US$120 million required to fight TB among children.

By Masimba Biriwasha | Op-Ed | @ChiefKMasimba | January 09, 2014

According to an ambitious plan launched last year by leaders in the TB field, a total of  US$120 million is required to stem the TB among children.

The plan titled, The Roadmap for Childhood TB: Toward Zero Death, outlines three priority areas that require attention in order to turn the tide in the fight again TB including: a sense of urgency beyond the TB community, improvement in research, policy development and clinical practices as well as increased funding. Continue reading

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Retired General Solomon Mujuru Dies

Harare, Zimbabwe – One of the leading icons of Zimbabwe’s struggle for freedom from British colonial rule and husband of the vice president, Retired General Solomon Mujuru has died. He was 62.

According to media reports, Mujuru died last night at his Beatrice farm, Harare  South, where he is said to have burnt to death at his home.

Regarded as one of Zimbabwe’s main political power brokers, Mujuru, also known as Rex Nhongo (c.1949 – 2011), led incumbent President Robert Gabriel Mugabe’s guerrilla forces during the independence war.

In post-independence Zimbabwe, he went on to become army chief before leaving government service in 1995. Mujuru is the former MP for Chikomba. He is generally regarded as one of the most feared men in Zimbabwe. His wife, Joyce Mujuru, is the Vice President and a former Water Affairs Minister in the Zimbabwe Cabinet.

During the liberation war, Mujuru led the ZANLA forces when Mugabe languished in jail for 10 years from 1964 to 1974.

He took over the command of the Zimbabwe National Army  at independence in 1980, retiring 10 years later to go into business.

Popular speculation is that he owns anywhere between six and sixteen farms, including Alamein farm, a productive and high-value operation illegally requisitioned as part of a “landgrab” from Guy Watson-Smith in 2001, as found by the Zimbabwe High Court and international courts. However, he remained an influential member of the ruling ZANU-PF politburo and central committees.

“Vice President Joice Mujuru leads a powerful faction in Mugabe’s party backed by her husband, who commanded loyalty in the military. The general, a leader of the guerrilla war that swept Mugabe to power, commanded the military for more than a decade after Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980,” reported the Washington Post.

“Mujuru’s death was likely to intensify turmoil in Mugabe’s party over the question of who will succeed the 87-year-old president. Joice Mujuru and her supporters in the party are chief rivals to Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and his followers, who have been vying for supremacy in the party should Mugabe, in ailing health, die or retire,” added the newspaper.

Analysts said that Mujuru’s death is likely to intensify turmoil in President Robert Mugabe’s party over the question of who will succeed the 87-year-old president.

Retired General Mujuru’s Career

Zimbabwe African People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA), 1960s; Zimbabwe National Liberation Army (ZANLA), 1971; Acting commander-in-chief of ZANLA, 1975; Joint leader of Zimbabwe People’ Army (ZIPA) a united force of ZIPRA and ZANLA, 1976; Deputy Secretary of Defence for Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), 1977; Commander, Zimbabwe National Army, 1981; promoted to full General 1992; Member of Parliament for Chikomba, 1994-2000.

Malaria: Taking the Sting Out

WHEN I was about ten years old, I came down with malaria. The mere memory of it still makes my knees jiggle, and I can smell the acrid chloroquine pills which left a bitter after-taste that stayed with me for days and made my urine yellowy and stinky of medication.

I remember feeling sweaty and cold at the same time that I was not sure whether to cover myself with a blanket or jump in a tub full of ice-cold water. My appetite for food was next to nothing; no matter how much my mother tried to entice me to eat, I would simply throw up.

As an African child, I was very lucky to have survived though the memory of my illness still sends shockwaves up my spine. Unfortunately, the chloroquine pills that saved my life are not considered as effective across Africa anymore because the malaria parasite has become resistant. With each dose, the little pest has evolved, so to speak.

Malaria is a big killer on the continent. Of the 30 countries ranked as high-burden malaria countries in the world by WHO, 18 are in Africa.  Continue reading

Food, Food, Food: Making Sense of A Global Crisis

Nothing could be as much a mirror of poor people’s food plight as Thai farmers reportedly conducting armed vigils in their rice fields at night to prevent thieves from reaping the crop.

 

As a measure against nocturnal rice thefts, Thai authorities introduced a 6 p.m. curfew on combine harvesters, vehicles used to harvest the crop.

 

In Thailand, as in many parts of Asia, the price of rice has gone up dramatically in recent months tempting greedy and corrupt dealers to use any means available to get a hold of the pricey grain for either sell or hoarding. In fact, the hoarding of rice has been blamed for the price spirals forcing governments to impose buying rations.

 

According to the Asia Development Bank (ADB), approximately 1 billion Asians need assistance to cope with soaring food prices and shortages.

 

The purchasing power of many of Asia’s poor has been seriously eroded reversing previous gains made in fighting poverty.

 

The International Herald Tribune describes rice, a staple food for half of the global population, as one of the “world’s most politically fragile crop.”

 

Like the price of rice, general food prices are on the rise in many parts of the world, forcing poor people to protest — sometimes violently — against governments.

 

Food riots have erupted in countries such as Haiti, Cameroon, Egypt, Indonesia, Senegal and Somalia, among others, threatening national stability or exacerbating conflict. Poor people, particularly children and those living with diseases, face the risk of malnutrition or death due to inadequate diets.

 

“It’s the worst crisis of its kind in more than 30 years,” Jeffrey Sachs, and economist and UN special adviser recently told The New York Times. “It’s a big deal and it’s obviously threatening a lot of governments. There are a number of governments on the ropes, and I think there’s more political fallout to come.”

 

Experts say that food reserves are at their lowest in 35 years, and there is a systemic imbalance between the forces of supply and demand that cannot be fixed in the short term. UN statistics show that global food prices have risen by 65 percent since 2002 to levels increasingly beyond the reach of the poor.

 

The current food quagmire has been festering over the years with little to no media attention.

 

“In the seven of the last eight years consumption has exceeded production, which can happen only if we draw down our stocks. The carryover, the grain in the bin when a new harvest begins, is the seminal indicator of food security, and it’s now down to 54 days consumption, not much than is needed to fill the supply line,” says Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute.

 

Nearly 1.7 billion people in Asia — three times the population of Europe — live on less than US$2 a day, and to them the spiraling food prices are like a shockwave.

 

“The world’s food import bill will rise in 2007 to $745 billion, up 21% from last year, the FAO estimated in its biannual Food Outlook. In developing countries, costs will go up by a quarter to nearly $233 billion,” reports Time Magazine.

 

Asia’s poor are particularly vulnerable to rising food prices for staples such as rice because 60 percent of their spending goes toward food and the figure rises to 75 percent if transport costs are included, according to the ADB.

 

Many countries in the region have resorted to banning food exports and imposing price controls; however, the ADB warns that this could worsen the crisis, as farmers will stop growing crops that bring a negative return on investment.

 

An assortment of causes have been cited for the ongoing food crisis from climate change, population growth, increased consumption of meat in Asia, particularly India and China, a ballooning oil price, focus on bio-fuels to greed and corruption.

 

According to experts, the transportation of specific commodities over long distances chews up a lot of oil, which in a context of a skyrocketing oil price is responsible for the food price hikes.

 

Also, the fact that many people in Asia and other parts of the world now eat like North Americans is also an underlying factor for the upward spiral of food prices. The more people eat meat, the less food will be available to satiate empty bellies of the poor because grains meant for human beings go to fattening chickens and animals for meat. Continued growth in meat output is dependent on feeding grain to animals, creating competition for grain between affluent meat-eaters and the world’s poor, says the World Watch Institute.

 

In addition, the increased commercialization of agriculture has negatively impacted the productivity of small farmers. Consequently, small farmers opt to abandon the land, and trek to urban areas in search of proverbial greener pastures.

 

According to a United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) report between 2000 and 2030, Asia’s urban population is expected to increase from 1.36 billion to 2.64 billion, putting pressure on urban areas which are already incapable of meeting everyone’s food needs.

