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Archive for December 31st, 2008

Governments in West Africa must step up existing measures to prevent the spread of malaria

Posted by African Press International on December 31, 2008

AFRICA: New hope for malaria vaccine

Photo: UNICEF/HQ00-0159/Pirozzi
Health experts say any future vaccine should be part of broad prevention efforts (file photo)

DAKAR, 22 December 2008 (IRIN) – The worlds most clinically advanced malaria vaccine trials have given new hope in the fight against the disease, which in sub-Saharan Africa kills a child every 30 seconds.

Malaria experts recently meeting in the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou say promising vaccine research aside, governments in West Africa must step up existing measures to prevent the spread of the disease.

Results published on 11 December in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that the vaccine candidate RTS,S/AS (made by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Biologicals), provides both infants and young children with significant protection against malaria.

We are closer than ever before to developing a malaria vaccine,” said Christian Loucq, director of PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI), the organisation coordinating the global effort.

The Roll Back Malaria (RBM) partnership says malaria is the leading cause of death of under-five children in Africa, and in pregnant women increases the chances of low birth weight, anaemia or early infant death.

Malaria is endemic in most West African countries. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says malaria causes an average loss of 1.3 percent of economic growth in countries with intense transmission.

Scientific success

Two separate second phase trials of versions of the RTS,S/AS drug were conducted in Kenya and Tanzania, and reaffirmed earlier study results, supporting the launch of a further, stage three trial.

In children aged five months to seventeen months, the candidate RTS,S/AS01 reduced the risk of clinical episodes of malaria by 53 percent, over an eight-month period. It was also shown to have a promising safety profile. And for the first time, data from the study of RTS,S/AS02 showed that the drug can be used in infants, as part of existing national immunisation programmes.

The vaccine works alongside standard infant vaccines of the World Health Organisations (WHO) Expanded Program of Immunization (EPI), and has consistently shown a significant efficacy level, said Joe Cohen, a co-inventor of the vaccine and vice-president of Research & Development, Emerging Diseases & HIV at GSK Biologicals.

Holistic approach

One RBM official, who took part in the Ouagadougou malaria conference, said the vaccine progress is welcome news but does not change the need for better prevention efforts in West Africa.

This new research is positive but it doesnt change our message countries still need to modify their strategies, especially in prevention and treatment, Boi-Betty Udom, RBM partnership facilitator, told IRIN. Were hopeful a vaccine could be part of a holistic approach to malaria control, as a way to reduce the severity of malaria attacks.

At the Ouagadougou meeting WHO and RBM officials urged West African governments to work to reach more people with preventive measures. Udom said just 20 percent of people mainly under-five children and pregnant women are being targeted.

Stephan Tohon of WHOs malaria programme in Burkina Faso said too narrow a focus might mean that preventive tools like insecticide-treated nets (ITN) are not being used as they should. Ten years ago we focused on the most vulnerable populations women and under-five children but today we realise that where there is a mosquito net its often the head of the household who uses it.

WHOs latest world malaria report says surveys in 2006-07 in 18 African countries showed that 34 percent of households owned ITNs and 23 percent of under-five children slept under the nets.

Experts at the meeting noted that none of the countries in West Africa have met the African Unions 2003 Maputo declaration, which stipulated that governments allot 15 percent of the national budget to the health sector.


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Not clear yet as to who will become Ghana’s president

Posted by African Press International on December 31, 2008

GHANA: No president-elect yet

Photo: Evans Mensah/IRIN
Ghanaians sat for hours outsde the national electoral commission offices awaiting results of the presidential run-off

ACCRA, 30 December 2008 (IRIN) – Ghanas test as a model democracy in coup-wracked West Africa will be stretched over a few more days as election officials investigate fraud allegations and conduct a missed poll in one district.

Results from Ghanas 28 December presidential run-off were expected on 30 December but the head of the electoral commission said the outcome will be delayed for audits of disputed polls and thefresh 2 January vote.

Thousands of Ghanaians camped out overnight at the electoral commission headquarters in the capital Accra the eve of the expected announcement. Armed soldiers and police were out in forceto control the crowds.

