Inter Press Service » Health http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 27 Nov 2014 11:12:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 OPINION: All Family Planning Should Be Voluntary, Safe and Fully Informedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-all-family-planning-should-be-voluntary-safe-and-fully-informed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-all-family-planning-should-be-voluntary-safe-and-fully-informed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-all-family-planning-should-be-voluntary-safe-and-fully-informed/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 23:10:52 +0000 Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137986

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin is the Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

By Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

The tragic deaths and injuries of women following sterilisation in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh have sparked global media coverage and public concern and outrage.

Now we must ensure that such a tragedy never occurs again.

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. Credit: UNFPA

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. Credit: UNFPA

The women underwent surgery went with the best intentions – hoping they were doing the right thing for themselves and their families.

Now their husbands, children and parents are left to live without them, reeling with deep sadness, shock and mourning.

The only way to respond to such a tragedy is with compassion and constructive action, with a focus on human rights and human dignity.

Every person has the right to health. And this includes sexual and reproductive health—for safe motherhood, for preventing and treating HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and for family planning.

Taking a human rights-based approach to family planning means protecting the health and the ability of women and men to make their own free and fully informed choices.

All family planning services should be of quality, freely chosen with full information and consent, amongst a full range of modern contraceptive methods, without any form of coercion or incentives.

The world agreed on these principles 20 years ago in Cairo at the International Conference on Population and Development.

Governments also agreed on the goals to achieve universal education and reproductive health by 2015, to reduce child and maternal mortality, and to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women.As we mourn the loss of the women who died in India, we must make sure that no more women suffer such a fate.

The Cairo Conference shifted the focus away from human numbers to human beings and our rights and choices.

Family planning is a means for individuals to voluntarily control their own bodies, their fertility and their futures.

Research and experience show that when given information and access to family planning, women and men choose to have the number of children they want. Most of the time, they choose smaller families. And this has benefits that extend beyond the family to the community and nation.

Family planning is one of the best investments a country can make. And taking a holistic and rights-based approach is essential to sustainable development.

We know that it is important to tackle harmful norms that discriminate against women and girls. This means, first of all, providing quality public education, and making sure that girls stay in school.

Second, we must empower women to participate in decisions of their families, communities and nations.

Third, we must reduce child mortality so parents have confidence their children will survive to adulthood.

And fourth, we must ensure every woman’s and man’s ability to plan their family and enjoy reproductive health and rights.

As we mourn the loss of the women who died in India, we must make sure that no more women suffer such a fate.

The organisation that I lead, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, supports a human rights-based approach to family planning, and efforts to ensure safe motherhood, promote gender equality and end violence against women and girls.

In all of these areas, India has taken positive steps forward. One such step is the development of appropriate clinical standards for delivering family planning and sterilisation services.

When performed according to appropriate clinical standards with full, free and informed consent, amongst a full range of contraceptive options, sterilisation is safe, effective and ethical. It is an important option for women and couples.

Yet much work remains to be done in every country in the world to ensure universal sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.

The recent events in India highlight the need for improved monitoring and service provision, with the participation of community members and civil society, to ensure that policies are implemented, and to guarantee that services meet national and international standards.

Already the prime minister has quickly initiated investigations, a medical team was sent to the site, and a judicial commission was appointed by the state government to investigate the deaths of the women. I commend them for this immediate response.

Several people, including the doctor who conducted the surgeries and the owner of the firm that produced the suspected medicines, have been arrested. There is every hope that those responsible will be held accountable.

There is also hope that the government will take further measures to restore public confidence in its family planning programs as it upholds the human rights, choices and dignity of women and men.

Any laws, procedures or protocols that might have allowed or contributed to the deaths and other human rights violations should be reformed or changed to prevent recurrences.

As the world’s largest democracy, India is home to more than 1.2 billion people and recognised as a global leader in medicine, science and technology.

Given its leadership and expertise, India can ensure that family planning programmes meet, or exceed, clinical and human rights standards throughout the country.

UNFPA and many partners stand ready to support such an effort.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Internal Ruling Party Wrangles Stall Development in Zimbabwehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/internal-ruling-party-wrangles-stall-development-in-zimbabwe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=internal-ruling-party-wrangles-stall-development-in-zimbabwe http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/internal-ruling-party-wrangles-stall-development-in-zimbabwe/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:39:32 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137970 Supporters (wearing red) of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai after witnessing their party losing to President Robert Mugabe in last year's elections. They now face another disappointment as the fight to succeed Mugabe turns attention away from development. Credit : Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Supporters (wearing red) of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai after witnessing their party losing to President Robert Mugabe in last year's elections. They now face another disappointment as the fight to succeed Mugabe turns attention away from development. Credit : Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

With the ruling Zimbabwe Africa National Union Patriotic Front party in Zimbabwe seized with internal conflicts, attention to key development areas here have shifted despite the imminent end of December 2015 deadline for global attainment of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The eight MDGs targeted to be achieved by 31 December 2015 form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and the world’s leading development institutions.“Every development area is at a standstill here as ZANU-PF politicians are scrambling to succeed the aged Mugabe here and they have apparently forgotten about all the MDGs that the country also needs to attain before the 2015 deadline” – Agrippa Chiwawa, an independent development expert

But, caught up in the succession fight among ruling party politicians as the country’s 90-year old President Robert Mugabe – who has ruled this Southern African nation for the last 34 years – reportedly  battles ill health ahead of the party’s elective congress in December, development experts say the Zimbabwean government has apparently shifted attention from development to party politics.

“Every development area is at a standstill here as Zanu-PF politicians are scrambling to succeed the aged Mugabe here and they have apparently forgotten about all the MDGs that the country also needs to attain before the 2015 deadline,” independent development expert Agrippa Chiwawa told IPS.

The battle to succeed Mugabe pits Justice Minister Emerson Mnangagwa and the country’s Vice-President Joice Mujuru, who is currently receiving a battering from the former’s faction which has won sympathy from the country’s first family, with First Lady Grace Mugabe venomously calling for the immediate resignation of Mujuru before the ZANU-PF congress.

Chiwawa told IPS that despite the government having contained recent strikes by medical doctors here through appeasing them by reviewing their salaries, the public health sector is in a state of decay amid acute shortages of treatment drugs.

Elmond Bandauko, an independent political analyst, agrees with Chiwawa. “Internal fights within the ZANU-PF party are stumbling blocks to national, social and economic prosperity; the ZANU-PF government is concentrating on its party succession battles as the economy is on its knees and there is no projected solution to the economic woes the country faces at the moment,” he told IPS.

Fighting over who will succeed 90-year-old Robert Mugabe at the head of Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party has relegated agriculture, like other development issues, to the side-lines if not outright neglect. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Fighting over who will succeed 90-year-old Robert Mugabe at the head of Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party has relegated agriculture, like other development issues, to the side-lines if not outright neglect. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

“Policy makers from the ZANU-PF government, who are supposed to be holding debates and parliamentary sessions and special meetings on how to move the country forward, are wasting time on political tiffs that do not save the interests of ordinary Zimbabweans,” Bandauko added.

Even the country’s education system has not been spared by the ruling party political milieu, according to educationists here.

“Nobody is talking about revamping the education system here as government officials responsible are busy consolidating their powers in the ruling party while national examinations are fast losing credibility amid leakages of exam papers before they are written, subsequently tarnishing the image of our country’s quality of education,” a top government official in the Ministry of Education told IPS on the condition of anonymity, fearing victimisation.

Even the country’s ordinary subsistence farmers, like Edson Ngulube from Masvingo Province in Mwenezi district, are feeling the pinch of the failure of politicians. “We can’t beat hunger and poverty without support from government with farming inputs,” Ngulube told IPS.

Yet for many Zimbabweans like Ngulube, reaching the MDGs offers the means to a better life – a life with access to adequate food and income.

Burdened with over half of its population starving, based on one of the U.N. MDGs, Zimbabwe nevertheless committed itself to eradicating hunger by 2015. But, with the Zanu-PF government deeply engrossed in tense power wrangles to succeed Mugabe, Zimbabwe may be way off the mark for reaching this target.

In addition, in September, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) sub-regional coordinator for Southern Africa, David Phiri went on record as saying that Zimbabwe could fail to meet the target to eradicating hunger by 2015 owing to conflict and natural disasters.

Zimbabwe’s 2012 National Census showed that more than two-thirds of Zimbabwe’s 13 million people live in rural areas and, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), this year about 25 percent of them need food aid or they will starve, and between now and 2015, 2.2 million Zimbabweans will need food support.

Zimbabwe’s Agriculture Minister Joseph Made is, however, confident the country is set to end hunger before the 2015 deadline. “We have land and we have hardworking people utilising land and for us there is no reason to doubt that by 2015 we would have eradicated hunger,” Made told IPS.

Claris Madhuku, director for the Platform for Youth Development (PYD), a democracy lobby group in Zimbabwe, perceive things rather differently.

“What actuates Zimbabwe’s failure to attaining MDGs is the on-going governance crisis, a result of the ruling ZANU-PF party’s internal wars to succeed the party’s nonagenarian President, which have not made development any easier,” Madhuku told IPS.

According to the PYD leader, in order for Zimbabwe to experience magnificent development, “the ruling party has to try and get its politics right.”

But with Zimbabwean President Mugabe apparently clinging to the helm of the country’s ruling party with renewed tenacity, it remains to be seen whether or not real development will ever touch the country’s soils.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Filipino Farmers Protest Government Research on Genetically Modified Ricehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/filipino-farmers-protest-government-research-on-genetically-modified-rice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=filipino-farmers-protest-government-research-on-genetically-modified-rice http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/filipino-farmers-protest-government-research-on-genetically-modified-rice/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 08:13:49 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137948 Filipino rice farmers claim that national heritage sites like the 2,000-year-old Ifugao Rice Terraces are threatened by the looming presence of genetically modified crops. Credit: Courtesy Diana Mendoza

Filipino rice farmers claim that national heritage sites like the 2,000-year-old Ifugao Rice Terraces are threatened by the looming presence of genetically modified crops. Credit: Courtesy Diana Mendoza

By Diana Mendoza
MANILA, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

Jon Sarmiento, a farmer in the Cavite province in southern Manila, plants a variety of fruits and vegetables, but his main crop, rice, is under threat. He claims that approval by the Philippine government of the genetically modified ‘golden rice’ that is fortified with beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A, could ruin his livelihood.

Sarmiento, who is also the sustainable agriculture programme officer of PAKISAMA, a national movement of farmers’ organisations, told IPS, “Genetically modified rice will not address the lack of vitamin A, as there are already many other sources of this nutrient. It will worsen hunger. It will also kill diversification and contaminate other crops.”

Sarmiento aired his sentiments during a protest activity last week in front of the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), an office under the Department of Agriculture, during which farmers unfurled a huge canvas depicting a three-dimensional illustration of the Banaue Rice Terraces in Ifugao province in the northern part of the Philippines.

“We challenge the government to walk the talk and ‘Be RICEponsible’." -- Jon Sarmiento, a farmer in the Cavite province in southern Manila
Considered by Filipinos as the eighth wonder of the world, the 2,000-year-old Ifugao Rice Terraces represent the country’s rich rice heritage, which some say will be at stake once the golden rice is approved.

The protesting farmers also delivered to the BPI, which is responsible for the development of plant industries and crop production and protection, an ‘extraordinary opposition’ petition against any extension, renewal or issuance of a new bio-safety permit for further field testing, feeding trials or commercialisation of golden rice.

“We challenge the government to walk the talk and ‘Be RICEponsible’,” Sarmiento said, echoing the theme of a national advocacy campaign aimed at cultivating rice self-sufficiency in the Philippines.

Currently, this Southeast Asian nation of 100 million people is the eighth largest rice producer in the world, accounting for 2.8 percent of global rice production, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

But it was also the world’s largest rice importer in 2010, largely because the Philippines’ area of harvested rice is very small compared with other major rice-producing countries in Asia.

In addition to lacking sufficient land resources to produce its total rice requirement, the Philippines is devastated by at least 20 typhoons every year that destroy crops, the FAO said.

However, insufficient output is not the only thing driving research and development on rice.

A far greater concern for scientists and policy-makers is turning the staple food into a greater source of nutrition for the population. The government and independent research institutes are particularly concerned about nutrition deficiencies that cause malnutrition, especially among poorer communities.

According to the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), “Vitamin A deficiency remains a public health problem in the country, affecting more than 1.7 million children under the age of five and 500,000 pregnant and nursing women.”

The vast majority of those affected live in remote areas, cut off from access to government nutrition programmes. The IRRI estimates that guaranteeing these isolated communities sufficient doses of vitamin A could reduce child mortality here by 23-34 percent.

Such thinking has provided the impetus for continued research and development on genetically modified rice, despite numerous protests including a highly publicised incident in August last year in which hundreds of activists entered a government test field and uprooted saplings of the controversial golden rice crop.

While scientists forge ahead with their tests, protests appear to be heating up, spurred on by a growing global movement against GMOs.

Last week’s public action – which received support from Greenpeace Southeast Asia and included farmers’ groups, organic traders and consumers, mothers and environmentalists – denounced the government’s continuing research on golden rice and field testing, as well as the distribution and cropping of genetically-modified corn and eggplant.

Monica Geaga, another protesting farmer who is from the group SARILAYA, an organisation of female organic farmers from the rice-producing provinces in the main island of Luzon, said women suffer multiple burdens when crops are subjected to genetic modification.

“It is a form of harassment and violence against women who are not just farmers but are also consumers and mothers who manage households and the health and nutrition of their families,” she told IPS.

Geaga said she believes that if plants are altered from their natural state, they release toxins that are harmful to human health.

