Month: March 2018

WHO Supports 16 African Countries to Protect Against Listeriosis

Posted on Updated on

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reached out to 16 African nations to provide support for preparedness and response to a listeriosis outbreak that started in South Africa in 2017 but is now threatening other countries on the continent.

The 16 countries are Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Nearly 200 South Africans have died since January 2017 as a result of contaminated ready-to-eat meat products that are widely consumed in South Africa and may also have been exported to two West African countries and 14 members of the South African Development Community (SADC)

There has been a national and international recall of many food products from South Africa especially the ready to eat meat products
There has been a national and International recall of many meat products from South Africa

 

South African health authorities recently declared the source of the outbreak as a factory in Polokwane, South Africa. This prompted a national and international recall of the food products. However, in light of the potentially long incubation period of listeriosis and the challenges relating to large scale nationwide recall processes, further cases are likely to occur.

Namibia has reported one confirmed case of listeriosis, a man who was admitted to hospital in early March. An investigation is ongoing to determine whether the case is connected to the outbreak in South Africa.

WHO’s Health Emergencies programme, the Global Outbreak alert and Response Network (GOARN) and the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) are working with the 16 priority countries to improve their ability to prepare for, detect and respond to potential outbreaks.

Immediate steps will include increasing awareness on listeriosis, enhancing active surveillance and laboratory diagnosis, ensuring readiness of Rapid Response Teams, and strengthening coordination and contingency planning. Experts have been deployed to South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland to support these efforts.

“This outbreak is a wake up call for countries in the region to strengthen their national food safety and disease surveillance systems,” says Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

The Ministry of Health in Uganda in mid-March, 2018 warned Ugandans against consuming imported meat products mainly imported from South Africa in a bid to avoid the spread of the disease to the Country. No case of Listeriosis has been reported in Uganda as of 22nd March, 2018.

The link between the contaminated products, the producing company and strains of Listeria isolated from the patients was made by the use of whole genome sequencing of isolated strains of the Listeria bacteria. WHO is supporting further genome sequencing to determine which cases are linked to this on-going outbreak.

In March, South Africa hosted a meeting of SADC health ministers to address regional preparedness and response to listeriosis. Ministers committed to regional collaboration, exchanging information and strengthening national food safety systems in line with international standards.

WHO does not currently recommend any trade related measures in relation to the current outbreak of listeriosis in South Africa, other than the recall of products identified as sources of infection.

Countries are encouraged to pay more attention to common foodborne pathogens such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, E.coli and Listeria, to notify WHO of listeriosis outbreaks in line with the International Health Regulations (2005), and to make use of WHO guidelines to strengthen surveillance of and response to the foodborne disease.

About Listeriosis

  • Listeriosis is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes.
  • Listeria monocytogenesare widely distributed in nature. They can be found in soil, water, vegetation and the faeces of some animals and can contaminate foods.
  • High risk foods include deli meat and ready-to-eat meat products (such as cooked, cured and/or fermented meats and sausages), soft cheeses and cold smoked fishery products.
  • Pregnant women, the elderly or individuals with a weakened immune system, such as people with immuno-compromised status due to HIV/AIDS, leukaemia, cancer, kidney transplant and steroid therapy, are at greatest risk of severe listeriosis and should avoid high risk foods.
  • Listeriosis is a serious, but preventable and treatable disease.

Source: World Health Organisation

Additional Reporting by Cliff Abenaitwe 

Advertisements

URBAN FLOODS: A WAKE-UP CALL FOR UGANDA BUT ARE WE READY TO ACT?   

Posted on Updated on

Cliff Abenaitwe

Traditionally, rainfall was celebrated because it is believed to be a blessing from the creator. For farmers, it should be celebrated much more since over 85 percent of farmers in Uganda depend on it for agriculture. Even in urban areas, rainfall would mean life to urban farms and gardens, more rain water – hence a saving on the water bills and much more.

However, the situation has over the years been changing from good to bad and now it is worse. Rain is now more cursed than cherished in both urban and rural areas. What a pity!

A modern saying in Uganda goes that ‘Water is life when you are not staying in Bwaise’. Bwaise is one of the suburbs of Uganda’s Capital City- Kampala that is prone to floods.

bwaiseee
This is part of Bwaise Town- a place well known for flooding in Kampala City

What used to be a Bwaise problem however is now in many other urban areas.

