Monday, April 30, 2012

Uzbekistan, stop thieving her uterus

Avaaz calls on Hillary Clinton to ditch Islam Karimov

The Republic of Uzbekistan is Central Asia’s only doubly landlocked country. There is only one other such country worldwide. Part of the Soviet Union before 1991, it is designated as “an authoritarian state with limited civil rights” by the U.S. Department of State, the Council of the European Union most non-governmental human rights watchdogs, including IHFHuman Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
They all express profound concern about “wide-scale violation of virtually all basic human rights.” Their reports say Uzbekistan violations are most often committed against members of religious organizations, independent journalists, human rights campaigners and political activists, including members of banned opposition parties.
My interest and disbelief were triggered by an email from, the 14-million-member global campaign network. The email was a statement from Avaaz calling on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to reinstate military sanctions against Uzbekistan and lobby the administration and other powers to lift any and all support to Tashkent.
This came after reports Uzbekistan dictator Islam Karimov was compelling doctors to cut out women's uteruses without their knowledge or consent to reinforce “birth control” across the country. “It’s a vile and bloody crime against women being orchestrated by an odious strongman, and now is the time for it to end,” Avaaz said.
I don’t have children, and never wanted to. That was my personal choice and no one else’s. I am sure that if someone had said to me, “No, you can’t have children,” then I would have wanted them. That’s probably why I was so incensed to read about Uzbekistan’s crime of forcibly and inhumanly preventing women from bearing children.
The Avaaz campaign followed a two-month long investigation for the BBC World Service and Radio 4. It uncovered what appears to be a systematic state-run program in Uzbekistan to sterilize women, often against their will and without their knowledge.
On April 20, 2012, the pressure group called on Clinton to ditch Karimov despite the recent diplomatic rapprochement between Washington and Tashkent. The reason is that the U.S. uses Uzbekistan as a conduit to supply its troops in Afghanistan. “The latest round of brutality against his country’s women has turned the global spotlight on this monster. Let’s use this awful moment to persuade his biggest backer to ditch him,” Avaaz wrote.
The network works to ensure the views and values of the world's people shape global decision-making. Avaaz members are spread across 19 countries on six continents and operate in 14 languages.
Karimov, who has been serving since 1990, is one of Central Asia's most autocratic leaders, running a repressive regime that retains many aspects of the country’s Soviet past. He does not tolerate dissent, and has banned many opposition groups, particularly Islamic organizations, and sanctions human rights abuses. In 2005, a crackdown on protest in the eastern city of Andijan resulted in the deaths of several hundred people.
“Clinton can reinstate military sanctions and push the U.S. and other powers to lift any and all support. She has already publicly condemned Karimov for human rights abuses, and this most recent assault on women's rights -- a topic she champions -- only ups the stakes,” Avaaz added.
Photo of Karimov from
It urged all to sign a petition calling on Clinton to end Karimov's reign of terror and stop the brutal attack on women. The petition declared, “We call on you to publicly condemn forced sterilizations and other human rights abuses inside Uzbekistan. We urge you to end the flood of cash and re-impose sanctions on the Uzbek regime until independent experts confirm these atrocities have ended. Finally, we call on you to ensure that military assistance to Uzbekistan is contingent on wide-ranging improvements in human rights.”
Activists estimate scores if not hundreds of thousands of women were sterilized secretly when they went into the hospital for a routine procedure or to give birth -- waking up with no idea that their uterus has just been removed. The use of arbitrary arrest and torture is so widespread that women don’t speak out for fear of reprisals, and foreign journalists and human rights activists are routinely thrown out of the country, the organization noted.
The human rights horror show in Uzbekistan has gone under the radar for years -- but we have a real chance to break the silence now, using the explosive BBC report, and stand with the brave Uzbek women who dared to tell their stories in the face of stunning oppression, Avaaz added.
In an April 21 report in The Guardian titled Uzbekistan carrying out forced sterilizations, say women, Delhi-based BBC reporter Natalia Antelava writes from Kazakhstan, “Over secure phone lines, doctors and health ministry officials told me that while first recorded cases of forced sterilizations go back to 2004, in 2009 sterilizations became a state policy.”
"All of us have a sterilization quota," said a gynecologist in the capital, Tashkent. "I have a four-women monthly quota. We are under a lot of pressure."
Doctors say in rural areas the number can be as high as “eight women a week.”
"We go from house to house convincing women to have the operation," said a chief surgeon in a rural hospital. "It's easy to talk a poor woman into it. It's also easy to trick them," he admitted.
Several doctors said in the last two years there had been a dramatic increase in caesarean sections across the country, disputing official statements that only 6.8% of women give birth that way. "I believe 80% of women give birth through c-sections. This makes it very easy to tie the fallopian tubes," said one gynecologist.
The Uzbek government said in a written statement allegations of a forced sterilization program "have nothing to do with reality" and that "surgical contraception is carried out only on a voluntary basis after consultation with a specialist and with the written consent of both spouses. Uzbekistan's record in protecting mothers and babies is excellent and could be considered a model for countries around the world," the statement said.
Yes, Uzbekistan is miles away, but a woman is a woman, is a woman, wherever.
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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Armenian Genocide: Lest we forget

