Friday, December 23, 2011

Malaria deaths are down but progress remains fragile


News release
13 December 2011 | Geneva - Malaria mortality rates have fallen by more than 25% globally since 2000, and by 33% in the WHO African Region, according to the World malaria report 2011, issued today by WHO. This is the result of a significant scaling-up of malaria prevention and control measures in the last decade, including the widespread use of bed nets, better diagnostics and a wider availability of effective medicines to treat malaria.
However, WHO warns that a projected shortfall in funding threatens the fragile gains and that the double challenge of emerging drug and insecticide resistance needs to be proactively addressed.

Malaria incidence and mortality rates fall

"We are making significant progress in battling a major public health problem. Coverage of at-risk populations with malaria prevention and control measures increased again in 2010, and resulted in a further decline in estimated malaria cases and deaths," says Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. "But there are worrisome signs that suggest progress might slow."
During the past decade, malaria incidence and mortality rates have been cut in all regions of the world, according to the report. In 2010, there were an estimated 216 million cases of malaria in 106 endemic countries and territories in the world. An estimated 81% percent of these cases and 91% of deaths occurred in the WHO African Region. Globally, 86% of the victims were children under 5 years of age.
There were an estimated 655 000 malaria deaths in 2010, which is 36 000 lower than the year before.1 While this 5% year-on-year decline represents significant progress, the mortality figures are still disconcertingly high for a disease that is entirely preventable and treatable.
"With malaria deaths in Africa having fallen significantly since 2000, the return on our investment to end malaria deaths has been greater than any I have experienced in the business world. But one child still dies every minute from malaria - and that is one child and one minute too many,” says Raymond G. Chambers, the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for Malaria.
“The toll taken by the current economic crisis must not result in our gains being reversed, or progress slowed. With Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s charge for near zero deaths by end of 2015, turning back now is not an option,” Mr Chambers adds.

Steady progress in malaria control measures

Long-lasting insecticidal nets have been one of the least expensive and most effective weapons in the fight against malaria. According to the new report, the number of bed nets delivered to malaria-endemic countries in sub-Saharan Africa increased from 88.5 million in 2009 to 145 million in 2010. An estimated 50% of households in sub-Saharan Africa now have at least one bed net, and 96% of persons with access to a net use it.
There has also been further progress in rolling out diagnostic testing, which is crucially important to separate malaria from other febrile illnesses. The number of rapid diagnostic tests delivered by manufacturers climbed from 45 million in 2008 to 88 million in 2010, and the testing rate in the public sector in the WHO African Region rose from 20% in 2005 to 45% in 2010.
Worldwide, the volume of antimalarial medication delivered to the public sector has also increased. In 2010, 181 million courses of artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) were procured, up from 158 million in 2009, and just 11 million in 2005. ACTs are recommended as the first-line treatment for malaria caused by the most deadly malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum.

Projected shortfall in funding

Despite significant progress in 2010, the projected shortfall in malaria funding threatens the hard-earned gains of the last decade.
International funds for malaria control reached US$ 1.7 billion in 2010 and US$ 2 billion in 2011, but remained significantly below the US$ 5-6 billion that would be needed annually to achieve global malaria targets. According to projections in the report, despite increased support from the United Kingdom, malaria funding will slightly decrease in 2012 and 2013, and will likely drop further to an annual US$ 1.5 billion by 2015.
Triggered primarily by the reduction in available funding within the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, this decrease will considerably alter the malaria control landscape and threaten the sustainability of the multipronged approach to fight the disease, which relies heavily on investments in bed nets, indoor residual spraying, diagnostic testing, treatment, research and innovation.
"We need a fully-resourced Global Fund, new donors, and endemic countries to join forces and address the vast challenges that lie ahead. Millions of bed nets will need replacement in the coming years, and the goal of universal access to diagnostic testing and effective treatment must be realized," says Dr Robert Newman, Director of WHO's Global Malaria Programme. "We need to act with urgency and resolve to ensure that no-one dies from malaria for lack of a 5 dollar bed net, 1 dollar antimalarial drug and a 50 cent diagnostic test."

Emerging threats

Plasmodium falciparum resistance to artemisinins, which was confirmed on the Cambodia-Thailand border in 2009, has now also been identified at additional sites in Myanmar and Viet Nam. WHO has recommended that all countries ban the marketing of oral artemisinin-based monotherapies, which have been one of the major factors fostering the emergence and spread of resistance. Despite continued international pressure, 25 countries still allow the marketing of oral artemisinin-based monotherapies and 28 pharmaceutical companies continue to market these products (down from 39 in 2010).
The problem of mosquito resistance to insecticides also appears to be growing, although to date has not been linked to widespread failure of malaria vector control efforts. According to the World malaria report 2011, which includes data on insecticide resistance for the first time - 45 countries around the world have identified resistance to at least one of the four classes of insecticides used for malaria vector control; 27 of these are in sub-Saharan Africa. Resistance has been reported from all WHO Regions except the WHO European Region. India and malaria-endemic countries in sub-Saharan Africa are of greatest concern due to widespread reports of resistance - in some areas to all classes of insecticides - combined with a high malaria burden.
Current malaria control efforts are heavily reliant on a single class of insecticides, the pyrethroids, which are the most commonly used compounds for indoor residual spraying, and the only insecticide class recommended - and currently used - on long-lasting insecticidal nets. In response to this emerging threat, WHO is currently working with a broad group of stakeholders to develop a Global Plan for Insecticide Resistance Management in malaria vectors, which will be released in early 2012.

Notes to editors

The World malaria report 2011 is an annual publication from WHO. It summarizes information received from malaria-endemic countries and malaria control partners, and analyses prevention and control measures according to a comprehensive set of indicators. This year's report builds primarily on data received from countries for the year 2010. For the first time, the report contains individual profiles for 99 countries with ongoing malaria transmission.

