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Archive for July, 2012

Ebola outbreak kills 14 in Uganda

Posted by African Press International on July 31, 2012

Last week Ugandan officials confirmed an outbreak of Ebola in Kibaale district, Midwestern Uganda.

The deadly disease was reported in Nyanswiga village, Nyamarunda Sub county. It has already killed 13 family members and a clinical officer of Kagadi Hospital who initially attended to the patients and infected a further 7 people.

Through a statement made by the Ugandan Ministry of Health the general public was informed of the outbreak in the district.

“Laboratory tests done at the Uganda Virus Research Institute in Entebbe have confirmed that the “Strange Disease” reported in Kibaale is indeed Ebola haemorrhagic fever,” said Dr Denis Lwamafa, the country’s Acting Director General of Health Services.

According to the Ugandan Health Ministry, a total of 20 cases with 14 deaths have been recorded. Three samples taken from the dead confirmed presence of Ebola causing viruses in their biological specimen.

Presently, there is a 38 year old female who was admitted on July 26, 2012 with fever, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. She nursed her sister, the clinical officer who worked at Kagadi Hospital.

“Her condition is fairly stable though she still has fever, diarrhoea and vomiting,” said the Ministry in the statement.

Mysterious disease

Kibaale and other neighbouring districts have been instructed by the Ministry of Health Uganda, to reactivate their district task forces to coordinate the management of the outbreak.

Meanwhile, a team of experts from the Ministry of Health , WHO and US Center for Disease Control is already on the ground in Kibaale supporting the response.

Since the beginning of July, local radio stations have been reporting about the mysterious disease that has been claiming lives in the district, but they did not know it was Ebola.

After the confirmation that indeed the deadly disease is Ebola, the Ministry of health has issued precautionary measures and opened an isolation center, to avoid further spreading.

However, residents of Kagadi town are in fear of their lives, some have even started migrating from the neighbouring villages where the disease broke out.

Ebola is considered to be highly infectious and spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids, with symptoms that include fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pains, headache, measles-like rash, internal and external bleeding.

Uganda’s most devastating outbreak was in the year 2000 when 420 people were infected, half of whom died.

Woman dies of mysterious disease in Nairobi

Last week, the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi was on high alert after a woman died of suspected hemorrhagic fever.

The woman arrived at KNH in a taxi bleeding from the nose, ears and mouth and was pronounced dead shortly after.

Doctors isolated three people who had accompanied her to the hospital including father of the deceased, a friend and the taxi driver.

During a briefing with the press, KNH said it was carrying out tests to establish the cause of death and knew what kind of treatment to administer to those in isolation.

Kenyans assured over Ebola

Kenya’s Ministry of Health has re-assured the public that there is no cause for alarm, following the death of a woman at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi.

At the same time, Kenyatta National Hospital discharged three people who had been quarantined for being in contact with Ms Gladys Muthoni who died from excessive bleeding.

Test results which had been taken by scientists from the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) showed that there were no traces of Ebola, or any other related infectious disease in the blood samples taken from the body of the woman.

Dr. Shanaaz, who is the director of Public Health told journalists in Nairobi that the 29-year-old woman, worked as a restaurant attendant, might have died from bleeding possibly caused by stomach ulcer or a related ailment.

“Tests showed that the lady was not suffering from any infectious disease, but she was vomiting blood an indication that she might have had an ulcer,” stated Dr. Shanaaz.

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Drought causes migration and that could also affect children’s education.

Posted by African Press International on July 31, 2012

Large herds of livestock are migrating earlier than usual in parts of northeastern Kenya

WAJIR, 2 – Parts of northeastern Kenya, which are experiencing an early drought after poor March-May long rains, have seen deadly clashes over water and pasture, say officials.

Migrant pastoralists from parts of the northeast and subsistence farmers in the neighbouring eastern and coastal regions of Meru, Kitui and Lamu have clashed, with several deaths reported in Meru and Kitui after the destruction of crops there by large herds of migrating livestock.

“We should be assisted rather than being harassed. Two herders from Garissa were killed when they moved to Kitui. They were attacked with arrows and they in turn shot and killed three farmers,” said Hussein Futi, a local leader from the Ijara area in Garissa.

The government, he said, should facilitate peace meetings and use elders to negotiate with communities in areas where pastoralists are migrating.

Tension also remains high in the Isiolo-Wajir border region (central-northeastern Kenya) after the community in Isiolo’s Sericho area mobilized youths to repulse a group of migrant pastoralists from Wajir last week. One herder was killed in the clashes.

Herders in areas close to the Somali border have also been forced to move due to insecurity.

“We have asked those families living close to the border areas to move… They must heed our advice or face the risk of starvation. It will be impossible and risky for us to make an assessment or offer relief in such areas,” said an aid worker who preferred anonymity.

Cases of wildlife attacks have also been recorded, according to Bishar Maalim, a village elder in the Kanchara area of Wajir. “Two children were mauled by hungry hyenas here. People are fighting each other while wild animals are fighting us all.” The Kenya Wildlife Service confirmed the deaths.

Little food, water

“The situation is grim. Many households are currently struggling to survive. They have no food, no milk, and they cannot afford to buy food if it’s available due to the high prices,” Omar Abdullahi Maalim, an official with the Wajir Education Welfare Organization, told IRIN .

“We are providing 64,000 litres of water to 800 families in Kanchara [Wajir South District] and a nearby village. We are getting more requests from neighbouring areas. It has been worse since late June,” said Maalim.

“We only have one donor and the cost of water trucking is high. We tried to ask the community to help but it was shameful since they were the same people whom we offer relief food.”

He said cases of waterborne disease have been reported. “People need mobile health services now.”

Education worries

The migrations could also affect children’s education.

“We are determined to make sure learning is not disrupted, but I am sure education will be affected. Most of the parents rely on livestock to pay fees and feed their families. It’s a tricky situation,” said Ibrahim Mohamed, a Wajir South education official.

The Ministry of Education is trucking water to at least six schools there, at present.

The 2012 long rains were delayed by nearly a month and “were at a depressed volume, erratic, and unevenly distributed across the northern, northeastern and southeastern pastoral areas,” according to a Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) update.

“The season was shortened as the rains ended two to five weeks earlier than usual in late April and early May instead of late May to early June,” stated the update.

“Grazing resources such as water, pasture, and browse are rapidly declining, leading to an early increase in livestock trekking distances in June as opposed to August.”

Displaced

In the northern region of Moyale, the situation is also difficult, according to Rashid Omar of local NGO Fight Against Hunger.

“Tension and suspicion is still rife; thousands of people are still displaced. They are scattered all over, some are in Ethiopia. They are unable to return; they have no homes as they were burnt. They cannot access their farms or produce food. The farmers are now relief food recipients,” he said, adding that recurrent conflict in the area is contributing to poverty and food insecurity.

Northern Kenya is yet to recover from a severe drought in 2011 which affected other parts of the Horn of Africa region and was described at the time as the driest period in the eastern Horn since 1995.

Meanwhile, sustainable solutions to recurrent drought are needed, say residents.

“We don’t need relief food, drought will be there next year. What we need is to be empowered. Our people have enough livestock; they need hay, water and markets for their livestock but not free food,” said Dagane Siyat, a local leader in Wajir.

na/aw/cb
source http://www.irinnews.org

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“End of AIDS” in sight – Wishful thinking?

Posted by African Press International on July 31, 2012

For the first time there are more people on treatment than those who need it (file photo)

WASHINGTON DC,  – There is no cure or vaccine yet, but “the end of AIDS” was the buzzword at the opening ceremony of the International AIDS Conference in Washington DC on 22 July.

