Health – Malaria Vaccine Trials

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Three Africa countries are selected for first phase of a Malaria vaccine pilot. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced that Ghana, Kenya and Malawi a are to be pilot countries for a new Malaria vaccine for young children from 2018. The vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives.

The vaccine was developed by GlaxoSmithKline and will be tested on children aged five to 17 months; it has taken decades of scientific and medical expertise to produce, and hundreds of millions of US dollars in funding.

The funding of US$49m for the first pilot phase is being funded by the Global Vaccine Alliance (GAVI), UNITAID and the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

However, the vaccine only has partial effectiveness, and the challenge is whether countries can deliver the required four doses per child, said WHO Africa Regional Director, Matshidiso Moeti.

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CC Radio Okapi 2006

Malaria infects roughly 200 million people each year, killing roughly half a million people, and Sub-Saharan Africa is hit particularly hard, with 90% of the world’s cases in 2015.

According to the WHO, modelling and data gathering has been so bad that it has been hard to tell if cases have been rising or falling over the last 15 years.

Kenya, Ghana and Malawi already have fairly strong prevention and vaccination programmes, but were chosen as they still have a high number of malaria cases. The vaccine will be delivered through existing health provisioning systems.

The WHO has stated its aim to wipe out the disease by 2040, although so far it has proven stubborn, with resistance problems to both drugs and insecticides.

According to Kathryn Maitland, Professor of Tropical Paediatric Infectious Diseases at Imperial College London, writing in a academic paper published in December 2016, “the slow progress in this field is astonishing, given that malaria has been around for millennia and has been a major force for human evolutionary selection…contrast this pace of change with out progress in the treatment of HIV, a disease a little more than three decades old.” (The Independent 24/4)

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

HEALTH: Malaria
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 54, Issue. 4, Pp. 21416A–21417C

HEALTH: Wiping Out Polio
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 54, Issue. 3, Pp. 21381B–21381C

HEALTH: HIV Treatment Soars
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 53, Issue. 11, Pp. 21236A–21237C

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Africa – CITES Conservation Conference

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The world’s largest wildlife convention leads to important new provisions for endangered species.

On October 4th the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the world’s largest wildlife meeting, ended after two weeks of talks in Johannesburg, South Africa, in which there was progress in implementing rules on trafficking of endangered species.

During the event around 2,500 delegates made their way through 62 proposals to reform restrictions on the trade of 400 species – 51 were accepted, five rejected and six withdrawn.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said that governments had united behind “tough decisions,” while the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said, “conservation trumped commerce.”

Particular animals discussed included the African grey parrot and African elephants, which saw fierce debate at the convention. All trade of the pangolin – the world’s most heavily trafficked mammal – was also banned. Additionally a bid by Swaziland to be permitted to trade rhino horn was defeated.

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Pangolin – the world’s most trafficked animal – CC

Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe argued against the proposals, claiming that the export of ivory would actually protect elephants in the long run and was necessary to raise money for conservation. Stephen Mwansa, permanent secretary in Zambia’s Tourism Ministry, said, “How do you come and start regulating the domestic market? That will be extra-territorial…That’s arrogance of the highest order. It’s tantamount to neo-colonialism and that we can’t accept it.”

“African elephants are in steep decline across much of the continent due to poaching for their ivory, and opening up any legal trade in ivory would complicate efforts to conserve them,” said Ginette Hemley, the head of the CITES delegation for WWF.

Elephant populations have drastically declined in east and central Africa, with Tanzania estimated to have lost around 60% of its population in the past decade. The number of African elephants has dropped by around 111,000 in the past decade. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) published its ‘African Elephant Status Report‘ during the conference.

Illegal trade in wildlife is valued at around US$20bn a year, according to CITES. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) estimates that between 2.1m and 3.2m African grey parrots were captured between 1975 and 2013.

The negotiations at times exposed bitter divisions, with African nations at one point accusing Western charities of “dictating” how to protect their elephants. However, despite some tensions, the conference produced a number of positive outcomes and provisions to protect some of the world’s most endangered species.

