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Skin-lightening & anti-ageing creams sold online may contain dangerous levels of mercury

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The Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG), an international coalition of non-governmental organisations from over 55 countries, working to eliminate mercury exposure, has found extremely high mercury levels in skin-lightening and anti-ageing products sold on platforms including Amazon, Ebay and Flipkart amongst others.

With the legal limit of mercury concentration in the US being 1 part per million (ppm), levels as high as 65,000ppm were detected in about half of the 271 online products that were purchased and tested from 40 e-commerce sites.

Michael Bender, director and co-founder of the Mercury Policy Project and co-coordinator of the ZMWG, said: “We’re not finding 1 ppm – we’re finding products that are hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of times above [1 ppm]. These levels are astronomical.”

Although this is the third report by the ZMWG to reveal the global availability of skin products containing high and toxic levels of mercury, this most recent analysis is the first to solely focus on the online sale of these products.

“Despite being illegal, our findings show the same high mercury skin lighteners continued to be offered for sale on the internet,” Bender elaborated. “What’s illegal domestically should be illegal online. E-Commerce must be held to the same standards.”

Products tested were mostly manufactured by brands from Pakistan, Thailand, China and Taiwan.

“These hazardous and illegal products pose a serious mercury exposure risk, especially to repeat users and their children,” said Dr. Shahriar Hossein, a member of the ZMWG. “We welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively with the authorities to stop the toxic trade in high mercury skin lightening creams.”

Mercury is classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the top ten chemicals of major public health concern. This metal element is known to result in lighter skin as it inhibits melanin pigment production. Above safe levels, mercury is highly toxic to humans, particularly to the nervous system. The developing nervous system before birth is especially susceptible to mercury poisoning, and this makes its exposure a hazardous threat to the developing child in pregnancy. Compounds of mercury are also possibly carcinogenic according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Mercury poisoning can lead to tremors, memory loss, neuromuscular changes, insomnia and headaches, as well as adverse effects on the kidneys and lungs which can be fatal. Some mercury compounds are also corrosive to the skin, eyes and the digestive system.

Following a lawsuit against Amazon, the California Court of Appeals ruled the company must warn consumers when selling mercury-contaminated products or other toxin-containing products.

Michael Bender noted that the ruling only affects products sold in California and that there is a need for global strategies. He therefore welcomed the Minamata Convention – a recent global treaty to ban the manufacture and trade of cosmetics containing more than 1 ppm of mercury.

“We really need international cooperation,” he said. 137 countries have committed to ‘phase out and limit mercury’ under the treaty, perhaps paving a potential pathway to progress in this specific mission of the ZMWG – ‘to eliminate where feasible, and otherwise minimise, the global supply and trade of mercury.’



All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Economics

‘Don’t forget them’: millions of Afghans face hunger, economic crisis 

International aid workers share stories of children and families struggling to make ends meet

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“Winter is coming.”

That’s how Ammar Ammar, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan, describes the situation in Afghanistan. The current hunger crisis, the result of a collapsing economy and drought, will only get worse if the country doesn’t get help, he says, especially in the colder months when people also have to stay warm.

“It’s not Game of Thrones here, it’s reality.”

Almost a year after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the world has become silent about the plight of the country and its people, who are facing one of their worst humanitarian and economic crisis in decades.

After the fall of Kabul, the international community declined to recognize the Taliban regime. Countries paused foreign aid and imposed sanctions. The United States also froze billions in Afghan state assets.

A country that had become reliant on external aid was left on its own. In the process, millions of Afghans were abandoned, too.

On a recent lunch break in Kabul, Ammar saw two girls, one about six years old and the other about three. One of them was lying down on the sidewalk, while the other was squatting next to a big nylon bag. They’d been collecting pieces of scrap metal on the streets to make ends meet. 

“You could see that they were exhausted,” Ammar said. “You are going for your break and at the same time you can see two kids on the street, where they have no break at this age. It strikes you.”

And there are thousands of children like them.

“We are doing a massive job,” Ammar says. “But the sad reality is we can’t help everyone at the end of the day.”

