Monday, October 19, 2009

Hopes, Meetings, and Outlines

I am extremely excited for our trip to both South Africa and Mozambique. From an educational standpoint, I am about to encounter a world completely unknown to me. So many African cultures and customs I’m only familiar with from books and films. I want to experience everything fully. I want to memorize every detail…the sights, the sounds, the smells of Africa. I want to come away with something I did not have before. What that is, I’m not sure. But traveling always seems to ground me and I gain perspective on the important things in my life.

So much of what I’ve concentrated on as an undergraduate is static. We are given articles to read, text to memorize…but the application of our lessons is still not understood. I am hoping to gain some experience in the realm of international healthcare during the course of this trip. I feel that it is one thing to throw around theories and policies, but until the situation to be addressed is encountered firsthand, everything remains impersonal and distant.

This relates to my individual project for the ADPM course. I want to learn more about how malnutrition, which is such a rampant problem in sub-Saharan Africa, plays a role in disease prevention and treatment. I hope to focus on malaria and HIV specifically. My individual project, ideally, will be more a review paper commenting on the current status of sub-Saharan Africa and Mozambique relating to malnutrition, malaria, and HIV. From published statistics and personal observation, I hope to first paint a picture of these epidemics. Next, I will compile applicable research that concludes upon possible associations between malnutrition and disease. Finally, I will research programs that have been implemented in both Mozambique and across sub-Saharan Africa with regards to the above public health concerns.

My group has been categorized under all things related to healthcare. Our project addresses three main questions regarding HIV/AIDS in Mozambique: 1) What are the methods of prevention?, 2) What treatment is available?, and 3) What obstacles are faced in the fight against HIV/AIDS? We recently met with Dr. Cohn, an infectious disease specialist who works at the Detroit Medical Center. Dr. Cohn spent a few years in Mozambique researching HIV and he was able to give us more insight into the structure of the country’s healthcare system. He also emphasized the lack of human resources. There are roughly 700 doctors in a country of 20 million. Many times people are unable to reach the hospital or clinic because of the geographic distance and thus are unable to receive a prescription and subsequent treatment. Corruption is also a factor when dealing with the healthcare system. Many times, financial aid is not distributed proportionally or received at all.

Until next time…bon voyage!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Politics of Mozambique

This week we were asked to read Carrie Manning’s The Politics of Peace in Mozambique: Post Conflict Democratization, 1992-2000. In this book, Manning describes Mozambique’s quest for democracy from a more positive, unbiased perspective than Anne Pitcher’s Transforming Mozambique. While each work was extremely informative, Pitcher chose to focus more on the statistical (i.e. political and economic) side of the country’s democratic progress. Manning gave Mozambique a personality through her use of perspective from its citizens. Manning more clearly describes the reasoning behind happenings, whereas I found Pitcher’s book to concentrate more on the results. In addition, the clarity of Manning’s book painted a better picture of the progress and successes of Mozambique’s struggle for democracy. The significance of this country’s journey and evolution distinguishes it from other African countries.

Another difference between the works of Carrie Manning and Anne Pitcher is their commentary on international relations regarding finance with Mozambique. From the view of Manning, donors are essential to furthering the progress of Mozambique. Donations can be interpreted as signs of support for government actions from foreign institutions. At one point, donors were referred to as “development partners.” However, Manning also points out that these donations are restricted and based on very conditional agreements. In contrast, Pitcher focuses on the adverse effects of commercialization in Mozambique. She is more critical of company involvement and the growing dependence of the Mozambican government on commercial funds.

Carrie Manning will in fact be visiting our class as a guest lecturer. It is such a great opportunity that we are able to meet leading experts on Mozambique, especially when we have just recently read their work. I want to ask Professor Manning in class about what she found most inspiring from her research. What can other African nations learn from Mozambique’s story?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Comparisons and Musings

There are many similarities between the government of Mozambique and that of the United States. For instance, both systems are based on an electoral process in which the majority elects heads of state and representatives. Both countries have Presidents in the highest seat of power. However, in the case of Mozambique, Ministers are elected by the President…much like nominations to seats in the President’s cabinet here in the U.S. Thus, the Prime Minister of Mozambique is chosen by the President. It can be assumed that both will be from the same party, which highlights one source of bias in future policy making, etc. Mozambique also has direct Presidential elections, where the votes of the public are counted and the majority determines a winner. This is different from the Electoral College used in the U.S. and other countries as a means for an institution to vote for what the larger public has been shown to favor. I have to say that the Mozambican structure of direct election seems more appealing. Under this policy, a citizen can feel more like their votes counted and were significant to the election results. A middle party, such as the Electoral College, dilutes the influence each vote has on the percent of the population that supports each candidate.

