Nifty Infographic in Development: Open Data Impact Map

Friday, May 29, 2015

This is not an infographic in the strict sense, but because I use the general category for all visual representations of data that I want to showcase here. In this case, the Open Data Impact Map - currently in development by the Center for Open Data Enterprise and scheduled to be showcased at the International Open Data Conference - will be an interactive map showing open data use cases from around the world:
The Open Data Impact Map will provide a searchable, sortable database of open data use cases from around the world. It will include all types of organizations using open data in an effort to capture the broad spectrum of open data uses. The Map will make it possible to explore the applications of open data through a number of filters, and has been structured to facilitate comparative analysis by region, country, and city.

Its goals are to:
  1. demonstrate the value of open government data in a range of applications;
  2. identify key trends and best practices in open data use; and
  3. provide a basis for research on the impact of open data globally.
Bringing research together
The Map will support cross-national analysis by using common classifications for data types, data sources, organizations that use the data, and areas of impact. This system builds on past efforts to develop systems for analyzing the uses of open data. The Map can inform the Measurement Action Session and other work at the IODC on the assessment of use cases. We hope it will help refine common approaches to capturing examples and help build a broader and more in-depth shared knowledge base about open data use cases and impact.
On a related note, NYU's GovLab has compiled a repository of open-data repositories for the very same conference. Totes meta.

Bravo, Nebraska: The first conservative state to repeal the #deathpenalty in 40 years

Thursday, May 28, 2015

While I normally scoff at the concept of American exceptionalism, there is one area in which that concept legitimately applies, to our shame: the U.S. is now the only highly developed country in the world that still executes criminals. While this is partly a function of our somewhat unique governance structure - criminal prosecution is up to each state, and nearly half of them have abolished the death penalty entirely - it is still on the books at the federal level for a handful of crimes (e.g., treason). Whether a pending Supreme Court decision will abolish it remains to be seen. In the meantime, the solidly conservative midwestern state of Nebraska defied the odds and legally abolished it, overriding the governor's veto:
The state has a unicameral legislature in which all bills must be voted on three times. The bill to abolish the death penalty passed all three rounds, 30-16, 30-13, and finally 32-15 in its third vote. The governor vetoed the bill on Tuesday.

Legislators needed 30 votes to override the veto, and it earned 30. Nineteen voted against. The repeal is the latest move in what some experts believe is a new conservative push against executions.
Let's hope so. Frankly, the fact that so many conservatives are in favor of it, despite many of them claiming to be religious (the risk of executing innocent people is very real considering the number of death penalty sentences overturned on the basis of new evidence) and being in favor of reducing spending (it is much more expensive to execute someone than it is to imprison them for life), is shocking to me. But Nebraska's governor was willing to go to extremes to be able to carry out executions:
Executions in the US have ground nearly to a halt this year as states wait to hear the result of a supreme court argument over whether one state’s execution protocol amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

The case, Glossip v Gross, was argued in the Supreme Court in April, and focuses on the drug cocktail used to carry out Oklahoma death sentences.

The state’s reliance on the drug midazolam led to the high-profile “botched” execution of Clayton Lockett, in which it took 43 minutes for the man to be pronounced dead. That led to a challenge by Oklahoma inmate Richard Glossip. Several death penalty states have relied on the drug as part of an execution cocktail since pentobarbital, long used for executions, became scarce as the result of a European-led boycott of execution drugs.

Nebraska does not use midazolam in its lethal injection process, but instead relies on a cocktail of similar drugs, which the governor recently said he had secured from a pharmacy in India.
Hopefully Nebraska will serve as an example to the rest of the holdout states (although I predict that my own - Texas - will be the last to abolish it, if they ever do); that is, unless the Supreme Court renders the issue moot.

It's (UN) official: South Korea's mandatory HIV testing for foreigners is racial discrimination

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Note: This was cross-posted to the IH Blog.
South Korea has come under fire in recent years for its treatment of immigrants, migrant workers, and non-ethnic Koreans (and even their own working-class people). Last fall, Bitter Harvest, Amnesty International's report on the country's treatment of agricultural migrant laborers highlighted how Southeast Asian migrants went unpaid, were subjected to harsh treatment and squalid living conditions, and were either deprived of medical care or forced to pay for their own care out of pocket (from their own meager wages). In some cases, the migrants were forced to take (and pay for) an HIV test, with employers requiring a negative test result.

