Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Aid paid, zero for AIDS

While patients are discriminated, condemned and left to their fate, the AIDS awareness campaign is a catchword that means nothing, even in public hospitals, despite millions being spent on government-sponsored programmes

Farah Aziz Delhi, HARDNEWS

A debate is raging on the number of HIV/AIDS patients in India. It could be anywhere between 5.7 or 2.5 million. However, these are just numbers. Somewhere, we forgot to talk about people. Issues of injustice and discrimination against the counted ones are often neglected.

Sadanand (name changed), 40, can’t see with his left eye: the result of a sudden rise in blood pressure. When he approached a hospital in Delhi, he was denied operation. Why? He was HIV positive.

His travails lasted for almost a year. On August 8, 2006, Sadanand visited the Guru Nanak Hospital in Delhi, where Dr B Ghosh advised him an immediate operation to save his eyesight. As a date for the operation was being fixed he informed that he was HIV positive, and showed his prescriptions to the doctor, thinking that his HIV positive status should come for consideration in his treatment. Dr Ghosh asked him to come back after a few days.

Consequently, when he went to the doctor on August 15, he was kept waiting for hours. He was asked to come after 15 days. A desperate Sadanand visited the doctor again on September 1. He told the doctor that he was being discriminated because he is HIV positive. At this, the doctor warned him not to visit him again as he could infect other patients. However, Dr Ghosh finally agreed to an operation, scheduled for September 25, after Sadanand threatened to file a police report.

On the day of the scheduled operation, Sadanand waited outside the operation theatre the entire day. At around 5 pm, Dr Ghosh declared that he would not conduct the operation.

Sadanand gave up and went for private treatment at Shroff Hospital, Daryaganj, in New Delhi. The operation was not entirely successful since by then it was too late. Sadanand can now see partially with his right eye, his left eye lost forever. He had to pay Rs 16,000 for his treatment at Shroff Hospital. He works as a counsellor for voluntary organisation, his monthly income is Rs 8,000, he lives in a rented flat, looks after his mother and spends at least Rs 2,000 a month on his treatment.

An agitated Sadanand filed an FIR against Dr Ghosh. The police, instead, sent him to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), saying that cases of discrimination by government officials do not fall under their jurisdiction. So he approached the NHRC as the last resort and got a case filed against Dr Ghosh on October 26, 2006, the receipt for which (Registration number 3006/30/2006-2007/OC) he got on December 15. On February 1, 2007, the NHRC informed Sadanand that his case has been referred to the then health secretary, Delhi, DS Negi, for further action.

“As I presented my case before Negi, his attitude seemed dubious. He gave me a vague assurance that he will look into the matter, and that he had asked his personal assistant to talk to the doctor,” says Sadanand. He kept on visiting the secretariat. Twice, he claims, he was wrongly informed that the secretary was not present, although Sadanand could see him sitting inside. After about four or five futile visits, Sadanand finally got to meet Negi on July 25, a day before he was transferred from the department.

“I have accepted my fate,” Sadanand says. “I know the new secretary will also show the same attitude and nothing will be done. Dr Ghosh will never be convicted because he is a government official. Who can touch him? My health is more important to me. I have to fight for my living now, not the case of blatant victimisation.” Ironically, Sadanand was the first HIV positive person to have been registered for free medication under the HIV/Aids programme of the government of India.

Another case is that of Savitri (name changed), 38, a housewife based in Nehona in Bihar. After being suspicious of her symptoms, she visited a doctor in Safdarjung Hospital. She complained of recurrent fever, headache, irregular menstruation and weight loss. The doctor recommended a list of tests been registered for — urine, stool, blood and ultrasound tests, and asked Savitri to get them done from private pathological labs, as the handwriting of the lab attendants in Safdarjung Hospital was illegible, and the reports unreliable. Savitri got the tests done from outside. They cost her around Rs 2,500. “I thought if I disobeyed the doctor's orders I too would get AIDS like my husband, who did not go for tests even after the doctors told him to,” she says.

After submitting the test reports, Savitri complained of vaginal irritation. The doctor suspected a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and asked Savitri to lie down so she could take her vaginal fluid. During the conversation, Savitri disclosed that her husband is HIV positive. The doctor immediately pulled back her hand and scolded Savitri for not informing her earlier. The doctor refused to take the vaginal sample and asked Savitri to get an Elisa test done.

After examining the report, which declared Savitri positive, the doctor refused to treat her and referred her to Dr Ravindran. He recommended fresh tests; Savitri had to spend another Rs 2,000. It was only later that Dr Ravindran got to know about Savitri's travails and accused the earlier doctor of discrimination. This, however, made things worse for Savitri, as Dr Ravindran went on a long leave, and Savitri had to again go to the doctor who had rejected her. Losing all hope and heavily in debt, Savitri and her husband returned to their home in Nehona in, Bihar.

