International Human Rights Day

Human rights are basic rights that belong to all of us simply because we are human. They embody key values in our society and are an important means of protection for us all, especially those who may face abuse, neglect and isolation. Most importantly, these rights give us power and enable us to speak up and challenge the poor treatment from a public authority.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights or UDHR is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, it set out, for the first time, the fundamental human rights to be universally protected. The power of the Universal Declaration is the power of ideas to change the world. It inspires us to continue working to ensure that all people can gain freedom, equality and dignity. The Declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 during its 183rd plenary meeting. The UDHR holds the world record as the most translated document except for the Bible.

The 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will be celebrated on 10 December 2023. During the 75th anniversary celebrations, the aim is to educate and increase global knowledge and awareness of the UDHR and its enduring relevance for our times and the future; promote attitude change by countering the increasing scepticism of, and rollbacks against human rights by establishing that human rights are never relative and must always be upheld as what unites all of humanity. It also empowers and mobilises by offering concrete knowledge and tools to help people better fight for their rights.

Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December and commemorates the day in 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The date was chosen to honour the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption and proclamation, on 10 December 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or UDHR, the first global enunciation of human rights and one of the first major achievements of the new United Nations. The formal establishment of Human Rights Day occurred on 4 December 1950. It is also on this day that the five-yearly United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights and Nobel Peace Prizes are awarded. When adopted, the declaration was proclaimed as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, towards which individuals and societies should strive by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance.

In the decades since the ratification of the UDHR, human rights have, in real terms, become more recognised and more guaranteed across the globe. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights sets out a broad range of fundamental rights and freedoms to which all of us are entitled. It guarantees the rights of every individual everywhere, without distinction based on nationality, place of residence, gender, national or ethnic origin, religion, language, or any other status.

Although the Declaration its broad range of political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights is not a binding document, it inspired more than 60 human rights instruments which together constitute an international standard of human rights. Today the general consent of all United Nations Member States on the basic Human Rights laid down in the Declaration makes it even stronger and emphasises the relevance of Human Rights in daily lives.

In South Africa, Human Rights Day is celebrated on 21 March, in remembrance of the Sharpeville massacre which took place on 21 March 1960. This massacre occurred as a result of protests against the Apartheid regime in South Africa. It is celebrated on 11 December in Kiribati.

Each year, Human Rights Day has a different theme. In 2021, the focus was on young people and how one is never too young to make a difference in the world. In 2022, Human Rights Day is focusing on how rights are the beginning of peace within societies, and a way to create a fairer society for future generations.

If you want to commemorate Human Rights Day, you can speak up for what you care about, volunteer or donate to an organisation or cause that you believe in, make sure you choose fair trade or ethically made products and gifts and listen to those who have stories to tell which you must share with others.

World Diabetes Day

Also known as Diabetes Mellitus, diabetes, as it is popularly known, is a group of metabolic disorders characterised by a high blood sugar level or hyperglycemia over a prolonged period. Symptoms often include frequent urination, increased thirst and increased appetite. If left untreated, diabetes can cause many health complications, including diabetic ketoacidosis, hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state, or death. Serious long-term complications include cardiovascular disease, stroke, chronic kidney disease, foot ulcers, damage to the nerves, damage to the eyes, and cognitive impairment. Diabetes occurs when either the pancreas is not producing enough insulin or the cells of the body are not responding properly to the insulin produced. There are three main types of diabetes mellitus. Type 1 diabetes results from the failure of the pancreas to produce enough insulin due to the loss of beta cells and was previously referred to as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus or juvenile diabetes and usually appears during childhood or adolescence, but can also develop in adults. Type 2 diabetes begins with insulin resistance, a condition in which cells fail to respond to insulin properly. As the disease progresses, a lack of insulin may also develop which was previously referred to as non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus or adult-onset diabetes. Though more common in older adults, a significant increase in the prevalence of obesity among children has led to more cases of type 2 diabetes in younger people. Gestational diabetes is the third main form and occurs when pregnant women without a previous history of diabetes develop high blood sugar levels and blood sugar usually returns to normal soon after delivery. However, women who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

