Monday, December 11, 2006

NEED Magazine

I came across this new magazine called NEED, which focuses on telling the stories (through words and pictures) of the experience of humanitarian aid. There are stories from all over the world and issues that include discussions on health, work, kids, future, and dialogue among other things.

As stated on its website, NEED is the first independent magazine dedicated solely to global and domestic humanitarian issues.

Check it out, it's definitely worthy.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

World AIDS Day: December 1st

Today is World AIDS Day and this year's message is "STOP AIDS. KEEP THE PROMISE." The news is full of articles about HIV and AIDS in the spirit of World AIDS Day. Here are some of particular notice:

The International Herald Tribune reports on a collaboration between the Clinton Foundation and two Indian drug companies. The result? Anti-retrovirals designed for children will be provided for an average price of 16 cents a day, or $60 a year, which is about 45 percent lower than the lowest current price. The news report also states that the prices will be available to 62 developing countries and will lead to the treatment of an additional 100,000 people in 2007. Jon Liden, a spokesman for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, based in Geneva, said the deal announced Thursday would allow grants already made by the foundation to treat substantially more people in 2007. "It's a hugely positive step," he said, "because one of the really difficult areas in rolling out treatment has been to have a steady and huge supply of pediatric dosages and packaging."

The BBC had a very interesting piece on how HIV affects the global workforce. The article states that the virus has had a crippling effect on the workforce of many countries. Without this, it estimates that the cumulative loss to the global workforce from the virus could rise 45 million by 2010 and almost double again by 2020. The ILO said increased access to ARV treatments could significantly reduce the impact on the global workforce. "The prospect of averting between one-fifth and one-quarter of potential new losses to the labour force should serve as a powerful incentive to target the workplace as a major entry point to achieve universal access to ARVs," the report concluded.

AIDS in Punjab: II

Intravenous drug users (IDUs) inject themselves in a public park at Ludhiana. — Tribune photo Sayeed Ahmed

India’s most innovative city, known throughout the world for its ingenuity — is making news for all the wrong reasons. The number of suspected and confirmed HIV positive cases here has puts the city into a category that can be classified as the one facing an “HIV epidemic”. The first-ever survey conducted to ascertain the extent of HIV infection in the region puts the city high up in the list. The exact position will however be known after the results of the survey are tabulated later this month.

Investigations by The Tribune have revealed that free exchange of needles by drugs users and unabated prostitution in more than half a dozen localities has accelerated the spread of the disease. Apart from industrial workers, many migrant workers visiting these CSWs have tested positive.

The situation can be gauged from the fact that out of 48 blood samples taken from IDUs in Ludhiana, 16 have tested positive. As per NACO and UNAIDS guidelines, in random sampling if more than 5 per cent cases are reported in the high-risk category and over 1 per cent in general population the situation can be termed as an epidemic. According to unofficial results, Ludhiana is heading to be the first city in the state to achieve this dubious distinction.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

AIDS in Punjab

I came across a story on Sikhnet that really caught my attention. I had to read it over twice to make sure i was reading it correctly. The story was about a Punjabi man who was diagnosed with HIV about eight years ago. He had gone to a doctor who told him that his HIV test was positive. He was subsequently put on ARVs (anti-retroviral) drugs for his infection. The man had always questioned his results as, according to him, he had been faithful to his wife and could not understand how he got HIV.

The story then goes on to say how eight years after his "positive" test, he was retested and the results were "negative." Initially i thought that the virus was somehow cleared from his system but i then went onto read that the initial test was most likely incorrect, and he did not in fact have HIV. It was disheartening to read how the ARVs had already taken a toll on his body and his health was debiliated from years of taking the drugs.

It is understandable, then, to read the low numbers of HIV infections reported in Punjab. Something is amiss and tests are not being completed correctly. There needs to be attention focused on Counseling and Testing sites -- as this is where cases can be identified and treated. Numbers will always be in question until a public health infrastructure is built and abided by.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Domestic Abuse in South Asian Communities

After the recent reportings of two killings and an attempted murder, all involving Canadian women of South Asian descent, a sense of urgency has finally been sparked for people to start taking notice of a very important matter affecting our community. During a forum in Vancouver, 1500 people congregated to discuss the issue of domestic abuse in the South Asian community. Radio India, a Punjabi radio station based in Surrey, hosted the forum. CBC Canada reports, "Several women said isolation, shame and cultural barriers have hidden the problem of domestic violence in the community."

Babita Chumber, who spoke at the forum, said her six-year marriage started with high hopes but quickly became a nightmare. "My husband would spit on me, kick me, emotionally degrade me. I would go to work with bruises. Pieces of hair would be out of my head and I would cover it up because of the shame that is involved," she said.

Kavinder Lehal said she was beaten and threatened with knives and a gun during her 11-year marriage. Lehal said many South Asian women stay in abusive relationships out of fear they will bring shame to their families. "You're not shaming your husband or his family. He shames his family when he raises his hand on you. He shames his family when he beats you up," she said.

These are words that are most likely felt by a large number of South Asian women. However, the incidence of abuse amongst this community is only recently being seen as a problem as more and more women are speaking up and coming forward with their stories. Even though we have a long way to go in terms of educating our community, these conversations are a first step.

In a related issue, my advisor (Dr. Anita Raj) from Boston University School of Public Health recently published a paper related to domestic abuse among south asians. She finds that Indian-American women who are victims of marital violence are also being abused by their in-laws. Dr. Raj and her team examined the link between abuse by the women’s husband and abuse by her in-laws. Specifically, their research showed that in-laws themselves may be abusive to their daughter-in-law, emotionally and physically. Also, they often provide a supportive context for wife abuse by ignoring it when it occurs or even actively encouraging it. The study also revealed that mother in laws were aware of and tolerated the physical abuse perpetrated by their son. And in some cases the mother-in-law herself committed physical abuse.

