A Group photo of participants of the regional conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and nuclear-free-zone in Central Asia held on August 29, 2023. Credit: Jibek Joly TV Channel
ASTANA, Kazakhstan, Sep 7 2023 (IPS) – Exactly 32 years ago, on September 29, 1991, Kazakhstan, then part of the Soviet Union, made a historic decision that would alter its fate. On that day, Kazakhstan permanently closed the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site, defying the central government in Moscow. This marked the start of Kazakhstan’s transformation from a nuclear-armed state, possessing the fourth-largest nuclear arsenal at the time, to a non-nuclear-weapon state. Kazakhstan’s audacious move to eliminate its nuclear weapons was rooted in a profound commitment to global disarmament, setting an inspiring precedent.
Eighteen years later, in 2009, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution, led by Kazakhstan, designating August 29 as the International Day Against Nuclear Tests. This day serves as a solemn reminder of the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons and underscores the urgent imperative for disarmament.
In a world where the threat of nuclear weapons being used again remains a grim reality, a pivotal question looms: Can we genuinely aspire to a world free of nuclear arms? To delve deeper into this pressing concern and comprehend the menace posed by nuclear weapons testing and deployment, we interviewed Karipbek Kuyukov and participants of the “Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons and the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone” regional conference. This conference, organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan in partnership with the Center for International Security and Policy (CISP), Soka Gakkai International (SGI), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), took place in Astana, Kazakhstan to commemorate this year’s International Day Against Nuclear Tests.
Karipbek Kuyukov is an armless painter from Kazakhstan, and global anti–nuclear weapon testing & nonproliferation activist. Credit: Jibek Joly TV Channel
One of the most poignant moments during the conference came from Dmitriy Vesselov, a third-generation survivor of nuclear testing. He provided a heartfelt testimony about the profound human toll exacted by nuclear testings on his family and the broader community. The nuclear tests conducted at the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site over four decades unleashed explosions 2,500 times more potent than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The repercussions of these tests have echoed through generations, inflicting severe health problems and untold suffering.
Kuyukov, a renowned Kazakh artist born without hands due to radiation exposure in his mother’s womb, has devoted his life to raising awareness about the horrors of nuclear testing. His powerful artwork, created using his lips or toes, depicts the survivors of nuclear tests and serves as a poignant tribute to those who perished. Kuyukov’s unwavering commitment reflects the indomitable human spirit in the face of unimaginable adversity.
Dmitriy Vesselov’s testimony shed light on the ongoing challenges faced by survivors. He candidly shared his struggles with health issues, including acromioclavicular dysostosis, a condition severely limiting his physical capabilities. Vesselov expressed his deep concern about the potential transmission of these health problems to future generations. Consequently, he has chosen not to have children. The conference underscored the imperative of averting the repetition of history by delving into the past tragedies inflicted by nuclear weapons testings.
Hirotsugu Terasaki, Director General of Peace and Global Issues of SGI, commenting on the event said “I believe that this regional conference is a new milestone, a starting point for representatives from five countries of Central Asia to discuss how we can advance the process toward a nuclear-weapon-free world, given the ever-increasing threat of nuclear weapons.”
Terasaki observed that the international community is actively deliberating Articles 6 and 7 of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), mandating state parties to provide support to victims and address environmental remediation. He accentuated Kazakhstan’s pivotal role as a co-chair of the working group central to these discussions.
Kazakhstan does provide special medical insurance and benefits to victims of nuclear tests. However, these benefits are predominantly extended to individuals officially certified as disabled or a family member of those who succumbed to radiation-related illnesses. Numerous victims, like Vesselov, who do not fall within these categories, remain ineligible for assistance.
Despite his daunting challenges, Mr. Vesselov maintains an unwavering sense of hope. He hopes that his testimony will serve as a stark reminder of the perils of nuclear weapons and awaken global consciousness regarding the dangers posed by even small tactical nuclear weapons and the specter of limited nuclear conflicts. Ultimately, his deepest aspiration, shared by all victims of nuclear weapons, is that the world will never bear witness to such a devastating tragedy again.
