10.31.2010

A Tough Case: India

Late Beginnings
AIDS in India did not hit until late 1986 - later than most other nations in Asia and the world. India's HIV case is an interesting one. The low prevalence rate (currently .3%) in India is misleading. Although it is a low prevalence rate when compared to many other nations, it is masked by the large number of inhabitants of the country. India is home to over a billion people and there are somewhere between 3 and 6 million people living with AIDS and so far over 300,000 have died as a result. India is the country with the second highest death rate from AIDS. Its a hidden, big problem.

ARV Access
Access to antiretroviral drugs and therapy used to be hard to come by in India. In 2005 there were only 25 ARV treatment centers in the nation, not a whole lot for a country that large. However, in 2009 that number grew to 217. Increasing the number of centers that provide ARVs for those who have AIDS encourages them to seek treatment. India, being so big, is hard and expensive to travel around, so by having more treatment centers all over the country, people are now more likely to be able to afford to visit the nearest clinic.

AIDS awareness banner
Once at the treatment centers, ARVs are free! ARVs used to have to be paid for in India, but in an effort to make access to medicine more easy, the government made prescriptions free. As a result of free ARVs and more treatment center locations, the number of people taking ARVs has risen from 24,000 to 233,000! In India's worst hit province, Andhra Pradesh, 10,000 HIV positive people are now receiving ARVs compared to a mere 200 three years ago! Free medicine and easy access is clearly working on decreasing the treatment gap! Still, however, there is a large number of people who are not receiving the treatment they need - in fact, less than 15% of those who needed ARVs in 2007 were getting them. Also, only 14% of mothers who had HIV in 2007 that were in need of ARVs to prevent transmission to their children were receiving the dugs. Although great progress has been made, there is clearly a lot more that needs to be done.

Importance of Prevention
Globally, it is estimated that for every person who begins HIV treatment, between 3 and 5 new people are infected with HIV. Prevention campaigns are crucial in India but difficult to implement. The problem with India being so big is that there are so many different languages spoken and so many religions and cultures that one nationwide prevention campaign cannot be effective enough. That is why province-wide prevention campaigns work much better because they can target the individualized communities within in state. With localized prevention methods, the local languages can be used so that the community can understand the information being given to them. 

Prevention campaigns must also begin to target at-risk populations to better combat the spread of the epidemic. Although at-risk populations account for most HIV cases, only 5% of funding for HIV prevention is allocated for those specific populations which is not cost-efficient or effective for slowing the progression of AIDS. 

Women who are part of a
 microbicide campaign in India
Prevention campaigns in India have been unique. For example, 11,000 condom vending machines were installed in public places such as restaurants, schools, hospitals, and gas stations. In another Indian province, health activists raised awareness of AIDS through kite flying which is popular before a certain festival. India also launched the 'Red Ribbon Express' - a train that travels throughout the country and stops to educate, treat, and counsel people with HIV/AIDS and to treat people with sexually transmitted infections. The response to the Red Ribbon Express has been positive, with 3.8 million people reached in the first 6 months of the 2009 journey. These are just a few of the many ways that India has become creative in its prevention techniques. 

Road Blocks
Several issues are either preventing HIV/AIDS education in India or causing stigmatization. HIV/AIDS is extremely stigmatized in India and as a result, many who are HIV positive face discrimination and harassment. People tend to keep their HIV status a secret whenever possible for fear that if they disclose it they will face harassment at work, denied medical treatment, or stigmatization in their community. One study found that 25% of HIV patients were refused medical treatment because of the fact that they were HIV positive!

Many people are also still very misinformed on the HIV/AIDS. In rural areas of the nation, only 77% of men and 50% of women have heard of HIV/AIDS! Many also still believe it can be spread through mosquitoes and in one province of the country, one study found that nearly 73% of the population believed that it could be transmitted through sharing food with an HIV positive individual. 

A Difficult Road Ahead
India has a huge HIV positive population despite its small prevalence rate. Although ARVs are free and treatment is easily accessible, far too much of the population still lacks treatment and too many people are still misinformed on how HIV/AIDS is transmitted. With the many languages spoken throughout the country, prevention campaigns have to be done at a community level. The stigma of HIV also needs to be broken inside the country because far too many individuals are still being harassed and mistreated because of being HIV positive. India has the right ideas for prevention and treatment and they have implemented many great programs so far, but unless the barriers of discrimination and misinformation are broken down, not much hope for progress can be had.

