Global Health in October

October is upon us, and there are a number of global health events planned in the Ottawa area.

The Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research (CCGHR) will be hosting the 2nd Annual Learning Forum on Global Health Research on Saturday October 30th 2010 at the Minto Suites. More information is available here.

The Canadian Society for International Health will be hosting the the Canadian Conference on Global Health (formerly the Canadian Conference on International Health) in Ottawa from October 31st to November 3rd 2010.  The conference is a gathering of leading experts in Global Health both from Canada and around the world. Further information is available here.

Finally, the CCGHR has launched a Graduate Student Network of which I am a part so as to better connect and network Global Health scholars and student researchers across Canada. For more information please become at student member of the CCGHR and join the GradNet.


Friday Round up – A few International Development blogs

This week I have been quite positively surprised to discover that there are are healthy global health debates going on in the blogosphere. Perhaps you have been reading or following these authors, but they were a new discovery for me. Most of authors I have come across are American, however, there are ‘other’ voices included:

  • Project Diaspora is a blog by Africans in the diaspora who blog on various mostly development and technology related issues. I found a compelling critique by 19-year old Nigerian student Lyinoluwa “E” Aboyeji on the question ‘Is aid central to development?’ and found myself wondering if I was ever that eloquent at 19! It is definitely worth a read.

I discovered a few more which I will be happy to share with time!

Have a great weekend!

Caring about the ‘small people’: Time for a meta-narrative from Africa?

Last night, I turned my TV on to find Anderson Cooper giving an impassioned soliloquy on the not-so-small people of the Gulf Coast, people who he depicted as having integrity, dignity and who required and expected the support and intervention of BP in addressing the oil spill that is now on day 58. Perhaps what was most compelling for me was the end of his report where he stated that he was not from the Gulf, neither did he pretend to speak for those in the Gulf Coast. He noted that they were not only interested in speaking for themselves, but that they were quite capable of doing so. He noted that this was a “land of hardworking people who for generations have curved out a living against great obstacles, conflicts, natural disasters, man-made catastrophes. This is NOT a land of small people”.

And I thought to myself, where is this narrative for issues in Africa?

Western media have been so irresponsible and stereotypical in their reporting of the various contexts in the African continent – often depicting it as a country, dark, devoid of any potential or hope. Yet every time I travel to Kenya, or Uganda or South Africa, I am met with people who have so much integrity, hard work, dignity. People who are striving to make the most out of sometimes very difficult circumstances. People who have become so creative with the limited resources they have. Businessmen who are creating employment out of the abundance of resources they have in medium and large scale for their fellow countrymen and countrywomen.

It is certainly time for a meta-narrative of the lives represented in the African context – a move beyond the lumping together of one story on singular existence. When we begin to understand and appreciate the stories then we can truly begin to work together to support the efforts on the ground.

Perhaps it is time for AC to return to Africa and retell the stories he has previously told.

But rather than wait for the likes of AC to tell our story, it is time for our own African journalists to tell our story and lend the necessary agency where it is due.

Friday Global Health Round-up

The best part of the weekend lately is that we have the World Cup to indulge in! I am certainly looking forward to the games this weekend, especially the Brazil vs Cote d’Ivoire game on Sunday – and I must admit that I will be cheering for both teams simultaneously, it is infact a win-win for me already. I thought I might round up a couple of interesting articles relating to Global Health from this week:

Charitable Ignorance: The Reality of Aid – Daily Nation – June 18th 2010

Samantha Spooner offers an interesting critique on International Aid in the Daily Nation, a newspaper from Kenya. We’ve heard this sort of argument before: the ineffectiveness of AID, wastage of funds and the fallacy of participatory research. However, she does go one step further into discussing research methodology particularly design of research to ensure funding, funding that often has little or no impact on the communities to be influenced:

Donations made to this charity will go towards sponsoring any African woman who wants to have her clitoris rebuilt. Even when you try not to be sceptical about the fact that the charity is run by the Raelian movement, a sect which believes humans were created by extra-terrestrial beings, it is hard to ignore the notion that they may have overlooked how conservative and traditional the communities that practise female genital mutilation are.

If the women are believed to be empowered enough as to contact the charity so that someone can sponsor the restoration of their organs, then it begs the question as to why they are not empowered enough to have not allowed the circumcision occur. Whilst the good intentions are there, the reality of the situation is a different story.

You can read the rest of the article here.

