Aid Agencies: Some 20 Million Could Face Starvation in East Africa

Aid agencies warn the number of people facing starvation in the Horn of Africa is expected to reach 20 million by the end of September without a stronger response to an ongoing drought.

The warning comes after the fourth rainy season in a row for the region without adequate rain. The worst drought in 40 years has killed more than seven million livestock across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

In some parts of East Africa, communities have not seen significant rainfall for the past two years.

Yusuf Guure, 67, who lives in northeastern Kenya, said he has lost 294 animals to drought.

“We have never seen such a persistent drought, a drought that has wiped out pasture and a drought that has left animals with nothing to feed,” he said, adding, “Where do you get that money to feed them and you are unemployed?”

Shashwat Saraf is the regional emergency director for East Africa with the International Rescue Committee. He said pastoral communities living in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are feeling the effects of the drought, and that millions are on the move in search of water, food and pasture.

“We are seeing anywhere between 60 to 100 percent loss of livestock, which is a mainstay for the population because they lost their only source of livelihood,” he said. “We are seeing massive displacement happening of households and people moving to urban centers or moving to other locations and to find ways to make their household food secure.”

Agencies say that since mid-2021, one-third of all livestock in Somalia has died and 3.6 million livestock have died in Ethiopia and Kenya.

Alyona Synenko, regional spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said Somalia is the most affected country of the three and decades of conflict have complicated the situation for those suffering and for aid agencies.

“The needs are extremely high and sometimes you look at people and you see people who are displaced and they lost everything,” she said. “So it’s difficult to say that people are getting the help they need because their needs are so important. We also speak about a crisis that is one of the most protracted crises in the region and there is also a level of donor fatigue, especially when there is so much competition for the humanitarian funds, so sometimes we have to make very difficult choices.”

The combination of harsh weather and rising food and fuel prices has made the humanitarian outlook worrisome for months to come.

The U.N. humanitarian office, UNOCHA, said Somalia is at risk of famine, and more than 80,000 people are experiencing extreme hunger. Officials also said Tuesday that severe acute malnutrition is on the rise across the three countries and poses an immediate threat to children’s lives.

The U.N. and aid agencies have reached 6.5 million people in the affected areas with food, water and health services. They warn more funding and food are needed to save lives in the coming months.

Source: Voice of America

Africans See Inequity in Monkeypox Response Elsewhere

As health authorities in Europe and elsewhere roll out vaccines and drugs to stamp out the biggest monkeypox outbreak beyond Africa, some doctors acknowledge an ugly reality: The resources to slow the disease’s spread have long been available, just not to the Africans who have dealt with it for decades.

Countries including Britain, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, the United States, Israel and Australia have reported more than 500 monkeypox cases, many apparently tied to sexual activity at two recent raves in Europe. No deaths have been reported.

Authorities in numerous European countries and the U.S. are offering to immunize people and considering the use of antivirals. On Thursday, the World Health Organization will convene a special meeting to discuss monkeypox research priorities and related issues.

Meanwhile, the African continent has reported about three times as many cases this year.

There have been more than 1,400 monkeypox cases and 63 deaths in four countries where the disease is endemic — Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo and Nigeria — according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So far, sequencing has not yet shown any direct link to the outbreak outside Africa, health officials say.

Monkeypox is in the same family of viruses as smallpox, and smallpox vaccines are estimated to be about 85% effective against monkeypox, according to WHO.

Since identifying cases earlier this month, Britain has vaccinated more than 1,000 people at risk of contracting the virus and bought 20,000 more doses. European Union officials are in talks to buy more smallpox vaccine from Bavarian Nordic, the maker of the only such vaccine licensed in Europe.

U.S. government officials have released about 700 doses of vaccine to states where cases were reported.

Such measures aren’t routinely employed in Africa.

Dr. Adesola Yinka-Ogunleye, who leads Nigeria’s monkeypox working group, said there are currently no vaccines or antivirals being used against monkeypox in her country. People suspected of having monkeypox are isolated and treated conservatively, while their contacts are monitored, she said.

Generally, Africa has only had “small stockpiles” of smallpox vaccine to offer health workers when monkeypox outbreaks happen, said Ahmed Ogwell, acting director of the Africa CDC.

Limited vaccine supply and competing health priorities have meant that immunization against monkeypox hasn’t been widely pursued in Africa, said Dr. Jimmy Whitworth, a professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“It’s a bit uncomfortable that we have a different attitude to the kinds of resources we deploy depending on where cases are,” he said. “It exposes a moral failing when those interventions aren’t available for the millions of people in Africa who need them.”

WHO has 31 million doses of smallpox vaccines, mostly kept in donor countries and intended as a rapid response to any re-emergence of the disease, which was declared eradicated in 1980.

Doses from the U.N. health agency’s stockpile have never been released for any monkeypox outbreaks in central or western Africa.

Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO’s emergencies chief, said the agency was considering allowing rich countries to use the smallpox vaccines to try to limit the spread of monkeypox. WHO manages similar mechanisms to help poor countries get vaccines for diseases like yellow fever and meningitis, but such efforts have not been previously used for countries that can otherwise afford shots.

Oyewale Tomori, a Nigerian virologist who sits on several WHO advisory boards, said releasing smallpox vaccines from the agency’s stockpile to stop monkeypox from becoming endemic in richer countries might be warranted, but he noted a discrepancy in WHO’s strategy.

“A similar approach should have been adopted a long time ago to deal with the situation in Africa,” he said. “This is another example of where some countries are more equal than others.”

Some doctors pointed out that stalled efforts to understand monkeypox were now complicating efforts to treat patients. Most people experience symptoms including fever, chills and fatigue. But those with more serious disease often develop a rash on their face or hands that spreads elsewhere.

Dr. Hugh Adler and colleagues recently published a paper suggesting the antiviral drug tecovirimat could help fight monkeypox. The drug, approved in the U.S. to treat smallpox, was used in seven people infected with monkeypox in the U.K. from 2018 to 2021, but more details are needed for regulatory approval.

“If we had thought about getting this data before, we wouldn’t be in this situation now where we have a potential treatment without enough evidence,” said Adler, a research fellow at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

Many diseases only attracted significant money after infecting people from rich countries, he noted.

For example, it was only after the catastrophic Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014-2016 — when several Americans were sickened by the disease among the more than 28,000 cases in Africa — that authorities finally sped up the research and protocols to license an Ebola vaccine, capping a decades-long effort.

At a press briefing on Wednesday, WHO’s Ryan said the agency was worried about the continued spread of monkeypox in rich countries and was evaluating how it could help stem the disease’s transmission there.

“I certainly didn’t hear that same level of concern over the last five or 10 years,” he said, referring to the repeated epidemics of monkeypox in Africa, when thousands of people in the continent’s central and western parts were sickened by the disease.

Jay Chudi, a development expert who lives in the Nigerian state of Enugu, which has reported monkeypox cases since 2017, hopes the increased attention might finally help address the problem. But he nevertheless lamented that it took infections in rich countries for it to seem possible.

“You would think the new cases are deadlier and more dangerous than what we have in Africa,” he said. “We are now seeing it can end once and for all, but because it is no longer just in Africa. It’s now everybody is worried.”

Source: Voice of America

UN Peacekeeping Convoy Attacked in Mali; 1 Killed, 3 Hurt 

Suspected terrorists attacked a U.N. peacekeeping convoy in northern Mali on Wednesday, the United Nations said. A Jordanian peacekeeper was killed and three other Jordanians were wounded.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the supply convoy was under sustained fire for about an hour from attackers who used small arms and rocket launchers.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the attack and sent his deepest condolences to the families of the peacekeepers and the government and people of Jordan, Dujarric said.

According to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, the attack was the fifth incident in the northern Kidal region in one week, Dujarric said.

“It is a tragic reminder of the complexity of the mandate of the U.N. mission and of its peacekeepers, and the threats peacekeepers face on a daily basis,” he said.

The Security Council later released a statement condemning the attack and calling on authorities in Mali to investigate and bring those responsible to justice. The statement added that the Security Council “underlined that attacks targeting peacekeepers may constitute war crimes under international law.”

Mali has struggled to contain an Islamic extremist insurgency since 2012. Extremist rebels were forced from power in Mali’s northern cities with the help of a French-led military operation, but they regrouped in the desert and began attacking the Malian army and its allies. Insecurity has worsened with attacks in the northern and central regions on civilians and U.N. peacekeepers.

Mali’s military returned to Kidal, a longtime rebel stronghold in the north, in February 2020, six years after its forces retreated amid violence. U.N. peacekeepers have also been deployed in the north.

Deadliest mission

The U.N. force has said more than 250 of its peacekeepers and personnel have died since 2013, making Mali the deadliest of the U.N.’s dozen peacekeeping missions worldwide.

The U.N. special representative for Mali, El Ghassim Wane, issued a statement Wednesday saying the U.N. mission remained determined to support Mali’s people and government in their quest for peace and security, Dujarric said.

In August 2020, Malian President Boubacar Ibrahim Keita, who died in January, was overthrown in a coup that included Assimi Goita, then an army colonel. Last June, Goita was sworn in as president of a transitional government after carrying out his second coup in nine months.

In mid-May, Goita’s government said security forces had thwarted a countercoup attempt that it said was supported by an unnamed Western government.

The accusations of foreign interference came as Goita’s regime has become increasingly isolated. A day earlier, the government announced that Mali was dropping out of a five-nation regional security force known as the G5. It was also sharply critical of former colonial power France, which announced in February that it was pulling its troops out of Mali.

While Mali’s junta initially agreed to an 18-month transition back to civilian rule, it failed to organize elections by the deadline in February. Last month, the government said it would need two more years in power before it could organize a vote.

Source: Voice of America