Category Archives: West Africa

Mali becomes sixth West African country to be hit by ebola

Reuters

Mali becomes sixth West African nation hit by Ebola

BAMAKO Fri Oct 24, 2014

BAMAKO (Reuters) – Mali confirmed its first case of Ebola on Thursday, becoming the sixth West African country to be touched by the worst outbreak on record of the haemorrhagic fever, which has killed nearly 4,900 people.

Mali’s Health Minister Ousmane Kone told state television that the patient in the western town of Kayes was a two-year-old girl who had recently arrived from neighbouring Guinea, where the outbreak began.

“The condition of the girl, according to our services, is improving thanks to her rapid treatment,” the minister told state television.

A health ministry official, who asked not to be identified, said the girl’s mother died in Guinea a few weeks ago and the baby was brought by relatives to the Malian capital Bamako, where she stayed for 10 days in the Bagadadji neighbourhood before heading to Kayes.

A ministry statement said the girl, who came from the Guinean town of Kissidougou, was admitted at the Fousseyni Daou hospital in Kayes on Wednesday night, where she was promptly tested for Ebola.

People who came into contact with the patient in Kayes have been identified and placed under watch, the minister said, but he appealed to any person who believed they may have had contact with the girl to step forward.

The vast majority of the deaths and nearly 10,000 cases of the disease have been in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Small outbreaks also spread to Senegal and Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, but they have since been declared Ebola-free by the WHO.

The official numbers are known to be under-reported and the true death toll may be three times as much, the WHO said this week.

A completely separate outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa also appears to have been contained. Reuters

 

Nigeria – Boko Haram abductions continue

BBC

Nigeria’s Boko Haram ‘abducts more women and girls’

Boko Haram militants from a video released by the groupAccording to residents, a large group of insurgents attacked the two villages on Saturday

Dozens of women and girls from two villages in Nigeria’s north-eastern Adamawa state have been abducted by suspected militants, residents say.

The abductions have not been confirmed by the authorities, but residents say they took place a day after the military announced it had agreed a ceasefire with the Boko Haram group.

The government hopes the Islamist group will free more than 200 girls seized in April as part of negotiations.

Boko Haram has not confirmed the truce.

Following Friday’s ceasefire announcement, the government said further talks with Boko Haram were due to be held this week in neighbouring Chad.

A man poses with a sign in front of police officers in riot gear during a demonstration calling on the government to rescue the kidnapped girls from Chibok, in Abuja, on 14 October 2014. The government failure to secure the schoolgirls’ release has sparked mass protests

In a separate incident, at least five people were killed in a bomb blast at a bus station in a town in the northern state of Bauchi.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Hostage swaps

News of the new abductions came as MPs approved a $1bn (£623m) loan – requested by the president in July – to upgrade military equipment and train more units fighting the north-eastern insurgency.

But they asked the finance minister to give the chamber more details about how the external borrowing would be sourced.

Security already costs the country close to $6bn, roughly a quarter of the federal budget.

The abduction of the schoolgirls from their boarding school in Borno state sparked a global campaign to pressure the government to secure their release.

Borno is the group’s stronghold. It has been under a state of emergency, along with neighbouring Adamawa and Yobe states, for more than a year.

The villages that were attacked on Saturday – Waga Mangoro and Garta – are close to Madagali and Michika towns, which have been under the control of the Islamist militant group for several weeks.

Map showing Boko Haram areas of control in Nigeria

According to people in the area, a large group of insurgents attacked the villages, rounding up women and girls.

They forced them to harvest groundnuts on a farm, then abducted those who were teenagers or in their early 20s.

Communication with the affected area is difficult, which is why it takes time for news of attacks to filter out.

Other raids by suspected Boko Haram fighters were reported by residents in Adamawa and Borno over the weekend.

Since the state of emergency was declared in May 2013, Boko Haram has taken many women and children hostage and has agreed to some prisoner swaps.

The name Boko Haram translates as “Western education is forbidden”, and the militants have carried out raids on schools and colleges, seeing them as a symbol of Western culture.

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Who are Boko Haram?

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau speaking to the camera in a video the group released on 12 May 2014Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau is the most wanted man in Nigeria
  • Founded in 2002
  • Initially focused on opposing Western education – Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language
  • Launched military operations in 2009 to create Islamic state
  • Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria – also attacked police and UN headquarters in capital, Abuja

BBC

  • Some three million people affected
  • Declared terrorist group by US in 2013

West Africa – ebola hits food production

IRIN

Ebola hits West Africa food security

A woman waits for customers in a Freetown market in September 2014. Customer numbers have dropped and food prices risen since Ebola broke out in Sierra Leone earlier this year

KENEMA/FREETOWN/DAKAR, 20 October 2014 (IRIN) – West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, which has been disrupting agricultural and market activities, threatens to erode food security and negatively affect the livelihoods of millions of already vulnerable people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone unless more is done to meet their immediate food and nutritional needs, say aid agencies.

They say they are still calculating the number of food insecure households, but already the results of initial rapid assessments are worrying.

The World Food Programme (WFP) found that more than 80 percent of people surveyed via mobile phone in the eastern part of Sierra Leone say they have been eating less expensive food since the outbreak began. Three-quarters of respondents have begun to reduce the number of daily meals and portion sizes.

“I’m very concerned about having enough food every day,” said Sheku Conteh, a street trader in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown. “The Ebola has caused a lot of strain right now. There’s no business and no jobs. and I’m having difficulty providing food for my family,” he said. “I have to starve myself much of each day just to save a bit from my sales to get food for my family.”

A rapid assessment survey last month in Sierra Leone by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that 47 percent of farmers have had their work “considerably disrupted” by the Ebola outbreak.

“Here, we have the largest cocoa farms,” said Sidikie Kabba, a farmer from eastern Sierra Leone. “Now it’s quarantined because of Ebola, so people aren’t travelling. Before, I was harvesting my produce – up to 50 bags – but now even 10 bags is difficult. So I’m losing money,” he said.

While Kabba stayed behind, many farmers stopped going to their fields during the most critical stage of the agricultural cycle – in July and August this year – when there was widespread misunderstanding of the disease.

In Sierra Leone’s Kailahun District in the east, at least 40 percent of farmers abandoned their land to move to non-affected areas according to the Minisrty of Agriculture. Many seasonal migrant workers, who normally help with harvesting have been either too afraid to work alongside others in the fields or unable to travel due to quarantine restrictions.

“You alone, you are not able to do large work,” said Yankouba Vandi, who grows coffee and cocoa in Sierra Leone’s Kenema District. “In the past, you can receive some manpower to help you to work, but for now, they will not allow that.”

Rice production down

In Liberia, rice production decreased by 10 percent in Lofa County this year because of fear among farmers, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In Barkedu and Foya counties, rice production fell by 15 percent.

The results of a four-week joint assessment on the impact of Ebola on food security, livestock and agriculture in Guinea, which is now under way by the Ministry of Agriculture, FAO and WFP, will not be available until mid-November, but Gueckedou’s Prefectural Directorate for Agriculture says that the total land area that was cultivated this year has “considerably declined” compared to past years.

Closed markets and disruptions in trade, transportation and people’s movements, have also led to food shortages in many communities across Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, particularly those in border areas.

“Right now we are having a hard time getting regular supplies from farmers and other suppliers,” said Adama Conteh, who sells rice and vegetables in Freetown’s Bombay Terrace. Most of the areas we normally buy from are very hard to go to now because of this Ebola. Many of the farmers are afraid to go to their farms and harvest, or even come to Freetown with their products,” she said.

Along the border of Guinea and Senegal, at least 16 weekly markets have been shut down, according to WFP. In Liberia, many of the weekly markets also remain officially closed.

