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Somalia Executes Militants Amid Deadly Attack

Security officials in Somalia say dozens of people were killed after militants attacked a small town in the central state of Galmudug early on Sunday.

At least 30 people were killed, among them civilian residents caught in the crossfire between militants and security forces in the town of Wisil, local officials told VOA Somali.

The attack started with the militants detonating a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device in an area close to a security camp in the town, said a regional official who asked not to be named because he is not allowed to speak to the media.

Galmudug’s information minister, Ahmed Shire Falagle, told VOA Somali that regional forces repulsed the dawn attack and inflicted losses on the militants. Falagle said three soldiers were among the dead with at least seven others injured. He said about 100 militants attacked the town and that “many of them have not returned alive.” He did not elaborate.

For its part, the al-Shabab militant group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it killed 34 members of the security forces.

Wisil lies 200 kilometers southeast of Galkayo in an area where al-Shabab recently made advances. In April, the group captured the town of Ba’adweyne, not far from Wisil, after government and regional forces vacated it for undisclosed reasons.

About two hours after the attack in Wisil, authorities in the regional state of Puntland executed 21 men accused of al-Shabab membership and terrorism, regional police commander Colonel Mumin Abdi Shire told the media.

The men were convicted in separate trials in the towns of Galkayo, Garowe and Qardho this year.

Eighteen of the men were lined up next to a sand hill outside the town of Galkayo. Security forces facing them opened fire, executing them. Separately, three other men were executed in Garowe and Qardho town. All of the executions were by firing squad. It is the largest single execution of al-Shabab militants in Somalia, observers say.

Security officials in Puntland accused the men of involvement in a series of assassinations and attacks, spanning more than 10 years, which claimed the lives of regional and community leaders, security officers and journalists.

Al-Shabab is largely active in south-central Somalia. The group also has a small footprint in Puntland in the northeast. Puntland is a semi-autonomous state.

Source: Voice of America

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Health Care

COVID-19 Devastates Children in Sub-Saharan Africa

The U.N. children’s fund (UNICEF) says COVID-19 is having devastating consequences on millions of children in sub-Saharan Africa, as many become orphaned, making them vulnerable to many social ills.

The region is in the throes of a full-blown third wave of COVID-19. Children are often not directly affected by the deadly disease, but they are losing their parents to the pandemic.

Traditionally, when children become orphaned, the burden of looking after them falls on the grandparents. However, UNICEF spokesman James Elder, said older people are among the main victims of COVID-19. As a result, children are often shoveled off to another relative, who likely is living in dire, impoverished circumstances. The added strain and stress puts children at risk of abuse and child labor.

“We have seen the reporting of children reporting on help lines violence against them and the need for support,” said Elder. “Those things come again when children have lost the support mechanism that they previously had, which often comes from being orphaned or an economic situation where a parent simply had to leave to go elsewhere because economic opportunities have dried up due to the pandemic.”

Children who do not go to school are unprotected and open to exploitation, and Elder said COVID-19 has dealt a devastating blow to education. For example, he noted an estimated 9 million children in eastern and southern Africa haven’t returned to schools since they started re-opening

He also said many children are not getting enough to eat because of growing poverty due to pandemic-related lockdowns, and poor nutrition leads to worsening health.

“We know that routine immunization rates and things like malaria access have been slashed, as I say some by 20 percent,” Elder said. “We know that pregnant women have a great deal more difficulty getting to antenatal services. We know pregnant women have died because of that, because of things like lockdown and because health care systems are absolutely stretched…Yes, there have been unnecessary deaths of children.”

UNICEF says governments must prioritize keeping schools open and safe and is urging them to keep children in school while supplying water and sanitation to schools across the continent.

The U.N. children’s agency says it is increasing cash transfers to the most vulnerable and providing psychological support for children and their families. It says it also is working to prevent family separation and to strengthen family and community-based care during this challenging time.

Source: Voice of America

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Health Care

Vaccine Rollout?in Ivory Coast?Picks?Up?Steam After?Rough Start

The first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Ivory Coast in late February.  By March 1, the country started vaccinating people, making it the first in the world to do so through the COVAX initiative, a program co-led by the World Health Organization; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations; and UNICEF.

“The program plays a crucial role,” said Kouacou Epa, an immunization specialist with UNICEF in Ivory Coast. “We know that the vaccines are being used more in the developed countries, but we know the coronavirus is also here in Ivory Coast and the other developing nations.”

Epa continued, “What COVAX is doing is to make sure the vaccines are available in quantity and quality to help countries attain herd immunity, stop the disease and, if possible, go back to the normal lives we knew before.”