In the case of migrant workers, this is clearly illegal - currently, the only visa category for which the South Korean government requires an HIV test is E-2 (native-speaking English teachers from the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand). However, even this requirement - first implemented in 2007 in response to a racially-fueled moral panic - has been determined to be discriminatory and racially motivated, according to a ruling from the UN's Committee to End all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) handed down last week. The ruling, issued in response to a case filed by a New Zealand woman who lost her job in 2009 after refusing to take an HIV test to renew her contract - has been long awaited by the expat ESL community in Korea. Whether the Korean government will remove the requirement remains to be seen.

The case was brought to CERD by Benjamin Wagner, an international human rights attorney who co-authored a legal paper on the issue of South Korea's use of HIV testing as a proxy for racial discrimination with Matt van Volkenburg. The paper (PDF) provides an excellent background on the history, political and cultural climate, and xenophobic advocacy efforts that led to the implementation of the testing requirement, as well as how the requirement is a clear example of South Korea shirking its international human rights obligations:
The HIV and drug test requirements for foreign teachers were first established as emergency measures in 2007 by the Ministry of Justice (“MOJ”), which claimed they were necessary in order to “ease the anxiety of the citizens.” Part II of this Article examines the background and context of the implementation of these requirements and argues that they were introduced during a period of media hysteria and moral panic...a civil society group called the “Citizens’ Group for Upright English Education”...succeeded in courting public opinion against foreign English teachers by contributing to highly sensationalized media reportage replete with lurid tales of perversion, sex crimes, drug use and AIDS. This group was also successfully able to influence national policy by petitioning the government for measures against foreign teachers, including mandatory HIV and drug tests.

Part III examines the ROK’s international commitments to eliminate discrimination and stigma based on actual or presumed HIV status and examines how and why the ROK has failed to honor these commitments.
Korea’s HIV restrictions for foreign teachers are among the most extreme form of HIV restrictions in the world...Of the forty-nine countries in the world that continue to have some form of HIV-related restrictions in place for foreigners only about six have restrictions so extreme as requiring in-country testing for foreign workers that must be repeated on a regular basis, and nowhere are teachers subject to such restrictions. Indeed, the ROK’s extreme position toward its foreign teacher population has attracted the attention of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who has urged the ROK to eliminate its HIV restrictions on foreign teachers.
Obviously, any foreigner who tests positive for HIV is immediately detained and deported; in 2008, the Korean CDC reported that it had deported 521 out of 647 HIV-positive foreigners. Non-nationals of Korean ethnicity have been able to successfully challenge such deportations, but the Korean judicial system explicitly differentiates between the legal rights of citizens versus foreign nationals.

Interestingly, South Korea has given CERD "the same authority as domestic law" regarding foreign nationals; however, this means next to nothing as Wagner explained in a different piece last week:
Professor Kyong-Whan Ahn...remarked that the constitutional analysis used by Korean courts to determine whether an incidence of discrimination has occurred is relatively underdeveloped. The method relied upon by courts is the “reasonableness test”. But, Ahn complains, decisions are all too often “a foregone conclusion” with little analysis or scrutiny.
[T]he status of the CERD is unique in that “it has the same authority of domestic law and does not necessitate additional legislation,” as the Republic of Korea has made clear to the Committee on several occasions. Nevertheless, the Committee has responded, “although the Convention forms part of the domestic law and is directly applicable in the courts of [South Korea], there are no court decisions which contain references to or confirm the direct applicability of its provisions.” The Committee has pointed out to the government that the situation may be the result of “a lack of awareness of the availability of legal remedies” and has recommended “information campaigns and education programmes on the Convention and its provisions.” Unfortunately, however, the treaty remains relatively unknown in Korea and neither the government nor the courts have done enough to change that.
van Volkenburg, who has been covering this issue (and its origins) since it all began in 2005 at the long-running Korean expat blog Gusts of Popular Feeling, has a great summary of the ruling and its implications (as well as the best collection of links to the news coverage of the ruling):
The summary makes public the justification the UMOE offered for the tests - something that many people taking these tests have known for years, but never admitted by the government: [D]uring arbitration proceedings, L.G.’s employers, the Ulsan Metropolitan Office of Education (UMOE), said that HIV/AIDS tests were viewed as a means to check the values and morality of foreign English teachers.

