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New United Nations study finds digital payments to Ebola response workers saved lives and $10 million
May 18, 2016 | 0 Comments

By using digital payments to pay Ebola response workers, Sierra Leone massively cut payment times, avoiding large-scale strikes and ensuring a stable workforce to defeat Ebola. Sierra Leone’s experience shows the critical importance of preparing early for digital payments before crises hit.

A nurse displays her text notification of mobile money in Freetown (@UNDP Sierra Leone)

A nurse displays her text notification of mobile money in Freetown (@UNDP Sierra Leone)

Mobile phones serving as digital “wallets” for payments to response workers proved an invaluable tool in Sierra Leone’s response to the Ebola crisis, according to a new study from the United Nations-based Better Than Cash Alliance .

With economic instability, natural disasters and political conflict now taking place at unprecedented rates, the new research offers valuable lessons on how to harness the power of technology to help emergency workers reach more people by paying them digitally during crises. The country has been Ebola free since January.

The report comes just ahead of the first ever United Nations World Humanitarian summit set to begin next week.

The study shows digital payments delivered compelling results in Sierra Leone, including:

  • Cost savings of US $10.7 million for the government, taxpayers, development partners and response workers – the equivalent of funding Sierra Leone’s Free Health Care Program catering for 1.4 million children and 250,000 pregnant women annually.
  • Reducing payment times from over one month on average for cash to one week.
  •  Preventing the loss of around 800 working days per month from the Ebola response workforce, helping save lives during this critical time.
  • Saving response workers around $80,000 per month in travel costs by avoiding lengthy journeys to cash payment centers.

Crucially, Sierra Leone’s experience shows the critical importance of governments, companies, and international organizations working together to develop policy frameworks, infrastructure and operating guidelines for digital payments before crises strike.

“Sierra Leone’s firsthand experience with digital payments and its impact on Ebola response and control taught us that, Governments like ours must take this growing payment system seriously as it can significantly contribute to inclusive growth and transparency,” said H.E. Momodu L. Kargbo, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Finance and Economic Development.  “In developing the partnership with private sector, development organizations, the Central Bank, financial institutions, network providers; and building the foundation for an inclusive digital payment system, Government must take the lead.”

Sierra Leone was one of the hardest-hit countries during the Ebola outbreak, with more than 14,000 reported cases of the 28,000 total cases in West Africa . Ebola response workers were spread across Sierra Leone’s 14 districts, including many health units in rural areas. The speed with which Ebola spread meant the government needed a more efficient, reliable and secure tool than cash to manage payments to response workers in a country where there were fewer than 50 ATMs when the outbreak struck.

Digital payments offered a powerful solution, particularly given Sierra Leone already had mobile network coverage across nearly 95 percent of the country, and more than 90 percent of response workers with access to a mobile phone.

One of the major challenges of cash is that it is expensive, slow, difficult to transport and vulnerable to theft, graft and payment errors. Late or incorrect payments to response workers often led to strikes during past emergencies and at the start of the Ebola crisis before digital payments were implemented.

In Sierra Leone, digital payments reduced these strikes from an average of eight per month – causing the loss of about 800 working days per month – to virtually zero.

“Ebola response workers put their lives at risk every day. It was vitally important they received all the money they earned, with no skimming or theft. They got it immediately, as their families had no other income; and only legitimate workers got paid – no one else. Paying Ebola response workers directly into a digital wallet instead of cash met these goals, saved lives and over $10 million,” said Dr. Ruth Goodwin-Groen, Managing Director of The Better Than Cash Alliance. “Sierra Leone’s experience shows the critical importance of developing and implementing national policy frameworks and supporting infrastructure to drive effective and flexible digital payments ecosystems in advance of humanitarian crises.”

The vast majority of the cost savings were due to eliminating payments to people who were not legitimate Ebola response workers, known as “ghost workers”.  The money saved was given to those who really needed it.
The Better Than Cash Alliance  is a global partnership of governments, companies, and international organizations that accelerate the transition from cash to digital payments in order to reduce poverty and drive inclusive growth. The United Nations Capital Development Fund serves as the secretariat.

*APO

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Patrick Ekeng’s death prompts calls for ‘better care’ at stadiums
May 17, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Piers Edwards*

Cameroon midfielder Patrick Ekeng died after collapsing on the pitch while playing for Dinamo Bucharest in Romania

Cameroon midfielder Patrick Ekeng died after collapsing on the pitch while playing for Dinamo Bucharest in Romania

Fifa’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jiri Dvorak, is to ask football’s world governing body to implement tougher rules on stadium medical care.

His comments come in the wake of the death of Cameroon’s Patrick Ekeng.

The 26-year-old died of a suspected heart attack on 6 May playing for Dinamo Bucharest in Romania, with the ambulance that treated him having no defibrillator.

“At professional football matches, there should be an automatic external defibrillator (AED) on the sidelines and staff adequately trained to use it,” Dvorak told BBC Sport.

“I will pass this on to the [Fifa] Council for a strategic decision so that we can implement it within our member associations.”

An AED is a device that sends a powerful electric shock to a heart to try to restore its natural rhythm.

Professor Jiri Dvorak’s reaction to Patrick Ekeng’s ambulance not having an AED:
The question is why then have the ambulance there? If you have an ambulance, it is an absolute must to have a defibrillator within the ambulance.

