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Abortion debate goes mainstream in Malta

MSIDA, Malta — The controversial debate on Maltas stringent abortion laws has shifted from Facebook ..

MSIDA, Malta — The controversial debate on Maltas stringent abortion laws has shifted from Facebook forums to the highest levels of politics just in time for the European election.

In the weeks leading up to Saturdays ballot, the opposition Nationalist Party took out billboard adverts across the island championing the partys anti-abortion message. Its leader Adrian Delia called the European election a “referendum on abortion” — accusing the ruling Labour Party of secretly supporting greater abortion rights.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was pressed to respond, and said the government doesnt have a mandate to change abortion laws. Ninety-five percent of Maltese do not agree with abortion in the first 12 weeks of gestation (a health service available nearly everywhere else in Europe), according to the most recent polls.

In a country with one of the highest number of social media users and some of the strictest abortion laws in the EU, abortion has always been a hot topic on Facebook forums. After Irelands major shift this year, Maltas abortion-rights activists have ramped up pressure to take that debate mainstream — and say they are gaining traction.

“Its moving faster now than Ive seen in 10 years,” said Lara Dimitrijevic, the director of Maltas Womens Rights Foundation.

“Whether they vote green, whether they vote left, whether they vote right, center-left or center-right, the people we hear, they do not want abortion” — Alfred Sant, Labour MEP

“Abortion has raised its head here in almost every election since the mid- to late-90s,” said Antoine Borg, an independent MEP candidate, adding that its long been considered political suicide in the country. “But the tide of popular opinion is changing too. In days gone by, we would have never had a feminist group openly arguing for abortion. We wouldnt have had a group of doctors arguing the same point. Now we do.”

Those in favor argue Muscat has a big enough cushion of support — his party leads the Nationalists by 15 percentage points, according to a poll this month — to speak out in favor of abortion rights, and move in line with socialist parties across the bloc. Both anti-abortion and abortion-rights campaigners say they believe some Labour politicians may be personally in favor of changing the law. In a small but significant shift, the prime minister said during a media interview this monththat its time for a “sober discussion” on the “important subject.”

Yet the ruling party remains steadfast in its position. Labour MEP Alfred Sant, a former prime minister who has been knocking on doors as he bids for reelection, said over and over that “this is not an issue” for voters.

“Whether they vote green, whether they vote left, whether they vote right, center left or center right,” Sant said, “the people we hear, they do not want abortion.”

Building a movement

Mina Tolu has heard the phrase “political suicide” a lot in the past few months.

Driving around the island, the Maltese MEP candidate and French fellow candidate Antoine Tifine had a routine for getting their message across in the late hours of a warm Friday night. When they found a good spot, Tolu pulled the car over and Tifine jumped out to tie a couple of campaign posters (a flyer glued to recycled hand-cut carboard) to poles, some of which ended up upside down in the rush.

“Were just trying to make some noise,” said Tolu.

Tolu, who identifies as a nonbinary trans person, is a big name in Maltese LGBTQ activism — famously calling out Hollywood actress Emma Watson three years ago for using “she” pronouns, when Tolu uses “they” and “them.”

Running as an MEP for the countrys Green party, Democratic Alternative, Tolu was the first to mention abortion in the election, calling for a “respectful debate” in a Facebook video that went viral in February. “Why cant we discuss this in a way that goes beyond these posts and comments on Facebook? Why is it an issue thats being ignored?”

Shortly after, one of the founders of Democratic Alternative left the party in protest to start his own MEP campaign.

Tolu has practically no chance of winning a seat in the European Parliament. But after the U.K.-based Abortion Support Network announced at the start of the year that it would extend its services to Malta, helping women traveling for an abortion, Tolus video was significant.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat says his government doesnt have the mandate necessary to change abortion laws | Patricia de Melo Moreira/AFP via Getty Images

In March, the Womens Rights Foundation and other civil society organizations announced a “pro-choice coalition” for the election calling for abortion laws to change. A group of 50 doctors supporting abortion rights formed in May.