A Success Story: Thailand

AIDS Situation in Thailand
Thailand is a unique case in the study of AIDS, especially in Asia. Although Thailand has the highest prevalence rate in Asia at nearly 1.5%, it is still relatively low when compared to the last two countries I highlighted (Swaziland and South Africa). In Thailand, 80% of HIV infections occur through heterosexual sex and only 20% occur from unprotected high-risk sex between men. The Thai government has done a good job at implementing AIDS programs and awareness campaigns from the beginning of epidemic in the nation in 1984. As a result of the proactive campaigns, the prevalence rate has dropped from 2%  in 1993 to the current 1.5% today. 

Sex, Drugs, and AIDS
Sex Workers 
Although sex work is illegal in Thailand, there are still thousands of commercial sex establishments (such as brothels, massage parlors, and karaoke bars) across the country that are home to youth and adults (some against their will). In the early stages of AIDS in Thailand, sex workers were thought to be especially at risk because of their high-risk sexual encounters as well as their contact with foreigners since AIDS was considered a 'foreign' disease. In the first years of the epidemic, one government official expressed his belief that AIDS was a strictly foriegn disease when he state, 
"The general public need not be alarmed. Thai-to-Thai transmission is not in evidence.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), prevalence rates among commercial sex workers have significantly decreased since AIDS first was discovered in Thailand. A WHO report showed that in urban areas, the prevalence rate began around 9% in 1990, jumped to nearly 18% in 1992, and has dropped since then to around 4.3%. In non-urban areas of the country, the prevalence rate was much higher in the early stages of the disease - hovering between 15% and 20% from 1992 to 1997 and eventually dropping to around 3.9% today. 
WHO chart depicting increase usage
of condoms and a decrease in STIs
 in sex worker population
In an effort to reduce the risk  in the commercial sex industry in Thailand, the government created a "100% condom campaign" that aims at enforcing condom use in the sex industry by handing out free condoms to the sites and requiring them to be used. If brothels fail to use the condoms then they risk being shut down. This initiative has been shown to be doing great work so far. By forcing brothels to use condoms, they are reducing the risk for not only the sex workers of contracting HIV, but also their clients and their clients' families. It is estimated that without the condom campaign, the HIV prevalence rate in Thailand would be around 10 times higher! Condom usage is up to about 90% in brothels and male conscripts into the army (a group commonly known to visit brothels) have reported that their HIV prevalence has dropped from 4% to 1.5% and that men report visiting brothers less and when they do, they use condoms. I think that Thailand has done a good job at addressing the risk of sex workers and HIV in the country because without the condom campaign, the effects of HIV in Thailand would be similar to those in countries like Swaziland and South Africa where AIDS has wreaked horrible havoc.

Drug-Users
Another high-risk group in Thailand are injection drug users (IDU). Unfortunately, the statistics for drug users and HIV are not as nice as the ones for sex workers. The World Health Organization found that in 1990, 30% of injection drug users had HIV. That number rose to over 50% in 2002 and has fallen back down to around 40% now. NGOs are implementing harm reduction services and needle exchanges throughout the country in attempts to reduce the risk of HIV in the injection drug community; however, the government has a very hard stance on drug use inside the country which hampers efforts to take control of the HIV situation in the IDU community.

Medicines and Patents
The Thai government has done an amazing job at making access to antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) extremely easy and cheap for the HIV infected population. Thailand has broken the patents on several big name AIDS medications so that they can provide free drugs to a larger percentage of the population. The government now gives free generic ARVs to anyone that is HIV positive in Thailand and this is applauded by AIDS activists worldwide. However, despite the easy access to treatment, 39% of those in need of medication still lack it as a result of not knowing their HIV status. 

Next Stop: Progress
Thailand has done a great job at taking control of the AIDS situation despite having the highest prevalence rate in Asia. The Thai government has implemented beneficial programs like the 100% condom campaign and the free ARV initiative that encourage safe sex and proper treatment to those already infected. However, if the situation is to get any better, the government needs to begin addressing the issue of HIV among injection drug users, the one group that remains very much at risk. They also need to address the issue of having more easily available testing for at risk groups so that they can know their HIV status. When people know their HIV status, it is very easy for them to receive the proper medication they need since it is free, but if they don't then they not only get sicker, but they also risk infecting others. Thailand needs to shrink the treatment gap that exists and to lower the prevalence rate among IDUs and if they do that, they will be a shining star in the HIV community. 

