Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ebola Part 2: Facts You May Not Know

The Ebola Virus has many in a panic…especially since it has appeared in a US hospital.  People are calling for travel bans, quarantining nations fighting the virus, and other idiotic responses. 

Here are some facts they seem to not know: 

  • The virus is not airborne like the flu or a cold…it is spread through bodily secretions and can be killed with household bleach.
  • The wide-spread contamination comes from areas that have few doctors and little to no resources…in other words, the very poor countries.  
  • The virus can be easily contained if detected and the proper protocols are implemented. 
  • Thomas Duncan, the patient who died in Texas told the hospital he had been to Liberia.  What many of us do not know is that he was a person of color and had no health insurance.  He was sent home with antibiotics where he got sicker and, we now know, did not contaminate his fiancee’s family.  He contracted Ebola aiding an infected pregnant woman while in Liberia, who also died.
  • There is an 80% survival rate if treated and if the person has a strong immune system…if they are not poor and hungry.
  • In the poor countries like Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone doctors are precious.  In the chart on below look at the comparison of doctors per 100,000 people. Liberia, 1; Nigeria, 4; and Sierra Leone, 3; Nicaragua, 37; and the United States, 242, Cuba 672.
    From CIA World Fact Book
  • Cuba currently has 4,000 medical workers in Africa and is planning to send two more brigades to West Africa.  (By the way:  Cuba has one of the best records of how to deal with infectious diseases worldwide, given their economy...or lack of one.  They also have highest rate of doctors per capita in the world!)
  • With around $5 million of support from Venezuela, ALBA (the Bolivian Alliance for the Peoples of our Americas) is sending Cuban doctors to train other Latin American doctors.   If Ebola comes to poor countries this side of the Atlantic, it will be equally deadly.
In Nicaragua, Cubans are training 150 doctors who - in turn - will train other doctors including our own clinic's doctors next week.  Some of the Nicaraguan doctors will also go to help contain the virus and heal the sick in Africa…and remember, we only have 37 doctors per 100,000 people.

This virus is disastrous for the people of West Africa.  The poverty, lack of support, poor sanitation and nutrition, and painfully hard lives are just too add this deadly horrible!  Too much time and words have wasted by those countries with the doctors, the resources, and the means to respond.

Pres. Raúl Castro of Cuba asked the ALBA participants to not make this health crisis a political debate, but Nicaraguan Pres. Daniel Ortega could not hold his tongue.  Political or not, he is right when he asked where were the developed countries...those countries that are “spending millions on war, and forming alliances for war,” but are dragging their feet on a worldwide response to a potentially devastating pandemic?       

The reality is that poor Africans…poor people of color…or just poor people do not matter as much as white, wealthier people.  Paul Farmer (Founder of Partners in Health) sums it all up… “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ebola...Part 1

Ebola is scary.  It is one of the diseases that Hollywood likes to use in its thrillers.  For those suffering from Ebola in the impoverished countries of West Africa, it is frightening and extremely deadly.

9,000 people so far – más o menos – have contracted Ebola.  Only a few in the United States, but the fear of the virus in the States is mind-boggling.  Ebola is a virus that causes hemorrhagic fevers.  Do you know what else is a virus also causes hemorrhagic fevers?


It is estimated that in 2014, 390 million people will contract dengue, “break-bone fever." Virologists have found a new strain to add to the four existing strains of the dengue virus.  

Dengue causes high fevers, chills and flu-like symptoms in all strains, but in the more serious strains it also causes such a severe drop in white blood cell counts that patients can die from secondary infections or from blood losing its function to clot.  Patients bleed internally if not treated in a proper and timely fashion. Children are at higher risk of mortality from dengue than adults.

While malaria has declined by 25% worldwide, and in Africa 35%, dengue is on the rise.  Like malaria, dengue is passed by mosquitoes.  4 billion people in the world live in areas that harbor the dengue virus…and that number is growing with the warming of the planet.

Which is good news for Nicaragua, where dengue is increasing each rainy season becoming more and more of an epidemic.  As the wealthier nations become more susceptible to dengue, then more money will be invested in a vaccine…or in the case of ebloa as The Onion  headline satirizes, “Experts: Ebola Vaccine Only 50 White People Away”…funny, but too true and too, too sad.
*Part 2 coming tomorrow

Thursday, October 16, 2014

When It Rains, It Pours

After the drought in the first part of the rainy season, now too much rain is falling on Nicaragua.  On the Island of Ometepe, a 5-year-old girl was washed away in flooding.  Around 6,000 people have been displaced due to flooding.

