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IRIN - Guinea-Bissau





 



Prostituted, beaten and held for ransom

Thu, 31 Mar 2016 11:36:37 +0000

As warmer weather brings calmer seas, more and more migrants are setting off again from the Libyan coast in smugglers’ boats bound for Italy. Eight vessels containing 1,361 people were rescued from this stretch of the Mediterranean on Wednesday alone, while dozens more are missing feared dead after their boat sank. Since the beginning of the year, more than 16,000 migrants have used this route. For most though, the journey begins on the other side of the Sahara and involves not only a treacherous desert crossing but also running the gauntlet of Libya’s people-smuggling networks. The outskirts of Libya’s main southern town and Saharan smuggling hub look post-apocalyptic. Charred frames of burnt-out cars are lodged on top of smouldering rubbish heaped by the roadside, and tracks snake off through the dirty scrubland towards half-finished houses. This is where people smugglers, who cram up to 31 people at a time into Toyota pick-up trucks for the three-day journey from Niger through the Sahara Desert, drop their customers.  Some are met by friends, relatives or smugglers, while others walk towards the town. But, although initially thankful to have survived the harsh desert crossing, migrants told IRIN the arrival in Sabha heralded the worst part of their journey to the eastern Mediterranean. “When we arrived, we were immediately taken to a kind of prison, a house where there were about 200 other migrants,” said 19-year-old Bouba from Senegal. “They made us call our families back home and demanded that they sent 2,000 Libyan dinar ($1,458) for each person.” Jens, 24, from Guinea Bissau showed scars on his arms and back, which he said were from brutal beatings inflicted by his captors. “They beat me and kept saying: ‘What’s wrong with you? Why don’t your parents send the money? Don’t they love you?’ It was horrible, but my family has so little money that it took them two months to borrow enough to pay for my release.”  Both men now live in a rough shack on a rubbish dump in Sabha, with 24 others. They are all trying to find work to pay the 500 dinar ($365) it takes to reach the Libyan capital, Tripoli, closer to the sea and a boat to Europe. Tribal complications Passage through Libya has long been the main route from Africa to Europe. Today, the main path for sub-Saharan Africans to reach the Mediterranean coast is organised between several regional tribes and runs from the city of Agadez in central Niger to Sabha. Tom Wescott/IRIN The desert route is worked almost exclusively by the Tabu, a semi-nomadic Saharan tribe populating harsh and inhospitable terrain with few opportunities in Libya, Chad and Niger. With other powerful Arab tribes dominating the smuggling of goods, people smuggling is one of few lucrative job prospects. But after a series of fierce tribal conflicts in the town, much of Sabha is now off-limits to the Tabu. “Often the migrants have a contact number of someone in Sabha and I just drop them there, on the outskirts. If they don’t know anyone, I leave them with some Arab guy but that is not my business,” 29-year-old people smuggler Adem told IRIN. “My job is to get these people from Agadez to Sabha. That’s it. After that, I don’t care.” For their onward journey, migrants are forced to rely on members of several Arab tribes, some of whom work with middlemen.  Miserable way station “Sabha is just a terrible place,” said Nigerian electrician Sammy, 35, now working in Tripoli. “When I arrived there, the Nigerian middleman said I owed him money for the journey he helped organise. I had my passport taken and was imprisoned. They demanded $2,000 and I had to phone my mother and ask her to sell all my possessions, including the family’s generator. But that only made the equivalent of 300 dinar ($219).” Tom Wescott/IRIN He described how he was forced to work for eight months in Sabha to make enough money to pay the outstanding balance. “I worked like a slave in a house for African pro[...]



Africa’s meningitis A vaccine: how partnership replaced ‘Big Pharma’

