Uganda, Nov 7 (AP/UNB) — Uganda has started vaccinating health workers against Ebola in a border district near the outbreak in Congo.
The vaccinations began on Wednesday and are part of a wider Ebola prevention plan in a country that has faced multiple Ebola outbreaks since 2000.
In recent months Ebola cases have been confirmed near the heavily traveled border between Uganda and Congo, where an outbreak in that country's northeast has killed 189 people.
The Ebola virus is spread through the fluids of infected people.
Anthony Mbonye, a professor of health sciences at Uganda's Makerere University, said the vaccinations are crucial to stemming transmission "in a highly endemic belt for hemorrhagic fevers."
Ugandan officials say twice-weekly market days during which 10,000 Congolese cross into Uganda have put the country at high risk.
Johannesburg, Nov 2 (AP/UNB) — As migration rises worldwide, so has its toll: The tens of thousands of people who die or simply disappear during their journeys. Barely counted in life, these migrants rarely register in death — almost as if they never lived at all.
A growing number of migrants have drowned, died in deserts or fallen prey to traffickers, leaving their families to wonder what on earth happened to them. At the same time, anonymous bodies are filling cemeteries in South Africa's Gauteng province , or in the coastal Tunisian town of Zarzis. Similar cemeteries dot Italy, Greece and Libya.
An Associated Press tally has documented more than 56,800 migrants dead or missing worldwide since 2014 — almost double the number found in the world's only official attempt to try to count them, by the U.N.'s International Organization for Migration . The IOM toll as of Oct. 1 was more than 28,500. The AP came up with almost 28,300 additional dead or missing migrants by compiling information from other international groups, forensic records, missing persons reports, death records, and examining data from thousands of interviews with migrants.
The AP's tally is also certainly an undercount. Bodies lie undiscovered in desert sands or at the bottom of the sea. And families don't always report loved ones as missing because they migrated illegally, or because they left home without saying exactly where they were headed.
Instead, families are caught between hope and mourning, like that of Safi al-Bahri. Her son, Majdi Barhoumi, left their hometown of Ras Jebel, Tunisia, on May 7, 2011 for Europe in a small boat with a dozen other migrants. The boat sank and Barhoumi hasn't been heard from since. In a sign of faith that he is alive, his mother and father built an animal pen with a brood of hens, a few cows and a dog to stand watch until he returns.
"I just wait for him. I always imagine him behind me, at home, in the market, everywhere," said al-Bahri. "When I hear a voice at night, I think he's come back. When I hear the sound of a motorcycle, I think my son is back."
The official U.N. toll extensively documents deaths in the Mediterranean and Europe, but even there cases fall through the cracks. The political tide is turning against migrants in Europe just as in the United States , where the government is cracking down heavily on caravans of Central Americans trying to get in. One result is that money is drying up for projects to track migration and its costs.
For example, when more than 800 people died in an April 2015 shipwreck off the coast of Italy, Europe's deadliest migrant sea disaster, Italian investigators pledged to identify them and find their families. More than three years later, under a new populist government, funding for this work has been cut off.
Beyond Europe , information is even more scarce. Even in the U.S., where migration has turned into a hot-button issue, there is no routine effort to figure out where migrants may disappear or die, nor a policy on identifying bodies and notifying families. And little is known about the toll in South America, where the Venezuelan migration is among the world's biggest today, and in Asia , the top region for numbers of migrants.
The result is that governments vastly underestimate the true toll of migration, a major political and social issue in most of the world today.
"No matter where you stand on the whole migration management debate ... these are still human beings on the move," said Bram Frouws, the head of the Mixed Migration Centre, which has done surveys of more than 20,000 migrants in its 4Mi project since 2014. "Whether it's refugees or people moving for jobs, they are human beings."
The missing include children, although once again the scant data is only in Europe. Some 2,773 children have been reported to the Red Cross as missing en route to Europe, and 2,097 adults reported missing by children.
Almass and his brother, both migrants from Khost, Afghanistan, are not on the list. He was just 14 when his widowed mother reluctantly sent him and his 11-year-old brother from their home into the unknown. The payment for their trip was supposed to get them away from the Taliban and all the way to Germany via a chain of smugglers.
