Category: Ebola
Letter from Raúl to medical personnel who fought Ebola in Africa
| July 20, 2015 | 5:33 pm | Cuba, Ebola, political struggle | No comments

Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba and President of the Councils of State and Ministers, recognized the altruism and bravery of the Cuban medical personnel serving in Africa
Havana, July 8, 2015
“Year 57 of the Revolution”

Dearest compañeros:

After having fulfilled the honorable mission which took you to West Africa six months ago, even at the risk of your own lives, to combat the Ebola outbreak which devastated the continent, you returned to the homeland which received you with the utmost pride.

In my name and that of the Cuban people, I convey to you acknowledgement of the heroic work you undertook as part of the “Henry Reeve” International Contingent.
You represent the continuation of the personal altruism and selflessness which has characterized the island’s medical cooperation since it began in 1963, with the sending of the first brigade to Algeria under the leadership of then Minister of Public Health, com­pañero José Ramón Ma­chado Ventura. Over all these years, 158 countries have been able to count on the solidarity work of 325,710 Cuban collaborators.
Today, our medicine is present in 68 nations with more than 50,000 health professionals, a reality which encapsulates the true values cultivated by the Revolution. The assistance offered by each one of the collaborators of the army of white coats stands as an enduring paradigm.

You have achieved important results in providing medical care to those affected by the Ebola epidemic, with more than 400 lives saved and a average death rate of 24.4%, a demonstration of your level of training, devotion and commitment to your work, aspects which have been recognized by the governments themselves and international organizations.

Accept once again our congratulations and a strong embrace,

Raúl Castro Ruz
Last Cuban Doctors Who Fought Ebola Back Home
| May 28, 2015 | 12:12 pm | Cuba, Ebola | No comments
May 27, 2015 
Elio Delgado Legón

All the Cuban doctors have now returned from fighting Ebola in Africa.
HAVANA TIMES — The last Cuban health workers who were combatting the Ebola epidemic in Guinea Conakry returned to the island this past 22nd of May.
For over six months, a brigade of 256 health professionals, belonging to the Henry Reeve internationalist work team, combatted the deadly virus in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, putting their own lives at risk for the sole satisfaction of fulfilling their duty, and in response to the petition made to Cuba by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and World Health Organization Chair Margaret Chan.
An initial team of 158 medical doctors and nurses returned to Cuba from Sierra Leone and Liberia on March 23. Since then, small groups of doctors have been returning to Cuba, until all of those mobilized to Western Africa (where, next to physicians from other countries, they saved lives and halted the spread of the epidemic), had come back. There were two regrettable losses, victims of malaria.
Another brigade from the same contingent traveled to Chile to help save lives and treat those affected by the floods that recently scourged the north of the country.
More recently, following the large-scale earthquake that shook Nepal on April 25, another brigade was deployed to the Asian country, where it set up a field hospital equipped with a surgical unit, a recovery ward and an intensive care unit.
These are only the most recent examples of the immense medical efforts Cuba undertakes around the world, in solidarity with all who require their services anywhere, and it discredits all who deny Cuba’s status as a medical force to be reckoned with, a status it has achieved despite having had to develop in the grip of a tight blockade imposed by the United States over fifty years ago.
The above claim is backed by the declarations made by Dr. Luis Di Fabio, Cuba’s representative before the Pan-American and World Health Organizations (PHO/WHO), who recently stated before the press that Cuba’s primary healthcare system is excellent and that its sanitary system is unique, comprehensive, free and fraternal – and that it ought to be implemented in other countries.
Di Fabio also underscored the medical cooperation initiatives that have been undertaken by Cuba in 151 different countries since the 1960s, initiatives that have involved 325,000 health professionals and have benefited more than a billion patients.
He also referred to Cuba’s medical cooperation efforts (undertaken jointly with the PHO and WHO) in Brazil’s Mais Medicos program, where the island has sent over 11,000 medical professionals to offer services in more than 4,000 municipalities, benefiting 63,000,000 locals who didn’t have access to such services before. He stressed the qualifications of Cuba’s human resources and stated that many of the medical doctors trained in Cuba are today health ministers in their respective countries.
Lastly, he referred to efforts aimed at taking such medical universities to East Timor, Angola, Guinea Bissau and Eritrea, where Cuban professors are training medical personnel to help achieve mass health coverage in those nations.
I have paraphrased the declarations made by Luis Di Fabio, a UN expert who has been in Cuba for quite some time and is aware of the results reported by Cuba’s health system (as well as the dififculties the country has had to face (owing to the way in which companies refuse to sell life-saving medications to Cuba), so that you don’t have to take my word for it. Considering only what this ongoing revolution has done for the health of the Cuban people and many other peoples around the world, we can say that it’s been worth the sacrifice.
West Africa: Ebola Down But Not Out
| May 12, 2015 | 9:00 pm | Africa, Ebola | No comments

AfricaFocus Bulletin
May 11, 2015 (150511)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor’s Note

“The [Ebola] epidemic is at its lowest but not over yet. The recent
weeks have seen an important decrease in new confirmed Ebola cases
across West Africa. Liberia is now close to being declared Ebola-
free on 9 May, while Sierra Leone and Guinea are finally getting
close to zero. However, the outbreak is not over until it’s over at
the regional level.” – Doctors without Borders, May 6 update

For a version of this Bulletin in html format, more suitable for
printing, go to http://www.africafocus.org/docs15/eb1505.php, and
click on “format for print or mobile.”

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The welcome announcement that Liberia is now “Ebola-free,” having
passed 42 days without a case of Ebola, came with many caveats. The
full picture includes the continuation of new cases in neighboring
Guinea and Sierra Leone. It also includes the massive damage done to
the preexisting inadequate health systems, jobs lost and education
postponed, and, recently, the discovery that even Ebola survivors
are likely to have ongoing after-effects.

Internationally, while there is much attention given to “lessons
learned” and the need for ongoing improvement in health systems and
preparedness for health emergencies still to come, the resources to
implement the lessons learned are still largely missing from the
budgets of international agencies. The burden still falls primarily
on health workers in the countries themselves, who have already made
heroic sacrifices.

For a short video (9 minutes) featuring Sierra Leoneans responsible
for the difficult task of “getting to zero,” see the latest Ebola on
the Ground episode from OkayAfrica and Ebola Deeply, at
http://tinyurl.com/lzmh47l

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a brief excerpt from the latest
Ebola update from Doctors without Borders and longer excerpts from a
feature article from Ebola Deeply on the difficulties of “getting to
zero” in Sierra Leone.

Also recent and of related interest

Long-term impact of Ebola in Sierra Leone Guardian, May 8, 2015
http://tinyurl.com/m79heoh

Interview with Dan Edge, director of PBS documentary Outbreak,
tracing path of Ebola & mistakes made in the response
http://tinyurl.com/ngsx9mc The 54-minute video is available at
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/outbreak/

Perseverance in Life and Art: African Voices on Ebola
http://usanafricanvoicesebola.weebly.com/

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Ebola and other health issues,
visit http://www.africafocus.org/healthexp.php

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor’s note+++++++++++++++++

Ebola crisis update – 6 May 2015

[Excerpt. Original at
http://www.msf.org/article/ebola-crisis-update-6-may-2015]

Liberia: Zero cases since 20 March 2015 Guinea: 9 confirmed cases in
the country on 4 May. Sierra Leone: 21 confirmed cases in the
country on 27 April: 6 new cases (3 in Kambia, 3 in Western Area)
from 22-29 April

MSF Staff on ground (as of 21 April)

Total: 185 international and about 1,150 national Guinea: 83
international, around 500 national Sierra Leone: 61 international,
around 310 national Liberia: 39 international, around 350 national

Overview

The epidemic is at its lowest but not over yet

The recent weeks have seen an important decrease in new confirmed
Ebola cases across West Africa. Liberia is now close to being
declared Ebola-free on 9 May, while Sierra Leone and Guinea are
finally getting close to zero. However, the outbreak is not over
until it’s over at the regional level. No country can really be
thought to be Ebola-free until all three countries in the outbreak
have no recorded cases for 42 days.

