My life changed a year ago, with the news that one of my best friends has cancer.
With just two words — delivered over the phone in one of our routine evening chats — I began to take a different view of the world.
The words? ‘It’s cancer’.
In the typical style of girlfriends, my friend, who I will call ‘M’ — a woman with a heart of gold, the workaholic tendencies of a true feminist and eclectic tastes of one of life’s true creative types — had kept us abreast of all the symptoms of illness, from a swollen stomach to pain that seemed to never go away.
We, her friends, were also kept in the loop regarding the battery of tests performed to get to the bottom of her ailment. Through it all, I — we, I think — never for a moment considered cancer. But I suppose no-one ever does; no-one ever wants to.
And then the words.
Up to that point, cancer — outside of the stories I had heard or read — had really meant little to me. I know that now.
Yes, I felt sympathy for those who I understood to live with the disease and for the families of those who had died because of it.
Yes, I was moved to participate in cancer runs.
Yes, I had worn the pink ribbon over the years.
But it had never saturated my consciousness.
After the words, I no longer sit in a safe zone, isolated from cancer’s brutality, the sheer power of the blows it deals — and not only to the body of the people waging war against the physical toll it can take, but also to your dreams, to your ideas about who you are and what you are capable of achieving.
I get it now; cancer is a cancer.
After months of the experience, I find myself at a crossroads.
Yes, my friend is alive.
Yes, I am extremely grateful for this.
I am also compelled to write for write I must — or burst at the seams from equal parts anger and extreme sadness.
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. […] Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
These words by Eleanor Roosevelt are especially powerful as I take stock of a recent workshop to raise awareness about the human rights linkages to maternal, and child health in Jamaica — one that has won the praise of civil society and public sector stakeholders alike.
They include Alisha Coleman, the mother whose child was reportedly left with the mental capacity of a baby due to medical negligence and for which the assessment of legal damages is now set for next year.
“It is important to know your rights and to know where you stand with everything and to find out the best way to deal with whatever you are going through. It is good to know and workshops like these make you know,” she said from the event, staged at Alhambra Inn in Kingston on November 29.
The discussions were timely, coming as they did only days ahead of International Human Rights Day, celebrated globally on December 10 each year.
Meanwhile, the workshop — which looked at rights, including the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including sexual and reproductive health — was put on under the European Union-funded project titled “Partnership for the Promotion of Patients’ Rights in Maternal, Neonatal and Infant Health (MNIH)” in Jamaica.
Implemented by the University of the West Indies’ (UWI’s) Department of Community Health and Psychiatry and the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre, the project is to strengthen patients’ rights and improve the role and effectiveness of civil society in advocacy for MNIH.
This is to be achieved through, among other things, research, the establishment of an inter-civil society organisation consultative forum and an agreed framework to receive and resolve complaints.
Gender and development advocate Judith Wedderburn lauded the organisation for the workshop, which brought together entities such as the Ministry of Health and the Child Development Agency with others, including Caribbean Vulnerable Communities, Fathers United for Change and the Lyndhurst Greenwich District Development Organisation.
“I loved how vibrant the discussions were. It reinforced the understanding that maternal, neonatal and infant health are rights issues. I don’t think many people know that when a woman carries her baby and the baby is born, that there are rights that need to be observed,” she said.
There is a movement afoot in Jamaica, one designed to have people look with fresh eyes and through a human rights lens, at the health of women, their newborns and infants.
It is being marshalled by the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre and partners, the University of the West Indies’ Department of Community Health and Psychiatry, with their efforts entailed under the project titled “Partnership for the Promotion of Patients’ Rights in Maternal, Neonatal and Infant Health in Jamaica”.
THE RIGHTS-BASED APPROACH
There are a range of human rights “directly implicated” by maternal morbidity and mortality, including:
the right to life;
the right to be free from cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment;
the right to privacy;
the right to an effective remedy;
the right to be equal in dignity;
the right to education;
the right to seek, receive and impart information;
the right to freedom from discrimination;
the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress; and
the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including sexual and reproductive health.
The rights-based approach to MNIH also affirms that maternal, newborn and infant morbidity and mortality cannot be reduced to simply the risk women and teenage girls run when, whether by choice or circumstance, they become pregnant.
Rather, states are obligated to ensure, by virtue of the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including sexual and reproductive health, as one example, that maternal morbidity and mortality is given priority.
