the week in african health

Nyala, Kalma camp, South Darfur - March 2007 (MSF Photo Blog)

The impact of conflict on the environment and then the subsequent, direct effect on human health cannot be overlooked. This internally displaced peoples (IDP) camp in Sudan shows the seriousness of that impact.

Your Old Cell Phone Can Make a Difference in Global Health

Everyone in the global health sector is writing about the incredible reach of SMS technologies working for health in developing countries, and rightly so. Hope Phones has partnered with FrontlineSMS to provide old cell phones to communities in need through SMSmedic partner organizations.
Your Old Phone Can Change the World

A service that I just recently came across is one that is not being as widely talked about. TeleMed is different from FrontlineSMS: Medic because it connects local health care workers directly to patients in need via SMS technology. SMS: Medic is focused on health infrastructure. TeleMed does not have a website up yet, but is definitely one to watch:

Paul Farmer and the US Government?

The other big talk within global health is whether Paul Farmer will take a job within the US government. Some have expressed great hope for potential reform others voice their plea with him to continue his incredible community based work outside the bureaucracies. My opinion is that Partners in Health has developed into a strong organization and does not depend on Paul Farmer to further their work. If he wants to take on the inefficiencies and inadequacies of the US government and global health, then all the more power to him.

Southern Africa: Global Financial Crisis Leads to HIV Budget Cuts

Broken promises abound as the economic crisis deepens and the right to health falters, but activists are coming together to ensure that funding for health and HIV are not cut. International donors are expected to slash budgets for health due to the economic crisis and health experts fear that this will lead to, “less food security and quality of nutrition, which will in turn put more stress on already weak health systems.” Paula Akugizibwe, regional treatment literacy and advocacy coordinator of Windhoek-based AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) in Namibia demanded, “We need to ensure that African lives do not become a silent casualty of the global financial downturn. Our lives are not cheap or expendable. We expect health to be prioritised over weapons, sports and lavish politics.” Tanzania was the first sub-Saharan country to announce a 25 percent cut of its annual HIV/AIDS budget.
Other budget cut impacts:
Guinea: Medicines Running Out

Zambian High Court to Hear Groundbreaking HIV Case

On Wednesday, the Livingstone High Court was supposed to hear a ground breaking case about whether mandatory testing for HIV and discrimination solely on the basis of HIV status is constitutional in Zambia. Unfortunately two days later news came that the trial was postponed until mid-July. Be sure to keep watching this story.
Trial postponed until 15 July

HIV Prevention and Behavior Change

Mara Gordon writes on’s Global Health Blog about a direct campaign in Tanzania discussing behavior change. “This campaign is partially paid for by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, U.S. government money to fight HIV that’s notoriously had lots of conservative strings attached. Had I seen this ad a year ago, I probably would have dismissed it as unrealistic abstinence-only propaganda. But behavior change works. Behavior change – in combination with access to condoms, comprehensive sexual education, open discussion about HIV and sexually transmitted infections in general, all that good liberal stuff.”
Changing Human Behaviors: Sexual and Social
During a course on Africa’s environmental history I wrote about the need for changing human behavior in both the sexual and social arena to make a real impact in HIV prevalence. The major social change is the response from Western institutions and organizations in how they talk about HIV/AIDS and Africa while seeking to change sexual behavior.
Lesotho: Cultural Beliefs Threaten Prevention of Mother-Child HIV Transmission
Health workers note an encouraging response to the PMTCT program. The number of facilities providing PMTCT has risen from nine in 2004 to 166 by the end of 2008. The number of women who received PMTCT and subsequent antiretroviral (ARV) treatment increased from 421 in 2004 to about 5,000 by end of last year, according to 2009 National AIDS Council statistics. “The primary health care coordinator at St. James Mantsonyane Mission Hospital, Khanyane Mabitso, says stigma and cultural beliefs make it difficult for medical personnel to follow up on HIV-positive mothers and their babies.”

