Monday, 31 May 2010

MALNUTRITION: Gaza food supplies strangled by 1,000-day blockade

RAMALLAH, 30 May 2010 (IRIN) - The amount and quality of food available to the estimated 1.5 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip has been severely restricted by more than 1,000 days of a near-complete blockade, states a UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) report. [] "Sixty-one percent of the Gaza population is food insecure," said Sarah Leppert, FAO's communications adviser for the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "There is a diverse range of foods available in Gaza; the problem is people do not have the means to purchase the food due to rising poverty and unemployment, now nearly 39 percent." Israel's import and access restrictions continue to suffocate the agriculture sector in Gaza, directly contributing to rising food insecurity, said acting Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt), Philippe Lazzarini, in a joint statement with humanitarian aid agencies, and the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA), representing more than 80 NGOs [] on 25 May from Gaza. Protein-rich foods such as meat and poultry are especially difficult for Gazans to afford. Families have resorted to coping mechanisms including borrowing money and relying on aid from humanitarian agencies operating in Gaza, said Leppert. The World Health Organization (WHO) is concerned by rising malnutrition indicators - increased cases of stunting, wasting and underweight children - and continuing high rates of anaemia among children and pregnant women. []. A poverty survey conducted by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) shows that the number of Palestine refugees unable to access food and lacking the means to purchase even the most basic items, such as soap, school stationery and safe drinking water, has tripled since the imposition of the blockade in June 2007. [] "Thirty eggs used to cost seven NIS [Israeli shekels, about US$1.83], and now they cost 14 NIS [about $3.65]," said shop-owner Mahmoud Alkhor, 22, in Gaza City. Without a change in policy, aid dependency is only likely to grow, warns UNRWA, which is providing basic sustenance to nearly 80 percent of the Gaza population. Furthermore, the reduction in electricity supplies to Gaza as part of the Israeli blockade causes significant damage to vegetable crops due to the lack of refrigeration, as well as adding to production costs, says the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). [] Health risks Goods coming through the tunnels from Egypt, sold at inflated prices and inaccessible to most Gazans, are not a viable solution, according to aid agencies in Gaza. "FAO is particularly concerned about the possible health risks posed by the unregulated entry of livestock and veterinary medicines to Gaza from Egypt via tunnels," said Leppert, fearing possible animal diseases in Gaza and transboundary disease outbreaks in the region. Since January 2009, Israeli naval forces have restricted the access of Gaza fishing boats to only three nautical miles from shore, often reduced to as much as 2nm in practice. Between 2008 and 2009, the total fishing catch decreased by 47 percent, and is insufficient to meet the demands of Gaza's growing population, according to FAO. However, according to Israel's Gaza District Coordination Office (DCO), there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. "Israel allows the passage of basic goods, building materials [for UN projects], products for agriculture; for example, Israel allowed 15 farmers to leave the strip two months ago for an education programme on farming in the Arava Institute [for Environmental Studies]," the DCO said. "Israel does not ration the amount of goods into Gaza provided they are on the list of permitted items; we also transfer vaccinations and other products for the farming sector. We work in cooperation with merchants and farmers and are attentive to their needs." Head of the DCO, Colonel Moshe Levi, told reporters on 26 May: "We do not know of a shortage in any field, and we enable the entrance of various different goods, and also the export of agricultural products from the Gaza Strip. Anything that would help Hamas to increase its military power is obviously not permitted to enter."

MALNUTRITION: Risk estimation

NAIROBI, 31 May 2010 (IRIN) - Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iran and Pakistan top a new ranking of countries at "extreme risk" of experiencing natural disasters compiled by a global risk assessment company. The Natural Disaster Risk Index (NDRI), released on 27 May by Maplecroft, ranks 229 countries according to the human impact of natural disasters in terms of deaths per annum and per million of population, plus the frequency of events as well as the likelihood of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, storms, flooding, droughts, landslides, extreme temperatures and epidemics. Asia accounts for most of the disaster-related deaths since 1980. Ranking countries most vulnerable to natural disasters over the past 30 years could enable businesses and investors to identify risks to international assets while supporting humanitarian efforts to push governments into investing in disaster risk reduction initiatives. African countries at extreme risk are Ethiopia, Sudan and Mozambique, with 95 percent of casualties due to drought. Since 1980 drought has caused 9,800 deaths in Ethiopia, 5,300 in Sudan (ranked fifth) and over 3,400 in Mozambique (ninth). According to experts, unlike earthquakes and storms, drought damage is more difficult to detect, both in terms of human lives and economic loss because it is a slow onset disaster.

Malaria Kills: Distributing 63 Million Bednets in Nigeria with RapidSMS

The human and economic cost of malaria in Nigeria is staggering. There are currently 110 million clinically diagnosed cases in a population of 151 million. Malaria kills 250,000 children under five years old in Nigeria every year, and is the cause of 11% of maternal deaths. 60% of out-patient visits and 30% of hospitalizations in the country are malaria-related.
In addition to the enormous toll malaria takes on public health, it is also expensive. 132 billion Naira (USD $870 million) is lost every year in the form of malaria prevention and treatment costs and from the loss of overall economic productivity.

 And yet in spite of the risk malaria poses to the Nigerian people, health surveys from 2006 to 2008 indicated that only 8% of households in the country owned at least one insecticide-treated net (So-called ITNs).
Needless to say, there is an urgent need for ramped-up malaria prevention efforts in Nigeria. 

The Nigerian government has been collaborating with a variety of international organizations, including the World Bank, World Health Organization, UNDP and UNICEF on a campaign to “Roll Back Malaria.” This effort has led to the creation of the National Malaria Control Program (NMCP) that seeks to unify all of the disparate pieces of the Nigerian malaria control strategy at the national, regional and local levels.
In its
2006-2010 strategic plan, the NMCP sets out the goals of “a reduction of [the] malaria burden by half (50%) by the year 2010 compared to the year 2000.” UNICEF is a key partner in the Nigerian anti-malaria campaign, supplying “safe, effective and affordable anti-malaria interventions.” NMCP and UNICEF have called for the distribution 63 million insecticide-treated bednets to Nigerian households by the end of 2010. According to Naawa Sipilanyambe, UNICEF Nigeria's Chief of Health and Nutrition, by February 2010, 80% of households in 10 states had received ITNs through the initiative. As of March 2010, 16.5 million ITNs have been distributed in 11 states.
No Data Means Decision Making in the Dark
“Often, we feel we’re making decisions in the dark.” According to Tim Akinbo, a local software developer who works with UNICEF in Nigeria, this is the feedback UNICEF field staff would offer when asked about the challenges they encountered in doing their work. Indeed, when rolling out a logistically complex initiative like the large-scale distribution of bednets, implementation teams constantly need to find ways to work around the constraints in large-scale aid delivery. Poor infrastructure, issues related to transportation and communication, difficulties of accessing and working in remote locations all test the supply chain management of aid organizations.
UNICEF Innovation, working with its country offices, launched a mobile technology initiative in 2008 to address the challenges in on-the-ground data collection and supply chain management in aid delivery. RapidSMS, on of the products that orginitated with the Innovation team, is a free, open-source framework for dynamic data collection, logistics coordination, and communication. The software was introduced as a tool to resolve a common problem in the delivery of aid projects: How can relevant be collected and accessed data faster?
RapidSMS in Supply Chain Management
RapidSMS was developed by UNICEF Innovation in partnership with the technology company
Dimagi, along with members of the Open Mobile Consortium. RapidSMS implementations across Africa capitalize on the growing prevalence of mobile phones on the continent, and the ease and cost-effectiveness of text messaging to allow for better and more timely coordination of aid delivery projects. Following a famine in Ethiopia in 2008, UNICEF carried out a large-scale food distribution program with the help of mobile phones targeting malnourished children at more than 1,800 feeding centers. RapidSMS was first used to track the real-time availability and delivery of food aid in remote locations, helping to eliminate the kind of delays a paper-based data collection system creates.

