Connect with us

Global Affairs

‘They thought Covid only kills white people’: myths and fear hinder jabs in DRC | Democratic Republic of the Congo

Voice Of EU

Published

on

Dr Christian Mayala and Dr Rodin Nzembuni Nduku sit together on a bench outside the Covid ward at Kinshasa’s Mama Yemo hospital.

They are discussing the health of their father, Noel Kalouda, who contracted coronavirus weeks before, and is now lying in a hospital bed, breathing through an oxygen mask.

Despite the brothers’ medical knowledge, and vaccines being available to them in the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), all three men had chosen not to get vaccinated because of fears over potential side-effects of the only jab available, the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“On social media, there was a story about a guy who died 20 hours after getting vaccinated. Things like this make me scared to get the vaccine,” said Nduku.

Just over 86,000 doses have been administered – enough to vaccinate under 0.1% of the country’s population of 90 million.

Already facing shortages and huge logistical challenges in getting vaccines out to people in far-flung areas, experts worry that distrust of pharmaceutical products will further undermine the global fight against Covid.

While anger grows over the failures of rich countries to supply enough vaccines to poorer ones, vaccine hesitancy of citizens has been overlooked, epidemiologists warn.

Mimi Henriette Mishika takes an AstraZeneca vial out of cold storage to begin the first vaccinations of the day at Kinshasa’s Clinique Ngaliema.
Mimi Henriette Mishika takes an AstraZeneca vial out of cold storage to begin the first vaccinations of the day at Kinshasa’s Clinique Ngaliema. Photograph: Lisa Murray

Prof Pascal Lutumba, of the University of Kinshasa’s department of infectious diseases, said: “If people in Congo remain unvaccinated, the South African variant could meet with the Delta variant and the virus could mutate into a variant that is resistant to some vaccines.

“If a Congo variant arrives in a country like the UK, which has high vaccination rates, it could put them back into the same position they were at the beginning of the pandemic. They’d have to get vaccinated again with a new vaccine,” Lutumba said.

“We would be back to square one,” said Dr William Schaffner, a professor at Vanderbilt University medical centre in Nashville, US.

Félix Tshisekedi, DRC president
Félix Tshisekedi, DRC president, admitted he had not yet had the vaccine. Photograph: Ludovic Marin/EPA

The Delta variant represents up to 79% of infections sequenced in DRC, according to figures released by the World Health Organization last month.

The country had officially recorded 50,529 cases and 1,045 Covid-related deaths by 4 August, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, but the virus has torn through the DRC’s elite. In May the vice-president of the Congolese national assembly said the pandemic had killed as many as 32 MPs – about 5% of the total.

Setting the tone for vaccine scepticism, the DRC’s president, Félix Tshisekedi, admitted last month he had not yet had the vaccine.

“We were ready to launch the vaccination campaign. The day before, I saw this [misleading] information on television first and then in social networks,” Tshisekedi told journalists.

The DRC has only received AstraZeneca vaccines so far, but according to Dr Jean-Jacques Muyembe-Tamfum, the country’s head of Covid response, new vaccines are expected to arrive this month, which should include different brands – which both Muyembe-Tamfum and the president have said they will take.

Nduku said: “The president said that he doesn’t trust AstraZeneca, so that makes me doubt it … I would die of anxiety if I took this vaccine, because of how the president described it. I would be worried that I was going to die.”

On 2 March DRC received 1.7m doses from Covax, the global vaccine-sharing scheme, but delayed the rollout until April after several European countries suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in response to reports of side-effects involving rare blood clots. About 75% of the shots were relocated to other African countries to be used before they expired. Since then the rollout has been sluggish.

Airport workers in Ghana load a lorry with 350,000 AstraZeneca doses in May
Airport workers in Ghana load a lorry with 350,000 AstraZeneca doses in May, redeployed from the DRC amid low vaccine uptake there. Photograph: Francis Kokoroko/Reuters

Delivering vaccines across a vast, forested country divided by large rivers and with poor infrastructure is a challenge in itself. The DRC is almost the size of western Europe yet has under 2,000 miles (3,000km) of paved roads, less than 1% of the total in the UK.

Willingness to have a Covid vaccine in the DRC was reported to be the lowest in 15 countries surveyed by the African Union between August and December last year, with 38% of people surveyed in the DRC unwilling to be vaccinated compared with just 4% in Ethiopia.

