The Illicit Pharmaceutical Industry and its Impact on Public Health

by Sadie-Anne Jones, guest blogger

Image of a packet of pills
Source: Creative Commons

The illicit pharmaceutical industry is bigger than one might think. In an age where coverage for prescription drugs may be limited and an opioid crisis is rampant, more and more people are turning to this illicit market. Because not everyone that purchases pharmaceutical drugs is aware they are doing so, this industry has been difficult for law enforcement to track. Thus, it has grown internationally and there are few places that are not affected by it.

The illicit pharmaceutical drug industry is a far reaching one. One reason for this is because counterfeit drugs can be made relatively cheap. A recent 60 Minutes segment illustrates how easy it is for companies to produce counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs; small rooms with relatively primitive equipment are used to make multiple drugs including blood pressure medicine, Viagra, painkillers, and seizure medication. One-way people are able to get these drugs is through illicit dealers posing as legitimate online pharmacies. So, even if an individual is not intentionally seeking out alternatives to legally prescribed medication, they may be tricked into it none the less. Other dealers have been much less reserved in how they market their products. As with the “Silk Road” site that operated on the dark web from 2011 to 2013, which included 4,000 dealers and around 100,000 buyers, it made no attempt to hide their illegality. This site acted as a huge distributor of numerous illicit substances including prescription drugs. While the “Silk Road” has been shut down for years, there are still many other sites on the dark web facilitating illicit pharmaceuticals. Additionally, when costumers buy illicit drugs online from sites posing as legal businesses, or even from sites like the “Silk Road,” they are often shipped to buyers through the postal service. This makes drugs difficult to stop, especially when they are shipped in small amounts. All in all, this makes it easy to deal in counterfeit drugs and allows the industry to spread across the globe.

But what are the negative implications? Is it only the pharmaceutical industry’s profit margins that suffer from this illicit industry? The answer is, sadly, no. There have been numerous negative consequences for public health that have resulted from it. Especially in the wake of the opioid pandemic–which hit the country largely due to doctors over prescribing highly addictive opioid painkillers–this industry has caused a large amount of irrevocable damage. As one source states, it is hard to know for sure how much the illicit drug industry has impacted people’s health. That said, it is predicted to have contributed significantly to the 42,249 deaths that resulted from opioid related causes in 2016 alone. Additionally, counterfeit pharmaceuticals are entering hospitals and pharmacies around the country. Even if the drug itself was manufactured licitly, counterfeit materials can make their way into the ingredients, or the ingredients may be safe but the wrong dose is recommended, thus making it counterfeit. These counterfeit ingredients can be anything from chalk to flour. While chalk and flour are fairly harmless, when those ingredients are used in life-saving medications, the results can be catastrophic. In one instance, counterfeit materials found their way into the blood thinner, Heparin, which resulted in the deaths of 80 people. While most pharmaceutical drugs that people receive are not counterfeit, the illicit pharmaceutical industry is continuing to grow and deceive people.

Image of a medicine bottle with a caution label encouraging users to ensure what they are taking is correct
Source: Creative Commons

So, what can be done? As previously stated, most of these illicit pharmaceutical drugs are shipped through the mail and they have proven difficult to stop. Even so, there is still hope. There are new procedures being put in place including implementing new technology in international mail carrier facilities that allows those working there to scan packages and detect even minuscule amounts of opioids, and dark web sites are increasingly being monitored by government analysts. As of now, counterfeit drugs account for less than 1% of all pharmaceutical drugs sold in the United States. While counterfeit drugs are still a major problem in developing countries, it seems like likely that countries across the globe will eventually pick up similar measures to the U.S. and other countries that have reduced the problem significantly, so that this trade can be further snuffed out.

In essence, there are many outlets to the illicit pharmaceutical industry. These range from seemingly legal sites on the internet, the dark web, and even pharmacies and hospitals. These outlets have knowingly, and sometimes unknowingly, helped distribute sometimes dangerous counterfeit drugs to citizens across the globe. This has resulted in the deaths of many people and also helped perpetuate the opioid epidemic. Thankfully, the U.S. has amped up regulation in recent years leading to very little illicit pharmaceuticals ending up in the homes of people across the nation. In the future, it seems hopeful that the regulations that have been implemented in countries like the U.S. will soon be commonly used in other countries as well in order to stop this industry for good.

The Syrian Refugee Crisis Rages On

by Mariana Orozco, UAB student

In March 2016, The European Union and Turkey made an agreement stating Turkey would keep all asylum seekers who arrived on the Greece border in return for billions of dollars. This deal has put many asylum seekers at risk due to the dangerous environment in Turkey. However, this continues to be accepted and there are no signs of change in the future due to Greece’s incomplete assessment of Turkey as a safe third country. In February 2020, Turkey retracted their statement, saying they would not stop refugees going into Europe. Turkey is the country with the most refugees – 3.6 million Syrian refugees. Since the Syrian government started bombarding their citizens with air strikes, no other European country has tried to host Syrian citizens. When Turkey finally opened its borders into other European countries, the asylum seekers were met by armed Greek border guards, tear gas, rubber bullets, and razor wires. Turkey opened its borders to force the European nations to stop ignoring the crisis in Syria. If the international community does not step in more unarmed civilians will continue to face violence in Syria, and the situation in Turkey will worsen.

