Saturday, January 31, 2009

Benedictus is @ it again

Ex Hitler Youth Catholic head honcho Pope Benedict, fresh from revoking the ex-communication of a holocaust denying bishop, is at it again. He just appointed as new archbishop of Linz Mr Gerhard Wagner. Wagner's main claim to fame is that he declared the Harry Potter books to be satanic, and, for good measure, that hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for a city that was 'sinful'. Archbishop Wagner found evidence for his Katrina related claim in the fact (if it is one) that five reproductive health clinics and several nights clubs were destroyed in New Orleans. He also saw God's miraculous hand in the timing of the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia. He told his flock that definitely it wasn't coincidental that the catastrophe happened around Christmas, just when rich Westerners go to poor Thailand to escape winter (no doubt that's bad, sinful and all). I like this old man, his penchant for going in drag (including red Prada shoes), his clearly pathological hatred of homosexuals, and now his hard work on remaking the organisation that he's running into a small right-wing and somewhat nuttish sect. Good on ya Benedictus. I can't wait for your next move, Sir!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Medical professionalism and religious prejudice

There we go again. Two Canadian lesbians reportedly have been denied medical services by an Egyptian born medical doctor who told them that homosexuality was against her religion and that (unsurprisingly, seeing her professed prejudices) she had no experience treating lesbians. Thankfully, Canada being Canada, the College of Physicians and Surgeons, has stepped in and promised to train international medical graduates working in the country better. Its CEO stated: "I will certainly see what I can do to make sure the college puts this on a higher burner. This is a serious issue. It's a breach of our code of ethics. We don't ever want to see this happen again."

What is interesting is that the doctors' lawyer tried to put a spin on the good medic's behavior that probably falls squarely into the category of digging yourself even deeper into the hole that you're already in. He went on record saying, ""Dr. Elias felt she should disclose to them her personal religious views. That was for the purpose of allowing them to make a decision of whether or not that might be relevant to them wanting her to become their doctor or not. That was perceived as a refusal to treat. I think that was unfortunate because that was not the intention." Clearly neither the doctor nor her good lawyer seem to appreciate that religion is a private matter. The doctor's religion based prejudices simply do not belong in the consultation. It does not matter whether Elias holds particular religious ideas or none, the point is that whatever her stance is on non-reality based matters, it must not ever impact on the provision of professional care. Things are that simple. Religious freedom does not entail the freedom to discriminate in your professional life.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Good and not so Good News from the Messaiahs

Barack Obama is living up to some of his election promises. There's plenty to celebrate for reality based people. Embryonic stem cell research can finally continue without government regulations interfering with sensible, ethical research projects aimed at relieving human suffering. Overseas health aid projects will finally be able to aim at desirable health outcomes unhindered by abstinence only and similarly failed policies that were a hallmark under Obama's God guided predecessor. Obama also promised to close Guantanamo Bay. I wonder how, practically, he plans to do so. He also declares - seemingly without if's and but's - that the torture condoning policies of his predecessor are a thing of the past. Yet, doubts have already been raised, given that Obama pointed out that he will be guided by the army manual on this issue (as opposed to the CIA's). From what I gather, this manual is far from satisfactory on the torture front.

Still, a week in the game, plenty of plain ludicrous policies by born again Christian ex-Pres Bush have been reversed. Praise the Messaiah!

In other news: various other Messaiah reps have issued as ever enlightened decrees. Ex Hitler Youth Pope Benedict has revoked the ex-communication of a right-wing Bishop who insists that Jews were not killed in German concentration camps. Smart move Benedictus! Well executed. That should endear you to plenty of Jewish folks (mind you, and reasonably so, many many others) who have a bone to pick with your organization over its tacit support of the Nazis. - Never one's to let a chance pass by to look stupid, Islamic authorities in Indonesia and Malaysia, meanwhile, decreed that certain bits and pieces of Yoga practices are sinful and prohibit Muslims in those countries from practicing them. Reality based folks meanwhile failed to compete completely on the idiotic decree front. No news there either.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama - Hail the Messaiah

