Malaria has killed more than 1,800 people in Burundi this year, the UN’s humanitarian agency says, a death toll rivalling a deadly Ebola outbreak in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
In its latest situation report, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said 5.7 million cases of malaria had been recorded in Burundi in 2019 — a figure roughly equal to half its entire population.
Of those cases, a total of 1,801 died from the mosquito-born disease in Burundi between January 1 and July 21, OCHA said.
The country of 11 million people has still not declared a national emergency, despite OCHA saying the outbreak crossed “epidemic proportions” in May.
“The national malaria outbreak response plan, which is currently being validated, has highlighted a lack of human, logistical and financial resources for effective response,” OCHA said in its latest weekly bulletin on humanitarian emergencies.
“All stakeholders, including the national authorities and partners are called upon to provide the requisite resources to mount a robust response to this event before it escalates.”
A lack of preventative measures like mosquito nets, climatic changes and increased movements of people from mountain areas with low immunity to malaria were driving the crisis, OCHA said.
‘Many crises’ –
A World Health Organisation (WHO) official told reporters that “the decision to declare an epidemic is the sovereignty of the Burundian state”.
The country declared a malaria epidemic in March 2017, when it had recorded 1.8 million cases and 700 deaths, but was resisting doing the same now.
A senior government official, who declined to be named, said the government did not want to admit weakness with elections set for 2020.
“We are less than a year away from the presidential election. (President Pierre) Nkurunziza, who is facing many crises, does not want to recognise what could be considered a failure of his health policy,” the official told reporters.
Burundi has been in crisis since 2015, when Nkurunziza ran for a third term and was re-elected in elections boycotted by most of the opposition.
At least 1,200 people were killed and more than 400,000 displaced in violence the UN says was mostly carried out by state security forces.
Nkurunziza announced in 2018 that he would not stand again, confounding critics who accused him of working to extend his grip on power.
UN investigators said in July that “drastic” steps were needed to boost democratic freedoms in Burundi if the government wanted the elections to be considered credible.
Burundi abuts DR Congo, where the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history has killed more than 1,800 people amid fears the infectious fever could spread beyond its borders.
But malaria is a much bigger killer on the continent.
The WHO recorded nearly 220 million cases of the parasitic illness in 2017, with an estimated 435,000 deaths. More than 90 per cent of malaria cases and deaths were in Africa.
President pardons 4 jailed opponents in Comoros
The four were jailed for life for attempting a coup and threatening state security but had their terms reduced to 20 years in May
Comoros President Azali Assoumani has pardoned four opposition figures jailed for life for an attempted coup in the Indian Ocean islands. In a decree issued Saturday, writer Said Ahmed Said Tourqui, lawyer Bahassane Ahmed Said, Mohamed Ali Abdallah and El-Had Ibrahim Halifa were “pardoned from all of their remaining sentences”.
The four were jailed for life for attempting a coup and threatening state security but had their terms reduced to 20 years in May when 17 other jailed opponents were pardoned. The charges were linked to unrest that followed a controversial constitutional referendum to extend the president’s term last year.
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Bahassane is the younger brother of Jaffar Ahmed Said Hassani, a former vice-president to Azali now living in exile in Tanzania after denouncing the president’s authoritarianism. The pardons follow Azali’s re-election in March, in which he pledged “appeasement measures” to quell accusations of voter fraud.
He was credited with nearly 60 per cent of the ballot, an outcome rejected as fraudulent by the opposition. Comoros has had a volatile political history since independence in 1975, enduring more than 20 attempted coups, four of which were successful.
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Azali initially came to power in a coup, then ruled between 1999 and 2006. He was re-elected in 2016 in a vote marred by violence and allegations of irregularities.
Tanzania mourns 69 who were killed in fuel tanker blast
“We’re currently mourning the loss of 69 people, the last of whom died while being transferred by helicopter
Tanzania was in mourning Sunday, preparing to bury 69 people who perished when a crashed fuel tanker exploded as crowds rushed to syphon off leaking petrol. President John Magufuli declared a period of mourning through Monday following the deadly blast near the town of Morogoro, west of Dar es Salaam.
He will be represented at the funerals by Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, an official statement said. “We’re currently mourning the loss of 69 people, the last of whom died while being transferred by helicopter to the national hospital in Dar es Salaam,” Majaliwa told residents in comments broadcast on Tanzanian television.
The number of injured stood at 66, he said. The burials will start Sunday afternoon, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Jenista Mhagama announced during the morning after relatives identified the dead.
“The preparations for the burials have been completed. Individual graves have been dug and the coffins are ready,” Mhagama said, adding that experts would be available to offer psychological counselling to the victims’ relatives.
DNA tests would be carried out on bodies that were no longer recognisable, Mhagama said, adding that families could take the remains of their loved ones and organise their own burials if they preferred.
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In the latest in a series of similar disasters in Africa, 39 seriously hurt patients had been taken to hospital in Dar es Salaam while 17 others were being treated in Morogoro, 200 kilometres (125 miles) west of the economic capital of Tanzania.
Footage from the scene showed the truck engulfed in flames and huge clouds of black smoke, with charred bodies. The burnt-out remains of motorcycle taxis lie scattered on the ground among scorched trees. A video posted on social media showed dozens of people carrying yellow jerricans around the truck.
