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Thursday, November 15th, 2018

 

'Rare’ victory for humanitarian diplomacy as aid convoy reaches desert camp in Syria

Following successful delivery of lifesaving aid to tens of thousands of displaced Syrians in the ‘desolate’ area around Rukban camp last week, the United Nations is working urgently to send another convoy of supplies by mid-December, Jan Egeland, Senior Advisor to the UN Special Envoy on Yemen told reporters on Thursday.

Mr. Egeland painted a harrowing picture of the situation in the desert region, where the UN has been trying to reach 40,000 to 50,000 since early this year. Calling it one of the most “desolate places on earth”, he said that between 3 and 8 November, 78 trucks were able to navigate through “some of the most dangerous areas of Syria,” to deliver food, health and sanitary items, and water purification for all the population for at least a month.

At the same time, he said that despite “some rare moments of feeling that we achieved, through humanitarian diplomacy, what we have so many times before failed to,” he had learned of the “horrific protection challenges” people living inside the camp – close to the border with Jordan – faced during a meeting of the UN-backed Humanitarian Task Force in Geneva.

“It really stuck with me the story of the 13-year-old mother […] who was pregnant again. She had delivered once in totally substandard conditions, there is not a single trained doctor active that I know of in the camp.”

“I cannot think of a worse place on earth now for women and children,” he lamented, responding to a question regarding the status of families in the region.

Aside from supplying aid, key conversations and negotiations must take place between the Russia, the United States and Jordan to begin the end of armed resistance in order to “unlock this trap which is now for too many civilians in Rukban,” he urged.

Mr. Egeland shifted to discuss the desperate situation in Idlib, also controlled by armed opposition: “We now celebrate two months without air raids. I feared that this month of November would be the most horrific war month […] it’s been the [quietest] two months for the last five years in Idlib.”

With tension still looming, he added there is uncertainty of “whether this is quiet before the big storm or this is quiet before peace.”

The “forgotten” military campaign in Syria’s east, he said, still sees hundreds of air raids in the Hajin area. He noted there are many Islamic State of Iraq and the Levans (ISIL) fighters, but also 10,000 civilians in this region, where 27,000 have been displaced since the start of the campaign.

One concern for the displaced is that they may end up trapped near a battle zone once they arrive at screening camps, Mr. Egeland explained. “At least once, Islamic State fighters have come and torched such a camp. We told again the coalition to work to immediately have these camps moved out of harm’s way…”

Civilians held by terrorist groups have the same protection under humanitarian law, he said, calling for more action to put a stop on civilian casualties.

During his discussion with reporters Mr. Egeland pleaded: “I ask these armed men: don’t take with you the civilian population as you go down, let’s have sanity prevail for once in Syria.”


Ministry to probe teenage pregnancies

By SAMWEL OWINO
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Labour Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani has formed a team of senior Ministry officials to investigate teenage pregnancies in Kilifi County where 13,624 cases were reported this year among learners aged 15 to 19.

Mr Yatani Thursday told the National Assembly committee of Labour that the team will be dispatched to the county next week.

“I have constituted a team of officials from the children’s department in the ministry to get to the bottom of this matter and we will share the report with you in order to get a way forward,” Mr Yatani told the committee.

The team will also extend their investigations to Kwale County before visiting other affected counties.

“The problem is not only in Kilifi but shared across other parts of the country and we need to take action,” Mr Yatani told the MPs. The CS said the national government should work with county governments to address the issue of teen pregnancies.

The committee chairman Hassan Wario said it was alarming that 13,000 young girls got pregnant during this year’s KCPE examinations.

“We have concentrated so much in building the infrastructure until we forgot the social issues, these figures of teen pregnancies are scary,” Mr Wario said.

“The picture is gloomy and something should urgently be done at the national level to address the problem,” Mr Wario added.
Nominated MP and Knut Secretary-General Wilson Sossion asked the ministry team to also address young girls working as commercial sex workers at the Coast.

Last week, Education CS Amina Mohamed decried the high number of teenage pregnancies reported and ordered the quality assurance team in the Education ministry to investigate and file a report of all cases of pregnancies among school girls.

