Virtual Checkups Are Helping People in Rural Bangladesh Access Health Care

A virtual medical service is making health care more accessible for people in rural Bangladesh through a system that allows patients to video conference with doctors, reports NPR.

The company, Teledaktar, has medical operators who travel to Golna char, a remote island in northern Bangladesh, and carry a laptop to facilitate the medical consultations, along with a printer for prescriptions. After finding a location on the island with a strong internet connection, they set up a space that allows patients to sit and chat with a doctor, according to NPR.

Although the doctors do not treat serious illnesses or conditions through the service, they diagnose common ailments such as digestive issues, joint pain, and skin diseases, and issue prescriptions, referring patients to local doctors when needed.

A 2017 study conducted in two villages in Chittagong district, Bangladesh, found that traditional healing practices served around 80% of ailing people. It found that the majority of community members with medical issues first approached healers and “only after failure of such treatment did they move to qualified physicians for modern treatment.”

Another study cited a shortage of 60,000 physicians, 280,000 nurses, and 483,000 technologists in Bangladesh. It stated: “With the current level of production, it is very unlikely that the nation will recover this shortage in [the] near future.”

Naveeda Khan, an anthropologist and expert on Bangladesh from Johns Hopkins University, told NPR that people who live in the chars — which are temporary islands that face environmental degradation — cannot easily access medical professionals.

“Child mortality and maternal death have gone down in the rest of the country, but not in the chars. The medical situation is so bad that it really takes away from their quality of their life,” she said.

Teledaktar, which started running these virtual consultations in 2018, now has 11 makeshift centers in remote areas of Bangladesh, where people can access medical advice virtually for free, which they may not have access to locally. Dr. Tina Mustahid, the company’s head physician often diagnoses patients from Dhaka, the country’s capital.

“I diagnose them through conversation,” she told NPR. “[Many mothers complain] that their children refuse to eat their meals. The mothers are concerned they are dealing with indigestion, but it’s because they are feeding the children packaged chips which are cheap and convenient. I tell them it is ruining their appetite and ask them to cut back on unhealthy snacks.”

Of Teledaktar’s 3,000 patients, 70% are female. Dr. Mustahid said these medical appointments are also an opportunity for women to address concerns with aging, motherhood, and reproductive health, which they may not feel comfortable doing with a local male doctor.

Teledaktar is one of many initiatives that aim to increase medical access for people in remote areas. Friendship, a local nonprofit, operates floating boat hospitals that provide health services to remote islands in Bangladesh.

In Kenya, the Portable Eye Examination Kit, or Peek, is an app used for eye screenings. Retinal imaging typically needs to be performed using equipment in health facilities.

“This means retinal imaging is often inaccessible to the people who need it most, such as those living in remote areas, some of whom may have already lost part or all of their sight,” the company states. However, its app allows health workers to easily and cost-effectively check for eye conditions which may lead to blindness if untreated.

According to the World Health Organization, rates of unaddressed near vision impairment are estimated to be greater than 80% in western, eastern, and central sub-Saharan Africa, compared to lower than 10% in regions of North America and Western Europe.

Around the world, numerous text-messaging based services give pregnant women in remote locations access to medical support through chat. In rural Ethiopia, pregnant women and new mothers use LUCY – a free and anonymous SMS system to learn about breastfeeding, maternal health, and other topics to support them during and after their pregnancy.

Original article by Jacky Habib – Source Global Citizen

Photo by Theodore Goutas on Unsplash 

To find out more about Teledaktar and ways to get involved, go to their website.

To find out more about Portable Eye Examination Kit and ways to get involved, go to their website.

To find out more about Lucy and ways to get involved, go to their website.


Culture Equality

The Copenhagen house that’s probably the best children’s home in the world

A dolls’ house with shutters on the windows and tendrils of ivy painted on the walls stands opposite a dressing table adorned with stickers, trinkets and coloured hair-clips.

The room’s occupant is gesturing with sparkly nails, giving a tour of the premises and explaining how she picked out her own furniture and fittings from Ikea when she first arrived.

This is Josephine Schneider’s House – a grand, 13-roomed residence built in 1906 in a leafy suburb of Copenhagen, funded by a Danish philanthropist of the same name to care for children who don’t have parents or whose parents can’t look after them.

Our nine-year-old tour guide has lived at Josephine Schneider’s House for two years. “I like it here,” she tells me. “I get to play with the bigger girls – they’re 13 – and we all got to go to Majorca this summer.” An annual “family” holiday is a Josephine Schneider’s tradition, along with celebrating Christmas, Easter and the myriad festivals that make up the Danish calendar.

