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Tuesdays, January 21, 2003

Compiled by SDNP

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AIDS crisis looming?

Md. Asadullah Khan,The Daily Star

There is a lot of prejudice and coldness out there because most people don't understand the seriousness of the affliction. Presumably, the task before the government is formidable. If AIDS is to be defeated, war must be waged against poverty, ignorance, stigmatisation, violence and promiscuity.

In the 20 years since its effects were first medically recognised, the immunodeficiency virus is thought to have infected almost 60 m people around the world and that number grows by 16,000 a day. Plainly speaking, in human terms HIV is a disaster. Of those 60 m people, more than 22 m have already died of AIDS, the disease it causes without any medical intervention. Shockingly, around 3 m more will die over the next 12. But death caused by AIDS is something that is avoidable than deaths caused by nature. Moreover, AIDS kills predominantly in poor countries, compounding the problem.

Almost 70 per cent of new infections and existing cases -- a daunting 28.1 m people -- are in sub-Saharan Africa. AIDS is now cutting 15 years of average life expectancy in this region. According to some estimates, it will slice 8 per cent of national incomes in the worst afflicted countries by 2010. Although a few countries such as Uganda are coming to grips with the disease through education, condom distribution and other preventive measures, lack of money and political will is thwarting efforts elsewhere.

But Africa is not alone in its suffering. Eastern Europe now has the world's fastest growing AIDS epidemic, with 2,50,000 new cases in 2001. A projection by Imperial College, London suggests Russia may have 5 m people infected with HIV in five years time, 4 m of them suffering the symptoms of AIDS. Most worrisome, not only sub-Saharan Africa or Eastern Europe and Latin American countries, two of the world's most populous countries China and India are threatened. The Chinese government admits to 1 m infections -- widely regarded as an underestimate. India admits to 4 m.

In China, the same old story of downplaying the diseases still goes on. After China's first AIDS victim died in 1985, hospital authorities burned the man's belongings -- and even the furniture he used -- in a bonfire. HIV patients in China and in most of the African countries are facing social ostracism and government indifference. Shockingly true, in 1996, in China, Li Ning 9, a young kid got the affliction because of tainted blood transfusion. His father Li Suijun, a factory worker was fired from his job for his son being diagnosed to be infected with HIV. Many of the country's hospitals and health agencies are still will fully ignoring such grave health issues. To them, HIV was a foreigner's disease. But without effective countermeasures, says UNAIDS, the number of HIV cases in China could skyrocket -- reaching 10 million by 2010. However, the grim fact is: for HIV patients everywhere, contracting the virus evokes feelings of helplessness and isolation. In China, only a few individuals are lucky or well-connected enough to obtain AIDS "cocktail" -- a mix of drugs from Western countries that has proved effective in fighting the virus.

It's now a common knowledge that by far the worst affected continent is Africa. That is where HIV, leapt the species barrier from chimpanzees to people some 70 years ago. But infection rates are rising, in several cases rapidly, in many Asian countries and in many of the successor states to the Soviet Union. At the moment, the place with the largest number of cases is South Africa.

Encouragingly, the mood in Barcelona, Spain where the 14th AIDS Conference was held in the early part of 2002 took stock of the whole situation and agreed to take measures to stop the rot. The conference in the first place agreed to spread the use of condoms. Second, the best way to stop infection in children is to curb mother-to-child transmission with cheap, one-shot drugs given just before birth. Third, empower women to choose freely whether and with whom they have sex, and what sort of contraception they use. Fourth, perhaps above all, educate people about the risks they face. Encouragingly, several countries most notably Uganda, Senegal and Thailand have shown the way to mount steps in that direction.

The drug treatment situation has changed much in the meantime. There was a time when the cure was too expensive to be worth considering: a year's course of highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART) cost $10,000 - 15,000. But now with the emergence of Global AIDS Fund and because of the drug companies "tiered pricing" for poorer parts of the world, and due to bilateral donations by the drug firms themselves, the cost per patient is just one dollar a day. But even then it is beyond the purse of most Africans. Only 30,000 people in that continent use it. Only diamond rich Botswana has an official anti-AIDS drug programme in place. Other countries await, fairy "godmothers" who will help them pick up the bill. According to estimate made public by Peter Piot, head, UNAIDS and Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General, the "Global Fund announced will require $ 7 billion -- $Ê10 billion a year, but in practice it has attracted $ 2.1 billion in its first year of existence, chipped in largely from the Gates Foundation along with U.S government funding. A mathematical model developed in 2001 by Bernhard Schwartlander of the World Health Organisation and his colleagues estimated the maximum amount that could be spent usefully per year by 2005 as about $ 9 billion. Of that, $ 4.8 billion would be allocated to prevention, and $ 4.2 billion to treatment. At the moment, according to the Global HIV Prevention Working Group, a group of experts financed by the Gates and Kaiser Foundation, about $ 1.2 billion is spent on prevention in the world's poor countries. In a paper published in the "Lancet", another group of experts John Stover of Futures Group International and his colleagues, estimate that increasing spending on prevention to the tune of $ 4.8 billion that Dr. Schwartlander recommended could avoid 29 m infections by 2010 -- if the money were spent well.