10.30.2010

It's Not Over Yet: South Africa

Impact:
South Africa is often times considered the role-model for Africa. With a good economy and a stable government, South Africa is looked upon as having made the right moves towards emerging out of poverty and corruption. However, in this gem of a country, the HIV/AIDS epidemic had made a huge impact.

Number of deaths due to AIDS - World Health Organization
South Africa is home to the most people living with HIV/AIDS in the world – around 5.7 million to be exact. Along with having the most people living with AIDS in the country, South Africa also has the highest number of AIDS related deaths in the world with over 700,000 deaths in previous years. As time has gone on, the rate of death as a result of AIDS has only been increasing, which can be seen in the graph to the right. The prevalence rate is also extremely high with over 18% of the adult population being infected; however, in various provinces the prevalence can be as high as nearly 40%

Children
HIV in South Africa has had a significant impact on children in multiple ways. Much like in Swaziland, there are many children orphaned from AIDS in South Africa. Statistics show that there are somewhere between 1.5 and 3 million orphans as a result of AIDS. The AIDS epidemic has also created half of the country’s total number of orphans. Orphans are then either taken in by institutions where they are given essential care and support or they are left to care for the rest of their families or have to result to becoming street children. Because of this, many children end up losing their childhood and are forced to grow up extremely fast.
Children are also significantly affected by AIDS because mother-to-child transmission is a large problem in South Africa. The MTCT rate is at 11% and there were nearly 300,000 children in 2007 under the age of 15 living with HIV in South Africa. In an effort to lower the prevalence of HIV among children and to lower the transmission rate between mothers and children, South Africa implemented a treatment plan that gives women Antiretroviral therapy (ART) if their CD4 counts drops below 350 and when they are in their 14th week of pregnancy. By 2011, hopes are that the National Strategic Plan will make it so 95% of HIV positive pregnant women will receive treatment for MTCT.

Sex Workers and Truck Drivers
Sex workers and truck drivers play a significant role in the spread of HIV throughout the country. In the sex industry, women are often discouraged from using condoms; thus, increasing the chances of infecting their clients with HIV or increasing their own chances of becoming infected. Much like those in the sex industry, truck drivers are important to target in prevention campaigns if HIV is to be taken under control in South Africa. Truck drivers, who are often on road trips for an extended period of time, will often participate in high risk sex along their routes. According to the World Health Organization, the prevalence of HIV among the sex worker population is nearly 70% (2004) in non-urban areas and 50% in urban areas (2000). In the truck driver population, the prevalence is 56% (1998), although recent statistics fail to calculate the prevalence rate in current years. It is obvious that these populations are critical to target in prevention campaigns if HIV is to be controlled.

Tuberculosis and AIDS
South Africa has one of the highest co-infection rates of HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis. WHO estimates that in urban areas, the prevalence rate for HIV in TB patients was nearly 70% in 2002 and in non-urban areas in 2003 it was nearly 60%. Doctors Without Borders says that an increasing number of people are also becoming infected with drug-resistant TB. Although South Africa accounts for just .7% of the world’s population, it hosts 28% of those infected with both HIV and TB. The leading cause of death among AIDS patients in South Africa is Tuberculosis, so it is evident why these two health issues need to be addressed.  

The Treatment Gap
Many of those who are HIV positive in South Africa are in desperate need of antiretroviral therapy. According to WHO, only 37% of those in need of treatment are receiving it. The large gap between those in need of ARTs and those who are actually receiving them is largely due to the widespread denial of the causes and treatment of AIDS that the government has

Half-Time: Doctors Without Borders' Campaign for AIDS Funding
In a new worrisome trend, international donors are beginning to cut off, cap, or stop their funding for HIV treatment and ARVs. Some of these organizations include PEPFAR, the World BankUNITAID, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The problem with reducing or removing funding for HIV treatment is that AIDS isn't gone! If anything, spending on HIV treatment should be increasing because it has been proven to increase the lifespans of those living with HIV. Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) have even come down in cost which allows them to be a more feasible option for many HIV patients around the world. Doctors Without Borders found that,
"In the world today over 9 million people in need of urgent HIV treatment do not have access to this life-saving care, but only 1 in 3 have access to treatment.  In 2009, 2 million people died of AIDS and HIV-related diseases and close to 60% of those in need of treatment are still not getting it." 
During the World Cup this summer, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) created their HALFTIME! Campaign to raise awareness on the growing treatment gap that is resulting from lack of funding for HIV treatment programs. They found that during the 31 days of the World Cup, 160,000 would die from AIDS worldwide with 22,000 of them being from South Africa. Doctors Without Borders had 6 teams comprised of survivors from AIDS thanks to ARV treatment play soccer matches to raise awareness to the importance that ARVs have on the control the AIDS epidemic. This, I found, was a creative and effective way to speak out about the importance of HIV funding and to remind world's leaders that they cannot turn their back of AIDS. 

