Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"Top Ten" Most Underreported Humanitarian Stories of 2007

Every year, with the publication of its "Top Ten" Most Underreported Humanitarian Stories, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) spotlights 10 humanitarian crisis that have received little or no attention from the media. Take a look at this amazing slideshow.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Langar Hall

Take a look at the brand new blog called The Langar Hall. You can participate on this blog via the discussion section.

This is a space dedicated to the experiences, reflections, and interests of a diverse group of young individuals – tied together by our common and varied identities as Sikhs in the diaspora.

Like the many conversations that take place in langar halls around the globe, our blog posts will sweep across a gamut of topics from Gurbani and Seva to Bhangra and Politics. We challenge ourselves to address the myriad of issues we face as individuals and as a community through a progressive lens, and reserve the right to rant, muse, and humor.

Do you have questions or the feeling that some things just have not really been explained? Then join our conversations as we untangle complexities, explore grays, or just share things we find interesting and funny.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Taking A Stand

Taking A Stand, on BBC Radio 4, did a piece on the (dis)honor killing of Surjit Athwal who was killed by her husband and mother-in-law. It's a heart-breaking story...
Fergal Keane talks to people who have taken risks and made sacrifices to stand up for what they believe in. When Surjit Athwal failed to return from a holiday in the Punjab, her brother Jagdeesh Singh was convinced that something terrible had happened. Eventually he discovered that his sister had been murdered in a so-called honour killing after her in-laws discovered that she planned to divorce her husband. Jagdeesh recounts his nine-year struggle to bring Surjit's killers to justice.
Listen here.

You can read more about this case here and here.

To read more about honor killings, see this link.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Health Literacy

The National Health Service in the UK offers health information in many languages, including Punjabi. Their resource site, NHS Direct, has lots of info from Alcohol Abuse, to B12 deficiency, to Exercise tips. One of the most important ways to improve health care is to provide information to patients that they can actually understand. It's about empowering patients and encouraging them to be involved with their care. I just want to post the link:

Health Information in Punjabi

I will say, however, that it's important to provide health information to a patient (whether the patient is English-speaking or not) that is understandable. For example, I was reading through the Punjabi information on the NHS site about high blood pressure. The document used words such as Hypertension, Systolic, and Diastolic. These words are often misinterpreted by patients who speak English, never mind those who speak a different language. The Institute of Medicine says,
Nearly half of all American adults--90 million people--have difficulty understanding and using health information, and there is a higher rate of hospitalization and use of emergency services among patients with limited health literacy.
So health literacy is a huge issue that impacts quality of care and it's really beginning to get more attention. I just think it's important to remember that when developing health information, to use terms that will be understandable by the average patient. Whatever language they may speak.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Meri Kahani

Here's information about a play being shown in Mississauga about the experience of violence among South Asian Women. Through short stories, the play aims to highlight the plight of the South Asian Woman's experience through a spectrum of voices. It is part of a public education initiative by the Multicultural Healing Project. I look forward to hearing more about it since I won't be able to attend.
Meri Kahani: My Story, is an innovative play addressing the challenges faced by South Asian survivors of abuse in the North American context. Focusing on abuse, the play has served to educate and inspire audiences in resisting ongoing violence and overcoming the barriers that women face in seeking support services. Using theatre as a tool for change, each kahani, or story, is told through the varied perspectives of South Asian survivors of abuse—domestic violence, incest and sexual assault—to capture the diversity of experiences among South Asian women.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Britain's Missing Babies

Worrying new research reveals that between 1990 and 2005, about 1,500 fewer girls were born to Indian mothers living in England and Wales than would have been statistically probable for this group. Indeed, the Oxford University population expert who collated the information insists the discrepancy in birth ratios between boys and girls is too "sudden and pronounced to have a likely biological or environmental cause... the most probable explanation is sex-selective abortion". The revelation follows a three month investigation by a team from the highly-respected BBC Asian Network.

It is almost certainly a very conservative estimate, based solely on records for Indian-born women who moved to Britain, not Indian women born in Britain - for which data is not easily available. Behind the figures are heartbreaking stories of mothers in this country under pressure to have a son, being bullied by their husband and in-laws into aborting their daughters. Indian women in Britain it appears, are also travelling to the subcontinent to use the services of doctors such as Mangala Telang, who does not carry out terminations herself, but for 4,000 rupees (about £49), Dr Telang will tell you the sex of your unborn child and is happy to recommend someone who can terminate the pregnancy. It is illegal in India to use ultrasound scans for such a purpose - even in the UK it is the policy of most hospitals not to divulge this information until after the 24-week abortion limit.
Read more here.

Asian Network Report: Britain's Missing Girls, will be broadcast on BBC Asian Network digital radio.Britain's Missing Girls

Outreach for Punjabi Farm Workers

As a result of an investigative report by India-West on alleged safety and labor code violations at several IndianAmerican-owned orchards in the Sacramento River valley, the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board plans to launch an outreach and education effort in the Indian American agricultural labor force.
According to micro-data samples from the 2000 census, there are about 2,000 Punjabi farm laborers living in Sutter and neighboring Yuba County, and most of them spend at least a few months each year working in Punjabi-owned orchards.
South Asian growers account for less than one percent of the farmers in the California, but records show that they have been the targets of five percent of civil actions
Kulwant Johl, the president of the Yuba-Sutter County Farm Bureau, a trade association of farm owners, and the owner of over 900 acres of orchards, said Punjabi Americans make up approximately 15 percent of the local farm labor force. They cling to agricultural work, he said, because they lack the English language skills required for driving trucks or working in local stores.

