imperfect | world | 2010

Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Jan 13,2007

Bethnal Green
A couple of days ago I went for a recce in the east end of London. I visited activists dealing with drug abuse in the Bengali community in Tower Hamlets. They help addicts through recovery programmes and provide counselling and advice etc. It was blowy and pelting down hard throughout the day. I walked around the various estates. I don’t want to take away any of the bleakness of it all - and believe me some of these estates are bleak - but one can nevertheless see the positive impact of the local state’s regeneration programme at the superficial level at least. Clearly the built environment and the services are only one part of it because the drugs problem continues to grow. …And not just amongst bengali lads but also bengali girls and women. The prospects are apparently dire. According to local organisations this problem is set to remain and indeed grow in the forseeable future.

I will hopefully be following these chaps around for part of the diaspora project I am engaged in, and I will be pointing you to a separate site if you are interested in knowing more.

Use sms to avoid arsenic!

  • Filed under: Health
Aug 31,2006

Damn good news for cell phone operators: arsenic in water is going to impact positively on your business!  The sad fact is that groundwater in Bangladesh is contaminated with arsenic. And drinking this arsenic will cause you a lot of grief in the way of skin lesions, breathing problems, cancers and other nasty things.

However it is apparently possible to dig to a certain depth where the water is relatively free of arsenic. The problem is how do you find that level? Well, Columbia university boffins have developed a database of about 300,000 wells in 17 districts in Bangladesh. The idea is that villagers will use text messaging to find out how deep to dig and the odds that the water will be safe at that depth. And as the mobile phone is a widely used piece of technology…the researchers are hoping that villagers will use texting to find out information about different locations.

Texting is also going to be used in Indonesa to get info out on bird flu as quickly as possible. And I thought texting was only good for sending saucy notes to people..??  Not that I have ever done that sort of thing….. ;-)

Check it out HERE but you will need a nature subscription.

Dhaka school bus

  • Filed under: Health
Aug 27,2006

Take a gander at this. If you don’t have a Pajero to take your kids to school this thing below is another option. You can cram upto four or five kids into these cages and then peddle off into the busy, polluted and truck-filled streets of Dhaka. Each time I see one of these contraptions filled with kids and with their faces peering out of the bars, I keep telling myself that the accident rate on these things must be approaching zero.  Otherwise surely parents would not allow their children to use them….please someone tell me I am right??

School bus in Dhaka

Jun 15,2006

Recently my immediate family and I have taken a hit or two in terms of quite serious diseases. The experience has left me dazed but at the same time has given me a wonderful insight into healthcare - both modern and alternative - as it operates in Bangladesh. I can’t possibly be exhaustive in this post but I will kick off with the case of Khassani baba and then later when I am more compos mentis perhaps relate some more examples and attempt an anthropological analysis. Well no maybe I won’t attempt an anthropological analysis…

So, anyway, Khassani baba. He comes from India and has a social network the size of which even Google Inc. would be envious of. He peddles remedies to those with medical complaints and business worries. His devotees often wear a ring he gives them - not unlike the flashy stones handed out by that other more famous “spiritual guru” or charlatan - depending on your point of view - Sai Baba. His “patients” are wealthy and include the most powerful families in Bangladesh. They will swear to god about the effectiveness of his baba-ness but at the same time will make the necessary trips to India or Singapore to avail themselves of more modern approaches to healthcare….how they reconcile their faith in the bearded (mehti stained beard and hair) baba and at the same time engage in health tourism I do not know. Such is the insecurity of our upper-middle and upper classes…

One family member has a degenerative neurological condition. Khassani baba came along and cut in half 18 lemons per day for 11 days on his knees. He charged 11,000 takas per visit and the patient supplied the lemons and the knife. Khassani baba explained that the money would go towards the slaughter of 11 goats in Delhi, India and that hujurs would be praying each day for the patient. Mr Khassani predicted a 90 percent improvement ( yes he does fractions) within a month or so. After the slaughter of so many innocent lemons and the far away goats (allegedly), the sick relative, a physician in his professional life, interestingly saw no improvement whatsoever.

May 8,2006

Last saturday, 6th May, The International Labour Organisation published its report on child labour worldwide with an optimistically titled report: “The end of child labour: Within reach.” I am afrad the sections on Bangladesh don’t lend themselves to that kind of optimisim….

Summary of two salient issues:

1. The ILO ADMITS that the much talked about project to eradicate child sweatshop labour in the garments industry - initiated by ILO and Unicef with endorsement by the government and undertaken by the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association in 1996 - was probably a disaster for upto 50,000 children who were summarily dismissed and probably ended up forced into more hazardous work. See below.
2. Bangladesh has about 4.7 million child workers. Over 13 percent of the total population of children between the ages of 5 and 14 are engaged in child labour.

To this day, the BGMEA has a self-congratulatory page on its web site declaring the garment sector child labour free. This is despite an admission by the BGMEA earlier this year (March 19th) that that IS NOT THE CASE. To this day, the BGMEA refers to the Memorandum of Understanding signed by ILO, UNICEF and themselves as having been executed “to the satisfaction of all concerned.” Well, as the report makes clears, this is certainly NOT THE CASE.

