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Archive for May 5th, 2012

ICC: Has justice prevailed?

Posted by African Press International on May 5, 2012 Elizabeth Mbaire Koikai __ Elizabeth Mbaire Koikai __


<Mbaire Koikai, Reporting from Oslo, Norway.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga has had a rather turbulent start this year. The PM’s name has been mentioned at least three times at the ICC hearings at the Hague. Defence lawyers have strongly indicated that they will seek an explanation as to why Raila Odinga was not presented before the court. 

The Prime Minister still maintains he’s innocent and that the perpetrators of the 2008 post-election violence should be prosecuted. As Kenya approaches the General Elections, there is a lot that has not be answered. Who coordinated the chaos that ravaged the whole country?

Internally Displaced Persons are still in transit camps, most of them living in deplorable and inhumane conditions. They are yet to be compensated for losing their property and homes. Kenyans have waited for a long time to see those responsible for the deaths of more than 1000 Kenyans and displacement of around 6,000,000 people face the courts.

With the country’s failure to form a local tribunal, the Waki Commission was later established. It carried it’s investigations and prepared a list of names which were handed over to the ICC, which further carried out it’s own investigations and ended up with certain names. 

Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto, Francis Muthaura and Joshua arap Sang are the four Kenyans facing crimes against humanity charges at the Hague. 

Ruto has been accused of recruiting retired commanders Augustine Cheruiyot, John Koech and former GSU boss Samson Cheramboss to execute attacks during the 2007-08 violence. while Uhuru Kenyatta has been accused of attending meetings with other Kikuyu ministers to organize attacks against the supporters of the Orange Democratic Movement.

The ICC alleges that Uhuru together with Francis Muthaura and Hussein Ali developed and executed a plan to attack ODM supporters by ordering the Police to use excessive force against civilian protesters in Naivasha, Kisumu and Kibera.

Both Ruto and Uhuru maintain their innocence. The two have also expressed interest in the presidency. Ruto has even accused the PM of using the ICC to eliminate his opponents ahead of the next General Elections.

Earlier this year Prime Minister Raila Odinga faced numerous accusations from various politicians, who claim that he is being used as a puppet by the West. The PM has laughed off the accusations.

Raila has said that it is a political propaganda to say he was the author of the list of names of politicians taken to the ICC.

Many Kenyans have also expressed their shock through various social media sites on finding out that Raila was not on the ICC list. Many Kenyans insist that the PM should be among Ruto and Uhuru. Mr Odinga is accused of calling for mass action which led to the 2008 killings and destruction of property. However, human rights activist Maina Kiai disagrees with this argument.

— Mass action is not a crime and never will be. In fact, it is a right guaranteed by our new Constitution and also by the International law, he argues.

Raila still maintains he’s innocent and no effort has been made to bring him before the ICC court.

Many Kenyans still insist that if Uhuru, Ruto, Sang and Muthaura are guilty of the post-election violence, so is Raila, Kajwang, Nyon’go and others who shouted for mass action. This eventually caused the suffering of many people. Justice is only justice if applied to all!



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Kenya: Varsity girls fear a protruding stomach due to pregnany than HIV/AIDS

Posted by African Press International on May 5, 2012

Grace Adhiambo Reporting from Kakamega-Kenya

‘I can’t stand the embarrassment. People will be looking at me and making faces or even laugh out loudly. I don’t think I can take that,’  says Lavenda Atieno, a disaster management student at Masinde Muliro University.

