Vaccinations resume, as disease still spreads
The polio outbreak that originated in northern Nigeria after suspension of immunization last year has now spread to 12 other countries, endangering global efforts to eliminate the disease worldwide by 2005.
Intense polio vaccination efforts in Africa had succeeded in containing polio to only a few pockets by the end of 2002. However, in late 2003 some Islamic religious leaders in Nigeria charged that vaccines supplied by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) were contaminated. In response, four states in predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria halted immunization campaigns until their safety concerns were met.
Although vaccination efforts had resumed in all states by July, the disruption of the drive permitted the disease to spread from Nigeria to previously polio-free countries. In August, new infections were reported in Guinea and Mali. Other countries that have been affected are Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Sudan and Togo.
Epidemiologists fear a major epidemic could leave thousands of children paralyzed for life. African health ministers have responded by drawing up a series of synchronized mass immunization campaigns in 23 countries, with the goal of reaching 80 million children under the age of five. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a consortium that includes WHO, UNICEF and other groups, has warned that immunizations planned for October-November and into the next year may be seriously compromised by a lag of $100 mn in needed funding.
Africa needs debt write-off
In a new study released in September, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) calls on industrial nations to write off the debts of African nations to enable them to attain the internationally-agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Continued debt servicing by African countries constitutes a reverse transfer of resources to creditors by a group of countries that can least afford this, notes the report, entitled Debt Sustainability: Oasis or Mirage?
African economies must grow by a minimum of 7 per cent annually for the next decade to enable the continent to reduce poverty by half by 2015. To achieve this, the continent needs massive financial resources, UNCTAD reports, the bulk of which are currently being used to service debt. Africa, the world's poorest continent, received $540 bn in loans between 1970 and 2002 and paid back $550 bn in principal and interest, mainly to rich creditor countries. Despite these transfers, the continent still has a debt stock of $295 bn.
Remembrance and living reality
The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) led worldwide events on 23 August to commemorate the abolition of slavery. Among the ceremonies, a new slavery museum was opened in the US state of Ohio and a commemoration was held on Gorée Island, Senegal, once a major slave trade post. The date was set by UNESCO as the "International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition," marking the first decisive victory of slaves against their oppressors during the revolt of San Domingo in 1791. That uprising led to the creation of the independent state of Haiti.
UNESCO notes that despite the end of slavery, millions of people are still being held against their will across the world. "Although abolished and penalized in international instruments, [slavery] is still practiced in new forms that today affect millions of men, women and children," said UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura.
One of the fastest growing forms of modern day slavery is human trafficking, especially of women and girls, who are shipped from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe to become sex slaves or domestic servants in Western Europe and North America. In a report released in April, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) noted that human trafficking is a problem in every African country. Children are the main victims, the report observed, through recruitment as soldiers and employment as forced labourers or prostitutes.
Mr. Jean Ping has been appointed president of the 59th session of the UN General Assembly. Since 1999 he had served as minister for foreign affairs for Gabon, where he also had been an elected member of parliament, director of cabinet for the president and minister of information. He began his professional life at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1972. He was president of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in 1993.
The UN Secretary-General has appointed Mr. Jan Pronk as his special representative for Sudan, effective 18 June 2004. Mr. Pronk served three times as minister for development cooperation of the Netherlands and also as minister of the environment. He was the Secretary-General's special envoy for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. He also was deputy secretary-general of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in 1980-85, and later served as a UN assistant secretary-general.
Mr. Juan E. Méndez has been named by the UN Secretary-General as his first Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. Mr. Méndez is a human rights advocate, lawyer and former political prisoner from Argentina. As a lawyer in the 1970s, he sought to defend political prisoners against Argentina's military junta. He was jailed for those activities, and Amnesty International adopted him as a "prisoner of conscience." He worked for Human Rights Watch for 15 years, specializing in Western Hemisphere issues. At the time of his UN appointment, he was president of the International Centre for Transitional Justice, a non-governmental organization.