Senegal to Introduce HPV Vaccine to Battle Cervical Cancer

DAKAR, SENEGAL � Cervical cancer is preventable, yet it remains the most common type of cancer in Africa, the World Health Organization says.

WHO data show that Senegal currently has one of the world’s highest rates of the disease, with over 1,400 new cases diagnosed each year.

The country’s health officials have stepped up efforts against the disease with a nationwide campaign to vaccinate girls against the virus that causes cancer.

On a recent day at the Philippe Maguilen Senghor health center on the outskirts of Dakar, women lined up for free breast and cervical cancer screenings. The event was run by young Senegalese volunteers from Junior Chamber International (JCI), a nonprofit organization.

Sassy Ndiaye waited patiently for her turn. At age 60, this was only the second time she had been tested for the disease.

“Before we didn’t know about this,” she said. “I went through eight pregnancies and never did a cervical cancer screening with my gynecologist. I did it after my menopause.”

For comparison, in the United States, it is common for women of all ages to be screened for abnormal cervical cells every three years.

In Dakar, gynecologist Mouhamoudou Moustapha Yade said that by the time patients come to see him, their cervical cancer can be advanced.

“At a later stage, recovery is painful and difficult. And more importantly, the prognosis is not good,” he said. “This is why screening is so important. When you catch the cancer early, treatment is easier and much less expensive.”

But most women in Senegal cannot afford the cost of cervical cancer screening. Doctors and women interviewed at the Philippe Maguilen Senghor clinic said the cost was 40,000 francs ($66).

“Every time we organize free screening days, I am impressed by the number of women that turn up,” said Thiamel Ndiade, a JCI volunteer. “This shows you they are actually informed, but that money is the main issue.”

Ndiade added that most clinics lack the machinery needed to detect the illness, meaning women have to travel long distances just to get checked.

“Not all health centers have a video colposcope, for example,” Ndiade said. “We had to bring our own here today, which shows you just how inaccessible this technology is.”

HPV link

The arrival of a vaccine could help Senegal address these challenges.

Cervical cancer is caused by certain strains of the human papillomavirus; those who are infected with HPV often do not initially display any visible symptoms. A vaccine against HPV has been in use in the United States and other parts of the developed world since 2006, but it has only recently arrived in Africa.

In 2013, Senegal was among 10 African countries chosen by Gavi � a global alliance that strives to create access to vaccines in the world’s neediest countries � for pilot vaccination programs.

The nationwide rollout in Senegal followed a successful pilot program last year in two parts of the country. Ethiopia and Zimbabwe are also set to introduce the vaccine soon.

“Senegal is one of the first three countries in Africa [after Rwanda and Uganda] to introduce the HPV vaccine on a national scale,” said professor Mamadou Diop, head of oncology at the Aristide Le Dantec hospital. “It will be integrated within the country’s national vaccination program and reach the whole targeted population of girls.”

The aim is to roll out the vaccine in two phases, starting with a mass vaccination campaign reaching 889,445 girls aged between 9 and 15 by May 2018. After this, the vaccine will be administered to all girls at age 9 as part of routine immunization programs.

“The vaccine has been jointly subsidized by Gavi and the Senegalese state,” added professor Ousseynou Badiane, head of the Immunization Division for the Ministry of Health in Senegal. “This means it will be free and accessible to all.”

New vaccines can be met with suspicion, so health practitioners are urging the government to also launch a public education campaign. If the rollout is successful, Gavi estimates the HPV vaccine could help prevent up to 90 percent of cervical cancer cases.

Senegal unveiled its action plan as countries across the continent celebrate the 7th African Vaccination Week, an annual event to strengthen immunization programs in Africa by raising awareness about every person’s need and right to be protected against disease.

Source: Voice of America

Guy in Gorilla Costume Finishes London Marathon After 6 Days

LONDON � An English policeman wearing a gorilla costume while crawling the London Marathon has finally finished the race, almost a week after starting.

Metropolitan Police officer Tom Harrison, who goes by the name Mr. Gorilla, raised a reported 26,000 pounds ($33,650) for the Gorilla Organization, which is dedicated to conserving gorillas in countries including Rwanda and Uganda.

The 41-year-old Londoner started the 26.2-mile (42.2-kilometer) route last Sunday and crossed the finish line on Saturday.

Harrison slept at friends’ houses in the evenings after completing around 10 to 12 hours and 4.5 miles per day. He has swapped between crawling on his hands and knees and up on his hands and feet to save his blistered knees.

He crossed the finish line in central London flanked by his two sons – and beating his chest.

Source: Voice of America

Increase female accommodation at Makerere – Kadaga

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MSF Evacuates International Staff in South Sudan’s Upper Nile

JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN � Doctors Without Borders said it has evacuated international staff from two towns in South Sudan because of intense fighting between the army and rebel groups.