Tue, 17 Nov 2015 00:00:00 +0000

Four years after it was first used in a mass vaccination campaign, the MenAfriVac vaccine has achieved an extraordinary outcome; cases of meningitis A have dropped to almost zero in the epidemic belt across Africa. But if it hadn’t been for an experimental partnership between the World Health Organization and the not-for-profit health organisation, PATH – working without the involvement of multinational pharmaceutical companies – the vaccine might never even have been developed. Outbreak season in the so-called meningitis belt across the Sahel starts annually in late December. Every 10 or 15 years, conditions come together to set off a major epidemic. In 1996-7, there were more than 250,000 reported cases; more than 25,000 people died, and many more were left with permanent disabilities. After that epidemic, African governments came together and demanded that something be done. More specifically they wanted an effective, affordable vaccine that could be rolled out across the region. The problem: there wasn’t one. The only vaccines available were tailored to the strains common in Europe and North America, not to Meningitis A, which caused the epidemics in West Africa. They were also far too expensive for a mass campaign in the region. As ever, the problem was money. Meningitis A affected poor people in the poorest regions of some of the poorest countries in the world. For global health specialists, this is a sadly familiar problem. Mogha Kamal-Yanni, senior health advisor at Oxfam, says the situation is typical. “Clearly the current model of research and development is not working,” she told IRIN. “It's a broken model, failing public health. It's not producing what we need, or else it's unaffordable.” The unwillingness of pharmaceutical companies to invest in a disease that affects the poor has been widely blamed for the lack of a vaccine against Ebola, which seriously hampered the response to the recent outbreak in West Africa. But this time, in response to the appeal from African governments, the WHO and PATH set up the Meningitis Vaccine Project with the objective of getting a vaccine approved and into production. With $70 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to oil the wheels, they began by approaching the big pharmaceutical companies. “That was the accepted approach at that time,” says the project manager, Kathleen Tiffay. “And that was what people expected.” Negotiations, however, soon stalled. Two big companies were interested, but finally, after 18 months of negotiations, they said they couldn't bring the price down below $2 a dose; the project's target was 'under 50 cents'. Discussions with another company, which owned technology needed to produce the vaccine, also collapsed, again over pricing. “There was just too big a gap,” says Tiffay. That – she told IRIN – was the low point. “We had hoped we could have it set up and ready to go in a year or a year and half. Everything was taking much longer than our estimates.” Finally, those behind the Meningitis Vaccine Project decided to go ahead and do it themselves. “And to be realistic,” says Tiffay, “we weren't any slower than Big Pharma; in fact we were probably faster.” They describe what they did as setting up a kind of virtual pharmaceutical company. While the big established companies could have done everything in-house, they had to put together a series of partnerships – to supply the ingredients, license the technology, do the clinical trials and get all necessary approvals, and to manufacture the vaccine. Some partners, like the manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India Ltd (SIIL), were commercial companies. Others were public bodies. The US Food and Drug Administration licensed a conjugation method at negligible cost and supported transfer of the technology to the Indian company. Britain's National Institute for Biological Standards and Control worked on the licensing. The clinical trials were done with national partners at eight study sites across Africa and Indi[...]



Why isn’t Guinea-Bissau prepared for Ebola?

Mon, 01 Jun 2015 23:00:00 +0000

The government of Guinea-Bissau has known for months about the risk of Ebola entering the country, but it hasn't done enough to prepare. Now there is a cluster of cases just across the border. Residents say it will be good fortune rather than good planning if an outbreak is avoided. “I don’t know why we haven’t gotten Ebola yet,” said Edimar Nhaga, who lives in the capital, Bissau. “It certainly isn’t because of prevention measures taken by the government because they haven’t done enough to avoid the epidemic. I believe it’s been luck so far because, to be frank, we just don’t have the capacity for a proper response. No one should believe that our country could face a hypothetical Ebola outbreak.” As of mid-May, Guinea-Bissau had implemented just 59 percent of the minimum preparedness tasks, including having measures in place for proper epidemiological surveillance, public awareness campaigns, case management, contact tracing, and safe and dignified burials, according to the latest data from the World Health Organization (WHO). The country has not yet identified funding sources or developed a framework in case an Ebola outbreak should occur, WHO reports, and just 20 percent of minimum preparedness activities related to budgeting, including the creation of easily accessible contingency funds for immediate response to a potential case, have been completed. “Guinea-Bissau is definitely a matter of concern,” said Doctor Unni Krishnan who heads Plan International’s Disaster Preparedness and Response program. “If a case arrives, this could either go the way in which Ebola was contained in Nigeria because of quick action and good preparedness measures, or it could go the other way, like how we saw in Guinea and the other (worst-affected) countries.” What Guinea Bissau will struggle to cope with will be the already weak health system and limited number of medical experts and public health specialists. The concern over Guinea-Bissau’s ability to react to an Ebola case is not new, but has been heightened in the past week, following, for the first time in almost seven months, a cluster of cases just across the border in neighboring Guinea’s Boke prefecture, where traders cross daily to sell their wares and farmers come to work their fields. Violent protests in the northern Guinean town of Kamsar have also raised fears that aid workers will be impeded in their efforts to stop the virus crossing the border. The situation, should Ebola actually arrive, is particularly worrying as Guinea-Bissau is among the least developed countries in the world, according to the United Nations Human Development Index. More than 15 years after the end a year-long civil war, which displaced hundreds of thousands of people, the country still suffers from political instability, a fragile economy and poor infrastructure. The public health system is especially weak, with neither enough trained doctors and nurses, nor resources and supplies, to offer quality care during even regular times. There are just seven physicians per every 100,000 people, according to WHO. This is lower than the ratio of doctors that Guinea had before the outbreak began. “What Guinea-Bissau will struggle to cope with (should Ebola arrive) will be the already weak health system and limited number of medical experts and public health specialists,” Krishnan told IRIN. “Looking at the health facilities in Guinea-Bissau, when it comes to disaster preparedness and response, we should be on the higher side of caution, rather than taking it lightly.” Scaling up In light of the recent cases just across the border, organisations such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), WHO and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have begun increasing their presence on the ground. “It’s no longer preparing for something that eventually will come one day,” said Youcef Ait Chellouche, IFRC’s Deputy Head of Regional Ebola Operations. “It’s now pushi[...]