For more information, please contact:

Zsofia Szilagyi
Mobile: +41 79 500 6538
Samantha Bolton
Mobile: +41 79 239 2366

1 The total number of estimated malaria deaths presented in World malaria report 2011 (655 000 deaths) is substantially lower than the number presented in the World malaria report 2010 (781 000 deaths). This is partly because of an actual decrease in the number of malaria deaths (36 000), and partly because of a downward revision of child mortality estimates for all causes and diseases - for the past decade - by the UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation. This revision reduced malaria mortality estimates in the WHO African Region by approximately 11%.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

New farming technolgies putting money into onion farmers pockets

By Ochieng’ Ogodo
Journalist-Kenya
[NAIROBI] In his two-acre farm in West Kieni in Nyeri County, Central Kenya, Simon Nderitu stooped as he scrutinised his red bulb onions crop for the season.
“Before the project, I was farming because it was what everybody else did here to get food. But things have changed significantly for small-holder farmers who embraced a farming project led by Farm Concern International,” he said. 
Nderitu is among participants in an initial pilot project spearheaded by Farm Center International (FCI) started with 2,000 people in 2007 but has since been scaled up to include 10,000 farmers in Kieni site.
A combination of holistic extension and advisory approaches, it instills good agro-practices for higher quality production, treats agriculture as means to social integration, brings farmers and traders together in mutual business understanding, and ensures government agricultural officers deliver service at the point of need.
It fosters new technologies adoption and advises farmers on sound financial practices like savings. Ultimately, it aim at value addition from the farm to consumers.
Nderitu now knows how to prepare his land, secure affordable right seed varieties and plant based on seasonal projections and market demand. 
Yields trebled
The project has enabled him to more than treble his farm yields.  “Before 2008, I used to cultivate open pollinated varieties, which gave me on average 4,500 kilograms in a good season. But after adopting hybrid variety in 2008 and employing other good farming practices, the same piece of land yielded for me 7000 kg in my first harvest under the project,” said Nderitu.
An onion farm
Convinced by this huge gain, he dedicated two thirds of an acre to hybrid onion in 2009, and the yield shot up by 2000 kilograms. Today, the father of three is a proud owner of an eight-roomed decent timber house, dairy cattle and his children have been moved from public schools to a private academy for quality education.
Coming from a laid-back peasantry economy in a semi-arid area, he now knows how to space seeds when planting and what varieties will fetch good returns. “I have learnt how to identify the right fertilizer and the amount to apply, when to start weeding and how to cure the onions to prevent them from rotting after harvesting,” he added.
From the nursery to maturation, onions take on average 120 days and a kilo middles at KSh.30 to KSh.50 (US$ 0.318-0.531) compared to four years ago when same could fetch only KSh.5 (US$ 0.053) a kilo.
Nderitu, the chairman of Embaringo Commercial Village - a consortium of farmer groups within a given administrative village-said they have seen a revolution since 2008 with farmers moving from mainly subsistence production to commercial farming.
Socio-economic transformations
“Many children are now able to go to school, good houses are coming up and the young are turning to farming instead of migrating to urban centers for the ever elusive promise of employment,” he said.
The project directly links farmers to traders eliminating crafty middlemen that dominated sale and fleeced farmers. He said some middle men are resorting to onion farming after seeing the possibility of lucrative returns and others play the role of bulking during low production within the villages
Nderitu, the personification farming revolution in the project, said opportunities have been created. Shopping centers in the once poverty stricken sleepy village of Embaringo is a clear indication.
The Embaringo Commercial Village, he explained, coordinates production, sales, collective savings, looks into the welfare of farmers as well as negotiates for bulk farm inputs at a much lower cost compared to individual purchases.
Gerald Ngatia Watoro, Market and Trade Manager for Mount Kenya Region project that combines both Kieni West and East said the pilot has made a huge impact.
“The communities then had no organised mechanism in production and market development. We, therefore, decided to focus on hybrid red bulb onion having realised that it would not only lift many out of total penury but positively impact on development in this rural setting. On average production was low at, about 1500 kg per acre and the quality of the onions was poor,” he said.
FCI launched the project with the involvement of the Ministry of Agriculture Officials, the local Provincial Administration and the farmers. “We wanted an all-inclusive process built on a consensus rather than a top-down approach. We wanted the people to own the concept for it to work,” he said.
New technologies
A key component of the discussions was technologies that could be adapted. These included right seeds, proper agronomical practices and good post harvest technologies.
The project started with administrative villages made up of 150-200 households and created groups called commercial group, which formed an umbrella consortium called Commercial Villages
These are members who have agreed to work together to form an economic bloc with common leadership
Next were well-functioning community forums with various stakeholders including agro-input dealers, agricultural extension officers, onion seeds suppliers, traders and local administration. That has continued to date
Farmers were trained in the science of small-scale commercial farming like good land tilling methods, nursery management and transplanting, weeding, use of herbicide on proper spraying methods and programmes, especially more effective and less costly preventive spraying.
It also includes lessons on natural resource management and soil fertility: how to keep soils fertile through practices like crop rotation, water management through harvesting of path and roadside water run-offs into their gardens, digging of trenches to conserve water in farms and to check soil erosion.  They have been trained on record keeping, both at individual farm level and for the village groups.
Farmers have been taught how to build ventilated onion multi-storage facilities. Onions are placed on raised wire mesh inside the building and farmers are encouraged not to stack more than four bags on top of one another.
After that you create another floor of wire mesh above and repeat the same process creating up to four different compartments in one storage area. It must have wind side not left open to avoid rain water being carried into it when it is raining. Onions must be turned every two weeks whilst in storage.
Today, project participants realise on average 10,000 kilogram of onions per acre and this fetches up to US$ 3194. Farm inputs and overhead costs averages US$ US 532 leaving a farmer with a profit of US$ 2662 from an acre of hybrid onion.
 They plant seed verities like Red pinoy FI, Jamba FI, and Red star, marketed by different seed dealers.
Commercial Village concept
Even more interesting about the project is the Commercial Village concept. It is an association of groups within a village known as Commercial Producer groups with various sub-committees and functions as a business hub.
Each sub-committee votes its nominees to the executive levels of the umbrella organ, the commercial village. The overall body comprises the production and natural resource management; Finance, Micro-insurance and Investments, Marketing and Value addition, Village Social Capital and Youth integration committees within functional and strong governance structures.
According to Watoro, the FCI market development strategy directly links farmers to traders and thus eliminates middlemen influence in the value chain.
Before planting begins, the traders will have met with farmers and discussed future market projections.  This is done under the village business forums where farmers from across the villages visit the markets for direct interaction with traders and knowing first hand what the market needs.
Traders too visit villages and farmers now have a growing database of onion traders in Nairobi, Mombasa, Karatina and Kisumu accessed easily from cell phones.
Onion traders are also trained in cash flow management, business development plans, transportation, customer selection and formation of traders associations. “What we want is sustainability, which is only possible if all the components are working efficiently and making profits,” Watoro explained.
Kieni has largely been considered developmental backwater. But Watoro said banking institutions are moved in and marked increase in those holding accounts has been seen.
According Stanley Mwangi, FCI Strategy and Partnership Director, they have focused on giving farmers the right knowledge and changing the attitude of farmers to see farming as commercial venture. They seek to make farmers develop habits like making savings and linking them with research institutions. Their new frontier in extension services will be the ICT.
Extension services still a major challenge
Providing rural people with access to knowledge and information for increased productivity and sustainability to improve life quality and livelihoods is still a major challenge in Kenya
Farmers transplant onions in Kieni West-Nyeri
Those in less-favoured areas who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods have very poor access to agricultural services, including advice and training on new products and technologies due to poorly developed systems for access of local level service providers to new knowledge and products, the private sector’s inability to deliver services, poor resourced public extension services, weak infrastructure, and limited technical capacity among certain service providers like NGOs.
The Kieni project is an outpost of how efficient target oriented extension and advisory services on an area and groups can lead to tremendous rural development.


