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May 10, 2010

By the time the World Cup kicks off in Johannesburg this summer, we’ll have had our fair share of stories like this one in Sunday’s New York Times, on the lasting scars apartheid has left on the South African nation, a country still struggling to come out on top of its checkered history.

But while the racial tensions of the not-so-distant past are on full display at the outset of the games, what's missing are the faces of the millions of Africans who won’t have the chance to participate in what's being billed as a win for the entire continent.

As stadiums in South Africa go up, many soccer fields across Africa where today’s stars once trained are crumbling amid economic woes. With just over a month to go until the games start in South Africa, where 32 countries from around the world will be represented, FIFA admits that more than half of the tickets available by cash — some 250,000 in all — remain unsold. That seems odd, given that the games are taking place on the edge of the second most populous continent in the world, home to about a billion people. But then again, we're talking about a continent that's also home to some of the deepest swaths of poverty on the planet — one facing massive challenges of disease and malnutrition, not to mention lack of transportation and communication development.

So, while the World Cup is happening literally around the corner for some, the truth is that for too many, this year’s games still couldn’t be further away.

Case in point: Never mind the fact that the majority of South Africans and millions more across the continent don’t have access to the Internet. Up until recently, ticket sales for the world’s greatest soccer gathering were still being sold largely online. According to the World Bank, in South Africa, only 8.6% of the population are considered Internet users. (In the U.S., that figure is closer to 70%.) Meanwhile, such a disparity only increases when you look across sub-Saharan Africa.

FIFA’s answer to this dilemma was to set up national and international hotlines, which soccer fans around the world can call to purchase tickets (which cost as much as $900 U.S. dollars). But significant populations inside South Africa and throughout the continent don’t have access to mobile phones or landlines, either. What’s more, while the trip is time-consuming and costly for people living outside the African mainland, high costs and dilapidated transportation options aren’t making it any easier to mobilize fans across the continent to attend the games, either.

Every time an international event like the World Cup rolls around, the world zeroes in on a specific set of ugly facts that blemish the host town. In China for example, during the Olympics, human rights and privacy concerns were front-and-center. In South Africa, the focus so far has been on the pockmarks of apartheid. But perhaps this time, the international community will realize that the problem is the fact that the host country isn't all that well-represented, and neither is the host continent. Perhaps this is our chance to point out who’s missing — and why.

Article by Andy Amsler at Change.org
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Posted: May 10, 2010 11:07am
Mar 25, 2010

They might be plague-bearers and pests. But their sniffing, twitching noses can also point the way toward a healthier, safer future. And that's no mere abstract proposition, either. From scenting out land mines to deadly disease, rats are already being used to save lives from Tanzania to Mozambique.

In Mozambique, for example, raccoon-size rats are trained to scurry about and scent out lethal explosive devices, left over from the wars that have scarred the landscape over the last century. Giant pouched rats (they look just like they sound) are the heart of the effort -- an African species popular for its "large size, sunny disposition and ultra-keen nostrils." The rats are too light to set off the explosives, but their noses have an exquisite enough sensitivity that they can be used to alert others to the presence of dangerous weapons (which can then be removed). What's more, a single rat can sweep 1,000 square feet in half an hour.

By 2008, some 250 mine-detecting rats were being trained in Tanzania at the Sokoine University of Agriculture. And -- once scorned by international aid officials -- rat squadrons have lately ingratiated themselves in the wider development community, winning accolades from the World Bank and the United Nations.

Yesterday, Kate wrote about one way to detect tuberculosis that's potentially both cheap and effective. Rats are another. Once trained (it costs about $3,000-5,000 to train a rat), the rodent can signal with paw motions after it detects the presence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in patient saliva. Tests suggest rodents are in fact more effective at detecting tuberculosis in a patient than use of a standard microscope (about 67% vs. 60%). They're also quicker: while a lab technician will diagnose maybe 20 samples in a day, a rat can sniff-test up to 2,000 samples.

Sniffing out disease might sound bizarre, but it's actually one of the oldest diagnostic tools around. According to Megan Bedard, who writes about tuberculosis-sniffing rats in TakePart this week, doctors in ancient Greece and China used to test patients for tuberculosis by burning their spit and contemplating the odor released.