Contrast this human tragedy to the lavish financial reality of the HIV/AIDS programme in India. Among the major national health programmes, finances for HIV/AIDS is second only to malaria. It has been occupying a prominent place since the beginning of the Ninth Five Year Plan, 1997. By the end of the Plan, the financial allocation for the HIV/AIDS programme was almost equal to that of the programme on malaria eradication. While the total outlay on malaria eradication has been Rs 9,630 million during 1997-2002, that of the HIV/AIDS programme has been Rs 7,280 million. According to the ministry of health, over the years, the financial allocation to the HIV/AIDS programme has recorded the highest growth (approximately 100 per cent rise during 1997-2002) among all national programmes.

Nearly 75 per cent of the total funds procured by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) is officially diverted to prevention and awareness. Rs 40 billion has been spent in the National AIDS Control Programme or NACP-I and NACP-II since 1998 — towards prevention and awareness alone. A budget of Rs. 11,585 crore has recently been announced for NACP-III, of which a little over 75 per cent is towards prevention measures. (See table) Besides the major sources, there are several smaller organisations, national and international, involved in awareness-building and other prevention mechanisms through internal funds.

The question is — Are these massive expenditures and efforts towards prevention, and especially awareness, fulfilling their objectives? Especially when doctors, and that too of public hospitals, discriminate against HIV positive or AIDS patients? There must be hundreds of cases similar to those of Sadanand and Savitri. Christy Abraham, head of ActionAid's HIV and AIDS project in India, sums it up. “NACO's approach towards HIV/AIDS is narrow. We don't need to take AIDS as an enemy to combat. The focus should be on combating discrimination,” she says.

PK Hota, former secretary in the Union ministry of health, admits that NACO may have failed to utilise its funds properly. He claims that they have succeeded on the awareness front.

When a major chunk of the AIDS funds have gone to awareness generation, at the cost of care and treatment, how come the doctors have remained so unaware? What is the point of even doubling the funds allocated to the HIV/AIDS programme if doctors and public hospitals continue to be so brazenly insensitive and inhuman?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Active mothers raise active children

BMJ study

Parents who are active during pregnancy tend to raise more active children, finds a study published on Children born in autumn are also more likely to be athletic, the findings suggest. The researchers found that it wasn't biological factors at play that influenced a child's athleticism. Instead, the researchers said active pregnant women were likely to continue to exercise during their child's impressionable pre-school years. The example set by their parents influenced the children and encouraged them to get into the habit as well.

The researchers from Bristol University in England gathered data on 11- and 12-year-old children's activity over the course of at least three days. Each child was asked to wear an accelerometer for seven days, which recorded minute by minute the intensity and frequency of physical activity.

They analyzed the data against several factors, including how active mothers were during pregnancy. They found the children of those mothers who regularly exercised while pregnant ended up three to four per cent more active.

Another factor that influenced activity was season of birth. The authors say the association is difficult to explain, but may be linked to school starting age.

Myanmar reports bird flu

Myanmar has reported an outbreak of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus at a chicken farm in the northeast, as reported in state media and international media. Unusual deaths of chickens at a farm in a village in Shan State's Keng Tung township were reported on Nov. 18, and laboratory tests confirmed that H5N1 was detected in some of them, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported. Authorities have imposed control measures including a quarantine on the farm, limits on movement of poultry in the area, and disinfection of affected premises. H5N1 began ravaging Asian poultry stocks in late 2003, leading to the death or slaughter of millions of birds. The virus has also killed at least 206 people worldwide. Myanmar has reported no human H5N1 cases.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

HIV infection estimate go down

As per report released by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WH0)reveals that the number of people around the world living with the virus that causes AIDS is actually nearly seven million fewer than previous estimates, according to the United Nations.

Better information from more countries prompted the groups to revise the 2006 estimate of 39.5 million people living with HIV to 32.7 million, according to a statement from UNAIDS.

The single biggest factor in the reduction, the report said, was the "recent revision of estimates in India after an intensive reassessment of the epidemic in that country."

Other factors include the revision of estimates in Angola, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria and Zimbabwe, the statement said.

But that said so, there is a need to further improve the representativeness of the underlying data and expand disease surveillance systems to better track the sub-epidemics in risk populations within each county added an official.

Current figures show 33.2 million people living with HIV in 2007 -- with 22.5 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa, according to 2007 statistics from the report.

