EMR 10 – Reflections from my region

Last week, I had the honor of attending the 10th Annual Regional Meeting of the Eastern Mediterranean Region in IFMSA and it was special for many reasons. Firstly, it was my first IFMSA meeting as an official, and for it to be in my region where I served as Regional Assistant just last year made it all the more special. But more on this later.

Secondly, it was the first time we carry out an Ipas Training on Maternal Health and Access to Safe Abortion in the EMR region. I was lucky enough to be the facilitator of this workshop and boy was I nervous. But my nerves quickly calmed down when I got to meet the amazing participants and see their enthusiasm for a subject that I thought would have been impossible to speak about in our region. Also thanks to the surprise addition of SCOME officers (one Liaison Officer and one Regional Assistant, you know who you are) in our workshop, we got an outside perspective that was fresh and completely unexpected seeing as both had had minimal SCORA experience or interest in the past. Still they came back and that was a testament to the spirit of the sessions which was meant to be inclusive and understanding of differing points of views, and to allow for meaningful discourse where there had been none in the past. At the end of our workshop, evaluations were extremely positive with many saying they wanted to go back home and read more about this subject in the hopes of finding ways to advocate for their patients’ rights! Also, many loved the idea that this topic had never been spoken about previously in their medical schools or IFMSA for that matter, and wished we would  speak about other topics that are often not openly addressed in SCORA due to their “controversy”. And all of this from a region that is often deemed too conservative to even make an effort to speak about such issues.

That’s the thing, many people are surprised when I speak about the SCORA work that goes on in my Region, often saying how is this even possible? How can someone speak openly about HIV and AIDS in the Middle East? How can one speak about women’s rights? About LGBTQI issues? About female cutting (formerly known as FGM)? How can we do anything when there’s so much to be done? And that’s precisely the point!! My Region has so many areas that are unchartered with respect to SCORA work and that is why our work is so amazing. From Jordan to Iran, Egypt to Lebanon and Iraq, medical students are noticing that there’s something wrong in how sexual and reproductive health rights are being dealt with and their doing something about it,with a full understanding that small steps can later make a big difference! And boy are they making a difference! Whether it be through educating over 1000 peer educators in Egypt or getting over 200 women to get checked for breast cancer in Jordan, or fundraising over $10,000 for CD4 count tests in Lebanon, EMR SCORA is shining.

Which brings me back to my first point, of being an official who’s work started in this Region. Having seen my region grow over the past 4 years truly makes my heart swell to a size I never knew it could. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it a million times, hearing of all of the amazing work that is happening in my region makes me feel tiny in comparison. Yes I happen to be an International Official in IFMSA, however, my job is simple: to make sure the work of every SCORAngel shines! And having been lucky enough to see all of the amazing work in the EMR on display last week makes my job all the more simple. So hats off to you EMRians for inspiring me everyday! And a special thanks to the lovely people in Kuwait who helped organize this amazing Regional Meeting, as well as my lovely Regional Assistant Sanam, you’re truly heaven sent! And lastly, all of SCORA does amazing work, I was just lucky enough to be able to witness the work in this Region first hand and identify with the struggles these SCORAngels face on a daily basis. So they have a special place in my heart, but IFMSA-SCORA, you are an amazing beast so let’s see what else this year has to bring!!

IPAS Training – Maternal Health and Access to Safe Abortion

This last week, I, along with three of my amazing RA’s and our lovely LRA Kelly Thompson, got the opportunity to attend a training of trainers on the topic of maternal health and access to safe abortion, hosted by the organization Ipas in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The training was part of a Memorandum of Understanding between Ipas and IFMSA, to hold trainings on these issues in three of our regions in IFMSA: Africa, EMR, and PAMSA. The training lasted for four days and I must say was one of the best trainings I have had the honor of attending in all my time in IFMSA, and here’s why.

