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Carmen Carcelén: The fruit vendor who has provided refuge for 10,000 Venezuelans | USA

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In the yard of Carmen Carcelén’s home, there are stacks of white plastic chairs and mattresses. A television playing cartoons can be heard in the background. On one of the walls of the home, made from cement, are the new rules of Casa de Acogida Juncal, or Juncal Shelter – “Be grateful, this is the home of a family who wants to open its doors to you.”

Carcelén sells fruit and vegetables in Ipiales, a Colombian city close to the border of Ecuador. But for the past four years, she has also been working tirelessly to provide a free refuge for Venezuelans fleeing their country who pass through El Juncal, a small Ecuadorian town of just 2,500 people. All without financial support. “We never thought that my home would turn into a shelter, we thought only in helping them,” says Carcelén, remembering how the project began.

After returning from the fruit market one day, she and her husband came across 11 young Venezuelans, one of whom had fainted, and who were begging for food. They became the first of 10,000 Venezuelans Carcelén has sheltered for free since 2017, according to the high commissioner for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Most of these migrants flee Venezuela on foot, walking until they reach Peru or Chile, while some decide to stay in Ecuador.

“I have had to return to my past to understand why I do all this,” says an emotional Carcelén from her living room. When she was just 10 years old, her father, a wealthy vendor with alcohol problems, threw her clothes on the street and kicked her out of home. He had also been physically abusing her since she was five – the scars of which she still bears on her arm and throat. Carcelén decided not to go back and set out on foot to find her brother’s home. “I slept on the street, in a park, because I was a very young girl, I couldn’t find the address easily,” she explains. “Nobody helped me and that’s why I am always going back in time and doing what other people didn’t do for me. That’s my reasoning.”

“‘My children see what I do and I know that some of them are going to generous. And that is the only thing that matters in life.’ In Imbabura, Ecuador, Carmen shelters migrants and refugees from Venezuela. She does this without receiving any payment in exchange.”

Carcelén travels to the Ipiales market to sell fruit and vegetables every day except Sundays and Thursdays. By doing so, she makes enough money to live and maintain the shelter in her three-story home, which features an industrial kitchen to provide food for anyone who needs it. But she admits that seeing so many people abandoned often makes her cry. “It’s the best thing I have done in my life,” says Carcelén, in reference to the shelter, which has become the center of her world.

And she doesn’t work alone – her children also chip in. “We are a great team,” she says proudly. Carcelén has eight children – six biological sons and two daughters she adopted after their respective mothers passed away. Each one, from the 12-year-old to the 30-year-old, has a specific role: cooking, washing dishes and registering the names of the new arrivals. “If someone arrives injured, they even take them to the doctor, or find them clothes, shoes… If I go away, I know I don’t have to worry about anything. I take my hat off to them,” she says.

The rules of Juncal Shelter.
The rules of Juncal Shelter.Belén Hernández

When Carcelén first set up Juncal Shelter, she received a lot of help from neighbors, who donated rice, clothes and shoes. But this slowly stopped coming. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the Jesuits provided support for the first six months, covering 70% of the food expenses. UNHCR also provided hygiene and cleaning kits to the new arrivals at the shelter. “During the days when everything was closed and you saw lots of people walking, it seemed like we were watching zombies pass by, with lots of sick children and people on the street,” she says, adding that Juncal Shelter was only closed for eight days.

In just one day, the shelter has been able to provide food to 500 people and a place to sleep for 138. The home, however, remains peaceful, which Carcelén attributes to the fact that the rules are strictly followed: weapons, drugs and fighting are prohibited. “In my home, no one is graded or classified. Food is given to the good guys and the bad. I’m not God to judge them,” she says. Indeed, it still upsets her that political leaders in the region have accused her in the past of using the shelter as a cover to traffic humans or drugs.

