Earlier this week, politicians in Uruguay voted to make the South American nation the first in the world to legalize marijuana – a bold move aimed at regulating the use of pot and disrupting the criminal drug trade.
But they might not have had it not been for a little help from Washington state, in the form of Alison Holcomb, a civil rights attorney in Seattle who led the successful citizen’s initiative here in the (appropriately named) Evergreen state that de-criminalized recreational use of pot.
Here in the U.S., where our policymakers tend to be as bold as lukewarm soup, it is largely the public (fed up with the failed War on Drugs, surveys say) that has been pushing for our political leaders to adopt a more rationale alternative to dealing with drug use.
In Uruguay, it was the politicians pushing the public. President José Mujica had decided that legalizing marijuana would reduce the harm, and the violence, caused by the drug cartels.
“But a poll done in 2012 showed that 64 percent of Uruguayans were opposed to the idea,” said Holcomb, who works for the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. As I noted earlier at this year’s colorful, sickly sweet-smelling August gathering of Seattle Hempfest, Washington state’s legalization of pot continues to have global implications. Continue reading
Guest post by Katie Leach-Kemon, a policy translation specialist from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
For many members of the global health community, the term “maternal and child health” translates into saving the lives of women and children.
But to fully realize the mission of improving the health of this population in particular, we have to think about more than just preventing death. What is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide? Women and children, particularly those who are poor, disproportionately suffer from a disease that causes substantial disability: Anemia.
Anemia, which literally (in Greek) means lack of blood, is about starving the body of oxygen. Red blood cells carry oxygen to cells in the human body thanks to a protein known as hemoglobin, which contains iron.
Women and children suffering from low iron – whether due to malnutrition or other causes – end up suffering from anemia, essentially cellular asphyxiation.
A new study reported that in 2010, anemia as a whole accounted for around 9% of years lived with disability worldwide, making it an even greater cause of disability than depression. Iron-deficiency anemia, the type of anemia that causes the most disability, is associated with lower cognitive performance, difficulty concentrating, low productivity, weakness, and fatigue. It often goes undiagnosed, unrecognized even as it quietly strangles. Continue reading
The upcoming winter in Lebanon brought the first snowfall to parts of the country on Wednesday. It is an unwelcome sign for the 2.2 million Syrian refugees living outside of the country right now.
Temperatures fell to as low as 20ºF as the refugees must cope with little or no heat. Winter is a particularly hard time and the acceleration of people fleeing from Syria over the past year weighs heavy on the humanitarian response.
Current predictions indicate that this year’s winter will be harsh in countries where Syrian refugees are living, such as Lebanon and Jordan.
Nearly 3 million people received supplies to help cope with the winter, including high thermal blankets and extra plastic sheeting, from UNHCR. Still, many people are relying solely on the blankets to keep warm during the cold months.
“Most of these people used to live relatively decent lives. They were not used to worrying about hunger and keeping warm,” explained Phillips, Campaigns and Policy Director for Oxfam GB, to Humanosphere. “It is a huge shock psychologically.”
Because many of the people who left Syria were not living in poverty, they arrived in neighboring countries with some assets. With little or no opportunity to make an income, families are turning to personal savings and finally selling off valuables.
But the money is running out.
The internet holds the power to transform Africa, says the McKinsey Global Institute.
Expanding internet access and unleashing its capabilities can impact six areas: financial services, education, health, retail, agriculture, and government. A new report, Lions Go Digital: The Internet’s Transformative Potential in Africa, predicts that 500 million people in Africa will be online by 2025. It is a dramatic increase from the 16 million people connected to the internet today.
An analysis of the fourteen leading economies in Africa reveals varying progress of internet impact. Kenya and Senegal are considered leaders which the large economy of Nigeria is a country ‘punching below its weight.’
Optimism springs from the low contribution of the internet to the GDP (iGDP) of many African nations. In the US, the internet contributes to 3.8% of GDP. The average across Africa is only 1.1%, nearly half that of other emerging economies, says the report. The gap demonstrates the potential benefit that the internet can have on African economies.
“Today, following a decade of economic expansion, Africa is going digital,” say the report authors in the introduction.
Some 3.3 million lives were saved since 2000 from malaria, says a new WHO report.
Deaths worldwide fell by 45% and were more than halved for African children under five years old.
However, a lack of funds and recent problems with bednet makers means the progress made over the last decade is as risk.
“This remarkable progress is no cause for complacency: absolute numbers of malaria cases and deaths are not going down as fast as they could,” says Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. “The fact that so many people are infected and dying from mosquito bites is one of the greatest tragedies of the 21st century.”
Cases of malaria fell by 29% worldwide over the period, but an estimated 3.4 billion people remain at risk for malaria. The problem is concentrated. According to the WHO, 80% of global malaria cases occur in southeast Asia and in Africa.
The number of bed nets distributed has declined over the past three years from 145 million in 2010 to 70 million in 2012. That falls short of the 150 million needed each year to ensure every person at risk is protected, says the WHO.
If you think the debate over vaccines in the United States can sometimes be a little wacky, take a look at India.
And if you think irresponsible politicking and journalism can’t kill, think again.
Seattle-based PATH, which in 2009 attempted to test the logistics of expanding the use of HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine in girls to prevent cervical cancer, has been castigated by critics for ‘unethical human experimentation’ – even though the vaccine is hardly experimental – and is now the target of two lawsuits in India.
One politician, capitalizing on the controversy, even called for PATH to be entirely expelled from India.
Meanwhile, the international biomedical research community, including the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and the pharmaceutical industry have suspended more than a hundred clinical trials throughout India because of the government’s new rules that require those running the trials to compensate any study volunteers who later suffer injury or death – whether the injury or death is directly caused by the study or not.
“This has become very harmful,” said Vivien Tsu, a women’s health expert at PATH who led the HPV study in India. “The HPV controversy and the arguments over clinical trials in India have ended up fueling each other in a way that undermines public health, not to mention India’s role in biomedical research.”
Humanosphere has followed the dispute over the PATH HPV study for a few years now. Many perhaps expected the controversy would subside over time as the evidence accumulated to show it was both beneficial and well-intended. Just the opposite has happened. Continue reading
Sex between two same-sex partners is again illegal in India.
The Supreme Court reversed a four year old decision by the nation’s High Court that decriminalized consensual same-sex activity between adults. Amnesty International India described the news as a “black day for freedom in India.”
The decision is a major setback for gay rights activists in India.
“I feel so exhausted right now thinking we are being set back by 100 years. . . . I think it’s pathetic and sad,” said Naz Foundation founder Anjali Gopalan. Continue reading