Don’t forget: Liberia, ravaged by the Ebola epidemic, was created by the U.S.
September 21, 2014 | 0 Comments
Ishaan Tharoor* In the grips of history’s worst ever Ebola outbreak, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf appealed to the international community on Wednesday. “This disease is not simply a Liberian or West African problem. The entire community of nations has a stake in ending this crisis,” she said in a written statement read out by her information minister. But there’s one nation that perhaps has a larger stake than any other. The United States, after all, created Liberia in the early 19th century. Let’s rewind: so far, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, which is concentrated in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, has killed at least 2,622 people. Some 5,335 in total have been infected; Liberia alone accounts forroughly half that number. The overall tally, reports the World Health Organization, has doubled in the space of a month. As the White House pursues its planned counterinsurgency against the Islamic State in the Middle East, President Obama has also stepped up U.S. humanitarian efforts in West Africa. Washington will commit $750 million and 3,000 personnel in the fight against Ebola. Part of the plan involves the construction 17 sorely needed treatment centers in Liberia, with 100 beds each, though it may take time to get these sites up and running — time that many of the infected simply don’t have.
As Helene Cooper of the New York Times reports, the international response to the crisis has played out along historic lines, with former colonial powers coming to the aid of their former colonies:
[caption id="attachment_12083" align="alignright" width="256"] President Obama with Liberian President Sirleef Johnson[/caption] The United States is no stranger to Liberia. In 1817, the American Colonization Society, a curious mix of abolitionist Quakers and pragmatic slave-owners, bought a tract of land in West Africa from local potentates and received sanction from Congress to set up its own colony. The charitable version of the plan was to give freed slaves a new home, removed from the harsh inequities of segregated 19th century America. The more cynical reading of the ACS’s efforts — one to which most historians now subscribe — was that it was a ploy to reduce the risk of slave rebellions and a reminder of a time when many white Americans refused to countenance living in an integrated society. The ACS was backed by many notables of the age, ranging from Thomas Jefferson to Henry Clay, a towering republican politician, to Francis Scott Key, the author of the Star Spangled Banner. And so freed blacks began crossing the Atlantic in the 1820s to settle this land, dubbed Liberia. Its capital, Monrovia, was named after President James Monroe. Its Maryland county speaks to the origin of many of its first settlers. The territory was still administered by white agents. As the years progressed, the criticism grew: abolitionists and free blacksbelieved the colonization of Liberia to be a racist scheme against their interests; other southern slave-owners believed its existence a threat to their own way of life. Meanwhile, the early settlers contended with disease and wars with hostile local tribes. The ACS, having shipped around 13,000 blacks to Liberia, started to run out of funds by the 1840s; when it tried to raise money in Britain, its agents had to vie with protesters sent by the famed abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. The U.S. government refused to assume responsibility, and so the settlers of Liberia were granted their independence from the ACS in 1847. Awkwardly, as a consequence of its anxieties and divisions over slavery, Washington did not recognize the tiny republic until 1862, in the midst of the Civil War. The society the United States left behind was hardly a just one, as TIME’s Aryn Baker writes:
In an echo of the colonialism that characterized West Africa in the 19th century, Britain has focused its assistance efforts on its former colony Sierra Leone, as British troops head there to build and staff a 63-bed facility near the capital, Freetown. France has sent medical experts to its former colony Guinea.
That leaves Liberia, with its historic ties to America’s antebellum era, in the United States’ hands. In an interview on Thursday, Ms. Johnson Sirleaf said a perception by other countries that the United States would take care of Liberia had hurt the country so far in the Ebola fight. She said a health expert with the French group Doctors Without Borders told her recently: “We’re French. You’ve got America behind you; why should we have to do this for you?”
The new immigrants, who came to be known as “Americoes,” set up a society largely modeled on that of the antebellum South, taking local natives as servants, and, eventually, as slaves who could be ‘leased’ out to work on the country’s lucrative rubber plantations. That early legacy of inequality laid the foundations for the revolutionary foment that eventually led to a sequence of brutal civil wars beginning in 1989 that ended only in 2003.
Liberia is still recovering from the awful legacy of its coups and civil wars. Now, it needs its founding nation’s help to withstand its latest trial.