One of the Committee's recommendations isn't very surprising:
The Committee recommends that the State party grant the petitioner adequate compensation for the moral and material damages caused by the above-mentioned violations of the Convention, including compensation for the lost wages during the one year she was prevented from working.
It continues with much more sweeping recommendations, however:
It also recommends that the State Party takes the appropriate means to review regulations and policies enacted at the State or local level related to employment of foreigners and abolish, both in law and practice, any piece of legislation, regulation, policy or measure which has the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination. The Committee recommends the State party to counter any manifestations of xenophobia, through stereotyping or stigmatizing, of foreigners by public officials, the media and the public at large, including, as appropriate, public campaigns, official statements and codes of conduct for politicians and the media. The State party is also requested to give wide publicity to the Committee’s Opinion, including among prosecutors and judicial bodies, and to translate it into the official language of the State party.
This doesn't just refer to English teachers, but to regulations for all foreign workers. And as I've covered here, the references to the conduct of the media and politicians is very pertinent, considering the 'Citizens Group for Upright English Education' (also known as Anti English Spectrum) worked closely with the media and had access to politicians when pushing for the creation of the HIV testing policy (among others) in the first place.
It will be interesting to see how the Korean government will respond to the CERD's ruling - whether it will in fact change the law in accordance with its treaty obligations. Based on South Korea's history of human rights protections, it does not look promising. Even when human rights principles are codified into law, employers (and often police officers) who violate workers' legal rights do so with widespread impunity and are rarely prosecuted or held accountable - as demonstrated by the cases of the migrant workers in Bitter Harvest and the workers enslaved on salt farms on the islands of Jeollanam-do. The admission that HIV tests were seen as a way to "check the values and morality" of visa applicants is a slap in the face - doubly so considering that only foreigners are required to have "upright values" in order to get jobs.

Nonetheless, the CERD ruling is a major victory - a solid foundation on which to pressure the South Korean government, which has demonstrated that it wants to be taken seriously in the international community.

A modern 1984-esque piece? China's military wants to bring the (ideological) fight to the internet

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Last week Ars Technica featured a delightful piece of scaremongering propaganda from the People's Liberation Army Daily, the newspaper of the Chinese military, that calls for an ideological defense of Chinese values from Western encroachment through tighter restrictions on internet content and protection by - you guessed it - the Chinese military:
In the view of the PLA Daily, Western powers and Chinese "ideological traitors" have used the Internet to wage war on the Party: "Their fundamental objective is to confuse us with 'universal values', disturb us with 'constitutional democracy', and eventually overthrow our country through 'color revolution'," the article stated—an allusion to the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine and other popular uprisings against Communist authoritarian governments in the former Soviet Bloc. "Regime collapse that can occur overnight often starts from long-term ideological erosion."
To counter "domestic and foreign hostile forces" from spreading their ideas and rumors, "propaganda departments must strengthen their management and control...using various means to fight back the wrong words and thoughts, and guarantee the purity of the network environment," the article continued. "At the same time, we should dare to take the initiative, effectively use the communication capacity of the network, so that the mainstream values (of the Party)​ occupy every corner of the network, deep into the hearts of every Internet users, providing inexhaustible spiritual strength characteristics of China's socialist construction."
Just remember, guys: war is peace, and freedom is slavery.

World still lamenting that Aung San Suu Kyi is not a superhero, still missing the point that Nobel Prizes do not saints make

While the plight of the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar is nothing new (and was in fact what originally drew my attention to Myanmar), international outrage has grown to a fever pitch in recent weeks - particularly in light of the boat full of them that was passed back and forth between Malaysia and Thailand last week and the mass graves found yesterday. Violence between Burmese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims has been simmering for over a year at this point and has gotten so bad that the Rohingya are fleeing Myanmar (which views them as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants) en masse (hence the boat).

