by Kyle Duggan in Ottawa

As the world struggles against the rapid spread of the Zika virus, the Canadian government is opening its wallet to shell out nearly $5 million for research and international aid.

Health Minister Jane Philpott announced a funding package of $4.95 million before question period Wednesday afternoon, which she called a “significant and important international response” on Canada’s part.

The virus has been linked by health officials to causing microcephaly, a rare but serious birth defect that leads to unusually small heads and hindering newborn development.

“This will fund large international projects that will address the spread of the Zika virus,” she said.

According to the minister’s office, $3 million will go toward in research, through Canada Institutes of Health Research, and the International Research Development Centre. Specifically it goes into researching the link between Zika, microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome, along with developing better ways of testing for the virus, studying how it gets transmitted, and finding better ways of preventing transmission from mosquitoes.

Public Health Agency of Canada will send $950,000 to the Pan American Health Organization for responding to countries hardest hit, and Global Affairs Canada will divvy up $1 million for humanitarian funding to a number of organizations, including the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Health Organization, and the International Federation of Red Cross.

In the U.S., meanwhile, the White House and health officials have been urging Congress to grant $1.9 billion in new funding to deal with the health threat Zika poses internationally and domestically, and while waiting the administration has raided funding from an Ebola fund to make due.

In Canada, the Zika threat itself has been low because the country doesn’t have the Aedes type of mosquito that spreads the virus. According to Public Health Agency Canada’s last update from last week, Canada has 67 cases identified from travel and one from sexual transmission.

Zika has been around in Africa and Asia for decades, but in the past few years it was introduced into the Americas and has been spreading rapidly.


Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca

 

Published in Health
Monday, 02 May 2016 17:00

Nepal Missing a Teachable Moment

Commentary by Laska Paré in Kathmandu, Nepal

Just over a year ago (April, 25, 2015), a devastating earthquake hit Nepal, bringing this country to its knees. Word spread immediately around the globe and several countries and charitable organizations began to fund-raise, donate relief materials, deploy search-and-rescue teams and send medical personnel to assist this country, best known as home to Mount Everest.

As an expat living in Kathmandu who was here during the earthquake, and watching this small country rebuild itself over the last 12 months, I’ve been asking myself, “What’s actually happened?”

Billions of dollars were donated and put into the hands of organizations in the hope of making a difference. So, why a year later, are people still living in displacement camps and tents?

To provide some perspective, the average person in Nepal lives on less than US$1 dollar a day, which means for US$10, I can comfortably feed myself for a week and have extra to splurge at the movies. So, if billions of dollars were donated for relief, why are people still struggling to get food and living under tarps? The monsoon season is almost here, meaning three to four months of pouring rain and little relief work.

Distribution of aid

The Nepali Prime Minister directed that funds sent from outside Nepal for relief must be re-routed to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund, as this would ensure proper distribution of aid, especially to the neglected and most affected communities. Although the government has vowed to fight corruption related to earthquake relief, reports indicate that funds are being used for political considerations. And given the country's history, it’s difficult to assume corruption hasn’t played a role.

Over the past year, I’ve spoken to several foreign volunteers who came to Nepal at their own expense to bring relief themselves. The issue I’ve heard most often is that government and relief organizations are not working together. In addition, one volunteer from Canada working with All Hands in Sindhupalchowk, one of the worst affected districts, expressed his frustration about how this disaster is not being utilized as an opportunity to develop and educate the people.

He asked to remain anonymous but said, “We [foreigners] come in here and do everything, but teach nothing. I’ve been building this guy’s house for the last two months and he’s just standing there watching me. We should be teaching the people and educating them instead of simply doing the work. I don’t mind helping — that’s what I came here to do — but we should utilize this opportunity and invite the locals to join us.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We [foreigners] come in here and do everything, but teach nothing. I’ve been building this guy’s house for the last two months and he’s just standing there watching me. We should be teaching the people and educating them instead of simply doing the work. I don’t mind helping — that’s what I came here to do — but we should utilize this opportunity and invite the locals to join us.”[/quote]

High-rise buildings

In Nepal, it’s a status symbol to have a ‘tall’ house, and it’s common for homes to be four storeys or higher. I spoke to Rabina Gurung, a local registered nurse living in Kathmandu, who said she believes the earthquake itself was an opportunity for education: “Before earthquake, people used to make and design their own house. But now they want a plan and to hire the right people. I think now people see a tall house is a bad idea and they need a good foundation by professionals.”

