Category: Uncategorized

The capacity for innovation in Africa and the Indian Subcontinent

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South Africa put its 57 million citizens into lockdown starting Thursday evening as cases there grew to 709 — the highest of any nation on that continent. South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa deployed police and the military to enforce the measure.

The West African nation of Senegal — which was among the countries hit by the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak — also declared a state of emergency earlier this week and imposed a curfew after more than 80 cases of the coronavirus were confirmed.

“The rapid evolution of COVID-19 in Africa is deeply worrisome,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization‘s regional director for Africa, said. “We can still change the course of this pandemic,” she added, but said that “governments must draw on all their resources and capabilities and strengthen their response.”

“The need of the hour as countries like India … and now parts of Africa enter a lockdown phase is to consider these kinds of scenarios and maybe build temporary quarantine facilities for those living in shantytowns,” said Dr. Priya Balasubramaniam, a senior public health scientist for the Public Health Foundation of India.

There is a silver lining to the emergency, Balasubramaniam added. How these countries ultimately cope with the pandemic could be a lesson to the rest of the world. Already, many low-income countries experiment using technology and community health workers to improve access to health care where there had been none.

“There is a lot of capacity for innovation in these countries,” she said.

[Reuters/NBC News]

Lockdowns are fine for the rich, but millions are too poor to shelter from coronavirus

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Lockdowns are being championed as a way to help contain the coronavirus, but experts warn this will not be easily achieved in developing countries, where crowded cities and slums could see the virus spread “like fire.”

Questions over how the world’s poorest will survive the coronavirus pandemic surged Wednesday, a day after India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day lockdown of its population of 1.3 billion people. Around 50 million Indians are thought to be living in extreme poverty.

“It’s a disease that makes disparity seem more obvious than any other,” Dr. Angela Chaudhuri, director of the nonprofit Swasti Health Catalyst, which works in slums and rural poor communities across India, told NBC News in a telephone interview. “We’re saying wash your hands with soap and water or sanitizers and keep at a distance — none of these are available in the slums.” “If there is just one case, it’s going to be a flash fire,” Chaudhuri said, but the economic and social repercussions for the poor will be severe in a nation of stark wealth disparities.

It is estimated that with the clampdown in India, around a third of the world’s population is living under some form of lockdown. But across the world, for millions living in shantytowns with access to only the most basic sanitation, there is no way to self-isolate.

“The need of the hour as countries like India, the Philippines and now parts of Africa enter a lockdown phase is to consider these kinds of scenarios and maybe build temporary quarantine facilities for those living in shantytowns,” said Dr. Priya Balasubramaniam, a senior public health scientist for the Public Health Foundation of India.

[Reuters/NBC News]

What keeps humanitarian aid workers up at night

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With borders now closing around the world and health services coming under huge strain as COVID-19 spreads, the humanitarian sector is scrambling to adapt to new challenges while continuing to provide assistance in ongoing emergencies and disasters.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has emphasized that “humanitarian needs must not be sacrificed.” But many worry this is exactly what might happen, as attention and resources could shift away from some of the world’s most vulnerable populations, even as COVID-19 presents a new threat to them.

Top of mind for most organizations is how to carry on deploying staff to keep existing operations going, as well as making sure the aid itself could still be made accessible to those who need it.

 ICRC President Peter Maurer said the new travel bans would hurt. Around half of the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) staff coming from abroad to work on international projects are from Europe, where most countries have put checks on foreign travel due to the pandemic.

Christos Christou, the president of MSF, said he was now worried he wouldn’t be able to deploy enough specialist medical staff to the places where they are needed. “Our human resources have been trapped in their own countries,” he said. “We need these people to go back to the field.”

Even within the EU, migrant centres in places like Greece are filled beyond capacity. “The idea of self-isolation is a luxury,” explained Christou, adding that, in addition to the Greek camps, he had “extreme concerns” about the Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, and those currently in the Syrian frontline region of Idlib.

Meanwhile, Matthias Schmale, UNWRA’s operations director in Gaza, expressed his frustration that political paralysis and geopolitical preoccupations among donor countries were already leading to a reduction in funds that is affecting those most in need, particularly in the Middle East. “Even before corona, Gaza was collapsing,” Schmale said, complaining that while the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territory is becoming increasingly dire, “no one talks about it anymore”.

Carola Rackete, a German ship captain arrested in Italy in June 2019 for her work for the Mediterranean rescue organization Sea-Watch, said she feared that border closures may feed growing nationalism, to the detriment of poor and vulnerable migrants.

[The New Humanitarian]

An aid worker’s letter from coronavirus-stricken Italy

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Two weeks ago, I flew from one crisis to another, in my pajama top, praying the plane would take off and I would make it to my family in Italy. (I work for an aid agency that supports Libya, where fighting is forcing people to flee their homes, and more and more people rely on international assistance to get by.)

