Inter Press Service » Health http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 25 Apr 2017 23:41:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.17 Long Way to Go for Indigenous Rights Protectionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/long-way-to-go-for-indigenous-rights-protection/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=long-way-to-go-for-indigenous-rights-protection http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/long-way-to-go-for-indigenous-rights-protection/#comments Tue, 25 Apr 2017 09:11:18 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150139 Tadodaho Sid Hill (shown on screens), Chief of the Onondaga Nation. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Tadodaho Sid Hill (shown on screens), Chief of the Onondaga Nation. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 25 2017 (IPS)

Despite progress, many gaps remain in international indigenous rights protection, said representatives during an annual UN meeting.

More than 1000 indigenous representatives from around the world have gathered at the UN for the 16th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). This year’s meeting focuses on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) which was adopted 10 years ago by the General Assembly.

“On the day of the adoption of the declaration, there was a major change in the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples,” said this year’s UNFPII Chairperson Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine during the opening ceremony.

Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine (Mali). Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine (Mali). Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Ermineskin Cree Nation Chief Willie Littlechild echoed similar comments, stating that indigenous communities had no voice in the international arena until the 1980s when discussions first began on creating a special instrument to protect indigenous peoples worldwide.

Alongside the Declaration, the UN now has four mechanisms focused on indigenous communities, including UNPFII and a Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.

“Coming from no voice to four mechanisms at the UN, I think that is a significant accomplishment,” Littlechild stated.

The 2030 Agenda for Development, adopted in 2015 by the international community, also directly involves and references indigenous issues unlike its predecessor the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

However, many challenges remain in implementing and enforcing UNDRIP.

Littlechild expressed concern to IPS over the lack of implementation mechanisms in Canada, stating: “[Justin Trudeau] was the first Prime Minister to even look at the UN declaration…but the task is now in the follow-up.”

After formally adopting UNDRIP in 2016, many have said that Prime Minister Trudeau has violated the document by approving several controversial pipelines without full consent from indigenous communities whose lands would be impacted. One such pipeline is the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline which received support from 40 out of 139 First Nations living along the planned route.

Tadodaho Sid Hill, Chief of the Onondaga Nation. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Tadodaho Sid Hill, Chief of the Onondaga Nation. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Article 19 of UNDRIP highlights the importance of such consent, stating: “States are required to consult and cooperate with indigenous peoples in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that affect them.”

The right to lands, territories, and resources is also among the most important provisions of the Declaration.

Both Aboubakrine and Littlechild highlighted the importance of inclusive discussions and decision-making at the international and state levels to ensure the protection of indigenous rights.

“Some of the traditional knowledge of elders is critical to making sure there’s safe development if that is what is agreed to or to protect the environment,” Littlechild told IPS.

Aboubakrine stressed the need for UN agencies to communicate and coordinate in order to effectively and meaningfully enforce UNDRIP.

“It’s moving along, but I’m just concerned we are not moving along with it,” Littlechild concluded.

Indigenous communities around the world face disproportionately high rates of poverty, poor health, and discrimination. According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), indigenous people constitute 5 percent of the world’s population but make up approximately 15 percent of the world’s poorest.

The 16th Session of UNFPII aims to address challenges and highlight progress in indigenous rights at the UN headquarters from 24 April to 5 May.

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Indigenous Peoples – Best Allies or Worst Enemies?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/indigenous-peoples-best-allies-or-worst-enemies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-peoples-best-allies-or-worst-enemies http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/indigenous-peoples-best-allies-or-worst-enemies/#comments Tue, 25 Apr 2017 07:23:39 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150134 Credit: FAO

Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 25 2017 (IPS)

It all happened on the very same day—4 April. That day, indigenous peoples were simultaneously characterised as fundamental allies in the world’s war on hunger and poverty, while being declared as collective victims of a “tsunami” of imprisonments in Australia. See what happened.

Australia must reduce the “astounding” rates of imprisonment for indigenous peoples and step up the fight against racism, on 4 April warned Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.“Traditional indigenous knowledge and the diversity of their food systems can provide solutions for healthy diets, and many areas such as nutrition, climate change or ecosystem management” – Graziano da Silva

“It is alarming that, while the country has adopted numerous policies to address the socio-economic disadvantage of Aboriginal peoples and those from the Torres Strait Islands, it has failed to respect their rights to self-determination and to full and effective participation in society,” she added at the end of an official visit to Australia.

Tauli-Corpuz said that the Australian government policies have failed to deliver on targets in the areas of “health, education and employment and have led to a growing number of people being jailed, and have resulted in an increasing number of children being removed from their homes in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.”

Astounding Figures

“High rates of incarceration were described to me as a “tsunami” affecting indigenous peoples. It is a major human rights concern. The figures are simply astounding. While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders make up only 3 per cent of the total population, they constitute 27 per cent of the prison population, and much more in some prisons,” she stressed.

“I visited Cleveland Youth Detention Centre in Townsville, Queensland, where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children constitute 95 per cent of the children detained. Many have been going from out-of-home care into detention,” Tauli-Corpuz said, adding that aboriginal children are seven times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be in contact with the child protection system or to be subject to abuse or neglect.

Indigenous women from Panama design action plans to ensure food security. Credit: FAO

Indigenous women from Panama design action plans to ensure food security. Credit: FAO

“… I urge Australia to increase the age of criminal responsibility. Children should be detained only as a last resort… These children are essentially being punished for being poor and in most cases, prison will only aggravate the cycle of violence, poverty and crime. I found meeting young children, some only 12 years old, in detention the most disturbing element of my visit.”

The UN expert expressed criticism of the government programme known as the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, which was initiated in 2014 and involved a large budget cut in funding for support programmes. “The implementation of the strategy has been bureaucratic, rigid and has wasted considerable resources on administration.”

Tauli-Corpuz called on the government to forge a new relationship with the national representative body for indigenous peoples, the National Congress of Australia’s First People, and restore their funding.

She also expressed concern that the government would not meet targets to close the gap in areas such as “life expectancy, infant mortality, education and employment,” and called for a comprehensive approach including specific targets for the “reduction of detention rates, child removal and violence against women.”

Fundamental Allies

That very same day–4 April, the head of the United Nations body specialised in the areas of food and agriculture, was welcoming in Rome a group of indigenous youth representatives from the indigenous peoples’ seven socio-cultural regions of the world.

In his address to the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus meeting in the Italian capital (5-7 April), Graziano da Silva, director general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said that indigenous peoples are “fundamental allies” in the fight against hunger, food insecurity and poverty “because of their wealth of ancestral knowledge and good practices.”

Credit: FAO

Credit: FAO

In a world in which climate change brings new challenges and uncertainties, we cannot eliminate hunger without the participation of youth, said da Silva, noting that “they must participate in these issues that will affect their children and their children’s children. Let’s work together and do it right now.”

The Sustainable Development Goals provide an opportunity for countries, indigenous organisations and the United Nations to work together to make an impact starting now through to 2030, he added, while reminding that since the creation of its Indigenous Peoples team in 2014, FAO is strengthening its work with indigenous organisations based on a double approach:

“On the one hand, we consider indigenous peoples as fundamental allies in the fight against hunger, food insecurity and poverty because of their wealth of ancestral knowledge and good practices.

“On the other hand, “we are aware that the lack of recognition of their rights in the management of natural resources and the marginalization they suffer places them in a vulnerable position. I speak above all of your ancestral rights to land tenure.”

Traditional Indigenous Knowledge

Da Silva referred to the indigenous food systems, noting that traditional indigenous knowledge and the diversity of their food systems can provide solutions for healthy diets, and many areas such as nutrition, climate change or ecosystem management.

Working with indigenous women’s leadership schools, he added, has enabled fellow indigenous women to gain access to training on rights, food security and other areas of interest such as the use of local seeds, voluntary guidelines on land tenure, guides on artisanal fisheries, etc.

The Rome meeting of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus coincided with the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples.

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Building resilient rural livelihoods is key to helping Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/building-resilient-rural-livelihoods-is-key-to-helping-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=building-resilient-rural-livelihoods-is-key-to-helping-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/building-resilient-rural-livelihoods-is-key-to-helping-yemen/#comments Mon, 24 Apr 2017 08:37:39 +0000 Jose Graziano da Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150106 José Graziano da Silva is Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).]]> Al Hudaydah, Yemen.  Dairy cattle seek shade. Credit: FAO/Chedly Kayouli

Al Hudaydah, Yemen. Dairy cattle seek shade. Credit: FAO/Chedly Kayouli

By José Graziano da Silva
ROME, Apr 24 2017 (IPS)

People in Yemen are currently suffering from the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

More than 17 million people around Yemen’s rugged landscape are acutely food insecure, and the figure is likely to increase as the ongoing conflict continues to erode the ability to grow, import, distribute and pay for food. More than 7 million people are on the verge of famine, while the rest are marginally meeting the minimum day-to-day nutritional needs thanks to external humanitarian and livelihoods support. Large-scale famine is a real risk that will cast an awful shadow for generations to come.

Only a political solution can end the suffering in Yemen, as there can be no food security without peace. And the longer the delay to draft an adequately funded recovery plan, the more expensive the burden will be in terms of resources and human livelihood.

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO

Keep in mind that Yemen has a very young population, yet some 2.2 million children under the age of five are suffering from acute malnutrition. As inadequate nutrition in a child’s early years can permanently damage an individual’s lifetime potential, it is imperative to stop a generational doomsday loop.

To prevent the food security situation from worsening, immediate livelihoods support – mainly agriculture and fishing – must be an integral part of the humanitarian response. This year, FAO Yemen is appealing for USD 48.4 million in funding to reach 3 million people.

While Yemen is widely noted as being dependent upon imports for almost all of its wheat and rice demands, people can and do produce a lot of food on their own. This requires the provision of seeds, fertilizers and fuel for equipment and irrigation to the 2 million households who currently lack access to such basic agricultural inputs.

In 2016, agricultural production and area under cultivation shrank by 38 percent due to this lack of inputs. Livestock production fell by 35 percent. The situation in 2017 is not expected to improve without the international community’s intervention.

Al Hudaydah, Yemen. A female dairy farmer milks her cow.  Credit: FAO/Chedly Kayouli

Al Hudaydah, Yemen. A female dairy farmer milks her cow. Credit: FAO/Chedly Kayouli


FAO is on the ground in Yemen, working around the clock to deliver emergency livelihood assistance to kick-start food production. This assistance comprises inputs like quick turnaround backyard food production kits, which includes vegetable seeds, egg-laying chickens and rainwater storage tanks, solar pumps, feed, fertilizer, fishery boats, engines, fishing nets and continuous operational equipment and material support.

These home production kits, designed to help feed a household of 20 people for six months, constitute cost-effective humanitarian assistance that can be scaled up to reach more people more quickly. This is especially pertinent for internally displaced people – who now constitute more than 10 percent of the population, and the vast majority of whom traditionally relied on agriculture and livestock. They now live in camps, with relatives or on empty lots and helping them relieve pressure on host communities can pay a double dividend in terms of food and social cohesion.

The kits also have the virtue of being simple, and in the case of Yemen – enduring a combination of several worst-case scenarios at once – simple translates into being implementable.

Simplicity is especially essential to support isolated rural households, almost half of whom live more than six kilometres from any local market at a time when travel is dangerous and roads have been destroyed. For many of these families, these food production kits are their only lifeline to food.

In a bid to restore agricultural livelihoods, FAO is also offering starter kits for beekeepers, replacing fishing equipment that has been destroyed or lost, and giving rural households modern butter churns that enable the production to increase tenfold and help offset Yemen’s serious dairy deficit.

Al Hudaydah, Yemen. A livestock market. Credit: FAO/Chedly Kayouli

Al Hudaydah, Yemen. A livestock market. Credit: FAO/Chedly Kayouli


As many families have had to sell their animals, a key productive asset, and restocking has slowed down due to lack of access to fodder, FAO is also distributing vouchers to distressed households in order to purchase livestock. At the same time, FAO is bolstering veterinary networks to vaccinate and treat ailing livestock as well as monitor and contain potential transboundary livestock diseases, which pose an enormous risk both for households living in Yemen’s remote and isolated areas as well as livestock trade across the region.

Making Yemen’s food system more sustainable will be a long-term effort, requiring important changes to which crops are grown and the rebooting or creation of value chains and improved logistics for what is destined to be the country’s primary economic sector. Agriculture already employs more than half of the workforce and is the main source of income for around 60 percent of households.

