Category Archives: Medical & Health

6 Killed, 15 Injured in Somalia Bombings

At least five people were killed and more than eight others wounded when a government security checkpoint was bombed in Baidoa, Somalia’s administrative capital of Southwest State, on Saturday, witnesses and security officials said.

Officials in Baidoa, about 250 kilometers west of Mogadishu, told VOA Somali that the blast apparently came from a remote-controlled landmine planted at a government tax collection point in the southern part of the town.

“Four civilians and a government solider have died in the blast and eight others were wounded,” said Baidoa District Commissioner Hassan Mo’alim Bikole. “The wounded are being treated at hospitals.”

Bikole said most of the victims were civilians.

In the Somali capital, Mogadishu, a suicide bomber driving a vehicle blew himself up in front of the government revenue headquarters, injuring seven people, including security guards.

“The security forces suspected the vehicle as it sped towards the revenue headquarters building. The police officers guarding the place prevented it from reaching its target and the driver rammed the vehicle into a nearby perimeter wall before he blew himself up,” said Sidiiq Dodishe, a police spokesman.” Five police officers were injured in the blast, he added.

Witnesses said two civilian passersby also sustained minor injuries.

No group has claimed responsibility for either attack, but al-Qaida-affiliated militant group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for such incidents in Somalia over the years.

The Somali government has condemned both attacks, saying such incidents will not deter its efforts to stabilize the country.

Government spokesman Ismael Mukhtar Omar said al-Shabab was behind both bombings.

Residents in Mogadishu said the blast was the biggest they had heard since last December.

Steps taken by Somali security forces in the city, including setting up roadblocks leading to government offices and major installations, are believed to have minimized attacks targeting military bases, hotels, restaurants and other public places.




Source: Voice of America

South Africa’s Hospitals Bracing for Surge of Virus Patients

The nurse started crying when describing her work at a Johannesburg hospital: The ward for coronavirus patients is full, so new arrivals are sent to the general ward, where they wait days for test results. Already 20 of her colleagues have tested positive.

“A lot, a lot, a lot of people are coming in every day. With COVID-19,” said the nurse, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she is not authorized to speak to the media. “Each day, it becomes more difficult to cope.”

South Africa’s reported coronavirus cases more than quadrupled in June — though some of that is due to efforts to clear a testing backlog, the rate of increase of new cases is picking up. Its hospitals are now bracing for an onslaught of patients, setting up temporary wards and hoping advances in treatment will help the country’s health facilities from becoming overwhelmed.

The surge comes as the country has allowed businesses to reopen in recent weeks to stave off economic disaster after a strict two-month stay-at-home order worsened already high unemployment — it reached 30% in June — and drastically increased hunger. In Johannesburg, the largest city, health officials said they are considering reimposing some restrictions to try to slow the quickening spread of the virus.

“We’re seeing a spike in infections in Johannesburg. The number of people that we are diagnosing on a daily basis now is absolutely frightening,” said Shabir Madhi, professor of vaccinology at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand, who is leading a vaccine trial in South Africa in cooperation with Britain’s University of Oxford. “Who we are finding positive now is an indication of who will be in hospital three weeks from now.”

The vaccine trial began last week, and Madhi said he’s surprised by the high number of prospective participants who have been disqualified because they are positive for the virus.
“It is hard to see how our hospitals will be able to cope,” he said. “Our facilities are reaching a tipping point.”

COVID-19 has highlighted South Africa’s inequalities, he said. “Everyone is at risk from the virus,” he said. “But the poor, living in higher density areas, without good access to running water, access to health care, the poorest will suffer the most.”

South Africa, with 58 million people and nearly 40% of all the cases on the entire continent, has seen the number of confirmed infections rise from 34,000 at the start of June to more than 168,000 on Friday.

Overnight it reported its largest daily number of new confirmed cases — 8,728.

As of Friday, 2,844 people had died, according to official statistics. But forecasts by health experts have warned that South Africa could see from 40,000 to more than 70,000 deaths from COVID-19 before the end of 2020.

Other African countries are watching warily as the country with the continent’s best-equipped and best-staffed health system hurtles toward a peak that may overwhelm it.

