Growing crops with sewer water in Ghana

 Hose   A man in Accra, Ghana hoses down his urban garden using sewage water. Photo by Danny Kresynak

By Danny Kresynak

Nuuna works in one of the vegetable gardens growing in the shadow of Military Hospital No. 37 in Accra, Ghana. The tall 24-year-old is the eldest of five children living in his mother’s house. He works hard to maintain a balance between family obligations and time in the field while also pursuing an education.

Nuuna’s callused hands stand as an example of his hard work, each day he and his siblings earn their pay by plucking crops from the soil, removing the small leaves, severing the stock and binding individual sprigs together to be sold. The bundles are then put into corrugated boxes bound for local and international markets.

“Some stays here, but almost everything we pull up gets sent to the U.K. or Europe,” Nuuna says.

The land where Nuuna grows his crops is irrigated with water drawn from both a well and a stream fed by run-off from city sewers. He says the property is government-owned, but still not on the water supply grid.

“I went to see them (the water and housing commission) about pipes many times," he says. "They would never talk to me, always said to go and come (back later). I think they wanted a bribe or something.”

Without fresh water, farmers like Nuuna are forced to grow crops using the water sources available.

One of those sources is a sewer that contains run-off from Accra's Military Hospital No. 37, built during the Second World War. About a year ago, the pipe carrying raw medical waste from the mortuary, maternity and surgical theatres to the treatment tank was damaged. Unable to fix the line, the hospital began dumping bio-hazardous material into the city’s open-gutters. Now, the sewers are overflowing and downstream the stench of contamination and concern is growing thick.

In the city, clean water is a critical commodity and it doesn’t come cheap. Drinking from faucets is rarely advised and potable sources are most likely found in a bottle or sachet. Open sewers carry liquid and solid waste material of all sort, and when they overflow the result can be devastating.

Last year during the rainy season, Accra was rocked by flooding and the rapid tide of a cholera epidemic.  Nearly 6,000 people fell ill with 80 eventually dying from the disease. Cholera can be treated with rehydration fluids but amongst infants, the elderly and the infirm death can occur within hours. The youngest victim of the outbreak was only eight days old when her tiny body succumbed to the bacterial infection.

At this point, no provable connection between hospital waste and outbreak has been established. However, many living near MH-37 have complained of general poor health and the World Health Organization (WHO) advises that epidemics become virulent when water caches are contaminated.

The Globe newspaper and Citi-fm radio station, both based in Accra, developed and broke a medical waste story near the end of January. The news sparked public outrage and in response the AMA (Accra Metropolitan Assembly) formed an emergency fact-finding committee. The investigation found deplorable conditions at the hospital and authored a series of recommendations. The list includes an overhaul of the drainage system and repairs to deteriorating hospital infrastructure, it is also opening the door to charges of criminal negligence.

The AMA’s official report states the target is to prevent future dumping and endangerment of public health. However, the committee failed to acknowledge the residual realities faced by urban farmers in Accra, according to reports.

The hospital was unavailable for comment.

Funding for the jhr bloggers is provided by the Government of Canada’s Youth International Internship Program in Ghana and Malawi, the Canadian International Development Agency in Sierra Leone and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development in Liberia. Meet the jhr bloggers.


Malawi's solution to child rape

In Malawi, reports indicate that as many as one in four children have been sexually abused, with orphans and at-risk youth being especially vulnerable. Photo by Travis Lupick.

By Travis Lupick

Dr. Neil Kennedy says he sees an average of 20-25 child sexual abuse cases of a month referred to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi.

I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly.

“Yes, that many,” he confirmed. “I was working a shift last month when I saw three in one day.”

Our conversation was part of a discussion on sexual violence in Malawi. Kennedy, head of pediatrics and child health at the University of Malawi’s College of Medicine, proceeded to dispel any doubts about the scale of the problem.

He called attention to a report titled “Suffering at School: Results of the Malawi Gender-Based Violence in Schools Survey,” which was published in 2005 and based on interviews with more than 4,400 youth from various segments of society.

“Almost one in four children have been forced to have sex against their will,” the document states, “Repeat victimization is common.”

Indicating that little has changed in the six years since that report was published, Malawi’s Daily Times newspaper recently reported that it carried 16 stories covering 22 cases of child sexual abuse for the months of August and September 2011 alone.

