In drought-stricken Ethiopia, stopping measles in its tracks

July 31st, 2016

In drought-stricken Ethiopia, stopping measles in its tracks

Source: Unicef

Ethiopia is now facing one of the worst droughts in decades, and rising rates of malnutrition are leaving children vulnerable to infectious diseases, including measles. To prevent an outbreak in the drought-affected regions, UNICEF and partners are helping the government vaccinate some 25 million children nationwide.

TIGRAY REGION, Ethiopia, 28 July 2016 – The little girls and boys line up at the Mereb Mieti Health Centre, rolling up their sleeves and baring their arms in turn as the nurse deftly administers the measles vaccine.

Some flinch, a few even criy or bury their heads in their mothers dresses, but afterwards they all play near the front of the health centre, comparing the tiny marks the needles had left in their skin.

It is day four of the measles vaccination campaign in Enderta Woreda (district) in Tigray, one of the areas most affected by Ethiopia’s drought. Many children in the community were not previously vaccinated against measles, and there are fears of an outbreak. The risk is particularly high among children whose immunity has been weakened due to malnutrition, which has been rising because of the drought.

Mobilizing for vaccination

Alemnesh Teka’s is part of the Women’s Health Development Army, a group of volunteers enlisted to work at the household level to promote community health. She is responsible for 30 households and her role is to make sure that all of the children between the ages of 6 months and 15 years come to get vaccinated.

“Everyone knows that before, children used to die from measles and many went blind and had skin rashes,” she says outside the health centre, as the children crowd around her. “So when they say it’s time for the measles vaccine, people know it’s important to come.”

Alemnesh knows first hand about the dangers of measles and remembers when she was younger how prevalent it could be.

“In my village where I lived, the measles came and six children died,” she says. “My sister died.”

School-aged children will be immunized at campaigns conducted at schools, but many of the children milling around the health centre amid the dry, drought-stricken hills of this kebele (sub-district) are too young for school.

Aggravated by drought

Measles is a highly infectious disease that spreads through water droplets the air and can lead to severe complications, including pneumonia, diarrhoea and brain infections.

The threat of a measles outbreak is greater during droughts like the one affecting Ethiopia because malnutrition lowers the body’s defences, making children more vulnerable to the disease and its complications.

UNICEF and partners, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the Measles and Rubella Initiative and USAID, have supported the Ethiopian Ministry of Health’s campaign to vaccinate some 25 million children aged 6 months to 15 years in drought-affected areas nationwide.

Sitting outside Adi Gudom Primary Hospital in Hintalo Wejerat Woreda, Saba Mehari, 22, nurses her fretful 9-month-old Samuel right after he received the vaccine. She too remembers how many in her village contracted the disease, including her older sister when Saba was just 7 years old.

“She was the first born, and after that my family started immunizing everyone,” she says, explaining how she heard about the current campaign from a member of the Women’s Health Development Army.

Others describe how they saw public service announcements on television or heard about it from their children who were informed at school.

Mahra Abderrahman, 50, who is at the health centre with her daughter and twin grandsons, remembers measles as being a big part of their lives when she was younger.

The village struggled to cope with illness by giving special foods to those who were sick, and segregating the affected families. The slight woman with a brilliant smile admits that she herself was infected, and for a time was covered in scars and suffered from an eye infection.

“Now measles is not a problem because the Government is vaccinating the children for free,” she says.

As part of the health reponse for drought-affected populations, UNICEF provides financial support, supplies including medicines, and technical assistance to partners for the prevention of major causes of child illnesses and deaths. In Ethiopia, these illnesses can range from acute watery diarrhoea and other diarrhoeal diseases, to vaccine preventable diseases, as well as other diseases such as scabies and meningitis. UNICEF also supports Mobile Health and Nutrition Teams in pastoralist regions of the country.

Ethiopia’s Opposition Leaders on Hunger Strike

July 31st, 2016
Ethiopia’s Opposition Leaders on Hunger Strike

Ethiopia’s Opposition Leaders on Hunger Strike

Protesting Against Mistreatment in Prison

Source: Human Rights Watch

It has been nine days since prominent Ethiopian opposition leader Bekele Gerba and several other senior members of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) went on a hunger strike to protest their treatment in detention. Bekele, who is the deputy chairman of the OFC, and his colleagues are currently being held in Kilinto prison near Addis Ababa on terrorism charges. Their health has reportedly deteriorated significantly in recent days.

Bekele and his associates were detained on December 23, 2015 and later charged under Ethiopia’s terrorism law for allegedly belonging to the banned Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) – a charge that is regularly used to silence ethnic Oromos who are critical of the government. They were first taken to the notorious Maekalawi prison, where torture and other ill-treatment are routine. Since moving to Kilinto, Bekele and his colleagues have repeatedly petitioned the courts to investigate their mistreatment in detention, to allow their families visiting rights, and to provide them with proper medication.

Bekele is a staunch advocate of non-violence and is one of tens of thousands who were detained during the mostly peaceful protests that have swept through Oromia since November. Many of those who have since been released reported being tortured in custody.

