Malaria parasites present in 23% of donor blood in some African countries

Almost one in four blood bank supplies in certain regions of Africa may have malaria parasites in them, a new study suggests. UK scientists reviewed 26 studies that measured levels of Plasmodium parasites — which cause malaria — among blood donors in sub-Saharan Africa between 2000 and 2017 and found that an average of 23.46% tested positive.

Overall, there is a high risk that a potential blood donor or bag will contain parasites, said Dr. Philippe Guerin, director of the Worldwide Antimalarial Resistance Network and professor of medicine at Oxford University’s Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health.

“Malaria is one of the primary infections that can be transmitted through a blood transfusion in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Selali Fiamanya, a research fellow at the Worldwide Antimalarial Resistance Network who also worked on the study.

Blood supplies are typically screened for blood-borne diseases before being made available to recipients, but Guerin believes that screening is not always being conducted systematically and that when it is, current lab techniques are not sensitive enough to spot all malaria parasites, particularly latent infections or when parasites are hiding in people who are infected but symptom-free.

Blood donors are usually adults, and in regions with high rates of malaria, adults often develop some immunity against the parasite, meaning they could have the parasites in their blood but not feel sick, Guerin said.

Meanwhile, pregnant women and children receive the majority of transfusions in this region, Fiamanya said. The transmission risk of contracting malaria through blood supplies is unknown but is likely to be high, Guerin said. “If you’ve got parasites circulating, the infection risk is high.”


Malaria Summit London

Heads of Commonwealth State and Government, HRH The Prince of Wales, and Bill Gates called on Commonwealth leaders meeting to commit to “halving malaria within five years”. The group said, “That commitment would prevent 350 million cases of the disease in the next five years and save 650,000 lives across Commonwealth countries.”

The Malaria Summit in London united 14 Heads of State and Government, Bill Gates, scientists, private sector and international organizations to make game-changing commitments towards beating malaria at a time when efforts to end the preventable disease had stalled. The Summit’s call to action urged Commonwealth leaders to commit to halving malaria by 2023.

Commitments exceeded expectations by £200m. The Summit featured collective commitments worth over £2.9 billion ($4.1 billion).

The commitments focused on:

  • High level political commitment towards malaria elimination.
  • Significant increase in investment from malaria endemic countries to leverage and complement donor funding
  • New innovative tools to overcome the growing threat of resistance.
  • Improved methods to track the disease to enable more effective and efficient intervention and to prevent resurgence.

Another debt crisis looming for poor countries?

Nearly two decades ago, an unprecedented international effort—the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Debt initiative—resulted in writing off the unsustainable debt of poor countries to levels that they could manage without compromising their economic and social development.

The hope was that a combination of responsible borrowing and lending practices and a more productive use of any new liabilities, all under the watchful eyes of the IMF and World Bank, would prevent a recurrence of excessive debt buildup.

Alas, as a just-released IMF paper points out, the situation has turned out to be much less favorable. Since the financial crisis and the more recent collapse in commodity prices, there has been a sharp buildup of debt by low-income countries, to the point that 40 percent of them (24 out of 60) are now either already in a debt crisis or highly vulnerable to one—twice as many as only five years ago.

Moreover, the majority, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa, have fallen into difficulties through relatively recent actions by themselves or their creditors. But they also include a large number of diversified exporters (Ethiopia, Ghana, and the Gambia among others) where the run-up in debt is a reflection of larger-than-planned fiscal deficits, often financing overruns in current spending or, in a few cases, substantial fraud and corruption (the Gambia, Moldova, and Mozambique).

How likely is it that these countries are heading for a debt crisis, and how difficult will it be to resolve one if it happens? The fact that there has been a near doubling in the past five years of the number of countries in debt distress or at high risk is itself not encouraging.

[Global Issues]

Mediterranean migrant arrivals down in 2018

The UN Migration Agency, International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports that 17,461 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea through the first 105 days of 2018, with about 43 per cent arriving in Italy and the remainder divided between Greece (36%) Spain (20%) and Cyprus (less than 1%).

This compares with 37,046 at this point in 2017, and over 175,000 at this point in 2016.

The 7,495 migrants arriving in Italy by sea this year represents a 75 per cent drop from this time last year, when over 30,000 migrants had arrived during the same period.

Halfway through the month of April – traditionally early in the busiest season on the Mediterranean’s Central route – traffic is down to less than 100 per day.

559 deaths on the three Mediterranean Sea routes so far this year compares with 918 at this time in 2017, a decline of about 40 per cent year-on-year.


Europe remains the world’s leading donor of development aid

The European Union and its Member States continue to be the world’s leading provider of Official Development Assistance (ODA) with an overall amount of €75.7 billion ($93.7 billion) in 2017, confirm the newly released figures by OECD.

The EU collective constituted 57% of Official Development Assistance globally  in 2017.

Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, said: “The EU and its Member States continue to provide over half of the total Official Development Assistance globally, investing in people, stronger institutions and societies.”

“However, I am strongly concerned about the decrease of EU collective ODA and of development assistance worldwide. Achieving sustainable development requires a persistent collective effort. We know we need to do more. As the world’s leading ODA provider the EU must show leadership and responsibility.”

The EU and its Members States have been consistently in the lead of global efforts on development financing.


French development aid slowly increasing

France’s development spending increased in 2017, but after years of successive decline, that has only returned it to 2012 levels.

Following years of decline in the budget for development aid, France increased it by 15% between 2016 and 2017, according to statistics published by the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee.

