Why the Internet Matters

By Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor-At-Large | January 01, 2013 | @ChiefKMasimba

With an estimated 2 billion people now connected to the internet, and the number growing by 200 million each, the internet is changing everything from business, politics, education, communication to how we find love and everything else in between.

By 2016, there will be 3 billion Internet users globally – almost half of the world’s population, according to Boston Consulting Group, adding that the internet economy will reach $4,2 trillion in the G20 economies.

Fully capitalizing the potential of the internet is increasingly a must for individuals and governments around the world. The good news is the internet is still evolving with prospects for greater power and reach.

In two decades, the internet has changed the way we live, the way we work, the way we socialize and meet, and the way our countries development and grow, according to McKinsey & Company, a global research firm.

The medium has opened up new and unprecedented opportunities to the world, improving the instant exchange of ideas, facilitating communication and closing the gap between inspiration and action when it comes to launching things. It is also opening up access to information in a way never seen in human history, in the process, making the world flatter.

It’s global capability to connect anyone with anything is literally and figuratively redefining modern lives and livelihoods.

It facilitates new ideas to show up that no-one would have ever thought of thereby giving birth to new products and services that have a potential to makes our lives easier and the world a better place. In a word, the internet is changing everything.

“The Internet embraces all of us: businesses, individuals, governments and entrepreneurs. The Web has made possible new models of business models and entrepreneurship but has also led to radical innovations for accessing, using, and delivering goods and services for everyone. It has transformed industries and governments through innovative approaches and changed how users engage the world,” states McKinsey and Company in a report titled, “Internet matters: The Net’s sweeping impact on growth, jobs and prosperity.”  

A study of 13 countries that account for 70 per cent of the global GDP revealed that the internet accounts for an average of 3.4 per cent of the GDP. In Africa alone, the upsurge in internet usage could add could add $300bn a year to the continent’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025, according to McKinsey and Company.

“The leapfrogging effects of the Internet make it the most interesting development on the African continent since the wide-scale adoption of mobile phones,” says Armando Cabral, a Director at McKinsey & Company.

According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the internet has become an essential tool for creating an environment that nurtures the technological and service innovation, and triggering positive change in business processes as well as in society as a whole.

Smoking Clouds Africa’s Future

Warning: This Area Contains Tobacco Smoke

Warning: This Area Contains Tobacco Smoke (Photo credit: tbone_sandwich)

By Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large | December 28, 2013

IT’S not often that you hear of smoking and its attendant health problems in Africa. After all, the continent has humongous and more immediate problems to deal with that smoking pales in significance. But the specter of public health challenges that are likely to be caused by an ever growing epidemic of smoking in Africa are worrisome to say the least. Africans can only ignore the smoking scourge at their own peril: tobacco users who die prematurely deprive their families of income, raise the cost of health care and hinder economic development.

Because there is a lag of several years between when people start using tobacco and when their health suffers, African governments may find it convenient to ignore the problem. Cash outs from tobacco companies may also prevent action but the price to be paid will be huge as more Africans take up smoking.

There are 1.1 billion smokers in the world today with that number expected to increase to 1.6 billion by the year 2025. Tobacco use is expected to claim one billion lives this century unless serious anti-smoking efforts are made on a global level.

According to a new study by the American Cancer Society report titled, Tobacco Use in Africa: Tobacco Control Through Prevention, Africa is likely to be a future epicenter of a tobacco epidemic if current trends continue.

While many African countries have low smoking prevalence, the American Cancer Society forecasts a significant increase in the near future. According the report, the number of adult smokers in Africa is expected to balloon from 77 million to 572 million smokers by 2100 if new policies are not implemented and enforced to stem the epidemic.

As economies and populations grow, Africa will provide a lucrative market for tobacco companies, raising fears of a spike in smoking related problems. The report projects that by 2060, Africa will have the second most smokers of any region, behind Asia, with 14 per cent of the world’s smokers (from the current 6 per cent), and by 2100 Africa will be home to 21 per cent of the world’s smokers.

