New York – The staggering human toll taken by tuberculosis (TB) and malnutrition as well as the devastation caused by conflicts in Haiti, Somalia, Colombia, Chechnya and various parts of India, Sri Lanka and the Democratic Republic of Congo, are among the "Top Ten" Most Underreported Humanitarian Stories of 2006, according to the year-end list released today by the international humanitarian medical aid organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).
Clashes in central India
Ongoing conflict in several parts of India – including northeastern Assam and Manipur states highlighted in last year's Top 10 Underreported Humanitarian Stories list – Report says that it has gone virtually unnoticed by the outside world for years. In central India's Chhattisgarh state, clashes between Maoist insurgents, Indian security forces and Hindutva sponsored militias, also known as Salwa Judum, has been occurring for more than 25 years, resulting in the displacement, sometimes reportedly forced, of more than 50,000 civilians.
Others flee into neighboring states while thousands of people have lost their livelihoods and have little access to their land, food, essential healthcare or emergency medical services. MSF provides medical treatment in camps for displaced people in Dantewada district, located in south Chhattisgarh. Medical teams also provide mobile health services and nutritional support to those in need in remote rural areas.
Surprisingly, the situation in Chhatisgarh is only one of several armed conflicts occurring throughout India for years, with civilians caught between various belligerent parties. As a consequence, many people continue to live in an atmosphere of fear and violence with little or no access to health care.
"We know that media coverage does not generate improvements on its own," said MSF (USA) Executive Director Nicolas de Torrente. "However, it is often a precondition for increased assistance and political attention. There is perhaps nothing worse than being completely neglected and forgotten." Many conflicts worldwide are profoundly affecting millions of people, yet they are almost completely invisible," said MSF (USA) Executive Director Nicolas de Torrente. "Haiti, for example, is just 50 miles from the United States and the plight of the population enduring relentless violence in its volatile capital Port-au-Prince received only half a minute of network coverage in an entire year."
According to Andrew Tyndall, publisher of the online media-tracking journal The Tyndall Report, the ten countries and contexts highlighted by MSF accounted for just 7.2 minutes of the 14,512 minutes on the three major U.S. television networks' nightly newscasts for 2006. Treating malnutrition, TB, and Chechnya were mentioned, but only briefly in other stories. Five of the countries highlighted by MSF were never mentioned at all.
The 2006 "Top 10" list also focused on the devastation caused by TB and malnutrition.
The frightening situation of worldwide TB became even worse in 2006 with the detection of extensively drug resistant tuberculosis (XDR TB), a strain that is resistant to both first-line antibiotics and to two classes of second-line drugs. At the same time, none of the TB drugs currently in development, however promising, will be able to drastically improve TB treatment in the near future.
"TB destroys millions of lives around the world every year, but we're not seeing the necessary urgency to tackle the disease," said Dr. Tido von Schoen-Angerer, director of MSF's Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines.
Hope is on the horizon, though, for malnutrition, with new strategies based on outpatient treatment that relies on ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTF), like Plumpy'nut, showing tremendous promise. Unfortunately, these strategies are not implemented as widely as they could be.
"Acute malnutrition contributes to the deaths of millions of children every year," said de Torrente. "New strategies in treatment of moderate and severe acute malnutrition have helped MSF treat more than 150,000 children in Niger over the past two years. Millions more children throughout the world could benefit if such strategies were more widely implemented."
While the conflicts in the Darfur region of Sudan and in eastern Chad garnered significant media attention in 2006, the steady focus did not translate into improved conditions for people caught up in the conflict.
"Even though there was more reporting about Darfur than about other crises, the situation continued to deteriorate to the point where MSF and other aid groups had to scale back their programs," said de Torrente. "We know that media coverage does not generate improvements on its own. However, it is often a precondition for increased assistance and political attention. There is perhaps nothing worse than being completely neglected and forgotten."
Read the complete Report at MSF website