Even after the end of this outbreak, West Africa will have to remain
vigilant against a re-emergence of Ebola; there must be strengthened
epidemiological surveillance and a rapid response alert system for
when – rather than if, a new Ebola case occurs.

Key ‘pillars’ of the response are still missing

Regional cooperation: Given the high mobility of the population
across the three most-affected countries, surveillance must be
ensured across borders and coordinated on the regional level to
avoid new cases to be ‘imported’ in Ebola-free zones.

Community awareness remains low in some areas, raising the risk of
local people panicking, which can lead to violence against medical
and aid workers. Community mobilization and sensitization efforts
supported by national and local leaders must be reinforced rapidly.

Non-Ebola needs are a persisting concern

Already weak public health systems have been seriously damaged by
the epidemic. The long period of interrupted health services has
caused significant gaps in preventive activities, such as routine
immunization of children, and in retention in care for people on
long-term treatments such as HIV and other chronic diseases. There
is a need to catch up and mitigate the consequences of the treatment
interruption.

***********************************************************

Why Sierra Leone Can’t Get Rid of Ebola

April 23rd, 2015 by Mark Honigsbaum

http://www.eboladeeply.org

[Excerpts: for full report visit http://tinyurl.com/occ3vxs]

Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, the president of the Republic of Sierra
Leone, was having trouble “getting to zero,” and his underlings were
getting antsy. “We need one more push,” said Major Palo Conteh, the
commander of Sierra Leone’s National Ebola Response Centre (NERC)
and a former Olympic quarter miler. “It’s like in the 400 meters
when you’re 20 meters from the finish line, that’s the time to kick
hard.”

Brigadier General David Taluva, a jovial officer with the physique
of a shot putter, had other ideas. “Perhaps we should quarantine
Port Loko,” he mused to a group of officers gathered outside a
Portakabin by the Special Court building in Freetown, now
transformed into an Ebola situation room. “No, wait, then we would
have to quarantine the whole country.”

The officers shuffled their feet awkwardly, then parted to make way
for an official who was late for that evening’s briefing.

Taluva was joking, but of course Ebola is no laughing matter. Port
Loko is one of the most populous districts in Sierra Leone and the
site of Lungi International Airport. Quarantine Port Loko and you
effectively cut the flow of international health workers and aid to
President Koroma’s beleaguered administration. The problem is that
Port Loko, or to be more precise, Lokomasama – the district to the
north of Freetown – is scored with shallow swamps and twisting
rivers perfect for evading the Ebola control measures. And, since
February, that is exactly what fishermen and recalcitrant villagers
in Lokomasama have been doing. The result has been new clusters of
infection up and down the country, frustrating the effort to “get to
zero,” as the World Health Organization (WHO) calls the elimination
of Ebola transmissions (getting to zero requires no new cases to be
reported in a country for 42 days, double the maximum incubation
period of the virus).

“I fear that people have grown complacent,” sighed Professor Monty
Jones, the president’s special adviser, when I caught up with him in
early March at the State House, an imposing stone building with
uninterrupted views over Freetown to Susan’s Bay and Destruction
Bay. “The epidemic has been going on too long. They just want life
to return to normal.”

***

It was a refrain I was to hear again and again during an 11-day tour
of the country that took me from the sun-kissed beaches of Aberdeen
– where during daylight hours fishermen reel in glistening
barracudas and pots stuffed with outsized lobsters – to a surreal
meeting of tribal chiefs and frustrated British officials at Port
Loko, to an overgrown graveyard in Kenema, the district in the far
east of the country where Ebola first erupted in Sierra Leone in May
2014. On the way I met traumatized survivors, inspiring community
activists, and stressed-out scientists doing their best to launch
trials of experimental vaccines and drugs in difficult conditions.

Zero transmission of Ebola is theoretically achievable. Indeed, it
is argued nothing less will do, and that unless and until the last
case is found and safely isolated, there will always be a threat of
Ebola rebounding. That is surely right. The question is, at what
cost will containment be achieved?

***

A major exporter of diamonds and iron ore, Sierra Leone is rich in
natural resources and, until Ebola, had one of the fastest growing
economies in the world. Now mechanical diggers lie idle beside the
red, African earth, and investment from China and other foreign
sources has stalled. … Sierra Leone was once a popular tourist
destination: the airport is just meters from a gorgeous sandy beach

That image was all but erased by the country’s brutal 11-year civil
war, which only ended in 2002 when British troops helped expel rebel
forces from the outskirts of Freetown. Then came a second blow:
Ebola.

One of the tragedies of the outbreak in Sierra Leone is that it
might have been avoided had WHO acted more decisively at the
beginning of the epidemic. The first official acknowledgment of
Ebola came on March 23, 2014 when WHO was notified of 49 cases and
29 deaths in Guéckédou, a small village bordering a forested area of
southern Guinea inhabited by wild bats, the presumed reservoir of
the virus. Within a week Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was
reporting an epidemic of “unprecedented” magnitude and the spread of
infections to Liberia. Kailahun, Sierra Leone’s most easterly
province, which shares a border with both Guinea and Liberia, was
the obvious next port of call for the virus. Indeed, in April, Dr.
Sheik Humarr Khan, the chief physician on the Lassa fever ward at
Kenema Hospital, who at the time had the only laboratory in the
country capable of testing for Ebola, began warning nurses that
Ebola was ‘coming’ and they had better be ready. But by the time Dr.
Khan confirmed the first positive blood sample on May 24, from a
nurse who had attended the funeral of a traditional healer in Koindu
in northern Kailahun, it was too late: staff had already admitted a
pregnant woman infected with Ebola to the maternity ward. Within
days the ward was overrun with Ebola cases, the majority of them
other funeral goers or their contacts. In all, ten staff would die
battling the virus between May and August, including Dr. Khan and
the hospital’s chief nurse, Mbalu Fonnie.

Kailahun was Sierra Leone’s “shark in the water” moment. Knowing
that a deadly predator had strayed into its territory, the Ministry
of Health should have closed the road between Koindu and Kenema and
flooded Kailahun with health workers and contact tracers –
epidemiological teams equipped to rapidly trace and isolate
infectious patients and their contacts. But at the time Sierra Leone
had just 1,000 nurses and midwives for the whole country. Besides,
at this stage few of the so-called experts, including WHO, seemed to
think there was a danger of Ebola reaching a major town or city –
and those WHO officials in Geneva who did see the danger thought an
international health alert would be counterproductive, stoking
needless fear and hysteria at a time …

But, of course, everything was not fine. To date there have been
12,265 Ebola cases in Sierra Leone – more than any other country in
West Africa – and though Liberia has suffered more fatalities (4,486
to Sierra Leone’s 3,877), in Liberia the epidemic peaked in mid-
September, whereas in Sierra Leone infections climbed steadily
throughout the autumn before peaking at a much higher level in early
December. As new Ebola treatment centers came online and burial
squads – backed by an army of international contact tracers and
outreach workers – descended on rural communities to promote safe
hygiene messages, cases declined – but at the end of January that
decline stalled. Since then the Ebola reduction effort has
plateaued, with the weekly case totals stuck in the mid-70s for most
of February and the mid-50s in March.

