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Archive for June 12th, 2009

GHANA: Road crash casualties hit maternal health efforts

Posted by African Press International on June 12, 2009

Photo: Evans Mensah/IRIN
Crash on the road from Accra to Winneba, also known as Ghana’s ‘Bermuda Triangle’

ACCRA, – Doctors in Ghana have had to halt special prenatal home visits part of an initiative to beat high maternal mortality because road crash casualties are taking up so much of their time and scarce resources, medical workers say.

In March and April over 100 people died on one 15-kilometre stretch of road between the capital Accra and Winneba to the west, according to doctors at the Winneba government hospital. The area is known locally as Ghanas Bermuda Triangle.

Road accidents are among the top causes of death in Ghana, with malaria, diarrhoeal and respiratory diseases, according to deputy director of the Ghana Health Service, George Amofa. Road accidents kill more Ghanaians annually than typhoid fever, pregnancy-related complications, malaria in pregnancy, diabetes or rheumatism.

The situation is putting unbearable pressure on the health system, depriving us of resources that would have been channeled into dealing with other pressing health challenges, Dodi Abdallah, a doctor at the Winneba hospital told IRIN.

We are losing the battle against maternal mortality because of the sheer pressure of accident emergencies, he said.

Winneba, 15km from Accra, has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Ghana with an estimated 700 deaths per 100,000 live births. LINK The only hospital in town has two doctors and one surgical theatre with mostly obsolete equipment. Given the shortage of beds, many patients lie on the floor.

''We are losing the battle against maternal mortality because of the sheer pressure of accident emergencies ''

We devoted our limited resources to [improving maternal health], says Abdallah. The hospital had begun an education campaign and launched house-to-house visitations to give antenatal care to women who refuse to go to hospital.

But since the beginning of this year we have stopped the initiative, because we now attend to five road accident victims a day often with critical injuries, which means we devote all our scarce resources to that, Abdallah told IRIN.

From January to March 602 people died in road accidents in Ghana, up from 399 in the same period in 2008. The Ghana National Road Safety Commission projects that some 2,400 people could die on the roads by years end. The annual average since 2000 has been 1,800.

Ninety percent of worldwide road accident fatalities occur in developing countries, with West Africa particularly at risk, according to a 2004 World Health Organization (WHO) report. (link) If current trends continue, road fatalities will be one of the top three causes of death in developing countries by 2020 says WHO.


Road Safety Commission executive director, Nobel Appiah, told IRIN what troubles him most is that these accidents are preventable, since most are caused by speeding or careless driving, according to a study released in June by the Ghana Road Safety Project (GRSP). The study indicates many drivers exceed the 50-kilometre per hour speed limit by as much as 50km.

Drunk driving is another problem. We still have alcohol drinking spots at our bus terminals encouraging long distance drivers to drink before they set off, Appiah said.

A daily long-distance driver, Stephen Mensah, admitted to taking several shots of hard liquor before starting a journey.

Defective roads, drivers failure to wear seat belts and corruption also contribute to the problem, said Appiah. The most worrying problem is the police who often fail to enforce the laws because they prefer to take bribes from drivers. As a result innocent by-standers like children lose their lives, he said.


The administration of President John Atta-Mills recently met with transport sector stakeholders to draw up a national road safety plan, at the core of which will be tougher enforcement of road regulations, according to the Ghana National Road Safety Commission.

A new road regulation bill will soon be sent to Parliament to improve safety standards, including enforcing seat-belt use and banning mobile phone use while driving.

Police officers are to be assessed annually on performance targets, including whether or not they report road safety transgressions, Appiah told IRIN.

Winneba hospital doctor Abdallah said change cannot come soon enough. Our hospital cannot cope with the number of accident victims who come in. There is nowhere else to end them. We are facing a daily crisis here.