Tackling child rape in Malawi is “messy,” Kennedy sighed.

He recounted an example.

A mother brought her seven-year-old daughter into the hospital, the largest health centre in Blantyre, with a case of tuberculosis. TB is a common indication of HIV, and so doctors suggested the girl be tested; the result came back positive, but the girl’s mother swore that she was negative – and an HIV-test of her own confirmed that.

Other possible causes of transmission were subsequently ruled out, and doctors came to suspect that the young girl had been raped. The mother refused to believe it was possible, but agreed to further examination.

Indeed, doctors found every physical indication that the girl had been raped, both repeatedly and over an extended period of time.

There was now a dilemma.

The doctors involved in the case knew the girl’s father, knew that he was HIV-positive, and were certain that he was the man who had assaulted the girl. But doctor-patient confidentiality forbade them from telling anybody about the man’s HIV status, without which, there was significantly less evidence on which to make a case.

Furthermore, the girl refused to say a word about anything that had happened to her. And for the same reasons that doctors couldn’t reveal anything about the father’s health, they were also forbidden from sharing what they had discovered in their examination of the girl.

So what could be done? Ask that question and the matter grows even more complicated.

Speaking alongside Kennedy was Esmie Tembenu, child justice magistrate for the Government of Malawi. She called attention to a massive gap between the number of incidences of sexual assault recorded at hospitals and the significantly-fewer cases filed with police.

“Most victims of sexual abuse in Malawi do not report that they have been abused,” Tembenu said. “The information I have in my office is that as much as 90 per cent of cases of sexual abuse are not being reported to police.”

She counted off an extensive list of contributing factors as to why this is the case. Among others, family members are reluctant to report incest, rapes that occur in extramarital affairs are often concealed, and in cases of child rape, it’s not uncommon for parents to take a bribe from an assailant in exchange for a promise not to press charges.

There are also serious economic considerations a Malawian woman might take into account before reporting her husband for a crime that will put him in jail for years, Tembenu continued.

Let’s say that the household in question falls within the World Bank’s definition for extreme poverty (surviving on less than the equivalent of $1.50 (U.S.) a day) and is comprised of a mother, her husband –the sole breadwinner for the family– the child that’s being raped, her two brothers and a sister, and their two cousins –orphaned from their biological parents because of HIV or AIDS.

If this woman were to have her husband sent to jail, she would find herself left with seven mouths to feed, abysmal prospects for employment, and virtually none of the social security or welfare programs common in the West. With the crime reported, abuse of the child would likely stop, but without her husband’s income, what would happen to the rest of this woman’s family?

Like Kennedy said, dealing with cases of child rape in Malawi is messy.

The “solution” to situations like the hypothetical one outlined above, he said, is usually to send the victimized child to live in another village or to one of the country’s crowded orphanages. But that, of course, goes nowhere near the root of the problem, and leaves a child rapist free to assault other young girls.

This state of affairs may seem bleak. But Kennedy said that he actually sees reasons for optimism.

When he first started seeing child victims of sexual assault at the hospital two years ago, there was no follow-up capacity whatsoever. Now, thanks to a push by UNICEF and the U.K.’s Department for International Development, as many as 40 per cent of sexually-abused children are enrolled in counselling programs and receive regular psychological care.

There are also encouraging signs that Malawi, as a society, is dropping taboos around discussions of sex and sexual assault, Kennedy noted.

“Malawi is going through a huge culture shift about this,” he explained. “It is getting easier to talk about sex... and we know that perpetrators are growing more frightened because of this.”

The seven-year-old girl discussed at the beginning of this article still lives with the man who raped her. Authorities know who he is, but lack the evidence required for a prosecution. However, it was “made clear” to the man that if the sexual abuse didn’t stop, police would catch him. Now authorities can only hope that he has heeded their warning.

Follow Travis Lupick on Twitter: @tlupick

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Fuel scarcity fuels corruption in Malawi

Amidst severe fuel scarcities, frustrated drivers queue at a gas station after being tipped off that a tanker is set to arrive to offload petrol. Photo by Elena Sosa Lerín.

By Elena Sosa Lerín

It’s a Thursday afternoon and the thermometer is about to hit 40 degrees.

Taxi driver Mike Msindira, 32, is sweaty and exasperated, but resigned to the idea of losing time and his daily income of $75 Cdn by driving all over Blantyre looking for fuel.

