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Post COVID-19 Pandemic Lets Stop the Next Wave of Medicalisation over Mental Health — Global Issues

The wall at a Community Mental Health Movement in Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS
  • by Samira Sadeque (united nations)
  • Friday, June 26, 2020
  • Inter Press Service

This is according to Dainius Pūras, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

Pūras recently voiced his concerns about the “historical neglect of dignified mental health care,” that has been even more heightened under the pandemic.

“Before the pandemic, I critically addressed the current status quo of global mental health, and now with this pandemic my position is: even more I would recommend to rethink how we invest in mental health,” Pūras, a medical doctor with notable expertise in mental health and children’s health, told IPS.

He added that there are two principles used when addressing mental health: a human rights and evidence-based approach. Currently, under the pandemic, the latter has come under attack with a massive amount of misinformation and false news spreading, which he says can affect mental health of people and their communities. 

Excerpts of the interview with Pūras follow. Some of the answers have been paraphrased for clarity.

Inter Press Service (IPS): In what ways has the pandemic affected mental health of people?

Dainius Pūras (DP): During a pandemic, there are risks that if a person has a mental health condition, he or she might be hospitalised by force. Also, because of the virus, there might be suspicions that this person may spread the virus, which poses an additional risk factor for discriminating against people with mental health concerns. 

There should be more research done but there are many insights and preliminary observations that this pandemic will probably have a serious impact on the mental health of individuals and societies. 

There are several reasons for this: the spread of the virus and requirements for distancing and isolation, plus economic and social and employment also increase different forms of violence for example domestic violence. All these will fuel mental distress, anxiety, fear, all these feelings of uncertainty about the future 

I should highlight — another serious risk factor is that we witness massive amounts of fake news, disinformation, conspiracy theories around the virus, the origin of the virus and around statistics. This is not good for mental health. 

When children are not going to school, they’re missing out on very important aspects of socialisation. For many children, it’s their only way to get a meal — physical and mental health are interrelated in these ways.  

IPS: What is one of the current challenges of addressing mental health issues, especially under the pandemic? 

DP: I don’t support the narrative that this pandemic fuels mental distress, fear, anxiety, and the narrative that more mental illnesses will come. It’s not about producing more mental illness — it makes people anxious and scared but that’s a part of normal life, I do not want to medicalise that.  

We need to work against pathologisation and medicalisation. Because if we say millions of people are now more anxious than before, does it mean we will go on globally with medicalisation? Does it mean we will suggest  psychological medication to all these people including children and adults? 

I’m not against medication but when I analyse global situations, for sure this has gone too far. Feelings have been medicalised. I am warning that with this pandemic there would be a next wave of medicalisation. That when people are anxious and not happy, there might be an attempt to “medicalise them even more than before”. We have to be creative and to think of some innovative forms of support and cure, not necessarily medicalise. 

IPS: What are the risks involved for those with mental health at this time?

DP: More and more people are diagnosed. But then because of this diagnosis they’re discriminated against. And also because of that, in many parts of the world, many suffer from institutionalisation: sometimes that can be lifelong. 

Sometimes that’s because of a lack of services in the community and they live in institutions but now we know these institutions are hotspots for the virus. As for many countries, the closed spaces, such as prisons or psychiatric institutions are now making it worse given how dangerous it can be for residents and staff because the virus can spread. IPS: Are there certain communities more vulnerable to facing mental health risks in this pandemic?

DP: Many people who were already left behind will suffer disproportionately… So, in many parts of the world, LGBT people are discriminated against, people with disabilities other than psycho-social ones we discussed, and those with physical disability, indigenous people, migrants and refugees in difficult situations, and also the prison population — these people are at more risk. 

IPS: The issue of mental health appears to have multiple layers of barriers: financial means and social stigma. How do you navigate both financial concern as well as social stigma of this issue?

DP: My approach is that we always have to keep in mind the principles and then we will not be lost when it’s concrete. We should follow non-discrimination, empowerment, accountability and other principles. 

The problem is all these global mental health are based on discriminatory approaches; for example, if a person is diagnosed with a mental health condition or illness they could be discriminated against by mental health law in their country. 

Next week, I will be presenting many arguments to the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) about the need for a shift in paradigm instead of making small changes. A shift is needed. There is too much: the biomedical model is overused; its okay but when it’s overused, it’s harmful. 

 IPS: What’re your hopes going forward? 

