06 November 2015

Which expert does Hillary Clinton consult about global poverty?

Hint: It's not an expert, government official, or people actually living in poverty.

HT +Africa is a Country 

A cynical view of news?

Photo shared by Independent Liverpool on Facebook reads: "News: Rich people paying rich people to tell middle class people to blame poor people."

Can't say I share the sentiment, but I can see why some people feel this way. There are certainly examples of that happening.

03 November 2015

Map of the day: In which Chinese province will you live longest?

As is the case for nearly everywhere in the world, all parts of a country are not created equal. This map from The Economist shows the varying outcomes in each province.

More info:
The study* shows that a baby born in China in 1990 would live on average to the age of 68. One born in 2013 could expect to reach 76, beyond the age at which Confucius said “one can follow one’s heart’s desires—without crossing the line.” There is a large disparity between provinces, but the gap is narrowing. In Shanghai life expectancy is now 83—as good as Switzerland. People in six areas live longer than Americans. The most impressive progress has taken place in the most benighted regions: a child in Tibet born in 1990 had a life expectancy of 56, akin to one of the poorest African countries. This has risen to 70, roughly the same as Moldova, one of Europe’s poorer countries.
HT The Intrepreter 

Finally, some national attention about the heroin epidemic

"Somehow, if it's heroin or cocaine or alcohol, we say, 'They decided it, they're getting what they deserved.'"
Posted by HuffPost Politics on Friday, October 30, 2015

Getting a little local today, but I was glad to see my hometown get a mention in a New York Times article about the growing problem of heroin in the US. It is the top issue for New Hampshire voters and Hillary Clinton stopped by a few months ago to participate in a forum on drugs here in Laconia. The room was filled with national press.

Reporters from NPR, Boston Globe and even Andrea Mitchell were milling about to interview people. The next day, reports focused on earlier comments Clinton made on the Democratic primary debate. At least one reporter was paying attention to the issue and the event:
New Hampshire is typical of the hardest-hit states. Last year, 325 people here died of opioid overdoses, a 68 percent increase from 2013. Potentially hundreds more deaths were averted by emergency medical workers, who last year administered naloxone, a medication that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses, in more than 1,900 cases.

Adding to the anxiety among parents, the state also ranks second to last, ahead only of Texas, in access to treatment programs; New Hampshire has about 100,000 people in need of treatment, state officials say, but the state’s publicly financed system can serve just 4 percent of them.

Since New Hampshire holds the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, residents have repeatedly raised the issue of heroin with the 2016 candidates.

Mrs. Clinton still recalls her surprise that the first question she was asked in April, at her first open meeting in New Hampshire as a candidate, was not about the economy or health care, but heroin. Last month, she laid out a $10 billion plan to combat and treat drug addiction over the next decade.

She has also led discussions on the topic around the country, including packed forums like the one in Laconia, N.H., where hundreds of politically engaged, mostly white middle-class men and women, stayed for two hours in a sweltering meeting hall to talk and listen. One woman told of the difficulties of getting her son into a good treatment program, and said he eventually took his own life. Another told Mrs. Clinton of the searing pain of losing her beloved son to heroin.
The story is important because it highlights the shift in ways that people are talking about addiction in drugs. When the crack epidemic struck, the policies honed in on jail sentences and the war on drugs. With heroin being a problem that strikes mostly white middle-class Americans, the solutions now focus on treatment for addicts, not jail.
But today, with heroin ravaging largely white communities in the Northeast and Midwest, and with violent crime largely down, the mood is more forgiving.

“Both the image and reality is that this is a white and often middle-class problem,” said Mr. Mauer of the Sentencing Project. “And appropriately so, we’re having a much broader conversation about prevention and treatment, and trying to be constructive in responding to this problem. This is good. I don’t think we should lock up white kids to show we’re being equal.”

So officers like Eric Adams, a white former undercover narcotics detective in Laconia, are finding new ways to respond. He is deployed full time now by the Police Department to reach out to people who have overdosed and help them get treatment.

“The way I look at addiction now is completely different,” Mr. Adams said. “I can’t tell you what changed inside of me, but these are people and they have a purpose in life and we can’t as law enforcement look at them any other way. They are committing crimes to feed their addiction, plain and simple. They need help.”

Often working with the police, rather than against them, parents are driving these kinds of individual conversions.

I was not aware of the gravity of the problem until moving here this summer. But seeing drug busts and young people dying from heroin overdoses in the past few months has brought the issue to the forefront. As the article points out, the candidates are responding. It may still not get a lot of attention, but this is a growing problem that I am willing to bet will get more attention during the presidential primaries and campaign.

The article and video at the top of Gov Chris Christie shows just how mush the conversation about addiction is changing.

02 November 2015

This thing is not a silver bullet: cookstoves edition

Because we as people like to over hype technical solutions, fads take off with plenty of fanfare that set up expectations well beyond what is possible. Cookstoves are a good example.

