Inter Press Service » Health http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 19 Dec 2014 01:11:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 Anti-Gay Legislation Could Defeat Goal to End AIDS in Zimbabwe by 2015http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/anti-gay-legislation-could-defeat-goal-to-end-aids-in-zimbabwe-by-2015/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anti-gay-legislation-could-defeat-goal-to-end-aids-in-zimbabwe-by-2015 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/anti-gay-legislation-could-defeat-goal-to-end-aids-in-zimbabwe-by-2015/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 00:04:34 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138316 Zimbabwe has criminalised gay relationships, striking fear into the hearts of many gays like these two walking side by side in the country’s capital, because they are being left out in strategies to combat HIV/AIDS. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo

Zimbabwe has criminalised gay relationships, striking fear into the hearts of many gays like these two walking side by side in the country’s capital, because they are being left out in strategies to combat HIV/AIDS. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

Despite a mandate to eradicate HIV/AIDS under the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Zimbabwe has done little or nothing to reduce the rate of infection among vulnerable gays and lesbians, say activists here.

The MDGs are eight goals agreed to by all U.N. member states and all leading international development institutions to be achieved by the target date of 2015. These goals range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education.

Gays and lesbians activists here say more needs to be done because population groups such as men who have sex with men and transgender people remain at the periphery of the country’s intervention strategies.

“In as far as combatting HIV/AIDS is concerned, there are no national programmes targeted for minority groups or interventions that can easily be accessible by the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) community on prevention and care within the public healthcare system,”Samuel Matsikure, Programme Manager of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), told IPS.“Whether the Zimbabwean government likes it or not, it has to face the reality that gays and lesbians exist and should therefore cater for their HIV/AIDS needs in emerging with strategies to combat HIV/AIDS just like it does for all other citizens, for how do we end the scourge if we ignore another group of people who will certainly spread the disease” – civil society activist Trust Mhindo

“There are knowledge gaps of healthcare workers on the needs and best methods on prevention, treatment and care for the HIV-positive LGBTI individuals,” adds Matsikure.

GALZ is a voluntary association founded in 1990 to serve the needs and interests of LGBTI persons in Zimbabwe, pushing for social tolerance of sexual minorities.

But 24 years after GALZ was founded, Zimbabwe’s Sexual Offences Act still criminalises homosexuality. According to Section 4.78 of Zimbabwe’s new constitution, persons of the same sex are prohibited from consensual sex or marrying each other.

Civil society activists say the Zimbabwean government has to accept the reality that gays and lesbians exist.

“Whether the Zimbabwean government likes it or not, it has to face the reality that gays and lesbians exist and should therefore cater for their HIV/AIDS needs in emerging with strategies to combat HIV/AIDS just like it does for all other citizens, for how do we end the scourge if we ignore another group of people who will certainly spread the disease,” Trust Mhindo, a civil society activist, told IPS.

HIV/AIDS activists here rather want the legislation on gays and lesbians changed. “We need to fight for a change of laws so that gays and lesbians are given recognition, without which fighting HIV/AIDS among LGBTI will remain futile,” Benjamin Mazhindu, Chairperson of the Zimbabwe National Network for People Living with HIV (ZNPP+), told IPS.

Globally halting the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015 is part of the U.N. MDGs, but with members of the LGBTI sidelined in fighting the disease in Zimbabwe, the battle may be far from over.

“Most healthcare facilities in Zimbabwe are not friendly to LGBTI persons, hindering disclosures of ailments like anal STIs [sexually transmitted infections]while sexual and reproductive health information for the LGBTI community is non-existent, creating a vacuum with healthcare facilities for minorities,” GALZ director Chester Samba told IPS.

“If you today walk into any government healthcare centre, be sure not to find any information or literature on gays and lesbians in as far as HIV/AIDS is concerned,” he added.

And for many Zimbabwean gays like 23-year-old Hillary Tembo, living with HIV/AIDS amounts to a death sentence because he fears accessing medical help from government healthcare centres.

“I’m HIV-positive and ridden with STI-related sores in my anus and truly I’m afraid to show this to health workers, fearing victimisation owing to my sexuality,” Tembo told IPS.

But Zimbabwean Health Minister David Parirenyatwa told IPS: “When a person visits a healthcare centre, nothing is asked about one’s sexual orientation.”

According to Samba, although there are no reported cases of HIV-positive LGBTI people being denied antiretroviral treatment on account of their sexual orientation, “there is need for a national HIV/AIDS response to address the barriers preventing members of the LGBTI community from accessing services that address their HIV/AIDS health care needs, including access to information that is relevant to them.”

However, faced with a constitution forbidding gay relations, government here finds it an uphill task to consider a group of people that it constitutionally does not recognise in combatting HIV/AIDS.

“We can’t arm-twist our supreme law which does not condone homosexuality to fit in to the needs of a small group of people who are disobeying the law,” a top government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told IPS.

And for gays and lesbians in this Southern African nation, whether the U.N. MDGs matter or not, to them suffering may continue as long as they remain a forgotten lot in fighting HIV/AIDS.

“As homosexuality is illegal in Zimbabwe, it is difficult for prevention programmes to reach men who have sex with men (MSM) and all MSMs living with HIV/AIDS are often unable to access HIV treatment, care and support,” Samba told IPS.

Asked how many HIV-positive LGBTI persons there were in Zimbabwe, the GALZ director said that he could not give figures because “there are no mechanisms at national level to capture data based on one’s sexual orientation.”

However, in its yet-to-be published 2014 research on the impact of HIV/AIDS on LGBTI persons, GALZ says that of the 393 MSMs tested for HIV/AIDS this year, 23.5 percent were found positive while of the 179 women having sex with women (WSWs) tested for HIV/AIDS, 32.6 percent were found positive in Zimbabwe.

According to the National Aids Council in Zimbabwe (NAC),1.24 million people in the country are living with HIV/AIDS, which is approximately 15 percent of the country’s over 13 million people. LGBTI persons are part of this percentage.

Statistics from the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency this year show that LGBTI persons in Zimbabwe contribute about four percent of the people living with HIV/AIDS.

With a membership of 6,000 gays and lesbians, GALZ says 15 percent of these are living with HIV/AIDS, with five of its members having succumbed to HIV/AIDS since January. The organisation claims that it normally loses 5 to 10 people each year. “Statistics we have so far are of GALZ-affiliated members, not representative of the national statistics,” said the GALZ director.

For many HIV-positive Zimbabwean gays like Tembo, as the world rushes towards the deadline for attainment of the U.N. MDGs, without clearly defined strategies to fight HIV/AIDS within the LGBTI community, the war against the scourge may be far from over.

“How can we triumph over HIV/AIDS when among the LGBTI community we are without strategies from government to combat the disease?” Tembo asked rhetorically.

(Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris)

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CORRECTION/Filipino Children Make Gains on Paper, But Reality Lags Behindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/filipino-children-make-gains-on-paper-but-reality-lags-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=filipino-children-make-gains-on-paper-but-reality-lags-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/filipino-children-make-gains-on-paper-but-reality-lags-behind/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 00:38:52 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138277 Teenage pregnancy affects 1.4 million Filipino girls aged 15 to 19. Credit: Stella Estremera/IPS

Teenage pregnancy affects 1.4 million Filipino girls aged 15 to 19. Credit: Stella Estremera/IPS

By Diana Mendoza
MANILA, Dec 15 2014 (IPS)

Mae Baez sees some of the darkest sides of communications technology.

A child rights advocate with the secretariat of the Philippine NGO Coalition on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Baez says, “Teenage pregnancies continue to rise, street children are treated like criminals who are punished, children in conflict with the law and those affected by disasters are not taken care of, and now, with the prevalence of child porn, children know how to video call.”“The government has not intervened in protecting children from early marriage and in ending the decades-long war between Muslims and Christians to achieve true and lasting peace." -- Mark Timbang

The most notable case of this last scourge was early this year in the island of Cebu, 570 kilometres south of Manila, where the Philippine National Police arrested and tried foreign nationals for pedophilia and child pornography in a large-scale cybersex business.

While the Philippines is praised by international human rights groups as having an advanced legal framework for children, child rights advocates like Baez said “violations continue to persist,” including widespread corporal punishment at home, in schools and in other settings.

The Bata Muna (Child First), a nationwide movement that monitors the implementation of children’s rights in the Philippines consisting of 23 children’s organisations jointly convened by Save the Children, Zone One Tondo Organization consisting of urban poor communities, and Children Talk to Children (C2C), said these violations were contained in the United Nations reviews and expert recommendations to the Philippine government.

The movement listed the gains on the realisation of children’s rights with the existence of the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act, Anti-Child Trafficking, Anti-Pornography Act and Foster Care Act, among other policies protecting children.

There is also the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), a social welfare programme intended to eradicate extreme poverty by investing in children’s education and health; the National Strategic Framework for the Development of Children 2001-2025; the Philippine Plan of Action for Children; and the growing collective efforts of civil society to claim children’s rights.

But Baez said these laws have not been fully implemented, and are in fact clouded by current legislative proposals such as amending the country’s Revised Penal Code to raise the age of statutory rape from the current 12 to 16 to align the country’s laws to internationally-accepted standard of age of consent.

The recently-enacted Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law, which endured 15 years of being filed, re-filed and debated on in the Philippine Congress, has yet to be implemented. Many civil society groups have pinned their hopes on this law on the education of young people on sexual responsibility and life skills.

Teenage pregnancy, which affects 1.4 million Filipino girls aged 15 to 19, is widespread in the country, according to the University of the Philippines Population Institute that conducted the Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Survey in 2013.

