Archive for the ‘Human rights’ Category


The Ethics of a Nurse’s Refusal to Force-Feed Guantanamo Hunger-Strikers

July 18, 2014

Douglas Olsen is an associate professor at the Michigan State University College of Nursing in East Lansing and a contributing editor of AJN, where he regularly writes about ethical issues in nursing.

Nasal tubes, gravity feeding bags, and the liquid nutrient Ensure used in Guantanamo force-feeding/ image via Wikimedia Commons

Nasal tubes, gravity feeding bags, and the liquid nutrient Ensure used in Guantanamo force-feeding/ image via Wikimedia Commons

The Miami Herald reported this week that a U.S. Navy nurse and officer refused to take part in force-feeding hunger-striking detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

There’s much we still don’t know about this story, but the force-feeding of prisoners at Guantanamo has been a contentious issue for some time. The practice has been compared by some to torture, and ethicists in the medical literature have urged the physicians involved to refuse to participate, while the U.S. government and President Barack Obama defend the practice on humanitarian grounds of preventing the deaths of the detainees.

Whether or not one feels that nurse participation in the force-feeding is justified, this officer, whose identity has not been released, appears to deserve the profession’s praise for taking a moral stand in an extraordinarily difficult circumstance. All nurses have the right of conscientious objection, of refusing to participate in practices that they find morally objectionable—assisting in abortions is another practice that some nurses have opted out of on moral grounds—and officers in the U.S. armed services are bound to consider the legality and morality of orders they carry out.

Much is at stake for this nurse. Not only do officers risk their careers when refusing an order on moral grounds, but they must breach a sacred principle of effective military operation: obedience to the chain of command except by an officer in extraordinary circumstances.

Further, the officer deciding to refuse an order must make this determination alone and accept severe consequences if the further consideration of the higher chain of command, the courts, or history does not support her or his assessment. Read the rest of this entry ?


Addressing Health Care Disparities: Best Practices for LGBT Patients

June 9, 2014

By Sylvia Foley, AJN senior editor

Lawrence Johnson feeds his partner of 38 years, Alexendre Rheume, at a nursing care facility. Rheume suffered from Parkinson's dementia. The couple struggled to find a facility welcoming of them as a couple. Photo © Gen Silent documentary film /

Lawrence Johnson feeds his partner of 38 years, Alexendre Rheume. Rheume suffered from Parkinson’s dementia. Photo © Gen Silent documentary film /

It’s arguably easier these days to identify as “queer”—lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). Our society has come a long way since 1969, when the infamous Stonewall riots and other events heralded the gay rights movement. Many LGBT people can live more openly and fully as who they are. Yet this population—which constitutes an estimated 5% to 10% of the U.S. population—continues to receive often substandard health care. In this month’s CE feature, “Addressing Health Care Disparities in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Population: A Review of Best Practices,” Fidelindo Lim and colleagues explore these disparities and explain why it’s important for nurses in all practice settings to know how to address them. Here’s a quick overview.

The health care needs of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) have received significant attention from policymakers in the last several years. Recent reports from the Institute of Medicine, Healthy People 2020, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality have all highlighted the need for such long-overdue attention. The health care disparities that affect this population are closely tied to sexual and social stigma. Furthermore, LGBT people aren’t all alike; an understanding of the various subgroups and demographic factors is vital to providing patient-centered care. This article explores LGBT health issues and health care disparities, and offers recommendations for best practices based on current evidence and standards of care.

Lim and colleagues also consider issues specific to LGBT youth and older adults, and discuss the Joint Commission’s recommendations for health care leaders. And they provide

  • a practice guide to improving cultural competence.
  • a detailed list of Web-based resources, including videos.
  • evidence-based strategies for promoting inclusive patient- and family-centered care.

For more, read the article and listen to our podcast with the lead author; both are free. We invite you to share your experiences and insights with us below.

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Nurses Join Fight Against Counterfeit Medicines

May 30, 2014

Click infographic to enlarge

“Fight the Fakes” is a scary article in the June issue of AJN about counterfeit medicines and the role the International Council of Nurses (ICN) has taken in the Fight the Fakes campaign to inform the public about just how common the problem is and how dangerous it can be. Here’s the opening paragraph:

In February 2012, a cocktail of salt, starch, acetone, and a variety of other chemicals was delivered to 19 U.S. cancer clinics, instead of a vital chemotherapy medication they were expecting. Earlier this year, the Daily Mirror reported on black market abortion tablets that are being sold online to young teenage girls too scared to tell their parents they’re pregnant. The pills can kill if the wrong dose is taken.