Following the death of another Cameroonian, Marc-Vivien Foe, in 2003, Fifa has ensured that all of its international competitions take place in stadiums with sufficient medical equipment.

“We also have to see that competitions at national levels have the same standard of care,” said Dvorak.

“We have to intensify this campaign all over the world.”

Following Ekeng’s death, his agent Hasan Anil Eken proposed a new ruling called the ‘Eken’g Rule’ in which he called on Fifa to make small hospitals a mandatory requirement for every stadium.

This came after what the Turk described as ‘unacceptable mistakes’ in the treatment of Ekeng, who was buried in Cameroon on Sunday.

Ekeng’s medical assistance is currently subject to an inquiry by prosecutors in Romania after the ambulance company was heavily criticised by the country’s Interior Ministry.

In a statement, the Ministry said the company Puls had chosen to supply ambulances without defibrillators ‘without previously acquiring the legal approval in this respect.’

An investigation into other ambulances provided by Puls discovered defibrillator machines with expired batteries while some medicine, such as adrenaline shots, had expired.

“There were unacceptable mistakes caused to lose his life, with wrong doctor intervention and a lack of medical equipment like defibrillator,” Eken said in his letter to Fifa.

“In these kinds of injuries, every second is very important to save lives.”

Fifa says players that have suffered sudden cardiac arrest have ‘a success rate of 90% for resuscitation’ if they receive treatment from an AED within 1-2 minutes, with the probability of success declining at a rate of ‘about 10% per minute’ thereafter.

Video evidence shows that Ekeng was still in the insufficiently-equipped ambulance on the pitch two minutes and 45 seconds after he collapsed, prior to being taken to hospital.

Dvorak has welcomed Eken’s proposal for better facilities inside a stadium but suggests logistical and financial concerns rule it out as a possibility.

“The mini-hospital is a good idea, but this is not feasible to establish all around the world,” said the Czech.

“Having a defibrillator and educated staff is currently sufficient to deal with the situation.”

Dvorak also revealed his reaction to hearing that the ambulance treating Ekeng had no defibrillator.

“The question is why then have the ambulance there? If you have an ambulance, it is an absolute must to have a defibrillator within the ambulance.”

Paramedics who treated Fabrice Muamba when he collapsed at White Hart Lane in 2012 have credited the use of an AED on the Bolton Wanderers player as he lay on the pitch as being critical to his survival.

In 2013, Fifa issued a Medical Emergency Bag, which contains an AED among other equipment, to all its member associations, but this is largely used for international – not club – matches.

This month alone, three players have died of suspected heart attacks – with Brazil’s Bernardo Ribeiro and another Cameroonian, Jeanine Christelle Djomnam, as well as Ekeng.

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Uganda cancer patients in limbo after radiotherapy machine breaks
April 23, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Catherine Byaruhanga*

Health Minister Elioda Tumwesigye "We're the ones who buy all the coffins, to take people when they die. We're the ones who sometimes pay bills of these patients... So we know."

Health Minister Elioda Tumwesigye
“We’re the ones who buy all the coffins, to take people when they die. We’re the ones who sometimes pay bills of these patients… So we know.”

Ugandan cancer patient Victoria Akware is stuck in a harrowing limbo.

The 55-year-old sold her land to help pay for her long trip to the capital, Kampala, to get treatment at the country’s only specialist cancer unit.

But the radiotherapy machine, the only one of its kind in Uganda, that may have helped cure her cervical cancer has broken down beyond repair.

The only option for radiotherapy treatment is to travel to neighbouring Kenya, which she cannot afford. In fact, she cannot even afford the journey home, and so is living at a hostel for women cancer patients wondering what to do next.

Victoria Akware – Cancer patient

“I feel terrible, plus I’m in pain and I don’t have money for expenses,” Ms Akware says. “We are broke, there is no money to do anything. What remains is to pray to God to help me.”

She smiles through the pain, but is left thinking about the financial sacrifices that she and other members of her family made for her to be here.

"There is no money to do anything. What remains is to pray to God to help me."

“There is no money to do anything. What remains is to pray to God to help me.”

All the beds at the cramped hostel next to Mulago Hospital, home to the Uganda Cancer Institute, are taken up, and there are three patients in each of the dozen or so small rooms.

The floor space is also occupied by the mats, mattresses and pillows of relatives who have come to look after the patients – some of whom are breastfeeding mothers who have also brought their children.

They all came ready to receive treatment, but with the radiotherapy machine broken, one of the main weapons used to fight the cancer has gone.

Radiotherapy uses radiation to target and kill cancerous cells in a specific part of the body, and can be used for many types of cancer.

Healthy cells are able to recover from this damage, while cancerous cells cannot.

Other treatments are still available in the country, but the cancer institute says that three-quarters of the 44,000 new cancer patients in Uganda last year needed radiotherapy, so the breakdown is a serious problem.

The number needing treatment is likely to rise as the the incidence of cancer is increasing Uganda, as in many African countries, because more people are living long enough to get these kind of diseases.

Waiting for a new machine

The government has said that it has purchased a new radiotherapy machine and it should be up and running in six months, once a special bunker is built to house the radioactive equipment.

