IMG20220712085234

Greenpeace seeks “long term solution to keep plastic out of Africa”

By Aghan Daniel I aghandan09@gmail.com

Greenpeace Africa activists are urging Africa’s environment ministers to keep plastic pollution out of the continent.

The resumed 18th session of the AMCEN is taking place in Dakar, Senegal from 12 to 16 September 2022 under the theme: “Securing people’s well-being and ensuring environmental sustainability in

Africa. AMCEN is expected to craft an African position on an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution including in the marine environment – as adopted by the UNEA 5.2 resolution in March 2022.

“As Africa’s environment ministers meet in Senegal this week, we hope to see them adopt a progressive and ambitious plan to free our communities of plastic pollution. Our continent has an opportunity to present a united front towards a legally binding global plastic treaty and close the doors of Africa to those seeking to dump their plastic waste on Africa’s soil,” said Greenpeace Africa’s Oceans & Plastic Campaigner, Awa Traoré.

Plastic pollution remains a global crisis, but Africa, according to the statement has the added burden of plastic waste dumping.

Countries in the Global North are scrambling to find nations in Africa to ship their plastic waste as evidenced in the recent past when the American Chemistry Council was lobbying to undermine Kenya’s anti-plastic laws to dump plastic and use Kenya as a gateway to flood Africa with plastic waste, reads part of the statement

It said that the proponents of single-use plastics are pushing for more plastic production and exportation into Africa. This could undermine progress made by countries to ban single-use plastic products and combat pollution.

“We hope that our ministers will use this opportunity to strengthen cooperation among governments across Africa and together forge a strong support for the global plastic treaty to finally turn off the plastic tap for the sake of our communities, our climate and our continent,” Traoré said.

 

Latest estimates by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) indicate that most of Africa’s rural towns and burgeoning cities, rivers and coastlines are increasingly becoming heavily polluted with discarded plastic packaging and other plastic waste.

Africa generated a total of 25 million tonnes of plastic waste in 2020, of which 20 million tonnes were mismanaged, it said.

 

Ms Patricia Nyinguro

Threats of climate change in Africa explained

By Aghan Daniel I aghandan09@gmail.com

Ms Patricia Nyinguro

Africa has the highest number of climate change vulnerability hotspots leading to increased losses in agriculture, tourism and the manufacturing sectors, a scientist has said.

While addressing a science media café cum preparatory meeting organised by the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture, Patricia Nying’uro challenged reporters to continuously highlight these issues to save the globe.

Ms Nyinguro, a climate scientist who works at Kenya Meteorological Department, and doubles up as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Focal Point for Kenya noted that other diverse implications of the phenomenon have been responsible for reduced economic growth across Africa, increasing income inequality between African countries and those in more temperate climates.

She stressed that Africa as a continent with a lot of challenges need to come up with urgent African led solutions to deal with these climate change problems.

“Climate change has great impacts on our health, ecosystem, water security, food security. These are some of climate change issues to be discussed during the COP-27 in Egypt,” she said.

Senior science journalists Mr Otulah Owuor and Science editor Zeynab Wandati, who made presentations at the cafe, asked journalists across Africa to be on the alert of the discussions on COP-27 and report on climate change issues in their countries and globally to influence policy change.

Prof Walter Jaoko, the director of Kenya AIDS Vaccine Initiative speaks during a Science Media Café organised by the Media for Environment Science, Health and Agriculture in Nairobi on September 9, 2022.

Prof Walter Jaoko: How Africa can prevent the next pandemic

Prof Walter Jaoko, the director of Kenya AIDS Vaccine Initiative speaks during a Science Media Café organised by the Media for Environment Science, Health and Agriculture in Nairobi on September 9, 2022.

African governments are not prepared to tackle the next pandemic, a professor of medical microbiology and tropical medicine at the Kenya AIDS Vaccine Initiative (KAVI) has warned.