Farmers are concerned about their crops and this comes after hardly any crops surviving the drought.  Food prices are high and likely to go higher.  COPROEXNIC, the organic agriculture cooperative, has been working with farmers on Ometepe, one of the hardest hit by the flooding, to see how they and we can help.

People are worried about all the environmental events.  Not enough rain.  Too much rain.  Then add to that:  last spring, we had tremors for weeks and Monday night Nicaragua experienced another tremor and the country is on yellow alert.

Food prices are high.  Mosquitoes carrying dengue and malaria are thriving in all the standing water.  Mold is everywhere.  Clothes are not getting fully dried.  People are cold at nights.  Asthma is more of a problem.  And now the earth is shaking again.  

For people like me, who do not live on the edge, these are all a nuisance and a concern.  For people who are poor and the least little thing can knock them over…well,  all the rain and tremors are knocking people over.

The government is addressing these problems…building houses for flood victims; importing food to lower prices; feeding children in schools; closing schools to prevent disasters away from home with tremors…but there is only so much that a government with limited resources can do.

The poor have leaky roofs and all this rain turns their dirt floors into mud.  Their lean-to homes are easy to wash away in floods.  And the homes of the poor have no foundation and their walls are not sturdy which means a tremor is terrifying if not potentially disastrous.

Stress is high.  We in the States tend to talk about stress as running your kids from one place to another…or high powered jobs…or having little free time, but real stress...the kind that eats at your soul... comes from knowing that one rain too many, one disease, one more hike in food prices, or one more shake can bring your life tumbling down.  This is the reality of the poor and why the human race needs to lift the impoverished up... literally... out of the mud.

* The day after we published this blog, 9 people were killed in Managua when the retaining wall of a gated community collapsed on the poor barrio beside it, bringing the total dead from rains up to 19. Miraculously, two babies were pulled from under mud and concrete alive. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Definitely Worth It

Weighing sesame on our front porch
Having volunteers around us all the time is a mixed bag.  For the first nine years we were in Nicaragua, volunteers and delegations stayed in our home.  Our office was in our homeOur home was the center and the center was our home. 

Volunteers bring different perspectives and we have made good, lasting, wonderful friendships with many of the people who have come down...friendships that I would never want to give up. 

But it is also draining with volunteers and staff in and out of our home, and occasionally we have volunteers who don't work out.    

Hosting volunteers is really a small part of what we do and it falls under the category of education...educating internationals to the reality of life here in Nicaragua.  As we get older we wonder if this education part of our work has any impact.  Today this came in from a volunteer who came a few years ago:

Before I volunteered with the CDCA in Nica I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do with my degree or my life.  The experience of working in the Nueva Vida Clinic, being a part of a community driven NGO, learning about the history of Nicaragua, and seeing the poverty that people lived changed my life completely.  When I got back to NY I began to study the history of the US and other Latin American countries and was profoundly disturbed...

Right now, I am very happily living in Chile and beginning my journey here.  I firmly [believe] that I would be in a completely different place in my life right now if not for my time in the CDCA. I think one of the most important aspects of the CDCA for me was the unbelievable warmth in reception of new volunteers into the community (us eating dinner at night with the family, allowing us into your home, etc), but the unwillingness to sugarcoat reality for us. For example, unlike other NGOs who are possibly more hierarchical and mechanic[al] in their daily routines, we felt very clearly the stresses as well as the successes of the CDCA.  We were trusted to make smart decisions, as you gave us the autonomy to learn stick shift and drive ourselves to work, decide what to do on the weekends. You trusted me and gave me creative space to work in the Green Pharmacy. We weren't coddled, and in this way, we were treated as equal members of the community.  And that was incredible...

I know that sometimes the work you all do can be thankless. Like I said, my life has taken a course that has everything to do with my time in CDCA, so there are literally not words that can express my gratitude; all I can do right now is say thank you…

It's good to know that hosting volunteers sometimes does have an impact. -- Kathleen

Saturday, August 23, 2014

There is ALWAYS Another Way

As most of you are well aware Ferguson, MO, is a mess.

People are protesting the shooting of an unarmed young Black man, Michael Brown, multiple times by a police officer.  Some are looting and throwing things at the police.  Mostly the Black community and people of color are angry and frightened.  And how do the police respond? 

With snipers and police dressed in camouflage uniforms equipped with military grade
armament and curfews…just more to fuel the helplessness, the fear, and the anger.

I know good cops.  I know non-racist cops.  Sarah’s first cousin became a cop when he was mistreated by DC cops at an antiwar demonstration in Washington. He was an exemplary cop.

