Ahead of the anniversary of a protest against the ban on female drivers, the country is warning women not to get behind the wheel again.One of the lesser-noted tendrils of the Arab Spring, which kicked off in earnest in 2011 and has been all but declared over, is the ongoing movement to end the ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia. The decades-long ban, which technically stems from religious custom rather than an actual Saudi traffic law, also has a history of being challenged. In November 1990, with the region roiling from Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, a group of 47 women joined together in a convoy and cruised down a major street in Riyadh in a "drive-in" protest. One of the rationales for choosing the moment was that a national emergency required their male custodians to be elsewhere. The women gained immediate fame for their protest, but as Katherine Zoepf writes, not the kind that would lend their cause protection: "The forty-seven women, still collectively known in the kingdom as 'the drivers,' were detained, fired from their jobs, and widely pilloried." One person who remembers the backlash against "the drivers" is Manal al-Sharif. As she told The Wall Street Journal last year: "When I was a kid they sent brochures all around the country, with the names of the women and their house numbers, encouraging people to call them and tell them to come back to Islam. They said these women had sex with American troops. They said they took off their hijabs and burned them." Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Sharif became a driver herself. In May 2011, she uploaded a video of herself driving around the Saudi city of Khobar. It went viral and garnered international support, but inspired threats against her at home. A week later, after she set off behind the wheel again, she was quickly spotted by police. “They called the religious police, I was taken into interrogation and then they let me go," she recounted earlier this year as she received one in her growing collection of awards and honors. "But they came again to my house at 2 a.m. and took me to jail.” She remained in jail for the next nine days. A few weeks after Sharif's ordeal, with the movement gaining steam, then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton incited a diplomatic incident after offering her support for the issue during a visit to Riyadh. What these women are doing is brave and what they are seeking is right, but the effort belongs to them. I am moved by it and I support them, but I want to underscore the fact that this is not coming from outside of their country. This is the women themselves, seeking to be recognized. Last year, a campaign called on Saudi women to defy the driving ban on October 26. The efforts were briefly given momentum after a Saudi cleric issued this doozy of a statement in which he warned that driving has a "physiological impact on women and could affect her ovaries and push the pelvis higher as a result of which their children are born with clinical disorders of varying degrees." Dozens of women reportedly participated, but some said the reach was limited after the Saudi Interior Ministry warned that defying the ban would bring consequences. A few weeks after last year's demonstration, Secretary of State John Kerry eschewed the Hillary approach during an official visit. Kerry said that while he is proud of gender equality in America, when it comes to driving, "it’s up to Saudi Arabia to make its own decisions about its own social structure choices and timing for whatever events." On Thursday, ahead of a renewed push to recreate the "drive-in" on the one-year anniversary, Saudi officials once again warned against defying the ban. Their reasoning? The protests represent "an opportunity for predators to undermine social cohesion."
Friday, October 24, 2014
The U.S. decision to air-drop weapons to Kurdish forces in Syria on the same day Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan dismissed them as terrorists is the latest false note in the increasingly discordant mood music coming out of Washington and Ankara. No matter how much officials on both sides publicly insist there is harmony, differences in strategy over the fight against Islamic State and the fate of the beleaguered Syrian border town of Kobani are straining relations between the Washington and its key regional ally, leaving Turkey increasingly isolated. On Saturday Erdogan briefed journalists on board his lavish new presidential jet, saying it would be inappropriate for the United States to arm the Kurdish PYD which controls Kobani, besieged by Islamic State forces for more than a month. Less than an hour after the plane touched down in Istanbul, President Barack Obama spoke to Erdogan by telephone, notifying him that weapons drops to Kobani's defender's were going ahead. "U.S. actions certainly humiliated Erdogan. The story of the air-drop is one of Turkish irrelevance," said Aaron Stein, associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. An op-ed by an Erdogan adviser published on Monday after the drops reiterated Turkey's opposition to helping the PYD, and highlighting the apparent gap between Ankara and Washington. Hours later Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey would work with the United States to allow Iraqi Kurdish 'peshmerga' fighters to go to the defense of Kobani. Senior Turkish officials paint the change of stance in a positive light. But Erdogan has kept up his attack on U.S. tactics, and the focus on Kobani. "Now there's this situation called Kobani. What's the significance for it? Around 200,000 people came to my country and there are no civilians left inside apart from 2,000 PYD fighters," he said on Thursday, branding the PYD terrorists. But Turkey's stance has little bearing on the direction of the coalition, and on Washington's actions, Stein believes. "I don't think Turkey is buckling under the pressure (to do more), I think people are just ignoring Turkey." Senior U.S. officials acknowledged Turkey’s unhappiness with the air drops to the Syrian Kurds, and said they explained it to Ankara as a temporary fix, which would not be necessary if Turkey would allowed safe passage of Iraqi peshmerga fighters to Kobani to aid in the city’s defense. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the weapons drop a “momentary effort.” Describing Obama’s talks with Erdogan and his own with top Turkish officials, Kerry said: “What we did say very clearly is, ‘Help us to get the peshmerga or other groups in there who will continue this, and we don't need to do that’ (weapons resupply)." Another senior U.S. official said: “So what we did was actually pretty limited but basically designed to create a bridge to get to a place where the resupply was coming in via Turkey from the Kurdish peshmerga.” A third senior U.S. official, while acknowledging remaining tensions, said the high-level diplomacy, including Obama’s phone talk with Erdogan, had at least prevented a further breakdown in relations between the two NATO allies. The two countries still remain divided, however, over Washington’s request to use Incirlik air base to support military operations in Syria, with Erdogan demanding that the anti-Islamic State coalition set up a no-fly zone over Syria. And U.S. suspicions remain about Turkey’s sympathies in Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world. A U.S. government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States believes Turkey is playing a double game in Syria, lending at least covert moral support to Islamic State while avoiding doing so in public. The official did not know if Turkey was providing financial or military support to Islamic State, but said Washington believes Turkey is partnering with Qatar in providing support to Islamist factions and militias in Libya. The official said that the United States believes that Turkey’s ruling AK party has long had a policy of covertly seeking accommodations, if not actually trying to ingratiate itself, with Islamist groups. PERCEPTION PROBLEM Turkey has so far been a reluctant member of the U.S.-led coalition to tackle Islamic State, radical Sunni Muslim fighters who have seized swathes of territory in northern Syria and Iraq. Ankara points to humanitarian efforts that have seen it give shelter to nearly 2 million Syrians since the beginning of the war in 2011 as proof of its commitment to the region. But Turkey has also made it clear it sees Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a bigger threat than Islamic State, and has demanded the creation of safe areas in northern Syria and a no-fly zone before it will take a more active military role. Despite praise for its treatment of refugees, Turkey's failure to join the bombing campaign against Islamic State has brought criticism in western media. Repeated denials by Turkish officials have failed to quell rumors that Ankara allowed arms and fighters to flow to radical groups in Syria as part of a strategy to topple Assad. Earlier this month, in another awkward episode, Erdogan demanded and received an apology from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden for saying Turkey and other countries had backed extremists and whipped up sectarian conflict. "Turkey has a perception problem... and perceptions can be more important than the truth," said Osman Bahadir Dincer, of the Ankara based think-tank, USAK. At home, the Turkish government's attitude has generally gone down well with a public who have little appetite for foreign policy adventures, amidst an economic slowdown and under the strain of hosting half of all Syrian refugees. But deadly protests by Kurds furious at Ankara's failure to help their kin in Kobani hint at the domestic dangers of regional spillover. They also risk derailing a fragile peace process with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), aimed at ending a simmering 30-year insurgency. In foreign relations, the picture is different. Privately, diplomats from friendly countries express frustration, aware that Turkey's geographical position and military power make it a vital, if increasingly mistrusted, regional ally. "To be frank, Turkish politicians may be outstanding masters of domestic statecraft, but they are junior leaguers when it comes to foreign policy at a time when ISIS threatens to destabilize the region," said Atilla Yesilada, an economist with New-York based Global Source Partners. LACK OF TRUST The decision to allow Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters to cross into Syria has been welcomed by officials in Washington, and may be the first sign of Turkey softening its opposition to America's strategic focus on Islamic State. But the month-long delay before acting has hurt Turkey internationally, and deepened the sense that its desire to be a major regional player is not backed up by its ability, according to one European diplomat based in Ankara. Turkey's refusal to back down on demanding the removal of Assad and the creation of safe zones has baffled and infuriated partners, who agree with the ideas in principle, but do not see them as priorities, the diplomat said. Turkey's leaders have never been afraid of sticking to their guns in the face of international opinion. Both Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutolgu are driven by a vision of the Middle East united by a Turkish brand of political Islam. Both believe their foreign policy is supported by moral imperatives, and that they are on the right side of history. But unless Ankara aligns itself more closely with international opinion it will become ever more isolated, and its goals will remain out of reach, many experts believe.
