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WHO advice on Zika and the Rio Olympics


Advice on the Olympics and the Zika virus

by the World Health Organization

Based on current assessment, canceling or changing the location of the 2016 Olympics will not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus. Brazil is one of almost 60 countries and territories which to date report continuing transmission of Zika by mosquitoes. People continue to travel between these countries and territories for a variety of reasons. The best way to reduce risk of disease is to follow public health travel advice.

WHO advises pregnant women not to travel to areas with ongoing Zika virus transmission. This includes Rio de Janeiro. Pregnant women’s sex partners returning from areas with circulating virus should be counseled to practice safer sex or abstain throughout the pregnancy.

Anyone considering travel to the Olympics should:

  • follow the travel advice provided by their countries’ health authorities, and consult a health worker before traveling.
  • whenever possible, during the day, protect themselves from mosquito bites by using insect repellents and by wearing clothing — preferably light-colored — that covers as much of the body as possible.
  • practice safer sex (e.g. use condoms correctly and consistently) or abstain from sex during their stay and for at least four weeks after their return, particularly if they have had or are experiencing symptoms of Zika virus.
  • choose air-conditioned accommodation (windows and doors are usually kept closed to prevent the cool air from escaping, and mosquitoes cannot enter the rooms).
  • avoid visiting areas in cities and towns with no piped water and poor sanitation (ideal breeding grounds of mosquitoes) where the risk of being bitten is higher.

The World Health Organization and its Pan American Health Organization affiliate are providing public health advice to the government of Brazil and the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee on ways to further mitigate the risk of athletes and visitors contracting Zika virus during the Games. An important focus of WHO advice revolves around measures to reduce populations of Aedes mosquitoes which transmit chikungunya, dengue and yellow fever in addition to Zika virus.

Based on the current assessment of Zika virus circulating in almost 60 countries globally and 39 in the Americas, there is no public health justification for postponing or canceling the games. WHO will continue to monitor the situation and update our advice as necessary.


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Unusual fraud trial in San Carlos

SC courthouse
Supporters of Diane Maxwell in front of the San Carlos municipal courthouse. Photo by Bob Jensen.

A most unusual trial in San Carlos

by Eric Jackson

No perp walks and a bunch of Spanish legalese that a lot of interested parties just barely understood, even with translation. Television was not there. But the May 20 fraud trial of Rose Bourgeois and Peter Vermeltfoort in the San Carlos Municipal Court was quite remarkable. In Panama there is a long-standing practice, not anywhere written in the law, that when a foreigner is defrauded by either a Panamanian or another foreigner, this is a matter for prosecutorial laughter rather than action. The few exceptions to this over the years tend to have the aroma of bribery to get prosecutors to break from the norm. But here were Bourgeois and Vermeltfoort, accused of cheating Diane Maxwell out of some $100,000 for a house for which she paid and didn’t really get. There are also claims for outrages and anguish along the way.

If the claims for compensation and the criminal charge confuse you, in the Civil Code legal systems it is common enough to include monetary damages or restitution of property as part of a criminal judgment. And if people accused of stealing $100 grand walk to court from their cars instead of being transported from jail or house arrest by police, welcome to the class bias of Panamanian justice.

One of the reasons why this case may have gone to court at all is that Maxwell’s claim is one of at least eight — all with different details but all about how people paid money for houses they didn’t get or from which they were driven shortly after getting — against Bourgeois and Vermeltfoort. It has been going of for years, through changes in government and of shifting balances of public opinion that enduring politicians have had to contend. Does someone think she or he is untouchable? What’s that aristocratic Panamanian surname? Error number one, to think that influence will necessarily last forever.

These are disputes among Canadian expatriates, and at the heart of some of them is an offer common enough in parts of Canada but out of synch with Panamanian law, the idea that one might own a house that is separate from any other dwelling but not the land on which it sits. Yes, there are condominiums and the sort of land tenure that the defendants were selling may not be specifically illegal. However, nobody seems to know how to do the paperwork for it, such that a proper deed (escritura) might be issued. Especially so when there has been neither a survey nor a subdivision of the land. Now people might at least know to run as fast as possible away from any such real estate offer in Panama. However, a lot of intelligent North Americans didn’t and some of their errors were compounded by the mistaken notion that dealings with fellow expats from the same country are more trustworthy than dealings with Panamanians.

A typical scenario, according to Maxwell’s supporters, was that someone would have paid a large part of the price for a house built by Buorgeois and Vermelfoort, then there would be an attempted closing scene in which the buyer would demand a deed that was not forthcoming and refuse to pay the balance. So Bourgeois and Vermelfoort would say that the buyers defaulted and don’t get any refund.

Maxwell’s case was different, in that she actually got a house, actually lived in it, but was driven off. To hear the sellers’ side of it, Maxwell didn’t pay maintenance fees. Maxwell said that the sellers refused to accept her payments of these, which she then made through the corregiduria. In her claim and others, there are tales of hassles great and petty, a big one being getting locked out, either for entry and egress of cars or from the home itself. There are back and forth charges of harassment and intimidation by various parties, some of them so unspecified as to be reasonably presumed false. But there were instances in which the police or people from the corregiduria had been called in to be present for angry scenes and this might be one reason for the unusual trial — these endless disputes were disturbing the peace.

