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Archive for August 13th, 2013

Polio campaigns – Learning to walk

Posted by African Press International on August 13, 2013

Polio survivor Claudine Muhombe, 7, is learning how to walk again

GOMA, 1 – When Linda Lukambo, 21, asked his parents why they had neglected to get him the polio vaccine, “they told me, ‘we did’. So why have I got polio?” he told IRIN in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “Maybe they took me for vaccinations, but maybe not for polio.”

Lukambo first started having difficulty walking while at a pre-school in Tchambucha Village, near the North Kivu town of Walikale. After six months he was, he says, “still walking a little bit. And then I started to move on my bottom, and then on my knees, and it got worse and worse.” By the time he was in primary school he was “crawling on all fours”.

Polio, or poliomyelitis, a highly infectious, viral disease causing paralysis and in some cases death, has been eradicated in most countries through large-scale vaccination programmes. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) only Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan still have endemic polio transmission. UNICEF, the largest buyer of children’s vaccines in the world, recommends children receive at least three doses of the oral polio vaccine to ensure full immunity against the disease.

DRC is considered an “importation country”, meaning it experiences outbreaks of the disease because of low levels of immunity among the population. Polio eradication campaigns face myriad obstacles, including large-scale population displacements caused by DRC’s persistent conflicts, poor access to isolated communities, religious objections to the vaccine and weak infrastructure.

In 2007, Lukambo had a series of year-long leg-straightening operations at Goma’s public hospital, paid for by local NGO L´Association Congolaise Debout et Fier. (ACDF). ACDF then provided free leg braces, which enabled him to walk upright. He remembers being “very happy – I did not like the ground,” he said.

He has since become the caretaker at the ACDF centre, where polio survivors come for leg brace fittings or to just hang out or sleep over in a non-judgmental environment, as society often treats the disabled with suspicion and prejudice.

Learning to walk

Claudine Muhombe, 7, from Rugare near Masisi, arrived at the centre in April. She now scampers around the centre’s yard, uses the window frames as a climbing frame, and is quickly discovering how to walk with the aid of crutches and braces, also called callipers.

“It’s not difficult to walk,” she told IRIN. “I like walking. My Dad came [in June] to visit. He was very happy when he saw me, and I was happy to see my Dad happy.”

Joseph Kay of StandProud, the international and fundraising arm of ACDF, told IRIN that Claudine’s rapid progress meant she would probably not stay at the centre for long.

Learning to walk with the callipers and crutches can take weeks or months, requiring intensive physiotherapy to regain strength and balance. But even then, not all are able to.

“It was difficult to learn to walk with leg braces. It took a lot of time to learn. I had no strength in my lower back”

Lukambo’s transition from crawling on the floor to standing on his feet was not as swift as Claudine’s. After his leg-straightening operations, the wounds from the surgery continued to weep and would not heal. He had to undergo a skin graft, with skin taken from his thighs for his knees.

The years of crawling also damaged his hip, and an operation was performed to correct it. When he was finally ready to don callipers, it took nearly four months of daily practice to walk upright.

“It was difficult to learn to walk with leg braces. It took a lot of time to learn. I had no strength in my lower back, so I had to wear a corset,” he said.

After a few months of walking, the muscles in his lower back recovered and the corset was discarded, but Goma’s broken streets were an “obstacle course.”

“It’s something you have to get used to… But I am at the same level now as other people,” Lukambo said.

Polio campaigns

The first polio vaccination campaigns in the country began in the mid-1980s. At one stage, after no cases were recorded between 2001 and 2005, polio was considered eradicated in DRC.

In 2008, after an “epidemiological situation evolved in the central African region,” resulting in dozens of new infections in the country, the government and donors announced a polio vaccination programme targeting seven million children.

A polio survivor at l´Association Congolaise Debout et Fier centre in Goma doing chores

Emmanuel Nomo, UNICEF’s DRC polio team leader, recently told IRIN there had been no registered cases of polio in the country since December 2011.

“Authorities, vaccination teams and parents are doing the best they can to reach all children everywhere, including in the Kivus, despite the challenge of insecurity and lacking access,” he said.