The CS noted that the move will enable the ministry to outline measures to curb such cases.


African governments should accept that presidents are mortal beings

There is one peculiar habit common in most African governments.

We have seen the ill health of presidents being shrouded in secrecy, making it hallowed and a crime to even dare report it.

We saw this with Nigeria during the reign of President Umaru Yar’Adua before he died.

Most Heads of State in Africa will never be reported to be out of their countries for medical care. Any hurried visit abroad is always reported as a working visit. This is quite wrong.

Not long ago, we saw Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari hand over power to his deputy when he was away in London undergoing treatment.

That is how things should be. All human beings, including Heads of State and government, are mortals prone to all challenges common to human beings.

There have been murmurs for weeks now that Ali Bongo, the President of Gabon, is seriously sick. However, it was only early this week that his office admitted that he was in fact very sick.

The presidency is a symbol of unity in any country and no president works alone.

Africa has embraced democracy and the era when people were warned that imagining or visualising the death of a president is treason are long gone.

There is no reason to create so much anxiety among the citizens of a country by denying them the right to know about their president’s well being.

DAVID M. KIGO, Nairobi


Antibiotics resistance now a big threat to treatment of infections

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), every November, the World Antibiotic Awareness Week is marked with the main objective of increasing global awareness of antibiotic resistance and to encourage best practices among the general public, health workers and policymakers to avoid the re-emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance. This year the event will run from November 12 to 18, 2018.

Antibiotics are medicines used to prevent and treat bacterial infections. The medicines have lately been established to be weakening in their effectiveness in treating ordinary infections.

MISUSE AND OVERUSE

Infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis and gonorrhoea are becoming harder to treat as the antibiotics used to treat them become less effective. The reason for this unfortunate performance is antibiotic resistance.

Such resistance builds up when bacteria become accustomed to and grow in presence of antibiotics.

According to the WHO World Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance, this kind of resistance develops more quickly through the misuse and overuse of antimicrobial medicines such as antibiotics.

The WHO October 2016 Fact Sheet on antibiotic resistance notes that antibiotic resistance is increasing to seriously high levels all over the world.

It further notes that new resistance mechanisms are emerging and spreading worldwide, threatening our capability to treat ordinary infectious diseases.

A growing list of infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, blood poisoning and gonorrhoea are becoming harder and sometimes impossible to treat as antibiotics become less effective.

SELF-MEDICATION

A medical doctor in Baringo County Paul Odila agrees that antibiotic resistance is becoming a major threat to human treatment. He notes that antibiotics resistance is prevalent especially in children due to self-medication.

He further explains that another reason for antibiotics resistance is lack of capacity by most health facilities to do a culture test. A culture test, which is principally used to help determine whether a wound is infected and to identify the exact bacteria causing infections. Doctors can then use the results to find the right drug to treat the infection.

According to WHO, surveys done in various countries showed that many patients believed that antibiotics would cure viral infections that cause fever, coughs and colds.

Dr Odila cautions patients demanding antibiotics for colds and other viral infections.

WHO is calling for enhanced awareness and understanding of antibiotic resistance through effective communication, education and training members of the public.

LEMOMO Ole KULET, via email


Stem DPP office exodus

By EDITORIAL
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The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is enjoying growing confidence in its ability to tackle cases without fear or favour.

Indeed, there is great admiration of the job DPP Noordin Haji has been doing since his appointment in recent months.

Besides boldly handling high-profile cases, the DPP has demonstrated that in pursuit of those suspected of engaging in corruption or looting public coffers, there will be no sacred cows.

A number of high-profile personalities are already going through due process and the public now believes that the cases will be fairly handled and that those culpable will face the full wrath of the law. The work of the DPP has been made easier with the co-operation from an invigorated Directorate of Criminal Investigations.

The partnership between DCI boss George Kinoti and Mr Haji is proving quite formidable.

It will, therefore, come as a big disappointment to learn that there is a high staff turnover at the DPP’s office.