This clearly indicates that most campus girls fear pregnancy than contracting any sexually transmitted disease or Aids.Why should they think that pregnancy should be a big deal as compared to contracting the deadly disease. Research shows that 80% of girls in various Universities opt for ways of preventing pregnancies.
Mercy Omondi, a 2nd year English Literature student at Masinde Muliro University said that majority of her friends are scared of getting pregnant.’ They claim that pregnancy cannot be hidden as the belly will protrude after a few months while it will not be indicated on their foreheads that they are ailing,’she says. Grace with girls at Masinde Muliro University Grace with girls at Masinde Muliro University

This is absurd. How can a University student reasoning be so shallow? I fail to understand why most girls fear pregnancy. Mercy goes on to say that most mothers warn their daughters that they are not ready for grandchildren and that is why they try so hard not to be victims of unwanted pregnancies.Out of curiosity I asked her how her friends manage to do this and she said there are various ways of birth control. She started by saying that fertility of both parties makes no birth control method 100% effective and therefore the best method is abstinence. Telling a youth to abstain is way out of the question. Gone are the days when people abstained until marriage. She goes on to say that people who are not in a long-term relationship prefer barrier methods.

This means anything that will block sperm from reaching the uterus. The female & male condoms, gels, sponges and creams are examples of barriers used. The other method used for birth control is the withdrawal method.This is having unprotected sex and pulling out before ejaculation. Have we ever stopped to ask ourselves how unsafe this is. What happens if he forgets or delays to come out? Grace (right) explains to Girls on the importance of protecting oneself from the deadly disease Hiv-Aids Grace (right) explains to Girls on the importance of protecting oneself from the deadly disease Hiv-Aids

Why do we expose ourselves to such kind of risks yet we are young people with bright futures?It is not worth it. Quite a number of ladies also believe in safe days as a method of birth control.This is believed to be ten days after menstruation. ‘I really don’t know if this method is effective or not,’ said the English literature student.
Josephine Wafula* (not her real name), a media student at Maseno University said she considers safe days to be effective as she has counted on it a number of times. ‘I personally believe in safe days has it has always been effective. I really can’t stand being pregnant because I don’t want to have a baby in campus. I would not love to be the talk of campus and people back at home,’ she says. Grace going through notes on HIV-AIDS with Girls at Masinde Muliro University Grace going through notes on HIV-AIDS with Girls at Masinde Muliro University

Josephine and others like her really need counselling. It is time they realised that pregnancy is not a big deal like they see it.

You can get pregnant,give birth and continue with your studies unlike the STI’s and HIV that will ruin your future.

It is time parents told their girls the importance of abstaining or using condoms. As young girls we still have a bright future ahead and that should be our source of motivation.



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Kenya: Disrespecting passengers should be a thing of the past

Posted by African Press International on May 5, 2012


< Grace Adhiambo, reporting from Kakamega-Kenya

For how long will passengers be handled with so much disrespect? It is time touts realised that without these passengers life would be hell for them. From the way they demand for bus fare to the way they harass a passenger when he/she wants to alight tells a lot. Kenyan touts have discovered a new way of going back home in loaded pockets.

A normal matatu should carry a maximum of fourteen people but with the help of ‘sambaza’ they manage to carry eighteen passengers in one matatu.’ Sambaza’ as it is commonly refered to by many is a piece of wood that is normally fixed between to chairs to create a temporary seat for an extra client.

Majority of the touts do not seem to realise the risks involved in doing such actions. Road accidents have become the order of the day for Kenyans and they don’t seem to ask themselves why this is happening.The fact remain that our traffic police are to blame. For how long will they continue to cover up for such touts? How many times have we spotted them receiving bribe from the touts and leave the vehicle to continue with the journey despite overloading or being driven by drivers who do not have the driving licence?
This is corruption and should not be entertained at all costs.Why risk the lives of many people when such actions can be stopped? These traffic police should search their souls if at all they have any and realise that it is time they stopped putting lives at risk for their own selfish gains.
Whoever came up with the idea of carrying passengers at the back of the car must have been that son of the devil.Im sorry to say that but I was not pleased at all. How can a passenger pay fare like the others and be made to sit at the boot? We are becoming too selfish. This is commonly seen in vehicles known by many as probox. It has a spacious boot so touts thought why not make proper use of the space? What baffles me is that despite being made to unwillingly sit in the boot you will have to pay the same fare us the others.
I blame such passengers too. Travelling - a Nightmare in Kenya Travelling – a Nightmare in Kenya

The moment you realise that a matatu is full why do you have to insist on bordering it, when there are a lot of vehicles to use. Under such circumstances we cannot blame the government. We should be our brothers keepers. We should not entertain some actions that expose us to various risks and then blame the government for everything.

