OpED: TB Is A Women’s Issue Too

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha | iNamibia Contributor

Harare, ZIMBABWE – Today is March 8, and across the world the International Women’s Day is being commemorated. Coincidentally, March is the global tubercolusosis (TB) awareness month. The disease, which is caused by a mycrobatrium, has a major impact on women’s sexual reproductive health and that of their children.

For pregnant women living in areas with high TB infection rates, there are increased chances of transmission of TB to a child before, during delivery or after birth. The disease, especially if associated with HIV, also accounts for a high incidence of maternal and infant mortality. Unfortunately, there is little to no attention to women’s vulnerability in the current discussion and media blitz of a resurgent TB internationally, and in particular, sub-Saharan Africa.

In sub-Saharan Africa, TB is threatening to unravel public health developments gains around increased HIV awareness yet the solutions are not easy, particularly where they concern the well-being of women.

There is need for huge financial, human, research and technological investments to fight the problem, but such investments will work only if they radically put women’s health needs at the core.

More importantly is the need to align TB services and sexual reproductive health services, so that men and women know about the implications of the disease to their sexual lives and households.

In sub-Saharan Africa, however, there are pervasive systemic factors driving TB and drug resistance which cannot be ignored in the search of an effective solution to the problem.

A myriad of social and economic factors, as well as weaknesses in the health care system, inadequate laboratories combined with high HIV infection rates are fuelling the resurgence of the TB in the region. Food insecurity, poor sanitation and overcrowding also contribute to the easy spread of the disease.

According to WHO, although Africa has only 11% of the world’s population, it accounts for more than a quarter of the global TB burden with an estimated 2.4 million TB cases and 540,000 TB deaths annually.

Governments in the region are grappling with inadequate infrastructure and the increasing threat of drug-resistant strains and co-infection with HIV.

HIV infection increases the likelihood of active TB more than 50-fold. An estimated one-third of the 24.5 million people living with HIV (PLHIV) in sub-Saharan Africa also have TB.

For women in the region, the prospect of a growing TB epidemic is harrowing, but discussion about the disease rarely sheds light nor seeks to address women’s specific needs.

Given the high rates of HIV infection among women in the region – the majority of people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa (61% or 13,1 million) are women – it is clear that they are the largest group at threat to develop active TB, and more likely drug resistance.

Even with the availability of TB drugs women’s socio-economic status and gender roles including child-bearing and caring puts them at high risk of both HIV and TB infection.

For many women in the region, the costs required to access health care centers for TB treatment are usually out of reach due to poverty and undermined socio-economic positions.

The social stigma associated with a TB diagnosis and its association with HIV forces both men and women to delay going to get tested for the disease. In some cases, when men in marital relationships test positive for TB, they are likely to withhold the information, thereby increasing the likelihood to spread the disease to both their partner and children.

Moreover, women in the region are largely responsible for the upkeep of the family, including looking after children, which may also affect consistent uptake of TB drugs. When a woman is infected with TB, the likelihood of spreading the disease to young children is very high.

An additional concern for women is that the uptake of TB drugs interferes with contraceptive use, pregnancy, and fertility.

According to researchers, Rimfampicin, a key component of TB treatment can reduce the effectiveness of oral contraceptive pills and possibly other hormonal methods, such as implants, injectables and emergency contraception.

TB in pregnant women not only increases the rate of maternal mortality, but is also a major factor contributing to the risk of mother-to-child transmission of the disease.

A study conducted in South Africa revealed mother-to child-transmission of TB in 15% of infants born to a study cohort of pregnant women in which 77% were HIV-infected. Maternal HIV/TB coinfection also increases the risk of mother-to child transmission of HIV.

Screening and treatment for TB in pregnant women at antenatal clinics must therefore be a major public health priority in the region. Information about TB needs to be an integral component of sexual reproductive health services.

To be precise, women infected with TB need to be empowered so that they can take control of their own care and lives. (CNS)

Zimbabwe’s Newspapers Shortchange Readers

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

SINCE June last year, Zimbabwe’s print media sector has experienced significant growth but how much of this growth is benefiting citizens’ right to information remains in doubt. Among the independently-owned daily newspapers registered and operating since 2010 up to date include: NewsDay, Daily News and The Mail. This bring to seven daily newspapers published in Zimbabwe including the two state-owned dailies, The Herald and The Chronicle and tabloids H-Metro and B-Metro.