South Africa’s health minister, Dr. Zwelini Mkhize, issued a sobering warning recently about an expected flood of cases, especially in urban centers as many return to work.

“It is anticipated that, while every province will unfortunately witness an increase in their numbers, areas where there is high economic activity will experience an exponential rise,” Mkhize said this week.

Concerns about the virus spreading in the minibus taxis that millions of South Africans use to commute grew this week when the taxi association said the minivans would run at full capacity of up to 15 passengers, despite government orders to carry just 70% capacity.

For weeks Cape Town has been the country’s epicenter of the disease, but Johannesburg is rapidly catching up.

Mkhize said Gauteng province, which also includes the nation’s capital of Pretoria, will quickly surpass Cape Town and will need more hospital beds.

Gauteng hospitals already have 3,000 COVID-19 patients, the province’s premier David Makhura told reporters Thursday. He denied reports that patients have been turned away and said bed capacity would be significantly increased by the end of July. He said the reopening of schools set for next week may be postponed and warned that restrictions may be reimposed to combat the surge.

To increase its hospital capacity, South Africa has converted convention centers in Cape Town and Johannesburg, built wards in huge tents, and turned a closed Volkswagen car manufacturing plant into a 3,300-bed treatment center. Still, finding staff to tend to those beds is a challenge: The factory remains empty for lack of health workers.

In Khayelitsha township, one of Cape Town’s poorest areas with some 400, 000 residents, the district hospital has 300 beds. Anticipating increased demand on the overstretched facility, an external wing was created across the street. Built in a month, the new ward opened at the start of June with 60 beds. By this week only two beds were empty.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Dr. Hermann Reuter of his work in the external ward, run by Khayelitsha District Hospital with assistance from Doctors Without Borders.

Reuter said advances in treatment — including giving patients oxygen masks and nasal inhalers earlier and turning them often in order to keep them off ventilators — has yielded encouraging results, even though many are severely ill when they arrive. Crucially, many can be discharged in two weeks — freeing up much-needed bed space, said Reuter, who normally runs community substance abuse clinics but volunteered to work in the field hospital.

As South Africa heads into its coldest time of year, the media have warned of a “dark winter” over fears cases will peak in July and August in the Southern Hemisphere country. President Cyril Ramaphosa recently counseled the nation to prepare for tough times ahead, saying that many may find themselves “despondent and fearful” in the weeks and months to come.

“It may be that things have gotten worse, but we are certain that they will get better,” he said.
For the nurse at the Johannesburg hospital, those dark days already appear to have arrived.

“Nursing is a calling, and we are working to help people in this corona crisis,” she said. “But we are becoming overwhelmed.”


Source: Voice of America

Killing of Musician in Ethiopia Highlights Deep Rooted Ethnic, Political Tension

At least 80 people have died in protests this week in Ethiopia following the killing of popular singer Hachalu Hundessa. Known for his political songs, Hundessa’s death has heightened ethnic tensions in Ethiopia, as the protests spread to the Oromia region, where Hundessa was born. As authorities shut down the internet in parts of the country, analysts say officials need to manage the country’s political system well to avoid unrest.

Security remains tight across Ethiopia a day after the funeral of revered singer and musician Hachalu Hundessa.
His killing this week sparked riots in and around Addis Ababa, leaving at least 80 dead.
Murithi Mutiga is the Horn of Africa project director at the International Crisis Group. He says the anger witnessed in the streets of Ethiopia was not only about the killing of the musician but also the country’s underlying historical grievances by different ethnic groups.

“This whole transition is characterized by very substantial complex tensions and the killing of the young musician was essentially a trigger because of the deep frustrations that some of the protesters still feel,” said Mutiga. “This killing has served as a spark and a trigger for substantial unrest as we have witnessed.”
Hundessa was gunned down Monday night in Addis Ababa, a week after he appeared on the Oromia Media Network, where he criticized Ethiopia’s leadership and spoke against the mass incarceration of Oromo youth.

