|Africa News Digest
Marburg Fever Outruns Tardy Control Measures in Angola
Marburg hemorrhagic fever is now raging out of control in Angolawith a death rate of 100%. There is nothing to prevent it from spreading far beyond Angola's borders. The outbreak, which began in October with three cases, had grown to 20 new cases in January, 31 in February, and 75 in March. But in the first seven days of April, there were 79 new cases.
These figures count only known cases of persons who died in hospital or whose corpses were found in tracing contacts. Among Angola's very poor population, these cases are markers for a much larger epidemic.
Unlike any previous outbreak of Marburg Fever, the mortality rate for this outbreak is 100%suggesting that a deadly mutation has taken place. There is no known case of a living patient being discharged; the only living cases are those who "have not been sick long enough to die," in the words of Dr. Henry Niman, president of Recombinomics, a Pittsburgh biotech firm, in a March 31 commentary on its website. No treatment is known. The current outbreak, the first in an urban setting (town of Uije and surrounding towns) is also the largest ever.
Marburg Fever is caused by a virus of the family Filoviridae, to which Ebola virus also belongs. The African green monkey is a host to both. It spreads on contact with body fluids. After five to ten days of incubation, onset of fever, chills, and headache is sudden. Five days after the first symptoms, rash, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding from bodily orifices, and chest and abdominal pain typically appear. Death usually follows within days.
The response of the international health community has escalated sharply in recent weeks, seeking to contain the outbreak. The World Health Organization (WHO), U.S. Centers for Disease Control, International Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and institutions in South Africa, Britain, and Canada have all flown in experts to help the government with all tasks, from lab work to training health workers to building and running isolation wards.
There are now surveillance networks in six northern provinces surrounding the epicenter, Uije, and in Uije province itself. The capital province of Luanda is among the six. An intensive campaign to educate Angolans in every possible forum is under way.
But the international effort is well behind the curve. As late as March 26, Dr. Niman reported that "basic barriers such as gowns, gloves, and masks are lacking, facilitating the spread of the virus." At that point, doctors and nurses were dying. No wonder the hospital staff in Uije panicked and fled.
Since then, WHO has sent 1,100 pounds of personal protective equipment and other supplies for infection control. But in a bulletin issued April 5, the International Red Cross reported that boots, masks, overalls, gloves, disinfectants, chlorine for water disinfection, megaphones, and food for volunteers were still urgently needed. It had allocated $54,000 for the items, but the money had not yet been spent.
At Americo Boa Vida hospital in Luanda, as of April 4, experts were still working around the clock to finish an isolation ward begun a week earlier.
Panic over Marburg Fever in Angola
In Uije province, health workers have allegedly been attacked and killed by residents, as reported to CNN by a WHO worker April 8. The residents understand only that the health workers take their kin to hospital, and then they die. Mobile surveillance teams in Uije province suspended operations April 7 after their vehicles were attacked and damaged. WHO staff learned April 8 of several deaths, but were unable to investigate the cause of death or collect the bodies for safe burial.
A large number of people are fleeing Uije province, epicenter of the outbreak, doubtless spreading the disease in the process. The Director of Health for Kwanza-Norte province, Miguel Sebastiao Gaspar, told the Angolan news agency ANGOP April 7 that many from Uije province were arriving in the town of Ambaca in Kwanza-Norte province.
WHO Appeals for $2.4 Million To Fight Marburg Fever
The World Health Organization launched an appeal April 8, through the UN, for $2.4 million to support the emergency response to Marburg Fever.
WHO recommended April 7 that three countries that surround AngolaNamibia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Zambiaand the nearby Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) should go on alert.
In a preemptive move in South Africa, "Solly Mabotha, spokesperson of the national health department, said isolation wards had been prepared in hospitals in all nine provinces and health practitioners had been thoroughly briefed," according to News24 April 7. There has been one death attributed to Marburg in South Africa. Tissue has been flown to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, for testing.
