Author Archives: Bianca Rivera

The Campaign Against Female Genital Mutilation (CAGeM) invites you to attend a conference on Saturday June 16, 2012 from 9am-6pm, at the New York Academy of Medicine (1216 Fifth Avenue).

FGM is an unacceptable non-medical practice that serves to preserve a female’s innocence or purity by altering the biological exterior of her genitals.  There are an estimated 100 to 160 million girls and women worldwide currently living with the consequences of the painful and traumatic procedure, and it is practiced approximately every 16 seconds.

In CAGeM’s full commitment towards stopping the clock and eradicating the practice of FGM globally, the conference on the 16th of June serves to inform the public of this atrocious procedure by providing various perspectives on the impact of FGM. Nana Sylla, a high school senior, is the driving force behind the conference, showcasing CAGeM’s mission of linking grassroots activism to inform the community about FGM. Speakers at the event will include human rights experts, physicians, legal professionals, religious scholars, and victims themselves. The conference aims to form a dialogue between communities and panelists in order to make the efforts toward eradicating this inhumanity a priority. Aside from panel discussions, there will also be a live Off-Broadway performance on FGM, with the use of theatrical pieces and films to inform viewers.

While, the largest proportion of girls and women who have undergone FGM are in Africa, we should not neglect the practices right here at home. Although the United States outlawed FGM in 1997, migrant communities continue to practice, with the second largest population in New York state. Survivors have provided testimonies of the practice occurring in the back of a barbershop in New York City, a least suspecting location. The conference’s setting in New York City on the 16th is an attempt to raise awareness and begin a dialogue to eliminate all FGM procedures. A 2010 proposal to the Supreme Court to outlaw transportation out of the country momentarily in order to have the practice done abroad is currently pending. This means that while it is illegal to practice it in this country, it is legal to take an American-born girl overseas for the procedure.

Most recently, FGM has been in the news regarding the launching of an anti-FGM campaign in the United Kingdom. An estimated 500 girls are taken out of the UK each year to get the procedure done elsewhere, and 2,000 girls in Bristol are thought to be at risk. In Kenya, laws banning FGM are failing to protect women, even though it is punishable by imprisonment and a fine.

It is important to restate that the practice is not medical in nature and therefore carries no medical benefits. Children born to mothers who have undergone the practice suffer high rates of neonatal death than compared to women who had not undergone the practice. Women themselves may have recurrent bladder infections, cysts, infertility, painful urination from the wound, and septicaemia (sepsis, a blood infection). Some may even die shortly after the procedure from hemorrhaging, sepsis, and shock. The procedure does not use anesthesia. Tools are used on more than one girl, therefore increasing the risk of  the transmission of HIV.

The practice of FGM is a gross violation and an infringement of human rights, including the lack of informed consent of the child or young adolescent, the right to be free from gender discrimination, the right to life and physical integrity, the right to health, and the right to be free from torture.

Come out to the conference on June 16, 2012 from 9am-6pm, at the New York Academy of Medicine (1216 Fifth Avenue). Listen to the voices of survivors, and together let us become the voice that speaks for those who cannot. Help us make sure that our message is not falling on deaf ears.

Register here.


According to a study released last August on behalf of Human Rights Watch, it became apparent that the attention to maternal health in South Africa was minimal, if any. Many women were neglected when they sought out care and when they were seen, they were often mistreated. Some women were pinched and slapped during labor, and others were verbally abused by nurses. One statistic shows that the maternal mortality rate has quadrupled in the last 20 years, from 150 to 625 deaths per 100,000 births, and questions have been raised given that South Africa provides free maternal health care and 87% of women give birth in hospitals or clinics.

Some women had been chastised for being pregnant, made to clean up their own blood, or denied services because they were foreign. One South African woman delivered a stillborn baby after waiting for three hours to see a doctor at a district hospital; nurses had told her she was lying about being in labour.”

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Thus far in our discussions of health and human rights I have noticed two things. The first, is that we often, unintentionally, fail to mention the human rights concern right here at home. The second, is that we have been discussing physical health concerns, while the rhetoric of the documents released by the various councils have mentioned that mental health concerns are just as important.