To get a measure of the challenges facing President Koroma on what
many officials are calling the “bumpy road to zero,” I headed to
Port Loko, where the coordinator of the local District Ebola
Response Center, Raymond Kabia, had called a meeting of the
district’s 12 political leaders, known as paramount chiefs, in order
to address the continued flouting of quarantine measures and
restrictions on ‘unsafe’ burials. The idea was to get the chiefs to
take ownership of Ebola control, but as we sped through unattended
checkpoints and past banners scrawled with fading Krio messages
(“Ebola nor touch am” – “Ebola don’t touch”), the auguries were not
good. A few weeks earlier, a fisherman from Lokomasama infected with
the virus had ignored the official requirement to report to an Ebola
assessment unit, and instead had persuaded three friends to ferry
him to a remote island in the Rhombe swamps. There he consulted a
traditional healer before continuing along Port Loko’s mosquito-
infested coast to Freetown, where he alighted at a wharf in
Aberdeen, a stone’s throw from the Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko, the
city’s premier hotel, then host to more than 50 staff from the US
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

By now the fisherman was a walking virus bomb, and on disembarking
made straight for an Oxfam-built toilet block, where he vomited
hemorrhagic fluids. As a result, 20 villagers in the Tamba Kula
district of Aberdeen were also infected with Ebola, prompting the
quarantining of the community for 21 days. In theory that should
have been the end of the transmission chain, but despite the best
efforts of contact tracers, one of the contacts got away – hitching
a ride on the back of a motorcycle to Makeni, three hours from
Freetown, where he infected three more people, including a
traditional healer. All four were now being ‘offered’ life-saving
treatment at an Ebola treatment center in Makeni operated by the
International Rescue Committee (IRC), the relief agency headed by
David Miliband. I say offered because, according to the nurse from
Public Health England I spoke to, several patients were refusing
treatment, fearing IRC medical staff were trying to murder them with
what the healer, who has been keeping up a running commentary on the
ward, calls their ‘Ebola guns’ – the hand-held electronic
thermometers that nurses use to record patients’ temperatures.

The further you go from Freetown, the fewer Ebola patients you
encounter. On the outskirts of Bo we passed a huge MSF Ebola
management center, deserted save for a few orderlies and a skeleton
medical staff, and in Kenema it was the same. Except for the triage
tents at the entrance to the hospital, you would never know Ebola
had once cut a swathe through the maternity ward here, bringing
misery to a place of life. But while Ebola has now returned to the
forest, Dr. Khan’s Lassa fever unit remains open for business.
Kenema’s diamond mines are a breeding ground for rats, the carriers
of Lassa, and technicians have been processing and storing Lassa
blood samples here for several years. Those stores are proving to be
a serological goldmine: retrospective studies by Tulane University
researchers using Ebola reagents have revealed antibodies in the
blood of several “Lassa” patients. The first of these seropositive
Ebola samples dates back to 2006. In other words, Ebola may have
visited Kenema before but no one noticed. “The scientific question
for us now is why that didn’t turn into an outbreak,” said Dr.
Joseph Fair, a Lassa expert and US Army researcher from USAMRIID who
helped set up Kenema’s diagnostics platform.

Answering that question will require not only a better understanding
of the ecology and the biology of the virus and its interaction with
the immune system, but also what Dubos would have called “social and
environmental factors.” As Dr. Fair recalled: “When I first came to
Kenema in 2006 there was no Chinese highway, just a dirt road, and
the journey from Freetown took eight hours. Now, it takes three, and
instead of jungle all you see are cassava fields. That’s got to have
had an effect.”

One of the reasons Ebola has proved so difficult to eradicate in
Sierra Leone is the attachment to traditional burial customs. These
dictate that the families of the deceased should be able to kiss and
wash the bodies of their loved ones before laying them to the rest.
But, of course, such customs also risk spreading the virus further,
and in an effort to get to zero the NERC has mandated that the
bodies of victims be disposed of within 24 hours – an edict that, in
the case of the Western Area, usually means interment in a hastily
dug grave in Freetown’s King Tom cemetery. At Kenema’s Dama Road
cemetery, however, perhaps because it is further from the center,
the rules were not applied so strictly, and people had time to place
markers on the last resting place of the nurses and technicians who
were among Ebola’s first victims. On a broiling hot afternoon in
March I asked Mohamed Sow, a driver with the Tulane Lassa fever
program, to take me there. Sow did not need to ask directions: when
Ebola struck it was all hands to the pumps, and instead of ferrying
Lassa patients to the hospital he found himself transporting victims
of Ebola, many of them former colleagues, to the cemetery.

Unlike at King Tom, there was no one guarding the gates at Dama Road
and no one insisting we submit to a temperature check. We simply
parked by the entrance and walked in. Although it had been scarcely
nine months since Ebola swept through Kenema, the graves were
already overgrown with tropical vegetation. As we picked our way
gingerly between the plots, at first it was hard to distinguish one
from another. Then we came across a marker commemorating the death
of a local pastor. According to Sow, the pastor had contracted Ebola
after visiting Kenema’s maternity ward to read the last rites to a
patient. He was just 34. “He was a Christian, a man of God, so it
was his duty,” Sow told me matter-of-factly. “He could not refuse.”

Soon, we realized, we were standing in a thicket of Ebola graves.
The majority had crosses like the pastor’s, but in some cases the
names were Muslim and the epitaphs were in Arabic. All seem to have
died in a three-month period between July and September 2014. Sow
wanted to show us other graves, but by now both my driver and I had
seen enough. The earth may have been dry and cracked, but the fear
was still palpable: it was the closest we had come to the virus in
11 days.

On the drive back to Freetown neither of us said very much for the
first half hour. The highway was empty and, even though we were now
speeding toward the epicenter of the epidemic rather than away from
it, we were both relieved to be leaving Kenema. Eventually, however,
we reached a checkpoint and had to stop to show our credentials and
submit to the obligatory temperature check.

“People are sick and tired of Ebola,” said my driver as we pulled
away. “Do you think these vaccines will really make a difference?” I
replied that I didn’t know, but that scientists had a duty to try,
if not for now then for the next time. He paused, considering my
words. Then, smiling, he pointed to a phrase painted on the bumper
of the bus in front of us. It read: “No condition is permanent.”

