Monthly Archives: January 2017

Alexander Isak to Borussia Dortmund: A Great Move

After being linked with a host of Europe’s top clubs, including Spanish giants Real Madrid, as well as Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, and Juventus, Swedish-Eritrean football prodigy Alexander Isak completed a €10m move to Borussia Dortmund from AIK Solna last week. The tall, wiry 17-year-old striker, dubbed the “new Zlatan Ibrahimovic”, had recently become the youngest goalscorer in the history of the Swedish national team after netting in a 6-0 win against Slovakia on 12 January 2017.


According to Michael Zorc, former Borussia Dortmund captain and current sporting director, “Alexander is a hugely-talented striker, who many top clubs in Europe wanted to sign. We are delighted that he has chosen Borussia Dortmund. Both BVB and the player himself are convinced that this transfer has great potential.”


While Borussia Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel revealed that he was not directly involved in the signing of Isak, he noted that the transfer gave “the club a long-term planning security” and made “100 percent sense for BVB.” After Isak’s impressive first training session on 25 January 2017, a training match in which he scored two goals, Tuchel described him as “a strong centre-forward who also plays a good passing game and gets goals,” before adding “it’s a joy he’s here.”


This move is highly positive for a number of reasons. In transferring from the Allsvenskan (Sweden’s top division) to the Bundesliga (Germany’s top division), Isak has moved up a level (or two) and shifts to a league with a totally different playing style. These factors will force him to expand and strengthen his skills and significantly broaden his understanding of the game. For example, while the Swedish game is largely based on a fast, direct approach, Germany’s is more dynamic, fluid and technically proficient, with a greater number of better overall players.


Importantly, in joining Borussia Dortmund, Isak is joining a club with a long track-record of producing and developing young players. Currently, the Westfalenstadion is home to some of the brightest young talents in the world, including Frenchman Ousmane Dembele (19 years old), Turkish Emre Mor (19), Germany’s Julian Weigl (21), Portugal’s Raphaël Guerreiro (23), and American Christian Pulisic (18). Additionally, in recent years, the club has also developed exciting talents such as Mario Götze, Marco Reus, Robert Lewandowski, Shinji Kagawa, Mats Hummels, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Ilkay Gundogan, amongst others. The Westfalenstadion should offer Isak the chance to accumulate vital experience and the space to grow and develop. At this stage of his career, Isak is still unproven at the highest level and he needs to gain more experience, playing time and the chance to further refine his game. These opportunities would likely have been unavailable at some of the other clubs with whom he had been linked.


For example, had Isak headed to Real Madrid, there would have been considerable questions raised about his potential playing time, with the Bernabeu already home to forwards Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Alvaro Morata, Lucas Vazquez, and Mariano. One only needs to look at Martin Odegaard, a young attacking-midfielder, as an illustrative case. Odegaard, who joined Madrid at the age of 16 in January 2015 after turning down some of Europe’s super clubs, has made only one substitute La Liga appearance and left the club to join Dutch club Heerenveen on an 18-month loan deal earlier this month. Although it is true that Odegaard has gained extensive experience through training with Madrid’s first-team, he has not been given the opportunity to fully develop in matches – a key necessity for young players.


At BVB, Isak will likely immediately compete for opportunities alongside or behind the club’s superstar striker, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a task made significantly easier by the imminent departure from BVB of 30-year-old Colombian striker Adrian Ramos to China, via La Liga strugglers Granada. In the long term (potentially even as soon as this summer), Isak may even represent a replacement for Aubameyang, as the French-born Gabonese speedster has regularly been linked with a big-money move away from the Westfalenstadion.


Beyond playing time, Isak’s move to Germany is positive because at BVB he will be shielded from the unrelenting demands and suffocating pressures that characterize some of Europe’s largest clubs. For example, Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil has described the intensity of playing for Real Madrid as “unrelenting,” while the club’s fans have been known to disapprovingly whistle at and jeer their own players, including former club captain and World Cup winner Iker Casillas, Gareth Bale, Kaka, and most remarkably, Cristiano Ronaldo. Last year, Real Madrid’s all-time leading goalscorer was booed by his own fans after missing several chances, despite scoring one goal and making another in the club’s win over Roma in the Champions League, while in several recent matches, Ronaldo was booed by Madrid fans, despite being awarded the Ballon d’Or as the world’s best footballer only last month.  Obviously, such pressures and responses are hardly ideal for young players who will inevitably face challenges and dips in form.