Raj and her colleagues argue that to effectively address IPV (Intimate Partner Violence) with South Asian women, advocates and practitioners must simultaneously explore the problem of abuse from in-laws.

Details of the study, entitled 'Victims of Intimate Partner Violence More Likely to Report Abuse From In-Laws,' were published in the October 2006 issue of the journal 'Violence Against Women.'


Friday, October 13, 2006

::SEVA:: The (RED) Manifesto and the Nobel Peace Prize

All Seva is worthy of acknowledgment. I'm highlighting two for today.

Today marks the launch of (RED) products which will be available at Gap, Motorola, Converse, and Apple stores. (RED) was created by Bono and Bobby Shriver, Chairman of DATA to raise awareness and money for The Global Fund by teaming up with the world's most iconic brands to produce (PRODUCT) RED branded products. A percentage of each (PRODUCT) RED product sold is given to The Global Fund. The money helps women and children affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa.

What's the meaning of the parentheses or brackets? Well, we call them "the embrace." Each company that becomes (RED) places its logo in this embrace and is then elevated to the power of red. Thus the name -- (PRODUCT)RED.

Secondly, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Muhammed Yunus, a Bangladeshi banker. Here is some more information about him from a profile on the BBC:

Muhammad Yunus is often referred to as "the world's banker to the poor". His life's work has been to prove that the poor are credit-worthy. His revolutionary Grameen (Village) banking system is estimated to have extended credit to more than seven million of the world's poor, most of them in Bangladesh, one of the poorest nations in the world. The vast majority of the beneficiaries are women.

His "micro-finance" initiative reaches out to people shunned by conventional banking systems - people so poor they have no collateral to guarantee a loan, should they be unable to repay it.

Mr Yunus' has tried to tranform the vicious circle of "low-income, low saving and low investment" into a virtuous circle of "low income, injection of credit, investment, more income, more savings, more investment, more income".

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Iraqi Dead May Total 600,000, Study Says

Here is a look at a public health study that brings everything into perspective. As I understand it, the US, UK, and Iraqi governments all think these numbers are incorrect (they claim the actual numbers are much lower). Regardless of whether it's 50,000 or 600,000 -- it's still a lot of lives that have been lost.

(On another note, a sound study should be designed to assess the number of deaths resulting from the events of 1984 in Punjab).

A team of American and Iraqi public health researchers has estimated that 600,000 civilians have died in violence across Iraq since the 2003 American invasion, the highest estimate ever for the toll of the war here.

The figure breaks down to about 15,000 violent deaths a month, a number that is quadruple the one for July given by Iraqi government hospitals and the morgue in Baghdad and published last month in a
United Nations report in Iraq. That month was the highest for Iraqi civilian deaths since the American invasion. But it is an estimate and not a precise count, and researchers acknowledged a margin of error that ranged from 426,369 to 793,663 deaths.

It is the second study by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. It uses samples of casualties from Iraqi households to extrapolate an overall figure of 601,027 Iraqis dead from violence between March 2003 and July 2006.

The findings of the previous study, published in The Lancet, a British medical journal, in 2004, had been criticized as high, in part because of its relatively narrow sampling of about 1,000 families, and because it carried a large margin of error.

The new study is more representative, its researchers said, and the sampling is broader: it surveyed 1,849 Iraqi families in 47 different neighborhoods across Iraq. The selection of geographical areas in 18 regions across Iraq was based on population size, not on the level of violence, they said.

The study uses a method similar to that employed in estimates of casualty figures in other conflict areas like Darfur and Congo. It sought to measure the number of deaths that occurred as a result of the war.

It argues that absolute numbers of dead, like morgue figures, could not give a full picture of the “burden of conflict on an entire population,” because they were often incomplete.

The mortality rate before the American invasion was about 5.5 people per 1,000 per year, the study found. That rate rose to 19.8 deaths per 1,000 people in the year ending in June.

Additional links:

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Punjab Development - Water Crisis

An important aspect of health is the concept of development. People are often surprised that Punjab is experiencing such a large burden of disease, considering it is known to be one of the most prosperous states in India. Recently, it was even named the best state by India Today. This is all surprising to me, especially since evidence suggests that unemployment rates are at its highest, suicide rates are increasing, mental health and substance abuse issues are still prevalent. There has recently been much attention given to the water crisis occuring in Punjab that is leading to the a decrease in the development of the area. At the Spinning Wheel Film Festival, a short film by Navdeep Singh Kandola was screened, "Eco Punjab - Five Rivers Run Dry" which discussed the topic. Punjab relies heavily on agriculture and without an adequate water supply, the whole economic and development of the state is in question. When the development of a community is compromised so is their health. It has been shown through public health efforts that without a clean water supply, illness is inevitable.

According to the World Watch report, the mythic ‘Land of Five Rivers’ will be a desert in 20 years.

Here are some points made in a recent article from SikhSangat news:

The situation is more pitiful in southern districts of state in Malwa region, but situation is fast becoming all most same in entire Punjab. There are news of public demonstrations, road-blocks, dharnas and civil unrest on the issue of water. Students boycotting the classes and even an engineering collage near Malout have forced to declare vacations for three days as there is no water supply to the institute in April 2006. Students at ITI Moga went on strike to protest against non-availability of drinking water.

Water crisis is so pitiable that village Buladewala with population of 6000 is getting water from 2 hand pumps only. Situation is so grim that in urban and sub-urban areas people are forced to install expensive submersible pumps to fetch water. More is the depth more it costs on drilling and then it needs further higher capacity motor to fetch water and more power bill; it is unending process now in most parts of the Punjab.

Even villagers' drinking water from sub-human system has no other option left "It is better to drink unfit water then die of thirst- says Barjinder Singh a farmer from village Malsingh wala.