Killing us softly

Fri, 27 Mar 2015 00:00:00 +0000

A recent public outcry in China, sparked by a damning documentary about air pollution, was based on well-founded fear: Of the 100 million people who viewed the film on the first day of its online release, 172,000 are likely to die each year from air pollution-related diseases, according to regional trends.*  Worldwide, pollution kills twice as many people each year as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined,** but aid policy has consistently neglected it as a health risk, donors and experts say.  Air pollution alone killed seven million people in 2012, according to World Health Organization (WHO) figures released last year, most of them in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) in the Asia Pacific region.***  In a self-critical report released late last month the World Bank acknowledged that it had treated air pollution as an afterthought, resulting in a dearth of analysis of the problem and spending on solutions.  “We now need to step up our game and adopt a more comprehensive approach to fixing air quality,” the authors wrote in Clean Air and Healthy Lungs. “If left unaddressed, these problems are expected to grow worse over time, as the world continues to urbanise at an unprecedented and challenging speed.” A second report released last month by several organisations – including the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution, an international consortium of UN organisations, governments, development banks, NGOs and academics – also called for more funding towards reducing pollution.  “Rich countries, multilateral agencies and organisations have forgotten the crippling impacts of pollution and fail to make it a priority in their foreign assistance,” the authors wrote.  Housebound in China  A dense haze obstructs visibility more often than not across China’s northern Hua Bei plain and two of its major river deltas. Less than one percent of the 500 largest cities in China meet WHO’s air quality guidelines. Anger over air pollution is a hot topic among China’s increasingly outspoken citizenry.   “Half of the days in 2014, I had to confine my daughter to my home like a prisoner because the air quality in Beijing was so poor,” China’s well-known journalist Chai Jing said in Under the Dome, the independent documentary she released last month, which investigated the causes of China’s air pollution. The film was shared on the Chinese social media portal Weibo more than 580,000 times before officials ordered websites to delete it.  Beyond the silo Traditionally left to environmental experts to tackle, the fight against pollution is increasingly recognised as requiring attention from health and development specialists too.  “Air pollution is the top environmental health risk and among the top modifiable health risks in the world,” said Professor Michael Brauer, a public health expert at the University of British Columbia in Canada and a member of the scientific advisory panel for the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, a consortium of governments and the UN Environment Programme. “Air pollution has been under-funded and its health impacts under-appreciated.” Pollution – especially outdoor or “ambient” air pollution – is also a major drag on economic performance and limits the opportunities of the poor, according to Ilmi Granoff, an environmental policy expert at the Overseas Development Institute, a London-based think tank. It causes premature death, illness, lost earnings and medical costs – all of which take their toll on both individual and national productivity. “Donors need to get out of the siloed thinking of pollution as an environmental problem distinct from economic development and poverty reduction,” Granoff said.  Pollution cleanup is indeed underfunded, he added, but pollution prevention is even more poorly prioritised: “It’s underfunded in much of the developed world, in aid, and in developing country priorities, so this isn’t just an aid problem.” [...]



