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Canada announces $56 million to fight Ebola and other crises in DR Congo

Source: Government of Canada
Country: Canada, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo

The new funding will be used to address the humanitarian needs of the country’s most vulnerable people affected by Ebola and strengthen its local health system.


Republic of Congo

In Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, on January 14, 2020, Minister Gould announced $250,000 in funding would be provided to the World Food Programme and $40,000 to Caritas to assist the most vulnerable people affected by floods in the country.

World Food Programme activities will include:

  • distributing rice, legumes, fortified oil and iodized salt to communities that no longer have access to food.

  • providing families with cash vouchers to purchase food in areas where the price of food has soared because of limited access.

  • increasing screening and treatment of children with acute malnutrition.

Caritas will provide emergency kits of essential household items to 500 families affected by the floods in Brazzaville. It will also conduct water and sanitation workshops with affected communities.

Democratic Republic of Congo

On January 15, 2020, Minister Gould announced $56 million in funding to help Control the Ebola epidemic address the humanitarian needs of the country’s most vulnerable people and strengthen its local health system. Funds will be allocated as follows:

Development assistance in response to the Ebola epidemic: $10 million

Implemented by UNICEF, this project will help build a stronger health care system in the eastern parts of the country affected by conflict and Ebola. Of note, it will help to increase the access and quality of basic health services offered to the most vulnerable populations in the region. This will help to prevent future outbreaks of Ebola and other health issues, such as cholera and measles. More than 5 million Congolese women and children will benefit from this initiative.

Humanitarian assistance: $45 million

Canada is allocating $45 million to trusted humanitarian partners working in the Democratic Republic of Congo to respond to Ebola-specific and other humanitarian needs. Activities will include providing:

  • food distributions and nutrition assistance to vulnerable populations

  • drinking water, hygiene, sanitation, health services and protection (including psychosocial support to survivors of gender-based violence)

  • logistics and coordination support, such as air services, to improve the Democratic Republic of Congo’s and neighbouring countries’ ability to prevent, detect and respond to outbreaks

  • training for community health workers and immunization campaigns

Peace and Stabilization Operations Program: $991,699

This project, implemented by Search For Common Ground, aims to reduce the spread of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s conflict-affected region of Nord-Kivu by encouraging positive communication between local actors helping to fight the virus, such as police officers, and vulnerable populations. Project activities will include the creation of communications tools to educate communities on Ebola in order to avoid misinformation and myths about the disease.


Fighting malaria in Bolívar state, Venezuela

Source: Médecins Sans Frontières
Country: Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of)

Fifty years ago, Venezuela was seen as a leader in the fight against malaria in South America. In 2019, Venezuela had one of the highest rates of malaria infection in Latin America.

Yordan Pentoja has been diagnosed with malaria about a dozen times in the last year and a half. That’s when the 27-year-old came to the municipality of Sifontes in Venezuela’s Bolívar state to work in a gold mine, one of very few job opportunities available as the country’s political and economic crisis continues.

“Malaria is like a plague around here,” he says from his bed in a clinic in the mining town of Las Claritas. “I have so many friends and colleagues who have had it that I stopped counting. I came to the [clinic] this morning because I started to feel terrible,” he says, sighing and closing his eyes. “My head and my stomach hurt like hell.”

Fifty years ago, Venezuela was seen as a leader in the fight against malaria in South America. But in recent years, the parasitic disease has made a major comeback. In 2019, Venezuela had one of the highest rates of malaria infection in Latin America, with more than 320,000 diagnosed cases, according to the Pan American Health Organization. But the country’s collapsing health system is ill-equipped to tackle the resurgence.

“When the economic crisis hit Venezuela, it hit people in Sifontes very hard too,” says Yorvis Ascarnio, a public health inspector who works for the national malaria program in Bolívar state. “At first, we started having less and less medicines in our stock. We soon had to choose to whom to give the few medicines we had—we could focus only on severe cases. And it was the same situation in other ambulatories and diagnostic points…I have been working in this area for the past twelve years. I’ve seen the highs and lows of this place. But this period was extremely hard for us.”

Collaborating to tackle malaria

In 2016, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) began supporting the National Malaria Program in Bolívar, in collaboration with Venezuela’s Ministry of Health. Since then, we have also started supporting various diagnostic points throughout the state and helping to treat malaria patients. A year ago, MSF also began working with the Malaria Institute in Carúpano, Sucre state, increasing its capacity to fight the disease.

“In Bolívar, we also help with what we call vector control,” explains MSF health promoter Josué Nonato. “[We] fumigate houses and distribute mosquito nets to the population, to diminish the risk of infection. And my job, as a health promoter, is to explain to people how to identify the symptoms of malaria and what to do when they start to feel sick, to make sure they can be treated before the disease gets too severe.”

Health promoters like Nonato are part of MSF’s strategy to reach the people most at risk of contracting malaria in the region. That’s why most of the diagnostic and treatment points we supervise are near the gold mines.

In 2019, MSF reached more than 55,000 people through health promotion sessions in the area. We also treated more than 85,000 people for malaria, distributed over 65,000 mosquito nets, sprayed 530 households with insecticide, and helped carry out more than 250,000 tests for malaria. Since then, the number of cases in Sifontes municipality has decreased by around 40 percent.

“We went from sometimes up to 200 people queuing in front of the diagnostic points and many people who were infected with malaria who had to go directly to the [outpatient clinic] because there was no treatment available to a situation [that is] a bit more manageable now,” says MSF bioanalyst Monserrat Barrios, who is in charge of training new microscope technicians at diagnostic points.

This year, MSF also began supporting the Santo Domingo clinic in Las Claritas, where Yordan Pentoja received treatment for his malaria. Initially built for a population of 20,000, it now has to serve the needs of more 75,000 people who have come to live in the area in the past few years. At Santo Domingo, MSF provides malaria prevention services, testing, and treatment, and we’re also increasing support to cover other diseases and health needs.

“We know other departments also need help to cope with the number of patients, including those suffering from non-communicable diseases or in case they need to take care of emergencies and referrals to a hospital,” says MSF medical activity manager Fanny A. Castro. “We are focusing more on sexual and reproductive health, for instance, with services such as Family Planning and deliveries. We overall want to make a difference and to increase the population’s chances to access health services. We have also installed a functioning water supply and waste management around the facility, which considerably improves the quality of care provided.”

But as the crisis in Venezuela continues, health needs go well beyond Las Claritas and the municipality of Sifontes. Elsewhere in Bolívar state, MSF will soon begin to support the barely functional regional hospital in the city of Tumeremo, and will continue to step up efforts to fight malaria in Venezuela.

MSF has been working in Venezuela since 2015. Our teams currently work in the capital, Caracas, and in Bolívar, Sucre, Amazonas, and Anzoátegui states. From 2016 to early 2018 we also provided medical care in Maracaibo, in the northwest of the country. Our work in Venezuela is funded exclusively by private donations from individuals around the world.


India Failing on Kashmiri Human Rights

An Indian paramilitary soldier stands guard as snow falls in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, January 15, 2020.

© 2020 AP Photo/Dar Yasin

Kashmir has been under a lockdown for five months. Fearing that Kashmiris might protest the revocation of autonomy provided to Jammu and Kashmir state under India’s constitution, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi clamped down.

Since the restrictions in August, the government has taken slow, reluctant steps to ease some of them, but is still falling far short in upholding Kashmiri rights.

Many of the thousands arbitrarily arrested – lawyers, shop owners, traders, students, rights activists – have now been released, but reportedly only after promising not to criticize the government. Some senior Kashmiri political leaders, including former chief ministers, remain in custody.

Police admitted at least 144 children had been detained, and now the chief of defense staff has spoken of putting children in “deradicalization camps.”  

The government had also blocked phone lines and access to the internet. The government was so fearful of criticism and dissent that it curtailed Kashmiris’ ability to share news of births or deaths, call their doctors, order supplies, research term papers, file taxes, and trade apples and walnuts.

While authorities started gradually restoring landlines and some mobile phone services, it denied internet services. After the Supreme Court said on January 10 that access to the internet was a fundamental right, the authorities relented – only to set up government-controlled internet kiosks, with firewalls permitting only some websites and forbidding social media. This violates free expression rights and hardly complies with the principle laid down by the court that “the freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to practice any profession or carry on any trade, business or occupation over the medium of internet enjoys constitutional protection.”

The costs of the government’s policies have been staggering, and the attempt to avoid criticism has not worked. The United Nations has expressed concern, as have numerous foreign governments.

Some aspects of the government crackdown, activists said, almost appear reminiscent of abusive Chinese government practices. Indian authorities have sought to justify their rights violations on the grounds of national security. Maintaining law and order is a critical state function, but it’s necessary to protect civil liberties as it is carried out. India needs to do better in Kashmir.


Bhutan on Brink of Overturning Same-Sex Conduct Ban

A bill that would repeal parts of Bhutan’s penal code that criminalize same-sex conduct will be introduced in the upper house of Parliament this month. The lower house of Parliament voted in June 2019 to repeal two sections of the country’s 2004 criminal code, which made “unnatural sex” between consenting adults illegal. But before being sent to royal approval, the bill first needs to pass the National Council, Parliament’s upper chamber.

Tashi Tsheten, an LGBTQ activist from Bhutan. 

© Tashi Tsheten

Bhutan’s penal code includes a provision derived from British colonial authorities punishing “sexual conduct against the order of nature” with up to one year in prison. While there have been no known prosecutions under the law, provisions like this one curtail the rights and freedoms of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, subjecting their intimate lives to unwarranted scrutiny.

Too many countries in the world still have laws which criminalize same-sex conduct, giving tacit state support to discriminate against gender and sexual minorities. But recently, governments and parliaments have begun to recognize the indignity of these laws and are abolishing them.

Some countries, like India in 2018, have been compelled by court rulings to scrap anti-homosexuality laws, while others have done so through legislative reform. Recent examples include Sao Tome and Principe as well as Lesotho in 2012, Palau in 2014, the Seychelles and Nauru in 2016, and Botswana and Angola in 2019.

In Bhutan, the repeal was proposed by Finance Minister Lyonpo Namgay Tshering, who said the penal code, in place since 2004, had “become so redundant” and had never been enforced. “It is also an eyesore for international human rights bodies,” he added. Activists lauded the official’s move as a sign of greater respect for LGBT people.

Bhutan is on the brink of a significant leap forward for LGBT rights. The National Council should play its part by approving the repeal bill.