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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Experts warn farmers on late planting due to delayed rains

By Esther Nakkazi 

Agriculture experts from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) request the scale up of climate resilient seeds and smart innovations, including drought-tolerant seeds and soil and water conservation practices to mitigate the impact of the current drought affecting millions of farmers living in areas of eastern and southern Africa.

The U.S. National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center has just warned that abnormally dry conditions are affecting areas of eastern and southern Africa as well this year's El Niño, the second in a period of 3 years, has led to large pockets of drought across eastern and southern Africa.  

Although farmers have put off planting grains waiting for the long rains anticipated to start late April, experts from CIMMYT warn that the very late onset of the rainy season could lead to a poor cropping season and significantly reduce maize yields in farmers’ fields. 

Late planting may also expose maize crops to stronger attacks of pests like the fall armyworm, they say. Long rains usually arrive by mid- March but are late this time round.

Stephen Mugo, CIMMYT Africa regional representative, recommends that farmers shift to planting stress-resilient varieties, like early maturing maize varieties that just need 90 to 95 days to mature, instead of over four months for late maturing varieties. 

Seeds of such early maturing varieties are available from seed companies and agrodealers operating in maize growing areas.

"If more small farmers in Africa's drought-prone regions grow drought-tolerant varieties of maize and other staple crops, the farming communities will be better prepared for prolonged dry spells and inadequate rainfall,” says Mugo.

Crop diversification and more sustainable soil and water conservation practices are also recommended to improve soil fertility and structure and avoid soil compaction. When the rains finally come, run-off will be less, and soils will have more capacity to retain moisture, CIMMYT experts advise.

Moreover, research by CIMMYT shows that conservation agriculture, combined with a package of good agronomic practices, offers several benefits that contribute to yield increases of up to 38 percent.
 
CIMMYT works with the African seed sector and national partners to develop and deploy stress resilient maize and wheat varieties through initiatives like Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa and the Wheat rust resistant seed scaling in Ethiopia.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Measles cases on the rise says WHO

Press Release:

Measles cases have continued to climb into 2019. Preliminary global data shows that reported cases rose by 300 percent in the first three months of 2019, compared to the same period in 2018. This follows consecutive increases over the past two years.

While this data is provisional and not yet complete, it indicates a clear trend. Many countries are in the midst of sizeable measles outbreaks, with all regions of the world experiencing sustained rises in cases.

Current outbreaks include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Myanmar, Philippines, Sudan, Thailand, and Ukraine, causing many deaths – mostly among young children.

Over recent months, spikes in case numbers have also occurred in countries with high overall vaccination coverage, including the United States of America as well as Israel, Thailand, and Tunisia, as the disease has spread fast among clusters of unvaccinated people.

Measles is one of the world’s most contagious diseases, with the potential to be extremely severe. In 2017, the most recent year for which estimates are available, it caused close to 110 000 deaths. Even in high-income countries, complications result in hospitalization in up to a quarter of cases and can lead to lifelong disability, from brain damage and blindness to hearing loss.

The disease is almost entirely preventable through two doses of a safe and effective vaccine. For several years, however, global coverage with the first dose of measles vaccine has stalled at 85 percent. This is still short of the 95 percent needed to prevent outbreaks, and leaves many people, in many communities, at risk. Second dose coverage, while increasing, stands at 67 percent.

With governments and partners such as the Measles & Rubella Initiative, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, UNICEF, and others, response operations are underway to bring country outbreaks under control, strengthen health services, and increase vaccine coverage.

After conducting emergency vaccination campaigns targeting 7 million children from 6 months through 9 years of age:

  • Madagascar is now seeing overall declines in measles cases and deaths.
  • In the Philippines, over 3 890 000 doses of the measles and rubella vaccine have been given to children aged under 5 years.
  • In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the country is preparing to launch a combined response with the polio vaccine.
  • In collaboration with local health authorities, WHO and UNICEF conducted the nationwide measles and rubella vaccination campaign in Yemen reaching more than 11.6 million (90%) children aged 6 months–16 years across the country.
Responding to measles requires a range of approaches to ensure all children get their vaccines on time, with particular attention to access, quality, and affordability of primary care services. It will also take effective public-facing communication and engagement on the critical importance of vaccination and the dangers of the diseases they prevent.

WHO also recommends tailored approaches that ensure immunization services meet the needs of everyone – making sure that clinics are accessible to all areas, at the right times and to all population groups - especially those who face systemic discrimination and disadvantage.

Coverage of the 2nd vaccine dose also needs to increase globally, to maximize a population’s protection against the disease. Today, 25 countries still need to make the 2nd dose part of their essential immunization programme.

