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Coronavirus in Africa: Could poverty explain mystery of low death rate?

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By Andrew Harding
BBC Africa correspondent, Johannesburg

image copyrightAFP

Is there a link between poverty, crowded accommodation, and Africa’s bafflingly low infection and death rates from the pandemic?

As the number of infections dips sharply in South Africa, and stays relatively low across much of the continent, experts are reaching towards a startling hypothesis.

Crowded townships. Poor hygiene. The impossibility of social distancing in communities, where large families often share a single room.

For months health experts have been warning that living conditions in poor, urban communities across Africa are likely to contribute to a rapid spread of coronavirus.

“Population density is such a key factor. If you don’t have the ability to social distance, the virus spreads,” said Professor Salim Abdool Karim, the head of South Africa’s ministerial advisory team on Covid-19.

But what if the opposite is also true?

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionFrom early in the pandemic, South Africans were urged to wear masks when outside

What if those same crowded conditions also offer a possible solution to the mystery that has been perplexing experts on the continent for months?

What if – and this is putting it rather crudely – poverty proves to be the best defence against Covid-19?

‘It’s an enigma’

Let’s start with that mystery.

In the early stages of the pandemic, all the experts and all the modelling agreed that Africa was in trouble.

“I thought we were heading towards a disaster, a complete meltdown,” said Professor Shabir Madhi, South Africa’s top virologist.

Even the most optimistic predictions showed that the nation’s hospitals – and the continent’s most developed health system – would be quickly overwhelmed.

And yet, today South Africa is emerging from its first wave of infections with a Covid-19 death rate roughly seven times lower than the UK’s.

  • Is the spread of coronavirus in Africa slowing down?

Even if deaths have been under-reported here – perhaps by a factor of two – South Africa has still performed impressively well, as have many other parts of the continent, where hospital beds remain stubbornly empty, and where infection graphs have almost entirely avoided the pronounced peaks and sharp angles seen in so many other parts of the world.

“Most African countries don’t have a peak. I don’t understand why. I’m completely at sea,” admitted Prof Karim, a leading voice on South Africa’s pandemic response.

Professor Madhi agrees: “This is an enigma. It’s completely unbelievable.”

media captionCoronavirus in South Africa: A day in the life of a contact tracer

For a while now, experts have cited a youthful population as the best explanation for Africa’s relatively low infection rates. After all, the average age on the continent is roughly half that in Europe.

Far fewer Africans live into their 80s, and so are less likely to succumb to the virus as a result.

“Age is the highest risk factor. Africa’s young population protects it,” said Tim Bromfield, a regional director of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

But as the pandemic drags on, and the statistical evidence builds up, analysts appear increasingly reluctant to give demographics all the credit for this continent’s successes.

“Age is not such a big factor,” said Prof Karim.

Early, and aggressive lockdowns here in South Africa and elsewhere on the continent have clearly played a crucial role.

Clear messaging about masks and the provision of oxygen supplies have also been important.

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Other theories – about the impact of altitude or warmer temperatures – have generally been pushed aside.

Some experts warn that a vast and poorly connected continent may simply be biding its time, and that the virus could strike hard in the coming months.

“I would not venture to say that Africa is over its worst. I’m not sure whether one day the epidemic is going to spread like crazy here,” said Prof Karim.

Other coronaviruses

But in recent days, scientists at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Analytics unit, at Baragwanath hospital in Soweto, have been wondering if the missing factor – the answer to what they see as the continent’s pandemic mystery – might lie inside a glorified chest freezer in their laboratory, on the outskirts of Johannesburg.

The freezer, whose temperature is kept at minus 180C, thanks to liquid nitrogen – contains metal cannisters storing five-year-old human blood samples.

Or to be more specific, extracts from blood cells – known as PBMCs – acquired during an earlier influenza vaccine trial in Soweto.

The idea is that, by studying the PBMCs, the scientists might find evidence that people had been widely infected by other coronaviruses – those, for instance, responsible for many common colds – and that, as a result, they might enjoy some degree of immunity to Covid-19.