A woman in Qala-e-Naw, the capital of the Badghis province recently told the UN-run World Food Programme (WFP) in Kabul how she made ends meet after her husband died five years prior. 

“In the past, she said, she had a fair life, just getting by cleaning and washing for other people. After the economy collapsed, families have no money anymore to pay her and her work dried up,” said WFP spokesperson Philippe Kropf in an email. As a result, she borrows money to buy food, going further into debt.

“She told me she has not been able to buy cooking oil for weeks. She eats bread with tea and sometimes rice,” he said.

Afghanistan abandoned


A young man told Kropf that “his family went to sleep many evenings without anything to eat in the past months.”

“They borrowed food with neighbours, but increasingly the neighbours have nothing to share,” he added, noting the young man had only completed second grade and was trying to find labour jobs to make ends meet. “But these jobs are getting rarer and rarer because of the collapse of the economy, too.”

The man participated in a training program to gain skills such as tailoring or mobile phone repair to earn a livelihood. The program trains 200 men and women over six months, during which participants receive food assistance for their families. 

“After the training, (the young man) hopes to either open his own little shop, sewing clothing for men and children or to find work in a tailor shop and work for a salary,” Kropf said.

Prospects of famine remain

With the country reeling from recent droughts, and facing high inflation, a difficult situation is becoming even worse.

“For the first time, urban residents are suffering from food insecurity at similar rates to rural communities, marking the shifting face of hunger in the country,” Kropf said, noting some people are seeking help from WFP for the first time in their lives.

“The scale of the crisis in Afghanistan is immense, and needs continue to outpace available funding,” he added. The WFP needs nearly US $1 billion by the end of 2022 to help 18 million people – nearly half the population of Afghanistan.

Of that, the group urgently needs US $172 million to secure 150,000 metric tonnes of food to support 2.2 million people in remote parts of Afghanistan, which can get cut off by ice and snow in winter.

“We need these even more urgently because of the long lead-times for food commodities that we need to buy internationally,” Kropf said, including vegetable oil and specialized nutritious foods. “We need to get them into (the) country and then drive them into the mountains.”

The lack of funds in state bank accounts means civil servants aren’t being paid regularly, companies are shutting down and ordinary civilians face restricted access to their own savings.

Prospects of famine remain, said Ammar, noting that the main indicator is farming, which most people depend on to make ends meet. Farmers say climate change is resulting in less food production, resulting in extended periods when people don’t have adequate access to food.

Need for international aid

At the end of June, a 5.9 magnitude earthquake hit southeast Afghanistan, killing      over 1,000 people and causing damage the International Rescue Committee described as “catastrophic.”

“This earthquake is a catastrophe for the people affected, but the response to the wider crisis in Afghanistan remains a catastrophe of choice for the international community,” said David Miliband, the group’s CEO and president in a release at the time.

“While humanitarian aid has averted famine for now, policies of economic isolation, the halting of development funding, and the lack of support for Afghan civil servants are unraveling the two decades of development progress that western leaders vowed to protect.” 

He noted that families across the country face unemployment, leading to lower demand among local businesses which in turn leads to further job losses. He called for the international community to urgently provide funding to the country as well as “the phased and closely monitored unfreezing of assets.”

The question of frozen assets

Advocates for Afghanistan have criticized U.S.’s decision to freeze a portion of the country’s assets and decried a proposal for the U.S. to use some of them to support families affected by 9/11.

Afghanistan’s assets rightfully belong to Afghanistan, said Zubair Iqbal, a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington. 

However, while unfreezing the funds would help bring immediate help to alleviate Afghanistan’s crisis, the country will need more support in the long-term, said Iqbal, who previously worked at the International Monetary Fund for more than 30 years.

The solution is to grant foreign aid to Afghanistan in a sustainable way to allow recovery, while managing its spending through an independent entity, he said.

Concerns around a proposal in the U.S. to use some of the Afghan assets to support families affected by 9/11 prompted a group of Afghan women to write an open letter to U.S. President Joe Biden in February.

