Inter Press Service » Health http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 20 Oct 2014 09:54:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Writing the Final Chapter on AIDShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/writing-the-final-chapter-on-aids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=writing-the-final-chapter-on-aids http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/writing-the-final-chapter-on-aids/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 06:50:55 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137230 Testing, treating and suppressing viral load in massive numbers could curb the spread of AIDS by 2020. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

Testing, treating and suppressing viral load in massive numbers could curb the spread of AIDS by 2020. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Oct 17 2014 (IPS)

Although AIDS has defied science by killing millions of people throughout Africa in the last three decades, HIV experts now believe that they have found the magic numbers to end AIDS as a public health threat in 15 years.

The magic numbers are 90-90-90 and are informed by growing clinical evidence showing that HIV treatment equals prevention because putting people on antiretroviral therapy (ART) reduces new infections.

The new treatment targets seek that, by 2020:

  • 90 percent of people living with HIV get diagnosed
  • 90 percent of people diagnosed with HIV will be on ART
  • 90 percent of people on ART achieve durable viral suppression

The 90-90-90 plan, unveiled by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) earlier this year, seeks to halt the spread of HIV by 2020 and to end the epidemic by 2030.

While this is the most ambitious strategy to eliminate HIV yet, experts such as Dr Lucy Matu, director of technical services at the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation in Kenya, says that it can be done.

She told IPS that in Kenya 72 percent of the estimated total number of people living with HIV have been tested, and 76 percent of the 880,000 adults and children diagnosed with HIV were on ART by April 2014.

Kenya will get closer to the 90-90-90 target as it implements the 2013 World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, which increased the CD4 count threshold to start ART from 350 to 500, says Matu.

As eligibility for ART becomes broader, she explains, “it will push the number of people on ART up by at least 250,000 to 300,000 to at least 90 percent of those in care, and of course more people will continue to enroll in care.”

An attainable goal

The WHO guidelines build on the clinical benefits of starting ART earlier. Patients stay healthier and avoid opportunistic infections, such as pneumonia, meningitis and TB.

Kenya is not the only country on track to achieving the ambitious 90-90-90 targets. In Botswana, which has a very high adult HIV prevalence, surpassed only by Swaziland globally, more than 70 percent of people living with HIV are on ART.

All East and Southern African countries are adopting the new guidelines, says Dr Eleanor Gouws-Williams, senior strategic information adviser with UNAIDS.

Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi and Swaziland are “finalising their national guidelines while others like South Africa are planning to implement the new guidelines next year,” she told IPS.

Gouws-Williams believes that the 90-90-90 plan is attainable.

90-90-90: the formula that experts believe could write the final chapter on AIDS in 15 years. Courtesy: UNAIDS

90-90-90: the formula that experts believe could write the final chapter on AIDS in 15 years. Courtesy: UNAIDS

Testing is the first step

Only half of all people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa have been diagnosed, says UNAIDS, so getting them to test is the first step.

Studies in Kenya and Uganda show that including HIV testing in multi-disease campaigns drove coverage up by 86 percent and 72 percent respectively.

But experts caution that the targets are more than putting loads of people on ART. Attaining viral suppression is key.

“In Rwanda, 83 percent of people receiving ART were found to be virally suppressed after 18 months of therapy,” says Gouws-Williams.

In Zimbabwe, Dr Agnes Mahomva, country director for the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation, told IPS that 90-90-90 is not too ambitious for the Southern African country.

Already, she told IPS, “HIV positive pregnant and breast feeding mothers are universally eligible for ART for life as well as HIV positive children below five years, regardless of their CD4 count.”

While many experts are optimistic that 90-90-90 targets will be met, Ugandan HIV activist Annabel Nkunda says the targets do not necessarily speak to each other.

Nkunda told IPS that many HIV positive people, “when put on treatment, do not adhere to the treatment because of stigma.”

Without a specific target to reduce stigma, she says, “no amount of intervention will get us to zero HIV/AIDS.”

But some experts like Dr Matu disagree: “If you know your status, you are more likely to be put on HIV care. If you are on ART, you are more likely to stay within the health system for follow up.”

Finding funding

While it is still too early to estimate how much countries will spend to make 90-90-90 work, the consensus is that a lot of resources will be needed. Already, some African countries are exploring innovative financing options such as AIDS tax levies and national HIV trust funds.

Gouws-Williams points out that ART has become far more affordable. In Malawi, it costs less than 100 dollars per person per year.

Nonetheless, donor assistance will still be critical, especially for five poor countries where HIV treatment costs exceed five percent of gross domestic product (GDP) – Malawi, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Burundi.

Matu says that achieving 90-90-90 requires a combination of factors, including a robust health system, good laboratory capabilities, cheaper viral load testing and a strong health work force.

Mahomva adds that a strong community component is needed, “because this is where several bottlenecks such as stigma happen, compromising adherence to HIV treatment.”

In spite of the uphill task ahead, many are optimistic that 90-90-90 will write the final chapter of the AIDS epidemic.

Edited by: Mercedes Sayagues

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Pressure Building on Obama to Impose Ebola Travel Banhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pressure-building-on-obama-to-impose-ebola-travel-ban/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pressure-building-on-obama-to-impose-ebola-travel-ban http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pressure-building-on-obama-to-impose-ebola-travel-ban/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 01:27:23 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137228 Children in the town of Gueckedou, the epicentre of the ebola outbreak in Guinea. Credit: ©afreecom/Idrissa Soumaré

Children in the town of Gueckedou, the epicentre of the ebola outbreak in Guinea. Credit: ©afreecom/Idrissa Soumaré

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 17 2014 (IPS)

President Barack Obama is under significant pressure to impose a range of restrictions on travellers coming to the United States from West African countries affected by the current Ebola outbreak.

Yet public health experts and development advocates warn that such restrictions would harm the already reeling economies of Ebola-hit countries in the region, and squeeze the international community’s ability to get health workers and goods into these countries.“If we get this wrong and just hunker down and hide, we will make this problem worse both in West Africa and in the United States.” -- Charles Kenny of the Center for Global Development

“An accelerated mobilisation of personnel and resources is necessary to control the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and care for patients, through the establishment of new Ebola management centres,” Tim Shenk, a press officer with Medecins Sans Frontieres, the humanitarian group that has been at the core of the international response to the epidemic, told IPS.

“For this reason, it is crucial that airlines continue flying to the affected region.”

Calls for halting flights and imposing visa restrictions have been floating around Washington since the virus’s spread caught the world’s attention over the summer. Yet these have strengthened substantially in recent days, following the confirmation of three cases of Ebola in the United States.

The first of those was unknowingly carried by a man from Liberia. He died last week after infecting two of the health workers attending to him, and the case has prompted an intense and at times vitriolic response.

“A temporary ban on travel to the United States from countries afflicted with the virus is something that the president should absolutely consider,” John Boehner, the leader of the U.S. House of Representatives and one of the most powerful figures in Washington, said Wednesday.

In fact there are no direct air connections between the United States and any of the three countries most affected by the current outbreak. Further, it would be extremely complex to impose such a ban in tertiary transit countries.

On the other hand, it would be possible to create additional hurdles for those applying for U.S. visas in West Africa. But this would do nothing to deal with, for instance, the many U.S. passport holders living in these countries, and would likewise be logistically complex.

Nonetheless, Boehner was echoing a clear tide of U.S. support for the imposition of travel restrictions. According to a poll released Tuesday, two-thirds of people in the United States would support “restricting entry” of incoming travellers from Ebola-afflicted countries.

The federal government’s response to Ebola has suddenly become a defining issue in the U.S. midterm elections, slated for next month.

Dangerous isolation

The current Ebola outbreak has now killed more than 4,000 people, almost all in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. On Thursday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the international community to make available a billion dollars to allow those combating the disease to meet a target of reducing the virus’s transmission rates by the beginning of December.

In the United States, meanwhile, the public support for travel restrictions has risen by six percentage points since just last week. And lawmakers, many of whom are currently in the last stages of political campaigns, are responding.

Though Congress is currently on recess, lawmakers held a rare hearing on Ebola Thursday. By Thursday evening, members of Congress who supported some sort of travel restrictions outnumbered those who didn’t by 56 to 13, according to a list compiled by a Washington newspaper.

While those who do not support a travel ban were all Democratic, the support for such restrictions stretches across both parties.

“I’ve been struck by just how intense this political pressure has become, and the pressure is bipartisan,” J. Stephen Morrison, the director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank, told IPS.

“While the arguments made against travel bans have been solid, they don’t win the day with the public. Further, if the base population carrying the virus continues to grow, the threat won’t ease and neither will this pressure.”

Even as lawmakers increasingly funnel – and perhaps fuel – concern over Ebola in this country, the Obama administration remains adamant that it is not considering any travel restrictions beyond health scans and interviews at international airports.

“Shutting down travel to that area of the world would prevent the expeditious flow of personnel and equipment into the region,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, told journalists Wednesday. “And the only way for us to stop this outbreak and to eliminate any risk from Ebola to the American public is to stop this outbreak at the source.”

Earnest did not reject the possibility completely, however, noting that a travel ban is “not on the table at this point.”

Yet many of those closest to the Ebola response warn that travel restrictions would be not only unfeasible but outright dangerous, exacerbating the outbreak.

“You don’t want to do something that inadvertently accelerates the economic collapse of these countries or impedes the flow of health workers and critically needed commodities,” CSIS’s Morrison says. “Our ability to get ahead of this crisis necessitates the flow, back and forth, of thousands of health-care workers and commodities.”

Indeed, such concerns have already been borne out. African Union aid workers, for instance, were recently delayed for a week getting into Liberia due to travel restrictions imposed in a number of African countries.

“It has been quite challenging over the last several months, because there have been a reduction in commercial flights … a reduction in shipping that comes into the country,” Debra Malac, the U.S. ambassador to Liberia, told journalists Thursday. “[That’s made it] very difficult to get things like food as well as supplies in that are critically needed in order to help address this epidemic.”

Devastating economies

U.S. travel restrictions could also pose significant economic risks, both to Ebola-hit countries and Africa as a whole.

“There’s a lot of air traffic between Africa and the U.S. that’s very important for trade and investment, the tourism industry, for the diaspora,” CSIS’s Morrison says. “All of that is reliant on air links, so how do you make sure you’re not kicking the pins out of those economic processes?”

Already there are widespread fears over the financial impacts of Ebola on Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Earlier this week, the World Health Organisation warned that the virus now threatens “potential state failure” in these countries. Last week, the World Bank estimated that the epidemic could cost West African countries some 33 billion dollars in gross domestic product.

“If we get this wrong and just hunker down and hide, we will make this problem worse both in West Africa and in the United States,” Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a think tank here, told IPS.

“Imposing any kind of travel ban would tank the economy of these three countries, and that will have knock-on effects on dealing with the disease – increasing the suffering and the number of people with the disease.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Cycle of Death, Destruction and Rebuilding Continues in Gazahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/cycle-of-death-destruction-and-rebuilding-continues-in-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cycle-of-death-destruction-and-rebuilding-continues-in-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/cycle-of-death-destruction-and-rebuilding-continues-in-gaza/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 21:28:50 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137147 Displaced Palestinians gather at a United Nations school in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, Aug. 26, 2014. Families found refuge after fleeing their homes in an area under heavy aerial bombardment in the besieged Palestinian territory. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

Displaced Palestinians gather at a United Nations school in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, Aug. 26, 2014. Families found refuge after fleeing their homes in an area under heavy aerial bombardment in the besieged Palestinian territory. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 13 2014 (IPS)

When the international pledging conference to rebuild a devastated Gaza ended in Cairo over the weekend – the third such conference in less than six years – the lingering question among donors was: is this the last of it or are there more assaults to come?

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon implicitly warned of the futility of the continuing exercise when he said: “We cannot continue to build and destroy – and build and destroy – like this. This should be the last reconstruction conference”."Donors who keep footing the bill to rebuild Gaza should insist that Israel lift unjustified restrictions that are worsening a grim humanitarian situation and needlessly punishing civilians." -- Sarah Leah Whitson

But will it?

The total amount pledged at the Cairo conference was around 5.4 billion dollars.

The funds came mostly from the European Union (568 million dollars) and oil-blessed Gulf nations, including Qatar (1.0 billion dollars), Saudi Arabia (500 million dollars, pledged before the conference), United Arab Emirates and Kuwait (200 million dollars each) and the United States (212 million dollars).

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director, Middle East & North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS many of the participants in the Gaza reconstruction have proclaimed their understanding that money is not enough to Israel’s never-ending cycle of death and destruction in Gaza.

“What’s still missing is the international community’s commitment to opening the borders of Gaza so that people there can have a basis of normal life, develop their economy, and take one step away from poverty and handouts,” she added.

Nadia Hijab, executive director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told IPS Ban Ki-moon is right that reconstruction followed by destruction is an exercise in futility, but he appears to feel no responsibility in making sure the destruction doesn’t happen.

“The United Nations was set up to avoid the gross violation of rights that Israel has repeatedly visited upon Gaza – and upon the Palestinian people over nearly seven decades.”

Ban, in particular, is well-placed to hold Israel accountable under many legal instruments, she pointed out.

“But for decades the U.N. secretary-general has never acted until world powers asked him to do so. And world powers only act in their own interests,” she said.

Hijab also said the reconstruction conference on Gaza is an attempt by these same world powers to be seen to be dealing with the aftermath of an Israeli assault that provoked worldwide outrage. But if the “international community” really cared about the Palestinians of Gaza, they would order Israel to lift its blockade without delay, she declared.

“And follow that by cutting back on their trade and military ties with Israel until it quits the occupied Palestinian territory,” said Hijab.