Working to keep the peace: The impact of job schemes on ex-rebels

Fri, 27 Feb 2015 00:00:00 +0000

Job-creation schemes are the traditional way to tackle the post-conflict problem of unemployed ex-fighters and to reduce the threat they can pose to peace and stability in fragile states. The theory - encapsulated in most demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) programmes - is that jobs can be generated through training and capital inputs; that employment decreases the risks of re-recruitment; and once armed with a pay cheque, ex-combatants settle down and reintegrate more easily into society. Those assumptions were tested in a recent study exploring whether employment could reduce lawlessness and rebellion among high-risk men in Liberia. Of those who took part in the training scheme that was studied, 74 percent had fought in Liberia’s traumatic 14-year civil war.  The study concluded that training and cash incentives did encourage lawful employment, and as a result the men resisted being signed up by mercenary recruiters during a neigbouring conflict.  But there was no evidence employment improved their societal reintegration – they remained violent and anti-social. The NGO Action on Armed Violence (AoAV) works with ex-fighters and other troubled young men, typically involved in illegal mining and logging in remote “hotspots”, providing agricultural training and farm inputs. The income-generating scheme gave the researchers - Christopher Blattman of Columbia University and Jeannie Annan, of the International Rescue Committee - what they described as a unique opportunity to study employment-led rehabilitation. Their study found that even the highest risk men where “overwhelmingly interested in farming” as a result of the AoAV training. But although they spent 20 percent more time on farming, they didn’t abandon their illicit activities. Instead, they adjusted “their portfolio of occupations”, and saw a modest rise of $12 a month in earnings. Crucially the men reported “24 percent less engagement” with mercenary recruiters when Cote d’Ivoire’s short war erupted in 2011 – and none went to fight. The study’s findings were published in the Social Science Research Network. DDR employment programmes generally have a low success rate: Often the primary goal is to get a peace agreement signed, not sustained economic reintegration – a failing witnessed from the Central African Republic to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The study suggests that the single-trade focus of most DDR programmes fails to appreciate how, in the real world, the poor use multiple streams of income to mitigate risk. Liquid capital is key. The AoAV scheme demonstrated, almost accidentally, the power of cash incentives. As a result of a supply problem, roughly a third of the men expecting a second farm input installment were told to expect instead a cash payment – conditional on them not taking up mining or mercenary work. This financial inducement worked.  “The potential policy implication is that one-time transfers will not fully deter future criminal or mercenary opportunities. Ongoing incentives, such as cash-for-work programmes or other conditional transfers, could be important compliments,” the study noted. Despite the men’s relative economic success, the programme had “little effect on aggression, participation in community life and politics, or attitudes to violence and democracy” – in other words, little progress in terms of social integration. Furthermore, although AoAV’s intervention had a positive impact, an additional $12 a month earned was “not a high return” on the investment.  “Cost-effectiveness thus hinges on the hard-to-quantify social returns to lower crime and violence,” the study noted. In a fragile country recovering from conflict, that may well be a price worth paying. For further reading on DDR see: Girl child soldiers face new battles in civilian life Growing up in war - the DRC's child soldiers COTE D'IVOIRE: Will DDR work this time? oa/am 1011[...]



Three words of advice for WHO Africa's new chief

Tue, 24 Feb 2015 00:00:00 +0000

The World Health Organization says the number of new Ebola cases per week rose twice this month for the first time since December. This rise in incidence of new cases - if proven to be a trend - will be just one of the challenges facing WHO’s new regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti, as she attempts to overcome the multitude of criticism launched against WHO in recent months for its failure to act earlier and more competently during West Africa’s ongoing Ebola outbreak. “This is a critical moment for the WHO,” said Michael Merson, director of Duke University’s Global Health Institute. “It’s a real crossroads as to whether or not they’ll be able to reform and become an effective and efficient organization, particularly at the regional level.” Moeti, who officially took office 1 February, has vowed to make fighting Ebola WHO’s “highest priority,” while supporting countries to develop strategies to build up their health care systems, and reduce maternal and child mortality, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and non-communicable diseases. Many international observers say they have high hopes for Moeti, a medical doctor who has more than 35 years of experience working in the national and global public health sector. But she has a tough road ahead – particularly as the number of Ebola cases continues to rise, nearly a year after the outbreak was first declared. Here’s some advice from a few experts as Moeti begins her five-year term: 1. Think Local Having competent and qualified staff on the ground, whose skills and expertise are matched to the needs of the country, is key to effectively implementing WHO policies and recommendations. “Everyone tends to discuss WHO at the global level and the regional level, but I don’t think this is where the problem lies,” said Fatou Francesca Mbow, an independent health consultant in West Africa. “It really lies in what the WHO is meant to be doing at country level. It is of no use to have very technical people sitting in Washington [D.C.] or Geneva, and then, where things are actually happening, [they become] politicians.” Mbow said that despite a wealth of technical documents being produced at headquarters, very often the staff from the field offices are appointed based on political motives. Country and field-level office meetings are often dominated by talk that, while politically correct, says “nothing of real meaning”. Staff reform at the local level will require both investing in employee development, including recruiting new and existing talent to the field offices, as well as making posts in “hardship” countries more attractive to the most qualified experts. “What often happens is that when people in-country are seen as being quite effective, they tend to get headhunted by the headquarters of the institutions that represent them,” said Sophie Harman, a senior lecturer in international politics at Queen Mary University of London. “So we see a type of brain-drain among people working in these sectors.” She said that improving salaries and offering more benefits, as well as taking into account what these people have to offer, could go a long way in incentivising them to stay at their field-level posts. “Good documents are interesting,” Mbow said. “But unless you have people at country level who understand them, who participate in writing them, who are able to implement them, who are passionate and committed to doing so, they’re just going to be reports.” 2. Strengthen health systems There were many factors that contributed to the unprecedented spread of the Ebola outbreak, but inherently weak local health systems in the three most-affected countries meant that local clinics did not have the capacity, resources or expertise to handle even the smallest of caseloads. WHO must now work with local governments, partners and other on-the-ground agencies in all African countr[...]



Who celebrity advocates are really targeting. And it’s not you.

Fri, 13 Feb 2015 00:00:00 +0000

This week was a fanfare for celebrity humanitarians: Forest Whitaker appealed for peace in South Sudan alongside UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos; Angelina Jolie opened an academic centre on sexual violence in conflict with British Member of Parliament William Hague; and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham launched an initiative for children.  In recent years, aid agencies have increasingly used celebrity advocates to raise awareness and money for their causes. There’s just one snag:  It doesn’t actually work. At least not as much or in the ways we think.  According to research by Dan Brockington, a professor at the University of Manchester, public responses to celebrity activism are surprisingly muted. His work is the first quantitative research on the subject.  “Using celebrities for broader outreach, for reaching mass publics and attracting media attention is absolutely not the silver bullet it appears to be,” he told IRIN on the sidelines of a 6-8 February conference at the University of Sussex, where he presented research recently published in the book Celebrity Advocacy and International Development.   Photo: A. McConnell/UNHCR Refugee Rockstar: UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie meets displaced Iraqis   In a survey he conducted with 2,000 British people, 95 percent of respondents recognized five or more of 12 charities listed to them, including the British Red Cross, Save the Children UK and Oxfam UK. But two-thirds of the respondents did not know a single “high-profile” advocate of any of the NGOs (In this case, music executive Simon Cowell and singers Victoria Beckham and Elton John respectively, among many others).  The realpolitik might not be that pleasant. But you'll achieve your goals.  Focus groups and interviews with more than 100 “celebrity liaison officers” and other media staff at NGOs further reinforced his findings.  What’s more, Brockington says, those who pay attention to celebrities do not necessarily know which causes they support.  “People who follow celebrities often do so because they are not political,” he said during the interview. “They are fun, light. You want to live their lives…[People] don’t engage with [celebrities] for the more worthy things.”   Celebrity stardom flat-lining  Despite the rise in the use of celebrity advocates (which, by the way, dates back to at least Victorian times), the mention of charities in broadsheet and tabloid articles about celebrities only increased ever so slightly between 1985 and 2010, according to a separate study by Brockington. “There has also been a decline in the proportion of newspaper articles mentioning development and humanitarian NGOs at all,” the study found.  The perception that celebrities engage the public in the first place may itself be overstated.  After a steady rise in coverage of celebrities in the British press over two decades, the percentage of articles mentioning the word celebrity (only a fraction of total articles about celebrities) stopped increasing around 2006 and is now hovering at about four percent of all articles studied, the research found, validating the findings of earlier studies on the same subject (The study looked at The Guardian, The Times, The Independent, Daily Mail, The Mirror and The Sun).  The magazine industry’s own statistics show a tapering off of readership in recent years after steady growth.                 Photo: Northern & Shell Media Group Statistics from Northern & Shell Media Group show a steady rise in celebrity magazine readership until about 2006 Celebrities can be successful in engaging the public – Miley Cyrus made waves last year when she sent a homeless man to pick up her MTV Video Music Awards; Bob Geldof’s charity single on Ebola quickly rose to the top of the charts; and cele[...]