*Source Washington Post]]>
Ebola crisis: Sierra Leone begins three-day lockdown
September 20, 2014 | 0 Comments
Normally bustling streets in the capital Freetown were deserted on Friday[/caption]
A three-day curfew is under way in Sierra Leone to let health workers find and isolate cases of Ebola, in order to halt the spread of the disease.Many people have been reluctant to seek medical treatment for Ebola, fearing that diagnosis might mean death as there is no proven cure. A team of 30,000 people is going house-to-house to find those infected and distribute soap. But critics say the lockdown will damage public trust in doctors. Meanwhile in neighbouring Guinea, the bodies of eight missing health workers and journalists involved in the Ebola campaign have been found. A government spokesman said some of the bodies had been recovered from a septic tank in the village of Wome. The team had been attacked by villagers on Tuesday. Guinea’s prime minister said an investigation was under way, and vowed to catch the perpetrators of the “heinous murders”. Correspondents say many villagers are suspicious of official attempts to combat the disease and the incident illustrates the difficulties health workers face. Sierra Leone is one of the countries worst hit by West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, with more than 550 victims among the 2,600 deaths so far recorded. In the capital, Freetown, normally bustling streets were quiet, with police guarding roadblocks. ‘Extraordinary measures’ During the curfew, 30,000 volunteers will look for people infected with Ebola, or bodies, which are especially contagious. They will hand out bars of soap and information on preventing infection. Officials say the teams will not enter people’s homes but will call emergency services to deal with patients or bodies. Volunteers will mark each house with a sticker after they have visited it, reports say.
On Thursday, President Ernest Bai Koroma said: “Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures.”[caption id="attachment_12172" align="alignright" width="300"] Police roadblocks have been set up to enforce the curfew[/caption] Freetown resident Christiana Thomas told the BBC: “People are afraid of going to the hospital because everyone who goes there is tested for Ebola.” Another resident in Kenema, in the east of the country, told the BBC families were struggling because the price of food had gone up. In the hours leading up to Sierra Leone’s lockdown, there was traffic gridlock in Freetown as people stocked up on food and essentials. Cities and towns across the country were quiet without the usual early morning Muslim call to prayer and the cacophony of vehicles and motorbikes that people wake up to here. Thousands of volunteers and health workers have assembled at designated centres across Sierra Leone and started moving into homes. But they had to wait for hours before their kit – soaps and flyers – could reach them. MP Claude Kamanda, who represents the town of Waterloo near Freetown, told local media that all the health centres there were closed, hours after the health workers and volunteers were meant to assemble for deployment to homes. He complained that the delays were not helping the campaign. The UN Security Council on Thursday declared the outbreak a “threat to international peace” and called on states to provide more resources to combat it. [caption id="attachment_12173" align="alignleft" width="300"] Volunteers will visit each home to test people for the virus[/caption] Meanwhile, the US military has started work in the Liberian capital Monrovia to establish an air bridge – a link by air transport – to take health workers and supplies to affected countries. The UK has pledged to help build new treatment centres and provide 700 new hospital beds in Sierra Leone, although a majority of the beds could take several months to arrive. Aid workers have welcomed the UK aid but say all of the beds are required immediately, the BBC international development correspondent Mark Doyle reports. Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has been strongly critical of the lockdown, arguing that ultimately it will help spread the disease as such measures “end up driving people underground and jeopardising the trust between people and health providers”.
West Africa Ebola casualties
Up to 14 September
2,630Ebola deaths – probable, confirmed and suspected
- 1,459 Liberia
- 601 Guinea
- 562 Sierra Leone
- 8 Nigeria
ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: Ivory Coast Launches Ebola 'Soap Bucket Challenge'
September 19, 2014 | 0 Comments
Ludovica Iaccino* [caption id="attachment_12132" align="alignleft" width="300"] Edith Broui launched the challenge after she posted on Youtube a video of her having a bucket of ice-cold soapy water poured on her head.[/caption]
Ivoirians have launched the Soap Bucket Challenge to raise awareness of the Ebola virus, which has killed at least 2,400 people in West Africa since January.The move comes as hundreds of people worldwide are taking part in the Ice Bucket Challenge, in which they post online videos of them having a bucketful of ice thrown over their heads. Participants then donate money to find a cure for the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ASL) – a degenerative nervous disorder – and nominate other people to take part in the challenge and donate money to research. In the Ivory Coast’s version, people have added soap to the ice, to highlight the importance of personal hygiene to avoid contracting Ebola, which is spread via infected body fluids. Instead of cash donations, participants are asked to donate bars of soap and bottles of antiseptic. The Soap Bucket Challenge was invented by Edith Brou, who posted on YouTube a video of her having a bucket of ice-cold soapy water poured on her head. “Against Ebola, you need good hygiene,” she says in the video, which has already been viewed by over 5,000 people. Hundreds of people are sharing their thoughts about the challenge, with Twitter users using the hashtag “#MousserContreEbola,” or “#LatherAgainstEbola”. Ivory Coast has not reported any Ebola case yet, however the country has shut its borders with Liberia and Guinea, where the majority of deaths have occurred, and banned people from the affected areas from entering the country. The Ebola outbreak, the worst in history, is also present in Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal. US President Barack Obama warned that the virus is “a threat to global security”.
“Today thousands of people in West Africa are infected. That number could rapidly grow to tens of thousands,” he said. “And if the outbreak is not stopped now we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people infected with profound political and economic and security implications for all of us.“This is an epidemic that is not just a threat to regional security. It’s a potential threat to global security if these countries break down, if their economies break down, if people panic,” the president added. According to the World Health Organization, around £614m is needed to prevent the outbreak from turning into a human catastrophe. *Source Yahoo/IBT]]>
Inside the fight against Ebola
September 19, 2014 | 0 Comments
Friends of the Earth Liberia/SDI has been working with its partner organizations to provide Ebola prevention and relief for communities around Liberia. The severity of the outbreak has compounded existing strains on the Liberian health system and enormously disrupted daily life across the country. Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) interviewed Nora Bowier from SDI, who has been working with the Community Awareness and Support Team (CAST) Initiative to coordinate prevention and relief efforts. FoEI: How is the crisis affecting daily life and your family, friends and colleagues? NB: The Ebola outbreak has affected the normal lives and activities of people. The impacts have manifested in multiple ways, restraining movement, affecting businesses, causing more financial difficulties, instilling fear and panic, causing more sicknesses and deaths. Many continue to lose loved ones. Some families and friends have been more directly impacted, losing their love ones to Ebola and as the crisis continues, others have lost their jobs, as organizations including non-governmental have rapidly scaled down activities and reduced their work force as inflows of finance sputter out. Other friends have lost loved ones to other health conditions as the already under resourced health system deteriorates further because of the Ebola crisis. Medical centers are turning away the sick and major hospitals continue to reject patients who show signs and symptoms similar to the signs and symptoms of the virus. This puts the lives of more Liberians at risk. My close friend’s father was recently turned away from major hospitals in Monrovia despite needing urgent care. He eventually died. Commercial activities have also slowed down dramatically: market women, street vendors and retailers, who are amongst the low income earners, are bearing the cost. Although the government of Liberia is trying to enforce measures to avoid false spikes in prices, price increases of some commodities and services are inevitable due to the nature of the situation. For example, the cost of public transportation across the country has doubled. Prices of major commodities such as rice and cassava are climbing significantly. There are only two airlines still flying to Liberia. Traveling abroad has become difficult as airfares spike to twice their original price. Another serious aspect of the Ebola crisis is the stigma and its effects on people’s relationships with friends and families. Because of the nature of the disease and how it spreads, stigmatization has become an issue for people recovering from the disease within and among families living together. Family members are forced to treat each other with caution and isolation. Those who recover from the disease are often rejected by their communities and families. The situation has also affected school life. Right now, all school activities are banned. Students are all staying home mostly idle with nothing to do. People’s movements are restricted, either voluntarily or by force, in order to keep safe. Parents are finding it challenging to help their children keep busy. FoEI: How have you personally been affected by the Ebola crisis? [caption id="attachment_12139" align="alignright" width="155"] Nora Bowier is a 2006 graduate of Cuttington University of Liberia. She has several years of experience working on community rights and empowerment issues across Liberia and is currently working for the Sustainable Development Institute as a community rights campaigner on natural resource governance issues[/caption] NB: The Ebola crisis has been a set-back for me in my academic work. I returned from Ireland in June 2014, just when the situation began to escalate. I was in the process of writing my dissertation as a component of my MA studies, but as the virus spread it became impossible to continue my work I have become completely distracted. The death rate rises daily, killing more and more people including health workers. To date I have lost about five friends from the medical field. My attention has now shifted to the CAST initiative to support local rural communities’ prevention efforts. FoEI: How is SDI as an organization affected by the Ebola crisis? Are there staff members who cannot get to work? How has your work been affected? Has it changed the focus of your work? NB: The Ebola virus crisis has enormously disrupted normal activities. SDI has ceased all its activities including field based work as a result of the alarming rate at which the crisis is unfolding. In the interest of staff safety and because of the uncertainty we face, the management thought it wise to take a decision to make over 80 percent of the staff temporarily redundant and send three expatriate staff home. Right now, we maintain only a small skeleton staff. This team of volunteers is now mainly focused on work SDI is doing in response to the Ebola crises. FoEI: What do you hear from rural communities that SDI works with? How is the situation there? NB: The impact of the virus is still comparatively low in most communities where SDI works. However, people are gripped with panic and fear about the possible spread of the disease, given that there are already suspected cases and a number of confirmed deaths in other parts of the counties where they live. Moreover, if the virus strikes in these areas, the impact will be more catastrophic. Health facilities are limited or nonexistent in most areas and people have no knowledge of how to respond or help themselves. Moreover, community members have expressed feelings of being abandoned because they received no help prior to the SDI visits. However, the CAST support and presence in these communities has brought some relief. FoEI: How is SDI / the CSO taskforce’s outreach work progressing? Which communities have you reached to date and with what kind of activities? NB: Under the CAST initiative we have visited 12 communities in the Jogban Clan and in Compound # one areas in Grand Bassa County. A total of 335 households have been provided with buckets, soap and chlorine. We have also provided information about Ebola and on prevention measures. The members of the taskforce are continuing to carryout similar activities mainly in the vicinity of Monrovia. The taskforce is also creating a situation room that will serve as a repository for information dissemination which will feed into the development of a weekly brief on the various work of CSOs responding to the Ebola crises. CAST and the CSO taskforce have expanded their coordination with the National Civil Society Council of Liberia, an umbrella network of civil society organizations in Liberia and the Liberia Religious Council. SDI and members of the taskforce were already a part of the CSCL. The focus of this is specifically placed on coordinating CS response to Ebola in terms of information sharing, advocacy and joint action and engagement with stakeholders including the National Task Force, INGOs, such as Doctors Without Borders, and those directly involved with the fight against Ebola. *Source foei]]>
Ebola: the elite vs the rest
September 7, 2014 | 1 Comments
The Ebola outbreak has revealed failures in our crises response systems. It has also revealed a disorder of priorities, with governments more interested in business and the elite than in services for the people. We have disaster capitalism on our hands.[caption id="attachment_11783" align="alignleft" width="300"] Riot police hold people back at the West Point slum in Monrovia, Liberia. The slum was quarantined following the Ebola outbreak, leading to protests from residents. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images[/caption]
The outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa evokes both sadness and introspection for many Africans. The loss of lives is due both to the fact that the virus is incurable as well as to poor health facilities in the areas directly affected. These factors have been compounded by the fact that the citizens affected have limited knowledge about how to prevent the disease.
In Liberia the forced quarantining of residents of some cities have led to demonstrations and riots [the quarantining of the West Point slum was lifted following protests]. President Johnson-Sirleaf has also had to fire government officials who fled their own country for fear of catching the dreaded virus. Elsewhere on the continent, governments have been trying to calm concerned and panicky citizens and reassure them that they are doing everything in their control to prevent any infected persons crossing borders.Globally there is a narrative that is familiar to many and largely purveyed through the media. This being: the projection of Africa as a place of disease and death. This is partly because the Ebola virus is killing many innocent souls but also because this is how the global West and East prefer to view our continent. It however does not end there. Africa also needs help in stemming the epidemic, and in providing both the medial personnel as well as medicines that are urgently required. So once again Africa is in sadly familiar territory wherein we are unable to respond to crisis that affect us not for lack of will but for lack of capacity and preparedness. The latter two stem largely from the fact that we do not have adequately contextualised knowledge production systems or governments that function conscientiously on behalf of the people they claim to lead.
In considering our lack of knowledge production as well utilisation capacity of the same, it is important to remember that this is not the first time Ebola has affected the continent. The first outbreak, which was officially recorded in then Zaire, now Democratic Republic of the Congo, should have seen us learning from that experience and crafting the right responses. The truth of the matter is that we never took it seriously. Perhaps because Zaire was considered a Conradian backwater.
Where we fast-forward to recent years, the greatest challenge in combating the disease from an African perspective has largely resided in our continually poor medical knowledge and facility infrastructure. This state of affairs has been blamed largely on the lack of resources.
Sierra Leone to impose 4-day, countrywide anti-Ebola "lockdown"
September 5, 2014 | 0 Comments
FREETOWN (Reuters) – Sierra Leone will impose a four-day, countrywide “lockdown” starting Sept. 18, an escalation of efforts to halt the spread of Ebola across the West African country, a senior official in the president’s office said on Friday.
The move underscores the radical steps West African nations are being pushed to take, over six months into an outbreak that is the worst on record and shows no sign of easing having already killed over 2,100 people since March.
Citizens will not be allowed to leave their homes between Sept. 18-21 in a bid to prevent the disease from spreading further and allow health workers to identify cases in the early stages of the illness, said Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, a presidential adviser on the country’s Ebola task force.
“The aggressive approach is necessary to deal with the spread of Ebola once and for all,” he told Reuters. As of Friday, Sierra Leone has recorded 491 of the total of suspected, probable and confirmed Ebola deaths, according to U.N. figures.
Kargbo said 21,000 people would be recruited to enforce the lockdown. Thousands of police and soldiers have already been deployed to enforce the quarantining of towns in Sierra Leone’s worst-hit regions near the border with Guinea.
Organizations from across the world are rushing funds and equipment to West Africa, but Ebola is spreading faster than ever and experts say the lack of trained staff in weak health systems is a major obstacle to the response.
Joining efforts to improve the health of young women and girls in South Africa
September 5, 2014 | 0 Comments
The First Lady of South Africa, Thobeka Madiba-Zuma, pledged to improve the health of young women and girls in South Africa during a meeting with UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé on 4 September at the President’s official residence.
Mr Sidibé acknowledged the First Lady’s role in lobbying for a price reduction for the human papillomavirus vaccine and ensuring better access to the vaccine in developing countries. The First Lady works extensively on health issues related to breast and cervical cancer and HIV, including prevention initiatives for young women and girls.
During his four-day visit to the country, Mr Sidibé also met with the South African Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi, to discuss Africa’s response to the Ebola virus outbreak and the lessons African leaders can learn from the AIDS response. Mr Sidibé said that strengthening health systems and bridging the gap between health systems and the community are critical to addressing the outbreak effectively.
In a round-table dialogue with Mr Sidibé, members of the South African National AIDS Council’s Civil Society Forum reiterated the need to form a stronger and strategic partnership with the Government of South Africa and the critical role that civil society plays in creating demand for the services that the government provides to respond to HIV and tuberculosis.
“We can build a hundred hospitals, but, if we don’t empower people with knowledge on healthy lifestyles and responsible behaviour, we won’t make progress.”
“In the absence of a cure or vaccine for Ebola, we need a deliberate and non-emotive response which learns lessons from AIDS in Africa.”
“We need to innovate on HIV prevention for young women and girls and find ways to reach them earlier with solutions like cash transfers and address intergenerational sex.”
“There is a serious need to focus on local initiatives in creating sustainability and coherence of strategies in South Africa. Civil society remains committed to the HIV response and we are encouraged by UNAIDS’ commitment in ensuring that communities access quality and competent health-care services.”
AfDB and WHO Sign US $60 Million MOU to Strengthen Ebola Response in West Africa
September 5, 2014 | 0 Comments
The President of the African Development Bank Group (AfDB), Donald Kaberuka, and the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Luis Sambo, on Tuesday, August 26 signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) cementing a US $60 million Bank grant to help strengthen West Africa’s public health systems in response to the Ebola crisis. The funds, which will be implemented by the WHO, will be used to help recruit and train health workers, purchase equipment and medicine, and ensure that the necessary logistics are in place at the local level to provide emergency health services to Ebola patients. As of Monday, 2,615 cases of Ebola have been recorded since March, resulting in 1,427 deaths in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. “The Ebola crisis has shown the weakness of our health systems. When we have vanquished Ebola, there will be other challenges, and we must be better prepared. This concerns us all: Ebola has no passport; it respects no borders,” said President Kaberuka. “It is a very dynamic epidemic. This is why – on top of this work with the WHO – the AfDB will invest an additional $150 million to assist its regional member governments through budget support operations in order to pay health workers, equip health centres, and create jobs.”“The ongoing Ebola Virus Disease outbreak is a bitter reminder to all African Governments and partners on the need to strengthen health infrastructure capacities in order to cope with disasters and epidemics. This MoU will cover the immediate response needs as well as help to strengthen the health systems capacity”, said Dr. Luis Sambo, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “We are thankful that there are no cases in Côte d’Ivoire. However, we need to be aware that the country is at high risk. We have taken – and will take – every precaution,” said the Minister of Health and the Fight against HIV/AIDS for Côte d’Ivoire, Raymonde Goudou Coffie, who took part in the event. “In the long term we want to tackle the root causes of the epidemic and strengthen health systems in Africa, because it threatens the economic situation of countries,” said Kaberuka. “According to recent estimates, these countries may lose 1.5% of GDP due to this epidemic. Even if the WHO has not imposed any travel restrictions, private airlines have banned international travel to and from the affected countries, impacting tourism and trade.” Since April, the Bank has already disbursed $3 million to support regional Ebola response efforts. It has also made four emergency assistance grants of $ 1 million each to the Governments of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. As the largest donor so far, its total support package is worth some $210 million. *Source allafrica]]>
African Union to hold emergency meeting on Ebola
September 4, 2014 | 0 Comments
Health care workers wearing full body suits burn infected items at the Elwa hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontieres in Monrovia on August 30, 2014 (AFP Photo/Dominique Faget)[/caption]
Addis Ababa (AFP) – The African Union announced Wednesday it will hold an emergency meeting next week aimed at hammering out a continent-wide strategy to deal with the Ebola epidemic.
The AU’s Executive Council said next Monday’s meeting, to be held at the body’s headquarters in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, would also “deliberate on the suspension of flights, and maritime and border closures, as well as stigmatisation of the affected countries and their nationals”.
“The council’s emergency meeting has been necessitated by the need to have a common understanding of the Ebola Virus Disease and current status of the response and to come up with a collective continental approach, taking into account the socio-political and economic impact of the disease,” the AU said in a statement.
It said concerns had been raised by some member states that moves by other African nations to close borders and halt flights “could have serious socio-economic and cultural effects, and could ultimately lead to increased suffering”.
More than 1,900 people have died in the Ebola epidemic sweeping through West Africa, the head of the World Health Organisation said Wednesday.
The latest toll represents a significant increase from the 1,552 deaths and 3,069 cases reported by the Geneva-based organisation just days ago.
Human trial of experimental Ebola vaccine begins this week
September 3, 2014 | 0 Comments
Caleb Hellerman* [caption id="attachment_11607" align="alignleft" width="300"] A picture taken on June 28, 2014 shows a member of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) putting on protective gear at the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital in Conakry, where people infected with the Ebola virus are being treated. The World Health Organization has warned that Ebola could spread beyond hard-hit Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to neighbouring nations, but insisted that travel bans were not the answer. To date, there have been 635 cases of haemorrhagic fever in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, most confirmed as Ebola. A total of 399 people have died, 280 of them in Guinea. AFP PHOTO / CELLOU BINANICELLOU BINANI/AFP/Getty Images[/caption] A highly anticipated test of an experimental Ebola vaccine will begin this week at the National Institutes of Health, amid mounting anxiety about the spread of the deadly virus in West Africa. After an expedited review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, researchers were given the green light to begin what’s called a human safety trial, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). It will be the first test of this type of Ebola vaccine in humans. The experimental vaccine, developed by the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline and the NIAID, will first be given to three healthy human volunteers to see if they suffer any adverse effects. If deemed safe, it will then be given to another small group of volunteers, aged 18 to 50, to see if it produces a strong immune response to the virus. All will be monitored closely for side effects. The vaccine will be administered to volunteers by an injection in the deltoid muscle of their arm, first in a lower dose, then later in a higher dose after the safety of the vaccine has been determined. Some of the preclinical studies that are normally done on these types of vaccines were waived by the FDA during the expedited review, Fauci said, so “we want to take extra special care that we go slowly with the dosing.” The vaccine did extremely well in earlier trials with chimpanzees, Fauci said. He noted that the method being used to prompt an immune response to Ebola cannot cause a healthy individual to become infected with the virus. Still, he said, “I have been fooled enough in my many years of experience… you really can’t predict what you will see (in humans).” According to the NIH, the vaccine will also be tested on healthy volunteers in the United Kingdom, Gambia and Mali, once details are finalized with health officials in those countries. CDC director raises Ebola alarm Trials cannot currently be done in the four countries affected by the recent outbreak — Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria — because the existing health care infrastructure wouldn’t support them, Fauci said. Gambia and Mali were selected because the NIH has “long-standing collaborative relationships” with researchers in those countries. According to the NIH, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are also in talks with health officials from Nigeria about conducting part of the safety trial there. Funding from an international consortium formed to fight Ebola will enable GlaxoSmithKline to begin manufacturing up to 10,000 additional doses of the vaccine while clinical trials are ongoing, the pharmaceutical company said in a statement. These doses would be made available if the World Health Organization decides to allow emergency immunizations in high-risk communities. The GSK/NIAID vaccine is one of two leading candidate vaccines. The other was developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada and licensed this month to NewLink Genetics, a company based in Iowa. According to the NIH, safety trials of that vaccine will start this fall. Earlier this month, the Canadian government shipped what it said was “800 to 1,000” doses of that vaccine to Liberia, at the government’s request. It’s not clear whether it has been given to health workers or anyone else there. Worth noting: In 2009, an earlier version of the vaccine was given to a lab worker in Germany after he thought he had pricked himself with a needle tainted with Ebola. He did not develop the disease. While there currently is no proven treatment for Ebola beyond supportive care, government agencies and small biotech firms have been scrambling to speed up development of several potential therapies and vaccines. A third vaccine, also developed by the NIH, was recently tested in primates and found to protect them from infection; it was given in combination with Depovax, an adjuvant that has been used with other vaccines and cancer therapies to boost the body’s immune response. While vaccines might be given to prevent infection among health workers or other people thought to be at high risk, development has also been sped up on drugs that might potentially be given to patients who already have the disease. The drug that’s received the most attention is ZMapp, which has been given to at least seven individuals in the current outbreak, including two American missionary medical workers, Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly. The drug has never been formally tested in humans, and while the results in human patients are encouraging — five of the seven known to have received it are still alive — experts say there is too little data to say whether it played a role in their recoveries. Are myths making the Ebola outbreak worse? Earlier versions of ZMapp, which received backing from the U.S. and Canadian governments as well as from biotech firms, have shown some ability to protect rhesus macaque monkeys more than two days after they were infected with the virus. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced on Tuesday a $24.9 million, 18-month contract with ZMapp’s manufacturer, Mapp Biopharmaceutical, to accelerate the development of the medication. Mapp will make “a small amount of the drug for early stage clinical safety studies and nonclinical studies” to gauge how the drug works on people, the HHS department said in a news release. The various new steps “will contribute to increasing the amount of product potentially available to treat patients with Ebola.” Another drug, TKM-Ebola, has been tested for safety in a small number of humans. That trial was put on hold in January, after one volunteer developed moderate gastrointestinal side effects after receiving a high dose of the medication. Last month, the FDA modified the hold to a “partial clinical hold.” In effect, this means that Tekmira could potentially be allowed to give the drug to doctors or hospitals who request it, on an emergency basis. There’s no indication that the company has received any such requests. The vaccine going into trials this week is based on an adenovirus — a type of cold virus — that’s found in chimpanzees. The virus delivers genetic material derived from two species of Ebola virus, including the Zaire strain that’s responsible for the current outbreak. Those genes are meant to trigger the development of antibodies in the person who receives the vaccine, antibodies that can specifically defend against Ebola. Another trial, using a version of the GSK/NIAID vaccine that uses only the Zaire strain of Ebola, will be launched in October, according to the NIH. All participants in the trial will be evaluated nine times over a 48-week period. NIH expects to reveal the results of the trial by the end of the year. If it’s approved for widespread use, the first priority will be to give the vaccine to health care workers or lab workers who are fighting the spread of the virus, Fauci said. It will then be considered for people in the communities where outbreaks occur. *Source CNN ]]>
Africa Leaders Summit presents opportunity to intensify talks on funding for malaria
July 31, 2014 | 0 Comments
Immunization at a clinic in Nigeria[/caption] The African Leaders summit, being held in Washington on August 4-6, will seek to advance trade and investment opportunities between Africa and the United States. Fifty African countries have been invited to convene and discuss ways of stimulating growth and opportunities across the continent. The event, the largest any U.S. President has held with African heads of state and government, aims to forge stronger economic ties between the United States, Africa and other global markets. The theme of the summit is Investing in the Next Generation, with debate focusing on areas seen as critical drivers for economic growth, sustainable development, and security in the region. On the agenda are food security, leadership opportunities for African women in government and across civil society and health. The latter will see senior health policy makers, Ministers of Health and African leaders discuss current constraints to achieving shared health goals, including malaria. Economic growth across sub-Saharan Africa’s 48 countries is predicted to increase but will inevitably be uneven (19 are designated fragile and conflict-affected countries, 11 low income, 13 middle and seven upper-middle income). The International Monetary Fund predicts that four of the world’s six fastest-growing economies in 2014 will be in sub-Saharan Africa. Many countries are already seeing an increase in income per capita, although not necessarily an increase in quality of life, where issues around governance, inequality and access to education and healthcare are yet to be addressed. To ensure sustainable economic growth, continued efforts are needed to improve access to healthcare delivery systems, in particular in lower income malaria-endemic countries. Progress around malaria prevention and control has been well documented. World Health Organization (WHO) data shows that between 2000 and 2012, estimated malaria mortality rates decreased by 42 percent worldwide and by 49 percent in the African Region. Deaths in children under five are estimated to have decreased by 48 percent globally and by 54 percent in the African Region. The African Union and Roll Back Malaria have supported national commitments to creating health policy frameworks and government investment in reducing malaria is having considerable success in some countries. Despite this, malaria continues to pose a major constraint to economic development and remains a critical issue in most sub-Saharan African countries. There were an estimated 627,000 malaria deaths worldwide in 2012 (WHO), mostly in sub-Saharan Africa (90 percent) and in children under five. The facts are hard to argue with. A case of severe malaria can change the course of a child’s life: mortality rates from other health related causes are significantly higher and, for those who survive, 19 percent suffer serious neurological and cognitive conditions, including impaired vision, behavioural difficulties and epilepsy. And it doesn’t just affect children. In Nigeria, for example, malaria is the cause of 11 percent of maternal mortality. The loss of a mother substantially increases the risk of infant mortality, while malaria in pregnancy results in severe anaemia increasing obstetric risk and causes low birth weight. In a country where malaria is the leading cause of child deaths, gains made in reducing the impact of the disease will remain fragile without sustained political and financial commitment. Last year, during the Abuja Summit in Nigeria, African heads of state and Government committed to step up the mobilisation of domestic resources to ensure sustainable financing for health, including malaria. And it can’t come too soon. Since the 1930s, there have been 75 documented local resurgences of malaria, the majority linked to decreased funding. Although countries with higher mortality rates and lower national incomes have seen increased investment in malaria control, especially in Africa, domestic government investments across the region are highest in wealthier countries and lowest in countries where malaria mortality rates are high. Malaria control has proven to be a highly cost-effective public health strategy. Lives saved from malaria are estimated to account for 20 percent of all progress in reducing child mortality in sub-Saharan Africa since 2000, resulting in less infant and maternal mortality, fewer days missed at school and work, and increased productivity. It is widely accepted that poor health can undermine economic growth while good health can enhance it. Continuing to develop new interventions and strategies to prevent and treat malaria, including drugs, diagnostics, and vaccines, is crucial to maintaining progress and mitigate against the threat of drug and insecticide resistance. The African Leaders Summit offers a timely opportunity to address constraints to achieving shared health goals. For all 50 countries, discussion around intensifying malaria control and elimination efforts and should be high on the agenda. *Michelle Davis is Senior Communications Manager at Malaria Consortium ,an international NGO working in malaria, neglected tropical diseases and child health. Malaria Consortium works in Africa and Asia with communities, governments and non-government agencies, academic institutions and local and international organisations to ensure evidence-based delivery of effective services. www.malariaconsortium.org ]]>
Winner of African Story Challenge Focuses on the Health Toll on Miners
June 14, 2014 | 0 Comments
Journalists and media organizations in Africa often shy away from development stories, such as those on health and social justice, and instead opt to cover politics. Rebecca Davis, of South African daily online newspaper Daily Maverick, says African news organizations “feel [development] stories are boring or [that readers] have ‘poverty fatigue.’ ” But journalists like Davis are working to change that. Last month, her story “Coughing up for Gold,” which looked at the toll that mining has taken on the health of former South African mine workers, emerged the winner of a continent-wide reporting contest, the African Story Challenge. For her work, Davis wins an international reporting trip. The African Story Challenge is a project of the African Media Initiative (AMI), the continent’s largest association of media owners and operators, in partnership with the International Center for Journalists.Joseph Warungu, AMI’s content strategies director, developed the challenge during his ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellowship. Story ideas are selected to receive grants of up to US$20,000 to support journalists in producing comprehensive multimedia stories in three categories that are organized in cycles – agriculture and food security, disease prevention and treatment, and business and technology. Davis won in the disease prevention and treatment category. “The African Story Challenge reminded me of the importance of Africans telling their own stories,” Davis said in an interview about the making of “Coughing up for Gold.” She urged journalists to “always put a human face at the center of the story, and that’s how you draw your audience, no matter how dry the subject matter may seem at the outset.” More of her interview is published below with permission from the African Story Challenge: African Story Challenge: How would you describe your experience as an African Story Challenge Finalist and Winner? RD: The African Story Challenge has been a priceless opportunity for me. The training I received during the Story Camp in Lagos was particularly useful as I learned a lot on data journalism. Now I have some of the skills to make my own graphics. I work for a news organization that doesn’t have a lot of resources so anything we can do ourselves, we do. Above all, the financial support was invaluable. In this day and age, few organizations have the time or money to do such in-depth investigative reports. If we hadn’t received this grant from the African Media Initiative, we would not have been able to do this story. ASC: You had six weeks to produce “Coughing up for Gold.” How did you go about it? RD: In doing “Coughing up for Gold,” I wanted to look at the complex issue of silicosis amongst former miners whose plight has been neglected by government and other industry players. Silicosis has everything: it’s politics, money, race, sort of South Africa in a microcosm, and that’s why I found it such a fascinating issue. My cameraman, fixer and I travelled to the Eastern Cape, sometimes for many kilometers in very remote areas and into the mountains to find these ex-miners. We found them sick, and living in conditions of heartbreaking poverty. They couldn’t work due to the disease, and if they had been paid compensation, it was too little. They were welcoming and willing to talk to us, and it was quite humbling to experience their hospitality considering the hardship of their living conditions. It was very hard to get access to the mines themselves, but at short notice, we were able to visit Sibanye Gold, one of the biggest gold producers. We wanted to get a general feel of what mining conditions are like. We were able to speak to top mining officials there who obviously gave us a sanitized version, but it was still interesting to hear what the mines had to say about the situation. We carried out other interviews with mining experts from the chamber of mines and other officials who didn’t want to go on the record, who gave us interesting insights into exactly what the industry knows about the problem and what they are doing about it. One of our biggest coups in doing the project was finding two health experts attached to the national institute of occupational health, Dr. Jill Murray and Dr. Tony Davis who gave us an interview. They had been carrying out autopsies on former miners for years and years and were in the best position to cut through the PR waffle from the mines because they are the ones looking at the lungs of the miners, and can show you the graphs of how incidences of Silicosis and TB are rising year after year. Every journalist should be so lucky to find such knowledgeable interview subjects who aren’t scared, and are willing to talk at length and explain the subject to a layman. We finished off by interviewing the lawyers who’d been involved in taking up the compensation cases for a legal perspective. ASC: What has been the feedback from the story? RD: The feedback has been quite positive, even from people within the mining industry. We’ve had a couple of people come forward to say that though the story was hard hitting, it was essentially valid. The lawyers for the miners have asked to use part of the project, such as the videos, in their own documentation, which was quite heartening. I hope it can be of use to them in the fight for compensation. In general, a lot of people said that although they were aware the issue of silicosis existed, they hadn’t seen it in such a comprehensive package before, and “Coughing up for Gold” managed to inform them in that way, and that has been an incredibly worthwhile thing. The African Story Challenge reminded me of the importance of Africans telling their own stories. A lot of journalists and media organizations shy away from development stories and particularly those on health and social justice because they feel these stories are boring or have “poverty fatigue”. Part of what I’ve learnt from the African Story Challenge journey is to always put a human face at the center of the story, and that’s how you draw your audience, no matter how dry the subject matter may seem at the outset. *ICFJ .This story was also published on IJNet, which is produced by ICFJ.]]>