The musician was ethnic Oromo, a group that has a long history of being discriminated against.
Since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018, ethnic groups’ demands for political, social, and economic inclusion and in some cases, independence have been growing.
When he came to power, Abiy promised his administration would take a different approach to the country’s problems.
Fisseha Tekle, an Ethiopia researcher for rights group Amnesty International, says security forces continue to use force in dealing with demonstrators.

“Our primary findings indicate that security forces were shooting at protesters because they burned tires or they demolished government buildings.  That’s the case in Adama, for instance,” said Tekle. “There were some instances where there were ethnic clashes. We can see that the behavior of the security forces towards protesters is not in line with human rights standards because they usually use lethal force against protesters.”
Jawar Mohammed, opposition politician Bekele Gerba and 33 others were detained by police in connection with riots over the past week.
Abiy has vowed to restore calm in the country. Police say three people have been arrested in connection with Hundessa’s killing. They gave no details, but the prime minister said the shooting could be tied to the assassination of the chief of the Ethiopian army last year.
Mutiga says the country needs to carry on with its reforms.
“Ethiopia’s transition is very carefully watched. It has been a source of hope for many in Ethiopia and outside the country,” said Mutiga. “It’s essential that elites don’t fritter all that hope.  They need to find a way to talk, they need a way to find a way to solve their differences and bring transition back on track.” 

Meanwhile, to limit the spread of the violence, authorities have cut internet and mobile phone service.  Officials have also postponed elections that were scheduled for next month until next year.

Source: Voice of America

UN Peacekeepers Test Positive for Coronavirus in South Sudan

The top United Nations official in South Sudan says 57 workers with the U.N. mission there have tested positive for COVID-19 since April.

David Shearer said the peacekeepers could have contracted the virus due to what he described as “continuous close interactions with the South Sudanese population.”

Shearer told VOA’s South Sudan In Focus the cases include the components of military, police and civilian personnel based at a U.N. camp in the capital, Juba.

“Forty-five of those have recovered and sadly one person has died and that is across the military, the police and civilian members. And it really reflects that our people are working closely with the South Sudanese, moving around and talking to them, and meeting. So, in some way it is not surprising we have that number and even more as time goes on,” he said.

The cases make up only a small fraction of the approximately 16,000 personnel with the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

The first case of COVID-19 in South Sudan was a U.N. civilian employee who traveled to the country from the Netherlands in February. Health officials in Juba said she did not present any symptoms until several weeks after her arrival.

The second and third cases were also U.N. employees who had links with the first case.

Shearer, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative in South Sudan, said some of the mission workers tested positive due to what he calls “links” with South Sudanese people.

“Nearly all of that has come from the South Sudanese population because we have very little influx of our people coming into the country and anyone coming into the country is quarantined for 14 days. So, we are confident that we are not bringing the virus in from outside. So, it is certainly all coming from communities prevalent in South Sudan,” he said.

The UNMISS chief said his office is taking extra precautions to ensure that troops and other personnel are not shaken by the number of positive cases.

Shearer said the virus also could have spread among the internally displaced persons sheltering at crowded U.N.-run camps in the country.

“Given that the POC (protection of civilian) sites are pretty congested, that means that there is a greater possibility of people contracting it. Although we have put in a lot of education about the spread of coronavirus, and additional water, soap and things like that so that people can take proper precaution, it is likely that it has taken over the POC sites,” he said.

Shearer did not disclose the number of internally displaced persons who have tested positive for COVID-19.

He said despite the pandemic, UNMISS continues to discharge its mandate normally and respond to security needs of the affected population.  He said any UNMISS worker who tests positive for the virus is immediately isolated and their job is covered by other staff members.

According to data released by health officials on Tuesday, South Sudan has registered a total of 2,007 COVID-19 positive cases, 279 recoveries and 38 deaths.





Source: Voice of America

More Than 80 Reported Killed This Week in Ethiopia Unrest

More than 80 people have been killed in unrest in Ethiopia after a popular singer was shot dead this week, the state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation says. He was being buried Thursday amid tight security.