MALNUTRITION: Sri Lanka statistics

Child malnutrition is considerably high in the North and East Provinces and has reached 46 percent out of a national average of 29 percent, a Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) revealed.In two provinces the prevalence of malnutrition is significantly greater among boys, (50 percent ), than among girls (42 percent). This gender differential is in sharp contrast to the malnutrition pattern in the rest of the country, where malnutrition rates are very similar among boys and girls.The age pattern of malnutrition shows that children who are underweight reaches a peak in the age group 12-35 months, and then tapers of slightly to 36-59 months. This age limit is similar to the rest of the country, according to the survey.The differences in malnutrition in urban and rural areas are small, varying by one percentage point. The survey found that the lack of maternal education is strongly associated with the lower levels of malnutrition.The prevalence of child malnutrition among uneducated mothers is 63 percent. As the education level of mothers rises, the prevalence of child malnutrition declines to 54 percent for primary educated mothers, 42 percent among secondary educated mothers and 36 percent among tertiary educated mothers.This pattern is consistent with evidence from the rest of the country which also shows a favourable association between maternal education and child malnutrition.At the district level, within the Northern and Eastern provinces, Batticaloa 53 percent and Vavuniya 51 percent shows the worst levels of child malnutrition. The child malnutrition in Trincomalee is 45 percent, Ampara 44 percent and Jaffna 43 percent is the best among the Northern and Eastern provinces.

MALNUTRITION: Niger, Gadabeji Reserve drought

GADABEJI, Niger — At this time of year, the Gadabeji Reserve should be refuge for the nomadic tribes who travel across a moonscape on the edge of the Sahara to graze their cattle. But the grass is meager after a drought killed off the last year's crops. Now the cattle are too weak to stand and too skinny to sell, leaving the poor without any way to buy grain to feed their families.
The threat of famine is again stalking the Sahel, a band of semiarid land stretching across Africa south of the Sahara. The U.N. World Food Program warned on Friday that some 10 million people face hunger over the next three months before the next harvest in September — if it comes.
"People have lost crops, livestock, and the ability to cope on their own, and the levels of malnutrition among women and children have already risen to very high levels," said Thomas Yanga, WFP Regional Director for West Africa.
The U.N.'s humanitarian chief, John Holmes, said at the end of a four-day visit to neighboring Chad that many Chadians have gone as far as Libya to search for food.
"The level of malnutrition is already beyond the danger point," Holmes said Thursday. "If we do not act now or as quickly as possible, there is a chance the food crisis will become a disaster."
In Niger, some say the growing food crisis could be worse than the one that struck the country in 2005, when aid organizations treated tens of thousands of children for malnutrition.
"We have lost so much we cannot count," said one 45-year-old tribesman with a family of 20 to feed. He and others on Gadabeji Reserve drive starving donkeys through the burnt orange haze of a sandstorm to gather what little water they can on the desiccated plain and struggle to draw water from private wells.

TUBERCULOSIS: Human T cell epitopes of Mycobacterium tuberculosis are evolutionarily hyperconserved

Mycobacterium tuberculosis is an obligate human pathogen capable of persisting in individual hosts for decades. We sequenced the genomes of 21 strains representative of the global diversity and six major lineages of the M. tuberculosis complex (MTBC) at 40- to 90-fold coverage using Illumina next-generation DNA sequencing. We constructed a genome-wide phylogeny based on these genome sequences. Comparative analyses of the sequences showed, as expected, that essential genes in MTBC were more evolutionarily conserved than nonessential genes. Notably, however, most of the 491 experimentally confirmed human T cell epitopes showed little sequence variation and had a lower ratio of nonsynonymous to synonymous changes than seen in essential and nonessential genes. We confirmed these findings in an additional data set consisting of 16 antigens in 99 MTBC strains. These findings are consistent with strong purifying selection acting on these epitopes, implying that MTBC might benefit from recognition by human T cells.


A rare case of tuberculosis has Lenawee County Health Department officials busy testing circles of family members and co-workers who could now be carrying the bacteria even if they do not have the disease.The tuberculosis case confirmed earlier this month sparked a discussion at Wednesday’s county health board meeting on the department’s role in supervising treatment of tuberculosis patients.It is only the second tuberculosis case in Lenawee County since 2004.“This used to ravage this country. It used to ravage the world,” Dr. Dennis Chernin, Lenawee County medical director, said.Diagnosed patients are now closely supervised during the treatment process to ensure they are cured, Chernin said. People who had prolonged contact with patients are identified and tested to stop the disease from spreading.“It’s one of the classic public health roles,” Chernin said. “It’s one of the really important things we do.”Where the current Lenawee County patient was infected with tuberculosis has not been determined, he said. People can be infected with the bacteria and carry it for years, he said, before a weakening of the immune system or something else allows the disease to take hold.Weight loss and a bloody cough are the most common symptoms, and are what triggered a report of a possible infection by the patient’s physician, Chernin said. A DNA probe used by the Michigan Department of Community Health was used to confirm and identify the strain of tuberculosis within 24 hours

Tuberculosis: China statistics

More than 1 million tuberculosis (TB) patients are receiving the standard anti-TB treatment provided by China National Tuberculosis Prevention and Control Scheme (CNTS) in China every year. Adverse reactions (ADRs) induced by anti-TB drugs could both do harm to patients and lead to anti-TB treatment failure. The ADACS aimed to explore ADRs' incidences, prognoses, economical and public health impacts for TB patients and TB control, and build a DNA bank of TB patients.

TUBERCULOSIS: Beijing genotype

Drug resistant (DR) and multi-drug resistant (MDR) tuberculosis (TB) is increasing worldwide. In some parts of the world 10% or more of new TB cases are MDR. The Beijing genotype is a distinct genetic lineage of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which is distributed worldwide, and has caused large outbreaks of MDR-TB. It has been proposed that certain lineages of M. tuberculosis, such as the Beijing lineage, may have specific adaptive advantages. We have investigated the presence and transmission of DR Beijing strains in the Swedish population.
Methodology/Principal Findings
All DR M. tuberculosis complex isolates between 1994 and 2008 were studied. Isolates that were of Beijing genotype were investigated for specific resistance mutations and phylogenetic markers. Seventy (13%) of 536 DR strains were of Beijing genotype. The majority of the patients with Beijing strains were foreign born, and their country of origin reflects the countries where the Beijing genotype is most prevalent. Multidrug-resistance was significantly more common in Beijing strains than in non-Beijing strains. There was a correlation between the Beijing genotype and specific resistance mutations in the katG gene, the mabA-inhA-promotor and the rpoB gene. By a combined use of RD deletions, spoligotyping, IS1547, mutT gene polymorphism and Rv3135 gene analysis the Beijing strains could be divided into 11 genomic sublineages. Of the patients with Beijing strains 28 (41%) were found in altogether 10 clusters (2–5 per cluster), as defined by RFLP IS6110, while 52% of the patients with non-Beijing strains were in clusters. By 24 loci MIRU-VNTR 31 (45%) of the patients with Beijing strains were found in altogether 7 clusters (2–11 per cluster). Contact tracing established possible epidemiological linkage between only two patients with Beijing strains.
Although extensive outbreaks with non-Beijing TB strains have occurred in Sweden, Beijing strains have not taken hold, in spite of the proximity to high prevalence countries such as Russia and the Baltic countries. The Beijing sublineages so far introduced in Sweden may not be adapted to spread in the Scandinavian population.

TUBERCULOSIS: new form of early test

Thursday, May 27, 2010
By Juan Diasgranados - Doctors hope a new test for tuberculosis will be available soon because it can confirm the presence of the disease in 45 minutes rather than the six weeks required by the current test.
Doctors said they are close to being able to use a new test that will allow them to diagnose cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis in 90 minutes, down from six weeks. Cepheid geneXpert, a new TB test jointly developed by Cepheid and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, allows specimens to be tested with high-tech equipment in health settings and to produce results while patients are still in their doctors' offices.The test, which doctors hope will be approved soon, would lead to earlier diagnosis and earlier treatment for patients. A spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration said the test is under review but had no information about when a decision will be made.The current test, sputum microscopy, was developed in 1882 and is outdated. It takes six weeks to obtain results, and in that time, doctors lose track of some patients and others die.The Center for Global Health Policy held a briefing last week to discuss its new publication, "Confronting the Global HIV and Tuberculosis Epidemics." The center is a project of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medicine Association through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.The new publication highlights projects doctors and researchers have been working on that will soon allow them to test tuberculosis patients and shrink the time it takes to diagnose drug-resistant tuberculosis from six weeks to 90 minutes. New tuberculosis drugs will offer a safer and faster cure for standard and drug-resistant tuberculosis.According to the center's website, HIV and tuberculosis are the world's top two most deadly infectious diseases. In 2008, 2 million people died from HIV/AIDS. Tuberculosis claimed the lives of 1.8 million people.Doctors and professionals at the briefing spoke about the deadly epidemics and new discoveries in science that can dramatically change the routes of these diseases."A lot has been accomplished," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "But tuberculosis is still a threat, and there's still a lot that needs to be done."Fauci said there is only one vaccine for tuberculosis."The current vaccine right now is not very good ... but I'm staying optimistic that one day soon down the line we will have a more effective vaccine for TB," he said.According to the Center for Global Health Policy, the Bacille Calmette Guerin vaccine is the only vaccine for tuberculosis. The vaccine is effective at preventing the disease in children but not for adults.At the briefing, doctors said patients who are infected with both HIV and tuberculosis usually have a high risk of death. The two diseases work synergistically, speeding up the progression of illness. In 2007, one in four deaths from tuberculosis was HIV related.Speakers echoed the need for new policies and the need to push U.S. officials to make "key decisions" in the next few weeks when the debate over global health spending arises. The center is hoping for more funding to provide more research and diagnostic testing along with opportunities to open treatment centers overseas.Dr. Kenneth Mayer, director of the Brown University AIDS program, emphasized the importance of making people around the world award of these issues."We need to push our government and really think strategically how we use our resources to help this crisis," Mayer said.Mayer ended the briefing by saying, "progress has been made, but more can be done. Tuberculosis is still growing."