The promotion and protection of this right, according to Paul Hunt and Judith Bueno de Mezquita (2010), “demands actions that lead to a significant and sustained reduction in maternal mortality”.
Those actions include:
ensuring access to goods and services, including sexual and reproductive health care and information;
breaking down political, economic, social and cultural barriers that women face in accessing the interventions that can prevent maternal mortality; and
participation by stakeholders in policy and service development.
“And it requires accountability for maternal mortality,” write Hunt and Bueno de Mezquita.
The WROC/UWI project is intended to spotlight these rights when it comes to #MNIH in Jamaica. This is with the goals to
strengthen patients’ rights in #MNIH among members of the vulnerable population and other stakeholders, and
enhance the capacity of civil society organisations to become involved in patients’ rights advocacy and health policy planning and monitoring, in relation to #MNIH.
The project team is working to realise those objectives through a variety of activities, including stakeholder consultations, the development of an advocacy plan and toolkit, and the development of curricula and training manuals, together with a public education and awareness campaign.
The 33rd session of the Human Rights Council, meanwhile, has adopted the resolution on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights.
In that resolution, the Council urged all states “to renew their political commitment to eliminate preventable maternal mortality and morbidity at the local, national, regional and international levels; and to strengthen their efforts to address multiple and intersecting inequalities and to remove all barriers” to access to sexual and reproductive health facilities, etc..
This, in order “to ensure full and effective implementation of their human rights obligations”, and their commitments to, for example, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.
With some 216,000 per 100,000 women dying globally each year; 43 children under 5 per 1,000 and 19 per 1,000 newborns, it is past time that we stepped up those efforts.
I met Mike Shanahan in my nascent years of the journey through the maze the end-of-year global climate change negotiations can be. In true Shanahan style, he served as a guide to me and many other journalists, ensuring we were able to make sense of it all, and in the interest of our diverse publics. Today, we are regarded as pros and that is thanks to him and the great team of Climate Change Media Partners, as they were known. Mike continues to inspire, this time, where art meets science. Cheers, Mike. Figs rock! I see that.
“Science and art ask the same questions.” — Lawrence Krauss, theoretical physicist and cosmologist.
Leonardo da Vinci was an artistic as well as a scientific genius of the Renaissance period when the study of art and science was not perceived as separate fields. The world also has seen great achievers in the field of science such as Albert Einstein and Richard Fenyman who were scientists as well as artists at the same time. A scientist being a serious artist is a rare phenomenon today. The number of scientists using arts to assist in their research or science communication is still a minority.
While there are a handful of scientists in the field of Ecology like Nalini Nadkarni, the well known canopy biologist who reaches out to the non scientific audience through art to create awareness on Forest Canopies, Mike Shananan is a rare class of ecologist who harbours…
Recently it emerged in the news that Jamaicans are using the Ministry of Health’s complaints mechanism concerning the use of the public health system and the handling of these complaints.
It is news that has been welcomed by local players, not the least of these the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC), which is involved in a project to promote patients’ rights and responsibilities in maternal, neonatal and infant health in Jamaica.
For WROC, this mechanism and its use is timely and presents a unique opportunity, certainly for the project, which takes a human-rights-based approach to maternal, neonatal and infant health in Jamaica.
Below is a media release recently issued from that project.
KINGSTON, Jamaica. 20 November 2017. The Ministry of Health’s complaints mechanism has received the approval of stakeholders involved in a project to promote patients’ rights and responsibilities in maternal, neonatal and infant health (MNIH) in Jamaica.
“The minister of health (Dr. Christopher Tufton) and his team should be commended for this initiative. It is consistent with current health care strategies, which are client based and rights driven,” noted Professor Wendel Abel, a University of the West Indies (UWI) representative on the project called ‘Partnership for the Promotion of Patients’ Rights in #MNIH in Jamaica’.
“We want to congratulate the ministry on implementing a complaints mechanism and providing the public with the results. We are aware of how sensitive this issue is,” added Kristin Fox, coordinator for the project, which is being implemented by the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC) and the UWI.
Launched in April, the project is to strengthen patients’ rights, engender a sense of personal responsibility among users of the health care system and improve the role and effectiveness of civil society in advocacy for #MNIH. This is to be achieved through, among other things, the establishment of an inter-civil society organisation consultative forum and an agreed framework to receive and resolve complaints.