Photo of makeshift tent at refugee campsite in Turkey
“Syrian refugees’ camp in Cappadocia, Turkey” by Fabio Sola Penna; Source: Creative Commons

What is the status in Turkey?

Turkey has been home to over 3.7 million refugees, providing them with free public services, health care, and gainful employment; there are many obstacles Syrian refugees have to go through to get these. For example, Turkey adopted a work permit in 2016, but they must be requested by employers, who are often unwilling to cover the costs and face the administrative hurdles of hiring a refugee. As a result, most refugees work in low-paying jobs, such as jobs in small textile workshops and construction.

Furthermore, Turkey does not sign off on international refugee law. Therefore, they do not allow many refugees to obtain legal status. Many Turkish authorities also force the refugees to go back to Syria, leading them to want to flee to a safer place regardless of the conditions, such as Greece. 

Greece’s Response to Turkey Opening Borders

Greece has broken European Union and international law. The government is suspending the registration of any asylum claims and deporting anyone for any reason something that goes against Geneva’s Convention on Refugees. The core principle states that a “refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom.”  Close to 40,0000 migrants are being held in camps with short food supply, poor sanitation, and tensions with locals. Although the United Nations Refugee Agency did urge Greece to address its overcrowding and precarious conditions, not much has improved. Once refugees arrive, they are not allowed to leave until their asylum requests are processed, leading to the 90,000 cases backlog.

Image of a refugee camp in turkey; dozens of makeshifts tents on a field
“Syrian refugees’ camp in Cappadocia, Turkey” by Fabio Sola Penna; Source: Creative Commons

What about the rest of the European Union?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned NATO allies and European allies that if they “do not share the burned with us, we will open the gates” . President of the European Commission described Greece as Europe’s shield in migrant crisis. They also proposed financial and material support to prevent people from entering Greece, because once they do they will continue to spread in Europe.

What should Happen next?

Europe should take a new approach to safeguarding the human rights of refugees and start sharing the responsibility for allowing them to live in dignity and peace. Many of the people leaving their countries do it out of desperation, and European governments need to ensure asylum seekers have fair procedures. Also, they must control border control and unlawful acts by authorities. Instead of hoping that the problem goes away by having migrants go to different places, the European Union needs to address the reasons why people are fleeing Syria.

The Gender Pay Gap in Alabama in the Context of COVID-19

by Lauren Lockhart, UAB student

Two dollars bills reading "Equal Work" and "Equal Pay!"
Equal Pay for Equal Work. Source: Mirk, Creative Commons.

I will never forget the time in my 12th-grade year that a boy told me the gender wage gap didn’t exist. Even after being presented with evidence and facts, he still swore that there is no pay gap based on gender, and if there were, it was obviously for a reason. Although this wasn’t the first time I had heard a statement like this regarding human rights and equality, I still cannot believe the pay inequality that exists based on gender, and how this gap continues to grow for individuals with compounding intersectional identities. 

The Pay Gap During COVID-19

According to the U.S. Census, between 2018 and 2019, no progress has been made on closing the overall gender pay gap, with the average full-time working woman earning only 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. During COVID-19, this pay gap has continued to grow as women face more hardships and barriers as they try to support themselves and their families. 

At the beginning of 2020, women’s labor force participation in the U.S. stood at 58%, but by October, it had dropped two percentage points because of COVID. Not only is this due to the fields that have been shut down were majority women, such as restaurants, tourism, and office space maintenance, but women have also had to shoulder the responsibility of childcare. Not only was this already a problem contributing to the pay gap before COVID, but it has since grown into a greater responsibility with the shutdown of daycare centers, schools, and after-school programs. This has led to many mothers having to reduce their hours or leave their jobs entirely to take care of their children. Among parents working at home during the crisis, fathers’ childcare has increased by 4.7 hours per day, while mothers’ hours of childcare has increased by 6.1 hours. 

This reduction of hours for childcare has also increased the worry among women in the long-term evaluation for promotions and raises. Not being considered for raises and promotions puts working women during COVID at an even greater disadvantage due to the pay cuts they experienced at the beginning of the pandemic. A recent survey of 984 professionals showed that while men and women have experienced pandemic pay cuts at nearly equal rates, men (52%) were more likely than women (44%) to say their pay has been restored. So, these women are not only facing long-term consequences for their reduction in hours, but they are also facing issues presently with pay cuts and restoration. 

Image of protest sign that reads: I'm so sick of running as fast as I can wondering if I'd get there quicker if I was a man.
Sabrina Groschke. Source: Selbstbestimmung, CreativeCommons.

On top of childcare and the fear of demotion, women who contract COVID face even greater obstacles. Experts and health professionals have started to call women that face COVID “long-haulers” because of the continued work and hardships that women face returning to the workforce after having the virus. After getting COVID, many women still wrestle with lingering symptoms, in addition to trying to balance home life and work. This creates numerous barriers for women amidst this strange time we are living in, with no long-term guarantees. 