For Isak, however, at Borussia the environment will likely be much different and much more conducive to his long term growth and development. The club’s overall approach and its vociferous fans have attracted great admiration from around the world. BVB’s Westfalenstadion holds 81,000 fans and is home to one of European football’s great sights, the “Gelbe Wand” (Yellow Wall), a sea of luminous shirts, scarves and flags. Speaking several years ago, Borussia defender Neven Subotic noted that, “nobody has the atmosphere that we have…to have 25,000 fans behind the South Wall is the biggest difference to any club in the world.” Remarkably, even after losses, BVB fans religiously flock to the mythical south stand to serenade their team in a reflection of the club’s slogan “echte liebe” or “true love”. Such an environment can only help Isak fulfill his tremendous potential.


Finally, Isak’s move to Borussia Dortmund will be well-received in Eritrea, his parents’ country of birth. In Eritrea, football is one of the most popular sports, alongside cycling and long-distance running. European football matches are regularly broadcast on television and throughout the country children can be found on pitches and streets engaged in intense matches. Although Manchester United, Arsenal, Real Madrid, and Barcelona shirts have traditionally been the most commonly seen across Eritrea, it will likely not be long until Isak’s number 14 Borussia Dortmund jersey becomes most popular.


Photo: via

Eritrea – Health and Health Care: Leave No One Behind

In 1946, the right to health was first articulated in the World Health Organization (WHO) Constitution, stating that, “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being.” Shortly thereafter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by UN General Assembly Resolution 217A (III) of 10 December 1948, outlined that everyone has the right to health, including health care. Importantly, beyond its ethical and rights dimensions, health is fundamental to human happiness and overall well-being, while it also makes an important contribution to economic growth and progress, since healthier populations live longer, are more productive, and tend to save more.


A variety of factors influence health status and a country’s general ability to provide quality health services for its people. In addition to ministries of health, other government departments, donor organizations, civil society groups, and both communities and individuals themselves are important actors. For example, investments in roads help improve access to health services, inflation targets can constrain health spending, and civil service reform can aid in creating opportunities (or limits) to hiring more health workers.


Although a low-income, developing country and despite its being located in a challenging, politically unstable region, Eritrea has remained committed to expanding health and health care, and sought to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. Notably, the country has developed coherent, integrated approaches, emphasized equity and inclusion, and utilized cost-effective, pragmatic approaches, involving broad participation and multisectoral collaboration and action. In fact, according to a recent WHO report, upon a number of key health-related measures, Eritrea’s figures are distinguished as amongst the best, both within the region and comparatively across the continent.


In regard to malaria, Eritrea has categorized the infectious disease as an issue of utmost national concern. Significantly, approximately 70% of the population live in endemic, high-risk areas, with the Gash Barka region bearing greater than 60% of the burden. Of note, the most common malaria parasites found in the country are Plasmodium vivax and Plasmodium falciparum. The former leads to severe disease and death, while the latter is the deadliest species of all malaria parasites infecting humans.


To control malaria, Eritrea has employed an assortment of strategies, including the promotion of national campaigns and community based-programs. Many programs have focused on providing extensive awareness and information, organizing focus groups, using preventative interventions, and encouraging the use of medical check-ups and medication. As well, control strategies have incorporated early treatment, indoor spraying, a focus on drainage and larviciding, mass distribution of insecticide-treated nets (ITNs), and a variety of source reduction efforts.


As a result of its multifaceted control measures, nearly 70% of children below age 5 now sleep under ITNs and over 60% of people own at least two ITNs. Consequently, national malaria incidence and deaths have declined dramatically, leading to Eritrea’s malaria intervention being described as “the biggest breakthrough in malaria mortality prevention in history.” According to the WHO, in 2013, Eritrea’s malaria incidence (per 1000 population at risk) was 17.4. By comparison, Djibouti’s incidence was 25, Ethiopia’s was 117.8, Kenya’s 266.3, Somalia’s 78.8, South Sudan’s 153.8, Sudan’s 37.7, Africa’s was 268.6, and the global average incidence was 98.6 (see Figure 1).