Dimitrijevic, sitting in the shade at a café in Valletta, suggested the Nationalist Partys strong intervention has in some ways legitimized their campaign. Much of the partys messaging seeks to argue that abortion could become a reality in Malta if people vote against the conservatives.

After the success of Irish activists, their Maltese counterparts are “employing the same tools,” said Mara Clarke from the Abortion Support Network. But Malta is a long way behind. “Ive been joking and saying that its 50 years behind where Ireland was 10 years ago,” Clarke said. “But its probably 10 or 20 years behind where Ireland was 10 years ago.”

She added, “But I think things will move faster. I hope anyway.”

“It would never be accepted over here. It would be the red light in Malta” — Ivan Grech Mintoff, Euroskeptic MEP candidate

Anti-abortion activists are getting louder too. Ivan Grech Mintoff, an MEP candidate standing for the Euroskeptic Alliance for Change (AB) party, spearheaded a pledge to enshrine Maltas strict abortion laws into the constitution. The Nationalist Party signed it, as did the far-right Maltese Patriots Movement (MPM) and center-left Democratic Party (PD) — although PD candidates have since raised concerns. Labour and Tolus AD were the two parties that did not sign the pledge.

Grech Mintoff also created a Facebook group against abortion that gathered more than 21,000 members in three weeks. He sees that as clear proof Malta does not support abortion.

“It would never be accepted over here,” Grech Mintoff said. “It would be the red light in Malta.”

On a lonely island

Why is Malta an outlier on abortion in Europe? Some abortion rights activists say its the Catholic Churchs influence; some say its how small the country is; some say its simple patriarchy.

For others, even asking the question means you dont understand Malta.

“Remember we were only very recently [a member of] the EU, so you couldnt go [work] anywhere in other countries, and we didnt have many foreigners coming here,” said Francesca Fenech Conti, the founder of the Women for Women Facebook group. “We were an island alone for many years in the middle of the Mediterranean, totally ruled by religion.”

This, Conti said, creates a closeness but also a “society that is always judging you.” Conti wrote her university thesis on women who had unplanned pregnancies due to contraception failure. She spoke to one woman about her visit to the doctor 10 years ago for a pregnancy test.

After getting the results, her doctor told her: “Youre pregnant! I told your mother!” Conti recalled.

“Everybody knows each other,” Conti said.

An anti-abortion billboard in Malta | Jillian Deutsch/POLITICO

The countrys stance on abortion has held even as it became a beacon for progressive LGBTQ policies. After decades of grassroots campaigning, Malta legalized gay marriage in 2017 and offers gay and lesbian couples access to IVF — it was ranked at the top of 49 European countries in the latest Rainbow Europe Map.

The country legalized divorce in 2011 and the morning-after pill became available in 2016. Abortion remains illegal in any circumstance.

Its not possible to know the total number of women who have illegal abortions, but according to estimates cited by the Womens Rights Foundation, around 200 women order abortion pills online and nearly 400 travel abroad for an abortion each year.

One woman, Fleur (not her real name), did so 15 years ago after she got pregnant from a one-night stand. At the time she was a student, holding down two jRead More – Source

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World Bank and WHO Statement on Partnership & Deployment of Financing to WHO for Ebola Response in DRC

WASHINGTON, August 23, 2019—The World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO), along with the G..

WASHINGTON, August 23, 2019—The World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO), along with the Government and other key partners, are working in close partnership on the Ebola Crisis Response in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Central to this partnership is the assessment of the financing needs, and deployment of resources, with the goal to put an end to the current deadly outbreak.

The World Bank is today announcing that US$50 million in funding is to be released to WHO for its lifesaving operational work on the frontlines of the outbreak. The WHO is announcing that this US$50 million in funds will close the financing gap for its emergency health response in DRC through to the end of September 2019, and is calling on other partners to mirror this generous support in order to fund the response through to December.