It is irony that water is selling in that very land which has abundance water resources once and it is more tragic that this commercialization of water is done not by any company it is being commercialized by villagers themselves. This is erosion of value-system related to water. It is new trend that now farmers in Punjab are committing suicide as their tube wells are going dry. As water level is going down drastically day by day the farmers are forced to spend money to get water from new depth. In some of areas this is very common phenomenon. This also adds more debt burden on Punjabi farmers.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Dengue Outbreak in India - epidemic?

Federal Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss urged people not to panic, saying the situation was under control. He was speaking after talks in the capital, Delhi, where 14 of 28 recent dengue deaths have occurred. Nearly 500 cases of dengue have been reported. Sixteen new cases were announced in Delhi on Tuesday, a day after a massive drive to contain dengue was launched. Dengue fever - carried by mosquitoes - can lead to headaches, high fever and other flu-like symptoms, and even to brain haemorrhage. Meanwhile, the southern state of Kerala is battling a massive outbreak of another mosquito-borne infection - chikungunya disease. Up to 20,000 people are affected in the worst-hit district of the state, authorities say.

Of particular concern in the dengue outbreak has been the fact that India's leading state hospital, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, was found to be a central breeding ground for mosquitoes. More than 30 people have been affected by dengue, including 18 medical staff. One doctor has died. But Mr Ramadoss denied the dengue outbreak amounted to an epidemic. "There is no need to panic," he told reporters in the capital. "That is the most important information I want to give to the general public. "The total number of cases we have recorded so far is about 497 and we will get an update on the figures by the municipal corporation by evening." As well as the deaths in Delhi, Rajasthan state has confirmed seven deaths, Uttar Pradesh four, and Maharashtra, Punjab and Haryana one each in recent weeks. Mr Ramadoss called a meeting of health officials from all affected states on Thursday for a detailed assessment of the situation.

With no preventive vaccines available for dengue fever, the authorities are concentrating on cleaning up affected areas before the situation gets out of hand. The state government in Rajasthan has announced free tests for dengue and increased vigilance. Health authorities in Punjab and Haryana issued fresh instructions on mosquito-control and pre-stocking of medicines and intravenous fluids in all hospitals.

Story from BBC

Friday, September 29, 2006

India to increase HIV treatment centers

Indian authorities plan to nearly double the number of treatment centers providing free drugs and medical care to people battling HIV/AIDS, a senior official said Friday.

The National AIDS Control Organization, part of India's health ministry, hopes to reach about 85,000 people with drugs and treatment once all the treatment centers open.

India has come under increasing criticism from international health groups for failing to meet the National AIDS Control Organization's own goal of getting free AIDS drugs to 100,000 people by the end of 2005.
The U.N. AIDS organization said in May that India's 5.7 million infections meant the country has the highest number of people in the world living with HIV. India has more than 1 billion people.

"Our first priority now will be to launch a massive publicity campaign to let people know that free anti-retroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS are available at these centers and that they should reach out for free treatment," Rao said. "We also have drugs available for 10,000 children and have begun a state-by-state search to identify children suffering from HIV/AIDS."

Ignorance and the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS have meant that many infected people do not get the drugs even when they are free, she said.

Most of the centers are concentrated in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Manipur and Karnataka — all states with a high incidence of HIV/AIDS. All the centers are to have specially trained doctors, counselors and laboratory technicians.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

US Health Care System Gets a "D"

A new report from the Commonwealth Fund points out shameful inconsistencies and inadequacies in the care given in the richest nation. Here are some significant points from the report:

The U.S. health-care system is doing poorly by virtually every measure. That's the conclusion of a national report card on the U.S. health-care system, released Sept. 20. Although there are pockets of excellence, the report, commissioned by the non-profit and non-partisan Commonwealth Fund, gave the U.S. system low grades on outcomes, quality of care, access to care, and efficiency, compared to other industrialized nations or generally accepted standards of care. Bottom line: U.S. health care barely passes with an overall grade of 66 out of 100. The survey was carried out by 18 academic and private-sector health-care leaders, who rate the system on 37 different measures. The poor grade is particularly discomfiting, the researchers note, because the U.S. spends more on medicine, by far, than any other country. Approximately 16% of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP) is devoted to health care, compared with 10% or less in other industrialized nations.

The U.S. ranks at the bottom among industrialized countries for life expectancy both at birth and at age 60. It is also last on infant mortality, with 7 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared with 2.7 in the top three countries. There are dramatic gaps within the U.S. as well, according to the study. The average disability rate for all Americans is 25% worse than the rate for the best five states alone, as is the rate of children missing 11 or more days of school. The report found that quality of care and access to care varied widely across the country, and it noted substantial gaps between national averages and pockets of excellence. The authors concluded that, if the U.S. improved and standardized health-care performance and access, approximately 100,000 to 150,000 lives could be saved annually, along with $50 billion to $100 billion a year.

Among the reports' findings:
•Only 49% of U.S. adults receive the recommended preventive and screening tests for their age and sex.
•Nationwide, preventable hospital admissions for patients with chronic health conditions such as diabetes and asthma were twice as high as the level achieved by the best performing states.
•One-third of all adults under 65 have problems paying their medical bills or have medical debt they are paying over time.
•Only 17% of U.S. doctors use electronic medical records, compared with 80% in the top three countries.
•On multiple measures across quality of care and access to care, there is a wide gap between low income and the uninsured, and those with higher incomes and insurance. On average, measures for low income and uninsured people in these areas would have to improve by one-third to close the gap.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Paddling for Social Awareness

Ludhiana, August 17

Mr Makhan Singh Faryad is on a long odyssey to create social awareness against female foeticide, drug addiction and dowry. He began his journey on his bicycle on March 6 this year and has already covered over one thousand villages in Majha and Doaba region. Now he is moving around on his bicycle in the Malwa belt.

