article placeholder

XDR-TB: Extremely Drug Resistant Tuberculosis

Via Technology, Health and Development, the acclaimed photojournalist James Nachtwey is pointing his camera lens to a neglected but dangerous threat to global public health. According to XDRTB.org
TB can usually be treated with a course of four standard, or "first-line," anti-TB drugs. If these drugs are misused or mismanaged, multidrug resistant TB (MDR-TB) can develop. MDR-TB takes longer to treat, and requires "second-line" drugs that are more expensive and have more side effects. XDR-TB can develop when these second-line drugs are also misused or mismanaged and become ineffective. Treatment options for XDR-TB are seriously limited. [snip] Many people think of TB as a disease of the past, but in 2007 alone, TB killed 1.7 million people. That's 4,660 deaths a day, or one death from TB every 20 seconds. TB is the leading killer of people with HIV: Individuals are able to live with HIV but are dying from TB. Without proper treatment, 90% of those living with HIV die within months of contracting TB. The drugs to treat a standard TB case cost only $20 per patient in the developing world, and are almost always completely effective in curing a person of the disease when taken properly, even among people living with HIV. XDR-TB and MDR-TB, the drug-resistant strains of TB, are much more difficult, and sometimes impossible, to cure. Cases of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and extremely drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) have been found in almost every country of the world. It is not clearly known how far these strains have spread.
Learn more about XDRTB and what you can do to help.
article placeholder

The Bottom (Urban) Billion

While the Dow's dip below 10,000 certainly does not bode well for investors, its significance is largely symbolic. Contrast this with the every-day impact felt by the millions of people at the forefront of an even more sobering milestone:
The number of urban slum-dwellers worldwide has broken the one billion mark, making it clear that the urbanization of poverty is arguably one of the biggest challenges facing development today, executive director of UN-Habitat, has said.
According to the UN Secretary-General, over a third of urban dwellers in the developing world live in slums. This problem is even more acute in sub-Saharan Africa, where breakneck urbanization has created slums that contain more than 60% of cities' inhabitants. The S-G cited these statistics in his message on "World Habitat Day" yesterday, which marked an occasion to "reflect on the state of our towns and cities and the basic right to adequate shelter for all." It also signals how far we have to go if we are to meet the Millennium Development Goals' challenge of improving at least 100 million slum dwellers' lives by 2020. Sign up here to Stand Up against poverty and in support of the MDGs.
article placeholder

Tanks (were) en route to South Sudan

Certain aspects of the saga of the weapon-laden Ukrainian ship hijacked by pirates two weeks ago never seemed quite right, as articulated here by The New York Times' Jeffrey Gettleman:
Why was the ship left unguarded in some of the most dangerous waters in the world, given its cargo of 33 tanks, 150 grenade launchers, 6 antiaircraft guns and heaps of ammunition? Why does Kenya, known for its wild animals, not its wars, need so many tanks? And if it does need tanks, why suddenly switch from British armor, which it has used for decades, to incompatible Eastern-bloc equipment?
The BBC now seems to have uncovered some hard evidence to answer these questions:
A copy of the freight manifest appears to show contracts for the hardware were made by the Kenyan Ministry of Defence on behalf of South Sudan's government.
Uh-oh. This is bad P.R. for Kenya (perhaps it needs a spokesman more like the pirates'), but it is worse news for Sudan, where an "arms race" between North and South would be a bad sign in the run-up to next year's important national elections.
article placeholder

Child Soldiers Accountability Act Signed Into Law

Via OpinioJuris, news that President Bush signed into law the Child Soldiers Accountability act, which "makes it a federal crime to recruit knowingly or to use soldiers under the age of 15 and permits the United States to prosecute any individual on US soil for the offense, even if the children were recruited or served as soldiers outside the United States." Human Rights Watch approves. Let me echo Kevin Jon Heller and send my kudos to Senator Dick Durbin, the act's sponsor, and President Bush for signing it into law. To learn more about this terrible global scourge, visit the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.
article placeholder

A Nice Place To Visit. But Difficult to Mount a Peacekeeping Mission There

The Times' intrepid Africa reporter Jeffrey Gettleman plays tourist in Eritrea for a guest spot on Sunday's travel section. The picture he paints of Eritrea's architectural wonders makes the capital, Asmara, sound like an intriguing place to visit. There is almost no crime, the climate is near perfect, and the Italian-influenced cuisine sounds delectable. It recalls, the title of his article suggests, La Dolce Vita. Gettleman does include a "hefty caveat" for potential American tourists. (And, it should be noted, the Eritrean-American relationship took another turn for the worse today when the United States banned arms sales to Eritrea over accusations that the government in Asmara is arming Islamist Somali insurgents. As Gettleman says:
American-Eritrean relations are at a historic low point, with American officials accusing the Eritrean government of sponsoring terrorism in Somalia. It's a long story, having to do with the chaos in Somalia and the poisonous relationship between Eritrea and its much larger neighbor, Ethiopia, which happens to be America's new B.F.F. (best friend forever) in Africa and is currently occupying Somalia. The Eritreans paint themselves as victims of a Western conspiracy.
UN officials and peacekeepers might also think twice before visiting as the government is not very hospitable to their kind. Last spring the United Nations Mission to Ethiopia-Eritrea (UNMEE) was forced to shut down after Asmara effectively withdrew its consent for the mission. More recently, the Eritrean government refused to meet with UN investigators on a fact-finding mission to the site of a clash between Eritrean and Djibouti armed forces. Joking aside, I don't doubt that Asmara is a nice place to visit. I just wish the Eritrean government behave more cooperatively toward the United Nations.
article placeholder

Plan a Family, Save the World

Great column from Neal Peirce in the Seattle Times.
Imagine the next president of the United States moving decisively to slow down the world's population growth as it arcs from today's 6.7 billion toward a predicted and perilous 9.2 billion by 2050. The cost to the U.S. Treasury could reach $1 billion a year. Worth it? Consider what a proactive U.S. global family-planning effort might achieve: * By moderating population growth, there'd be some lessening of catastrophic food and water shortages afflicting less-developed nations. * Global-warming dangers wouldn't rise quite so rapidly. * The rights and life prospects of millions of women around the globe might be enhanced. * Significant worldwide totals of abortions and infant deaths could be avoided. * Democracy and stability would be promoted around the world as fewer nations faced the turmoil easily triggered by high birth rates creating population "bumps" of poor and resentful youth. * With a clear, unequivocal U.S. lead, other countries and the United Nations might expand their international family-planning assistance.
As they say, read the whole thing.
article placeholder

Troops, Equipment, and Diplomacy

In a report on the emptying of half of Somalia's capital -- perhaps 500,000 of its million or so inhabitants have fled fighting between al-Shabab militants and Ethiopian forces -- the BBC includes this poignant quote from the commander of the beleaguered African Union mission in the country:
"I need more troops, I need more equipment," he said, repeating the common refrain of peacekeeping commanders. But the diplomat-general was wise enough to add: "I also need more political support, I need more diplomatic support. You cannot impose a solution on Somalis, you can only encourage peace".
This is "common refrain" for a reason, of course. No one can appreciate more than the commanders on the ground the desperate equipment shortages that peacekeepers face. Yet the fact that this "diplomat-general" recognizes that political and diplomatic investment is equally important attests to the fact that the conflict in Somalia, like any other, can only be solved with pen and paper in negotiations, not with guns and tanks on the streets of Mogadishu.