Dumping the Bomb
THE South Pacific is now taking firm steps towards becoming a vast nuclear-free zone. This follows the election in New Zealand of a Labor government committed to an anti-nuclear foreign policy.
New Prime Minister David Lange’s campaign has already taken him to the US and the United Nations but he faced his first serious diplomacy test in the remote South Pacific nation of Tuvalu. On the tiny atoll of Funafuti he dealt with an agenda full of potentially explosive issues for the South Pacific Forum - topped by proposals for a nuclear-free Pacific.
The cornerstone of New Zealand’s nuclear-free politics rests on the ruling Labor Party’s refusal to accept visits by nuclear-armed or-powered warships, such as from the US. However, Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke is opposed to this policy, both in the Anzus defence treaty between Australia, New Zealand and the US, and in the Forum region.
In the two-day Forum conference, the strongly anti-nuclear Vanuatu, plus Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, backed New Zealand while Fiji and the Polynesian nations gave their support to Australia.
Already the Reagan administration is troubled by New Zealand’s ban on visits by nuclear warships. Now it has to face the dilemma of Forum nations deciding to ‘neutralise’ themselves from a nuclear deterrent, apart from visits by friendly warships.
The moves are bound to help the antinuclear campaigns of small countries like Belau and the Marshall Islands which face severe pressure by the US over military demands. Kwajalein atoll, in the Marshalls, for example, is a vital US missile-testing range.
In 1979 Belau adopted a constitution that bans the storage, testing and disposal of nuclear weapons within its territory without approval of 75 per cent of the votes cast in a referendum. It was the first such nuclear-free constitution declared by any nation in the world.
New Zealand is also gradually becoming a nuclear-free zone. By May 1984 more than two-thirds of the country’s 3.2 million population lived in 68 symbolic nuclear free zones declared by local town and county councils - including many of the key cities. Although Lange failed to gain immediate support from the Forum for his call to seek UN endorsement of a nuclear-free Pacific, he raised the issue himself when he addressed the UN General Assembly in September.
The Americans have given the Lange administration a six-month breathing space with no ship visits while the issue is being discussed.
David Robie, Gemini
MANY years ago the intrepid Topdogs set out from Dogland and discovered Antarctica. The aboriginal inhabitants (Penguins) did not survive the invasion and this left the Topdogs with a problem: how to catch their favourite dogfish to ship home. The solution was to enslave dogs from Dalmatia to dive into the icy water and do the fishing for them.
When circumstances changed, and some of the descendants of these Dalmatians managed to leave Antarctica and emigrate to Dogland, the Topdogs greeted them as ‘Penguins’, treated them as Penguins, expected them to behave like Penguins. There had been much raping of Dalmatian bitches by Topdogs, so that some of the present generation were not noticeably spotty. However, even the suspicion of a Dalmatian ancestor was enough to brand anyone a ‘Penguin’.
Topdog religion extolled ‘A she-dog unspotted’ and spoke of an Incaninate Deity ‘without spot or blemish’. However much their theologians protested that these expressions were purely metaphorical, it was hard for the more simple-minded, whether Topdogs or Dalmatians, to avoid identifying Dalmatian spottiness with ‘blemish’ and thinking of spotless Topdogs as ipso facto superior.
Not all Topdogs were unfriendly. Many did their best to be helpful. They provided swimming pools (‘all Penguins love the water’), and puppies flocked to hear Dalmatian choruses bay the moon (‘they have such long nights in Antarctica!’).
The immigrant Dalmatians took little notice of all this. A few made it in Topdog society - first class swimmers, moonbayers and so on, mostly. The mass of them congregated in overcrowded kennels, whence only the brightest and boldest would venture to mingle with Topdogs and seek work in their society.
How are the Topdogs going to find out that the ‘Penguins’ are not a strange species, but fellow canines, with remarkably similar needs and feelings to their own? And how long will the Dalmatians be willing to believe the same of the Topdogs?
THE election of a Conservative government in Canada has provoked fears of a new harder line on foreign policy and aid.
The Conservatives won their first majority since 1958 largely on the basis of a moderate ‘centrist’ campaign. The fear of development groups is that the Government will start drifting to the right on foreign policy and aid in an attempt to improve relations with the US.
Within the first week of choosing the cabinet, the Mulroney government seemed to say a number of different things simultaneously. Michael Wilson, the new Finance Minister, made headlines at the Commonwealth Finance Ministers meeting by siding with Britain and the US on the controversial issue of rescheduling Third World debts on a case-by-case basis. This hard line against debtors is a switch from Trudeau’s desire to find a formula which would help Third World debtor nations.