ALRB, founded under the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, aims to help farmworkers set up secret ballot elections to decide whether or not they wanted to be represented by labor unions; and also to combat unfair labor practices that pose a threat to collective bargaining. Blanco said that Punjabi farmworkers are likely to raise concerns about wage payment, overtime and access to healthcare, which do not fall under his agency's purview. "If we hear of any violations or complaints of discrimination that don't pertain to us, we'll forward that on to the appropriate agency."

CRLA and ALRB will together launch an outreach effort in the Punjabi American community during next year's pruning season in April and May. Although the sites of the outreach efforts have not as yet been finalized, they are sure to include Mahal Plaza. "I've also suggested bringing another person that people would want to talk to, like an immigration specialist who can talk about the citizenship process, or a person who does job skills training in computers or English," Pliscou told India-West.

Previous post: Cultural Isolation A Health Threat to Punjabi Farm Workers

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

In Loving Memory

ਜਿਨੀ ਨਾਮੁ ਧਿਆਇਆ ਗਏ ਮਸਕਤਿ ਘਾਲਿ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਤੇ ਮੁਖ ਉਜਲੇ ਹੋਰ ਕੇਤੀ ਛੁਟੀ ਨਾਲਿ ॥2॥
"Those who have meditated on the Naam, the Name of the Lord, and departed after having worked by the sweat of their brow - O Nanak, their faces are radiant in the Court of the Lord, and many others are saved along with them.||2||

(Ang 8, Sri Guru Granth Sahib)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Punjab: The Enemy Within

The enemy has crept into every village, town and city of Punjab and is destroying the energetic and enterprising Punjabis. Drugs are like an unbreached river which are flooding Punjab. Name the drug and it is avaliable here." - Reema Anand
A new documentary titled, "Punjab: The Enemy Within," was recently screened in Chandigarh to a group of community leaders. The documentary, directed by Reema Anand who has brought us His Sacred Burden: The Life of Bhagat Puran Singh and Sewa: From Paris to Tapovan, brings forth the urgency of the drug abuse problem rampant in Panjab. In the documentary, Anand discusses the impact of terrorism on the state of Panjab and the subsequent reliance upon drugs being trafficked throughout the area.

By now we're all well aware of the presence of drugs and prevalence of drug addiction that exists within Panjab. While there are theories and research behind this, it is clear that a solution needs to be reached through a collaborative effort. Through the creation of this documentary, it looks like Anand has begun to take the productive steps to help bring awareness to this problem.
"The Punjabis struggled hard and fought the terrorists to put Punjab back on the world map, but now they are up against a enemy within."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

ER Named After Guru Nanak Dev Ji

The Emergency Room at Surrey Memorial Hospital in Canada, will be named after Guru Nanak Dev Ji:
Guru Nanak Dev Ji's name will adorn the main entrance of the new emergency centre in recognition of the importance of Surrey's South Asian community and its support of hospital fundraising efforts. "The guru reminded us all that devotion of thought and excellence of conduct is our first duty," said Premier Gordon Campbell, who announced the name of the future ER entrance Thursday. "By naming the entrance of this Surrey Memorial Hospital centre after Guru Nanak Dev Ji, we are saying this is a place for everyone." The premier called it an important way to recognize South Asian contributions to society "in a way that's positive and constructive and so people can see that the contributions they've made are important to everyone in the community." The new emergency centre, which will include a mental health and addictions unit and a separate children's ER, will be triple the size of the existing one, which sees 70,000 patients per year – way over its capacity.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Medical Missions for Children

I recently returned from Cusco, Peru where I spent just under two weeks working with a group of nurses, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and volunteers in a small community a few hours away from one of the seven wonders of the world. I'm a member of a global health group based out of Massachusetts called Medical Missions for Children. A group that travels across the globe performing free surgeries for underprivileged children and young adults in about 13 different countries.

My initial exhaustion from the traveling and subsequent catching up at work delayed me writing this post. But I now finally have some time to write a little bit about my experience. First of all, I love traveling and when I can combine my absolute love for traveling with global health work, I really couldn't be happier. It's quite blissful actually...

It was kind of like a 'working' vacation (oxymoron?), and while we were able to spend some time getting to know the city, most of our energy was on reserve for the long days which promised to be...well...long. The majority of the surgeries we performed were to correct Cleft Lips and Palates. However, we also performed a Microtia case and several Rhinoplastys (in addition to other procedures). It's pretty amazing to see the before and after because the results and impact of what the group did was pretty immediate. What was most spectacular was to interact with the patients and families who were the most gracious individuals I have come across in a long time. It was amazing to me how well they dealt with everything and how accommodating they were. A lot of our patients made huge sacrifices to reach our team. Many of them traveled huge distances to reach Cusco and many were from local orphanages who had heard about our group coming from a local radio announcement. Somehow, within a week, you form a connection with the patients and it stems beyond the surgical procedure. You have an interest in providing them with the right advice when they leave, you want to make sure they're heading to a safe place after they leave the hospital. In some ways I wanted to make sure that the circumstances they were returning to were conducive to them living a healthier lifestyle (my public health side was bursting at its seams). It was therefore nice to provide our patients with a new set of clothes to leave the hospital in - perhaps a simple thing, but it meant so much more to them. You could see that the result was beyond an aesthetic change. It was a change in self esteem and confidence which was evident on each of their faces.

