Friday, October 12, 2018

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
Need to talk about
mental health care
The World Mental Health Day 2018 passed off quietly on Wednesday with not much people talking about how important it is to share, care and seek support in these days of increasing stress caused by technology, environment and other social issues.
A startling warning has been issued by the "Lancet Commission" report that mental health disorders are on the rise in every country in the world and could cost the global economy up to $16 trillion between 2010 and 2030 if a collective failure to respond is not addressed.
The report by 28 global specialists in psychiatry, public health and neuroscience, as well as mental health patients and advocacy groups, has distinctly highlighted that the growing crisis could cause lasting harm to people, communities and economies worldwide.
The world community cannot afford to take this lightly considering the magnitude of the challenge. Efforts should be intensified to end the stigma that prevents people from seeking help for their mental health.
Mental illness has also risen dramatically worldwide in the past 25 years, partly due to societies ageing and more children surviving into adolescence.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 300 million people worldwide have depression and 50 million have dementia. Schizophrenia is estimated to affect 23 million people, and bipolar disorder around 60 million.
Half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated. In terms of the burden of the disease among adolescents, depression is the third leading cause. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has taken the correct step by naming a minister for suicide prevention as part of a new push to tackle mental health issues. Incidentally, there are more than 4,500 self-inflicted deaths every year in England, and suicide remains the leading cause of death among men under the age of 45.
The importance of talking as the first step towards getting help should be reinforced in the community. As experts point out, prevention begins with being aware of and understanding the early warning symptoms of mental illness. Parents and teachers can help build life skills of children and adolescents to help them cope with everyday challenges at home and at school.
The Lancet Commission report is absolutely right in calling for a human rights-based approach to ensure that people with mental health conditions are not denied fundamental human rights, including access to employment, education and other core life experiences.
Rising temperature
a mounting challenge
A landmark report by the United Nations has issued a dire warning that time is running out to avert climate disaster and the advice deserves to be taken very seriously as it will affect each and every individual on planet earth — man or woman, rich or poor, child or elderly.
Limiting global warming to 1.5°C will require far-reaching and unprecedented changes, such as ditching coal for electricity to slash carbon emissions, as per the exhaustive Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, and leaders of the world better wake up to reality.
The landmark Paris Agreement adopted in December 2015 by 195 nations at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change included the aim of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change by holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
Unfortunately, actions on the ground so far do not match the pace at which the crisis is growing.
Earth's surface has already warmed one degree Celsius — enough to lift oceans and unleash a crescendo of deadly storms, floods and droughts — and is frighteningly on track towards an unliveable 3C or 4C rise.
Extreme weather conditions, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice are merely a tip of the iceberg compared to massive damage that humans could pay as a price for inaction.
If anyone thinks that the problem is merely for the future generations to worry about, the thought is futile because at current levels of greenhouse gas emissions, we could pass the 1.5C marker as early as 2030.
The report rightly seeks huge changes in land, energy, industry, buildings, transportation and cities. Global net emissions of carbon dioxide need to fall by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach "net zero" around 2050.
The stakes are especially high for small island states, developing nations in the tropics, and countries with densely-populated delta regions already suffering from rising seas.
Scientists and experts have given their verdict. Now it is the duty of governments to act on the subject. Lethargy could prove disastrous.
The good news is that it is possible to tackle the climate challenge and limit global warming to 1.5°C. What is called for is global collective will and concrete action. There is absolutely no time to waste.
A salute to
the elderly
To forget the elderly is to ignore the wisdom of the years, once wrote Donald Laird. As the world marks the International Day for Older Persons on Monday, the crucial contributions being made by this hugely respectable segment of society should be recognised and saluted.
As per United Nations estimates, almost 700 million people are now over the age of 60. By 2050, 2 billion people, over 20 per cent of the world’s population, will be 60 or older. With this in mind, enhanced attention to the particular needs and challenges faced by most older people is clearly required.
It’s a collective responsibility of those living in any country to care for the elderly.
Thankfully, countries like the UAE leave no stone unturned to help the aged and deserve praise for doing so.
For example, the Sharjah Social Services Department (SSSD) is all set to launch the seventh Elderly Services Forum 2018, to be held under the slogan, "Sharjah Age-Friendly City,” to highlight the most prominent services and programmes of age-friendly cities.
The SSSD has also conducted a survey on entertainment programmes for the elderly, aiming to achieve the department's vision of promoting a safe and secure society and enhancing family stability.
The gesture comes in line with the SSSD’s strategy to empower the elderly, discussing the most prominent proposals that serve several old people.
