the impact of conflict on health

The correlation between violent conflicts and health may seem to be very obvious, but there is more to the issue than what crosses the mind. Everyone can make the simple connection that there is direct impact of conflict on being unbenefittal for the betterment of health. For example it is easy to read this <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6590965.stm
“>article and see the obvious connection to artillery shells hitting a hospital in Mogadishu. Internal clashes and conflict creates a more difficult situation for humanitarian operations all over Africa.

Africa represents the highest rates of internal conflict and disease, especially HIV/AIDS. This disease has been used as a weapon in conflict. Many times infected soldiers are sent to the front lines to spread disease and infect the opposition, which generally turns out to be the innocent population. Populations affected by armed internal conflicts end up experiencing severe public health consequences from food insecurity, displacement, and combat. All this ends in a collapse of basic health services which are essential to the survival of the population.

I could not find the article again, but the BBC had reported on the difficulties faced by those bringing humanitarian aid to Darfur, Sudan. They constantly faced issues with the government shutting areas down or denying them entrance. infrastructures for basic health, or created systems for basic health become neglected or destroyed. In many cases the impact of conflict can be felt at the very lowest levels of a population; women are unable to protect their families, fathers just might not be present anymore, children have no access to schooling, and everyone suffers from an absence of basic health – no food, no medications, no stable doctors, and no way to deal with the injury inflicted by the violence of conflict.

With the renewed peace talks for Uganda, the twenty year civil war seems to be coming to a close and the health of the northern Ugandan population may be improving. The rebuilding effort is going to be long and difficult, but there is hope. Many organizations are beginning efforts to improve the health situation and support hospitals and health centers that have been impacted by the conflict.

There are so many topics that can be covered as a result of conflict in a country and its correlation to health. However, I am not here to expound all of the information available, but know that it is out there: sexual violence, psychological impact on children, and especially the toll on health workers. Conflict impacts health plain and simple, but there is so much more as the impact trickles down to the population, the families, and the children. The future of a country in conflict lies in its ability to rebuild and provide aid to their populations after conflict.

when genocide spreads

The genocide in Darfur is not contained by the Sudanese borders. Back in February the UN warned that Chad, which borders Sudan’s western region of Darfur, could become the scene of the next genocide if action is not taken soon. The UN has recommended peacekeepers to the border countries of Sudan to halt the spread of the killing. The janjaweed is penetrating further and further into Chad to attack refugees in camps. The UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees) has expressed worries that the spillover from Darfur will exacerbate the ethnic tensions. The janjaweed had started the violence, but now Chadian locals have joined in and increased the magnitude of the conflict and the killing.

The Central African Republic, Chad, and Sudan had signed a <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6367545.stm
“>pact to not support rebels responsible for the conflict on each countries’ territory. The regions of western Sudan, eastern Chad, and northern CAR are in a circular conflict of fleeing refugees and aggressive militias. The conflict is based on land use and access to water, an issues that has been translated into ethnic tension.

So who is really effected by this conflict, who is it that faces terror everyday while we watch the local news? Oxfam has a page dedicated to the faces of this conflict. For the most part this conflict has the face of a child. So many children have been orphaned, so many have seen the terrors of war, so many have been effected by the conflict. A quote from the Oxfam page: “You don’t have to explain to these children what war is – they’ve lived it.” Check out the Oxfam page link and learn about the face of the conflict. The children, the future of Africa need the support to build a new peace.