Before Nina Pham headed back home to Dallas, Texas, she made one exciting final stop.The 26 year old nurse, who is now Ebola free, met with President Obama in the Oval Office this afternoon, where the president gave Pham a big hug. He wasn't the only one to hug Pham Friday. On Friday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, told reporters that Pham "is cured of Ebola," following multiple tests that confirmed it. Fauci hugged her too.
A U.S. nurse diagnosed with Ebola after caring for a Liberian patient has been found virus-free and has been discharged from the National Institutes of Health in suburban Washington. Nina Pham, a nurse at a Dallas, Texas, hospital that treated the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, told reporters and supporters Friday she is grateful for her recovery. She was flown in last week for treatment at NIH in Bethesda, Maryland. She added that she is mindful of others who are still struggling with the illness, particularly another Dallas nurse, Amber Vinson, who was also infected after caring for Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. "Although I no longer have Ebola, I know it may be a while before I get my strength back," said Pham. She asked for privacy as she recovered further. She planned to head back to Dallas to reunite with her family and her dog Bentley. Pham visited Friday with President Barack Obama, who shook her hand. "She is cured of Ebola. Let’s get that clear," Dr. Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Friday. Fauci said the 26-year-old was not given any experimental drugs while at NIH. It’s unclear why one Ebola patient recovers and another does not, he said, noting Pham’s youth and previous good health may have helped her beat the virus. Pham had gotten a transfusion of blood plasma from Ebola survivor Kent Brantly, an American physician who had contracted the virus while treating patients in Liberia. WHO anticipates vaccine An official with the World Health Organization predicts hundreds of thousands of Ebola vaccine doses will be ready by June. Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director-general, told reporters Friday that two leading vaccine candidates are already in clinical trials and five more experimental vaccines are being developed for clinical trials next year. "Before the end of first half of 2015 … we could have available a few hundred thousand doses. That could be 200,000 – it could be less or could be more,'' Kieny said after a meeting in Geneva of industry executives, global health experts, drug regulators and funders. Donor countries have committed to finance the research, Kieny said. “There is a broad understanding that money will not be an issue" in developing an Ebola vaccine, Reuters news agency quoted her as saying. New York confirms case On Thursday, a New York City doctor who recently treated Ebola victims in Guinea became the first person in the U.S. city to be diagnosed with the virus. Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed the case late Thursday, saying Dr. Craig Spencer has been placed in isolation at Belleview Hospital Center and the general public has no cause for alarm. "Ebola is an extremely hard disease to contract," de Blasio said. "… New Yorkers who have not been exposed to an infected person's bodily fluids are not at all at risk." Spencer on Thursday had notified the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, with whom he’d worked, that he had a high fever and nausea – two symptoms of Ebola. Officials are looking for anyone who may have had contact with Spencer. He is the fourth person diagnosed with Ebola on U.S. soil, and the first in New York. Mali case may signal setback The West African nation of Mali on Thursday also reported its first case of Ebola, in what many warn could be another major setback to African efforts to contain the disease. Health Minister Ousmane Kone said on state television the patient is a 2-year-old girl who was brought to a hospital from neighboring Guinea. She had traveled with her grandmother, Kone said, adding, "It is possible that these two people arrived at a time when the symptoms were not detectable." The girl's condition is improving, thanks to quick treatment in the western town of Kayes, Kone said. The Ebola outbreak – concentrated in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – has killed close to 4,900 people. There are almost 10,000 confirmed or probable cases. EU secures $1.25 billion to fight Ebola European Union leaders on Friday announced they have secured $1.25 billion to help fight the Ebola crisis in West Africa. The announcement followed a summit of EU member nations in Brussels on Thursday. So far, there have only been scattered cases of Ebola reported in the United States and Europe. Even so, U.S. government health officials are ordering travelers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to monitor their health for 21 days and give local health departments daily reports. The monitoring program starts Monday in six eastern states – Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia – where the majority of those travelers arrive. They will be given an Ebola kit, including a thermometer, upon arriving at airports. New York called ‘ready’ In the latest case in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo said Dr. Spencer was familiar with symptoms and handled himself appropriately once he experienced symptoms. Cuomo said the city is "as ready as one can be for this circumstance" and has been preparing for weeks to handle a possible Ebola case. The White House said President Barack Obama spoke separately late Thursday with de Blasio and Cuomo, assuring them both of "any additional federal support necessary." Obama also noted "the extensive preparations that New York City and, in particular, Bellevue Hospital Center … have undertaken to prepare for this contingency." The earlier Ebola cases in the U.S. include a Liberian man who died two weeks ago at a hospital in Dallas, Texas. Two nurses who treated him are hospitalized and reportedly doing well.