What do you do as a Kenyan citizen when you spot a traffic policeman take bribe from the touts? Why do you allow the touts to carry excess passengers just to sit back and complain? It is time the Kenyan passengers realised that they deserve maximum respect from the touts because without them they would not put food on the table.

Maximum respect here means from the way they address them when asking for fares to the way they handle them throughout the journey. We should not make travelling be hell for those who cannot afford to get their own private cars.



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Where it all began: HIV/AIDS tracking

Posted by African Press International on May 5, 2012

Where it all began

MBABANE,  – We’ve all heard the myths and hypotheses about the origins of the epidemic caused by the HI virus, but a new book, “Tinderbox: How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome It”, sheds more light on where it all began. It is a fascinating account of the medical detective work that traced the disease to Cameroon a century ago.

“AIDS is not a new disease. With ‘Tinderbox’ we wanted to write a defining AIDS book for this generation that will get people excited to talk about AIDS again. We were able to apply new discoveries on the origin of AIDS,” said Daniel Halperin, who co-wrote the book with American journalist Craig Timberg.

Scientists have long known that a blood sample preserved in a hospital in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, dating from 1959, indicated that HIV had been around decades before it was recognized in the 1980s. In 2008, Michael Worobey of the University of Arizona reported on a second sample of the virus, from a lymph node biopsy taken in Kinshasa in 1960, which helped establish the virus’ evolutionary timeline.

“By comparing these two historic pieces of virus and mapping out the differences in their genetic structures in his lab at the University of Arizona, Worobey determined that HIV-1 group M was much older than anyone had thought. Both samples of the virus appeared to have descended from a single ancestor at some time between 1884 and 1924. The most likely date was 1908,” the book recounted.

Meanwhile, a research team led by microbiologist Beatrice Hahn of the University of Alabama pinpointed the geographic location of the virus. An SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus) infecting chimpanzees in Cameroon proved to be an identical match to HIV-1 group M.

“This SIV was likely around for centuries and may very well have been passed on to a hunter or someone handling the carcass of an infected chimp. The chimp’s blood could have infected the person through an open wound,” said Halperin.

''AIDS is not a new disease. With ‘Tinderbox’ we wanted to write a defining AIDS book for this generation that will get people excited to talk about AIDS again''

The authors add a dimension that has received little attention: colonialism and how it helped spread the HIV epidemic. “Once the virus made the jump from chimp to human, a single infected person could have carried HIV down the Sangha [River], on to the Congo River and into Kinshasa. The Belgians had founded the city in 1881; by the early 20th century, Kinshasa, then called Leopoldville, was the biggest city in central Africa, fuelled by the dizzying growth of trade with the outside world.”

The epidemic was born between 1881 and 1924. A few decades later, the virus had migrated far from its point of origin, mutating into new but equally deadly subtypes.

“Scientists studying HIV-1 group M already had found many related varieties – what scientists call subtypes – each with slightly different genetic structures and paths through the world. One, scientists discovered, had travelled east from Kinshasa toward Lake Victoria. One went south to Zambia, Botswana and South Africa. One hopped all the way across the ocean to Haiti, then to the United States and Europe,” Halperin and Timberg wrote.

They are not complimentary about efforts to combat the spread of HIV. “On the prevention side, the United States and other donors have fallen short. Part of the problem has been the polarized nature of AIDS politics, with its battles over condoms versus abstinence. Few outsiders – not the US government, the United Nations, religiously based charities, or even the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – have made impressive gains in preventing the spread of HIV among adults, despite massive investments of money and political will,” Timberg told IRIN/PlusNews.

