Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Triplets born during the pandemic

By Patricia Nakyalu and Esther Nakkazi

On the 28th May 2020 during the pandemic, Brown, named after its color, started to show signs that she was going to give birth. She was crying endlessly in low tones, looked weak and exhausted, and was breathing heavily.

Brown and Black were both adopted by Marcel. One evening he heard crying puppies in a nearby bush. He checked to find two puppies. They were dirty and infested with fleas but they were well fed.

He picked them up and brought them to the house. We gave them a clean bath and he arranged to have a veterinary doctor come and immunize them. The following evening a fatty, big dog came around and we knew that was the mother.

Brown and Black were domesticated so they were not wild anymore. Marcel made a house for them and we would cook for them - mostly posho, rice with silverfish (Mukene), chicken legs, or beef bones.

Their mother who we named mother dog was still a bit of a wild dog so she would go in and out of the compound as she wished. She came back every evening and slept on the verandah. Although mother dog’s movements were not restricted we realized that she enjoyed staying near her children. So we started feeding her too. She would come to the compound during meal times. We then added her to the pack.

Mother dog and her puppies now grown-up dogs have been living with us for four years. During this time she had triplets but we gave them away. Her daughter Brown also got pregnant and on 28th May she downloaded six beautiful puppies.

The first signs of the puppies coming were after the dog walk in the morning. Brown was very exhausted. She started making funny noises so Uncle Marcel decided to carry her to the dog house where we had prepared some clean old clothes in a comfortable bed to deliver her puppies.

At exactly 2: 48 pm, 28th May, Brown started giving birth, we all watched in awe and pity because she seemed to be in pain breathing fast and crying. After what seemed like an eternity to her but just two hours all the six puppies were born.

She was a protective mother. If someone got near her puppies she would let out a warning low bark as if to say back off. We started feeding her two meals a day because she was a mother and needed extra food to produce milk for her puppies. In the morning rice and silverfish (Mukene) and the usual posho and fish in the evening.

The puppies were cute and lovely. Their eyes were closed all the time. They had a variety of colors - two were pure black, one looked like Brown, another one had no resemblance to her at all. We think the father of the puppies is Black because they all have a white tip on the tail like Black except for one of them.

A week after they were born I went to check on them in the morning. Three of the puppies were dead. It was a very despondent moment for me because it was like losing family members. Uncle Marcel thought that the puppies might have died because they were not vaccinated.

So the surviving three were vaccinated immediately. We also gave them names - ‘booze’ names. The triplets who are all female were named; Miller Lite, Brandy, and Vodka. After a month they started going for dog walks. They were afraid of everything.

When they saw a bodaboda they would stop walking, they were afraid of humans and they would get tired. They would freeze and not move when a bicycle was passing by. Just stare at it until it disappeared at the end of the road.

On many occasions, Marcel had to carry at least two of them back home because they were just tired and could not walk back to the house. The puppies and Brown continue to have a breakfast meal - rice and Mukene so that they grow healthy and Brown has to rebuild her body. They also eat an evening meal with the rest - Black and Mother dog now ‘Oma’ - grandma in Dutch.

They have grown big so fast. It was just months back that they could not even open their eyes and only cried when they were hungry. Now they understand Marcel and play some tricks. They all look different and have personal characters.

Miller is the ‘blonde’ gal both in looks and brains. She has greenish eyes, has white, brown color fur. She has a lot of fur on her outer coat which makes her look like a typical crossbreed. She is the cutest by far, the friendliest but the most stubborn and a 'crying baby'.

Miller loves food but has no brains to fight for it. When you save a bone for her and quietly call her to eat she will abandon it and follow you thinking that you have an even bigger bone. That way she loses her bone to Black who is fierce while fighting for food and anything.

Miller is the one everyone comments about that she looks ‘exotic’ on the dog walks and they ask Uncle Marcel to give her to them. Too bad she does not hear what they say she would walk over her sisters. Miller loves playing with Vodka but then she will start crying like they are killing her until we intervene.

Vodka looks exactly like her Mother Brown. She has grown so big sometimes it is difficult to know who is mother or daughter. Vodka is peaceful. She is scared of everything which makes her insecure but that means she can also snap and bite you because she thinks you want to hurt her. Vodka is also the most destructive, she hides in a corner, stays quiet, and will chew at your shoes or slippers until she shreds them to pieces.

In a dog pack, there has to be a leader. In this case the only male, Black is the head. Black is the one who will attack anyone who gets into the compound. He is so fierce he will attempt to jump and bite if you don’t hold his chain tight during the dog walk. He is also the most obedient dog to his master.

When Marcel leaves the house, Black sits by the gate and peeps at every car driving by. He sometimes refuses to eat until he comes home. When he gets home, Black usually licks his beard and shakes his tail so hard running around him as if to say I am so happy you are back.

Brandy on the other hand loves to be the one in charge and sometimes tries to take Black’s position in terms of rank and has been badly been bitten a few times by Black. Brandy has a dark brown color that almost looks like her granny (Oma) but not exactly. She resembles black too. She loves to play and will be the one to dare steal a bone from Black who will fight her. She also loves fighting over food with her sisters during the morning meal. She will try to chase and bite Vodka and Miller so that she eats everything. They are clearly afraid of her at mealtimes.

Brandy loves climbing up on the chairs on the verandah ‘playing king of the jungle’ and looking down at Vodka and Miller who then fight to try to climb up too but never get a chance. She is playful but hates water. When the dogs are taking a shower and you hear the loudest cry that will be Brandy. Even when we smear them with lotion after bathing, Brandy screams like it is so unpleasant.

So which of the triplet puppy gals do you pick; Brandy - 'queen of the jungle', Miller -' the blonde gal', or Vodka 'the mischievous'?


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

First medical training school to be opened in Sudan rebel-held territory next year

By Esther Nakkazi 

Last week Dr. Tom Catena the only surgeon for approximately 1.3 million people in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan, Sudan announced the opening of a medical training school next year in the rebel-held territory.

“There has been a tremendous upgrade in medical capacity over these past 13 years but despite these efforts, there remains a huge deficit in medical personnel in Nuba. We now believe that the only way to address that huge shortfall is to open a training school here, and train our own, nurses, midwives and clinical officers,” said Dr. Catena during a virtual World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH), a global healthcare community dedicated to capturing and disseminating the best evidence-based ideas and practices. 

“We are now in the early planning stages of this school, and hope to have it up and running within the next year.” 

The medical school will be attached to the Gidel Mother of Mercy Hospital, which he helped establish and open in 2008 and remains the only major provider of medical care in the Nuba mountains region. The hospital has been relying on heroic on-the-job trained staff but now wants to have fully trained professionals. 