*****************************************************

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Doctors fighting ebola

Completing their mission with revolutionary and medical ethics
THE Cuban medical brigade is a united team. Recently, the tension has been reduced, and suitcases packed for their return home. The tranquil city of Monrovia, is not the same one they experienced during the first days of their stay. The hustle and bustle of the market along the main roads signals, paradoxically, calm.
Members of the Cuban medical brigade combating Ebola in West Africa. Photo: Ronald Hernández
I talk to doctors and nurses, and tell them what they already know: In Cuba we are following you and waiting for your return. But they resist being called heroes, perhaps because they genuinely are. The day Cuba announced its decision to join the fight against Ebola, which was in reality the decision of their people, of these men, to travel to Africa’s danger zones, where the Ebola epidemic was concentrated, we Cubans became a single family. We regard them as our own, like fathers, brother or sons, and were always concerned for their health, for the patients they saved, and of those they lost. I have spoken to almost all of them, and they are all so different, but alike in one aspect. These men are Cubans of the Revolution. I want to share with you the testimony of 63 year old Dr. Leonardo Fernández, intensive therapy and internal medicine specialist, MSc graduate in emergency medicine and intensive care, and assistant professor at the MedicalSciencesUniversity in Guantánamo, In his own words…
“My family is used to it, as I have already completed various missions, but we also share the same values. It’s a small and totally revolutionary family: my wife, two children, an aunt and two uncles. My wife is retired, my daughter is a clinical laboratory graduate, and has completed a mission in Venezuela; my son is an ambulance driver. A small, but very united family.
WITH FEAR, BUT ALSO COURAGE
“I believe in the youth. Why not! The youth is change, revolution. I tell my youngest compañeros: I can’t think like you, I grew up in a different time, in a different era, with other needs, now there are other perspectives, more facilities. The youth is change. We have to form values, principles. The majority of the brigade members are young people. We are only four or five senior members. They have been very brave, above all the nurses, and have worked with great intensity, with fear, we all felt a great sense of fear, before leaving, and here… and we still feel it, because even up until the last day, that little creature can infect us. With fear, but also with courage. I believe the training we received in Cuba was excellent, decisive, I would say, since we were told from the very beginning the reality of the situation. They told us what we would be facing and the risks we would run, we were given all this information in Cuba. I greatly appreciate the training offered by the WHO, but that which we received in Cuba, in the Medical Collaboration Central Unit and the Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine was exceptional.
So, we left knowing what was to come, knowing the risks, physiologically and technically prepared for the task ahead. This was fundamental. And later, the General’s (Raúl Castro) farewell filled everyone with strength.”
TRAGEDY AND SOLIDARITY
Dr. Leonardo Fernández. Photo: Enrique Ubieta Gómez
“When we arrived, we found a country, a city, deserted. There were hardly any cars or people on the streets, there was no one. Even in the hotel where we ate lunch and dinner, there were only Cubans and three UN representatives. And now, I tell you, what a difference! … So, one leaves with this little bit of pride: knowing that I did something so that this city is once again full of people. People greet us in the street, when we go out to eat or shopping, they treat us with great affection. The cars in the road stop to allow the Cubans to cross.
“We witnessed the birth of this unit. We were frightened the first week, but as time went by, we had to put a stop to these fears, because they wanted us to do more than had been requested of us. We saw entire families die, children left alone, the mother, father and three little brothers all died, terrible…But we also saw others who survived Ebola, who after recovering, gathered together and adopted orphaned children. There is no better reward for us than to see the solidarity of Liberians with each other. We came as volunteers, and at no time in Cuba did they talk to us about rewards. At my hospital they arrived and asked who was willing to go, and told us that we might not return, and I raised my hand. No one told us: We are going to pay you so much, or we are going to give you such and such a thing. This is what the majority of people believe.”
FEELING LIKE A HERO?
“Look, the media impact of this mission, the information which has been disseminated via Facebook, via the internet, has made some believe that we have done something extraordinary, which makes us heroes. I believe that we have completed a task, with revolutionary and medical ethics. How is it different from those working in the Brazilian jungle? How is it different from those in the Venezuelan jungle, working alone in indigenous communities for months? How is it different from those serving in African villages? I have been lucky enough to have experienced another part of Africa. I lived, for example, in the capital of Mozambique, working in a provincial intensive therapy center, but I had colleagues who were living on the border, in the jungle, in temperatures reaching 48 degrees… What’s the difference? The difference is that this was a high-profile international mission, which received the importance it deserved. It’s true that you have to have courage to say I’m going, and I am going to fight it, that’s undeniable, but it was just another task.
“We don’t need rewards, the acknowledgement of our willingness to be here is enough, and that our people speak of us is the greatest recognition. If something material comes at some point, it is welcome, as we still have needs, but I don’t believe I deserve it, that they are obliged to give me something. The Five were in prison for 16 years and at no time did they think of this sort of thing.
“The people need individuals who lead by example. I have had the good fortune, the personal privilege of having spoken with Vilma, with Raúl himself, perhaps he doesn’t even remember, as I was a doctor on a convoy with them. I have spoken with Fidel three or four times, like I am speaking to you now. They are true heroes, and I don’t see them speaking of their heroism, their bravery. In order to gain respect you don’t have to feel or believe yourself to be a hero. What I would like people to recognize is that I am a true revolutionary, firm in my principles. That is enough. And there are many such people in Cuba, very many. Those who everyday, get up at 12:00 am to make the bread that I am going to eat in the morning, those who cut sugarcane for decades, so that we would have food, they are without a doubt, heroes.
I RAISED MY HAND AND LATER ASKED WHY…                         
“I served on a mission in Nicaragua in 1979, one month after the triumph of their Revolution. They triumphed on July 19, and on August 17 the first Cuban brigade arrived. I stayed there until 1981, in Puerto Cabezas, on the Atlantic coast. Imagine, I was the doctor assigned by Daniel Ortega to Fagoth, the leader of the counterrevolution on the Atlantic coast. I was very emotional during the Alba meeting, as Daniel gave me a hug at the end. Nicaragua was where I really became a revolutionary. When I was 17 years old, you couldn’t listen to a Beatles song, or go to a bar, or be in the streets late at night. And despite the fact that my family had been affiliated with the July 26 Movement, that my father and sister had been in the Sierra, I was a rebel, and I didn’t understand. I liked rock music and had longhair. But I had been educated in the principles of the Revolution and one day they told me: there is this situation, I raised my hand and began. I learned to value Cuba. Being outside of Cuba, I learned to value the Revolution. Afterwards, I never signed up for collaborative missions, it seemed absurd to me, until Fidel calld upon doctors to go to the United States, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. We were selected among the first 150. Later the brigade grew to 1,500. In the end we didn’t go to the United States, for various reasons, but Fidel spoke at the Ciudad Deportiva, a moment I still remember. But then the earthquake in Pakistan occurred and the floods in Mexico and Guatemala. The brigade was divided up. I went to Pakistan, with the first group, the majority military doctors and some civilians with specific experience in these types of events. At that time, Bruno Rodríguez, inquired as to my willingness to go directly to East Timor. I was one of those who said “Here we are,” I raised my hand thinking I wouldn’t be chosen as I was getting ready to return to Cuba, and I was selected. I was in East Timor for two years. Later came the earthquake in Haiti and they asked for volunteers. On that occasion I raised my hand and later wondered why.
Well, this was on the 10th and on the 11th or 12th we were in Haiti, and I led the brigade’s intensive therapy unit. On my return, as a reward, they told me that I needed to participate in a “collaboration” effort, as all the missions I had served on had been for wars, or disasters and so I spent three years in Mozambique.
“A little later this epidemic took hold, I had heard of Ebola, I know Africa, I had treated hemorrhagic fevers in Mozambique, and I raised my hand, and here I am. Nothing special, right? This is life. While I have strength and they accept me, I will go where I am needed.”
Response to: “Two different approaches in fighting Ebola”
By A. Shaw
For clarity, the two different approaches may be called the US imperialist approach and the Cuban proletarian approach.
Imperialist Approach in Fighting Ebola
The Obama regime, which sent about 2,800 military troops to West Africa in October, has announced an end to its Ebola relief mission. Most US soldiers have already returned. The troops did not treat a single patient, much less save a single life. Obama proclaimed the American response to the crisis ( a response which came after months of pleading by international relief groups)  “an example of American leadership.” The Obama regime lists among its accomplishments training 1,539 health care workers & support staff (presumably non-technical and cursory); creating 10 Ebola treatment units (which you could count on your fingers); and constructing a 25-bed medical unit (for a country [Liberia] that has had 10,000 cases of Ebola). Obama regime declares that “the United States has done more than any other country to help West Africa respond to the Ebola crisis.” The regime clearly helped facilitate the delivery of equipment and supplies, but its claims that the U.S. has done more than any other country are dubious. By the end of April, all but 100 U.S. troops will have left West Africa while other countries will extend the presence of their relief workers.
The U.S. response did involve several hundred millions of dollars, which is, indeed, more than most countries contributed. But U.S. personel played mostly a supporting role, collaborating with other actors in the tangential aspects of the crisis. U.S. government employees were not directly involved in treating any patients. Their role was rather to help other health workers and officials on the front lines who actually did. To say this supporting role of the Obama regime is an example of U.S. “leadership” is a vast embellishment.
So much for the imperialist approach to fighting Ebola.
Now, let’s look at the proletarian approach of the Cubans.
The other country who has taken a very public role in the Ebola crisis is Cuba. Unlike the U.S., Cuba sent nearly 500 professional healthcare workers – doctors and nurses – to treat African patients who had contracted Ebola. Before being deployed to West Africa, all the Cuban doctors and nurses completed an “intense training” of a minimum of two weeks, where they “prepared in the form of treating patients without exposing themselves to the deadly virus,” according to CNN. After Cuba announced its plan to mobilize what Cubans call the “army of white robes,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said that “human resources are clearly our most important need.” “Money and materials are important, but those two things alone cannot stop Ebola virus transmission,” she said. “We need most especially compassionate doctors and nurses” to work under “very demanding conditions.” The European Commission for humanitarian aid and crisis management last week also “recognized the role Cuba has played in fighting the Ebola epidemic.”
 MATT PEPPE , the author of this excellent article, reminds us not to forget that behind its humanitarian pretensions, the U.S. military is a worldwide instrument of aggression, oppression and exploitation.
“U.S. troops are used as props. What may sound like a massive effort is little more than propaganda. The idea is to associate troops with humanitarianism, rather than death, destruction and torture. In reality, one doctor can save more lives than hundreds of soldiers. A true humanitarian mission would be conducted by civilian agencies and professionals who are trained and experienced specifically in medicine, construction and administration, not by soldiers trained to kill and pacify war zones” Peppe says.
Two Different Approaches in Fighting Ebola
And Two Different Results
http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/03/03/two-different-approaches-in-fighting-ebola/
by MATT PEPPE