DP: With this pandemic what I’m emphasising in my statement; now we should be finally convinced that we need to move ahead with reducing the number of these institutions, with a final goal of abandoning this legacy.  

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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Trump global media chief faces GOP backlash over firings

The new chief of U.S.-funded global media is facing a conservative backlash over his decision to fire the heads of two international broadcasters, adding to concerns about the direction of the agency, which oversees the Voice of America and other outlets.

The criticism of Michael Pack, who defended his personnel moves, is unusual because it’s coming from supporters of President Donald Trump who had backed his controversial nomination to run the U.S. Agency for Global Media over staunch Democratic objections.

Trump allies, including former adviser Sebastian Gorka, have offered public support for the ousted head of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Alberto Fernandez, while others have taken issue with the firing of the head of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Jamie Fly.

Pack, a conservative filmmaker and onetime associate of Trump adviser Steve Bannon, sacked both of them late Wednesday in a purge of USAGM’s outlets, which also include Radio Free Asia and the Cuba-focused Radio/TV Marti. Those moves have alarmed Democrats who fear Pack intends to turn the agency into a Trump administration propaganda machine.

“Every action I carried out was — and every action I will carry out will be — geared toward rebuilding the USAGM’s reputation, boosting morale, and improving content,” Pack said in a statement released by the new agency’s new public affairs staff.

The statement called the moves “significant and long-overdue” and said Pack and his team are “committed to eradicating the known mismanagement and scandals that have plagued the agency for decades.”

In addition to the agency chiefs, Pack dismissed veteran broadcast news executive Steve Capus, who had been a senior adviser to the organization and its leadership, according to two congressional aides and an AGM employee, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly. Capus, who was previously president of NBC News for nearly eight years, did not respond to a query sent to an AGM work email address.

And, he ousted the head of the Open Technology Fund, a non-broadcast arm of the AGM that works to provide secure internet access to people around the world. Last week, Fund chief Libby Liu submitted her resignation, effective in mid-July, but she was removed with the others.

There was no public explanation of why Pack would dismiss any of the officials, let alone those favored by conservatives beyond the general statement of improving the agency.

The firing of Fernandez, in particular, has raised conservative hackles. A former career diplomat fluent in Arabic, Fernandez had been hailed by conservatives for bringing what they saw as balance to the Arabic-language outlets AlHurra television and Radio Sawa.

“Ambassador Fernandez was the greatest asset America had in foreign broadcasting,” Gorka wrote on Twitter shortly after the dismissals became public.

Michael Doran, a former National Security Council and State Department official during President George W. Bush’s administration, called Fernandez’s ouster “asinine” and said that without him, “Pack will be as effective as a drugged bug in a bottle.”

David Reaboi, a noted conservative national security analyst, was even more critical, calling Fernandez’s removal “shameful.” “It was unusual for the pro-American side to get represented, and Alberto always made sure it did,” he told the AP. “It was a model for recapturing territory from the far left and righting the ship.“

“Michael Pack gets confirmed by the Senate and, rather than take stock and talk to people who know what’s happening, he fired everybody,” Reaboi wrote. “Michael Pack destroyed that because he was too dumb to listen — or too dumb to be able to figure out the difference between friends and enemies.”

The dismissal of Fly, a former staffer for Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also attracted criticism, including from Mark Dubowitz, a well-known advocate of the Trump administration’s hawkish policies on Iran. “Poor decision to fire (Fernandez) and (Fly) whose exemplary leadership of MBN and RFE/RL respectively, made America’s public diplomacy more effective, more persuasive and more consistent with American interests and values,” he wrote.

Juan Zarate, a Republican former NSC and Treasury staffer, agreed, calling the two dismissals “incomprehensible.” “I’ve watched both for years work with integrity to promote US interests abroad,” he wrote.

In addition to Fernandez and Fly, Pack also removed the head of Radio Free Asia, Bay Fang, and the acting chief of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting on Wednesday. He replaced each outlet’s corporate board of directors with allies and installed himself as chairman of each.

One of the people added to the board of Radio Free Asia, Jonathan Alexandre, attracted particular concern from Democrats who noted that he is also director of public policy for the conservative Liberty Counsel, a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated a hate group for opposing gay rights.

The director and deputy director of the Voice of America, Amanda Bennett and Sandy Sugawara, resigned from their positions on Monday. Taken together, top House Democrats who oversee AGM funding said Pack’s moves were dangerous.

