imperfect | world | 2010

Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Jul 26,2009

A 42-year old male traveler, who had returned from Indonesia, was diagnosed positive for swine flu at Zia International Airport in Dhaka on Saturday morning.

And this is the tragic case of the Bangladeshi woman in England who died of swine flu.

May 15,2008

Yunus and Telenor

Jon Fredrik Baksaas of Telenor in a grinning competition with Mohammed Yunus.

A minority of regular readers of this blog will be fed up with my …er…concern about Professor Yunus in past posts. ( Just search Yunus in the search box..!!) If you are one such reader, then I request you to close your browser or surf to the Disney site because the story below is as nasty as it gets:

A Danish documentary will tonight reveal “miserable working conditions and environmental violations at companies in Bangladesh that act as suppliers to GrameenPhone ….co-owned by Norwegian telecoms firm Telenor and firms founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus.”

Tom Heinemann

The documentary was made by made by Danish journalist Tom Heinemann and is to be aired on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) tonight.

The documentary shows:

* Employees working with hazardous chemicals and heavy metals virtually without protection.
* that workers were as young as 13 years, a clear violation of child labour laws. The firms were caught allowing polluted wastewater to spill into nearby rice fields.
* the death of a worker killed when he fell into an unsecured pool of acid.

The report in this Norwegian publication says :

Telenor officials claim they were shaken by the documentary’s findings, and admit they failed to adequately monitor the operations of GrameenPhone’s suppliers

See a trailer of the film here.

Tom Heinemann is an established journalist with a formidable track-record. In 2005/6 he made a documentary about the harsh working conditions of Indian workers producing for the Scandinavian market. The film is called “A Killer Bargain.” Heinemann’s primary concern is to reveal the stark realities of globalisation  in the developing world.

You will find more about Telenor in the comments section of this post of mine on Professor Yunus.

Mar 14,2008

Ah finally some good news for Bangladeshis….Tahmima Alam has won the regional Commonwealth best book prize ( Europe and South Asia) with her book “A Golden Age.” It is on my ever expanding reading list for this year… Well done her and I wonder what she will do with the 1000 smackeroos?

It is said that ex-PM Hasina’s stomach has become a pharmacy in the last three months….perhaps that is why  5 members of the 7 panel team of doctors looking after her have been replaced? The CTG says they were partisan doctors ( …as well as being relatives of various Awami Leaguers). We have a partisan judiciary ( or has that really ended??) - so why not partisan doctors? The hosptial is keeping schtum ( they have most to gain after all if they treat her…) with John Gomes, the General Manager of the hospital, declaring he knows nothing. Would someone please tell the man that as General Manager its his damn business to know? The “dodgy 5″ believed that she was in danger of going deaf among other things. There might be some truth in that. Instead of pumping her with medication, has anyone tried telling Hasina to stop shouting? It might do her hearing and her party a lot of good?

And then we have this editorial. It is disheartening news that after announcing a radical set of measures concerning women’s property rights, the government climbed down after pressure from the great guardians of koranic truth. So what the hell is this editorial doing painting a rosy picture and ignoring the vociferous objections to the proposed law? What have I missed?

Feb 7,2008

I leave it to you dear reader - which is the less palatable news? That bird flu is running rampant in the country or that the equally deadly Hasina might be let off on a technicality? The most bizarre ruling has just been passed by the High Court. Apparently Hasina cannot be tried for alleged crimes which took place several years ago and committed before this caretaker government took over. Tried, that is, under emergency regulations (with no bail etc). Interestingly of course when it comes to the punishment of others for similarly old or older crimes,  the Awami League are most eager for the current emergency government to go ahead and pursue them. It is her party, for example, which is baying for blood for those who committed crimes in 1971 and later.

You will notice that the same article makes reference to Khaleda denying corruption. I ask you, dear reader, was there ever any corruption in the country in the first place? I am sure if you asked the High Court in its current mood they will deny it existed.

Jan 18,2008

G M B Akash’s 2008 porftolio is now there for you to see. Some great shots there but the ones re drug users look a little…… without any text? A little piece of reality with striking colours but without any conscience? Don’t know. Don’t get me wrong I am a keen amateur and I love photography but without context the photographer imposes his own preferences about style and composition and taste over and above the “condition” he is photographing?

GMB Akash 2008

Various bit and pieces

Dec 2,2007

1. If you remember I wrote about the non-existence of palliative care in Bangladesh. Well, here’s how things stand in South Africa. My friend Natalya Dinat talks about her experience.