Poster by Naeema Zarif

Ninety-seven years since, the Armenian Genocide is still a topic that hits a raw nerve with Armenians worldwide.
Today, April 24, commemorates the Armenian Genocide committed in 1915-1916 by the Ottoman Empire’s “Young Turk” government.
Roughly half the Ottoman Empire’s 2,500,000 Armenians were killed during the Armenian Genocide through wholesale massacres and deportations by dint of forced marches.
Armenians around the globe commemorate the tragedy on April 24, the day in 1915 when 250-300 Armenian leaders, writers, thinkers and professionals in Constantinople -- present-day Istanbul -- were rounded up, deported and killed. The Ottoman military at that time uprooted Armenians from their homes and forced them to march for hundreds of miles, without food or water, to the desert of what is now Syria.
Since then, the pomegranate was adopted as a symbol for Armenians. The narrative is that during the 1915 Genocide and exodus, pomegranate was the only food mothers could find to feed their offspring. Those marching could also count the days with the pomegranate seeds. It is that each fruit, however big or small, holds 365 seeds!
As I did last year, I asked two Armenian friends -- Shant Demirdjian and Sareen Akharjalian, who both live in Beirut, Lebanon -- to contribute their thoughts on the day for Mich Café:
Which Genocide?
By Shant Demirdjian*
Let me be a bit more precise, which Armenian Genocide? No, no… It’s not just one; it’s not two or even three or four!! Which one should I talk about?
Murdering an Armenian journalist who dares to be “Armenian”?
Or should I write about the uprooting of more than two million Armenians from their homeland and the massacre of some 1.5 million in the deserts of Syria?
Need I dwell on disallowing the placement of the Holy Cross on a “restored” Armenian church in Van? Or even worse, turning churches into caves, restaurants and farms?
Or what about the vandalism of Armenian architecture -- churches, tombstones, Khatchkars (cross stone) -- over and over again, everywhere in Occupied Armenia, Nakhchivan and in all places “their” hand could reach?
[The Armenian Khatchar cross, often made in obsidian, has two triple loops on each arm of the cross. It rarely has a crucifix but rather a rosette or a solar disc below it and the remainder is filled with patterns of leaves, grapes, pomegranates or abstracts. UNESCO last year declared the Armenian Khatchkar an intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguarding.]
Which Genocide?
When people talk about the Armenian Genocide they usually consider the latter, the one that started on the night of April 24, 1915, with the capture, murder and deportation of the Armenian elite -- teachers, writers, revolutionaries, who where the first to “go.” The strategy was to make the Armenians “headless.”
But it didn’t stop there. It didn’t stop even after the vast majority of Armenians were moved from their homeland and driven to the deserts of Syria… just to let them perish there from hunger, starvation and Ottoman brutality.
The sad thing is that the outrage hasn’t stopped! The assassination of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink and not allowing a cross to be erected on an Armenian Church… only happened a few years ago.
The destruction of the Armenian Heritage is still continuing as you read this! For me, this is the “Armenian Genocide.”
Nonetheless, we survived. We survived and doomed that brutal appetite of mass murder.
We survived and made others talk about the “Armenian Genocide” in Turkey.
We survived and spread our Heritage around the globe.
We survived and turned April 24 into the Day of Survival.
*Shant Demirdjian (@ShantDotMe) is a web developer and teacher. He is a photographer in his spare time and his work can be viewed at his blog, – My Photo Blog.