Protestors urged the government to shield the country’s rice varieties from contamination by genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and instead channel the money for rice research into protecting the country’s biodiversity and rich cultural heritage while ensuring ecological agricultural balance.

Though there is a dearth of hard data on how much the Philippine government has spent on GMO research, the Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines estimates that the government and its multinational partner companies have spent an estimated 2.6 million dollars developing GM corn alone.

Furthermore, activists and scientists say GMOs violate the National Organic Law that supports the propagation of rice varieties that already possess multi-nutrients such as carbohydrates, minerals, fibre, and potassium, according to the Philippines’ National Nutrition Council (NNC).

The NNC also said other rice varieties traditionally produced in the Philippines such as brown, red, and purple rice contain these nutrients.

Danilo Ocampo, ecological agriculture campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines, said the “flawed regulatory system” in the BPI, the sole government agency in charge of GMO approvals, “has led to approvals of all GMO applications without regard to their long-term impact on the environment and human health.”

“The problem with the current regulatory system is that there is no administrative remedy available to farmers once contamination happens. It is also frustrating that consumers and the larger populace are not given the chance to participate in GM regulation,” said Ocampo.

“It is high time that we exercise our right to participate and be part of a regulatory system that affects our food, our health and our future,” he asserted.

Greenpeace explained in statements released to the media that aside from the lack of scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs on human health and the environment, they also threaten the country’s rich biodiversity.

Greenpeace Philippines said genetically modified crops such as corn or rice contain built-in pesticides that can be toxic, and their ability to cross-breed and cross-pollinate other natural crops can happen in an open environment, which cannot be contained.

Last week saw farmer activists in other cities in the Philippines stage protest actions that called on the government to protect the country’s diverse varieties of rice and crops and stop GMO research and field-testing.

In Davao City south of Manila, stakeholders held the 11th National Organic Agriculture Congress. In Cebu City, also south of Manila, farmers protested the contamination of corn, their second staple food, and gathered petitions supporting the call against the commercial approval of golden rice.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Survivors of Sexual Violence Face Increased Riskshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/survivors-of-sexual-violence-face-increased-risks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=survivors-of-sexual-violence-face-increased-risks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/survivors-of-sexual-violence-face-increased-risks/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 19:10:55 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137954 Students at Columbia University carry mattresses on the Carry That Weight National Day of Action to show their support for survivors of sexual assault. Credit: Warren Heller

Students at Columbia University carry mattresses on the Carry That Weight National Day of Action to show their support for survivors of sexual assault. Credit: Warren Heller

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

“A recurring nightmare for me is I’m trying to tell someone something and they are not listening. I’m yelling at the top of my lungs and it feels like there is a glass wall between us.”

Jasmin Enriquez is a two-time survivor of rape. Like two-thirds of rape survivors, Enriquez knew her rapists. The first was her boyfriend when she was a high school senior, the second a fellow student she had been seeing at college."What I hear from women is that they are told to shut up: they are told to shut up during it, they are told to shut up after it, and they are told by some institutions to continue keeping their mouths shut." -- Dr. Dana Sinopoli

“[The nightmare] shows how I’ve always felt that even as someone coming forward as a survivor, as soon as I start giving details to some people, they instantly start to shut it down. As in, you’re being crazy or hyperemotional, instead of taking it as one whole piece and looking at it holistically,” Enriquez told IPS.

Women who have experienced gender-based violence are at a significantly increased risk of developing a mental disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression, within one to three years after the assault.

Enriquez explains, “People don’t seem to understand that after being sexually assaulted, it’s something that you have to live with the rest of your life.

“Most of the time there is an incredible amount of anxiety or depression or other mental health issues that people just don’t understand,” she says. “It’s been five years since I was sexually assaulted and I still live through the trauma.”

A special Lancet series published Friday says that one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence from their partner.

Researcher Dr. Susan Rees from the University of New South Wales told IPS that there is strong evidence that if you are exposed to gender-based violence, you are at a much higher risk for the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression as well as attempted suicide.

Rees’ research into the connection between gender-based violence and mental disorders has shown that women who have been assaulted are significantly more likely to experience a mental disorder in their lifetime.

Women who have experienced one form of gender-based violence have a 57 percent chance of developing a mental disorder compared with only 28 percent of women who have not experienced gender-based violence. Significantly, 89 percent of women who have experienced gender-based violence three to four times will develop a mental disorder.

It is important for survivors of assault to get early support to help prevent the onset of an associated mental disorder, Rees said.

However, experiencing sexual assault can be confusing, especially for young women and girls, and this may prevent them from getting early intervention.

Enriquez explains that she didn’t initially realise the connection between her response to the trauma of sexual violence and the symptoms she was experiencing.

“I’ve recently been very jumpy, kind of always tense and I get startled easy, I didn’t understand why that was happening and it was very frustrating.”

Enriquez’ fiancé, who is not the person who assaulted her, used to jump out at her or play games to surprise her, and she found this really upsetting,

“I didn’t understand that it was related to me being sexually assaulted until probably my senior year of college. I feel like if I had been educated about what normal symptoms are of PTSD, I would have known that there was more to it and that it was a normal piece of it.”

Community attitudes affect prevalence

Community attitudes towards women, including strong patriarchal attitudes, power imbalance and gender inequality contribute to the prevalence of violence against women, said Rees.

“It makes sense that if you change attitudes then you can change prevalence, you can reduce the risk for women,” she said.

This is what Enriquez aims to do with her organisation Only With Consent. Together with her fiancé, Enriquez speaks with students to raise awareness and change young people’s attitudes towards sexual assault.

“I definitely think that there’s a gender piece that goes with both the mental health and the sexual assault and that it ties back to any time a woman expresses an emotion of being angry or upset we immediately call her out for being irrational or emotional.” Enriquez told IPS.

“If the majority of survivors who are speaking out are women, and they are expressing these feelings of being upset or being angry, or being really hurt, or any of those feelings, we discredit what they are saying, because we see them as irrational creatures,” Enriquez said.

Psychologist Dr. Dana Sinopoli told IPS that it is also important to consider how gender-based violence affects men, especially men who experience childhood sexual assault. She said that this should involve addressing gender stereotypes such as that men are aggressive or impulsive.

As Carry That Weight explains on its website:

“People of all gender identities can experience and be affected by sexual and domestic violence—women are not the only survivors just as men are not the only perpetrators. We strive to challenge narrow and inaccurate representations of what assault looks like and also acknowledge that these forms of violence disproportionately affect women, transgender, gender nonconforming, and disabled people.”

Sinopoli added however that changing community attitudes towards women was an important part of addressing gender-based violence.

“Consistently what I hear from women is that they are told to shut up, they are told to shut up during it, they are told to shut up after it, and they are told by some institutions to continue keeping their mouths shut.

“That is what we can link to the depression and the anxiety and a lot of the re-experiencing and retriggering that is so central to PTSD,” Sinopoli said.

Sinopoli added that “the way that society reacts, to someone who discloses or is struggling, is so important.

“The more that people speak up the more that we will actually see a decline in such significant psychological symptoms.”

Early intervention can help

When helping someone who has experienced violence, Rees said that it is important that friends and family reassure the victim that it “it is never acceptable to be hit, or to be treated violently or to be raped.”

Unfortunately, population studies show that women who have experienced gender-based violence are also at increased risk of experiencing it again in their lifetime.

“This might be the case because often men target women who are vulnerable, so if she has a mental disorder or trauma as a result of an early childhood adversity, she may be more likely to be targeted by men who in a sense benefit from powerlessness, inequality and fear.”

She said that warning bells that a relationship is unhealthy include controlling, jealous behaviour such as telling you who you should socialise with, or getting jealous because you are doing better than he is at university.

“Often women think that’s because he cares about me, he’s worried about me and that why he wants to know where I am all the time,”

But this type of behaviour should actually be seen as a warning of future emotional and perhaps physical abuse, Rees said.

Rees said that the reasons women don’t leave violent relationships are complex,

“She may be suffering depression. She may not have the economic resources to leave. She may worry about the children, and rightly so, because often people end up homeless, and she also may know that she’s at high risk of retaliation from the perpetrator if she leaves.”

Rees also explained that it is important for health practitioners to receive training so they can be confident to ask about domestic violence and respond appropriately.

She added that primary health care responses need to be integrated with community-based services to ensure that survivors have access to help that is sensitive to the complex impact of sexual violence.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Water and Sanitation Report Card: Slow Progress, Inadequate Fundinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/water-and-sanitation-report-card-slow-progress-inadequate-funding/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-and-sanitation-report-card-slow-progress-inadequate-funding http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/water-and-sanitation-report-card-slow-progress-inadequate-funding/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 23:06:32 +0000 Tim Brewer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137930 A woman from Pune, Timor-Leste, collects water for her home. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

A woman from Pune, Timor-Leste, collects water for her home. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

By Tim Brewer
LONDON, Nov 24 2014 (IPS)

The Ebola crisis has thrown into sharp relief the issue of water, sanitation and hygiene in treating and caring for the sick. Dying patients are being taken to hospitals which never had enough water to maintain hygiene, and the epidemic has pushed the system to the breaking point.

Last week’s World Health Organisation report produced by UN Water, the Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water (GLAAS), has provided a sobering picture of water and sanitation services so necessary to healthcare systems around the world.Half of the lucky minority of rural poor who have gained access to improved water and sanitation are still using unregulated services which have no way to guarantee safety.

The annual analysis is a gold mine of data, covering 94 countries and using information from 23 aid agencies. The story it tells this year is of modest progress alongside inadequate funding, poor monitoring and a desperate need for skilled regulators, administrators and engineers to keep services running effectively.

Among GLAAS’s most important findings are how poorly finances intended to address the water and sanitation crisis are targeted.

Urban areas are prioritised over rural regardless of the level of need – nearly three-quarters of aid spending goes to urban areas and more than 60 percent of aid is in the form of loans, which are rarely targeted to the poor. This suggests rural people and the urban poor are being further marginalised.

Nearly three-quarters of the aid targeted at water, sanitation and hygiene programmes is spend on drinking water supplies. Despite these investments in improved supplies, 1.8 billion people drink water contaminated with fecal matter.

It’s fair to assume that this is linked to the 2.5 billion people still without a basic toilet. Too much money is being invested in finding or making clean water, and not enough in containing the waste that contaminates it.

Addressing these issues effectively requires money, training and monitoring, but these, too, are falling short.

The GLAAS report has found that financing for water and sanitation in 70 percent of responding countries covers less than 80 percent of the costs of operation and maintenance for existing services.

Regulators, administrators and engineers are all in short supply in developing countries. All are of critical importance in the safe, sustainable delivery of water and basic sanitation services, fundamental to good public health and economic growth. Yet it’s rare to see plans or investment to address this. Only one third of countries even have a human resources strategy in place.

Monitoring is also seriously lacking. WaterAid is examining the sanitation transformations that took place in East Asia, and has found that responsive monitoring which actually leads to changes in policy and investment is a crucial driver of sanitation improvements. But very few countries have enough personnel to collect or review data, or enough senior political interest to demand it.

Less than half of countries have a formal rural service provider that reports to a regulatory authority, and effectively monitors its services.

What does this mean? It means that half of the lucky minority of rural poor who have gained access to improved water and sanitation are still using unregulated services which have no way to guarantee safety.

But there is progress. Proposals for the U.N.’s new Sustainable Development Goals, now under negotiation, include goals for water and sanitation services that include schools and healthcare facilities along with households.

This is of huge importance, particularly when we look at the Ebola crisis in West Africa – where healthcare systems in Liberia and Sierra Leone in particular were broken in years of conflict and never properly rebuilt – or this year’s cholera outbreak in Ghana, where 20,900 people were infected and 166 died of preventable infection transmitted by water contaminated with human waste.

The GLAAS reports that less than one-third of countries have a plan for drinking water or sanitation in health care facilities and schools that is implemented, funded and reviewed regularly. These targets are long overdue.

The state of water and sanitation is a global health crisis. Some 10 million children have died since 2000 of diarrhoeal illnesses, directly linked to growing up without clean water, basic toilets and hygiene. It is possible to reach everyone, everywhere with water, sanitation and hygiene education, but it will require strong political will, a comprehensive and accelerated approach, and financing.

As the U.N. negotiates the new Sustainable Development Goals, including a strong, dedicated goal on water and sanitation that incorporates water and sanitation targets into goals on healthcare will address many of these shortfalls.

What the present shortlist does not include, but which the GLAAS report has clearly shown, is the need to find and train people to drive this transformation, and keep services running sustainably.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: How Ebola Could End the Cuban Embargohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-how-ebola-could-end-the-cuban-embargo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-how-ebola-could-end-the-cuban-embargo http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-how-ebola-could-end-the-cuban-embargo/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 15:07:08 +0000 Arturo Lopez-Levy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137922 A technician sets up an assay for Ebola within a containment laboratory. Samples are handled in negative-pressure biological safety cabinets to provide an additional layer of protection. Photo by Dr. Randal J. Schoepp/cc by 2.0

A technician sets up an assay for Ebola within a containment laboratory. Samples are handled in negative-pressure biological safety cabinets to provide an additional layer of protection. Photo by Dr. Randal J. Schoepp/cc by 2.0

By Arturo Lopez-Levy
DENVER, Colorado, Nov 24 2014 (IPS)

When was the last time in recent memory a top U.S. official praised Cuba publicly? And since when has Cuba’s leadership offered to cooperate with Americans?