He has now been at this gas station for nearly nine hours, and his tank is at zero; but he won’t leave because his car is one of the first vehicles in the queue and he’s heard from different sources that this particular gas station will be receiving gasoline and diesel before the end of the day.

Msindira, along with thousands of other Malawians, is experiencing the fourth fuel crisis of the year.

Each crisis has been the result of the government’s inability to import gasoline or diesel due to its inability to acquire foreign exhange.

Fuel scarcity in the country has disrupted businesses, affected public services, and even regular activities, such as going to work or driving children to school.

But those who don’t own a car are also hurting.

Due to fuel scarcity, by the end of November, minibus operators announced a significant increase in their bus fares, from an average of 50 cents to around 70 cents per journey. Considering that most Malawians live on less than two dollars a day, many have chosen to walk to and from their workplaces and homes, as they cannot afford to pay the new rates.

But the one thing that the absence of fuel has been fuelling is corruption.

For instance, Msindira says that it’s becoming an unfair but common practise to pay “tips” to gas station attendants to get advanced notice of the day and time the station is set to receive petrol.

If you don’t tip them, Msindira says, you don’t get serviced at all.

The Malawi Energy Regulating Authority has stated that it will revoke the licenses of operators who engage in corruption. It also says that it will work with the police to arrest those attendants who ask for tips. However, to date, nothing has been mentioned as to how these measures will be implemented.

These crises have seen the emergence of a steady black market for the illegal sale of fuel with prices ranging from $5 to 6 Cdn per litre.

Adding insult to injury, unscrupulous traders are mixing fuel with other substances, such as paraffin or water, which can potentially harm car engines.

Blessings Nkhambure, 27, an electrical engineer, has waited for 48 hours to get gasoline.

“I’m stinky!” he says, showing large, dark sweat stains under his armpits.

He hasn’t showered for two days. His meals have consisted of bananas or bread, which he passes down with Fanta. To avoid falling asleep at the gas station at night, he chats with the people around him, or listens to music from his cell phone.

“The government should assist us urgently,” Nkhambure says. “We can’t run our business, we can’t eat, we can’t do anything without fuel.”

In an attempt to pacify the public, the government announced in late October that the Reserve Bank of Malawi had made over $3 million Cdn available to Petroleum Importers Limited (PIL) to allow the purchase of 15 million litres of fuel.

But this only provided Malawians with 20 days-worth of petrol, and fuel scarcity reared its ugly head once more.

Even Energy Minister Goodall Gondwe admitted in early November that this effort wasn’t enough, explaining that in fact, roughly $30 million Cdn is needed to solve the issue.

About the 2011 summer/fall jhr bloggers 


Malawi's hope for a future without AIDS

In 2004, Edith Thaulo administered antiretroviral drugs to Dignitas International's very first patient. Seven years later, she is happy to report that the man is still alive. Photo by Travis Lupick. 

By Travis Lupick

When Montreal’s Dr. James Orbinski was taken aback when he visited a hospital in Malawi in 2004.

“It was a living hell,” Orbinski writes in An imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action in the Twenty-First Century. “My knees weakened as I looked around. The hospital was overrun with desperately sick patients. A hundred and fifty people were crammed into a ward that had only 30 beds. Sick people were lying under trees outside. Ninety-per cent of the sick were HIV-positive. It was not a hospital but a morgue.”

This experience inspired Orbinski and a colleague, James Fraser, to leave Doctors Without Borders in 2004 and start Dignitas International, a smaller NGO that would focus on community-based care for people living with HIV and AIDS.

Some seven years later, there’s good news to report from Malawi.

“I registered the first patient,” reported Edith Thaulo, head nurse of Tisungane Clinic at Zomba Central Hospital.

“And,” she continued, “he is still alive today.”

We met Thaulo as part of a tour of Tisungane Clinic ahead of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.

Dignitas runs Tisungane in partnership with Malawi’s Ministry of Health. 

“The clinic started small with just a few staff and a few patients being followed here,” clinic coordinator Edson Mwinjiwa recounted. “Zomba didn’t have any ARV service and it is a big place, with 70,000 people and a high HIV-prevalence rate; about 17 per cent at that time.”

Since then, Mwinjiwa detailed, Dignitas has enrolled approximately 18,000 HIV-positive patients in antiretroviral treatment (of which 10,000 currently remain in the system and make regular visits to Dignitas clinics). And Zomba District’s HIV-prevalence rate has dropped from 17 to 10 – nearly two points below the national.