In court the defendants’ lawyer began with a motion to quash, some of its on procedural things like a translation allegedly not being properly certified, some of it on vague allegations that witnesses had been intimidated, some of it about allegedly bad arithmetic but most fundamentally that this was a contract dispute and should be a civil rather than a criminal case. The judge found that there were sufficient allegations of fraud to continue the case as a criminal matter and denied the motion to quash.

After a day of arguments over which testimony was relevant and in proper form and then closing arguments by the prosecutor, Maxwell’s private prosecutor and defense counsel, the case was adjourned with a verdict to be handed down in two or three weeks. If there is a criminal conviction, any prison sentence of four years or less can be avoided by the payment of a fine. But even then, in the event of a conviction Panamanian immigration authorities could move to expel the foreign convict from the country. Bourgeois, however, is the mother of a Panamanian child and in those sorts of cases deportations are unusual. Whether or not books get thrown, a conviction would very likely shut the Bourgeois and Vermelfoort business down and send them elsewhere.

This case comes at a time when some foreigners stand to lose condos for which they have in some cases fully paid in the beach communities of Panama Oeste and Cocle, as part of the bankruptcy and alleged fraud matters of the Gálvez family. It is a time when there are a lot of mostly empty condo towers along the beach — some of them built to abominable standards — and there are more towers under construction. So this in the scheme of things small case in a small courthouse on a side street of the small town of San Carlos could have some big consequences for Panama’s real estate sector. Whatever the decision, up in Canada there will be people who are thinking about moving here to live — or about coming here to swindle people — who hear about what happens in this case.


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CIEL, Barro Blanco flooding begins with arrests

A protest againt the dam. Photo by International Rivers.

Barro Blanco flooding begins with arrests

by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)

On May 24 the floodgates were opened on the contentious UN backed Barro Blanco hydro dam in Panama, sparking forced removal by authorities of indigenous Ngabe communities that are living in protest camps near the dam site. With construction finished, GENISA, the company that owns and operates the dam, has begun to flood the reservoir today, which will inundate six hectares of indigenous territories.

According to the Movimiento 10 de Abril (M10) — a group representing indigenous peoples directly affected by the project — 35 community members, including women and children, were arrested and are currently being held in police custody in the Missionary Center of Tole. Following the arrests, backhoes moved into the area to tear down their encampments.

Local Ngabe organizations are now on high alert and are planning on taking further actions to oppose the dam, which is financed by the German and Dutch national development banks (DEG and FMO) and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration. Already fearing that the situation will escalate, international NGOs launched a petition in April 2016, calling on President Juan Carlos Varela to ensure that the affected Ngabe people are free from intimidation and repression. The petition has been signed by 84,000 people to date.

“We, the affected communities, have never given our consent to Barro Blanco. This project violates the Panamanian Constitution and our indigenous rights. ASEP has not warned us about the imminent flooding that will destroy our crops, some of our houses and kill our livestock,” declared Manolo Miranda, spokesperson of the M10.

National and international organizations are deeply concerned for the personal safety and security of the Ngabe people and call on Panama to protect their rights including the rights to security and peaceful assembly.

“Panamanian authorities must protect the rights of the Ngabe people who have not consented to this project,” said Alyssa Johl, Senior Attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law. “We urge the Panamanian government to ensure the personal safety and security of the Ngabe people and otherwise fulfill their human rights obligations. The world is watching.”

In 2015, Panama recognized that the Barro Blanco project had been approved in violation of the Ngabe’s social and cultural rights, and the government temporarily suspended the construction of the project. A few months later, the government fined the project developer $775,000 for failing to adequately consult, relocate and compensate those adversely affected by the dam. To this day, the government has not reached an agreement with the communities.

Barro Blanco is an UN-sponsored project that is designed to support sustainable development in poorer countries while enabling wealthier countries to achieve emissions reductions cost-efficiently. However, Barro Blanco demonstrates how climate mitigation projects can have adverse impacts on peoples and communities and the environments on which they depend.

The Paris Agreement recognized the need for human rights protections in climate action and created a new Sustainable Development Mechanism (SDM) under which all countries will be able to generate and/or use credits to offset emissions. Parties of the UNFCCC are currently meeting in Bonn to discuss the modalities and procedure of the new SDM.

“Barro Blanco is a clear example of why human rights protections must be included in the newly established SDM. The SDM must learn from the CDM’s mistakes. As the Paris Agreement committed to protect human rights, Parties must ensure that another Barro Blanco never happens again” said Pierre-Jean Brasier, Network Coordinator at Carbon Market Watch.

A report to be published this week by Carbon Market Watch and Misereor also highlights the need to incorporate human rights into climate action, including the case of Barro Blanco.


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CDDHH del CNA, El desalojamiento de gente ngäbe

Una comunidad en resistencia. Foto por el International Cry.