Progress on health-related MDGs mixed

Many advances have been made in health. Some argue that these advances have been dwarfed by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the economic crisis, or the failures of African governments. The WHO report shows that the only statistic with concrete results was the number of children dying before the age of five. Is this a solid example of the failure of big plans and blanket goals for development?

Sierra Leone: ACC Recommends Reform At Health Ministry

The Anti-Corruption Committee report provides a number of recommendations for reform all focused on improving the health care delivery services in Sierra Leone and eliminating the risk of corrupt practices in the health services across the country.
More on health service scale-up:
Chad: Paving the Way for Better Obstetric Care
Government meetings with UNICEF to help scale-up of health services for better obstetric care across the country.

Ten Things You Can Do to Fight World Hunger

The Nation provides an interesting set of things you can do in your everyday life to fight world hunger. They properly focus on how food, a basic human need, has been commodified in our global capitalist structure. “Our planet produces enough food to feed its more than 960 million undernourished people. The basic cause of global hunger is not underproduction; it is a production and distribution system that treats food as a commodity rather than a human right.” When in February I wrote that agricultural experts had said the food crisis of the last year was over evidence from this past week point to the contrary.
Tanzania: Food Shortage Unnecessary
“Tanzania has since independence sang the song of ‘Agriculture is the backbone of the economy’, but little has gone into strategizing and implementing viable actions towards surplus food production.”
Kenya: UN Agency Makes First Local Food Purchase from Small Scale Farmers
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has for the first time bought food from small-scale farmers in Kenya under a new initiative aimed at boosting agriculture by connecting farmers to markets.
Zimbabwe: Another Year Without Much Food
Rwanda: Nearly Half the Country’s Children Are Malnourished
Kenya: Over Three Million Face Food Shortages

Africa: High Level Engagement with Continent Has Started

Speaking at a gala reception in Washington marking the beginning of “Africa Week,” Carson said: “Most of the Obama administration’s Africa team is in place, and we are gearing up. We will continue to build on and strengthen the strong bipartisan consensus in Congress and among the people of America that has motivated U.S. policy towards Africa. Over the next four years, we will be focusing our efforts on strengthening democracy, promoting sustainable development, resolving or mitigating conflict, and dealing with transnational issues such as climate change and agriculture,” he pledged. While Obama has built a great team, the White House has yet to announce any Africa Policy, greater control and influence for the Bureau of African Affairs, or take any serious (or effective) action for the continent.
Tanzania: Obama, Kikwete Meet in Oval Office on Africa’s Conflicts

World Bank Resumes Zimbabwe Aid

Zimbabwe owes the World Bank and the African Development Bank more than $1bn, how much potential does renewed aid really hold for the country. If the debt is not forgiven there will be no way the country will be able to rebuild necessary infrastructures for health, water, etc. There are countless case studies to show this historical fact. It must also be noted that Western sanctions were a huge detriment to a country in need, maybe this marks a turnaround?

Originally posted on the SCOUT BANANA blog.

changing human behaviors: sexual and social

Review of AIDS in Africa: a perspective on the epidemic
by: Michael C. Latham

Africa is a continent wrought with many pressing issues, these issues are often not natural or specific to the continent, but they have been forced and applied to the people and so become a burden of near epic proportions. One of these pressing issues is the epidemic of HIV/AIDS. Responses to HIV/AIDS are based in human behaviors, both sexual and social.

Michael Latham noted that many accounts, “may suggest that the virus originated in Africa, and therefore it is Africans who are blamed for this human scourge.” (39) However, as many know, HIV/AIDS is not solely an African problem, uncontrolled and spreading like wildfire. These accounts springboard off of old myths of a ‘dark continent’ into new myths of dirt, death, and disease. This new myth is of a continent ravaged by disease inside and out, you can’t run from all the disease in Africa. It is also important to note that there is still no solid proof or knowledge of the origin of HIV/AIDS.