Wishful thinking? Not for Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, who told over 20,000 delegates that “this time, it is different”, or for Jim Yong Kim, the new President of the World Bank Group and the first to address an international AIDS conference. “We can end AIDS, we must end AIDS. The challenge we face is great, but as I look out at all of you today, I can actually see the end of AIDS,” said Kim.

Sidibé’s list of how to reach the end of AIDS is not new: scale up treatment-as-prevention, put 15 million on people treatment by 2015, eliminate new infections in children, and close the funding gap.

Nonetheless there is reason for optimism. For the first time there are more people on treatment than those who need it, and new infections worldwide have declined by 20 percent since 2001. In South Africa at least 300,000 people started treatment in 2011, 150,000 started in Zimbabwe, and in China the number of people on treatment doubled in one year.

Even scientists are hopeful and on 19 July released a road map ahead of the conference for research toward a cure for HIV – the first time scientists have come up with a coordinated plan to tackle the virus.

“The science has been telling us for some time now that achieving a cure for HIV infection could be a realistic possibility. The time is right to take the opportunity to try and develop an HIV cure – we might regret never having tried,” said Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, the co-discoverer of HIV and Director of the Regulation of Retroviral Infections Unit at the Institut Pasteur in Paris.

However, money remains a major obstacle. The new UNAIDS report says there is still a large gap in global funding for HIV, estimated to reach $7 billion by 2015.

“From many places in the developed world I am hearing, ‘We cannot afford to keep our promises; we have our own problems at home.’ Financial commitment from developed countries is declining… this gap is killing people,” Sidibé warned delegates.

The last International AIDS Conference was held in the US in 1990, but restrictions on the entry of people living with HIV into the country prohibited holding another conference in America until now.

President Barack Obama lifted the travel ban in 2010; the Republic of Korea announced at the conference that it had also removed its travel restrictions on HIV-positive people.

kn/he source http://www.irinnews.org

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Who’s who in the opposition in Sudan politics

Posted by African Press International on July 31, 2012

Photo: Aljazeera
Aiming for change

KHARTOUM,  – Recent weeks have seen demonstrators, for the most part students, take to the streets of Khartoum – and to a lesser extent other Sudanese cities – to protest against the rising cost of living and call for an end to the 23-year rule of President Omar al-Bashir.

Meanwhile, armed rebellions have been active in the western region of Darfur for almost a decade and broke out in the southern border state of South Kordofan in June 2011 and later in nearby Blue Nile State.

Sudan is in the throes of an economic crisis sparked by the July 2011 secession of South Sudan, which, when it was part of Sudan, produced three-quarters of the oil that almost solely drove the country’s economy. In June 2012, inflation was running at 37 percent. The government is faced with a budget deficit of US$2.4 billion.

While backed by the International Monetary Fund, Khartoum’s austerity measures, such as cutting fuel subsidies and government jobs, devaluing the currency and raising taxes have sparked a series of modest yet growing protests (with their own Twitter hashtag, #sudanrevolts), which in turn have prompted a robust response from security services.

Bashir has derided the demonstrators as “elbow-lickers”, an allusion to the supposed futility of their protests.

“They talk of an Arab Spring – let me tell them that in Sudan we have a hot summer, a burning hot summer that burns its enemies,” the president declared in mid-July.

Here is a brief overview of anti-government forces which, despite some alliances, lack strong cohesion or coordination among their various elements:

URBAN PROTEST MOVEMENTS

Girifna Movement (GM) A popular resistance movement formed in October 2009 by university students, GM works for peaceful change in Sudan. Girifna means “we are fed up”.

GM asks questions like: “Aren’t you fed up with the monopoly over political power by them?” “Aren’t you fed up with the high cost of living?” “Aren’t you fed up with the electricity and water shortages?” “Aren’t you fed up with what’s happening in Darfur?” Girifna uses street demonstrations, Radio Girifna, an online magazine, public speeches and newsletters, etc. to get its message across.

Girifna says its members have been beaten, abducted, and imprisoned by state security forces.

Sudan Change Now (SCN) SCN was established in 2010 by young activists working for peaceful democratic change. It is a youth movement which gets its message across using internet-based social media.

SCN’s Facebook page says: “We believe that the current regime in Sudan is completely dysfunctional and it is our collective responsibility as Sudanese to put an end to it. Change is our way towards the better future that our nation deserves.”

“We are working on creating a common front of solidarity that brings together all those who are suffering from the actions of the current corrupt and evil regime. Together we work to ensure a unified and effective course of action to overthrow the regime and build a new brighter future for our coming generations.”

ARMED MOVEMENTS

Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) alliance Led by SPLM-N (see below) chairman Malik Aggar, SRF is a coalition of rebel groups in Darfur, South Kordofan, Blue Nile and eastern Sudan formed in November 2011. SRF leaders say they want to overthrow the NCP regime “using all available means” and establish a secular, liberal state.

In a press statement on 12 July 2012 SRF said it supported the urban protests against the government. It said support by the National Consensus Forces (see below) for the Sudanese people’s “revolt” was a step in the right direction. It called on all political opposition forces to hold an expanded meeting on how to create a joint work programme, agree on a national democratic programme, and work together to bring down the regime.

SRF includes SPMN-N, JEM, SLA-AW, SLA-MM and the Beja Congress.

Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – Northern Sector (SPLM-N) This was initially the northern wing of the politico-military group which led the southern rebellion during the 1983-2005 civil war and which is now in power in the newly independent state of South Sudan.

Khartoum has frequently dismissed the SPLM-N’s insistence that it has operated as an independent entity since secession in July 2011, saying that its armed rebellion in Blue Nile and South Kordofan is controlled from Juba.


Photo: Peter Moszynski/IRIN
The SPLM-N is one of several armed opposition groups

Regime change is a key policy tenet of the SPLM-N, whose political activities the government has banned since late 2011.

Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) JEM is a rebel group involved in the Darfur conflict founded by Khalil Ibrahim, who was killed by the Sudanese Armed Forces in December 2011. Currently JEM is led by Khalil’s brother, Jibril Ibrahim, whose succession has agitated simmering fault lines, largely along ethnic lines involving non-Zaghawa, Missiriya Arabs, and some Zaghawa previously aligned with the Sudan Liberation Army – Minni Minnawi faction (SLA-MM).

The diaspora-based Democratic JEM (DJEM) is a splinter group launched by predominantly non-Zaghawa dissidents in April 2006, in rejection of JEM’s domination by the Kobe, a Zaghawa sub-group. JEM was established in early 2003 by a group of educated, politically experienced Darfuris, and drew most of its initial leadership and members from the Kobe, who are more numerous in Chad than in Darfur.

While JEM is considered the strongest armed rebel group in western Sudan it continues to lack a wider constituency among Darfuris.

The JEM Corrective Leadership (JEM CL) under Zakaria Musa, is a new breakaway movement that emerged in mid-January 2012 following Khalil Ibrahim’s death.

Sudan Liberation Army-Abdul Wahid faction (SLA-AW) SLA-AW is a Darfur rebel group emerged from the split of the Sudan Liberation Army into numerous factions.

The original SLA was formed in 2001 as an alliance between Fur and Zaghawa ethnic groups with differing goals: the Fur envisaged their rebellion as being essentially anti-government, in favour of a new, decentralized Sudan, while the Zaghawa’s focused more on Arab militias with whom they were in economic competition in North Darfur.