Ochieng' Ogodo is a Nairobi journalist whose works have been published in various parts of the world including Africa, the US and Europe. He is the English-speaking Africa and Middle East region winner for the 2008 Reuters-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting. He is the chairman of Kenya Environment and Science Journalists Association (Kensja). He can be reached at ochiengogodo@yahoo.com or ogodo16@hotmail.com.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Vaccine Targeting Latent TB Enters Clinical Testing


One-third of the World's People have Latent TB
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK/ROCKVILLE, MD, USA, December 1, 2011 – Statens Serum Institut and Aeras today announce the initiation of the first Phase I clinical trial of a new candidate TB vaccine designed to protect people latently infected with TB from developing active TB disease.  The trial is being conducted by the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI) at its field site in Worcester, in the Western Cape province of South Africa. Dr. Hassan Mahomed is the principal investigator.

“Two billion men, women and children live with latent TB infection,” said Jim Connolly, President and Chief Executive Officer of Aeras. “It’s daunting to comprehend that there is a vast reservoir of people with a 5-10% lifetime risk of becoming sick with TB. A vaccine that prevents TB disease in this population could save millions of lives, and this trial is a first step in assessing a vaccine candidate designed for this purpose.”

The candidate TB vaccine (SSI H56-IC31) is a subunit vaccine containing recombinant TB proteins formulated in a proprietary adjuvant IC31® from Intercell. It is being developed under a consortium of researchers led by Peter Andersen at the Statens Serum Institut (SSI) based in Copenhagen.  The consortium is supported as part of the Grand Challenges in Global Health, an initiative that fosters scientific breakthroughs needed to prevent, treat and cure diseases of the developing world. 

“The development of urgently needed new TB vaccines requires a global effort,” said Prof. Peter Andersen, the Vice President of Vaccine Research & Development at SSI. “The advancement of this candidate from an idea to the clinic working in collaboration first with the Grand Challenges consortium and now with Aeras and SATVI is an important and exciting milestone for all the researchers involved.”

This clinical trial will be the first to test this vaccine candidate in people.  It will assess the safety and immunogenicity of SSI H56-IC31 in 25 adults, including participants with and without latent TB infection. SSI H56-IC31 has been tested in several pre-clinical studies with no safety concerns and has shown efficacy in small animal models administered both before infection and to latently infected animals. The vaccine was also shown to control clinical disease and reactivation in a non-human primate model. This is the first time a South African research institute has led a first-in-human Phase I clinical trial of a new TB vaccine.

“SATVI is delighted to be part of the trial at this early stage, which is testament to the high-regard that the developers have for our TB vaccine clinical research expertise to conduct these crucial early trials in humans,” said SATVI Director, Professor Willem Hanekom.

SSI H56-IC31 is being developed for both adolescent and adult populations.  The trial has been approved by the Medicines Control Council of South Africa. Preliminary results of this trial are expected at the end of 2012.

###
About Statens Serum Institut (SSI)
SSI (www.ssi.dk) is a state owned enterprise under the Danish Ministry of Health and Prevention. The Institute is integrated in the national Danish health services. SSI´s mission is to prevent and control infectious diseases, biological threats, and congenital disorders. The institute strives to be a highly-regarded and internationally recognized research, production and service enterprise.

