Stress and Bad Health in Poor Communities

NairobPower-Health-Burke-435x291i The cultural shift of time zones and airports between New Orleans and Nairobi might only add up to 8 hours forward and cooler, drier temperatures but going from True Grit on the United Airlines screens to all of the news now from Al Jazeera is a big change worth noting.  Plane loads of lawyers negotiating development deals in Africa, missionaries en route to Kenya or on summer break to Liberia, and regular people trying to get home make globalism both real  and more ambiguous.

Catching up on back magazines, I read an article in The New Yorker with interest about a clinic and its experiments with “total care” in the Bayview/Hunter’s Point area of south San Francisco and its primary doctor, a young practitioner named Nadine Burke.  Using the results of an extensive study done by Kaiser Health in California on Adverse Childhood Experiences over a number of years, an ACE score had been developed from that work and the clinic that was frighteningly predictive of bad health outcomes in the future based on the perils of childhood.  I read this article with mixed feelings, both excited that doctors were finding some responses and struggling with the health crises in poor communities and depressed that it was so likely that so little would be done in most parts of the country  – and the world – given the imbalance of resources.

In this one island in the story, Burke’s work and energy has captured support and funding for a model program that will combine good health care with good social support.  With time and a fair trial, how can the results be anything but positive?  Any organizer who has ever worked in low income communities could tell endless stories of the health issues of member after member, leader after leader with hypertension, diabetes, and asthma as common as colds.  I listened to an argument among organizers only last week about whether or not to serve cake at a celebration since so few of the members should really have a piece given the diabetes epidemic in the community.  Despite how obvious the issues, without political power what would it now take to have “health equity” independent of the questions of sustainability?

Preparing to meet with ACORN Kenya organizers working in Korogocho, the oldest of the Nairobi mega-slums, it is hard not to extrapolate the ACE scores from poor communities in developed countries to the slums of developing countries where every day is a question of survival, which no doubt translates as stress on steroids.  We have so far to go to achieve equity and justice.

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Demanding Remittances be Regulated by Governments

Parliment 2New Orleans In December ACORN International released its study and survey of remittances entitled Past Time for Remittance Justice (www.remittancejustice.org) . The bottom line is that we demanded that banks and money transfer organizations (MTOs, i.e. Western Union and MoneyGram) reduce all charges and fees for transferring money from migrant workers and immigrant families back to their home countries to no more than 5% inclusive.  This was hardly a radical request, since we were joining a similar call by the G-8 countries (including Canada and the USA) and supported by the World Bank that the 5% average charge be achieved by 2014.  The report and actions done in Canada, Argentina, Mexico and other countries were picked up and reported in the Toronto Star, Canadian national radio, and other outlets in Buenos Aires, Mexico City, and the big paper in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.  The response from banks and MTOs was minimal and defensive.  The requests to meet and move forward were ignored, and that was by HSBC, Scotiabank, BMO, and Wells Fargo (responses also on the website www.acorninternational.org) , since in the main our letters and the report were circular filed.

Big problem though since it involves more than $368 Billion USD in transfers and banks and MTOs are skimming $44+ Billion USD in charges according to all reports.  Why the impunity?

ACORN International researchers in Canada, the United States, India, and our other federated countries burrowed back down to look at the regulatory environment that is supervising the banks and MTOs to see exactly why they were allowing such predatory pricing.  The results of this supplemental research went right past disappointing to the level of depressing.  We have released Looking the Other Way: The Absence of Remittance Regulation on our website at www.remittancejustice.org in both English and Spanish, and will be distributing the report widely in coming days.  The bottom line in looking at the regulations from the US Federal Reserve Bank, Canadian National Bank, and other national banking systems is that banks are not be regulated in this area at all.  Oh, except for concerns about terrorists, but categorically not in any way to protect immigrant consumers!  The MTOs are also virtually unregulated, though Canada and the USA they are supervised at the provincial and state level, which turns out to mean big licensing fees paid to state banking commissions (see 32-state chart at back of report compiled by researcher Larry Ginsburg from Baltimore).  Some estimates are that it costs an MTO $2 million dollars to satisfy state requirements to enter business in the USA.  Nonetheless, little to nothing is done at the state and provincial level to address the issues of costs so this remains an exploitive cash cow for all involved, except those remitting desperate dollars back home.

ACORN Canada is leading the way beginning with actions today in Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver to demand change and effective regulation of remittances.  In Toronto members are banding together to at Queen’s Park to demand that the Minister of Finance promulgate regulations on MTO’s in Ontario.  In Vancouver and Ottawa ACORN Canada members there are pressing forward the issue on the need for the federal government to come together and create the legislation necessary for the Bank of Canada to do the job of regulating the banks.  Other countries will be following with similar demands.

This is big business for the banks and MTOs, but finally justice has to come now for the working people saving their dollars to send small sums home which are essential for the survival of loved ones and communities, and in many cases the very economies of developing nations.  Fair is fair, and justice has to finally be won.

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