Even in peacetime, Yemen will face huge challenges, as only 4 percent of its land is arable and water resources are extremely limited. However, its people can and must be enabled to create a viable and more sustainable food system. This requires a simultaneous approach of providing humanitarian assistance along with resilience-building initiatives.

There is no time to lose. The alternative is dismal and threatens to catalyse more conflicts in the future, for there can be no peace without food security.

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Civil Society: “Everyday Things Are Getting Worse” for Children in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/civil-society-everyday-things-are-getting-worse-for-children-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-everyday-things-are-getting-worse-for-children-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/civil-society-everyday-things-are-getting-worse-for-children-in-yemen/#comments Thu, 20 Apr 2017 21:19:10 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150070 Water delivery in Yemen. Credit: UN photo

Water delivery in Yemen. Credit: UN photo

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 20 2017 (IPS)

Persistent attacks on health care in Yemen is severely impacting children’s well-being, civil society detailed at the launch of a report.

In the report, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, in collaboration with Save the Children, found a series of systematic attacks on medical facilities and personnel and families’ restricted access to health care across three of the most insecure governorates in the Middle Eastern nation.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), warring parties carried out at least 160 attacks against medical facilities and personnel between March 2015 and March 2017 through intimidation, air strikes, and impeded access to medical supplies.

In one incident, anti-Houthi forces raided and shutdown Al Thawra hospital for reportedly treating several injured Houthi-fighers. The hospital had also previously been shelled on numerous occasions.

In Saada, a missile struck the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)-supported Shiara Hospital which killed six and wounded ten. The hospital served an area of approximately 120,000 people and was established as a de facto emergency room to provide access to health care for patients that would otherwise need to travel four to five hours along insecure roads to receive. A few days later, the same hospital sustained another rocket attack by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition.

Many are now afraid because of the attacks, said Watchlist’s Research Officer Christine Monaghan.

“There is a real sense of fear in the country about not being able to access healthcare when needed, about what might happen to them if they are in a clinic or a hospital and it’s bombed at a time when they visit,” she told IPS.

Following the Shiara Hospital attack, an MSF doctor reported that maternity room deliveries have ceased. “Pregnant women are giving birth in caves rather than risk coming to the hospital,” they said.

This has compounded health challenges as access to life-saving treatment is limited.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than half of Yemen’s population including 8.1 million children lack access to basic health care—an increase of more than 70 percent since the conflict began in March 2015.

As of November 2016, there was 1 hospital bed for every 1,600 people and over 50 percent of medical facilities have closed.

One woman revealed the challenges of caring for her family in an interview with Save the Children, stating: “We cannot afford health care. If any of our children gets sick, we cannot do anything for them. We do not know where to go…two of my daughters, 5 and 3 years old, have persistent coughs, and I cant help them apart from giving them hugs.”

The ongoing blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition has further inhibited access to necessary supplies to run medical facilities such as fuel.

In one case, a child in an incubator died after a hospital lost power and lacked fuel to use its generators.

Due to the collapse of immunization programs, there is also an increased risk of vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio and rubella. According to the UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF), a child dies every 10 minutes from preventable causes in Yemen.

Meanwhile, only 15 percent of the country’s humanitarian response plan is funded.

In response, Watchlist and Save the Children have called on all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and cease attacks on medical facilities, allow unhindered access to aid, and cooperate with investigations on such attacks.

The organisations also urged Secretary-General António Guterres to list the Saudi-led coalition as responsible for attacks on hospitals and grave violations of children’s rights in conflict in the annual report on children and armed conflict.

In 2016, former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon listed the coalition in his report but subsequently removed it after pressure from Saudi Arabia and its allies. However, this does not have to be the case this year, Monaghan said.

“We are hoping the new Secretary-General uses his first months in office to make a strong statement that he will protect the mandate and hold perpetrators to account,” she told IPS.

Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien called the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as “one of the worst in the world.” The country is on the brink of a famine with over 14 million food-insecure people. Over 70 percent of Yemenis are in need of some form of humanitarian aid.

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Yemen, World’s Largest Humanitarian Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/yemen-worlds-largest-humanitarian-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=yemen-worlds-largest-humanitarian-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/yemen-worlds-largest-humanitarian-crisis/#comments Wed, 19 Apr 2017 05:10:44 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150034 Yemen 2017 Humanitarian Needs Overview. Credit: Fragkiska Megaloudi / OCHA

Yemen 2017 Humanitarian Needs Overview. Credit: Fragkiska Megaloudi / OCHA

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 19 2017 (IPS)

With 18.8 million people –nearly 7 in 10 inhabitants– in need of humanitarian aid, including 10.3 million requiring immediate assistance, Yemen is now the largest single-nation humanitarian crisis in the world, the United Nations informs while warning that the two-year war is rapidly pushing the country towards “social, economic and institutional collapse.“

More worrying, the conflict in Yemen and its economic consequences are driving the largest food security emergency in the world, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has reported.

According to OCHA, over 17 million people are currently “food insecure,” of whom 6.8 million are “severely food insecure” and require immediate food assistance, and two million acutely malnourished children. The Yemeni population amounts to 27,4 million inhabitants.

“We can avert a humanitarian catastrophe, but need 2.1 billion dollars in funding to deliver crucial food, nutrition, health and other lifesaving assistance,” the UN estimates.

UN, Sweden, Switzerland

The world organisation plans to hold a high-level pledging meeting for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Co-hosted by the governments of Switzerland and Sweden, the conference will take place at UN in Geneva on 25 April 2017.

Credit: OCHA

Credit: OCHA

“The time is now to come together to prevent an “impending humanitarian catastrophe” in Yemen, the organisers warn.
OCHA has also reminded that even before the current conflict escalated in mid-March 2015, Yemen had faced “enormous levels” of humanitarian needs stemming from years of “poverty, under-development, environmental decline, intermittent conflict, and weak rule of law.”

Meantime, it has stressed the need to protect civilians. “The conduct of hostilities has been brutal. As of 31 December 2016, health facilities had reported nearly 48,000 casualties (including nearly 7,500 deaths) as a result of the conflict.” These figures significantly under-count the true extent of casualties given diminished reporting capacity of health facilities and people’s difficulties accessing healthcare.

Massive Violations of Human Rights

OCHA stressed the impact of this crisis in which “all parties appear to have committed violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.”

On-going air strikes and fighting continue to inflict heavy casualties, damage public and private infrastructure, and impede delivery of humanitarian assistance, it explains, adding that parties to the conflict and their supporters have created a vast protection crisis in which millions of people face tremendous threats to their safety and well-being, and the most vulnerable struggle to survive.

According to the UN humanitarian body, since March 2015, more than 3 million people have been displaced within Yemen. Roughly 73 per cent are living with host families or in rented accommodation, and 20 per cent in collective centres or spontaneous settlements. A substantial numbers of returnees live in damaged houses, unable to afford repairs and face serious protection risks.

Economy, Destroyed

The Yemeni economy is being wilfully destroyed, OCHA informs. Preliminary results of the Disaster Needs Assessment estimated 19 billion dollars in infrastructure damage and other losses – equivalent to about half of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2013.

“Parties to the conflict have targeted key economic infrastructure. Mainly air strikes – but also shelling and other attacks – have damaged or destroyed ports, roads, bridges, factories and markets. They have also imposed restrictions that disrupt the flow of private sector goods and humanitarian aid, including food and medicine.”

For months, nearly all-basic commodities have been only sporadically available in most locations, and basic commodity prices in December 2016 were on average 22 per cent higher than before the crisis, reports OCHA.

At the same time, Yemen is experiencing a liquidity crisis in which people, traders and humanitarian partners struggle to transfer cash into and within the country. Lenders have become increasingly reluctant to supply credit to Yemeni traders seeking to import essential goods.

Basic Commodities, Scarcer, More Expensive

On this, it informs that at the end result is an economic environment in which basic commodities are becoming scarcer and more expensive just as people’s livelihoods opportunities and access to cash are receding or disappearing altogether.

And that humanitarian partners face growing pressure to compensate for the entire commercial sector, which is beyond both their capacity and appropriate role. Essential basic services and the institutions that provide them are collapsing due to conflict, displacement and economic decline.

“Yemeni authorities report that Central Bank foreign exchange reserves dropped from 4.7 billion dollars in late 2014 to less than 1 billion in September 2016, and the public budget deficit has grown by more than 50 per cent to 2.2 billion dollars.”

In addition, salaries for health facility staff, teachers and other public sector workers are paid erratically, often leaving 1.25 million state employees and their 6.9 million dependents – nearly 30 per cent of the population – without a regular income at a time of shortages and rising prices.

“As a result, social services provided by public institutions are collapsing while needs are surging.” In August 2016, the Ministry of Public Health and Population in Sana’a announced it could no longer cover operational costs for health services, and by October, only 45 per cent of health facilities in the country were fully functional.

Absenteeism among key staff – doctors, nutrition counsellors, teachers, etc. – is reportedly rising as employees seek alternatives to provide for their families, according to the UN. On top of pressure to compensate for a faltering commercial sector, humanitarian partners are increasingly fielding calls to fill gaps created by collapsing public institutions.

90% of Food, Imported – 8 Million Lost Livelihoods

According to OCHA, Yemen relies on imports for more than 90 per cent of its staple food and nearly all fuel and medicine.

Authorities in Sana’a and other areas also at times deny or delay clearances for humanitarian activities, including movement requests for assessments or aid delivery. Restrictions on workshops, humanitarian data collection and information sharing have also been intermittently introduced and rescinded.

These restrictions are at times resolved through dialogue, but the time lost represents an unacceptable burden for people who desperately need assistance. Positive developments since November 2016 indicate that these restrictions may substantially improve in the immediate coming period.

An estimated 8 million Yemenis have lost their livelihoods or are living in communities with minimal to no basic services, the UN informs, adding that about 2 million school-age children are out of school and damage, hosting IDPs, or occupation by armed groups.

Yemen is an Arab country situated in the Southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It is the second-largest country in the peninsula, with nearly occupying 528,000 km2, and its coastline stretches for about 2,000 kms.

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Disease Burden Growing as Vector Insects Adapt to Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/disease-burden-growing-as-vector-insects-adapt-to-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=disease-burden-growing-as-vector-insects-adapt-to-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/disease-burden-growing-as-vector-insects-adapt-to-climate-change/#comments Tue, 18 Apr 2017 00:02:32 +0000 Zadie Neufville http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150000 Dry drains will reduce the numbers of mosquitoes breeding, but now the Aedes aegypti mosquito is going underground to breed underground in available water and flying to feed. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

Dry drains will reduce the numbers of mosquitoes breeding, but now the Aedes aegypti mosquito is going underground to breed underground in available water and flying to feed. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

By Zadie Neufville
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Apr 18 2017 (IPS)

There were surprised gasps when University of the West Indies (UWI) Professor John Agard told journalists at an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meeting in late November 2016 that mosquitoes were not only living longer, but were “breeding in septic tanks underground”.

For many, it explained why months of fogging at the height of Zika and Chikungunya outbreaks had done little to reduce mosquito populations in their various countries. The revelation also made it clear that climate change would force scientists and environmental health professionals to spend more time studying new breeding cycles and finding new control techniques for vector insects.“Globally, we predict that over 2.17 billion people live in areas that are environmentally suitable for ZIKV transmission." --Dr. Moritz Kraemar

Jump to March 31, 2017 when the UWI and the government of Jamaica opened the new Mosquito Control and Research Unit at the Mona Campus in Kingston, to investigate new ways to manage and eradicate mosquitoes. Its existence is an acknowledgement that the region is looking for improved management and control strategies.

Agard was reporting on a study by the late Dave Chadee, a co-author on the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report and UWI professor. The study examined evolutionary changes in the life cycle of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which spreads the yellow and dengue fevers as well as the chikungunya and Zika viruses.

“We found out that in higher temperatures, the mosquito’s breeding cycle shortens. They go through more cycles during the season and they produce more offspring. The mosquitoes, however, are a little smaller,” Agard told journalists.

Even more worrisome were Chadee’s findings on the longevity of the “evolved” mosquitoes – 100 days instead of the 30 days they were previously thought to survive. The study also found that mosquitoes that survived longer than 90 days could produce eggs and offspring that were born transmitters, raising new concerns.

Alarming as these findings were, they were only the latest on the evolutionary strategies of vector insect populations in the Caribbean. A study published in February 2016 revealed that the triatomino (or vinchuca), the vector insects for Chagas disease, were breeding twice a year instead of only in the rainy season. And before that in 2011, Barbadian Environmental officers found mosquitoes breeding in junction boxes underground.