Doing this kind of seva is part of who I am, but it's the experience and the people I get to interact with that impacts me in a deeper way. I decided not to write about specific patients in this post out of respect for their confidentiality. But I am definitely still thinking about them on a personal level. It was an amazing experience and it just reminded me how fulfilling this kind of work is for me.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Health

In anticipation of the upcoming Unnatural Causes documentary to be shown on PBS in March 2008, I wanted to post this handout that speaks to the issue of health disparities. Here are ten things that we should all be aware of in regards to health:

1. Health is more than health care. Research shows that social conditions – the jobs we do, the money we’re paid, the schools we attend, the neighborhoods we live in – are as important to our health as our genes, our behaviors and even our medical care.
2. Health is tied to the distribution of resources. The single strongest predictor of our health is our position on the class ladder.
3. Racism imposes an added health burden.
4. The choices we make are shaped by the choices we have. Some neighborhoods have easy access to fresh, affordable produce; others have only fast food joints, liquor and convenience stores.
5. Chronic stress can be deadly. Exposure to fear and uncertainty trigger a stress response.
6. High demand + low control = toxic stress. People at the top certainly face pressure but they are more likely to have the power and resources to manage those pressures.
7. Inequality – economic and political – is bad for our health. Tax breaks for the rich, deregulation, the decline of unions, racism and segregation, outsourcing and globalization, as well as cuts in social programs destabilize communities and channel wealth and power – and health – to the few at the expense of the many.
8. Social policy is health policy. Social measures like living wage jobs, paid sick and family leave, guaranteed vacations, universal preschool and access to college, and guaranteed health care can further extend our lives by improving our lives.
9. Health inequalities are not natural. Health disparities that arise from our racial and class inequities result from decisions we as a society have made – and can make differently.
10.We all pay the price for poor health.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Punjab: Highest Prevalence of Obesity Among Women

Punjab and Delhi, which are among states with the lowest sex ratio, have the highest number of obese women in India, reveals a new government report. “Women in India, 2007”, compiled by the National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development (NIPCD), say that 34 per cent of women in Delhi and 37.5 per cent in Punjab are obese — the highest for any state in India. These figures are based on a study on International Institute of Population Studies in 2006...The contrast in the health of Indian women shows up when female obesity in these three states is compared with the national average of 14 per cent or that of poorer states like Bihar (5.3 per cent), Jharkhand (5.6 per cent), Madhya Pradesh (8.6 per cent) and Chhattisgarh (6.7).
The article states that the skewed sex ratio (sex ratio in Delhi in 2001 was 865 for 1,000 boys and 820 in Punjab) and high rates of obesity among women suggests that females are looked after well. I'm not sure I follow that logic (I don't think skewed gender ratios means girls are being treated better as attested by higher rates of obesity... although it's an interesting link being made and I would like to look into it more) - but there are obvious environmental factors that impact these rates such as a lack of exercise and high fat, high carb diets. Perhaps it's time to put down that extra gulab jaman!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Study: Spirituality and Health in Punjabi Sikhs

From the Journal of Holistic Nursing:
The purpose of this study was to examine the interrelationship of health, illness, and spirituality for Punjabi Sikhs living in Canada. A grounded theory study with a convenience sample and use of snowballing technique provided a sample of 15 participants ranging in age from 20 to 70 years. Constant comparative method with dimensional analysis was used to analyze the data beginning with the first interview. The themes of being healthy and looking for the spiritual are described. Looking for the spiritual results in the person becoming spiritually strong and therefore being healthier, recovering from illness, or having the ability to feel comfortable when near death. Nurses who understand the interplay of spirituality and health can support Punjabi Sikhs in their food requirements, prayers, and feelings of hope and anguish during illness or life transitions.
Although the sample size was quite small, the link between spirituality, which plays a large role in most Sikh's lives, and better health outcomes is clear. There are lots of studies that support this connection. I don't have access to the full article, but look forward to reading the full study.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?

“Real people have problems with their lives as well as with their organs. Those social problems affect their organs. In order to improve public health, we need to improve society.” - Sir Michael Marmot, Chair, WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health
I just wanted to highlight a new documentary that is going to be shown on PBS in 2008:
Unnatural Causes is a four-hour documentary series produced by California Newsreel with Vital Pictures, Inc. Presented for PBS broadcast by the National Minority Consortia of Public Television. Public Impact Campaign in association with the Joint Center Health Policy Institute.

The documentary will discuss the socioeconomic and racial inequalities in health. The root to poor health outcomes are health disparities and social conditions into which we are born which largely impact how healthy we are:
The U.S. is one of the richest countries on the planet. Yet, we rank 30th in the world for life expectancy, worse than every other industrialized nation - and even less developed countries like Cuba, Malta, and Costa Rica. Why? Because inequality in America is - literally - taking years off our lives. This affects not just the poorest among us, but the richest too.
I would encourage you all to partake in the dialogue of health disparities.

