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Malawi appoints commission to probe albino killings1 min read

The country has experienced a surge in violent attacks on people with albinism over the past four years.

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albino malawi
United Nations' Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism Ikponwosa Ero addresses a press conference - AFP

Malawi’s president, Peter Mutharika, on Friday appointed a commission of inquiry to probe a spate of attacks, abductions and killings of people with albinism.

The panel, headed by retired Supreme Court judge Robert Chinangwa, will submit its report to Mutharika by April 30, the president’s office said.

The announcement came after mounting criticism of Mutharika for his response to the attacks.

The Association of People with Albinism has been staging a vigil in the capital Lilongwe and says it will contact foreign embassies in a bid to seek refuge.

Around 200 albinos, joined by 500 sympathisers, marched to the presidential palace on Wednesday.

Malawi, has experienced a surge in violent attacks on people with albinism over the past four years.

In many cases, those with albinism are targeted for their body parts to be used in witchcraft.

In a June 2018 report, rights group Amnesty International said that since November 2014 there had been 148 crimes reported against people with albinism, with at least 21 deaths.

Just 30 percent of those attacks have been properly investigated, according to official statistics, with only one murder and one attempted murder case successfully prosecuted.

Of the 600 cases of violence against albinos in 28 African countries, Malawi accounted for nearly a third.

Albinism, a genetic disorder, causes a partial or total absence of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes.

As a result, many albinos often experience eye problems and have a heightened risk of skin cancer.

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Conservation News

Drogba begins ‘million trees’ deforestation project in Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast plans to reforest eight million hectares (20 million acres) by 2045.

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Drogba begins 'million trees' deforestation project in Ivory Coast

Ivorian football legend Didier Drogba helped launch a drive on Friday, to plant a million trees to halt deforestation in Ivory Coast.

The “One Day, One Million Trees” campaign “is a first step, the start of the recovery,” Forestry and Water Resources Minister Alain Richard Donwahi said in Abidjan, the country’s main city.

“Our goal is to recover at least 30 per cent (of lost forest cover) by 2030,” he said.

Most of Ivory Coast’s 20,000 square kilometres (7,700 square miles) of forests are considered badly degraded.

Drogba said the “numbers are alarming,” referring to projections that the tropical West African nation would lose all its forest cover in half a century if corrective steps were not taken.

“I am proud to contribute to Ivory Coast’s reforestation through helping awareness,” the former Chelsea star said, describing the tree planting as a “noble initiative.”

Ivory Coast, the world’s biggest cocoa producer and a major coffee exporter, plans to reforest eight million hectares (20 million acres) by 2045.

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Lifestyle News

Anglican delegates attacked at shelter for foreign nationals in South Africa

To attack the archbishop is not only criminal, it’s not only disrespectful but it’s also an ungratefulness

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A South African Anglican archbishop was among the injured on Friday when violent scuffles broke out at a Cape Town church where hundreds of foreign nationals have been sheltered, clerical and human rights officials said.

The Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, with a group of clergymen and human rights officials who were trying to address the foreigners, many claiming to be asylum-seekers  and demanding relocation from South Africa.

More than 200 have occupied Greenmarket Square Methodist church in Cape Town since police forcefully removed them two weeks ago from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) offices where they staged a sit-in.

Pastor Alan Storey said he had asked the people to start vacating the church because “it is completely overcrowded, it’s not a safe environment. If there was a fire we would be left with people dead.”

But the situation deteriorated when Storey handed the microphone to a Congolese clergyman, whose identity was not immediately known, but who was part of a delegation due to address the crowd.

He was met by howling before a woman climbed onto the stage and forcibly grabbed the microphone out of his hand before a mob started slapping and punching him. 

“One of the leaders went to him and knocked him down and started fighting with him and then the others came for us,”  South Africa Human Rights Commission’s senior official Chris Nissen told AFP. 

“To attack the archbishop is not only criminal, it’s not only disrespectful but it’s also an ungratefulness,” said Nissen, who was also injured during the skirmishes.

Storey described it as “pandemonium”. “The whole delegation was attacked,” he said.