Sebastian Gourbiere, the researcher who led the Chagas study, pointed to the need for regional governments to re-examine their vector control methods if they are to effectively fight these diseases.

“The practical limitations that the dual threat poses outweigh the capabilities of local vector teams,” he said in response to questions about the control of Chagas disease.

Caribbean scientists and governments had already been warned. The IPCC’s AR 5 (2013) acknowledged the sensitivity of human health to shifts in weather patterns and other aspects of the changing climate.

“Until mid-century climate change will act mainly by exacerbating health problems that already exist. New conditions may emerge under climate change, and existing diseases may extend their range into areas that are presently unaffected,” the report said.

Gourbiere agrees with Agard and other regional researchers that there is need for solutions that are primarily focused on vector controls: eradication and effective controls of the Aedes aegypti could also eliminate the diseases they spread.

The failure of the newest vector control strategies also forced health professionals to revisit the old, but proven techniques developed with the guidance of researchers like Chadee, whose work on dengue and yellow fever, malaria and most recently the Zika virus had helped to guide the development of mosquito control, surveillance and control strategies in the Caribbean.

And while Zika brought with it several other serious complications like microcephaly, which affects babies born to women infected by the virus, and Guillain Barré Syndrome, the threats also exposed more serious concerns. The rapid spread of the viruses opened the eyes of regional governments to the challenges of emerging diseases and of epidemics like ebola and H1N1.

But it was the World Health Organisation (WHO) that raised concerns about the status and possible effects of the Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) – a group of communicable diseases including the Zika virus – which affect more than a billion people in 149 countries each year but for which there are no treatments.

NTDs include Dengue, Chic-V and Chagas Disease and until the last outbreak in 2014 that killed more than 6,000 people, Ebola was among them. In the previous 26 outbreaks between 1976 and 2013, only 1,716 people in sub-Saharan African nations were infected, WHO data showed.

Now the Caribbean is changing its approach to the study and control of vector insects. So while there are no widespread infections of Chagas disease, UWI is preparing to begin its own studies on the triatomino and the disease it transmits.

An addition to UWI’s Task Force formed just over a year ago to “aggressively eliminate” breeding sites for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the Mosquito Unit is expected to build on Professor Chadee’s groundbreaking research.

“From dealing with the consequences of Chikungunya, Dengue and Zika on our population to managing the potentially harmful effects of newly discovered viruses, the benefits of establishing a unit like this will produce significant rewards in the protection of national and regional health,” UWI Mona Professor Archibald McDonald said at the launch.

Zika had been infecting thousands of people in Asia and Africa for decades before it made its devastating appearance in Brazil and other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean. Zika also made its way to the US and several European nations in 2016, before being confirmed in Thailand on Sept 30.

Not surprising, as in its 3rd AR, and most recently in the 5th AR the IPCC projected increases in threats to human health, particularly in lower income populations of mainly tropical and sub-tropical countries. Those findings are also supported by more recent independent studies including Mapping global environmental suitability for Zika virus, published by the University of Oxford (UK) in February 2016.

By combining climate data, mosquito prevalence and the socio-economic makeup of each region, researchers found the likelihood of the Zika virus gaining a foothold worldwide to be “extremely high”. The team led by Moritz Kraemer also concluded that Zika alone could infect more than a third of the world’s population.

The findings noted that shifts in the breeding patterns of the Aedes family of mosquitos allowed it to take advantage of newly ‘favourable conditions’ resulting from climate change. The environmentally suitable areas now stretch from the Caribbean to areas of South America; large portions of the United States to sizeable areas of sub-Saharan Africa; more than two million square miles of India “from its northwest regions through to Bangladesh and Myanmar”; the Indochina region, southeast China and Indonesia and includes roughly 250,000 square miles of Australia.

“Globally, we predict that over 2.17 billion people live in areas that are environmentally suitable for ZIKV transmission,” Dr. Kraemar said.

The Aedes aegypti mosquitoes’ efficiency at spreading diseases in urban areas and population densities are believed to be the main factors driving the rapid spread of the Zika virus. Other studies have found the Zika virus in 19 species of the Aedes family, with the Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictus) – which has now spread its range to Europe –  likely another efficient vector.

Back in the Caribbean, Chadee’s findings on the adaptation of the Aedes aegypti mosquito from clean water breeders to breeding in available waters is expected to drive the development of regional strategies that are better suited to the evolving environment of a changing climate.

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Mind the Treatment Gaphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/mind-the-treatment-gap/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mind-the-treatment-gap http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/mind-the-treatment-gap/#comments Fri, 14 Apr 2017 17:51:06 +0000 Vani Kulkarni and Raghav Gaiha http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149983 Vani S. Kulkarni teaches Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, and Raghav Gaiha is (Hon.) Professorial Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester.]]> getty images/ istock photo

getty images/ istock photo

By Vani S. Kulkarni and Raghav Gaiha
PHILADELPHIA AND NEW DELHI, Apr 14 2017 (IPS)

Implementation of the Mental Healthcare Act will require a restructuring of health-care services
The Mental Healthcare Bill, 2016, which was passed in the Lok Sabha on March 27, 2017, has been hailed as a momentous reform. According to the Bill, every person will have the right to access mental health care operated or funded by the government; good quality and affordable health care; equality of treatment and protection from inhuman practices; access to legal services; and right to complain against coercion and cruelty. The Bill also empowers a mentally ill person to choose a treatment and her/his nominated representative, decriminalises attempted suicide, prohibits the use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to mentally ill adults without the use of muscle relaxants and anaesthesia, and contains provisions for care, treatment and rehabilitation for those who have experienced severe stress and attempted suicide. While these are laudable and ambitious objectives as they address major concerns of mental health care, there have been some critiques drawing attention to the lack of funds, trained personnel, and insufficient emphasis on community care. The ground reality, however, suggests that these objectives are not just overambitious but an overkill.

Poor infrastructure, low funds
The Global Burden of Disease Study shows that in 2013, 50% of all disease burden in India was caused by non-communicable diseases, while mental disorders accounted for about 6% of the total disease burden. A third of this is due to depression, which also significantly contributes to suicide and ischaemic heart disease. Worse, suicide is a leading cause of death in people in India aged 15-29.

Vani S. Kulkarni

Vani S. Kulkarni

There are only 43 government-run mental hospitals across all of India to provide services to more than 70 million people living with mental disorders. There are 0.30 psychiatrists, 0.17 nurses, and 0.05 psychologists per 1,00,000 mentally ill patients in the country. The case of the Bareilly mental hospital — one of three major mental hospitals in Uttar Pradesh — is stunning. In this hospital, 350 patients can be admitted and around 200 patients can attend the out-patient department every day. But all these patients would be at the mercy of only one psychiatrist!

At the macro level, the proposed health expenditure of 1.2% of GDP in the Budget for 2017-18 is among the lowest in the world. In real terms, public health expenditure has consistently declined since 2013-14. Of the total health budget, a mere 1-2% is spent on mental health.

But this is a small part of the explanation of the inadequacy and abysmal quality of mental health services in India. Underlying this deplorable state of affairs is a pervasive perception that those with mental illnesses are pathological or even criminal; hence they do not deserve the type of rehabilitation given to those with physical ailments. Besides, the treatment gap (the difference between those suffering from mental illnesses and those seeking medical/psychiatric care) is widened because of the social stigma attached to such illnesses. In fact, many poor people hide their illnesses and endanger their lives. Others argue that it is not so much stigma but ignorance and lack of knowledge, myths, and supernatural beliefs that impede treatment. Women typically face larger treatment gaps as they are vulnerable to violence, sexual abuse and inhuman treatment.

Raghav Gaiha

Raghav Gaiha

Ethnographic evidence from the Human Rights Watch Report 2014 relating to women inpatients is gruesome. Deepali, a woman with a perceived psychosocial disability, said: “The nurse would sometimes forcefully put the pills in my mouth and stroke my throat to send them down, the way I feed my dogs… I woke up one night and I couldn’t move; my body was in intense physical pain. A nurse came and jabbed an injection into my body, without even taking off my clothes. You are treated worse than animals.”

Often, all women and girls were admitted without their consent and, as the team left, they cried out in despair, “send me home” or “take me home”. Unable to cope with mentally ill relatives, families often abandon them in mental hospitals and elsewhere. In one case, a woman who was declared “fit for discharge” in the 1990s was still in the institution as of August 2013 because of lack of alternative resettlement options for her.

Some women were not even informed that ECT was being administered. Psychiatric nurses admitted that ECT was administered not just on violent and suicidal patients but also on new admissions who tend to be unmanageable.

Women and girls with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities in institutions are often subject to not just physical and verbal abuse but also sexual violence. Some women went to a hospital for three months and returned one month pregnant. Not a single FIR was filed.

Government hospitals refuse to admit “mentally ill” persons in the ICU on the grounds that this facility could be put to better use. A woman suffering from breast cancer for two-three years was denied treatment and subsequently died.

Shift to community-based care
An emphatic case could be made for shifting from institutional care to community-based care for people suffering from mental disorders. A study published in The Lancet Psychiatry, 2017 offers corroborative evidence from VISHRAM (the Vidharbha Stress and Health Programme), which is a community-based mental health initiative. The reduction in the treatment gap was due to increased supply of mental health services through front-line workers and their collaborative linkage with the physicians and psychiatrists in the facilities, as well as increased demand for mental health services due to improved mental health literacy. The substantial reduction in the median cost of care resulted from availability of general as well as specialist services in the village itself.

Whether legislation such as the Mental Healthcare Bill help overcome supply and demand barriers seems highly unlikely, as the root causes lie in pervasive negative attitudes, massive neglect of mental health care, rampant abuse and unchecked inhuman practices, and weak redressal and enforcement mechanisms. The Bill seeks to address major lacunae in mental health care and is thus an important step forward. However, its implementation will require substantially larger public resources and, more importantly, restructuring of mental healthcare services with a key role for the community in their provision, rapid expansion of mental health literacy, effective monitoring and enforcement of the objectives envisioned in it. With limited awareness of these challenges, and with a slight risk of exaggeration, the Bill is an overkill.

This opinion editorial was first published in The Hindu

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Reflections on World Health Dayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/reflections-on-world-health-day/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reflections-on-world-health-day http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/reflections-on-world-health-day/#comments Thu, 13 Apr 2017 16:04:27 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149952 The tension between monopoly for patent holders (usually the big drug companies) and access to medicines for all has become acute and there are social movements around the world, both in developing and developed countries, that are fighting for patient’s rights and against excessive monopolies by companies. Credit: Bigstock

The tension between monopoly for patent holders (usually the big drug companies) and access to medicines for all has become acute and there are social movements around the world, both in developing and developed countries, that are fighting for patient’s rights and against excessive monopolies by companies. Credit: Bigstock

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Apr 13 2017 (IPS)

What’s the most precious thing in the world which unfortunately we take for granted and realise it true value when it is impaired? Good health, of course.

That’s something many people must have reminded themselves as they celebrated World Health Day on 7 April.

Attaining good health and well-being may be a top priority goal, but achieving it is elusive for almost everyone, and next to impossible for the poor.

In the 1980s, the World Health Organisation’s Director-General Halfdan Mahler steered through a declaration with the popular slogan ‘Health for All by the year 2000’.

We crossed into the 21st century without realising that noble goal. Although health has improved in most countries, due mainly to cleaner water and sanitation, but also due to better treatment, much remains to be done.

In recent years, the slogan ‘Health for All’ has been strengthened by the recognition in the United Nations of health as a human right.  It has been further boosted by the adoption of the principle of universal healthcare.

This means that no one should be deprived of health care even they are too poor to afford it.  Unfortunately, while the prices of old medicines whose patents have expired have gone down, there are many newer medicines which are too expensive for the ordinary person to afford.

That’s because a company that owns the patent has a monopoly over the production and sale of the medicine. Since there are no competitors, the price can be skyrocketed to high or to even astronomical levels.  The patent normally lasts 20 years.

Martin Khor

Martin Khor

For example, the prices of medicines for HIV AIDs had been at the level of US$15,000 per person per year in the United States.  For most AIDS patients in Africa and other developing countries this meant they could just not afford them.

