Watching the World
AIDS and Development
Globally, the AIDS epidemic has set back human development by 1.3 years, states a recent report by the United Nations Development Programme. Hardest hit are certain African nations—Zambia has lost more than ten years of human development progress; Tanzania, eight years; Rwanda, seven years; and the Central African Republic, more than six years. AIDS has also set back life expectancy. In North America and Europe, AIDS has become the leading cause of death among adults under 45. Worldwide, 6,000 people each day are infected with HIV, 1 every 15 seconds. More than 85 percent of AIDS deaths occur in people between 20 and 45 years of age.
Reading Skills and Employment
“Between 56 and 64 per cent of unemployed Canadians possess low literacy skills,” says a Statistics Canada report, according to The Vancouver Sun newspaper. A 1995 survey to test literacy skills in prose, document, and number reading revealed that 36 percent of Canadians had trouble in all three areas. In the “‘older’ industries, such as agriculture, mining, manufacturing and construction, . . . literacy tends to be lowest,” says the Sun. With employment declining in these sectors, workers with poor literacy skills are particularly vulnerable to layoff and displacement. John O’Leary, the president of a literacy organization, noted that “to be marginally literate in 1996 is to be cut off from a huge range of personal and professional opportunities.”
According to the University of California at Berkeley Wellness Letter, it is estimated that between 10 million and 15 million people in the United States are allergic to cockroaches. When exposed to roaches, an allergic person may experience “skin irritation, hay fever, or asthma symptoms.” The newsletter noted that “up to 80% of all asthmatic children are sensitive to cockroaches.” Roaches are not necessarily a sign of a dirty kitchen. Even “the cleanest kitchen can harbor them,” claims the Wellness Letter. It has been estimated that for every roach noticed, there could be up to 1,000 undetected roaches crawling throughout a home. One pair of cockroaches can produce about 100,000 descendants in just a year.
The number of people worldwide who now live in absolute poverty—defined as earning less than $370 per year—is about 1.3 billion, almost a fourth of the world’s population. Most live in the developing world. Typically, these people lack access to sufficient food, safe water, health care, adequate shelter, education, and employment. In most cases, they are undervalued in the societies in which they live and are powerless to change their circumstances. According to the United Nations Development Programme, the number of people living in absolute poverty is increasing by nearly 25 million each year.
European Drug Addiction
A new European organization dedicated to monitoring the use and abuse of drugs has recently published their first annual report. Their study, according to the French daily Le Monde, reveals that there are “between 500,000 and one million” heroin addicts in the European Union. While heroin addiction appears to be stable or even in decline in major European cities, it is on the increase in smaller towns. Cannabis products such as hashish and marijuana remain the most widely used drugs in Europe. Experts are concerned by the growing success of so-called cocktails, in which drugs are mixed with medicines and alcohol. In Northern Europe, amphetamines, Ecstasy (a methamphetamine derivative), and LSD are increasingly popular among the young.
“The Tyranny of Thinness”
Under the headline “Fighting the Tyranny of Thinness,” The Irish Times reports: “Record numbers of adolescent girls are developing anaemia because of food fads.” Doctors have expressed great concern about the trend. In some cases the fashion industry is blamed “for their destructive effect on impressionable young people.” The report says that a generation ago the average fashion model weighed 8 percent less than the average woman. Nowadays she is 23 percent lighter. “Famine stricken limbs,” says The Irish Times, “are high fashion, and Superwaif—pale, young, anorexic . . . —is now being offered as the norm.” Under pressure to conform to this norm, many young girls in their quest for thinness adopt a diet that deprives them of essential iron, protein, and vitamins.
Unexpected Interest in the Bible
“Half-a-million copies of the New Testament in Danish [a translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures] have been given away—one each to about 98 per cent of households in Copenhagen,” reports ENI Bulletin. This was done as part of the celebration of Copenhagen’s role as the 1996 European Cultural Capital. It had been predicted by many that between 10 and 20 percent of Copenhagen’s households would refuse the gift. Yet, according to Morten Aagaard, general secretary of the Danish Bible Society, “only one or two per cent of the households” turned down the offer. A similar distribution is planned for Stockholm, Sweden, in 1998.
A Friend for Life
In Germany, 9 out of 10 people say they have a friend for life, reports the Nassauische Neue Presse. This was revealed by a survey carried out by the Society for Empirical Scientific Social Research, which questioned over 1,000 people between 16 and 60 years of age. Communication and honesty were considered of prime importance among the factors in a long-lasting friendship. Almost all the interviewees agreed that disloyalty and betrayal would definitely put an end to such friendships. “Only 16 percent expect a good friend to lend [them] money in an emergency,” according to the newspaper. On the other hand, a large percentage considered having the support of a friend in times of sickness to be of great importance.
Eat Fruit Daily
Eating fresh fruit daily is associated with a reduction in the risk of heart disease, according to a 17-year study of 11,000 people, published in the British Medical Journal. Among those in the study who ate fresh fruit every day, there were 24 percent fewer deaths from heart attacks and 32 percent fewer deaths from strokes. Of those who ate fruit daily, 21 percent fewer died compared with those who ate fruit less frequently. Diets lacking in fresh fruit may contribute to increases in vascular ailments such as stroke and heart disease in certain populations, notes a team of British and Spanish scientists. For the greatest health benefit, researchers now recommend eating at least five servings of vegetables and fruits a day. If fresh fruits and vegetables are unavailable, then frozen fruits and vegetables may provide similar benefits, according to the British Medical Journal.
Caring for Dementia Patients
“Hot porridge, quiet music and carefully designed surroundings aren’t medical breakthroughs, but they’re transforming the care of the elderly,” states The Globe and Mail of Canada. Employing simple and inexpensive changes in the way patients are bathed and fed helps to lessen their confusion and anxiety. As an example, the report noted that serving each type of food separately at mealtime relieves a patient of the need to decide what to eat first, which is often confusing to someone with dementia. The willingness to try new approaches has even yielded a notable reduction in the use of mood-altering medication by patients.
More Dangerous Than Smoking?
According to Statistics Canada, “a sedentary lifestyle poses more than double the health risk of cigarette smoking,” reports The Medical Post. While some seven million Canadians are likely to experience serious health problems and early death because of tobacco smoking, between 14 million and 17 million are facing similar health risks as a result of lack of exercise. Lack of time, energy, and motivation are mentioned as major factors interfering with regular exercise. Sedentary people are also more likely to consume more fats and less fruits and vegetables. “The current goal for optimal heart benefits is to get people exercising at least every other day for at least 30 minutes at moderate or higher intensity,” says the Post.