Since the protests began, the security forces have killed over 400 people, most of them students. Yet, there has been no meaningful investigation into the killings and no effort to hold security forces accountable. Instead, the state-affiliated Human Rights Commission in an oral report to parliament in June concluded that the level of force used by security forces was proportionate to the risk the forces faced, sending an ominous message to Ethiopians that security force members can shoot unarmed protesters with impunity.

As it is clear that the Ethiopian government is either not willing or not able to conduct a credible investigation into the conduct of its security forces, there is increasing need for international involvement in any investigation.

Unfortunately, the authorities’ failure to treat Bekele and his colleagues with the most basic respect for their rights is indicative of a government that shows little willingness to right the wrongs it has committed. Their continued detention sends a message to young Ethiopians that the government equates peaceful protest with terrorism, putting Ethiopia on a dangerous trajectory.

Tens of thousands of protesters call for a regime change in Ethiopia

July 31st, 2016

Tens of thousands of protesters call for a regime change in Ethiopia

Tens of thousands of protesters have flooded the streets of Gonder in the Amhara region of northern Ethiopia on Sunday demanding a change of government due to the unfair distribution of wealth in the country.

The protest, reported to have been staged in defiance of a government order, is also in solidarity with the Oromia protests held between November last year to March 2016 in opposition to a government development plan in the region which could affect poor farmers.

Images posted by protesters and other eye witnesses on social media show hundreds of thousands of people carrying Ethiopian flags and placards singing and chanting against the government’s regime.

More from Africa News

Bill Gates Declines to Criticize Ethiopia Social Media Cut

July 21st, 2016

Bill Gates Declines to Criticize Ethiopia Social Media Cut

Billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates speaks during a Reuters interview in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, July 21, 2016.
Reuters/Tiksa Negeri
Bill Gates Declines to Criticize Ethiopia Social Media Cut

By The Associated Press

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Jul 21, 2016
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has declined to criticize Ethiopia's recent blockage of social media, saying it is up to individual countries to regulate their internet.

He was responding to Ethiopian reporters' questions about the government's disabling of social media sites earlier this month.

Ethiopian authorities said the sites were disabled during national school examinations so students would not be distracted.

Critics said the government has no legal basis to deny the freedom of expression to millions of citizens.

Gates said each country "decides what the rules are going to be in terms of p0rnography, hate speech . what is allowed and what's not allowed."

He added that making the internet low-cost and available is good for economic growth.

Gates was visiting Ethiopia to discuss health and agriculture.

Health remains priority for work of Gates foundation in Africa

ADDIS ABABA | By Aaron Maasho

Bill Gates said health would remain a priority for the work of his foundation in Africa and it faced a struggle to bring down the rate of new HIV infections in the world's poorest continent.

Speaking to Reuters in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, Gates said the foundation planned to spend $5 billion in Africa in the next five years. The Horn of Africa country is one of the biggest recipients of funds from the foundation.

"Our big priority is health and there is still a lot to be done. The child mortality rate came down from 1990 to the present - it was cut in half, which is fantastic. But that still leaves far too many children dying," he said, referring to pneumonia, diarrhea and other illnesses.

Turning to HIV/AIDS, Gates said much had been achieved such as an increase in the number of people under treatment for the disease to 12 million globally. But he noted two-thirds of new HIV/AIDS infections continued to take place in Africa.

"It is a mixed situation," he said. "We have a challenge to bring the numbers down."

The philanthropic organization formed in 2000 by the world's richest man has an endowment of more than $40 billion. It distributed grants of nearly $4 billion in 2014.

Slumping commodity prices have posed serious challenges to economic and political stability in some African countries, and have slowed the momentum of poverty reduction.

But Gates said infrastructure, education and health investment during the boom years had laid solid foundations.

The commodity slump will slow down the pace of development, "but the direction is largely going the right way," he added.

(Editing by George Obulutsa and Alexandra Hudson)

Ethiopia, Djibouti, China to launch $4B nat. gas project

July 21st, 2016

Ethiopia, Djibouti, China to launch $4B nat. gas project

Under the project, Ethiopia could export 10M cubic meters of LNG to China each year

By Addis Getachew

Anadolu Agency : ADDIS ABABA

Ethiopia says physical work on a massive $4 billion cooperative natural gas project between Ethiopia, Djibouti, and China will soon be launched.

The announcement was made Thursday by Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom at the opening of the 4th Ethiopia-Djibouti Joint Ministerial Committee Meeting in the capital, Addis Ababa.

The project is made up of a natural gas pipeline, a liquefaction plant, and an export terminal at Damerjog, Djibouti.

Speaking at the event, Adhanom said the project is one component of a number of cooperation areas between Ethiopia and Djibouti, its smaller neighbor lying where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden.

“We will expedite the process of economic integration,” he said, highlighting the importance of highway, railway, and electric power interconnection projects.

For his part, Djiboutian Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali Youssouf said, “We are meeting to push forward our agenda of integration,” which he described as being a dynamic, performing role model.

He said, however, that the process is facing “daunting challenges.”

The project, which includes a 700-kilometer pipeline capable of transporting up to 12 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year, would enable Ethiopia to export 10 million cubic meters of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to China annually.

Chinese firm POLY-GCL Petroleum Group Holdings Ltd. will finance the project, which is set to take three years to complete.