There are 43 million young Filipinos under 18, according to 2014 estimates of the National Statistics Office, and these youth, especially those in the poorest households and with limited education, need to be informed about their bodies, their health and their rights to prevent early pregnancies.

The child advocates said early pregnancies deny young girls their basic human rights and prevent them from continuing their schooling. The advocates said if the Reproductive Health Law is implemented immediately, many girls and boys will be able to receive correct information on how to protect and care for their bodies.

On education, Baez said the government’s intention to provide more access has yet to be realised with the introduction in 2011 of the K to 12 program to provide a child ample time to be skilled, develop lifelong learning, and prepare them for tertiary education, middle-level skills development, employment, and entrepreneurship.

“While the programme does not solve the high drop-out rate in primary education, children in remote and poor areas still walk kilometres just to go to school,” Baez said.

This situation was echoed by Mark Timbang, advocacy coordinator of the Mindanao Action Group for Children’s Rights and Protection in the country’s predominantly Muslim south, who said the government has not shown its intentions to provide children a more convenient way of going to school.

Timbang also said “the government has not intervened in protecting children from early marriage and in ending the decades-long war between Muslims and Christians to achieve true and lasting peace” where children can grow safely.

Sheila Carreon, child participation officer of Save the Children, added that another pending bill seeks to raise the age of children who can participate in the Sangguniang Kabataan (Youth Council), a youth political body that is a mechanism for children’s participation in governance, from the current 15-17 years to 18-24.

“We urged the government not to erase children in the council. Let the children experience the issues that concern them. The council is their only platform,” said Carreon.

Angelica Ramirez, advocacy officer of the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development, said existing laws do not give enough protection to children, citing as an example pending legislative measures that seek positive discipline instead of using corporal punishment on children.

Foremost among them is the Positive Discipline and Anti Corporal Punishment bill that promotes the positive discipline approach that seeks to teach children that violence is not an acceptable and appropriate strategy in resolving conflict.

It promotes non-violent parenting that guides children’s behaviour while respecting their rights to healthy development and participation in learning, develops their positive communication and attention skills, and provides them with opportunities to evaluate the choices they make.

Specifically, the bill suggests immediately correcting a child’s wrongdoing, teaching the child a lesson, giving tools that build self -discipline and emotional control, and building a good relationship with the child by understanding his or her needs and capabilities at each stage of development without the use of violence and by preventing embarrassment and indignity on a child.

Citing a campaign-related slogan that quotes children saying, “You don’t need to hurt us to let us learn,” Ramirez said corporal punishment is “rampant and prevalent,” as it is considered in many Filipino households as a cultural norm.

She cited a 2011 Pulse Asia survey that said eight out of 10 Filipino children experience corporal punishment and two out of three parents know no other means of disciplining their children.

Addressing this issue by stopping the practice can have a good ripple effect on future generations, said Ramirez, because nine out of 10 parents who practice corporal punishment said it was also used by their parents to discipline them.

The U.N. defines corporal punishment as the physical, emotional and psychological punishment of children in the guise of discipline. As one of the cruelest forms of violence against children, corporal punishment is a violation of children’s rights. It recommends that all countries, including the Philippines as a signatory to the convention, implement a law prohibiting all forms of corporal punishment in schools, private and public institutions, the juvenile justice system, alternative care system, and the home.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

*The story that moved on Dec. 15 misstated the matter of statutory rape in the Philippines. Child rights advocates are recommending that the age be raised from 12. The government has responded positively to it and legislation on the matter is ongoing. Likewise, the advocates would also like to see the minimum age of criminal responsibility raised higher than the current 15.

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AIDS Response Is Leaving African Men Behindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/aids-response-is-leaving-african-men-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aids-response-is-leaving-african-men-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/aids-response-is-leaving-african-men-behind/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 22:13:34 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138253 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/aids-response-is-leaving-african-men-behind/feed/ 2 OPINION: Climate Change and Inequalities: How Will They Impact Women?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-climate-change-and-inequalities-how-will-they-impact-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-climate-change-and-inequalities-how-will-they-impact-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-climate-change-and-inequalities-how-will-they-impact-women/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 17:29:21 +0000 Susan McDade http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138241 A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of India's Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

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

By Susan McDade
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 12 2014 (IPS)

Among all the impacts of climate change, from rising sea levels to landslides and flooding, there is one that does not get the attention it deserves: an exacerbation of inequalities, particularly for women.

Especially in poor countries, women’s lives are often directly dependent on the natural environment.The success of climate change actions depend on elevating women’s voices, making sure their experiences and views are heard at decision-making tables and supporting them to become leaders in climate adaptation.

Women bear the main responsibility for supplying water and firewood for cooking and heating, as well as growing food. Drought, uncertain rainfall and deforestation make these tasks more time-consuming and arduous, threaten women’s livelihoods and deprive them of time to learn skills, earn money and participate in community life.

But the same societal roles that make women more vulnerable to environmental challenges also make them key actors for driving sustainable development. Their knowledge and experience can make natural resource management and climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies at all levels more successful.

To see this in action, just look to the Ecuadorian Amazon, where the Waorani women association (Asociación de Mujeres Waorani de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana) is promoting organic cocoa cultivation as a wildlife protection measure and a pathway to local sustainable development.

With support from the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), the women’s association is managing its land collectively and working toward zero deforestation, the protection of vulnerable wildlife species and the production of certified organic chocolate.

In the process, the women are building the resilience of their community by investing revenues from the cocoa business into local education, health and infrastructure projects and successfully steering the local economy away from clear-cutting and unregulated bushmeat markets.

Indigenous women are also driving sustainable development in Mexico. There, UNDP supports Koolel-Kab/Muuchkambal, an organic farming and agroforestry initiative founded by Mayan women that works on forest conservation, the promotion of indigenous land rights and community-level disaster risk reduction strategies.

The association, which established a 5,000-hectare community forest, advocates for public policies that stop deforestation and offer alternatives to input-intensive commercial agriculture. It has also shared an organic beekeeping model across more than 20 communities, providing an economic alternative to illegal logging.

Empowered women are one of the most effective responses to climate change. The success of climate change actions depend on elevating women’s voices, making sure their experiences and views are heard at decision-making tables and supporting them to become leaders in climate adaptation.

By ensuring that gender concerns and women’s empowerment issues are systematically taken into account within environment and climate change responses, the world leaders who wrapped up the U.N. Climate Change Conference 2014 in Lima, Peru, can reduce, rather than exacerbate, both new and existing inequalities and make sustainable development possible.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Afghan Concern Over Western Disengagementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/afghan-concern-over-western-disengagement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghan-concern-over-western-disengagement http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/afghan-concern-over-western-disengagement/#comments Thu, 11 Dec 2014 19:09:03 +0000 Giuliano Battiston http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138230 Peddlers in Mazar-e-Sharif, Balkh province, North Afghanistan. Concern is being expressed in Afghanistan about the country’s future after Western disengagement. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

Peddlers in Mazar-e-Sharif, Balkh province, North Afghanistan. Concern is being expressed in Afghanistan about the country’s future after Western disengagement. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

By Giuliano Battiston
KABUL, Dec 11 2014 (IPS)

The U.S./NATO International Security Assistance Force Joint Command lowered its flag for the last time in Afghanistan on Dec. 8, after 13 years. The ISAF mission officially ends on Dec. 31, and will be replaced on Jan. 1, 2015 by “Resolute Support”, a new, narrow-mandate mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Security Forces.

However, despite U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s recently pledged continuing assistance for years to come,here in Kabul many fear that donor interest in the country may now start waning and that Afghanistan will likely drop out of the spotlight because history has already shown that, when troops pull out of a country, funds tend to follow.

“We are very concerned about the Western financial disengagement. The country is still fragile, thus we believe that the international community should be committed over the whole ‘Transformation Decade’, spanning from 2015 to 2024, until the country is able to stand on its own,” Mir Ahmad Joyenda, a leading civil society actor and Deputy Director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), told IPS.“We are very concerned about the Western financial disengagement. The country is still fragile, thus we believe that the international community should be committed over the whole 'Transformation Decade’, spanning from 2015 to 2024, until the country is able to stand on its own” – Mir Ahmad Joyenda, Deputy Director of Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit

Afghanistan’s gross domestic product (GDP) increased more than four-fold between 2003 and 2012, but economic growth was largely driven by international investments and aid.

Since the U.S.-led military intervention of 2001, Afghanistan has been the focus of large international aid and security investments, being the world’s leading recipient of development assistance since 2007, Lydia Poole notes in Afghanistan Beyond 2014. Aid and the Transformation Decade, a briefing paper prepared for the Global Humanitarian Assistance (GHA) programme which provides data and analysis on humanitarian financing and related aid flows.

According to data collected by the author, “the country received 50.7 billion dollars in official development assistance (ODA) between 2002 and 2012, including 6.7 billion dollars in humanitarian assistance”, and ODA “has steadily increased from 1.1 billion dollars in 2002 to 6.2 billion in 2012.”

On Dec. 4, delegations from 59 countries and several international organisations gathered for the ‘London Conference on Afghanistan’, co-hosted by the governments of the United Kingdom and Afghanistan, to reaffirm donor humanitarian and development commitments to the war-torn country.

The London Conference served as a follow up to the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan in 2012, where the international community pledged 16 billion dollars to support Afghanistan’s civilian development financing needs through 2015, based on an agreement known as the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework (TMAF).

In London, the international community reaffirmed its Tokyo commitment and the vague willingness to “support, through 2017, at or near the levels of the past decade”.