No-one wanted to listen
“We arrived at the scene with two neighbours just after the truck was overturned. While some good Samaritans were trying to get the driver and the other two people out of the truck, others were jostling each other, equipped with jerricans, to collect petrol,” teacher January Michael told reporters.
“At the same time, someone was trying to pull the battery out of the vehicle. We warned that the truck could explode at any moment but no one wanted to listen, so we went on our way, but we had barely turned on our heels when we heard the explosion.”
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President Magufuli called Saturday for people to stop the dangerous practice of stealing fuel in such a way, a common event in many poor parts of Africa. He issued a statement saying he was “very shocked” by the looting of fuel from damaged vehicles.
“There are vehicles that carry dangerous fuel oil, as in this case in Morogoro, there are others that carry toxic chemicals or explosives, let’s stop this practice, please,” Magufuli said. Last month, 45 people were killed and more than 100 injured in central Nigeria when a petrol tanker crashed and then exploded as people tried to take the fuel.
Among the deadliest such disasters, 292 people lost their lives in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in July 2010, and in September 2015 at least 203 people died the South Sudan town of Maridi.
Kenya’s fossil treasury contains unearthed mysteries
Museum staff knew the bones were something special – they just didn’t know what exactly.
The only hint that something extraordinary lay inside the plain wooden drawer in an unassuming office behind Nairobi National Museum was a handwritten note stuck to the front: “Pull Carefully”.
Inside, a monstrous jawbone with colossal fangs grinned from a bed of tattered foam – the only known remains of a prehistoric mega-carnivore, larger than a polar bear, that researchers only this year declared a new species.
“This is one-of-a-kind,” said Kenyan palaeontologist Job Kibii, holding up the 23-million-year-old bones of the newly-discovered giant, Simbakubwa kutokaafrika, whose unveiling made headlines around the world.
But the remarkable fossils were not unearthed this year, or even this decade. They weren’t even found this century. For nearly 40 years, the specimens – proof of the existence of Africa’s largest-ever predator, a 1,500 kilograms meat-eater that dwarfed later hunters like lions – lived in a nondescript drawer in downtown Nairobi.
Museum staff knew the bones were something special – they just didn’t know what exactly. A source of intrigue dusted off on occasion for guests, Simbakubwa lay in wait, largely forgotten. How did these fossils, first excavated on a dig in western Kenya in the early 1980s, go unrecognised for so long?
Kibii – who presides over the National Museums of Kenya’s palaeontology department, a collection unrivalled in East Africa and one of the world’s great fossil treasuries – has a pretty good idea. “We have tonnes and tonnes of specimens… that haven’t been analysed, Definitely there are things waiting to be discovered,” he said.
Out of space
The main wing has changed little since legendary paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey first started stockpiling his finds there in the early 1960s. A card-based filing system is still used to find a specific fossil among the trove, the entries written by hand.
But the collection has grown exponentially, faster than Kibii and his team can keep up. “We’ve run out of space,” said Kibii, pausing between dusty archival shelves crammed floor to ceiling with finds, dating back more than half a century. “In this section alone, we have more than a million specimens.”
Gigantic skulls of ancient crocodiles compete for space with a bygone species of horned giraffe. Nearby, the behemoth tusks of an early African elephant take up valuable real estate. Even the windowsills are littered with the petrified remains of all manner of weird and wonderful creatures.
Between 7,000 and 10,000 new fossils arrive at the lab every year, Kibii says, overwhelming his 15 staff who must painstakingly clean and log each specimen. By law, fossils uncovered in Kenya must go to the museum for “accessioning” – the process of labelling, recording and storing for future generations. The backlog is enormous.
In a dark room, a lone staff in a protective mask blast away rock from fossil using an air-powered brush, as Kenyan pop tunes crackle through an old radio. Outside the door, metal chests sent from dig sites filled to the brim await his magic touch – literally years of work stretching before him.
If a specific expert is not on hand to identify a specimen, things can get wrongly categorised or waylaid. In some cases, they’re sent to the dreaded “waiting area”, where faded cardboard boxes, sagging with unknown and abandoned fossils, gather dust.
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“We have fossils from the 1980s that have not been accessioned,” said collections manager Francis Muchemi, chipping away at a giant elephant molar.
Cradle of humanity
Simbakubwa met a similar fate. Thought to be a type of hyena, it was filed away in a backroom and unstudied for decades, until stumbled upon by American researchers. Specific finds unearthed at one of Kenya’s many digs by researchers writing academic papers are given priority and fast-tracked for assessment by the museum.
Even today though, the museum lacks specialists and resources. Kibii is one of just seven palaeontologists in Kenya. He trained in South Africa because there was no course available at home.
“It’s important because Kenya is the cradle of human evolution,” said Muchemi, who learned his skills on the job. “We have very few Kenyans doing this job. Ninety-nine per cent of the people who work here are foreign.”
Kibii said palaeontology was considered a lower priority than conserving Africa’s endangered wildlife. “This one has been in the ground for millions of years. What are you saving it from?” he said, of the prevailing attitude to the science.
He hopes to acquire collapsible shelves to create space in the collection. Even better, a micro-CT scanner – a powerful tool driving breakthroughs in the world of palaeontology – would allow a fresh look at the museum’s most-forgotten corners.
“I always wonder what lies in there on some of these shelves,” Kibii said. “Simbakubwa is telling a new story. What if, among these thousands, we have 10, 20, new stories that are lying, waiting to be told? That’s always the mystery.”
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