United States

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.


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?

Earlier this month, I had World News with Diane Sawyer in the background as I was cleaning my apartment when a particular news report captured my attention. According to the report, Americans here in the United States are being screened too often for medical tests that they really do not need. In fact, a number of those additional medical tests are doing more harm than good. How so? Because there are a number of health risks that patients are being exposed to when these medical tests are being conducted, according to Dr. Christine Cassel, the president and chief executive officer of the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation. Therefore, in an effort to reduce this less than beneficial trend that appears to be transpiring in the healthcare world, the ABIM Foundation and Consumer Reports have teamed up to develop the “Choosing Wisely” project. In this project, nine physician groups have compiled a list of five medical tests–in a variety of fields–that are performed on patients more often than necessary. Those five tests are as follows: the cardiac stress test, chest x-rays, imaging tests that include MRIs and CT scans, colonoscopies, bone density scans, and bone mineral density tests, which are commonly known as dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, or a DEXA scan.

This news report honestly left me not only speechless, but a little outraged. As I speak, there is an elderly woman in a remote village in Africa whose osteoporosis has left her within the confinements of her home. She has neither the strength nor the money to afford the appropriate testing and treatment for her painful bone condition. Or, there is a gentleman in his early 60’s in southeast Asia suffering from symptoms that are evocative of colon cancer. However, he has never been properly diagnosed. He is reaching the end of his fight, for the cancer has spread. But if he had had access to a colonoscopy in his early 50’s, doctors could have not only detected his precancerous growths, but removed them as well. As a result, his death rate would have been reduced by 53%. I understand that there are a number of factors (lack of infrastructure, government funds, etc.) that influence whether or not citizens of third world countries can have access to the very same tests that Americans are being inundated with here in the U.S. But like we discussed in class a few weeks back, NGOs most not limit their focus to only  life-threatening illnesses; they must also promote the idea of “quality of life” by addressing non-communicable diseases (or NCDs) as well. To the surprise of many, there has been a shift of NCDs to developing countries, where 63% of deaths in third world countries are non-communicable in nature, and 1/3 of those deaths occur before the age of 60. If NGOs do not take the time to address and treat the occurrences of NCDs, they are in violation of the human right to a healthy life.


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.


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.

Read More

In the past month, two distinct court cases regarding inmates’ rights have been decided by the Supreme Court. Both cases found in favor of extending inmates’ rights on the grounds that the existing condition was a violation of the Eight Amendment, which protects all Americans from cruel and unusual punishment.

On March 27, 2012, 21 death row inmates won the federal case Beaty V. Food and Drug Administration, which will ban the use of sodium thiopental as an anesthetic given prior to lethal injections. The federal judge ruled that the drug (which is manufactured overseas) was unapproved and misbranded and that the FDA violated its own rules by allowing it to be distributed in the US without adequate testing of efficacy and safety. The inmates’ attorneys claimed that the drug may cause “anesthesia-awareness,” during which the anesthetized may experience pain, suffocation, or cardiac arrest.

Also in March of 2012, the Supreme Court ruled against reinstating a Wisconsin law which would ban state-funded hormone therapy and sex-change operations for its transgender inmates (Smith V. Fields). The court ruled that because doctors had deemed hormone therapy as medically necessary for patients with gender identity disorder, banning such therapy was a violation of the Eight Amendment.

The former is an example of a right we generally believe all people should have: the right to die a painless death. We have legal protection against cruel and unusual punishment in place to protect each and every one of us in the event that we are incarcerated and sentenced to death.

Globally, there are widely varying views on both inmates’ rights and the legality/morality of capital punishment. In the US, individual states decide whether or not they have the death penalty. Interestingly, we tend to discuss human rights universally, when it isn’t even a national concept. Read More

President Obama has sponsored legislation to protect the rights of women in the United States, this law is being contested by some religious organizations and conservative politicians. The law that is being debated requires employers to cover the cost of contraception. In class we have touched upon the fact that family planning increases the earning potential and political autonomy of women in developing nations. Is the situation different for women in the US?

According to an article by Nick Baumann “Most of Obama’s ‘Controversial’ Birth Control Rule Was Law During Bush Years.” US Senator John McCain has recently changed his position concerning womens right to birth control. According to the Senator “I think we ought to respect the right of women to make choices in their lives.” This is a novel idea. While I suspect that McCain may have some implicit political agenda in his change of stance, I see it as a move in the right direction. The truth about contraception and womens bodies is frequently concealed behind political agendas, as highlighted in a Huffington Post article by Kay Hall.

Opposition to the legislation comes from organizations that seek to “Restore Religious Freedom in America.” I do not personally understand how freedom is restored by limiting womens rights to make decisions concerning their own bodies. From my perspective the bill does not endanger religious freedom in any way, someone still has the option to choose not to use contraception. The bill does protect the rights of those who wish to use contraception.