Strengthening the medical infrastructure of the poorer countries is a vital necessity and obviously it will cost more. The Commission for Macro-economics and Health (CMH), headed by Jeffrey Sachs, a well-known development economist based at Columbia University, reckons that infrastructure development would raise the price to $ 15 billion.

The impoverished world have the example of Brazil in front of them, to have a grasp of what a well-organized treatment campaign can achieve in a country that is struggling an economic mess. In the backdrop of the prediction of the World Bank Model that about 1.2 m people in Brazil would be infected with HIV by 2002, effective anti-AIDS fighting campaign was launched. The actual figure is now 600,000. This is in part because 1,50,000 people are on HAART. Since HAART reduces a person's viral load to a negligible level, it helps to curb transmission to others besides maintaining the health of the patient. This treatment was made free at point of use by the Brazilian government in 1996, and as a direct result, the number of people dying of AIDS in Brazil has fallen by 50 per cent.

In Bangladesh, tragedy and ruin stare the middle class in the face as the virus that causes AIDS moves beyond the red-light areas. The UNICEF report made public in the early part of December last year revealed that the country has now about 310 under-14 HIV infected children. Although the official figure puts the HIV infected persons at 248, the number has spiraled to 13,000 according to AIDS Epidemic Research Report published by UNAIDS in 2001. Most worrisome, the report adds, each day 6000 children are being infected with HIV in Bangladesh. Perhaps the most worrying aspect is the growing evidence of what HIV experts call "transmission chains" by which the virus percolates insidiously through social sub-strata and afflicts low risk individuals like housewives and children.

Even in China where authorities viewed community organisations and independent researchers with suspicion, government has woken up. Like China, AIDS awareness classes should now be mandatory in all schools, colleges and universities in Bangladesh. Often the classes are the students' first exposure to sex education -- and other stark facts of life. Volunteers in the class would demonstrate how to sterilize hypodermic needles. Till now 70 percent of HIV cases in this region are spread via needle-sharing by drug users.

Experts reason out the rise in HIV cases in the country other than tainted blood transfusion and needle-sharing to dramatic shift in the sexual behaviour of the middle class. Changes in workplace is cited as a major reason. Unemployment situation in the country has spawned a breed of travelling migrant workers who spend nearly half their working lives away from home. At the same time women in the country have become an increasingly visible part of the professional workforce. Put these factors together and you have the settings for an increasing number of casual sexual relationships. Experts further feel that the growing affluence of the middle class and influence of blue films proliferating the homes and clubs of a certain class of people have something to do with changing moral values. While in the West having multiple sexual partners is now considered a "high risk behaviour", in our region it has just become fashionable. Undoubtedly true, with pre-marital sex gaining increasing acceptance among the new generation, the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS has risen. Teenagers and those in the early 20s constitute a majority of the cases testing HIV positive. On the other hand, prostitutes these days are not confined to the restricted areas, they are roaming the streets, parks and secluded posh houses and hotels in the cities and towns. Doctors indicate these trends as danger signals.

With HIV cases growing alarmingly, Bangladesh's over-burdened and crumbling health system apparently isn't able to cope with the looming epidemic -- not medically, not financially and certainly not emotionally. Some NGOs are quietly working to fill the gap. But there is a lot of prejudice and coldness out there because most people don't understand the seriousness of the affliction. Presumably, the task before the government is formidable. If AIDS is to be defeated, war must be waged against poverty, ignorance, stigmatisation, violence and promiscuity.

Md Asadullah Khan, a former teacher of Physics, is Controller of Examination, BUET.

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Prospects for ecotourism in Bangladesh

Raquib Siddiqi, The Independent

The recent summit on eco-tourism in Canada is most likely to provide new impetus for the growth of nature or wildlife-based tourism.