Comunicado a la Nación

por la Comisión de Derechos Humanos del Colegio Nacional de Abogados

Que en atención a los eventos ocurridos el día de 23 de mayo del año en curso, en la provincia de Chiriquí, distrito de Tolé, en las que miembros de la Policía Nacional han procedido a iniciar el lanzamiento de un número indeterminado de miembros de la etnia Ngäbe Bugle, que desde el año 1999 se mantienen manifestándose en contra del proyecto Hidroeléctrico Barro Blanco, entre los que se encuentran apostados en las riberas del río Tabasará, hombres, mujeres y niños, miembros del culto Mama Tatda, que reclaman la protección a los petroglifos ubicados en el río y áreas aledañas, el respeto a sus tradiciones, costumbres y modo de vida a ser afectadas por el embalse de dicho proyecto.

Las autoridades al realizar este lanzamiento lo hacen en base al cierre de las compuertas de proyecto, según un presunto acuerdo suscrito en agosto del año 2015, con las autoridades tradicionales en una mesa del dialogo, anunciando por los medios de comunicación el mismo, sin embargo las acciones de desalojo de hoy son calificables de contrarias a derecho y violatoria de los Derechos Humanos y en particular al Derecho de los pueblos originarios, toda vez que existen demandas pendientes en la Corte Suprema de Justicia, relacionadas tanto con las normas de desalojo y expropiación forzosa emitidas por la Autoridad de los Servicios Públicos (ASEP) y estas en conjunto con el Ministerio de Gobierno, el SINAPROC el Cuerpo de Bomberos y la Policía Nacional, lo han hecho pasando por encima de la litispendencia sobre este tema.

Esta Comisión ha recibido las quejas de ciudadanos panameños de la comunidad afectada, y HACEMOS UN ENÉRGICO LLAMADO DE ATENCIÓN PARA QUE SE RESPETEN TODOS los DERECHOS HUMANOS inherentes a los miembros de la población Ngäbe Buglé, y que se respeten los procesos pendientes de resolución, partiendo de que las garantías fundamentales del derecho interno contenidas en la Constitución Política de la República de Panamá son mínimas y que existen otros tantos Derechos Humanos en la Convención Americana sobre Derechos Humanos de 1975 ratificados en Panamá mediante la Ley 15 de 1977, al igual que señala en su Capitulo Primero “Derecho de libertad religiosa y de culto” que señala en su artículo 12 número 1 señala lo siguiente:

“Artículo 12 Libertad de Conciencia y de Religión. 1. Toda persona tiene derecho a la libertad de conciencia y de religión. Este derecho implica la libertad de conservar su religión o sus creencias, o de cambiar de religión o de creencias, así como la libertad de profesar y divulgar su religión o sus creencias, individual o colectivamente, tanto en público como en privado”.

Este artículo es concordante con el texto del artículo 18 número 1 del PACTO INTERNACIONAL DE DERECHOS CIVILES Y POLITICOS, LEY N° 14 de 28 de octubre de 1976 que señala más ampliamente lo siguiente:

Artículo 18. 1.Toda persona tiene derecho a la libertad de pensamiento, de conciencia y de religión; este derecho incluye la libertad de tener o de adoptar la religión o las creencias de su elección, así como la libertad de manifestar su religión o sus creencias, individual o colectivamente, tanto en público como en privado, mediante el culto, la celebración de los ritos, las prácticas y la enseñanza.

Según los practicantes de la creencia Mama tatda del pueblo Ngäbe Bugle, consideran las riberas del río Tabasará, sus aguas y los petroglifos en su cauce y linderos, como un sitio público de manifestación religiosa y su práctica se verá limitada en su entorno una vez la represa se cierre y se llene su embalse.

En este sentido las acciones de desalojo de hoy, de los sitios ocupados por los miembros de la etnia Ngäbe Buglé, y todos los que sucesivamente se realicen pueden ser considerados forzosos y por tanto son calificables dentro de la Ley 32 de 5 de diciembre de 1949 “Convención Para La Prevención Y La Sanción Del Delito De Genocidio” que en su artículo 2 letras b) y e)

“Artículo II En la Presente Convención, se entiende por genocidio cualquiera de los actos mencionados a continuación, perpetrados con la intención de destruir, total o parcialmente, a un grupo nacional, étnico, racial o religioso, como tal:

a) Matanza de miembros del grupo;
b) Lesión grave a la integridad física o mental de los miembros del grupo;
c) Sometimiento intencional del grupo a condiciones de existencia que hayan de acarrear su destrucción física, total o parcial;
d) Medidas destinadas a impedir los nacimientos en el seno del grupo;
e) Traslado por fuerza de niños del grupo a otro grupo”.

Las consecuencias del lanzamiento el día de hoy y las sucesivas en los miembros de la etnia Ngäbe Buglé, con la pérdida de espacio para sus prácticas y creencias religiosas, no se pueden soslayar los impactos en la mente y psique de cada uno de los desplazados a la fuerza, pues el hecho de que miembros de la policía Nacional con su uniformes, equipos de uso reglamentarios, con miras al control de multitudes, no son consentidos por los afectados por la medida, siendo que el ejercicio del poder del Estado contra los ocupantes, fuerza el desplazamiento de estas personas.

