Conflict minerals advocates win and suffer setback in appeal decision | 

A Congolese tin miner sifts through ground rocks to separate out the cassiterite, in the town of Nyabibwe, eastern Congo, a once bustling outpost fueled by artisanal cassiterite mining.
A Congolese tin miner sifts through ground rocks to separate out the cassiterite, in the town of Nyabibwe, eastern Congo, a once bustling outpost fueled by artisanal cassiterite mining.
AP Photo/Marc Hofer

A US appeals court determined on Monday that a US Securities and Exchange Commission rule compelling public companies to disclose whether or not their products contain “conflict minerals” is a violation of their free speech rights.

The rule, Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill, has been controversial from its inception. It’s intent is to track where minerals that appear in everyday electronics, such as cell phones, are fueling conflict and supporting armed groups. The corporations that extract the minerals say the new rules place an undue burden on their work and violate their rights.

The court partially agreed. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules were not entirely struck down by the ruling. It does represent a minor set-back for the advocates who have campaigned for transparency in the mining sector in conflict-affected countries. The real losers are the corporate lobby groups that brought forward the lawsuit.

“At the end of the day this is a huge loss for the National Association of Manufacturers,” said Laura Seay,  assistant professor of Government at Colby College, to Humanosphere. ”They still have to file through the SEC whether their supply chains were audited and free of conflict minerals. What has changed is that these companies do not have to disclose to their investors whether or not they are using conflict free minerals. ”

The Enough Project, a Washington DC-based advocacy group who took an active role in crafting and campaigning for 1502, called the ruling a ‘step backward for atrocity prevention.”

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Catholic liturgical musician arrested as terrorist in Rwanda | 

Much of the world took note last week of the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, with most of the news reports focusing on Rwanda’s stunning improvements made over the past few years – and on how the West failed to stop the slaughter of perhaps a million Rwandans.

What Humanosphere took note of is the rising awareness of the need for a more accurate narrative of modern day Rwanda – as a place making great gains on health and welfare, but at the expense of political and democratic freedoms. Some allege the government of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame even engages in assassinations of political opponents.

Now, Kizito Mihigo, a musician who specializes in Catholic liturgical music has been arrested and charged with terrorism. Some say the arrest is for writing a song that contends some of the atrocities of the 1994 genocide were commited by Kagame’s forces as well (a contention supported by many independent studies and reports). As Rwanda’s New Times reports, Mihigo, a radio journalist and another man have been arrested and charged with subversive activities.

Here’s a video of Kizito performing one of his liturgical songs:

Mihigo and others are accused by the Rwandan police of carrying out grenade attacks and planning terrorist acts. Others, on social media today, suggest Mihigo’s arrest was prompted by the lyrics in his songs – and his faith-based compulsion to work for peace and stability in Rwanda by encouraging all sides to acknowledge wrong-doing.

“I sing peace and forgiveness, I launch a permanent call for reconciliation,” Mihigo says.

Safe drinking water keeps Cambodian kids in school | 

Children walking to school, Kampong Cham, Cambodia.
Children walking to school, Kampong Cham, Cambodia.
Karen Murphy

If you build it, he will come. In the case of Cambodian schools it is more like: if you provide safe drinking water, kids will go to school.

When schools provided treated water in containers, the rate of absence for students dropped. That is what research published in the health journal PLOS One last month finds.

What makes the study notable is that it shows that the water itself, not necessarily the health gains, are what get kids come to school.

The association between safe drinking water and school attendance is strongest during the dry season. Why students in Cambodia are not going to school during the rainy season is not entirely known.

Paul Hunter, professor of health protection at the University of East Anglia, the study’s lead other and his co-authors surmise that it is due to the farming season.

“There were also strong seasonal effects as absenteeism in several of the schools increased dramatically during the wet season, irrespective of water delivery. We were informed that this increase in absenteeism during the early wet season was partly because children were frequently kept off school to help in the fields,” they write in the study.

What is almost entirely certain is that providing safe drinking water gets kids to go to school during the dry season. They know this because of a delivery problem at one of the schools.

The design of the program was for every class to have one 20 liter bottle of safe drinking water each day. School children then had the opportunity to take water as they wanted, each day. Roughly each student had a half liter of water available each day, costing less than half of a penny per day for each student ($1.40/yr).

