The Human Impact

Frontline reflections on Guinea’s battle against Ebola

 

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Nobody would have thought that Gueckedou, a market town in southern Guinea, was the front line in West Africa’s battle against the deadly Ebola virus.

When I arrived to report on the outbreak, it was business as usual on the dusty, potholed streets. Traders set up their stalls under tattered, sun-bleached parasols and waved hand-held fans to stop the food spoiling in the tropical heat.

Below the surface, though, lay a simmering tension. Nobody shook hands here if they knew what was good for them, and those who could afford it bought gloves and face masks to avoid the gruesome disease that has killed well over 100 people in Guinea and Liberia since it was first reported in February.

Ebola has broken out periodically in Africa since it first appeared in 1976 in what were then Zaire and Sudan. The virus is spread through contact with infected blood, bodily fluids and tissue, often during funerals when the body is washed by close family members, or in hospitals where victims infect doctors and nurses who are not taking the right precautions.

In Gueckedou, health workers are fighting what the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) described as an “unprecedented epidemic” with soap and education. Those already infected are isolated and nurses help to ease their suffering before their almost certain death. There is no cure and this strain, Ebola Zaire, kills up to 90 percent of victims.

Why coexistence doesn’t equal reconciliation in Rwanda

One Hutu killer describes feeling “like two different people” as he took part in the genocide: a man who obediently slaughtered his Tutsi neighbours because the mayor told him to, yet who hid one of their daughters in a grain basket to save her from the machetes.

A Tutsi survivor recalls the moment attackers rounded on her 17-year-old brother as he cried: “Why are you killing us? We used to be friends.”

And an aid worker and an ambassador lament the world’s failure to stop the fastest genocide of its scale in history.

The dangers of oversimplifying the Central African Republic conflict

Here’s a story I haven’t heard before: when violence spiralled in Central African Republic’s capital last December, the country’s most senior Muslim cleric sought shelter with the Catholic archbishop of Bangui.

And that month no one was attacked in Lakounga, one of the oldest parts of the capital, where Christian and Muslim leaders worked together to protect the community. Posters were plastered on every street corner with the message: “Christians and Muslims, the same blood, the same life, the same country”.

“Their message is that we are one and we have been living together … for many decades,” Nyeko Caesar Poblicks, East and Central Africa projects manager at the London-based NGOConciliation Resources, and a frequent visitor to CAR, told me in a recent interview.

Only two Southern African countries on track to meet 2015 MDG water and sanitation targets – report

Some 120,000 children under the age of five in Southern African countries die every year from diarrhoea, which is primarily caused by lack of access to clean water and sanitation.

More than 40 million people in the region who should have received access to safe drinking water by 2015 will miss out, and 73 million will go without basic sanitation due to investment shortfalls, according to a report.

Only two out of 15 Southern African countries – Botswana and Seychelles – are set to meet their 2015 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets to reduce by half the number of people without access to clean water and sanitation, according to the report by Water Aid.

Lack of toilets, clean water costs world $260 bln each year – Liberia president

Poor access to sanitation and clean water costs the global economy $260 billion each year, according to Liberia’s president who is leading work to craft proposals for a new set of global anti-poverty goals.

They are intended to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were agreed in 2000 and expire in 2015.

“$260 billion in economic losses annually is directly linked to inadequate water supply and sanitation around the world,” Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told a meeting on the post-2015 development agenda in the capital Monrovia this week. “We must take this issue more seriously.”

IF campaign to end hunger seems a bit iffy

By Maria Caspani

Techno music and revolving images of hungry babies were among the most disheartening, not to say disturbing aspects of the event that kicked off the ‘Enough Food for Everyone IF’ campaign at London’s Somerset House this week.

The catchphrase – ‘There is enough food in the world to feed everyone, yet 2 million children die from malnutrition every year’ – was repeated so many times during the hour-long event on Wednesday evening that, by the end of it, I felt like the words had lost their meaning.

This might just be me cynically bantering about what I perceived to be the patronising attitude of people in the so-called Western world when they try hard to do good and put an end to the suffering of poor people in the so-called developing world.

Female genital cutting ‘destroys women’ – Malian singer

By Maria Caspani

LONDON (TrustLaw) – “In Mali, when a girl has not been cut, it means she is dirty, she is loose,” says Bamako-born singer Bafing Kul.

This concept baffled Kul, who struggled to understand why, in order to be pure, women in his country needed to be subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) – a traditional practice involving the total or partial removal of the external genitalia.

The cutting, which is often done with razor blades or scissors and no pain relief, can lead to permanent physical and psychological damage.

Potentially dangerous breed of malaria mosquito found in Kenya

Scientists have discovered a new malaria-transmitting breed of mosquito which may pose an unknown threat in Kenya, where malaria is the leading cause of death.

Malaria, a preventable and curable disease, is generally known to be caused by the Plasmodium parasite and transmitted to humans by the bite of the Anopheles mosquito, which rests indoors and feeds on humans at night.

However, the newly-discovered mosquito has different habits.  It is active outdoors and bites humans earlier in the evening, soon after sunset, according to researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).

Poor Kenyan women robbed of choice to give birth

The saddest part of the stories told by 40 HIV-positive Kenyan women who are suing the government for forced or coercive sterilisation is not that they can no longer give birth.

Most already have children, often more than they can comfortably provide for.

“Getting food is a problem,” said Pamela Adeka, who was sterilised after giving birth to twins in 2004.

She later gave them up for adoption as she could not afford to raise them and now lives with her HIV-positive, 14-year-old son.

Mobile technology boosts water security for the poor

 

Information technology is a powerful tool for experts working to provide secure access to water for personal use, food production and business in developing nations.

Giving poor people proper access to safe water and sanitation would save  2.5 million people a year from dying from diarrhoea and other diseases spread by a lack of hygiene, according to charity WaterAid.

The widespread availability of mobile phones has enabled the development of low-cost solutions aimed at improving water security and reducing poverty.

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