Tuesday, 31 August 2010

MALARIA: washing bed nets

The current study was undertaken to determine the optimal wash-drying regimen and the effects of different washing procedures on the efficacy, and durability of four brands of newly introduced long-lasting insecticide-treated nets (LLINs) under tropical conditions.
In the current study, the following four LLINs were tested: Olyset(R), PermaNet (R)2.0, BASF(R) and TNT(R). Nets were divided into three sets; one set was washed by hand rubbing and air-dried either hanging or spread on the ground in direct sunlight or hanging or spread on the ground under the shade. A second set was washed using the WHO protocol (machine) and the third set was washed by beating the nets on rocks. The biological activities of the nets were assessed by a three-minute bioassay cone test and the residual insecticide contents were determined using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) procedure.
Nets that were dried hanging under the shade retained more insecticide, 62.5% and recorded higher mortality compared to nets which were dried lying on the ground in direct sunlight 58.8%, nets dried under the shade spread on the ground 56.3%, and 57.8% for nets dried hanging in direct sunlight. It was also observed that nets washed by the standard WHO protocol, retained more insecticide and were more effective in killing mosquitoes compared to nets washed by local methods of hand rubbing and beating on rocks. There were significant differences between drying regimens (p <0.0001) p=" 0.7944">0.0001).
The results of this study suggest that washing and drying regimen influence the insecticidal activity of LLINs. The standard WHOPES washing protocol underestimates the amount of insecticide washed from LLINs compared to the abrasive washing procedures that are used in the field. This suggests that there is need to educate net users to adopt a more gentle washing procedure while handling LLINs. The education should accompany net distribution campaigns.

TUBERCULOSIS: Phillipines: Multi-drug resistance a threat to fight vs tuberculosis

August 15, 2010, CEBU CITY – Amid the country's high prevalence rate of tuberculosis (TB), the biggest threat to the health department's battle against the disease is multi-drug resistance, according to the Department of Health (DoH) in Region 7.
DoH-7 Head of the Communicable Disease Section Dr. Enrique Sancho said the government provides free medicines for TB patents with complete drug regimen from six to eight months which are available in health centers.
But when a TB patient becomes drug-resistant to the various medicines provided by the government, then the case is categorized as “multi drug-resistant' tuberculosis” (MDRTB), Sancho said.
"The biggest threat to the National Tuberculosis Program is the MDRTB as the government does not provide medicines for such cases," according to Sancho. Non-compliance to the medications is the primary factor that leads a person with regular TB to become a case of MDRTB, Sancho disclosed.
A TB patient should religiously take his drugs as indicated while the whole medication treatment course is between six to eight months. When a patient stops taking his medications because he or she already feels okay then chances are very high that such patient would become a case of MDRTB, according to Sancho.
"Four percent of regular TB cases become MDRTB and complete treatment duration for these patients require 18-24 months with multitude of drugs given that are more expensive and not part of the government's free anti-TB medicines," Sancho said.
Sancho said that in severe cases, MDRTB cases progressed to extensive drug-resistant TB (EDRTB) where five percent of MDRTB cases become EDRTB while the most terrifying thing to happen is when the patient becomes a total drug-resistant TB case.
In Cebu, a treatment center for MDRTB called the Programmatic Management for Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (PMDT)-Treatment Center of the South provides free medicines for MDRTB patients.
Dr. Sharon Azenith Laurel, clinic physician of the PMDT- Treatment Center said their facility is the first-ever treatment center for TB outside of Metro Manila that caters to MDRTB. Previously, only the Lung Center of the Philippines in Manila caters to MDRTB, this is stated.
"The medicines for MDRTB cases are being funded by the Global Fund, an international NGO, which is very expensive with an average of P200T per patient for the complete duration of the treatment between 18 to 24 months," Laurel declared. Laurel said that currently, they have 53 patients.


TUBERCULOSIS: TB vaccine trial in Kenya

Trials for the first ever Tuberculosis (TB) vaccine to be conducted in four African countries has kicked off in
Kenya’s Siaya District.
Ninety-six children aged between 16 to 26 weeks will be immunised in Boro Division. Research shows the area has the highest TB infection rate in the country.
Other countries where the trials are expected to take place are South
Africa, Mozambique and Uganda.
The Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) and the American funded Centres for Disease Control (CDC) will conduct the trials in partnership with the Global TB Foundation.
Kemri/CDC Field Research Station director Kayla Laserson said the trials will last six months before being moved to Karemo Division in Siaya.
Dr Laserson said this would bring to 192 the number of infants to be vaccinated for the next 12 months.
Speaking during the launch of the trials at Boro Primary School at the weekend, Laserson disclosed only those children not infected with the HIV virus would be covered and closely monitored for six months.
She said the vaccine developed by researchers from US and the Netherlands would help reduce TB infections, a major killer disease.
Laserson said Kenya was ranked 13 of 22 countries with the highest TB prevalence globally, hence the need to take a leading role in the search for an effective vaccine.
treatment success
The World Health Organisation (WHO) the estimated incidence rate of TB in sub-Saharan Africa is nearly twice that of the South-East Asia Region with over 350 cases per 100 000 population.
According to WHO, Kenya is the first country in sub-Saharan africa to achieve global targets for case detection and treatment success.


Monday, 30 August 2010

MALNUTRITION: 500 children die daily due to inadequate breast-feeding in Tanzania

Aug. 22 (Xinhua) -- The Tanzanian government has disclosed that at least 500 children below the age of five years die every day in the country due to malnutrition related problems.
Tanzanian Permanent Secretary in the Health and Social Welfare Ministry Blandina Nyoni made the remarks at the Commemoration of World Breast-feeding Week in Dar es Salaam, the local newspaper the Guardian reported on Sunday.
About 130 of the children below six months of age succumb to death every day as result of undernourishment, according to the records from the Ministry.
Nyoni said breast-feeding is the only solution to malnutrition, appealing to all breast-feeding mothers to breast feed their children up to the age of two.
A child should be exclusively breast-fed without giving him even water until reaching the age of six months, Nyoni said, adding that in case of sickness a doctor's recommendation should be sought.
She said the breast milk protects children from infections such as diarrhea, chest and ear infections, adding that breast-feeding helps delay a new pregnancy and creates a loving bond between mother and child.
Breast-feeding is the least expensive and most effective intervention for preventing malnutrition and serving children lives, according to Nyoni.


MALNUTRITION: Soaring Child Malnutrition in Northern Cameroon

Soaring Child Malnutrition in Northern Cameroon, as in much of Africa's western Sahel band, has unusually high child malnutrition this lean season between harvests - high even for an impoverished region where poor nutrition is common and most of the five million people lack access to safe water and sanitation.

Six children died from malnutrition in Kousseri hospital, northern Cameroon, in July alone. Tending to 23 children at the hospital's therapeutic feeding centre, centre director Fanta Abba Adam told IRIN: "We don't generally have this many deaths."

"We are overwhelmed by cases of malnutrition," Mahamat Ousman, a local Health Ministry official told IRIN. He said workers from health centres throughout the district of Kousseri generally come to the main hospital for supplies once a month, but since June many have come four times per month.

"In the 10 health centres in Kousseri city, malnutrition cases [moderate and severe] went from 75 in May to 166 in July," he said.

Even outside the lean season, 55,000 under-five children in Cameroon's North and Far North regions have severe acute malnutrition, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF). That is about 70 percent of the country's severely malnourished under-fives, while the zone is home to one-third of the country's children.

The children who died recently or who are in a fragile state at Kousseri hospital "came to hospital in an advanced state of malnutrition and with medical complications," nutritional centre head Abba told IRIN. "In such cases, it is almost impossible to save them."

In many instances the late arrival in health centres stems from reticence to say a child is malnourished, Abba told IRIN. But access to treatment is also a problem; 20 of the 43 health districts in the North and Far North regions have the trained staff, equipment and means to provide free malnutrition treatment, according to Health Ministry officials, who say setting up treatment in the remaining centres is under way, and the slowness is partly due to a lack of funds.

But one health worker who requested anonymity said part of the reason the structures are lacking is that many government leaders are not aware of the magnitude of Cameroon's malnutrition problem.


MALNUTRITION: Pakistan floods -- tens of thousands of children at risk

The UN has warned that tens of thousands of children affected by the floods in Pakistan risk death from malnutrition, as flood waters threaten to engulf two towns in southern Pakistan. A month after the disaster began, flood waters of the Indus River entered two south Pakistani towns leaving more children at risk of malnutrition and death. The floods have forced six million people, including thousands of children, to move out of the flooded areas. The United Nations says the main fear among the children is malnutrition and disease. The international body says over 70,000 children could lose their lives in flood-hit areas. The UN has also warned that the situation has worsened in areas where acute malnutrition was high even before the floods. The international body has urged a more assertive response from the international community to cope with the disaster. Meanwhile, an additional one million people are fleeing the southern province of Sindh. Floodwaters have broken the banks of a canal, threatening to submerge more towns. The month-long floods have claimed more than 1,600 lives and affected some 20 million Pakistanis.