After Ebola: What next for West Africa’s health systems

Mon, 26 Jan 2015 00:00:00 +0000

As rates of Ebola infection fall in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, planning has begun on how to rebuild public health systems and learn lessons from the outbreak. Nobody is declaring victory yet. But in Sierra Leone, the worst-affected country, there were 117 new confirmed cases reported in the week to 18 January, the latest statistics available, compared with 184 the previous week and 248 the week before that. Guinea halved its cases in the week to 18 January – down to 20 – and Liberia held steady at eight.  The epidemic is not over until there are zero cases over two incubation periods – the equivalent of 42 days. “It’s like being only a little bit pregnant – there’s no such thing as a little Ebola. We have to get to zero, there can be no reservoirs of Ebola,”  Margaret Harris, spokesperson of the World Health Organization (WHO), told IRIN.  But after 21,724 cases and 8,641 deaths in nine countries since the epidemic began in Guinea last year, there is some light. And health workers are already starting to look at what’s next. “Right now important meetings are going on in each country to work out what needs to be done to rebuild - in some significant respects to build health systems almost anew - and to build back better,” said Harris.  A European Union donor conference is due at the beginning of March in Brussels. “What we want to see as a country is a resilient health system that can withstand shocks,” Liberia’s Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah told IRIN. “Our plan [to be presented in Brussels] will be finalized by the end of February. It will be well costed with tangible goals.” Ebola tested the public health systems in the three West African countries to near destruction – most places in the world would have also struggled. But where the three failed was at the basic “nitty-gritty” level of “standard surveillance, testing and monitoring, the containment of cases, the bread and butter of public health”, said Adia Benton, a social anthropologist at Brown University in Rhode Island. Citizen and state A successful malaria campaign in Sierra Leone last week, which reached 2.5 million people, and a planned polio and measles vaccination programme in Liberia, are positive signs for the health services. But the list of necessary reforms is long: stronger surveillance; healthcare that will work after the international partners leave; access to affordable services. The list must also embrace longer-term structural changes, including the relationship between citizen and state. According to Antonio Vigilante, Deputy Special Representative for the Consolidation of Democractic Governance in the UN Mission in Liberia, and Resident Coordinator, “there is a golden opportunity to have a different start, to have a more balanced development that leaves outcomes in the hands of the people. It’s a very delicate stage, full of opportunities, which should not be missed.” Liberia is one of the world’s poorest countries and Ebola has been a tragic addition to the burden. It has destroyed livelihoods; already dizzying rates of unemployment have worsened; and food prices have soared. Both rural and urban communities are suffering. Vigilante is worried the economic impact of Ebola, and the interruption of immunization and reproductive health services during the crisis, could put more people at risk than the virus itself did. “A number of [social protection] measures in the recovery phase would need to be universal,” he said. One example would be if Liberia scaled up its pilot Social Transfer Programme, launched in 2009, to provide just US$40 per year to two million children. There would be sizeable “knock on effects on local markets and entrepreneurship” at minimal cost, according to the Washington-based Centre for Global Development.  Lesson learned: “Community, community[...]