Residents on border towns are paying the price of the decades-long animosity between the two neighbours with their blood.Pakistan: India and Pakistan have once again traded fire across their borders in recent weeks, and the two nuclear rivals are putting the blame on each other for the border skirmishes. The border town of Charwah Sector in Sialkot, which is overshadowed by Indian and Pakistani posts, feels the heat every time tensions mount between the two neighbours. Residents live in fear whenever both sides exchange fire across the border. Farmers living just a few hundred metres away from the working boundary between India and Pakistan said they are in a constant state of fear, and blame the Indian forces for targeting their village. Residents said India fired the opening salvo as they were getting ready to celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid-ul-Adha. The attack claimed several lives and injured dozens of people. "People vacate this town in the evening. They move to safer locations at night and come back in the morning,” said one of the town’s residents. "We feel scared when we visit our fields to harvest our crops, but we have to do it since this is our land and we don't have anywhere else to go,” said another resident. Indian officials said Pakistan was using border fire to help infiltrate people into their territory, but that claim was denied by a senior Pakistan Rangers commander. He pointed out that Indians have erected a 3.7-metre high fence on the other side of the working boundary, installed high-resolution cameras and powerful searchlights to monitor the area and hence, prevented the possibility of any infiltration. As India and Pakistan slug it out, one military hospital is witnessing an influx of innocent civilians who have received shrapnel injuries. While the blame game continues, residents on such border towns are paying the price of the decades-long animosity between the two countries with their blood.
The WHO says that although tuberculosis is slowly declining, the number of TB cases, compared with its last year report, has risen. WHO's Philippe Glaziou tells DW why some Asian countries are more prone to the disease.
Around nine million people contracted tuberculosis (TB) last year - nearly half a million more than were reported in 2012 - of which 1.5 million didn't survive, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report released on Wednesday, October 22.With more complete data coming out of South Asian countries like Pakistan, the international health body found that TB was prevalent in the Asian continent. While India accounted for 24 percent, China registered 11 percent of global TB cases, the WHO noted.
In a DW interview, Philippe Glaziou, senior epidemiologist at the WHO's Global TB Programme in Geneva, Switzerland, says that although progress has been made in a number of Asian countries since 2000, the burden remains comparatively high in India and Pakistan.
DW: The latest WHO report states that the number of people who have contracted the disease is on the rise. Does the same apply to TB-related deaths?Philippe Glaziou: Overall, the number of TB deaths (excluding HIV) in Asia (WHO Western Pacific Region and South East Asia Region combined) is actually not increasing but decreasing, at an average rate of 5.3 percent a year over 2005 – 2013, which makes up 831,000 estimated deaths in 2005, and 543,000 in 2013. Including HIV-associated TB deaths, the average decline was 5.5 percent a year - 930,000 in total in 2005, and 600,000 in 2013.
Why was the issue underestimated?The burden of TB is best measured through state-of-the-art surveillance systems in countries with universal access to healthcare and very high coverage of TB case notifications. In other countries, TB prevalence surveys are a reliable, albeit costly way of measuring the burden of TB in the general population. There has been an unprecedented rise in the number of prevalence surveys in the past few years. In particular, a survey in Nigeria allowed generating more accurate estimates of TB burden compared with previously uninformative estimates. A nearly complete survey in Indonesia, with final results expected towards the end of this year, will likely have the same effect. It is not always the case that surveys indicate a higher burden than previously thought. In some other countries, such as Rwanda and Gambia, the survey actually found a lower burden than previously estimated and in many others, there was no significant difference with the previous estimate.
India, Pakistan and China have high case numbers, as your report shows. What makes these countries more prone to tuberculosis than others?China has high numbers due to the sheer size of its population, but TB burden expressed per capita is now much lower in China than in India and Pakistan. Some major determinants of (high) TB burden are well known: poverty, overcrowding, high prevalence of tobacco smoking or diabetes, and poor TB control practices in the past, among others. HIV is a major determinant of TB in general, but the epidemics of HIV in the three countries are at low levels and have not affected national TB epidemics in very significant ways. Declines in TB burden occur faster in countries with universal access to healthcare and high coverage of quality services, including laboratories. Progress has been made in all three countries since 2000, but the burden remains comparatively high in India and Pakistan.
