This World Health Day, Shine a Light on Maternal Health

Pregnant women at a maternity waiting house in northern Sierra Leone, where they can stay fom the ninth month of pregnancy until their babies are delivered.

Today is World Health Day – and you can celebrate by shining a light on maternal health!

World Health Day marks the anniversary of the founding, in 1948, of the World Health Organization, whose constitution – signed by all 193 Members of the United Nations — states that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”

Preventable deaths in pregnancy and childbirth are violations of the right to health, and the right to freedom from discrimination due to gender, race, ethnicity, immigration status, or income level. Maternal mortality is not just a public health emergency – it is a human rights crisis.

Every 90 seconds, another woman dies from complications of pregnancy and childbirth – that’s 1,000 women every day, more than 350,000 each year. The vast majority of these deaths could be prevented, and ninety-nine percent happen in the developing world — the greatest disparity between developed and developing countries of any global health issue.

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Human Rights Flashpoints–September 9, 2009

Sudan – Deadly Attacks in the South
Recent ethnic clashes in southern Sudan have killed at least 25 people and displaced dozens of civilians in Upper Nile State since Friday. Violence has been escalating recently, as women and children are increasingly targeted by both tribal militias and the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

The World Health Organization (WHO) also warned today that conflict-affected areas of southern Sudan, including Ezo County in Western Equatoria State where the LRA has been active recently, are facing a high risk of epidemics. WHO cites damaged health facilities, displaced health workers and the difficulty of accessing health facilities as contributing factors to this increasing risk for epidemics. Attacks in recent weeks have caused forced around 80,000 people to flee their homes.

In a separate development, Reuters reports that the NGO Global Witness claims that they have found serious discrepancies in reports of Sudan’s oil revenues, meaning that the Sudanese government may been underpaying the south by hundreds of millions of dollars.  However, government officials denied all accusations made in the report and claimed to the BCC that the south was represented in all state bodies that dealt with oil.

Must Reads

Overheard

The violent clashes are different to the traditional  ‘cattle rustling’ that normally occurs each year. Women and children, usually spared in this fighting, are now deliberately targeted and the number of deaths are higher than the number of wounded… The intention is to attack a village and to kill. The result is a population living in total fear, with significant humanitarian and medical needs – Jonathan Whittall, MSF Head of Mission in southern Sudan, September 3, 2009.

Abatement of violence and intertribal reconciliation in the south are vital to the forthcoming elections in 2010 and the subsequent referendum in 2011 – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, September 6, 2009.  

Yemen – No End to the Violence
Clashes between government troops and rebel groups in Northern Yemen are ongoing and putting the lives of many civilians at risk. Displaced people in and around the city of Saada are trapped in the war zone, unable to leave and without access to humanitarian aid. Those who are able to leave the area have no choice but to use mined roads.

According to the BBC, a truce between the government and rebels which was agreed to on Friday, primarily to allow civilians to flee from the war zone, collapsed just a few hours later. Both sides blame the other for the continuing violence.

Meanwhile, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is waiting for security clearances in order to open a humanitarian corridor that would allow them to gain access through Saudi Arabia to displaced people in need of tents and other aid. The UN estimates that about 35,000 have been displaced by the fighting in the past three weeks alone.

Must Reads

Overheard

Heavy fighting between Al Houthi forces and government troops in and around Saada city in northern Yemen continues with utter disregard for the safety and well being of the civilian population – Andrej Mahecic, spokesman of the UNHCR, September 8, 2009 

The children of Yemen need urgent assistance. We cannot fail them – Sigrid Kaag, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, September 8, 2009

Coming Up

  • September 7-8: Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in Kinshasa, DRC.
  • September 8: Amnesty International releases new briefing on Chad, which uses satellite images to document housing demolitions in N’Djamena. 
  • September 8: Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya meets with members of the OAS in Washington, DC.
  • September 8: Head of UNHCR begins five-day trip to North Africa to visit refugees from Western Sahara.
  • September 8: Inauguration of President-elect Malam Bacai Sanha in Guinea Bissau.
  • September 10: Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders due to resume UN-sponsored peace talks.
  • Week of September 14: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
  • September 15: 64th session of the UN General Assembly opens.

Juliette Rousselot contributed to this post.

Human Rights Flashpoints is a weekly column about countries at risk of escalating human rights violations and is brought to you by AIUSA’s Crisis Prevention and Response team.

Happy World Health Day!