That region also accounts for 1.7 million new HIV infections for 2007 -- of a global total of 2.5 million new infections -- and eight countries in that area account for nearly one third of the 2.1 million AIDS deaths, the report said.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

MP Ki Safai Dekho

Madhya Pradesh’s manual scavengers who want to quit their inhuman trade are forced back under pressure from State and society.


Rekha Bai used to carry nightsoil in Tonkakala village of Dewas district in Madhya Pradesh. She had inherited this illegal trade from her mother-in-law, and unwillingly continued it for 15 long years. Finding it detestable, she finally decided to give it up, and stayed away from this work for sometime. To her horror, she quickly discovered that no other means of livelihood was available to people like her, and had no choice but to resume the work due to society's pressure.

The inhuman practice of the cleaning dry latrines and transporting of human excreta manually has been around for ages, but it has been officially banned since 1993. The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, makes the employment of scavengers or the construction of dry latrines that are not connected to a drainage system a punishable offence, that can result in imprisonment up to one year and/or a fine of Rs 2,000.

Those found guilty of the offence are also liable to prosecution under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Yet, in several villages of interior Madhya Pradesh, as in several other remote parts of the country, the practice continues to this day. It is noteworthy that 98 percent women and only two percent man are in this line of work. But the government assistance for those leaving the trade is provided mostly for jobs meant for men.

"I did not like this work. But I was forced to do this to make both ends meet. There was no alternative," says Rekha Bai, who has now once and for all given up the trade after being persuaded by social activists. Her case is not very different from that of hundreds of others, mostly women, who find themselves forced to do this work in the absence of other means of livelihood. Like Rekha Bai, Laxmi Bai of Devgarh village also had earlier quit the trade, but had to resume work after staying away for two months. Vimla Bai and Dhanna Lal of the same village too faced a similar dilemma.

But today all of them have given up this work thanks largely to the efforts of activists and social organisations. While the practice has almost completely stopped in MP’s Dewas district, but it continues unchecked in several other districts of the state. But quitting the trade is the easier part; most of them still face the almost insurmountable problem of finding alternative means of livelihood. Many have tried to get work as farm labourers to sustain themselves, but most find themselves in the position of Vimla Bai, who says, "It is not easy to get any other job after giving up this work. People do not want to employ us due to untouchability."

In Ujjain district, the carrying of nightsoil is done by members of the Hindu Valmiki community or the Muslim Haila community. Many also do several other tasks for their employers, for which they do not get any payment. Most of them get Rs 20 to 30 per month from each household they serve, besides some roti and old clothes on the occasion of festivals.

Officially at least, Islam has no place for untouchability, but in reality, most Hailas face severe social discrimination. But things are changing here too. Says Taslim of Kayatha, "I did not like carrying night-soil. But there was so much pressure of the family and the society that I had no other option. However I decided to give up this work after the social workers persuaded me. It is my endeavour that no other woman of the area may have to do this work."

According to Asif, who heads Jan Sahas, an organisation working to help the manual scavengers, especially women find alternative employment, says that their social rehabilitation is a big problem. "This is the reason that many women have returned to this work after quitting it once," he says. The other major problem is of the education of their children. Rules specified by the government, which does not officially recognise that they carry nightsoil, and classify them as ‘sanitation workers’, are such that their children get scholarships for education only as long as their families continue this work.

Government officials say that the scholarship is meant for children of people engaged in insanitary occupations, and once they quit this work there is no question of their children receiving scholarship. For the nightsoil-carriers of the region, it’s a situation of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. Says 54-year-old Mannu Bai of Sia village, who quit this work, "My grandsons and granddaughters were discriminated in the school when we used to work. Now that we have quit this work, we are no longer in a position to send them to school."

Five years have passed since Kiran, Shobha, Santosh Bharosa and most other women of Sia’s Valmiki basti quit their jobs. But even today, the only work they get is on the fields, when there’s ripening or harvesting of crop. Sometimes they wait to get permission from the nagar panchayat in order to cleaning the drains and gutters, which is given for 15 days to each family by turn.

One survey revealed that 52 persons in Hoshangabad who had left this work were forced to resume it in the absence of proper rehabilitation. Even those who have left the trade haven’t seen much change in their lives, and still find themselves forced to do their community’s dirty work. Many are given tasks similar to their former trade, such as disposing of dead animals in the village, bringing back dead person's clothes from the cemetery, performing last rites of the unclaimed bodies and so on.

The government has no solid policy that can put an end to such occupations, which are restricted to particular castes by an age-old social system. Local authorities have claimed that they aim to end such practices by December 2008, the latest date that has been set on the task since 1993. It remains to be seen whether those who have given up this work will be suitably rehabilitated, instead of continuing to be forced back into their accursed trade. It's a crying shame that even after 60 years of independence, this inhuman practice continues unabated in ‘Shining India’.