Why can't the disease be controlled in these countries?The reasons why the TB rates do not fall faster are multiple. They include the lack of universal access to medical care. In the absence of health insurance and social protection, the poorest do not access health services when they are sick. They need to borrow money and may not be able to afford a day off work. This contributes to undiagnosed TB and sustained transmission in the community. In countries with a strong but insufficiently regulated private sector such as India and Pakistan, the quality of services and the quality of care may not reach high enough standards, leading to poor treatment outcomes in diagnosed TB cases, further contributing to sustained transmission. Transmission also occurs in hospitals and clinics in the absence of effective infection control. Poor medical care leads to higher levels of drug resistance, in turn increasing transmission. With currently available tools, the fastest decline in TB incidence observed at national level over a period of about one decade did not exceed 10 percent. The decline is slow because a very large number of people, about a third of the world population, are infected with the TB bacilli, but do not have the TB disease, and every year, a small proportion of those infected become sick with TB. To reach faster declines in TB incidence, a vaccine more effective than BCG to prevent the development of the disease is necessary. Philippe Glaziou is a senior epidemiologist at the Global TB Programme of WHO. He leads the work on estimating the burden of TB and its time trends in every country.
BY FARAHNAZ ISPAHANI AND NINA SHEA
Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which turns 30 this year, has become only more deadly with age. Since blasphemy was made a capital crime under the nation’s secular penal code, the effect has been to suppress moderate influences, pushing “Pakistani society further out on the slippery slope of extremism,” said Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, senior advocate at the Supreme Court of Pakistan, in Washington last week. With its large population and sensitive location, Pakistan is a place where any societal shift in the direction of the Taliban deserves the attention of all concerned about Islamic extremism. Instead, this is one more foreign threat that the Obama administration underestimates.
It is not the first time that the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has surprised us with its narrow interpretation of Islamic laws on issues such as marriage and women. CII’s special interest in allowing unrestrained polygamy and its desire to deprive women of any right to decide about their married life has increased the nuisance value of this institution. It cannot accept the existence of strong, independent and self-reliant women in society. The mullahs conveniently invoke Islam when it suits them, but give it little respect when they interpret its message in socially regressive terms. This has been a general hypocritical approach followed through the years by these so-called Islamic scholars. However, the most interesting statement made by the Chairman of the CII, Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani, in the council’s 196th meeting was to declare the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance Act 2014 against Shariah. One would be interested to know, through which interpretive model of the Shariah has the Maulana arrived at this conclusion. The reason given by the Maulana that the Act has given the armed forces power over the civilian government, goes only to expose the blinkered view the CII uses to read, assess and interpret the political situation in the country. If the CII wants the terrorists to take over the country, then that is a different story. But if it is genuinely interested in seeing this country restored to peace, Maulana Sherani and his clan should apologize to the country for this statement. On the other hand, who had promulgated the law, the army or the government? In spite of its several clauses impinging upon civil and human rights, the law has been passed unanimously by parliament in the interests of the state. The question arises, whose interest is the CII trying to defend by declaring the PPO un-Islamic? We need this country cleansed of all sorts of terrorists, the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’. In fact, the CII would do a great service if it could pass some kind of resolution on revising and updating the education policy pursued in the madrassas. Whether we like it or not, the reality is that much of the terrorism has arisen from these institutions. In spite of all its idiosyncrasies, the CII has been careful and prudent enough to discourage people from indulging in hate speech, especially during the sensitive month of Muharram. Still, it is time the CCI should either be disbanded, since it has outlived its constitutional life, or it should revisit its views on its pronouncements that have violated the message of Islam and made us the laughing stock of the world.