“That Mr. Pack took this drastic measure in his first week on the job is shocking, and we have deep concerns that he takes the helm of a critical agency with the intent to prioritize the Trump administration’s political whims over protecting and promoting independent reporting, which is a pillar of freedom and democracy,” said Eliot Engel, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Nita Lowey, chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, denounced the firings as an “egregious breach” of the agency’s mission. Menendez had led an unsuccessful fight to block or at least delay Pack’s confirmation.

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World Protests Show Rising Outrage and Mounting Discontent — Global Issues

  • Opinion by Isabel Ortiz, Sara Burke, Hernan Cortes Saenz (new york and brussels)
  • Wednesday, June 10, 2020
  • Inter Press Service

In the last weeks, we have seen protests against racism and police brutality explode in the US and internationally after another black man died in police custody. We see Chileans protesting lockdown-food shortages, scarcity of work, and costly social services, and Ecuadorans demonstrating against IMF-supported austerity cuts. Lebanon has convulsed with riots over corruption, lack of jobs and public services. Protesters in Hong Kong continue to defy China’s tightening grip. In Israel they denounce West Bank annexation, while in the Philippines they condemn President Duterte’s Anti-Terrorism Act as a breach of civil rights and the Constitution. Young people are taking to the streets in Senegal over the lockdown and lack of jobs and opportunities. In Spain we see health workers demanding safer working conditions while workers from other industries face massive layoffs. In many countries, people protest in car-based caravans to maintain social distancing because of the pandemic.

There have been periods in history when large numbers of people rebelled against the status quo and demanded change, such as in 1848, 1917 and 1968. While protests have intensified in recent weeks because of the pandemic, the level of protests worldwide has remained high for more than a decade, with some of the largest protests in world history. They were set off by the 2008 financial crisis and commodity price spikes, such as those that sparked food riots in Africa and Asia, three years before the “Arab Spring”, the “Indignados” (Outraged) in Spain or “Occupy” in the US and Hong Kong. More recently, we have seen massive protests in Latin America and a global feminist wave set off by the “Me Too” movement. Now, as Covid-19 makes its way around the world, we are experiencing the continuation of this period of rising outrage and discontent.

We have been studying recent world protests and found interesting lessons. To start, the number of protests has been increasing on a yearly basis. Protesters’ main general demand was for economic and social justice in the face of prescribed “austerity” reforms; however, the overwhelming grievance of protesters, regardless of the political system of their country, was the lack of “real democracy”. Other common demands relate to people’s rights such as racial, gender or labor rights. The main target of the protests was national governments, but global institutions and corporations were also targeted.

A profile of demonstrators reveals that not only traditional protesters (eg. activists, unions) are demonstrating; on the contrary, middle classes, youth, older persons and other social groups are actively protesting in most countries because of lack of trust and disillusionment with the current political and economic system.

People around the world are acutely aware that policy-making has not prioritized them. Across the political spectrum, there is rebellion against politics as usual. Governments both authoritarian and democratic are failing to respond to the needs of ordinary people. Many demonstrations and marches also explicitly denounce the international system and institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Central Bank, which have been widely perceived as the chief architects of inequitable reforms.

Not only is the number of protests increasing, but also the number of protestors. Crowd estimates suggest that dozens of rallies had more than one million protesters; some of those may well be the largest protests in history (eg. 100 million in India in 2013, 17 million in Egypt during the Arab Spring).

Repression is well documented in over half of the protests in our study. According to media reports, the protests that generated the most arrests were in Iran, the UK, Russia, Chile, Malaysia, US and Cameroon (different years). Our research, that we continue updating, also documents a rising concern with some modes of repression that do not imply the use of physical violence: citizen surveillance.

If there is repression, what are the controversial demands that protesters are putting forward? The grievances demanded cross over virtually every area of public policy, from jobs, public services and social protection to the environment, finance, taxation, corruption and justice. The majority of the demands are in full accordance with United Nations proposals and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Governments need to listen to the demands from citizens legitimately protesting the denial of social, economic and civil rights. Leaders and policymakers will only invite further unrest if they fail to prioritize and act on the demand for real democracy.

Isabel Ortiz is Director of the Global Social Justice Program at the Initiative for Policy Dialogue, Columbia University, and former director of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF.

Sara Burke is Senior Policy Analyst at Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES; for identification purposes only; views do not reflect the institutional views of FES).

Hernan Cortes Saenz is PhD in International Relations.