About Aeras
Aeras (www.aeras.org) is a non-profit product development organization dedicated to the development of effective vaccines and biologics to prevent TB across all age groups in an affordable and sustainable manner. Aeras has invented or supported the development of six TB vaccine candidates, which are undergoing Phase I and Phase II clinical testing in Africa, Asia, North America and Europe. Aeras receives funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, other private foundations, and governments. Aeras is based in Rockville, Maryland, USA where it operates a state-of-the-art manufacturing and laboratory facility, and Cape Town, South Africa. 
 COPENHAGEN, DENMARK/ROCKVILLE, MD, USA, December 1, 2011 – Statens
Serum Institut and Aeras today announce the initiation of the first Phase I clinical trial of
a new candidate TB vaccine designed to protect people latently infected with TB from
developing active TB disease. The trial is being conducted by the South African
Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI) at its field site in Worcester, in the Western
Cape province of South Africa. Dr. Hassan Mahomed is the principal investigator.
“Two billion men, women and children live with latent TB infection,” said Jim Connolly,
President and Chief Executive Officer of Aeras. “It’s daunting to comprehend that there
is a vast reservoir of people with a 5-10% lifetime risk of becoming sick with TB. A
vaccine that prevents TB disease in this population could save millions of lives, and this
trial is a first step in assessing a vaccine candidate designed for this purpose.”
The candidate TB vaccine (SSI H56-IC31) is a subunit vaccine containing recombinant
TB proteins formulated in a proprietary adjuvant IC31® from Intercell. It is being
developed under a consortium of researchers led by Peter Andersen at the Statens Serum
Institut (SSI) based in Copenhagen. The consortium is supported as part of the Grand
Challenges in Global Health, an initiative that fosters scientific breakthroughs needed to
prevent, treat and cure diseases of the developing world.
“The development of urgently needed new TB vaccines requires a global effort,” said
Prof. Peter Andersen, the Vice President of Vaccine Research & Development at SSI.
“The advancement of this candidate from an idea to the clinic working in collaboration
first with the Grand Challenges consortium and now with Aeras and SATVI is an
important and exciting milestone for all the researchers involved.”
This clinical trial will be the first to test this vaccine candidate in people. It will assess
the safety and immunogenicity of SSI H56-IC31 in 25 adults, including participants with
and without latent TB infection. SSI H56-IC31 has been tested in several pre-clinical
studies with no safety concerns and has shown efficacy in small animal models
administered both before infection and to latently infected animals. The vaccine was also
shown to control clinical disease and reactivation in a non-human primate model. This is
the first time a South African research institute has led a first-in-human Phase I clinical
trial of a new TB vaccine.
“SATVI is delighted to be part of the trial at this early stage, which is testament to
the high-regard that the developers have for our TB vaccine clinical research expertise to
conduct these crucial early trials in humans,” said SATVI Director, Professor Willem
Hanekom.
SSI H56-IC31 is being developed for both adolescent and adult populations. The trial
has been approved by the Medicines Control Council of South Africa. Preliminary results
of this trial are expected at the end of 2012.
#
About Statens Serum Institut (SSI)
SSI (www.ssi.dk) is a state owned enterprise under the Danish Ministry of Health and
Prevention. The Institute is integrated in the national Danish health services. SSI´s
mission is to prevent and control infectious diseases, biological threats, and congenital
disorders. The institute strives to be a highly-regarded and internationally recognized
research, production and service enterprise.
About Aeras
Aeras (www.aeras.org) is a non-profit product development organization dedicated to the
development of effective vaccines and biologics to prevent TB across all age groups in an
affordable and sustainable manner. Aeras has invented or supported the development of
six TB vaccine candidates, which are undergoing Phase I and Phase II clinical testing in
Africa, Asia, North America and Europe. Aeras receives funding from the Bill & Melinda
Gates Foundation, other private foundations, and governments. Aeras is based in
Rockville, Maryland, USA where it operates a state-of-the-art manufacturing and
laboratory facility, and Cape Town, South Africa.


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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Nairobi-Bamako-Ouagadougou-Accra-Nairobi

By Ochieng' Ogodo

The Kenya airways steel bird touched down at the Senou International Airport in Bamako, Mali, almost exactly at the appointed time, 12.45 hr on October 3, 2011. We disembarked and headed straight  to the arrival lounge. According to my original flight schedule, I was to have a six-hour hold on here waiting for connection to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, my final destination in this trip.
Immediately we reached the immigration desk, in the arrival lounge, I realised I had problem, I was unable to communicate easily. As we cruised through the sky, clouds seemingly in a mad race below us, with flight KQ 512 making steady move to West Africa, this had not occurred to me, but it was a reality that I hade to face.
Senou Airport, Bamako
The mean looking police office took my passport, flipped through it and with a wave of his right hand, he beckoned me to his office. 

He fished out a piece of white long rectangular paper with the government insignia on it and moved it across the table towards me. Obediently, I picked it and started filling up the dotted lines beginning with nom (name). The normal official requirement took me about five minutes, after which I gently pushed it back to him. I had missed out on two important areas, date of travel and the name of my professional body, which he quickly brought to my attention. Promptly I did the necessary.
He picked up the passport again and stamped it, meaning I had been granted transit visa. As they do it here, that required I get out of the airport before I could come in again through the departures gate.  It was the first airport personnel I met here that unknowingly gave me a tip that English was not their lingua franca. “Excuse me sir, I am on transit to Ouagadougou and would like to know where to move from here,” I inquired.
He answered, or appeared to have done so but in French. I got lost. It was after this that I decided to approach the police officer who gave me the transit visa. But, other than issuance of the transit visa to me, the officer was not of much help more than that.  I asked him what to do next and he answered back in French. I gathered myself out of the armless chair that was infront of his desk and slowly moved away. I was thinking of what to do next, who to ask what a transit passenger should do, where to get the necessary information.  
Luckily I heard a lean built man of medium height utter some words in English, disjointed though, to another passenger who was facing the same fate. I decided he must be my help. My many years of travels across the globe have taught me not to waste a chance.
“Excuse me sir, I ventured. He stopped and bent over his head towards me.  I explained myself.
He beckoned a dishelved short young man and after conversing with him in French, I was handed over to him. I wanted to know how to move. There was still much time as I believed we were going to depart Senou at 17.50 hrs to arrive in Ouagadougou at 19.10 hrs. The young man went to the baggage belt pointing at each and every luggage hoping for a nod from me.
From Nairobi, I had checked my luggage and retrieval was at the final destination, Ouagadougou airport. Using signs, I told him I can only get my suitcase in Burkina Faso.  With a bright smile he waved me to follow him, which I did promptly. Up to this time I still thought he was an employee of Mali’s airports authority. 
In Ouagadougou
At Senou airport, those on transit are granted transit and must come out through the arrivals exit before you could be allowed into the departure lounge. It is not like other airports I have been to where you are absolutely not expected to get out of the airport.
My guide took me to the transfers’ information desk, just outside the departure gate. I made inquiry and a young medium built lady of chocolate complexion told me the flight had been rescheduled and instead of leaving the airport at 17.50, the flight had been rescheduled to depart airport for Ouagadougou 9.30. So, my waiting hours was extended.
I decided to go and rest on a steel chair, which was close by. It was now time to disengage myself form the guy. As I thanked him, he reluctantly looked at me, and in French said something to the effect that I should pay him.
In airports I have been to, Oliver Tambo, Bole, Mount Kilimanjaro, Heathrow, Schiphol, Atartuk, Indhira Gandhi, Ohare, Dallas, Harare, Dubai, Frankfurt, such information is never paid for and I was not going have an exception here.
Grumbling he went away. I learnt that at this airport, there are many brokers who earn undeserved money from unsuspecting travelers.
I arrived at Ouagadougou airport at about 11 PM for the Africa Region Meeting on RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands that was to commence on October 4 at Splendid Hotel. But one thing had happened, my suitcase was left behind and the next four days I had to struggle to have it with me. Again, here language was an impediment in some of the things that I wanted to do. French is the official language for instructions.
Infront of Splendid Hotel, Ouagadougou
But Ouagadougou was a fine place to be in; generally a lovely and hospitable that would charm you with some rare honest and a somewhat slow and relaxed life you would not encounter in most places you visit.
On October 8, about 8.30 A.M I had to leave for Accra on my way back home and after about twelve hours in Ghana, I was airborne heading to Nairobi, the place I know and understands most, so I believe. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It's no easy life in the streets

By Ochieng’ Ogodo

Journalist-Kenya

[NAIROBI] “Sometimes you feel that the world has neglected you with all the cold merciless winds of suffering ranged against you. You have no space and you just want to die,” Ramadhan Njogu Mbugua a.k.a ‘Msani’ summed up his many years experience in the streets of Nairobi.
With a distant look in his eyes under the shade of a curved peaked cap, he breathed rather heavily and uttered, “It’s been difficult; very tough. Years have rolled by and life has been extremely tormenting. Living in the streets is no easy undertaking.”
He went on, “the society does not accept you. People look at you very suspiciously whenever you walk around.”
Dressed in a checked cotton shirt, a denim trouser and a pair of heavy soled suede shoes-all soiled out of their factory colour-Mbugua is the embodiment of the harsh reality that life is for many street children in Kenya.
Born in a poverty stricken and quarrelsome family, Mbugua abandoned school at primary when in class three and hit the streets at the age of about 11 in 1998. In the first two years it was an on-off affair.
“The first time I started staying in the streets it was very miserably, not to mean that it isn’t today. Then I was about 11 and I had to struggle with older boys, some of whom were ruthless and could forcefully take my food away,” he remembered.
According to Mbugua it has been a life with hardcores, some of whom settle their problems using knives. Use of drugs like cocaine, mandrax and bhang is rampant. “People even injected themselves with drugs. As for me, I have been using marijuana. What else would one do to remain calm in this hustle that is street life,” he posed.
His day starts at 5 PM when he wakes up and goes to clean some premises in the bustling business estate of Eastleigh in Nairobi. Sometimes he gets a paltry US$1.2 that he uses for breakfast. After that he takes a break and rests at the base
According to Joseph Nandwa, an officer with the Undugu Society of Kenya, one of the most experienced organisations in dealing with street children in Kenya, the street children and youth operate in gangs of about 10 in specific locations code named base.
Back to the base after morning odd chores, Mbugua takes a rest until 4 PM when he goes scavenging through heaps of garbage for discarded materials like plastics bottles and broken plastic containers, cartons, charcoal and sells for them an income. He also wanders about for scrap metals, which he sells to dealers.
Just turned 20 recently, Catherine Wanjiru dropped out of a secondary school in form three after she conceived in 2007. Then she was staying with her grandparents after her father and mother died in 2002 and 2004 respectively. With her aging grandparents unable to support her properly and her expected child, she was forced to leave Nakuru town, about two hours drive south west of Nairobi, where they were staying to move to Nairobi.
She joined a married age mate. “Her husband always pestered me for sex and one day he tried to have carnal knowledge of me then I reported him to police. He was arrested, prosecuted and jailed for two months,” said Wanjiru.
 “It was at this point that I moved to the streets to beg. Some were sympathetic while others outrightly abused you.” She got another street boy who married her and they rented hovel in a slum area but violence made her flee back to the streets and to a different base.
Out there, she aid, some want to take advantage of your desperate   situation and exploit you sexually. One of the most serious frustrations, according to Wanjiru, is harassment by city councils security personnel and police who pounce and arrest them.
 Some of these people sometimes lead the girls to dark alleys where they are raped before being set free. They don’t have food, no shelter and people sleep in the cold covering themselves with polythene sheets during rainy season

