Student With Hole in Heart to Undergo N3.47 million for Surgery

An 11-year-old student of Federal Government College, Gusau has been diagnosed with a heart condition that will cost an estimated N3.47 million for corrective surgery in an Indian hospital.

Ifeoma Igbo was born with patent ductus arterosus (PDA) a congenital heart condition that’s left an open hole at the top of her heart.

She has been hospitalized with a “history of difficulty in breathing and lower respiratory tract infection during infancy and early childhood,” her medical report at Usman Danfodio University Teaching Hospital said.

Dr Usman Sani, consultant paediatric cardiologist at UDUTH, reported a heart murmur on examination but said Ifeoma had been only on “conservative management” and referred her to Madras Medical Mission in Chennai, India for surgery.

Ifeoma’s father, Donatus Igbo, a technician based in Zamfara, said the condition has hugely disrupted his daughter’s schooling.

PDA results when a major vessel at the top of heart crucial to breathing and feeding in foetuses fails to close after birth.

The condition puts a strain on the heart, causing shortness of breath and an increased risk of cardiac arrest.

Last year, a two-year-old girl with PDA successfully underwent corrective surgery at Garki Hospital in Abuja.

Source: All Africa


Call for Shake-Up in Africa Nutrition Research

Rwanda has achieved remarkable success in reducing child hunger, and nutrition experts believe there may be lessons here for other countries in Africa.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in a 2013 report on progress in tackling malnutrition, noted that in 2005 more than half of Rwanda’s children under five years of age – about 800,000 – were stunted. “Just five years later, stunting prevalence had decreased from an estimated 52 percent to 44 percent,” the report said.

The Rwandan approach has been to try and find home-grown solutions.

It scaled up community-based nutrition programmes in all 30 of the country’s districts, and has also been setting up an almost universal community-based health insurance scheme. “This was all done with the help of food grown locally, and not packaged interventions provided by donors,” said Fidele Ngabo, director of Maternal Child Health. “There are thousands of local solutions for hunger…

“Each village comes up with community-based approaches to tackle malnutrition and food insecurity that don’t cost money – we are at the centre to provide support and play a monitoring role,” she said.

Examples include the setting up a communal grain reserve to which each household contributes at least 20 percent of their harvest during a good season, with the stored grain being used during the lean season; or the expansion of kitchen gardens with shared information on the vegetables to be grown.

Suggestions and proposed solutions are debated in working groups comprising aid agencies, researchers, academics and government officials.

Source: All Africa

Malaria: High risk focused in 10 African countries


Gains in fighting malaria in sub-Saharan Africa have left the highest risk for the disease concentrated in 10 countries, according to a study published by The Lancet medical journal.

Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Guinea and Togo together account for 87 percent of areas that have the highest prevalence of malaria, it said.

The study assessed the effectiveness of the battle against malaria, which went into higher gear with the launch of the Roll Back Malaria initiative in 2000.

Since then, financial support has risen from $100 million (73 million euros) annually to about $2 billion (1.46 billion euros).

The researchers drew up a map of the changing face of malaria from thousands of surveys of prevalence of the disease among children in 44 countries.

They set down three categories of risk: high, meaning places where more than 50 percent of the population were likely to be infected by the Plasmodium falciparum parasite; moderate (10 to 50 percent of the population infected); and low (less than 10 percent).

From 2000 to 2010, the number of people living in areas of high-risk infection fell from 219 million to 184 million, a decline of 16 percent.

But the numbers living in moderate-risk locations rose from 179 million to 280 million, a rise of 57 percent.

The good news was that the tally of people living in low-risk areas rose from 131 million to 219 million.

Four countries — Cape Verde, Eritrea, South Africa and Ethiopia — joined Swaziland, Djibouti and Mayotte in the elite club of countries where transmission levels are so low that elimination of malaria is a realistic goal.

The researchers said the overall picture was mixed, and important gains had been partly offset by population increase — over the decade, an extra 200 million people were born in places with malaria.

“Substantial reductions in malaria transmission have been achieved in endemic countries in Africa over the period 2000-2010,” the paper said.