Struggles and Triumphs
By Sareen Akharjalian*
When people ask me about the Armenian Genocide and what I know about it, I don't usually talk about the massacres of entire Armenian villages.
I don't usually talk about the starvation, the rape and the murder Armenians had to face when forcibly evicted and marched into the harsh deserts of Syria.
I don't talk about the massacres and brutal killings of prominent Armenian figures on April 24, 1915.
I tell the story of my grandfather, Arsen Akharjalian. 
My grandfather, God rest his soul, grew up in a village called Yozgat in Turkey. The sad thing is there isn't really much he could tell us about his family in Turkey. You see, his father and uncles were forced into battle and his mother was killed while he was still a very young child -- barely old enough to speak. 
Dédé Arsen
Arsen Akharjalian’s family at the time included 10 brothers and sisters. In the confusion and utter chaos, the family was split up. Some were sent to different parts of Turkey, others, including my grandfather, his sister and older brother were saved by European missionaries and sent to an orphanage in Syria. Their trip to Syria was long and harsh, with no water, no food, and only stories of Armenian killings that had taken place in Deir ez-Zor to go by. It's a wonder they survived. 
They finally reached their destination: an orphanage in Aleppo. But the orphanage was so overcrowded, the children had to be split up once more. His older brother remained in Syria, and my grandfather and his sister were sent to the famous Birds Nest Armenian Orphanage in Jbeil, Lebanon -- which still operates to this day. There, Dédé Arsen learned basic crafts. He became a shoe mender. And by some miracle, he was able to overcome his hideous past and have a family and children.
How do I commemorate the Armenian Genocide?
By remembering my grandfather's immense struggles and triumphs despite these dark times in history. 
*Sareen Akharjalian (@sareen_ak) is a programmer and software developer by day and a cartoonist by night. Her two-year-old webcomic, Ink on the Side, is awaited online every Monday morning to brighten up the week.

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day 2012: Do we care enough?

I laugh at myself for getting excited about these Day events. Do Earth Hour, Earth Day and the like really make a difference, and do we really care?
Maybe not in general, but I like to think that I am doing my small part and stamping a tiny footprint somewhere on this planet.
Being single, without children and a very minimal consumer, I guess it’s easier for me to support and implement a lot of environmental-friendly messages. I can imagine the difficulties for families, but it is with children that the message should start and be taken into the future.
Forty-two years ago, at the height of hippie and flower child culture in the United States and around the world, 1970 brought the death of Jimi Hendrix, the last Beatles album, and Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water. Protest was the order of the day, but saving the planet was not the cause. War raged in Vietnam, which students in the U.S. were increasingly opposing while we in the region were trying to make sense of the 1967 Six-Day War.
The first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, activated 20 million Americans from all walks of life to speak out against the deterioration of the environment and demand change. As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency was created, the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts were passed, and the modern environmental movement was born.
Today, more than one billion people in 192 countries participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world. Yet there is still extensive global inaction on pressing environmental problems.
Earth Day Network calls upon individuals, organizations, businesses and governments to Mobilize the Earth and demand that environmental issues become a top priority.  
Earth Day 1970 capitalized on the emerging consciousness, channeling the energy of the anti-war protest movement and putting environmental concerns front and center.
The idea came to Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, Nelson realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda.
Earth Day 1990 gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Earth Day 2012 will act as a launch pad for growing the environmental movement and will put forth a bold declaration demanding immediate action to secure Renewable Energy for All and a sustainable future for our planet.
The movement will involve individuals of every age from all corners of the Earth, and will call upon local, national and international leaders to put an end to fossil fuel subsidies, embrace renewable energy technology, improve energy efficiency and make energy universally accessible.