And in terms of man's best friend, for dog-lovers, don't worry -- they're not quite out of the running. A dog's nose can do all this as well. Still, though: not only are rats cheaper to train, they're simpler to house and transport and far less vulnerable to tropical disease. Rats also have the decided advantage in that they don't get emotionally involved in a single handler. They'll work with anyone, so long as they're given the right commands and rewarded with some peanuts.

Just a few peanuts and some training -- all in exchange for thousands of lives.

(h/t: the ONE blog)

Article By Te-Ping Chen 
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Posted: Mar 25, 2010 3:29pm
Mar 17, 2010

Now that two months have passed since Haiti's 7.0 earthquake, the first cloudiness of chaos has passed, and so has the frenetic pace of appeals. Yet Haiti's Ministry of Health is still feeling frustrated by the bevy of international organizations that continue to breeze in and out of the country without notice.

In advance of a March 31 donors' conference on Haiti, health officials are scrambling to assemble a better picture of the country's needs -- but the bulk of relief groups aren't exactly cooperating. To assist with medium- and long-term planning, Haiti's Ministry of Health has required all new organizations arriving in Haiti to provide information about how many people would be on the ground, what their skill sets were and for how long they'll stay. Yet even that rudimentary information has been hard to come by.

No one doubts that relief efforts will take a long time: 10 years is one common projection, and frankly the real estimates should be much longer. To avoid constructing many parallel health systems, information to help channel supplies, personnel and equipment to where they're most needed is key -- as is working with the Haitian government to build a more lasting framework.

Prior to the quake, Haiti's Ministry of Health was badly hobbled, and even more so in its aftermath -- some 200 of its people were killed when its building collapsed, while the ministry was lacking vehicles, computers and even pens and paper. But it's no mistake that over the years, one of the most successful health groups in Haiti (Partners in Health) has made a point of giving the government a role in the ownership and operations of its Haitian branch, Zanmi Lasante. Those kinds of relationships are what embed PiH's work in the country for the long haul.

It's not hard to see why Haiti's Ministry of Health would feel frustrated. Take, for example, a March 8 spreadsheet shared by Haiti's health cluster, currently being led by the Pan American Health Organization and the WHO. Titled 'Who, What, Where,' the document chronicles organizations' attempts to assist in Haiti's health sector -- or tries to, anyway. Out of fully 315 organizations -- from Texas Baptist Men to Helping Hand USA -- the majority of details listed for each group (including partnerships, future plans and exit dates) are simply blank.

Hard to take a lead in building up Haiti's health services, when you don't even know who's behind you, where they're located -- or how long they'll stick around. (Or, for that matter in other cases, when you're dismissed outright from where decisions are being made.)

Article by Te-Ping Chen

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Posted: Mar 17, 2010 9:10am
Mar 16, 2010

A tiny new tax on speculative financial transactions -- as little as .025% -- could result in as much as $700 billion in revenue for U.S. and international priorities. It's a simple idea with huge hopes.

The idea is not new. Almost 40 years ago, the economist James Tobin proposed a tax on currency exchange to deter wild speculation. Dubbed the "Tobin Tax," it's largely been relegated to academic debates between economists ever since.

But while Tobin's plan was to stabilize currency exchange markets, advocates now hope to use the tax (or some variation of it) for another purpose as well: to gain sustainable support for global health and similar spending. After all, public outrage at bailed-out banks is massive. Meanwhile, governments are facing massive budget deficits and monumental challenges, from poverty to climate change.

As momentum for such a global financial transaction tax (FTT) builds, here's a four-point primer on what you need to know about its latest developments:

1)The tax has gained widespread support, particularly in Europe. U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have all spoken out in support of a variation of the FTT. Last year at the Pittsburgh G20 Summit, G20 leaders called on the IMFto prepare options for the ways the financial sector might pay for the effects of the economic crisis. The IMF is showing signs that the FTT could be one of those options, backing off their initial rejection of the idea.