VALDOSTA, GA (WALB) –While we don't hear much about tuberculosis, it's still around.
South Health District officials say they see about three cases of tuberculosis per year in Lowndes County.

TUBERCULOSIS: Kentucky, bovine

Two beef cattle in Kentucky have tested positive for bovine tuberculosis, and state veterinarian Robert Stout says results are pending on a third animal.
Stout said Wednesday that the two infected cows were in a Fleming County herd in northern Kentucky, but he said the three animals didn't enter the food supply.
He said the disease was discovered when a cow from the farm was slaughtered in Pennsylvania and tested positive. Stout said the rest of the herd was tested, and two other cattle were suspected of having the disease. One tested positive for the disease.
Stout said Kentucky has been classified as free of bovine tuberculosis since 1987. He said that status would likely not change if no other animals test positive in the next six months.
Bovine tuberculosis causes severe coughing, fatigue, emaciation and debilitation in cattle and results in reduced milk and meat production.
Humans can catch the disease from contact with infected cattle, but that's rare.

BIOTERRORISM: tool to detect viruses and bacteria

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California has announced a new tool that will aid law enforcement in detecting and identifying the agents of a bioterrorism attack.
The Lawrence Livermore Microbial Detection Array (LLMDA), developed between October 2007 and February 2008, detects viruses and bacteria using 388,000 probes arranged in a checkerboard pattern in the middle of a one-inch-wide by three-inch-long glass slide. The current version contains probes that can detect more than 2,000 viruses and about 900 bacteria within a 24-hour period.
“The ability to detect the major bacterial and viral components of any sample can be used in countless different ways,” said Tom Slezak, the program’s associate leader for informatics. “This is important because it fills a cost-performance gap that is relevant to many missions: biodefense, public health and product safety.”
“The LLMDA allows us to not only identify the biological pathogens on a priority screening list, but also any other already-sequenced bacteria or virus in a sample that you might not have been expecting to find, including possible novel or emerging pathogens,” he added.
The team is already testing a next-generation LLMDA with 2.1 million probes and they plan to update probes with new sequences of bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms every year.
The detection array will be evaluated for operational bio-forensic use at the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in Maryland.

BIOTERRORISM: New smallpox vaccine

The United States government has started stockpiling both a newer and safer version of smallpox vaccine. The vaccine, Denmark-based Bavarian Nordic's Imvamune, is made with modified vaccinia ankara. This is a much safer alternative to the cowpox vaccines that have been used for generations.
Company officials say the first shipments of the new and improved smallpox vaccine arrived in the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile last week, within hours of a World Health Organization ceremony marking eradication of the disease. This is widely regarded as one of the greatest public health achievements of all time. Of course with the threat of bioterrorism, and the fact that the virus still lives, there is still considerable risk to the public if enough of the vaccine isn't stockpiled.
For example, the virus lives in freezers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and possibly in Russia, where Soviet scientists are believed to have created tons of weaponized smallpox. The breakup of the Soviet Union and the rise of global terrorism led the United States about ten years ago to begin stockpiling vaccine.
If Russia has smallpox; who else does? That's likely the larger question that no one is coming out and directly asking. Today, however, Randall Larsen, CEO of the non-profit Weapons of Mass Destruction Center, said that the national stockpile now contains 300 million doses of the vaccine.

BIOTERRORISM: Tularemia vaccine

Scientists have created an experimental agent found to confer some protection to mice against deadly tularemia bacteria by prompting an immune response to the potential bioterrorism agent, the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced yesterday (see GSN, May 18).
Sixty percent of mice in the study lived when they were infected with tularemia three days after being administered components drawn from a weakened version of the bacteria. No mice survived exposure if not given the treatment.
In addition, similar treatments conferred protection to human immune cells against tularemia as well as fellow possible bioweapons brucellosis, melioidosis and plague.
Traditional antibiotics function through direct opposition to harmful bacteria, according to a press release.
"A therapeutic that protects against a wide array of bacterial pathogens would have enormous medical and public health implications for naturally occurring infections and potential agents of bioterrorism," NIAID head Anthony Fauci said in a statement. "This creative approach is a prime example of public-private partnerships that can facilitate progress from a basic research finding to new, desperately needed novel therapeutics" (U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
release, May 27).

BIOTERRORISM: Threat versus reality of other diseases

Smallpox was eradicated as a naturally occurring disease more than 30 years ago, thanks to a determined vaccination effort from the World Health Organisation. Nevertheless, it remains on the radar of most health agencies and, just a few years ago, the New England Journal of Medicine ran a special edition on the subject.
The fear is not that the disease could spread from a developing country, as happened in 1970 when a man returned to Germany from Pakistan with smallpox. Today, the perceived threat is that the virus could be deliberately introduced as an act of bioterrorism or war. Some scientists alleged that Russia was producing the virus well into the 1990s. But the stock of smallpox remains tiny: only a couple of laboratories store and research it, including the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
The idea that all remaining stocks could be destroyed was suggested a decade ago and then dismissed. If bioterrorist threats were real, the argument went, then research on smallpox was still needed. However, these storage facilities are an obvious terrorist target and can cause accidental damage. The year after the WHO declared the world smallpox-free, a case arose, traced to a laboratory. Polio, too, has been released via a lab worker.
So, intermittently, the prospect of mass vaccination against smallpox rears its head. The last mass immunisation took place in 1968 in the US, when 14.2 million people were vaccinated. As that last round showed, the side effects can be severe: nine people had a fatal reaction.
Smallpox isn’t the only bioterrorist threat. Anthrax spores were released in the US mail system in 2001, causing five deaths and great alarm. Thousands of people who had no risk of exposure took antibiotics to be “safe”. Investigations revealed that the real-life hazard of the spores was extremely remote. Nevertheless, the US went on to research a vaccine for anthrax, and public health departments worldwide retain a remit to ensure “preparedness” for bioterrorism.
But isn’t all this rather a waste of effort? Predicting even the partially predictable, as we have seen with swine flu, is a dangerous game. Right now, the evidence tells us that people get sick and die younger than they need to because of poverty, dirty water, smoking and alcohol abuse as well as treatable illnesses such as TB, HIV, or malaria. We are all facing sharp budget cuts and health spending is not going to be untouched. Let’s deal with the facts, not fear.

BIOTERRORISM: The threat is real

According to Dr. C.J. Peters, former chief of special pathogens for the Centers for Disease Control and former head of the U.S. Army’s Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases disease assessment division, bioterrorism is a very real threat.Peters, in an interview with WebMD, noted that, first and foremost, bioterrorism is a very complex issue and that biological attacks could come in a variety of different ways. Tularemia, plague, smallpox, anthrax, and viral hemorrhagic fevers, like Ebola, all pose potential threats.“Those bugs can all be grown in large quantities at a special state-sponsored factory or some other factory such as the Japanese terrorist cult in Tokyo,” Peters told WebMD. “They could be spread around in an airborne fashion so as to infect many people. "The only one of these that can spread from person to person is smallpox. The others only have limited ability to spread from one person to another.”There is a concern that smallpox has or could fall into terrorist hands, Peters said.“That is why the government has 7.5 million doses of smallpox vaccine stored away and why they are contracting to make 300 million more doses,” Peters told WebMD. “The other bugs can make you very sick and have a mortality rate of up to 100 percent if not treated, but they won't spread and cause an epidemic.”Peters stressed it’s a fool’s game to try to outguess terrorists because they all have different motives, capabilities and abilities. The answer, he said, lies in strengthening our public health infrastructure.“There are some things that we must guard against more specifically, and those are anthrax, smallpox, plague, tularemia and the viral hemorrhagic fevers,” Peters told WebMD. “These are capable of causing so many deaths and such disruption that we are obliged to make specific plans for them. That's why the U.S. is purchasing additional smallpox vaccine and has been stockpiling antibiotics.”As far as the threat posed by bioterrorist attack, Peters said the threat is real.“Three months ago you could mention the idea of bioterrorism at any level and someone would quickly give you 10 reasons why it could not possibly happen,” Peters said. “Nevertheless, government reports based on very bright and well-informed persons who had no ax to grind, said that we should be worried about terrorism in general, including explosives, nuclear devices, biological agents, and chemical agents. There warnings were unequivocal.”

