Thursday, May 31, 2007

Rethinking Mandatory HIV Testing

Anita Kleinsmidt and I have a paper in the AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PUBLIC HEALTH in which we propose to consider introducing mandatory HIV testing of pregnant women in high HIV prevalence areas (eg in Southern Africa). The available evidence suggests that the uptake of HIV testing increases the more difficult the state makes it for pregnant women to avoid it. We think that if women are given the option to have an abortion, and if they insist on carrying the fetus to term, they have some responsibility toward it. This includes the responsibility to ensure that the newborn they want to come into being has a good shot at a life worth living.
Anyway, check it out, the paper is currently available online in a First Look version. The final printed version should be available in the July issue of the journal.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Religious Freedom

It has long been suggested by godless people like myself that religious freedom these days has been perverted into meaning that religious organisations are entitled to discriminated against people of other or no faiths. It also seems to have become a free-for-all for religious groupings to go after women's reproductive interests, gay people, as well as anything else that their respective ideology fancies discriminating against.

Well, a good South African friend of mine has drawn my attention to this article in the Washington Post. It's about a formerly Muslim person's legal right (or otherwise) to change her prejudices toward Christianity. The Malaysian woman in question has decided that she's now a Christian. While that religion's institutional representatives are also suitably misogynistic, they're arguably not as bad as organised Islam. The Malaysian courts now have to decide whether the woman may still be judged by Sharia Islamic courts or by the civil courts of the country. The Malaysian Constitution prohibits Muslims from swapping that ideology for another ideology..

Friday, May 25, 2007

Patients allegedly undersupplied with cutting edge medication

A study published by the German federation of the innovative (ie research active) pharmaceutical industry alleges that up to 74% of patients suffering from dementia, and up to 69% of patients suffering from rheumathoid arthritis are denied access to innovative drugs due to cost considerations. Basically insurance companies put pressure on doctors to prescribe cheaper, generic drugs, many of which, according to the research active industry, are plain suboptimal.

Now, one should not be too surprised that the pharmaceutical industry and its for-hire academic researcher (a professor doctor doctor med type guy in Bochum) come to this conclusion.

Assuming that the claims made by the good professor, and the industry that finances him, are correct, one might still wonder whether this isn't further proof that our reliance on market mechanisms to ensure medical innovation is misguided. It seems as if not only the poor in developing countries are unable to access life preserving medication but also your average citizen in a country as rich as Germany. Surely there is something odd about our health care systems' continuing reliance on profit driven drug companies to deliver the needed drugs affordably. I am not suggesting, by the way, that there is something inherently bad about the companies going about their business in terms of maximising returns for their shareholders. What is problematic is that we as a society have shifted most drug R&D responsibility their way. Now we depend on them and find that while this was convenient for awhile, we (as in more and more of us) can't afford their goods anylonger.

No doubt it is time to reconsider how drug R&D is currently being financed.

Hands off the people of Iran campaign

Here's a campaign call from some group of leftish academics re Iran...

Hands Off the People of Iran
No to imperialist war! No to the theocratic regime!


OUR DEMANDS

We recognise that there is an urgent need to establish a principled solidarity campaign with the people of Iran. The contradictions between the interests of the neo-conservatives in power in the USA and the defenders of the rule of capital in the Islamic Republic has entered a dangerous new phase.

US imperialism and its allies are intent on regime change from above and are seriously considering options to impose this - sanctions, diplomatic pressure, limited strikes or perhaps bombing the country back to the stone age.

In Iran, the theocracy is using the international outcry against its nuclear weapons programme to divert attention away from the country's endemic crisis, deflect popular anger onto foreign enemies and thus prolong its reactionary rule.

The pretext of external threats has been cynically used to justify increased internal repression. The regime's security apparatus has been unleashed on its political opponents, workers, women and youth. The rising tide of daily working class anti-capitalist struggles has been met with arrests, the ratification of new anti-labour laws and sweeping privatisations. Under the new Iranian government, military-fascist organisations are gaining political and military strength, posing an ominous threat to the working class and democratic opposition.

Paradoxically, the US/UK invasion of Iraq has actually increased the regional influence of Iran's rulers - it led to the election of the pro-Iranian Shia government currently in power in Baghdad.