The book notes that the steepest drop in HIV infection rates in the past 15 years occurred in Zimbabwe, a country that received less foreign aid than its neighbours during this period.

“When debating how to prevent HIV, liberals like to talk about condoms, while conservatives often talk about abstinence. Yet the track record for both ideas has been disappointing,” said Timberg.

Halperin, an epidemiologist who has worked on AIDS policies for several southern African countries in the past decade while Timberg was covering AIDS in the region for the Washington Post, told IRIN/PlusNews that engaging in sex with multiple partners was also a root cause of the epidemic’s origin more than a century ago.

One goal of “Tinderbox” is to change public perceptions about AIDS. No longer a great mystery, HIV has been identified as a mutable virus with a documented history. The second popular perception the book addresses is that AIDS prevention and treatment can be “one size fits all”.

The authors believe that the key ingredient in bringing the epidemic under control – the “behaviour change” that has eluded so many AIDS prevention initiatives – can best be achieved through internal rather than external actors.

“The evidence is abundant that if you have more than one partner, the chance of HIV infection is increased. It is sometimes difficult for Africans to talk about sexual things in a one-on-one setting. What we found effective is when people talk collectively. If you take a look at the places where HIV went down dramatically, it was where members of society talked to one another: Zimbabwe, Uganda and elsewhere… We saw musicians, leaders, politicians leading the discussions. It is harder if this information comes from foreigners, or anyone outside the community or social group or even family,” said Timberg.


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A motorcycle taxi with safe sex?

Posted by African Press International on May 5, 2012


Riders at risk

KAMPALA,  – It’s Saturday night and Jaffari Musoke*, who rides a ‘boda boda’ – motorcycle taxi – arrives at his regular stage, or departure point, near several hotels in Kampala, the Ugandan capital. He has an easy camaraderie with the sex workers who hang around the hotels, taking many of them home after a night’s work. Sometimes he mixes business with pleasure.

“Man, this is the nature of our work. We have a lot of temptations and risks involved in this job, especially at night,” he told IRIN/PlusNews, as a girl climbed on his bike so he could take her to meet a client.

An estimated 100,000 Ugandan men earn a living as boda boda riders, and around 73,800 motorcycles were imported over the last 5 years, according to the Registrar of Motor Vehicles.

The riders tend to be young men, weaving in and out of the traffic on Kampala’s potholed roads, often without safety gear and little regard for traffic regulations. A survey report released in 2011 compared their sexual behaviour to groups classified as ‘most at risk’ by the Uganda AIDS Commission, which include sex workers, uniformed services, prison populations and fishing communities.

The survey – by the Ministry of Health, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and Makerere University’s School of Public Health – covered 694 riders in Kampala between July 2008 and March 2009, and found an HIV prevalence rate of 7.5 percent. The national rate is 6.7 percent.

More than 25 percent of the riders reported having multiple sex partners and were engaging in anal sex with both women and men, 12 percent identified themselves as bi-sexual and four percent as gay, and 25 percent believed it was less important to use condoms for anal sex than for vaginal sex.

Approximately half the riders said they were “not as careful about HIV and sex because there is better treatment for AIDS”, while 21 percent reported having sold sex to at least two women, and 78 percent had bought sex from at least two women.

The Uganda Health Marketing Group (UHMG), a local NGO, is running a year-long campaign named, “Get Protected. Get Ready to Roll with Protector” (a brand of condom), which aims to encourage safer sex practices among boda boda riders. UHMG is running the campaign in six selected districts across the country, targeting 5,000 riders as direct beneficiaries, and their clients as secondary beneficiaries.

Condoms and helmets

UHMG is using two products in its campaign – condoms to prevent HIV infection, and branded helmets to improve safety on the road.