“However, 57 percent of the population in 2010 continued to live in areas where transmission remains moderate to intense and global support to sustain and accelerate the reduction of transmission must remain a priority.”

In its 2013 report on malaria, the World Health Organisation (WHO) last December said 3.3 million lives had been saved worldwide since 2000.

Even so, the mosquito-borne disease still killed 627,000 people last year, mainly children in Africa and Southeast Asia.

The agency pointed to a shortage of funding and a lack of access to artemisinin malarial medicines and basic remedies such as bednets remained a serious problem, it said.

Source: New vision

Guinea Rushes to Curb Measles Outbreak

Health authorities in Guinea are scrambling to contain a measles outbreak that has killed one child, infected 37 others and spread to half of the country’s 33 districts.

More than 400 suspected cases, nearly all of them in children under 10 years old, have been registered. A vaccination campaign targeting over 1.6 million children is to be launched in the coming weeks.

“We have moved from three affected districts in Conakry before the end of last year to the whole city now being affected. Five more districts out of Conakry are also affected. It means that it could spread throughout the country,” said Felix Ackebo, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) deputy representative for Guinea.

“One of the causes is the nature of the disease. The other is the social/political instability. Many bilateral donors stopped support, awaiting the holding of legislative elections. The whole health system has been weakened. The government was restricted on what it could purchase, and this affected [availability of] vaccines and other important drugs. Many of the basic social services have suffered from this pause in investment,” Ackebo told IRIN. “In the past, we have been obliged to buy measles vaccines and others because the government could not.”

Only 37 percent of Guinean children are fully vaccinated, according to the 2012 Demographic Health Survey. The country’s last measles epidemic, in 2009, infected 4,755 people and killed 10.

Keita Sakoba, head of disease prevention at the Ministry of Health, said that the current stock of measles vaccine, meant for routine immunization, was insufficient for the vaccination drive. He explained that the outbreak was likely due to the accumulation of unvaccinated children.

“We will launch a vaccination campaign in the 15 affected districts and carry out targeted immunizations in districts neighbouring the affected ones,” Sakoba said.

Source: All Africa

Biofuel Crops ‘May Amplify Mosquito-Borne Disease’

The expansion of the some biofuel crops may unwittingly increase the risk of mosquito-borne disease by altering the insects’ life cycle, a study suggests.

The so-called first-generation biofuel crops, most notably maize, are increasingly being replaced by second-generation biofuel crops, such as perennial grasses, which require less energy, water, fertilisers and pesticides to thrive.

Yet ecological changes brought about by large-scale biofuel farming may alter the transmission of vector-borne diseases, by affecting vector behaviour, survival and abundance, for example.

In the paper published in this month’s edition of Global Change Biology – Bioenergy, researchers from the University of Illinois, United States, looked at the egg-laying behaviour of Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, in water that contained leaves of different types of biofuel crops in laboratory experiments, as may happen in the field.

They show that leaves from different types of biofuel crops can affect the chemical properties of the water in which mosquitoes lay their eggs, as well as the mosquitoes’ preference for where to lay eggs and the survival of those eggs.

The researchers show, for example, that more eggs reached adulthood when they were laid in water that was infused with leaf material from the second-generation biofuel crops, switchgrass and Miscanthus, than that infused with maize leaves.

“It may appear that the transition to second-generation biofuel crops could increase mosquito production and consequently the risk of mosquito-borne disease,” they write.

But they add that these crops are also expected to improve wildlife diversity, which may reduce infection prevalence by redirecting mosquito bites to other hosts.

“We recommend further studies to explore the pathways by which these crops are likely to influence disease risk so that any potential negative impacts on human health can be identified and mitigated,” they conclude.

Nick Hewitt, an atmospheric chemist at Lancaster University, United Kingdom, tells SciDev.Net: “Large-scale land-use change is bound to have unintended consequences. In this study, an important unintended second-order consequence of biofuel crop production is identified: changes in water chemistry may change mosquito breeding patterns and hence may have effects on the prevalence of mosquito-borne diseases.”

