sterilization
Our knowledge of HIV/AIDS is continuously expanding 30 years into the AIDS epidemic. Researchers are discovering that–given the right treatment and precautions–people living with HIV can greatly reduce the risk of transmission to partners and can even safely conceive and give birth. Yet many health care providers in Central America are misguidedly pressuring HIV-positive women into sterilization.

Tamil Kendall, a Harvard School of Public Health research fellow with 10 years of experience in gender and HIV in Latin America, reports that “health care providers [in Central America] are expressing the view that living with HIV means that you don’t have reproductive rights, that you can’t choose the number and spacing of your children, that you can’t choose the contraceptive method that you would like to use.”

Kendall is the driving force behind a recently-published study on health care practices in El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua, one which reveals antiquated attitudes toward HIV and troubling reproductive rights violations throughout the region.

The results show that, out of the 285 women studied across the four Central American countries, 23 percent have been pressured by health care professionals to go through a sterilization procedure. Rates in individual countries range from 20 percent in Nicaragua to 28 percent in Mexico. Additionally, only half of the women surveyed reported being told that an intervention in the form of antiretroviral drugs exists, which can reduce mother-to-child transmission of the virus by 98 to 99 percent.

Women with HIV are coerced by doctors and nurses unethically. Kendall reports that one Mexican woman was sterilized while under anesthetics during a Caesarian section. Another young mother from El Salvador claimed that doctors refused to perform a Caesarian until she consented to sterilization. Many women are told that another pregnancy will result in their own or their child’s death.

Kendall’s study reveals that socioeconomic status and ethnicity do not play a part in this kind of discrimination and that it is driven solely by an HIV-positive diagnosis.

Yet amid this troubling news, there is reason for optimism. As Kendall observes, “There is some promising research… indicating that health care providers are becoming increasingly aware of the possibility of preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission as well as sexual transmission with antiretroviral therapy—and that this knowledge is starting to transform attitudes.”

Moving forward, she recommends that health care providers be held accountable for their actions in courts, and that policy makers become aware of new research on HIV/AIDS and begin investing more in reproductive health and women’s rights.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: Thomson Reuters Foundation, Harvard School of Public Health
Photo: Fabulous-City

Dangerous Roads
A recent study by the University of Michigan has found that Africa, Latin America and the Middle East host the world’s most dangerous roads, and that traffic accidents in developing nations claim more victims than in wealthier countries.

Similar conclusions have recently been drawn by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) which specifically examined this year’s mortality rates due to traffic accidents in Latin America. The FIA study reports that Brazil has the worst record, at 20 traffic-related deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.

FIA regional representative Leandro Perillo of Argentina observes that “the biggest problem we face [in Latin America] is the lack of enforcement of the rules.”

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) sees dangerous roads as a serious development issue in Latin America, reporting that “at 17 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, this region’s roadway fatality rate is nearly double that of higher income countries.”

Leading reasons for this discrepancy besides lax law enforcement include roadways clogged with bicycles, motorcycles and all around bad driving. Anyone who has traveled throughout Latin America understands that traffic lights, lane markers and warning signs are more like suggestions than rules. Poor infrastructure, including the infamous baches (potholes that many times resemble sinkholes) and lomadas (mountainous, unmarked speed bumps,) can also play a part in driving accidents.

Automobile wrecks take more lives in Latin America each day than does HIV/AIDS, and road incidents kill 100,000 people every year in Latin America and the Caribbean. Additionally, car crashes have become the leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 15 and 29.

Injuries due to poor roads and bad drivers also have a high social and economic cost. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates that Latin America loses two percent of its GDP to traffic accidents each year.

Speaking on the importance of road safety in Latin America, IDB Transport Division Chief Nestor Roa states that “when it comes to improving road safety, isolated efforts will only get us so far. Curbing our region’s high traffic death rates requires making this issue a priority for our national development agendas and committing everyone to achieve this goal.”

The IDB is becoming more involved in the region’s transportation situation, performing vehicle evaluations and overseeing the design of better roadways. The institution states that successful confrontation of this issue will require “the coordination and collaboration of virtually all sectors of society, from governments to schools, NGOs, motor vehicle manufacturers, drivers, passengers, cyclists and pedestrians.”