Mr Makhan Singh belongs to Ajnala. He has three sons and a daughter. His wife is a teacher. He said, he was feeling quite concerned about the ills in society. One fine morning he thought of moving to all corners of the state.

On an average Mr Makhan Singh paddles 70 km a day. He said, wherever he went, he got good response. In the villages, he meets the head or the sarpanch. People gather around him to listen to what he has to say.

He said, “I am quite overwhelmed by the response I am getting from the people.” He disclosed that he was being encouraged by the police and the civil administration officials also. He said, they have acknowledged his mission which is of paramount importance in the prevailing situation in the state.

Mr Makhan Singh hopes to return home after a year. However, he remains in regular touch with his family through the telephone. He will return home only after completing his mission.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Punjab Loses Sight of Public Health

I came across this interesting article/op-ed about the state of Punjab's public health system:

Death due to AIDS, blood cancer, numerous malignant neoplasias, death from bird flu, SARS (Severe Acquired Respiratory Syndrome), or genetic disorders like hemophilia are inevitable to a certain extent. But death from malaria, tuberculosis, miscarriage (due to anemia) and from many more general diseases at the hands of unregistered medical practitioners is a common and wide-ranging phenomenon prevailing in Punjab, the land of the Green Revolution, a state that boasted the highest per capita income for approximately three decades from the 1960s onwards.

But today's public health system in Punjab has practically collapsed, largely coincident with the introduction of the Punjab Health System Corporation. Large buildings belonging to good hospitals are now crumbling, owing to negligence by the state government. These are the same buildings covering hundreds of hectares, including two state medical colleges, that produce doctors and provide health care at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels to Punjabis. Even basic infrastructures, which were maintained until recently in these state-run institutions, are now nearing dilapidation.

The Punjab Health System Corporation was introduced in the mid 1990s, funneling millions of dollars from the World Bank into the healthcare infrastructure of Punjab. The deterioration of health services rapidly increased after its introduction. According to one survey report, "a 20-40 percent reduction in outpatient cases was recorded after the introduction of the PHSC -- even hospital occupancy has been reduced by 20 percent."Once there was not a single rupee charged to people with an income of just Rs 1,000 (US$21.50) a month. Additionally a charge was not made to recover at least a third of the costs from those with an income of Rs 2,000 a month, nor one to recover at least half the costs from those with an income of Rs 3,000 a month.

But after the introduction of the PHSC, this tiered system was no longer applied."Even now, Punjab does not have a building for 70 percent of subcenters, 67 percent of subsidiary health centers, 62 percent of primary heath centers, and 5 percent of community health centers," according to the Punjab Development Report for 2002.

Even today, when a large number of different diseases and their remediation have been identified, along with the need to revolutionize the primary (preventive) and tertiary (curative) levels of the healthcare infrastructure, the Punjab government is busy spending more for arms, building police barracks occupying thousands of hectares of land, and spending millions for a large share of the additional police force which is now surplus after the end of the decade-long period of Khalistan terrorism (Sikh militancy, late 1980s and early 90s) in Punjab.

In 1980-81, spending on health comprised 5.49 percent of the state budget in comparison to 8.28 percent on police and administration; in 1990-91, corresponding figures were 4.61 percent and 20.83 percent; and in 2003-04, the figures were 3.86 percent on health and 23.18 percent on police and administration.

The basic need and right of people for healthcare sees only a 3.86 percent share of the total state budget. Even during the tenth five-year plan (2002-2007) state spending on healthcare amounted to only 2.28 percent, but this is no surprise, as India nationally spends only 1.5 percent on healthcare. The question is, can anyone enjoy a better life expectancy if such a small amount is allocated to healthcare?

Even the statistical abstract of Punjab from 2005 contains its own ironies as the infrastructure deteriorates rapidly. The number of outpatients was 13,237,447 in 1980, as compared to 11,994,693 for 2004. The total number of beds in the medical facilities of Punjab was 24,179 in 1990, as compared with 25,192 for 2005 -- only a thousand more beds for a state with a population of 2.42 crores (24,200,000) (2001 census).

Further, we can see the importance of primary, or preventive, health care, which has been ruthlessly distorted by Punjab state policies. The progress of preventative care against nutritional anemia in Punjab in 1990-91 was 84.5 percent for children and 145.1 percent for expectant mothers, declining to 65.1 percent and 95.9 percent respectively in 2004-05. A similar situation obtains with immunization programs, which underwent a 101.1 percent increase for expectant mothers and a 125.94 percent increase for children (3-8 years); the respective figures for 2004-05 are 87.5 percent and 93.11 percent.One other precarious and shameful development occurring in the health system is the mushrooming number of private heath institutions and medical colleges in the state, though the phenomenon is nationwide.

Some of the bigger corporate sector firms like Escorts, Fortis, (owned by pharmaceutical giant Ranbaxy), and Apollo, are transforming healthcare into a business and reaping huge profits. Even individual entrepreneurs are setting up private nursing homes and multi-specialty hospitals. Consistent with this, we see a large number of doctors taking early retirement in recent years. A surgical procedure in these private hospitals will cost a minimum of Rs 1 lakh (i.e., Rs 100,000 or US$2,151) unaffordable even by middle class Indians or Punjabis. For the same reason the number of patients using public health institutions annually was 13,200,000 in 1980, but by 2004 this had decreased to 11,900,000, despite a population increase and a relative lack of heath awareness in 1980.

A recent move by the Punjab government, in which doctors would be appointed on a three-year contract and monitored by panchayat (village level governing body) under the "Alternative Service Delivery System," utilizes the 73rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution, which accommodated the Panchayati Raj institutions (1,300 doctors have been appointed so far). But a problem has been the absence of a body to implement the services in a better way. Feudal relations and the hegemony of the sarpanch (chairman of panchayat) may hinder the working-in of newly-graduated doctors appointed on a three-year contract, as the contract will be renewed only after the sarpanch delivers a favorable appraisal. This move gives the state government a pretext for withdrawing its support for the delivery of primary healthcare to the people.