The study, he says, highlights the “critical need for full life-cycle and environmental impact assessments of crops and agricultural practices”.

Source: All Africa

Measles Outbreak Threatens Children’s Lives in Guinea

UNICEF and its partners have begun to organize a campaign to vaccinate over 1.6 million children to stop a measles outbreak in Guinea amid growing number of cases among children especially in the capital Conakry.

Since November last year, 37 cases have been confirmed in the capital-all children under 10 years old. Over the past few weeks, the number of cases of measles has been increasing sharply and led to the death of one child.

This recent spike has prompted the Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene of Guinea to officially declare an outbreak in the Conakry municipalities of Matam, Matoto, and Ratoma. The disease has also been reported in other parts of the country -namely the prefectures of Boké, Coyah, Dubreka, Kissidougou, and Mandiana.

“We are very concerned about this outbreak. Measles is highly contagious and extremely dangerous–especially for young, malnourished children. As we’ve already seen, it can be fatal. In a densely populated city like Conakry, disease spreads quickly,” said UNICEF Representative in Guinea Dr. Mohamed Ayoya.

The Government of Guinea, UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) are joining forces to set up coordinated mechanisms to contain the outbreak. For the initial response, UNICEF will provide vaccines, refrigerators, needles, and other medical supplies and logistical support to the Government for the vaccination of children in the Kaloum and Dixinn neighbourhoods of Conakry as well as in the affected areas outside the capital. MSF and WHO will support vaccination efforts in the outbreak-declared areas of Conakry -namely Matam, Matoto, and Ratoma.

The vaccination phase of the national campaign will begin in the coming weeks as soon as vaccines, supplies and funding to ensure a continuous rollout are available.

Additionally, UNICEF and its partners will supply the Government with medicine to treat those who have already been infected by measles.

“There is no time to waste,” said Felix Ackebo, UNICEF Deputy Representative. “We need to move faster than the disease. Because measles takes up to 12 days to reveal its symptoms, it is possible that the disease has spread further into the country. All children who are still not immunized are at risk. Therefore, an outbreak immunization campaign is required as soon as possible.”

UNICEF and its partners are urgently seeking funding to replenish the stocks of vaccines needed to rollout the outbreak campaign across the country to vaccinate all children between nine months and 14 years. Additional medicines to treat those already infected are also required.

Source: All Africa

Hepatitis E Outbreak in Uganda

Health Minister Christine Ondoa has expressed concern over the rising prevalence of Hepatitis B in eastern Uganda, despite efforts to contain the deadly disease.

“Ministry and district health officers are working tirelessly to see that we solve this problem; we call upon all people to embrace preventive measures because it is better than cure,” Ondoa said in Soroti last week,

Like HIV, Hepatitis B spreads through sex, mother-to-child transmission, sharing of sharp objects and blood transfusion. But it is 15 times more infectious than HIV/Aids.

The disease is incurable and difficult to detect, and causes liver cancer and chronic liver failure.

“The government has already introduced medicine for children below one year,” Ondoa said, as the government launched a programme to distribute 21 million nets. “This is the vaccine they get below the left thigh when they are six weeks; parents immunize your children against Hepatitis B.”

Hepatitis B virus infection is highly endemic in Uganda, with transmission occurring in childhood and adulthood. Some 1.4 million adults are chronically infected and some communities disproportionately affected.

Source: All Africa

Report Warns Future Smoking Epidemic Among African Youth

A new report from the American Cancer Society warned that Africa will face a severe health threat from the fast-growing increase in tobacco use.  The report combines African smoking rates and cigarette consumption with population trends, and found that without aggressive intervention, the continent will experience a significant increase in smoking in the near future.

The report, “Tobacco Use in Africa: Tobacco Control through Prevention,” reveals that Africa as a region has the smallest number of smokers and smallest rate of tobacco use in the world.  About two percent of all cigarettes are consumed by smokers in Africa, but they make up about six percent of the world’s smokers.

While the numbers are small for now, Evan Blecher, a Cape Town, South Africa based senior economist for the American Cancer Society said these small numbers also provide the greatest for growth.

