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Killing of female polio vaccinators puts Afghan eradication campaign at risk | Global development

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Gul Meena Hotak was on her regular rounds, going door-to-door giving polio vaccinations in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, when she heard gunshots.

The 22-year-old’s immediate concern was for the safety of her friend Negina and other colleagues nearby. “Negina and my supervisor were in a neighbourhood close by when a gunman approached and shot at them. My supervisor escaped with gunshot injuries, but Negina was killed on the spot,” Hotak said.

Traumatised and afraid, Hotak went back to her office where she learned other colleagues had been targeted by a separate bomb attack. Two more female polio workers – Samina and Basira, who like Negina, were known by only one name – died in Jalalabad city.

No group has claimed responsibility for the murderous attacks on 30 March, part of a wave of assassinations in Afghanistan since the US signed a deal with the Taliban last year. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission recorded 2,250 assassinations in 2020 – an increase of 169% since 2019.

After the killings, vital polio campaigns across the province were put on hold, and remain suspended in at least three districts including Jalalabad city. “The situation in the south and eastern provinces has been problematic for many years because of the bans imposed by the Taliban as well as the Islamic State, which briefly controlled parts of the country. They didn’t permit the door-to-door vaccination campaigns,” Merjan Rasekh, head of public awareness of the ministry of health’s polio eradication programme, said.

Afghanistan is, alongside Pakistan, one of the last two countries in the world where polio is endemic.

A bloodied polio vaccine box, discarded after female vaccinators were killed by gunmen in the city of Jalalabad, Afghanistan on 30 March
A bloodied polio vaccine cooler box, discarded after female vaccinators were killed by gunmen in the city of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, on 30 March. Photograph: AP

The Taliban, Rasekh said, were not against vaccinations as such but did mistrust the campaigns, fearing that the polio workers are being used to gather intelligence on their whereabouts. “But the recent killings of female workers were shocking and unprecedented in the history of our immunisation activities,” he said.

The increase in violence has been aimed at women active in public life. In Jalalabad city there had been six killings in the four months before the polio workers were targeted. “We had received no threats or warning [ahead of the attack], but violence and assassinations are becoming part of our everyday life. They are killing female journalists, activists every day,” said Hotak, who now fears for her life.

Even without the security issues, female workers in Afghanistan face many challenges. In a deeply conservative society, working women are breaking stereotypes and cultural norms. “We get harassed, abused; some use abusive language. There are times when people kicked us out of their neighbourhoods, but we continue our job,” Hotak said.

As a result of the killings, many Afghan women have quit their jobs. “There is tremendous pressure on women (from their families), and many of our volunteers are unwilling to rejoin the campaigns. At least half of them are now afraid of stepping out of their homes,” said Hotak. Enikass TV, a media outlet in the eastern province, asked its female employees to temporarily stop coming into work after four female staff were murdered.

Forcing women out of public life would, undoubtedly, have an adverse impact on society, in this case on the campaign against polio, Rasekh said. “In the Afghan context, the female workers are among the most important frontline workers. Because culturally, Afghan mothers in conservative households are not allowed to go outside or allow a male worker inside the house to vaccinate their children. But female vaccinators can directly enter the households and even convince caregivers who may have doubts about the vaccines.”

A polio worker administers the vaccine to Afghan children in Herat, Afghanistan, 31 March
A polio worker administers the vaccine to children in Herat, Afghanistan, 31 March. Photograph: Jalil Rezayee/EPA

With fewer women willing to volunteer or work in the campaign, the polio department fears a rise in cases in the coming months and a reversal of years of progress. The country has already had 56 cases – the highest in 20 years – during the pandemic lockdowns. “We only had two cases in the eastern region in 2020, thanks to the efforts of the many women polio workers. But now we are very concerned about an increase in cases if women are not able to resume due to security problems,” said Dr Jan Mohammad, a coordinator for the national campaign.

But despite the challenges, some refuse to step back. “Yes, I am scared, but I can’t give up now because it is a matter of life and death for these children,” said Hotak, who is determined to return to work as soon as the campaign resumes. “If we leave the country to the hands of the insurgents, they will destroy it.”

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Ukraine’s Finance Minister Reports Problems Finding Cash to Pay Troops Despite West’s Aid Bonanza

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The US and its allies have approved over $76 billion in military and fiscal aid to Kiev, equivalent to 40% of Ukraine’s GDP in 2021. However, much of this assistance doesn’t seem to be reaching its intended destinations, with CBS issuing (and then deleting) a story last week showing that as little as 30% of the military aid was reaching the front.