This set-up could not be further from what many young people currently experience within the UK’s care home system, where 73% of homes are run for profit. Privatisation and a target-driven culture have seen nurture replaced by the very worst of institutional cold-shouldering for some of the country’s most vulnerable children. At the same time, the number of children in care in England is increasing sharply.

But a British social entrepreneur is so impressed with the Danish model that he wants to import it to the UK, with the first facility set to open in Surrey in 2020.

Emmanuel Akpan-Inwang – founder and director of the Lighthouse charity – was teaching English at a Birmingham secondary school in 2011 when he noticed a gross disparity in achievements. Only 4% of those from children’s homes were achieving five A* to C grades in English and maths at GCSE (levels nine to four), compared with more than 60% among all children.

He decided to look into a new approach, dedicating evenings and weekends to research. He called on help from fellow teachers and a broad spectrum of experts; volunteered in a cross-section of UK homes; went full-time and funded in 2017; and, perhaps most importantly, spent two summers visiting lauded examples of residential care in Germany and Denmark.

At Josephine Schneider’s House, staff and children sit down to eat together at a vast oak dining table with proper place settings and candles “for extra hyggeligt” in winter months.

Once a week, the older children cook for everyone. “Nothing fancy, just pasta or burgers or pizza, mostly,” explains Alexander, a boy of 18 who has lived at Josephine Schneider’s for seven years. It was these communal moments that struck Akpan-Inwang when he first visited back in 2017.

He found daily routines peppered with opportunities to build relationships. “At every single home that I visited in Denmark and Germany, every meal was shared,” he recalls. “Everybody sat down together, including the cleaner.”

In UK homes, “Children were often coming in, making their own dinner and taking it up to their room to eat,” he explains. “The difference was how much time and effort was invested in getting to know the children.” Josephine Schneider’s is run by pedagogues – degree-qualified carers trained in behavioural sciences and in working with conflict.

In the UK, very few children’s home staff are graduates. In Denmark, all carers in children’s homes complete a bachelor’s degree in pedagogy, with most pursuing further training. Newly qualified pedagogues earn 26,000 Danish kroner per month pre-tax (about £3,000), and this rises after a few years to a top income bracket of 35,000 Danish kroner per month.

Pedagogues in Denmark are highly respected professionals, protected by unions and properly supported with monthly supervision and ongoing training. As a result, staff retention is high – at Josephine Schneider’s, four of the 10 pedagogues have been there for 20 years and two for 30. This allows lasting relationships to form and ensures that placement breakdowns are rare – children stay for an average of 13 years.

With a sense of stability in young people’s lives, time and energy are freed up to focus on the higher goal of education. Danish pedagogues work with the council and social workers with the sole concern of ensuring the best outcome for each child.

“The children all go to local schools. And whenever anyone new arrives we invite the whole class over, so they can see that it’s not like Oliver Twist,” explains Annette Olsen, manager at Josephine Schneider’s. “Sometimes it would be easier just to say, ‘You’re feeling sad today? OK, stay home,’” says Sanne Juel, one of the home’s pedagogues. “But we want them to be educated so they’re not sad for the rest of their life. So we have to put the work in, now.” In UK homes, Akpan-Inwang explains, “Sometimes getting up and going to school isn’t even on the agenda.”

With education comes self-worth. And when it comes to imbuing children with innate confidence, the devil is often in the detail. Akpan-Inwang points to examples from ensuring cupboards are stocked with a specific chocolate bar that a child might like, to allowing them to decorate their own rooms.

Another of the children’s rooms at Josephine Schneider’s House looks like something out of an interior design magazine. Inspirational quotes are framed around a dressing table, sheepskin rugs line the floor, a balcony looks out over a leafy green suburb. The older teenagers have their own floor and a “common room” with a cosy L-shaped sofa, PlayStation, Nintendo and stylish nesting tables. “We believe that just because you were born into a bad environment it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have nice things,” explains Juel.

Next year, Lighthouse will launch its first home in the outer London borough of Sutton, with plans to open two more in the London area over the next four years. It is looking for experienced professionals who will undergo extensive training in social pedagogy.

The Lighthouse architect has been provided with photos from Josephine Schneider’s House. He is working with a team of advisors including former Ofsted inspectors and young people who have experienced residential care. At the heart of their collective vision for Lighthouse is the exclusion of anything with the slightest whiff of institution. This includes, Akpan-Inwang explains, “locking things away in drawers, telling young people they can’t go into certain places, the jingling of keys … ”

“I’ve met lots of social workers or youth workers who spent time working in residential care, faced frustration and left,” he says. “We’re trying to create an environment where those people can stay, grow and develop.”

