The view from Haiti: A personal account

Haiti was shaken yet again Wednesday, January 20, by a 5.9-magnitude aftershock that lasted approximately 7 seconds, cutting no break for the hundreds of thousands of already-devastated Haitians and the aid workers there to help them. There have been more than 40 aftershocks since the shattering quake on January 12. This latest shock, certainly the largest, centered about 35 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince and about 6 miles below the surface,…

Banning cluster munitions: What will it take?

[Editor’s note: This is a guest post written by Sujal Parikh.] On December 22, New Zealand and Belgium became the 25th and 26th nations to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). The convention needs only four more ratifications to achieve the 30-state minimum to enter into force. Once in force, it will enact a ban on the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of most cluster munitions, which include bombs,…

Major earthquake devastates Haiti, the Americas’ poorest nation

A major earthquake of 7.0 magnitude hit Haiti yesterday just ten miles outside of Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capital. The quake centered on one of the most densely populated areas of one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, knocking out telephone communications, causing the collapse of buildings and homes, and potentially killing thousands of people and injuring tens of thousands more. The extent of the devastation is still unknown,…

Access to life-saving health information: Not a luxury, a necessity

In India, a woman enters a village health center and accesses a web page for information on how to better care for her baby. In Boston, a doctor at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), one of the world’s most elite hospitals, pulls up the UpToDate website — an online medical information resource used by many clinicians to stay current with the latest clinical advances and practices — for information…

Uganda’s draft HIV/AIDS bill alarms human rights community

Ugandan legislators recently released the latest version of a controversial HIV/AIDS bill that “promotes dangerous and discredited approaches to the AIDS epidemic,” according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). In a response report published by HRW and endorsed by more than 50 organizations and individuals, HRW criticizes Uganda’s proposed HIV Prevention and Control Bill for the repressive nature of several new clauses while pointing out some of its more agreeable aspects.…

South Africa revives commitment to combating AIDS

During his speech on World AIDS Day, South African President Jacob Zuma promised to ramp up HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs for children and high-risk groups. The new plan calls for treating all HIV-infected babies in a country whose child mortality rate has risen since 1990. “Our message is simple,” President Zuma said, “we have to stop the spread of HIV. We must reduce the rate of new infections. Prevention…

Informed consent at the nexus of health and human rights, as reported by Special Rapporteur Anand Grover to the UN General Assembly

In his recent report for the United Nations General Assembly, Special Rapporteur Anand Grover emphasizes that informed consent should be a fundamental practice in a rights-based approach to health. He describes informed consent as “not mere acceptance of medical intervention, but a voluntary and sufficiently informed decision, protecting the right of the patient to be involved in medical decision-making, and assigning associated duties and obligations to health-care providers. Its ethical…

HIV treatment plans inadequate in South African prisons

Many prisoners living with HIV are denied access to adequate antiretroviral drugs, leaving them susceptible to opportunistic infections. Recently, prisoners have increasingly demanded HIV treatment. In 2006, South African inmates launched a hunger strike, demanding that the government provide antiretroviral (ARV) treatment for infected prisoners. In response, Judge Thumba Pillay of the High Court ordered the Department of Correctional Services to adopt a comprehensive HIV/AIDS plan for prisons throughout South…

Maximizing Benefits: A Rights-Based Approach to Health

[Editor’s note: This is a guest post written by Sarah Mi Ra Dougherty.] In a recent opinion piece in the Financial Times, William Easterly argued that a rights-based approach to health care would favor the agendas of the rich and powerful, leaving the poor to die of neglected diseases. He then contends that holding ourselves to such unrealistically high standards would open the floodgates for unchecked spending, “since any of…

Call for action to reduce global maternal mortality and morbidity

More than 500,000 women die each year from preventable complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. The World Health Organization describes the main causes of maternal mortality and morbidity as “unavailable, inaccessible, unaffordable, or poor quality” medical treatment and care. More than 70% of maternal deaths are caused by five complications: hemorrhage (25%), infection (15%), unsafe abortion (13%), eclampsia (seizures caused by high blood pressure – 12%), and obstructed labor (8%).…