The deaths reported Wednesday, citing police in the Oromia region, follow the killing of Hachalu Hundessa on Monday. He had been a prominent voice in anti-government protests that led to a change in leadership in 2018. Angry protests, including three bomb blasts, followed his death in the capital, Addis Ababa.

He was being buried in his hometown of Ambo. Police late Wednesday said three people had been arrested in his death.

The singer’s killing further raised tensions in Ethiopia, where the government recently delayed the national election, citing the coronavirus pandemic.

The mood was tense are fearful in Addis Ababa as some residents formed protection groups to defend their property from vandals. Hundreds of cars have been burned or damaged. Downtown streets were largely empty aside from fire trucks and ambulances.

Internet and mobile data service remain cut in Ethiopia as human rights groups raise concerns about the restrictions. The shutdown has “made it impossible to access information on those killed and injured in the protests,” Human Rights Watch said.

Other arrests this week include that of a well-known Oromo activist, Jawar Mohammed, and more than 30 supporters. The arrest of opposition figures “could make a volatile situation even worse,” Human Rights Watch said,

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who took office in 2018 after the anti-government protests, has seen his administration’s sweeping political reforms challenged as the loosening of political space opened the way for ethnic and other grievances, leading in some cases to deadly intercommunal violence.

Abiy has called the singer’s killing a “tragedy” and declared that “our enemies will not succeed.”




Source: Voice of America

WHO Urges African Countries Resuming Air Travel to Take Safety Measures

The World Health Organization called on African countries Thursday to take comprehensive safety measures to “mitigate a surge” in COVID-19 cases, as nations resume air travel.

The African economy, which is heavily reliant on travel and tourism, has been struck hard by the global pandemic.

“Air travel is vital to the economic health of countries,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, said Thursday in a press release. “But as we take to the skies again, we cannot let our guard down. Our new normal still requires stringent measures to stem the spread of COVID-19.”

Earlier in the pandemic, 36 sub-Saharan African countries closed their borders to international travel, with eight more blocking flights from the worst-hit countries. Now, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania and Zambia have resumed commercial flights, and the 15 members of the Economic Community of West African States will open their airspaces on July 25.

The WHO recommended that African countries implement “comprehensive” entry and exit screening, maintain social distancing where possible, encourage “cough etiquette,” register incoming passengers and follow up with them to track the outbreak.

Thursday’s press release came hours after Amani Abou-Zeid, the African Union’s commissioner for infrastructure and energy, said that the continent had lost nearly $55 billion in travel and tourism revenue in just three months because of the pandemic. Africa had previously expected revenue jumps in these sectors this year.


“We have 24 million African families whose livelihood is linked to travel and tourism,” Abou-Zeid said. “The blow is very hard, between the economic losses and the job losses.”


African airlines, she added, have experienced an $8 billion, or 95%, drop in revenue, alongside other economic losses.


The International Monetary Fund projected last month that the sub-Saharan African economy would shrink by 3.2% this year, revised from a 1.6% contraction in April.


The WHO, however, pressed countries to weigh the financial costs of maintaining closed borders with the costs of a more severe outbreak, and asked nations to decide if their health care and contact tracing systems could handle an increase in COVID-19 cases.


Temperature screening at points of entry is relatively well-established in Africa because of the continent’s experience with Ebola, Moeti said Thursday at a WHO-World Economic Forum press conference. Ebola outbreaks have also primed COVID-19 contact tracing efforts, she said.


As of Thursday, Africa had over 414,000 confirmed infections and nearly 200,000 recoveries, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over 10,000 people have died. South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria have reported the most cases in the region by far.


About 22% of destinations worldwide had eased travel restrictions as of June 25, up from just 3% in mid-May, according to the U.N. World Tourism Organization. Most are in Europe.


On Tuesday, the European Union released a list of 15 countries whose citizens would be allowed to enter the bloc, provided the gesture was reciprocated.



Source: Voice of America

Rights Groups Call for Swift Response to Ethiopian Singer’s Death

As anger boils over among Ethiopia’s Oromo population after the killing of a revered singer, analysts and activists say swift action and transparency by the government are necessary to avoid further bloodshed.