“It’s a hypothesis. Some level of pre-existing cross-protective immunity… might explain why the epidemic didn’t unfold [the way it did in other parts of the world],” said Prof Madhi, explaining that data from scientists in the US appeared to support the hypothesis.

Colds and flu are, of course, commonplace around the world.

But the South African scientists wondered whether, because those viruses spread more effectively in overcrowded neighbourhoods, poorer communities might have been more widely exposed and therefore, enjoy a larger degree of immunity towards Covid-19.

The same, of course, could apply to other parts of the world, like India, with similar challenges.

“The protection might be much more intense in highly populated areas, in African settings. It might explain why the majority [on the continent] have asymptomatic or mild infections,” said Prof Madhi.

“I can’t think of anything else that would explain the numbers of completely asymptomatic people we’re seeing. The numbers are completely unbelievable,” he said, savouring the irony of the possibility that Africa’s entrenched poverty might “for once” work in the continent’s favour.

Sceptics though might point to countries like Brazil, with its crowded favelas, and its high infection rate.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionScientists are investigating the high numbers of asymptomatic infections in Africa

Unfortunately, as the scientists began preparing to test the PBMC samples in their laboratory, they spotted a problem.

A quality-control test revealed that the icy temperature inside the cryo-containers had fluctuated over time – too much for the rigorous standards required for such an important and delicate experiment.

“We’re very disappointed. We were all ready but unfortunately this thing happened,” said Doctor Gaurav Kwatra, who was leading the experiment.

There was no-one to blame – not even South Africa’s notorious power-cuts. It was just one of those things.

The team is now busy hunting for new samples to test, but that may take months. In the meantime, the mystery of Africa’s relatively mild pandemic lives on.

media captionBBC’s Laura Foster explains how to wear your mask correctly and help stop coronavirus spreading

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Source – www.bbc.co.uk

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Charles Mbire gains $1.2 million as stake in MTN Uganda rises above $51 million

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Ugandan businessman and MTN Uganda Chairman Charles Mbire has seen the market value of his stake in MTN Uganda surge above $51 million in just two days, as the share price in the leading teleco company increased by a single digit.

The single-digit bump in the share price caused the market value of Mbire’s stake to gain UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million) in less than two days.

The million-dollar increase in the value of his stake came after Uganda’s largest telecom company delivered the country’s largest-ever IPO through the listing of 22.4 billion ordinary shares on the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE).

Upon completing the largest IPO in Uganda’s history, MTN Uganda raised a record UGX535 billion ($150.4 million) from the applications that it received for a total of 2.9 billion shares, including incentive shares.

As of press time, Dec. 7, shares in the company were trading at UGX204.95 ($0.0574), down six basis points from their opening price this morning.

Data gathered by Billionaires.Africa revealed that since the telecom company registered its shares on the Ugandan bourse on Mon., Dec. 6, its share price has increased by 2.5 percent from UGX200 ($0.056) to UGX204.95 ($0.0574) as of the time of writing, as retail investors sustained buying interest long after the public offering.

The increase in the company’s share price caused the market value of Mbire’s 3.98-percent stake to rise from UGX178.45 billion ($49.96 million) to UGX182.86 billion ($51.2 million).

In less than two days, his stake gained more than UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million).

In a statement after the successful listing of MTN Uganda’s shares, Mbire said the IPO shows the confidence that Ugandans and other investors have in the company, its brand and strategic intent.

“We commend all the regulators for their support in our work to become a USE-listed company and to comply in a timely manner with the listing provisions of the national telecommunications operators’ license,” he said.

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350 million (debt free).

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350. ( debt free).

He is into communications-revenue assurance-cement-distribution-oil services-real estate-oil exploration and logistics.

Source: Billionaires Africa

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2-year-old dies at Arua hospital as nurse demands Shs 210,000 bribe

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A two-year-old child died at Arua Regional Referral hospital after a nurse, Paul Wamala demanded a bribe amounting to Shs 210,000 before carrying out an operation. 

The incident happened on Saturday, after Aron Nabil, a two-year-old child was referred to the hospital for an operation after he was diagnosed with intestinal obstruction, a medical emergency caused by a blockage that keeps food or liquid from passing through the small intestine or large intestine.