It’s rare for politicians from these two countries to stray from the narratives of suspicion and intransigence that have prevented productive collaboration for over half a century.Political leadership in the White House and the Palace of Revolution could transform a fight against a common threat into joint cooperation that would not only promote the national interests of the two countries, but also advance human rights—and the right to health is a human right—throughout the developing world.

Yet that’s just what has happened in the last few weeks, as Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power spoke favourably of Cuba’s medical intervention in West Africa, and Cuban President Raul Castro and former president Fidel Castro signaled their willingness to cooperate with U.S. efforts to stem the epidemic.

As it causes devastation in West Africa and strikes fear in the United States and around the world, Ebola has few upsides. But one of them may be the opportunity to change the nature of U.S.-Cuban relations, for the public good.

Don’t squander the opportunity

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel once famously said. “And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”

President Barack Obama should heed his former chief of staff’s advice and not squander the opportunity presented by the Ebola crisis. Political leadership in the White House and the Palace of Revolution could transform a fight against a common threat into joint cooperation that would not only promote the national interests of the two countries, but also advance human rights—and the right to health is a human right—throughout the developing world.

Political conditions are ripe for such turn. Americans strongly support aggressive actions against Ebola and would applaud a president who placed more value on medical cooperation and saving lives than on ideology and resentment.

In the sixth in a series of editorials spelling out the need for a change in U.S. policy towards Cuba, for example, The New York Times called on Obama to discontinue the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program—which makes it relatively simple for Cuban doctors providing medical services abroad to defect to the United States—because of its hostile nature and its negative impact on the populations receiving Cuban doctors’ support and attention in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

“It is incongruous for the United States to value the contributions of Cuban doctors who are sent by their government to assist in international crises like the 2010 Haiti earthquake while working to subvert that government by making defection so easy,” the editorial board wrote. The emphasis should be on fostering Cuba’s medical contributions, not stymieing them.

As Cuba’s international health efforts become more widely known, it’s become increasingly clear how unreasonable it is for Washington to assume that all Cuban presence in the developing world is damaging to U.S. interests.

A consistent opening for bilateral cooperation with Cuba by governmental health institutions, the private sector, and foundations based in the United States can trigger positive synergies to update U.S. policy towards Havana. It will also send a friendlier signal for economic reform and political liberalisation in Cuba.

The whole world has something to gain

The potential for cooperation between Cuba and the United States goes far beyond preventing and defeating Ebola. New pandemics in the near future could endanger the national security, economy, and public health of other countries—killing thousands, preventing travel and trade, and choking the current open liberal order by encouraging xenophobic hysteria. At this dramatic time, the White House needs to think with clarity and creativity.

As the leading nation in the Western Hemisphere, the United States should propose the creation of a comprehensive continental health cooperation and crisis response strategy at the next Summit of the Americas, which will be held in Panama City in April 2015. As numerous Latin American countries have already asserted, Cuba must be included at the summit.

Havana has developed extensive medical expertise at home and abroad, with more than 50,000 doctors and health personnel serving in 66 countries. Preventive measures, early detection, strict infection controls, and natural disaster crisis response coordination are essential parts of the Cuban approach to nipping pandemics in the bud.

The lack of some of these components in already-collapsed health systems explains the failures of governance that inflamed the impact of Ebola in West Africa.

As a senator and presidential candidate, Obama was one of the loudest critics of looking at Cuba through the glasses of the Cold War. As president, it isn’t enough for him to just retune the same embargo policy implemented by his predecessors. He must adjust the U.S. official narrative about Post-Fidel Cuba: It is not a threat to the United States but a country in transition to a mixed economy, and a positive force for global health.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service. This article originally appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

The author can be contacted at Alopezca@du.edu or on Twitter at @turylevy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pakistan’s Paraplegics Learning to Stand on their Own Feethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pakistans-paraplegics-learning-to-stand-on-their-own-feet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistans-paraplegics-learning-to-stand-on-their-own-feet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pakistans-paraplegics-learning-to-stand-on-their-own-feet/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 13:34:03 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137914 Over 2,000 paraplegic women have received treatment and training at the Paraplegic Centre of Peshawar, in northern Pakistan, enabling them to earn a living despite being confined to a wheelchair. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Over 2,000 paraplegic women have received treatment and training at the Paraplegic Centre of Peshawar, in northern Pakistan, enabling them to earn a living despite being confined to a wheelchair. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan , Nov 24 2014 (IPS)

When a stray bullet fired by Taliban militants became lodged in her spine last August, 22-year-old Shakira Bibi gave up all hopes of ever leading a normal life.

Though her family rushed her to the Hayatabad Medical Complex in Peshawar, capital city of Pakistan’s northern-most Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, doctors told the young girl that she would be forever bed-ridden.

Bibi fell into a deep depression, convinced that her family would cast her aside due to her disability. Worse, she feared that she would not be able to care for her daughter, particularly since her husband had succumbed to tuberculosis in 2012, making her the sole breadwinner for her family.

“All credit goes to the Paraplegic Centre of Peshawar (PPC), which enabled me to become a working man. Otherwise, my family would have starved to death." -- 40-year-old Muhammad Shahid, a victim of spinal damage
In the end, however, all her worries were for naught.

Today Bibi, a resident of the war-torn North Waziristan Agency, part of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), is a successful seamstress and embroiderer, and is skillfully managing the affairs of her small family.

She says it is all thanks to the Paraplegic Centre of Peshawar (PPC), the only one of its kind in Pakistan, where she is currently undergoing intensive physiotherapy. Already Bibi is showing signs of recovery, but this is not the only thing that is making her happy.

“Her real joy is her craft, which she learned here at the Centre,” Bibi’s mother, Zar Lakhta, tells IPS. “We are no longer concerned about her future.”

According to PPC’s chief executive officer, Syed Muhammad Ilyas, the majority of those who suffer injury to their spinal cords remain immobile for life, unable to work and fated to be a burden on loved ones.

“Breaking a bone or two is one thing,” Ilyas tells IPS. “Breaking one’s back or neck is another story altogether.

“Unlike any other bone in our body, the spine, or back bone, not only keeps our body straight and tall, it also protects the delicate nervous tissue called the spinal cord, which serves as a link between our body and the brain,” he asserts.

If this link is severed, a person can literally become a prisoner in their own body, losing bowel and bladder control, as well as the use of their legs. The physical aspect of such an injury alone is enough to plunge a patient into the deepest despair; but there is yet another tragic twist to the story.

“Believe it or not about 80 percent of our patients are the only bread winners of their respective families,” Ilyas explains, “while more then 90 percent live below the poverty line [of less than two dollars a day].”

As a result, finding employment for paraplegics is just as vital as offering physical therapy that might help them regain the use of their lower bodies.

“This is why we have employed experts who teach tailoring, computer sills, dress-making, glass painting and embroidery to our patients,” Ilyas says.

Most families travel between 100 and 400 km to reach the Centre, but their efforts are always rewarded. In addition to skills training, the PPC offers individual and group counseling sessions, all part of a holistic treatment programme aimed at helping patients find dignity and self-worth, to be able to function on their own after being discharged from the PPC.

This has certainly been the case for 40-year-old Muhammad Shahid, who suffered a backbone injury in the Swat district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province back in 2008.

“I was sent to the PPC, after surgery in a government-run hospital, where I learnt embroidery,” he tells IPS. “Now I am working in my home and earn about 300 dollars a month, which I use to educate and feed my two sons and daughter.”

“All credit goes to the PPC, which enabled me to become a working man. Otherwise, my family would have starved to death,” he tells IPS over the phone from his hometown in the Swat Valley.

The PPC was established in 1979 by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to provide free treatment to those wounded in the 1979-1989 Soviet War in Afghanistan. Later, the KP government took control of the facility, opening it up to locals in the tribal areas.

The Centre has been a godsend for the thousands who have sustained injuries in crossfire between militants and government forces, who since 2001 have been battling for control of Pakistan’s mountainous regions that border Afghanistan.

Director-general of health services for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Dr. Waheed Burki, says more than 40,000 people, including 5,000 security personnel and 3,500 civilians, have been killed since 2005 alone. A further 10,000 have been injured.

Burki says about 90 percent of those who frequent the PPC were injured in war-related incidents.

But Amirzeb Khan, a physiotherapist at the Centre, says that the patients are not all victims of violence. Some have sustained injuries from road traffic accidents and small firearms, while others suffered spinal cord damage as a result of falls from rooftops, trees and electricity poles.

“The majority of the patients are between 20 and 30 years old, which means they fall into the ‘most productive’ age-group,” Khan tells IPS.

Many of these young people come to the Centre fearing the worst; yet almost all leave as productive members of society, armed with the skills necessary to make a living despite being confined to a wheelchair.

Those with minor injuries have even learned how to walk again.

“About 3,000 of our patients are now prospering,” Khan adds. “Of these, roughly 2,000 are women.”

In a country where the average annual income is 1,250 dollars, according to government data, the cost of treating spinal injuries is far greater than most families can afford. In places like the United States and Europe, experts tell IPS, rehabilitating such a patient could run up a bill touching a million dollars.

By offering their services for free, and developing low-cost technologies and equipment, the PPC has closed a yawning health divide in a vastly unequal country, at least for paraplegics.

An administrator named Ziaur Rehman tells IPS that plans are afoot to turn the PPC into a ‘Centre of Excellence’ for patients with spinal cord injuries from all over the country and the region over the next five years.

The hope is to create a multiplier effect, whereby those who receive training here will take their newly acquired skills and pass them on to their respective communities.

A living example of this is 24-year-old Shaheen Begum, who now runs her own embroidery centre in the Hangu district of KP. Immobilised by a back injury in 2011, she underwent rigorous physical therapy at the Centre, while also learning computer skills and fabric painting.

“Now I am imparting these skills to women in my neighbourhood and my children are in good schools,” she tells IPS happily.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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The Double Burden of Malnutritionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/the-double-burden-of-malnutrition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-double-burden-of-malnutrition http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/the-double-burden-of-malnutrition/#comments Sun, 23 Nov 2014 11:26:37 +0000 Gloria Schiavi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137900 These Haitian schoolchildren are being supported by a WFP school feeding programme designed to end malnutrition which, for many countries, can be a double burden where overweight and obesity exist side by side with under-nutrition. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

These Haitian schoolchildren are being supported by a WFP school feeding programme designed to end malnutrition which, for many countries, can be a double burden where overweight and obesity exist side by side with under-nutrition. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

By Gloria Schiavi
ROME, Nov 23 2014 (IPS)

Not only do 805 million people go to bed hungry every day, with one-third of global food production (1.3 billion tons each year) being wasted, there is another scenario that reflects the nutrition paradox even more starkly: two billion people are affected by micronutrients deficiencies while 500 million individuals suffer from obesity.

The first-ever Global Nutrition Report, a peer-reviewed publication released this month, and figures from the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) highlight a multifaceted and complex phenomenon behind malnutrition.

“The double burden of malnutrition [is] a situation where overweight and obesity exist side by side with under-nutrition in the same country”, according to Anna Lartey, FAO’s Nutrition Director. “And we are seeing it in lots of the countries that are developing economically. These are the countries that are going through the nutrition transition”."The double burden of malnutrition [is] a situation where overweight and obesity exist side by side with under-nutrition in the same country. And we are seeing it in lots of the countries that are developing economically. These are the countries that are going through the nutrition transition” – Anna Lartey, FAO’s Nutrition Director

Beside hunger then, governments and development organisations have also been forced to start tackling over-nutrition.

“While under-nutrition still kills almost 1.5 million women and children every year, growing rates of overweight and obesity worldwide are driving rising diseases like cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes”, Francesco Branca, Director of Nutrition for Health and Development at the World Health Organisation (WHO), explained in a statement.

The solution does not lie in the realm of science, health or agriculture alone. It requires a cross sectorial and multi dimensional approach that includes education, women’s empowerment, market regulation, technological research and, above all, political commitment.

For this reason, representatives of governments, multilateral institutions, civil society and the private sector met in Rome for the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) that took place at FAO headquarters on Nov. 19-21. Jointly organised by FAO and WHO, the conference came 22 years after its first edition and, unfortunately, addressed the same unsolved problem.

Malnutrition, in all its forms, has repercussions on the capability of people to live a full life, work, care for their children, be productive, generate a positive cycle and improve their living conditions. Figures from the Global Nutrition Report estimate that the cost of malnutrition is around four to five percent of national GDP, suggesting that prevention would be more cost-effective.

With the goal of improving nutrition through the implementation of evidence-based policies and effective international cooperation, ICN2 produced two documents to help governments and stakeholders head in the right direction: the Rome Declaration on Nutrition and a Framework for Action.

The conference also heard a strong call for accountability and for the strengthening of nutrition in the post-2015 development agenda.

Flavio Valente, who represented civil society organisations at ICN2, remarked that “the current hegemonic food system and agro-industrial production model are not only unable to respond to the existing malnutrition problems but have contributed to the creation of different forms of malnutrition and the decrease of the diversity and quality of our diets.”

This position was shared by many speakers, who stressed the negative impact that advertising of unhealthy food has, mainly on children.

According to a participant from Chile, calling obesity a non-communicable disease is misleading, because it spreads through the media system very effectively. He added that Chile currently risks being brought before the World Trade Organisation (WTO) by multinational food companies for its commitment to protect public health by regulating the advertising of certain food.

This happens in a country where 60 percent of people suffer from over-nutrition and one obese person dies every hour, according to the permanent representative of Chile at FAO, Luis Fernando Ayala Gonzalez.

In an address to the conference, Queen Letizia of Spain also acknowledged the responsibility of the private sector: “It is necessary to help the economic interests converging towards public health. It is worth remembering that no country in the world has been able to reverse the epidemic of obesity in all age groups. None.”

