Daily Archives: May 17, 2018

Practices in Place to Contain Ebola Outbreak in DRC

The deadly Ebola virus has broken out in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but things are very different this time in the speed of response and tools available for this outbreak versus the one that hit West Africa in 2014-2016. For one, the World Health Organization is already involved.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director of the WHO, led a delegation to the DRC May 13 that included Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, and Dr. Peter Salama, WHO deputy director-general for emergency preparedness and response. Tedros and the others went to personally evaluate the response to the country’s Ebola outbreak and meet with President Joseph Kabila and the country’s minister of health.

Stephen Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Center at a Washington research organization, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, conducted research on the West African outbreak that claimed more than 11,000 lives and is carefully watching the current outbreak in a rural area of northeast DRC.

I thought it was very commendable and a great sign of the change of outlook that Dr. Tedros was personally there on the ground, and that was very important, Morrison said. It rallies the troops, it shows determination and commitment and speed.

Rapid response

One of the changes from the 2014 outbreak is that the WHO has an emergency fund to get experts in place to start to contain the outbreak.

A team left Wednesday for the country’s rural northwest. The first batch of experimental Ebola vaccines arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo May 16 and will be administered to health care workers and those exposed to the virus in days. Merck, the pharmaceutical giant that makes the vaccine, has promised the WHO to supply whatever is needed for this outbreak. Although the vaccine is not licensed, and therefore is called experimental, it was proved safe and effective in West Africa.

A multidisciplinary team, including WHO experts and staff from Medecins Sans FrontiAres (Doctors Without Borders), has been in Bikoro, where the outbreak first occurred May 10. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has personnel in place. In addition, the World Food Program is providing an air bridge to get the vaccine and supplies to the affected region with several flights a day. Treatment centers that isolate the sick are in place, as are hand-washing stations containing a solution of bleach and water to kill the virus.

‘A lot of learning’

Morrison said what is unfolding in Central Africa shows a lot of learning and a different pattern of response. The response to this outbreak has been quite different from a very delayed response over a six month period in 2014 in the outbreak in West Africa.

That, and that this is the ninth Ebola outbreak in the DRC since 1974, when the country was named Zaire and the virus was named after the Ebola River, near the source of the outbreak. Morrison points out that Congo has a lot of experience in dealing with outbreaks of Ebola, but Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia in West Africa hadn’t experienced Ebola until 2014. The international response was slow, and more than 11,000 people died as a result.

Morrison says a lot of lessons were learned from that epidemic. Even though the virus is in a remote, rural area, no one involved is complacent.

We are very concerned, and we are planning for all scenarios, including the worst case scenario, Dr. Salama said.

In that scenario, the virus could travel to heavily populated urban areas and get out of control. Bikoro is on a lake that feeds into rivers that connect to Kinshasa, Brazzaville and other major cities. In Congo the government, WHO and others are working to make sure, if at all possible, this doesn’t happen.

Source: Voice of America

Burundians Vote on Changes That Would Extend President’s Term

Burundians went to the polls Thursday to vote “yes” or “no” on proposed changes to the constitution. The changes, among other things, could pave the way for the president to stay in office for another 16 years.

Voters in Burundi trooped to polling centers to cast their ballot in Thursday’s referendum. In the voting booth, they faced one basic question, do you accept or reject the proposed changes to the 2005 constitution?

The proposals include extending the presidential mandate from five to seven years, creation of a prime minister post and giving the ruling party the power to fire an elected lawmaker found to be breaking the law and constitution.

If adopted, the changes will give current President Pierre Nkurunziza a chance to run for another two terms. Nkurunziza has ruled Burundi since 2005.

It is important to change the constitution because there are some laws that are good, others not, but we need to change it as Burundians. I voted yes. We want change and we want to see change better than the one we have, said businesswoman Muamini Mosi who lives in Bujumbura.

Burundi has been rocked by political violence since Nkurunziza ran for a third term in 2015, defying critics who said he was violating the constitution and the Arusha Agreement that ended the country’s civil war.

Due to the 2015 controversy, the government says there is need to change the constitution to provide a clear direction on the term limit issue.

One person who voted “no” on the changes told VOA the country needs to stick with the constitution as it is.

I do not know what they have written, what they have changed. I am forced to vote no because I believe previous constitution and the Arusha agreement has helped us with the peace we enjoy today. I voted no in the hope we can remain with the old constitution.

Mechanic Manirakiza Shindano says today’s vote is more of a survival for him.

I am voting for my safety and security. As a citizen we want development we do not want violence. We want to do our work peacefully, he said.

Human rights organizations had called for postponing the referendum, citing threats to civilians from the youth wing of the ruling party, the Imbonerakure.

The vote proceeded without much trouble in most parts of the country. But some polling stations visited by VOA lacked election monitors. Their absence may raise more questions about the legitimacy of the process.

The electoral commission has until Saturday to announce the result of Thursday’s vote.

Source: Voice of America

Rebels With a Cause: Women Bikers Saving Lives in Nigeria

Whenever the all-female Nigerian biker group D’Angels hits the streets, people would stare in amazement at the sight of women on motorbikes. So they made up their minds to use the attention for a good cause.

Enter the Female Bikers Initiative (FBI), which has provided free breast and cervical cancer screening to 500 women in Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos.

This August, D’Angels and another female biker group in Lagos, Amazon Motorcycle Club, plan to provide free screening to 5,000 women, a significant undertaking in a country where many lack access to proper health care.

