Entries in Africa (9)


Sec. Hillary Clinton Highlights Need to End Female Genital Cutting

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- By the time she was 14, Oureye Sall had been sent to live with her husband in Nguerigne, Senegal. She also had a profession of sorts: She was trained to be a female genital cutter. And it wasn't long before she was performing the customary rite of passage into womanhood for girls in her village and the surrounding region.

But through Tostan, a nonprofit organization created to empower women in Africa, Sall later learned that those longstanding rituals cause severe physical and emotional harm to the women and girls. So she decided to abandon her profession and instead campaign against female genital cutting and child marriage throughout Senegal and other African countries. Now in her 60s, Sall remains a face and advocate for change.

During his global health initiative trip to Senegal in March 2011, Dr. Richard Besser, chief health and medical editor at ABC News, met Sall, along with Molly Melching, the founder of Tostan, who is originally from Illinois but has lived in Senegal for nearly 40 years.

Through Melching's efforts with Tostan, women throughout the poorest regions of Africa are empowering themselves with a better understanding of the myriad of violent effects that FGM has on the body and mind.

On Thursday, Melching joined Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington D.C., to celebrate International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. The press conference was intended to highlight the continuing need for policy changes and new strategies to end FGM and promote support for women who have undergone the procedures.

"Molly is a real hero of mine, a friend of mine," said Clinton at the conference Thursday.

Melching's program in Senegal was successful where so many others failed because the program approached women and culture through empowerment, not condemnation. When discussing her approach to the program, Melching explained at the conference Thursday that the Senegali women told her, "Don't talk about fighting a tradition, talk about promoting health and human rights."

"[The program] talks about health as a fundamental human right and gives women the skills to exert control over their health decisions," Besser wrote in an email Thursday. "Decades of efforts by international bodies to condemn and outlaw this practice have been unsuccessful. We need to see replication of programs that work if we are to see an end to this brutal practice."

Melching created the Community Empowerment Program, a non-formal education model that builds on local language, culture and tradition to enable communities to take ownership of their own development and lead massive movements for positive social change. Since 1998, more than 6,000 villages in five African countries have publicly declared their abandonment of FGM under Melching's guidance. Tostan estimates that over 800,000 girls have been spared FGM because of these declarations.

For centuries, FGM has been culturally entrenched in customs and practices throughout the world. Between 100 and 140 million girls and women throughout the world are estimated to have undergone the procedure, according to the World Health Organization.

There are no health benefits to FGM. But the risks are profound. The pain and trauma of the initial procedure can begin a lifetime of severe physical and mental health complications.

Despite the severe consequences, in parts of the world where the ritual is practiced, many believe the procedure ensures cleanliness and better marriage prospects, prevents promiscuity and excessive clitoral growth, enhances male sexuality and encourages childbirth by widening the birth canal.

"Let's be clear, this is a deeply entrenched practice in many places," Clinton said at the conference Thursday. "So we have to be both unrelenting in our efforts to end it and understanding about what works and what doesn't work...We enter into this with a lot of humility."

Nevertheless, Clinton went on to say that excusing the practice as a cultural tradition is unacceptable.

"We cannot excuse it as a private matter because it has very broad public implications," she said. "This is such an important issue that deserves attention from the United States Congress and from leaders across the globe."

In moving forward, Clinton said the United Nations and other partners in foreign relations and global public health initiatives will be looking at laws and resolutions, new efforts and strategies to raise awareness of the damaging practice. The secretary of state also announced a partnership with the University of Nairobi to fund a pan-African Center of Excellence in Kenya to advance African research to address female genital cutting.

"This is not a women's problem, this is not a women's issue," said Clinton. "This affects the human family, and therefore, we all have a stake in it....We want to create conditions for every child, girl and boy, to have a chance to live up to his or her God-given potential."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Global Alliance Fighting Malnutrition with 'Sprinkles'

Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition(GENEVA) -- When most people think of sprinkles, they think of cake and ice cream, and the word “healthy” doesn’t usually come to mind.