Add to this a batch of weeklies including The Sunday Mail, The Zimbabwe Independent, The Standard, The ZimbabweanThe Worker, The Zimbabwean on Sunday, The Financial Gazette, The Manica Post and The Patriot among others.

In fact, according to media analysts, the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC), a government body responsible for media registrations, licensed a total of 22 publications but it’s telling that no broadcasting license has been issued as the same time.

However, the state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation remains the sole broadcaster in the country and its coverage is largely in favour of President Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party.  There is also a flurry of South African-based newspapers that are encroaching into the Zimbabwean market including The Sunday Times, Mail & Guardian and Business Day. At the same time, several Zimbabwe-focused online newspapers have emerged during the past ten years. Examples of online news platform include http://www.NewZimbabwe.com, http://www.ZimDaily.com; http://www.ZimEye.org; http://www.ZimOnline.co.za; http://www.ZWnews.com among others.

“The arrival of new players is refreshing but whether they are contributing to the public sphere is another matter. However, there’s an opportunity for more voices and opinions to be heard, but whether this is happening is another issue altogether,” said Eernest Mudzengi, Executive Direction at the Media Centre in Zimbabwe.

Suffice to state that while there’s a semblance of diversity in the print media sector, a critical analysis shows that the newspapers are not really serving the information needs of audiences. The coverage of issues in the newspapers is highly predictable.

“It has become very easy to predict what appears in most newspapers without reading the whole paper – save for sports pages, which actually give the best coverage despite the fact that most disciplines are not widely covered,” said Leonard Kari, an avid newspaper reader.

“On the first page of most of our newspapers we have not seen much diversity in terms of coverage. It largely more of the same. We need from the new papers a preferring of alternatives from the same-old polarised politics,” said Mudzengi, adding that much of the reportage in the local newspapers lacked exuberance and vibrancy. “There is a continuation of polarisation in the media. We need more media debate around political issues and key processes such as constitution-making in the country. We need more in terms of analysis because some of the stories especially on the first pages are predictable.”

Mudzengi said that it was not enough to only license newspapers because the most effective medium to reaching out to Zimbabweans was radio. He cautioned that the registration of the newspapers could be a cosmetic reform, and that the newspapers had to be vigilant in their coverage of issues.

Most of the newspapers merely mirror the polarized nature of Zimbabwe’s political arena which is dominated by ZANU PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) at the expense of telling compelling stories that are of relevance to the lives and livelihoods of Zimbabweans.

Government-owned papers have exploited their hitherto dominance on the market to act as cheerleaders for Mugabe, 87, and to denigrate Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai, according to a report on Zimbabwe’s new print media in the Global Post. On the other hand, the independently-owned media have a coverage stance to criticize President Mugabe and ZANU PF.

Further, experts and sources quoted in the newspapers are quite predictable. It appears that the newspapers lack ambition to expand the circle of the so-called experts that comment on issues of national relevance.

To make matters worse, the distribution of newspaper products in Zimbabwe is largely urban-centric. The majority of the population – approximately 70 percent of the population – are effectively left out. According to Dr. Ibbo Mandaza, a former newspaper publisher, 80 percent of the newspaper sales take place in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city. It is not surprising that the voices of rural folk are marginalized in newspaper reports. To state it bluntly, the rural folk are a missing voice in the new print media in Zimbabwe. One hardly gets to hear what is happening in Zimbabwe’s rural areas in the new print media.

Mandaza noted that the cost of many of the newspapers which range form US fifty cents to two dollar were still beyond the reach of many Zimbabweans. While there is batch of newspapers now the Zimbabwean market, advertising – the mainstay of newspapers – is very low in most of the publications raising questions about the sustainability of the enterprises.

“The arrival of new newspapers was long overdue but its too early to tell whether the papers will proffer and alternative and whether they will be financially viable. What is happening in Zimbabwe is not new – it happened in Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania but it’s to early to tell,” said Mandaza. “It’s hard to believe that many of the newspapers will survive beyond a year. The newspaper are limited in terms of reach and spread. The print media is limited in terms of its impact nationally.”

Mandaza said that there was a failure by the new print media to understand the reader. He added that in terms of technical capacity, the government-owned newspapers were far stronger that the new newspapers.

According to Kari, many voices are being left out in the national conversation.