This means that any support from the anti-war movement for the reactionaries who currently govern Iran and repress its people is in effect indirect support for the occupation government in Iraq.

We recognise that effective resistance to this war can only mean the militant defence of the struggles of the working class in Iran and of the rising social movements in that country. We want regime change - both in Iran and in the imperialist countries. But we know that change must come from below - from the struggles of the working class and social movements - if it is to lead to genuine liberation.

We call on all anti-capitalist forces, progressive political groups and social organisations to join activists of the Iranian left to both oppose imperialism's plans and to organise practical solidarity with the growing movement against war and repression in Iran headed by the working class, women, students and youth.

* Our campaign demands are: No to imperialist war!
* No to the theocratic regime!
* The immediate and unconditional withdrawal of US/UK troops from the Gulf region!
* Opposition to Israeli expansionism and aggression!
* Support to all working class and progressive struggles in Iran against poverty and repression!
* Support for socialism, democracy and workers' control in Iran!
* For a nuclear-free Middle East in a nuclear-free world!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Humanist Campaign for Human Rights in Poland

Please consider supporting this petition!
-----------------------------------------

PETITION

POLAND: HANDS OFF HUMAN RIGHTS



Tell Poland’s government it must respect all human rights for all. Polish leaders have threatened criminal sanctions against lesbian and gay activists and organizations, have tried to restrict freedoms of expression and association, and have even threatened violence against LGBT marchers.


Human Rights Watch and Campaign Against Homophobia (Kampania Przeciw Homofobii, Poland’s central LGBT group) ask for YOUR signatures on this petition demanding an end to homophobic attacks.



Write to lgbt@hrw.org by NOON EST (5 PM GMT) ON FRIDAY, MAY 18. Simply give your NAME, COUNTRY OF ORIGIN, and any other identifying information you want included. PLEASE also let us know if you are signing on as an individual or an organization!


OR you can sign on through the web by visiting:

English: http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/05/10/poland15894.htm

EspaƱol: http://hrw.org/spanish/docs/2007/05/10/poland15902.htm

Polski: http://hrw.org/polish/docs/2007/05/10/poland15897.htm

Pass the links around. A petition organized by religious-right forces, called “Homosexual hands off Poland!” got almost *9000* signatures before it was presented to President Kaczynski this week. Let’s show him how much strength sexual rights activists and LGBT people can muster. Campaign Against Homophobia will present the petition to Polish authorities after Warsaw’s Equality Parade on May 19, 2007.


English, version follows. PLEASE CIRCULATE THIS WIDELY! And please sign the petition by writing to lgbt@hrw.org --and stand up for human rights in Poland!



POLAND: Hands off Human Rights

The President of the Republic of Poland
Lech Kaczynski
ul. Wiejska 10
00-902 Warszawa, Poland

Dear President Kaczynski,

We urge you and your government to stop your attacks on the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Such attacks betray Poland’s long, proud record of struggling for human rights. Upholding equal rights for all will help build a freer future.

Your government has declared it will fire gay teachers, and impose criminal penalties on “anyone who promotes homosexuality or any other deviance of a sexual nature in education establishments.” This blatant violation of basic rights could deprive students of potentially life-saving information about sexuality and about HIV/AIDS. Members of your government have accused organizations working on LGBT people’s human rights of “pedophilia,” and threatened them with criminal investigations. A legislator in your governing coalition said that gays who demonstrate “should be bashed with a baton.” In 2004 and 2005, when mayor of Warsaw, you yourself tried to ban Gay Pride marches, saying that “public promotion of homosexuality will not be allowed.” Your words and actions have contributed to a climate where violence against LGBT people is tolerated—or even encouraged.

Such words and acts threaten democracy.

This month, the European Court of Human Rights condemned your attempts to ban Gay Pride marches in Warsaw. The court praised a “pluralism … built on the genuine recognition of, and respect for, diversity”—including “genuine and effective respect for freedom of association and assembly.”

