Illegal Abortions a Major Killer of Women in Ethiopia

According to the World Health Organization, complications arising from illegal abortions are now the second leading cuase of death for young women in Ethiopia. Only tuberculosis kills more young women in that poverty-stricken nation.

Abortion is illegal in Ethiopia except in cases where the mother’s life is in danger, but illegal abortions are easy to obtain and widespread. According to WHO, the death rate from illegal abortions in Ethopia is a staggering 1,209 per 100,000 abortions. In the United States, by contrast, the death rate from legal abortions is about 1 per 100,000.

A number of factors help to make the death rate so high, including a lack of access to contraception, a very low literacy rate among women (only about 14 percent of women are literate), and Ethiopia’s poverty which leads to ony about US $1.50 per person being spent on health care resources annually.


High Death Rate from Illegal Abortions. UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, October 28, 2002.

Teens Pay The Deadly Price Of Religious Taboo. Tewedaj Kebede, Panos, July 2001.

Many Ethiopian Teens Dying from Illegal Abortions. Women’s E-News, November 4, 2002.

Misleading WHO Study on Violence

Last week many news outlets reported on a study by the World Health Organization that blondes were becoming extinct — that turned out to be a hoax. No such study existed. But now WHO seems to be using a genuine report to distort the rate of homicides by intimate partners.

The New York Times summarizes the WHO report on intimate murder this way,

The study found that violence against women by their male partners occurs in all countries, regardless of economic class and religion. Data from Australia, the United States, Canada, Israel and South Africa show that 40 to 70 percent of female murder victims were killed by their husbands or boyfriends.

But the situation is not the same for male murder victims. In the United States, for instance, only 4 percent of men murdered from 1976 to 1996 were killed by their wives, ex-wives or girlfriends.

The problem with this statistic is that it makes it appear that the odds of a man being murdered by a girlfriend, wife or ex-wife is far lower than the risk that a woman will be killed by a boyfriend, husband or ex-husband.

But in the United States, the actual annual figures break out to something like 1,300 women killed by male intimates compared to about 600 men killed by female intimates. In most years, about 1/3rd of all murders by intimate partners are committed by women.

But at the same time, it is correct that only 4 percent of men who are murdered are killed by women they have an intimate relationship with. But this is because men are so much more likely to be murdered than are women. As WHO notes, men constitute approximately 3/4 of all homicide victims (in the United States, about 80 percent of murder victims are men).

Another major problem with WHO’s study on violence is that it lumps in suicide as an act of violence. Yes suicide is a problem and needs to be addressed, but somebody who wants to kill himself is not the same sort of social problem as somebody who wants to kill other people. Out of the 1.6 million victims of violence annually that WHO cites, well over 1 million of those deaths are the result of suicides.

Finally, WHO has lowballed the number of people who died as a result of violence at only 191 million in the 20th century. The complete report isn’t available online, but that figure is way too small unless WHO is playing with politics with who counts as a victim of violence.


First ever Global Report on Violence and Health released. World Health Organization, Press Release, October 3, 2002.

War, Murder and Suicide: A Year’s Toll Is 1.6 Million
. Sheryl Gay Stroberg, New York Times, October 3, 2003.

WHO Considers Changing Its Ringworm Treatment Policy

Due to the surprising results of research carried out on children in Zanzibar, the World Health Organization is considering lowering the age at which it treats children for ringworm parasites.

Infection of young children by ringworm parasites is fairly common in Africa, but WHO’s policy has been that it only treats children older than 24 months for the condition. This is because it was widely believed that ringworm infection among infants was milder than in older children and, hence, the benefit to be gained was minor.

But preliminary results from the Zanzibar study suggest that treating infants for ringworm parasites can make a significant impact on both malnutrition and anemia.

Researchers previously thought that the problem of anemia among children was due to a lack of iron in the diet, but the Zanzibar study suggests that in infants, the ringworm parasite plays a much larger role in causing anemia than previously thought.

WHO’s coordinator on parasitic diseases, Dr. Lorenzo Savioli, told the BBC that WHO is already preparing to change its recommendations on ringworm treatment which could result in millions of infants across Africa receiving medication to treat the parasite.

WHO has already investigated drugs that are used to treat ringworm to ensure they are not toxic to infants.


Child worm crackdown considered. The BBc, May 5, 2002.

Dictators, Development and Malaria

North and South Korea offer a nice look at the real sources of underdevelopment in Third World countries. That distinction was recently highlighted with word from the World Health Organization that North Korea has been experiencing a malaria epidemic over the past few years.