Although road safety is not typically seen as a central development concern, addressing this issue will help pave the way to a safer and healthier future for developing nations.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: Global Post, University of Michigan, Inter-American Development Bank
Photo: GravityBolivia

Social_Inclusion_Organization_Of_American_States
The 44th General Assembly of the Organization of American States convened in Asunción, Paraguay at the beginning of June to discuss regional issues and development. The main themes throughout the Assembly were social inclusion and indigenous rights, which are deep issues that have long held Latin America back from healthy democratic, economic and social advancement.

Several countries are leading the march toward greater social inclusion, especially for indigenous populations. Indigenous rights, including self-determination, autonomy, territorial and natural resource rights and recognition of indigenous tongues and official languages, have been written into the Constitution of Bolivia.

Across the border in Paraguay where the OAS Assembly took place, the indigenous Guaraní language shares official status with Spanish. Paraguay is the only Latin American country where a majority of the population, 90 percent in this case, speaks a single indigenous language. This is a significant accomplishment considering indigenous peoples only make up about five percent of the population. Guaraní is treasured and spoken by street vendors, rural campesinos, businesspeople and government officials alike.

In countries like Bolivia, Paraguay and Ecuador, indigenous groups are not only tolerated, but they play an integral part in the social fabric of the nation. Their rights are inscribed into law by the state and respected.

Yet the region still has great potential for improved social equality. “About a third of Latin America’s population lives in households with an income of between $4 and $10 dollars a day,” reports OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza. “They have escaped the poverty that still afflicts more than 167 million Latin Americans, but to call them the ‘middle sector’ makes no sense. In truth, they are the millions of ‘not poor’ people, who occupy an income level that keeps them extremely vulnerable.”

Insulza points out that certain groups, including women, indigenous peoples, migrants, Afro-Americans, the poor and the disabled start from a disadvantaged position, which translates into unequal access to services, education and employment.

In order to continue producing the kind of growth praised by the OAS, the governments of Latin America must pursue policies that promote social inclusion over simply economic advancement.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: Deutshe Welle, U.S. Department of State, The New York Times
Photo: OAS

food for the poor, inc.
Food for the Poor, Inc., or FFP, is a Christian-owned and operated nonprofit community dedicated to feeding the poor in Latin America and Caribbean countries.

The nonprofit believes in the power of prayer and donations or gifts to help feed starving children in 17 different countries in order to make their lives better one day at a time.

FFP’s ministry reflects their belief in God’s unconditional love; they inspire trust and faith, and embrace all people, regardless of race or status. It is their belief that Christ is alive and well in their ministry, and that they can best serve him by assisting those in greatest need.

FFP began their work in Coconut Creek, Fla., and it is their current headquarters where they hold daily prayer services. They encourage all members and volunteers of the nonprofit to pray for those in dire need daily because prayer is a fundamental part of their ministry.

The nonprofit also sends out monthly devotionals and weekly prayers in order to set their volunteers and members on the right path as to who has the greatest need. They take prayer requests through the postal service, by telephone and by email in order to best serve the people for whom they pray daily.

FFP addresses issues such as starvation, deforestation, lack of education and many other hardships that may be detrimental to the well-being of the countries they serve.

The nonprofit uses donations and the prayers and faith of their members to help put an end to the largest issue of global poverty. Through donations of gifts, people can help someone eat, get out of poverty or stop deforestation of the rainforests in Latin America.

The charity is in good standing and has great ratings on nonprofit tracker websites. According to Charity Navigator, they put nearly 96 percent of all gifts or donations received toward programs to put an end to global poverty, deforestation and more.

Through the power of faith, donations and prayer, FFP provides a fresh new perspective on how to go about providing aid to those in need.

— Cara Morgan

Sources: Food for the Poor, Charity Navigator
Photo: Empire Press

Global Poverty Statistics
According to the Global Poverty Statistics for 2013, nearly half of the world’s population, (that’s more than 3 billion people,) can live on less than $2.50 a day. More than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty, which is less than $1.25 a day.

As of 2013, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, there are roughly 870 million people on the planet who suffer from chronic malnourishment; this is a large part of what makes up global poverty. This means, that 1 in 8 people suffer from not having enough food to eat.

However, there was some good news for malnourished and impoverished people in Asia and the Pacific. Asia saw new socio-economic advancements in 2013, which decreased those who suffered from severe malnourishment by 30 percent.

Latin America and the Caribbean also saw improvements in 2013. The chronic malnourished of Latin America and the Caribbean fell from 65 million to 49 million. That means where there used to be 15 percent of the population suffering from undernourishment, there is now only 8 percent of the population suffering.