The outcome of ICN2 brought consensus around a plan of action and some key targets.

Educating children about healthy habits and women who are in charge of feeding the family was recognised as crucial, as was breastfeeding, which should be encouraged (through paid maternity leave and breastfeeding facilities in the workplace), and the need to empower women working in agriculture.

Supporting small and family farming would also give people better opportunities to eat local, fresh and seasonal produce as well as fruit and vegetables, reducing the consumption of packaged, processed food that is often low in nutrients, vitamins and fibres and high in calories, sugar, salt and fats.

However, teaching people how to eat is not enough, if they cannot easily access quality food – hence the need for relevant policies targeting the food chain and distribution.

Initiatives like the Fruit in Schools programme proposed by New Zealand go in the right direction, especially when implemented within a coordinated policy that promotes physical activity and a healthy lifestyle that fights consumption of alcohol and tobacco.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

 

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Will Myanmar’s ‘Triple Transition’ Help Eradicate Crushing Poverty?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/will-myanmars-triple-transition-help-eradicate-crushing-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-myanmars-triple-transition-help-eradicate-crushing-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/will-myanmars-triple-transition-help-eradicate-crushing-poverty/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 14:21:38 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137872 Novice monks beg for alms near the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon. The barbed wire barricades behind them were once a permanent feature on this busy road, but have been pushed aside to make way for peace. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Novice monks beg for alms near the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon. The barbed wire barricades behind them were once a permanent feature on this busy road, but have been pushed aside to make way for peace. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
YANGON, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

Myanmar is never out of the news for long. This has been the case since a popular uprising challenged military rule in 1988. For over two decades, the country was featured in mainstream media primarily as one unable to cope with its own internal contradictions, a nation crippled by violence.

Since 2011, with the release of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, as well as democratic reforms, the country experienced a makeover in the eyes of the world, no longer a lost cause but one of the bright new hopes in Asia.

U.S. President Barack Obama has visited the country twice since 2011, most recently this month for the 9th annual East Asia Summit (EAS).

But beneath the veneer of a nation in transition, on the road to a prosperous future, lies a people deep in poverty, struggling to make a living, some even struggling to make it through a single day.

A woman loads bags full of vegetables on to a train carriage in Yangon. Many use the slow-moving passenger trains to transport goods that they will sell in outlying villages, since few can afford road transportation. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman loads bags full of vegetables on to a train carriage in Yangon. Many use the slow-moving passenger trains to transport goods that they will sell in outlying villages, since few can afford road transportation. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

Arranging vegetables into small bundles, this vendor tells IPS she wakes up at three a.m. three days a week to collect her produce. She makes roughly three dollars each day. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Arranging vegetables into small bundles, this vendor tells IPS she wakes up at three a.m. three days a week to collect her produce. She makes roughly three dollars each day. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The commercial capital, Yangon, is in the midst of a construction boom, yet there are clear signs of lopsided and uneven development. By evening, those with cash to burn gather at popular restaurants like the Vista Bar, with its magnificent view of the Shwedagon Pagoda, and order expensive foreign drinks, while a few blocks away men and women count out their meagre earnings from a day of hawking home-cooked meals on the streets.

The former likely earn hundreds of dollars a day, or more; the latter are lucky to scrape together 10 dollars in a week.

 

A woman waits for passersby to buy bird feed from her in Yangon. The World Bank estimates that over 30 percent of Myanmar's 53 million people lives below the national poverty line. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman waits for passersby to buy bird feed from her in Yangon. The World Bank estimates that over 30 percent of Myanmar’s 53 million people lives below the national poverty line. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A man pushes a cartful of garbage near a busy intersection in Yangon. The 56-billion-dollar economy is growing at a steady clip of 8.5 percent per annum, but the riches are obviously not being shared equally. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man pushes a cartful of garbage near a busy intersection in Yangon. The 56-billion-dollar economy is growing at a steady clip of 8.5 percent per annum, but the riches are obviously not being shared equally. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The World Bank estimates that the country’s 56.8-billion-dollar economy is growing at a rate of 8.5 percent per year. Natural gas, timber and mining products bring in the bulk of export earnings.

Still, per capita income in this nation of 53 million people stands at 1,105 dollars, the lowest among East Asian economies.

The richest people, who comprise 10 percent of the population, control close to 35 percent of the national economy. The government says poverty hovers at around 26 percent of the population, but that could be a conservative estimate.

According to the World Bank’s country overview for Myanmar, “A detailed analysis – taking into account nonfood items in the consumption basket and spatial price differentials – brings poverty estimates as high as 37.5 percent.”

 

A man collects his harvest from a vegetable plot that is also a putrid water hole just outside of Yangon. The World Bank estimates that at least 32 percent of all children below five years of age in Myanmar suffer from malnutrition. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man collects his harvest from a vegetable plot that is also a putrid water hole just outside of Yangon. The World Bank estimates that at least 32 percent of all children below five years of age in Myanmar suffer from malnutrition. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

Women walk with heavy loads after disembarking from a train. Thousands still rely on the dilapidated public transport system, with its century-old trains and belching buses, because they cannot afford anything else. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women walk with heavy loads after disembarking from a train. Thousands still rely on the dilapidated public transport system, with its century-old trains and belching buses, because they cannot afford anything else. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The country’s poor spend about 70 percent of their income on food, putting serious pressure on food security levels.

But these are not the only worrying signs. An estimated 32 percent of children below five years of age suffer from malnutrition; more than a third of the nation lacks access to electricity; and the national unemployment rate, especially in rural areas, could be as high as 37 percent according to 2013 findings by a parliamentary committee.

Over half the workforce is engaged in agriculture or related activities, while just seven percent is employed in industries.

 

Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi admits that Mynmar suffers from a long list of woes, but insists that the first step to healing is the return of the rule of law. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi admits that Mynmar suffers from a long list of woes, but insists that the first step to healing is the return of the rule of law. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

Large-scale construction is not unusual in downtown Yangon, where foreign investments and tourist arrivals are pushing up land prices. Officials say they expect around 900,000 visitors this year. Arrivals have shot up by 49 percent since 2011. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Large-scale construction is not unusual in downtown Yangon, where foreign investments and tourist arrivals are pushing up land prices. Officials say they expect around 900,000 visitors this year. Arrivals have shot up by 49 percent since 2011. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Development banks call Myanmar a nation in ‘triple transition’, a nation – in the words of the World Bank – which is moving “from an authoritarian military system to democratic governance, from a centrally directed economy to a market-oriented economy, and from 60 years of conflict to peace in its border areas.”

 

A man pushes his bicycles laden with scrap in the streets of Yangon. Despite rapid economic growth, disparities seem to be widening, with 10 percent of the population enjoying 35 percent of Myanmar’s wealth. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man pushes his bicycles laden with scrap in the streets of Yangon. Despite rapid economic growth, disparities seem to be widening, with 10 percent of the population enjoying 35 percent of Myanmar’s wealth. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The biggest challenge it faces in this transition process is the task of easing the woes of its long-suffering majority, who have eked out a living during the country’s darkest days and are now hoping to share in the spoils of its future.

 Edited by Kanya DAlmeida

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AIDS Is No. 1 Killer of African Teenagershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/africa-aids-is-no-1-killer-of-teenagers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-aids-is-no-1-killer-of-teenagers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/africa-aids-is-no-1-killer-of-teenagers/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 12:02:19 +0000 Sam Olukoya http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137909 As AIDS becomes the leading cause of death of adolescents in Africa, empowering youth – especially girls - to make safe life choices and avoid HIV is crucial. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues

As AIDS becomes the leading cause of death of adolescents in Africa, empowering youth – especially girls - to make safe life choices and avoid HIV is crucial. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues

By Sam Olukoya
LAGOS, Nigeria, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

Two years ago, Shola* was kicked out of the family house in Abeokuta, in southwestern Nigeria, after testing HIV-positive at age 13. He was living with his father, his stepmother and their seven children.

“The stepmother insisted that Shola must go because he is likely to infect her children,” Tayo Akinpelu, programme director of Youth’s Future Savers Initiative, told IPS.

SNAPSHOT: ADOLESCENTS WITH HIV IN TANZANIA
In Tanzania, alarmingly, HIV prevalence has not decreased among adolescents aged 15-19 between 2007 and 2012.
An estimated 165,000 adolescents live with HIV, of whom 97,000 girls and 68,000 boys. Some were born with HIV and others contracted it as children or teens.
To better understand their needs, the Tanzania Commission for AIDS conducted a survey of HIV positive teenagers aged 15-19 in seven regions.
Among its findings:

• Four in ten were sexually active, mostly with a regular partner.
• Just a little more than half reported using condoms at last sex.
• A third reported they had experienced sexual violence. Few had discussed the abuse with friends or relatives or reported it to authorities.
• Just over one-third were aware of family planning and child protection services
The study urges delivering information about child protection and sexual and reproductive health services to teens living with HIV so they can make safe life choices and access care and support.
National HIV prevalence is five percent, according to UNAIDS.
Akinpelu turned to Shola’s mother, who had remarried. But she refused, arguing that his father should be responsible for their son.

“Shola felt as an outcast,” says Akinpelu. Eventually, Shola’s grandparents took him in.

HIV among teenagers is devastating families in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa, where AIDS has become the leading cause of death among adolescents.

“This is absolutely unacceptable,” says Craig McClure, chief of HIV programmes with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in New York. “What’s more, AIDS-related deaths are decreasing for all age groups except adolescents.”

The global AIDS death toll fell by 30 percent between 2005 and 2012 but increased by 50 percent among adolescents, says a UNICEF report.

Fear of seeking help

One reason for this shocking teen death toll, says Dr. Arjan de Wagt, chief of HIV/AIDS with UNICEF in Abuja, is the low number of adolescents on antiretroviral treatment (ART).

Of the 3.1 million Nigerians living with HIV, half are under 24 years. But only two out of ten HIV positive youth over 15 and just one out of ten under 15 received the lifesaving drugs in 2013, de Wagt told IPS.

Rejection by family and society, as happened to Shola, or fear of rejection, prevents adolescents from seeking help.

“Many HIV positive adolescents are dying in silence because they are too ashamed to access treatment,”’ Blessing Uju, a Lagos-based youth counsellor, told IPS.

“The shame is even bigger for the girls. In Nigeria, if you are HIV positive, the impression is that you are a commercial sex worker,” she says.

Sally* did not tell her parents or siblings when she tested HIV positive four years ago, at age 19.

“At the family level, there is a lot of stigma,” she told IPS.

Although aware of the danger of not taking her medication regularly, Sally often skipped it to avoid being seen with pills at home.

“As a young person, you need a confidant. If you are not strong, you might end up taking your life,” she says.

Teenagers need family help to stay on ART, says Akinpelu.

Shola’s grandparents would normally cook the first meal for the day in the afternoon until Akinpelu explained to them that the pills can cause nausea on an empty stomach and Shola needed a hearty meal earlier.

Uju says that treatment fatigue hits adolescents hard. “Some say they prefer to die than to continue taking their drugs,” she says.

adolescents_graph_unaids

High death toll

Of the 2.1 million adolescents living with HIV worldwide in 2012, more than 80 per cent are in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Malawi, with 93,000 HIV positive teenagers, has 6,900 annual AIDS-related adolescent deaths.

The death toll is linked to late diagnosis and starting ART too late, explains Judith Sherman, of UNICEF in Lilongwe.

Malawi’s policy is that all children seen in health facilities should be offered an HIV test. “Unfortunately, this does not happen routinely,” she says.

FAST FACTS

AIDS DEATHS AMONG ADOLESCENTS IN 2013


• South Africa 11,000
• Tanzania 10,000
• Ethiopia 7,900
• Kenya 7,800
• Zimbabwe 6,500
• Uganda 6,300
• Malawi 5,600
• Zambia 4,400
• Mozambique 3,900
• Rwanda 1,200
• Lesotho 1,200

Teenagers’ adherence to ART is lower than adults, says Sherman, “for a range of reasons like treatment fatigue, depression, fear of stigma, denial and unstable family relationships.”

Tanzania’s estimated 165,000 adolescents living with HIV face similar challenges as their peers in Nigeria and Malawi. (see sidebar)

Allison Jenkins, chief of HIV/AIDS with UNICEF in Tanzania, says that one effective way to help teenagers are clubs.

“Teen clubs improve adherence to treatment, especially among members who attend regularly,” she told IPS.

HIV among teen girls

Alarmingly, adolescent HIV prevalence is highly gendered, with teen girls showing infection rates that UNAIDS calls ”unacceptably high”.

Teen girls aged 15-19 in Mozambique have a prevalence of seven per cent, more than double the boys of the same age. Botswana presents a similar scenario.

Lucy Attah, of the Lagos-based Women and Children Living with HIV & AIDS, blames poverty.

“Girls have to trade sex for money to sustain themselves,” she says. “The pressure for money is higher in the cities where teenage girls compete to get the best mobile phones and clothes.”

Adolescents become sexually active, try drugs and alcohol, feel invulnerable, and experience the social and economic pressures of becoming an adult. HIV and the lack of youth-friendly health services compound the problem, says the UNICEF report.

 “We must do more and do it well, focusing on sub-Saharan Africa and on adolescent girls, where the heaviest burden lies,” says McClure.

*names changed to protect privacy

Edited by Mercedes Sayagues

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True Gender Equality for Both Women and Menhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/op-ed-true-gender-equality-for-both-women-and-men/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-true-gender-equality-for-both-women-and-men http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/op-ed-true-gender-equality-for-both-women-and-men/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 05:52:38 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137836

Joseph Chamie is a former Director of the United Nations Population Division.