Al menos se tiene conocimiento que se han retenido y depositado en el Centro Misionero Catolico San Jose Obrero de Tolé, a 35 varones y al menos siete mujeres, incluidos niños y niñas menores de edad, distribuidos en tres cuartos, todos bajo custodia policial de al menos 8 unidades de Policia en las puertass y los pasillos a las habitaciones de este Centro.

Para poder desplazarse dentro del mismo tienen que pedir permiso, afuera hay mas unidades de Policía. Es evidente que su desalojo y posterior retención no es parte de ningun procedimiento administrativo llevado bajo autoridad administrativa producto de un proceso seguido previamente.

Esta Comisión hace un llamado de atención por la forma en que se ha planteado el desalojo, en perjuicio de derechos humanos básicos, y recuerda que existen responsabilidades por la violacion de estos deechos tanto en el foro nacional como en el internacional, por lo que se hace necesario recordar la sentencia dictada contra la República de Panamá como la ocurrida con el Caso No. 12.354, Pueblos Indígenas Kuna de Madungandí y Emberá de Bayano y sus miembros, Panamá, que mediante Fallo de 15 de octubre de 2015 se condeno al Estado de Panamá a pagar indemnizacion por la suma de 2.3 millones de Dolares, por un caso de desalojo en el Alto Bayano para realizar un Proyecto Hidroeléctrico, y en el cual no se delimitaron las tierras colectivas en compensación de esas etnias. (Ver en internet http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/seriec_284_esp.pdf )

Esta Comisión hace un llamado para que los miembros del Capítulo del Colegio Nacional de Abogados de la Provincia de Chiriquí y de la Comision de Derechos Humanos de dicho Capítulo, se apresten a servir de defensores en caso de que se requiera asistencia judicial por parte de los miembros de la etnia Ngäbe Buglé retenidos en el Centro San José Obrero de Tolé por la Policia Nacional.

Esta Comisión solicita que se pronuncien: la Defensoría del Pueblo, la Comisión de Asuntos Indígenas de la Asamblea Nacional y todas aquellas organizaciones de la sociedad civil que tenga interes en señalar su posición frente a la situacion vivida por las comunidades de la Etnia Ngäbe Buglé en el sitio del Río Tabasará.


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Most of the Democrats Abroad – Panama board resigns


Hammerle and supporters quit


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Auditions for Seussical the Musical


SeussFor more information click here


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Chan, Address to the World Health Assembly

WHO spray
Spraying for mosquitoes to contain a Zika outbreak. Photo by the World Health Organization.

Address to the World Health Assembly

by Dr. Margaret Chan

Mister President, Excellencies, honorable ministers, ambassadors, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

Public health constantly struggles to hold infectious diseases at bay, to change lifestyle behaviours, and to find enough money to do these and many other jobs.

But sometimes we need to step back and celebrate.

Commitment to the Millennium Development Goals brought focus, energy, creative innovation, and above all money to bear on some of the biggest health challenges that marred the start of this century.

We can celebrate the 19,000 fewer children dying every day, the 44% drop in maternal mortality, and the 85% of tuberculosis cases that are successfully cured.

Africa in particular can celebrate the 60% decline in malaria mortality, especially since the African Leaders Malaria Alliance did so much to make this happen.

We can celebrate the fastest scale-up of a life-saving treatment in history. More than 15 million people living with HIV are now receiving antiretroviral therapy, up from just 690,000 in 2000.

A culture of measurement and accountability evolved to make aid more effective. Greater transparency brought the voice of civil society to bear in holding governments and donors accountable for their promises.

The profile of health changed, from a drain on resources to an investment that builds stable, prosperous, and equitable societies.

Everyone in this room can be proud of these achievements.

You have saved many millions of lives. Your strategic and technical innovations have left us well-prepared to set our sights even higher. You deserve an applause.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In an interconnected world characterized by profound mobility of people and goods, few threats to health are local anymore.

Air pollution is a transboundary hazard that affects the global atmosphere and contributes to climate change.

Drug-resistant pathogens, including the growing number of “superbugs,” travel well internationally in people, animals, and food.

The marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages, especially to children, is now a global phenomenon.

Safeguarding the quality of pharmaceutical products has become much harder, with complex manufacturing procedures and supply chains spanning multiple companies and countries.

Ensuring the quality of the food supply is also much harder when a single meal can contain ingredients from all around the world, including some potentially contaminated with exotic pathogens.

The refugee crisis in Europe taught the world that armed conflicts in faraway places will not stay remote.

The Ebola outbreak in three small countries paralyzed the world with fear and travel constraints.

Last year, a business traveller returning home to the Republic of Korea, infected with the MERS coronavirus, disrupted the country’s economy as well as its health system.

The rapidly evolving outbreak of Zika warns us that an old disease that slumbered for six decades in Africa and Asia can suddenly wake up on a new continent to cause a global health emergency.