The end result will – he hopes – be a place that young people naturally gravitate back to. He recalls a dinner at Josephine Schneider’s when a boy who’d left for university came back for the evening to seek advice from the pedagogues on what courses he should take. “They’d looked after him since he was eight years old. These were the people he went back to for reassurance and support.”

In the UK, children in care are often left to fend for themselves in an unregulated semi-independent sector within days of turning 16. The fallout is bleak: care leavers are 15 times more likely to end up in the criminal justice system and 25% of homeless people have come through care.

“People wouldn’t do it to their own children but we do it to some of the most vulnerable children in our society,” says Akpan-Inwang. And so Lighthouse plans to open semi-independent accommodation for over 18s within walking distance of the Sutton home.

Of course, Denmark and Britain are very different places, requiring nuanced approaches. When Lighthouse was looking for its residential site, careful risk assessments were carried out to ensure there was no gang activity in the area. Plus, in the UK only about 10% of looked-after children are in children’s homes (90% are in foster care), meaning they often have the most profound difficulties.

At Josephine Schneider’s House, conflicts seldom escalate. “If there’s a disagreement, we’ll talk it out,” says Juel. “If they don’t want to be friends, that’s fine. But they have to respect each other and be kind.”

Children are given space to calm down if they need to, with a walk around the expansive garden (complete with sleeping shelter and fire pit “for cook-outs”) or a session on the punchbag in the basement. “But we don’t tend to need this much,” explains Juel. Josephine Schneider’s House specialises in children who turn their anger inward. “That is our challenge,” she continues. “Children with aggression issues tend to be referred elsewhere.” Akpan-Inwang visited a home in the north of Denmark where children had “some of the most extreme behaviour”, but he returned satisfied. “Even those children were doing fantastically well. It gave me a lot more confidence about what we’re implementing in the UK.”

It’s worth bearing in mind that a typical UK placement in 2014 cost about £2,900 a week, or roughly £150,000 a year; and costs have been rising year on year since then. At Josephine Schneider’s House, it’s 720,000 Danish kroner (about £83,000) a year. However, Akpan-Inwang points out that with better planning, these costs can be reduced and money provided by the local authority will stretch further as there’s not a goal to make a profit: “Additional funding isn’t going back into the pockets of shareholders, it’s going towards making sure young people get the best experience possible.”

As Akpan-Inwang and his team work hard to bring their vision to life, they hope others will follow their lead. “We want to work with other parts of the sector to innovate together.” The past five years have seen a 20% increase in the number of children in care in the UK. So the Lighthouse vision is needed now more than ever.

“There are no short cuts when it comes to children’s wellbeing,” says Olsen. “I see more and more in the UK and elsewhere a move towards quick fixes, patching people up. But you only have one chance at childhood. And if you get it wrong, you’re going to get an adult who needs more help and has problems later on. Taking a short-term approach to the welfare of children is a real failure of vision.”

Not something that’s going to happen on Olsen’s watch.

Original article by Clare Considine and Helen Russell – Source The Guardian

Photo by Ben Wicks on Unsplash 

To find out more about Josephine Schneider’s House and ways to get involved, go to their website.

To find out more about The Lighthouse and ways to get involved, go to their website.



The group was originally set up in 2014 after a number of young people lost their lives in York’s rivers after going out drinking and socialising in the evening.

NightSafe volunteers are based in the city between 11pm and 3am for four nights a week, and aim to provide support to vulnerable students and help keep them safe.

They provide physical and mental health first aid, ensure people get home safely and also support security staff at student venues to ensure the safety of those who have consumed excessive drugs or alcohol.

Project coordinator Libbie Bulmer said: “The people we support, whether that is by providing first aid, mental health support or simply having a chat are the most rewarding part of the job.”

And while the project is run by students and aimed mainly at students, they support anyone who needs their help.

Libbie explained: “We often find ourselves providing support to non-students, who for a variety of reasons may be vulnerable. Those we support are often referred to us by the door staff, but the very nature of NightSafe means that we may come across someone requiring our services as we patrol the streets.

“Through providing first aid and ensuring vulnerable people are able to get home safely, we also hope to support other services, like the police and paramedics. By easing the pressure on them they can work more effectively, so NightSafe definitely plays an important role in the wider local community.”

And the need to make sure people, particularly those on a night out, do not fall into the rivers which run through both the city centre and the university campus is still paramount.

In April 2019 five people died within three weeks of each other after falling into the River Foss or River Ouse in the city.

Libbie said: “River safety continues to play an important part in the work we do. NightSafe volunteers regularly patrol the river side, paying particularly close attention to areas where footpaths and steps make access to the river dangerously easy.”