Last month, the European Parliament, motivated by events in Poland, passed a resolution “On Homophobia in Europe.” It condemned “discriminatory remarks by political and religious leaders targeting homosexuals.” It voiced “solidarity with, and support for, fundamental rights activists and defenders of equal rights for LGBT people.” It called for an official EU investigation of what is happening to LGBT people’s rights in Poland.

Do not isolate Poland by promoting intolerance and hate. Defend all human rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jerry Falwell - Preacher of Intolerance dead


Jerry Falwell, one of God's most intolerant preacher's on earth has been called home unexpectedly. He died at the age of 73. The founder of what is misleadingly called the 'moral majority', he managed to politicise Christian groups across the US and made radically rightwing views on abortion, homosexuality and such matters mainstream. He blamed in one interview homosexuality and abortion for the attacks on the twin towers in New York City. Nuff said. Good riddance.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Madeleine ... beats me


I know, I know... this probably will enter the history of this blog as the most contemptible piece I have written... BUT, someone's got to say it. Some 10 days or so ago, a blond little British girl (Madeleine) was kidnapped by someone in Portugal. No doubt this is terrible news for the little girl, the distressed parents and anyone who has heard about this story.
Ever since, however, something or other (is it the blond hair?) has blown this sad saga out of all proportions. The story remains the number one news item on the evening news and any other news bulletin you choose to pick (not the many more kids that get murdered on a daily basis by allied troops in Iraq, for instance). The suggestion was made, somewhat excitedly, to broadcast the girls photo on Eurovision (a particularly tacky EU wide song contest). Dutifully the BBC News wrote to the organisers of the song contest and requested just that. One wonders how many other national broadcadsters in Europe suggested the same in response to kidnapped kids in their respective countries. It goes without saying, there's plenty of prey-alongs, too, as if this would change anything substantially for the kidnapped girl. The family's priest reportedly flew to Portugal to ... do what? The BBC reports, 'In the UK, a text message urging mothers to pray for Madeleine's safe return to her family is being passed on by mobile phone and in internet forums.' There's also an army of UK lawyers in Portugal that won't be able to change anything in the ongoing investigation by the Portuguese police force. We even had a 'run for Madeleine' (no kidding, people in Glasgow ran 10k 'for' Madeleine). Evidently the kidnapper didn't really give a toss. As usual, when there's a limelight related opportunity, Richard Branson offered some cash to find this girl (as opposed to any other girl that's also currently missing).
So, while one appreciates the need to generate publicity to ensure the case isn't forgotten, one can't help but wonder what it is that makes this girl so special when compared with other kidnapped (disappeared) kids in the UK and the rest of the world.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Good bye Mr Blair

BNP leader prevented from speaking at Bath University

The Guardian reports today that Mr Griffin, leader of the fascist British National Party, was refused the opportunity to speak at Bath University after all.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Fascist leader to speak at Bath University

Nick Griffin, leader of the fascist British National Party (BNP) is bound to deliver a public lecture at Bath University. Here's a statement from student and trade unions on the campus:

JOINT STATEMENT FROM BATH TRADE UNIONS
Fascism has no place in academic institutions

'Universities should be havens of learning and safety for students,
academics and staff from all backgrounds. We oppose the Secretary of the
University of Bath's decision to allow Nick Griffin, leader of the
fascist British National Party to speak on campus.

Griffin is due to give a lecture at the University of Bath on 14 May at
7pm, at the request of one student.

The BNP is no ordinary political party: it poses a danger to students
and staff alike. Griffin is a former member of the openly fascist
National Front, and has a conviction for distributing literature likely
to incite racial hatred, which denied the reality of the Nazi Holocaust.
The BNP wants an "all-white Britain", which could only be possible
through violence and an end to democracy. It has links with fascist
groups across the world. Many of its leading members have convictions
for violence and have been exposed as Hitler admirers. Wherever the BNP
is active, racist attacks and other hate crimes increase.

The BNP's racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, Islamophobic politics
threatens the safety of Black, Jewish, Muslim, lesbian, gay, bisexual
and transgender students and academics and many others. These views, if
given further legitimacy, provide the framework for physical attacks on
a number of groups.

It is unacceptable to expose students and staff at the University to the
possibility of such attacks and to give a platform of academic
respectability to the BNP by allowing Nick Griffin to give a lecture at
the University.