When the 54-day conflict between Hamas and Israel ended last August, there were over 2,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 73 Israelis killed.

The hostilities in July-August significantly worsened a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, according to HRW. They left 108,000 people homeless, completely destroyed 26 schools and four primary health centres, and destroyed or damaged 350 businesses and 17,000 hectares of agricultural land, according to a U.N. assessment.

Unemployment in Gaza, already at 45 percent, climbed even higher since the fighting, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who participated in the pledging conference, was constrained to remark, “This is the third time in less than six years that together with the people of Gaza, we have been forced to confront a reconstruction effort.

“[And] this is the third time in less than six years that we’ve seen war break out and Gaza left in rubble. This is the third time in less than six years that we’ve had to rely on a ceasefire, a temporary measure, to halt the violence,” he said.

“Now, I don’t think there’s any person here who wants to come yet again to rebuild Gaza only to think that two years from now or less were going to be back at the same table talking about rebuilding Gaza again because the fundamental issues have not been dealt with,” Kerry declared, taking a passing shot at Israel.

Ban said “whatever we may reconstruct this may not be sustainable if it is not supported by political dialogue. That is why peace talks are the most important. There is no alternative to dialogue and resolving all these underlying issues through political negotiations,” he noted.

He said this must be the last Gaza reconstruction conference.

“The cycle of building and destroying must end. Donors may be fatigued but the people of Gaza are bruised and bloody. Enough is enough,” he added.

In a statement released here, HRW said blanket Israeli restrictions unconnected or disproportionate to security considerations unnecessarily harm people’s access to food, water, education, and other fundamental rights in Gaza.

Israel’s unwillingness to lift such restrictions will seriously hinder a sustainable recovery after a seven-year blockade and the July-August fighting that damaged much of Gaza.

“The U.N. Security Council should reinforce previous resolutions ignored by Israel calling for the removal of unjustified restrictions,” HRW said.

Meanwhile, Israel’s blockade of Gaza, reinforced by Egypt, has largely prevented the export and import of commercial and agricultural goods, crippling Gaza’s economy, as well as travel for personal, educational, and health reasons, according to HRW.

“Donors who keep footing the bill to rebuild Gaza should insist that Israel lift unjustified restrictions that are worsening a grim humanitarian situation and needlessly punishing civilians,” HRW’s Whitson said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Marine Litter: Plunging Deep, Spreading Widehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/marine-litter-plunging-deep-spreading-wide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marine-litter-plunging-deep-spreading-wide http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/marine-litter-plunging-deep-spreading-wide/#comments Fri, 10 Oct 2014 08:26:17 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137098 There are an estimated 13,000 pieces of plastic litter afloat every single square kilometer of ocean. Credit: Bo Eide Snemann/CC-BY-2.0

There are an estimated 13,000 pieces of plastic litter afloat every single square kilometer of ocean. Credit: Bo Eide Snemann/CC-BY-2.0

By Manipadma Jena
ATHENS, Oct 10 2014 (IPS)

Imagine a black-footed albatross feeding its chick plastic pellets, a baby seal in the North Pole helplessly struggling with an open-ended plastic bag wrapped tight around its neck, or a fishing vessel stranded mid-sea, a length of discarded nylon net entangled in its propeller. Multiply these scenarios a thousand-fold, and you get a glimpse of the state of the world’s oceans.

With an average of 13,000 pieces of plastic litter estimated to be afloat every single square kilometer of ocean globally, and 6.4 million tonnes of marine litter reaching the oceans every year according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), researchers and scientists predict a bleak future for the great bodies of water that are vital to our planet’s existence.

A conservative estimate of overall financial damage of plastic to marine ecosystems stands at 13 billion dollars each year, according to a press release from UNEP released on Oct. 1.

“To entirely rid the ocean of litter is an aspiration not expected to be achieved in a lifetime, even if we stop waste inputs into the sea, which we still have not. The cost is too much. Much of the waste has been broken down and is beyond our reach. To clean the sea surface of [floating] litter itself will take a long time." -- Vincent Sweeney, coordinator of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA).
With the 12th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP12) currently underway in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the issue of marine health and ocean ecosystems is in the spotlight.

Of the 20 Aichi Bioiversity Targets agreed upon at a conference in Nagoya, Japan in 2010, the preservation of marine biodiversity emerged as a crucial goal, with Target 11 laying out the importance of designating ‘protected areas’ for the purpose of protecting marine ecosystems, particularly from the harmful effects of human activity.

Speaking to IPS on sidelines of the 16th Global Meeting of the Regional Seas Conventions and Actions Plans (RSCAP) held in Athens from Sep. 29-Oct. 1, Tatjana Hema, programme officer of the marine pollution assessment and control component of the Mediterranean Action Plan, told IPS that marine debris results from humane behaviour, particularly land-based activities.

The meeting drew scientists and policymakers from around the globe to chart a new roadmap to stop the rapid degradation of the world’s seas and oceans and set policies for their sustainable use and integration into the post‐2015 development agenda.

There was a near unanimous consensus that marine littler posed a “tremendous challenge” to sustainable development in every region of the world.

The issue has been given top priority since the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil in 2012, and Goal 14 of the 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals – which will replace the MDGs as the U.N.’s main blueprint for action at the end of this year – set the target of significantly reducing marine pollution by 2025.

“We did not have any difficulty pushing for the explicit inclusion of this goal in the proposed SDGs,” Jacqueline Alder, head of the freshwater and marine ecosystems branch at the Division of Environmental Policy Implementation for the UNEP told IPS. “After all, oceans are everyone’s problem, and we all generate waste.”

Wastes released from dump-sites near the coast or river banks, the littering of beaches, tourism and recreational use of the coasts, fishing industry activities, ship-breaking yards, legal and illegal dumping, and floods that flush waste into the sea all pose major challenges, experts say.

Similarly, plastics, microplastics, metals, glass, concrete and other construction materials, paper and cardboard, polystyrene, rubber, rope, fishing nets, traps, textiles, timber and hazardous materials such as munitions, asbestos and medical waste, as well as oil spills and shipwrecks are all defined as marine debris.

“Organic waste is the main component of marine litter, amounting to 40-80 percent of municipal waste in developing countries compared to 20-25 percent in developed countries,” Hema said.

Microplastics, however, emerged as one of the most damaging pollutants currently choking the seas. This killer substance is formed when plastics fragment and disintegrate into particles with an upper size limit of five millimeters in diameter (the size range most readily ingested by ocean-dwelling organisms), down to particles that measure just one mm in diameter.

“Micro- and nano-plastics have been found [to have been] transferred to the micro-wall of algae. How this will affect the food chain of sea creatures and how human health is going to be affected by ingesting these through fish, we still do not know,” UNEP’s Vincent Sweeney, who coordinates the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA), told IPS.

Fishermen haul in their catch on a beach in Sri Lanka’s eastern Trincomalee District. Experts say a large portion of marine litter is a by-product of the global fishing industry. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Fishermen haul in their catch on a beach in Sri Lanka’s eastern Trincomalee District. Experts say a large portion of marine litter is a by-product of the global fishing industry. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

“The extent of the microplastic problem till now is somewhat speculative; we still do not have a sense of how much of the oceans are affected,” he added.

Ocean SDG targets have to stand up to four criteria: whether they are ‘actionable’, ‘feasible’, ‘measureable’ and ‘achievable’.

Unlike, for example, the target of reducing ocean acidification (whose only driver is carbon dioxide), which easily meets all four criteria, the issue of marine debris is not as simple, partly because “what shows up on the beach is not necessarily an [indication] of what is inside the ocean,” Sweeney asserted.

“Marine litter can move long distances, becoming international. Ownership is difficult to establish,” he added. Litter also accumulates in mid-ocean ‘gyres’, natural water-circulation phenomenon that tends to trap floating material.

“The risk in not knowing the exact magnitude of marine litter is that we may tend to think it is too big to handle,” Sweeney said, adding, however that “momentum is building up with awareness and it is now getting priority at different levels.”

“To entirely rid the ocean of litter is an aspiration not expected to be achieved in a lifetime, even if we stop waste inputs into the sea, which we still have not. The cost is too much. Much of the waste has been broken down and is beyond our reach. To clean the sea surface of [floating] litter itself will take a long time,” Sweeney asserted.

“Though there are different drivers for marine pollution in each country, the common factor is that we are consuming more and also generating more waste and much of this is plastic,” he concluded.

Aside from insufficient data and the high cost of cleaning up marine litter, the Means of Implementation (MoI) or funding of the SDG ocean targets is yet another challenge for most regions.

Northwest Pacific countries like China, Japan, Russia and Korea, however, have established replicable practices, according to Alexander Tkalin, coordinator of the UNEP Northwest Pacific Action Plan.

“Korea and Japan are major donors and both have introduced legislation specifically on marine litter,” Tkalin told IPS on the sidelines of the meeting.

“Japan has changed legislation to incentivise marine debris cleaning, tweaking its law under which, normally, one pays for littering, but the government now pays municipalities for beach-cleaning after typhoons, when roots and debris from the sea-floor are strewn on beaches,” Tkalin explained.

The Dutch and the U.S. also have strong on-going programmes on marine debris, as does Haiti, according to Sweeney.

The extent of the crisis was brought home when Evangelos Papathanassiou, research director at the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research in Attiki, 15 kilometres from Athens, told visiting regional journalists about his experience of finding a sewing machine at a depth of 4,000 feet in the Mediterranean Sea.

“Even though man-made marine pollution from aquaculture, tourism and transportation are most pressing in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, they are not getting the deserved attention,” he added.

If the new development era is to be a successful one, experts conclude, we terrestrial beings must urgently turn our attention to the seas, which are crying out for urgent assistance.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Displacement Spells Danger for Pregnant Women in Pakistanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/displacement-spells-danger-for-pregnant-women-in-pakistan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=displacement-spells-danger-for-pregnant-women-in-pakistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/displacement-spells-danger-for-pregnant-women-in-pakistan/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 12:41:56 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137065 A doctor examines a woman in an IDP camp in Bannu, a city in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where over 40,000 pregnant women are at risk due to a lack of maternal health services. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

A doctor examines a woman in an IDP camp in Bannu, a city in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where over 40,000 pregnant women are at risk due to a lack of maternal health services. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 8 2014 (IPS)

Imagine traveling for almost an entire day in the blistering sun, carrying all your possessions with you. Imagine fleeing in the middle of the night as airstrikes reduce your village to rubble. Imagine arriving in a makeshift refugee camp where there is no running water, no bathrooms and hardly any food. Now imagine making that journey as a pregnant woman.

In northern Pakistan, a military campaign aimed at ridding the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Taliban militants has led to a humanitarian crisis for hundreds of thousands of civilians.

When the army began conducting air raids on the 11,585-square-km North Waziristan Agency on Jun. 15, residents were forced to flee – most of them on foot – to the neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where they have now taken refuge in sprawling IDP camps.

“In Pakistan, 350 women die per 100,000 live births from pregnancy-related complications. In FATA, the situation is extremely bad, with 500 women dying for every 100,000 live births. The situation warrants urgent attention.” -- Fayyaz Ali, a public health expert in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province
Officials estimate the number of displaced at just over 580,000, of which half are women.

In the ancient city of Bannu, which now houses the largest number of refugees, some 40,000 pregnant women are facing up to their ultimate fear: a lack of hospitals, doctors and basic medical supplies.

For 30-year-old Tajdara Bibi, a mother of three, these fears became a reality in June, when she had to flee her home in North Waziristan and trudge the 55 km to KP along with her fellow villagers.

The journey wore her down, and by the time she was admitted to the maternity hospital in Bannu, the doctors were too late: she delivered a stillborn baby a few hours later.

Muhammad Sarwar, who attended to Bibi, told IPS that an extreme shortage of female doctors has put pregnant women on a knife’s edge.

“At least four women died of pregnancy-related complications on the way to Bannu, while 20 others had miscarriages at the hospital,” he said.

“We have only four female doctors in the whole district, who are required to provide treatment to all the women,” he added.

With thousands of women now clamouring for care, the province’s limited healthcare services are falling short, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

Gul Rehman, a 44-year-old shopkeeper, is still reeling from a recent tragedy. He told IPS his wife went into labour prematurely during the arduous journey to Bannu.

“We could not find transport so we had to walk. When we finally reached the hospital, we were kept waiting… there were no doctors readily available.

“After 10 hours, they finally operated on my wife – but the baby was already dead,” he explained. Aside from the trauma of losing their child, the couple is also struggling to cope with the wife’s health condition, which has deteriorated rapidly after the stillbirth.

According to Fawad Khan, Health Cluster and Emergency Coordinator for the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Pakistan, existing health facilities are not equipped to deal with the wave of arrivals from North Waziristan.

The WHO is currently assisting the KP health department to “prevent unnecessary deaths”, the official told IPS, adding that 73 percent of displaced women and children in Bannu are in “desperate need of care.”

Some 30 percent of pregnant women among IDPs are at risk of delivery-related complications, a situation that could easily be addressed by upgrading existing facilities. There is also an urgent need for gynaecologists to provide antenatal and postnatal care, he stated.

Twelve health centres have already been established to tackle malnutrition among women and children in the camps. Without proper nourishment, officials fear pregnant women will face additional complications during birth, and low birth-weight among newborns could create additional challenges for health workers.

“Four percent of the total displaced women are pregnant and need immediate attention,” Abdul Waheed, KP’s director-general of health, told IPS, adding that some 20 basic health units have already been strengthened to take on those most in need.