The article is by David Benton, chief executive officer of the ICN, and Lindsey Williamson, the organization’s publications director and communications officer. Below is a brief blog post they sent us to give readers an idea of what’s at stake—but we hope you’ll also go ahead and read their article, which raises issues that should concern us all as patients or health care professionals.—JM, senior editor

Fake medicines are a global problem: they are reported in virtually every region of the world. Fake medicines may include products with the wrong ingredients, without active ingredients, with insufficient quantities of active ingredients, or with fake packaging. How common are fake medicines? The problem of counterfeit drugs is known to exist in both developed and developing countries. However, the true extent of the problem is not really known, since no global study has been carried out. Counterfeiting of medicines can apply to both branded and generic drugs, prescription and over-the-counter medicines, as well as to traditional remedies. Read the rest of this entry ?


Confronting Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking of Minors in the U.S.: An IOM Report

December 2, 2013

By Natalie McClain, PhD, RN, CPNP, clinical associate professor, William F. Connell School of Nursing, Boston College, and Barbara Guthrie, PhD, RN, FAAN, Independence Foundation Professor of Nursing, Yale University School of Nursing. The above educational video was created by the Institute of Medicine and is available on YouTube.

Each day in the United States, minors experience abuse and violence that is overlooked and unidentified. In some cases, recognition of the abuse makes these minors subject to arrest rather than assistance and care. These children and adolescents are the victims and survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. A recent report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the National Research Council sheds light on this serious domestic problem and underscores the critical role that nurses must play in preventing, identifying, and responding to these crimes.

Confronting Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking of Minors in the United States is the culmination of a two-year study conducted by an independent panel of experts appointed by the National Academies of Science and funded by the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The report states that commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors are acts of abuse and violence against children and adolescents. However, the response to these victims is often starkly different from that experienced by other victims of child abuse and neglect. In most states, for example, underage victims of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking can be arrested and prosecuted.

Long-term consequences; inadequate services. The report also notes that the consequences of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking are far-reaching and long lasting and include a range of mental and physical health problems. The committee found that there are too few services available to meet current needs of victims of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors. In addition, “services that do exist are unevenly distributed geographically, lack adequate resources, and vary in their ability to provide specialized care to victims/survivors of these crimes” (IOM and NRC, 2013, p. 260).

This form of abuse and violence against children and adolescents is largely underreported. This is because identification of victims can be challenging. Once victims are identified, there are few service providers who are adequately prepared to assist and care for them. The report describes this and numerous other challenges faced by professionals in law enforcement, education, victim and support services, and health care who seek to prevent and identify these crimes and to assist their victims. It also provides clear guidance on and examples of strategies to increase awareness, strengthen laws, and advance knowledge and understanding.

Nurses are essential partners in preventing, identifying, and responding to commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors. Two of the report chapters—Health and Health Care and The Education Sector—underscore the critical role of nurses as first responders in prevention, detection, and care of victims. Victims may seek out health care, thereby providing an opportunity for nurses in a range of settings to identify victims and survivors of this abuse. Read the rest of this entry ?


Kudos to Indy for Tightening Human Trafficking Laws Before the Super Bowl

February 3, 2012

Market St., Indianapolis/ via Wikimedia Commons

According to (a news site of the nonprofit Pew Center on the States), with the Super Bowl taking place this Sunday in Indianapolis, the state of Indiana has decided to toughen up its human trafficking laws.

“Though it is an honor for Indiana to host the Super Bowl, many sincere voices have brought to light the fact that human trafficking is a shameful practice we can’t ignore,” Indiana attorney general Greg Zoeller said in a statement.

The article notes that sex trafficking during highly publicized events has become an issue for many states with hosting duties. While the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, an international advocacy group, claims that the estimates of trafficking cases at previous Super Bowls may have been too high, whether there are 60,000 or six in a given year, any number over zero is too many.

For more info, see our award-winning article on the nurse’s role in combating human trafficking, by Donna Sabella. She also talks about her work in a podcast.—by Demaris Bailey
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Domestic Violence Screening Matters

October 12, 2011

By Karen Roush, MS, RN, FNP-C, clinical managing editor

I am a nurse. I am a doctoral candidate and a writer. I am a domestic violence survivor. I lived for years with fear and uncertainty—will this be a good day, a day of laughter and affection? Or a brutal day of fists and humiliation? Like many women experiencing domestic violence, I hid it from my family and friends. In fact, I even hid it from myself. I couldn’t see myself as a battered woman, wouldn’t accept that I was that kind of person. But domestic violence doesn’t happen to a certain kind of woman—it happens to anyone, rich or poor, college educated or high school dropout, urban and rural, of every ethnicity. We—you and I—all are the faces of domestic violence.

Just ask. October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. How many of your patients have you asked about domestic violence this month? Or any month? Twenty? Ten? None? Screening matters. One of every four women you see has experienced domestic violence. Research tells us that women will talk about it when asked by a provider that they feel cares and can be trusted. They will leave an abusive situation when they feel supported and resources are available to them. Read the rest of this entry ?