The funding comprises US$30 million from the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF) and US$20 million from the World Bank. The US$50 million in grant funding is part of the larger financial package of approximately US$300 million that the World Bank announced last month to support the fourth Strategic Response Plan for the DRC Ebola outbreak.

“WHO is very grateful for the World Banks support, which fills a critical gap in our immediate needs for Ebola response efforts in DRC, and will enable the heroic workers on the frontlines of this fight to continue their lifesaving work,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization. “We keenly await further funding from other partners to sustain the response through to the end of the year.”

The DRC government, working in collaboration with the World Bank, WHO, and other key partners, has finalized the Fourth Strategic Response Plan (SRP4), which outlines the total resources needed for the DRC Ebola Crisis Response from July to December 2019. The financing announced today is part of the World Banks previously announced financial package of up to US$300 million and covers over half of SRP4s needs, with the remainder requiring additional funding from other donors and partners.

“The World Bank is working closely with WHO, the Government of DRC, and all partners to do everything we can to put an end to the latest Ebola outbreak,” said Annette Dixon, Vice President, Human Development at the World Bank. “The partnership between our organizations and the Government is critical for responding to the emergency as well as rebuilding systems for delivery of basic services and to restoring the trust of communities.”

The Government of DRC requested US$30 million from the PEF Cash Window to be paid directly to WHO. The PEF Steering Body approved the request bringing the PEFs total contribution to fighting Ebola in DRC to US$61.4 million. The PEF is a financing mechanism housed at the World Bank; its Steering Body is co-chaired by the World Bank and WHO, and comprises donor country members from Japan, Germany and Australia. The quick and flexible financing it provides saves lives, by enabling governments and international responders to concentrate on fighting Ebola—not fundraising.

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Borno State launches first Malaria Operational Plan, reawakens fight against malaria

Maiduguri, 13 August 2019 – Following recommendations from malaria interventions in Borno State Nige..

Maiduguri, 13 August 2019 – Following recommendations from malaria interventions in Borno State Nigeria, the Malaria Annual Operational Plan (MAOP) was developed and launched on 08 August 2019 with technical support from the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners. Aligned to the National Malaria Strategic Plan (2014 -2020), MAOP was developed through a broad-based stakeholders workshop involving malaria stakeholders, reviewed on different thematic areas and endorsed by the Commissioner for Health and Permanent Secretary, Borno State Ministry of Health.

Speaking during the launch, the Borno state Malaria Programme Manager, Mr Mala Waziri described the MAOP as the first to be endorsed and disseminated in Borno State. “WHO has made us proud by supporting the first ever Malaria Operational Plan right from development, review, printing to dissemination.”

Dr Ibrahim Kida, the Ministerial Secretary Borno State Ministry of Health and Incident Manager of the state, described the launch as “an historic event as stakeholders across the health sector made commitments to use the document as an implementation guide for all malaria programs”. The plan was also described as an advocacy tool for planning domestic funds mobilization.

The MAOP has seven objectives among which are: provide at least 50% of targeted population with appropriate preventive measures by 2020; ensure that all persons with suspected malaria who seek care are tested with Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) or microscopy by 2020 and all persons with confirmed malaria seen in private or public health facilities receive prompt treatment with an effective anti-malarial drug by 2020.

The MAOP will further ensure that at least 50% of the population practice appropriate malaria prevention and management by 2020, ensuring timely availability of appropriate anti-malarial medicines and commodities required for prevention, diagnosis and treatment of malaria in Borno State by 2020.

In addition, it seeks to ensure that all health facilities report on key malaria indicators routinely by 2020 and finally strengthen governance and coordination of all stakeholders for effective program implementation towards an A rating by 2020 on a standardized scorecard. These strategic objectives have specific targets and the MAOP takes into account the humanitarian response.

“Malaria remains a leading cause of poor health in Nigeria. According to the 2018 WHO Malaria Report, 53million cases are recorded annually in Nigeria, roughly 1 in 4 persons is infected with malaria contributing 25% of the global burden,” says Dr Nglass Ini Abasi, WHO Malaria Consultant for the North East.