Prof Walter Jaoko, the director of KAVI and former Department of Medical Microbiology at the University of Nairobi chairperson, said the level of epidemic preparedness in the continent is at its lowest.

Speaking during a Science Media Café in Nairobi on Friday organised by the Media for Environment Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA), he said the Epidemic Preparedness Index paints a grim picture of disaster management in Africa.

“We know the next epidemic will come and the question is whether we are prepared. Epidemic Preparedness Index is a tool used to try and determine how prepared countries are. The tool shows that most African countries are not prepared,” said Prof Jaoko.

Jaoko, who has over 30 years of experience in teaching and research in various aspects of infectious diseases transmission, pathology, treatment, prevention and control, noted that one of the biggest impediments is the lack of adequate funding.

“African governments need to set aside enough funds to prepare for the next pandemic. They need to set up national public health institutes that can plan and organise how to handle the next pandemic,” added Jaoko.

African Union

He added: “African governments need to work closely with the African Union (AU). The AU has a mechanism through the African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which will give them guidelines and tools on what needs to be done as we wait for the next pandemic.”

“We need to have health care workers that are well trained for epidemic preparedness. We also need to strengthen our public health institutes and care facilities by equipping them well with equipment and drugs,” he added.

He observed that in 2001 the Abuja Declaration called upon the African Union member countries to commit to health system preparedness by allocating at least 15 per cent of their annual budgets to the health sector. 

Kenya’s 2022/2023 overall budget estimates of Sh3.31 trillion gave health its biggest allocation ever of Sh146 billion which translates to about 4.41 per cent of the total budget.

In the last financial year of 2021/2022, the health budget was allocated Sh121.1 billion.

However, this massive budgetary allocation still fell short of the Abuja declaration even as Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reminded countries to increase their investments in the health sector.

 
“There is enough evidence health spending is an investment, not a cost. Health is not a luxury, but a human right; not simply an outcome of development, but the foundation of social, economic and political stability and security,” said Dr Tedros.

Prof Jaoko reiterated that health is a major component of any nation’s development.

“Without a healthy population, a country will record a zero development record.”

He called upon the African governments to fulfil their commitments by increasing the health sector budgets as per the Abuja Declaration signed 21 years ago. 

He said, with the current harsh economic conditions in Africa, the level of funding by African governments may not easily be fulfilled.

However, he urged the African governments to collaborate with other stakeholders and form Private Public Partnerships and commit some money which is topped by the private sector.

“Private sector has a keen interest in health because they are also major stakeholders as they would like to have a healthy workforce to meet their objectives to prepare adequately to fight future epidemics,” he said.

Address corruption

Prof Jaoko called on African governments to address corruption that has led to the embezzlement of billions of shillings in the health and other sectors.

“African governments should put in place mechanisms to ensure the health sector money is safe and secure,” he added.

On African researchers, Prof Jaoko said the continent has a huge potential for research and development but the lack of funding by the African governments remains a major hindrance.

“A lot of research happening in Africa is funded by bilateral partners. It is only South Africa that has set sufficient funds to boost research in their country.”

He said the National Research Fund Kenya is grossly underfunded and is not working well.

“I urge the government to become a little bit more serious and pump in more funds for research as we have a pool of researchers in Kenya willing to conduct various types of research in the health sector,” he said.

fmureithi@ke.nationmedia.com

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Climate change: Africa’s minimal gas emissions call for funding

By Aghan Daniel I aghandan09@gmail.com

Africa accounted for just 2-3% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions but paid highly for the continent warming up faster than the global average – as urgent funding is needed to slow down the effects of the current climate change phenomenon, a UN World Meteorological Organisation report warned on Thursday.

In its just released report titled “State of the Climate in Africa 2021,” the UN agency said that last year Africa was one of the top four hottest spots on record.

This was why African countries were  demanding from richer, polluting nations to stump up more money for adaptation projects on the continent, the report added, and offer compensation for climate change-linked losses, topics that are expected to be in focus at COP27, the November UN climate summit in Egypt dubbed ‘the African COP.’