MALNUTRITION: NIGER: Almost 200,000 displaced by floods

27 August 2010 (IRIN) - Further heavy rains in Niger have caused the number of people displaced by flooding to soar from 111,000 last week to 198,740 this week, says the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which is calling on donors and aid agencies to urgently send shelter materials, blankets and mosquito nets. "Response in rural areas has been slow thus far," the head of OCHA in Niger, Modibo Traoré, told IRIN. Flood-displaced families in remote the Diffa region in the southeast, and Agadez in the north, have received no assistance to date. In Agadez some 80,000 animals, already weakened by the ongoing nutrition and food security crisis, have died in the floods. "We must find a way to quickly burn or bury their bodies to ensure water sources are not contaminated," Traoré told IRIN. The government is sending 400 tons of food to people displaced by floodwater, and has released $200,000 in emergency funding to purchase more. The flooding has aggravated a countrywide food security crisis, in which nearly half of Niger's 15.2 million people are experiencing hunger after the harvests failed, according to the government. Traoré warned that the flooding could worsen. "The rainy season is still continuing, so victim numbers may rise even further."

MALNUTRITION: CAMEROON: Soaring child malnutrition in north

27 August 2010 (IRIN) - Northern Cameroon, as in much of Africa's western Sahel band, has unusually high child malnutrition this lean season between harvests - high even for an impoverished region where poor nutrition is common and most of the five million people lack access to safe water and sanitation. Six children died from malnutrition in Kousseri hospital, northern Cameroon, in July alone. Tending to 23 children at the hospital's therapeutic feeding centre, centre director Fanta Abba Adam told IRIN: "We don't generally have this many deaths.""We are overwhelmed by cases of malnutrition," Mahamat Ousman, a local Health Ministry official told IRIN. He said workers from health centres throughout the district of Kousseri generally come to the main hospital for supplies once a month, but since June many have come four times per month. "In the 10 health centres in Kousseri city, malnutrition cases [moderate and severe] went from 75 in May to 166 in July," he said.Even outside the lean season, 55,000 under-five children in Cameroon's North and Far North regions have severe acute malnutrition, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF). That is about 70 percent of the country's severely malnourished under-fives, while the zone is home to one-third of the country's children.The children who died recently or who are in a fragile state at Kousseri hospital "came to hospital in an advanced state of malnutrition and with medical complications," nutritional centre head Abba told IRIN. "In such cases, it is almost impossible to save them."In many instances the late arrival in health centres stems from reticence to say a child is malnourished, Abba told IRIN. But access to treatment is also a problem; 20 of the 43 health districts in the North and Far North regions have the trained staff, equipment and means to provide free malnutrition treatment, according to Health Ministry officials, who say setting up treatment in the remaining centres is under way, and the slowness is partly due to a lack of funds. But one health worker who requested anonymity said part of the reason the structures are lacking is that many government leaders are not aware of the magnitude of Cameroon's malnutrition problem.PovertyAs in other countries across West and Central Africa the causes of malnutrition in Cameroon are many - crop failure on top of chronic poverty, poor weaning and infant feeding practices and lack of access to basic services.For 24-year-old Falmata Ousmanou, poverty and a lack of financial support from her ex-husband are at the root of her 18-month-old's acute malnutrition. She spoke with IRIN as she sat holding the child, who weighs 4.6kg, at the main hospital in the Far North town of Maroua. She said she knew her baby at a certain age needed to have vitamins and minerals; she simply could not afford them."When my baby was 11 months old, health workers advised me to give him porridge enriched with peanut butter and milk," said 24-year-old Ousmanou, who has three children after a fourth died. "But he has been losing weight since. I think it's a lack of minerals. The corn porridge I give him rarely has all the ingredients it should. Sometimes I don't even have porridge to give him. Sometimes I have to borrow flour from my neighbours - but I can't do that all the time." Floods, choleraHealth Ministry nutritionist Augustin Ndongmo Nanfack, just back from a tour of the Far North region, said heavy flooding and a cholera outbreak http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=90056 in the area are exacerbating the nutrition problem. "The situation is worrying," he told IRIN. "I fear with the floods, which have destroyed crops, the nutrition situation will worsen." In many areas of West and Central Africa, floods are destroying crops families planted in the hope of bouncing back from food deficits caused by drought or erratic rains in 2009.

MALNUTRITION: CAMBODIA: Record low water levels threaten livelihoods

26 August 2010 (IRIN) - Late rains and record low water levels in Cambodia's two main fresh water systems will affect food security and the livelihoods of millions, government officials and NGOs warn. "We expect the impact to be very strong," said Nao Thuok, director of the Fisheries Administration, adding that low water levels along the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers were already limiting fish production and migration. Crucial spawning grounds in floodplains along the rivers remained dry. "The places where the fish usually lay their eggs do not have much water so the fish population will decrease a lot," he warned. Approximately six million Cambodians or 45 percent of the population depend on fishing in the Mekong and Tonle Sap basins, the government's Inland Fisheries Research and Development Institute, reports. The annual "flood" season of daily rain usually starts in July but began a month late, local agricultural surveyors say. According to the Mekong River Commission [http://www.mrcmekong.org/] , which monitors the river at throughout its member states - Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam - this month's levels are among the lowest ever for August. At the port of Phnom Penh, the Mekong plunged to 5.36m on 23 August, against more than 7.5m the same time last year and more than 8.5m in 2000. Low rice productivity Not only the fisheries sector is suffering, however. Rice farmer Meas Chan Thorn in western Pursat Province was only able to plant last week, a month behind schedule, because of the late rains, and predicted yields would be halved. "It's so difficult for us farmers in Cambodia because we depend entirely on the weather," the 67-year-old said. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Cambodia could experience a 22 percent drop in rice output this year - from 7.6 million MT in 2009 to 5.9 million MT in 2010. Rice is Cambodia's main crop and its harvesting requires more water than other crops. According to the UN World Food Programme, more than 85 percent of the country's rice production is rain-fed. Prom Tola, a consultant for Phnom Penh-based Agricultural Development International [http://www.agdevi.com/] , who is surveying farmers in Siem Reap Province, said there had been a rise in the number of rural people from Siem Reap leaving for Thailand in search of seasonal labour. Upstream dams Som Sitha, who monitors marine life for the NGO Conservation International [http://www.conservation.org], said Mekong residents were finding the river levels increasingly unpredictable. "They complain that it's getting lower every year, especially the last few years, and they say it's preventing them from getting enough fish." But while observers attribute low river water levels to atypical rainfall patterns this year, others cite upriver dams as the real cause. [http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=85381] Environmentalists blame an increasingly shallow Mekong on China, accusing Cambodia's powerful northern neighbour of hoarding water in its upriver dams. To date, four dams have been built along the Chinese stretch of the Mekong, with nine more under way or awaiting construction downstream in Laos and Cambodia. However, according to the Mekong River Commission, the upstream dams have yet to influence downstream water levels. "There is no doubt that upstream dams, when they do come fully on-line, will have an impact on the water levels, as well as generate other environmental and social concerns," Damian Kean, a spokesman for the Mekong River Commission, said. "However, at present there is no evidence that Chinese upstream dams are operating at a sufficient intensity to cause these low water levels in Cambodia," he added. More than 60 million people in the lower Mekong basin rely on the river for food, commerce and transportation, according to the Mekong River Commission. The group says 80 percent of protein consumed by Mekong residents comes from the river.

MALNUTRITION: food shortages in Africa because of EU target to produce 10% of all transport fuels from biofuels by 2020