With nearly 80 lawyers exiting in the past few years in search of greener pastures, this is going to directly undermine the ability of the directorate to prosecute the many cases that have given hope to Kenyans that the judicial system now has the teeth and will bite criminals.

Every effort should be made to ensure that the ability of the directorate is not blunted through the loss of some of its more talented, experienced and resourceful lawyers.

One way is to review their terms of service and remuneration.

After all, there are government agencies such as the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, which pay much better than what the state lawyers earn.

To ensure stability and sustain the momentum in the prosecution of corruption and other cases, the exodus from the directorate should be stemmed.


Co-operate but don’t kill the opposition

By EDITORIAL
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Developments in the political landscape are increasingly getting fluid. Since the March 9 handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga, the political dynamics have changed. Stability has been achieved and there is a sense of camaraderie all round.

Whereas there is consensus that the political rapprochement between erstwhile vicious protagonists is good for the country, there is need to clearly define what it is all about.

This is because the handshake has killed the opposition. It is also interpreted as a means towards self-gain, especially in view of the appointments of Mr Odinga to the African Union Commission and his presidential running mate, Mr Kalonzo Musyoka, to the Sudan peace monitoring team and according them some privileges.

Already there are talks bring in other opposition leaders and give them some jobs ostensibly to silence them.

It is just but a matter of time before all the opposition chiefs are muzzled and forced to play second fiddle to the ruling party.

A scenario is emerging where politicians are busy cutting deals and protecting one another while the citizens are grappling with serious existential challenges, including rising inflation, high cost of commodities and services, including fuel. Public services remain wanting. Fight against corruption is yet to yield the desired results.

The Opposition has been defanged and rendered rudderless.

No longer does it ask tough questions, keep government under check or challenge it when things go wrong. This is bad for the country. It signals the return of one-party state, which is worrying. Co-operation does not mean subservience.

There is concern that the country is piling huge debts that may soon become unmanageable. But due to lack of strong opposition, the government continues to borrow pretty aware that nobody will challenge it. Just the other day, Treasury Cabinet Secretary signed Sh520 billion loan from the European Union, stacking the loan portfolio and pushing the country to dangerous levels. This has raised the debt burden to Sh5.146 trillion. Nobody has lifted a finger.

Strong opposition is vital for a working democracy. It provides checks and balance to the Executive for the public good. Precisely, the argument we are making is that the country needs to step back and introspect. Opposition leaders must play their role and disabuse themselves of the notion that they are in government.

They have a duty to protect public interest by checking the government. Let them co-operate but keep their distance.


House team wants ministry probed over use of Sh145m

By SAMWEL OWINO
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A National Assembly committee wants the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji to immediately launch investigations into the purchase of two caterpillars at a cost of Sh185 million by the Ministry of Defence.

A report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) tabled in Parliament Thursday revealed that taxpayers lost Sh145 million through the purchase of the two Caterpillar 374DL.

The caterpillars were bought through direct procurement from a supplier in the 2011/2012 financial year.

The committee wants the DPP to investigate the circumstances under which the irregular procurement was carried out.

PROSECUTE MEMBERS

It also wants him to prosecute members of the Ministerial Tender Committee that approved the procurement.

PAC, in its audit report of all ministries, State departments, commissions and independent offices, indicates that the market rate for the two caterpillars was Sh40 million but the ministry paid 185 million, resulting in an excess and illegal payment of Sh145 million.

“The ministry proceeded to purchase the equipment despite knowing that it was overpriced from its own market survey,” reads the report tabled by Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi.

“Under the circumstances, it is not possible to confirm that value for money was obtained in an expenditure totalling Sh185, 323,994.10 as required by section 68 (1) (b) of the Public Finance Management Act, 2012,” reads the report.

According to the report, the ministry also failed to table any evidence to demonstrate that buying the caterpillars through direct procurement was conducted in accordance with procurement laws, and that value for money was obtained in an expenditure totalling Sh185 million.

“The ministry bought two caterpillars through direct procurement and did not table any reasons disclosing the ground of urgency pursuant to the provisions of section 74 of the Public Procurement and Disposal Act of 2005,” reads the report.