In order to continue their work NightSafe are in need of funds to buy vital supplies, such as bottles of water to hand out, rucksacks, and notebooks where they can document each incident they come across.

If you can help then visit

By Jenna Sloan

Culture Planet Wellbeing

Air bubble barrier traps plastic waste in Amsterdam’s canals

The world’s first rubbish barrier made entirely from bubbles has been unveiled in Amsterdam in an attempt to catch waste in the city’s canals before it reaches the North Sea.

A Dutch start-up, the Amsterdam municipality and the regional water board launched the Great Bubble Barrier, a simple device that channels rubbish – especially small pieces of plastic – to the side of the Westerdok canal where it can be retrieved. Tests have shown it can divert more than 80% of flotsam.

“More than two-thirds of plastics in the ocean comes out of rivers and canals – so if you have to intercept it, why not do it in the rivers?” says Philip Ehrhorn, co-inventor of the technology. “You can’t put a physical barrier in a canal: it has to be open for wildlife and recreation.”

The hope is that the innovation will help to address the mounting crisis of plastic waste in the ocean. Estimates suggest as much as 8m tonnes of plastic ends up in the world’s seas each year – the equivalent of one truckload of old bottles, trays and containers every minute.

The bubble barrier is a long, perforated tube running diagonally for 60 metres across the bottom of the canal. Compressed air is pumped through the tube and rises upwards, and then the natural water current helps to push waste to one side. It is trapped in a small rubbish platform on the side of the Westerdokskade at the tip of Amsterdam’s historic canal belt.

Ehrhorn, a German naval architect and ocean engineer, got the inspiration from a water treatment plant he saw while studying in Australia in 2015. “At one stage they aerate the water, and on a big surface put air bubbles like a big jacuzzi,” he said.

“The small plastic pieces that people throw in the toilet all collected in one corner and that was the kind of spark for me. If you can guide plastic to the side, can’t you do it in a more directed way and on purpose in a river?”

At the same time, three keen Dutch amateur sailors and friends, Anne Marieke Eveleens, Francis Zoet and Saskia Studer, were discussing the problem over a beer in Amsterdam one evening and came up with the idea of a curtain of bubbles that sifts out waste but lets fish and boats through over a beer one evening in Amsterdam. The two teams came together to work on the idea, with the help of a €500,000 Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge award and other prizes.

The first operational barrier in Amsterdam – due to run 24 hours a day for three years – aims to supplement dredging operations, which currently collect 42,000 kg of larger plastics from the Dutch capital’s waterways each year. Bubble barrier waste will be separately collected, then analysed by plastics action group Schone Rivieren (Clean rivers).

Marieke van Doorninck, head of sustainability for Amsterdam council, hopes it will be a successful example. “Amsterdam’s canals have enormous appeal,” she said. “But when you think of them, you don’t think about plastic bottles and bags in the water. The bubble barrier will mean fewer plastics reach the ocean, and is a step towards better regulation of our ecosystem, to the benefit of man, beast and environment.”

In the small, waterlogged country, this kind of innovation is welcome. Bianca Nijhof, managing director of the Netherlands Water Partnership, who organises the Amsterdam International Water Week conference, running this week, added: “The Dutch live with the water and don’t fight against it: 50% of the country is below sea level, more than half is prone to flooding and in 2018 we had severe drought,” she said. “This special relationship with water combined with an entrepreneurial mindset mean that innovation is at our core. The bubble barrier is one solution for clean water for all.”

Original article by Senay Boztas – Source The Guardian

Photo by Jace Afsoon on Unsplash 

To find out more about The Great Bubble Barrier and ways to get involved, go to their website.

To find out more about Schone Rivieren (Clean rivers) and ways to get involved, go to their website.


World Leaders Raise $2.6 Billion in Final Push to Eradicate Polio Once and for All

Governments and global leaders pledged more than $2.6 billion to end polio at the Reaching the Last Mile (RLM) Forum in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

The event brings total fundraising for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI)’s 2019-2023 Polio Endgame Strategy campaign closer to its goal for $3.27 billion, which will allow the organization to escalate its vaccination campaigns around the world, especially among at-risk populations. Last month, the GPEI announced that two of the three strains of the wild poliovirus had been eradicated. The final strain is endemic in just three countries — Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan — where rampant poverty and conflict have made vaccination programs difficult to implement.

The new funds will help the GPEI reach its goal of protecting 450 million children from polio annually.

“From supporting one of the world’s largest health workforces to reaching every last child with vaccines, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is not only moving us closer to a polio-free world, it’s also building essential health infrastructure to address a range of other health needs,” said Director-General of the World Health Organization and Chair of the Polio Oversight Board Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a press release.