Food prices up, incomes down

In places where food is still available, some prices are going up.

In Liberia’s Lofa County, for example, the country’s former epicenter of the outbreak, food and commodity prices rose between 30 and 75 percent between April and September, according to FAO. Certain types of fish are now five times more expensive than before the outbreak began.

In Sierra Leone, the price of imported rice increased by upwards of 15 percent in some areas, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET).

This is compounded by the fact that household incomes and savings are decreasing, as people are either unable, or too afraid, to work. And as more and more people contract the virus or die from it, families are also losing key sources of revenue.

“We believe this disruption in market chains and trade, which have increased the prices of certain commodities and decreased quality, is also affecting people’s incomes,” said Vincent Martin, head of FAO’s West Africa resilience hub. “So it’s not just a problem of food production, but with this impact on the incomes of vulnerable people, we will almost certainly see a deterioration of purchasing power in these households.”

Women hit by market disruptions

To help ease some of these impacts and reduce the risk of rising food insecurity, FAO says it plans to support 90,000 households across the most affected Ebola communities over the coming year.

Through a combination of activities related to saving lives and protecting livelihoods, FAO plans to work with its partners to raise community awareness about Ebola, train health workers, build up local health systems to be better prepared for disease threats and improve response coordination efforts, while increasing agricultural production, boosting incomes through cash transfer schemes and supporting microfinance initiatives.

“We have to be aware of the situation and we have to react quickly so that we don’t have, in addition to this health problem, a major food security crisis,” Martin said.

In Liberia, where women have been particularly hard hit by market disruptions, as they account for an estimated 70 percent of cross-border trade, FAO plans to give an estimated 2,500 families from local women’s associations cash transfers in exchange for helping spread Ebola awareness messages in their communities.

They will also be given vegetable seeds to grow during the dry season, to help bring in some extra income.

WFP says it has already delivered more than 9.1 million tons of food to 534,000 people in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea since April. They plan to reach a total of nearly 1.4 million people by the end of February.

This might not, however, be enough.

Contingency plans needed

Based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) current caseload projection of 200,000-250,000 Ebola cases by early 2015, FEWS NET says that between 2.7 and 4 million people could reach at least a Phase 3, or crisis level, of food insecurity by March.

“It’s difficult to say with any confidence what the numbers will be in six months,” said Chris Hillbruner, FEWS NET’s decision support adviser, and lead technical analyst on the Ebola-impact project. “But if we continue to see this exponential increase and if the CDC’s predicted caseload were to occur, the concern is that we will see significant food gaps among populations both directly and indirectly affected by Ebola.”

Hillbruner said that while the priority should still be to focus all efforts on the prevention, treatment and containment of the Ebola outbreak, the best way to prevent a large-scale food crisis is to have a contingency plan in place.

“We don’t want to be overly alarmist, but we want to make sure that we are preparing now,” he said. “You don’t want to wait for the numbers to start spiking and then start a larger response. Ebola is already having an impact on food security, so it’s important that this planning is going on now and that we are prepared, so that we won’t face a major problem with food security and nutrition in six months from now.”

jl/aj/cb

Manufacturing of ebola-Guinea therepeutic treatement

Reuters

(Reuters) – Canadian drugmaker Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp has begun limited manufacturing of a therapeutic targeting the Ebola-Guinea virus.

The pharmaceutical company said on Tuesday that the new drug, part of its TKM-Ebola program, would be available by early December but did not specify how many doses it was making.

Tekmira was not available for comment on the therapeutic, including whether it was manufacturing a drug or vaccine.

Tekmira’s investigational new drug application to U.S. regulators for TKM-Ebola remains on partial clinical hold, with the issue expected to be resolved in the quarter.

U.S.-listed shares of the company rose as much as 6 percent in trading after the company gave an update on its Ebola program.