But when the Iranian border police fired on their group, Almass lost hold of his brother's hand and went unconscious as he tumbled down a ravine. He never saw his brother again. When he next spoke to his mother, he couldn't bring himself to tell her; instead, he lied that his brother couldn't come to the phone but sent his love.
The family phone number in Afghanistan no longer works, their village is overrun with Taliban, and he has no idea how to find them — or the child whose hand slipped from his grasp four years ago.
"I don't know now where they are," he said, his face anguished as he sat on a sun-dappled bench in rural France. "They also don't know where I am."
Beni, Oct 25(AP/UNB) — A deadly Ebola outbreak grows. Rebels kill civilians in the streets. And yet the arrival of voting machines in this troubled corner of Congo has some especially worried as a long-delayed presidential election promises further upheaval.
The machines now arriving by the thousands in this Central African nation are of such concern that the U.N. Security Council has come calling, the United States has issued warnings and opposition supporters on Friday plan a national protest.
As Congo faces what could be its first peaceful, democratic transfer of power, fears are high that the more than 100,000 voting machines will be ripe for manipulation. They also could pose a technical nightmare in a sprawling nation of more than 40 million voters where infrastructure is dodgy — just 9 percent of Congo has electricity — and dozens of rebel groups are active.
"We cannot accept people inventing stories that trample our constitution," said Clovis Mutsuva, a Beni resident with the LUCHA activist organization, which has tweaked the French term "machines a voter" into "machines a voler," or "machines to steal."
While President Joseph Kabila has ended years of speculation by announcing he will respect term limits and step down after the vote, the opposition has loudly protested what it calls Kabila's attempts to ensure that his favored candidate, former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, will win. One opposition leader was blocked from returning from exile. Another, acquitted on war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court, is barred from running.
Now attention turns to the voting machines, made by South Korean company Miru Systems, that security researchers say are vulnerable to rigging and print codes that include ballot-specific information that could strip away voters' anonymity. The researchers include experts from Argentina, which rejected the company's machines after learning of the issues.
Despite the concerns echoed by diplomats and human rights groups, Congo has plunged into training about 21,000 facilitators on the machines and is introducing the concept in cities, remote towns, Pygmy communities and places like Beni that are essentially war zones. Beni and the surrounding region are in the grip of an Ebola outbreak, which because of the violence could drag on for months before being contained.
The government, which has rejected foreign assistance in the election, accuses critics of seeking to further delay a vote that was meant to take place in November 2016. It says the Dec. 23 election will go smoothly despite the obvious challenges. Many disagree.
"The use of voting machines is a provocation," an opposition politician in Beni, Jose Katsuva Kaneto, told The Associated Press. "A good number of voters have never used computers and they'll be learning on the day of the vote."
An electoral commission logistician in Beni to demonstrate the machines dismissed the concerns, comparing voters with no computer experience to the blind and saying they have the right to be assisted by someone of their choice.
Congo's elections in 2006 and 2011 had irregularities, Jean Blaise Kamundu told the AP. "With the use of the voting machines, all of the irregularities will disappear. Certain people who exploit them are angry because there won't be any way to do that in this election."
Congo has countered concerns by describing the machines as essentially printers, with voters tapping on images of preferred candidates and the choices printed on ballots that are deposited for manual counting.
Congo hasn't responded to questions about how results will be transmitted, whether provisions have been made for cybersecurity, how the ballots are stored and whether there will be an independent audit of the results. The electoral commission is considered independent and political parties are often encouraged to witness the voting process.
A UK-backed organization that tested the machines has warned there is "no buffer for technological malfunction" if Congo wants to complete voting within its 11-hour window, saying people unfamiliar with the touch-screen technology likely will take much longer than expected.
The opposition's stance against voting machines has shown cracks in recent days after top opposition party UDPS behind candidate Felix Tshisekedi announced it would not boycott the election, machines or no. "That doesn't cancel out the criticisms of these machines," said Peter Kazadi, the party's deputy secretary general. "Only election monitoring can save our votes."
For some Congolese who watched anxiously as the election was delayed amid sometimes deadly protests over Kabila's extended stay in power, it will be enough to finally stand in line at polling stations and move on.
"The voting machine is not a big problem," said Salomon Bagheni, a member of Beni's civil society. "Use it or not, the essential thing is holding the elections on Dec. 23 to bring new leadership to this country."