By Joseph Chamie
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

Numerous international and national efforts have focused on gender equality and the empowerment of women. The United Nations, for example, has convened four world conferences on women – Beijing in 1995, Nairobi in 1985, Copenhagen in 1980 and Mexico City in 1975 – and Member States have adopted various international agreements, such as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Achieving true gender equality, however, requires resolving the many inequities, discriminations and barriers that are encountered by both women and men. Concentrating attention, policies and programmes on the inequalities, biases and obstacles confronting women, while largely ignoring those of men is an unproductive and limited strategy for attaining true gender equality.

In hazardous jobs, such as mining, logging, fishing, iron and steel work, men are the overwhelming majority of workers. Consequently, men are far more likely to suffer a fatal injury or work-related disability than women.
It is important to acknowledge at the very outset that women’s rights and men’s rights are human rights. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and are entitled to life, liberty and security of person.

Moreover, empowering women and men is also an indispensable tool for advancing both human and national development, reducing poverty and improving prospects for future generations.

Men suffer a widely acknowledged disadvantage compared to women with respect to perhaps the most important dimension: longevity. Men have shorter life spans and higher mortality than women at virtually all ages. Males, on average live four years less than females worldwide, five years less in the United States, seven years less in Japan and 10 years less in Russia.

The gender gap is considerable at older ages due to men’s shorter lives. Men are a growing minority across each 10-year age group of the aged population worldwide (Figure 1). For example, men represent 40 percent of those in the age group 80-89 years.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

In some countries, for example, Austria, China, Italy, Russia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, statutory retirement ages for men are higher than for women, even though men have fewer potential years for retirement than women. Furthermore, when they meet the same participatory requirements, men receive similar social security benefits as women, without regard to men’s fewer years of retirement.

With respect to education, girls generally outperform boys in most developed countries by receiving better grades and teacher assessments, while having lower school dropout rates than boys. In the crucial area of higher education, women now outnumber men worldwide in both university attendance and graduation.

Regarding childbearing and childrearing, fathers in most industrialised countries generally have little to say about the outcome of a pregnancy even though they will likely incur responsibilities and costs for the child.

Women have the right to choose whether to have an abortion or carry the pregnancy to term, even if the father objects to her decision. Moreover, while women may opt for artificial insemination to have a child, men are generally barred from using surrogacy to have a child.

Men who stay home to raise children are often looked down upon for not financially supporting their families. However, it is still acceptable for women to stay at home and focus on childcare.  Also in contrast to women, men are still expected to enter the labour force early in their lives and are under enormous pressure to be successful providers for the material needs of their families.

Also in cases of divorce in the Western world where child custody is involved, courts most often rule in favour of the mother rather than the father. Moreover, in those instances where the father does receive child custody, he is less likely to receive child support than custodial mothers.

With regard to the occupational structure of most countries, men have to cope with the widely unacknowledged “glass floor”.The glass floor is the invisible barrier limiting the entry of men into the traditional occupations of women, such as pre-school and primary teachers, secretaries/administrative assistants, nurses and medical/dental aides. If gender equality is desired at higher occupational levels, then it is also necessary at lower levels as well.

In hazardous jobs, such as mining, logging, fishing, iron and steel work, men are the overwhelming majority of workers. Consequently, men are far more likely to suffer a fatal injury or work-related disability than women. Moreover, the construction, manufacturing and production sectors are shrinking in many developed countries, resulting in fewer traditional jobs for men.

Concerning sports, boys and men are more often encouraged to participate in more violent activities, such as football, hockey and boxing, than girls and women. As a result, men are at greater risk of suffering serious sports-related injuries and incurring long-term or permanent brain damage.

In armed conflicts both domestic and international, men and boys are more likely to participate in combat than women. Consequently, men suffer more trauma, disability and death than women in such conflicts.

Men have a higher probability of being victims of homicide. Among ethnic minorities, homosexuals and marginalised groups, men are also more likely to experience discrimination, hostility and violence than women. In addition, men are more often incarcerated in jails, prisons and hospitals and serve longer jail terms than women for the same criminal offenses, with women being released earlier on parole than men.

Men are more likely than women to be homeless, often the result of job loss, insufficient income, mental health issues or drug addiction. The consumption of tobacco and alcohol is greater for men than women globally, with men smoking nearly five times as much as women and six percent of male deaths related to alcohol compared to one percent of female deaths.

Also, in most countries more men than women commit suicide. Nevertheless, men are less likely than women to seek help and treatment for alcoholism, substance abuse, mental illness and chronic health problems.

It should be evident that simply focusing attention, policies and programmes on the inequalities and biases that women encounter while largely ignoring those facing men will obstruct and delay efforts to attain gender equality. Achieving true gender equality requires recognising and resolving the inequities, discrimination and barriers that are encountered by both women and men alike.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Depression Casts Cloak of Infertility Over Kashmir Valleyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/depression-casts-cloak-of-infertility-over-kashmir-valley/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=depression-casts-cloak-of-infertility-over-kashmir-valley http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/depression-casts-cloak-of-infertility-over-kashmir-valley/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 12:02:32 +0000 Shazia Yousuf http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137817 Of the 100 patients seen at Kashmir’s psychiatric facilities each day, roughly 75 are women. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

Of the 100 patients seen at Kashmir’s psychiatric facilities each day, roughly 75 are women. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

By Shazia Yousuf
SRINAGAR, India, Nov 19 2014 (IPS)

It was almost midnight when Mushtaq Margoob woke up to the incessant ringing of his phone. It was his patient, a young woman whom Margoob, a renowned Kashmiri psychiatrist and head of the department of psychiatry at the only psychiatric hospital in Kashmir, had been treating for depression for many years.

“See me now. I don’t have time till tomorrow,” the patient screamed down the phone. “I might have killed myself by then.”

The woman was educated, had a PhD in Bioscience and came from a rich family. After her marriage last year, the symptoms of her depression had begun to fade away, and she had started crawling back to a normal life.

“I have gifted lifelong sadness to my daughter.” -- Shahzada Akhtar, a Kashmiri woman living with PTSD
But the day she made the hasty phone call to the doctor, she had learned something that shattered her life into fragments all over again.

“I have been diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure [POF],” she said to Margoob at his home. “If I cannot have any children, what should I live my life for?”

Although Margoob was able to pacify her with timely counseling and medication, the diagnosis and the constant reminder of being infertile have taken his patient back into deep depression.

“The mental stress due to ongoing conflict has taken a toll on the physical health of young women, especially their maternal health,” explains Margoob.

Downward spiral of mental and maternal health

The conflict here, which dates back to the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, has claimed some 60,000 lives as Indian armed forces, Pakistani troops and ordinary Kashmir citizens struggle to assert control over the bitterly contested region.

The “pro-freedom” uprising of 1989, launched by Kashmiris who resented the presence of Indian and Pakistani troops, morphed into a long-standing resistance movement that has left deep scars on Kashmiri society.

As a result, the area known as the Kashmir Valley, tucked in between towering mountain ranges in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, is witnessing an alarming increase in childlessness and infertility among local women.

Infertility is becoming increasingly common among young Kashmiri women, who are suffering from stress and trauma due to the long-standing conflict in the region. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

Infertility is becoming increasingly common among young Kashmiri women, who are suffering from stress and trauma due to the long-standing conflict in the region. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

Physical and mental health experts cite conflict-related stress as the main cause of the health crisis among women, which has robbed thousands of their fertility.

The most recent Indian National Family Health Survey (NFHS) indicates that 61 percent of currently married Kashmiri women report one or more reproductive health problems.

This is significantly higher in comparison to the national average of 39 percent. The percentage of POF among infertile women below 40 years of age is also abnormally high – 20 to 50 percent – when compared to the nationwide rate of one to five percent.

“Stress causes structural changes in the brain and disturbs the secretion of various neurotransmitters. These changes lead to various physical ailments including thyroid malfunction, which in turn can cause infertility among women of childbearing age,” Margoob explains to IPS.

According to statistics available with the Government Psychiatric Diseases Hospital, 800,000 Kashmiris are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and most of them are women. PTSD, like many other mental health disorders, directly affects women’s childbearing capacity.

Stress and stigma

In Kashmir, psychiatry OPDs are run at two hospitals – the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (S.M.H.S) facility in Srinagar, and the Government Psychiatric Diseases hospital – six days a week. Of almost 100 patients seen at each OPD every day, 75 are females.

One of the many women who frequents these facilities is 20-year-old Mir Afreen, who grew up watching her mother battling mental illness. In 1996, when Afreen was only two, her mother, Shahzada Akhtar, received a message about the death of her cousin brother in cross-fire.

“I had met him only a day before. I couldn’t believe he had died. I tried to cry out his name but had lost my voice,” recalls Akhtar.

Akhtar never recovered from the sudden, devastating news, and soon developed PTSD.

In consequence, her daughter’s childhood quickly slipped into darkness. Afreen often saw her mother sedated, sleeping for days at a time, going without food, and crying for no apparent reason.

She was always taken along to psychiatric clinics, hospitals and faith healers where her mother searched for a cure for her condition. Happiness was far, far away from their home.

“I have gifted lifelong sadness to my daughter,” Akhtar tells IPS tearfully.

Her statement is not too far from the truth. For the last several years, Afreen has been complaining about chest pains and breathlessness. Akhtar first thought it was due to stress, or her daughter’s recent obesity.

But when Afreen developed facial hair and her monthly cycles became irregular, Akhtar took her to a gynecologist.

“The doctor uttered a long name which I couldn’t understand, so I asked her to explain the [condition] to me,” Akhtar says. “She told me if this is not treated, Afreen will never have children.”

Afreen was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Unknown and almost non-existent before the conflict, the syndrome now affects 10 percent of Kashmiri females including teenagers.

A major endocrine disorder in women of reproductive age and one of the leading causes of infertility across the world, PCOS has emerged as another major cause of infertility among Kashmiri women in recent years.

Medical experts have identified stress as one of the main reasons for the emergence of PCOS in Kashmir. A study conducted by Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), the major tertiary healthcare facility in Kashmir, on 112 women with PCOS, found that 65 to 70 percent of them had psychiatric illnesses including PTSD, depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Akhtar feels helpless. Unlike other ailments, Afreen’s particular health issue is not up for discussion, not even with her own siblings. If the word spreads, she thinks, it will ruin her daughter’s marriage prospects and thus destroy her life.

“Even when I take her to the doctor, I make sure that no one sees us,” reveals Akhtar. “I first check the place and then let my daughter in.”

Afreen does the same. She has not revealed anything about her condition to her friends. When the girls talk about their grooms and life after marriage, she keeps mum. When it is the time for her medication, she secretly swallows the pills without water.

Current trends predict a bleak future

Nazir Ahmad Pala, an endocrinologist at SKIMS, says that more and more young females visit the endocrinology department for various disorders. A good number of disorders, he says, are born from depression.

Anxiety over the possibly loss of male breadwinners is prompting many women to choose education and employment over marriage. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

Anxiety over the possibly loss of male breadwinners is prompting many women to choose education and employment over marriage. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

“In the past, the department received mostly older patients but now around 20 percent of our patients are school and college going girls with endocrine abnormalities. This trend is disturbing,” Pala tells IPS.

The young girls mostly complain of obesity and ovulatory disturbances that bring a temporary halt in their menstrual cycles.

The condition is called Central Hypogonadism and is common in depressed women, explains the doctor. Another equally frequent ailment is galactorrhea, a spontaneous secretion of milk from the mammary glands due to an abnormal increase of prolactin levels in the body caused by antidepressant intake.

“Unfortunately most of the [conditions], in one way or the other, lead to infertility. And the root cause of all these [conditions] is the stressful life that women have been living in the post-conflict era,” Pala asserts.

Experts here are sounding warnings about the catastrophic shape that women’s health in the Valley is taking. A study conducted at SKIMS on maternal health indicates that 15.7 percent of Kashmiri women of childbearing age will never have an offspring without clinical intervention.

Another conflict-related cause of infertility among Kashmiri women is late marriages. Over the war years, the marital age has risen from an average of 18-21 to 27-35 years. Because of economic insecurity and anxiety over the prospect of losing male breadwinners, women are choosing education and employment over marriage.

“Economic instability and insecurity is eating our society like termites,” says Margoob.

The doctor reveals that cut-throat competition in schools and colleges to earn a secure future has hugely disturbed the mental health of young girls as well.

Dissociative Disorders (DD), marked by disruptions or breakdowns in identity, memory or perception, are rapidly increasing in young school- and college-going girls, along with conditions like Panic Disorder, all of which interrupt the “smooth journey to motherhood”, Margoob says.

*Patients’ names have been changed on request.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Concerned Over Ebola Backlashhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-n-concerned-over-ebola-backlash/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-concerned-over-ebola-backlash http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-n-concerned-over-ebola-backlash/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 18:36:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137797 Anthony Banbury, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), visits a safe burial site for Ebola victims in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

Anthony Banbury, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), visits a safe burial site for Ebola victims in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 17 2014 (IPS)

The United Nations, which is working on an emergency footing to battle the outbreak of Ebola, is worried about the potential for further isolation of the hardest-hit nations in West Africa.

“It’s a psychological fear,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told IPS. “And there has been a chain reaction.”

He cautioned there should be no action which is not based on science or medical evidence.

Ban said the fight against Ebola is a “top priority” of the United Nations and admitted he was conscious of the fact the disease has had a “heavy impact on all spectrum of our lives.”

The secretary-general’s warning resonated in North Africa last week when Morocco postponed hosting the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations because of its own fears over the possible spread of the Ebola virus.

