Global health advocates celebrate polio milestone despite disease resurgence | 

Pakistani policemen stand guard as a health worker gives a child a polio vaccine in Karachi, Pakistan, Sunday, March 9, 2014.
Pakistani policemen stand guard as a health worker administers a polio vaccine in Karachi, Pakistan, March, 2014.

This week, the World Health Organization certified that India and Southeast Asia was ‘polio free.’

Significant progress has been made against this crippling disease, with 80 percent of the planet now free from polio thanks to an aggressive global vaccination campaign largely led for decades by WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International and more recently supported – both financially and from the bully pulpit – by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

There is indeed cause for celebration, but also alarm.

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GM Cotton is not killing Indian farmers, nor is it saving them | 

Farmers examine cotton for insects.
Farmers in India examine cotton for insects.
S. Jayaraj

The suicides of farmers in India are once again making headlines. Hailstorms and rain have damaged crops for millions of farmers in India, adding to the hardship caused by erratic weather patterns.

Debt concerns have driven nearly 60 farmers to commit suicide in the past month, say advocacy groups. As usually happens, the reports of suicides are followed by claims that the culprit is a genetically modified form of cotton called BT cotton. The finger of blame is often pointed at the agriculture giant Monsanto, creator of the Bt cotton seed.

“Monsanto’s seed monopolies, the destruction of alternatives, the collection of superprofits in the form of royalties, and the increasing vulnerability of monocultures has created a context for debt, suicides and agrarian distress which is driving the farmers’ suicide epidemic in India,” writes Indian activist and Vandana Shiva. “This systemic control has been intensified with Bt cotton. That is why most suicides are in the cotton belt.”

Problem is that the argument made by Shiva and others does not stand up to the available evidence.

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The human cost of Qatar’s migrant policies | 

Doha Construction Site
Doha Construction Site

Revelations of the mistreatment of migrants working on the World Cup sites in Qatar continue to bring forward a larger problem in the Middle Eastern nation.

The AFP revealed on Monday that more than 450 Indian migrants have died while working in Qatar over the past two years. The data comes from a Right to Information request filed by AFP to the Indian embassy in Qatar.

Records show that 237 fatalities in 2012 and 218 in 2013 (through December 5). The rates are alarmingly high, adding to the evidence that the conditions for the more than 1.2 million migrant works in the country.

The Guardian determined that 185 Nepalese workers died in 2013. It’s groundbreaking report in September showed the terrible labor conditions faced by Nepalese migrants doing construction work on new stadiums.  Qatar won a bid to host the 2022 World Cup and is undertaking  a significant construction project to prepare.

Workers face slave-like conditions with their rights severely restricted in Qatar, reported the Guardian. Labor abuses, including working extended hours during the mid-day extreme heat, were attributed to the deaths of some of the workers. The concerns led to attention from the world soccer governing body, FIFA, who condemned the conditions in Qatar. Continue reading

This gif shows a massive India with a lot of economic growth to be had | 

The population of India is massive. Trying to imagine 1.2 billion people (roughly 4x more than the US) is tough. The following two maps put things into perspective.

Both compare India’s states and territories against global equivalents. The visualizations come from The Economist back in 2011. While the overall economy of India is big, there is a disparity between the comparison countries on population and GDP per capita. Uttar Pradesh is the size of Brazil with the economy of Kenya. In fact, Brazil’s GDP ($2.25 trillion) is greater than than of the whole of India ($1.82 trillion). Further south, Kerala has the same population as Canada and the economy of Papua New Guinea.

Interact with the maps below.
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US financial policy to cause short term problems for emerging economies | 


The recovery of the United States is not great news for emerging economies. The tide of investments that increased over the past few years is heading back out.

The news is great for people living in the US and the Euro zone. A much discussed recovery is actually happening. As a result, governments are making changes to financial polices that were meant to help deal with slow economic growth. Some of the policies, such as quantitative easing, were a boon for emerging economies.

Public discussions about the end of quantitative easing were enough to alter billions of dollars worth of investment portfolios. An estimated $64 billion in mutual fund investments was taken out of emerging markets between June and August last year. Much of the rise and fall of the investments can be tied to the policy of quantitative easing carried out by the US Federal Reserve (Fed).

“Five years of unconventional monetary policies in developed countries to address the impact of the global financial crisis led to increased capital flows to developing countries as investors searched for yields as developed countries’ interest rates were kept at historic lows,” explains a new report by the Overseas Development Institute.

“The potential for the unwinding of these unconventional policies caused global instability from May 2013, especially in emerging economies such as India (initially), Indonesia, South Africa, Turkey and Brazil.”
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Indian actor’s satirical answers to fan questions about being gay | 

Imran Khan, a young leading man in Bollywood, participates in a satirical video to answer questions following the re-authorization of a law in India banning gay acts.

He describes how gay people are trying to convert others, where to find the gay/straight switch and other practical advice. All in all, it is a strong criticism of fears about homosexuality in India and a rather funny way of taking on the fears.

The video comes from All India Bakchod, the same group that used humor to criticize attitudes about rape in India.

Science, vaccines and women’s health suffer deadly setbacks in India | 

Flickr, pugetive

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.

Vivien Tsu
Vivien Tsu

“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

Gay sex illegal again, rules Indian court | 

Indian rights activists react to the Supreme Court decision to uphold a law banning gay sex.
Indian rights activists react to the Supreme Court decision to uphold a law banning gay sex.

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