The institute has bought a new radiotherapy machine but upgrades need to be made before it can be installed

The institute has bought a new radiotherapy machine but upgrades need to be made before it can be installed

But the department of health has known about the need to replace the old machine, which was donated in 1995, for the past five years at least, so some are sceptical that things will now move quickly.

In the meantime, the government says it can pay for about 400 patients to travel abroad for treatment, but the rest will have to find their own funds.

This is not simply a struggle for the poor – middle-class cancer patients are also feeling left stranded.

Elizabeth Mugalu – Cancer patient

Elizabeth Mugalu, who lives in the upmarket, leafy neighbourhood of Muyenga set on one of Kampala’s many hills, has had breast cancer since 2010.

"The leadership has not understood what the local people go through. And this is brought about by the fact that they are not treated in Uganda."

“The leadership has not understood what the local people go through. And this is brought about by the fact that they are not treated in Uganda.”

When she retired from teaching and writing, she and her husband started building their dream home, but it lies incomplete as funds have been diverted to pay for her treatment.

Ms Mugalu initially went to private hospitals, however when she could no longer afford the fees she started going to Mulago Hospital, which charges a lower rate for private patients.

‘Who can afford treatment?’

But when the radiotherapy machine broke down, she had no choice but to go to the capital of neighbouring Kenya, Nairobi, where she paid $1,000 (£700) for the treatment. A figure that does not include accommodation, food and travel expenses.

“How many Ugandans can afford that?

“Not many,” she says, answering her own question.

“The leadership has not understood what the local people go through. And this is brought about by the fact that they are not treated in Uganda, themselves. So if they were treated in Mulago Hospital, I’m sure they would understand what it is to go to Mulago and [there is no] medicine.”

Her experience has led Ms Mugalu to become a health activist with the Uganda Women’s Cancer Support Organisation and she is not alone with her anger.

The breakdown of the radiotherapy machine has sparked outrage amongst some in Uganda. Critics say the problem is an illustration of poor state of the country’s healthcare system.

According to data from a World Health Organization report, Uganda’s government spending on health per person is the lowest in East Africa.

Health Minister Elioda Tumwesigye

But Health Minister Elioda Tumwesigye defends the government’s record.

He says that though it has had to prioritise major infrastructure projects, like roads and electricity provision, and defence, it has also increased the budget of the cancer institute, and he insists government ministers are involved at a very personal level.

“We’re the ones who buy all the coffins, to take people when they die. We’re the ones who sometimes pay bills of these patients when they’re in health facilities. So we know.

“I lost both my parents to cancer and they were treated here [at Mulago].”

The minister says that the cancer institute will build not one but seven bunkers to house even more radiotherapy machines in the future.

But it is not clear what will happen to the patients between now and when the new facilities are ready.

And Victoria Akware is left wondering what she is going to do to have a fighting chance of surviving cancer.

*BBC

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Scoring for Global Health
April 23, 2016 | 0 Comments
By Samuel Eto’o*

Samuel-EtooGrowing up in the disadvantaged districts of Douala, Cameroon, I learnt to count on my mates to navigate the rugged streets where we played football. Among these friends, I found comradeship and compassion. Among the adults, however, I found guidance, mentorship, support and sometimes some spanking for disobedience. The circumstances of my upbringing give real meaning to the adage “it takes a village.”

This learning made me resilient to challenges, a quality that was invaluable when I arrived to play football in Europe as a lad of 16. In my luggage, I had a dream, a passion, but I also brought with me dribbling skills and the pace to pounce and score – an essential urge for a striker. Those footballing skills learnt in the bumpy surfaces I was used to practice, propelled me fast in the even grounds of Europe and have taken me to top leagues in Spain, Italy, Russia, England and Turkey.

But I almost never made it. As a young boy, I suffered from countless bouts of malaria that could very easily have killed me. It was just that I was one of the lucky ones, as the disease has killed millions of children in my country and across Africa. Additionally, I also came to age in the 90s – those days when AIDs seemed unstoppable. I saw people in my country succumb to the epidemic, and communities waver under the weight of the disease.

I very easily could have been one of those people taken by these diseases in my community. I have learnt to count my blessings and ask how I can give back – how I can play part in fighting these diseases and others. Of course I am a footballer, not a doctor or a public health specialist. But I hope to contribute by joining others to play and to win against these diseases. I am enlisting myself to the battle by working as a champion for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The world has made progress against these diseases over the last decade. We may have bent the curve of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria yet far too many people continue to die from these diseases. These men, women and children present far too many dreams that will never be realized. It is why we must press on.

I hope to contribute my bit by sharing the story of my life, but more importantly the story of people affected by these diseases. The stories are many and diverse. They are stories of girls who have lived on to become doctors and teachers and farmers, who are building their communities. Stories of boys, like me, who survived these diseases and lived on to play football, basketball and other sports at an international level and have returned to make a difference in their communities and beyond. These men and women have not only conquered disease, they are also agents of change in our countries.

I hope that with these stories, we can galvanize the world to embrace our differences and our diverse strengths, and to press on with the fight against these diseases with a goal of ending them. I have confidence that with determination and working with the Global Fund partnership we can write the last chapter of these diseases.