Katie Allen
30 August 2010
Friends of the Earth says that biofuel crops, including sugar cane, 'are competing directly with food crops for fertile land'. Photograph: Juan Carlos Ulate/Reuters
European Union countries must drop their
biofuels targets or else risk plunging more Africans into hunger and raising carbon emissions, according to Friends of the Earth (FoE).
In a campaign launching today, the charity accuses European companies of land-grabbing throughout Africa to grow biofuel crops that directly compete with food crops. Biofuel companies counter that they consult with local governments, bring investment and jobs, and often produce fuels for the local market.
FoE has added its voice to an NGO lobby that claims local communities are not properly consulted and that
forests are being cleared in a pattern that echoes decades of exploitation of other natural resources in Africa.
In its
report "Africa: Up for Grabs", the group says that the key to halting the land-grab is for EU countries to drop a goal to produce 10% of all transport fuels from biofuels by 2020.
"The amount of land being taken in Africa to meet Europe's increasing demand for biofuels is underestimated and out of control," Kirtana Chandrasekaran, food campaigner for FoE in the UK, said. "Especially in Africa, as long as there's massive demand for biofuels from the European market, it will be hard to control. If we implement the biofuels targets it will only get worse. This is just a small taste of what's to come."
A number of European companies have planted biofuel crops such as
jatropha, sugar cane and palm oil in Africa and elsewhere to tap into rising demand. But the trend has coincided with soaring food prices and ignited a debate over the dangers of using agricultural land for fuel.
Producers argue they typically farm land not destined, or suitable for, food crops. But campaigners reject those claims, with FoE saying that biofuel crops, including non-edible ones such as jatropha, "are competing directly with food crops for fertile land".
ActionAid claimed this year that European biofuel targets
could result in up to 100 million more hungry people, increased food prices and landlessness.
Natural disasters including floods in Pakistan and a heatwave in Russia have wiped out crops in recent weeks and intensified fears of widespread food shortages.
The United Nations has singled out biofuel demand as a factor in what it estimates will be as much as a
40% jump in food prices over the coming decade.
Estimates of how much land in Africa is being farmed by foreign companies and governments, either for food or fuel crops, vary significantly. The FoE report focuses on 11 African countries in what it sees as a rush by foreign companies to farm there. In
Tanzania, for example, it says that about 40 foreign-owned companies, including some from the UK, have invested in agrofuel developments. It argues that such activities are actually raising carbon emissions in many cases because virgin forests are being cut down.
Lip service The report concludes: "While foreign companies pay lip service to the need for 'sustainable development', agrofuel production and demand for land is resulting in the loss of pasture and forests, destroying natural habitat and probably causing an increase in greenhouse gas emissions."
Sun Biofuels, a British company farming land in Mozambique and Tanzania and named in the report, criticised the charity's research as "emotional and anecdotal" and said that its time would be better spent looking into ways to develop equitable farming models in Africa.
Sun's chief executive, Richard Morgan, said his company's leasing of land in Tanzania had taken three years, during which 11 communities, comprising about 11,000 people, were consulted.
"I find it insulting from Friends of the Earth. Somehow it's indirect criticism of Mozambiquan and Tanzanian governments that they would allow this dispossession to take place," he said.
Morgan conceded that such a protracted process could raise expectations among local people of jobs and investment that could not be met, and said that it was often those negative testimonies that were collected by newspapers and NGOs. But he insisted that Sun was creating jobs where possible and that much of the biofuel production was destined for domestic markets in Africa rather than Europe.
"There's an opportunity here to get investment into local communities in an ethical way," he said.
In many cases, biofuel production was replacing or reducing illegal tree felling, Morgan added. "Tanzania has a large landless community felling forest land. If you give employment to those people as an alternative, there is a chance you can intervene commercially there in a good way."
Biofuel crops were being grown on land that was not intended for food production, he said: "Often we are growing trees on land already cut down for charcoal or in some cases tobacco. We haven't displaced anyone."
But FoE argues that "most of the foreign companies are developing agrofuels to sell on the international market". Its campaigners in Africa are demanding that African states should immediately suspend further land acquisitions and investments in agrofuels. Instead, they want to see fundamental changes in consumption habits in developed countries – be it making more use of public transport or adopting different diets.
Chandrasekaran said: "Biofuels is just a small part of what is happening. What needs to change are consumption patterns in the west. That means [eating less] meat and dairy, given more than a third of the world's agricultural land goes to feeding meat and dairy production. It also means [reducing] consumption of fuel."


Sunday, 29 August 2010

BIOTERRORISM: FDA’s Pivotal Role Fighting Bioterrorism and Emerging Infectious Diseases

With Congress out of session until September 13, the Executive Branch has the opportunity to gain extra column inches and media bandwidth. Thus, last week’s report on medical countermeasures (MCM), released by HHS Secretary Sebelius, drew a lot of interest and a minimum of Congressional comment.
The Secretary released the findings and recommendations from a top-to-bottom review of the Department’s efforts with regard to the development of MCM. In the view of FDA Matters, the report thrusts FDA back into its rightful place as a key agency deserving more resources and respect for its national security responsibilities.
MCM are products that will decrease morbidity and mortality from a bioterror attack or from naturally occurring emerging infectious diseases. Think anthrax or radioactivity from an improvised nuclear device for the first, think H1N1 influenza for the second.
Scientifically and medically, these are difficult products to discover and develop. Financially, they won’t ever be developed without:
federal assistance to promising research; and
a strategic national stockpile and government contracts that will buy proven MCM’s.
As with the larger promise of moving medical therapies from “bench to bedside,” there is no progress without FDA. The agency encourages companies by helping them to define appropriate safety and efficacy endpoints for their particular MCM and works with them to resolve questions of animal models, lab standards, statistical plans, quality manufacturing, etc.
Then, the agency evaluates the testing results and determines whether to approve the product. This work has an additional wrinkle. With most MCM’s (maybe all) it is unethical to do human efficacy trials (e.g. intentionally expose a human being to anthrax to see if the MCM works). Instead, the agency (and the company) must make the difficult evaluation as to whether efficacy in animals is a sufficient surrogate for efficacy in humans.
The Secretary (and the underlying report) found that FDA’s efforts in this area are insufficiently funded. Perhaps for the first time, there was a more global recognition of FDA’s central role in making us safer from bioterrorism and naturally occurring emerging infectious diseases. The Secretary also recognized that FDA needs resources above its current level to do this job well.
The Administration placed a price tag–$170 million in funds to be available until expended–on the size and scope of the monies needed to upgrade FDA’s efforts in this area. The monies will come from dollars previously appropriated to HHS to combat pandemic flu. HHS and OMB have agreed that the monies can be transferred administratively as long as they retain their original purpose of helping to deal with pandemic flu.
However, the Secretary’s recommendation is for the transferred funds to also be used for non-pandemic medical countermeasures. This requires a budget amendment to be sent to Congress to broaden the permitted uses of these funds. How likely is Congress to approve this? We probably won’t know until after September 13.


BIOTERRORISM: Castor bean's genome sequence

Rita Uplend
August 23, 2010

A research team from the J. Craig Venter Institute and the Institute of Genome Sciences at the University of Maryland's School of Medicine has published the sequence and analysis of the castor bean, which is the source of the potential bioweapon ricin.The castor bean's genome was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology. The castor bean is a tropical perennial shrub found in Africa and other tropical and subtropical regions of the world.The sequencing of the castor bean genome shows that it has an estimated 31,237 genes. The research team focused on the genes in the castor bean that can be used to create biofuel and ricin.Understanding the ricin-producing gene in the castor bean family, the researchers say, is integral to preventing and dealing with potential bioterrorism events. Twenty-eight genes in the castor bean's ricin producing family were identified by the research.Enhanced diagnostic and forensic methods for detection of ricin are made possible by genomics, which also aids in precise identifications of strains and geographical regions."The availability of the castor bean genome will encourage more research into the positive aspects of this oilseed crop as a potential biofuel," Dr. Agnes P. Chan, one of the co-lead authors of the research, said. "Further study will also elucidate many aspects about ricin and enable researchers to potentially eliminate the bioterrorism threat of this natural toxin."

BIOTERRORISM: Ebola and Marburg

thomas maugh
Synthetic nucleotides injected into monkeys can block the replication of Ebola and Marburg viruses, suggesting it eventually may be possible to protect humans against these deadly bioterrorism agents, researchers said Sunday.The monkeys get very sick, but most of them survive. The agents, called morpholino oligomers, are the first drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration to go into clinical trials against the viruses — although those trials will, at least initially, be conducted in primates, not humans.The results are "a potentially important proof of concept but still a long way from a product that can be used with confidence against human infections," said virologist Alan L. Schmaljohn of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who was not involved in the research. Schmaljohn cautioned that the drugs were given within an hour after infection and that they could be much less effective later in the course of the disease or against a more aggressive strain of the viruses.Nonetheless, the experimental drugs represent the first ray of hope against two viruses that are extremely difficult to deal with in natural outbreaks and that keep bioterrorism experts awake at night worrying about their potential use by unprincipled attackers.Ebola and Marburg are both members of the filovirus family, long threads of RNA that infect humans and other primates, causing hemorrhagic fever and, almost inevitably, death. Although researchers have been working frantically to develop drugs to treat infections, none has yet reached the stage of clinical testing.The morpholino oligomers are a new class of drugs in a family of what is known as antisense nucleotides. Antisense nucleotides are designed to bind tightly to specific areas of viral messenger RNA, blocking replication. Such compounds already are being used to treat certain types of cancer and cytomegalovirus infections, and they are being tested against HIV. The morpholino oligomers, developed by AVI BioPharma of Washington, D.C., have specialized attachments that stabilize the nucleotides and make them more effective.The genesis for the studies came in February 2004 when a technician at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Ft. Detrick, Md., accidentally stuck her thumb while working on mice infected with the Ebola virus. She was quickly placed in what researchers there called the "slammer," a maximum-containment isolation unit.Coincidentally, Dr. Patrick Iversen from AVI had delivered a lecture on campus that day about the use of antisense molecules against viruses. He volunteered to design and synthesize molecules to treat the technician if the need arose. The technician was not infected, but the research led to the report Sunday in the journal Nature Medicine.Virologist Travis K. Warren of the Army research institute and his colleagues studied one compound, called AVI-6002, in rhesus monkeys infected with the Ebola virus. They found that 60% of the monkeys given a sufficient dose survived the infection, but all who received no drug died.Separately, they treated 13 cynomolgus monkeys infected with Marburg virus with a second compound, AVI-6003, directed against that virus. All 13 survived. Treating monkeys infected with Ebola with the drug for Marburg produced no results, and vice versa, indicating that the treatment was highly specific.Because clinical trials cannot be conducted ethically in humans, the FDA permits such drugs to be tested in primates, and the group will soon begin such tests. If they prove successful, the drugs will then be tried when outbreaks of infection occur in Africa.Warren said the approach could be used to treat a variety of other infectious diseases and inherited problems. "Any disorder that involves a genetic problem can potentially be treated," he said.