A Dirt Poor Nation with a Health Plan – NY Times – June 14th 2010

The NY Times had an article highlighting the successes that  Rwanda has made in providing health care to their population. While I refrain myself from calling a Nation “Dirt-poor” as this I feel is offensive to the people of Rwanda, the author I guess was trying to make the contrast to the U.S. which doesn’t really have a health plan for its population. Still, the article points out the value of Health Systems approaches as opposed to vertical single disease approaches to addressing global health challenges and also addresses health financing. An excerpt below:

Making every Rwandan pay something is part of President Kagame’s ambitious plan to push his people toward more self-reliance and, with luck, eventually into prosperity. The country has been called “Africa’s Singapore.” It has clean streets and little crime, and each month everyone does one day of community service, like planting trees. Private enterprise is championed, and Mr. Kagame has been relentless about punishing corrupt officials. In the name of suppressing remarks that might revive the hatreds that spawned the 1994 genocide, his critics say, he suppresses normal political dissent, too.

A more practical obstacle to creating a health insurance system, however, is that most of the world’s poor, including Rwanda’s, resist what they see as the unthinkable idea of paying in advance for something they may never get.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Over the next weeks I hope to increase this list. If you do come across an interesting article over the week, please do forward them and I’ll gladly share.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Down with World Cup Fever

I love football (or as North American’s call it, soccer). It is one of my passions. Well let me clarify – I like to watch football being played by people who know how to play it. And I attribute my love for the game to my mother and her intense love for the game. So you can bear with me for not having blogged much, as I have been totally indulging myself in the first ever African-hosted World Cup.

My global health eyes have not been shut though. I have been intrigued by the creative way in which social marketing has been used to promote health during the world cup. I have also been moved by the promotion of campaigns such as the Right to Play in this promotional video: .

Of course there have been numerous critics of the hosting of the World Cup in South Africa, a middle income country. Yet Paul Hayward’s  (from the Guardian) reflection on the confusion of westerners in understanding why it makes sense for SA to host the world cup is quite the response to said critics. Here’s a snippet of what he says:

“After a few days of being embedded in the England camp perspective is shot to bits, so it was with profound gratitude that I received this observation from a friend back in England about television’s apparent obsession with South Africa’s “problems”. He wrote: “It’s pure journalistic inertia on the BBC reporters’ part not to recognise that the true basket case and potential failed state is not the one in which they are guests but the one paying their wages.”

Unimprovable. The assumption that England is better equipped to stage the 2018 tournament than South Africa is this one in 2010 is based on what?

Better and safer public transport, certainly, and lower crime rates. But since when was mass poverty a reason to keep a sporting event out of a country? Never, if those nations handing out the staging rights have spent the last 20 years cooing about black South Africa’s struggle to end apartheid and venerating Mandela as the greatest statesman of his age.”

You can read the rest of the article here.

So if I am not posting, it’s because I’ve come down with a terrible case of World Cup Fever. And the doctors orders are lots of fluids for my scratchy throat from cheering, and the wearing of my favourite teams colours!

Hello, Global Health World!

This blog is a culmination of several conversations, educational and personal experiences, and thoughts on Global Health and International Development. Growing up in Kenya was a very real experience of interacting with what has now become the nebulous ‘health system’ that is so often talked about but that has often not been experienced by many of the ‘experts’.

Through my undergraduate years in Canada, I was not only fatigued by what was offered by Professors regarding ‘what it takes’ to resolve – often Africa’s – problems. If at all issues concerning development in Africa were discussed, the response was often that it would take too much to understand what is necessary to transform the current situation,  so let’s just do nothing because corrupt governments will waste the money anyway.

This was juxtaposed with the overly simplistic and seemingly altruistic student perspective, which some of us nicknamed ‘save-the-worlds’: they felt that since nothing was working, anything was something. And so they went on service learning experiences  in developing countries – which I highly encourage, but then ended up ‘teaching’ about HIV/AIDS – something they knew nothing about and/or eventually run programs despite the countless competent people who were not only capable, but were willing and needed to be doing that very work.

And then came grad school: in our Global Health program, I finally found a solace, a place where we could genuinely discuss and share ideas and discourse on Global Health. A colleague came up with the term ‘development pornography’ the perfect way to describe the misuse of images of young starving children mostly from somewhere in ‘Africa’ with the goal of fundraising or justifying the spending of billions of dollars, that often rarely reach said children.

I’ve noticed that the ‘anything goes’ rhetoric seems to pervade some of the Global Health approaches currently employed. And somehow the ‘development pornography’ seems to justify it. Yet doing this right is part of making sure that the problems that we address have a long lasting effect rather than a band-aid approach.

As my interest in Global Health has since grown, my ideas and approaches have also matured.

And in this blog, I offer my thoughts, my critiques and my suggested solutions to some of the challenges we are currently facing in Global Health, mostly from a Health Systems Strengthening perspective.

I realize that there are no perfect solutions or perfect answers.

But in doing what we are doing, we at the very least owe it to those whose lives we seek to change to ensure that the change is positive and not worse than their current situation.