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Sunday, 17th November 2019
4:41:04am

Central Africa

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Health authorities in eastern Congo have introduced a new Ebola vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson, aid group MSF said on Thursday, to help combat the world’s second-worst outbreak of the virus on record.

New tools including vaccines have helped contain the outbreak, second only to the 2013-16 West African outbreak that killed more than 11,300, despite public mistrust and conflict affecting the response in parts of the region.

The new vaccine, which has passed clinical trials but has never been tested in a real-world setting, will be administered to 50,000 people in Goma, a city of two million on the Rwandan border, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said in a statement.

The vaccine, which requires two injections eight weeks apart, will be rolled out alongside another manufactured by Merck, which only requires a single shot. The Merck vaccine has been administered to over 250,000 people since the start of the outbreak in August 2018. 

“The introduction of a second vaccine is not meant to replace [Merck’s] vaccine, but to complement it and hopefully provide us with an additional tool in the fight against future Ebola outbreaks,” said John Johnson, who is leading the project for MSF.

Congo’s epidemic has infected over 3,000 people and killed nearly 2,200 people, however the number of reported new infections has fallen steeply since June.

The Merck shot is being deployed in a strategy known as “ring vaccination”, which aims to control Ebola by identifying and offering the vaccine to contacts of those likely to be infected.

The plan with the addition of the J&J vaccine is to extend protection by providing it to “targeted at-risk populations” in areas where the disease is not yet being actively transmitted, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Four cases of the disease were recorded in Goma this year, but no new cases have been reported in the lakeside city since August.

Some Congolese health officials have criticised the J&J vaccine on the grounds that it has not been properly tested, although it has passed phase I and II clinical trials, and been endorsed by the WHO.

-Reuters

Congolese forces have killed the leader of an offshoot of a Hutu militia in the restive east of the country, the army said on Sunday, two months after killing the leader of the main faction.

Juvenal Musabimana led a splinter group of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a group founded by Hutu officials who fled Rwanda after orchestrating the 1994 genocide.

His killing is the latest blow to the FDLR, which has been weakened in recent years by arrests of several of its leaders and military pressure from Democratic Republic of Congo’s armed forces, the FARDC, and other militias.

The army “neutralised another radical leader of the FDLR on Saturday the ninth of November at 14:00,” said Guillaume Njike, a Congolese army spokesman.

Musabimana, who was also known by his nom de guerre Jean-Michel Africa, was killed alongside four of his bodyguards following an intense firefight in Binza, North Kivu, near the Ugandan border, Njike added.

Congolese forces killed the leader of the main branch of the FDLR, Sylvestre Mudacumura, on Sept. 18.

The group split in a row over ranks and money in 2007, said Christoph Vogel, a researcher at the conflict research programme hosted by the London School of Economics and Ghent University.

“Compared with Mudacumura, (Musabimana) is a small fish so I doubt this is as significant, but it shows that different actors seem to be converging on a more coordinated push against FDLR and anything they define as such.”

Rwanda’s foreign affairs minister Olivier Nduhungirehe said Musabimana’s fighters were responsible for a deadly cross-border attack in October in a mountainous region famous for its mountain gorillas in which eight people died.

“This is an act of justice,” he told Reuters by telephone.

“This is the confirmation of the resolve of (Congolese) President Félix Tshisekedi and the FARDC to eradicate armed groups and terrorist organizations in eastern Congo. We thank them for that.”

The FDLR has also been a source of friction between Rwanda and Uganda in the last year. Rwanda accused Uganda in March of supporting the FDLR and another Congo-based rebel group opposed to the Rwandan government. Uganda denied the allegations.

-Reuters

Central African Republic is considering hosting a Russian military base and would like Moscow to supply it with new weapons, RIA news agency cited the country’s president as saying on Friday.

President Francois Faustin-Archange Touadera made the comments in an interview with RIA a day after Russia gathered dozens of African leaders at a summit in southern Russia aimed at expanding Russian influence on the African continent.

