News You Might Have Missed * Vol. 7, No. 3

Important but overlooked news from around the world.


“Documents we have refer to ways of increasing the number of ‘YAUS’ in Nigeria. We have expert testimony that says YAUS means ‘young and underage smokers’.”

— Nigerian lawyer Babatunde Irukera on a government lawsuit against tobacco companies there (see “Top Stories,” below).


*Top Stories*
Boycotts cut into Myanmar gem auction
Japan’s health care crisis
Nigeria’s Smoke Out

*Public Health*
Transplant shortage hits ethnic minorities

Iran grapples with discrimination, division

Smells like team spirit


* Boycotts Cut into Myanmar Gem Auction

The Myanmar junta’s repression of democracy protests last summer may have calmed the streets, but its harsh tactics have also robbed the state’s gem trade of its lustre.

Inter Press Service reports that Myanmar’s gem auctions brought in $300 million in 2006, the state’s third most profitable export after fossil fuels and timber.

But in 2007, in the grips of numerous economic sanctions, bans and boycotts, gem earnings dropped to $150 million.

Now, Myanmar is staging another auction this week, prompting renewed calls for boycotts.

Human rights campaigners say that the number of gem auctions is on the rise, as Maynamar’s gem trading companies, which are largely owned by officers in the ruling military junta, struggle to meet earnings expectations.

–Josh Wilson/


“Myanmar’s gem trade loses its shine”
Inter Press Service, January 16, 2008

* Japan’s Health Care Crisis

It is a leader of the industrialized world, a scientific and technological powerhouse with a robust economy, a vigorous democracy and guaranteed universal health care for all its citizens.

Yet Japan increasingly struggles to make good on that promise, as hospitals, many of them privately owned, have begun shutting down their emergency wards due to rising costs and staffing shortages.

The Asahi Shimbun newspaper reports that 235 hospitals in Japan have stopped accepting emergency patients in the last two years, and 20 have closed their doors for good.

At issue is a lack of doctors willing to work overnight shifts, and private owners who have found hospitals, especially in rural areas, to be unprofitable.

–Josh Wilson/


“200 hospitals have ended emergency care over past two years”
Asahi Shimbun/Agence France-Presse, January 16, 2008

* Nigeria’s Smoke Out

Claims that international tobacco companies are targeting young people in Nigeria have spurred a $43 billion government lawsuit against Phillip Morris, British American Tobacco and International Tobacco.

Activists told The Guardian that the companies are targeting teenagers with marketing strategies that have banned in other nations, using sponsored events, pop stars and product placements to glamorize smoking.

According to the World Health Organization, one in five Nigerian teenagers smoke, and the number of women smokers there rose tenfold in the 1990s.

Government lawyers cite “internal” corporate documents that identify “young and underage smokers” as a prime target — some no more than eight or nine years old.

Critics of the lawsuit say that Nigeria’s lawsuit is a cynical ploy to make money off the industry, which only recently enjoyed numerous tax breaks there.

–Josh Wilson/


“Nigeria takes on big tobacco”
The Guardian (U.K.), January 15, 2008


* Transplant Shortage Hits Minorities

Doctors all over the world are having difficulty finding matching donors for bone marrow transplants – a lifesaving operation for certain very serious illnesses.

And patients from ethnic minorities are the most at risk.

Because the transplants are much more likely to succeed when they are between people of similar genetic backgrounds, physicians try to find donors from the same ethnicity as the patients.

But, even in advanced nations, the pool of registered donors is relatively small, and ethnic minorities make up a small percentage of that small number.

In New Zealand, this means that patients who belong to the indigenous Maori population are much less likely to find a matching donor and receive a transplant than are the descendents of European settlers.

Rachel Sharma, a 20-year-old Auckland resident and leukemia patient, had to get substitute therapy when no matching donor could be found from the 11.6 million donors registered worldwide, the New Zealand Herald reported.

Eventually, Sharma received a cord blood transplant instead – one of only two such surgeries in New Zealand last year.

New Zealand officials have been promoting the donor registry for 12 years in an effort to bolster the numbers of Pacific Islanders on the list.

In the Czech Republic, physicians have had trouble finding matching donors for Roma, or gypsy, patients with leukemia.

“Whereas other nationalities and ethnic groups in Europe intermarried over the centuries, Roma lived in closed communities,” said Mája Vojgrová of the Plzen Faculty Hospital, as quoted in the Prague Post. “That is why they have a very specific coding that is different from other east Europeans.”