The WMO said the need for more investment in climate adaptation was crucial, estimating that climate impacts could cost African nations US$50 billion per year by 2030, with droughts and floods the top concern.

Africa has already seen seas rise one millimetre faster per year than the global average, worsening the threat of severe coastal flooding, the report said.

The report referred to increasingly disrupted rain patterns that have led to the worst drought in the Horn of Africa in more than 40 years – “and devastating floods that are hitting other parts of the continent more and more often.”

South Sudan recorded its worst floods in 60 years last year with over 800,000 people affected, while Chad this year saw its most rainfall in over 30 years as it and many other countries in central and western Africa battled seasonal floods, according to the UN agency.

Scientists said extreme heat and heavy rainfall have been made worse by human-caused climate change and would only increase in severity and frequency as the world continued to warm.

To improve African countries’ resilience, “it is imperative for the continent to accelerate efforts to establish robust regional and national early warning systems and climate services,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said. 

 

Some of the avocados packed for the export market in China. (Credit_ Tebby Otieno)

Kenya’s first batch of fresh avocados land in Chinese market 26 days after departure

By Tebby Otieno tebbyotieno62@gmail.com

The first batch of Kenya’s fresh avocado exports has finally landed in the Chinese market.

The arrival comes 26 days after Industrialisation, Trade and Enterprise Development Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) David Osiany flagged off a lorry with fresh avocados from the Sunripe export farm in Limuru, Kiambu County.

In a press statement by Kenya Export Promotion and Branding Agency (KEPROBA), the official handover ceremony was graced by Kenya’s Ambassador to China Muthoni Gichohi in Beijing.

The entrance of the fresh avocado into the Chinese market also marked the first export of such fruits from Africa.

Amb Gichohi applauded the efforts made by the two governments and affirmed Kenya’s commitment to supporting the business communities in both countries as they look forward to enhancing trade facilitation as well as market access to their products and services to China.

Other fresh prioritised agricultural products the two countries aim to fast-track for export clearance include legumes, flowers, vegetables, herbs, mangoes, peanuts, meat, hides, skins, bixa, gum Arabica and myrr.

Also read: https://meshascience.org/farmers-roll-their-sleeves-as-kenya-flags-off-its-first-batch-of-fresh-avocados-to-china/

KEPROBA’s Chief Executive Officer Wilfred Marube described the Chinese market as a big win for Kenya.

“China has the potential to pull Kenya’s economic growth through one export of avocado. The factor endowment for production favours Kenya. With the high population, exports to China will additionally increase foreign exchange earnings as well as youth and women employment,” Dr Malube said.

 

He urged Kenyans to popularise avocados and satisfy the Chinese market, noting that by so doing, many people’s lives will be improved.

 

“Kenya aims to export over 100,000 tonnes of avocados. The 1.4 billion population in China is a huge market for Kenya not only for avocados but also for other fresh produce such as mangoes and bananas,” said Dr Marube.

 

KEPROBA is a State corporation established after the merger of the Export Promotion Council and Brand Kenya Board. Its mandate is to implement export promotion and nation branding initiatives and policies to promote Kenya’s export of goods and services.

 

Kenya is currently the world’s sixth largest producer of avocados and the largest in Africa. The fruits are mainly grown by small-scale farmers.

 

The export of avocados to China has huge potential and experts estimate that the exports could account for up to 40 per cent of Kenya’s total avocado output. The market opportunity is also very huge as close to 400 tonnes can be shipped each week.

 

 

 

Joan Wasike, County Laboratory coordinator, Bungoma, western Kenya, receives her booster vaccine at the launch. Looking on are County Health Services Director Dr Johnstone Akatu and Health Executive Dr Anthony Walela.  Photo Credit: Gabriel Ingubu.

County of Bungoma launches 10-day campaign to upscale COVID-19
vaccination

By Gabriel Ingubu

Joan Wasike, County Laboratory coordinator, Bungoma, western Kenya, receives her booster vaccine at the launch. Looking on are County Health Services Director Dr Johnstone Akatu and Health Executive Dr Anthony Walela. Photo Credit: Gabriel Ingubu.