Friday, September 28, 2007

'Abused' Asian women behind soaring toll of railway suicides

An article in The Daily Mail states that there has been a dramatic increase in suicides on railway lines - particularly on a railway line that runs through Southall. And as a woman's rights group suggests, these suicides are linked to a high prevalence of domestic violence inflicting Asian families:
Rail suicides are soaring because of a dramatic rise in Asian women killing themselves on just one stretch of track, a train company's internal report has revealed. An incredible one third of the total for England and Wales now happen on the line going through Southall, West London, which has a large Asian community.
The article goes on to discuss the death of Navjeet Sidhu who, after experiencing extreme turmoil and stress, jumped in front of a train with her two young children. This was disturbingly followed by the death of her mother, who also jumped in front of a train at the same spot less than a year later. As women's rights groups suggest, the root of these suicides lie in domestic violence and family problems:
Hannana Siddiqui, from women's group Southall Black Sisters, claimed abuse and "sensitive cultural issues" were at the root of the problem. She said: "The high instance of Asian women suicides is linked to abusive practices within Asian families. There is a correlation between these suicides and violence in Asian homes. Psychiatric research has shown there are rarely cases of mental disorders in these cases, suggesting they are the result of social circumstances. These women are often isolated and find it hard to escape."
Being a passionate public health advocate, I tend to wonder how these things can be prevented. There is a need to provide resources to this population. The problem is obviously both health-related as well as culturally-related and I am quite conscious of the fact that receiving treatment for mental health problems is not very common in this community. Also, I think there is a disparity in individuals being able to identify the need for psychological help. But something has got to change... hearing these stories should be troubling to us all.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Traction Alopecia in Sikh Male Patients

The current edition of The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine has a piece on Traction Alopecia in Sikh Men. It's a short piece describing the impact to the hair shaft by continuously wearing a turban. Here's an excerpt:
Traction alopecia is a form of nonpermanent alopecia which is the result of physical damage to the hair shaft. The frontal scalp region is where the alopecia will usually occur [in Sikh men] given that it experiences the bulk of the trauma. Traction alopecia can also arise in the submandibular area because the majority of the followers of Sikhism will also practice a similar method of knotting their beard.

It's very interesting to me that this phenomenon, which I'm sure is known all too well by most turban-wearing Sikh men, is being discussed in a major medical journal. It seems clear to me that the prevalence of this in our community is quite high. But I wonder if this article speaks to the fact that more Sikh men are obtaining treatment for it? The article goes on to talk about treatment of this type of hair loss:
Treatment of traction alopecia in Sikh patients can be a difficult process. Religious laws forbid the cutting of hair and require the wearing of the turban. Therefore cutting the hair is not an option. Patients can be advised to allow their hair to be tied loosely and free of a turban for as long as possible during the day. At night they should refrain from wearing the turban and tie their hair in a loose ponytail without the knot. When wearing the turban, the hair should be tied loosely at the scalp to decrease the tension. Patients can be treated with topical steroids, however, unless the tension is relieved, these treatments will prove ineffective. Patients should also be advised that traction alopecia may lead to permanent alopecia, which is progressive if the traction is not removed.

This is what a google search for "Traction Alopecia Sikh" found. I must read more about it. It makes me wonder how many Sikh men are dealing with this (and to what severity) and more interesting, the likelihood that they seek out treatment for it...

Friday, September 21, 2007

Sikhnet Online Film Festival

So.. I have been ardently watching the videos from the Sikhnet Online Film Festival and have continued to be impressed with the subjects touched upon by these filmmakers. There is a film about Pingalwara and Bhagat Puran Singh Ji who embodied the message of seva. Through his dedication of helping those less privileged he was able to build a place of comfort and hope. This film is about that work..

Friday, August 31, 2007

Navnoor: "New Light"

A recent piece in the UK Sunday Times speaks to the epidemic of "Gender Genocide" which statistics suggest has impacted nearly a million baby girls each year. The article focuses on a village called Dera Mir Miran, a prosperous community in terms of farming yet less prosperous when accounting for the number of girls born there.
[The village] saw the birth of four babies in the first six months of this year. Three were boys, just one a girl. The baby girl’s parents named her Navnoor, meaning “New Light”. But her mother wept because she was not a son. Navnoor’s mother, Jasmit Blaggan, moved in with her husband’s family when she married, as is the norm in India. When her mother-in-law visited her in hospital after giving birth to Navnoor, she found Jasmit crying. “I was not happy that I had a second daughter. I thought about the cost of dowry and I knew a second girl was not needed,” says Jasmit, her broad smile softening the harshness of her words. Jasmit is not alone in her concern for the future. Although sex-selection tests have been illegal in India since 1994, unwanted female babies are now being aborted on such a staggering scale that it is estimated India has lost 6 to 10m girls in the past 20 years, a large proportion of the abortions being carried out at five- to six-month term.