Still, the crisis has reached proportions that even seasoned officials are scarcely able to comprehend. Waheed explained that Bannu has never before had to host such a large population of homeless people, and is struggling to cope.

Prior to the recent wave of refugees from North Waziristan, the KP province had already welcomed over 1.5 million people from FATA. This latest influx brings the number of displaced since 2001 to over 2.5 million.

“We are sending doctors from teaching hospitals in Peshawar [capital of KP] on a rotational basis to meet the situation,” he asserted.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) have joined the WHO in supporting the Pakistan government’s push for improved health services. Some 65 doctors from the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in Islamabad have joined NGO workers in Bannu to provide urgent care.

Part of the problem, according to Ali Ahmed, KP’s focal person for IDPs, is that few medical professionals are keen to take up posts in the militancy-infested region. For years the Taliban have operated with impunity in these federal areas, hiding out along the mountainous border with Afghanistan that stretches for some 2,400 km.

The military’s counter-insurgency programme was launched in a bid to finally wipe out extremist elements that fled Afghanistan during the U.S. invasion in 2001 and took root along the porous border.

But until the region regains a sense of normalcy, it will be hard to lure professionals here, officials say. Despite being offered lucrative packages, doctors have refused to take up posts, even temporarily, in Bannu.

The government is looking to fill this gap by appointing 10 doctors, including five female doctors, to the newly renovated Women and Children Hospital, which remains understaffed and ill equipped.

The city’s other two category ‘B’ hospitals, the Khalifa Gul Nawaz Teaching Hospital (KGTH) and the District Headquarters Teaching Hospital, suffer similar setbacks, while the arrival of the IDPs has more than tripled the number of patients demanding services, Ahmed said.

Three rural health centres in close proximity to the refugee camps, as well as 34 basic health units, have received an injection of funds and resources, and 20 assistant nutritional officers have been deployed to cater to the needs of 41 percent of affected children, he told IPS.

But far greater efforts will be needed to tackle the crisis, which is compounding an already bleak picture of maternal health in Pakistan.

Fayyaz Ali, a public health expert here in KP, told IPS, “In Pakistan, 350 women die per 100,000 live births from pregnancy-related complications. In FATA, the situation is extremely bad, with 500 dying for every 100,000 live births. The situation warrants urgent attention.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Floods Wash Away India’s MDG Progresshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/floods-wash-away-indias-mdg-progress/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=floods-wash-away-indias-mdg-progress http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/floods-wash-away-indias-mdg-progress/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 17:52:07 +0000 Priyanka Borpujari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137040 When isolated by floodwaters, families have no choice but to use boats for transportation; even children must learn the survival skill of rowing. Here in India’s Morigaon district, one week of rains in August affected 27,000 hectares of land. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

When isolated by floodwaters, families have no choice but to use boats for transportation; even children must learn the survival skill of rowing. Here in India’s Morigaon district, one week of rains in August affected 27,000 hectares of land. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Priyanka Borpujari
MORIGAON, India, Oct 7 2014 (IPS)

The northeastern Indian state of Assam is no stranger to devastating floods. Located just south of the eastern Himalayas, the lush, 30,000-square-km region comprises the Brahmaputra and Barak river valleys, and is accustomed to annual bouts of rain that swell the mighty rivers and spill over into villages and towns, inundating agricultural lands and washing homes, possessions and livestock away.

Now, the long-term impacts of such natural disasters are proving to be a thorn in the side of a government that is racing against time to meet its commitments under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of poverty reduction targets that will expire at the year’s end.

A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of the Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. August rains inundated 141 villages in the district. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of the Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. August rains inundated 141 villages in the district. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Target 7C of the MDGs stipulated that U.N. member states would aim to halve the proportion of people living without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.

While tremendous gains have been made towards this ambitious goal, India continues to lag behind, with 60 percent of its 1.2 billion people living without access to basic sanitation.

Diving into the river is an easy solution to a lack of bathrooms for children and men, even though the water has been stagnant for about a month. Skin rashes are the most common ailment caused by contact with unclean water, according to village doctors. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Diving into the river is an easy solution to a lack of bathrooms for children and men, even though the water has been stagnant for about a month. Skin rashes are the most common ailment caused by contact with unclean water, according to village doctors. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Now, recurring floods and other disasters are putting further strain on the government, as scores of people are annually displaced, and left without safe access to water and sanitation. In 2012 alone, floods displaced 6.9 million people across India.

Currently, Assam is one of the worst hit regions.

Floods in Morigaon have submerged about 45 roads in the district. Most people wade through the water, believing this is quicker than waiting for a rickety boat to transport them across. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Floods in Morigaon have submerged about 45 roads in the district. Most people wade through the water, believing this is quicker than waiting for a rickety boat to transport them across. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Since May this year, several waves of floods have affected more than 700,000 people across 23 of the state’s 27 districts, claiming the lives of 68 people.

In places where roads have collapsed, the government has erected bamboo bridges. When the government is absent, locals do this work themselves. This man and child travel from one village to another on a boat, and travel by foot over the bridges. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In places where roads have collapsed, the government has erected bamboo bridges. When the government is absent, locals do this work themselves. This man and child travel from one village to another on a boat, and travel by foot over the bridges. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Heavy rainfall during one week of August devastated the Morigaon and Dhemaji districts, and the river island of Majuli. A sudden downpour that lasted two days in early September in parts of Assam and the neighbouring state of Meghalaya claimed 44 and 55 lives respectively.

Men transporting milk from Dhemaji to Dibrugarh district across the Brahmaputra River wash their utensils in the river. The lack of hygiene and proper sanitation facilities is a severe concern in flood-affected areas. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Men transporting milk from Dhemaji to Dibrugarh district across the Brahmaputra River wash their utensils in the river. The lack of hygiene and proper sanitation facilities is a severe concern in flood-affected areas. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

The Indian federal government last week announced its intention to distribute some 112 million dollars in aid to the affected population.

In Dhemaji district, closer to the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, people use a rope boat in the absence of a road. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In Dhemaji district, closer to the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, people use a rope boat in the absence of a road. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

One of the primary concerns for officials has been the sanitation situation in the aftermath of the floods, with families forced to rig up makeshift sanitary facilities, and women and children in particular made vulnerable by a lack of water and proper toilets.

Women from the Mishing community in Dhemaji district are shocked by the siltation caused by the floods. Their homes on stilts – known as chaang ghor – are built on a raised platform. But the sands have submerged the homes in this village by two feet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Women from the Mishing community in Dhemaji district are shocked by the siltation caused by the floods. Their homes on stilts – known as chaang ghor – are built on a raised platform. But the sands have submerged the homes in this village by two feet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Directly following the floods, the ministry of drinking water and sanitation advised the public health and engineering department of the Assam government to “urgently” make provision for such disasters, particularly ensuring safe water for residents in remote rural areas.

Women from Rekhasapori village in Dhemaji district walk on the hot sand towards a health camp set up by Save The Children. Most people complain of rashes, and acidity from acute hunger. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Women from Rekhasapori village in Dhemaji district walk on the hot sand towards a health camp set up by Save The Children. Most people complain of rashes, and acidity from acute hunger. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Among other suggestions, the ministry recommended the “hiring of water tankers for emergency water supply to affected sites […], procuring of sodium hypochlorite, halogen tablets and bleaching powder for proper disinfection [and] hiring of sufficient vehicles fitted with water treatment plants to provide onsite safe drinking water.”

Mohini Pait delivered her daughter on the day after floods in the Rekhasapori village of Assam state washed her house away. She and her baby are currently living in one of many relief camps that dot the roads in flood-affected areas throughout Assam. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Mohini Pait delivered her daughter on the day after floods in the Rekhasapori village of Assam state washed her house away. She and her baby are currently living in one of many relief camps that dot the roads in flood-affected areas throughout Assam. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In Morigaon and Dhemaji, families are slowly trying to pick up the pieces of their lives, but experts say unless proper disaster management measures are put in place, the poorest will suffer and floods will continue to erode India’s progress towards the MDGs.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Q&A: “The Battle Continues”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/qa-the-battle-continues/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-the-battle-continues http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/qa-the-battle-continues/#comments Sat, 04 Oct 2014 05:17:35 +0000 Joan Erakit http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137000 Shahida Amin, a young Pakistani woman, brings her 10-month-old son to school every day. Credit: Farooq Ahmed/IPS

Shahida Amin, a young Pakistani woman, brings her 10-month-old son to school every day. Credit: Farooq Ahmed/IPS

By Joan Erakit
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 4 2014 (IPS)

The Programme of Action adopted at the landmark 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) included chapters that defined concrete actions covering some 44 dimensions of population and development, including the need to provide for women and girls during times of conflict, the urgency of investments in young people’s capabilities, and the importance of women’s political participation and representation.

The diversity of issues addressed by the Programme of Action (PoA) provided the opportunity for states to develop and implement a “comprehensive and integrated agenda”.

In reality, governments and development agencies have been selective in their actions, and many have taken a sectoral approach to implementation, which has resulted in fragmented successes rather than holistic gains.

Few are better placed to reflect on progress made over the last two decades than the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: In 1994 you were advocating for reproductive health and rights at the first ICPD in Cairo. Twenty years later, you are leading UNFPA as its executive director. What has that journey looked like for you?

A: The last four years have opened me up to the challenges that the organisation and the mandate itself have faced. Twenty years ago, we were able to secure commitments from governments on various aspects of poverty reduction, but more importantly the empowerment of women and girls and young people, including their reproductive rights – but the battle is not over.

Today, we are on the cusp of a new development agenda and we, as custodians of this agenda, need to locate it within the conversation of sustainable development – a people-centred agenda based on human rights is the only feasible way of achieving sustainable development.

Q: What were some of the biggest challenges that the ICPD Programme of Action faced in its early years?

Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Credit: UNFPA

Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Credit: UNFPA

A: I think that Cairo was very cognizant of the status of women in society. It was also cognizant of the status of girls – particularly of young adults, and of the issues of sexuality and the power struggle between men and women over who decides on the sexuality of women.

The battle is not strictly about a woman’s ability to control her fertility, but it goes beyond the issue of fertility and decision-making. Women still earn less than men for doing the same job. There is no proportional representation in politics of women, and in the most severe cases, little girls don’t go to school as much as boys.

That is a continuous struggle, and our job is to ensure that gender equality in the very strict sense is accomplished, so we achieve what I always refer to as a “gender neutral” society.

Q: The Demographic Dividend is going to be an important focus in the post-2015 development agenda. How will UNFPA work to assess and meet the needs of young people?

A: We are already doing it!

Of course, we are going to strengthen and scale up our work. We don’t pretend that UNFPA can provide all the inputs needed to reap the dividend. But raising the bar and promoting youth visibility and participation at the political level is something that we will be doing with member states and partners.

For example, how do we ensure that we can partner with UNESCO, to continue to do the good work they are doing in terms of education – particularly with girls’ education? And how can we partner with ILO [the International Labour Organisation] to ensure that we have job creation, skills and all of the things that enable young people to come into the job market to get the opportunities they are looking for?

How do we ensure that within member states themselves, we’re creating spaces that enable young people to feel that they are part of the system?

It is impossible to get the kind of rapid development we’re looking at if member states do not accept the principles of comprehensive sexuality education, and do not accept that young people should also be exposed to information and services about contraception.

Q: How will you respond to women and girls in conflict areas, especially pregnant women or those who have faced violence and abuse?

A: That’s something we do superbly. We are also conscious of the fact that the world may see more crises. Today, we are looking at Gaza, we are looking at Syria, we are looking at Iraq, we are looking at the Central African Republic, we are looking at South Sudan, we are looking at old conflict areas in the world, which are still there. We cannot forget the IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] who have existed for so long in northern Kenya, in the Zaatari Camp in Jordan, these are areas where we work actively.

We offer three types of response: services for girls and women to prevent GBV [gender-based violence]; services for the survivors of GBV, so that they can receive care for the physical assault; and services for their emotional and psychological support so that they are reintegrated back into the society.

We provide education, antenatal care, delivery services and postnatal care for women in camps and mothers around the world.

Our flagship programme, before we expanded to all of this, was recognising that women in conflict areas have dignity needs. Very few people think of women and their regular needs in war and conflict, so we provide them dignity kits, to enable them to preserve their health and dignity.

Something UNFPA has been trying to do more is increase attention to and prevent GBV and talk about it in such a way that we can show that it’s actually more prevalent than it is assumed, not only in conflict, but in domestic circumstances as well.

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Thirsty Land, Hungry Peoplehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/thirsty-land-hungry-people/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thirsty-land-hungry-people http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/thirsty-land-hungry-people/#comments Fri, 03 Oct 2014 17:53:49 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136983 A man walks through agricultural land in the village of Mirusuvil, in Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna District. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man walks through agricultural land in the village of Mirusuvil, in Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna District. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
KILINOCHCHI, Sri Lanka, Oct 3 2014 (IPS)

Gazing out over the parched earth of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, one might think these farmlands have not seen water in years. In fact, this is not too far from the truth.

The World Food Programme (WFP) last month allocated 2.5 million dollars to assist hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans in the throes of an 11-month drought that has shown no signs of abating.

A woman stands in front of her parched paddy land in the eastern Batticaloa District, one of Sri Lanka's largest paddy-producing regions, that has been hit by the 11-month-long drought. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman stands in front of her parched paddy land in the eastern Batticaloa District, one of Sri Lanka’s largest paddy-producing regions, that has been hit by the 11-month-long drought. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man stands in the middle of parched paddy land in the northern Kilinochchi District. Sri Lanka's staple rice harvest is expected to record a loss of 17 percent from around four million metric tonnes in 2013. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man stands in the middle of parched paddy land in the northern Kilinochchi District. Sri Lanka’s staple rice harvest is expected to record a loss of 17 percent from around four million metric tonnes in 2013. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The WFP said on Sep. 1 that 2.3 million dollars worth of supplies, including rice rations, would be provided to the drought victims. The assistance scheme will also provide 277,000 dollars in cash grants to needy families.