Hachalu Hundessa was shot dead in Addis Ababa this week in what police say was a targeted killing. Police quickly apprehended suspects. But few details have been released about Hachalu’s death, fueling suspicion.

Protests in and around the capital city led to injuries and at least 52 people have been killed, according to the regional spokesman, Reuters reported.

Henok Gabisa, a professor of practice at Washington and Lee University’s School of Law, said Hachalu’s music was “the soundtrack of the Oromo revolution.” His death came about a week after he appeared on a satellite television channel, the Oromia Media Network, where he criticized Ethiopia’s leadership and spoke out against the mass incarceration of Oromo youth.

“Hachalu is way more than a musician and way more than an artist,” Henok told VOA. “Hachalu is an activist-artist who always stood his ground. Who spoke truth to power way long ago when it was difficult to do.”

The singer’s killing comes at a time when tensions are already high amid restrictions related to COVID-19 and the announced postponement of parliamentary elections, which had been scheduled for August.

In a national address, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed offered his condolences and sought to quell tensions.

“More than being a national figure, he was a close friend. The sorrow is very deep,” Abiy said. “But the wish of our enemies is for us not to reach our goals so that Oromo people can’t live with other ethnicities and we would paint each other with blood. They want us to trip on the journey we have started. This attempt has been tried repeatedly.”

But a slow or heavy-handed government response risks a repeat of past protests among the Oromo ethnic group that led to hundreds of deaths, rights activists say. In November 2019, 86 people were killed in protests following allegations that security forces were plotting to attack Jawar Mohammed, an activist and co-founder of Oromia Media Network.

“It’s absolutely key that the Ethiopian authorities respond to this by acting urgently to reduce tensions and to ensure that security forces do not make what could be a combustible situation worse,” said Laetitia Bader, Human Rights Watch’s Horn of Africa director, in an interview with VOA. “The government needs to order security forces not to use excessive force or to carry out arbitrary arrests including against protesters, as they’ve often done in the past.”

As has been the case during past periods of unrest, Ethiopia’s government-controlled telephone and internet provider, Ethio Telecom, shut off internet access inside the country.

Bader said this lack of access to information adds to the confusion.

“It’s absolutely key for the government to make sure that as soon as possible it is providing accurate, timely information to the public on what they’re doing to investigate [the] killing, but also how they are responding to what could be a very tense situation,” she said.

Protesters have been further angered this week as news spread that Jawar Mohammed was arrested and the domestic operations of his television network were shut down.

A total of 35 people have been arrested in Addis Ababa, including Oromo leader Bekele Gerba.

Merera Gudina, chair of the Oromo Federalist Congress, an opposition party, said the events show the urgent need for reform. He called for a commission with representatives from all sectors of society to oversee the way political opponents and protesters are treated in Ethiopia.

“We want a more inclusive commission that can oversee the way the government is conducting its business, including the way the election board is running, the way the security sector, the army, the police, the militia [are running] and the way they are behaving,” Merera told VOA’s Daybreak Africa. “This is not the way. The government is not properly functioning. So, that is our worry.”


Source: Voice of America

Worst Virus Fears Realized in Poor, War-Torn Countries

For months, experts have warned of a potential nightmare scenario: After overwhelming health systems in some of the world’s wealthiest regions, the coronavirus gains a foothold in poor or war-torn countries ill-equipped to contain it and sweeps through the population.

Now some of those fears are being realized.

In southern Yemen, health workers are leaving their posts en masse because of a lack of protective equipment, and some hospitals are turning away patients struggling to breathe. In Sudan’s war-ravaged Darfur region, where there is little testing capacity, a mysterious illness resembling COVID-19 is spreading through camps for the internally displaced.

Cases are soaring in India and Pakistan, together home to more than 1.5 billion people and where authorities say nationwide lockdowns are no longer an option because of high poverty.

Latin America

In Latin America, Brazil has a confirmed caseload and death count second only to the United States, and its leader is unwilling to take steps to stem the spread of the virus. Alarming escalations are unfolding in Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Panama, even after they imposed early lockdowns.