Top donor countries at the RLM event included Abu Dhabi ($160 million), the United States ($215.92 million), Pakistan ($160 million), Germany ($105.05 million), and Nigeria ($10.83 million), Norway ($10.83 million), and Australia ($10.29 million). Earlier in the month, the United Kingdom committed $514.8 million to the GPEI.

Various nonprofits and foundations made significant donations to the cause, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which committed $1.08 billion. Rotary International chipped in $150 million and Bloomberg Philanthropies committed $50 million.

These funds will help GPEI and other organizations reach every child with a polio vaccination, expand health care infrastructure in poor communities, train health care workers, promote gender equality in health care, and distribute vaccines for other diseases like measles and yellow fever.

“To succeed by 2023, all involved in this effort must find ways to excel in their roles,” the chairs of the GPEI’s advisory boards wrote in a statement earlier this year. “If this happens, success will follow.”

“This means stepping up the level of performance even further,” they added. “It means using the proven tools of eradication and building blocks that have been established in parts of the world that have been free of polio for years. The vaccines, the cold chains, the networks of vaccinators, the surveillance capacity, the governance, policy, financing, and oversight structures must be at peak levels of performance. There must be an unrelenting focus to tighten the management of the effort at all levels.”

Polio used to be a global menace, killing more than half a million people per year at its peak in the middle of the 20th century, and paralyzing millions more.

Since then, countries mobilized to eradicate the disease. They’ve managed to reduce infections by 99.9%, and have made polio a scary story of the past for most people worldwide.

But unless countries commit to bringing new infections to zero, outbreaks could occur anywhere. In recent years, outbreaks have occurred in Papua New Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo due to lax enforcement of vaccines.

In the years ahead, if polio is allowed to persist, infections could explode, affecting tens of thousands of people annually.

“As long as poliovirus still exists in any part of the world (as it currently does in Afghanistan and Pakistan), all children are at risk; therefore, we must maintain the momentum toward regional and global certification,” Dr. Peter Clement, the WHO officer in charge for Nigeria, said in a recent statement.


Original article by Joe McCarthy- Source Global Citizen

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.


To find out more about Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) and ways to get involved, visit their website.


Young Kurdish feminists make me hopeful for the future of the region

When I received an email from the Kurdish feminist writer and activist Houzan Mahmoud, asking if I would speak at the first conference on sexual violence against women and girls to be held in Iraqi Kurdistan, I could barely contain my excitement.

Mahmoud, a campaigner for Kurdish and Iraqi women’s rights – “honour” killings, the rape and abduction of women in Iraq and the imposition of Islamic sharia law are among the areas she tackles – was supporting the Sofia Society, a group of roughly 40 young feminists.

Kurdish women have engaged in armed resistance for decades, and were instrumental in the demise of Saddam Hussein.

Notwithstanding the proud history of resistance to totalitarian regimes, the conference, held in the city of Sulaymaniyah, was a brave move. Of the 300 delegates who packed the auditorium, two-thirds were women; the front row was taken up by male government ministers, including the deputy prime minister, Qubad Talabani. Sofia’s founder, Lanja Khawe, opened the event.

I had met Khawe the day before to discuss logistics. She was clearly upset when she arrived at the cafe, explaining that one of the speakers, a senior academic, had pulled out because of the “direction of the event”.

“They think we are whores because we are feminists”, said Khawe. I had already heard some of the women in the group were scared of being targeted by men in so-called “honour” attacks after speaking out against male violence.

Khawe, a 26-year-old lawyer, has been an active feminist for a decade. She has worked with incarcerated sex trafficking victims, and provided pro-bono legal support to women on low incomes experiencing domestic violence.

In 2016, she founded the Sofia Society, primarily to promote literacy and raise awareness among women. In 2017, Sofia, active in a number of cities across Kurdistan, ran a social media campaign against sexual harassment , calling on women not to be afraid to share photos of themselves to combat the culture of abuse. The hashtag #Kurdistanwomenpower was used by hundreds of women.

Violence against women in Kurdistan is pandemic, but – I am told – there is little political will, even among senior women in the government, to address it. To maintain independence and freedom of expression, Sofia has chosen not to seek funding from the Kurdish government, political parties or international organisations. The conference was funded by donations.

Why was the conference timely? Although a couple of male delegates asked why “women’s issues” were being prioritised when Rojava was being bombed, many are aware that sexual violence is an everyday reality for women in the region, including as a weapon of war.

Both the Kurdistan regional government and the UN have poured money into initiatives to reduce sexual violence and honour killing. But the problem, according to figures from 2018, seems to be getting worse.