As of late 30 December, with counts from 229 of 230 constituencies, opposition candidate John Evans Atta Mills was leading with 50.13 percent against 49.87 percent for the ruling party candidate Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, according to the national electoral commission.

Voters number some 53,000 in the district set to vote later this week.

Ghanaians are watching nervously, thinking not only of their new leader but also of the countrys reputation at stake.

More on Ghana elections
Critical issues in presidential poll
Police gear up to prevent election violence
Candidates go to a run-off

Teacher Yaw Ampong, 37, told IRIN: For me the many reports of intimidation and allegations of vote rigging by both parties is worrying, especially because of the reputation weve carved for ourselves as an example of a world class democracy worth emulating.

Businesses in Accra shut down early on 30 December as people awaited results.

Many citizens say tensions surrounding the tight election have evoked last years election violence in Kenya and recent coups dtat in Mauritania and Guinea.

A 40-year-old bus driver who gave his name as Steven said he hopes politicians and citizens alike will take a cue from Kenya to avoid post-election violence.

I am particularly concerned because listening to the international media on the coup dtat in Guinea I get the sense that the coup has the potential to destabilise the sub-region, he added.

He says on election day he told a number of his friends to avoid any act that might make the country vulnerable to a situation as witnessed by the Guineans.

Ghana has seen an era of military coups but has been a stable democracy since the 1990s.

At Accras central business district a market woman yelled: We want peace. We want peace. Ghana is not Kenya!

Photo: Evans Mensah/IRIN
Armed soldiers and police were out in force in the streets of the Ghanaian capital Accra as people awaited results of the close presidential run-off

Despite some reports of poll disturbances in the presidential run-off observers have declared the election as largely fair and peaceful. The head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) observer mission former Nigerian president General Yakubu Gowon told the press the elections have been free, fair and credible.

Upon releasing preliminary figures the head of the electoral commission, Kwadjo Afari Djan, announced that allegations of irregularities in the Ashanti and Volta regions are serious enough to warrant audits. He said the Tain district in the Brong Ahafo region will vote on 2 January; polls did not go forward there on 28 December because lingering tension between rival supporters was considered too explosive to hold a vote.


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Exodus in northeastern DRC due to deadly attacks

Posted by African Press International on December 31, 2008

DRC-UGANDA: Deadly LRA attacks prompt exodus in northeastern DRC

Photo: Voxcom/IRIN
LRA soldiers: Tens of thousands of civilians have fled their villages in northeastern DRC after attacks blamed on the Lords Resistance Army

KINSHASA, 30 December 2008 (IRIN) – Tens of thousands of civilians have fled their villages in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after 189 people were killed in attacks blamed on the Lords Resistance Army, a Ugandan rebel group, according to the UNs Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The entire population of Faradje [80km from the Sudanese border], some 30,000 people, has left. Most have taken refuge in Tadu and Kpodo, said Ivo Brandau, head of information for OCHA in the DRC, referring to villages 37km and 11km from Faradje respectively.

Brandau said there were concerns among humanitarian agencies that large numbers of other civilians would take flight for fear of new attacks.

The armies of the DRC, Uganda and Southern Sudan have been conducting joint military operations against the LRA in northeastern DRC since shortly after the rebel groups leader, Joseph Kony, failed once again to show up in early December for a scheduled signing of a final peace accord.

Brandau said the region of Bangadi (200km west-north-west of Faradje) was particularly vulnerable because there was no military presence there.

Photo: Peter Martell/IRIN
Congolese displaced in a past LRA attack in northeastern DRC. Some 189 people were killed in the latest LRA attacks blamed in the area

An OCHA field mission said displaced people from Kiliwa and Paika had travelled to Masabe, 75km from the town of Dungu (about 120km west of Faradje).

Its not yet known exactly how many. Another group of around 180 households is said to be in Duru (about 150km west of Faradje). This area is considered to be at risk because of the presence of the LRA, said Brandau.

Citing local authorities and residents, he said that in recent days 40 people had been killed in Faradje, 89 in Doruma (about 250km northwest of Faradje) and 60 in Gurga. Villages and local officials are still looking for bodies.

Prominent citizens killed

Several prominent Faradje citizens were killed in the attack, including a senior doctor, two pastors, a school inspector, a pharmacist, and the deputy head of the Directorate General of Migration.

Dungu Territory Administrator Leandres Bwilu told IRIN the Ugandan rebels had attacked several villages in the area, but declined to comment further.

About 20 children were abducted during the attack on Faradje, 120 houses were set on fire, and numerous buildings, including the hospital and the police barracks, were looted, according to residents cited by the OCHA field mission.

According to OCHA, the LRA is currently occupying seven villages around Doruma: Batande, Manzagala, Mabando, Bagbugu, Nakatilikpa,, Nagengwa and Natulugbu.

DRC army spokesman Col Leon-Richard Kasongo said air raids on LRA positions in Garamba National Park in northeastern DRC had dispersed the rebels both north towards Sudan and south into the DRC.

The military operations and the LRA presence make it very difficult for humanitarian agencies to operate, and some areas are currently totally inaccessible to aid workers.


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The crunching continues – food prices

Posted by African Press International on December 31, 2008

SWAZILAND: The food price crunch continues

Photo: James Hall/IRIN
Many are increasingly growing vegetables to get by

MBABANE, 30 December 2008 (IRIN) – Swazi familieshave increasingly resorted togrowing vegetables in their backyards and even making sour milk concoctions for sale as food prices continue to bite during the lean season.

We are a people who know how to get along in hard times, and for us times have been hard for a long time, said Amos Thwala, who lives with his family of six on a little plot outside Swazilands central commercial town of Manzini.

Prices of essential food items have risen 10-40 percent in 2008. This week, the Swazi media have also reported meat shortages in towns.

While the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS-NET) reported that the food inflation rate had dropped from 18.3 percent to 17.9 percent in Swaziland in October, the rate is still high.

Amos, like 80 percent of the population, lives on communal Swazi Nation Land, administered by hereditary chiefs. Unlike 2007, when Swaziland’s maize crop was devastated by a prolonged dry spell and high temperatures (resulting in the lowest annual harvest on record), this year, his land has received rainfall.

''We are all hoping for good crops [in 2009], because what little food people had in their crop storage bins from last years harvests is finished by December, weeks before the new crops come in''

The summer rains have helped him to grow vegetables on his plot. They have already covered his childrens school fees for when classes resume in January 2009.

Selling what we can is our way of getting on, said Amos, whose wife on occasion also sells a sour milk concoction called `emasi, a popular Swazi drink, made from his cows output.

Job losses

However, selling sour milk and tomatoes can never make up for the income of their eldest son, who lost his job in a South African mine prior to the holiday season, when migrant workers are customarily dismissed for the year to visit their home countries.

For a century the remittances of Swazi men working in mines in South Africa have supported their families in the chiefdoms, and been a source of foreign exchange earnings for the national economy.

Remittances in Swaziland account for 4.2 percent of Gross Domestic Product, reported the Financial Mail, a South African weekly, in December. Quoting analysts, the magazine also said South Africas mining sector is expected to lose 40,000 jobs by the end of 2009.

Borderline existences under threat

The Thwala familys efforts to cope tells in microcosm the wider national story of higher food prices threatening already borderline existences.

World Vision reported this month that many Swazis in rural areas are down to one or two meals a day as they ration their food supplies, and the cost of food increases.

We are all hoping for good crops [in 2009], because what little food people had in their crop storage bins from last years harvests is finished by December, weeks before the new crops come in. This is the time when people resort to buying food staples in shops. But with rising costs and less money, they cant this year, said Samuel Zwane, an aid worker in the Manzini region.

The high price of food has worsened life for families struggling to nourish their HIV-positive relatives, who require well-balanced meals to facilitate the effectiveness of their antiretroviral regimen. The doubling of wheat prices in 2008 has also made bread unaffordable for many Swazis.

The Thwalas are relatively lucky. They receive rations of maize meal and cooking oil supplied by the World Food Programme and distributed in their area by World Vision.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, it is estimated that about 210,000 Swazis will be food insecure during the 2008/09 marketing year (April/March). Of these, 60,000 are temporarily food insecure primarily due to rising food prices, and face a food deficit of about 4,300 metric tonnes of cereals.


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11 deaths – Ebola may be on its way back

Posted by African Press International on December 31, 2008

DRC: Ebola suspected as 11 die in Kasai Occidental (corrected version)

Photo: BBC
DRC Health Minister August Mopipi said the symptoms of those who died were evidence that they had succumbed to the effects of the Ebola virus

KINSHASA, 30 December 2008 (IRIN) – Eleven people have died in a remote area of central Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where the presence of the Ebola virus has been confirmed, according to health officials.

The 11 were among a few dozen people suspected to be infected with the deadly virus near the village of Kaluemba in Kasai Occidental Province.

DRC Health Minister August Mopipi said the symptoms of those who died fever, bloody vomit and diarrhoea, muscular pains were evidence that they had succumbed to the effects of the Ebola virus.

The outbreak began on 29 November when an 18-year-old girl gave birth prematurely and both mother and child and people who were nearby died shortly afterwards, said the minister.

Mopipi explained that two samples from the area had been tested at National Institute of Biomedical Research in Kinshasa and the Franceville laboratory in Gabon for confirmation. The Franceville results showed the presence of the Ebola virus, Mopipi said.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), however, the samples were taken from two patients who were still alive.

We only have two confirmed cases, Gregory Hrtl of the WHOs Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response unit told IRIN by phone from Geneva.

We are not sure the 11 deaths were due to Ebola. This is a part of the world where there are many diseases, such as cholera, typhoid and shigellosis, he added.

Hrtl noted that some patients in Kaluemba were responding to antibiotics, which would rule out Ebola.

WHO country and regional staff are working closely with the Ministry of Health. This is a very remote part of the country and transport is extremely limited, he said.

Pockets, or suspected cases, of Ebola have been recorded with increasing frequency in villages within the Kaluemba health area where the disease has been confirmed, said Olivier Chenebon, of the Belgian branch of the medical charity Mdecins Sans Frontires.

The work of our teams on the ground is important: They should be closely monitoring the 102 people who have been in contact with the dead or the sick. It is possible they might develop the disease and infect others, Chenebon said.

The Ebola epidemic has been reappearing in Mweka District for nearly a year.

The disease is thought to have caused the deaths of many of the 187 people who died in and around Kampungu village, also in Kasai Occidental, during a confirmed outbreak in 2007.

According to Chenebon, the teams touring villages to raise awareness of the disease are telling people not to touch dead animals, not to eat bats or monkeys, and to avoid all contact with human fluids.


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President Chavez congratulates Iraqi shoe thrower for targeting President Bush

Posted by African Press International on December 31, 2008

chavez-praising-the-iraqi-shoe-throwerVenezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Photo/REUTERS

PostedTuesday, December 162008at17:28

CARACAS, Tuesday

Venezuela President Hugo Chavez said yesterday that an Iraqi reporter who flung his shoes at US President George W. Bush was courageous.

Mr Chavez, who has himself hurled insults at the US President over the years, said he was glad the shoes didnt hit Mr Bush but smiled broadly during a video of the incident played during a cabinet meeting broadcast on Venezuela television.

Its a good thing it didnt hit him. Im not encouraging throwing shoes at anybody, but really, what courage, he said.

Iraqi reporter Muntazer al-Zaidi threw shoes at Mr Bush and called him a dog during a Baghdad news conference on Sunday, an act that has won him wide support in the Middle East.

Mr Chavez is a fierce critic of the US war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan and frequently calls Mr Bush a donkey, a drunkard or Mr Danger.

Most famously he called Mr Bush the Devil during a speech at the UN headquarters in New York, sniffing the air and saying it still smelt of sulphur after Mr Bush had left the podium.

During 10 years in office, Mr Chavez has portrayed his socialist government as an alternative to the US empire. He promotes alliances with countries including Iran, Cuba and Russia to weaken Washingtons influence on the world stage.

Venezuelan state TV repeatedly replayed a clip of the shoe throwing incident. (Reuters)


IRAQ/BUSH-SHOEVideo frame grab of U.S. President George W. Bush (L) ducking from a shoe during a news conference in Baghdad December 14, 2008. An Iraqi reporter called visiting U.S. President Bush a “dog” in Arabic on Sunday and threw his shoes at him during a news conference in Baghdad. Iraqi security officers and U.S. secret service agents leapt at the man and dragged him struggling and screaming out of the room where Bush was giving a news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. PHOTO/ REUTERS

ByBILLY MUIRURIPostedSaturday, December 272008at17:25

In Summary

  • How can he address other presidents as if he owns the world? Chavez wonders about Bush

The president robustly threw a bold stare at the audience, paused and with their full attention on his next statement, he blurted out: address other presidents as if heThe devil came here yesterday! And it smells of sulphur till today… How can he address other presidents as if he owns the world?

That was President Hugo Chavez of oil-rich Venezuela addressing the UN General Assembly on just who he thought US President George Walker Bush is. Bush had addressed the same meeting the day before.

Chavez wasnt through. He stunned delegates again when he acknowledged that he had a warm relationship with former president Bill Clinton. But on Bush, he bellowed: With this cowboy, you cant even talk he even stole the elections.

Chavez, whose country is the fourth largest exporter of oil to the US, is just one of the people who have never agreed with Bush on anything.

At one time, he blamed the UN for being an arm of the US and even proposed to offer Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, to be its headquarters as the way it (UN) is, there is no way to save it (from US influence).

Definitely the most powerful man alive, Bush has stepped on the toes of many presidents, especially from oil-rich countries.

In the process, he has earned so many enemies that even a fortnight ago, his retinue of security agents had never imagined that the presidents enemies could include journalists.

A fortnight ago, he ducked two shoes hurled at him by an enraged Iraq journalist, Muntadar al-Zaidi of Al-Baghdadiya TV, who called him dog, during a press conference alongside Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.

Again, Chavez was the first and only international leader to publicly paised the journalists attack. What courage! he said of Zaidis onslaught. Though he said it was very funny, he added that the action was courageous and acting for the Iraq people.

Bush is the man Iraqis blame for all misery they are suffering since the US invaded the country five years ago.

Early this month, he regreted having waged a war in Iraq and said it was the most unfortunate event in his eight-year rule.

Perceived to be overbearing and egoistic, he has come in conflict with several world leaders, especially those who think Western powers should not interfere with their own internal affairs.

He attacked Iraq in 2003, accusing strong man Saddam Hussein of making chemical and biological weapons and of having links with the al Qaeda terrorist network.

He was so keen to distort intelligence reports to justify the attack that he is said to have ignored a plea by Saddam that he could go to exile if compensated with $1 (Sh80) billion.

Saddam wont change. Time has come to get rid of him. Thats the way it is, he had said after a meeting in Texas with then Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar where the offer plea was presented.

And in a televised address to Americans in March, 2003, Bush urged the Iraq military not to defend their commander-in-chief.

Do not fight for a dying regime. Saddam is not worth your own life, he added, This man (Saddam) is insane. He is a dangerous man. We should force him out now.

In 2002, he had expressed hatred for Saddam in the Senate and tried to justify war against him, After all, this is the guy who tried to kill my father. Bush Senior, who helped to drive Iraq forces out of Kuwait in 1990, was targeted during a visit to Kuwait during Bill Clintons tenure.

Former Cuban strongman Fidel Castro also had very little respect for Bush. He was more vicious against the man he said had fooled some people all the time, and all people part of the time but could never fool all the people all the time.

Castro was enraged when Bush declared: Long live free Cuba, after Castro transferred power to his brother Raul.

A frail Castro said from his hospital bed: I cant imagine such words from the mouth of a whole US president, a whole 139 years later.

Cuba gained independence from Spain in 1878. When Bush said in 2004 that Cuba was a growing sex tourist destination, Castro wrote a letter to him accusing the US of playing the Holy God nation while it had a more thriving sexual and human trafficking industry.

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