Kenya’s Bungoma County has launched a rapid results initiative to administer over 170,000  COVID-19 vaccine doses in 10 days.

Speaking during the launch, county Health Executive Dr Anthony Walela asked all the stakeholders in his department and the elite from the county to be good ambassadors of the vaccination programme by encouraging other residents to take the jab.

“So far our county stands at 32 per cent in vaccine uptake yet for us to be declared safe it should be 80 per cent,” said Dr Walela.

The county  is listed among 24 others  that are high risk areas, yet its vaccine uptake is still very low. “ 

Data obtained from the Health Department indicates that 577,032 people have taken the first dose and only 224,500 have taken two doses.

“I would like my health team to be pro-active enough so that we reach the 352,532 yet to receive their second dose,” said Dr Walela.

Bungoma is considered a hotspot for COVID-19 infections because of long-distance truck stopovers at all markets along Eldoret-Malaba road, which leads to Uganda with Bukembe and Kanduyi being the busiest.

The initiative comes amid calls on journalists to use all platforms available to increase awareness among pregnant women to take the jab.

 

Speaking during a cross-border science café organised by MESHA and AVACon July 6, 2022, Jean Nachega, Associate Professor of Medicine, Infectious Diseases, Microbiology and Epidemiology at Graduate School of Public Health, Pittsburgh University, emphasised that pregnant women reduce their immunity, especially during their last trimester, so protecting them should be given a priority.

According to Bungoma County Director of Health Services Dr Johnstone  Akatu, 171 teams of three people each have been sent on an outreach mission across the county to administer the vaccine at health facilities, worship centres, and at strategic places like government offices.

“Research on COVID-19 is still ongoing. Recently we were giving the vaccine to those aged 15 years and above and now we can administer the vaccine to children from the age of 12 years upwards,” said Akatu. He also urged his staff to keep testing, saying that in the second week of July, 98 people tested positive, yet many people have relaxed their guard against the infection.

At the launch of the initiative, 16 people were vaccinated within one hour.

Among the counties enlisted to participate in the programme are Baringo, Bungoma, Busia, Elgeyo Marakwet, Embu, Homa Bay, Kituyi, Kajiado, Kericho, Kisii, Lamu, Makueni, Meru, Migori, Mombasa, Murang`a, Nandi, Nyamira, Trans nzoia, Turkana, Nyandarua, Samburu, Tharaka Nithi and Uasin Gishu.

If the counties realise their targets within the 10 days, it will be a boost for the national government to reach its target of vaccinating 25 million people by December 2022.

International Aids Society President and International Co-Chair of AIDS 2022, Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman

Momentum builds to deliver long-acting PrEP for HIV prevention

Photo: International Aids Society President and International Co-Chair of AIDS 2022, Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman 

By Mike Mwaniki I mikemwaniki2016@gmail.com

Oral PrEP was first approved by the US Food and Drug Administration a decade ago, but uptake and adherence have been limited, partly because some people have difficulty taking daily pills.

In recent years, studies have shown that cabotegravir-LA (CAB-LA), administered by injection once every two months, is a safe and effective alternative to oral PrEP.

CAB-LA is approved for PrEP only in the US, but its maker, ViiV Healthcare, has submitted marketing applications in additional countries.

Speaking during the 24th International Aids Conference held in Montreal, Canada, the International Aids Society President and International Co-Chair of AIDS 2022, Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman said, “Long-acting PrEP could play a major role in ending the HIV pandemic, but right now, very few people can get it.

“Scaling up affordable access to this game-changing prevention tool must be a top global priority.”

During the conference, researchers presented new data confirming that CAB-LA is safe and effective for PrEP in trans and cisgender women. The World Health Organisation (WHO) also released its first guidelines for CAB-LA for PrEP, and ViiV Healthcare and the Medicines Patent Pool announced that they have signed a voluntary licensing agreement for patents relating to CAB-LA for PrEP. 

