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COVID-19 exposed the problems of commercial surrogacy

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SURROGACY written

The rise of the international surrogacy industry in recent decades, aided by globalization and technological and medical advances, has many well-documented downfalls. As the pandemic imposed strict travel bans and lockdowns, these downfalls have only become more apparent and resulted in hundreds of orphaned babies born from surrogate mothers.

More than 100 babies are stranded in Ukraine

The most-reported case has dwelled on the plight of babies stranded in a clinic in Kyiv. Many are the product of surrogacy arrangements between Ukrainian mothers and couples from different countries. Specifically, the news reports have mostly focused on the case of Spanish or UK couples, as both countries ban commercial surrogacy.

According to Euronews, “After Ukraine went under lockdown and closed its borders, more than 100 surrogate babies were left stranded across the country. The children were due to be collected by their parents from countries including France, Italy, and Spain.

BioTexCom, the largest surrogacy clinic in Ukraine, drew worldwide media attention to the problem when it released footage of rows of babies in bassinets in Kyiv’s Venice Hotel.”

There is no international law, European or otherwise, that specifically applies to surrogacy, so each country has different laws and regulations. While in the UK, for example, couples that resort to surrogate mothers abroad can still apply to be considered as parents on the child’s birth certificate, Spanish couples have to bring the child to Spain and start adoption procedures. Until then, the child has the nationality of the birth mother – in this case, Ukrainian – leading to bureaucratic tangles turned into nightmares during the pandemic.

From foreign couples being stranded in Ukraine without ensuring a passport for the surrogate children to couples not being to “collect” the babies at all, the pandemic has uncovered the dangerous loopholes that torment the commercial surrogacy industry. Such loopholes were always problematic, but with most borders closed and travel restricted to a minimum, they are effectively leading to the abandonment of infants.

The Ukrainian surrogacy industry has been the focus of investigative reports in recent years, denouncing the blatant exploitation in many of these agreements between reproductive clinics and international couples. The testimony of one of the surrogate mothers regarding the conditions offered by the most powerful surrogacy company in the country, BioTexCom, is jarring:

“We were treated like cattle and mocked by doctors,” Alina said. “There was no hot water, we washed with plastic bottles over the toilet with water that was preheated in a kettle. I wanted to be transferred to a different hospital, but the staff threatened to not pay me at all if I complained to Anca [the intended mother for the child].”

Still, despite coverage of mistreatment and abuse, several couples continued to go to Ukraine for cheaper commercial surrogacy agreements. However, although commercial surrogacy is legalized in Ukraine, it is still poorly regulated.

Although most news reports are sympathetic to the plight of couples anxiously awaiting to hold their babies and take them home, the unprecedented situation in Ukraine should governments to carefully examine the drawbacks of commercial surrogacy.

Commercial surrogacy and child abuse

Ukraine is now one of the world’s hotspots for the surrogacy industry, but that was not always the case. Asian countries such as India and Thailand led the way but eventually banned the industry due to repeated cases of exploitation and abuse by both foreign couples and local agencies.

Commercial surrogacy is highly lucrative and therefore companies devoted to finding international couples and connecting them to usually low-income women are rightfully considered to be predatory.

But the bad practices are not just the responsibility of agencies, but often also of the couples themselves. In one case documented by ABC News (Australia), a baby was abandoned by her American “parents” after being born prematurely and expected to die early.

The child eventually survived, exceding expectations of recovery, but the bureaucratic process of adoption was never officialized by the Americans registered as her “parents”. This had led the child to linger in a dangerous limbo: “Bridget was essentially stateless as she wasn’t considered a Ukrainian citizen and no application had been made for her to become an American citizen”.

Other cases are even more worrying. Pedophiles and child predators have reportedly been able to enter transnational surrogacy agreements, despite having a record in their home countries. There have also been links to international child trafficking rings, exemplified by an infamous case in Australia:

“…Newton was sentenced to 40 years in prison for sexually abusing the boy he and Truong, 36 from Queensland, had ‘‘adopted’’ after paying a Russian woman $8000 to be their surrogate in 2005. Police believe the pair had adopted the boy ‘‘for the sole purpose of exploitation’’. The abuse began just days after his birth and over six years the couple traveled the world, offering him up for sex with at least eight men, recording the abuse, and uploading the footage to an international syndicate known as the Boy Lovers Network.”

Should commercial surrogacy be banned?

In 2018, the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children Maud de Boer-Buquicchio denounced commercial surrogacy as a threat to children’s rights. She stated: “Surrogacy is a growing industry driven by international demand, making it an area of concern for children’s rights and protection. Commercial surrogacy, as currently practiced in some countries, usually amounts to the sale of children.”