Individuals, organizations, businesses and governments can voice their support for the A Billion Acts of Green® campaign by performing environmental actions and lending their names to this global referendum demanding change.  The goal is to reach one billion actions by the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June 2012, to serve as a lever to address the UN’s inaction and inspire leaders to reach a global agreement at the conference.
It is always my belief that educating the youth about environmental sustainability can capture the attention of students, teachers, parents, the community, and beyond. Earth Day 2012’s education mission is simple: encourage as many students as possible to participate in Earth Day activities that teach the importance of civic and environmental responsibility.
Maybe Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is a good starting point -- “I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues…Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” The book and then the movie chronicle the plight of the environment and the Lorax, who speaks for the trees against the greedy Once-ler.
To help children get involved in the environmental movement, Earth Day Network has devised programs to incorporate environmental education into the classroom with a collection of more than 300 environmentally themed lesson plans at
Sample lesson plans for grades K-3 to grades 9-12 show students:
  •  the bigger meaning of recycling by focusing on what is created from the process  -- The Bigger Meaning of Recycling: Green Play Structures.
  • the scope of the worldwide plastic bag problem, and provide them with ways to reduce plastic bag generation and waste --The Truth about Plastic Bags.
  • examine the history of animal-based transportation and discover why many cultures increasingly rely on machines for transportation and contrast modern methods of transportation with those of the past to examine the pros and cons how transportation has developed in the modern world -- Before We Drove Cars We Rode Animals.
  • research and “get to know” the six major air pollutants -- The Six Infamous Pollutants.
  • audit their personal daily water usage and conservation. Through an introduction to the Kenyan village of Kapsasian, group mathematical problem solving, and class discussions, they will have a better understanding of the problems faced by those with lack of access to water -- Carrying Water.
  • introduce students to the concepts of water pollution and access to clean water through class discussion and a water filtration experiment -- Filtering Water.
  • gain background knowledge of the basic sources of air pollution, along with the overview of how air pollution affects our health and our environment -- Air Pollution 101.
There are many more that adults could possibly benefit from too.
On this Earth Day, maybe we can channel some of our efforts into building a clean, healthy, diverse world for children and future generations. But do we care enough?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

So I tried Nutella, but...

I did it! I finally bought a jar of Nutella last week to see what all the fuss is about.
It still being Lent, the jar sat unopened for a few days. I then got a spoon, opened the jar and took my first scoop. Sorry, but I couldn’t take a second.
Yes, it is creamy and tastes, just as the jar says, like a hazelnut cocoa spread. But there was something artificial and synthetic about it that didn’t agree with me and left an aftertaste. This is despite the fact Nutella has no artificial colors or preservatives. Also, it’s not dark cocoa, which rules me out of it.
I tried turning it around in my mouth to catch all the tastes, but the more I did, the worse it got. 
As I usually do, I read up on Nutella before tasting it. Pietro Ferrero, a pastry maker and founder of the Ferrero Company, created it in the 1940s. At the time, there was very little chocolate because cocoa was in short supply due to World War II rationing. So Ferrero used hazelnuts, which are plentiful in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy, to extend the chocolate supply.
The original version of Nutella spread was called "Pasta Gianduja." It was a paste in the name of a carnival character famous to the region and used in the first advertisements for the product. Pasta Gianduja was made in loaves and wrapped in tinfoil, so it could be sliced and placed on bread. But of course children ate the paste only.
Ferrero then altered the product into a paste that came in a jar to spread on bread. It became known as "Supercrema Gianduja."
In 1963, Pietro's son Michele revamped Supercrema to market it across Europe. Its composition was modified and it was renamed "Nutella®." The first jar left the Ferrero factory in Alba on April 20, 1964, or 28 years ago this month. Nutella® spread was a success because it was a cheaper version of chocolate.
The formula of Nutella hazelnut spread continues to be made from the combination of roasted hazelnuts, skimmed milk and a hint of cocoa.  According to the label, the main ingredients of Nutella are sugar and vegetable oils (mostly palm oil, followed by hazelnut, cocoa solids and skimmed milk). Nutella is marketed as "hazelnut cream" in many countries. Under Italian law, it cannot be labeled as a chocolate cream, because it doesn’t meet minimum cocoa solids concentration criteria. About half of the calories in Nutella come from fat (11g in a 37g serving, or 99 kcal out of 200 kcal) and about 40 percent of the calories come from sugar (20g, 80 kcal).
My Nutella experiment coincided with an avalanche of articles on chocolate with titles such as Can Eating Chocolate Help Keep You Slim?, Does Chocolate Help You Stay Slim?...
This made me laugh. It reminded me of the many articles that come out about salt, coffee, wine… maybe depending on the crops, the stock exchange or the multinationals that run the product-related firms. I wondered too if it wasn’t just a matter of common sense and whether the money for the research could have been better spent otherwise.
On chocolate, it is the first study to balance all of the known health benefits and harms. Published on 26 March 2012 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Dr. Beatrice Golomb and her colleagues at the University of California, San Diego, say the sweet’s extra calories may be more than offset by its positive effect on other conditions, such as heart disease, blood pressure and glucose control.
Most notably, the team found people who reported eating chocolate more frequently were thinner than those who ate less, as measured by their body mass index (BMI).
Golomb’s team asked 1,000 men and women -- their average age was 57, and 68 percent were males -- how much chocolate they consumed in a week, and recorded how much exercise they did over the same time period. Eating chocolate five times a week was linked to a one point drop in BMI, though the amount of chocolate the participants ate did not seem to have a significant effect on weight. The chocolate-lovers’ lower BMI also could not be accounted for by exercise or eating less overall.
I don’t have a sweet tooth, primarily because when growing up, my dad Esa had diabetes and we tried to limit tempting foods (see Shut out diabetes with healthy living, 10 April 2012). But for many years, I always had one slice of chocolate every evening before brushing my teeth and going to bed. I can only eat dark chocolate, preferably the Fair Trade variety. My theory being that it keeps my sugar needs and cravings, should they occur, in check.
I choose Fair Trade chocolate whenever available because it helps small farms and cooperatives selling cocoa beans and other products such as coffee, bananas and sugar, to make lasting improvements in their communities, by going towards schools, hospitals, and other improvements in infrastructure. Fair Trade guarantees that a significant portion of the money spent will go towards improving the communities where the cocoa was produced.
One of my favorite dark chocolates is the Lindt 90% cocoa bar. It first came with a “caution” and “tasting instructions” for the five taste sensations the eater experiences, including a spike of acidity, astringency and bitterness to be replaced by a sense of fruitiness and cocoa flavor. But the packaging for the Noirissime chocolate bar then omitted the graph of acidity, astringency, bitterness, fruitiness, and cocoa flavor. In place of that, a new set of instructions declares, “To best experience Excellence 99% cocoa, taste a small piece and let it melt in your mouth...”
I haven’t found the Lindt 99% in Dubai yet, so I stick to dark chocolate and of course peanut butter. One cube of dark chocolate or a couple of spoons of peanut butter per night is keeping me happy and slim...
Sorry, Nutella: “It’s not you. It’s me!”

