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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Beyond AIDS: Health crises plague developing countries

Ask any foreign medical officer what has been accomplished here in the past few years, and he most likely will say: We defeated HIV/AIDS in Cambodia.

Prodded and funded by foreign governments and private groups, Cambodia has reduced the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the general population from more than 3 percent to just under 1 percent - a major public-health victory.

But that accomplishment masks a darker truth that afflicts poor populations in Cambodia and most of the developing world. Health policy in this country is determined by the priority or caprice of officials in Geneva, Washington or Berlin - not Phnom Penh. That has given this country a health policy that appears patently absurd.

"Everybody talks about AIDS," complained Dr. Sin Somuny, executive director of Medicam, which represents 117 health care providers in Cambodia. "It affects .09 percent of the population. Well, diabetes now affects 10 percent of the population. But no one talks about that. Funding for diabetes is 25 to 30 times less."

That makes no sense. How can it be?

International donors "want to give money to the big thing of the moment," acknowledged Dr. Michael O'Leary, director of the World Health Organization office in Phnom Penh. "Right now, it's influenza," better known as swine or bird flu.

Beat Richner, a Swiss doctor who runs five children's hospitals across the country, puts a positively uncharitable spin on that analysis.

"They care about bird flu because a bird may fly to California," he told me. "But a mosquito flies only 120 meters." Hence the dearth of funding in Cambodia for malaria or dengue fever, two mosquito-borne illnesses.

"Infectious diseases, infectious diseases," Somuny said, shaking his head. "If you care about the lives of the people, it should not just be infectious diseases."

"You know, beggars can't be choosers," said Dr. Paul Weelen, another WHO official in Cambodia. "Donors set the agenda for what is done in these countries."

Cambodia spends almost $200 million a year on health care services for its 13.4 million citizens. Foreign donors and charities provide about 40 percent of that, giving them outsize influence over health policy. (Per capita, most Western states spend almost 1,000 times more.)

A few years ago, Cambodia's Health Ministry told international donors that it had an urgent priority: to establish a primary health care system - doctors, hospitals and health clinics - to serve citizens nationwide. The Khmer Rouge killed all the doctors and destroyed the health care facilities during its reign 30 years ago.

The donors were largely unresponsive. So, largely with its own money, Cambodia built dozens of hospitals and health clinics. I visited several. Signs and stickers show that international aid groups did provide some equipment and infrastructure. But these are Cambodian operations, as they should be. Still, the hospitals are so underfunded that it's a wonder they can do anything at all. Nurses are poorly trained, underpaid, overworked - and, as a result, often indolent. Doctors might earn $200 a month, so they sometimes demand under-the-table payments before they will treat patients.

In Battambang hospital one day this month, patients lay on straw mats they had brought from home, placed on top of wood slats in rusty white-enamel bed frames. Ten miserable patients lay unattended in the emergency room. The nurses' station was empty, but a green door at one end was cracked open. Inside, three women lounged on beds, snacking on bananas and rice cakes. I knocked.

"Just a minute!" one of them shouted as she jumped out of the bed and frantically pulled on her white nurse's coat.

In private hospitals, adequately paid and supervised, Cambodian doctors and nurses provide superb care.

No one expects the international community to pick up responsibility for funding Cambodia's hospitals. But if the foreign donors at work in Cambodia and in dozens of other poor nations made an effort to direct their money to the nations' priorities, they might save millions of lives.
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ASEAN welcomes China's increasing role in Asia-Pacific region

PHUKET (Xinhua) -- China can play an important role in the peace and security of the Asia-Pacific area, which the ten-member Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) welcomes, Thai Foreign Minister said Sunday.

China can play a role in the peace and security of the Asia-Pacific area and it can also help economic development in the Asia-Pacific at large, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya told reporters.

Kasit made the remark in the press conference held after foreign ministers of ASEAN convened for the first time in their annual ministerial level meet. Their meeting focused on the human right issue and dispute-settlement mechanism among ASEAN nations.

"China's position is very important. It's reemerging as a world power. Its position has a positive aspect in the sense that it has become a very important market for the ASEAN countries," he added.

"So we welcome the increasing role of China as a very important member of the international community," the Foreign Minister said.

Ministers of ASEAN and China are scheduled to meet on Wednesday.

The ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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ASEAN countries to set up ‘evolutionary’ human rights panel

Phuket (Thailand), South-East Asian foreign ministers Sunday agreed to set up a regional human rights commission, even as they noted that some members’ coolness to the idea meant it would start off lacking the ability to investigate or monitor abuses by members.
The new commission would thus initially be tasked with raising awareness of human rights and engaging with civil society while seeking regional solutions to problems.

However, the panel would also be “evolutionary”, with plans to revisit and strengthen its makeup every five years.

“The draft terms of reference reflect the maximum consensus among ASEAN countries at this time,” Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said after the new commission was broadly agreed to at a briefing with the foreign ministers of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Phuket.

ASEAN includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar, notorious for its human rights abuses.

Objections from Myanmar and other of ASEAN’s less progressive members meant the commission would have to start life without the right to investigate and monitor reports of human rights abuses in member countries, sources said.