In the first 10 months of 2018, sexual violence against women in the Kurdistan region increased, both in public and private settings. A total of 91 women were killed, or killed themselves, and 203 women suffered serious injury through burns. Recorded sexal assault cases numbered 87, and well over 7,000 women disclosed that they had experienced physical violence by men. Legislation on violence against women is inadequate, as is the police response, so only a tiny minority of sexual violence survivors actually report to an official body.

The conference broke new ground. For the very first time in Kurdistan, the voices of survivors of sexual violence were heard publicly. As the gathering opened, a screen was erected in the corner of the stage behind which woman after woman, their voices distorted to protect their anonymity, told their stories. One spoke about enduring rape; she ended by saying: “This man is now in the government, he is a legislator, a lawmaker.”

I was there to speak about trafficking of women into the sex trade, which is rife across Iraq and through Kurdistan. There is little provision for the victims, and the one shelter for women rescued from pimping gangs has remained empty. Last year, a senior police officer in Sulaymaniyah gave a statement in which he claimed there were no brothels in the city, and no trafficking. As I told the audience, it took me only 10 minutes to find advertising for escort agencies and brothels only minutes from where the conference was being held.

Other presentations focused on domestic violence, femicide and sexual assault. Throughout, the speakers suggested potential remedies, such as new laws, deterrents and punishments for the perpetrators, and better support for the victims. “The shame and stigma should be where it belongs,” said Mahmoud, “on the men responsible and not the women.”

One question for me came from a member of the Iraqi Men’s Association. He appeared quite angered by my suggestion that men have no right to pay for sex and told me: “We have the right to practise sex. The wives are sexually uneducated. What are we supposed to do?”

The majority of comments from the audience were from men. As Khawe said: “We have a long way to go, but this is a great start.”

The next day, I met with Mahmoud and 30 Sophia members in a nearby restaurant to share ideas and contacts for further activism to end male violence. Khawe was jubilant but exhausted, throwing out suggestions to run girls groups in schools, and asking how best to approach sensitive topics with teachers.

I left Kurdistan feeling optimistic that this inspiring group of young women could become the future of feminism in the region.

As Khawe said: “We have a long way to go, but this is a great start.”


Original article by Julie Bindel – Source The Guardian

Photo on Unsplash.


To find out more about Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and ways to get involved, visit their website.




Ponix Is Bringing Local Produce to Food Deserts With Hydroponic Technology

“We believe everybody should have access to fresh food,” Michael Choi, CEO of Ponix Farms tells me over the phone. Ponix is a New York City-based “food utility company” — only up and running in Atlanta, so far — that creatively uses hydroponics technology to grow produce in solar-powered container farms, not unlike shipping containers. Ponix’s primary goal is to establish food security in urban areas, namely in food deserts; additionally, the company wants to yield more nutritious, local produce; to reduce the environmental impact of the agriculture industry; and to provide more transparency about agricultural supply chains.

By “food utility” company, Ponix strives to function not unlike the utility companies that supply homes and businesses with heat, water, and electricity. “Very similar to how a power plant provides residents and businesses with electricity, we’re trying to … produce food at the point of consumption,” Choi says. “We’re trying to move the farm, and not the food.”


As Choi points out, produce is often much more expensive — and environmentally unfriendly — than it needs to be because we are importing it all over the world. “Right now, cities are looking to secure food supply that is transparent, that is safe, and nutritionally dense. And cities are looking to become more resilient,” he says. “And then because most of our [food comes] from centralized big, big farms, food prices fluctuate because the pricing is directly correlated with petroleum prices, and then there’s seasonal gaps. There are crops that don’t make it because of geography, or there are seasonal crops.”

But with hydroponics, “you can essentially grow food indoors anytime,” without a need for soil, pesticides, or nearly as much water as other farming methods, Choi explains. Hydroponics, which is Latin for “working water,” is “a form of growing food or crops without soil … in a clean and controlled environment.” Instead of being planted in soil, the crops are planted in pipes or similar containers filled with water, which is typically supplemented with a nutrient solution, according to Simply Hydroponics.

Ponix grows its crops in custom-built container farms, utilizing hydroponics techniques along with solar power and the company’s proprietary technology. Choi says the containers can grow plants from pretty much anywhere — the weather conditions outside the container do not affect what happens inside.


Ponix offers two services: licensing the technology, and the food itself. On the licensing side, Ponix primarily wants to work with municipalities (either at the state or local levels) to get Ponix containers installed in urban areas and food deserts. The company also hopes to eventually work with grocery stores to achieve these same goals. On the food side of the business, Ponix will also market its fruits, vegetables, and herbs to customers, who can purchase produce grown in local Ponix containers.