Sudan Defiant Over UN Authorizing ICC War Crimes Trials
Sudan is defiant over the UN authorization of trials of Sudanese by the International Criminal Court (ICC), for alleged war crimes in Darfur in western Sudan. The British-influenced Sudanese opposition party favors the trials. Sudan's cabinet, chaired by President Omar al-Bashir, concluded April 3 that the UN Security Council resolution, giving the ICC jurisdiction over Sudanese suspects, "is contradicting justice and objectivity and violating national sovereignty," Information Minister Abdel Basit Sabdarat told the press.
On state-run TV April 1, a member of the ruling party, Abdul Galeel Nazeer Karori, a leading Islamist, said, "We will not allow any arrest or trial of a Sudanese official" by the ICC. The president of the Lawyers Union, Fatahi Khaleel, echoed his statement April 2, adding, "We will resist it by all means."
Two thousand participated in an angry demonstration against the UN Security Council resolution in Khartoum April 2. They chanted anti-U.S. and anti-French slogans, including "Down, down, USA, we will not be governed by the CIA," and "Death to America." The ruling National Congress Party called it the beginning of a mass mobilization.
Sadiq al-Mahdi, the British-influenced leader of the opposition Umma Party, told Al-Jazeera TV April 1 that Sudan should send the suspects to the ICC for trial. Mahdi was Prime Minister in 1989 when he was overthrown by Bashir. Mahdi and his party have operated in Sudan since 1999, after reaching an agreement with Bashir.
Egypt Supports Sudan's Opposition to ICC Trials
Egypt says Sudan can try suspects referred to the ICC, to avoid ICC trials. Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit said on April 6, after meeting Sudan's Foreign Minister Mustafa Isma'il in Cairo, that "The ICC ... issues accusations, but if the internal judiciary in the country concerned plays its role, then it negates the need for the criminal court. If there appears to be any reluctance ... or attempt to dodge these accusations, then ... the ICC will make a move against the accused."
Opposition Umma Party Banned in Sudan Over ICC Trials Issue
The British-influenced opposition Umma Party has been banned in Sudan, for its stand in favor of International Criminal Court trials for Sudanese suspected of war crimes in Darfur (see above), according to party members who spoke to BBC News April 7. The party has been forbidden to engage in political activities. Its headquarters were stormed by police, and dozens of members arrested there, on April 6.
The Umma Party is led by former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, whose family has radiated British influence since 1898, when Lord Kitchener conquered the country.
Nigerian President Smashes National Labor Umbrella Body
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo on March 30 signed into law a bill he will use to break up the national labor umbrella of 29 unions, the National Labour Congress (NLC), according to government statements of intention. The law gives the government the power to decide whether unions can form a federation, and sets strict conditions that must be met before a union or a federation can strike. It forbids unions from compelling anyone to join a strike.
The NLC led four strikes during 2004 against fuel price increases as Obasanjo, guided by IMF orthodoxy, progressively reduced government subsidies. There was significant overlap between the strike movement and the movement to impeach Obasanjo.
Obasanjo's successes in stifling national opposition are likely to strengthen Nigerian separatist movements.
Nigerian Secessionists, Charged with Treason, Seek Bail
Fifty-two members of the banned Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), charged with treason, were in court in Lagos March 22 seeking bail; the judge is to rule on the request April 11, according to AP March 23. They have been in jail for six months on charges of treason and plotting war against the President and the Army, and were arrested on the playing field when they organized a soccer tournament in Lagos, Sept. 11, 2004.
The arrests were probably a response to the successful stay-at-home organized by MASSOB in Iboland, southeastern Nigeria, on Aug. 26. The circular calling for that action was printed under a "Republic of Biafra" banner and coat of arms. The Sept. 11 arrests may also have been a response to the declaration of support for MASSOB Sept. 8 by the leader of Biafra in the 1967-70 Nigerian civil war, former Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Ojukwu.
MASSOB was formed in 1999. It opened Biafra House in Washington in 2001 and operates Radio Biafra in the United States, and it rallied in support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.