Finally, WHO, Unitaid, UNAIDS and The Global Fund announced the launch of a global coalition to accelerate access to long-acting PrEP with AVAC as the secretariat.

Researchers announced the first trans-specific analysis of data from the landmark HPTN 083 study confirming that CAB-LA is a safe and highly effective HIV prevention option for transgender women.

HPTN 083 is a Phase 3 study comparing CAB-LA to daily oral TDF/FTC for HIV prevention in cisgender men and trans women who have sex with men.

In 2020, researchers announced that HPTN 083 had demonstrated a 66 per cent reduced risk of HIV acquisition for CAB-LA compared to TDF/FTC.

The new analysis, which was presented at AIDS 2022 by Beatriz Grinsztejn of the Evandro Chagas National Institute of Infectious Diseases – Fiocruz (Brazil), reports on the safety, prevention efficacy and pharmacokinetics of CAB-LA in trans women during the blinded phase of HPTN 083.

Of 4,566 study participants, 570 (12.5 per cent) were trans women, 330 (57.9 per cent) of whom reported use of gender-affirming hormonal therapy.

HIV incidence among trans women was lower in the CAB-LA group (0.54 per cent) than in the TDF/FTC group (1.80 per cent).

CAB-LA was well tolerated in trans women and, importantly, initial findings suggest there is no impact of gender-affirming hormonal therapy on CAB concentrations

New data from the HPTN 084 study shows that among individuals assigned female at birth, CAB-LA continues to be superior to daily oral TDF/FTC in preventing HIV infection.

HPTN 084 is an ongoing Phase 3 randomised controlled trial of CAB-LA for PrEP in individuals assigned female at birth.

In late 2020, a planned interim review found that CAB-LA was superior to daily oral TDF/FTC for HIV prevention in this population.

The blinded portion of the trial was then stopped; participants were subsequently unblinded and continued on their original randomised study regimen pending a protocol amendment to offer open-label CAB-LA.

This update, which was presented at AIDS 2022 by Sinead Delany-Moretiwe of the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), reports that 23 incident infections (3 CAB-LA, 20 TDF/FTC) were detected in the 12-month unblinded period.

Of these, two (1 CAB-LA, 1 TDF/FTC) occurred during the blinded phase, and only one of the CAB-LA cases had ever received an injection.

 

Cumulatively, 62 incident HIV infections (6 CAB, 56 TDF/FTC) have been observed over 6,626 person-years of follow-up (HIV incidence 0.94 per cent). In addition, no new safety concerns were identified.  
Also during the press conference, WHO released new guidelines for the use of CAB-LA as PrEP for HIV and called for countries to consider this safe and highly effective prevention option for people at substantial risk of HIV infection.

The guidelines will support countries as they plan for CAB-LA introduction and facilitate urgently needed operational research.  

The WHO’s Director (Global HIV, Hepatitis and Sexually Transmitted Infections programme) Meg Doherty said, “Long-acting cabotegravir is a safe and highly effective HIV prevention tool, but isn’t yet available outside study settings. We hope these new guidelines will help accelerate country efforts to start to plan and deliver CAB-LA alongside other HIV prevention options, including oral PrEP and the dapivirine vaginal ring.”

At the same time, ViiV Healthcare and the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) announced that they had signed a voluntary licensing agreement for patents relating to CAB-LA for HIV PrEP to help enable access in least developed, low-income, lower-middle-income and sub-Saharan African countries.

Through this agreement, selected generic manufacturers will have the opportunity to develop, manufacture and supply generic versions of CAB-LA for PrEP in 90 countries, subject to required regulatory approvals.

ViiV Healthcare and MPP will now work closely with stakeholders and selected generic manufacturers to enable access to generic CAB-LA for PrEP as soon as possible.

The MPP Executive Director, Charles Gore, said, “We are delighted to sign this voluntary licence with ViiV for cabotegravir LA for PrEP.