I hope you will forgive me for being my usual cynical self, even when it comes to the one who can walk on water and offers change that we can believe in. I am always fascinated by how low the standards are in terms of expectations when it comes to the USA. I mean, fair enough, Bush has been an unmitigated nightmare, arguably he and his cronies ought to be prosecuted on more than one count (don't expect the one who walks on water to hold his predecessor and his cabinet responsible for the war crimes they presided over, for lying to the world in order to get a coalition of the willing together to topple Saddam... and the list goes on and on and on).

Still, I am puzzled why anyone could think Obama is a terribly progressive character. Better than Bush, yes, but what kind of yardstick is that? Why is the world celebrating him as if he was some kind of Messiah. Leave that poor sucker alone. He speaks like a midwestern US preacher, isn't reality based (God guides him), and by continental European standards he's at best a conservative. Is that a crime? No, far from it, but surely that kind of deal doesn't justify the hype and the quasi-religious elevation of this guy. It might surprise you to learn that Mr Obama goes to the loo, just like you and I (at least when he isn't walking on water and offers change that we can believe in).

In fact, being slightly more realistic about what can reasonably be expected of him might help him from a too steep fall from grace when people discover that ... well, he's just human after all.

Oh yes and before you go on and on about African American and that this shows everyone can be anything in the USA. You might want to have another look at his social class background. That should settle that question fairly quickly, too. Sure, if you come from a privileged family and you end up doing law at Harvard, you probably can be anything in America, even if you are African American, provided your competitors hail from a party that is politically dead in the water. Yep, if those conditions are met you can beat your geriatric competitor and his barbie doll companion by a small margin...

I might regret having written this in a minute or two after posting it, but this completely unjustified attempt at using a wealthy Harvard law graduate who's become US President as evidence that the country isn't fundamentally class based, is intellectually dishonest, no matter how much we like to enter into a quasi-romantic relationship with him and the rest of his family.

Other than that, good success to you Mr Obama. Our neighbours to the south could have made a choice far far worse... after all, imagine Sarah Palin being a heartbeat away from the Presidency of the USA!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Up-date on Iranian HIV/AIDS doctors' persecution

(Cambridge, MA)— Drs Kamiar and Arash Alaei—Iranian brothers who are known worldwide for their work as HIV/AIDS physicians – are among the four Iranian citizens cited today by Iranian authorities as attempting to overthrow the state, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRCI) have learned from reliable sources.

According the Islamic Republic News Agency, Iranian Judiciary spokesperson Ali-Reza Jamshidi told a news conference today that four Iranian citizens had been arrested and brought to the court on charges of “communications with an enemy government” and seeking to overthrow the Iranian government under article 508 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code. Speaking at a press conference, Jamshidi claimed: "They were linked to the CIA, backed by the US government and State Department... They recruited and trained people to work with different espionage networks to launch a velvet overthrow of the Iranian government". Jamshidi added that further details of the case would be forthcoming in the next two days.

PHR, HRW, and ICHRI believe the charge of plotting a coup is being brought unfairly, without the brothers being given the chance to adequately defend themselves. Their trial was marked by clear violations of due process. The Alaeis’ human rights have been violated and their commitment to public health worldwide has been misrepresented by the Iranian Government as a threat to their regime.

"To all appearances, the arrest and now the trial of these two prominent and widely-traveled AIDS doctors seem to be an effort to shut the door on medical and public health collaboration on global health crises...a policy that is dangerous for the well-being of the Iranian people and for global health,” said Frank Donaghue, PHR CEO.

PHR, HRW, and ICHRI have spoken out repeatedly about their concern that these serious charges had been levied without due process. The verdict in the case of the Drs. Alaei is expected this week, following a one-day trial in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court on December 31, 2008, on charges of communicating with an “enemy government”. At the trial, the Iranian prosecutor also informed the court of additional, secret evidence which the brothers’ attorney had no opportunity to refute, because the prosecutor did not disclose them.