But why the street?
According to Undugu Society of Kenya Programme Manager, Children and Youth, Josephine Muli, poverty is one of the major reasons accounting for this. “Those who cannot find food at home take to the streets to beg.”
Mistreatment by step parents, especially where there are semi-orphans or total orphans also drives them to the streets.
In slums areas there is overcrowding. “When they reach a certain age they feel they can no longer stay with parents in those tiny ramshackle and they will move to the streets.”
There is also the peer pressure from those already   in the street. “Whenever they tell those not yet in the streets of how they make a few shillings from begging, they also get encouraged to join,” said Muli
Started some 44 years ago by a Dutch priest who was concerned about the plight of parking boys, Undugu Society of Kenya has done the task well but its has not been easy.
 “From a humble beginning we managed to put up two children’s homes in Dandora, one in Eastleigh and another in Kitengela,” Muli said.
“We go to the streets and talk to them to quit, something we do at night when they were not scared of city security workers and the Kenya police,” she said.
Muli said the mantra of their message has been for them to think beyond the street life; that there is a much better life out of the streets and to also ask them to think seriously of what they want to be in future.
In those days a few of them could turn up in the homes the following morning. “We rehabilitated such and took them to their parents but some would return to the streets and that has been one of the big challenges in dealing with street children; the return back syndrome,” said Muli.
But three years ago, the organization changed its plan and in the new Strategic Development Plan 2006 to 2010, the emphasis moved from having them in homes to working with them in the streets. 

Capacity building
“In the streets they operate in gangs [base]. Every base has a leader and we try to put the leaders of different bases together and train them on leadership skills. We also give them knowledge on HIV/Aids, group dynamics-how a group works, to know how to handle different characters and on the lifespan of a group,” she stated. They become trainers of trainers for effective trickling down of information.
Undugu Society of Kenya then trains the leaders and the group members on business skill on how to become and how to become entrepreneurs. “The second stage,” according to Muli, “is capacity building; building confidence in them, make them have self esteem then give grants on average US$ 150, or more based on what they want to do, to start small businesses.” 
To ensure that this works smoothly, Muli said, they introduced the association model and they seek the opinion of members on what they want to do with the grants.
Some do garbage recycling, others environmental cleaning while some sell small merchandises like sweets. Some are trained in skills like hairdressing, dressmaking. “We attach the children to artisans and we pay for the cost of trainings like in mechanics.”
Currently they are making contacts with the government to include them in the Youth Development Fund so that they can be advanced loans to run businesses. She said during the interview that a few have registered with the fund.
The Undugu Society of Kenya shut down all their homes under this new strategic development plan except one in Kitengela where they take very small children for between one to six months after which they are taken back to their homes and put in school with the organisation meeting the cots of education.
“We also talk to teachers and local chiefs about the children and incase there is problem they reach us.”
 Undugu’s challenges
City security officer and regular Kenya police harass them making it difficult to operate as an association. And because they have been living on begging they expect handouts almost all the times. Another major challenge for any organisation in dealing with street children is their coming back to the streets. “But, for those who have gone through us only a few come back,” she pointed out.
Nandwa says there is also the bad attitude from the public and people see them as potentials criminals whenever they are about. At times they are suspected of a crime, which could be true or false, and people are always quick in administering mob justice on them without bothering to determinate truth.
Whenever they are under the influence drugs a quarrel may ensue, for instance sharing proceeds from chores undertaken, leading to a serious fight among them according to Nandwa. Some also use them for crime perpetration like theft of motor vehicle side mirrors.

**Ochieng’ Ogodo is a Nairobi-based journalist whose works have been published in Africa, the US and Europe .He is the  English-speaking Africa and Middle East region winner for the 2008 Reuters-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting. He is the chairman of the Kenya Environment and Science Journalists Association. He can be reached at ochiengogodo@yahoo.com or ogodo16@hotmail.com.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Abused and ejected out of a marriage


By Ochieng’ Ogodo

Journalist-Kenya

[NAIROBI] Tears welled in her eyes as she narrated what turned out to be twenty five years-that was in 2005-of agony encapsulated in intense physical, emotional and verbal abuses in the name of marriage.
Alice Wanjiru said she had not only known nothing about peace in marriage, but was also abandoned by her husband and was forced to take care of their four children after they were ruthlessly evicted and taken to her parents’ original home.
Her story is a chronology of marital violence and typifies that of the many women suffering similar fate but remain hushed.
Wanjiru says, ‘When he came to my home in 1984 and everything was transacted according to Kikuyu customs, I was happy to leave my parents to go and start a new life with a husband,’ she reflected.
In 1985 they were blessed with bouncing baby girl, Susan Wairimu, but soon after violence, which has tenaciously stuck to their marriage, reared its ugly head.
According to her the man showed her the door when the girl was only three months old. And with the child tucked in her back, she picked her way to Saba Saba in Muranga, her birth place. As she was about to reach home he appeared and convinced her into coming to Nairobi.
When their first born was bout to join primary one, the wild beast in his husband exploded again and she found herself on the way to her parents’ home. But this time she left the kid behind. This was in 1992.
Even the prospect of another baby in 1987 did not insulate her against the beastly acts. She ran away two months to delivering Francis Macharia to escape the incessant quarrelling and physical violations.
Wanjiru was to stay at her home until 1989 when she came back to him. It was in the same year she gave birth to Mary Wambui. But when the kid was five months old she was chased again by the husband and had to spend the next three months with her parents. The husband visited her home and after a meeting with his in-laws, agreement was reached and both came back to Nairobi.
But this was not the end to the agony that their marriage had now been steeped in.
In 1993, three months pregnant, she was chased away again. A week to delivery the husband visited their home incognito, and at the ungodly hours of the night. They thought he was alone. It never occurred to them the man was up to something nasty. With him were other men who stood at strategic places in the darkness within the compound.

It was a trick
After his pleas to her parents about his desire to have her come back, he asked her to escort him up to the gate. Once she set her foot in the darkness she was lifted up and spirited to a vehicle he came with.
‘He called me out and pretended he wanted some information on certain documents he could not trace in the house ever since I left. It was trick,’ she said.
Her mother who was making tea got alarmed and on coming out in her defense she was pushed to the ground as they sped off. On the way her husband remarked, ‘this dog has been disturbing me for long. I am going to kill her,’ she remembered.
Incensed by what happened, her parents arrived In Nairobi the following day and after lodging a complaint with the chief went to their house and declared the two unwanted in their compound as what they had done was an abomination.
In 1995, after several pleas, they defied the ban and went to her home. That matter was deliberated upon and the ban was lifted. But the violence that ruled their house continued and reached boiling point in 1999. On February 17, 1997 the man married another woman and rented a house in their neighborhood in Mathare B.
At this time they had a kerubo (local brew) club where he operated from the second wife’s house on daily basis. On 17, February 1999, he went to her house and demanded food. “For about three months he had not stepped into my house,” she said.

He stabbed her
A quarrel ensued and he stabbed her on the upper part of the left arm. A few days later chased out of the house. Like before, she went to her home where she was to stay for months.
On December 23, 2001 he sent all the children to her grandparents place. He told them to stay for two weeks and come back with their mother.
Two weeks later a woman who took the kids to their grandparent’s home appeared saying she had been sent by the man to collect them and their mother.
Wanjiru budged and they trooped back to Nairobi, the children in her tow. A semblance of peace existed for some months. In June 2002 he started campaigning for a civic seat and left Wanjiru to run their local brew pub.
He requested her to look for Sh.20,000 from her merry-go-round group and pump it into the business. But, once she got this money he diverted it to his campaign. From kerubo proceeds she was able to refund the money. Elections came and he won. But with the victory came another dimension, the man of the house was mostly coming home to change clothes. Sometimes he sent a girl he employed at the civic ward’s office to collect for him some clothes to change.
Incidences where he could pop in the house in the middle of the night with a woman and order her wife out of their matrimonial bed for them, she said, dot almost the entire marriage life from consummation.
‘It was quite humiliating but what could I do. I have children I wanted to take care of under their father,’ she stated. In 2003 May, she was shocked when the office assistant became plain that her husband had proposed to her. A few days later she was confounded by her husbands surrendering one of his cell phones to the office help when he was away in Mombasa for seminar. ‘I cried to God, why me.’

Accused of peddling her body
Come October 2003, he ordered the kerubo club locked allegedly because she had turned it into a place for peddling her body. ‘He told me to go and sell my body somewhere else but not in his club,’ Wanjiru reflected painfully.
She said he now could disappear from the house for days. Also stuck in her minds is October 20, 2004, when he strangled her almost to death and it was by the grace of God she is still alive.
The eve of 2004 Christmas saw him call the house and ask everybody to prepare as he was taking them somewhere. For a family that lived in fear from his brutality, they looked at each other wondering at what it was. He came home and asked them to get into the car. A few meters a lady appeared from the roadside and the man braked. She was asked to get in. The wife reacted coldly and this earned her severe verbal abuse before her children.
“Referring to me as prostitute, he asked why I was not greeting people properly,” she said. They drove up to town and she was given Sh.8000 to do some shopping. They were driven back to the house. Surprisingly after what looked like change of heart, the man decided not to talk to anybody in the house save for the last born. Well aware of the fact that the wife was not doing anything substantial. He asked her to pay school fees for their two children in secondary in January 2005.
“He asked me and my elder daughter to look for money whenever we could even if meant selling our bodies,” she said. The man even stopped eating anything from her for fear she may poison him.
Hoping against hope, she was on May 29, 2005 chased out of the house and the office assistant who by this time was staying with them was instructed not to allow her into any of the rooms. The husband locked all the doors. She relocated to her daughter’s bedroom from where he ordered her out on July 07, 2005. As if that was not enough the man sent all the children away with a promise he will never educate them and they went their grandparents place.
Her daughter, Wairimu, remembered the many incidents of violence their parents had. One such was in November 2003 when her mother bled profusely from a beating. She has not been spared either and has had to drift from one relative to the other to escape the wrath of the man. At one time the father accused her of swinging her back in the estate for men to see and that she was a hopeless creature.
‘Currently I am staying with my uncle after my father chased me away on July 7, this year.
In the past he had hit her sometimes even pulling her hair strands but on this day, after quarreling he went into her room and started removing his trouser. ‘I wasn’t sure of what he wanted, I got scared, probably he wanted to curse me,’ she said. That was the agony they had to endure.
The writer is the winner of the English-Speaking Africa and the Middle East region for the 2008 REUTERS-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting. He can be reached at ochiengogodo@yahoo.com or ogodo16@hotmail.com
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Climbing beans changing Rwanda's small-holder farmers fortunes


By Ochieng’ Ogodo


Journalist-Kenya 

[KIGALI] AT 47, Alphonsin Nyirambranjinka, a peasant farmer in Rwengeri sector in Muganze district, Northern Rwanda, has been around for long. Like any other small-holder farmer here, she has had to grapple with declining bean yield, especially with African soils already very depleted.
Beans are the main staple food in Rwanda-one of Africa’s most densely populated nations-and are relied on as a prime source of protein and a huge part of calories.
Here, beans are consumed on a daily basis by almost everybody-from the very poor to the rich. Whether served alone or with other dishes, it’s an imperative component of the meal table content.
But now, Nyirambranjinka can breathe a sigh of relief thanks to ingenuity of science that has bred various varieties of climbing beans now being adopted in Rwanda and Eastern Africa.
“I started farming beans in 1973 with the bush beans. But yields have been on a downward trend and from a half hectare of land I could only manage about 500 kilograms from one season,” she reflected.
But in 2005 she shifted to cultivating climbing bean type. The first time she got one and a half tonnes but she lacked knowledge on better cultivation methods because of lack of extension services.