City-floods-2
Many Kampala suburbs have for long suffered from floods. This is Kalerwe which is less than 10 Kilometres from Kampala City Centre. Kalerwe neighbors Bwaise

In March 2018 alone- Mbarara, Rukiga (Muhanga town) and Kabale towns among others saw the worst floods in their recent past and this is a sign of what has gone wrong over the years and what is likely to come.

mbra
On March 14, 2018, Mbarara town experienced the worst flooding in over 15 years. This is Part of a hotel that was flooded. 

In rural Uganda, the writing has for long been over the wall. The rate of environmental degradation has been growing to alarming levels presently. Hill slope forest cover has been decreasing daily, the hill slopes are poorly cultivated, bush burning has persisted while the wetlands in the low lying areas have been encroached on for agricultural practices- making mudslides, soil erosion and subsequent flooding inevitable. These floods for many years have been far in rural areas, away from the public limelight and wide mass media coverage.

However, now that the ‘flood spirits’ have invaded the urban areas, where mass media coverage is high, it is now time to wake up to the mess that has befallen our areas.

floods003
This part of Kampala is a stone throw from the City centre

Much talk has for years centred on the rate of environmental degradation in rural areas but this phenomenon is real in urban areas. The biggest portion of wetlands in urban areas have been degraded mainly for human settlement and many forests have been degazetted. This is dangerous for our urban areas. To make matters worse, our urban areas have no adequate planning for drainage channels as well poorly planned human settlements.

Way Forward

In many of the big urban areas, the damage has already been done and little can be done to lessen the flooding cases- but still something can be done and must be done immediately. All buildings should have a rain water harvesting system or plan in place. This would ultimately lessen the amount of water from the roofs to the surface. Also, urban drainage channels must be opened and maintained. We cannot afford a situation where rain water finds its way to wherever it wants. Our urban areas must have more trees planted and more green belts while all buildings must be on plan and the approval of such plans must be based on technical guidance not corrupt tendencies. For the growing towns, this is the time to have the necessary plans in place to mitigate future problems like this. If such floods are not lessened, loss of lives, destruction of infrastructure, disruption of transport and business as well as spread of water-borne diseases will continue in Uganda.

In a nutshell, urban and rural floods are a sign of something gone wrong. We must take them as a warning of more danger to come and a springboard to action. In Uganda, we are found of calling government to act but in this case, government alone cannot do much. We all must join hands to protect the environment and promote sustainable urban growth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

,

Government Promotes Access to Affordable Credit in Rwenzori Region

Posted on Updated on

Cliff Abenaitwe

Government through its body- The Microfinance Support Centre (MSC) has kicked off a campaign to promote access to affordable credit in the districts of Kasese, Ntoroko and Bundibugyo- in the Rwenzori Region. The campaign is targeting various categories of community members, along with District, Cultural and Religious leaders to sensitize them on the affordable funding opportunities available to increase household incomes and improve livelihoods.

Recently, a team from MSC concluded a two-week long sensitization drive of stakeholders and community members- the first of the many sensitization campaigns geared towards creating awareness and building capacity of community groups to access and benefit from government funding.

vlcsnap-2018-02-19-13h02m25s343
Peter Kibirango- the Kabarole Region MSC Manager during one of the sensitization meetings in Kasese district

According to Hellen Petranella Matsika- an official from the MSC, over the past couple of years, government through MSC has extended cheap, affordable credit to entities in this region and more groups are being targeted for funding to alleviate poverty. “We have disbursed 29 Billion Shillings in the 9 districts of Kasese, Bunyagabu, Kasese, Bundibugyo, Ntoroko, Kamwenge, Kyenjojo, Mubende and Kabarole under our Kabarole Zonal Office, but these funds have been to SACCOS, Cooperatives and Companies”, Matsika explains. She however observed that very few community groups of people at different levels have benefited yet these groups have many members and are engaged in many income generating activities.

vlcsnap-2018-02-19-13h01m41s937 (1)
According to MSC’s Hellen Matsika, government is determined to avail affordable credit to Ugandans and MSC is at the centre of this drive

Out of the 29 Billion Shillings disbursed in the region so far, Kasese District has taken a lion’s share with 27 Billion Shillings going to Corporate bodies, Microfinance Institutions and Cooperatives while Bundibugyo has benefited the least with 160 Million Shillings.