Since those medicines were not yet patented in India, because India had until 2005 to implement the TRIPs Agreement of the World Trade Organisation, an Indian drug company CIPLA, was able to sell and distribute a three-in-one combination drug for about US$300 per person per year. Later, the price levels of the generic producers fell further to about US$60.

Millions of lives around the world were saved by competitor generic companies which could sell the medicines at a more affordable price. Health agencies like the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria were set up to and took advantage of the falling prices to make AIDS medicines available to poor countries.

In recent years a similar storm has been brewing over the prices of new drugs for Hepatitis C, a life-threatening disease which millions around the world suffer from. One of the drugs is Sofosbuvir, which has an efficacy rate of 95% and with fewer side effects, but is being sold in the US for about US$85,000.

Some generic companies in India have been allowed by the patent-holding company to produce and sell it at their own price level, which is currently around US$200-400 per patient for a course of treatment. They sell these drugs in India and in lower income countries at these much cheaper prices.

But they are not allowed by the patent holder to sell in most middle income countries, so almost two billion people in developing countries cannot have the medicine at the affordable price.

 

What can be done?

Whist the TRIPs Agreement mandates that patents have to be granted for genuine inventions, countries are also allowed to issue a compulsory licence or a government use licence to import or manufacture generic versions of the patented drug, if the original medicine is found to be too expensive.  Thus those countries taking this action can access affordable generic drugs.

The patent owner will receive a remuneration (usually a percentage of sales revenue) from the generic company or the government that is selling the generic product.

Countries can also carefully examine companies’ application for patents and reject those that are not genuine inventions, for example if a new patent is applied for a product with just a different dosage or the use of the same drug for another disease.

The prices of medicines for HIV-AIDS had been at the level of US$15,000 per person per year in the United States. For most AIDS patients in Africa and other developing countries this meant they could just not afford them

In reality, there are many new medicines already in existence or coming on stream that are patented and therefore out of reach of most patients. This tension between monopoly for patent holders (usually the big drug companies) and access to medicines for all has become acute and there are social movements around the world, both in developing and developed countries, that are fighting for patient’s rights and against excessive monopolies by companies.

Another interesting recent development is the recognition that too much sugar consumed can lead to and has led to an epidemic of many ailments, such as obesity, heart problems, diabetes. The authorities in more and more countries are taking action to limit the sugar content for example of soft drinks. The WHO has guidelines on sugar consumption and on how to avoid excessive sugar in many foods, especially those taken by children.

For world health day, consumers should resolve to cut down on sugar in their drinks and food.

An emerging threat that endangers human life is the resistance of bacteria and other pathogens to antibiotics and other antimicrobials.

Many antibiotics can no longer work on an increasing number of patients in a wide range of ailments, including TB, malaria, gonorrhoea and stomach ailments. Diseases that were once easily cured are now developing resistance, meaning the drugs don’t work anymore.

We have stark warnings from top public health offices like the WHO Director General Margaret Chan and the United Kingdom’s Chief Medical Office Dame Sally Davies, that we are approaching a post antibiotic era. In the future, even a simple scratch on a child’s knee or infection during surgery could lead to death, according to these officials.

Last September, political leaders meeting at the UN General Assembly pledged to take serious action to deal with antibiotic resistance. A coordinating group from UN agencies and selected individuals has been formed to review the situation and to recommend further action.

Finally, the World Health Assembly May this year will be electing a new Director General for the WHO. There are three candidates from Pakistan, Ethiopia and the United Kingdom. May the successful candidate do a superb job in addressing all the ailments, diseases and problems in world health.

 

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The Unbearable Cost of Drought in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/the-unbearable-cost-of-drought-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-unbearable-cost-of-drought-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/the-unbearable-cost-of-drought-in-africa/#comments Wed, 12 Apr 2017 13:51:01 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149928 People living in the Melia IDP camp, Lake Chad, receiving WFP food. Most of the displaced come from the Lake Chad islands, that have been abandoned because of insecurity. Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini

People living in the Melia IDP camp, Lake Chad, receiving WFP food. Most of the displaced come from the Lake Chad islands, that have been abandoned because of insecurity. Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 12 2017 (IPS)

Nearly 50 per cent of all emergency multilateral food assistance to Africa is due to natural disasters, with advancing droughts significantly threatening both livelihoods and economic growth, warns the African Union through its ground-breaking extreme weather insurance mechanism designed to help the continent’s countries resist and recover from the ravages of drought.

The mechanism, known as the African Risk Capacity (ARC) provides participating African states with quick-disbursing funds in the event of drought, and assists countries in developing drought response contingency plans to implement timely and effective responses.

“The result is significant economic and welfare benefits for participating countries and vulnerable households.”

As currently structured, ARC reports, the cost of responding to extreme weather events in Africa, particularly droughts, is borne largely by the international community.

To give an order of magnitude using World Food Programme (WFP) operations as a proxy for international aid flows, in 2012 WFP assisted 54.2 million people in Africa, spending US $2.7 billion –66 per cent of WFP’s global expenditure that year, it adds.

Droughts significantly threaten record Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in sub-Saharan Africa, ARC warned, while explaining that 1-in-10 year drought event could have an estimated adverse impact of 4 per cent on the annual GDP of Malawi for example, with even larger impacts for 1-in-15 and 1-in-25 year events.

“Such decreased productivity detracts from economic growth, causes major budget dislocation, erodes development gains and resilience, and requires additional emergency aid from the international community in the future.” One dollar spent on early intervention through ARC saves 4.40 dollars spent after a crisis unfolds.

Devastating Effects for Households

The African Union’s extreme weather insurance mechanism also informs that at the household level, the consequences of drought can be devastating in countries with low resilience where large sectors of population rely on rain-fed agriculture for their livelihood.

A mother holds up an empty cooking pot as she crouches alongside her daughter inside their makeshift home at a settlement near the town of Ainabo, Somalia, Thursday 9 March 2017. Photo: UNICEF/Kate Holt

A mother holds up an empty cooking pot as she crouches alongside her daughter inside their makeshift home at a settlement near the town of Ainabo, Somalia, Thursday 9 March 2017. Photo: UNICEF/Kate Holt

Experts from Oxford University and International Food Policy Research Institute conducted a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) to examine household coping actions when faced with a drought, and the likely long-term cost impacts of these actions, according to ARC.

The study estimated the economic benefits of early intervention and thus protecting a household’s economic growth potential –that is, intervening in time to prevent households’ negative coping actions such as reduced food consumption, livestock death, and distressed productive asset sales, which, in the absence of external assistance, have increasingly pronounced negative consequences.

“The CBA calculated that the economic benefit of aid reaching households within the critical three months after harvest could result in nearly 1,300 dollars per household assisted in terms of protected economic gains.”

A further analysis shows the potential benefit of ARC outweighs the 4.4 times compared to traditional emergency appeals for assistance, as a result of reduced response times and risk pooling.

Lake Chad Basin – Extreme Emergency

The ARC report about the impact of droughts in Africa came out shortly before the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) chief’s visit to some of the affected areas in North-Eastern Nigeria, where conflict has forced an estimated 2.5 million people to leave their homes and livelihoods.

The Sub-Saharan Lake Chad Basin, which is the main source of water in the region, between 1963 and 2013 lost 90 per cent of its water mass, with massive impact on the population, according to FAO.

Across the region, (encompassing parts of Nigeria, Cameroun, Chad and Niger), which is currently faced with one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world, some 7 million people risk severe hunger during the lean season and require immediate food and livelihood assistance.

“There are fifty thousand people on the brink of famine in the region, on a scale from 1 to 5, where 5 is famine, they are already at level 4”, FAO director general Graziano da Silva warned.
Following three years of drought, agriculture including livestock and fisheries can no longer be left unattended, he said.

Agriculture produces food and sustains 90 per cent of the local population. Many of the people in the area have already sold their possessions including seeds and tools and their animals have been killed by the armed groups.

“Pastoralists and fishers need to be supported as well for animal restocking. Otherwise if internally displaced persons don’t have their animals and their jobs back, they will remain in the refugee camps, “ the FAO DG emphasised.

Contribution to Long-term Resilience and Growth in Africa Low resilience households must grow by more than 3 per cent annually in real terms to withstand a 1-in-5 year drought.

For many countries in Africa, a small shock in terms of a rainfall deficit or elevated food prices can precipitate a call for a major humanitarian intervention and emergency response. The resilience in such countries is significantly low such that they struggle through most years, let alone during a drought.

For example, in a country such as Niger, where households currently display very low resilience, the ARC team has calculated that to event, the income of the most vulnerable households would have to grow by an annual average of 3.4 per cent over the next five years in real terms to build sufficient resilience in order to adequately cope without requiring external assistance.

In the meantime, insurance is not the ‘correct’ tool to deal with this chronic risk. In order to improve such countries’ resilience to natural disasters, thereby enabling sustained growth on the continent, two key elements are required: risk management and investment.

Drought, a complex and slowly encroaching natural hazard with significant and pervasive socio-economic and environmental impacts, is known to cause more deaths and displace more people than any other natural disaster, according to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

By 2050, the demand for water is expected to increase by 50 per cent, it reports, adding that as populations increase, especially in dryland areas, more and more people are becoming dependent on fresh water supplies in land that are becoming degraded.

“Water scarcity is one of the greatest challenges of the twenty-first century. The Global Risks report published by World Economic Forum ranks ‘water crisis’ as the top risk in the coming decade and it has a place in the Sustainable Development Goals where a specific goal has been dedicated to water.”

Drought and water scarcity are considered to be the most far-reaching of all natural disasters, causing short and long-term economic and ecological losses as well as significant secondary and tertiary impacts, UNCCD informs.

The African Risk Capacity was established as a Specialized Agency of the African Union to help Member States improve their capacities to better plan, prepare and respond to extreme weather events and natural disasters, therefore protecting the food security of their vulnerable populations.

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The Ebola Crisis: Lessons Learned for Developing Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/the-ebola-crisis-lessons-learned-for-developing-nations-3/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-ebola-crisis-lessons-learned-for-developing-nations-3 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/the-ebola-crisis-lessons-learned-for-developing-nations-3/#comments Tue, 11 Apr 2017 17:46:08 +0000 an IPS Correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149911 ebola_11

By an IPS Correspondent
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 11 2017 (IPS)

The Group of 77 has pointed out that the Ebola crisis of 2014-2015 proved that “no country is immune from a disease outbreak, no matter where it emerges”

The Group has argued that the world is now a big village, where the borders between countries are crossed by millions every day for different reasons– a better life for some, a migration for others, all due to different factors, including climate change and the outbreak of fast-spreading diseases.

Speaking on behalf of the Group of 77, joined by China, Lourdes Pereira of the Ecuadorean Mission to the UN told the Fifth Committee that since the 2014 Ebola outbreak, it became quickly evident that one country alone, with limited capacities and resources, could not face singlehandedly a threat of that dimension spreading across the borders – particularly, if it was not contained with global efforts.

But it also became evident, she pointed out, that regional and international organizations in charge of health, in particular the World Health Organization (WHO), did not have the relevant mechanisms and resources in place for a rapid response to stem the tide of the crisis.

“Uncertainty, fear and a lack of capacity and preparedness contributed to an ineffective and delayed response.”

She expressed the Group’s appreciation for the establishment of the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), the first-ever UN emergency health mission.

Despite serious challenges, the presence of UNMEER played a catalytic role in mobilizing the necessary financial and human resources to scale up the response to fight a disease which mostly affected West Africa.

The UN Mission contributed in bolstering national operational response capacity of the three Ebola affected countries, namely, Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone where more than 11,000 died.

The Group underlines that, the availability of immediate funds in an emergency intervention, flexible enough to meet identified critical gaps, is every important and helps build synergies of the global response.

To this end, the Group commended the Office of the Special Envoy on Ebola for its role in mobilizing extra-budgetary resources to the Ebola Multi-Partner Trust Fund, the international institutions, in particular WHO, OCHA, the bilateral and multilateral partners, the African Union and sub-regional organizations, the civil society, and many others for their fundamental contributions during the Ebola outbreak.

She said the reports under consideration by the Fifth Committee highlighted the numerous challenges encountered in the fight against the Ebola virus disease.

These challenges included, but not limited to the lack of coordination, initial confusion on responsibility sharing; trained and experienced personnel; inefficiencies in the use of new mechanisms which led to the loss of time; ineffective community engagement; proper logistic coordination; information on the financial performance of the Mission and on the liquidation and disposal of assets.