More than 70% of healthcare workers in the country said they would not take the vaccine, according to a study published by Vaccines journal in February.

The failure over healthcare messaging historically has had catastrophic consequences here. An Ebola outbreak in the eastern DRC in 2018 killed more than 2,200 people as international aid agencies and health authorities failed to communicate effectively with people and communities, to properly train health workers and to explain consent in local languages, according to the World Bank.

two men walk past Clinique Ngaliema in Kinshasa.
Clinique Ngaliema in Kinshasa. Despite the vaccine being freely available at the public hospital, even most DRC healthcare workers refuse to get a jab. Photograph: Lisa Murray

Healthcare workers who spoke to the Guardian in Kinshasa said these mistakes had been repeated with Covid as the government has failed to adequately explain the severity of the virus, allowing disinformation to spread.

“People were getting all sorts of messages from the churches – for example, that Covid was created to finish off Africans. The small churches were spreading many messages that Covid was not real, said Dr Cris Kacita Osako, an epidemiologist who worked on the government’s Covid response last year.

Meanwhile, as they hope for their father’s recovery, Nduku and his brother are torn. “People didn’t believe it,” said a doctor at the hospital, Jean-Paul Nsimba. “They resisted, they doubted its existence. They thought it was a disease that killed white people.”

Source link

Global Affairs

Twenty-five ethnic Pamiris killed by security forces in Tajikistan protests | Global development

Voice Of EU

Published

on

At least 25 people were killed on Wednesday by security forces in Tajikistan during a protest in the autonomous region of Gorno-Badakhshan (GBAO), where the Tajik regime has targeted the Pamiri ethnic minority.

The deaths mark an escalation of violence in the region. Conflict between the central government and the Pamiri has continued for decades, with the cultural and linguistic minority ethnic group suffering human rights abuses, as well as discrimination over jobs and housing.

The Pamir region has been the only place in Tajikstan where anti-government protesters still take to the streets, despite the authoritarian pro-Kremlin regime.

According to witnesses, several hundred residents of Khorog, the capital of GBAO, gathered at the weekend to call for the dismissal of the governor and the release of demonstrators arrested for participation in a protest in November, when three men were killed and 17 wounded by security forces.

Protests continued until Wednesday when, as people marched to the main square in Khorog, security forces blocked the road and allegedly started firing rubber bullets, stun grenades and teargas at the protesters, killing at least 25 people.

Map of Tajikistan showing region

The Tajik government claimed “members of an organised criminal group” had blocked the highway “in order to destabilise the social and political situation”.

In a statement on the state news agency, Khovar, the interior ministry said: “Law enforcement agencies have begun an anti-terror operation … in a restive region that borders Afghanistan and China and has long been a flashpoint of tensions.”

The Tajik authorities claimed that arms and support from foreign “terrorist organisations” were coming in to the Pamiri region.

“The organised criminal groups did not comply with the lawful demands of law-enforcement officers to hand over their weapons and ammunition, and put up armed resistance,” the interior ministry said.

But activists said their protests had been peaceful. “The government is branding and naming the peaceful protesters as ‘terrorists’, which is a complete fake, and then using that as an excuse to shoot at them,” said one Pamiri activist who cannot be named for security reasons.

During the Tajikistan civil war from 1992 to 1997, thousands of Pamiris were killed in what some human rights activists have described as “ethnic cleansing”.

In 2012, during clashes seen by many in GBAO as an attempt by the Tajik government to bring the autonomous region under its full control, at least 40 civilians were killed.

In February, parents of men killed by Tajik forces during a protest in November called on the international community to step in and protect ethnic minority groups.

Families have demanded that the soldiers responsible for killing their sons be brought to justice and urged the United Nations to intervene.

Guards in old-fashioned shako hats salute two men as they walk through huge golden doors
Tajikistan’s president, Emomali Rahmon, right, at Monday’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. Photograph: Mikhael Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin/EPA

Tajikistan’s president of 28 years, Emomali Rahmon, who met the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, on Monday, is seen by the Pamiri as wanting to take control of Gorno-Badakhshan.

Neil Clarke, head of the legal programme at Minority Rights Group International, told the Guardian: “The deteriorating human rights situation in the region is leaving the population, who are mainly Indigenous peoples and ethnic and linguistic minorities, at serious risk of harm.