  The topic of safe abortion is not one to be taken lightly. For many people, it brings up a lot of ethical and religious issues. And way too often we choose to not even speak about it instead of treating it as a common medical procedure. So common in fact that 1 in every 3 women in the US will have such a procedure at least once in their lifetime. Not only that, in 2008, 22 million women underwent an unsafe abortion with a reported 47,000 deaths and 5 million women suffering from disabilities. The problem is real and the fact is that it is 100% preventable. By providing proper safe abortion procedures, these women can be saved.   And it all starts with opening a discussion. So that’s exactly what we did, for four days we discussed with the amazing people at Ipas how we can best give a workshop about safe abortion within the IFMSA. And I must say that I was very impressed with the results and couldn’t be more excited to see the outcomes of these three pre-RM workshops. Ipas is an organization with more than 40 years experience in the field of maternal heath and safe abortion and they work on the ground in almost every continent. They face challenges and stigmatization every day to make sure that any woman who wants such a procedure can get it done in a safe and healthy environment. Their work is utterly inspiring and am so excited that we get to embark on this joint venture with them. Furthermore, the outcomes of these workshops will be used to finalize a joint training guide between Ipas and IFMSA SCORA!So I encourage anyone who is interested in working on this issue to please attend the RM workshops. And for those of you unable to attend a RM, then we will for sure be discussing this more within the upcoming March Meeting in Tunisia!

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World AIDS Day 2013

World AIDS Day 2013 Statement

 

Dearest SCORAngels,

Today is December 1st, 2013 and today as many of you know is World AIDS Day!

This year’s World AIDS Day finds many reasons for us to celebrate. New HIV infections have decreased 33% since 2001 with a 52% decrease amongst children and a decrease in 50% or more new cases amongst adults and adolescents in 26 countries around the world.  Furthermore, we are getting closer and closer to ensuring that 15 million people living with HIV/AIDS attain their necessary treatments by 2015. And most importantly, AIDS related deaths have dropped 30% since their peak in 2005.

And while this is all great news, there is still much work to be done! In many regions in the world, there is still barely any data about the amount of HIV positive individuals or transmission. In some cases, the data is so skewed that it doesn’t even make sense! Many people aren’t getting tested because they often think, “Oh that could never happen to me!” or “That only happens to people who sleep around or the gays.”

We’ve moved far from the days in which HIV was known as Gay Related Immunodeficiency Disease (or GRID); however, HIV related discrimination is still very prominent. People can still lose their jobs for being HIV positive and in some cases aren’t allowed to enter a country at all due to the HIV status. People living with HIV/AIDS are still being referred to as the “HIV positive patient” in our hospitals, regardless of their chief complaint. They are still harassed to find out how they got the virus and too often it is said that they “deserve it” for their behavior.

Regardless of who, what, how, why, and when, a person living with HIV/AIDS is still a person who deserves the rights and respect that should be given to every person on this earth. For at the end of the day, all that separates him or her from the rest of society is a virus that happens to be transmitted via blood or sexual contact.

I often find myself asking, why is this virus so different from the rest of those viruses and bacteria that are transmitted in similar ways? Is it because there is no cure yet? Is it because of the people it affected most first? Either way, the facts are there, that in this day in age, it is a tolerable disease, which if treated properly, can lead to a long and healthy life. And the only cure we really have is prevention.

And that is where we come in. On this day SCORAngels, I want you to wear your red ribbon proudly and I want you to walk through the streets, spreading this message: that HIV is here, it’s everywhere, and everyone should do their part to help out, not through stigmatizing and discriminating, but through showing care and compassion. Ignorance only causes harm but knowledge is power, and knowledge leads to a more tolerant and accepting society.

Throughout my 4 years in SCORA, I have and the opportunity to participate in 4 World AIDS Day events in my NMO in Lebanon. And each year it is remarkable how drastic the shift in public opinion is. Each year, we see less and less derogatory statements and each year the number of people who actively listen and thank us for what we are doing increases. The evidence is there people, we are making a difference, and even if you manage to change only one person’s opinion, that’s one more person on our side.

So SCORAngels, keep doing everything that you’re doing. Keep pushing hard to make changes in your communities. Keep fundraising for people living with HIV/AIDS. Keep handing out condoms on busy streets and in your colleges. Keep giving out free hugs and giving talks about safe sex practices. Keep posting pictures of you forming giant red ribbons and flashmobs. Keep telling people to test themselves as well as their sexual partners. Keep making a change and let’s make sure we “Get to Zero” sooner rather than later. And like I said, make sure to wear your red ribbons proudly and start the conversation, because if we don’t, no one else will.

With lots of SCORA love,

Joe Cherabie

Director on Reproductive health and HIV/AIDS