Abdul Wahid Mohammed al-Nur, SLA’s original chairman, has spent most of the period since the Darfur rebellion started in 2003 outside the region, first in Paris and more recently in Uganda. This absence has led to dissent and divisions within his movement.

SLA-AW, the Fur-led faction, has not signed the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement and has not taken part in any peace talks.

Sudan Liberation Army – Minni Minnawi faction (SLA-MM) A former teacher with little prior military experience, Minawi led SLA’s main forces before the group split. In 2006 he signed the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) with Khartoum and gained the largely nominal positions of – until April 2010 – senior assistant to Bashir, and chairman of the Transitional Darfur Regional Authority.

In late 2010 Minawi moved to Juba, capital of what is now South Sudan, and disowned the DPA, leading the Sudanese army to declare his faction a legitimate target. This unleashed a new wave of violence in SLA-MM areas. Minawi’s move also divided the faction into: a group which continued discussions with Khartoum, another in North Darfur negotiating with JEM and a third which remained loyal to Minawi himself.

The formation of the SRF led to some rapprochement between the two SLA factions.

POLITICAL PARTIES

Several Sudanese opposition parties are grouped under the banner of the National Consensus Forces, originally formed to stand against the ruling National Congress Party in elections held in April 2010.

Some of these – the National Umma Party, the Communist Party and the Popular Congress Party – signed a Democratic Alternative Charter (DAC) on 4 July 2012, thereby committing themselves to remove the NCP from power through “peaceful means” and the creation of a “civil democratic state”.

The NCF includes:

The National Umma Party (NUP):
President: Al Saddig Al-Mahdi
Secretary-General: Ibrahim al-Amin
Prominent member: Mariam al-Sadiq al-Mahdi
NUP’s origins go back to the 19th century. Its current president was the prime minister of Sudan on two occasions (1966-67), and (1986-89).
Website: http://www.umma.org/umma/en/page.php?page_id=1

Popular Congress Party (PCP):
President: Hassan Al-Turabi
PCP split from the ruling National Congress Party in 2000. It describes itself as “a broad national democratic party” not based upon regionalism or sectarianism. PCP publishes its own newspaper, Rai al-Shaab, currently banned by the National Intelligence Security Services.
PCP website: http://www.popularcongress.org/pages.php?hl=about

Sudanese Communist Party (SCP):
Secretary-general: Mohamed Mukhtar Al-Khateeb
SCP is one of the oldest parties in Sudan. It advocates socialism in a multi-party system.
SCP website: http://www.midan.net/

Other DAC signatories:

Nasirist Democratic Unionist Party (NDUP): supports Arab nationalism; has a close affinity with Egypt; led by Gamal Abdunnasir Idris.
The Unified Democratic Unionist Party – led by Jala’a Ismail Al-azhari
New Forces Democratic Movement (HAG) – led by Halal Abdulhaleem
Sudan Ba’ath Party – led by Mohamed Ali Jadain
The Arabic Baath Social Party – Originally led by Ali Elraih El Sanhoory
Sudanese Congress Party – led by Ibrahim Elshiekh

ai/am/cb
source http://www.irinnews.org

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EU-funded projects pressure

Posted by African Press International on July 30, 2012

Solar panels installed in Area C

JERUSALEM,  – As demolition orders continue to threaten the work of humanitarian organizations in Israeli-controlled Area C in the West Bank, the European Union (EU) and humanitarian agencies are pressing to change the rules of the aid game.

“We all know that when we turn one stone in Area C, what we get is confrontation with the occupying power,” Ulrich Nitschke, project director at the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) in the West Bank city of Ramallah, told IRIN. “But now, there is a major policy shift among the member states of the EU.”

Land in the West Bank is categorized as A, B and C. Area A is under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA), and Area B the joint control of Israel and the PA. About 95 percent of Palestinians live in these two areas, though they make up only 40 percent of the land area. In Area C, Israel retains military authority and full control over building permission.

Instead of making the implementation of EU-funded projects in Area C dependent on the Israeli Civil Administration and its requirement to obtain a permit, a new process is now guiding the EU’s approach.

“They are pressuring Israel to reach an actual game change in Area C. There has to be a game change,” says Tsafrir Cohen, Middle East coordinator of the German organization Medico International.

The first step of the new process is the development of legal and technical guidelines (master plans) for each local community in need under the leadership of the local Palestinian governments. The master plans are then presented to the Israeli Civil Administration, which opens a case for each locality submitted, and is asked to check whether all legal and technical requirements are met.

“As soon as we get a green light on the technical stuff, the EU donors are counting six months. If there is still no permit issued after that, the project is implemented without,” Nitschke said.
So far, a total of 24 master plans have been submitted; four were technically approved by the Israeli government in January 2011, but no permits have yet been issued. “Obviously six months have passed since then. But some member states got cold feet and wanted to double-check with Brussels before,” Nitschke said.
Meanwhile, some EU member states have formed an interest group to advocate change, including Germany, the UK, Belgium, Denmark, France, Sweden and the EU Commission, he added.

“Demolition can happen any time”

Each year, hundreds of Palestinians in Area C have their homes demolished by the Israeli authorities because they are unable to obtain permits for their buildings. In 2011 alone, about 1,100 Palestinians were displaced due to home demolitions by Israeli forces, over 80 percent more than in 2010, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a report.

“The Israeli authorities claim that structures are demolished because they lack building permits. However, the reality is that it is next to impossible for Palestinians to obtain such permits, leaving them no option but to build without them to meet their basic needs for shelter,” Ramesh Rajasingham, head of OCHA in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), told IRIN.

OCHA says that a total of 620 structures were torn down in the West Bank in 2011, of which 62 were European-funded projects.

Medico International faced demolition orders on (mostly standalone) wind and solar energy facilities it built in collaboration with the Israeli organization Community, Energy, and Technology in the Middle East (COMET-ME) in the south Hebron hills, which has become a hotspot of demolitions and forced displacement over the last years.

Tsafrir Cohen said his organization had hitherto been able to prevent the demolition of its energy installations through an effective diplomatic and public outreach campaign, in particular in Germany. “But the orders are there and demolition could happen any time.”

Some 1,500 Palestinians in the south Hebron hills are dependent on a similar alternative energy supply, because the Israeli authorities are preventing them from being connected to the electricity grid, he said, adding: “Thousands of people still don’t have electricity in the Hebron hills. We have thousands more in Jordan valley. But we simply can’t assist properly because of the permit problem.”

Aid agencies operating in Area C are currently facing a dangerous situation, said Cohen. “If we only build humanitarian infrastructure where Israel allows us to, we are in danger of being pushed out of Area C together with the Palestinians,” he said.

Medico International calls this process a “policy of targeted de-development”, aimed at forcing the Palestinian population out of Area C into the densely populated urban enclaves. “In the end we will work in a Bantustan,” Cohen added.

Sidestepping the permits?

Some donors hoped that permits might be made available for solar and wind energy harvesting systems in Area C, but their hopes were dashed: “We don’t get any permits, so we simply build without,” Elad Orian, co-founder of COMET-ME, told IRIN. At least eight of the standalone energy systems the organization installed in recent years are under threat of demolition, he added.

The EU effort to change the rules of the game is encouraging for agencies implementing projects in Area C, but Orian said it remains close to impossible to get international funding for COMET-ME projects without a permit from the Israeli authorities.

