Wednesday, November 07, 2007

WHO Global Polio Eradication Initiative and Nigeria: A History of Poor Planning

The World Health Organization (WHO) began its Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in 2003, targeting Nigeria and distributing its oral polio vaccine (OPV) with the goal of eliminating the disease by 2005. Muslim leaders in the Nigerian state of Kano expressed their concerns about the distribution of OPVs, and warned the government against cooperation because they believed the vaccines were a Western ploy to spread infertility and disease. Their fears of infertility were based in test reports that some of the final OPVs produced had traces of oestrogen and progesterone, reproductive hormones that inhibit fertility, within them. The WHO released a positions statement in January 14, 2004, denying these claims. The fear of “Western” vaccinations is not empty, however, as residents of Kano were subject to poorly tested meningitis vaccinations in 1996 that lead to the deaths of some 11 children.

In 2004, half of all new polio cases originated in Nigeria, many in the northern states, especially Kano. While the WHO was spreading the oral vaccine throughout the nation, Kano officials refused to participate in the initiative for eight months, spurning the spread of polio into twelve countries that previously had been declared polio-free (such as Sudan, where a child was diagnosed with polio in Darfur for the first time in 3 years). Under great pressure, the northern state bent, and in October of 2004 President Olusegun Obasanjo showed his support for the initiative by giving OPVs to children in Kano.

By 2006, the vaccination initiative was on the rise, but so was the polio virus. Children in Nigeria need to be immunized over and over again to ensure they do not contract the virus, and this need to repeat doses makes families very nervous; oftentimes they refuse to let their children be repeatedly immunized. There are many factors that impede the efforts to immunize children repeatedly: Only women can distribute the vaccines in certain areas and they make meager wages; workers often report a 100% success rate, even when that is far from true; because children need to immunized between eight and ten times for OPVs to be effective in the long-term, it is hard to know which children have been and have not been immunized; and, finally, widespread sewage inefficiencies increase the exposure of children, who play in filthy streets, to the polio virus.

Today, as reported October 10, 2007, Nigeria faces an outbreak of rare, vaccine-derived form of the polio virus. Some children who had received vaccinations have excreted a mutated form of the polio virus and have infected other children who, likely, were not immunized or only given OPVs a few times. There are now, and rightly so, many questions in the air surrounding the issue of oral vaccinations in Nigeria:

Were the OPVs properly tested before they were administered to children in Nigeria?

Were the OPVs tested for repeated administration, as they were anticipated to be distributed in Nigeria, before they were given to children?

Did the WHO anticipate the mutations that occurred?

How should this new strain of polio be addressed?

Where could this new strain of polio spread if not properly addressed?

How can it be contained?

Jerry Yang, Yahoo, and China

On November 6, CEO and co-founder of Yahoo!, Jerry Yang, went before congress and answered for his company's role in imprisoning a Chinese reporter, Shi Tao. Tao was imprisoned by the government of China for the contents of an email obtained with the help of Yahoo. The email discussed practices of the government in dealing with the reporting of the anniversary of Tianamen Square. Tao was sentenced to a ten year prison sentence and has already served two years in a Chinese prison.
Yahoo has also aided the Chinese government in the arrests of three men accused of anonymous postings online. Two of these three men are still serving multi-year sentences for crimes against the government. General Counsel for Yahoo, Micheal Callahan has also been accused of offering false information to Congress regarding these issues. He, along with Yang, have offered public apologies, but neither has offered any future changes to Yahoo's practices that would resolve the issues at hand.
These cases raise the issue of which laws become more powerful when dealing with American companies abroad. China does not offer the same protections of speech and expression as the United States does, and American companies become pressured into following the local laws of a nation. Only when companies like Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft agreed to follow Chinese restrictions were the companies allowed to operate in China.
By cooperating with Chinese officials, Yahoo helped violate the human rights of Shi Tao. International law didn't seem matter here, when Yahoo was looking to keep itself operating within Chinese borders. Is it right for companies to lessen the protection of human rights in order to do business? Are internet companies under any obligation to protect its users? Or is it ok for these companies to do what they have to in order to access potential markets, regardless of human rights?

State of Confusion

Over the past few days, Pakistani General Perez Musharraf has issued a state of emergency, taking sole control of the Pakistani government in order to “help combat terrorism”. His emergency rule includes dismissing members on the Supreme Court (Mr. Chaudhry has been put under house arrest), censoring privately owned television stations and administering widespread arrests of protesting lawyers. While Musharraf states emergency rule is needed to fight Islamic extremists, he seems to be arresting only lawyers and liberal political activists.

The United States is in a difficult position. Pakistan is one of our strongest allies in the war against terror, Al Queda and the Taliban. We’ve given them over 10 billion dollars since 2001, mostly for military aid. Yet, martial law is far from democracy and the United States should and has pushed for a return to democracy as soon as possible.

Should the United States withdraw their aid to Pakistan (therefore losing a key ally) to fight for democracy and the right for election, free speech and protest for all? “Extraordinarily heavy-handed measures” are being used to unjustly arrest lawyers and human rights activists each day (New York Times). The United States government says human rights are for all, but how important are they when money, power and influence come into play?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Waterboarding is all fun & games until someone gets Caught

Why would we want to confirm an Attorney General nominee that cannot seem to take a firm stance on what is legal/illegal? Have we stooped so low and do we have so few brilliant lawyers and judges in America that we have to scrap the bottom of the barrel?
Am I the only one here that doesn't get it?!

Jena 6 Sheds Light on Civil Rights in U.S.

Due to recent events dealing with the Jena 6, many have found that the Justice system in the U.S. is unfair and impartial. In this article, I found it interesting that out of every 100,000 black men in America, 3,145 are in prison. Compared to the 471 white men in prison (taken from evey 100,000). The Jena 6 case has brought the chance for people in America to have conversations about the current state of civil rights. There have been countless hearings about this event, however on 10/16, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to discuss the implications of the Jena 6 incident as well as others in the U.S. that have caused racial tension. The panel questioned U.S. attorney Donald Washington, in the hearing that as said to be very emotional. "Washington said in his testimony that the Justice Department rarely brings cases against juveniles, and when it does they are not open to the press or public." The question that is on my mind is, in a situation that involves the human rights of every individual in the U.S., why must we keep it private? There is a growing tension in the U.S. dealing with civil rights, not to mention human rights. When will we take the proper action to spear head this problem?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

To Charge or Not to Charge: The Hate Crime Question

Saturday, November 3rd, Charleston, West Virginia was filled with people urging prosecutors to add a hate crime charge to a case against six white individuals who beat, tortured and assaulted a 20-year-old black woman. Megan Williams, the victim, joined in the protests. Protests are all fine and good; however, the N.A.A.C.P. and the prosecution begged Williams and others to not stage the protest seeing as it might harm the prosecution's case. The three men and three women are already being charged with assault and kidnapping. Kidnapping in West Virginia could land them with a life sentence. Hate crimes, on the other hand, only carry ten years. Why would they protest for a charge that could minimize the amount of time spent in jail?

Is there a value placed on a court case labeled "hate crime?" Do we judge the court case any differently even though the defendants are being tried for kidnapping and sexual assault instead of hate crimes? Is it about the status of a court case, or does the victim feel the need to provoke and expose hatred on a national scale?