However, the London Conference “produced no new pledges of increased aid, so the drop in domestic revenues to 8.7 percent of gross domestic product, down from a peak of 11.6 percent in 2011, leaves Afghanistan with a severe and growing fiscal gap”, John F. Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, remarked in a meeting at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

With the imminent withdrawal of NATO troops, the Afghan economy is already under strain, “We estimate that growth has fallen sharply to 1.5 percent in 2014 from an average of 9 percent during the previous decade”, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Managing Director of the World Bank, stated on Dec. 4 in London.

Furthermore, many indicators from the 2015 Afghanistan Humanitarian Needs Overview Report of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) show that there is still a considerable humanitarian emergency: “1.2 million children are acutely malnourished; approximately 2.2 million Afghans are considered very severely food insecure; food insecurity affects nearly 8 million people with an additional 2.4 million classified as severe, and 3.1 million are moderately food insecure.”

Despite the many risks associated with Western disengagement, Joyenda prefers to emphasise the opportunities, advocating a fundamental shift of attitude: “The international community should use this opportunity to have a rebalancing of priorities: ‘less money for security and weapons, more money for civilian cooperation and reconstruction’,” he told IPS.

Since 2011, the primary focus of international expenditure in Afghanistan has been overwhelmingly security. When international troop levels were at their peak at 132,000 in 2011, “spending on the two international military operations – the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) – reached 129 billion dollars, compared with 6.8 billion dollars in ODA, of which 768 million dollars was humanitarian assistance”, writes Poole.

“We also need a proper alignment of funds with the State’s economic planning,” Nargis Nehan, Executive Director and founder of Equality for Peace and Democracy, a non-governmental organisation advocating equal rights for all Afghan citizens, told IPS.

According to Nehan, “the international community made the State a less legitimate actor through the creation of parallel structures. Millions of dollars for example have been directed to development and humanitarian projects via the Provincial Reconstruction Teams”, which consisted of a mix of military, development and civilian components, conflating development/humanitarian aid with the agendas of foreign political and security actors.

“The political framework was never adequate,” Thomas Ruttig, co-director and co-founder of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network, told IPS. “Over the past few years the international community was busier – at least at the government level – with preparing the withdrawal and designing a positive narrative, rather than with the Afghans left behind.”

“Afghanistan has been a rentier-State for one hundred and fifty years, and will be dependent on external support for quite a while. In this phase we have to lighten the country’s donor dependency, we cannot just walk away. We have the political responsibility to keep to our commitments,” he noted.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: The Role of the Media and Visibility for Malnutrition Around the Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-the-role-of-the-media-and-visibility-for-malnutrition-around-the-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-role-of-the-media-and-visibility-for-malnutrition-around-the-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-the-role-of-the-media-and-visibility-for-malnutrition-around-the-world/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 12:02:54 +0000 Mario Lubetkin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138195

In this column, Mario Lubetkin, Director of Corporate Communications at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), writes that the Second International Conference on Nutrition received widespread media coverage around the world and that they continue to have an important role to play in ensuring that medium- and short-term nutrition challenges are met.

By Mario Lubetkin
ROME, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

The vast international and national media impact of the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), held in Rome from Nov. 19 to 21, demonstrated the growing interest that nutritional problems are arousing worldwide, primarily because the media themselves are increasingly reporting issues related to poverty and exclusion.

Thousands of articles in leading newspapers from different countries of the world, numerous television reports and substantial social media activity focused on ICN2, jointly held by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), 22 years after the first international nutrition conference, also in Rome.

Global representation was ensured through participation by more than 100 ministers and deputy ministers as the leading actors responsible for nutrition-related matters in their respective countries.

Mario Lubetkin

Mario Lubetkin

With a policy document and a framework for action containing over 60 points, adopted by consensus and applicable at national and international levels, this conference completed one phase and launched another whose results will be seen in the years to come.

Unlike other international meetings of this nature, this time the media highlighted the interventions of keynote speakers and the final documents, but more importantly continued to publish information and thought pieces on nutrition for some weeks following the conference.

Nutrition has achieved visibility as an issue on the global news agenda, primarily because of its serious social ramifications in developing and developed countries alike.

Countless experts brought to the fore the inherent existing contradiction of having 800 million people suffering from hunger (albeit 200 million fewer than 20 years ago), while 500 million adults are suffering from obesity. The seriousness of the situation is compounded by the fact that the number of the latter is still rising and is resulting in serious health risks for the population at large.“Nutrition has achieved visibility as an issue on the global news agenda, primarily because of its serious social ramifications in developing and developed countries alike”

Suffice it to say that 42 million children are overweight, while malnutrition is the underlying cause of 45 percent of infant mortality.

Statistics indicate that unhealthy diets and lack of exercise are the cause of 10 percent of deaths and permanent disability cases.

Over two billion people, or approximately one-third of all humanity, suffer from micro-nutrient deficiencies.

The problem among children under five years of age is particularly distressing because 51 million suffer from wasting, or low weight for height, which in turn results in higher mortality from infectious diseases. Moreover, 161 million children in that particular age group also suffer from growth retardation.

Malnutrition also has high economic costs. Recent studies have indicated that malnutrition hunger, micro-nutrient deficiency and obesity result in annual costs of between 2.8 and 3.5 trillion dollars, or 4-5 percent of world gross domestic product (GDP). The per capita cost is estimated to be 400-500 dollars per year.

In his speech during the International Conference on Nutrition, Pope Francis said that “when solidarity is lacking in one country, it is felt around the world.”

Despite there being enough food for everyone, food issues are subject to manipulated information, corruption, claims regarding national security, or “teary-eyed evocations of economic crisis”, the Pontiff said. “That is the first challenge we need to overcome”, he asserted as he called for the rights of all human beings to be uppermost in all development assistance programmes.

The Pope also stressed the need to respect the environment and protect the planet. “Humans may forgive, but nature does not”, he argued, adding that “we must take care of Mother Nature, so that she does not respond with destruction”. In this way, he linked the debates on nutrition with the ongoing International Conference on Climate Change in Lima, Peru (Dec. 1-12).

However, despite the breadth of international coverage, it is noteworthy that the leading media did not fully analyse the conference’s Framework for Action, which essentially sets the course for gradual resolution of nutrition’s major challenges.

The Framework for Action proposes the enhancement of political commitments, promotion of national nutrition plans incorporating the different food security and nutrition stakeholders, an increase in responsible investment, the fostering of inter-country collaboration, whether it be North-South or South-South, and the strengthening of nutrition governance.

The Framework also recommends measures to achieve sustainable food systems, revise national policies and investments, promote crop diversification, upgrade technology, develop and adopt international guidelines on healthy diets, and encourage gradual reductions in consumption of saturated fats, sugar, salt or sodium.

The chapter on communications suggests the conduct of social marketing campaigns and lifestyle-change communication programmes promoting physical activity, dietary diversification, consumption of micronutrient-rich food products to include traditional local foods, and taking account of cultural factors.

Although the principal responsibility for implementing the Framework for Action rests with governments and parliaments, non-State actors such as civil society and the private sector have an important role to play by joining forces in ensuring that the proposals are put into action.

Throughout this process, the media have a crucial oversight role in ensuring that the challenges and proposed solutions identified by the Second International Conference on Nutrition become reality in the short and medium terms. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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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Groups Push Obama to Clarify U.S. Abortion Funding for Wartime Rapehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/groups-push-obama-to-clarify-u-s-abortion-funding-for-wartime-rape/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=groups-push-obama-to-clarify-u-s-abortion-funding-for-wartime-rape http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/groups-push-obama-to-clarify-u-s-abortion-funding-for-wartime-rape/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 00:49:17 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138188 Survivors at a workshop in Pader, northern Uganda. Thousands of women were raped during Uganda’s civil war but there have been few government efforts to assist them. Credit: Rosebell Kagumire/IPS

Survivors at a workshop in Pader, northern Uganda. Thousands of women were raped during Uganda’s civil war but there have been few government efforts to assist them. Credit: Rosebell Kagumire/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

Nearly two dozen health, advocacy and faith groups are calling on President Barack Obama to take executive action clarifying that U.S. assistance can be used to fund abortion services for women and girls raped in the context of war and conflict.

The groups gathered Tuesday outside of the White House to draw attention to what they say is an ongoing misreading by politicians as well as humanitarian groups of four-decade-old legislation. That law, known as the Helms Amendment, specifies women’s health services that can be supported by U.S. overseas funding."We want to prevent these acts but also, when that violence does occur, to make sure that organisations and government agencies are providing the necessary post-rape care, including legal and social services, as well as mental and physical health services. Abortion services need to be part of that package.” -- Serra Sippel

This mis-interpretation, advocates warn, results in ongoing mental suffering, social disgrace and even additional abuse for women who have been raped.

“For over 40 years, the Helms Amendment has been applied as a complete ban on abortion care in U.S.-funded global health programmes – with no exceptions,” Purnima Mane, the president of Pathfinder International, a group that works on global sexual health issues, said in comments sent to IPS.

“The result is that Pathfinder and other U.S. government-funded agencies are unable to provide critical abortion care services to those at risk even under circumstances upheld by U.S. law and clearly allowable under the Helms Amendment. With the stroke of a pen, President Obama can change the outcome for many of these women and start to reverse more than four decades of neglect of their basic human rights and harm to their health.”

Advocates say such an executive action would be in line with both the law and broader public opinion. Indeed, on the face of it, the Helms Amendment seems to be quite clear.

The amendment bans U.S. funding from being used to “pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning” or to “motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” While the law does not specifically bar U.S. assistance being used for abortion services in the case of rape, critics have long noted that this has been the impact since the start.

“No U.S. administration has ever implemented this correctly, in terms of making exemptions in certain instances,” Serra Sippel, the president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) and a key organiser of Tuesday’s demonstration, told IPS.

