HPTN Studies Inform FDA’s Approval of ViiV Healthcare’s Long-Acting Cabotegravir Injections for HIV Prevention

DURHAM, N.C., Dec. 21, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Data from the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) studies HPTN 083 and HPTN 084 helped provide important information for yesterday's decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve ViiV Healthcare's long–acting cabotegravir (CAB–LA) injections for the prevention of HIV. Sponsored and co–funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), these studies showed that CAB–LA injected once every eight weeks was superior to daily oral tenofovir/emtricitabine (TDF/FTC) for HIV prevention among cisgender men and transgender women who have sex with men (HPTN 083) and cisgender women (HPTN 084). Both studies also demonstrated that CAB–LA was well–tolerated, offering a new and important pre–exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) option for individuals at risk for HIV infection. ViiV Healthcare will market CAB–LA for PrEP under the brand name Apretude.

"This is a truly critical milestone for HIV pre–exposure prophylaxis providing a safe and effective alternative to daily pills," said Dr. Myron Cohen, HPTN co–principal investigator, and director of the Institute for Global Health at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. "Until we have a cure or vaccine, more prevention options that meet the needs of individuals at risk for HIV around the world are essential."

HPTN 083 was co–funded by NIAID and ViiV Healthcare. HPTN 084 was co–funded by NIAID, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and ViiV Healthcare. Study product was provided by ViiV Healthcare and Gilead Sciences, Inc. Three other NIH institutes also collaborated on HPTN 083 and HPTN 084: the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

HPTN 083 enrolled 4,570 cisgender men and transgender women who have sex with men at research sites in Argentina, Brazil, Peru, South Africa, Thailand, the U.S., and Vietnam. In the study, 52 HIV infections occurred, with 12 new infections in the CAB arm and 39 new infections in the TDF/FTC arm. These findings translate to a 69 percent reduction in incident HIV infections in study participants given CAB–LA compared to TDF/FTC.

HPTN 084 enrolled 3,223 cisgender women at research sites in Botswana, Eswatini, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. There were three new infections in the CAB arm and 36 new infections in the TDF/FTC arm, a 92 percent reduction in incident HIV infections in study participants given CAB–LA compared to TDF/FTC.

"HIV continues to disproportionately impact specific populations who need new HIV prevention options that are not only convenient but also highly effective," said Dr. Wafaa El–Sadr, HPTN co–principal investigator, director of ICAP, and professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia University in New York. "CAB–LA is a long–awaited and welcomed addition to the HIV prevention toolkit, offering a potentially convenient option for so many around the world."

About the HPTN

The HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) is a worldwide collaborative clinical trials network that brings together investigators, ethicists, community members, and other partners to develop and test the safety and efficacy of interventions designed to prevent the acquisition and transmission of HIV. The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, Office of The Director, the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, all part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, co–fund the HPTN. The HPTN has collaborated with more than 85 clinical research sites in 19 countries to evaluate new HIV prevention interventions and strategies in populations with a disproportionate HIV burden. The HPTN research agenda "" more than 50 trials ongoing or completed with over 161,000 participants enrolled and evaluated "" is focused primarily on discovering new HIV prevention tools and evaluating integrated strategies, including biomedical interventions combined with behavioral risk reduction interventions and structural interventions. For more information, visit hptn.org.

Media inquiries: Eric Miller, +1.919.384.6465; emiller@fhi360.org


Biden Should Add Development to the Next Summit for Democracy – and Convene a Development Summit

U.S. President Biden just hosted The Summit for Democracy to demonstrate the advantages of democracy in the global competition with authoritarian regimes. The U.S. can succeed in this competition by demonstrating to the people of developing countries (i.e., the vast majority of the world’s population) how coupling democracy and development is the best course to improve their lives

By Philippe Benoit
WASHINGTON, Dec 21 2021 – U.S. President Biden just hosted The Summit for Democracy to demonstrate the advantages of democracy in the global competition with authoritarian regimes. The U.S. can succeed in this competition by demonstrating to the people of developing countries (i.e., the vast majority of the world’s population) how coupling democracy and development is the best course to improve their lives.

The U.S.’s ability to deploy this potent combination is an important advantage it enjoys over authoritarian competitors. For that reason, the Biden administration should add development to its democracy initiative.

As Biden has stressed: “We are in the midst of a fundamental debate about the future and direction of our world .. between those who argue … autocracy is the best way forward … and those who understand that democracy is essential.”

Similarly, he explained to a Joint Session of the U.S. Congress: “We’re in competition with China and other countries to win the 21st century.” And in this competition, he said, democracy must prevail: “We have to prove that our model isn’t a relic of our history; it’s the single best way to revitalize the promise of our future.”

