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     Volume 6 Issue 47 | December 7, 2007 |

   Cover Story
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News Notes

Need for Long-term Disaster Management
This country has always been the target of natural disasters and the severe floods in the North followed by the furious cyclone Sidr in the space of a few months only goes to emphasise that there will be no end to that statement. That is why instead of picking up the broken pieces after the damage has been done, we need to take comprehensive and long-term steps to minimise the destruction before it takes place.
It is good to see the present caretaker government contemplating positive steps to that effect. Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed has asked international donors to fund an estimated USD 1 billion to assist in a massive long-term plan to protect the coastal areas from recurring natural disasters and climate changes. At a meeting with bilateral and multilateral donors, the Chief Adviser said the country could no longer afford to count on relief and rehabilitation and wait for the next natural disaster. The initial estimate of USD 1 billion comprises the cost of building road networks worth USD 300 million, USD 200 million for 2,000 new cyclone shelters, $250 million for repairing and making new embankments, USD 150 million for forestation of the Sundarbans, and USD 100 million for rebuilding schools. That there will be more cyclones in Bangladesh there is no doubt about. But with a working disaster management plan in place at least we will have fewer broken pieces to pick up.

Breaking the Taboo on HIV
Posters, signboards, TV advertisements and other awareness-raising approaches on HIV/AIDS is a positive effort through the media but the fact of the matter remains that People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA) still have to face the gruelling task of living every day with stigma and misconceptions from their friends and relatives.
HIV/AIDS in Bangladesh is still of a low incidence compared to neighbouring countries of India and Nepal, but this is one situation where the saying 'prevention is better than cure' couldn't be more applicable. At one point HIV/AIDS was thought to be a death sentence but with better understanding and the development of modern medicine, it is no longer so. But the stigmas are taking much longer to disappear. People still need to be told that AIDS cannot be spread by sharing utensils or shaking hands. And possible patients are so frightened of knowing the truth that they would rather stay miles away from a hospital for as long as possible until their condition becomes so bad that the death sentence is passed. Allegations of nurses refusing to attend to AIDS patients in public hospitals are also rife.
December 1 is observed every year as World AIDS Day. This year at a roundtable discussion on prevention of HIV/AIDS, speakers have called for open dialoguing at all levels of the society for sensitising people about HIV and its dreadful consequences. Speakers emphasised that an atmosphere should be created so that open discussion can take place at all tiers of society, including at the family level.
According to the latest information available with the National AIDS/STD Program (NASP), 874 cases of HIV/AIDS were confirmed as of December 31, 2006, but that's a very understated number, the actual number is in a few thousands. And although there's a popular belief that HIV/AIDS is only spread through sex workers, an increasing number of immigrant workers from different parts of the world are returning to the country with the virus. Awareness raising programmes should be increasingly focussed on immigrant workers before the numbers reach epidemic numbers.

Saving English Medium Schools
A recent move by the government to introduce new regulations in English medium private schools may do more harm than good.
The birth of English medium schools and the subsequent mushrooming of them in the country is a by-product of the government's failure in providing quality education to its own children. For the last couple of decades government-run schools have remained bastions of corruption and misgovernence. Science teaching in the country has plunged into an abyss, the level of English (even those who try to teach English in different schools) have deteriorated. One reason behind such a sordid state is that these government-run schools are managed by governing bodies or managing committees, which is an elected body of teachers, parents and bureaucrats. A farce is always enacted during the elections of these bodies-- processions are made, sweeteners are given: schools become a microscopic version of the national elections. From local hoodlums to 'teacher-leaders' everyone vies for a post in the committee, a berth in which will assure money and freedom. Schools become a place for squabbling and factionalism.
It is not understandable why the current interim government will want to introduce such a system in English medium schools. Schools like Scholastica, Mastermind, Southbreeze, Sunbeams, Sunnydale, Green Herald and Aga Khan have produced hundreds and thousands of students, some of whom have brought glory to the country. What is worse is that the head teachers have complained that before making 'Registration of Private School Rules 2007' the government has not talked to them, which is contrary to the spirit of transparency and good governance that the advisers claim to uphold. To begin with, the government must sit with the head teachers of the private schools along with the teachers and parents to make English Medium education in the country more vibrant. It is true that some schools charge students fees that are no less than exorbitant, and to make matters worse the government in this fiscal year has slapped Vat on the students. Blanket laws have never been the answer. A timid but firm beginning can be the formation of a committee of educationist to look into the possible areas of reform in the sector. This government has been vocal about social and political reforms, most of which the country has badly needed. But like any other sector, the concerned parties-- school owners, parents, teachers--should be given a patient hearing before forming any new policy.

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