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Shut out diabetes with healthy living

A sedentary lifestyle, fatty fast-food and lack of exercise are contributing to more and more people falling victim to lifestyle ailments such as diabetes and obesity. Not a week goes by without reports on the high numbers in the UAE.

Diabetes is a pandemic in the Middle East and North Africa. While an estimated 24.5 million people are affected by diabetes, an equal number of people are on the threshold with Impaired Glucose Tolerance (IGT) or pre-diabetic stage. The figure is expected to double in the next 15 years.

This explosion of diabetes in the region is due primarily to the rapid economic growth, widespread urbanization as well as Westernized and sedentary lifestyles. Diabetes ranks top on the region’s healthcare concerns and diabetes education efforts are in full swing.

I am all too familiar with diabetes and its effects. My father, Esa, had diabetes. He developed Type 2 diabetes in his late forties. I don’t remember exactly when, but I was very young and it affected his lifestyle and the family’s.

Although not life-threatening and kept under control, it eventually contributed to his death. When he was admitted, unconscious, to hospital in Bahrain after being hit by a drunk driver, the doctors did not know he had diabetes. It seems wrong medicines were administered in the ER and…

Dad was a big sportsman and not obese. A lot of adjustments were made to the family’s diet and activities. We were brought up with very little sweets at home so as not to tempt him. Dishes were cooked in a healthy, non-greasy way, and the beach was a great outlet for sports. It taught us very young to eat healthy and try and always exercise.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates more than 346 million people worldwide have diabetes. Without intervention, this number is likely to more than double by 2030. It says 80% of diabetes deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.
WHO explains:

Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs either when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar. Hyperglycaemia, or raised blood sugar, is a common effect of uncontrolled diabetes and over time leads to serious damage to many of the body's systems, especially the nerves and blood vessels.

Type 1 diabetes (previously known as insulin-dependent, juvenile or childhood-onset) is characterized by deficient insulin production and requires daily administration of insulin. The cause of Type 1 diabetes is not known and it is not preventable with current knowledge.

Symptoms include excessive excretion of urine (polyuria), thirst (polydipsia), constant hunger, weight loss, vision changes and fatigue. These symptoms may occur suddenly.