Carcelén, who is a member of her church’s choir and is deeply religious, enjoys the constant human contact and speaking with the “travelers” who arrive at her door. She says she tells them the story of the first “migrants” on Earth, Joseph and Mary, were also denied shelter. “Perhaps around 70% of Venezuelans cannot be helped, but there is another 30% – the children and men who arrive here walking, who can be helped, and that gives hope to the other 70%,” she says.

English version by Melissa Kitson.



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UK Pharmacists Warn Medicine Shortages Put Patients at Risk

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The issue first came to the fore in April, when shortages of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drugs resulted in an outcry, with doctors warning that some women will resort to unorthodox methods to get the medication they need.

British pharmacists have expressed concern over medicine shortages in the UK, which they believe put patients at risk, a new poll has revealed.

A survey of 1,562 UK pharmacists for the Pharmaceutical Journal found that more than 54% of respondents said that patients had been put at risk in the last six months due to drug shortages.

The outlet cited an unnamed pharmacist from a children’s hospital in England as saying that problems pertaining to variable supply of nutritional products may pose threat to patients’ health.

“We had to ration it, and this has potentially put patients at risk of vitamin deficiencies,” the pharmacist pointed out.

A member of the London Ambulance Service (File) - Sputnik International, 1920, 25.07.2022

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They were echoed by another hospital pharmacist, who voiced alarm about drugs being unavailable at the end of a patient’s life.

“There was no alternative for one patient who had to deal with an additional symptom in his last days of life due to lack of available treatment,” the source told the Pharmaceutical Journal.

The same tone was struck by Mike Dent, director of pharmacy funding at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, who said in an interview with the journal that they are “becoming increasingly concerned about medicine supply issues and the very serious impact this is having on both community pharmacy teams and their patients.”

A spokesperson for the UK Department of Health and Social Care, in turn, stressed that they “take patient safety extremely seriously, and […] routinely share information about medicine supply issues directly with the NHS [National Health Service] so they can put plans in place to reduce the risk of any shortage impacting patients, including offering alternative medication.”

“We have well-established procedures to deal with medicine shortages and work closely with industry, the NHS and others to prevent shortages and resolve any issues as soon as possible,” the spokesperson added.

The remarks followed the UK government issuing a number of “medicine supply notifications,” which highlight shortages of a whole array of key drugs, including live­-saving ones such as antibiotics, insulin and antidepressants.

A veteran wearing a Royal Hospital Chelsea hat, and in PPE (personal protective equipment) of a face mask, as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, stands outside the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London  - Sputnik International, 1920, 08.08.2022

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The issue first came to light at the end of April 2022, when a shortage of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) medication left some women in the UK sharing prescriptions and feeling suicidal. HRT is used to relieve most symptoms of menopause and it works by replacing hormones that are at a lower level.

According to the UK newspaper Express, drug shortages “are being caused by a shortage of raw ingredients used to manufacture medicines. These are often supplied by countries in the Far East. There are also rising costs set by pharmaceutical manufacturers and wholesalers.”



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Cannabis: Canada to spend $200 million on medical marijuana for veterans | International

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The Canadian government is on track to spend CA$200 million (around $154 million) on medical marijuana for veterans, an increase of 30% compared to 2021 and 135% compared to 2019. Since 2008, Canada’s Veteran Affairs has been reimbursing former military personnel for what they spend on medically prescribed marijuana.

Canada legalized recreational cannabis in October 2018 (the second country to make such a regulatory change after Uruguay). The government of Justin Trudeau justified the measure as a move to fight organized crime and ensure the safety of consumers. Marijuana for medicinal use, however, has been legal in Canada since 2001. The Canadian Health Ministry backed its decision on the grounds that studies show it can be beneficial for patients who suffer from problems such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

In 2008, after overcoming various legal disputes, Veteran Affairs approved a measure to reimburse war veterans for the cost of medicinal marijuana, although reimbursements were to be decided on a case-by-case basis. In 2011, the authorities simplified the procedure to make it accessible to more candidates. That year, 37 people were reimbursed for a total amount of CA$103,400 (81,000). In November 2016, the ministry modified its compensation rules, reducing the daily limit from 10 grams a day to three. The current maximum rate for refunds is $8.50 per gram.

