As the U.S. government and the United Nations both stepped up giving Wednesday to quell the Ebola epidemic sweeping through several West African countries, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced it will spend $50 million on the international effort seeking a vaccine and other therapies.
The United States donated five ambulances Wednesday to help Sierra Leone's fight against Ebola as the West African government acknowledged it can take up to 24 hours to pick up bodies in the spiraling crisis.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's donation is the U.S.-based group's largest to a humanitarian effort. The $50 million includes $10 million the foundation previously committed for emergency operations, treatment and research. The money will be used to purchase supplies and to develop vaccines, therapies and better diagnostic tools.
More than 2,200 deaths throughout West Africa have been attributed to Ebola amid the worst outbreak of the disease in history. The sick have been using motorcycle taxis and other public transport to get to hospitals, further increasing the risk of transmitting the disease that kills about half its victims.
Kathleen FitzGibbon of the U.S. Embassy in Sierra Leone handed President Ernest Bai Koroma the keys to five ambulances Wednesday. The U.S. has spent more than $100 million responding to the outbreak.
Sierra Leone's president Ernest Bai Koroma inspects an ambulance, one of five donated by the U.S.
"Together we will win this fight," Koroma told her.
Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea — the three countries hit hardest by the outbreak — are also in need of more protective gear for health care workers and more treatment beds for Ebola victims. The World Health Organization says about 1,000 more beds in isolation centers are needed.
Also on Wednesday, the United Nations allocated $3.8 million from an emergency fund to support a U.N. air service operating in the Ebola-struck region. U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said reduction in commercial air flights as a result of the outbreak has hindered the deployment of health workers and supplies.
Doctors Without Borders has said bodies are being left to rot in the streets of Sierra Leone, a claim the country's health officials have rejected. But Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, an adviser to the president, did acknowledge that it can take up to a full day to retrieve a dead body because it must first be tested for Ebola.
Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids. Dead bodies are particularly contagious and must be buried with extreme care. Experts say traditional burials that wash the dead have been a significant source of Ebola transmission.
Senegal, meanwhile, announced that its only confirmed Ebola patient has recovered. But Dr. Moussa Seydi told Senegalese radio the young man is still suffering psychologically after losing several relatives to the disease.
This story from the Economist is about Niger – the largest country in West Africa (by size) – and the country with the highest fertility rate in the world (7.6 children per woman). Although Niger does not have a large population by world standards (17 million) this number is set to more than triple between 2014 and 2050. That wouldn’t be such a problem were it not for the fact that the country cannot feed itself even now and even when there are no droughts. Unfortunately, there are consistently droughts and the harvest regularly fails:
“Niger is, by the reckoning of the UN’s Human Development Index, the poorest place on earth…An estimated 2.5m people out of a total of 17m have no secure source of food. When harvests fail, which they do almost annually, that number shoots up. In 2012, when the worst of the recent food crises ravaged the Sahel region, almost a quarter of Niger’s population was said to be going hungry…”
The reality for poor, undernourished children is heartbreaking. The Economist introduces Haowa, a mother of eight children (her last pregnancy resulted in triplets) who cannot feed her children:
“Now, when her babies scream for food she often finds herself helpless. ‘If they cry and I have nothing to give them, then I must let them cry,’ she says, cradling two infants who bear the hallmarks of malnutrition. Their hair is yellowing, their bellies are distended and their expressions glazed. They lack the energy to shake the flies from their faces.”
I can’t imagine the pain that that mother must go through – knowing that her children are hungry and unable to do anything about it. My heart breaks every time my son bangs his head and starts crying – but at least then I know that I can comfort or distract him and he will be off and running again in a couple of minutes. I have never known what it is like not to be able to feed my family. Not only does that make me extremely fortunate but it means that the suffering that mothers like Haowa go through is incomprehensible. The poor, poor woman.