According to the relatives of the child, Wamala allegedly asked them to initially give him Shs 30,000 to buy medicines to commence the procedure. He however returned shortly asking for an additional Shs 180,000 from the relatives.

Emily Adiru, a resident of Osu cell, in Bazar Ward, Central Division, and a relative of the child says although they paid money to Wamala, he abandoned the child without carrying out the operation. According to Adiru, Wamala later refunded Shs 200,000 through mobile money, after she threatened to report him to the police.

“They told us this boy needs an operation which was supposed to be done in the morning on Sunday at around 7 am. They took him inside there, some doctor came from the theatre, he called one of us and said, we should pay Shs 70,000 for buying medicine to start the operation. We paid the Shs 30,000 [but] after paying the Shs 30,000, after some minutes, the same man came and opened the door and called us again, and told us we should pay another Shs 100,000. We also paid the Shs 100,000 and we thought it is finished. We were outside there waiting for our patient to come out [but] then this man came back again and said we should pay another Shs 80,000,” said Adiru.

Although the operation was later carried out after a 7-hour delay, the child didn’t make it, and relatives attribute the death to negligence. Miria Ahmed, a concerned resident wonders why such incidents have persisted at the facility which is supposed to service the citizens.

“Is the problem the hospital, is it the management or it is the human resource that is the problem in the hospital? A small child like this you demand Shs 210,000 for the operation? Well, if the money was taken and the operation is done, I would say anything bad but this money was taken and the small boy was abandoned in the theatre,” she said. 

When contacted Wamala refused to comment on the allegations. Dr Gilbert Aniku, the acting hospital director says that the hospital will issue an official statement later since consultations about the matter are ongoing.

Arua City resident district commissioner, Alice Akello has condemned the actions of the nurse saying she has ordered his arrest so as to set an example to the rest. The case has been reported to Arua regional referral hospital police post under SD reference No:05/30/05/2022.



Source – observer.ug

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Mexican president’s Mayan Train dealt new legal setback | Tourism News

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Activists say the planned tourist train will harm the wildlife and natural features of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been dealt the latest setback to an ambitious plan to create a tourist train to connect the country’s southern Yucatan Peninsula.

On Monday, a judge indefinitely suspended construction on a portion of the project, known as the Mayan Train, saying the plans currently do not comply “with the proceedings of the environmental impact evaluation”.

The ruling follows a legal challenge by activists who said they were concerned the 60km (37 mile) portion of the train that would connect the resorts of Playa del Carmen and Tulum would adversely affect the area’s wildlife, as well as its caves and water-filled sinkholes known as cenotes.

The original plan for the disputed section was for an overpass over a highway, but the route was modified early this year to go through jungle at ground level.

The federal judge cited the “imminent danger” of causing “irreversible damage” to ecosystems, according to one of the plaintiffs, the non-governmental group Defending the Right to a Healthy Environment. In a statement, the group said that authorities had failed to carry out the necessary environmental impact studies before starting construction of the section.

Lopez Obrador had announced the ambitious project in 2018, with construction beginning in 2020. The roughly 1,500km (930 mile) cargo and passenger rail loop was presented as a cornerstone of a wider plan to develop the poorer states and remote towns throughout the about 181,000sq km (70,000sq mile) Yucatan Peninsula.

The railway is set to connect Caribbean beach resorts with Mayan archaeological ruins, with authorities aiming to complete the project by the end of 2023. The plan is estimated to cost about $16bn.

The project has split communities across the region, with some welcoming the economic development and connectivity it would bring. Others, including some local Indigenous communities, have challenged the project, saying it could not only disrupt the migratory routes of endangered species, including jaguars, tapirs and ocelots, but could also potentially damage centuries-old Mayan archaeological sites.

The National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism, the government agency overseeing the project, has said that it expects to “overcome” the latest challenge and that work should continue after an environmental impact statement is finalised. It said the Environment Ministry was currently reviewing its environmental application for the project.

For his part, Lopez Obrador has insisted the railway will not have a significant environmental effect and has accused activists of being infiltrated by “impostors”.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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