(© AFP 25, 28/9, 4, 5/10 2016; Reuters 3, 4/10)

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CONSERVATION: Kenya
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 53, Issue. 3, Pp. 20948A–20948B

CONSERVATION: DR Congo
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 52, Issue. 10, Pp.20767A–20767C

CONSERVATION: Central Africa
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, Issue.6, Pp. 20624A–20624C

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Africa – Groundwater Pollution Risks

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New report suggests that the danger of groundwater supplies in Africa becoming polluted is significant.

According to a recent report, cited by UK-based the Guardian, much of Africa’s groundwater, particularly in populated areas, lies close to the surface and is vulnerable to pollution.

Using a map to plot data the report shows that much of the coastal areas around the Gulf of Guinea and much of Central Africa are at serious risk, whereas the Sahara Desert, where the water is much deeper underground, is least at risk from pollution.

The researchers found that groundwater supplies are mainly at risk in agricultural basins, areas which often contain high levels of nitrates and pesticides; evidence of nitrates in groundwater were a key parameter for the research.

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http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969715311189

Alan McDonald, a hydrologist with the British Geological Survey recognised the difficulty of the project due to the interlinked nature of many parameters, but that it was important to provide a comparison across the continent and to identify those areas most at risk.

Further developments will seek to integrate soil data with the African groundwater map, to show the interlinkages and dynamics between groundwater pollution and soil health. Particularly important are fractured crystalline rocks which occur across a third of the African continent and allow water to sink into underground aquifers, possibly allowing for increased pollution.

A separate report released a few days later on January 14th said that groundwater supplies are crucial for crops but that increased agricultural expansion is making droughts and water shortages worse, reported Chinese news agency Xinhua.

“We wanted to understand what happens to rainfall, runoff and groundwater levels when you transform a savannah into agricultural land, something that’s happening more frequently as West Africa tries to produce more food” said researcher Marc Parlange, Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of British Columbia, Canada.

Over a period of three years the project recorded rainfall, temperature, humidity and soil characteristics at a natural savannah forest in Tambarga village in southeastern Burkina Faso, and at a rice and millet field in an agricultural area. The study showed that the savannah forest received around 15% more rainfall than the agricultural setting.

“This study highlights how changing one part of the ecosystem could have an unforeseen effect on other parts. It raises questions about how our ecosystems should be managed for future generations and for the native plant and animal species as well,” said Parlange.

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Earlier in 2015 scientists, writing in the journal ‘Environmental Research Letters‘, claimed that vast aquifers sit underneath the African continent, such that many countries declared as water scarce may have substantial groundwater reserves.

However, the scientists are cautious about the best way of accessing these resources. With many aquifers not being filled due to a lack of rain, the scientists are worried that they could be rapidly depleted by large-scale developments, reported BBC News.

A study by the Global Freshwater Initiative found that 45% of major cities solely dependent on surface water will be unable to simultaneously meet human, environmental and agricultural water demands by 2040, reported Phys News.

Groundwater reserves remain crucial to the water supplies and agricultural production across the African continent, and as recent research has highlighted there is a need for the careful management and a heightened awareness of the dangers of pollution, in these groundwater reserves.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin today

AFRICA: Securing The Future
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, No.4, Pp.20805A–20806A

Water Projects
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, No.1, Pp.20724A–20724C

WATER: Africa
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.49, No.12, Pp.19823B–19825C

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Africa – UN Sustainable Development Goals

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UN sets ambitious new global targets, with specific reference to Africa, although issues of funding and wider socio-economic and political barriers remain.

On September 25th the United Nations (UN) officially adopted the new ‘Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), replacing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) originally launched in 2000. Many of the new SDGs have a specific relevance to the challenges being faced on the African continent; Global Goals website provides information on the goals and targets and the UN Economic Commission provides an African Regional Report.

The SDGs will set the global development agenda for the next fifteen years, comprising a total of 17 goals with 169 targets, the product of discussions started at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 2012 and approved at the Sustainable Development Conference (September 25-27th 2015), which saw more than 150 heads of state and representatives unanimously approve the ‘Transforming our World: 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development“.

