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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.” Mounting evidence  Pollution kills in a variety of ways, according to relativel[...]



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 101170 200492214.jpg Analysis Conflict How to help ex-rebels adjust to pe[...]



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 countries to train and employ more doctors and nurses, implement universal health care c[...]



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 celebrity-driven telethons like the UK’s Comic Relief are generally quite successful[...]



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, community. Engagement, engagement, engagement” Schools are due to re-open on 2[...]



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 [...]



PRESS RELEASE: IRIN humanitarian news service to spin off from the UN

Thu, 20 Nov 2014 00:00:00 +0000

    A NEW START FOR CRISIS REPORTING     IRIN humanitarian news service to spin off from the UN. Jynwel Foundation invests $25 million to create global non-profit media venture     (GENEVA, November 20, 2014) - After nearly 20 years as part of the United Nations, the humanitarian news service IRIN is spinning off to become an independent non-profit media venture, with the support of a major private donor.     IRIN is an award-winning humanitarian news and analysis service covering the parts of the world often under-reported, misunderstood or ignored. It delivers unique reporting from the frontlines of conflicts and natural disasters to 280,000 web visitors a month and more than 50,000 subscribers in almost every country. Its readership includes UN decision-makers, donor governments, academics, media and aid workers in the field. Its work is syndicated, republished and cited by news outlets and journals from around the world.     A new beginning starting January 1, 2015 will be made possible with an initial commitment of US $25 million, to be disbursed over several years, from the Hong Kong-based Jynwel Charitable Foundation. The new IRIN will be based in Switzerland, with support from the UK- based Overseas Development Institute’s (ODI) Humanitarian Policy Group.     The UN Humanitarian Chief, Valerie Amos, said: "IRIN is an important resource for humanitarian workers around the world. This is the right time for the service to branch out and we welcome the generous commitment from Jynwel Charitable Foundation which has helped to secure its future as an independent news service."     Jho Low, Director of Jynwel Charitable Foundation, added: "IRIN’s transition presents a great opportunity for growth and revitalization. IRIN has done fantastic work for nearly 20 years. It's time to give it the place on the world stage that it deserves. I believe in the vision and am excited by the potential."     Since 2012, Jynwel Charitable Foundation has supported a range of causes in global health, conservation and education. Major gifts of the Foundation include a 15-year commitment to MD Anderson Cancer Center to democratize access to cancer care, a 10-year commitment to Panthera, the leading wild cat conservation organization, and a 5-year commitment to National Geographic’s Pristine Seas to identify and preserve the last pristine areas in our oceans. The multi-year commitment to IRIN is the Foundation’s first investment in the humanitarian sector.     Ben Parker, co-founder of IRIN and its interim director, said: "So many people - from those hit by crises to donors - tell us they rely on our insight and analysis. This breakthrough will make all the difference and allow us to take the service to a whole new level of impact and relevance."ODI’s Executive Director, Kevin Watkins, said: “We are delighted to support this transition for IRIN, and are excited at the prospect of an independent IRIN playing a leading role in providing up-to-date and on-the-ground analysis of humanitarian crises to inform policy and practice in the sector, in particular through our Humanitarian Policy Group.” ODI is the UK's leading independent think tank on international development and humanitarian issues.     For further information and interview requests:     IRIN, Jynwel Foundation, and ODI: Heba Aly, heba@irinnews.org, Cell: +41 76 643 4151     OCHA: Jens Laerke, laerke@un.org, Cell: +41 79 472 9750     About IRIN:     IRIN, originally the "Integrated Regional Information Networks", started distributing humanitarian news about Central Africa by fax from a small office in Nairobi in 1995. Over the years, its award-winning coverage expanded to the rest of Africa, South East Asia and the Middle East. IRIN publishes reports in English, French and Arabic and has a monthly online audience of 280,000 website visitors. It has around 100,000 articles an[...]