Courage and determination are essential qualities in football, and in the fight against AIDS, TB and malaria. One of my most memorable moments in football was the African Cup of Nations final between Nigeria and my country, Cameroon. I was a teenager then, but I scored the first goal and created the second. We went on to win that great final through penalties. I have known other exceptional moments in my career.

In all I have done in football, playing for my national team made me most proud. Right from the 1998 world cup, where, at 17, I represented my country as the youngest player in the tournament. Being called to national duty, being part of the “Indomitable Lions”, was always a big honour. A chance to give back to the people who made me. Cameroon is my blood, every time I wore the jersey of my national team, it was a unique opportunity for me and a great pride.

I hope to use the experience I have gained in football to give back to my country and to Africa by supporting the Global Fund partnership, which has contributed to saving more than 17 million lives, in my country and across the world. Football is a powerful tool, a language that permeates borders. It is a language we can use to fight infectious diseases, which also know no borders. Defeating these diseases will need everyone to play together. That is why I am joining global health. I want to play a prominent role in this urgent mission. I see helping save lives as the biggest fight of my life.

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Gabon: Launch of the technical support programme for the national health development plan to create a modern health system accessible to all
April 19, 2016 | 0 Comments

The priorities: improvements to the range of healthcare services, to health management, to results-based financing systems and to the availability of essential medical products, in partnership with Management Science for Health (MSH)

Working in some 40 countries for over 40 years, MSH is committed to efforts to reduce the maternal mortality rate in Gabon by 65% over the next five years

Working in some 40 countries for over 40 years, MSH is committed to efforts to reduce the maternal mortality rate in Gabon by 65% over the next five years

The Ministry of Health of the Republic of Gabon  officially launched its Technical Support Programme for the National Health Development Plan – NHDP – in Gabon, for which the American non-profit organisation, Management Science for Health (MSH) , will provide technical support.

Held in the presence of the First Deputy Prime Minister Paul Biyoghe Mba, in charge of Health, Social Security and National Solidarity, this launch saw a gathering of the different project development partners, including the WHO, the World Bank, the UNFPA, the AFD and UNICEF.

This programme aims to implement the objectives enshrined in the National Health Development Programme, which, as envisaged by the President of the Republic, Ali Bongo Ondimba, consists in developing a modern and more accessible health system, particularly for vulnerable peoples.

“Gabon must ensure equal access to healthcare services for all. This is why the Ministry is launching this plan, which aims to bring about an improvement in the range of healthcare services in Gabon, and to roll out state-of-the-art equipment throughout the country. This is in accordance with the equal opportunity programme launched by the Head of State,” the Deputy Prime Minister stated.

This launch saw a gathering of the different project development partners, including the WHO, the World Bank, the UNFPA, the AFD and UNICEF

This launch saw a gathering of the different project development partners, including the WHO, the World Bank, the UNFPA, the AFD and UNICEF

For the 1st year, MSH will assist government action in four priority areas: improvements to the range of healthcare services, to health management, to results-based financing systems and to the availability of essential medical products.

Working in some 40 countries for over 40 years, MSH is committed to efforts to reduce the maternal mortality rate in Gabon by 65% over the next five years. The public-private partnership between the Health Ministry and MSH will also enable the provision of full vaccine cover for the country against polio, meningitis, tuberculosis, pneumococcal diseases, hepatitis B, measles and yellow fever, as well as guaranteeing the procurement of medicines for healthcare structures.

“Each year, the development status of numerous countries is affected or delayed, millions of lives are wiped out and too many deaths are caused by pathologies and diseases that are avoidable or treatable through proven and affordable approaches and solutions,” declared Paul Auxila, Executive Vice President and Head of Operations at MSH.

As part of its missions, MSH contributes to filling the gap that very often exists between knowledge, solutions and action in the field of public health, as in the Democratic Republic of Congo where its technical support has enabled some 150,000 children to be saved in less than four years.

Various development partners have been assisting the Health Ministry in its work for several years, including the French Development Agency (AFD). “For our part, we shall continue, as we have been doing since 2007, to press for implementation of the National Health Development Plan and for skills enhancement of Gabon’s public healthcare staff,” affirmed Yves Picard, the AFD representative in Gabon.

To reiterate, the AFD and the Gabon government signed a financing agreement last month in respect of 50 million euros (33 billion CFA francs) to finance phase 2 of the Support Project for the National Health Development Plan with the objective of renovating and equipping 27 health centres in four provinces of Gabon’s interior with a target population of 551,000 people. Attention will also be given to reinforcing the skills and training of medical staff. 

*APO

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Health Care Boost For Cameroon as Lambe Foundation Steps Up Fight Against Diabetes
April 7, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Ajong Mbapndah L

The Lambe Foundation is planning on expanding its activities to other parts of Cameroon besides Buea

The Lambe Foundation is planning on expanding its activities to other parts of Cameroon besides Buea

The Lambe Cameroon Diabetic Foundation is taking its crusade against diabetes a notch higher with an awareness and fundraising gala to fund its activities in Cameroon. In existence for about a year  now, the Foundation has so far  provided free testing and education  to residents of Buea in the South West Region of Cameroon.

Plans are underway to extend the services to other parts of the country said Dr Oscar Lambe who heads the Foundation.Motivated by experiences in his own family, Dr Lambe sees in the Foundation an attempt to make basic services available to people who cannot afford them or are clueless about diabetes and its related ailments.

