14 new cases reported, 18 more patients discharged from hospital

The National Taskforce Committee for Covid-19 Prevention and Control reported today 14 new cases of Covid-19 including seven community transmissions in Vientiane, three imported cases each in Savannakhet and Champassak, and one community infection in Vientiane (province).

Eighteen patients of Covid-19 were discharged from hospital today.

The cumulative number of Covid-19 in the country has reached 2010 including 1,880 recoveries, 126 active cases and three deaths.

“As for the administration of first doses of Pfizer vaccine in Vientiane between Jun 15-25, people can receive the vaccine at the main halls of the district administration offices of Chanthaboury, Sikhottabong and Xaythany, Xaysettha District Hospital, Naxaythong District Hospital, Hadxayfong District Hospital, Sangthong District Hospital, Pakton Hospital, and Pakngum District Hospital,” Dr Rattanaxay Phetsouvanh, Director of the Department of Communicable Disease Control, Ministry of Health, told a press conference in Vientiane today.

Source: Lao News Agency

Khammuan: all Covid-19 patients discharged from hospital

Khammuan Province has announced that all of its Covid-19 patients have been cured and discharged from hospital with the last batch of five patients discharged yesterday.

Khammuan has placed its cumulative number of Covid-19 cases at six including four community transmissions and two imported cases.

As of May 24, some 24,175 people in the province had been given first shots of Covid-19 vaccine with other 6,402 given second doses.

Source: Lao News Agency

Lumpy skin disease kills over 60 cattle and buffaloes in Savannakhet

More than 60 cows and buffaloes in Savannakhet Province have died from Lumpy skin disease with the cumulative number of cows and buffaloes infected with the disease reaching 4,700.

Of the number, over 2,500 cows and buffaloes have been treated, according to the Director of the Savannaket Provincial Department of Livestock and Fisheries, Mrs Olavanh Samatmanivong who also said that the outbreak of the lumpy skin disease was traced back to early March and had been spreading to 190 villages in 14 districts across the southern province.

The Savannakhet Provincial Department of Agriculture and Forestry has issued a notice banning the movement of cattle and buffaloes for a month from this June.

Lumpy Skin Disease is a virus affecting the health of bovine animals but is not transmissible to humans. Animals can become infected through direct contact, such as through feed or contact with other animals. The disease is also believed to be spread via blood-feeding insects such as flies and mosquitoes.

The virus was first reported in Laos in April 2021, with the government exploring options for the provision of vaccines.

Source: Lao News Agency

“My body is my own”: Why the right to bodily autonomy is crucial for individuals, communities and entire nations

When Rachana Sunar was barely 15 in remote western Nepal, and about to avail of a scholarship to pursue further studies, her father wanted to forcibly marry her off to a man she didn’t even know. Rachana barely managed to escape that fate.

In the rocky highlands of Timor-Leste, 18-year-old Natalia was shocked to find herself pregnant by her boyfriend. Her school had never provided any sexuality education and she didn’t know much about how babies are made – the topic is taboo in her conservative community.

Helwana was about seven years of age in Indonesia when her mother organized a ‘cutting’ ritual for her. The paradji or traditional birth attendant used a piece of sharpened bamboo to her private parts, causing severe bleeding, pain and life-long trauma.

The stories of these girls and women are unfortunately not exceptions. All around Asia-Pacific and globally, millions of women and girls simply have no control over their bodies and their lives. All of us have a fundamental right to make our own decisions about our bodies. But how many women can actually claim they have the power to exercise that right?

Our new UNFPA State of World Population report, My Body is My Own, shows that, in the eight Asia-Pacific countries where data on these three issues are available, barely 59 per cent of women are fully empowered in this regard.

The right to bodily autonomy means that we must have the power and agency to make choices, without fear of violence or coercion, or having someone else decide for us. But often these decisions are made or influenced by others – partners, families, societies, governments.

Across diverse sociocultural contexts, women’s husbands and their families control most if not all aspects of their lives – from the number of children a woman is expected to have including demands that she bear sons, to whether or not she’s allowed to work or even step out of the house unaccompanied by a chaperone. In many countries, national and local laws govern a woman’s access to family planning and other health care, as well as her ability to avail of gender-based violence prevention and response services.

Intertwined with bodily autonomy is the right to bodily integrity, where people live free from physical acts to which they do not consent.

We see violations of both when a lack of contraceptive choices leads to unplanned pregnancy. Or in the terrible bargain made to exchange unwanted sex for a home and food. In life-derailing practices such as child marriage, so common in South Asia and elsewhere; or in gender-biased sex selection fueled by son preference – all of these witnessed to varying degrees in Asia-Pacific.

Autonomy is denied when people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities are criminalized as they are in much of Asia-Pacific. Or when people with disabilities are stripped of their rights to self-determination, to live free from violence, to enjoy safe and satisfying sexual lives, and exercise the right to start their own families.

Some violations such as rape may be criminalized but not always prosecuted. Other violations go unchallenged because they are reinforced by patriarchal and chauvinistic community norms, practices and laws. Bodily autonomy is also shattered by practices like so-called ‘corrective rape’, ‘honour killings’ and ‘virginity tests’, all seen in several countries and contexts in our region. This list goes on and on.