Here is the text of Box 3.11 of the report:

The Bangladesh garment industry project: Myth and reality

More than any single child labour intervention, the MOU project helped focus international attention on the issue in the 1990s. At the same time, the MOU divided opinion within the worldwide movement, becoming its ideological fault-line. However, subsequent refl ection a decade after its launch has provided a more balanced assessment, leading to a greater consensus on what to do, and what not to do, in similar emergency child labour situations. How did the MOU come about? In 1993 the garment industry in Bangladesh, in a climate of fear and panic brought about by the prospect of trade sanctions, summarily dismissed many thousands of its child workers – perhaps as many as 50,000. There was much speculation at the time that many of these children had been forced into more hazardous work in the informal rconomy, including prostitution. This perception remains deeply rooted among many in the worldwide movement.

Precipitate action was considered by the ILO, UNICEF and the NGOs not to be in the children’s best interests, but given the sensitivity of the issue it took until July 1995 for an agreement to emerge. The MOU was signed on 4 July 1995 by the BGMEA, the ILO and UNICEF and endorsed by the Government of Bangladesh. The purpose of the MOU was to remove child workers from the garment industry and place them in education programmes. UNICEF took the lead in education and the ILO in verifi cation and monitoring, but these components were not fully operational until the second half of 1996 – 18 months after the MOU was signed. A skills training and micro-credit facility supported by the Italian social partners started in late 1999. In 2002-03 both the ILO and UNICEF conducted separate evaluations related to those components of the MOU for which they were responsible. In the summer of 2004 a synthesis document was jointly published by the agencies. This provides an overview of the evolution and impact of the intervention.

Key among the findings was the need for a timely response; for social safety nets to be in place before children are removed; for good baseline data and needs assessment; and for ownership of the response by employers for sustainability. It is acknowledged that in the context of the panic response in 1993 and unavoidable delays in getting project components in place, many children and their families became worse off. In the end economic forces were swifter than the interventions that sought to protect children.

At a dissemination meeting for the report held in September 2004 in Dhaka, both the ILO and UNICEF identified important lessons, including the need for better research and early detection systems for likely future child labour emergencies.

Just in case the BGMEA do decide to update their web site, I have made a pdf document of the page in question. You will find it HERE.

Apr 14,2006

It was too much to hope for wasn’t it? Too much to think that we would only be talking about cricket this weekend. No, instead we are back to terrorism. And in this instance state terrorism in Kansat or as the papers call it “police excess” or as Lutfozzaman Babar calls it “lack of dialogue.”

And yet more on terrorism as the respected Jane’s security analysts tell us about Harakat-ul-Jihad-ul-Islami and how they have re-emerged after their banning last year as Dawaat el Kafela and are ready to do the Bangla bhai thing. Worryingly, Jane’s say in reference to the capture of Sheikh Abdur Rahman and Bangla bhai that “Bangladeshi intelligence officials believe that the arrests are unlikely to undermine the militant groups.” If anyone has a subscription to Jane’s security briefings - it costs a mere $1170 per annum - how about giving me a quick gander at the text?

And whilst all this is going on, Morshed Khan is trying to make sure donors don’t dwell on these things too much. Canada is apparently expected to increase its development assistance for 2007-2008. And so Khan’s right hand man Reaz Rahman was dispatched to Ottawa. This was his opening line: “Bangladesh is often thought of as the picture of poverty [and] as a hotbed for breeding terrorism. I’m here to sell the real image of Bangladesh — moderation and tolerance.” Yeah. Tell that to the people in Kansat.

And finally one piece of good news: another gong for another Bangladeshi. The work of Dr Halida Hanum Akhter has been recognised by the UN population fund. She took part in “key research in contraceptive effectiveness, reproductive health needs and services, and in assessments of maternal deaths in Bangladesh.”

Apr 4,2006

(Crossposted at

I came across this banner below in the lobby of Labaid in Dhanmondi. The text reads :

We seek your support to frustrate unholy attempt of vested quarters to turn Bangladesh into a market of foreign hospitals.

Mark the word “unholy.” We know that Labaid wants to be the principal private hospital in Bangladesh. Moreover their mission statement explicitly states that they want to “reduce patients (sic) outflow to foreign countries for treatment and thereby save valuable foreign currency.” That is all fine. No one would argue about developing local capacity. It is greatly needed. And one can also understand that they are a bit worried about the foreign competition. Not only do patients go outside for treatment but last year Apollo hospitals (of India) opened up joint venture operations in Bangladesh with the launch of their flag-ship hospital in Basundhara. And there is also a Japanese healthcare group (Tokushukai) who have teamed up with Grameen Bank and will probably start operating shortly. But why this word “unholy?”

Not even the most rabid proponents of autarchic development, as far as I remember my development theory, use the word unholy to describe foreign investment. Oh yes they use a lot of other derogatory words but not unholy. What could this banner be about? Is it Apollo = Indian = Hindu = Unholy? So is this a plea for protectionism couched in communalist nationalist terms? I pointed out this poster to a doctor working at Labaid. She had not noticed the banner but upon seeing it was surprised and wondered along exactly the same lines outlined above, without any prompting on my part. She regretted the poster and said she would ask their customer relations department….

In case anyone thinks I have got a soft spot for Apollo. I don’t. They almost killed my mum.

Labaid banner (Taken with my rubbish Motorola RAZR)