UN SDGs

Global Goals website

There are a number of ambitious targets, including zero poverty, zero hunger and universal higher education before 2030. Christophe Bellmann of the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) told Radio France Internationale“we now have 15 years to completely eradicate hunger, that’s of course much more ambitious. That also means it will require more investments, more resources to implement those goals.”

Another major element is climate change; “Africa has the weakest institutions and infrastructures in order to cope with the impact of climate change,” Sarah Hearn, a senior fellow at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation explained. “What the goals do is set out a vision for mutual responsibilities for one another. But it’s true that the targets that are based on zero hunger [&] zero poverty, are going to be extremely difficult to achieve in the very poorest countries.”

According to New York-based Time, the new goals place a specific focus on the role of the private sector in fostering “sustainable and inclusive growth” to enhance job creation, food security, health care, and combat endemic poverty. According to the UN the cost of achieving the SDGs, over the next 15 years, will be close to US$170 trillion, more than the total global GDP in 2014 of $78 trillion. Time comment that this will require”collaboration with the international donor community, philanthropists, and local non-governmental organizations through shared purpose. It is only by working together that we can achieve the new goals and build a world that is worthy of us and our children”.

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Other media has been more critical; the independent New Internationalist praised the SDGs in representing the multi-dimensional nature of poverty but also stated that they come “with no historical background of how we got here, and no political strategy for how we get out”,  missing crucial elements of global inequality such as transnational corporations, colonial history, trade imbalances and structural adjustment policies; “in short, power doesn’t exist in the SDGs”.

Similarly, the Financial Times (FT) noted that many of the MDGs were never realised. Economist Howard Friedman, in an analysis of the MDGs in 2013, concluded that little global progress had been made after 2000, with most of the work towards them occurring in the 1990s in processes unrelated to the UN; although he did point out the role of the MDGs in cementing “development beliefs and practices”.

Similarly FT quoted William Easterly, Professor of Economics at New York University, who commented that ““the MDGs communicated a very wrong idea about how development happens: technocratic, patronising and magically free of politics”. Additionally, amongst the backdrop of global slow economic growth and conflicting national interests, many governments have been slow to signal a desire to fund the new SDGs.

While the SDGs represent an important global precedent which will  contribute hugely towards alleviating global poverty, improving equality and combating climate change, it is important to recognise their limits, and the multitude of other global political, social and economic processes which are working towards the ideals, but also hindering them.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

FINANCING FOR DEVELOPMENT: Third International Conference
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.7, Pp.20907A–20909C

AFRICA – UN: Landmark Deal
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.51, Issue.7, Pp.20477A–20477C

UNITED NATIONS: Millennium Development Goals Summit
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.47, Issue.9, Pp.18533A–18536A

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Africa – Malaria Vaccine Approved

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Malaria ‘vaccine’ given the go ahead by European regulators, but some warn of difficult decisions with its implementation on the ground

European drug regulators have given the green light for a ‘Malaria vaccine’, called RTS,S or Mosquirix, set to be the first such vaccine for the mosquito-born disease,which resulted in an estimated 584,000 deaths in 2013, of which 90% were in the African region and mostly children under five.

The vaccine was developed by British GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in partnership with the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, and received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It works by triggering the immune system to defend against the first stages of infection by the Plasmodium falciparum parasite after it enters the bloodstream.

Andrew Witty, GSK CEO, cited by Al-Jazeera, said the European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) positive recommendation was a further important step towards making the world’s first malaria vaccine available for young children.

“While Mosquirix on its own is not the complete answer to malaria, its use alongside those interventions currently available such as bed nets and insecticides would provide a very meaningful contribution to controlling the impact of malaria on children in those African communities that need it the most,” he said in a statement.

A GSK Scientist involved in the Mosquirix process since 1987, Joe Cohen, said that he had no doubt the vaccine could be significantly reduce the toll of sickness and death caused by the malaria; “I have absolutely no reservations in terms of rolling this vaccine out”, reported Al-Jazeera.