This back to nature trend will ask the prospective tourist to forget about the five-star hotel, valet parking, theatre tickets, and poolside service. If you follow the trends in travel, your next trip may require a tent, a good pair of hiking boots, a long-lensed camera, and a pack full of animal guidebooks.

Despite the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2002 which, severely aggravated the situation worldwide there have been 693 million international tourist arrivals in 2001 corresponding to a decrease of - 0.6 per cent or 4 million down from the 697 million of 2000.

It comes as no surprise that tourism has become the world's largest business. For many countries, both developed and developing, tourism is a very important source of foreign currency earnings and employment. Worldwide receipts amounted to US dollar 462 billion in 2001, which means US$ 1.3 billion or euro 1.4 billion a day. Compared to 2000 the receipts decreased -2.6 per cent from 474 billion.

Expressed in euro international tourism receipts amounted to 516 billion, up 0.5 per cent from 514 billion in 2000. In 2001 US dollar appreciated 3 per cent compared to the euro (US$ 1.12 euro in 2001, 1.08 in 2000). Average receipts per arrival were US$ 670 or euro 750.

Certainly, a good number of those tourists were shopping in Hong Kong, spending their leisure riding a roller coaster at Disney World, or grazing at the Eiffel Tower or Empire State Building . But many of them were spending their leisure time and spending income on a more "natural" form of travel-exploring exotic wildlife.

Wildlife oriented travel represents a major trend in tourism today. What once was best described as a safari now carries labels such as 'adventure travel' and 'eco-tour', but the basic concept is the same a journey to an exotic spot where modern human society has not displaced the indigenous wildlife. People feel a growing need to get away from the pressures of their daily existence-to escape from work deadlines, phones, and e-mail-and experience life on a simpler plane.

A safari once meant an expedition in Africa, bouncing along in a Land Rover on trails blazed by big game hunters. Today, however, unique wildlife tours are luring eco-tourists to Brazil, Australia, the United States, and even Antarctica. The traditional African ad-venture, replete with lions, giraffes ', and elephants, is as popular as ever; but so too are the trips that offer opportunities to see koalas, bison, and penguins. In some countries, wildlife-oriented travel has revitalized the tourism industry.

Costa Rica is a case in point, where tourism became the nation's top industry in 1993 after experiencing a 34 per cent Increase in a single year. "We did not build major new facilities, nor open new fishing grounds, nor stage significant new cultural events", says the country's Minister for Tourism. "Our visitors have simply discovered the natural beauty of our country."

Eco-tourism has four general categories. At the high end are the luxury tours-Amazon River Cruise, that provide staterooms and lavish meals to rival the comfort of a classic cross-Atlantic voyage, or East African safaris that allow you to make 'game runs' each day from one full-service lodge to the next. Naturalists often accompany the tours and point out animals from the comfort of the ship's upper deck or pool-side at the lodge.

Next are package tours that utilize standard accommodations and tour operators. From a central lodge or hotel, dry trips provide excursions into the surrounding wilderness, led by guides who have a trained eye for animals. The best thing about these tours: you get to see the wildlife, and only unpack once.

Third are those trips labeled "eco-tours". The adventurers on these excursions are environmentally aware and concerned about the effect their visit might have on the local area. Simply put, the motto of the eco-tourist is-"Leave no mark just money." In other words, travel should have little or no impact on the environment and your tourist dollars should stay in the region. By financially benefiting the indigenous people, the Incentive remains to preserve and protect the resources that provide the tourist draw. Furthermore, most true eco-tours are educational in nature so that travellers derive a more complete and balanced picture of the world.

Fourth are the serious-minded 'project' tours, in which travellers dedicate their time and money toward conservation work. These no-frills tours involve living in tents or local homes, eating home-cooked or campfire meals, and outing in a full day's work. Earth-Watch, a non-profit organisation founded in 1971 and based in Watertown, Massachusetts, U.S.A., sponsors more than 160 scientific projects worldwide. In 1994, Earth watch volunteers catalogued insects in the Australian rain forests, tracked black rhinos in Zimbabwe, and as mountain lions for radio tagging in Idaho, USA. Participants work alongside scientists for one to four weeks; they pay all their own transportation and expenses.

Both the eco-tours and project tours address the primary concern over today' s escalating wildlife travel: the problem of over use. Pristine environments are fragile by nature; too much people cause even more problems, leading to the ultimate degradation of the attraction. The Galagos Islands receive four times the number of visitors they did 20 years ago; some Costa Rican parks report a similar increase in half that time.