Addis Ababa, Oct 25 (AP/UNB) — Ethiopian lawmakers have unanimously elected the country's first female president, days after approving one of the world's few "gender-balanced" Cabinets.
Seasoned diplomat Sahle-Work Zewde succeeds Mulatu Teshome in the largely ceremonial post.
She calls Ethiopia's recent transfer of power to a reformist prime minister "exemplary" and says she will focus on bringing together all sides to achieve peace in a country with multiple ethnic-based conflicts in recent months.
The prime minister's chief of staff says that "in a patriarchal society such as ours, the appointment of a female head of state not only sets the standard for the future but also normalizes women as decision-makers in public life."
Ethiopian lawmakers last week approved a new Cabinet with a record 50 percent female members, including the country's first woman defense minister.
Johannesburg, Oct 22 (AP/UNB) — Congolese rebels killed 15 civilians and abducted a dozen children in an attack at the epicenter of the latest deadly Ebola outbreak, Congo's military said Sunday, as the violence again forced crucial virus-containment efforts to be suspended.
"It will be very hard to stop the outbreak if this violence continues," said the World Health Organization's emergencies chief, Peter Salama.
A regional WHO official told The Associated Press that it was difficult to say how long work would be affected.
Confirmed Ebola cases have reached 202 in this outbreak, including 118 deaths.
Allied Democratic Forces rebels attacked Congolese army positions and several neighborhoods of Beni on Saturday and into Sunday, Capt. Mak Hazukay Mongha told the AP. The U.N. peacekeeping mission said its troops exchanged fire with rebels in Beni's Mayangose area.
Angry over the killings, residents carried four of the bodies to the town hall, where police dispersed them with tear gas. While some health workers took refuge in a local hospital, the protesters destroyed a number of government buildings and blocked all traffic, Congo's health ministry said.
Vehicles of aid organizations and the U.N. mission were pelted with stones, the U.N.-backed Radio Okapi reported.
The ADF rebels have killed hundreds of civilians in recent years and are just one of several militias active in Congo's far northeast.
Another deadly attack last month in Beni forced the suspension of Ebola-containment efforts for days, complicating work to track suspected contacts of infected people. Since then, many of the new confirmed Ebola cases have been reported in Beni, and the rate of new cases overall has more than doubled, alarming aid groups.
Health efforts in recent weeks had started to show results, and this new attack "will bring us back," Dr. Michel Yao, WHO's incident manager for Ebola in North Kivu province, told the AP.
Work in Beni was suspended on Sunday and "tomorrow, we don't know yet," Yao said, noting that the burials of victims can be tense. "We understand. We are sympathetic. It's not easy to lose relatives. At the same time, it could affect the (outbreak) response."
The attack came after two medical agents with the Congolese army were shot dead by another rebel group — the first time health workers have been killed in this outbreak.
Congo's health minister called it a "dark day" for everyone fighting Ebola.
Mai Mai rebels surged from the forest and opened fire on the unarmed agents with the army's rapid intervention medical unit outside Butembo city, the health ministry said.
Health workers in this outbreak, declared on Aug. 1, have described hearing gunshots daily, operating under the armed escort of U.N. peacekeepers or Congolese security forces and ending work by sundown to lower the risk of attack.
Community resistance is also a problem, and Congo's health ministry has reported "numerous aggressions" against health workers. Early this month, two Red Cross volunteers were severely injured in a confrontation with wary residents in a region traumatized by decades of fighting and facing an Ebola outbreak for the first time.
"Our agents will continue to go into the field each day to fulfill the mission entrusted to them," Health Minister Oly Ilunga said. "They are true heroes, and we will continue to take all necessary measures so that they can do their job safely."
On Wednesday, WHO said it was "deeply concerned" by the outbreak but that it does not yet warrant being declared a global emergency. An outbreak must be "an extraordinary event" that might cross borders, requiring a coordinated response. Confirmed cases have been found near the heavily traveled border with Uganda.
In the latest example of the rumors that pose another serious challenge to containing the virus, the health ministry said 22 young people in Butembo dug up an Ebola victim and opened the body bag to verify that health workers had not taken organs from the body.
They ended up touching highly infectious bodily fluids, the ministry said. "The next day, they agreed to be vaccinated," joining the more than 20,000 people who have received vaccinations so far.