The Roadblock: Misinformed Government Officials
South Africa has had far too many leaders and government officials that have either denied AIDS or that have had ridiculous misconceptions about HIV/AIDS. Thabo Mbeki, South Africa's president from 1999-2008, was one such government official who was in denial about AIDS. Mbeki firmly believed that HIV did not cause AIDS, rather that AIDS was a result of poverty and bad nutrition. He also argued that ARVs were the West's way to make money off of Africa and that ARVs did not help treat AIDS. Instead, his solution to treating HIV was to eat beetroot and garlic and to take a locally developed drug called Virodene that was a supposed cure for HIV; however, it was later discovered that this drug was not a cure and that it was in fact carcinogenic. Research has found that as a result of Mbeki's foot dragging, denial that ARVs are indeed helpful in the treatment of AIDS, and refusal to implement HIV programs, that 330,000 people needlessly died while he was president and 35,000 HIV positive babies were born

Looking Ahead
AIDS has had an undeniable impact on South Africa. In order for the AIDS epidemic to be controlled in South Africa, more HIV treatment programs need to be implemented and more awareness campaigns need to be directed toward the 15-40 age group, sex workers, and truck drivers so that they are properly informed on the causes, prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. Furthermore, the misconceptions that many South Africans and government officials have about AIDS need to be cleared up which can be achieved through large-scale awareness campaigns. Although Thabo Mbeki is no longer President of South Africa, the current President, Jacob Zuma, still has misconceptions about HIV. Although he does not deny that ARVs help treat HIV or that HIV does indeed lead to AIDS, he does however have many other faults. For example, in his rape trial prior to him becoming president he stated that he did not use a condom when he had sex with the women who charged him with rape and that afterward, in order to reduce the risk of contracting HIV, he took a shower which he claimed "would minimize the risk of contracting the disease". AIDS activists were outraged by these findings and statements and said that they had the potential to destroy years of hard work to clear such misconceptions about HIV. With misconceptions like these still floating around, it will be difficult to get the AIDS epidemic under control in South Africa. I hope that South Africans can begin to benefit from more easily accessible HIV treatment in the near future. Until then, the fight against AIDS in the hot-zone of South Africa will not be a easy task.

10.29.2010

Small Country, Big Problem: Swaziland


HIV/AIDS in Swaziland
I begin this project with Swaziland for a specific reason - it is the country worst affected by AIDS in the world. The devastation cause by the AIDS epidemic in Swaziland is not hard to observe. A small country of only 1.1 million people in the south of Africa, Swaziland has the highest prevalence rate in the entire world with 1 in 4 people infected. As a result, the life expectancy there is a mere 32 years old - the lowest in the world. HIV was first discovered in the country in 1986 and since that time the damage has been quick and unimaginable.

Mode of Exposure to HIV in Ghana and Swaziland (source)
The HIV/AIDS epidemic has significantly affected the women of the country, especially in the 15-49 age group where the prevalence is 31% compared to 20% in men. Pregnant women have also been greatly impacted by AIDS. In 1992, 3.9% of pregnant women were HIV positive while in 1996, only 4 years later, 26.3% of pregnant women were positive! The prevalence rate only continued to rise until it reached a peak of 42.6% in 2004 (source). Thankfully, as a result of government-run programs and initiatives, the prevalence rate dropped to 39.2% in 2006; however, that is still much higher than in the early stages of the AIDS epidemic. At a time when the AIDS prevalence should have been seen decreasing in the population, Swaziland was still experiencing an unacceptably high prevalence. Having such a high prevalence rate in women is particularly disheartening because if the proper measures are not taken, mothers may pass HIV on to their children through mother-to-child transmission if they are not taking the proper medication. Mothers can pass HIV on to their children during pregnancy, labor, delivery, and through breastfeeding. Although mother-to-child transmission is relatively easy to prevent through medication and other methods, there are still an estimated 430,000 children infected with HIV, most of those acquiring it through mother-to-child-transmission.