Ukraine is having trouble scrapping together the money required to pay soldiers’ salaries and has resorted to money printing thanks to a growing gap between military spending and declining tax revenues, combined with a slowing flow of Western aid, Finance Minister Sergii Marchenko has indicated.

“Every day and night it’s a constant headache,” Marchenko told the Wall Street Journal in an interview.

The minister explained that the government is now spending more than 60 percent of the budget on military-related expenditure, and has received assurances from Western countries of new loans and grants to cover non-military spending.

“The support we get now gives us the opportunity to win this war and to do it sooner rather than later. Without this money, the war will last longer and it will damage economies more,” Marchenko said.

The minister indicated that the government is disregarding concerns from the National Bank about skyrocketing inflation, saying “it is better to risk high inflation than not to pay soldiers’ salaries.” He added that he expects the conflict to turn into a “marathon” lasting for the remaining of 2022 and 2023. “This is a war of attrition. You have to think in these terms,” Marchenko said.

Ukraine has received a total of more than $50 billion in military and non-military aid authorizations from the US alone, including everything from weapons and new defense contracts for the military-industrial complex to replenish old inventories, to fiscal support and loans to help the Ukrainian state stay afloat, pay its creditors on time and avoid paralysis, to humanitarian assistance.
A worker paints a Saint Javelin, a Virgin Mary holding an American-made anti-tank missile, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, May 24, 2022 - Sputnik International, 1920, 08.08.2022

CBS Deletes Documentary Revealing That Just ‘30%’ of West’s ‘Aid’ to Ukraine Reached Frontlines
US assistance has been matched by nearly $16 billion in aid from the European Union, plus $6.22 billion, $3.34 billion, $2.85 billion, $2.61 billion and $2.11 billion from Britain, Germany, Poland, Canada and France, respectively, for a grand total of over $76 billion.
On Friday, Ukrainian presidential chief economic advisor Oleg Ustenko urged the International Monetary Fund to shell out $5 billion as part of a larger $15-20 billion aid package over the eighteen months to two years to encourage others, including the US, the EU and other countries to go ahead with additional support. Last month, Prime Minister Denys Shmygal told attendees of a Switzerland-based conference dedicated to Ukraine’s economic recovery that the country would need some $750 billion in assistance.
Corruption concerns and questions about the final destination of the tens of billions of dollars doled out to Ukraine aid periodically emerge in mainstream media reporting on the conflict. Last month, Ukrainian-born Republican Congresswoman Victoria Spartz accused Ukrainian presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak of sabotaging the country’s defenses, and of appointing officials engaged in corruption to fight graft. Ukrainian officials dismissed her concerns as “Russian propaganda.”
Fitch Ratings - Sputnik International, 1920, 13.08.2022

Fitch Ratings, S&P Global Ratings Consider Ukraine’s Debt Restructuring as Default
Last week, CBS News posted and then deleted a bombshell documentary which uncovered that as little as 30 percent of the military assistance Western countries had sent to Kiev in the first months of the conflict had actually reached the frontlines. The documentary was quickly taken down to be “updated” to account for new information from the Pentagon and other sources.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted that the retraction was not enough and called for an “internal investigation” at CBS to determine “who enabled” the documentary’s release and why.



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Brazilian woman and fake seer con elderly mother out of $142 million | International

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A woman was arrested on August 10 by Rio de Janeiro police who charged her with conning her mother out of millions. In a strange story of greed abetted by fake psychics, Sabine Boghici and her accomplices stole more than $142 million in money, jewelry and artwork from Boghici’s mother over a two-year period.

Geneviève Boghici, the widow of a major art collector and dealer named Jean Boghici, was walking out of a bank in January 2020 near the famous Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) when she was approached by a supposed psychic prophesying her daughter’s imminent death unless she underwent “spiritual therapy.” They walked together to Boghici’s apartment, where the psychic threw some shells in a mystical ritual that confirmed the tragic prophesy. The 82-year-old victim knew that her daughter suffered from psychological problems, and her affinity for the supernatural swayed her to transfer $980,000 to the swindlers.

Soon after the two-year con began, the elderly woman became suspicious and halted the money transfers when her daughter started to isolate her from friends. Sabine would not allow her mother to use the phone and dismissed all the domestic workers, justifying them as Covid-19 precautions. Yet Sabine and her cronies entered freely to loot her mother’s home of its valuables. Several psychics took items from the home, saying they were “cursed” and needed to be “prayed over.” The increasingly suspicious Geneviève tried to resist, but Sabine began threatening her life. According to the police, she wouldn’t allow her mother to eat and put a knife to her throat.

