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UNESCO chief condemns killings of Iraqi journalists

The Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) continues to speak out on the “systematic” media killings in Iraq.

Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said recently, “I condemn the killings of Salih Saif Aldin, Jasim and Mohhamed Nofaan, Zeyard Tariq, and Dhi Abdul-Razak al-Dibo…The apparently systematic targeting of journalists in Iraq shows how disturbing it is for the war mongers to see their crimes exposed. This in turn highlights how important free and independent reporting is for the restoration of peace and democracy in Iraq.”

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The Malaria Challenge: Do we shoot for “E”?

As I was watching the Gates Malaria Forum‘s “Town Hall” yesterday evening (entire day’s webcast), I was struck by an anecdote told by Brian Greenwood, Professor at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine:

When Sir Ian McGregor was working in the Gambia, of the children who came to the clinic there with malaria, 80% had a positive blood film; 10 years ago it was 40% of those that had clinical malaria had a positive blood film; last year it was 4 percent.

Unless I’m misunderstanding him, Greenwood means that, out of diagnosed purely by their symptoms as having malaria (“clinical“) , only 4 percent actually had malaria and that this number has dramatically decreased over time. This anecdote drives home the difficulty of dealing with this pervasive disease ($12.5 billion in productivity is lost in African every year due to malaria).

Blanketing all of those with malaria symptoms with malaria drugs, or performing “presumptive treatment,” results in “additional expenses and increases the risk of selecting for drug-resistant parasites” (i.e. strengthens the disease). On the other hand, to borrow an anecdote from the moderator, when faced with a sick child “up-country” and imperfect diagnostic methods, how do you not give that child all available treatments? And how do we get better diagnostics “up-country”? (Greenwood’s anecdote was used in response to a question about Rapid Diagnostic Tests.)

The anecdote also informs later discussion in the town hall on the practical and political aspects of setting the “E word” (eradication) as the stated goal (start watching at around the 2-hour mark).

Those arguing for restraint suggested that there is “great honor in disease control” (certainly) and that aiming high and falling short runs the risk of curbing the currently strong public support for malaria efforts.

Several brought up the WHO’s Global Malaria Eradication Campaign, launched in 1955. Malcolm Gladwell’s superb “The Mosquito Killer,” published in The New Yorker in 2001 provides a thorough analysis.

The short story: the campaign, based on spraying 80 percent on the houses in an affected area with DDT, eliminated malaria in Europe, Australia, and other parts of the developed world as well as significantly reduced the number of cases in developing countries like India. Millions of lives were saved. However, due to logistical and cultural difficulties, 80 percent coverage didn’t happen everywhere, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, and a DDT-resistant mosquito quickly began reproducing. “In 1963, the money from Congress ran out” — in 1958, the U.S. had dedicated the equivalent of billions of 2007 dollars for the effort. “Countries that had been told they could wipe out malaria in four years — and had diverted much of their health budgets to that effort — grew disillusioned as the years dragged on and eradication never materialized.” And, finally, “[i]n 1969, the World Health Organization formally abandoned global eradication, and in the ensuing years it proved impossible to muster any great enthusiasm from donors to fund antimalaria efforts.”

Regardless of where they came down on the “E” discussion, all participants seemed to agree that sustained political will is critical. In the fight against a disease that continues to kill a million people a year and has paralyzed an entire continent, let’s hope we can achieve it.

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Bill and Melinda Gates: Let’s chart path to eradicate malaria

by Amy DiElsi

Melinda Gates, Co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, opened the Gates Malaria Forum in Seattle this morning with a call to embrace the effort to eradicate malaria. While many have been cautious to declare full eradication of the disease as the ultimate goal, Melinda urged the scientists, researchers, and advocates in the room to join Gates in this new endeavor in order to limit the human and financial costs and to ensure that we don’t allow the malaria parasite to continue to adapt to new preventions and treatments.

Melinda talked about her past trip to Zambia where she met a young girl sick with malaria. The girl and her family were waiting for an ambulance to take her to get the care she needed to survive. She doesn’t know if the young girl made it to the hospital in time. Melinda said, “No child should die of malaria in today’s world.” She added, “Any goal short of eradicating malaria is accepting malaria.”

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Libya on the Security Council

Texas Fred and Rob from Say Anything are up in arms about Libya’s new seat on the Security Council. Says Texas Fred: “Classic case of the UN once again allowing the foxes to guard the hen-house. This sort of thing happens over and over again within the UN and the Us [sic] does nothing to prevent it. It’s as though the US approves of this sort of insane behavior.”

Thing is, the United States did approve of — or at least not oppose — Libya’s run for a Security Council seat. (In contrast, recall the debate over Venezuela’s run last year.) This, in part, can be considered a reward for Libya’s good behavior. After having renounced terrorism and abandoning its nuclear program Libya is no longer the international pariah it once was. Furthermore, Tripoli is starting to play a more constructive regional role than it has in the past. Later this month, it will host a major Darfur peace conference, where it is hoped Tripoli will exert pressure on certain rebel groups to bring them to the table. Lockerbie families are understandably upset. But if the point of international relations is to change the behavior of a regime, and not necessarily who runs it, then policy vis-a vis Libya is making great strides.

Finally, from the perspective of Security Council dynamics, there is no reason to think that Libya will be anymore or anyless accommodating to American interests than Qatar, the country it replaced. (Last summer, the United States vetoed and anti-Israeli resolution sponsored by Qatar, and Qatar routinely voted opposite the United States in measures relating to Sudan.) Frankly, having Libya on the Security Council at a time when Tripoli is assuming the role of regional arbitrator of the Darfur conflict can provide a needed boon to diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict.

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UNHCR launches HIV/AIDS awareness project in Nepal

The United Nations refugee agency has launched a project in Nepal to increase HIV and AIDS services among conflict-affected populations.

Mr. Abraham Abraham, UNHCR Representative in Nepal, said, “This new programme is a result of a joint UN assessment undertaken in November 2006 in Banke, Ilam and Kathmandu, and I am confident that together with these NGO partners, we can better respond with respect to the protection and prevention of HIV/AIDS.”

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Dangers on the Ground

On the heels of World Food Day, highlighting the “inherent human right of every woman, man, girl and boy, wherever they live on this planet” to food, comes news that the head of the World Food Program in Somalia, Idris Osman, has been abducted by government troops, in turn highlighting the danger that UN workers on the ground endure in an attempt to guarantee that right. (You’ll no doubt remember that earlier this month, 10 UN peacekeepers were killed in Sudan.)

In Somalia WFP workers also have had to deal with a festering insurgency lead by the Union of Islamic Courts and clan-based militias and piracy off the horn of Africa that threatens 80 percent of aid delivery. Despite those difficulties, WFP workers had been engaged in a campaign to deliver aid to 2 million Somalis (that work has been temporarily suspended due to this abduction).

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