An ambitious plan to end statelessness

Fri, 07 Nov 2014 00:00:00 +0000

It is now 60 years since stateless people received recognition in international law, and the UN has two conventions (1954 and 1961) dedicated to their protection and the regularization of their situation. Yet an estimated 10 million people worldwide still suffer the problems and indignities of having no nationality. “It may be a bit of understatement to say that these are the two least loved multilateral human rights treaties,” said Mark Manly, head of the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) statelessness unit. “For many years they were pretty much forgotten and that was in large part because they had no UN agency promoting them.”  Manly has responsibility for the issue of statelessness, even though most stateless people neither are, nor have ever been, refugees, and this week UNHCR launched an ambitious plan to try to end statelessness over the next 10 years.  The plan breaks down the issue into 10 action points, addressing the main reasons why people end up stateless. Sometimes it's because children were not registered at birth, or because discriminatory laws prevent their mothers from passing on their own nationality. Some are the victims of ethnic discrimination by countries which refuse to recognize members of their community as citizens; others, especially in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, have fallen down the cracks between countries, as it were, after boundaries were redrawn and states divided.  In some of the world's major situations of statelessness UNHCR is already involved. In 1989 tens of thousands of Black African Mauritanians fled to Senegal to get away from murderous ethnic persecution. A large number of the refugees who came scrambling across the river border had no papers. Their Mauritanian identity cards had been confiscated or torn up by members of the security forces or by their fellow citizens, who told them, “Tu n'est pas Maure; alors tu n'est pas Mauritanian” (You are not a Moor, an Arab, so you are not a Mauritanian). Senegalese nationality law is generous, and allows them to apply for citizenship after five years' residence, but many have preferred to go home to Mauritania, assisted by UNHCR which supplied them with travel documents under an agreement governing their return. But large numbers are now finding themselves effectively stateless. Manly told IRIN: “What that agreement says, if I remember correctly, is that the nationality of the refugees is 'presumed' - they are presumed to be Mauritanian. However, many people have faced real problems in getting the documentation to prove that they really are Mauritanian, so there is clearly an issue.”  “Some 24,000 have returned,” adds Bronwen Manby, a consultant who has worked on this issue. “But the Mauritanian organizations are telling us that only about a third have got their documents. It's the standard sort of situation,” she told IRIN, “where in principle, of course - but then documents were destroyed, and then they find that the name is Mohamed with one 'm' instead of Mohammed with two 'm's, and then it's in French and not in Arabic - there needs to be more pressure on the Mauritanian government to sort out the situation.” Laws discriminating against women In the Middle East a lot of statelessness is the result of laws discriminating against women, which only allow nationality to be passed through the father - a problem if the father is not there to register his child or is himself stateless. Laura van Waas, who runs the Statelessness Programme at Tilburg University, says it can have a devastating effect on all members of a family.  “It's not just the stateless child who is affected by this. It's the mother, who has nationality, who feels guilty for whom she has chosen to marry. Her children are suffering and she sees that as the result of her life choices. And it's the young men who are perhaps the worst aff[...]



Exporting Ebola - who's really at risk?

Tue, 21 Oct 2014 23:00:00 +0000

More than 50 percent of Americans report being afraid of a mass Ebola outbreak on US soil, according to a Harvard poll earlier this month, but health experts say the true risk is further spread of the virus within the West African region.  Unlike the US, which currently has four specialized isolation units, access to state-of-the-art laboratories, medical equipment, protective gear, and medicines, as well as doctors and nurses who have been specially trained in infection control, many West African nations remain ill-equipped to deal with the potential arrival of an Ebola case.  “Given that these countries have limited medical and public health resources, they may have difficulty quickly identifying and effectively responding to imported Ebola cases,” said Kamran Khan, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Division of Infectious Diseases and co-author of a new study on the likelihood of West Africa’s Ebola outbreak spreading overseas via air travel.   The risk of Ebola being spread through commercial air travel is real. Two cases have already been carried out of the region by airline passengers: one to Nigeria and one to the USA, and both of those travellers infected others before the outbreak could be contained. The question of how big of a risk this really is, is what was tackled by Khan and his team.  Their assessment, which was published this week in the London-based journal The Lancet, found that no more than three infected airline passengers a month will travel out of the affected countries between now and the end of the year, even if there were no screening at any of the points of departure. This estimate was based on evaluations of airline timetables, passenger traffic records and projections for the number of Ebola cases in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone over the coming months. Additionally, the authors point out that that the populations of many of these countries are small and, with the exception of Nigeria, are not frequent international air travellers.   Passenger numbers have been further reduced by many airlines closing their routes from Freetown, Conakry and Monrovia, and by the slowdown in business travel because of the outbreak. Ghana, Senegal at greatest risk In addition to looking at how many people are flying out of the Ebola zone, Khan and his colleagues looked at where travellers go. In 2013, only 29 percent of African travellers went to first world destinations, with London and Paris topping the list.  Most of the others were flying to other lower or lower-middle income countries, generally within the West African region. The favourite destination was Ghana, with 17.5 percent of passenger traffic, followed by Senegal, with 14.4 percent. Then, after London and Paris, came The Gambia, with 6.8 percent of the traffic, and Côte d'Ivoire and Morocco with just over 5 percent each. Nigeria is ninth on the list and the USA 12th - at a slightly lower risk than China. The World Health Organization (WHO) says they are most concerned about Ebola spreading to countries that share a land border with the affected countries, such as Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Senegal and Guinea Bissau, and those that have high-volume travel and trade routes with the affected countries, such as Cameroon, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, Mauritania and The Gambia.  “We recognize that it [Ebola] could travel elsewhere, such as the US and Spain… but these countries elsewhere are already well-equipped to handle a disease like Ebola,” said Isabelle Nuttall, WHO’s director of Global Capacities, Alert and Response. “When we think about the neighbouring African countries, we have a bigger concern. They really need to be better prepared.” “The best approach to minimize risks to the global community is to control the epidemic at its source. While screening travellers arriving at airports outsid[...]



