Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Bed Nets Doubled up in Tororo Schools to Curb Malaria

By Esther Nakkazi

Four-year-old Barbara Rose Onyango carries on sitting quietly as her name is called out – she is used to the nickname she goes by at home, Babu.

Barbara was in line to receive a long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito net, as were 249 other children in her Primary One class at Atapara Primary School, Paya sub-county in Tororo district.

Tororo, located in eastern Uganda near the border with Kenya, has a weather pattern that favors mosquito breeding. The frequent rain leaves soggy soils. The flat terrain collects stagnant water, leading to mosquito breeding.

Studies from the Tororo district office have confirmed that on average, people in Tororo are exposed to between one and two infectious mosquito bites per night – the highest rate in Uganda.

Long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito nets are being distributed as part of the Malaria Control Culture Project, which focuses on creating an environment that is conducive to reducing malaria in Uganda. The project is funded by Comic Relief and supported by the government of Uganda.

“The aim of the project in Tororo is to reduce malaria mortality and morbidity by fostering a culture of malaria control at community and health facility levels,” said Dr. Julian Atim, project manager, Malaria Control Culture Project.

Atapara Primary School is a government-supported school with most of the children from poor households, who do not have to pay any school fees. Lessons are conducted in the local language of Japadhola until primary year four.

At her young age, Barbara tags along with older children as there are no nursery schools in her area. With a high drop-out rate, her future prospects in the schooling system are slim, as the chances of her dropping out within the next two years are high.

She may have to look after a young sibling or work on the family rice farm.

In this long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito net distribution, the teachers call out pupils’ names, who then queue up to receive their nets. Since most of them in earlier years cannot sign, they dip their thumbs in ink and place a mark beside their name to confirm they have received the mosquito net. Barbara’s class has over 250 pupils, meaning that this is a whole day’s exercise.

Peter Okuga, the malaria focal person of Tororo district says that he wants to ensure that there are more long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito nets in every household. “If this exercise is well managed, a reduction in malaria attacks to children means improved school attendance, retention, and performance,” said Okuga.

Prior to this exercise, health education was targeted towards pupils, parents, and teachers. As a result, the teachers have an idea of what malaria symptoms look like.

“Once a kid is shivering, has a high temperature, flu or vomits, we escort them back home and advise that they go to a hospital and test for malaria,” said teacher Abbo. The school, with 1,209 students, has no school nurse.

“There is a need for sensitization, otherwise some parents can even sell off the mosquito net that they receive through the distribution,” said Stephen Oketcho, the deputy headmaster of Atapara Primary School. About 15 percent of Atapara students get malaria per week, Oketcho estimates.

At a Question and Answer session with the parents, Claire Nyachwo, a health educator, explained why sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net was important.

Parents wanted to know how long it would take to wash the mosquito nets, how often they should be washed, and whether Malaria Consortium would supply them with a chemical to add after they washed them.

Dr. Atim says the Malaria Control Culture project aims to increase the proportion of household members who slept under an insecticide-treated mosquito net from 35 to 70 percent. By answering their questions and explaining how to use the nets, they will be more likely to use the nets properly.

At Paya Health Centre III, the normally long queues of patients waiting to see the doctor are getting shorter because of more people sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets.

One of the questions the health workers ask their patients is if they sleep under an insecticide-treated mosquito net. Answers vary. Some families have sold the mosquito nets, while others do not like using them because they itch and get dirty.

Before Universal Coverage was achieved through the mass distribution of long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito nets in 2013, almost everybody tested positive for malaria, said Patrick Opilli, senior clinical officer, Paya health center III.

“We used to have 90 patients per day. Now we get only 30 patients. We do rapid diagnosis tests (RDTs) for malaria for everybody but we are getting more negatives than positives,” said Opilli. The surveillance data at sub-county level show lower cases of malaria too, he says.

Peter Okuga, the Tororo district malaria focal person confirms this. “For most health centers, there is no more Coartem stock outs. The drugs are now expiring,” he says. This is something that has not happened in the past.

The project also aims to increase the proportion of children under five suspected of having malaria getting tested using malaria diagnosis (RDTs of microscopy) from 26 to 75 percent.

Okuga says mosquito nets should be the preferred choice since they are proven to reduce the rate of catching malaria by 50 percent.

They also repel mosquitoes and act as barriers between mosquitoes and humans. They are also easy to use.