It is heartbreaking to see gory images of health related mishaps in Cameroon, says Dr Lambe who believes that the government could definitely do better. Cameroonians in the diaspora can be part of the solution to the healthcare woes of the country and one way of doing so is by working in synergy ,said Dr Lambe. There is a partnership in the works between the 12729109_1067376523327222_7226812987695426198_n (1)Lambe Foundation and the Patcha Foundation, Dr Lambe said as he urged other Cameroonian professionals and organizations to pool resources and expertise together to make a more relevant contribution towards improving health services in Cameroon.

The awareness and fundraising gala which takes place on April 16, at the Vikings Center in Burtonsville,Md, will have as guest speaker Dr Ata Atogho.Proceeds will also go towards supporting diabetic education and material supply programs.

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The plunder of West Africa Ebola funds
January 29, 2016 | 0 Comments

The much-vaunted rebuilding of livelihoods ruined by Ebola is far from happening.

Fisayo Soyombo *

In early 2014, when the Ebola virus began ravaging three West African countries, it came with an all-shattering venom.

Although Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and the Congo were all affected, the real devastation occurred in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

In these three countries, humans were crushed by the virus. Dozens died long before medics reached an understanding of the intruder they were dealing with. Medical facilities were overwhelmed at an alarming rate, already-lean government purses were stretched to the limits, the courage of health workers was tested to the brim, and normal human life was ruined.

A cry for help

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Liberian president, called on the world for help in October 2014. Her country had spent the previous 11 years recovering from its civil war, and she feared that Ebola was threatening to “erase all the hard work”.

“This fight requires a commitment from every nation that has the capacity to help – whether that is with emergency funds, medical supplies or clinical expertise,” she wrote in a widely publicised open letter.

By that time, 9,191 people across West Africa were suspected to have been infected and 4,546 had died. In  Liberia, 4,262 people had been found to infected by the virus, while 2,484 had died. Guinea and Sierra Leone had the bulk of the deficit of 2,062 deaths.

And so the funds started coming in. Within a month of Sirleaf’s plea, money pledged from outside Africa to the Ebola-hit countries was building up. By July 2015, the United Nations announced that donors had promised $5.2bn, which far outweighed the $3.2bn the three countries said they needed to “return to the progress of [their] pre-Ebola trauma“.

In Liberia, the outbreak left half the heads of households out of work, while women – who account for more workers in the non-agricultural, self-employed sectors – were among the hardest hit. Ebola’s destruction of livelihoods sorely needed to be addressed.

This was acknowledged at a UN meeting in July 2015 at which President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, speaking on behalf of the three Ebola-hit countries, said: “Humanity sometimes displays short attention spans and wants to move to other issues because the threat from Ebola seems over … The threat is never over until we rebuild the health sector Ebola demolished, until we rebuild the livelihoods it compromised.”

Cruel mismanagement

A month after Koroma’s statement, I was on a plane to Liberia to investigate how the money had been used, courtesy of some civil society initiatives to monitor the situation on the ground. My findings were damning.

The much-vaunted “rebuilding of livelihoods ruined by Ebola” was far from happening. The Liberian government, whose task force destroyed the belongings of Ebola patients, was providing no help as survivors struggled daily for decent food, housing and employment. As Josephine Karwah, one of only three pregnant women to survive the virus, told me, the government left survivors “in a limbo”.

It was enough evidence that none of the dozen survivors I spoke to could pinpoint a single instance when the government offered help. But that wasn’t all. Liberia’s anti-corruption watchdog audited only a fraction ($15m) of the funding, and found that $800,000, most of which passed through the defence ministry, could not be accounted for.

“The conduct of the affairs of the National Ebola Trust Fund [NETF] were marred by financial irregularities and material control deficiencies for a number of transactions carried out by the Incident Management System and the eight Implementing Partners of the NETF,” the General Auditing Commission said in a report published on its website.

President Ernest Koroma

President Ernest Koroma

Specific instances of corruption included the disbursement of $600,000 for fuel, feeding, daily subsistence allowance, communication, medical training, repair and maintenance, without supporting documents; and the payment of $10,000 to 68 officers in 10 counties who could not be physically seen or whose names could not be traced in the daily attendance records.

In neighbouring Sierra Leone, the situation was no better. The report of the Audit Service of Sierra Leone unearthed a series of financial irregularities, most notably payments to thousands of fictitious health workers, and expenses running into several hundreds of thousands of dollars without supporting documentation.

Up until now the biggest outcry over the gulf between the money donated and that spent on the post-Ebola recovery has been in Liberia and Sierra Leone, but it may well be that the scariest levels of corruption have happened in Guinea.

The Ebola Fund Watch report launched by BudgIT in November 2015 reveals that although Guinea had received donations worth $330m as of November 4, 2015, there is not one audit report on the use of the fund.

The “reports of mismanagement” suggested in this report are given credence by the former prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo’s description of Guinea as a country where “contracts aren’t signed and investments aren’t made”.

For a country ranked 139th out of 168 in Transparency International’s corruption perception index, Guinea’s lack of documentation for its use of the funds mirrors the secrecy with which Ebola funds were mismanaged in West Africa.