This August, during the country’s National Immunization Day (NID), officials will hold a second round of vaccinations targeting 1,374,836 children up to five years old in North Kivu and 1,144,750 in South Kivu. According to independent monitoring by the World Health Organization (WHO), 3.5 percent of targeted children in North Kivu were missed in the July first round of vaccinations, while in South Kivu the number was 5 percent.

“During the July NID, insecurity – active fighting in some health zones – did not allow the vaccination teams to do their job” in the North Kivu health zones of Kamango, in three health areas in Binza, and three health areas in South Kivu’s Molungu, said Nomo.

“Even though the situation remains difficult in both Kivus, the second [round] of the NID is scheduled to take place throughout both provinces,” he said.

Nomo said issues with maintaining the cold chain, the system of temperature controls required to keep vaccines potent, were being addressed through the introduction of solar fridges by the government, with support from UNICEF, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), and the World Bank. Currently, only 30 percent of the country’s health centres have a functioning refrigerator.

“Providing good quality vaccines at the beneficiary level remains a challenge,” he said.

Calliper production

StandProud (founded in 1998) has established centres in Bunia, Butembo, Goma, Kalemie, Lubumbashi and Kinshasa.

“We’ve made thousands and thousands of callipers. Hard to know exactly how many since 1998, but there are at least 5,000 individuals who have benefited over the years,” Kay said.

“I have made a lot [of leg braces]. I don’t know how many, but many, many, many”

Louis Nwande-Muhala, a calliper technician at the Goma centre, says it takes about two days to construct the custom-made leg braces – if there is electricity and the materials are available. The braces are made of steel, with leather used for the joints and hip support. The workshop also does repairs on braces, which have to deal with the country’s broken streets.

Nwande-Muhala’s left leg was paralysed at the age of five, not from polio, but from a quinine injection into his hip muscles, an old treatment for malaria that is still practised by some nurses despite the availability of safer treatments.

He first encountered the NGO when he wanted to acquire a leg brace. After being fitted for the brace, he decided to give up his tailoring job to make callipers. “I have made a lot [of leg braces]. I don’t know how many, but many, many, many.”

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

 

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Ethiopian political leadership must respect human rights; says Bizualem Beza

Posted by African Press International on August 13, 2013

www.africanpress.me/ - Mr . Bizualem Beza - Ethiopian Human Rights Activist based in Norway

http://www.africanpress.me/ – Mr . Bizualem Beza – Ethiopian Human Rights Activist based in Norway

Ethiopia, officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Eritrea to the north, Djibouti and Somalia to the east, Sudan and South Sudan to the west, and Kenya to the south. With over 91,000,000 inhabitants, Ethiopia is the most populous landlocked country in the world and the second-most populated nation on the African continent. It occupies a total area of 1,100,000 square kilometres (420,000 sq mi), and its capital and largest city is Addis Ababa.

The sudden death in August 2012 of Ethiopia’s long-serving and powerful prime minister, Meles Zenawi, provoked uncertainty over the country’s political transition, both domestically and among Ethiopia’s international partners. Ethiopia’s human rights record has sharply deteriorated, especially over the past few years, and although a new prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, took office in September, it remains to be seen whether the government under his leadership will undertake human rights reforms.

Ethiopian authorities continued to severely restrict basic rights of freedom of expression, association, and assembly in 2012. Thirty journalists and opposition members were convicted under the country’s vague Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009.The security forces responded to protests by the Muslim community in Oromia and Addis Ababa, the capital, with arbitrary arrests, detentions, and beatings.

The Ethiopian government continues to implement its “villagization” program: the resettlement of 1.5 million rural villagers in five regions of Ethiopia ostensibly to increase their access to basic services. Many villagers in Gambella region have been forcibly displaced, causing considerable hardship. The government is also forcibly displacing indigenous pastoral communities in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley to make way for state-run sugar plantations.

Hostility for independent media

Since the promulgation in 2009 of the Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSO Law), which regulates nongovernmental organizations, and the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, freedom of expression, assembly, and association have been increasingly restricted in Ethiopia. The effect of these two laws, coupled with the government’s widespread and persistent harassment, threats, and intimidation of civil society activists, journalists, and others who comment on sensitive issues or express views critical of government policy, has been severe.