As Kazakhstan assumes its role as President-designate of the third Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW, it reaffirms its steadfast commitment to global peace and disarmament. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s resolute words resonate with the sentiment of a nation that has borne the scars of nuclear testing: “Such a tragedy should not happen again. Our country will unwaveringly uphold the principles of nuclear security.”
At the conference, member states of the Treaty of Semipalatinsk were encouraged to support Kazakhstan in this endeavor, and in its efforts to represent the Central Asian region’s contribution to nuclear disarmament, through attending the second Meeting of States Parties of the TPNW, at least as observers, which will take place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York between 27 November and 1 December this year, and by signing and ratifying the TPNW at the earliest opportunity.
In a world still grappling with the looming specter of nuclear devastation, Kazakhstan’s journey from a nuclear test site to a leading advocate for disarmament serves as a beacon of hope. Kazakhstan’s unwavering commitment to peace stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of a nation that once bore the weight of nuclear tests and now champions a safer, more secure world for all.
Katsuhiro Asagiri is President of INPS Japan and Kunsaya Kurmet-Rakhimova is a reporter of Jibek Joly(Silk Way) TV Channel.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres addresses the 22nd session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations headquarters in New York City on 17 April 17 2023. Credit: Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images
NEW YORK, Sep 7 2023 (IPS) – This September, world leaders and public policy advocates from around the world will descend on New York for the UN General Assembly. Alongside conversations on peace and security, global development and climate change, progress – or the lack of it – on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is expected to take centre-stage. A major SDG Summit will be held on 18 and 19 September. The UN hopes that it will serve as a ‘rallying cry to recharge momentum for world leaders to come together to reflect on where we stand and resolve to do more’. But are the world’s leaders in a mood to uphold the UN’s purpose, and can the UN’s leadership rise to the occasion by resolutely addressing destructive behaviours?
Sadly, the world is facing an acute crisis of leadership. In far too many countries authoritarian leaders have seized power through a combination of populist political discourse, outright repression and military coups. Our findings on the CIVICUS Monitor – a participatory research platform that measures civic freedoms in every country – show that 85% of the world’s population live in places where serious attacks on basic fundamental freedoms to organise, speak out and protest are taking place. Respect for these freedoms is essential so that people and civil society organisations can have a say in inclusive decision making.
The UN Charter begins with the words, ‘We the Peoples’ and a resolve to save future generations from the scourge of war. Its ideals, such as respect for human rights and the dignity of every person, are being eroded by powerful states that have introduced slippery concepts such as ‘cultural relativism’ and ‘development with national characteristics’. The consensus to seek solutions to global challenges through the UN appears to be at breaking point. As we speak hostilities are raging in Ukraine, Sudan, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Sahel region even as millions of people reel from the negative consequences of protracted conflicts and oppression in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Syria and Yemen, to name a few.
Article 1 of the UN Charter underscores the UN’s role in harmonising the actions of nations towards the attainment of common ends, including in relation to solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character, and to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all. But in a time of eye-watering inequality within and between countries, big economic decisions affecting people and the planet are not being made collectively at the UN but by the G20 group of the world’s biggest economies, whose leaders are meeting prior to the UN General Assembly to make economic decisions with ramifications for all countries.
Economic and development cooperation policies for a large chunk of the globe are also determined through the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Established in 1961, the OECD comprises 38 countries with a stated commitment to democratic values and market-based economics. Civil society has worked hard to get the OECD to take action on issues such as fair taxation, social protection and civic space.
More recently, the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – grouping of countries that together account for 40 per cent of the world’s population and a quarter of the globe’s GDP are seeking to emerge as a counterweight to the OECD. However, concerns remain about the values that bind this alliance. At its recent summit in South Africa six new members were admitted, four of which – Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – are ruled by totalitarian governments with a history of repressing civil society voices. This comes on top of concerns that China and Russia are driving the BRICS agenda despite credible allegations that their governments have committed crimes against humanity.
The challenge before the UN’s leadership this September is to find ways to bring coherence and harmony to decisions being taken at the G20, OECD, BRICS and elsewhere to serve the best interests of excluded people around the globe. A focus on the SDGs by emphasising their universality and indivisibility can provide some hope.