“This comes down to politics and the political environment in Washington. But what we need is for the president to take leadership and direct USAID” – the federal government’s main foreign assistance agency – “and the State Department to say the U.S. government is taking a stand and supporting access to abortion in these cases.”

Misinterpretation, self-censorship

Abortion has been, and remains, one of the most divisive issues in U.S. politics. By many metrics, this polarisation has only worsened with time.

This came to the cultural and political forefront in 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a landmark decision that a state law banning abortion (except to save the mother’s life) was unconstitutional. The ruling resulted in a lasting moral outrage among broad sections of the U.S. public, though polls suggest that a majority of those in the United States support services following rape, incest or when a mother’s life is at risk.

The Helms Amendment was among the first legislative responses to the court’s ruling, passed just months later. Since then, the amendment has resulted in a discontinuation of U.S. assistance for all abortion services in other countries.

It is important to note that these procedures remain legal in the United States, as well as in many of the countries in which U.S.-funded entities, including government departments, are operating. Humanitarian groups often feel they cannot even make abortion-related information available to women, including those raped during conflict – even if the Helms Amendment doesn’t specifically proscribe doing so.

“These restrictions, collectively, have resulted in a perception that U.S. foreign policy on abortion is more onerous than the actual law … [leading to] a pervasive atmosphere of confusion, misunderstanding and inhibition around other abortion-related activities beyond direct services,” analysis published last year by the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual health-focused think tank here, reports.

“Wittingly or unwittingly, both NGOs and U.S. officials have been transgressors and victims alike in the misinterpretation and misapplication of U.S. anti-abortion law … whether through misinterpretation or self-censorship, NGOs are needlessly refraining from providing abortion counseling or referrals.”

Global statistics on conflict-time rapes and resulting pregnancies are hard to come by. Human Rights Watch points to 2004 research carried out in Liberia, where rape was used as a weapon of war, suggesting that around 15 percent of wartime rapes led to pregnancy.

“Human rights practitioners and public health officials from Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, and other countries at war, have collected evidence from conflict rape survivors showing both that pregnancy happens and that it has devastating consequences for women and girls,” Liesl Gerntholtz, the executive director of a Human Rights Watch’s women’s rights division, wrote Tuesday.

“They are left to continue unwanted pregnancies and bear children they often cannot care for and who are daily reminders of the brutal attacks they suffered. This, in turn, makes these children more vulnerable to stigmatization, abuse, and abandonment.”

Global acknowledgment

On Tuesday, the groups participating in the White House demonstration also called on President Obama to clarify that the Helms Amendment does not apply to pregnancies resulting from incest or if the mother’s life is at risk. Yet the focus of the calls remains on rape in the context of war and conflict.

Advocates say public consciousness on this issue has risen significantly over the past year and a half. To a great extent, this has been driven by the conflict in Syria and the rise of the Islamic State, as well as the ongoing violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the centrality of sexual violence in each of these.

“We know that rape has been used as a weapon of war throughout history. What’s new is the attention from governments and advocates over the past 18 months,” CHANGE’s Sippel says.

“The prevention of violence cannot stand alone. We want to prevent these acts but also, when that violence does occur, to make sure that organisations and government agencies are providing the necessary post-rape care, including legal and social services, as well as mental and physical health services. Abortion services need to be part of that package.”

The United States has been a strong global advocate against sexual violence in recent years, including with regard to conflict situations. President Obama has created the first U.S. action plan on women’s role in peace-building, a White House strategy on gender-based violence, among other actions.

Advocates say that clarifying the Helms Amendment would be the next logical step. Although the White House was unable to comment for this story, organisers of Tuesday’s rally say President Obama’s aides did meet with advocates working on sexual violence in Colombia, the DRC and elsewhere.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Latin America Faces the Novelty and Challenge of Ageinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/latin-america-faces-the-novelty-and-challenge-of-ageing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-faces-the-novelty-and-challenge-of-ageing http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/latin-america-faces-the-novelty-and-challenge-of-ageing/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 21:58:54 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138179 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/latin-america-faces-the-novelty-and-challenge-of-ageing/feed/ 0 Marginalised Communities Warn of AIDS/TB “Tragedy” in Eastern Europe and Central Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/marginalised-communities-warn-of-aidstb-tragedy-in-eastern-europe-and-central-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marginalised-communities-warn-of-aidstb-tragedy-in-eastern-europe-and-central-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/marginalised-communities-warn-of-aidstb-tragedy-in-eastern-europe-and-central-asia/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 13:22:20 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138173 Young boy sitting on a wall outside 'Way Home', a UNICEF-assisted shelter providing food, accommodation, literacy trainings and HIV/AIDS-awareness lessons to street children in Odessa, Ukraine. Because of unsafe sex and injecting drug use, street adolescents are one of the groups most at risk of contracting HIV. Credit: UNICEF/G. Pirozzi

Young boy sitting on a wall outside 'Way Home', a UNICEF-assisted shelter providing food, accommodation, literacy trainings and HIV/AIDS-awareness lessons to street children in Odessa, Ukraine. Because of unsafe sex and injecting drug use, street adolescents are one of the groups most at risk of contracting HIV. Credit: UNICEF/G. Pirozzi

By Pavol Stracansky
KIEV, Dec 9 2014 (IPS)

Marginalised communities and civil society groups helping them are warning of a “tragedy” in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) as international funding for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB) programmes in the regions is cut back.

The EECA is home to the world’s only growing HIV/AIDS epidemic and is the single most-affected region by the spread of multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB). For years, HIV/AIDS and TB programmes in many of its countries have been heavily, or exclusively, reliant on funding from theGlobal Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

But this year has seen the Global Fund move to a new financing model based on national income statistics, under which funding in many EECA countries has already been – or will soon be – heavily cut.“This [reduction in Global Fund financing] could lead to tragedy because governments are not yet ready to take on the responsibility for addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I would like decision-makers to understand that this is not just [about] epidemiological statistics but that our lives and health are at stake” – Viktoria Lintsova of the Eurasian Network of People Who Use Drugs (ENPUD)

Some of those likely to be most heavily affected by the cuts say that the reduction in Global Fund financing is putting essential HIV/AIDS and TB services, and with it lives, at risk.

Viktoria Lintsova of the Eurasian Network of People Who Use Drugs (ENPUD) told IPS: “This could lead to tragedy because governments are not yet ready to take on the responsibility for addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I would like decision-makers to understand that this is not just [about] epidemiological statistics but that our lives and health are at stake.”

At the heart of their concerns are worries over funding for not just medical treatment for existing patients but prevention and other services for at risk and marginalised communities.

Injection drug use has been identified as the main driver of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the EECA but HIV/AIDS is also being increasingly spread among men who have sex with men and sex workers – groups which are heavily marginalised because of political and societal attitudes to homosexuality and women.

TB, an equally severe health problem in the EECA, is closely linked to the HIV/AIDS epidemic because co-infection rates are often high.

Throughout the region, prevention and harm reduction services for marginalised groups are provided by civil society groups which rely almost exclusively on international funding.

Sveta McGill, health advocacy officer at international advocacy NGO Results UK, told IPS that the withdrawal of Global Fund funding could see many sick people slip under the health care radar.

She said: “It is affecting services provided by NGOs covering at-risk groups. These ‘low threshold entry’ services, while not necessarily medical interventions, are crucial to keep people from risk groups coming to centres where they get referred to medical institutions to get treatment and can access medical services as well.

“Often, they would not feel comfortable going straight to state health care institutions, and closing down these venues would mean that less people would be referred to state health care institutions.”

Critics point to rising HIV/AIDS infections in Romania in recent years as a sign of what could happen in other EECA countries when the Global Fund cuts back its financing.

The Global Fund ended financing for programmes in the country in 2010. According to data from the Romanian government, since then there has been a dramatic rise in HIV infections among people who use drugs: in 2013, about 30 percent of new HIV cases were linked to injection drug use compared with just three percent in 2010.

Under the Global Fund’s New Financing Model (NFM), the major change is a reduction in financing to middle income countries. Many EECA countries are now classified as middle income and critics say that while the organisation’s goal of looking to prioritise use of finite resources is sensible, national income data does not always accurately reflect the ability of people to access health care services, nor whether a country has the funds for an adequate disease response.

They point to studies showing disease burdens shifting from low income countries to middle income states, and poverty being greatest in middle income countries. Also, most people living with HIV live in middle income countries.

But some have also dismissed as naive the notion that, as the Global Fund wants, national governments will automatically fill the gap in funding left as the Global Fund cuts back its financing.

Many point to the situation in Ukraine as an example highlighting the problems of the NFM.

According to a report from the Open Society Foundations, Global Fund spending on HIV will drop by more than 50 percent for Ukraine between 2014 and 2015. This includes reductions in unit cost spending for people who use drugs by 37 percent, for sex workers by 24 percent and for men who have sex with men by 50 percent.

Meanwhile, the national HIV prevention budget was slashed by 71 percent in 2014 amid political and economic upheaval.

Lintsova, who lives in central Ukraine, told IPS of the problems drug users are currently facing.

She said that not only are there shortages of the right drugs to treat TB in some parts of the country, but that very few drug users have access to them. Places on opiate substitution treatment (OST) programmes are very limited and waiting times to join them long, sometimes fatally so.

“I know two people who died waiting to get on an OST programme,” she told IPS. “And there are other problems like a lack of needle exchange centres in rural areas, in fact a lack of any harm reduction services in small towns, which leads to high rates of HIV in those places.”

She added that without proper funding, the situation would not improve. “The only solution to these problems is financing,” she said.

