Friday, December 03, 2010
Global Challenge: Changing times in Guinea-Bissau

Gazing at the abandoned presidential palace in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau, Stefan Baral was standing where the president had been shot and killed exactly a year before on March 2, 2009.


A day before President Joao Bernardo Vieira was assassinated while fleeing his home, his army chief of staff had been killed in an explosion, according to CNN. Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony, has a history of military coups and the president’s assassination had come after months of violent clashes.


Baral, a faculty member at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, was in Guinea-Bissau working on a research project on HIV-vulnerable populations in West Africa.


“They have one of the worst HIV epidemics in West Africa,” he said from his office in Baltimore, Maryland. “Part of it is that they have yet to develop a well-coordinated, well-funded HIV-response.”


Baral said crumbling infrastructure and drug trafficking are among the other problems facing the poor nation. Despite it all, he said he’s seen real changes in Guinea-Bissau.


“They are incredibly warm people undergoing very difficult challenges,” he said. “The current government is working very hard, is really trying to clean things up and fix their infrastructure. This is the issue with a lot of the Portuguese colonies of East and West Africa.”


Baral’s report from Guinea-Bissau, which neighbors Senegal, is one of the final countries left on our Global Challenge list. (Learn more about the project here.) We still need to hear from Equatorial Guinea and Nauru. If you've even been to one of those countries or you live there, share your story.

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