Tehelka Magazine, Vol 4, Issue 45, Dated Nov 24, 2007

Friday, November 16, 2007

Nearly 600 killed, thousands missing in cyclone-hit Bangladesh

Nearly 600 people were killed and thousands others, mostly fishermen, went missing as one of the worst cyclones in decades accompanied by huge waves and torrential rains battered Bangladesh's southwestern coast, destroying houses and affecting power supply countrywide.

At least 500 trawlers with over 3000 fishermen have been missing since cyclone Sidr, packing winds upto 240 kms, made landfall at Khulna-Barisal coast on Thursday evening and swept central Bangladesh, including the capital Dhaka.

The Army backed by air force choppers was called in to help in rescue efforts with the death toll reaching near 600, television channels here reported. Barguna district was worst affected where over 120 people were killed.

Local residents claimed to have seen nearly 500 bodies in Barguna.

The private UNB news agency, however, said at least 425 people had died while government officials put the toll to over 260 which is likely to rise.

Other areas devastated in the cyclone included Dublar Char, an island in the Subdarbans forest, and districts of Khulna and Barisal.

Thousands of acres of paddy fields were damaged with lowlands being flooded in Patuakhali district, where 43 people died, officials said. Nearly 80 per cent of shanties and thatched houses in coastal areas were destroyed, officials said

Power supply to entire Bangladesh, including Dhaka, was disrupted with the failure of the national grid. Officials said that only 10 per cent of the demand was being met.

Power department officials have said they were expecting to restore the supply in the next two days.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Dalit stabbed to death in MP for beating bull

BHOPAL: Atrocities against Dalits have added an ugly chapter in Madhya Pradesh when a man was stabbed to death and his body set ablaze because he lashed a bull decorated for Govardhan puja.

Kailash Bagri, 40, grabbed a stick and beat the animal, which was tied to a poll by his neighbour Suresh Patidar, an OBC member.

The incident happened last Friday at Khachhroda village, 45 km from the district town of Dhar. Dhar SP Chanchal Shekhar told TOI that a group of people from the community attacked Bagri and stabbed him to death while his mother, wife, brother and sister-in-law watched helplessly.

"They set the body on fire to destroy evidence and threatened Bagri's family against reporting the murder to the police," Shekhar said.

On Monday, one of them managed to slip out and report the matter to the police. Worshipping cattle as part of Govardhan puja, which falls a day after Diwali, is common in rural Madhya Pradesh.

Bagri was angry with the bull because it broke free from poll and ran into his house destroying decorations. On Tuesday, police arrested six people after registering a case of murder against 16 members of the Patidar community.

Times of India, Nov 14, 2007

Sunday, November 11, 2007

‘Game of Hinghots’ : Injures many but still played ?

This is a virtual ‘no rule’ game traditionally played every year, a day after diwali in Gautampur, eleven kilometers off Indore town in the State of Madhya Pradesh. Two teams hurl ‘traditional live fire crackers/bombs or hinghots’ at each other. The only protection guard, which also is with few, is a small shield of Iron locally called as ‘Dhal’. This game is extremely risky and injures many every year. Hinghot is a lemon shaped locally grown wild fruit. Villagers from villages like Tura, Kalgi, Gautampura, Runji empty this fruit and fill it gun powder. In the game these ‘fruits shaped fire bombs’ are lit with fire and thrown by one team of participants at another and vice versa . There are two teams with no fixed number of players who play this game and each team throws any number of these missiles like fire bombs at any time. The game has no rules here except that they are normally separated by a distance which is marked but there is NO ‘no ball’ or bouncers, and neither an umpire.

One has to throw lighted lemon shaped hinghot fire cracker / bombs mounted on stick after lightning it with fire at a high speed on the other team. One who throws it normally aims at someone but it is like a ‘missile’ which goes untamed. The stick gives it the needed momentum and a high speed, which makes it more dangerous. Unlike T-20 or T- 50 match, it goes on till the time one team recedes or finishes its ammunition. It normally starts in evening day after diwali after participants pay their respect at the temple and goes on till night.

