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Pope Francis meets cardinal in sex abuse cover-up

Pope Francis came under fire on Friday after meeting Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the Lyon archbishop who is suspected of covering up for a paedophile priest in a scandal that has rocked the Church in France.

“There was a meeting, nothing out of the ordinary,”" Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said, adding that he expected the two men had discussed the crisis in the French church, as well as regular business.

A support group for the alleged victims in the French scandal voiced regret that Francis had met with Barbarin while magistrates are still mulling whether the cardinal should face criminal charges.

“We would have liked to have been received instead of the cardinal, we note that once again it's the victims who are sidelined,” Bertrand Virieux, a co-founder of Lyon-based group “La Parole Liberee”, told AFP.

Virieux said he had written to the pope in March seeking an audience.

The surprise meeting with Barbarin came three days after the pope was quoted as saying it would be “nonsensical and imprudent” to seek the archbishop's resignation at this stage, arguing that would be to imply he was guilty of potential criminal charges against him.

French examining magistrates are currently carrying out two preliminary investigations to decide whether to pursue charges against the archbishop for his handling of the allegations against Bernard Preynat, a priest in his diocese who has been charged with sex abuse.

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Tanzania's shame

Shortages of doctors, nurses, drugs, equipment, roads and transportation lead to the tragedies

The young woman had already been in labour for two days by the time she reached the hospital. Now two lives were at risk, and there was no choice but to operate and take the baby right away.

It was just before dawn, and the operating room, powered by a rumbling generator, was the only spot of light in this village of mud huts and maize fields. A mask with a frayed cord was fastened over the woman’s face. Moments later the cloying smell of ether filled the room, and then Emmanuel Makanza picked up his instruments and made the first cut for a Caesarean section.

Makanza is not a doctor, a fact that illustrates both the desperation and the creativity of Tanzanians fighting to reduce the number of deaths and injuries among pregnant women and infants. Pregnancy and childbirth kill more than 5,36,000 women a year, more than half of them in Africa, according to the World Health Organisation.

Most of the deaths are preventable, with basic obstetrical care. Tanzania, with roughly 13,000 deaths annually, has neither the best nor the worst record in Africa. Although it is politically stable, it is also one of the world’s poorest countries, suffering from almost every problem that contributes to high maternal death rates — shortages of doctors, nurses, drugs, equipment, roads and transportation.

There is no single solution for a problem with so many facets, and hospital officials in Berega are trying many things at once. The 120-bed hospital here — a typical rural hospital in a largely rural nation — is a case study in the efforts being made around Africa to reduce deaths in childbirth.

One stopgap measure has been to train assistant medical officers like Makanza, whose basic schooling is similar to that of physicians’ assistants in the US, to perform Caesareans and certain other operations. Tanzania is also struggling to train more assistants and midwives, build more clinics and nursing schools, provide housing to attract doctors and nurses to rural areas and provide places for pregnant women to stay near hospitals so that they can make it to the labour ward on time.

But there is a shortage of Makanzas, too. As he began to operate, he said he should have had another pair of skilled hands to assist him. But, he said, “we are few.” Nightmare

There are many nights like this at the hospital here, six miles from the nearest paved road and 25 miles from the last electric pole. It is not uncommon for a woman in labour to arrive after a daylong, bone-rattling ride on the back of a bicycle or motorcycle, sometimes with the arm or leg of her unborn child already emerging from her body. Some arrive too late.

A few minutes’ walk from the hospital is an orphanage that sums up the realities here: it is home to 20 children, all under three, nearly all of whose mothers died giving birth to them.

At times, Makanza performed one Caesarean after another, sometimes in the middle of the night. One mother was only 15. Another had already had two Caesareans, adding to the risk of this operation or any future pregnancies, but she declined Makanza’s recommendation to be sterilised.

Others had hoped to speed their labour by taking herbal medicine but were suffering dangerously strong contractions. Hospital staff members struggled to keep up with the operations, handwashing bloodstained gauze and surgical drapes in basins and mopping blood from the floor between cases.