This wasn’t all accomplished at Tisungane Clinic, Mwinjiwa noted. A big part of Dignitas’ work in Zomba has consisted of capacity-building  – training staff to specialize in HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment – throughout the district. In addition to these efforts, Dignitas also opened 22 satellite clinics, which has meant huge gains for ARV accessibility, Mwinjiwa emphasized.

Acknowledging Dignitas’ success, the Ministry of Health recently invited the group to expand into two additional districts –Phalombe and Mulanje – and after that, Malawi’s entire South-East Health Zone.

And so there is much to celebrate. However, Dr. Belete Assefa, Malawi country director for Dignitas International, called attention to recent funding problems that could put much of the progress Malawi has made at risk.

He noted that Malawi’s fight against HIV and AIDS is heavily dependent on funding provided through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which, on Nov.24 and amid an economic downtown and accusations of financial mismanagement, announced that it would issue no new grants until 2014.

No one interviewed during a week of hospital visits was so bold as to claim that Malawi can actually get to a zero rate of HIV transmission by 2015.

But looking back over the last decade, the majority expressed great optimism for the direction in which the country’s fight against HIV and AIDS is headed.

Follow Travis Lupick on Twitter: @tlupick

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Malawi prepares for climate change


Charcoal producers in rural Malawi understand that their work hurts the environment, but they argue that poverty leaves them little choice but to continue working in the industry. Photo by Travis Lupick.

By Travis Lupick

Daniel Chakunkha and Mussa Abu understand that what they do for money is detrimental to Malawi’s environment – but poverty has left them little choice in the matter.

“We are well aware of the effects of deforestation on the environment but we are forced by circumstances,” said Chakunkha.

“We are feeling the effects of these self inflicted injuries,” Abu added. “When we had enough vegetative cover, the soil was very fertile and strong because of the leaves and roots. Nowadays, our farmland has become useless.”

These men are charcoal producers; to earn money to feed their families, they fell trees and slowly heat the wood to turn it into the chalky lumps of biomass used for cooking across the country.

Charcoal is big business in Malawi. According to a 2007 report by the International Institute for Environment and Development, the industry employs upwards of 93,000 people and charcoal is used for cooking by 85 per cent of households surveyed.

But charcoal production is also a leading source of deforestation in Malawi, a densely-populated country where resource depletion is an increasingly-pressing concern.Chakunkha and Abu maintain that they do not want continue exacting such a toll on the environment; but they are poor and must do what they can to see that their incomes grow.

The two old men told me that last week, in a remote village called Makunje. Not so far away, in Durban, South Africa, similar arguments are being made by some of the most powerful men and women in the world.

Monday marked the opening of the 17th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (or if you’re on Twitter, just #COP17). More than 20,000 state delegates, lobbyists and scientists are meeting to negotiate resolutions and agreements around climate change.

As U.K. publication, the Guardian, paraphrased it, the International Energy Agency’s “most thorough analysis yet of world energy infrastructure” recently warned that “the world is likely to build so many fossil-fuelled power stations, energy-guzzling factories and inefficient buildings in the next five years that it will become impossible to hold global warming to safe levels.”

Yet despite such a dire pronouncement by the world's foremost authority on energy, it largely won’t be the environment that’s the focus of discussion among world leaders in Durban next week.

For years now, international talks on climate change have been locked in arguments between the world’s richest economies –including the United States, European Union, and Canada– and the world’s fastest growing economies –such as China, India, and Brazil– over who gets to pollute the most and why. 

Largely left out of the debate are the world’s poorest nations, which are not only the countries least-equipped to deal with the impacts of climate change, but also those projected to be the worst-affected.

“(Malawi’s) total emissions are insignificant at the global level,” said Yanira Ntupanyama, director of Environmental Affairs, “and yet we do suffer from the consequential adverse effects of climate change that include intense rainfall, floods, droughts, dry spells, cold spells, strong winds, thunderstorms, landslides, hailstorms, mudslides and heat waves, among others.”

Ntupanyama described the link between climate change and extreme weather – which was recently confirmed a reality by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – as “a threat to the country’s socio-economic development, attainment of the goals in the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy, as well as the Millennium Development Goals.”