Today is the 60th World Health Day, which the World Health Organization uses to highlight a different health theme each year. Today it’s making hospitals safe in emergencies, which WHO Director-General Margaret Chan promoted at an event in China, nearly a year after the Chengdu earthquake. The WHO’s activities to mark the anniversary of the disaster seem to have been warmly received, unlike those of environmental activist Tan Zuoren, who last week was detained by the police in Chengdu, apparently because he planned to publish a list of children who died and a report on the role corruption played in the schools that collapsed. He’s currently at risk of torture.

Here in the United States, particular hospitals are vulnerable to disasters like Hurricane Ike — and our health care system as a whole is facing a slow-motion emergency. The figure you often hear of one in six people in the United States lacking health insurance is just the tip of the iceberg — one in three non-elderly Americans was uninsured at some point in the last two years (as Families USA recently reported).

Our health outcomes are a cause for shame: on women’s lifetime risk of dying in pregnancy or childbirth, the United States ranks 41st in the world, and black women have three times the maternal mortality rate of white women (as AIUSA is currently investigating).  

Will health care reform fix these problems? That’s up in the air right now. But the starting points for that process are cause for despair: What can get past a filibuster? What will entrenched interests sign off on?

Human rights give us a fundamentally different place to begin. As the WHO’s constitution says,

The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.

A health care debate that takes human rights seriously starts where the WHO’s constitution does: every human being has the human right to health care. That’s exactly where AIUSA’s new statement of health care principles begins: for a health care system to fulfill the human right to health care, it must be universal — as well as equitable and accountable.

Do you agree that health care is a human right? Then celebrate World Health Day by adding your name to AIUSA’s petition. Join us in bringing human rights to the health care debate!

AIUSA has joined with the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, the National Health Law Program, and the Opportunity Agenda to form the Health Care is a Human Right Coalition. Don’t miss NESRI and NHeLP’s ten human rights principles for financing health care (long version, short version, press release), and OA’s State of Opportunity in America, 2009, which assesses the current state of health care as well as income, education, poverty and incarceration.

What Nkunda Wants

Alice Eve

Alice Eve

Laurent Nkunda considers himself a man of diplomacy and politics. Unfortunately, whether we agree or not has become academic. This war criminal has a following that is growing and will continue to: aside from his Tutsi advocates there is suspicion that he is allied with ethnic Tutsi Paul Kagame (Rwanda’s President), and furthermore it has been speculated that he has the support of the Christian American right. This is a powerful foundation from which to wage a war of unthinkable proportions. Surely the question to ask at this stage is:
What does Nkunda want?

We know the UN Security Council has approved 3,100 additional peace keepers. Hopefully  this will be enough. As Ugandan Eddie Kwizera notes, “there is no peace to keep”. The DRC is the size of Western Europe, yet MONUC (Mission des Nations Unies en République Démocratique du Congo) the biggest peace keeping mission in the world, still only has 17,000 troops there. Neighbouring state Angola acknowledges that: “the direct and indirect interference by third parties will only worsen the conflict”.

The World Health Organization as of last Tuesday has named cholera a ‘serious risk’ in the region. This is perhaps the most concerning of all the developments in the region since August.  Cholera stands to be as powerful a killer as the men with guns. It can be passed on with just a handshake.

It is a handshake that needs to be considered. We have seen genocide just one generation ago in Rwanda. In the 1960′s we saw another failed peace-keeping mission in the area (UNOC). Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General UN, has said the UN forces suffer from a “lack of adequate equipment or a clear chain of command”. Fighting fire with fire is not the answer.

It may seem insufferable to the Gordon Browns and Bernard Kouchners to think of Nkunda as a leader, but a leader he is. Nkunda’s CNDP (National Congress for the Defence of the People) is a growing army with a following. It is hypocritical and embarrassing to be preaching peace only to discover that MONUC finds itself lending its sympathies to the Congolese army. It publicly admonishes the CNDP for abuses that the Congolese army are equally guilty of. How can we expect the CNDP to behave rationally if MONUC itself is taking sides?

As it is the Western idea of partition that was imposed on this region (the Belgian colonizers deciding the Tutsis were a superior race and so creating divisions), the Western idea of peace talks must be followed through with. Finding out what Nkunda wants, and genuinely engaging with and understanding the desires and divisions is the only way forward. If Kabila continues to ignore requests for direct negotiations, Nkunda could be well on his way to fulfilling his promise of toppling his government.

Of course there is an inherent problem, the Congo is mineral rich. Perhaps now would be a good time to stop exploiting Africa’s abundant natural resources. With the current state of the world maybe we should be more concerned with growing our own carrots.