BIOTERRORISM: New Technologies, Future Weapons: Gene Sequencing and Synthetic

August 24, 2010
Ethel Machi and Jena Baker McNeill
Since the completion of the human genome project in 2003, there has been a surge of investment and discovery in both the gene sequencing and synthetic biology sectors of biotechnology. While the information contained in genome databases is not inherently dangerous, it can be used for destructive purposes. With synthesis technology becoming less expensive, more accurate, and faster every year, it is foreseeable that by 2020 malefactors will have the ability to manipulate genomes in order to engineer new bioterrorism weapons.
With every technological advancement come new national security risks. Without a clear understanding of the actual risks associated with synthetic biology, the U.S. is in danger of responding to fears with overregulation. To create regulation that fits the technology, the U.S. should fund risk assessments on the impact of synthesis and sequencing—giving policymakers a better idea of where the highest likelihood of terrorism lies. Simultaneously, and to continue leading the biotechnology revolution, the U.S. also needs to provide federal funding for synthetic biology and gene sequencing research. These steps, coupled with a strong strategy for bioterrorism that confronts issues of prevention and response/surge capacity, would allow America to reap the rewards of these emerging technologies while avoiding many of their attendant perils.
Select Agent Classifications Are No Longer Effective
In the past, one way that government agencies combated bioterrorism was by restricting access to the pathogens themselves. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Agriculture have worked together to regulate the laboratory use of “select agents” (pathogens and biological agents that have the potential to pose a severe threat to public health, such as the Ebola virus). But with the advent of DNA synthesis technology, simply restricting access to the actual pathogen no longer provides the security that it once did. Since the gene sequence is a blueprint, once an organism has been sequenced it can be synthesized without using samples of existing cultures or stock DNA.
In today’s market it costs just a few thousand dollars to design a custom DNA sequence, order it from a manufacturer, and within a few weeks receive the DNA in the mail. Since select agents are currently not defined by their DNA sequences, terrorists can actually order subsets of select agent DNA and assemble them to create entire pathogens. The possibility for attack by a bioterrorism weapon containing a select agent will be greater in the future as synthesis technology continues to advance.
New Restrictions and Regulations?
Since terrorists would not be able to fabricate select agents without access to the requisite genomes, it seems at first glance that restricting access to genomic databases could ameliorate much of the problem. In actuality, the gene databases are a fundamental tool for researchers. Future advances in gene sequencing and synthesis would be severely hindered by government regulation of these databases. No other area of life science depends as much on online databases. In fact, the gene sequencing and DNA synthesis fields are so database-driven that most scientific journals require genome data to be deposited into these databases as a prerequisite for publication.
Moreover, the full genetic sequence for many select agents and other pathogenic genomes (smallpox, botulism, anthrax) are already in Internet-accessible databases that currently mandate free, unfettered, and anonymous access. Once a genome has been released onto the Web, it makes little sense to restrict future publication of that genome. (Posting to the Internet is easy; removing all copies of a post is a near-impossible feat.)
Regulation Tailored to the Risks
Overregulation has a negative effect on research, while under-regulation would undoubtedly expose the U.S. to national security risks. Federal agencies such as the NIH and the NSF may be best suited to conduct ongoing risk assessments for synthetic biology and gene sequencing technologies.
As the field develops, regulations should be updated so that they can be narrowly tailored to fit the actual risks—thereby impacting future research as little as possible. In addition, independent committees of industry leaders, agency officials, and academics should be appointed to create regulations based on these risk assessments.
Staying Ahead
As the world’s leader in biotechnology research, the U.S. is currently in an excellent position. However, other nations are beginning to catch up. Around the world, industry and universities alike are working to decode the genetic makeup of thousands of organisms to discover which genes are responsible for what diseases and to create technologies that perform gene sequencing and DNA synthesis faster and more accurately than ever before.
Domestic researchers need to have the funding to develop the next generation of countermeasures for genetically engineered pathogens. Without favorable legislation such as tax breaks, biotechnology companies may begin moving overseas. And without federal funding, top scientists would be unable to perform the fundamental research that will fuel the next stage of synthesis and sequencing technologies. If the U.S. is not far ahead of other nations in its research, it runs a higher risk of being susceptible to attack.
Detecting Synthetic Pathogens
As synthesis and sequencing technologies continue to advance, it will become easier and easier for rogue individuals or bioterrorists to leak man-made pathogens into water and food supplies. To mitigate this risk, the U.S. should promote research into the areas most prone to attack. Next steps should include:
Conducting risk assessments. Without adequate understanding of the risks involved in any technological field, the government may overregulate and stifle scientific and technological progress.
Investing in biotechnology. Other nations recognize the potential of synthetic biology. If the U.S. does not continue to invest in synthetic biology, it will technologically fall behind other countries and run a higher risk of being subjected to a bio-weapons attack.
Move forward with WMD Commission recommendations. In 2008, Congress created the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism to study the “risk of WMD terrorism” and to recommend “steps that could be taken to prevent a successful attack on the United States.” As part of this work, the commission took a close look at the threat of bioterrorism and recommended key changes that should be made to both counter and respond to such an act of terrorism. The commission focused on both surge capacity for first responders in the event of an attack and preventing would-be terrorists from gaining access to biological agents.
These recommendations would help ensure that the U.S. remains protected while working on the cutting edge of biotechnology.
Bio-Specific Strategy Needed
The WMD Commission has emphasized the need for a “bio-specific strategy” in terms of preventing acts of bioterrorism. The U.S., however, has significant work to do in terms of developing this strategy in a way that is representative of the risk of bioterrorism, respects legitimate uses of biological agents, and prepares the nation if such a disaster strikes.

TUBERCULOSIS: Nigeria: unrecognized infection in dental patients

In patients who sought treatment at the dental clinic of a tertiary hospital in Nigeria, we found an unexpectedly high rate of unrecognized infection with pathogenic mycobacteria. Ten (13%) of 78 study participants who provided sputum samples were infected with M. tuberculosis. Our findings corroborate other studies of TB cases and show that AFB smears alone would miss some infected patients. M. tuberculosis is transmitted with high efficiency to household contacts (9), and transmission of mycobacteria, including multidrug-resistant M. tuberculosis strains, from dental patients to dental practitioners, probably occurs (10). Accordingly, infected participants in this study, especially those who had positive AFB smears, were, in principle, capable of infecting dental practitioners and other patients. Reports from other settings suggest that the threat of TB transmission from clients to dentists is not only theoretical (11). This extremely high percentage of undiagnosed AFB positivity is of public health concern because dental clinics in TB-endemic areas are not usually considered a place of high risk for TB transmission; therefore, preventive measures are not routinely implemented.


August 27 2010
FARGO – A Sanford Health doctor was recently diagnosed with tuberculosis, or TB, the hospital announced this afternoon.
At least 77 patients and 43 employees may have been exposed from July 1 to Aug. 16. Sanford will offer free evaluations and testing to these individulas.
The doctor was not named in the release. At the time the doctor was tested, there was no indication he or she had active TB, the Sanford statement says.
The hospital plans to address media through interviews with Dennis Millirons, president of Sanford Medical Center.
The hospital is partnering with the North Dakota Department of Health to ensure the safety of patients, employees and the public, the statement says.
A very small number of people exposed actively are infected with TB, the statement says.

TB remains a major cause of illness and death worldwide, especially in Africa and Asia. Every year tuberculosis kills almost 2 million people. Since the 1980s, rates of TB have increased, fueled by the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the emergence of drug-resistant strains of the TB bacteria.



August 23 2010
Health chiefs will begin screening more than 200 children for tuberculosis today after an outbreak in a primary school.
Three youngsters in the Cork city area who already tested positive for the infection have started treatment.
The HSE South said an investigation in to the cluster of cases was progressing in line with national TB contact tracing guidelines.
Some 220 pupils and staff from Ballintemple National School and the families of the three children will be offered screening in the chest clinic of St Finbarr's Hospital, Cork.


POVERTY: UN Habitat Report State of the World's Cities 2010/2011

The world's urban population now exceeds the world's rural population. What does this mean for the state of our cities, given the strain this global demographic shift is placing upon current urban infrastructure?

POVERTY: U.S. Occupation of Iraq More Than Doubles Poverty, Sickness

Adil E. Shamoo
August 22, 2010
Iraq has between 25 and 50 percent unemployment, a dysfunctional parliament, rampant disease, an epidemic of mental illness, and sprawling slums. The killing of innocent people has become part of daily life. What a havoc the United States has wreaked in Iraq.

UN-HABITAT, an agency of the United Nations, recently published a 218-page report entitled State of the World’s Cities, 2010-2011. The report is full of statistics on the status of cities around the world and their demographics. It defines slum dwellers as those living in urban centers without one of the following: durable structures to protect them from climate, sufficient living area, sufficient access to water, access to sanitation facilities, and freedom from eviction.