So far, Epa told VOA, the country has used the more than 500,000 doses delivered through COVAX. Additionally, it was able to secure more vaccines from other nations, including India and France, bringing the total doses to nearly 730,000. 

Slow rollout

The vaccination rollout has not gone without challenges, however. The country’s head of public hygiene, Bi Vroh Joseph Benie, says the average Ivorian went through three stages in their thinking about the vaccine.

“In the beginning, most people didn’t want to take the vaccine because there was some fake news in social media that the vaccine was going to go through an experimental phase on Africans first. For those reasons, people were very reluctant,” Benie told VOA.

“After that, we went through a second phase, where people were a bit hesitant … and the third phase, where people were engaged and want to take the shot when they saw that people who got vaccinated were not showing any major side effects,” he added.

Another hurdle came when many countries suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine over concerns about possible blood clots.

Both Benie and Epa said that to ensure people would step out of their comfort zone, the country modified its communication strategy to tackle vaccine hesitancy. Campaigners concentrated not only on the urban center of Abidjan but also developed what has been called the “politics of proximity” — meaning they got closer to communities across the West African nation to spread the word.

As of June 9, the Ivory Coast reported over 47,500 COVID-19 cases, with more than 600 deaths, and has vaccinated nearly 607,000 people, according to the country’s Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene. 

“We went from one vaccination center at the Palais des Sports arena in the beginning to now more than over 400 centers across the country,” Benie said. “Additionally, we have a dozen mobile units to get closer to the population.”

Mobile vaccination units

At the city hall of Abobo, a northern suburb of Abidjan and one of its 10 communes, people wait in line to get vaccinated. Yao Serge Djezou, the deputy director of communication at the health ministry, is on hand at the ministry-organized event.

“In areas where there aren’t many hospitals, these mobile vaccination units are there to fill the void. It also helps to get closer to the communities,” Djezou said.

While many Ivorians still said they would not get the shot, some, like Abidjan resident Elhaj Gbane Mour, said they would. “I will get vaccinated 100% because it’s a disease that could kill you,” he said. “We saw it on TV, and we saw that it killed a lot people, so everyone should get the shot.”

That’s not the case for Sephora Beugré, a student in Abidjan. “No, no, I will not take the vaccine, because I am afraid that it might be dangerous for (my) health. So I will not do it,” she said. 

Kouadio Jonas N’guessan, also of Abidjan, said, “I don’t know anyone close to me who died from the virus. So I don’t think the coronavirus exists in Cote D’Ivoire.” 

Incentives to get vaccinated

Meanwhile, like many countries, Ivory Coast is offering incentives for people to get the shot — such as free tickets to the recent soccer match between the Ivorian National team and Burkina Faso. 

“We just asked all the fans to get vaccinated. And with their vaccination card, they get to see the match for free. It’s a concept we just started, and people have been responsive,” Djezou told VOA.

Ivorian health officials say that in addition to providing vaccines, they’ll keep testing for the virus, a task that is also key to controlling the pandemic.

They are also ready to receive more shots, including ones that require colder storage temperatures, because they have a cold-chain system ready to handle whatever vaccines come their way.

Source: Voice of America

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Health Care

WHO Says Africa Experiencing Third Wave of COVID-19 Infections

“Africa is facing a fast-surging third wave of COVID-19 pandemic, with cases spreading more rapidly and projected to soon overtake the peak of the second wave the continent witnessed at the start of 2021,” according to the World Health Organization’s regional office in Africa.

WHO said in a statement the pandemic is resurging in 12 African countries. Meanwhile, the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, first identified in India, has been detected in 14 African countries.

“The third wave is picking up speed, spreading faster, hitting harder. With rapidly rising case numbers and increasing reports of serious illness, the latest surge threatens to be Africa’s worst yet,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa said.

The third wave comes as Africa is experiencing a vaccine shortage. WHO says just slightly more than 1% of Africans have been fully vaccinated. While approximately 2.7 billion COVID-19 vaccine shots have been administered globally, WHO says just under 1.5% of those shots have been administered on the African continent.

The Associated Press reports that its analysis of recent COVID-19 deaths reveals that nearly all the deaths occurred in people who were unvaccinated. The news agency said the results of its assessment are “a staggering demonstration of how effective the shots have been.” In addition, AP said the deaths per day “could be practically zero if everyone eligible got the vaccine.”

Workers and residents in several neighborhoods in Sydney, Australia, have been told to stay home as officials attempt to bring a COVID-19 outbreak under control. Authorities say they believe they outbreak started with a limousine driver who transported an international flight crew to a quarantine hotel in Sydney.

The directors of the WHO, the World Intellectual Property Organization and the World Trade Organization say they met earlier this month to determine how they can collectively “tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and the pressing global challenges at the intersection of public health, intellectual property and trade.”

