Category Archives: Reporting

Netflix Documentary Explains Current Cuban Anti-Government Protests

Last weekend Cuba erupted in anti-government protests amid countrywide shortages of food and medicine, as well as constant power outages during one of the hottest months of the year. These protests aren’t new, but questions quickly arose about why the protests started this time.

Depending on who you ask you’ll get a variety of answers. Some cite four years of strict sanctions under the Trump administration while others blame the pandemic. Still, others blame both the sanctions and pandemic as well as a communist regime that has gripped the country for decades.

When I heard the news about the protests I was glad I had recently watched a Netflix documentary called Cuba and the Cameraman. It is a Netflix original documentary from 2017 filmed by Emmy award-winning filmmaker John Alpert that follows the climate of the island and its people over the course of 45 years. It was truly enlightening for me to see how Cubans live and why so many flee to the United States and vow never to return.

During the Obama administration, I was excited to see that he had opened Cuba up to tourism because as with countless other countries tourism dollars go a long way in improving the economy of a country and ultimately the lives of its people. But with the pandemic, that lucrative financial stream to Cuba cut off virtually overnight. The consequences have been devastating spurring protests that are currently ongoing.

Watch Cuba and the Cameraman on Netflix.

How and Why Coca-Cola is Restoring Water to Our National Forests

When I stepped out of the U.S. Forest Service SUV after nearly a two-hour scenic autumn drive from Taos, New Mexico to the Carson National Forest, we were standing in an expansive valley so big that huge cows below us looked like mere dots in the distance. We had finally arrived at Valle Vidal, a massive grassy meadow with vistas as far as the eye could see and elevations reaching close to 13,000 feet in Carson National Forest. Even though Valle Vidal is overwhelmingly beautiful to take in its environmental impact is being increasingly hampered by major stream and groundwater degradation that needs immediate remedying in order to protect fish and wildlife as well as to store more ground water for communities downstream.

I was in New Mexico visiting the Carson National Forest with Coca-Cola North America’s sustainability team last week to learn about their water restoration efforts in northern New Mexico as well as the company’s overarching nationwide partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and National Forest Foundation that replenished 1 billion liters of water to nature and communities reaching 60 million people in the United States. Coca-Cola also recently announced that it has successfully reached one of its principle global sustainability milestones ahead of schedule to effectively balance its water usage in its beverages and production. Coca-Cola has reached its goal five years ahead by replenishing 191.9 billion liters of water across the globe in 71 countries. In the United States, Coca-Cola North America has pledged to double the 1 billion liters of water that it has already replenished by 2018.

Continue reading How and Why Coca-Cola is Restoring Water to Our National Forests

Women Helping Women in Johannesburg’s Townships

This post was originally published on Impatient Optimists.

I met Jabulile Tlhabane, 57, in a small woman-owned restaurant on a busy road in Alexandra Township located about 60 minutes outside Johannesburg depending on the time of day and traffic. Alexandra, or Alex as the locals call it, is home to over a million people even though its resident capacity is intended to be capped at 100,000. That means stresses are rife on Alexandra’s overcrowded citizens from a lack of adequate health facilities, increasing teenage pregnancies, largely unreported violence against women, drug abuse, and a general absence of jobs and opportunities. Tlhabane is a longtime member of Rebecca’s Well, a small nonprofit that provides help and healing for women and girls in need as well as microfinance and enterprising skills. I met with Tlhabane to learn more about their work. Rebecca’s Well was started by a Boston woman, Sheila Wise Rowe, who now calls South Africa home with her family.

Tlhabane first joined Rebecca’s Well over a decade ago after her husband abruptly left her and her children. “When I first met Sheila at my local church, she advised me to go for healing,” Tlhabane remembers from those difficult early years after her marriage dissolved. “It took me years to get completely healed. I think I spent the first six to seven years crying. I was married to my schoolmate. We were married for twenty-six years and we had six children.”

It’s stories like Tlhabane’s that made Wise Rowe dedicate her life to helping women in Johannesburg area townships including both Alexandra and Soweto who need encouragement and renewed hope to ease towards self-sufficiency.

Tlhabane is now the director of Rebecca’s Well’s Soweto program where there are both initiatives for women and teens. “The problem is unemployment and women who do not pursue their education,” said Tlhabane about Rebecca’s Well’s work in the biggest township in South Africa. “That is very challenging. People fall pregnant. Those are the things that challenge us.”

But there are success stories. Tlhabane told me about a member of Rebecca’s Well who was at one time homeless without any options, but through assistance from Rebecca’s Well now has a stable job, attends school, and was able to recently purchase her own car.

Regina Morutu is another success story. She has been a member of Rebecca’s Well since 2009. A young mother of a five-year-old and Soweto resident, Morutu graduated with a B.A. in psychology last year and dreams of getting her masters in forensic psychology. “I came to Rebecca’s Well because I had school problems,” she said. “I dropped out of school because my father passed away and my mother couldn’t afford my school fees, so I took a break.”

Rebecca’s Well helped Morutu get back into school and helped her with school fees as well as with transport costs. “I spend a grand (South African rands) on transport each month and I still have to eat,” Morutu said. “Yes, it is expensive.”

“When people hear about Rebecca’s Well they think it will be a quick fix,” Morutu added. “Some people don’t have the patience to wait and endure. I think their mental state needs to change.”

While Rebecca’s Well isn’t a large scale nonprofit its presence is being felt by women and girls who have little options especially those who become pregnant and need help staying in school and matriculating into college or women who need new skills to earn their own money.

“If it wasn’t for Rebecca’s Well I’d still be at home looking at life in the hood,” said Morutu. “Now I have direction.”

