From the COVID-19 epicentre: lessons from Latin American cities’ successes and failures


Hayley Henderson, Australian National University

Latin America is now the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic. The fastest spread of the disease in the region’s cities follows a pattern of contagion that is anything but arbitrary. Disturbing images in international media depict the unfolding crisis, from disinfection campaigns in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to stockpiles of cardboard coffins in Guayaquil, Ecuador.




Read more:
Deaths and desperation mount in Ecuador, epicenter of coronavirus pandemic in Latin America


By this week, about 30% of the world’s reported cases were in the region. But some centres have been much worse hit than others.
Two factors underpin these variations: levels of inequality, and the ways governments and communities are handling the crisis.

World map showing distribution of reported COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population for each country
Worldwide distribution of 14-day cumulative number of reported COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population. Darkest colours indicate highest rates of infection.
ECDC, CC BY

Across the region’s largest cities, the first cases had appeared by early March in well-off neighbourhoods. Not until May were exponential rates of infection recorded in most Latin American countries. The surge in cases reflected the spread of coronavirus across cities and into their poorest neighbourhoods.

The poor are more vulnerable

Many of the urban poor have not been able to manage risk in the way that the better-off do. To make ends meet they often travel long distances in public transport to work in wealthier neighbourhoods. Those who have jobs are often employed in the informal economy: cleaning houses, fixing electrical problems, selling vegetables and so on.

By June 2020, infection rates were increasing in many middle-class neighbourhoods too –
for example, in Buenos Aires. However, self-isolation is a more realistic prospect in these areas. Medical care is also more accessible.

Inequality created ideal conditions for COVID-19 to spread. The disease disproportionately affects residents of informal settlements in the largest cities. One-fifth of the Latin American population lives in such settlements.

As well as their work being insecure, their living conditions add to their vulnerability. Some of the problems faced can include overcrowding, malnutrition, deficient sewer systems, limited (and often paid) access to drinkable water, overwhelmed or unaffordable health services and indoor air pollution from cooking (with open fires or simple stoves, for example).




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Given these conditions, COVID-19 is far from a levelling force. It is the latest crisis to reveal old and hard truths about Latin America’s social and economic geography.

Quality of governance laid bare

The virus has not spread unabated in all Latin American cities. The quality of governance and the preparedness of services have greatly affected outcomes between cities and countries.

Some have paid a high price for the harmful impacts of inconsistent communications by authorities and political leaders, weak public health systems, liberalised employment conditions and lack of support for disadvantaged groups.

Mortality analyses conducted by the Coronavirus Resource Center at John Hopkins University show six of the countries most affected by COVID-19 worldwide are now in Latin America. Brazil, Chile and Peru have reached 50 or more deaths per 100,000 population. Nowhere has it been made clearer how a chronically underfunded public health system leaves behind vulnerable people.

The mortality rate is lower in other parts of the region. In these countries, strict restrictions have been introduced and the public health systems bolstered since the start of the pandemic. Leading examples include Uruguay, with 1.07 deaths per 100,000 people, and Argentina (11.7/100,000).

In June, Time included Argentina’s response in “The Best Global Responses to COVID-19 Pandemic”. In the capital, Buenos Aires, co-ordination between the three levels of government has been strong on public health as well as economic and social protection measures despite political differences. Shared communications have backed strict lockdown measures every fortnight since March 20 (read more about the Buenos Aires experience here).

Bottom-up efforts are vital too

It is not just top-down approaches by government that make a difference to local outcomes. The bottom-up work of social organisations in Latin American cities has also been vital.

We see this work especially in informal settlements that lack public services. Often run voluntarily and by women, these organisations cook meals for people in need, make masks, source medications, spread public information and fix broken houses.




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Many of their actions are also directed toward the state. With an ethic of care, they seek to drive anti-neoliberal change and demonstrate a better urban future centred on people’s real lives and desires.