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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Customised Blended Learning is Urgently Needed — Global Issues

self-guided online learning is doomed to fail. Research shows an exceptionally high drop-out rate – even in developed countries. Learners simply have no incentive to keep at their studies without peer pressure, a teacher at hand or a structured learning environment. Blended learning integrates computer-assisted online activities with traditional face-to-face teaching (chalk-and-talk)
Students learn with tablets in a school in South Africa. Credit: AMO/Jackie Clausen
  • Monday, May 25, 2020
  • Inter Press Service

In fact, self-guided online learning is doomed to fail. Research shows an exceptionally high drop-out rate – even in developed countries. Learners simply have no incentive to keep at their studies without peer pressure, a teacher at hand or a structured learning environment.

In South Africa in particular, with socio-economic disparities and related problems, the drop-out rate would be even higher. More so in key subjects like mathematics and physical science where prior knowledge, conceptual understanding and self-motivation to succeed are critical.

The only answer, in the country’s unequal teaching environment, is a customised version of blended learning. Blended learning integrates computer-assisted online activities with traditional face-to-face teaching (chalk-and-talk).

When used by a trained teacher, this approach can add valuable new dimensions to the learning process. It can allow learners to work at their own pace and teachers to fill content gaps.

Blended learning in South Africa

In many developed countries, blended learning is a well-established practice. It has enabled these countries to adapt to the demands of the current pandemic. Digital remote learning and teaching is backed up by dependable infrastructure and skilled, motivated teachers.

By contrast, the differences between South African schools have been thrown into sharp relief. The binary system of a privileged minority of schools and the rest remains, despite the political changes more than 25 years ago.

More than 80% of public schools are under-resourced. They are ill-equipped to respond to the teaching and learning challenges of the 21st century – let alone the latest demands of the pandemic.

The current lockdown has suddenly compelled teachers to adopt predominantly online, blended learning teaching practices. But nearly 90% of all households in South Africa are still without access to the internet at home. Very few schools had adapted to blended learning before lockdown and few schools would be able to adopt it during the lockdown. Therefore the schools that had fewer resources and skills will fall even further behind.

This is especially disappointing since the current cohort of pupils (born after 2000) have long expressed their preference for a blended learning model. Even the recent recognition by the South African government that science, technology, engineering and mathematics are important in the Fourth Industrial Revolution has had little effect on the skills development of teachers, infrastructure or modernisation of resources in schools.

Therefore, in the South African context, mainstream blended learning is not the complete answer. We need to go beyond blended learning.

Customised blended learning model

Since 2002, the Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Centre in Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth has wrestled with these challenges.

The bad news is that there’s no way to make the teaching and learning of maths and science easy. But we’ve developed a number of interventions that have lifted the twin burdens of poor training and lack of infrastructure from the shoulders of teachers. Skills development linked to the use of user-friendly and interactive digital resources has allowed teachers to focus on attaining a high quality of teaching with subsequent learning successes.

Over the past decade, the centre has experimented with various combinations of online and offline self-directed teaching methods. It has worked specifically on blended learning for mathematics and physical sciences in secondary schools.

The greatest success has been a blended learning system that uses a combination of online and offline interactive resources with pre-installed apps that are aligned with the South African school curriculum. These can be used as a guide for teaching, home-schooling, after-school study and tutoring. We call it techno-blended learning: a structured approach, using mostly offline apps in an integrated way, with the full participation of a trained or experienced adult mentor or guide.

One of the centre’s more recent interventions is a mini personal computer called the GammaTutor™. This’s an offline device pre-loaded with interactive learning material. These resources have been specifically designed for South African school conditions.

The GammaTutor™ software package is primarily intended for teachers: when plugged into any data projector, a TV or digital screen, it doubles as a flexible maths and science teaching assistant in the classroom and a learner support resource for after school hours. It fits in the palm of a hand, requires no data and is navigated by the click of a mouse. Its small size makes the device easy to keep safe and to take where it’s needed.

What needs to be done

It’s well known that major educational challenges exist in schools as a result of the country’s multi-language society – particularly in the teaching and learning of mathematics. The GammaTutor™ application offers mathematics concept explanations in eight indigenous languages.

The device covers the full curriculum for high school maths and physical sciences, presented in video, PDF or animated PowerPoint format – along with glossaries, exam revision support, translations from English into indigenous languages and many additional teaching support materials. It can be used for interactive teaching online and remotely.

