Archive for the ‘money and politics’ Category
A study released Tuesday found that a full third of the drugs used throughout Southeast Asia and Africa to treat malaria, a mosquito-transmitted disease caused by a parasite that includes fever and other flu-like symptoms and disproportionately (surprise!) afflicts people who live developing nations without regular access to basic health care, were ineffective. Increasing resistance to antimalarials along the border between Cambodia and Thailand has been causing grave concern, and Lancet Infectious Diseases reported that drugs in this region of the world represented a particular problem. “Of 1437 samples of drugs in five classes from seven countries in southeast Asia, 497 (35%) failed chemical analysis, 423 (46%) of 919 failed packaging analysis, and 450 (36%) of 1260 were classified as falsified,” the journal states.
In a country like Cambodia, we think immediately of corruption, the preponderance of black factories, and the inaccessibility of the basic health education or equipment like refrigerators that may make the proper creation, storage, and administration of these drugs difficult. But the problems run much deeper than that. Watered-down versions of antimalarials offer the parasites that cause the disease the ability to build up antimalarial resistance. The counterfeits aren’t just unseemly, that is. Nor do they only affect those individuals that take them. Fake, ineffective, and expired antimalarials are making malaria a more effective disease.
Let’s leave that to sit as an open metaphor for a moment and look at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which claims to be a forerunner in the fight against the disease with classic white savior industrial complex tropes like, “We Can End Malaria,” and “Millions Saved.” In 2004, the foundation attempted to conduct some similarly saviory anti-HIV drug tests in Cambodia.
Now, HIV transmission rates in Cambodia are among the highest in Asia. Rates, though diminishing, are still upheld by a lack of effective health education, a booming informal sex industry, and insufficient access to condoms and dental dams. You’d think, if you didn’t ponder it for very long, that such a place would be thrilled to host an HIV drug-test party. But you should think about it some more.
The study required almost a thousand sex workers volunteer for the trials, but a group called Women’s Network for Unity demanded participants be offered health insurance for 30 years in exchange, in case of possible side effects. Why? Because if a sex worker falls ill in Cambodia, she doesn’t just lose her income from sex work, she loses her ability to work at all. Even if the stigma of the illness didn’t prevent her from gainful employment in the factories, which is likely, her age, probably, would. And there’s basically nowhere else for women to work.
The 2004 incident lead to the shut-down of trials in Cambodia (and, later, Camaroon and Nigeria, as well as protests in Hong Kong and Bangkok). Reporting focused on the supposedly unreasonable demands Cambodian sex workers were making of the US-based trial leaders. A University of California at San Francisco AIDS researcher explained to activists and the press that 30 years of health insurance would be prohibitively expensive. Not to mention unwarranted, as the drug’s side effects included, she said, gas and nausea. But the US Health Department website told activists otherwise, listing kidney and liver failure as potential side effects.
So in addition to the big-picture economic impact that participation in the drug trials could have on individual women, researchers weren’t ‘fessing up to the full potential of medical impacts. Nor were they willing to ensure women’s safety should worst-case conditions come to pass.
But the big blind spot here lay in the social impact of allowing the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation HIV trials to proceed, just barely hinted at in this Washington Post piece—the only one that gets close to explaining the situation as it’s been explained to me in country. Here’s a flash of tail from the real monster:
Soma’s friend Pich Sochea, 38, who with Soma is a leader of a prostitutes’ union, was among the first to hear about the trial, at an HIV prevention workshop in the spring of 2004. Sochea thought it sounded pretty good. The women would get paid $3 a month to take some pills — either 300 milligrams of tenofovir or a placebo — daily for a year.
Yeah. It’s the placebo.
Approximately half of the 960 sex worker-participants would be administered a placebo, a wholly ineffective sugar pill with no preventative effects whatsoever in a country where condom use still lags. In a place where women have access to little in the way of human or civil rights, especially sex workers, and where domestic violence, even when reported, goes unacknowledged. Where rape is a growing concern, proliferating alongside popular depictions of sexual violence as a male youth group activity in pornographic films smuggled in from Thailand and Korea. Where domestic prohibitions against sex with children are a relatively new phenomenon. Where popular mythology holds that sex with a virgin is one way to rid oneself of HIV, and where consistent health education has proven ineffective at fully countering such beliefs. And where the trials were already public knowledge.
What I was told, straight up, by former activists with the Womyn’s Agenda for Change, was this: if Cambodian women had participated in these trials, we would not have been able to explain to the country that it did not make us immune to HIV. Violence, abuse, and rape would increase. Women’s struggle for human rights would not advance, perhaps backslide. And HIV rates, ultimately, rise.
I’m working on a longer piece right now on the White Savior Industrial Complex, and have some basic ideas I’m trying to get down on its larger effects. You may be wondering why these aren’t appearing on Camblogdia, or why you can’t access Camblogdia right now at all. Well, I’ve had some sensitive work in an art show in Phnom Penh up for a few weeks, and I’ve wanted to limit access to my in-country records. But also, I’m not just writing about the WSIC as an external observer: I’ve been an agent of it too. Unwittingly, but I think it deserves careful examination. And I’d prefer that work not be fully accessible before I’ve reconsidered it.
