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Jun 26, 2020

Battling COVID-19 Begins with Access to Supplies

This past Tuesday, June 23rd, the Malian Ministry of Health and Social Affairs confirmed 23 new cases of COVID-19, raising the total number of infections to 2,001 throughout the country. Thus far, Mali has reported 112 deaths due to the coronavirus and current political unrest has sparked manifestations and insurgencies across the nation that are likely to increase case numbers. Mali has endured internal turmoil since 2012 when an uprising prompted soldiers to overthrow the president; today, the impact of COVID-19 has only further exacerbated the humanitarian crisis, where 3.5 million people are currently suffering from food insecurity and 757,000 are severely food insecure. According toU.N. Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, the pandemic is likely to increase the number of people who will face crisis levels of food insecurity to 1.3 million in coming months.

Increasing awareness, disseminating accurate information and following official prevention guidelines are key factors in the battle against COVID-19, but the lack of personal protective equipment and safe social behavior hinder this. In an interview with AllAfrica the leader of Bamako's health service stated, “We do not have a laboratory capable of detecting the virus and we do not have the necessary equipment to take care of patients who test positive.”

A New York Times article estimated that as of April 17 the entire country of Mali owned 3 ventilators, that is, 6.5 million persons per ventilator. A dire need for basic equipment like ventilators are just part of the reason people across Africa are fearful of catastrophic outbreaks, especially among countries with struggling health systems. This lack of clinic supplies also has many experts concerned about chronic shortages of much more basic supplies needed to stagnate the spread of the disease and treat the ill—items like masks, gloves, gowns and disinfectant.  “The things that people need are simple things,” said Kalipso Chalkidou, the director of global health policy at the Center for Global Development. “Not high-tech things.” Getting more ventilators to African countries is not enough. Medical personnel, healthy and properly protected medical personnel, are also needed to operate the machines and run existing healthcare facilities; clinic supplies and personal protective equipment are crucial to the well-being of all Malians.

Despite remaining in a state of emergency since March 25th, curfews have been lifted and though it is mandatory to wear masks at all public places, basic clinic supplies remain scarce. As Mali confronts this pandemic, we must remember that behind these rapidly growing figures are families and communities. At GAIA VF, we recognize that as a global health advocate, we must ensure that all communities have access to the basic clinic supplies necessary to combat COVID-19 and are working tirelessly to provide these to our Hope Center Clinic and partner community clinics that care for the people of Mali.

Jun 26, 2020

Teen Peer HIV Education's Impacts During COVID-19

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Mali continues its climb past 2,000, Teen Peer HIV Education is essential. As stated in previous reports, there are students (mostly girls) in this program that are not enrolled in school. Because schools in Mali have been shut down since March, Teen Peer HIV Education is one of the main sources  of consistent education for these students. 

According to the United Nations Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, more than 3.8 million Malian children have been forced out of school because of COVID-19. This compounds pre-existing factors which have prematurely pushed other children out of school, such as conflict and economic circumstances. The same source reports that, “one fourth of the Malian population depends on humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs.” 

GAIA’s Teen Peer HIV Education program provides stability that is necessary during this time. Students gain an opportunity for education that is not available elsewhere at the moment. The program provides invaluable information on taking care of oneself and making informed decisions in the interest of preserving one’s health. Resources such as condoms and free HIV testing are just as important as they always have been. Additionally, food is provided at this program. This is a vital resource at a time when food insecurity is commonplace and many are dealing with economic hardship. Finally, GAIA’s Teen Peer HIV Education program provides a stable and welcoming environment. Given the spread of the pandemic, these social benefits are extremely important. Weekly sessions are a possible refuge from unstable home lives, or at the very least an opportunity to connect with others of a similar age. 

Donations to GAIA will help to support and expand the Teen Peer HIV Education program and other work that GAIA does. We hope to do all that we can to continue sharing important information about HIV with teens, as well as providing a welcoming environment and resources for community members.

Jun 22, 2020

How COVID19 is Impacting Women's Health

In the midst of the global pandemic and the worldwide lockdowns, it is easy to forget about the existing systems of healthcare that saved thousands of lives before, and how a lack of attention towards them could have fatal consequences. For Malians, confronting a health infrastructure whose poor conditions are already exacerbated by COVID-19 entails potentially losing a plethora of essential programs- such as the HPV and Cervical Cancer Prevention Program. 

According to a recent report by the Information Centre on HPV and Cancer, an estimated 2206 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and 1704 die from the disease. When comparing the two numbers, that accounts for a fatality rate of 77.2%. Cervical cancer is the leading risk of mortality for Malian women. 

What is the cause of this? As a result of an underdeveloped healthcare system, most Malian women do not have access to regular health exams or the HPV vaccine, which has been documented to prevent cervical cancer. Most Malian women are uninformed regarding the risks of the cancer and its prevention techniques, leading to its high mortality rate. This is especially concerning given that there are two widely-used HPV vaccines commonly regarded as ‘safe’ and ‘effective,’ have been approved in 120 countries since 2006. It is unacceptable that a commonly-accepted vaccine is not being made accessible for the countries whose statistics clearly demonstrate its need. 

Here at GAIA, in order to develop a solution to this conflict of accessibility, realized that in order to confront HPV and Cervical Cancer in Mali, we needed to ensure that the HPV vaccine was given in adolescence- before exposure- accompanied with discussion to Malian youth regarding the stigmatized topic of sexual health. To accomplish this, we first launched a 2012 study to better understand Malians’ understanding of and willingness to get the HPV vaccine, whose findings informed us to develop the storytelling project. 

In West Africa, textiles have been the crucial medium of conveying a story or communicating an idea. Working side-by-side with Malian women, GAIA Vaccine foundation developed an educational pattern promoting an understanding of cervical cancer and the HPV vaccine. The designs weave a beautiful tale of cervixes spread across the textile, with powerful messages affirming the strength of a woman like “I protect myself, I take care of myself, I immunize myself.” 

In 2015, we launched our new program explicitly targeted towards HPV and cervical cancer prevention, supplying five clinics with essential supplies to offer free cervical exams. As we try to weave new stories and textiles to combat COVID-19, your donation is essential to saving thousands of Malian lives, both from the pandemic and the fatality of cervical cancer/HPV. 

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