Though administration uses loud speaker to announce precautions and asking them to restrict to their area but who listens and is this enough? People come in hundreds to watch this game and many times get injured as these missiles like fire bombs land up within spectators. Last year about fifty including participants and spectators had got injured, a real high cost to play and watch this game. One spectator watching the game told a media channel Sahara Samay reporter who was covering this game live, that this has been played every year for years now except in 1992 when one person had died and administration had stopped it for couple of years but was reassumed again. The other spectator told him that last year a young boy named Raj Kumar had lost his eye but that did not deter him to play again ? They say it is a traditional game and people living in this area have been seeing this happening for years, a day after Diwali. People who participate from nearby areas plan and prepare for this game for month in advance and make these missiles like hinghots locally. Now some even sell these missiles like hinghots in the area. Not much has been done to stop this risky game or make this safer, in case it is very necessary to play this game which injures many and even leaving some disabled for life long.

Portrayal of violence on news channels

M.s. Verma

News channels portray violence indiscriminately and repetitively. They should use restraint as it has a bad effect on the audience and more on children. The author puts across his views on the issue.

IN THE NAME OF realistic reporting, news channels show violence as an important component of the news. The graphic details of lurid visuals and then umpteen times repetition hammering the news item into the head of the viewers sometimes becomes repugnant and nauseating. Each channel tries to outdo the other in this regard. The viewers are reminded in numerous ways that their channel alone ensures in depth reporting and in the process subtly and obliquely try to undermine the credibility of the others. Agreed that to reasonable limits visuals do make news interesting but too much of everything is bad and showing violence in excess is no exception to the rule.

Violence scenes splashed over TV screen fall into the following categories:

1. Violence by the police
2. Violence in personal relationships
3. Violence by fundamentalists
4. Violence by communal forces and
5. Violence on gullible superstitious people in the name of exorcism and other occult practices to rid them of incurable diseases

In reporting violence by the police, the channels certainly render an important service. The officials of the lower level do need to be reined in. They have no business to behave like irresponsible. But we should not forget that sometime the people too forget their boundaries often causing harm to the psyche of the law abiding and peace loving people and the police have a duty to do. They are prone to be criticised one way or the other, either for inactivity or for excess. But violence whether by the police or the people is an evil, a dish that can’t be served indiscriminately.

In the second category we are shown a married professor being beaten with shoes and chappals by the members of his family. So is his paramour, his student in fact, though she is proclaiming her love for him shamelessly and naturally arouses the ire of the people who more often than not take the law into their own hands. She is beaten, pushed, pulled and humiliated. A lady teacher is beaten, thrashed and humiliated to no end for an alleged illegal act which the people later come to know was an unsubstantiated allegation.

In the third category fall the cases of gruesome scenes of an Australian missionary and his sons having been burnt by fundamentalists or of beating of a professor and a student of art by those whose judgment in such matters can be faulted. The zealots, who indulge in such acts of violence, have a morbid mentality and are mostly irrational and insensitive to public sensibility and social decency.
Some channels forget that they are abetting crime and violence when they videotape an aggrieved citizen pouring kerosene on himself and putting a match to it. He dies as a consequence. Why was this man or others like him are allowed to do this, one may ask?

In the fourth category is the violence perpetrated by quacks and exorcists who profess to cure incurable diseases or exorcise patients. A quack stands on the chest of a howling kid. Another uses a sword to cure ailing persons. Then whipping and beating of the sick is shown again and again. Another quack is shown dangling patients into a well pretending to cure them. It must be admitted that this reporting made the police act promptly. But even in such cases discrimination as to how long such portrayal is to continue is necessary. All these portrayals make the viewers shudder. But it will be quite enough if the visuals are shown with adequate restraint.

Portrayal of violence on TV lends it glamour and now and then sends wrong signals to unscrupulous people who become bold enough to perpetrate violence by creating situations with their machinations. On the other hand it seldom benefits the law abiding peace loving people who can do very little except showing their distaste and shrugging their shoulders. Though this sort of news acts as a reminder to the indifferent and inactive authorities who should prevent such occurrences when there is still time, yet this happens very rarely. Then there may be other ways to point out to the authorities this predicament. The children and the youth of the country have impressionable minds and portrayal of violence affects them adversely.

There is need for the news channels to introspect and check the over enthusiastic portrayal of violence, where a spoken utterance should and would suffice. There is also imbalance in such reporting which needs to be corrected. We have quite a large number of excellent journalists in our media who should come forward to lend a helping hand so that reporting can be streamlined and becomes a genuine public utility that delivers the goods expected of them.

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Indonesia confirms 91st bird flu death

JAKARTA (AFP) — Indonesia confirmed Saturday that a 31-year-old man from Sumatra island who died last week was infected with bird flu, raising the toll in the worst-hit nation to 91.

Deaths from the H5N1 virus have been steadily rising in archipelagic Indonesia where the virus is now endemic across 31 of its 33 provinces. The latest casualty was the second this month.