The adoption of the SDGs in 2015 was a groundbreaking moment. The 17 ambitious SDGs and their 169 targets have been called the greatest ever human endeavour to create peaceful, just, equal and sustainable societies. The SDGs include promises to tackle inequality and corruption, promote women’s equality and empowerment, support inclusive and participatory governance, ensure sustainable consumption and production, usher in rule of law and catalyse effective partnerships for development.
But seven years on the SDGs are seriously off-track. The UN Secretary-General’s SDG progress report released this July laments that the promise to ‘leave no one behind’ is in peril. As many as 30 per cent of the targets are reported to have seen no progress or worse to have regressed below their 2015 baseline. The climate crisis, war in Ukraine, a weak global economy and the COVID-19 pandemic are cited as some of the reasons why progress is lacking.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is pushing for an SDG stimulus plan to scale up financing to the tune of US$500 billion. It remains to be seen how successful this would be given the self-interest being pursued by major powers that have the financial resources to contribute. Moreover, without civic participation and guarantees for enabled civil societies, there is a high probability that SDG stimulus funds could be misused by authoritarian governments to reinforce networks of patronage and to shore up repressive state apparatuses.
Also up for discussion at the UN General Assembly will be plans for a major Summit for the Future in 2024 to deliver the UN Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda report, released in 2021. This proposes among other things the appointment of a UN Envoy for Future Generations, an upgrade of key UN institutions, digital cooperation across the board and boosting partnerships to drive access and inclusion at the UN. But with multilateralism stymied by hostility and divisions among big powers on the implementation of internationally agreed norms, achieving progress on this agenda implies a huge responsibility on the UN’s leadership to forge consensus while speaking truth to power and challenging damaging behaviours by states and their leaders.
The UN’s leadership have found its voice on the issue of climate change. Secretary-General Guterres has been remarkably candid about the negative impacts of the fossil fuel industry and its supporters. This July, he warned that ‘The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived’. Similar candour is required to call out the twin plagues of authoritarianism and populism which are causing immense suffering to people around the world while exacerbating conflict, inequality and climate change.
The formation of the UN as the conscience of the world in 1945 was an exercise in optimism and altruism. This September that spirit will be needed more than ever to start creating a better world for all, and to prove the UN’s value.
Mandeep S. Tiwana is chief officer for evidence and engagement + representative to the UN headquarters at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.
Experts encourage parents to vaccinate their children against typhoid to ensure that the child has access to clean drinking water. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS
By Zofeen Ebrahim KARACHI, Jul 6 2023 (IPS)
The first thing you notice about eight-month-old Manahil Zeeshan is how tiny she looks on the adult-size hospital bed at the government-run Sindh Institute of Child Health and Neonatology (SICHN) in Korangi, a neighbourhood in Karachi.
Her right foot is taped with a cannula, and she whimpers incessantly. “I have been in and out of the hospital for the last seven days,” said Uzma Mohammad, Zeeshan’s mom, with worry lines on her forehead. “High fever that refused to come down, severe cough for days and breathlessness,” were some of the symptoms Mohammad described. She was convinced someone had “put a spell” on her daughter.
The doctors, however, suspected she had typhoid.
Salmonella Typhi bacteria cause typhoid fever, and Salmonella Paratyphi bacteria cause paratyphoid fever. According to the US-based public health agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with a fever that can be as high as 103 to 104°F (39 to 40°C), the sick person can have weakness, stomach pain, headache, diarrhoea or constipation, cough, and loss of appetite. Some people have a rash of flat, rose-coloured spots. Internal bleeding and death can occur but are rare. It affects between 11 and 20 million people each year, leading to 128,000 to 161,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The highest fatality rates are reported in children under four years of age.
While Zeeshan’s blood culture report had yet to come to ascertain the cause of her sickness, she needed urgent medical care, said Dr Shabita Bai, who had admitted her.
“We could not wait for five days for the blood culture report as she was not doing well. And because she had already been given an antibiotic (a medicine used to kill bacteria) from outside, our chances of finding if the baby had typhoid for sure were slim, and we had to rely on the history,” justified Bai.
Decisions had to be made. Based on her condition, symptoms, and clinical diagnosis, the baby was given Ceftriaxone, an intravenous antibiotic, but she showed no improvement. The doctors then administered the stronger Meropeneme intravenously, a last-resort antibiotic.