A woman covers her head with a cloth to escape the extreme heat in Sri Lanka's northern Jaffna District where daytime temperatures can reach 40 degrees Celsius. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman covers her head with a cloth to escape the extreme heat in Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna District where daytime temperatures can reach 40 degrees Celsius. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman carries firewood in the drought-impacted Pillumalai area of the eastern Batticaloa District. Residents of this region are staring a water crisis in the face, as the main reservoir, the Vakaneri Tank, is almost completely dried up. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman carries firewood in the drought-impacted Pillumalai area of the eastern Batticaloa District. Residents of this region are staring a water crisis in the face, as the main reservoir, the Vakaneri Tank, is almost completely dried up. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The drought has so far impacted over 1.6 million people, of whom at least 190,000 are in need of urgent food assistance, while there are concerns about the food security of an additional 700,000.

A parched tank bed in the southeastern Moneragala District, where farmers say the absence of rain since late 2013 has completely destroyed their agricultural lands. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A parched tank bed in the southeastern Moneragala District, where farmers say the absence of rain since late 2013 has completely destroyed their agricultural lands. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A young girl drinks water out of a bottle in Sri Lanka's eastern Batticaloa District, where over 220,000 persons have been affected by the drought. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A young girl drinks water out of a bottle in Sri Lanka’s eastern Batticaloa District, where over 220,000 persons have been affected by the drought. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Over half of those impacted by the drought are from the northern and eastern provinces of the country, two of the poorest in the nation.

A tractor moves along the side of the dried-out Elephant Pass causeway in the northern Kilinochchi District. Officials told IPS the district was in need of at least nine million rupees (69,000 dollars) per week for drought relief. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A tractor moves along the side of the dried-out Elephant Pass causeway in the northern Kilinochchi District. Officials told IPS the district was in need of at least nine million rupees (69,000 dollars) per week for drought relief. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man uses water from an industrial-grade pump in the Karadiyanaru area of the eastern Batticaloa District. Experts warn that the rampant use of powerful water-pumps in this arid region is putting undue stress on the water table. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man uses water from an industrial-grade pump in the Karadiyanaru area of the eastern Batticaloa District. Experts warn that the rampant use of powerful water-pumps in this arid region is putting undue stress on the water table. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

While the situation calls for immediate assistance, the WFP also warned that the affected would need long-term help to adapt to the impacts of changing climate patterns.

A woman tries to salvage whatever is left of her green gram crop before the lack of water destroys the entire plot in the eastern Pillumalai area of the Batticaloa District. According to government estimates, Sri Lanka's agricultural output is likely to fall by at least 10 percent this year due to the drought. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman tries to salvage whatever is left of her green gram crop before the lack of water destroys the entire plot in the eastern Pillumalai area of the Batticaloa District. According to government estimates, Sri Lanka’s agricultural output is likely to fall by at least 10 percent this year due to the drought. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The World Bank estimates that the annual risk to Sri Lanka posed by climate-related disasters stands at some 380 million dollars. The worst disaster to date, a severe flood in 2010 and 2011, caused damages to the tune of 50 billion dollars.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: Less Hunger in the World and the Challenge for the Mediahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-less-hunger-in-the-world-and-the-challenge-for-the-media/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-less-hunger-in-the-world-and-the-challenge-for-the-media http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-less-hunger-in-the-world-and-the-challenge-for-the-media/#comments Fri, 03 Oct 2014 11:45:09 +0000 Mario Lubetkin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136980

In this column, Mario Lubetkin, Director of Corporate Communications at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), writes that the U.N. organisation’s annual report on the state of food insecurity released on Sep. 16 attracted great media attention but lacked analytical coverage. Publication of statistics on hunger, he says, should not be seen as a single event but can only be understood as part a process of change with multiple, public and private stakeholders.

By Mario Lubetkin
ROME, Oct 3 2014 (IPS)

It is common belief that good news is less interesting for the general public than bad news; ­this is why media coverage tends to focus on catastrophic events and disasters, both natural and man-made.

Fortunately, there are some exceptions: a report launched by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on Sep. 16 stating that hunger has dramatically decreased by 100 million people received widespread international attention, with more than 2000 articles published, including many stories in major media outlets.

Some of the articles expressed surprise over this improvement in the fight against hunger, apparently assuming that poverty and hunger in the world will only continue to increase.

Mario Lubetkin

Mario Lubetkin

This extensive media coverage reinforces the importance of the news, not only because of the impressive numbers, but also because it reveals an ongoing trend towards a further reduction of hunger in the future.

In fact, recent FAO estimates show that the global reduction of hunger is continuing. For the period 2012-2014 the number of chronically undernourished people is estimated at 805 million people, 100 million less than a decade before, and 209 million less than in 1990-1992.

One aspect of hunger reduction that has not been analysed extensively by the media is the fact that 63 countries have already reached the first Millennium Development Goal (reducing hunger by half between 1990 and 2015), and that many countries have only one year left to reach this goal.

However, in spite of this progress, there are large disparities between regions. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest hunger rates and it has shown only modest improvements in recent years, as figures reveal that 1 in 4 people are undernourished. In several North African countries, however, the situation is more promising and levels of under-nutrition remain low.“In order to claim victory, we need stronger efforts and better coordination among the actors that have already lifted millions of people out of poverty: governments, international organisations, non-state actors, the general public, and those who inform public opinion: the media”

Asia, the most populated region in the world, is home to the highest number of hungry people, but there are interregional distinctions: although there has been little improvement in southern Asia, improvements in East Asia and Southeast Asia are encouraging.

Latin America and the Caribbean have shown rapid progress, particularly in the south of the continent. One of the main reasons for this progress is the boost given by public policies promoting nutrition, many of them unique to the region, and some inspired by success stories in other countries, such as the Zero Hunger Programme in Brazil.

Still, it is clear that though we have won several battles in the fight against hunger, we still have a long way to go.

In order to claim victory, we need stronger efforts and better coordination among the actors that have already lifted millions of people out of poverty: governments, international organisations, non-state actors, the general public, and those who inform public opinion: the media.

How can we better inform the public about this progress, which is undoubtedly positive for humanity, without stopping at the data that international organisations provide on the issue?

The answer is clear: in order to understand these numbers and figures, they cannot be read as an isolated event, but as a continuous process of change influenced by multiple actors, both public and private.

Why do the media ignore these important issues which are receiving more space on the global development agenda?

Who doubts whether food security, food loss and waste or nutrition policies are in the interest of international public opinion?

We are aware of the great challenges in the field of communication, exacerbated by the long and deep economic crisis affecting many media outlets. There are fewer printed media; newspapers have fewer pages; there are fewer journalists in the newsrooms. Traditional journalism programmes at universities have left many journalists ill-prepared for covering breaking news in our new digital age.

These are some aspects that should be taken into consideration in the present situation. All of these changes will affect not only the current generation of journalists, but also future generations that will have the responsibility to inform the public on these issues with increasing urgency.

In a few weeks we will face a new communication challenge: the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), taking place in Rome between Nov. 19 and 21, 22 years after the first such conference.

The invitation to participating states is that commitment alone is not enough; it is only the first step. ICN2 will design the framework for countries to transform their commitment into action and impact.

And we could not have chosen a more opportune moment: governments are currently discussing the second stage of the Millennium Development Goals – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – starting next year, with the aim of eradicating hunger and poverty worldwide.

It is clear that in the media’s coverage of ICN2, the focus should be not only on informing the public about the daily activities of the conference, but also on the issues it aims to address, as well as the strategic debate surrounding the larger goal of building healthier societies­ – an undertaking in which governments must play a key role. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Latin America on a Dangerous Precipicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/latin-america-on-a-dangerous-precipice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-on-a-dangerous-precipice http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/latin-america-on-a-dangerous-precipice/#comments Thu, 02 Oct 2014 11:51:04 +0000 Diana Cariboni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136964 A traffic jam in Jaciara, Brazil, caused by repairs to the BR-364 road. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A traffic jam in Jaciara, Brazil, caused by repairs to the BR-364 road. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Oct 2 2014 (IPS)

“We could be the last Latin American and Caribbean generation living together with hunger.”

The assertion, made by Raúl Benítez, a regional officer for the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), shows one side of the coin: only 4.6 percent of the region’s population is undernourished, according to the latest figures.

By 2030, however, most of the countries in the region will face a serious risk situation due to climate change.

With almost 600 million inhabitants, Latin America and the Caribbean has a third of the world’s fresh water and more than a quarter of its medium to high potential farmland, points out a book published this year by the Inter-American Development Bank in partnership with Global Harvest Initiative, a private-sector think-tank.

It is the largest net food-exporting region, while it uses just a fraction of its agricultural potential for both consuming and exporting.

But almost a quarter of the region’s rural people still live on less than two dollars a day, and the region is prone to disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and droughts), some of them exacerbated by climate change.

Global warming poses serious challenges to the international community’s goal of eradicating poverty and hunger. Changes in rainfall patterns, soils and temperatures are already stressing agricultural systems.

Currently, more than 800 million people worldwide are at risk of hunger. Through its devastating impact on crops and livelihoods, climate change is predicted to increase that number by as much as 20 percent by 2050, according to a recent United Nations report.

Changes in temperature and rainfall patterns could lead to food price rises of between three percent and 84 percent by 2050, thereby feeding a vicious cycle of poverty and inequality.

Oxfam reports that in the more extreme scenarios, heat and water stress could reduce crop yields by 25 percent between 2030 and 2049.

Climate change is likely to impact mostly small and family farmers, who produce more than half the food in the region and have inadequate resources with which to deal with unpredictable weather.

Despite this looming threat, strategies for sustainability are far from clear. Regional drivers of growth are export-oriented commodities, and while some sectors have advanced in added value, technology and innovation, natural resources exploitation is still the key of the whole regional boom.

By 2011, raw materials and commodities accounted for 60 percent of regional exports, compared to 40 percent in 2000. At the same time, this growth of commodities exports led to a replacement of domestic manufactures by imported goods, affecting manufacturing industries in the region.

In rural areas, conflicting models of small farming and extensive monocultures based on genetically modified seeds compete for the land in a David versus Goliath fight.

In Paraguay, the fourth largest exporter of soybeans in the world, 1.6 percent of owners hold 80 percent of the agricultural land. In Guatemala, eight percent of producers own 82 percent of farmlands, while 80 percent of productive land in Colombia is in the hands of 14 percent of landowners, according to Oxfam.

Agriculture and related deforestation are major sources of greenhouse gasses (GHG) in Latin America, though other sources are growing rapidly. Brazil, for example, is joining the club of big polluters, with the burning of fossil fuels accounting for the majority of its GHG emissions in the last five years.

As the extractive industries grow, they demand more highways, railroads and ports, putting pressure on governments to avoid the so-called logistics blackout.

Energy demand is increasing too, not only from industries, but also from millions of people lifted out of poverty, and thus with larger consumption needs. The region’s energy demand for the period 2010-2017 increases at an annual rate of five percent.

The region is poised to cross a new fossil fuel frontier, when Argentina, Brazil and Mexico overcome their own political, financial and technical challenges to exploit substantial reserves of unconventional hydrocarbons, like the Argentinian Vaca Muerta geological formation or the pre-salt layer located in the Brazilian continental shelf.

It is difficult to argue that a region so rich in natural resources has no right to thrive on the demand and supply of commodities, particularly when the resulting fiscal revenues have allowed impoverished countries like Bolivia to drastically reduce extreme poverty numbers (from 38 percent in 2005 to 20 percent in 2013).

However, experts warn this path is unsustainable and climate change impacts, felt across the region, can undermine any social gain.

In Guatemala, the worst drought in 40 years is putting 1.2 million people at risk of suffering hunger in the next months. Those who suffer the worst impacts of unsustainable development models will ironically be those who contribute the least to global warming.

A recent U.N. document summarising actions for the follow-up to the programme of action adopted at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) found that only about a “third of the world’s population could be considered as having consumption profiles that contribute to emissions.”

Fewer than one billion of them have a significant impact, while “a smaller minority is responsible for an overwhelming share of the damage,” the report added.

Still, it will be the poorest people who will bear the brunt, and Latin America, dubbed ‘the next global breadbasket’, is in desperate need of strong local and global action towards the goal of achieving sustainable development in the next decade.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: On Reproductive Rights, Progress with Concernshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-on-reproductive-rights-progress-with-concerns/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-on-reproductive-rights-progress-with-concerns http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-on-reproductive-rights-progress-with-concerns/#comments Wed, 01 Oct 2014 16:29:45 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136954 Contraceptives on sale at a store in Sanaa, Yemen. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS

Contraceptives on sale at a store in Sanaa, Yemen. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS

By Joseph Chamie
NEW YORK, Oct 1 2014 (IPS)

For most of human history, reproductive rights essentially meant men and women accepting the number, timing and spacing of their children, as well as possible childlessness. All this changed radically in the second half of the 20th century with the introduction of new medical technologies aimed at both preventing and assisting human reproduction.

Those technologies ushered in historic changes in reproductive rights and behaviour that continue to reverberate around the world, giving rise to increasingly complex theological, ethical and legal concerns that need to be addressed.New reproductive technologies have given rise to serious theological, ethical and legal concerns that have not been satisfactorily addressed.