The strategy should not be anchored in merely displaying that the world’s wealthiest countries are democracies. Rather, the strategy needs to establish that these wealthy democracies and the system they embody are the best equipped to improve the standards of living of the people of the developing world

The December summit was designed to do precisely that. Over 100 countries were invited to participate, with representatives from governments, civil society and the private sector. The number of countries and breadth of representation shows the Biden administration’s ambition.

The summit was organized around three themes: defending against authoritarianism, addressing and fighting corruption and promoting respect for human rights. These are important topics when considering what a vibrant democracy can and should provide to its citizens. But there is a critical fourth theme missing from the summit: the power of democracies to improve the lives of the multitudes in developing countries suffering from inadequate standards of living.

Billions in these countries struggle to meet basic needs in food, shelter, health, education, sanitation and more. Too many families face daily threats of malnutrition, inadequate sanitation, insecurity, and generalized poverty. Too often, unreliable energy and transport systems, as well as corruption and repression, prevent families from raising their incomes to improve their lives. The terror that COVID-19 constitutes for impoverished countries illustrates the challenge.

The U.S. government needs to show the world’s people that democracies provide the best promise to improve their lives and to protect their families. The strategy should not be anchored in merely displaying that the world’s wealthiest countries are democracies. Rather, the strategy needs to establish that these wealthy democracies and the system they embody are the best equipped to improve the standards of living of the people of the developing world.

To win a global competition, it is important to speak to the global audience, and most of that audience resides in developing countries (over 5 billion people outside of China). Moreover, it is in these countries that populations will grow the most — 2 billion more people by 2050, with more than half of that growth occurring in Africa.

China has understood the importance of this audience, as epitomized by its massive trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative to finance infrastructure and other projects in developing countries. For various commentators in Washington, this initiative is less about assistance and more about Beijing’s strategy to advance its geopolitical interests to the detriment of the U.S.

Yet, irrespective of the motivation, developing countries have been taking note of both China’s growing overseas assistance, as well of its development successes in reducing poverty and raising incomes domestically.

But improving the quality of people’s lives is not only about more infrastructure or improved material conditions. It is also about social and political dimensions and, importantly, about freedoms (as reflected, for example, in the UN declaration on development).

This includes freedom from fear and oppression, the right to expression, to participate in politics and the right of minorities to the same opportunities as the majority. Importantly, these are elements that a vibrant democracy should deliver, and an authoritarian system is poorly equipped to provide.

Unfortunately, several of today’s democracies, including in many developing countries, are falling short in delivering on democracy’s promise. For example, minority ethnic groups in various countries are being discriminated against, or even oppressed, by the majority (a torment that is more prevalent in and arguably endemic to authoritarian regimes).

So, as Biden has stressed, democracies must do better: “We have to defend [democracy], fight for it, strengthen it, renew it.”  For these reasons, the three announced themes of the summit are indeed important.

And yet they are insufficient in and of themselves to win the global competition. Providing the conditions to raise people out of poverty and to promote inclusive prosperity free from fear is a critical and complementary fourth theme that would speak to people’s aspirations across the developing world.

While there was some discussion of economic development in connection with the summit, it was too limited.  So, in addition to new commitments on countering authoritarianism, etc., the democracy initiative of the Biden administration needs to catalyze substantial and meaningful action to better fight poverty and deprivation in poorer countries.

Among other things, this should include increased funding and more technical support from wealthy democracies to developing countries, but also commitments from the governments of the poorer nations to foster the conditions domestically for fair and inclusive growth.

The U.S. has historically understood the strategic importance of coupling development and democracy, sponsoring organizations such as the World BankUN Development Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

The global wars of the last century demonstrated the benefits of a world in which the U.S. democracy surpassed authoritarian regimes — and also that the U.S. and other countries were safer in a world filled with vibrant democracies. This dynamic helps to explain why the U.S. has remained the biggest provider of overseas development assistance, notwithstanding fluctuating domestic political support. But there is growing international competition.

Democracy is a powerful system to be deployed globally to raise standards of living while promoting individual liberties and freedom from oppression. Authoritarian systems cannot stand up to that promise. Democracy’s leaders, including from many of the globe’s richest countries, need to demonstrate what they and democracy can provide to the world’s have-nots.

That is key to any strategy to win the competition of the 21st century. To this end, President Biden should, following on his earlier Leaders Summit on Climate and this Summit for Democracy, convene a “Summit for Development” that addresses the poverty and other challenges, as well as the aspirations, of the world’s disadvantaged.  

First published in The Hill on December 8, 2021

Philippe Benoit has over 25 years of experience working in international affairs and development, including in management positions at the World Bank. He is currently managing director, Energy and Sustainability, with Global Infrastructure Advisory Services 2050.