What touched us most was the women, D’Angels co-founder Nnenna Samuila, 39, told the Thomson Foundation by phone from Lagos.

Some asked if the bikes really belonged to us. Some asked if they could sit on our bikes. We decided to use the opportunity to do something to touch women’s lives.

Major killers

Breast and cervical cancer are huge killers in Nigeria, accounting for half the 100,000 cancer deaths each year, according to the World Health Organization. Screening and early detection can dramatically reduce the mortality rate for cervical cancer in particular.

But oncologist Omolola Salako, whose Lagos charity partnered with the FBI last year, says there is not enough awareness of the need for screening.

Among the 600-plus women we have screened since October, about 60 percent were being screened for the first time, said Salako, executive director of Sebeccly Cancer Care. It was the first time they were hearing about it.

Even if women do know they should be screened, affordability is a barrier, said Salako, whose charity provides the service for free and also raises funds to treat cancer patients.

Raising awareness

This year the bikers will put on a week of awareness-raising and mobile screening, after which free screenings will be available at Sebeccly every Thursday for the rest of the year.

Members of the two clubs and any other female bikers who want to join in will ride through the streets, to schools, malls and other public places, distributing fliers and talking to women about the importance of screening.

All the bikers turn up, said Samuila, one of five women on the FBI’s board of trustees. We just need to tell them, this is the location for the activity, and this is what we need you to do.

Last year their funds, from private and corporate donors, could only stretch to two mastectomies, and they hope they will be able to sponsor more treatments this year.

We encourage this person to come, and then she finds out that something is wrong and you abandon her, said Samuila, a former telecoms executive who now runs her own confectionery and coffee company. We would love to be able to follow up with whatever comes out of the testing.

This is just the latest in a number of projects the bikers have organized.

In 2016 they launched Beyond Limits, a scheme to encourage young girls to fulfill their potential beyond societal expectations of marriage and babies. They travel to schools to give talks and invite senior women working in science, technology and innovation to take part.

Turning point

Samuila formed D’Angels with 37-year-old Jeminat Olumegbon in 2009 after they were denied entry to the established, all-male bikers’ groups in Lagos.

They didn’t want us. They were like, ‘No, women don’t do this. Women are used to being carried around. Why don’t you guys just be on the sidelines?’ That sort of pissed us off and we then went on to form our own club, Samuila said.

In 2010, the pair rode from Lagos to the southern city of Port Harcourt to attend a bikers’ event, a 617-km (383-mile) trip that the men had told them was impossible for a woman.

That was the turning point in our relationship with the male bikers, Samuila said.

The two-day ride earned them a new respect from the male riders, some of whom now take part in the screening awareness programs themselves.

Bigger challenges

In 2015 Olumegbon, also an FBI board member, took on an even bigger challenge riding 20,000 km through eight West African countries in 30 days to raise funds for children in orphanages.

I’ve been riding since 2007. At first, I was the only female riding, then I found Nnenna and the other girls, she said. Because we started riding, more females decided to look inwards, and decided that they could do so as well.

The bikers plan to extend their initiative to other parts of Nigeria, and have also received invitations from women riders in other West African countries.

For now though, they want to focus on making sure their efforts reach every woman in Lagos.

When we speak to people on the streets, many don’t even know of cervical cancer, Samuila said. It’s so painful to hear that so many people are dying from the disease when it can be prevented.

Source: Voice of America


ADDIS ABABA–The Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an eight-nation Horn of Africa bloc, has brought together South Sudan’s warring parties to discuss governance and security issues ahead of a new round of peace talks scheduled for Thursday.

According to IGAD, the consultation session in Addis Ababa on Tuesday and Wednesday provided South Sudanese parties with key information to enable them to identify optimal security arrangements, power-sharing options and challenges associated with a Transitional Government of National Unity.

It is “an opportunity for the key representatives of the parties, leading on governance and security issues, to revisit general principles and practices relating to governance and security issues during political transitions,” and IGAD statement said.

The IGAD Director of Peace and Security Division, Tewolde Gebremeskel, told representatives of the South Sudanese warring parties that the seminar on governance and security was organized in order to support the parties’ deliberations during the High-Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF) beginning on Thursday.

“In the intervening period between Phase II of the HLRF and today, IGAD Council of Ministers have been engaging with your respective parties in Juba, Addis Ababa, and Pretoria, in order to bridge the gaps in your divergent views on the outstanding substantive issues,” Gebremeskel said.

The session on South Sudan’s governance system and security situations will be followed by a new HLRF aimed at bring about a peace agreement among the warring parties towards ending the conflict in the world’s youngest nation, according to IGAD.

South Sudan descended into violence in December 2013 following a political dispute between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy president-turned-rebe- chief Riek Machar led to split within the SPLA, leaving soldiers to fight alongside ethnic lines.

The 2015 peace agreement to end the conflict was weakened after the outbreak of renewed fighting in July 2016 caused the SPLA-in opposition rebel leader Machar to flee the capital.



CAPE TOWN– Rwanda’s state airline, RwandAir, has added Cape Town to its international route network with the first flight touching down at Cape Town International Airport Wednesday.

The four-hour flights from Kigali to Cape Town will be operated four times a week. The airline currently flies to 26 destinations, including several African cities, London and a number of other European cities.

RwandAir Quality Assurance Director Sonia Kamikazi says the flight to and from Cape Town would include a stopover in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare.

A lot of research has been done by our analysts, our network department and our commercial department and that’s how they come up with a sector with a stopover to Harare because Harare was showing that its missing this sector. We believe it will work well.