Manahil Zeeshan’s foot has a drip in an effort to bring her temperature down and fight suspected typhoid. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS
Battling the Superbug
But even if she had typhoid, the bacteria in her body had taken on the form of a superbug — the extensively drug-resistant (XDR) typhoid and the current antimicrobials had become ineffective, said paediatrician Dr Jamal Raza, the executive director of the SICHN.
According to a Lancet study published in 2022, multidrug-resistant (MDR) typhoid has been seen in Pakistan, while typhoid bacteria resistant to the widely-used antibiotic azithromycin have been found in Bangladesh, Nepal and India. “Our analysis revealed a declining trend of MDR typhoid in south Asia, except for Pakistan, where XDR S Typhi emerged in 2016 and rapidly replaced less-resistant strains,” stated the study, which researchers claim is the largest ever examination of the S.Typhi bacterium.
The reason why antibiotics are losing their punch against some types of bacteria, said Raza, was the “indiscriminate use of antibiotics” that health practitioners prescribe to provide immediate relief. Another big problem was self-medication by people. “I know people often use an old prescription by a doctor to get the same medicine if they feel they have the same symptoms, thinking they do not need to visit the doctor.”
But he pointed out viruses, which are also small germs like bacteria, are causing bacteria-like infections, like a cold or the flu.
“Taking an antibiotic for the latter does not treat the disease; it only leads to antibiotic resistance,” said Raza.
A study conducted by researchers from three medical institutions, namely, the Aga Khan University (AKU) in Karachi, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) in Rawalpindi, and the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital & Research Center (SKH) in Lahore in 2018, found indiscriminate use of antibiotics to be causing new drug-resistant “superbugs.”
It found a high prevalence of multidrug and fluoroquinolone resistance for both S.Typhi and S. Paratyphi strains of typhoid bacteria. From 20% in 1992, the resistance was found to have increased to around 50% in 2015. The stubborn bacteria were resistant to antibiotics like ampicillin, chloramphenicol (and co-trimoxazole), as well as fluoroquinolone (ciprofloxacin and/or ofloxacin).
“The situation is quite grim,” said Dr Mashal Khan, chairperson of the government-run paediatric medicine department at Karachi’s National Institute of Child Health, referring to the increase in the number of children developing resistance to typhoid drugs. His worry is not that the bacteria has spread; his concern is the bacteria has mutated and become resistant to the drug.
“We’re running out of new antibiotics to treat bacterial infections; Meropeneme is the last one, and a very expensive one too,” he said resignedly, adding: “Although the development of newer antibiotics is the need of the day, I must emphasise the rational use of the ones being used is more urgent.”
Developing new drugs is challenging, and antibiotics more so, as the science is tricky.
“Antibiotics are not the most lucrative drugs to develop for pharmaceuticals as their utility is limited in the future due to the bacteria developing the ability to resist them,” said Infectious Diseases specialist and epidemiologist Dr Faisal Mahmood at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi. “A lot of money goes into developing new drugs, and since most of the funding is from the global north, they prefer to work on infections which concern them directly. Typhoid is unfortunately endemic in the low and middle-income countries in the South, which have poorer water quality and have warmer, more humid climates.”
And that is why the only sure-shot way of reducing the disease burden of typhoid is to vaccinate the children.
In 2019, Pakistan became the first country to get the World Health Organization (WHO)-recommended single-dose typhoid conjugate vaccine (TCV) injected intramuscularly, added to its routine immunisation (RI) regime. This is given to babies at nine months, alongside measles-rubella vaccinations, without impacting either vaccine.
“Childhood vaccination complemented with clean drinking water and improved hygiene practices is the much more cost-effective way of eradicating typhoid than pumping antibiotics in a child,” said Raza. Meropenem costs as much as Rs. 30,000 (USD 105) for a 10-day course, and if hospitalisation is included, it can go up to Rs 100,000 ($349), said the doctor. Being in a government hospital, Zeeshan is treated free of cost.
