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Also In Global Health News: U.N. Women To Tackle Violence; Leishmaniasis In Afghanistan; U.N. Panel On Congo Rapes; Leprosy In East Timor; Mobile Phones In Developing World

U.N. Women Receives $10M Grant To Prevent Violence Against Women In 18 Countries 

The new U.N. agency focused on women, which combines four existing agencies, has received a $10 million grant from the U.N. Trust Fund in Support of Actions to Eliminate Violence against Women (U.N. Trust Fund), the Women News Network/Guardian reports. The grant provides funding for 13 initiatives in 18 countries aimed at stopping “the spread of violence against women and girls worldwide,” the news service writes. “Violence against women destroys families, fractures communities and hampers progress on development goals,” said Ines Alberdi, executive director of UNIFEM, which is part of U.N. Women. “But it is a problem with a solution. Only by intensifying support and increasing investment to national and local efforts can we ensure women and girls are safe from violence and can lead healthy, productive lives” (10/18). Additional information about the grantees is available here. 

Health Officials Highlight Leishmaniasis Outbreaks In Afghanistan, Sudan

Afghanistan is experiencing an outbreak of the cutaneous leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease transmitted by the female phlebotomine sand fly, that has infected tens of thousands of people, health officials said on Friday, the Associated Press reports. Peter Graaff, WHO’s representative in Afghanistan, said there’s a lot of shame associated with the disease, which causes disfiguring skin sores. Cases are often underreported as a result, he said. “This number is likely to be the tip of the iceberg as cases are grossly underreported,” said Graaff (Kennedy, 10/15). In a recent report on neglected tropical diseases, the WHO said leishmaniasis was a threat for 13 million Afghans, Agence France-Presse reports (10/15).

The WHO is also reporting a continued outbreak of visceral leishmaniasis, the most severe form of the disease, IRIN reports. Since September 2009, “[t]he caseload is six times higher than the number reported over a similar period in 2007 (758) and 2008 (582), with a spike in cases being recorded during the May-September rainy season when normally fewer cases are experienced” (10/15).

U.N. Envoy Says 15,000 People Raped Last Year In Eastern DRC, Panel Says Recent Mass Rape Victims ‘Need Greater Assistance’

Calling the scale of sexual attacks in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo “enormous,” Roger Meece, who heads the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the country, said “more than 15,000 people were raped in the volatile eastern region of Congo last year, according to the best data available,” the Associated Press reports (10/16).

Following the mass rape of at least 300 people in July and August, “[a] United Nations panel says sexual violence victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo need greater assistance than they are getting, particularly in remote areas,” VOA News reports (10/13). Kyung-wha Kang, U.N. deputy human rights commissioner and leader of the panel, said of the victims, “The lives they knew have been largely destroyed, and they are suffering greatly – physically, psychologically and materially,” according to U.N. News Centre. A panel, convened by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, discussed health care and education for the survivors and their children as well as security in the eastern DRC region (10/13). PRI’s The World also reported on the rapes, interviewing Margaret Wallstrom, U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict; Anneke Van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch; Lisa Shannon, author of A Thousand Sisters; and U.N. spokesperson Nick Birnback (Sharp, 10/14).

AP Examines Leprosy Eradication In East Timor

“East Timor is one of two places worldwide – the other is Brazil – where [leprosy] is still widespread enough to be considered a public health threat,” the Associated Press/Washington Times reports in an article examining the country’s fight against the disease. Last year, new leprosy cases “dwindled to 160,” the news service writes, adding, “[i]t is nearly within the World Health Organization’s target for elimination, or less than one case per 10,000 people.” The article includes perspectives from people living with leprosy and includes information from public health experts who work with the disease, aspects of which remain a mystery to researchers. “Scientists believe it is spread through droplets from coughing or sneezing during prolonged contact with someone infected, but they are still not completely sure. About 95 percent of people exposed to the germ never develop leprosy,” according to the article (Mason, 10/14).

Report Examines Mobile Phone Technology In Developing Countries

“[G]overnments must design responsive policies to ensure that the benefits” of mobile phone technology reach the broadest number of people in the developing world, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)’s Information Economy Report released last week, Reuters reports. In developing countries overall, 58 out of 100 people have a mobile phone subscription, a rate that is “rising rapidly” (10/14). The Economist’s “Babbage” blog adds that in the world’s least developed countries (LDCs), “almost half the rural population … was not covered by a mobile signal at the end of 2008” (L.S., 10/16). The agency also “said the economic benefits of mobile phones, whose use in LDCs far outstrips technologies such as the Internet or fixed-line phones, go well beyond access to information” and provide opportunities for micro-enterprise, according to Reuters (10/14).

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