Blue California-FineCap™ Microencapsulation Platform Serves the Purpose

Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., Dec. 21, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Blue California, the producer of natural science–based ingredients, provides FineCap a comprehensive microencapsulation technology platform, equipped with 20 microencapsulation technologies, to deliver active ingredients and satisfy our clients' needs.

Microencapsulation is the process in which tiny particles of solid, liquid, or gas are packaged within a matrix to form a capsule. The capsule is coated with a protective layer to avoid degradation from exposure to environmental factors such as water, oxygen, heat, and light.

"Brands that seek to expand their products' qualities and boost their product portfolios will find many benefits to the FineCap platform," said Dr. Cuie Yan, vice president of encapsulation. "FineCap takes microencapsulation a step further by offering a variety of technologies and targeting customers' specific needs in tackling active ingredients with unique characteristics, such as strong odor, taste or stability problems that challenge formulators."

Microencapsulation systems have been widely used across multiple industries, including the pharmaceutical, food, supplement, personal care, and fragrance industries, for active ingredients like medicines, nicotine, flavors/fragrances, polyunsaturated fatty acids, probiotics, natural pigments, vitamins, antioxidants, etc. Space agency NASA also uses encapsulation technologies for spacecraft. The pharmaceutical industry uses microencapsulation often to control the release of active pharma ingredients (API).

Blue California has created the FineCap platform to serve customers' growing demands for better performance of API, functional ingredients, dietary supplements, flavors, fragrances, cosmetics, and personal care products.

For example, FineCap protects API from degradation, unpleasant tastes or aroma, and maintains its efficacy, by controlling its release. FineCap enables flavors to thrive in food and beverages with integrity, intensity, and extended shelf–life.

In fragrances, FineCap guarantees brands to control the precise fragrance release rate, location, and duration. Personal care products benefit from FineCap by protecting the delicate top–notes and cosmetic actives from oxygen, moisture, temperature, and light deterioration. A more comprehensive look into the benefits that FineCap delivers in these product segments can be found here.

"Our comprehensive FineCap platform has been serving and supporting formulators looking to launch market–winning products with better qualities and shelf–life that consumers are seeking," said Dr. Yan. "We're enabling brands to quickly create products from innovative concepts, benchtop development, to pilot and full commercial manufacturing, with improved efficacy, taste, color, texture, and shelf life, along with vegan, organic, Kosher, or Halal certificate."

The FineCap platform investment builds on Blue California's 25–year legacy of producing botanical extracts and now natural flavors and fragrances and focuses on developing sustainable ingredients made through bioconversion or fermentation.

###

About Blue California
Blue California is an entrepreneurial, science–based solutions provider and manufacturer of clean, natural, and sustainable ingredients used in food, beverage, flavor, fragrance, dietary supplements, personal care, and cosmetic products. For more than 25 years, Blue California has built a strong reputation for creating value in these diverse natural products and nature–inspired industries.

Attachment


CORRECTED VERSION: Vaccine Famine & its Impact on African Economies

The Republic of Congo received just over 300,000 doses of the COVID vaccines through the COVAX Facility in August 2021. Credit: UNICEF/Aimable Twiringiyima

By Ahunna Eziakonwa
NEW YORK, Dec 21 2021 – We are about to start a third year of living with COVID-19. The world’s humanity and solidarity are now at a further test – and yet implications of the absence of solidarity keep us all in the boat of mutations, lockdowns, quarantines and delayed SDGs – denied prosperity for all. 2021 has unearthed a new expression of global inequity: “vaccine nationalism” – itself competing with high with socioeconomic downturns, jobless growth, the climate crisis, and rising poverty.

As the pandemic ravages on, with Omicron on the scene, the futility of hoarding takes centre stage as even the heavy supply of boosters in advanced economies has not shielded them from the vicious cycle of pandemic-living. While about 60 per cent of the population in the US and 76 per cent of that in Canada are fully vaccinated, in Africa – a continent home to 1.3 billion people – the number barely reaches 8 per cent. Many have argued that vaccines’ short shelf life, hesitancy and logistic

The world’s humanity and solidarity are now at its further test – and yet the implications of the absence of solidarity keep us all in the boat of mutations, lockdowns, quarantines and delayed SDGs – denied prosperity for all. 2021 has unearthed a new expression of global inequity: “vaccine nationalism” – which itself competes high with socioeconomic downturns, jobless growth, the climate crisis, and rising poverty.

Vaccine inequality is also manifesting in terms of affordability. For high income countries to vaccinate 70 per cent of their population, it will take raising their health care spending by 0.8 per cent. Lower income countries must increase health care spending by over 50 per cent, on average – to do the same.