The policy shift led by the EU reflects a greater focus on international humanitarian law (IHL) instead of Israeli administrative rules, said Cohen, adding: “Israel uses administrative law above IHL. No one does enough to stop them.”

ah/kb/cb
source http://www.irinnews.org

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A “sin tax” on tobacco and alcohol could help countries fund their HIV treatment programme

Posted by African Press International on July 30, 2012

A “sin tax” on tobacco and alcohol could help countries fund their HIV treatment programmes (file photo)

WASHINGTON DC,  – While global HIV funding has stayed flat in recent years, poorer countries have quietly been putting more of their own money into financing the HIV response. “Something very interesting has been happening” in Africa, Bernhard Schwartländer, director of strategy at UNAIDS told a plenary session at the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington DC.

Treatment numbers are rising despite stagnant funding. “A lot of very clever and dedicated people are working very hard in making sure that services are delivered more efficiently, and… more people receive HIV services with the same amount of money.”

Domestic spending on HIV/AIDS in several African countries, including Kenya, Namibia, Sierra Leone and Uganda, rose by more than 100 percent between 2006 and 2011. For the first time ever, domestic resources exceed international AIDS spending as national governments take on the challenge of redistributing resources, UNAIDS noted.

But the reality is that national AIDS programmes have expanded beyond the capacity of governments to fully support them. If Malawi, for instance, took on the financing of its antiretroviral (ARV) programme – currently funded entirely by the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis (TB) and Malaria – this would consume two-thirds of its overall health budget, said Sharonann Lynch, policy advisor at international health charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

Poorer governments are still largely dependent on global resources. “The lives of 80 percent of the people who receive AIDS treatment in Africa depend every day, every morning, on whether or not the donor writes another cheque. That is unacceptable – such dependency simply must end,” said Schwartländer.

New sources of income

As an alternative to donor support, innovative financing mechanisms to bridge the funding gap are gaining increasing support from governments. Zimbabwe’s AIDS levy – a 3 percent income tax – generated more than US$26 million in 2011, UNAIDS reported recently. However, Albert Manenji, finance director of Zimbabwe’s National AIDS Council, told IRIN/PlusNews that only 30 percent of Zimbabweans were in the formal sector and contributed to the levy, so they are looking at broadening the revenue base to include small businesses and the informal sector.

Rwanda and Uganda have begun to impose a levy on the use of mobile phones to fund health programmes, and Botswana, Gabon and Malawi, among others, are investigating such a levy specifically for AIDS financing.

''The lives of 80 percent of the people who receive AIDS treatment in Africa depend every day, every morning, on whether or not the donor writes another cheque. That is unacceptable – such dependency must end''

Imposing a “sin tax” on alcohol and tobacco to pay for universal access to ARVs could be one of the most ambitious taxes to be implemented.

Modelling by Liverpool University researchers based on the 20 countries with the highest HIV burden suggests that 10 of these countries, including South Africa, Botswana and Malawi, could fully fund universal access over the coming years if governments put a small “global health charge” on alcohol and cigarettes.

Andrew Hill, a research fellow at Liverpool University, said the proposed tax would also generate “substantial additional funds to treat malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases”. Raising taxes could also deter the use of cigarettes and alcohol, lowering the burden of non-communicable diseases linked to smoking and drinking.

The idea of a “sin tax” has long been popular in developed countries, and now the “fat tax”, a levy on sugary drinks and other foodstuffs associated with obesity, is also growing in momentum. But Hill admitted that enforcing these taxes in poorer countries would be difficult.

Schwartländer also suggested that the recent fines imposed on large pharmaceutical firms could be set aside for health assistance, “rather than disappear in the general coffers of those countries”.

In July 2012, British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline pleaded guilty to criminal charges and agreed to pay $3 billion in fines for promoting its best-selling antidepressants for unapproved uses, and failing to report safety data about a top diabetes drug.

Schwartländer pointed out that “three billion dollars could easily pay for a year of drugs for all those on treatment today”.

kn/he
source http://www.irinnews.org

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Better paediatric HIV formulations – Fewer babies are being born HIV-positive

Posted by African Press International on July 30, 2012

Researchers are developing improved HIV pills, kid-friendly treatment “sprinkles”, micro-tabs and even medicine-dispensing pacifiers (filephoto)

WASHINGTON DC,  – Fewer babies are being born HIV-positive, but treatment for the more than three million children living with HIV remains under-researched and underfunded. As part of efforts to boost access to paediatric HIV treatment, researchers are getting creative, moving to better pills, kid-friendly treatment “sprinkles”, micro-tabs and even medicine-dispensing pacifiers.

Ahead of the International AIDS Conference, Indian generic drug manufacturer Cipla announced that it would partner with the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), a not-for-profit research and development organization, to produce an improved first-line antiretroviral (ARV) combination therapy specifically adapted for infants and toddlers living with HIV. The partnership is just one of the developments in paediatric treatment highlighted at the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington DC.

Mother-to-child HIV transmission rates have fallen by almost 25 percent globally since 2009, according to the latest UNAIDS report. Governments and donors celebrated these gains and pledged to eliminate mother-to-child – or vertical – transmission by 2015.

Former UN Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa, Stephen Lewis, speaking at the conference, criticized the lack of progress in improving treatment options for the 3.4 million children living with HIV.

“You can’t aim for the virtual elimination of paediatric HIV by 2015 at the continued expense of [treatment] scale-up for children living with HIV now, but that’s exactly what appears to be happening,” said Lewis. “[These children] deserve the right to life, they are not expendable causalities because they didn’t fit into prevention of vertical transmission programmes.”

The latest UNAIDS report shows that about 55 percent of adults living with HIV and in need of treatment are receiving ARVs globally, compared to just 25 percent of the children who need them. In some countries, patent laws still restrict access to some existing paediatric fixed-dose ARV combinations.

Paediatrician and researcher Dr Adeodata Kekitinwa, who works at the Mulago Referral Hospital in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, pointed out that HIV treatment for children is historically under-researched and less efficacious than adult formulations, making it harder to suppress HIV viral loads in children and infants compared to adult patients.

Promising pills and more

Cipla and the Clinical Trials Unit of the UK Medical Research Council have produced several ARV formulations for babies, and recently announced good results from a new granular, or sprinkle, formulation of lopinavir-ritonavir, a combination of ARVs.

In the recently released CHAPAS-2 trial, which compared the sprinkles with the conventional lopinavir-ritonavir syrup, caregivers reported that the sprinkles were easier for babies to swallow and easier for caregivers to transport and store than the syrup formulations.

According to Diana Gibb, a researcher on the study, the CHAPAS-2 trial also collected important data on how caregivers thought the sprinkles should be administered. For instance, many caregivers reported pouring sprinkles into the baby’s mouth and then immediately breastfeeding.

''You can’t aim for the virtual elimination of paediatric HIV by 2015 at the continued expense of [treatment] scale-up for children living with HIV now, but that’s exactly what appears to be happening''

While this data is yet to be analyzed, Gibbs said it was important for drug manufacturers and developers to understand what treatment options worked best for families. Kekitinwa said these considerations might also factor into trial designs, possibly looking at how drugs interact with breast milk.

Cipla’s newly announced proposed four-in-one therapy will also be developed in sprinkle-form and have a child-friendly taste. The company aims to register the drug by 2015.

As more paediatric ARV formulations are developed, drug companies may be able to move beyond syrups and sprinkles to dissolving microfilms or bulk powders that would make it easier for healthcare providers to calculate doses based on children’s rapidly changing body weight.