In recent weeks the Ebola epidemic in West Africa has slowed from a peak of more than 1,000 new cases per week to 99 confirmed cases during the week of February 22, according to the World Health Organization. For two countries that have taken diametrically opposed approaches to combating the disease, the stark difference in the results achieved over the last five months has become evident.

The United States, which sent about 2,800 military troops to the region in October, has announced an end to its relief mission. Most soldiers have already returned. Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby declared the mission a “success.” The criteria for this determination is unclear, as the troops did not treat a single patient, much less save a single life.

President Barack Obama proclaimed the American response to the crisis “an example of American leadership.” As is the case “whenever and wherever a disaster or disease strikes,” according to Obama, “the world looks to us to lead.” The President claimed that the troops contributed not only by their own efforts, but by serving as a “force multiplier” that inspired others.

Obama says the “American values” displayed “matter to the world.” They are an example of “what makes us exceptional.”

By virtue of American supremacy, apparently, these values are superior to those of people from any other nation.When you look behind the President’s and the Pentagon’s rhetoric, it is difficult to find concrete measures of success. From the beginning, the capacity of American troops to make a difference in containing and eliminating a medical disease was questionable, to say the least.

In October, the Daily Beast reported that soldiers would receive only four hours of training in preparation for their deployment to Africa. That is half of a regular work day for people with no medical background. When they arrived, they did not exactly hit the ground running. “The first 500 soldiers to arrive have been holing up in Liberian hotels and government facilities while the military builds longer-term infrastructure on the ground,” wrote Tim Mak.

The DoD declared on its Web site that “the Defense Department made critical contributions to the fight against the Ebola virus disease outbreak in West Africa. Chief among these were the deployment of men and women in uniform to Monrovia, Liberia, as part of Operation United Assistance.” So, the chief contribution of the DoD was sending people in military uniforms to the site of the outbreak.

The DoD lists among its accomplishments training 1,539 health care workers & support staff (presumably non-technical and cursory); creating 10 Ebola treatment units (which you could count on your fingers); and constructing a 25-bed medical unit (for a country that has had 10,000 cases of Ebola).

USAID declares that “the United States has done more than any other country to help West Africa respond to the Ebola crisis.” Like the DoD, they are short on quantitative measurements and long on vague business-speak. USAID says they “worked with UN and NGO partners,” “partnered with the U.S. military,” and “expanded the pipeline of medical equipment and critical supplies to the region.”

USAID and other government personnel have clearly helped facilitate the delivery of equipment and supplies, but claims that the U.S. has done more than any other country are dubious.

By the end of April, all but 100 U.S. troops will have left West Africa. There will then be a transition to what Obama called the “civilian response.” This appears equally as vague as the military response.The U.S. response did involve many people and several hundred millions of dollars, which is, indeed, more than most countries contributed. But an examination of the facts shows that the U.S. played mostly a supporting role, collaborating with other actors in the tangential aspects of the crisis. U.S. government employees were not directly involved in treating any patients. Their role was rather to help other health workers and officials on the front lines who actually did. To say this is an example of American leadership and exceptionalism seems like a vast embellishment.

The other country who has taken a very public role in the Ebola crisis is Cuba. Unlike the U.S., Cuba sent nearly 500 professional healthcare workers – doctors and nurses – to treat African patients who had contracted Ebola. These included doctors from the Henry Reeve Brigade, which has served over the last decade in response to the most high-profile disasters in the world, including in Haiti and Pakistan. In Haiti, the group was instrumental in detecting and treating cholera, which had been introduced by UN peace keepers. The disease sickened and killed thousands of Haitians.

Before being deployed to West Africa, all the Cuban doctors and nurses completed an “intense training” of a minimum of two weeks, where they “prepared in the form of treating patients without exposing themselves to the deadly virus,” according to CNN.

After Cuba announced its plan to mobilize what Cubans call the “army of white robes,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said that “human resources are clearly our most important need.”

“Money and materials are important, but those two things alone cannot stop Ebola virus transmission,” she said. “We need most especially compassionate doctors and nurses” to work under “very demanding conditions.”

Like their American counterparts, Cuban authorities also recently proclaimed success in fighting Ebola. They used a clear definition of what they meant.

“We have managed to save the lives of 260 people who were in a very very bad state, and through our treatment, they were cured and have gotten on with their lives,” said Jorge Delgado, head of the medical brigade, at a conference in Geneva on Foreign Medical Teams involved in fighting the Ebola crisis.