If the world is to blame Africa for HIV/AIDS, then Latham writes,

[…] but does it matter that syphilis was probably spread to the rest of the world from cases brought back to Europe from the Americas, to that cholera originated in the Ganga Delta of India and eventually reached East Africa from the middle east only in the mid twentieth century. Should Africans flagellate North Americans and Asians for spreading highly infectious diseases to Africa? (39)

Here we are at the historical spread of diseases and also, more notably, the social implications of associating one area or group of people with a disease. The social implications of chalking AIDS up to African causes becomes especially problematic in the medical community. Latham writes about when one potentially useful drug in the treatment of AIDS [HIV] waa described by the Kenya Medical Research Institute in 1990, it was largely ignored by the world press and […] the west.” (40) This proves a strong disdain and indifferent to Africa as well as a lack of respect for African doctors.

A key feature of HIV/AIDS is that it places all segments of society at risk: mother and father, child and grandparent, youth and elderly. Latham decries the lack of adequately funded research on HIV/AIDS in Africa, or anywhere (42).

We should have African anthropologists and sociologists in the bars and on the truck routes, in the urban slums and rural villages, gathering data on human behaviours, including sexual behavior, that may influence the spread of the disease. We need local epidemiological sleuths conducting the kinds of studies which led us to understand how cholera was spread and how pellagra could be controlled. (42)

Comprehensive understandings of HIV/AIDS and sexual behaviors in Africa will only be more helpful, but the social behaviors of the West and its institutions create a serious roadblock. The Kenyan discovery of Kemron was shown to reduce the effects of full-blown AIDS, but the announcement by the Kenyan president didn’t even make headlines. If a Western doctor had made the discovery the coverage would have been entirely different (46).

Another well-known fact about HIV/AIDS is that it is highly preventable. The only thing that needs to be changed or taught is human behavior: both sexual and social. There needs to be adequate health education for female members of a community. Female members also need more control in those communities, socially and sexually. Very often there is a strong gendered focus on women, but men also need serious engagement and education if their mindsets are going to change about women.

HIV/AIDS is an illness that requires changes in human behaviors: socially and sexually. There needs to be more comprehensive education on sexual prevention as well as a shift in the minds of Western organizations and institutions. There cannot only be a call for changed sexual behaviors in Africa, there must also be a concurrent change in the social behaviors of the West.

the week in african health


Ethiopia a scene of over-grazing and desertification, making it difficult for both people and animals to survive. (From the MSF Photo Blog)

’There’s no reason only poor people should get malaria’

In an action that surprised many audience guests, Bill Gates, released a small number of mosquitoes into the crowd at the TED conference. Gates quit Microsoft last year to focus more on his philanthropic work. He spoke of the need, and his commitment, to put more funding towards developing drugs to combat malaria, one of the highest killers in the ‘developing’ world.
Watch the video:
Mosquito Genes Linked To Insecticide Resistance May Be New Target in Fight Against Malaria,
Insecticide malaria impact clue

When there is no village doctor

It is estimated that every fourth medical doctor and every twentieth nurse trained in Africa leaves the continent for better job prospects and better pay in wealthier countries. The UN Global Health Workforce Alliance warns that the economic crisis could further increase the medical workforce crisis across Africa.

For David Werner, who wrote the widely-translated 1970s village health care manual, “Where There is No Doctor,” medical specialization is not the best answer. “Experts come in and think they have all the answers, and end up drowning out solutions villagers could devise themselves.”

Need to Focus on Maternal, Child Health – Top AU Official

As the African Union meets in Addis Ababa, Commissioner for Social Affairs Biencé Gawana said in regards to the AU’s proposed launch of a continent-wide program,

“We will launch a movement to promote maternal and child health in the continent,” she told reporters. “It will be an advocacy campaign… together with partners like UNFPA [the UN Population Fund] and UNICEF [the UN Children’s Fund].

With 500,000 women dying in childbirth each year, Africa has some of the highest rates of maternal, infant, and child mortality. As part of the solution the AU report noted: “One of the main challenges in the promotion of maternal, infant and child health and development is access to health care facilities and services, especially at primary health delivery level and [in] rural areas.”