Women’s Well-Being in Alabama

The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham recently released its annual report, Status of Women, and although Alabama already treks behind many states in terms of gender equality, conditions for women have worsened amidst COVID-19. One of the key findings included in this report is that the wage gap in Alabama is wider than most other states and the national average, with women earning 73 cents for every dollar a man makes, compared to 82 cents for U.S. women overall. For women in Alabama who have children, the annual cost for an infant (under 12 months old) is nearly 17% of the mother’s median annual earnings, totaling approximately $5,858. However, add in that women have accounted for 57.3% of the total unemployment claims in Alabama since the beginning of COVID, and it seems that all of these factors can make it virtually impossible for women to sufficiently support themselves and their family.

Photo of a protest with woman holding sign that reads "Equal Pay"
Equal Pay. Source: Penner, Yahoo Images.

Universal Fight for Gender Equality

Even though it may not be taking place in Alabama, six mayors around the world have joined forces with the organizers of City Hub and Network for Gender Equity (CHANGE) to fight the increased gender inequality during COVID-19. The network aims to continue to spread these projects among other city mayors in hopes of attracting more attention and progress. Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti is requiring that every city department must have a gender action plan and measure to show progress on tackling gender equality. These measures can range from closing the gender pay gap, appointing women to boards and top positions, and ensuring more girls use public spaces, like sports fields. While these may not be large steps towards gender equality, there is an effort, nonetheless.  

The Causes and Consequences of California’s Wildfires

by Mariana Orozco, guest blogger

If you went to California’s oldest state park right now, you would probably find many trucks logging trees and trees that have been chopped down. This is the result of one of the many wildfires that have happened in parts of Washington, Oregon and California this year. Although the wildfires were sometimes started by lightning or by humans on accident, climate change is deepening the effect of the fires. The fires are larger, more intense, and harder than usual to put out, causing many Californians to evacuate their homes.

The Role of Climate Change
It is important to point out that wildfires are not unusual to Californians. They usually occur annually during the summer and fall. Due to rising temperatures from climate change, more moisture evaporates from the ground, dries the soil, making the vegetation more flammable. Not only are the fires worse due to climate change, but the fires themselves worsen climate change by increasing CO2 emissions. Also, the forest pest infestations are also creating more tree deaths.

Graph showing that the additional acres burned with climate change has almost doubled since 1985
Source: Union of Concerned Scientists

Due to climate change, weather patterns are shifting and the seasonal Fall rains are delayed. This year, it led to a very dry Summer and a windy Fall, making the fires more intense. The wind brings more oxygen to the fire, causing flames to spread over larger areas. With less precipitation in this arid climate and less snow due to rising temperatures, the soil and vegetation are becoming even more dry. There has also been an increase in extreme weather conditions, such as heat waves and lighting storms.

Social, environmental, and economic costs of the wildfires
People who had never been affected by the fires are now being forced to evacuate. To fight the wildfires, large financial assistance is required. Also, once communities are affected, more money is needed to rebuild them. Just to fight them, the federal government is spending an average of 2.4 billion dollars, which has more than doubled in the last 20 years. Not only are the number of wildfires increasing, but the effect on land is expanding as well. The number of acres burned is growing exponentially, with 100 more wildfires each year than the year before since 2015. With the continuous effect of wildfires, more wildlife is being destroyed, animals are being forced to relocate, and ecosystems are being damaged.

Graph showing the number of acres burned per year since 1985
Source: Union of Concerned Scientists

Impact on Native Americans
Many Native American people in California have been forced from their lands due to the fires. With them, they take their knowledge of taking care of the overgrown forests. In Karim territory, one of the largest indigenous tribes in California, people are taught to keep the area around their houses burned off. Char Miller, director of environmental analysis at Pomona College, states that removing millennia of knowledge from the land has resulted in the current wildfires. One of the ways Native Americans would keep the land healthy was through lighting fires on purpose to keep extra dry fuel from building up. California state and federal agencies are starting to collaborate with each other to prevent wildfires.

What can you do?
Society needs to cut carbon emissions to stop rising temperatures. We need to agree on a shift towards renewable energy and cut our reliance on fossil fuels. In order for this to happen, you can start by voting and advocating for candidates who have strong climate change policies. In Washington, Oregon, and California, there have to be better building codes so that construction takes places away from fire prone areas. There needs to be a proactive approach by removing dead trees and planting new native species, in an effort to not harm the ecosystem. You can engage in more direct actions to reduce the effects of global warming. Things as simple as reducing your water waste, buying better light bulbs, eating less meat and throwing less food away, unplugging any electronics if they are not being used, and keeping your tires inflated can help stop global warming and reduce the effect of the wildfires in the future.

Offender Alumni Association: Protecting and Empowering Previously Incarcerated People

by Mariana Orozco, UAB student

During the Fall 2019 Semester at UAB, Dena Dickerson, the program Director at the Offender Alumni Association, and one of her mentees visited Beth Shelburne’s honors seminar. During their visit, they shared testimonials with students, talked about an organization that they are part of, and closed the session with the man singing to the students. This was a a very emotional class, leaving many students with tears. Furthermore, many of these students were also moved to advocate for those who are in prison or who have been released. Dena, being the program director, has contacted students who have volunteered with the Offender Alumni Association (OAA) and spread the word about it on campus. A couple of students sold Pura Vida bracelets to their peers and were able to raise $150. 

Photo of Dena Dickerson and students in class
Dena Dickerson speaks to students at UAB. Source: the author.

Background

OAA is an organization that helps those who have been previously incarcerated. Since its founding date, in 2014, they have impacted over 500 former offenders and their family members. They have been officially named a 501(c)3 nonprofit and launched several support forums in some of Alabama’s and Georgia’s major prisons. The main goals of this organization are to reduce recidivism rates, develop healthy relationships within communities, and provide opportunities for social, economic, and civic empowerment for people coming out of prison.  

The Effect of OAA for People

Similarly to the commonly known Alcoholics Anonymous program, OAA offers peer to peer support to help those who are seeking encouragement and support once they are released from prison. An organization like OAA is significant in providing help to people who have been in the same situation as those seeking it. OAA allows a place of honesty without any judgement. Not only are formerly incarcerated people benefiting from this, but OAA is also a place for their families to get resources and network with others who understand their situation. Many times, the focus of the people affected by the prison system is only on those who are incarcerated. However, there are many cases where the most affected is the family. OAA provides a space for these conversations and relationships to occur. 

The Effect of OAA in the Community 

Mass incarceration is everybody’s issue. Tax payers have to pay and communities have to suffer. As 2020 has brought attention to many people, there are many problems within the prison system. Alabama prisons are overpopulated, understaffed, and underfunded. The 2019 Department of Justice report described Alabama Prisons for Men as unconstitutional because of the guards’ abuse of the people in prison. OAA’s goal is to help reduce the number of people in prison through reducing recidivism rates. Through education and mentorship, they work towards reducing recidivism rates.  Although this does not necessarily mean the environment inside prisons will suddenly be good, it would create more living space and reduce the number of people being negatively affected by the system. OAA bridges the gap between “them” and “us” to help bring everyone together and treat people as human beings. 

An image of two young boys getting haircuts in a barber shop
OAA takes students from “Heroes in the Hood” to get haircuts. Source: the author

Future Programs

In efforts to further decrease the number of people in prison, OAA is opening a Youth Program. “Heroes in the Hood” took off in the middle of this pandemic. Currently, there are eight students, ages 14 to 18, who are mentored about work ethic and community pride. Dr. Stacy Moak, a Social Work professor at  UAB endorsed this program, saying that-“mentoring programs have shown promise in improving the opportunities for these youths to see new possibilities, complete high school, become job ready, and become productive members of society.” This Youth Program hopes to help good students who have been in jail because they do not have resources to help them be successful. 

How You Can Help 

In order for the new Youth Program to be successful, OAA is working on raising money. This money will be used to provide the students with computers and other school supplies. There are also plans on having engaging events with the student’s mentors to build trust with each other. They are selling OAA colors Pura Vida bracelets for $6. Any other donations can be done through their website. You can also help by educating those around you, sharing this article, or volunteering with this organization. 

Photo of Pura Vida bracelets
Green, white, and yellow PuraVida bracelets for the Offender Alumni Association. Source: OAA

Beyond the Glass Ceiling

by Grace Ndanu

Poster that reads "I earn L7k less than him for the same work"
Source: Creative Commons

Women graduate from college at higher percentages than men do today, yet women still earn less money and hold fewer executive positions. How can this be? I reviewed a Pew Research Canter Analysis, where the gender gap in pay has narrowed since 1980 but it has remained relatively stable over the past 15 years and it is still going on. In 2017 women earned 82% of what men earned. When considering why gaps in pay persist, several factors are at play, including corporate culture. While corporate culture and societal norms are both key factors that need to be checked again and again, it is equally important to assess how women unwittingly contribute to these stubborn workplace imbalances and what can be done about it. Therefore I went further and tried to think what might be the reason behind the situation, and thankfully I thought of six of them.

My big question is, are women setting themselves up to lose by getting my six thoughts wrongs? My number one thought was: Women don’t own the power to lead and shy away from conflict in the work place. This makes them too afraid to speak up, speak out or otherwise appear disagreeable especially when they outshine their superiors. They also turn down speaking and presentation opportunities, which is usually driven by fear. This makes me sad because I believe it is okay to make a mistake, to fail or to get it wrong. As we all know everyone have their own personalities, everyone deals with conflict in their own way. However while we do lean toward a particular preference, we all need to be well equipped to pull from and apply alternate styles. In this case again woman still suffer from the “need to please” disease and care more about being liked than leading . I suggest that so long you are respectful and tactful, women should and must lean into their power. Now stop giving too much deference to male co-workers. Women should understand they are there to make results and change and not friends because of the management don’t respect you, they will never promote or pay you more.

Women rarely ask for more and often don’t know to negotiate for themselves. We all understand that women are best in negotiating on behalf of someone else than they are at negotiating for themselves. Because of this they will find it hard to negotiate their pay, leaving them with low pay because they often don’t understand their worth and if they do they are never serious about what they know regarding their worth. I suggest that women should try to see what others are making, especially men in the company or in the field.

What disturbs me much is that women often. undervalue their talents and resist the hard skills. I have observed that women are often clueless as to the impact of their leadership and executive contributions and in addition they are not able to translate and connect said contributions and executive decisions to the benefit of the company in terms of all improvements in each sector of the company or the organization. I have a strong feeling that women can do well to start more about caring metrics and money. By learning about strategy, finance, budgets, and analytics and then how to translate data into actionable intelligence that other employees or team members and superiors can use to make informed decisions.