In order to avoid future problems in such crisis situations, the Group underlined the importance of building on existing institutional and coordination mechanisms, working with entities already on the ground such as the WHO and the United Nations Country team and the African Union, so as to reduce confusion, especially in the midst of health crises such as the recent Ebola outbreak.

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World Must Act Now on Lake Chad Basin Crisis: FAO DG Graziano da Silvahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/world-must-act-now-on-lake-chad-basin-crisis-fao-dg-graziano-da-silva/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-must-act-now-on-lake-chad-basin-crisis-fao-dg-graziano-da-silva http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/world-must-act-now-on-lake-chad-basin-crisis-fao-dg-graziano-da-silva/#comments Tue, 11 Apr 2017 14:52:37 +0000 Eva Donelli http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149907 Lake Chad Basin: a crisis rooted in hunger, poverty and lack of rural development. Credit: FAO

Lake Chad Basin: a crisis rooted in hunger, poverty and lack of rural development. Credit: FAO

By Eva Donelli
ROME, Apr 11 2017 (IPS)

Food assistance is a priority and the only way to prevent the crisis from worsening in the Lake Chad Basin, is to support food production according to José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

“We need to take action now and there is no doubt that hungry people need food, but an emergency approach doesn’t tackle the roots”, he said in a press conference following his three day visit to some of the affected areas in northeastern Nigeria, where conflict has forced an estimated 2.5 million people to leave their homes and livelihoods.

Lake Chad, which is the main source of water in the region, between 1963 and 2013 lost 90 percent of its water mass, with massive impact on the population.

Across the region, (encompassing parts of Nigeria, Cameroun, Chad and Niger), which is currently faced with one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world, some 7 million people risk severe hunger during the lean season and require immediate food and livelihood assistance.

“There are fifty thousand people on the brink of famine in the region, on a scale from 1 to 5, where 5 is famine, they are already at level 4”, Graziano da Silva warned.

The FAO chiefexplained that this conflict cannot be solved only with arms. This is a war against hunger and poverty and rural development must be promoted and resilience built. A combination of food assistance and food production support is the only way to avoid further escalation of the serious humanitarian crisis.

Following three years of drought, agriculture including livestock and fisheries can no longer be left unattended. Agriculture produces food and sustains 90 percent of the local population. Many of the people in the area have already sold their possessions including seeds and tools and their animals have been killed by the armed groups. “Pastoralists and fishers need to be supported as well for animal restocking. Otherwise if internally displaced persons don’t have their animals and their jobs back, they will remain in the refugee camps, “ the FAO DG emphasized. “The region is approaching a critical time in the agricultural calendar, with the main planting season beginning in May/June 2017 and we need the money now to plant”, he stressed. There is a huge shortfall in international assistance to meet the emergency needs. Of the USD 62 million requested under the 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan for Nigeria, FAO has so far received only about USD 10 million.

FAO Director-General meets Prime Minister of Chad, Albert Pahimi Padake. Credit: FAO

FAO Director-General meets Prime Minister of Chad, Albert Pahimi Padake. Credit: FAO


FAO has developed a Lake Chad Basin Response Strategy (2017-2019) to improve food security and nutrition and strengthen the resilience of vulnerable communities in the affected areas and more than 1.16 million people will receive assistance in the coming months across the region. Key activities will include the distribution of cereal seeds, animal feed and the provision of cash transfers and veterinary care.

In response to a question by IPS, Graziano Da Silva said he will soon be discussing with David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme about the crisis and work together with other organizations such as UNHCR, UNICEF and UNDP “to integrate their different mandates to tackle the crisis.

Graziano da Silva stated further that according to Kashim Shettima, Governor of Borno State, the current globally high levels of food insecurity reflect a sustained lack of investment in rural development over the last 30 years that has generated and exacerbated the conflicts, pushing millions of people into hunger. The FAO DG explained further that in addition to emergency assistance, there is a need to gradually move to higher investments, in particular for equipment and training of farmers in modern irrigation techniques. In reply to a question at the press conference , he noted, “the capital of Borno State is a secure city”. He pointed out that governors must ensure safe market environments.“Small markets are opening in the villages, even inside the camps, so giving them cash would stimulate the market”, he added. “What is crucial now for organizations on the ground is not to work independently but to have a good interaction with local governors, to face the challenge.”

In fact, Graziano da Silva concluded, “we are monitoring the crisis and we have a lot of detailed data; what we need is to raise awareness and inform donors on the dimension of the crisis”.

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Women’s Health Policies Should Focus on NCDshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/womens-health-policies-should-focus-on-ncds/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-health-policies-should-focus-on-ncds http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/womens-health-policies-should-focus-on-ncds/#comments Tue, 11 Apr 2017 00:02:56 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149895 Professor Robyn Norton, co-founder and Principal Director of the George Institute for Global Health. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Professor Robyn Norton, co-founder and Principal Director of the George Institute for Global Health. Credit: George Institute/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, Apr 11 2017 (IPS)

Science and medicine were not subjects of dinnertime conversations in the Norton household in Christchurch, New Zealand, but Professor Robyn Norton grew up observing her parents’ commitment to equity and social justice in improving people’s lives. It left an indelible impression on her young mind.

Her high school years coincided with the women’s movement reaching its peak. She got drawn into thinking about addressing women’s health issues and moved to Sydney, Australia to enroll in a Master’s in Public Health.Norton feels its time the global health agenda expands from a predominant focus on women’s reproductive organs to include women’s whole bodies — and the NCDs, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes.

“It was a light bulb moment for me. At that time, women’s reproductive rights and the high rates of maternal and infant mortality were paramount in global and women’s health agendas, which in the next 30 years would result in significant improvements in maternal health. Since then the burden of disease has changed. Today, the single highest cause of death for women in every single country is non-communicable diseases [NCDs] and injuries,” says Professor Norton, who is the co-founder and Principal Director of the George Institute for Global Health, a not-for-profit medical research institute that aims to increase the provision of safe, effective and affordable healthcare worldwide.

In 1999, she co-founded the Institute with Professor Stephen MacMahon for three main reasons. First, a recognition that the global burden of disease had changed, particularly in lower and middle-income countries where NCDs and injuries were emerging as a leading cause of death and disability. Secondly, the expertise to manage the emerging epidemic of NCDs and injuries was not available in these countries. Thirdly, most of the global collaborations between the high income and low income countries were still focused on maternal and child health and under nutrition.

“Global health policymakers needed to acknowledge and address these issues. Our expertise in NCDs and injuries, along with working in low and middle income countries, made it the right time to set up the Institute. The Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation study, which emphasised the growing importance of NCDs and injuries was release around the same time, providing a significant impetus for us to move forward,” says Norton, who is Professor of Global Health at the University of Oxford and Public Health at the University of Sydney.

The Institute founders chose to partner with the University of Sydney as they felt geographically Sydney would be a natural hub for collaborations, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. Soon the Institute began collaborative partnerships for research in India.

“We realised that if we were to make a difference in the world, we had to be in a country with a huge population. India also fitted our original idea because it was going through a transition with triple burden of disease and changing demographics. It was starting to see under nutrition co-existing with over nutrition; infectious diseases beginning to co-exist with the growing incidence of cardiovascular diseases and strokes,” explains Norton.

The model of an external organisation partnering with colleagues in India to particularly address NCDs and injuries was a relatively new one for India. The Institute’s biggest challenge was to raise the importance of NCDs and the need to address the burden of these diseases, which account for seven of the top 10 killers of women, and 18 million women around the world die from them each year.

Norton feels its time the global health agenda expands from a predominant focus on women’s reproductive organs to include women’s whole bodies — and the NCDs, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the George Institute in India. “We have laid the foundation in India for growing the institute with a larger critical mass and greater impact. We would like to produce research that impacts on policy and practice that ultimately leads to reduction in NCDs and injuries and greater access to healthcare for a larger proportion of the populace,” she adds.

Evidence shows that there is a lack of gender sensitive research, data and policy, which is impeding gender equity in health. The Institute has joined a global call for a gendered approach to the collection and utilisation of health data.

Says Norton, “As we deepen our understanding of how the human body works, we know that women and men respond differently to disease and to possible interventions. We are also beginning to understand that health systems respond differently to women and men such that both access to care and the quality of care differs. Yet, far too commonly, there is no delineation of gender in health data, and women are underrepresented in many scientific and clinical studies.”

To improve the health of women and girls in developing countries, Norton says, “We have to look at the leading causes of death and disability and then allocate resources into addressing those issues. We now know that seven out of 10 causes of death and disability for women in India are NCDs. It is critical to begin with making women understand the risk factors of NCDs and how best to prevent and manage those.”

She suggests restructuring the health services and utilising existing workforce by retraining them to integrate NCDs. “India has enormous resource in the cadre of Accredited Social Health Activists [ASHA], who have been focusing on improving the health of women during pregnancy. If we can look at ways of upskilling them then it is going to be incredibly important as part of the process of bringing more women into the health sector.”

The Institute has been researching innovative ways to provide greater access to high quality, low cost essential drugs in developing countries.

“The approach we are taking is three-fold. First, looking at ways to make generic drugs more widely available. Secondly, combining drugs, for example four pills into a single pill, to keep costs low and ensure greater adherence. Thirdly, training non-physician healthcare workers and equipping primary healthcare centres to provide quality care, so people have the confidence in their quality of care and realise that they don’t need to travel miles to a tertiary healthcare centre or pay lots of money to see a specialist for everyday illnesses,” she adds.

The other issue close to her heart has been road traffic injuries. She is the Chair Emeritus of the World Bank and the World Health Organisation supported Road Traffic Injuries Research Network, which is aimed at building research capacity and agendas to address the growing burden of road traffic injuries in low and middle income countries.

“It has been a tendency to think about road traffic injuries as an accident or an act of God rather than a health problem. We have to take the same scientific approach to injury as we have used, for example, to address heart disease. Injuries in many respects fall between the world of infectious diseases and NCDs. Ten percent of people die as a result of injuries worldwide and the burden of injuries mostly rests on adolescents and young pre-middle aged people,” says Norton.

She feels India needs to look at the data and causative factors, monitor it and then intervene, to address the causes of road traffic accidents.

“We know that speeding, drink driving, not wearing helmets, seatbelts and child restraints, are some of the key factors associated with road traffic injuries. If we focus on educating the public on those issues, along with introducing and enforcing legislation, it would make a huge difference in India. We need advocacy and leadership by governments, non-governmental organisations and academics, such as ourselves, to take these issues together,” she adds.

*Neena Bhandari is a Sydney-based journalist and president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Association (Australia and South Pacific).

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Tomatoes, Limes and Sex-Selective Abortionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/tomatoes-limes-and-sex-selective-abortions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tomatoes-limes-and-sex-selective-abortions http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/tomatoes-limes-and-sex-selective-abortions/#comments Fri, 07 Apr 2017 04:45:55 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149843 Credit: Curt Carnemark / World Bank. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Credit: Curt Carnemark / World Bank. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 7 2017 (IPS)

When Bimla Chandrasekharan saw that women who gave birth to baby girls were being sent out of the house by their angry husbands and mothers-in-law she realised a basic biology lesson was needed.

“We start educating them on this XY chromosome,” Chandrasekharan who is Founder and Director of Indian women’s rights organisation EKTA told IPS. “(But) we don’t say XY chromosome, we do it with tomatoes and limes. ‘Tomato tomato’ it becomes a girl, ‘tomato lime’ it becomes a boy.”

It is just a start but this lesson helps to show fathers that they in fact determine the sex of their children.

According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), there are now 117 million girls who are ‘missing’ worldwide because of sex selective abortion and infanticide.

The problem ballooned in India and China in the 1990s, partly due to increased access to ultrasounds. But according to the UNFPA the problem has also now spread to new regions including Eastern Europe and South-East Asia.

A new UNFPA program to address the problem in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Viet Nam, Bangladesh and Nepal will draw on the experiences of both India and China in addressing the problem.

“The evidence we have (of what) what really works is changing social norms and gender norms that under-value girls and at the same time giving opportunities to girls and women.” -- Luis Mora, UNFPA

“Son preference is a practice that affects many societies around the world,” Luis Mora, Chief of the UN Population Fund’s Gender, Human Rights & Culture Branch told IPS.

“What we have seen over the last three decades is that the practice that initially was considered a sort of exception in China and India … has moved to other countries.”

Yet while the increase in sex selection has coincided with access to technologies like ultrasound, both Mora and Chandrasekharan agree that banning ultrasounds alone won’t fix the problem.