For example, across the region feminist social movements and politics are dismantling patriarchal perspectives about modern cities. Their collective response to the COVID-19 crisis is a demonstration of solidarity.

Posts by Latin American feminist groups
Feminist movements debate ‘ecofeminism’ and ‘the city we want to return to’.
Ecofeminism Encounters, Latin American Dialogue (https://www.ciudadfeminista.cl/, https://www.ciudaddeldeseo.com/), Author provided

Remaking cities after the pandemic

Looking forward to the post-pandemic city, there are valuable lessons to be learnt from Latin America.

First, debilitating inequality must be redressed. Poverty has been built into the way cities are developed. But this is now being denaturalised.

Second, co-ordinated and strong state-led action that made public health the priority has saved lives in cities like Buenos Aires. Bipartisan leadership and collaboration between levels of government can also help us deal with pressing urban challenges in the future.

Third, because of the ubiquitous albeit unequal way coronavirus has affected people across cities, there is potential for a post-pandemic future that focuses on collective well-being.

Many Latin American social organisations, and the networks between them, offer hope and direction for the challenge of recovery. Not only do they provide vital support in crisis management, they could play a democratising role in shaping politics and state responses to redress inequality over the long term.The Conversation

Hayley Henderson, Postdoctoral Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Aged care failures show how little we value older people – and those who care for them



File 20180924 43466 11po1k9.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Our society should ensure older people remain employed and engaged in their communities, rather than pushed to the margins.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Bridget Laging, La Trobe University; Amanda Kenny, La Trobe University, and Rhonda Nay, La Trobe University

As the royal commission begins investigating the failures of the residential aged care sector, it is important such a review also considers the broader socio-political factors that have contributed to this crisis.

The commission needs to go beyond the institutional problems at individual aged care facilities, as these are a symptom of a much broader rejection of ageing in society and marginalisation of older people.

Negative stereotyping of older people is reinforced in the media, and this both informs and reflects societal attitudes. In Western society especially, we fear dependency, invisibility and dying. Aged care is a silo of these fears. And until it affects us personally, we ignore it.

How older people are marginalised in society

We have an expiry date in our society. This is not the date we die, but a time when our skills and knowledge are no longer considered to be valid or useful. Our value is largely determined by our economic contributions to society. But for many older people, this is difficult to demonstrate because they’re no longer in the workforce.

The economic impact of societal rejection of ageing is significant. Modelling by Price Waterhouse Cooper indicates that Australia’s gross domestic product would increase by almost 5% if people were supported to work longer. And data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveal that many Australians would like to retire later if they could.

Yet, there is evidence that older people are routinely denied work. In 2016, Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan said there was an urgent need to “tackle the discrimination that forces people out of work years before they want to leave”.




Read more:
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While older people should be supported to work longer if they wish, over half of Australians between the ages of 65 and 80 report a moderate or severe disability, resulting in greater dependency. A 2017 study of late-life dependency published in The Lancet found that, on average, older people will require 24-hour care for 1.3 to 1.9 years of their lives.

However, it is important that older people are not considered redundant in their societal role when dependency increases.

Aged care workers are also undervalued

Residential aged care facilities fulfil an essential role in our society. Yet, our recent ethnographic study in two residential aged care facilities in Victoria shows how this role has been compromised by an under-skilled, under-valued and overworked aged care workforce.

Older people were exposed to a revolving door of anonymous workers, significantly reducing opportunities for teamwork and fostering relationships between staff and residents. In one of the not-for-profit facilities, a single registered nurse was responsible for the care of 73 residents. This contributed to the delegation of an increasing range of tasks to unregistered personal care assistants with minimal training and delays in recognising signs of health deterioration among residents.




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How our residential aged-care system doesn’t care about older people’s emotional needs


A reliance on general practitioners also increased the likelihood of hospital transfer. And hospital transfers can sometimes prove harmful, with previous studies showing that the noisy, fast-paced environment, bright lights and anonymous faces can have a negative impact on residents, particularly those with dementia.