The response from teachers, learners and stakeholders to this approach of teaching and learning has been overwhelmingly positive. Where these interventions have been applied, in pilot schools in the Eastern Cape province, the results have been gratifying. Marks have improved significantly and successful learners have been able to progress to university.

The new urgency for remote teaching caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has created an opportunity for the country to adopt policies to accelerate blending learning practices among teachers and learners. The Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Centre offers lessons learned through more than a decade of research.The Conversation

Werner Olivier, Professor in Mathematics and Director: Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Centre, Nelson Mandela University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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OSINT Global Trendline Report: Asia

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UN’s Development GoalsThreatened by a World Economy Facing Recession — Global Issues

As famines of “biblical proportions” loom, Security Council urged to “act fast”. Credit: United Nations
  • by Thalif Deen (united nations)
  • Thursday, April 23, 2020
  • Inter Press Service

Aimed at addressing some of the global challenges the world faces– including extreme poverty and hunger, inequalities in incomes and gender, climate change and environmental degradation– the SDGs now seem threatened by a world economy facing a brutal recession.

With a 2030 deadline,the SDGs are in near disarray, as the coronavirus pandemic has decimatedthe economies of both rich and poor countries—even as warning signs reflect a possibly massiverise in poverty and hunger worldwide.

The slump in the global economy has triggered a recession in several donor nations, including Japan, the US, UK, France, Germany and China, among others.

In its most recent report released April 14, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that the world is facing its worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the global economy would contract by 3.0 percent in 2020.

This was a significant reversal from early this year when the IMF predicted the world economy would outpace 2019 and grow by 3.3 percent in 2020.

Ambassador Mona Juul of Norway, President of the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), told delegates April 23 that COVID-19 shows “it is more important than ever to focus on the implementation of the SDGs.” Therefore, issues such as resource mobilization, illicit finance, debt and women’s empowerment must be priorities,” she said.

Still, at the United Nations, several lingering questions remain: What are the new obstacles facing the implementation of SDGs? Will they survive an uncertain future?

Will donor nations help rescue the development agenda? Andwill the General Assembly be forced to push back the 2030 deadline?

Tariq Ahmad, Oxfam America’s Senior Policy & Research Advisor told IPS: “We are seeing COVID-19 wreak havoc on the global economy, which is felt acutely in the homes and communities of the most vulnerable among us”.

The economy downturn, he said, paints a dismal picture of what resources will be available to finance the SDGs. This crisis could push half a billion more people into poverty unless urgent and drastic action is taken.

A recent Oxfam brief has called for an Economic Rescue Plan For All, suggesting how the world could help finance UN’s estimated needs while the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has called on governments to mobilize at least $2.5 trillion dollars to support developing economics in order to tackle the pandemic and prevent a global economic collapse.

And a new study by the UN University’s World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) predicts that the COVID-19 pandemic could increase global poverty by as much as half a billion people, or 8% of the total human population. This would be the first time that poverty has increased globally in thirty years, since 1990.

In its annual Global Report on Food Crises, an international alliance of UN, governmental and non-governmental agencies, said, at the end of 2019, 135 million people across 55 countries and territories experienced acute food insecurity.

But the coronavirus pandemic is expected to make the situation worse and negatively impact on hunger and food insecurity, specifically in the developing world.

Jens Martens, executive director of Global Policy Forum, (a civil society think tank based in New York and Bonn), told IPS the COVID-19 pandemic not only has serious consequences for the health situation in many countries of the world but it will also have a massive impact on the implementation of almost all SDGs.

“The looming global recession will dramatically increase unemployment, poverty and hunger worldwide,” he said.

The situation, he pointed out, is even more serious because the macroeconomic situation in many countries of the global South had already deteriorated before the outbreak of the virus.

A vicious circle of debt and austerity policies have threatened socio-economic development from Argentina to Lebanon, he warned.

“The food situation had also deteriorated in many countries, even before COVID-19, for example, due to the locust plague in East Africa”.

Without effective multilateral counter-measures, Martens argued, inequality between rich and poor countries will increase considerably.

“COVID-19 is thus also a global wake-up call for international cooperation and solidarity”, he declared.

In a report released April 20, the World Food Programme (WFP) said the COVID-19 pandemic could almost double the number of people suffering acute hunger, pushing it to more than a quarter of a billion by the end of 2020.

The number of people facing acute food insecurity stands to rise to 265 million in 2020, up by 130 million from the 135 million in 2019, as a result of the economic impact of COVID-19, according to a WFP projection.

