Travel Photographer of the Year

I’ve been twice before. Once to stand on the line representing the Prime Meridian for a school trip with the Brownie group (all the fun), and again last year to see a late night show at the Royal Maritime Museum. To the Royal Borough of Greenwich, that is. This long Bank Holiday weekend seemed the perfect chance to pose as tourists, sleeping in a local AirBnB spot, vintage shopping in the twilight market and heading to the University which is playing host to the Travel Photographer of the Year exhibition (TPOTY).

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It’s the first year that I’ve made it to the show, and it didn’t disappoint with prize titles for both young and adult entries, amateurs and semi-professionals with submissions under portfolio categories titles including: ‘Faces, People, Encounters’; ‘Nature & Environment’; and ‘Monochromal’. TPOTY describes itself as a competition run by photographers, for photographers, with submissions from every continent (over 114 countries are represented), often seeking to highlight points and peoples under cultural or environmental threat.

Upon entry, there is a map that invites visitors to pin where they’d most like to visit in the world, whetting the appetite for an artistic gallop from tanneries in the suburbs of Dhaka to flyover rainbows in Tokyo:

14159868_10154470927289730_2046964138_n The Young Travel Photographer of the Year was the entrant who the judges felt submitted the best entry on the theme ‘Travels Through my lens’. 18-year old Chas Guttman from the USA claimed this title, already a two-time winner of this category, minor Instagram celebrity and recognised travel photographer. His series of images are taken in the frost-laden foothills of the remote nation of Lesotho, where the Basotho people wear traditional tribal blankets for village ceremonies and familial milestones, where shepherds converge on the jagged basalt cliffs of Maletsunyane Falls as the sun begins to rise, and where Basuto ponies are  pictured as crucial to the survival of local Sotho tribes. 14159684_10154470926979730_1689795357_n

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Meanwhile, Marsel van Oosten won the overall title for best submissions across the three portfolio categories. Van Oosten is a professional nature photographer from the Netherlands. His images are best known for his graphic approach to composition, the direct result of his previous career as an art director in advertising. In his work he tries to simplify, to get rid of the extraneous. For him, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

His images are featured in galleries and museums, and he is a regular contributor for National Geographic Magazine and together with his wife Danielle he runs Squiver, a company that organizes specialized wildlife and landscape photography tours and workshops for small groups of all experience levels to spectacular locations worldwide. His winning series features Danielle canoeing through the eerie cypress swamps of the Atchafalaya Basin on a trip they took through North America, with a self-referential quality often featuring her with poised camera.

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The exhibition leads you around the continents, guided by sign-posts that also detail distances to key landmarks around the globe. 14191300_10154470927009730_2097421218_o

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The monochromal portfolio category was my personal favourite, with the winning submission from Xia Xuejun beautifully rising to the challenge of creating good composition through light, tone, and shadow without the natural impact of colour. 14138386_10154470926474730_719941436_n

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Running until 4 September, this is just one more reason to make a trip down to Greenwich, covering inspiring ground that might just prompt enough to submit for this year’s TPOTY competition. Who knows where it might take you.14138450_10154470927784730_2076612661_n

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Image Credit (all): A.Bow-Bertrand

Kala Azar: The Overlooked Killer

The title of this article was awarded an Honourable Mention via Global Health NOW’s ‘Untold Stories in Global Health’ competition. It is also available on their blog, here.

It is unsurprising that neglected tropical diseases get the fewest column inches and remain unknown to vast swathes of the general population. But if you were asked what the largest parasitic killer was, after malaria, would you correctly answer Kala-Azar?

Also going by the names of Leishmaniasis and black fever, this isn’t a disease of the European or Northern Hemisphere masses, despite long causing significant fatality figures and appearing on many NGOs agendas—including Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which reports treating more than 100,000 people with the disease since 1988.

Endemic in almost 50 countries and with an estimated 200 million at risk, there are an estimated 201,500 – 378,500 cases a year, according to Lepra (an active NGO working in this field). The unseen Leishmania parasite is transmitted by the bite of the equally insidious yet unprepossessing female phlebotomine sandflies. Tropical areas, especially during the autumn harvesting season, prove particularly hospitable to this vector.

Kala-Azar progresses from skin ulcers at the site of infection to the more aggressive form of visceral Leishmaniasis, effectively destroying the immune system. Left untreated, it almost always causes death through complications of any combination of anaemia, weight loss and vital organ failure, notably swelling of the liver and spleen.