The situation in Ukraine is not unique and as demand for surrogates rises across the world, it is expected that more women and children will suffer. Some countries have chosen to allow for altruistic forms of surrogacy to be regulated, but it is difficult to control whether money is being offered under the table or not to the surrogate mother.

Although the debate regarding altruistic surrogacy is more heated and complex, there seems to be an agreement that commercial surrogacy usually leads to exploitation and abuse, harming children’s rights, and creating dangerous bureaucratic loopholes.

For Boer-Buquicchio, it was clear that “if a surrogate mother or third party receives remuneration or any other consideration for the transfer of the child, a sale occurs, as defined under international human rights law”, in violation of the Convention for the Rights of the Child.

Therefore, the international community must eventually find a joint solution to fight exploitation and trafficking through commercial surrogacy. As always, COVID-19 has only amplified the problem and urgent action is needed now more than ever.



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How China’s Zero COVID Policy Killed Thousands in Shanghai?

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Covid lockdown in China

Under China’s unbending virus control policy, the country’s most populous city, Shanghai is under full lockdown. In addition, an atrocious policy in place by the ruling regime is separating young children and babies from their parents when tested positive for COVID-19.

But, what has led one of the most developed cities to the nightmare, it is living in today? How China’s Zero-COVID policy is killing thousands across the nation? And is there a way out?

Shanghai and Zero COVID Policy: The Unfolding Nightmare

On many fronts, Shanghai, one of the biggest city globally, is under a strict lockdown. Amongst the deserted market and streets, over 26 million residents are confined to their homes and breaking through the silence, the drones dictating restrictions and instructions of the locked citizens.

Shortage of food, water, and medicines, over-burdened delivery network, and growing protest to open the lockdown depict the chaotic picture of Shanghai. But, Shanghai is not alone; across China, some 23 cities, homing 200 million people are living under full or partial lockdowns.

The impact closure poses a severe impact on the Chinese economy and global supply chain. The lockdowns in the first wave of COVID led to a historic collapse in economic activities in China, and now with the Omicron lockdown, indicators are plunging again.

But, despite the draconian lockdown and security measures, new COVID cases are shooting off the roof, reflecting the high transmissibility of the mutated virus.

What is China’s Zero COVID Policy

As one of the strictest steps taken toward curbing the spread of the contagious virus, China has once again adopted the Zero COVID policy.

The matric watched the number of cases found among people who aren’t yet in quarantines. Unfortunately, this figure may continue to climb in Shanghai, and the authorities will consider an outbreak contained until the indicator known as Zero infection in society reaches zero.

The current approach tries to reduce transmission and extend the time available.

China believes that removing sick people from society is the most effective way to stop the spread of the disease. Still, quarantine facilities are divisive, producing widespread concern and terror among residents.

The primarily variant resulting in the situation is China’s low vaccination rate for the elderly, especially amongst the most vulnerable category of citizen over 80-years-old( a little over 20%). Furthermore, to add fuel to the fire vaccination campaigns have been slowing down dramatically.

How Bad is the Situation in Shanghai?

Shanghai’s local government has some special autonomy under President Xi Jinping’s China; as a province-level city, it is officially under the supervision of the central government, but it has a unique status as the country’s financial capital and an emblem of China’s accomplishments for the rest of the world. 

The local administration had managed the pandemic adequately up until March, with no major breakouts. However, the quick arrival of the Omicron variety and the severe government actions accompanying it are pushing some residents to the edge.

Shanghai reported 27,719 new infections on April 14, a new record high for daily cases. But, astonishingly, 95% of these new infections are now among people in quarantine or living within a closed-loop system. The government has been testing the entire city’s population every day, and anyone who tests positive is removed from their homes and sent to centralized quarantine facilities.

The Chinese political leadership has put itself in a difficult situation by emphasizing the zero-COVID goal. If it persists, it will hamper the country’s economic recovery by exacting expenses that the people no longer consider justifiable.

However, if COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed, illnesses and fatalities will skyrocket as the virus spreads across a population lacking the protection observed in most other comparable nations.

When Will the Lockdowns End?

Once the zero COVID is achieved, Shanghai can start reopening the city. There is no timetable on when this can be achieved; however, with the new cases rising every day, it is most likely that the nightmarish lockdowns can continue for several more weeks.

Also Read: End of the Pandemic: Can We Live with COVID?

But, people are frustrated, mentally exhausted, and begging to get out. For many, this ordeal will shift how they view China as the future. While different variants of COVID killed millions around the globe, China remained a safe haven.

But, now the tables have turned.

The Urgent Needs for a Dynamic Zero-COVID Policy

Though the Chinese authorities will ultimately get the situation in Shanghai and around the country under control, the collateral damage created by the rigorous lockdown much outweighs the actual deaths inflicted by COVID at the moment.

