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The township road that is a fitness ”club”

It has no name, members or structure, and each group does its own routines.

Kathleen Ndongmo

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Youths going through their morning exercise routine - AFP

On a road over a railway track outside the Zimbabwean city of Bulawayo, about 30 people from surrounding townships go through their morning exercise routines.

The wide stretch of road is a well-known gathering spot each morning from 5 to 7 am for fitness enthusiasts who stretch, jog, shadow-box, plank and do squats, push-ups, sit-ups and jumps.

The nearby townships of Emakhandeni and Cowdray Park have scant health facilities, and the bridge is a safe, social spot for anyone looking to burn some calories at the start of the day.

Emmanuel Sibanda, a 25-year-old mechanical engineer, does stretching exercises early in the morning on the side of the road near the township of Emakhandeni, outside the Zimbabwean city of Bulawayo. – The wide stretch of road is a well-known gathering spot each morning from 5 to 7 am for fitness enthusiasts who stretch, jog, shadow-box, plank and do squats, push-ups, sit-ups and jumps. (Photo by Zinyange Auntony / AFP)

On Sunday, two young footballers did warm-up drills under the eye of their coach, groups of men worked out together and a couple shared a laugh as they exercised while small children joined in.

“I come with my sisters as early as we can, like at 5 am, and we come every day,” said Sidumsile Mthethwa, a 20-year-old arts student. “On Sundays we come before church.

“It keeps kids busy, and it allows us to spend time together — others come from different places around so we meet here.

“We connect as young people and we get to know each other better.”

No pain, no gain

“There’s a local gym but there’s no equipment,” said Emmanuel Sibanda, 25, a keen bodybuilder. “We come here because it is a way to lose weight and look good. People want to be healthy.”

The fitness “club” has no name, members or structure, and each group does its own routines, with some bringing along music on mobile phones or small hand-held stereos.

They use the road curbs for step exercises and drainage holes for their feet when doing sit-ups, or they sprint up and down the steep embankment from the bridge down to the railway tracks.

Some also jog along the railway, from one concrete sleeper to the next.

“That’s not the best exercise — it could lead to injury,” warned amateur football coach Julius Ndlovu, who brought two young players from a local side for pre-season training before matches start in March.

People workout on a bridge near the township of Emakhandeni, outside the Zimbabwean city of Bulawayo. (Photo by Zinyange Auntony / AFP)

“Many kids take drugs but if they come here in the morning they avoid that,” he said.

“Fitness is the key to a healthy life — you have to fight against high blood pressure and diabetes.”

As the morning progresses, traffic picks up and the small crowd clears off the road to allow cars, trucks and buses to hurtle past on their way to and from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city.

The session ends with a coordinated exercise when about eight pairs run towards each other from either side of the road.

They jump in the air 10 times, clapping their partner’s hand each time in a final burst of energy.

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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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