World Hunger: Crisis and a plan of action

According to UN food and agriculture agencies, the number of hungry people in the world has fallen over the past decade. However, the number still stands at 805 million, a figure representing one ninth of the global population.

Some countries have been able to improve their domestic figures, but the number of undernourished people is a still a problem that needs urgent international attention.

Crisis

The fight against world hunger in 2014 has had numerous setbacks. For instance, the Ebola virus has taken its toll on food supplies reaching the affected countries.

Elsewhere, conflicts in Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic have increased hunger in those countries; with the need for aid clear to see.

Plan of action

Solving the issue of world hunger is not just in the interests of those affected, but is also good for the rest of the world. When a country is suffering from hunger throughout its people, this can cause a basic lack of productivity.

Economically, this hinders trading opportunities, costs millions of dollars and is eventually leads to even worse poverty. The desperation caused by such situations can lead to conflict, an issue, which can cost intervening parties millions of their own.

Looking after our own

However, it is not merely out of self-interest that it is important to try and fight world hunger. Humankind must learn to protect each other from all harm. Is world hunger an issue you want on your conscience? Or do you want to beat it?

We can help

There is no straightforward solution to combating this issue, every suffering country has troubles to contend with, and privileged nations must be willing to help.

Countries affected by disease must receive more medical attention. Only by getting the healthy back on their feet can the fight against hunger begin.

Development

In underdeveloped countries, where there is not enough food to go around, aid packages are a necessity; it is also important to promote sustainability.

We must make sure that people are taught how to gather their own food and treat their sick, so they can survive once the aid packages cease to arrive.

Finally, governments must learn to stand up to those who oppress their people. The issue of countries with economic wealth, yet a huge divide between rich and poor, need to be addressed. There is no reason for millions of people to be starving every day.

Stem cell breakthrough for Parkinson’s disease

Swedish scientists from Lund University have found that stem cell treatment can be used to heal the damage in the brain caused by Parkinson’s disease. The disease, which affects body control and movement, is caused by loss of nerve cells which control the chemical dopamine – essential for these cognitive functions. Parkinson’s UK have come out to say that the research is at a very early stage, but the news is a welcome breakthrough for advocates of stem cell research.

Ethical dilemma
One of the reasons that stem cell research is only now becoming a viable research technique is the ethical issues which have surrounded it for so many years. Up until 2007, stem cell research used tissue from aborted embryos to obtain material to study. This obviously posed an ethical dilemma as it involved obtaining aborted foetuses for scientific use, a process which caused significant outrage. Thankfully, in the last 7 years stem cell researchers have started using a new technique called Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPS). This method allows scientists to obtain the cells they need, without the need for an aborted embryo, placating many critics.

Playing God
The other issues that surround stem cell research surround all types of health research: should we be playing God? What will the information be used for? Divisive as it is, research into terminal diseases has helped save thousands of people and we probably can’t afford to ignore the opportunities that stem cells offer.

Clones
The second concern is that in the future scientists will use the aforementioned iPS technique to create human clones, and at the rate research is progressing this concern could become reality. Can we trust scientists to act morally? Would cloning necessarily be a bad thing?

Present versus future
These questions are difficult to answer, since they concern something that is not yet possible. However, it must be said that because stem cell research has the potential to save thousands of lives scientists have a duty to continue. This new Parkinson’s breakthrough is only the beginning and it is hard to argue against a form of research which can be so medically productive. When it does happen, we will have to ask ourselves if we can ethically justify the scientific creation of human life. The issue of clones is something that will need to be confronted when the time comes, but for the moment it is not the primary function of stem cell research.

Climate change: an urgent need to act

Climate change has become a global issue and residents of countries across the world are beginning to stand up and voice their opinions on perceived lack of action. The constant back and forth between world superpowers over the issue turned it in to a problem that many governments are too willing to place far down their list of priorities.

The problem
Global warming is happening because carbon dioxide and other gases produced by humans are collecting in the atmosphere, causing the world to slowly heat up. The effects of the problem are already beginning to show, with world temperatures rising in the past 50 years at the quickest rates ever recorded. Issues caused by the problem are likely to affect our water resources, agricultural capabilities, energy supplies, transportation and ecosystems.