News broke Sunday that more than 100 complaints were lodged with the ministry in the first three months of the year. Of that number, only 13 per cent were reportedly resolved and five per cent closed. One per cent was referred; another one per cent was handled by the Medical Review Panel and 80 per cent is still to be resolved.
To these figures, Fox said: “We recognise that this is a work in progress, but we are concerned about the pace of the resolution of the complaints”.
Linnette Vassell, advocacy specialist with #WROC, agreed.
“The complaints received and the ministry’s response show that there is growing consensus about the need to address human rights and responsibilities in health care, and to bring local communities and their organisations to the centre of decision-making. People are ready to engage in this process and we must ensure that a collaborative framework is developed and managed with accountability, respect and compassion,” she said.
Abortions in Jamaica have once again been sling shot into the spotlight, this time by a set of articles published this past Sunday in one of the local newspapers.
They reveal an eyebrow-raising number of attempted abortions among patients visiting the Victoria Jubilee Hospital (VJH) and the reaction of Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton.
According to this week’s Sunday Gleaner, “between January and September of this year, of the 1,088 expectant mothers who presented to VJH with bleeding in early pregnancy, 91 admitted to having attempted to abort the foetus while an additional 47 had complications that suggested they had attempted abortion”.
Tufton has since ordered an audit that is to take stock of the abortions, together with an assessment of family planning methods, fostering and adoption as well as public education.
“It is a sad commentary on our society when women, mostly young and poor, put their lives at risk, with apparently not much consideration for themselves or unborn foetus … it tells me that we are doing something wrong as a society and that we are failing to adequately respond to their concerns and needs,” the minister is quoted as saying.
This is an instructive quote. It gives one pause to think on the contending views and realities, political and otherwise, of abortions.
But also, more broadly, on maternal, neonatal and infant health (MNIH) in the country and the challenges (and, yes, opportunities) that exist on the road to reaching Sustainable Development Goal 3.
The targets for that goal in relation to MNIH include:
By 2030, reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births;
By 2030, end preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 years of age, with all countries aiming to reduce neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1,000 live births and under-5 mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1,000 live births; and
By 2030, reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being.
These are sobering targets that warrant more than the audit ordered by the minister.
With unsafe abortions among the leading causes of maternal mortality, it is vital that this most recent ‘buzz’ not amount to a mere “nine day wonder”, as is often said of issues that attract much chatter but no appropriate response actions that yield real gains — from informed policy shifts to concrete local interventions.
Abortions are not going to fade into the background. The statistics tell that story. The Sunday Gleaner references a 2014 study that found “more than 43 per cent of expectant mothers who were admitted with complications had attempted abortions”.
Of that 43 per cent, the article said, “only 10 per cent had at first admitted that they attempted to abort the pregnancy”.
Isn’t it time to put to bed the “nine day wonder” and rise to action?
You can read more on this issue at the links below.
Up to last June, energy was a subject to which I directed little of my attention unless and until it came up in the context of the climate change challenge facing the Caribbean and — of course — on the monthly occasion of my electricity bill appearing in the mail.
Things have changed as my education has deepened — fuelled by an ever-ballooning interest and the development imperative with which I must contend as, inter alia, country head of a NGO, Panos Caribbean, which has, in particular, vulnerable and marginalised people as our focus.
This is even as we spotlight issues — old and emergent — on subjects including disaster risk reduction, climate justice and gender mainstreaming, among others, that are too often not given the degree of attention by critical stakeholders such as our media and politicians, which is required for lasting change, in the interest of communities.
Last June, the University of the West Indies hosted the energy and sustainable development forum in Kingston, Jamaica, bringing together a variety of regional energy and development actors.
The forum helped to bring into sharp focus the linkages between energy efficiency and sustainable development in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Indeed, if there was nothing else to come from that conference, it was the awareness — renewed, perhaps — that the one was necessary for the other.
One needs not look beyond the requirement of production in the region for energy. Higher energy costs — as has plagued member states due, inter alia, to a variety of inefficiencies — mean higher production costs, which translate into the higher cost of goods on our store shelves.
At the UWI energy forum, I spoke to Dr. Devon Gardner, programme manager for energy and head of the CARICOM Energy Unit about the Caribbean Sustainable Energy Roadmap and Strategy (C-SERMS) that sets the framework for a set of energy goals in the region.