Via Ferestheh Toosi:
The Museum of Contemporary Art collaborative performance project continues apace, and as of yesterday around 200 people had come in to sit with me for a while to talk about my research into the international garment trade. I’ve become pretty lax about actually addressing Cambodia, workers’ rights, or the various trade agreements in place; I’ve found that it doesn’t take too long before people pulling apart a pair of jeans by hand start asking of their own accord who made these jeans, and if it was as difficult to put them together as it is to take them apart.
In the mean time, people are really deeply enjoying themselves in this meditative space, doing something seemingly pointless—at least, the physical end results of which are, at best, unclear. But they come in and sit and pull jeans apart with me anyway, even if they say they don’t want to at first, even if they tell me they think it’s kinda dumb, even if they “have a lot to do” and “only have a minute to see everything.” Usually I’m not even the one to say, “It’s really fun.”
We had an amazing conversation yesterday with a 10-year-old, a number of museum visitors, and about 30 Californians who had stopped by in a group from the Sonoma County Museum of Art. Or somewhere. They were all about the sustainability thing; the water waste of cotton production. And they wanted a lecture on the project instead of to do the project. They asked what I had to teach kids about Cambodia and the international garment trade. I asked the young girl what she already knew; she had participated in a school activity last year to raise money for a well in Cambodia. So what I got to say was, Look. I don’t have to teach anybody anything. You already know that the reason the garment trade needs examining is because the women who made these jeans can’t afford to dig their own well. That the system we support, as consumers—because we are all wearing clothes—is keeping the people who make them for us from water.
Later, things got a little quieter. The rain had let up and people were spending their Saturday afternoon at the Air and Water Show. I assume.
A woman came in to sit at the table with me and a few other visitors, and became very engaged in asking about Cambodian garment workers. After close to an hour, she asked me: “Do they even know they’re oppressed?”
I waffled. They don’t. In fact, in context, the factory workers have jobs. And all the things that jobs come with here: a sense of freedom, a sense of independence, a sense of duty. A fitting in. The way I explained it was really problematic: it would be possible to hear and walk away from and think: then the garment trade is awesome.
But I guess the real point I would like to find a way to explain is not about their responsibility for their own awareness as oppressed peoples. What I need to find a way to explain is that those of us who are asking the the question need to be responsible for responding to it. Yes, the international garment trade is a global system, and it is everywhere. But the beneficiaries of it mark themselves: we mark ourselves. Willingly. And while I would never ever respond to her smart and innocent query, “Do they even know they’re oppressed?” by saying: “As well as you know that you are oppressing them,” I would like to find a way to try.
Stalin’s hometown has a museum devoted to Stalin—The Man, also known locally as Stalin—The Poet, or sometimes, Stalin—He With the Delightful Singing Voice. Those seeking information on Stalin—The Brutal, Murderous Dictator will leave dissatisfied.
Here’s a picture of his boyhood home. He left it in 1883—I believe he was four. It may surprise you to hear that it took locals until 1932 to encase it in this Soviet-inspired shrine.
This is the choir. Stalin studied Georgian polyphonic singing as a youth (he’s fourth from the left, the teeny one, in the back row) before leaving a promising musical career for a bright future in poetry.
Basically, if you come to the Stalin Museum in Gori asking yourself, “How hot was Stalin?” You will find the answer: “Very.” But if you come to the museum wondering instead, “How much did Stalin himself commandeer the deaths of the 1.2 million or so people who died under his regime?” you will get shushed and perhaps escorted outside and maybe, if it is late enough, the residents of Gori who still remember him fondly—the older generation, according to our tour guide, although she herself steadfastly refused to say a negative word about The Man—will beat you up in a back alley somewhere.
Here is a map of Stalin’s many escapes from prison. The green arrows indicate incarcerations, and the purple indicate escapes. His arrests, and the details of them, were foggy, but his steadfast refusal to be contained in a jail cell were underscored, repeatedly, by our tour guide, Natia. “He was very strong, like steel,” Natia explained. She said it in a way that was supposed to seem prescient, so that we would see later in the tour, when he changed his name to Stalin—man of steel—his determined escape attempts and undisputed strength would seem destiny. Instead, such utterances betrayed the fact that Natia had ever cracked a history book, and made us suspicious of her highly edited timeline of Stalin’s career.
There were, I noted, several other maps on the walls. They seemed to indicate Stalin’s various military maneuvers—all heroically undertaken, no doubt, and certainly victorious—but even these did not rate translation from the Russian or discussion. Primarily, Natia lead us on a tour of the Stalin museum that proudly highlighted the various gifts or trinkets from nations represented in our touring party: The Netherlands, German, and the US. Which means, more or less, that the primary focus of Stalin’s life as far as we knew it were: A pair of shoes given by the Netherlands ambassador, or someone; Stones from Sachsenhausen, the Oranienberg concentration camp Stalin’s son was killed in—under his own approval; and a photograph of “the man who started the Great Depression”—wasn’t ever clear who he was, or where he came from, but his hat looked Chinese—who looked remarkably like President Barack Obama.
And here’s the home where Stalin ran his first underground newspaper, in Batumi. Who knew he was basically a self-publisher? I didn’t. So now Stalin and I have two things in common. Basically, I learned a lot at the Stalin Museum.
Stalin’s arrest, at this home, was said (by Natia) to have hardened him. Surely, yes, prison abuse and torture probably did sway him from an earlier strategy of communication to a later strategy of militarization, but the way Natia and certain history books describe it is more like this: After he was arrested World War II happened. You probably know about that already. So here’s a delightful lamp with a military theme from this time …