Essential Food List (2) – reprise
Posted on June 30th, 2004
Somebody must be listening. Less than a week since I posted a story about the need to create an essential food list and the need for an international agreement that would keep research in the public domain, comes this story: “International plant genetic resources treaty enters into force” (http://medilinkz.org/news/news2.asp?NewsID=7045). Very encouraging. As always I’m ahead of the curve.
Equally interesting is this snippet: “Codex urged to speed up work and increase participation by developing countries” – http://medilinkz.org/news/news2.asp?NewsID=7046. Who’d have thunk it, an organisation to set international food quality standards. You learn something new every day. Makes one wonder, with the proliferation of so many organisations dedicated to feeding the world, why hunger is on the increase.
Good news should be front page news
Posted on June 30th, 2004
Speaking of sensational, here is a story that should have been front page news. World Refugee Population Lowest In A Decade, UNHCR Says – http://medilinkz.org/news/news2.asp?page=3&NewsID=6926. Naturally it wasn’t, because paradoxically, good news does not seem to make for front page news, unless it is being pushed by a politician seeking re-election or election.
The number of internally displaced people and refugees has fallen by more than 22% in the last decade ( 5 million people). This is phenomenal, and is even more striking coming amidst the news from Iraq, Sudan and The Congo. The UNHCR certainly seems to be doing the job, despite being chronically underfunded. And there may be more success on the way, with hopes for a settlement in Sudan.
How did I miss this? Kenyan virologist sues Oxford
Posted on June 29th, 2004
This is pretty heady stuff, sensational even, but I completely missed this. It crept right under the radar, so to speak. The story in a nutshell, Kenyan virologist Moses Otsyula alleges that Oxford University researchers “stole” blood samples and data he had taken from orphans for research into viral cofactors and vaccines against HIV/AIDS. Among other things Otsyula said was “…I should have been first author on those papers….”
It has long been a perennial complaint of local researchers in Africa that they have been used without recognition for their work, while western scientists get all the accolades, and many a career has been built on the results. It is not unheard of, for overseas researchers to Africa to be less than scrupulous in obtaining permission from local authorities to do their studies, let alone share the results. But this is the first such lawsuit of this type that I can actually recall. I’m actually surprised this hasn’t happened more often.
Sensational Headlines Irritating
Posted on June 29th, 2004
Sensational headlines in the world’s media quite often irritate me, especially in reference to Africa. So what has got my goat recently? Take this headline from the Economist “Another health disaster in Africa – Scare stories spread by religious zealots have led to a resurgence of polio in Africa. The UN’s drive to eradicate the crippling disease by next year now looks in danger”- http://economist.com/agenda/displayStory.cfm?story_id=2786168.
Why, Economist, why, is it when you report on Africa, it is only in terms of negative sensationalism? Do you think no one will read the stories otherwise? What if the headline had been written as “Polio campaign suffers a setback…” Because that is what it is. All this negative reporting ignores the fact that the polio campaign is actually a huge success, not a failure, even with this setback. Cases of polio worldwide, not just in Africa are down to a handful.
The Economist is not alone in this practice of course, they just happened to have caught my attention. If the story had been audio-visual, I’d half expect it to be accompanied by footage of half-naked African’s dancing round a pot, with beating drums in the background, thus completing the stereotype of backwardness and superstition.
And what about the double standard? I don’t see any sensational headlines about the current US Government policy of withholding funds for organisations such as the UNFPA and others, because of the objections of “the religious right” to some family planning methods. This has severely hampered the ability of many agencies to provide reproductive services for safe motherhood. And if you don’t feel that’s so important, remember this: “Worldwide, approximately 600,000 women die annually from pregnancy and childbirth related conditions. Nearly half of these deaths occur in the African Region.”
Now that’s a disaster.
Lastly on this, a nagging suspicion of bias. The Economist story mentions Islam and somehow slyly gives the impression that people of this faith hold outlandish views. Is there another agenda here? And yet current policy in the Whitehouse affecting a wide variety of areas, including HIV/AIDS, prevention, where abstinence is the new mantra is based on the beliefs of the President and the so called Christian Right. So how about this for a headline “Religious superstition drives Policy in the White House?”
Essential Food List –
Posted on June 23rd, 2004
I came across this while going through my email; in this case from E-drug (http://www.essentialdrugs.org/edrug) titled “big business vs big farma?” The author wrote “…In the early 1970s, developing countries asked a similar question from the World Health Organisation. How do we buy enough drugs when our budgets are being cut and the dermands are increasing. And so the Essential Drug Concept was born….”
The author was talking about drugs, but the title mislead me, I thought Big Farma referred to the very powerful farm lobby in the West rather than the equally powerful pharmaceutical industry. And it made me go hmmmm….
