Author Archive

“Rethinking Health and Human Rights”

Although Paul Farmer’s book “Pathologies of Power” dissects how poverty and lack of basic human rights has direct effects on health, the last chapter gives the reader hope as it discusses an agenda to alleviate the issues that aggregate the relationship between human rights and global health. Farmer tries to track the root of health discrepancies by saying society should make health and healing the symbolic core of this new agenda. Since most individuals find nothing wrong with promoting health and healing, rallying around these themes is something people would find no trouble in supporting. Farmer also emphasizes that we must make provision of services central to the agenda, in other words, we must make changes based on the advice of the sick and poor rather than blindly  following the policies implemented by those in power. Farmer’s agenda for improving health in relation to rights also includes establishing new research agendas that are not biased against the poor, assuming a broader educational mandate by spreading health awareness, achieving independence from powerful government and bureaucracies so that the voices of the people and for the people are heard, and securing more resources for health and human rights.

Thankfully we live in a time in which the connection between global health and human rights is becoming ever more clear. There has been a shift in the way people think about medicine and more of a push towards social equality. In a rapidly advancing and globalizing world, we have the tools to start changing the health system so that human rights and health around the globe are protected. Although genocide is not yet a stark reality of the past, a movement towards Farmer’s agenda ensures that we analyze the social, economic, and political factors that produce conditions in which genocide is able to take place. Thus, the faster we act upon the issues highlighted by Farmer, the faster we can take away the justification for an action as inexcusable as genocide.


For more information on Paul Farmer:


Trapped Inside the Separation Wall (EXTRA CREDIT BLOG)

The Israeli separation wall has had a huge impact on Gaza’s economy, as poverty levels, closely linked to public health, have steadily increased. Most of this economic distress is caused by the restriction of movement in the occupied territory.

While much of the land and infrastructure in Gaza has been destroyed, there is virtually no way for them to leave Gaza to seek work or medical assistance. There are currently three main crossing points, one of which is only used for cargo, leaving the Erez Crossing in the north and the Rafah Crossing into Egypt in the south, which was closed from 2007-May 2011 (following the end of Hosni Mubarak’s regime). This means until recently, there was only one way for Gazans to leave the occupied territory, and even this passage was severely restricted. The Erez Crossing serves as a pedestrian and cargo passage only open to Egyptian citizens, foreign aid officials, and Palestinians with an authorized permit to work, seek medical treatment, or visit immediate family members in jail. Since most Palestinians are denied permits into Israel, this crossing is essentially only for foreigners. Of the 1.7 million Gazans, only 5,000 have been granted permits use the Erez Crossing, which is often closed by Israeli officials. Most of the permit-holders endure harassment and long waiting periods in the process of crossing, while many permits have been confiscated by border officials. The blockade has crippled Gaza’s economy, doubling the unemployment rate to more than 45% since 2007. With essentially no way to leave the overpopulated tiny strip of land, 1.7 million people are stuck in what can be viewed as an open-air prison.

Introduction to the documentary, “The Wall”

Many people view the separation barrier as an apartheid wall, and the virtual inability to leave such horrid conditions as an act of genocide.
For more information on the implications of the barrier:

“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”

Sherman Alexie’s children’s novel, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” is a heart-warming tale of young boy growing up on a Native American Reservation with excessive cerebral fluid. Overcoming his less than likely odds of survival, Junior tries to lead the life of a normal Indian boy until he realizes that to be successful he must leave the reservation. He wants to break the monotonous cycle that most Indians on the res get stuck in, and he realizes to find more opportunities he must enlist in the white school outside his reservation. Becoming an outcast to the rest of his community and seen as a traitor for trying to be “white,” Junior faces harassment both on and off the res.

The novel discusses how Native Americans are discriminated against, and are essentially stuck on the res since it is hard for them to find jobs anywhere else. Not only does discrimination prevent them from leaving, but in an extremely tribal society, it is very rare for families to split up. In one of the chapters, Junior asks his parents why the Indians celebrate Thanksgiving, since shortly after the first celebratory feast, the Caucasians embraced a full on genocide of the Native Americans, systematically kicking them off their lands and destroying their livelihoods.

For more information about the author and his book:


The Impacts of International Medical Aid

Andreas Kalofono’s article “All I ate is ARV’s” and Pamela Feldman-Savelsberg “Sterilizing Vaccines or the Politics of the Womb” highlight how foreign medical aid in the form of new technology sometimes garners undesirable effects in local communities. The introduction of antiretroviral medication for PLWHA (people living with HIV/AIDs) in central Mozambique ended up causing more problems than expected. As a side-effect of the new drugs, people would feel extremely famished, but because of lack of resources in the community, were unable to meet their hunger’s needs. This is proof of how various technologies work differently in different parts of the world, depending on the community’s history, economy, and resources. PLWHA in Mozambique did not want to be singled out as having the taboo disease by accepting medication, and those who did often suffered severe symptoms that disrupted daily life.

Feldman-Savelsberg article discussed the introduction of anti-tetanus vaccines in Cameroon, which the local population was extremely wary of. Since the vaccines targeted school-children, many women and girls believed the vaccines to be part of a government plot to impose population control by inducing sterilization in young females. The rumors spread about the vaccines shed light on the extreme mistrust people had of the Cameroon state government, and is an example of how foreign technology brought can be a cause of fear and suspicion.