Protests
On the 21st of September 2014, in over 200 locations worldwide, thousands of people came out to protest at lack of global action, with a 310,000 strong rally in New York attended by UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon. These demonstrations wanted countries to cut carbon emissions, but the question is did any world leaders take notice? Will they make a change?

World leaders
Next year the United Nations will meet in Paris to discuss a plan for a global agreement on climate change. For the first time in 20 years it is expected that countries, including the worst offenders for carbon emissions, will make a binding legal agreement on how to make a change.

The problem that is expected to happen at the conference is that superpowers such as the USA, India and Russia will make unreasonable demands for emissions allowances. In preparation for this, Mr Moon tried to organise an informal discussion on the 26 September 2014, but many world leaders failed to attend. Are countries not taking the issue seriously enough? What are the best solutions to the problem? Will the Paris conference make a difference?

Taking action
In the end, it is in the hands of the people of the world to make sure their governments are taking it seriously. For instance, in the UK, voters must make sure that a dedication to climate change is in the winning party’s manifesto at the 2015 general election.

Climate change is not an impossible problem, there are technologies being developed all the time which will harness natural resources to create energy. Wind farming, solar power and hydroelectricity are underused; it is a global dedication to change which is needed to move away from fossil fuels.

Whether or not the Paris conference has a positive outcome, or leaves the worst culprits of carbon emission in a position to continue poisoning the earth remains to be seen.

Ebola death toll: are we doing enough?

Since March this year, over 3500 people in western Africa have been affected by the Ebola virus, with over 1,800 people suffering fatalities. The virus, which is contagious, has affected the countries of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone in this most recent outbreak.

Discovered in 1976, the causes for Ebola are not clearly defined, but are said to involve contact with an infected animal’s bodily fluids. Amongst humans, the disease is spread by bodily fluids and secretions – and because there is no vaccine, measures must be taken to slow contagion.

What more can we do?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), £360m is the very least needed to combat the current outbreak. They have warned that up to 20,000 people could be infected before the virus is brought under control.

Medecin Sans Frontiers (MSF), the international medical aid group, has stated that the global response to the crisis has been inadequate and that military intervention is necessary in the fight against Ebola. MSF believe that the only way to bring the outbreak under control is for military and civilian teams capable of dealing with a biological disaster to be immediately deployed.

These calls have been heeded by the French, who have sent 20 experts to the infected area – the UK must follow suit.  Although the foreign office has already donated well over £3m to the relief effort, more expertise and personnel is needed in the region.

Will there ever be a cure?

Ebola outbreaks have been sporadically appearing across Africa for over 35 years, yet the search for a vaccine is still ongoing. New medical research has uncovered possible ideas for trials, but there is no answer yet.

How can we stop the death toll?

If Western powers join together to provided financial aid and personnel then the death toll will slowly decrease. As the disease is not spread by regular everyday contact (such as shaking hands), in theory it is relatively simple to slow the transmission of the disease. This has not proved to be the case, primarily because the people in the region are afraid and do not know the correct preventative measures. These residents should be educated in how to stop the spread of the disease.

World superpowers should be investing their resources in Western Africa, because there is no telling how far the virus could spread. The region needs to be able to both treat and educate its people, and they cannot do it on their own.

Ashya King: lessons to be learned

The parents of 5 year old Ashya King were released from a Spanish prison after a European arrest warrant against them was cancelled; this arose following their actions to smuggle him out of Southampton General Hospital and travel to Spain, believing he was not getting the best care and that his condition would deteriorate. They wanted Ashya, who has a brain tumour, to receive treatment at the Proton Therapy Centre in Prague.

However, the full force of the Law immediately swung into action, involving the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Hampshire Constabulary. The couple were arrested, handcuffed, separated from their son and thrown into prison, simply for loving their son and wanting the best possible treatment for him.

Justice for the Kings
Only after a sustained cry of public protest ensued, involving the Prime Minister, were the parents re-united with their desperately ill son. By now the child was confused, depressed and lying alone in a foreign hospital, adding to the family’s anguish.

Mr King said: “We want to help our son get through this bad time because he hasn’t got too many months to live and we’re locked away in a cell…”

Mrs King, said: “I just want to wet his mouth because he can’t drink through his mouth, I want to brush his teeth, I want to turn him side to side every 15 minutes because he can’t move.”