Morocco’s Sports Minister Mohamed Ouzzine was quoted as saying: “This decision is motivated mainly by the medical risks that this virus would put on the health of our fellow Africans.”

The New York Times said “fear of the spread of Ebola has now thrown Africa’s most important soccer tournament into disarray.”

As a result, the Confederation of African Football last week removed Morocco as host of the biennial soccer championship, with Equatorial Guinea stepping in to take over as host of the 16-team games early next year.

The three West African countries most affected by Ebola are Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Geographically, Morocco is a North African country.

Last July, Seychelles forfeited a match after it refused to permit a team from Sierra Leone into the country because of concerns over Ebola.

Meanwhile, there were unconfirmed reports that Philippine peacekeepers who returned home from Liberia recently were to be temporarily settled either on an island off Luzon or put on board a ship.

Asked for a response, U.N. Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that once peacekeepers have completed their missions, these soldiers come under the authority of their respective governments.

Ban told IPS he was thankful for the countries that have pledged “massive resources” to fight Ebola.

These include the United States, UK, China, Japan, France and several other European countries.

He singled out the United States for providing over 4,000 soldiers and Cuba for providing hundreds of medical personnel in the fight against Ebola.

Last week U.S. President Barack Obama asked Congress to approve over six billion dollars in emergency funding to fight the spread of the disease and also protect U.S. nationals.

“I hope the lame duck Congress will approve it,” Ban said.

According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the overall financial requirements are estimated at about 988 million dollars, of which 60 percent has been funded.

Additionally, there is also a Trust Fund, with 58.7 million dollars as pledges.

Anthony Banbury, head of the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), told the 193-member General Assembly last week that “Ebola is a fearsome enemy and we will not win the battle by chasing it.”

The death toll has exceeded “a grim milestone” of 5,000, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, “with the real number likely to be much higher,” he added.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported over 13,000 Ebola cases in eight countries: the three most affected nations in West Africa, plus the United States, Spain, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal.

As the crisis continues, about 3,300 children have become Ebola orphans while food prices have been rising in the three affected countries, schools have closed and traders have refused to bring their products to the market.

At the just-ended summit of G20 world leaders from both developed and developing nations, the secretary-general said, “The rate of new cases is showing signs of slowing in some of the hardest-hit parts of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. But as rates decline in one area, they are rising in others.”

And transmission continues to outpace the response, he added at the conclusion of the summit Sunday in Brisbane, which was hosted by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

He urged the G20 to step up “so that we can meet the 70/70 goal: isolating and treating 70 per cent of all Ebola cases and providing safe and dignified burials to 70 per cent of those who have died.”

He said the international community must also address the secondary impacts on healthcare, education and soaring food prices caused by a disruption in farming that could provoke a major food crisis affecting one million people across the region.

“It is important we do not further isolate these three countries by imposing travel restrictions. This will not impede the spread of the virus: it will simply hamper our efforts to mobilise support,” he argued.

According to the WHO, there is some evidence that case incidence is no longer increasing nationally in Guinea and Liberia, but steep increases persist in Sierra Leone.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Ebola Outbreak Affects Key Development Areas in Sierra Leonehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/ebola-outbreak-affects-key-development-areas-in-sierra-leone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ebola-outbreak-affects-key-development-areas-in-sierra-leone http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/ebola-outbreak-affects-key-development-areas-in-sierra-leone/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 09:06:02 +0000 Lansana Fofana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137787 School children in Freetown walking with their parents. Ebola has badly affected the country’s education. Credit: Lansana Fofana/IPS

School children in Freetown walking with their parents. Ebola has badly affected the country’s education. Credit: Lansana Fofana/IPS

By Lansana Fofana
FREETOWN, Nov 17 2014 (IPS)

The outbreak of the deadly Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone has badly affected the West African country’s move towards meeting key development goals. 

Agriculture, which is the mainstay of the economy, has been the worst hit as many farmers have succumbed to the disease and many more have abandoned their farmlands in fear of contracting the virus.

“We have lost hundreds of farmers to the Ebola epidemic and the regions where agricultural activities take place have become epicentres of the pandemic, such as Kailahun in the east and Bombali in the north,” Joseph Sam Sesay, the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, told IPS.

In early November, 4,059 people were killed by the virus. This surpasses neighbouring Liberia which, until a month ago, was the worst-hit country.

Sesay said that 60 percent of the country’s six million people are engaged in agriculture but as a result of the crisis many are now unemployed. The sector, he said, also contributes to 60 percent of the country’s GDP. However, with the current epidemic, Sierra Leone’s prospect of meeting the millennium development goal of eradicating hunger and poverty is a far-off dream.

“We had made significant gains before we were confronted with this Ebola problem. Food productivity had increased tremendously and local foodstuffs were plenty on the markets. We had even begun exporting cash crops to neighbouring countries, including rice, and cocoa. All these have been stultified,” Sesay added.

When President Ernest Bai Koroma came to power in 2007, he made agriculture a key priority in his developmental blueprint, which he dubbed “Agenda for Change and Prosperity”.

Bilateral partners, including China and India, have donated hundreds of tractors and other agricultural machinery to help boost the country’s move towards food security. But no farmers are working currently and experts predict that there will be food scarcity if the Ebola epidemic is not contained soon.

“I have discontinued my farming activities temporarily. More than 15 of my colleagues have been killed by Ebola and I cannot risk going to the farm any more. The situation is frightening,” Musa Conteh, a farmer in Sierra Leone’s northern district of Bombali, told IPS.

The health sector is also badly affected by the epidemic. Even though this West African nation has a free government healthcare scheme for children under the age of five, pregnant and lactating mothers; people are refusing to go to hospitals and peripheral health centres as they fear being suspected of having Ebola and being quarantined.

However, many of the country’s doctors, nurses and auxiliary health workers are also fearful and have not been going to work. Sierra Leone has lost five medical doctors, more than 60 nurses and auxiliary health workers to Ebola.

“It is a terrible crisis facing us. With our poor health infrastructure, we were certainly not prepared for this epidemic. Perhaps, with the intervention of our international partners, we may be able to defeat the disease much quickly,” Sierra Leone’s Health Minister Abubakar Fofana told IPS.

He, however, said that even after the Ebola epidemic has been contained, the country will be faced with an upsurge in infant mortality because children are not being vaccinated for killer diseases at the moment. “The situation is worrisome,” he said.

Sierra Leone had one of the worst infant mortality rates in the world with 267 deaths recorded per 1,000 live births just after the country’s civil war ended in 2002. In 2012 the infant mortality rate had more than halved to 110 deaths per 1,000 live births. In recent years, it had started making progress, with a free healthcare scheme introduced by Koroma. But the Ebola epidemic is sure to reverse all those gains.

The outbreak of the epidemic has forced all schools and learning institutions to close. The government says it cannot put a timeline on when they will resume.

The country’s educational system was considered to be at low, even before the outbreak of the deadly Ebola disease, with falling standards and persistent industrial actions by teachers.

The Minister of Education Minkailu Bah told IPS that the Ebola crisis is having a dire effect on education and that this will be felt even after the disease has been contained.

“Already, our children are not attending schools or colleges. Their future is uncertain and we do not even know how many drop-outs we’ll have on our hands if this Ebola crisis is not contained,” Bah said.

The government has introduced a teaching programme, on radio and television, for school-going kids. But many say this is ineffectual.

“I don’t think this will work. How many families can afford TV or radio and batteries in their homes? How reliable is the electricity supply? The kids today prefer viewing Nigerian films and watching football. They are not interested in that teaching programme,” Michael Williams, a father of four in Freetown, told IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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25 Years After Rights Convention, Children Still Need More Protectionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/25-years-after-rights-convention-children-still-need-more-protection/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=25-years-after-rights-convention-children-still-need-more-protection http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/25-years-after-rights-convention-children-still-need-more-protection/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2014 20:21:55 +0000 Susan Bissell http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137762 Uwottyja children in the Amazon community of Samaria in Venezuela. Credit: Humberto Márquez/IPS

Uwottyja children in the Amazon community of Samaria in Venezuela. Credit: Humberto Márquez/IPS

By Susan Bissell
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 14 2014 (IPS)

Next week marks 25 years since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a historic commitment to children and the most widely accepted human rights treaty in history.

The CRC outlines universal rights for all children, including the right to health care, education, protection and the time and space to play. And it changed the way children are viewed, from objects that need care and charity, to human beings, with a distinct set of rights and with their own voices that deserve to be heard.Fresh in my mind right now are deadly bomb attacks on schools in northern Nigeria and Syria, Central American children braving perilous journeys to flee violence, children being recruited to fight in South Sudan and gang rapes in India.

My career with UNICEF began the same year the CRC was adopted, and I have seen profound progress in children’s lives. Since 1989 the number of children who die before their fifth birthday has been reduced by nearly half. Pregnant women are far more likely to receive antenatal care and a significantly higher proportion of children now go to school and have clean water to drink.

We must celebrate these important achievements.

But this anniversary must also be used to critically examine areas of children’s lives that have seen far less progress and acknowledge that millions of children have their fundamental rights violated every day.

Fresh in my mind right now are deadly bomb attacks on schools in northern Nigeria and Syria, Central American children braving perilous journeys to flee violence, children being recruited to fight in South Sudan and gang rapes in India.

These crises and events are stunning in their scope and depravity, and in the depth of suffering our children endure. As upsetting as they are, they play out alongside acts of violence against children that happen everywhere and every day.

Twenty-five years after the adoption of the CRC, we clearly must do more to protect our children.

Our children endure a cacophony of violence too often in silence, and too often under an unspoken assumption that violence against children is to some degree tolerable.

Our children endure it in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence of the long-lasting physical, psychological, emotional, and social consequences they suffer well into adulthood because of such violence.

Our children endure it in spite of most countries’ national laws and international law and despite 25 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Earlier this year UNICEF released the largest-ever global compilation of data on violence against children. The figures are staggering and provide indisputable evidence that violence against children is a global phenomenon, cutting across every geographic, ethnic, cultural, social and economic divide. The data shows violence against children is tolerated, even justified, by adults and by children themselves.

As we reflect on the last 25 years, we must also look forward and commit to doing things differently. Now, more than any other point in history, we have the knowledge and ability to protect our children, and with this ability comes the obligation to do so.

First, children need protection from the crises that play out in the public eye, like conflicts in Iraq, Syria, South Sudan and others.

We also need programmes that work at preventing and responding to the everyday, hidden violence. Initiatives like a programme in Turkey that reduced physical punishment of children by more than 70 percent in two years. Or child protection centres in Kenya that respond to thousands of cases every year. Or a safe schools programme in Croatia that cut the number of children being bullied in half.

Countries must also strengthen their child protection systems – networks of organisations, services, laws, and processes – that provide families with support so they can make sure children are protected.

And finally, as we approach the end of the Millennium Development Goals, world leaders must prioritise child protection as we look towards 2015 and beyond.

As a long-serving UNICEF official, and more importantly as a mother, I want for children everywhere what I want for my own daughter – a world where every child is protected from violence.

The 25th Anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child provides an opportunity to recommit to the promise we made to children, and take the urgent action needed now to protect them from harm.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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War-ravaged South Sudan Struggles to Contain AIDShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/war-ravaged-south-sudan-struggles-to-contain-aids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-ravaged-south-sudan-struggles-to-contain-aids http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/war-ravaged-south-sudan-struggles-to-contain-aids/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2014 07:01:03 +0000 Charlton Doki http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137757 Displaced women flee fighting by boat to Mingkaman, Awerial County, Lakes State, South Sudan.. Only one out of 10 HIV positive mothers can get the drugs needed to avoid infecting her baby. Credit: Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin/IPS

Displaced women flee fighting by boat to Mingkaman, Awerial County, Lakes State, South Sudan.. Only one out of 10 HIV positive mothers can get the drugs needed to avoid infecting her baby. Credit: Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin/IPS

By Charlton Doki
JUBA, Nov 14 2014 (IPS)

Dressed in a flowered African print kitenge and a blue head scarf, Sabur Samson, 27, sits pensively at the HIV centre at Maridi Civil Hospital in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria state. 

Today she paid 20 South Sudanese pounds (about six dollars) for a bodaboda (motorbike taxi) ride to the centre and will have to skimp on food in the next days.

South Sudan at a quick glance

After four decades of on-off war, South Sudan gained independence from north Sudan in July 2011. But stability did not last long.

Violence rooted in political and ethnical power struggles erupted in December 2013, shattering the dreams of peace for the world’s newest country (pop 11.3m).

After independence, South Sudan improved services for its estimated 150,000 people living with HIV. The new conflict reversed these gains, disrupting not only health services but water and sanitation, roads and bridges, food security and community networks.

The United Nations estimates that 1.9 million people are newly displaced. Some fled to neighbouring countries, while 1.4 million huddle in 130 camps in South Sudan. Of these, 70 are so remote they are inaccessible to relief agencies, says a study by the HIV/AIDS Alliance.

South Sudan has limited human resources, organisational and technical capacity to respond to HIV, says the study.

Key drivers of the HIV epidemic in South Sudan include early age at first sex, low level of knowledge about HIV and of condom use, rape and gender-based sexual violence, high rate of sexually transmitted diseases and stigma.

The highest HIV prevalence is found in the three southern Greater Equatoria states bordering Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Western Equatoria, where Samson and Mongo live, HIV prevalence is seven percent, more than double the national rate.

She will be hungry and few will help her in the village, although she is blind and a single mother of two children.

“Many people fear to come close because they fear they will contract HIV,” she told IPS.

Seated next to her, Khamis Mongo, 32, has lived with HIV for five years now and has suffered similar rejection. “Some people don’t want to eat from the same plate with me,” he says.