Everyone has heard of the Essential Drugs List (http://www.who.int/medicines/).
But what about an equivalent list for food I wondered? Could a similar concept be created? The Essential Food List (EFL). A list of food stuffs that are essential for life, with an international agreement that these are a basic human right, and thus exempt from trade laws, patents, tarrifs and the like.
Are there “Generic Foods” where all research including biotech would, should be in the public domain. What would such a list consist of or what should it consist of? Should seeds be included or will they become the domain of private biotech corporations. What else could be included?
With increasing hunger in the world, where more and more people are starving because they do not have access to basic foods, isn’t it time to consider such a concept?
Hunger and GM Food
Posted on June 19th, 2004
Hunger and food security regularly feature in the news headlines. A recent story caught my interest – NGOs Blast FAO Position On GM Food, Hunger Issues. Apparently for some reason the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organisation)has come out in support of GM food as “…a technological ‘fix’ of crops critical to the food security of marginalized peoples”.
Why, why I ask you? What could be the possible rationale for this stance. Could it have something to do with one company Monsanto, an American company makes 90% of the GM seeds in the world. Can we say the word monopoly? I wonder what percentage of the FAO budget is contributed by the US.
And don’t even mention agricultural subsidies. Yes, that thorny question. Remember stories of butter mountains, and wine lakes. Farmers being paid subsidies not to grow food, and keep their land fallow, due to over production, while the third world slowly starves to death. Well guess what total support increased to $349 billion dollars in 2003 from $300 billion dollars in 2002 according to a report from the OECD.
Lack of food production is not the issue as the record obesity levels in the US and Europe can attest. The world produces more than enough food to feed itself many times over. It’s really about access and distribution. And GM food is not going to solve that problem.
If you want to know more about agricultural subsidies and how to get rid of them, here;s a great blog on the subject: KICK-ASS (Kick All Agricultural Subsidies)
This story isn’t over by a long way.
Africa’s children under assault
Posted on June 18th, 2004
June 16th was “The Day of the African Child”; a special day dedicated to Africa’s children. It should be a day for celebrating and acknowledging our children as Africa’s most valuable asset.
But Africa’s children are under assault like never before. They are regarded as commodities to be traded or trafficked. They are literally regarded as canon fodder for Africa’s brutal wars, kidnapped and forced to kill & maim, robbing them cruelly of their childhood. Many are forced into labour at a very early age.
As if that is not enough, the twin specters of AIDS and poverty are conspiring to rob them of a future. AIDS has taken their parents and families, leaving them orphaned and vulnerable. Poverty ensures that this vulnerability makes them open to exploitation by unscrupulous individuals. It leaves them on the streets, often forced into prostitution just to survive, exposing them to risks of catching HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. June 16th 2004 was dedicated to education and getting children into school. Education offers hope and a way out for children. Schools are often havens, where children can perhaps get a meal and just be with other children, an important but overlooked part of growing up. Education is an important component for creating health behaviour and imparting lifesaving prevention knowledge, something that will protect them as adults. Many African government’s now have policies for free universal primary education, which is a good thing. And with the support of the international community, this can be achieved, giving Africa’s children hope and a brighter future.
Posted on June 14th, 2004
Now that I have joined the ranks of bloggers, sorry rejoined the ranks, I decided to see who or what if any African bloggers were out there. Naturally the only way is to google the blog (I can feel my English teacher cringing).
To my delight, there were a couple of sites that list African blogs. One is aptly called Blog Africa and is an open listing of Africa-related weblogs. It is a ” is a loose collaboration between individuals at Geekcorps, allafrica.com, the Berkman Center for Internet and Society and other friends across the web” according to their blurb. You can sign up and register your blog, with syndication included.
The other listing is called African Blog. This one had a blog with the title called “Abaana”, which I immediately recognised as the luganda word for children, and what do you know it deals with children.
Unfortunately these were the only two sites, from the first five page listings for google. The blogs listed are a whole mish-mash but so far mine is the only linked to a health related website. I wonder if there are more out there?
Or is just that doctors are unable to blog without it being medical gobbledygook (is that spelt right?. But it’s encouraging to know that we Africans are also taking part in the online community. If there are any other health related blogs let me know.
Publishing Third World Research
Posted on June 13th, 2004
The perennial hand wringing on the dearth and lack of scientific research from or about the developing world continues. This the latest from a recent article in the BMJ with the headline Medical Journals Don’t Publish Trials on Major Global Diseases, hence the title of this blog.
The article states “An analysis of trials published in six leading general medical journals in 1999 shows that only 14 of 90 trials (16%) that looked at at least one of the top 10 causes of the global burden of disease were highly relevant to international health, as assessed by World Health Organization criteria (CMAJ 2004;170:1673-7)…”
The reasons for this situation range from, difficulties with the publication process, such as an inability to write in English, editorial bias in favour of the interests of Western culture to restricted access to scientific information.