“Not only is significant market scope brought about by population growth and a low base of smoking prevalence, but also through the potential for increased sales to current smokers. As economies and incomes grow, and as cigarette and tobacco markets in Africa develop and mature, so will smoking intensity, thereby increasing the value of the market dramatically,” states the report, adding that without action, Africa will grow from being the fly on the wall, to the elephant in the room of tobacco health problems.

In Africa, the benefits of the prevention strategy in terms of public health seem smaller at first due to the current lower smoking prevalence, but they will skyrocket in the near future due to population growth and the projected number of smokers in the long run, states the report.

“Africa is on a trajectory of needless tobacco-related death and disease,” said John R. Seffrin, Chief Executive Officer of the American Cancer Society. “But there is a clear opportunity to curb and prevent tobacco use and save millions of lives with a combination of targeted prevention and intervention policies. With appropriate intervention, we could avert an estimated 139 million premature deaths from smoking. The charge is clear.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing nearly six million people a year. More than five million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while more than 600 000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. Approximately one person dies every six seconds due to tobacco, accounting for one in 10 adult deaths.

Africa’s Smartphone Future

English: Mobile phone evolution Русский: Эволю...

English: Mobile phone evolution Русский: Эволюция мобильных телефонов (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha | Editor At Large | December 27, 2013

 Africa’s future as things look will undoubtedly unravel on the screens of smartphones, mobile phones built on a mobile operating system, with more advanced computing capability and connectivity.

In the not so distant future, the smartphone’s screen will play a greater role in the trajectory of the continent. Though feature phones largely dominate the market, the continent is increasingly becoming ripe for a disruption. Feature phones contain a fixed set of functions beyond voice calling and text messaging; they may offer Web browsing and e-mail, but they generally cannot download apps from an online marketplace.

Increased connectivity and a drop in the price of smartphones is making it possible to build a content ecosystem on mobile phones that has potential to radically reshape the way African do things from commerce, health, education and – even finding love. Whoever will succeed on the African market has to think of how to deliver a smart ecosystem to complement devices.

While traditional mobile phone giants – think Samsung, Nokia, Blackberry – have a grip on the market – whoever will deliver a mobile specifically designed to address Africa’s unique challenges will emerge the winner.

According to the World Bank, Sub-Saharan Africa is now home to approximately 650  million mobile phone subscribers, a number that surpasses the United States  and  European Union, and represents an explosion of new communication technologies  that are being tailored to the developing world.

Mobile phone adoption on the continent from 2000 to 2010 accelerated at an  impressive 30 per cent compound annual growth rate powered by affordable feature phones sold at mass market price points.

While just 16 percent of the continent’s one billion people are online, that  picture is changing rapidly.  According to International Data Corp (IDC), a  tech  research group, smartphones account for 18 percent of all mobile phones in Africa.

The continent’s smartphone market is expected to double in the next four years and device manufacturers who dominated the narrative over the past decade such as Nokia are making big bets on the continent’s smartphone future.

Falling wireless data prices, the extension of high-speed networks and a burgeoning middle class are driving a sharp rise in smartphone use.

According to IDC, 52 percent of all smartphones sold on the continent in the second quarter of 2013 were Samsung phones and the company  has quickly ascended in a short period of time to become Africa’s smartphone leader.

As mobile broadband infrastructure continues to develop and as the cost of  smartphones and other technologies continues to fall, new technologies will have an even  greater economic and social impact on the lives of Africans.

A key challenge will be developing applications that improve and simplify the daily lives of Africans. As smartphone penetration grows, more people will increasingly using their mobile devices to manage their lives on a daily basis – anytime, anywhere. The good news is that the marketplace is open (well, not exactly, you’d still need to have the skills and knowledge) and whoever is creative enough to satisfy needs will emerge the winner.

The mobile revolution is taking off. And a lot of work needs to be done to determine what services Africans prefer on their smartphones and that could be via an app, SMS text or mobile browser. In a word, it’s open game. But Africa’s smartphone is coming, and coming fast.

Treatment Gaps Threaten Zimbabwe’s AIDS Success Story

Washington DC, US – Zimbabwe’s AIDS success is under threat due to funding gaps for anterotroviral (ARV) drugs which threatens to affect almost 70,000, according to a report issued by Medicens Sans Frontieres.