In Africa in 2013, however, the number of people hungry and chronically undernourished grew by 2 percent over the period of a year. The conditions of neither the African people nor their economic status has improved much in the past several years. In this case, the number of chronic malnourished people rose from 175 million in 2013, to 239 million in 2013.

More women are hungry than men; 60 percent of women go hungry to 40 percent of men. Many women who are pregnant will still be malnourished due to a lack of maternal care being offered in their countries. This means, annually, 240,000 women will die in childbirth.

According to global poverty statistics from UNICEF, one billion children in the world today are faced with extreme global poverty, and 22,000 will die each day due to the impoverished conditions of their countries.

Due to global poverty, many children and their families cannot afford vaccinations that would fight off and prevent disease. This means, thousands, if not millions, of children will die this year alone due to preventable causes such as malaria, polio or hunger.

As the World Food Programme said, “The poor are hungry and their hunger traps them in poverty.” Hunger is the number one cause of death in the world, killing more than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

According to the global poverty statistics of 2013, malnourishment is one of the most dangerous things facing the world’s impoverished peoples. Starvation, malnourishment and unclean drinking water kill more people than almost anything else in the world. Every single one of those problems is preventable through advocacy and donations.

According to poverty facts, 1.6 billion people, or a quarter of the entire world’s population, lives without electricity in addition to facing extreme poverty and hardship.

The world’s poor should not have to live in a world of darkness and fear of where their next meal will come from. Every single problem the impoverished world faces can be prevented through advocacy and donations.

 — Cara Morgan

Sources: DoSomething, The Hunger Project, World Hunger
Photo: Flickr

drones
As far as tech trends go, the topic of drones is one of the hottest and most controversial. Their military use is infamous and quite tragic in some cases, but this one understanding of drones shouldn’t totally taint the public’s perception of their potential uses.

The concept of drone technology should still be viewed as exciting, actually, considering what they’re capable of. As remote aerial tools, drones have the capacity to vastly improve lives and simplify important tasks.

Companies like Google and Amazon are already in talks of starting a drone delivery service for goods ordered online. However, it is actually illegal to use drones to make money in the United States, at least until laws are in place to regulate their use and safety.

Countries like El Salvador are taking full advantage of the technology’s positive uses, having recently launched drones for news coverage. Salvadoran newspaper, La Presna Grafica, bought three unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), also known as drones, back in January. Since then, they’ve joined other Latin American countries such as Brazil, Mexico and Peru in using drones to enrich the news coverage of the area.

What’s interesting about the use of drones in Latin American countries is that there aren’t any regulatory laws concerning the technology. Meanwhile, commercial drone usage won’t be allowed in the U.S. for a least a few more years.

Drones used in modern warfare and those used to take aerial footage (or make deliveries) are vastly different. Still, the experimental airspace countries like El Salvador is creating has attracted concern about privacy and spying.

A unique security issue for El Salvador is rooted in the 12-year civil war that took place in the country 20 years ago. Some worry that biased news stations will use drones to spy on political opponents – or be urged to do so.

The bottom line is that laws protecting the privacy rights of citizens in El Salvador simply don’t exist. The airspace is unregulated and, for many people, this will invite fun and exciting experimentation with the fairly new drone technology. Yet, as history and even modern events show, there is always the possibility that a good thing will be used for bad purposes.

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: Global Post, Knight Center, Business Insider
Photo: La Prensagrafica

Education in Nicaragua

Many children in Nicaragua attend school for a few hours in the morning or evening, and work during the remainder of the day. Children must attend school in shifts in order to accommodate other students and to contribute financially to their families according to The Tico Times article, “Is Nicaragua’s education system failing?”

Abbreviated school days combined with student and teacher poverty has resulted in poor education in Nicaragua. UNICEF estimates that only 55 percent of children complete primary school and enter into secondary school. During secondary school the rate of completion continues to drop. While attendance rates have increased in the past ten years, university entrance exams demonstrate a continuous pattern of poor education quality in schools.

At the center of the quality issue, Nicaraguan teachers have very low salaries, earning an average of only $266 per month. The teachers also have a limited amount of supplies and facilities for students, forcing them to limit their curriculum. In The Tico Times article, José Treminio, Nicaragua’s education vice minister, exhibited concern about teacher’s salaries, stating, “We are determined to solve educational problems. We have a commitment to make a leap in the quality of education.” As a result, government has promised a small salary increase for teachers in 2014.

