Saturday, 29 June 2013


Published in the Bristol Globe - June 2013 

MARYSE SUGIRA and REBECCA MEGSON turn the spotlight on Bristol women who are determined to challenge the despicable treatment faced by many women worldwide

ST Valentine’s Day will never be the same again. This year it saw the start of One Billion Rising, a global campaign against gender-based domestic violence.

It is the latest manifestation of a move dating back to 1998 when a group of women in New York declared 14 February V-Day, for Victory and Vagina as well as Valentine. The idea was to highlight all forms of sexual violence including rape, incest and female genital mutilation.

In Bristol the gauntlet was taken up by Jodi Ahmed who organised ‘flash mobs’ around the city to raise awareness about the number of women hurt and killed by husbands and partners.

“One in four women have been violated in some way,” says Jodi. “You can easily name four close friends, it could be your mum, sisters, aunties, daughters.”

There were big demonstrations across the world, but Jodi was disappointed at poor coverage by the UK media, and appalled to see that when the issue was debated in Parliament only about five MPs were present.

“There is a high percentage of people thinking that domestic violence is something that should not be spoken about,” she says. “But it is not a private matter. Women who have experience domestic violence are frightened, and few speak out when they have been victims.

“There is a lot you can do to support a friend in that situation. Try to restore and increase their self-confidence and self-esteem so they can stand up against domestic violence themselves.”

There is another silent group of women and children in our midst. The police estimate there may be as many as 75 houses in Bristol in which women, and some men, are trafficked for sex.

Gillian Douglas of Bristol City Council’s Safer Bristol project says the true extent of trafficking in the city is unknown. The victims are extremely vulnerable and unlikely to identify themselves. They fear not only their traffickers, but the risk of deportation if identified to the authorities. Some have take great risks to start a new life in Britain.

Frequently they are told they  have incurred massive debts for their transport, and to pay them off they are forced into various forms of exploitation. Some are required to guard cannabis farms. Avon & Somerset police found 676 such farms in 2012 alone.

As a major transport hub, with an airport, two mainline railway stations and major roads in all directions, Bristol is an ideal gateway for the traffickers. The international trade in people is estimated to be worth more than £20billion, on a par with drug smuggling and the arms trade. In effect it means there are more slaves in the world today than ever before, and one in eight are in Europe.

There have only been four police investigations locally, but several women have now devoted their lives to the issue. Working in an orphanage in Ukraine, Kate Garbers was horrified to discover that many of the children would end up trafficked into the sex trade. Back in Bristol she set up Unseen, which provides a safe house and support for trafficked women.

Jan Martin is another Bristolian who feels passionately about this sickening trade. She set up a group called Bristol Anti-Sex Trafficking in 2012. “I just can’t be a bystander,” she says. “Even if it takes the rest of my life to change things for just one person, I have to do it.”

Trish Davidson was recovering from a serious illness when she first heard about these modern forms of slavery while attending a talk at her church.
“I was shocked to discover that slavery goes on today, right here in Bristol,” she says. “I felt a calling. I had to get involved and do something about it.”

Trish set up Unchosen, an anti-trafficking charity to promote awareness through film campaigns. “I was incredibly impressed with film as a medium for getting a difficult, challenging message across,” she said.

A filmmaking competition run by Unchosen will screen its winning entries during Anti-Slavery Week in October.

Jan Martin’s group have held some dramatic ‘happenings’ including painting a mural and holding a demonstration opposite one of the city’s many massage parlours – often a front for prostitution.

Thanks to these women and their supporters, the city council now has an anti-trafficking officer to galvanise authorities and rescue agencies to work together.

Meanwhile Jodi Ahmed and her friends hope to put together a scheme which will allow them to go into schools to talk about domestic violence. As she says, the future is the the hands of the new generation.


Wednesday, 26 June 2013

A pill a day won't keep the diseases at bay....

Urgent calls have been made for the World Health Organisation (WHO) to put antibiotic resistance on the global agenda by Sweden, the UK and Ireland at the Sixty Sixth World Health Assembly in Geneva.

UK Chief Medical Officer Prof Dame Sally Davies said “this is going to affect our children and grandchildren, as well as our old age.” 

Antibiotics are becoming less effective in the treatment of illness in humans.  This is due to the over-use of antibiotics not only in human and animal health but also in agriculture and food production. 

Dr Margaret Hamburg, Commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) addressed the panel from the floor.

She said “there is a disturbingly dry pipeline of new antibiotics.  The time for action is now.”

Of particular concern is the resistance of micro-organisations such as bacteria, viruses and some parasites to antimicrobial medicines such as antibiotics. 

The side event, co-hosted by Sweden, the UK and Ireland at the Sixty-Sixth World Health Assembly (WHA66), was an attempt to raise the profile of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) to garner support and leadership from WHO.

AMR threatens a return to a pre-antibiotic era. Drug resistant strains of diseases such as tuberculosis are already on the increase in the UK.  Without the front line protection of antibiotics the likelihood of catching and dying from previously treatable illnesses will also rise over the coming decades.

Mr Goran Hagglund, Swedish Health Minister said “the fight against antimicrobials cannot be a side event.  It has to be the main event because if not it will simply take the attention that it needs.”

The panel called for greater public awareness as well as higher profile action at a national and international level. 

Ensuring the appropriately level of prescription and use of antibiotics will be part of the UK’s strategy on antibiotic resistance, due to be launched in the summer.