‘Dr. Tom’ as he is affectionately known, has served in Africa for more than 20 years and works and lives in rebel-held territory, around the size of Austria, which has known civil war, starvation, and genocide ever since the founding of the Sudan republic in 1956. 

Funds to run the Gidel Mother of Mercy Hospital mostly come from individual donors, well-wishers, except for donations of food, vaccines, and TB drugs but they don’t receive anything from the International donor community which has made them rather frugal in their operating expenses. 

It will require about USD $800,000 to run the 435-bed hospital and the training school for a year and they would provide most of the basic services and low cost. By way of comparison, a similar-sized hospital in Dr. Catena’s home area in the US would have an annual operating budget of 400 times this amount of money annually which if availed to the Gidel Mother of Mercy Hospital and training school would be sufficient for the next 400 years. 

“Good health care, education, do not need to be prohibitively expensive. We feel that we can provide a good number of services at a very low cost …. perhaps, the problem isn’t lack of money, but just a gross maldistribution of resources,” said Dr. Catena. 

Although life in Nuba has improved due to a cessation of hostilities however the Nuba are people deeply traumatized due to centuries of oppression and marginalization at the hand of cards emulate. 

The training it is believed will uplift the respect of the Nuba people who have proven themselves as tough warriors over the years but have been humiliated, degraded, and grown accustomed to being treated as second class citizens in their own country with little hope that they will be treated as the equals be the Northerners. 

“We encourage our staff, that as a way to get respect, will be by using their intellect and skill to show their detractors that they are the equal of anyone,” said Dr. Catena. “It is our sincere hope that our initiatives to train our staff will put them on an equal footing with health practitioners anywhere in the world.” 

The hospital is already receiving patients from as far as Khartoum. “We hope that with our clinical school will become a training center for all of Sudan, both students and patients will come to us seeking care. It is much more difficult to despise someone if he or she is the one performing your surgery or diagnosing your complex medical problems,” he said. 

“It is our dream that one of the dividends of a first-grade hospital and training program will bring peace in our troubled region,” concluded Dr. Catena at the WISH conference. WISH is an initiative of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF) and is under the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, its Chairperson.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Women and Water: Collecting water causes serious injuries says study

By Esther Nakkazi

Collecting water can cause serious injuries like falls, traffic accidents, animal attacks, and fights, which can result in broken bones, spinal injuries, lacerations, and other physical injuries, particularly for women living in low and middle-income countries according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

The research titled ‘In pursuit of ‘safe’ water: The burden of personal injury from water fetching in 21 low-income and middle-income countries’ published in the journal BMJ Global Health also says women are also most likely to sustain such injuries – highlighting the social and gender inequities of a hidden global health challenge. 

“Millions of people don’t have the luxury of clean drinking water at their home, and they face many dangers before the water even touches their lips. We wanted to better understand the true burden of water insecurity," says Dr Jo-Anne Geere, from UEA’s School of Health Sciences.

Dr. Geere says most of the global research on water has largely focused on scarcity and health issues related to what is in the water, but the burden and risks of how water is retrieved and carried has been overlooked until now.

The new study was led by Northwestern University in the US, in collaboration with UEA, the University of Miami, and the Household Water Insecurity Experiences Research Coordination Network (HWISE RCN).
The research team used a large global dataset to understand what factors might predict water-fetching injuries. The work draws on a survey of 6,291 randomly selected households across 24 sites in 21 low- and middle-income countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

They found that 13 per cent of the respondents reported some sort of injury while collecting water, and that women were twice as likely to be hurt as men.

 “Thirteen percent is a big number, but it is probably an underestimate. It’s highly likely that more people would have reported injuries if the survey had more detailed questions," says Dr. Sera Young, from Northwestern University.

“This reinforces how the burden of water scarcity disproportionately falls on women, on rural populations, and on those who do not have water sources close to home. It highlights the importance of safe interventions that prioritise personal physical safety alongside traditional global indicators of water, sanitation, and hygiene,” says Prof Paul Hunter, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School.

The researchers say that keeping track of such safety measures — in addition to the usual measures of water quality and access — could help better assess progress towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 6.1, which sets out “to achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all” by 2030.

“It seems likely that water-fetching can contribute considerably to the global Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WaSH) burden, but it usually goes unmeasured because we typically think about access and water quality. It is, therefore, a greatly underappreciated, nearly invisible public health challenge," Dr. Vidya Venkataramanan, also from Northwestern University.

“It’s really important that data on water-fetching injuries are systematically collected so that we can know the true burden of water insecurity. Currently, all of the broken bones, spinal injuries, lacerations, and other physical injuries are not accounted for in calculations about the burden of water insecurity.”



Monday, November 2, 2020

Study uncovers ‘enormous burden of dengue’ among Kenyan children

Researchers uncovered what they called “an enormous burden of dengue fever among children with undifferentiated febrile illness in Kenya.”

Specifically, out of more than 1,000 children ill with fever, more than 40% were infected with the dengue virus. Many children with dengue and without malaria were treated with antimalarial drugs, antimicrobial drugs, or both, according to a report in Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Dengue, which is endemic in more than 100 countries, “is an important cause of illness among children in Kenya, and clinicians should consider dengue as a cause of unlocalized fever,” Melisa M. Shah, MD, MPH, an endowed postdoctoral fellow at Stanford Medicine, told Healio.

“Often, fever is considered to be malaria and empiric treatment is given,” Shah said. “The lack of awareness about dengue as a cause of febrile illness is one factor causing the overdiagnosis and overtreatment of malaria.”

Shah and colleagues tested blood samples from 1,022 Kenyan children with ongoing febrile illness from 2014 to 2017. Of the 862 viable samples, dengue viremia was detected in 361 (41.9%). Of those 361 samples, 333 were classified as primary infections (92.2%), 14 were secondary infections (3.9%) and the remaining 14 samples lacked dengue virus immunoglobulin G data.

Of the 1,022 study participants, 419 (41%) received antimalarial drugs, Shah and colleagues reported. Antimalarial drugs were more likely to be administered to patients with dengue virus viremia — 48.8% vs. 36.8%. Among 141 study participants who had confirmed dengue without malaria, 29 (20.6%) received an antimalarial drug (20.6%), 75 received an antimicrobial drug (53.2%) and 12 received both (8.5%).

“The unnecessary use of antimalarials and antibiotics exposes children to known medication side effects and may contribute to the development of drug resistance,” Shah said. Participants with dengue virus viremia with febrile illness reported headaches (49.6%), poor appetite (46.8%), cough (45.7%) and joint pain (36.8%).

“An accurate, reliable, and affordable point-of-care diagnostic for dengue is urgently needed for health practitioners in outpatient settings in endemic areas,” Shah said. “Such a diagnostic could quickly identify whether dengue may be the cause of febrile illness.”

According to a CDC summary of the study, genetic testing revealed that some of the strains of dengue virus were not typical to Africa and may have been imported by travelers from other continents.