“Many voices are left out in the national political dialogue and many voices have been silenced and have died a silent death. There are very few development stories which one can glean from our publications. Headlines are obsessed with politics yet very few people are benefitting from this kind of news coverage,” said Kari.

Kari suggested that local newspapers should revisit their mandate which is to inform, educate and entertain while ensuring a plurality of voices and a diversity of issues covered in order to influence a new conversation in the country.

Online Journalism Is About Basics: Storytelling

Granted, the online environment has introduced new ways that journalists can create, share and disseminate information.

In recent months, I have felt rather unnerved by the proposition that online and print journalism are 100 percent different. While I appreciate that the environments of information are different, I would like to believe that the old basics of storytelling remain relevant and similar to both mediums.

What an online and print journalism ought to have in common is the passion to tell a story without fear or favour. Good storytelling is the bedrock of journalism. The purpose of both print and online journalism is to journal the world, only that the presentation of the information may be different.

The web, per se, has obviously changed the workflow process. And herein I think lies the key. Online journalism has a different workflow from print journalism altogether. And the web in general has opened up new opportunities for people to be able to tell compelling stories.

In addition, there is room for more personalized engagement with content in the online environment.

But truth of the matter is, even if attention spans are short online, what can only grab them is certainly not the technological environments but compelling, interesting, educative, well-researched journalism.

Definitions matters and now more than ever so that we don’t fall into the trap of quaint anachronisms.

How to Communicate In A Crowded Universe

IMAGINE how many unwanted messages you receive in your inbox each day; messages that you simply trash away without bothering to check. Yet some person at the other end of the chain is pampering themselves that they have done their job to communicate whatever it is they have at hand, so to speak. Is the golden age promised by the Internet for communicators over? Continue reading

Human Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation: The Need for a Global Perspective

Across the world, approximately 200,000 women and children are trafficked each year for purposes of sexual exploitation. Currently, approximately two million women and children are held in sexual servitude. Many of them die of AIDS, other STDs, ill-health physical and psychological abuse, violence and drug abuse. A surge in public indignation supported by empirical evidence is required to put an end to this cruel form of modern human slavery. Continue reading

Is Blogging Worth the Pain?

A friend of mine recently started a blog, and she wants to make it grow. This got me nibbling my mind. What are the indicators of succesful blogging? How do you measure it? Why blog? How do you make your blog stand out amidst the clog of online content? Undoubtedly, blogging has revolutionised the concept of freedom of expression but what’s the point of expressing yourself freely when no-one is paying attention. Or when attention spans are as short as a rabbit’s yawn. Granted, self-expression is good food for the individual soul. But, question mark, is blogging worth the pain?

First things first, blogging is an overrated fad, with some analysts suggesting that it’s dead. There is a general belief that social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have accelerated the demise of blogging. Many people prefer the ubiquitous and transient nature of exchanges on Facebook and Twitter while blogs are regarded as static, and somewhat, convoluted.

It may be good at this point to revisit the definition of blog: according to Wikipedia, a blog (a contraction of the term “web log“) is a type of website, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order. “Blog” can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog. Continue reading

Water & Sanitation As A Human Right

waterMANY governments around the world pay only lip service to the problem of water and sanitation thereby denying an essential human right to their populations.  Though governments attest to the importance of water and sanitation as evidenced by MDG on water and sanitation, they make very little investment in the sector. The matter is rarely given prominence on national political agendas.

Water as a human right refers to the human right to safe water and adequate sanitation without which the enjoyment of other essential human rights can be jeopardized.  The availability of safe drinking water and hygienic sanitation facilities can indeed play a key role in the fight against poverty, hunger, child deaths and gender inequality.

According to the UN, over 1,100 million people do not have access to safe drinking water and over 2,600 million have no access to adequate sanitation. To complicate matters, water sources throughout the world are drying up, chiefly due to climate change and the mismanagement of water resources.

Dirty water and lack of sanitation affects mainly the poor, disadvantaged and voiceless in society, that is, women, girls and children.

Approximately, 1,8 million children die every year to diarrhea because of lack of access to clean water, more than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. More than 50 percent of the cases occur in Africa and Asia despite the existence of inexpensive and efficient means of water treatment.

 “In the developing world, 24,000 children under the age of five die every day from preventable causes like diarrhea contracted from unclean water,” said Caryl M. Stern, President and CEO, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF at the launch of a report, titled “Diarrhea: Why Children Are Still Dying and What Can Be Done“.  Continue reading