‘The Worst I’ve Ever Seen’: One Persistent Nurse’s Take on Somalian Refugee Situation

September 20, 2011

By Shawn Kennedy, editor-in-chief

Long-term care: Martone at a refugee camp in Uganda back in 2001

Gerry Martone is a nurse who has traveled to the far reaches of the world in his job as director of humanitarian resources at the International Rescue Committee (IRC). We ran a profile of Gerry in 2001 and also a photo essay. He’s also a skilled photographer and we’ve published his photo essays documenting his travels. (See here for one on assessing poverty in Afghanistan and here for one on Sudan refugees; click through to PDF versions for best viewing.)

So when I spoke with Gerry last week, shortly after he came back from a visit to a refugee camp in Kenya, it scared me when he said the situation in East Africa is the worst thing he’s ever seen. The region is plagued by a severe drought (Martone says it’s had no appreciable rain in two years), and while drought is a cyclical phenomenon there,  a struggling central government, lack of health and response systems, and ongoing  conflicts among local clans have worsened the situation, causing widespread food shortages. The global community is responding with aid, but for many, it will be too late.

He visited a UN camp outside the city of Dadaab, Kenya, to which more than 440,000 displaced people—mostly Somalians, who are the hardest hit—have fled. The IRC runs a hospital at the camp. The situation is dire: the UN estimates that, without intervention, 750,000 Somalians face death within four months. And it doesn’t have to be this way—it’s a matter of making potable water and food available—though even with supplies on hand, it’s hard to get them delivered to those in need. Martone said the area is completely lawless and very dangerous—he traveled with six armed guards—and many organizations fear sending their workers.

Martone said if people want to help, they should donate to an aid agency they feel comfortable with—and there are many doing work in the region, including the IRC, Doctors Without Borders, and the UN Refugee Agency, to name a few.

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Saving ‘Mimi’: How Nurses Can Combat Human Trafficking in the USA

February 1, 2011

By Sylvia Foley, AJN senior editor

Never to lie . . . by flickrohit, via Flickr

Picture this: “Mimi,” an 18-year-old Brazilian girl who speaks little English, arrives in your ED with injuries sustained in a beating. She’s accompanied by an older man who refuses to leave her side and who intercepts and answers questions directed at Mimi. The ED physicians and nurses treat Mimi’s injuries and release her back to this man’s care. Maybe you feel uneasy, but what can you do? Maybe the man really is her uncle; maybe he’s just being overprotective.

In fact, Mimi is a victim of human trafficking, and the man who brought her to the hospital is both her pimp and her trafficker. And you and your colleagues just missed a chance to intervene on her behalf. Unfortunately, you’re not alone. In “The Role of the Nurse in Combating Human Trafficking,” a February CE feature, author Donna Sabella notes that clinicians who encounter victims of human trafficking often don’t realize it, and many such chances to intervene are lost. Sabella, a nursing professor active in helping such victims, hopes to change this. Read the rest of this entry ?


In Her Own Words: Pakistani Flood Victim Focuses on Providing Essential Medical Help to Others

September 30, 2010

Yesterday we posted here on the threats facing medical aid workers in unstable countries, with a special focus on the work of the international aid organization Merlin in Pakistan following this summer’s catastrophic flooding. Today we publish a first-person account by Azra Habib, a Lady Health Worker who has been working for Merlin’s diarrhea treatment unit (DTU) in the flood-affected Charsadda district of Khyber Pakthunkhwa. She, like many health workers, has opted not to focus on the potential risk she faces or her own family’s losses, but instead on the immediate need for basic health care services.—Jacob Molyneux, senior editor/blog editor

Azra Habib at a Merlin Diarrhea Treatment Unit in Pakistan

I’ve recently taken a new post as a Lady Health Worker for a diarrhea treatment unit (DTU) at the Charsadda District Hopital in KPK. After the floods there were many villages in the district with no clean water, and the demands on this specialized ward can be extreme. Having lost everything, many people don’t have the resources to get transport to the hospital. Often, by the time they get here, patients are moderately or severely dehydrated and need to be admitted. There are 40 beds but we’ve had as many as 189 patients arrive on the ward in a day.

A toddler recovering from dehydration brought on by acute watery diarrhea

Early one morning, not long after I started my position here, I was about to sign off from my night shift duty. A woman came in, crying out with a child not yet three years old in her arms. She was screaming, “He is not moving, he is not responding.” He had been suffering from diarrhea for two days. When the doctor saw him, he noted that his condition was grave and we started immediate treatment: an IV line to restore his fluid loss and antibiotics to treat his infection.