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CC, Radio Okapi

However the vaccine does not offer any final solution; trial data released in 2011 and 2012 showed that it only reduced the prevalence of malaria in babies aged 6-12 weeks by 27%, and around 46% in children aged 5-17 months.

Some medical experts and analysts have expressed concern at the complexities and potential costs of deploying this first vaccine, particularly as it only provides partial protection, making it less attractive and heightening risk.

However CEO of the GAVI Alliance Dr Seth Berkley and CEO of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Dr Mark Dybul, speaking in a report by the GAVI Alliance, said that the decision to supply the vaccine is not straightforward.

“None are 100% effective. So in the cold light of day, for most countries it comes down to a complex calculation based on the cost effectiveness, lives saved, illness avoided and the availability of other effective interventions”, they said

“Clinical trial data suggests that Mosquirix offers only partial protection, preventing one in three cases of clinical malaria, a relatively low success rate compared to other approved vaccines…What’s more, the clinical trials were carried out with the vaccine used in conjunction with high use of other interventions, such as long-lasting insecticide treated bed-nets and anti-malarial drugs”.

“So we don’t really know how effective the vaccine is by itself or how well it would perform outside the controlled setting of a clinical trial. The problem is…Mosquirix is about five to 10 years ahead of any other candidate malaria vaccines, and there’s no guarantee any of them will be better”, the report stated.

According to an article from the BBC, while GSK have not released a price for the vaccine, they have pledged not to make a profit. But it is the effectiveness of the vaccine, that is under the most scrutiny, as it wanes over time making a booster shot essential.

The vaccine will now move on to the World Health Organisation (WHO) who will decided how and where it will be used; facing tough decisions, considering that the vaccine was not nearly as effective as scientists hoped but also the urgency and lack of comparable alternatives in the fight against the disease.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin

Health: Malaria
Political, Social  Cultural Series
Vol.52, Issue.7, Pp.20660A-20661C

Health: New Malaria Drug
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.44, Issue.2, Pp.16992A–16993A

Health: Africa
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.51, Issue.9, Pp.20298A–20300A

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Africa – ‘Indigenous’ Crops and Food Security

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Research suggests that the potential contribution of native crops to African food security could be huge.

The answers to problems of food insecurity and malnutrition in Africa are often seen, by organisations such as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and international agribusiness companies, as lying with new highly developed crop varieties. However an article published by Nature explores a different avenue which looks at the abundance of ‘indigenous’ crops grown across the country, often overlooked by seed companies and researchers as lagging behind in terms of productivity and quality

The article explains how in some urban areas such as Nairobi these food crops are now becoming more popular; Kenyan farmers increased the area used to grow such crops by 25% between 2011 and 2013, and they are increasingly available in markets.

Mary Abukutsa-Onyango, a horticultural researcher at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Juja, Kenya said that “in Africa, malnutrition is such a problem. We want to see indigenous vegetables play a role”; Abukutsa began surveying and collecting Kenya’s indigenous plants in the early 1990s.

It is hoped that more emphasis on indigenous foods, those that are well adapted for a particular climate and environment, rather than foreign plants that often are less nutritious and take large external inputs to be successfully grown, can contribute to some degree towards food security and improved nutrition in Africa.

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CC 2009

The large majority of vegetables being studied in East Africa are leafy greens such as the African Nightshade, Amaranth Leaves and the Spider Plant; such plants according to Abukutsa can be important sources of protein; “some people just live on vegetables, and they cannot maybe afford meat.”

The US National Research Council (NRC) in the 1990s convened a panel to explore the potential of Africa’s ‘lost crops‘, chaired by renowned researcher Norman Borlaug. It concluded that native plants held huge potential to improve food security and nutritional intake across Africa. Today in Nairobi the World Agroforestry Centre is studying more than 3,000 indigenous fruit species finding nutritional, drought-tolerant and pest and disease resistant characteristics.