Mongo and Samson are among nearly 1,000 HIV positive people receiving care at the centre, of whom 250 are in antiretroviral therapy (ART). They are lucky: in South Sudan, just one out of 10 people needing ART gets it.

The clinic sees patients coming from as far as 100 kilometres.

“So many patients are dying because they can’t afford transport to collect their medicine here,” clinical officer Suzie Luka told IPS.

A one-way, 80 km bodaboda trip from Ibba to Maridi costs 150 South Sudanese pounds (47 dollars).

The challenges in Maridi are a microcosm of those that the world’s newest country, South Sudan, faces in containing the HIV epidemic.

Newly independent from north Sudan in 2011, and emerging from Africa’s longest civil war over 21 years with one of the world’s lowest human development statistics, South Sudan plunged again into fighting in December 2013.

The national HIV prevalence rate is under three percent and rising steadily, according to the Joint United Nations Programme for HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

This translates into 150,000 people living with HIV in a country whose social fabric and physical infrastructure was destroyed by successive wars.

 “Moving corpses”

Evelyn Letio, from the South Sudan Network of People Living with HIV, describes poor access, quality and continuity of health services, underpinned by denial of the disease and high stigma and discrimination, especially against women.

“Community leaders will hurriedly accept a divorce if it’s the woman who is positive and force her to leave the man’s house,” says Letio.”If it’s the man who is positive, they won’t allow the woman to leave the house so she can take care of him.”

Despite denial by government officials, discrimination is rampant within the civil service, she adds:  “People who have disclosed to be HIV positive are laid off and called ’moving corpses’.”

Inadequate financial, infrastructural and human resources limit efforts to expand HIV services.  The national HIV plan has an 80 percent funding shortfall.

Mongo and Sanson told IPS that the Maridi clinic often runs out of drugs and they have to return days later. Other times, staff has not been paid for months and stays away.

“Treatment has been tricky,” acknowledges Habib Daffalla Awongo, director general for programme coordination at South Sudan AIDS Commission.

According to UNAIDS, just 22 centres provided ART before the new outbreak of violence.

Last December, the ART centres in Bor, Malakal and Bentiu, capitals of the states worst hit by fighting, had to close. The whereabouts of 1,140 patients are unknown. Most likely they have interrupted ART, endangering their lives.

War and AIDS

Forty thousand people living with HIV have been directly affected by the recent violence, according to the United Nations. The new fighting reversed the gains made in HIV services since independence. 

Fast Facts About AIDS in South Sudan

150,000 people live with HIV
20,000 children under 15 live with HIV
12.500 AIDS-related deaths in 2013
15,400 new infections in 2013
72,000 people need ART
1 in 10 people needing ART is on ART
1 in 10 HIV positive pregnant women is on PMTCT
27 percent of people over 15 years are literate
1.9m internally displaced people in 2014

“We have lost many HIV positive people during the conflict, some died in the fighting and others migrated to peaceful areas,” said Awongo.

By U.N. counts,  the new conflict has displaced 1.9 million people.

In Juba, the capital, camps with long rows of white tents have sprung up to shelter some 31,000 displaced people.

Among them is Taban Khamis*, who escaped fighting in the key oil city of Bentiu, 1,000 kms north of Juba. He has interrupted ART and fears his health will soon worsen but he will not go to the camp’s HV clinic for fear of stigma.

“The camp is crowded and there is no privacy,” he told IPS. “Everyone will know that I have HIV.”

Prevalence of HIV and sexually transmitted infections “dramatically increases in camps”, says a study by the HIV/AIDS Alliance.

Awongo is aware of this problem. “We encourage people to come out of the camps to facility points where they can access services but this is not making a difference,” he says.

*Name changed to protect his privacy

Edited by: Mercedes Sayagues

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U.S. Proposes Major Debt Relief for Ebola-Hit Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-s-proposes-major-debt-relief-for-ebola-hit-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-proposes-major-debt-relief-for-ebola-hit-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-s-proposes-major-debt-relief-for-ebola-hit-countries/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 22:16:07 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137752 An Ebola treatment centre in Kenema, Sierra Leone, on the day of a visit from Anthony Banbury, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER). Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

An Ebola treatment centre in Kenema, Sierra Leone, on the day of a visit from Anthony Banbury, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER). Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Nov 13 2014 (IPS)

The United States proposed Tuesday that the international community write off 100 million dollars in debt owed by West African countries hit hardest by the current Ebola outbreak. The money would be re-invested in health and other public programming.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will be detailing the proposal later this week to a summit of finance ministers from the Group of 20 (G20) industrialised countries. If the idea gains traction among G20 states, that support should be enough to approve the measure through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), where the United States is the largest voting member."The plan is for that money to be re-invested in social infrastructure, including hospitals and schools … to deal with the short-term problem of Ebola but also the long-term failure of the health systems that allowed for this outbreak.” -- Jubilee USA’s executive director Eric LeCompte

“The International Monetary Fund has already played a critical role as a first responder, providing economic support to countries hardest hit by Ebola,” Lew said in a statement to IPS.

“Today we are asking the IMF to expand that support by providing debt relief for Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. IMF debt relief will promote economic sustainability in the worst hit countries by freeing up resources for both immediate needs and longer-term recovery efforts.”

These three countries together owe the IMF some 370 million dollars, according to the U.S. Treasury, with 55 million dollars due in the coming two years. Yet there are already widespread fears over the devastating financial ramifications of Ebola on Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, in addition to the epidemic’s horrendous social impact.

Last month, the World Health Organisation warned that the virus now threatens “potential state failure” in these countries. The World Bank, meanwhile, estimates that the virus, which has already killed more than 5,000 people and infected more than 14,000, could cost West African countries some 33 billion dollars in gross domestic product.

Of course, much of the multilateral machinery is often too cumbersome to respond to a fast-moving viral outbreak. Yet there is reason to believe that the U.S. plan could have both immediate and long-term impacts.

That’s because the plan would see the IMF tap a unique fund set up in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which facilitated the cancellation of nearly 270 million dollars of Haitian debt to the IMF. Called the Post-Catastrophe Debt Relief (PCDR) Trust, it is aimed specifically at responding to major natural disasters in the world’s poorest countries.

Originally, the PCDR Trust was capitalised with more than 420 million dollars. Today, a U.S. Treasury spokesperson told IPS, the trust has some 150 million dollars in it – money that would be available almost immediately.

“Our proposal is for the IMF to provide debt relief for these Ebola-affected nations from this trust,” the spokesperson said. “The U.S. would like to see around 100 million dollars put toward this effort, however the precise amount will need to be determined in consultations with the IMF and its membership.”

The IMF, meanwhile, says it is preparing to consider the proposal. In September the Washington-based agency made available 130 million dollars in immediate support to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

“We are very glad that some donors have expressed an interest in increasing support for the Ebola-affected countries. We are reaching out to all donors to see how we might be able to take this forward … using all the tools available to us,” an IMF spokesperson told IPS.

“[Debt relief] decisions are made according to the merits of the particular case and this would be approached in the same way. We would expect the Board to be briefed soon on this topic.”

Ebola’s “natural disaster”

For development and anti-poverty advocates, debt obligations on the part of poor countries constitute a key obstacle to a government’s ability to respond to critical social needs, both in the short and long term.

In the West African epicentre of the current Ebola outbreak, many analysts have held chronic low national health spending directly responsible for allowing the epidemic to spiral out of control. And when looking at feeble public sector spending, it is impossible not to take into account often crushing debt burdens.

For instance, Guinea spent a little more than 100 million dollars on public health in 2012 but paid nearly 150 million dollars that same year on internationally held debt, according to World Bank figures provided by Jubilee USA, an anti-debt advocacy network that has spearheaded the push for the United States to make the current proposal.

“As bad as Ebola has been, some of these countries have far greater challenges with deaths from malaria than from Ebola,” Eric LeCompte, Jubilee USA’s executive director, told IPS.

“The amount is incredibly important because it cancels a significant portion of the debt completely. And the plan is for that money to be re-invested in social infrastructure, including hospitals and schools … to deal with the short-term problem of Ebola but also the long-term failure of the health systems that allowed for this outbreak.”

LeCompte was also involved in the creation of the Post-Catastrophe Debt Relief Trust, in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake. His office has advocated for the fund’s monies to be used since then – for instance, to react to flooding in Pakistan and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

But he says these and other proposals have been rejected by the IMF’s membership, on the rationale that these countries were developed enough to be able to mobilise financing in other ways. (The IMF says PCDR funds are for response to “the most catastrophic of natural disasters” in “low-income countries”, when a third of a country’s population has been affected and a quarter of its production capacity destroyed.)

Not only are Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone among the poorest countries in the world, but the Ebola outbreak there has a potentially direct impact on the rest of the globe.

“This is a very clear opportunity to point to the 150 million dollars left in that fund and to note that Ebola is every bit the same as the Haitian earthquake in terms of being a regional calamity,” LeCompte says.

“The difference is that this is also a long-term investment in the very problems that allow Ebola to spread. So we’d be not only addressing the current issue, but also the next disease outbreak in that region.”

It is unclear whether there is a mechanism in place to top up the PCDR Trust in the future. The IMF states that “Replenishment of the Trust will rely on donor contributions, as necessary.”

But for his part, LeCompte says the fund has the potential to fill a significant gap: offering a pot of money, immediately available, that could be quickly mobilised to deal with true crises afflicting the world’s poorest countries, from hurricanes to major financial defaults.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Ebola and ISIS: A Learning Exchange Between U.N. and Faith-based Organisationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/ebola-and-isis-a-learning-exchange-between-u-n-and-faith-based-organisations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ebola-and-isis-a-learning-exchange-between-u-n-and-faith-based-organisations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/ebola-and-isis-a-learning-exchange-between-u-n-and-faith-based-organisations/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 14:31:05 +0000 Azza Karam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137746 Scene from an Ebola treatment facility run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Guéckédou, Guinea. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

Scene from an Ebola treatment facility run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Guéckédou, Guinea. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

By Azza Karam
NEW YORK, Nov 13 2014 (IPS)

The simultaneity presented by the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus on one hand and militant barbarism ostensibly in the name of Islam on the other present the international development community – particularly the United Nations and international NGOs – with challenges, as well as opportunities.

At first sight, the two are unrelated phenomena. One appears to be largely focused on the collapse of health services in three countries, and to a lesser extent, on economic and political ramifications thereof.ISIS claims religion in its very name, ethos and gruesome actions. Can the international humanitarian and development worlds afford to continue to ignore religious dynamics – precisely because of the extent to which their actions challenge human rights-based actions?

The other, i.e., ISIS/ISIL/IS, appears to be a complex basket of geopolitical conflagrations involving a violently militant political Islam, weak governance dynamics, botched uprisings, transnational youth disaffection, arms proliferation — all to name but a few.

So what is the connection and why is this relevant to international development and humanitarian engagement?

In a Strategic Learning Exchange organised by several United Nations bodies, and attended by U.N. development and humanitarian staff, and their counterparts from a number of international faith-based development NGOs, which took place in Turin, Italy last week, the confluence of these challenges was tackled head-on.

The U.N. and faith-based NGO staff present work both in their headquarter organisations as well as on the ground in countries in Africa, Asia, and the Arab region.

In both sets of cases, there are realties of overstretched service providers seeking to respond, in real time, to rising death tolls, collapsing state-run services, and the actual inability to deliver basic necessities to communities struggling to stay alive because of diverse, but nevertheless man-made, barriers.

Some of these are run by those carrying arms and demarcating territories as off limits while those within them are imprisoned, tortured, killed, terrorized, and starved. Other barriers are made of communities hiding their ill and their dead, distrusting and fearing those seeking to help, and anguished over the loss not just of loved ones, but also of care-takers, sources of income, and means of protection.

But there are other barriers which the last few weeks and months have revealed as well, some of which present long-term challenges to institutional and organisational cultures, as well as to the entire ethos of international humanitarianism and development as we know it today.

The response to the Ebola virus, first and foremost, focused on the medical aspects – which was/is urgent and unquestionable.

But it took months before international aid workers realised one of many tipping points in the equation of death and disease transmission: that burial methods were key, and that even though there are manuals which seek to regulate those methods so as to ensure medical safety, there was relatively less attention paid to the combined matter of values, dignity and local cultural practices in such crisis contexts.

Burying the dead in a community touches the very belief systems which give value and meaning to life. How those infected with Ebola were buried had to be tackled in a way that bridged the very legitimate medical health concerns, but also enabled the family and community members to go on living – with some shred of meaningfulness to their already traumatised selves – while not getting infected.

When this particular dilemma was noted, faith leaders have been hastily assembled to advise on burial methods which bridge dignity with safety in these particular circumstances. But the broader and more long-term roles of ‘sensitising’ and bridging the medical-cultural gap between international aid workers, local medical personnel and over-wrought communities have yet to be worked out.

And the opportunity to address this medical-cultural gap (which is not new to development or humanitarian work) extends beyond burials of the dead and medical care for the living, to providing psycho-social support, and ensuring economic livelihoods. In these areas, too, faith-based NGOs have roles to play.

The militancy of ISIS and the repercussions of the war currently being waged both with and against them presents a similar set of cultural challenges to national and international actors.

This cultural feature was reiterated with cases from the same Arab region involving Hizbullah, Hamas, and now ISIS. How to navigate practical roadblocks controlled by parties you are not supposed to be talking to as a matter of principle, and who question the very legitimacy of your mandate, as a matter of practice – precisely because it does not ‘do religion’ and is part of a ‘Western secular agenda’?