I wanted to get to my aunt, the fierce and infinitely gentle woman who raised me, and who still smacks sense into me when I do something silly (which is often). She is 94 years old. I don’t need to tell you what that means in terms of COVID-19; how vulnerable that makes her. I made it to Rome but couldn’t get close for fear of exposing her; but it was a relief to see that she was there, and she was alright, and she was asking why I was wearing my pajama top. The world was falling apart around me, but I was home.

But not everyone gets to be with their loved ones. What about the people who never get to have a home, who live day to day fleeing conflict or poverty?

I see, even in an outing to buy food, people being either incredibly kind or completely dismissive of others.

I understand why some people are turning inwards right now. At first, my aunt’s age made me feel the same, and vulnerability almost always brings along its friend: fear. There’s an urge to stop thinking clearly, and just protect what you fear losing the most.

But I get to choose how I respond right now, and so does the rest of the world. We can choose whether we disregard the pleas… whether we send medical supplies and assistance where they are needed; whether we want to be the kind of society that shields its vulnerable and embraces that we are all, truly, inextricably linked; whether this will make us kinder.

Borders mean nothing to this virus, so perhaps it’s time that we too define ourselves by them less. We can push past that initial urge to protect only that which immediately surrounds us, and apply that feeling outwards so that this renewed sense of identity we’re feeling now encompasses everyone. As a global community, when we eventually see the back of COVID-19, will we remember what it was like to feel unwanted? Will it change how we treat each other, first from day to day, and then from country to country?

[The New Humanitarian]

Ten-minute coronavirus test for $1 could be a game changer

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Already exhausted from testing for monkeypox and Lassa fever, Nigerian molecular bio-engineer Nnaemeka Ndodo had to work well past midnight earlier this month to find out if six Chinese construction workers were infected with the coronavirus. Ndodo had to collect samples from a hospital an hour away in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, then wait for six hours to get the results in what’s one of only five laboratories able to test for the virus in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation.

In about three months’ time, U.K.-based Mologic Ltd., in collaboration with Senegalese research foundation Institut Pasteur de Dakar, could shorten that wait to 10 minutes with a test that will help a continent with the world’s most fragile healthcare system cope with the pandemic.

With few resources and staff, authorities are racing to contain the spread of the disease in Africa, which accounts for 1% of global health expenditure but carries 23% of the disease burden, including hundreds of thousands of deaths each year from malaria, HIV/Aids and tuberculosis.

Thirty-six of 54 countries on the continent have the capacity to test for the coronavirus, but a spike in cases could overwhelm laboratories. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Sunday he struck a partnership with Chinese billionaire Jack Ma to distribute between 10,000 and 20,000 test kits and 100,000 masks per African country, as well as newly developed guidebooks for treatment.

Separately, the Ethiopia-based Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention expects to distribute 200,000 tests across the continent next week, mostly from Berlin-based TIB Molbiol GmbH, according to the group’s head of laboratory, Yenew Kebede.

“There is no shortage of lab tests in Africa, but what we want is the faster, cheaper test to quickly confirm if there is an outbreak and contain it before it gets bigger,”said Rosanna Peeling, chair of diagnostics research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Using technology from home pregnancy and malaria tests, Mologic’s saliva and finger-prick kit could be ready for sale by June for less than $1 apiece.

“We are ensuring that these tests are made accessible at the cost of manufacture,” said Joe Fitchett, medical director of Mologic, which received a $1.2 million grant from the U.K. government to develop the test.

The current Covid-19 tests, known as PCR tests, detect the genetic material of the pathogen in a laboratory process that can take several hours and cost over $400 in some private facilities.


African countries confirm coronavirus cases as Jack Ma pledges aid

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More African nations confirmed their first cases of the coronavirus and shut borders amid fears of the disease’s impact on fragile health systems, as Chinese billionaire and Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma pledged to donate to the continent.

Thirty African countries – more than half the continent – are now treating nearly 400 patients with coronavirus, after Tanzania, Liberia, Benin and Somalia said they registered their first cases. Health experts are concerned the continent’s often dilapidated health infrastructure will struggle to cope as cases mount.

“We cannot ignore the potential risk to Africa and assume this continent of 1.3 billion people will blissfully escape the crisis. The world cannot afford the unthinkable consequences of a COV-19 pandemic in Africa,” Ma’s foundation said in a statement.

The foundation will send 1.1 million testing kits, 6 million masks and 60,000 protective suits and face shields to Ethiopia for distribution to Africa’s 54 nations, it said.

Many African nations, including some without reported cases, have ordered tougher control measures, including bans on public gatherings, halting flights and closing schools and universities.