However, in a Nicaragua Dispatch article, “Impoverished teachers, poor schools”, Tim Rogers describes the financial struggles and government promises involved in Nicaragua’s education system. He states, “Nicaragua’s cash-strapped school system is delivering a poor quality of education.” Rogers maintains that the Nicaraguan government has not produce promised education results.

Rogers explains that the government, under the leadership of President Daniel Ortega, expresses a strong interest in improving national education. The government, however, only allots a small amount of the budget towards education, sending the public mixed messages about their endeavors. The amount does not provide enough money for adequate teachers’ salaries, student supplies, or school facilities.

The International Development Association (IDA), a division of the World Bank, offers aid to impoverished countries, providing loans or grants to promote economic growth. In 1995, the IDA partnered with the Nicaraguan government through the First Basic Education program. From 1994 to 2004, this program increased enrollment in primary schools in Nicaragua.

The IDA reported that, “The project contributed to an increase in the enrollment coverage of pre-schools and primary schools, particularly in targeted poor and indigenous communities.”

Even though Nicaragua now has a high primary school enrollment rate, school exams still show low student performance. In response, the IDA acknowledged that the quality of education still remained very low and initiated a similar program to strengthen the education system overall. IDA’s programs combined with an increase in government funding suggests that a sustainable system of education in Nicaragua is possible.

– Jaclyn Ambrecht

Sources: Tico Times, NICA, Nicaragua Dispatch, Child Info, World Bank
Photo: Compassion Internation

Latin American youth are finding it increasingly difficult to find gainful employment. Of the region’s 108 million people in the 18 to 24 year age bracket, 21.8 million of them are known as NEETs – not in employment, education or training. In Spanish they are called NiNis – ni estudian ni trabajan (they do not study, nor do they work). NiNis are a stigmatized group, pegged as lazy, unmotivated and apathetic.

To make matters worse, many Latin American youth who do find jobs end up working in poor conditions and lack the protection of labor rights. Six in every 10 young people in Latin America work in unlawful labor conditions, according to a recent International Labor Organization report.

The ILO study, titled Trabajo decente y juventud: políticas para la acción (Decent Work and Youth: Policies for Action), also reported that the youth unemployment rate is three times as high as that of adults and twice as high as the overall rate. Young people are unable to find decent jobs even though the current generation is better educated than any previous cohort.

In Guatemala, 78 percent of NiNis work informal positions doing housework and other menial chores. Yet the hard core of NiNis exists in Paraguay and Uruguay, with 48 and 45 percent of young people respectively neither employed, nor enrolled in an academic institution.

Several causes for youth unemployment exist. Education is key – if the education system is not in sync with an area’s labor market, graduates will not leave their educational institution with the necessary skills to break into and thrive in the workforce. Population growth has also contributed to the existence of such high numbers of unemployed youth around the globe. Additionally, during times of economic hardship, employers are more likely to lay off younger workers who do not represent as significant of an investment as their older, better trained counterparts.

The fundamental problem, outlined by the ILO report, is that not enough opportunities exist for Latin American youth. Guy Rider, director of the International Labor Organization, says that the “lack of access to opportunities for decent work generates frustration and discouragement among youth. There are 108 million reasons why we must act now.”

The good news is that some organizations are acting. Work4Youth, a collaborative project between the ILO and MasterCard Foundation, seeks to match underprivileged youths aged 14 to 24 with local businesses in order to give young people the resources they need to break into the workforce. W4Y has operations all around the globe, and it maintains a presence in Brazil, Peru, El Salvador and Colombia.

The young generation currently entering the workforce is a valuable resource. Some estimates hold that if unemployment among young people were halved, the global GDP would experience an increase of 4 to 7 percent. In the words of 21-year-old Astrid Estefanía Garibay of Mexico: “People think ‘young’ and ‘NiNi,’ and they think about drug addicts and bums.” These young people simply need help connecting with opportunities rather than being stigmatized for their employment status.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: IB Times, ILO, Pravda.ru, Press TV
Photo: Work4Youth

UN_women_latin_america
Over the past decade, Latin America’s economy has improved due to the rising quantity of exports. At the same time, rapid growth of urban centers has created socioeconomic problems like an increase in prostitution and sex trafficking. One of the consequences of the urbanization of Latin America is a rapid increase in population, which in turn results in a larger number of unemployment and homelessness. The high population outnumbers the amount of jobs available for people, especially women. The consequence is that more women living in these urban slums resorting to commercial sex work. These women then become vulnerable to diseases and to violent environments.​

In Brazil, over 40,000 women have murdered for simply being women in the past 10 years. And Honduras is labeled one of the most dangerous places to live for a woman. There, the violent killings of women there have tripled. Unfortunately, only 5 percent of these crimes have been investigated and the murderers prosecuted.

