World News in Brief: Healthcare crisis in DRC, Türk slams Iran hijab law, welcomes new India bill boosting women

by Rahul Devi

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is facing multiple health crises, including a cholera outbreak and a measles epidemic, worsened by ongoing violence and limited access to affected areas. The World Health Organization (WHO) has deployed experts to assist in responding to these outbreaks, but their efforts are hindered by insufficient funding and logistical challenges.

Dr Boureima Hama Sambo, the WHO representative to the DRC, expressed concern over the dire situation in the country. He highlighted that health facilities have been attacked, health workers killed, and supplies looted in six eastern provinces. This, coupled with heavy rain, flooding, and landslides, has further compromised aid access.

The cholera outbreak in the DRC is said to be the worst since 2017, with the eastern provinces accounting for 80% of the cases. Cholera is a highly contagious disease spread through contaminated water and food, and its transmission is particularly worrisome in areas with limited access to clean water and sanitation facilities. In addition, the country is grappling with a major measles epidemic, which is particularly deadly for children under five when combined with malnutrition.

In response to these outbreaks, the WHO has deployed experts and provided medical supplies for cholera treatment. They have also supported transportation of samples for testing and built cholera treatment centers. Additionally, a vaccination campaign targeting children under five has been completed in Ituri province, and more campaigns are planned for Kasaï and Mai-Ndombe.

The WHO has not only focused on the medical aspects of the crisis but also provided mental health and psychosocial support to victims of gender-based violence. Dr Sambo highlighted that over 23,000 cases of gender-based violence have been reported in the six provinces from January to August 2023, and the actual figures are likely much higher.

However, despite these efforts, the UN health agency’s response in the region is only 14% funded at present. Dr Sambo called for stronger donor support to ensure a more sustainable and resilient health response in the eastern DRC.

While the DRC’s health crises continue to worsen, another human rights concern has emerged in a different part of the world. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has strongly condemned Iran’s proposed Chastity and Hijab Bill, which further restricts women’s rights and imposes severe punishments for non-compliance. The bill proposes increased jail terms, crushing fines, flogging, travel restrictions, and even deprivation of online access for women and girls who do not adhere to the compulsory dress code.

Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called the bill “draconian” and in violation of international law. The OHCHR decried the bill as repressive and demeaning, emphasizing that women and girls should not be treated as second-class citizens. The UN rights office called for the bill to be shelved, highlighting the importance of upholding women’s rights.

In Russia, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights, Mariana Katzarova, expressed the importance of her mandate to give a voice to victims of alleged violations in the country. She cited a pattern of suppression of civil and political rights, including mass arbitrary arrests and the persistent use of torture and ill-treatment. Ms. Katzarova stressed the need for continued investigation into rights violations in Russia, particularly during these challenging times for human rights.

On a more positive note, the UN rights chief welcomed the passage of a landmark bill in India that reserves one-third of seats in national and state parliaments for women. The Women’s Reservation Bill aims to constitutionally entrench women’s representation in politics and promote gender equality in India. The UN rights office called on parliamentarians around the world to adopt legislative measures, including gender quotas, to ensure women’s equal participation in the political discourse.

These stories highlight the ongoing human rights and health challenges faced by countries around the world. Efforts by organizations like the WHO and OHCHR remain crucial in addressing these issues and advocating for the rights and well-being of individuals in vulnerable situations. However, stronger support and funding from donors are needed to ensure a more effective response and lasting change.

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