 

As the Asian food story reveals, to avert a global food crisis requires a multi-disciplinary and multi-dimensional approach that employs short term and long-term measures.

 

In the short term, bilateral and multi-lateral agencies can lend monetary support and food aid to help seriously affected countries cope with the food crisis. While government subsidies can help the poor to withstand the food crisis, it is not a sustainable strategy in the long-term.

 

National governments will need to invest in agricultural systems in a manner that keeps small farmers engaged in the production of food with a guarantee of support, fair compensation and improved access to market information.

 

The ADB recommends that farmers need to have access to reliable and affordable seed, fertilizers, pesticides and credit.

 

In the long-term, agricultural research, improvement of irrigation systems and the development of new technologies, including improved seed and crop varieties suited to specific climatic conditions, are essential to improving yields.

 

The use of low cost technologies such as drip kits and treadle pumps can also help farmers to make optimum use of land and water in the face of global warming. Labor-saving technologies that will adapt agriculture to new conditions generated by rural-to-urban migration can help to compensate for the depletion of labor.

 

As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon succinctly put it, the longer-term challenge is to boost agricultural development, particularly in Africa and other regions most affected.

 

With increased political will, fair trade and investments into agricultural systems, hopefully rice farmers in Thailand will, once again, have nights filled with sleep unafraid of waking up to a bare rice field harvested by some unscrupulous characters bent on making a quick dollar.

 

Quandary of America’s Terror War

The boundaries of today’s war on terrorism are highly obscure, making it highly improbable for US forces to avoid civilian casualties, in places like Somalia, and others perceived to harbor terrorists.

Terrorist

 

Terrorists, some of whom may have genuine causes, systematically utilize violence and intimidation while disguised as civilian non-combatants. In other words, terrorists imbed themselves within civilian populations and then execute attacks.

 

Thus, the ground of warfare in the war against terror in located within the civilian population as determined by terrorists using crude means to achieve political objectives.

 

Terrorists use civilians as both shields and sacrificial lambs in order to carry out their objectives.

 

The fact of the matter is that the war on terror absolutely has no rules of engagement. In military operations, the rules of engagement determine when, where, and how force shall be used. Terrorists operate literally in the shadows of civilian populations, and utilize wanton methods that put civilians in the line of fire.

 

In spite of the military might of US forces, there are severe problems to directly engage with terrorists in places like Somalia and others. The US forces face little choice except to track terrorists within civilian populations.

 

And therein lies the challenge.

 

Defining who is and who is not a terrorist within a crowd of people can be a daunting task, and despite any wholesale exercise of discretion, mistakes are bound to be made.

 

To complicate matters, the painstaking process of trying to identify terrorists within the civilian population places US soldiers in the line of potential terrorist attacks.

 

Hence, US forces have to rely mainly on military intelligence, some of which may be seriously flawed, putting civilians at the risk of a US military attack.

 

Given the amorphous nature of the war on terror, it is really chance and luck that rule the day, as opposed to the strict execution of military strategy intended to limit the killing of civilians.

 

So, while some attacks by US forces can yield intended results, others can go awry, especially when terrorists place themselves within the proximity of civilians.

 

Put simply, there are no easy answers to preventing civilian deaths in the formless war on terrorism. The war has no definite character or nature, and civilians find themselves caught in between like pawns in a chess game.

 

In order to limit the extent of civilian deaths, the US has to incorporate locals to verify intelligence information on the location of terrorists. But this cannot be a full-proof measure as local sources of information may be acting in cahoots with terrorists, and therefore divulge intelligence information to the very terrorists. As a result, planned attacks targeted at terrorists will only hit innocent civilians.

 

US soldiers are literally caught between a rock and a hard place with very little in their sophisticated weaponry to define or determine the rules of the war on terror.

 

As a result, US soldiers are forced to go on an all-out hunt for terrorist groups and personalities hidden within communities, rendering the killing of civilians unavoidable.