“We now believe that without urgent measures, the situation could escalate towards increasing conflict,” he said. “The widespread harassment of the population of GBAO by authorities including the police, security and military personnel appears increasingly systematic. These include wide-ranging forms of surveillance and invasions of privacy, arbitrary detention and the use of coercion to obtain signatures and/or public statements against the will of the individual.”

Since November security checkpoints have been reinforced, and hundreds of people who took part in the demonstrations have been arrested or banned from leaving the region. Clarke said the latest deaths marked renewed efforts to suppress the Pamiri.

“Authorities have reinstated a blockade on internet connection in the region and have again begun to arrest and detain prominent civil society leaders and independent individuals under the alleged pretext of an ‘anti-terror operation’,” he said.

“Pamiri people are not the terrorists. We are calling for urgent measures by Tajikistan authorities to de-escalate the developing conflict, by restoring and ensuring the respect for human rights in GBAO and most urgently call on authorities to release the activist Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoeva and others who have been detained and interrogated by security forces, without due process, as part of efforts to silence the voice of Pamiri activists.”

Since crackdowns on opposition groups in 2014 in Tajikistan, it is thought that 15 activists who left the country have disappeared in Russia or Turkey.

Source link

Continue Reading

Global Affairs

Anne Frank: who gave her up to the Nazis? | International

Voice Of EU

Published

on

A book published in the Netherlands in January has caused a stir with it’s claim that a local Jewish notary was the one who revealed the annex in which Anne Frank and her family were hiding to the Nazis, whosubsequently deported the young girl, her sister, and their parents, to a concentration camp.

The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation, is authored by Canadian biographer and poet Rosemary Sullivan. The Betrayal recounts the work of a team made led by Dutch journalist Pieter van Twisk and including American Vince Pankoke, a former FBI agent It has been released throughout the world and encountered no problems, except for in the Netherlands where the publisher Ambo Anthos, withdrew it in February, apologizing “to anyone who was offended.”

The group set out to address the fate of Anne Frank as a cold case — an unsolved crime — and have used artificial intelligence and data processing as well as consulting a behavioral psychologist. They considered why a respected Jewish notary might have informed the Nazis of the Frank family’s hideout at 263 Prinsengracht in the Dutch capital. Over six years the team has ruled out about 30 suspects and scores of possibilities, attempting to fill gaps in information as time has elapsed.

Of the Frank family that had been hidden in the annex, only the father, Otto Frank, returned from the death camps. His daughter is a global icon, with her diary and her fate a symbol of innocence in tragedy.

Sullivan’s book says it is “almost certain” that the Dutch Jewish Council had a list of locations where people were in hiding, on which the Frank family’s may have been included.

The book notes that Arnold van den Bergh, a member of the Council, had contacts in high Nazi circles. So, “he could have given that list up at any time.”

To approach a cold case, one begins by reviewing all previous investigations for new clues. Speaking to EL PAÍS by phone, Vince Pankoke says that in this process one might speculate on what happened, and analyze the personality and biography of the suspects.

Pankoke says that, “we are not 100% sure,” the team found that van den Bergh was the most likely person to have triggered the raid in which Nazi police found the Franks.

“Although we cannot prove it beyond a reasonable doubt,” continues Pankoke, the team felt compelled to share their conclusions, because “it could have been a time bomb if discovered by anti-Semitic or neo-Nazi groups,” adding that the notary would have done so to save himself and his own family.

The speculation in the book has troubled several Dutch historians who specialize in the Holocaust and in the Dutch Jewish Council itself.

Bart van der Boom, a professor at the University of Leiden, says there is no evidence that the Council had the addresses of people in hiding.

Council members were respected people in the Jewish community, who “believed that opposing the Nazis would be much worse” than accepting the creation of the Council, a Nazi initiative.

“The idea that they would give a list to the Nazis is ridiculous,” says van der Boom.

“Jewish leaders did not decide who would be deported and they did not take charge of gathering people for it.” That suggestion, adds the professor, “is one of the numerous errors of the book.”

Van der Boom goes on to say that the Dutch Jewish Council “was criticized by everyone after the war for collaborating with the occupier, and there were Nazis who tried to blame it to save themselves.”

In the book, van der Boom says that the cold case team points to a German translator’s statement that they had heard the Council had the lists, and “that information is not credible.”