“The paucity of dengue surveillance studies and sequence data from Africa is striking,” Shah and colleagues wrote in their paper. WHO estimates that around half of the world’s population is currently at risk for dengue, which is typically found in urban and semi-urban areas in tropical and sub-tropical climates.

Researchers predicted last year that the geographical range of dengue would place 60% of the world’s population at risk by 2080. Right now, an estimated 100 million to 400 million dengue infections occur each year, according to WHO.

There is no specific treatment, although there is an approved dengue vaccine.“Dengue activity will likely continue to spread in Africa because of rapid land-use change, climate change, urbanization, increased human travel and international trade,” Shah and colleagues wrote.

“Knowledge of the spatial-temporal dynamics of dengue circulation throughout Africa is critically needed to inform a coordinated public health response in an increasingly interconnected world.”


Monday, October 12, 2020

Cerebral Palsy in Uganda: still very difficult to diagnose

By Esther Nakkazi

Six-year-old Rahmah Kiiza is a special guest at World Cerebral Palsy day. 

She is in a wheelchair, on the front speakers’ row, seemingly attentive, sometimes making random noises during ongoing speeches and testimonies. 

Rahmah is one of 900 persons with cerebral palsy registered by the Uganda National Association of Persons with Cerebral Palsy (UNAC). The estimated crude cerebral palsy prevalence for children aged 2–17 years is 2·9 per 1000 children in sub-Saharan Africa. (1) 

This year, UNAC has a theme ‘Make your Mark; break barriers for persons with cerebral palsy in Uganda’. 

Rahmah is the only girl, third and last child of three born by Latifah Muzaki. She follows a set of twins. When Latifah was pregnant with Rahmah she experienced high blood pressure in the second trimester. The child was born with jaundice but the midwife assured the mother all would be well. 

Latifah just had to expose the baby to the sun for a few minutes and that is what was done. But a few months into her growth, it was evident that something was wrong. 

Rahmah had slow growth, floppy muscles, joint problems, and speech issues. Latifah spent many hours in the hospital looking for solutions. The diagnosis did not come until six months later. 

“Our disability is difficult to identify just as the data of people affected by cerebral palsy,” says Rashid Kalule the chairperson for UNAC. The database of who is infected is almost entirely absent. Even if the categories of the condition vary all are lumped in one group - as persons with cerebral palsy. 

Cerebral palsy is a result of damage to the cerebrum which is part of the brain responsible for body movement due to environmental and natural causes. It affects muscle tone, movement, and motor skills hence, hindering the body's ability to move in a coordinated way. 

By virtue of their disability, persons with cerebral palsy face significant mobility-related barriers that limit their full participation in activities of daily living as well as access to services and other opportunities. Such barriers place them in a vulnerable position of all kinds of abuse, ignorance, and poverty says Kalule.

He says they are among the most marginalized persons with disabilities in Uganda since Cerebral palsy is not largely recognized by mainstream National Development programs.

Ambrose Asiimwe, senior Physiotherapist, Capital Centre Medical Clinic says in Uganda about 80 percent of cerebral palsy happens during pregnancy caused by urinary tract infections, STDs, smoking, alcoholism of the mother, pregnancy stress or assisted reproductive technology. 20 percent happens during birth due to labor complications, shortage of oxygen to the baby.

Preterm birth, sickle cell anemia, obstetric complications, birth asphyxia, neonatal jaundice are high-risk factors. Some children get cerebral palsy after birth caused by episodes of cerebral infections, high fevers, convulsions, brain infections such as bacterial meningitis.

“Cerebral palsy has no cure. It requires patience and consistency,” advises Asiimwe.

After the diagnosis, it was full time looking after Rahmah. Latifah lost a job. Her husband ran away. 
“He said he cannot be the father of such a child,” says Latifah with all the sadness in her eyes. 
“Fathers quit easily due to stigma. At UNAC we are trying to bring fathers on board,” says Christine Kirungi, the executive director of UNAC. 

The community turned against her. She was isolated and called names - witch, the mother of a child with a disability, bad luck. “My relatives told me to go back to where I got these problems. I thought the child was not mine. She was given to me by mistake.” Kirungi says there is limited knowledge on Cerebral palsy in communities and increased abuse of persons with cerebral palsy by their family members and surrounding communities. 

Another challenge for caretakers of children with cerebral palsy is feeding. Many of the children with cerebral palsy are malnourished which makes them susceptible to infection. These children eat special food - ‘soft and porridge-like’ and have low appetites so they suffer a lot from malnutrition. 

Change of mindset:

After losing her job as a secretary at the Ministry of defense, her husband running away, Latifah turned to her talent and what she loves to do best - decoration. She now decorates for weddings, parties, and even conferences.

She has learned to ignore the abuses, live with the stigma, and focus her energy on creating awareness about cerebral palsy in communities. She also started appreciating all the milestones Rahmah achieved and now calls her a miracle child renamed ‘Mukiisa’.

She learned new local innovations. One such tip that she says has improved Rahmah’s life is the soil or sandpit technique. In Uganda, some parents dig a hole in the ground put the child with cerebral palsy in a standing position, and cover with clean sand or soil up to the neck. It can be for minutes or hours - for as long as the child can endure.

It is the equivalent of a standing frame that costs about $100 or UGX 360,000. Since a child will need a new standing frame at every stage, parents of children with cerebral palsy said they are costly and unaffordable. Moreover, children also require essential drugs for life.

“At first she stood in the hole for about 30 minutes but she cried a lot even when I was sited by her side and assuring her,” says Latifah. Gradually, the duration was increased to 45 minutes and now she stands in it for an hour.

Rahmah is not bothered by standing in the sandpit anymore. While in it her twin brothers keep her company and the watchful eyes of her mother are always close by. “Rahmah was floppy but now the backbone is firmer, she is more stable. It has helped her backbone and joints,” says Latifah. On top of that, she attends physiotherapy. 

Stephen Muhumuza attests to benefiting from this local innovation. “My mother died when I was only a day old. I lived with my grandmother a natural therapist. I could not walk until I was 10 years old. My grandmother put me in the soil pit and it helped,” says Muhumuza now 45 years old and with a family.

Kalule who also says his condition improved due to the pit and soil innovation explains the three models of disability in Uganda as thus.

“In Uganda, we have three models of disability; the belief that disability is a charity and you have to depend on begging to go survive that is why most parents do not take their children to school. The second model is medical where they take you to the hospital or rehabilitation and forget about you,” says Kalule.

He urges all Ugandans to embrace the third model. “With the social model, we can break the barriers and work together.” “

“I may be with a disability today but if we work together we can break the barriers,” says Kalule.


