Commuting is taking a toll on ya? Podcasts are the solution

Here is the ultimate podcast list for infosec and data protection. Enjoy!
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The other day, I was participating in an after-work panel centring on the professional opportunities cybersecurity at large presents. The panel was primarily focused on drawing in women to the field as a way to diversify and enrich the talent pool although a few of us insisted on focusing on diversity, be it gender, social, etc.

Amongst the main question was: how do I get into the field? Trying to provide sound advice on that made me realise we have a handful of resources to building up new and/or additional skills within the realm. However, starting off if you are, say, a developer or a legal person may turn rather bumpy and challenging.

Rather often, we hear that technical knowledge is not required for a career in infosec when one has other competencies. IMHO, such a standpoint is highly debatable. Indeed, you do not — and cannot reasonably — learn and know and meaningfully mobilise any technical bit out there. And nobody will ever ask of you to be the absolute technical authoritative encyclopaedia. However, my position is that if you ignore the very makeup and fundamentals of the topic, you will be imprecise at best when providing consultancy services, however great your non-technical skills are.

Of course, learning new, complex, technical stuff demands time, effort, method and rigour. But it does not need to be boring or tedious. That is why I decided to put up a list of resources of my choosing. The criteria are rather basic: content needs to be diverse, engaging, accessible. I curated the below list of podcasts, in English and French. They are fun enough to get you learn things, be it help you out in a self-teaching strive, be it help you spend a more pleasant commute to work.

And naturally, should you have suggestions, let me know: contact details are over here (scroll). Thanks, and enjoy!

Podcasts in English

Podcasts in French

Certified Open Data Trainer: Thanks, ODI London!

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Delighted to break the news: I am amongst the happy few to become a Certified Open Data trainer! Operated by the London-based prominent actor in the field of open technologies, Open Data Institute (ODI), the certification is a rewarding result of a five-day-long intense course that our class inaugurated.

Founded by Sir Time Berners-Lee and Sir Nigel Shadbolt, the ODI is an innovative consultancy that puts forward open data and all of its potentials. Training is one of their core activities, and the team considers it a priority to ensure that skilful and experimented open data enthusiasts will also be able to coherently transmit their knowledge to others.

The train-the-trainers session I (as RS Strategy’s CEO) was invited to participate, is the first of its kind for the ODI. We thus pride ourselves not only for being amongst the inaugural fellows, but also to have provided feedback and insights on how to improve the training in the future.

Our inaugural class (see the image above) is composed by:

The picture above is with Gavin Starks, ODI’s CEO, and was snapped by one of our outstanding trainers, David Tarrant. A big ‘thanks’ is in order here, to our trainers: David, Melissa and Kathryn, as well as to the ODI team for the welcome and the healthy lunch breaks.

So, what did we learn? Plenty of things in fact! The training is not geared towards providing open data-related expertise, but towards helping such experts with crafting courses. The content of the training thus considers your open data expertise as a pre-requisite and is entirely focused on providing educational engineering capabilities to the experts.

Amongst the most valuable things, we learnt and directly applied techniques about creating interactive training, tricks about the ways we can build open data knowledge into your core specialist area (e.g., statistics and data visualisation, development for RS Strategy’s case), and of course, efficient ways to design an open data training course. Those competencies take us from being good trainers to great trainers, an upgrade also supported by the strategy we crafted for our individual long-term development as knowledge transmitters.

The five-day course was intense and fun. It involved a great amount of peer-to-peer learning and assessment, which is always a humbling and insightful experience. We felt a bit like students, too, crafting our presentations for the final exam while eating pizza and laughing at anecdotes we would not quite dare include. Great people, great activities — what else?

All throughout the five-day long course and the final exam, we were assessed for the following skills (check the full list here):

  • An understanding and implementation of education theory;
  • An ability to create interactive training with good learning outcomes;
  • Knowledge of open data as applied to their specialist area (e.g., policy, law, data science);
  • A plan for their long-term personal development as a trainer

What exactly happened in North Sinai today?