Bimal Osti, a father and manager of the Moonlight Children’s Home (MCH) — an organization that provides housing to abandoned girls in Nepal — agreed and shared, “After the earthquake, people started to see the benefits of a small house. Smaller is better, and now they see that. People are proud of their small houses.”

But what about the Nepal government?

As Sam Adhikari (pictured), a hotel owner in Pokhara, said, “It’s not the government’s job to teach and educate people. We need to be more serious and conscious ourselves. We need to be more responsible. We should not wait for the government. If the government is not going to do anything, then the people need to prepare themselves.”

As the months pass, relief organizations continue to work and assist those in temporary housing, while the government attempts to centralize authority over relief funds.

So where does that leave Nepal?

"Nepal has no problem"

Over the last year I’ve become very close to the culture and the people. After learning more about Nepal’s history and living the ongoing struggle of earthquakes and aftershocks, fuel shortages, and daily scheduled power outages which can last for more than 12 hours, I believe the country and its people are slowly developing.

As Adhikari put it, “The problem with Nepal is Nepal has no problem.”

The culture and of in Nepal are very relaxed, calm and unruffled. While this is something that makes Nepal special, it doesn’t necessarily allow society to progress and develop.

As Akash Sarki, a local business owner, mentioned, “We just try to minimize our costs and stay with what we have; never reaching for anything more and never having a problem about anything.”

While the shift has been gradual (post-quake), I believe things are beginning to change for this small, landlocked country since the signing of a New Constitution last fall, after many years of debate.

Bikash Gyawali, a local IT entrepreneur, believes a lot of change has come because of the Internet.

“The Internet world is beginning to make its mark in Nepal. It’s giving people access they never had before. Seeing what’s on the outside is reason itself to want to grow and develop.”

While I agree with Adhikari that we all need to take responsibility for ourselves, I also believe the local government needs to implement an education campaign so people can adopt new daily practices, especially in the villages where electricity and the Internet are not always available. The Nepali government could help its people faster if aid can be transparently administered, working hand-in-hand with NGOs and other relief organizations.


Canadian-born Laska currently lives in Kathmandu, Nepal, writing, life-coaching, and pursuing her passion for mountaineering. She arrived in Nepal in April 2015, days before the quake. Over the last year, Laska has volunteered her time in schools, offering counsel and motivational workshops to assist students dealing with post-traumatic stress caused by the earthquake. 

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Published in Commentary

by Diba Hareer (@DibaHareer) in Ottawa, Ontario

In September 2010, I received a phone call from Afghanistan. My relative, Meena, was on the other end. The Grade 9 schoolgirl was upset because her father had pulled her out of school when she reached puberty.

Meena was confined at home for over two months, unable to get permission to return to school. Her call from a village in Baghlan province, 230 km northeast of Kabul, was a desperate cry for help from my father, an elder of our extended family. Luckily, he influenced Meena’s father to let her resume school.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]It is difficult to increase the literacy rate in Afghanistan with so many girls not completing school.[/quote]

Meena’s plight informed my future academic research: The Influence of Traditions and Cultural Norms on Girls’ School Withdrawal in Afghanistan. It turns out Meena was incredibly lucky – a significant number of girls never make it back to school.

Fewer Girls in Secondary School

It is difficult to increase the literacy rate in Afghanistan with so many girls not completing school. These girls simply add to the large population of illiterate women in the world.

A World Bank report says that since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, education for Afghan girls has improved significantly with school enrolment over 3.75 million in 2015, compared to 191,000 in 2002.