2. My eight year old son has been ploughing through Phillip Pullman’s books. (I never encouraged him to read the Harry Potter tripe. A S Byatt’s dismissal of Rowling’s work is something I endorse fully!) The American catholics have been getting their knickers in a twist about The Golden Compass ( an adaptation of Pullman’s work). But its useful to hark back and remember what the current Archbishop of Canterbury said about Pullman’s books. HE WELCOMED INTEREST IN IT. READ HERE.

3. Hana Makhmalbaf - younger sister of Samira - has just won an award for a film on Afghanistan “Buddha collapsed out of shame.” She is still just a teenager! I suspect the Taleban will be as livid as the American catholics. Her sister Samira’s film “The Blackboards” easily rates in my top ten favourite films. And I do believe Samira herself was impossibly young when she won the Cannes’ jury award for that. Dr Kamal Hossain, as UN special raporteur on Afghanistan, apparently helped their dad Mohsen with his film about Afghanistan - Kandahar. Dr Kamal Hossain also features in our documentary, Swapnabhumi, about the urdu-speakers of Bangladesh. It is a key moment in the film, and the limitations of Bangladeshi nationalism are laid bare in a few words.
4. And here is a review by Annu Jalais of our documentary.

Dina Rabinovitch

  • Filed under: Health
Oct 30,2007


Goodbye Dina.  Go well.

Oct 27,2007

Greetings from Nepal. Its been nineteen years since i visited this country. And goodness, what changes…I was smitten by the place last time I was here and this time…well I will be writing about it somewhere else! I get to practice my hindi here, and I think I can understand about 20 percent of simple Nepali conversation. Damn useful when bargaining for nick-nacks.

Anyway, here is an interesting USAID study (pdf) concerning health intervention in the garment industry. They note a positive impact on turnover of staff, absenteeism and work place attitiude to management.

This intervention indicates there are economic, health and welfare benefits of developing workplace health programs. The study findings will add evidence to a broader business case for workplace and company-sponsored health services.

Oct 20,2007

Two weeks ago during the middle of editing a documentary, i received a desperate phone call from an ex-domestic help of ours. She was in Dhaka in a hospital with a relative, and the doctors would not explain to her what was going on despite the patient being in acute discomfort. No suprise there for me. I am very well conversant with the patronising and patriarchal attitudes of healthcare professionals in the country. She asked me to speak to the doctor in charge via her mobile. Accent and status are all important in dealing with the medical fraternity. The news was bad, and brought back personal memories. He had swollen glands underneath his arms and all down his spine. The doctor graciously explained what he had refused to do moments earlier to R. Its probably TB or lymphoma he said and that they would carry out tests and would know in about three days. He also suspected signs of organ failure. I was sufficiently unhappy with the proceedings to request R to remove her relative to another “better” hospital. Anyway, the upshot of it was that it was indeed cancer and very late on. The tumours were impacting on organs and they did not expect him to live long.

In the new hospital we enquired about pain relief. Now came the staggering and mind boggling responses. Firstly, there was surprise that we were contemplating this from the medics. Secondly, they had no regimen in place ( “We will need to have a board meeting” ) and thirdly when I made the patient’s relatives aware of the costs ( well within the budget they had indicated to me they had brought to Dhaka), they sheepishly told me “What is the point if he is going to die?”

This all brought home the point made to me by my friend Natalya, a palliative health care medic in South Africa, that access to pain relief should be a human right. It can’t be left to the individual calculus and the advocacy or otherwise of his “loved ones” or the medical establishment where the patient finds himself in. Dr Nezamuddin Ahmed of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University wrote this ( on World Hospice and Palliative Care Day, October 6th 2007):

Prevailing health care approach in Bangladesh is cure-oriented in accordance with the global trend. As a result, patients having been diagnosed as suffering from an incurable disease do not get knowledge-based appropriate attention from health care providers. Concept of palliative medicine…… is not known amongst the medical community. Official palliative care services and educational programmes do not exist here.

Jul 5,2007

Everyone complains about it. Now take a look at this analysis by Save the Children:

New research from the British charity Save the Children, shows that if a Bangladeshi family wanted to eat a simple nutritious diet, they would have to spend three times their salary on food. That’s like the average British family - which according to official figures has an annual income of £29,000 - running up a £1,700 bill at the supermarket each week.