Eight-month-old Manahil Zeeshan is treated for typhoid at the government-run Sindh Institute of Child Health and Neonatology (SICHN) in Korangi, a neighbourhood in Karachi. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS
Typhoid Vaccine Launch Hits a Snag as Covid-19 Surfaces
The 2019 TCV campaign was first launched in the two cities of Sindh – Karachi and Hyderabad (children up to 15 years of age were also given a shot), which reported the highest number of typhoid cases among children. There was a pause when Covid-19 hit the world. But by 2022, TCV had been launched across Pakistan, and 35.5 million children were vaccinated, after which it was added to the government-run Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) programme.
“Many parents do not know that the TCV is a more effective vaccine but only available at government vaccination centres, and not at private clinics and hospitals as Gavi has only given it to the government of Pakistan,” said paediatrician Dr D.S. Akram.
“There is another typhoid vaccine available in the private sector (typhoid polysaccharide vaccine), but it can only be given to children over two years of age, and it needs boosters every three years. My advice to parents is to vaccinate their kids against typhoid bacteria at nine months,” she said.
But it is still a drop in the ocean, and the fight against typhoid and other childhood diseases continues. The WHO places Pakistan among the ten countries that account for almost two-thirds of the world’s unimmunised children.
When Covid-19 hit the country’s already crumbling health system, it also brought the country’s immunisation programme to a halt too. An estimated 1.5 million children across Pakistan missed out on basic vaccines from March to May 2020, according to Gavi.
For Pakistan, which already has low immunisation coverage (the percentage of fully immunised children aged 12-23 months is just 66%), it meant a further dip in coverage which led to an unprecedented rise in the number of zero-dose children (those that have not received any routine vaccine). Add to these were the almost 19,000 new births every day. But when the lockdown eased and vaccinators returned to work, there was less demand for vaccination, having been replaced by fear of the new virus.
While Pakistan has yet to reach the optimal immunisation coverage of 90%, during Covid-19, Pakistan’s EPI received plaudits internationally for taking both vaccine coverage and the number of zero-dose children close to pre-pandemic levels in 2021. “What Pakistan achieved needs to be celebrated. In fact, Pakistan and Chad are used as examples internationally of how to get it right in an emergency,” said Huma Khawar, an immunisation and child health advocate working closely with EPI.
“Despite a year’s delay due to Covid-19, which was unforeseen, I think it is the best thing that the government has done for its country’s children,” said Khawar. She credited the RI programme that bounced back to the pre-pandemic level in 2021.
Clean water, Good Hygiene Key to Preventing typhoid
While immunisation can protect children from getting infected, clean drinking water and improved hygiene practices can reduce the risk of catching the disease to a great extent.
“Vaccines provide immunity when there is exposure to the bacteria,” agreed Dr Jai Das, assistant director at the Institute for Global Health and Development at the Aga Khan University and one of the co-authors of the 2018 report on typhoid, but emphasised the need for improved water and sanitation, a situation that continues to remain dismal and compromised in Pakistan.
The same study not only found a strong correlation between water and sanitation but to literacy levels as well. In addition, it stressed improving the country’s food safety protocols and implementing regulations.
While Mohammad believes that her daughter is under a curse, one reason could be that the unpasteurised cow’s milk she gives her daughter may not be properly boiled at home. “I was unable to breastfeed her,” she said. Further, she confessed to diluting it with unboiled tap water to make it last longer.
Doctors say giving Pakistani babies a lease of life is simple and costs nothing. “Exclusive breastfeeding up to at least six months of age (right now it is only 43%), attaining 90% coverage of RI across Pakistan and improving water and sanitation quality,” according to Dr Akram.
Bacteria Don’t Respect Geographic Borders
The XDR typhoid bacteria propagating in Pakistan has crossed borders and reached as far as the UK, Canada and the US. Earlier this year, a team of Pakistani and US researchers published their findings in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, stating that with numerous typhoid bacteria variants circulating in Pakistan have also been identified in Southeast Asia and Eastern and Southern Africa and have been introduced into the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States by travellers.
The Lancet study said strains from South Asia had spread 200 times to other countries since 1990. When these superbugs grow and spread, they can cause infections that are hard to treat. Sometimes they can even spread the resistance to other bacteria they meet.
The future looks frightening. While the need for improving water and sanitation cannot be overemphasised, along with the need for vaccinating children, newer and stronger antibiotics need to be developed and fast as typhoid may surface in deadlier ways than now since very few antibiotics remain effective against the bacteria.