Yet cooperative programmes between tour operators, governments and local businesses can accommodate both humans and wildlife. Species such as the African elephant, the mountain gorilla, and giant panda have greatly benefited from the economic support of tourists. The governments of many countries are willing to set aside large tracts of natural habitat to attract affluent tourists and their dollars. In China, the giant panda would probably be extinct if the International public had not fallen in love with it.

Next are package tours that utilize standard accommodations and tour operators. From a central lodge or hotel, day trips provide excursions into the surrounding wilderness, led by guides who have a trained eye for animals. The best thing about these tours you get to see the wildlife, and only unpack once.

Opportunity For Bangladesh

Scientists estimate that approximately 4,400 mammal; 9,200 birds and 9,700 reptile, anphibian species inhabit the planet. Not even the most avid naturalist would seek them all. But the "must -see" creatures-those referred to by zoologists as "charismatic mega-vertebrates"-represent a small fraction of the whole. Royal Bengal Tiger is one of the star attractions and Bangladesh is one of the few countries where one can find them.

Apart from the Royal Bengal Tiger, the Sunderban Forest- the largest mangrove forest in the world- has many other attractions and potential.

Based solely on the Sunderbans Forest, Bangladesh can develop a highly attractive tourist product. Since the country has no proper manpower to develop the product, it should seek assistance of World Tourism Organisatlon (WTO) and Pacific Asia Tourism Association (PATA) in this regard. The possibility of joint collaboration for development, marketing and managing the project should also be seriously explored.

In the Sundarbans and other unspoiled natural attractions, Bangladesh has gold mines, but these are to be properly exploited to get the benefit. About development of tourism, more than enough has

been said, but a very little has been done. It is high time we should do something.

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Worse than McCarthyism, worse than bay of pigs

John le Carré,m The New Nation

America has entered one of its periods of historical madness, but this is the worst I can remember: worse than McCarthyism, worse than the Bay of Pigs and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam War.

The reaction to 9/11 is beyond anything Osama bin Laden could have hoped for in his nastiest dreams. As in McCarthy times, the freedoms that have made America the envy of the world are being systematically eroded. The combination of compliant US media and vested corporate interests is once more ensuring that a debate that should be ringing out in every town square is confined to the loftier columns of the East Coast press.

The imminent war was planned years before bin Laden struck, but it was he who made it possible. Without bin Laden, the Bush junta would still be trying to explain such tricky matters as how it came to be elected in the first place; Enron; its shameless favouring of the already-too-rich; its reckless disregard for the world's poor, the ecology and a raft of unilaterally abrogated international treaties. They might also have to be telling us why they support Israel in its continuing disregard for UN resolutions.

But bin Laden conveniently swept all that under the carpet. The Bushies are riding high. Now 88 per cent of Americans want the war, we are told. The US defence budget has been raised by another $60 billion to around $360 billion. A splendid new generation of nuclear weapons is in the pipeline, so we can all breathe easy. Quite what war 88 per cent of Americans think they are supporting is a lot less clear.

A war for how long, please? At what cost in American lives? At what cost to the American taxpayer's pocket? At what cost - because most of those 88 per cent are thoroughly decent and humane people - in Iraqi lives?

How Bush and his junta succeeded in deflecting America's anger from bin Laden to Saddam Hussein is one of the great public relations conjuring tricks of history. But they swung it. A recent poll tells us that one in two Americans now believe Saddam was responsible for the attack on the World Trade Centre. But the American public is not merely being misled. It is being browbeaten and kept in a state of ignorance and fear. The carefully orchestrated neurosis should carry Bush and his fellow conspirators nicely into the next election.

Those who are not with Mr Bush are against him. Worse, they are with the enemy. Which is odd, because I'm dead against Bush, but I would love to see Saddam's downfall - just not on Bush's terms and not by his methods. And not under the banner of such outrageous hypocrisy.

The religious cant that will send American troops into battle is perhaps the most sickening aspect of this surreal war-to-be. Bush has an arm-lock on God. And God has very particular political opinions. God appointed America to save the world in any way that suits America. God appointed Israel to be the nexus of America's Middle Eastern policy, and anyone who wants to mess with that idea is a) anti-Semitic, b) anti-American, c) with the enemy, and d) a terrorist.