Up until around the middle of the past century, reproductive rights were limited. The available birth control methods were rhythm, coitus interruptus (withdrawal), condoms and for some, the diaphragm.

Those methods in too many instances were unreliable and not considered user friendly. Also, while induced abortion has been practiced for ages, it was a drastic, dangerous and largely unlawful medical procedure.

In 1960, the oral contraceptive pill was introduced, dramatically transforming women’s reproductive rights and behaviour. In addition to the pill, modern methods of family planning, including the intra uterine device (IUD), injectables, implants, emergency contraceptive pills and sterilisation, have given women and men effective control over procreation.

Modern contraceptives have contributed to major changes in sexual behaviour and marriage. Women empowered with modern contraception can choose without the fear of pregnancy whether to have sexual relationships, enabling them to postpone childbearing or avoid it altogether.

And instead of marriage, cohabitation has become increasingly prevalent among many young couples, especially in industrialised countries.

The use of modern contraceptives also facilitated a rapid decline in family size worldwide. Between 1950 and the close of the 20th century, the world’s total fertility rate fell from five children per woman to nearly half that level.

Every major region of the world experienced fertility declines during that half century, with the greatest occurring in Asia and Latin America and the smallest in Africa.

With improved medical techniques, changing social norms and grassroots movements, induced abortion also became increasingly legalised globally. Although some remain strongly opposed to induced abortion, nearly all industrialised countries have passed laws ensuring a woman’s right to abortion.

Also at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), 179 governments indicated their commitment to prevent unsafe abortion and in circumstances where abortion is not against the law, such abortion should be made safe.

Reproductive rights to terminate a pregnancy, however, have also led to excess female fetus abortions. Particularly widespread in China and India, their sex ratios at birth of 117 and 111 boys per 100 girls are blatantly higher than the typical sex ratio at birth of around 106.

Consequently, the numbers of young “surplus males” unable to find brides are more than 35 million in China and 25 million in India.

The introduction in 1970 of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) – fertilisation in a laboratory by mixing sperm with eggs surgically removed from an ovary followed by uterine implantation – radically altered the basic evolutionary process of human reproduction.

IVF provides childless couples the right and means to have biological children. It is estimated that more than five million IVF babies have followed since the birth of the first “test-tube baby” in 1978.

However, IVF has also raised ethical concerns. In addition to creating a pregnancy through “artificial” means, IVF has become a massive commercial industry prone to serious abuses and exploitation of vulnerable couples in the desire to make profits from childbearing.

IVF also permits gestational surrogacy, which extends reproductive rights to same-sex couples. In contrast to traditional surrogacy, where the surrogate is the actual mother, gestational surrogacy allows the surrogate to be unrelated to the baby with the egg coming from the intended mother or donor.

While those who are childless have a right to have biological children, gestational surrogacy raises challenging ethical questions, such as the exploitation of poor women, as well as complex legal issues, especially when transactions cross international borders.

In 1997, the cloning – or propagation by self-replication rather than through sexual reproduction – of the first mammal, Dolly the sheep, was achieved. The birth of Dolly was a major reproductive development.

Following the cloning of Dolly, scores of other animals, including fish, mice, cows, horses, dogs and monkeys, have been successfully cloned. These developments suggest that in the near future some humans may wish to assert their reproductive rights to be cloned, again raising serious theological, ethical and legal questions.

Among the transhumanist reproductive technologies imagined in the more distant future, one that stands out is ectogenesis, or the development of a fetus outside the human womb in an artificial uterus.

While ectogenesis may expand the extent of fetal viability, free women from childbearing and expand reproductive rights, it poses serious, unexplored medical, ethical and legal issues.

During the past half-century remarkable technological progress has been made in human reproduction. As a result of this medical progress, women and men have acquired wide-ranging reproductive rights and technologies to determine the number, timing and spacing of their children and to overcome childlessness with biological offspring.

The new reproductive technologies, however, have also given rise to serious theological, ethical and legal concerns that have not been satisfactorily addressed. Anticipated future medical breakthroughs in human reproduction make it even more imperative for the international community of nations to address the growing challenges and concerns regarding reproductive technologies and rights.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Zimbabwe’s Family Planning Dilemmahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/zimbabwes-family-planning-dilemma/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwes-family-planning-dilemma http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/zimbabwes-family-planning-dilemma/#comments Wed, 01 Oct 2014 01:58:02 +0000 Ignatius Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136924 There has been an increase in pregnancies among Zimbabwean adolescents aged 15-19 years, from 21 percent between 2005 and 2006 to 24 percent between 2010 and 2011. Credit: Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

There has been an increase in pregnancies among Zimbabwean adolescents aged 15-19 years, from 21 percent between 2005 and 2006 to 24 percent between 2010 and 2011. Credit: Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Ignatius Banda
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Oct 1 2014 (IPS)

Pregnant at 15, Samantha Yakubu* is in a fix. The 16-year-old boy she claims was responsible for her pregnancy has refused to accept her version of events, insisting that he was “not the only one who slept with her”.

Now Yakubu has dropped out of school and, like many sexually active youth in Zimbabwe, faces an uncertain future.

The issue of contraceptive use remains controversial and divisive in this country of 13.72 million people.

Parents and educators are agreed on one thing: that levels of sexual activity among high-school students are on the rise. What they do not agree on, however, is how to deal with the corresponding inrcrease in teenage pregnancies.

“Lack of adequate, medically accurate information on puberty leaves young people dependent on uninformed peer sources and unguided Internet searches for information." -- Stewart Muchapera, communications analyst with the UNFPA in Zimbabwe.
While Zimbabwe has made huge gains in some areas of reproductive health, including stemming new HIV infections, according to the Health Ministry, various United Nations agencies have raised concerns about the growing number of adolescent pregnancies, which experts say point to a low use of prophylactics and a dearth of other family planning methods.

According to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), contraceptive use in Zimbabwe stands at 59 percent, one of the highest in sub-Saharan Africa. Still, this is lower than the 68 percent mark that the government pledged to achieve by 2020 at the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning.

A proposal last year by a senior government official to introduce contraceptives into schools, allowing condoms to be distributed free of charge, was met with disbelief and anger among parents, who insisted this was tantamount to promoting promiscuity among learners.

There is still no agreement between parents and educators about the stage at which students can be introduced to sex education.

“Lack of adequate, medically accurate information on puberty leaves young people dependent on uninformed peer sources and unguided Internet searches for information,” says Stewart Muchapera, a communications analyst with the UNFPA in Zimbabwe.

“The fertility rate among teenage girls aged 15-19 in 2010/11 was 115 per 1,000 girls, a significant increase from 99 per 1,000 girls in 2005/6,” Muchapera tells IPS, adding that geographic location also determines the likelihood of early pregnancy, with girls living in rural areas twice as likely to be affected than their urban counterparts.

In fact, the rate of adolescent pregnancies is just 70 per 1,000 girls in urban areas, compared to 144 per 1,000 girls in rural areas, he adds.

The Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey (ZDHS) reports that nine out of 10 sexually active girls aged 15 to 19 are in some form of a marriage, and that for two out of three girls who first had sex before age the of 15, sex was forced against their will.

The risk of maternal death is twice as high for girls aged 15 to 19 as for women in their twenties, experts say, and five times higher for girls aged 10 to 14 years.

Currently, Zimbabwe has a maternal mortality ratio of 790 deaths per 100,000 live births and an under-five mortality rate of 93 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Janet Siziba, a peer educator with the Matabeleland Aids Council, says there is a stigma attached to early pregnancy, with many forced to drop out of school or endure financial hardships after the birth of a child, particularly after the disappearance of an adolescent father.

“You can escape both pregnancy and HIV by increased condom use and, perhaps more importantly, by using other female contraceptives [such as the female condom and oral contraceptives],” Siziba tells IPS.

But with young people getting mixed messages on contraceptives, the trend is unlikely to change anytime soon. In fact, the country’s registrar-general Tobaiwa Mudede has actually warned women against using contraceptives, on the grounds that they cause cancer and are a ploy by developed countries to stem population growth in Africa.

Family planning advocates including the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council (ZNFPC) called his comments retrogressive especially at a time when the country’s health system is struggling to stem maternal mortality and also provide adequate antenatal care.

Through its National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy (ASRH), the Ministry of Health now allows adolescents to access contraceptives at public institutions such as clinics and hospitals, but peer educators are concerned that youth are not too eager to collect contraceptives in full view of the public.

The result is an increase in pregnancies among adolescents in the 15-19 age group from 21 percent between 2005 and 2006 to 24 percent between 2010 and 2011.

Experts say that conservative attitudes towards contraceptive use could slow down global efforts under the multi-sector Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) initiative, which seeks to increase access to contraception for women and girls between 15 and 49 years of age in developing countries.

According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation–supported FP2020 project, 260 million people from developing countries had access to contraceptives in 2012, and the initiative aims to add 120 million more by the year 2020.

*Names have been changed

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: Tackling the Proliferation of Patents to Avoid Limitations to Competitionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/tackling-the-proliferation-of-patents-to-avoid-limitations-to-competition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tackling-the-proliferation-of-patents-to-avoid-limitations-to-competition http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/tackling-the-proliferation-of-patents-to-avoid-limitations-to-competition/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 15:30:33 +0000 carlos-m-correa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136929

In this column, Carlos Correa, the South Centre's special adviser on trade and intellectual property issues, argues that the global increase in number of patents does not indicate the strength of innovation but a weakening in the standards of what can be considered patentable. He calls for an intrinsically balanced system of protection of innovation that remains neutral in its effects on competition.

By Carlos M. Correa
GENEVA, Sep 29 2014 (IPS)

The steady increase in patent applications and grants that is taking place in developed and some developing countries (notably in China) is sometimes hailed as evidence of the strength of global innovation and of the role of the patent system in encouraging it. 

Carlos M. Correa

Carlos M. Correa

However, such an increase does not correspond to a genuine rise in innovation. It points instead to a major deviation of the patent system away from its intended objective: to reward those who contribute to technological progress by creating new and inventive products and processes.

The increase in the number of patents reflects, to a large extent, the low requirements of patentability applied by patent offices and courts. Patents granted despite the absence of a genuine invention detract knowledge from the public domain and can unduly restrain legitimate competition.

Low standards of patentability encourage a large number of applications that would not otherwise be made, leading to a world backlog estimated at over 10 million unexaminedpatents.

This problem affects various sectors. For instance, Nokia is reported to hold around 30,000 patents relating to mobile phones, a large part of which are likely to be invalid, while Samsung holds more than 31,000 patent families. A study covering various fields of clean energy technologies, including solar photovoltaic, geothermal, wind and carbon capture, found nearly 400,000 patent documents.“The steady increase in patent applications and grants … does not correspond to a genuine rise in innovation. It points instead to a major deviation of the patent system away from its intended objective: to reward those who contribute to technological progress by creating new and inventive products and processes”

The proliferation of patents is particularly high and problematic in the pharmaceutical sector, where large companies actively seek to acquire broad portfolios of patents in order to extend patent protection beyond the expiry of the original patents on new compounds. These ever-greening strategies allow them to keep generic producers out of the market and charge prices higher than those that would otherwise exist in a competitive scenario.

For example, the basic patent for paroxetine, an antidepressant, expired in the late 1990s, whereas ‘secondary’ patents will extend up to 2018.

Ever-greening strategies by one company often force others to follow the same pattern as a defensive approach.  The proliferation of ‘secondary’ or ‘spurious’ patents can impose significant costs on patients and public health systems.

Several measures can be applied at the national level to avoid the proliferation of patents on trivial developments in full consistency with the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), because they fall within the policy space that World Trade Organisation (WTO) members have retained to design and apply their patent laws.

The most important policy that governments may implement is the rigorous application of the requirements of patentability, based on a thorough examination of patent applications. The TRIPS agreement neither defines the concept of ‘invention’ nor how such requirements need to be interpreted.

Thus, national laws may differentiate inventions and discoveries, and require that the former result from an inventive activity, thereby excluding pre-existing subject matter that is merely found, such as natural substances.

While some patent offices grant patents on the basis of legal fictions on novelty, there is no reason to follow such practices in other jurisdictions.

An example of this practice by some patent offices is to admit what are known as ‘selection patents’, whereby one of more items that were previously disclosed are independently claimed. This type of patents provide an effective means of ever-greening, because protection can be extended for the full length of a new patent, i.e. normally twenty additional years, despite the fact that novelty was actually lost when such items were first disclosed.

While some large patent offices, such as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the European Patent Office and the Chinese Patent Office, seem to apply a lax inventive step standard thereby allowing for the granting of a large number of ‘low quality’ patents, there are strong public interest arguments to follow a different approach, particularly in developing countries.

A strict application of the industrial applicability/usefulness requirement, when provided for by the national law, may also contribute to prevent the grant of unwarranted patent rights.

This is the case, in particular, for claims on new medical uses, which are equivalent to claims over methods of treatment that have no industrial application or technical effect. The lack of industrial applicability may be a sufficient ground to reject such claims.

Given the policy space left by the TRIPS agreement to adopt their own definitions of the patentability standards, and to do so consistently with their legal systems and practices, governments can follow different methods to ensure that patents are granted only when there are sufficient merits under the applicable law.

Governments may introduce specific standards in the patent laws themselves. A notable case is the Indian Patent Act, as amended in 2005, which incorporated in section 3(d) specific standards to assess patent applications in the field of chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

In a case brought by Novartis (a Swiss pharmaceutical company) against the rejection of its patent application relating to a beta crystalline form of imatinib mesylate, the Indian Supreme Court held that the claimed invention failed in both the tests of invention and patentability.