Yet, he could still see and feel emotions. Would deprivation of a mother and father’s comfort help Ashya? How would the little boy’s confidence and trust be impacted long term? The story has touched the hearts of people worldwide.

We have since learnt that the private clinic in the Czech Republic can treat Ashya.

Duty of care v parents love
The CPS said the risk to Ashya’s life “was not as great or immediate as had been originally thought.” The parents had ordered specialist foods to care for Ashya, and had managed to charge the food pump.

Doctors have a duty of care to do the best for their patients. Do loving, devoted parents also have a right to disagree with their decisions? Isn’t there a case for decent common sense to prevail?

On the other hand, what sort of outcry would have happened if the doctors had let him go without a word and the boy had died? What would this say about his medical care?

The parents have won their brave fight against the institutions yet only after the healthcare system, the police and prosecutors were ruthless in their pursuit of them.

Was their only crime to opt out of receiving NHS care? Having allowed their son to be treated by the NHS they couldn’t escape its clutches and were punished if they dared to disobey the rules? Was this the fault of the doctors or a heavy handed NHS?

Should we question a healthcare system that, instead of apologising to the parents when they thought the service was not good enough, reacted with an unpleasant uproar?

Clearly, there are some lessons to be learned.

Extremism and brainwashing kids at school – A crime against humanity?

In recent weeks, the issue of extremism and brainwashing in UK schools has once again re-occurred in the media and in parliament.

Specifically, education secretary Nicky Morgan announced that there would be certain school reforms following ‘disturbing’ findings in Birmingham schools.

These findings were uncovered by education commissioner Peter Clarke. He was appointed to the role when a letter, detailing what was happening in certain schools in the Midland, was uncovered.

Known as the ‘Operation Trojan Horse’ letter, it showed plans to push a more Islamist doctrine in some schools – ousting any teacher who did not actively follow the same agenda.

The report

In his report, Clarke found that in some Birmingham Schools there was an Islamist ethos that was not only “intolerant” but also “aggressive”.

In some cases, sexism, homophobia and hostility to other forms of extremism were being actively promoted.

Clearly, this level of intolerance is not acceptable within our schools, primarily because of the ease with which children are easily led.

How do you solve the brainwashing and extremism problem?

In response to Clarke’s findings, Morgan introduced two new reforms, aimed at helping head teachers to overcome any obstacles in running their schools in the correct manner.

She introduced a new education commissioner for Birmingham, where the majority of extremism is in evidence, as well as a new board of head teachers for staff to receive extra support.

These new tiers of oversight were specifically created to support teachers, making sure that extremist views are not influencing their work.

The responsibility placed on the shoulders of a teacher, at both primary and secondary level, is often a heavy burden to carry.

And it is important that they are properly supported and regularly assessed, to make sure the curriculum is being taught correctly.

Religious extremism needs to be avoided and an understanding of difference and diversity should be instilled in our school system.

Conclusion – a crime against humanity

The period up until the age of 18, is one of the most important periods in a person’s life. The ability to absorb information will never be better and a child’s ideals are very often moulded at this time.

For this very reason, brainwashing children to extremist views can be seen as a crime against humanity.

Children have the right to have a balanced upbringing, where an innate tolerance and understanding of cultural and religious diversity is a strong platform for the future.

If our children are influenced by extremist versions of religion, humanity will suffer when our society becomes more fractured and intolerant.

Are Whistleblowers being treated fairly?

Whistleblowers are being victimised when they go back to work.

A recent government report found that whistleblowers were often victimised and bullied after exposing misconduct in companies and public services in the UK.

As the expenditure of public money is often shrouded in a cloud of secrecy, a whistleblower can give us an insider’s perspective – divulging valuable information that lies within the public interest.

Legally protected

The act of whistle blowing is covered, in law, by the 1998 Public Disclosure Act.

For information to be leaked legally, it must be proven to relate to malpractice or criminality.

Atrocities such as the police cover up of the Hillsborough disaster have been revealed because of whistleblowers and it remains an important way to uncover wrong doing.

The second section of the law states that whistleblowers have the “right not to suffer detriment”.