Learn more about Rebecca’s Well’s work at

Meet Dismus Mwalukwanda, a Community Health Worker in Zambia #WHWWeek

I walked quickly beside Dismus Mwalukwanda on a sandy path bordered by overgrown shrubbery leading through the bush to rural homes outside of Lusaka, Zambia’s capital. Mwalukwanda, 43, is a frontline health worker for the Njovo Village and took me to visit a family whose young children he has treated often for malaria. Mwalukwand is in charge of helping families in his area make steps toward malaria prevention like ensuring the use of bed nets and he also tests and treats patients who come down with malaria. During the rainy season Mwalukwanda, who is married and has eight children, can see 25 homes a day.

Dismus - Frontline Health Worker

“Mostly I test people using RDT (rapid diagnostic testing),” said Mwalukwanda. “When they are found positive, I treat them.”

Malaria takes the lives of 8,000 people annually in Zambia, most of whom are children under the age of five and expectant mothers whose immune systems can often be weakened and compromised. Utilizing testing and treatments for malaria through the efforts of frontline health workers is a way of gettting health care to those who cannot access health care due to long distances from health facilities. However, when Mwalukwanda treats a patient who isn’t improving quickly from a bout of malaria he refers them to an area hospital for accelerated care.

Dismus - Frontline Health Worker

“Most people come to my house when they get sick,” Mwalukwanda added. “But, I do home visits all month. I might see 50 households a month.”

Mwalukwanda, like many community health workers, provides quality care for many families who otherwise would have no care options, especially those who live in remote, rural, or outlying areas like Njovo village. Frontline health workers the world over provide millions of people with health care armed with little more than a backpack of supplies. Frontline health workers are given robust training from governments or NGO programs that have specific programs for community health worker training.

Without the help of Mwalukwanda hundreds of children would die from malaria. He is their primary point of contact for testing and administration of Coartem, the most effective malaria medicine.

This week marks World Health Worker Week (April 7 – 11) where the global health community honors and celebrates health workers who are on the frontlines of health care for so many. This week is also a sober reminder that millions more health workers are needed to provide even more care for people who desperately need interventions to save their lives.

Follow the Frontline Health Workers Coalition all week for information about the World Health Worker Week. Join the discussion at #WHWWeek and #healthworkerscount.

Photos: Jennifer James

Full disclosure: I met Dismus Mwalukwanda while covering Malaria No More’s global launch of its Power of One campaign.

5 Best Buys for Improved Maternal Health

Last week PSI released its latest issue of Impact magazine: The Best Buys Issue. For this issue of Impact, PSI partnered with Devex, Merck for Mothers and PATH to ask one key question: What are the best buys for global health and development? During a two-hour conversation held at the Center for Global Development global health experts and practitioners discussed the best places to invest in global health and the best investments for global health dollars. Overall,  health systems strengthening emerged as the biggest best buy in global health. When health systems are improved the costs for key heath interventions subsequently decreases.

Best Buys in Global Health Panel
PANEL 1: THE VALUE OF AN ENABLING ENVIRONMENT – WHAT MAKES AN INVESTMENT SUCCESSFUL? (left to right) Amanda Glassman, Director of Global Health Policy, CGD (moderator) Karl Hofmann, President and CEO, PSI, Karen Cavanaugh, Director, Office of Health Systems, USAID Kaakpema “KP” Yelpaala, Founder and CEO,

Even though health system strengthening is becoming the critical catalyst that will save global health dollars across the board there are affordable interventions that keep more people alive right now. After the discussion at the Center for Global Development I asked PSI President and CEO Karl Hoffmann during a journalist round table what he believes are the best buys for global maternal health. Hoffman cited working to prevent postpartum hemorrhage and preeclampsia as well as investing in family planning are the three biggest best buys in maternal health.

Karen Cavenaugh, Director of the Office of Health Systems at USAID, also mentioned that investments to ensure every woman delivers her baby with a trained health provider is a global health best buy in maternal health. And, Kaakpema “KP” Yelpaala, Founder and CEO of said that investments in mobile enabled vouchers that provide pregnant women with rides to hospitals to deliver their babies is proving to be another best buy to improve maternal health outcomes.

Maternal health continues to be a critical problem in low- and middle-income countries. 800 women die every day around the world while delivering their babies according to the World Health Organization. In nearly every case a mother who dies during childbirth can be saved through interventions that work.

Merck for Mothers, a 10-year, $500 million program created to reduce maternal mortality globally and that sponsored Impact‘s Best Buys issue, partners with leading NGOs to keep more mothers alive both in the United States and around the world. For example, last year Merck for Mothers partnered with PATH to fund a report on the best interventions in maternal health. PATH determined that five interventions are key to accelerating progress to achieve MDG 5 including providing greater access to oxytocin which prevents postpartum hemorrhage, introducing and educating health providers on the use of the uterine balloon tamponade that prevents postpartum bleeding, creating simplified dosing of magnesium sulfate to prevent convulsions after childbirth, accelerating improved proteinuria tests and providing better blood pressure devices.* These interventions, of course, will best work when health systems are universally improved, distribution channels are created to supply medicines to low resource settings and when the costs of medicines and supplies become more affordable.

On the supply side, businesses such as Maternova provide frontline health workers and organizations with affordable medical solutions to reduce maternal mortality like their clean birthing kit and obstetric kits. Inhaled Oxytocin, based in Australia,  is another innovative intervention that keeps more mothers alive in low-resource settings through easier ways to prevent hemorrhaging. You can read smart investments in maternal health in the latest issue of Impact (pg. 18). And, you can read more of our maternal health coverage.


*Herrick et al.: Prioritizing investments in innovations to protect women from the leading causes of maternal death. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2014 14:10.

Disclosure: I was a guest of PSI for the Best Buys for Global Health conversation in Washington, DC.