Police, like soldiers, mostly follow orders…and much can be blamed on the people who give the orders.  I was just following orders is often heard  by soldiers.  Both soldiers and police officers find themselves in situations where the adrenaline is flowing and fear not compassion rules them.

Looking at film footage coming out of Ferguson, I am reminded of two separate events that happened here in Nicaragua.  Both events were with students protesting because of the government not allotting the 6% of the budget to the universities which is still guaranteed by the Nicaraguan constitution.   

The first event was during the presidency of Arnoldo Alemán.  He called upon the military to restore order. The head of the army basically said unless the president declared a state of emergency, they could not and would not intervene.  It was not advantageous to Alemán to declare a state of emergency…ergo in reality the military was saying no to hurting their own civilians.

When Enrique Bolaños followed Alemán as president, there were more student protests over the 6% and over the cost of diesel skyrocketing and bus prices rising, and the riot police were called in. 

During the riots, some students were hurt and a couple died, the police then had their own demonstration and proclaimed that the students were their children and they were not going to kill their own.  The police declared to the mayor of Managua and the president that they were not willing to do their bidding if it meant hurting civilians.  They chose to identify with the students and not those in power.

I am not saying that the Nicaraguan police are perfect...far from it.  I saw them dismantle a squatter’s neighborhood and as a result two people died…but it is important to recognize those few precious moments when people with guns have chosen not to obey orders because they decided the orders were wrong…and as a result it is important that we give those particular people the due respect they are deserved…the honor. These people are not cowards...they are the true heroes.

Police are servants of the People.  Soldiers are servants of the People…and it is high time the People call them and the ones giving the orders into accountability.  It can be done.  It should be done.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

History repeats itself

The news for last couple of months has me brokenhearted, and unfortunately I get angry when my heart is broken, so...fair warning.

What is wrong with us these days?
  • Police shooting or choking Black and Brown men is an almost weekly occurrence.
  • Supplying weapons and money to a country bombing the civilian population back to the stone age. 
  •  Air raids on Iraq. 
  •  Troops in Iraq. 
  •  NSA and CIA spying on everyone, including their own people. 
  • Reporters arrested trying to cover the protests in St. Louis over the shooting of a unarmed black teenager. 
  •  Republicans and Democrats fighting over minutia so that there is no real governance. 
  •  Mass shootings… again, almost weekly. 
  •  Children…CHILDREN…being detained and sent back to their countries to die with hateful protests calling for those children to go home.
I’m appalled.  I’m shocked.  I’m ashamed.

And yet, I was a history major:

Until the Civil Rights movement refusing the vote to Black people, beating Black people, LYNCHING Black people by cops, the KKK, the Establishment was hardly news worthy.

The US has supported Israel through its many wars and occupation of Palestine.  With weapons, policies, and our own CIA, we have propped up dictators who jailed, tortured, killed, and terrorized their own peoples:  Iran, Chile, El Salvador, Brazil, Philippines, Honduras (now), Guatemala, and here, Nicaragua.

Air raids in Iraq…Daddy Bush, W. Bush, Obama, and Obama again.

Troops in Iraq…see above.

Sen. McCarthy keeping the US "safe"
Much of the spying when I was a girl and a young woman was done by the FBI but it was done on peace and justice groups, peace churches, and “radicals” who oppose nuclear weapons.  William Stringfellow, a lay theologian, used to read his Bible into his phone…he thought the people tapping his phone ought to hear it.  And let’s not forget the McCarthy hearings in the 50s.

Reducing the access of the press has been a tactic by the government for years.  In WWI and WWII most of what was heard by the American public was approved by the government.  In the Vietnam War, the press covered the war on the ground and the war was immensely unpopular as a result…ergo the government put a stop on full and free access of the media in times of war. 

Just having a two party system limits what concerns and needs are addressed.  Since Abraham Lincoln,  almost every president has taken more and more power than was originally proposed by the constitution.  Now with more and more money going into elections, corporations are taking more and more control.  But this is not new: remember that the founding fathers were wealthy. 

Mass shootings are new, but people of color can cite time and time again when THEIR people have been targets of lynchings, bombings, genocide (tribal people), internment (Japanese during WWII), etc.

And the children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras coming to the US just to have a chance to grow up…well, we immigrants have always hated other immigrants and refugees…that started when the first immigrants grabbed the land from the people who were already here and then did not want to share anymore.

The one thing I truly internalized from all my history classes back in the day was that if we do not know our history, then we are doomed to repeat it.  So let’s learn…let’s not repeat the same horrors…let’s evolve…let’s repent.  From where I stand, change is a good thing…it is hope.