The seventh leading cause of death globally, in 2021, approximately 537 million adults between the ages of 20 and 79 are living with diabetes with the total number of people living with the disease projected to rise to 643 million by 2030 and 783 million by 2045. 3 in 4 adults with diabetes live in low-and middle-income countries and almost 1 in 2 or 240 million adults living with diabetes are undiagnosed. The disease has caused 6.7 million deaths and at least US 966 billion dollars in health expenditure which is 9% of total spending on adults. More than 1.2 million children and adolescents between the ages of 0 and 19 are living with type 1 diabetes with 1 in 6 live births or 21 million affected by diabetes during pregnancy. 541 million adults are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

I have been a diabetic for about eight years now and so like to use this day to highlight this silent disease. Held annually on 14 November, the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting, who co-discovered insulin along with Charles Best in 1922, World Diabetes Day’s main focus is the global awareness campaign focusing on diabetes mellitus. World Diabetes Day was launched in 1991 by the International Diabetes Federation, IDF and the World Health Organization, WHO in response to the rapid rise of diabetes around the world. By 2016, World Diabetes Day was being commemorated by over 230 IDF member associations in more than 160 countries and territories. It became an official United Nations Day in 2006. The campaign is represented by a blue circle logo that is the global symbol for diabetes awareness. It signifies the unity of the global diabetes community in response to the diabetes epidemic.

Every year, the World Diabetes Day campaign focuses on a dedicated theme that runs for one or more years. The theme for World Diabetes Day for the years 2021 to 2023 is Access to Diabetes Care. Millions of people with diabetes around the world do not have access to diabetes care. People with diabetes require ongoing care and support to manage their condition and avoid complications. Medicine, technologies, support and care have to be made available to every diabetic that requires them. Governments have to increase investments in diabetes care and prevention. The rising number of people affected by diabetes is putting added strain on healthcare systems because it is the healthcare professionals who must know how to detect and diagnose the condition early and provide the best possible care. And simultaneously, people living with diabetes need access to ongoing education to understand their condition and carry out the daily self-care essential to staying healthy and avoiding complications.

2022 is also the centenary of the discovery of insulin. In May 1921, the experiments that would culminate in the synthesis of commercially available insulin first began in Toronto, Canada. Frederick Banting and Charles Best experimented on several diabetes-induced dogs with limited success. A breakthrough came when one of the dogs, named Marjorie by the Toronto team, survived for 70 days with injections of the pancreatic extract, or Isletin as the team were calling it. On January 23, 1922, the first successful injection of insulin was administered to a person living with diabetes.

More people must know the importance of this condition and how they can recognise the signs and symptoms. This knowledge will allow individuals and entire families alike to support each other in their efforts to live healthier, diabetes-free lives. While some risk factors for developing diabetes cannot be changed, making healthy lifestyle choices can dramatically reduce a person’s chances of developing it. The key ways one can reduce the risk of developing diabetes include exercising 30 minutes or more, at least five days a week because exercise helps in losing weight, naturally lowers and maintains blood sugar levels, and boosts the body’s sensitivity to insulin, allowing the body to properly manage its blood sugar levels. It is also important to maintain a healthy weight because in many cases, being overweight or obese is the number one trigger that sets off the development of diabetes. One should also eat a healthy diet which includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, as opposed to sugary drinks and snacks.

So get moving, eat healthily and stay healthy to beat diabetes, the silent killer.

World Statistics Day

Statistics is the discipline that concerns the collection, organization, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data. In applying statistics to a scientific, industrial, or social problem, it is conventional, to begin with, a statistical population or a statistical model to be studied. Populations can be diverse groups of people or objects such as “all people living in a country” or “every atom composing a crystal”. Statistics deals with every aspect of data, including the planning of data collection in terms of the design of surveys and experiments. When census data cannot be collected, statisticians collect data by developing specific experiment designs and survey samples. Representative sampling assures that inferences and conclusions can reasonably extend from the sample to the population as a whole. An experimental study involves taking measurements of the system under study, manipulating the system, and then taking additional measurements using the same procedure to determine if the manipulation has modified the values of the measurements. In contrast, an observational study does not involve experimental manipulation.

Two main statistical methods are used in data analysis: descriptive statistics, which summarize data from a sample using indexes such as the mean or standard deviation, and inferential statistics, which conclude data that are subject to random variation like observational errors and sampling variation. Descriptive statistics are most often concerned with two sets of properties of a distribution like a sample or a population. The central tendency or location seeks to characterise the distribution’s central or typical value, while dispersion or variability characterises the extent to which members of the distribution depart from its centre and each other. Inferences in mathematical statistics are made under the framework of probability theory, which deals with the analysis of random phenomena.

