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Archive for July 26th, 2012

Cholera in the capital of Sierra Leone

Posted by African Press International on July 26, 2012

Beds used to facilitate the treatment of Cholera (file photo)

FREETOWN,  – Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, is now the centre of a cholera epidemic after the first confirmed case surfaced in the north of the country in February.
 
On 18 July, the first reported case in Freetown came from Marbella, a slum area near the centre of town where a high volume of people constantly visit and trade in the busy 24-hour market. The Ministry of Health says they are seeing 40 new cases a day in this area.
 
In Freetown and the surrounding Western Area, 410 cases and 9 deaths have been reported. The fatality rate is at 2 percent.
 
“The fatality rate is very high,” Sierra Leone’s Minister of Health, Zainab Bangura, told a press conference on Monday. “It is pretty serious. At the moment our strategy is to contain it [the disease] and to clean the environment.” Bangura said emergency measures were being put in place.
 
Dr Alemu Wondimagegnehu, Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Sierra Leone, told IRIN this is the biggest outbreak since 2007. “For a population of six million, 4,000 cases are significant – this is big.”
 
Since January, Sierra Leone has seen 4,249 cases of cholera and 76 people have died from the waterborne disease. Wondimagegnehu said the epidemic has not yet reached its peak. Critics say the Ministry of Health in Sierra Leone was slow to respond to the outbreak, and prevention efforts in the country are weak.
 

WEST AFRICA: Cholera – what’s working?
FREETOWN/DAKAR, 10 July 2012 (IRIN) – After years of cyclical cholera outbreaks in West Africa, water and sanitation standards are still notoriously low in most of the affected countries, but in some areas the cholera response is working better now than in the past. IRIN spoke to governments and aid agencies about innovations and traditional wisdom for preventing cholera. Full report

The government has set up three emergency centres in hot spots around the city to handle new cases and all government clinics are providing free treatment for cholera.
 
But in Marbella, a high-density area that is not accessible by road and is packed with traders and dwellings, many residents do not have access to toilets and live close to each other.
 
“The situation in Marbella, with lack of sanitation and hygiene, lack of safe drinking water and the [poor] management of food in the market area – all these are risk factors for [the outbreak] to escalate,” Wondimagegnehu said.
 
ft/aj/he
source www.irinnews.org

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An uneven playing field

Posted by African Press International on July 26, 2012

 

South African children are too often victims of circumstances

JOHANNESBURG,  – In an ideal society, every child would have an equal shot at achieving their human potential, regardless of their race, gender, family background or where they were born. The reality in South Africa, one of the most unequal societies in the world, is that a white boy born to a two-parent household in suburban Johannesburg has a much greater chance of succeeding in life than a black girl born to a single mother in rural Kwa-Zulu Natal.

The World Bank’s six-monthly economic update for South Africa, released on 24 July, features findings from a study that compared the inequality of opportunities for South African children with their peers in other middle-income countries and found that South Africa is lagging behind on a number of key indicators.

The report uses the Human Opportunity Index (HOI), which is the coverage rate of a particular basic service adjusted according to how equitably the service is distributed among different population groups, to compare opportunities among children. The authors found that while school attendance for children under 15 and access to telecommunications were nearly universal, provision of water, sanitation, health insurance and completion of primary school on time varied considerably depending on a child’s circumstances.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Ambar Narayan, a lead economist with the World Bank and co-author of the report, explained that location – whether a child lives in a township, urban or rural area – emerged as the most important factor, particularly for opportunities relating to infrastructure.

Education of the household head was the second most important factor, while gender only appeared to matter in relation to finishing primary school on time. Race alone was not a major factor but Narayan pointed out that socioeconomic circumstances often correlated with race.

The study found that children’s access to safe water and improved sanitation were lower and much more influenced by circumstances in South Africa than in most Latin American countries, except for the poorest ones.

Although almost all South African children aged 10-14 attend school, many do not complete school on time – an indication that school quality varies considerably more than in most Latin American countries and even in a number of African countries such as Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria and Zambia.

Narayan emphasized that “just improving coverage [of basic services] for all is not enough”; policymakers need to focus more on improving service provision for the most deprived groups.

Unequal access to jobs

In terms of providing employment opportunities, South Africa also performed poorly compared to other middle-income countries, not only due to its high levels of unemployment, which increased from 22 percent in 2008 to 25 percent currently, but as a result of highly unequal access to the limited jobs available.

The report looked at how circumstances of birth leading to unequal opportunities in childhood impact an individual’s chances of finding work in a shrinking labour market, and found that young job-seekers, particularly those living in townships and rural areas, are at a significant disadvantage.

“Something is going on which excludes young people [from the labour market] much more than in other countries,” commented Sandeep Mahajan, another World Bank lead economist.