Appeal from UNAC

As we celebrate World Cerebral palsy day 2020, it’s important to note that persons with cerebral palsy raise critical concerns for redress:

We appeal to the stakeholders in the mainstream government programs and development partners:

To popularize awareness of Cerebral palsy and provide attention to additional reasonable accommodation needs of persons with cerebral palsy to enable inclusive and equal participation in the mainstream development programs.

Rebalance the combination of COVID-19 interventions to minimize the impact of standard physical distance and lockdown strategies on persons with severe disabilities in communities (like CP).

Extend social protection programs, inclusive education, and health services to reach persons with cerebral palsy at Zero cost.

Make public services accessible to make society a better place for all.

The Community stakeholders to collaborate with UNAC in protecting the rights of persons with Cerebral palsy particularly children who are at increased risk of abuse, neglect, and murder. (UNAC statement)

(This blog story is especially for awareness creation on Cerebral palsy. I salute all the mothers like Latifah who have taken time off to look after their children and not abandon them. God bless the mothers. EN) 

Friday, September 25, 2020

WHO records show a steady decline of COVID-19 cases in Africa

By Esther Nakkazi

The African region has seen a steady decline in new COVID-19 cases over the past two months, the World Health Organisation reports. 

Starting 20 July to September 20th, 77,147 new cases were reported, down from 131,647 recorded from May 20th to mid-July. Deaths attributed to COVID-19 have also remained low in the region.

The cases are also mostly among people below 60 years of age who contribute to about 91% of COVID-19 infections in sub-Saharan Africa and over 80% of cases are asymptomatic, the WHO has observed. 

The pandemic has largely been in a younger age group and has been more pronounced in a few countries, suggesting country-specific aspects are driving the pattern of disease and death.

“The downward trend that we have seen in Africa over the past two months is undoubtedly a positive development and speaks to the robust and decisive public health measures taken by governments across the region,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

The decline over the past two months have been attributed to a variety of socio-ecological factors such as low population density and mobility, hot and humid climate, lower age group as well as early and strong public health measures taken by governments across the region. 

Even in the most-affected countries including Algeria, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, and Senegal infections are dropping every week over the past two months.

By 20th September, twenty-nine countries recorded a decrease in new cases, with 20 of them registering a decrease of more than 20%; Sao Tome and Principe (89%), Mauritius (75%), Botswana (69%), Seychelles (67%), Lesotho (61%), Senegal (55%), Malawi (47%), Mauritania (46%), Liberia (44%), Gambia (39%), Rwanda (38%), Ghana (37%), Zambia (34%), Burundi (33%), Burkina Faso (30%), Côte d'Ivoire (30%), Zimbabwe (28%), Namibia (27%), Sierra Leone (23%) and Eswatini (20%). Only Eritrea and the United Republic of Tanzania did not officially submit any report.

As of 22 September 2020, a cumulative total of 1,149 940 COVID-19 cases was reported in the region, including 1,149, 939 confirmed, with one probable case reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. South Africa has consistently registered more than half, 58% (663,282) of all, reported confirmed cases in the region.

The other countries that have reported large numbers of cases are Ethiopia (70,422), Nigeria (57 613), Algeria (50,214), Ghana (46,062), Kenya (37,218), Cameroon (20,690), Côte d’Ivoire (19,327), Madagascar (16,136) and Senegal (14,759). These 10 countries collectively account for 87% (995 723) of all reported cases.

However, WHO has warned Africa against complacency as other regions of the world that have experienced similar trends find that as social and public health measures are relaxed, cases start ramping up again. 

In recent weeks, Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire which are among the countries that have recorded a decline in infections since mid-July, have seen a slight increase in cases. In most African countries schools are beginning to open and lockdowns have been lifted which could see a resurge in cases.

“Africa has not witnessed an exponential spread of COVID-19 as many initially feared,” said Dr. Moeti. “But the slower spread of infection in the region means we expect the pandemic to continue to smolder for some time, with occasional flare-ups.”

WHO still cautions that It is crucial that countries maintain public health measures that have helped curb the spread of COVID-19 to limit further infections and deaths.

“The response in African countries needs to be tailored to each country’s situation moving forward as we see different patterns of infection even within a country. Targeted and localized responses that are informed by what works best in a given region of a country will be most crucial as countries ease restrictions and open up their economies. Blanket approaches to the region or countries are not feasible,” Dr. Moeti said.

References: A virtual press conference on 23 September organized by APO Group.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Schools to innovate together showcasing how to improve education

By Esther Nakkazi 

Selected schools from all over the world will in a global conference learn and innovate together on how to improve education from the grass-roots up. In Uganda, the Wakadogo School in Rom village, Pece Acoyo, Gulu City has won the slot to participate in this ‘world’s biggest education conference’.

Centered on the theme of ‘Learning Today’, each of the 100 schools will host a virtual event to demonstrate how to bring change, based on their own experiences. The schools will gather online to share expertise and best practices in the inaugural World Education Week, from 5-9th October, in support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal on Quality Education (SDG 4) 

The ambition driving World Education Week is to accelerate progress to achieve UN SDG 4, a commitment designed to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all.

“The pupils and teachers of Wakadogo are thrilled to be selected to host a showcase event during World Education Week, which will allow schools all over the world to learn and innovate together, improving education from the grass-roots up," said School principal, Odong Charles Kigundi.  

"With our focus on arts education we are proud to be a founding showcase school of such an ambitious project, and are looking forward to our event,” said Kigundi. 

Vikas Pota, a globally-respected leader and driving force in the education, international development, philanthropy, and technology sectors says by sharing the ways in which Wakadogo has developed its particular expertise, there is hope that others will feel inspired to undertake the same journey to excellence. He says the World Education Week will provide an opportunity not just to learn from them, but to celebrate their successes too.

"What's exciting about World Education Week is the idea of schools around the world sharing their expertise with their peers. After a turbulent period in global education, this is a great way of building back better," says Andreas Schleicher, the Director for Education at the OECD.

"The sheer scale of educators around the globe combining to share expertise, excellence, and wisdom in accelerating learning is hugely impressive. If all educators learn from the best educators of their countries and of the world we would make immense progress in ensuring inclusive, equitable and quality education for all," says Jaime Saavedra, the Global Director for Education at the World Bank.

The one hundred schools have been hand-picked for their expertise across a range of educational themes, such as enhancing employability and life-skills; deepening family and community engagement; the use of technology; a focus on wellbeing; and promoting the science of learning and teaching. Each will share their wisdom with an online audience expected to reach 100,000 worldwide. 

The Wakadogo School will talk about a program that meaningfully engages families and the community to ensure children, especially girls, attend school and learn. World Education Week is an effort by thirty civil society organizations coming together after the record-breaking T4 conference on 30th May that was attended by over 100,000 teachers.

The event will be hosted from the World Education Week website, with registration opening from September 1st.

