Medicine Shortages Leave Venezuelans Desperate


Venezuela produces negligible amounts of medicines, and the chronic shortages can be traced mainly to policies the government put in place to control international currency exchanges. To buy medicines from abroad, pharmacies and individuals must be approved by the government, and only rarely is permission given.

The Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation reports that more than 85 percent of basic medicines are impossible or difficult to find. Pharmacy shelves are bare, and public hospitals turn patients away for lack of supplies.

In Petare, – lines of eager patients form early each morning along the “Alley of the Witches”, a street lined with spiritual clinics where mediums channeling spirits of the courts of Maria Lionza tend to the sick.

Generations of Venezuelans have turned to the cult of María Lionza for it’s healing power, however religious leaders say never before have they experienced a boom like they have since the crisis began. They say their patients are primarily working class people turned away from public hospitals, who do not have the financial resources to travel outside of the country for medical attention.

A steady stream of followers arrive daily at the riverside high altar to María Lionza at Sorte mountain, in Yaracuy state, in the Venezuelan interior. Some come crawling on their knees; others like Oseas Ríos, a patient with kidney failure who had gone 15 days without his medicine because of shortages, are too weak to walk on their own must be supported by family members.

The government of Venezuela denies that the healthcare crisis exists, and has repeatedly refused offers of international humanitarian aid. They refuse to make epidemiological reports available to the public, and allow gangs of armed government loyalists  to occupy public hospitals, where they threaten and intimidate doctors, patients, and local journalists that speak out about critical hospital conditions.

With the government’s refusal to acknowledge the crisis, the Venezuelan health care crisis will most likely continue. Leaders of the cult of María Lionza say their religion is not political, but that it will continue to help all the patients that come to them searching for healing.

No HOME, No HOPE For Rohingya

The Rohingya Muslim minority has fled repression in Myanmar for generations. In neighboring Bangladesh, refugee camps offer asylum, but life there remains bleak.

The United Nations considers the Rohingya one of the world’s most persecuted minorities. Despite their roots, a 1982 law stripped the Rohingya of their citizenship. They are now considered illegal immigrants in Myanmar as well as in neighboring Bangladesh, the country to which as many as half a million have fled.

Five years ago, clashes between Buddhist and Muslim communities left hundreds dead, mostly Rohingya. With their mosques and villages torched, 120,000 Rohingya were forced into makeshift camps inside Myanmar (also known as Burma). This time the assault was unleashed by the Burmese military, the feared Tatmadaw, which ruled over Myanmar for five decades before overseeing a transition that led last year to a quasi-civilian government.

What began ostensibly as a hunt for the culprits behind the border post attacks turned into a four-month assault on the Rohingya population as a whole.

The full extent of what happened in northern Rakhine state is not yet known because the government has not allowed independent investigators, journalists, or aid groups unfettered access to the affected areas.

The Rohingya are caught between two countries—and welcome in neither. More than 500,000 Rohingya now live in Bangladesh. Only 32,000 are officially registered, however, and no new Rohingya refugees have been registered since 1992—an apparent attempt to dissuade more Rohingya from seeking refuge in Bangladesh. That strategy hasn’t worked, but it means that there are close to half a million undocumented Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh with no right or access to employment, education, or basic health care.

Bangladesh, already poor and overpopulated, shows no enthusiasm for hosting the Rohingya. Conditions in the camps are miserable, but the government has declined many offers of humanitarian aid. Many Rohingya, however, are too traumatized to go back to Rakhine, an area historically known as Arakan. One rape victim I spoke to recalled the chilling words of her army attacker: “He kept saying, ‘This kind of torture will continue until you leave the country.’”

Cooking Over Open Fires Bring Deadly Consequences

In Guatemala, locally made cookstoves are helping combat toxic smoke—but economics and tradition keep many people from using them.

Some three billion people around the world cook their food and heat their homes with open or barely contained fires, and while the smoke dissipates quickly, its accumulated costs are steep. The typical cooking fire produces about 400 cigarettes’ worth of smoke an hour, and prolonged exposure is associated with respiratory infections, eye damage, heart and lung disease, and lung cancer. In the developing world, health problems from smoke inhalation are a significant cause of death in both children under five and women. To fuel the smoky fires, families can spend 20 hours a week or more gathering wood, time that might otherwise be spent at school, at work, or simply at rest.