Almost intentionally hidden in these statistics is one shocking fact about urban Iraqi populations. For the past few decades, prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the percentage of the urban population living in slums in Iraq hovered just below 20 percent. Today, that percentage has risen to 53 percent: 11 million of the 19 million total urban dwellers. In the past decade, most countries have made progress toward reducing slum dwellers. But Iraq has gone rapidly and dangerously in the opposite direction.

According to the U.S. Census of 2000, 80 percent of the 285 million people living in the United States are urban dwellers. Those living in slums are well below 5 percent. If we translate the Iraqi statistic into the U.S. context, 121 million people in the United States would be living in slums.

If the United States had an unemployment rate of 25-50 percent and 121 million people living in slums, riots would ensue, the military would take over, and democracy would evaporate. So why are people in the United States not concerned and saddened by the conditions in Iraq? Because most people in the United States do not know what happened in Iraq and what is happening there now. Our government, including the current administration, looks the other way and perpetuates the myth that life has improved in post-invasion Iraq. Our major news media reinforces this message.

I had high hopes that the new administration would tell the truth to its citizens about why we invaded Iraq and what we are doing currently in the country. President Obama promised to move forward and not look to the past. However problematic this refusal to examine on the past -- particularly for historians -- the president should at least inform the U.S. public of the current conditions in Iraq. How else can we expect our government to formulate appropriate policy?

More extensive congressional hearings on Iraq might have allowed us to learn about the myths propagated about Iraq prior to the invasion and the extent of the damage and destruction our invasion brought on Iraq. We would have learned about the tremendous increase in urban poverty and the expansion of city slums. Such facts about the current conditions of Iraq would help U.S. citizens to better understand the impact of the quick U.S. withdraw and what are our moral responsibilities in Iraq should be.


POVERTY: How many poor Arabs are there? Call to create poverty map, update data in the region

29 August 2010
Nadim Kawac>
Arab nations need to create a common data network and a map for poverty in their region as part of a strategy intended to upgrade their socio-economic information and combat poverty, according to an official Arab group.
Despite widespread poverty in many regional countries, Arab governments still far lag behind in gathering accurate data on local poverty and need to change criteria used in measuring poverty and preparing indexes in this respect, the Khartoum-based Arab Organization for Agricultural Development (AOAD) said.
In a study released this week, AOAD said a poverty index should be based on family consumption data instead of GDP per capita income.
“To support efforts to fight poverty develop related indicators in the Arab world, regional countries should work on two fronts,” AOAD said.
“The first one should focus on upgrading the mechanisms used in poverty indexes…the second should be aimed at developing and improving the skills of Arab human resources in the field of poverty measurement.”
AOAD, an affiliate of the Cairo-based Arab League, proposed the holding of a regional conference on poverty indicators to pool expertise and exchange views, the creation of a regional poverty data network to be published on AOAD’s website and the preparation of a poverty map in all Arab nations.
“These should include regular publication of poverty indicators in the Arab countries and the preparation of a study on the distribution of wealth,” it said.
“They should also include measurement of poverty in the Arab world using data based on household consumption spending instead of income since this consumption is more associated with the living standards of the family…it also better and more accurately illustrates poverty.”
The study urged all regional funds as well as financial and development establishments to fund training programmes for Arab officials in poverty measurement and in chalking out strategies to combat poverty.
According to another Arab League institution, many regional nations are suffering from poverty because of high population increases and slow economic growth due to poor investment, low exports, flawed economic policies and other factors.
In 2008, poverty rate was above 30 per cent of the total population in such countries as Sudan, Somalia, Mauritania, Djibouti, Yemen, Palestine and Comoros, according to the Abu Dhabi-based Arab Monetary Fund (AMF).
The rate averaged around 19.6 per cent in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco and Algeria. The AMF said it had no accurate data on poverty in Gulf oil producers but said the rate was relatively low.
Besides those factors, many Arab economies have remained dormant because of conflicts and high defence spending, which was at the expense of development expenditure, according to the Arab League.
Its figures showed defence and security allocation in all nations have averaged as high as 28 per cent of the current expenditure over the past eight years while economic affairs allocations have not exceeded eight per cent.
The figures showed current expenditure totalled around $309 billion in 2007 as it accounted for nearly 72 per cent of the total spending of $430 billion.
At 28 per cent of the current spending, defence and security allocations totalled nearly $86 billion. Economic affairs allocations stood at only $24.7 billion.
“Latest indications point to a decline in poverty rates in some Arab countries but an increase in others…despite the decline in those members, the poverty rates are still considered very high,” said the League’s joint Arab economic report.
The figures showed poverty has declined in Tunisia and Morocco over the past few years but sharply increased in Djibouti, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq and Palestine.
“Poverty in the Arab countries is closely linked to economic growth rates and developments in wealth distribution…economic growth alone is not enough to reduce poverty as wealth re-distribution could not be to the advantage of the poor…Arab states should focus on even and fair distribution of wealth.”
While Arab economies have recorded high growth over the past eight years, it was nominal growth as real growth was relatively weak and much lower than the population growth in some Arab countries, the report said.
High nominal growth over the past few years was mainly a result of a surge in oil prices as the economies of many Arab nations, mainly the Gulf oil producers, recorded low performance and some of them declined during 1990s.
Besides worsening poverty, such developments have resulted in a deterioration of the long-standing joblessness problem in the Arab region, with the number of unemployed persons peaking at nearly 17 million at the end of 2008.
AMF wealth indicators showed Qatar and the UAE were the richest Arab nations in 2008 while Mauritania and Yemen maintained their position as the poorest.
Although it controls more than a fifth of the world’s recoverable oil deposits, Saudi Arabia was the sixth wealthiest Arab country and the least well off in terms of GDP per capita in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
The figures showed Qatar’s nominal GDP per capita stood at $70,651 and that of the UAE at $52,574. The report gave no data for 2009 but the per capita income is expected to have receded because of lower oil prices.


POVERTY: Brazil and President Lula's approach

As Brazil's first working-class president, Lula has become a global symbol of the fight against poverty and the rise of emerging markets. The combination of market-friendly policies with expanded social welfare programs has given Lula the reputation of a moderate leftist, and his policy mix is seen as a model for much of Latin America.
-- Born in the poor semi-arid northeast, Lula moved with his family to Sao Paulo, where he shined shoes and worked as a delivery boy. He never finished high school but learned the metalworker's trade. He rose to national fame as a union leader who helped combat the 1964-1985 military dictatorship and in 1980 founded the leftist Workers' Party. He lost three presidential races before winning the October 2002 election.
-- His flagship welfare program, Bolsa Familia, has received international recognition as one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce extreme poverty and boost local economic activity. The program pays families a monthly stipend, provided they get regular medical check-ups and send their children to school.
-- Under Lula, Brazil's economy grew at its fastest pace in decades and some 20 million people emerged from poverty. He has given the central bank a free hand to conduct monetary and currency policy, but during the 2008/09 global financial crisis he stepped up government-centered economic policies, such as boosting state enterprises and low-cost loans.
-- Lula pursued a much more proactive foreign policy than any of his predecessors, acting as a mediator in regional conflicts, leading a peace-keeping mission in Haiti, and playing a key role in global trade and climate negotiations. Brazil helped foment a common front of developing nations to help counterbalance interests of the United States and Europe in the Doha trade round.
-- At home he is criticized for having turned a blind eye to corruption and becoming friendly with rogue leaders in Venezuela and
Iran. A charismatic, grandfatherly figure, Lula is one of the few global leaders with a popularity rating around 80 percent toward the end of his second term.

