Friday, February 26, 2021

NTDs Neglected

 Globally, more than one billion people are infected by Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). Of these, almost one third lives in Africa. Now the plague of these neglected diseases has collided with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the result could be disastrous.

The number of NTDs is rising and threatens a new generation of African youth as never before. Governments have concentrated scarce health resources on fighting COVID-19;  field campaigns to fight NTDs have been suspended; and the pandemic is pushing millions of more people into poverty, making it even more difficult to afford basics like healthy food, much less medicines.

In Africa, governments must  protect 560 million people at increasing risk of death and permanent disability from neglected tropical diseases. Children go blind from parasites. Adults suffer disabling pain from Guinea worm disease. Men and women are disfigured with swelling limbs by elephantiasis. Some 20 different neglected tropical diseases kill, impair or permanently disable millions of people every year.

Less than 50 cents  is needed to treat five common NTDs per person per year, limited investments to eradicate NTDs have reflected an insufficient attention to human suffering. It is not just the diseases.  It is a collective negligence of the poor and the voiceless who are the primary target of NTDs, which are spread by unsafe water, poor housing conditions and poor sanitation. Efforts have fallen well short of the need, and have often benefited the wealthy over the poor.

 10 key facts about Neglected Tropical Diseases:

1. Affecting over 1.7 billion globally, NTDs are responsible for thousands of preventable deaths each year. The number of people affected has fallen from 2 billion in 2010 to 1.6 billion in 2017.

These diseases blind, disable and disfigure and perpetuate a cycle of poverty, keeping millions of children out of school and adults from work.

2. The number of NTDs was increased to 20 from 17 in 2016 with three new diseases added - mycetoma, chromoblastomycosis and other deep mycoses; scabies and other ectoparasites; and snakebite envenoming.

3. NTDs are primarily found in poor populations living in tropical and subtropical climates across Africa, Asia and South America.

4. The diseases afflict those without access to clean water, sanitation and the basic health services required to protect themselves against infection by bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. These include communities in remote, rural areas, urban slums or conflict zones.

5. Scientists have voiced concerns that global warming could increase the number of people exposed to mosquito-carrying viruses including dengue fever and Zika virus by one billion by 2080 if the climate continues to warm at current rates.

6. High-income groups are rarely affected. More than 70% of countries and territories that report the presence of NTDs are low-income or lower middle-income economies, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

7. Many NTDs are chronic, slowly developing conditions that become progressively worse if undetected and untreated - and the damage they cause can be irreversible.

For example, trachoma - a bacterial eye infection - damages the eyelids, causing the eyelashes to turn inwards and rub painfully against the eyeball. If not corrected with surgery, it can lead to irreversible vision loss and blindness.

8. NTDs can cause severe pain and life-long disabilities, with long-term consequences for the patient and their family.

People with NTDs are often stigmatized and excluded from society such as people with leprosy. In some countries, leper colonies continue to exist where sufferers are ostracised from society, often with adverse impact on their mental health.

9. In 2012, the WHO and member states agreed on the first global road map aimed at eliminating or eradicating 17 NTDs. Three more diseases: dengue, rabies and snakebite envenoming have since been defined as NTDS.

10. Health experts say efforts to alleviate NTDs are being hampered by the worldwide pandemic, which is pushing already strained healthcare systems to breaking point.

The WHO said in September the outbreak had hit NTD programmes, with countries having to suspend mass treatment interventions and active-case finding and delay diagnosis and treatment.

Critical personnel have been reassigned to deal with COVID-19 and the manufacture, shipment and delivery of medicines has been disrupted, it said, warning of "an increased burden of NTDs".

The impact of COVID on efforts to tackle NTDs could be disastrous (

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Energy Poverty in Africa

 Africa accounts for only six percent of global energy demand,

 And a little more than three percent of electricity demand.

The continent has the lowest per capital electricity consumption in the world.

 Out of 790mn people without access to electricity globally, 565mn (72%) are in Africa.

It has been projected that Africans without access to electricity will increase by 30mn in 2020 owing to COVID-19.

900mn people in Africa lack access to clean cooking, which excludes them from economic and health benefits that come with access to clean cooking.

Kevin Kariuki, vice-president power, energy and green growth at the African Development Bank (AfDB)

bne IntelliNews - Africa accounts for just 6% of global energy demand

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Ethiopia's Tigray in Chaos

 “Despite some progress, the humanitarian response remains drastically inadequate compared to the sheer magnitude of needs across the region,” the report by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OHCA) said 

The new United Nations report has sounded the alarm over a “very critical malnutrition situation” unfolding in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region, citing continuing insecurity, bureaucracy and the presence of “various armed actors” as major obstructions to the efforts to deliver life-saving aid to rural areas still out of reach for humanitarian workers more than 100 days into the conflict. “Assistance remains particularly limited in rural areas due to access constraints and security volatility, and there are acute gaps and challenges across all sectors.”

The Ethiopian Red Cross warned earlier in February that without improved humanitarian access to a region where 80 percent of the population of six million is still unreachable, tens of thousands of people could starve to death after two months.

The OCHA noted that reports from aid workers on the ground indicate “a rising in acute malnutrition across the region”. According to the report, a screening of 227 children under the age of five showed “staggeringly high malnutrition,” though it did not mention the number of cases. The UN agency also reported that a screening of more than 3,500 children found 109 with severe acute malnutrition. The World Health Organization describes that condition as “when a person is extremely thin and at risk of dying”.

“Malnutrition  is expected to deteriorate as households are limited to fewer meals every day,” the report said.  The OCHA also noted that “extremely concerning reports” of civilians being attacked continue to surface, “including rape and other forms of gender-based violence”.

“Women and children displaced are at heightened risk of abuses and exploitation, while recent assessments in collective centres for displaced people in Mekelle, Adigrat and Shire showed that the severe lack of infrastructure leaves women and girls exposed to sexual and gender-based violence,” the report noted. Soldiers from neighbouring Eritrea have been accused of widespread looting and burning of crops.

Thousands of people are believed to have died since fighting began, with hundreds of thousands forced from their homes and some 60,000 fleeing to neighbouring Sudan.

UN: Tigray malnutrition ‘very critical’, response woefully poor | Human Rights News | Al Jazeera

Friday, February 19, 2021

Using Trees


Across the Africa, indigenous fruit trees are valuable assets for local communitiesIndigenous fruits have been collected from the wild for centuries for human consumption and other purposes. Indigenous fruit trees provide vital nutrients that may be scarce in other food sources. They are naturally adapted to local soils and climates, can enhance food and nutrition security and often adapt and survive environmental stresses better than exotic species.

But the natural habitats of trees are being lost, mainly to widespread deforestation resulting from population growth. Industrial agriculture is also contributing to their loss There is still a scarcity of research investment and development for the improvement of underutilised fruit trees in Africa. Many still only grow in the wild. This limits their potential for higher yield and growth.

Research showed that indigenous fruit trees, which occur across different ecological zones in Africa, are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, protein and valuable phytochemicals. They also have recognised medicinal value and are used as therapeutic remedies by many people especially in rural areas with limited access to orthodox health care.

African indigenous fruit trees are under-utilised.

Examples in southern African and other tropical African countries included:

  • African baobab (Adansonia digitata L),

  • Transvaal red milk wood (Mimusops zeyheri Sond.),

  • Wild loquat (Uapaca kirkiana Mull.Arg.),

  • Kei-apple (Dovyalis caffra (Hook.f. & Harv.) Sim), and

  • Mobola plum (Parinari curatellifolia Planch.ex Benth.).

In southern and west Africa we identified that monkey orange (Strychnos spinosa Lam.)

In the south of the Sahel-Savannah region across Africa, especially in West African countries, we identified the balanite (Balanites aegyptiaca (L.) Delile).

The imbe (Garcinia livingstonei T. Anderson) is found in Uganda, the Kingdom of Eswatini (Swaziland), South Africa, Somalia, Angola and Congo.

Also identified the marula (Sclerocarya birrea (A.Rich.) Hochst. subsp. caffra (Sond.) Kokwaro). This is found in Niger, Burkina Faso and Benin. Lastly, the wild medlar (Vangueria infausta Burch.) is found in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Eswatini and South Africa.

The availability of fruits from these trees is guaranteed because of the different fruiting periods. This means they are able to meet the food and nutrition needs of the local communities. Also reported is a rich phytochemical and nutritional content across the selected trees. These included fibre, minerals, carbohydrates, organic acids, fats, proteins, iron, calcium, magnesium, sodium, zinc and vitamins. Many of the fruits contain well-known phytochemicals. These included saponins, flavonoids, alkaloids, tannins, cardiac glycosides, terpenes, anthraquinones and phenolics. Examples of the biological activities demonstrated by fruit trees were anti-oxidant, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory activities.