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[UPDATED: please scroll]

With the coming celebration of the military takeover of power in Egypt, terrorist attacks have intensified. Or this is at least what some claim. I am not exactly sure how much this is true. Others seem to doubt it as well. Another reason why I doubt the July 3 anniversary is THE reason is because of recent encouragements by ISIS to intensify attacks during the holy month of Ramadan. ISIS was coming anyway, Morsi or not Morsi, Sisi or not Sisi; and its horrors are not restricted to Egypt.

Anyhow, the question in this situation is hardly one’s capability to speculate about what the reason is behind these fierce attacks by ISIS-affiliated terrorists. Instead, I figured there is — perhaps a bit more than usual — too much of rumours and beefed-up images and numbers. And as the great people from reported.ly are a bit busy with the Greek euro crisis, I decided to sum up a few findings from this morning.

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Youth, “the Internet” and speech

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Last week, just a few days after my return from Cairo, I stumbled upon an event organised by UNESCO and whose combination of supporting countries amused me. The two-day conference, “Youth and the internet: Fighting radicalisation and extremism”, was supported by Bulgaria and Egypt. Everyone who knows me, understands the amusement. But beyond this fun fact of limited importance, the topic and its relationship to my own work and interests were intriguing enough to dedicate the event a day. I know quite a few people around me are interested in this write-up, I decided to take the time and actually expand it, in a way that it can relate to a broader work I am into: exploring excitable speech through post-colonial lenses in the Balkans and MENA as well as contributing to a project that aims to train citizens to mitigate hate speech online in South Sudan. More on the distinction between ‘hate speech’ and ‘excitable speech’ later (a research paper coming up on that).

I was having my own expectations about the line-up of speakers and the probable directions the discussions would head to. And I was quite correct.

Diversity (or lack thereof)

To start with, female participation was pretty limited. This is not a new fad, we know that female experts and researchers are less represented in general as well as in fora, conferences and the likes. But the female underrepresentation also provoked this sort of nonsense:

How can anyone, in 2015, come up with this bullshit? Which is — even more striking — in a context of work and exchange that favours, highlights, emphasises and calls for inclusion, understanding, nuanced approach and sensibility.(And I will spare you the bewilderment some male researchers and journos I talked to, expressed at Women Without Borders being represented by an elderly male.)

Anyhow, let’s skip the gender bit, for now. There was something else that bugged me: the number of non-youth speaking on behalf of youth. Why not inviting young people? I don’t mean to say that only youth can speak about youth, others have experience, empathy and knowledge to do so. But this doesn’t mean non-youth are the sole entitled to speak about challenges youth (however loosely defined this group is) faces. Inclusion and diversity also means this. I am disappointed as it is very rare to observe target groups being actually actors of happenings and discussions that concern them: if it is about education, we’ll call policy-makers, stars, journalists and perhaps teachers but we’ll rarely if ever will invite learners (pupils, students, kids) to participate and chim in.

Causes of radicalisation

The talks moved to presenting different visions and understandings of why and how radicalisation and extremism spreads online. I was wary of hearing yet again different flavours of the widespread, reductive and short-sighted vision social-networks-and-the-internet-is-guilty-of-terrorism. This happened but — thankfully — was also diversified with more in-depth and nuanced perspectives. One of the participants even mentioned that we can use the online space as a tool to combat extreme speech. Which, against a backdrop of heated debate in France around then-Intelligence Bill and the mass surveillance it enables if promulgated, was a welcome relief.

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Plug & Play News: Sourcing, Verifying and Publishing Info in Real-Time Crisis

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Earlier in May, I attended re:publia, aka Berlin’s annual gathering of innovators from the worldover. This year’s topic was “Finding Europe” [I will post a quick write-up of the #MustSee talks and the #MustFollow people from #rp15].

One of the two talks I gave focused on sourcing, verifying and disseminating information in a rapidly evolving situation, e.g. a real-time crisis. As our team of three kickass ladies was from Eastern Europe, we decided to highlight examples from this region all by re-inscribing this region in Europe. Ironically, while Tetyana Bohdanova and yours truly were providing insights about the ever-complexe-and-tough task of disseminating verified content at the right time and through the right channels, our third ‘partner in crime’, Danica Radisic, was applying these approaches while covering the unfolding turmoil in Macedonia.

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Wonderings and wanderings: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

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Bishkek is the Eastern Europe of 30 years ago, except with mobile phones and internet access. It is more or less a museum relic of the former Soviet Union Bloc.

