Friday, October 10, 2014

Texas Liberian Ebola patient wasn't left to die

Many Africans are suspicious, sometimes understandably so, of western action, inaction or insufficient action -- perceived or real. But suggesting that an African diagnosed with Ebola was left for death in a hospital in Texas is, in my perspective, unfounded and, patently absurd. Here's why.

Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola, according to BBC News, died in a hospital in Texas on 8 October 2014. Duncan, 42, reportedly contracted the deadly virus in his native country Liberia before traveling to the U.S. -- where he tested positive 10 days after he arrived from Liberia's capital Monrovia.

The death of Thomas Duncan sparked outrage and criticism among Africans on social media and elsewhere. Many criticized the way Duncan's case was handled by Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, and expressed suspicion of U.S. policy in relation to the Ebola virus. On Facebook, some people claimed, amongst other things, that Thomas Duncan was "left to die" of Ebola. Someone speculated that Duncan was "an index case" that had to be "eradicated". Another suggested that the U.S was sending a message to discourage Africans from traveling to the U.S. to receive treatment for Ebola. Others suggested that racism had something to do with his death.

In fact, there seems to be consensus among good number of Africans online that Thomas Eric Duncan was left for death, and that enough wasn't done to save his life -- whereas enough was done to save the lives of American aid workers who contracted Ebola while working in Liberia.

In my view, it doesn't make sense to claim -- without evidence or enough data to support the claim -- that Thomas Duncan was left for death. The fact that he's the first casualty of Ebola on U.S. soil is insufficient grounds to arrive at such a bizarre conclusion.

Ebola has no proven cure as of the time of this writing. Hence anything can happen to anyone -- black or white, African or American -- who contracts the virus. It's true that the two American aid workers who survived in a hospital in Atlanta received an experimental drug called ZMapp, but Duncan wasn't given the drug. However, it's also true that ZMapp isn't a medical breakthrough -- as evidenced by the fact that ZMapp was, according to Reuters, given to three other Ebola patients who later died, including a Spanish priest.

Experimental drugs like ZMapp are therefore no guarantee. By the way, Thomas Duncan was given an experimental drug called brincidofovir.

I share the view that anti-Ebola protocols weren't respected in the onset of the Thomas Duncan case. It's inconceivable that the deceased was sent home with antibiotics after going to the hospital a few days after he arrived in the U.S. Someone in the hospital was negligent. The initial negligent response warrants an investigation to make sure it doesn't happen again.

However, I don't think hospital staff willingly sent an infected Ebola patient back into the streets in the U.S. I don't belong to the category of people who think Duncan was left for death.

Conspiracy theories related to Ebola or any other pandemic disease are counter productive, and endanger the lives of health workers and infected people in affect communities. Eight Ebola workers were killed in Guinea. Why? According to Time, an angry mob in a remote village thought the workers came to spread the disease. In my mind, conspiracy theories incited the violent attack.

The simple truth in my perspective is that the world is yet to get a grasp of Ebola. And even the most medically advanced countries are vulnerable, including the U.S. and European countries like Spain, that are reportedly well-equipped to contain the Ebola virus. If the "usual suspect" - the West - had a secret treatment or vaccine for Ebola, I think westerners like the two Catholic missionaries who died of Ebola in Madrid would've been saved. Authorities in Spain killed a dog belonging to a nurse infected with Ebola. Frantic efforts are employed to contain the Ebola virus.

Allegations that Eric Duncan was treated differently on grounds of nationality or race would've made sense to me if there was a clear way to treat Ebola, and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital didn't follow the tested and proven medical protocol. Unfortunately there's no known treatment at the moment hence hospitals attempt to deal with the virus in different ways -- yielding different results.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Criminal damage of Finns Party's Helsinki office

The right to hold and express opinions without interference is a fundamental human right enshrined in international human rights standards, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Although international covenants bind states parties not individuals, the latter could learn a thing or two from the covenants -- many of which are incorporated into national laws. Vandalizing public or private property of political opponents or people who hold dissenting political views amounts to unlawful interference, and threatens civil and political freedom.

Vandals targeted the Helsinki office of the Perussuomalaiset (PS) political party. According to Yle, members of the party arrived at their office on 18 September to find windows shattered. An anonymous party claimed responsibility for the vandalism in a manifesto posted on an informal news site.

In the manifesto (in Finnish) which seeks to rationalize the vandalism, it is stated, amongst other things, that the economic recession has given impetus to right-wing populists and neo-Nazis across Europe, and the PS is one of those parties that take advantage of the economic uncertainty and offer naive solutions to society's problems -- by scapegoating immigrants, non-heterosexuals and feminists. And that the PS seeks to create a society that doesn't have room for everyone; a society modeled on the "white heterosexual man" and a "hierarchical nuclear family" as a basic social unit, under a "totalitarian government".

Furthermore, the strong-worded manifesto asserts that the PS has hard-line fascists in its ranks and that the party has made racism and hate speech acceptable. The manifesto calls for equality and for a society where everyone has equal power to make decisions on their lives and on the organization of society. According to the manifesto, the architects of the attack want to make things difficult for the PS in "concrete ways" and would use "direct actions" against the party and "other fascists".

