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Right to health

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.

A trial for an HIV vaccine had to be stopped before the trail could be completed because the vaccine was doing the complete opposite of what it was supposed to do. A number of 1,836 were followed and 172 of them contracted the virus.  It was found to be making some men MORE LIKELY to get HIV.  Men that were uncircumcised and received the vaccine were more vulnerable to acquiring the virus after getting the vaccine even when not participating in risky behaviors.  This higher susceptibility however, lessen after 18 months.

Why is it that when researchers realized that the vaccine was not protecting anyone from getting HIV and when they had suspicions hat it was making some men more susceptible to HIV that this faulty vaccine being administered?  Did this pharmaceutical company figure that their profits would be worth more than the lives of these men that were put in danger?

This is an example of a human rights violation because Merck, the pharmaceutical company, should have been a guardian of health and stopped administering this vaccine once they had suspicions that the drug was failing men.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/18/health/research/trial-vaccine-made-some-more-vulnerable-to-hiv-study-confirms.html?_r=1&ref=health

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.

This week, the Washington Post reports that, even in some countries with lesser standards of living than the US, access to medical care surpasses ours.  In Thailand, only 1% of the population lacks health insurance.  The Mexican government created a safety net to insure 50 million people who are not covered by existing plans.

And in former communist countries, the urge to capitalize medical treatment that followed the fall of the Soviet system has been replaced by a social-service sensibility:

Two decades ago, many former communist countries in Eastern Europe and elsewhere dismantled their universal health-care systems amid a drive to set up free-market economies. But popular demand for insurance protection has fueled an effort in nearly all of these countries to rebuild their systems. Similar pressure is coming from the citizens of fast-growing nations in Asia and Latin America, where rising living standards have raised expectations for better services.

In the US, about 50 million people have no health insurance, roughly 16% of the population.  This percentage rises for the poor:  a 2009 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that 45% of low-income Americans under the age of 65 have no health insurance.   The Affordable Care Act of 2010 will reduce these numbers — but we won’t know until next month whether the Supreme Court will find some or all of it unconstitutional.

Even if the ACA stands, it doesn’t abolish for-profit insurance companies (or constrain their power much), and its direct effects on the costs of medical diagnosis and treatment remain to be seen — so while more Americans will have insurance, some will continue to be unable to pay for some of their care.

Big question: why is the US different from Thailand, Mexico, or China?  What makes the idea of universal access to medical treatment so complicated for us when it seems to be increasingly simple for countries that have lesser GDPs?

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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On April 11th 2012, the FDA finally took a step in the direction of protecting humans from the build-up of drug resistant bacteria.

Many don’t like to admit that bacteria are often smarter than even our best scientists. But the truth is that for every antibiotic we create, a stronger and more drug resistant strain of bacteria is generated.

NYTimes journalist Gardiner Harris writes, “Using small amounts of antibiotics over long periods of time leads to the growth of bacteria that are resistant to the drugs’ effects, endangering humans who become infected” (The New York Times). The New York Times also gives the estimate that 99,000 people die each year from infections they contracted at a hospital, and that the majority of these are due to resistant strains of bacteria.

Despite all of the research and data that has been collected, the US has done very little to cut back on the unnecessary use of antibiotics, specifically in the meat industry. Are we naively allowing industries interest to threaten the health of our entire population and especially of future generations?

The meat industry has been routinely including antibiotics in healthy livestock’s feed and water since the realization that it induced phenomenal growth.

One of the reasons antibiotics are not sold over the counter for human use is to reduce unnecessary use of such drugs that can create resistant strains of harmful bacteria. Until this April, however, there was hardly any regulation of antibiotic use for livestock.

The FDA announced on April 11th that in order for livestock to be given antibiotics, the antibiotics would need to be prescribed by a veterinarian. This was a victory in helping to preserve humans right to health. However, many more steps towards eliminating unnecessary antibiotic use are needed. Some are also concerned that both the meat and antibiotic industries will hold off making any changes in hope that the administration after the upcoming election will change the policy.

I am curious to see if people think this is a human rights issue where the government is failing to protect our right to health, or if people feel this is simply a policy issue.

Read more at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/12/us/antibiotics-for-livestock-will-require-prescription-fda-says.html

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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