Columbia is facing significant gender-based violence because of military conflict within the country. Women are often attacked who take part in activism to encourage political and social reforms for more representation and rights.

The third most violent place in the world for women is Guatemala. The county ordered a new law to prevent violence against women in 2008, making it the first Latin American country to do so. Yet since the law was implemented, not much has been done to support the new reforms. Women continue to have problems finding prosecution for the culprits.

Not only does violence cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of women in Latin America, but it decreases the region’s social and economic development. The killings are preventing these women from contributing to the economic growth of the country. Seven Latin America countries rank in the top 10 countries in the world for most domestic violence against women.

One answer to this matter is the program U.N. Women, which helps to strengthen the representation of women in government and politics. New policies are developed for women’s economic development; particularly, women in isolated and rural regions in Latin America. These policies aim to create equal and fair workplaces for all women who are seeking or already have employment and to create job opportunities.

UN Women is helping to end gender based violence against women in Latin America by creating services for victims and survivors. This will help by implementing laws to protect women and provide justice for those in need.

— Rachel Cannon

Sources: CSIS, UN Women 1, UN Women 2
Photo: UN Women

Since 2007, when several South American nations led the push for a gay rights charter in the United Nations, a wave of change has been sweeping through the region concerning the rights of the LGBT community. A handful of Latin American leaders have been leading the charge against same-sex discrimination, staking out new territories of human rights as they go.

Costa Rica

President Luis Guillermo Solis of Costa Rica observed the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17 by raising the gay pride flag over the Presidential Palace. The ceremony marked the day in 1990 when the United Nations World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its official list of mental illnesses.

On May 16 President Solis declared via tweet that “we are going to fight vigorously against every form of discrimination. We will pursue without rest an inclusive and respectful society.” The post was accompanied by a picture of the rainbow banner flying alongside Costa Rica’s own national flag above the Casa Presidencial.

President Solis made the significant gesture in solidarity with the LGBT community not even a month after beginning his first term as President of the Central American state. At this point Costa Rica has not legalized same-sex marriage, but President Solis is seeking to eliminate barriers to medical benefits for same-sex couples.

Argentina

In April of 2014 Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner became the godmother of Umma Azul, the newborn daughter of a lesbian couple. Through this formality the new mothers wanted to thank President Fernandez de Kirchner for her progressive policies concerning same-sex unions — in 2010 the Kirchner administration passed a marriage equality law which legalized same-sex marriage and allowed gay and lesbian couples to legally adopt children.

Another Argentine in the world spotlight is Pope Francis. The new papacy’s “who am I to judge” demeanor, accompanied by messages of compassion and loving acceptance, have placed him in high esteem with many in the LGBT community, even landing him a spot on the cover of the gay interest magazine The Advocate.

Brazil

Brazil legalized same-sex marriage in 2011 under President Dilma Rousseff. Brazil is the largest country in Latin America, has the world’s largest Catholic population and, as recently as December 2013, held the world’s largest communal gay wedding. A total of 130 gay and lesbian couples entered into legal unions at the event.

The city of Sao Paulo also boasts the largest gay pride parade in the world. Organizers of the event claimed that the May 2014 parade was enjoyed by 2.5 million people.

Chile

24-year-old Daniel Zamudio died on March 27, 2013, three weeks after being beaten by a group of anti-gay assailants in Santiago. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera successfully pushed lawmakers to pass an Anti-Discrimination Law following Zamudio’s death, which clearly defines and denounces all forms of discrimination.

Since 2012, several openly gay and transsexual politicians have been elected to office in Chile. Jaime Parada Hoyl was the first, elected as a councilman in Providencia after becoming well known for his gay rights activism following the Zamudio incident.

Other nations seeking to reduce discrimination in Latin America include Uruguay, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2013, and Mexico, where same-sex marriage has been legal in the capital city since 2010.

Amid seemingly endless news streams of natural disasters, political unrest and corruption scandals throughout Latin America, the fight for equal rights spreading through the region is a breath of fresh air. Less systemic discrimination in Latin America could mean less homophobic violence. Less violence means more productivity within communities. Strong communities, after all, are built on the respect shared among their members.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: Freedom to Marry, Huffington Post, Twitter
Photo: Huffington Post