In my view, the PS is, without a doubt, hostile to minorities, including immigrants, refugees, Muslims and homosexuals. High level members of the party, including its Members of Parliament and councillors make no secret of what they think of minority groups. Evidence to support this claim abound:
  • PS councillors in the city of Lieksa once demanded a Somali-free meeting room.
  • PS councillors in the same city blocked a proposal to accept nine refugee minors from Syria.
  • A councillor of the party once donated a clock with Nazi insignia to a right-wing extremist group in Vaasa.
  • Teuvo Hakkarainen, a Member of Parliament representing the party used the N-word to describe black Africans on his first day in parliament. He got away with it.
  • A parliamentary aide of the party suggested that minorities in Finland should be forced to wear armbands so that they could be easily identified by the police.
  • A PS councillor described refugees and asylum seekers as welfare leaches and rapists
  • Two MPs of the party, Jussi Halla-aho and James Hirvisaari (now expelled by the party) were convicted of ethnic agitation by Finnish courts.
 The list of misdeeds by PS members is long and inexhaustible.

However, I believe criminal damage of the party's office is an unacceptable act which amounts to assault on civil and political rights. The way I see it, the criminal act is counter productive since, in my view, it projects the PS as a victim of "political persecution" rather than portray it as what it is: a party that threatens equality -- a core value in Finnish and Nordic societies. Acts of vandalism targeting the party or its members, I believe, could help rather than hurt the PS in the polls thereby undermining the objective of the perpetrators as per the manifesto posted online.

Although I subscribe to the view that the PS scapegoats minorities and doesn't do enough to stamp out racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia from its ranks, or rein in its numerous members who fan flames of hate, I oppose unlawful acts against the party.

Violence begets more violence. Imagine a situation where PS members also start vandalizing property of opponents. Finland, I feel, would descend into chaos. It's on this premise that I oppose vandalism and any other unlawful act against the PS or any other legally recognized political party that operates within the ambit of Finnish law.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Right to self-determination: proceed with caution

There're those who belief that secession and independence would automatically solve all problems faced by a people. But a more rational consideration of what's at stake or what's to come after independence would show otherwise.

Scotland was in the spotlight in light of a referendum to decide whether or not the territory should remain part of the United Kingdom. When the jury was still out, there was a lot of speculation and analysis about the possibility of a victory by the "YES campaign". But the verdict showed after all votes were counted that the "NO campaign" carried the day. Scotland rejected independence. The people decided to stick with their United Kingdom.

According to the BBC, Scottish voters rejected independence by 55% to 45%.

I welcome the results of the referendum and applaud the government of Prime Minister David Cameron for giving the people of Scotland the opportunity to decide, because -- let's face it -- Westminster could have blocked or delayed a referendum. By allowing the process, the government under the leadership of Cameron acted in good faith in recognition of the right of self-determination.

I believe all peoples have the right to determine their political status. I recognize and would defend the right to self-rule or self-determination, which is a core principle in international law. The right is expressly provided in international human rights conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (see article 1), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (see article 1).

However, I also believe that peoples should exercise this right with caution -- except in cases where there's urgency prompted by a brutal and oppressive occupier.

Advocates of secession often point to the availability of natural wealth and resources in their territory as proof that they would be better off as an independent country. Natural resources alone, in my opinion, should not be the driving force for self-rule. Other factors should be considered, and all major uncertainties should be sorted out before independence. When it comes to independence, a leap in the dark is, without a doubt, reckless.

It would have been disastrous, I feel, for the people of Scotland to break away from the United Kingdom without a clear structure in place to ensure their well-being after independence. A lot of uncertainty surrounded Scottish independence. It's baffling that about 45 % of Scots voted in favor of independence without knowing, for instance, what currency an independent Scotland would use, and without knowing how long it would take the country to join the European Union -- from where many Scottish farmers expect subsidies. Security and defence questions were not also considered or clarified by "Yes Scotland", the main campaign group for independence.

Scotland no doubt has natural resources. In fact Scotland is richer per capita than the UK, and about 90% of the UK's oil comes from Scotland. But resources do run out. It's therefore important, in my view, that independence should not be anchored predominantly on the availability of natural resources.

In my view, majority of the people of Scotland voted wisely in the referendum. Majority of Scots seem to understand that secession doesn't necessarily make all socio-economic and political problems go away. Food for thought for separatist movements across the globe.

Personally, I take away two lessons from the Scottish referendum: firstly, wealth of natural resources doesn't necessarily mean majority of people in a territory will vote in favor of secession. And secondly, an independence referendum (or calls for it) by peoples entitled to it is sometimes necessary in order to force change -- as evidenced by the fact that David Cameron and other British leaders promised under the pressure of a referendum to devolve greater powers to Scotland. It remains to be seen, however, whether or not change will be delivered as promised.

Failure to fulfill the vow made by UK party leaders panicked by the referendum, I believe, would mean another referendum in the future. And Scots might not vote "No" to independence again if they're forced to return to the polls in the future because of a broken vow.

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