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Mozambique braces for violent floods after Cyclone Kenneth

Northern Mozambique braces for more violent weather as rescue workers and aid struggle to reach those who need it

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Residents push a car through the floods in Mazive, southern Mozambique, on April 28, 2019. - Heavy rains from a powerful cyclone lashed northern Mozambique on April 27, 2019, sparking fears of flooding as aid workers arrived to assess the damage, just weeks after the country suffered one of the worst storms in its history. Cyclone Kenneth, a Category Three storm on the hurricane scale, made landfall in Mozambique's Cabo Delgado province late on April 25 after swiping the Comoros islands. It made landfall a day later, killing one person and wrecking thousands of homes. (Photo by Emidio Josine / AFP)

Tens of thousands of people in the far north of Mozambique are bracing for violent flooding as torrential rain pushes up water levels, after the death and devastation wrought by Cyclone Kenneth.

The first floods have already been seen in some parts of Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado province, as well as in surrounding areas, lashed by heavy rain since daybreak, AFP journalists reported.

Fields on the outskirts of the city that had been lush green just a day earlier were now brown with floodwater.

“It’s been raining hard since Sunday morning,” said Deborah Nguyen, spokeswoman for the UN World Food Programme. “Violent flooding is expected in and around Pemba.

“We are very worried because, according to the forecasts, heavy rain is expected for the next four days,” she added.

“We expect the rainfall to be twice as much as that which accompanied Cyclone Idai that hit the city of Beira last month.”

Idai hit central Mozambique six weeks ago and communities in that region are still reeling from floods that swept away homes, roads and bridges, leaving around 1,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands without shelter.

This time, around 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) further north, the city of Pemba and its 400,000 inhabitants face similar dangers.

“We are scared”

“Houses started to collapse in Natite neighbourhood, according to the rescue team operating there,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a tweet on Sunday.

“We are unfortunately expecting devastating floods as consequence of #CycloneKenneth’.”

According to figures provided by the Mozambique authorities to NGOs, around 200,000 people in Pemba are in danger.

In the small village of Mieze, around 20 kilometres to the south west, dozens of people gathered hoping to be rescued by boat.

“We are worried about the floods worsening because we don’t know where they will go,” Filomeno Sira, 45, whose home is one kilometre from the growing Mieze floodplain, told AFP.

“The government said we have to go to the top of the hill if the water continues to rise -— and we’ll go. We are scared because we don’t know.”

According to a preliminary toll published Sunday by the National Institute of Disaster Management (INGC), five people have died, more than 23,000 people are without shelter and nearly 35,000 homes have been either partly or completely destroyed.

A number of UN agencies have deployed response teams in Pemba.

To the north of the provincial capital, the town of Macomia was counting the cost of the damage on Sunday, with homes and businesses destroyed, roofs torn off, trees and electric pylons uprooted.

The World Food Programme has started distributing food rations to stranded people, but has been forced to suspend operations to the most isolated areas where roads have been cut off. A helicopter was expected to arrive in Pemba to resume operations as quickly as possible.

Recovery efforts

“We have grave fears for the thousands of families currently taking shelter under the wreckage of their homes. They urgently need food, water and shelter to survive the coming days,” said Nicholas Finney, head of Save the Children’s response team in Mozambique.

“We had information of the storm from the weather service but we didn’t realise the scale of the cyclone until it hit,” Macomia’s mayor, Fernando Neves, told AFP.

“As you can see we are now trying to rebuild our lives after this storm and return to normality… It’s very hard.”

In the town centre, medical staff were having to make do with what they had, with no electricity and no medicine.

“This patient has not eaten and we don’t have anti-malarials,” said Joaquim Benedito, a nurse at the Macomia Health Center, gesturing to Nordine Joao, a frail-looking 15-year-old malaria patient being treated in a supply cupboard.

“He was sleeping outside when the cyclone came.”

The region hit by Cyclone Kenneth is a lot more sparsely populated than Beira, which was hit by Cyclone Idai in mid-March.

Before smashing into Mozambique, Kenneth passed by the Comoros islands.

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Ex-health minister arrested for embezzling Ebola funds in DR Congo

Ilunga, who resigned as health minister in July, was detained while hiding in an apartment in Kinshasa

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DR Congo's health minister resigns after removal from key Ebola response role
Former DR Congo health minister Oly Ilunga. (AFP)

Former DR Congo health minister Oly Ilunga has been arrested over allegations he embezzled public funds to tackle the Ebola epidemic, police said on Saturday.

Ilunga, who resigned as health minister in July after being removed as head of the country’s Ebola response team, was detained while hiding in an apartment in the capital Kinshasa ahead of a bid to flee the country, officers said.

He is in custody due to “misdemeanors of the mismanagement of funds allocated to the Ebola response,” police spokesman Colonel Pierrot-Rombaut Mwanamputu told AFP.

Ilunga will be referred to prosecutors on Monday, he added.

It comes after Ilunga was questioned in August as part of an inquiry into the management of funds to fight the outbreak, which has claimed more than 2,000 lives since August 2018.

Ilunga, 59, had already been banned from leaving the country.

He stepped down after criticising plans by the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) to introduce a new, unlicensed vaccine to fight the epidemic.

His lawyer told AFP in September that some payments had been made to local chiefs after the killing of a WHO doctor in April.

More than 200,000 people have been vaccinated during DR Congo’s tenth and most serious Ebola epidemic.

It is the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014 and 2016.

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Telemedicine revolution saving lives in Ivory Coast

The fledgling technology has long been championed by health advocates for rural economies.

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Telemedicine revolution in saving lives in Ivory Coast

Every time Catherine Coulibaly’s 19-year-old son had to make a routine appointment with the cardiologist for his heart condition, she gritted her teeth as she silently counted the financial cost.

It wasn’t just the hospital fee — there was the transport, food and accommodation, too, all of it amounting to a hefty burden for an Ivorian family on a modest income.

But thanks to telemedicine – consultations that doctors conduct through the internet or by phone – this cost is now a fading memory. 

Her son can book an appointment at a telemedicine facility in a nearby town in northern Ivory Coast.

There, he is attached to monitoring machines which send the data sent to Bouake University Hospital in the centre of the country, where it is scrutinised by a heart doctor.

The fledgling technology has long been championed by health advocates for rural economies.

Ivory Coast has become an African testbed for it, thanks to a project linking the Bouake hospital’s cardiac department with health centres in several northern towns, some of which are a four-hour drive away. 

Telemedicine “caused a sigh of relief for the population of Bouake, Boundiali, Korhogo, everyone,” says Auguste Dosso, president of the “Little Heart” association, which helps families with cardiac health issues.

Some 45 percent of the Ivorian population live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank’s latest estimate in 2017. And the minimum monthly wage — not always respected — is only around $100, or 90 euros. 

Heart disease surging

The pioneer behind the scheme is cardiologist Florent Diby, who set up an association called Wake Up Africa.

In Ivory Coast, heart disease, diabetes and other “lifestyle” ailments are surging, Diby explained. 

“Urbanisation is making people more sedentary, and there’s the rise in tobacco consumption, changes in diet, stress,” Diby said.

Three decades ago, only around one in eight of the Ivorian population had high blood pressure — now the figure is one in four, on a par with parts of Western Europe.

But in Ivory Coast — and across Africa — well-equipped cardiology units are rare.

“Ninety percent of heart attacks can be diagnosed by telemedicine, so for us cardiologists it’s a revolutionary technology,” said Diby.

The beauty of the telemedicine scheme is that neither the doctor nor the patient has to travel far. 

The cardiac patient is hooked up to the electrocardiogram (ECG) and other diagnostic machines with the help of a technician in a local health centre, which is connected to a computer in Bouake’s University Hospital. 

The cardiologist there can then see the results in real time, provide a diagnosis and prescribe treatment. 

The five-year-old project has already linked 10 health centres to the seven cardiologists at Bouake, enabling 4,800 patients in other towns to receive consultations by telemedicine each year. The goal is to expand this to 20 sites, doubling the intake.

Expertise France, the French public agency for international technical assistance, subsidises up to 185,000 euros of the network, which pays for equipment such as computers, artificial intelligence software and internet connections. 

Diby is now calling for telemedicine to be expanded in other medical fields such as neurology and psychiatry, not just in the Ivory Coast, but across West Africa too. 

That opinion is shared by other experts. Sixty per cent of Africans live in rural areas, where shortages of doctors are usually acute.

But numerous hurdles need to be overcome, especially investment in computers and access to the internet, according to a 2013 analysis published by the US National Library of Medicine. 

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Moroccan journalist arrested over “Illegal abortion”

Rights groups urged Moroccan authorities to release her, as her lawyers have firmly denied the “illegal abortion” charge.

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hajar raissouni
Hajar Raissouni. Photo credit - Amnesty.org

Hajar Raissouni writes for the Arabic-language daily Akhbar Al-Yaoum, which has a history of run-ins with the authorities.

She was arrested as she left a clinic in Rabat where her lawyer Saad Sahli said she had been undergoing treatment for internal bleeding. 

But the 28-year-old was examined by a medic and the prosecution said she showed signs of pregnancy and of having undergone a “late voluntary abortion”.

In a statement, it insisted her detention had “nothing to do with her profession as a journalist”.

On Friday, Rights groups urged Moroccan authorities to immediately release her, as her lawyers have firmly denied the “illegal abortion” charge.

Raissouni, who is religiously but not yet legally married, is also accused of having “sexual relations outside marriage” and faces a court hearing on Monday.

Her lawyers are lodging a complaint against police for forcing her to have a medical examination, her uncle Souleymane Raissouni told AFP.  

Also arrested were her fiancee, a doctor, a nurse and a secretary. 

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International on Friday joined social media users in calling for her release.

“Instead of intimidating Hajar Raissouni by prosecuting her on unjust charges, the authorities should immediately and unconditionally release her,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty’s regional director.

Ahmed Benchemsi, regional communications director at HRW, echoed Morayef’s call for all charges to be dropped.

The case had “a whiff of political manipulation since the defendant is a reporter from one of Morocco’s last newspapers,” he said.

Touafik Bouachrine, the owner of Raissouni’s newspaper, was sentenced in November to 12 years in prison on charges of rape and other offences.

He also denies all charges and his lawyers say his trial was politically motivated.

Raissouni’s arrest sparked heated debate online, and some 150 journalists signed a petition against “campaigns of defamation” against her.

Moroccan law punishes abortions with up to five years in prison, except in cases where the life of the mother is in danger.

However, NGOs say up to 800 women have clandestine abortions every day in the North African country.

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