Following several years of research and development, Ponix recently launched in Atlanta, thanks to winning the city’s IoT.ATL AgTech Challenge. IoT.ATL is a 12-month pilot program that partners with companies and organizations working to bring sustainable agriculture to Atlanta.

As a result of that partnership, Ponix is now selling its produce in four markets across the city — which Choi hopes will help get the company to the next level. As he puts it, “Once we get this model down, we’re going to scale it and implement that in different parts of the country where there are food deserts.”


And that’s what Choi is most passionate about when it comes to the potential of the company. “I’m most excited about bringing farms to places where there’s no access to food,” he says. “There are tons of Americans and tons of people in the world who don’t have access to fresh food. They don’t know where to get it. And according to a study by the University of Illinois, there are only nine counties in the country that are responsible for our food.” Interestingly, most of those counties are in California — meaning the further towards the east coast you live, the further most of your food has to travel.

And in addition to potentially increasing food security, Choi is also proud of how sustainable it is to grow food hydroponically with Ponix. For one thing, growing crops indoors eliminates the need for pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, all of which contribute to soil degradation, loss of biodiversity, and pollution of the soil and waterways.

Ponix recirculates its water, a process that Choi claims results in 95 percent less water being used compared to a traditional farm. Additionally, Ponix harnesses its energy from solar panels — so even though the crops are not growing directly under the sun’s rays like conventionally-grown crops, these panels are “very quick to convert to sustainable and alternative sources of energy,” Choi says. “We have an abundant amount of sun. If we just harness it correctly, we’ll be able to power our farms in a more effective manner.”

Additionally, fruits, veggies, and herbs grown locally (as they would be with Ponix) are typically more nutritious than foods that traveled across the country (or the world) to get to your grocery store. That’s because most produce begins to lose its nutrients within 24 hours after being harvested; not to mention, a lot of produce you’ll find in your grocery store is actually picked before it is ripe, which reduces the nutrition content of the food as well, as explained by Virtua.

And finally, Choi hopes that Ponix will set a new standard for transparency when it comes to supply chains. [“The U.S.’s] supply chain is very complicated, and we just want to provide a more transparent supply chain, and we can do that by some of our methods,” he tells me. “We just want to provide honesty and transparency to how the food is grown, and where it comes from, and tell people exactly what they’re putting into their bodies.”

Original article by Sophie Hirsh – Source Green Matters

Photo by Pina Messina on Unsplash.


To find out more about oT.ATL and ways to get involved, visit their website.


Middleport Matters

For decades the town of Middleport, in Stoke on Trent, has been neglected.

Once the centre of a thriving manufacturing and pottery industry, as factories shut down in the 1980s and 90s residents were left without jobs, surrounded by derelict land and feeling hopeless.

Middleport had the unenviable ranking of being in the top one percent of the UK’s most deprived areas, drug problems were rife and the local high street had the highest percentage of empty shops in the country.

But Amelia Bilson is determined to change Middleport’s outlook and provide a brighter future for those who live there.

She set up the Middleport Matters community project to turn around the area’s fortunes, and is determined to make the town a safe, thriving and welcoming place.

Amelia said: “We know that the statistics already put our area in the one percent most deprived across England, but we believe that local people have the potential to drastically alter the outcomes that these statistics predict.

“We don’t want to wait for our children to live up to the statistical predictions for their future, we want to disrupt the cycle of deprivation and no longer be considered a problem area, but a place of possibility.

“We want to turn hopelessness into hope by enabling the right conditions for local people to flourish.”

One of their first goals was transforming the local park. The group got together to sand down and repaint the railings and play equipment, they cleared overgrown footpaths, installed toddler swings and a table tennis table, replaced benches and a zip wire and put up a new community noticeboard and park sign.

And their next ambition is to create a new community centre where people can attend groups and meetings, get help with looking for work and training, get to know their neighbours and hire space for birthday parties and celebrations.

Amelia said: “We also want to host drop-in activities for young people after school and at weekends. This will give young people somewhere safe and dry to go, as they currently roam the streets, which is causing issues with grooming and gangs.

“And we want to set up a community café as we would love to have a space that is open to everyone where they can come to meet people in their community in a relaxed environment and for it to be a space where people feel comfortable to share their stories and help to shape the future of our organisation.”

If you feel you can help Amelia’s vision then the project needs volunteers, training providers and local organisations to get involved.

See for more information.

By Jenna Sloan


Italy to put sustainability and climate at heart of learning in schools

Italy is to become the first country in the world to make sustainability and climate crisis compulsory subjects for schoolchildren.

State schools will begin incorporating the UN’s 2030 agenda for sustainable development into as many subjects as possible from September, with one hour a week dedicated to themes including global heating and humans’ influence on the planet.

