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     Volume 6 Issue 44 | November 16, 2007 |

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News Notes

Drop-out in Smoke

While poverty, early marriage, etc. were the traditional causes of dropping out of school, the latest reason -- forcing both students and teachers to leave -- is industrial pollution.
In the outskirts of Dhaka, in Shyampur, the students and teachers of Bakchar Government Primary School have difficulty seeing the blackboard and each other through the black smoke emitted from the heavy industries, including steel and textile mills, which have been built around the school over the years. Covered in masks inside the classrooms, the students and teachers have trouble breathing and have complained of sneezing, coughing, migraine and skin diseases. The health hazard has discouraged many students from attending classes and their families from sending them there. So much so, that the number of students has gone down from 1,600 just a few years back, to the current 956. Many teachers have also been known to seek transfers to other institutions.
It seems to be unclear whether or not the factories had clearance to be set up there, but the fact that the local lawmaker, Mohammad Salahuddin, was also president of the factory owners' association, might have something to do with it, suspect locals. The authorities, in the meantime, are waiting for "specific allegations" before they start investigating the license of the industries which are causing health risks to people in the area to the point of stopping them from going to school.
While the battles against child labour and dangerous working conditions in factories are still ongoing, hazardous learning conditions at school seems like a major step backwards. Corruption in every form, everywhere, comes as no surprise in our country, but the fact that this has been neglected for so long still comes as a shock. Safety at school, which includes protection from health risks, is not a luxury but a basic right.

The Right to Medicine
Access to proper medical facilities and basic medicine is still a huge crisis in poor countries. Despite the fact that technology has improved a great fold in the last decade or so, including innovative steps taken in the field of medicine, most people in the developing countries simply cannot afford drugs and medicines.
Last week, at a meeting held in Geneva, sponsored by the United Nations' World Health Organisation (WHO), discussions took place between public health officials and drug industries on a deal to ensure that people in poor countries receive medicines at affordable prices. However, the discussions ended inconclusively. It has been decided to meet once again in late April next year and conclude with a result in May.
While respecting the intellectual property rights of big pharmaceutical firms, guidelines will be made according to which research and development of affordable drugs will take place, to treat diseases prevalent in those particular countries.
It is believed that the drug industries can very well develop such a set of guidelines supporting the development of affordable drugs in poor countries but industries argue that they would need strong revenues from drug sales to initiate such a research programme, including new treatments for diseases prevalent in the developing countries.

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