 “Long-acting technologies open up a whole new dimension that facilitates medicine uptake, and this product brings a much-needed option for those at risk.

ViiV Healthcare Chief Executive Deborah Waterhouse said, “This announcement represents a potentially game-changing moment in HIV prevention. Enabling at-scale access to generic cabotegravir LA for PrEP could play a significant role in averting the transmission of HIV, particularly amongst women and adolescent girls, and help end the HIV epidemic.

During the occasion, the new Coalition to Accelerate Access to Long-Acting PrEP was launched.

Convened by WHO, Unitaid, UNAIDS and The Global Fund, and with AVAC as the secretariat, the coalition will coordinate key stakeholder activities on PrEP access, including jointly developing strategies to identify and overcome access challenges for new PrEP options in the near to medium term (especially related to ViiV’s injectable CAB, including generics) and the medium to longer term (related to future PrEP products).

“New HIV prevention options now reaching the market, such as injectable cabotegravir, hold the promise to transform HIV prevention,” said Unitaid Deputy Director Tenu Avafia.

“But we must move far more quickly than we did with oral PrEP if we are to have real impact on the epidemic. This new coalition being formed will prioritise the acceleration of affordable, equitable and widespread access to injectable long-acting cabotegravir for PrEP without delay.”

The Global CAB facilitator at Afrocab, Jacque Wambui said, Afrocab and our community partners are excited about this announcement.

“Since we began mobilising community partners around the world almost six months ago, we have been encouraged to see the responsiveness and engagement from global partners that have made this announcement possible.”

Ms Wambui added, “However, we recognise this is just the first step on this path for long-acting cabotegravir for PrEP.

“Speedy technology transfer and low-cost pricing have still not been secured. Until then, the promise of accessible, affordable CAB-LA will not be realised. Afrocab and our community partners will continue to advocate around these issues until they are resolved.”

MESHA Chairman

Leading African science writers network announce grants for journalists to attend COP27

By Christine Ochogo I christawine@gmail.com

Africa’s leading science journalists’ network, Media for Environment Science Health and Agriculture (MESHA), will sponsor 17 journalists to attend the 27th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP27).

According to MESHA secretary Aghan Daniel, the grant will see seven journalists make the actual trip to Sharma El Sheikh, Egypt the host city of the COP with the rest supported to attend and report on the conference from their home countries.

“This is a milestone to our association and will only cater for journalists from eastern and southern Africa,” said Bozo Jenje, the chairman of MESHA.

While thanking the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) for the funding, Bozo noted that science journalists who have been writing on climate change for above two years are invited to apply. Stories will have to be in English, Kiswahili and or French.

The 2022 MESHA fellows will attend and report on COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt from November 7 to November 18, 2022.

In a media release, the giant association, based in Kenya but with a large foot print in Africa, announced that it will cover non-refundable economy-class return airfare, accommodation, meals, travel insurance, and transportation costs to participate in the Fellowship.

“We will also reimburse for meals and other transport expenses acquired in transit, including COVID testing; facilitate the press accreditation process; and provide logistical support relating to the trip,” added Bozo.

For affirmative action, he noted, MESHA will offer equal opportunity to the gender on the basis of 50:50 threshold.

The chairman observed that it is in the interest of MESHA to see that the grant will accord a golden chance for the career progression of Journalists in area of climate change which is a global agenda.

Further, journalists will have the opportunity to interact and create a pool of expert network at the conference. It will also be a touristic travel opportunity to see the other part of the world away from home.

Prior to the start of COP27, Fellows will receive resources and technical support to help prepare for reporting at the conference, including participation in three science cafes, along with experts and also journalists that will be reporting on COP from their home countries.

Fellows will participate in a series of specially designed activities, including an orientation session with climate experts on the key issues at this COP, daily briefings, and interviews with high-level officials. They will also be guided by MESHA trainers, who are senior journalists with experience in covering UN climate summits.