Other subjects, including geography, mathematics and physics, will also be taught from the perspective of sustainability, announced Lorenzo Fioramonti, Italy’s education minister.

“The entire [education] ministry is being changed to make sustainability and climate the centre of the education model,” said Fioramonti, a former economics professor who was criticised earlier this year for encouraging students to miss school to take part in climate protests.

“I want to make the Italian education system the first education system that puts the environment and society at the core of everything we learn in school.”

Fioramonti, a member of the pro-environment Five Star Movement, is the government’s most vocal supporter of green policies and has previously come under fire for proposing taxes on airline tickets, plastic and sugary foods in order to generate funds for education and welfare.

However, the government’s 2020 budget, presented to parliament this week, included a tax on both plastic and sugary drinks.

Fioramonti said that despite initial opposition to his ideas, the government seemed increasingly invested in greener policies.

“I was ridiculed by everyone and treated like a village idiot, and now a few months later the government is using two of those proposals and it seems to me more and more people are convinced it is the way to go.”

Surveys have shown that up to 80% of Italians back taxing sugar and flights, but industry producers oppose the plastic tax, arguing the “measure penalises products, not behaviour, and only represents a way to recover resources, while placing huge costs on consumers, workers and businesses”.

Fioramonti’s proposals have also come under direct fire from Matteo Salvini, Italy’s climate science-denying former deputy prime minister, whose far-right League voted against almost all key climate proposals in the last parliament.

However, Fioramonti said his ministry would stand strong against the opposition. “I want to represent the Italy that stands against all the things that Salvini does,” he said. “We have to build a different narrative and not be afraid of saying something Salvini may not like, because that’s why we exist.”

Original article by Kate Hodal – Source The Guardian

Photo by Stem on Unsplash.


To find out more about Sustainable Development and ways to get involved, visit their website.

Equality Wellbeing

A New Vaccine Just Arrived in the Congo to Help Combat the Current Ebola Outbreak

Congolese medical authorities received the first shipment of a new vaccine to counter the deadly Ebola outbreak that has claimed the lives of nearly 2,200 people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since August 2018.

A batch of 11,000 doses — part of a planned shipment of 50,000 — of the new Ad26-ZEBOV-GP vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson arrived in the DRC on Friday. The company has committed to donating up to 500,000 doses of the vaccine, which is being used to protect people living outside of direct Ebola transmission zones.

The central African country is battling its 10th Ebola outbreak — 3,274 people have been affected by the virus, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO). To date, there have been 2,182 deaths due to the virus and 1,051 survivors. There are another 500 suspected cases of Ebola.

The WHO declared the Ebola outbreak in the DRC a public health emergency of international concern in July, urging the world to take notice.

For months before it was approved, the WHO had been pushing to use the new vaccine, which is an experimental product and is delivered in two injections, eight weeks apart.

The DRC’s former health minister, Oly Ilunga, opposed the implementation of a new vaccine, saying it would confuse people. Ilunga resigned in July, following an announcement that the president’s office was taking control of the Ebola outbreak response.

Previously, there was only one vaccine (VSV-ZEBOV-GP) being used to combat the outbreak, manufactured by US company Merck Sharpe and Dohme. To date, more than 200,000 people have been vaccinated.

Last month, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) criticized the WHO for its limits on the number of doses used in the field, saying their life-saving work is hindered by a “rigid system which is hard to comprehend.” MSF said the WHO restrictions create challenges in reaching some of the people who need the vaccine the most.

Joseph Musakane, an activity manager with MSF, said the organization is “limited to a [fixed] number of daily doses and working in pre-allocated vaccination sites.”

In response, WHO spokesperson Tarik Jašarević told Global Citizen in October that the organization is “not limiting access to vaccine but rather implementing a strategy recommended by an independent advisory body of experts and as agreed with the government of the DRC.”

Jašarević was referring to the “ring approach,” which targets direct and indirect contacts of probable and confirmed Ebola cases, or frontline workers like doctors and humanitarian staff, rather than the general population.

On Saturday, Congolese journalist Papy Mumbere Mahamba, who reported heavily about Ebola, was stabbed to death. Attackers killed the journalist and wounded his wife, before burning their house down. The motive for the murder is unknown.

The Ebola outbreak in the DRC has been difficult to manage, in part due to conflict and violence in some areas of the country, and has been heightened by political unrest which restricts access to health care, according to MSF.

Original article by Jacky Habib – Source Global Citizen

Photo by Adrianna Van on Unsplash.


To find out more about World Health Organization (WHO) and ways to get involved, visit their website.

To find out more about Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and ways to get involved, visit their website.