God also has pretty scary connections. In America, where all men are equal in His sight, if not in one another's, the Bush family numbers one President, one ex-President, one ex-head of the CIA, the Governor of Florida and the ex-Governor of Texas.

Care for a few pointers? George W. Bush, 1978-84: senior executive, Arbusto Energy/Bush Exploration, an oil company; 1986-90: senior executive of the Harken oil company. Dick Cheney, 1995-2000: chief executive of the Halliburton oil company. Condoleezza Rice, 1991-2000: senior executive with the Chevron oil company, which named an oil tanker after her. And so on. But none of these trifling associations affects the integrity of God's work.

In 1993, while ex-President George Bush was visiting the ever-democratic Kingdom of Kuwait to receive thanks for liberating them, somebody tried to kill him. The CIA believes that 'somebody' was Saddam. Hence Bush Jr's cry: 'That man tried to kill my Daddy.' But it's still not personal, this war. It's still necessary. It's still God's work. It's still about bringing freedom and democracy to oppressed Iraqi people.

To be a member of the team you must also believe in Absolute Good and Absolute Evil, and Bush, with a lot of help from his friends, family and God, is there to tell us which is which. What Bush won't tell us is the truth about why we're going to war. What is at stake is not an Axis of Evil - but oil, money and people's lives. Saddam's misfortune is to sit on the second biggest oilfield in the world. Bush wants it, and who helps him get it will receive a piece of the cake. And who doesn't, won't.

If Saddam didn't have the oil, he could torture his citizens to his heart's content. Other leaders do it every day - think Saudi Arabia, think Pakistan, think Turkey, think Syria, think Egypt.

Baghdad represents no clear and present danger to its neighbours, and none to the US or Britain. Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, if he's still got them, will be peanuts by comparison with the stuff Israel or America could hurl at him at five minutes' notice.

What is at stake is not an imminent military or terrorist threat, but the economic imperative of US growth. What is at stake is America's need to demonstrate its military power to all of us - to Europe and Russia and China, and poor mad little North Korea, as well as the Middle East; to show who rules America at home, and who is to be ruled by America abroad.

The most charitable interpretation of Tony Blair's part in all this is that he believed that, by riding the tiger, he could steer it. He can't. Instead, he gave it a phoney legitimacy, and a smooth voice. Now I fear, the same tiger has him penned into a corner, and he can't get out.

It is utterly laughable that, at a time when Blair has talked himself against the ropes, neither of Britain's opposition leaders can lay a glove on him. But that's Britain's tragedy, as it is America's: as our Governments spin, lie and lose their credibility, the electorate simply shrugs and looks the other way.

Blair's best chance of personal survival must be that, at the eleventh hour, world protest and an improbably emboldened UN will force Bush to put his gun back in his holster unfired. But what happens when the world's greatest cowboy rides back into town without a tyrant's head to wave at the boys?

Blair's worst chance is that, with or without the UN, he will drag us into a war that, if the will to negotiate energetically had ever been there, could have been avoided; a war that has been no more democratically debated in Britain than it has in America or at the UN. By doing so, Blair will have set back our relations with Europe and the Middle East for decades to come. He will have helped to provoke unforeseeable retaliation, great domestic unrest, and regional chaos in the Middle East. Welcome to the party of the ethical foreign policy.

There is a middle way, but it's a tough one: Bush dives in without UN approval and Blair stays on the bank. Goodbye to the special relationship.

I cringe when I hear my Prime Minister lend his head prefect's sophistries to this colonialist adventure. His very real anxieties about terror are shared by all sane men. What he can't explain is how he reconciles a global assault on al-Qaeda with a territorial assault on Iraq. We are in this war, if it takes place, to secure the fig leaf of our special relationship, to grab our share of the oil pot, and because, after all the public hand-holding in Washington and Camp David, Blair has to show up at the altar.

'But will we win, Daddy?'

'Of course, child. It will all be over while you're still in bed.'

'Why?'

'Because otherwise Mr Bush's voters will get terribly impatient and may decide not to vote for him.'

'But will people be killed, Daddy?'

'Nobody you know, darling. Just foreign people.'

'Can I watch it on television?'

'Only if Mr Bush says you can.'

'And afterwards, will everything be normal again? Nobody will do anything horrid any more?'

'Hush child, and go to sleep.'

Last Friday a friend of mine in California drove to his local supermarket with a sticker on his car saying: 'Peace is also Patriotic'. It was gone by the time he'd finished shopping.

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