Bulk powders could also make drugs cheaper, as pharmaceutical companies would not have to alter the manufacturing process to cater for different age and weight groups. Better-tasting drugs could also eventually be administered in pacifier dispensers.

With an urgent need for more paediatric ARV formulations, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) recently formed a technical working group to draw up guidelines on formulation and dosing in an effort to help guide research and development, said Lulu Muhe, who works in WHO’s Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development.

llg/kr/he

source http://www.irinnews.org

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International agric chiefs commend high quality of research at IITA

Posted by African Press International on July 29, 2012

The Chair of the Consortium Board of CGIAR, Dr Carlos Pérez del Castillo has commended the high quality of research work being undertaken by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), emphasizing that this is needed now more than ever to tackle the challenges to food security of tropical nations not only in Africa but also the rest of the world.

Dr Pérez del Castillo was at the Ibadan campus of IITA last week for an official visit. He was accompanied by the Chief Executive Officer of the CGIAR Consortium, Dr Frank Rijsberman; IITA Board Chair, Dr Bruce Coulman; and the Directors General of two other CGIAR Consortium Centers: Dr Papa Seck of AfricaRice, and Dr Jimmy Smith of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Dr Pérez del Castillo said, “We are very impressed with our interactions with IITA scientists and the high quality of science they are doing in various fields. Their degree of commitment and passion to IITA’s mission of eradicating hunger and poverty through their science is nothing short of amazing. We are extremely happy with what we’ve seen during this visit.”

He particularly cited IITA’s “food production systems” approach to addressing agricultural constraints, stressing that such a strategy would greatly benefit farmers and help feed the world’s growing population.

Rather than addressing agricultural development bottlenecks on an individual commodity basis, the “production system” approach integrates the diverse options available such as crop improvement, markets, and natural resource management, among others. It is a holistic way of thinking that seeks to improve livelihoods, increase incomes, and promote sustainable development.

“In the past, most of the research was centered around either commodities or natural resource management, but the production system approach—which brings together all the components from different centers—will deliver better impact on the livelihoods of the poor in different ecosystems. This different way of doing things will certainly bring about solutions that couldn’t be achieved on an individual mandate,” Dr Pérez del Castillo explained.

The CGIAR chief said that he sees IITA playing a vital role in leading holistic global research initiatives to find workable solutions to the challenges of agricultural underdevelopment, food insecurity, and natural resource degradation, given its impressive track record of research-based achievements in sub-Saharan Africa.

A CGIAR-commissioned study showed that IITA research is responsible for 70 percent of the CGIAR’s impact in Africa.

“Probably not the whole solution, but I am sure that agricultural research is very much needed to meet these challenges whether it is climate change, food price volatility, energy—food crops being diverted to biofuels—and feeding the growing population,” Dr Pérez del Castillo added.

IITA Board Chair, Dr Bruce Coulman explained that under its new Director General, Dr Nteranya Sanginga, the institute is embarking on a comprehensive 10-year strategy that outlines its bold plans of raising 20 million people out of poverty and also reclaiming 25 million hectares of degraded land in the tropics including Africa, Asia, and the Latin America by 2020.

In the last decade, the CGIAR has been undergoing a wide-ranging reform process to make it more responsive to the changing agricultural development landscape, positioning itself to offer greater impact and improve the livelihoods of millions of people. One important outcome of the reform is the agreement by international agricultural research centers to work closer together using a common strategy to ensure a food secure future for all while sustaining the natural resource base.

Dr Rijsberman said the reforms would ensure that centers offer “good value for money”, referring to investments by donors to agricultural research.

###

www.africanpress.me/ L-R: Board Chair of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Dr Bruce Coulman; Board Chair of the CGIAR Consortium, Dr Carlos Pérez del Castillo; Director General, IITA, Dr Nteranya Sanginga; Director General, International Livestock Research Institute, ILRI, Dr Jimmy Smith; Chief Executive Officer of CGIAR Consortium, Dr Frank Rijsberman; and Deputy Director General, Partnerships and Capacity Building, IITA, Dr Kenton Dashiell; during the visit of the CGIAR team in IITA Ibadan, Nigeria

http://www.africanpress.me/ L-R: Board Chair of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Dr Bruce Coulman; Board Chair of the CGIAR Consortium, Dr Carlos Pérez del Castillo; Director General, IITA, Dr Nteranya Sanginga; Director General, International Livestock Research Institute, ILRI, Dr Jimmy Smith; Chief Executive Officer of CGIAR Consortium, Dr Frank Rijsberman; and Deputy Director General, Partnerships and Capacity Building, IITA, Dr Kenton Dashiell; during the visit of the CGIAR team in IITA Ibadan, Nigeria

CGIAR (www.cgiar.org) is a global agriculture research partnership for a food secure future. Its science is carried out by the 15 research centers who are members of the CGIAR Consortium in collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations. IITA is a member of the CGIAR Consortium.

IITA (www.iita.org) is an international non-profit research-for-development organization established in 1967 and governed by a Board of Trustees. We work with partners in Africa and beyond to enhance crop quality and productivity, reduce producer and consumer risks, and generate wealth from agriculture. Our award-winning research for development is anchored on the development needs of tropical countries.

IITA is a member of the CGIAR Consortium.

 

End

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South Africa’s mother-to-child HIV transmission rate

Posted by African Press International on July 29, 2012

South Africa’s mother-to-child HIV transmission rate has dropped from 8 percent in 2008 to 2.7 percent today (file photo)

WASHINGTON DC,  – South Africa has charted a significant decline in mother-to-child HIV transmission for the second consecutive year, with new data showing that just 2.7 percent of babies born to HIV-positive mums contracted the virus by six weeks of age, compared to 8 percent in 2008.

The new figures – recently released by South Africa’s Medical Research Council (MRC), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the US Centres for Disease Control and others – represent a significant decrease from those presented in June 2011, when 3.5 percent of all babies born to women living with HIV had contracted the virus before, during or shortly after birth.

The research, conducted between April 2011 and March 2012, shows there are also fewer disparities between the rates in South Africa’s nine provinces than those released in 2011, when they ranged from nearly 6 percent to about 2.5 percent.

Significant improvements were recorded in provinces where the provision of prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) services had been poor, such as rural areas in Mpumalanga and Free State provinces, as well as Western Cape, but less than 2 percent of babies born to women living with HIV in these regions now contract the virus.

Without treatment, up to 40 percent of babies born to HIV-positive women could become infected with the virus during pregnancy and delivery, but the risk drops below 5 percent when the women have access to PMTCT services.

Researchers estimate that about 120,000 infant HIV infections were averted as a result of expanded provision of PMTCT services.

South Africa’s Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, welcomed the results and said that if this success could be sustained, it would help curb high infant mortality rates fuelled by HIV – 42 out of every 1,000 babies born die before the age of one in South Africa.

Current PMTCT figures only tracked babies until they were six weeks old, but Motsoaledi said the government and its research partners are planning surveys to examine what percentage of mother-to-child transmission occurs after this point.

To further reduce the mother-to-child transmission risk, the country started promoting exclusive breastfeeding in April 2012.

“As we implement our exclusive breastfeeding policy, I would like us to ensure that all eligible HIV-positive mothers are on antiretroviral therapy for the duration of breastfeeding, so that there is no HIV transmission after six weeks of age,” said Motsoaledi. “It is imperative that infants born HIV negative remain HIV negative.”