Parentless Generation
HIV/AIDS has also had a significant impact of the youth population of the nation. With the low life-expectancy, many children are orphaned at a young age as a direct result of the AIDS epidemic. It is estimated that orphans currently comprise 15% of Swaziland’s population. The age disparity inside the country as a result of AIDS causes many problems. With nearly 40% of the population under 14 years old and only 4% over the age of 65, Swaziland lacks a work force, educated population, and the most crucial age group to the fight against the epidemic.

As a result of the AIDS epidemic, Swaziland has lost its most valuable workforce population, suffers from a ravaged healthcare system that lacks the basic necessities needed to provide for the people, the economic system is in disarray, and proper nutrition is merely a dream for far too many people. All these problems only exacerbate the epidemic, making it extremely difficult for the government and non-governmental organizations to combat its spread.

Prevention
The government of Swaziland has been trying hard to prevent the spread of AIDS through three main initiatives: condom distribution, behavior change campaigns, and prevention of mother-to-child transmission.

Condoms, Condoms, Condoms
An easy way to promote protection against HIV is clearly condom distribution. Condoms have been widely available in Swaziland since 2000 when 1 million were distributed. The number rose significantly each year, and by 2007 there were 7 million available. Swaziland has even made female condoms relatively accessible, albeit on a much smaller scale, which helps encourage women to take their sexual health into their own hands – giving them the power to protect themselves if the opportunity presents itself. Although condom use has been unpopular, it has been reported that 90% of female sex workers use condoms which goes to show that the condom campaign is working. I'd say that Swaziland deserves an applause for that!

Changing Behavior
One of the other prevention methods is behavioral change. Some of the reasons why HIV is so rampant in Swaziland is because people often have many sexual partners and casual sex is common, especially among truck drivers who travel for a long period of time and have high-risk sexual encounters along their routes.

However, changing behavior is a difficult thing to do. The international charity called AVERTing HIV and AIDS does a great job at depicting the challenging situation in the following description:
In 2001 King Mswati III reinstated a custom that banned all girls under 18 from sexual activity for five years, and required any man who has sex with a virgin to pay a cow to the girl's family. The policy, which required all girls to wear tassels to display their virginity, was widely criticized for demeaning girls and blaming women for the spread of HIV. Interestingly, the King was accused of ignoring his own policy when, in 2001, he became engaged to a 17 year old girl. In 2005, the King called an end to the policy.
Clearly, it is hard to promote behavioral change when the President himself does not follow his own rules. But through advertising awareness campaigns that discourage the common practice of having multiple sexual partners, hopes are that people will begin to change their sexual behavior. Early evidence is showing that the results are promising; studies have shown that over 90% of the population agree with the campaigns and over 75% have stated that the advertisements have made them consider adapting their sexual behavior. Sometimes a little clever advertisement can do a world of good!

Mother-to-Child Transmission
As stated earlier, mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) posses a grave problem in the AIDS epidemic in Swaziland. Thankfully, the country started a program to help prevent MTCT in 2003 by setting up prevention sites inside health facilities around the country – there were 44 up and running in 2004 and by 2008 there were 132! The prevention methods were are working because 73% of pregnant women were tested for HIV at the sites and of those who tested positive, nearly 80% received ARVs to prevent the transmission to their children.

Where Next?
It is obvious that things need to change for Swaziland if they wish to combat the AIDS epidemic and to turn the country around for the better. If the nation wishes to prosper, it needs to regain the middle age group of the country which will not happen until they stop dying of AIDS. In order for that to occur, awareness campaigns need to have an increase in funding from the government so that the Swazi people are properly informed on how to stay protected against HIV. The people of Swaziland realize this. As AVERTing HIV and AIDS recounts, 
When the King chartered a plane to take his 13 wives on an international shopping trip in 2008, hundreds of Swazi women protested, shouting "we need to keep that money for ARVs!"
Without the support of the Swazi government, no hope for progress can made. International pressure needs to be put upon the leaders of Swaziland to ensure healthcare and proper treatment for those already infected with HIV/AIDS, funding for awareness campaigns needs to be increased so that prevention methods can be given the opportunity to make a difference, and HIV testing needs to become more widely available for people so they can be informed on their HIV status (currently only 20% know what their HIV status is). Furthermore, treatment needs to be more accessible for the population currently infected with AIDS. Of those who are in need of antiretroviral therapy, only 42% are receiving them, and that statistic is far less in rural areas where access to essential medicine is sparse. 