The boy had lost his father and 5-year-old sister in the flood. This meant that his mother had no one else left. I asked if I could take care of the child and continue my shift rather than sign out, and the doctor allowed me to do so. So I put in all my efforts to his recovery and the child started to respond in the evening. He remained in the DTU for five full days, and when he fully recovered he was discharged.

Noshad Ali holds his 2-year-old grandson, Mohammad Faizan, who is recovering from severe dehydration brought on by acute watery diarrhea

A very personal catastrophe. I wanted to make sure he survived because I know what it means to lose everything and to be left with heavy responsibilities. Prior to the floods in Pakistan, I worked for five years in my village, Banda Malahar, as a health worker. At the same time, I was close to finishing my nursing and midwifery studies. I was in the process of taking my third-year nursing exams when the floods hit and destroyed the area where I live. That day, I was on my way to the city to take exams when I saw water was fast approaching on the motorway. As the bus driver backtracked, I saw all the bee boxes from the nearby farms, floating in the water. I suddenly forgot about my exams and started to worry about my home.

I couldn’t reach my family by phone, but I’d heard on the radio that all of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had been affected by flash floods. When I finally reached my elder brother by phone the next day, he told me that the whole village had been swept was away by water and there was nothing left. He told me that my sisters-in-law and their children found refuge in a school, while my three brothers were living in a tent on the motorway. He told me that our parents refused to leave the house. So we had no idea if they had survived. I was horrified by the news and felt very restless.

Only silence. Eight days after the flooding started, I finally found my parents. They had found shelter in a school. A week later we returned to Banda Malahar, which was washed away. There was nothing left, only silence. I was standing in ankle-high muddy water and debris. We took the household items we could salvage and what we could find to pitch up a tent to live in. Neighboring families began returning, pitching tents in the footprint of where their homes had once been.

Now everyone is developing severe skin infections, or coming down with diarrhea and malaria, which my sister has also contracted. Living conditions prior to the flood were very poor and now they’ve gone from bad to worse. The floodwaters took everything we had; even my elder brother’s beekeeping business is finished. Read the rest of this entry ?


The Grave Dangers Facing Medical Aid Workers in ‘Insecure’ Regions

September 29, 2010

I recently heard from Jacqueline Koch, a senior communications officer with the global medical aid group, Merlin. As described in a recent AJN photo-essay on Merlin’s work in Gaza (for the best view, click through to the PDF version), the organization partners with local health organizations and trains health workers to provide care in response to natural and man-made disasters. Ms. Koch has now shared with AJN a first-person account of one Pakistani woman’s experiences working with flood victims, which includes a description of that worker’s own family’s suffering as a result of the flood. This account, which will appear tomorrow along with several photos, is prefaced below by Ms. Koch, who provides context for Azra Habib’s story. The security issues raised by Ms. Koch are frightening, in that we now see an already taxing kind of health care work becoming even more perilous because of the threat of physical attacks like the murder of 10 medical aid workers in Afghanistan back in August.—Jacob Molyneux, senior editor/blog editor

A toddler recovering from dehydration brought on by acute watery diarrhea in Merlin's DTU in Charsadda.

‘Senseless but simple.’ In Pakistan, alongside a breadth of man-made and natural disasters, there are many occupational hazards and cruel ironies, especially for aid and health workers. It’s senseless but simple: delivering aid, providing medical care, and saving lives can potentially make you a target.

For any Pakistani national health worker who is working for an international nongovernmental organization (INGO), the danger multiplies. Not only can they themselves be threatened, but so can their parents, siblings, spouses, children, and extended families. They face armed attacks, death threats, robbery, kidnapping for high ransom, and the very real possibility of murder.

Many must navigate these dangers by refraining from visiting nearby family, living in close proximity of their offices, and hiring guards to escort their children to and from school. When working in the field, many opt to leave hats and jackets with INGO logos and ID cards behind, alongside their BlackBerries and anything else that might identify them. They have little choice but to dramatically alter the rhythm of their lives in order to save lives—including their own. But these measures are not always foolproof.

Not just in Pakistan. Merlin, an international medical aid organization, recently published a report outlining the impact of violence, conflict, and insecure environments on health workers, who are central to achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. For those delivering essential health care in fragile or conflict-affected states, it is “A Grave New World.”

As one female health worker in Pakistan in conflict-affected Swat Valley (and who asked for anonymity) noted:

“The militants were against family planning, saying women must stay in the home. As a Lady Health Visitor, I was suspected of providing family planning and therefore at risk. During the militant regime, I could not reach women, I couldn’t meet my patients. If someone knew what my job was, they would have cut me to pieces. I often think about it, I think about my children, because my job is something my family needs. My family needs my job to survive. But I had to stop working here during the regime. I left. While I was away, I thought about my patients, I thought about those who I left behind and who didn’t have anyone to care for their health.” Read the rest of this entry ?


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