While this increase seems promising, High Stakes – a joint briefing paper about the many hurdles girls in Afghanistan face in getting an education – reports a dramatic decrease in enrolment at the secondary school level and higher.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]My research has shown that in over a decade since the fall of the Taliban, not much effort has been made to retain female students in schools, especially in the rural areas where 75 to 80 per cent of the country’s population lives.[/quote]

The United States Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has also expressed concern over the Afghan Ministry of Education’s vague record of the number of students currently present in schools.

The ministry’s records show that in 2014 out of 8.35 million students (both genders) enrolled, 6.6 million were present and 1.55 million were permanently absent.

According to the Afghan education system, an absent student’s name remains on the roll for three years; then he or she is considered a permanent absentee. The records do not indicate the number of students who dropped out or were withdrawn from school during this time.

My research has shown that in over a decade since the fall of the Taliban, not much effort has been made to retain female students in schools, especially in the rural areas where 75 to 80 per cent of the country’s population lives.

Foreign countries like Canada have provided assistance, though. Canada has spent over $2 billion investing in numerous educational projects for Afghanistan between 2002 and 2013 and renewed its commitment to Afghanistan from 2014 to 2017 focusing on education, mothers’ health, human rights, women’s rights and building the capacity of local organizations.

Positive Impact of Education Overlooked

Many cultural and non-cultural factors prevent Afghan girls from staying in school.

Parents’ or guardians’ lack of awareness about the benefits of schooling for women, combined with fear of elopement or kidnapping, and in many cases wrong interpretation of Islamic teachings, all prevent girls in rural areas from getting a high school education, if not more.

Recently, Mohammad Younus Yousufi, Provincial Head of Kandahar Province, urged parents to allow their daughters to complete high school. “Every year we witness older girls leaving school. We know it is because families withdraw them,” he has been quoted as saying.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]People say a girl should learn how to pray and observe fast, and that is enough.” - Research participant[/quote]

Through my research I found it is a common belief among rural people that when a girl reaches puberty education has no purpose in her life; she should prepare for marriage and learn how to do housework and be a caregiver. One of my research participants spoke of the community attitude towards girls’ education by saying: “People say a girl should learn how to pray and observe fast, and that is enough.”

Often overlooked, especially among men, is the positive impact of girls’ education on their personal lives and their future married life, even if it doesn't help them to get employed. After all, securing employment is another obstacle for girls, and there are minimum “female jobs” in the rural areas.

Some Families ‘Worse Than Taliban’

Rana was studying in Grade 11 at age 18 when her brother pulled her out of school in 2012. Her mother explained the motive: “My son told his sisters, ‘do the housework. That will benefit you in your future [after marriage]. School has no benefit for you.’”

Similarly, 20-year-old Farha was in Grade 8 when her only brother stopped her from attending school. Likewise, her 18-year-old sister Gulnar was prevented from going to school in Grade 9. (The reason for the discrepancy between their age and the grade they were attending is because girls were banned from school under the Taliban from 1996 to 2001, and the earlier turmoil from 1992 to 1996 that kept many girls out of school.)

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“If my son had a mind of his own, he would have said, ‘whatever people say I won’t buy. Until I [have] seen my sisters being corrupted, talking and flirting with boys, I won’t believe it.’” - Mother of girls withdrawn from school[/quote]

Farha and Gulnar’s mother said the rumours spread by villagers about schoolgirls are a major problem. “If my son had a mind of his own, he would have said, ‘whatever people say I won’t buy. Until I [have] seen my sisters being corrupted, talking and flirting with boys, I won’t believe it.’”

When asked if there are any threats from the Taliban, the mother responded: “There isn’t any threat from Taliban, but some families are worse than Taliban. Uncles and relatives are worse than Taliban.”

Farha and Gulnar represent hundreds of thousands of girls in Afghanistan whose rights to education are being denied.

According to the High Stakes report, a schoolteacher in Parwan province suggests that if schools maintain regular contact with parents through meetings, this will help them see the benefit of education and cooperate in sending their daughters to school despite the challenges. 

Cases like Meena need not be rare. Meena graduated from high school in 2013 and was one of the few girls who went on to study further in the Khinjan district of Baghlan province. This year she will complete a teacher-training program in the district and hopefully get a job in her field.  

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Published in Education

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