In an effort to combat AIDS, the Swazi government signed the Swaziland Partnership Framework which laid out five plans for fighting HIV/AIDS in Swaziland: 
"developing a comprehensive national HIV prevention program; improving the coverage and quality of HIV-related treatment and care; mitigating the impacts of HIV/AIDS with a focus on children; increasing access to high-quality medical MC; and building the human and institutional capacity needed to achieve and sustain these goals" (USAID).
 With the proper actions and support from the international community, I believe that the AIDS prevalence in Swaziland can diminish; however, much work needs to be done first.

Impact of HIV/AIDS Worldwide

For the past 10 weeks of school I have been in a class learning about the diverse face of HIV/AIDS and how it impacts both the Chicago area and the world. Throughout the classes and visits to community-based organizations, I have witnessed how the HIV/AIDS epidemic has affected various groups of people coming from all walks of life. Before entering this course, I believed that AIDS was mostly a developing world's disease and that it did not impact those living in countries like the U.S. This misconception of mine was most likely due to the fact that I grew up in a small suburban town where the HIV prevalence was not high. The only place I came in contact with a population who had or who were at risk of having HIV was while I was in Sierra Leone doing HIV/AIDS awareness - this too probably led me to forget that AIDS significantly affects populations in the U.S. and other developing nations.

I have learned an immense amount of information from this course that I found fascinating, but the thing that sparked the most interest in me is how HIV/AIDS affects various countries around the world. I found it intriguing to learn about who is being affected by HIV in other nations, why the prevalence rates are what they are, and what is being done both by the government and NGOs to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS.

As a final project for this course, I decided to highlight several countries around the world to learn about how HIV is affecting their population and to see what the governments is doing to help. Along with that I also hope to learn a bit more about certain topics in the global HIV/AIDS epidemic; for example, the spread of HIV/AIDS through conflict. For the next several days I will be posting about the current status of HIV around the world in hopes to raise awareness and to remind people that AIDS is still a threat. I hope to learn a lot from this research, but most importantly, I hope my sharing it all with you will help clear up any misconceptions that are out there and will provide for an open forum for discussion on the current HIV epidemic. 

10.21.2010

State of the World's Women

State of Women
10 years ago, the UN Security Council passed a resolution aimed at protecting women against rape and gender-based violence during war and to begin to use women in the peace-building process. 10 years have now gone by and the report of the initiative has finally came out, which examines the state of today's women. 

Conflicts today are not the same as 10 years ago - Rape as a systematic weapon of war has become increasingly popular among armed militant groups around the world, human trafficking is resulting in the abduction of millions of young girls and women every year, and even men and boys are beginning to be the victims of sexual violence and forced into war at young ages. Have things really gotten better?

Refugees and IDPs
Conflict almost always inevitably results in the forced fleeing of civilians from their homes and many times of the country entirely. Estimates say that there are currently around 40 million people who are considered Internally Displaced People (IDPs) or refugees in another country. Women account for 50% of the IDP population that is being protected by the UNHCR (more info...). Shockingly enough, 41% of refugees and asylum-seekers are children under 18 years of age. The areas around the world with the highest refugee population are South America and Africa's Great Lakes region (read more refugee statistics).

The report does show, however, that the prevalence of women in peacekeeping forces and involved in peacekeeping processes has grown steadily since resolution 1325 has passed.  At the end of 2006, there were 1,034 women in the uniformed ranks. In 2008 the number was 1,794, which isn't a huge growth, but at least it is a steady one. In 2009, women only comprised 7% of the UN police officers; however, a new global effort is trying to recruit more women into police forces so the number is 20% in five more years.
The report goes on to examine the role of women in armed conflicts, the use of child soldiers and the programs and steps that are needed to rehabilitate and reintegrate them into society after the conflict, as well as examining the situation for women who live under occupation, like in the Palestinian territories. 