Ahmad said one of the ways to free up vital resources to tackle the issues of hunger and poverty would be to cancel the debt of developing nations.

For example, Oxfam also jointly warned of the risk in West Africa, of 50 million people threatened by hunger and malnutrition in the coming months.

Meanwhile, Ghana is spending 11 times more on servicing its debts than it is on health. The costs of the debt burden are paid by the poorest people, in cuts to government services, while women are the hardest hit.

Aid is a critical ingredient to help finance the response. Of the estimated 2.5 trillion USD need, the UN estimates a need of 500 billion in new official development assistance (ODA).

In a soon to be released report, Oxfam estimated almost 300 billion of this should be provided by traditional northern donors. And there are still some fundamental flaws in the current system that prevent aid from supporting local responders on the front line of care.

“This crisis is the time for bold and visionary choices for our collective future. It’s time for donors to profoundly transform their aid to build a world that is free from poverty, that is more equal, feminist and sustainable. COVID-19 could set back the fight against poverty by decades – we must now act and build a better future,” he declared.

Asked if the 193-member UN General Assembly should postpone the 2030 deadline to achieved SDG targets, Martens said postponing the deadline for achieving the SDGs because of COVID-19 would send out completely the wrong signal.

On the contrary, he said, the coronavirus crisis shows how important these multilateral goals are, and how fatal it was that governments have not taken their implementation seriously enough since 2015.

Key SDG targets like the development of social protection systems, universal health care and a functioning public infrastructure must be given top priority. Only in this way can the current crisis be overcome and future crises prevented. This also requires effective policies of global solidarity, said Martens.

“What we need now is a Solidarity Summit under the auspices of the United Nations to deal with the social and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in an integrated manner”, he declared.

Asked about the postponement, Ahmad said “pushing back the SDG deadline won’t help pull anyone who is facing poverty or hunger – instead we need to see sweeping action across the globe to help offset some of this crisis’ worst impacts on the world’s most vulnerable”.

The challenge here is not time, it’s political will, he noted.

“This is an unprecedented daunting global challenge, but we must meet it both with urgent action that saves lives now and interventions that create a more fair system going forward, like the cancellation of debt for developing nations, and other support to help families stay healthy and safe until they are able to earn a living again.”

Even before COVID-19, he said, “we were dangerously behind on meeting many of the SDGs, but if this moment has taught us anything, it’s that we are able to make massive shifts in how we all live and cooperate to tackle a joint challenge – we must see the same approach taken to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.”

The writer can be contacted at [email protected]

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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Ending the Unthinkable Injustice of Human Chaining — Global Issues

A woman’s leg tied tightly together in a Christian rehabilitation center for in Ibadan City, Oyo State, Nigeria, September 2019. Women and men are chained and tied for perceived or actual mental health condition or intellectual disability. © 2019 Robin Hammond for Human Rights.
  • Opinion by Emina Cerimovic, Kim Samuel (new york)
  • Tuesday, April 07, 2020
  • Inter Press Service

The evangelist in the church chained her in a room, where she was left on a bare floor for three days straight with no food or water. She stayed there with a man who was going through a mental health crisis. She felt alone. The staff gave Akanni a pot to urinate and defecate in, right in front of the man.

Akanni is still imprisoned in the church. She is deprived of food and water every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday until 6 p.m. The staff at church claim this is for fasting purposes as part of her treatment. When she resists, they chain her again.

“Sometimes if they say I should fast and I drink water or take food, they put me on chain,” she told our researchers. “The chaining is punishment. I have been put on chain so many times, I can’t count.”

Akanni is not alone. Human Rights Watch documented that thousands of people with actual or perceived mental health conditions across Nigeria are chained and locked up in various facilities, including state-owned rehabilitation centers, psychiatric hospitals, and faith-based and traditional healing centers.

Many are shackled with iron chains, around one or both ankles, to heavy objects or to other detainees, in some cases for months or years.

Chaining is a global human rights issue. Human Rights Watch has documented its use in numerous countries, including Indonesia, Ghana, Somaliland, and most recently Nigeria.

Like Akanni, people cannot leave these facilities, and are confined in overcrowded, unhygienic conditions, and forced to sleep, eat, and defecate within the same confined place. Many are physically and emotionally abused and forced to take questionable treatments.

People are chained for a range of reasons: when they behave outside what’s considered “the norm,” are going through trauma or grief, or even for getting upset. Like Akanni, who never had access to mental health professionals before her father abandoned her at the church, most Nigerians are unable to get adequate mental health services or support in their communities and rely on traditional and religious healers for support.