POVERTY: South Africa: The "War on Poverty" entrenches poverty

Helen Zille
27 August 2010

Almost everyone in South Africa agrees that our country's major challenge is poverty and unemployment.
The question is, how can we enable people to move out of poverty, and earn an income, in a sustainable way?
The "War on Poverty" programme is one of the major initiatives of President Zuma's office. It is spearheaded by the Deputy President, Kgalema Motlanthe. Its key strategy is "community profiling". In theory this involves compiling a detailed survey of each household in a community, so that the state can target its interventions with the purpose of enhancing the capacity of households to move out of poverty and earn a living. I wanted to see how this works in practice. It was, therefore, with great interest, that I accepted an invitation from Mr Motlanthe, to the Bitou Region (which includes some of the poorest people in the Western Cape) as part of the "War on Poverty". I gave the opening address (an edited version of which appeared in this newsletter, last week). My key point was that although the "community profiling" approach was useful, it could not substitute for a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy. If "profiling" was well done, and followed-up, it could be the starting point for interventions to increase the capacity of families to move out of poverty. After the visit I have re-assessed this analysis. On the basis of the examples I saw, I have concluded that "the War on Poverty" in its current form, will increase rather than alleviate South Africa's poverty crisis. Why do I say so? My starting point is Amartya Sen's definition of poverty as "capability deprivation" -- the inability of a person to lead a life they value. A person is poor when she is unable to meet her basic needs or the needs of her dependents. The thrust of any war on poverty must, therefore, be to increase people's capability to meet these needs. There are various ways the state must do this: through policies that increase economic growth and expand people's opportunities, particularly through good public education and health care. Social grants are also an important component of any "anti-poverty" strategy. They cushion people from the effects of extreme deprivation. They are intended to provide a catalyst for development, a "hand up" so that people can take the next step towards meeting their needs in a sustainable way. If "community profiling" were helping to identify the precise intervention that could facilitate the development of each family, it could potentially be a useful tool. But, in its present form, it is doing precisely the opposite. After my experience "on the ground" in Bitou, I believe the "war on poverty" approach is decreasing capability and increasing dependence. It is actually preventing people becoming active agents of their own destiny, and entrenching their bondage. Why do I say so? We visited various areas. In KwaNokuthula we visited four selected households, whose poverty profile (and the proposed interventions) had been recorded on the prescribed forms.
But the key information was missing. As a result, the proposed interventions actually undermined the key purpose of building the family's capacity to move out of poverty. In any event, none of the families we visited had received the interventions proposed. The state does not have the capacity to follow-up on the scale required. In truth, very few countries in the world would be able to do so.
I assumed that the families we visited (each living in an RDP house) were carefully selected. So I was amazed to find that three out of the four had extreme substance abuse problems. In two of the houses, the adults were so drunk by mid-morning that they could not participate meaningfully in a conversation. In the third house, the adults (including a pregnant woman) openly conceded that they were under the influence of marijuana. As Rastafarians they contended that smoking "ganja" was integral to their religion.
It was quite apparent, in all three homes, that no intervention would increase the capability of the families to move out of poverty until their addiction problems were addressed. But their "community profile" did not contain any reference to substance abuse.
I could unpack the "profiles" of any one of the families (as well as the proposed interventions) to show how counter-productive the present approach to fighting poverty is. I have chosen one of them (to protect the family's identity I will call them "Dlamini", which is not their real name). Mr Dlamini was so drunk he could not stand on his feet and kept referring to me as "baby". His wife was also drunk. The family's source of income is Mrs Dlamini's "disability grant". It was clearly a context of chronic alcoholism.
I consulted the family's "profile". It listed Mr Dlamini's skills as: "brick-laying, painting, walls, welding, carpentry." This was followed by a list of state interventions required to support him moving out of poverty. It notes: "needs assistance in fixing cracks in RDP house."
Here was a man with all the skills required to fix his wall. But the state was instructing a local government department to send someone else to do so, for the ostensible purpose of enabling the Dlamini family to escape poverty! To be sure, he needed the assistance, not because he lacked the skills, but because he could not stand up.
This made the other proposal on his "profile form" even more ironic. It instructed the department of Economic Development to assist Mr Dlamini start his own business to utilize his skills.
The form also lists a daughter in the house as requiring access to bursaries and help with school admission. This sounded like a sensible intervention that could enhance the family's capacity to move out of poverty. When I enquired about the daughter, it transpired that she had moved away to live in Oudtshoorn. I concluded that this was the most sensible thing she could have done, on her own initiative, to escape a situation that would inevitably destroy her opportunities.
Overall, my conclusion was that the "community profile" of this family was entirely useless. It had cost a lot of money to compile, and would cost even more to "follow-up" and would predictably have no beneficial consequence at all for the "war on poverty". The other "profiles" were equally unhelpful.
Apart from the families in KwaNokuthula, we visited families in other areas as well.
At the end of the day, I concluded the following:
1) A common feature of all the families in dire poverty was the absence of a functional father figure.2) Many had an obvious, and severe, substance abuse problem.3) A significant number of family units comprised grandmothers looking after their grandchildren, either because the mothers had died or because the mothers were teenagers.
I concluded that the state was playing an important role in alleviating the extreme deprivation of these families through the provision of RDP houses, free medical treatment (typically anti-retrovirals) and state grants.
Each family we visited asked for additional grants or food parcels as their proposed method of moving out of poverty.
A grandmother told me she had been to the doctor many times, in an attempt to qualify for a disability grant, but each time the doctor had declared her fit to work. She could not work because she had to look after her grandchildren after their mother had died of AIDS. The father could not be traced. One of the children was HIV positive and very sickly. It was heart breaking to see this fragile little girl, slumped in a chair. She received medication and nutrition from the clinic. She was living in a shack because her granny had already been allocated an RDP house in another province and could not get a second one.
Another woman confronted me in the street, in a state of extreme intoxication, demanding to know how I expected her to raise her child on a grant of R250. When I asked her where the child's father was, she dismissed my question as entirely irrelevant and told me she intended to have another child to receive an additional grant. There was no point trying to reason with her.
After the door-to-door visits Deputy President Motlanthe led the delegation in addressing a large rally of about 3,000 people in a huge marquee. I used the opportunity to talk bluntly about some of the "unmentionable" causes of poverty: teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, the spread of HIV through unprotected sex, the failure of many fathers to take responsibility for their children. I said that if we were to wage a real and effective "War on Poverty" we would have to be honest about these issues and devise effective strategies to address them. This would require both the government and individuals to take responsibility. The current approach was entrenching poverty and dependence, not eradicating it.
I also reflected on how much more productively the millions spent on the rally might have been spent if they had been used for bursaries for poor children to attend good schools.
When the master of ceremonies moved the vote of thanks for the day's proceedings, I was struck by a final irony. The major corporate sponsor of the event was none other than South African Breweries. Go figure.


POVERTY: effect of shame

A major international study will be conducted in eight countries, including India, to examine whether shame is a key part of the experience of being poor. The half-a-million-pound study, led by Professor Robert Walker from Oxford University, will look at whether being poor necessarily results in low self esteem or feelings of shame and whether welfare policies are counterproductive when claimants are stigmatised. The research, spanning eight countries, aims to improve our understanding of the impact of poverty to establish whether anti-poverty measures could be applied more effectively. A team of a dozen researchers will conduct-depth interviews with children and their parents about how being poor affects the way they feel about themselves and the way they are regarded by their own community. They will interview families in UK, Norway, China, India, Pakistan, Uganda, South Korea and Germany. As well as comparing experiences across countries, the study will include differences between rural areas, cities and towns. Professor Walker, from the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at the University of Oxford, said: "Very little is known about the way people in different countries experience and regard poverty. (It) has been suggested that, in China, for example, it might be more important for adults, even in poor families, to maintain 'face' and to uphold their own sense of dignity. "In parts of India and Pakistan it is possible that loss of 'family honour' adds to any sense of personal shame". "This is the first time an academic study has been set up to analyse the importance of shame in understanding the experience of poverty in very different cultures," Walker added. The research team will analyse whether there is a link between poverty and shame: through its portrayal in literature and film; in-depth interviews with low-income households; and focus groups with middle-class people on their view of poverty. The researchers will carry out a statistical analysis of existing data on poverty in the World Values Survey. They will also explore the language and practices used by the agencies responsible for implementing social assistance and anti poverty programmes to see whether they are more or less likely to make people ashamed of asking for help. Professor Walker said: "Language is loaded with all sorts of nuances and subtleties: phrases like 'sink estates', 'hand-outs', 'deserving' and 'undeserving', even 'rights and responsibilities', make judgements on the poor". "We hope this study helps to inform policy development, both in the UK and abroad. Our objective is to use this research to work together with policymakers and agencies to deliver policies that tackle poverty effectively while simultaneously recognising the importance of promoting dignity and a sense of self-respect," he added.

POVERTY: Mired in poverty: Palestinian refugees in Lebanon see little hope in new law

