Tag: Ebola


Sierra Leone: Pregnant schoolgirls excluded from school and banned from exams

Thousands of pregnant girls, excluded from mainstream schools and barred from sitting upcoming exams, risk being left behind as Sierra Leone moves forward from the Ebola crisis, Amnesty International reports.

The report, Shamed and blamed: Pregnant girls’ rights at risk in Sierra Leone, reveals how the prohibition, confirmed by the government in April this year and sometimes enforced through humiliating physical checks, not only stigmatizes an estimated 10,000 girls but risks destroying their future life opportunities. With exams scheduled for 23 November, Amnesty International is calling on authorities to immediately lift the ban.

“Excluding pregnant girls from mainstream schools and banning them from sitting crucial exams is discriminatory and will have devastating consequences. Education is a right and not something for governments to arbitrarily take away as a punishment,” said Sabrina Mahtani, Amnesty International’s West Africa Researcher.

“As Sierra Leone moves forward from the devastating Ebola crisis, it is vital that these girls, are not left behind.”

On 2 April the Minister of Education, Science and Technology issued a statement banning pregnant girls from “school settings”. The justification given for this policy – namely to protect “innocent girls” from negative influences – only serves to reinforce stigma through language that blames and shames pregnant girls.

Amnesty International has documented how this ban has been enforced in some schools through humiliating and degrading treatment of girls. Girls have been subjected to degrading physical searches and tests. Some have had their breasts and stomachs felt by teachers to “test” for pregnancy.  Others have been compelled by their school to take pregnancy tests.

Amnesty International interviewed 52 girls, some of whom said they felt scared at the possibility of being accused of being pregnant, while others described the feeling of humiliation at being physically assessed.

One 18 year-old girl told Amnesty International how all girls were checked by teachers before they were allowed to sit an exam:

“They touched our breasts and stomachs to see if we were pregnant. Some girls were made to take urine tests. One of the teachers was wearing gloves when she was checking us. I felt really embarrassed when this happened to me. Many girls left as they were scared the teachers would find out they are pregnant. About 12 pregnant girls did not sit their exams.”

Whilst the way in which girls are “tested” for pregnancy is not part of government policy, the practice is widely known. Amnesty International is calling on the government to issue urgent directives banning such humiliating and degrading treatment of girls.

In late October 2015 temporary alternative classes for pregnant school girls funded until July 2016 by donor countries, particularly Ireland and the UK, were introduced.

While the government claims that more than 3,000 pregnant schoolgirls have registered for this scheme, the classes are held in different premises or at different times to their peers and the girls are still banned from exams. It has also been criticized by local experts for its lack of choice and the stigmatizing effect of persistent exclusion from mainstream education.

Amnesty International urges that the attending of the alternative system, which should be of equal quality and content, be optional for those girls who do not wish to continue at mainstream school.

While some of the girls interviewed by Amnesty International said they support the alternative system, others wanted to attend school with their peers.  Amnesty International has called on the government and the donors to make the alternative system optional for those girls who do not wish to continue at mainstream school.

As the Ebola crisis spread last year, schools in Sierra Leone were closed between June 2014 and April 2015 as part of emergency measures to reduce infection rates. During this period, there was an increase in adolescent pregnancy. Many of these pregnancies resulted from rights violations including failure to protect girls from sexual violence. Quarantines and an already overstretched healthcare system, meant that girls were not able to access sexual and reproductive health support or advice to protect themselves from early and unwanted pregnancies. Sex education in schools is limited and was removed from the curricula after the war over a decade ago.

In 2004, after the end of the civil war, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended that the government stop the practice of excluding pregnant girls from education. The Commission called this practice “discriminatory and archaic”.

“Pregnant girls are being blamed and shamed in Sierra Leone. They are being denied key chances to move forward with their lives, and to ensure early pregnancy does not become the event that determines the rest of their lives,” said Sabrina Mahtani.

“As the country emerges from the Ebola crisis, pregnant girls we met expressed their desire to help build up their country. Many wanted to become much needed nurses, doctors or lawyers. Unless their exclusion from mainstream education is reversed and the ban from sitting exams is lifted these girls’ dreams will not be realized.”

Do They Know Its Christmast​ime At All? : This Is Old Africa….

The Band Aid single. The generational congregation of the most popular musicians of the day is now on its fourth iteration. I have to admit to singing along to the tune back in the day, revelling in its Christmassy feel and gawping whenever a familiar pop star appeared on my screen. “OMG!” “All these stars in the same place at the same time!” “Singing together!” Amazing.

Then you grow up.

unnamed

And when you grow up you begin to read deeper into things. When I first took proper note of the lyrics of the original singles, I turned cold. Over-righteous generalisations, coated and numbed with the voices of artists such as Kylie Minogue and Coldplay. Nothing ever grows in Africa apparently. We don’t have rain, neither rivers, because the only water that flows is the bitter sting of tears. Oh, and the greatest gift Africans will get this year is life. ‘Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?’ On a continent which is home to 500 million Christians, I’d bloody-well think so to be honest.

My twitter time line burned when the new single was first performed on a mid-November edition of X-Factor, with many picking up on the condescending generalising nature of the reworked lyrics for Band Aid 30. The Independent praised the single by pointing out the change of ‘there wont be snow in Africa’ (which they point out is oft criticised for making ‘Africa the country’ generalisations) into ‘no peace and joy this Christmas in West Africa – the only hope they’ll have is being alive.’ Oh. That lyric reads so much better. Not generalising at all.