Women remain the worst sufferers of the prevailing unrest in Pakistan's least developed but resource-rich province. Invisible and silent, the women in Balochistan are absent from the accounts that come out from the violence-ridden province. The voices that do come out are almost always wails. Women remain the worst sufferers of the prevailing unrest in Pakistan's least developed but resource-rich province. They live under the constant shadow of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and growing radicalisation. Basic health facilities, under the present circumstances, rank a distant last. According to Pakistan Health Demographic Survey (PHDS), Balochistan stands first in terms of Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) as compared to other provinces of the country. Long distances, poor communication systems and lack of basic health facilities compound the problems of women. A large number of women lose the battle for life during pregnancy. “Out of 100,000 women, 785 die in Balochistan as compared to 272 in rest of the country,” the survey revealed. The situation is dire, health experts warn. Except Quetta, the provincial capital of militancy-hit Balochistan, gynecologists are rare in remote areas of the province. Most of the pregnant women are treated by traditional, unskilled birth attendants. “Growing militarisation forced skilled birth attendants to flee from rural parts of the province,” Dr. Rukhsana Kasi, a well-known gynecologist tells Dawn. Kasi terms the worsening law and order situation in the province as one of the underlying reasons behind increasing ratio of maternal mortality rate. Most of the women are treated by unskilled and traditional birth attendants in poor the neighbourhoods of Quetta and the far-flung areas of the province, Kasi says. A dozen female patients accompanied by male members of their families waiting outside her clinic for check up. The female patients outside refuse to share details of the problems they encounter with regards to their health conditions owing to tribal customs. However, Arshad Bugti, the Secretary Health Government of Balochistan says that besides militancy, poor transportation and lack of accommodation for doctors are important factors contributing to the increasing MMR rate. He says gynecologists or skilled birth attendants yearn to practice only in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, rather than the remote parts. “We are concerned about increasing MMR ratio and trying to reduce it,” Bugti says, adding that currently the services of 7200 Lady Health Workers were regularised in order to ensure provision of basic health facilities and reduce the MMR rate. However, ground realities negate his claims and most of the LHWs do not perform their duties in remote areas. Balochistan covers half of Pakistan in terms of area but its population is only five per cent of the entire country. Successive governments have failed to address the health issues across the province. Despite allocation of substantial amounts, medicines and other equipment is not available in the government-run hospitals of the province. Women are faced with a host of diseases as skilled birth attendants' numbers only amount to 30 per cent in the province, according the PHDS survey. High blood pressure, anemia, bleeding before and after delivery remains the common problems of pregnant women, Kasi explains. “No access to trained birth attendants or gynecologists imperils the lives of thousands of women,” she says. During pregnancy, multiple vaccinations are required. But in Balochistan out of a total of 627 union councils there are no trained officials to administer these medicines in a whopping 247 union councils, an officer of the health department, who declined to be named, tells Dawn while quoting the official data. Most of the union councils are located in the least developed, militancy-hit remote districts of Balochistan, the officer informs. During Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) government in Balochistan, doctors were being kidnapped and subjected to targeted killings. The growing fear prompted doctors and professors to leave the province. Dr. Haqdad Tareen, a senior member of Pakistan Medical Association (Balochistan Chapter) says that 29 doctors and professors have left the province owing to security threats during last five years. Impunity remains the contributing factor behind the increase in kidnapping of doctors and people belonging to different walks of life in broad day light. Besides male, Tareen says, female doctors have also left different areas of the province owing to looming security threats. A report released by Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF) backs these claims and it too cites poverty, poor literacy rate, political instability and conflict as the main reasons behind increasing maternal mortality rate in the province. Apart from this, MSF says that the province is also prone to natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes. Many people live in remote areas and women have no access to clinics for medical consultations. On average, women in the province give birth to six to eight children and they have their first baby as early as 16. Most of the women are underweight and when they become pregnant their health worsens. Nadeem Shahid, a health advocacy expert, says that the number of community mid-wives and lady health workers must be doubled to decrease the MMR in the province. He also points out that the lady health workers are simply not serving the troubled parts of the province. “They are either treated by unskilled, aged-women or referred to any district headquarter,” Shahid says. Women are always referred to district head quarters hospital or Quetta city when a serious complication develops during pregnancy. “Some of the women breathe their last on the way to Quetta.” All of these complications mean that most of the women deliver at home attended by non-trained relatives or neighbours. These unskilled birth attendants often use a medication for uterus contractions available locally at a low price to speed up the delivery. Dr Kasi says that wrongly administering this drug can lead to serious complications for both the mother and new born baby. “In worst cases, it leads to death.”
