Thursday December 13, 2018

WHO’s newly Elected Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stresses on Health as Human Right

Tedros promised to strengthen the frontlines of health, transform the World Health Organization into a world class force and lastly “place accountability, transparency and continuous improvement at the heart of WHOs culture.”

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WHO Director General Tedros stresses the need for bolder action to fight non-communicable diseases,VOA
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Geneva, May 25, 2017: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization’s newly elected director-general, says health as a human right is at the core of his vision for the organization he soon will lead.

The former Ethiopian health and foreign minister is the first African chosen to head the organization, which was created 69 years ago.

After a long, bruising campaign that began in 2015, Tedros beat out two other contenders, David Nabarro of Britain and Pakistani physician Sania Nishtar, for the post by winning 133 of the votes cast by 185 WHO member states.

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“The outcome of the voting was very, very clear,” said Tedros. “Having confidence from the majority of member states gives me legitimacy to really implement the vision that I have already outlined.”

Tedros’ goals

That vision included five promises, which Tedros made to the World Health Assembly during a final campaign pitch preceding Tuesday’s secret ballot vote.

He said that he would “work tirelessly” to fulfill the WHO promise of universal coverage and would ensure “a robust response for emergencies to come.”

He promised to strengthen the frontlines of health, transform the World Health Organization into a world-class force and lastly “place accountability, transparency and continuous improvement at the heart of WHOs culture.”

At a news conference in Geneva, he said the concept of health as a human right would be at the heart of whatever he did.

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FILE - A health official administers a polio vaccine to children at a camp for people displaced by Islamist Extremist in Maiduguri, Nigeria, Aug. 28, 2016. New WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says universal health coverage "should be the center of gravity of our movement."
FILE – A health official administers a polio vaccine to children at a camp for people displaced by Islamist Extremist in Maiduguri, Nigeria, Aug. 28, 2016. New WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says universal health coverage “should be the center of gravity of our movement.” VOA

“Half of our population does not have access to health care,” he said. That, he said, could and should be remedied through universal health care coverage, which would address the issue of health as a human right and act as a spur to development.

“All roads should lead to universal health coverage and it should be the center of gravity of our movement,” he said.

Tedros begins his five-year term as director-general on July 1, succeeding Margaret Chan, who has headed the WHO for the past 10 years.

The newly elected director general said he wants to reform and transform the World Health Organization into a better, more responsive agency.

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As Ethiopia’s minister of health, Tedros led a comprehensive reform of the country’s health system, including the expansion of the country’s health infrastructure and health insurance coverage.

Resources a constant priority

As WHO leader, Tedros said one of his first orders of business would be to strengthen the organization’s ability to respond swiftly and effectively to emergencies because “epidemics can strike at any time” and the WHO must be prepared.

“The campaign has ended, as you know, officially, but I think the work begins actually now. I know it is very difficult. It is going to be tough,” he said.

One of the major difficulties is that of money. Reform, tackling emerging and ancient diseases take a lot of money, something the World Health Organization, which reportedly is struggling to close a $2.2 billion gap, does not have.

FILE - A woman stands near a poster explaining the Zika virus at the Ministry of Health office in Jakarta, Indonesia, Sept. 2, 2016. New WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says that among his priorities will be to strengthen the WHO's ability to respond swiftly and effectively to health emergencies.
FILE – A woman stands near a poster explaining the Zika virus at the Ministry of Health office in Jakarta, Indonesia, Sept. 2, 2016. New WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says that among his priorities will be to strengthen the WHO’s ability to respond swiftly and effectively to health emergencies. VOA

 

The problem is likely to be made even worse given the Trump administration announced budget cuts to global health programs, including a 32 percent cut to USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) and between 20 percent and 30 percent cuts for scientific research institutes.

The United States is the biggest WHO donor. U.S. President Donald Trump has suggested funding cuts to the organization might be in the offing.

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Tedros observed that it is the poor that are the most affected by big financial cuts.

“I hope this will be understood before finalizing the proposal. I believe this will be taken into consideration,” he said.

He can take heart in that a congratulatory statement on his election from Tim Price, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary did not threaten any funding cuts. Instead, he told Tedros the United States looked forward to working with him on changing the World Health Organization for the better.

“The United States is committed to helping advance reforms and cultivating greater global health security,” he said. (VOA)

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The Attention Shifts To The U.S. As It Strikes Down FGM Law

Looking beyond the Michigan case, Jones said the key to stopping FGM isn’t just legislation but also education.

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FILE - A T-shirt warns against female genital mutilation. Its wearer attends an event, discouraging harmful practices such as FGM, at a girls high school in Imbirikani, Kenya, April 21, 2016.Image source: VOA

When a U.S. district judge last month ruled a federal ban on female genital mutilation unconstitutional, he undercut the federal government and alarmed anti-FGM activists, who hope to eradicate the practice.

The World Health Organization calls FGM, also known as female circumcision, a human rights violation of women and girls, with no health benefits.

Some 200 million women and girls around the world, mainly in Africa, have experienced FGM, the WHO says.

In his opinion, Judge Bernard Friedman called FGM “despicable,” but also “a local criminal activity” that must be addressed at the state level. In enacting a federal law, he said, Congress overstepped.