Stigma and misunderstanding, specifically ideas that mental health conditions are caused by evil spirits or supernatural forces, drive relatives to take their loved ones anywhere the relatives think their loved ones could get help.

Signs of light are appearing. In October, President Muhammadu Buhari denounced chaining as torture, and the Nigerian police carried out raids in Islamic rehabilitation centers in the northern part of the country. Although the Nigerian Constitution prohibits torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment, the government has yet to outlaw chaining people with mental health conditions. The government has also yet to acknowledge that chaining is happening in government-run facilities as well as traditional and other religious centers that are not Islamic.

Today,  as the world  grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to end this practice, free people from chains, and ban shackling.

Banning chaining is just the first step. It’s also necessary to monitor and meaningfully enforce the ban. Further, it’s essential to prioritize providing psychosocial support and mental health services as close as possible to people’s own communities.

Humane and accessible care need not be extraordinarily expensive. To give one example, cities and countries around the world are now following the Zimbabwean model of the “Friendship Bench,” a community-led initiative that trains and supports older women to offer talk therapy and make connections to vital social services and mental health care.

Article 5 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is clear that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

But this is more than a violation of the law. When asked what’s worst about being in the church, Akanni was unequivocal. “I feel lonely,” she said. Chaining represents the most extreme imaginable denial of our fundamental human rights.

It strips people of the basic need to belong, connect with community, have a home, learn, express oneself, have agency. It’s an affront to the essence of what makes us human.

Akanni told us she wants to go home, study accounting, get a job, and lead a healthy and joyful life. It’s up to President Buhari, leaders and civil society in Nigeria, and all of us who can exert pressure around the world, to see that she and countless others have a meaningful chance to realize these dreams.


Kim Samuel is founder of the Samuel Center for Social Connectedness, based in Toronto.

Emina Ćerimović is a senior disability rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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Lessons from Nigeria in Responding to Coronavirus — Global Issues

Nigeria’s past experiences of quickly responding to the 2014 Ebola outbreak and continuously responding to other infectious diseases have strengthened its health security capacity. Consequently, there are lessons that other countries can learn from Nigeria’s response to Coronavirus
  • Opinion by Ifeanyi Nsofor (abuja)
  • Friday, March 20, 2020
  • Inter Press Service
  • Dr. Ifeanyi Nsofor is a medical doctor, the CEO of EpiAFRIC, Director of Policy and Advocacy for Nigeria Health Watch

But it’s a problem beyond Europe too, and governments in 61 countries have closed schools to slow the spread of the virus. In the U.S., President Trump recently declared a national emergency after the virus had spread to nearly every U.S. state, and he urged state governments to set up emergency operation centers immediately.

Most of these measures occurred after a significant number of cases were documented. In contrast, Nigeria, where I am based, has shown a remarkable level of preparedness and response to the Coronavirus pandemic even with just 12 cases diagnosed.

These efforts are led by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). Nigeria’s past experiences of quickly responding to the 2014 Ebola outbreak and continuously responding to other infectious diseases such as Lassa fever, have strengthened its health security capacity. Consequently, there are lessons that other countries can learn from Nigeria’s response to Coronavirus.

First, invest in epidemic preparedness before an outbreak occurs. The Director-General of NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu believes that nations should build systems in ‘peace time’ that can be used during outbreaks. Working with subnational governments and partners, the NCDC since 2017 have been supporting Nigerian States to set up Public Health Emergency Operations Centre (PHEOCs).

At the last count, 23 States in Nigeria have set up PHEOCs. The PHEOCs serve as an epidemic intelligent hub for effective communication and efficient resource management during any outbreak. Therefore, the U.S. should have set up PHEOCs long before this Coronavirus pandemic.

Second, be open and transparent about Coronavirus cases. The index Coronavirus case recorded in Nigeria was reported within 48 hours of the Italian arriving Nigeria. The federal minister of health, NCDC and the Lagos state commissioner of health did not waste time informing Nigerians.

They have also continuously followed that with regular updates. The NCDC now has a microsite to provide regular updates to Nigerians and the international community. Other information available on the microsite are videos on risk reduction and summaries of the global Coronavirus situation report.

Third, invest in laboratory diagnoses of Coronavirus. Within weeks after the Coronavirus outbreak began, NCDC, with the support of partners, upgraded four of its reference laboratories to diagnose Coronavirus.