-Reuters 

The International Criminal Court sentenced former Congolese military leader Bosco Ntaganda on Thursday to 30 years in prison for atrocities including murder, rape and conscripting child soldiers.

Ntaganda, 46, was found guilty in July on 18 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for acts committed when he was military chief of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) militia in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002-2003.

At Thursday’s sentencing, Judge Robert Fremr said there were no real mitigating circumstances and issued the 30-year sentence, the longest handed down by the Hague court to date.

“The crimes for which Mr. Ntaganda has been convicted, despite their gravity and his degree of culpability, do not warrant a sentence of life in prison,” Fremr said.

Ntaganda, in a dark suit, listened intently to the judges during the ruling. He is already appealing his conviction. 

In the conflict in Congo, Ntaganda’s UPC, dominated by the Hema clan, targeted rival Lendu people for expulsion from the mineral-rich Ituri region. Hundreds of civilians were killed and many thousands were forced to flee.

During the sentencing, Fremr said that Ntaganda was not only guilty of persecution as a crime against humanity, but that he had also personally murdered a Catholic priest, setting an example for his soldiers to follow.

They also decribed the “systematic rape” of the UPC’s female members by their fellow militants under Ntaganda’s leadership including the rape of a child soldier as young as nine.

Bosco Ntaganda’s 30-year sentence “sends a powerful message that those who commit serious crimes against the people, no matter their positions, can be held to account,” Ida Sawyer, Human Right’s Watch deputy Africa director, said in a statement.

She highlighted that he was only convicted of crimes committed in Ituri province in 2002-2003 and victims also want to see him held accountable for attacks he led in other areas. 

The ICC is an international court set up in 2002 to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity when member states are unable or unwilling to do so.

Ntaganda’s boss, UPC leader Thomas Lubanga, is serving a 14-year prison sentence after his conviction at the ICC on charges of conscripting and using child soldiers.

An ICC warrant for Ntaganda’s arrest was first issued in 2006, and he turned himself in at the U.S. Embassy in neighbouring Rwanda in 2013, apparently having fled Congo due to infighting among military groups.

-Reuters

Ebola is infecting and killing people in a gold mining area of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and the “complex and dangerous” outbreak still constitutes an international emergency, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

The virus has infected 3,227 people and killed 2,154 of them since the outbreak was declared in August 2018 and went on to became the world’s second worst outbreak, it said.

The WHO’s Emergency Committee on Ebola reviewed the situation since declaring the outbreak an international emergency on July 17. In a statement on Friday, it said the epidemic is “currently concentrated in the Mandima health zone in the Biakato mine health area”.

“This outbreak remains a complex and dangerous outbreak,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference, adding that he had accepted the independent panel’s recommendation to maintain the emergency status.

“But one thing would like to underline, even if this Ebola ends it may come back, because there is instability in eastern DRC and political instability and lack of security. These are pre-conditions,” he said.

Fifteen new confirmed cases were reported in North Kivu and Ituri provinces in the week to Oct. 13, the WHO said in its latest update. This compared with nearly 130 cases per week at the peak in April. 

But insecurity and access issues in parts of Mandima, including the Biakato mines, hamper finding infected people and tracing their contacts, as well as ensuring safe burials, it said.

Thirty-one of the 50 Ebola cases reported in the last three weeks were from or linked to Biakato, WHO figures show.

“I do believe there will be further cases to be found in the Biakato mines area,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme.

“The area is that remote and the communities are that deep in the countryside, that it will be another week to two weeks before we can be sure that there is not undetected transmission

in that zone,” he added.

In Mambasa and most of Mandima, experts have a good handle on the virus’ evolution, Ryan said.

“But in the areas of Lwemba and Biakato mine we still don’t have a full picture as to where the virus may be.

“So we don’t believe we are dealing with a catastrophic situation, the numbers are extremely low compared to before, but we don’t fully understand the dynamics of transmission in the Biakoto mine area,” he said.

-Reuters

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