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Ecobank commits to continue battling disease in Africa

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Health

The Pan-African bank, Ecobank, recently committed a further 3 years of funding for its work with the organization the Global Fund, in the battle to fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis (TB) in Africa. Ecobank first partnered with the Global Fund in 2013, and at a signing ceremony in Montreal, Canada, the bank confirmed its additional funding for the various projects that target 3 of Africa’s most deadly diseases.

Changing Africa

 The Global Fund is an organization committed to ending the epidemics of AIDS, Malaria and TB, and it works closely with governments and the private sector to help fund initiatives to combat these diseases in over 100 nations. Although the body is committed to its cause on a global scale, it is Africa that suffers the most from AIDS and Malaria in particular, and as an African enterprise, Ecobank has shown that it views the battle as part of its responsibilities.

The Ecobank Foundation is the branch of the bank responsible for funding social programs across Africa, and Ecobank CEO, Ade Ayeyemi, pledged that a further $3 million of funding would be made available to the work that the Global Fund is carrying out within the continent. Funding from the Global Fund has provided 659 million mosquito nets to families, given TB treatment to 15.1 million people, and provided antiretrovirals to 9.2 million HIV sufferers.

Ecobank operates across 35 African countries, and its goal of bringing greater prosperity to African people is one that clearly involves the support of health initiatives. Philip Chikwuedo Asiodu, Chairman of the Ecobank Foundation, says, “Access to quality health care for all is vital to the growth and prosperity of Africa…we are proud to be partnering with the Global Fund in combating these three diseases throughout Africa.”

Financing the Future

It is evidently essential to reduce the number of people suffering and dying from treatable diseases, in order to create an environment that allows people to improve their economic situations. While some of the tools needed for fighting 3 of Africa’s biggest killers are obvious purchases, such as mosquito nets, it is also necessary to help nations organize their use of funds. The Ecobank Foundation joined with the Global Fund to help countries not only receive greater funding for health schemes, but to manage their funds more effectively.

Support was provided to grant recipients in Nigeria, South Sudan and Senegal over the past 3 years, and it is great news for ongoing projects that Ecobank has committed itself to at least 3 more years of backing.

The Ecobank Foundation CEO, Julie Essiam, signed the extension to their partnership with Global Fund with the Executive Director of Global Fund, Mark Dybul.

Essiam expressed excitement about the continued collaboration, calling it “a historic moment with the Global Fund” and explaining their shared goal “to create a ‘thriving Africa’, and a prosperous continent.”

It is to be hoped that such partnerships encourage further investors to help support changes that the whole of Africa, and the wider world, will benefit from.

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Malian physician probes genetic disease

Comments (0) Health, Science

The only doctor in Mali who studies rare genetic diseases is the recipient of a grant of more than $1 million to further his research. Guida Landouré, who trained as a neurologist in Mali, the United States and Britain, was awarded funding for four years by the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3 Africa) fund, an initiative sponsored by the United States and the United Kingdom to support genetic research in Africa.

Landouré, who is based in the neurology department of University Hospital Center in Bamako, divides his time between seeing patients at the hospital and conducting research on 123 families at the center of his research protocol. Genetic disease in Africa has long been overshadowed by the continent’s challenges with infectious diseases, Landouré and other researchers said in a paper published earlier this year.

More genetics studies urged

However, they noted, genetics may play a significant role in increasing vulnerability to infectious diseases and increasing resistance to treatment. They said research in Mali has already revealed disease-associated mutations but more study is needed to increase understanding of the functions and interactions of different genes. They argue that Africa is the logical place to focus genetic research. “Because of the population diversity in Africa and the limited studies done on the continent, genetic and genomic research in Africa will answer health questions that cannot be solved by studying other populations.” In Mali, Landouré is at the forefront of this research.

Focus is neurological disorders

Because African families tend to have more siblings than in Europe, sampling can detect defective genes more quickly and develop treatments of inherited diseases more effectively, he said. He said the Malian research would investigate genetic defects that cause hereditary neurological disorders, such as epilepsy, which is a major public health issue in the region.

He said funds also would be used to support a bioinformatics network that will use computers to collect and analyze genetic information.

From neurology to research

Landouré became interested in genetic research by happenstance. As a doctor at University Hospital in 2002, he met visiting officials of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Since neurological studies were not available in Mali, he opted to take a research position in the United States in 2004 and went on to study in London. He returned to Mali in 2010 to become the only researcher working on rare genetic diseases.

For four years, the research will be funded with a grant of $1.1 million from the H3 Africa initiative. A partnership between the National Institutes of Health and Wellcome Trust, a London-based global charity, the project has committed $37 million for genetic research on the continent. The African Society of Human genetics has acted as the organizing partner for the initiative as well as providing a forum for genetic scientists in Africa.

In addition to supporting genetic research, the project aims to expand research capacity on the continent through improvements in facilities and creation of new collaborations among researchers in Africa, the United States and Europe.

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Zambia fights drought with an unlikely weapon: sun

Comments (0) Africa, Health, Technology

Zambia is currently in the midst of the worst drought the country has faced ever. Partly due to the El-Niño weather cycle, the lack of water has severely affected large swathes of the country notably in the southern regions where rainfall is particularly low.  In order to fight dramatic consequences of drought on Zambia’s most affected regions in 2015 the government focused on sun as a resource to help address the crisis by developing solar technology.

The case of Kanzungula’s solar powered pumps

Kazungula is a rural district located in the country’s far south. Its parched lands saw only 40mm of rain fall between November 2015 and January this year. Zambia’s Climate Chance Secretariat (CSS) identified Kazungula as an area in desperate need of attention which represented an ideal testing ground for a new solar powered scheme. Three new solar installations were built throughout Kazunglula as part of the project. Solar powered schemes involved drilling a borehole 50-60 meters deep into the arid earth to access the water table far below into the ground. Once water struck, a solar powered pump brings clean water to large storage tanks on the surface. The solar array element is critical in this process as it powers reliable water extraction in remote areas with no access to the main grid. For locals in Kazungula, the results have been nothing short of life-changing. Munji Malambo a 16 year old boy who lives in the area said in an interview with Thompson Reuters that “before this (borehole) we used to walk long distances every morning to get water before coming back to go to school […]. Most of the shallow wells in the area had dried up and the closest one was two kilometers away. Sometimes the water would get very dirty and not safe to drink.”

Implications for the future

The success of the Kazungula schemes has prompted plans for 200 installations of solar powered pumps across Zambia that the CSS hopes to complete within two years. According to Zambia’s Ministry of Finance droughtshave costs the economy an estimated US$13.8 billion over the last 30 years.  Solar schemes have then turned out to be real value for money to local and national governments. For instance, the three projects in Kazungula cost a mere $6,100 dollars. What’s more, the costs of solar installations have plummeted almost 50% over the last year. Contractors are now bidding to provide solar schemes at lower cost per MW than coal-fired generators, the cheapest historical source of energy. Solar pumping solutions like those recently used in Zambia are now being recognized as a major tool to be utilized across the African continent to fight drought consequences. With the obstacle of price removed solar energy with its many applications is set to proliferate throughout Africa.

Caution and diligence are needed

For nations such as Zambia which rely heavily on hydroelectric plants drought has placed a major strain on power production. As a result there has been a major shift to chopping and burning lumber for energy. Unfortunately this can negatively affect the water system, causing instability to recharge rates while affecting runoff to bodies of water. In the long term solar installations can help to address the energy shortage but major schemes take time to implement. Similarly, oversight is needed to manage borehole schemes themselves. Excessive drilling can cause serious consequences for the long term health of water systems. Water management is complex, and governments need to make sure the correct expertise and regulation is in place. If properly managed solar-pumping projects can become a significant ally to Africa in its fight against drought.

 

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In Madagascar, medical drones to the rescue

Comments (0) Africa, Health, Technology

While drones are thought of mostly as weapons of war, the robotic, unmanned aircraft may play a life-saving role in remote regions that do not have access to health care. In Madagascar, the American medical drone manufacturer Vayu, Inc., and New York’s Stony Brook University, are testing use of drones to deliver medicine and equipment to remote areas. According to Dr. Peter Small, founding director of the university’s Global Health Institute, 70 percent of the population of the island that lies off east Africa live in very rural settings, including a significant number who dwell in remote settings that can only be reached by foot. “These are places that are only accessible on foot; you can’t even get a bicycle there. By using drones we can not only fly out to villages, but collect diagnostic specimens and deliver care,” Small told Digital Trends. “It is really revolutionary.”

University, country in longstanding partnership

Stony Brook University has a longstanding relationship with Madagascar, which has one of the most important and diverse ecosystems in the world. For three decades, scientists and students at Stony Brook’s ValBio Center, a 15,000-square- foot research station, have worked the island residents to bolster conservation efforts while improving residents’ quality of life. The center is located on the edge of Madagascar’s Ronamafana National Park. The university’s Global Health Institute, which has a $10 million endowment, is teaming up with Vayu, Inc., a Michigan aviation company that was launched in 2014. With more than $1.1 million in investment, the start up is focused on building affordable drone technology to provide medical aid and supplies across rugged terrain and during times of disaster. The drone can take off and land like a helicopter and is able to fly long distances.

Long-range mission accomplished

With the backing of Madagascar’s government and the U.S. Agency for International Development, the project recently achieved the world’s first long-range, autonomous drone flight. The drone collected blood and stool samples from rural villages and flew them to the ValBio center for testing. Small said the potential of drone technology to improve health care in remote areas is enormous. For example, he said a health worker who cannot diagnose a cough in a patient might be able to use a beacon to call a drone. The drone could then collect a sputum sample and fly it to lab for diagnosis then fly medications back to the patient’s location. The entire operation might take as little as a couple of days, he noted. “Drones will find innumerable uses, such as accelerating diagnosis of tuberculosis and ensuring delivery of vaccines,” Small said. Tuberculosis and many other diseases that plague developing countries, require diagnosis in a lab and stool and blood samples must be transported quickly. That is why it is critical in places like Madagascar to find an alternative to cumbersome travel by road or pathway.

Global impact likely

The organizers believe their partnership will produce significant progress in delivering quick diagnosis and medications for remote communities that lack health care professionals or facilities. Vayu in particular was founded with the purpose of developing drones for medical transport in hard-to- reach areas. “Vayu’s accomplishment is significant for public health in developing countries, where limited access hinders healthcare and it is for the future of autonomous unmanned vehicles,” said Vayu’s CEO, Daniel Pepper, a former international journalist and medical student-turned- founder of Vayu. The project could have global impact. Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., MD, a nationally renowned expert in emerging infectious diseases, believes that the benefits of this partnership will likely expand well beyond Madagascar. “Global health is an immediate problem for everyone,” he said, noting that commonplace air travel has shattered natural isolation. “Advances in health delivery and implementation (in other parts of the world) can have positive impacts in the U.S. as well. The benefits of promoting health worldwide are immense.” A similar effort is already under way in Rwanda, were a Silicon Valley start up is using drones to deliver medicine and blood to patients. Zipline International said the unpiloted aircraft will transport supplies to hospitals and medical centers around the country, forming the world’s first national drone delivery system. Zipline International said it plans to expand the service to other countries later this year.

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