Iraqi Refugees forced into Prostitution

September 16, 2007

Iraqi Refugees forced into Prostitution

I haven’t posted in a while, so I thought this would be a good post to get back in the swing of things.

One would think that by now people in the U.S. would be experts regarding Iraq. Since George W. Bush talks so much about “bringing freedom” to the Iraqis, saying things like “the safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad”, I assume all law-abiding, patriotic citizens should at least know something about Iraq’s culture, its geography, languages spoken, not to mention everything about the daily struggles of the Iraqis. Yeah right, and first thing tomorrow morning, I’m buying a Jaguar for myself and a Porsche for my wife.

It is so incredibly frustrating that the average American is completely ignorant of the current human crisis and refugee situation in Iraq. If this were the 1930’s, with no TV, print, or internet, I would understand, but nowadays information is at the tip of the fingertips, one search engine away.

Take this recent article from WireTap Magazine:

Child prostitution is an increasingly widespread phenomenon in Damascus. Out of economic desperation, Iraqi refugee women and girls are forced into these roles. Frequently, women who have lost their husbands or girls who have lost their fathers resort to prostitution to support their families. And sometimes families that have no other financial resources sell their daughters into the sex industry. It is a tragic and horrifying reality.

There are no official figures as to how many of the Iraqi refugees work as prostitutes. But Hana Ibrahim, founder of the Iraqi women’s group Women’s Will, told The Independent that she puts the figure at 50,000. No one knows how many of the prostitutes are children.

Take a guess if this has EVER been discussed, or at least mentioned, in the mainstream media, with the seriousness this deserves. You certainly won’t hear it from the likes of George W. Bush or Dick Cheney. They just don’t to talk about the problems, and even if they do, they certainly won’t address the causes of it:

The increased trafficking and prostitution is yet another result of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. There are roughly 1.5 million Iraqi refugees in Syria, perhaps 2 million within the Middle East. UNHCR estimates that 50,000 Iraqi refugees arrive in Syria each month. This situation represents the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since 1948 and is currently the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world. Syria has been accepting more refugees without visas than any other country in the world. On Sept. 11, however, the Syrian government announced new visa restrictions that will sharply decrease the numbers of Iraqis wishing to enter Syria.

50,000 Iraqi refugees each month. That’s over half a million last year just to Syria alone. Syria has done a lot for Iraqi refugees, yet you really don’t hear much about it. What you do hear is that Syria might get a can of good ol’ butt whoopin’, shock-and-awe style, if it doesn’t do what the U.S. wants. If George W. Bush really cares that much for Iraq’s people, then he must be bending over backwards helping Iraqis, right? Wrong:

[…]In a July 2007 press statement, Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program, states, “The Syrian authorities have responded very positively to the Iraqis’ needs, but they and the Jordanian authorities should not be left to bear the weight of this crisis alone.” He went on to scold nations who had previously committed to providing financial assistance but had yet to cough up the funds.

But a lack of money is not the only problem. Refugees International underscores that offers from the international community to resettle Iraqi refugees have also been scarce. For example, the United States initially promised it would accept 7,000 Iraqi refugees by October of this year, yet, to date, has accepted only 133. Sweden, which had allowed thousands of Iraqis to resettle, has recently closed its borders to them. The silence of other nations on this issue is deafening.

7,000 measly visas for Iraqi refugees that are fleeing violence, civil war and ethnic cleansing, and of those only 133 have been accepted. Is this the high standard the U.S. currently has in place for the refugees in the very same fucking country it is “liberating”? I mean, give me a fucking break. It’s not like the U.S. has never helped refugees before. In 1975, President Ford brought to the U.S. 131,000 South Vietnamese that had worked for the Americans.