Veteran Affairs stated that medical cannabis is “a developing area of treatment,” and it will continue to review information and “adjust the policy as necessary to guarantee the welfare of veterans and their families.” A Canadian Senate commission called for such a review in 2019, emphasizing the positive results of cannabis for therapeutic purposes, in particular as an effective substitute for highly addictive opioids against chronic pain. Senators also said that the maximum price needs to be constantly evaluated, as costs may exceed what some veterans can afford.

According to the latest data, some 18,000 ex-combatants were reimbursed for medicinal marijuana in 2021, which equated to CA$153 million ($118 million) in federal spending. While experts largely support the plan for veterans, they say it should be accompanied by psychosocial support, especially in cases of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Campaigners call on UN Women to pull out of BlackRock partnership | Women’s rights and gender equality

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The UN agency responsible for promoting gender equality is being urged to pull out of a partnership with BlackRock, the world’s biggest investment fund manager, over the company’s “record of prioritising profits over human rights or environmental integrity”.

Hundreds of women’s organisations and activists have written to UN Women demanding it rescind the partnership.

The letter, sent on Tuesday to Sima Sami Bahous, UN Women’s executive director, and her two deputies, Åsa Regnér and Anita Bhatia, said the partnership “gives BlackRock a veneer of feminist approval that it clearly does not merit”.

While details of the collaboration have not been made public, BlackRock published a statement on its website in May saying it had signed “a memorandum of understanding” with the UN agency “agreeing to cooperate in promoting the growth of gender lens investing”.

BlackRock has faced pressure from environmental activists to improve its climate action policies, given its vast holdings in fossil fuel companies, and wide global reach.

The asset manager has investments in some of the world’s largest weapons sales companies, the letter said, noting that BlackRock is “consistently” ranked among the worst performers on corporate accountability by civil society watchdogs.

From left to right: Pam Chan of BlackRock, UN Women representative Anita Bhatia and Isabelle Mateos y Lago of BlackRock at Davos this year.
From left to right: Pam Chan of BlackRock, UN Women representative Anita Bhatia and Isabelle Mateos y Lago of BlackRock at Davos this year. Photograph: UN Photo

The letter, signed by almost 600 groups and individuals, said BlackRock also holds large amounts of debt in Zambia and Sri Lanka. It was among the private sector lenders that refused to delay debt interest payments to prevent Zambia’s finances from collapsing. The country has had to cut health and social care spending by a fifth in the past two years to balance its budget, cuts that have disproportionately affected women and marginalised groups.

Sanam Amin, a Bangladeshi academic and activist, said: “We want this agreement to be rescinded. This will not have a positive outcome for UN Women or the feminist organisations it is working with.”

She said BlackRock was using UN Women for bluewashing and pinkwashing purposes, and that it was “a fantasy” to imagine that “gender-impact investment can keep investment bankers rich and also save the world”.

“This is an illusion and relies on the labour and resources of marginalised communities in a gendered fashion, in the global south and across global supply chains.”

This is not the first time UN Women has been criticised for partnering with the private sector. In 2015, after pressure from women’s groups, the organisation backed out of a deal with Uber to encourage 1 million women to sign up as drivers.

Emilia Reyes, a feminist activist, said a lack of money was driving the UN into partnerships with the private sector. “We are calling for member states to fulfil their commitments on funding for UN departments as a whole,” she said. “In the search for extra funding, [UN bodies] are undermining their mandate and pushing conflicts of interest inside the UN.”

A spokesperson for UN Women said it “understands the concerns of its civil society partners”, which “merit consideration”. They said the partnership had been “put on hold”.

BlackRock said the money it managed belonged to its clients, many of whom made their own investment decisions. It added: “We highly value UN Women’s leadership in advancing women’s empowerment around the world and respect their decision to put the agreement on hold while they review their strategy for private sector partnerships.”

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