One of the biggest bottlenecks according to MSC is people’s little awareness about the existence of such affordable financing. “Government has this funding opportunity and we offer different credit products at an interest between 9 and 17 percent per annum. This is the cheapest credit in Uganda but people are not aware of this. Government is now committed to improve awareness to spur development”, Matsika confidently told this site.

To drive this, officials from MSC are now training and engaging leaders, stakeholders and people from different groups in the districts of Kasese, Ntoroko and Bundibugyo to popularize this Government program in the region.

According to Belinda Atim, the MSC Public Relations Officer (PRO), bringing Political leaders, district technical leaders,

vlcsnap-2018-02-19-12h58m47s812
Belinda Atim- PRO MSC

religious leaders, opinion leaders and cultural leaders on board is key in the sensitization initiatives because these people interact with Ugandans at all levels on a daily basis adding that with them, every person will get information about this affordable funding option from Government.

Key Observations So Far

According to Matsika, apart from little knowledge on the availability of these funds, people in the region though they have groups, a number of these groups are not fully registered with the office of the District Commercial Officer (DCO), many are poor at book keeping but all these can be corrected for these groups to qualify for government funding. On the other hand, Matsika observed that there are many well organized groups like the over 1000 Women Groups under the Rwenzori Catholic Diocese that are ready for funding adding that these will be funded soon to boost their income activities.

Community Responses

Mumbere Bonny Hastings- a Person Living With Disability in Bundibugyo District

People Living With Disability and other vulnerable groups like women, the elderly have for long been neglected. However, with this government funding that takes care of all groups of people, we shall be able to access affordable low-interest funds to boost our economic activities. All we need is more sensitization on how we can organize and strengthen our groups to benefit from these funds.

Mbetegyerize Godfrey- RDC Bundibugyo;

vlcsnap-2018-02-19-13h05m54s859
Bundibugyo RDC Godfrey Mbetegyerize

Government has come up with different programs to fight poverty. It has done its job. Now it is time for Ugandans to take advantage of these initiatives to access funds to boost economic activities. However, people who get these funds must know that it is not free money so it should be used for the right purpose to generate income so that groups are able to repay.

Mubulya Wilson- Prime Minister Obudhingiya Bwa Bwamba

The number of people accessing such good programs are still low yet people are still struggling with poverty. With more sensitization as initiated this time, awareness will improve and people will embrace this program and more others. We as cultural leaders appreciate the fact that we have a role to play in mobilising our communities to work towards prosperity.

Vila Nyeisi Muhindo- Chairperson Kasese Parish Women group

vlcsnap-2018-02-19-12h55m36s875
Women Groups like the one Vila Nyeisi Muhindo heads are categorised as special interest groups and one of the key areas of focus 

Through our different church groups, we have been saving little funds which we have been using in income generating activities like making liquid soap, buying tents and chairs for hire among other ventures. However, our scope of activities has over the years been limited by funds. We believe that with such affordable funding from government through the Microfinance Support Centre, we shall be able to expand our activities and earn more income to support of families and fight poverty.

My Opinion

Affordable financing still remains a very big issue in Uganda. Loans from Commercial Banks are charged a relatively high interest rate which makes them unattainable. What remains puzzling is that many government initiated credit and financing options are affordable but the uptake of these facilities leaves a lot to be desired.

Now that MSC has set the ball in motion, sensitization of Ugandans in different areas on how to access this affordable finance must be scaled up. To achieve this, a sustainable, multi-stakeholder approach must be adopted for effective and efficient mobilization. A cross section of Ugandans think that government financing is like a donation hence no need to bother re-paying. However, with regular monitoring of beneficiaries, the advanced funds can be put to good use and the beneficiaries will be in position to repay.    

About MSC

The Microfinance Support Centre, a Government company incorporated in 2001, has since its inception disbursed close to 270b countrywide. The company boasts of a database of 5000 client institutions which have benefited from Government’s vision of prosperity for all. While the initial efforts were geared towards support to Savings and Credit Co-operative Organizations (SACCOs), services were later extended to Village Loans and Savings Associations (VSLAs), which attract more of the rural folk. Piloted in the East and Northern regions of the country, support to groups is now open countrywide with a call for informal business groups to get organized and registered at the district level so as to benefit from the provision.

MSC offers the cheapest micro-credit facility ranging from 9-17 percent and places emphasis on lending to the agricultural sector, the backbone of the economy.