Zimbabwe: Cholera Infection Rate Climbs As UN Cleared to Assess Crisis

On Monday the WHO reported an increase of 2000 cholera deaths in Zimbabwe. The report was released just as President Mugabe agreed to allow a top level UN assessment team to tour the country to find solutions to curb the cholera pandemic as well as the current hunger crisis. Food security continues to plummet in may areas of Zimbabwe as many worry they will not receive aid in time.
More: Zimbabwe Cholera Statistics Rise Again As New Malaria Fears Grow,
Zimbabwe Diary: fighting cholera

South Africa: The Quiet Water Crisis

There is great concern with the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe, but what the South African government may be missing is its very own growing water crisis. With an aging infrastructure and rising demand, the potential for deadly bacteria to be released into its water systems is high. When Mandela’s government took power in 1994, an estimated 14 million South Africans lacked access to clean water supply and 21 million people lacked proper sanitation. Although the numbers have changed drastically, the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) reported in 2008 that 5 million people still lacked access.

Twestival and Charity: Water

Last year SCOUT BANANA conducted a ‘Year of Water’ Project to benefit the work of Charity: Water. The organization is now utilizing the social media tool, Twitter, to raise a large amount of money to build wells across the world. Charity: Water began its work by supporting well projects across the African continent.

South Africa: ‘Development Must Adapt to Water Resources We Have’

98% of water resources are being used in South Africa. Water security is becoming an issue as pollution from mining has been difficult to clean up and no other water resources remain unused.

Obama Lifts “Global Gag Rule”

Also known as the Mexico City Policy, this move is being applauded by women’s and productive rights groups across the globe.
More: Obama Reverses U.S. Ban on Abortion-Linked Aid

University Partnership Aims to Fight HIV/AIDS More Effectively

Backed by an almost $5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, John Hopkins University is growing a partnership with Makerere University in Uganda in an attempt to combat the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic. The partnership is only in its initial steps.

Originally posted on the SCOUT BANANA blog. 

community organizing as an outsider

Previous posting and following day’s entries: eruptions from fault lines: race is class

19 May 2008

Nothing seems weird to me (as many might think it should). As I look out across the settlement, across rows of RDP housing and sheet metal ‘peoples’ housing, across the open hazy sky dotted by tall, almost prison-like lights, across a silence broken only by crickets, the occasional rooster and the fighting dogs – nothing seems odd or out of place. Nothing screams at me, “you should not be here!” Yet again I feel “at home” in an African community abroad, and I can’t help but ponder, why? Is my family and home so bad? Is the USA so undesirable? Is there a welcoming atmosphere here that I am overtaken? The question remains unanswered, but will gain an answer as I open dialogue with my family when I return.

the dilemma of organizing
The difficulties of community organizing as an American ‘developed’ worlder: when is it ok to step in on community decision making? when is it ok to correct obvious, but mis-taught information – and how do you approach the correcting process? when is ti too over-reaching to make suggestions and execute programs? Evaluate!

We went to the library today – very nicely built, small inside, very slow internet, very very slow. . .

Vumundzuku-bya Vana ‘Our Children’s Future’
the children are the future and they are the only ones to hold the key, but there are many needed, required, to fashion such a key that will unlock the great, looming, double oak doors of the positive future if nothing else than there is love and those who pass will know the love of their friends, family, and community, but there is a greater purpose and potential here, one that cannot pass unmolded, the challenges are many, the obstacles great but no challenge is insurmountable without a helping hand, the hands in need are many – the hands held too few.

steel villages and concrete fences

13 May 2008

Everyone waves from their steel-corrugated shacks, children smile and get excited, parents and elders are welcoming – looking out over the shanty town roof tops that extend as far as the eye can see in each direction you can’t help but wonder that within this poverty and desolation mixed with laughter and happiness – what potential can be harnessed, what community action can be inspired to make South Africa’s future brighter by and for those who live here.

The government built lavatories and sinks for the informal settlement so sanitation is good. They provide building materials for brick houses through the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP), but where are the education improvements? the health support? the food subsidies? A government can’t do it all and so places like VVOCF exist!