The definition of the standards of patentability can also be made through regulations, including patent offices’ guidelines. A good example is provided by the guidelines on the patentability of pharmaceutical products and processes adopted by the Argentine government in 2012 to limit the ever-greening of pharmaceutical patents.

Finally, it is worth noting that in applying patentability standards, patent offices can differentiate, in line with the TRIPS agreement, among fields of technology in order to take into account particular features of specific sectors and public policies objectives, for instance in relation to the promotion of generic drugs.

Measures to accommodate these differences constitute a necessary response to the diversity of technologies and, consequently, a condition sine qua non for an intrinsically balanced system of protection that remains neutral in its effects on competition. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

This column is taken from the author’s research paper on ‘Tackling the Proliferation of Patents: How to Avoid Undue Limitations to Competition and the Public Domain’, published by the South Centre (http://www.southcentre.int/research-paper-52-august-2014/).

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Blistering Drought Leaves the Poorest High and Dryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/blistering-drought-leaves-the-poorest-high-and-dry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=blistering-drought-leaves-the-poorest-high-and-dry http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/blistering-drought-leaves-the-poorest-high-and-dry/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 06:50:15 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136917 A villager prepare to dig a deep well by hand in the drought-stricken village of Tunukkai in Sri Lanka's northern Mullaithivu District. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A villager prepare to dig a deep well by hand in the drought-stricken village of Tunukkai in Sri Lanka's northern Mullaithivu District. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Sep 29 2014 (IPS)

The last time there was mud on his village roads was about a year ago, says Murugesu Mohanabavan, a farmer from the village of Karachchi, situated about 300 km north of Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo.

“Since last October we have had nothing but sun, all day,” the 40-year-old father of two school-aged children told IPS. If his layman’s assessment of the rain patterns is off, it is by a mere matter of weeks.

At the disaster management unit of the Kilinochchi District Secretariat under which Mohanabavan’s village falls, reports show inadequate rainfall since November 2013 – less than 30 percent of expected precipitation for this time of year.

“We don’t have any savings left; I still need to complete a half-built house and send two children to school. The nightmare continues." -- Murugesu Mohanabavan, a farmer from the village of Karachchi, 300 km north of Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo
Sri Lanka is currently facing a severe drought that has impacted over 1.6 million people and cut its crop yields by 42 percent, according to government analyses. But a closer look at the areas where the drought is at its worst shows that the poorest have been hit hardest.

Of the drought-affected population, over half or roughly 900,000 people, are from the Northern and Eastern Provinces of the country, regions that have been traditionally poor, dependent on agriculture and lacking strong coping mechanisms or infrastructure to withstand the impact of natural disasters.

Take the northern Kilinochchi district, where out of a population of some 120,000, over 74,000 are affected by the drought; or the adjoining district of Mullaithivu where over 56,000 from a population of just above 100,000 are suffering the impacts of inadequate rainfall.

The vast majority of residents in these districts are war returnees, who bore the brunt of Sri Lanka’s protracted civil war that ended in May 2009. Displaced and dodging the crossfire of fierce fighting between government forces and the now-defunct Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during the last stages of the conflict, these civilians began trickling back into devastated villages in late 2010.

Despite a massive three-billion-dollar mega infrastructure development plan for the Northern Province, poverty remains rampant in the region. According to poverty data that was released by the government in April, four of the five districts in the north fared poorly.

While the national poverty headcount was 6.7 percent, major districts in the north and east recorded much higher figures: 28.8 percent in Mullaithivu, 12.7 percent in Kilinochchi, 8.3 percent in Jaffnna and 20.1 percent in Mannar.

The figures are worlds apart from the mere 1.4 percent and 2.1 percent recorded in the Colombo and Gampaha Districts in the Western Province.

“The districts in the North were already reeling under very high levels of poverty, which would have certainly accentuated since then due to the prolonged drought to date,” said Muttukrishna Saravananthan, who heads the Point Pedro Institute of Development based in northern Jaffna.

Mohanabavan told IPS that even though he has about two acres of agriculture land that had hitherto provided some 200,000 rupees (1,500 dollars) in income annually, the dry weather has pushed him into debt.

“We don’t have any savings left; I still need to complete a half-built house and send two children to school,” he explained, adding that there is no sign of respite. “The nightmare continues,” he said simply.

Agriculture accounts for 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s national annual gross domestic product (GDP) of some 60 billion rupees (about 460 million dollars). In primarily rural provinces in the north and east, at least 30 percent of the population depends on an agriculture-based income.

Kugadasan Sumanadas, the additional secretary for disaster management at the Kilinochchi District Secretariat, said that limited programmes to assist the drought-impacted population have been launched since the middle of the year.

Around 37,000 persons get daily water transported by tankers and there are a set number of cash-for-work programmes in the district that pay around 800 rupees (about six dollars) per person per day, for projects aimed at renovating water and irrigtation networks.

But to carry out even the limited work underway now, a weekly allocation of over nine million rupees is needed, money that is slow in coming.

“But the bigger problem is if it does not rain soon, then we will have to travel out of the province to get water, more people will need assistance for a longer period, that means more money [will be required],” Sumanadas said.

In April this year, a joint assessment by the World Food Programme and the government warned that half the population in the Mullaithivu district and one in three people in the Kilinochchi district were food insecure.

Sumanadas is certain that in the ensuing four months, the figure has gone up.

Overall, crop production has decreased by 42 percent compared to 2013 levels, while rice yields fell to 17 percent below last year’s output of four million metric tons.

In fact, the government decided to lift import bans on the staple rice stocks in April and is expected to make up for at least five percent of harvest losses through imports.

The main water source in the district, the sprawling Iranamadu Reservoir – 50 square km in size, with the capacity to irrigate 106,000 acres – is a gigantic dust bowl these days, the official said. That scenario, however, is not limited to the north and east.

“All reservoir levels are down to around 30 percent in the island,” Ivan de Silva, the secretary to the minister of irrigation and water management, told IPS.

He attributes the debilitating impact of the drought to two factors working in tandem: the increasing frequency of extreme weather events and the lack of proper water management.

“In the past we excepted a severe drought every 10 to 15 years, now it is happening almost every other year,” de Silva said.

A similar drought in late 2012 also impacted close to two million people on this island of just over 20 million people, and forced agricultural output down to 20 percent of previous yields.

That drought however was broken by the onset of floods brought on by hurricane Nilam in late 2012.

“We should have policies that allow us to manage our water resources better, so that we can better meet these changing weather patterns,” he said.

The country is slowly waking up to the grim reality that a changing climate requires better management. This week the government launched a 100-million-dollar climate resilience programme that will spend the bulk of its funds, around 90 million dollars, on infrastructure upgrades.

Of this, 47 million dollars will go towards improving drainage networks and water systems, while 36 million will go towards fortifying roads and seven million will be poured into projects to improve school safety in disaster-prone areas.

Part of the money will also be allocated to studying the nine main river basins around the country for better flood and drought management policies.

S M Mohammed, the secretary to the ministry of disaster management, admitted that national coping levels were not up to par when she said at the launch of the programme on Sep. 26, “Our country must change from a tradition of responding [to natural disasters] to a culture of resilience.”

Such a policy, if implemented, could bring a world of change to the lives of millions who are slowly cooking in the blistering sun.

Edited by Kanya D’Almieda

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Militarising the Ebola Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/militarising-the-ebola-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=militarising-the-ebola-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/militarising-the-ebola-crisis/#comments Sun, 28 Sep 2014 11:05:02 +0000 Joeva Rock http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136912 First shipment of the ramped-up U.S. military response to Ebola arriving in Liberia. Credit: US Army Africa/CC-BY-2.0

First shipment of the ramped-up U.S. military response to Ebola arriving in Liberia. Credit: US Army Africa/CC-BY-2.0

By Joeva Rock
WASHINGTON, Sep 28 2014 (IPS)

Six months into West Africa’s Ebola crisis, the international community is finally heeding calls for substantial intervention in the region.

On Sep. 16, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a multimillion-dollar U.S. response to the spreading contagion. The crisis, which began in March 2014, has killed over 2,600 people, an alarming figure that experts say will rise quickly if the disease is not contained.

Obama’s announcement comes on the heels of growing international impatience with what critics have called the U.S. government’s “infuriatingly” slow response to the outbreak.

Assistance efforts have already stoked controversy, with a noticeable privilege of care being afforded to foreign healthcare workers over Africans.

The U.S. operation in Liberia warrants many questions. Will military contractors be used in the construction of facilities and execution of programmes? [...] Will the treatment centers double as research labs? [...] And perhaps most significantly for the long term, will the Liberian operation base serve as a staging ground for non-Ebola related military operations?
After two infected American missionaries were administered Zmapp, a life-saving experimental drug, controversy exploded when reports emerged that Doctors Without Borders (MSF) had previously decided not to administer it to the Sierra Leonean doctor Sheik Umar Khan, who succumbed to Ebola after helping to lead the country’s fight against the disease.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) similarly refused to evacuate the prominent Sierra Leonean doctor Olivet Buck, who later died of the disease as well. The Pentagon provoked its own controversy when it announced plans to deploy a 22-million-dollar, 25-bed U.S. military field hospital—reportedly for foreign health workers only.

One particular component of the latest assistance package promises to be controversial as well: namely, the deployment of 3,000 U.S. troops to Liberia, where the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) will establish a joint command operations base to serve as a logistics and training center for medical responders.

According to the prominent political blog ‘Think Progress’, this number represents “nearly two-thirds of AFRICOM’s 4,800 assigned personnel” who will coordinate with civilian organisations to distribute supplies and construct up to 17 treatment centres.

It’s unclear whether any U.S. healthcare personnel will actually treat patients, but according to the White House, “the U.S. Government will help recruit and organise medical personnel to staff” the centres and “establish a site to train up to 500 health care providers per week.”

The latter begs the question of practicality: where would these would-be health workers be recruited from?

According to the Obama administration, the package was requested directly by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. (Notably, Liberia was the only African nation to offer to host AFRICOM’s headquarters in 2008, an offer AFRICOM declined and decided to set up in Germany instead).

But in a country still recovering from decades of civil war, this move was not welcomed by all. “Every Liberian I speak with is having acute anxiety attacks,” said Liberian writer Stephanie C. Horton. “We knew this was coming but the sense of mounting doom is emotional devastation.”

Few would oppose a robust U.S. response to the Ebola crisis, but the militarised nature of the White House plan comes in the context of a broader U.S.-led militarisation of the region.

The soldiers in Liberia, after all, will not be the only American troops on the African continent. In the six years of AFRICOM’s existence, the U.S. military has steadily and quietly been building its presence on the continent through drone bases and partnerships with local militaries.

This is what’s known as the “new normal”: drone strikes, partnerships to train and equip African troops (including those with troubled human rights records), reconnaissance missions, and multinational training operations.

To build PR for its military exercises, AFRICOM relies on soft-power tactics: vibrant social media pages, academic symposia, and humanitarian programming. But such militarised humanitarianism—such as building schools and hospitals and responding to disease outbreaks—also plays more strategic, practical purpose: it allows military personnel to train in new environments, gather local experience and tactical data, and build diplomatic relations with host countries and communities.

TomDispatch’s Nick Turse, one of the foremost reporters on the militarisation of Africa, noted that a recent report from the U.S. Department of Defense “found failures in planning, executing, tracking, and documenting such projects,” leaving big questions about their efficacy.

Perhaps more importantly, experts have warned that the provision of humanitarian assistance by uniformed soldiers could have dangerous, destabilising effects, especially in countries with long histories of civil conflict, such as Liberia and Sierra Leone.

At the outset of the crisis, for example, efforts by Liberian troops to forcefully quarantine the residents of West Point, a community in the capital of Monrovia, led to deadly clashes. Some public health advocates worry that the presence of armed troops could provoke similar incidents.

The U.S. operation in Liberia warrants many questions. Will military contractors be used in the construction of facilities and execution of programmes? Will the U.S.-built treatment centers be temporary or permanent? Will the treatment centers double as research labs? What is the timeline for exiting the country? And perhaps most significantly for the long term, will the Liberian operation base serve as a staging ground for non-Ebola related military operations?

The use of the U.S. military in this operation should raise red flags for the American public as well. After all, if the military truly is the governmental institution best equipped to handle this outbreak, it speaks worlds about the neglect of civilian programmes at home as well as abroad.

This article first appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus. You can read the original version here.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

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Despite New Pledges, Aid to Fight Ebola Lagginghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 05:11:33 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136889 Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have a total of more than 20,000 new cases of Ebola within six weeks and as many as 1.4 million by Jan. 20, 2015, if the virus continues spreading at its current rate. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have a total of more than 20,000 new cases of Ebola within six weeks and as many as 1.4 million by Jan. 20, 2015, if the virus continues spreading at its current rate. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Despite mounting pledges of assistance, the continuing spread of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa is outpacing regional and international efforts to stop it, according to world leaders and global health experts.

“We are not moving fast enough. We are not doing enough,” declared U.S. President Barack Obama at a special meeting on the Ebola crisis at the United Nations in New York Thursday. He warned that “hundreds of thousands” of people could be killed by the epidemic in the coming months unless the international community provided the necessary resources.

He was joined by World Bank President Jim Yong Kim who announced his institution would nearly double its financing to 400 million dollars to help the worst-affected countries – Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone – cope with the crisis.

“We can – we must – all move more swiftly to contain the spread of Ebola and help these countries and their people,” according to Kim, much of whose professional career has been devoted to improving health services for people around the world.

“Generous pledges of aid and unprecedented U.N. resolutions are very welcome. But they will mean little, unless they are translated into immediate action. The reality on the ground today is this: the promised surge has not yet delivered." -- Joanne Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders (MSF)
“Too many lives have been lost already, and the fate of thousands of others depends upon a response that can contain and then stop this epidemic,” he said.