"Both tests are positive," Daswir Nurdin, from the ministry's bird flu information centre, told AFP. Two tests for the H5N1 virus must be returned positive before someone is confirmed as dying of avian flu here.

Nurdin said that the latest victim died Tuesday in Pekanbaru shortly after arriving at its main hospital. He had fallen sick on October 31 and been admitted to a local hospital three days later.

"The number of cases (of bird flu in Indonesia) is 113, of which 91 have been fatal," he said. Nurdin added that it was unclear whether the man had come into contact with poultry, the usual method of transmission of the disease to humans. Many Indonesians keep chickens or ducks in their backyards.

Azizman Daad from the state general hospital in the province told AFP that animal health teams from the Agriculture Ministry visited the area this week but didn't find any sick or dead chickens.

However, he said that an eight month baby living less than one kilometre away was suspected of bird flu and was now under treatment in the hospital, after the inspectors found bird nests.

"The blood samples of the birds have been sent to the laboratory and we are waiting for the result," he added. Scientists fear that H5N1 will eventually mutate into a form that is much more easily transmissible between humans, triggering a global pandemic.

The original source is thought to have been wild migratory birds. H5N1 has mainly affected Asia and some parts of Africa, but the Food and Agricultural Organisation warned last month that the virus could be transmitted to poultry in Europe by ducks and domestic geese seemingly in good health.

Besides Indonesia, deaths have been recorded in Azerbaijan, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Iraq, Laos, Nigeria, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam.

The human outbreaks sparked a drive in recent years to bolster preparedness for a possible pandemic, including stockpiling of antiviral drug treatments, greater vaccine research and advance emergency planning.

There has been a resurgence in recent weeks in Vietnam, another of the countries worst hit by bird flu, with a sixth province reporting deaths in poultry on Thursday.

The communist nation had managed to control the situation with mass culls and vaccinations but it resurfaced in May and October.

Authorities in Indonesia, which reported its first human case in 2005, were initially criticised for being slow to act to curb the virus' spread.

Too much & not enough

The Times of India, Saira Kurup

The Sensex has hit 20k. Lakhs have become lakhpatis overnight. Yet, every night millions of our children go to bed hungry, without having a single full meal of the day. Our glittering growth is still unable to feed a majority of our kids.

India has among the highest numbers of hungry children in the world — nearly double that of sub-Saharan Africa. Even Ethiopia is placed ahead of India (94th) in the Global Hunger Index 2007 of 118 countries, by the International Food Policy Research institute. The index looks at progress by countries on three indicators for two UN millennium goal targets for 2015: the proportion of calorie-deficient people, child malnutrition and child mortality.

How can these children get enough to eat when their families are not just poor but are also predominantly from marginalised sections like SC/STs and Dalits? Most are agricultural labourers, don't own any land, have no regular livelihood and little access to food and health programmes. Pradeep Narayanan, deputy GM, policy & research, Child Rights and You, says, "The government gets adequate information on hunger deaths, where it is likely to happen, and has adequate food storage facilities to combat it. But it's the redistribution that is not working."

According to the National Family Health Survey 3 (2005-06), 46% of our children are underweight, (because largely, their mothers are also undernourished) 19% wasted or too thin for height and 38% have stunted growth. Around 79% of those under the age of three are anaemic.

All these only raise the risk of developing fatal diseases and infection. But still, says Professor Mohan Rao, Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, JNU, "Hunger finds no mention in the national health policy."

There's a lot of focus on childhood diseases like diarrhoea and polio but little on the real culprit. How much can immunisation help an undernourished child?

Prof Rao says the immediate need is to put hunger back on the health agenda. "The Integrated Child Development Scheme is not adequately monitored and is thinly spread. An improved ICDS, the rural employment guarantee scheme and better access to the public distribution system will do a great deal in reducing hunger," he says, adding there's need for universal coverage too.

There are also calls for introducing a Right to Food. Narayanan says if the right is to be effective, it should not be relief-based but rights-based and accountability has to be fixed. "The way children are forced to work in order to eat, one should aspire for food security, though the goal of nutrition security is best. The mid-day meal scheme has helped but it should have been linked less with the schooling system and more with the hunger pattern," he adds.

But wait, the country's also facing a dramatic increase in another form of malnutrition among children, in the form of obesity arising from unhealthy diet and lifestyle in urban areas. Sandeep Malhotra, bariatric surgeon, Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon, says, "Most obese people are malnourished. Imbalance in diet, consumption of more fat and carbohydrates leads to deficiency of micronutrients and anaemia."

Increasing fat intake accompanied by rising physical inactivity is contributing to obesity in children. Dr Malhotra says, "Obesity is rising more among middle class kids." It raises the risk of early onset of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Overweight girls tend to attain early puberty and face higher risk of cancer of the breast, ovaries and uterus, as also infertility and polycystic ovarian disease later in life.

Adds Dr Malhotra, "A lot of resources are spent on combating diarrhoea, TB etc but not on this issue. The danger is of obese kids growing up to be morbidly obese adults. We already spend more than 50% of our healthcare expenses on obesity-related problems." According to a recent study of 1,155 kids in classes 3 to 5 by Delhi Diabetic Research Centre, one in five schoolchildren in Delhi are overweight/obese. Experts believe it's the parents who need counselling on better nutrition for their kids.

The paradox of these two Indias and the widening rift between them is disturbing. The challenge is to find solutions for bridging the gap and for this double burden of malnutrition.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Poverty alleviation and inclusive growth – priorities of XI th Plan

'The Hindu' reports from New Delhi reports that 11th Five year Plan of Government of India proposes to introduce specific targeting at the national and State levels to monitor programmes such as poverty alleviation to usher in inclusive growth. The draft Plan document, slated for discussion at a full meeting of the Commisssion chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here on Thursday, proposes 27 targets at the national level and 13 at the State level that will be scrutinised at regular intervals by the Centre and the State governments.

With a proposed outlay of Rs. 36,44,718 crore, the 11th Plan, beginning 2007, seeks to raise the farm sector growth from 2.13 to 4 per cent while pegging the industry and services sector growth rates at 9-11 per cent. At the national level, the targets to be monitored have been grouped into six major categories to include income and poverty, education, health, women and children, infrastructure and environment.

Focussed on children
The 13 State level targets pertain to State GDP , infant mortality, literacy rate, farm growth rate, poverty ratio and child malnutrition.

Policies and programmes both at the Central and State levels are proposed to be devised to ensure that the targets are achieved. As for a few specifics of the targets to be fixed, the Plan aims at generating seven crore new work opportunities during 2007-12 along with a reduction in joblessness among the educated to less than 5 per cent. The dropout from elementary schools is proposed to be brought down to 20 per cent by the end of the Plan period from 52.2 per cent in 2003-2004.
While the target under health is to provide clean drinking water to all by 2009, the gender ratio for children below six is to be increased to 935 females per thousand males by 2011-12.

Diwali: From 'diyas' to electric lights and SMS msgs

Diwali in India has given way to forwarded SMSs and emails, replaced ‘people to people’ contact. Where have those days gone, when people used to meet, mingle and share?

DIWALI IS round the corner. But over the years Diwali celebrations have changed. Candles, ‘diyas’ are getting replaced with electric lights (of which the majority are of Chinese make), as they are cheap and readily available. It is not only the case with ‘diyas’, but it is also the way people greet their friends and relatives that has changed. Nowadays, it is just SMS or MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) from the mobile phone, or an email to one who has an email id. With millions in India owing mobile phones, this is relatively fast and simple.

SMS is replacing, phone calls and home visits. In the years gone by, during festival time, people used to visit, call and mingle. Then came the easy way out - expressing one’s feelings by posting a greeting card. Greeting cards are getting expensive these days.

For calling people, you need time, have to spent money on airtime and importantly, have to relate to that person. But with SMS available, one just goes to his/her mobile phone message box, types a message and the formalities get completed. But what does one write in the message? This is also simple. One just needs to a use a little bit of brainpower. One can just forward an SMS one has earlier received. The only caution one should exercise is to delete the name of the person from whom one had received the message and add one’s own, which many fail to do. Also, one should add one’s name at the end of message (it is possible that the receiver does not remember your mobile number). The other, simpler way is to send an email. Download a simple email greeting and forward it to as many individuals as is possible.

These technological solutions are definitely fast, simple and economical, but aren’t they replacing the much-needed ‘people to people’ contact, wherein one meets, mingles and shares? Earlier, one used to prepare days ahead for it, and many a times one used to forget old differences and start afresh. Times are changing, things are different, one hardly gets time – faster alternatives are replacing older ones. May be, that is the reason one sees more rush at markets, networks getting clogged and crackers (read money) being blown off. May be, we need to ponder upon it.

Anil Gulati

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

World Usability Day - ‘Technology is for making life easy’

Anil Gulati

November 8 is being marked as World Usability Day. World Usability Day was founded to ensure that the services and products important to life are easier to access and simpler to use.

A YEAR and half ago, I bought Onida’s DVD player from an electronic shop in Bhopal. That was it. Since then, I am hardly able to play any movies on it. Instead, a huge amount of time and energy was spend on replacing the parts which conked off within the guarantee period, and then spending money later on to get it repaired. The rest is history.