The work of the Henry Reeve Brigade was recognized by Norwegian Trade Unions who nominated the group for the Nobel Peace Prize “for saving lives and helping millions of suffering people around the world.”

The European Commission for humanitarian aid and crisis management last week also “recognized the role Cuba has played in fighting the Ebola epidemic.”

For more than 50 years, Cuba has carried out medical missions across the globe – beginning in Algeria after the revolution in 1961 and taking place in poor countries desperately needing medical care throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America. They have provided 1.2 billion consultations, 2.2 million births, 5 million operations and immunizations for 12 million children and pregnant women, according to Granma.

“In their direct fight against death, the human quality of the members of the Henry Reeve brigade is strengthened, and for those in need around the world, they represent welcome assistance,” writes Nuria Barbosa León.

The mission of the DoD is one of military involvement worldwide. As Nick Turse reports in TomDispatch, U.S. military activity on the African continent is growing at an astounding rate. The military “averages about one and a half missions a day. This represents a 217% increase in operations, programs, and exercises since the command was established in 2008,” Turse writes. He says the DoD is calling “Africa the battlefield of tomorrow, today.”

Turse writes that the U.S. military is quietly replicating its failed counterinsurgency strategy in Africa, under the guise of humanitarian activities. “If history is any guide, humanitarian efforts by AFRICOM (U.S. Africa Command) and Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa will grow larger and ever more expensive, until they join the long list of projects that have become ‘monuments of U.S. failure’ around the world,” he writes.

There are some enlightening pieces of information listed by the DoD as part of the “transition to Operation Onward Liberty.” The DoD “will build partnership capacity with the Armed Forces of Liberia” and will “continue military to military engagement in ways that support Liberia’s growth toward enduring peace and security.”

It is unclear what role the U.S. military will help their Liberian counterparts play, unless peace and security is considered from the perspective of multinational corporations who have their eyes on large oil reserves, rather than the perspective of the local population.

The U.S. military, unsurprisingly, seems to be using the Ebola crisis as a pretext to expand its reach inside Africa, consistent with the pattern of the last seven years that Turse describes. The deployment of several thousand troops to West Africa can be understood as a P.R. stunt that is the public face of counterinsurgency.

U.S. troops are used as props. What may sound like a massive effort is little more than propaganda. The idea is to associate troops with humanitarianism, rather than death, destruction and torture. In reality, one doctor can save more lives than hundreds of soldiers. A true humanitarian mission would be conducted by civilian agencies and professionals who are trained and experienced specifically in medicine, construction and administration, not by soldiers trained to kill and pacify war zones.

In Liberia, as in most of Africa, Washington’s IMF and World Bank-imposed neoliberal policies have further savaged a continent devastated by 300 years of European colonialism. Any U.S. military involvement in Liberia and elsewhere is likely to reflect the economic goals of the U.S. government, which is primarily concerned with continuing the implementation of the Washington consensus.Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law, warned last fall about the dangers of using a “war on terror template” in response to a disease such as Ebola.

“Countering Ebola will require a whole new set of protections and priorities, which should emerge from the medical and public health communities. The now sadly underfunded National Institutes of Health and other such organizations have been looking at possible pandemic situations for years,” Greenberg writes. “It is imperative that our officials heed the lessons of their research as they have failed to do many times over with their counterparts in public policy in the war on terror years.”

This is the opposite of the strategy the Obama administration elected to take. It would be wise to question the alarming militarization of American foreign assistance. The continued expansion of the national security apparatus occurs at the direct expense of vital civilian agencies. The Cuban model is evidence of what is possible with an alternative approach.Matt Peppe writes about politics, U.S. foreign policy and Latin America on his blog. You can follow him on twitter.

Africa: Privatizing Land and Seeds
| February 18, 2015 | 9:01 pm | Africa, Analysis, Ebola, Economy, Health Care, International | No comments

AfricaFocus Bulletin
February 18, 2015 (150218)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor’s Note

“The G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition was launched in
2012 by the eight most industrialised countries to mobilise private
capital for investment in African agriculture. To be accepted into
the programme, African governments are required to make important
changes to their land and seed policies. … [for example] Despite
the fact that more than 80% of all seed in Africa is still produced
and disseminated through ‘informal’ seed systems (on-farm seed
saving and unregulated distribution between farmers), there is no
recognition in the New Alliance programme of the importance of
farmer-based systems of saving, sharing, exchanging and selling
seeds.” – Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa and GRAIN, January
2015

For a version of this Bulletin in html format, more suitable for
printing, go to http://www.africafocus.org/docs15/ag1502.php, and
click on “format for print or mobile.”

To share this on Facebook, click on
https://www.facebook.com/sharer/sharer.php?u=http://www.africafocus.org/docs15/ag1502.php

Countless reports by global and African agencies highlight the
critical role for agriculture in African development. Almost all
agree that small farmers are key to addressing poverty and food
insecurity. But many policies, such as those described in this new
report from the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa and GRAIN,
lead in practice to empowerment of agribusiness giants rather than
small farmers. By imposing legal frameworks based on Western
industrial agriculture, powerful interests make a mockery of
international pledges to help small farmers.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from the report “Land
and Seed Laws under Attack: Who is pushing changes in Africa?” (full
report available at http://tinyurl.com/m5g8zje)

For summary talking points and previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on
food and agriculture issues, visit
http://www.africafocus.org/intro-ag.php

There are a host of reports on specific cases of land grabs and
sometimes on successful challenges to them. The sources cited below
are only a sampling.

For a report by Nigerian and international groups on a recent
contested case of land grabbing in Taraba state in eastern Nigeria
(a rice plantation under the control of U.S.-based agribusiness firm
Dominion Farms), see http://tinyurl.com/pr463qr

For a recent case in Senegal, researched by ActionAid, visit
http://tinyurl.com/mrhhuy4 For more information on ActionAid work on
land rights, visit http://tinyurl.com/pdt7kny

For a case in Ghana, where Herakles Farms abandoned its investments
after community protests, see the report by the Africa Faith and
Justice Network (http://afjn.org; direct URL:
http://tinyurl.com/mfftstg).

In addition to the organizations cited in this report, and the cases
just cited, AfricaFocus particularly recommends, for case studies
and current information on the status of land grabbing in Africa,
the website of the Oakland Institute at
http://www.oaklandinstitute.org/land-rights-issue The Oakland
Institute and other groups are active in a campaign to have the
World Bank stop promoting land grabs through its “doing business”
ratings. Visit http://ourlandourbusiness.org/ for more details.

For extensive research on seeds and food sovereignty in Africa, see
also the website of the African Centre for Biosafely (
http://www.acbio.org.za/)

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Ebola Perspectives

[AfricaFocus is regularly monitoring and posting links on
Ebola on social media. For
additional links, see http://www.facebook.com/AfricaFocus]

New and of particular interest:

Jina Moore, Buzzfeed, February 12 http://tinyurl.com/mjagccr – map
showing Liberia “very close” to end of Ebola. Total number of days
since last case over 21 in all counties except Montserrado
(Monrovia)

WHO, Situation Report, February 11 http://tinyurl.com/lygs4b5
Not quite as optimistic. “Total weekly case incidence increased for
the second consecutive week, with 144 new confirmed cases reported
in the week to 8 February.” Cases up in Guinea and Sierra Leone,
although still low in Liberia.