But other stakeholders have also privately raised fears that a greater government role in fields such as drug procurement could see authorities looking to save money and procuring larger quantities of cheaper TB drugs of worse quality. Meanwhile, local legislation also makes procurement tenders long and difficult, leading, some health care experts predict, to governments running out of stocks of some essential medicines.

It is unclear how governments will deal with the reduction of Global Fund financing. The transition from Global Fund to domestic funding, although widely announced and anticipated, is not going smoothly in all countries.

Many are often unclear when the Global Fund will actually leave because no straightforward timing plan has been set. There are also specific problems in individual states. In Ukraine, in particular, domestic TB funding has been severely affected by the military conflict, struggling economy and currency fluctuation.

Late last month, these growing fears prompted 24 prominent NGOs in the region to send an open letter to the Global Fund warning of their ‘grave concerns’ over the allocation of funding in the region and calling for it to work with local groups and affected communities.

They specifically asked it to look at each country individually, rather than adopt a “one size fits all” approach.

The Global Fund declined to respond when contacted by IPS.

However, drug users who spoke to IPS said there was little hope of an improvement in the region’s HIV/AIDS and TB epidemics if the Global Fund fails to heed NGOs’ warnings.

Lintsova told IPS: “A lack of reaction to our calls could lead to problems accessing prevention and treatment programmes and a deepening of the EECA’s HIV/AIDS and TB epidemics.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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U.N.’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals Remain Intacthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-n-s-17-sustainable-development-goals-remain-intact/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-s-17-sustainable-development-goals-remain-intact http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-n-s-17-sustainable-development-goals-remain-intact/#comments Thu, 04 Dec 2014 22:07:24 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138105 Pakistani fishermen perform multiple tasks on their boat. This man makes fresh rotis (flat bread) from whole-meal flour, which the men eat with the fish they catch. Critics are demanding far stronger proposals to address extreme economic inequality and climate change from the U.N. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Pakistani fishermen perform multiple tasks on their boat. This man makes fresh rotis (flat bread) from whole-meal flour, which the men eat with the fish they catch. Critics are demanding far stronger proposals to address extreme economic inequality and climate change from the U.N. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 4 2014 (IPS)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has refused to jettison any of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed by an Open Working Group of member states: goals aimed at launching the U.N.’s new post-2015 development agenda through 2030.

In a new report synthesising the 17 goals, Ban said he was “rearranging them in a focused and concise manner that enables us to communicate them to our partners and the global public”.

The report, titled The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet, presents an integrated “set of six essential elements: dignity, people, prosperity, our planet, justice and partnership.”

“These are not intended to cluster or replace the SDGs. Rather, they are meant to offer some conceptual guidance for the work ahead,” Ban told reporters Thursday.

The 17 post-2015 goals, negotiated over a period of nine months, cover a wide range of socio-economic issues, including poverty, hunger, gender equality, industrialisation, sustainable development, full employment, quality education, climate change and sustainable energy for all.

The Goals

The 17 proposed goals, to be attained by 2030, include the following: End poverty everywhere; End hunger, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture; Attain healthy lives for all; Provide quality education and life-long learning opportunities for all; Attain gender equality, empower women and girls everywhere; Ensure availability and sustainable use of water and sanitation for all and Ensure sustainable energy for all.

Additionally, the goals were aimed at promoting sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all ; sustainable infrastructure and industrialisation; reducing inequality within and between countries; making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe and sustainable and promoting sustainable consumption and production patterns.

Also included were goals to tackle climate change and its impacts; Conserve and promote sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources; Protect and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, halt desertification, land degradation and biodiversity loss; achieve peaceful and inclusive societies, access to justice for all, and effective and capable institutions and strengthen the means of implementation and the global partnership for sustainable development.

Most of these were already part of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with some of them expected to miss their achievable targets by the 2015 deadline.

The secretary-general said the 17 SDGs are a clear expression of the vision of the member states and their wish to have an agenda that can end poverty, achieve shared prosperity and peace, protect the planet and leave no one behind.

Still, he stressed the need for a renewed global partnership for development – between the rich and poor nations – in the context of the post-2015 agenda.

Resources, technology and political will are crucial not only for implementing the agenda once it is adopted, but even now, to build trust as member states negotiate its final parameters, he added.

The SDGs, which will continue to undergo a review, is expected to be finalised next year and will be adopted by the 193-member General Assembly in September 2015.

Meanwhile the synthesised report drew mixed reviews from non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Stephen Hale, deputy advocacy and campaigns director at the London-based Oxfam, said his organisation was disappointed that the United Nations has not made far stronger proposals to address extreme economic inequality and climate change in its new report.

The under-emphasis of both issues is a grave missed opportunity, he added.

Whilst the first draft recognises the need to leave no-one behind and address climate change, dedicated goals are required to do this, Hale said.

“These are two major injustices that are guaranteed to undermine the efforts of millions of people seeking to escape poverty and hunger over the next 15 years,” he said.

The fact is that just 85 individuals own as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity and this inequality is getting worse, he noted.

Climate change could increase the number of people at risk of hunger currently over 800 million by between 10 to 20 per cent by 2050, Hale declared.

In a statement released Thursday, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) International said some of the recommendations in the secretary-general’s report include a call for countries to agree to a set of goals containing environmental themes: addressing climate change, promoting sustainable industrialisation, and conserving biodiversity.

“These are the goals we need in order to win a sustainable future for people and the planet,” said Marco Lambertini, director-general of WWF International.

“We congratulate the secretary-general and governments for providing us with such a strong package of measures to take forward,” he added.

WWF said a series of overarching topics called ‘elements’ in the report names the planet alongside people, dignity, prosperity, justice and partnership.

The planet element specifically states the need to establish ecosystem protection for all societies and children.

The environment can no longer be seen as a separate factor when discussing development and poverty, WWF said.

The secretary-general has made it clear that you cannot have true economic development that does not recognise the importance of the Earth’s natural systems.

He has also made it clear that this should be a development deal that applies to all countries, said Lambertini.

Asked about the struggle for a cleaner global environment, Ban told reporters: “I think the European Union decision to cut 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions was a major breakthrough.”

And most dramatically, he said, the positive news was the recent U.S.-China joint statement and commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions – in the case of the United States, 26 to 28 percent, and China peaking its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

He said German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also joined this process of commitments to cut further emissions in accordance with the European Union decision, 78 million tonnes of gas emissions.

Ban said he was also encouraged by the operationalisation of the Green Climate Fund, with a target of 10 billion dollars.

“I think we are very close to 10 billion dollars. I am sure this will be operationalised soon,” he said.

All these encouraging developments and demonstration of political will and commitment, he said, is very encouraging.

Looking further ahead, he said, the financing conference in Addis Ababa in July next year, the Special Summit in New York in September, and the climate change conference in Paris in December, are major opportunities for world leaders to show “they are serious about safeguarding our planet and future well-being”.

“I continue to urge member states to keep ambition high,” he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Football Stars Join ‘Africa United’ Campaign to Stop Spread of Ebolahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/football-stars-join-africa-united-campaign-to-stop-spread-of-ebola/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=football-stars-join-africa-united-campaign-to-stop-spread-of-ebola http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/football-stars-join-africa-united-campaign-to-stop-spread-of-ebola/#comments Wed, 03 Dec 2014 19:31:19 +0000 Kwame Buist http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138070 “There is Strength in Unity” – public service message for the ‘Africa United’ campaign to prevent the spread of Ebola in West Africa. Credit: African Press Organization (APO)

“There is Strength in Unity” – public service message for the ‘Africa United’ campaign to prevent the spread of Ebola in West Africa. Credit: African Press Organization (APO)

By Kwame Buist
MALABO, Equatorial Guinea, Dec 3 2014 (IPS)

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has joined a number of football stars, celebrities, international health organisations and corporations in the ‘Africa United’ global health communications campaign aimed at preventing the spread of Ebola in West Africa.

The campaign, which was launched on Dec. 3, is supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Foundation and driven creatively by actor Idris Elba, is designed to recognise the vital role of front-line healthcare workers, as well as to provide critical education and resources for the people of West Africa.

Educational messages will be delivered on local and national radio and TV, billboards and by SMS to audiences in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and neighbouring countries.“Imagine having to sit down and tell your family that you were going to fight this disease. That conversation is happening across West Africa and around the world every day. I am in awe of the bravery of these health workers, who put their lives at risk day in and out to stop the spread of this terrible disease” – actor Idris Elba

In ”West Africa vs Ebola”, a video which has been prepared for the campaign, Elba stars as a soccer coach giving a rousing and educational team talk to a West Africa team in preparation for its “life or death” game against Ebola. Elba explains the symptoms of Ebola and tactics for how to beat the virus, which includes spreading the word and working as a team.

“I wanted to support this campaign for so many reasons. I could not sit back without doing something to help fight Ebola,” said Yaya Touré, Ivorian professional football (soccer) player. “It is important we don’t treat this as something we just discuss with work colleagues or simply follow on the news for updates – instead our focus should be to do something.”

“I also wanted to get involved with this campaign as it pays tribute to the many, many African heroes who are in the villages, towns and cities using their skills, resourcefulness and intelligence to battle Ebola. Those people on the front line are often forgotten. African mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters are doing everything they can to fight Ebola – we have to support them.”

In a TV spot titled ”We’ve Got Your Back”, Elba and a group of football players committed to the fight against Ebola in West Africa, including Yaya Touré, Carlton Cole, Kei Kamara, Patrick Vieira, Fabrice Muamba and Andros Townsend, voice their solidarity with the healthcare workers who are risking their lives every day to fight Ebola.