The situation in Balochistan remains grim as ever. On Thursday alone, there were at least three separate incidents which lay bare the state of law and order in the province during the days leading up to Muharram. Two people were killed and seven injured in an explosion near an FC convoy on Qambrani Road, Quetta. Another eight people belonging to the predominantly Shia Hazara community were killed and one injured when unidentified gunmen opened fire on their bus when they were returning after purchasing vegetables in the Hazar Ganji area of Quetta. Lastly, JUI-F Chief Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman was targeted by a suicide bomber in Quetta, but he remained unhurt owing to the bullet proof vehicle that had been provided to him by the Police. Unfortunately, another two people lost their lives and at least twenty-three sustained injuries in the incident. There are no good days in Balochistan. Thursday was just exceptionally horrific. Which one of the three deserves most words? Perhaps it is time we accept the reality of the situation. The persecution of Hazaras will continue unabated. Political activities will remain exposed to similar attacks. Bombs will keep exploding near FC convoys. Hoping against them has absolutely no impact on the events that are bound to occur. We do not see any indicators – none – which would compel us to believe that the state will sooner or later overcome issues rapidly contributing to the disintegration of Balochistan. The situation cannot possibly improve in the absence of any meaningful and coherent effort. It can only deteriorate as it has, and it will not stop. What does the PML-N government plan to do about Balochistan? Does it have a concrete policy, or even suggestions to curb violence? We do not know. Other than regurgitating the standard stance on Balochistan, the one where they talk about inclusion and development, it has never offered much on the subject. Is Chief Minister Abdul Malik’s provincial government implementing its plan to prevent bloodshed, sectarian or otherwise? No, because there is no plan. Is the military or the FC able to see anything beyond the separatist insurgency? Is it taking serious action against known miscreants, especially sectarian elements who hold public rallies and call for the expulsion or murder of Shias and other minorities? No. And most unfortunately, there are allegations of patronage. Are the courts, the local administration and other institutions of the state doing any better? No. The result is completely predictable and natural. Where is the sense of urgency, the panic that ought to have set in throughout Pakistan as tragedies unfold rountinely in Balochistan? Where is the political will? Where is the discourse on national television? How bad does it need to be for Balochistan to make the cut? As opposed to being regarded and ignored as a provincial problem, there is a need to establish it as a national issue – a top priority for the Parliament and other institutions. History will remember that when Balochistan was on fire, the rest of the country was busy finding shapes in the smoke.
ONE day, one provincial capital, three violent incidents — Quetta in particular, and Balochistan in general, appear to be slipping back towards outright anarchy and the state seems utterly clueless and impotent. Start with the attack on the Shia Hazara community. With the majority of Hazaras settled in one particular zone in Quetta and the community under sustained and deadly threat, the law-enforcement and intelligence apparatus in the provincial capital ought surely to be able to do better to protect the community. Yet, whatever measures were taken in the wake of the devastating bombings in early 2013 on the Hazara community have clearly proved inadequate. If preventing a drive-by shooting of a bus is fiendishly difficult, far more obvious is the failure to follow up on intelligence reports suggesting that Quetta is infested with sectarian militants with an explicit agenda of attacking the Hazaras. All that ever seems to happen is after each terrible crime against the Hazaras, the law-enforcement and intelligence agencies briefly go into overdrive, raiding suspected terrorist hideouts, arresting people, etc before slipping back into complacency until the next hideous attack, when the cycle is repeated all over again. Of course, if failure to defend a shocking vulnerable and under-siege community were not bad enough, the law-enforcement apparatus led by the paramilitary Frontier Corps was unable to even defend its own soldiers in a roadside bombing in Quetta yesterday. Again, no counterterrorism system can be perfect and some attacks in a state of insurgency are inevitable, but that only underscores the wider point: whatever the army-led security establishment has done to counter terrorism and insurgency in the province over the past decade has not worked — indeed, is not working. To add to that already chaotic scene came a third attack, this time on Fazlur Rehman in the evening. There are obvious possibilities for who can and would want to attack the JUI-F chief, including an unverified early claim of responsibility last evening, and those possibilities suggest that yesterday’s attack could have ramifications far beyond Quetta, given the maulana’s political base in southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and his party’s presence in parts of Fata. What is also clear is that across the spectrum of the country’s political leadership, there are very real and disturbing threats to the lives of politicians for any number of reasons. Returning to Quetta, however, the signs are ominous. The attack against the Hazaras and the JUI-F chief in particular come in the run-up to Muharram, when security worries and religious sensitivities tend to spike. The first priority of the provincial and federal governments and the law-enforcement and security apparatus should be to urgently reassess any and all plans for keeping the peace in Quetta in the uniquely challenging weeks ahead. Else, the forgotten problems of Quetta could burn right through to the front of the national stage.
