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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The other (neglected) fight against foreign occupation – West Papua | 

 By Bernd Debusmann Jr., a guest contributor and freelance journalist based out of London.

A 2012 protest in Melbourne, Australia, against Indonesia's jailing of West Papuan independence activists.
A 2012 protest in Melbourne, Australia, against Indonesia’s jailing of West Papuan independence activists.

In the jungle-clad highlands of West Papua, more than 50 years of conflict between a native independence movement and the Indonesian government has killed thousands and repressed the local population with acts of shocking brutality.

Unlike for Ukraine today, or in Palestine for that matter, the world has never paid much attention to this ongoing episode of a much larger, stronger country invading and annexing another. The struggle in West Papua, the death toll and political jailings barely register on the international political scene. One man is seeking to change that.

BennyWenda“Indonesia arrested me and put me in prison, just simply for peacefully demonstrating and raising the Morning Star flag (West Papua’s national flag),” said Benny Wenda, 39, who has been fighting a decade-long campaign trying to draw attention to Indonesia’s occupation of West Papua and the violations of human rights there.

West Papua, a former Dutch colony, declared independence on December 1st, 1961, but the nascent country was invaded and occupied by Indonesia the following year.


In 1969, a small number of Papuan community leaders were forced under duress to vote in favor of Indonesian governance in a UN-mandated “Act of Free Choice”, despite the fact that West Papuans – ethnic Melanesians – have no historical or cultural ties to Indonesia.

In the eyes of many West Papuans, Western governments sacrificed the country to appease the Indonesians rather than risk losing the South East Asian powerhouse to communism.

A member of the Lani indigenous group, Wenda was born in the mist-covered mountains of West Papua in 1975. His life has been defined by the independence struggle. As a child, he says, he was forced to watch as Indonesian soldiers raped his aunt and broke his two-year old cousin’s back. Both would die of their injuries weeks later. Wenda himself was wounded in an Indonesian bombing raid, leaving him with a lifelong limp.

Between 1977 and 1983, Wenda and his family lived as fugitives in the jungle, struggling against the environment as much as the Indonesians before finally surrendering themselves to authorities. Continue reading

Do the Olympics go hand in hand with human rights violations? | 

Olympics protesters in Berlin. Credit: Adam Groffman

Do the Olympics go hand in hand with human rights violations? If we look at the history of the games, it sure looks like it. “The Olympic Games have displaced more than two million people in the last 20 years, disproportionately affecting minorities such as the homeless, the poor, Roma and African-Americans,” according to a 2007 study from the Centre for Housing Rights and Evictions, including when the games were held in Seoul, Beijing, Melbourne, and even Atlanta.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia this year are taking place amidst a host of human rights violations.

Russia’s vicious discrimination against gay and transgender individuals has, quite appropriately, attracted a lot of attention in the West. But only in the past few days, with the Olympic competitions well underway, have any of the major corporate sponsors bothered to respond to charges that they’re underwriting an event that promotes Russia and masks the abuses of its people.

And as with past international sporting spectacles, the workers who weren’t paid and the residents who were displaced in the rush to build stadiums have gone largely unnoticed.

Tanya Cooper, a Moscow-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, takes us behind the games and explains how each of these human rights abuses has unfolded. She says reactions to these offenses from sponsors as well as from the International Olympic Committee itself are too little, too late.

Still, she says, they’re encouraging signs and we shouldn’t give up hope of reforming future games.Keeping the pressure on might ensure that the thousands of migrant workers who built the Sochi facilities get paid what they’re owed. Listen to hear how.

In the headlines portion, Tom Murphy and I discuss why the fall of the US empire is great for the world, how British right-wing politicians are attacking foreign aid, and how a Nairobi-based director is making fun of the NGO industry in a new television series.

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UN certain chemical weapons used in Syria, US agrees, Russia dissents | 

UN SG Ban shares remarks on the chemical weapons report.
UN SG Ban shares remarks on the chemical weapons report.

The much anticipated report from United Nations chemical weapons inspectors in Syria was finally released on Monday. The group’s findings pointed towards the use of chemical weapons by Syrian armed forces. The US and UN made strong statements about Syria’s use of the weapons. Russia is again the dissenter.

However, the Syrian government is not directly assigned blame. Rather the information provided in the report strongly indicates that the attacks were carried out by Syrian government troops.

“The environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide a clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent Sarin were used,” conclude the inspectors.
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Why is the red line at chemical weapons? | 

Red Line

US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke passionately about the abhorrent act of Syrian forces deploying chemical weapons to kill hundreds of people last week.

“What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality,” said Kerry.

“Let me be clear: The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders, by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity.”

Analysts suggest that Kerry’s remarks represent the US taking yet another step closer to intervention in Syria’s civil war. Lawmakers like Senator John McCain are pushing hard for the Obama Administration to take a more active role. The president’s invocation of a red line on the issue of chemical weapons has been a source of debate and anger for those supporting US action in Syria.
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BRICS rapid growth slowing down, may have been unique | 

The main feature of the new issue of The Economist is on the emerging economies. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa make up the group better known as the BRICS. In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis the economies of the BRICS managed to roar onward and upward. Analysts thought this was a crucial moment for the countries and a sign that the Western standard bearers had some company that would change the global economic landscape.

Five years later the BRICS are not looking so great. All are growing, but things are leveling off for most. Economics correspondent Ryan Avent says (see video) that the booming growth may have been a unique set of circumstances as opposed to a new trend. He says that China took advantage of existing global trade to achieve massive growth. That was held back by high poverty levels and poor policies. Changes helped propel China forward in a way that benefited many other countries around the world.

Now that China has caught up so much to the world’s leading economies there is less room to continue growth at a rapid pace. That has impacts on fellow BRICS and other emerging economies. Most of all, what China did is not necessarily something that other nations can replicate. So that leaves us with wondering what will come next.

Sinking BRICS? How the emerging nations may, or may not, tip the global balance | 

Quarta-feira, 27 de marçoA meeting of the major middle-income countries in South Africa garnered plenty of attention, but produced little in terms of actual policies.

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) account for over 40% of the world’s population, 1/4 of the world’s GDP and are responsible for 55% of the global economic growth since 2009. The BRICS have raced onward in the face of the financial downturn and are poised to take a larger share of the global economy in the coming years.

What will this mean for development, for the global push to reduce poverty, inequity and the so-called north-south imbalance of power. Some experts think not much, because the BRICS are more a concept than a cohesive force. Continue reading

Brazil, China and other “emerging” nations want to take the lead on aid and development | 

The group of nations known (by wonks anyway) as BRICS — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — are fast moving away from being recipients of foreign assistance and toward taking a more active role as donors, drivers of aid and development.

It’s worth paying attention to this shift, what’s driving it and the broader implications beginning with the prediction that the U.S. will soon be second to China as a world economic power. These ‘development’ issues may soon be viewed less as charitable America sending help overseas and more about assuring that a globalized world doesn’t simply increase inequities everywhere.

Flickr, Blog do Planalto

BRICS 2011 meeting in China

At this group’s recent summit meeting in New Delhi, these countries which now represent half the world’s population said they want more of a say in how the world fights poverty, reduces inequities and who gets to make the decisions. As the Mail & Guardian online reported, the BRICS are reshaping a reluctant world order partly out of anger at the West’s historic dominance:

The BRICS grouping’s political clout has grown with its importance to the world economy and the latest summit declared its intention to set up (its own) development bank.

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