“Furthermore, 81,640 deaths are recorded annually (9 deaths every hour), which accounts for 19% of global malaria deaths (1 in 5 global malaria deaths) and 45% malaria deaths in West Africa. The Nigeria Malaria Strategic Plan (NMSP) 2014-2020 has a goal to reduce malaria burden to pre-elimination levels and bring malaria-related mortality to zero and WHO is working assiduously with Government to ensure the burden is reduced accordingly.”

Results from WHO’s Early Warning, Alert and Response System (EWARS) week 30 report from 223 sites, (including 32 IDP camps) show that malaria was the leading cause of morbidity and mortality accounting for 35% of cases and 46% of reported deaths. In addition, results from the Nigeria Humanitarian Response Strategy (NHRS 2019-2021) indicate 7.1million people are in dire need of healthcare and 6.2million are targeted for immediate attention.

Despite recent improvements, insecurity remains a challenge limiting access to the functional health facilities. Easily preventable and treatable diseases such as malaria, acute respiratory infection and diarrheal diseases account for the greatest proportion of morbidity and mortality among the vulnerable population. Furthermore, Malaria is endemic in North East Nigeria and the transmission is perennial with a marked seasonal peak from July to November every year. (more…)

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Nearly half of all dengue deaths in the Philippines are children under nine years old

Manila, August 16 – At least 300 children aged 5-9 have died in the recent Dengue outbreak in the Ph..

Manila, August 16 – At least 300 children aged 5-9 have died in the recent Dengue outbreak in the Philippines, Save the Children said today, amid fears the epidemic could claim many more lives before its brought under control. In the first seven months of 2019, some 170,000 people were infected with the disease, killing 720 people – 42 percent were children between 5 and 9 years old. Compared to the same period in 2018, this years dengue caseload is 97 per cent higher. The virus is disproportionately affecting children and young people with a staggering 73 per cent of recorded cases under the age of 19.

Albert Muyot, ceo of Save the Children in the Philippines, said: “Hundreds of children have sadly already died, we expect the numbers to rise. The rainy season started late and will continue this month, creating the perfect breeding ground for dengue mosquitoes.

“Children are particularly a vulnerable to the disease because their immune systems are weaker than adults and they tend to play outside where theres less protection against the mosquitos. Schools in particular are a hotbed of dengue because many have open windows and lack mosquito repellents.

“It is extremely important that health authorities step up their information campaigns in schools, communities and other places where people come together, so people know what to do if they suspect dengue. Also, the government must step up their fumigation campaign to kill adult dengue mosquitoes in densely populated areas.

“In the Philippines, we are working with schools and communities to improve awareness on how to prevent infection. To save lives, children need extra protection. Wearing long sleeves and trousers is one of the simple measures to protect against being bitten. Early diagnosis is critical and we are raising awareness of those symptoms, like fever and body pain, and encouraging all parents to take their children to hospital immediately if they have concerns.

“Save the Children is referring child dengue cases to health centers in vulnerable communities in Navotas, Caloocan and Malabon as well as in conflict-affected provinces in Bangsamoro Automous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).”

Notes to editors:

  • Dengue causes flu-like illness, including a sudden high fever coming in separate waves, pain behind the eyes, muscle, joint and bone pain, severe headache, and a skin rash with red spots. People with symptoms get ill between 4 to 7 days after a bite from an infected Aedes mosquito.
  • The illness can become the fatal Severe Dengue, characterised by severe abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, convulsions, bruising, uncontrolled bleeding, and high fever which can last from 2 to 7 days.
  • Complications can lead to circulatory system failure, shock, and death.
  • There were 167,607 dengue cases between January-July 2019, up from 85,011 in the same period in 2018.
  • Of the 167,607 recorded cases of dengue between January and July 2019, 121,942 were under the age of 19.
  • On August 6th, the government declared a national dengue epidemic.
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