Throughout all this have been calls for Aung San Suu Kyi - opposition leader, Nobel laureate, democratic champion, iron orchid, and "Lady" - to use her magical human rights powers to make it stop: call out the government for inaction, stop the violence, call for peace, et cetera. Her persistent silence is becoming increasingly frustrating to commentators, the latest of which took figurative pen to paper in Al Jazeera to shame her for shirking her human rights obligations:
So, where does Suu Kyi fit into all this? Well, for a start, her silence is inexcusable. Her refusal to condemn, or even fully acknowledge, the state-sponsored repression of her fellow countrymen and women, not to mention the violence meted out to them by Buddhist extremists inspired by the monk Ashin Wirathu (aka "The Burmese Bin Laden"), makes her part of the problem, not the solution.

"In a genocide, silence is complicity, and so it is with Aung San Suu Kyi," observed Penny Green, a law professor at the University of London and director of the State Crime Initiative, in a recent op-ed for The Independent. Imbued with "enormous moral and political capital", Green argued, Myanmar's opposition leader could have challenged "the vile racism and Islamophobia which characterises Burmese political and social discourse".

She didn't. Instead, she spent the past few years courting the Buddhist majority of Myanmar, whose votes she needs in order to be elected president in 2016 - if, that is, the military will allow her to be elected president, or even permit her to stand - by playing down the violence perpetrated against the Muslim minority, and trying to suggest a false equivalence between persecutors and victims of persecution. In a BBC interview in 2013, for example, Suu Kyi shamefully blamed the violence on "both sides", telling interviewer Mishal Husain that "Muslims have been targeted but Buddhists have also been subjected to violence".
These criticisms are certainly much harsher than Nick Kristoff's mild finger-wagging last June, where he observed that "[t]he moral giant has become a calculating politician." Because apparently getting a Nobel prize precludes you from being a calculating politician?

I certainly do not argue with the criticism; I agree that Suu Kyi should use her standing and influence to try to help the Rohingya. Nevertheless, these laments at her lack of heroism drive home the folly of assuming that a Nobel prize automatically makes a person (or organization or government) a champion of all things right and good. The Nobel committee gave Suu Kyi the prize after she had been put under house arrest for running for president in a democratic uprising - not for defending anybody's rights. Yes, she did that via nonviolent means, and her speeches since then all seem to indicate that she values "struggle against oppression" on some level, but during 18 years of house arrest the rest of the world decided who and what she was without ever seeing her in action. Now the world is disappointed that she is living up to a label that she never intended to claim for herself.
Why weren't we listening when the opposition leader and former political prisoner told CNN in 2013 that she had "been a politician all along", that her ambition was to become president of her country?

The sad truth is that when it comes to "The Lady", it is well past time to take off the rose-tinted glasses. To see Suu Kyi for what she is: A former prisoner of conscience, yes, but now a cynical politician who is willing to put votes ahead of principles; party political advancement ahead of innocent Rohingya lives.
Maybe we should indeed listen when she talks. "I’m always surprised when people speak as if I’ve just become a politician. I’ve been a politician all along. I started in politics not as a human rights defender or a humanitarian worker, but as the leader of a political party. And if that’s not a politician then I don’t know what is," is the full quote that is referenced above. Perhaps the mistake was assuming that she has not been cynical all these years. After all, optimistic and upright people tend to not make it to the presidency.

#Polio eradication in @CDCMMWR: Are we finally on the cusp of that elusive dream?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Note: This was cross-posted to the IH Blog.

I came across a very encouraging article in last week's MMWR (the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report) this morning about polio eradication. After several reappearances in 2013, cases are down again this year and, if things continue to go well, the end may be in sight:
Four of six WHO regions have been certified as free of indigenous WPV, and endemic transmission of WPV continued in only three countries in 2014. In 2013, the global polio eradication effort suffered setbacks with outbreaks in the Horn of Africa, Central Africa, and the Middle East; however, significant progress was made in 2014 in response to all three outbreaks. Nonetheless, the affected regions remain vulnerable to WPV re-importation from endemic areas and to low-level, undetected WPV circulation. Continued response activities are needed in these regions to further strengthen AFP surveillance and eliminate immunity gaps through high-quality SIAs and strong routine immunization programs.

Progress in Nigeria since 2012 has brought the goal of interrupting the last known chains of indigenous WPV transmission in Africa within reach. Elimination of all poliovirus transmission in Nigeria in the near term is feasible, through intensified efforts to 1) interrupt cVDPV2 transmission, 2) strengthen routine immunization services, and 3) increase access to children in insecure areas. Similar efforts should be implemented in all countries in Africa, where 9 months have passed without a reported WPV case, and 6 months have passed since the last reported cVDPV2 case.
Number of cases of wild poliovirus type 1 in countries with recent polio outbreaks, by territory* — January 1, 2013–March 30, 2015

*Central Africa (Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea), Horn of Africa (Ethiopia and Somalia), and Middle East (Iraq and Syria).