This all made me think more about the African health worker crisis as I see the direct result of it, the effectiveness of government funded health care, and the access to nutritional information and education.

hangin’ in joburg

If you have been following this blog, I apologize for the extended interruption. The last post that I wrote was on the xenophobic violence, I was not a victim of that, no worries. The place where I am staying has very sporadic and unreliable internet, so my blogging and picture posting has been slowed because of that.

Short update: The xenophobia was near where I was staying (10km away), but never reached Zonkizizwe. I am still doing great and working hard at the VVOCF center for HIV/AIDS affected children. Yesterday was Zonke Testing Day, which was a huge success. Tomorrow I am leaving early in the morning to visit a Peace Corps friend in Mozambique.

Be sure to check back in later to read about the many adventures, success, and difficulties of my summer along with all the great pictures. My time in southern Africa is almost over as my flight leaves on the 10th of August. Sizobonana,

– Alex

what are we to do when our children are dying?

Yesterday the headlines in South Africa’s Times newspaper read, “Our children are dying.” In South Africa 75,000 children die before they turn 5 each year. As one of 12 countries, South Africa has a rising child mortality rate. Of these 12 countries the top causes of a rise in child mortality is war and HIV/AIDS (and the UN Security Council disregarded HIV/AIDS as not important enough). The statistics come from a report released two days ago by the national health department, the Medical Research Council and the University of Pretoria.

South Africa is experiencing one of the most severe HIV/AIDS epidemics in the world. It is said that one in five people in South Africa has HIV/AIDS. The Avert organization cites sources that say more South Africans spend time at funerals than they do “shopping or having barbecues” and “twice as many people have been to funerals in the past month than have been to a wedding.” In 1992, Nelson Mandela took the first big steps to deal with the HIV/AIDS crisis when he addressed the National AIDS Convention of South Africa (NACOSA) to develop a national strategy. In six years (1996-2001) the HIV prevalence rate among pregnant women doubled and since 2002 has steadily increased. In 2003, South Africa announced a plan to provide antiretroviral treatment to the public. Following in 2004, the South African government’s treatment program began in Gauteng Province and soon included other Provinces. In 2005 the prevalence rate was at a high of over 30% in pregnant mothers.

Why has South Africa faced such a difficult and severe epidemic? Why has it taken so long to get a government response prepared? During the time period of the 1990s into 2003 South Africa was in the midst of major political and social turmoil. While HIV/AIDS was a growing problem, the political issues were at the forefront. Responses to and a recognition of the epidemic was glancing at best. The fall of apartheid allowed leaders to focus on dealing with the epidemic and Mandela led the charge. However the leaders that followed were far from Mandela’s original plan. In 2000, President Mbeki denied, in front of the UN Assembly, that HIV caused AIDS. He had put together a committee of AIDS deniers to advise his HIV/AIDS response plan. Mbeki denied that HIV caused AIDS and instead focused on the idea that poverty was to blame. While the official position of the government has been stated as “HIV causes AIDS” (2002), Mbeki continues to question such a strong correlation. In other headlines that spread across the globe, former Deputy-President, Jacob Zuma went on trial for the rape of an HIV positive woman. In the court questioning he told the court that, “he thought the risk from HIV was small, and that he had taken a shower immediately after the sexual intercourse on the night in question, because – he believed – it was one thing that might reduce the chances of contracting HIV.”

As with many health and development topics there is no clear cut issue to focus on and so if you want to talk comprehensively about HIV/AIDS in South Africa you have to talk about the effectiveness of treatment programs, the stigma of the disease, the rape and sexual abuse of women from gender inequality, the inadequacy of school systems, the responses of government, HIV testing programs, and the effects of HIV/AIDS on children. This last issue I will focus more.