But Kasit stressed that the every five-year updates mean that powers can be added as members’ stances change.

“It is a legal document that would provide an evolutionary framework for further measures for the promotion and protection of human rights,” the Thai foreign minister said.

He added that Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Nyan Win had agreed to the terms of the new commission.

Myanmar’s poor human rights performance and its failure to introduce democratic reforms is a constant embarrassment for ASEAN, which Myanmar joined in 1997.

But under ASEAN’s new charter, that went into effect Dec 15, 2008, all member states have acknowledged the importance of promoting human rights in the region.

The ASEAN ministers are expected to officially approve the terms of reference Monday and launch the ASEAN Inter-regional Commission on Human Rights in October at the 15th ASEAN Summit, also to be held on Phuket Island, 600 km south of Bangkok.

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Katie Couric Looks Back at Esteemed Newsman's Life and Career

By Katie Couric

(CBS) For half a century, Walter Cronkite told it the way it was, delivering the news straight and unvarnished.

Among the pioneers who built television news from the ground up, he forged a special bond with audiences, reports CBS News anchor Katie Couric.

He was trustworthy, plain spoke and unflappable.

Walter was there. He'd lived the history of the century and reported it. He was born in 1916 in St. Joseph, Mo., and as a young man growing up in Houston and Kansas City, he saw firsthand the dust bowl of the 1930s and the Great Depression.

Special Section: Walter Cronkite: 1916-2009

As a young wire service reporter in WWII, he hit the ground with troops in North Africa and was the first to make it back with the story.

"I'm just back from the biggest assignment that any American reporter could have so far in this war," he said.

He was all of 26 - a natural before the camera and the microphone.

In the early 1950s, television came calling. Walter anchored the news on CBS, first in Washington, then on the network from New York.

As television news began taking wing in the 1950s, so did Walter, covering the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, atom bomb testing in Nevada, and the birth of the American space program.

Walter knew 12 American presidents.

"I met all of America's presidents since Herbert Hoover," Cronkite said." And I've known some of them pretty well. Lyndon Johnson called the "CBS Evening News" while I was actually on the air. And insisted that they put him through to me on the air. My secretary said, 'But he, but he's on the air, Mr. President.' 'I don't give a damned where he is. Put him on the phone.'"

Walter assumed the anchor chair of the "CBS Evening News" in 1962.

He was there with us through America's darkest moments, including the assassination of President John Kennedy.

"And I almost lost it there," Cronkite said.

Cronkite was a fixture at political conventions, including the democrat's chaotic meeting in Chicago in 1968. A party - and a country - at war with itself over Vietnam.

Walter 's skepticism grew while reporting on the Vietnam War. He shared those feelings in a landmark broadcast in which he acknowledged he was stating his opinion that it was time the nation get out.

"And it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then, would be to negotiate," he said. "Not as victims, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy and did the best they could."

"After that report, I recall that LBJ said to many of us that if I've lost Walter Cronkite, then I've lost the war," said Tom Johnson, a former Lyndon Johnson aide.

"And I think it pained him to have to say what he thought about Vietnam, but he also understood how isolating the White House can be and how people can get to the point where they don't hear discordant voices," said former President Bill Clinton. "And he thought he knew what the truth was. And he thought he had an obligation to tell it.

But his abiding passion was space.

"I think that our conquest of space will probably be the most important story of the whole 20th century," Cronkite said.

In 1969, a waiting world held its breath as man first approached the surface of the moon.

His own spirit was unconquerable. After leaving the "Evening News" he toured well into his 80s, making documentaries and having a good time.

He spent those latter years with his true loves - his three children Nancy, Kathy and Walter Jr., and his wife of nearly 65 years, Betsy. It's said they fell asleep every night holding hands.

In 1996, he taped his thoughts on the amazing century he'd seen.

"If there's anything I've learned it is that we Americans do have a way of rising to the challenges that confront us," Cronkite said. "Just when it seems we're most divided, we suddenly show our remarkable solidarity. The 20th century may be leaving us with a host of problems, but I've also noted that it does seem darkest before the dawn. There's reason to hope for the 21st century. And that's the way it will be."
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ASEAN-Korea multimedia competition for students

The ASEAN-Korea Center launched their Multimedia Competition for Southeast Asian and Korean university (including graduate) students. The theme of the contest is "Cultural Diversity and Harmony."

The entrants can deal with any positive subject that pertains to the cultural diversity and harmony of ASEAN, the cultural diversity and harmony of Korea, or of the cultural diversity and harmony between ASEAN and Korea.

The contest is divided into a photography category and a video and multimedia category.

The entrants can submit to either or both of the categories.

The first and second place winners in each of the categories will be invited to attend the Awards Ceremony held in September where the works of the winners and selected individuals will be displayed at an exhibition at the Centre in Gwanghwamun.

The deadline for submissions is midnight, Aug. 22.

Further contest details and rules can be found at the Centre's website:

The ASEAN-Korea Centre is an intergovernmental organization that consists of Korea and the ten ASEAN Member Countries: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The Center's objectives are to increase trade, accelerate investment flow, invigorate tourism, and enrich cultural exchanges between ASEAN and Korea.

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