Women Now
10 years has passed now and, at least to me, the situation doesn't appear too much better for women in conflict zones - especially when not even two months ago, 300 women were raped just 20 miles outside of a  U.N. compound in the "Rape Capital of the World" - Democratic Republic of Congo. When events like that are occurring, I have a hard time believing this resolution is doing much good (read alertnet's analysis of the situation). 

The Future
So what about the next 10 years? A five-point agenda (how original!) was created in order to reach the goals for the next ten years:
1. End impunity
2. Protect and empower war-affected women and girls
3. Strengthen political commitment and leadership
4. Re-think rape as a tactic of war and terror (finally!)
5. Harmonize and amplify the response of the international community

The UN is also going to begin acting against sexual violence in conflict through country-level action, advocacy, and "learning by doing". Finally, they wish to still increase the number of women police officers and utilize women in the peace-keeping processes.
The next ten years will be interesting to watch and see how the effect on women in conflict changes. I really hope that rape will stop being used as a women of war, young girls will stop being abducted for sex slavery, and that children will cease to be dragged into armed conflicts at such young ages. But in order for all that to occur, the international community needs to be aware of whats going on and every nation needs to work towards peace through the initiatives that the UN has laid out. I look forward to being a part of this project when I graduate in four years - I hope I can do my small part with everyone else.
Source: UNFPA

10.20.2010

Dropping Knowledge

There are certain questions that are asked that have no easy answer. Sometimes there is no answer - other times it is up to us make an answer. As I'm in my political science classes now, I often times am faced with some of these questions while studying governments and conflicts around the world. Although there may not be a solution or at least an answer that we want to hear, I think it is still important to think about the questions. 

Dropping Knowledge is this amazing website that I found that I am actually quite obsessed with now. It's a forum that invites you to ask questions about the world around us, which in turn invokes a social discussion about the world, its issues, and the possible solutions that we could be a part of. Cool, no?

It all started on September 9, 2006 when a group of diverse individuals from all around the world called the Table of Free Voices gathered in Berlin to answer 100 questions in their own opinion. The Table of Free Voices was so popular among the general public that Dropping Knowledge decided to keep the dialogue going with the general public. Some questions that the Table of Free Voices answered ranged on a wide variety of topics such as: Are brands more powerful than governments?, Does economic globalization promote democracy or consolidate dictatorship?, AIDS in Africa: How big is our responsibility?, Do you know the connection between politics and violence?, Who is profiting from terrorism?, and What is the modern version of colonization? To know the answers of the 120 people that attended the meeting, you can watch the video of the whole event and sort through the participants and/or the questions to find out what everyone said.

Now, Dropping Knowledge goes far beyond the Table for Free Voices - it now serves as a platform to both ask your own questions and answer other's. There are videos taken from around the world where people ask there questions for you to view (watch them all here), a magazine (volume 1 deals with global warming), and a forum to submit your questions and answer other people's burning questions.

However, my favorite part of Dropping Knowledge are the postcards. Dropping Knowledge created photo postcards online of some of the most popular and thought provoking questions. They add new ones every once and a while so I enjoy going through and looking at the pictures and thinking about the questions. Below are a few of my favorite postcards that deal with war, peace, and global society (there are many more on the website that ask questions about philosophical, economic, and environmental issues that I would suggest checking out too!). I hope you enjoy the following postcards I've posted below (check out the captions for more on the topic/issue if you want to know more) and be sure to check out the rest of the postcards on Dropping Knowledge. Let me know what you think!
Interesting question in my opinion given the current Isreal/Palestine conflict and the Burmese oppression of Christian Karenni.
I love this questions - especially after traveling to Africa and seeing cellphones and discos in the middle of the African jungle.
I love this question because I believe that we can learn everything from Africa. They've got it all right in my opinion, they've just struggled because of colonization and exploitation...but that is a topic for another time. 
An interesting question that makes me a bit uneasy. I hope the answer is no because I would hate to believe that me being born in the US is because someone else is suffering for me. 
My answer: They never should! (Read more about Refugees and IDPs)
My answer: yes...which is why I'm becoming an aid worker - so the hope for peace doesn't completely dissolve in today's conflict-obsessed and dependent society.
This is a question I'm always wondering. (Read more about the world water crisis)
This is one of my favorite postcards because it refers to an issue extremely close to me: blood diamonds/minerals. As it is quite known by now through my ranting and raving on here about my hatred for diamonds, I think the entire diamond industry is completely ridiculous. Its not necessary to kill and oppress people for a mineral that only we have given value to.  

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