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Archive for May 3rd, 2012


Posted by African Press International on May 3, 2012

  • By Dickens Wasonga, Kenya

RESEARCH scientists working to develop the most advanced clinical malaria vaccine have hinted at a possibility of it being rolled out for use in the  Kenya Expanded Program on Immunization  by 2015.

The scientists led by Dr. Walter Otieno, a principal Investigator based at the Kombewa Walter Reed Project last week told a media workshop that  the ongoing Malaria Vaccine Trials which is on its last phases has shown efficacy and is safe on human beings and could be the magic bullet the world has been waiting for over the last 40 years to combat Malaria.

Giving progress highlights on the vaccine which is also known as the RTSS to the health writers at Kombewa which is one of the 11 study sites in Africa, Dr. Otieno  said a total of 1631 children of ages 5-17 months have been put on the malaria vaccine study trials within the area.

He was speaking during a one day media workshop organized by the African Media and Malaria Research Network (AMMREN), a network that links scientists and health reporters working to communicate research findings across nine African countries.

From the findings of the previous trials conducted in both  phase one and two, Dr. Otieno said the vaccine showed it could offer  protection against clinical malaria among children below five years of age  by over 50 percent.

He said researchers noticed that when administered  it was able to protect such children for one year without need for a boost.

The Principal Investigator said they intend to boost the vaccine by the year 2025 so as to offer a protection at 80 percent.

“Our strategic goal is to ensure that by 2025, the malaria vaccine will have been boosted to offer protection at 80 percent against clinical diseases and lasts longer than four years,” Dr. Otieno said.

The trial which started in May 2009 has been carried out in 11 sites Africa and is  in Burkina Faso, Gabon, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania where enrollment was completed in January this year with 15,460 children and infants enrolled thus making it the largest malaria vaccine trial to date.

Research experts working to tame malaria  points out  that currently there is no licensed vaccine against malaria, a disease that kills hundreds of thousands of children under the age of five each year most of them in Sub-Saharan.

RTSS is the world’s most clinically advanced malaria vaccine candidate currently under research trials by leading African research institutions in partnership with PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative{MVI}funded by Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.The results of the clinical studies have
 shown that the vaccine promising safety and tolerability profile thus reduce the risk of clinical episodes of malaria in young children by 53 percent over and an eight month follow-up period.

But even as hope to have a vaccine to control the deadly disease, medics are raising red flag over increasing resistance to current available tools for dealing malaria a blow.

The executive director of AMRREN, Ms Charity Binka of Ghana in her speech to mark this year’s world malaria day said the current recommended first line artemisinin based therapies commonly referred to as ACTs risks developing resistance due to poor usage.

” Most people rely on over the counter drugs and majority of patients fail to complete recommended dosage. These habits erodes the gains made by those who develop drugs for malaria treatment. Self medication poses real danger and should be checked” She said.

She also asked African government agencies that regulate operations of pharmaceutical firms to be vigilant and stamp out sale of counterfeit and sub substandard drugs that are easily available in most urban centers of these countries.

Currently the government has scaled up use of long-lasting insecticide treated bed nets which it has been distributing free of charge to pregnant mothers targeting to protect them from mosquito bites and the children especially those under five years who are the worst affected.

Residual spraying of houses and bush clearing has also been advocated in the past as well as encouraging effective treatment of malaria by ACTs whose prices have been subsidized for ease of access to even the poor who need it.

In Western part of the country , scientists say the malaria  cases have gone down to about 40 per cent due to the efforts.


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Humanitarian access: A problem

Posted by African Press International on May 3, 2012

Aid group Cri de Coeur accepted military escorts to deliver aid to northern Malians

DAKAR,  – Aid agencies in northern Mali are debating how or whether they should negotiate with newly installed rebel groups such as the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and Ansar Dine, which is affiliated to Al Qaeda, to reach people in need.

There are layers of complexity. Agencies have divergent approaches to securing humanitarian access – some refuse to use armed escorts under any circumstances, others see them as necessary in extreme situations; some US agencies cannot negotiate with terrorist-affiliated groups, others are already doing so. IRIN spoke to humanitarian agencies operating in the north to find out how they are delivering aid.

Prior to the March 2012 rebel fight for the north, northern Mali had for years been a volatile operating environment, mainly because of kidnapping and banditry. Most agencies leave all non-African staff in the capital, Bamako. Some, such as Catholic Relief Services (CRS), which operates in Gao, work only through local partners. Others, such as the World Food Programme (WFP), have for years used private transport companies to deliver aid.

When rebel groups succeeded in taking power in the north in early April 2012, aid agency operations were made more complicated, initially as each was forced to scramble to rebuild their stocks and equipment after widescale looting of their northern offices. CRS estimates that “several million” dollars, which would have gone into launching a large-scale food security operation from April to June in the region has been lost, and only last week two of their warehouses full of food were pillaged.