Women in Africa have some of the world’s highest death rates in pregnancy and during childbirth. For each woman who dies, 20 others suffer from serious complications, according to the WHO. In 2000, the UN set a goal to reduce the deaths by 75 per cent by 2015. It is a goal that few poor countries are expected to reach.

Tanzania has reduced its death rate for young children, but not maternal mortality. The ministry of health says its maternal death rate is 578 per 1,00,000 births, but the WHO puts the figure at 950 per 1,00,000. By contrast, the health Organisation estimates the rate in Ireland, the world’s lowest, to be one per 1,00,000.

Experts say that what kills many women are “the three delays” — the woman’s delay in deciding to go to the hospital, the time she loses travelling there and the hospital’s delay in starting treatment once she arrives. Only about 15 per cent of births have dangerous complications, but they are almost impossible to predict.

Women lack education and information about birth control, and some become pregnant too young to give birth safely. Husbands and in-laws may decide where a woman gives birth and insist that she stay at home to save money. Malnutrition, stunted growth, malaria and other infections, anemia and closely spaced pregnancies all add to the risks. Unaffordable service

In rural areas, many women use traditional birth attendants instead of going to the hospital. The attendants usually have no formal training in medicine or midwifery. Around Berega, they charge about $2 per birth. A normal birth at the hospital costs about $6, an emergency Caesarean $15.

Even though it serves an area with about 2,00,000 people, the hospital in Berega has no obstetrician or pediatrician. It has only one fully trained doctor, Dr Paschal Mdoe, 31, who became the medical director in August, fresh out of medical school.

Like most hospitals in Tanzania, the one in Berega tries to compensate for the doctor shortage by relying on assistant medical officers like Makanza to perform many Caesareans and a few other relatively simple operations like hernia repairs. Although such assistants eventually become quite adept in such operations, most other countries do not recognise their credentials and so do not try to lure them away, a big plus for Tanzania, which loses doctors and nurses to Botswana and other countries that pay more.

Periodically, visiting surgeons repair fistulas, a severe childbirth injury that causes incontinence in the mother. Some experts have also taught staff members how to resuscitate newborns and treat obstetrical emergencies like hemorrhages and severe high blood pressure.

To persuade more women to give birth at the hospital instead of at home, the hospital is sending health workers with that message to marketplaces, churches, village elders and religious leaders. In addition, the hospital is creating a ‘maternity waiting home’ so that pregnant women who live far from the hospital can travel to Berega before labour starts and have a place to stay until it is time to give birth. Officials are also negotiating with the government to cover all fees for pregnant women and children, and to acquire an ambulance.

To attract staff members, the hospital provides concrete houses with access to a pump. The church ‘tops up’ government salaries for doctors and nurses, and Dr Mdoe successfully lobbied church officials to give his staff a raise. A nursing school is being built, with the hope that it will draw local students who will want to remain in Berega.

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Using IT to unravel ancient wisdom contained in manuscripts

Much of India’s traditional wisdom lies shrouded in classical languages and in manuscripts that are turning brittle and are threatened with extinction. Most of such manuscripts are owned privately with owners being secretive and possessive. Modest estimates put the number of these manuscripts at around one million.

But Peter Scharf, professor of Sanskrit at Brown University in the US, says their number may range from one million to five million. According to Dr N V Ramachandran, director, Asian Classics Input Project, Palakkad, oldest known palm-leaf manuscript was of the 6th century while the oldest paper manuscript belongs to 10th century. B Krishnamurthy, director (strategy), Vyoma Linguistic Labs Foundation, Bangalore, says his search for Sanskrit manuscripts on the Internet has revealed 434 sources of the extant manuscripts in India.

With IT revolution providing accessibility to the remotest recesses of knowledge sources, there is huge demand to bring all the traditional Indian knowledge, principally in Sanskrit, but considerable portion in other classical languages too, into public domain. The NDA government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee took the first visionary step in this direction by setting up the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) in 2002. Since then, some headway has been made in transcribing some manuscripts, mainly belonging to Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha medicinal system. But much remains to be done.