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CONGO: Dial 115 and save a child’s life

Posted by African Press International on June 12, 2009

Photo: Keishamaza Rukikaire/IRIN
With the introduction of a 24-hour toll-free medical hotline set up by the Congolese government, UNICEF and a mobile telephone network operator, professional health operators will be on call to respond to queries about paediatric emergencies – file photo

BRAZZAVILLE, – The public and private sectors in Congo have joined forces to use near-ubiquitous mobile phones in an effort to save the lives of thousands of children who die of treatable conditions every year.

About 125 of every 1,000 children in Congo die before their fifth birthday, with half of this number not making it to the age of one. In eight out of 10 cases, easily curable conditions – malaria, diarrhoea, respiratory infections, malnutrition – are to blame.

With the introduction of a 24-hour toll-free medical hotline set up by the Congolese government, UNICEF and a mobile telephone network operator, professional health operators will be on call to respond to queries about paediatric emergencies.

''This strategy will complement other conventional strategies in place''

Despite its lack of development and endemic poverty, almost all of Congo is covered by mobile phone networks and most of the population has easy access to a phone.

“This is a welcome permanent service, which will provide people with free information on how to handle emergency infant health conditions and provide childcare tips,” Koen Vanormelingen, the UNICEF representative in Congo, said.

The service “will provide immediate information in moments where ignorance causes anxiety and uncertainty, said health minister Emilienne Raoul. “Our policy is to prevent disease and prolong childrens lives as much as possible. This strategy will complement other conventional strategies in place,” she said.

Callers will receive counselling on how to identify and address the diseases affecting their children and advice about the suitable medical facilities in their vicinity.


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AFGHANISTAN: Bumper wheat harvest to reduce food insecurity?

Posted by African Press International on June 12, 2009

Photo: Masoud Popalzai/IRIN
Wheat harvest in 2009 is expected to reduce food insecurity and stabilize food prices in Afghanistan

KABUL, – An expected bumper wheat harvest should reduce widespread food insecurity and bring down food prices in Afghanistan, according to officials.

Over eight million people across the country are believed to be food insecure and in need of food assistance.

We are optimistic this years grain production will reduce food insecurity considerably, Saaduddin Safi, a food security expert in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL), told IRIN.

The signs are encouraging, said Susannah Nicol, public information officer of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Kabul, adding that food availability and accessibility would still depend on the final harvest and market prices.

Largely owing to good rainfall, Afghanistan is expected to produce over six million tons of cereals, including over 4.5 million tons of wheat, by the end of August, MAIL and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have said.

We think a person consumes 150-180 kilos of grain such as wheat, rice, maize and barley annually, and from that we understand the estimated over 26 million population of the country will need over six million tons, said Safi.

Half of the countrys 34 provinces are expected to produce 25,000-50,000 tons more than their needs, but 17 other provinces, mostly in the east, central and southern areas, will face wheat deficits of 25,000-50,000 tons, according to MAIL.

Photo: MAIL
Seventeen provinces in Afghanistan will produce a surplus of 25,000-50,000 tonnesof wheat in 2009

Buying locally

In addition to about 215,000 tons of wheat imports from India, Russia and China in 2009, the Afghan government will buy at least 100,000 tons from local farmers, Safi said.

We will stock up our strategic reserves and also try to remedy deficits in some provinces with the surplus from other provinces, Safi said.

WFP said it also planned to purchase 7,000 tons of wheat from small-scale and vulnerable farmers through a programme called Purchase for Progress.

If the harvest does indeed match or exceed expectations, then WFP will aim to procure more food locally, provided it meets international WFP quality standards, Nicol said, adding that some 224,000 tons of wheat/wheat flour would also be imported.

Despite a relative slump in food prices in Afghanistan over the past few months, the price of wheat is still over 50 percent higher than it was in 2007 when prices were considered to be normal, WFP said.

Obviously the hope is that some of the most vulnerable people to whom WFP is providing food assistance will no longer need that assistance, said Susannah Nicol, adding that WFP would still plan for over 8.5 million beneficiaries in 2009.


