Patrice Riemens on Sun, 21 Jun 1998 18:26:33 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Some news from Switzerland...

Somehow, I always stumble upon bizare media and weird news when hitting
the country of the gated cheese. But hey, after the 'unclaimed accounts'
scandal, who would be surprised...?

1. 100.000 women sterilised with a Swiss pill (Tribune de Geneve)
2. Iceland, a giant test site for Roche laboratories (Le Temps)
3. How Swiss cartographers spawned the Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict (idem)

"100.000 women sterilised without their knowledge with a Swiss pill - but
the initiative came from the USA."

The original story in The Wall Street journal is front page news for "La
Tribune": For ten years now, an American foundation headed by medical
researchers Stephen Mumford and Elton Kessel, have been exporting in
countries of the South contraceptive pills which are not allowed in the
US. These pills have now made 104.000 women sterile, half of them in
Vietnam, the rest mainly in India, Pakistan and Chile, but also in Iran,
Malaysia, Morocco, and even Romania and Croatia.  The pills were
manufactured by the Swiss firm Sipharm AG, of Sisseln in canton Argau. 
Sipharm has now discontinued the delivery of these pills, having learned
that the Mumford foundation, which claimed to protect the health of women
in poor countries, had in fact as ulterior motive to reduce the number of
potential future migrants to the US from these countries.  According to
the Wall Street Journal, Mumford would have benefited from funding by
right-wing mouvements which are against immigration. It would appear that
the pills were prescribed to women without them being told about the
consequences, or even against their will. 

(Tribune de Geneve, June 20-21, 1998)


"Iceland, a giant experimental site for Roche"

When it comes to genetic engineering, the big pharmaceutical groups greed
knows no bounds. The giant firm from Basel has now started a joint venture
with a small biotech company in Iceland, DeCode Genetics, in order to
benefit from a "unique source of genetic data": the Icelandic population
as a whole.  This company's logo tells it all: a big looking glass is set
on the map of Iceland, next to a piece of DNA code. For one thousand
years, explains the Icelandic company, "Island's geographic isolation has
enabled the genetic pool to remain more or less unchanged".  Moreover,
adds DeCode Genetics, "detailled genealogies have been preserved, as well
as medical files running for many generations.  Also the high level of the
general education and the quality of medical care constitute prime assets
for the comprehension of the genetic aspects of complex diseases." The day
it was signed, Dr Kari Stefansson linked "with great pride" the Icelandic
people and their autorities with the deal.  Even prime minister David
Oddson was happy with the transaction.

The deal does not exactly come cheap. Roche will have to fork out $ 200m
to DeCode Genetics as equity participation, research funding and
royalties. Which comes to 1154 Swiss Francs ($ 765) a genetically scanned
head of the Icelandic population.

(Le Temps, June 13, 1998) (Roland Rossier)


"To take on Ethiopia, Eritrea used a map drawn up in Bern - Geographers
from Berne University had mapped the region in the 1980s"

At an official function for Eritrea's Independance day on the 24th of May
1995, the Swiss ambassador presented the Eritrean president, Isayas
Afeworki, with the new national geographical map of his country. This map
had been drawn up, after 10 years of research, by specialists of the
Geography Institute at Berne University, and that map now suddenly appears
to play a major role in the bloody border war between Eritrea and
Ethiopia. Eritrea claims this map to justify their claim on Ethiopian

Are the berne geographers party in this conflict? They deny it.  According
to Thomas Kohler, of the "Development and Ecology research Group", all
data about national borders had been provided by the Eritrean authorities
themselves.  In fact, discussion with the local partner, the presidential
bureau, had been particularly difficult, recalls the geographer.  As far
as geological data went, and colours to be used, compromises had been foud
in the end, but when it came to the borders, the Eritreans were
unforgiving. The Bern people then tried to cover themselves by adding the
text "delineation of netional borders is not authoritative" in the map.

Were the Swiss double-crossed? The Bern geographers wouldn't go that far,
since they are not in a position to judge which of the two conflicting
parties have the best historical claims.  The map does mention a number of
protocols dating from the years 1890-1941, which are deemed to bolster
Eritrea's position, but then far more studies would have been needed to
find out whether there were more documents in existence, and this extended
beyond the brief of the Bern geographers. Thomas Kohler and his coleagues
did realise that the map would trigger discussions on the exact border
lines, but could not imagine this would lead to a real war.

Bern geographers started mapping Eritrea in the middle of the eighties.
Working on a general project about erosion in the Sahel region, they went
up to the Horn of Africa and amassed a wealth of data for ulterior use.
The end of the civil war in Ethiopia and the birth of the new independent
nation provided a golden opportunity to put all this wealth of material to
use and make a national map of the fledgling state.  The total cost,
90.000 Swiss francs ($ 60.000) was paid by the Federal Development budget 
for 50.000 Swiss francs, whith the University paying the remainder.

(Le Temps, June 13, 1998) (Martin Leutenegger)


Le Temps ( also publish a weekly colummn in Europanto ("De
Europanto Bricopolitik") by nettime acclaimed contributor Diego Mariani.
(last week: "Jehovallah und el Rabbezzin", this week: Karadzic und
Pinochet en dialogo)
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