On the day of the distribution, each child had a mosquito net tucked under his or her arms, carrying it back home for a night free of mosquito bites.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Uganda Minister Confused About Kenya Torching Ivory

By Esther Nakkazi

Today is World Biodiversity day and to celebrate it some Ugandans including me where at Serena hotel, Kampala to launch the project for Uganda Biodiversity Trust Fund. USAID is funding the Uganda Biodiversity Fund with $2.517.589 over four years.

As we were discussing the 'yet to be established' Uganda Biodiversity Trust Fund, the guest of Honor, the State Minister for Environment, Flavia Nabugera Munaaba made a comment that has been bothering her for a while.  Munaaba is confused why Kenya torches its ivory and they do not use it for social community gains after all the elephants are already dead, killed by poachers.

Now Uganda has been identified as one of the countries that is not doing enough to curb ivory trade. So was Kenya and Tanzania on the list. In 2014, ivory stockpiles, 1.2 tons and worth 1.1 million went missing, which attracted a lot of media reports.

Dr. Andrew Seguya, the director Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) had a ready answer for Munaaba's ignorance. 'Ivory stock piles have zero legal value. They are useless and they cannot be traded beyond Uganda. Even if we decided to sell them to Ugandans very few of them would afford to buy them, those who can would smuggle them," said Seguya.

Seguya says the cost of keeping the ivory stock piles is exorbitant. "I have put surveillance cameras, we change armed guards every 12 hours a day, and the cost is out of this world."

So should Uganda also torch its ivory like Kenya does? When Kenya torches its ivory, it is making a statement, they want to send out a message to the poachers that protection and conservation are key, said one participant .

Seguya's solution to Uganda's ivory problems; 'let us start to have a conversation about what to do with Uganda's ivory. Kenya is now building a museum out of ivory and it will bring in revenue. We could learn from them.'

Happy 2015 World Biodiversity Day!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Big Pharma, Merck gives 2000 Ugandans free cancer education and diabetes screening

Big Pharma, Merck, in partnership with Uganda Ministry of Health, Makerere University and Uganda Cancer Institute have started a combined diabetes and cancer campaign in Tororo, Uganda as part of Merck Cancer Control Program (MCCP).

The program is a new initiative of Merck’s 5 year Capacity Advancement Program (CAP) which now for the first time includes cancer.By 2018 Merck aims to reach 100.000 community members through its combined diabetes and cancer awareness campaigns.

Through the newly launched combined community campaign, Merck aims to provide more than 2.000 people with free cancer education and diabetes screening to enable Ugandans to prevent the diseases and give them advice on how to lead healthier lives.

“The Merck Cancer Control Program aims to partner with top experts across the globe to assist African countries in implementing comprehensive cancer prevention and control programs,” said Elcin Ergun, Head of Global Commercial of Merck Serono, the biopharmaceutical business of Merck. ”This program will be rolled out in other African countries within the year and will be augmented by community awareness and strong educational programs for medical students across Africa.”

Minster of State of Health, Sarah Opendi stated that most cancer patients report to the health facility when cancer is in the advanced stage which poses a challenge because nothing much can be done to save the patient’s life. This is partly due to the nature of the cancers since they have no symptoms in early stages but also due to our poor health seeking behaviours.

“According to WHO, over one third of cancer deaths are due to preventable causes such as viral infection, poor nutrition and widespread tobacco use. It is important to note that once diagnosed early cancer can be treated and cured. Uganda just like other developing countries faces a wide range of health system challenges and cancer is often not a priority in limited resource settings. Therefore the Ministry of Health appreciates private public partnership with reputable companies like Merck to promote key health guidelines and raise awareness about Cancer so that people learn how to detect and prevent it,” she added.

During her speech at the campaign, Rasha Kelej, Vice President and Head of Global Business Responsibility and Market development of Merck’s biopharmaceutical business Merck Serono said”By partnering with Ministries of Health and universities in Africa to implement our Cancer Control Program as a new initiative of Merck’s CAP, we hope to quickly achieve our objective of advancing cancer healthcare capacities and reducing the socioeconomic burden of the disease.”

“Merck previously partnered with the Ministry of Health, Makerere University and Uganda Diabetes Association to carry out medical camps and nationwide diabetes awareness (SMS) text messages to healthcare providers and community members. Today for the first time in Africa, we address cancer with diabetes at the same campaign, which will help us to target the common risk factors for Non- Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity” Kelej added.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) by 2020 there are expected to be 16 million new cases of cancer every year, 70% of which will be in developing countries where governments are least prepared to address the growing cancer burden and where survival rates are often less than half those of more developed countries.