In the video, the players acknowledge that, although fans regard them as heroes, healthcare workers tackling Ebola are the true heroes. Each player wears the name of a healthcare worker on his back as a symbol of respect for “the world’s most important team.”

“For me the battle against Ebola is a personal one,” said Elba, actor and the creative force behind the development of the campaign public service announcements. “To see those amazing countries in West Africa where my father grew up and my parents married being ravaged by this disease is painful and horrific.”

“Imagine having to sit down and tell your family that you were going to fight this disease. That conversation is happening across West Africa and around the world every day. I am in awe of the bravery of these health workers, who put their lives at risk day in and out to stop the spread of this terrible disease.”

“My hope,” Elba added, “is that, in some small way, through the development of these public service announcements and the creation of the Africa United campaign, we can ensure that these workers get the support they need and that health messages are delivered to people on the ground to help them in their fight.”

The video spots and other multimedia educational materials are being made available on the campaign website in English, French, Krio and additional local languages.

The educational materials are designed to be adapted and distributed by Africa United partners such as ministries of health, health clinics, government and non-governmental organisations, media and sports organisations.

These include the CDC Foundation and current partners Africa 24, SuperSport, ONE, UNICEF and Voice of America. CDC staff working in the affected countries contributed to the development and distribution of the health messages, and Africa United will continue to develop and provide messages to CDC and partners in real time based on changing needs.

The 2014 Ebola epidemic is the largest in history, infecting nearly 16,000 people with more than 5,600 deaths to date. While the spread of Ebola is a threat to people, health systems and economies around the globe, West African communities in particular are being crippled by the disease as a result of already-strained healthcare systems, mistrust of healthcare workers and fear and stigmatisation of those infected.

“Private and public partnerships like Africa United are critical to aligning organisations fighting Ebola and to ensuring quick, effective responses to changing circumstances and needs,” said Charles Stokes, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation.

“The CDC Foundation remains committed to advancing response efforts in West Africa through public education and resources for use on the front lines of the Ebola battle.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Ebola Overshadows Fight Against HIV/AIDS in Sierra Leonehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/ebola-overshadows-fight-against-hivaids-in-sierra-leone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ebola-overshadows-fight-against-hivaids-in-sierra-leone http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/ebola-overshadows-fight-against-hivaids-in-sierra-leone/#comments Mon, 01 Dec 2014 23:55:06 +0000 Lansana Fofana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138045 A billboard in Freetown, Sierra Leone, urging people to go to hospital to be tested for HIV. Ebola has stopped people from doing that. Credit: Lansana Fofana/IPS

A billboard in Freetown, Sierra Leone, urging people to go to hospital to be tested for HIV. Ebola has stopped people from doing that. Credit: Lansana Fofana/IPS

By Lansana Fofana
FREETOWN, Dec 1 2014 (IPS)

The outbreak of the deadly Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone has dwarfed the campaign against HIV/AIDS, to the extent that patients no longer go to hospitals and treatment centres out of fear of contracting the Ebola virus.

“It is a big challenge for us. HIV/AIDS patients now fear going to hospitals for treatment and our workers, who are also government health officials, are also afraid of contacting patients for fear of being infected,” Abubakar Koroma, Director of Communications at the National AIDS Secretariat, told IPS.“HIV/AIDS patients now fear going to hospitals for treatment and our workers, who are also government health officials, are also afraid of contacting patients for fear of being infected” – Abubakar Koroma, Director of Communications, Sierra Leone’s National AIDS Secretariat

Sierra Leone records one of the lowest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the West African region. For over five years, the country has managed to stabilise the figures at 1.5 percent, out of a population of 6 million, mainly because of massive countrywide awareness raising. The authorities also offer free medicines and treatment to people living with HIV/AIDS.

But all this may be reversed if the Ebola crisis is not contained soon.

Before the outbreak of the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone in April, one key area of success in the fight against HIV/AIDS had been in curtailing mother-to-child transmission. Today, however, there are concerns that it may surge again because pregnant women are now reluctant to go to hospitals for treatment.

In 2004, the prevalence rate among pregnant women was 4.9 percent but, just before the Ebola in April this year, the figure had dropped to 3.2 percent.

According to Koroma, “between January and now, that service [for pregnant women] has dropped by 80 percent. We are worried that the Ebola crisis may worsen the situation.” From the point of view of those already living with HIV/AIDS, this is already happening.

Idrissa Songo, Executive Director of the Network of HIV Positives in Sierra Leone (NETHIPS) advocacy group, says that its members fear going to hospitals for care and treatment and that they are constrained by what he described as a cut in the support they were receiving from donors and humanitarian organisations before the outbreak of Ebola.

“Donors and other philanthropists have turned their attention away from the fight against HIV/AIDS,” he said. “Now it’s all about Ebola. Most organisations have diverted their funding to the fight against Ebola and this is badly affecting our activities.”

Songo added that the core activities of NETHIPS, which include community awareness raising and training of members in care and prevention, have all come to a standstill because of the government’s ban on all public gatherings following the Ebola outbreak.

Given the current crisis, the National Aids Secretariat and the Ministry of Health have set up telephone hotlines to connect with people suffering from HIV/AIDS. The aim is to be able to trace and locate them and then get treatment to them. At the same time, HIV/AIDS patients are now receiving a quarterly supply of the drugs they need, compared with the monthly dosage they were receiving before Ebola struck.

According to Songo, these measures are working because “that way, our members, who fear going to hospitals and treatment centres, can stay at home and take their medication. We know it is risky to go to treatment centres nowadays because of the possibility of contracting Ebola, another killer disease,” Songo told IPS.

Notwithstanding the Ebola crisis, Ministry of Health officials say that they have not lost sight of the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Jonathan Abass Kamara, Public Relations Officer at the Ministry of Health, told IPS that attention is still focused on the fight against HIV/AIDS. “Even though Ebola has taken centre-stage, the Ministry is still very much focused on the fight against HIV/AIDS. We supply drugs to patients regularly and we try our best to give care and attention to them,” Kamara told IPS.

However, while Sierra Leone has made tremendous progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS and its success in this fight surpasses that of almost all countries in the West Africa region, it may well find it difficult to maintain its achievements in this sector if the Ebola epidemic is not brought under control.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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HIV Prevention is Failing Young South African Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/hiv-prevention-is-failing-young-south-african-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hiv-prevention-is-failing-young-south-african-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/hiv-prevention-is-failing-young-south-african-women/#comments Mon, 01 Dec 2014 13:07:39 +0000 Nqabomzi Bikitsha http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138030 Gender inequalities drive the disproportionate rate of HIV infection among young South African women aged 15 to 24. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

Gender inequalities drive the disproportionate rate of HIV infection among young South African women aged 15 to 24. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Nqabomzi Bikitsha
JOHANNESBURG, Dec 1 2014 (IPS)

When she found out that she had human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Thabisile Mkhize (not her real name) was scared.

She knew little about the virus that had been living in her body since birth and did not know whom to ask. Her mother had just died and she lived with her grandmother in rural KwaZulu Natal, where the HIV prevalence is the highest in South Africa, at 17 percent.

Today, at the age of 16,  Mkhize is an enthusiastic peer educator at her school,  discussing HIV prevention, safe sex and sexual rights. “I want young women to be safe, to make healthy sexual choices,“ she told IPS.South Africa has a perfect storm of early sexual debut, inter-generational sex, little HIV knowledge, violence, and gender and economic inequalities that lead young women aged between 15 and 24 to have a disproportionately high rate of HIV infection

South Africa has a perfect storm of early sexual debut, inter-generational sex, little HIV knowledge, violence, and gender and economic inequalities that lead young women aged between 15 and 24 to have a disproportionately high rate of HIV infection.

They account for one-quarter of new HIV infections and 14 percent of the country’s 6.4 million people living with HIV, according to the ‘South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey’.

Alarmingly, HIV incidence – the number of new  infections per year – among women aged between 15 and 24 is more than four times higher than among their male peers.

Professor Sinead Delany-Moretlwe, director for research at Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (Wits RHI) in Johannesburg, describes the factors that put young women at higher risk.

“Structural drivers – gender, social and economic inequalities – interact in a number of ways and influence behaviour such as choice of sexual partner and condom use,” she said.

Explaining that young women find it difficult to protect themselves against HIV, she noted that they “end up with controlling partners and fail to negotiate condom use or are forced to have sex.”

Tumi Molebatse, a 20-year-old student from Soweto, is an example. Years ago she had an HIV test and would like to have another with her boyfriend of two years, or at least to have safe sex.  “But my boyfriend will think I am cheating on him if I ask for condoms,” she told IPS.  “He supports me financially so it’s better to not bring it up.”

FAST FACTS ABOUT HIV IN SOUTH AFRICA

• 6.3 million people live with HIV
• 469,000 total new HIV infections per year
• 113,000 new HIV infections per year among women 15-24
• 11% HIV prevalence among girls aged 15-24
• 32% HIV prevalence among black African women aged 20-34
• 72% of women aged 25-49 have tested for HIV

Source: South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey.
Molebatse’s dilemma is one familiar to many young women who feel powerless to request the use of condoms or for their partner to test for HIV.

In South Africa, one of the most unequal countries in the world, relationships with older men often pen the way for young women’s social mobility and material comfort.

According to Kerry Mangold from the South African National AIDS Council, inter-generational and transactional sex increase the risk of infection because older men have higher HIV rates than young men.

“It’s not rare to see a young girl sleep with an older man for food or a little bit of money,“ said Mkhize. “Young women aspire to have nice things in life but they don’t have money, they don’t have jobs, and they go for partners who can provide those things.”