Speaking as she packed for her flight to Durban for the convention, Ntupanyama detailed a host of measures adopted by the Government of Malawi to minimizing the country’s contributions to greenhouse gases and prepare the nation for oncoming stresses associated with climate change.

For example, there is the Greenbelt Initiative, Ntupanyama said, which was designed to safeguard against climate change impacts like erratic rains and unexpected draughts. And the National Framework for Managing Climate Change, she continued, which is promoting adaptation and mitigation capacities, strengthening weather forecasting capabilities, and researching how to strengthen the management of climate change.

But there is always more work to be done. “We need to up-scale the effort, scope and modalities of funding to effectively manage the efforts of climate change,” Ntupanyama added.

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Malawi's informal economy keeps social security services out of reach


Like millions of people in Malawi, men working Blantyre's common food stalls are employed outside of the formal economy and often lack social security benefits such as pension plans. Photo by Travis Lupick.

By Travis Lupick

Two months ago, our neighbours here in Blantyre, Malawi, fired their night watchman. The man was in his late sixties and, we suspected, was going senile.

‘What will he do for money?’ I recall wondering. But the thought was soon forgotten.

Last week, however, the night guard’s fate returned to my conscience. Researching a story on social security in Malawi, I learned that in all likelihood, my neighbour’s former employee now lives in extreme poverty (defined by the World Bank as living on the equivalent of less than $1.50 U.S. a day).

Down a back road in Blantyre, a colleague and I found Enock Andaradi sifting through a pile of garbage, scavenging for anything that he could exchange for money or food.

“Life has been tough on me, especially lately because I am completely abandoned,” he told us.

Andaradi, 79, was also once a night guard. But he, too, was dismissed on account of his old age.

A few days later, Jonathan Mbenje told a similar story. Despite being 73-years-old, he was still working as a night guard, but expressed great anxiety for his future.

“For me to be working at this old age is not out of choice,” he said. “Being a guard, especially at this age, it is very dangerous.”

In Canada, these men could have paid into pension plans and now be living comfortably in retirement. But in Malawi and throughout much of Sub Saharan Africa —where, according to a comprehensive World Bank analysis, an average of 40 per cent of economic activity takes place outside the formal sector— such social services are largely out of reach.

In Malawi, there is legislation aimed at providing the basics of a welfare system.

The Employment Act, for example, includes provisions pertaining to a minimum wage, contract terminations, and severance pay. And there are sections in the act that state that employers must provide paid sick leave as well as full pay for women on maternity leave. In addition, the recently-amended Pension Bill sets the maximum retirement age at 70 and requires employers to pay 10 per cent of an employee’s wage into a pension fund.

However, according to a 2010 report by the International Labour Office in Geneva, 90 per cent of Malawians – more than 13 million people – work outside of the formal economy. And considering the extent to which significant segments of the population are fundamentally excluded from society due to poverty and inequality, the prestigious 2010 Ibrahim Index of African Governance gives Malawi a miserable score of two out of 10. 

The Malawi government has attempted to extend social services to this large and vulnerable pool of labour. 

Section 43 of the Employment Act refers to benefits for seasonal workers, and a 2010 amendment to the act reduced the qualifying period for long service benefits from 12 months to three. Furthermore, the 1996 Labour Relations Act provides for the formation of trade unions in the informal economy, and a group called the Malawi Union for the Informal Sector now exists.

Even still, an untold number of Malawians fall through these safety nets, which, as the situations of these night guards makes clear, remain porous. 

A primary factor frustrating efforts to see casual labourers gain access to programs such as pensions is a lack of awareness.

Andaradi claimed that he has never heard of social services for the old and unemployed. “I do not know how the aged can be helped,” he lamented.

Another problem is the ineffectual state of Malawi law enforcement.

Mbenje is employed by a registered security company, and so upon leaving his job, he said he does expect to receive some form of monetary compensation to help ease him into retirement. But he complained that uneducated workers like him rarely get what they are owed.

“Most of the time, they give someone between K20,000 and K40,000 ($120-$240 U.S.),” Mbenje reported, noting that that would be a one-time payout, and not any sort of regular allowance.

 “With that kind of money, you cannot survive; hence, I am still working at age 73.”

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Suicide and shame in Malawi

Malawi’s Nation on Sunday reports on the mysterious suicide of 24-year-old Robert Chasowa, a student and political activist. Photo by Nina Lex.

By Nina Lex

As I walked to work, the headlines of Malawi’s daily papers caught my eye: “Poly Student Commits Suicide.”

I stopped mid-step, shocked and stared wide-eyed at the gruesome photograph of the young man’s dead body splashed across the front page.

While the act of suicide in Malawi remains taboo, suicide cases are often smeared across the pages of the country’s newspaper. Tabloidization of a suicide victim’s family, personal details and the death are reported on without afterthought. Photographs and suicide letters are also printed.

Families and communities are often shamed after a death because of how the media reports on suicide, explained Kenneth Mtaso, executive Director of Young Voices, a community–based organization that works to protect and promote the rights of youth in Malawi.

Attempting and committing suicide is illegal in Malawi and is treated as a criminal offence rather than a social issue. Section 229 of the penal code states, “any person who attempts to kill himself shall be guilty of misdemeanour.”

This law brings further shame to families of those who try to take their own lives.

“If you are caught trying to kill yourself you go to prison. It can be a jail sentence between four and five years.  The police look at the forces that contributed to your suicide and then decide the length,” said Mtaso. “However, this isn’t effective because most people will disregard all punishment to commit suicide.”

There are no definitive statistics or data on how many people commit suicide or attempt suicide and are jailed in Malawi; however, it is believed that the number is growing as the country faces more challenges, such as increasing levels of poverty.

With over 70 per cent of Malawians living on less then a dollar, poverty is an instigator that leads to suicide in Malawi.  Poorer rural areas are more at risk for suicides, as there are greater cultural pressures and stigmatization to face there, explains Mtaso.

“In the villages people marry younger making them more susceptible to suicide. Also teen pregnancy is big factor in youth suicide,” said Mtaso. “Because of the stigma surrounding reproductive issues in Malawi, especially in rural areas, middle-aged women who are having trouble conceiving sometime commit suicide because of the pressures to have a baby.”

About 80 per cent of Malawi’s population lives in rural areas.

While there is less pressure on urban youth to marry and have children, alcohol and drugs leads to more youth suicides in Malawi’s major cities.

According to UNICEF, the adult HIV prevalence rate in Malawi in 2009 was 11 per cent, which also contributes to suicide in Malawi.

Young Voices has been offering advice for troubled youth, who are at risk of suicide in Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa since 1997.

“We try to emphasize that just because you live in poverty doesn’t mean it’s the end,” said Mtaso. “Young people have a responsibility to protect themselves and value life.”

About the 2011 summer/fall jhr bloggers 


Malawi’s vaccines controversy

                                    Women pass by Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre. Photo by Nina Lex.                                                                

By Nina Lex

The topic of immunization is often controversial – but in Malawi, it can be deadly as parents refuse their children access to vaccines.

Two months ago, the online publication, Malawi Voice, reported that 131 children from Nsanje, Malawi’s most southern district were vaccinated at gunpoint.

These families had originally fled to Mozambique to “protect” their children from the anti-measles vaccination, but when they returned home, medical officials and police tracked down the children and forcefully vaccinated them.

It was reported that The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was behind the involuntary vaccinations. The foundation has been launching extensive campaigns to make sure all children are vaccinated against deadly diseases. When it comes to vaccines, Melinda Gates called Malawi one of the few countries “on track to reach the UN Millennium Development Goals.”

When contacted, the Gates Foundation and its partners in Malawi were unavailable for an interview.

In Malawi, the UN, NGOs and the Malawian Ministry of Health work together to ensure that all children are given shots for tuberculosis, polio, hepatitis and measles, as well as vitamins. The Health Ministry is currently carrying out a mass vaccination campaign, targeting six million vulnerable children under the age of 15 across Malawi.

“It is a requirement that all children are vaccinated, but it’s difficult to trace to see if a child has been vaccinated,” says David Chimwaza, a clinical officer at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre.

Measles is the most common disease outbreak in Malawi.

Worldwide, 164,000 people, mostly children under the age of 5, die from measles. Even though effective immunization costs less than $1 U.S. and has been available for 40 years.Furthermore, each year more than 1.7 million children die of vaccine preventable diseases, according to WHO.

“During an outbreak everyone has to be vaccinated,” explains Chimwaza. “Officials will go into homes to inspect children to check if they were vaccinated.”

However, in rural communities this can prove difficult without proper record keeping and lack of resources.