Statement from WHO

Monday, February 25, 2019

Katwa town now a hot spot leads to spike in DRC Ebola cases and deaths

By Esther Nakkazi

Katwa, a town in North Kivu province is now the main focus and a hotspot of the Ebola Virus Disease epidemic. In the last 21 days, 86 new confirmed cases were reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), of which 49 (57%) were reported in Katwa.

North Kivu of DRC, which is affected by the outbreak of EVD, is among the most populated provinces, with eight million inhabitants. The region has been experiencing intense insecurity and worsening humanitarian crisis.

From the DRC Ministry of Health's Ebola updates Katwa surpassed Beni in terms of the number of cases and deaths. To date, Beni has reported 235 cases (226 confirmed and 9 probable) and 127 deaths while Katwa is 239 cases (228 confirmed and 11 probable) and 182 deaths.

The mortality rate is also higher in Katwa. The mortality rate in Beni is 54% while it is 76% in Katwa.

According to the DRC Ministry of Health, the high mortality rate in Katwa can be explained by the fact that contacts of confirmed cases who refused vaccination and follow-up of contacts are not found until after their death in the community.

Thus, the percentage of community deaths in Katwa is much higher than in other health zones. The high number of community deaths remains a concern as they are an important source of spread of the epidemic.

This situation demonstrates the importance of increasing community engagement and active case finding in the community and health facilities in Katwa, officials from the Ministry said.

Ebola Vaccinations
Since the beginning of vaccination on 8 August 2018, 83,118 people have been vaccinated, including 21,230 in Katwa, 20,593 in Beni, 10,091 in Butembo, 6,109 in Mabalako, 2,746 in Kalunguta, 2,551 in Goma, 2,317 in Komanda, 2,084 in Oicha.

1,813 in Mandima, 1,357 in Karisimbi, 1,325 in Kyondo, 1,283 in Kayina, 1,094 in Bunia, 1,064 in Vuhovi, 920 in Masereka, 772 in Mutwanga, 767 in Biena, 700 in Lubero, 590 in Rutshuru, 583 in Musienene, 527 in Nyankunde, 496 in Mangurujipa, 426 in Rwampara (Ituri), 355 in Tchomia, 333 in Lolwa, 280 in Mambasa, 254 in Alimbongo, 207 in Kirotshe, 141 in Nyiragongo, 97 in Watsa (Haut-Uélé), and 13 in Kisangani.

The only vaccine to be used in this outbreak is the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine, manufactured by the pharmaceutical group Merck, following approval by the Ethics Committee in its decision of 19 May 2018.

But as of 20th February 2019, the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization has reviewed data on all Ebola candidate vaccines currently undergoing clinical evaluation. There are three candidate vaccines other than the rVSV-ZEBOV-GP vaccine, that are in advanced stages of clinical evaluation or have been licensed.

Two of them are licensed in their country of origin (Ad5-EBOV, monovalent Zaire Makona, licensed in China; and GamEvac-Combi, monovalent Zaire Makona, licensed in Russia). A third vaccine candidate (Ad26.ZEBOV & MVA-BN-Filo, based on a prime/boost strategy using a multivalent, Zaire Mayinga, Sudan, Tai Forest and Marburg,) will be submitted for approval under the United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) Animal Rule.

ends

Monday, February 18, 2019

First ever Africa Protected Areas Congress Launched

This year’s Valentine day was marked on Thursday with special African flavour that saw the launch of the first-ever Africa Protected Areas Congress (APAC) (www.APA-Congress.org) at Nairobi National Park’s historic Ivory Burning Site.

Kenya’s Principal Secretary - State Department of Tourism and Wildlife, Dr. Margaret Mwakima accompanied by Dr.John Waithaka the Congress Director and Mr. Luther Anukur Regional Director, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), East and Southern Africa presided over the launch.

Dubbed for the love of nature, the APAC 2019 launch sought to position Africa’s protected areas within the goals of economic and community well being as well as seek commitment from African governments to integrate protected areas in the African Union’s agenda 2063 strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the entire continent.

“Today we launch the Africa Protected Areas Congress (APAC), the first ever continent-wide gathering of African leaders, citizens, and interest groups to discuss the role of protected areas in conserving nature and promoting sustainable development. 

This landmark forum organized by the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) provides us with a platform for holding honest discussions on the future we want for our protected areas and seek solutions to the persistent and emerging problems” said Tourism and Wildlife Principal Secretary, Dr. Margaret Mwakima.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, at the start of the 20th century, there were only a handful of protected areas approximately 200,000 which cover around 14.6% of the world’s land and around 2.8% of the oceans. 

As the world continues to develop, pressure is intensified on the ecosystems and natural resources thus the need to protect them.“We need to come to a common understanding that human beings can live with animals and take care of each other to save biodiversity. As a continent, we can offer resilience, adaptability and tackle climate change to protect our biodiversity,” added Dr. Mwakima.

Protected areas safeguard nature and cultural resources, improve livelihoods and drive sustainable development. We must work together to preserve them. The launch steered awareness and visibility of the upcoming conference to be held on 18th to 23rd November this year. 

The inaugural APAC Journalists’ Award was also launched to provide incentives for African journalists and media houses to be champions of conservation and drive more effort toward reporting on biodiversity in Africa, winners of the inaugural award will be announced, awarded during the November conference, applications are already open for Journalists.

The November congress is expected to attract more than 2,000 delegates who will deliberate on homegrown ways to secure a sustainable future for Africa’s protected areas, people and biodiversity while showcasing homegrown examples of practical, innovative, sustainable and replicable solutions that harmonize conservation and sustainable human development.

The collective efforts from the African leaders are expected to contribute to African Union’s Agenda 2063 of “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena”.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Africa Protected Areas Congress.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Direct-acting antivirals: confirmation of their short-term clinical efficacy in real life

Press Release

A study published in The Lancet on 11 February 2019 shows that direct-acting antivirals have short-term clinical benefits in the treatment of hepatitis C virus infection. 

These results come from ANRS-funded interdisciplinary research conducted by clinicians, hepatologists, and epidemiologists of the Inserm, Sorbonne University and AP-HP and coordinated by Professors Fabrice Carrat and Stanislas Pol, and Dr. Hélène Fontaine,1 in 9895 patients of the ANRS CO 22 HEPATHER national cohort recruited in 32 centers in France.

The most recent treatments of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, the direct-acting antivirals (DAAs), are remarkably effective. Indeed, they eliminate the virus in almost all treated patients (95% in general) in 8 to 12 weeks. 

DAAs were first prescribed in France in 2014. Initially, priority was given to patients with advanced HCV infection, but from January 2017 DAA therapy was extended to all patients with chronic HCV infection.
The virologic efficacy of DAAs is well established, but until now prospective data on their clinical efficacy (ie, their impact on the progression of liver disease associated with HCV infection in real life) were scarce and related to highly selected patients or to patients from retrospective surveys.

An ANRS-funded team of researchers has now compared the clinical progression of HCV infection in patients receiving or not receiving DAA therapy. The researchers monitored clinical progression in "real life" in 9895 HCV-infected patients included between 2012 and 2015 in the ANRS CO22 HEPATHER cohort.

In these 9895 patients, who were followed up for a median period of 33 months2, statistical analysis showed in the 7344 patients who received DAAs before the end of the study that this treatment was associated with reductions in mortality and in the occurrence of hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer).

After adjustment for individual factors (age, disease staging, the presence of other diseases, etc.), the patients treated with DAAs showed a 52% reduction in mortality risk and a 33% decrease in the risk of liver cancer compared with patients at a similar disease stage but not treated with DAAs.

"We could have expected these results. It seems logical that the elimination of the virus causing the damage is linked to clinical improvement," said Prof Fabrice Carrat. "Our results show that these benefits are obtained soon after virologic control and the patients are no longer highly selected as in early trials. Our analysis reflects real-world efficacy for all patients."

The prolonged collection of data from these patients cured of an HCV infection will allow the definition of the long-term benefit of DAA therapy and of the modalities needed for medical follow-up (How frequent should liver cancer screening be? How long after the cure? At what cost?). 

One of the difficulties sometimes encountered in this sort of study arises when patients who are cured are lost to follow-up. 

The "linking" of medical data from the patients of ANRS CO22 HEPATHER cohort to the national health data system (SNDS), which was validated by the French Data Protection Authority (CNIL) on 19 July 2018, should help researchers obtain exhaustive information on healthcare consumption by these patients over the long term.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Uganda rescinds Community Health Extension Workers policy

By Esther Nakkazi

After 17 years of engaging Village Health Workers or Teams or VHTs, Uganda was to switch to Community Health Extension Workers or the CHEW strategy by June 2017. The policy for CHEWs was passed on January 14, 2019.

About a month later, the Cabinet decided there was no return on the investment, no financial structure, and no sustainability plan and it would distort equity so the policy was rescinded.

The government was supposed to employ 15,000 CHEWs and pay each one of them Ushs 370,000 per month ($100) as well as offer them regular training but none of these seemed feasible. If they were paid $100 per month they would earn more than the lowest paid health worker and primary school teacher who are paid $60-$90.