Monday, August 31, 2020

African businesses shift to cloud technology

African businesses are shifting to the cloud to organize, process, and present their data. In fact, many companies are using services like cloud-based email without noticing that they are embracing cloud technology.

The cloud enables remote working and service provision, regardless of where employees or organizations are located and since the hurdle of the distance between the customer and the company will be negated, African businesses will have access to a wider market just as workers will search for jobs beyond their national reach.

Patrick Ndegwa, the Business Sales Lead for SEACOM says organizations need to be able to adapt at the same speed as this new technology and take advantage of the opportunities it presents which will ensure business continuity and resilience in the long term.

The opportunities for Africa in cloud computing are immense including the Internet of Things which is set to become prominent as companies automate and optimize more processes as connected ‘smart’ machines are used. Interconnected systems mean that business processes and actual equipment will be linked to ensure ease of access and optimization. 

This has the power to significantly improve efficiency for businesses that can get it right, says Ndegwa. "As we progress into this digital world of work, systems will become more interlinked and intertwined, providing opportunities for companies that are ready to take advantage."

The cloud will also allow business flexibility and scalability enabling growth while reducing unnecessary costs as a result of more streamlined operating systems and access to more markets and a wider range of service providers.

Ensuring the safety and security of the business

The importance of security in this new cloud-connected world cannot be stressed enough. As more data is moved to a cloud environment, businesses that don’t take security seriously become more susceptible to data breaches.

User rights need to be properly managed and the relevant software put into place to prevent cyberattacks and data leaks. In addition to this, each individual accessing a system affects the safety of the wider network, so employee training is vital.

Accessing and managing data remotely will need to become a priority. The constant influx of data that is being collected and stored needs to be organised and used strategically. Regular backups are crucial in ensuring that information is safe and easily accessible should the original data be deemed at risk. This will ensure business continuity and reduce downtime.

Companies that stand to win will be those that partner with cloud providers that can help them put the right security measures in place.

According to research by 2025 all of the world’s data is expected to increase by five times. This data is estimated to be worth around 123.2 billion USD. In addition to this, the mobile cloud services market will be worth an estimated 95 billion USD by 2024. This trend also applies to Africa.

As Internet usage in Africa grows, so does the amount of data created - as well as the value of that data. Accessing these huge amounts of data won’t be the biggest challenge - making sense of it will be. Companies that can collect, collate, and analyze the sheer volume of data generated every day by their customers, employees, and other stakeholders stand to gain a lot. If you aren’t organizing your data and using it strategically, you will be left behind.

As we look to the future, the importance of partnering with a provider that can assist your business in meeting its operational needs to remain a top priority. A forward-thinking cloud partner can help your business plan for the future while making the most of the latest innovative technology.

By APO Group on behalf of SEACOM.

Monday, August 24, 2020

$1.5 million project to reduce aflatoxins in Uganda's staple foods launched

By Esther Nakkazi

A $1.5 million project to reduce aflatoxin contamination in staple crops to ensure safe and nutritious food that meets standards for export markets has started in Uganda. Uganda loses an estimated US$38 million annually in lost export opportunities because of aflatoxin.

Aflasafe - a safe and effective natural product for the integrated management of aflatoxin in the maize, sorghum, and groundnut value chain will be developed by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the National Agriculture Research Organization (NARO). 

The four-year project is funded by aBi Development Ltd and implemented by Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). 

Aflasafe ( is a natural product made up of strains of A. flavus that do not produce the poison and are coated on sterile sorghum grains. When applied in the field at the right time, it is able to displace toxin-producing Aspergillus strains, thereby reducing aflatoxins and making the crops safe.

"Minimizing aflatoxin contamination would have tremendous economic and health benefits to Uganda," said Dr. Godfrey Asea, Director of the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) during the launch held at NARO Uganda. 

Aflatoxin is a major challenge to the country's efforts towards food self-sufficiency. It is a top priority in Uganda and the government has flagged it in the Agriculture Sector Development Plan, says Dr. Asea. 

Studies estimate that Aflatoxin causes a loss in revenue in the markets due to contaminated products. 
Already Kenya and Tanzania use the
Aflasafe product that has been registered and is commercially available. 

Aflatoxin is a highly poisonous cancer-causing chemical produced by a fungus known as Aspergillus flavus that attacks crops such as maize and groundnut while in the field and in storage when they are not dried and stored properly. Aflatoxin also lowers the body's immunity and causes permanent and irreversible stunting in children and, in cases of acute poisoning, can lead to instant death. 

A country-led Aflatoxin situation analysis report entitled strengthening aflatoxin control in Uganda: policy recommendations by Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA), estimated 3,700 liver cancer cases reported in the country annually are attributable to aflatoxin contamination which translates to between US$144.3 and 577.2 million, or 0.53–2.14% of Uganda’s total GDP.

As well a 2014 study revealed high levels of exposure of Ugandans to aflatoxin. All adults (100%) who participated in the study had aflatoxin (average of 11.5 pg/mg) in their blood, while for children, 95.8% had detectable aflatoxin with an average level of 9.7 pg/mg.

"This project will support field trials on the efficacy of the selected strains in reducing aflatoxin contamination and identify the most effective combinations to form Aflasafe that will be officially released in the country. We will also conduct communication and awareness activities for the population, which is also key to an aflatoxin-free Uganda," said George Mahuku, the project manager at IITA.

Efforts to develop the Uganda-specific Aflasafe started in 2013 under the Aflatoxin Policy and Program for East Africa (APPEAR) project that was funded by USAID. It led to the identification of effective strains of A. flavus to be used to develop the biocontrol product. 

The APPEAR project also provided information on the major maize, groundnut, and sorghum regions that would help to implement the aBi-funded project.

Other project partners include the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives (MTIC), Ministry of Health (MoH), East Africa Grain Council (EAGC), Grain Council of Uganda (TGCU), Makerere University, and from the development sector, AGRA and aBi.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Higher dose of Hydroxyurea benefits Sickle Cell Anemia more, says study

By Esther Nakkazi

A study in Uganda that could revolutionalize the treatment delivery of sickle cell anemia in sub-Saharan Africa has shown that a higher dose of hydroxyurea is more effective for children.

Hydroxyurea, approved for sickle cell treatment in 1998 by FDA and was originally and it still is a cancer drug is the standard treatment for sickle cell disease in the U.S. and Europe but in much of sub-Saharan Africa, which has a high disease burden, it is not standard treatment. Sickle cell disease has been declared a major public health problem for sub-Saharan Africa by the World Health Organization.

The study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on 25th June 2020 shows that among children with sickle cell anemia in sub-Saharan Africa, hydroxyurea with dose escalation had superior clinical efficacy to that of fixed-dose hydroxyurea, with equivalent safety.