The committee also found that minutes of the ministerial tender committee were missing, and directed the accounting officer to provide them.

The committee found that there was no urgency in the purchase of the two heavy duty excavators for the purpose of road construction, civil works and disaster management as records reveal that they have never been used except for training, hence no justification for the huge expenditure.

BUILD DAMS

When Defence PS Saitoti Torome appeared before PAC in July, he said the excavators were bought to construct dams and sink boreholes in the North Rift in support of a security programme dubbed ‘Operation Dumisha Amani’.

He said the equipment could only be supplied by the local agent of the manufacturer, Mantrac, and was, therefore, directly procured as per Section 74 of the Procurement Act.

He said that by the time procurement was completed, the security operation had ended, giving the false impression that the equipment was idle.

Mr Torome added that the contract price was commensurate with market rates at the time of the purchase.


The key to saving preterm babies

By FREDRICK WERE

Having served as a paediatrician for most of my adult life, including over 25 years as a perinatal/neonatal medicine specialist, I know first-hand the joy and anxiety that comes with giving birth.

For first-time mothers, especially, even as they eagerly anticipate the birth of their babies, they are scared – of pain, of complications that may arise, of the unknown.

Oftentimes, their source of solace is the health worker attending to them, be it a midwife, nurse, clinical officer or obstetrician.

This is more so the case when their baby is born premature, that is, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Babies born premature are among the most vulnerable anywhere in the world. This is because their vital organs, such as lungs, brains and heart, are under-developed, and they sometimes require extra care and support to survive.

Prematurity is a very common occurrence, affecting more than one in 10 babies born globally.

NEWBORN DEATHS

Preterm birth is also the leading cause of newborn deaths around the world. In Kenya, we lose about 11,000 of the 134,500 babies born too soon. Yet, most of these deaths – 75 percent – can be prevented with the right care for mothers and newborns. The secret lies in equipping, training and empowering health workers.

Saving preterm babies begins with ensuring health workers have access to essential supplies.

Most babies develop mature lungs after 34-36 weeks of pregnancy. The majority of babies born before this time have lungs that are not yet fully mature. Health workers can administer steroids that speed up the development of lungs, especially when early deliveries are anticipated and the intervention provided 24 hours before birth.

EMERGENCIES

Most preterm babies are born with minimal body fat, making it harder for them to keep warm.

Health workers ensure the babies have access to incubators or skin-to-skin contact with their mothers (Kangaroo Mother Care) to prevent hypothermia.

Building the skills and confidence of health workers to identify and respond to birth emergencies is key.

In some countries, health workers have been trained to use the World Health Organisation’s Safe Childbirth Checklist. It outlines 29 essential steps that a health worker needs to take from the time a mother comes into a health facility ready to deliver to the time she is discharged.

These simple steps, such as washing hands, giving antibiotics where necessary, initiating breastfeeding and encouraging Kangaroo Mother Care, ensure that mothers and babies receive the best quality of care possible.

The checklist is a powerful tool tailored to address the main causes of maternal and newborn death, such as haemorrhage in mothers and complications related to prematurity.

Constant, hands-on training ensures that health workers are equipped with the latest information and have the skills to act quickly on birth emergencies.

PRONTO is a highly-innovative training model where nurses and doctors work together to solve simulated birth emergencies.

This low-tech model acts as a constant refresher course in Emergency Obstetric and Neonatal Care (EmONC) and encourages better communication between doctors and nurses during high-stress situations.

In a study conducted in Kakamega, PRONTO training was shown to reduce the proportion of newborns who die within the first week of life by 30 percent.

The study shows that on-the-job training not only sharpens health workers’ skills, it also gives doctors, nurses and clinical officers the confidence to act on conditions that threaten the lives of mothers or their babies.

In low-income countries, 50 percent of babies born before seven months die within the first few hours of life.

In high-income countries, almost all these babies survive because of access to basic care.

As Kenya journeys towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC), care for the smallest and most vulnerable must come first.

There will be no UHC without a significant reduction in neonatal mortality.

While the government builds new facilities and equips them and, health workers also have a role to play.