2). The U.S. government remains opposed. Last November, U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner stated at the G20's gathering of finance minsters that the U.S. wasn't prepared to support the tax(directly clashing with the gathering's host, the U.K.'s Brown). Given a tough political climate, not to mention other financial reforms and bank tax plans underway, the Obama administration doesn't seem ready to incite the further wrath of powerful bankers. At least, not yet. But notable advocates -- such asJeff Sachs and activist groups like Health GAP -- hope to reverse this position.

3). Big questions still need to resolved. Will the G8 nations take a lead and cooperate on the tax? No country will go it alone and lose precious business to other countries. And even if countries adopt it, how will revenues be used? Though countries could use the revenue solely to stem domestic deficits, because the tax will require international cooperation, there are strong justifications for investing the revenue in global initiatives --  for example, meeting the Millennium Development Goals or addressing climate change. Whatever the split, leaders will need to feel confident that they can make the case to their domestic constituencies and stand with other nations in the process.

4). The spring and summer may provide the answers. In advance of the June G20 Summit in Toronto,an April meeting of the G20 Finance Ministers and spring World Bank/IMF meetings in Washington DC are important landmarks at which progress on the tax needs to be made. Forging international consensus will be no easy feat, especially given lack of U.S. commitment and powerful opposition from financial institutions anticipated.

Still, though, at this particular moment, the idea may be too good for the bankers to defeat. Bill Nighy, playing a banker in the clip below (produced by the UK-based "Robin Hood Tax" campaign), quickly realizes that this might indeed be the case. Check out Nighy's video, and head over to the campaign's Facebook page to get engaged: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYtNwmXKIvM

 

Article by Victor Roy

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Posted: Mar 16, 2010 9:25am
Mar 13, 2010

When you decide to dedicate your life to humanitarian work in the field, remember this: Not everyone wants you to succeed. As an affiliate of the United Nations or a non-governmental organization, many people won't think of your work as simply providing security, distributing food or teaching children. Though most of the communities served are extraordinarily grateful for the humanitarian assistance they receive, there are plenty of individuals and groups who are not. Accordingly, humanitarians face the fear of kidnappings, hijackings and attacks every day.

Take the peacekeepers who were abducted by gunmen in Darfur just a few days ago. Deployed to assess fighting between rebel and government forces, 40 peacekeepers were kidnapped and two still remain missing. Reports suggest that since the joint UN/African Union patrol began work in Darfur in 2008, 22 peacekeepers have been killed.

This is the reality for humanitarian workers around the world -- in trying to conduct their daily activities to better the lives of the poorest people on earth, they are constantly confronted with the threat of attack.

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) has said that the relentless attacks on truck convoys in Darfur are "pushing to the brink the agency's ability to feed more than 3 million people each month." By the end of June 2008, two WFP truck drivers had been killed and 41 were missing. A whopping 83 trucks had been hijacked, with 55 still unaccounted for. And the problem isn't isolated in Darfur, of course. WFP has also been affected by hijackings of vessels on the seas by Somali pirates. And we can't forget the UN staff killed in Afghanistan in August 2009 by a suicide bomb, the infamous Baghdad attack of 2003 that killed 22 UN staff members, or the countless other acts of violence committed against humanitarian workers on a regular basis.

To mark the first World Humanitarian Day on August 19, 2009, the United Nations paid tribute to aid workers on the frontlines around the globe. That day, the UN reported that in 2008, 260 humanitarian workers were killed, kidnapped or seriously injured in violent attacks -- the highest toll on record.Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Catherine Bragg, was right on when she stated that "Too often, UN and NGO flags and emblems are no longer protections, but provocations."

When it comes down to it, humanitarian workers are the gateway to basic human rights for millions of people around the globe. They risk their lives every day to better the lives of others, and remain steadfast in the face of hostility. These people are the unsung heros of the world, and we should pay tribute to them on a national and international level by bringing attention to the important work they do.

Article by Meredith Slater 

Change.org

http://globalhealth.change.org/blog/view/humanitarians_staying_strong_in_the_face_of_constant_threat
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Posted: Mar 13, 2010 10:40am
Mar 9, 2010
http://globalhealth.change.org/blog/view/what_haitis_president_will_tell_obama
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Posted: Mar 9, 2010 11:38am

 

 
 
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