This quote translates my exact feelings upon arrival in Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan. Although I remember nothing from the Soviet Union bloc 30 years ago, I do remember how my own homecountry looked like 15 years ago. And even if Bulgaria was not formally a part of the Soviet Union, it was close enough to the Big Brother to look strikingly alike. I have done my best to collect my impressions in a dedicated photoset: a concrete post-Soviet experience, in both senses of the term ‘concrete’.

I arrived on an early freezing morning after a nearly 11-hour trip. It was my very first visit to a country from Central Asia. The welcome was quite special when you think of all the army guys in uniforms checking my passport and the letters of invitation by the highest government authorities that I was carrying. Past this point, the airport was similar to any other airport in a small “developing” country: taxi drivers hurdling around and half-flirting while trying to get me in their cars. The hotel has sent a car for me—and as anytime a high-ranking hotel in a poor country from Eastern Europe wants to appear really high-ranking, they have sent a Mercedes…

On the way to the airport, I felt nearly like home: the road, hardly equiped with lights, was surrounded by trees with their truncs partly painted in white. This is seemingly done to help drivers comprehend where the road ends… Indeed, no safeguards exist on the road; yet, the cars’ lights are reflected by the white painting, so the driver understands where the road ends (well, hopefully). I remembered trees painted in white back home, this was a very bizarre thing to me as a child.

The impression of being suddenly sent back in time could not but grow in the coming days. The air smelt of warm coal, just like home when the general heating system is ON. The streets had multiples holes and cracks but benefited from little lights around. Nearly nobody speaks English, and the bulk of taxi drivers is under-qualified people having left their countryside to seek for a living in the capital. Which is why they have no idea whatsoever where you want to go—so, they ask you to tell them the way… Which is, erm, quite tricky for anyone coming to Bishkek for the first time ever. The people are however really nice yet straightforward (which may be seen as adversarial at times); the waiters and waitresses in restaurants stuff you with food and drinks as this is what hospitality means to them. Oh, and they still do these weddings in fancy restaurants with kitsch clothes and Western popmusic from the 1980s where everyone goes to the middle of the restaurants and dances. We bumped into one such happening, it was quite surreal for me to find the exact same scheme as back home more than a decade ago. And honestly? Really made me laugh and feel emotional again.

I visited Bishkek in late November 2014 while on a work mission for the World Bank. I was there to help bolster a demand for Open Data, leading the ‘demand side’ of the mission (my colleague, Ton Zijlstra, was leading the ‘supply side’ of the mission). With fellow Open Data enthusiasts from the Bank and other places in the world, we were organising the Kyrgyz Open Data Days and bootstraping an Open Data Readiness Assessment aimed to evaluate how best to initiate an Open Data initiative in the Kyrgyz Republic. The event live-tweeted under #OpenDataKG saw the Prime Minister delivering a speech (the guy on the pic below) along with quite a few government officials, NGOs and entrepreneurs joining.

The Kyrgyz press extensively covered the Kyrgyz Open Data Days: An example. Image by Ton Zijlstra, CC-by-NC-SA 2.0 on Flickr

The Kyrgyz press extensively covered the Kyrgyz Open Data Days: An example. Image by Ton Zijlstra, CC-by-NC-SA 2.0 on Flickr

Ahead of the event, World Bank and UNDP Kyrgyzstan staff have described some of the major challenges which Open Data could help address. The event and its stakes have been extensively covered by the World Bank and the live-tweet. I have also uploaded my slides, in both Russian and English:

See you soon, Bishkek! I think we could get to know each other better (despite your airport being a total dump).

Egypt: News websites and alternative voices

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In a country deeply polarized after three years of tumultuous change, Egyptian news websites have become very important media for free expression. This study looks at some of the pressures they are experiencing. News websites are among the most popular websites in Egypt. They represent an alternative to ‘traditional’ broadcast and print media, with their long histories of state control and supervision. Online news is a partially regulated space – freer than the traditional media but not as free from regulation as social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. But there are indications that the space for free expression on news websites may shrink in the near future, under pressure from a combination of new legislation and, reportedly, new surveillance tactics that may set precedents for the whole of the Middle East and North Africa.

Read the research report I co-authored with Mohamed ElDahshan, a joint project with ARTICLE 19:

English

Arabic: مصر: مواقع اخبارية وأصوات بديلة على الانترنت

French anti-terrorism draft law: what it says, in brief

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Back in July 2014, La Quadrature du Net, Paris-based digital rights advocacy NGO, was summing up the few developments around the proposed anti-terror draft law:

This new bill institutes a permanent state of emergency on the Internet that allows the judicial system to be largely bypassed and favours instead recourse to police and administrative systems that, besides failing to guarantee fair hearing, are largely disproportionate, ill-equipped and thus ineffective in reaching the stated goal of fighting terrorism.

As the bill was to be discussed in the Parliament, la Quadrature du Net has launched a dedicated mini-website to help inform and educate the public about everything one needs to know regarding the measures in the draft.

This post is not aimed at analysing the bill and its possible impact on civil liberties and, more broadly, digital rights in France. The parliamentary debate has kicked off on Sept 15 and will resume on Sept 16. It is urgent to have more attention drawn to this dangerous text; yet, I realised that French impaired completely ignored the ongoing fight. The post thus contains a tentative translation in English of the most important articles from the bill. Amendments have been proposed as well, but I will hopefully get to them later. If you wanna help translating, leave a comment.

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Fraud fighters wanted in the Middle East

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Petri dishes. Image in the public domain.

Petri dishes. Image in the public domain.

[Originally published on OpenDemocracy]

I was recently approached by a scholar from the American University of Sharjah (UAE) who asked me to edit a draft of a research paper of his which needed“rephrasing and unifying”, a common request by non-native English speakers prior to submission in a peer-reviewed journal.

Having agreed on fee and timeline, I edited and returned the paper. The scholar’s response was astounding: “when I checked your rephrased document on a plagiarism detection site, it indicated that 87% is copied…the aim is to reach 10% at most”. His expectation, as it turns out, was for me to rewrite the paper, concealing plagiarised chunks of text. Though I had noticed entire paragraphs in irreproachable English, I had assumed co-authorship, not academic theft. Replying that I did not expect to devote my time to “forging research papers,” I was not surprised when payment was withheld.

This all took place while news made the headlines of a miracle cure developed by the Egyptian army for HIV and hepatitis C – today remaining in the anthology as ‘KoftaGate’ –  someone needed to address this culture of unethical scientific behaviour.

Forgery, plagiarism and other plagues

Plagiarism is one of the most widespread manifestations of scientific misconduct: it happens everywhere. When misconduct is identified, the publication is generally retracted. An independent watchdog launched in August 2010, Retraction Watch, has become the go-to institution for remarkable work in this field.

In 2012, a close examination of more than 2,000 retracted biomedical and life-science research articles showed that two-thirds were removed because of proven or suspected misconduct. Plagiarism accounted for nearly 10% of retractions. Fraud or suspected fraud, e.g. photoshopping images and “arranging data” to support one’s claims are other types of forgery. Last but not least, there are also scientists so fond of their own work that they practice duplicate publishing.

Follow-up studies make it clear that misconduct can happen at any stage of a career, from the trainee to the senior researcher. Some blame the “publish or perish” rules that govern research. Others explain it by limited resources: if a lab does not have enough money to sustain its projects, then it might as well resort to crafting what is deemed necessary to publish the study in the hopes of getting better funding. Whatever the reason, however, lies and copy-paste habits are unethical and harm science as they influence research trends, waste public funds and can have a direct impact on people’s lives.

Misconduct also spans across all scientific domains. Some experts evenbelieve that as much as 90% “of all [archeological] artefacts and coins sold on internet auctions as genuine are nothing but fakes.” Among antiquities forgery cases fall the largely overlooked traffic of real but stolen artefacts, a long-lived practice found to occur in many countries across the Middle East including embattled Syria.

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Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression (Conditions apply)

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[First published on openDemocracy.]

12 March marked the World Day against online censorship. Reporters Without Borders remained faithful to their habits and announced this year’s ‘Enemies of the Internet’. Repressive governments in the Middle East also remained faithful to their habits and continued to crack down on free speech, both online and offline.