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SRI LANKA: “Too many people” at huge IDP camp – UN

Posted by African Press International on June 12, 2009

Photo: Contributor/IRIN
More than 220,000 people live at the Menik Farm camp outside Vavuniya, northern Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, – Conditions at a huge government-run camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sri Lanka are still unsatisfactory, the UNs top official in the country told IRIN, despite some improvements.

The fundamental issue is that there are too many people in too small a place, said Neil Buhne, the UN resident coordinator in Sri Lanka, adding: We think it is the largest IDP camp in the world.

In the past two months over 210,000 people have flocked to the camp, leaving aid agencies struggling to cope, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The camp, known as Menik Farm, covers over 500 hectares outside the town of Vavuniya in northern Sri Lanka, about 270km from Colombo. It has over 220,000 IDPs who fled fighting between government forces and the now defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

As of 5 June, the UN Refugee Agency and its partners had erected some 6,500 emergency shelters and more than 13,000 tents – but much more is needed, OCHA said.

Buhne, who recently visited the camp, reports seeing 10-15 people in tents designed for five, but insisted improvements would happen.

Photo: Contributor/IRIN
Despite recent improvements, conditions at the camp are not satisfactory, Buhne says

Sanitation woefully inadequate

Improvements to water and sanitation facilities at the camp have been carried out, but in some places 100 people are using a single latrine when the standard should be around 20, Buhne said, adding that some pit latrines which were built when the camp was first opened in November 2008 were overflowing, causing discontent.

The situation is that people are coping, but very obviously this [the facilities] are not adequate, Buhne said.

The biggest gap continues to be in the provision of adequate water and sanitation, Richard Schmidt, head of office of Solidar in Vavuniya, said at their mid-year review.

Already there are outbreaks in the camps such as chicken pox, hepatitis and diarrhoea, which will only get worse if water and sanitation does not improve, he warned.

World Vision said water and sanitation was a major issue at many of the more than 40 camps set up by the government.

The sanitation facilities in the largest camps where most of the displaced are living are woefully inadequate and at least 11,500 more latrines are needed in the camps to comply with international minimum standards, it said in an 11 June statement.

At least 2,500 latrines were needed immediately to prevent a potential health crisis, ahead of the rains expected in two weeks time, it added.

Photo: World Vision Lanka
The bulk of food is cooked at large communal kitchens such as this one


The World Food Programme (WFP) said sufficient food was reaching residents in all camps, but that it needed US$5 million per month to ensure a steady supply of basic food. It was urgently seeking funds to avoid supply breakdowns.

“We urgently need $35 million to meet the needs for this year. We need the funds fast, because it takes 3-6 months for us to ship food into the country, Adnan Khan, the WFP country head, told IRIN.

Complimentary food for infants and lactating mothers in the camps was still an issue.


Some groups are pressing for greater access to the sprawling site, citing restrictions on vehicles entering the site.

Earlier this month, Sri Lankan Minister of Human Rights and Disaster Management Mahinda Samarasinghe told a press conference the government was prepared to grant appropriate access where needed, but not unfettered access.

Buhne said access restrictions had improved over the past three weeks and had not affected the supply of food, medicine or construction materials, but had prevented advocacy and protection programmes from taking place, adding: One of the big issues is garbage [disposal]. We have had some problems with some softer issues like that, he said.


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UGANDA: Eleven arrested over alleged rebel activity

Posted by African Press International on June 12, 2009

Photo: The Daily Monitor
Kony’s cronies? Those arrested are alleged to be former members of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) – file photo

GULU, – The Ugandan army says it has detained 11 people over alleged rebel activity in the north of the country.

Uganda army and defence spokesman Maj Felix Kulayigye said the 11 were coordinators of a new rebel group.

He said five had been arrested in Gulu and Pader districts of the Acholi sub-region, which was the epicentre of the conflict pitting government forces against the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) from the late 1980s well into this century, and that weapons and communications equipment had been unearthed in Pader.

Kulayigye said six others were detained in Rhino camp in Masindi District, western Uganda, with guns and solar panels.

