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TOP TEN UNDERREPORTED HUMANITARIAN STORIES OF 2006
SARID, January 13, 2006
The staggering human toll taken by tuberculosis (TB) and malnutrition as well as the devastation caused by conflicts in central India and Sri Lanka, are among the "Top Ten" Most Underreported Humanitarian Stories of 2006, according to the year-end list released this week by the international humanitarian medical aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
Though millions of people worldwide are severely affected by warfare, they are almost completely invisible in the global media. For instance, the ten countries and issues discussed in the MSF report took up only 7.2 minutes of the 14, 512 minutes of the 241.87 hours devoted to nightly news by the three major television networks in the United States (US). The volatile situation in Haiti, just 50 miles away, received only half a minute of network coverage during the entire year. Some of the countries highlighted in the report were not mentioned at all.
The document focused on the frightening situation of tuberculosis (TB) worldwide, which had become a “forgotten disease”. It was further exacerbated by the detection of extensively drug resistant tuberculosis (XDR TB), a strain that is resistant to both first-line antibiotics and to two classes of second-line drugs. Unfortunately, none of the TB drugs currently in development will be able to drastically improve TB treatment in the near future.
The agency deplored the lack of a sense of urgency necessary to tackle the disease, which kills two million people a year. Research and development is patented and profit-driven and is not delivering to the patients that are dying. It urged governments to take the lead in building a global research framework because philanthropic efforts alone could not cover the funding.
The report also said that acute malnutrition afflicts more than 60 million children worldwide, and leads to, largely preventable, deaths. Acute malnutrition is associated not only with conflict and displacement, but is highly prevalent in politically stable countries wracked by poverty. For instance, despite a rise in per capita income and robust economic growth, there is a higher percentage of undernourished children in India than in Sub-Saharan Africa.
However, there is hope for malnourished children, with new strategies based on therapeutic foods, like Plumpy'nut, showing tremendous promise. Unfortunately, these strategies are not implemented as widely as they could be.
In their list of under reported issues, MSF has included the plight of civilians who are caught between various belligerent parties in Sri Lanka and India. Civilians have increasingly born the brunt of the fighting that resumed in August 2006 between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced, while others are trapped and cannot flee. Insecurity and limitations placed on humanitarian organizations continue to make it increasingly difficult to deliver aid to people most affected by the conflict.
Several long lasting armed conflicts occurring throughout India have gone virtually unnoticed by the outside world for years. For example, in central India's Chhattisgarh state, clashes between Maoist insurgents, Indian security forces and anti-Maoist militias, also known as Salwa Judum, has been occurring for more than 25 years, resulting in the displacement of more than 50,000 civilians. As a consequence, many people continue to live in an atmosphere of fear and violence with little or no access to health care.
Sources: Médecins Sans Frontières (http://www.msf.org), Tyndall Report (http://www.tyndallreport.com), Daily India (http://www.dailyindia.com)