POVERTY: the dual aspects of migration

Migration is often caused by poverty. Similarly, poverty can be alleviated by migration. In developing countries, migration is seen simply as a flight from poverty since there are no opportunities available locally.
migration has been taking place since the dawn of human civilisation. At present, migration takes place because of the integration of global labour markets and workforces, and easy transportation.
The World Bank estimates that in 2008 remittances from migrants amounted to approximately US$444 billion, out of which $338 billion went to poorer countries.
In these days of globalisation, capital, goods and services move easily from country to country, but movement of people is restricted by strict im
migration laws.
Intending migrants, therefore, find it very difficult to move from one country to another, although there is a huge demand for workers in industrialised countries.
Even in the supposed enlightenment of the 21st century, most people prefer people of their own type and find different cultures strange or unacceptable. I would not call it racism but a miserable mindset towards another human being.
In 2004, James Wolfensohn, former president of the World Bank, accused rich countries of spending $900 billion on defence, $300 billion on subsidies for their farmers and just $50 billion to $60 billion on aid, of which just half is in cash rather than loans. "That is the fundamental imbalance that one needs to deal with, and it is just so clear," he says.
He recognised that some rich countries spend money on war against terrorism but do not come up with more money for improving the social and economic conditions of poor young people who are unemployed and deprived of the basic necessities of life.
Sending aid to poor countries has merit but it cannot end worldwide poverty. Poverty breeds unrest and conflict, and eventually leads to an unstable world. Instability in one region affects other regions.
Year after year, almost all rich nations, except a few Scandinavian nations, have constantly failed to reach their agreed obligations of the 0.7 per cent GNI target on official development aid set by the UN in 1970.
Recent increases in foreign aid do not tell the whole truth about rich countries' generosity, or the lack of it. Moreover, official development assistance (ODA) is often of dubious quality. Analysts say that in many cases:
-Aid is primarily designed to serve the strategic and economic interests of the donor countries.
-Aid is primarily designed to benefit powerful domestic interest groups.
-Aid systems are based on the interests of donors instead of the needs of recipient-countries.
-Too little aid reaches countries that most desperately need it.
-Agriculture's share of total ODA dropped to less than 5 per cent compared with 18 per cent in 1980.
-All too often, aid is wasted on overpriced goods and services from donor countries.
Given the above context, the best way to ameliorate worldwide poverty is to increase
migration to rich countries, where the population is getting smaller.
In 2009, the amount of money sent by the migrants was $10.72 billion, constituting about 12 per cent of GDP of Bangladesh. It is estimated that almost the same amount comes through unofficial channels every year. Remittance is the second biggest source of foreign exchange for the country.
According to a report, in the next 30 years the labour force in Germany will shrink from 41 million to 21 million, and from 23 million to 11 million in Italy. Japan will require about 90,000 a year, falling to a longer-term figure of about 700,000 a year.
Left to their own devices, intending migrant workers from poorer countries would gravitate to richer countries, leading to a rough equilibrium between the world's resources and its population.
Migration faces restrictive im
migration policies and currently it seems that richer countries are moving to an age of "anti-migration." National security is commonly used to justify a tight migration policy. While each country has a legitimate right to security, richer countries allow entry of tourists from middle income and rich countries - but not of migrants.
Some argue that entry of migrants would lead to cultural dilution. However, a multi-cultural society can be seen in a positive light as cultural enrichment.
The general finding of most studies of
migration in non-disaster situations is that it is not the poorest who can move but those with access to some resources, no matter how meagre these might appear.
Migration always involves costs of transportation and the abandonment of many of the few possessions the poor might have. A recent study by IOM in Bangladesh has shown that 59.5 percent of the cost is spent on agents and brokers, that the poorest of the poor cannot afford to migrate, and that the majority starves in situ.
According to many specialists, the weight of the evidence provides support that the movement of population can be a significant factor in the alleviation of worldwide poverty.
The words of John Kenneth Galbraith appear to capture the essence of the whole relationship: "Migration is the oldest action against poverty. It selects those who most want help. It is good for the country to which they go; it helps to break the equilibrium of poverty in the country from which they come. What is the perversity in the human soul that causes people to resist so obvious a good?"
Is the unfettered
migration going to happen in future? The answer is in the negative because narrow mindset and prejudice are such powerful forces that they are likely to reverse the "fortress" policy of rich countries. Let there a debate on this issue under the auspices of the UN because, in the globalised world, all countries are dependent on each other.

POVERTY: Price fixing of food by protectionist policy

we should be outraged at the protectionist agricultural policies of already-rich nations such as the United States. When we allow the agricultural lobby to garner sweetheart deals from the U.S. House and Senate, the poor in other nations simply cannot compete with American growers of many crops because the trade rules are so utterly slanted against those in other nations.
For example, it is illegal for sugar buyers in the United States to purchase their sugar from sources outside the United States, even though the world price of sugar lies below the federally mandated price of sugar in the United States. This is wonderful, though, for U.S. sugar beet growers in the United States; it means they have a captive supply of buyers at a price that is being kept artificially high by federal decree. If the United States were to abandon such self-centered policies, sugar growers everywhere would have access to our markets, and the price of sugar would fall for all of us.
Moreover, confectioners and soft-drink makers in the United States would be able to produce their goods at lower costs, thereby adding to their job security. In one well publicized case in 2002, the Life-Savers candy factory in Holland, Michigan, was relocated to Canada, though the Michigan factory had been in operation for over thirty-five years and employed six hundred or so American workers. By moving to the northern side of the U.S.-Canada border, Life Savers slashed its input costs dramatically because, in Canada, Life-Savers was free to buy cane sugar at the world price: sugar grown by those who need the income most.
Sugar is not the only market we currently protect to keep out lower-priced commodities in an effort to help poor farmers in the United States. We have erected similar barriers that turn a blind eye to the plight of the global poor in markets for cotton, peanuts, and several other products that we can grow at home. In fact, by now you can probably see another reason why coffee prices are low. Because coffee cannot be grown in Ohio, or in France, rich northerners have not erected protectionist barriers to keep out the coffee that foreigners make.
If we really care about the global poor, we should work to make trade freer for everyone in our global community: a level playing field for all. That means tearing down all of the barriers we use to keep the global poor from working in the very jobs in which they are perfectly positioned to make the greatest lasting gains.

POVERTY: Personal expenditure, alcohol comes first

[I]f the poorest families spent as much money educating their children as they do on wine, cigarettes and prostitutes, their children's prospects would be transformed...
...Here in this Congolese village of Mont-Belo, we met a bright fourth grader, Jovali Obamza, who is about to be expelled from school because his family is three months behind in paying fees...
...The dad, Georges Obamza, who weaves straw stools that he sells for $1 each, is unmistakably very poor. He said that the family is eight months behind on its $6-a-month rent and is in danger of being evicted, with nowhere to go.
The Obamzas have no mosquito net, even though they have already lost two of their eight children to malaria. They say they just can't afford the $6 cost of a net. Nor can they afford the $2.50-a-month tuition for each of their three school-age kids.
"It's hard to get the money to send the kids to school," Mr. Obamza explained, a bit embarrassed...
In addition, Mr. Obamza goes drinking several times a week at a village bar, spending about $1 an evening on moonshine... almost as much as the family rent and school fees combined.
I asked Mr. Obamza why he prioritizes alcohol over educating his kids. He looked pained.
Other villagers said that Mr. Obamza drinks less than the average man in the village...