Vaccines delayed is development denied. Estimates show that vaccine delays cost Africa up to $14 billion in lost productivity each month – making recovery more challenging, and dragging out the first-in-a-generation recession the continent is facing.

African governments have responded quickly to contain the spread of the virus – but success is overshadowed by the pandemic’s socioeconomic consequences. In 2019, Africa was witnessing record growth numbers in various sectors: like tourism; where the continent had the second-fastest growing tourism sector in the world, contributing 8.5 per cent of Africa’s GDP.

However, with the pandemic, tourism has come to a standstill. Africa recorded a 2.1 per cent decline in economic growth in 2020, with other accompanying challenges including general exchange rates depreciations, food insecurity and increased job losses.

Vaccine delays will cost Sub-Saharan Africa 3 per cent of the region’s forecast GDP in 2022-25. UNDP research reveals that recovery rates are strongly correlated to capacity to vaccinate – with a $7.93 billion increase in global GDP for every million people vaccinated. Low-income countries that are severely impacted by the pandemic do not have the fiscal and financial leeway available to wealthy countries.

They risk enduring the pandemic longer if they do not gain early access to COVID-19 vaccines. This places an inordinate burden on national budgets at a time when the pandemic has decimated fiscal revenues and when higher spending is needed from governments to protect their people and cushion the socioeconomic shock caused by the pandemic.

There is a risk of seeing African countries’ budget deficits widen and it is urgent for us to support countries in developing alternative financing sources. Vaccine famine is putting millions at risk of infection, constraining economic productivity and jeopardizing socioeconomic progress.

The key question today is: Can the world afford such blatant inequality in the face of a pandemic that is sparing no region?

The path to recovery will remain long and uncertain unless we take urgent measures to overhaul the current system of vaccine production, distribution, and financing. Below are some ideas on how to get there fast – building on a consensus that emerged from the recently concluded African Economic Conference in Sal, Cabo Verde.

    • Development financing in Africa requires an out – of – the – box architecture. Africa will need an additional $425 billion in external funding between now and 2025 to fully recover from the pandemic. It is daunting, but not impossible. It is equivalent to the amount African countries lose to illicit financial flows over a five-year period. Economic governance and creativity can also be applied, by, for instance, re-directing investments by pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, and similar institutions.

    • Leveraging the continent’s natural resources is urgent. Africa’s financial presence in the international system does not reflect its real wealth. Better management and use of extractive industries is critical. Resources like energy, oil, natural gas, coal, and uranium are worth between $13-14.5 trillion of potential wealth. Further resources can also be harnessed from production in six key sectors: agriculture, water, fisheries, forestry, tourism and human capital. Mobilization of these resources requires governments seriously addressing deficiencies in banking and governance systems to stem illicit financial flows out of Africa. Central banks have a key role to play in unlocking idle resources and channeling them into productive investments. Over $1 trillion of excess reserves could be used to finance Africa’s development.

    • International finance systems could be reviewed to become more equitable. Concessional financing should consider countries’ multidimensional vulnerabilities beyond what is reflected in their income levels. The allocation of a record amount of $650 billion SDR issued by the IMF to its member countries in August 2021 is a step in the right direction. But more can be done to better support countries that need financing the most. Africa only received $21 billion of SDRs from the total envelope. Such international mechanisms could be reviewed to redress current inequalities.

    • Reforming Africa’s financial system. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical role that financial systems have to play in supporting Africa’s development. Improvements in the quality, quantity and efficiency of financial systems are crucial for Africa’s sustainable development. More effective financial systems across the continent can promote resource mobilization and better allocation of savings to productive investments by shifting incentives for the banking system toward the core functions and advancing financial inclusion for individuals and microenterprises.

    • Digital innovations are a game changer for Africa’s development financing. Financial systems that harness digital technologies and free and fair competition will be fundamental in revitalizing African economies. The pandemic has proven that digital technologies present enormous opportunities for Africa. They stimulate innovation, economic growth, and job creation in critical economic sectors by allowing better interconnection of African markets with the rest of the world. They can also increase market access and financing for the marginalized population usually excluded by the formal financial systems. However, digitization also has the potential to exacerbate inequalities and we must ensure that the means are sufficiently inclusive for no one to be left behind.

    • Sustainable financing will be key. African financial institutions have a role to play in enabling Africa to transform its natural resources advantages, by leveraging blue-carbon markets, and green financing mechanisms. Climate risk-sensitive investment, de-risking, impact investment, environmentally sustainable projects, and sustainable energy investment are among the critical issues for sustainable financing development. Thus, the financial sector can contribute by re-orienting investments towards more sustainable technologies and businesses and fostering low-carbon, climate-resilient, and circular economies.