20 per cent renewable power capacity by 2017 — a target missed, at least for the moment;
28 per cent by 2028; and
47 per cent by 2027.
It also sets targets for:
a 33 per cent reduction in energy intensity (the cost of converting energy into GDP) by 2027; and
a 47 per cent reduction by 2027.
The months since that forum have yielded more information and enhanced awareness about energy energy in the Caribbean.
There is a lot going on in the region and involving a variety of national country actors, all of whom have some sort of policy/policy framework that treats with energy. In addition to the policies, there are a host of projects that have provided important lessons.
The CARICOM Energy Programme is ambitious in its outlook and has a team of people and partners who are excited about energy and their planned programme of work. Among other things, they are looking at and undertaking research to match opportunities with capacities at country level while reimagining the future of CARICOM energy that takes account of renewables and which is market driven.
Financing, capacity building and communications are especially critical for success in the move toward sustainable energy and energy efficiency in the region, in pursuit of sustainable development.
Partnerships will be essential to realising CARICOM ambitions for energy.
None of these are points lost on any of the key actors involved, including principals at CARICOM Energy, notably Gardner and his team.
This last point is nowhere more clear than in The Bahamas where the fifth Caribbean Sustainable Energy Forum (CSEF) got under way earlier on Monday, January 23. It has attracted a variety of professionals, among them energy specialists, communicators, politicians and policymakers as well as development partners/donors — from the World Bank to the Inter-American Development Bank, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) as well as GIZ.
At the end of the three days of deliberations, the goal is to have a clearer picture of how to get the region where it needs to be concerning energy sustainability and efficiency.
This was reflected in the statements of presenters at the opening ceremony, among them Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie who has urged urgency in moving things from talk to action.
Tessa Williams-Robertson, head of the Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency at the CBD, for her part, had high praise for the CSEF.
“I recall the first CSEF that I attended in 2012 in St. Kitts and Nevis. I was impressed by the work that was being done then to promote a sustainable energy path for the region,” she recalled.
“The subsequent approval in 2013 of the CARICOM Energy Policy and the creation of the Caribbean Sustainable Energy Roadmap and Strategy and its regional targets, were watershed moments for all of us in the region. They provided the required focus and context for stakeholders to determine our specific roles, consistent with our comparative advantages,” she added.
“The role this forum plays in facilitating dialogue on sustainable energy development; creating a space for sharing good practices, ideas and lessons learned; and in driving decision-making, policy and action across the Caribbean, cannot be underestimated,” Williams-Robertson said further.
MARRAKECH, Morocco — DR James Fletcher, a well-respected figure in global climate circles and former head of the CARICOM Task Force on Sustainable Development, has come out to bat for the Adaptation Fund, whose future under the Paris Agreement is being hotly contested.
“I think the Adaptation Fund should sit under the Paris Agreement. You see, the Adaptation Fund is very important because the Adaptation Fund is specifically for adaptation. The Green Climate Fund deals with both mitigation and adaptation and if you listen to some of the pledges that have been made, there is still a heavy bias towards mitigation,” he said, from the international climate talks being held here.
“For us in the Caribbean, mitigation is important because mitigation will allow us to transform our economies, give us the energy security that we need. But as far as greenhouse gases are concerned, mitigation means nothing for the Caribbean. We contribute what, one quarter of one per cent of greenhouse gases?” he argued.
“So whilst from a moral perspective and also from an economic transformation perspective we are quite interested in mitigation and we want the mitigation funds to flow — particularly those mitigation funds that will give us access to grant or concessional financing, so some of our initiatives in geo-thermal and others can take place — the biggest issue for us is adaptation,” he said.
Investment in adaptation will enhance the ability of Caribbean islands — which are especially vulnerable to climate change — to be ready for and recover from climate impacts, including sea-level rise and extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and droughts.
Already a number of Caribbean islands — among them Jamaica — have benefitted from the Adaptation Fund, which is helping to boost the resilience of the local agriculture and tourism sectors.
According to Fletcher, one needs not look very far for the evidence of the Caribbean’s vulnerability and the need for the Adaptation Fund.
“We need to see there is money for adaptation for us to make our infrastructure more resilient, our health sector more resilient, our agriculture more resilient, our water sector more resilient. These are issues that are very pressing and every time we have a hurricane season, every time we have a drought season, it really brings home the fact that we are way behind time where adaptation measures are concerned,” noted Fletcher, also the former minister for sustainable development for Saint Lucia, who is providing technical support for CARICOM at this year’s international climate talks.