Shawn Radcliffe, Healthline, “Ebola Crisis Eases in Africa. Now
What?” February 12 http://tinyurl.com/n8p7csf
Need for vigilance, plus long-term planning for recovery of
economies & building sustainable health systems

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor’s note+++++++++++++++++

Land and Seed Laws under Attack: Who is pushing changes in Africa?

Report

Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA; http://afsafrica.org)
and GRAIN ( http://www.grain.org)

[Full text of report at http://tinyurl.com/m5g8zje and
http://www.grain.org /e/5121]

January 2015

Who is pushing changes in Africa?

A battle is raging for control of resources in Africa — land,
water, seeds, minerals, ores, forests, oil, renewable energy
sources. Agriculture is one of the most important theatres of this
battle. Governments, corporations, foundations and development
agencies are pushing hard to commercialise and industrialise African
farming.

Many of the key players are well known. They are committed to
helping agribusiness become the continent’s primary food commodity
producer. To do this, they are not only pouring money into projects
to transform farming operations on the ground — they are also
changing African laws to accommodate the agribusiness agenda.

Privatising both land and seeds is essential for the corporate model
to flourish in Africa. With regard to agricultural land, this means
pushing for the official demarcation, registration and titling of
farms. It also means making it possible for foreign investors to
lease or own farmland on a long-term basis. With regard to seeds, it
means having governments require that seeds be registered in an
official catalogue in order to be traded. It also means introducing
intellectual property rights over plant varieties and criminalising
farmers who ignore them. In all cases, the goal is to turn what has
long been a commons into something that corporates can control and
profit from.

This survey aims to provide an overview of just who is pushing for
which specific changes in these areas — looking not at the plans
and projects, but at the actual texts that will define the new
rules. It was not easy to get information about this … We did
learn a few things, though:

* While there is a lot of civil society attention focused on the
G8’s New Alliance for Food and Nutrition, there are many more actors
doing many similar things across Africa. Our limited review makes it
clear that the greatest pressure to change land and seed laws comes
from Washington DC — home to the World Bank, USAID and the MCC
[Millennium Challenge Corporation].

* Land certificates — which should be seen as a stepping stone to
formal land titles — are being promoted as an appropriate way to
“securitise” poor peoples’ rights to land. But how do we define the
term “land securitisation”? As the objective claimed by most of the
initiatives dealt with in this report, it could be understood as
strengthening land rights. Many small food producers might conclude
that their historic cultural rights to land — however they may be
expressed — will be better recognised, thus protecting them from
expropriation. But for many governments and corporations, it means
the creation of Western-type land markets based on formal
instruments like titles and leases that can be traded. … So in a
world of grossly unequal players, “security” is shorthand for
market, private property and the power of the highest bidder.

* Most of today’s initiatives to address land laws, including those
emanating from Africa, are overtly designed to accommodate, support
and strengthen investments in land and large-scale land deals,
rather than achieve equity or to recognise longstanding or
historical community rights over land at a time of rising conflicts
over land and land resources.

* Most of the initiatives to change current land laws come from
outside Africa. Yes, African structures like the African Union and
the Pan-African Parliament are deeply engaged in facilitating
changes to legislation in African states, but many people question
how “indigenous” these processes really are. It is clear that
strings are being pulled, by Washington and Europe in particular, to
alter land governance in Africa.

* When it comes to seed laws, the picture is reversed. Subregional
African bodies — SADC, COMESA, OAPI and the like — are working to
create new rules for the exchange and trade of seeds. But the
recipes they are applying — seed marketing restrictions and plant
variety protection schemes — are borrowed directly from the US and
Europe.

* The changes to seed policy being promoted by the G8 New Alliance,
the World Bank and others refer to neither farmer-based seed systems
nor farmers’ rights. They make no effort to strengthen farming
systems that are already functioning. Rather, the proposed solutions
are simplified, but unworkable solutions to complex situations that
will not work — though an elite category of farmers may enjoy some
small short term benefits.

* With seeds, which represent a rich cultural heritage of Africa’s
local communities, the push to transform them into income-generating
private property, and marginalise traditional varieties, is still
making more headway on paper than in practice. This is due to many
complexities, one of which is the growing awareness of and popular
resistance to the seed industry agenda. But the resolve of those who
intend to turn Africa into a new market for global agroinput
suppliers is not to be underestimated. The path chosen will have
profound implications for the capacity of African farmers to adapt
to climate change.

This report was drawn up jointly by the Alliance for Food
Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) and GRAIN. AFSA is a pan-African
platform comprising networks and farmer organisations championing
small African family farming based on agro-ecological and indigenous
approaches that sustain food sovereignty and the livelihoods of
communities. GRAIN is a small international organisation that aims
to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for
community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems.

The report was researched and initially drafted by Mohamed
Coulibaly, an independent legal expert in Mali, with support from
AFSA members and GRAIN staff. …

Initiatives targeting both land and seed laws

G8 New Alliance on Food Security and Nutrition – Initiated by the G8
countries: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, UK and US

– Timeframe: 2012-2022

– Implemented in 10 African countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte
d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal and
Tanzania

The G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition was launched in
2012 by the eight most industrialised countries to mobilise private
capital for investment in African agriculture. To be accepted into
the programme, African governments are required to make important
changes to their land and seed policies. The New Alliance
prioritises granting national and transnational corporations (TNCs)
new forms of access and control to the participating countries’
resources, and gives them a seat at the same table as aid donors and
recipient governments. As of July 2014, ten African countries had
signed Cooperative Framework Agreements (CFAs) to implement the New
Alliance programme. Under these agreements, these governments
committed to 213 policy changes. Some 43 of these changes target
land laws, with the overall stated objective of establishing “clear,
secure and negotiable rights to land” — tradeable property titles.

The New Alliance also aims to implement both the Voluntary
Guidelines (VGs) on Responsible Land Tenure adopted by the Committee
on World Food Security in 2012, and the Principles for Responsible
Agriculture Investment drawn up by the World Bank, FAO, IFAD and UN
Conference on Trade and Development. This is considered especially
important since the New Alliance directly facilitates access to
farmland in Africa for investors. To achieve this, the New Alliance
Leadership Council, a self-appointed body composed of public and
private sector representatives, in September 2014 decided to come up
with a single set of guidelines to ensure that the land investments
made through the Alliance are “responsible” and not land grabs. As
to seeds, all of the participating states, with the exception of
Benin, agreed to adopt plant variety protection laws and rules for
marketing seeds that better support the private sector. Despite the
fact that more than 80% of all seed in Africa is still produced and
disseminated through ‘informal’ seed systems (on-farm seed saving
and unregulated distribution between farmers), there is no
recognition in the New Alliance programme of the importance of
farmer-based systems of saving, sharing, exchanging and selling
seeds.

African governments are being co-opted into reviewing their seed
trade laws and supporting the implementation of Plant Variety
Protection (PVP) laws. The strategy is to first harmonise seed trade
laws such as border control measures, phytosanitary control, variety
release systems and certification standards at the regional level,
and then move on to harmonising PVP laws. The effect is to create
larger unified seed markets, in which the types of seeds on offer
are restricted to commercially protected varieties. The age old
rights of farmers to replant saved seed is curtailed and the
marketing of traditional varieties of seed is strictly prohibited.

Concerns have been raised about how this agenda privatises seeds and
the potential impacts this could have on small-scale farmers.
Farmers will lose control of seeds regulated by a commercial system.
There are also serious concerns about the loss of biodiversity
resulting from a focus on commercial varieties.