“In a patriarchal society there is always a preference for a male child,” says Chandrasekharan.

This is why EKTA challenges patriarchy and teaches mothers and fathers why they should want to have daughters just as much as they want sons.

Some of the reasons why sons are preferred over daughters are economic. In India parents have to pay a dowry for daughters. In many countries only sons can inherit property, daughters cannot.

But there are other reasons too.

As Chandrasekharan points out, some mothers fear bringing daughters into a world where they are likely to experience sexual harassment and abuse, a lifetime of unpaid housework, and marriage as young as 12 or 13.

Chandrasekharan, is an active member of a national campaign called Girls Count, which aims to fight sex selection in India, and receives funding from both UNFPA and UN Women.

She says that within Girls Count there are “two streams.”

“One stream of people believe in strict enforcement of the law,” says Chandrasekharan, “The other stream is challenging patriarchy, I belong to that stream,” She adds that she also believes in the law, but doesn’t think that laws alone work.

As Chandrasekharan points out India’s Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Technique Act was introduced in 1994, banning prenatal scanning and revealing the sex to parents, yet this law has not stopped sex-selective abortions.

Yet Chandrasekharan is also careful to say that challenging patriarchy doesn’t mean that her organisation is anti-men. Patriarchy is a system, she says that has consequences for both men and women, but mostly benefits men.

“We are not against you as an individual we are talking about a system,” she tells the men and boys she works with.

Mora also agrees that it is not possible to end sex selection without addressing gender inequality.

“The evidence we have (of what) what really works is changing social norms and gender norms that under-value girls and at the same time giving opportunities to girls and women.”

This includes giving rights, equal access to education, employment and land, says Mora. “These are the practical things that make a sustainable change.”

This is also why EKTA introduces role models to the community, to show that not all women will spend their lives doing unpaid housework.

EKTA’s most recent role model came from the local community herself. At a young age she met a family member who told her that she had flown to meet them by plane.

Even though the girl came from a marginalised Dalit family, she told her family that she wanted to be the ‘engine driver’ of a plane, since she didn’t yet know the word for pilot.

Last year, says Chandrasekharan, she became a full-fledged pilot and returned to speak to the community as part of EKTA’s role models program.

UNFPA’s new program in the six selected countries is funded by the European Union, however many other UNFPA programs are now in jeopardy, after the United States’ decision to withdraw all of its funding from the agency on Monday.

IPS spoke to Chandrasekharan during the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women.

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“Devastating Consequences” for Women, Girls as U.S. Defunds UN Agencyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/devastating-consequences-for-women-girls-as-u-s-defunds-un-agency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=devastating-consequences-for-women-girls-as-u-s-defunds-un-agency http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/devastating-consequences-for-women-girls-as-u-s-defunds-un-agency/#comments Wed, 05 Apr 2017 22:38:25 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149823 Mothers and babies wait for health screening at a US funded health clinic in Uganda. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands / IPS.

Mothers and babies wait for health screening at a US funded health clinic in Uganda. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands / IPS.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 5 2017 (IPS)

The U.S. has withdrawn all of its funding to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), an agency that works on family planning and reproductive health in over 150 countries.

The decision is based on what the UNFPA says is an erroneous claim that it “supports, or participates in the management of, a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilisation (in China).”

The claim was made by the U.S. State Department in a letter on Monday announcing the cuts, but has been described repeatedly as baseless, by those who know the UNFPA’s work.

According to the UNFPA, it does not promote abortions and instead “accords the highest priority to voluntary family planning to prevent unintended pregnancies to eliminate recourse to abortion.”

In a statement released in response to the funding cuts, the UNFPA said that “we have always valued the United States as a trusted partner and leader in helping to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe, and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.”

The U.S. is one of the largest contributors to UNFPA having provided over $75 million in 2015 alone, the third highest contribution from a government after the United Kingdom and Sweden. The U.S. is also the second largest funder of UNFPA’s humanitarian operations. Like other UN agencies, UNFPA is funded by governments voluntarily.

Though UNFPA does work in China, both Kowalski and Jalan told IPS that the accusation is baseless and is simply an “excuse” to stop funding an organization working on sexual and reproductive rights.

International Women’s Health Coalition’s Director of Advocacy and Policy Shannon Kowalski told IPS that the cuts will have “devastating consequences” for girls and women around the world.

“UNFPA has played a critical role in getting services to the most marginalised women…now their lives and health are at stake because of this,” Kowalski told IPS. 

She noted that the UN agency’s frontline work in crisis situations will be most affected, including the provision of sexual and reproductive health services to women who have been targeted by the Islamic State (IS) or other groups in the Middle Eastern region. 

According to the UN Foundation, the elimination of U.S. support threatens UNFPA’s ability to reach an estimated 48,000 women with safe childbirth in Syria and 55 women’s centers providing support for over 15,000 women and girl survivors of gender-based violence in Iraq, including one dedicated to more than 700 Yazidi sexual violence survivors.

Around the world, the UNFPA says that US funding in 2016 helped it to save the lives of 2,340 women from dying during pregnancy and childbirth, prevent 947,000 unintended pregnancies, ensure 1,251 fistula surgeries and prevent 295,000 unsafe abortions.

Executive Director of UN Foundation’s Universal Access Project Seema Jalan told IPS that the U.S. government is also the primary funder of the only maternity ward for Syrian women in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.   

“Pregnant Syrian women will have absolutely nowhere to go to deliver their babies,” she stated. 

Kowalski highlighted the larger implications of the U.S.’ decision, stating: “It will send a clear message that the world doesn’t care about responding to women in the most marginalized situations and in many respects, it will indulge in extremists that are looking to capitalize on this marginalization and abandonment of women.” 

This is not the first time that the UNFPA has experienced such cuts from the U.S. government. President George W. Bush previously withdrew $34 million from the agency between 2002 to 2008, similarly citing the agency’s involvement in coercive policies in China. 

Though UNFPA does work in China, both Kowalski and Jalan told IPS that the accusation is baseless and is simply an “excuse” to stop funding an organisation working on sexual and reproductive rights.  

“The Chinese government does still [violent women’s rights]… but because UNFPA is active in the country in supporting the implementation of voluntary sexual and reproductive health services, they link the two and say that UNFPA is directly supporting these coercive policies which is not true,” Kowalski stated. 

One such coercive policy is the East Asian Nation’s one child regulation which has been slowly phased out since 2015, a move that UNFPA helped the country make, Jalan said. 

“The main purpose of UNFPA in China has been to introduce the concept of quality of care and voluntary family planning that is rights-based,” Jalan told IPS. 

Jalan added that UNFPA in China did not even provide assistance to the Chinese government or its family planning agency in 2016, a claim that the State Department makes in its letter.  

However, due to the doubling in U.S. contributions since 2002 and the unprecedented humanitarian crises around the world, the global impacts of the recent decision is expected to be far greater than before. 

Kowalski urged Congress to revoke the Kemp-Kasten Amendment which was referenced to defund the UN agency.   

The amendment prohibits foreign aid to any organization, including U.S. organizations and multilateral organizations, that is involved in coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization. It is similar to the recently reinstated global gag rule, also known as the Mexico City policy, which forbids foreign groups receiving U.S. assistance to provide information about abortion or abortion services. 

Already, numerous U.S. politicians from New York and California condemned the decision, stating: “President Trump’s hypocrisy has reached new heights with his decision to halt U.S. assistance to the United Nations Population Fund. The President just recently claimed to have ‘tremendous respect’ for women and honored their role around the world, and yet within a month he has issued a decision to cut off funding for the UNFPA…To cut off this funding is a cruel decision that will not only hurt women and their children, but will also further damage the leadership role of the United States around the globe. We call on the President to put women over politics and reverse this decision immediately.” 

Jalan said that this was an “important” start, but urged for a more bipartisan initiative to reverse the decision. 

“Funding for women and girl’s basic healthcare, assuring that a Syrian refugee pregnant woman can actually have a safe delivery and that her child can survive that delivery, someone who has survived sexual violence and can have access to care and support—we believe that that is a bipartisan issue,” she told IPS. 

Kowalski also stressed the need for the international community to step up and increase their support to help close UNFPA’s funding gap.

Upon the reintroduction of the global gag rule, several countries raised approximately $190 million to help fill imminent funding gaps including Sweden, Canada, and Finland who each pledged $21 million towards global access to sexual and reproductive health services. 

“Without UNFPA being able to provide these services, the consequences for women will be devastating,” Kowalski said. 

The funds allocated to UNFPA for the fiscal year 2017 are to be reverted to the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to support family planning, maternal and reproductive health operations in developing countries. 

The decision marks the first of the Trump administration’s promised cuts to the UN.  

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Plastic No More… Also in Kenyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/plastic-no-more-also-in-kenya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=plastic-no-more-also-in-kenya http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/plastic-no-more-also-in-kenya/#comments Tue, 04 Apr 2017 16:19:31 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149807 Plastic bags are also a major contributor to the 8 million tonnes of plastic dumped in the sea every year. Credit: UNEP

Plastic bags are also a major contributor to the 8 million tonnes of plastic dumped in the sea every year. Credit: UNEP

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 4 2017 (IPS)

Good news: Kenya has just joined the commitment of other 10 countries to address major plastic pollution by decreeing a ban on the use, manufacture and import of all plastic bags, to take effect in six months.

The Kenyan decision comes three weeks after the UN declared “war on plastic” through its new UN Clean Seas initiative, launched on at the Economist World Ocean Summit in Bali (February 22-24, 2017).

The initiative’s campaign urges governments to pass plastic reduction policies; industry to minimise plastic packaging and redesign products; and consumers to change their throwaway habits before irreversible damage is done to our seas.

“Kenya is taking decisive action to remove an ugly stain on its outstanding natural beauty,” Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment Programme (UNEP) commented on the Nairobi government’s decision.

“Plastic waste also causes immeasurable damage to fragile ecosystems – both on land and at sea – and this decision is a major breakthrough in our global effort to turn the tide on plastic.”

Some 100 million plastic bags are handed out every year in Kenya by supermarkets alone, the UN informed, adding that long identified as a major cause of environmental damage and health problems, they kill birds, fish and other animals that mistake them for food, damage agricultural land, pollute tourist sites and provide breeding grounds for the mosquitoes that carry malaria and dengue fever.

More Plastic Than Fish

According to UNEP, plastic bags are the number one challenge for urban waste disposal in Kenya, particularly in the poorest communities where access to disposal systems and healthcare is limited.

They also contribute to the 8 million tonnes of plastic that leak into the ocean every year. At current rates by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish, wreaking havoc on marine fisheries, wildlife and tourism.

Biodegradable Plastics Are Not the Answer to Reducing Marine Litter. Credit: UNEP

Biodegradable Plastics Are Not the Answer to Reducing Marine Litter. Credit: UNEP

Kenya, who on March 15 announced its decision to ban plastic bags, is now the 11th country to take action in support of the UNEP’s campaign. Also in Africa, Rwanda and Morocco have already banned plastic bags and other countries are set to announce measures in the coming weeks.

At that Bali Summit, Indonesia committed to slash its marine litter by a massive 70 per cent by 2025; Uruguay will tax single-use plastic bags later this year, and Costa Rica announced measures to dramatically reduce single-use plastic through better waste management and education.

Canada added micro-beads (tiny particles of plastic) to its list of toxic substances, and New Zealand, the UK and the US announced bans on micro-beads in cosmetics.

According to estimates, at the rate we are dumping items such as plastic bottles, bags and cups after a single use, by 2050 oceans will carry more plastic than fish and an estimated 99 per cent of seabirds will have ingested plastic.

Sweden’s Strong Push

Isabella Lövin, Sweden’s deputy prime minister and climate minister told IPS in an interview that the world is going “in the totally wrong direction,” when it comes to achieving the goal of sustainable oceans and life below water.

“If you look at the trends right now, you see more and more overfishing, we are seeing more and more pollution, plastic litter coming into our oceans, and we’re also seeing all the stress that the ocean is under due to climate change, acidification of the water, but also the warming and sea level rises.

Together with Fiji, Sweden is convening a major UN Ocean Conference on 5-9 June this year.

The new Dr. Fridtjof Nansen is one of the most advanced marine vessels sailing today. Credit: FAO

The new Dr. Fridtjof Nansen is one of the most advanced marine vessels sailing today. Credit: FAO

The Conference aims to bring together governments, the private sector and civil society organisations to create a more coordinated approach to sustaining oceans. It will look at the key role that oceans play in climate change but also other issues such as the alarming prospect that there will be more plastic in our seas than fish by the year 2050.