The BNP has targeted campuses up and down the country, attempting to
recruit students and young people to fascism. Allowing Nick Griffin a
platform at University of Bath will aid the BNP's aim to infiltrate
academic institutions further.

Universities have a legal obligation to promote good race relations
under the 2000 Race Relations (Amendment) Act, brought in as a direct
result of the 1998 Lawrence Inquiry, following the racist murder of
Stephen Lawrence. We believe that this invitation runs contradictory to
the letter and spirit of this legislation. The University of Bath has a
legal and moral obligation to promote good race relations and to work
against discrimination. We believe that it is failing to live up to this
obligation.

We the undersigned call on the University of Bath to withdraw its
invitation to Griffin to speak. We call on all in our community to stand
with us.'

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Oddities of Irish Life

Here's a story (well, more to the point, the satisfactory conclusion of a story): A 17 year of teenager in the Republic of Ireland sued to be allowed to leave the country in order to have an abortion in the UK. The Republic of Ireland is, in case you don't know, a fairly conservative, Catholic country. It has some of the most stringent abortion rules in Europe. The teenager in question tried to have an abortion in Ireland, thru the country's national health service. Well, this is not just your average abortion where a teenager tries to have a termination of pregnancy due to some accident that happened during sexual intercourse. Prenatal tests showed that the newborn would suffer from anencephaly. Newborns with that condition don't live for longer than three days after birth, due to the fact that a large part of the brain and skull is missing. The girl did not want to subject herself and the newborn to that ordeal and requested an abortion. This was denied by the Irish national health service. She then tried to do what many Irish women having abortions do, she tried to escape the country's draconian regulations and tried to have her termination of pregnancy in the UK. However, being under age the national health service ordered her not to leave the country.
The BBC reports today that 'The High Court has now ruled there were no statutory or constitutional grounds for preventing the teenager, known only as Miss D in court, from travelling to the UK for the operation.'
It seems reassuring that there are some sensible people left in that country. I mean, what's the point of carrying a foetus to term that has no life prospects whatsoever. Why would anyone wish to subject a pregnant teenager to the ordeal of having to have the baby in order to see it die within a few days? How could religious dogma initially be permitted to take priority over respect for the difficult choice this young woman made?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Helping AIDS orphans to live lives worth living


Let me tell you something about an AIDS charity worthy probably also of your support. It's a (really - trust me) community based project in Southern Africa. What they do, in a nutshell, is to try to keep AIDS orphans in some kind of family unit (most likely relatives or neighbours). In order to ease the burdens on those usually impoverished families, however, the initiative provides 2 meals per day per child through community based food kitchens. Phedisang's approach to the problem is two-fold: It aims to move as many of the kids it feeds as is feasible on to the state grants that these kids are entitled to (but that they would never receive if it wasn't for the logistical support from Phedisang). So, basically, the first step is to keep kids properly fed, the second step is to move them on to state support in order to free donor money for other children in similar need.
To my mind it's a very clever system because it is sustainable in the longterm, because it's small and doesn't rely on massive administrative operations (gobbling up much of the donor money), and reassuringly, there are no overseas consultants on obscene international salaries that need to be 'fed', too. Check it out and consider supporting them!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Public Citzen's new web blog on Globalisation and Trade


The US based consumer group PUBLIC CITIZEN has just launched a new web blog on Globalisation and Trade. Here's how its originators describe its objectives: 'GTW aims to promote democracy by challenging corporate globalization, arguing that the current globalization model is neither a random inevitability nor "free trade." Eyes on Trade is a space for interested parties to share information about globalization and trade issues, and in particular for us to share our watchdogging insights with you!' Check it out!

Still trying to save the lives of surplus IVF embryos


The pro-life crowd has been going on and on and on about the horrific price paid by embryos destroyed in the process of conducting embryonic stem cell research (ie therapeutic cloning research). Well, these stem cells are derived from surplus (ie frozen) IVF embryos that would be discarded (well, flushed down the toilet) eventually anyway. This cartoon, to my mind, captures nicely the absurdity of a world view that insists that somehow these frozen embryos have infinite value and should be treated as if they were persons... - hope you will agree/enjoy :).