POVERTY: G7 performance short of target

WASHINGTON, May 25 (Reuters) - The world's seven industrialized nations have fallen short on their promises to double aid to Africa by 2010, according to a report on Tuesday by ONE Campaign against poverty.
ONE Campaign, supported by U2 singer Bono and rocker Bob Geldof, has provided an annual scorecard of the Group of Seven nations' progress in meeting pledges they made at the 2005 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland.
The G7 leaders' summit promised to increase aid by up to $50 billion from $25 billion, write off the debts of 18 of the world's poorest countries, and cut trade subsidies and tariffs under the Doha round of global trade negotiations.
A final verdict on the Gleneagles targets may only be forthcoming next year, but ONE Campaign said it had enough data to show that the G7 -- Britain, the United States, Germany, France, Canada, Italy and
Japan -- fell short of its promises.
The report said
Italy was "an utter failure" as a G7 member, saying it had retreated on its promises by cutting aid from 2004 levels, which brought down the G7 average.
ONE declared Britain "the indisputable overall leader" in meeting the Gleneagles commitments and said the United States, Canada and
Japan delivered on, and surpassed, modest targets. France and Germany both set ambitious targets but are on course to deliver on only a quarter of them.
The report called for a new era of development to meet the UN's Millennium Development Goals, in which more than 150 heads of state signed on to eight goals that include halving poverty by 2015

POVERTY: G7 goals

Bono’s international anti-poverty group ONE issued a report Tuesday showing that promises made to African countries at the 2005 Gleneagles G8 summit yielded historic increases in development assistance over the past five years.
The report, which was released at a news conference in Ottawa, predicts that, by the end of this year, the G7 countries (the G8 minus Russia) will have delivered 61 per cent of their 2005 pledge to double aid to sub-Saharan Africa.
That is short of the original goal but means that aid to Africa has increased by $13.7-billion (U.S.), the largest increase for Africa in such a span.
“In the five years since the Gleneagles Summit, the G7’s aid to Africa has increased at almost three times the rate it did in the first half of the last decade,” said David Lane, president and chief executive of ONE.
“That support has helped put more than 40 million African children into school, halved malaria deaths in a string of countries, and funded innovative projects such as using mobile phones to help African citizens hold their authorities to account. Effective aid and debt cancellation have delivered measurable, life changing results.”
Canada, which will host the G8 this year in Muskoka, Japan and the United States all set relatively modest targets in 2005 but have exceeded them, Mr. Lane said.
France and Germany set more ambitious goals but are likely to deliver approximately one quarter of them.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

MALNUTRITION: Liberia; the issue of ignorance

International organisations and the government must look at the problem of malnutrition in Liberia as an educational challenge rather than just a health issue in order to save children's lives.The United Nations estimates that 44 percent of childhood deaths in the country are due to malnutrition, making it the most common cause of child mortality.U.N. agencies have warned that if efforts to address key nutritional problems such as children being underweight, stunted growth or micronutrient deficiencies are not accelerated, some 78,000 Liberian women and children will die and 87,000 babies will be born mentally retarded."The problem is that people do not know that the problem is occurring and only learn that their children are malnourished after the child is brought sick to hospital and nurses diagnose malnutrition," said Samson Azorquoi, the acting medical director of Phebe Hospital in Bong county, central Liberia."The war has ended but the nutritional crisis has not ended," he added.Phebe Hospital runs a major nutrition recovery centre supported by the United Nations Children's agency (UNICEF) that serves thousands of people, including those from neighbouring countries like Guinea and the Ivory Coast.On a recent visit there, two of its patients, Josiah and Josephine, 17-month-old twins were being treated in a ward for severe acute malnutrition cases. They were tired and in tears with rising temperatures. Their mother - who did not want to be named and said she did not know her own age - looked overwhelmed by the circumstances at times."They just fell sick and when I brought them here the nurse told me they had to be admitted," said the mother of four.Her eldest son, who is 4 years old, had also suffered from wasting and had been brought in for treatment. But now she knows what she needs to give her children to keep them healthy.

MALNUTRITION: Food prices rising

There are indications that most African countries would be faced with the challenge of child malnutrition in the nearest future if urgent steps are not taken to arrest the ugly situation. Malnutrition is described as a state of illness or weakness which occurs as a result of being malnourished, while malnourishment is also a state of not eating enough or good food.
Hikes in Food Prices
The current food price hikes in the continent is not helping matters at all as it further helped in raising micronutrient deficiencies, with its negative consequences such as impaired cognitive development, lower resistance to disease, and increased risks during childbirth for both mothers and children.
These are part of the research findings released recently by the United State (US) based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) at the annual general meeting of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which works to achieve sustainable food security and reduce poverty in developing countries through scientific research.
It needs to be pointed out, that the research focused on the double impact of the food price and financial crises on agriculture and the poor in the Mozambican capital, Maputo and it noted that at present most African countries are trying to cope with the food price crisis that began in 2007 with the onset of the global economic slowdown, which has hammered the already reduced spending power of the poor.

POVERTY: Talk is expensive

This issue makes me uncomfortable within myself, takes me off my high moral perch when I talk (or lecture) to others about poverty, and it is an issue for which I do not have an answer. It is quite simply this—those of us, including me, who analyze poverty and discourse about poverty, seem to do rather well out of it. Working on poverty issues, whether in international agencies, in bilateral donor ministries, in academia, in think tanks, in foundations, or in many NGOs, has become a well defined career path, with ladders that one climbs and financial compensation to match. To be sure, the monetary compensation may not come close to that of the Wall Street Set or the Dalal Street Set. But the Development Set does fine, thank you very much.

The Development Set is bright and noble
Our thoughts are deep, our vision global;
Although we move with the better classes
Our thoughts are always with the masses.

It is extraordinary how Coggins’ satirical poem resonates more than three decades later, and now surfaces frequently in the development blogosphere. Thus in the December 4, 2008 entry on his blog, Owen Abroad: Thoughts from Owen in Africa ( ), Owen Barder invoked the poem when he wrote:
"I’m just back from the Doha Financing for Development Conference…..One topic that occupied the negotiators for hours was whether the UN, or another body such as the G-20, should host the next meeting about the financial crisis. ("Thus guaranteeing continued good eating / By showing the need for another meeting.") I estimated that the Financing for Development meeting cost about $60 million….I have made myself a personal promise. I do not want to travel around the world telling poor countries what they should do and how they should change. I will concentrate on trying to persuade rich countries to change the policies and behaviours that make it difficult for the world’s poor to share that prosperity."

