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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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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

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.”

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.

When most Americans imagine Tuberculosis, they think of a disease that was active over 100 years ago.  They imagine people coughing, becoming frail and being sent to warm, dry climates as the disease progressed.  It was then often called “consumption” or “white plague”.  It is a bacterial infection that invades the lungs and destroys the lung tissue.  The bacteria can be spread when people cough, and is airborne.  

Bacille Calmette Guerin (BCG) is the vaccine that is now in use to protect against tuberculosis. It was first used in 1921.  BCG was first used as a vaccine in 1921. It was given to infants orally. Since 1921, this has been the standard treatment against TB and has been used extensively.  Today, it is estimated that more than 1 billion people have received BCG.  

A startling new finding has many people concerned:  Documentation of a “totally drug resistant strain of TB” has been found in India.  Last week, the World Health Organization convened to discuss these findings and to determine if a new classification must be added to the first TB description:  this new classification would be ‘totally drug-resistant TB,’ or TDR-TB. This means the disease has changed from one that could be treated with a six month course of antibiotics, to the emergence of MDR-TB, then extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB). The most disturbing aspect of these new discoveries, says Lucica Ditiu of the WHO’s Stop TB Partnership, is the fact that drug-resistant TB ‘is a totally man-made disease.'”

Bacteria, while simple creatures, are highly adaptable and can evolve to resist the drugs meant to destroy them. Mycobacterium tuberculosis is no exception.  In many areas of the world, TB is a major problem due to lack of vaccination and inability of the people of certain countries to obtain the antibiotics needed to cure them.  To explain this new strain of TB as being man made:  if a person has access to the TB antibiotic, and begins taking the recommended course, then stops for whatever reason—lack of access to the medicine, becoming too ill to travel to obtain the medicine, or simply feeling better and stopping the course of treatment on their own—the bacteria still present in their bodies begins to adapt to fight the antibiotic introduced.  This leaves the person uncured of the original infection, and now able to transmit a new strain of the adapted bacteria to others. 

 Dr Zarir Udwadia, a specialist in TB at the Hinduja National Hospital in Mumbai, recently published a paper in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal examining four cases of TDR-TB. He told Reuters that he has now seen 12 cases of TB where all known TB drugs were applied and none were successful. Three of the 12 cases are already dead.

The powerful TB drugs he tested on each patient, one after another, were first line treaments–isoniazid, rifampicin and streptomycin, and then a range of second line drugs like moxifloxacin, kanamycin and ethionamide. Each medicine did not work.

“If you add it all up, they were resistant to 12 drugs in total,” said Udwadia.

TB can lie dormant in a patient for many years before showing signs of infection.  As TB can now be considered an untreatable disease, the world needs to gear up for epidemic that may be crippling.

 

 

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.

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.