Agencies have to establish how they will approach rebel groups now in control, so as not to lose more time. There are some 75,000 people internally displaced in northern Mali; while thousands more were already facing food insecurity due to poor harvests, lack of pasture and high food prices. Alassane Maiga, a teacher at the Yanna Maiga intermediate school in Gao, told IRIN: “People are getting hungry – there are volunteers to provide first aid to the injured, but that’s all.”

Operating modes

Approaches vary when it comes to negotiating with rebels. CRS, which is largely US-funded, will not do so and relies on others in the humanitarian community to deliver aid. The International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (ICRC) – in some ways the ‘guardian’ of the humanitarian principles of neutrality, independence and impartiality – will, but is taking a thorough, gradual approach said its spokesperson, Stephen Ambrose. This has not stopped them from working – they have been fuelling Gao’s generator to ensure the city’s water supply, and have kept Gao and Timbuktu hospitals supplied with medicines – but nowhere near as much as they would like.

Several aid agency representatives told IRIN that the MNLA are relatively open when it comes to discussing access, but Ansar Dine spokespeople change regularly, making it difficult to rely on agreements already made. They have also officially called for only Malian agencies to work in the north.

''You need to spend a lot of time on the phone, and verify through all of your different contacts how a convoy will pass – so far, we have never had a convoy that was stopped''

A few agencies, including the Malian Red Cross and French medical NGO Doctors of the World (Medecins du Monde or MDM), have already approached all the groups to discuss access. “We give the same information to all but we remain fully independent in the way that we operate,” said Olivier Vandecasteele, coordinator of MDM in Mali, which focuses on health and nutrition work.

“You need to spend a lot of time on the phone, and verify through all of your different contacts how a convoy will pass – so far, we have never had a convoy that was stopped,” he said. MDM staff say so far they have had no major access problems in Kidal or Gao.

Vandecasteele said this is partly because MDM has been in the region a long time, many locals have participated in its activities, and it has widespread acceptance. MDM owns none of its own cars and rents vehicles locally, so it lost none during the looting.

Being absolutely rigid in its approach to independence and impartiality will help the agency operate in the long term if conflict flares up again, which it well could, said Vandecasteele. ECOWAS has announced it will take all measures “including use of force” to ensure the territorial integrity of Mali.  Vandecasteele believes that aid groups might be surprised if they tried to negotiate humanitarian access. “They might just find they get it,” he told IRIN.

The Mali Humanitarian Country Team, made up of UN and some NGO agency heads, is working out an access strategy based on the importance of upholding impartiality, said David Gressly, regional humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel. While some UN agencies are already operational, security concerns mean that UN Refugee Agency UNHCR has very limited access to assess the needs of the displaced, said its spokesperson Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba.

Armed escorts

One area of contention is the use of armed escorts. Humanitarian agencies generally shun the use of armed escorts or armed protection for their warehouses and other property, so as to avoid affiliation with one side or the other in a conflict. While some agencies – like MDM – will never use them, others – like WFP – will do so in extreme circumstances, said its acting representative, Martine Ohlsen.

“It is partly a question of scale – as the volume goes up, so do the risks,” said Gressly. Vandecasteele told IRIN he recognizes the temptation for some agencies to use armed guards, particularly with highly valuable stock at stake, but that “it sets a dangerous precedent.” As one agency head put it, an armed escort can become an active belligerent in a conflict overnight.

Some aid groups have already accepted armed escorts. Hearing of people’s needs in the north, local group Cri du Coeur (Cry of the Heart) collected money and aid donations from Bamako residents and sent a convoy north, accepting MNLA escorts between Douentza in the Mopti region and Gao. “We established contacts with MNLA and Ansar Dine, and they demanded they secure the convoy themselves, and that they supervise the distribution of food,” Tidiane Guindo, the public relations officer of non-profit Cri du Coeur told IRIN. When they arrived, a distribution committee made up of prominent local citizens were in place to distribute he goods, he said.

In Timbuktu, local resident Moulaye Sayah told IRIN, the food and medicines sent there are “distributed under the very close supervision of Ansar Dine.” Some say it is better to have aid delivered that way than not at all.

Others however, worry that it has dangerous repercussions, including contributing to a war economy. “They [the guards] don’t do it for free; and then there is their fuel to cover,” said the agency head. “Aid can be delivered through armed convoys, but don’t call it humanitarian.”



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Libyans in misery

Posted by African Press International on May 3, 2012

A group of women from Tawergha. Some claim their family members were taken by militias to detention centres in Misrata.

TRIPOLI,  – Six months after an uprising brought down Muammar Gaddafi’s government, thousands of displaced Libyans are still living in abandoned construction sites, empty student dormitories or with host families, too afraid to return to their homes.