This year’s long-feared appearance of urban yellow fever in Africa, now confirmed in the capital cities of Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, is yet another serious event with potential for further international spread.

Ladies and gentlemen,

For infectious diseases, you cannot trust the past when planning for the future.

Changes in the way humanity inhabits the planet have given the volatile microbial world multiple new opportunities to exploit. There will always be surprises.

The possibility that a mosquito bite during pregnancy could be linked to severe brain abnormalities in newborns alarmed the public and astonished scientists.

Confirmation of a causal link between infection and microcephaly has transformed the profile of Zika from a mild disease to a devastating diagnosis for pregnant women and a significant threat to global health.

Outbreaks that become emergencies always reveal specific weaknesses in affected countries and illuminate the fault lines in our collective preparedness.

For Ebola, it was the absence of even the most basic infrastructures and capacities for surveillance, diagnosis, infection control, and clinical care, unaided by any vaccines or specific treatments.

For Zika, we are again taken by surprise, with no vaccines and no reliable and widely available diagnostic tests. To protect women of childbearing age, all we can offer is advice. Avoid mosquito bites. Delay pregnancy. Do not travel to areas with ongoing transmission.

Zika reveals an extreme consequence of the failure to provide universal access to sexual and family planning services. Latin America and the Caribbean have the highest proportion of unintended pregnancies anywhere in the world.

Above all, the spread of Zika, the resurgence of dengue, and the emerging threat from chikungunya are the price being paid for a massive policy failure that dropped the ball on mosquito control in the 1970s.

The lesson from yellow fever is especially brutal. The world failed to use an excellent preventive tool to its full strategic advantage.

For more than a decade, WHO has been warning that changes in demography and land use patterns in Africa have created ideal conditions for explosive outbreaks of urban yellow fever. Africa’s urbanization has been rapid and rampant, showing the fastest growth rates anywhere in the world.

Migrants from rural areas, and workers from mining and construction sites, can now carry the virus into urban areas with powder-keg conditions: dense populations of non-immune people, heavy infestations with mosquitoes exquisitely adapted to urban life, and the flimsy infrastructures that make mosquito control nearly impossible.

The world has had a safe, low-cost, and effective vaccine that confers life-long protection against yellow fever since 1937. That’s nearly 80 years. Yellow fever vaccines should be used more widely to protect people living in endemic countries. Yellow fever is not a mild disease.

Let me give you a stern warning. What we are seeing now looks more and more like a dramatic resurgence of the threat from emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. The world is not prepared to cope.

High-level assessments of the Ebola response have consistently called for more resilient health systems as a first line of defence. This is also the position taken at the G7 summit being held later this week in Japan.

I welcome the current joint external evaluations that are looking at preparedness and response capacities in several countries. The evaluations need to continue with the utmost urgency, as a tool under WHO authority and coordination.

WHO is the organization with universal legitimacy to implement the International Health Regulations. The evaluations must be accompanied by well-resourced efforts to fill the gaps.

Given what we face right now, and the next surprises that are sure to come, the item on your agenda with the most sweeping consequences, for a danger that can quickly sweep around the world, is the one on the reform of WHO’s work in health emergency management.

The Secretariat’s report gives you an overview of the design, oversight, implementation plan, and financing requirements of the new health emergencies program.

Setting this up marks a fundamental change for WHO, in which our traditional technical and normative functions are augmented by operational capacities needed to respond to outbreaks and humanitarian emergencies. Implementation of this change has moved forward quickly.

The program’s design is aligned with the principles of a single program, with one clear line of authority, one workforce, one budget, one set of rules and processes, and one set of standard performance metrics.

In March, I established an Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee. This eight-member committee is monitoring the development and performance of the program. The Committee will report its findings through the Executive Board to the Health Assembly.

I urge you to give this item the serious consideration it deserves. Anything short of full political and financial support for the program will handicap the WHO response, right now and into the future.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Few health threats are local anymore. And few health threats can be managed by the health sector acting alone.

As the international community enters the era of sustainable development, the global health landscape is being shaped by three slow-motion disasters: a changing climate, the failure of more and more mainstay antimicrobials, and the rise of chronic noncommunicable diseases as the leading killers worldwide.

These are not natural disasters. They are man-made disasters created by policies that place economic interests above concerns about the well-being of human lives and the planet that sustains them.

This is the way the world works. The burning of fossil fuels powers economies.

Medicines for treating chronic conditions are more profitable than a short course of antibiotics. Highly processed foods that are cheap, convenient, and tasty gain a bigger market share than fresh fruits and vegetables.

Unchecked, these slow-motion disasters will eventually reach a tipping point where the harm done is irreversible.

This is best documented by the 20 C limit for catastrophic climate change. For antimicrobial resistance, we are on the verge of a post-antibiotic era in which common infectious diseases will once again kill. If you want to know the future consequences of markets saturated with unhealthy foods and beverages, read the report of the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity.

The 2030 agenda for sustainable development wants to make sure these and many other disasters are averted. The agenda aims to do nothing less than transform the way the world, and the international systems that govern it, work.