“That means along with it will come an increase among tobacco-related, smoking-related diseases in an environment where health systems are already significantly over-stretched because of infectious diseases like malaria and HIV,” said Blecher.

While adult smoking among both among men and women is low in Africa, he pointed out that’s not the case with youth.

“We found that African children smoke at comparable levels, and sometimes even higher than other developing regions of the world, particularly Asia.  What’s driving this is unclear, but it must be because of significantly more aggressive tactics from the tobacco industry itself.  But, also it’s in an environment where children aren’t protected from advertising, marketing… in the way that they are in places like the United States,” explained Blecher.

In addition he said,–that while smoking rates are lower in Africa than other regions, it doesn’t mean there is no variation in smoking patterns within the continent.

“On the one hand, we’ve got a lot of countries with really low smoking prevalence, like Ghana for instance, or Nigeria,” said Blecher. “And that’s compared to countries of very high smoking prevalence like South Africa or Mauritius, which have prevalence more similar to what we see in the developed world.

“But, what we do know is that smoking is declining in those markets like South Africa and Mauritius, and increasing in markets like Ghana and Nigeria.

“These other markets which have smaller smoking prevalence are more concerning to us because these are places with much larger populations, which creates a situation where we expect both the number of smokers and smoking prevalence to increase dramatically over the next generation or two,” explained the senior economist.

Blecher attributes the decline in smoking in countries such as South Africa and Mauritius to very strict tobacco control policies like advertising bans, smoke free areas, and very aggressive tax policies.

“Tax policies are critically important in environments where incomes are growing rapidly, because as incomes grow, everything becomes cheaper and more affordable, including cigarettes.  So you need for tax policies to be able to ensure that tobacco products are not becoming more affordable.  So in a country like South Africa where we’ve seen tax rates increase dramatically over the last 20 years–we’ve also seen smoking prevalence plummet.  Twenty years ago, 33 percent of South African adults smoked, and nowadays only 20 percent of them smoke.  It’s a result of deliberate action, rather than luck,” said Blecher.

There is a broader movement in Africa towards comprehensive tobacco control policies like advertising bans and smoke free areas, be said, but these efforts are not enough.

“Tax policy is something that hasn’t really been pursued by African governments with respect to tobacco, partly because the tax systems aren’t as developed as they are in places like South Africa and Mauritius.  So the technical capacity to implement, enforce and administer tax policies is just not where it needs to be at the moment,” stated Blecher.

In addition, he said more needs to be done to educate Africans on the dangers of smoking.  While most Americans are aware of the risk of disease and even death caused by smoking, the idea that smoking is harmful is mostly not known in Africa, especially in rural areas.

As more African countries pursue tobacco control policies, Blecher said people will become more knowledgeable about the harmful effects of smoking. It is not by accident that people in the United States are aware of the dangers of smoking, it is through deliberate action, he said.

Source: Voice Of America


Online Courses Failing to Educate the Poor in Africa

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) may not be reaching the poor, but instead be catering to the rich and well-educated in developing nations, research shows.

 A global survey of almost 35,000 MOOC students engaged in courses of the online education service Coursera found that the majority were already well-educated and employed, and mostly males.

The survey’s results, published today in a letter to Nature, suggests that MOOCs reinforce the advantages of the rich rather than educating those who most need access to free education.

According to the survey, conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, United States, more than 80 per cent of MOOC students already had a college degree and 44 per cent had a postgraduate qualification.

“If you look into what some of the commentators say about what MOOCs could do, the goal is revolution in education access. They have said things like: ‘Nothing has the power to unlock a billion more brains than the massive online courses’,” Gayle Christensen, co-author of the survey, tells SciDev.Net. “So we looked at the data to see if that is the case. At this point, MOOCs are giving more to those who already have a lot.”

The survey found that the percentage of MOOC students with university degrees far exceeds the percentage of the general population with such qualifications.

This disparity proved particularly stark in Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa, where almost 80 per cent of MOOC students came from the wealthiest and most-educated six per cent of the population.

The letter in Nature says that better access to technology and improved basic education are needed worldwide before MOOCs can live up to their promise.

The survey also found that men make up about two-thirds of all MOOC students in countries outside the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a group of mostly rich nations.


“I think that’s a challenge that [MOOC providers] are going to face, to overcome cultural and societal norms that are restricting technology and education access. If we want MOOCs to empower open access, we have to figure out how we can get more women and girls to access them,” says Christensen.

Claire Davenport, director of commercial, operations and international development at FutureLearn a company owned by UK distance learning institute the Open University, and a MOOC provider says: “The whole point about MOOCs being free and not requiring previous experience or qualifications is about the democratisation of education and broadening access.

“Almost everything about these courses is actually about trying to make them accessible to as many people as possible,” she says.

“Obviously, in areas where there is no Internet access, then online learning is going to be more of a challenge. But an interesting thing about MOOCs is that it’s very possible for people to share a computer,” Davenport says.

Source: e-science news


Ghana: Urgent Need to Fix Mental Health system

The recent visit to Ghana by the United Nations expert on torture highlights the need to end abuses against people with mental disabilities.

The government of Ghana should take steps to implement the 2012 Mental Health Act before the end of 2013.

The UN special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, in his visit from November 8-14, expressed deep concern about the state of Ghana’s mental health care system, and called for urgent reform of both psychiatric hospitals and prayer camps warehousing those with mental disabilities.

“The UN expert on torture expressed serious concerns about the use of electro-shock therapy and prolonged shackling of people with mental disabilities,” said Shantha Rau Barriga, disability rights director at Human Rights Watch. “He sent a clear message: the Ghanaian government should do what it takes to end this inhuman and degrading treatment – and it should do so soon.”

As a first step, the government needs to carry out the provisions of the 2012 Mental Health Act, including setting up the oversight mechanism to begin visiting mental health facilities and unregulated prayer camps across the country, Human Rights Watch said.

In some of the thousands of privately run prayer camps in Ghana, people with mental disabilities – some as young as five – are shackled by their ankles to trees in open compounds, where they sleep, defecate, and bathe.

In his report to the UN in March this year, Mendez said that there is no therapeutic justification for the use of prolonged restraint of people with disabilities, and that any use of restraints for even a short period of time, may constitute torture or ill-treatment. Hecalled on the Ghanaian government to make the Mental Health Act operational, including oversight of the prayer camps, by the end of 2013.

Human Rights Watch documented mistreatment of people with mental disabilities in Ghana in its 2012 report “‘Like a Death Sentence’: Abuses against Persons with Mental Disabilities in Ghana.” The report describes how thousands of people with mental disabilities such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia are forced to live in psychiatric hospitals, often against their will, and with little possibility of challenging their confinement.

Human Rights Watch found that at least hundreds – and possibly thousands – of people with mental disabilities are kept in prayer camps associated with pentecostal and evangelical churches. Managed by self-proclaimed prophets, these camps operate completely outside of government control. People with mental disabilities at these camps do not receive any medical treatment and instead are forced to take herbal concoctions or deprived of any food or water for days. Some had been at the prayer camps for as long as five years.

The Special Rapporteur also expressed concern about the practice of electro-shock therapy in Accra Psychiatric Hospital, which is not used as a last resort and which is performed without anesthesia and without the free and informed consent of the patient. In Ghana’s psychiatric hospitals, Human Rights Watch also found a lack of trained mental health workers and overcrowded, filthy conditions, with foul odors in some wards or even feces on the floors due to broken sewage systems.

The government should create community-based support services, including housing and health care that enable people with mental disabilities to live in the community, Human Rights Watch said. The government should ensure that people are not forcefully detained in prayer camps or psychiatric hospitals and that they have access to mechanisms to challenge any violations of their rights.

“People with mental health problems need community-based support, not electro-shock treatment,” Barriga said. “We hope that the special rapporteur’s visit will spark real change in Ghana’s mental health care system. Thousands of people are counting on it.”

Source: Inagist