Tekmira has completed the design of a modified RNAi (ribonucleic acid interference) drug that targets the Ebola-Guinea variant, the virus responsible for the worst outbreak on record that has hit hardest Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

TKM-Ebola, an RNAi therapeutic, works by preventing the virus from replicating.

The European Medicines Agency said on Monday it was ready to offer Ebola treatments and vaccines the benefits of “orphan” drug status – including extended market exclusivity – in a bid to encourage their development.

Initial clinical trials of Ebola vaccines from GlaxoSmithKline and NewLink Genetics are already under way, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday.

Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc gave its experimental Ebola treatment ZMapp to American medical workers Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who recovered after contracting Ebola in Liberia, and to at least one Spanish priest, who died.

Mapp said it had begun manufacturing the drug using traditional methods, which would allow the company to produce more of the drug so that human testing can be carried out.

Three Ebola cases have been diagnosed in the United States: Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan, who died on Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, and two nurses who treated him.

In September, U.S. and Canadian regulators authorized the use of Tekmira’s TKM-Ebola in patients who have confirmed or suspected infections from the deadly virus.  Reuters

Cuban role in fighting ebola in West Africa

Reuters

(Reuters) – Cuban doctors and nurses departing for West Africa to combat Ebola consider themselves lucky. Among the 15,000 who volunteered, they are among only 256 who have been chosen for the job.

“There have been fights breaking out, heated arguments, with some doctors asking, ‘How come my colleague gets to go and I can’t?'” doctor Adrian Benitez, 46, said on Tuesday just hours before he was due to board a plane for Liberia.

Despite a global alarm over the worst Ebola outbreak on record, Cuban doctors are eager to travel to West Africa and start healing the sick.

Nicknamed as the “army of white robes” and citing a long history of Cuban medical missions in Africa and elsewhere, they speak of a sense of duty and are willing to assume the risks.

“We know that we are fighting against something that we don’t totally understand. We know what can happen. We know we’re going to a hostile environment,” said Leonardo Fernandez, 63. “But it is our duty. That’s how we’ve been educated.”

The Ebola virus has killed more than 4,500 people since March, mostly in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The numbers include more than 200 healthcare workers.

Some Cuban 165 doctors and nurses have already arrived in Sierra Leone and another 91 were flying on Tuesday for six-month missions, with 53 destined for Liberia and 38 for Guinea.

Yet another 205 medical professionals have undergone a three-week training course inCuba, with extensive practice in using the protective, full-body suits, but have yet to receive an Ebola assignment.

It is the latest example of Cuba’s medical diplomacy. The Caribbean island has dispatched medical brigades to disaster sites around the world since the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.

The communist government made 11 of the departing doctors available to reporters on Tuesday. All of them have been on previous overseas missions, and they all expressed pride in their mission, saying their families were supportive.

There is no proven cure for Ebola, and about half those who contract it die.

Several of the doctors repeated an often-cited slogan within Cuba’s medical culture: “We don’t offer what we have left over. We share what we have.”

“This little bit that we have, when people need it, we are capable of sharing. It’s a basic concept,” Fernandez said.

When Castro’s rebels took power in 1959, Cuba had 6,000 doctors, and half of them quickly left the country, the government says.

With economic aid from the Soviet Union, Cuba built a healthcare system that was the envy of the developing world, though some of those advances have been lost since the communist bloc collapsed.

Many Cuban hospitals have fallen into disrepair and Cubans say they have difficulty getting medical appointments or finding medicine.

With 83,000 doctors today, Cuba says it has 7.2 physicians per 1,000 people, one of the highest rates in the world. But with about 25,000 doctors working overseas, that ratio falls to about 4.6, even when counting 5,500 recent medical school graduates, according to Health Minister Roberto Morales.

While Cuba provides doctors and nurses for disaster relief free of charge, it also exchanges them for cash or goods on more routine missions. The island receives an estimated 100,000 barrels of oil per day from Venezuela, where some 30,000 Cuban medical professionals are posted.