Within the healthcare sector, aged care has the lowest status of all specialty areas amongst nurses and doctors. Recruiting appropriately qualified and skilled people to work in aged care is thus a constant challenge. Australia is expected to increasingly rely on imported labour to staff its aged care sector in the near future.

Ways to fix the system

Encouraging more healthcare professionals to enter the aged care sector will require a multi-pronged approach, starting with finding ways to engender more professional respect for those working in the field.

Greater emphasis also needs to be placed on improving the gerontological expertise of aged care workers. This can be strengthened by prioritising aged care in medical school education and recognising “nursing home” care as a specialist medical area. It is also imperative that personal care assistants receive greater recognition of the roles and duties they perform.




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Registration of personal care assistants as third-tier health care professionals is well overdue to ensure better oversight of their training and scope of their practice.

We also need to recognise the importance of human connection in residential aged care facilities. This requires strategies to build better relationships between residents and staff, and developing a formula for more accurate staffing allocations that reflect the real time commitments involved in aged care.

Who bears the ultimate responsibility?

It’s not enough to be shocked by the aged care scandals uncovered by the media and the decision to appoint a royal commission to investigate. We must also make older people, their contributions and end-of-life needs more visible. Increased funding and oversight will only come when we collectively say it’s important.

It is incumbent on us to ensure that residential aged care facilities do not operate as holding bays for the silenced, or wastelands for the discarded, where the occupants are expected to demand nothing and be as little cost to society as possible.

We have an opportunity to reconstruct the delivery of residential aged care. Let’s begin with the end in mind: a society that not only values older people, but values the resources required to provide the care they need and deserve.The Conversation

Bridget Laging, PhD Candidate, ACEBAC La Trobe University, La Trobe University; Amanda Kenny, Violet Marshman Professor of Rural Health, La Trobe University, and Rhonda Nay, Emeritus Professor La Trobe University, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

TURKEY: MURDER DEFENDANT AGAIN ADMITS PERJURY


Prosecutors suspect he’s protecting ‘masterminds’ of slaying of three Christians in Malatya.

ISTANBUL, August 25 (Compass Direct News) – Turkish murder suspect Emre Gunaydin admitted in court last week that he had again committed perjury in the trial over the savage murders of three Christians in southeast Turkey.

Gunaydin, 21, faced off in Malatya’s Third Criminal Court on Friday (Aug. 21) with Varol Bulent Aral, whom he had named as one of the instigators of the attack at Zirve Publishing Co.’s Malatya office in a previous disposition before state prosecutors. Gunaydin, the alleged ringleader of the murderers, told the court that he had lied in a previous disposition before state prosecutors by implicating Aral.

“I named Varol Bulent Aral to reduce the sentence,” Gunaydin said under questioning.

His admission came after Aral testified at length, painting an elaborate scenario of himself as a key player in the “Ergenekon” conspiracy – said to include top level political and security officials, among others – suspected of orchestrating the 2007 Malatya attack with Gunaydin and four other defendants.

“Varol Bulent Aral has no connection with these events,” Gunaydin insisted. “He is explaining things that he has imagined. There was not any threat against me, nor any instigator.”

Gunaydin initially failed to appear at Friday’s hearing where Aral was expected to testify, sending a note to the court that he was feeling unwell. But the judge abruptly announced a short court recess and ordered Gunaydin brought immediately from prison to the courtroom.

At a hearing three months ago, Gunaydin retracted similar allegations he had made against Huseyin Yelki, a former volunteer at the Christian publishing house where Turkish Christians Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and German Christian Tilmann Geske were bound hand and foot, tortured and then slain with knives.

Jailed for three months on the basis of Gunaydin’s allegations, Yelki was finally brought to testify at the May 22 hearing.

