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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.

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Two of the women with HIV featured in the fashion show put on by Doctors Without Borders in the DRC.

This past March, Doctors Without Borders, in association with Médecins du Monde and the Réseau National Des Organisations d’Assise Communautaires des PVV, put on a fashion show in the Democratic Republic of Congo where a dozen DRC women living with HIV/AIDS were used as the models. All twelve women donned fashions that reflected the colors that were symbolic of the HIV/AIDS movement. Local fashion designers who were part of the organization, Amicale des Stylistes de Kinshasa (which was also a partner in the event) created the clothing that was worn by the women.

Although Doctors Without Borders’ intentions were notable: “…to fight discrimination against people living with HIV, to alert the public to the tragic lack of access to treatment in the country, and to show what is possible when treatment is made available” (DRC: A Fashion Show Featuring Women Living With HIV), there still exists an estimated 300,000 individuals in the DRC who will only have a life expectancy of three years (DRC: A Fashion Show Featuring Women Living With HIV). And the primary reason why many of these individuals are faced with this short life expectancy is because of their inability to pay for the badly needed antiretroviral drugs (ARV), as well as other vital medications and health screenings needed to enhance their life expectancies.

The reality is HIV/AIDS is not a glamorous disease. It is filled with feelings of embarrassment, misery, and mortality. And by putting on a fashion, Doctor’s Without Borders is blinding society from the harsh reality of living with HIV/AIDS. In fact, Doctor’s Without Borders is violating Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care…” How so? Because Doctor’s Without Borders was not actually assisting the models with funding or supplying their medication; or even other DRC citizens living with HIV/AIDS.

Rather than put on a fashion show, I believe that Doctors Without Borders should have organized a fundraising event where other humanitarian relief organizations could donate money towards supplying the citizens of the DRC with condoms and ARVs. In addition, Doctors Without Borders could have devised a plan that would have raised awareness to the citizens of the DRC on how to prevent HIV/AIDS; like the proper method of using condoms, proper use and disposal of needles in hospital settings, and how to actually take care of oneself in the event that one contracts the disease.

Many drugs being used to treat Malaria in disease ridden areas could be substitutes, or could even be fake.

The Lancet Infectious Disease Journal reported that up to 42% of the Malaria drugs used in Southeast Asia or Sub-Saharan Africa could be ineffective, being either counterfeit medication, a substitute medication or just a placebo.

The governments of the countries where these ineffective drugs were discovered are being urged to regulate drug production more strictly.

People along the borders of Thailand and Myanmar have been found to carry a Malarial parasite that is immune to the best anti-Malarial drugs available, called artemisinin combination therapy, or ACT.  In Cambodia, drug resistant Malarial parasites were also discovered.  These new cases showing up along the borders of Thailand and Myanmar are different in the fact that it is a different parasite these patients are carrying.

“Anti-malarial control efforts are vitally dependent on artemisinin combination treatments,” says  Anne-Catrin Uhlemann and David Fidock of Columbia University.  “Should these regimens fail, no other drugs are ready for deployment, and drug development efforts are not expected to yield new antimalarials until the end of this decade.”

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.

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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Buckle-up! Today, we are going to Sub-Saharan Africa!

For over 50 years, children in the Sub-Saharan area, particularly in Uganda and Sudan.  The reason behind this lack of information is because it affects a population that is often overlooked–the poor that is.  There are no efforts being made to help rid children of this disease because many people cannot afford any medical relief.  If there is no profit to be made does that mean that pharmaceutical companies should not even try to create a solution that affects so many children?

An article in the Huffington Post identifies that there is a lack of Vitamin B in community members of these Sub-Saharan regions.  Providing vitamin B supplements to children in this region ages 5-15 whom are most affected by this disease should be urged.  Even though the disease is not discussed much, does not mean that is not harmful. Children with this disease, are prone to accidents such as drowning and burning because of mental impairment.

My question to you all is: should diseases that affect the poor not be discussed and not receive a treatment?

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South African gold miners are at greater risk of developing TB due to the heavy presence of silica dust in their working environment

This past Saturday, the Deputy President of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe, spoke at an event held at the Driefontein Gold Fields mine, located in the Gauteng province of South Africa. The event was being held in observance of World Tuberculosis Day–a bacterial disease that has become all too common among South African mine workers. Individuals within this particular profession have been known to have a greater risk of contracting the disease due to the heavy presence of silica dusk within their working environment. Although silica is nothing more than a mineral found in rocks and soil, repeated inhalation of the mineral can lead to serious implications. In fact, a staggering 22,000 mine workers are infected with the disease yearly. However, TB is not the only illness in which these mine workers must battle daily; there is that widespread virus that occurs outside the workplace: HIV. Between 60%-70% of mine workers who have been infected with TB have also been infected with HIV as well. But these startling statistics have not stopped South Africa from doing all that it can to combat these two life-threatening illnesses.

Standing before an audience that included Gold Fields mine workers and their mining managers, union leaders, community development agencies, health workers and government representatives, Motlanthe vowed that the South African government would continue its initiative in supplying its citizens with the programs needed to successfully thwart TB and HIV. As a matter of fact, Motlanthe states that within the last few years, South Africa has made testing for TB and HIV more of a regular initiative, as opposed to an initiative that arises only during emergency outbreaks. Nick Holland, CEO of Driefontein Gold Fields mine, has also hopped on the bandwagon in making TB testing more readily available for his own mine workers. At the event, he spoke of the necessity of Gold Fields mine being able to diagnose TB in its earlier stages, as well as being able to develop more efficient means for testing for TB.

Even so, the progress that South Africa has made in their fight to stop the spread of TB has been incredibly noteworthy thus far. Just last year, South Africa embarked on a new approach in actually traveling to the homes of individuals who have had contact with a TB infected person. Furthermore, individuals were also tested and educated about HIV. During that mission, roughly 160,000 people were screened, where 3,000 individuals tested positive for TB. What is more, another 3,200 individuals actually tested positive for HIV. In addition to home screenings, since last year, South Africa has also been utilizing the GeneXpert machine, enabling the successful diagnosis of drug-resistant and drug-sensitive TB patients. At the moment, South Africa is number one in the manufacture of GeneXpert tests, having completed roughly 300,000 tests.

I think that it is important to acknowledge here that although South Africa is still in some aspects a developing nation, the initiatives, however, that the Country appears to be taking in the prevention of TB and HIV, in my opinion, would illustrate its advancement into a developed nation. When a nation’s own government makes it their endeavor to provide the utmost care to their citizens, a sense of unity transpires between all. As we saw in class during our attempts to revise TRIPS, it was difficult for us to come to an agreement on how high-income and middle-income countries could not only efficiently provide foreign aid to low-income countries, but also continue to recognize some of their own personal goals as well. In my opinion, South Africa sets a wonderful example of the potential that developing and also underdeveloped nations have in terms of the combat of life-threatening epidemics.