Archive for August, 2010

The Great Firewall

a.k.a “Internet Censorship”

I won’t go too in-depth on this topic for obvious reasons, but nevertheless I think it’s worth pointing out how much this has changed my day-to-day life. Internet censorship in China applies across all different kinds of websites including search engines, news and media sites, social networking platforms and blogs, and pretty much all open-source technology. This is but one example of the Chinese government’s more “hands-on” approach to information and content distribution. Here’s a list of notable websites that are either completely blocked or are partially blocked (these tend to change day-to-day). Not until I arrived in China, did I actually realize how often I had been frequenting some of these sites.

  • Facebook
  • Wikipedia
  • YouTube
  • Picasa
  • Blogspot
  • Webshots
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter
  • Previously Blocked: New York Times, Huffington Post, MySpace, Flickr, Google, Yahoo, Hotmail.

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To try and summarize the work that I’m doing in China, I will write a few brief entries that highlight the public health issues Clinton Foundation hopes to address:

The Clinton Foundation was established in China in 2004. Since then, their efforts have primarily been directed at improving access to education and treatment for HIV/AIDS and to a lesser degree, Tuberculosis patients and families. Like many developing nations with fragmented and less sophisticated healthcare systems, China has recognized HIV / AIDS as an increasingly troublesome issue , especially in several high prevalence regions that have been afflicted with epidemics. The Clinton Foundation attempts to provide technical, financial and clinical support to both national and regional officials and healthcare providers. My specific tasks will include drafting proposals for programs, developing financial control models for the foundation operations, and helping to craft an annual review of all foundation programs in the country.

Current foundation programs are focused on three areas of China: Yunnan Province (and other Southern Provinces), Xinjiang Province, and Henan Province. These regions represent around 80% of the nation’s total estimated ~800K people living with HIV. While this translates to a relatively low national incidence rate for the disease, according to the CDC, the overall number of patients actually places China as the 14th most heavily burdened country in the world. And given the country’s total population, a continued upswing of the epidemic is of great concern for the government. In addition, incidence rates in these relatively less populated, rural provinces are still considered high by any country’s standards.

China’s greatest struggle right now continues to be educating key at-risk populations and overcoming a cultural reluctance to discuss such socially taboo topics. While many major cities in China have strong social programs in place to address infectious diseases (significantly improved after the SARs outbreaks of the early 2000s), rural provinces continue to lag behind the rest of China in their offering of healthcare education and clinical access programs.  According to Bernhard Schwartländer, coordinator of UNAIDS in China,

“China is a whole continent. It’s 1.3 billion people. The big question is always, ‘How do we make sure these good, sensible policies and ideas are really implemented throughout the whole country?'” It is not enough to have good policies in Beijing; the work has to happen in the provinces and the communities where 60% of the nation actually lives. Unless you understand how you can translate the policies into the realities of where the people are living, you will not succeed.  There’s an opportunity here to make sure 50 million people don’t become infected.” Full Article

In later posts, I will discuss regional causes for the spread of HIV in Yunnan, Xinjiang, and Hunan, and the differences and similarities across each region.

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My Office

Clinton FoundationGlobal Fund, UNAIDS Originally uploaded by sxz321

My Office is located on the 8th floor of a diplomatic compound which also hosts the offices of New Zealand, Bahamas, and Togo. Larger nations tend to have their own separate embassy compounds, and at least 15 are located within a 3 block radius of my building. The neighborhood feels somewhat like a UN convention with all sorts of countries and languages represented from across the world.

The Clinton Foundation office shares a floor with the Global Fund and UNAIDs – the sporting equivalent of Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh teaming up in Miami, except to fight HIV/AIDS and TB. We have a relatively western office set up (i.e. glass walls, panoramic views of the city, European furniture, etc). There are only 4 people in my office on a regular basis including myself and my country director. Other members of the CHAI team are scattered across the country and across Asia.  Also, it turns out that while English is the business language in the office, pretty much everyone prefers to speak Mandarin. My Mandarin is about as proficient as a 4 year old’s so this environment should provide me an excellent opportunity for me to improve my use of the language.

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One of the first things you noticed when you travel to Beijing is the traffic. This following story pretty much summarizes the situation – rampant construction, reckless driving, and bottlenecks throughout the transportation system lead to a 62-mile long traffic jam that lasted for 9 days (at the time of this entry).

BEIJING, Aug. 23 (Xinhuanet) –Traffic authorities were still struggling to cope with days-long congestion on a major national expressway, nine days after traffic slowed to a snail’s pace, and nearby residents are profiting on the latest traffic snarl by overcharging drivers for food……Since August 14, thousands of Beijing-bound trucks have jammed the expressway again, and traffic has stretched for more than 100 kilometers between Beijing and Huai’an in Heibei Province, and Jining in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China National Radio (CNR) reported Sunday……The congestion is expected to last for almost a month, since the construction is due for completion September 13. Full Article.

Beijing, is widely recognized as having some of the worst traffic not only in China, but in the world. Despite throngs of bicycle and foot commuters, an increasing number of trucks, taxis and personal vehicles belonging to the newly wealthy are clogging up an infrastructure system that seems to be unable to keep up with the pace of economic growth in the country. (more…)

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Jet Lag

17 hours of flying, 3 hours of driving, and 2 spilled coffees later, I finally arrived in Beijing! I’m will be in China for approximately 6 months as a consultant working for the Clinton Foundation‘s country team.

Work starts in a couple of days so more on all of that to come. For now, I’m in Jet-lag mode, staying at a hotel approximately 2 blocks away from the foundation’s office. Here’s a pic of the city skyline from my room on an unusually clear day. It’s located relatively close to a number of foreign embassies in Beijing, so the neighborhood is fairly clean and vibrant.

For the first couple of days, I was forced to confine myself indoors due to unpredictably rainy weather that actually devastated other parts of the country. As I had time to kill, I focused my efforts on getting over my jet-lag, looking for apartments, and starting up a blog! I plan on using this site  to document my observations, ideas, and stories from my travels abroad. I’ll do my best to update on a regular basis.

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