Sarah Opendi emphasized. “Cancer awareness is very low in Africa, regardless whether the patient is educated or not. For example; even doctors, teachers and bank managers are late in responding to the disease, therefore our partnership with Merck to implement their Cancer Control Program is very important for Uganda since educating the public and healthcare providers about the signs and symptoms of cancer will help promote early detection and better survival outcomes”.

At the campaign , Dr. David Kerr, Professor of Cancer Medicine, University of Oxford emphasized” I have no doubt that in order to prevent and reduce the death rate from Non communicable illnesses like cancer , diabetes and heart disease, we will need to see collaboration and collective action from Health Ministries, NGOs, Academia and Industry. The size and complexity of the task is so large that no single Agency can manage on its own, so integration of effort is necessary to achieve the health gains that our citizens deserve. We believe that prevention is better than cure, so awareness raising and evidence based screening will play a big part in any campaign to reduce death rates from these diseases, but we realise that at the same time we need to improve treatment of cancer , diabetes and heart disorders. We stand united in our quest to reduce deaths from these common diseases by 25% by 2025.’

Merck CAP is a 5 year program aiming to expand the professional capacity in developing countries in the areas of research and development, advocacy building, supply-chain integrity and efficiency, pharmacovigilance, medical education, and community awareness.

As part of the CAP, by end of 2015, more than 5,000 medical students in partnership with African universities such as University of Nairobi, Makerere University, Namibia University and University of Ghana, in addition to Asian universities such as Maharashtra university, India and University of Indonesia will benefit from European-accredited clinical chronic diseases management training, which is seeking to equip them with skills to better manage and prevent these diseases.

Merck is planning to target more than 15,000 students by the end of 2018 expanding to more African, Asian, Latin American and Middle Eastern countries with special focus on non –communicable diseases such as Diabetes, cancer and fertility management.

The program will also kick off initiatives on building research capacity and improving supply chain in order to improve patient safety in Africa.

Game on: Africa’s education techies compete in hackathon for social good

Press Release

A first of its kind hackathon will bring together edtech (education technology) entrepreneurs from throughout Africa to explore and develop new paths and methods for sustainable change in social systems.

Taking place from May 17 – 20, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the aim of the game is in the title: over four intensive days of competitive creation, participants of the Gamify it! Hackathon! will set out to prove whether it’s possible to achieve a measurable impact towards sustainable development through fun and engagement.

“It’s the first time we’ve been able to bring 35 people from all throughout Africa together to work on social causes in this way using technology,” says Markos Lemma, the co-founder of iceaddis, the community oriented innovation hub in Addis Ababa. Iceaddis is part of the team of organisers, led by GIZ and including eLearning Africa.

“I think it’s important to have a hackathon on social change because hackathons are a great way to collect ideas in a very informal way. It encourages people to get creative and come up with innovative solutions.”

Under the theme ‘Gamification for Social Good’, teams of programmers, designers, problem solvers and subject matter experts are required to identify key challenges and problems from a variety of areas – with a particular focus on the African context – such as gamification and green technologies; gamification in education and (vocational) training; or gamification for emergency and disaster management.

What’s gamification and why is it effective? Gamification is the use of games or game-like elements to engage and motivate people to solve problems. GIZ, who are organising the event on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, say gamification and serious games are “particularly powerful ways to address individuals’ competences and change behaviour for the better.”

Starting at iceaddis, the hackathon will finish up at the eLearning Africa conference on May 20, where teams will present their newly-developed gamified tools – whether it’s an app, online platform or immersive environment – to an international audience. The conference is being co-organised by the African Union and hosted by the Government of Ethiopia, and is expected to attract over 1,200 participants.

The winner will be invited to visit Berlin, Germany, for the 21st edition of OEB in December 2015 – the global, cross-sector conference on technology supported learning and training.

Lemma says as many of Africa’s tech entrepreneurs are involved in developing technology-supported educational materials this is a great opportunity for them to not only show the rest of the continent how the private sector can be involved in education but, through participating in OEB, gives them a chance to display the different eLearning innovations coming out of Africa.

Participation is exclusively for citizens of African countries, with teams coming from throughout the continent – Botswana, Cameroon, Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Togo and Zimbabwe.