By the way, it still does not work, and is now an owner’s envy! It is not simply a case of this DVD player. Many a times, technology rather then making our lives easy, makes it difficult. Similarly one day, my friend checked the blood pressure of his father late at night using an electronic BP meter, which showed an extremely high blood pressure, though in reality it was a false alarm. But by then the family had rushed him to hospital in the night, wherein the truth came to light. His meter had failed to deliver. It was a failure of technology. Both these examples tell us how innovation and technology, become a bane rather than a blessing.

With this motto, November 8 is being marked as World Usability Day. This is the third World’s Usability Day (WUD), which will be celebrated globally on November 8, 2007. World Usability Day was founded to ensure that the services and products important to life are easier to access and simpler to use. The overarching theme is “Making Life Easy!” This day is marked to put people at the centre of design, beginning with their needs and wants, and resulting in technology that benefit all of us.

This year, the focus of the World Usability Day 2007 is healthcare. Whether it’s new medical devices or technologies; drug research, approval, or delivery; patient forms or medical record sharing; emergency disaster planning; increasing the functionality of hospitals; or everyday healthcare delivery, EVERYONE is affected by usability in healthcare. Healthcare must be available to everyone around the world.

This holds great importance in developing economies of the world. Health technologies are used at every level of the healthcare system. From the simplest to the most advanced, they form the backbone of the services medicine can offer in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of illness and disease. As per WHO (World Health Organisation) up to 50 per cent of medical equipments in the world are not in use, either because of a lack of maintenance or spare parts, or because it is too sophisticated, or simply because the health personnel do not know how to use it. This has far-reaching implications for healthcare delivery and invariably represents a deplorable waste of scarce resources.

The continuous technical advances in the field offer a promise of developing potent new weapons against our oldest public health threats, as well as new ones - malaria, genetic deficiencies, pandemic influenza, and AIDS, to name a few - but also put a great deal of pressure on manufacturers, regulatory authorities, and the wider medical community to ensure that products continue to meet the highest standards of quality attainable and are easy to use by humans. Medical technology can improve health, but it must be easy-to-use: error in this arena is costly.

As per the charter listed on website, Technology today is too hard to use. In order to humanise a world that uses technology as an infrastructure for education, healthcare, government, communication, entertainment, work, and other areas, we must agree to develop technologies in a way that serves people first. Technology should enhance our lives, not add to our stress or cause danger through poor design or poor quality. It is our duty to ensure that this technology is effective, efficient, satisfying and reliable, and that it is usable by all people.

This is particularly important for people with disabilities because technology can enhance their lives, letting them fully participate in work, social and civic experiences.

Yatra for rights

Public hearings for women and children is taking place in six districts of MP A special 'Yatra' has been organised in six districts of the Madhya Pradesh, which will engage communities to seek accountability from the state

'RIGHT TO FOOD’ campaign is an informal network of civil society organisations and individuals in the state of Madhya Pradesh. They are holding a month long campaign to raise concern and press for their demands for universalisation of Integrated Child Development System with quality and dignity, increasing minimum wages to Rs 133 per day and that in public distribution system, entitlement is given to beneficiaries with dignity.

Both these networks are committed to the realisation of the right to food and work. They believe (rightfully so) that the primary responsibility for guaranteeing basic entitlements rests with the state. The Constitution of India also upholds this.

In Madhya Pradesh, this group is actively raising concern on the issue of food rights, livelihood issues, and promoting debate on the issue of food sovereignty and the role of the state. A special ‘Yatra’ or a walk was organised in the six districts of the state of Madhya Pradesh, which engaged communities to seek accountability from the state for their rights. These districts are Chhattarpur (two blocks), Tikamgarh, Bhind, Panna, Ashok Nagar and Satna.

This one month long yatra started on October 26, 2007 and will cover 98 villages of these districts. The focus will be on driving towards better implementation of various government schemes like National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Integrated Child Development Scheme and Targeted Public Distribution System, which will aim to benefit communities, especially women and children of the state. During this yatra, participating organisations are going to collect field data relating to implementation of state’s various schemes. ‘Right to Food’ campaign will compile the data at the state level and release a comprehensive report on the status of welfare schemes in these six districts.

Volunteers from each organisation will mobilise communities by moving on foot in the district for 6-7 days, and culminating the yatra by holding a public hearing at the end. Local member of legislative assembly members, the minister in charge and district administration will be invited to be a part of the public hearings. Community meetings to help build the momentum will precede these and will be held during the campaign. This whole campaign will not only help to support better implementation of these schemes but even contribute in increasing awareness within communities about these schemes, and how they can avail them.

Anil Gulati