“[This programme] provides HIV prevention education among boda boda riders, while at the same time improving their safety, as well as that of their customers,” said Julian Atim, HIV/AIDS programme manager at UHMG. “It utilizes peer educators, who are boda boda cyclists themselves, working in close collaboration with health workers from Good Life Clinics, which are privately owned health facilities supported by UHMG.”

The programme offers riders a comprehensive package of HIV prevention services, including HIV counselling and testing, assessment and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, and referral for safe male circumcision.

Through Good Life clinics and community outreaches, some 1,500,000 condoms have been sold to boda boda riders at a subsidized cost, and100,000 more have been distributed for free in the districts implementing the programme. The campaign also uses riders to sell condoms, and they have sold more than 100,000 in the six participating districts since the campaign started in August 2011.

“Providing socially marketed condoms to the peer educators at the boda boda stages has been a very successful strategy, as indicated by the increased demand of condoms among… cyclists,” said Atim.” UHMG also works with kiosk and shop owners near the stages to stock condoms, and the peer educators carry out condom demonstrations.”

Buazi Openj Mungu, a boda boda and peer educator in northwestern Uganda’s Nebbi District, told IRIN/PlusNews by telephone that the campaign had boosted the riders’ knowledge about HIV prevention and treatment. “The boda boda riders used to engage in reckless behaviour like having unprotected sex, exposing their lives to HIV,” he said. “As a result of the campaign, we have taught them about HIV/AIDS and many of them are now using condoms.”

Safi Alema Tiyo, general secretary of the Boda Boda Association in the northwestern district of Arua, said he had noticed an increase in the number of riders seeking male circumcision for HIV prevention.

UHMG’s Atim said the programme may be renewed if funds are available.


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Eating South Sudan: Losing the war against kala-azar

Posted by African Press International on May 5, 2012


Long journey: many patients travel for days to reach the clinic at Old Fangak

OLD FANGAK,  – In the dusty courtyard of a crowded clinic in Old Fangak, in South Sudan’s Jonglei state, throngs of people, some of them under mosquito nets strung between trees, wait to get tested for kala-azar, amid the worst continuous outbreak in three decades.

Last year, this clinic – which lacks electricity or running water – handled around half the 11,000 total recorded cases of the parasitical disease, also known as visceral leishmaniasis. Spread by the bite of the sand-fly, it can cause fever, weight loss, enlarged spleen, rash, anaemeia, diarrhoea, fatigue and, left untreated, death.

Conflict and poverty facilitate its spread. Kala-azar used to strike in relatively brief outbreaks every 7 to 10 years. But an outbreak that began in 2009 has yet to let up, affecting some 25,000 people, mostly in Jonglei and Upper Nile states.

“It’s because of the current situation in South Sudan, where the humanitarian [situation] is deteriorating,” said Abdi Nasir, head of communicable diseases for the UN World Health Organisation (WHO).

“There’s food insecurity, there’s displacement, many factors. We are expecting that the outbreak may continue” and affect another 11,000 people in 2012, he said.

In the absence of passable roads to Old Fangak, most patients arrive by boat, according to community health worker George Kam Kong.

“But if you don’t have money, then you cannot reach the centre for treatment. So, so many people die at home. Which is why we are asking our government, our NGOs, for more medicines, more supplies, and to bring the road to here,” he added.

In 2011, the mortality rate for treated cases was under three percent. The most effective drug, Ambazom, costs around US$500-600 per patient without factoring in expensive transportation.

WHO is rushing to preposition drugs in places such as Old Fangak before rains render the town’s runway unusable.

Very deadly

“We have documented people who have felt sick and then two weeks later were dead. That’s how aggressive our disease is here,” explained Jill Seaman, an independent US doctor who has spent the better part of every year in Jonglei since a 1989 kala-azar outbreak killed half the population of the area surrounding Old Fangak.

“Watching all the skeletal people walking into the clinic [then] every night to get treated and asking them, ‘How many people in your family have died?’ and hearing the answer, ‘12, 14 , 8, 13,’ it kind of bonds you to a community, and I suppose that’s why I’m still here,” she told IRIN.

