Saturday November 25, 2017

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has been named the new Goodwill Ambassador by WHO

New WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised Zimbabwe for its commitment to public health

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Robert Mugabe
President of Zimbabwe and Chairman of the African Union Robert Mugabe. Wikimedia

United Nations, October 21, 2017 : The World Health Organization (WHO) has appointed Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe as a goodwill ambassador to help tackle non-communicable diseases.

New WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised Zimbabwe for its commitment to public health, BBC reported on Saturday.

But critics say Zimbabwe’s health care system has collapsed, with the president and many of his senior ministers going abroad for treatment.

They say that staff are often unpaid and medicines are in short supply.

Tedros, who is Ethiopian, is the first African to lead the WHO and replaced Margaret Chan, who stepped down from her 10-year post in June.

He was elected with a mandate to tackle perceived politicisation in the organisation.

The WHO head praised Zimbabwe as “a country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the centre of its policies to provide health care to all”.

But US-based campaign group Human Rights Watch said it was an embarrassment to give the ambassador role to Mugabe given his record on human rights.

“If you look at Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s corruption, his utter mismanagement of the economy has devastated health services there,” said executive director Kenneth Roth.

“Indeed, you know, Mugabe himself travels abroad for his health care. He’s been to Singapore three times this year already. His senior officials go to South Africa for their health care.

“When you go to Zimbabwean hospitals, they lack the most basic necessities.”

The idea of hailing Mr Robert Mugabe “as any kind of example of positive contribution to health care is absolutely absurd”, he added.

President Robert Mugabe heard about the award while attending a conference held by the WHO, a UN agency, on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Montevideo.

He told delegates how his country had adopted several strategies to combat the challenges presented by NCDs, which the WHO says kill about 40 million people a year and include cancers, respiratory diseases and diabetes.

“Zimbabwe has developed a national NCD policy, a palliative care policy, and has engaged United Nations agencies working in the country, to assist in the development of a cervical cancer prevention and control strategy,” Mugabe was reported by the state-run Zimbabwe Herald newspaper as saying.

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But the President admitted that Zimbabwe was similar to other developing countries in that it was “hamstrung by a lack of adequate resources for executing programmes aimed at reducing NCDs and other health conditions afflicting the people”.

Zimbabwe’s main MDC opposition party also strongly criticised the WHO move.

“The Zimbabwe health delivery system is in a shambolic state, it is an insult,” said spokesman Obert Gutu.

“Robert Mugabe trashed our health delivery system. He and his family go outside of the country for treatment in Singapore after he allowed our public hospitals to collapse.” (IANS)

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WHO launches a new global effort to end TB by 2030

The announcement was made in the Global Ministerial Conference in Moscow.

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WHO will start working towards ending Tuberculosis
Dr. Simon Angelo (L) examines Iman Steven suffering from tuberculosis, held by her mother (R) at the hospital of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), June 15, 2016, at the Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in Malakal, South Sudan. VOA

Delegates from 114 countries have agreed to take urgent action to end tuberculosis (TB) by 2030, the WHO said.

The announcement on Friday came as the delegates gathered in Moscow for the first WHO global ministerial conference on ending tuberculosis, Xinhua news agency reported.

The delegates promised to achieve strengthen health systems and improve access to the people regarding TB prevention and care so that no one is left behind.

They also agreed to mobilize sufficient and sustainable financing through increased domestic and international investments to close gaps in implementation and research.

Resources are expected to advance research and development of new tools to diagnose, treat and prevent TB, and to build accountability through a framework to track and review progress on ending TB.

“Today marks a critical landmark in the fight to end TB,” said World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“It signals a long overdue global commitment to stop the death and suffering caused by this ancient killer.”

Though global efforts to combat TB have saved an estimated 53 million lives since 2000 and reduced the TB mortality rate by 37 per cent, progress in many countries has stalled, global targets are off-track and persistent gaps remain in TB care and prevention, according to the WHO.

As a result, TB still kills more people than any other infectious disease. Due to its antimicrobial resistance, TB is also the leading killer of people with HIV.

Representatives at the meeting, which was attended by over 1,000 participants, also promised to minimize the risk and spread of drug resistance and do more to engage people and communities affected by or at risk of TB. (IANS)

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Goodbye Holy Smoke, Vatican City bans Sale of Cigarettes

The Vatican, a tiny walled city-state surrounded by Rome, is one of the few states to ban smoking.

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The faithful gather in front of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. VOA

Vatican City, November 10, 2017 : Pope Francis has ordered a ban on the sale of cigarettes inside the Vatican from next year because of health concerns, a spokesman said on Thursday.

“The motive is very simple: the Holy See cannot be cooperating with a practice that is clearly harming the health of people,” spokesman Greg Burke said in a statement.

He cited World World Health Organization (WHO) statistics that smoking causes more than seven million deaths worldwide every year.

Cigarettes have been sold at a discounted price to Vatican employees and pensioners.

Vatican employees are allowed to buy five cartons of cigarettes a month. Many Italians ask their non-smoking friends who work in the Vatican to buy cigarettes for them because they cost much less than in Italy, where they are subject to heavy taxes.

Burke acknowledged that the sale of cigarettes has been a source of revenue for the Holy See, adding, “However, no profit can be legitimate if it is costing people their lives.”

The spokesman said the sale of large cigars would continue at least for the time being because the smoke is not inhaled.