This rule is more difficult to enact because the public body or company, and fellow employees, often suffer as a result of the whistleblowing.

Upon returning to the workplace, whistleblowers are often treated with disdain. They are harassed and bullied and although covered legally, it is difficult to reprimand those who are singling them out.

The report says that: “the whistleblowers fears of reprisal are often justified, and such experiences are likely to deter other employees from raising a concern”.

How is it possible to fairly treat whistleblowers?

If whistleblowers do not feel like they are protected then they are less likely to reveal important evidence.

It is thus important that we push for those who victimise whistleblowers to be given harsher punishments.

Although the law currently protects whistleblowers, punishments for harassment are not nearly heavy enough.

Companies and public services should be forced to do everything in their power to make sure that this consistent problem does not occur.

Conclusion

The report states that: “Where the identity of whistleblowers is known, departments must ensure that they are protected, supported and have their welfare monitored”.

It also offers three suggestions to how companies should work with whistleblowers:
1. “Ownership from the top by assigning a board member who is accountable for the proper treatment of whistleblowers”.
2. “Providing whistleblowers with appropriate support and advice, such as access to legal and counselling services”.
3. “Appropriate and swift sanctions against employees, at all levels in the organisation, if they victimise whistleblowers”.

All of these suggestions, especially the third recommendation, would help to make the life of a whistleblower easier. In turn, this would make it more likely for people to come forward and expose issues which are of great importance to us all.

Google…Can we trust Google? Especially when they allowed the defamation of hundreds of thousands under the Freedom of Speech Act

Defamation control

Before the digital age dictated our every movement, it took a lot more time and effort to find information about a specific person. You may have needed to hire an investigator or spend hours digging through dusty old court documents or financial statements.

Since the explosion of the World Wide Web, access to both public and private information has changed drastically. If you’re reading this, it is likely that your name, picture, employment status and even your home address is documented and relatively easy to obtain online. It wouldn’t be too difficult to find your friends either, not to mention the people who are not your friends or people with whom you may have been in conflict.

It is this balance between privacy and freedom of information that has been at the centre of debate in both news and court rooms recently. A recent EU court ruling has just pushed digital giants, Google, to create a ‘request to be forgotten’ feature so that people have the chance to get certain websites removed from its search results.

So is the availability of information empowering us or doing more damage than good?

It depends on your lifestyle, career, social status and desired public image. We have all done things we regret, said inappropriate things or acted carelessly, whether that is at home or in our place of work. The problem is, with such a wealth of online platforms available to publish someone’s actions or mistakes, our privacy has been severely jeopardised.

In a matter of minutes, it’s possible to write a scathing restaurant review, publish somebody’s private photographs or even damage the career of a well-respected professional. Some people would argue that defamation has been hiding behind a veil of freedom of speech. The laws which were put in place to ensure that everyone had a fair say are now being abused to damage reputations.

Without any verification of truth, a defamatory statement can be viewed by millions through Google’s search engine. An individual’s worst moment, whether they have already paid the price for their mistake or not, can be the first thing Google users learn about them. Depending on the severity of the information, this malicious content has the potential to destroy lives.

The new legislation puts greater pressure on search engines to consider what is in the public interest, and what is simply malicious or unjust. Google’s ‘Search removal request’ form, which can be viewed here, states that the company will also consider how outdated the search results are. Although the request to be forgotten ruling doesn’t mean that defamatory information will be removed from the internet – search engines only have the power to take them off their results page – it is still a step in the right direction. The decision, which could help make the internet a much more ethical place, is a landmark ruling for the case of privacy.

Tony Blair: False information and war

Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and ‘Middle East Peace Envoy’, has urged the government to take action in Iraq or face terror attacks on British soil. These comments sound strikingly familiar as the legacy of 2003’s invasion is highlighted by mass-killing in the Middle East. Indeed, the former PM sent tens of thousands of British troops to Iraq while warning the UK about weapons of mass destruction. However, Blair rejects claims that he is partly responsible for the current destruction taking place in Iraq and the death and suffering of hundreds of thousands of humans.

“We have to liberate ourselves from the notion that ‘we’ have caused this. We haven’t. We can argue as to whether our policies at points have helped or not: and whether action or inaction is the best policy. But the fundamental cause of the crisis lies within the region not outside it,” writes Blair in a recent essay.

Blair is correct in saying that issues within Iraq – such as religious extremism – have fuelled the carnage, but didn’t he have a role in lighting the match?
Blair took the UK to war, following the lead of the Bush Administration, on the account of Saddam Hussein’s alleged ability to launch weapons of mass destruction (WMD) at 45 minutes notice and the links to terrorism. This has proven to be false, however, and it seems that the intelligence was either dangerously flawed or hugely exaggerated to gain public backing.

The French government didn’t believe it and President Jacques Chirac refused to back the UN because the US-UK claims of WMD weren’t backed up by a shred of evidence. Across 600 cities, almost 10 million people protested against the invasion on one single day. London was the one of these cities and Londoners, in general, have rejected the war which has led to the death of many British Soldiers and hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Now as militants cause bloodshed across the fragile nation and there is a real risk of destabilising the whole middle east which will lead to more human suffering, Blair has called for a ‘selective use of air power’ while washing his hands of any responsibility. “Even if you had left Saddam in place in 2003, with the Arab revolutions in 2011, you would have still had a major problem in Iraq,” he said. “You can see what happens when you leave a dictator in place, as has happened with Assad now. The problems don’t go away,” continued Blair.

The former PM is probably right, the problems don’t go away. It is unlikely, however, that the problem would be a brutal sectarian war between Sunnis and Shias. The current events in Iraq raise the question of whether it is time for leaders like Blair to rethink our stance on intervention. Is it time to make a case for choosing between the more palatable of two problem situations, rather than always intervening with force?

Saddam Husain will rightly be remembered as a murderous war criminal. However, Iraq’s current crisis only highlights the fact that the country was more stable under his dictatorship than it is now. This alarming realisation demonstrates how the invasion of Iraq, based on false information, was a complete failure. Perhaps Blair should be pointing the UK away from another war. We still do not know the Blair’s agenda behind the war…but can we still trust him? Or is he simply a war criminal? If so, then why is he not being prosecuted for war crimes and only judged by history.

HIFA2015: to achieve goals – more support is required

“Our shared vision is a world where people are no longer dying for lack of healthcare knowledge.” Statement on HIFA2015 website.

HIFA2015 (Healthcare Information for All by 2015) is a global network of more than 10,000 members which aims to improve the availability of lifesaving information in developing nations. Based in the United Kingdom, HIFA2015 is now supported across 167 countries by at least 2,000 separate organisations. These include the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Midwives and Publication Integrity & Ethics (PIE).

The aim is to stop thousands of people dying each day for want of simple, low-cost interventions. HIFA2015 not only recognises the need to provide professionals with improved information – it also promotes the value of educating anyone who provides basic care. Campaigners behind the organisation believe that access to relevant, reliable and user-friendly health information is vital in meeting both the World Health Organisation’s goal of ‘Health For All’ and the United Nation’s ‘Millennium Development Goals’.

Are these goals achievable? Will every mother, care worker and doctor of the worlds’ poorest countries really have access to sufficient information?

According to several key figures in the medical world, the answer is yes. These people include BMJ editor Fiona Goodlee who wrote an essay calling for universal healthcare information in 2004 and partly inspired the foundation of the group. This is only possible, however, if more support is gained and adequate funding is secured.

The good work that HIFA2015 promotes can already be seen taking immediate effect with the start-up of several other organisations. Just one example of this is Doctoori. This UK-based organisation focuses on the development of the healthcare sector in the Arab nations with online content provided by the NHS. “HIFA has been a massive inspiration in founding www.doctoori.net. It has reinforced the need to bring high quality, reliable and accessible health information into the Arabic language,” said Dr Zain Sikafi, CEO and Founder of Doctoori.

As a proud supporter of HIFA2015, the Publication Integrity & Ethics believes that the organisation needs a much stronger backing if it is to achieve its lifesaving ambitions. The HIFA strategy can only succeed in improving global healthcare knowledge in 2015 and beyond if the message is spread on a mass scale.

Just one of the statements on the HIFA2015 website states that 7 out of 10 African children with malaria receive mismanaged treatment. That is 2,000 young lives lost each day in Africa alone. HIFA2015’s mission is not only important, it is urgent.