Note: This story was supported by the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Internews
Childhood vaccination, complemented with clean drinking water and improved hygiene practices, are the key to eradication of typhoid XDR, not indiscriminate use of antibiotics, say Pakistan health experts. Source
Simita Devi, whose daughter spent days in hospital recently suffering from typhoid caused by contaminated water, collects clean water brought to the surface by a solar pump. Credit: Umar Manzoor Shah/IPS
By Umar Manzoor Shah Champad, India, Jul 4 2023 (IPS)
Simita Devi spent over ten days in a government-run hospital a year ago anxiously watching her critically ill nine-year-old daughter, Gudiya, who was diagnosed with typhoid.
Gudiya was so sick she even went into a coma for a day. Medical staff attending to the child said she contracted the disease from drinking contaminated water.
After being discharged, Devi’s main worry was to get safe drinking water for her ailing daughter.
She was advised not to consume water from village wells or untested sources like river streams or springs.
Hailing from Champad, a tribal village in India’s Jharkhand state, Devi works as a daily wage labourer alongside her husband. With a limited income, Devi couldn’t afford packaged drinking water for her daughter.
She then decided to boil the water using firewood to make it safe to drink. But to get the firewood, she had to trek the treacherous terrains of the nearby forests – a long, difficult work and the fear of wild animals loomed.
It was not Devi alone impacted by contaminated water, it was making many people in her village ill, and there was nothing the inhabitants could do about it.
According to government records, 80% of India’s rural drinking water comes from underground sources. One-third of India’s 600 districts do not have safe drinking water because fluoride, iron, salinity, and arsenic concentrations exceed tolerance levels. India’s water quality is poor, ranking at 120 of 122 nations.
The solar panels on the water tower have meant clean waters for the villagers of Champad, a tribal village in India’s Jharkhand. Credit: Umar Manzoor Shah/IPS
Experts believe that the source of these heavy metals is industrial waste being dumped untreated into water systems and nitrates which surface due to excessive and prolonged use of fertilizers. The government estimates that every year, over one lakh (100,000) people die of waterborne diseases in the country.
Champad, a village inhabited by a tribal community, has 105 households per the 2011 census. Until 2022, the community depended on only two tube wells as their source of drinking water. However, these tube wells often experienced malfunctions, leaving the villagers with no choice but to fetch water from a nearby river or pond. Consequently, there has been a rise in waterborne diseases, particularly affecting the health of women and children. The need to travel long distances for safe drinking water has increased women’s workload, increasing their workload.
Perturbed by the threat of waterborne diseases, the village locals congregated earlier this year to try to find a solution. They at first visited the local politicians for help. Then they headed towards government offices. “Nothing happened—absolutely nothing. We were virtually left high and dry. Except for God, no one is there to help us. At times, we were told to wait, and at times, we were told that government funding wasn’t available. But we were slowly dying. Our children are suffering in front of our own eyes,” Ram Singh, a local villager at Champad, told IPS.
Earlier this year, a team from a non-governmental agency working to uplift rural areas in India visited the village to assess the villagers’ hardships.
The agency then mooted the idea of a solar water tower in the village. The villagers were made aware of the process involved in the tower’s construction and that government approval for the facility was needed.
The village representatives were taken on board, and a proposal was submitted to the water department of the district.
“Government liked the idea, and it was readily approved. The entire village worked together to make the project a success story,” says a member of the humanitarian agency who wished to remain anonymous.
The towers were equipped with solar panels, enabling them to operate sustainably and with minimal environmental impact. The selection of sites for the towers was a collaborative effort involving the village communities. The first solar water tower was constructed in February 2023, while work on the other two towers is still ongoing. As a result, 45 families now directly benefit from the convenience of having clean drinking water channelled to their homes through pipelines. The water provided is of good quality and considered safe, in contrast to the open well water that was previously relied upon. This development has significantly alleviated the burden on women, who no longer have to travel long distances to fetch water from various sources.
The impact of this intervention was significant. The community’s health improved, and they were no longer at risk of waterborne illnesses. The women and children, who were often responsible for collecting water from distant sources, could now spend their time on other activities. The community’s overall quality of life improved, and they could focus on their livelihoods and education.