    • Boosting intra-African trade is a gateway to recovery. The transformative power of the AfCFTA must be brought to bear in servicing the needs of 1.3 billion people. If effectively implemented, the AfCFTA will accelerate the continent’s path towards structural economic transformation through value – addition – based industrialization of both goods and services. Investment in trade facilitation reforms and using Regulations as a Stimulus (RaaS) will bring even greater dividends, saving governments money in efficiencies while placing billions directly in the hands of intra-African women and youth – led exporting enterprises.

2022 must be a year where collective global action prioritizes vaccine equity and ensures a shot for all. Omicron has reminded us that there is just no other way to build forward better.

Ahunna Eziakonwa is UN Assistant-Secretary General, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Regional Bureau for Africa Director.

 


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Vaccine Famine & its Impact on African Economies

The Republic of Congo received just over 300,000 doses of the COVID vaccines through the COVAX Facility in August 2021. Credit: UNICEF/Aimable Twiringiyima

By Ahunna Eziakonwa
NEW YORK, Dec 21 2021 – We are about to start a third year of living with COVID-19. The world’s humanity and solidarity are now at its further test – and yet the implications of the absence of solidarity keep us all in the boat of mutations, lockdowns, quarantines and delayed SDGs – denied prosperity for all. 2021 has unearthed a new expression of global inequity: “vaccine nationalism” – which itself competes high with socioeconomic downturns, jobless growth, the climate crisis, and rising poverty.

As the pandemic ravages on, with Omicron on the scene, the futility of hoarding takes centre stage as even the heavy supply of boosters in advanced economies has not shielded them from the vicious cycle of pandemic-living.

While about 60 per cent of the population in the US and 76 per cent in Canada are fully vaccinated, in Africa – a continent that is home to 1.3 billion people – the number barely reaches 8 per cent.

Many have argued that vaccines’ short shelf life, hesitancy and logistic challenges weigh in. Granted. But the main issue remains the absence of global solidarity – where the rich hoard, and the weaker economies deal with vaccine famine – awaiting their turn…

Vaccine Inequality is also manifest in vaccine affordability. For high income countries to vaccinate 70 per cent of their population it will take raising their health care spending by 0.8 per cent. Lower income countries must increase health care spending by over 50 per cent, on average – to do the same.

Vaccines delayed is development denied. Estimates show that vaccine delays cost Africa up to $14 billion in lost productivity each month and making recovery more challenging – and dragging out the first-in-a-generation recession the continent is facing.

African governments have responded quickly to contain the spread of the virus – but success is overshadowed by the pandemic’s socioeconomic consequences. In 2019, Africa was witnessing record growth numbers in various sectors – like tourism, where Africa had the second-fastest growing tourism sector in the world, contributing 8.5 per cent of the continent’s GDP.

However, with the pandemic, tourism has come to a standstill, and the continent recorded a 2.1 per cent decline in economic growth in 2020. Other accompanying challenges have included general exchange rates depreciations, food insecurity and increased job losses.

Vaccine delays will cost Sub-Saharan Africa 3 per cent of the region’s forecast GDP in 2022-25. UNDP research reveals that recovery rates are strongly correlated to capacity to vaccinate – with a $7.93 billion increase in global GDP for every million people vaccinated.

Low-income countries that are severely impacted by the pandemic do not have the fiscal and financial leeway available to wealthy countries. They risk enduring the pandemic longer if they do not gain early access to COVID-19 vaccines.

This places an inordinate burden on national budgets at a time when the pandemic has decimated fiscal revenues and when higher spending is needed from governments to protect their people and cushion the socioeconomic shock caused by the pandemic.

There is a risk of seeing African countries’ budget deficit widen and it is urgent for us to support countries in developing alternative financing sources. Vaccine famine is putting millions at risk of infection, constraining economic productivity and jeopardizing socioeconomic progress.

The key question today is: Can the world afford such blatant inequality in the face of a pandemic that is sparing no region?

The path to recovery will remain long and uncertain unless we take urgent measures to overhaul the current system of vaccine production, distribution, and financing. Below are some ideas on how to get there fast – building on a consensus emerged from the recently concluded African Economic Conference in Sal, Cabo Verde.

    • Development financing in Africa requires an out – of – the – box architecture. Africa will need an additional $425 billion in external funding between now and 2025 to fully recover from the pandemic. It is daunting, but not impossible. It is equivalent to the amount African countries lose to illicit financial flows over a five-year period. Economic governance and creativity can be applied: by, for instance, re-directing investments by pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, and similar institutions.