“Huseyin Yelki is not guilty. He’s in prison for nothing,” Gunaydin told the court after Yelki testified. When questioned why he previously had implicated Yelki, Gunaydin said, “I did it to lessen my punishment. That’s why I said he was a missionary.”

Despite glaring discrepancies in his testimony, Yelki was released for lack of evidence. Aral was also ordered released for insufficient evidence, although he remains jailed in the Adiyaman Prison on unrelated criminal charges.

Plaintiff lawyers have expressed skepticism about Gunaydin’s two retractions, questioning whether he has been pressured to change his testimony in order to shield the actual instigators of the plot. They also remain unconvinced that Aral and Yelki were not collaborators in the attack.

Prosecution Failures

“An investigation does not just consist of claims, it must consist of proofs,” plaintiff lawyer Ali Koc told journalists on the courthouse steps after last week’s hearing. “One of the underlying missing elements of the Zirve Publishing trial in Malatya stems from the failure to pursue the investigation with sufficient objectivity, depth and careful attention.”

The only reason Aral and Yelki were charged in the case, the attorney noted, was because one of the defendants claimed they were accomplices. Koc stressed it was “the duty of the state and the judiciary to uncover those responsible for this event – the instigators, and the climate in which they emerged.”

He also declared that Aral should be investigated for his relations with intelligence officials, which he hoped would expose new evidence.

“If the Malatya case is not joined with the Ergenekon trial, then we’re probably looking at a verdict against the killers within the next three to five court hearings,” plaintiff lawyer Erdal Dogan said. “But I have hope – I hope for merging it with the Ergenekon case, in order to uncover the perpetrators behind the scenes.”

After two failed summons, Burcu Polat also appeared to testify at the Aug. 21 hearing. Now 18, Polat was Gunaydin’s girlfriend at the time of the murders. She stated that she had used two different cell phones in the weeks previous to the murders. Both telephones were registered in the name of her father, Ruhi Polat, a provincial council member of the Nationalist Movement Party previously called to testify at the trial.

The court summoned intelligence officer Murat Gokturk from the Malatya gendarmerie headquarters to appear at the next hearing, set for Oct. 16. Yelki had contacted Gokturk frequently by telephone in the weeks preceding the murders.

Detailed Informant Letter

Two months ago, an informant in the military intelligence division of the Malatya gendarmerie headquarters sent an extremely detailed report to state prosecutors regarding what Turkish media have dubbed the “Malatya massacre.”

The two-page letter fingered former Col. Mehmet Ulger, gendarmerie commander of Malatya province at the time of the murders, as a key instigator within the murder plot.

With precise, documented details, the report outlined Ulger’s targeting of the Malatya Christians and their activities during the weeks surrounding the attack, including a secret briefing for selected officials, unregistered meetings and the tapping of gendarmerie personnel named for specific assignments at various stages.

At the actual day and hour of the killings, the report said, Ulger received a telephone call from his commander while he was in a furniture shop in the city center. Ulger immediately promised to go to the scene, taking two sergeant majors and an official car, and arriving just as the police teams pulled up.

“The event had just happened, and the police teams had not yet gone to the scene, and Mehmet Ulger’s superiors informed him about it,” the report noted.

The letter goes on to describe frequent visits Inonu University professor Ruhi Abat made to Ulger’s office, where the colonel had specifically ordered his subordinates to never record Abat’s visits in the official record book.

Although Ulger and Abat testified on April 13 that they had sponsored a seminar regarding missionary activities for gendarmerie personnel, the informant declared it could be easily proved that such a seminar had never been held.

The informant claimed that 40,000 Turkish lira (US$30,800 at the time) was paid out during 2007 by Malatya’s gendarmerie intelligence staff “solely to direct close surveillance on missionary activities.” Instead of using the funds to help “break apart illegal organizations or recover a lot of drugs,” he said, a large portion of the money was handed over to Abat, he said.