As more cities in China sweep under lockdown, the country may again be cut off from both the inside and the outside. Moreover, what residents have gone through for the past few weeks can negatively impact their physical and mental health. As a result, the government must likewise place a premium on citizens’ mental and physical well-being.

The most vulnerable individuals should be vaccinated first, and strong safety measures should be put in place to allow regular life to continue in the state. Without these changes, the country’s economy would plummet, local firms would be forced to close, unemployment will soar, and public opinion will shift.

As a result, it’s critical to implement a dynamic zero-COVID policy that allows residents to normally go about their daily lives.

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End of the Pandemic: Can We Live with COVID?

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A health care worker in a face shield.

Sajid Javid, UK’s health care secretary, warns COVID could be here forever. Many European countries are calling for a new approach, claiming the infections must not be dealt with as a health emergency but an illness. So, is the pandemic approaching its end? Is it time we learn to live with COVID?

Pandemic to Endemic

After two years of multiple crippling waves, strict lockdowns, and millions dead, several countries are ready to leave the pandemic in the past. The new Omicron wave is breaking infection records across the world, but the hospitalization need and deaths are way down compared to previous waves, especially for vaccinated individuals.

The low mortality is sparking hope in many health care experts that COVID infections can now be treated as an endemic. We have learned to live with many illnesses in the past, and officials are proposing to add COVID to the list.

Also Read: Will Annual COVID-19 Boosters Become the New Norm?

Despite the skyrocketing infections, many countries are easing the curbs, while countries like Ireland and the U.K. are dropping most of the restrictions.

Contrary to the European countries, the World Health Organization is declaring the pandemic far from over. According to the officials, the death rate of the current variant is still too high to go easy on the infections.

“Now is not the time to give up on the strategy. The virus (omicron) is circulating at a very intense level around the world.”

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, American epidemiologist

The Forever Pandemic

Omicron complicates the question of when this pandemic will end, but pandemics do eventually end. Yet coexisting with a virus as contagious as the Coronavirus would not be as easy as flipping a switch.

Also Read: COVID19: 90% Countries Still Facing Disruption In Providing Essential Health Care Services

As an exhausted world tries to stem the spread of the ultra-contagious omicron mutant, cases are at an all-time high and causing chaos. However, this time we won’t have to start from scratch.

Although vaccines do not always prevent mild infections, they offer strong protection against serious illness. Omicron does not seem to be as dangerous as some earlier variants. Those who survive it will have a chance to bolster their defense against other variations of the virus that are still circulating. And perhaps the next mutant will emerge, too.

Also Read: The Looming Danger of COVID-19’s Delta variant

It won’t be long before the World Health Organization determines when enough countries have curb COVID-19 cases sufficiently – or at least, deaths and hospitalization have fallen – to officially deem the pandemic over. However, the exact threshold is unclear.

In that case, some parts of the world will still struggle – particularly those without enough vaccines or treatments – while other parts will be able to transition more easily to what researchers call an “endemic” state.

Could More Deadly Variants Emerge?

The coronavirus is not certain of remaining less deadly: It might evolve again and become more dangerous. Scientists in Sweden share that concern, writing in an opinion piece for POLITICO: “Allowing large amounts of contamination to circulate is like opening Pandora’s box of unpleasant surprises. The last variant we have seen is hardly the last.”

Also Read: New coronavirus variant emerging from the UK: how dangerous is it?

According to Professor David Heymann of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, there is always the risk of a dangerous mutation. However, he noted that the high level of immunity in the U.K. should guide a different approach. We should perform our own risk assessments instead of relying on top-down decision-making methods like lockdowns. You could, for instance, test yourself before leaving the house for dinner, or avoid potentially infected people if there is a risk, says David.

“The pandemic is no where near over. With the incredible growth of Omicron globaly, new variants are likely to emerge.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General WHO

Fighting & Living with the COVID

Despite the fact that industrialized nations actively aim to protect their populations by boosting their vaccinations for adults and extending vaccinations to children, we can no longer expect to inject people every four to six months in the face of new variants. To counter this threat, vaccinations will have to be provided annually – preferably with products that are effective against all types of Coronaviruses – and repeated exposure to an infection that is certain to become endemic sooner or later.

In the world “living with COVID,” governments and regulators should encourage the innovation of new vaccine technologies that will complement Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer’s mRNA products duopoly. Furthermore, more investment should be made in antiviral drugs that might play a greater role in suppressing symptoms among infected people.

Also Read: Skills to acquire to survive through COVID 19 pandemic

At the beginning of 2020, we might have had a slim chance of eliminating Covid-19, but they are long gone. Controlling the pandemic has been justified so far as a global health emergency; however, they cannot continue forever.

Too many collateral damages would result, including harm to social cohesion, mental health and wellbeing, and the global economy. Sars-Cov-2 and its descendants will require more resilience in the coming year so that the most vulnerable can be protected while causing less disruption.