The medical aid group, known by its French acronym MSF, said Thursday it removed foreign staff from the towns of Aburoc and Kodok, in the former Upper Nile state.

MSF’s country head of mission, Marcus Bachman, told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus that domestic staff will maintain essential medical services in the area as long they remain safe.

Renewed fighting broke out between opposition forces and the South Sudan Army in and around Kodok on Tuesday. Bachman said his team is treating gunshot victims as well as vulnerable women and children suffering from diarrheal waterborne diseases, pneumonia, and respiratory infections.

Bachman said some 25,000 new South Sudanese families arrived at a displaced persons’ camp in Aburoc this week, seeking shelter from the latest fighting.

“The population we are serving is fleeing … out of fear of being targeted in the conflict,” he said. “This is what the population is telling us, the fear of being targeted. They also share with us accounts where either family members or neighbors have been targeted in the conflict.”

MSF said Aburoc can only be reached by air because of unpaved or poorly maintained roads. In February, aid agencies stepped up air drops of relief items to the area, but fighting has interrupted some of those deliveries.

Colonel Santo Domic, deputy spokesman for the government’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), said the army launched attacks on rebel bases around Kodok this week and accused the rebels of denying residents access to the Nile River.

He said the army “liberated” Kodok and the town of Galacel on Wednesday.

Brigadier General William Gathjiath, spokesman for the rebel SPLA-In-Opposition, said government forces captured one of their bases, but denied Kodok and Galacel are now under government control.

“They have not even flushed our forces out of the town,” he said. “So if they are claiming that they have already captured the town, that’s not true.”

The head of the United Nations mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), David Shearer, said the conflict in South Sudan can only be resolved through peaceful means.

He also said the decision by leaders from the East Africa region and South Africa to keep out rebel leader Riek Machar out of South Sudan could bring stability to South Sudan.

“The feeling very much within the region is that his role, in terms of bringing him back, wouldn’t necessarily be positive at this stage,” said Shearer. “So that’s the decision of regional governments and South Africa.”

At the same time, he said President Salva Kiir’s national dialogue should include rebels loyal to Machar.

Source: Voice of America

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Parliament raises 9,000 reusable pads for Northern Uganda

Afripads (U) Ltd has donated 3,000 packs of reusable sanitary pads, boosting Parliament’s effort to provide the sanitary towels to girls in Northern Uganda.The donation brings the total collections of reusable sanitary towels to 8,954, which will be di…

End of Joseph Kony hunt breeds frustration and fear

Uganda and the United States have ended a six-year hunt for elusive warlord Joseph Kony and his notorious Lord’s Resistance Army.

 

But calling off the mission, focused on Central African Republic, has left the commander of Ugandan forces in the country frustrated and advocacy groups concerned that the failure to “kill or capture” Kony could see the insurgency rebound.

 

Uganda began withdrawing its officially 2,500 troops from their base in eastern CAR last week. The pull out of 100 US special forces, who worked alongside the Ugandan soldiers, began today.

 

The mission, known as the African Union Regional Taskforce (AU-RT), was almost from the start a wholly Ugandan affair.

 

Frustration

 

It was supposed to have been 5,000-strong, drawing troops from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the CAR. But the neighbouring countries, with security problems of their own, either never deployed or quickly withdrew their contingents.

 

The task force failed to win donor funding, and Uganda ended up paying for it. Since 2011, armed US special forces advisors have provided intelligence and logistics support.

 

Colonel Richard Otto is the commander of Uganda’s contingent in the CAR. At his divisional headquarters in Uganda’s northern city of Gulu, the amiable, decorated, former senior military intelligence officer, explained the difficulty of his three-year posting.

 

“In CAR, the area we are operating in is almost the size of Uganda. You can imagine [the vastness], and I don’t have enough troops,” he told IRIN.

 

The task force was drawn from all units of the Ugandan army, but may not have exceeded 1,500 men, according to media reports.

 

Hiding out

 

CAR has been the perfect hideaway for the LRA. It has been convulsed by violence since 2013, when a predominantly Muslim coalition of rebels known as the Séléka overthrew the government. The UN mission, MINUSCA, has been unable to end ongoing violence between Christian militia and the former Séléka.        

 

“The armed forces of CAR are yet to be organised,” said Otto, who before his deployment in CAR served as chief operations planner with African Union forces in Somalia.

 

“Some of them are undergoing training by [the] UN [and the] European Union Training Mission, and they are not yet deployed in the eastern part of the country.”

Colonel Richard Otto
Colonel Richard Otto briefing troops in CAR

The lawlessness of the CAR has attracted not only “Séléka” from neighbouring Chad, but also the “Janjaweed” militia from Sudan’s Darfur region coming in to poach elephants, among other armed men.

 

“We have quite a number of armed groups,” said Otto. “So, when you encounter them in the jungle, sometimes it’s difficult to know whether you are fighting LRA or other [forces].”

