Nine days before the World Health Organization announced the African Ebola outbreak now making headlines, an algorithm had already spotted it. HealthMap, a data-driven mapping tool developed out of Boston Children’s Hospital, detected a “mystery hemorrhagic fever” after mining thousands of web-based data sources for clues.
“We’ve been operating HealthMap for over eight years now,” says cofounder Clark Freifeld. “One of the main things that has allowed it to flourish is the availability of large amounts of public event data being accessible on the Internet.”
As anyone who’s ever looked at the Internet knows, any bulk consumption of web content is bound to scoop up tons of noise, especially when sources like Twitter and blogs are involved. To cope with this, HealthMap applies a machine learning algorithm to filter out irrelevant information like posts about “Bieber fever” or uses of terms like “infection” and “outbreak” that don’t pertain to actual public health events.
“The algorithm actually looks at hundreds of thousands of example articles that have been labeled by our analysts and uses the examples to pick up on key words and phrases that tend to be associated with actual outbreak reports,” explains Freifeld. “The algorithm is continually improving, learning from our analysts through a feedback loop.”
Here’s an idea for truly provocative art. No more male artists, black or white, speaking for African women. No more ever-more-graphic ever-more-voyeuristic art on the suffering of African women. Stop using the female African body as raw material to be worked – unless you happen to live in one. Then, notice that African women are making their own work about their lives and struggles. Look. Listen. Learn.
Panzi Hospital in the town of Bukavu in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo specialises in the care of rape victims. Although Panzi has 350 beds, it must send many women home before they have fully recovered because of the never-ending stream of new patients arriving for treatment.
Panzi is emblematic of the catastrophic toll sexual violence has inflicted on the people of eastern Congo over the past decade. The non-governmental organization Medecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) has reported that 75 percent of all the rape cases it dealt with worldwide were in the eastern Congo. A census by UNICEF and related medical centres reported treatment of 18,505 persons for sexual violence in the first 10 months of 2008, 30 percent of whom were children. This year, the situation deteriorated further still, with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reporting a huge surge in sexual violence and rape in eastern Congo.
Reported cases represent only a fraction of the total — a vast number of cases go unreported. Women fear that they will lose all prospects for marriage or that their husbands will abandon them if they acknowledge they have been raped. In other cases, the threat of retribution — coupled with the near certainty that the perpetrators will never be held accountable — discourages women from stepping forward.
Most of the warring parties of the conflict in eastern Congo, including the Congolese Army, Rwandan Hutu rebels, and Congolese Tutsi rebels, have used rape as a weapon of war. Moreover, rape has become ingrained in Congolese civilian society and is widely used to determine power relations. Men and teenagers rape not only women and girls of all ages, but also other males. An estimated 90 percent of minors in prison in eastern Congo have been convicted of rape, according to the non-governmental North Kivu Provincial Subcommission on Sexual Violence.
The UN’s launch on April 1, 2009 of an overall strategy for combating sexual violence in the Congo was a welcome step. But this strategy and other recommendations for justice reform and for preventing sexual violence will be empty words in the absence of robust engagement at all levels of the Congolese civilian and military hierarchy.
Just as a followup: Abortion is completely illegal in the DRC (though Doctors Without Borders provide abortion to women who have been raped) and it is this combination, of war rape with denial of legal abortion and often denial of treatment following an illegal abortion, that led to Amnesty International adopting the position that access to abortion and follow-up health care is a human rights issue, even if they only support access after rape.
This aspect of rape in the Congo is generally ignored by most articles on the topic. Therefore I mention it.
At her Senate confirmation hearing, Rice pledged to confront the regime of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, urging China, Russia and southern African countries to join the Obama administration in isolating the veteran strongman.
“Their interests no longer, frankly, coincide” with Mugabe’s regime, the former diplomat told the Senate foreign relations committee, after its chairman John Kerry said she was an “outstanding choice” for the UN job.
Arguing it was “in our shared interest to support a peaceful transition in Zimbabwe to a democratic government,” Rice said China and Russia should support UN efforts to isolate a regime “that is clearly not long for this world.”