The three organizations said in a statement that their initiatives will include:

• a series of “capacity-building workshops to enhance the flow of updated information on current developments in the pandemic and responses to achieve equitable access to COVID-19 health technologies.”

• the creation of a “joint platform for tripartite technical assistance to countries relating to their needs for COVID-19 medical technologies, providing a one-stop shop that will make available the full range of expertise on access, IP and trade matters provided by our organizations, and other partners, in a coordinated and systematic manner.”

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported early Friday that global count of COVID-19 infections has reached more than 180 million. The three countries with the most cases are the U.S. with 33.6 million cases, India with more than 30 million infections and Brazil with 18.2 million.

Source: Voice of America

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Health Care

WHO: Africa Facing Rapidly Spreading Third COVID Wave

The World Health Organization said Africa is facing a third wave of COVID-19.

WHO said cases have risen for five consecutive weeks, with 474,000 new cases since June 20. The increase indicates a more rapid spread than the continent’s second wave, which started at the beginning of the year, the organization said.

WHO blames “weak observance of public health measures, increased social interaction and movement, as well as the spread of variants” for the new wave. The so-called delta variant, first detected in India, has been reported in 14 countries, WHO said.

A lack of vaccines is also driving the wave. WHO said 18 countries have already exhausted nearly 80% of their supplies, while eight have completely run out.

Only 1% of the African population has been fully vaccinated, WHO said.

“The third wave has come with severity that most countries were not prepared for. So, the third wave is extremely brutal,” John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), said during a weekly online briefing, according to Reuters.

He reiterated the need for rapid access to more vaccines.

Source: Voice of America

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Ugandan Traders Strive to Stay Afloat Amid New COVID Lockdown

Uganda's reinstatement of a coronavirus lockdown through the end of July is squeezing the ability of many people to earn a living. Street market traders are forced to bicycle, walk long distances or just sleep in the market.

With coronavirus infections soaring and hospitals overwhelmed, Uganda has reimposed a lockdown on transportation through the end of July.

Buses have been shut down, driving requires a permit, and only essential workers are allowed into Kampala.

While the aim is to save lives, making a living is once again a struggle for traders like Saudha Namaga, one of many forced to sleep in the market.

She wants Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to ease the restrictions.

"We are selling rotten produce. All the bananas, as you can see, we don’t have buyers," said Namaga. "So, we are asking the president, and those who talk to him should tell him, to relax the orders. Those who are able to walk to town should be allowed to come and buy.”

The situation is even worse for shops not selling food, which Ugandan authorities ordered closed.

Ugandan police are being deployed to enforce the commands.

Area chairman Bashir Muwonge says without help, many shops won’t survive.

"If you keep imposing a lockdown, what do you think is going to happen? This means the country’s economy is falling because there is no work being done," said Muwonge. "We have been appealing to the president to help by suspending rent payments. The economy is crashing because people can no longer maintain their businesses, even when you reopen.”

Ugandans living in the countryside are forced to walk for hours to get to town.

Lydia Nambogo walked more than five kilometers to withdraw money from her savings to feed her family, but the bank office was closed.

"I’ve been selling takeaway food, and I’ve been earning little money to take care of my family," said Nambogo. "But we’ve been locked down, and we don’t know what’s coming next. The government isn’t going to give us food again. They should at least give us some of our little savings.”

With Uganda’s first lockdown in March 2020, the government gave flour and beans to the urban poor, which many hope will be repeated.

Ugandan Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja says they are going to identify the vulnerable.

"We are going to use a simple, some simple means of delivering support to you," said Nabbanja. "And the vulnerable people are known.”

Meanwhile, many Ugandans can only wait for this latest wave of COVID-19 infections to recede while doing their best to keep their heads above water.

Source: Voice of America

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Health Care

After Cameroon Government Ban from Western Regions, MSF Says Thousands Lack Healthcare

Medical aid group Doctors Without Borders says tens of thousands of people in Cameroon's western regions have been deprived of lifesaving healthcare since December, when authorities stopped their services. Cameroon accused the aid group of being too close to anglophone separatists, which the group denies.

Doctors Without Borders says over 1.4 million people in Cameroon’s restive western regions need humanitarian support, with access to healthcare extremely limited.

The coordinator for the group’s operations in Central Africa, Emmanuel Lampaert, said that’s due to insecurity, lockdowns, and the targeting of health facilities.

He said mortality among vulnerable groups, such as women and children, has increased, and the government’s suspension of their support since December has made the situation even worse.