However these crops are not subject to the same standards as modern farming and are not genetically designed for a maximisation of yield or uniformity in seed. Some commentators have said that efforts to genetically improve these crops, while possibly increasing yields, could eliminate many other benefits, as would incorporating these crops into monoculture-type systems.

Important research into the potential of ‘native crops’ as well as the performance of low-input agriculture is  increasingly being conducted in Africa; in Ethiopia Dr Melaku Worede, having previously held positions in the Ministry of Agriculture, has made an invaluable contribution to the genetic research and food sovereignty in the country, establishing the Genetic Resource Centre in Addis-Ababa, the first gene-bank in Africa, now known as the Institute for Biodiversity Conservation. A film documenting his work is available here.

Elsewhere the African Biodiversity Network, a regional network of individuals and organisations working towards socio-economic and ecological problems facing the continent, is also conducting important work relating to genetic diversity, indigenous food crops and food sovereignty.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

East African Community: Climate Smart Agriculture
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.51, Issue. 9, Pp.20550A-20550C

Food Security
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.50, Issue.2, Pp.19889A-19889B

Women in Africa
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.49, Issue.10, Pp.19743B-19743C

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Africa – Agriculture on the Agenda

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Huge potential for African agriculture but climatic changes hamper productivity; debates continue as to whether agricultural development should be smallholder or corporate-led. 

Following the 10th anniversary of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), the African Union (AU) declared 2014 to be the year of agriculture and food security.  In 2015 they reiterated their commitment to the Malabo Declaration to allot 10% of income to agriculture, double productivity and cut post-harvest losses.

AllAfrica cite three figures to show the potential for agricultural development in Africa:

  • Roughly 600 million hectares of uncultivated land, around 60% of the global total
  • 80% of the land is rain-fed and not irrigated
  • The productivity of African agriculture is lower than other comparable regions

By developing these uncultivated areas, using more irrigation and enhancing agricultural productivity, the AU claim huge gains can be made in the fight against hunger, unemployment and poverty. The World Bank estimates that the African food market will be valued at $1,000 billion by 2030, compared to $313 billion today.

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A large part of the efforts have centred upon the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), supported by the Gates Foundation and the UK Department for International Development (DFID), which for 8 years has been seeking public and private partners to spur ‘Africa’s Green Revolution’.

However the AGRA initiative has drawn criticism for its corporate focus, producing cash-crops that have little effect on the everyday nutrition and hunger of local communities.  Many commentators claim that there is powerful evidence that organic farming practices can produce equal yields and a larger diversity of crops than fertiliser heavy agriculture, reports Morten Thaysen from Global Justice Now.

Considerable evidence also shows that small-holder farmers produce a significant proportion of the world’s food on a fraction of the world’s land.

The debate as to whether agriculture should be small-holder led or corporate-led, is ongoing, but increasingly policy-makers are recognising the importance of small-holder farmers as agents of increased agricultural productivity, report Ventures Africa.

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However climatic and environmental factors place constraints on African agriculture, particularly issues of land degradation and local climatic changes. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that in the Sahel around 20 million people face food insecurity, report SciDev.

The UN-Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) conference was held between the 16-18 March and worked towards “evidence-based agricultural policies from scientific results”. CSA encourages policy makers to explore solutions that focus on food security, climate change adaptation and mitigation to develop sustainable landscapes and food systems; full text of the recent CSA report is available here.

However commentators have urged that the discussion be turned into actual initiatives; Allahoury Amadou, a member of the UN high-level panel of experts on food security and nutrition, urged governments to focus on the ability of farmers to produce food rather than taking up more and more time to do further studies.

The AU delegates plan to present the CSA declaration at the next UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris in December.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin

East African Community: Climate Smart Agriculture
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.51, Issue. 9, Pp. 20550A – 20550C

UN Climate Summit: Halting Global Warming
Economic, Financial & Technical
Vol.51, Issue. 9, Pp. 20550C – 20551C

Angola: Agriculture Leads the Way
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.51, Issue.9, Pp. 20553A-20554A

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