Today I am flying to South Africa to work for the next three months at a care center in a remote (urban) informal settlement called Zonkizizwe. Zonkiziwe is in the Ekurhuleni township in Gauteng Province. The center assists children affected by HIV/AIDS and as you can guess that is every child. With the statistic that one in five people are infected there is no way that each child is not potentially already infected, has lost a parent, or knows someone who is affected. Many women who are HIV positive do not receive the drugs that they need and so the disease is passed on to their babies – thus creating one of highest child infection rates. In a Department of Health survey (2006), it was found that 260,000 children under age 15 were living with HIV in South Africa. In Zonkizizwe this prevalence rate coupled with a poor schooling system is contributing to a ‘hopeless’ outlook for the future. Life in a township is difficult with poverty and inadequate schooling, but when HIV/AIDS is added into the equation there are lost parents, children missing school to work, and children infected without testing or treatment available. On being hopeless, Justice Cameron said, “We don’t accept ‘sad realities’ in South Africa. If we accepted sad realities, we would still have a racist oligarchy here.”

The center, VumundzukuBya Vana “Our Children’s Future” (VVOCF), seeks to be a place where children can actualize their potential through educational programs, learning about health and nutrition, self expression, and life skills development. VVOCF has a feeding program, a school uniform fund, and a number of smaller projects to help the children of Zonkizizwe advance. VVOCF was started through a partnership fostered by Dr. Jeanne Gazel through her research of the impacts of HIV/AIDS. With her connection to VVOCF she was able to bring Zonkizizwe closer to the MSU community as a Professor and Director of MRULE (Multi-Racial Unity Living Experience) by way of a pen-pal program. I first learned of the center and got involved through the pen-pal program. This summer I am looking forward to meeting my pen-pal as well as contribute to the development of the VVOCF center. Over the three months I spend in Zonkizizwe I will be helping to develop after school programs that can continue, staff development, English instruction, possibly a book club, and setting up the internship program for other students in future years. I am excited to see Johannesburg and the surrounding area and hope to travel to see Soweto, Durban, Lesotho, and visit a friend in Mozambique.

This summer brings another new and exciting view of the African continent and I cannot wait to learn about the people and culture where I will be living. As with all my experiences I enter with an open mind and an unburdened quest to learn. While in Zonkizizwe, South Africa the majority of my time will be spent learning. Even though I am going as an intern to work there is no way that I will be the only one providing education. I am excited to learn Zulu, hone my soccer (football) skills, and learn of life in Zonkizizwe from my pen pal and all the children that I will meet.

Read the VVOCF Blog.

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music to your ears: this year with hiv/aids

This year, 2007, there is some good news about the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The percentage of people living with AIDS has leveled off and the number of new cases has fallen. This is attributed to the prevention programs. However, risk remains high in sub-Saharan Africa. Eight sub-Saharan African countries represent one-third of all new cases and total deaths around the globe. This year there are still 33.2 million people living with AIDS, 2.5 million newly infected, and 2.1 million deaths. (Read the 2007 AIDS epidemic update) As with all good reports, “much good has been done, but more is needed.” Events are happening all across the continent with dedication and promises. The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is leadership and “Stop AIDS, Keep the Promise!” While there is a lot of talk (read the statements) already this year about what will be done about the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

It is not very often that the news of HIV/AIDS is music to the ears, but this may be one case. In Uganda, where HIV/AIDS was first discovered in the continent in 1981, there is a rising musical movement to increase education and promote prevention. Beginning to make her mark as a rising vocalist in the Ugandan pop music scene, Sylvia Nakibuule chose to go on television to declare her status as HIV positive. Sylvia gained became well known through her work with The AIDS Support Organization (TASO), which regularly puts on performances to educate people about the dangers of HIV/AIDS and how to prevent spreading the disease. Sylvia tells the youth, “I never wanted this to happen to me, so I don’t want it to happen to you. The message I want to give the youth is let us do our best to have a virus-free young generation. Be careful in the way you handle yourself.”