The goals and targets are broad, visionary, and supremely ambitious. They have been criticized by some as utopian, unaffordable, out of touch, and out of reach.

I disagree. The vision inspires optimism and hope, but it is also firmly anchored in the realities of a world that desperately needs to change.

The ambition of the agenda is to tackle the root causes of the world’s many woes, from the degrading misery to poverty to the consequences of terrorism and violence, in an integrated and interactive way.

The agenda puts the people left behind first. We know what this implies.

R&D market failures punish the poor. User fees punish the poor. User fees discourage people from seeking care until a condition is severe and far more difficult and costly to manage. Diabetes is a prime example. User fees waste resources as well as lives.

The agenda is indeed broad, but so are the social, economic, and environmental determinants of health. The advantage of addressing these broad determinants is well-reflected in the operational framework for implementing the Global strategy for women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health.

Health holds a prominent and central place that benefits the entire agenda. In the final analysis, the ultimate objective of all development activities, whether concerning the design of urban environments or the provision of modern energy to rural areas, is to sustain human lives in good health.

In an interactive agenda, the broad determinants of health, coupled with methodologies that let us track progress with confidence, make improvements in health a reliable marker of overall progress.

Member States have approved roadmaps of strategic actions for taking forward work on individual health targets. Nearly all these strategies and plans map out priority R&D innovations that will boost the prospects of reaching ambitious goals.

Innovations help, but ambitious goals are feasible and affordable only if we cut out waste and inefficiency.

We do so through integrated, people-centred care that spans the life course, from pre-conception through ageing, and brings prevention to the fore. The target for universal health coverage moves us in that direction.

UHC is the target that underpins all others. It is the ultimate expression of fairness that leaves no one behind. It also has the best chance of meetings people’s expectations for comprehensive care that does not drive them below the poverty line.

And we have other resources to tap. The Women Deliver conference, held last week in Copenhagen, provides evidence of the energy unleashed when women are freed from the constraints of violence, discrimination, and unintended pregnancies.

It also falls to the health sector to show some principled ethical backbone in a world that, for all practical appearances, has lost its moral compass. We must express outrage at the recent bombings of hospitals and refugee camps in Syria and Yemen, the use of rape and starvation as weapons of war, and the killing of innocent civilians in the pursuit of terrorist goals.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We need to celebrate not only the wealth of achievements and lessons learned during the MDG era, but also every victory that permanently eliminates a health threat.

Earlier this month, WHO declared that India has eliminated yaws from its vast population. Last year, human cases of sleeping sickness reached the lowest level seen since data collection began 75 years ago. This year, only two cases of guinea worm disease have been detected, both in Chad.

After Cuba was validated as the first country in the world to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis, a second wave of countries will be considered by the global validation committee this week.

Polio eradication has never been so close to the finish line, with Africa now free of wild poliovirus for nearly two years.

During the short span of two weeks in April, 155 countries successfully switched from trivalent to bivalent oral polio vaccine, marking the largest coordinated vaccine withdrawal in history. This is another milestone towards a world permanently free of a crippling disease.

We have victories on other fronts. More countries are exercising their legal right to mandate plain packaging for tobacco products, with the UK being the latest. These are critical victories. No country can hope to bring down the burden of noncommunicable diseases in the absence of strong legislation for tobacco control.

World leaders are fully aware of the major challenges affecting health in general and this Organization in particular.

Many recent meetings have focused on the crisis caused by antimicrobial resistance. I thank Member States for taking this crisis so seriously, including the pressing need for incentives to get new products into the pipeline.

World leaders are concerned about the world drug problem and the need to broaden and balance the response by adopting a public health approach. They are concerned about a humanitarian system that is overwhelmed and badly needs reform.

They are concerned about the costs, to economies as well as to health, incurred by noncommunicable diseases. Thanks to last year’s successful event in Paris, the world now has a climate treaty.

I thank Member States for recognizing the critical importance of strengthening health systems and embracing the vision of universal health coverage. You have approved many resolutions that contribute to this end.

You are also on the verge of delivering a solid framework for engagement with non-state actors that will mainstream a major area of reform.

This Health Assembly, with its record-breaking number of agenda items and participants, tells me how much you expect from WHO.

We have entered an ambitious new era for health development. We have a solid foundation of success to build on.

WHO, together with its multiple partners, is poised to save many more millions of lives. I ask you to remember this purpose as we go through an agenda that can mean so much for the future.

Thank you.


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They have yet to entirely eliminate bus art…

bus art
At the bus terminal in Albrook. Photo by Eric Jackson.

Bus art lives, for now

During the Torrijos and Martinelli administrations the owner operated diablo rojo buses — generally used school buses from North America, imported and repainted according to Panamanian traditions — were eliminated from routes within Panama City and San Miguelito. More recently the importation of used buses has been prohibited. But in Arraijan, La Chorrera, Chepo, Colon and some parts of the Interior, the tradition persists.


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Bernal, A crisis of values

Dr. Bernal and his supporters, when the corrupt “Rector Magnifico” tried to kick him out of his teaching position at the University of Panama law school. Archive photo by José F. Ponce.