    • Leveraging the continent’s natural resources is urgent. Africa’s financial presence in the international system does not reflect its real wealth. Better management and use of extractive industries is critical. Resources like energy, oil, natural gas, coal, and uranium are worth between US$13-14.5 trillion and US$1.7 trillion of potential wealth. Further resources can be harnessed from production in six key sectors: agriculture, water, fisheries, forestry, tourism and human capital. Mobilization of these resources requires governments seriously addressing deficiencies in banking and governance systems to stem illicit financial flows out of the continent. Central banks have a key role to play in unlocking idle resources and channeling them into productive investments. Over $1 trillion of excess reserves could be used to finance Africa’s development.

    • International finance systems could be reviewed to become more equitable. Concessional financing should consider countries’ multidimensional vulnerabilities beyond what is reflected in their income levels. The allocation of a record amount of $650 billion SDR issued by the IMF to its country members in August 2021 is a step in the right direction. But more can be done to better support countries that need financing the most. Africa only received $21 billion of SDRs from the total envelope. Such international mechanisms could be reviewed to redress current inequalities.

    • Reforming Africa’s financial system. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical role that financial systems have to play in supporting Africa’s development. Improvements in the quality, quantity and efficiency of financial systems are crucial for Africa’s sustainable development. More effective financial systems across the continent can promote resource mobilization and better allocation of savings to productive investments by shifting incentives for the banking system toward the core functions and advancing financial inclusion for individuals and microenterprises.

    • Digital innovations are a game changer for Africa’s development financing. Financial systems that harness digital technologies and free and fair competition will be fundamental in revitalizing African economies. The pandemic has proven that digital technologies present enormous opportunities for Africa. They stimulate innovation, economic growth, and job creation in critical economic sectors by allowing better interconnection of African markets with the rest of the world. They can also increase market access and financing for the marginalized population usually excluded by the formal financial systems. However, digitization also has the potential to exacerbate inequalities and we must ensure that the means are sufficiently inclusive for no one to be left behind.

    • Sustainable financing will be key. African financial institutions have a role to play in enabling Africa to transform its natural resources advantages, by leveraging blue-carbon markets, and green financing mechanisms. Climate risk-sensitive investment, de-risking, impact investment, environmentally sustainable projects, sustainable energy investment are among critical issues for sustainable financing development. Thus, the financial sector has a key role to play in re-orienting investments towards more sustainable technologies and businesses and fostering low-carbon, climate-resilient, and circular economies.

    • Boosting intra-African trade is a gateway to recovery. The transformative power of the AfCFTA must be brought to bear in servicing the needs of 1.3 billion people. If effectively implemented, the AfCFTA will accelerate the continent’s path towards structural economic transformation through value – addition – based industrialization of both goods and services. Investment in trade facilitation reforms and using Regulations as a Stimulus will bring even greater dividends, saving governments money in efficiencies while placing billions directly in the hands of intra-African women and youth – led exporting enterprises.

2022 must be a year where collective global action prioritize vaccine equity and ensure a shot for all. Omicron has reminded us that there is just no other way to build forward better.

Ahunna Eziakonwa is UN Assistant-Secretary General, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director, Regional Bureau for Africa.

 


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Getting Beyond Body-Shaming

Online platform Fuzia uses positive reinforcement and creativity to support its community. Credit: Sangeeta CS/Fuzia

By Fairuz Ahmed
New York, Dec 21 2021 – This is an age where pandemics are raging, millions live in war-torn strife, yet women are judged on their skin tones and height, says matchmaker Hirion Shah.

“It is sad and frustrating to see educated families, Ph.D. holders, even scientists from high-tech companies turning down suitable matches based on only such issues. I have over 25 years of experience in matrimony matchmaking, and it is high time we change our perspective,” Shah says in an exclusive interview with IPS.

With hundreds of successful matchmaking successes over the years, she expresses her concern about stagnant values that many families demand while looking for potential matches for their children.

“And it does not stop there: fair, dark, skinny, little chubby, tall or not tall enough, these become central traits of being judged. This is almost an epidemic when it comes to Asian communities at home and abroad,” Shah says. “I have seen hundreds of marriages ending in divorce because basic values, characteristics, and overall compatibility were given a backseat during selection, and looks were prioritized.”

According to Compare Comp, in 2020, 55% of marriages across the globe were arranged marriages, and approximately 20 million arranged marriages exist today. The divorce rate for arranged marriages globally is at 6.3%.

India has the highest rate of arranged marriages, hitting 90%, followed by China, Pakistan, Japan, and Bangladesh. It is alarming that 14 million girls get married every year before turning 18.

The UN has declared child marriage a human rights violation. According to the UNFPA, those forced into early or child marriages suffer an increased risk of pregnancy and childbirth complications.