At the same time, however, the appointment of Joe Clark to External Affairs was broadly interpreted as a sign that Canada would be maintaining its international commitments for aid and Third World development.
In the Non-Governmental Aid community, there is a cautious optimism about the appointment of Clark, who has announced a freeze on the funding of CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) until a full review of Canada’s foreign aid policy is made. The agency handles most of the funds for Canadian bilateral and mutilateral aid, as well as funding all NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations).
Any cutbacks or reductions will most likely occur in the area of bilateral aid.
Optimistic scenarios aside, it seems that the future of Canadian foreign aid policy hinges on the capacity of Mulroney to improve relations with the United States without giving in to pressure to the American line. Is this possible? Time will tell.
Drugs which have been withdrawn in the West continue to be widely used in developing countries, where drug control regulations are generally weak. There is also new evidence that pharmaceutical companies are using double standards in the labelling and marketing of their products in the Third World.
Two recent examples are the painkillers, phenylbutazone and oxyphenbutazone, which are given mainly to arthritis sufferers and can cause life-threatening blood disorders, gastro-intestinal bleeding and ulceration. leukaemia and the Steven-Johnson Syndrome.
Nearly 1,200 people in the world have died from ailments caused by these drugs, according to information from an internal report of Ciba Geigy, the largest producer of pain killers. Over 10,000 people have also been reported to have suffered serious side effects.
Following the leaking of the Ciba Geigy report earlier this year, many governments acted to ban or heavily restrict the two drugs. The UK government withdrew phenylbutazone from general use in March this year. and Ciba Geigy withdrew oxyphenbutazone completely a month later. The two drugs have also been banned in Norway and Bangladesh.
However, the new information and debate about the toxicity of the two painkillers does not seem to be well known in most developing countries. As a result, doctors in these countries are still widely prescribing the two drugs to their patients.
The situation is made worse by the double standards of the drug companies, which were revealed in a detailed study by the Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP), the leading Malaysian consumer organisation. CAP found that in Europe and the US the drug companies provide detailed information warning doctors against giving the drugs for minor ailments or for use in young children and the elderly. Doctors are told to use the drugs only for short-term treatment of severe rheumatic disorders and acute gout.
But in Third World countries the same companies recommend the drugs for minor ailments. For example, in Malaysia they are recommended for ‘pain and stiffness in muscles and joints, lumbago, tension headache’, even ‘virus infections and fever’ and for ‘long-term treatment CAP quoted the case of a university lecturer who almost died after his doctor gave him phenylbutazone to treat a stiff neck.
The current debate on the safety of the two painkillers is significant in view of the resolution taken at the United Nations World Health Assembly held in May, calling for unbiased and complete drug information to be made available to developing countries.
Developing countries which already have limited funds available for the provision of adequate primary health care to their people should not be spending too much on unnecessary and, worse, dangerous drugs.
Teh Poh Ai
WHEN a repressive government is challenged by an increasingly popular guerilla movement the crackdown can be savage. In the Philippines, where the vicious Marcos regime is being threatened by the Communist New People’s Army, among the casualties are primary health care workers killed by the military.
Health care in the Philippines is in a dreadful state. The country trains 2,000 doctors each year - but 65 per cent of them leave to work in richer countries, mainly the US and the Middle East. Even more nurses emigrate - 88 percent of the 10,000 trained every year, which makes the Philippines the world’s largest exporter of nursing staff.
Even those who remain prefer to work in cities like Manila, which leads to severe neglect of the rural areas. This is not difficult to understand - the medical training they receive equips them to work in a Western-type hospital rather than in villages where drugs are not seen from one year to the next.
This has meant that the only effective medical care away from the cities has been provided through Christian organisations - particularly those staffed by priests preaching ‘liberation theology’ as in Latin America. Doctors working in the southernmost island of Mindanao, where the guerillas are strongest, have been putting their efforts into training people from small rural communities in the primary health care techniques which will prevent 80 per cent of all disease-related problems.
They have also found, according to one Filipino doctor, that this health education must go hand in hand with political education. ‘We preach nutrition and sanitation,’ he said, ‘but if people do not own the land, how can they grow the right crops or build toilets?’
The doctors’ political approach inevitably entails great danger. The military regard it as subversive and regularly detain health workers and doctors for questioning. Merely the suspicion of treating guerillas can land health workers in prison or even cost them their lives.
In April 1982 a doctor was killed by the military in his clinic on the island of Samar. The protest of international solidarity and human rights organisations led to the release of another doctor who had been detained for a year. But while pressure from abroad can help doctors who are victimized, the anonymous local health workers have no such protection according to the latest reports, at least three were killed by the military in 1983 and another five this year.
‘Things can only get worse, said the doctor. ‘Wish us luck.’