I hope that I am making more progress. Initially, I was wary to participate in discussions during meetings. I felt as if I were handicapped in the sense that I do not have as strong of a political science background as other students in the class. However, I understand that this is a learning experience and the opportunity of a lifetime. Staying positive! We have been checking and double-checking all travel requirements for our trip in October. My immunizations should be relatively up to date, and our papers will be processed soon enough. Everything is happening so fast, I can’t believe it will be only a few more weeks!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Democracy: the Vague and the Restless

Dr. Anne Pitcher, author of Transforming Mozambique: The Politics and Privatization, 1972-2000, came in to speak to our class about the history and present day status of Mozambican politics. I have to confess that before this course, I knew very little about African politics and much of what I did know came from filtered headlines through CNN and the BBC. Her talk was very informative and mirrored much of what her book revealed; stark differences in the development of rural and urban areas after independence, the uncertainty of a new political system, and the painful lack of resources which hindered the initial growth of the country. I was very surprised by Dr. Pitcher’s statement that half the population of Mozambique is under the age of 15. If that statistic is anywhere near accurate, this could mark a turning point, both physically and politically, for the country. Physically, in the sense of health, such an overwhelmingly young population leaves one to believe that a) some epidemic is targeting the older generations, b) many people do not live to reach a middle age, c) the civil war claimed many lives from the older generations, or d) all of the above. Pessimistically, it seems like I’m leaning towards option d.

The current malaria and HIV/AIDS epidemic in Mozambique has claimed the lives of thousands of people. Many children have lost one or both parents to either disease, and many more are suffering themselves through mother-to-child transmission. With so many people contracting these diseases at younger ages, when malnutrition is another factor, their bodies become extremely vulnerable to infection which exponentially increases the chance of mortality. The combination of disease and the number of war casualties depleted the adult population of Mozambique through the 1990s. If that is the case, it is logical that the majority of the population would be under the age of fifteen because that is approximately the time gap from the end of the civil war (the 1992 Peace Accord) to present day.

And perhaps this is what democracy is…the liberty to life and the pursuit of happiness. For me, democracy is simply the opportunity to choose for oneself, whether it is in the political, social or economic sense. Yet again, the idea of democracy is not simple at all. In fact, it can be the most subjective, abstract idea of discussion. What democracy means to one person can be completely different than another view. Perspective dictates definition. I value the rights and liberties that allow me to express what is important to me. But this is also one of the most important aspects of democracy; flexibility. In Mozambique, I believe that the right to a proper education, access to healthcare, and the right to own property are extremely important to the majority of the population. These cover the basic survival needs of all humans. In colonial times, many of these basic human rights for indigenous populations were overlooked by their foreign colonizers. Thus, democracy can also be defined as the free and equal distribution of resources among all.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

In the Beginning

Hi everyone!

Welcome to my first attempt at blogging! Let me start by telling you a little bit about myself. I am an undergraduate student studying Nutrition and Food Science. Currently, I'm working on finishing up my bachelor's degree by the spring and will be starting medical school next fall. In the near yet distant future, I wish to pursue a career in international health care. But before I sell my soul to another four plus years of academics, I want to study something completely different and unfamiliar.

I have previously traveled twice to Belize, Central America to develop my thesis on Type II diabetes. In late October, I will be traveling with a dozen other students to the country of Mozambique, located in the southeastern region of Africa. The goal of our trip is to research the government and social systems of Mozambique, and to later document the national elections which will take place while our group is in the country. I am very excited, and honored, to have the opportunity to participate in such an awesome project. However, my knowledge of political science is anything but extensive...but I like a challenge.

Logically, my interest in Mozambique would lie in the country's health care infrastructure or public health concerns. While that is the case, and I would like to learn more about this topic, I'm also interested in the country's culture. Mozambique, like many other nations with colonial pasts, has been heavily influenced by its colonizer, Portugal. The extent and evidence of Portuguese influence on Mozambican culture and system of government is a topic I am interested in studying further throughout the semester.

That's it for now but you'll be hearing from me soon, I'm sure!