This week there was an article in the Washington Post regarding a hearing that took place due to the lack of assistance given to American veterans in dealing with mental health issues.

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Two drugs used to treat leukemia have been found to prevent the Ebola virus from replicating itself in someone’s body. The rare virus currently has no vaccine, treatment, or cure, and causes those who are infected to bleed to death 90% of the time. Ebola virus is most commonly associated with strains present in Africa, as well in the Western Pacific but with less severity. It can be contracted through direct contact of blood, secretions, organs, or bodily fluids of someone who is already infected.

The two drugs in question are imatinib and nolitinib, more commonly known as Gleevec and Tasigna respectively. However, what good is this if they are not even as affordable in countries that are comparatively more well-off like Korea as we saw in the Dying for Drugs documentary? Prices for one 100mg pill can range from $20-$30, and at least 50% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa receive less than $1 per day. This happens to be the region in which the Ebola virus is most prevalent.

Is it Novartis’ obligation under UN declaration to provide these drugs that would otherwise be completely inaccessible and unaffordable to those with the virus? Will it be more effective to manufacture the drugs under compulsory licensing or to distribute them in some other way? Compulsory licensing is used in extreme national emergencies, but the virus in itself calls for emergency medical assistance at all times due to the rate in which the body becomes infected.

The significance of all of this is that while rare, the virus is extremely deadly and highly contagious. It is also important to recognize that animals can also become infected and whether the subject is dead or alive does not matter. More testing is underway, but this is just some food for thought if researchers find that theses drugs are ultimately effective. After all this would be quite a breakthrough in the fight against the Ebola virus, as there is no treatment, but what good is it if it cannot be put to use where it is needed most?

The results of a study published this week found that the use of clean delivery kits could lead to a decline in neonatal (newborn) deaths in South Asia.

The facts:

  • There are approximately 3.3 million neonatal deaths around the world each year, 15% of which are due to sepsis, a systematic bacterial infection in the blood stream that leads to organ damage, which is harmful to developing babies.
  • Thirty to forty percent of the time sepsis is contracted during delivery.
  • 65% of deliveries occur at home in South Asia without a trained birth attendant
  • The largest absolute number of newborn deaths occurs in South Asia, with India contributing a quarter of the world total.

The use of each additional kit of the 2,885 distributed, resulted in a 16% relative reduction of neonatal deaths. The delivery kit and clean delivery practices include soap for hand washing, use of sterilized blade, use of boiled thread and plastic sheet, and a clean string to tie the umbilical cord. The idea to distribute clean delivery kits works to stand in for one of the most important factors that contributes to neonatal deaths, the lack of trained birth attendants. In the bigger scheme of things, this would hopefully help us reach Millennium Development Goal 4, which is to reduce deaths in children under 5 years by two-thirds by 2015.

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In a reply to my post regarding fake anti-malaria medication, Marina touched upon an important issue in that the problem of counterfeit drugs is not only specific to the developing world, but it occurs right here at home as well. It reminded me of a segment from 60 Minutes that aired last March that highlighted this very problem.

Access to medicine is not just about providing treatment to those that need it most or cannot afford treatment otherwise, but it is also about obtaining the right treatment. In this context drug manufacturers are clearly driven by greed–whether its the US based company with outrageous prices which they refuse to reduce, or the counterfeit drug manufacturer abroad. What’s the bigger battle then? Is it the generic company that breaks patent law in order to provide cheaper medications or the counterfeit drug manufacturers that are harder to find if they are working out of their own apartments? To me, its the latter. I’d rather have generic drugs on the market that were quality checked rather than pills heated up in a microwave. The counterfeit drug market at the time of the video brought in about $75 billion dollars a year. Could this also be a reason pharma companies sometimes refuse to lower prices, since they are losing out on billions to the black market? The CBS 60 Minutes bit is worth a watch.  Here’s the transcript of the video in case it is more convenient for those of you that are interested.