In all, there are more than 50,000 health workers in 66 countries.

Those recruited for the Ebola missions underwent three weeks of training at the Pedro Kouri Tropical Medicine Institute on the outskirts of Havana, where trainers set up a field hospital of tents to simulate conditions in West Africa.

Should any Cuban doctors or nurses contract Ebola in West Africa, they will be treated at a special site for international aid workers until they are cured or die, said Jorge Perez, director of the Pedro Kouri institute.

All of them will be held for at least 21 days of observation at the hospital upon returning to Cuba, the same as any visitor coming to the island from the affected countries.

Despite the risks and inconvenience, Ivan Rodriguez, 50, said his family was supportive and proud.

“I would have felt disappointed and sad if they would have been afraid for me to take this step,” Rodriguez said. “Now, there are 15,000 (volunteers). I’m convinced there could be 15,000 more.”  Reuters

West Africa – vital ebola aid arrives

BBC

BBC News – Ebola crisis: Worst-hit African nations get key supplies

//

Sierra Leone's Red Cross employees are disinfected near Freetown. Photo: 20 October 2014Red Cross workers are among those fighting the outbreak in Sierra Leone

Vital supplies and resources to tackle Ebola are beginning to arrive in the three worst-hit West African countries, Ghana’s President John Mahama has said.

Mr Mahama, who heads the regional bloc Ecowas, also told the BBC that treatment centres were being set up in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

But he called for proper co-ordination between agencies to avoid duplication.

The outbreak has killed more than 4,500 people, almost all of them in those three countries.

An estimated 70% of those infected have died.

Meanwhile, Nigeria was declared free of Ebola after six weeks with no new cases, the World Health Organization said on Monday.

Last week, Senegal was declared virus-free.

In other developments:

  • The United Nations said one of its workers in Sierra Leone had died from the disease, becoming the third UN victim
  • US health officials said 43 people closely monitored after coming into contact with Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan had been given the all-clear after 21 days
  • Stricter guidelines have been issued for protecting US healthcare workers
  • The Spanish government said a nurse who became the first person to contract Ebola outside West Africa had now tested negative for the virus
  • Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s son, physician James Adama Sirleaf, has decided to stay in the US, saying he could do more for his country there than at home, the Wall Street Journal reports.

‘Closing gaps’Mr Mahama told the BBC that the World Food Programme was airlifting humanitarian aid to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

“It must be a balance of things, closing all the gaps that exist and make sure that optimally the resources are going towards containing the disease,” the Ghanaian president added.

Mr Mahama said he had convened an Ecowas summit in November to co-ordinate the international response.

He said other West African nations needed to learn lessons from Nigeria.

‘Good idea’Meanwhile, European Union foreign ministers met in Luxembourg to discuss how to strengthen their response to Ebola.

Speaking on the sidelines, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he expected the meeting to appoint a co-ordinator to galvanise the EU’s response to the epidemic.

“My colleagues are unanimous in saying that this idea of a European co-ordinator for the fight against Ebola is a good idea,” he said.

“The name will be chosen in the coming days. I think it’s a very important step.”

European countries have committed more than 500m euros (£400m; $600m) but the UK is pressing for that amount to be doubled.

The money is being sought to help reinforce overstretched healthcare systems in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea and to mitigate the damage Ebola is doing to their economies.

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How not to catch Ebola:

  • Avoid direct contact with sick patients as the virus is spread through contaminated body fluids
  • Wear goggles to protect eyes
  • Clothing and clinical waste should be incinerated and any medical equipment that needs to be kept should be decontaminated
  • People who recover from Ebola should abstain from sex or use condoms for three months

Ebola basics

How Ebola attacks

What virus has hit – in maps

Uncertainty over figures

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‘No goggles’Meanwhile, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced stringent new guidelines for healthcare personnel who may be dealing with Ebola patients.