For Simita Devi, the facility is no less than a major solace in her life. She excitedly uses this water for drinking and thanks God for such an endeavour.
“Safe water means life for us. The solar tower has become a messiah for poor villagers like us. We will cherish the moments for life when we find its water coming to our homes,” Devi told IPS.
Yohei Sasakawa, WHO’s Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, speaks at the two-day Bergen International Conference on Hansen’s Disease. The conference coincided with the 150th anniversary of the discovery of Mycobacterium leprae by Norwegian doctor Gerhard Armauer Hansen. Credit: Thor Brødreskift/Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative
By Joyce Chimbi NAIROBI, Jun 22 2023 (IPS)
The 1873 discovery of Mycobacterium leprae, the causative agent of leprosy by Norwegian doctor Gerhard Armauer Hansen, remains one of the greatest paradigm shifts in medical history, a true revolution.
“Before the great discovery, even in the days when communication and transportation technologies were not as developed as today, leprosy was detested by the entire world. Leprosy was believed to be a divine punishment or a hereditary disease; once affected, patients were segregated to remote areas and islands for life,” says Yohei Sasakawa, WHO’s Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination.
Sasakawa, who also serves as chairperson of The Nippon Foundation, spoke during a two-day conference in Bergen, Norway, to commemorate the 1873 discovery. In attendance were over 200 people, including medical, human rights, and historical preservation experts, researchers, NGOs, and organizations of persons affected by the disease.
The Bergen International Conference on Hansen’s Disease, held on June 21 and 22, 2023, was organized by the Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative and the University of Bergen. It focused on medical efforts against leprosy, human rights, and dignity issues and preserving the history of leprosy for the lessons it can teach future generations. All three are pillars of the Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative’s activities for a world free of leprosy and the discrimination it causes, in line with the UN’s Resolution on Elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members.
In his speech to delegates, Sasakawa acknowledged the extraordinary advances made by medical professionals since Dr Hansen’s discovery that leprosy was neither a curse nor a punishment from God but a chronic disease caused by a bacillus.
With the 1873 discovery, leprosy went from being a mythological divine disease shrouded in mystery to something one could observe and explain—although it would take more than half a century before a cure was found.
Delegates at the Bergen International Conference on Hansen’s Disease held on June 21 and 22, 2023. The conference was organized by the Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative and the University of Bergen. Credit: Thor Brødreskift/Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative
Margareth Hagen, Rector, University of Bergen, said there was a clear shift in the scientific discourse about leprosy before and after the discovery.
Sasakawa said the journey towards a cure started with a single anti-leprosy drug to more effective drug regimens and, ultimately, a recommendation from WHO’s medical team that leprosy patients receive drug regimens consisting of multiple drugs.
“A single anti-leprosy drug tended to increase drug resistance. Since the development of multi-drug therapy, with early detection and treatment, leprosy has become totally curable. About 60 million patients have been cured over the last 40 years,” he said.
Abbi Patrix, the great-grandson of Dr Hansen, now responsible for his great grandfather’s history, spoke about the man behind the science in a session titled, ‘My grandfather, my mother, the documents and me.’
Patrix, a European performance storyteller, talked about the day his mother, the only direct descendant of Dr Hansen at the time, learned that leprosy was named Hansen’s disease after her grandfather.
She was moved and wondered why? His mother was informed that Dr Hansen’s discovery had put a name to a disease that had confounded scientists and society alike and that labeling it ‘Hansen’s disease’ meant freedom for those afflicted because a cure could now be found.
The conference venue was, therefore, a recognition of his renowned great-grandfather because he was born in Bergen, and this was the site for his landmark 1873 discovery at only 32 years of age.
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the audience: “WHO was born halfway between 1873 and today, 75 years ago. Much progress has been made since the two major milestones in the fight against leprosy. But much remains to be done toward our shared goals of zero disease, zero disability, and zero discrimination. Cases of leprosy have decreased significantly in recent decades, but more effort is needed to recover from the health system disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic and move further ahead.”
Ghebreyesus said the WHO was committed to supporting countries in their bid to eliminate leprosy in line with the roadmap for neglected tropical disease for 2021 to 2030.