This led to quick diagnosis of the Italian despite his falling ill in a neighboring state to Lagos. These reference laboratories are located strategically around the country, so that delays in moving samples are reduced.

Fourth, the highest political will is imperative for epidemic preparedness. In 2018, after 7 years of operating without a legal backing, the NCDC was legalized through a bill signed into law by President Buhari.

This action puts NCDC in its rightful place as the national public health institute, with the mandate to lead the preparedness, detection and response to infectious disease outbreaks and public health emergencies. President Buhari backed the legal mandate with an approval for NCDC to receive 2.5% of the Basic Health Care Provision Fund – a funding mechanism designed to improve primary health care in Nigeria. This is unprecedented in the history of health security in Nigeria.

Likewise, some Nigerian legislators are advocating for increased funding for epidemic preparedness. For instance, the chairpersons of Nigeria’s senate committees on health and primary health care/communicable diseases have been advocating for increased budgetary allocation to NCDC.

Without a doubt, health security is an area that Nigeria’s executive and legislature agree. With hindsight, the U.S. should not have cut its Centres for Disease Control’s budget by 20% in 2018.

Fifth, pay attention to what is happening outside of one’s own country. Infectious diseases do not respect borders. Perhaps the most important lesson we should learn from Nigeria’s response to the Coronavirus is what Chikwe Ihekweazu said when he was interviewed by an international media outlet; “The concept of every country trying to look only within its own borders is completely, mindbogglingly, a waste of everybody’s time”.

To be sure, Nigeria is currently dealing with its largest Lassa fever outbreak, attempting to rebuild its health system and still requires more funds to prepare for the next epidemic. However, NCDC has shown what is possible in reducing the impact of a virus with accountable leadership, use of science for decision-making and ensuring value for money in epidemic preparedness.

Chikwe Ihekweazu’s admonition on borderless approach in responding to infectious disease outbreaks is very important because as far as global health security is concerned, the world is as prepared as its weakest link.

Other countries do not have to reinvent the wheel in managing this Coronavirus pandemic. Nigeria has succeeded in containing Coronavirus and is willing to share lessons learnt.

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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the Architecture of Gender Inequality — Global Issues

Credit: UN Women
  • Opinion by Pedro Conceicao (united nations)
  • Friday, March 06, 2020
  • Inter Press Service

Maternal mortality significantly reduced since 1990, and boys and girls now have equal access to primary school education in most countries.

But pull away from the sticky floor and many women will hit a glass ceiling. Or rather glass ceilings. Though the term was originally used to talk about women’s prospects for advancing in the workplace, other invisible barriers are a factor in many areas of life.

And here there is much less progress to celebrate. Consider politics. Men and women may share the same right to vote in most countries for example. But under a quarter of parliamentarians are women. Only one in ten heads of government is female.

But this doesn’t go anywhere near telling the whole story. In fact, many women face layers of glass – at home, work, education and beyond – which prevent them from reaching their full potential.

Break through one ceiling and they invariably find another, more impenetrable, waiting just above them.

Why is this still happening in 2020?

Part of the answer lies in barriers thrown up by the perceptions and biases of both women and men around the world. Progress towards genuine gender inequality will never succeed if people don’t believe in it.

UNDP’s gender social norms index which uses data from the World Values Survey and covers 81 percent of the world’s population, shows clearly that the great majority of citizens in almost every country – both men and women – do not believe women and men should enjoy equal opportunities in key areas like politics or work.

About 50 percent of men and women interviewed across 75 countries, say they think men make better political leaders than women. More than 40 percent felt that men made better business executives. And in some countries these attitudes seem to be deteriorating over time.

Credit: UN Women

Much of this bias seems to be directed at giving women more power. And indeed, the data shows, time and time again, the greater the power the greater the bias. Although women work more hours than men, they are much less likely to be paid for that work.

Women on average do three time more unpaid care work than men. When they are paid, they earn less than men and they are less likely to be in management positions – only 6 percent of CEOS in S&P 500 companies are female.

At the very time when progress is meant to be accelerating to reach global goals on gender by 2030, it is slowing down in some areas. The massive improvements in many aspects of gender equality in recent years show what is possible.

But we now need new approaches to get to grips with the architecture of inequality. Investing in education, raising awareness and encouraging women and girls into traditionally male dominated jobs all have a role to play.

Tackling the invisible barriers of bias could be the game changer.

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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