Type 2 diabetes (formerly called non-insulin-dependent or adult-onset) results from the body’s ineffective use of insulin. Type 2 diabetes comprises 90% of people with diabetes around the world, and is largely the result of excess bodyweight and physical inactivity.
Symptoms may be similar to those of Type 1 diabetes, but are often less marked. As a result, the disease may be diagnosed several years after onset, once complications have already arisen. Until recently, this type of diabetes was seen only in adults but it is now also occurring in children.

Gestational diabetes is Hyperglycaemia with onset or first recognition during pregnancy. Symptoms are similar to Type 2 diabetes. It is usually diagnosed through prenatal screening, rather than reported symptoms.

Impaired Glucose Tolerance (IGT) and Impaired Fasting Glycaemia (IFG) are intermediate conditions in the transition between normality and diabetes. People with IGT or IFG are at high risk of progressing to Type 2 diabetes, although this is not inevitable.

Last World Diabetes Day (November 14, 2011), the International Diabetes Federation developed five key messages on the disease:
  • Diabetes kills: 1 person every 8 seconds, 4 million people a year
  • Diabetes does not discriminate: all ages, rich and poor, all countries
  • Diabetes can no longer be ignored: 4 million lives lost a year, 1 million amputations a year, millions lost in income and productivity
  • Life-saving care, a right not a privilege: education, medicines, technologies
  • Choose Health: demand healthy food and environments, keep active, eat well.

The warning signs of diabetes include (these can be mild or absent in people with Type 2 diabetes):
  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased hunger
  • Weight loss
  • Tiredness
  • Lack of interest and concentration
  • Vomiting and stomach pain (often mistaken as the flu)
  • A tingling sensation or numbness in the hands or feet
  • Blurred vision
  • Frequent infections
  • Slow-healing wounds

There are many risk factors for Type 2 diabetes. They include:
  • Obesity and overweight
  • Lack of exercise
  • Previously identified glucose intolerance
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Increased age
  • High blood pressure and high cholesterol
  • A family history of diabetes
  • A history of gestational diabetes

About 19.5 per cent of the UAE's population is now living with diabetes according to statistics released by the Imperial College London Diabetes Center. Figures show that 40 per cent of residents over 60 have diabetes and the number is expected to increase over the coming years.

Chart from Gulf News
A study by United Health Group titled “Diabetes in the United Arab Emirates: Crisis or Opportunity?” finds the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in the Emirates is amongst the highest in the world.

By 2020, an estimated 32 percent of the adult population (aged 20-79), including nationals and expatriates, may have diabetes or pre-diabetes at a possible cost of $8.52 billion (AED 31.27 billion) over the next decade if current trends continue. This means that one in three adults from all levels of UAE society will be affected. Yet, the vast majority of cases of pre-diabetes and about 35 percent of cases of diabetes in the UAE remain undiagnosed, representing lost opportunities to avoid the costs and complications of a largely preventable disease.

Healthy snacks for diabetes
Weight is at the heart of the problem. Obesity, pre-diabetes and diabetes are related conditions that create a dangerous, yet preventable, cascade of health and economic impacts. According to WHO, about 73 percent of adult women and 66 percent of men are overweight or obese in the UAE, placing the country in the top five worldwide in the obesity stakes.  And women in the UAE are more likely to have pre-diabetes than men.
With children as young as 10 being diagnosed with the illness -- again due to obesity, coupled with physical inactivity, an unhealthy diet and hypertension – it is a warning bell for parents to take action.

The above figures are quite frightening and it might be time to cut down on fast food and fizzy drinks and take a walk. It’s never too early to heed an SOS on health.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Time to shine a blue light on autism

Once you get over April Fool’s Day, April is the month to “shine the light” and raise awareness on autism.

On April 2, the fifth World Autism Awareness Day, the world is going blue to raise awareness of autism with Light It Up Blue.

In its third year, Light It Up in Blue is a unique global initiative by Autism Speaks. Iconic landmarks around the world will today Light It Up Blue to urge vigilance on autism, a pervasive disorder that affects tens of millions.

Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders -- autism spectrum disorders -- caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by social and behavioral challenges, as well as repetitive behaviors.

Autism Speaks is the world's leading autism science and advocacy organization. Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism, founded it in February 2005. Since its inception, Autism Speaks has made enormous strides, committing over $173 million to researching and developing innovative resources for families.

My first awareness of autism, possibly like many others, was Rain Man, the 1988 drama film that tells the story of an abrasive and selfish yuppie, Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise), who discovers his estranged father has died and bequeathed all of his multimillion-dollar estate to his other son, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), an autistic “savant” of whose existence Charlie was unaware.