What was bad has now become worse amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with women’s autonomy further diminished by increasing gender-based violence, new barriers to healthcare, unplanned pregnancies, and job and education losses.

At this very moment, as we attempt to build back better from a global crisis, we must commit to addressing the impediments to bodily autonomy all the more. And while there are many impediments to bodily autonomy, gender inequality is perhaps the most pervasive. Gender-unequal norms and attitudes lead to power imbalances in relationships that restrict women’s decisions – or drive the expectation that women must defer to their husbands or partners in all aspects of their lives.

Real, sustained progress demands action at the grassroots level – uprooting gender inequality and all forms of discrimination, transforming the social and economic structures that maintain them. In this, men must become allies. Many more men should commit to stepping away from patterns of privilege and dominance that profoundly undercut bodily autonomy.

But we must look beyond obligations. We must identify opportunities.

Let’s build and strengthen alliances that bring together governments, civil society and supportive partners including the UN family – to truly forge a coalition of the willing, all the more crucial at this moment in time.

In Nepal, Rachana Sunar is now a globally-renowned activist fighting child marriage and educating her community about women’s rights, allowing young girls and women to better achieve their full potential. She’s also married to a man of her choice, and the proud mother of an eight-month-old baby boy.

In Timor-Leste, Natalia has been raising her daughter Afeena with community support. The government has begun implementing sexuality education through the school curricula to better educate young people about their bodies, rights and choices.

And in Indonesia, Helwana is a religious leader affiliated with the Indonesian Mosque Council, advocating against female genital mutilation and other harmful practices against women and girls.

Ultimately, a woman who has control over her body is more likely to be empowered in other spheres of her life, through advances in health and education, income and safety. As these benefits accrue, entire communities, societies and countries will flourish when all people are empowered to make their own informed decisions about their bodies and futures.

Realizing autonomy helps realize a world of greater justice and human well-being, a world that’s truly gender-equal, a world that benefits us all.

Bjorn Andersson is Regional Director of UNFPA in Asia and the Pacific.

Source: Lao News Agency

Australia Outlines Bold Moves to Ban Single-Use Plastic and Coffee Cups

SYDNEY – Conservationists have praised efforts by Australian authorities to drastically reduce the amount of plastic waste and eliminate some disposable coffee cups.

The New South Wales state government wants to ban many common plastic items, including straws, drinks stirrers and cutlery, as well as polystyrene cups in a bid to protect the environment and reduce waste.

Lightweight plastic shopping bags could be eliminated within six months of new laws being passed.

The reforms could be approved by lawmakers this year.

Other products will be phased out at different times depending on the availability of, for example, paper and bamboo alternatives.

Officials have estimated the measures will stop about 2.7 billion items of plastic from ending up in the environment and oceans over the next 20 years.

New South Wales Environment Minister Matt Kean has warned that the world is on track to have more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050.

He told Australian television that the changes would help protect the community.

“No-one wants to be wading through plastics when they go to the beach, let alone be consuming it in their food and water, and that is what we are doing at the moment. Every day in New South Wales people are consuming over 2,000 bits of plastic. That is the equivalent of a credit card of plastic they are ingesting every week and it is largely because of the pervasiveness of single-use plastics across our environment. So, we believe that we can do something about that. Do something about it where there are alternatives available and when it does not add to cost and that is what I am looking to see,” Kean said.

In Western Australia, the state government has also announced ambitious plans to tackle waste. By the end of this year, it will ban a range of items, including single-use plastic bowls, plates, straws, polystyrene food containers and thick plastic shopping bags.

Polystyrene packaging and takeaway plastic coffee cups and their lids will be outlawed in 2022. It is estimated that Australians throw out about a billion coffee cups each year.

The World Wildlife Fund Australia said the state governments in New South Wales and Western Australia are in a “race to the top” in waste measures and that the reforms were “a terrific outcome for the environment.”

But conservationists have warned that Tasmania and the Northern Territory were the only Australian jurisdictions “without a plan to ban problem single-use plastics.”

Also, in a few weeks, it will be illegal for companies to export certain waste plastics from Australia under tough new rules.

Source: Voice Of America

China Slams G-7 Statement Criticizing Human Rights Record

China has denounced the communique issued Sunday at the end of the G-7 summit that criticized Beijing over its human rights record.

The G-7 statement called on China to “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang, and those rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” referring to the 1997 agreement that switched control of the financial hub from Britain to China.

Beijing is accused of committing serious human rights abuses against the minority Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang, including the detention of more than one million Uyghurs into detention camps, widespread government surveillance and forced birth control.

The Chinese embassy in London issued a statement accusing the G-7 leaders of interfering in its internal affairs, and according to Reuters, vowed to “resolutely fight back against all kinds of injustices and infringements imposed on China.”

The statement also said an investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was first detected in China’s central city of Wuhan in late 2019, should not be “politicized” in response to the G-7’s demand for “a timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based” second probe by the World Health Organization.

Source: Voice Of America