The report stated that national ARV buffer stocks are currently being depleted to cover some of the shortages. The country is already eating into its allotted Global Fund money to cater for the current treatment gaps, a scenario that will result in an estimated 428,068 people eligible for treatment unable to access ARVs by 2014.

While the country has recorded major success with ARV coverage growing from five per cent in 2006, to 77 per cent among adults and 39 per cent among children, there is a danger that the lives of 435,000 adults and 41,000 under treatment could be put in jeopardy.

According to the MSF report, Zimbabwe’s AIDS levy currently pays for over 25 percent of its ARVs, it has not yet been possible to close the treatment gap.

“The immediate funding gaps in Zimbabwe are due to the transitioning out of a pooled donor fund (the Expanded Support Programme) by the end of 2011. Funding for ARVs was not part of the new basket fund initiative (Health Transition Fund), as the assumption was that providing ARVs for the supproeted ARV cohort would be done with domestic and Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM) support,” stated the report.

The report added that donors such as US President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Department of International Development (DfID) are now trying to help close the HIV treatment gap. But most of these efforts will not be felt until later this year or early next year putting many people’s lives at risk.

“The GFATM will need to address a significant part of this shortfall, while additional funds to continue initiating new patients on ARV treatment also need to be ensured,” read part of the report.

“Zimbabwe has played a key role in changing the face of the epidemic in the region and globally. Right now, all of Zimbabwe’s success are under serious threat due to the treatment gaps, and that’s why PEPFAR must channel the bulk of its funds towards this urgent priority,”said Chamunorwa Mashoko, an community activist and one of AVAC’s 2012 HIV Prevention Research Advocacy Fellow.

HIV/TB Advisor for MSF in Southern Africa, Dr Eric Goemaere, said that increased global funding is still required in the fight against the epidemic.

“Globally we’re finally past the halfway mark with HIV treatment. Health ministries are working hard to implement latest treatment recommendations and policies to get ahead of the wave of new infections, but they can’t do it alone. We need to see a dramatic increase in global support to fight this plague,” he said.

Rectal Microbicides Seen As Key in Preventing New HIV transmissions

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large

Washington DC, US – Unprotected anal sex is a key driver of HIV transmission in many parts of the world. The practice is surrounded with much stigma and discrimination which is a key barrier to developing protective measures.

Microbicide research has gained momentum in recent years with focus largely on products to prevent HIV transmission during vaginal sex. However, there is a growing momentum to develop rectal microbicides for women, men, and transgender individuals around the world who engage in anal intercourse.

Rectal microbicides are products – that could take the form of gels or lubricants – being developed and tested to reduce a person’s risk of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections from anal sex. In spite of the public health need for rectal microbicide research, there is serious institutional, socio-cultural and political stigma around the issue.

According to estimates, the risk of becoming infected with HIV through anal sex is 10 to 20 times greater than vaginal sex because the rectal lining, the mucosa, is thinner and much more fragile than the lining of the vagina.  Because the rectal lining is only one-cell thick, the virus can more easily reach immune cells to infect.

Against this background, developing safe, effective, affordable rectal microbicides is key priority to turning the tide against HIV among populations that engage in anal sex, said Dr Ian McGowan, a leading rectal microbicide researcher.

“We are moving through the early and middle phases of the development of a rectal microbicide,” McGowan, adding that funding is part of the science and that more researchers are required as the research unfolds.

“We need mo people engaged, we need communities to take up the issue – we should follow the science.”

Jim Pickett, Chair of the International Rectal Microbicide Advocates (IRMA) and Directyor of Advocacy at AIDS Foundation of Chicago said that funding for rectal microbicides remains a key challenge for developing rectal microbicide. Pickett said that a total of US 100 million is required to engage in the next phase of studies.

“What is important in developing the next phase of studies is to develop a product that is about pleasure, intimacy, connection, emotion and love. The tools that are out there do not adequately fulfil this need,” he said. “Making the rectal microbicide safe, effective, affordable and acceptable for all who need them is a key priority.”

AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC) Executive Director, Michael Warren, said that money dedicated to rectal microbicide has been a blip on the map and a more strategic approach is required to attract additional resources.