Celebrated every five years, World Statistics Day is an international day to celebrate statistics created by the United Nations Statistical Commission and was first celebrated on 20 October 2010. The day is celebrated in more than 103 countries worldwide, including 51 African countries that jointly celebrate African Statistics Day annually on 18 November. India celebrates its statistics day on 29 June, the birthday of the statistician Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis.

Statistics are fundamental for evidence-based policymaking. Current, reliable, timely and trusted data help us to understand the changing world in which we live and to drive the transformations that are needed, leaving no one behind. The coronavirus pandemic has further elevated the importance of data to save lives and recover better. Applying statistics to larger groups of data gives a general overview of issues, including scientific, industrial, or social problems.

World Statistics Day is an opportunity to recognise statisticians worldwide who work to provide reliable data, adhere to the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, and build more resilient and insightful data ecosystems. The day aims to show that good data and statistics are indispensable for informed decision-making by all actors in society.

Statistics are important to make sure everyone is counted, especially the poorest and vulnerable so that each child’s birth gets does not go unregistered and no incidence of disease, no matter how remote the location, shall remain unrecorded. Local statistics ensure that every child has access to education and so global statistics are needed to monitor the overall effects of climate change.

In India, National Statistics Day is celebrated annually on June 29 which is the birth anniversary of the late Professor Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis to mark his contribution in the fields of statistics and economic planning. A noted Indian scientist and applied statistician, Professor Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis introduced the Mahalanobis distance, a statistical measure, and random sampling. He was also one of the members of the first Planning Commission of India and played a key role in shaping the first 5-year plan. He was also instrumental in designing the way surveys are conducted today and introduced the concept of pilot surveys and advocated the importance of sampling methods. Professor Mahalanobis also established the National Statistical Institute (ISI) in 1950, which also housed a Statistical Laboratory.

National Statistics Day Day is celebrated to create public awareness, especially in the younger generation who can for drawing inspiration from him about the role and importance of statistics in socio-economic planning and policy formulation. The day is celebrated by holding seminars, discussions, and competitions to highlight the importance of official statistics in national development. National Statistics Day has a theme every year and the theme for Statistics Day 2022 was Data for Sustainable Development.

World Food Day

Yesterday was World Food Day. This is an international day celebrated every year worldwide on 16 October to commemorate the date of the founding of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization or the UN FAO in 1945. The day is celebrated widely by many other organisations concerned with hunger and food security, including the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. WFP received the Nobel Prize in Peace for 2020 for their efforts to combat hunger, contribute to peace in conflict areas, and for playing a leading role in stopping the use of hunger in the form of a weapon for war and conflict.  

World Food Day (WFD) was established by FAO’s Member Countries at the Organization’s 20th General Conference in November 1979. The Hungarian Delegation, led by the former Hungarian Minister of Agriculture and Food Dr Pál Romány, played an active role at the 20th Session of the FAO Conference and suggested the idea of celebrating the WFD worldwide. It has since been observed every year in more than 150 countries, raising awareness of the issues behind poverty and hunger.

Millions of people around the world cannot afford a healthy diet, putting them at high risk of food insecurity and malnutrition. But ending hunger isn’t only about supply. Enough food is produced today to feed everyone on the planet. The problem is access and availability of nutritious food, which is increasingly impeded by multiple challenges including the COVID-19 pandemic, conflict, climate change, inequality, rising prices and international tensions. People around the world are suffering the domino effects of challenges that know no borders.

Worldwide, 75% of poor and food-insecure people rely on agriculture and natural resources for their living. They are usually the hardest hit by natural and man-made disasters and are often marginalised due to their gender, ethnic origin, or status. It is a struggle for them to gain access to training, finance, innovation and technologies. Our globalised world is one where our economies, cultures, and populations are becoming increasingly interconnected. Some of us are vulnerable because of who we are or where we live, but the reality is that we are all fragile. When someone is left behind, a chain is broken. This impacts not only the life of that person but also ours.