The informant’s letter was sent simultaneously to Malatya Prosecutor Seref Gurkan and State Prosecutor Zekeriya Oz, who heads the Ergenekon investigation in Istanbul.

The anonymous informant claimed he had much more information that he could not pass along safely without revealing his own identity.

“Because I regret that I was involved myself in some of this, I am sending this letter to both prosecutors,” he wrote. “I hope that I am being helpful in solving this dark event.” He enclosed a CD of Ulger’s 2007 briefing as well as a list of the people whose telephones were being tapped.

It is not known how seriously the latest informant’s letter is being taken by the Malatya prosecutors.

“But we are seeing the continuation of a long chain of information coming out,” plaintiff lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz commented. “We have at least achieved something in the eyes of the Turkish public, because everyone is now convinced that it was not just these five young men who planned this; there were much larger and more serious forces behind the scenes.”

Report from Compass Direct News 

Sweet Escape or Inner Self Realities


This is not a post about the Gwen Stefani CD ‘Sweet Escape’ – just in case you turned up on that possibility. I do have that CD and I am something of a Gwen Stefani fan, but that is a whole other story.

No, this post is about trying to make a ‘sweet escape.’ There are times in life when you think that just maybe you can escape your troubles and get away and make a fresh start ~ just like I did several months ago when I quit my job, left Newcastle and moved to Gloucester. There are many reasons for doing so – some good, some bad – I’m talking in general terms and not specifically about my own case. Some flee to escape prosecution, being caught out, embarrassment, etc. Some flee to escape hardship, personal trauma and distress, financial difficulties, etc. Some escape to just have a change, an adventure or for something different. There are a myriad of reasons for trying to have a sweet escape.

I have catalogued various reasons for my change of circumstances several months ago in letters, Blog entries, web sites, etc. I’m not sure whether I have carefully articulated every reason there was for me doing so, but I have made mention of quite a number, which were not insignificant reasons, for doing so. These included work stresses, illness, etc.

What I have come to experience (which I already knew intellectually to be so – though one often flies in the face of what one actually knows to be the facts) is that those reasons which have impacted significantly on the ‘inner self,’ which I believe some might call the ‘psyche’ or some other similar term, are not possible to escape from. These travel with you no matter how much running from them you might attempt to do. In my case I carry quite a few of these things with me ~ significant hurts, personal flaws and failures (some of which could be accurately titled sins), eating disorders (that might come back to bite me – no pun intended), etc.

Right now one of these not so helpful ‘pseudo-symbiotic&r squo; reasons is plaguing my consciousness and has returned as a major ‘filler’ for my quiet moments, solitary times, etc. Not long ago I had thought I had come to grips with this particular issue, only to find it re-surface several weeks ago and cause renewed distress, etc. As I say, it is near impossible to escape those experiences and impacting issues that have significantly impacted on the inner self.

Now this would be the point at which some would say to ‘simply take it to the Lord in prayer,’ as though uttering a few words or a given formula is the panacea for all of life’s ills. I would suggest that these folk either have had little experience in truly ‘inner self’ impacting crisis’ or they are not telling the truth about how hard difficulties have been to cope with which they have experienced for fear of portraying prayer in a different light to that with which they have been indoctrinated.

I am not about pouring scorn on the merits of prayer or the God to whom prayer is directed ~ that is not my purpose in this post, for I too herald the power of prayer in transforming lives and being a mighty aid in answering life’s problems. I am simply stating that these ‘inner self’ impacting experiences are very real and are often the source of recurring heartaches, etc. I am also saying that I am not immune to these times as my current experience bears witness and my life history bears continuing testimony ~ even though prayer is an important part of my life.

So just at this point in time I find myself again enduring the difficulty of an ‘inner self’ impacting experience, along with all of the emotional stresses that come along with it – as do most (the honest readers anyhow) of you out there.

So why share this particular circumstance? Well, it is my Blog isn’t it? That’s what these things exist for – an open online journal, among other things.