According to the ‘South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey’, one-third of girls aged between 15 and 19 reported a partner five years or more their senior.

Risk and choices

“At its most extreme, gender inequality manifests as gender-based violence,” says Delany-Moretlwe.

In South Africa, young women who experienced intimate partner violence were 50 percent more likely to have acquired HIV than women who had not suffered violence, according to the UNAIDS Gap Report.

Despite decades of awareness campaigns, less than one-third of young women know how to prevent HIV.

Mkhize says that many girls hear about sex and HIV from friends and teachers, and often  the information is wrong. “I know girls who believe you cannot get HIV if you boyfriend has just come back from circumcision school and so they have sex without a condom,” she told IPS.

Mangold would like to see “an enabling environment for young women to make their own choices and reduce their risk.”

Since last year, the ZAZI initiative has been trying to do just that. A sassy campaign, ZAZI (from the Nguni words for “know yourself”) builds knowledge around sexual health through social media, video clips, poetry readings, street murals, music and fun activities that boost girls’ sense of self-worth.

“We hope to discourage them from opting for relationships with older men for material gain and give them confidence to negotiate condom use,” ZAZI advocacy manager Sara Chitambo told IPS.

ZAZI’s motto is “finding your inner strength”. On its website, girls can look up practical advice on what to do if they are raped, where to find contraception and how to prevent HIV.

(Edited by Mercedes Sayagues and Phil Harris)

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Illegal Logging Wreaking Havoc on Impoverished Rural Communitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/illegal-logging-wreaking-havoc-on-impoverished-rural-communities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=illegal-logging-wreaking-havoc-on-impoverished-rural-communities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/illegal-logging-wreaking-havoc-on-impoverished-rural-communities/#comments Mon, 01 Dec 2014 08:37:00 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138026 Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Dec 1 2014 (IPS)

Rampant unsustainable logging in the southwest Pacific Island states of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, where the majority of land is covered in tropical rainforest, is worsening hardship, human insecurity and conflict in rural communities.

Paul Pavol, a customary landowner in Pomio District, East New Britain, an island province off the northeast coast of the Papua New Guinean mainland, told IPS that logging in the area had led to “permanent environmental damage of the soil and forests, which our communities depend on for their water, building materials, natural medicines and food.”

Four years ago, a Malaysian logging multinational obtained two Special Agricultural Business Leases (SABLs) in the district, but local landowners claim their consent was never given and, following legal action, the National Court issued an order in November for the developer to cease logging operations.

“Within ten years nearly all accessible forests will be logged out and at the root of this problem is endemic and systematic corruption." -- Spokesperson, Act Now PNG
According to Global Witness, the company had cleared 7,000 hectares of forest and exported more than 50 million dollars worth of logs.

“We never gave our free, prior and informed consent to the Special Agricultural Business Leases (SABLs) that now cover our customary land … and we certainly did not give agreement to our land being given away for 99 years to a logging company,” Pavol stated.

One-third of log exports from PNG originated from land subject to SABLs in 2012, according to the PNG Institute of National Affairs, despite the stated purpose of these leases being to facilitate agricultural projects of benefit to local communities.

Pavol also cited human rights abuses with “the use of police riot squads to protect the logging company and intimidate and terrorize our communities.”

Last year an independent fact-finding mission to Pomio led by the non-governmental organisation, Eco-Forestry Forum, in association with police and government stakeholders, verified that police personnel, who had been hired by logging companies to suppress local opposition to their activities, had conducted violent raids and serious assaults on villagers.

Papua New Guinea, situated on the island of New Guinea, home to the world’s third largest tropical rainforest, has a forest cover of an estimated 29 million hectares, but is also the second largest exporter of tropical timber.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) predicts that 83 percent of the country’s commercially viable forests will be lost or degraded by 2021 due to commercial logging, mining and land clearance for oil palm plantations.

Papua New Guinea recently pledged to bring forward plans to end deforestation by a decade at the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit held in Sydney, Australia, but indigenous activists remain unconvinced.

“Within ten years nearly all accessible forests will be logged out and at the root of this problem is endemic and systematic corruption,” a spokesperson for the non-governmental organisation, Act Now PNG, said.

“We do not have tough penalties for law breakers and our laws are not enforced,” Pavol added, a view supported by London’s Chatham House.

Environmental devastation and logging-related violence is increasing adversity in Pomio, one of the least developed districts in East New Britain, where there is a lack of health services, decent roads, water and sanitation. Life expectancy is 45-50 years and the infant mortality rate of 61 per 1,000 live births is significantly higher than the national rate of 47.

In the neighbouring Solomon Islands, where 2.2 million hectares of forest cover more than 80 percent of the country, the timber-harvesting rate has been nearly four times the sustainable rate of 250,000 cubic metres per year.

While timber has accounted for 60 percent of the country’s export earnings, this is unlikely to continue, given the forecast by the Solomon Islands Forest Management Project that accessible forests will be exhausted by next year.

High demand for raw materials by growing Asian economies is a major driver of legal and illegal logging in both countries, with the industry dominated by Malaysian companies, and China the main export destination.

Unscrupulous practices, including procuring logging permits with bribes and breaching agreed logging concession areas, are extensive. More than 80 percent of the wood-based trade from PNG and Solomon Islands derives from unlawful extraction with illegal log exports from both island states worth 800 million dollars in 2010, reports the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Since 2003, international companies, most involved with logging, have gained access to 5.5 million hectares of forest in PNG, in addition to the 8.5 million hectares already subject to timber extraction, through fraudulent acquisition of SABLs, according to a Commission of Inquiry and study by the California-based Oakland Institute.

The UNODC highlights the collusion between transnational crime networks, logging companies, politicians and public officials.

“In Solomon Islands the links between politicians and foreign logging companies are complex and well-entrenched. We regularly hear stories of politicians using their power to protect loggers, influence police and give tax exemptions to foreign businesses. In return, loggers fund politicians,” a spokesperson for Transparency Solomon Islands said.

Many national forestry offices in developing countries lack the technical and human resources to adequately monitor logging operations and are ill-equipped to deal with organised crime networks that facilitate the extraction and movement of illicit timber. Associated money laundering is also an issue with the Australian Federal Police estimating that 170 million dollars of funds deriving from crime in PNG are laundered through banks and property investment in Australia every year.

But while an Illegal Logging Prohibition Act recently came into force in Australia, making it a criminal offence to import or process illegal timber, no such legislation exists in the main market of China.

Transparency Solomon Islands says that government accountability needs to be strengthened and rural communities educated about their rights, the law and affective action that can be taken at the local level.

Inequality and low human development among the rural poor is further entrenched by the failure of both countries to channel resource revenues into provision of infrastructure, basic services and equitable economic opportunities.

In Papua New Guinea, one of the most unequal nations with a Gini Index of 50.9, poverty increased from 37.5 percent in 1996 to 39.9 percent in 2009, according to the World Bank.

In the Solomon Islands, logging has been the government’s main source of revenue for nearly 20 years, with GDP growth reaching 10 percent in 2011.

But the Pacific Islands Forum reports that “strong resource-led growth is failing to trickle down to the disadvantaged”, with the country ranked 157th out of 187 countries for human development.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: People with Disabilities Must Be Counted in the Fight Against HIVhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-people-with-disabilities-must-be-counted-in-the-fight-against-hiv/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-people-with-disabilities-must-be-counted-in-the-fight-against-hiv http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-people-with-disabilities-must-be-counted-in-the-fight-against-hiv/#comments Fri, 28 Nov 2014 23:43:18 +0000 Rashmi Chopra http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138006 Monica Wambui, 37, who is deaf, receives HIV/AIDS information in sign language. Wambui was among more than 40 people with disabilities who attended a workshop organised by the USAID-funded APHIAplus Nuru ya Bonde project in Nakuru, Kenya. Credit: USAID/George Obanyi

Monica Wambui, 37, who is deaf, receives HIV/AIDS information in sign language. Wambui was among more than 40 people with disabilities who attended a workshop organised by the USAID-funded APHIAplus Nuru ya Bonde project in Nakuru, Kenya. Credit: USAID/George Obanyi

By Rashmi Chopra
NEW YORK, Nov 28 2014 (IPS)

Jane is a young Zambian mother with a physical disability in Lusaka, who uses a wheelchair to get around. She does not let clinics without ramps or without wheelchair accessible toilets and equipment stop her from claiming her right to health care, including HIV prevention services.

“You have to go the clinic to test yourself, to know your status – you have to force yourself, even crawling, so that the government can see that the clinics are not user-friendly,” she told Human Rights Watch.Faith, 25, a deaf, HIV-positive woman in Zambia, lost her hearing when she contracted cerebral malaria at the age of five. Faith did not know about HIV prevention until she tested positive in 2012.

In local communities, legislatures and at the United Nations, people with disabilities like Jane are demanding their right to equal access to HIV services. Not only on Dec. 1, World AIDS Day, but every day.

This week we also observe the international day of persons with disabilities. This coincidence of the calendar is not a coincidence for millions of people with disabilities around the globe who may have never received any information on HIV and are unable to access HIV prevention, treatment and care services.

Yet they are at increased risk of HIV infection because of discrimination in schooling, poverty and greater risk of physical and sexual violence.

Faith, 25, a deaf, HIV-positive woman in Zambia, lost her hearing when she contracted cerebral malaria at the age of five. She dropped out of school after only a few years because her family could not afford the transportation costs to send her there, and in any case did not believe she would benefit from schooling.

Today, Faith cannot read and communicates through a mix of formal sign language and informal signs that are understood and translated by her brother.