It is also associated with poverty: Lepra identifies it as “the poor man’s disease.” For example, sandflies frequently occupy cracks of houses made from mud commonly inhabited by the poor. The disabling aspect of the disease prevents sufferers from being economically self-sufficient while the burden of treatment costs can push their families further towards extreme poverty.

Unfortunately, being identified with and treated for Kala-Azar is fraught with its own dangers. The most effective diagnostic tools are invasive, requiring extraction of either bone marrow or splenic aspirate to visualize amastigotes (an intracellular form without visible external cilia or flagella typifying the leishmanial stage). Invariably, this diagnostic gold standard is unavailable in endemic areas, but serological testing is a common and generally reliable alternative, according to the WHO.

What is life actually like for someone with Kala-Azar? Lepra’s work in Bihar, India offers a telling insight. Consider 8-year old Ruby Kamari, who was originally misdiagnosed with malaria. Only after a series of referrals and 2 rounds of treatment—which proved financially devastating for her family—is she able to eat a little more than half a chapati (flatbread) a day, sleep in more regular cycles and see the melon-sized ballooning of her abdomen lessen.

Another case echoes this debilitating lack of knowledge across the general population: Devi, the father of a 7-year old son who is 2 months into treatment for Kala-Azar remarked, “We thought it was just a simple fever. We live in a hut, we don’t have the knowledge. If a mobile testing facility and treatment facility came to us, it would make life easier.”

Speaking at the London-based Medsin (UCL) conference in 2015, MSF clinician Ana Garcia Mingo shared her experiences working within conflict areas to curb the spread of Kala Azar. She underscored that after any crisis, preventative care is the first thing that stops, but this is also a truism of this disease across the regions it targets.

While there are no prophylactic drugs nor vaccine for the disease, preventative recommendations as per other insect-borne diseases extend to limiting time spent outdoors, particularly from dusk until dawn when sandflies are most active, and application of insect repellent. Indoors, at-risk populations are advised to apply pyrethroid-containing insecticide to furnishings and to make use of bednets.

Although entirely treatable, inexpensive yet effective chemotherapy is lacking in many endemic areas, not least Sudan, according to a 2008 study published in Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene. Although the overwhelming portion of those who receive treatment reportedly recover and are highly unlikely to contract the disease again, access to treatment and both donor and health system awareness of the disease is varied but still, devastatingly, the disease occupies a discourse of the ‘neglected.’

 

Image Credit: Ruby and her family look out from beneath their bednet. Peter Canton via Lepra.

Year in Review

MattersduMonde has been around for a whole year! With at least one post per week, it’s been an adventure into my own global health reading, writing and the wider blogosphere. Although the blog was originally motivated by a solipsistic need to textually spell out, and consider the aspects of global health that I find most troubling or intriguing, over the past year MdM has gathered a loyal but modest following that extends beyond my own project. Nothing is more self-affirming than finding others who also want to engage with the people, places and conditions that comprise ‘global health’. As well as introducing regular roll-over features, namely ‘Photographer’ and ‘Book of the Month’, some of the personal highlights on the blog this year have been contributions to the ‘Writing Health‘ section, which also became the subject of my TEDx talk. So it seemed as good a time as any to dig through the archives and revisit the top five most popular pieces on the blog since it started, as marked by you – in your numbers and words.

  1. ‘Pakistan behind the headlines’

This piece was a variation on the monthly photography feature, and was particularly popular in that the photojournalist in focus, Sa’adia Khan, was running an exhibition of material commissioned by MSF at Asia House in London at the time of publication. In the blog, as in person, Khan talks through a narrative of this commission, which becomes about much more than getting the perfect shot, and touches upon the struggles to fairly expose the unwritten, hidden and untold lives and experiences of the most oppressed persons around the globe.

2. Writing the Self: Creating Health

To omit this feature from a line-up of highlights from the past year would be falsely self-deprecating. It details how the ‘Writing Health’ section of this blog piqued the interest of TEDxUCL organisers who were seeking speakers on the theme of ‘Growth’, including personal growth. The first tentative proposal meeting found me discussing personal experiences I though had been more than fully explored and discussed in other guises and spaces, perhaps as a direct consequence of a blogging process that found me revisiting health experiences close to home. The premise of TED talks is that speakers have ‘ideas worth sharing’. Perhaps, if there is anything that this process highlighted, it is that unexpected opportunities often call on you to move and speak in ways you never knew needed, or warranted, expression.

3. Dear Mr Cameron

This was the first in a series of commissioned features for the ‘Writing Health’ section in which the intuitive and brilliant Charlotte Chorley uses spoken word to consider the black hole and contradictions of existent policy around and relays received experience of female genital mutilation across the UK. With her own interests including health, development and policy, Chorley’s creative writing is worth exploring. Clichéd, perhaps, but she is one to watch – and it looks like you all agree.

4. Character is what you are in the dark

I developed MdM during my lunch breaks of a summer internship with Roll Back Malaria at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva. At the time, I’d recently graduated from Cambridge, had no job definitively lined after the internship which found me communicating around Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD), a long-held area of interest. I’d also been Press Officer for Polygeia, a student-run global health policy think-tank, so when, mid-way through my internship I decided to start writing about developmental topics of interest, and with no finite plans, I looked into a friend’s recommendation that I pursue a Masters in Global Health and Development. I’m fortunate that I was able to apply and consider my place, starting at UCL the same week I flew back from Switzerland. The finite deciding factor in continuing in education at the time was the prospect of conducting primary data collection for my Masters dissertation. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, this found me researching leprosy, and the mental health of persons with this NTD alongside Lepra, an organisation with whom I had previously volunteered on a policy commission. This blog offers a snapshot of my first days in Bangladesh, where I spent a month collecting data earlier this year.

5. MdM Talks: Daniel Flecknoe on Darfur

For someone who has always experienced an unhealthy level of imposter syndrome, it is surprising that curating a blog has positioned me to narrate the stories of others. Conferences and press events have become a rich source of connections and potential interviewees, with the blog network lively in it’s own right, evidenced in invitations to guest blog for Global Health NOW  (article available here) and to speak at the November conference of Medicine Unboxed. In this interview, Dan shares his own experiences of making connections across languages, and marrying seeming impasses in the conflict zone of Darfur. His professional capacity as a lecturer in public health lends a fascinating research steer to his reflections.

Want more of the same? Areas you would like covered? People interviewed? With feedback here’s hoping the next year on MdM doesn’t just become a personal indulgence and can contribute to the wider global health conversation.

 

Image Credit: A. Bow-Bertrand

Photojournalist of the month: Tomislav Georgiev

Currently based in Skopje, Georgiev is a photographer who covers the least popular – and populist – subjects and contexts. It is perhaps for this reason that he is so little-known having ducked beneath even the radar of increasingly celebrated photojournalists and war correspondents. He is, however, a member of the Balkan Photographers Collective and numbers commissions from UNICEF MK, the branch based in Macedonia, as well as nationals including Le Monde and The Sunday Times. 

His most powerful work focuses on Kosovo A Power Station, a lignite power station with five units at Obilić. It is the second largest power station in Kosovo and is described as the worst single-point source of pollution in Europe and it is expected to be closed by 2017. Indeed, the A block alone emits around 2.5 tonnes of dust per hour, which exceeds EU regulation standards by some 74 times. The following are drawn from Georgiev’s series called Toxic Legacy and with their associated captions, expose a terrible insight into the lives of the people living within its shadow.

Approximately 5,000 people die each year from cancer in Kosovo. The proportion of those from family units in the Obilić area is far higher than elsewhere and surpasses worst expectations for an otherwise non-urban area. The following billboard is from the local Pristina hospital reading ‘For Good Health’:

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The power plant behind a man with his cow in the village of Dardishte. The local terrain is heavily polluted making vegetable production and grazing low yield and problematic.

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Children play near the power plant:

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Following the closure of Cesmin Lug camp near the Trepca mine in North Mitrovica, Kosovo. The camp was built close to the Trepca lead mine and smelting works. The factory was closed by order of UN administration in 2000 but the slag heaps were never cleared. As a result, the residual lead blackens the teeth of local children, affects their memory and leads to stunted growth. Their activity patterns jump from bursts of nervous hyperactivity to comatose states. Doris Nitzan of WHO said, at the time, “This is the worst ever lead poisoning that we know of in Europe”. The inhabitants from Cesmin Lug moved to the Osterode camp.

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The home of Rodna Zifkovksa with her grandchildren in Osterode camp in North Mitrovica. To limit risk of poisoning, the existent topsoil was replaced with concrete, which was later classified by WHO as “safer” than before. 600 people now live here.

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Hyra Shanini’s house is only 50 metres from the 40 year old power plant. Her only son, Kahmiron, died in December 2010 when he was thirteen years old following  brain tumour, considered directly related to environmental factors. He was initially operated on in Tirina, but Shanini was not able to afford his second operation. Here she is holding her late son’s shoes.

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While Georgiev continues to quietly document the lives of his fellow nationals, awareness of the lasting health impacts and consequences of living within the shadow of polluting giants must be raised and addressed, for the safeguarding of future generations in Kosovo.

Image credits (all): T. Georgiev.