“There’s 3 billion people around the world that are primarily dependent on marine resources for their survival and so they depend on what the ocean can produce, so it’s about food security, it’s also about livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people that depend on small scale fisheries mostly in developing countries,” Lövin explained.

She also noted that rich countries need to work together with developing countries to address these issues, because the demand for fish in rich countries has put a strain on the global fish stocks that developing countries rely on.

“Rich countries … have been over-fishing with industrial methods for decades and now when they European oceans are being emptied more or less we have depleted our resources and then we import and we fish (over long distances in) developing countries’ waters.”

“We need to make sure that fish as a resource is conserved and protected for future generations.”

Norway-FAO Advanced Oceanic Research

In line with these efforts, Vidar Helgesen, Minister of Climate and the Environment of Norway, said at the Bali Summit: “Keeping our seas clean and our marine life safe from plastic is a matter of urgency for Norway. Marine plastic litter is a rapidly increasing threat to marine life, seafood safety and negatively affects the lives of people in coastal areas all around the world. Our oceans cannot wait any longer.”

On Mach 24, Norway and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched a brand new, state-of-the-art marine studies vessel, among the most advanced of its kind — and the only research ship on the globe that flies the UN flag.

Its mission: to investigate some of the planet’s least-explored oceans, using cutting-edge technology and sophisticated equipment to help developing countries assemble scientific data critical to sustainable fisheries management and study how a changing climate is affecting our oceans.

The new Dr. Fridtjof Nansen vessel —the 3rd ship to bear that name during an on-going 40-year partnership between FAO and Norway— houses seven different laboratories packed with high tech gadgetry.

As the only research ship on the planet flying the UN flag, the Dr. Fridtjof Nansen is able to sail freely across different jurisdictional boundaries, unfettered in its pursuit of natural resource challenges that transcend borders.

Speaking at the ship’s naming ceremony in Oslo, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg stressed that both science and international collaboration will be key to implementing the 2030 Development Agenda.

“Norway, with our long coastline and ocean culture, understands the importance of SDG14, with its goal of protecting our oceans. We know this can not be done by any one country on its own. It requires us all to do our part, and Norwegian-FAO cooperation on the Nansen is an example of collaborating with developing countries to achieve this,” she said.

“This new vessel allows us to improve research and activities where marine observations are extremely limited, and better understand the impacts of climate change on aquatic ecosystems and our oceans” said for his part FAO’s Director-General José Graziano da Silva

“This is crucial to enable developing countries to increase the resilience of ecosystems and coastal communities, especially regarding small-scale fisheries.”

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Catastrophic Antibiotic Threat from Foodhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/catastrophic-antibiotic-threat-from-food/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=catastrophic-antibiotic-threat-from-food http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/catastrophic-antibiotic-threat-from-food/#comments Tue, 04 Apr 2017 12:31:59 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Tan Zhai Gen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149801 Jomo Kwame Sundaram is a former economics professor who served as a senior UN official during 2005-2015. Tan Zhai Gen is an University of Oxford biochemistry graduate currently involved in research. Both are Malaysians. ]]> Antibiotics are used to ensure better health and survival of animals bred for food, but they are also believed by many farmers to promote growth. Credit: IPS

Antibiotics are used to ensure better health and survival of animals bred for food, but they are also believed by many farmers to promote growth. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Tan Zhai Gen
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Apr 4 2017 (IPS)

The greatly excessive use of antibiotics in food production in recent decades has made many bacteria more resistant to antibiotics. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has estimated that antibiotic use in animal husbandry, poultry farming and aquaculture in the US is over four times USDA recommended levels. Meanwhile, the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has estimated that 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the USA are used on animals.

Cheap antibiotics prone to abuse
Antibiotics are used to ensure better health and survival of animals bred for food, but they are also believed by many farmers to promote growth. As prices of antibiotics remain attractively low, they offer the prospect of higher earnings from greater output at low cost. Hence, there is little or no market incentive to reduce excessive, if not indiscriminate use, and hence abuse of antibiotics. Thus, such efforts to increase farmer incomes and profitability exacerbate the likelihood and risk of antibiotic resistance.

The widespread use of antibiotics through food chains is thus becoming catastrophic. A review by the FAO explains how antibiotic-resistant bacteria in animals are infecting humans, through direct contact with animals or indirect transmission through the food we eat. Earlier, the spread of bacteria was popularly associated with international travel, but the threat posed by antibiotic-resistant bacteria in our food is now proving to be far more formidable.

‘Recycling’ antibiotics

Ecologically minded activists have long been promoting agricultural recycling, often citing traditional agricultural practices. But adding antibiotics to animal feed has made this a threat to public health. The feed typically contains many drugs, including some only used by humans as antibiotics of last resort.

Much of the antibiotics given to livestock and poultry passes un-degraded through their urine and faeces, directly affecting food from aquaculture. Thus, waste from pigpens flowing into fishponds exposes fish and shrimps to the high doses of antibiotics that livestock get, on top of the antibiotics added to the pond water to prevent or address aquatic diseases. Antibiotic resistant bacteria from this environment then passes to humans who consume such food.

While restrictions have already been widely placed on the use of hormones and steroids to promote growth, the excessive use of antibiotics by farmers has only gained attention in recent years, while a huge reservoir of resistant bacteria was emerging and spreading.

In November 2015, scientists discovered a gene in China that can enable many types of bacteria to become more antibiotic resistant. The gene has since been found in patients, food and animals from more than twenty countries. More worryingly, these bacteria can resist the last line of effective antibiotics available.

Catastrophic threat
A British government report estimates that about 700,000 people worldwide currently die annually due to antibiotic-resistant infections. If current trends continue, this mortality rate will rise to ten million yearly by mid-century, i.e., in just over three decades.

In the near future, antibiotics will become less effective in treating infections as bacteria mutate to become more resistant. Many more people will die of currently antibiotics-curable diseases. New antibiotics may delay this trend, but no new class of antibiotics has been discovered since the 1980s.

In line with the WHO’s global action plan, member nations have pledged to draw up national action plans against antibiotics resistance, as part of a broader effort to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR). The lack of effective national surveillance and supervision of antibiotics use in animal products masks the severity of the threat.

Sadly, in most developing countries, the rising threat posed by the exponential growth of dangers due to excessive antibiotic use is mainly of concern to the authorities when it threatens export prospects. As with improper and excessive pesticide use, the abuse of antibiotics is mainly of concern when it affects national reputations abroad and related export earnings, with scant attention given to the threats posed to domestic consumers.

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Depressed? Let’s Talkhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/depressed-lets-talk/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=depressed-lets-talk http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/depressed-lets-talk/#comments Mon, 03 Apr 2017 05:49:21 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149756 Depression causes persistent sadness, a loss of interest in activities that you normally enjoy and an inability to carry out daily activities. Credit: WHO

Depression causes persistent sadness, a loss of interest in activities that you normally enjoy and an inability to carry out daily activities. Credit: WHO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 3 2017 (IPS)

Just three weeks after celebrating the International Day of Happiness, the United Nations now asks you the following questions: do you feel like life is not worth living? Are you living with somebody with depression? Do you know someone who may be considering suicide?

Not that the world body all of a sudden wants to spoil your happiness—it is just that depression affects people of all ages, from all walks of life, in all countries, and as many as over 300 million people worldwide, according to the latest estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO).

“These new figures are a wake-up call for all countries to re-think their approaches to mental health and to treat it with the urgency that it deserves,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said in a news release.

Depression causes mental anguish and impacts on people’s ability to carry out even the simplest everyday tasks, with sometimes devastating consequences for relationships with family and friends and the ability to earn a living. At worst, WHO adds, depression can lead to suicide, now the second leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds.

Credit: WHO

Credit: WHO

No wonder then that the World Health Day on 7 April provides everybody –depressed or not– with a special opportunity to mobilise action around a specific health topic of concern to people all over the world.

Understandably then, the theme of 2017 World Health Day campaign is Depression: Let’s Talk.

In spite of these warnings, not all news is bad news. A better understanding of what depression is, and how it can be prevented and treated, will help reduce the stigma associated with the condition, and lead to more people seeking help.

What Is Depression All About?

To start with, the world health body explains what depression is all about: it is an illness characterised by persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that you normally enjoy, accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities, for at least two weeks.

In addition, people with depression normally have several of the following: a loss of energy; a change in appetite; sleeping more or less; anxiety; reduced concentration; indecisiveness; restlessness; feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or hopelessness; and thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

Credit: WHO

Credit: WHO

But do not panic–depression is something that can happen to anybody, it is not a sign of weakness, and more importantly: it is treatable, with talking therapies or antidepressant medication or a combination of these.

Fine then. Now that the world leading body specialised in health issues assures once and again that much can be done to prevent and treat depression, you may ask what to do to overcome this bad feeling?

Stop Prejudice, Discrimination, Stigma

One of the first steps is to address issues around prejudice and discrimination. “The continuing stigma associated with mental illness was the reason why we decided to name our campaign Depression: let’s talk,” said Dr Shekhar Saxena, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO.

“For someone living with depression, talking to a person they trust is often the first step towards treatment and recovery.”

There is also the need to increase investment–in many countries, there is no, or very little, support available for people with mental health disorders. Even in high-income countries, nearly 50 per cent of people with depression do not get treatment.

On average, just 3 per cent of government health budgets is invested in mental health, varying from less than 1% in low-income countries to 5 per cent in high-income countries.

Credit: WHO

Credit: WHO

On top of this, WHO reminds that investment in mental health makes economic sense–every 1 dollar invested in scaling up treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of 4 dollars in better health and ability to work.

What to Do to Prevent Depression

To begin with, WHO recommends to talk to someone you trust about your feelings. Most people feel better after talking to someone who cares about them.

Should this not be enough, then seek professional help–your local health-care worker or doctor is a good place to start.

Meantime, keep up with activities that you used to enjoy when you were well; stay connected, keep in contact with family and friends; exercise regularly, even if it’s just a short walk, and stick to regular eating and sleeping habits.

As importantly, don’t by shy—just accept that you might have depression and adjust your expectations. You may not be able to accomplish as much as you do usually.

And, of course, void or restrict alcohol intake and refrain from using illicit drugs–they can worsen depression.

As you see, depression can be treated. And it goes without saying that if you think you have depression, all you need is to just seek help.

It goes without saying that the best recommendation would be not to feel depressed! But!

Come on, it is not the end of the world!

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People With Autism Have Right to Autonomy Toohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/people-with-autism-have-right-to-autonomy-too/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=people-with-autism-have-right-to-autonomy-too http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/people-with-autism-have-right-to-autonomy-too/#comments Sun, 02 Apr 2017 03:20:12 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149749 Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Center at the University of Cambridge, gives the keynote address during a special event held to mark World Autism Awareness Day. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Center at the University of Cambridge, gives the keynote address during a special event held to mark World Autism Awareness Day. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 2 2017 (IPS)

Guardianship laws meant to protect people with autism actually deprive them of their basic rights and autonomy, according to experts on a UN panel.

When people with autism turn 18, their parents or other caregivers are encouraged to legally become their guardians. However, as Zoe Gross an autism self-advocate says the practice deprives people with autism of the ability to influence their own lives.

Gross was one of several panelists at a special event held to ahead of World Autism Awareness Day on the theme ‘Toward Autonomy and Self-Determination” at UN headquarters in New York on Friday.

The laws affect all aspects of a persons life, says Gross:

“Where you live, where you work, who you spend time with, whether you want to get married or have children, even whether to have medical procedures.”

“Regardless of whether your guardian is acting in your best interests or not, if you are under guardianship you don’t have access to the same rights that most adults take for granted,” -- Zoe Gross, Autism Self Advocate.

In some states, people under guardianship lose the right to vote while in extreme cases Gross says that people under guardianship have been forced to undergo involuntary sterilisation.

“Regardless of whether your guardian is acting in your best interests or not, if you are under guardianship you don’t have access to the same rights that most adults take for granted,” said Gross, who is Director of Operations at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

Theresia Degener, Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities spoke strongly against guardianship, also described as substituted decision making at the event.

“Substituted decision-making is a human rights violation,” said Degener. “It is called protection but it is oppression.”

“Guardianship laws are a harmful traditional legal practice coming from the north and it is now widespread all over the world and it must be repealed.”

2017 marks the 10th anniversary of World Autism Awareness Day.