Nadia Khan treasures two photos of her sister Sumbal: one showing her bright-eyed and smiling, the other blank-faced in death after she was gunned down by militants, a “martyr” in Pakistan's desperate fight against polio. It was May 2013 and Sumbal and her friend Shirafat were vaccinating children against the crippling disease at a rough mudbrick house in the village of Badaber in the country's militant-plagued northwest. Suddenly a motorbike pulled up and the man on the back opened fire, killing Shirafat on the spot and putting 18-year-old Sumbal into a coma. For 10 days Nadia kept a bedside vigil, to no avail. “I remember her last moment when she lost her breath in hospital, lying silently,” Nadia told AFP ahead of Friday's UN World Polio Day. “She could not talk. We wished that at least she could have had her last words with us before passing away. “Pakistan is one of only three countries, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, where polio is still endemic, and efforts to stamp it out have been badly affected by attacks on vaccinators like Sumbal. In the 2000s Pakistan looked on course to wipe out polio after a series of vaccination drives brought the number of cases down to just 28 in 2005, from more than 18,000 in 1993, according to Unicef data. But from 2008 the epidemic rebounded and in 2014 hit a 15-year high, with 210 cases — 80 per cent of all the polio cases in the world. The problem is concentrated in the northwest, wracked since 2007 by a homegrown Taliban insurgency, and the main city Peshawar has gained an unenviable reputation as the “world capital” of polio. A Taliban ban on vaccination in North and South Waziristan tribal areas, on the Afghan border, has left hundreds of thousands of children unprotected from the virus. Adding to the problem, many of the poorly-educated population believe unfounded rumours about the vaccine containing pork or being a Western plot to sterilise Muslims. Suspicions grew after the CIA used a Pakistani doctor in 2011 to stage a hepatitis vaccination programme as cover to try to find Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. Since December 2012, at least 30 polio vaccinators have been killed in Pakistan, along with nearly 30 police and security personnel guarding them. Like Sumbal, Nadia too takes part in polio vaccination drives, but after her sister's murder their parents begged her to quit. “I told them that I will continue my sister's mission and will keep on working until I complete her mission,” said Nadia from behind her veil. The other victim of the attack, Shirafat Bibi, was gunned down just a few weeks before she was to be married. She had carefully saved the $6 a day she earned for giving out polio drops to pay her dowry. That fateful May morning, after getting a call asking her to vaccinate some children near her home, the 28-year-old embraced her mother Gul Khubana, who pleaded with her to stay at home. “I told her that day not to go, even her father told her, but she said 'It will be my last visit and then I will quit this job and will not work'," Khubana told AFP. After her death, the family was paid compensation and Shirafat's brother Bilal was taken on by the local authorities to do the same job. Now it is Bilal who swallows his fear and tours poor villages on what the health teams in the area call the “jihad against polio”. The health workers and police guards killed in the fight against polio are hailed as “martyrs” in Pakistan. They work at the mercy of fate, just as the main victims of polio, the children left unvaccinated, live at the mercy of fate. A year ago, little Shakirullah used to run happily around his neighbourhood in Peshawar, but then at the start of the year the diagnosis came like a hammer blow: polio. The disease has left his legs flaccid and useless, and now, aged just two and a half, he can no longer stay upright without support. “Other children can play but our poor little boy can only crawl about like a toddler,” laments his uncle Rafiullah, who fears what the future holds for his nephew. Life in Pakistan is tough for people with disabilities, and beggars with limbs ravaged by polio limping from car to car at traffic lights are a common sight. Already this year, 350,000 young Pakistanis in the northwest have missed out on vaccination because of the perilous security situation, according to local authorities. Even in the cities, resistance remains — last week in Peshawar 10 percent of children visited by vaccination teams refused the drops, set dead against this supposedly “un-Islamic” vaccine. The UN says Pakistan has made “notable progress” in the fight to halt polio transmission, but the struggle remains a daunting one.
The total number of polio cases in Pakistan has risen to 220 after three new cases were reported in Sindh and Balochistan on Friday. According to World Health Organisation (WHO) sources, two cases were reported in Korangi, Karachi while the third surfaced in Zhob, Balochistan. The new cases were reported in the backdrop of World Polio Day being observed globally. Only three countries, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan still have transmission of the polio virus.
The total number of polio cases in Pakistan has risen to 220 after three new cases were reported in Sindh and Balochistan on Friday. According to World Health Organisation (WHO) sources, two cases were reported in Korangi, Karachi while the third surfaced in Zhob, Balochistan. The new cases were reported in the backdrop of World Polio Day being observed globally. Only three countries, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan still have transmission of the polio virus. In his message on World Polio Day, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed to eradicate polio from Pakistan.
http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/An exchange of fire took place between Pakistan and Iran border troops when the latter resorted to unprovoked shelling in Pakistani border town of Mashkel, Balochistan. According to reports, Iranian forces fired five mortar shells in Pakistani territory. The shelling was responded by firing two mortar shells in Iranian territory by Pakistani troops. Pakistan’s south-western Balochistan province shares around 800-km long border with Iran. Border tension between the two neighbours has escalated in recent days. Recently , one Frontier Corps personnel was martyred in unprovoked firing by Iranian troops.