Richard Hall
24 August 2010 14.00 BST
Standing in the narrow streets of Shatila refugee camp, south Beirut, as battered mopeds speed past and electrical wires dangle messily overhead, seven-year-old Hasan Hameid is clear about what he wants to do when he grows up: "I want to be a doctor and to treat sick people."
But despite
Lebanon's proclaimed sympathy with the Palestinian people, Lebanese law will prevent him fulfilling his dream with a long list of professions and ownership rights denied to the country's hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Generations of Palestinians remain mired in poverty in cramped, squalid refugee camps, and even those with an education cannot own a house or land, or become lawyers, engineers or, unfortunately for Hasan, doctors. Last week a shift in the law granted some employment rights and removed restrictions, addressing decades-old discriminatory laws that banned them from working in all but the most menial jobs.
Palestinians will be able to apply for free work permits, pay into a pension fund, and claim for work-related accidents – but there is no guarantee that employers will hire them, or how the work permits will be allocated, and they will still be unable to work in a number of key professions. Law, medicine and engineering require that a person join the industry syndicate before they can be employed. But a policy of reciprocity means that "stateless" Palestinians cannot be employed like other foreigners who belong to recognised states that can offer similar benefits to the Lebanese.
The law was greeted with scepticism by many. "I fix telephones… Thirteen years of study so I can fix telephones," says 39-year-old Ghassan dejectedly. He studied electrical engineering, receiving his doctorate in Lebanon two months ago. He is among the very few that have gained qualifications despite a lack of funding for education for Palestinians. But even with the new law in place, Ghassan will not be employed in engineering as long as he stays in Lebanon. He said: "Here in Lebanon there is no law, there is no government and nothing is happening. Forget the whole [law] – what's written and what you hear and what you see, forget it."
Ghassan has learned to be pessimistic. After decades of debate on the status and rights of Palestinians in Lebanon, and despite the best efforts of the UN agency for Palestinian
refugees (UNRWA), they remain severely impoverished and marginalised. Of the estimated 400,000 Palestinians living in Lebanon – most of them the descendants of those who fled or were forced from their homes during the war following the creation of Israel in 1948, and later in the 1967 Middle East war – more than half live in one of the 12 UN-run refugee camps scattered around the country. According to UNRWA figures, close to 60% of the Palestinians in Lebanon are unemployed. The Palestinian Najdeh Foundation estimates only 7% of working Palestinians have fixed contracts, 90% of which work with UNRWA.
Shatila refugee camp in west Beirut is much the same as the 11 others in Lebanon. Overcrowded rooms in concrete buildings suffer from poor plumbing and intermittent electricity; youths stand around smoking and tradesmen sell their goods on a dusty street through the camp. The Palestinian community was often directly involved in the conflicts that have plagued Lebanon, a contributing factor to the conditions in which they now live. But many point to labour laws that discriminate against Palestinians as the primary reason for their poverty.
The debate over rights for Palestinian refugees has divided lawmakers here for years. Lebanon's Christian parties constitute the largest opposition to the new law – and indeed any law that aims to give Palestinians in the country more rights – based on a fear that any such move would constitute the first steps towards naturalisation, or tawteen. Tawteen is a major concern for Lebanon's diminishing Christian community, who fear Palestinian integration would dramatically alter the demographics in favour of an already much larger Muslim majority. Palestinians deny they seek citizenship in Lebanon, and hold the right to return to the land of their ancestors as a sacred right.
Compromises over the draft law – which included Palestinians' right to own property – mean any tangible improvement of living conditions is unlikely. Nadim Houry, Beirut director of Human Rights Watch, said: "This law is a positive but insufficient step in fixing some of the underlying problems of discrimination in Lebanese law. This has to be followed up in terms of a real dialogue with the syndicates so they open their ranks to Palestinians. I think there has to be a real labour policy to encourage hiring Palestinians."
Hasan's mother, Imm Mohammed, said: "My other son is studying to be an engineer at the Arab University… and when he's finished what's he going to do? I said to him, 'What's the point?' He said, 'I want to be an engineer – you don't know what's going to happen in the future.'"


POVERTY: Kenya: mobile phone use

August 28, 2010
A STREET beggar's dirty hand is drawn to his mouth in the universal sign for hunger. A busy foreigner bustles past and shrugs, indicating he does not have any local coins.
''I take SMS,'' calls the beggar.
This truly is the digital economy. While Melburnians struggle to work out how to use a myki card, Kenya's capital, Nairobi, buzzes on a banking system based on short messages sent from mobile phones.
Known as m-pesa - ''pesa'' is Swahili for money - the mobile service works on a debit and credit principle. A vendor nominates a price, the buyer sends a text message to transfer funds between accounts. Should a person need hard currency, booths are dotted around the country so people can make withdrawals.
The service is booming. Almost 12 million Kenyans used m-pesa in the past year, sending $A462 million in small transactions.
Ready access to cheap mobile phones, even for the poor, gives the mobile money system many advantages over a traditional cash-based economy. Security is one thing - for Kenya's many slum dwellers, finding a safe place to stash savings is tricky.
M-pesa is the sort of thing that inspires hope for alleviating chronic poverty, using modern technology to best advantage. This was one of the ambitious Millennium Development Goals set by world leaders a decade ago to lift people out of poverty.
But with five years to run before these targets are due to be fulfilled in 2015, the world is falling far short of its ambition.
The number of people living on less than $1 a day is growing, so too the rate of women who die in childbirth. HIV/AIDS is spreading and the aim to give every child a chance of primary education is far from being met.
Add to this a global financial crisis that left the rich world feeling poor and the failure of last year's Copenhagen summit on global action on climate change, bringing a lopsided impact on those in greatest need.
The leaders' draft leaves this message: ''Our shared vision of development and the urgency to take decisive action to make the Millennium Development Goals a reality for all is more important than ever.''
Some have progress at their fingertips, but for others pain and poverty linger