“So far, 49 countries have eliminated at least one neglected tropical disease, including Human African trypanosomiasis, rabies, and trachoma. With your support and those of our global partners, we can achieve that goal for leprosy too.”
Other dignitaries who spoke at the conference include United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk, who said the conference celebrated medical innovations over the last 150 years.
“But when leprosy was eliminated as a global public health problem in 2000, it did not mean that the disease disappeared. Over 250,000 people suffer from leprosy every year, 15,000 of them are children. The actual figures are likely far higher,” he emphasized.
“Around three to four million people who have already been cured still bear varying degrees of impairment. The burden of leprosy is heaviest in countries with the greatest inequality, poverty, and marginalization.”
Türk further said that to better the lives of people affected by leprosy, “We need to address the physical symptoms, but we also need social and behavioral measures to address stigma and discrimination. We need comprehensive strategies with access to quality care, education, and social protection,” and told participants that “together we can make a real difference in ending leprosy, which causes immense preventable and unjustifiable suffering for thousands of people.”
Against this backdrop, Sasakawa stressed that further action is needed to combat stigma and discrimination, pointing out that as many as 130 discriminatory laws against leprosy are still in place in more than 20 countries.
“When respect for human rights is a must, it is unacceptable to leave such a large-scale and serious human rights violation unaddressed,” he said.
As the curtain fell on the Bergen conference of a remarkable journey to end leprosy over the last 150 years, Dr Takahiro Nanri, executive director of Sasakawa Health Foundation, noted that this was the third international conference that the foundation has helped to organize since launching its “Don’t Forget Leprosy” campaign in 2021 to help to ensure that the disease and those affected by it are not overlooked amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our purpose in organizing these conferences is to make the world aware that there are still many people who have Hansen’s disease and its consequences; to build momentum for collaboration toward the realization of a leprosy-free world; and to provide a setting for both formal and informal exchanges that can be a catalyst for innovative solutions that we as a foundation are ready to support,” he said.
A civilian student named Saber was caught in the crossfire in Khartoum. He had two choices: either flee and lose everything; or die. But within a moment his option to choose was violently denied: he died.
As a result of the brutal internal armed conflict in Sudan right now, UNHCR projects that 860,000 people will flee across the borders as refugees and returnees into the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea and South Sudan. About 50% will be children and adolescents below 18.
Will they arrive alive? They can’t choose. They can only hope.
Making it worse, none of the neighboring countries has the financial and structural capacity to manage such influx, and yet they too, have no choice.
Indeed, an enormous international response will be required to support the Refugee Response Plan developed by 134 partners, including UN agencies, national and international NGOs and civil society groups, and launched on 4 May 2023.
Fleeing children and adolescents will need immediate psycho-social support and mental health care to cope with the stress and trauma of the conflict and perilous escape. They will need school meals. They will need water and sanitation. They will need protection. In the deep despair of their young lives, they will need a sense of normalcy and hope for their future. They need it now and a rapid response to establishing education can meet these needs.
Or to paraphrase ECW’s new Global Champion, the world-renowned journalist, Folly Bah Thibault – who reaffirms the need for speed and quality: the humanitarian-development nexus in action – in her high-level interview in this month’s ECW Newsletter, “We need to deliver with humanitarian speed and development depth.”
The choice is ours.
ECW is now traveling to the region to support host-governments, UN and civil society colleagues who jointly produced the Refugee Response Plan and who are on the ground working day and night in difficult circumstances. ECW will provide support both through an initial First Emergency Response investment and through our global advocacy.
We all have a choice to act now. Our choice is not between losing everything or die. Our choice is between action or inaction. Between humanity and indifference.
Prior to the breakout of the internal armed conflict in Sudan, Samiya*, a 17-year-old refugee student, wrote in her recent Postcard From the Edge: “Education is our future dream. Education is one of the most important factors to progress in life. Through education, people can thrive in their lives; they can also develop their skills and improve their life quality.”
We can help make Samya’s dream come true at the hardest, darkest moment of her life. Samiya does not have that choice. Only, we have that choice. Let us recognize it for what it is: as a privilege or blessing of choosing responsibility and humanity.
Yasmine Sherif is Director of Education Cannot Wait.