So why do Niger’s population continue to have so many children when its current population cannot be fed? The Economist points to a number of factors:
“Poverty, ignorance and poor access to contraception are contributing factors, as are cultural issues like competition between wives. Men in Niger tend to be polygamous, and local doctors note that their spouses often try to prove their value by outdoing each other in child births.”
The UN is seeking to change this:
“At present the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is the only importer of contraceptives, flying in millions of dollars’ worth this year. It runs a ‘school for husbands’ which teaches men, who traditionally tended to obstruct women seeking birth control, about family planning. The schools hope to dispel wild rumours about contraception. One woman living outside of Zinder, the country’s second-biggest city, used to believe the pill would cause haemorrhages or make her unborn child anaemic. ‘I was scared for the first two months,’ she says.”
While it is good that Nigeriens are being informed so that they can make choices about their families, it appears as if Nigeriens may not want to change their current family structures:
“And the appetite for change among the population is limited. Only about a quarter of women express any desire to space out their births, let alone reduce their number.”
If that’s the case, if three-quarters of Nigerien women want to have eight children despite the misery being suffered by Haowa mentioned above, then what on earth can the UN do about it? Set up schools to re-educate women about how 2.1 would be a much better number of children to have? If this mindset largely comes about through the polygamous practises, then what should the UN do? Ban it? Do we then get back to the argument about which is more paternalistic: should we ban an apparently mysognistic practice even though women might want to be part of it? (See for example the hijab debate…) What do you, dear readers, think about this all?
PS Before we look down at the ignorance of Nigeriens about contraceptives and the pill, what do we in the west generally know about it? What do girls (I use the term deliberately) know when they are put onto the pill by their doctors? What are they told about the long term effects? The risks etc? Do we even know the longterm effects of it? Or are there none? As a final aside, I smile to think about how we are so keen to have “organic” food and to make sure no additives/chemicals are in our food and yet we take (or ensure our girlfriends/wives take) a pill every day that is pure hormone and tricks a woman’s body into thinking she is pregnant. But I’m sure there is a difference there somewhere.
A Liberian health worker who recovered from Ebola after receiving an experimental drug urged the manufacturer to speed up its production and send it to Africa, while crowds celebrated in the streets Saturday after authorities reopened a slum that had been barricaded for more than a week to try to contain the disease.
Physician's assistant Kyndy Kobbah was expected to be released from hospital Saturday after she survived Ebola, which has been fatal in more than half the cases sweeping West Africa. Kobbah contracted the disease while working at a government-run hospital north of the capital.
In an interview with The Associated Press before her release, she said when she informed her family that she had been cured, the home exploded with joy "and the house is on fire right now" with celebration.
"I am very fine and all right, glory be to God," she said. "I trusted God that I was going to be healed."
Kobbah urged the manufacturer of the experimental drug known as ZMapp to step up production. The company has said that all its supplies are exhausted and it will take months to make more.
"They need to make more Zmapp and send to us," she said.
Doctors have said there is no way to know whether ZMapp made a difference or if survivors like Kobbah recovered on their own, as about 45 percent of people infected in this outbreak have. The drug had never been tested in humans before it was given to two Americans who were infected with Ebola in Liberia. They survived Ebola and were released from an Atlanta hospital.
However, a study released online Friday by the journal Nature found that ZMapp healed all 18 monkeys infected with the deadly virus.
Meanwhile, tensions diminished Saturday in the West Point neighborhood of Liberia's capital after authorities lifted a blockade that had sparked unrest. Residents living in the area had feared running out of food and safe water on the peninsula.
Liberia's president had ordered the barricade on Aug. 19 after West Point residents stormed an Ebola health center several days earlier. Residents said they did not want sick people being brought into the community, although those staying at the center were only under observation during a 21-day incubation period.
Amid the melee, some protesters made off with blood-stained mattresses and other materials that could potentially spread the Ebola virus.
Lifting the quarantine Saturday morning doesn't mean there is no Ebola in the West Point slum, said Information Minister Lewis Brown. Authorities, though, are more confident now that they can work with residents to screen for the sick, he said.