“We need to articulate what exactly is required for the rectal microbicides; we need to build a comprehensive ask for what is required. It must come with a specific plan so that it does not appear like we are requesting for a blank. We need a clear strategy described scientifically and costed effectively in order to get support,” said Warren.

 

Carol Odada, a Kenyan AIDS activist said that rectal microbicides were not an innovation limited to men who have sex with men only.

“HIV has a woman’s faces, a woman is the main victim but nobody thinks. Every other prevention is other. Every prevention works differently works differently. There is a lot of anal sex going around. It’s unfortunate that some women are forced to engage in anal sex. Rectal micorbicide is not a gay issue. Women have to drive the call for rectal microbicide,” she said.

Rectal Microbicides Open New Frontier in Turning HIV Tide

By Chief K. Masimba Biriwasha | OpEd

Microbicide research has gained momentum in recent years with focus largely on products to prevent HIV during vaginal sex. However, there is a growing momentum to develop rectal microbicides for women, men, and transgender individuals around the world who engage in anal intercourse.

Microbicides are products designed to prevent or reduce the sexual transmission of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections when applied inside the vagina or rectum. Most vaginal microbicides are being tested as gels or rings, while rectal microbicides are primarily being tested as gels.

Rectal microbicides are products – that could take the form of gels or lubricants – being developed and tested to reduce a person’s risk of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections from anal sex. In spite of the public health need for rectal microbicide research, there is serious institutional, socio-cultural and political stigma around the issue.

According to estimates, the risk of becoming infected with HIV through anal sex is 10 to 20 times greater than vaginal sex because the rectal lining, the mucosa, is thinner and much more fragile than the lining of the vagina.  Because the rectal lining is only one-cell thick, the virus can more easily reach immune cells to infect.

Although the rate of new infections is stabilizing in many countries around the world, HIV continues to disproportionately affect racial minorities and men who have sex with men. It is estimated that five to ten percent of the world’s population engages in anal sex.

Globally, men who have sex with men are 19 times more likely to be infected with HIV than the general population. Unprotected anal sex is the primary driver of the HIV epidemic among this population.

For decades, the primary approach to HIV prevention for anal sex has been consistent and correct use of male condoms. Male condoms are an extremely effective method to prevent HIV, but many people are unable or reluctant to use them.

Rectal microbicides are products – that could take the form of gels or lubricants – being developed and tested to reduce a person’s risk of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections from anal sex.

If proven effective, rectal microbicides could protect against HIV in people who are unable or reluctant to use condoms. Unlike condoms, they could provide an alternative way to reduce risk that is not controlled by one’s sexual partner and possibly enhance sexual pleasure, helping to motivate consistent use.

Rectal microbicides could offer both primary protection in the absence of condoms and back-up protection if a condom breaks or slips off during anal intercourse. Such an alternative is essential if we are to address the full spectrum of prevalent sexual practices and the basic human need for accessible, user-controlled HIV and STD prevention tools

Rectal microbicides research is in the early phase of clinical development due in part to scientific challenges related to the biology of the rectum, and cultural reluctance to address anal sex.

Most critically testing the safety and acceptability of microbicides designed specifically for rectal use is key to ensuring their effectiveness in preventing HIV infection among people who engage in anal sex.

Researchers need to first be sure rectal microbicides are safe and then conduct additional studies to find out whether they are effective against HIV.

Zimbabwean, Annah Sango, to Speak at AIDS 2012 Official Opening in US

Washington DC, US – Zimbabwean community activist, Annah Sango, will speak alongside world leaders at the official opening of the International AIDS Conference 2012 in Washington DC on Sunday.

Sango is a peer educator and role model to other young women in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. She is a member of the International Community of Women Living with HIV and AIDS (Southern Africa) and founded her own community-based support group for women affected by HIV.

“Young people need to move from being passengers to drivers, sexual reproductive health rights are fundamental to everyone the sooner we appreciate that the closer we get to making a difference in the lives of women and young people,” said Sango, a trainer of trainers on issues facing young people.

Sango is a tireless advocate for the reproductive and sexual health rights of young women living with HIV throughout her region, including ensuring their access to woman-initiated prevention options like female condoms.