Most preterm deaths occur within the first three days of life.

Newborns need us, health workers, the most during that critical window of time.

As health workers, we must dedicate our skills and energy to saving babies born too soon. Some 11,000 preterm deaths a year is too many lives lost. World Prematurity Day, November 17 is an apt reminder of the battle that lies ahead of us.

Dr Were is a professor of Perinatal/Neonatal Medicine and former Dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Nairobi. [email protected]


Former PSs risk time in jail if lost public money is not recovered

By DAVID MWERE
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Three former principal secretaries risk jail terms if they fail to ensure that money lost during their tenure is recovered.

Former PSs John Mosonik (Infrastructure), Nduva Muli (Transport) and Wilson Songa (Industrialisation) risk time in jail if the National Assembly adopts the report of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the government’s audited accounts by Auditor-General Edward Ouko for the financial year 2014/15.

The committee chaired by Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi tabled the report in the House on Wednesday and the debate is scheduled for next week.

PAC wants Mr Mosonik to be held liable for making payments of Sh392.5 million without original receipts.

The committee also wants the former PS be held to account for making refunds amounting to Sh55.5 million without proof of completion of works contrary to the Public Finance Management Act (PFM).

“Eng Mosonik, the erstwhile accounting officer, should be reprimanded for failure to ensure that the ministry kept correct financial and accounting records that are supported by necessary documents and reconciled in line with the PFM Act of 2012,” the report says.

The committee further wants the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) to expedite investigations on irregularities in retention funds “with a view to prosecute those involved in the misuse of public funds.”

While appearing before the committee during consideration of the auditor-general’s report, the ministry’s PS Julius Korir confirmed that payments were made without receipts and refunds issued without proof of completion of works.

The MPs also want Mr Mosonik to be punished for submitting to the auditor-general statement of assets and liabilities under deposits that were still reflecting the debit and credit balances for the year 2012/2013.

Former Transport PS Muli is accused of failing to ensure that the ministry keeps complete financial and accounting records that are reconciled and devoid of anomalies in compliance with the PFM Act.

“Mr Muli should be held responsible for failure to ensure complete financial and accounting records and that the correct financial and accounting records are presented within three months after the close of the financial year,” the report says.

The current PS, Prof Paul Maringa, noted that it was true that by the time of the audit, the statement of receipts and payments reflected total payments of Sh161.2 billion out of which Sh5.9 billion related to transfers to other government entities.

Mr Songa, the former Industrialisation PS, is also on the spot for making the government lose Sh3 million in irregular payments to M/s Aquachem Technologies Ltd.

The committee has also indicted former Attorney-General Githu Muigai for questionable legal advice.

The report wants National Treasury CS Henry Rotich to compel Mr Songa and Prof Muigai to provide an explanation for incurring what is neither lawful nor authorised expenditure within three months of adoption of the committee’s report.


Ogiek want African court ruling on Mau enforced

By ERIC MATARA
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The Ogiek community has accused the government of foot-dragging in putting into effect a landmark ruling by the African Court on Human and People’s Rights in Arusha, Tanzania on their eviction from Mau Forest, one year after judgement was issued.

The community led by its council of elders chairman, Mr Joseph Towett, said on Wednesday that the government had failed to implement the judgment that was issued in May 2017.

The Ogiek say that, despite the government on November 10, 2017 gazetting a task force to implement the judgment, nothing has been done and the community continues to suffer in silence due to historical injustices.

NOT CONSULTED

In its findings last year, the court said the Ogiek were not consulted on evictions from their ancestral lands in the Mau Forest.

After a five-year legal battle, the court ruled that the government had violated the community’s rights and freedoms and directed it to remedy all the violations.

In a surprise move, Environment CS Keriako Tobiko last week, once again, gazetted the names of the task force, which the community says they do not trust to implement the judgement.

“We are calling upon President Uhuru Kenyatta and the Chief Justice David Maraga to intervene and involve the Ministry of Lands. Our grievance was over land but it has now been left to the Ministry of Environment,” Mr Towett told Nation.

The community threatened to go back to court for review if the ruling is not implemented by the end of the year.