Dr Girish Jha, of Jawaharlal University says these manuscripts could have greater relevance in three important modern sectors, namely Vimana Shastra (Aeronautics), Metallurgy and Cosmology. As far as food and medicine are concerned, their relevance has been recognised since antiquity. It was only on this basis that the Indian scientists fought against overseas patenting of turmeric and were instrumental in returning the credit to India. In fact, CFTRI, Mysore headed by its former chairman Dr V Prakash was able to expedite patenting of hundreds of Indian foods, treatments and herbal medicine during the last 15 years on the basis of manuscripts. Says Dr. Darshan Shankar, Vice Chairman, Institute of Ayurvedic & Integrative Medicine, Bangalore, a rough guess reveals that there were more than 50,000 manuscripts pertaining to Ayurveda lying untapped without being catalogued. Myriad software

Information Technology with its myriad software does provide an answer to the challenges in transferring the concealed knowledge to the public domain. Prof Scharf says there is an urgent need to focus on using IT for creating a worldwide network of data bases of ancient Indian manuscripts such that anyone, in any part of the world, could easily access any word, phrase, sentence or statement from any digitised manuscript housed anywhere in the world. He envisages a system where manuscript owners whether individuals or institutions, could produce online catalogues of manuscripts held by them using any of the open source cataloguing software currently available and upload onto this worldwide network.

A 3-day national seminar on ‘Application of Information Technology for conservation, editing and publication of manuscripts’ held recently in Bangalore called for creating a distributed platform of IT in relation to manuscripts using inter-operability protocols without exercising any control over participating individuals and institutions. According to Prof M A Lakshmithathachar, founder chairman of the Academy of Sanskrit Research, Melkote, digitising a single manuscript might entail two years of a techno-savvy Sanskrit scholar.

The country cannot afford this and will have to look for alternative strategies. He suggests development of ‘speech to text software’, a machine readable text, which would bring down the time, energy and cost by 80 per cent. Prof Thathachar says that since Sanskrit had retained the uniform phonetic intonation remarkably well through millennia and through vedic recitations under Gurukula system, it raises hopes of success of ‘speech to text software’ enormously. However, the process would not be hassle-free as manuscripts have followed varied alphabets, modes and style of writing during different centuries.

Some experts also emphasise induction of the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) for the digitisation project. Prof A G Ramakrishna of Indian Institute of Science, who has developed OCR software for Tamil, says that his team has been able to digitise 200 books in Tamil using this software. They were also working on Tamil/Kannada TTS (Text to Speech) Software. However, it can deal with text alone, not the pictures and pictures will have to be removed before using OCR. He recommends development of a good Devanagiri based OCR software which should include all the rare characters, diacritical marks and augment it with a phoneme based speech recognition system.

Dr P Ramanujan, assistant director C-DAC points out lacunae in speech to text software. He says key elements present in oral teaching such as correct pronunciation, intonations, ‘bhava’ etc are not found in the print medium and these could be compensated by e-learning where voice, visuals etc can also be added. Ramanujan has been instrumental in developing Unicode Manuscript Editor at C-DAC enabling comparative analysis of various manuscripts.

Work load could be drastically minimised as various versions of the same manuscript are found in various libraries. He cites the example of a particular text of which he was able to gather 35 versions from different sources including four version of the same text from one library alone. C-DAC has put about 15,000 images pertaining to 100 manuscripts together with the manuscript editor on the website www.parankusa.org which has several Vedic texts with exhaustive commentaries and hyperlinks. But there are several milestones to be reached.

Girish Jha says following resolution of issues with the OCR the work needs to progress on text readers, search engines, inter-linking of sources of data, translation software and pronunciation analysers etc before a real breakthrough is made in exhaustive digitisation of ancient wisdom.

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