Similarly, vaccinations can be controversial in Canada, but for different reasons.

Some Canadian parents believe that the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine can be linked to autism or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Although, most doctors and scientists agree the benefits of immunizations that protect against infectious diseases outweigh the rare side effects of vaccines.

In addition to health concerns, some Malawian families are against vaccinations and Western medicine because their religion forbids it, such as the Seventh Day Apostolic Church. Members of the Seventh Day Apostolic Church who do receive medical care are excommunicated from the church.

A Malawian father, who follows the Seventh Day Apostolic faith, was sentenced to two years in prison after refusing to let his three children receive the measles vaccine due to his religious belief. Police believe that one of his children died from the illness.

In nearby Zimbabwe, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a bulletin in 2009 stating that the majority of unvaccinated children belong to apostolic faith sects, 45 per cent and 23 per cent belong to the Pentecostal Church.

Muslim fundamentalists are also against immunization programs because vaccines can contain animals that have not been killed in accordance with ritual or can contain alcohol.

In some cases Muslim fundamentalists believe vaccines are used by the West to poison or sterilize followers of Islam.

“Usually because of religion, children do not receive vaccines. They have the idea that if you are sick God will help you - you don’t have to take drugs and medicines,” says Chimwaza.

As for the children who were vaccinated at gunpoint,he explains that both the measles outbreak and the need for its immediate containment were the cause for such an extreme response.

“The police had to vaccinate at gunpoint,” he says.“I think it was the first time that has happened.”

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Biking as a tool of female empowerment

Alba Kunadu Sumprim says back in England, cycling was a key method of transport for her and part of her daily routine.

By Michelle Newlands

In Ghana's northern regions bicycles are used as a necessary means of transportation, but in the capital city of Accra, this is not the case. Cycling in the city can not only be dangerous, but attached to social stigmas - especially for women cyclists.

This is what Alba Kunadu Sumprim, along with 10 others, discovered as participants in the Woman on Bike workshop, which is also part of the Prêt-à-partager art exhibition.

The purpose of the workshop is to explore the limits and possibilities of bikes in an urban West African atmosphere with particular significance to biking as a tool of female empowerment.

Sumprim is a British-born Ghanaian and a participant in the workshop. Sumprim says back in England, cycling was a key method of transport for her and part of her daily routine. She has spent the past decade living in Ghana and says this workshop gave her the courage and confidence to get on a bike for the first time since her arrival 10 years ago.

“When I first started I was a little scared,” she says. “It's a matter of confidence... as I became more confident I realized it was my right to be on the road with everybody else.”

Sumprim says, based on her experience riding in the city, she has felt social discrimination as a female cyclist, stating one man she met while riding told her that as far as he was concerned, the only women who should be on bicycles are villagers, women from the north or foreigners, and Ghanaian women in Accra, should not be on bicycles.

“It is all about status - and riding a bike says that you are poor. That is the perception. I think there is also a gender thing, we have very typical ideas of what women can do and what women can't do,” Sumprim says.

This is the type of discrimination the workshop aims to eliminate. Sandrine Micosse-Aikins, co-creator of Prêt-à-partager art exhibition in collaboration with the German Institute of Foreign Cultural Relations, says the initiative is related to ideas of freedom and Pan African Empowerment.

As a German-Ghanaian, she says female empowerment is an important issue for her and feels biking is something people in the city aren't practicing and aren't claiming as their right.

“[It's] about promoting biking as a practice available for women, especially Ghanaian women,” Micosse-Aikins says.

The women involved in the workshop agree the perception of female cyclists in Accra and the discrimination towards them is not something that is going to vanish overnight. It is, however, something they believe they can work towards and plan to continue.

Zohra Opoku is a German-Ghanaian, avid cyclist, artist and coordinator of the Woman on Bike workshop. Opoku says this workshop is just the beginning and they have started to think of actions to strengthen their goal. It begins with public interaction, she says.

“In terms of empowerment it is something that has to grow,” Opuku says. “I think this is good. People will see more bikes on the streets because of our workshop.”

In addition to the empowerment associated with female riders, Sumprim states that although the workshop is focused on women and female empowerment, it has potential to extend into the greater community.

According to her, less traffic congestion, decreased pollution, lower economic demand for oil and overall health and fitness are benefits of the cycling initiative.