Researchers believe the study findings in Uganda will have a worldwide impact since an escalated dose is not currently the standard in some European countries and other regions.

In the randomized, double-blind trial, seeking to uncover the best treatment for sickle cell disease in sub-Saharan Africa, 200 children were divided into two groups with one group given a fixed dose of hydroxyurea, (approximately 20 mg per kilogram of body weight per day) and the other arm an escalating dose of (approximately 30 mg per kilogram per day).

The arm with the higher dose showed more benefit for the patients prompting the data and safety monitoring board to halt the trial early.

It was done by Indiana University School of Medicine (IUSM) in partnership with Robert Opoka, MMed, at Makerere University and Mulago Hospital in Uganda and funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Cincinnati Children’s Research Foundation.

“We hope this will change practice for the overwhelming majority of kids with sickle cell,” says Dr. Chandy John, a physician-scientist at IUSM’s Ryan White Center for Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Global Health and the study’s lead co-investigator.

“You increase the dose and make sure it’s safe at the higher dose because hydroxyurea has some side effects. But people didn’t want to do that in Africa, because it’s more complicated to do.”

The researchers also found that the escalating dose showed similar side effects as the fixed-dose and the financial cost of making the escalated dose standard in sub-Saharan Africa is not significant.

“To see this so unequivocally—to the point that the study’s [monitoring] board stopped the study early because they said the difference was so huge, it was not ethical to continue having two groups. None of us, including our sickle cell experts, expected the differences would be so huge. We were really shocked,” says Dr. Chandy John.

Researchers observed that the higher dose isn’t much more expensive, drug companies are subsidizing the medication, and the Ministry of Health of Uganda could classify it as an essential drug, meaning it would be provided for free.

However, the logistics of moving children in sub-Saharan Africa to the higher dose present challenges as it requires specialized providers - or pediatric hematologists.

“In rural areas, you can’t have a bunch of pediatric hematologists all over the country—that’s not practical, so training is needed for frontline healthcare workers in the basics of what to do with sickle cell,” says Dr. Chandy John.

The researchers' next set of studies is looking at very practical things about implementation where most of the affected children live. The study in Uganda was conducted at Mulago, a national referral hospital in the capital city, Kampala, but most kids with sickle cell are in rural areas with fewer resources.

“One study we’re proposing is…how do we practically implement this in lower-resource settings?,” says Dr. Chandy John. Sickle cell is a genetic disease that is not curable but preventable. In most communities in sub-Saharan Africa, there is a lot of ignorance about sickle cell disease with lots of myths and misconceptions about the disease.

At least 15,000 to 20,000 babies are born with sickle cell disease every year in Uganda, and 80 percent of them die before their 5th birthday. As a single disease, it could be killing more under-fives than any other although the statistics are scanty.


Tuesday, July 21, 2020

New technique revolutionizes eye imaging

By Esther Nakkazi

A new study shows it is possible to take magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) pictures of the eye as it moves across a scene, an artwork, or as we read.

Eye motion is a major confound for MRI in neuroscience or ophthalmology and the technique will open new possibilities in fields such as sleep and dream research and more generally for understanding brain activity in disorders of consciousness.

The new MRI technique published in the journal Progress in Neurobiology reveals for the first time simultaneous details about the eye, its musculature, and oculomotor properties and analysis of its anatomy and neurophysiology according to a press release from the centre Hospitalier universitaire Vaudois.

The study conducted by the Radiology Department of the University Hospital Center and University of Lausanne (CHUV-UNIL) as well as Fondation Asile des aveugles (FAA) is based on recent advances in MRI that allow for taking many snapshots of an object that repeatedly moves, such as the beating heart or moving eye.

Researchers can also study eye position even when the eyes are closed which would open new possibilities in fields such as sleep and dream research as well as more generally for understanding brain activity in disorders of consciousness.

“This is the first time scientists are able to image the eye while it moves, establishing a link between behavior and anatomy," says Dr. Benedetta Franceschielo, a post-doctoral fellow and lead author of the study, who works in the team of Professor Micah Murray, principal investigator of this project.

"This will open a new field of ophthalmic MRI, where we will be finally able to combine multiple assessments within a single, fast, session. The applications are infinite. They span from medical diagnosis to eye-brain mechanisms,” explains Dr. Franceschielo.

Eye movements are a major obstacle for imaging the eye, especially in the cases of children, the elderly, or patients with eye disease. The necessity to fixate ordinarily restricts the range of compliant participants; something often challenging for pediatric and aged populations alike.

“We have removed the onus of maintaining central fixation. Because we used standard MRI equipment and eye-tracking hardware, the approach we have developed and validated is readily deployed to the broad scientific community and impacts not only the breadth of participant inclusion but also the extent of naturalistic paradigms that can be investigated," said Professor Murray about the wider impact of this new technological advancement.

“Five years ago, this research would not have been feasible. Only at the confluence of staggering progress in hardware, software, and methodology development in a university setting did this become possible,” says Professor Stuber.

Supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, the team of researchers is composed of neuroscientists, engineers, mathematicians, and optometrists from laboratories of Professors Micah Murray and Matthias Stuber at the Radiology Department of the CHUV- UNIL, the Center for Biomedical Imaging (CIBM), and FAA.

The team is now refining this technique to optimize it and make it versatile for clinical application in the field of ophthalmology. This invention not only represents a turning point in the way scientists study the eyes but also in cognitive neuroscience.

It has also recently demonstrated its value by allowing the creation of new protocols both in the field of diagnosis in ophthalmology as well as in visual rehabilitation.

Reference: Progress in Neurobiology.
Benedetta Franceschiello, Lorenzo Di Sopra, Astrid Minier, Silvio Ionta, David Zeugin, Michael P.Notter, Jessica A.M.Bastianseen, Joao Jorge, Jérôme Yerly, Mat- thias Stuber, Micah M.Murray.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

More agriculture funding in Africa should be devoted to Agroecology

By Esther Nakkazi

The bulk of Africa's agricultural funding should be devoted to agroecology - an agricultural practice that builds sustainable and resilient food systems and will transform food and farming systems, experts advise.

Only 3% of Gates Foundation projects the world’s biggest philanthropic investor in agricultural development in Africa support ‘agroecology’ and 85% of projects funded by the Foundation are limited to developing industrial agriculture. 30% of farms around the world are estimated to have redesigned their production systems around agroecological principles.

Agroecology works with nature combining different plants and animals and uses natural synergies rather than synthetic chemicals to regenerate soils, fertilize crops and fight pests. It also improves farmers’ livelihoods through diverse income streams, resilience to shocks, and short supply chains that retain value in the community meaning it has the potential to reconcile the economic, environmental, and social dimensions of sustainability.

However, despite its benefits most funding to Africa's agriculture goes to industrial agriculture - which has failed to assure food and nutritional security in a positive social and environmental context.

