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Archive for April 18th, 2013

Norway allocates NOK 700 million to Tanzanian rural energy fund after a recent conference in Oslo

Posted by African Press International on April 18, 2013

Norway and Tanzania have signed an agreement under which Norway will provide NOK 700 million to Tanzania over a four-year period. This funding will be channelled to a rural energy fund in Tanzania that will give people in rural areas access to electricity.

“Access to electricity is essential for reducing poverty and generating economic growth. Providing electricity in rural areas is a way of giving the majority of the population in Tanzania the freedom to choose not to use paraffin, diesel and other less reliable energy sources that are damaging to health. Electricity provides light for doing homework and opportunities for creating jobs and generating income, and enables health clinics to function better,” said Minister of International Development Heikki Eidsvoll Holmås.

Mr Holmås and Tanzanian Minister of Energy and Minerals Sospeter Muhongo signed the agreement in Oslo on 9 April. Both of them were taking part in the High Level Meeting on Energy and the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

In Tanzania, eight out of ten people live in rural areas. Of these people, only 6 % have access to modern forms of energy. Increasing access to energy will take many years and will require substantial public subsidies. The rural energy fund is the Tanzanian authorities’ most important tool in this context. The fund will be managed by the Rural Energy Agency (REA). Sweden, the World Bank and the EU are also supporting the fund. Norway will now be the biggest single donor to the fund.

“Increased access to electricity is absolutely essential for ensuring equitable development in Tanzania. Having said this, it is difficult to achieve. Those who use electricity have to pay for it themselves. We will keep a close eye on the quality of individual projects, as well as making sure that necessary reforms are carried out, that the Rural Energy Agency has sufficient capacity and that any threats to sustainability are addressed,” Mr Holmås commented.

So far, more than 90 % of the investments in the fund have gone to expanding the electricity grid, as this is the most effective way of reaching rural areas. But the funds from Norway will also be used for local solutions enabling the production of renewable energy in areas that are not covered by the electricity grid.

Tanzania’s aim is to increase the percentage of the population that has access to electricity from 14.5 % to 30 % on a national basis, and from 6.5 % to 15 % in rural areas, by 2025. In order to achieve this, investments in the rural energy fund will probably need to increase tenfold.

“Tanzania aims to become a middle-income country in the space of 12 years. We will gradually scale down our assistance to the country as this process proceeds. Increased access to electricity is absolutely essential if Tanzania is to achieve its goal. In order to succeed, Tanzanians must think big and improve their systems over and above the individual project level. The agreement between Norway and Tanzania is divided into two phases to ensure that the quality of projects is as intended and that the efforts to bring energy to the rural population progress according to plan,” Mr Holmås said.

 

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Uganda’s midwives struggling

Posted by African Press International on April 18, 2013

Trained midwives are needed for Uganda’s maternity wards

GULU/SOROTI,  – Despite the significant role midwives play in Uganda’s maternal health programmes, they face numerous challenges, including lack of training, inadequate facilities and poor pay.

According to the Africa Medical Research Foundation (AMREF) just 38 percent of Uganda’s estimated 11,759 midwives are either registered or have a college education. Yet they attend to 80 percent of all births in the country’s urban areas and 37 percent of all births nationally.

Esther Madudu, a midwife in Uganda’s rural Soroti District, explained to IRIN that many go to great lengths to help women deliver.

“Health centres lack electricity, water and other essential medical commodities to assist in delivery. In the past, I used to [hold] my cell phone in my mouth [and use its] torch to [assist delivering] mothers at the health centre,” she said.

2009 analysis by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) found Uganda’s health system “unsupportive to midwives, as characterized by poor remuneration, poor health service infrastructure, lack of essential equipment and supplies, eg, gloves, drugs – especially in public health facilities – inadequate protection from infections, high workload owing to few qualified staff” and lack of supervision or training opportunities.

Maternal deaths

Uganda grapples with high rates of pregnancy-related complications and maternal deaths, consequences of poor healthcare investment by the government, low education levels and an unmet need for reproductive health services.

Uganda’s 2011 Demographic and Health Survey showed the maternal mortality rate at between 310 and 480 deaths per every 100,000 live births.

According to the Ministry of Health, 24 percent of these deaths are the result of severe bleeding, and many are due to infection, unsafe abortion, hypertensive disorders and obstructed labour.

Experts say much more must be done if Uganda is to meet Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 – the goals on reducing child and maternal mortality and achieving universal access to reproductive healthcare – by the 2015 deadline.

“Death resulting from pregnancy-related [complications] is a big issue in Uganda that requires urgent attention,” health commissioner Anthony Mbonye said, noting that these deaths are preventable “with improved access to [quality] healthcare to the population and… positive attitudes towards… health workers.”