The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) is trying to change that perception in some parts of the world with their new take on the treat: nutritionally fortified Sprinkles designed to fight malnutrition, a global issue impacting billions of people around the world.

GAIN’s Sprinkles aren’t your typical ice cream parlor, rainbow-colored fare.  These Sprinkles are sachets of powdered vitamins and minerals used to fortify foods prepared both in homes and by food vendors in Kenya.

And so far, the Sprinkles are working.  GAIN reports that its Kenya Sprinkles Distribution project, which began in 2007, has resulted in fewer nutritional deficiencies among children under five years of age.

And they’re not just for kids. The Sprinkles are ensuring adolescent girls and pregnant women receive essential nutrients. GAIN maintains it is a proven, cost-effective way to improve the health and well-being of millions of people and communities around the world.

“A study from GAIN and the U.S. Center for Disease Control found children consuming the multi-nutrient powders in rural areas of Kenya saw a reduction in iron deficiency, vitamin A deficiency and anemia,” of 14, 10 and 11 percent respectively, Adrianna Logalbo of GAIN told ABC News.

One key to the success of the Sprinkles project is that kids like them.

“The first thing she asks for is 'sprinkles'” said Loice Anteieno Ojoro, a Kenyan mother, speaking about her young daughter.  “My other child opens the cupboard, finds the sprinkles, brings it to me and asks me to add it.”

Kelin Auma Oluch, another Kenyan mother saw dramatic improvements to her child’s health after she started adding the supplement to the food she cooked.

“I saw a lot of changes -- I noticed my child’s appetite increased a lot.  My child that was weak now is strong,” she said.

“The use of micronutrient powder is one of the easy ways that we can combat malnutrition,” said Rosemary Otiende, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health in Kenya.

The multi-nutrient powders come in small packets of up to 15 essential vitamins and minerals at a cost of 35 cents per pack.  By sprinkling them on food, low-income families have a better chance of receiving the critical nutrients they need to thrive.

GAIN already has Sprinkles supplement programs running in Bangladesh and is about to launch in Ethiopia, where Sprinkles will be handed out to children under two years old and women of childbearing age.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Major New Vaccine Initiative to Save Millions of Children

Paul Tearle/Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Rotavirus, pneumonia, meningitis and other childhood illnesses claim the lives of 1.7 million children annually -- almost all of them in developing countries.  Countless other children survive, but suffer from stunting, malnourishment and other chronic illnesses.

On Tuesday, GAVI Alliance, a public-private partnership of the world’s main players in immunization, announced a $3.4 billion investment over the next four years in vaccinations against childhood diseases in 37 countries.  Two dozen of the participating countries are in Africa.

“Our goal,” said GAVI CEO Dr. Seth Berkley, ” is to make sure that where a child is born doesn’t influence their right to have access to these modern miracles of medicine.”

Of the 37 countries that will participate in the program, about half plan to introduce pneumococcal vaccines, the other half will introduce rotavirus vaccines.

“We are targeting the two largest killers of children in the world,” said Berkley, at the GAVI announcement Tuesday morning, via a web conference for media.

Rotavirus alone kills more than 500,000 children a year and about half of those are from African countries.

Some of the countries participating in the GAVI program will also receive vaccinations for measles, meningitis A, and the pentavalent vaccine, which inoculates against five diseases simultaneously: iphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B, and flu.

The vaccines will be supplied by Merck & Co. and GlaxoSmithKline at a deep discount.

The target cost of the vaccine preventing pneumonia, for example, will cost GAVI $3.50 at most.  The same vaccine in the U.S. costs $90. Other pharmaceutical companies will be incentivized to participate in the supply chain as the program expands over the next four years.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Laura Bush Leads Effort to Expand Cancer Screening, Treatment Abroad

Archie Carpenter/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Former first lady Laura Bush is raising awareness about cervical and breast cancer in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America while working to expand screening and treatment.