In all three countries, no individual has been tried, much less convicted, for their role in the mismanagement of money meant to save the lives of the dying. And these are people who – to parody novelist Bangambiki Habyarimana’s words – are still here on earth when they deserve to be sent to hell!

*AL Jazeera.Fisayo Soyombo edits the Nigerian online newspaper TheCable.

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Rat poison sales boom in Nigeria over Lassa fever fears
January 25, 2016 | 0 Comments

National Hospital in Abuja, Nigeria (AFP Photo/-)

National Hospital in Abuja, Nigeria (AFP Photo/-)

Kano (Nigeria) (AFP) – Sales of rat poison have taken off in Nigeria following an outbreak of Lassa fever that has left at least 76 people dead and sparked fears of contagion across the country.

In the northern city of Kano, the capital of one of 17 states where the haemorrhagic virus has been recorded, there have been “unprecedented” purchases of the pest control product.

The head of the city’s chemicals traders, Shehu Idris Bichi, said sales have have increased four-fold since the outbreak was first announced earlier this month.

“Traders are doing brisk business because people are making unprecedented purchases of the product to rid their homes of rats that cause the disease,” he told AFP.

Abubakar Ja’afar, who works in Kano’s largest market, said he had never seen sales so high in his 20 years in the trade, with traders in other cities reporting similar increases in sales.

“I used to get between five and 10 clients a day but now I get at least 30 customers… people you don’t expect because of their social status,” he said.

“Lassa doesn’t discriminate between the rich and the poor”.

Vendors using megaphones and hawking their wares on carts have become commonplace.

“I was making up to 500 naira ($2.5, 2.3 euros) a day but now I make between 2,000 naira and 4,000 naira every day,” said one, Awwalu Aminu, 40, in Kano.

– ‘Culture of silence’ –

Nigeria’s health minister Isaac Adewole said earlier this week 212 suspected cases have been recorded of Lassa, which is endemic in rats in west Africa.

Outbreaks are not uncommon and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are between 100,000 to 300,000 infections in west Africa every year, with about 5,000 deaths.

A vendor sells rat poison in northern Nigeria's largest city of Kano (AFP Photo/Aminu Abubakar)

A vendor sells rat poison in northern Nigeria’s largest city of Kano (AFP Photo/Aminu Abubakar)

In 2012, there were 1,723 cases and 112 deaths in Nigeria. Last year, 12 people died out of 375 infected, according to the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control.

The virus is spread through contact with food or household items contaminated with rats’ urine or faeces.

Africa’s most populous country was praised for its containment of Ebola in 2014, despite initial fears it could spread rapidly in densely populated urban areas after the first case in Lagos.

But while the government maintains it has the spread of Lassa under control, specialists have voiced concern about under-reporting and Nigeria’s capacity to deal with the outbreak.

The first case dates back to last August in the northwestern state of Niger but was not detected until late last year.

Public awareness campaigns have since been mounted and surveillance ramped up of primary and secondary contacts of those with the disease.

The government has also blasted a “culture of silence” and vowed sanctions against medical professionals who fail to inform the authorities of suspected cases.

– Refuse collection –

Lawan Bello used to ignore rats in his home, bothering more about the damage the rodents could cause to personal effects such as clothing, furniture and food.

But the latest outbreak — and the wider publicity about its spread — has changed his attitude.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, was praised for its containment of Ebola in 2014, despite initial fears it could spread rapidly in densely populated urban areas after the first case in Lagos (AFP Photo/-)

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, was praised for its containment of Ebola in 2014, despite initial fears it could spread rapidly in densely populated urban areas after the first case in Lagos (AFP Photo/-)

“Every few days I buy rat poison and use it in my home to kill rats and I will continue until my house is free of them,” he said.

“I’m scared of Lassa and that has made me hate rats the most.”

Killing rats may be one solution to the problem but effective waste disposal has long been a major problem in Nigeria’s big cities.

“Everywhere you turn you see heaps of refuse which provides a breeding ground for rats,” said Idris Musa, a community health worker in Kano.

“Rats breed fast and it is very difficult to beat rats’ breeding rate with rodenticide”.

In 2007, Kano was producing 2,000 tonnes of garbage every day but refuse collectors could only clear 800 tonnes, according to the city’s refuse disposal agency.

*AFP/Yahoo

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Rotary gives US$35 million to end polio worldwide
January 16, 2016 | 0 Comments

African nations in line for $15 million to keep the continent polio-free

160Rotary  announces $35 million in grants to support the global effort to end polio, including $15 million to support polio eradication efforts in 5 African countries.

In 2015, Africa proved a hub of historic progress against the paralyzing disease. Nigeria – the last polio-endemic country in Africa – was removed from the World Health Organization’s list of endemic countries in September, following one year without a new case of the wild virus. The last wild polio case on the African continent was in August 2014.

“We are closer than ever to achieving a polio-free world,” said Michael K. McGovern, chair of Rotary’s International PolioPlus Committee.  “To ensure that no child ever again suffers the devastating effects of this disease, we must all ensure that the necessary funds and political will are firmly in place in 2016.”

Today, just two countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan – are reporting a single strain of the wild virus.