A crisis of values

by Miguel Antonio Bernal V.

Since the military dictatorship’s sinking, Panama has lived in a prolonged crisis of values. This keeps us from determining which are the most important values that we should institutionalize.

“Panama’s fundamental problem,” as the economist Rubén Lachman well recalled recently, “is of a political nature.” The successive governments that have gone in and out of power these past 27 years, in their zeal to achieve “the normal and routine” functioning of the government, have venerated the Political Constitution of 1972, the symbol of authoritarianism and totalitarianism, which people fought with cries for “Democracy, Justice and Freedom.”

On the bottom line, what happens to us is that we have been blocked — by different mechanisms — from institutionalizing political freedom. We are taking about the need to institute a real, effective and transparent political freedom that eliminates the endless quantity of obstacles that exist in our midst which impede citizens from acting according to their responsible will.

Let me clarify. I identify with Fernando Savater when he teaches us that: “In speaking of freedom I mean nothing particularly mystical, but the autonomy of individuals in the community to establish and revoke laws, elect and depose rulers, enjoy legal safeguards and have the possibility to explore by whatever means that do not harm others the fullness of their individuality.”

We should consolidate the steps, mechanisms and procedures favorable to political freedoms. We are called today more than ever to emancipate ourselves from misery, the tyranny of structural poverty, of inequality, of ignorance. We cannot allow these to continue reducing the roles of public institutions and public services to the defense and protection of the privileged ones and their privileges.

In the coming days and months the crisis of values will no doubt become more accentuated, and this will increase the peril to our political liberties. We ought to renounce the role of financial shelter and rescue our trampled national dignity.


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Lamrani, Avoiding a war in space

space is the place
The Chinese, the Russians and other powers also have their miltary space programs and we can’t be entirely certain who has what capability.

Avoiding a war in space

by Omar Lamrani — STRATFOR

Space is becoming more congested, contested and competitive. Since the Soviet Union put the first satellite, Sputnik I, into space in 1957, no nation has deliberately destroyed another’s satellite in orbit. But there is a growing possibility that battles may soon be waged in space.

Although the militarization of space started long ago, a number of technological developments and tests over the past decade show that the race toward its weaponization is accelerating. Driven by Washington’s dominance of and strategic dependence on space, US rivals are working to develop and deploy anti-satellite weapons (widely known as ASATs). The technology, which began to be developed during the Cold War, has become an area of intense competition for the world’s most capable militaries over the past decade.

For the United States, being the leader in military space technologies provides immense advantages. At the same time, its outsize reliance on those technologies entails risks. The current unequal dependence on space, the United States fears, could give adversaries incentive to attack its infrastructure in orbit. Washington is therefore pushing to bolster its capabilities and is preparing for the possibility that a future conflict could escalate into space. As the militarized space race continues, the United States will stay focused on deterrence. A war in space would be devastating to all, and preventing it, rather than finding ways to fight it, will likely remain the goal.

An unequal dependence

Washington’s dependence on space infrastructure reflects the United States’ dominance in space. The tyranny of time and distance inherently hinders the United States’ ability to deploy its military across the globe. But the space domain effectively helps the country to overcome the limitations, allowing for enhanced force projection. As a result, the US military relies heavily on its orbital assets for navigation, intelligence collection, precision targeting, communication, early warning and several other crucial activities.

The great advantages that space assets afford the United States have not gone unnoticed by its potential rivals. Though China and Russia, for instance, also rely on space, they are less dependent on their space assets than the United States is. First, neither nation has as much in orbit. In addition, because both put greater focus on their immediate geographic regions, they can use more conventional tools to achieve their objectives. For instance, Beijing, by virtue of geographic proximity, could rely on its ground-based radars and sensors in a conflict in the Taiwan Strait. The United States, on the other hand, would have to lean on its satellites to support a response in the same area.

Despite the United States’ superior ability to strike at enemy space constellations — groups of similar kinds of satellites — competitors may determine that the resulting loss of space access would be worthwhile if they could severely degrade US space access. And while the United States is the most proficient nation in space-based warfare, there are limits to its abilities. Satellites in orbit follow predictable movements, have restricted maneuverability and are difficult to defend from an attack.

There is little doubt that a full kinetic strike on US satellites, which would inflict physical damage, would invite a devastating response. But tactics designed to degrade the satellites’ abilities, rather than to destroy their hardware, could be deemed less escalatory and therefore perhaps worth the risk. These include jamming signals, hacking operational software and dazzling (temporarily blinding) or permanently disabling sensors. Calculating the risk of nonkinetic strikes, which would create little physical damage and could even be reversed, a potential foe would take into account the United States’ hesitance to escalate a conflict in space, given its heavy dependence on orbital technology.

Reinforcing deterrence

If the United States wants to preserve its primacy in the face of increasing threats to its strength in space, Washington will need to invest in strategies to deter attacks on its orbital assets. The first step in strengthening space deterrence is to ensure proper attribution: The United States cannot hold its enemies accountable for attacks if it does not know who initiated them. But the vastness of space, along with the difficulty of obtaining physical evidence from attacked satellites, can make responsibility hard to prove.