Indoor smoke inhalation is a major killer. Getting people who cook using open fires to change their methods can save a lot of lives and reduce illness. Enter the clean cookstove - an endeavor that dates back more than a half century. The idea is straightforward, come up with a device that does not give off much smoke, replace existing cooking methods with said device, et viola problem solved.

A recent piece by Marc Gunther in the Washington Post describes how the formula for suceess has not panned out as planned. He writes:
Of those 28 million cookstoves, only 8.2 million — the ones that run on electricity or burn liquid fuels including liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), ethanol and biogas — meet the health guidelines for indoor emissions set by the WHO. The vast majority of the stoves burn wood, charcoal, animal dung or agricultural waste — and aren’t, therefore, nearly as healthy as promised. Although these cookstoves produce fewer emissions than open fires, burning biomass fuels in them still releases plenty of toxins. “As yet, no biomass stove in the world is clean enough to be truly health protective in household use,” says Kirk Smith, a professor of global environmental health at the University of California at Berkeley and the leading health researcher on cookstoves. 
That’s not the only problem with the stoves. Some perform well in the lab but not in the field. Others crack or break under constant heat. The best cookstoves burning clean fuels won’t protect poor families from disease if those who use them continue to cook over open fires as well — which many do. “They’re not the big solution, unfortunately, that we thought they were going to be,” says Rema Hanna, a Harvard economist who led “Up in Smoke,”the most extensive field study to date on this subject. Perhaps more research could apprehend what actually works, but for now it makes no sense to “push more stoves into the world that people aren’t going to use.”
To be clear, cookstoves are not bad. Nor is the effort to come up with better ways for people to cook and not endanger their health. Anyone who has spent even a few seconds in an enclosed space while an open fire heats food knows just how overwhelming all the smoke can be.

It is a whole different matter when it comes to getting people to change habits and even pay for a new household item. Challenges include generating enough heat and change in flavor when there is less smoke. Gunther's piece is worth a read as it explains further the history of cookstoves and more of the struggles to get the widespread initiative to have lasting impact.

23 October 2015

MSF continues pressing for accountability in Kunduz attack

Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is continuing to apply pressure on the United States to determine what happened when it bombed an MSF-run hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan this month. An OpEd from MSF USA executive director Jason Cone in the New York Times makes the case for an independent investigation.
Our call for an independent international investigation is not a political gesture, pursued solely because the United States was so prominently involved in the Kunduz attack. Just as our medical ethics and commitment to international humanitarian law mandate that we treat all wounded persons in a conflict zone — regardless of affiliation, race or religion, and regardless of how or why they were injured — our founding principles compel us to highlight encroachments on the medical facilities through which we deliver care. We have done so recently in Yemen, Syria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and other places. 
But if international humanitarian law is flouted, if violations on this scale can be dismissed as a “mistake,” “the fog of war” or even just “a terrible tragedy,” then all of our medical staff, projects and patients in conflict zones could be jeopardized. 
In the case of Kunduz, it is not our responsibility to prove that the United States military violated the laws of war or its own rules of engagement. It is the responsibility of the party that destroyed a fully functioning hospital, with some 200 staff members and patients inside, to prove that it did not.
I find it hard not to see the case for an independent investigation made by Cone and MSF as compelling. At the very least, the families of the 22 people killed and MSF deserve to know what happened and for people to be held accountable. But, I am not holding my breath that the U.S. will condone such an investigation. The best bet is that the internal investigation is transparent and honest about its findings.

Does this Gates-commissioned cartoon criticize the foundation?

Bill Gates shared a cartoon yesterday by Randall Munroe, better known as the genius behind XKCD. It marks World Polio Day by describing how close the world is to eradication and the fact that the solutions (aka vaccines) are already known. True to form, Munroe uses conversation between two characters to assail the tendency to overlook the obvious.

But does the character who continues to propose innovative solutions, many using new technologies, also serve as satire for Gates and his foundation? The drive for innovation is a leading criticisms of the Gates approach to global health.

Regardless, Gates is a fan of the comic writing, "anything that combines Randall and polio eradication is great in my book....I got a kick out of it and thought I'd share it with you."

What do you think? Even if it is not about Gates, it does a good job criticizing some of the worst tendencies in global health.