The school where deliveries of water were inconsistent saw student attendance react to whether or not the water was at the school. The researchers determined that there was a 2.9% reduction in absenteeism for every container of water delivered at the school. Students were more likely to go to school because of the safe drinking water, not necessarily because of how the water may make them healthier.

The water provided may also have mattered. The 1001F water distributed at the schools was filtered and disinfected by UV light. The use of chlorine is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to treat water, but some people complain that the water does not taste good. The researchers posit that the choice of water may have contributed as an additional incentive for kids to attend school.

“Any scheme to increase drinking water provision in the classroom that does not ensure that that water is safe to drink is likely to put the children at risk of waterborne disease. However, providing safe water in the school environment does not necessarily mean children will drink it,” conclude the authors.

“Indeed taste appears to be a major determinant affecting whether or not people continue to use safe drinking water sources.”

Like most other research, the study concludes that more research is needed. There is a recommendation for a randomized control trial to get a better sense of what is happening and how much credit safe drinking water deserves for keeping kids in school.

Fighting poverty? Don’t make bad faith political choices | 

Whoa, it’s already Friday! Time for another podcast!

This week, East Coast correspondent Tom Murphy and I ramble and argue but mostly agree with each other about lots of things happening in the humanitarian sphere – you might even call it the Humanosphere. We cover USAID’s “fake Twitter” fiasco,” new developments in World Vision’s gay marriage “flip flop” fiasco, as well how much money there is in global health (spoiler: not enough!) and what it’s actually being used for (spoiler redux: it should bolster the public sector, not get funneled into one-off gadgets and gizmos). I’m sure there are other fiascos out there we didn’t have time for.

All of that may sound like bad news, but here’s the good news: Tom and I bring our humano-nerd powers to bear on sorting through it all, so you don’t have to! And you get to observe the interplay between my tendency to paint people of different political persuasions (World Vision donors who don’t believe in gay marriage, for example) with a broad, unflattering brush, and Tom’s level-headed attempts to contextualize and rationalize their beliefs.

Don’t worry, nerdliness isn’t contagious through headphones or speakers.

Want to hear more podcasts? Subscribe and rate us on iTunes.

Visualizing health funding gaps in West and Central Africa | 

Global Health Financing IHME
IHME

Earlier this week, Humanosphere reported on the overall trends in funding for global health – fairly steady, mostly flat the last few years, and perhaps in need of a re-focus.

But which countries need help the most on the health front?

That critical question came up at the April 8 launch event for this report from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s (IHME), Financing Global Health 2013: Transition in an Age of Austerity at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.

The question about which countries deserve the most aid is a complex question. IHME director Chris Murray pointed to key regional funding gaps identified in the study.

Chris Murray
Chris Murray

“If you are thinking ahead, then who do we need to help the most?” asked Murray. “Central and Western Africa and a few other fragile states have the worst health outcomes. We might need to strategically rethink what we’re doing to address problems in countries who are most at risk.”

A related paper was also published the same day in the journal Health Affairs.  J. Stephen Morrison, Senior Vice President and Director of the Global Health Policy Center at CSIS, chaired the launch event. The panel featured Murray and USAID Assistant Administrator for Global Health Ariel Pablos-Méndez. Continue reading

World needs to get its shit together on climate change | 

The effects of drought on maize on an experimental plot at the the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute's Kiboko Research Station.
The effects of drought on maize on an experimental plot at the the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute’s Kiboko Research Station.
Anne Wangalachi/CIMMYT

Another week. Another meeting. Another paper. Another warning that climate change is a big deal.

It’s the annoying broken record playing in the background so quietly that most people don’t hear it. The few that do hear the repeated calls for immediate action to slow down the progress of climate change are trying to make the world’s leaders pay attention and actually do something.

The latest warning comes in the form of a report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In far more technical terms, the hundreds of scientists who participated in the report agree that we are all screwed if greenhouse gas emissions are not cut. This will have an impact in every part of the world, falling hardest on the world’s poor who are already vulnerable to shocks like erratic rains, droughts and natural disasters.

It is careful to say that climate change alone is not going to doom the world. There are other factors that are already making things hard for some people, from lack of economic opportunity to inadequate healthcare access. These are the kind of areas where worldwide progress has been made, but are at risk if climate change is not reigned in.