Too few health workers

Midwives say their small number has them struggling to meet demand. They have called on the government to recruit more midwives.

“We are only three midwives working day and night with [the] assistance of two nursing assistants,” said Lydia Tino, a health supervisor and midwife working at a centre with 20 maternity beds in the rural Gulu District.

In 2006, the government stopped midwifery trainings, arguing that nurses could be given additional skills to take up the roles played by midwives. This has not happened.

And the few who have midwifery skills often leave the country.

“Uganda has trained many midwives, but [the] majority opt to work in places outside the country where facilities and remuneration are better,” Mary Gorettie Musoke, senior midwife and trainer, told IRIN.

“…In the past, I used to [hold] my cell phone in my mouth [and use its] torch to [assist delivering] mothers at the health centre.”

In a progress report by Uganda’s Ministry of Health, tabled before a parliamentary committee in February, the government indicated that it had employed an additional 5,707 health workers to help plug the gap.

But many rural health facilities are still unable to perform either basic or comprehensive emergency obstetric and newborn care.

Government obligation

Government officials told IRIN it plans to carry out a countrywide maternal health audit as part of its efforts to deal with the problem.

“We are under obligation to perform our duties, so the government doing everything possible to address problem,” said Sarah Kataike, the health minister.

While government health facilities in Uganda are supposed to provide free services, they are understaffed and lack essential medical supplies. At times, patients are forced to pay extra fees before they can receive services.

Florence Akio, 34, had to be transported to a private facility some 45km away after failing to receive any assistance at a nearby government facility.

“My labour started in the middle of the night, but I couldn’t make to Atiak Health Center III. I waited until morning, when my husband borrowed a bicycle and carried me to the health centre. But, reaching the health centre, there was no sight of any staff to attend to me,” she told IRIN.

In a landmark 2011 case, civil society organizations sued the government over the high maternal mortality rate, but the case was dismissed. The organizations had argued the government had failed to provide essential medical commodities and services to pregnant women.

ca/ko/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

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Why food can kill in Bangladesh By Mubashar Hasan

Posted by African Press International on April 18, 2013

By Mubashar Hasan 

Bright, fresh, green – but safety unknown

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Millions fall ill annually due to food, drink
  • Pesticide use excessive and unregulated
  • Food vendors operate illegally, without oversight
  • Current food control policies ineffective

DHAKA,  – Food can just as easily kill as it keeps people alive, experts have learned in Bangladesh, where excessive use of pesticide, unregulated street food and lack of awareness about food safety sicken millions annually.

“Every day we are eating dangerous foods, which are triggering deadly diseases,” said Kazi Faruque, president of the nonprofit Consumer Association of Bangladesh (CAB).

Children younger than five in Bangladesh are at the greatest risk from eating unsafe food, which causes at least 18 percent of deaths in that age group and 10 percent of adults’ deaths, according to a 2006 study cited by the US-based University of Minnesota’s Centre for Animal Health and Food Safety.

Shah M. Faruque, director of the Centre for Food and Waterborne Disease at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh, told IRIN this trend has continued, and may worsen as urbanization strains clean water supply in the capital, Dhaka.

On average, he said from 300 to 1,000 patients visit his medical clinic in Dhaka daily, mostly because of diarrhoea or cholera, which are often traced back to food or drink.

Pesticides and poor planning

Experts say the farm is one starting point for how food can turn fatal.

“Many farmers in the country use an excessive amount of pesticide in agricultural products hoping to [boost] output, while ignoring [the] serious health impacts on consumers,” said Nurul Alam Masud, head of the Participatory Research and Action Network (PRAN), a local NGO.

Despite repeated warnings from the government about this issue, lack of coordination among public agencies has hampered effective controls, said Hasan Ahmmed Chowdhury, a UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) advisor on food safety policies.

FAO is advocating a “farm to table” approach that addresses how food is grown or raised, to how it is collected, processed, packaged, sold and consumed.

Urban poor

In 2009, Bangladesh’s parliament passed the country’s first consumer protection law covering food safety and security. New standards included requiring food labels, creating safety testing standards, monitoring products for chemical and microbial hazards, and holding producers accountable by levying fines for violations.

This law joined several others aimed at regulating food quality: Bangladesh Pure Food Ordinance (1959), Fish and Fish Product Rules (1997) and the Radiation Protection Act (1987).

Safe and nutritious food for all is also guaranteed in the constitution – but on the streets, it is a different matter.