Wood-burning household fires and inefficient stoves cause broader suffering, too. The firewood trade promotes deforestation and also provides cover for timber smuggling, since wood from rare trees can be hidden among logs from more common species. The smoke from cook fires pollutes the air outdoors as well as indoors, especially in cities. And as a major source of black carbon —the world’s billions of household fires are also thought to be accelerating the effects of climate change, speeding the disruption of monsoon cycles and melting of glaciers.

New cookstoves aren’t always adopted so easily. For a stove to be fully accepted by a household, both stove and fuel must be affordable, accessible, and easy to use—goals that aren’t easy to achieve. And in places where the social status of women is still tightly tied to the quality of their cooking, woe to the stove whose output doesn’t measure up to local culinary standards.

The long-term benefits of a cleaner-burning wood stove are uncertain. Stoves that burn cleanly and efficiently in the laboratory, under standardized conditions, may not sustain their performance over years of everyday use. while the new stoves did improve household air quality and reduce the frequency of childhood illnesses such as pneumonia, the indoor air pollution was still far above guidelines.


The Happiest Places In The World

What do Denmark, Costa Rica, and Singapore have in common? Their people feel secure, have a sense of purpose, and enjoy lives that minimize stress and maximize joy. Here’s how they do it.

The researchers who publish the annual World Happiness Report found that about three-quarters of human happiness is driven by six factors: strong economic growth, healthy life expectancy, quality social relationships, generosity, trust, and freedom to live the life that’s right for you. These factors don’t materialize by chance; they are intimately related to a country’s government and its cultural values. In other words the happiest places incubate happiness for their people.


Costa Ricans elected teachers as presidents, who, unencumbered by corrosive colonial institutions, introduced policies that launched an upward spiral of well-being and thus the environment for the Latin American character to thrive.

In 1869 Costa Rican law made primary school mandatory for every child, including, notably, girls. By 1930 the literacy rate was among the highest in Latin America. At the same time, the nation invested in supplying clean water for rural villages, stemming deadly childhood illnesses.

Since 1970 Costa Rica has seen life expectancy jump from 66 years to 80 years and infant mortality drop by a factor of seven.

In short Costa Rica’s social system takes care of most people’s needs.


Danes grow up believing they have the right to health care, education, and a financial safety net. University students draw a government stipend in addition to free tuition. New parents can take a yearlong government-paid parental leave at nearly full salary; this includes gay and lesbian parents. People work hard in Denmark, but on average less than 40 hours a week, with at least five weeks of vacation a year. The price for such lavish benefits is one of the world’s highest income tax rates, which starts at 41 percent and tops out at 56 percent—a field leveler that makes it possible for a garbageman to earn more than a doctor.

Setting aside time for self-fulfillment is another key ingredient of Danish happiness. Danish society encourages the kind of balance between engaging work and rewarding play that results in a sense of time described as flow.


Success for Singaporeans lies at the end of a well-defined path: Follow the rules, get into the right school, land the right job, and happiness is yours. (It’s traditionally summed up as the five C’s: car, condominium, cash, credit card, and club membership.) In a system that aspires to be a meritocracy, talent and performance are rewarded, in theory. You’ll hear Singaporeans complain about rising prices and their overworked lives, but almost all of them say they feel safe and trust one another.

As a result the people of Singapore today exemplify the third strand of happiness—what experts call life satisfaction. You score high when you’re living your values and are proud of what you’ve accomplished. You tend to be financially secure, have a high degree of status, and feel a sense of belonging. To achieve this type of happiness can take years, and it often comes at the expense of enjoying moment-to-moment daily pleasures.

The Invaluable Arts

When the current administration proposed its budget for the coming year last spring, it showed a dramatic decrease in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. Funding for performance, fine arts, and creative endeavors are down in schools nationwide and it seems like the only way American children can be guaranteed a solid background in a creative field before college is through private tutoring.

Why is this? The United States is a country that reveres its artists, whether they be writers, actors, musicians, painters, or any other form. However, more and more children are making less and consuming more, thanks to handheld computer devices that capture their attention and turn them passive instead of participatory.

This is a real problem, because while not every child is going to be a Picasso, taking artistic classes from a young age helps children develop essential skills. Music helps with math, visual arts with writing, drawing with motor skills. Most of all, children who receive arts education are more likely to build a strong community sense in their schools, more likely go to college, more likely to be healthier and happier in later life.

Arts education creates more engaged, more vibrant, and more curious children of us all. It’s an essential part of any child’s education, and any effort to defund it should be fought, Children who miss out on it may not even know what they’ve lost, which is the opportunity to be a well-rounded and more creative adult who engages in order to succeed.