It said employees must be repeatedly trained in the use of protective equipment, demonstrating competency in putting on and taking off such clothing.

No skin should be exposed, the CDC said, and the gear should include gloves, a waterproof gown or coveralls, a respirator, a face shield and a disposable hood.

“Goggles are no longer recommended as they may not provide complete skin coverage in comparison to a single use disposable full face shield,” it said.

It added that a trained observer must be present to watch every step of the process of putting on and taking off the protective equipment.

How Ebola spreads
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Ebola virus disease (EVD)

How Ebola survivors’ blood is saving lives

  • Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
  • Spread by body fluids, such as blood and saliva
  • Fatality rate can reach 90% – but current outbreak has mortality rate of about 70%
  • Incubation period is two to 21 days
  • There is no proven vaccine or cure
  • Supportive care such as rehydrating patients who have diarrhoea and vomiting can help recovery
  • Fruit bats, a delicacy for some West Africans, are considered to be virus’s natural host

BBC

Nigeria – fate of Chibok girls uncertain

DW/allAfrica

Fresh violence in northern Nigeria has dashed hopes of a ceasefire with the militant Islamist sect Boko Haram. Nigerians are doubtful whether the Chibok girls, kidnapped six months ago, will be released.

“Hope Rising” reads the slogan on the T-shirt of a Chibok girls’ activist. Every weekend a group of protestors gather in Nigeria’s commercial hub Lagos to call for the release of the kidnapped girls. On Friday (17.10.2014), Nigeria’s armed forces chief, Air Chief Marshall Alex Badeh, announced a ceasefire with Boko Haram, which purportedly included the release of 219 girls abducted by Boko Haram from Chibok.

But Boko Haram hasn’t confirmed the truce and the protestors find it difficult to believe that the girls’ release is imminent.

“The Nigerian government has not been too credible in the past,” said Yemisi Ransome-Kuti, activist and founder of the Nigeria Network of Non-Governmental Organizations. “We hope they are saying something that is correct and that will happen. We are crossing our fingers, but until we see the girls we will not believe anything,” she added.

Fresh wave of violence

Events on Sunday (19.10.2014) displayed all too clearly why such skepticism is justified. Boko Haram captured another town in the state of Borno killing numerous villagers. Local media reported the Nigerian armed forces were engaged in combat operations over the weekend, even though the chief of staff had ordered his troops to abide by a ceasefire.

“The Nigerian government continued to contradict itself,” said political scientist Abubakar Umar Kari.”Today it will talk about dialogue, tomorrow it will say it will destroy the sect, or that the sect does not exists at all,” he told DW. After the girls were seized six months ago, government spokesmen could be heard denying that the kidnappings had taken place. Later they claimed that the army had liberated the girls. Denials had to be issued on both counts.

Boko Haram fragmented

According to the Nigerian daily “The Punch,” Boko Haram has split into two wings – one is radical and uncompromising wing and and the other is prepared to negotiate. According to the paper, the deal was only struck with the group that was willing to talk. This would suggest that a genuine ceasefire deal is still a long way off. Boko Haram has been regarded an extremely fragmented militia for some time. The Nigerian military has announced several times that Abubakar Shekau was dead, yet he keeps on popping up in videos.

Trying to be optimistic

One of President Jonathan’s close advisors, Hassan Tukur, told DW that no conditions were attached to the ceasefire! Boko Haram had released 27 hostages in Cameroon last week as promised, he said. After previous talks with Boko Haram had ended in deadlock, the militia was therefore showing a measure of good will, he addded. He hoped that an end to the crisis was not far away.

In spite of their suspicion of the Nigerian government, the protestors are also trying to keep their hopes up. Mindia Chiwar, a Chibok lawyer who represents parents of the missing girls and also takes part in the Lagos protests, said confidence was starting to return among friends and family members.”They have been having hopes since day one and these hopes are still alive. We remain faithful,” he said.  allAfrica