“Taking funds from the Afghan people is the unkindest and most inappropriate response for a country that is going through the worst humanitarian crisis in its history,” the letter reads. “It is the squeezing of a wounded hand.”

Freezing the assets from the Taliban was the right decision, said one of the signatories in an interview, but they belong to the Afghan people and must be released to address the humanitarian crisis. 

“My expectation from the international community is to put serious attention on Afghanistan,” said Roshan Mashal, former deputy director of Afghan Women’s Network, who left Afghanistan after the takeover and is now a fellow at the University of Texas at Arlington. 

She called for coordination on how countries engage with the Taliban and to support the country’s people, as millions of Afghans face hunger and economic crisis.

“Don’t forget them,” she said.


All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Health

Learning From The Lancet’s New Study on Alcohol Consumption

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A new study in The Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious medical journals, calls for “stronger interventions, particularly those tailored towards younger individuals…to reduce the substantial global health loss attributable to alcohol.” This study sought to elucidate the effects of alcohol consumption in varying populations. Its data comes from the Global Burden of Disease investigation, which began in 1990 and has used information from 204 countries and territories to “understand the changing health challenges around the world.” Regarding research on alcohol consumption, the authors wrote, “No study to date has examined the variation in the theoretical minimum risk of alcohol consumption by geography, age, sex, and time, conditioned on background rates of disease.” In other words, the new study is groundbreaking in its thorough and holistic analysis of the health impacts associated with drinking alcohol. 

Ultimately, the researchers’ data was intriguing. They found that for individuals between 15-39 years old, consuming alcohol only confers risks, i.e. there are no health benefits associated with drinking alcohol. Furthermore, the authors write, “The recommended level of alcohol consumption in existing low consumption recommendations is too high for younger populations.” In other words, following existing guidelines is not enough to protect people between 15-39 from the health risks associated with alcohol consumption. Interestingly, the study found that consuming small amounts of alcohol, such as one or two 3.4-ounce glasses of red wine, can yield some health benefits for individuals over 40. These include reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes. 

In their discussion, the researchers emphasized, “These findings highlight the need for tailored guidelines that discourage alcohol consumption among young people, as well as alcohol control policies and interventions that are targeted especially towards young males.” The scientists pointed out young males because they are the group that currently struggles the most with alcohol overconsumption. Overall, the authors in the study clearly caution against drinking alcohol if one is below 39. Even for older individuals, limiting alcohol consumption is essential to avoid health risks. 

Interestingly, The Lancet study corroborates many religions’ guidance regarding alcohol consumption. Chapter 5:91 of the Holy Quran, for example, says, “O ye who believe! wine and the game of chance… are only an abomination of Satan’s handiwork. So shun each one of them that you may prosper.” Similarly, Proverbs 20:1 advises, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” For people that associate with a particular religion, it is heartening to see scientific research confirm one’s religious texts and commandments; it often affirms and strengthens one’s faith. For anyone, regardless of whether or not they practice any religion, seeing scientific research support religious teachings is an important reminder that religion and science are not at odds. In the media and popular culture, we often see religion portrayed as diametrically opposed to science. This is far from the truth, however, and it is critical to not let such prejudices cloud our view of others.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Health

Abortion care-A Fundamental Right Under the Kenyan Constitution

Abortion care – A fundamental right under the Kenyan Constitution.

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Kenya Abortion Laws

By making abortion legal for victims of sexual abuse and women with pregnancy complications, Kenya is making health care accessible for women. AnalsytNews spoke to Dr. Anne-Beatrice Kihara about abortion laws.

Over a decade ago, Kenya set out on a course to provide constitutional reproductive rights to women. By replacing the colonial constitution with a new democratic text, it secured the rights of privacy and abortion for women in the constitutional framework. Although the country is still a long way from translating the articles into a legal language of implication, they are helping to save the lives of women.

The long struggle for the right to abortion in Kenya yielded results when a minor, PAK and her health care provider, Muhammad Saleem, were released of charges by the High Court in the Kenyan city of Malindi after Saleem was detained by the officials along with PAK under the accusation of performing an illegal abortion for the said minor.