This increase in budget brought French aid up to 0.43% of gross national income (GNI), as compared to the UN’s 0.7% target.

In 2017, only a few EU countries met the UN’s 0.7% target: Denmark, the UK, Luxembourg and Sweden, while Germany, which had met the target in 2016 slipped back under the threshold and spent only 0.66% of its GNI in 2017.


Despite millions of displaced people, Congo rejects UN aid effort

When the United Nations hosts a donor conference next week for the violence-racked Democratic Republic of Congo, one important country will not attend: Congo itself. The government of President Joseph Kabila has said that it will boycott the gathering, denying that his central African nation faces a humanitarian crisis at all.

The move, which took some diplomats by surprise, was another sign of the increasing isolation of the government of Mr. Kabila, who has faced internal rebellion and international criticism for holding on to power in defiance of constitutional term limits. The government’s increasingly bellicose stance comes as it has been blasting what it calls international “meddling” in the country’s politics.

The United Nations says challenges to Mr. Kabila’s rule have caused a collapse of political authority, leading to fighting that has displaced 4.5 million people and left 2 million children severely malnourished. It has declared Congo one of the world’s worst humanitarian emergencies on par with Syria and Yemen.

To respond to the crisis, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance organized the donor conference in Geneva on April 13 to make its biggest appeal yet for aid to Congo to provide emergency assistance — including food, sanitation, shelter and education — to more than 13 million people affected by the violence.

[New York Times]

Women as Liberia’s guardians of peace and social change

Not long ago, images of child soldiers and the nation of Liberia were wedded in the minds of the international community. The country was struggling to end a horrific civil war, but military efforts were going nowhere. Then the mothers, grandmothers and sisters of Liberia stepped forward and formed the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace campaign. They pressured Liberian men to pursue peace or lose physical intimacy with their wives.

“We felt like the men in our society were really not taking a stand,” recalls Leymah Gbowee, a leader of the peace group for which she won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. “They were either fighters or they were very silent and accepting all of the violence that was being thrown at us as a nation.… So we decided, ‘We’ll do this to propel the silent men into action.’”

The women perfected the art of “corridor lobbying,” waiting for negotiators as they entered and exited meeting rooms during breaks. The women demanded a meeting with then-president Charles Taylor and got him to agree to attend peace talks with the other leaders of the warring factions. Dressed in white, the women blocked every entry and exit point, including windows, stopping negotiators from leaving the talks without a resolution, leading to the signing of the 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

Liberian women then flooded the polls during the country’s first postwar presidential election and voted to usher a woman into power for the first time on a continent that for centuries had been the world’s most patriarchal.

All in all, Liberian women have been a force against violence in the country, and their actions contributed to the ending of hostilities after a 14-year civil war, and continued advocacy.

[United Nations]

Sad statistics from Yemen, the World’s worst humanitarian crisis

In early April 2018, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres reported that the Yemen crisis had become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
– Approximately three quarters (equivalent to over 22 million) of Yemen’s population were in dire need of humanitarian assistance and protection.
– Of this 22 million, 11.3 million are children. Nearly every child in Yemen is affected by the crisis.
– UNICEF reported that an average of five children were killed or injured every day since the escalation of hostilities in March 2015.
– 18 million people in Yemen are food insecure. This number includes 8.4 million people who ‘do not know how they will obtain their next meal.’
– Over 1.8 million children are acutely malnourished.
– Not only is food an issue, millions of people in Yemen do not even have access to safe drinking water.
– Last year alone, unsafe drinking water resulted in over a million cases of diarrhoea and cholera. Children under the age of 5 accounted for a quarter of all reported cholera cases.
– Over two million children do not attend school. As Edward Santiago from Save the Children concluded in early 2016 ‘An entire generation of children – the future of Yemen – is being abandoned to their fate.’  Two years after that statement, the situation of children in Yemen has only deteriorated to the point that their future seems bleak.

In all walks of life in Yemen, even treatable illnesses become a ‘death sentence.’ According to Guterres, one child under the age of five dies of preventable causes every ten minutes.  In the time it takes to read this article, a Yemeni child has died from an illness that would not result in fatalities in other countries.

And until the war is concluded, there will be no sustainable solution to this humanitarian crisis, driven by conflict.


Rural vitalization throughout Asia provides blueprint for China

Despite China’s impressive progress in reducing poverty, hunger, and nutrition over the past four decades, challenges remain, especially in rural areas. More than 3 percent of rural residents live under the poverty line ($1.90 a day), while 12 percent of rural children under five are stunted.

A rural revitalization strategy has been at the top of the Chinese government’s agenda since 2017. The strategy aims to address urban-rural disparities and modernize the rural economy by improving infrastructure, supporting innovations in science and technology, advancing supply-side structural reform in agriculture, and deepening rural land ownership and subsidy system reforms.

In South Korea, the New Village Movement launched in 1970 brought dramatic changes to South Korea, to modernize the economy, strengthen infrastructure, improve living conditions, and protect farmers’ rights.

Japan, in addition to investing in rural infrastructure, has promoted inclusive rural-urban linkages to connect local farmers to urban consumers through farmers’ markets and cooperatives.

In Thailand, developing niche products and empowering rural areas has been key to poverty reduction. The government’s OTOP program, which supports the production and marketing of items from Thailand’s sub-districts, has sparked local entrepreneurship and provided alternative incomes for poor farmers. Thailand has also promoted rural-based initiatives including organic rice farming, handicraft production, and rural tourism to increase local employment and sustainable livelihoods.

[China Development Forum]