The eradication push has suffered major blows in the last two years. In 2013, after six years of being polio-free, a major outbreak in Somalia contributed more polio cases to the year's tally than the rest of the world combined; meanwhile, the virus made its way back into Syria that same fall after a 14-year hiatus. Luckily, extraordinary efforts in the midst of conflict zones on the part of health workers were able to beat the virus back to the heart of the fight - the final three countries in which it remains endemic.
Number of cases of wild poliovirus type 1 among countries with endemic poliovirus transmission, by country — January 1, 2013–March 30, 2015
Most (86%) WPV cases in Afghanistan in 2014 resulted from importation from Pakistan; however, the detection of orphan viruses highlights the need to strengthen the quality of both polio vaccination and AFP surveillance (10). Efforts are also needed to increase population immunity by intensifying routine polio immunization activities to ensure high coverage among infants with at least 3 OPV doses.

Recent challenges to the secure operation and public acceptance of the polio eradication program in Pakistan are unprecedented (10). Although poliovirus transmission has been concentrated primarily in the FATA region of northwest Pakistan, transmission has continued in the greater Karachi area, and WPV cases have been reported from all major Pakistan provinces. Successful efforts to enhance security to protect health workers and increase public demand for vaccination are urgently needed.

The recent gains in control and elimination of poliovirus transmission globally must be maintained and built upon through innovative strategies to access populations during SIAs in areas with complex security and political challenges, improve AFP surveillance, and strengthen routine immunization. With the progress achieved in 2014 to interrupt endemic WPV transmission in Nigeria and polio outbreaks in Africa and the Middle East, permanent interruption of global poliovirus transmission appears possible in the near future, provided that similar progress can be made in Afghanistan and Pakistan; progress there would also reduce the risk for future importation-related outbreaks in polio-free countries.
While there have been several cases of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus in northern Nigeria, the fact that no wild poliovirus has been seen in the country since last July is extremely encouraging - eradication in Africa may be in sight. The final stronghold will be Pakistan and Afghanistan (primarily its regions that border Pakistan) - where, as the global health community has discussed ad nauseum, militants take advantage of the lack of public trust in eradication owing to bad intelligence schemes, among other things.

Obviously, it is still too early to tell. Gaps in surveillance mean incomplete data; there are most likely more cases that have not been reported. Furthermore, ongoing conflict (not to mention the recent Ebola outbreak) has left the health systems of many countries devastated, so vulnerabilities are everywhere. Nevertheless, with continued dedication (and a little luck), we may very well get there. Here's hoping.

WFP and OCHA are providing hunger and food insecurity data on HDX

Friday, May 22, 2015

Because my job as an epidemiologist is so data-focused, I have been diving into the "big data" and "open data" conversations, trying to learn more about data trends and skills (and hopefully beef up my resume in the process, of course). While nobody seems to be able to define "big data" very well (and I have seen it dismissed as little more than a buzzword more than once), open data is a growing movement that I have taken particular interest in. In re-tuning my social media feeds to more data-oriented signals, some nifty stuff has crossed my radar - including this announcement from the World Food Programme earlier this week:
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) have teamed up to provide access to global data on hunger and food insecurity. The data can be used to understand the type of food available in certain markets, how families cope in the face of food insecurity and how WFP provides food assistance in emergencies to those in need.

The data is being made available through OCHA’s Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX), an open platform for sharing crisis data. The collaboration between WFP, the world’s largest humanitarian organization fighting hunger worldwide, and OCHA began at the height of the Ebola crisis when WFP shared its data on food market prices in affected countries in West Africa.

With funding from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, WFP has since been able to make large amounts of its data available dynamically, making it easier to integrate with other systems, including HDX.
While I am not sure whether the development community at large will buy into these types of data repositories and contribute enough to make them a truly valuable resource, it looks like it is moving in that direction (and now I know about HDX, which I was completely unaware of before).