After mixed feeding, in which mothers combine breast milk and solids, was found to increase the risk of infants contracting HIV through their mother’s milk, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) recommended exclusive breastfeeding for HIV-positive mothers on ARVs in the infant’s first six months of life to reduce the risk of transmission.

llg/kr/he
source http://www.irinnews.org

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Opium not a good livelihood

Posted by African Press International on July 29, 2012

DAKAR,  – Upwards of 90 percent of the opium poppies in Myanmar’s northern region are grown in Shan State, even though farmers are aware that if they grow an illicit crop, it may be eradicated and they could lose everything Alternative livelihood support is needed if growers are to be weaned off this double-edged source of income.

“Farmers grow opium poppy to buy food, pay off debt and have a cash income to pay school fees and health expenses,” Gary Lewis, regional representative of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) told IRIN. “To be effective we need to give farming communities alternatives which can provide a sustainable basis for them to earn a livelihood.”

UNODC and NGOs have been working with local farmers for the past decade, trying to lure them away from poppy cultivation by providing alternative livelihood solutions, along with improved access to roads, waterways, irrigation, and community health services.

“Until recently, UNODC alternative development assistance, funded by the European Union and the governments of Germany and Japan, was limited to small development projects in just three south Shan townships – wholly inadequate to Shan State and Myanmar’s needs for improved infrastructure, markets, schools and sustainable livelihoods”, said Lewis.

More than half a century of internal conflict between government forces and various ethnic and political rebel groups tore the country apart, causing instability and poverty. Ceasefire treaties signed in early 2012 with groups in northern Myanmar, like the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), have allowed access to areas that were previously unreachable.

After the ceasefires, the government approved townships where the UN drug agency can work, including access to 25 additional townships in Shan State.

“We are encouraged by the recent ceasefire agreements and the fact that the national authorities have expanded the areas in Shan State in which UNODC is allowed to work,” Lewis said. “Solve the challenges of chronic poverty, decreasing rural food security, and armed conflict – and you can begin to draw farmers away from poppy.”

An opium survey by UNODC in 2011 points out that there has been a marked increase in the area under opium cultivation in Myanmar – from 38,100 hectares in 2010 to 43,600 hectares in 2011 – mostly in Shan State. Yet the government has significantly increased its eradication efforts and a total of 6,124 hectares of opium poppy were destroyed there in 2011, compared to 5,316 hectares eradicated in 2010, the survey noted.

“What happens in Myanmar’s Shan State affects the whole region’s security,” Lewis warned. “Now is the time for the international community to engage in alternative development in the poppy-growing regions… as a natural counterbalance to the increased enforcement being conducted.”

But political instability and poverty remain high in the area and there is a strong chance that farmers could return to poppy cultivation if there is no alternative. According to the annual opium survey, poppies can bring in nine to 15 times more money per hectare than rice. Crops like maize, tea and rice are more labour intensive than poppies, and require expensive inputs, such as fertilizers, to cultivate and transport to markets.

“Food shortages still exist and most households rely on purchasing food than on their own production,” said Ohnmar Khaing, coordinator of the Food Security Working group (FSWG) in Myanmar, an umbrella group of national and international NGOs.

“Today, poorest of the poor ex-poppy farmers need help to turn to other crops… The reality is that the internal push to reduce opium poppy is proceeding too quickly, and without adequate resources or examination of the implications for the forgotten, impoverished poppy farmers,” Khaing noted.

“The essential challenge is to create development initiatives and economic incentives that provide attractive and viable legal alternatives for farmers.”

fm/pt/he source http://www.irinnews.org

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Kenya’s Miguna attacks Raila Odinga: He now fears for his life, demands 24-hour State Security

Posted by African Press International on July 28, 2012

In a letter to the Kenya Police, Miguna Miguna asks for State Security after releasing his book on Prime Minister Raila Odinga who he says is very corrupt. Miguna worked for Raila as his advisor for a number of years and has now written a book peeling Raila’s mask telling the Kenyans that they should not elect him as president because he is a man of shady deals and very corrupt in all he does.

It now remains to be seen if the government will accept his demand for security.

Here is the letter sent by Miguna to The Police Commissioner of Kenya and copied to the International media:

***

27 July 2012

Mr. Mathew Iteere
The Commissioner of Police
Kenya Police Headquarters
Vigillance House, Harambee Avenue
P.O. Box 30083
Nairobi, Kenya
By email transmission to:
commissioner@kenyapolice.go.ke
customercare@kenyapolice.go.ke

Dear Sir,

RE: REQUEST FOR 24-HOUR STATE SECURITY
__________________________________________________

This is my formal request for round-the-clock state security in view of the recent chilling threats to me and my family including the macabre burning and burial of my effigy and coffin in a mock funeral in Nyando lead by an ODM Member of Parliament Fred Otieno Outa and the apparent endorsement of those serious and criminal threats by the top leadership of the ODM and the failure of the relevant Kenyan authorities in apprehending and prosecuting the culprits as would be required in a country governed by the rule of law.

Since launching my book, Peeling Back the Mask: A Quest for Justice in Kenya, on July 14, 2012, I have received several death threats and threats of serious bodily harm by short text messages and email transmissions from people I do not know. One chilling threat stated that upon my return to Kenya next month, I will be “assassinated and my kidneys eaten.”

My family and I take these threats very seriously. We believe that the recent media attacks on me; the character assassination; the almost daily and desperate pseudo psycho-analysis; and the deliberate concoction and publication of so-called “Miguna Files” in sections of the Kenyan media, deliberate and are intended to divert attention from the serious governance issues (particularly grand corruption and nepotism in and by the Office of the Prime Minister) raised in my book, but which some powerful figures, including, but not limited to the Prime Minister of the Republic of Kenya, would rather keep hidden from public scrutiny.

Despite all the threats, the intimidations, the character assassinations and the daily gratuitous attacks in the media and the Internet, I shall return to Kenya on Thursday, August 16, 2012. My flight is scheduled to land at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport at 20:15 hours. I intend to continue with my chosen work of writing about and agitating for the respect for the rule of law, the upholding of the constitution (in letter and spirit), the respect for fundamental human rights, the expansion of the democratic space, the elimination of corruption, tribalism and nepotism (of all forms and shades) and the entrenchment and practice of good governance in Kenya. In other words, I am fortified and fully committed in the quest for justice in Kenya.

Consequently, I hope and trust that your good offices will grant and deploy, for my protection and that of my family, 24-hour state security.

I would be very grateful if you can assign adequate security for me upon my arrival at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on the date and time specified.

I am forwarding this request electronically, through the Kenya Police email service, because I am currently on holiday and book tour/promotion in Canada.

I look forward to your prompt and positive response.

Yours very truly,

MIGUNA MIGUNA

Cc: The national and international media

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Typhoid and cholera return

Posted by African Press International on July 28, 2012

HARARE,  – More than 100 people in the Zimbabwean capital Harare and Chitungwiza, a dormitory town 35km southeast of the city, have contracted typhoid this month, and the dilapidated water and sanitation systems are again being blamed for another round of water-borne diseases.

According to health officials cited in the local media, 83 cases of typhoid have been confirmed in Chitungwiza and a further 28 in Harare, of which 25 were linked to a supermarket in the Avenues area of the city centre.

Portia Manangazira, the chief disease control officer in the Health Ministry, told IRIN that in June 22 cases of suspected cholera, 10 of which were confirmed, were reported in Chiredzi – a town in Masvingo Province close to neighbouring South Africa – and one confirmed case of cholera was reported in Manicaland Province, which borders Mozambique.

“We are monitoring the situation very closely to make sure the cholera does not spread. The health sector is on high alert,” she said.