According to IBISWorld, weddings services in the US market alone comprises a $56.7bn industry and are given a center stage in millions of families. Besides wedding expenses, a good chunk of this industry expands to beautification, enhancing and fixing body images, altering skin color or looks.

The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) says that in 2017, more than half of their practitioners saw an increase in cosmetic surgery or injectables with clients under the age of 30. More than 80% of treatments were cosmetic non-surgical procedures, and the trend was born out of social pressures.

According to Harper’s Bazaar, the top three non-surgical treatments among brides, grooms, and wedding parties are facelifts, eyelifts, and nose jobs. Procedures like Botox, hyaluronic acid injections, and chemical peels are popular. Social media influence, peer pressure, and feeling a need to fit in were the main reasons for approaching a plastic surgeon.

Amina Banu recounts her experience of an arranged marriage.

“I grew up in a metro city. My mother has been a teacher for 30 years and my father a scientist. My older sister and brother both are engineers. I have completed a master’s from Michigan, United States,” Banu says, but none of this seemed to matter.

“It was a tiring process to get married despite our social and economic setting. I met over 25 suitors and settled down with the 26th. The process seems brutal and demeaning.”

She says she was rejected because she is 5’6”, and the suitors’ families thought the partners would look awkward.

Fuzia believe in supporting their online community through workshops, support groups and podcasts where users can understand and gain information about positive body shape affirmation and ways to develop a healthy relationship with their bodies. Credit: Ditsa Mahanti/Fuzia

“Happiness and the mental match have nothing to do with such fickle matter, but still, at our age, these are massive points to weigh in, while families look for suitable grooms or brides. The irony is that my husband is 5’4”, and we have been happily married for the past 12 years,” Banu says. She now has three sons and works in New York. She spends a lot of time promoting healthy lifestyles and body images in teens and young adults in minority communities.

The Obesity Action Coalition has found that among overweight middle-school-aged children, 30% of girls and 24% of boys experienced daily bullying, teasing, or rejection because of their size.

These numbers doubled for overweight, high school students – with 63% of girls and 58% of boys experiencing some form of bullying due to their weight and size. Most of the time, these weight-related comments sound like helpful hints. But in reality, children can feel trapped, alone, and helpless to change their situations.

Also, it is not just school bullies initiating weight teasing, body shaming, or teasing.

A study published on Wiley Online Library in September 2018 states that the victim’s friends, teachers, coaches, and even their parents often participate. They use subtle forms of bullying or relational aggression to bully and tease.

Obesity Action notes that many people bullied or shamed because of their weight suffer depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

Pragya Singhal, a social media associate from the online platform Fuzia, says the platform offers support sessions, podcasts and publishes blogs to help people address body image and body-shaming issues.

“The majority of our users’ ages range from teens to young adults. We try to instill the affirmation that, with positivity and a growth mindset, you can become the best and most confident version of yourself,” Singhal says.

Fuzia, which Riya Sinha and Shraddha Varma co-founded, has 5 million users. It has created a safe space where users can network, have a conversation, share their creativity, find work opportunities and study online. The platform has a clear policy about profanity and hate speech and ensures positive engagement.

The online platform uses creative avenues to seek information about mental health, learn ways to cope, ask for help, and express themselves in a safe and judgment-free way.

Shraddha Varma, Fuzia’s co-founder, says that their initiatives align with the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations of ensuring good health and well-being.   Fuzia sets up workshops, support groups, and podcasts where users can understand and gain information about positive body shape affirmation and ways to develop a healthy relationship with their bodies.

“In my opinion, body image has long been and is still considered a parameter of how one thinks about themselves and others. We all have something that we want to change about our bodies, and we have very little idea of how hugely it affects our self-esteem,” says Varma.

“Let’s accept that nobody’s perfect, and we must stop body-shaming others and ourselves. What matters instead is what our bodies can do, if we’re aware of our bodies and if we’re taking the right care of our bodies by getting a good dose of sleep, eating healthy, focusing on being strong and fit, and keeping just about a healthy weight.”

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Liberal Facade Hides Lebanon’s Patriarchy

Women have taken the helm in Lebanon’s protests, but not in the realm of formal politics. This role is symbolized in this statue of a protesting woman in Martyrs’ Square, Beirut. Credit: Mona Alami

By Mona Alami
Beirut, Lebanon, Dec 21 2021 – Despite its apparent liberalism, Lebanon scores low in gender equality, especially in politics.

According to the Gender Gap index, Lebanon ranks third last in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, with only Syria and Yemen, both plagued by war, scoring lower.

According to Reliefweb, since 2010, Lebanon has witnessed a consistent decline in its relative gender gap score – reaching close to zero in terms of political empowerment.