World Human Right Cities Forum Advances Interdisciplinary Rights Dialogue

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Gwangju, the "City of Light" and capitol of Jeollanam-do province in South Korea, is also the country's historical epicenter of democratic activism and civil disobedience. In addition to being known for its flavorful food and spicy kimchi, the city has made a name of itself as a champion of human rights. Aung San Suu Kyi accepted an award for democracy there in 2013 (that had been awarded to her in 2004, while she was still under house arrest), and the city hosts an Annual World Human Rights Cities Forum. I am so proud of the fact that my own time in Korea was there, and that I became actively involved in the Gwangju International Center - a non-profit organization focused on cultural exchange that organizes and co-hosts the forum - while I was there. My husband and I both still have a strong affinity for Gwangju, which is why he chose to do his internship for his Master of Global Policy Studies program at the GIC. He had the good fortune of attending this year's forum and even had the opportunity to speak with several panelists. He graciously agreed to share his experience and observations - even those that relate to public health - so that I could feature them here. What follows is his coverage (and photos!).

Note: This was cross-posted to the IH Blog.

Gwangju, South Korea - From May 15th to May 18th Gwangju, South Korea played host to the 5th Annual World Human Rights Cities Forum. Begun in 2011, the World Human Rights Cities Forum (WHRCF) has grown into a premier forum for human rights advocacy and policy with an emphasis on community-level programming. The foundational concept for the forum is that of the “human rights city,” which, according to the Gwangju Human Rights Charter, is a city built on “the historical assets and the infrastructure of democracy and human rights the city has, a democratic administration of participatory autonomy, and civic consciousness that functions as a catalyst in implementation of the human rights.” Gwangju’s interest in human rights stems from its history as the site of the May 18 Democratic Uprising, a popular revolt that played a key role in South Korea’s transition to democracy in the 1980s.

The WHRCF aims to draw activists, community organizers, and city government officials together in order to encourage the exchange of policies and ideas involving human rights advocacy and implementation. While acknowledging that city-level government is often unable to set a national tone for human rights policy, the role of municipal governments in implementation of human rights policies is key. Sessions at the 2015 WHRCF covered a variety of different themed sessions including topics of state violence and torture, gender, disability, education, and social economy. In total, over one hundred speakers from twenty-three countries presented or participated in panel sessions.

Public health interests were well represented among the panelists. The thematic session on disability placed a significant focus on self-determination in access to care, particularly for patients with mental disabilities. Discussions involved the rights of the disabled to humane treatment when institutionalized in long-term facilities, and how municipal and provincial policies can encourage proper oversight and legal protection for long-term patients at psychiatric facilities. Areas of additional concern were policies protecting the disabled from involuntary sterilization and strategies to advance public education capabilities for developmentally disabled children. Many of these are areas where local ordinances or regional organizations can have a major effect on at-risk populations, even in situations where national healthcare and education policies are lacking in their protections for the disabled.

Panelists and audience members listen to a speaker at the
special session on psychological support for torture victims
participating in legal proceedings.
A topic of particular relevance in many countries, including even the United States given the ongoing racial tensions and unrest in places like Baltimore or Ferguson, was the thematic session on assisting victim of state violence and torture. In an interview following the session, panelist Pinar Onen, a clinical psychologist working with the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, spoke about the need for psychological treatment for victims of state violence, and the difficulty of finding treatment for victims who distrust state authority and state-operated healthcare system due to their association between oppressive violence and state authority. Other speakers talked about the challenges facing legal activism in support of victims of state violence, particularly re-traumatization associated with the legal challenges needed to get redress for state violence or torture. An additional concern is the need to relax or eliminate statute of limitations laws for state violence and torture, as they prevent accountability of government figures and represent an inherent conflict of interests when the body instituting the statute of limitations stands to directly benefit from the inability to hear legal action involving state violence and oppression.

Assembled dignitaries and representatives at the closing of the
2015 World Human Rights Cities Forum on May 17th, 2015.
The WHRCF is particularly valuable as a platform for coordinating research and policies involving human rights across a variety of different fields and locations. The opportunity for dialogue and discussion helps activist gain insight on how to institute local government policies or to effectively run advocacy organizations working to increase access to human rights protections across the world. More recognition needs to be given to worker on the regional and municipal levels who are actually involved in policy implementation and development, as broad, national directives can make a statement about human rights but cannot actually benefit citizens without effective implementation on the ground. It is absolutely essential for those in need of assistance and expertise in implementing these policies to have platforms such as these to gain knowledge and information on managing and implementing the desired programs.