Bush and former U.S. Ambassador Nancy Brinker are leading Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, a public-private partnership that will expand the availability of vital cervical cancer screening and treatment and breast care education, particularly for HIV-stricken women in developing nations.  The partners include the George W. Bush Institute, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Brinker is the former U.S. ambassador to Hungary and founder of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a breast cancer awareness and advocacy organization that she started in honor of her sister, Komen, who died of breast cancer in 1980.

“It’s new, we know it’s bold, but we believe we can reduce deaths from cervical cancer in sub-Sahara Africa by 25 percent in five years,”  Brinker, speaking of the new initiative, told ABC's Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts in an interview that aired Tuesday on the show.

The former first lady said Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon has many corporate partners and sponsors that could bring technical assistance to the effort.

Asked by Roberts about how they could hope to involve Americans in the effort when people were worried about their own difficult times in the United States, Bush said, “I think it’s really important, both for our moral imperative to reach out to people around the world, and I know many Americans agree with that.  But also I think it’s important for our national security to make sure that people don’t think we’re just standing by while everyone across Africa is dying of something that is treatable or is preventable.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President George W. Bush will launch Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon on Tuesday.

Pink ribbons are associated with support for breast cancer patients and research, while red ribbons denote similar support for HIV/AIDS.

Cervical cancer is the most common women’s cancer in Africa and the third most common cancer in women worldwide, affecting 530,000 women and killing 275,000 women every year.  Breast cancer is estimated to affect 1.4 million women and kill 458,000 women each year globally.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Mosquito Numbers Decline in Certain African Areas

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(TANZANIA) -- Malaria-affected mosquito populations are declining in certain areas across Africa, according to recent figures, though researchers are unsure as to why.

The Malaria Journal reports that researchers are unsure if the decline means the pesky insects have been eradicated for good, or if they will come back in a stronger force.

The BBC reports that malaria cases dropping in Tanzania, Eritrea, Rwanda, Kenya and Zambia, according to data.

Anti-mosquito bed nets are lessening the spread of the disease in some sub-Saharan countries.

Researchers also cite that mosquito traps installed over the course of 10 years have caught insects by the thousands in Tanzania, and the numbers have drastically been reduced over the years.

Scientists captured over 5,000 mosquitoes in 2004, and could only trap 14 in 2009.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Two Studies Find Daily Pill Can Prevent HIV Infection

Photo Courtesy - ABC News Radio(NEW YORK) -- AIDS drugs can help prevent heterosexuals from acquiring HIV, according to two studies released Wednesday.

Researchers at University of Washington International Clinical Research Center and dubbed Partners PrEP, have found a daily dose of antiretroviral drugs reduce the risk of HIV infection among heterosexuals by at least 62 percent.

The study, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation examined 4,758 couples in Kenya and Uganda in which one partner had HIV while the other didn't.

Although the study wasn't due for release until 2012, the findings were found to be so strong, that the trial was stopped early.

Another study, conducted in Botswana by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that participants taking a daily dose of Truvada instead of placebo were 63% less likely to become infected by HIV.

“These are exciting results for global HIV prevention. We now have findings from two studies showing that PrEP can work for heterosexuals, the population hardest hit by HIV worldwide,” said Kevin Fenton, M.D., director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. “Taken together, these studies provide strong evidence of the power of this prevention strategy.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


How a Sweet Potato Is Saving Lives

Ablestock[dot]com/ThinkstockDOCTOR'S NOTEBOOK
By DR. RICHARD BESSER, ABC News Senior Health and Medical Editor

(NEW YORK) -- In a little village in Burkina Faso, under the scorching heat of the dry African season, I met a woman who has been empowered by a sweet potato.

Fatiba is 30 and she has three young children. She manages the family, grows the crops, cooks the meals, and sells produce in the market. She has been learning new farming techniques at the model garden center supported by Helen Keller International.

She lectured me about the importance of eating fresh produce, the impact of drip irrigation and mulch for extending the scarce water, and the nutritional value of the orange sweet potato.

"The orange sweet potato has Vitamin A," she said. "Our white sweet potato does not. I want my family to eat the orange one to make them healthier."