The United States has had trouble finding matches for minorities as well.

The Lake County News-Sun reported on the case of Diane Perez, an eighth grader in West Chicago, who needs a bone marrow transplant.

Doctors say she will likely die without a bone marrow transplant, but they have been unable to find a matching donor.

About six million people are on the National Marrow Donor Program, the News-Sun reported, but only one million of these are black or Hispanic.

The number of Asians and Native Americans are even lower.

WCAX, in Vermont, reported on the case of Nicole Nelson, who is of Abenaki American Indian descent, and needs a bone marrow transplant to survive.

Nelson did not even know of her American Indian heritage until after she was diagnosed with aplastic anemia.

After doctors were unable to find a matching donor for Nelson, Todd Hebert, an Abenaki man, organized a donor drive in the tribe.

Hebert had never met Nelson, but told WCAX, “I immediately wanted to do something because there’s very few of us around. I just feel that the few that there are need to be in that registry. There are other people like Nicole that are going to be in the same dilemma. I think all Native Americans should step forward to help their people.”

–Will Crain/


“Doctors look for bone marrow donors for Roma patients Ethnic patients often need related donors, doctors say”
Prague Post, January 14, 2008

“Transplant crisis hits minorities”
New Zealand Herald, January 2, 2008

“Campaign of hope”
Lake County News-Sun (Illinois), January 13, 2008

“Family’s race to find bone marrow donor”
Telegraph (UK), January 4, 2008

“Abenaki Tribe Needs Help Finding Bone Marrow Matches” (Vermont) January 2, 2008


* Iran Grapples with Discrimination, Division

Despite an ongoing crackdown on dissent, women’s rights and ethnic separatism remain a thorn in the side of Iran’s fundamentalist government.

Reuters reports that the “Million Signatures Campaign,” aimed at improving the legal standing of Iranian women in divorce, child custody, inheritance and other cases, continues unabated despite the periodic jailing of its leaders.

One Iranian cleric told Reuters that religious law ensures women there are not turned into “products” and sex symbols in the Western fashion.

But according to campaigners — who collect signatures on buses, in shopping centers and at social events — the strict Islamic dress code is less important to them than social equity.

Advocates say the social standing of women in Iran has improved, and that the majority of university students today are women, although the law of the land continues to reinforce discrimination.

While rights campaigning by Iranian women remains a civil struggle, ethnic divisions in the southwestern Baloch provinces have taken a more violent turn.

Baloch partisans have long sought unification with their nearby brethren in Pakistan and Afghanistan, spurring a sporadic, border-crossing rebellion.

Now, fighting is on the increase between Iranian security forces and separatist Jundallah (“Soldiers of God”) militants.

Jundallah is also blamed for several high-profile bombings and attacks on Iran’s military and intelligence elite.

The government claims that the United States as well as Pakistan are aiding and abetting the rebels, though the Jamestown Foundation, which describes itself as a “leading source of information on closed, totalitarian societies,” says that these claims are unsubstantiated.

However, the organization does assert that Jundallah times its attacks to coincide with increasing U.S.-Iranian tensions, and that U.S. support for the rebels could be a way to “pressure Iran during any potential conflict.”

–Josh Wilson/


“In Iran, some women pursue rights despite pressure”
Reuters, January 15, 2007

“Iran spars with its enemy within”
Jamestown Foundation, January 16, 2007


* Smells Like Team Spirit

In what may be a first for political branding, a Spanish political party has begun marketing its own perfume.

The Catalan Socialist Party unveiled the scent at a press conference Monday, with a spokesman saying that the perfume conveys the party’s “confidence, equality, progress and efficiency,” according to the British newspaper The Guardian.

The Guardian quoted the fragrance’s creator, Albert Majos, as saying the product was “neither perfume nor air-freshener,” but a representation of socialism’s values.

One journalist attending the press conference said the smell was so powerful he left the room feeling faint, the Guardian reported.

The press conference was held the same day that Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero dissolved Parliament and officially announced that general elections would be held on March 9.

Observers say it will be a very tight race between the ruling Socialists and the conservative People’s Party.

–Will Crain/


“Aaah! The sweet smell of socialism”
The Guardian, January 14, 2008

Editors: Josh Wilson, Will Crain

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