a promise fulfilled, land rights deferred, the new UN, and spreading violence

An election promise, a first for Africa, a hope for a better future. The Ugandan government in cooperation with private donors will begin offering free secondary schooling for high performing children. Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s “President” of 20 years, made a promise in his re-election bid to offer free secondary schooling for needy students. The education ministry has said there has been a high demand for secondary school after universal primary education was introduced in 1997. Of the 350,000 primary school students only about 40% are absorbed into the secondary school system due to the need for help at home, lack of funds to attend, or a number of other reasons. Incredibly the Japenese government will be providing teaching expertise and a grant from the African Development Bank will allow for the construction on facilities. This is an amazing development in Africa with the role of advanced education moving to the forefront. I am glad that Mr. Museveni has recognized the importance of secondary schooling. I can see this as a great hope for Uganda’s future and Africa’s future. While I was in Uganda, in 2002, we traveled to so many schools. Schools which were small brick structures with open squares for windows and doors, schools which had maybe a few benches and possibly a black board, schools that were jam-packed with young children who had walked many miles (as far as 8 miles) without shoes, schools where one teacher had as many as 80 students. We visited so many schools and met so many inspiring and dedicated students. They really wanted to learn, when you compare that to students here in the US, there is a drastic difference in academic drive at such a young age. With all the schools we visited there was just one that continues to stand out in my mind. Near the end of our time in Uganda we visited an orphanage and montessori school for children affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The children welcomed us excitedly, sang welcome songs, performed dances, and then demonstrated their academic poweress. These students could read, point out many countries on the map, and do simple math among many things – take note these students were only preschool age! Preschool and they already knew where they were in relation to the globe, where the US was, how to add 10 and 2, and how to sing and dance their traditions. And yet even with so much hope, there is a great despair. Being HIV/AIDS orphans means that more likely than not most of the students are also positive for HIV. These children have no access to medications or treatments, they do not possess great financial means to survive. And I wonder, are these inspiration little geniuses alive today? Did they make it past their fifth birthday as many do not? Will they be able to benefit from the free secondary schooling program?

Late last year there was great hope that people would cease to be exploited by their governments. That has now been called into question in Botswana. The San people, more wrongly referred to as the Bushmen, were granted the rights to their ancestral lands, which now reside on the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR), in the Kalahari Desert. However, even though the Botswana high court determined that the San were forcibly removed to make way for tourist and economic development, when the San went to begin rebuilding their community they were turned away at the gates being told that they did not have clearance. Governments will no longer exploit their people? There is hope and fear for the future. Another great hope for Africa is the appointment of Tanzanian Foreign Minister Asha-Rose Migiro as Deputy Secretary General of the UN. Today she became only the second woman in history to be appointed to the position. The AU special envy on Sudan welcomed the appointment as do I. There is hope that African issues will remain a top priority for the UN in the years to come.

In less hopeful news, there is increased violence in Chad due to the Janjaweed’s attempts to drive people from their homes. Spilling over from the Sudanese conflict in Darfur, this conflict is beginning to threaten the regional security of Central Africa. Is that not enough to intervene? In a recent poll (because they are so reliable, and I can’t remember the source) 64% of Americans support sending US troops into the Sudan to help qwell the violence. I agree, what a better use of our massive military budget – saving lives, repairing the US’s tattered image, and bringing peace to so many people. Behold, emerging on the US political scene. . . Barack Obama! An American born of a Kenyan father who was an immigrant and an American mother, Obama brings a beautifully refreshing and hopefully new approach to American politics. Besides speaking to the people, Obama also has a great place in his heart for Africa. With his father being from Kenya it makes sense. Just last year the Illinois Senator went on an African tour visiting South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Chad – discussing the issues of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the growing violence in Darfur, refugees from the Sudan conflict, the Kibera slums, and Africa becoming a new haven for terrorists. I wonder if he is in favor of the Africa Command? Obama presents a great hope for American political reform and rebirth, but also Obama presents a great hope for Africa and bringing about a more focused and effective and involved US African Policy that is not afraid to invest in the continent.