Another area of improvement for Eritrea has been in combating tuberculosis (TB), an airborne infectious disease which, alongside HIV/AIDS, is the most important cause of adult mortality in the world. According to the WHO, approximately 9 million people per year are infected with TB, with the large majority of these cases located within the world’s poorest, least developed countries. TB is caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria usually attack the lungs, but they can also damage other parts of the body. TB spreads through the air when a person with TB of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, or talks.


In Eritrea, TB has long been a significant public health issue – representing a major cause of morbidity and mortality – and an influential factor in severe economic loss and the exacerbation of poverty. However, since 1996, Eritrea’s Ministry of Health and the Tuberculosis Control Unit have focused on implementing a multisectoral approach that integrates holistic care, support, and treatment programs – all free of charge. Importantly, prevention has also been a priority, particularly in order to reduce overall health and medical costs. For example, TB sensitization and education programs have regularly been conducted in schools, public venues, and rural communities, while television programs, newspapers, posters, and brochures have raised general awareness. Consequently, Eritrea has made impressive progress in reducing the incidence of TB, with figures that stand out positively in comparison with its neighbours and global averages. Specifically, according to the WHO, Eritrea’s TB incidence (per 100,000 population) for 2014 was 78. By comparison, Djibouti’s incidence was 619, Ethiopia’s 207, Kenya’s 246, Somalia’s 274, South Sudan’s 146, Sudan’s 94, Africa’s 281, and the global average 133 (see Figure 2).


Finally, Eritrea has also made important progress in reducing both neonatal and under-5 mortality. Regarding the former, the first 28 days of life – the neonatal period – represent the most vulnerable time for a child’s survival. Notably, the proportion of child deaths which occur in the neonatal period has increased globally over the last 25 years. In terms of child mortality, the majority of deaths are preventable.  Some of the deaths occur from illnesses like measles, malaria or tetanus, while others result indirectly from marginalization, conflict and HIV/AIDS.  Globally, malnutrition and the lack of safe water and sanitation contribute to approximately half of deaths.


In Eritrea, reducing neonatal and under-5 deaths has involved practical, low-cost interventions delivered in an integrated, effective and continuous way. Measures utilized include, amongst others, expanding antenatal care, offering obstetric care, deliveries involving skilled birth attendants (e.g. who can resuscitate newborns at birth), ensuring good neonatal care (involving  immediate attention to breathing and warmth, hygienic cord and skin care), early initiation of exclusive breastfeeding, providing insecticide-treated bed nets to prevent transmission of malaria, providing antiretrovirals for women with HIV, maintaining safe delivery and feeding practices, and the provision of vaccines, antibiotics, and micronutrient supplementation. Largely as a result of these measures, Eritrea has made tremendous strides in reducing neonatal and under-5 mortality. According to the WHO, in 2015, Eritrea’s neonatal and under-5 mortality rates (per 1000 births) were 18.4 and 46.5. In contrast, Djibouti’s measures were 33.4 and 65.3, respectively, while Ethiopia’s were 27.7 and 59.2, Kenya’s were 22.2 and 49.4, Somalia’s 39.7 and 136.8, South Sudan’s 39.3 and 92.6, Sudan’s were 29.8 and 70.1, and Africa’s were 28 and 81.3 (see Figures 3 and 4).


In its brief existence as an independent country, Eritrea has experienced significant progress within health and health care. This has involved the fulfillment and protection of fundamental rights and serves to provide an important platform for socio-economic growth and development. Moving forward, the country should remain committed to improving the health and development of its greatest asset – its citizens.


Figure 1: Malaria Incidence (per 1000 population at risk)



Figure 2: TB Incidence (per 100,000 population)



Figure 3: 2015 Neonatal Mortality Rate (per 1000 births)



Figure 4: 2015 Under-5 Mortality Rate (per 1000 births)


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