Although Rain Man's portrayal of Raymond’s condition was seen as inaugurating a common and incorrect media stereotype that people with autism typically have savant skills, the Oscar-winning movie also dispelled a number of misconceptions about autism and improved public awareness of the failure of many agencies to accommodate autistic people and make use of their abilities.

Devina and Karan (photo from Devina's blog)
My knowledge of autism was largely improved over the past couple of years through my friend Devina Divecha (@DevinaDivecha on Twitter), a journalist, food blogger, photographer and autism awareness campaigner. Devina’s 15-year-old brother, Karan, was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at the age of three.

At her blog “Autism and Us,” and through Autism & Us -- Adita, Devina and Karan, Devina and her mother Adita blog about their experiences with autism in their daily lives. Simple tasks we take for granted, like going to the bathroom in a mall or going to the cinema, are practically impossible for Karan.

Devina writes: “Karan is low-functioning on the autistic scale and is non-verbal (for the uninitiated that means he cannot communicate through words although he is able to make unintelligible sounds). He can be quite hyperactive (sometimes to the annoyance of his sister), yet has times when he is amazingly calm. He loves to be hugged, which opposes the stereotype of autistic people who don't want to be touched. When he learned how to eat on his own with a spoon, we all whooped with joy.”

The blog goes a long way in helping raise awareness through Adita and Devina’s experiences about life with Karan. And as Devina writes: “It's not all Rain Man, you know."

On this special day, Devina's mother Adita sums it up in "A mother's thoughts on Autism Awareness Day," by celebrating Karan's achievements so far. It is a must read that I will not spoil for you..

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how autistic people make sense of the world around them. It is a spectrum condition, which means that while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways. Some are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have accompanying learning difficulties and need a lifetime of specialist support. People with autism may also experience over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colors.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its estimate of autism prevalence in the United States to 1 in 88 children -- a tenfold increase in prevalence in 40 years. Careful research shows this increase is only partly explained by improved diagnosis and awareness. Studies also show autism is three to four times more common among boys than girls. An estimated 1 out of 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States.

Iconic buildings light up blue worldwide
Intercon Hotel at Festival City, Dubai, lights up blue
The United Nations General Assembly unanimously declared 2 April as World Autism Awareness Day (A/RES/62/139) to highlight the need to help improve the lives of children and adults who suffer from the disorder so they can lead full and meaningful lives.

The December 18, 2007, resolution was tabled by Qatar through the support of HH Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, wife of the Emir of Qatar HH Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the day should spur global action to combat the “unacceptable” discrimination, abuse and isolation that people with the disorder and their loved ones face.

“Autism is not limited to a single region or a country; it is a worldwide challenge that requires global action,” states Mr. Ban’s message. “People with autism are equal citizens who should enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

“Our work with and for people with autism should not be limited to early identification and treatment; it should include therapies, educational plans and other steps that lead us towards sustained, lifelong engagement… We also need to promote further research, train non-specialized care providers, and enable the autism community to more easily navigate care systems to obtain services that can support and mainstream individuals with autism,” adds the UN secretary-general.

UN stamps released today to honor autism
In New York, Vienna and Geneva today, the UN Postal Administration (UNPA) released six commemorative postage stamps and two collectible envelopes dedicated to autism awareness, with images created by artists who have been diagnosed with autism. The stamps will send a “powerful message to people around the world that talent and creativity live inside all of us,” Mr. Ban says.

The UN is the only organization in the world, which is neither a country nor a territory that is permitted to issue postage stamps. It is also the only postal authority to issue stamps in three different currencies -- the U.S. dollar, the Swiss franc and the euro.

Mr. Ban says: “The annual observance of World Autism Awareness Day is meant to spur such action and draw attention to the unacceptable discrimination, abuse and isolation experienced by people with autism and their loved ones.  As highlighted by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, people with autism are equal citizens who should enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

“Let us all continue to join hands to enable people with autism and other neurological differences to realize their potential and enjoy the opportunities and well-being that are their birthright.”

Awareness months are by no means limited to 30 days per year. April will hopefully encourage people to learn more about autism as I have done and possibly help in some way or just accept that we are not all the same.

This post is dedicated to Karan, who I hope to meet some day, and to Devina and her family.