Image of woman speaking at conference with sign that reads "Equal Pay Day" in the background
Source: Creative Commons

According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, men work an average of 14 more hours per month than women. This means that women tend to need more flexibility in their schedules and spend fewer hours at work than men. They often times, and for various reasons need to have special accommodations, more flexible work schedule and use more sick time and vacation time than men. I support flexible work schedules for them because of all the responsibilities they have including family but for high performers. The workplaces goals are paramount, meaning that if any schedule is allowed and it starts to impede or hinder services, the flex schedules may need to cease. My advice is before accepting high level demanding positions there is a need to contemplate whether you can commit to and meet the ongoing demands of the job. Remember companies, organizations and even governments don’t hire to make accommodations for our private lives and when they do it’s a privilege.

Number five I will start by saying that we need to redefine what having it all means. Women need to learn how to pace it; understand that they can’t just everything at once. We need to prioritize and align our goals so as to have a healthy personal and professional life, meaning that we need to sacrifice some things to have other things.

The last thought is the women’s fear of risk taking which begins even before they enter the workplace. Again through observation I have made a conclusion that women tend to demonstrate a greater fear of failure than men and need to move beyond this in order to seize opportunities and advance careers. And not just fear at the work place but also at the household level. Smart female leaders can do just about anything we decide to do and we should be clear on our choices and consequences for those choices. Every time I think about this glass ceiling issue and why it has not resolved itself, I can’t help but think my own personal life. The issue starts at home. At one point I was in a family full of domestic violence, and I know all too well the challenges and struggles that came with that. When the woman tried and went out for to get some cash, the partner took it all from her until finally she saw no need to go work and she is not enjoying the work of her hands. She really saw the opportunities but she wasn’t able to participate.

Image of Kamala Harris speaking in front of an American flag
Source: Creative Commons

It is true that women are doing a whole bunch of things right and that is why the needle has moved at all over the decades. The glass ceiling has many cracks and a hole in it. When the US election was going on, I was all over the social media trying to find out what was going on. Being a young Kenyan Girl who has never been employed and dreams of being her own boss felt like I was participating in some way. The election was not just about Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and the US citizens but also other nations were part of it, especially women. Kamala has made such a remarkable history as the first woman elected Vice President. I feel so inspired by her because she breaks part of the glass ceiling. We still have a ways to go before the glass breaks completely. Everyone in the society has a role to play, including culture and organizations, and most of all women need to stand out for their worth.

Unequally Disconnected

by Grace Ndanu

African school children in uniforms huddled around desks
African Schoolroom. Source: Creative Commons

As the novel corona virus spreads across the world, states and localities are faced with mounting pressure to close the school doors. The closing of schools has left children, teens and young adults with nothing to do because there was never a notice. Before the introduction of online learning, which was first provided through the radio and the television and then through Zoom and Skype, Kenyan children ended up walking through all the neighborhood while many teens and the young adults ended up engaging in dangerous activities like drug abuse, stealing and sexual activities that resulted to so many girls being pregnant. This became a very big concern to the nation apart from Covid-19. When the number of new cases were being aired, the teenage pregnancy cases were aired alongside it.

The purpose of closing the schools was to curb the spread of the virus. And hence transitioning to online learning became the only option, which was and is still not easy. Among many challenges from providing meals, proper clothing, proper health, to proper housing for the low income families it will never be easy. In Kenya, a person is considered poor when they lack the most basic needs. Also as long as a family has somewhere to lay their heads at night or has a shelter to keep them off the storms, cold and the hot sun, that family is regarded as okay they do not have to worry because they are surviving. This suggests that technology is not a necessity or a basic need. In Kenya, we are in need of technological empowerment.

There are so many private schools compared to government schools. In these schools the majority of the students are from rich families, that is 70%, while 30% are there because of sponsorship and scholarships. The government schools holds more of Kenyan children because majority of Kenyans are technically poor. There is no option of private school to these parents because even most of them send their children while they are still under age just for them to go and eat their lunch because when they stay at home they will have nothing to eat, instead as little they are they will have to wait till dinner. That is a bonus for the government.

In Kenya advanced technology was just introduced a few years back, meaning technology is still young. There are still households with no electricity, a radio or a simple mobile phone for just communicating. Technology courses were also introduced and they are improving since the stereotype of saying that technology courses for example computer science is made for boys is fading away and now even girls are doing better than the boys in the course. That is the good news about technology, the bad news is that, around 60% of the poor children in Kenya have little or no access to technology for learning that is the smartphone or the computer and the internet to make the learning easy.

A photo of two children's computers sitting on a desk
African children need better access to technology in order to continue their education during the pandemic. Source: Creative Commons

This makes only children from the private schools able to continue learning. But not all who continue learn online 20% are left out. Also the troubling gap in the opportunity to continue learning emerges between privileged and vulnerable children when looking at responses by other markers of economic advantages such as employment and food security status. 10 in 60 children of employed parents have access to both a device and the internet for learning always, or most of the time. This on demand availability drops where other children living in households where the parents are unemployed.

