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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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AFP reports that the Indian drug manufacturer Cipla will drastically reduce the price of three important cancer drugs — each of them under patent to one of the big western pharmaceutical firms.  With Cipla’s new pricing scheme, the drugs will be purchasable for about 25% of the price charged by the patent holders, Bayer, AstraZeneca, and Schering.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, the break point came when the Indian patent office required Bayer to grant a license to an Indian manufacturing firm (not Cipla, actually) for its liver/kidney cancer medication Nexavar.

The head of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations said that the companies would prefer to make drugs affordable through so-called tiered pricing schemes, wherein the price of a drug varies from country to country in regard to local cost of living.

In a 2009 article in Global Health magazine, Andrew Jack notes that some big pharmaceutical companies have lowered their prices to try to compete in the huge Indian market, including selling the diabetes drug Januvia (Merck) for one-fifth its US price.  GSK, Jack notes, even has different prices in different parts of India.

Tiered pricing or patent busting — a big problem remains unresolved:  even when prices are lowered to $100 per dose, many people can’t afford them.  Last year, an article in The Economist showed results of surveys by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo:  over 90% of respondents in rural India (and about 80% of Pakistanis, 70% of Bengladeshis, etc.) live on $2 a day or less.  For such households, the cost of a single dose of cancer medication — even at the Cipla price — is equivalent to weeks worth of food.

This is a map that says a lot.  It tracks “Vaccine-Preventable Disease Outbreaks” around the world. Many of the biggest circles, showing outbreaks of common infectious diseases that can be treated by inexpensive and effective vaccines, are in Africa.

The five most prevalent diseases the map shows are measles, mumps, whooping cough, polio, and rubella. All of the polio cases are in Africa and Asia.

One glaring disparity the map shows, if you click on the circles, is the number of deaths from these diseases.  While measles epidemics have occurred in recent years in France, Spain, and elsewhere in Europe, they didn’t cause any deaths.  Similar epidemics in Africa caused thousands of deaths.

In France, for example, an epidemic involving 34,000 cases didn’t result in any deaths.  In Burkina Faso, an epidemic involving 19,000 cases caused 150 deaths.

 

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.