To sustain this progress, and protect all children from polio, experts say $1.5 billion is urgently needed.   Without full funding and political commitment, the disease could return to previously polio-free countries, putting children everywhere at risk.

Rotary’s funds will support efforts to keep 5 countries in Africa polio-free: Nigeria ($5,5), Cameroon ($1.6 million), Chad ($2 million); Ethiopia ($4.1 million), and S0malia ($1,8 million). Additional funds will be support polio eradication efforts in endemic and at-risk countries: Pakistan ($11.4 million), Afghanistan ($6 million), Iraq ($1,6 million) and India ($600 000). Finally, ($350 000) in funds will be dedicated to polio research.

Rotary launched its polio immunization program PolioPlus   in 1985, and in 1988 became a spearheading partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative  with the WHO, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was later joined by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Since the initiative launched, the incidence of polio has plummeted by more than 99.9 percent, from about 350,000 cases a year to 70 confirmed to date in 2015.

Rotary has contributed more than $1.5 billion and countless volunteer hours to fight polio. Through 2018, every dollar Rotary commits to polio eradication will be matched two-to-one by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation up to $35 million a year.

Rotary  brings together a global network of volunteer leaders dedicated to tackling the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges. Rotary connects 1.2 million members of more than 34,000 Rotary clubs in over 200 countries and geographical areas. Their work improves lives at both the local and international levels, from helping families in need in their own communities to working toward a polio-free world.

*APO

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This is How We Got to Zero Ebola Cases in West Africa
January 1, 2016 | 0 Comments

BY AMY POPE*

Summary:
President Obama with leaders from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea affected by Ebola

President Obama with leaders from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea affected by Ebola

The world has now gone over 40 consecutive days without a single reported Ebola case. Here’s how we helped make that possible

For the first time since this outbreak was detected in West Africa in early 2014, the world has now gone over 40 consecutive days without a single reported Ebola case.

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced that Guinea has successfully halted Ebola transmission and now joins Sierra Leone and Liberia in recovering from this devastating disease. This represents a significant milestone for Guinea, West Africa, and the international community.

Today we reflect on what is possible when partners around the world come together to solve a common problem. Through the undaunted courage of local communities and heroes from around the world, West Africa was able to halt Ebola. The United States was proud to offer help along with partners around the world.

Today we remember Ebola’s victims, and embrace the communities, families, healthcare workers, and survivors.

While we can take pride in what has been accomplished, our work is far from finished. West Africa is still at risk of a re-emergence of Ebola and other infectious disease threats. In addition, the people of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea have disproportionately suffered from secondary economic and health effects. Rates of malaria, vaccine preventable illnesses, and unsafe child births are worse. And thousands of orphans and Ebola survivors are working to rebuild their lives in the wake of the Ebola crisis.

The United States and our partners will continue to support the Ebola affected countries in several ways:

  • First, we will remain vigilant against Ebola and other infectious disease threats. We are supporting all three countries to build and maintain strong surveillance, laboratory, and rapid outbreak response systems for Ebola. The U.S. government stands ready to help respond to any new cases of Ebola and continues to work with the governments of the affected countries and partners to sustain the gains made by building local capacity.
  • Second, we are working with the governments of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and other partners in the region and around the world to develop long-term capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats through the development of five year plans to achieve all targets of the Global Health Security Agenda. The United States has committed to assisting at least 30 partners achieve these goals, starting in West Africa.
  • Third, we are working closely with all three governments and with other partners to rebuild economies and assist the economic recovery of the region. For example:
    • On November 2, our Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and the government of Liberia signed a $257 million compact that combines infrastructure investments with policy and institutional reforms designed to modernize the country’s power sector and strengthen its road maintenance systems. MCC’s investment complements efforts to help Liberia recover from the Ebola outbreak, significantly enhances the U.S. government’s Power Africa engagement in Liberia, and supports two sectors critical for broad growth.
    • On November 17, the MCC and the Republic of Sierra Leone signed a new $44 million Threshold Program—through which the MCC will support policy reforms, build institutional capacity, and improve governance in the water and electricity sectors. The partnership comes as Sierra Leone emerges from the devastating Ebola outbreak and complements economic recovery efforts.
    • The U.S. government and United Nation partners are helping families recover from the economic effects of the crisis by helping to meet household food needs while encouraging school attendance by providing daily hot meals in schools in the most Ebola-affected areas—meals have been provided to about 120,000 children. Girls who attend school are provided with a take-home ration of vegetable oil to encourage attendance. Last quarter, food vouchers were provided to 10,000 beneficiaries in the region.
  • And finally, the U.S. government is supporting the overall restoration of basic health services in the Ebola affected region. For example:
    • In Liberia, we are supporting basic health services in six counties, including the procurement and distribution of essential medicines to community clinics and supporting national catch-up immunization campaigns to prevent five diseases. We have supported a measles vaccination campaign at the county, district, and community levels in Lofa and Margibi counties.
    • In Sierra Leone, the U.S. government is partnering with other donors to procure and distribute essential life-saving medicines and health supplies to clinics around the country and to restore functional capability to key parts of the health sector supply chain of Sierra Leone that were damaged heavily by the effects of Ebola. Activities will reach nearly 3 million residents in the hardest hit districts, including Bombali, Port Loko, Western Area Urban, and Western Area Rural.
    • In Guinea, the U.S. government is supporting the restoration of basic health services at 112 facilities. U.S. government partners are also providing training for health care workers in hospitals and clinics on infection prevention and control protocols, including the use of personal protective equipment (gloves, gowns, masks), procedures for isolating patients who many have an infectious illness, and the safe management of laboratory samples. These measures will help prevent the spread of Ebola or other communicable diseases and improve patient care at health facilities.