Now, local lawmakers, advocates and newspapers are calling for state bans that equal or surpass the scope of the federal law that was struck down.

Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, judge
A badge reads “The power of labor against FGM” is seen on a volunteer during a conference on International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 6, 2018. (VOA)

‘Never again’

The case Friedman ruled on centers around Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, an emergency room physician accused of performing FGM on at least 100 girls in Michigan for more than a decade.

Prosecutors have focused their case on nine girls, aged 7 to 12, from three states. The girls allegedly were subjected to FGM with the aid of Nagarwala and seven others, including the girls’ mothers.

Defense attorneys say the procedure amounted to only a “nick” on the girls performed as part of a religious ritual — not FGM. But they also argued in July that the federal law banning FGM is unconstitutional.

State Senator Rick Jones, who represents Michigan’s 24th district, told VOA by phone that he was shocked to learn about Nagarwala’s case and strongly disagrees with Friedman’s ruling.

Last year, Jones became the spokesperson for a package of bills outlawing FGM statewide. The legislation passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Female Circumcision, FGM
The barbaric practice of genitalia mutilation has been banned in developed nations. Wikimedia

Now, Michigan has some of the toughest FGM laws in the country.

Health-care providers convicted of performing FGM face up to 15 years in prison, along with the permanent loss of their medical licenses. Parents who take their daughters to doctors to be cut can lose custody.

The 1996 federal law, meanwhile, stipulated up to five years in prison and fines for medical providers who perform FGM.

“We wanted to send a strong message around the world: Never again bring your girls to Michigan for this horrible procedure,” Jones said.

Across the U.S., 27 states have passed laws banning FGM, many of which have been written in recent years and include penalties that go beyond the federal law, which also criminalizes so-called “vacation cutting,” the practice of taking girls out of the United States to have FGM performed overseas.

News organizations are among those pushing for an expansion of state laws. Last month, the Seattle Times editorial board called for a ban in Washington, one of 23 states yet to outlaw FGM.

FGM
A doctor checks her phone as she poses for a photograph in Mumbai, India, June 8, 2016. The 50-year-old woman defends what is widely considered female genital mutilation within her small, prosperous Dawoodi Bohra community in India. VOA

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times editorial board said all 50 states should ban the “barbaric” practice, in light of Friedman’s ruling.

Religious ritual?

The health-care providers and families involved in the Michigan case belong to Dawoodi Bohra, a Shi’ite Muslim sect based in India with about 2 million followers worldwide.

According to a study published earlier this year, FGM, called khafd in Dawoodi Bohra communities, is widespread in the sect and involves cutting the clitoral hood or part of the clitoris, without an anesthetic, when girls turn seven.

The study, commissioned by WeSpeakOut, an advocacy group focused on eradicating khafd, also found that three-quarters of Dawoodi Bohra women have experienced FGM.

The severity and nature of FGM can vary.

Health-care providers have identified four types of FGM. Khafd involves Type 1 FGM. Other types involve removing all of the external genitalia and narrowing the vaginal opening.

Jones rejects the idea that there’s a religious basis for the procedure, however it’s performed.

FGM
FILE – A counselor holds up cards used to educate women about female genital mutilation (FGM). VOA

“Across the world, this has been practiced by Christians, pagans, Muslims, even a small Jewish sect in Ethiopia,” he said.

“This is not about a religion,” he added. “This is about men attempting to control women’s behavior by this horrible procedure.”

The WHO identifies both short-term and permanent harms associated with the practice. Immediate concerns include severe pain, infections and, in some cases, death. Long term, women and girls subjected to FGM face a range of physiological and psychological complications that can affect menstruation, childbirth and sexual health.

The United States has been unequivocal in condemning the practice, saying “the U.S. government considers FGM/C to be a serious human rights abuse, and a form of gender-based violence and child abuse” on a fact sheet posted to the Citizenship & Immigration Services website.

Education and legislation

Friedman’s November decision is the latest in a series of setbacks for prosecutors.

Nagarwala spent seven months in 2017 in jail before 16 friends posted a $4.5 million unsecured bond, against the pleas of prosecutors, who argued Nagarwala could silence potential witnesses or even flee the country if released.

FGM
KAMELI, KENYA – AUGUST 12: A Masaai villager displays the traditional blade used to circumcise young girls August 12, 2007 in Kameli, Kenya. Maasai are a pastoral group mostly clustered in the Rift Valley. They practice circumcision on both boys and girls during puberty years as a rite of passage to adulthood. VOA

And in January, the judge dismissed charges that Nagarwala and a second doctor, Fakhruddin Attar, transported minors with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, an offense that carries a lifetime sentence.

Nagarwala still faces conspiracy and obstruction charges that could result in decades in prison.

The trial is now set to begin next April, the Detroit Free Press reported last month. However, the prosecution could appeal last month’s decision, drawing the case out further.

Also Read: Somalia Calls To Outlaw Female Genital Mutilation

Looking beyond the Michigan case, Jones said the key to stopping FGM isn’t just legislation but also education.

“What we have to do is continue to fight this worldwide. This is a global problem,” Jones said.

“It is a violation of human rights,” he said. “And I’m going to continue speaking out worldwide against this horrible, horrible practice that must end.” (VOA)