Finally, there is concern about the character, quality, and moral fiber of the new doctors produced by these institutions and their concern for and emotional attachment to society. They become neither good doctors, even after spending lakhs of rupees in privately owned medical institutes, nor good healers for society. Even newly graduated doctors want to make crores of rupees by working in private corporate hospitals, instead of serving society. According to one survey, nearly two years ago 60 percent of students in Punjabi medical colleges were eager to run their own private hospitals. We can see the institutionalization of the profit motive from the mindset of current trainees in the healthcare system, something that should not obtain in the sphere of health in any event.Governments and private firms are actively promoting the privatization of healthcare in the West and other developed countries. But where is the range of insurance plans that could fund preventive care for people together with whatever treatment is necessary? This is the quandary of the Indian system, in which insurance is necessary for motor vehicles to use the roads but not for the health of its people. Health is not a profit-oriented business but the right of people without regard to religion, caste, or country. Nations waving the flag of development provide free health care to every citizen. How can we expect athletes, scientists, engineers, doctors, intellectuals, writers, and even politicians to come from an ailing and diseased society?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Punjab's Lost Girls - BBC article

The government in India's Punjab state is investigating the possible involvement of state officials in setting up illegal clinics and ultrasound centres accused of female foeticide.

Last week, a surprise raid by police and health officials in the town of Patran in Patiala district unearthed a 10-metre (30-foot) well - located behind a private clinic - which contained the remains of at least 50 female foetuses. The discovery provoked the largest ever campaign against female foeticide across the state's 23 districts. Punjab has the lowest sex ratio in the country and there are 776 girls for every 1,000 boys in the state up to the age of six years.

All district and local officials have been instructed by the government to carry out regular surprise checks on clinics and centres offering ultrasound testing, Dr Harinder Rana, the state's director of health services and family welfare, said. "We are very serious about sorting out this problem," she said. The owners of Sahib Hospital in Patran were arrested last Wednesday. They have been charged on various counts under laws prohibiting pre-natal sex-determination tests and termination of pregnancy, where the unborn child is known to be a girl.

Gory discovery
Galvanised into action by the horrifying spectacle of decomposing foetuses and subsequent reports in local newspapers and television channels, squads of police and health officials conducted simultaneous raids on dozens of private hospitals and ultrasound centres.

The raids are specifically targeting smaller clinics, many located in nondescript, small townships and settlements, like Sahib Hospital. "I have directed my men to seal all unauthorised hospitals and diagnostic centres," the civil surgeon responsible for health services in the district, Virender Singh Mohi, said.
"Regular, monthly raids are being made mandatory so that we can remain on top of things."

And even though the raids - conducted across Punjab and a few locations in the neighbouring state of Haryana - have so far failed to yield any results, officials are firm on carrying the campaign forward.
Acting on information given by a midwife, Puja, who first blew the whistle on the allegedly illegal activities at Sahib Hospital, police and health officials excavated a second deep well on the premises of Sahib Hospital last Friday.

After digging for six hours, workers recovered what appeared to be numerous skeletal remains of babies and several pieces of blood-soaked cloth. These have been collected and sent for analysis at a government medical college.

'Vested interests'
Meanwhile, some officials associated with this drive have received death threats. Mr Mohi told the police he received several phone calls in which people threatened to kill him if he continued the raids on private hospitals. "There are very strong and influential vested interests in keeping this illegal practice going in Punjab," he said. Darshan Kumar Singla, a local journalist in Patran, says "although everyone is aware this is illegal, most people do not think anything about aborting a female child and trying again for a boy. "Female foeticide is rampant in all the small towns here. Most nursing homes do such work at night and everybody - the police, the health authorities and the civil administration - knows this is happening.

"Everyone is now sitting up and taking note only because the foetuses in the well became too public to ignore," he said. Pritam Singh, the owner of Sahib Hospital who is under arrest, also agrees that people prefer boys and would do anything to ensure the birth of a son. "The primary cause is the popular mindset. Ultrasound centres and nursing homes only respond to the people's need out of greed. "The only thing that could really end this problem is a firm end to the system of dowry," Mr Singh said from his cell at the local police station.

People in Punjab have traditionally shown a preference for sons, which experts say is driven by both an intensely patriarchal mindset and the system of dowry. Adult men here substantially outnumber women.

Experts say this sharply skewed trend is highly dangerous. Pramod Kumar, who heads the Institute for Development and Communication in the capital, Chandigarh, says although the recovery of foetuses at Patran and subsequent raids across the state are significant, this cannot be a sustaining solution to the age-old problem. "Enforcement without accompanying cultural and social interventions will merely serve to push the problem below the ground. "The single-focus approach of widespread police action will only make sex determination tests and illegal abortions more surreptitious and expensive. This will not end the problem," he said.

The police raids are nevertheless continuing and Mr Mohi says he has declared a "war" on female foeticide.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Fundraising for HIV patients in Punjab

Here is a message from fellow-blogger Preeti Kaur. Please contribute to this very worthy cause in whatever way you can.

Hello All

I've been in Amritsar for the past 6 weeks and I've met many HIV patients through my work here. Management of HIV is a costly affair the world over, and this is also true for the people living with HIV/AIDS in Punjab. Most patients cannot afford basic HIV medication or are barely getting by. With little hope of treatment, some are left to deal with the death sentence of an HIV diagnosis.

In an effort to help some of the people living with HIV/AIDS in the Amritsar area, the AIDS Awareness Group Amritsar is coordinating a fundraiser. You can buy a beautiful punjabi salvar-kameez handmade by a HIV positive woman from the Amritsar area. Your funds will be used to support the medication of needy HIV positive patients, especially widows and children. AIDS Awareness Group Amritsar is a registered NGO dedicated to advocating for the health and rights of people living with HIV/AIDS in the Amritsar area. Checks can be made directly to the AAG.