"They're comfortable with the way the leadership and the community is working with the health team to make sure that the community remains safe," he said.
Liberia has been the hardest hit of the five countries with Ebola cases in West Africa, reporting at least 694 deaths among 1,378 cases. More than 3,000 cases have been reported across Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, and on Friday Senegal announced its first case.
A student from Guinea who had been missing for several weeks showed up at a hospital in Dakar on Tuesday, seeking treatment but concealing that he had been in contact with other Ebola victims, Health Minister Awa Marie Coll Seck confirmed.
The next day, an epidemiological surveillance team in neighboring Guinea alerted Senegalese authorities that they had lost track of a person they were monitoring three weeks earlier, and that the person may have crossed into Senegal.
The student was tracked down in the Dakar hospital where he was confirmed with Ebola and immediately put into isolation where he is reported to be in satisfactory condition, Seck said. Authorities also sent out a team to disinfect the home where he was staying in Senegal.
About 480 government soldiers, who had previously fled into Cameroon after heavy fighting with Boko Haram insurgents are currently being repatriated to Nigeria by Cameroonian Authorities.
As previously reported by an AP news article, civilians fleeing into Cameroon gave accounts of being joined by Nigerian soldiers who were retreating from heavy fighting with Boko Haram insurgents in the border town of Gamboru.
The Nigerian army had previously referred to the unscheduled arrival of 480 Nigerian troops into Cameroonian soil as a “tactical maneuver."
A SaharaReporters source has revealed that’s the troops re entered Nigeria on a longer route through Adamawa state, rather than Borno state, after being transported in a long convoy under tight security escort.
The source said a long convoy transporting the troops entered Nigeria through a longer route from Adamawa state, rather than Borno state, and will soon join their units to continue operations against the Boko Haram militant fighters.
A security source based in the Maidugiri had previously informed SaharaReporters that Boko Haram sought to control the expansive areas of the Gamboru-Ngala for the strategic location and vibrant commercial infrastructure conducive for establishment of an Islamic caliphate.
Despite Nigeria’s government’s imposition of a State of Emergency in the Northeatern state of Borno late last year, Boko Haram has wreaked havoc in many areas of the region with hi-profile activities including successfully capturing the Gwoza Training camp of the Nigeria Police Mobile Force (PMF) last week and several army barracks and police installations, and towns.
Boko Haram has also successfully conducted cross border raids into neighboring Cameroon including the highly publicized kidnapping of the wife of Cameroon’s Vice Prime Minister Vice Prime Minister Amadou Ali in Kolofata in late July.
The group has increasingly developed a violent nature in its operations since the killing of its founding leader, Mohammed Younus, in 2009.
In Liberia, where infection rates are highest, crowds sang and danced in the streets of a seaside neighborhood on Saturday as the government lifted quarantine measures.
In mid-August, residents of the impoverished seaside district of West Point in Monrovia were forcibly cut off from the rest of the capital after a crowd attacked an Ebola center there, allowing the sick to flee.
The quarantine sparked protests and security forces responded with tear gas and bullets, killing a teenaged boy.
But at dawn on Saturday, the community woke up to find the soldiers and barricades gone.
"I tell God thank you. I tell everyone thank you," said Koffa, a female resident of West Point. Others danced in the streets chanting slogans like "we are free" while others rolled about on the asphalt pavement in celebration.
President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a U.S.-educated Nobel Peace Prize winner, has sought to quell criticism of the government's response by issuing orders threatening officials with dismissal for failing to report for work or for fleeing the country, and has ordered an investigation into the West Point shooting.
Liberia plans to build five new Ebola treatment centers each with capacity for 100 beds, government and health officials said on Saturday.
Two African doctors infected with Ebola were released from hospital in Monrovia on Saturday after being treated with the experimental drug ZMapp, said Rev. John Sumo of the Liberian health ministry.
A third doctor who was given the treatment died this week.