“With the compound challenges of climate change, pressure on land and water, food-induced health problems and pandemics such as COVID, we need change now. And this starts with money flowing into agroecology,” says Biovision president Hans Herren.

“We need to change funding flows and unequal power relations. It’s clear that in Africa as elsewhere, vested interests are propping up agricultural practices based on an obsession with technological fixes that are damaging soils and livelihoods and creating a dependency on the world’s biggest agribusinesses. Agroecology offers a way out of that vicious cycle,” says Olivia Yambi, co-chair of IPES-Food.

A new report finds that support for agroecology is now growing across the agri-development community particularly in light of climate change, but this hasn’t yet translated into a meaningful shift in funding flows.

A new report shows funding for Africa agriculture goes to industrial agriculture

The report by BiovisionIPES-Food, and the UK-based Institute of Development Studies reveals that money flows for agricultural development in Africa are to industrial agriculture which has failed to assure food and nutritional security in a positive social and environmental context.

Industrial agriculture is defined as the large-scale, intensive production of crops and livestock, often involving the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers on crops and pesticides.

“Most governments, both in developing and developed countries still favor ‘green revolution’ approaches, with the belief that industrial agriculture is the only way to produce sufficient food,” says  Herren.

“But these approaches have failed,” warns Herren, winner of the 1995 World Food Prize and 2013 Right Livelihood Award. “They have failed ecosystems, farming communities, and an entire continent,” he said.

 As many as 85% of projects funded by the Gates Foundation, the world’s biggest philanthropic investor in agricultural development, are limited to developing industrial agriculture.

The report says 13% of projects by Kenyan research institutes are agroecological. Another 13% focus on replacing synthetic inputs with organic alternatives. Some 51% of Swiss-funded projects have agroecological components, but only a handful are truly systemic.

The Money Flows report looks at investments in sub-Saharan Africa with a focus on Switzerland, a major bilateral donor, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the biggest philanthropic investor in agri-development and Kenya, one of Africa’s leading recipients and implementers of agricultural research for development or AgR4D.

More than 60 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is smallholder farmers, and about 23 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP comes from agriculture, according to the McKinsey & Co. consulting firm.

“What needs to happen is for investments in AgR4D to target agroecology because the industrial agriculture and food model has shown its many weaknesses and failures to assure food and nutritional security in a positive social and environmental context,” says Hans Herren.

Kenya is one of Africa’s leading recipients and implementers of agricultural research for development (AgR4D). The country ranks third in sub-Saharan Africa in spending on agricultural research after Nigeria and South Africa. Around 13% of projects carried out by Kenyan research institutes are ‘agroecological’, with a further 13% of projects focussing on the substitution of synthetic inputs.

To accelerate this shift, the report calls on donors to a shift towards long-term, pooled funding models; require projects to be co-designed with farmers and communities; increase the share of funding going to African organizations; and increase transparency in how their projects are funded, monitored and measured for impact.

The study was carried out by Biovision Foundation for Ecological Development, a not-for-profit organisation involved in ecological and sustainable development projects in Africa, in collaboration with the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), an independent, expert panel that works towards the transition to sustainable food systems, and the UK’s Institute for Development Studies.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

COVID-19 will widen digital divide in Africa - What are the solutions?

By Esther Nakkazi

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic will increase the digital divide in sub-Saharan Africa and the quality and inequality of education could widen further for learners at all levels.

The digital divide will be widened because not all the learners will have uniform access to gadgets like laptops or phones, the cost of data packages is a deterrent, with one gigabit (GB) of data, which is enough to stream a standard film for one hour costing nearly an average of a monthly wage for people living in sub-Sahara. 

The World Bank says 85% of Africans live on less than $5.50 a day.

Education experts discussing at an e-learning webinar organized by Axiom learning solutions held on 28th April agreed that the digital divide is further widened by inequality between the rich and poor, the rural and urban, women and men.

According to UNESCO, only 47% of households are connected to the internet in developed countries and 19% in the least developed countries. 

Globally, women are 23% less likely than men to use mobile internet. The gap is widest in South Asia, followed by sub-Saharan Africa.

Experts recommend that specifically after COVID-19 higher education has to be considered as a business to be effective and efficient. 

A case in point is the Botho University, which in 2008 implemented a policy to equip all its students with laptops with a purpose to integrate distance learning into the campus learning approach.

“Owning a laptop was not a luxury but a pre-requisite for learning. Giving them laptops as learning gadgets in 2008 is what has put us at an advantage today,” explained Aravinda Ram, the Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Employability and Technology, Botho University, the largest private tertiary education provider in Botswana.

“We bring the advantages of running a corporate into the education sector,” said Ram who said they are running the university as a business.

What are the solutions to addressing the digital divide?

"The future of education is different after COVID-19 and may require traditional in-person classroom learning to be complemented with virtual reality learning experiences," said Mansur Liman, the Director-General of Federal Corporation of Radio Nigeria (FCRN).

The solution to the digital divide is to deliver the lectures online or offline, broadcast through TV, and especially through radio, which is used by about 80-90 households in sub-Saharan Africa.

Professor Aziz EL Hajir the program specialist, ICT4E & ICT4D at the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) said after COVID-19 education could permanently be shifted towards online and open education.

Liman who argued that the solution to the digital divide is radio, which is affordable since television sets could be pricey for poor families and electricity for access could be unavailable to rural residents also said production costs for instructors for TV programs could also be a problem further widening the digital divide.

Radio is a powerful mass media and has been used by traditional BBC for learning English since April 4, 1924, when the first national education program aired.

However, although radio could be a solution to create equity the issue of it being a ‘one-way’ with limited feedback from students and what would happen to subjects that require the students to do practicals.

“Radio is a virtual classroom but you have to combine it with another form of technology to make it a reality. The radio may solve the digital divide but it needs to have add-ons like texts, SMS,” said Liman. Lecturers have created WhatsApp groups where students can reach them.

“There will need to segment the markets because there is no size fits all,” advised Mr. Ade Adekola, an advisory board member at Axiom Learning Solutions. 

Adekola said the pandemic may divert scarce resources and will take a while before we get policy change but opportunities exist which shall require Africa to leapfrog and benefit from new technology.

Although education could be shifted online and complemented with classroom experience the issue of assessing students knowing that their parents and other relatives are supporting them remains a critical concern. 

If teaching is done online it will be difficult to know what marks to give the students.
Aravinda Ram cited using quizzes, online lessons for assessment, and plagiarism software. 

However, for students in rural areas, Africa could rely on postal services to deliver the paper-based assessments. She advised that a lot of consultation along the way needed to be done by the government, for the students, parents, and all stakeholders.

Professor Aziz said continuous assessment has to be done to maintain fairness and equity but the solution for the digital divide has to be driven from the grassroots.

“The digital divide will leave some students behind but those can be assessed on a case-by-case basis but we have to move on,” said Aravinda Ram.


Saturday, April 18, 2020

China approves herbal treatment for Coronavirus disease

By Esther Nakkazi

China has certified three patented traditional medicines for treatment of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The three Chinese patented medicines -Jinhua Qinggan Granule, Lianhua Qingwen Capsule and Xuebijing Injection prescriptions were developed by the Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and have been clinically proven effective for COVID-19 treatment, China media reports.

Jinhua Qinggan Granule was developed during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic and is effective in treating mild and moderate COVID-19 patients. Lianhua Qingwen capsule is also effective in treating mild and moderate patients, especially in improving symptoms like fever, cough and fatigue. Xuebijing Injection is used in treating severe and critically ill patients. It can increase the recovery rate and reduce the deterioration rate, the researchers said. 

Jinhua Qinggan and Lianhua Qingwen Capsules have their recommended use detailed in China’s Diagnosis and Treatment Protocol for Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia.

Li Yu, the director of the Department of Science and Technology at the National Administration of TCM said they have enacted a task force charged with advancing TCM research – this will target medium and long term mechanisms of integrating traditional Chinese Medicine and western medicine for the prevention and control of infectious diseases.

The task force has an expert group, which is composed of academicians, the Chinese Academy of Engineering and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, TCM masters and experts, and pharmaceutical experts, said Li Yu.

The task force will also look into research with traditional medicine to research on cases that have been cured by this treatment and the asymptomatic cases.

Zhang Boli, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and president of Tianjin University of TCM said one of the three medicines, Lianhua Qingwen capsule, has won approval to enter the Thai market, and French researchers plan to conduct clinical research into using it to treat patients.

“After more than two months of clinical research, we have chosen the three medicines out of hundreds of TCM medicines that are effective in treating cold and flu,” he said. “By introducing the medicines abroad, we hope that they can save more people as the pandemic continues to worsen globally.”

Wang Rongbing, director physician with Beijing Ditan Hospital, said the prescription has been used at 28 provincial regions in treating COVID-19 patients in all stages with various symptoms, yielding good outcomes.

Wang said of the 1,265 confirmed cases in 66 designated hospitals in 10 provincial regions that have used the Xuebijing Injection none has shown worsened symptoms with 99% of patients discharged by March 23, Wang said at a news conference.

The Chinese government has acknowledged the important role TCM has played in treating COVID-19 patients and has added treatment of the virus to the specifications of three traditional medicines.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Who safeguards journalists against the coronavirus pandemic

By Esther Nakkazi

Zimbabwe's first death from Covid-19 is a journalist. A fine broadcaster Zororo Makamba, 30, was  Zimbabwe's second reported positive Covid-19 patient, health and child care minister Obadiah Moyo said on Saturday.

Makamba died three days after admission with 'severe respiratory distress' at the Wilkins Infectious Diseases hospital in Harare, the city’s only Covid-19 facility media reports say.

The journalist traveled to New York on February 29 returning on March 12th. The trip was either private or for work or for both we are not sure. Most likely Makamba contracted Covid-19 from the journey, it is unexplained. On his return to Harare, his movements were unrestricted. He met some bankers for 15 minutes, one bank revealed.

The current Coronavirus pandemic has journalists worldwide highly exposed to Covid-19 as any frontline workers in any public service delivery.

Unfortunately, in Africa, more-so in Uganda a few media houses have provided their staff with personal protective gear or equipment (PPE) as they gather Covid-19 updates. It is worse with freelance journalists. Without choice, they work unprotected. It is frustrating.

The Health Journalists Network in Uganda (HEJNU) founded in 2011, with about 80 members, who cover science and based at different media houses around the country has a WhatsApp group with about 70 health/science reporters.

The daily practice is that HEJNU members share information, contacts, and anything related to the media or health and science only. Since the coronavirus outbreak more members take time to share their stories, tips, and frustrations. Lack of personal protective equipment is a sore spot.

Today, one member shared a TV story he recorded working without wearing protective gear. The HEJNU member was covering a story about quarantined Chinese nationals who had refused to
undergo the 14 days mandatory self-isolation.

Besides admiring his fearlessness members rebuked him for not wearing protective gear and risking his health - all echoing  'no story worth your life'. Media houses have a duty to provide journalists with protective gear!

At HEJNU we all cautioned ourselves to work from home in the absence of protective gear and share information (which is hard, but times are tough).

Ida Jooste, an Internews media trainer and global health media adviser says now journalists need to rethink how they work; from home, asking trusted sources to send comments, doing interviews through calls among other tasks.

As journalists now more than ever, during the coronavirus pandemic we should consider sharing video footage, tips, contacts, audio recordings, few media houses will provide protective gear although they should put our safety ahead of stories and counting eyeballs.

We owe the public accurate and, timely updates about the pandemic. These can only be provided by healthy journalists.

RIP- Zororo Makamba

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Observed reduced air pollution over China amidst COVID-19

By Esther Nakkazi

As a result of the reduction in daily traffic and industry activities in China since the COVID-19 outbreak, climate monitoring services have noticed a reduction in air pollution.

The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) reports that it observed a decrease of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) for the month of February relative to the previous three years. PM2.5 is one of the most important air pollutants regarding health impacts according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

PM2.5 is used to describe particles that are 2.5 micrometres and smaller in size. These particles, either solid, gas or liquid in composition, have potential to pose serious health problems when inhaled into the respiratory system and are known to trigger or worsen chronic diseases and other respiratory problems.

When comparing the difference between the monthly average for February 2020 and the mean of monthly averages for February 2017, 2018 and 2019, it clearly shows that these analyses indicate a reduction of about 20-30 % in surface PM2.5 over large parts of China in February 2020 based on information from the satellite observations, says the CAMS. 

The reduction in PM2.5 can likely be attributed in part to the slow-down in activity due to measures against the COVID-19 spread, the report says.

Vincent-Henri Peuch, Director of CAMS said they do not discount other variables next to the shutdown potentially playing a role in the decrease. For instance, China has actively been trying to reduce emissions, and meteorological variability between different years.

"To subtract these variables out of the equation, we set the duration of three years 2017-2019 to estimate the ‘business as usual’ conditions as a compromise to have a representative estimate of February’s monthly mean, while not considering too long of a period over which emissions vary substantially because of long-term trends,” said Peuch.

CAMS monitors PM2.5 over China by combining observations from satellites with detailed computer models of the atmosphere resulting in daily analyses.

To further substantiate this finding, CAMS also produced the same difference between February 2020 and the February mean for 2017-2019 without using the satellite observations. Because the PM2.5 values are in this case only dependent on the prescribed emissions and the meteorological conditions, it can provide a reference for the difference where satellite information was used as well.