Poor nations may see higher coronavirus deaths, warns UN official

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Governments and health systems in wealthy nations are struggling to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, suggesting the poorest countries may be hit far harder if the virus gains a foothold there, a top U.N. official warned.

Mami Mizutori, head of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), said even in developed countries, health services were under stress and did not have enough equipment to treat people in need as the numbers infected rose rapidly.

“It is easily imaginable that if this becomes the case in a country where the health system is not as sophisticated, then that could lead to possibly higher mortality,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Geneva.

People living in poverty and lacking health insurance or secure employment cannot afford to be sick or miss work, she said, pointing to the virus as an “equity issue”.

If coronavirus expanded in poor countries, the economic impact on individuals would likely be greater as economic losses would be a bigger share of gross domestic product, she added.

The slower spread of the virus to Africa, however, may have bought the continent valuable time to take preventive measures. Some African countries, like Rwanda and Uganda, are implementing strict controls at airports as well as simple hygiene practices such as setting up public sinks to wash hands.


Canada’s new humanitarian and refugee envoy has a background in Myanmar

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Bob Rae, who spent seven months in 2017 and 2018 examining the forces that drove over 600,000 Rohingya from their homes in Myanmar to refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh, is being named Canada’s special envoy for humanitarian and refugee issues.

In 2017, Rae was appointed as a special envoy to Myanmar. In April 2018, Rae delivered a report that made 17 recommendations for Canada’s response, including ramping up humanitarian aid and welcoming more refugees from the region. Rae’s report was welcomed by Amnesty International, but the Trudeau government did not meet his call for $600 million over four years to help hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims affected by the violence.

However, in September 2018, Canada’s House of Commons voted to unanimously declare the actions of the Myanmar military against the Rohingya Muslims a genocide. Two weeks later, Parliament formally stripped Myarmar’s civilian leader, Nobel Prize winnter,Aung San Suu Kyi, of her honorary Canadian citizenship for her refusal to condemn Myanmar’s military or to take action to stop atrocities–including rape and murder–committed against the Rohingya. She became the first person ever to be stripped of honorary Canadian citizenship.

The announcement of Rae’s latest appointment comes as the Trudeau government has provided financing for police training and surveillance equipment to at least seven Southeast Asian countries with histories of human rights violations — Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand — to intercept irregular migrants and smugglers.


“Zero hunger” remains a distant reality

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“Realizing the right to food requires more than just eliminating hunger and malnutrition; it also requires guaranteeing access to nutritious, adequate food and promoting the survival of smallholder farmers and rural communities,” said Hilal Elver, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the right to food.

Ms. Elver recommended a holistic, coordinated and rights-based approach to the elimination of hunger and malnutrition with increased participation and involvement of those most affected. “We need robust protections for human rights defenders and members of the scientific community who are facing increased attacks in the face of emerging nationalism, populism and predatory global capitalism.”

In her report, the expert notes that countries must avoid the adoption of economic policies that deregulate food markets, as well as austerity measures that impose hardships on vulnerable communities and accentuate inequality. “These policies can lead to economic, social and political instability,” she said.

During the six years of her mandate, the Special Rapporteur witnessed increased hunger worldwide and sought to draw particular attention to the fate of populations living on the brink of starvation that now threatens 113 million people. Severe conflicts and emergency situations, including those linked to geopolitical tensions and climate change, are exacerbating these conditions.


The coronavirus hubs driving cross-border infections

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For two months, the world watched as efforts to contain the coronavirus focused on China. But new outbreak epicentres thousands of miles away have been driving cross-border infections since mid-February – including to a handful of countries already hit with humanitarian crises.

Over the last two weeks, more than three dozen countries or territories have reported new coronavirus infections linked to people travelling from two hubs: Italy or Iran. Outbreaks in both countries have surged. A growing list stretches from European and Middle East nations to as far away as New Zealand, the Caribbean, and South America.

Cases have also risen dramatically in South Korea, but cross-border infections have not been widely reported.

In some countries – like France, Germany, and Malaysia – the new infections add to an existing caseload traced to patients who travelled in Asia. Other nations are seeing cases emerge for the first time.

The quality of health systems varies greatly from country to country, but some are especially unprepared to respond to epidemics in part due to long distances and poor infrastructure, according to the Global Health Security Index published last year.

Many countries have ratcheted up border closures or travel restrictions, but the WHO says this has delayed but not prevented infections. Public health experts say border closures can exacerbate outbreaks by driving migration underground – away from public health systems.

The WHO has launched a $675 million response plan aimed at helping countries with weaker health systems prepare for outbreaks. As of Monday, only $2.5 million had been received (though some $31 million was also pledged), according to the WHO. The UN’s humanitarian aid arm, OCHA, said it would dip into its Central Emergency Response Fund – more often used to kickstart disaster relief – to help contain the virus.

[The New Humanitarian]