The legacy of the apartheid system left South Africa with a very high inequality base, noted Mahajan, but the country has made less progress in expanding opportunities over the last decade than the majority of Latin American and sub-Saharan countries with comparable levels of inequality.

“Some of the embedded inequities haven’t been addressed,” he said.

Learning from Brazil

Arden Finn, a researcher with the University of Cape Town’s Southern African Labour and Development Research Unit, has looked at Brazil – a country that has had success in tackling its historically high levels of inequality – for clues as to how South Africa could also advance.

“In Brazil, they’ve managed to create a lot of low skill jobs,” he said. He added that efforts to improve the availability and quality of education had also paid off.

Why large investments in South Africa’s education sector have not paid similar dividends remains unclear, but it has left the country with a mismatch between the types of skills needed by the labour market and those available.

The World Bank report does not make specific recommendations for reducing South Africa’s high levels of inequity, but urges policymakers to make use of the HOI, as a number of countries in Latin America already have, as “a powerful tool to measure and track a society’s progress on equitable distribution of basic opportunities” and better target social policies.

“We know from international experience, there are no easy answers,” Mahajan told IRIN. “Where we’re seeing positive results in Latin America, it didn’t happen in one year. There need to be more diagnostics and many stakeholders need to come together.”

ks/cb source www.irinnews.org

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Condom controversy continues

Posted by African Press International on July 26, 2012

 Sex workers 26 years old Melly (L) and 29 years old Rizki (R) at an entertainment outlet in a red light district in Cibitung near Jakarta

JAKARTA,  – Rizki, 29, is wooing passers-by outside a bar in a red-light district near Jakarta, the Indonesian capital. In her five years as a commercial sex worker she has always urged clients to use a condom to avoid HIV infection. “About 70 percent of my customers use condoms,” she said. “Some men get angry when I ask, but most comply.”

HIV is spreading more quickly than before, but the government’s campaign to promote condom usage among people at high risk of infection has once again been criticized by religious groups. Social stigma and sexual taboos are major obstacles in fighting HIV/AIDS in Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population.

“If members of society engage in risky sex, we need to give them religious and reproductive health education,” Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi said in a YouTube video posted online on 19 June. “But if they still do it, what we can do is urge them to use condoms to reduce the risks.”

Prevalence is at only 0.2 percent of the country’s 238 million people, but the number of new HIV infections had risen sharply from 7,195 in 2006 to 21,031 in 2011, the latest health ministry report notes.

Since 2006, the government’s “100 percent condom use” approach has routinely come under fire, and in some areas has faced explicit hostility to discussion of the topic in the context of commercial sex work. Mboi was summoned to parliament on 25 June after her condom message sparked accusations by conservative Muslim groups that she was promoting promiscuity.

The Health Ministry estimates that 200,000 people were infected with HIV and 6.4 million people were at risk. In most provinces, HIV is largely concentrated among people with high-risk behaviour, but there are a rising number of infections among mothers and children, according to the National AIDS Commission

More than 75 percent of new infections occur in heterosexual people – up from 38.5 percent in June 2006 – while 16.3 percent occur among injecting drug users and 2.2 percent among men who had sex with men.

In May the deputy chair of the Indonesian Child Protection Agency, Asrorun Ni’am Sholeh, urged the government to restrict sales of condoms to prevent access by teenagers. “There were reports that youngsters as young as 13 bought condoms from the neighbourhood convenience stores – I don’t think those teenagers bought condoms for their parents,” Sholeh said. “Pre-marital sex among adults should not be allowed, let alone among children.”

Amidhan Saberah, the chairman of the Indonesian Council of Muslim Scholars, said condom promotion should only be targeted at married couples. “The availability of condoms can encourage young people to engage in promiscuity,” he said. “This is dangerous.”

Despite the opposition of conservative groups, condom sales have increased from 95 million in 2006 to 195 million in 2011.

“A few years ago, my office was frequently demonstrated against by those who accused us of promoting promiscuity because we promoted the use of condoms,” Mboi said in early June, when she was still secretary of the National AIDS Commission.

''Growing religious conservatism in recent years means that some red-light districts have been closed, but unregulated [sex work] is rampant]''

“Growing religious conservatism in recent years means that some red-light districts have been closed, but unregulated [sex work] is rampant – there’s [sex work] in every harbour in the sprawling archipelago,” she added.

Since 2004, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has disbursed close to US$400 million to Indonesia. [ http://www.theglobalfund.org/en ] Although some provinces have started funding their own programmes, there are worries that developed countries might reduce aid to middle-income countries like Indonesia during the current economic crisis, which could undo the progress made.

Mboi said the Global Fund’s contribution was vital in helping Indonesia fight HIV. “If the funding is stopped now, I think it will be a disaster for some areas.”

ap/ds/he

source www.irinnews.org

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