Enticing Pregnant Women With ‘Baby Pictures’


This tickles my happy bone, if there is such a thing. A clever way to draw women to prenatal care and serve a larger public health purpose (including preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV): tapping into expectant moms’ desire to “see” their developing baby.

From the New York Times (by Donald G. McNeil, Jr., published 11/10/17):

Continue reading “Enticing Pregnant Women With ‘Baby Pictures’”

Say It Ain’t So, Joe

Joseph Kabila, president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is supposed to leave office today, but he has refused to hold elections and seems intent on staying put. This article in African Arguments, by two researchers at The International Crisis Group, looks at the country’s difficult economic state, which ICG calls both a cause and consequence of political instability.

N.B. My dissertation advisor would yell about putting a single variable on both sides of the equation.

Ideas from Poli Sci

As a political science graduate student, I studied how governments work and how citizens behave. I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the “big ideas” from my grad school years, with particular reference to last week’s election.

As a discipline, poli sci is pretty pessimistic. Its scholars think a lot about interests, power, and the often-unintended outcomes that emerge from the interplay of various interest groups and actors. Cooperative outcomes that increase human welfare aren’t impossible, but they aren’t terribly common, either.

Some of the thoughts on my mind, then, most of them worrisome:

  1. Political science has rarely predicted inflection points.
  2. Ethnic/identity salience is more easily triggered than un-triggered.
  3. Institutions rely at least as much on norms as they do on written/formalized rules.
  4. Social norms that restrain individual behavior take a long time to build and we know more about how they are broken than built.
  5. Virtuous and vicious cycles of behavior are an empirical reality.
  6. National/regional political movements provide cover for local score-settling.

And the abstracts of some articles that have stuck in my mind, some directly related to the thoughts above and some not.

(Photo: Gortyn Law Code, in public domain)

Styrofoam Homes

Go figure: Folks are trying out styrofoam homes in Kajiado District in Kenya. They’re apparently economical, pleasantly insulated, and environmentally friendly in a timber-poor environment.

To make houses, polystyrene foam is sandwiched between two slabs of steel wire mesh. Once these have been joined together, they are sprayed with cement to support and strengthen the walls.

The tiny air bubbles trapped in the foam mean polystyrene houses can control climatic conditions better than buildings made of timber or concrete. Because air is a poor conductor of heat, the house stays cool when external temperatures are high and warm when it is cold outside.

A little internet searching reveals that such construction isn’t new: there’s a polystyrene panel manufacturer that’s been operating since at least 2012.

(Photo courtesy of Koto Housing Kenya)

Yellow Fever (Not) in the News

There’s currently a  yellow fever outbreak in Angola that is wildly under-reported. The Economist makes this remark about the disease that really struck me:

“It occupies a strange place on the spectrum of infectious tropical diseases. Not as important as malaria. Not as terrifying as Ebola. Not as revolting as elephantiasis. Yet yellow fever is a grave illness, incurable once contracted. It kills 80,000 Africans a year. And that is a scandal, both because it can be prevented by a single inoculation and also because yellow fever now risks spreading to Asia, where it has never before taken hold.”

(Image courtesy of ZEISS/R. Heinzen, E. Fischer, and A. Mora/Flickr)

Published! Perceptions Affect Conservation

An article that Elizabeth King and I co-authored has been published in Ecology & Society! It’s called Kenyan Pastoralist Societies in Transition and it talks about the role that perceptions of scarcity play in people’s decisions about how to use natural resources (pdf here). Not surprisingly, when people don’t perceive a resource as scarce, they’re less likely to conserve it!

Can Tech Repair the World?

The blog “Africa is a Country” ran an essay last fall about (white) Bay Area residents and their/our often-tech-related efforts and desire to “save Africa”. As you might well expect, the article dwells on the idea that they/we are repeating the same old patronizing, silencing, colonizing rhetoric and practices of previous generations. While I don’t see anything particularly new in the essay, I think it’s worth reading because it keeps in front of us the idea of technology’s limits for solving social ills, as well as the hubris of some of Tech’s loudest boosters. Here’s the article: UPDATE: Silicon Valley and its Awkward Relationship with “Africa”, by Chad McClymonds.

Rise2Shine Childcare

Rise2Shine Childcare is a non-profit preschool in Haiti for which I consult. I’m excited and optimistic about their work because they’ve done their homework and are building their school the “right” way: starting small, building slowly, doing due-diligence to investigate where community needs lie, and, importantly, overseeing the ongoing implementation of this little project.

The model of providing high-quality preschool for children from materially impoverished homes shows promising results for helping kids learn more, stay out of trouble, obtain and hold jobs, and delay parenthood. President Obama is on-board with the concept, as evidenced by his recent State of the Union speech. For one successful, long-running preschool experiment, you can read about the Abecedarian Project, and for an overview of findings about preschooling, see this RAND report. Even in the absence of other interventions, the positive effects of preschool on former students endure for decades.

In addition to its curriculum, Rise2Shine provides complete nutrition to students, feeding them three meals a day. A study of the children’s health when they enrolled showed that 60% were malnourished. Four months later, this number had been reduced by half.

You can see the children and the school in the short film below.

Map of the Sahel

This map is very disorienting. I’ve been looking at it, on and off, for the last 9 months, and it’s all the more relevant since the French military intervened in Mali and terrorists attacked a gas plant in Algeria last week.

It takes a while to focus on the map without mentally zooming in on the political boundaries, but give it a shot.

Look at the arrows indicating resource routes. Look at where the oil and gas lie. Think about the unstable regions and see how they all hug or lie within the Sahara: Algerian gas fields, Northern Mali, Northern Nigeria (land of Boko Haram), Darfur, South Sudan…not to mention the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt.

Now think a little bigger: refugee boats trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa, xenophobic riots in Greece, Libyan weapons in Gaza and Mali, etc.

No one is yet equipped to respond to these challenges. Scholars like Jeffrey Herbst and Igor Kopytoff have identified the central challenge to political order in Africa as “the projection of power over distance.” Western countries are coming up squarely against this problem, too, and this time we feel our citizens’ lives – and our countries’ energy security—are at stake.