INTERVIEW:

“One on One with Bizualem Beza, Human Rights Activist: Part 1 of 2″

“One on One with Bizualem Beza, Human Rights Activist: Part 2 of 2”

Ethiopia’s most important human rights groups have been compelled to dramatically  scale-down operations or remove human rights activities from their mandates, and an unknown number of organizations have closed entirely. Several of the country’s most experienced and reputable human rights activists have fled the country due to threats. The environment is equally hostile for independent media: more journalists have fled Ethiopia than any other country in the world due to threats and intimidation in the last decade—at least 79, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The Anti-Terrorism Proclamation is being used to target perceived opponents, stifle dissent, and silence journalists. In 2012, 30 political activists, opposition party members, and journalists were convicted on vaguely defined terrorism offenses. Eleven journalists have been convicted under the law since 2011.

On January 26, a court in Addis Ababa sentenced both deputy editor Woubshet Taye and columnist Reeyot Alemu of the now-defunct weekly Awramaba Times to 14 years in prison. Reeyot’s sentence was later reduced to five years upon appeal and most of the charges were dropped.

On July 13, veteran journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega, who won the prestigious PEN America Freedom to Write Award in April, was sentenced to 18 years in prison along with other journalists, opposition party members, and political activists. Exiled journalists Abiye Teklemariam and Mesfin Negash were sentenced to eight years each in absentia under a provision of the Anti-Terrorism Law that has so far only been used against journalists. Andualem Arage, a member of the registered opposition party Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), was sentenced to life for espionage, “disrupting the constitutional order,” and recruitment and training to commit terrorist acts.

Activists demand respect for human rightsin Ethiopia because the government is insensitive for good governance and allows corruption to be the order of the day. According to the U.S. Department of State‘s human rights report for 2004 and similar sources, the Ethiopian government’s human rights“remained poor; although there were improvements, serious problems remained.” The report listed numerous cases where police and security forces are said to have harassed, illegally detained, tortured, and/or killed individuals, who were members of opposition groups or accused of being insurgents. Thousands of suspects remained in detention without charge, and lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem. Prison conditions were poor. The government often ignores citizens’ privacy rights and laws regarding search warrants. Although fewer journalists have been arrested, detained, or punished in 2004 than in previous years, the government nevertheless continues to restrict freedom of the press. The government limits freedom of assembly, particularly for members of opposition groups, and security forces have used excessive force to break up demonstrations. Violence and discrimination against women continue to be problems. Female genital mutilation is widespread, although efforts to curb the practice have had some effect. The economic and sexual exploitation of children continues, as does human traffickingForced labor, particularly among children, is a persistent problem. Low-level government interference with labor unions continues. Although the government generally respected the free exercise of religion, local authorities at times interfere with religious practice. In order to improve Ethiopia’s image, they hired US agencies to improve Ethiopia’s image for 2.5$ million.

During the late 19th-century Scramble for Africa, Ethiopia was the only African country to defeat an European colonial power and retain its sovereignty as an independent country. It was the first independent African member of the 20th-century League of Nations and the UN. When other African nations gained their independence following World War II, many of them adopted the colors of Ethiopia’s flag. In 1974, at the end of Haile Selassie I‘s reign, Ethiopia became a federal republic ruled by a communist military junta known as the Derg, until it was defeated by the EPRDF, which has ruled since 1991.

Ethiopia is a multilingual society with around 80 ethnic groups, with the two largest being the Oromo and the Amhara. It is one of the founding members of the UN, the Non-Aligned MovementG-77 and the Organisation of African Unity, with Addis Ababa serving as the headquarters of theAfrican Union, the Pan African Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the UNECA, theAfrican Standby Force and much of global NGOs focused on Africa. Despite being the main source of the Nile, the longest river on earth, Ethiopia underwent a series of famines in the 1980s, exacerbated by civil wars and adverse geopolitics. The country has begun to recover recently, and it now has the largest economy by GDP in East Africa and Central Africa

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