“Their prosecution is truly a witch hunt; it is completely unacceptable to bring such charges against the Alaei brothers. Everything they did was transparent with full knowledge and permission of the Iranian government, including participation in an exchange program on public health in November 2006 in the United States,” said Hadi Ghaemi, spokesperson for International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Over the last week, more than 2,000 people from around the globe contacted the Iranian Mission to the UN in New York City, demanding the Alaeis’ release. In addition 3,100 doctors, nurses and public health workers from 85 countries have signed an online petition demanding their release, which can be viewed at IranFreeTheDocs.org. Leading physicians and public health specialists and numerous medical and scientific organizations have publicly called for the brothers’ release, including HIV/AIDS and health experts luminaries: Global Fund Executive Director Professor Michel Kazatchkine; Partners in Health co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer; 2008 MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant recipient Wafaa El-Sadr, MD, MPH; Hossam E. Fadel, MD, of the Islamic Medical Association of North America; 1993 Nobel Laureate in Medicine Sir Richard Roberts PhD, FRS; and Ugandan AIDS pioneer Dr. Peter Mugyenyi.

“This case is just one more example of how under President Ahmadinejad’s administration, Iran’s human rights record has reached new lows” said Joe Amon, Director of the HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “Ahmadinejad’s presidency has created an intense atmosphere of fear and intimidation felt even by those working on the expansion of HIV/AIDS services.”

Dr. Kamiar Alaei is a doctoral candidate at the SUNY Albany School of Public Health in Albany, New York and was expected to resume his studies there this fall. In 2007, he received a Master of Science degree in Population and International Health from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

Dr. Arash Alaei is the former director of the International Education and Research Cooperation of the Iranian National Research Institute of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease. Since 1998, the Drs. Alaei have been carrying out HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs, particularly focused on harm reduction for injecting drug users.

In addition to their work in Iran, the Alaei brothers have held training courses for Afghan and Tajik medical workers and have worked to encourage regional cooperation among 12 Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries. Their efforts expanded the expertise of doctors in the region, advanced the progress of medical science, and earned Iran recognition as a model of best practice by the World Health Organization.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Hope for Zimbabwe - Robert Mugabe is gone

... sadly only for a month. Mugabe is gone on a 92,000 US$ junket shopping trip (courtesy of funds from the Zimbabwean Central Bank) to Malaysia and Singapore with his wife and kids. Quite remarkable, considering that the death toll resulting from an entirely preventable cholera outbreak is ever increasing. While there are food shortages in the country, caused by Mugabe and his cronies' idiotic policies, he and his spendthrift wife will burn thru taxpayers' monies in Singaporean shopping malls. To describe all of this as shameless is probably an understatement. It is a sad indictment of these countries that they welcome international pariahs such as Mugabe and his wife.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

More on Iranian AIDS doctors

I mentioned this issue before on this blog, so here's an update from Physicians for Human Rights on the story about Iranian AIDS specialists Dr. Arash Alaei and Dr. Kamiar Alaei.

The Iranian government's December 31 trial of Dr. Arash Alaei and Dr. Kamiar Alaei - Iranian brothers who are known worldwide for their work as HIV/AIDS physicians - denied fundamental requirements of due process because, according to reports received by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), the prosecutor refused to disclose all the charges against the accused and denied their right to confront and defend themselves against their accusers. The trial today also sends an ominous signal regarding the Iranian Government's crackdown on international scientific exchange.

The doctors have been held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison since late June 2008. They were indicted in December on charges of communicating with an "enemy government" according to their attorney, Masoud Shafie.

On December 31, the Iranian prosecutor tried the brothers in Tehran's Revolutionary Court on these charges, and also informed the court of additional, secret charges which the brothers' attorney had no opportunity to refute, because the prosecutor did not disclose either the charges or the evidence on which they are based.

"Iran's failure to reveal the nature of the secret charges against the doctors makes it impossible to determine if the charges have any factual basis," stated PHR's CEO Frank Donaghue. He added, "To all appearances, the arrest and now the trial of these two prominent and widely-traveled AIDS doctors seem to be an effort to shut the door on medical and public health collaboration on global health crises...a policy that is dangerous for the well-being of the Iranian people and for global health."

PHR stated that the publicly announced charges are illegitimate and without credible foundation. PHR noted that there are clear violations of due process in this case. In order to have a fair trial according to the standards of international human rights law, Iran must safeguard the doctors' right to know the evidence against them and their right to confront and cross-examine their accusers. A defendant's right to hear and confront witnesses against him is a fundamental guarantee of life and liberty. Without knowing the evidence or even the charges against him, an accused person has no opportunity to help his attorney make his defense or challenge the evidence's relevance or reliability.

"Iran should free these brothers immediately, so that they can continue their life-saving public health work for the benefit of the people of Iran and the world," stated Donaghue.

The brothers have already been detained two months longer than Iranian penal code allows, Shafie said earlier this month, in an exclusive interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. According to Shafie, Articles 30-34 of the Code of Penal Procedure of the Islamic Republic of Iran allow for detentions but require that the investigating judge issue such detention orders for one month at a time and for no longer than four months.

The brothers are also legally eligible for bail, but the judge in the case has not issued bail nor held a bail hearing.

Over 3,100 doctors, nurses and public health workers from more than 85 countries have signed an online petition demanding their release, which can be viewed at IranFreeTheDocs.org. Leading physicians and public health specialists and numerous medical and scientific organizations have publicly called for the brothers' release.

Dr. Kamiar Alaei is a doctoral candidate at the SUNY Albany School of Public Health in Albany, New York and was expected to resume his studies there this fall. In 2007, he received a master of science degree in Population and International Health from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

Dr. Arash Alaei is the former director of the International Education and Research Cooperation of the Iranian National Research Institute of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease. Since 1998, the Drs. Alaei have been carrying out HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs, particularly focused on harm reduction for injecting drug users.

In addition to their work in Iran, the Alaei brothers have held training courses for Afghan and Tajik medical workers and have worked to encourage regional cooperation among 12 Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries. Their efforts expanded the expertise of doctors in the region, advanced the progress of medical science, and earned Iran recognition as a model of best practice by the World Health Organization.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Another AIDS denialist bites the dust - AIDS related death

Schadenfreude is that uniquely German expression describing the pleasure someone derives from watching/enjoying someone else's misery. Of course, we should not really enjoy someone else's misery, even less so someone else's premature, preventable death. Sometimes though, especially when the harm is self-inflicted and very predictable, one can't help but feel somewhat schadenfreudig.

Well, on this occasion, another HIV denialist bit the dust. Christine Maggiore died of an AIDS related illness (a typical AIDS indicator disease, pneumonia) late December. Maggiore's main claim to fame (other than founding the Italian design company Allessi) was that she was HIV positive but refused to take any anti-HIV medication. She belonged to a small band of HIV denialists who continue to insist that HIV has nothing to do with AIDS.

Worse than her harming herself, however, being pregnant twice, she also refused to take HIV mother-to-child-prevention medication during pregnancy, with the result that one of her kids became HIV infected, and eventually died on AIDS. All of this she did in the face of overwhelming empirical evidence of the life-preserving capacities of standard HIV medicines. The coroner in the US, at the time, declared the child's death to be AIDS related. A HIV denialist retained by Maggiore (a veterinary toxicologist of all things) declared that her daughter died as a result of an allergic reaction to amoxicillin. Maggiore lived a 'healthy life', ie a life without any drugs. According to the denialist community she should have been able to live forever, sadly at the age of 52 she died a premature death caused by AIDS.

Well, what can one say other than that stubbornness in the face of overwhelming evidence is a pretty silly thing. One got to give her credit tho for sacrificing her life in order to be able to stick credibly to her obviously false beliefs on HIV.