The CHEWs were also supposed to be between 18-35 years and with a minimum education (senior 4) and their roles were to be defined by the Ministry of Health leadership but among them was conducting baseline and other important surveys.

They were to be monitored, supervised and supported by a proper governance structure and not left in isolation. There were other great plans for the CHEWs too - to 'reorient' the minds of Ugandans towards healthy living, they were to focus on the household as a totality promoting good hygiene, standard health practices like immunization and most of all promote the use of less alcohol which is causing Ugandans numerous health issues.

They would also be strongly monitored, supervised and with detailed accountability and would be under a harmonized structure. The deadline for switching from VHTs to CHEWs was June 2017. It came and went. But by August 2018, the programme started in 13 districts with the highest disease burden in Uganda. All they awaited was Cabinet approval of the policy.

On January 14th this year the CHEWs policy was passed but of course, as usual even the basic funding was not available and sustainability was an issue. It was rescinded a month later.

Experts suggest the government should instead focus on on-job training, effective supervision and non-monetary incentives for the VHTs. Currently, Uganda has 180,000 VHTs working as volunteers but only 60,000 have been trained.

The profile of the VHTs that I have met in the communities- most of them are community-based, elderly or retired, very popular (they call them 'musawo' - meaning health worker), they are cheerful, ready to work, good mobilizers and seem to enjoy their jobs. I support that they should be trained, supported and appreciated. Let Uganda settle for what it can chew certainly NOT CHEWs at this moment if the funds are not available.

ends

African Based Centre for relocation of Human Rights Defenders Launched



Press Release:

On 6 February 2019, AfricanDefenders (the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network) launched the Ubuntu Hub Cities in Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Cape Town – an Africa based relocation programme for human rights defenders (HRDs).

“In designing the concept of Ubuntu Hub Cities, we wanted to challenge the notion that African HRDs cannot be protected within their own continent,” said Hassan Shire, Chairperson of AfricanDefenders.

The Ubuntu Hub Cities initiative enables African HRDs who have been subject to threats, violence, and extreme pressure, as a consequence of their human rights work, to temporarily relocate and continue their work in a safe working environment, while enriching their experience through professional or educational opportunities

The persistent violations against HRDs across the continent require strategic and immediate actions for effective mitigation and prevention of the risks faced by HRDs. Various national protection mechanisms have been set up to provide effective assistance to HRDs at risk. 

However, when these mechanisms are unable to offer the necessary protection, HRDs can be forced to leave their country due to profound risks to their physical security, liberty, and even life. Relocation is thus a last resort protection measure. 

The Ubuntu Hub Cities initiative aims to enable HRDs to retreat, physically and mentally, and continue their human rights work in a safe environment. It also supports HRDs to safely return to their respective country when it is safe.

From lessons learnt and best practices identified by similar city-based relocation programmes across the world, the Ubuntu Hub Cities initiative is tailored to the needs of African HRDs. By allowing HRDs at risk to relocate closer to home, Ubuntu Hub Cities tackle issues of cultural displacement, stigmatisation, language-barriers, and integration, providing a durable option that combines safety, rest and respite, and opportunities for continued activism.

The Ubuntu Hub Cities launch in South Africa brought together HRDs, civil society organisations (CSOs), academic institutions, and human rights experts to share ideas on how to best shape the Ubuntu Hub Cities in the context of South Africa, chosen for its rich history of civic engagement, and the presence of renowned universities and active CSOs.

“Today marks the culmination of what started in earnest when Hassan Shire, Bra Pitso from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, and I had a brainstorming session in Geneva a few years ago, and recognised that we already had African hubs hosting HRDs who had escaped persecution, but needed a project that structured, recognised and promoted this reality” said Arnold Tsunga, Chairperson of the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN). 

“Furthermore, we noted that the Ubuntu value, the African principle that makes people in instinctively want to look after each other in challenging times, was what made these hubs safe for HRDs.” In addition, AfricanDefenders has been relocating HRDs on an ad-hoc basis for several years, holding great expertise on the matter. By officially launching the Ubuntu Hub Cities, ad-hoc efforts will become more systematic in order to ease the relocation process for HRDs at risk.

During the launch, HRDs who had been relocated to South Africa shared their experiences, highlighting the importance of the initiative. “I had to ask myself: do I want to go to prison?” said an HRD, remembering the moment he realised he was at risk because of his work. “My answer was that I did not want to stop my activism, so having access to a relocation mechanism allowed me to be safe, but to continue my activism”.

The importance of integrating adequate psychosocial support mechanisms during the relocation period is an integral part of this, as well as ensuring that the initiative reaches grassroots HRDs beyond the most high profile cases.