We can do a lot better. But I digress. The average American, especially those belonging to that elusive “28%” of the population that still backs Bush in whatever fantasy he spits out of his mouth, doesn’t have a clue as to what an average Iraqi refugee has to live with:

According to the UNHCR, Iraqis arrive with three to five months’ worth of savings. Due to a scarcity both of resources and of housing, they live in overcrowded neighborhoods outside of Damascus, such as Jeremana, often cramped seven to a room with few furnishings. Iraqis are not allowed to work in Syria, so when their funds run out, they are unable to support themselves. Consequently, many work illegally. Yet these jobs are difficult to come by and poorly paid, and workers frequently face discrimination. A report published by UNHCR and UNICEF last year states that an estimated 450,000 Iraqis in Syria “face aggravated difficulties” related to their “ambiguous legal and unsustainable income.” As their savings dwindle, the situation of Iraqi refugees is bound to deteriorate further. Sybella Wilkes, the UNHCR Regional public information officer in Damascus, says that “64 percent of the people who have arrived here have run out of savings.”

Bassam Alkadi, of the Syrian Women’s Observatory, agrees that the economic desperation is leading to an increase in prostitution. “The standard of living for Iraqis,” he says “has gone downhill very quickly.”

Yet according to Dubya, freedom is on the march. Sometimes I wish I were more eloquent so I can convey my thoughts and emotions better, but such is not the case here. The Iraqi refugee crisis is something I, along with others that truly give a damn about human rights, have been discussing since before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. One of my main gripes, though, is the hypocrisy that people have towards all of this. They care about the Iraqis, yet don’t want or don’t care to find out what’s really happening. It is all horseshit. Just admit it – this war has nothing to do with WMDs (guess who still believes that nonsense), democracy, or human rights. The average American does not understand or care much about human rights, and neither does Dubya.

Who are you going to believe, me or the president of the United States? Hint: I have been known to be right on occasion.


Giuliani also clueless about AIDS

July 23, 2007

Back after an absence – in which I had some medical boards to tend to, and my wife had a baby – I realize that some things never change, such as ignorance and hypocrisy.

Let’s take Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York on 9/11 (as he would like to be remembered, he reminds us). The man is campaign for president of the United States representing the Republican party – not the party of Lincoln mind you, but the political party of self-rightous, war-crazed, torture-friendly conservative idiots who have come to power. I just mentioned “ignorance and hypocrisy” because you have to be either ignorant or a hypocrite to support a twice-divorced, drag-dressing man spouting “conservative family values”.

Giuliani also clueless about AIDS

But I digress. On a campaign stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, after the usual prepared remarks, the questions came. And here is were it gets stupid:

Asked about increasing federal support for HIV medications, Giuliani discussed what he considers appropriate federal responsibility in health care. “I don’t want to promise you the federal government will take over the role,” he said, drawing applause and shouts of “all right.” Then, in some interesting twists, he turned the HIV question into a 9/11 answer:

“My general experience has been that the federal government works best when it helps and assists and encourages and sets guidelines… on a state-by-state, locality-by-locality basis. It’s no different from the way I look at homeland security. Maybe having been mayor of the city, I know that your first defense against terrorist attack is that local police station, or that local firehouse.”

WTF? He was asked about AIDS, specifically HIV medications for HIV/AIDS patients, and his answer was… 9/11! It seems Giuliani has the routine pat down. Someone asks him a difficult question, and the answer is the same: 9/11! It is similar to Bush’s answer. Whereas Bush goes back to “the terrorists attacked us on 9/11”, Giuliani goes back to “I was the mayor of New York on 9/11!”, as if that is going to get him off the hook. So far, it has, but lets see if the public can stand that load of B.S. right up until the 2008 election.

By the way, there is another conservative idiot that had some problems on AIDS prevention – remember John McCain?

Reporter: “Should U.S. taxpayer money go to places like Africa to fund contraception to prevent AIDS?”

Mr. McCain: “I haven’t thought about it. Before I give you an answer, let me think about. Let me think about it a little bit because I never got a question about it before. I don’t know if I would use taxpayers’ money for it.”

Q: “What about grants for sex education in the United States? Should they include instructions about using contraceptives? Or should it be Bush’s policy, which is just abstinence?”

Mr. McCain: (Long pause) “Ahhh. I think I support the president’s policy.”

Q: “So no contraception, no counseling on contraception. Just abstinence. Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?”

Mr. McCain: (Long pause) “You’ve stumped me.”