“I hope very much that under president-elect Obama’s leadership, we will work with southern Africa and bring their private condemnation in to the public sphere… so that the people of Zimabwe’s suffering can finally end,” she said.
Related: Chris Beyrer and Frank Donaghue: ZANU-PF government systematically denying citizens access to basic health and human services, says Mugabe regime “has destroyed the health-care system, as it has devastated virtually every other sector of public life, with its ruinous mix of corruption, mismanagement, violence and human rights violations.”
Dr. Chris Beyrer, Professor of Epidemiology and International Health at Johns Hopkins University told Religion Dispatches that the scale of human suffering and death may be worse than Pol Pot’s Cambodia in the 1970s, and that regional and international inaction is analogous to the international community’s failure to stop the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s. He estimates that about half of the population of Zimbabwe is either dead or has fled to neighboring countries. “I have been at this for a long time,” he said, his world-weary voice seeking to convey the urgency of the accelerating Zimbabwean disaster. “I’ve never seen so total a collapse of a health system.”
Elsewhere: The Times (SA): “Zimbabwe Peace Project director Jestina Mukoko is being held in solitary confinement in Harare’s Chikurubi maximum security prison.” The Times also reports that Ms. Mukoko is currently detained “in a section reserved for hardcore criminals” and, according to a warder, despite the existence of a women’s section “has been placed in the tougher section that normally houses men.” Earlier: CNN: “Zimbabwe’s main opposition party has asked organizations such as the United Nations to help find 11 supporters who were allegedly abducted by government agents, a party spokesman said.”
The December issue of that other venerable American left-wing periodical, The Progressive, features an interview with Council of Canadians national chairperson and water rights advocate Maude Barlow, in which the future of fresh drinking water is discussed in depth. Barlow says access to clean water is “the most important human rights and ecological crisis of our time,” an assertion that’s hard to dispute after reading her sobering, well-reasoned and highly-detailed outline of what’s in store over the coming decades for both the Global North and South. As Barlow contends, “[t]his crisis isn’t getting better; it’s getting worse.”
Close to two billion people are now without adequate access to clean water, and most are living in the Global South. We in the Global North need to remember there is a Global South right here in our countries. The more water costs and the rarer it becomes and the more it’s owned by corporations, the more it’s going to be an issue of equity in our countries.
More children die every day of dirty water than HIV-AIDS, malaria, traffic accidents, and war put together.Half the hospital beds in the world are filled with people who would not be there if they could afford water. You go to many countries, and you will see the majority of people having no access to water and the wealthy having access to all the water they could ever want. It’s privatized. Sometimes it has to be trucked in. It’s all provided by corporations.
Water has become the most important symbol of inequity and injustice in our world, because you die from a lack of water. You may not die from a lack of education, but you will immediately die from a lack of clean drinking water.
We put something like 200 billion liters of water in plastic last year. That’s about 50 billion U.S. gallons. And 95 percent of that just ends up in landfills and is thrown into waterways. It’s not recycled.
The other thing about bottled water that gets overlooked is that when you decide to use bottled water as your water source because you’re rich enough to be able to do it, you stop caring what comes out of the tap. It’s the true privatization of water. If you stop caring what comes out of the tap, you’re going to stop wanting to pay taxes for infrastructure repair. You don’t care anymore because you don’t drink that stuff since you don’t trust it. And you’re not going to worry about whether it’s clean enough for poor people, because you’ve got your bottled water. It is really becoming a class issue, this notion of bottled water, being able to distance yourself from what we all need to have as a basic, fundamental human right and public service, which is good, clean water, guaranteed clean by our government.
There is a wonderful water justice movement here in the United States and around the world. We call ourselves Water Warriors. And we’ve taken the time to create a set of principles upon which we agree. We basically agree, for instance, that if you ask the question who owns water, we will say, “Nobody owns it. It belongs to the Earth, it belongs to all species, it belongs to future generations. It’s a fundamental human right and a public service and a public trust.”