Photos of a sample Punjabi salvar-kameez and other details can be found at the following address:

For general donations, please refer to the following:

I am coordinating this fundraiser outside of India, so if you are interested in buying a suit for a loved one, please consider supporting this important charity and contact me at

In a few weeks we should have some kurtis available. (You can wear them with jeans!) Contact me if you are interested in one of these so that I can make sure to bring one back in your size or specifications.

Please share this important announcement with your contacts, especially those concerned about the HIV epidemic in Punjab.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Program Highlights: Sikh Giving & Aapna Punjab

The following are two organizations dedicated to alleviating the burden of substance abuse in Punjab, (in addition to other issues such as poverty and social injustice that are impacting the region). Please take a look and support the cause.

Sikh Giving :

The SikhGiving will be taking up the project of tackling the drug menace in Punjab. The Sikh Giving sewadars noticed the huge problem of drugs on their recent visit to the villages in Amritsar district. The youth could be seen moving about fully drugged and out of their senses. A young boy, well dressed, was riding a motorcycle and hitting it against a brick wall time and again, while another was walking unstable in the middle of the road. A person from the village told that this is a common sight in almost every village. It was a painful experience to be on the land of the Gurus and look at the youth spoiling their own life and that of their families. So, it was decided that a project against drugs should be taken up in Amritsar and its surrounding villages. First week, SikhGiving team will investigate/survey specific areas of Punjab regarding the use of drugs by the youth. By the end of the first week, we will have the plan and asrea to target before we launch the official Drug Awareness booth campaign. For global Sangat, We will submit the report and the current situation of Drug abuse in Punjab.


Aapna Punjab:

Aapna Punjab, a non-governmental organization (NGO), is committed to the socio-economic development of rural backward areas of Punjab via the following initiatives:

English-medium schools
Welfare centers for women
Fight against Drugs & AIDS
Charity Hospitals
Computer courses/training
Human-Rights/Social Justice

Monday, July 10, 2006

Profile: Sikh Girl awarded with Giving Back Award

Benita Singh, an Indian American, has been honoured by Newsweek for helping disadvantaged women. In 2003 Benita Singh visited Guatemala to research her Yale University senior year thesis. The Long Island, New York-born Singh wanted to study how women, especially in rural communities, were recovering from the traumas of war.

Singh had earlier worked with street children in New Delhi and in Mexico City. In those cities she encountered what she describes as a certain moral position by the poor — “I don’t have money; you do have money; so could you give just a little bit of it to me.”

But in the village of San Alfonso in Guatemala, Singh was amazed that people did not ask her for money. “The only thing they asked for, was for us to buy their bags and their jewellery,” Singh, 23, says. “I realised these women may be victims of trauma, but more importantly they are actually entrepreneurs,” adds Singh, youngest daughter of India-born Sikh parents.

Last week Singh and her Yale colleague Ruth Degolia, 24, were honoured by Newsweek magazine with its first Giving Back Awards — in recognition of people who “devote themselves to helping others”.

The two were singled out in the under-25 category for starting a non-profit organisation, Mercado Global. Launched in 2004, Mercado has organised 18 co-operatives in remote rural areas of Guatemala. The products from the co-operatives, shawls, bags and jewellery, are sold at marked up prices to high-end stores in the US and through e-commerce.

Profits generated are rolled back to the communities in Guatemala to build schools and educate young girls. And this year Mercado is sending computers to each community for the women to manage their record keeping.


The Economics of AIDS

Fatehgarh Sahib, Punjab, India - Dr. S.K. Goyal, Principal, RIMT-IET introduced Dr. N.M. Sharma, Project Director, Punjab State AIDS Control Society. He told the group that the focus was on galvanizing awareness and securing support from the youth towards fighting the pandemic of HIV/AIDS.

Dr. N.M Sharma said that educating the masses was the only solution to prevent the rapid increase of the HIV/AIDS cases. From his industrial and economic viewpoint, Sharma said this was important because the maximum number of new infections was occurring in the most productive 15 to 24 year old age group. And he added that the industrial sector was equally vulnerable because the HIV virus would debilitate a workforce that is in its economic prime, 15 to 49 year olds.

Business, he went on to say, had a big role to play in the prevention of HIV/AIDS. Expressing his concern about the gravity of the situation, Sharma said that the latest estimate of HIV infected population is 5.206 million and it is the working population that the country is losing.

In addition to HIV/AIDS awareness and education, Sharma said there was also a need to fight HIV/AIDS prejudice. Speaking on the initiatives to combat AIDS, Sharma informed that the Voluntary Counseling and Testing Centre (VCTC) is a one-stop-shop for counseling, testing and treatment for opportunistic.

The CII Punjab State Council has taken on the mandate to catalyze industries’ involvement in India’s social development agenda regarding HIV/AIDS. CII has framed an HIV/AIDS policy for the Indian industry, which has been accepted and is being signed by the CII membership. Earlier, Irrenpreet Singh, Head Department of Business Administration, RIMT Institute of Engineering and Technology, appealed the youth to lead a responsible adulthood and to be a role model. Lauding CII’s efforts and initiatives in the crusade against AIDS, he urged one and all to join hands to stem the tide of HIV/AIDS while emphasizing fighting the stigma and discrimination against AIDS victims.

Report by Gurpreet Singh, SikhNN, Fatehgarh

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Seva: Noteworthy Blogs and Sites

Here are some blogs and sites that discuss seva in its various forms. Whether capturing these images through photography, discussion of health and human rights issues, documenting abuses against humanity, making a film on post-9/11 discrimination, fighting for justice, or assisting in the rebuilding of communities -- we are each motivated in our own way to continue the Guru's teachings of seva. These blogs are one example of documenting this continued movement of seva.