“It is Woman on Bike because it is a novelty, but society in general can be empowered... it is actually a huge thing for society as a whole,” Sumprim says.

The hidden life of Tomefa Island

(L-R) Chief Oposika Tetteh and Phillip Lomotey (Photo: Ekow Anderson, CITI-FM)

By Sandra Ferrari

When two children drowned in the deep waters of the Weija Dam just outside of Accra in 2008, very few people had even heard of Tomefa Island.

Not many people knew that it existed because it was, and remains today, a place that is virtually inaccessible from the mainland of the Greater Accra area - unless you have a solid canoe, good upper body strength and an hour or two to kill.

Generations ago, ancestors of those in this hidden community, migrated south from Ada and other areas in the Volta region of Ghana to settle on a section of land they called “Tomefa”.

Tomefa means “piece of mind.”

With the construction of the Weija Dam in 1979, however, this piece of mind – so to speak - would no longer be afforded to them. 

The Weija Dam began harnessing tons of water from the Densu River, which continues to be treated by the Weija Water Works plant 15 kilometres west of Accra. Today the plant itself serves millions of Ghanaians who would otherwise have little or no access to clean water in the city.

What this construction also did was leave the farming village of Tomefa almost completely submerged under water, isolating it from the Greater Accra region.

Four decades later, this small community of 1,500 continues to live, farm and fish, tucked away not far from a bustling metropolis of Accra. They survive off the land with minimal support from the government and have no access to the clean water being pumped out just near by.

Around election time, local candidates will visit the area, making promises and urging their constituents to vote.

“If they can give us a net to fish, a school, a road, then doctor, maybe life jackets…” says Chief Tetteh. “We are happy.”

The people of Tomefa have grown frustrated and claim that their government officials have not delivered on any of their promises.

Current MP for Weija, Shirley Ayorkor Botchway, says she continues to advocate for the people of Tomefa, but ultimately it is not up to her to approve and implement developmental projects in the area.

“I can promise the people of Tomefa that I have not shirked my responsibilities,” she says.

According to Botchway, the projects can only be approved at the level of the Municipal Assembly.

Ga South Municipal Assembly person, Mr. Sheriff Dodoo believes, “Tomefa has a peculiar problem. They are on government land. The whole place has been acquired for the Ghana Water Company and the place is not supposed to be habited. They are squatting on Government property.”

The real issue, according to Dodoo, is not about extending services such as health care and education to Tomefa. The problem is that they are “illegal squatters” and this problem needs to be acknowledged.  

“Finding resources to extend services to them. That is not a big deal. We can always do that.”

No timeline was made available for any plans to extend resources to the people of Tomefa.

What a difference some ingenuity makes

Juliet Degadzor and Vann Hokey of UCOMS have a plan.

When the news story broke about the tragedy, Degadzor and Vann Hokey, along with a small team of their colleagues at The University College of Management Studies (UCOMS) in Accra started asking some questions. 

Why has this community been neglected? What do they need? What can be done?

You know, simple questions.

At UCOMS, “We identify social, economic and environmental problems in our communities and apply economic and social concepts through the theoretical knowledge we have from class to solve those complex problems we have seen in our society,” says Hokey.

Their plan: To turn the Island of Tomefa into the first agro-tourism site in Ghana in order to help the community start generating money for itself.

According to SIFE – an international, not-for-profit, business organization that brings together young entrepreneurs from countries all over the world – the plan is a good one.

It’s so good, in fact that it won them a spot at the SIFE World Cup being hosted in Malaysia.

What this means for the people of Tomefa is that 900 of them have been registered for National Health Insurance, they have business students working with them and teaching them how to garner money and support themselves, and they also have piece of mind.

Personal contributions and funds garnered through the private sector to the tune of GHC 9,050 (approx. 6,000 Cdn) and some ingenuity. Some of this money comes from fundraising, while a fair portion of it came out of the students themselves.

To date, no government support has been contributed.

For the students and for the people of Tomefa, the next step is awareness.

They will present their project, along with its initial successes, to business leaders present at the SIFE World cup – an international competition for young entrepreneurs implementing development projects and initiatives in underdeveloped communities in their own country.

According to Hokey: “Tomefa has now been identified as one of the villages with the highest poverty rates in Ghana. Now the Government of Ghana is aware of the plight of the people.”

Files from Isaac Kaledzi, CITI-FM

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