To mark the launch, AfricanDefenders and SAHRDN signed a Memorandum of Understanding to guide their collaboration in the implementation of the initiative; Mr. Shire symbolically handed over a key to SAHRDN to open the door to at-risk HRDs in the Ubuntu Hub Cities in South Africa.

On 7 February 2019, the AfricanDefenders delegation and SAHRDN introduced the initiative to a series of stakeholders, including the EU delegation to South Africa and diplomatic missions from Austria, Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, and Ireland. Moreover, the delegation had an opportunity to exchange with the South African Department of Justice and Constitutional Development for further cooperation.

In the coming days, AfricanDefenders will launch the Ubuntu Hub Cities initiative in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, and Tunis, Tunisia.




On 6 February 2019, AfricanDefenders (the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network) launched the Ubuntu Hub Cities in Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Cape Town – an Africa based relocation programme for human rights defenders (HRDs). “In designing the concept of Ubuntu Hub Cities, we wanted to challenge the notion that African HRDs cannot be protected within their own continent,” said Hassan Shire, Chairperson of AfricanDefenders.

The Ubuntu Hub Cities initiative enables African HRDs who have been subject to threats, violence and extreme pressure, as a consequence of their human rights work, to temporarily relocate and continue their work in a safe working environment, while enriching their experience through professional or educational opportunities.

The persistent violations against HRDs across the continent require strategic and immediate actions for effective mitigation and prevention of the risks faced by HRDs. Various national protection mechanisms have been set up to provide effective assistance to HRDs at risk. However, when these mechanisms are unable to offer the necessary protection, HRDs can be forced to leave their country due to profound risks to their physical security, liberty, and even life. Relocation is thus a last resort protection measure. The Ubuntu Hub Cities initiative aims to enable HRDs to retreat, physically and mentally, and continue their human rights work in a safe environment. It also supports HRDs to safely return to their respective country when it is safe.

From lessons learnt and best practices identified by similar city-based relocation programmes across the world, the Ubuntu Hub Cities initiative is tailored to the needs of African HRDs. By allowing HRDs at risk to relocate closer to home, Ubuntu Hub Cities tackle issues of cultural displacement, stigmatisation, language-barriers, and integration, providing a durable option that combines safety, rest and respite, and opportunities for continued activism.

The Ubuntu Hub Cities launch in South Africa brought together HRDs, civil society organisations (CSOs), academic institutions, and human rights experts to share ideas on how to best shape the Ubuntu Hub Cities in the context of South Africa, chosen for its rich history of civic engagement, and the presence of renowned universities and active CSOs.

“Today marks the culmination of what started in earnest when Hassan Shire, Bra Pitso from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, and I had a brainstorming session in Geneva a few years ago, and recognised that we already had African hubs hosting HRDs who had escaped persecution, but needed a project that structured, recognised and promoted this reality” said Arnold Tsunga, Chairperson of the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN). “Furthermore, we noted that the Ubuntu value, the African principle that make people in instinctively want to look after each other in challenging times, was what made these hubs safe for HRDs.” In addition, AfricanDefenders has been relocating HRDs on an ad-hoc basis for several years, holding great expertise on the matter. By officially launching the Ubuntu Hub Cities, ad-hoc efforts will become more systematic in order to ease the relocation process for HRDs at risk.








During the launch, HRDs who had been relocated to South Africa shared their experiences, highlighting the importance of the initiative. “I had to ask myself: do I want to go to prison?” said an HRD, remembering the moment he realised he was at risk because of his work. “My answer was that I did not want to stop my activism, so having access to a relocation mechanism allowed me to be safe, but to continue my activism”.

The importance of integrating adequate psychosocial support mechanisms during the relocation period is an integral part of this, as well as ensuring that that the initiative reaches grassroots HRDs beyond the most high profile cases.

To mark the launch, AfricanDefenders and SAHRDN signed a Memorandum of Understanding to guide their collaboration in the implementation of the initiative; Mr. Shire symbolically handed over a key to SAHRDN to open the door to at-risk HRDs in the Ubuntu Hub Cities in South Africa.

On 7 February 2019, the AfricanDefenders delegation and SAHRDN introduced the initiative to a series of stakeholders, including the EU delegation to South Africa and diplomatic missions from Austria, Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, and Ireland. Moreover, the delegation had an opportunity to exchange with the South African Department of Justice and Constitutional Development for further cooperation.

In the coming days, AfricanDefenders will launch the Ubuntu Hub Cities initiative in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, and Tunis, Tunisia. For more information about the Hub Cities initiative, please see www.africandefenders.org.