A year-long outbreak of cholera in 2008 killed more than 4,000 people and infected about 100,000 others and since then there have been regular outbreaks of waterborne diseases in both urban and rural areas. In January 2012 about 900 Harare residents were diagnosed with typhoid, but no fatalities were recorded.

Harare’s daily water requirement is estimated at about 1,200 million litres, but the city only has the capacity to provide on average about 620 million litres daily, forcing residents to find alternative sources.

Shallow wells

Elizabeth Tembo, from the Harare township of Mabvuku where three people contracted typhoid, told IRIN: “Water supplies in this part of the city have been unreliable for many years and this has forced us to dig shallow wells. Unfortunately, those areas are also used by residents to relieve themselves because toilets do not have running water.” In the past decade or so, sanitation coverage in the city has fallen from 95 percent to about 60 percent, according to health officials.

However, there are also health concerns related to reservoirs supplying the city and other nearby urban areas. Harare’s town clerk, Tendai Mahachi, announced recently that a sanitation plant in Norton, a satellite town 40km west of the capital, had discharged 10 million litres of raw sewage into Lake Manyame, while industrial effluent and raw sewage had been discharged into Lake Chivero.

Donors have been supplying water treatment chemicals to urban and rural municipalities, but this support was scheduled to end in March 2012.

The government announced recently it would spend US$60 million rehabilitating and upgrading water and sanitation systems nationally, including in Harare, and part of that money would also be used for road repairs in areas affected by water-borne diseases.

Precious Shumba, director of Harare Residents Trust, an NGO campaigning for better municipal service delivery, told IRIN: “That figure of US$60 million might just cover part of what is needed to overhaul the Harare city water and sewerage reticulation system. We have reached a stage where we need to urge central government to prioritize the rehabilitation or complete replacement of all outdated systems in order to ensure that residents throughout the country have uninterrupted quality water.”

He said failure to comprehensively address Zimbabwe’s water and sanitation needs would ensure the cycle of “easily avoidable” water-borne diseases continued.

dd/go/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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Court orders Cape Town to process asylum applications

Posted by African Press International on July 28, 2012

Queues form early in the morning outside the Refugee Reception Office in Musina

JOHANNESBURG,  – Refugee rights organizations in Cape Town are breathing a sigh of relief following a high court judgement that will force the Department of Home Affairs to reverse a policy of not accepting new asylum-seeker applications at the region’s only Refugee Reception Office (RRO).

Since the beginning of July, when the Maitland RRO in Cape Town moved to new premises, newly-arrived refugees trying to apply for asylum have been turned away and only those wanting to renew asylum seeker permits have been assisted. Maitland was the third RRO to be closed by Home Affairs in two years, leaving just three offices in Durban, Pretoria and Musina near the Zimbabwean border, where refugees can apply for asylum.

On entering the country, asylum seekers are given 14 days to report to an RRO and apply for an asylum seeker permit after which they are considered undocumented migrants and subject to arrest, detention and deportation.

Refugee rights activists complain that the closure of the RRO in Johannesburg in May 2011 and another in Port Elizabeth in November 2011 followed by the Cape Town office were part of a broader strategy by the government to restrict migration and reduce the country’s caseload of asylum seekers which is one of the world’s largest.

Over the past year, the Home Affairs Department has repeatedly stated its intention to move all refugee reception services to the country’s borders, most recently in a discussion document published by the ruling ANC party ahead of its national elective conference to be held in December. However, no such facilities have yet been built at the borders and the pressure on the remaining RROs has meant that asylum seekers and refugees are regularly turned away without accessing services.

“It seems all decisions are being made based on a policy [to move all RROs to the borders] that hasn’t been approved yet,” commented Miranda Madikane, director of the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, a refugee rights organization that filed the urgent high court application to force the Western Cape Home Affairs Department to resume services for newly-arrived asylum seekers. “The move to the border could be logical but it needs to be done in such a way that it’s supported by infrastructure.”

Stranded

The Scalabrini Centre and other refugee organizations in Cape Town have been at a loss how to help newly-arrived asylum seekers in need of documentation since the Maitland RRO closed. Most were unaware they could not apply for asylum in Cape Town and lack the resources to travel to Durban, Pretoria or Musina.

“Home Affairs promised a communication campaign at the border, but our partners there haven’t noted one,” said Madikane.

Jacob Matakanye of the Musina Legal Advice Office confirmed that there had been no campaign to raise awareness about the closure of the Maitland office. He added that most asylum seekers preferred not to apply for permits in Musina because of the need to return to the remote border town every time their permit was due for renewal.

The judgement in Cape Town follows two similar judgements in Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth, both of which found that the closure of RROs had been implemented unlawfully and without public consultation. In February, the Port Elizabeth High Court ordered Home Affairs to reopen a fully functioning RRO with immediate effect. An attempt to appeal the judgement was rejected in May, but according to David Stephens of the Eastern Cape Refugee and Migrant Programme, the RRO in Port Elizabeth is still not serving newly-arrived asylum seekers.

“We’ve been telling everyone to go to Cape Town, but now Cape Town’s been closed,” he told IRIN.

Braam Hanekom, director of People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (PASSOP), another Cape Town-based refugee rights organization was optimistic that Home Affairs would implement the judgement relating to Cape Town’s refugee reception services. “If we’d lost, it would have been disastrous,” he said.

ks/cb
source www.irinnews.org

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UN Investigators Confirm Khartoum’s Renewed Bombing of South Sudan

Posted by African Press International on July 28, 2012

Implications for Negotiations in Addis

Associated Press reports today (July 24, 2012) that the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has confirmed at aerial attack by Khartoum’s military aircraft on the sovereign territory of South Sudan (near Rumaker, Northern Bahr el-Ghazal state); this attack occurs as negotiations between Khartoum and Juba are presently underway in Addis Ababa to resolve outstanding bilateral issues.

“Six bombs that Sudan maintains were aimed at rebels in its own territory instead landed across the border inside South Sudan, according to a United Nations report. UN observers who visited the site found six bomb craters 1.16 kilometers (.72 miles) inside South Sudan’s territory, according to the internal report obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday. South Sudan officials told the UN team that a man who was wounded in the bombing later died. The timing of the incident is crucial because South Sudan and Sudan are currently meeting in Ethiopia to negotiate outstanding issues from their peaceful split last year. The UN Security Council says the issues—including an agreement on the full demarcation of a border and how to share oil revenues—must be resolved by August 2.

“After the bombing allegations, the African Union—which is overseeing the Sudan-South Sudan negotiations—said it would investigate. The AU reported that Sudan said its forces attacked a group of Darfur rebels ‘within the territory of Sudan.’ The UN team said the six bombs created small craters where they came down in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state early Friday. ‘The craters are almost in one line, possibly indicating a bombing run by an aircraft. Bomb fragments and debris was visible in and around the craters. The smell of “gunpowder” was also evident,’ the report said. South Sudan has said the Sudanese military dropped the bombs from Antonov planes. The UN report also said that an Antonov military aircraft was spotted flying over the South Sudan city of Bentiu, in Unity State, on Saturday. South Sudan does not have Antonov planes.”

Since the UN Security Council imposed an August 2 deadline for the completion of these negotiations, the timing of the bombing attack requires explanation, for the authority of the confirmation can’t be doubted in this case. Ordinarily, the African Union would expediently declare that it was “investigating,” but then simply accept at face value Khartoum’s denial.  For its part, the UN would not make public its findings, leaving the situation unresolved and the Government of South Sudan (GOSS) convinced that the international community simply doesn’t want to hear about such attacks, even when there are civilian casualties.  But again, this attack has been explicitly confirmed by UN investigators:

“Six bombs that Sudan maintains were aimed at rebels in its own territory instead landed across the border inside South Sudan, according to a United Nations report. UN observers who visited the site found six bomb craters 1.16 kilometers (.72 miles) inside South Sudan’s territory, according to the internal report obtained by The Associated Press.