POVERTY: Corruption and anti-corruption effects

The issue of corruption resonates in developing countries. In the Philippines, for instance, the slogan of the coalition that is likely to win the 2010 presidential elections is "Without corrupt officials, there are no poor people."
Not surprisingly, the international financial institutions have weighed in. The World Bank has made "good governance" a major thrust of its work, asserting that the "World Bank Group focus on governance and anticorruption (GAC) follows from its mandate to reduce poverty — a capable and accountable state creates opportunities for poor people, provides better services, and improves development outcomes."
Because it erodes trust in government, corruption must certainly be condemned and corrupt officials resolutely prosecuted. Corruption also weakens the moral bonds of civil society on which democratic practices and processes rest. But although research suggests it has some bearing on the spread of poverty, corruption is not the principal cause of poverty and economic stagnation, popular opinion notwithstanding.
World Bank and Transparency International data show that the Philippines and China exhibit the same level of corruption, yet China grew by 10.3 percent per year between 1990 and 2000, while the Philippines grew by only 3.3 percent. Moreover, as a recent study by Shaomin Lee and Judy Wu shows, "China is not alone; there are other countries that have relatively high corruption and high growth rates."
Limits of a Hegemonic Narrative
The "corruption-causes-poverty narrative" has become so hegemonic that it has often marginalized policy issues from political discourse. This narrative appeals to the elite and middle class, which dominate the shaping of public opinion. It's also a safe language of political competition among politicians. Political leaders can deploy accusations of corruption against one another for electoral effect without resorting to the destabilizing discourse of class.
Yet this narrative of corruption has increasingly less appeal for the poorer classes. Despite the corruption that marked his reign, Joseph Estrada is running a respectable third in the presidential contest in the Philippines, with solid support among many urban poor communities. But it is perhaps in Thailand where lower classes have most decisively rejected the corruption discourse, which the elites and Bangkok-based middle class deployed to oust Thaksin Shinawatra from the premiership in 2006.
While in power, Thaksin brazenly used his office to enlarge his corporate
empire. But the rural masses and urban lower classes — the base of the so-called "Red Shirts" — have ignored this corruption and are fighting to restore his coalition to power. They remember the Thaksin period from 2001 to 2006 as a golden time. Thailand recovered from the Asian financial crisis after Thaksin kicked out the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Thai leader promoted expansionary policies with a redistributive dimension, such as cheap universal health care, a one-million-baht development fund for each town, and a moratorium on farmers' servicing of their debt. These policies made a difference in their lives.
Thaksin's Red Shirts are probably right in their implicit assessment that pro-people policies are more decisive than corruption when it comes to addressing poverty. Indeed, in Thailand and elsewhere, clean-cut technocrats have probably been responsible for greater poverty than the most corrupt politicians. The corruption-causes-poverty discourse is no doubt popular with elites and international financial institutions because it serves as a smokescreen for the structural causes of poverty, and stagnation and wrong policy choices of the more transparent technocrats.
The Philippine Case
The case of the Philippines since 1986 illustrates the greater explanatory power of the "wrong-policy narrative" than the corruption narrative. According to an ahistorical narrative, massive corruption suffocated the promise of the post-Marcos democratic republic. In contrast, the wrong-policy narrative locates the key causes of Philippine underdevelopment and poverty in historical events and developments.
The complex of policies that pushed the Philippines into the economic quagmire over the last 30 years can be summed up by a formidable term: structural adjustment. Also known as neoliberal restructuring, it involves prioritizing debt repayment, conservative macroeconomic management, huge cutbacks in government spending, trade and financial liberalization, privatization and deregulation, and export-oriented production. Structural adjustment came to the Philippines courtesy of the World Bank, the IMF, and the World Trade Organization (WTO), but local technocrats and economists internalized and disseminated the doctrine.
Corazon Aquino was personally honest — indeed the epitome of non-corruption — and her contribution to the reestablishment of democracy was indispensable. But her acceptance of the IMF's demand to prioritize debt repayment over development brought about a decade of stagnation and continuing poverty. Interest payments as a percentage of total government expenditures went from 7 percent in 1980 to 28 percent in 1994. Capital expenditures, on the other hand, plunged from 26 percent to 16 percent. Since government is the biggest investor in the Philippines — indeed in any economy — the radical stripping away of capital expenditures helps explain the stagnant 1 percent average yearly growth in gross domestic product in the 1980s, and the 2.3 percent rate in the first half of the 1990s.
In contrast, the Philippines' Southeast Asian neighbors ignored the IMF's prescriptions. They limited debt servicing while ramping up government capital expenditures in support of growth. Not surprisingly, they grew by 6 to 10 percent from 1985 to 1995, attracting massive Japanese investment, while the Philippines barely grew and gained the reputation of a depressed market that repelled investors.
When Aquino's successor, Fidel Ramos, came to power in 1992, the main agenda of his technocrats was to bring down all tariffs to 0–5 percent and bring the Philippines into the WTO and the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), moves intended to make trade liberalization irreversible. A pick-up in the growth rate in the early years of Ramos sparked hope, but the green shoots were short-lived. Another neoliberal policy, financial liberalization, crushed this early promise. The elimination of foreign exchange controls and speculative investment restrictions attracted billions of dollars from 1993-1997. But this also meant that when panic hit Asian foreign investors in summer 1997, the same lack of capital controls facilitated the stampede of billions of dollars from the country in a few short weeks. This capital flight pushed the economy into recession and stagnation in the next few years.
The administration of the next president, Joseph Estrada, did not reverse course, and under the presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, neoliberal policies continued to reign. Over the next few years, the Philippine government instituted new liberalization measures on the trade front, entering into free-trade agreements with Japan and China despite clear evidence that trade liberalization was destroying the two pillars of the economy: industry and agriculture. Radical unilateral trade liberalization severely destabilized the Philippine manufacturing sector. The number of textile and garments firms, for instance, drastically reduced from 200 in 1970 to 10 in recent years. As one of Arroyo's finance secretaries admitted, "There's an uneven implementation of trade liberalization, which was to our disadvantage." While he speculated that consumers might have benefited from the tariff liberalization, he acknowledged that "it has killed so many local industries."
As for agriculture, the liberalization of the country's agricultural trade after the country joined the WTO in 1995 transformed the Philippines from a net food-exporting country into a net food-importing country after the mid-1990s. This year the China ASEAN Trade Agreement (CAFTA), negotiated by the Arroyo administration, goes into effect, and the prospect of cheap Chinese produce flooding the Philippines has made Filipino vegetable farmers fatalistic about their survival.
During the long Arroyo reign, the debt-repayment-oriented macroeconomic management policy that came with structural adjustment stifled the economy. With 20-25 percent of the national budget reserved for debt service payments because of the draconian Automatic Appropriations Law, government finances were in a state of permanent and widening deficit, which the administration tried to solve by contracting more loans. Indeed, the Arroyo administration contracted more loans than the previous three administrations combined.
When the deficit reached gargantuan proportions, the government refused to declare a debt moratorium or at least renegotiate debt repayment terms to make them less punitive. At the same time, the administration did not have the political will to force the rich to take the brunt of bridging the deficit, by increasing taxes on their income and improving revenue collection. Under pressure from the IMF, the government levied this burden on the poor and the middle class by adopting an expanded value added tax (EVAT) of 12 percent on purchases. Commercial establishments passed on this tax to poor and middle-class consumers, forcing them to cut back on consumption. This then boomeranged back on small merchants and entrepreneurs in the form of reduced profits, forcing many out of business.
The straitjacket of conservative macroeconomic management, trade and financial liberalization, as well as a subservient debt policy, kept the economy from expanding significantly. As a result, the percentage of the population living in poverty increased from 30 to 33 percent between 2003 and 2006, according to World Bank figures. By 2006, there were more poor people in the Philippines than at any other time in the country's history.
Policy and Poverty in the Third World
The Philippine story is paradigmatic. Many countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia saw the same story unfold. Taking advantage of the Third World debt crisis, the IMF and the World Bank imposed structural adjustment in over 70 developing countries in the course of the 1980s. Trade liberalization followed adjustment in the 1990s as the WTO, and later rich countries, dragooned developing countries into free-trade agreements.
Because of this trade liberalization, gains in economic growth and poverty reduction posted by developing countries in the 1960s and 1970s had disappeared by the 1980s and 1990s. In practically all structurally adjusted countries, trade liberalization wiped out huge swathes of industry, and countries enjoying a surplus in agricultural trade became deficit countries. By the beginning of the millennium, the number of people living in extreme poverty had increased globally by 28 million from the decade before. The number of poor increased in Latin America and the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe, the Arab states, and sub-Saharan Africa. The reduction in the number of the world's poor mainly occurred in China and countries in East Asia, which spurned structural readjustment policies and trade liberalization multilateral institutions and local neoliberal technocrats imposed other developing economies.
China and the rapidly growing newly industrializing countries of East and Southeast Asia, where most of the global reduction in poverty took place, were marked by high degrees of corruption. The decisive difference between their performance and that of countries subjected to structural adjustment was not corruption but economic policy.
Despite its malign effect on democracy and civil society, corruption is not the main cause of poverty. The "anti poverty, anti-corruption" crusades that so enamor the middle classes and the World Bank will not meet the challenge of poverty. Bad economic policies create and entrench poverty. Unless and until we reverse the policies of structural adjustment, trade liberalization, and conservative macroeconomic management, we will not escape the poverty trap.
Walden Bello is a member of the Philippine House of Representatives, president of the Freedom from Debt Coalition, and a senior analyst of the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South. He is the author of
The Food Wars.