As we celebrate the occasion of no new Ebola cases in West Africa, the United States is committed to standing with Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone now, and into the future.

*Source White House.‎Amy Pope is Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security

 

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Tanzania universities add course in female genital mutilation to fight the practice
December 5, 2015 | 0 Comments

By Kizito Makoye*

tanzania2DAR ES SALAAM (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Three Tanzanian universities are offering a new course on female genital mutilation (FGM) to train health care professionals how to deal with victims of the harmful practice that is still widespread although illegal.

The course, to be taught at the University of Dodoma, Muhimbili University of Heath and Allied Sciences (MUHAS) and the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC), makes Tanzania the second country in Africa to offer such training after Ghana.

FGM, which involves total or partial removal of the external female genitalia, has been illegal in the east African nation since 1998 but the law is poorly enforced and thousands of girls are affected every year.

More than 7.9 million girls and women in Tanzania are believed to have undergone FGM which causes numerous health problems. Some girls bleed to death or die from infections, while others die later in life from childbirth complications.

Idris Kikula, vice chancellor of the University of Dodoma in central Tanzania, said the course is designed to equip students pursuing medicine and social sciences with skills and knowledge to take an active role in eliminating the practice. “FGM has for years been affecting women and young girls. Much has been done to overcome the problem, albeit with poor results as there were no professionals to deal with the matter,” Kikula said. “I believe this initiative will ultimately lead to sound results.” Kikula said the physical and psychological suffering faced by most FGM victims does not always get the attention of trained health care specialists due to a lack of expertise.

The courses contains topics such as the origin of FGM and its health complications and how to manage and counsel girls and women with physical, psychological and sexual complications.

FGM affects an estimated 140 million girls and women across a swathe of Africa and parts of the Middle East and Asia, seen by many families as a gateway to marriage and way to preserve a girl’s virginity. Uncut girls are often ostracized. Nigeria outlawed FGM earlier this year, and the practice survives in only a few countries in the region, including Sierra Leone, Liberia and Mali.

Sia Msuya, a public health expert at the KCMC in Moshi, said the training would help broaden the understanding of most health workers so they can meet the specific needs of the victims with the practice deeply rooted in local traditions.

“Most girls who have undergone the female cut often keep their stories to themselves because they don’t see someone to tell,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Rehema Mosha, a first year medical student at MUHAS in Dar es Salaam, said the course should have been adopted a long time ago because FGM has inflicted “so much pain on so many people”.

“I believe that with appropriate training we can be advocates for change to eliminate this harmful practice once and for all,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

*Reuters/Yahoo]]>

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Liberia's last two Ebola patients recover, leave hospital
December 5, 2015 | 0 Comments

File photo of men sitting in front of a house where Ebola victim Nathan Gbotoe lived, in Paynesville, Liberia, November 24, 2015. REUTERS/James Giahyue File photo of men sitting in front of a house where Ebola victim Nathan Gbotoe lived, in Paynesville, Liberia, November 24, 2015. REUTERS/James Giahyue[/caption] MONROVIA (Reuters) – Liberia released its last two known Ebola cases from hospital on Thursday as it starts a new countdown to declaring itself free of the virus for a third time, health officials said.

Liberia had been the only country in West Africa with known cases. Neighbor Sierra Leone was declared Ebola-free in November while Guinea’s last known case recovered two weeks ago.

“There are no cases in the ETUs (Ebola Treatment Units) in the entire Republic of Liberia,” said Tolbert Nyenswah, head of Liberia’s Ebola response, adding that Ebola safety procedures remained in place.

The two patients released from the Paynesville ETU are the father and younger brother of the presumed index case, a 15-year-old boy named Nathan Gbotoe from a suburb of the capital Monrovia who died from the disease last week. [ID:nL8N13J1V8]

However, new cases could still emerge in Liberia since there are 165 contacts still under quarantine, of whom more than 30 are deemed high risk, health officials told Reuters.

[caption id="attachment_22904" align="alignright" width="300"]Liberia has twice been declared Ebola-free since the huge outbreak last year that killed thousands in the country (AFP Photo/Evan Schneider) Liberia has twice been declared Ebola-free since the huge outbreak last year that killed thousands in the country (AFP Photo/Evan Schneider)[/caption] Nyenswah say the contacts under surveillance have completed 14 of their obligatory 21-day monitoring – a period that corresponds with the typical incubation period of the virus. “No need to cancel your plane ticket when you are planning to come to Liberia. Continue to come here; the place is safe,” Nyenswah told reporters.

Liberian medical workers are still grappling to explain how Ebola re-emerged in Liberia more than two months after it was declared free of the virus by the World Health Organization.

Resurgent cases in Liberia, possibly transmitted sexually by survivors, has cast doubt on the current policy of labeling a country Ebola-free after 42 days.

*Source Reuters/Yahoo]]>

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