Liberians in US face worsening Ebola stigma

Thu, 16 Oct 2014 23:00:00 +0000

Africans living in the US from the three Ebola-affected countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, are under enormous pressure trying to help their families and ravaged communities back home. And they face an additional challenge: stigma.  For the residents of “Little Liberia”, one of Liberia’s biggest emigrant communities in Staten Island, New York, the path to integration has been strewn with hurdles. Many of the several thousand residents came decades ago as refugees from the civil war in Liberia. Eking out a living, attaining resident status, integrating with at times unfriendly neighbours and, in recent months, helping those families hard hit by Ebola at home, has been an uphill battle.  But when Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian, was diagnosed with Ebola in a Dallas hospital last month, “all hell broke loose here,” Oretha Bestman-Yates, president of the Staten Island Liberian Community, told IRIN.  When news that Bestman-Yates had travelled to Liberia in July reached her hospital employer she was told to put herself in quarantine. But even after the 21-day period elapsed on 5 August, she says she has still not been allowed to return to work.  "You bought Ebola to the US!" Now she spends her days trying to help residents who are not only battling with the loss of family and friends in Liberia but are struggling to make ends meet here at home.  “People try to avoid you, pull away from you. I’ve had people tell me, ‘We brought Ebola to the United States,’” she says. Many of the Staten Island Liberians are employed in hospitals and nursing homes and are being told not to touch patients. “Parents are telling their children to stay away from our children at school,” she said. As news broke that two of the nurses who cared for Duncan, who died on 8 October, had contracted Ebola, panic began to sweep through the American public. The news that one of the nurses, Amber Vinson, had flown on a domestic flight shortly before coming down with the disease, galvanized fears of an outbreak.  Now there seems a growing perception that anyone of African descent may be carrying Ebola. And whether that person visited any of the affected countries recently appears to be of little relevance.  Two Nigerian students were refused admission to Navarro College in Texas, because of a new college policy denying entry to students from countries affected by Ebola – even though Nigeria successfully brought its small outbreak under control. An airplane bound for Nigeria was grounded at JFK yesterday because staff refused to clean it. Furthermore, parents from a school in Jackson, Mississippi, withdrew their children from school when it was revealed that the principal had recently travelled to Zambia – in southern Africa.  Where's West Africa? In a navel-gazing society, where West Africa is a vague and homogenous region and where the whole continent is usually spoken about as if it is one country, there is little nuanced understanding in the general population about exactly where the disease is located – not to mention how it is spread. Said Bobby Digi, a local activist from Staten Island. “There is not a lot of knowledge in the US about Africa – let alone West Africa. They are painting the whole area with a very broad brush.”  Digi says Liberians have struggled for decades to be accepted on Staten Island where there have been long-standing tensions with the community, including with local African Americans, who fear losing their jobs. Liberians feel a sense of shame, he said, that Duncan died in the country where they now live. Although the NYC health department is conducting awareness campaigns to educate the public and eradicate stigma, Digi slated the department for not knowing how to access the Liberian population. “They didn’t have basic statistics. [...]