Regardless of the legality of sex-selection tests, it is clear that many of the areas physicians do not feel threatened by the existence of a law banning such practices. Their creative ability to convey the information cannot be underscored:
Many doctors skirt the law forbidding disclosure of the sex of a foetus by using signals such as handing out pink or blue sweets or candles after an examination. Some families talk instead of “miscarriages”. Given the demographics of villages like Dera Mir Miran, it seems many such “miscarriages” must have occurred.
The piece becomes increasingly disturbing as it discusses the quantitative evidence behind the problem.
nationally the number of girls born per 1,000 boys was 927. The natural birth rate globally is around 950; in China it is 832. But in Fatehgarh Sahib in 2001 it was 754, and in some villages less than 500. In Dera Mir Miran it was just 361.
The consequences of this practice are large and impact the human rights of women within the country.
Far from the shortage of women increasing their worth and standing in society, as some might imagine, the result is the opposite. Women are now being trafficked in increasing numbers from Indian states where sex ratios have declined less rapidly. Some are sold into marriage. Others are forced to engage in polyandry – becoming wife to more than one man, often brothers. Those that fail to produce sons are often abandoned, sometimes killed. This further perpetuates the cycle of prejudice and injustice, ensuring many women themselves prefer to give birth to a son to ensure no child of theirs suffers a similar fate.
India, similar to China, will shortly be piloting a project to make cash payments to couples when they register the birth of a daughter and later when they immunise her and enrol her in school.
Yet when Dr Bawa starts to discuss the reasons for it happening, the fact that this district has the lowest ratio of girls to boys anywhere in India seems less surprising. Initially he says the ratio is probably not as low as it seems, since parents immediately register the birth of a son but sometimes fail to register the birth of a daughter “because they are unsure she will survive”. Then Bawa changes tack and says the low ratio is happening naturally. “Naturewise,” he says, it is happening “just by chance, not related to female foeticide”. This may be due, he says, to “diet” or “behaviour and genetics” or “climate change”.
There's not enough space to devote to the stories of the women they discuss in the article, so I would recommend reading the piece completely.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Role of Religion in HIV/AIDS Awareness

There was a recent health-related post on SikhNet which discussed one Sikh activist's commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS. Dr. Raghbir Singh Bains tells us about his experience with HIV/AIDS research across the globe and speaks about the struggles of educating the community about HIV/AIDS in Punjab.

I studied the menace of HIV/AIDS in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda but shame shrouded every where in the world. It has been my personal experience that about ten years ago I was discouraged and tried to be dispirited by a number of religious and social organizations in Punjab (India), asking me not to talk about this evil in public. The community leaders at that time were under the wrong perception that talking about pre-marital, extra-marital sex and adultery in public was immoral and unethical.

What is the role of religious beliefs in understanding and sympathizing with those who have been infected with HIV or diagnosed with AIDS?

As a result of notional misunderstanding of philosophy, religions in the past denounced those who fell ill with the virus that causes AIDS. Such religious forerunners advocated that fate of the victims was divine punishment for their immoral behaviour. They believed that those who die of AIDS, will go direct to hell. Surely, the followers at that time fell short to understand the inner depth of the religious concepts. They forgot to conceptualize that service to sick, needy and vulnerable people was in fact the leading service to the humanity and Almighty Lord. Inattentiveness of social and religious overlords provided little or no support or co-operation to people struggling against the disease due to the nature of its main modes of transmission, including sex chaos and intravenous drug use. Instead of helping the needy people, even the political leaders used human beings either as a commodity or an object of political manipulation or an element of the production and consumption machine only.

The piece goes onto discuss how Sikh leaders have responded to the growing epidemic in Punjab.

Religion provides us with important moral and ethical guidelines and supports us in addressing the day to-day problems mounting in the society. Keeping in view the universal challenges thrown out by HIV/AIDS, the Jathedar of Sri Akal Takht Sahib (temporal and spiritual throne of the Sikhs) issued an appeal to the global people during the year 2006 to help curb the menace of AIDS in the world. The Jathedar also led the huge rally from Amritsar to Khadur Sahib (India) in which thousands of youth participated. Such constructive campaigns are needed to be organized by other religious and spiritual leaders to stem the transmission of HIV.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Cultural Isolation A Health Threat to Punjabi Farm Workers

New America Media is the country’s first and largest national collaboration of ethnic news organizations. NAM’s goal is to promote the editorial visibility and economic viability of this critical sector of American journalism as a way to build inclusive public discourse in our increasingly diverse, global society. Here is a piece about environmental health issues of Punjabi farm workers from NAM that caught my interest:

Language and cultural barriers have long isolated Punjabi farm laborers in the Sacramento Valley. Activists stress the need for communication as workers continue to suffer from exposure to toxic chemicals, as well as low wages and little access to health care.

According to the 2000 census estimates, there could be as many as 2,000 Punjabi farm laborers living in Sutter and its neighboring Yuba County in the Sacramento River valley, where Punjabis have been farmers since the turn of the century. Most are recent immigrants from remote Punjabi farming communities, who have entered the U.S. legally through family connections. Others are the elderly relatives of established Punjabi American families.

Part of the problem is that California government agencies designated to protect the rights of farm workers, such as the Employment Development Department and the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, do not have Punjabi-speaking outreach workers.

Last year, five Indian American farmers paid fines for failing to provide workers with coveralls when they worked with insecticides and ground fumigants known to be highly toxic. When sprayed by workers not garbed in protective gear, the chemicals can be absorbed into the body through the skin, causing hives, flu-like symptoms, stomach cramps, diarrhea and blurred vision. Exposure has also been linked to impaired neurological development in fetuses and in infants, chronic fatigue syndrome and Parkinson’s disease. But the most common and far-reaching violations are the seemingly trivial ones — a failure to post emergency medical care information, or to provide fresh drinking water. Dehydration among Punjabi farm workers is of particular concern because of their propensity to develop cardiovascular disease.

In Mahal Plaza, a Yuba City housing complex for low-income farm workers, two women in their seventies, white dupattas drawn over their heads, sit in the sun, knitting and chatting. “The work is hard, and we are old, but we keep doing it so we can contribute something to our families,” said one woman. “We have no choice but to do this work — it’s all we know.” The women sort and pick peaches and climb ladders to prune the trees in the winter. The majority of Mahal Plaza’s residents seem to rely on the county’s public health department for basic health services, and on fee-for-service private physicians, for non-primary care.

Harpreet Kaur (not her real name) has been working in peach orchards and nurseries for several years. She would love to find a full-time job at a factory, because the work is a little safer and is done indoors. But to qualify to live in Mahal Plaza, a majority of one’s income has to come from farm work. If Kaur took a job in a factory, chances are that she, her husband and their two teenage daughters would be without a home. Like many of the men living in Mahal Plaza, Kaur’s husband doesn’t work. Last spring, while moving irrigation pipes in a Marysville orchard, his foot got stuck under a pipe. In his struggle to extricate it, much of the skin was gouged off his leg. “The foreman followed the rules and took him to the hospital,” said Kaur, “but he wasn’t invited to work again.”

But what poses the greatest danger to the Punjabi farm-working community, according to Kamaljit, is its cultural isolation. “Most of us don’t speak English, and the people who want to help us don’t speak Punjabi,” she said. “We don’t know what we’re missing out on. Something wrong could be happening, but we would never know it.”

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Vanity Fair: The Africa Issue

So, two of my favorite people: Bono and Queen Rania. My dream is to meet them both (and I'm halfway there, although I didn't officially meet Bono as much as track him down at a local bookstore in Boston and get a quick hug from him before he was whisked away... but who's counting). Anyway, this is why they continue to inspire me... Bono is guest editor at Vanity Fair this summer and in celebration of his presence at the magazine and in dedication to his commitment to Africa, VF did a spread of photos of famous people who are are dedicated to causes in Africa. It's not about the pictures, although (as usual) Annie Leibovitz does an incredible job, but it's about the challenge to do better in Africa.

The Africa issue contains an interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a piece on Jeffrey Sachs (post), a reminder of Nelson Mandela's leadership, a look at Madonna's work in Malawi and much much more. It's important to remember that these celebrities are doing some great work, but they are simply an example of the true courageous work that individuals (who aren't necessarily famous) do every single day... This issue is out this week.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Have you registered?

Did You Know A South Asian has a 1 in 20,000 Chance of Finding a Match? However, South Asians comprise approximately only 1% of the National Marrow Donor Registry.

A few years ago I registered to be a bone marrow donor with Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches. Throughout the years, we've all heard stories about South Asian patients having a difficult time finding a bone marrow match. Once again, we find ourselves calling upon friends and family members to register. A fellow BU-er, Vinay, is in need of a bone marrow match. His friends and family are working hard to spread the news to the South Asian community to register in the hopes that he will find a match. I encourage you to take the steps to register in the National Bone Marrow Registry.

You can find out more information on a website that has been set up to help Vinay.

It is really easy to register:

We are asking all of you to please register at the Bone Marrow Website to help Vinay and many others just like him. Please forward this announcement to all people you know to do the same. Finding a bone marrow donor is very rare, which is why it is so important that as many people register as possible.

You can easily register with the Asian American Donor Program (AADP) Registry. The procedure to register is less than a minute and is not invasive, just a simple swab of the mouth. The AADP recommends that people read about the actual marrow donation procedure on the website before registering.

It is really important, as a South Asian, to register and I really encourage you to do so. I really believe that activism and action are an integral part of each of us.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Lest We Forget...

At 9:20am on 31 October 1984 India's prime minister Indira Gandhi was shot by two of her security guards in the garden of her home at No 1, Safdarjung Road in Delhi.

The attack led to rioting on a grand scale across India as Hindus took their revenge on Sikhs. At least 1,000 people are thought to have died and the army eventually intervened to quell the violence.

The assassination itself was revenge for the raid on Sikhism's holiest shrine in Amritsar to flush out separatist militants who had taken refuge there.

BBC - Never Forget 84
Sikh Genocide

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Show Me Campaign

I went to see John Legend the other day (great concert!) where he profiled a campaign he is involved with in Africa whose mission it is to fight economic and spiritual poverty through fostering sustainable development. This is from his site:

Normally I travel to locations around the world to perform, but I came to Ghana to learn after being inspired by the book The End of Poverty by Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs. What I loved about the book is that is appealed to both my practical and compassionate sides. It also convinced me that extreme poverty could be eradicated in our lifetime by a surprisingly realistic amount of money.

He goes onto say that:

Hundreds of thousands of kids in Africa die from Malaria, which is preventable with a $10 bed net and curable with a $2 medicine dosage. That same $10 can fertilize an entire farm and dramatically increase its crop yield for a year.

So not only does John Legend have a soulful voice. He has a soul.

I have to mention that I am also reading Jeffrey Sachs' book The End of Poverty and would really recommend it to anyone wanting to gain a better understanding of strategies for economic development around the world. It's not only a goal that we can reach, but it's also something that can be sustained.


Here is an excerpt from an article about Michael Moore's new film about the US healthcare system. It sounds like Moore's film discusses the issues of inadquate healthcare coverage moreso than a lack of health coverage. However, i tend to think the root of the problem is the same and I look forward to this film spurring dialogue and impacting society in the same way Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine shed light on Iraq and Gun Control.

"Sicko" purposefully does not focus on the 50 million or so Americans who don't have health insurance, as scandalous as that is, but on the horror stories of middle-class working folks who believed they were adequately covered. There are so many of these they begin to blur into each other: the woman in Los Angeles whose baby was denied treatment at an emergency room outside her HMO network, and died as it was being transferred hours later; the woman in Kansas City whose husband was repeatedly denied various drugs his physician prescribed for kidney cancer, and who in the last stage of life was denied a bone-marrow transplant that could have saved his life; the woman who was told her brain tumor was not a life-threatening illness, and died; the woman who was told her cancer must have been a preexisting condition, and died.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Hypertension: What Oprah doesn't know

A few weeks ago, Oprah's show was devoted to answering health questions. Dr. Oz asked her if she knew why African Americans have such high rates of hypertension, and Oprah retorted that indeed she did and that it was because "African Americans who survived [the slave trade's Middle Passage] were those who could hold more salt in their body." To which Dr. Oz rejoiced: "That's perfect!"

This conversation caused quite a stir and I've been following the discussion of this on a listserv that i belong to. Finally, an article about it came out in the LA times. It's an interesting discussion because not only does it shed some light on the prevalence of hypertension in a minority group - but it emphasizes the need to communicate health information that is accurate. Oprah has such an impact on her audience that it means it's even more important that she provides them with concrete information about their health and well-being.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Support the Global Health Council on Mother's Day

For some children and mothers, this Mother's Day isn't a time to celebrate.

One woman dies every minute, every day from maternal causes. 99% of which occur in low-income countries.

Help develop healthy women in a healthy world by donating $10 or more to the Global Health Council in honor of your mother. In return, the Global Health Council will send her a personalized Mother's Day card.

Your gift will help the Global Health Council ensure a Global Happy Mother's Day.

Any gift you give will make a difference.

Epidemiology Definitions

An epidemic is a rate of disease that reaches unexpectedly high levels, affecting a large number of people in a relatively short time. Epidemic is a relative concept: a small absolutely number of cases of a disease is considered an epidemic if the disease incidence is usually very low. In contrast, a disease (such as malaria) is considered endemic if it is continuously present in a population but at low or moderate levels, while a pandemic describes epidemics of world-wide proportions, such as influenxa in 1918 or HIV/AIDS today.

Friday, April 13, 2007

.:Happy Vaisakhi:.

Vaisakhi is one of the most colorful events in the Sikh calendar. It's a time when Punjabi farmers harvest their crops and most importantly, the day on which the city of Anandpur in Punjab saw the creation of the 'Khalsa' - The Pure Ones.

In 1699 on Vaisakhi (also written Baisakhi) Day, hundreds of thousands of people gathered around the divine temporal seat at Anandpur Sahib. Guru Gobind Singh Ji addressed the congregants with a most stirring oration on his divine mission of restoring their faith and preserving the Sikh religion. He said that every great deed was preceded by equally great sacrifice.

Vaisakhi is the day on which the Sikh Nation - the Khalsa was born and Sikhs were given a clear identity and a code of conduct to live by. The event was led by the last living Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, who baptised the first Sikhs using sweet nectar called Amrit. Around the world at Vaisakhi time, Sikhs reflect on the values taught to them by their Gurus and celebrate the birth of the Khalsa.

The message of Vaisakhi has particular relevance today in a multi-cultural and multi-faith society. Vaisakhi promotes friendship and mutual respect as the way forward. This is consistent with the command of Guru Gobind Singh Ji: Consider the whole of humanity as one, we are all children of the One God.

Turban Day - Nirali Magazine
Turban Day - Sepia Mutiny
Savory Sikh

Monday, April 09, 2007


I came across some great sites this past week and have decided to summarize them in this blog.

Seva Café is an experiment in the joys of giving and of selfless service. Run mostly by volunteers, our wholesome meals are cooked with love and served with love, offered to you as a genuine gift. To complete the full circle of giving and to sustain this experiment, we leave it to you to pay from your heart. All profits are used to support social service projects.

Project Naad is a charitable organisation committed to producing high quality freely distributable content. Check out their leaflets and presentations.

Search Kindly Search Kindly is a non-profit organization dedicated to the idea of micro-volunteerism. 100% of the advertising revenue generated from this website is donated to charitable organizations.

Sakhi for South Asian Women is a community-based organization in the New York metropolitan area committed to ending violence against women of South Asian origin.

Harvard World Health News is an online news digest from the Center for Health Communication at the Harvard School of Public Health. The site covers critical public health issues from around the world. It is designed to be a resource for an international audience of policy makers and journalists as well as public health researchers, practitioners, and advocates.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Provoked: Domestic Abuse

Provoked , a movie which discusses the topic of domestic abuse, is based upon the life of Kiranjit Ahluwalia. Kiranjit had an arranged marriage which turned into a marriage defined by violence and humiliation. After suffering his brutality for 10 years, she set fire to her husband one night and he died. She was charged with murder and imprisoned for life.

The trial judge declared that the violence she had suffered was "not serious" and the prosecution claimed that she had merely been "knocked about'. Because of her shame about the incidents of sexual abuse, Kiranjit could not face her family hearing about them at the trial and gave no evidence in her defence. Her plea of manslaughter due to provocation was overturned and the jury found her guilty of murder.

A key reason for the failure of Kiranjit's plea of provocation was the bias towards male behaviour in such cases. the time that had elapsed between Deepak's last attack on her and her retaliation (a few hours) was deemed to be a "cooling down" period and not a "boiling over" period as her defence suggested. Men tend to react instantaneously when provoked, whereas women cannot do so because of men's greater physical strength and size.