The Vatican, a tiny walled city-state surrounded by Rome, is one of the few states to ban smoking. Bhutan, where smoking is deemed bad for one’s karma, banned the sale of tobacco in 2005. (VOA)

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Restrictions on Freedom of Expression : Pakistani Journalists Struggle with Growing Threats from Government and Militants alike

A recent cybercrime bill in Pakistan has become a vehicle for curbing media freedom, allowing the government to censor digital content, criminalize internet user activity and access bloggers' data without judicial review. Media defenders say the country's blasphemy laws also are being used to cut off public debate.

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Pakistani journalists protest to condemn an attack on their colleague, in Karachi, Pakistan, Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. Assailants riding on motorcycles have attacked an outspoken Pakistani journalist, leaving him badly hurt with head injuries. (AP Photo/Shakil Adil) VOA

Pakistan, November 2, 2017 : Journalists in Pakistan say they are facing increasing risks ranging from the government’s expanding control over social media to extremist threats that have spread from long-volatile regions to the streets of the capital.

The latest attack left a journalist badly beaten on a street in Islamabad. Earlier this year, security agencies picked up several bloggers from urban centers who said after their release that they had been tortured and humiliated.

Threats to reporters have long been a problem in volatile Baluchistan and the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan, but the recent incidents have reinforced complaints by media groups that the danger is spreading to the nation’s heartland.

The victim of the beating in Islamabad was Ahmad Noorani, a senior reporter for the influential Daily News newspaper, who previously had been warned to close his Twitter account after criticizing the powerful military. The attack attracted widespread condemnation on social media, where many posts blamed Pakistan’s intelligence agencies for the attack.

Other journalists have been charged with violating the country’s vague Anti-Terrorism Act, which defines terrorism as creating “a sense of fear or insecurity in society.” Critics say it has broad potential for abuse.

Several bloggers critical of the government or the military have vanished for weeks, later saying they had been kidnapped by the intelligence services.

Popular blogger Asim Saeed was snatched by unknown men earlier this year. He told the BBC in an interview last week that he was picked up by Pakistan intelligence agencies and tortured during his detention.

Digital media rights activists, meanwhile, are warning that Pakistan is attempting to cut back on internet freedom.

“In my opinion, the government is terrifying the social media activists,” Usama Khilji, director of the internet freedom organization Bolo Bhi, told VOA’s Deewa service. “Social media is a democratic medium where people can express their thoughts without any restrictions. However, it has been observed, when people share their thoughts, the government feels insecure.”

Anwar Iqbal, a Washington-based senior journalist and correspondent for the leading English-language newspaper Daily Dawn, agreed.

“The Pakistani state feels vulnerable in the presence of growing social media and wants to stifle the discourse on topics it considers sensitive,” he said.

The state does not want media to discuss sensitive issues like relations with the U.S., China, Afghanistan and India, Iqbal said, particularly in light of President Donald Trump’s new policy for the region calling for Islamabad to crack down on terrorist safe havens.

Reports from watchdog groups

Human Rights Watch’s 2016 report said media were being deterred from reporting on or criticizing human rights violations by the security services.

“Many journalists increasingly practiced self-censorship, fearing retribution from both state security forces and militant groups. Media outlets remained under pressure to avoid reporting on or criticizing human rights violations by the military in counterterrorism operations,” the report said.

Reporters Without Borders, a global media watchdog, in its annual report this year, ranked Pakistan 139 of 180 countries on its Press Freedom Index, despite its reputation having one of the most free media environments in Asia. The report says the nation’s media “are targeted by extremist groups, Islamist organizations, and the feared intelligence agencies” — all of which are on the group’s list of “Predators of Press Freedom.”

Even when the threats come from extremist groups, journalists say, the government has done little to pursue the perpetrators.

But Interior Minister Talal Chaudry defended the government’s actions, suggesting the reporters should be doing more to protect themselves.

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Journalist Zafar Achakzai, who was held for sharing content criticizing security forces on social media, sits in his office after being released from jail, in Quetta, Pakistan, July 9, 2017. VOA

“We have included insurance for journalists in the journalists ‘protection bill,” he said. “Sometimes, journalists are not trained or not properly equipped, and that is why they become victims of violence. We understand journalists are sometimes victims of violence, and that is why we are bringing a comprehensive bill for working journalists in the parliament.”

Journalists: Situation worsening

But many journalists say things are getting worse. A recent cybercrime bill has become a vehicle for curbing media freedom, allowing the government to censor digital content, criminalize internet user activity and access bloggers’ data without judicial review. Media defenders say the country’s blasphemy laws also are being used to cut off public debate.

“We have laws in place for social media, but it’s not being controlled,” Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Yousef told Deewa when asked how the government can avoid the blasphemy law from being misused against social media.

Such problems are longstanding in Pakistan’s troubled southwestern Baluchistan province, where newspapers have been shut down and newsstands shuttered for more than a week amid threats from militant groups claiming the local media are too supportive of the central government.

“The resistance [militant] groups are calling on boycotting all media houses, threatening press offices and journalists,” Behram Baloch, who is now working from home, told VOA. “To address this issue, we held a meeting here at the press club. We decided to suspend our activities for a while, and press club will remain closed. Our movement is limited, and many of our colleagues have left their jobs.”

Militants from separatist groups, banned by the state, threw a hand grenade at an office of a newspaper agency in Turbat, Baluchistan, injuring eight people.

“Journalists as well as the Newspaper Editors Council received threats. As a result, our workers were forced not to leave their homes. They include press workers and hawkers. We were, thus, unable to pick up newspapers [for delivery],” said Mir Ahmed, general secretary of the Newspapers Wholesalers Association.

“Life and death are in the hands of God.” (VOA)