The ruling in the PAK and Saleem Muhammad case established abortion as a legal right for women experiencing pregnancy complications and has been hailed as a victory for women’s rights to privacy in the country. 

While the Roe v. Wade case ruling has been overruled in the U.S, Kenya still holds its position as one of the few countries that legalises abortions under certain conditions.

According to Article 26(4) of the constitution of Kenya, Abortion is permitted if in the opinion of a medical expert, “there is a need for emergency treatment”.

Similarly, if the pregnancy complications are putting the “life or health of the mother in danger,” the mother can undergo a procedure with the assistance of a certified care provider. 

Kenya also provides post-abortion treatment for women under Article 43 (2). 

With 41% of Kenyan women experiencing sexual violence, in 2019 the high court in the FIDA- Kenya case gave the victims of assault the Right to Abortion.

As elections are fast approaching in Kenya, the issue of abortion is once again making headlines. The recent Roe v Wade ruling, and organised online campaigns against the Reproductive Health Care Bill and Surrogacy Bill by the right-wing are shaping up to become a growing threat to women’s right to abortion in the country.

According to the President of the International Federation of Obstetricians and Gynecologist (FIGO) Dr Anne-Beatrice Kihara (obgyn), although the laws in Kenya do not provide “abortion on demand,” they do take into consideration the “life and health of the mother”She told The Analyst in an interview that “The foetal viability in Kenya is after 20 weeks of conception.” Thus, safe abortion services can be provided in the 2nd trimester at gestation when the fetus  is not viable,” she added. 

“Although the laws in Kenya do not provide ‘abortion on demand,’ they do take into consideration the “life and health of the mother.”

The lack of safe abortion options could lead mothers to opt for unsafe choices. The consequences could be dire, Dr Kihara explains. There are short-term effects on a mother’s health such as “hemorrhage, sepsis, fistula formation, etc.” In the long-term they also develop “chronic pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and mental illness.”

A mother who has had an unsafe abortion could develop “chronic pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility or mental illness.”

            As Dr. Kihara sees it, the overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision could create issues for health care providers who are ethically and morally obligated to provide healthcare to patients in need. They might face “stigma, discrimination, and criminalization for supporting the provision of information and services.” Resultantly there will also be more referrals of patients to other  US states for abortion services. This will result in failure to access emergency treatment, possibly more pregnancy related complications that will increase morbidity/mortality, she adds.

She argued that the issue should not only be dealt with at a medical level but at a social level with special attention paid to the “education, counselling of the girls with health promotion and prevention strategies; access to family planning and contraception programs”.

Dr Kihara further said there is need to “reduce the politicizing” of sexual and reproductive health services. 

Instead we need to focus on what could be the outcome of investing in comprehensive, quality and safe health services on individuals, the health system  and society at large. She suggested there is also need for “engagement of boys/ men taking responsibility for fatherhood  and as agents for change”. 

She further urged legislators to ponder over the “serious ramifications related to access, affordability, acceptability, quality and safety of services rendered” after the overturning of RoeVsWade. 

   While the US navigates it way through the confusions and controversies involve in the matter, abortion policies in Kenya can help them find a common ground that can ensure the safety and health of the mother and child. 


All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Daily Brief

Deadly Marburg Virus Spreads in Ghana

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  • The Marburg virus, a highly infectious disease currently spreading in Ghana, has killed two people and has more than 90 quarantined. The virus causes diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting, and death in many cases.
  • The World Health Organization has said that resources would be sent to Ghana to combat the outbreak, while warning that “without immediate and decisive action, Marburg can easily get out of hand.”
  • The virus has been linked to the Ebola virus, which spread through West Africa until 2016 after killing more than 11,000 people. The Marburg virus was initially spread to humans through fruit bats.
  • The virus has been detected in many other African countries over the past fifty years, killing hundreds of people with no vaccine or antiviral treatment yet approved.
  • Hopefully the world will come together to put an end to this virus in a timely fashion, and not let poorer countries suffer.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Crime

UN debate human rights in Afghanistan, concern for women especially

Human rights in Afghanistan and more specifically those of women are being discussed at the UN after Taliban takeover of the country.