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Plastic Pollution: Environmental Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic

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A facemask lying on the beach.

2020 was supposed to be the “Supper Year” for nature. The world was all set for major opportunities to bring nature back from the verge. And then the catastrophe happened, Coronavirus, setting long-held plans for battling climate change back. And, now the pandemic is adding more complexities to the already dire crisis: Plastic Pollution.

2022: The New Dawn

After falling significantly due to the great lockdowns, Carbon Dioxide emissions are expected to return to the pre-pandemic level in 2022. China has already surpassed its emission due to the extensive use of coal.

Also Read: Air pollution spiking risks of infertility: An inevitable issue

The coronavirus crisis has only given the environment a small intermission. Now an unprecedented consumption boom, encouraged by the leaders to boost the economy, is fueling the demand. Furthermore, as a safety measure, people have started avoiding public transportation and driving more.

But, the most visible legacy of the pandemic, plastic waste, is filling water bodies with toxins.

Masks: Life-Saving Plastic Pollution?

Do you wear masks? How many masks do you own? Are all your masks reusable?

The recent popularity of masks has made them an integral part of our lives. Without a shadow of a doubt, it saves lives and protects us from infections. Yet, the disposal of used masks has been sparking major waste management and plastic pollution discussions worldwide, especially in South Asia.

Also Read: Plastic Pollution: How Vulnerable Communities Are Adversely Affected By Plastic Wastes

A new form of wastes is now turning up into the ocean, masks. Whether higher-grade respiratory masks or basic surgical masks and single-use gloves, these used clinical wastes all belong in incinerators. According to an estimate, over 1.5 million plastic masks ended up in oceans. just in 2021.

Face masks, gloves, and wipes are composed of a variety of plastic fibers, primarily polypropylene, which remains in the environment for decades, possibly centuries, forming smaller and smaller microplastics and nano plastics. According to a study in Environmental Advances, one face mask releases as many as 173,000 microfibers per day into the sea.

Single-Use Plastic Packaging

In spite of the closure of physical shops and financial uncertainty, online sales of goods are on the rise even though consumption (and packaging) may have declined overall. There has been an increase in the use of plastic and another single-use packaging for parcel deliveries from e-commerce.

Also during the lockdown, there has been a decline in the use of single-use plastic containers for food. As many restaurants have shifted to takeout services, packaging has increased and commuting, traveling, and leisure activities decreased. This may have reduced the demand for on-the-go food and drinks.

But the staggering spike in at-home deliveries, drying up recycling market, and economics of plastics have added more to the complexities.

Efforts to curb plastic waste have come at a complicated time with regard to PPE litter. The ocean’s plastic waste is expected to triple, and there is no clear solution in sight. However, the shift would reduce the projected tripling of plastics by just 7 percent if every corporation kept its pledge to use more recycled plastics.

Due to the pandemic, disposable packaging has also increased as people purchase more takeout food. Plastic bag bans have been suspended because of fears that reusable bags will spread the virus. Similarly, a third of recycling companies in the United States have closed due to cash-strapped municipal budget cuts.

Elevated Plastic Pollution

Even before the pandemic, South Asia was the largest source of plastic wastes. India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are amongst the top 20 countries notorious for creating the most mismanaged plastic waste.

The Ganges and Indus, flowing through these countries, are listed as some of the most polluted rivers systems, swallowing over 90% of the region’s plastic waste. A report from Washington Post reveals that the world has created about 8 million tons of plastic during the pandemic, most of which are now in the oceans.

Also Read: Global Garbage Crisis: How is the World Drowning in its Own Trash?

Littered masks and gloves are carried like tumbleweeds into rivers and streams, where they reach the sea. As a result, the presence of sea turtles has been documented on beaches in South America, river outlets in Jakarta Bay, in Bangladesh, on the coast of Kenya, and on Hong Kong’s uninhabited Soko Islands. In addition, wasted personal protective equipment has clogged street drains from New York City to Nairobi and is clogging Vancouver, British Columbia’s municipal sewage system.

Plastic Pollution: No Silver Bullet

Now, entering 2022, the super year for nature is still on the waiting list. A single silver bullet can’t solve the plastic pollution problem globally across the rivers and oceans. For sustainable production, management, and disposal, plastics require interventions at all stages of their lifecycle: from production and preventing contamination to solid waste management and transitioning to a circular economy.

Also Read: Microplastics: The Miraculous Solutions to the Toxic Danger

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, plastic pollution has been exacerbated in Asia. The World Bank is working to reduce plastic pollution in South Asian nations for the billions of people whose livelihoods rely on clean rivers and seas. However, to recover from the pandemic in a greener and more resilient manner, countries, especially the most vulnerable ones, will need new policies, investments, and innovations.

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