Yes, there are manuals and protocols and procedures governing the provision of services and rules of engagement – in compliance with international human rights obligations. Yet, some hard questions are now glaring: should any form of ‘dialogue’ or outreach be possible between those who speak human rights law, and those who wish to speak only of “God’s laws”?

Are there lessons to be learned from prior engagement with (now relatively more mainstream) Hizbullah and Hamas, which may have resulted in a different trajectory for the engagement with ISIS today, perhaps?

Boko Haram’s actions in Nigeria and al-Qaeda’s presence (and elimination of Bin Laden) in Afghanistan have highlighted a link between religious dogma and critical health implications. Unlike with Ebola however, a possible role for faith leaders – and other faith-based humanitarian and development actors – has not been solicited. At least, not openly so.

And yet, could these roles shed some light on the particular ability of some religious actors to maneuver within humanitarian emergencies in these specific circumstances?

Could a clearer appreciation of the potential value-added of faith-based interventions – which have to be distinguished from those of ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, etc. – increase understanding of and dealing with a world view that is costing lives, now and in the future?

ISIS claims religion in its very name, ethos and gruesome actions. Can the international humanitarian and development worlds afford to continue to ignore religious dynamics – precisely because of the extent to which their actions challenge human rights-based actions?

And if the international community makes a choice to deal with any religious overtones – and is not capacitated in its current frameworks to do so – whose assistance will be needed to call upon, in which fora and with what means?

There are answers to some of these questions already percolating in several policy-making corridors, inherent in the experience of many cadres working with faith-based/ faith-inspired development NGOs, and academics who have devoted decades of research.

What was clear from the discussions in Turin, and other roundtables on religion and development, is that these questions have to be posed, because the answers belie multiple opportunities.

All opinions expressed belong to the author, and are not representative or descriptive of the positions of any organisation, Member State, Board, staff member or territorial entity.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Now Is the Time to Tackle Malnutrition and Its Massive Human Costshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-now-is-the-time-to-tackle-malnutrition-and-its-massive-human-costs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-now-is-the-time-to-tackle-malnutrition-and-its-massive-human-costs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-now-is-the-time-to-tackle-malnutrition-and-its-massive-human-costs/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 13:26:04 +0000 Jose Graziano da Silva and Margaret Chan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137740 Sadhana Ghimire, 23, makes sure to give her 18-month-old daughter nutritious food, such as porridge containing grains and pulses, in order to prevent stunting. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Sadhana Ghimire, 23, makes sure to give her 18-month-old daughter nutritious food, such as porridge containing grains and pulses, in order to prevent stunting. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

By José Graziano da Silva and Margaret Chan
ROME/GENEVA, Nov 13 2014 (IPS)

The scourge of malnutrition affects the most vulnerable in society, and it hurts most in the earliest stages of life. Today, more than 800 million people are chronically hungry, about 11 percent of the global population.

Undernutrition is the underlying cause of almost half of all child deaths, and a quarter of living children are stunted due to inadequate nutrition. Micronutrient deficiencies – due to diets lacking in vitamins and minerals, also known as “hidden hunger” – affects two billion people.Our food systems are simply not sustainable or healthy today, let alone in 2050, when we will have to feed more than nine billion people. We need to produce more food but also nutritious food and to do so in ways that safeguard the capacity of future generations to feed themselves.

Another worrying form of malnutrition – obesity – is on the rise. More than 500 million adults are obese as a result of diets containing excess fat, sugars and salt.

This exposes people to a greater risk of noncommunicable diseases – like heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer – now the top causes of death in the world. Poor diet and physical inactivity also account for 10 percent of the global burden of disease.

Many developing countries now face multiple burdens of malnutrition, with people living in the same communities – sometimes even the same households – suffering from undernutrition, hidden hunger and obesity.

These numbers are shocking and must serve as a global call to action.

Besides the terrible human suffering, unhealthy diets also have a detrimental impact on the ability of countries to develop and prosper – the cost of malnutrition, in all its forms, is estimated between four and five percent of global GDP.

Government leaders, scientists, nutritionists, farmers, civil society and private sector representatives from around the world will gather in Rome from Nov. 19 to 21 for the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2). It is an opportunity they cannot afford to miss: making peoples’ right to a healthy diet a global reality.

Current food systems are unsustainable and unhealthy

Creating healthy and sustainable food systems is key to overcoming malnutrition in all its forms – from hunger to obesity.

Food production has tripled since 1945, while average food availability per person has risen by only 40 percent. Our food systems have succeeded in increasing production, however, this has come at a high environmental cost and has not been enough to end hunger.

Meanwhile, food systems have continued to evolve with an even greater proportion of food being processed and traded, leading to greater availability of foods with high energy, fats, sugars and salt.

Our food systems are simply not sustainable or healthy today, let alone in 2050, when we will have to feed more than nine billion people. We need to produce more food but also nutritious food and to do so in ways that safeguard the capacity of future generations to feed themselves.

Put simply: we need healthy and sustainable food systems – that produce the right balance of foods, in sufficient quantity and quality, and that is accessible to all – if we want to lead healthy, productive and sustainable lives.

Acting now

In preparation for ICN2, countries have agreed to a Political Declaration and a Framework for Action on nutrition containing concrete recommendations to develop coherent public policies in agriculture, trade, social protection, education and health that promote healthy diets and better nutrition at all stages of life.

The Framework for Action gives governments a plan for developing and implementing national policies and investments throughout the food chain to ensure healthy, diverse and balanced diets for all.

This can include strengthening local food production and processing, especially by family farmers and small-scale producers, and linking it to school meals; reducing fat, sugars and salt in processed food; having schools and other public institutions offer healthy diets; protecting children from marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks; and allowing people to make informed choices regarding what they eat.

While government health, agriculture, and education ministries should take the lead, this task includes all involved in producing, distributing and selling food.

The ICN2 Framework for Action also suggests greater investments to guarantee universal access to effective nutrition interventions, such as protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding, and increasing nutrients available to mothers.

Countries can start implementing these actions now. The first step is to establish national nutrition targets to implement already agreed-upon global targets, as set out in the Framework for Action. ICN2 is the time and place to make these commitments.

FAO and WHO are ready to assist countries in this effort. By transforming commitment into action and cooperating more effectively with one another and with other stakeholders, the world has a real chance of ending the multiple burdens of malnutrition in all its forms within a generation.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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How a Small Tribe Turned Tragedy into Opportunityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/how-a-small-tribe-turned-tragedy-into-opportunity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-a-small-tribe-turned-tragedy-into-opportunity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/how-a-small-tribe-turned-tragedy-into-opportunity/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 11:59:20 +0000 Malini Shankar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137736 An Irula couple fishes in the creeks of the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest in Tamil Nadu. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

An Irula couple fishes in the creeks of the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest in Tamil Nadu. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Malini Shankar
PICHAVARAM, India, Nov 13 2014 (IPS)

When the Asian tsunami washed over several Indian Ocean Rim countries on Boxing Day 2004, it left a trail of destruction in its wake, including a death toll that touched 230,000.

Millions lost their jobs, food security and traditional livelihoods and many have spent the last decade trying to pick up the pieces of their lives. But for a small tribe in southern India, the tsunami didn’t bring devastation; instead, it brought hope.

Numbering some 25,000 people, the Irulas have long inhabited the Nilgiri Mountains in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and have traditionally earned a living by ridding the farmland of rats and snakes, often supplementing their meagre income by working as daily wage agricultural labourers in the fields.

“If we were not included in the [Scheduled Tribes] List we would never have benefited from [development] schemes. We would have remained hunter-gatherers, eating rats and hunting snakes." -- Nagamuthu, an Irula tribesman and tsunami survivors
Now, on the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the tsunami, the Irulas in Tamil Nadu are a living example of how sustainable disaster management can alleviate poverty, while simultaneously preserving an ancient way of life.

Prior to 2004, the Irula people laboured under extremely exploitative conditions, earning no more than 3,000 rupees (about 50 dollars) each month. Nutrition levels were poor, and the community suffered from inadequate housing and sanitation facilities.

But when the giant waves receded and NGOs and aid workers flocked to India’s southern coast to rebuild the flattened, sodden landscape, the Irulas received more than just a hand-out.

They were finally included on the government’s List of Scheduled Tribes, largely thanks to the efforts of a government official named G.S. Bedi from the tsunami-ravaged coastal district of Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu.

Inclusion on the list enabled the community to become legal beneficiaries of state-sponsored developmental schemes like the Forest Rights Act and other sustainable fisheries initiatives, thereby improving their access to better housing, and bringing greater food and livelihood security.

More importantly, community members say, the post-tsunami period has marked a kind of revival among Irulas, who are availing themselves of sustainable livelihood schemes to conserve their environment while also increasing their wages.

Bioshields conservation – the way forward for sustainable development

Under the aegis of the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), Irulas are now part of a major livelihood scheme that has boosted monthly earnings seven-fold, to roughly 21,000 rupees or about 350 dollars in the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest of Tamil Nadu where their traditional homes are located.

Some 180 Irula families are directly benefitting from training programmes and subsidies granted to their tribal cooperatives, also known as self-help groups.

Members of the tribe are sharpening their skills at fishing, sustainable aquaculture and crab fattening, gradually moving further and further away from a life of veritable servitude to big landowners.

Perhaps most importantly, Irulas are incorporating mangrove protection and conservation into their daily lives, a step they see as necessary to the long-term survival of the entire community.

Indeed, it was the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest, located close to the town of Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu, that spared the community massive loss of life during the tsunami, protecting some 4,500 Irulas, or 900 families, from the full impact of the waves.

Snuggled between the Vellar estuary in the north and Coleroon estuary in the south, the Pichavaram forest spans some 1,100 hectares, its complex root system and inter-tidal ecosystem offering a sturdy barrier against seawater intrusion, waves and flooding.

According to statistics provided by Dr. Sivakumar, a marine biologist with the MSSRF in Chennai, the unlucky few who perished in the tsunami were those who were caught outside of the ecosystem’s protective embrace – some seven people from the Kannagi Nagar and Pillumedu villages, as well as 64 people who were stranded on the MGR Thittu, both located on sandbars devoid of mangroves.

The experience opened many tribal members’ eyes to the inestimable value of mangroves and their own vulnerability to the vagaries of the sea, sparking a grassroots-level conservation effort under the provisions of India’s Forest Rights Act.

“Until we were enlisted in the Scheduled Tribes List we did not know our rights, we were neither successful as hunter-gatherers nor as daily wage agricultural labourers,” says 55-year-old Pichakanna, an Irula tribal man who has happily exchanged agricultural employment for fishing and aquaculture activities that allow him to participate in mangrove conservation efforts in Tamil Nadu.

His salary now comes from prawn farming in the biodiverse mangrove forests, he tells IPS.

Dr. M. S. Swaminathan, chairman of the MSSRF, believes that “by conserving mangrove forests [we are] protecting the most productive coastal ecosystem that guarantees […] livelihood and ecological security.

“Bioshields are an indispensable part of Disaster Risk Resilience,” he adds.

This union between job creation and disaster management has been a stroke of unprecedented good fortune for the Irula people.

Thirty-three-year-old Nagamuthu, an Irula member whose parents – hailing from the Pichavaram forests – survived the tsunami, tells IPS, “If we were not included in the [Scheduled Tribes] List we would never have benefited from [development] schemes. We would have remained hunter-gatherers, eating rats and hunting snakes.

“Now we have developed a mangrove plantation on forest land granted to us by the government, and the Forest Rights Act has also given us fishing rights in the Protected Area of the Pichavaram Mangroves.”

Such developments are crucial at a time when mangroves are disappearing fast. According to a new study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “mangroves are being destroyed at a rate three to five times greater than the average rates of forest loss.”

By 2050, South Asia could lose as much as 35 percent of its mangroves that existed in 2000. Emissions resulting from such losses make up about a fifth of deforestation-related global carbon emissions, the report says.

Irulas now harvest minor forest produce from the rich waters around the mangroves, such as clusters of natural pearl oysters, which are very high in protein, for their own consumption.

“We have also learnt the skill of crab trapping, and we have installed crab fattening devices close to our homes deep in the mangrove creeks,” Nagamuthu tells IPS. “This has helped us carve out a sustainable livelihood.”

Tribe members have also been taught to dig canals in the eco-friendly ‘fish bone’ pattern that helps bring tidal creeks directly to their doorstep, where they can catch fresh fish for breakfast.

This canal system, now recommended by the Government of India, also helps in decreasing soil salinity, prevents mangrove degradation, and improves fish yields.

This, in turn, has improved livelihood security. Coupled with the acquisition of new and improved equipment – such as nets, boats, oars, engines, hooks and traps – many fisher families have completely turned their lives around.

Residents of villagers such as Killai, Pillumedu, Kannaginagar, Kalaingar, Vadakku, T.S. Pettai, and Pichavaram have now created a community fund that gathers 30 percent of each families’ monthly income; the savings have been used to construct a village temple, a school and drinking water facilities for 900 families from some seven villages.

Pichakanna, who is now the village elder for the newly established MGR Nagar Township, tells IPS proudly that the community fund has also helped establish an ‘early warning helpline’, which uses voice SMS technology to inform fisherfolk about wave height and wind direction, as well as provide six-hourly weather forecasts and early warnings of approaching cyclones.

A voice SMS broadcast aimed at women also passes on information about health and hygiene, maternity benefits and minimum wages.

While heads of states and development experts fly around the world to discuss the post-2015 ‘sustainable development’ agenda, here in Pichavaram, a forgotten tribe is already practicing a new way of life – and they are pointing the way forward to a sustainable future.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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