POVERTY: Argentina's experience

When Argentinians watch the news today and see the terrible things that are happening in Greece, we cannot but say, “Hey!! This is EXACTLY like Argentina in December 2001 and beginning of 2002…!”. Then too, Argentina underwent its worst systemic banking, public debt and monetary collapse which led to social turmoil, mad violence, rioting, and social war. The turmoil was so bad, that it forced then president Fernando de la Rúa’s government to resign, especially because of his notorious pro-banker cartel economy minister, Domingo Cavallo, generating a political vacuum that led to Argentina having 5 (five!!) presidents in that terrible last week of December 2001.
What triggered social chaos in Argentina was the attempt by president De la Rúa to implement the grossly unjust austerity measures imposed by the IMF that required, as usual, utmost sacrifice from the people – more taxes, less social spending, “balanced budgets”, zero deficit spending, amongst other anti-social measures – which led to a fall of almost 40% in Argentina’s GDP.
Half of all Argentinians fell below the poverty line (most were never to make it back to the traditional Argentina middle class), private banks were allowed to legally retain everybody’s savings, US dollar deposits were arbitrarily changed into Pesos at whatever rate of exchange the government and bankers decided (the dollar was devalued 300% from one peso to the dollar, to 4 pesos the dollar in just weeks) and yet…. Not one bank fell!!! Indeed, since then they’re all back in “business as usual”, however the poor and impoverished are today totally out of business…
Throughout 25 years of successive caretaker governments in Argentina, the IMF-led Global Banking Cartel artificially generated a basically illegal – or at best, illegitimate – Sovereign Debt that grew so huge, that it ended up collapsing the entire financial and economic system. That was no coincidence. It was part of a highly complex model, engineered to control entire countries, through a cycle having sequential stages and identifiable parts that has one basic overriding goal: when the finance economy is fueled to run in an artificial “growth mode”, the bulk of all profits are privatized into the hands of their “friends”, managers and operators. However, when the whole scheme – like all Ponzi schemes - reaches its climax and total collapse is at hand, they revert the process and then socialize all losses. (See video “Global Financial Collapse”, Parts 1 and 2, below.)
That’s what Mr. Cavallo - a Rockefeller protégé - achieved, ensuring that the Argentine people bore all the losses, whilst the international banksters took all the profits. The mainstream media – both global and local – willingly obliged; The New York Times went so far as to suggest that the entire Patagonian region (i.e., the 5 southern provinces of Argentina accounting for 35% of Argentina’s territory and having immeasurable energy, mining, foodstuff, water resource wealth), should secede from the rest of the country as a way of “resolving our foreign debt woes…”,_Our_Sympathies_to_You.html

POVERTY: Costa Rica's plan

The Costa Rican government will target the country's poorest areas in an intensive poverty relief effort, focusing on ten municipalities it named during a cabinet meeting this week.
President Laura Chinchilla announced her poverty relief effort on the campaign trail as one that would require no additional money, but would integrate existing resources and would reach 5,000 homes in her first year in office.
“In Costa Rica, there are 50,000 homes in extreme poverty. Why does poverty persist? It's because social aid is distributed in a dispersed manner,” Chinchilla told the Tico Times at an interview in December. “If you don't apply all the services at the same time, it's very hard for people to escape poverty” (TT, Jan. 8).
Her idea is to go household-by-household to ensure that scholarships, job assistance and drug addiction programs are arriving in a manner that will have the greatest effect in bringing each family out of poverty.

POVERTY: Africa must diversify economies

18 May 2010 – High unemployment rates continue to hinder poverty reduction efforts in Africa, the United Nations says in a new report released today, stressing that African countries must give priority to diversifying their economies to create decent jobs to boost social development.
“Africa’s long-term growth prospects and ability to sustain high rates of employment generation and broader social development depend on success in economic diversification,” according to the Economic Report on Africa 2010, published by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (
ECA) and the African Union Commission.
The current global economic crisis offers African countries an opportunity to lay the foundation for sustainable, employment-intensive economic growth, says the report.
“The recession should work as a wake-up call for Africa to deal with its vulnerabilities and introduce further reforms to promote growth, but more particularly employment creation to promote social development in the region,” said Rob Vos, Director of Development Policy of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), at the launch of the report in New York.
The report – whose theme is “Promoting High-level Sustainable Growth to Reduce Unemployment in Africa” – recommends investment in infrastructure and human capital, renewed efforts to mobilize domestic resources, market reforms, incentives to support private-sector employment and efforts to increase productivity and incomes in the informal sector.


Craig Venter's creation of the first synthetic cell may indeed be 'path-breaking' in the field of genetic engineering. But it also poses a threat to the future of human civilisation. Man's tinkering with nature through unbridled scientific experiments could bring catastrophe. Society cannot stand by while the Victor Frankensteins of the world are let loose in a mad competition to create 'better' monsters. The first service to preserve a healthy balance of life on earth and to ensure harmony with nature is to recognise the existence of ethical and legal issues in all kinds of genetic research. The way genetic engineering has mushroomed in various universities or private labs funded by corporates with commercial interests or governments with national security interests is a cause for concern. We cannot let boardrooms of corporates or war rooms of militaries dictate terms and conditions for scientific research. Venter has already applied for patents on more than 300 genes, raising issues related to intellectual property rights to the building blocks of life. A CIA report has warned about this kind of technology enabling the creation of diseases currently unknown to mankind. The danger of bioterrorism, where organisations like al-Qaeda acquire or fund research on such viruses, cannot be ruled out. Let's not create scope for new diseases like the Chimera virus in Mission Impossible-II. The inability of the international community to create a consensus on fighting global warming and climate change doesn't create confidence in its capacity to handle new global threats. Unintended consequences will surely follow if we unleash new life forms on the planet. It's time to take a step back, and desist from going where science ought never to have gone.

MALARIA: the human carrier

The probability of contracting malaria in a given individual is determined not only by the individual's characteristics, but also the ecological factors that characterize the level of human-vector contact in the population. Examination of the relationship between "individual" and "supra-individual" variables over time is important for understanding the local malaria epidemiology. This is essential for planning effective intervention strategies specifically for each location.
A retrospective cohort study was conducted, which followed a community-cohort of about 3,500 residents in seven hamlets along the Thai-Myanmar border between 1999 and 2006. Potential malaria determinants measured at different levels (temporal variables, individual variables, and hamlet variables) were incorporated into multilevel models to estimate their effects on an individual's risk of malaria attack.
The monthly minimum temperature was significantly associated with the seasonal variation of malaria risk. An individual risk of malaria attack decreased by about 50% during the period that active surveillance was conducted; an additional 15% and 25% reduction of Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax incidence, respectively, was observed after the use of artesunate-mefloquine combination therapy (ACT) for treatment of P. falciparum. Male children (age < 16 years old) were at highest risk of both P. falciparum and P. vivax attack. An increase in the hamlet's incidence of P. falciparum and P. vivax by 1 per 100 persons in a previous month resulted in 1.14 and 1.34 times increase in the risk of P. falciparum and P. vivax, respectively, among individuals in a particular hamlet.
In a small area with low malaria transmission intensity, the variation in mosquito abundance is relatively similar across the residential areas; incidence of malaria between hamlets, which reflects the community level of human infectious reservoirs, is an important predictor for the malaria risk among individuals within these hamlets. Therefore, local malaria control strategies should focus on interventions that aim to reduce the gametocyte carriage in the population, such as early detection and treatment programmes and the use of ACT for P. falciparum.

POVERTY: KENYA: Bamboo project to expand rural housing

NAIROBI, 28 May 2010 (IRIN) - Kenya should encourage the use of bamboo in building affordable shelters, especially for 60 percent of the population who live in poorly constructed dwellings in rural areas, says a specialist."Poor construction means they [houses] serve as breeding grounds for diseases including malaria, amoebic dysentery and respiratory conditions, which commonly claim the lives of many of their inhabitants," Jacob Kibwange, project director of an initiative at Maseno University that aims to encourage bamboo exploitation, told IRIN. The project, Tobacco to Bamboo, is pioneering the construction of cheap bamboo houses in the Mau and Kakamega areas of Western Kenya."If we improved bamboo housing, we could change the lives of many people," Kibwange said. "With about 15,000ha of mature bamboo ready to be used, particularly in the Aberdares, Mau ranges, Mt Kenya and Mt Elgon, [we have] viable and inexpensive housing material in Kenya."According to a 2007 study by the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan, nearly 60 percent of Kenya's 37 million people are rural farmers who live on less than US$2 a day and live in inadequate homes that are often made of mud and poorly ventilated. In the cities, the housing demand has reached 150,000 units per year against an annual production of about 50,000 units. According to the UN Human Settlements Programme, UN-HABITAT, the shortfall in the cities has led to overcrowding, slums and sub-standard housing. The tobacco to bamboo project was launched by Maseno University's School of Environment and Earth Studies in 2006. It began as a research activity to encourage the cultivation and utilization of bamboo as an alternative livelihood to tobacco farming in South Nyanza and Western Kenya and later set up nurseries in Migori, Kuria, Homa Bay and Suba districts. Maseno launched housing projects in Kisumu town and trained 240 bamboo small-scale farmers and set up 120 field experimentation sites. The aim is to train 20,000 farmers to exploit bamboo in the next 15 years."Bamboo is a remarkably fast-growing plant that thrives in a range of different climates," Kibwange said. "It can be planted easily in homesteads and harvested at the time of need without any additional expenditure."Because of its lightness, a bamboo house suffers very little damage from earthquakes and could serve as temporary and quick construction in disaster-prone areas in emergencies."After the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, about 4,000 bamboo houses provided shelter to thousands made homeless by the disaster, particularly in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It was also found that bamboo could resist heat of up to 55 degrees and unlike steel, was not vulnerable to rust and salty humidity. In Kenya, however, an existing ban on harvesting bamboo could affect plans for its use. A Kenyan Forestry Services source, who requested anonymity, said the ban restricts harvesting to some selected users and government institutions. Experts are lobbying for it to be lifted.