In Dubai, the Dubai Municipality has provided dedicated walkways for the elderly people on public beaches. The special pathways have been built for the People of Determination and the elderly to enable them to cross the beach and reach the sea easily.
Obaid Salem Al Zaabi, Permanent Representative of the UAE at the United Nations, pointed out in Geneva recently that the UAE has been paying proper attention and care to older persons and the Ministry of Community Development is working with civil society organisations to provide an integrated social care and inclusion system.
The country has been undertaking additional efforts to mitigate challenges facing older persons. Programmes are in place protecting elderly persons from social exclusion and providing them with services, while respecting the dignity of every person.
All this is possible due to the UAE society’s deep-rooted values of caring and love for older people.
The International Day of Older Persons offers another opportunity to highlight the important contributions that older people make to society.
Lend refugees
a helping hand
When people are forced to flee their homes due to war, violence or persecution, it hits at the core of collective human conscience and raises questions about what the international community is doing to address the issue.
With 68.5 million people forcibly displaced worldwide as of the start of this year and funding by governments for refugee and other displacement situations barely matching, the worries of United Nations officials are understandably growing.
As per a new report released by the Donor Relations and Resource Mobilisation Service of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, based on contributions to date, it expects funding for 2018 to meet just 55 per cent of the $8.2 billion that is needed.
This compares to 56.6 per cent in 2017 and 58 per cent in 2016. In short, donor funding is falling increasingly behind even as the number of forcibly displaced worldwide has grown.
The trend is certainly worrisome as the consequences for refugees and internally displaced people in particular are too real.
UN officials say they are witnessing increases in malnutrition, health facilities being overcrowded, housing and shelters becoming increasingly dilapidated, children either in overcrowded classrooms or doing without school altogether, and growing protection risks because of shortages of personnel to deal with unaccompanied children or victims of sexual violence.
Six refugee and displacement situations globally are particularly badly hit. These include Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Syria and Somalia.
The Sharjah International Children’s Film Festival (SICFF 2018) organisers deserve praise for doing their bit to raise awareness on the issue.
In seeking to raise understanding and awareness of the refugee crisis, the sixth edition of the Festival, organised by Funn Establishment – Sharjah Media Arts for Youth and Children, has selected 13 short films that can inspire and provoke people to act, and establish an understanding of what its like to be forced to leave homes and countries, with nowhere to go.
Beginning from Oct.14 until 19, the festival audiences can anticipate films that seek to bridge the understanding of displacement crisis.
The world community should step up assistance and see to it that vulnerable people are not left out. The refugee issue is a global humanitarian challenge that must be collectively addressed due to its significant impact on global stability and peace.
The future of entire generations of children and young people in countries affected by conflicts and unrest are at stake.
Blood donors
are life savers
Blood transfusion saves lives and improves health, but many patients across the world requiring transfusion do not have timely access to safe blood. Such unavailability of blood often leads to preventable deaths.
Blood is the most precious gift anyone can give to another person — the gift of life.
Providing safe and adequate blood should be an integral part of every country’s national health care policy and infrastructure, as World Health Organisation officials suggest.
Just last week, Dubai Health Authority’s (DHA) Dubai Blood Donation Centre underlined the importance of blood donation, indicating that while all blood types are needed, negative blood types are in greater demand due to their rarity.
As per Dr Mai Raouf, Director of the Dubai Blood Donation Centre, only 0.6 per cent of the UAE population are AB negative, 1.8 per cent are B negative, 2.4 percent are A negative, 4 per cent are O negative. The O-positive blood types are most common and are found in 38.6 percent of the population.
There is a continuous demand for all blood types as blood lasts for only 42 days and, hence, donors are always needed to come forward to replenish these stocks.
Interestingly, the Dubai Blood Donation Centre, which has an international accreditation from the American Association of Blood Banks since 2012, has taken a number of steps to provide smart services that ease the customer’s journey. Among them is the DAMMI App, which makes it easier to find the time and place to make blood donations in Dubai.
The app allows blood donors to answer donation eligibility questionnaire and read pre-donation educational material through their mobile phones before they reach the donation centre.
The Ministry of Health and Prevention (MOHAP) provides blood donation services within the priority health services by providing blood units and their components for hospitals in the private and government sectors.
Dr Hussein Abdel-Rahman Rand, Assistant Under-Secretary for Health Clinics and Centres, recently made an interesting observation that the UAE, with the support of its wise leadership, has become self-sufficient in safe blood, with 100 per cent of the blood supply in the MOHAP coming from voluntary blood donations.
This has positioned the UAE at the regional level in terms of safe blood transfusion services.
Blood donors, who help save several lives every year whether through regular or emergency donations, truly deserve a hearty salute.