“The UN team said the six bombs created small craters where they came down in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state early Friday. ‘The craters are almost in one line, possibly indicating a bombing run by an aircraft. Bomb fragments and debris was visible in and around the craters. The smell of “gunpowder” was also evident,’ the report said.”

Why would Khartoum engage in such a provocative attack, and justify it after the fact with the ludicrous claim that the attack was directed at the Justice and Equality Rebel (JEM) movement?  The attack—according to the SPLA—occurred around 3am in the morning July 20, when darkness would have been complete.  Antonovs have no militarily purposeful precision, even in daylight: they are retrofitted Russian cargo planes from which shrapnel-laden barrel bombs are simply rolled out the back cargo bay.  An attack in complete darkness by an Antonov is the very embodiment of “indiscriminate.”

So, who ordered this attack? 

This was not done on the initiative of a regional military officer but on the basis of an order from Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) headquarters in Khartoum.  And these senior officers would certainly have known both that the UN Security Council deadline was approaching and that such an attack would be provocative in the extreme.  Unsurprisingly, it led the GOSS delegation to break off direct talks with the Khartoum regime leadership, even as it was making a generous offer on the issue of oil revenues.  This included forgiving the debt accrued by Khartoum through the withholding or sequestering of oil revenues ($815 million since independence in July 2011); $3.2 billion in assistance to Khartoum to close the budget gap created by the regime’s loss of oil income; and exceedingly generous transit fees: $9.10 per barrel for the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company pipeline (from what was formerly Western Upper Nile) and $7.26 per barrel for the Petrodar pipeline from Upper Nile.  In less than a day, Khartoum had rejected the deal.

With such an eminently reasonable, indeed generous deal about to be tabled, why would Khartoum—desperate for resumed oil revenues—choose to bomb South Sudan and to reject Juba’s offer almost immediately?  How can the regime insist that “security issues” are paramount even as it violates the security of South Sudan on a regular basis both with aerial attacks and grounds attacks, the former going back to November 2010?  In the immediate wake of the attack of July 20, the answer was provided in the form of another question by South Sudan’s Information Minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin: “‘Maybe certain extremists do not want the talks,’ said Marial. ‘Why would they continue bombing?'” (Associated Press [Juba], July 21, 2012).  SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer connected the bombing attack to a desire to abort the direct talks between Juba and Khartoum:

“‘There was bombing yesterday morning at a place called Rumaker,’ in Northern Bahr el Ghazal, South Sudan’s military spokesman Philip Aguer told AFP earlier, adding that ‘this might have implications because maybe that is the intention of Sudan to bomb us and to stop talking.'” (Agence France-Presse [Addis], July 21, 2012)

And who are the “extremists” that Marial and Aguer are referring to?  Evidence has mounted steadily for over a year that senior military officials within the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party have become increasingly influential, indeed decisive in the key decisions about war and peace.  Last May, shortly before the regime’s military seizure of Abyei, two generals demanded of President Omar al-Bashir that they be given this decision-making power: Major General Mahjoub Abdallah Sharfi—head of Military Intelligence since 2008—and Lt. Gen. Ismat Abdel Rahman al-Zain, implicated in Darfur atrocity crimes because of his role as SAF director of operations in Khartoum (he is identified in the “confidential Annex” to a report by UN panel of Experts on Darfur, leaked in February 2006).  A third member of the military with outsize influence in regime decisions is Major General Bakri Salih—former Defense Minister, and now senior minister for presidential affairs.  These are the men who are making the key decisions, and moving Sudan and South Sudan closer to war.

The most conspicuous evidence of this shift in political power became clear a year ago: on June 28, 2011 senior NIF/NCP political figure and presidential assistant Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e signed a “framework agreement” with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North (SPLM/A-N), committing the two sides to negotiate outstanding political issues (that were to have been settled in the aborted “popular consultations” for Blue Nile and South Kordofan) and a cease-fire.  Three days later, al-Bashir—just back from a state visit to China—announced a precipitous reversal of Khartoum’s commitment to the “agreement.”  There would be no negotiations with the SPLA/M-N, no halt to fighting, and no humanitarian access to civilians in rebel-held parts of South Kordofan (Khartoum at this point had not yet begun its military seizure of Blue Nile):

“Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said the army would continue its campaign in the flashpoint of South Kordofan, state news agency SUNA said on Friday [July 1, 2011], dashing hope of a cease-fire ahead of southern secession. In his first comments since returning from a visit to China, Bashir seemed to contradict comments by a northern official this week that north and south had agreed ‘in principle’ on a cease-fire in the northern oil state.” (Reuters [Khartoum], July 2, 2012)

Ominously, al-Bashir spoke of the SAF continuing a “cleansing” operation, according to the state run Sudan News Agency (SUNA):

“‘[Al-Bashir] directed the armed forces to continue their military operations in South Kordofan until a cleansing of the region is over,’ SUNA quoted Bashir as telling worshippers during Friday prayers.” (emphasis added)

As the International Crisis Group reported:

“[H]ardliners in Khartoum—including SAF generals—immediately rejected a 28 June framework agreement, which includes a political and a security agreement for Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, facilitated by former South African President Thabo Mbeki and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, and signed by Dr. Nafie Ali Nafie, Co-deputy NCP chairman and a presidential adviser.”

These conspicuous truths seem not to be of interest to African Union mediators or UN officials: they are simply too inconvenient to be frankly acknowledged.  Instead, there is a default decision to blame both parties, to indulge yet again in a destructive “moral equivalence,” whatever the circumstances or evidence demonstrating a preponderance of culpability.

Indeed, the African Union is clearly minimizing the significance of the bombing, despite its place in a pattern of disturbing trends in the decisions made by Khartoum.  It said—before the Associated Press report—that is would “investigate” the bombing, but that negotiations would continue. Ordinarily the phrase “will investigate” coming from the AU with respect to bombing in Sudan or South Sudan is meaningless; but that apparent commitment now must confront the reality of UN confirmation of the aerial attack, and its clearly indiscriminate nature.

It’s not hard to understand why the Government of South Sudan refuses to accept this diplomatic massaging and disingenuousness, and has made its point by breaking off direct negotiations with the Khartoum regime.  And until the AU—as well as the UN and other international actors of consequence—take seriously the implications of an attack such as that on Rumaker, it will find that Juba is increasingly doubtful that there is any real balance or fairness on the part of the mediators in Addis.


By Eric Reeves, Smith College, Northampton, MA  01063
USA
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May 8, 2012  interview with General Abdel Aziz Adam Al-Hilu, chairman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-North), discussing the ambitions of current rebellion in the Nuba Mountains and elsewhere in Sudan:

How will this end?

“We are working for regime change, for complete transformation, for writing a new constitution, a democratic constitution that recognizes diversity, that accepts the liberal values of justice, equality, individualism. We want to achieve lasting peace and justice in this country. Some may say we are not qualified to reach this but I think it is possible.”

 

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Kenyan woman wanted in the US to be deported

Posted by African Press International on July 27, 2012

The woman is seen in the video above beating an elderly man she is supposed to provide with care. She was cought in a candid camera in the act.

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