beyond the tragedy, the hope of africa

Africa is far from being without tragedy, but when you look past all the blaring news article headlines you will see that there are many reasons to be optimistic for the future of African and its people. Beyond the Western media’s fixation with the African tragedy there is so much hope and joy that gets pushed under the rug. Why? Is it because there is an othering and the problems and issues are over there? Is it because there is no hope on the ‘dark’ continent? Is it because the West would rather not admit that Africa is ‘developing’ and is really doing well? There are plenty of articles in the news that would deter even the staunchest optimist. Most of Africa lives in extreme and absolute poverty. Crises in Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Uganda, and a few other countries are far from resolved. The conflict in the DRC has been inflamed by its recent free election results. Uganda is moving closer to a peaceful resolution of its conflict, but the rebels have backed out again. There is growing tension between Somalia and Ethiopia. And now Chadian rebels are storming across the country capturing major cities. The conflict in the western Darfur region of the Sudan is becoming further and further from resolution it seems. The African Union peacekeeping force’s mandate has been extended, but a UN force is still being rejected. All these armed conflicts are frightening, but then there is also many preventable diseases and basic essential needs that kill more people each year. HIV/AIDS is a growing problem and has yet to reach its peak in Africa.

The first great example of African hope is the amazing diversity of ideas and cultures. The people are shaping a better future for themselves and advancements are being made. African culture is thriving. Before we, who are not in Africa, can begin to understand how to assist Africa we have to first understand the intricate links between Africa’s people, culture, and wildlife. Africa’s middle class is growing, African entrepeneurs are becoming more prominent and have incredible ideas and solutions to problems that they know and live with.

On the continent the advances in medicine, technology, and science are taking hold. I remember when I was in Africa almost everyone had a cell phone and could easily stay connected. Advances in medicine are slow to be adopted mostly because of their costly nature, but there are growing efforts to provide services. We all need to remember that Africans are not just vulnerable people, but also solvers of problems. They may live in dire situations, but they still have the capacity to run a more effective program that pinpoints the real issue, which many times Western donors miss. The greatest innovation that I have seen developed so far has been the PlayPump. Discovered and designed by a man visiting South Africa. The pumps are set up to provide children a way to release their energy on a roundabout and also pump clean water for their community. There is a wealth of children’s energy, but a lack of means to use that energy. The water pumped through play is then stored in a 600 gallon container with billboards promoting HIV/AIDS education and other healthy messages. These billboards assist in paying for upkeep and maintenance of the pump. No worries children are not forced to play or pump, they just enjoy playing and that helps their community to have clean water. Water-related diseases are the leading cause of death in Africa and the ‘developing’ world. It is estimated that two out of every five Africans live without a clean water source. With the PlayPump children are able to stay in school instead of getting water. Women and children benefit from less injuries due to carrying heavy water containers over long distance. Women can focus more on their families and children with extra time not spent on water fetching. Some women have been able to start-up small businesses to provide an added income source and more food for their families.

Beyond the calls of corruption, falsified elections, and conflict between candidates, there is an increase in credible leaders in African countries. The first woman leader was elected last year. Leadership is growing as Africans step up to help one another and show their fellow citizens effective ways to improve life. There has also been a venture launched by an African millionaire to combat corruption within African governments. Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese multi-millionaire, is offering $5 million to African heads of state who deliver security, health, and economic development to its people. The Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership was launched on the 28th of November this year. This is obviously a very controversial idea and many have stated that African leaders that are oppressing and killing their people will continue to do just that. Mo Ibrahim has said, “The day we do not need any aid will be the most wonderful day in my life.” The award will be given out as $200,000 for 10 years after the leader is out of office, so that the African leaders will have a life after office. Secretary General Annan has thanked Ibrahim for offering such a generous prize, but many still remain skeptical. Keep a watch on this one, time will tell if it will be successful.

Along with all the innovation and advancement there is also a great opportunity fro those of us in the ‘developed’ Western world. Doing your research, finding a sustainable project to assist, and becoming personally involved in working for Africa provides so many opportunities for personal development and happiness. I can tell you working in Africa is a joy and an amazing way to self-actualize your potential to change the world. Don’t wait, jump in – each year that you wait is a missed opportunity, each day that you do not challenge yourself is a wasted day, each minute is a lost life.