My initial reaction on seeing those figure was hunh, not as bad as I thought. But on closer examination the article is examining relevance to international health, not research published from the developing world. . A big distinction that….If one considers research published from third world countries, the situation is more dire than that, desperate even.
Another article in the BMJ cited the following statistics: “Western indexing services cover some 3000 journals, of which 98% are from the developed world. The whole of Latin America accounted for 0.39% of the total number of articles referenced by Medline in 1996, down from a “high” of 2.03% in 1966….” Africa doesn’t even get a look in.
This is not really an academic exercise, it concerns the future of billions in the world. Two thirds of the world’s population live in the developing world where the majority of these diseases occur.Two thirds of mortality in Africa is due to preventable causes.
Part of the problem is that not enough money is spent on research in the developing world, the now infamous 10/90 gap whereby “Less than 10% of the worldwide expenditure on health research and development is devoted to the major health problems of 90% of the population…”
Scientific journals play an important role in the dissemination of research results and information, which in turn can influence the priorities in development. But increased access to international health journals will only be useful if accompanied by increased coverage of health topics with relevance to developing countries.
Help is at hand however. Increasingly more and more scientific journals such as the Lancet or the BMJ are offering lowered subscription costs or free access to developing countries. Or for example African Journals Online (AJOL) which gives access to more than more than 175 African journals in the fields of arts, science and social sciences.
As good as these developments are they still do not address the issue of getting more research published from the developing world.
Enter “Open Access” – the attempt to change the established models of scientific publishing and make research findings freely available online in all parts of the world. I’m a recent and committed convert. Two leading open-access publishers – the US-based Public Library of Sciences (PLoS) and the UK-based BioMed Central actually waive publication fees for researchers from developing countries who cannot pay.
But authors from the developing world need an audience. And once again newly internet technology is on hand. Welcome to the world of RSS (Real Simple Syndication). The web standard used by bloggers and news organisations such as the BBC and the New York Times to publish headlines online.
At Medilinks, all we can say is we absolutely love this stuff, three cheers for RSS and Open Access. Using the two Medilinks is now able to present abstracts from two journals that are very relevant to developing countries: The Malaria Journal and The Filaria Journal And as soon as we get access to more we will bring them to you.
All this is very exciting and extremely good news, because it is taking steps in the right direction. But before one becomes too excited, it is important to remember that in 1998 less than one million of 700 million Africans had internet access and of those 80% were in South Africa. The cost of technologies has fallen significantly since then, but alot of work still needs to be done to get it into the hands of the more people in the developing world, so they can make use of increased access to research to solve their problems.
1. Medical Journals Don’t Publish Trials on Major Global Diseases
2. Edejer T.T; BMJ 2000;321:797-800 (30 September)
3.The Scientist 16:22, May. 13, 2002
4. Hooman Momen; The role of journals in enhancing health research in developing countries , Bulletin of the World Health Organization Ref. No. 04802
5.SciDevNet Africa, April 2004
Not Going to Bangkok
Posted on June 10th, 2004
Everyone is gearing up for Bangkok, exotic capital of Thailand for the XV International AIDS Conference. I won’t be going because I can’t afford it. But I don’t feel bad about it, colour me cynical, I’m not sure my presence would actually contribute anything to the fight against HIV/AIDS.
I’d love to go, to Bangkok that is, having never been, I hear and from the pictures I’ve seen it’s beautiful. And I suppose it is a suitable venue, Thailand being one of the few countries to actually haver reduced it’s AIDS rate. And so what? What will be achieved, what will there be that’s either new or so compelling that I must bear witness?
In the news today there’s a headline G8′>http://medilinkz.org/news/news2.asp?NewsID=6836″>G8 Leaders Challenged to keep promise on global HIV/AIDS ; but its really the following quote that caught my attention:
“The tragedy is that we know what works and we can reverse the epidemic with enough resources and political leadership.”
So why not just get on with it and stop wasting precious time and resources on such massive conferences.
Dare I say it, perhaps whisper it, perhaps among the squalid politics, there was some validity to the the US Government’s withdrawal of funding from the GHC – US’>http://medilinkz.org/news/news2.asp?NewsID=6411″>US Government Withdrawl of Funding From GHC Conference. Now if only they had put the money saved towards treatment instead (using generics) that would have put given 2500 African’s Life saving treatment…
This Year the Conference is about “Youth”, I wonder how many will be there? And how many from the developing world? Like the majority of the globe, I’ll be watching from a distance, with no illusions and few expectations. You can do that from here http://www.kaisernetwork.org/aids2004/kffsyndication.asp?show=portal.html provided you have internet access of course.