The World Today for August 01, 2018

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Superstitions, Polio and Facebook

Papua New Guinea is a study in contrasts.

A theater group in the southwestern Pacific country is using street theater to teach citizens about tuberculosis, a scourge that kills around 10 people daily there.

Drama is a modern, innovative public health tool that’s especially effective at reaching people in a nation where 850 languages are spoken, the most in any single country, experts say.

But the actors are fighting an uphill battle.

Many in their audience are deeply superstitious.

That’s why advocates like Luo Dapeng, the World Health Organization’s representative in Papua New Guinea, say educating children is an important place to start.

“Then they will grow up with the knowledge of what TB is, and how to recognize symptoms, as well as hopefully passing the message onto their parents, who often believe TB is caused by witchcraft or sorcery,” Dapeng told the BBC.

Nearly 100 people were convicted earlier this year of killing seven people, including two children, believed to be practicing witchcraft, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation noted. The mob killed their unlucky victims with machetes.

The poor country’s infrastructure is also a problem for those trying to make things better. Bad water has facilitated the spread of polio, a disease vanquished in much of the world, the Economist wrote.

Yet people keep trying.

For example, women’s advocates started a hotline to combat domestic violence, which is common in Papua New Guinea.

The hotline attracted as many male callers as women. Many of the men wanted to simply talk and get out their frustrations, including with themselves for turning violent against people they loved, NPR reported.

But perhaps one of the best examples of Papua New Guinea trying to apply new methods to old problems is the government’s recent proposal to ban Facebook for a month.

Leaders said a ban would allow officials to scour the social network, study how citizens are using it and root out fake news and other garbage online. Researchers could also assess whether people were better or worse off without the website, they added.

“We cannot allow the abuse of Facebook to continue in the country,” said Communications Minister Sam Basil, according to the Post-Courier, a local newspaper.

Wired magazine thought it was a terrible idea. Facebook has spread information and helped marginal communities find their voices. Calls to shut down the social network often reflect officials’ desire to exert more control over the Internet.

But Basil said he was open to a Papua New Guinea-based social network that could be locally controlled to ensure folks’ profiles were correct.

It would be an amusing irony if a remote jungle-covered country figured out how to deal with one of the thorniest challenges of contemporary life.



Muckraking and Murder

Three Russian journalists were killed by unknown assailants in the Central African Republic, where they were reportedly investigating the Wagner group on behalf of a news outfit financed by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A Russian private military contractor, the Wagner group has been involved in fighting in both Ukraine and Syria and is reportedly tied to Russian military intelligence, the GRU, the BBC reported.

The online news outfit, Investigation Control Center (TsUR), said in a Facebook post that the three reporters – identified as Orhan Dzhemal, Alexander Rastorguyev and Kirill Radchenko – had flown into the country on Friday and the agency was last able to contact them on Sunday, Al Jazeera reported.

In an official statement, the Russian foreign ministry said it had not been informed of the journalists’ presence in CAR, making no comment on the circumstances of their deaths.

“Armed men emerged from the bush and opened fire on the vehicle. The three journalists died instantly,” Al Jazeera quoted Henri Depele, the mayor of the town of Sibut, as saying.


Zero Tolerance

Italy’s “zero tolerance” policy toward migrants, and the vitriolic rhetoric that has accompanied it, has contributed to a spike in violence against immigrants since the new government was sworn in June 1.

More than a dozen horrific acts of violence against immigrants have been reported since the new government took office – with the far-right League’s Matteo Salvini as deputy prime minister and minister of the interior, the Daily Beast reported.

On what would have been Benito Mussolini’s 135th birthday July 29, Salvini quoted the dictator on Twitter in a post reading, “Tanti nemici, tanto onore,” or “more enemies, more honor,” the website noted. In several of the attacks on immigrants, including the murder of a 29-year-old legal immigrant from Mali on June 3, the attackers have expressed their admiration for Salvini.

Still, some leaders have welcomed Salvini’s ‘zero tolerance policy’ including US President Donald Trump, who praised Italy’s tough stance on immigration ahead of a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in Washington on Monday, Deutsche Welle reported.


The Bell Tolls

Chile plans a “historic trial” for the Catholic Church for attempting to hide or destroy evidence related to sexual abuse.

The case adds weight to a letter from Pope Francis to the country’s bishops’ conference in which he wrote, “We know that there were religious who destroyed evidence,” the Crux reported.

Last week, Chile announced it has compiled a registry of 158 people related to the Church who have been investigated on sexual abuse allegations since 2000. The cases involve at least 266 victims, 178 of whom were minors at the time they were abused.

Prosecutor Emiliano Arias will question the head of the Archdiocese of Santiago, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, the de facto head of the Catholic Church in Chile, regarding the alleged cover-up on Aug. 21.

The news follows the resignation on Friday of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, former archbishop of Washington, DC, who has figured in multiple accusations of sexual abuse. Earlier, Australian Archbishop Philip Wilson was convicted of covering up child sex abuse and Cardinal George Pell of Australia was ordered to stand trial on multiple charges of abuse.


GM Babies

The debate over genetically modified (GM) foods and crops still goes on.

Now the controversy over genetic editing might expand – to babies.

A recent report by the UK-based Nuffield Council on Bioethics, an independent body that studies ethical issues related to genome editing and biomedical technology, stated that it could be “morally permissible” to allow parents to choose the genetic traits of their children through DNA alteration, the Telegraph reported.

The council’s advice calls for numerous safeguards and sees the technology being used primarily as a means of preventing genetic diseases and lowering the chances of illnesses like cancer and dementia. But it didn’t rule out letting parents pick cosmetic traits, too, such as height or eye color.

“We have concluded that the potential use of genome editing to influence the characteristics of future generations is not unacceptable in itself,” stated Professor Karen Yeung, head of the working party that produced the new report and a professor of law and ethics at the University of Birmingham.

Activists, on the other hand, fear this might lead to a caste system between modified and un-modified people.

A recent study revealed that gene-editing methods are not as safe as previously thought, due to dangerous mutations caused by the DNA’s changes.

“The people of Britain decided 15 years ago that they don’t want GM food,” David King, director of the watchdog group Human Genetics Alert, told the newspaper. “Do you suppose they want GM babies?”

In its defense, the council clarified that genome editing would require strict regulation and “should only be licensed on a case-by-case basis.”


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