Fellows who will be supported to follow the proceedings online, will interview persons in their home countries, and file stories from their home stations/countries. All the applications, including links to one’s work and a letter of support from an editor, producer or supervisor who can confirm that applicant’s news reports will be published or broadcast in an established media outlet. Freelancers are welcome to apply but must provide a letter of support from a media outlet for which they intend to report which must be sent to info@meshascience.org by August 30, 2022. The interested journalists can also send any inquiry about the grant to the same email address.

Criteria for evaluating applicants include the prospective Fellow’s demonstrated experience covering climate change and other environmental topics, understanding of issues related to gender equality and social justice, clear reporting plans for the COP, the audience reach of the proposed media outlet, and diversity factors, such as sex, juniority/seniority, and geographical distribution across the Fellows.

Early this year, MESHA with support from JRS Biodiversity Foundation based in the US handed 6 story grants for journalists to pursue biodiversity stories. Last month, it made a further call for journalists to produce podcasts on biodiversity.

On another front, the network, which is run by a team of volunteers, has been at the forefront of hosting monthly forums on HIV and COVID-19 called Media Science Cafes with support from AVAC.

A study has revealed that though COVID-19 vaccines have been found to be safe and effective during pregnancy, only 13 of the sub-Saharan Africa countries recommend the vaccination for pregnant women.

Pregnant? You need that COVID jab right about now!

Njeri Murigi (healthjournalist3@gmail.com)

That many African countries have not recommended COVID-19 vaccines for pregnant women is proving to be a time bomb.

A new study now recommends prioritizing vaccinating of pregnant women in Africa against the coronavirus.

The study dubbed “Severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) Infection and Pregnancy in Sub-Saharan Africa” indicates that pregnancy puts women at higher risk of severe medical complications or death from COVID-19.

“Pregnancy is natural immunosuppression, as the body is struggling to accommodate two people. The body needs to build a lot of antibodies to fight microbe infections because of this. That is why vaccination during pregnancy is important because it helps build antibodies that can help protect both the mother and the baby,” Prof Jean Nachega, the lead researcher for this study, said during the release of the study findings to journalists from Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The study analysed health records from 1,315 women treated at hospitals in six countries in the sub-Saharan Africa between March 2020 and March 2021. Roughly one third of the sampled women were pregnant and had tested positive for the coronavirus. Another third of the women were pregnant, but had tested negative. The remainder were not pregnant, but had tested positive for COVID-19.

The researchers tested how pregnancy, infection with the coronavirus and conditions such as HIV, TB, malaria and sickle cell anemia affected a woman’s likelihood of severe disease or death.

The findings were grim. Pregnant women who were hospitalised in sub-Saharan Africa were five times more likely to die in the hospital if they tested positive for the coronavirus. Being pregnant doubled the odds that a woman admitted to a hospital with COVID-19 would die.

According to the study, though COVID-19 vaccines have been found to be safe and effective during pregnancy, only 13 of the sub-Saharan Africa countries currently recommend COVID-19 vaccination for some or all pregnant women. Globally, about 110 countries have recommended vaccination for this category. 

“Most African governments are yet to start vaccinating pregnant women on basis that the vaccine could harm them, or their fetuses and babies, yet it has been extensively demonstrated that that’s not the case,” said Prof Nachega.

According to the study, despite the fact that women of childbearing age need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 during or even before pregnancy, high rates of vaccine hesitancy in sub-Saharan Africa is a big challenge. According to the report, only about 19 per cent of women intend to get the vaccine.

“The most important implication of this study is to advocate for COVID vaccination in women of childbearing age. We decided to conduct this research because few data are available on COVID-19 outcomes among pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where high-risk comorbidities are prevalent. We investigated the impact of pregnancy on SARS-CoV-2 infection and of SARS-CoV-2 infection on pregnancy to generate evidence for health policy and clinical practice,” he revealed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends Covid-19 jabs for everyone aged at least six months, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, those trying to get pregnant, or might become pregnant in the future. It also recommends boosters for the same groups if eligible. 

