 1.3 million people die in car accidents, so these 10 countries are responsible for nearly half of all road deaths! India tops the list for the highest overall number of road deaths, followed by China and the U.S. If public health leaders are to catch up on accident prevention, the Global Burden of Disease study (Lancet links below) findings can help them see where and how. “Now that somebody’s done the work and we recognize that there’s a difference we may not have seen before, we can go to work and ask why,” said Dr. Schauben

Besides the rapidly rising fatalities we must also take cognisance of the rising number of injured persons and their cost on the (Global) health burden. Road-traffic crashes were the number one killer of young people and accounted for nearly a third of the world injury burden, a total of 76 million DALYs (Disability Adjusted Life Years) in 2010, up from 57 million in 1990. Most of the victims were young, and many had families that depended on them, who know have to rely on other sources of support, in most instances, the state.

What does the current research then tell us about this rapidly rising burden on global public health; transport injury prevention shows that collective action is as important as individual efforts. Motorcycle helmets, car seatbelts and sober drivers are important, but so are safe vehicles, consistent law enforcement and a reliable infrastructure. Thanks to a combination of insufficient, nonexistent or poorly enforced safety laws, poor infrastructure and a lack of enforcement and corrupt enforcers, the bulk of the countries globally keep aiding and abetting in the deaths of over 1.3 million persons annually! Only 28 countries, representing 449 million people (7% of the world’s population), have adequate laws that address all five risk factors (speed, drunk driving, helmets, seat-belts and child restraints). Over a third of road traffic deaths in low and middle-income countries are among pedestrians and cyclists. However, less than 35% of these countries have policies in place to protect their road users.

India has the dubious distinction of registering the highest number of road fatalities in the world (250,000), despite the fact that its population is much smaller than neighboring China and there are more vehicles on the roads in the USA than in India. "A large proportion of these deaths can be prevented by simple measures. The most important of these is strict enforcement of traffic rules, which is conspicuous by its absence in our cities as well as on highways," says the Times of India, and this would be true of the top 10, and also of the country where I reside, South Africa, where 47 persons die each day!

Further compounding the cost of the traffic fatalities is the actual real cost impacting on the affected countries economies; many who cannot afford to have the extra burden on their already strained public health budgets. The economic cost of road collisions to low and middle income countries is at least $100 billion a year! The risk of dying as a result of a road traffic injury is highest in the African Region (24.1 per 100 000 population) It's such a big problem, in fact, that the U.N. feels it needs an entire decade to fix it. In 2011, the U.N. launched a "Decade of Action" that aims to “stabilize and then reduce” global road traffic fatalities by 2020.

Is there any good news? Sweden is one success story, in 2013 only 264 people died in road crashes, a record low. How have they done this? Planning has played the biggest part in reducing accidents. Roads in Sweden are built with safety prioritised over speed or convenience. Low urban speed-limits, pedestrian zones and barriers that separate cars from bikes and oncoming traffic have helped. Globally we need to reduce human error, or eliminate the opportunity for drivers to make fatal moves; human error can even further be reduced, for instance through cars that warn against drunk drivers via built-in breathalysers and making the implementation of safety systems, such as warning alerts for speeding or unbuckled seatbelts/child-seats, compulsory on all new vehicles, built in any factories across the globe.

Individually we need to be aggressive in safe and sober driving habits and not allow our friends and family to place themselves, their passengers and fellow pedestrians at risk by not looking kindly on their unsafe driving practises. Bad and drunk driving should become as unpopular as using a cellphone while driving.


Poverty, Government Policy, Health Systems, Disease Outbreak, Infectious Diseases, International Aid

Keeping the Spotlight on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDS)

-Written by Adenike Onagoruwa, PhD (Contact:

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a group of diseases with different causative pathogens that largely affect poor and marginalized populations in low-resource settings and have profound, intergenerational effects on human health and socioeconomic development. The WHO has prioritized 17 NTDs that are endemic in 149 countries, of which some such as dengue, Chagas disease, and leishmaniasis are epidemic-prone.

NTDs can impede physical and cognitive development, prevent children from pursuing education, frequently contribute to maternal and child morbidity and mortality, and are a cause of physical disabilities and stigma that can make it difficult to earn a livelihood. Largely eliminated in developed, high-resource countries and frequently neglected in favor of better-known global public-health issues, these preventable and relatively inexpensive to treat diseases put at peril the lives of more than a billion people worldwide, including half a billion children. Several reasons have been postulated to explain the neglect of these diseases; an underestimation of their contribution to mortality due to the asymptomatism and lengthy incubation period that is characteristic of many of the diseases, a greater focus on HIV, malaria and TB because of their higher mortality, and a lack of interest in developing (non-profitable) treatments by pharmaceutical companies.

Progress has been made in recent times in combating these diseases and several international measures have been taken. Resolution WHA66.12 adopted at the sixty-sixth World Health Assembly in May 2013 highlighted strategies necessary to accelerate the work to overcome the global impact of neglected tropical diseases. Previously in January 2012 at the “London Declaration”, representatives of governments, pharmaceutical companies and donor organizations convened to make commitments to control or eliminate at least 10 of these diseases by 2020. They proposed a public-private collaboration to ensure the supply of necessary drugs, improve drug access, advance R&D, provide endemic countries with funding and to continue identifying remaining gaps.

So far, the coalition has made progress with delivering on their promises:

Pharmaceutical Companies - In 2013, drug companies met 100% of drug requests, donating more than 1billion treatments. On the R&D front, clinical trials for some NTDs have been started. In addition, several drug companies have enabled access to their compound libraries.

Governments - Compared to 37 in 2011, 55 countries requested drug donations at the end of 2012. Also, over 70 countries have developed national NTD plans. Within a year of the Declaration, Oman went from endemic trachoma to elimination and by 2014, Colombia eliminated onchocerciasis.

Donors - NTDs have become more visible on the development and aid agenda, especially with the £245 million earmarked in 2012 by DFID for NTD programs. Other donors have since followed suit.

However, despite these strides, challenges remain as treatments are not reaching everyone in need. Although 700 million people received mass drug administration (MDA) for one or more NTDs in 2012, only 36% of people in need worldwide received all the drugs they needed. There’s also the anticipated challenge of environmental and climate change on NTDs; with dengue being identified as a disease of the future due to increased urbanization and changes in temperature, rainfall and humidity.

The spotlight needs to remain on NTDs and their contributions to ill-health and poverty for efforts to be sustained. 

To sustain these efforts, greater advocacy has to be made for integrating NTD control into other community and even national level programming, without losing them in the crowd. Some anthelminthic drugs for preventive chemotherapy are on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines and their distribution has been effective and economical. However, to succeed at NTD elimination, we have to look beyond mass drug administration to the removal of the primary risk factors for NTDs (poverty and exposure) by ensuring access to clean water and basic sanitation, improving vector control, integrating NTDs into poverty reduction schemes and vice versa, and building stronger, equitable health systems in endemic areas. There needs to be a consensus as to how to ensure this. At present, it seems there is a gap between elimination objectives and how to incorporate them into other health and development initiatives such as water and sanitation, nutrition and education programs. It has long been established that helminth parasite infection contributes to anemia and malnutrition in children. The presence of other protozoan, bacterial and viral diseases also contribute to school absenteeism. Guinea worm disease (dracunculiasis) can be recurrent when there is no access to safe drinking water.

There is also a need to maintain a surveillance and information system for NTDs in light of increasing migration and displacements. Another way to ensure that the spotlight is kept on NTDs is research that provides evidence of interactions and co-infections with other diseases. For example, epidemiological studies from sub-Saharan Africa have shown that genital infection with Schistosoma haematobium may increase the risk for HIV infection in young women (Mbah et al, 2013). Understanding that neglected diseases can make the “big three” diseases (malaria, HIV and tuberculosis) more deadly and can undermine the gains that have been made in health, nutrition and education is important (Hotez et al, 2006).

Erroneous overstating of the progress made in controlling and eliminating NTDs can have a detrimental effect on funding and public perceptions of their importance. Thus, there is a need for increased synergy between stakeholders. Achievements in polio eradication do not equal achievements in human African trypanosomiasis eradication. While some NTDs can be managed with specific drugs, some such as dengue do not have a specific drug. Therefore, while keeping the spotlight on NTDs collectively, it is important to emphasize their diversity and to also keep in mind the subgroup of NTDs categorized as emerging or reemerging infectious diseases, which are deemed a serious threat and have not been adequately examined in terms of their unique risk characteristics (Mockey et al, 2014).

Lastly, it is important to keep the heat on NTDs in the UN’s post-2015 sustainable development agenda by advocating that proposed goals support efforts to monitor, control and eliminate NTDs. As highlighted by the Ebola crisis, strengthening health systems is paramount. Nevertheless, the future looks optimistic regarding NTDs. Encouraging is the inclusion of neglected and poverty-related diseases on the agenda of the 2015 G7 Summit, which will be held in Germany in June.


World Health Organization. Neglected tropical diseases: becoming less neglected [editorial]. The Lancet. 2014; 383: 1269

Holmes, Peter. "Neglected tropical diseases in the post-2015 health agenda." The Lancet 383.9931 (2014): 1803.