Many earlier drugs were tested on minority groups, or in more vulnerable parts of the world, where people were uninformed on what was going on, did not question motives, and were desperate for medical solutions. In 1990, Kaiser Permanente launched a new vaccine for measles which was tested on many minority children (mainly African-Americans and Hispanics) in the Los Angeles Area. The vaccine was quickly recalled a year later, after more than 1,000 vaccinated children died. This targeted testing of a vaccination was labelled as genocidal activity with the intent to ethnic cleanse a specific community.

For more information on the Kaiser vaccination scandal:

Egypt in the wake of WWII: Malaria, War, and Famine

Timothy Mitchell’s “Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity” sheds light on the malaria epidemic that ravaged Egypt during World War II. The disease, combined with war conditions and the construction of the Aswan Dam which depleted the region of agricultural resources, sending Egypt into a state of famine, claimed the lives of more than 1 million people. However, the epidemic was severely underplayed, and even kept from compatriots within the country. The Europeans, who used Egypt as a war route, were most likely responsible for the spread of the epidemic, while the construction of the Aswan Dam reallocated local water to industrial crops, leaving local agricultural crops dependent on synthetic chemical fertilizers which sent the country into a famine.

As a result of the European instigated World War II, Egypt and her resources were sucked into the conflict, resulting in a devastating epidemic that was kept quiet to not only the rest of the country, but the rest of the world. The catastrophic malaria epidemic in combination with war and famine conditions that were also connected to European actions demonstrate the manipulation of Egyptian land and resources for European advantages. This structural violence can be viewed as form of genocide, since the epidemic was exacerbated by government actions, while the majority of the population remained unaware of the country’s dire conditions.

For more information on Egypt’s role in World War II:

Civilian Sacrifice (EXTRA CREDIT BLOG)

How many civilian deaths are worth a militant death? In the eyes of the CIA, this ratio holds little relevance, especially when dealing with non-American civilians. According to the London Bureau of Investigative Journalism, since 2004 at least 316 U.S. drone strikes have struck Pakistan which have resulted in between 2,412-3,063 deaths. Although the Bureau claims that many of these were militant deaths, only 138 named militants have been killed by the attacks, while 178 children have been killed, and 467-815 civilian deaths have been reported.

U.S. government officials assume that many of these deaths were of low-ranking militants, but the blind killing of hundreds of innocent women and children in order to get to these militants seems excessive. In addition to these casualties, at least 1,158 people are known to have been wounded. In August 2011, the London Bureau has found that there have been 8% more drone strikes and 40% more casualties than previously reported. I wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers are more. Isn’t this systematic killing of Pakistanis based on questionable assumption resonant of genocide? Should the killing of innocent civilians be justified if a few terrorists are killed?
People assume that these civilian deaths are acceptable because they live in an area where they are probably influenced by militants, but these people forget that Pakistani civilians are also victims of terror. Since 2009, at least 6,000 Pakistanis civilians have been killed by terrorists, more than the total number of deaths from the tragic 9/11 attacks. But nobody hears or cares about these deaths because to the average American, these people live far away in a land full of terrorists and get what they deserve. It is easy to forget the vast majority of Pakistan’s 187 million population does not consist of extremists. However, actions such as the drone attacks, in which many innocent civilians are killed, do have repercussions and have increased anger amongst the local population. Many people do not realize that Pakistanis are outraged at their own corrupt government, and feel as if they do not have a voice in decisions regarding their country. As the economic gap widens within the nation, the poor are suffering now more than ever, while they are being attacked not only by their own, but also by foreign governments. When looked at from another lens, it is not too difficult to understand the conditions which force those in poverty to turn to extreme and desperate measures.
Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy gives interesting insight into a Pakistani Taliban school:

Food As A Political Tool

Kristin Phillip’s article “Hunger, Healing, and Citizenship in Tanzania” discusses how food aid is essentially used as a political tool to keep the socioeconomic hierarchy in balance. The poor remain dependent on those in power for food, and are therefore forced to comply in activities asked of them by those in superior positions of power. Even foreign countries who give aid in the form of food often do so in a structure that allows them to maintain their role as a type of “father-figure” to which those receiving aid feel indebted. Most global institutions designed to distribute food aid do not tackle the root of the problem and develop self-sustainable solutions that the locals can take charge of after the aid providers are gone. But then again, this keeps the poor indebted to whichever agency is helping feed them. Through these social hierarchies, the rich and powerful basically have control over the food supply of poorer population, setting up a situation in which the poor must listen to the rich, or else have their health and access to basic needs jeopardized. This in effect, sets up a situation in which it would not be difficult for the powerful to ration food supply for political gains, creating a situation of genocide, in which a specific group is targeted and systematically destroyed.

Although it is wonderful that many aid agencies distribute much needed water and food around the globe, the issue of world-wide hunger could be further abated if aid agencies could lessen local dependence on different organizations to provide basic needs such as food and water. One nonprofit organization that does base its international projects on self-sustainable long-term solutions is Relief International. For more information about their different self-sustainability projects, please visit their website at