The first reports of disarray are also emerging from hospitals in South Africa, which has its continent’s most developed economy. Sick patients are lying on beds in corridors as one hospital runs out of space. At another, an emergency morgue was needed to hold more than 700 bodies.

“We are reaping the whirlwind now,” said Francois Venter, a South African health expert at the University of Witswatersrand in Johannesburg.

Worldwide, there are 10 million confirmed cases and over 500,000 reported deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University of government reports. Experts say both those numbers are serious undercounts of the true toll of the pandemic, due to limited testing and missed mild cases.


South Africa has more than a third of Africa’s confirmed cases of COVID-19. It’s ahead of other African countries in the pandemic timeline and approaching its peak. If its facilities break under the strain, it will be a grim forewarning because South Africa’s health system is reputed to be the continent’s best.

Most poor countries took action early on. Some, like Uganda, which already had a sophisticated detection system built up during its yearslong battle with viral hemorrhagic fever, have thus far been arguably more successful than the U.S. and other wealthy countries in battling coronavirus.

But since the beginning of the pandemic, poor and conflict-ravaged countries have generally been at a major disadvantage, and they remain so.

The global scramble for protective equipment sent prices soaring. Testing kits have also been hard to come by. Tracking and quarantining patients requires large numbers of health workers.

“It’s all a domino effect,” said Kate White, head of emergencies for Doctors Without Borders. “Whenever you have countries that are economically not as well off as others, then they will be adversely affected.”

Global health experts say testing is key, but months into the pandemic, few developing countries can keep carrying out the tens of thousands of tests every week that are needed to detect and contain outbreaks.

“The majority of the places that we work in are not able to have that level of testing capacity, and that’s the level that you need to be able to get things really under control,” White said.

South Africa leads Africa in testing, but an initially promising program has now been overrun in Cape Town, which alone has more reported cases than any other African country except Egypt. Critical shortages of kits have forced city officials to abandon testing anyone for under 55 unless they have a serious health condition or are in a hospital.

Venter said a Cape Town-like surge could easily play out next in “the big cities of Nigeria, Congo, Kenya,” and they “do not have the health resources that we do.”

Lockdowns are likely the most effective safeguard, but they have exacted a heavy toll even on middle-class families in Europe and North America and are economically devastating in developing countries.


India’s lockdown, the world’s largest, caused countless migrant workers in major cities to lose their jobs overnight. Fearing hunger, thousands took to the highways by foot to return to their home villages, and many were killed in traffic accidents or died from dehydration.

The government has since set up quarantine facilities and now provides special rail service to get people home safely, but there are concerns the migration has already spread the virus to India’s rural areas, where the health infrastructure is even weaker.

Poverty has also accelerated the pandemic in Latin America, where millions with informal jobs had to go out and keep working, and then returned to crowded homes where they spread the virus to relatives.

Peru’s strict three-month lockdown failed to contain its outbreak, and it now has the world’s sixth-highest number of cases in a population of 32 million, according to Johns Hopkins. Intensive care units are nearly 88% occupied, and the virus shows no sign of slowing.

“Hospitals are on the verge of collapse,” said epidemiologist Ciro Maguiña, a professor of medicine at Cayetano Heredia University in the capital, Lima.

Aid groups have tried to help, but they have faced their own struggles. Doctors Without Borders says the price it pays for masks went up threefold at one point and is still higher than normal.

The group also faces obstacles in transporting medical supplies to remote areas as international and domestic flights have been drastically reduced. And as wealthy donor countries struggle with their own outbreaks, there are concerns they will cut back on humanitarian aid.

Mired in civil war for the past five years, Yemen was already home to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis before the virus hit. Now the Houthi rebels are suppressing all information about an outbreak in the north, and the health system in the government-controlled south is collapsing.

“Coronavirus has invaded our homes, our cities, our countryside,” said Dr. Abdul Rahman al-Azraqi, an internal medicine specialist and former hospital director in the city of Taiz, which is split between the rival forces. He estimates that 90% of Yemeni patients die at home.

“Our hospital doesn’t have any doctors, only a few nurses and administrators. There is effectively no medical treatment.”



Source: Voice of America