In the face of global crises, global solutions are needed more than ever. By aiming for better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life, we can transform agrifood systems and build forward better by implementing sustainable and holistic solutions that consider development in the long term, inclusive economic growth, and greater resilience.

The theme for 2022 is “Safer food, better health” which stresses that the production and consumption of safe food have immediate and long-term benefits for people, the planet, and the economy. Safe food is essential to human health and well-being and is one of the most critical guarantors of good health. The benefits of safe food include improved nutrition and reduced absenteeism in schools and the workplace. Foodborne diseases affect 1 in 10 people worldwide each year. There are over 200 of these diseases, ranging from diarrhoea to cancers.

On this day, WHO calls for a set of specific actions in multiple sectors to make food safer. Policymakers need to support policy measures to strengthen national food safety systems and ensure they comply with food safety standards, as well as engage in multi-sectoral collaboration at the local, national, regional and global levels. Food businesses must comply with international food standards and engage employees, suppliers and other stakeholders to grow and develop a food safety culture. At the same time, educational institutions and workplaces need to promote safe food handling and support food safety. And consumers need to practice safe food handling at home and keep informed and promote food safety.

Every year, a large number of events – from marathons and hunger marches to exhibitions, cultural performances, contests and concerts – are organised in around 150 countries across the world to celebrate World Food Day. To take part in World Food Day, spread the word, take part in some food tastings or cooking demonstrations or just make something in your kitchen and be creative.

World Mental Health Day

A term that includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being, mental health affects how we think, feel, and act and also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, poor mental health and mental illness are not the same. A person can experience poor mental health and not be diagnosed with a mental illness. Likewise, a person diagnosed with a mental illness can experience periods of physical, mental, and social well-being. Mental health is important for overall health because mental and physical health are equally important components of overall health. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health has come to the fore and I am glad that the millennials and the gen Z know that they have to make their mental health their priority. A 2017 study estimated that 792 million people lived with a mental health disorder. This is slightly more than one in ten people globally or 10.7%. In low- and middle-income countries, more than 75% of people with mental, neurological and substance use disorders receive no treatment for their condition at all.

Today, there has been increasing acknowledgement of the important role mental health plays. People with severe mental health conditions die prematurely – as much as two decades early – due to preventable physical conditions. Despite the progress in some countries, people with mental health conditions often experience severe human rights violations, discrimination, and stigma. Many mental health conditions can be effectively treated at relatively low cost, yet the gap between people needing care and those with access to care remains substantial. Effective treatment coverage remains extremely low.

To commemorate mental health, the World Health Organisation has declared today, 10 October as World Mental Health Day. The overall objective of World Mental Health Day is to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilize efforts in support of mental health. The Day provides an opportunity for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide. Celebrated since 1992, World Mental Health Day began at the initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health, a global mental health organization with members and contacts in more than 150 countries.

The theme for the 2022 edition is “Make mental health & well-being for all a global priority”.  The pandemic continues to take its toll on our mental health and our ability to reconnect with each other. Many aspects of mental health have been challenged and already before the pandemic in 2019, an estimated one in eight people globally were living with a mental disorder. At the same time, the services, skills and funding available for mental health remain in short supply and fall far below what is needed, especially in low and middle-income countries. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a global crisis for mental health, fueling short- and long-term stresses and undermining the mental health of millions. Estimates put the rise in both anxiety and depressive disorders at more than 25% during the first year of the pandemic. At the same time, mental health services have been severely disrupted and the treatment gap for mental health conditions has widened. Growing social and economic inequalities, protracted conflicts, violence and public health emergencies affect whole populations, threatening progress toward improved well-being with a staggering 84 million people worldwide forcibly displaced in 2021. 

On the occasion of World Mental Health Day, all of us must deepen the value and commitment we give to mental health as individuals, communities and governments and match that value with more commitment, engagement and investment by all stakeholders, across all sectors.  We must strengthen mental health care so that the full spectrum of mental health needs is met through a community-based network of accessible, affordable and quality services and supports. Stigma and discrimination continue to be a barrier to social inclusion and access to the right care; importantly, we can all play our part in increasing awareness about which preventive mental health interventions work. Let’s try and envision a world in which mental health is valued, promoted and protected; where everyone has an equal opportunity to enjoy mental health and to exercise their human rights; and where everyone can access the mental health care they need.