Police recover 'Sol Poente' by Brazilian painter, Tarsila do Amaral.
Police recover ‘Sol Poente’ by Brazilian painter, Tarsila do Amaral.Policia Civil de Rio de Janeiro (EFE)

The victim told the police that her daughter had some sort of relationship with one of the supposed psychics, Rosa Stanesco Nicolau, who practiced her trade in Rio de Janeiro as “Mãe Valéria de Oxossi” (Mother Valeria), and was a known con artist. Starting in September 2020, under constant threat from her daughter and accomplices, the elderly woman made another 38 bank transfers to the thieves.

Sabine and her cohorts stole 16 paintings and sculptures, and sold them all to art galleries or private buyers. Two of these works – Elevador Social (Social Elevator) by Rubens Gerchman, and Maquete para o menú espelho (A model for my mirror) by Antonio Dias – were bought by Eduardo Costantini, owner of the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires (Argentina), for his private collection. The São Paulo (Brazil) gallery owner who brokered the deal said he was not suspicious because he had known the family for a long time and the seller was the daughter of the deceased art collector. Constantini released a statement saying that he bought the paintings in good faith and was in direct contact with Genevieve Boghici.

In 2012, a fire in the Boghici’s Copacabana apartment destroyed part of their valuable collection, including Di Cavalcanti’s Samba and Alberto Guignard’s A Floresta (The Forest). Sol Poniente (Setting Sun), painted by Tarsila do Amaral in 1929, is one of the most valuable works in the Boghici collection ($49 million). It survived the 2012 fire but not the rampant greed of their daughter. The stolen painting was found under a bed by police, who arrested Sabine and three other people, including the fake seer. In a final twist to the whole bizarre story, the scamming psychic was apprehended trying to escape through a window.

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India’s HIV patients say shortages leaving hundreds of thousands without drugs | Global development

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Hundreds of thousands of people living with HIV in India are struggling to access treatment because of a shortage of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, according to campaigners.

Up to 500,000 people have not been able to get hold of free ARVs from government health centres and hospitals over the past five months, they say, as the country experiences stock shortages of key drugs.

ARVs that are available in privately run pharmacies and shops can be prohibitively expensive. Some people have been given alternative drugs, but others have stopped taking any medication.

“Does the government even realise that at least 500,000, or one-third of the patients, are affected by this? Some adults are being given 11 doses of paediatric medicine to compensate,” said Loon Gangte, president of the Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP+), an NGO that works to improve the treatment and facilities for people living with HIV and Aids. “We only demand an uninterrupted monthly supply. This treatment is our right.”

According to Gangte, who has been protesting with about 30 others outside India’s National Aids Control Organisation (Naco) in Delhi for 22 days, at least 12 other states, including Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab, are facing ARV shortages. He said several state governments have asked patients to change their longstanding drug regimes.

“The [Covid-19] pandemic had already broken our backs. Now this shortage is pushing us further into penury,” Gangte said.

Kedar Nath, a 30-year-old street vendor taking part in the protest, said he has not taken his ARVs on several occasions over the past two months. He cannot afford the £50 a month it would cost to buy the drugs on the open market.

“I have been taking these drugs for the last 13 years. They have helped me continue with my life despite the virus in my body. But the recent shortage has turned my life upside down since I can neither find the strength to work, nor have any savings to live off,” he said.

According to government figures, 2.35 million people in India are HIV-positive. About 1.5 million people are on antiretroviral therapy, far lower than the World Health Organization’s “90-90-90 target” – under which 90% of people with HIV are diagnosed, 90% are on ARV treatment, and 90% are no longer infectious.

India says it aims to end the HIV epidemic by 2030. In 2019, an estimated 58,900 Aids-related deaths were reported in the country.

The government has refuted Gangte’s claims of a shortage. The Indian health ministry said it had “reviewed the entire situation and held a series of meetings with the protesters. ARV drugs are being provided for [a] duration of less than one month, but at no point in time has there been any shortage of drugs for any of the PLHIV [patients living with HIV]. There is adequate stock nationally for 95% PLHIV.”

Naco did not wish to comment. However, in a letter seen by the Guardian that was dated 30 May, Naco asked all state Aids prevention and control societies, which oversee HIV testing and treatment in each state, to switch to other regimes “to tide through the crisis situation as an interim arrangement”.

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