"Humanitarian and health needs have surges due to the armed violence and notably for the population and several hundreds of thousands of them who have to flee their houses, and who have barriers to access health care. Concretely speaking, this means suffering from malaria or diarrhea for children in the bush, women in labor who are unable to reach health facilities, people suffering from acute respiratory infections, women victims of sexual violence and so on," said Lampaert.

Cameroon’s government in 2020 accused Doctors Without Borders of being too close to separatists who are fighting to create an independent English-speaking state in the majority French speaking country.

Lampaert denied the accusation and said their only goal is to save lives.

"Responding to urgent health needs is our mere and only concern. Viruses, bullets, and infections do not care which side of the crisis one is on and neither do the Doctors Without Borders. That is our DNA and that is the DNA of principled humanitarian medical action," he said.

When contacted by a reporter, Cameroon officials would not say when the aid group, known by its French initials MSF, might be allowed to resume work in the western regions.

Cameroon’s health ministry last week reported about 30 percent of hospitals in the regions are no longer functioning due to separatist attacks.

The health ministry said several hundred health care workers have fled the separatist conflict areas in the past month alone.

Philip Ambe is a government health worker who fled flighting in the northwest town of Bafut last Sunday.

Speaking from the town of Dschang, he said MSF’s work was professional and authorities should allow them to resume saving lives.

"The government does not need to stay mute on this issue [over asking MSF to resume work] again. The situation is very pathetic. People can no longer live in the comfort of their bedrooms. People were kidnapped. Some are in the bush. It is moving from bad to worse. The only way out is dialogue so that things should come back to normal."

MSF was one of the few groups offering free emergency care to Cameroon’s northwest and southwest populations since 2018.

MSF says community health workers it supported last year conducted over to 150,000 consultations for communities in both regions.

And a free ambulance service it initiated transported over a thousand women in labor to hospitals.

Violence erupted in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions in 2017 when teachers and lawyers protested alleged discrimination at the hands of the French-speaking majority.

The military reacted with a crackdown and separatist groups took up arms, claiming that they were protecting civilians.

The U.N. says 3,000 people have since been killed and more than 750,000 displaced both internally and to neighboring Nigeria.

Source: Voice of America

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Health Officials: Blast Kills Dozens in Tigray Market

A bomb blast killed dozens of people Tuesday at a market in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, as new fighting flared up in areas outside the regional capital, Mekelle.

The bomb went off in the town of Togoga west of Mekelle at about 1 p.m. local time. There were conflicting reports on whether the blast was the result of a plane dropping a bomb or artillery shells hitting the market.

Local medical officials that at least 43 people were killed, with dozens of others wounded.

Berhan Ghebrehiwet, who sells coffee for a living, said her hand was wounded during the attack.

“First they bombed the market and later they continue bombing the houses. My hand was injured from the bombing. I am suffering a lot and it is causing me great pain,” she told a reporter for VOA’s Horn of Africa Service at Hyder Hospital in Mekelle.

Health workers said Ethiopian soldiers blocked ambulances from reaching the scene of the attack.

Negasi Berhane, a Mekelle resident who suffered leg injuries in the attack, said he saw three people die in front of him, with many others left to suffer.

Ambulance driver Kahsu Tsegay told VOA he unsuccessfully tried five times to transport injured civilians to the hospital. The driver said he was barred from transporting wounded people on the grounds they had tried to help Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) fighters.

Reuters news agency says an Ethiopian military spokesman, Colonel Getnet Adane, denied the military was blocking ambulances.

Later Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it helped the Ethiopian Red Cross Society and other parties evacuate wounded people from Togoga and transport them to a hospital in Mekelle.

"We cannot stress enough how vital it is for the medical mission to be respected and protected at all times," ICRC official Nicolas von Arx said in a statement.

The U.S. State Department released a statement Wednesday, saying, “We strongly condemn this reprehensible act.” It said it was "gravely concerned" by the reports of the airstrike on the market.

State Department spokesman Ned Price urged Ethiopian authorities to "ensure full and unhindered medical access to the victims immediately."

Ethiopian defense forces commander General Berhanu Jula denied the military attacked the market. The general said the attack was targeting an armed group, not civilians.

Asked if he saw armed people during the bombing, Mekelle resident Negasi said he only saw civilians.

On Tuesday, residents said new fighting had erupted elsewhere in Tigray. Residents said TPLF fighters had entered towns north of the capital, only to withdraw within hours.

Tigray has been embroiled in conflict since November, when the Ethiopian military launched an offensive to oust the ruling TPLF. Eritrea’s military has been helping Ethiopian troops battle the TPLF in the ongoing dispute.

Thousands of people have been killed and some 2 million others have fled their homes to escape the violence since fighting erupted.

Source: Voice of America