“Street vendors operating small, unregulated carts feed millions of people daily, offering no guarantee of safety, with approximately one in six people becoming ill after eating out,” said Sohana Sharmin Chowdhury, head of urban development and communicable diseases at the local NGO Eminence.

This risk makes life even harder for slum dwellers who rely on street food for its ease and affordability, she said. “Health care is already a challenge for [the] slum population. This disease burden from unsafe food consumption adds up to their misery.”

At least 5 percent of Bangladesh’s 170 million people live in illegal housing settlements. According to a 2008 Asian Development Bank study, poor people in Bangladesh, particularly those in cities, find it difficult to prepare food at home as they spend so much time outside the home earning a living.

“Many of them end up eating cheap [ready-made meals] of low quality purchased from small shops or street vendors,” Chowdhury said.

Even though street food sales are illegal, and therefore unregulated, unofficial estimates hold that authorities tolerate about 200,000 food carts selling everything from samuchas – deep fried minced meat or vegetables wrapped in flour – to yogurt “lassi” drinks.

Profit at any cost

Faruque of CAB said vendors’ “philosophy of making profit at any cost” puts consumers at risk.

A common practice among food vendors is to spray fish, fruits and vegetables with chemical preservatives including formalin – a commercial solution of formaldehyde and water – to boost food’s lifespan and appearance.

Formaldehyde is typically used to preserve human corpses, as well as leather and textile products, said Razibul Islam Razon, a medical doctor in the capital who has treated food poisoning.

The chemical’s short-term effects include: a burning sensation in the eyes, nose and throat; coughing; wheezing; nausea; and skin irritation. As for potential long-term health consequences, formaldehyde has been identified as a human carcinogen.

Going to the source to boost food safety

Shah Monir Hossain, a senior adviser at FAO in Bangladesh, said renal failure, cancer and liver damage – all potentially fatal – can be linked to the consumption of unsafe food, but the “extent of food-borne illness is yet unknown”. He predicted the situation will improve with more oversight.

But the private sector is hitting back.

“We are using a special preservative detector machine to check food [for] formalin at our sourcing in order to make sure that our customers receive safe food,” said Sabbir Hasan Nasir, executive director of a company running 40 all-in-one shopping centres nationwide serving about 20,000 customers daily.

“Customers can even check foods in our store through a machine in order to detect formalin,” he added.

Meanwhile, the local NGO Citizens Solidarity recently sent a notice to the government requesting legal steps to force vendors to cease and desist unethical vending practices.

But even when vendors do not knowingly engage in unsafe food handling, their lack of knowledge, coupled with long work hours and their own precarious health, can sicken customers, according to a 2010 FAO-government initiative to boost healthy street food.

The projects’ researchers tested 426 food samples from Dhaka vendors who had not undergone any food hygiene training and 135 from those who had. Samples from untrained vendors had almost uniformly “overwhelming” high bacteria counts, while results from trained vendors largely fell within international safety standards.

The researchers called on the government to develop a policy to “assist, maintain and control” street food vending.

Government efforts

The government is set to create the Bangladesh Food Safety and Quality Control Authority to boost control of street food and to criminalize unsafe food handling, the Minister of Food and Disaster Management, Muhammad Abdur Razzaque, told IRIN.

Under the National Food Safety and Quality Act 2013, this authority will be created within the next two months, said Ahmed Hossain Khan, director-general of the Directorate General of Food in the same ministry.

The draft act addresses weaknesses in the existing food safety regulatory system, including the scant enforcement of food control laws along the entire supply chain. It also introduces a national food-borne disease surveillance system and outlines an emergency response plan in case of a disease outbreak linked to food.

“We identified existing loopholes in our food safety system, and this act will help us radically improve our approach in food safety regulation,” Khan said.

But Nazrul Islam, an associate professor at the Dhaka School of Economics, said regulatory policies alone have failed to solve the food safety problem, and that the government needs to examine the economic roots of unsafe food: the underclass of farmers responsible for feeding the country.

One start, he suggested, is guaranteeing farmers fair prices, a longstanding grievance of producers who accuse middlemen traders and end consumers of profit gouging.

“This may encourage farmers not to go for unethical practices up to a certain extent,” said Islam, adding that better agricultural extension services, easier access to information for farmers and strict regulatory measures are equally important.

The Asian Development Bank is supporting private agribusiness production facilities that will pay guaranteed prices to 50,000 contracted farmers.

But more is needed, Islam said. “The biggest challenge the country is facing in ensuring a meaningful food security for its…people is food safety.”

The 2012 Global Hunger Index places the country’s hunger situation in an “alarming” range, with too few people being able to eat nutritious, life-sustaining food.

mh/pt/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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