Nice and dirty – the importance of soil

Fri, 16 Jan 2015 00:00:00 +0000

Be it laterite, loam, peat or clay, soil is life. It's the foundation of food security, and so the UN has declared 2015 as the year to draw attention to the stuff. As much as 95 percent of our food comes from the soil, but 33 percent of global soils are degraded, and experts say we may only have 60 years of nutrient-rich top soil left - it is not a renewable resource.  Africa is especially hard hit. Land degradation denudes the top soil, shrinking yields and the ability of the earth to absorb harmful greenhouse gases. In sub-Saharan Africa, an estimated 65 percent of agricultural land is degraded. That costs the continent US$68 billion a year, and affects 180 million people - mainly the rural poor, already struggling to eke out a living.  But better land management practices could deliver up to $1.4 trillion globally in increased crop production.  So how to implement sustainable policies that protect the food security of future generations? The uptake of sound soil management approaches is currently low. Farmers are under pressure to abandon effective traditional methods in favour of practices that deliver quicker, short-term, returns.  Further reading on the issue  2015 – International Year of Soils  FAO Soils Portal  Agriculture for Impact  The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme  AGRA  United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification  Africa Soil Information Service But a report - No Ordinary Matter: Conserving, Restoring, and Enhancing Africa’s Soils - released in December 2014, points to potential pathways. These include combining targeted and selected use of fertilisers alongside traditional methods such as application of livestock manure, intercropping with nitrogen-fixing legumes or covering farmland with crop residues. The goal is an ambitious - if contradictory sounding - “Sustainable Intensification” of agriculture. oa/rh   101019 201008251121470984.jpg Feature Food Health Nice and dirty – the importance of soil IRIN NAIROBI Angola Burkina Faso Benin Botswana DRC Congo, Republic of Côte d’Ivoire Cameroon Colombia Cape Verde Djibouti Eritrea Ethiopia Gabon Ghana Gambia Guinea Equatorial Guinea Guinea-Bissau Kenya Liberia Lesotho Madagascar Mali Mauritania Mauritius Malawi Mozambique Namibia Niger Nigeria Rwanda Seychelles Sudan Sierra Leone Senegal Somalia Sao Tome and Principe Swaziland Chad Togo Tanzania Uganda Samoa South Africa Zambia Zimbabwe Français العربية [...]



Universal health coverage - Ebola reveals the gaps

Mon, 29 Dec 2014 00:00:00 +0000

West Africa's Ebola epidemic has cruelly exposed the weaknesses of health systems in the countries where it struck. It was understandable that they were not prepared for Ebola, which has never been reported in the region before, but the director of the World Health Organization (WHO), Margaret Chan, says what they lacked was a robust public health infrastructure to deal with the unexpected. “This requires good background data on the usual,” she says, “so that the unusual stands out. [It means] making good quality care accessible and affordable to everyone, and not just to wealthy people living in urban areas; having enough facilities available in the right places with enough well trained staff and uninterrupted supplies of essential medicines; diagnostic capacity that returns rapid and reliable results; and information systems that pinpoint gaps and direct strategies and resources towards unmet needs.” Chan was speaking on what had been designated as the first Universal Health Coverage Day (on 12 December), setting out an ambitious check-list for health systems which can cope with whatever is thrown at them. This is clearly a challenge in any developing country, but much more of a challenge in fragile states like those currently affected by Ebola.  It could be SARS next time Nick Hooton is a research, policy and practice adviser with the ReBuild Consortium which works on how to strengthen health systems in post-conflict states. He told IRIN that although research still had to be done, the post-conflict environment was almost certainly a reason why the disease spread so fast. “Undoubtedly the systems are very poor,” he says, “and the staffing levels are very low, but there are also subtler factors at work, issues about trust and things like that. This is a disease which has been well controlled in other places, and yet got massively out of control. If you look at the DRC [Democratic republic of Congo] and northern Uganda, there is no great supply of health professionals there either. So we are talking about things like a breakdown in the links between the communities and the public services which take a long time to build up again.” Hooton stresses that addressing these underlying weaknesses is crucial: “It's Ebola this time, but it could be SARS next time, or some other disease. There is absolutely a need for a disease response - Ebola is a horrible disease and it is out of control - but to stamp out the disease and leave the systems as they were is not doing any favours to anyone.”   " To stamp out the disease and leave the systems as they were is not doing any favours to anyone " The Millennium Development Goals, now reaching their end date, set their health targets for particular sectors, maternal and child health, or for specific diseases - TB, malaria and HIV/AIDS. This approach had the advantage of providing measurable targets, and was able to attract donor funding, but didn't work on the kind of system-wide resilience that Margaret Chan is talking about. Now, with negotiations in full swing for the post-2015 goals, there is a chance to move from the single-sector, “vertical” strategy to a broader based, more “horizontal” approach. David Heymann, the head of the Centre on Global Health Security at Chatham House, says we need to look at what has happened in the past. “In the past there has been an international treaty, the International Health Regulations, which clearly states that 194 countries have agreed to strengthen their core capacities in public health. Countries were left to evaluate themselves on whether or not they had attained these goals, and they were to have completed their core capacity strengthening by 2014. “But what happened? I'll be a little tough here by saying that donor agencies didn't provide funding through[...]