13 October 2015

To see MDG shortcomings, look no further than Addis

The distribution of income and wealth are aspects of economic progress that are most relevant to the MDGs. The widening gulf between the haves and have-nots in Ethiopia does not require a journalist or any analyst to leave Addis Ababa. The alarming increase in the number of beggars in the streets and the exodus of unemployed youth across deserts and high seas are sufficient to inform any observer interested in arriving at a balanced assessment. But such a story may not generate enough clicks in donor countries. It may also undercut the Western narrative of saviordom that’s driven by the aid-industrial complex.
 That is J. Bonsa in Opride, an online site covering Ethopia and Africa. It is in response to recent reporting by the BBC holding up Ethiopia as an MDG success story - a place where many MDGs were achieved prior to 2015. Bonsa cuts through some of the claims that government programs succeeded, such as major reductions in birth rates. The desire to see Ethiopia, or anywhere, as a success story ultimately renders some analysts blind to major problems faced by the country, he argues.
It is also abundantly clear that there is a tacit understanding between the Ethiopian government and the donor agencies not to scrutinize Ethiopia’s record on MDGs to a required extent. Donors need a foreign aid success story. Besides, for fear of political backlash from the general public, Western leaders would not object to the success story lines. It is in this scheme of things that the Western media appear to be given the role of generating the “Ethiopia rising” or “Africa Rising” storylines to enhance the “feel good factor” in donor countries. The increasingly muzzled Ethiopian public can do little more than helplessly watching this drama being played out in the name of poverty reduction.
HT Mo Keita 

08 October 2015

SDG related humor: "The word 'sustainable' is unsustainable."

The pace might be a bit faster over the next few years now that the sustainable development goals are around through 2030.

Though 100 years is longer than a lot of our resources.

via XKCD

04 October 2015

The terribly high rate of U.S. child gun deaths in one gif

Guns kill too many kids in the U.S. The problem is stark when seeing how few countries have a higher fatality rate.

It is well-documented that firearm fatalities in the U.S. are far higher than other wealthy countries. The rate of 3.55 deaths per 100,000 people in 2013 is more than six times greater than our neighbor to the north, Canada (0.49 per 100,000). But it is the fact that the difference extends to children. In the gif below, you will see how all countries compare for 2013 firearm deaths for children between the ages of 5 and 14 years old. The second image removes all the countries that perform better than the U.S. The few that are left show just how poorly the U.S. performs.

The color grade throws things off a bit because countries like Venezuela, Colombia and Honduras are particularly dangerous for children. It may look like the U.S. is not all that much worse than Algeria. But if you go look at the data, visualized by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, you will see that the U.S. rate of 0.32 child deaths per 100,000 people is significantly higher than Libya (0.056), China (0.019), and Indonesia (0.029).

There is no way around the fact that gun deaths are a major problem in the United States. There are lessons to be learned from elsewhere. A piece published in Humanosphere last year goes deeper into comparing the U.S. and the world on gun deaths. It also features the example of Cali, Colombia, a city that managed to reduce its homicide rate through gun bans.

I will defer to the experts for the answers, but the gun violence must be addressed immediately. That status quo is not OK.

20 August 2015

Let's talk some more about the Worm Wars

A fierce debate broke out on social media when a re-analysis of a landmark study on deworming raised major questions about the original research. Researchers said a study from western Kenya demonstrating that giving children deworming medication improved school attendance had flaws that inflated the actual impact. But there were also concerns with the re-analysis itself and whether it made incorrect changes to reach such a conclusion.

Barbs were thrown by journalists, academics, aid workers, and others on blogs and Twitter. I've spent the past few weeks speaking with the people involved in the research and debate to try and understand what happened and what this means for mass deworming campaigns.

That story should publish next week. However, I emerged from my cave of research to chat with Mark Goldberg about the Worm Wars, as they were dubbed, on his Global Dispatches Podcast. It is not entirely new information for those who are already familiar with the discussions, but it touches on some of the important aspects that should interest those of you just learning about the debate.

Our conversation treads lightly on parts of the story. My written piece, due out next week for Humanosphere, will go much further into the debate and its implications going forward. Have a listen:

10 March 2015

Come out to MIT for a panel on innovation and development I am moderating

I am dusting off the blog to promote an event I am moderating this week at MIT. It should be an interesting conversation about efforts to actually evaluate innovations and see how well they work. Details below and sign up here.

Finding What Works in Global Development

Where: The Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation at MIT - E14-674, Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology - 75 Amherst Street - Cambridge, MA 02139
When: Thursday, March 12, 2015 from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM (EDT)
Description: When a person lives on less than $2 a day — as some 2.7 billion people around the world do — there isn’t room for a product like a solar lantern or a water filter to fail.

It’s a challenge development agencies, NGOs, and consumers themselves face every day: With so many products on the market, how do you choose the right one?

Join us for a panel on the growing need for product evaluation in global development. Panelists will share insights from their work with MIT’s Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation (CITE), which released its first-ever report evaluating solar lanterns this spring.

Refreshments will be served.

The Panel

David Ferguson, Director of the Center for Development Innovation at USAID
Jarrod Goentzel, CITE Scalability Research Lead & Director of the MIT Humanitarian Response Lab
Jennifer Green, CITE Sustainability Research Lead & Research Scientist at the MIT Sociotechnical Systems Research Center
Dan Frey, CITE Suitability Research Lead and Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Amit Gandhi, CITE Research Assistant and MIT Doctoral Candidate in Mechanical Engineering

Introductions: Bishwapriya Sanyal, CITE Director & MIT Professor of Urban Development and Planning

Special Moderator: Tom Murphy, Global Development Reporter at Humanosphere & Founder of A View from the Cave