Posts Tagged 'human rights'

Story for the day

From Never Again? Reflections on Human Values and Human Rights, the Tanner Lectures on Human Values, given by Paul Farmer:

Joseph, twenty-six years old, had been sick for months. His illness had started with intermittent fevers, followed by a cough, weight loss, weakness, and diarrhea. His family, too poor, they thought, to take him to a hospital, brought Joseph to a traditional healer. Joseph would later explain: “My father sold nearly all that he had—our crops, our land, andour livestock—to pay the healer, but I kept getting worse. My family barely had enough to eat, but they sold everything to try to save me.” Joseph was bed-bound two months after the onset of his symptoms. He became increasingly emaciated and soon lost all interest in food. As he later recalled, “My mother, who was caring for me, was taking care of skin and bones.”


Faced with what they saw as Joseph’s imminent death, his family purchased a coffin. Several days later a community health worker, employed by Partners In Health, visited their hut. The health worker was trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of tuberculosis and HIV and immediately suspected that the barely responsive Joseph might have one or both of these diseases. Hearing that their son might have one last chance for survival, Joseph’s parents pleaded with their neighbors to help carry him to the clinic, since he was too sick to travel on a donkey and too poor to afford a ride in a vehicle. At the clinic, Joseph was indeed diagnosed with advanced AIDS and disseminated tuberculosis. He was hospitalized and treated with both antiretrovirals and antituberculous medications. Like his family, however, Joseph too had almost lost faith in the possibility of recovery. He remembers telling his physicians, early in the course of his treatment, “I’m dead already, and these medications can’t save me.” Contemplating a photograph taken by Dr. David Walton as Joseph began his treatment (figure 1), one can understand readily why he had given up hope. Despite his doubts, Joseph dutifully took his medications each day, and he slowly began to improve. Several weeks later, he was able to walk. His fevers subsided, and his appetite returned. After discharge from the hospital, he received what is termed “directly observed therapy” for both AIDS and tuberculosis, visited each day by a neighbor serving as an accompagnateur. After several months of therapy, Joseph had gained more than thirty pounds (figure 2).


A couple of years later, Joseph frequently speaks in front of large audiences about his experience. “When I was sick,” he has said, “I couldn’t farm the land, I couldn’t get up to use the latrine; I couldn’t even walk. Now I can do any sort of work. I can walk to the clinic just like anyone else. I care as much about my medications as I do about myself. There may be other illnesses that can break you, but AIDS isn’t one of them. If you take these pills this disease doesn’t have to break you.” What sort of human values might be necessary to save a young man’s life? Compassion, pity, mercy, solidarity, and empathy come immediately to mind. But we also must have hope and imagination in order to make sure that proper medical care reaches the destitute sick. Naysayers still argue that it is simply not possible, or even wise, to deliver complex medical services in settings as poor as rural Haiti, where prevention should be the sole focus. Joseph’s story answers their misgivings, I feel, both in terms of fact (you can successfully treat advanced AIDS in this setting, and because good treatment serves to strengthen prevention programs) and in terms of value (it is worthwhile to try to do so). Certainly Joseph and his family would agree, as would thousands of other Haitians who have benefited from these services.


Paul Farmer’s Baccalaureate remarks at Princeton

In case you missed it, check out Paul Farmer’s Baccaulareate speech at Princeton, delivered on June 1, 2008.  Farmer provides a vision for what the world will be like in 2028 if we are able to continue building a broad-based social movement for human rights.

A few good excerpts (make sure you check out the full text):

Medicine, certainly, will be transformed and improved, but that’s just the beginning. Our economy will be green, in this utopian vision, our carbon footprint tiny compared to the bad old days when oil hit, in 2010, $250 a barrel, provoking, at long last, a serious commitment to alternative, clean fuels that are truly clean as opposed to advertised as such. So too for India and China, which by 2020 became the world’s largest economies. The planet’s population will have grown, of course, but at nothing like the rates we’re seeing now: the human herd will no longer be culled by epidemic disease or by war. For the first time in a century, the Amazon rain forest will be growing, not shrinking.

A broad-based movement to acknowledge historical truths will have led not only to the abolition of war but to the forgiveness of “odious debt” in many countries. By 2028, the decades-long trend of increasing social inequalities will have been reversed, and four of the world’s five fastest-growing economies will be in Africa.

Medicine and health will have flourished during the first quarter of the 21st century. The United States will have a world-class national health system, introduced in 2009, with universal coverage implemented by 2012. Healthcare costs will have fallen even as the average citizen lives longer, better lives. “Social safety net” will no longer be a dirty word.

But is it crazy to wish for these kinds of improvements? Is it crazy for the class of 2008 to wish for something better than what has gone before?…Imagine a commencement speaker in the early nineteenth century, exhorting young Americans or Britons to abolish slavery as the affront to God that it surely was and is. Imagine an address in the early 20th century in which the speaker pushed universal suffrage, arguing that an adult is an adult, regardless of race or gender. Imagine a speaker in 1993—not so long ago—arguing that apartheid in South Africa was an insult not just to the notion of human rights but to modernity itself. Imagine a country like ours looking back from 2028 and thinking it quaint that not that long ago a woman or a black would not likely be elected as head of our country…A world in which every child has the right to go to school. A world in which clean water is not a privatized commodity to be sipped from bottles but rather part of the earth’s bounty, for all its inhabitants?

We may be leaders of this movement but must also be humble participants. Some have not been as quick to see the boundaries and dimensions of this movement. That’s because it’s fluid, as all real social movements are. It’s a chaotic movement, just now coalescing, but with the promise of lessening the hurts and insults of an unequal world.

Rights is the answer

The Social Watch, and international NGO watchdog network that monitors poverty eradication and gender equality has just released its 2008 Annual Report titled, Rights is the answer. The full version is available for purchase and includes essays and reports on a wide variety of topics including food security, education, health, and gender equality. Luckily, there is a free overview available and includes several articles that are worth a look.

So far, I have only had an opportunity to read Human rights and the economic system, by Roberto Bissio. He asks: “What is the relation between human rights and the economic and financial architecture?” His answer covers examples from across the globe where the massive failure of our global economic systems have structured the opportunity for wide range of human rights issues. In all cases, the global economic downturn has constrained the ability of poor countries to provide for their citizens. In the worst cases, global economic policies intended to improve economic circumstances have led to massive human rights violations and social injustices.

In Senegal, “structural adjustment policies, including privatization of most basic services (water, energy, transport) have not achieved their stated goal of revitalizing the economy. In fact, these policies have deindustrialized the country, with disastrous social consequences: the loss of thousands of jobs, extremely high unemployment, and massive migration to urban centres”. In that context, “official mechanisms to promote and protect human rights have become weaker rather than stronger” and public opposition is being curtailed by frequent bans on protests, harassment of journalists and impunity for individuals who commit political crimes, embezzlement of public funds or torture. In such a context violations of the rights of women and children (even when not clearly “politically motivated”) are also reaching “disturbing proportions, marked by cases of sexual harassment and abuse, rape, murder, forced marriages, genital mutilation and paedophilia”.

It is frightening to think that things may get worse before they improve…


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