To that end, the United States is investing in a second-generation surveillance system, known as Space Fence, to track satellites and orbital debris. Slated to begin operating in 2018, Space Fence uses ground-based radars that give it 10 times the detection capability of its predecessor, the Air Force Space Surveillance System. In addition, the United States has been working with a classified satellite defense technology called the Self-Awareness Space Situational Awareness system, which reportedly will be able to pinpoint the source of a laser fired at a satellite.

Redundancy and shielding can also deter limited attacks against satellites. The innate redundancy of large satellite constellations could make attacking them too risky; such an assault would fail to significantly impair US space control while still inviting retaliation. Meanwhile, more widespread use of resistant antenna designs, filters, surge arresters and fiber-optic components, which are less vulnerable to attack, is already being explored to further shield satellites from jamming, dazzling and blinding.

Finally, the United States can work alongside its global partners and allies to convey the idea that a full-blown battle that would destroy orbiting satellites would be bad for all of humanity. Reinforcing this message and openly tying it to a powerful US response could further bolster deterrence.

Preventing a war in space

While the United States works to discourage hostilities in space, in no small part to ensure its enduring advantage there, Washington is also taking more steps to plan for the contingency of a war in space. The Department of Defense has nominated the secretary of the US Air Force as the initiative’s principal adviser, tasked with coordinating space-related efforts across the military. Late last year, the United States also established the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center at Colorado’s Schriever Air Force Base. The center facilitates information sharing across the national security space enterprise and has already run a number of wargame scenarios to simulate conflict in orbit.

Furthermore, the Pentagon has added $5 billion to its space programs budget in 2016, pushing the total to about $27 billion. The budget provides for spending on technologies and tactics that can help the United States mitigate and recover from a space attack. One effort, spearheaded by the Operationally Responsive Space Office, aims to develop small satellites and associated launch systems that can be built and deployed quickly and cheaply. (For the most part, the current US fleet consists of large, sophisticated and expensive satellites, some of which cost billions of dollars and take years to construct.)

As part of this endeavor, the office has directed the development of a standardized but modular satellite chassis that allows for multiple payload variations. The result is increased flexibility, as well as lower costs and quicker turnaround in production. Developing a less expensive and more efficient way to launch replacements for destroyed or disabled systems is the next step. With that in mind, the Operationally Responsive Space Office is funding the development of the Spaceborne Payload Assist Rocket-Kauai (SPARK) launch system, designed to send miniaturized satellites into low-Earth and sun-synchronous orbits. In its efforts to rapidly launch swarms of miniaturized satellites on the cheap, the US military is also looking to leverage the private sector. Companies such as Virgin Galactic (with the LauncherOne) and the Rocket Lab (with the Electron Vehicle) have expressed keen interest in the initiative.

The small satellite revolution promises the speedy replacement of disabled satellites in the event of attack — theoretically securing the US military’s use of space constellations in support of operations during a conflict. Small satellites are not a magic bullet, however; key satellite functions will still depend on bulkier and more complex systems, such as the large but critically important nuclear-hardened command-and-control mission satellites. Many of these systems involve hefty antennas and considerable power sources.

Given that access to orbit may not be guaranteed during a war in space, the United States has also been exploring alternative ways to perform some of the core functions that satellites now provide. At this stage, high-flying unmanned aerial vehicles with satellite-like payloads offer the most advanced alternative. But considering the vehicles’ vulnerability to sophisticated air defenses, their lower altitude and endurance relative to orbital satellites, and their limited global reach, this remains a tentative solution at best.

Overall, the United States is getting far more serious about the threat of space warfare. Investment in new technologies is increasing, and the organizational architecture to deal with such a contingency is being put in place. In the race between shield and sword, however, there is no guarantee that offensive ASAT capabilities will not have the advantage, potentially denying critical access to space during a catastrophic celestial war.
The High Cost of a War in Space

Increased competition in space is reviving fears of a war there, one with devastating consequences. Humanity depends on space systems for communication, exploration, navigation and a host of other functions integral to modern life. Moreover, future breakthroughs may await in space, including solar energy improvements, nuclear waste disposal and extraterrestrial mining.

A war in space would disable a number of key satellites, and the resulting debris would place vital orbital regions at risk. The damage to the world economy could also be disastrous. In severity, the consequences of space warfare could be comparable to those of nuclear war. What’s more, disabling key constellations that give early launch warnings could be seen as the opening salvo in a nuclear attack, driving the threat of a wider conflagration.

While the United States and other nations are taking measures to better prepare for a potential war in space, their emphasis will likely remain on deterrence. This is an important notion to understand, not only for potential US enemies but also for the United States itself. For instance, it is conceivable that technological advancements in the coming decades could allow the United States to recover militarily from a space clash more quickly than the ever-more space dependent China or Russia. In such a scenario, the costs that a space war would have for the world as a whole might be enough to dissuade Washington from launching its own space attack.


Avoiding a War in Space is republished with permission of Stratfor.


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