An appeal was granted in 1992 on the grounds that expert evidence and psychiatric reports had not been presented at the original trial. A re-trial was ordered and on September 25, 1992 Kiranjit was found guilty of manslaughter due to diminished responsibility and sentenced to three years and four months (the time she had already served). Kiranjit was released immediately.

Provoked will be released in April 2007 in the UK, and at a later date in the US.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

An excerpt from Sikhism, by Eleanor Nesbitt

I just read this "short introduction" on Sikhism and found it to be very informative and well written. Here is an excerpt from the book, about Bhagat Puran Singh.

"Bhagat Puran Singh (1904-92) dedicated his life to caring for the destitute and disabled and the Pingalwara (home for the 'handicapped'), a complex situated near Amritsar's bus terminus, carries on his mission of compassionate seva, under its Patron President, Dr Indarjit Kaur. The All-India Pingalwara Charitable Society, employing over 400 people, resulted from Bhagat Puran Singh's decades of tirless effort for the abandoned, terminally ill, and mentally challenged. This began with his devotion to the helpless Piara Singh, whom he found as abandoned, dumb four-year-old, physicially deformed and mentally impaired. Puran Singh washed and tended him, gave him the name 'Piara', meaning beloved, and for years carried him on his back as a 'garland round my neck'." - page 83


Wednesday, February 28, 2007

UK Sikh Health clinic could provide blueprint

A PIONEERING health support scheme for Leamington's Sikh community is set to be rolled out across the country if it proves successful.

The Apnee Sehat clinic, located at the Sikh Community Centre in Queensway, officially opened for business on Friday (February 16). It has been set up by consultant diabetologist Dr Shirine Boardman - with the help of a £10,000 grant from South Warwickshire Primary Care Trust - and aims to provide the local Asian community with specialist help and advice in managing diabetes-related problems in an environment they feel comfortable with.

The centre is part of a pilot project due to run for one year, during which time researchers from the University of Warwick's Medical School will analyse its effectiveness - with a view to creating permanent clinics across the country in the near future. To date the successful project has been nominated for five national awards by various health service organisations. Project co-ordinator Dr Shirine Boardman said she hoped the unique clinic would dramatically reduce the disproportionately high levels of diabetes, strokes and heart attacks in the south Asian population. "It is very exciting to be able to run a pilot research clinic for diabetes which is tailored to the needs of a community which is disadvantaged by its predisposition to premature diabetes, heart disease, strokes and kidney failure," she said. "Members of the Asian community are six times more likely to get diabetes due to their genetics - but this centre will help promote self-care and will help to empower and keep patients motivated.

Hundreds of local Asian people attended the official launch on Friday, along with councillors, mayors and members of South Warwickshire PCT, which has supported the project from the beginning. Warwick District councillor Balvinder Gill added: "Hospitals are frightening places for this community and signify serious illness. "The community is also shy and they often won’t visit the doctor until it’s too late, not to mention the language problems, which prevent them from expressing their symptoms. "Having this clinic means they will feel relaxed in their own environment."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Global Health Photo Contest

The Global Health Council's Photography Contest is dedicated to drawing attention to health issues that have a global impact and to celebrate this year's conference theme, Partnerships: Working Together for Global Health.

Each year, the Global Health Council holds a photography contest inviting both amateurs and professionals to submit selections of their work which clearly illustrate the theme of the Council’s core issues of women’s health, child health, infectious diseases, HIV/AIDS and emerging health threats.

The Global Health Council recognizes the ability of photography to convey great emotional depth and understanding of issues which are often difficult to discuss, and seeks to highlight the important contributions to understanding and action made by the winner of the award.

The winner's work will be prominently displayed at the conference and will appear in Global Health Council publications with attribution.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Shame by Jasvinder Sanghera

I've been reading a lot about this new book by English activist Jasvinder Sanghera and it is definitely blog worthy. You might ask how this book is related to health, but you will soon realize that health is integrally linked to the well-being of both our bodies and mind.

In her memoir, Jasvinder discusses the, what seems to be "controversial" issue of forced marriage. (Why it is controversial is unknown to me, when quite clearly we have reached a time in the progression of our culture to realize that the concept of forced marriage is not only unacceptable but also conflicts with the values upheld by the Sikh religion). It is a shame to read about the difficulties the author incurred while trying to stand up for what was the right thing, and it is a further shame that she lost the support of those individuals (namely her sisters) whom she felt inspired to fight for.

Her story is heart-breaking and tragic. I found this statement interesting, "By day I fought for the rights of Asian women," she writes, "and by night I craved acceptance from the very community I rejected." There is no clear consensus as to what to do because coming from a culture that is so integrally tied, women are deeply conflicted. Family and community should not be a weight - and often times, they are.

It usually comes down to a female who has to fight for a right that is so easily provided to her male counterpart. It is therefore usually females who have to suffer through the trials and tribulations of breaking the norm and bringing shame upon their family. Often times, it is these same women who are really striving to live by the values and morals set out by their religion.

Anyway, i am looking forward to reading the book - to be allowed to enter another's experience through their memoir is profound. But i hope this book spurs dialogue around forced marriage and the consequences it has on the well-being of our community. Everyone is affected by it - mothers, fathers, sons, daugheters, sisters, and brothers. Suicide rates and depressions rates have increased (the suicide rate among young South Asian females is three times the national average) and research has shown the long-term and damaging effects of that.