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Monthly Archives: November 2009

I came across this post on feministing.com. The post discusses Kami, the HIV-positive Sesame Street character who was introduced in South Africa in 2002. Kami is a 5-year-old AIDS orphan, who reaches out to children and teaches them acceptance of those who are infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. In a country with 1.4 AIDS orphans, the impact of this little muppet could be huge!

It would be extremely interesting to do an impact assessment of this character among children in South Africa. The first question that comes to mind is how many children have access to television and can follow Kami’s story…in any case, talk about an amazing outreach campaign! Would be great to see it extended to other countries.

Meet Kami!

Kami

This comic, from xkcd.com, reminded me of a current dilemma I am having in my own work on mapping community-based organizations responding to HIV/AIDS and TB in Kenya.

Cheap GPS from http://xkcd.com

The map we are creating utilizes data collected over the past 20 years by a non-governmental organization. The difficulty revolves around assessing the reliability of data collected and stored by NGOs responding to health issues – for the most part, this collection and storage is done without systematic data entry and management procedures.

Are such data valid in their own right? How do the data reflect the operations of the NGO in question?  Can such data be used as a benchmark of capacity in terms of research and data management? If so, could we say that any published material would be of merit as it allows researchers and policy makers to assess capacity and design training programmes to address gaps in data collection and data management. Or are articles and reports based on this kind of information misleading? Are they of little use, particularly in the academic world? Should they be held to the same standards as published academic research?

The BBC article New warning on ‘perfect vaginas’ immediately brought to mind the debate surrounding female genital cutting (FGC, also known at female genital mutilation or female circumcision). The article presents two opposing ideas:

1) that the labioplasty (female genital operation – read genital cutting- offered under general anesthesia in Britain) is a safe, minor procedure with no negative side effects

2) that it could possible damage sexual function and cause problems during childbirth – the comparison with female

Conceptions of the ‘ideal vagina’ reflect the societal beliefs, values and customs . This latest craze – labioplasty – as reported by the BBC is a manifestation of the insecurities women feel about their sexual organs, perpetuated by the media, men and other women.

The most disturbing quote in this article comes from Douglas McGeorge, past president of the the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons. McGeorge rejects comparisons with FGC and argues that labioplasty is “[e]ssentially…just about removing a bit of loose flesh, leaving behind an elegant-looking labia with minimum scarring.”

In sub-Saharan Africa, where many societies practice various forms of FGC, the practice is the target of human rights and women’s rights campaigns. The labioplasty, for which women pay up to 3, 000 British pounds, cannot be compared to infibulation, excision or clitoridectomy, however the other forms of FCG are comparable. There is of course an important distinction between parents choosing FGC for their young daughters and adult women deciding for themselves that they wish to be cut.

There is however a double standard in the way in which these discussions are framed: in sub-Saharan Africa any type of FGC is an abominable ‘ritual’ practice, where as in high income countries women can ‘freely’ pay thousands for the procedure called labioplasty, which, it is argued, may or may not be harmful to their health.

And then of course there is the debate about male circumcision

Innovative research out of the city of San Fransisco.

A team of researchers, led by Dr. Moupali Das-Douglas, have mapped HIV patients by their viral load – this in an attempt to locate ‘hot spots’ where patients have high viral loads, and thus low access to treatment. This information can now be used to guide policy makers in allocating resources for both treatment and prevention programmes.

Let’s keep our eyes out for the corresponding article and to see what action the City takes in light of these data.