“It has been 10 years since we joined with others to successfully campaign for a World Autism Awareness Day through the UN General Assembly,” Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of Qatar Foundation, told IPS.

“Our aim was to shine a bright light on autism as a growing global health issue,” she said.

“On this 10th anniversary, it is vital that the global community continues to increase awareness and develop knowledge across the world of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).”

“Only by celebrating the unique talents and achievements of persons with autism will we give a voice to the millions of individuals worldwide who are looking for ways to realise their full potential.”

Also speaking at the event, Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge spoke about how people with autism have difficulties with social relationships and communication but also need need respect and acceptance for their differences.

Baron-Cohen described how people with autism report feeling that even those they are close to may take advantage of their social naivety or different communication skills.

Baron-Cohen also emphasised that autism is a reflection of “neurodiversity, that our brains are not all wired the same.”

He also emphasised the potential positive sides of autism.

“Autism Is not a disease in the classical sense because it invariably leads to disability it also often leads to talent for example in excellent attention to detail and excellent ability to spot patterns.”

Baron-Cohen said that it was impossible to separate a discussion about independence and autonomy for people with autism from a discussion of their human rights.

“All people with autism, like all people with a disability, have legal capacity even if they need support to make decisions and need safe-guarding,” said Baron-Cohen.

“Legal capacity and equal recognition before the law are inherent rights that people with autism enjoy on an equal basis with other members of our societies,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterrres in a statement.

“Let us ensure that we make available the necessary accommodations and support persons with autism with access to the support they need and choose so they will be empowered to face the key milestones in every person’s life, such as deciding where and with whom to live, whether to get married and to establish a family, what type of work to pursue and how to manage their personal finances.”

“When they enjoy equal opportunity for self determination and autonomy, people with autism will be empowered to make an even stronger positive impact on our shared future.”

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Autism in Bangladesh: Reducing Discrimination Through Innovationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/autism-in-bangladesh-reducing-discrimination-through-innovation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=autism-in-bangladesh-reducing-discrimination-through-innovation http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/autism-in-bangladesh-reducing-discrimination-through-innovation/#comments Thu, 30 Mar 2017 12:13:44 +0000 Saima Wazed Hossain http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149713 Children's Cultural Program / Town Hall Meeting. Dec 14, 2015. Shilpakala Academy. Organized by Parents Forum for the Differently Able. A short play by nearly 30 children and youth with NDDs. Over 100 parents took part in the meeting asking a whole variety of questions and expressing their concerns related to NDDs.

Children's Cultural Program / Town Hall Meeting. Dec 14, 2015. Shilpakala Academy. Organized by Parents Forum for the Differently Able. A short play by nearly 30 children and youth with NDDs. Over 100 parents took part in the meeting asking a whole variety of questions and expressing their concerns related to NDDs.

By Saima Wazed Hossain
DHAKA, Mar 30 2017 (IPS)

Within the last 5 years, thanks to political support and national education, autism awareness in Bangladesh has grown immensely. Due to a lack of funds and resources, providing full comprehensive evidence based services for those in need is not yet possible, but with a continuation of our current progression, it is certainly an attainable goal. Credit for our tremendous success in providing public awareness and understanding of the challenges faced by families with autism is ultimately, thanks to the dedication and resilience of those very families.

Our mission for families began in the 1990s with the implementation of comprehensive disability policies along with the formation of national forums and disability organizations.

Since 2008, World Autism Awareness Day on April 2nd is recognized and celebrated with a national event in Bangladesh. This event has involved a cultural show performed by PWD’s with our Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as the guest of honor. Individuals and organizations were recognized for their work, while getting an opportunity to interact with the Prime Minister to express any concerns.

Despite progression of autism awareness in the population, the real turning point for change in South Asia came with the international conference on autism organized in Dhaka on July 25th 2011. What differentiated this conference from others in the region was the integration of various individuals from scientific, personal, and political backgrounds. The presence of prominent political figures such as, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, as well as many other First Ladies and ministers from the region, allowed our conference to be truly unique.

Saima Wazed Hossain

Saima Wazed Hossain

This event brought about an unprecedented change in the societal attitudes about autism and disability. Since then, previously rejected newspaper articles by parents and experts began to be regularly published in Bangladesh daily papers. Talk show discussions on health matters included the topic of disability. The word ‘autism’, which did not exist in our language has now become a household term, and frequently, if unfortunately, used as a synonym for disability — or as we say in Bangla ‘protibondhi’.

The conference was followed by the formation of 4 task forces comprised of parents and experts in the field. Additionally, I appeared in numerous television interviews where I described autism and shared a personal message to end discrimination and shame. At the recommendation of the task force, a parents’ forum was established followed by the formation of a national steering committee in 2013, comprised of 8 ministries headed by the highest non-elected government officials, which are supported by senior advisors and technical experts. This multi-faceted approach prioritized the need for early screening and intervention, supportive educational programs, employment training, and social safety net programs. This sent an important message to stakeholders and policy makers explaining how there is no easily addressed solution to autism which could be implemented by altering existing medical practices. Instead, a multi sectorial life span approach would be required to create a more cost-effective, sustainable and supportive program catering to families’ needs.

The complexity of autism and other NDD’s pose a significant challenge when trying to balance the development of medical services while creating socioeconomic opportunities for an individual’s unique skillset. The primary task of mitigating the tremendous emotional, social and financial ordeal for families remains a persistent challenge.
The last four years of multi-sectorial planning by the National Steering Committee has enabled the inclusion of disability in the government’s development and economic planning. With significant political support, the primary stakeholders, i.e. individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders (NDD) and their families continue to play a significant role in shaping policies and implementing programs. This involvement of several ministries ensures significant awareness for autism and all disability matters; however, our unique and comprehensive approach is challenged by a limited growth in human resource development and the lack of a mechanism for monitoring the efficacy of projects and fund disbursement to ensure sustainable evidence-based programs particularly in the social sector.

Global awareness and enhanced understanding of autism has resulted in increased diagnosis, demand for treatment and development of innovative approaches; many of which remain isolated to research settings or unpublishable in scientific journals. Additionally, due to the high cost and copyright laws many programs in low resources countries remain similarly isolated and unshared. Moreover, programs requiring linkages between existing infrastructures with inter and intra-disciplinary collaboration are a particular challenge for developing countries. Hence why we urgently need a mechanism by which the challenges and success stories of these individuals can be shared among both disability organizations and governments so it may provide further knowledge on effective, sustainable programs and assist in decision making.

The complexity of autism and other NDD’s pose a significant challenge when trying to balance the development of medical services while creating socioeconomic opportunities for an individual’s unique skillset. The primary task of mitigating the tremendous emotional, social and financial ordeal for families remains a persistent challenge.

This April, Shuchona Foundation with WHO-SEARO is paving the way towards implementation of international resolutions on autism by organizing a conference in Bhutan for the ministries of Health and Family Welfare of Bhutan and Bangladesh. Experts, self-advocates, caregivers and policy makers will meet for 3 days in Thimphu (visit www.ANDD2017.org) to discuss identification and interventions methods, issues on education and employment and help develop a collaborative comprehensive plan for low resource settings that all countries can emulate.

Saima Wazed Hossain is a Specialist in School Psychology, Chairperson of the Bangladesh National Advisory Committee for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders as well as a Member of the World Health Organization’s Expert Advisory Panel on Mental Health.

 

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A Special Learning Journey Cut Shorthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/a-special-learning-journey-cut-short/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-special-learning-journey-cut-short http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/a-special-learning-journey-cut-short/#comments Wed, 29 Mar 2017 20:08:14 +0000 Charity Chimungu Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149706

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds issued by IPS on the occasion of this year’s World Autism Awareness Day

By Charity Chimungu Phiri
BLANTYRE, Malawi, Mar 29 2017 (IPS)

When building a house, it’s critical to lay a strong foundation. The same applies to education, with studies showing that children who attend early learning centers perform better in school than those who do not.

In Malawi, a 2003 national survey found that only 18.8 percent of school-age children with disabilities were attending class. More than twice as many of the same age group without disabilities (41.1 percent) attended school. This was mainly attributed to the lack of a disability-friendly environment."Since many children come from poor families, parents are often faced with the dilemma of choosing which child to send to secondary school, bearing in mind that the one with difficulties needs special care." --teacher Miriam Chimtengo

More parents are now sending their young ones to such special preschools, some as little as two years old. This kind of early intervention is especially critical for children with learning disabilities such as autism.

Most autistic children are diagnosed late in Malawi due to the lack of specialist doctors and caregivers, but also failure by their parents, guardians and teachers to recognize that the child has learning difficulties.

James Botolo* lives in one of the suburbs of Blantyre and has a 10-year-old autistic son named Chikondi*.

“For so long, we never could figure out what was wrong with our son. Of course he didn’t like to play with his siblings at home and times he could talk to himself but we never thought it was anything. But what mainly bothered us was that he never did well in school, so we kept moving him from one private school to another. One day I met someone who alerted me that my son could have a learning problem,” he said.

Autistic children often lack socialization skills, are hyperactive, struggle to pay attention and sometimes react to things by crying or hurting themselves.

Chikondi is now in standard two at the St. Pius X Resource Centre, a school for children with physical and developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy, autism, dyslexia, epilepsy, hearing impairment, and blindness.

Currently in Malawi, there are over 40 resource learning centers for children with various disabilities.

Miriam Chimtengo, 41, is a specialist teacher at St. Pius X, where she teaches a class of about 27 students (16 full time).

Chimtengo, who holds a diploma in Special Needs Education, told IPS that there are major gaps in the social support system for the families of children with learning challenges.

Even though we’re laying this good foundation for the children, for most of them their education does not go further. The parents bring the children to us here at primary school where they will start noticing the changes, but after the child finishes standard 8, they just keep them at home…so all this work at the grassroots level is not sustained.”

According to Chimtengo, there are limited resources for a child with learning difficulties to further their education.

“Since many children come from poor families, parents are often faced with the dilemma of choosing which child to send to secondary school, bearing in mind that the one with difficulties needs special care, special learning materials, full supervision and assistance, which might be hard to provide,” she said.

“Some parents also believe they can better take care of their child alone at home than at school where they will not be around to protect their child.”

Chimtengo said that those with physical disabilities such as visual impairments, deafness and limited limb mobility are more likely to go further in school than children with mental/emotional issues such as autism.

The other contributing factor is that there are no free services for poor families who wish to send their mentally challenged children to behavioral therapy. Only physiotherapy is free in government hospitals and at SOS Villages.

“For example, here in my class I have children whom upon assessment we recommended that they go for therapy, but only those parents who are financially better off have put up their kids in therapy…we have been lobbying with the government to make links with such specialists so that they are available for all children regardless of their financial standing,”

This scenario automatically puts a child with a learning disability at a disadvantage to later further their education or secure a job.

There are limited spaces offered to youth with disabilities in national vocational training schools in Malawi. They only take in a certain number, which is far below the actual population in need.

In other private vocational training facilities, the prerequisite for entry is a Malawi School Certificate of Education-MSCE (equivalent to a high school diploma), which many children with mental disabilities find hard to earn.

The Living Conditions study of 2013 found that many youths with various disabilities were frustrated with the large gap in the provision of vocational training services, as well as some other services such as welfare, assistive devices and counseling.

In 2015, the government launched a program called Community Technical Colleges aimed at helping poor children, including those with disabilities and lacking high school diplomas, gain access to tertiary education.

International experts on autism advise parents with learning difficulties to take a leading role to ensure that their child secures some form of employment.

The website Autism Speaks says it is important to encourage the child to network at community and family events to meet potential employers.

“Encourage your son or daughter to think about their hopes, dreams, interests and strengths as a way to start planning for employment. One of the most valuable resources for adults with autism is peer support and mentoring.”

The other challenge in educating children with special needs in Malawi is lack of specialists both in the education and health sectors. For the whole of the commercial capital Blantyre, there is only one neurological doctor who sees patients twice a week at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital.

There are many special education teachers, but are scattered across the country.

“Literature says that one special needs teacher should attend to five kids. But because of the increase of children, we’re teaching more than that. This is challenging because different disabilities have different needs,” said Chimtengo, the special needs teacher at St Pius X.

“It means in one lesson I should try to capture all the needs of every student, which takes a lot of time and effort. Our colleagues in the normal classes teach a class, but for us we teach individuals who need to be taught the things repetitively. We call it repetition and drilling,” she said.

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