The World Bank

The World Bank is a significant player in catalysing the growth and
expansion of agribusiness in Africa. It does this by financing
policy changes and projects on the ground. In both cases, the Bank
targets land and seed laws as key tools for advancing and protecting
the interests of the corporate sector.

The Bank’s work on policy aims at increasing agricultural production
and productivity through programmes called “Agriculture Development
Policy Operations” (AgDPOs).

Besides financing AgDPOs, the World Bank directly supports
agriculture development projects. Some major World Bank projects
with land tenure components are presented in Annex 2, with a focus
on the legal arrangements developed to make land available for
corporate investors. These projects are much more visible than the
AgDPOs and their names are well known in each country: PDIDAS in
Senegal, GCAP in Ghana, Bagrépole in Burkina. …

Initiatives targeting land laws

African Union Land Policy Initiative

The African Union (AU), together with the African Development Bank
(AfDB) and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), has been
spearheading a Land Policy Initiative (LPI) since 2006. Mainly a
response to land grabbing on the continent, the LPI is meant to
strengthen and change national policies and laws on land. It is
funded by the EU, IFAD, UN Habitat, World Bank, France and
Switzerland. LPI is expected to become an African Centre on Land
Policies after 2016.

The LPI is designed to implement the African Declaration on Land
Issues and Challenges, adopted by the AU Summit of Heads of State in
July 2009. …

One important undertaking of the LPI is the development of a set of
Guiding Principles on Large-Scale Land-Based Investments (LSLBI)
meant to ensure that land acquisitions in Africa “promote inclusive
and sustainable development”. The Guiding Principles were adopted by
the Council of agriculture ministers in June 2014, and are awaiting
endorsement by the AU Summit of Heads of States and government.

The Guiding Principles have several objectives, including guiding
decision making on land deals (recognising that large scale land
acquisitions may not be the most appropriate form of investment);
providing a basis for a monitoring and evaluation framework to track
land deals in Africa; and providing a basis for reviewing existing
large scale land contracts. The Guiding Principles draw lessons from
global instruments and initiatives to regulate land deals including
the Voluntary Guidelines and the Principles for Responsible
Agricultural Investments in the Context of Food Security and
Nutrition. They also take into account relevant human rights
instruments. But because the Guiding Principles are not a binding
instrument and lack an enforcement mechanism, it is far from certain
that they will prove any more effective than other voluntary
frameworks on land. They are, however, widely accepted and supported
on the continent as the first “African response” to the issue of
land grabbing.

[For more on other similar initiatives see full report]

Initiatives introducing seed laws

Under the rubric “seeds laws” there are various types of legal and
policy initiatives that directly affect what kind of seeds small
scale farmers can use. We focus on two: intellectual property laws,
which grant state-sanctioned monopolies to plant breeders (at the
expense of farmers’ rights), and seed marketing laws, which regulate
trade in seeds (often making it illegal to exchange or market
farmers’ seeds).

Plant Variety Protection

Plant variety protection (PVP) laws are specialised intellectual
property rules designed to establish and protect monopoly rights for
plant breeders over the plants types (varieties) they have
developed. PVP is an offshoot of the patent system. All members of
the World Trade Organization (WTO) are obliged to adopt some form of
PVP law, according to the WTO’s Agreement on Trade- Related Aspects
of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). But how they do so is up to
national governments.

African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) draft
PVP Protocol

– Draft PVP Protocol to be implemented in the 19 ARIPO member
states: Botswana, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique,
Namibia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe,
Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

ARIPO is the regional counterpart of the UN’s World Intellectual
Property Organisation (WIPO) for Anglophone Africa. It was
established under the Lusaka Agreement signed in 1976. In November
2009, ARIPO’s Council of Ministers approved a proposal for ARIPO to
develop a policy and legal framework which would form the basis for
the development of the ARIPO Protocol on the Protection of New
Varieties of Plants (the PVP Protocol). Adopted in November 2013,
the legal framework was formulated into a Draft PVP Protocol in 2014
during a diplomatic conference.

The Draft PVP Protocol establishes unified procedures and
obligations for the protection of plant breeder’s rights in all
ARIPO member states. These rights will be granted by a single
authority established by ARIPO to administer the whole system on
behalf of its member states.

The Protocol is based on the rules contained in the 1991 Act of the
UPOV Convention. It therefore establishes legal monopolies
(“protection”) on new plant varieties for 20-25 years, depending on
the crop. Farmers will not be able to save and re-use seed from
these varieties on their own farms except for specifically
designated crops, within reasonable limits, and upon annual payment
of royalties. Under no circumstances will they be able to exchange
or sell seeds harvested from such varieties. …

The Protocol is hotly contested by civil society. AFSA, for
instance, is on record for vehemently opposing the ARIPO PV Protocol
on the grounds that it, inter alia, severely erodes farmers’ rights
and the right to food. On the other hand, industry associations have
been consulted extensively in the process of drafting the ARIPO PVP
Protocol. …

[For more on other similar initiatives, see full report.]

Seed marketing rules

The second category of seed laws consists of rules governing seeds
marketing in and among countries. A number of current initiatives
aim to harmonise these rules among African states belonging to the
same Regional Economic Community. But through harmonisation, states
are actually being encouraged to “liberalise” the seed market. This
means limiting the role of the public sector in seed production and
marketing, and creating new space and new rights for the private
sector instead. In this process, farmers lose their freedom to
exchange and/or sell their own seeds. This legal shift is
deliberately meant to lead to the displacement and loss of peasant
seeds, because they are considered inferior and unproductive
compared to corporate seeds.

Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) was established
in 2006 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller
Foundation. It is currently funded by several development
ministries, foundations and programmes, including DFID, IFAD and the
Government of Kenya. AGRA’s objective is to “catalyse a uniquely
African Green Revolution based on small- holder farmers so that
Africa would be food self-sufficient and food secure.” AGRA focuses
on five areas: seeds, soil health, market access, policy and
advocacy and support to farmers’ organisations.

On seeds, AGRA’s activities are implemented through the Programme
for Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS). PASS focuses on the breeding,
production and distribution of so-called “improved” seeds. AGRA’s
action on seeds policies and laws, however, is carried out through
its Policy Programme, whose goal is to establish an “enabling
environment”, including seed and land policy reforms, to boost
private investment in agriculture and encourage farmers to change
practices. This specifically includes getting the public sector out
of seed production and distribution.

AGRA’s seed policy work aims to strengthen internal seed laws and
regulations, reduce delays in the release of new varieties,
facilitate easy access to public germplasm, support the
implementation of regionally harmonised seed laws and regulations,
eliminate trade restrictions and establish an African Seed
Investment Fund to support seed businesses.

In Ghana, for example, AGRA helped the government review its seed
policies with the goal of identifying barriers to the private sector
getting more involved. With technical and financial support from
AGRA, the country’s seed legislation was revised and a new pro-
business seed law was passed in mid-2010. Among other things it
established a register of varieties that can be marketed. In
Tanzania, discussions between AGRA and government representatives
facilitated a major policy change to privatise seed production. In
Malawi, AGRA supported the government in revising its maize pricing
and trade policies. AGRA is also funding a $300,000 seeds project
for the East African Community that started in July 2014 and will be
implemented over the next two years. Its objective is to get EAC
farmers to switch to so-called improved seeds and to harmonise the
seed and fertilizer policies of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and
Uganda.

[For more on other similar initiatives, see full report]

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