Reference Information
Written Reports submitted to the side event:
Link to WHA66 journal:
UK Strategy for antibiotic resistance – to be launched summer 2013

The World's best kept secret? (More WHA66 article postings...)

WHA66: The Mysterious Case of the Missing Mainstream Media
Rebecca Megson
My headline could have read “Dr Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) says ‘NO! I don’t talk to the media.’”
A bit of a mouthful admittedly, though that was her response when approached by colleague and fellow journalist Xun Lu at the Sixty-Sixth World Health Assembly (WHA66) held in Geneva in May. Was the response of the Director General perhaps indicative of the WHOs attitude towards the press I wondered?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) holds an annual assembly in which delegations from the 194 member states attend to discuss and define the global health agenda. Health ministers, foreign affairs and finance ministers congregate in one spot to discuss global health care. Their discussions impact the global health market believed to be worth more than 5.5 Trillion USD.
Above all, their discussions impact you and me.
As we have seen in recent years diseases do not recognise state borders. Pandemics are a reality. Our ability to respond and protect ourselves is under threat as antibiotic and other first line drugs become increasingly redundant.
So, given the size and clout of the participants, the dollar value of the market and the very real life-and-death impact on all of us, where are all the mainstream journalists at the WHA66?
Attending as part of a new initiative Who’s there? Yes (WTY) on the role of journalism and public health as public goods led by the UK-based World Health Communication Associates (WHCA) and Switzerland-based CSDconsulting, newly graduated journalism student Lindsay Gill (@SciCommOok) and I querried the press locally and virtually via twitter on the subject.
Jason Anthony Tetro (@JATetro) Huffington Post writer said “some member states don’t want to have the public arena there lest it becomes a circus #scicomm”.
The Guardian Development Professionals Network (@GdnGlobalDevPro) said there were a couple of reasons why they didn’t attend, including having not been pitched to attend by the WHO.
Jennifer Yang (@jyangstar), Global Heath correspondent for the Toronto Star, felt that the WHA66 was a lot about process, which makes the subject harder to digest and to dig out the really newsworthy stories. That said her position as Global Health correspondent is one of a handful of new global beats the Toronto Star has set up in an effort to garner readership beyond Toronto, capitalising on the reach the internet provides. For the Toronto Star global health issues are clearly important enough to salary a reporter – a significant indicator in economically challenging times.
Google ‘66th World Health Assembly news’ and you’ll find an article by China news, a copy and paste of the WHO press release by Reuters and potentially some Africa news and Lancet references.
The World Health Assembly then really is one of the world’s best-kept secrets.
WHO proposed budget 2014/2015
WHO estimates on the global health market in USD
(WHO Global Health Expenditure Atlas)
World GDP graph from World Bank
Ms. Megson was part of a workshop called Who’s there? Yes (WTY) on the role of journalism and public health as public goods organised on the sidelines of the World Health Assembly (WHA), May 2013 in Geneva, Switzerland.

World Health Communication Associates - WHO's Sixty-Sixth World Health Assembly

A friend of mine just prompted me to post the articles I wrote back in May when I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the World Health Organisation's (WHO) Sixty-Sixth World Health Assembly in Geneva.....

Tuberculosis: from poetry to present day UK
Rebecca Megson
Mention tuberculosis (TB) today in the UK and images of Romantic poets coughing themselves into an early but poignant death are conjured. In the modern world TB is believed to be a problem that belongs, if anywhere, ‘over there’, in developing countries.
However, London is now recognised as the ‘TB Capital of Western Europe’ with nearly 9,000 new cases per year.
In recognition of this, an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) was set up in 2007 to examine the issue of TB in the UK. Yet, according to Dr Mario Raviglione, Director of the Global TB programme at WHO, despite the APPG’s best efforts, the issue continues to lack the necessary funding and focus.
The APPG recently released their latest report and recommendations in which they called for the implementation of a national strategy and increased UK commitment to the Global Fund.
Talk at the Sixty-Sixth World Health Assembly has centred on the emergence of new Multi Drug-Resistant strains of TB (MDR-TB), which is resistant to front line drug treatment, requiring more complex, lengthy and therefore expensive therapy.
Whilst 60 per cent of cases of MDR-TB are located ‘over there’ – in the Russian Federation, China, Philippines, India, Pakistan and South Africa – instances of the disease have doubled in the UK in the last decade. Without intervention the trend is set to continue upward.
Andrew George MP, APPG chair, said, “While the majority of developed countries (notably the US) have achieved sustained reductions in the number of cases, TB rates continue to rise here.”
In the WHO series of reports on TB published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases (March), whilst most cases of MDR-TB were found in patients born outside of the UK, resistance in London to one of the key front line TB drugs was found to be highest in UK born patients.
Attributed to the outbreak of TB in London that has continued over a decade, it points to the potentially lethal implications of not tackling TB head on and immediately.
TB is one of the biggest infectious disease killers worldwide. It is on a par with HIV/AIDS with around 1.4 million people are killed each year, compared to 1.7 million deaths from HIV/AIDS.
UK All Party Parliamentary Group report on TB – Drug Resistant Tuberculosis: Old disease: New Threat – led by Andrew George MP
Drug-resistant tuberculosis: time for visionary political leadership in The Lancet Infectious Diseases 24th March 2013
And what is the situation in India? Read on…
Megson and Ranganathan were participants in a workshop on the role of journalism and public health on the sidelines of the World Health Assembly in Geneva, May 2013