Vitamin A deficiency is a leading cause of preventable blindness and death in children around the world. Fatiba is taking steps to make sure her children and community are spared this problem.

She rides her bicycle 10 miles from the garden center back to her family compound to show us her own garden. Her face beams as she shows me the crops: cow peas, sweet peppers, and eggplant. She has grown carrots this year for the first time.

"They are a very good source of vitamin A," she tells me with the pride of someone who has newfound knowledge.

The garden means independence for her. Not only can her family have fresh vegetables every day for the first time ever, but the excess produce brings in money that is liberating.

She is quick to give her husband credit, too. Without the strong thatched fence that he built, the goats, donkeys, cattle and other animals would have destroyed the garden.

She fries up some sweet potato so I can give it a try and we sit on a mat with her children for an afternoon snack. They are a bit suspicious of me, but absolutely love the potatoes.

What's not to love? Sweet potato fries -- trendy in America -- are saving eyesight in Africa and are doing much more than that. The agricultural lessons that come with the potatoes are empowering women and improving their lives and the lives of their families.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Recycled Phones Could Save Lives

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(STANFORD, Calif.) - Josh Nesbit had a simple idea - one that turns old cell phones into lifesavers.

As the goalie on Stanford University's soccer team, Nesbit earned a full scholarship. But it was his hustle off the field that makes him a superstar.

During his sophomore summer break four years ago, Nesbit volunteered at an AIDS clinic in Malawi, one of Africa's poorest, least-developed nations. In Malawi, 85 percent of the people live in rural areas and most survive on a dollar a day. Nesbit volunteered at St. Gabriel's Hospital to help children with HIV.

"This particular hospital was serving about a quarter-million people, spread a hundred miles in every direction. So you literally had patients walking 60, 80, a hundred miles to access care. Basically one nurse would get onto a motorcycle and drive 10 hours a day trying to track down patients," Nesbit said.

Often, community health workers, who travel miles to isolated African villages to see patients, have to lug boxes of medical records with them. Paper records can be lost or damaged, especially on long trips.

His idea was to use high-tech open source software on a laptop, along with some solar power, and give away old cell phones so that local health workers can work on the frontlines of global health.

Back at Stanford, surrounded by high-tech engineers, Nesbit found a software guru who could help make it happen. Then, back in Malawi, Nesbit set up an ad hoc network using solar panels, a laptop and cell phones. With the software, paper records could be transformed into text messages. Soon the health workers were texting a hundred miles in each direction.

The new technology allowed workers at St. Gabriel's to respond to emergencies, diagnose patients, and keep track of their medical records, all via texts -- saving time, resources, and lives.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Case for Circumcision: Public Health Benefit?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(BALTIMORE) -- When parents put their baby boys under the knife for circumcision, it's usually for religious or cultural reasons, but mounting evidence suggests that the removal of the foreskin might also serve a public health purpose: reducing the spread of human papillomavirus (HPV).

Not only does past research show that circumcised men are 32-35 percent less likely to contract HPV, but a new study published in The Lancet Thursday shows that women whose partners are circumcised are 28 percent less likely to become infected with HPV.

This finding has particular weight considering that persistent infections with high-risk strains of HPV in women can lead to cervical cancer.  Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths internationally for women.

Over the past five years, randomized control trials have shown that circumcision decreases the risk of HIV, HPV and herpes.  In women it reduces the risk of bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis, and now HPV.  Though these studies have been done in African countries, their findings, including Thursday's, support observational studies already performed in the U.S., says study author Dr. Aaron Tobian of Johns Hopkins University.

Given this evidence, Tobian says it's disquieting to see the rate of circumcision in the U.S. decline as it has in recent decades.  Though estimates vary between data sources, one CDC presentation put in-hospital neonatal circumcisions, which leaves those done in the Jewish ritual circumcisions at 32.5 percent in 2009, compared to 56 percent in 2006 and somewhere around 65 percent in the 1980s.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio