U.S. Alone Among Western Countries On Lack Of Paid Maternity Leave, U.N. Finds

U.S. Alone Among Western Countries On Lack Of Paid Maternity Leave, U.N. Finds

By John Zarocostas, McClatchy Foreign Staff

GENEVA — The United States is the only Western country — and one of only three in the world — that does not provide some kind of monetary payment to new mothers who’ve taken maternity leave from their jobs, a new U.N. study reports.

Two other countries share the U.S. position of providing “no cash benefits during maternity leave,” according to the report, which was released Tuesday by the International Labor Organization: Oman, an absolute monarchy in the Persian Gulf; and Papua New Guinea, a South Pacific nation where the U.S. State Department says violence against women is so common that 60 percent of men in a U.N. study acknowledged having committed a rape.

The other 182 countries surveyed provide either a Social Security-like government payment to women who’ve recently given birth or adopted a child or require employers to continue at least a percentage of the worker’s pay. In 70 countries, paid leave is also provided for fathers, the report said, including Australia, which introduced 14 days of paid paternity leave last year, and Norway, which expanded its paternity leave from 12 to 14 weeks.

The United States also provides for fewer weeks of maternity leave than what other Western countries mandate, the report said.

Under U.S. law, businesses are required to allow a new mother to take as many as 12 weeks of unpaid leave. In New Zealand, the leave is 14 weeks; in Australia, it’s 18 weeks. Switzerland has allowed women workers to take 18 weeks off since 2005; they’re paid 80 percent of their salaries under a government program similar to Social Security in the United States.

Government provides the payments in most the surveyed countries, the International Labor Organization said, with 107 nations making cash benefits available through their national social security plans. In 45 countries, the benefits are paid solely by employers, while in 30 countries employers and social security plans bear the costs.

The International Labor Organization, which has promoted better working conditions since it became the U.N.’s first specialized agency in 1946, said it prefers leave mandates that do not saddle individual companies with the cost, saying such requirements hurt businesses and potentially lead to bias against hiring women.

Germany, Europe’s largest economy, requires that mothers receive 14 weeks leave at full pay through a combination of government and employer payments. In Great Britain, a new mother is allowed to take a full year off, the report said, with payments during the first six weeks totaling 90 percent of her salary. After that, the payments are set at the equivalent of $232 per week or 90 percent of pay, whichever is less, for the next 33 weeks. The final 13 weeks of the leave are unpaid.

The report held out the prospect that the United States might one day join the rest of the world through the proposed Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act of 2013, which would establish a national paid family leave insurance program to provide 12 weeks of paid leave to recover from childbirth, serious illness, care for a sick family member, or to bond with a new baby. The legislation was introduced in December by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and has 87 sponsors, but its prospects are uncertain in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.

Despite what the report described as positive movement over the last two decades in maternity leave policies around the world, the report found that financial support provided in half the countries was “neither financially adequate nor sufficiently long lasting.” It said that 830 million women workers “are not adequately covered in practice, mainly in developing countries.”

Laura Addati, a maternal protection specialist for the International Labor Organization, said that 98 countries worldwide met the organization’s standard of 14 weeks leave and that 74 countries met the standard of providing cash benefits of at least two-thirds of earnings during that time.

The report noted that five U.S. states mandate paid maternity leave — California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. It said that about 12 percent of women workers in the United States are entitled to mandated paid maternity leave.

“In order to have gender equality, you must have maternity protection,” said Shauna Olney, chief of the International Labor Organization’s gender, equality and diversity branch.

Photo via Flickr

World Health Organization Seeks Better TB Diagnosis, Treatment

World Health Organization Seeks Better TB Diagnosis, Treatment

By John Zarocostas, McClatchy Washington Bureau

GENEVA — The World Health Organization is calling on the international community to step up its efforts to diagnose and treat tuberculosis, noting that one-third of the 9 million people who fall ill with TB each year receive no treatment.

“Reach the 3 million” is the slogan of this year’s world TB day, which the WHO is observing Monday.

Less than one in four people with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) receive timely treatment.

“Earlier and faster diagnosis of all forms of TB is vital,” said Margaret Chan, director general of the United Nations agency. Early diagnosis, “helps stop the spread” of the disease, which is the No. 2 cause of death from an infectious agent, despite the fact that most people who are treated can be cured of the disease in six months. The first leading cause of death is HIV.

In 2012, an estimated 8.6 million people fell ill with TB, including MDR-TB, and 1.3 million people died from TB, including 320,000 who also were HIV positive, WHO said.

Eighty percent of the TB cases occur in 22 nations, with India and China having the highest caseloads, accounting for 26 percent and 12 percent of the total, respectively.

Other countries with high TB rates are Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, South Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Russia.

According to WHO statistics, there were 9,945 reported new and relapsed cases of TB in the United States in 2012.

New diagnostic tests are seen a major hope for combating TB, with new tests yielding results within two hours.

“Without diagnostics, medicine is blind,” said Catherine Boehme, chief executive officer of the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, a partner in the WHO-led Expand-TB project, whose goal is to make sure the disease can be quickly diagnosed and treated in 27 so-called middle- and low-income countries.

In addition to better diagnostics, the project aims to slash the price of the new technologies and the costs of the screening tests. “Increased capacity and reduced prices mean more patients can be served,” said Philippe Meunier, the French government’s ambassador for the fights against HIV/AIDS and communicable diseases.

While TB treatment costs around $25 to $30 per patient in developing countries, the cost for treating the resistant form is much higher — perhaps as much as $3,000, said Mario Raviglione, who directs the WHO’s global TB program. That cost skyrockets in wealthy countries, where treatment of drug-resistant TB can run as much as $40,000.

The countries with the most cases of drug-resistant TB are India, with 16,588 cases, Russia, with 13,612, South Africa, with 15,419, and Ukraine, which has 6,934, according to WHO statistics.

The Expand-TB project has brought down the cost of drugs needed to treat drug-resistant TB by 32 percent, said Joel Keravec, who manages drug procurement for the Global Drug Facility, a U.S.-sponsored clearinghouse for purchasing and distribution of TB treatments.

The Expand-TB project also has reduced the cost of the equipment needed to diagnose TB, from $70,000 to $16,000, under an agreement between the UNITAID, the international agency created to handle such purchases, the U.S. and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Currently only one company, Xpert, manufactures the equipment for rapid diagnosis of MDR-TB, but the development of new technologies are expected to end that monopoly and drive prices lower.

For now, drug-resistant TB remains a small part of infections in wealthy countries, but that trend may not hold. Raviglione said rates of drug-resistant TB infection are increasing in Sweden, Austria, Finland and Great Britain.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons