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ebola
An outbreak of Ebola has been linked to more than 330 deaths in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, according to the latest numbers from the World Health Organization.

The outbreak, which is ravaging West Africa, is “completely out of control,” says a senior official of Doctors without Borders, who also notes the organization is stretched to its limit in response to the epidemic. Bart Janssens, the director of operations for MSF in Brussels, reported that the epidemic is now in its second wave and, more than ever, the international organizations and governments providing aid need to send in more health experts, as well as increase the public educational messages regarding how to stop the spread of the disease.

The outbreak, which began in Guinea earlier this year, appeared to slow before ravaging in recent weeks, including spreading to the Liberian capital. With multiple locations of breakout and movements across several nations, the outbreak shows no signs of slowing. Janssens noted, “I’m absolutely convinced that this epidemic is far from over and will continue to kill a considerable amount of people, so this will definitely end up the biggest ever.”

This is the highest number of deaths associated with the Ebola virus, which is considered one of the most virulent in the world. At this point, Liberia has declared a national emergency.

With a real political commitment from the governments of the infected nations and a more effective response, the epidemic could perhaps be controlled. However, currently the Ebola outbreak is the worst it has ever been, “It’s the first time in an Ebola epidemic where [Doctors Without Borders] teams cannot cover all the needs, at least for treatment centers,” Janssens said.

The underdevelopment of these countries plays an important role in the spread of the virus. “The affected countries are at the bottom of the human development index,” Janssens noted. “Ebola is seriously crippling their capacities to respond effectively in containing the spread.”

— Elizabeth Malfaro

Sources: CBS News, USA Today
Photo: CNN

sierra_leone
Of the deaths of children under 5 in Sierra Leone, 57 percent are the result of malnutrition, and both the ministry of health and government officials in Sierra Leone have begun work to reduce this horrifying statistic by joining Scaling Up Nutrition and by signing the Nutrition for Growth agreement.

As Sierra Leone recovers from its civil war, which ended in 2002, officials are attempting to shift the focus from malnutrition treatment to malnutrition prevention. Officials have been tracking the correlation between sanitation, education and malnutrition in order to improve prevention techniques.

In an interview with The Guardian, Aminata Shamit Koroma, the director of food and nutrition at the ministry of health in Sierra Leone, noted that women with a higher level of education were more likely to have access to adequate sanitation and less likely to have malnourished children.

In his efforts to prevent malnutrition in children, Koroma has been centering her campaign on breastfeeding and emphasizing to mothers the importance of breastfeeding their infants during the first six months of life. She has been spreading awareness through radio commercials and mother support groups.

Koroma has also been encouraging grandmothers to attend these mother-to-mother support groups so that they can impart their knowledge of child nutrition onto new mothers who might not be aware of the nutrients their children need. The Sierra Leone National Food and Security Food Policy of 2015-2016 also targets fathers so that they support their wives in breastfeeding. Besides emphasizing the future health of their children as a motivating factor, the initiative informs the families that if the mother is breastfeeding her child, they do not have to buy extra food for the child during the first few months of life.

The nutrition policy will also regulate the marketing of supposedly comparable and superior breast milk substitutes in order to ensure that mothers are not tricked by false sales promises. While Koroma knows it is unlikely that infant malnutrition will be eradicated within the next year or two, she recognizes the importance of the steps she is taking as she encourages the people of Sierra Leone to begin to change how they view infant health.

— Jordyn Horowitz

Sources: The Guardian, WHO, ACDI VOCA, Scaling up Nutrition
Photo: Mission News Wire

ebola
The World Health Organization has reported that between May 29 and June 1, 21 deaths in Guinea were attributed to a recent outbreak of Ebola. Those deaths coincided with 37 newly identified Ebola cases in Guinea and 13 in Sierra Leone during the same period. So far, the outbreak, which began in February, has claimed 208 lives in Guinea. There are now 328 confirmed or suspected Ebola cases in Guinea and 79 cases in Sierra Leone along with six confirmed Ebola-caused deaths in that country.

Ebola first appeared in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. It is transmitted through direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected animals or people and has a fatality rate of up to 90 percent. Recent medical studies have linked the disease to fruit bats. Outbreaks of the Ebola virus are most common in remote areas of Central and West Africa, near tropical rainforests. The most recent outbreak began in the southern region of Gueckedou in Guinea near the borders of Sierra Leone and Liberia. The original outbreak in 1976 left 280 dead.

To this day, there is no specific treatment for Ebola. People afflicted with the disease often suffer from severe dehydration and sometimes fluid injection is not a sufficient remedy. It is known, however, that those who become infected need intensive care. This often puts health care workers at risk because of their close proximity and likelihood of coming into contact with bodily fluids. It is for this reason that the World Health Organization is assisting the affected areas of Africa by providing proper health care training that could potentially keep the death toll from rising even higher. Recently, a three person team from Harvard and Tulane universities went to Sierra Leone to assist in Ebola detections.

Sierra Leone has recently prescribed several travel restrictions and banned trips to Guinea to attend funerals. These measures are intended to stem Ebola spread. Over the past few months it has become increasingly clear that this outbreak has been sustained through faulty medical practices and common interactions with bodily fluids from humans and animals. However, as the sources have become clearer, the death toll continues to rise.

– Taylor Dow

Sources: Boston Globe, NBC, Huff Post, Aljazeera, Fox News, WHO 1, WHO 2
Photo: The Times

ebola_sierra_leone
Since March, increasing numbers of West African countries have joined Ebola’s list of victims. The outbreak started in Guinea earlier in 2014 where it had the most cases, a reported 258 infected. There were 146 cases confirmed positive by laboratory results, and 174 patients died. It has since spread to Liberia and, most recently, there are signs of Ebola in Sierra Leone.

Ebola, a type of hemorrhagic fever, spreads rapidly through contact with bodily fluids, contaminated corpses or vector animals like fruit bats. Without proper infection control, hospitals, villages and treatment centers can succumb to the disease, poisoning many people in a short amount of time. With no cure or vaccine, Ebola is reaching a mortality rate of almost 90 percent in these West African nations.

Ebola infiltrated the border between Guinea and Sierra Leone earlier this week, with the confirmation of its presence on May 26. This marks Ebola’s first presence in Sierra Leone since the outbreak. Following its arrival, the disease has infected upwards of five people, killing at least four or five with one laboratory confirmed case, according to the Center for Disease Control.

It is quite obvious the disease itself poses enough of a problem, but why could Sierra Leone potentially be at greater risk?

The main concern is whether Sierra Leone will respond correctly to the gravity of the outbreak. An article from May 28 in the Sierra Leonean paper, Sierra Express Media, showed concern for the potential relaxed approach citizens will take toward the growing disease. The author of the article attested to the tendency for the nation to “downplay” the potential danger of such catastrophes and called upon both the citizenship and the government to take the threat of Ebola in Sierra Leone seriously.

While it is difficult to know whether the author’s fears are substantiated, it is important to consider the recent removal of an Ebola patient from a hospital and the implications such actions illuminate. Despite protests from health officials, relatives checked out a potential Ebola patient from the local health center on May 27 for fear of complications in an upcoming move to the hospital.

In doing so, the family risked substantial spread of the highly infectious disease. Whether this shows a lack of concern for the outbreak, we cannot be certain. However, it does indicate that the speed at which Ebola spreads and its high mortality rate is perhaps not understood fully.

So what can be done to ensure that the Sierra Leonean public is engaged and committed to eliminating the disease from the country? So far, most patients are being treated at the Koindu Community Health Centre near the southern border of Guinea. However, because the disease has no vaccine or cure, it remains important that the main priority be limiting the spread of infection.

The aforementioned article in the Sierra Express Media lists 12 ways the nation and its people can respond correctly and with enough force. These suggestions range from limiting the practice of shaking hands to quarantining movement within affected regions to requests for aid from the African Union Health Emergency Fund.

Only time will tell how Sierra Leone handles the tragedy of an Ebola outbreak. Hopefully, with help from the international and African community and correct motivation of the citizens and government, the outbreak can be contained to limit damage and lessons on public health can be learned.

– Caitlin Thompson

Sources: BBC, Aljazeera, Aljazeera 2, CDC, CDC 2, WHO, The Advocate, The Guardian, Chicago Tribune

Poverty in Sierra Leone
Poverty in Sierra Leone is alive and well. Freetown, the capital and largest city in Sierra Leone, was founded in 1787. It was known as the “Province of Freedom” because it was a British crown colony and the principal base for the suppression of the slave trade. The Maroons were the original settlers, consisting of 1,200 newly freed slaves from Nova Scotia. In 1800, a rebellion of Jamaican slaves escaped and moved to Freetown.

The British Empire’s abolition of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade was mostly due to the efforts of William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, Granville Sharpe and Lord Mansfield. They founded a naval base in Freetown in order to patrol against the illegal slave ships that still existed, fining every British ship found with a slave onboard.

Sierra Leone was officially named a crown colony in 1808. In 1833 British Parliament passed the Emancipation Act, which abolished slavery. As a result, over 50,000 freed slaves settled in Freetown by 1855. Their descendants, known as the Krios, now live in a multi-ethnic country. Krio is a widely spoken language throughout the country that some ethnic groups speak, though English is the official language.

Since Sierra Leone gained independence from the British in 1961, the country has experienced many economic, political and social challenges. A rebel group called the Revolutionary United Front plotted to overthrow the Joseph Momoh Government, causing a devastating civil war from 1991 to 2002.

The extreme brutality of this conflict caused over two million people to be displaced and resulted in more than 50,000 casualties. The war ended as a result of a U.N. peacekeeping and British military intervention. The country has made tremendous advancements in establishing a good government and keeping peace and security since the war ended.

Three years after the war ended, Sierra Leone was considered the poorest country in the world. Today, it is ranked at 177 out of 184 countries on the Human Development Index. This minor improvement is partly due to the assistance of international donors. Officials say Sierra Leone is on its way toward securing macroeconomic stability through democratization and stabilization, but large populations of youth who are former combatants are still unemployed, threatening the peace and stability of the country.

More than 60 percent of Sierra Leone’s population presently lives in poverty. Many people are living under the poverty line at less than $1.25 per day. The literacy rate is only 41 percent and 70 percent of young people in Sierra Leone are unemployed or underemployed as a result. The poorest people live in the Northern and Southern provinces of the country and consist mostly of landless people, particularly women in rural households.

The civil war and social unrest of previous years caused a severe economic decline that virtually destroyed the physical and social infrastructure of the country, leading to widespread poverty.  Sierra Leone’s development depends on consolidating peace, democracy and increasing its economic growth.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: Global Finance, UNDP, Rural Poverty Portal
Photo: Justinsandefur.org

Ishmael_Beah_child_soldiers
These three African men have used their horrific childhoods as fuel for activism to heal and prevent the abuse of future children.

Ishmael Beah – Author and UN Ambassador

During Sierra Leone’s civil war, which lasted from 1991 to 2002, 12-year-old Beah became separated from his family and wandered the country with a group of other children. The group stumbled across a battalion of anti-rebel soldiers and the children were taken in and taught to kill.

Beah was rescued by UNICEF after living as a soldier for two years, and was taken to a rehab center where he struggled for eight months to remember who he was before the war. When he was 17, Beah was adopted by a member of UNICEF as a means to get out of Sierra Leone and attend school.

It was during his time at Oberlin College in Ohio that he wrote “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier,” which Beah claims he never meant to publish, but wrote to “find a way to give the human context that was missing in the way the issue of child soldiers were discussed.” His book has become a best-seller, and Beah has recently released his second book, “Radiance of Tomorrow.”

Beah is now a UN ambassador for children affected by war, and he travels with UNICEF to work with former-child soldiers. He remembers what it was like to suddenly find himself expected to be a kid again, and he wants former child-soldiers to know that they have options – that they can choose to live a life devoid of war.

Ricky Anywar Richard – Founder of Friends of Orphans (FRO)

At 14, Ricky was forced to watch as his entire family was corralled into their house, locked in, and burned alive. He was then bound into a service of slavery for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) of northern Uganda where he regularly witnessed torture, rape, and murder.

He was one of the few who managed to escape and, after obtaining his degree, he set up Friends of Orphans (FRO), an organization that works to reintegrate former child-soldiers back into village life and provide them with the therapy and education necessary to become peaceful members of society. So far, the organization has helped 25,000 children attend school and learn a trade.

The organization also educates those with HIV/AIDs on how to deal with their disease and prevent further transmission. They have distributed over 100,000 condoms since beginning the program.

FRO has been awarded the John Templeton Foundation ‘Freedom Award’ and Ricky was awarded the ‘World of Children Humanitarian Award’ for his tireless work to provide a life for those who’ve had theirs stolen by war.

Emmanuel Jal – Musician, Activist & Founder of Gua Africa

Growing up in south Sudan, Jal was 7 when his father left to join the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), his mother was killed by soldiers and he saw his aunt raped. He was promised an education in Ethiopia as part of a group of kids, but upon arrival they were forced to become soldiers of the SPLA.

After nearly five years living as a soldier, Jal was rescued by British aid worker Emma McCune, who smuggled him into Kenya. When McCune was killed, Jal completed his education and now makes it his life’s work to share his story and is an advocate for the Make Poverty History campaign, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers and the Control Arms campaign.

Jal has made a name for himself as a recording artist, releasing the album ‘War Child’ as well as a film and autobiographical book both under the same name. He travels the world speaking on the global issues that have played a hand in his life, and he’s most recently appeared at the TED Global Conference in Oxford.

Jal stresses that education is the only way to move forward and prevent further genocides, and has founded Gua Africa, a foundation to educate children. After being disappointed with the level of donations he recently embarked to eat only one meal a day, something he says is regular for the people in his country, and he donates the unspent money to his own organization.

-Lydia Caswell

Sources: CNN, Gariwo , Friends of Orphans , Huffington Post , Emmanuel Jal, Gua Africa
Photo: Tallawah Magazine

sierra_leone_soldier
Sierra Leone, home to over 6.1 million people, is a West African nation ravaged by a 11-year civil war. The country was prone to military coup de’tats, resulting is an ever-revolving door of presidents, dictators, military juntas and overall political chaos.

The political crises that have befallen the diamond resource rich nation is in stark contrast to its prominent past as a settlement for freed slaves, particularly its capital, Freetown. Sadly, the civil war, which was condemned for human rights violations such as the use of child soldiers, created a situation where poverty became rampant among the populace.

Sierra Leone now has one the lowest life expectancies in the world, with an average person expected to live to only 48. It ranks fairly low in the Human Development Index at 180th out of 187 countries. Particularly distressing is that over “60 percent of the population” lives on about “$1.25 per day.” Consequently, the nation boasts a high illiteracy rate, and deals with a increasingly volatile health crisis, with a majority of the population unable to attain proper medicine and health services.

Despite the problems, the country has made positive strives since the end of the civil war. Since 2002, positive changes have occurred. The central government has become stronger and democracy has flourished quite prominently in the wake of the civil war. The nation has also seen an uptick in economic development.

Unemployment and underemployment of the youth population are major reasons for the civil unrest within the nation. Around 70 percent are out of work or critically underpaid, resulting in strikes that are routinely suppressed by the government. Disillusionment with political elites and inequality of wealth in the country has led to a huge divide among political groups.

Current President Ernest Bai Koroma and his All People’s Party have been criticized for their actions, but at the same time praised for helping the nation “transition from a failed state” to a “fast-growing economy.” The economic growth of the nation is contrasted by the rampant poverty faced by a majority of the nation.

Sierra Leone has had an arduous history in regards to women’s rights. The country is home to many customary practices, such as “female genital mutilation” and forced marriages. Amnesty international reported that the Sexual Offences Act, though pushed through in 2013, was never truly enacted, and discriminatory policies against women were still heavily occurring in the nation.

Human rights violations are particularly evident in post-civil war Sierra Leone. Peaceful demonstrations are still violently suppressed, and opposition media are continually jailed for dispelling information against the ruling regime. An April demonstration against working conditions at a local mine resulted in police officers killing 12 workers. The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone found the police culpable for their actions, and pushed for an investigation into the matter. Sierra Leone has not indicted or prosecuted any of those involved in the killings.

Can Sierra Leone make a change? Unless the government makes a more proper investment in its population and respects human rights, civil unrest is a common possibility. The lack of oversight for respecting human rights and drastic poverty is an increasingly damaging problem for the nation that was once a safe-haven for those escaping slavery.

– Joseph Abay

Sources: Amnesty International, New York Times Blogs, BBC, BBC, UNDP
Photo: UWO

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UNICEF Awards Matt Damon and Michael Douglas
Matt Damon and Michael Douglas were awarded the Danny Kaye Humanitarian award at the 2013 UNICEF ball this month. The Danny Kaye award stems from late actor Danny Kaye, who was UNICEF’s first Global Ambassador in 1954.

Kaye was a beloved comedic Actor to Hollywood but a strong advocate to children. Kaye had been quoted saying “if children are healthy and have care and education, surely they will be more effective adults, and maybe, just maybe, make the world a better place.”

Michael Douglas was honored for his strong leadership and advocacy roles with the United Nations. Douglas became United Nations Messenger of Peace in 1998. Over the years Douglas has brought attention to the rise in child soldiers in Sierra Leone through a UN film “Child Soldiers.”

Throughout the documentary Douglas interviews former soldiers, as well as helps children reunite with their loved ones.  Many child soldiers are kidnapped by rebel groups and endure inhumane conditions while with them. Douglas is also a strong advocate for weapons control and nuclear disarmament, and continues to help the UN’s mission of peace and security.

Matt Damon was awarded for his strong advocacy efforts toward the need for clean water around the world. Damon co-founded water.org, an organization that helps people in developing nations gain access to clean water through loan assistance programs.

“Every 20 seconds a little kid, a child dies because they lack access to clean water and sanitation, every 20 seconds,” Damon states in an interview with CNN.

One way the program works is by giving communities loans so they can gain access to clean affordable water either by building wells or putting water pipes directly in villager’s homes. Having the opportunity to have water nearby allows villagers, especially women and children, extra time for education and career training.

Facts from water.org show millions of hours per day are spent collecting water from wells many miles from villager’s homes.

“It’s not just about the millions of children who actually  die every year, it’s about the quality of life that somebody can have if they have access to clean water” states Damon, after speaking to a girl who is able to play and be a child again , instead of spending that time collecting water for her family.

These men have been great humanitarians throughout the years and will continue to advocate for children and families for years to come. It’s through their efforts along with thousands of other great humanitarians why the world is changing and becoming a place of peace and freedom.

Amy Robinson

Sources: Variety, UNICEF, CNN, Water, Vimeo, IIP Digital
Photo: PopSugar

family planning
This past July, Family Planning 2020, an initiative aiming to increase accessibility to family planning services in developing countries, celebrated its one-year anniversary. Sponsored by the United Kingdom, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Family Planning 2020, or FP2020, is working with governments around the globe to ensure that 120 million more women in the world have access to family planning aid by 2020. Convening at the London Summit for Family Planning last year, governments, sponsors, donors, civil societies, and private sector representatives laid out a goal-based timeline for success.

FP2020 targets the poorest countries in the world. Today, more than 200 million of women in developing countries want to avoid pregnancy but lack access to family planning and contraceptives. What FP2020 aims to do for these women is provide much needed information, services, and mechanisms for family planning. Over 20 governments worldwide are committed to the initiative, among them the governments of India, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, and Kenya.

As July 11th – World Population Day as well as the anniversary date of the London Summit – approached, FP2020 partners were applauded for their progress and were encouraged to keep moving forward. Since the FP2020 London Summit last year, Zambia has seen the promising creation of a national strategy that has brought religious, tribal, and community leaders into the conversation of improving family planning services and accessibility to contraceptives in all areas of the country. In Sierra Leone, the government has funneled significant funds towards its health and family planning sectors. In Nigeria, FP2020 partners are working to open clinics in strategic areas that will serve people within a 12-mile radius, improving accessibility to family planning services. Other partner nations are undertaking similar initiatives.

The future of FP2020 gleams with the hope of improving lives for millions of women in the developing world. In the words of the director of the FP2020 project, Valerie DeFillipo, “The global community is recommitted and re-energized. We as individuals have the power to ensure that women’s autonomy over health-related decisions is a fundamental right, not a privilege.”

Follow @FP2020Global on Twitter to learn more.

-Lina Saud

Sources: The Interdependent, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, LFPS, LFPS
Photo: Path

maternal_health_sierra_leone
In Sierra Leone, a new initiative is encouraging local communities to demand a higher level of health care services, in order to reduce the country’s high maternal mortality rates. One in every 21 women in Sierra Leone is at risk of death due to childbirth, and the campaign aims at empowering communities to push healthcare higher on the political agenda, by providing evidence to local authorities that they require higher standards.

The initiative, Evidence for Action (E4A), works in Sierra Leone and five other sub-Saharan countries, and brings together experts from academic institutions, internationally recognized advocacy and accountability coalitions and civil society organizations. E4A acknowledges while progress is possible, reducing infant and maternal mortality requires the effort of everyone involved. The leader of the project, Dr. Mohamed Yilla, said “The issue of babies and maternal health should no longer just be a government issue; it should be of community interest. The community can bring about the sustainable health system and maintain it.”

As part of E4A, the MamaYe! campaign is an program that advocates for safer maternal clinics. The campaign provides information to individuals and communities so that they can make more well-informed decisions about supporting maternal healthcare and encourage government authorities and politicians to improve healthcare services. The project collects data from clinics across the country, and draws attention to those that fall short on utilities such as electricity, running water and blood supply.

Last year, the program distributed 5,000 score cards to communities, rating clinics from all over the country. Yilla notes that thanks to the information, people started to ask questions and demand more from their government. Since the election in November 2012, Sierra Leone’s health spending has increased from 7.5% to 10.5%. Regarding the increase in spending, Yilla said, “Attribution is always difficult, but this advocacy work showed we were way below the budget target and contributed to that increase.”

Looking forward, Sierra Leone has huge prospects, partly due to a thriving mining industry and iron ore production. With an increase in GDP, along with more awareness concerning the condition of maternal healthcare facilities, Yilla is hopeful that investment in health will see major progress over the next two years.

– Chloe Isacke

Sources: The Guardian, Evidence for Action
Photo: New Security Beat