Indeed, in the historian’s expert opinion, the book is “an amateur work; all smoke and mirrors.”

Van der Boom has written to Rosemary Sullivan, in an appeal, he says, to her academic conscience. He tells EL PAÍS that Sullivan responded “that she trusts the research.”

Both van der Boom and his colleague, Bart Wallet, Professor of Jewish History at the University of Amsterdam, are particularly appalled at a sentence by the author in the English version.

After stating that van den Berg, who died in 1950, “saved his family by giving the Nazis addresses, including 263 Prinsengracht,” Sullivan writes: “Perhaps he also paid a price. He died of throat cancer. In a strange way, it was appropriate: he lost the ability to speak.”

Wallet states firmly that an academic peer review process would not have permitted the book to be published in its current form.

Pieter van Twisk, the Dutch journalist, admits that the team expected criticism, especially in the Netherlands.

“I was not prepared, however, for the toxic atmosphere [that has been] created,” says van Twisk.

“We were not [deliberately] looking for a Jewish traitor, as has been suggested, and we believe that Otto Frank knew or suspected who ratted them out, because he said he did not want his children to suffer for it.”

“There are specialists who agree with us and do not dare to speak in order to preserve their reputation. It’s ridiculous.”

It also seems to van Twisk that the Dutch publisher Ambo Anthos has dropped the book for fear of a lawsuit by members of the van den Bergh family: “I didn’t want to go to court with victims of the Holocaust.”

Pankoke, for his part, indicates that the book “is Rosemary Sullivan’s interpretation of the interviews she did with us and the reports of our work. There is a difference between what she interprets and the investigation itself.”

At any rate, Pankoke notes, “collaboration with the Nazis and the fate of Anne Frank” is a highly sensitive topic in the Netherlands.

The other main piece of evidence presented in the work is an anonymous note about the betrayal, sent after the war to Otto Frank. The original has not been found, but a copy of the writing, known to academics, was among the documents of a Dutch police investigator, Arend van Helden, who investigated the matter between 1963 and 1964. The note says that Van den Bergh revealed the Franks’ hideout to the Nazis, and that the department that received the tip-off “had a list of addresses (of Jewish people in hiding) also provided by him.”

Forensic examination by Pankoke’s team confirmed that the copy “had come off Otto Frank’s typewriter a couple of years before 1959.”

The team explored whether “the note was taken seriously in its day and if the lead was good.”

After discovering “that due diligence, an adequate review, had not been applied to confirm the allegations,” Pankoke’s team deemed it a legitimate piece of evidence.

For Bart Wallet, the person who wrote it “misquotes the Nazi institutions, showing a lack of inside knowledge to make such a statement about the notary.”

Such notes, Wallet continues, were frequently sent between people after the war “as gossip, or to settle scores.”

In Wallet’s opinion, if the list of hidden Jews had existed, “we would be facing one of the greatest traitors of the war and it would have been known, preventing his return to civilian life.”

To all of the above, there are added doubts about the whereabouts of the notary after the beginning of 1944. Anne Frank and her family were found by the Nazis in August of that year. Pankoke points out that van den Bergh “was trying to go unnoticed or else he hid, because details are missing here.”

However, another Dutch historian has just found a wartime diary with an entry that places the notary in the town of Laren, near Amsterdam. Van den Bergh obtained the necessary documentation to pass himself off as only partly Jewish, and thus had freedom of movement. But a Nazi colleague who wanted his office had gotten that declaration annulled.

Due to this, and with his three daughters hidden since the end of 1943, the two historians consulted believe that van den Bergh and his wife went into hiding at the beginning of 1944, according to reports from his descendants in the 1970s, as the family had survived.

Regarding the response of historians in the Netherlands to the book, Pankoke suspects a case of “academic arrogance.”

“When historians don’t like our findings, they reject them. That the notary went into hiding does not prove that he did not give the lists to the Nazis before, or later.”

“In addition, academics state that he was a good person,” but, “I know from experience that decent people can do terrible things,” the former FBI agent concludes.

Source link

Continue Reading

Global Affairs

Under the volcano: a year after Mount Nyiragongo’s eruption, people of Goma start to rebuild their lives | Global development

Voice Of EU

Published

on

Source link

Continue Reading

Trending

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates 
directly on your inbox.

You have Successfully Subscribed!