Africa indigenous fruit trees offer major benefits. But they're being ignored (

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Time to Change Farming

 Farmers across Africa understand that the climate crisis is affecting their harvests and their “daily bread”. In sub-Saharan Africa, growing numbers of people are chronically undernourished, with over 21 percent of the population suffering from severe food insecurity.

 African smallholder farmers have no choice but to adapt to climate change: 2020 was the second hottest year on record, while prolonged droughts and explosive floods are directly threatening the livelihoods of millions. By the 2030s, lack of rainfall and rising temperatures could render 40 percent of Africa’s maize-growing area unsuitable for climate-vulnerable varieties grown by farmers, while maize remains the preferred and affordable staple food for millions of Africans who survive on less than a few dollars of income a day.

 For farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, especially smallholders, this involves producing improved crop varieties that are not only high-yielding but also tolerant to drought and heat, resistant to diseases and insect pests, and can contribute to minimizing the risk of farming under rainfed conditions.

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) are the two CGIAR research centers undertaking innovative maize research and development work in the stress-prone environments of Africa. Successful development of improved climate-adaptive maize varieties for sub-Saharan Africa has been spearheaded by these two CGIAR centers that implemented joint projects such as the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) and Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA) in partnership with an array of national and private sector partners in the major maize-producing countries in Eastern, Southern, and West Africa. Under the 10-year DTMA initiative, about 160 affordable and scalable maize varieties were released.

High-yielding, multiple stress-tolerant, maize varieties using CIMMYT/IITA maize germplasm released after 2007 (the year the DTMA project was started) are estimated to be grown on 5 million hectares in 2020 in sub-Saharan Africa. The adoption of drought-tolerant (DT) maize varieties helped lift millions of people above the poverty line across the continent. For example, in drought-prone southern Zimbabwe, farmers using DT varieties in dry years were able to harvest up to 600 kilograms more maize per hectare—enough for nine months for an average family of six—than farmers who sowed conventional varieties.

The STMA project that followed DTMA also operated in sub-Saharan Africa, where 176 million people depend on maize for nutrition and economic well-being. The project, which ended in 2020, and followed by a new project called Accelerating Genetic Gains for Maize and Wheat Improvement (AGG), developed new maize varieties that can be successfully grown under drought, sub-optimal soil fertility, heat stress, and diseases and pests. In 2020, CGIAR-related stress-tolerant maize varieties were estimated to be grown on over 5 million hectares, benefiting over 8.6 million smallholder farmers in 13 countries across sub-Saharan Africa.

In Kenya, farmers with the new maize varieties are harvesting 20 to 30 percent more grain than farmers without drought-tolerant seeds. In Zambia, a study by CIMMYT and the Center for Development Research has shown that adopting drought-tolerant maize can increase yields by 38 percent and reduce the risks of crop failure by 36 percent, even though three-quarters of the farmers in the study had experienced drought during the survey.

Without more science-based interventions to align agriculture with climate targets, the number of undernourished people around the world could exceed 840 million by 2030.

African farmers need to adapt quickly to rising temperatures, drawn-out droughts and sharp, devastating floods. With higher-yielding, multiple stress tolerant maize varieties, smallholder farmers have the opportunity to not only combat climatic variabilities, diseases and pests, but can also effectively diversify their farms. This will enable them in turn to have better adaptation to the changing climates and access to well-balanced and affordable diets. As climate change intensifies, so should agricultural innovations. It is time for a “business unusual” approach.

Successful Crop Innovation Is Mitigating Climate Crisis Impact in Africa | Inter Press Service (

Locusts About to Swarm

 The news headlines may have disappeared but the locust plague has not. 

In 2018, an intense cyclone season unleashed rain in the immense sandy desert on the southern Arabian Peninsula. The moist sand and sprouting vegetation provided favorable conditions for the locusts to thrive, with massive swarms spreading to Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Carried by the wind across the Red Sea, the locusts made landfall on the Horn of Africa in mid-2019 amid perfect conditions for their reproduction: it was one of the wettest years in decades with eight cyclones off East Africa's coast. 

The insects started swarming into Kenya in December 2019, triggering the worst locust outbreak the country has experienced in 70 years.  Various parts of Kenya were then hit by a second wave of the voracious insects last November. Now, a new generation of locusts is breeding and hatching, threatening farmers who are still reeling from the previous swarms as well as years of droughts and floods. 

"We expect the worst if the young hatch in March and April," said Kelvin Shingles, Kenya Country Director for German Agro Action (Deutsche Welthungerhilfe), an aid organization,

"It's not like a fire that you can put out quickly in a couple of days," said Keith Cressman, senior locust forecaster at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). "It takes months and months, perhaps even years, to bring it under control.

Kenya′s farmers face threat of new locust swarms | Africa | DW | 17.02.2021

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Sudan - Food Prices Rise

 Seven regions of Sudan have declared states of emergency following violent protests against food price rises. Curfews have been imposed and schools have been forced to close in 10 cities across Darfur, North Kordofan, West Kordofan and Sennar, regions are among the poorest in the country. Buildings were looted and burned, and food was stolen from markets and shops. 

Millions of people in the country are struggling as the cost of living continues to rise amid economic difficulties. The Sudanese pound dropped against the dollar from 260 pounds (£3.40) in November to 315 pounds last month. The annual rate of inflation increased to 269% in December, up from 254% in November.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fewsnet) has said food insecurity could reach crisis levels in parts of Kordofan and Darfur in the coming months. The price of bread has soared. The cost of subsidised loaves, which have become scarce, have increased from 2 pounds to 5 pounds, while unsubsidised bread is being sold in some areas of Khartoum for 15 or 20 pounds, and up to 50 pounds in Darfur and Kordofan. In January, the price of 1kg of sugar was 220 pounds, up from 150 pounds in 2020. 

Sudan declares states of emergency after protests over soaring food prices | Global development | The Guardian

The Pandemic Pain of Zimbabwe

 Even before the spread of COVID-19, millions of Zimbabweans were facing food shortages due to the combined effects of a devastating drought and a deepening economic crisis. Now, the situation is compounded by the coronavirus. The health emergency has found Zimbabwe in the mid of a severe economic crisis characterised by hyperinflation foreign currency shortages and a rapidly weakening domestic currency. With more than 90 percent of the cash-strapped country’s population unemployed and holding informal jobs, the coronavirus restrictions have piled more misery and suffering.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is making it especially hard for poor families to afford a nutritious diet, with lack of incomes, remittances and stressed livelihoods having a ruinous effect on vulnerable communities,” said Claire Nevill, spokesperson for the World Food Programme.

Nevill said the United Nations’ food agency estimates about half of all urban dwellers – roughly 2.2 million people – go to bed hungry, adding that some 3.4 million people, including more than a third of the rural population, are expected to face “crisis” or “emergency” levels of hunger in the first quarter – up from 2.6 million people a year ago.

 Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa extended the national lockdown by an additional two weeks. A ban on travelling between provinces remained in place, while a curfew was shortened to nine hours from 12 hours. Meanwhile, staffing levels at government offices was increased to 25 percent capacity from 10 percent, while private companies were allowed to open under strict adherence to World Health Organization guidelines and after testing.

In recent weeks, Zimbabwe has seen an exponential jump in confirmed COVID-19 infections. More than 35,000 cases of the respiratory disease have been recorded to date, almost double the total for all of last year, with nearly 1,400 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The official coronavirus death toll for the whole of 2020 stood at 409. More than 400,000 people have been arrested for violating lockdown regulations since the latest lockdown was enforced last month.

Zimbabwe says the coronavirus variant first discovered in neighbouring South Africa now makes up more than 60% of cases within its borders.

It is the first country outside of South Africa to report that the so-called "501.YV2" variant is the dominant strain. Botswana, Zambia, Ghana and the Gambia have also found some cases.

‘No choice’: Hunger forces Zimbabweans break COVID lockdown rules | Coronavirus pandemic News | Al Jazeera

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Burkina Faso Needs Aid

 One million people have been driven from their homes by armed groups in Burkina Faso, the world's fastest-growing displacement. In Djibo, the number of displaced people hosted by the community far exceeds the number of inhabitants in the town. The generosity of the locals cannot be overestimated.

Violence and climate change have drastically reduced food production. One person in 10 is food insecure. Without the humanitarian assistance that they receive, thousands of families would go hungry, not knowing where the next meal will come from. 

Nearly a million people have no access to medical care and COVID-19 and the subsequent economic problems have made the situation worse.

2,200 schools are closed in affected areas across the country, depriving 311,000 children of education and putting them at risk of exploitation and abuse. In one of Burkina Faso's most affected regions, Sahel, school attendance has dropped from an already low average of 50-60% to 25% over the past two years. This has an enormous impact on children's futures, particularly for girls, who are often unlikely to return to school.

Opinion: Crisis-crippled Burkina Faso needs urgent help | Opinion | DW | 15.02.2021