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

Lack of HIV Prevention Services for the Displaced

The power of education in fostering a better and effective response to HIV and AIDS is undeniable.

Education promotes knowledge and with knowledge about HIV and AIDS, individuals, families and communities have the ability to make informed choices about their behavior.

However, governments and international donor organizations often underplay this important intervention, particularly in the emergency phase of the cycle of displacement, says a report recently issued by UNHCR and UNESCO on the importance of education to populations that find themselves victims of displacement due to conflict, disaster or other emergencies.

Education can play a key role in helping refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) cope with the negative excesses of their circumstances, such as ignorance, exploitation, violence and the risk of HIV infection.

Many factors combine to put IDPs and refugees at the risk of HIV infection, including loss of livelihoods, lack of access to basic services, poverty, alcohol and drug abuse, and violence. Continue reading

Mugabe’s Wrath of the State

President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zimbabwe African National Union has, in recent days, embarked on a warpath against civil society organizations.

 Robert Mugabe

 President Robert Mugabe: Africa’s strongman

Ordinary citizens with political views that favor the opposition political party, Movement for Democratic Change, have also not escaped the wrath of the state.

 Mugabe’s government accuses civil society organizations of both working in cahoots with the MDC and being funded by Western countries.

In Zimbabwe today, the venom of the state machinery, including the military, the police and the state-owned media, is being unleashed against anyone perceived to be connected to the opposition, which won the parliamentary elections in March — a first in Zimbabwe since it attained independence from British rule in 1980.

Since 1980, ZANU-PF has won all the parliamentary and presidential elections by any means possible — fair, foul or murderous.

Incumbent President Mugabe, who narrowly lost to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai 43.2 percent to 47.9 percent in the March election, blames Western forces (as he has glibly done for the past eight years) for his loss of popularity.

Ahead of a runoff election scheduled for June 27, Mugabe has invoked all the state machinery’s hell against his people, and is determined to win by any means necessary.

Throughout the country, opposition supporters have been abducted and discovered with limbs, private parts, ears and tongues chopped off in scenes reminiscent of ritual killings.

“It’s a desperate situation,” said Keith Mazonde, a Harare-based nongovernmental organization worker in a Skype interview, “But the old man [Mugabe] is going nowhere.”

“I think he will win, but if you get me right, it’s a different kind from the win we know,” added Mazonde.

The clampdown of civil society organizations by Mugabe’s government comes in the wake of an order barring humanitarian aid organizations from distributing food and agricultural aid to impoverished Zimbabweans.

Mugabe has accused humanitarian aid organizations of using food handouts to campaign in favor of the opposition. NGOs have been ordered to re-apply for operating licenses.

According to Zimbabwe’s National Association of Nongovernmental Organizations, HIV patients will likely die as a result of the ban on food aid because they rely on NGOs for home-based care and antiretroviral medical assistance.

“The country has become a bedlam for people seeking an honest means of living. It looks like it will get better if only Mugabe goes, and a government of national unity is the way forward,” said Obert Sherera, an NGO worker.

UNICEF estimates that a total of 185,000 children are likely to miss the essential support they need, including healthcare and nutrition, and labels the government ban against NGOs a “human rights violation.”

“One day it will all come to an end but for now people are living in fear,” said Nornia Dumare, a political activist in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city.

Already, political analysts are saying that under the current circumstances it will be impossible for Zimbabwe to hold a free and fair presidential election.

According to a Human Rights Watch report, the Zimbabwean government’s campaign of violence and intimidation against the opposition MDC has extinguished any chance of a free and fair presidential runoff on June 27.

The report titled “‘Bullets for Each of You’: State-Sponsored Violence Since Zimbabwe’s March 29 Elections,” said that 36 politically motivated deaths and 2,000 victims of violence have been recorded in the run-up to the June runoff election.

“Since the runoff was announced the violence in Zimbabwe has gotten even worse,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Zimbabweans can’t vote freely if they fear their vote may get them killed.” 

The Imminent Threat of Global Water Wars

There is no consensus among water analysts on whether there will be global wars over water ownership, but all factors point to a likely explosion of both intra and inter-state conflict of the precious liquid.

According to UNESCO, globally there are 262 international river basins: 59 in Africa, 52 in Asia, 73 in Europe, 61 in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 17 in North America, and overall, 145 countries have territories that include at least one shared river basin.

UNESCO states that between 1948 and 1999, there have been 1,831 “international interactions” recorded, including 507 conflicts, 96 neutral or non-significant events, and most importantly, 1,228 instances of cooperation around water-related issues.

As a result, some experts argue that the idea of water wars is rather far fetched given the precedent of water cooperation that has been exhibited by many of the countries around the world.

“Despite the potential problem, history has demonstrated that cooperation, rather than conflict, is likely in shared basins,” says UNESCO.

However, the fact remains that throughout the world, water supplies are running dry, and the situation is being compounded by inappropriate management of water resources which will unravel previous international cooperation around water.

“Water has four primary characteristics of political importance: extreme importance, scarcity, maldistribution, and being shared. These make internecine conflict over water more likely than similar conflicts over other resources,” says Frederick Frey, of the University of Pennsylvania.

“Moreover, tendencies towards water conflicts are exacerbated by rampant population growth and water-wasteful economic development. A national and international ‘power shortage,’ in the sense of an inability to control these two trends, makes the problem even more alarming,” he adds.

Already, a third of the global population is said to be short of water, sparking fears of social fallout and violence, especially among the world’s poorest and most malnourished people.

Water is perhaps one of the most important yet overlooked elements to earthly life. That’s why the depletion of this precious resource portents serious clashes between communities and nations.

Water, that special liquid which is essential for the survival of all living things, could become a bombshell that will rip apart communities and nations if not managed properly in today’s world.

As global water sources become depleted due to a combination of factors including overpopulation and overuse, it is inevitable that there will be an increase in competition for the special liquid.

Both climatic and human-induced changes are having a negative impact on the world’s water resources. The increasing variability caused by climate change will have numerous consequences on human life.

According to the World Water Council, population growth – coupled with industrialization and urbanization – will result in an increasing demand for water and will have serious consequences on the environment.

Potential social and political division and unrest over access to water will hit hard marginalized populations in developing countries.

As water resources run dry, there will be a reluctance to share the resource in a peaceful and equitable manner.

According to US military analysts, “global-warming water problems will make poor, unstable parts of the world – the Middle East, Africa and South Asia – even more prone to wars, terrorism and the need for international intervention.”

It is predicted that sea-level rise floods will potentially destabilize South Asia countries such as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam.

The Middle East and North Africa is also faced with acute water shortages, a situation that will pit the countries in the region against each other.

“The only matter that could take Egypt to war against is water,” the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat tellingly said in 1979.

Water security is increasingly becoming a military priority for many of the countries in the Middle East, and the threat of wars between countries is real.

In Africa, the scarcity of water will result in food insecurity for already marginalized communities, especially in the rural areas where the majority of the people live. And this will form the basis for internal extremism as people will be forced to migrate and compete for resources.

In all corners of the globe, the animal kingdom will suffer immensely as human beings fight each other over access to water.

“Water is connected to everything we care about – energy, human health, food production and politics,” said Peter Glieck, president of the Pacific Institute, a global think tank, “And that fact alone means we better pay more attention to the security connections. Climate will effect all of those things. Water resources are especially vulnerable to climate change.”