The Gulu resident district commissioner, retired Col Walter Ochora, said those detained include former senior LRA fighters who had surrendered in 2007 and joined the regular army or who had been granted amnesty.

Treason charge

According to Kulayigye, the six held in Masindi would be charged with treason.

We have taken the files of those we arrested in Gulu and Pader to the director of public prosecution for advice. They are also preferably going to be charged with treason, he said.

Asked what the name of this new rebel group is, Kulayigye said: They are still in initial stages. They are still proposing the name of their rebel group, he said.

We are aware of some politicians in Gulu and those in the diaspora who are behind these new rebel activities in northern Uganda. They feel discredited by the LRA, Kulayigye said.

Col Ochora said some of those arrested wanted to break into a prison in Pader with the help of one of the prison wardens. However, security operatives managed to foil their attempt.

The LRA has not been active in northern Uganda for several years although in recent months it has committed devastating atrocities in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo in the wake of military strikes against its bases. The relative calm in northern Uganda has led tens of thousands of civilians to leave protected camps set up by the government in the late 1990s and return to their home villages.


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Madonna can adopt another child in Malawi, court rules

Posted by African Press International on June 12, 2009

By Prince Jamali

The Supreme Court of Malawi ruled on Friday that an American Pop diva, Madonna can adopt a three year old girl Mercy James overturning an earlier ruling by a lower court, which restrained her from adopting the child, because she was not a Malawian resident for eighteen months.

The High Court of Malawi about two months ago ruled that Madonna can’t adopt the child because she had not lived in Malawi for eighteen months to qualify her for adopting any child in the Southern African state.

Her team of lawyers in the country lodged an appeal to the highest court to decide the next course of action.

Making the ruling, a panel of three eminent judges led by the country’s Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo observed that the lower court had erred by blocking the pop star to adopt the child, because although she was not a resident of Malawi, she had followed all the procedures for an adoption.

The Chief Justice pointed out that Madonna had shown commitment to help disadvantaged children in the southern African country and that the High Court of Malawi judge made an error in law for not considering that fact. But instead, the lower court paid much attention to residency laws.

In our view, the appellant was a resident in Malawi when she applied to the court to have Mercy. She also has long term plans to assist the underprivileged children in the country. She is stable financially. She has a home in Beverley Hills in USA and another home in the UK, where little Mercy can live happily, ruled Justice Munlo, in his 20 – minute judgement.

The Chief Justice in his ruling also indicated that the lower court used out dated laws which were no longer applicable now. The court subsequently quashed the residency rule as a barrier, saying it was archaic.

No single family in Malawi wants to adopt this poor girl whose mother died. The only person who came forward is the appellant. There are only two options for Mercy, either to stay in an orphanage where there is no parental love, no proper care or to be with Madonna outside the country, said the Chief Justice.

A group of civil society organizations petitioned the High Court of Malawi to block Madonna’s attempts to adopt a second child in the country claiming that she did not follow the right procedures, even when she had adopted another child David Banda about two years ago.

The organizations noted that the famed star used her celebrity status and her fat wallet to use short cuts.

The adoption of Mercy has been at the centre of controversy in the country. Following the ruling of the lower court two months ago, a 20 year old man emerged from the scenes claiming that he was a biological father to the orphan, who was picked from an orphanage in the Southern part of the country. But nobody has paid any attention to his claims.

Her teenage mother died soon after her birth. The alleged father is said to have denied responsibility of her mother’s pregnancy.


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High Court in Malawi grants Madona the right to adopt Mercy, the little Malawian girl

Posted by African Press International on June 12, 2009

Madona has won an appeal against  a lower court decision in Malawi that had denied her to adopt the little girl Mercy and take her to the US.

She had earlier adopted one boy from the same country. Now, Madona has two children from the African country.

In her ruling, the Hight Court stated that Madona will be able to give Mercy a good life.

The lower court had denied her to adopt Mercy, arguing that Madona was no longer married and being a single mother, had no right to adopt.

Chief editor Korir

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