There is an extent where families who afford two or one meal a day, give it up and instead of eating or have little small that day, what was to be used to buy food will be used to pay for the virtual education by purchasing some internet bundles and if there is no a gadget to be used, the child will have to walk miles away from home in order to access cyber. The long walk will make the child tired even when it is time to concentrate,  he or she is tired even to listen. The long walk is also exposing the child to sexual abuse by strangers and before they get to speak out it is too late, which will even make the concentration more difficult hence dropping of the performance.

Many people in Kenya acquire phones only when they are already at their 18th year and some even at their 20s. Considering this, the children who were and are still learning online are really struggling because they are not familiar with the gadgets or the process itself. If the class was to start at 8am and end at 10am through zoom, the child will join the class at 9:30am or even she will never join basically because she does not understand which button is which.

The government or the stakeholder responsible for children and everyone’s right, make technology as a basic need, with that learning will become easy and efficient to everybody, be it grandparents, parents and the children.

Kenyan Parliament in crisis after failure to attain the two-third gender rule

by Grace Ndanu

A photograph of dozens of African women at a leadership conference
African Women Leaders Network (UNHQ). Source: Creative Commons

Gender inequality has existed since the Old Testament time. In Kenya, we see that even before the British colonialists came, the society was ruled by men. African men made the decisions in the society and set the rules that the community was to live by. This was through the council of elders that existed in most societies. Few women occupied public positions of power. The one common position that did hold some power was the position of medicine woman. In every community there are cultural practices that are regarded as a must. Among the Maasai there is a practice by the name Female Genital Mutilation, which is supposed to prepare a girl for marriage. This practice is usually ordered by the girl’s father, and it is expected to be performed by a woman.

Historically in Kenya, the place of women was largely in the house and revolved around looking after the welfare of her homestead. Basically this meant doing all the house chores and taking care of the old and the children. Men, on the other hand, were generally their own masters. They dictated what is permissible and what was not. Men were the warriors of the community, decision makers, and heads of families, and in that capacity they dictated what was expected of the family. For example, where I come from we have a council of elders, which is comprised of men only. This council directs everything that is going on in the community, starting from which girl is old enough to get married to which man is she supposed to marry. This could mean an eleven-year-old girl is forced to marry a seventy-year-old man. When these men are in their meeting no woman is to be seen around. The resistance to women based on their gender has remained the facilitating tool for keeping inequity against women. Recently I discovered that Kenya has the lowest female representation in the whole of Africa with 9.8%, compared to Rwanda 56.3%, Tanzania 36.0%, Uganda 35.0% and Burundi 30.5%. In South Africa women represent 55%, meaning they have the capability of being good leaders and we have an opportunity to prove this.

The Kenyan constitution of 2010 promotes the participation of women and men at all levels of governance and make provisions for at least 1/3 of the seats in county assemblies as well as at least 1/3 of the seats of the senate. The constitution also provides for the enactment of legislation to compel political parties to be democratic and have women in their decision making organs. Article 81(b) of the constitution provides that “not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender.” But that is not the case.

African women dressed in colorful robes standing in an unfinished building. They are doing an inspection.
Central African women inspecting building for microfinance project. Source: Creative Commons

However, despite all the difficulties that hinder women from public participation there is finally a light. Through the constitution, Women and men have the right to equal treatment, including the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres. The two-thirds gender principle was articulated in the 2010 Constitution; however, the country marked the 10th anniversary of the constitution last month, and nothing has happened so far. In clause (6) (b) of the constitution it states that, “the chief justice shall advice the president to dissolve parliament.” Therefore the top Kenyan Judge who is nearing the end of his term as Kenya’s second chief justice under the new constitution just advised the president to dissolve parliament due to failure to enact the law that provides the gender balance. I think this was a really brave step. In his letter to the president he included,” Kenyans must be ready to suffer, if only to hold elected parliamentary representatives accountable”. This left the representatives uncomfortable and started to challenge the chief justice. I have faith he will win.

Last semester I had a unit by the title Women and Governance. In this unit I learned that stereotypes lock out women, especially in countries like Kenya that are highly patriarchal. Until recently, women have had a more difficult time getting elected to these political positions.  Last year, a candle was lit in one of the famous universities in Kenya when the University of Nairobi) elected the first chairlady (president) in history. I hope many young ladies were touched and inspired like I was. The difficulty of being elected as a political leader is associated with the possibility that voters may be more comfortable with electing women to the legislature than to executive office. This difficulty appears to be due to stereotyping of candidates and of political offices based on the expected policy issues that these offices address. For example, female candidates are expected to be warm, gentle, kind and passive. Male candidates on the other hand are perceived as tough, aggressive and assertive. As a result, voters view male candidates as more competent than female candidates when dealing with issues associated with the executive branch, such as security and economics. For example when elections revolve around security and crime issues, voters tend to view women as ill-equipped to deal with such issues. Thus they do not vote for women.

Inequality and discrimination, whether based on race, colour, language, religion or sex often takes similar forms in practice; however, there are specific characteristic of discrimination against women that do not occur elsewhere. Sex, attitude, beliefs, prejudice and myths are much more deeply rooted in the basic structures and human behaviour than are many other customs, norms and traditions (for example, that women should never speak or give opinions where men are present). This is more like shutting them up because society is comprised of both men and women and if they have to give opinions publicly they will have to stand with their heads up before women and men, which is more disliked by men.