Faith did not know about HIV prevention until she tested positive in 2012. HIV prevention meetings in her local community are not conducted in sign language. And even if Faith had been able to continue her schooling, she likely would not have learned about HIV because of the lack of accessible materials and peer-based HIV prevention programmes for children with disabilities.

Faith found out that she was HIV-positive after giving birth to her daughter, who is also HIV-positive. Her husband is abusive and often absent. Faith relies on her mother to accompany her to appointments for antiretroviral medication and to help her understand information about care and treatment for her and her baby. There is usually no sign language interpreter at the clinic she visits.

A healthcare worker at her clinic told Faith and her mother that someone like Faith should not be allowed to have any more children.

But these barriers, and stigmatising attitudes, are starting to change.

In its 2014 ‘Gap Report’, UNAIDS recognised people with disabilities as one of the 12 vulnerable populations left behind by the AIDS response.

In Zambia, where more than one in 10 adults are living with HIV, and a similar number of people are estimated to have a disability, the government could recognise people with disabilities as a key population within the national HIV response, who should be prioritised for targeted action.

A disability-inclusive approach to HIV policies and national strategic plans is critical for countries in eastern and southern Africa, which remain the epicentre of the HIV pandemic.

Disabled persons’ organisations (DPOs) as well as other disability and health organisations in the region are also working hard to promote and develop inclusive and targeted HIV and sexual and reproductive health services.

Zambia Deaf Youth and Women (ZDYW), a local organisation from the Copperbelt province for example, has been supporting training of deaf counselors to provide peer-based HIV testing services in the region.

This year the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in Zambia will recognise a number of ‘PEPFAR Champions’ who are promoting equal access to HIV services for people with disabilities.

This is a good start, but more needs to be done, and quicker, to draw broader attention to the needs of individuals with disabilities in HIV services and to integrate HIV issues within all disability work. This requires resources, specific budgetary provisions, donor funding allocations and data collection on disability.

The Zambian HIV/TB activist and advocate for disability rights, Winstone Zulu, would have turned 50 this year that marks half a centenary of Zambia’s independence. In this week that recognises both the global AIDS pandemic and the more than one billion people worldwide who have a disability, Zambia should honor his and others’ struggle for equal access to HIV services, and implement inclusive HIV services as a priority, to ensure that people with disabilities such as Jane and Faith no longer remain invisible in the fight against HIV.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Indigenous Community Beats Drought and Malnutrition in Hondurashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/indigenous-community-beats-drought-and-malnutrition-in-honduras/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-community-beats-drought-and-malnutrition-in-honduras http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/indigenous-community-beats-drought-and-malnutrition-in-honduras/#comments Thu, 27 Nov 2014 18:02:20 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137993 The brand-new kitchen that Estanisla Reyes and her husband built working 15 days from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. The new ecological stoves cook the food with which the Tolupan indigenous community of Pueblo Nuevo, in northern Honduras, put an end to child malnutrition in just two years. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The brand-new kitchen that Estanisla Reyes and her husband built working 15 days from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. The new ecological stoves cook the food with which the Tolupan indigenous community of Pueblo Nuevo, in northern Honduras, put an end to child malnutrition in just two years. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
PUEBLO NUEVO, Honduras , Nov 27 2014 (IPS)

In the heart of the Pijol mountains in the northern Honduran province of Yoro, the Tolupan indigenous community of Pueblo Nuevo has a lot to celebrate: famine is no longer a problem for them, and their youngest children were rescued from the grip of child malnutrition.

The Tolupan indigenous people in Pueblo Nuevo are no longer suffering from the drought that hit much of the country this year, severely affecting the production of staple crops like beans and maize, as a result of climate change and the global El Niño weather phenomenon.

For the last two years, the Tolupan of Pueblo Nuevo have had food reserves that they store in a community warehouse. The “black Junes” are a thing of the past, the villagers told this IPS reporter who spent a day with them.

“From June to August, things were always really hard, we didn’t have enough food, we had to eat roots. It was a time of subsistence, we always said: black June is on its way,” said the leader of the tribe, 27-year-old Tomás Cruz, a schoolteacher.“And how could we not be malnourished if we weren’t living well, if we didn’t work the land the way we should have? Our houses full of mud and garbage - that hurt our health, but now we understand. My little girl is healthy now, say the doctors, who used to scold us for not taking good care of them but who now congratulate us.” -- Estanisla Reyes

“But today we can smile and say: black June is gone. Now we have food for our children, who had serious malnutrition problems here because there wasn’t enough food,” he added.

The transformation was brought about with the help of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS), with funding from Canada. The programme employs proven technologies such as improved crop varieties and low-cost irrigation and drainage systems to bolster food security and nutrition in critical areas.

An assessment by the SPFS identified serious malnutrition problems in 73 of Honduras’ 298 municipalities.

Pueblo Nuevo and six other Tolupan communities in the municipality of Victoria in Yoro were among the villages with severe nutritional and food security problems.

In the seven tribes, as the Tolupan refer to their settlements, 217 cases of malnutrition were detected among children under five. The other six communities are El Comunal, San Juancito, Piedra Blanca, Guanchías, El Portillo and Buenos Aires.

But Pueblo Nuevo was the model community, because in two years it managed to eliminate malnutrition among its children. Pueblo Nuevo, home to 750 people, is a new settlement created after Hurricane Mitch devastated the country in 1998, claiming 20,000 lives and causing severe damage to infrastructure and the economy.

According to official figures, one out of four children under five in Honduras suffers from chronic malnutrition, equivalent to 240,000 of the over 800,000 children under five in this country of 8.4 million people.

The population of the country is 90 percent mestizo or mixed-race, two percent white, three percent Garifuna and six percent indigenous, according to official statistics.

Becoming a model community

César Alfaro, the SPFS-FAO expert working in the area, told IPS that Pueblo Nuevo’s experience was a success because the tribe understood that they had to change their way of life, implementing good practices in cropping, hygiene and food security.

The villagers, for their part, said Alfaro’s support was key to the community’s transformation.

“When we got here [to Pueblo Nuevo] nobody wanted to come,” Alfaro said. “The teachers said they couldn’t hold a celebration because there was manure everywhere. The indigenous villagers lived in chaos, they slept with the livestock in the middle of all the filth.”

But Pueblo Nuevo is now a clean village, the locals have improved their wattle- and-daub huts, the walls are shiny and white, they divided their living spaces with the animals on one side and the kitchen with ecological stoves on the other, and they even have separate bedrooms.

Located 200 km from the capital, Tegucigalpa, the village is an example of teamwork. Each indigenous hut now has a family garden, a chicken coop, and clean water, purified at a treatment plant run by the community.

The malnourished children were put on good diets, under close medical supervision, and their parents now have basic knowledge and awareness about food, nutrition and the environment, which they are proud to talk about.

One of the mothers, Estanisla Reyes, 37, told IPS that her five-year-old daughter Angeline Nicole, the youngest of her three children, had malnutrition problems in the past.

“And how could we not be malnourished if we weren’t living well, if we didn’t work the land the way we should have? Our houses full of mud and garbage – that hurt our health, but now we understand. My little girl is healthy now, say the doctors, who used to scold us for not taking good care of them but who now congratulate us,” she said, smiling.

She and her husband built the walls of their new kitchen, which forms part of the house, unlike their old kitchen, working 12 hours a day for 15 days. “My husband made the mix, and I brought the water, and polished the walls – many families worked like that,” she said proudly.

Another mother, Adela Maradiaga, said “our lives changed. I came in as a volunteer because I’m from another tribe. I was surprised when I found out that my daughter was also malnourished. Then the Pueblo Nuevo tribe accepted me, and with the food we grow in our garden, our children are nourished and we are too.” She added that her children no longer have stomach troubles or a cough.

In Pueblo Nuevo they are also proud that they don’t have to hire themselves out to work, or sell their livestock to ranchers or merchants in the area to eat. “We used to pawn our things, but now we sell them maize, beans, fruit and avocados,” said Narciso “Chicho” Garay.

The tribe no longer uses the slash-and-burn technique to clear the land, and they now use organic fertiliser and recycle their garbage. They have a community savings fund where they deposit part of their earnings, which has made it possible to have clean drinking water and provisions.

They managed to improve the yield per hectare of beans from 600 to 1,800 kg, and of maize from 900 to 3,000 kg, and now they know that a family of six needs 2,400 to 2,800 kg of maize a year, for example.

Sandro Martínez, the mayor of Victoria, is one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the changes in Pueblo Nuevo, because he was born and grew up near the Tolupan indigenous people and did not hesitate to ask FAO to bring its food security programme to the native villages.

“A famine in those villages in 2010 prompted me to look for help, and we found it. It wasn’t easy to start working with the Tolupan community; the success lies in respecting their way of government represented by the leader of the tribe, as well as their cosmovision. Now they say they’re rich because they no longer have to work for a boss,” he told IPS.

There are seven indigenous groups in Honduras: the Lenca, Pech, Tolupan, Chorti, Tawahka and Misquito, besides the Garífunas, who are the descendants of slaves intermixed with native populations. The Tolupan number 18,000 divided into 31 tribes, governed by a chief who leads a council that makes the decisions.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: All Family Planning Should Be Voluntary, Safe and Fully Informedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-all-family-planning-should-be-voluntary-safe-and-fully-informed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-all-family-planning-should-be-voluntary-safe-and-fully-informed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-all-family-planning-should-be-voluntary-safe-and-fully-informed/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 23:10:52 +0000 Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137986

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

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

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

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

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. Credit: UNFPA

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. Credit: UNFPA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

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

By Diana Mendoza
MANILA, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community attitudes affect prevalence

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Carry That Weight explains on its website:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early intervention can help

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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