Feasey, Nick, et al. "Neglected tropical diseases." British medical bulletin 93.1 (2010): 179-200.

World Health Organization. Neglected tropical diseases.                              

Fenwick, Alan OBE. “The Politics of Expanding Control of NTDs.”  A Global Village Issue 7.

Mbah, Martial L. Ndeffo, et al. "Cost-effectiveness of a community-based intervention for reducing the transmission of Schistosoma haematobium and HIV in Africa." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110.19 (2013): 7952-7957.

Hotez, Peter J., et al. "Incorporating a rapid-impact package for neglected tropical diseases with programs for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria." PLoS medicine 3.5 (2006): e102.

Mackey, Tim K., et al. "Emerging and Reemerging Neglected Tropical Diseases: a Review of Key Characteristics, Risk Factors, and the Policy and Innovation Environment." Clinical microbiology reviews 27.4 (2014): 949-979.

G7 Summit Agenda.

World Health Organization. Investing to overcome the global impact of neglected tropical diseases: third WHO report on neglected diseases 2015. 

Non-Communicable Diseases, Poverty, Government Policy, International Aid

Managing the Global Burden of Chronic Illnesses

-Written by Mike Emmerich, Specialist Emergency Med & ERT Africa consultant (contact:

An article on an EMS blog caught my eye in the past week:

"COPD was the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2011 and is expected to become the third-leading cause of death worldwide by 2020." (Source: Hoyert DL, Xu JQ. Deaths: preliminary data for 2011. Natl Vital Stat Rep, 2012; 61(6): 1–65. Lopez AD, Shibuya K. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: current burden and future projections. Eur Respir J, 2006; 27(2): 397)

This caused me to dig up a presentation I did in 2006 at a Fitness Seminar, wherein I was discussing chronic medical conditions, which are caused by poor lifestyle choices and I noted then:

" In 1999 CVD contributed to a third of global deaths. " In 1999, low and middle income countries contributed to 78% of CVD deaths. " By 2010 CVD is estimated to be the leading cause of death in developing countries. " Heart disease has no geographic, gender or socio-economic boundaries.

I further stated: Chronic illness have overtaken communicable disease as a major cause of death and disability worldwide. Chronic diseases, including such noncommunicable conditions as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and respiratory disease, are now the major cause of death and disability, not only in developed countries, but also worldwide. The greatest total numbers of chronic disease deaths and illnesses now occur in developing countries.

I then dug deeper to see how this has changed since 2006, and the outlook has become even more bleak!

More than 75% of all deaths worldwide are due to noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). NCD deaths worldwide now exceed all communicable, maternal and perinatal nutrition-related deaths combined and represent an emerging global health threat. Every year, NCDs kill 9 million people under 60 years of age. The socio-economic impact is staggering. These NCD-related deaths are caused by chronic diseases, injuries, and environmental health factors. Important risk factors for chronic diseases include tobacco, excessive use of alcohol, an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and high blood pressure.

The world now suffers from a global epidemic of poor lifestyle choices! Medically we call them chronic illnesses or NCD's, but the issue at hand is that they can be avoided, reversed and prevented; with smarter lifestyle choices. The why and the how of these lifestyle choices is a debate for another blog, but poor socioeconomic conditions, poverty, malnourishment and diets deficient in basic nutritional building blocks all form part of this dynamic.

These poor lifestyle choices and the death, illness, and disability they cause will soon dominate health care costs and should be causing public health officials, governments and multinational institutions to rethink how they approach this growing global challenge. To exacerbate the matter; the deaths, illnesses and disability are spiralling at even faster rates in the developing world, where the infrastructure is even weaker than in the developed world.

It is estimated that by 2020 the number of people who die from ischemic heart disease will increase by approximately 50% in countries with established market economies and formerly socialist economies, and by over 100% in low- and middle-income countries. Similar increases will also be found in cerebrovascular disease (Stroke) by 2020!

This is indeed a frightening prospect; NCDs are expected to account for 7 of every 10 deaths in the world! The overextended healthcare systems in Africa and Asia will battle to cope with these spiralling patient numbers.

A (positive) point to ponder as we consider this bleak outlook; the principal known causes of premature death from NCDs are tobacco use, poor diet, physical inactivity, and harmful alcohol consumption – all of these are preventable and manageable; as they relate to personal choices. Therefore we need to focus on creating a environment where these same individuals can make the correct choices which will have a positive impact on their lives. This is where governments, aid agencies and multi-nationals should focus their energies, and the approach should be more carrot than stick, which is not the case at present.