In Malawi, the BBC has been following the village of Njoho and their responses to the AIDS epidemic. Six months earlier one of the village elders had little hope for the people in the village to change their behavior to combat the effects. Now there is only hope. The stigma has left the village; Orphaned children are given help, there are monthly talks and support groups for people dealing with the burden of disease, and there are training programs on education and prevention. The village is fighting back. However, the recent efforts have been hindered by a lack of adequate medical facilities. The local hospital is not equipped to give HIV testing or to distribute anti-retrovirals. Patients with AIDS-related disease are instead sent to a district hospital 10 km away and most villagers cannot afford the bus fare. Yet again the lack of basic healthcare infrastructure adds another complication to an issue already too complex. But there is always hope. Njoho will be starting a clinic next year for voluntary counseling and testing, mother to child transmission prevention, and will provide bus fare for those who need anti-retrovirals.

the real weapons of mass destruction are in the congo

The conflict in the DRC is nothing new to the region. I would argue that the conflict began well before the assassination of the democratically elected leader, Lumumba, in 1961 and has only grown from there. After Lumumba was assassinated Mobutu Sese Seko gained power and ruled terribly for the next 32 years. He was overthrown by rebellion in 1997 by Laurent Kabila, who leader of the prominent rebel group. Unable to bring peace, Kabila faced his own rebel opposition until he was assassinated in 2001. Intense turmoil resumed in the DRC following Kabila’s assassination, sparking a six country war including Rwanda and Uganda. In 2002 a peace deal was signed to officially end the DRC conflict, 17,000 UN troops were deployed and yet the conflict continues. In 2006 Laurent’s son Joseph Kabila was elected in a tense, yet democratic and free election. Joseph Kabila faces opposition from his father’s rule (as well as support from his father’s popularity), calls that he is not Congolese – that his mother was Rwandan and he is not from the DRC, along with calls of corruption in his administration. When Joseph was born in Eastern Congo he was sent to live in hiding pretending to be part of a Tanzanian ethnic group. Later he recieved military training in China, which helps in the exploitation of the DRC’s vast resources. J. Kabila has been able to broker a written peace, but how well can he create peace in reality?

It is reported that 370,000 people have been displaced in a conflict that has more facets than a cut stone. Roughly 6000 Rwandan Hutu militiamen are hiding in the DRC hoping one day to invade Rwanda and retake control after the genocide they spurred. In an attempt to drive out the Hutu militias General Nkundu’s troops have torn through the region displacing thousands. He is estimated to control 8000 militiamen. Some claim that he is fighting a proxy war for the Rwandan government to keep the Hutu militias away from the Rwandan border. For this reason many local militias have formed to fight General Nkundu’s troops and stop them from wreaking havoc in the region.

The Eastern Region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has not seen peace in a long time and now there is an increase in violence against women. In September of this year, in an interview with the BBC, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women said that in the South Kivu province, sexual violence was the worst she has seen and warned that it was becoming something normal. Violence becoming normal? Sexual assault becoming normal? Rape becoming normal? In September the UN reported that there had already been 4000 incidents of sexual violence against women just in the Southern Kivu province.

It is interesting that Kabila is not doing more for the women of his home region and the region where he had the most political support. Why does he let the women of Eastern DRC be sexually abused? Rape has become so prevalent as a tool of war that women have stopped going to the fields. Girls as young as three, men, and boys have been raped too. Sadly even if the perpetrators are caught the court system refuses to hear cases on rape, witnesses are frightened away, and military leaders refuse to help. This year V-Day and UNICEF have partnered to raise awareness and bring aid to women affected by the weapon of mass destruction that is rape.

Since 1996, sexual violence against women and children in the eastern part of the DRC has been used to torture and humiliate women and girls and destroy families. UNICEF estimates that hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been raped since the conflict began in DRC. In addition to the severe psychological impact, sexual violence leaves many survivors with genital lesions, traumatic fistulae and other physical wounds, as well as unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

All of the military forces have used rape as a weapon of war, even UN personnel have been implicated in cases of rape in the DRC. The victims of rape experience more than just the physical impacts of the act – from ostracism to physcological effects to a lack of justice through the local and formal courts. I cannot even begin to write everything of importance here and would highly recommend the V-Day site to read the full story and access a great set of resources to learn more.