“We want to go back but cannot,” said Abdul Aziz al-Irwi, who lives in Sidi Slim camp in the capital, Tripoli. “Some people from another camp tried to return about two months ago, but about seven of them were captured by forces from Zintan and imprisoned.”

Al-Irwi is from the Mshashiya community, an ethnic group from the Nefusa Mountains in Western Libya who were targeted during the uprising by opposition fighters from Zintan, allegedly for being allied with pro-Gaddafi forces. Zintan is a small city also located in the Nefusa Mountains area.

“I am here because Gaddafi’s forces came to the town of Mshashya, so we had to leave,” he told IRIN. “They used our town to bomb other areas. We went to Gharyan, and then came to Tripoli.”

Records from the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, show that an estimated 14,500 internally displaced persons (IDPs) were living in Tripoli as of March. Across Libya, the total number of those still displaced is estimated at 70,000.

Apart from the Mshashiya, others included the Qawalish, also from the Nefusa Mountains, the Tawergha, a group of Touareg families from the west, and those perceived as being loyal to the previous regime from al-Zawiya, Bani Walid and Sirte.

A sizeable group of the displaced living in Tripoli and Benghazi cities were Tawergha. They were accused of participating in Gaddafi’s assault on Misrata, murdering and raping thousands of people. Reprisal attacks ensued, forcing their entire town of more than 30,000 to flee their homes. Today, the Tawergha-Misrata case remains a particularly sensitive one in post-Gaddafi Libya.

Until recently, the dark-skinned Tawergha minority – former slaves brought to Libya in the 18th and 19th centuries – lived in a coastal town of the same name 250km east of Tripoli. With the rise to power of the rebels, the Tawergha are now on the defensive. The sign leading to their city has been changed to New Misrata and its population told not to return.

Needs and security

According to UNHCR, an estimated 100-150,000 people were displaced in October 2011, but that number has reduced progressively with many returning to their communities, including in Bani Walid and Sirte.

Camp managers at Sidi Slim say conditions are difficult, and the monthly supply of food delivered by agencies and Libaid, the humanitarian arm of the Libyan government, is not enough for each family.

“In our opinion, food is not a problem,” Muftah M Etwilb, the Chief Executive Officer of Libaid, told IRIN. “There are other needs like education, health and protection. Health is free of charge for all Libyans, but still some people in the camp need immediate services from a dispensary. The other issue is proper housing. We are trying to get the government to provide alternative housing since some of these camps are owned by international companies.”

''We are trying to get people out of prison, but we are not able to do much for people who killed, raped or stole. The more serious issues will have to go to the justice system.''

Providing protection for the displaced communities, particularly from armed militias still roaming the main cities, remains one of the biggest challenges to date for the transitional government.

“Since August 2011, we have been subjected to arbitrary attacks and detention,” Abdelrahman Mahmoud, head of the Local Council of the Tawergha in Tripoli, told IRIN. “If Tripoli is safe, then the camps are safe, but if it is not, then we are not safe,”

In February, militias raided the Marine Academy where about 2,000 Tawergha had taken shelter, killing seven people and abducting three men. Witnesses claim the militias were from Misrata.

“The guards from the Marine Academy didn’t have any weapons. When the Misrata brigades came in with weapons, they just moved aside,” Emmanuel Gignac, UNHCR head of mission told IRIN. “What you see now is individual cases inside or outside camps, for instance the Tawergha, including kidnapping for ransom. You can attack people from Tawergha and there is total impunity.”

Amnesty International and other groups have also documented testimonies from among the Mshashiya and Qawalish in Tripoli, who say they were detained and tortured by militias.


A common refrain heard among agencies and ordinary Libyans is that the government needs to assume responsibility for a host of problems, and internal displacement is no exception. To address the humanitarian needs of IDPs across the country, Libaid is organizing a national conference in May involving government ministries, agencies and representatives of the displaced.

“It is not exactly a neglected issue, but it’s not the number one priority in Libya. People also have to deal with security, and with the upcoming elections,” said Etwilb. “But we want to make the IDP issue visible on the day-to-day agenda of the government.”

Contacted for comment, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Social Affairs said: “We have made available a fund of 400 dinar [US$ 320] a month for people who wish to rent a house outside the camps,” Naima Etaher said. “Concerning the non-Tawergha people, a lot of their houses were not destroyed, and it’s safe to go back, but they just stay in these camps to take advantage of the government.”

But families in Sidi Slim camp saw things differently.

In the sweltering heat of a room occupied by a Mshashiya family, people gather to look at footage on a mobile phone which they claim is of destroyed buildings in their home town. “I want to go back. We have been in Mshashiya for over 1,200 years,” said Khalifa Saad Mabrouk, tracing on the floor with his finger what his farm looks like. “I have my trees there, and my houses, my land.”

When asked if remaining in Tripoli or moving elsewhere would be a solution, Mabrouk and his family were unequivocal. “Absolutely not. Even if conditions here are okay, we want to go home.”


What has still not been addressed, and will determine when people might return to their abandoned homes, are the underlying political tensions fueling animosity between different groups and deterring reconciliation, say observers.

The upcoming conference organized by Libaid is aimed at dealing with the short-term humanitarian needs of displaced populations, but not the political issues. “We try not to politicize the conference,” said Etwilb. “There is a risk if we just make it very open.”

Likewise, the “Reconciliation committees”, set up by recently by the government to restore relations between different communities, can only deal with minor disputes. “We are trying to get people out of prison, but we are not able to do much for people who killed, raped or stole,” Naji Regebi, a member of one of the committees, told IRIN. “The more serious issues will have to go to the justice system.”

Some Tawergha like Ismael Shaaban, an elder in Fallah Ladco camp in Tripoli, believe both sides should go to court. “We will hand over anyone who is guilty to the Libyan government, but we also want people torturing and abusing Tawerghans to be brought to justice,” he said.

Others like Khadija Absalaam (not real name), whose three sons she claims were detained in Misrata, are more skeptical. “We don’t want peace with the Misratans, we just want a wall between our two cities,” she said. “We can live without communicating.”

The Misratan Local Council, in response to concerns raised by Human Rights Watch about widespread torture and crimes committed in detention centres and toward the Tawergha, denied responsibility saying: “Treatment in the city’s prisons is good….many accusations have been wrongly and falsely attributed to Misrata revolutionaries.”

For the Tawergha and Misratans, long-term reconciliation will need a fully functional formal justice process. But, given that the government is still “settling down” in the words of one official, that is not likely to occur until after the elections, scheduled to take place in June. And even then, true reconciliation on the ground is likely to take time.

“Even if the humanitarian issues are dealt with by organisations, it is not enough,” said Gignac. “It is about coming to terms with the past and it is going to be a long process.”


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“I can’t feed my family”

Posted by African Press International on May 3, 2012

Jaheda Begum outside her home at the Kutupalong makeshift refugee camp

KUTUPALONG,  – Jaheda Begum, 25, and her family – Rohingya refugees who crossed into Bangladesh from Myanmar – haven’t had a square meal in days because the heavy pre-monsoon rains have prevented her husband from finding any work.

Only those Rohingya – a Muslim ethnic minority – registered with the government (28,000) receive protection, humanitarian assistance and food rations from UN agencies and international NGOs, but those who are undocumented are unassisted. More than 200,000 undocumented Rohingya refugees are living in southern Bangladesh.

Hundreds of thousands have fled since 1991 to escape persecution in neighbouring Myanmar, where they have long been subjected to systematic and widespread human rights violations, including summary executions, torture, state-sanctioned rape, arbitrary arrest, and forced labour.

Jaheda has two children, Jannat Ara, 4, and Mohammed Rafique, 8. Jannat Ara’s middle-upper arm circumference (MUAC) – used by the World Health Organization (WHO) to measure the severity of malnutrition – is 12cm. It puts her on the brink of severe acute malnutrition.

A recent report by Physicians for Human Rights, an American NGO, notes that many undocumented Rohingya refugees at the Kutupalong makeshift camp outside Cox’s Bazar District, Chittagong, (where Jaheda and an estimated 25,000 others are living) had not eaten in two days, and 18 percent of children under the age of 5 were suffering from acute malnutrition, a situation WHO defined as ‘critical’. 

“We ran away from our hometown in Maungdaw [District, in Myanmar’s Rakhine State] six years ago after the military accused my husband of murder and took him into forced labour.

“We managed to escape to Bangladesh by boat and we have been living here in the makeshift camp for the last four years.

“My husband, Hashem Ullah, 35, tries to find work as a fisherman or as a day labourer in the brickfields. It’s not easy, as legally we’re not allowed to work. Sometimes he pulls rickshaws. He earns between 150TK (US$2) to 200TK ($3) per day.

“I cannot work. After I lost my third child during childbirth earlier this year, the doctors told me that I couldn’t work for another six months if I wanted to have children again.

“How do I feed my family? I can’t.

“We have plain rice for breakfast, we don’t have lunch. Dinner depends on whether or not my husband gets work, otherwise we don’t eat until the morning after.

“If things get very bad, I borrow food from neighbours, but we’re all in the same mess.

“I am always worried about my children because I cannot give them proper food or study expenses.

“How can the next generation succeed if we have to choose between buying food and buying schoolbooks?

“I hope to go back to my village in Maungdaw, but the situation in Myanmar is still no better. When the country’s situation improves, nobody will stop me from going home.”

mh/ds/he source

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