I believe that the time has come for people to realize and appreciate that women have both a right and obligation to actively participate in political leadership. Also women themselves must believe in themselves and come out of their comfort zone and start doing what is necessary. And they will be great.

Mesothelioma Cancer: The Ongoing Saga Of Asbestos Usage In The United States


 

A flyer with a blue ribbon that says Mesolethoma Awareness Day Sept. 26, 2020
Source: The author

Between the 1920s to 1980s, the use of asbestos was at an all-time high in the United States. From construction to the military, asbestos was utilized in a variety of different industries. Unfortunately, this abundant usage has led to the discovery of some serious health complications. Asbestos is a known human carcinogen and people who closely worked with this naturally occurring mineral are facing the consequences. One of the most common diseases associated with asbestos exposure is mesothelioma cancer, and it continues to be diagnosed to this day. With the United States not fully banning usage of asbestos, there seems to be no end in sight of its damaging effects.

What Is Asbestos?

As previously mentioned, asbestos is a mineral that is found in abundance across the United States. It’s known for its tensile strength, sound absorption and heat resistance, making it an unmatched additive at the height of its usage. Products such as flooring tiles, roofing tiles and insulation incorporated asbestos, because in the event of a fire, it could slow the burning process. This was also true when it came to usage in the military. The Navy incorporated asbestos in different areas of ships such as the boiler room and sleeping barracks. Asbestos was also great because it doesn’t degrade easily in water, making it a no brainer for use in ships. With that being said, when asbestos does degrade is when it can cause the most harm to the health of humans.

Asbestos Exposure And Health Complications

Asbestos that is degrading or damaged can release fibers into the air. These needle-like microscopic fibers can be inhaled or ingested by humans, causing damage to our internal organs. They get embedded in the linings of our lungs, heart and abdomen where they cause inflammation and scarring to occur. Over the course of 10 to 50 years, tumors may develop and this can lead to the diagnosis of mesothelioma cancer. Symptoms of this disease are minimal, and often mimic those of less severe illnesses. Coughing, shortness of breath, lack of appetite, chest pain and fever are all symptoms of mesothelioma, but unfortunately, when symptoms do appear, the disease has usually progressed into a later stage. Another disease that asbestos exposure can lead to is asbestosis, a chronic lung condition that heightens the risk of developing mesothelioma.

An image of asbestos fibers
Source: The author

Who Does This Disease Affect?

The two largest populations that are diagnosed with mesothelioma are military veterans and construction industry professionals. The reason for this is that servicemen and women who worked on Navy ships and military bases were directly in contact with asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) on a daily basis, as is true of the majority of construction professionals. Working with ACMs without the proper protective equipment is typically how someone will end up being diagnosed with mesothelioma. Asbestos fibers can cling to clothing and stay airborne for several hours, so for those working with these materials everyday, exposure is extremely prevalent. While rules and regulations have gotten better surrounding asbestos exposure, these two groups are still disproportionately affected, many of whom still are unaware of the dangers of asbestos despite there being more research.

A fence with yellow caution tape that says Asbestos Dust Hazard
Source: The author

Why Is Asbestos Not Fully Banned?

While asbestos usage in the United States has become more regulated, it is still not fully banned. Asbestos is allowed in up to 1% of certain products and plays a key role in the chlor-alkali (chlorine) industry. As of April 2019, a “final rule” regarding asbestos usage had been issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) detailing more regulations to limit exposure. These regulations were as followed:

  • The public is protected from uses of asbestos that are no longer on the market and are not covered under any other laws. 
  • The EPA is not allowing new uses of asbestos
  • Uses of asbestos covered under the 1989 partial ban will stay banned.

Researchers, experts and the public have been upset with this new ruling, as it still does not take into consideration the legacy usages of asbestos as well as all of the preexisting ACMs that are across the country to this day. There are currently 67 countries with full asbestos bans and it is unfortunate that the United States continues to let the public be harmed from such a dangerous carcinogen.

Help Spread Awareness

September 26th marks the 17th anniversary of Mesothelioma Awareness Day (MAD). Help spread awareness by sharing information about asbestos exposure with your loved ones and educating them about the serious health dangers it poses.

High School Student Perspectives on the Duel Pandemics Facing Our Country

A picture of Breakthrough students and instructors making silly faces
Source: Breakthrough Birmingham

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to talk to Breakthrough Birmingham students about human rights. Breakthrough Birmingham is an affiliate of the Breakthrough Collaborative, an educational program in which college students from across the U.S. teach high school students in traditionally underrepresented communities in an effort to reverse educational inequity and help students achieve post-secondary success. This summer, Breakthrough went fully virtual, and although this had its challenges, I was amazed at how successfully the leadership pivoted and stayed committed to providing quality education for the students. During our time together, the students and I talked about what human rights are and different examples of human rights violations, particularly those related to the COVID-19 pandemic and anti-Black police brutality and injustice. As part of our class, I invited students to write for the IHR blog, to reflect on how the duel pandemics of Covid and racial injustice are impacting their lives and what they hope to see happen in the future. While the conversation rages over how to resolve these crises, the voices of our nation’s young people are often lost in the noise. But they are certainly an important part of this conversation, as they will inherit the world that we leave them and be left with either a huge mess to clean up or a legacy of progress to carry forward. I wanted to share two essays from Breakthrough students Jeremy and Charles. 