POVERTY: MADAGASCAR: "May you have seven sons and seven daughters"

ANKILIBORY, 28 May 2010 (IRIN) - In a tiny shack in Ankilibory a village, southern Madagascar, Herintsoa, just 16 years old, recently gave birth to her second child, but it was easy compared to the first one, which she had when she was 14. "That was a lot more painful. I did it at home myself - my husband cut the [umbilical] cord." Unfazed, she said, "We want 10 children."According to government figures, 70 percent of 16-year-old girls in some parts of Madagascar have given birth to their first child, but the fact that early pregnancy is common on the huge Indian Ocean Island does not make it less dangerous. The 2009 national Demographic and Health Survey noted that every day eight women die as a result of complications during pregnancy or delivery, often at a very young age. Jocelyne Rasoanirina, head of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in southern Madagascar, pointed out that besides the immediate risks there were also longer-term implications. Large families are an important contributor to household poverty - the average Malagasy family has five children but the number rises dramatically in rural areas, where it is not uncommon for women to have 10 children by their mid-thirties.Too farRasoanirina said the biggest obstacle to reducing maternal and neonatal mortality was access to quality healthcare. "People live very far from health centres and don't have any transport options."Herintsoa has never seen a hospital, a doctor or a nurse - the nearest health centre is 30km from her village, and the only way to get there is an expensive ride in a "chariot" - an ox-drawn cart - or walking through the desert-like terrain. "The death rate is high for mother and child," said Aro Rajoelina, Regional Medical Inspector of Ampanihy district, where Herintsoa's village is located. Although some 70 percent of pregnant women in the south of the island have access to prenatal services, only about 10 percent of births are attended by skilled health personnel. Government figures put maternal mortality at 469 deaths per 100,000 live births."We try to ensure that a health centre can cover several villages, and that the maximum distance to travel is 80 kilometres, but it is still difficult for people to cover such distances," Rajoelina told IRIN.Too lateWomen and girls often seek medical attention very late in the pregnancy, and sometimes only when the situation has reached a critical stage. "It's the culture to stay at home and see a traditional doctor or midwife, but they are not qualified to [handle complications]. When that does not work, they might go to the clinic but it's often too late," Rajoelina said.The poorest Malagasy get free treatment at the health centres, but traditionally the entire family goes along when one of them needs medical attention, making the trip too expensive. "They have to pay for food and accommodation for everyone; it's a financial problem," Rajoelina commented.Sambetire, 16, has come to the Health Centre in Amphany, a town in southwestern Madagascar, because she is four months pregnant but has started bleeding vaginally. Luckily her family owns a chariot and the six of them could all came with her on the 20km journey to the centre. "This is my third child, and I already lost one," she said from her bed. The midwife at the centre, Henriette Baofeno, said there was a real risk that Sambetire could lose the baby. "I get sad when I see cases like that," she said. In her 23 years as a midwife at centre there has been "no big change - I still see young girls like this very often."Too smallPostpartum haemorrhage, or bleeding after delivery, in girls giving birth at home in their communities, far from qualified help, is a major contributor to the maternal death rate.Another serious cause of maternal death - the second most common in Madagascar, according to the demographic survey - is obstetric fistula, or a hole in the birth canal caused by prolonged and obstructed labour. Rajoelina said he had seen girls as young as 10 give birth, and "taking out the baby can damage the organs [of the mother]. They are too small and not developed yet."Obstetric fistula is often the result of early childbirth, when the birth canal is too narrow and there are no qualified medical personnel to perform a caesarean operation. The condition often leaves young women incontinent, causing their husbands, families and communities to shun them. "In those cases you need surgical intervention, but that is impossible here," Rajoelina said.Too manyIn Ankazoabo, a coastal village in the southeast of the island, Avivelo, 34, encourages her 17-year-old daughter, who already has two children, to have as many as possible. "I gave birth to eight children and now it is her turn to do the same, but it is difficult."Southern Madagascar, where aid agencies struggle to feed thousands, is a hostile place even in a good year, and the past four have been particularly harsh, but more mouths to feed has not been a deterrent.The 10 children huddled around Avivelo are a poster for malnutrition in the region: swollen bellies, visible emaciation, and their mouths stained by red raketa - a local cactus fruit used only in desperate times that Rajoelina said was "unfit for human consumption"."Having many children is a blessing for people here, and that's why family planning programmes are so important ... but it's very difficult to change the way people think," UNFPA's Rasoanirina commented."Its part of the culture," she said, referring to the traditional Malagasy wedding blessing, "May you have seven sons and seven daughters".

MALARIA: Poverty is barrier to access to treatment

Prompt access to effective malaria treatment is central to the success of malaria control worldwide, but few fevers are treated with effective anti-malarials within 24 hours of symptoms onset. The last two decades saw an upsurge of initiatives to improve access to effective malaria treatment in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Evidence suggests that the poorest populations remain least likely to seek prompt and effective treatment, but the factors that prevent them from accessing interventions are not well understood. With plans under way to subsidize ACT heavily in Kenya and other parts of Africa, there is urgent need to identify policy actions to promote access among the poor. This paper explores access barriers to effective malaria treatment among the poorest population in four malaria endemic districts in Kenya.
The study was conducted in the poorest areas of four malaria endemic districts in Kenya. Multiple data collection methods were applied including: a cross-sectional survey (n=708 households); 24 focus group discussions; semi-structured interviews with health workers (n=34); and patient exit interviews (n= 359).
Multiple factors related to affordability, acceptability and availability interact to influence access to prompt and effective treatment. Regarding affordability, about 40 percent of individuals who self-treated using shop-bought drugs and 42 percent who visited a formal health facility reported not having enough money to pay for treatment, and having to adopt coping strategies including borrowing money and getting treatment on credit in order to access care. Other factors influencing affordability were seasonality of illness and income sources, transport costs, and unofficial payments. Regarding acceptability, the major interrelated factors identified were provider patient relationship, patient expectations, beliefs on illness causation, perceived effectiveness of treatment, distrust in the quality of care and poor adherence to treatment regimes. Availability barriers identified were related to facility opening hours, organization of health care services, drug and staff shortages.
Ensuring that all individuals suffering from malaria have prompt access to effective treatment remains a challenge for resource constrained health systems. Policy actions to address the multiple barriers of access should be designed around access dimensions, and should include broad interventions to revitalize the public health care system. Unless additional efforts are directed towards addressing access barriers among the poor and vulnerable, malaria will remain a major cause of morbidity and mortality in sub-Saharan Africa.

GLOBAL FUND: Uganda fraud

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) says that "marked progress" has been made in the past year in the systemic fraud case involving Global Fund and other grants in Uganda.
In addition to the four people who have been convicted, charges have been laid in two other cases; investigations have been finalised in eight cases (and the Director of Public Prosecutions [DPP] is weighing the evidence to determine if charges are warranted); 15 cases are in an advanced stage of investigation; 22 cases are under investigation; and the remaining cases have been assigned to investigation teams and will be pursued as resources become available.
Investigations have been concluded in a further eleven cases for which the DPP determined that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute.

(See Issue 113, at, for GFO's most recent coverage on this case.)

GLOBAL FUND: Mali fraud

three senior government officials in Mali have been arrested in connection with alleged fraud with Global Fund grants.

In November 2009, in the course of an audit and subsequent investigation, the Fund's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) uncovered evidence of fraudulent and unjustified use of grant funds by senior staff at the Department of Administration and Finance (DAF) of the Mali Ministry of Health.

The evidence collected led the OIG to make contact with the authorities in Mali and, ultimately, to the arrest of the accountant responsible for the administration of grants at the DAF, along with the Secretary General and the Registrar for the Ministry.

This information is contained in "The Office of the Inspector General Progress Report for October 2009 – February 2010."