“It’s very, very deadly without treatment. They say 95 or more percent of people who get infected with kala-azar will die [without treatment]. Mostly they get sicker and sicker, they get more malnourished, [so] they get more and more infectious diseases, and then they die.”

Photo: Hannah McNeish/IRIN
Costly but effective: Treatment reduces mortality to around three percent but costs up to $600 per patient

In one of the clinic’s dim wards, where several people squeeze onto each single bed, Nyadak Mouk recounted how she walked eight hours from the village of Keew to come here six months ago to treat her five-year-old son.

Over the past five years, Mouk has lost four other children aged under 10.

“I don’t know what they died of as I didn’t bring them to the clinic. They died in the village. A lot of people died in my village and they don’t go to the clinic,” she said.

Only between 30 and 40 percent of people in South Sudan have access to primary health care.

Mouk said she had come to Old Fangak’s clinic four times over the last year to get herself or her son treated for kala-azar.

“I now live near the clinic. I can’t be away from it as without treatment he will die,” she said, cradling her son.

Part of last year’s caseload has been attributed to widespread displacement caused by clashes between government troops and forces loyal to a renegade general George Athor.

“People leave their homes and then they live under trees, without clothes, without mosquito nets” and get bitten, explained Kong .

Athor’s men are supposed to have been absorbed into the army under an amnesty agreed following Athor’s battlefield death in December 2011, but by many accounts, most of them – and they are said to number in the thousands – are still at large.

Food shortages

“To clean up kala-azar in your body, you have to have proper nutrition, or you’ll just get it again”, said Seaman, adding that nutrition in the area had been greatly compromised in 2011 by militias looting food supplies and then by widespread crop failures.

“We have no backup food and no food right now. WFP [the UN’s World Food Programme] has trouble getting us any food, the supply of Plumpy’Nut [a ready-to-eat therapeutic food] for the severely malnourished [has stopped], and we are really, really in trouble for nutritional support” she said.

According to Elijah Hon Riak, the clinic’s nutrition advisor, “the people get a low immune system because they did not have food, so it is easier to get kala-azar.”

“It affects health as many people come to the clinic and they are malnourished” and this affects recovery rates,” he said.

Nyakouth Majiok, whose four-year-old daughter has had a fever since December 2011, and now lies in the clinic recovering from kala-azar, wailing from heavy nosebleeds, recalled that last year “we got no crops, they were destroyed by the flooding. This year it is very difficult to get food.”

“We buy food from the north [Sudan] but if you don’t have money then it’s a problem. The food we are using is cow’s milk and water lily we get in the river,” she said.

As well as conflict and crop failure, food security across South Sudan has been exacerbated by the return, since the country gained independence from Sudan in July 2011, of some 350,000 people who had fled during the 1983-2005 civil war.

According to the town’s chief, Kuol Samuel Gai, the town’s population had increased by 10,000 people, to 30,000.

“They come from the north without food, without shelter….We also have so many displaced people coming and we don’t have enough food to share with them,” he told IRIN.

Gai explained that the closure of the border with Sudan had led to the doubling of the price of the sorghum, a staple.

“I am capable with all of my friends here, and the national staff of trying to take care of the medical issues, but the food issue is way beyond us,” said Seaman.

Unlike countries such as India, which is making progress towards eradicating kala-azar, in South Sudan the disease is still on the march, possibly, according to Seaman, because of a suspected animal reservoir, and also because untreated related skin infections can thrive for years.

“The main reason you can’t get rid of it in a place like this is of course that it’s a disease of poverty. We need to do something about poverty, be able to sleep in a protected environment, to have access to food so you don’t get malnourished and get the disease more quickly,” said Seaman.

“One thing I know,” said Mouk, “is that if we receive the mosquito nets, people will live under them and we can reduce it.”


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