Jeremy*

One day I was in school learning like normal, then bam! The world suddenly changed. I am going to be talking about Covid-19, aka coronavirus. It is very important to talk about this because people are dying daily and more and more families are suffering from the recovery of their losses. It is impacting how stores handle things and how we make money. Personally, I am uncomfortable with this situation going on, and I do not like it at all. It is really bad for me and everyone else on this planet. It is boring having to stay inside my home for an extended amount of time. When Covid first arrived I was actually excited that I was able to stay home. After a while though it started getting really boring, now I want to go back to school to see my friends.

I have mixed emotions about this. Like I said earlier staying home was great! I was all happy and joyful that I was able to stay home and sleep in as much as I wanted. Now I am just waiting until I can escape and go to school like normal!

In the world today, there are a lot of changes I want to happen. First of all, there is a lot going on while in quarantine. All the violence, Kanye West running for president, the “Karens,” aka the people who refuse to wear masks because of their president’s orders, and the other stuff that shouldn’t be allowed to happen. I think there are a lot of ways we can make this change. For example, the Black Lives Matter protests are attempting to make positive change.

The schools are already helping us students make that change, by sending quizzes on if we should go back to school, rotate days, or just do virtual learning. I think I could have my family go out more to make the experience more normal.

After all this mess going on I would like to just say this, don’t worry! I know a lot is going on right now, and it is just messy all around, but we will get through this! It will definitely be over soon, but it will still feel like it is lasting forever. If you know what I mean. Staying positive during this pandemic is key. I always like to stay as positive as possible. Just like any other person, I have experienced things that shouldn’t be happening on a daily basis! On the bright side, this whole situation does make me feel thankful and alive because I am able to spend more quality time with my family.

The pandemic has made me feel like I can handle that anything comes my way. This is not always the case though. Everyone in the world may feel strong, prepared, ready, but who can tell us what’s coming? This really tells us how anything can happen with just a snap of the finger! From sunny skies to dark clouds and thunder. From daily life to Covid-19.

A photo of Jeremy, the author, holding a peace sign above his head
“Jeremy” Source: the author

*Jeremy will be attending Ramsey High School, and his favorite subject is science. His hobbies include walking his dog, riding his bike, building houses online, and conducting science experiments. He aspires to be an architect, and when asked what inspires him, he notes, “New construction inspires me.”

Charles**

Many people are affected by anti-Black police brutality. Many people are killed due to this, particularly, George Floyd’s death, which was recently in the spotlight. Anti-Black police brutality does not just stop there. Celebrities, such as Jay Pharaoh, have faced police brutality because of the color of their skin. This topic is important because this is an ongoing problem that needs to be stopped. I understand what it is like to have friends and family who are police officers, but we still need to hold them accountable.

I feel distraught every time that I think about police brutality. I have to face the thought of being a victim of police brutality. It makes it harder now because everywhere I go I’m scared that I might be beaten by the police. It does not get any easier. Now the thought of driving is becoming a reality, and that idea fills me with fear. My mom for instance constantly talks about how to approach an officer if I were ever stopped. This is a thing that most African American parents talk about or should talk about with their kids.This is important to me because I cannot predict if I will or will not be one of those victims of police brutality.

My experience with this topic is hearing about people being beaten by the cops.  Also, I have recently seen these things in the media. I’ve had experiences in which I, personally, was scared to call the police because I thought I would be the next victim of police brutality. I never had an encounter in which I was beaten by the police, but seeing events like this occur on the news and social media platforms impacts how I see the police force in the United States.

I know that no matter how many protests we assemble, the act of police brutality will never end. As human beings, sometimes we have to make compromises. I think we can solve this problem by making sure police officers swear to not brutalize innocent people based on race. This should be a part of the oath they swear by, and there should be punishments for not complying with this oath. According to a New York Times article, in 2019, 59% of Police-reported uses of force in Minneapolis were used on African Americans. This statistic shows that African Americans are most likely to face police brutality. A DoSomething.org article shows that in New York City in 2018, 88% of police stops involved Black and Latinx people. The article also states that 70% of those who were stopped were completely innocent. I do think that police officers should be held culpable for their actions. These statistics are examples of African Americans being more likely to face police brutality or harassment.

I think that instead of being more accepting of different races and cultures white Americans are being more hateful towards minorities, especially Black people.  The ongoing anti-Black police brutality has made me grow more furious each and every day. Systemic racism and politicians lead white people to misinterpret the reality of life as Black people in America. White Americans should use their privilege to educate themselves and use their voices to advocate with Black people instead of using their voices for ignorance. Rather than learning new Tik Tok dances or trying to go viral, people should utilize their voice and the endless resources available to educate themselves and their followers on the history and present state of our nation.

A head shot of Charles, the author
“Charles” Source: the author

** Charles will be attending Ramsey High School, and he likes all of his classes, especially science. His hobbies include reading and poetry. He aspires to be an entrepreneur, and when asked what inspires him, he mentions his parents and “knowing he can put his all and mind into anything he wants to achieve.”