Yields has tripled
With the new seed variety and extension services available from the Rwandan Agricultural Research Institute (ISAR) the yield has tripled over the last few years and she is now one of proud peasant farmers depending on a climbing bean variety.
She sells the surplus in the local market and money netted is used for other household needs like buying utensils and furniture. Because of her agricultural activities Rwanda Ministry of Agriculture recognized her with a Fraizer milk cow donation.

“From cultivation of this type of beans I have had tangible benefits,” she said with a wide smile as she fished out beneath her dress, slightly above her breasts, a Motorola cell phone she bought using money from sale of beans.
Out of climbing beans cultivation she has educated her children, two of whom are out of high schools and another in secondary school. She is also able to put food on the table for the family.
She is part of the farming community working closely with ISAR from where she gets training, seeds as wells as extension services. According to Nyirambranjinka the new seed variety not only gives good yields but good taste when eaten and is disease and rain tolerant in her high potential area that northern Rwanda is.
“If I plant seeds provided by ISAR then I have no problem with disease and rainfall,” she said. She has no regrets about her shift from bush beans to climbing ones. “This type of beans is changing our lives and raising high our fortunes. The good thing is that it can be intercropped with other crops like maize and does not interfere with them at all,” she said. Maximising use of her land she also grows maize, Irish potatoes and vegetables.
Like Nyirambranjinka, 56 year old Ngiraba Twere has abandoned bush beans variety for the climbing one. For a piece of land that yielded three sacks he can now take home more than 10 bags at harvesting time. “I can now afford to sell some and still remain with what meets our dietary needs at home,” said the father of four.

More income from beans
Although he grows sorghum, he now prefers giving large chunks of his land to climbing beans as “it brings more income than sorghum.”
In the past he has had problems with weevils that destroyed and left their bush bean fields bare but now he can afford plentiful harvest from the new variety. And for people who gets no government subsides, Twere who hails from Lurindo district in Northern Rwanda, said this said this is a most welcome variety.
Dr. Robin Buruchara said a research spanning ten years by the Rwandan Agricultural Research Institute (Institut des Sciences Agronomiques du Rwanda - ISAR) in collaboration with International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) has developed beans that slink up stakes two meters high tripling and even quadrupling yields.
On January 15, 2009 they released new varieties that were bred for lower elevations between 800 to 1600 meters above the sea level, which are medium altitude climbers.

They do well in nutrient poor soils and are also diseases resistant. The beans take three months to ripen and thus offer possibility for four planting seasons annually with a hectare yielding 3-4 tonnes each harvesting season.
Beans are an important source of nutrients, providing the average Rwandan with about 39 percent of their dietary protein intake. Besides they account for 13 percent and 18.72 percent of carbohydrates and lipids respectively, and are potent sources of iron and zinc.
This, according to Buruchara who is the regional Coordinator for CIAT in Africa, is the outcome of sustained research and promotion that has made the climbing beans variety to be increasingly gown across income and gender groups. Today 65 percent of Rwandan farmers grow climbing beans varieties.
Buruchara said the collaboration worked on conventional breeding to improve resilience to diseases and tolerant to rainfall. They took various germplasm from CIAT bean germplasm bank-the largest in the world-based in Cali Colombia and after crossing them they came up with varieties suited for different elevations in the region.
“We worked in partnerships to develope improved varieties through conventional breeding coming up varieties that have better yields and more nutritious but also disease resistant and rainfall tolerant,” he said.
These beans varieties require stakes and in comparison take more labour they help fix soil nitrogen and also curtail soil erosion in sloping areas with heavy rain.
Scientifically referred to as Phaselous vulgaris L., Buruchara said, the improved climbing varieties have gained popularity and are now increasingly grown in Eastern and Central Africa notably: eastern Kenya, eastern DRC, Rwanda, south west Uganda and Burundi .

Improved climbing varieties
According to Augustine Musoni, bean breeder and coordinator of bean research at ISAR, northern Rwanda has had pockets of bush and climbing beans grown. But a devastating roots disease wreaking havoc coupled with declining soil fertility threatened the livelihoods and food security of many people.
“The varieties were vulnerable and the disease wiped all the germplasm they had. But with research and the introduction of improved climbing beans people saw improved resistance to diseases like anthracnose, root rot and ascochyta blight,” he explained.
At policy level, Musoni said, the government is promoting climbing varieties and currently it is estimated that between 50,000 to 100,000 hectares in Rwanda are under climbing bean varieties cultivation.
On land ownership, he said, Rwanda has 0.1 hectare per capita and ensuring maximum yield from the fields is therefore crucial. “You can get five tones on average per hectare when you plant climbing beans and even with potential for more yields but only 500 kilograms on the same piece of land with ordinary varieties like bus beans.”
The beans variety does not only offer small scale farmers plenty of yield despite land scarcity resulting from population pressure that continue to translate into more land division but also allow farmers to use leaves, pods fresh grains and dry grains for food as well as source of income from sales. It is a seed of hope.
The writer is the winner of the English-Speaking Africa and the Middle East region for the 2008 REUTERS-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting. He can be reached at ochiengogodo@yahoo.com or ogodo16@hotmail.com
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