By the way, that McCain campaign is non-existant, so Giuliani better wise up and stop acting like a hardliner when it comes to HIV/AIDS.

But it’s not just HIV/AIDS that Giuliani is being a conservative idiot. Take health care for example:

Giuliani’s health-care plan is firmly based in the private sector. He proposes a $15,000 tax exemption for individual health insurance. “If you can find it cheaper, you can keep the difference.” He said with 50 million to 100 million Americans participating, this would create a marketplace for affordable individual plans: “Lots of people would buy private health insurance if it was as attractive as employer plans.” All plans would have to have some co-payment, to encourage people to make choices about their care.

In an extended analogy, Giuliani likened the cost of health care to the price of TVs in the early 1950s — prices were high because the marketplace was small. With a larger marketplace prices of TVs have gone down and quality has improved with advancing technology. “It happened because there was a free market,” he said. His analogy missed some realities – you won’t die if you can’t get a plasma TV, but you might die if you can’t get to the doctor.

But Giuliani mocked the idea of mandated coverage: “If the government had said, everybody has to get a TV, and we’ll help you pay for one if you can’t afford it, what would have happened to the price of TVs? When you promise these simplistic results you get disaster, like welfare.”

Giuliani also said a promise of universal health care was misguided:

“We don’t want socialized medicine. Maybe you should go see ‘Sicko,’ see if you agree with Michael Moore that we should have the Cuban health care system. That’s where the Democrats are taking us… All the places that have government-run health care, it’s inferior to us. We’ve got to preserve our private system. People will have to earn some of that access. Let’s not become a nanny state. You don’t help somebody when you make them dependent. You make it within their realm to do it, but give them a chance to earn it. The system gets destroyed when you start making big promises.”

Buddy, we already have some socialized medicine. It’s called Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. What’s more, we want more of it. Also, his claim that “all the places that have government-run health care, it’s inferior to us” is a load of shit, and he knows it (didn’t he just claim to see Sicko?). Even if he did not watch Sicko, the U.S. health care system is ranked 37 out of 191 countries, 2 notches above Cuba.

What’s hysterical is that all the places that have government-run health care are SUPERIOR to us. Way to go, Mr. Giuliani.

McCain’s “Straight-Talk Express” train might be in the scrap heap, but Giuliani is definitely picking up the slack.

Lesson for ALL presidential candidates: flunk AIDS, prepare to lose the U.S. presidency.


McCain Clueless on AIDS prevention – WTF??

March 17, 2007

Yes, I know, I have not posted in a while. I was attending the spectacular annual convention of the American Medical Student Association… more on that in a future posting.

For now let me direct you to a nice little conservative idiot, a U.S. senator who once was formerly known as a “straight shooter”, John McCain. Now he is more or less, how should I put this, full of shit.

McCain Clueless on AIDS prevention - WTF?

Notice I’m not saying, “I don’t like McCain because he is a Republican”, I’m saying I don’t like the guy because he has become what he (once) loathed – a liar. Take his reversal on Jerry Falwell, a demagogue who is getting filthy rich telling people such filth as:

“I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For The American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped [9/11] happen.”

“If you’re not a born-again Christian, you’re a failure as a human being.”

“Global warming is Satan’s attempt to redirect the Church’s primary focus.”

But I digress. The man who could one day become president of the most powerful nation ever on Earth is clueless about the deadliest disease to ever affect mankind. The ignorance needs to be read to be believed.

From “The Caucus” Blog of the New York Times:

SOMEWHERE in NORTHERN IOWA — The unthinkable has happened. Senator John McCain met a question, while sitting with reporters on his bus as it rumbled through Iowa today, that he couldn’t – or perhaps wouldn’t – answer.

Did he support the distribution of taxpayer-subsidized condoms in Africa to fight the transmission of H.I.V.?

What followed was a long series of awkward pauses, glances up to the ceiling and the image of one of Mr. McCain’s aides, standing off to the back, urgently motioning his press secretary to come to Mr. McCain’s side.