Indeed, concern about the spread of the epidemic has increased sharply here in recent days, particularly in light of projections released earlier this week by the Atlanta-based U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has sent scores of experts to the region. It found that Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have a total of more than 20,000 new cases of Ebola within six weeks and as many as 1.4 million by Jan. 20, 2015, if the virus continues spreading at its current rate.

Moreover, global health officials have revised upwards – from 55 percent to 70 percent – the mortality rate of those infected with the virus whose latest outbreak appears to have begun in a remote village in Guinea before spreading southwards into two nations that have only relatively recently begun to recover from devastating civil wars.

Officially, almost 3,000 people have died from the latest outbreak, which began last spring. But most experts believe the official figures are far too conservative, because many cases have not been reported to the authorities, especially in remote regions of the three affected countries.

“Staff at the outbreak sites see evidence that the numbers of reported cases and deaths vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which is overseeing the global effort to combat the virus’s spread.

In addition to the staggering human costs, the economic toll is also proving dire, if not catastrophic, as the fear of contagion and the resort by governments to a variety of quarantine measures have seriously disrupted normal transport, trade, and commerce.

In a study released last week, the World Bank found that inflation and prices of basic staples that had been contained during the last few months are now rising rapidly upwards in response to shortages, panic buying, and speculation.

The study, which did not factor in the latest CDC estimates, projected potential economic losses for all three countries in 2014 at 359 million dollars – or an average of about a three-percent decline in what their economic output would otherwise have been.

The impact for 2015 could reach more than 800 million dollars, with the Liberian economy likely to be hardest hit among the three, which were already among the world’s poorest nations.

“This is a humanitarian catastrophe, first and foremost,” Kim said Thursday. “But the economic ramifications are very broad and could be long lasting. Our assessment shows a much more severe economic impact on affected countries than was previously estimated.”

Moreover, security analysts have warned that the epidemic could also provoke political crises and upheaval in any or all of the affected countries, effectively unravelling years of efforts to stabilise the region.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) warned that the hardest hit countries already “face widespread chaos and, potentially, collapse,” in part due to the distrust between citizens and their governments, as shown by the sometimes violent resistance to often military-enforced quarantine and other official efforts to halt the virus’s spread. Food shortages could also provoke popular uprisings against local authorities.

“In all three countries, past civil conflicts fuelled by local and regional antagonisms could resurface,” according to the ICG statement which warned that the virus could also spread to Guinea-Bissau and Gambia, both of which, like the three core nations, lack health systems that can cope with the challenge.

Obama, who Friday will host 44 countries that have enlisted in his administration’s Global Health Security Agenda, himself echoed some of these concerns, stressing that containing Ebola “is as important a national security priority for my team as anything else that’s out there.”

Earlier this month, WHO estimated that it will cost a minimum of 600 million dollars – now generally considered too low a figure –to halt the disease’s spread of which somewhat more than 300 million dollars has materialised to date.

The U.S. has so far pledged more than 500 million dollars and 3,000 troops who are being deployed to the region, along with the CDC specialists. Even that contribution has been criticised as too little by some regional and health experts.

“…[T]he number of new Ebola cases each week far exceeds the number of hospital beds in Sierra Leone and Liberia,” according to John Campbell, a West Africa specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), who cited a recent article in the ‘New England Journal of Medicine’.

“It is hard to see how President Obama’s promise to send 3,000 military personnel to Liberia to build hospitals with a total of 1,700 beds can be transformative,” he wrote on the CFR website. “The assistance by the United Kingdom to Sierra Leone and France to Guinea is even smaller,” he noted.

A number of foundations have also pledged help. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has spent billions of dollars to improve health conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, has committed 50 million dollars, while Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s foundation has pledged 65 million dollars to the cause. The California-based William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced Thursday it had committed five million dollars to be channelled through half a dozen non-governmental organisations.

But whether such contributions will be sufficient remains doubtful, particularly given the dearth of trained staff and adequate facilities in the most-affected countries and the speed at which the pledged support is being delivered – a message that was underlined here Thursday by Joanne Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which has been deeply engaged in the battle against Ebola.

“Generous pledges of aid and unprecedented U.N. resolutions are very welcome,” she said. “But they will mean little, unless they are translated into immediate action. The reality on the ground today is this: the promised surge has not yet delivered,” she added.

“Our 150-bed facility in Monrovia opens for just thirty minutes each morning. Only a few people are admitted – to fill beds made empty by those who died overnight,” she said. “The sick continue to be turned away, only to return home and spread the virus among loved ones and neighbours.”

“Don’t cut corners. Massive, direct action is the only way,” she declared.

Obama himself repeatedly stressed the urgency, comparing the challenge to “a marathon, but you have to run it like a sprint.”

“And that’s only possible if everybody chips in, if every nation and every organisation takes this seriously. Everybody here has to do more,” he said.

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Conflict Keeps Mothers From Healthcare Serviceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/conflict-keeps-mothers-from-healthcare-services/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conflict-keeps-mothers-from-healthcare-services http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/conflict-keeps-mothers-from-healthcare-services/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 03:52:47 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136884 Increasing levels of violence across India due to ethnic tensions and armed insurgencies are taking their toll on women and cutting off access to crucial reproductive health services. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Increasing levels of violence across India due to ethnic tensions and armed insurgencies are taking their toll on women and cutting off access to crucial reproductive health services. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
BASTAR, India, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Twenty-five-year-old Khemwanti Pradhan is a ‘Mitanin’ – a trained and accredited community health worker – based in the Nagarbeda village of the Bastar region in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh.

Since 2007, Pradhan has been informing local women about government health schemes and urging them to deliver their babies at a hospital instead of in their own homes.

Ironically, when Pradhan gave birth to her first child in 2012, she herself was unable to visit a hospital because government security forces chose that very day to conduct a raid on her village, which is believed to be a hub of armed communist insurgents.

“I have seen women trying to use home remedies like poultices to cure sepsis just because they don’t want to run into either an army man or a rebel." -- Daniel Mate, a youth activist from the town of Tengnoupal, on the India-Myanmar border
In the panic and chaos that ensued, the village all but shut down, leaving Pradhan to manage on her own.

“Security men were carrying out a door-to-door search for Maoist rebels. They arrested many young men from our village. My husband and my brother-in-law were scared and both fled to the nearby forest.

“When my labour pains began, there was nobody around. I boiled some water and delivered my own baby,” she said.

Thanks to her training as a Mitanin, which simply means ‘friend’ in the local language, Pradhan had a smooth and safe delivery.

But not everyone is so lucky. Increasing levels of violence across India due to ethnic tensions and armed insurgencies are taking their toll on women and cutting off access to crucial reproductive health services.

This past June, for instance, 22-year-old Anita Reang, a Bru tribal refugee woman in the conflict-ridden Mamit district of the northeastern state of Mizoram, began haemorrhaging while giving birth at home.

The young girl eventually bled to death, Anita’s mother Malati told IPS, adding that they couldn’t leave the house because they were surrounded by Mizo neighbours, who were hostile to the Bru family.

According to Doctors Without Borders (MSF), a global charity that provides healthcare in conflict situations and disaster zones across the world, gender-based violence, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity all increase during times of conflict.

This could have huge repercussions in India, home to over 31 million women in the reproductive age group according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The country is a long way from achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of 103 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2015, and is still nursing a maternal mortality rate of 230 deaths per 100,000 births.

There is a dearth of comprehensive nationwide data on the impact of conflict on maternal health but experts are agreed that it exacerbates the issue of access to clinics and facilities.

MSF’s country medical coordinator, Simon Jones, told IPS that in India the “most common causes of neonatal death are […] prematurity and low birth weight, neonatal infections and birth asphyxia and trauma.”

The government runs nationwide maternal and child health schemes such as Janani Suraksha Yojana and Janani Shishu Suraksha Karykram that provide free medicine, free healthcare, nutritional supplements and also monetary incentives to women who give birth at government facilities.

But according to Waliullah Ahmed Laskar, an advocate in the Guwahati High Court in the northeastern state of Assam, who also leads a rights protection group called the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee, women wishing to access government programmes must travel to an official health centre – an arduous task for those who reside in conflict-prone regions.

In central and eastern India alone, this amounts to some 22 million women.

There is also a trust deficit between women in a conflict area and the health workers, Laskar told IPS. “Women are [often] scared of health workers, who they think hold a bias against them and might ill-treat them.”

For Jomila Bibi, a 31-year-old Muslim refugee woman from Assam’s Kokrajhar district, such fears were not unfounded; the young woman’s newborn daughter died last October after doctors belonging to a rival ethnic group allegedly declined to attend to her.

Bibi was on the run following ethnic clashes between Bengali Muslims and members of the Bodo tribal community in Assam that have left nearly half a million people displaced across the region.

Daniel Mate, a youth activist in the town of Tengnoupal, which lies on India’s conflicted border with Myanmar, recounted several cases of women refusing to seek professional help, despite having severe post-delivery complications, due to compromised security around them.

“When there is more than one armed group [as in the case of the armed insurgency in Tengnoupal and surrounding areas in northeast India’s Manipur state], it is difficult to know who is a friend and who is an enemy,” he told IPS.

“I have seen women trying to use home remedies like poultices to cure sepsis just because they don’t want to run into either an army man or a rebel,” added Mate, who campaigns for crowd-funded medical supplies for the remotest villages in the region, which are plagued by the presence of over a dozen militant groups.

The solution, according to MSF’s Jones, is an overall improvement in comprehensive maternal care including services like Caesarean sections and blood transfusions.

Equally important is the sensitisation of health workers and security personnel, who could persuade more women to seek healthcare, even in troubled times.

Other experts suggest regular mobile healthcare services and on-the-spot midwifery training to women in remote and sensitive regions.

According to Kaushalendra Kukku, a doctor in the Kanker government hospital in Bastar, “When violence erupts, all systems collapse. The best way to minimise the risk of maternal death in such a situation is to take the services to a woman, instead of expecting her to come to [the services].”

Pradhan, who has now resumed her duties as a community health worker, agrees. “I was able to deliver safely because I was trained. If other women receive the same training, they can also help themselves.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

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Comprehensive Sex Education: A Pending Task in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/comprehensive-sex-education-a-pending-task-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=comprehensive-sex-education-a-pending-task-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/comprehensive-sex-education-a-pending-task-in-latin-america/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 21:52:35 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136879 By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 25 2014 (IPS)

In most Latin American countries schools now provide sex education, but with a focus that is generally restricted to the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases – an approach that has not brought about significant modifications in the behaviour of adolescents, especially among the poor.

The international community made the commitment to offer comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) during the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo.

“Although some advances have been made in the inclusion of sexual and reproductive education in school curriculums in Latin America and the Caribbean, we have found that not all countries or their different jurisdictions have managed to fully incorporate these concepts in classroom activities,” Elba Núñez, the coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women’s Rights (CLADEM), told IPS.

Teenage mom Maura Escobar with her baby María. Credit: Daniela Estrada/IPS

Teenage mom Maura Escobar with her baby María. Credit: Daniela Estrada/IPS

The 2010 CLADEM study ‘Systematisation of sexuality education in Latin America’ reports that Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay are the countries that have come the closest to the concept of comprehensive sex education, and they are also the countries that have passed legislation in that respect.

Others, like Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Peru, continue to focus on abstinence and birth control methods, while emphasising spiritual aspects of sexuality, the importance of the family, and the need to delay the start of sexual activity.

But programmes in the region still generally have problems “with respect to the enjoyment and exercise of this right,” especially among ethnic minorities and rural populations, said Núñez from Paraguay.

Countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Mexico have also run into difficulties in implementing sex education programmes outside the main cities.

These shortcomings are part of the reason that Latin America is the region with the second highest teen pregnancy rate – 38 percent of girls and women get pregnant before the age of 20 – after sub-Saharan Africa, as well as a steep school dropout rate.

In Argentina, a law on comprehensive sex education, which created a National Programme of Comprehensive Sex Education, was approved in 2006.

Ana Lía Kornblit, a researcher at the Gino Germani Research Institute, described the programme as “an important achievement because it makes it possible to exercise a right that didn’t previously exist.”

But in some provinces the teaching material, “which is high quality, is not used on the argument that [schools] do not agree with some of the content and they plan to design material in line with local cultural and religious values,” she said.

“Children can see everything on TV or the Internet, but in school it isn’t talked about for fear of encouraging them to have sex,” Mabel Bianco, president of the Foundation for the Education and Study of Women (FEIM), told IPS.

“But in the media everything is eroticised, which incites them to engage in sexual behaviour. And the worst thing is they don’t have the tools to resist the pressure from their peers and from society to become sexually active,” she said. “CSE would enable them to say no to sexual relations that they don’t want to have.”“Children can see everything on TV or the Internet, but in school it isn’t talked about for fear of encouraging them to have sex.” -- Mabel Bianco

Lourdes Ramírez, 18, just finished her secondary studies at a public school in Mendiolaza in the central Argentine province of Córdoba. She told IPS that in her school, many parents of students in the first years of high school “kick up a fuss” when sex education classes are given “because they say their kids are young and those classes will make them start having sex sooner.”

“It’s absurd that you see everything on TV, programmes with girls in tiny thongs, but then in school they can’t teach how to use a condom or that people should only have sex when they really want to,” Ramírez said.

In her school, the Education Ministry textbooks and materials arrived, but they were not distributed to the students “and were only kept in the library, for people to come and look at.”