The research calculated how much a healthy diet, based on local produce and allowing for seasonal factors such as flooding or lean seasons, would cost in four impoverished countries and then worked it out as a proportion of the average national income. The ratios were multiplied by the average British income to cast it in terms with which British consumers could identify.

The Sindbad of Bricklane

  • Filed under: Health
May 5,2007

He claimed he was an American Indian. I thought he was a Marooned Sindbad

Brick lane poverty contrasted by post-modern architecture of East London. The evening sun contrasting the dark Che Guevara beard of a young man. The group of wooden carts with metal bars resembled the destroyed ships of the Trafalgar naval battle. I was deeply moved by the sudden discovery of this space-age young man lost in his drug-dream dilemmas. He did not want to be photographed, but my cameras click-clacked. Needles here and there, cellophane everywhere. Water bottles with aluminium foils seemed more powerful than naval canons. The young man kept on talking his molten dreams while the city- noise boasted of the glories of modernisation. My comrade Shafi and the Nasaf drug-educationist pointed out the glistening pee and the dried human shit all around.

The young man was being motivated.

Back in Brick lane, caressed by a Sony Alfa digital, the meandering streams of pee suddenly made me remember Bangla monsoon rivers. The fumbling words of this drug Sindbad seemed to meander into distant Bhatiali thunders. In this backyard of Brick lane, he could be a probasee Bangladeshi. Like me.

Anwar Hossain / Photographer/ April, 2007

(Above: thoughts on a devastating encounter with a drug addict in the east end of London. )

Facts about Bengali drug users

  • Filed under: Health
Mar 22,2007

No1. In the east of London, bangladeshi users (kids from bangladeshi backgrounds) smoke rather than inject Class A drugs.

No2. Some parents send their kids back to clinics in Sylhet. This practice has had some unintended consequences (more later) including increased drug abuse in Sylhet!

No3. Drug therapy in the east end of London may involve “re-connection” with Islam. Again more later…

Titas madness

Mar 20,2007

Bangladesh’s largest gas field, Titas, is about to blow but there is not much hullabaloo about it. Maybe if we ignore it, the problem will go away?

And more madness in March with the release of Amazing Grace on 23rd - a film about William Wilberforce the ’social reformer’ and anti-slavery campaigner. What is mad about it? That people can get away with producing an abstracted indeed distorted and highly skewed take on the whole matter and then make money and careers out of it all. Read Peter Linebaugh’s trenchant critique of the thing HERE.

And anything but madness from Havi Carel writing about her medical death sentence. I have gone through the same emotions.  And she writes what I have said over and over to my family and friends:

The first rule I made for myself is never to ask “Why?” Never say, “if only”. Never think that things could have been different.

And though the loneliness is overwhelming, I desperately hope she is able to hold on to this in the years to come:

Illness breaks down the neutrality and transparency of our bodily existence. But it has also given me perspicuity. I observe my life and the lives of others and see them for what they are: brief, full of emotion and agony, activity and joy. I see people arguing over nothing, worrying about wrinkles and careers. Illness makes you immune to that. From the loneliness into which my illness forced me, I became able to see the world anew. My horizons and expectations shifted. I was made aware of the many healthy years I enjoyed. I cherish the things I can still do, like cycling along a canal in summer, the visceral joy of fresh smells and colours.

Runa Khan and her ‘angel’

Jan 29,2007

I flew back on an Emirates flight yesterday. I always like to make small talk on these long flights with my fellow passengers, and make it a point to do so even if they are not female and pretty. However I was stumped yesterday. The two chaps next to me sat down and immediately grabbed magazines on golf and Formula 1 motor racing. For me there can never be a stronger conversation stopper than people expressing an interest in golf and motor racing. I mean what the hell man…?

Anyway, all that is a long preamble to tell you that I was forced to switch on the inflight radio as a result and found out about an amazing initiative. Emirates is doing quite a few charitable projects in bangladesh but this one is particularly interesting: it concerns the work Runa Khan is doing, supported by Emirates Airlines, in remote parts of north-west Bangladesh. I had vaguely heard about it but listening to Runa explain the way the whole hospital ship thing started was fascinating. Locals call her ship the “angel.” Read about it below. Another hospital ship is on its way mid-2007.

Runa Khan
Runa Khan is not from an NGO background, and that is very telling in the way she speaks. Whilst one has to be careful about the whole business of charity this one is certainly pushing the boundaries in more ways than one including capacity development and skills transfer.
I searched on the web for more information and found something HERE.