Feeling awkward answering difficult and important questions is not unusual, even for a speaker at McCain’s high level. Giving a bullshit answer, though, is apparently within the reach of McCain’s level. All emphasis is mine:

A transcript of the encounter follows. (Weaver is John Weaver, his senior adviser, and Brian is Mr. Jones, his press secretary):

Reporter: “Should U.S. taxpayer money go to places like Africa to fund contraception to prevent AIDS?

Mr. McCain: “Well I think it’s a combination. The guy I really respect on this is Dr. Coburn. He believes – and I was just reading the thing he wrote– that you should do what you can to encourage abstinence where there is going to be sexual activity. Where that doesn’t succeed, than he thinks that we should employ contraceptives as well. But I agree with him that the first priority is on abstinence. I look to people like Dr. Coburn. I’m not very wise on it.”

(Mr. McCain turns to take a question on Iraq, but a moment later looks back to the reporter who asked him about AIDS.)

Mr. McCain: “I haven’t thought about it. Before I give you an answer, let me think about. Let me think about it a little bit because I never got a question about it before. I don’t know if I would use taxpayers’ money for it.”

Q: “What about grants for sex education in the United States? Should they include instructions about using contraceptives? Or should it be Bush’s policy, which is just abstinence?”

Mr. McCain: (Long pause) “Ahhh. I think I support the president’s policy.”

Q: “So no contraception, no counseling on contraception. Just abstinence. Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?”

Mr. McCain: (Long pause) “You’ve stumped me.”

Q: “I mean, I think you’d probably agree it probably does help stop it?”

Mr. McCain: (Laughs) “Are we on the Straight Talk express? I’m not informed enough on it. Let me find out. You know, I’m sure I’ve taken a position on it on the past. I have to find out what my position was. Brian, would you find out what my position is on contraception – I’m sure I’m opposed to government spending on it, I’m sure I support the president’s policies on it.”

Q: “But you would agree that condoms do stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Would you say: ‘No, we’re not going to distribute them,’ knowing that?”

Mr. McCain: (Twelve-second pause) “Get me Coburn’s thing, ask Weaver to get me Coburn’s paper that he just gave me in the last couple of days. I’ve never gotten into these issues before.”

This went on for a few more moments until a reporter from the Chicago Tribune broke in and asked Mr. McCain about the weight of a pig that he saw at the Iowa State Fair last year.

So folks, there you have it. I was going to sneak in some figures of HIV/AIDS, like 40 million worldwide living with HIV/AIDS, with 25 million of these living in sub-Saharan Africa, 48 million orphans in Africa, a quarter because of HIV/AIDS, but my guess is facts are worthless with these bunch of conservative idiots.

And by the way, asking your assistant about “your” position on a subject is preposterous when it comes to AIDS. If it were something like the microeconomics of Indonesian farmers I would cut you some slack, but AIDS? Give me a break.


Marijuana as wonder drug

March 3, 2007

From the Boston Globe:

A NEW STUDY in the journal Neurology is being hailed as unassailable proof that marijuana is a valuable medicine. It is a sad commentary on the state of modern medicine — and US drug policy — that we still need “proof” of something that medicine has known for 5,000 years.

The study, from the University of California at San Francisco, found smoked marijuana to be effective at relieving the extreme pain of a debilitating condition known as peripheral neuropathy. It was a study of HIV patients, but a similar type of pain caused by damage to nerves afflicts people with many other illnesses including diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Neuropathic pain is notoriously resistant to treatment with conventional pain drugs. Even powerful and addictive narcotics like morphine and OxyContin often provide little relief. This study leaves no doubt that marijuana can safely ease this type of pain.

As all marijuana research in the United States must be, the new study was conducted with government-supplied marijuana of notoriously poor quality. So it probably underestimated the potential benefit.

I have always found the ban on using marijuana for medical purposes ridiculous. I’m studying for a doctorate degree in medicine, and when I get there no so-called “moralist” or conservative politician is going to tell me that I can’t give a patient something I my training and the scientific evidence tell me that is the way to go.