Carmen Dueñas, a high school biology teacher in Berazategui, 23 km southeast of Buenos Aires, said it was surprising that even when available birth control methods are explained to the students, “many girls want to get pregnant anyway.”

“They think that when they get pregnant they will have someone to love, that they’ll have a role to play in life if they have a family of their own,” said the teacher, who forms part of a municipal-national CSE project.

“There are conflicts and violence in a significant proportion of families, and teenagers don’t feel they have support; families are torn apart, and there is domestic abuse, violence, alcohol and drug use,” said Marité Gowland, a specialist in preschool education in Florencio Varela, 38 km from the Argentine capital.

“All of this leads to adolescents falling into the same cycle, and it is difficult for them to put into practice what they learn in school,” she said. “Many schools provide the possibility for kids to talk about their problems, but the school alone can’t solve them.”

A project in Berazategui is aimed at breaking the mould. Students are shown a film where a girl gets pregnant when she is sexually abused by her stepfather, but manages to stay in school after talking to her teacher.
“We chose this scenario because sometimes we have clues that there are cases like this in our schools,” Dueñas said.

Through games, the project teaches students how to use condoms. In addition, students can place anonymous questions in a box. “There are girls who comment that although they haven’t even gotten their first period, they have sex, because they have older boyfriends. Then the group discusses the case,” Dueñas said, to illustrate how the project works.

Another member of CLADEM, Zobeyda Cepeda from the Dominican Republic, said that what prevails in most of the region is a “biological approach, or a religious focus, looking at sexuality only as part of marriage.”

Until the focus shifts to a rights-based approach, experts say, Latin America will not meet its international obligations to ensure that “every pregnancy is wanted [...] and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.”

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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‘Therapeutic Abortion’ Could Soon Be Legal in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/therapeutic-abortion-could-soon-be-legal-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=therapeutic-abortion-could-soon-be-legal-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/therapeutic-abortion-could-soon-be-legal-in-chile/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 13:26:44 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136835 Alicia is one of the millions of Chilean women who have had an illegal, unsafe abortion because in their country terminating a pregnancy is punishable with up to five years in prison, regardless of the circumstances. Now the country is moving towards legalising therapeutic abortion. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Alicia is one of the millions of Chilean women who have had an illegal, unsafe abortion because in their country terminating a pregnancy is punishable with up to five years in prison, regardless of the circumstances. Now the country is moving towards legalising therapeutic abortion. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Sep 24 2014 (IPS)

Chile, one of the most conservative countries in Latin America, is getting ready for an unprecedented debate on the legalisation of therapeutic abortion, which is expected to be approved this year.

In Chile, more than 300,000 illegal abortions are practiced annually – a scourge that is both cause and effect of many other social problems.

“Abortion in Chile is like the drug trade – surrounded by illegality and precariousness,” 27-year-old Alicia, who had an abortion five years ago, told IPS.

Latin America – stronghold of illegal abortion

In Chile, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua abortion is punishable by prison under any circumstance, although in Honduras the medical code of ethics allows it if the mother’s life is at risk.

One illustration that stiff penalties do not reduce abortions but only make them unsafe is the Dominican Republic, where the constitution has guaranteed the right to life from conception since 2010. But 90,000 abortions are year are practiced in that country, which means one out of every four pregnancies is interrupted.

In the rest of the countries in the region – with the exception of Cuba, Uruguay and Mexico City – only therapeutic abortion is allowed. Nevertheless, there are 31 abortions for every 1,000 women of child-bearing age, higher than the global average.

In Costa Rica, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela abortion is only legal if the mother’s life is at risk. In Ecuador and Panama it is also legal in case of rape.

Guatemala exemplifies the effects of clandestine abortions. Of the 65,000 women who undergo an abortion in that country every year, 21,500 are hospitalised as a result. In Argentina and Bolivia the decision is made by a judge. In Argentina abortion is only legal in case of rape or risk to a mother’s life, and in Bolivia in cases of incest as well.

It is estimated that there is one abortion for every two pregnancies that end in birth in Argentina.

In Colombia abortion is legal for the abovementioned reasons as well as severe birth defects, as it is in Brazil – but only in cases where the fetus shows abnormal brain development.

Abortion on demand is only legal in Cuba and Uruguay – in the latter as of 2012, and since then the number of abortions has gone down.

In addition, abortion on demand has been legal in the Mexican capital since 2007. But that triggered a counter-reform in the country, and 17 of the 31 states have now banned abortion under any circumstances.

“A friend told me about a gynecologist, I went to see him and he told me the date, time and place to meet him,” Alicia said. “My mom came with me. A van picked me up on a random street corner in the city and I had no idea where we were going. I still remember my mother’s face, the anxiety of not knowing if I would come back, and in what condition.

“In a house a doctor and a woman, I don’t know if she was a midwife or a nurse, were waiting for me. They doped me up. When I woke up it was done. They put me in the van and took me back to my mother. We never talked about it again,” she said sadly.

The legalisation of abortion is one of the Chilean state’s big debts to women, Carolina Carrera, the president of Corporación Humanas, told IPS.

“Chile’s highly punitive legislation is a violation of the human rights of women because this level of penalisation means that women who abort do so in unsafe conditions, with physical and psychological risks,” she added.

In addition, smuggling has increased of Misoprostol, also known as RU486 or medication abortion. The medicine is sold at exorbitantly high prices, without clear medical indications, she added.

Claudia, 24, had to go to a house on one of the hills in the port city of Valparaíso, 140 km northwest of Santiago, to buy the drug to interrupt an unwanted pregnancy.

“It was a dangerous place,” she said. “I had to pay more than 600 dollars. I looked around and thought: and if something happens to me, who do I call? An ambulance, the police? No, I’d be put in prison!”

In Latin America, where the Catholic Church still has an enormous influence, abortion is illegal everywhere except Cuba, Uruguay and Mexico City. However, most countries allow therapeutic abortion in circumstances suggested by the United Nations: rape, risk to the mother’s life, or severe birth defects.

Chile is one of only seven countries in the world that ban abortion under any circumstance. Four others are in Latin America – the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua – and two are in Europe – Malta and the Vatican.

Therapeutic abortion was legal in Chile from 1931 to 1989, when it was banned by the government of late dictator General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). None of the democratic administrations that have governed the country since then have touched the issue until now.

Since then, women who undergo an abortion have faced a possible prison sentence of up to five years.

“The frequency of abortion has remained steady in the last 10 years in Chile,” Dr. Ramiro Molina with the Centre on Reproductive Medicine and Integral Development of the Adolescent at the University of Chile told IPS. “The number of cases has not gone down, nor have there been major changes in the ages: the highest rates of abortion are still found among women between the ages of 25 and 34.”

He said there are only records of some 33,500 women a year who are treated for abortion-related complications – a figure he described as “very misleading” because it only takes into account those who go to a public health centre for emergency treatment.

Molina explained that the real total is estimated by multiplying that number by 10, which would indicate that 335,000 women a year undergo illegal abortions in Chile.

In the Latin American countries with the strictest legislation, abortions are practiced in conditions that pose a high risk to women, making it a public health problem as well as a reflection of inequality.

“Abortion is a socioeconomic indicator of poverty,” Molina said.

According to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 21.6 million unsafe abortions took place worldwide in 2008. The estimated annual total in Latin America is 4.4 million, 95 percent of which are clandestine. And 12 percent of maternal deaths in the region are the result of unsafe abortion.

Molina, one of the region’s leading experts in his field, said that while progress has been made in the last two decades, it has been very slow because “a religious-based philosophical vision” continues to prevail and stands in the way of further advances.

In Chile, the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet, in office since March, is preparing to launch a debate on the legalisation of therapeutic abortion in case of rape, risk to the mother’s life, or severe birth defects.

She has stated on several occasions that abortion will be decriminalised this year in Chile.

During her first term (2006-2010), Bachelet authorised the free distribution of Levonorgestrel, better known as the morning after pill, by government health centres to all girls and women over the age of 14 who requested it. But its actual distribution still depends on the ideology of mayors, who are responsible for public health centres in their jurisdictions.

The morning after pill came too late for Francisco and Daniela. When she enrolled in the university, “we got pregnant,” she told IPS. The couple thought about it long and hard, but they lived with her parents and Francisco only worked part-time.

“I felt like it was cutting her life short, her dreams, her prospects,” said Francisco, who somehow managed to scrape together the 600 dollars for the abortion.

Now, at the age of 35, they have a little girl. But they remember it as a traumatic incident, “because it was clandestine, unsafe and unjust.”

Although the legalisation of therapeutic abortion was one of Bachelet’s campaign pledges, abortion remains a taboo subject in Chile. Many are afraid of the political consequences in this country of 17.8 million people, where more than 65 percent of the population is Catholic.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: The Fight Against the Long-Term Effects of Child Hunger Reaches Fever Pitchhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-the-fight-against-the-long-term-effects-of-child-hunger-reaches-fever-pitch/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-fight-against-the-long-term-effects-of-child-hunger-reaches-fever-pitch http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-the-fight-against-the-long-term-effects-of-child-hunger-reaches-fever-pitch/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 08:18:42 +0000 Dr Noel Marie Zagre and Ambassador Gary Quince http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136847 A nutritionist assesses the health of a child in the Sahel. Red indicates severe malnutrition. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

A nutritionist assesses the health of a child in the Sahel. Red indicates severe malnutrition. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Noel Marie Zagre and Gary Quince
JOHANNESBURG, Sep 24 2014 (IPS)

Eric Turyasingura chases after a ball made from plastic bags outside his mud-brick home in the mountains of southern Uganda.

Yelling in his tribal tongue, Nkore, “Arsenal with the ball! Arsenal with the ball!” he jostles with his younger brothers for possession. 

The fame of the English soccer club has reached even his little ears. Pretending to be a sports star offers a moment of escape from his daily struggles.

At five years old, Eric’s tiny body already tells a story of poverty and lost opportunity. He is six inches shorter than he should be for his age. His arms and legs are pencil-thin and his head is out of proportion to his body.

Because he is stunted, experts say his chances growing up healthy, learning at full potential, and getting a job, let alone play professional soccer, have been greatly diminished.

In 2013, a United Nations Report said one in four children under five years, across the world – a total of 165 million – were stunted, while last year The Lancet estimated that undernutrition contributed 45 percent of all under-5 deaths.

Often beginning in the womb as poverty-stricken mothers live hand-to-mouth, stunting can be a lifelong affliction. Studies show it is linked to poor cognition and educational performance, low adult wages and lost productivity. A stunted child is nearly five times more likely to die from diarrhoea than a non-stunted child because of the physiological changes in a stunted body.

Development agencies say significant progress has been made in ensuring children are properly nourished, and as a result, the incidence of stunting is declining.

However, huge challenges remain and in sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion of stunted under-fives is two in five. With crises in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Syria and now Iraq displacing millions of people, combating hunger and ensuring stunting rates don’t creep back up has become a top priority.

“We will not eliminate extreme poverty or achieve sustainable development without adequate food and nutrition for all,” said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon at a meeting of global hunger agencies in Rome.

“We cannot know peace or security if one in eight people are hungry.”

As such, the first “pillar” of Secretary General’s “Zero Hunger Challenge” aims to eliminate stunting in children under two years old.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is also a partner in the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, another major global push, bringing together more than 50 countries in an effort put national policies in place and implement programme with shared nutrition goals.

One innovative programme – the Africa Nutrition Security Partnership, being implemented by UNICEF and funded by the European Union since 2011- is combating stunting both at the community level and the institution level.

Acutely malnourished children at risk of death are directed to health clinics, and at the same time health institutions and partners are given the tools they need to improve infant and young child feeding practices and hygiene, and better fight hunger and disease. The four-year programme focuses on Ethiopia (with a stunting rate of 44 percent), Uganda (33 percent), Mali (38 percent) and Burkina Faso (35 percent).

The aim is to change behaviour among households, set up systems for effective multisectoral approaches and increase government capacity, enabling these countries to battle against the effects of hunger long after the programme is complete.

In Uganda, for example, community workers have been provided with smart phones, programmed with information about hygiene, postnatal care and proper infant and maternal diet. The workers share the information with household members and then log their location on the smart phone’s GPS to prove they were there.

In Mali’s capital, Bamako, funding has been provided to broaden a master’s degree to provide advanced training to healthcare professionals about how to best design and implements nutrition programmes.

In Ethiopia, schoolgirls are being encouraged to delay marriage and pregnancy until they are at least 18, as a way of preventing intergenerational undernutrition. Older women are better able to carry a baby and rear children with stronger bodies and minds.

The increased focus on stunting by the humanitarian community is telling: its prevalence has become a kind of litmus test for the well being of children in general. A child who has grown to a normal height is more likely to live in a household where they wash their hands and have a toilet; is more likely to eat fruit and vegetables, is more likely to be going to school; is more likely to get a good job; and is less likely to die from disease.

Moreover, tipping the balance in favour of a child’s future isn’t as hard as some might think. The simple act of reinforcing the importance of exclusively breastfeeding a baby for the first six months of his or her life, for example, increases an infant’s chances of survival by six times.

Most of the regions where the partnership is being run have ample food to go around. It is other factors, such as failing to properly wash and dry utensils after meals, selling nutritious homegrown foods at market rather than eating them, and cultural sensitivities to things like vegetables and eggs that are causing problems. As such, simply education programmes can make a real difference and save countless lives.

The other challenge is ensuring there is enough political will to keep those programmes running. If the international community remains focused, the downward trend in stunting will continue. It could only be a few short years before children from modest African communities like the mountains of southern Uganda get to really play for teams like Arsenal. Children just need to be allowed to grow to their full potential and good things will follow.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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