In November, incumbent Prime Minister Najib Mikati was criticized for saying that Lebanon’s Independence Day celebrations were similar to a “divorced woman celebrating her wedding anniversary … but let’s not forget that if she had remained understanding until her last day in the marriage, she wouldn’t be divorced…”

Rima Husseini, professor at the Lebanese American University (LAU), says empowerment in the country is superficial.

“On the surface, we are seen as an example because Lebanon has a high number of educated women, with many female entrepreneurs. In appearance, we seem more liberated, but that does not translate into political empowerment at a practical level,” she says in an exclusive interview with IPS.

There is only one woman in the current government.

In the previous election in 2018, only six of 86 women who registered to run for the 128-seat Parliament won their seats. Five of them were members of political parties, which helped facilitate their victory.

Paula Yaacoubian, ventured into politics without the usual patronage – a family name, wealth, or the support of a male political leader.

Only one, former television news presenter Paula Yacoubian ran as an independent, won a seat. Unlike other female candidates, she did not come from a political family nor backed by a local male political leader.

While under Article 7 of the Lebanese constitution, gender equality is guaranteed, personal status is often in the hands of religious communities.  Lebanon recognizes 18 religious communities, each with a different status law, which means gender equality may not apply.

“Inequality stems from the patriarchal framework of households, where family codes and communal laws see women as objects owned by their family. This reality affects women’s political participation in Lebanon,” explains Husseini.

The patriarchal system, where women educate their sons differently from their daughters, is one of the biggest challenges faced by Lebanese women. Another stems from the sectarian system, one of the most detrimental factors hindering women’s political representation, explains Yaacoubian.

More than two decades have passed since Lebanon adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Yet, it has failed so far to comply with the treaty, more specifically when it comes to the gender quota system allowing women’s integration into political life.

“Lebanon’s patriarchal system, which is built on laws that aim to control women and youth, does not allow for real citizenship, with factors of separation such as class and religion prevailing,” says Husseini. “When you think of it, there is no real Lebanese citizenship, no social contract that binds us together. Women have a great role to play but cannot because of the legal system that differentiates between men and women.”

This translates to Lebanon falling behind regarding women’s representation, with no quotas to act as a safeguard, unlike other regional countries.

In nearby Jordan, in appearance, a more conservative country than Lebanon, nine percent of women hold ministerial positions. Another 12 percent participate in Parliament, with an additional 32 percent participating in the local legislatures.

Women played a major role in recent protests in Lebanon. However, this has not translated into political power. Credit: Mona Alami

In Iraq, Women set an unprecedented historical record in the 2021 election. According to an article by the New Arab, 97 female candidates were elected to the 329-seat chamber this year, which equals 29.4 percent of the new Iraqi parliament. This represents 14 more seats than the required quota for female MPs, which is 83, or 25% of parliament according to Iraq’s electoral laws.

The New Arab estimates that the support for female candidates was so significant that 57 MPs will enter the next parliament based solely on registered votes rather than the allocated quota system.

“Conversely, women’s access to politics is restricted in Lebanon. As an example, former MP Dina Boustany only entered parliament after the death of her father. Women get into parliament due to their familial relations,” says Myriam Sfeir, Director of the LAU Arab Institute for Women. “There is a famous saying: ‘women enter parliament as a result of the death of a relative’. Then they leave political life when their male descendant comes of age. In addition, Lebanese political parties are simply more willing to fund men.”

Yaacoubian, who is the only woman to have broken the rules by venturing into politics without the sponsor of a family name, wealth, or the support of a male political leader, underlines that entering political life as a woman is not without cost in Lebanon.

“Women are treated as if they are missing some quality (that men are supposed to have). The prevailing mentality is that men know better, although studies have shown that women tend to be less corrupt and more humane in politics,” she says.

Independent political players such as Yaacoubian, explains Husseini, are often the object of bullying, with efforts made to diminish their value on a personal level or attack their reputation, which would never happen to a male political candidate.

Despite remaining on the sideline of the Lebanese parliamentary life, women have been at the helm of the 2019 protest movement.

They succeeded in easing conflict between separate sectarian regions, such as Ain Remaneh and Chiyah in Beirut, and protected protestors when the riot police attacked them.

In November, three judges, all women, handed in their resignation to protest political interference in the judiciary’s work and the undermining of decisions issued by judges and courts.

“Women are very present, especially as civil society actors. Lebanese women are demanding to be included on decision tables. They are carving a space for themselves in the political world. However, a quota system is essential to ensure better representation in the next parliamentary elections,” says Sfeir.

Women must be brave and persevere at any cost if they want to enter politics, concludes Yaacoubian.

 


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