Mainly from other African nations, the foreigners say they are fed up with being ill-treated and discriminated against and want to be relocated to another country.

South Africa is home to 268,000 refugees and asylum seekers, according to government statistics. They are mainly from Somalia, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Pretoria boasts some of the world’s most progressive asylum policies, allowing foreigners to apply for refugee status within the country itself and to work during the process.

As the continent’s most industrialised economy, South Africa is also a magnet for migrants seeking better job prospects.

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Health

New vaccine introduced to curb 15-month-old Ebola epidemic in DR Congo

The new vaccine, produced by a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, will be administered to about 50,000 people

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Doctors in DR Congo to deploy second Ebola vaccine in November

The Democratic Republic of Congo on  Thursday introduced a second vaccine to fight a 15-month-old epidemic of Ebola in the country, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said.

The new vaccine, produced by a Belgian subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, will be administered to about 50,000 people over four months, the charity said.

It aims to broaden the fight against an outbreak that according to official figures has claimed 2,193 lives.

More than a quarter of a million people, many of them frontline health workers, have already been immunised with another anti-Ebola vaccine.

“It’s not a replacement for the first vaccine, it’s being used to complement it, especially in areas where there are no cases of (Ebola) transmission,” MSF coordinator Steve Akuha told AFP.

The epidemic began in August 2018 in the province of North Kivu before spreading to neighbouring Ituri and South Kivu — a remote and largely lawless region bordering Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

It is the DRC’s 10th Ebola epidemic and the second deadliest on record after an outbreak that struck West Africa in 2014-16, claiming more than 11,300 lives.

Two-dose vaccine

Fifteen people received a first injection of the new vaccine in MSF facilities in the North Kivu capital of Goma early Thursday. The formula is administered in two doses at 56-day intervals.

“I’ve just had my vaccination. I’m going to bring my whole family along too,” Joseph Munihire, a 38-year-old father of six, told AFP.

“I call on all those who still have any doubts to come and get vaccinated.”

The disease’s epicentre is in Beni-Butembo, about 350 kilometres (220 miles) north of Goma, a sprawling urban hub of between one and two million people on the border with Rwanda.

Four Ebola cases were recorded in the city in July and August, sparking fears the virus could spin out of control in a chaotic, mobile environment.

Efforts to combat Ebola in eastern DR Congo have been hampered by militia violence and local resistance to preventative measures, care facilities and safe burials. 

Health workers have been attacked 300 times, leaving six people dead and 70 wounded since the start of the year, according to the government.

Despite these problems, statistics point to a downward trend. 

The health ministry late Wednesday said it had recorded four new cases of Ebola but no deaths, while 508 suspected cases were being monitored.

“In its current phase, the epidemic is not urban but has become rural,” Professor Jean-Jacques Muyemebe, in charge of coordinating the anti-Ebola fight, said last month.

“We have to track it down, force it into a corner and eliminate it,” he said.

Novel vaccines

The new J&J vaccine was initially rejected by DRC’s former health minister Oly Ilunga, who cited the risks of introducing a new product in communities where mistrust of Ebola responders is already high.

But Ilunga’s resignation in July appears to have paved the way for approval of the second vaccine. He is currently under investigation for alleged embezzlement of Ebola funds.

Both vaccines are novel formulas that, when they were introduced, had been tested for safety but were unlicensed, meaning that they had yet to achieve formal approval from drug authorities.

Manufactured by the US laboratory Merck Sharpe and Dohme (MSD), the first vaccine, rVSV-ZEBOV, was licensed by the European Commission last week. It is being marketed under the brand name of Ervebo.

Feared virus

The Ebola virus is passed on by contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected or recently deceased person. 

Following incubation of up to three weeks, a high fever develops, coinciding with weakness, intense muscle and joint pain, headaches and a sore throat. 

This is often followed by vomiting and diarrhoea, skin eruptions, kidney and liver failure, and internal and external bleeding. 

The death rate is typically high, ranging up to 90 per cent in some outbreaks, according to the WHO.

The virus’s natural reservoir is suspected to be a tropical bat which does not itself fall ill but can pass on the microbe to humans who hunt it for food.

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