POVERTY: Yemen: Poverty, corruption and an army of jihadis

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad 22 August 2010
The market at Jaar, a small city in Abyan province in southern Yemen, is on a filthy, dusty road strewn with garbage, plastic bottles, cans and rotten food. Plastic bags fly on the hot wind and feral dogs sniff around the vegetable stalls. Minibuses and donkey carts jostle for space on the crowded street.
Standing in the middle of the chaos is one of the jihadi gunmen for whom the town has become famous. Thin, short, with a well-groomed beard and shoulder-length hair, he is dressed in the Afghan style: shalwar kameez, camouflage vest and an old Kalashnikov. He is either a bandit imposing a protection racket on the merchants or a rebel protecting them from the corrupt regime – and most probably a bit of both.
He waves cheerfully to the people passing by, but few give him a second glance. The jihadis – like the chaos and the filth – are an established part of the landscape of south Yemen. They attend state-run mosques and Quranic learning centres and help fill the ranks of the country's security forces.
Recently, their influence has grown more threatening. In the past two years
al-Qaida has established a local franchise in Yemen, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has claimed responsibility for audacious attacks – including the attempt to assassinate the British ambassador to the capital, Sana'a, earlier this year.
In Yemen, recruits can study ideology and take guidance from militant leaders, including the Yemeni-American cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, who has been described as "terrorist number one" by the Democrat chairman of the House homeland security sub-committee, Jane Harman. Awlaki is believed to have given guidance to the so-called underwear bombing suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and to Major Nidal Hasan, accused of murdering colleagues in shootings at Fort Hood.
With its conservative Islam, ragged mountains, unruly tribes and problems of illiteracy, unemployment and extreme poverty, Yemen has been dubbed the new Afghanistan by security experts.
The Guardian spent two months in the country, travelling to the tribal regions of Abyan and Shabwa, where al-Qaida has set up shop and where suspected US drone attacks have killed scores of civilians and few insurgents. Speaking to jihadis, security officials and tribesmen, it became clear how a combination of government alliances, bribes, broken promises and bungled crackdowns has allowed Islamists to flourish and led to the emergence of the country as a regional hub for al-Qaida.
You don't have to go deep into the mountains to hear the jihadi message. One Friday, sitting on the roof of a hotel in Sana'a, I hear the amplified prayers of a preacher ring out at the end of his sermon: "God condemn the Jews and the Christians … God make their wives and children our slaves … God defeat them and make the believers victorious."
Ahmad al-Daghasha, a Yemeni writer who specialises in Islamic and jihadi issues, says two factors are responsible for the growing influence of al-Qaida. "First there is the local situation, which is miserable, politically and economically," he says. "That situation is translated into many forms of resistance – the jihadis and al-Qaida are only one. Then there is the foreign oppression that we all see on television – whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or Palestine – that gives al-Qaida's rhetoric legitimacy."
In the south, government control is slipping away fast. Bandits, lawless tribes, secessionists and jihadis are all fighting the regime. Though they have few ideological connections, the groups are all contributing to one thing: a failing state where extremism can flourish.
On my first day in Jaar I toured the town with the deputy governor of Abyan province. We left the market and drove to a neighbourhood built by the Yemeni socialists in the 70s to house east European agriculturalists. The small wooden prefabs are being rebuilt with cinder blocks, as if huge grey tumours were sprouting everywhere.
At the entrance to the neighbourhood, two gunmen stood guard and graffiti sprayed on the walls declared allegiance to al-Qaida. "None of those men have been to Afghanistan, you know, but it's the look that they want to acquire," said the deputy governor.
Until last year, Jaar had been in the hands of the jihadis. The government claimed to have taken it back in an army offensive led by the minister of defence, but the neighbourhood was still out of bounds for the security forces. "Government officials cannot come here," the deputy governor said. "But I can come because I have been negotiating on behalf of the government with them for a few years now."
The rise of al-Qaida in Jaar has been a gradual process of radicalisation as generations of volunteer fighters have returned from conflicts abroad: the Afghan war against the Soviets in the 1980s, as well as the Nato-led war against the Taliban and the war in Iraq in 2003. Veterans of these conflicts, as well as jihadis who have never fought abroad, are in the streets of Jaar fighting for influence. In the 1970s and 1980s, Jaar had been predominantly a socialist town. But when the regime in Sana'a fought the socialists in a short civil war in 1994, the Islamists fought alongside them. When the socialists were defeated, the Islamists were encouraged to take control of the area. Quranic centres, the Yemeni equivalent of madrassas, were established with government support.
Over the next 10 years, the town became a base for the Islamists: they had jobs and they received their salaries from the government and money that poured in from Saudi Arabia, in support of the Quranic centres.
I spoke to Faisal – a thin skeleton with a thick moustache balanced awkwardly on his small head – on the floor of his Spartna living room. A former Socialist party member and head of the Young Artist Association in the Abyan, he watched the Islamisation of Jaar happen.
"The socialists were defeated on 7 July 1994," he said. "On July 8 a group of Islamists came and picked me up, blindfolded me and took me to the HQ of political security. I was handcuffed and beaten there. They wanted to know if I was a communist and their commander declared I was one. Then they tied my arms to a tree and hung me there and started beating me up with a stick.
"Things started changing after that," he said. "The Islamists were given jobs, they became headmasters and officers." They closed the cinema and converted it into a mosque. Art disappeared and gradually women started wearing the full black niqab. "Last year they killed 10 men and threw their bodies in the streets, saying they were homosexuals," he said.
One of the leaders of change in the city during this time was Khaled Abdul Nabi. I met him in his madrassa-like compound. Young men doubling as students and bodyguards lurked in the alleyway in front of his house and at the bottom of his stairwell.
Khaled sat on the floor, pulling at his beard. From floor to ceiling behind him stretched bookshelves filled with thick, leatherbound books on jurisprudence and theology. A pistol was placed neatly in front of him.
In 1994, he said, they had been given promises by President Ali Abdullah Saleh that he would implement sharia law and form an Islamic state, so they had formed special units, operating under army leadership, to fight for him. "We formed a small unit with other brothers and stormed into the prison in Jaar and the police station and liberated the town before the arrival of the army. But none of the president's promises came true. He lied to us and we believed him, probably because we were naive at that time."
Nevertheless, after the war, the Islamisation of Jaar began. "Islamic preaching spread in this place in an extraordinary way. Mosques and sharia teaching centers were being built, we had lots of support and of course there was also the reaction to what was happening in the Islamic world, people became more committed to religion so they could fight the crusaders."
Abdul Nabi went on to form the Abyan-Aden Islamic Army in 1998, one of the first jihad-inspired groups operating in Yemen. It is accused of being behind several violent acts, including bombings and assassinations of security officers, as well as the kidnapping of 16 foreign tourists in 1998, which led to the deaths of four hostages.
In August 2008, Yemeni security forces killed five of Abdul Nabi's men in Abyan province and claimed they had arrested 28 al-Qaida supporters, including Abdul Nabi, himself.
After meeting Saleh, Abdul Nabi allegedly agreed to support the president in his fights against the Shia rebels in the north and separatists in the south and last year he was released in a general amnesty with about 175 Islamic militants, many of them his own men. He returned to Abyan to rebuild his organization, which is now affiliated to al-Qaida, and called for the formation of an Islamic state in southern Yemen.
"I agree with George Bush in one thing," he said, pulling at his beard. "He gave us a really accurate wisdom: you are either with us or against us, you are either with Islam or with the crusaders. I tell the Muslim clerics in the whole world you are either with the flag of the mujahideen and God is great or you are with the flag of the cross … there is no other option."
One of the problems he faced now, he said, was with younger generations of jihadis. When jihadi leaders try to moderate their positions, the young followers will often splinter and form more radical groups, so each generation is more radical than the next.
"The shebab [young Islamists] are part of the Islamic situation in Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria and Iraq and jihad is a religious duty, like fasting. But the problem is that most of them, yes they are true jihadis with good intention, they lack the knowledge."
The next generation
I was sitting with Faisal in his home in Jaar when the message came through that a young commander, Jamal, who is attached to al-Qaida in Yemen had agreed to see me.
A thin teenager was sent to lead the way. We followed him through dirt alleyways between rows of small houses of concrete cinder blocks. Plastic bottles and shards of glass crunched under our feet. A window flickered with silver light from a television and two dogs chased one another to a corner and then fought viciously.
In the darkness the town appeared even more desolate and wretched.
We entered one of the concrete shacks, which was lit by a small red bulb. There were two rooms, one by the entrance that doubled as a kitchen and a bathroom, and one that was furnished as a bedroom with brand new furniture. We sat on the linoleum-covered floor.
Jamal was in his mid 20s, with a round face, long curly hair and a pair of thin glasses that gave him the look of an art student. "Who am I?" he asked, repeating my question. "I am a mujahid. Young men dream and have ambitions in life and my ambition is to die fighting for God."
Jihad had become his life, he said. He was fighting against what enraged God … "the drunks, the apostates and the people who stop following the religion of God."
Jamal, a jihadi fighter for six years, had been to prison a couple of times and released each time the president issued a pardon. Now he was a fugitive again. "The director of security accused us of planting an explosive device in front of his house."
How had a young man living in a poor, obscure small town in the south of a poor nation, who had not travelled further than its capital city, become a threat not only to the government of Yemen, but to the world in general.
"There are too many Arabic tragedies, in Iraq, in Chechnya, in Afghanistan and in Palestine, that makes us want to fight in the way of God," he said.
"Look this is how we started. [In 2003], after the outbreak of the Iraq war, Jaar became a big training ground for the Saudis going to Iraq. Unlike the Yemenis, the Saudis had no experience in fighting. They were very religious and had lots of money, but they didn't know how to shoot. We started training them – you know we Yemenis are taught to shoot when we are children – and then a whole ring was organized to send them to Iraq via Syria."
Saleh's government knew about the jihadi training camps, he said, and had no quibble with them as long as they didn't fight in Yemen. "Saleh told us go to Iraq but not to come back and create problems for him here."
In the winter of 2005-2006, the world began to take note of the flow of jihadis heading to Iraq and the Americans started to put pressure on Syria, Yemen and Saudi Arabia to stem the flow of militants. "The government exposed the ring," Jamal said. "They started arresting people when they reached the border. We started clashing with the government and we killed some of their security forces."
In 2006 he was arrested, which led to the first of several meetings with Saleh. Saleh agreed to release the prisoners in return for their promise of inactivity. Three days later Jamal was back on the streets, but trust between him and the regime did not last long.
"They put a lot of pressure on us," he said. "I was monitored. You leave your house and there is a government spy. You come back and there are two. So we changed our procedures." When the government arrested some of the jihadis, fighting broke out again. "We fought with them again. We fought the government until all of our brothers were released."
A cycle of arrests, fighting and deal making ensued, escalating the strength and anger of the jihadis. Sometimes they would be promised compensation by the president, but when they went back to Sana'a to collect the money they would be sent from one government department to the other. Weeks would pass, and so the clashes would erupt again. "Before our last meeting with the president in 2009, Jaar fell under our control. By that time, our brothers stopped going to Iraq. They said if we are not arrested on the way and we reach Iraq, either the Americans will arrest us or we would be tortured by the shia [Iraqi government]. Why not stay and fight here.
"We entered Jaar, and the town fell in our hands. We were more than 40, the police and army left, and we called Allahu Akbar, and planted mines and explosive devices in the streets, and for the first time we went back to our homes and we slept in our beds, we were no longer fugitives, we took over the security of Jaar and we imposed sharia."
A small mouse darted across the floor between our legs. It hit one of the legs and scurried under the bed.
Even this young commander had trouble with the generation of radicals coming after him.
"We were betrayed by the people of Jaar," he said. "When we used to hide in the mountains some kids from the town used to come and bring us food and clothes. We trained those kids how to use a weapon, how to wire explosive devices, how to build electrical circuits. They were young kids. We trained them how to attack, how to hide behind a wall."
He clutched an imaginary gun and manoeuvred while he was sitting cross-legged on the floor. "Those young kids started looting and beating up people. They destroyed the town."
His voice became a mixture of blame and regret. "Because of the young, we failed in ruling the town and we had to leave and head back to the mountains."
Even for Jamal, who represents the post-Iraq war generation, there is another generation after him who don't know which government property to loot and which to leave alone, a generation he thinks is unruly.
I asked Jamal if he considered himself part of al-Qaida's organisation in Yemen. "We are all connected, all the jihadis are connected," he opened his arms and pointed at the three of us sitting on the floor. "One of us is Qaida," and he pointed at himself, "the other is protecting him," and he pointed at me, "and the other is providing logistics." And he pointed at the teenager who had brought me there.
"The two," he pointed at us, "would only know the Qaida person they are in contact with, and that Qaida person [he pointed at himself] would be the only one in that group to know the leadership."
What al-Qaida gave him, he said, was organisation. "Before Wahaishy [the head of AQAP] and Rimi [the commander of its military wing] arrived here we were chaotic, we would fight the government whenever we wanted. Now we only move when we are given orders."
As we walked back through empty dark streets I asked the teenage boy leading me how the young looked at people like Jamal.
"He is like a hero for us all, we want to be like him." Why? "Because he stands for his people. He won't let the government do whatever they like."
When I met the deputy governor again, I asked him about the meetings the jihadis had with the president and the promised money. He said: "The authority wants to contain those men. They block roads and attack military checkpoints and collect fees from shop owners. Because this is not a state of law, this a state of buying people, they treated the jihadis and al-Qaida in the same way they treated the tribes, they paid them money to lie low."
"You have to understand that the military campaign will cost money, money for soldiers, for vehicles, then money in prison, money for a court case, so the state says why should we pay three million to fight them when we can pay them one million for things to calm down and avoid their evil. But the jihadis take the money, buy weapons and become stronger, and now the state regrets that policy and it is changing."
To an extent, he said, they had been trying to buy a truce. But it had been mismanaged.
At Faisal's house, I asked him what he thought of the government's attempt to crack down on al-Qaida.
"Don't believe the government when they say we are fighting the jihadis," he said. "The government gives them money, the government negotiates with them, the government uses them to fight its enemies, and then they tell the Americans give us money so we can fight al-Qaida."
He closed his eyes and sighed. "It's a comedy," he said.