The Algerian government for instance marked this day in a special way, by taking Jordanian Noorsat satellite TV channel Al-Atlas completely off air. Addressing each and every event of suppressed free speech is impossible; I believe however that the few examples below will suffice to highlight the unconditional disrespect for freedom of expression citizens encounter every day across the MENA region.

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Defence and transparency in the Middle East and North Africa (part 1)

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Updating my knowledge about how transparent defence-related procurement, budget and spending are in the Middle East. Quick response: they are not transparent. Longer answers below, for Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Jordan. Gulf countries coming soon.

Voyage en Camouflistan. CC-by 2.0, Abode of Chaos

Voyage en Camouflistan. CC-by 2.0, Abode of Chaos

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Legal Challenges to Opening up Research Data in France

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We at RS Strategy are strong supporters of open knowledge. Our founder is a trained scientist, thus opening up science and research are a soft spot for us. We are thus happy to join a dedicated workgroup at the French National Institute for Agriculture Research (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, INRA) aiming to map current legal framework of research data production and management. To our knowledge, this workgroup is the first of its kind at the institutional level in France. The group’s members wish to explore the legal challenges ahead of opening the Institute’s data. An expected outcome is a handbook for researchers to smoothen their journey towards Open Science Data.

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Bulgaria’s ‘chilly welcome’ to Syrian refugees

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[First published on openDemocracy.]

Over two million people have fled the havoc in Syria and sought refuge in bordering countries; at least one million of them are children, estimated the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) back in August 2013. Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq are the top five countries where most have resettled. Over the past several months, however, the exodus has shifted to Europe. For the majority of Syrians searching for a safe EU haven, the journey starts in Turkey where refugee smuggling blossoms. Today, Bulgaria counts over 10,000 refugees, an atypical surge this European border country was unprepared for.

Despite financial help from the EU, the Bulgarian government has consistently preferred to engage in exacerbating the situation. Intensifying influx of refugees in the country prompted the opening of more camps to host the newcomers. These hellholes are in incredibly squalid conditions, but this is where the Bulgarian government welcomes asylum seekers. In October 2013, Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev played the tough guy and sacked the head of Bulgaria’s Refugee Agency for “failing to handle the influx.” Yet, reception centres continue to be overcrowded, Syrians undergo an administrative hassle for weeks, and food, clothing and medicine are largely funded by donations from ordinary citizens.

The official excuse for not providing humane and dignified conditions for the refugees was “tight finances.” Bulgaria is indeed the EU’s poorest member, and media outlets have asked whether the country should shelter even more people in need. Yet, Bulgaria has recently received 6.4 million euros (8.8 million USD) from the EU’s Refugee Fund and 2 million euros (2.7 million USD) in aid from the Czech Republic and Slovakia; funds specifically dedicated to managing the Syrian refugees influx. Thus, the “tight finances” should not be a barrier any more.

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Love Your Data — And Let Others Love It, Too

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[Lire en français]

The Projects initiative, a Digital Science endeavour, provides a desktop app that allows you to comprehensively organise and manage data you produce as research projects progress. The rationale behind Projects is that scientific data needs to be properly managed and preserved if we want it to be perennial: there’s indeed a worrisome trend showcasing that every year, the amount of research data being generated increases by 30%, and yet a massive 80% of scientific data is lost within two decades.

Projects and open science data sharing platform figshare published an impressive and pretty telling infographic on science data preservation and chronic mismanagement [scroll down to see it]. What struck me looking at these numbers is neither the high-throughput data production nor the overall funds it requires – 1,5 trillion USD spent on R&D! – but the little to no information on public policies aimed at solving the problem.

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We Partner with r0g Agency for Open Culture and Critical Transformation

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RS Strategy is proud to announce our new partnership with the r0g_agency for Open Culture and Critical Transformation.

Based in Berlin (Germany), r0g_ is a transnational agency for open culture and critical transformation:

r0g_ thus follows a philosophy of ‘open knowledge for open societies’, with a focus on creating sustainable open systems solutions for post-conflict development. In doing so, the r0g_agency acts to put into practice the mechanisms of sustainable open culture methodologies using appropriate and community-based resources and technologies including Open Source (i.e. FOSS and Open Hardware), Open Educational Resources (OER), Open Data and related Open ICT4D, DIY and Up-Cycling methodologies.