Byrony Gordon wrote a great article for The Telegraph wondering why the rich-and-famous should only donate their ‘precious’ time, while the rest of us must donate our money? You have to question motives when Sir Bob goes around actively ‘charity-shaming’ multi-award-winning artist Adele for not taking part – what crime has she committed? When Adele is known to be pumping her money into Oxfam’s Ebola Appeal. As we Ghanaians would say, ‘is it by force’ to take part in Band Aid? Surely the fight against Ebola is the main issue, not the means of support? Surely getting as much money into the right places, and increasing the healthcare workforce and supplies, is more important than one single sitting at the top of the singles charts? Right?

unnamed 5

Fuse ODG is the most prominent Ghanaian artist this side of the Atlantic, regularly sitting atop our charts and using his exposure to attempt to deconstruct such archaic views of Africa by publicising TINA – ‘This Is New Africa’ – the Africa which is home to many of the world’s fast-growing economies, a bustling ground for creative talent and gifts. Not a cesspit of famine, war and disease. So it made sense and brought me comfort to hear that Fuse ODG wasn’t blinded by the bright lights of this ‘opportunity’ to share a stage with ‘Harry Styles n Dem’, and saw how damaging to his own message that backing this single would be.

unnamed 2

Because the TINA message is exactly the type of message we need to push. Hard. Personally, I feel that this Ebola epidemic has given a lot of people the platform to play out their latent prejudices about black people, especially Africans – it has become another reason to give us side-eyes, another reason to make sure that the sear next to us on the bus/train is the last one filled, another reason to see us as a potential reservoir for dirty disease by adding itself to a list which already contains HIV/AIDS. But look at the picture shown here – how many countries in Africa are known to actually have confirmed cases of Ebola? And how much mention is made of the one or two others like Nigeria which did have a couple of cases and have now been confirmed as all-clear?

That is my gripe with the BandAid single. That is why I feel Fuse ODG rightly declined to take part in perpetuating this unfortunate image of Africa. Yes, Ebola is a terrible disease. I have to give Sir Bob Geldof some credit when he described Ebola during his appearance on X-Factor as being an ‘Anti-Human’ disease – a disease which splits families apart, which prevents loved ones from directly comforting each other. But it is the generalisations which gets me. Over the past few weeks we have heard stories of Rwandan children in New Jersey being excluded from school, Malian teachers being kept from work, examples of utter madness and opportunism to paint us all as one-and-the-same, refusing to take the time to differentiate between us and appreciate the different unique fibres which make up the rich tapestry of the African continent.

Band Aid may have good intent. But it is still perpetuating that image of Old Africa. And that’s not sitting well with me. 

Not this Christmastime.

Jermaine Bamfo (@Dr_Jabz27)

 

Watch & Wait: Ebola

In early August 2014, the World Health Organisation declared it a ‘global health emergency’

In most of the regions where cases have been reported, mortality rates sit at more than 50%.

Fatality rates can reach 90%. Let’s look at that statistic from another angle – of every 10 people infected, potentially only one will survive.

And there is no cure.

images

First reported in Guinea in February 2014, the Ebola virus now looms large over Africa’s Western region. This is now the worst Ebola outbreak in history. And the facts tell you that Ebola is no joke.
However, as well as the disease utilising the much-improved benefit of 21st century travel to spread from region-to-region, with cases even beginning to be reported in different continents, the trajectory of the disease is seemingly being spread further by riding upon the vehicle of fear and rumour. 24 hour news agencies, unreliable blogs and social-media mash-ups have contributed to distorting the true nature of the outbreak. As serious as Ebola is, they haven’t helped by their scaremongering of the masses with altered stats and false reports. If I had a pound for every time I heard it announced on Twitter or Facebook that Ebola has arrived in Ghana…

 

So what are the facts?

Formerly known as ‘Ebola Haemorrhagic Fever’, the Ebola Virus Disease is introduced into the human population via contact with infected animals – fruit bats are the natural homes of Ebola.

Ebola is then shared around by human-to-human transmission by direct contact through broken skin with infected human bodily fluids or indirect contact with environments which have been contaminated with such fluid (WHO). As such, great care must be taken in even burying Ebola victims, as direct contact with the infected deceased can be a vehicle for transmission. Men who have made a recovery from infection are still able to transmit the virus via semen for up to SEVEN WEEKS after recovery!

untitled 1
Only supportive treatment to manage symptoms, such as rehydrating those who have lost fluid volume via vomiting or diarrhoea, is available. Today, no potential cure has successfully made the jump from the blackboard and laboratory tables to the treatment rooms to be available for use.

With an incubation period of almost 3 weeks, you will not know straightaway if you have been infected. Trust me, once symptoms begin to manifest, you will know about it.

Initial flu-like symptoms such as muscle pain, weakness, headache & sore throat, fast give way to more prominent and devastating symptoms such as pronounced vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and sometimes both internal AND external bleeding. This blood loss invariably leads to death.

The prospect of an outbreak in Ghana is one which is understandably provoking much anxiety amongst our community. Ghana is doing its best to prepare for an outbreak by building 3 isolation centres where infected patients will be kept and cared for, away from the general population.

The government is also planning to run simulations at these isolation centres to help medical staff run through scenarios and to bridge the technical gaps which may affect the success of Ghana’s strategies to fight Ebola. The government has split Ghana into three zones – Northern, Southern and Central – and each zone will have its own single isolation centre. Where it can be easy to lose heads and lose composure, Ghana has rather quietly set its house in order with a clear plan of action – just in case…

untitled

Ebola is a horrible phenomenon which has unfortunately reared its head in an era which makes the virus, and the rumours which surround it, easier to spread than ever, and therefore more difficult to control in equal measure. However, Ghana has a plan. All we can do is be prepared, and wait. And focus on the facts. The rumours will continue to travel faster than the virus ever will. All we can do is watch, and wait.

Jermaine Bamfo (@Dr_Jabz27)