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Author Archives: Marina Erlikh

I spent last weekend at school participating in a Southern African simulation game. Two sections of Southern African politics classes were divided into a dozen groups: African National Congress (ANC govt), common people, trade union, businesses, United States, etc. The goal of the game was for each team to advance its position in South Africa and for students to experience the complexities of working within an international economy and making decisions that are beneficial for both their individual team’s interests as well as for the people of the region.

As a member of the white business team, I had the difficult task of creating policies that would not only financially advance my team but also improve public opinion. The idea that rich white people hold a special responsibility to aid the less privileged is a global one, and in order for our team to be embraced by the common people, we had to create an image of caring and generosity.

Between the common people group and their Occupy South Africa movement and the government group’s general inaction, my team decided to create the Caring Corp foundation which would allocate charitable funds to various causes including education grants, building hospitals, tackling HIV/AIDS, etc.

One of the most surprising realizations throughout the game was the sheer neglect of all health-related concerns. South Africa has the one of the worst HIV/AIDS epidemics in the world, with 5.6 million infected in 2009. And yet the ANC ignored the problem and said that they had more urgent concerns within the context of the game. South Africa has a history of AIDS denial– former President Thabo Mbeki claimed that the cause of AIDS was not a virus, but poverty; this led to hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths.

Participating in this simulation game, I began to think about the right to health, and the parties responsible for maintaining that right for all people. If health is indeed a human right, is it then the government’s obligation to protect this right by providing access to healthcare? In our game, which accurately mirrored reality, the government was unresponsive to concerns over the growing AIDS problem and other access to health matters that affect the common people. In our attempt to improve our image within society, the white businesses teamed up to give back to the community, but in reality, how much can a few billionaires (and their billions) really do? Is it our responsibility to provide some short term relief (I say short term here because the nature of our charity depends upon rich peoples’ kindness, which like other kindnesses, is a temporary and fleeting resource).

This game taught me that health should not be a charitable endeavor in which the many poor must rely on the few rich for support. It also taught me that governments are constantly bombarded with urgent issues that need attention–and chronic lack of access to health take a backseat to economic and foreign affairs.

In the past month, two distinct court cases regarding inmates’ rights have been decided by the Supreme Court. Both cases found in favor of extending inmates’ rights on the grounds that the existing condition was a violation of the Eight Amendment, which protects all Americans from cruel and unusual punishment.

On March 27, 2012, 21 death row inmates won the federal case Beaty V. Food and Drug Administration, which will ban the use of sodium thiopental as an anesthetic given prior to lethal injections. The federal judge ruled that the drug (which is manufactured overseas) was unapproved and misbranded and that the FDA violated its own rules by allowing it to be distributed in the US without adequate testing of efficacy and safety. The inmates’ attorneys claimed that the drug may cause “anesthesia-awareness,” during which the anesthetized may experience pain, suffocation, or cardiac arrest.

Also in March of 2012, the Supreme Court ruled against reinstating a Wisconsin law which would ban state-funded hormone therapy and sex-change operations for its transgender inmates (Smith V. Fields). The court ruled that because doctors had deemed hormone therapy as medically necessary for patients with gender identity disorder, banning such therapy was a violation of the Eight Amendment.

The former is an example of a right we generally believe all people should have: the right to die a painless death. We have legal protection against cruel and unusual punishment in place to protect each and every one of us in the event that we are incarcerated and sentenced to death.

Globally, there are widely varying views on both inmates’ rights and the legality/morality of capital punishment. In the US, individual states decide whether or not they have the death penalty. Interestingly, we tend to discuss human rights universally, when it isn’t even a national concept. Read More

Female genital mutilation (FGM), or female circumcision, is a common practice in regions of Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. FGM usually involves the full or partial removal of the clitoris and/or labia or other injury to a young girl’s genital area for non-medical reasons. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 92 million girls 10 years old and up have undergone FGM, most of them having it performed sometime between infant age and 15 years old.

Globally, an estimated 140 million women and girls are living with the severe consequences of the procedure, which include excessive bleeding, infertility, sepsis, cysts, painful intercourse, increased newborn mortality, emotional pain, etc. There are no health benefits to these procedures. FGM is maintained by some cultures as an effective means of controlling female sexuality and taming female libido.

In 2008, the World Health Assembly passed a resolution to end FGM practices worldwide, and several African nations have since banned the practice. Uganda placed a ban on FGM in 2009 and Egypt outlawed the procedure in 2008 but despite such efforts to curb the act, there is widespread lack of compliance with these laws; laws which inadvertently lead to more frequent and more dangerous acts of FGM. For example, in Egypt, where approximately 90% of the women have been victims of FGM, the ban has proved highly ineffective and is actually resulting in a higher mortality rate since parents are reluctant to take their post-FGM daughters to hospitals to treat heavy bleeding and infections, for fear of being reported and imprisoned. Equally disturbing: according to WHO, nearly 20% of all FGM procedures are performed by health professionals in clinical settings.Though this may ensure a safer and more hygienic procedure, it is unsettling to think that doctors find such procedures morally acceptable.

FGM is not just a problem in the developing world; according to Amnesty International, there are approximately 500,000 women living with effects of FGM in Europe and 180,000 more women at risk each year. In support of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation on February 6, 2012, the Amnesty International European campaign against FGM created a video in order to raise awareness:

The campaign also provides a strategy for ending FGM in Europe:

  1. Collection of data on prevalence of FGM in Europe
  2. Accessible and appropriate healthcare for women living with FGM in Europe
  3. Better protection mechanisms to address violence against women and children
  4. Clear asylum guidelines for those under threat of FGM, and
  5. Mainstreaming of FGM in EU’s dialogues on cooperation with third countries where FGM is prevalent.

Ukraine is home to the largest and most rapidly growing HIV epidemic in Europe. According to Ministry of Health September 2011 statistics, 197,083 Ukrainians are infected with the virus, which equates to 0.9 percent of the population. This number accounts for those individuals who are registered as HIV positive, but the actual percentage is set at approximately 1.3 percent of Ukraine’s population.

According to Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Ukraine is “the only region of the world where the AIDS epidemic is still growing”.

So what is being done to curb the rate of HIV transmission? The Global Fund is allocating $86 million to Ukraine in 2012-2013 to aid the HIV prevention and treatment efforts. Since condoms are considered “a simple, low-cost prevention method that works” the AHF (AIDS Healthcare Foundation) is distributing one million free condoms around the world on International Condom Day, February 13th. The AHF will also conduct up to 10,000 HIV tests. Seven thousand condoms will be distributed in Odessa and Kiev as part of the initiative.

On December 1, 2011, The Elena Pinchuk ANTIAIDS Foundation in collaboration with Ukraine Google affiliate launched an interactive map and news service which will provide easy access to locations of the nearest HIV testing sites and condom vending machines.

The United States Congress has cut the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief (PEPFAR) by 2 percent, and has mandated that none of the funds be spent on needle exchange programs, which will undoubtedly prove inefficient in places like Ukraine, where intravenous drug use accounts for a majority of HIV infections.

Related to the discussion on HIV/AIDS, here is a link to And the Band Played On, a wonderful film that documents the discovery of the HIV virus, the important research that was conducted in the 80’s which led to the discovery, and the inaction of the US government in the crucial early years of the disease’s spread. The film emphasizes the government’s views of HIV/AIDS as a “gay” disease. It seems that linking AIDS to homosexuality, promiscuity, and drug use offered (and offers) justification for limited access to ARV’s and other drugs or programs which should be readily attainable by HIV positive populations as well as those at risk.