As the WHRCF continues in the future, there is great need for further participation of researchers, policy-makers, and professionals in related fields to continue this dialogue regarding methods for ensuring human rights protections. Public health plays a crucial role in this endeavor, as evidenced in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 25, which establishes access to medical care and social services as a basic human right. When protections are needed for children, elderly, infirm, or disabled persons, public health professionals are best equipped to provide input on the needs and challenges of these at-risk populations, and their input is absolutely necessary for administrators and policy-makers to be able to craft the laws and regulations necessary to realize human rights protections for all.

Two countries, opposite approaches: HIV on the rise in Russia and the Philippines

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Note: This was cross-posted to the IH Blog.

Two different articles on rising HIV rates in two different countries crossed my social media news feeds today; I though I would juxtapose them here because they embody very different approaches to a problem (embedded within two very different sociopolitical environments, of course).

The first piece from the BBC focuses on an alarming rise in HIV rates in Russia:
For years Russia has remained remarkably silent on the challenge it faces from HIV and Aids. Now that silence has been broken by an epidemiologist who has been working in the field for more than two decades - and he calls the situation "a national catastrophe".

Vadim Pokrovsky, the softly spoken head of the Federal Aids Centre in Moscow, has watched as the figures have climbed remorselessly upwards.

There are about one million people living with HIV today in Russia and year on year the rate of infection is rising, unlike sub-Saharan Africa where the rate of increase is slowing. This is according to Russia's official figures, which almost everyone agrees are a substantial underestimate of the true position.
The epidemic in Russia, argues Mr. Pokrovsky, has been driven by ideological (rather than evidence-based) policies on sex education and injection drug therapy that have been pushed by the Russian Orthodox Church and a conservative government. Education officials argue that comprehensive sex education will encourage kids to have sex (despite plenty of evidence to the contrary), while the use of methadone replacement as a harm reduction strategy for injection drug users is ridiculed and banned (despite the method's success in reducing HIV transmission through injection drug use in Europe and Australia). HIV infections have predominantly been driven by injection drug use in the past, but sexual transmission is on the rise. Apparently Russia is not on the evidence-based health policy bandwagon.

According to Al Jazeera, meanwhile, the picture of rising HIV rates in the Philippines looks quite different:
In the last five years, HIV cases have gone up 277 percent in the Philippines. While the total number is less than one percent of the 100 million population, it continues to rise. From one reported case every three days in 2000, there are now 21 new cases recorded every day, according to the latest government report.

A separate UN study ranks the Philippines as among the seven countries with over 25 percent or more increase in HIV cases annually from 2001 to 2009, even as the worldwide trend continues to fall.

"Unlike in other parts of the world, the AIDS Epidemic in the Philippines has been growing rapidly," the Philippine National AIDS Council said.
Danton Remoto, university professor and gay rights activist, however, said that the real number could be 10 to 20 times higher. And he attributed the underreporting to the stigma associated with the disease, particularly among the gay community, the section of the Philippine society worst hit by the disease.
In the case of the Philippines, it has largely been government inaction (rather than counterproductive policies) and social stigma surrounding homosexuality and safer sex practices in the overwhelmingly Catholic country that have driven the epidemic. There is a silver lining here, however, as governments have begun to move (albeit slowly):
Cortes said that only a handful of the 1,634 cities and towns in the country, have programmes related to HIV prevention. She also said that a "very low condom use and low overall knowledge" about reproductive health has contributed to Filipinos engaging in risky sexual behaviours.

It was only in 2014, when the country's reproductive health law was given a greenlight by the Supreme Court, after it was challenged by the Catholic Church as unconstitutional. The law mandates sex education and access to artificial birth control methods, including condom use.

It also includes provisions on HIV-AIDS awareness and treatment.

Boxing vs. Earthquake

Monday, May 4, 2015

A delightfully depressing stat crossed my social media news feed this weekend: "[Saturday] night the world spent enough money for Mayweather to walk away with 300 million. As of last night, the world has donated 60 million for Nepal - a devastated country fighting to stay alive."

Happy Monday!