Stephen Kovats, one of the r0g_agency co-founders, is a cultural and media researcher and has been the artistic director of the transmediale, Berlin’s festival for art and digital culture 2008 – 2011. Mr Kovats and the r0g Agency have been instrumental in producing a wide range of resources among which an insightful report for UNESCO in connection to the debates on the future of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).

Through our partnership, RS Strategy will contribute our expertise in the field of development and conflict mitigation through open knowledge. The forthcoming efforts and initiatives we will be involved with will unfold in Kosovo, South Sudan and Mali.

#OSJUBA for peace. Image by the r0g_agency, CC-by 2.0

For further details on r0g_agency’s outstanding work in South Sudan and a better grasp of efforts towards the introduction of open technologies in post-conflict scenarios, have a look at Stephen Kovats’s keynote during the Open Knowledge Conference in Geneva (2013) and explore the r0g website!

Gendered Quantified Self: Privacy Meets Technology Meets Health

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Last month, I spoke at FLOSSIE 2013 addressing gendered quantified self and challenges we face when our sensitive data are massively tracked and collected by wide range of entities in times of generalized surveillance.

“FLOSSIE brings together FLOSS women developers, entrepreneurs, researchers and policy-makers, digital artists and social innovators for an exciting mix of talks, spontaneous discussions and open workshops. Flossie 2013 brings the benefits of open thinking to artist and entrepreneurs and the insights of diverse innovators to FLOSS development.”

My slides are below. FLOSSIE didn’t have video/audio recording available, reflexions on the topic are scarce and many people have explicitly asked me to make these slides meatier, I’ll be writing my thoughts shortly. Stay tuned 🙂

The Startup Revolution in the Arab World

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It’s a fact, the startup ecosystem is blossoming in the Arab world. How did it happen? Who are the main players? How can the Arab diaspora help?

In partnership with WamdaSimplon.co, a French diversity-aiming digital co-working space, and StartupBRICS, a French-written blog on startups in the BRICS countries, are inviting French entrepreneurs and members of the Arab diaspora to discuss this startup revolution.

Several key players will lead the debate:

  • Julien Le Bot, co-founder at Yakwala, a French media focusing on hyperlocal news and data;
  • Rayna Stamboliyska, expert on open data and technology in the Middle East, founder at RS Strategy;
  • Ahmed Chebil, Tunisian entrepreneur (hosting, cloud and data security), via Skype;
  • Aline MayardWamda‘s French Editor;
  • Akram Belkaïd, author of “Être Arabe aujourd’hui”.

The debate will be curated by Hugo Sedouramane, a journalist at l’Opinion and project manager at Club 21ème Siècle. The event is #Simploff 3, and will take place on 2 December 2013, at Simplon.co’s premises in Montreuil.

Technology for Better Governance in MENA

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SafirLab brings together young people with media and civil society initiatives from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). SafirLab is a joint effort by l’Institut Français and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs through its media cooperation branch, CFI. SafirLab sees itself as an accelerator for projects that youth from the MENA region aims to drive forward.

The 2013 SafirLab edition was its second one, taking place 18-29 November 2013 in Paris.

I was invited by to mentor, with a focus on technology for transparency and better governance. Other mentors, we were happy to interact with include Tariq Krim, the founder of Netvibes and JoliDrive, and Morgane Tual, a blogger and journalist at Le Monde interested in ‘ethical tech’.

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What the Health, MENA?

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Last year, I was closely following doctors’ strikes in Tunisia and Egypt. I wrote the major part of the piece below back in October-November 2012. For various reasons, the piece wasn’t published at that time. I am publishing it here now because the situation hasn’t changed since then: Tunisian doctors continue to stage strikes and Egyptian healthcare system hasn’t improved under now deposed president Morsi’s rule. And it’s about time something gets done to change the status quo.

In a considerable part of the MENA countries, a small part of national budgets are allocated to health [see infographic below]. Such chronic starvation naturally translates into poor status of the country’s healthcare infrastructure. Practitioners have regularly addressed funding deficiency and pandemic mismanagement in the last years, but no adequate response has been given. As is often the case in such stalemates, protests go on strikes to draw attention.

What the Health, MENA? Click to zoom in

What the Health, MENA? Click to zoom in

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