Recent years have seen the Adaptation Fund struggling to raise needed funds to support its projects, following the decline in resources from the sale of certified emissions reduction credits from Clean Development Mechanism projects.
Fortunately, countries have been dipping into their coffers, with the result that the fund has been able to continue to do its work. This year alone, it had a target to reach US$80 million and up to yesterday afternoon, the news was it had received pledges for up to US$81 million.
Meanwhile, the fund — which was operationalised in 2010 — enjoys the trust and esteem of developing countries that for the first time, through its establishment, were able to enjoy direct access to funding for their approved projects.
It also has a readiness programme that supports the capacity of countries to effectively design and implement projects while, as a matter of policy, emphacising civil society participation and the need for gender mainstreaming.
Jamaica and other Caribbean countries are looking at partnerships to ensure the security of the islands’ future, in the face of global climate change.
After two weeks here — three weeks for some, notably negotiators — it is clear that this will be critical.
The truth is, negotiating climate change is like dancing the Tango. To be effective, you need to be familiar with the music and if you’re not, you need to get familiar — and fast. Essential, too, is having a partner because no one dances the Tango alone. What is more, you need to know, understand and remain in sync with your partner, ever mindful of his/her foot.
Jamaica gets it, as do other Caribbean countries, whose leaders have been working — backed by their team of seasoned negotiators, which CARICOM has — in concert with each other and key international partners to get what they need from the negotiations. No where was this more evident than in Paris last year and they have continued those efforts this year.
“Climate change is of fundamental importance to Jamaica, ensuring that we have strong regulation, and monitoring regulations, in place to ensure that Jamaica is put in the best possible position to mitigate and to adapt — and do so as far as is absolutely necessary for our survival. Jamaica is, of course, a part of CARICOM where we have many common issues and we are also a part of AOSIS [Alliance of Small Island States]…” noted Jamaica’s Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Kamina Johnson Smith.
“We continue to foster these relationships, very much as part of our strategy to ensure that we are a part of a body and a group of islands that have shared concerns, shared interests and shared vulnerabilities. This has given us additional strength at the bargaining table and in the negotiating process — and one we certainly intend to continue to ensure,” she added.
Johnson Smith emphasized the role of partnerships in ensuring success here at what has been dubbed a “procedures COP” and later, as the wrangling over climate change, and, more particularly, on climate finance, continues.
Up to this afternoon, discussions were still ongoing on long-term climate financing, even as countries speculate on the future of such funds from the United States, with businessman and climate sceptic Donald Trump set to replace Barack Obama in the White House.
“Bilaterlal relations are always important to sustain and support our multilateral spaces. Jamaica is to continue to ensure that we are well positioned in both. Our foreign policy certainly looks at strengthening partnerships with existing partners and we are also looking at strengthening relationships with non-traditional partners and new partners within the Hispano-phone countries, which are near to us, such as the Dominican Republic, stronger relations with Cuba, stronger relations with Panama and Mexico,” Johnson Smith noted.
Several Caribbean heads of state have made the effort to be present in Marrakech for this the 22nd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the first Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement. They included David Granger from Guyana, Allen Chastanet from Saint Lucia, Ralph Gonsalves from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Roosevelt Skerrit from Dominica, and Andrew Holness from Jamaica.
What is more, they came with some clear goals in mind.
“One of the reasons for me attending here is to be able to meet the other world leaders. Today (Tuesday, November 15) was a very successful day in that. I had a long talk with the Caribbean leaders who were here, including Saint Lucia. Prime Minister Chastanet and myself discussed the issue of the structure of the funding,” Holness said.
“There are various ideas about how we can access the funding. I think where there is an agreement is that countries like ourselves need to improve our capacity to write the projects, to gather the data, to analyse the data and to present a case to access the funding. There is also a great deal, I would say, of suspicion, disbelief that countries will actually get the resources and the magnitude of resources necessary and so there is usually some attempt to say ‘let’s go and negotiate bilaterally’,” he added.
Holness issued a caution in this while reflecting the position of minister Johnson Smith concerning unity in strength.
“I think staying together as a group, keeping the funding on an international agreement level is also beneficial. That does not stop you, of course, from negotiating bilaterally for assistance,” he said.
The Marrakech Climate Talks are to end officially today.