This list only briefly touches upon seva in our community, so please let me know if you come across any others of interest, and i will add them to this post.

ਇਤੁ ਤਨਿ ਲਾਗੈ ਬਾਣੀਆ ਸੁਖੁ ਹੋਵੈ ਸੇਵ ਕਮਾਣੀਆ

"It tan laagai baanee-aa, sukh hovai sayv kamaanee-aa"

"This body is softened with the Word of the Guru's Bani, you shall find peace, doing seva (selfless service)."

- Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Page 25.

- -
Labour of love (Gallery 1/Khar Seva):

Punjab & Health and Human Rights:

Amritsar AIDS Awareness Group (AAG):

Ensaaf News Blog:


Into the Worldwind:




The Sikh Coalition:
- -

Also, make sure to check out the link below on 1984 / Sikh Genocide which profiles more organizations doing seva.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sikh Genocide :: 1984 :: Human Rights

"We Should Feel Sad If Someone Dies of Injustice" - Guru Arjan Dev Ji

Genocide has been defined as the "Deliberate and systematic destruction of a Racial, Political, or cultural group". The Sikhs have experienced three major genocidal massacres from 1764 to 1984.

Here are some sites that provide education, insight, and activism for those of us interested in learning more about our history and taking a stand for what we believe is right. Please let me know if you come across other pertinent sites.



Sikhs Against Genocide:

Sikh Genocide Project:

Ensaaf - Punjab Human Rights:


The Widow Colony:

1984 / Wikipedia:

Never Forget 84:

Witness 84:

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Today is World Refugee Day

The UN Refugee Agency says people who flee persecution are forced to leave behind their most precious relationships and belongings. But, the UNHCR says the one thing all refugees carry with them is the hope that they can return home one day. The UNHCR has chosen the theme of hope to mark this year's World Refugee Day.

World Refugee Day is a day of celebration for millions of refugees who have had their hopes fulfilled. The UN refugee agency reports over the past four years, an estimated six million refugees have gone home. This brings the number of refugees worldwide to 8.4 million, its lowest level in 26 years.

But, along with the good news, comes the bad. As more refugees are returning home, the UNHCR reports increasing numbers of people are becoming refugees within their own countries. It says civil wars have caused up to 25 million people to become internally displaced (IDP).

In London, UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner Wendy Chamberlin was due later Tuesday to formally launch a year-long global campaign called, which aims to deliver education and sports programmes to nine million refugee children around the world through awareness- and fund-raising.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

India 'has most people with HIV'

India now has more people living with HIV than any other country, a UNAids report has revealed. The report shows that India now accounts for two-thirds of HIV cases in the whole of Asia. An estimated 5.7 million Indians were infected by the end of 2005, overtaking the 5.5 million cases estimated in South Africa.

However, While 18.8% of South African adults were living with HIV, the figure in India was 0.9%. Estimates of total deaths in India since Aids was first identified in 1981 range from 270,000 to 680,000. Most of the infections there were caused by unprotected heterosexual intercourse, according to UNAids.

States in southern India have traditionally been the hardest hit by the disease. A study of prostitutes in Tamil Nadu found 50% had been infected with HIV. However, UNAids said these regions had made progress in combating the spread of infection. In contrast, little or no progress had been made in cutting infection rates in the north of the country, where injecting drug use is thought to be the main driver of infection.

The UN agency estimates that only 7% of Indians who needed antiretroviral drug therapy actually received it last year. In addition, only 1.6% of pregnant women who needed treatment to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission were receiving it. UNAids also sounded a warning about neighbouring Pakistan, where around 85,000 people were estimated to be infected with HIV by the end of 2005.

It said the country would have to improve its prevention efforts if it is to avoid a more serious situation.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/05/30 15:02:54 GMT

Friday, May 26, 2006

U.S. Plan to Lure Nurses May Hurt Poor Nations

New York Times, May 24, 2006

As the United States runs short of nurses, senators are looking abroad. A little-noticed provision in their immigration bill would throw open the gate to nurses and, some fear, drain them from the world's developing countries. The legislation is expected to pass this week, and the Senate provision, which removes the limit on the number of nurses who can immigrate, has been largely overlooked in the emotional debate over illegal immigration.

Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, who sponsored the proposal, said it was needed to help the United States cope with a growing nursing shortage. He said he doubted the measure would greatly increase the small number of African nurses coming to the United States, but acknowledged that it could have an impact on the Philippines and India, which are already sending thousands of nurses to the United States a year.

The exodus of nurses from poor to rich countries has strained health systems in the developing world, which are already facing severe shortages of their own. Many African countries have begun to demand compensation for the training and loss of nurses and doctors who move away. Public health experts in poor countries, told about the proposal in recent days, reacted with dismay and outrage, coupled with doubts that their nurses would resist the magnetic pull of the United States, which sits at the pinnacle of the global labor market for nurses.

Removing the immigration cap, they said, would particularly hit the Philippines, which sends more nurses to the United States than any other country, at least several thousand a year. Health care has deteriorated there in recent years as tens of thousands of nurses have moved abroad. Thousands of ill-paid doctors have even abandoned their profession to become migrant-ready nurses themselves, Filipino researchers say.

"The Filipino people will suffer because the U.S. will get all our trained nurses," said George Cordero, president of the Philippine Nurse Association. "But what can we do?"

The American Nurses Association, a professional trade association that represents 155,000 registered nurses, opposes the measure. The group said it was concerned the provision would lead to a flood of nurse immigrants and would damage both the domestic work force and the home countries of the immigrants.

A nurse in the Philippines would earn a starting salary of less than $2,000 a year compared with at least $36,000 a year in the United States, said Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan, a medical professor at the University of the Philippines who led the country's National Institutes of Health.