During the 1970s, malaria was eradicated from both countries. In 1997, however, malaria made a comeback in North Korea. The main reason is that although North Korea has a well–funded army, it does not have a well-funded water and sanitation system.

As a result, WHO estimates that last year there were as many as 300,000 cases of malaria in North Korea. WHO recently released an appeal for aid, noting that although much aid has been given to North Korea to avert famine, it also needs money to combat malaria and other problems.

South Korea, on the other hand, is prosperous to the point that it donated almost $700,000 of equipment to help its neighbor to the north fight malaria.

Both North and South Korea emerged from World War II as dictatorial societies. The North’s political system became ever more rigid and totalitarian, whereas the South’s political system gradually was forced to accept liberal democracy, both from internal and external forces.

The main problem still facing the developing world is too many regimes that have more in common with North Korea than with South Korea. A lack of democracy and political rights is a deadly combination.


WHO battles malaria in North Korea. Caroline Gluck, The BBC, April 1, 2002.

WHO: Tuberculsosis Efforts Falling Behind

The World Health Organization issued a report this month noting that the world is falling behind in efforts to contain tuberculosis. According to the WHO,

A strategy that can cure up to 90% of all tuberculosis cases, and thus is the best chance for controlling the global epidemic, is reaching only 27% of the world’s TB patients. . . . According to the new WHO report, at the current rate, TB targets set for 2005 will not be reached until 2013.

Tuberculosis currently kills about 2 million people a year, and is the number one preventable cause of death in the developing world.

The main thing holding back better treatment of tuberculosis is money. WHO estimates that countries around the world need to spend about $300 million more per year to control tuberculosis.


Funding ‘hits tuberculosis fight’. The BBC, March 24, 2002.

Only a fraction of TB patients get the best care. World Health Organization, Press Release, March 22, 2002.

Is the World Health Organization Part of the Problem?

Brian Doherty has an excellent, scathing attack on the World Health Organization for the January 2002 issue of Reason which argues that the organization is a bureaucratic nightmare more interested in self-preservation than actually doing something about improving health in the developing world.

Doherty writes that when the WHO was founded after World War II it had a substantive impact on health, especially in the developing world. WHO played a major role in tackling a number of infectious diseases, culminating with its role in the eradication of small pox in 1977.

But after the victory over small pox, WHO started turning away from focusing on infectious disease in the developing world to most First World concerns. First under Director General Hiroshi Nakajima and then Gro Harlem Brundtland, WHO began to turn away from infectious disease. Doherty writes,

In a world still fighting infectious disease, Brundtland’s WHO has issued statements, studies, and reports on such topics as blood clots in people who sit still on airplanes too long, helping people remain active while aging, the hazards of using cell phones while driving, the importance of debt relief for poor countries, how tobacco is “a major obstacle to children’s rights,” and rates of alcohol abuse among European teens.

Doherty is especially troubled by the recent WHO analysis of world health problems which relied on a measurement called the disability adjusted life year. The idea behind the DALY is that someone suffering from a severe illness or disability is living a lower quality of life than someone who is not. But WHO’s attempt to quantify produced bizarre results whereby, for example, WHO claims that 16 percent of the years lost to disability in sub-Saharan Africa come from mental illness. Any organization that thinks mental illness is one of the major health problems facing that region, however, is crazy.

Doherty’s article finishes with a stark reminder of just how ineffective WHO is and how misguided its focus on things like years lost to disability are,

Nothing condemn’s WHO’s current agenda more than some of its own pronouncements. In a 1999 press release, WHO declared that six illnesses accounted for 90 percent of all infectious disease deaths among people under 44 years: malaria tuberculosis, measles, diarrheal diseases, acute respiratory infections (including pneumonia), and AIDS. The same press release declared that “the tools to prevent deaths from each of these six diseases now cost under $20 per person at risk, and in most cases under $0.35. Yet these diseases still caused over 11 million deaths in 1998.”

. . . we have WHO declaring that 11 million deaths — 90 percent of all infectious disease deaths for people under 44 years — could have been easily prevented with an expenditure of, at its lowest, $3.9 million, and at its highest, $220 million. That is, anywhere from 0.4 percent to 20 percent of WHO’s budget for one year.

What does WHO spend its money on instead? Doherty cites an analysis of WHO’s 1994-95 budget that found WHO spent as much on its meetings and its executive board as it did on immunizations, tuberculosis and diarrheal diseases combined. Seventy percent of its budget went to administrative overhead and its Geneva headquarters.


WHO Cares? The World Health Organization cares more about its own life than the lives of the poor. Brian Doherty, Reason, January 2002.