With marijuana it is especially a problem, because anyone can grow it. You don’t have to buy it (well, at least initially from somebody!) and growing the plant is like growing any other plant. I have always believed that there is something else to it:

The pharmaceutical industry is scrambling to isolate cannabinoids and synthesize analogs, and to package them in non-smokable forms. In time, companies will almost certainly come up with products and delivery systems that are more useful and less expensive than herbal marijuana. However, the analogs they have produced so far are more expensive than herbal marijuana, and none has shown any improvement over the plant nature gave us to take orally or to smoke.

We live in an antismoking environment. But as a method of delivering certain medicinal compounds, smoking marijuana has some real advantages: The effect is almost instantaneous, allowing the patient, who after all is the best judge, to fine-tune his or her dose to get the needed relief without intoxication. Smoked marijuana has never been demonstrated to have serious pulmonary consequences, but in any case the technology to inhale these cannabinoids without smoking marijuana already exists as vaporizers that allow for smoke-free inhalation.

Be sure to read the rest of the article here. By the way, the piece was written by Lester Grinspoon, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, certainly not some ignorant hippie:

Hopefully the UCSF study will add to the pressure on the US government to rethink its irrational ban on the medicinal use of marijuana — and its destructive attacks on patients and caregivers in states that have chosen to allow such use. Rather than admit they have been mistaken all these years, federal officials can cite “important new data” and start revamping outdated and destructive policies. The new Congress could go far in establishing its bona fides as both reasonable and compassionate by immediately moving on this issue.

Such legislation would bring much-needed relief to millions of Americans suffering from cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and other debilitating illnesses.


Liberia’s Child Rape Victims

January 21, 2007

Liberia’s Child Rape Victims

From the BBC, a publication which runs circles around the pathetic mainstream media of the U.S.:

Africa’s first female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, came to power in Liberia a year ago, promising to tackle the problem of rape, which had become increasingly common during the previous 14 years of conflict in the country.

Will Ross has been travelling around Liberia to assess whether that war on rape is being won.

“I like to turn lemon into lemonade – make a bad situation into a good one,” declared the smartly dressed woman as she entered the room.

Annie Demen is Liberia’s deputy minister of gender, a post set up to empower women.

She also heads the taskforce charged with stamping out sexual violence in Liberia. But there was not much to smile about when I turned up later that day to interview her.

News had just reached the office that an 11-year-old girl called Janjay had died after being raped six months ago.

Janjay’s mother said the rape had left her so badly injured she was incontinent and had to wear nappies.

I know domestic violence and rape have their own social causes in every country, but besides mental health disorder or just complete social instability, what the f@%k causes a man to rape a child?

Now, I have asked plenty of people here to try to shed some light on why a man would rape a five-year-old or even a baby and, after the initial shrug of the shoulders, there is often a whisper or two about superstition or belief.

They think it will bring them good luck, one man told me.

In South Africa people have struggled to dispel the belief that raping a baby helps prevent or cure HIV Aids. And it is possible that a similar belief exists here.

There are plenty of misconceptions of HIV/AIDS in the world, especially in Africa, but ‘raping a baby helps prevent of cure HIV/AIDS’ is just too much for me. Go read the rest of the article here… I’m trying to come up with something smart and witty but I just can’t.


When cutting part of your wiener counts as vaccination…

January 15, 2007

Wiener

I have commented about this issue previously. By now you may have heard that researchers have found that circumcised men end up getting the HIV virus half as often as uncircumcised men.

Now comes this article in the New York Times:

Last month, scientists invented the AIDS vaccine. Missed it? Perhaps that’s because you were still seeking the vaccine fantasy: the magic bullet, the impenetrable shield that finally pitches this disease into the trash bin, the shot that will end not only the AIDS epidemic but our anxiety about the AIDS epidemic as well.

[…]The vaccine that arrived last month was not actually a vaccine. It was, instead, a confirmation of what scientists had long suspected: circumcision helps protect men from AIDS infection. For years, AIDS researchers have observed that many African tribes that circumcise boys or young men had lower AIDS rates than those that don’t, and that Africa’s Muslim nations, where circumcision is near universal, had far fewer AIDS cases than predominantly Christian ones. The first research proof came in 2005, when a study in South Africa was stopped early in the face of evidence that the men who had been randomly assigned to be circumcised were getting 60 percent fewer H.I.V. infections than the men assigned to the control group. Last month, ethics boards halted two similar studies, in Uganda and Kenya, when they found similar results. In both, the circumcised men caught the AIDS virus half as often as the uncircumcised control group.

I don’t have a problem with the results of the research itself, besides the obvious ethical questions, such as letting men have unprotected sex with HIV-positive women: if it is no biggie, then why didn’t the researchers try this little experiment somewhere in the U.S.? Ethics rule #1: if an Institutional Review Board (IRB, the one that regulates all research in every institution) would object to a certain experiment in your country, it is probably unethical to do so in another country as well. In layman’s terms, such research would never be allowed in the U.S.

But I digress. I don’t have a problem with the results of the studies. My problem is that because of these results, some people think that cutting part of their wiener is all it takes to fight AIDS. Thankfully, the New York Times article does tackle those issues, such as:

1) Will knowledge of circumcision’s protective status increase dangerous and ill-informed sexual behavior in men?
2) Does this protective status extend to the women circumcised men have sex with?
3) Will it increase or decrease research efforts for an AIDS vaccine?
4) How on Earth are we going to mass circumcise men in Africa? (really, what the hell do people think circumcision is?)
5) Who will train the medical personal?

You have to keep in mind that Africa’s health systems are very delicate – sometimes there is no sterilized equipment, or no autoclave machine, or surgical kits, or for that matter, very few medical personnel – and just cutting wieners left and right is not going to help in fighting AIDS.

Circumcision is a surgical procedure, however, and in the hands of traditional ritual circumcisers, it has a high rate of infection and mishap. The solution is to train these circumcisers and give them decent tools, and at the same time encourage men to come to clinics. Since men in studies say that cost is the biggest reason they are not circumcised, the operation must be free. Countries will also have to equip these clinics and train counselors and medical circumcisers, who don’t have to be doctors.

As you can gather, I oppose circumcision. It is a barbaric practice of ancient times, and you won’t see many docs offering circumcisions (unless you are Jewish). Here is another question for you: are we going to mass circumcise African children now? I really, really don’t want a religious crackpot to dictate that all those poor African children must be circumcised to prevent HIV.

You can read the rest of the article here. The article compares circumcision to a vaccine, and even though it is clear to make the distinctions, I don’t like it one bit. The best way to prevent HIV/AIDS is through education. Education, education, education! Not prayer, certainly not wishful thinking – education.

Either you don’t have sex (you’re not going to last long in this group), you use condoms and protect yourself and your partner, or are faithful to your partner (once you have an honest dialogue, both are faithful to each other, and of course none of them have HIV). That’s the foolproof method. You need to be educated about your own body, and respectful of your partner(s).

Of course, the biggest question to me is that while circumcision is protective only 50%, perhaps 60%, of HIV in each sexual encounter the individual has, you are out of luck the other half of the time. You really are going to take your chances? Who is going to protect you the other 50% of the time? It’s basic statistics – in this case, almost like a coin toss. And it’s also common sense – a condom, or a circumcision? Thanks but no thanks Mohel, you can keep your Metzitzah b’peh to yourself. You can cut part of your wiener, but if you have unprotected sex with someone who has HIV/AIDS, trust me, you will eventually get HIV.


And more on microbicides…

January 3, 2007

Here is another article about microbicide testing in Africa:

The Setshaba Research Centre is one of three sites in South Africa where a microbicide gel named Carraguard is being tested in phase 3 clinical trials, the last phase of drug testing on humans before approval for marketing.

More than 5,000 women are trying out the vaginal gel to determine if it really protects against HIV; most of them are from poor, neighboring areas.

“Studies done in the laboratory show that this agent might help in preventing HIV transmission,” Dr. Khatija Ahmed, principal investigator at the research center, told Women’s eNews. “It lines the vaginal mucosa so that the HIV virus cannot penetrate the mucosa and get into the human cell.”

If you want to learn more about microbicides, your best bet is to visit the Global Campaign for Microbicides webpage.