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Since the recapture and overthrow of the Afghan government on August 15th 2021, the Taliban have slowly reverted to strict rulings for women in Afghanistan, raising issues of human rights in Afghanistan. Despite the several reassurances and claims that women’s rights would be protected under the new Taliban regime, the UN (Human Rights Council) believe it is now time to find solutions after many violations on women’s human rights have occurred. 

Various points were discussed during the debate but the general consensus amongst all the countries who participated, was that women in Afghanistan are facing human rights violations on a systemic level. The Taliban have triggered the removal of women from many occupations as well as dismantling previous structures to help girls receive adequate education. 

Many speakers expressed their concerns that the Taliban are slowly removing women from all public spheres of life, which would set up entirely male-dominated social hierarchies. These hierarchies are created from young ages, as girls are not allowed to participate in further education . If this is able to continue for the foreseeable future, although it may look grim for Afghanistan now, it may get worse. The lack of education for all girls may prove to be a bad decision for nature of the Taliban’s rule within the next decade. It was also mentioned that without the equality and participation of women in Afghanistan, the social and economic development of the country can only go so far. 

The UN were also able to debate what they may be able to provide Afghanistan after the removal of US troops from the nation. One solution suggested was more general rather than specific for women but emphasised the importance of continuing humanitarian aid as the country is also facing a poverty crisis. Some in the council blamed this poverty on the previous US occupations in Afghanistan, whilst also requesting that the US restore the damages and assets to the country. 

It was discussed that if these resources are provided by the UN in order to aid the Afghan people, it would still not be sufficient enough to allow the country to prosper because the involvement of women is fundamental both socially and economically. 

Although it may seem like little, council members believed that this debate was a spark in the quest of restoring the human rights of women in Afghanistan. Fawzia Koofi (First Woman Vice President of the Afghan Parliament) stated that the situation for women had previously become “unique and dire” and there are fears amongst society that this may occur again and without debates like this, then our fears may become true. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Health

Child Rape Victim Denied Abortion

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A ten-year-old girl who was subjected to rape and discovered that she was pregnant was denied an abortion in her home state of Ohio. In keeping with Ohio’s trigger law – which came into effect as  the Supreme struck down the landmark 50-year old-Roe v Wade decision – the child was not viable for an abortion. This was because she was three days over the six weeks after which the procedure is lawfully banned due to the detection of foetal cardiac activity in the womb. The child rape victim was forced to travel to another state, Indiana, to have the procedure carried out. This was possible because lawmakers of the state of Indian have yet to decide on the legality of abortion, something which they are expected to do later this month.

Medical professionals have shed doubt on the six-week-policy time frame for legal abortions.

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the legal framework which first federalised the right of abortion, and hand back the power of its legality to individual states, has sparked outrage and division across the country. At least ten states which have now criminalised abortion do not make exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

Medical professionals, as well as women’s rights groups, religious communities, and prominent politicians have spoken out against the court’s decision, while others have backed the move. Access to abortion care is now determined by whether a state is a Republican or Democratic majority.

The U.S Vice President Kamala Harris called out the decision as “outrageous” and that it showed that “the statement has been made that the government has a right to come in your home and tell you as a woman.. what you should do with your body.”

However, in contrast to Harris, South Dakota governor Kristi Noem refused to directly answer reporters when quizzed on the issue of the child rape victim in Ohio, and instead claimed that prosecution of the man responsible for the rape of the ten-year-old should be the topic of concern. Eventually the Republican governor conceded and said she was not in favour of changing the current trigger law enforced by Roe v Wade’s demise to allow exceptions for such cases as rape, saying “I don’t believe a tragic situation should be perpetuated by another tragedy” and that “there’s more that we’ve got to do to make sure that we really are living a life that says every life is precious.”

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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