 

But the Ugandan troops have recorded significant successes. It has captured four key LRA commanders, and sharply degraded an insurgency of 2,000 fighters that terrorised a huge swathe of territory across central Africa.

 

On the run

 

The LRA, now believed to be down to less than 120 armed men, has splintered into small units operating in the remotest regions of eastern CAR, northeastern Congo, and Darfur.

 

“The enemy is permanently on the run,” said Otto, claiming that there had been a steady trickle of defections and that “over 1,000 civilians” that were abducted by the LRA had been rescued.

 

Kony, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, has a $5 million bounty on his head. He is believed to be hiding in the Kafia-Kingi enclave, a disputed border area between Sudan and South Sudan. 

 

Khartoum is not a member of the regional task force and, as a historical supporter of the LRA, appears to have given Kony safe haven.

 

But, crucially, he no longer leads his men. “He has lost command, control, and communication,” said Otto. “For the first time, the LRA has factions. There is a group… who has decided to leave [the] LRA and operates on [its] own.”

 

Two senior LRA commanders, Bosco Kilama and Peter Ochora, who defected last month in Congo, agree with Otto’s assessment on the group’s disintegration.

 

“The LRA is disarray. The LRA has been completely disorganised with no central command. Kony is growing old and losing the grip on the soldiers,” Kilama told reporters at Uganda’s Entebbe airbase last week. The two men will receive a government amnesty.

 

Mission accomplished?

 

The LRA’s apparent ineffectiveness has allowed the Ugandan army and the US African Command to trumpet Kony’s apparent irrelevance as justification for their withdrawal from the hunt.

 

But Otto, an Acholi from northern Uganda, the original heartland of the LRA, acknowledges that the group remains a threat.

 

“The will to fight and attack the security forces is not there. However, they still remain a problem to the general population,” he told IRIN.

 

“They are involved in looting food, looting gold, diamonds, killing elephants in [Congo’s] Garamba national park and Zemongo national park in CAR,” he said. It is a revenue stream that could keep them armed for years.

Ugandan troops in CAR
Richard Mugisha/IRIN
The terrain doesn’t favour the hunters

Abductions

 

The LRA was responsible for 563 abductions in 171 attacks in 2016, according to the LRA Crisis Tracker, a monitoring group. It’s a drop from the 737 people kidnapped in 2015 in 222 attacks, but still significant.

 

As of 30 March this year, they are believed to have kidnapped 147 people in 43 incidents.

 

“Completely abandoning the mission will create security vacuums for already extremely vulnerable communities, particularly in the Central African Republic and northeastern DRC,” said Holly Dranginis, a senior analyst at the US-based Enough Project to End Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity.

 

“Leaving now will also dismantle key defection sites, leaving individuals with scarce options if they want to leave the LRA and reintegrate into civilian life,” she told IRIN.

 

Lino Owor Ogora, director of the Gulu-based Foundation for Justice and Development Initiatives, noted: “The LRA has always taken advantage of any lapses in combat to regroup and reorganise.

 

“People in northern Uganda have enjoyed peace for close to 10 years now, and the region is on a firm road to recovery. It would be unfortunate if the LRA returned because they were allowed too.”

 

There is also unease in CAR. On 16 April, civilians in Obbo town, which has been the tactical headquarters for Ugandan and US forces, demonstrated, calling for the troops to stay.

 

Otto, who spoke to IRIN last week, is now back in CAR finalising the return home of the last of his men.

 

What happens next? 

 

But the Ugandan government has hinted that it will not step away altogether from an insurgency that began in Uganda almost three decades ago, and was then exported to its neighbours.

 

Richard Karemire, the military spokesman, said last week that Uganda could join the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR under a strengthened mandate to tackle the LRA.

 

He also suggested that Uganda could support “capacity-building” of the CAR Armed Forces for “counter-LRA operations”.

 

Ogora, the head of the Gulu-based foundation, also favours a military option, drawing on the UN and regional armies to “neutralise” the LRA once and for all.

 

“Short of that, the LRA will continue roaming the jungles of Garamba at will, trading in ivory and arms, and abducting and killing civilians.” 

 

But Phil Clark, a Great Lakes expert at SOAS, University of London, says the military option has been tried and has failed. “This requires a political solution, with amnesty at its core,” he told IRIN.

 

According to Dranginis, “the United States should continue supporting defection campaigns” as it has proved successful in “weakening the group and creating opportunities for fighters and abductees to leave.”

 

Demobilisation and reintegration is a complex process, she added, but it “can pay dividends for security in the region”.

 

so/ao/ag

End of Joseph Kony hunt breeds frustration and fear ugandan_troops_car.jpg Samuel Okiror Analysis Conflict Human Rights GULU IRIN Africa Central African Republic DRC South Sudan Uganda