For his part, Columbia University’s Steven Cohen is a glass half-full kind of guy when it comes to climate change. The Executive Director of the Earth Institute blogged about his optimism in the Huffington Post following the post-IPCC report hysteria. In it, Cohen said he believes solutions will be found to the problem that go well beyond simply reducing the amount of carbon we toss up into the air.

“The issue we face is not our survival, but our willingness to accept the final triumph of technology at the expense of the planet we are biologically and emotionally connected to. Currently, we do not have the technology to supplant nature. For that reason, and possibly others, the IPCC’s projections do not consider the possibility that natural systems could be replaced by artificial ones,” he wrote.

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Guest post: Drug prices hurting Russia’s battle against HIV, hepatitis | 

By Natalie Flath, aka Natasha, a health advocate and activist based in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Andre Scvorstov protests outside the Russian headquarters of drug-makers Roche and Merck with sign: “Merck, You are Reducing the Russian Population.”
Andre Scvorstov protests outside the Russian headquarters of drug-makers Roche and Merck with sign: “Merck, You are Reducing the Russian Population.”
Natalie Flath

St. Petersburg, Russia — On a morning walk down Dostoevsky street here in Russia’s second largest city, with my head phones on to block out the sounds on the street, I try to catch up on the news around the world before I start the work day.

“Euromaiden protests in Kiev.” Hey, that’s where my babushka was born.

“University students crowd the streets of Caracas.” That’s where my mom was born.

“Policeman kills an ex-soldier in Tacoma.” That’s where I was born.

Less noticed are these recent news items:

The Guardian WHO calls for access to hepatitis C drugs

NPR WHO calls for high-priced drugs for millions with hepatitis C

FT Price of hepatitis C drug attacked

Many people are, of course, paying attention these days to the unrest and conflicts in Ukraine, and perhaps most are aware of Russia’s ongoing battle with high HIV rates. But few have paid much attention to the needs of the many thousands of residents in this city, not to mention the 150 million people worldwide, infected with hepatitis C – and how the marketplace approach to this global health need is failing.

I’ve been working with St. Petersburg civil society, two grassroots NGOs, for almost 18 months now. I got this gig from first networking with other organizations while still working in Seattle doing biomedical HIV prevention research. After volunteering one summer to work here with HIV-positive children in a tuberculosis sanitorium, I decided to reach out to activists.

That was before people were paying much attention to Russian activists, other than maybe the outspoken punk rockers Pussy Riot, and before the Ukrainians kicked out their president and Russia annexed Crimea.

What I was focused on was the fact that Eastern Europe and Central Asia, a territory mixed with high- and middle-income countries, is experiencing one of the fastest growing HIV and TB epidemics in the world. I was curious to dig deeper into the faces behind the numbers, tap into my Eastern European roots, and discover all the hype about the grassroots movement.

St. Petersburg is a big, urban city and perhaps not your typical rural village that the term “global health” seems to evoke – but what’s happening here deserves as much attention as the iconic poor, rural village in Africa.

My coworker and HIV-positive friend, Andre, showed me his new tattoo – an angel of death sprawling over his liver.

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Will the US foreign aid budget continue its decline? | 

US Foreain Aid snapshot

An increase in the foreign affairs budget for 2014 saw an end to a four year decline in the US. Discussions are now taking place over the Fiscal Year 2015 budget and the downward trend may resume.

That is what will happen if Rep Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget proposal wins out. If President Obama gets his way, funds will hold steady at $44.1 billion. While it looks likely that foreign aid will be safe from cuts, thanks to is strong supporters, being back on the chopping block is a cause for concern for foreign aid supporters.

Ryan’s cuts into foreign aid appear to be based more on a belief that it is an unnecessary expenditure. The proposed Ryan budget led to public cries to protect the US foreign aid budget. Supporters like to point out that it represents less than 1% of the total federal budget.

Making cuts to such a small program will do little to help reduce US government debt and will harm the people who benefit from US aid work. Ryan has acknowledged this fact in the past, but continues to propose cuts. Foreign aid advocates are pushing against Ryan’s plan by pointing to the damage it will cause to US foreign policy interests.

“Now is not the time to cut America’s vital tools of national security given the growing number of hotspots around the globe,” said General Anthony Zinni, Co-Chair of U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s National Security Advisory Council. “The International Affairs Budget has already seen large reductions in the past few years, and now is not the time to diminish America’s leadership in the world.”

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