Thursday, September 25, 2008

Make it a better place!

Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow

GONAÏVES, Haiti, 22 September 2008 – Looking down from helicopter at the devastation wrought by a month of hurricanes and catastrophic flooding, actress Mia Farrow made an immediate comparison.

“I thought of the tsunami and those terrible images,” said the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, referring to the Indian Ocean disaster almost four years ago.

Touring the city by truck from the United Nations on-site emergency coordination centre, Ms. Farrow visited shelters housing thousands of people who were still recovering from a 2004 hurricane when last month’s chain of storms and rain again rendered their homes uninhabitable.

Without the basic infrastructure in place to deal with a massive amount of mud and polluted floodwaters, Gonaïves – a city of 350,000 – is literally stuck.

“All over town, it’s like a big ‘SOS’,” said Ms. Farrow. “People around the world responded so generously to the tsunami, and I’m wondering why we haven’t responded as generously to the Haitian disaster, especially with Haiti one hour from our shores [in the United States]. This is happening right in our own backyard.”

A demand for greater urgency

Accompanying Ms. Farrow on her visit was the President of UNICEF Canada, Nigel Fisher. As a UN Assistant Secretary-General and UNICEF Regional Director prior to joining the Canadian national committee, Mr. Fisher has headed up emergency responses in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places.

“What I see is much less activity here. People with almost nothing are getting very little help,” said Mr. Fisher. “In the whole day in Gonaïves, we didn’t see one pump. We didn’t see any heavy equipment to move the dirt and the mud. So the people are pretty much on their own.”

To date, UNICEF and other humanitarian aid groups have delivered over 1,000 metric tonnes of food and non-food supplies to Gonaïves. UNICEF and its partners are also working to help find secure shelter for families in need. But only a small fraction of the funding requested from a UN flash appeal for Haiti has been pledged.

For Gonaïves, the road to recovery is long, and the end is hardly in sight.

“What we’re seeing is just the tip of the iceberg of decades of chronic decline and increased poverty,” said Mr. Fisher. “The people here are condemned by both internal neglect and international indifference.”

Schools bear the brunt

The task at hand is particularly urgent as the government struggles to meet an already delayed start date for the school year, which is now scheduled to begin on 6 October. With nearly all of the schools in the disaster zones currently being used as shelters, however, that will mean relocating thousands of families and intensively rehabilitating school structures to make them safe and sanitary for students.

Even in the best circumstances, education is one of Haiti’s weakest links. About 67 per cent or school-age children are registered, but far fewer attend. Only 2 per cent finish their secondary education.

Even before the storms, many families were constrained from sending their children to school because of tuition costs and other school fees. Rising food prices, too, have wiped out money put aside for schooling.

Orphans of the storm

At an orphanage in Gonaïves, Ms. Farrow and Mr. Fisher visited 25 children who were safe and clean after the storm, but were cramped into the second story of their school while the first floor remained under several inches of water.

The orphanage director pointed to the children’s latrines, which were accessible only by tramping through deep, putrid mud. “Please help us,” he said.

Meanwhile, one of the youngest children in the facility had a different request.

“One little boy said, ‘Stay with us, I don’t want you to go,’” recalled Ms. Farrow. “He said, ‘I will pray for you.’ And I was thinking, if anyone needed prayers and help now, it’s…these orphans on the second floor.

“Those are the most abandoned of an abandoned population,” she concluded, shaking her head sadly. “And he said he would pray for me.”

Afghan children get a chance to be immunized

NANGAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan, 22 September 2008 – Afghan and international forces, including the Taliban, have been asked to lay down their weapons in support of the biggest Peace Day that Afghanistan has ever experienced.

Yesterday’s UN International Day of Peace was marked by marches, gatherings and ceremonies. Kites flew all over the country.

UNICEF, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the World Health Organization in Afghanistan urged all sides to take Peace Day as an opportunity to renew their commitment to children’s health and well-being. They asked that schools, literacy centres, students and teachers be protected from attacks.

From January through 20 September 2008, more than 200 school attacks have taken place in Afghanistan, resulting in 37 deaths.

Polio immunization drive

About 14,000 vaccinators are using the hoped-for pause in violence to immunize children against polio in insecure districts in the southern and eastern and western regions of the country – all as part of the National Immunization Days organized by UNICEF, WHO and the Ministry of Public Health.

The three-day campaign, from 21-23 September, will cover districts in Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan, Nangahar and Lagman, as well as the western region of Farah.

“We will give access to the polio vaccination teams to carry out their activities,” said a statement issued by the Taliban.

Eighteen cases of polio have been reported in Afghanistan so far this year, compared with nine cases during the same period last year. Most of these cases are in the country’s southern and eastern provinces, where access is difficult due to ongoing conflict.

“It is possible to eradicate polio in Afghanistan. However, a commitment is required from all parties to the conflict and [from] communities,” said UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan Catherine Mbengue.

“Our goal is to reach every child in Afghanistan,” she added.

‘A window for peace’

“Today’s events show the huge demand that exists for peace in Afghanistan,” said the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, Kai Eide, in his Peace Day message. “A window for peace has been opened, through which the people of Afghanistan are making themselves heard.

“Peace for a day is a start,” he continued. “Peace that is enduring must be our common goal.”

Peace Day was established by a UN resolution in 1981 to coincide with the opening of the General Assembly. In 2002, the General Assembly officially declared 21 September as the permanent date for the International Day of Peace.

These are some news from UNICEF. I'll bring some more. Yes, I think together we can change the world if we put our minds into it. I'm so happy to see that beautiful things are going on around the world and that some people still care.

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Monday, September 1, 2008

Alive, With Cancer

Alive, With Cancer

Cancer is not a death sentence. The nearly 10 million survivors throughout the United States are living proof. Unfortunately, this stereotypical characterization of the disease is alive and well.

In the early 1970s when little was understood about the disease and treatments were limited, survival was considered a coin toss—at best a 50/50 chance. As if that was not bad enough, patients were sick from toxic anticancer drugs and radiation, and their bodies were often mutilated from radical surgical procedures. These images sadly still cast shadows over the amazing discoveries and triumphs of the last decade.

Today, scientists and clinicians understand that cancer is a disease of genetic mistakes, both inherited and acquired. We can screen for some of them with the goal of preventing the disease from occurring, and if it does occur, we now have treatments that specifically target these errors, eliminating many of the side effects. Breast-sparing, nerve-sparing, and speech-preserving, are just a few of the adjectives used to describe the cancer surgeries performed today. They are surgical techniques that remove tumors while preserving dignity and quality of life.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, survivorship is on the rise, with steady increases noted over the last three years. Adjuvant therapies, combined therapies, clinical trials, and prevention trials are all examples of advances that have helped tip the scales so that now there are more people alive with cancer than dying from the disease.