Also In Global Health News: Afghanistan’s Foreign Aid Tax; Polio In Pakistan; Rape In Conflicts; ARV Combination During Breastfeeding; Ecuador’s Health System; GlobalPost Looks At State Of Mandela’s Home Village

Afghan Government Begins Taxing U.S. Contractors

The Washington Post reports on Afghanistan’s efforts “to tax U.S. contractors operating there.” Though it “could raise millions for the cash-strapped government,” U.S. and Afghan officials say the tax “could also provoke fresh confrontation with the United States,” the newspaper writes. “Taxation of U.S. government assistance is barred by U.S. law … But the wording in the documents is vague, and the two governments disagree on what ‘tax-exempt’ means. Non-Afghan contractors who have recently received tax bills for work done under U.S. government programs say they have appealed to the Defense and State departments to clarify the matter with the Afghans. But they have been told simply to ignore the bills and ‘stand up for our rights,’ said one official of an American company that has multiple U.S defense contracts in Afghanistan. The Afghan government says no clarification is needed,” according to the Washington Post. The article looks at how the difference of opinion over taxing U.S. contractors arose as well as the broader implications of taxation in Afghanistan. “Taxation has rarely, if ever, been a problem with worldwide U.S. foreign assistance programs, and some officials expressed concern that any possible concessions made in Afghanistan would set a precedent for other recipient countries,” the newspaper writes (DeYoung/Partlow, 1/17).

Associated Press Reports On Increase In Polio Cases In Pakistan

“In a country with no shortage of alarming statistics, here is another: Pakistan was the only country in 2010 to record an increase in cases of [polio] – 138, up from 89 in the previous year, according to WHO figures. That made it the nation with the highest incidence of polio in the world,” the Associated Press writes in a story examining how fighting in the country’s northwest region, close to the border with Afghanistan, has hindered polio vaccination efforts. “The number one reason (for the increase in cases) is that the majority of the cases are originating from those areas which are not accessible due to the war going on, or are cordoned off by the army which is not allowing any civilians or any WHO or UNICEF personnel to go there,” said Aziz Memon, national head of the Polio Plus Pakistan Committee. The article looks at the challenges associated with carrying out vaccination campaigns in war zones and looks at the outlook for improving vaccination coverage in Pakistan (1/14).

Economist Examines Rape In Conflicts Worldwide

The Economist examines the prominence of rape and sexual violence in conflicts around the world. “The anarchy and impunity of war goes some way to explaining the violence. … Young, ill-trained men, fighting far from home, are freed from social and religious constraints. The costs of rape are lower, the potential rewards higher. And for ill-fed, underpaid combatants, rape can be a kind of payment,” the article notes. It highlights rape in the Congo. “Plenty of figures on how many women have been raped are available but none is conclusive. In October Roger Meece, the head of the United Nations in Congo, told the U.N. Security Council that 15,000 women had been raped throughout the country in 2009 (men suffer too, but most victims are female). The U.N. Population Fund estimated 17,500 victims for the same period. The IRC [International Rescue Committee] says it treated 40,000 survivors in the eastern province of South Kivu alone between 2003 and 2008.” According to the magazine, “[t]he attention paid to Congo reflects growing concern about rape in war. Historically the taboo surrounding rape has been so strong that few cases were reported; evidence of wartime rape before the 20th century is scarce. With better reporting, the world has woken up to the scale of the crime” (1/13).

Study Finds Three-Drug Combination Can Reduce Risk Of HIV Transmission During Breastfeeding More Than Standard Therapy

A study published online in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases found that “full-scale anti-retroviral therapy with three drugs reduces the risk of” an HIV-positive mother passing on the virus to her child during breastfeeding by almost half compared with standard treatment recommendations, MedPage Today reports (Smith, 1/13). “Breastfeeding is vital for child health and development in low-resource settings, but infants born to HIV-positive mothers can be infected through breastfeeding. So a team of researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO) and five study sites in Burkina Faso, Kenya, and South Africa conducted a randomized, controlled trial to investigate whether three antiretroviral (ARV) drugs taken together by women during pregnancy and breastfeeding are more effective than the standard regimen used to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission in these countries,” according to a press release. The researchers found the “cumulative rate of HIV transmission at 12 months of age was 43% lower with the triple-drug regimen compared with the standard regimen,” the release notes (1/13). A Lancet Infectious Diseases comment examines the implications of the findings (Becquet/Ekouevi, 1/14).  

Ecuador Declares State Of Emergency For Public Health System

Ecuador President Rafael Correa recently “declared a state of emergency in the public health system … aimed at improving care in some of the nation’s largest public hospitals,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Faced with a deteriorating infrastructure and overwhelming demand, Ecuador’s free public health service, which began in 2007, is struggling to cope with rising patient numbers. The demand has risen so quickly that patients begin waiting in line at hospitals well before dawn to ensure treatment. President Correa’s decision, which will last 60 days, means an additional $406 million will be spent on the public-health sector, on top of about $1.2 billion already approved in the 2011 fiscal budget,” the newspaper writes (Alvaro, 1/13).

GlobalPost Examines Conditions In South Africa’s Eastern Cape

The GlobalPost examines life in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, noting that “serious poverty persists” in some of the villages. “Many poor rural communities lack basic services such as water and electricity, as well as decent housing and access to health care,” according to the GlobalPost. The article also reports on life in the village of Qunu, where former South African President Nelson Mandela grew up. “A mobile clinic provides basic health care, but in case of emergency, patients must be transported to the nearby town,” the news service reports. This story is part of a series on the state of Mandela’s home village (Conway-Smith, 1/13).

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