Based on surveys, Dr. Galvez Tan estimates that 80 percent of the country's government doctors have become nurses or are enrolled in nursing programs, hoping for an American green card. "I plead for justice," he said in a telephone interview. "There has to be give and take, not just take, take, take by the United States."

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Million Voices For Darfur Postcard

Dear Friend,

I am writing to let you know I just signed a postcard to President Bush asking him to take action to stop the genocide in Darfur. Will you join me?

Visit to send your postcard today!

Right now a campaign of rape, slaughter and displacement is currently being carried out in the western region of Sudan, the largest country in Africa. Government-supported troops have displaced 2.5 million people in the past two years, hundreds of thousands have died due to attacks, disease and starvation, and it is estimated that 500 men, women and children continue to die every day.

We must put pressure on our national leaders to take immediate action. President Bush and the United States Congress have recognized the situation in Darfur as "genocide," but it will take much more than words to end the violence and suffering in Darfur. In fact this recognition imposes a legal obligation, let alone the inherent moral obligation, upon the U.S. to take action to stop the genocide.

If our leaders made Darfur a priority, hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved.

Please join me in calling for immediate attention to Darfur and more robust action on behalf of the U.S. to support security efforts in the region.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Born to Die -- Issues of Female Infanticide

“Society needs to recognize this discrimination; girls have a right to live just as boys do. Moreover, missing numbers of either sex, and the resulting imbalance, can destroy the social fabric.”
– United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA)

Female Infanticide – Definition
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) defines female infanticide as the abortion of a fetus because it is female or the killing of an infant because it is female. Sex selection refers to the practice of using medical techniques such as amniocentesis to identify the sex of offspring. The term “sex selection” encompasses a number of practices including selectively terminating a pregnancy.

Female Infanticide – The issue
The phenomenon of female infanticide has likely accounted for millions of gender-selective deaths throughout history. According to a recent report by UNICEF up to 50 million girls and women are missing from India' s population as a result of systematic gender discrimination in India. British Medical Journal, The Lancet, recently reported that there may have been close to 10 million female infants aborted in India over the past 20 years. The number of children killed by their parents is probably much higher than statistics suggest, however, as many infant deaths are never officially recognised as infanticide.

A study of amniocentesis procedures conducted in a large Bombay hospital found that 95.5 percent of fetuses identified as female were aborted, compared with a far smaller percentage of male fetuses. Medical technology has made it possible for parents to discover the sex of a fetus at an earlier of pregnancy. Many women from communities with a preference for boys practice selective abortion.

It remains a critical concern in a number of developing countries today, notably India. In all cases, female infanticide reflects the low status accorded to women in most parts of the world.

Female Infanticide – Impact
Sex selection for non-medical reasons raises serious moral, legal, and social issues. The principal concerns are that the practice of sex selection will [1] distort the natural sex ratio leading to a gender imbalance and [2] reinforce discriminatory and sexist stereotypes towards women by devaluing females.

As fewer men can find women to marry in societies where these practices are widespread, the trafficking of women from foreign countries to sell as wives has become a profitable business. Some adoption agencies take advantage of the devaluation of girls and solicit impoverished families to sell their daughters so they may be adopted overseas. The shortage of women and girls due to female infanticide and sex selection leads to the worsening of their status overall.

World Health Organization -
The Lancet –
Sikh Women –
Gendercide –
Harvard School of Public Health

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) - Free Program for pre-medical and pre-dental students

The Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) is a free (full tuition, housing and meals) six-week national summer enrichment program supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that helps promising and highly-motivated students prepare for the competitive medical and dental schools admission process. SMDEP accepts college freshmen and sophomores who are interested in careers in medicine and dentistry. The program is committed to helping create a well-trained, diverse physician and dental workforce and is located at 12 medical and dental school sites around the country.

* Case Western Reserve University Schools of Medicine and Dental Medicine (Cleveland, OH)
* Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and School of Dental Medicine (New York, NY)
* David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and UCLA School of Dentistry(Los Angeles, CA)
* Duke University School of Medicine (Durham, NC)
* Howard University Colleges of Arts & Sciences, Dentistry and Medicine(Washington, DC)
* The University of Texas Dental Branch and Medical School at Houston(Houston, TX)
* UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical and New Jersey Dental Schools (Newark, NJ)
* University of Louisville Schools of Medicine and Dentistry(Louisville, KY)
* University of Nebraska Medical Center, Colleges of Medicine andDentistry (Omaha, NE)
* University of Virginia School of Medicine (Charlottesville, VA)
* University of Washington Schools of Medicine and Dentistry (Seattle,WA)
* Yale University School of Medicine (New Haven, CT)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Call to All Concerned Sikh Youth

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa,Waheguru Ji Ke Fateh

The problems we face in our community are many. However, there are times when one is forced to TAKE A STAND.

We have recently received information about various Panjabi newspapers advertising ultrasound technologies to determine if the unborn child is a ' munda' or 'kuri.' Unfortunately this information in our community is used too often to abort the unborn baby girl, thus turning a mother's womb into a graveyard. It is time to TAKE A STAND .

We are seeking all interested Sikh Youth to send an email of interest as we are trying to find out how many people are interested to take on this issue. We have begun preliminary discussion about a plan of action. We need members of the community's support, but most importantly we need activists willing to TAKE A STAND and say 'enough is enough.'

WHO: All Concerned Sikh Youth (This is not a women's issue, this is 'our' issue!) We seek women and men's help!
WHAT: To become involved in an effort to stop the publication/distribution of this information and begin educating our community.
WHEN: Send an email ASAP to We will be coordinating a meeting in the Bay Area the week of March 13th to the 19th WHERE: The Bay Area (East Bay, South Bay, North Bay, The City, and everywhere in between)
WHY: Because WE are the next generation of Sikhs and it is our duty to end this problem

Gur Fateh,-Jakara Staff