More evidence continues to show that COVID-19 vaccination before and during pregnancy is safe, effective, and beneficial to both mother and child. The benefits of receiving a COVID-19 jab therefore far much outweigh any potential risks of vaccination during pregnancy.

Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna (mRNA COVID-19 vaccines) are preferred over the J&J/Janssen ones for primary and booster vaccination. The J&J/Janssen vaccine may, however be considered in some instances, according to researchers. 

Dr. Sanni Kayode, AATF Rice Project Manager at a Hybrid Rice Farm in Central Kenya Photo Courtesy: AATF

Embrace agri-technology to be food secure, farmers told

By Ruth Keah I rkeahkadide@gmail.com

Lack of infrastructure and limited use of technology for crop production stifle attainment of food security in Africa, seed experts have said.

Speaking virtually on the third day of the Fifth African Conference for Science Journalists held recently, Mr Amos Rutherfold, a seed man from Legacy Seeds in Ghana and Dr Kayode Sanni, who is the Rice Project Manager and Director of the Alliance for Hybrid Rice in Africa, (AHyRA), said that besides the factors above, there was need for African countries to rethink ways of financing the sector to enable farmers to produce adequate food.

While speaking at the same conference, Dr. Maxwell Darko Asante, a Principal Research scientist at the CSIR-Crops Research Institute, Kumasi, Ghana and who specialises in rice breeding, Africa has the potential to feed itself if technology and other logistical issues were sorted out.

“We need to look at our financial structure. How are we going to fund agriculture in the continent in order to know how we are going to produce enough food to feed our African population,” said Rutherford.

He noted that if farmers secured adequate funds, they can solve these challenges, which include poor quality seeds, inadequate crop protection inputs and plant nutrition inputs, agricultural drought, land tenure system issues, pests and diseases, unstructured market system and weak financial architecture.

He said over the years, governments had tried to impose methodologies that small-scale farmers should use, but which are normally not convenient for farmers to use for production. He said there was need for sustainable crop production in Africa.

“We are the youngest population in the continent; so we must produce enough food to feed our  people,” he said.

Addressing journalists and communication experts attending the conference, Dr Kayode Sanni, Rice Project Manager and Director of the Alliance for Hybrid Rice in Africa, (AHyRA), urged farmers to embrace the growing technology in farming to enhance food security.

He said many western countries had adopted new agri-technologies in producing different farm produce, while Africa is still lagging behind, hence the food insecurity.

 

He expressed confidence that the continent had all the variables and technology to become self-sufficient in rice production by increasing productivity, planting climate-resilient varieties, improving crop management, and market linkages along the value chain.

 “Currently, in Africa, we are at the level of 26 million metric tonnes of consumption, and we barely produce half of that. This has left us with a deficit of nearly 13 million metric tonnes,” he said.

According to Dr Kayode, Africa spends over $6 billion in rice importation only. He acknowledged that it is a challenge for African countries, but on the other hand an opportunity to use agri-technology and fill the gap.

“At the end of the day it will improve the livelihoods of the farmers, improve business and increase income, which goes to farmers’ households,” he said.

He added that out of the more than 50 countries in Africa, only three – Tanzania, Madagascar and Mali – are rice self-sufficient. Countries that are still behind are Angola, which is still at 7 per cent of production. Kenya is at 10 per cent.

He urged farmers to take advantage of the situation and adopt new agri-technologies and build capacity of private and public sectors to meet what is needed in achieving food security. He also urged farmers to embrace the new technology to not only produce food, among them rice, for eating, but also for exportation.

“With the shortage here, what we mean is that there is a lot of opportunities if technologies are adopted in producing rice in Africa,” he said.

With effects of climate change being experienced globally, Dr Kayode also urged farmers to plant resilient crops. This, he said, will also increase the chances of being food secure.

“We need to plant climate resilient varieties that can survive drought, disease outbreak or even flooding,” he observed.

The conference was organised by the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA).