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The World Health Organization’s Regional Director for Africa says West Africa is better prepared to tackle future outbreaks of Ebola. In an exclusive interview with VOA, Matshidiso Moeti says Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are now able to respond more quickly to emergencies because of upgrades to their surveillance, laboratory and health care systems.

Moeti became head of WHO’s regional office for Africa in February 2015, at the height of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. As the World Health Organization’s chief troubleshooter in the region, she told VOA she knew she had to do whatever was necessary to stop the spread of this fatal disease.

Ebola had killed more than 11,000 people in the three most heavily affected West African countries by the time WHO declared the transmission of the Ebola virus virtually over at the end of last year.

Warning of flare-ups

Although it acknowledged that the epidemic was no longer out of control, the WHO warned the countries to remain vigilant as flare-ups of the disease were likely to continue for some time.

”We have had a very prolonged last leg of getting to zero in this outbreak and we are not there yet,” said Moeti. But, she added Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea have greatly improved their ability to respond to Ebola and have proved this in their skillful management of the occasional flare-ups of the disease.

“They have been able when they get an unexpected case in these last few months to be able to respond and detect it relatively early, follow-up the contacts and contain the spread. So, for me that is one of the best outcomes of this tragic situation in West Africa,” said Moeti.

But, she cautioned that all the improvements made in infrastructure, in response systems, and in skills training must be sustained. This, she said required the continued support of the International community. 

Moeti stressed that the funding and expertise that had poured into West Africa during the Ebola epidemic must hold. “I am very hopeful that some of the commitments that were made by the donors during the time when these countries were talking about their recovery actually do materialize,” she said.

She called this essential “to ensuring that the healthcare workers, the infrastructure, the laboratories, the commodities that are needed to be available on an ongoing basis are sustained.”

Heath emergency reforms

The World Health Assembly, which has just wrapped up its annual meeting, has approved reforms of the emergency health system.

Moeti praised the underlying agreement by member States to provide the money needed to implement this system. She said WHO will be in a better position now to head-off crises before they become full blown. This, she said would prove to be a boon to African countries.

This year’s World Health Assembly had a particularly packed agenda of 76 health issues to consider. The 3,500 delegates who attended the week-long meeting approved 10 new resolutions including the program on health emergencies.

In her closing statement to the Assembly, WHO Director-General, Margaret Chan said the members’ support of this program “sends a powerful political signal” that they wanted WHO to remain “the single agency with universal legitimacy in matters of international health, to lead and coordinate the response to emergencies.”

She also welcomed a resolution on the Sustainable Development Goals that “agreed to prioritize universal health coverage. Of all targets under the new agenda, this is the one that most decisively leaves no one behind. It is inclusive, feasible and measurable.”

Other resolutions adopted by the Assembly include tobacco control; road traffic deaths and injuries; nutrition; HIV, hepatitis, STIs (sexually transmitted infections); access to medicines and integrated health services.

Who will head WHO?

Margaret Chan steps down as WHO chief next year. The race is on to find a new candidate for this position. Among those eager for the job is Ethiopia’s foreign minister and previous health minister, Tedros Adhanom. He is Africa’s first and only candidate for this position.

Matshidiso Moeti called him a “credible candidate,” who has a proven track record in reforming his country’s health system. “I think that he is uniquely placed to understand the needs of the poorest countries,” she said.

Moeti told VOA that she did not believe that previous leaders of the World Health Organization have short-changed Africa. She said they all recognized that Africa was the region with “the highest disease burden, with the largest number of Least Developed Countries, with the weakest health systems in the world.”

She noted that Margaret Chan was very explicit in prioritizing Africa as part of her agenda.

”Of course, I agree that an African person, who has grown up in the system has a unique understanding of the situation, the context, the culture in the region and the types of responses that might or might not work,” she said. “I think that is an added plus without at all thinking that the others have underplayed the needs of the region.”

VOA

A Nigerian man sentenced to death for the murder of a policeman in Saudi Arabia was beheaded on Sunday.

This is the 95th execution in Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the year, according to AFP.

Houssaoui Fahd, the accused, was convicted for strangling and hitting the head of the Saudi policeman against the ground several times until he died, Saudi Interior Ministry said in a statement released by Saudi news agency SPA.

He was executed in the city of Taif, southwest of Riyadh, the ministry added.

Amnesty International has however expressed concern about the rising number of executions in Saudi Arabia.

The organisation warned on Friday that if the killings continue, Saudi Arabia has killed more than 100 people in the first six months of this year.

In 2015 alone, 153 people were executed in Saudi Arabia, the highest in 20 years, governed by Islamic law.

AP

Iraqi government forces are keeping up the pressure on ISIL – beginning a major operation on Monday to storm the militant stronghold of Falluja, reports say.

According to a report by AFP quoting army commanders, Iraqi forces have entered the city, which was one of the first in Iraq to fall to the militant group in 2014.

Reuters quotes a military officer as saying the Iraqi army has begun an operation on Monday to storm Falluja, and that a military unit was trying to advance in the city, which lies some 50 kilometres from Baghdad.

Explosions and gunfire could be heard in Falluja’s southern Naimiya district.

Iraqi government began a major push to recapture the city on May 23.

Niger’s security forces killed around 12 Boko Haram fighters who had launched an attack in the southeastern region of Bosso, close to the border with Nigeria, the army said in a statement.

Reuters reports army spokesman Colonel Moustapha Ledru to say three members of the security forces were wounded during Friday’s battle, and government forces seized machine guns, rocket propelled grenade launchers and mobile telephones from the Islamist militants.

“The vigorous reaction of the Defence and Security Forces of Niger put the enemy to flight. Around a dozen terrorists were killed and several dozen others were wounded and carried away by the fleeing attackers,” he said on national radio.

It was not possible to verify the casualty figures independently.

Bosso is part of the Diffa region, which houses many refugees and internally displaced people who have sought to evade Boko Haram violence elsewhere. The region has been targeted numerous times in attacks blamed on the militants.

At least 59 people were injured in Guinea on Saturday when frustrated youth that were being kept out of the opening of a new mosque in the town of Timbo clashed with the police, Reuters reports health officials to say.

Security officials stopped ordinary people from entering the new mosque to allow local dignitaries to pass but the youth became angry, began throwing stones and attempted to force themselves in. The police repelled them by hurling teargas canisters at them.

“There was a huge clash between the police and the young people and clouds of tear gas. I saw old women pushed over by the surging crowd. It was serious,” said Latif Haidera, a witness.

Mamadou Kouyate, the director of the regional hospital at Mamou, said 59 people were treated at his hospital alone following the incident on Friday in Timbo, which is about 260 km (163 miles) northeast of the capital Conakry.

At least 700 migrants may have died at sea this past week in the busiest week of migrant crossings from Libya towards Italy this year, Medecins San Frontieres and the UN Refugee agency said on Sunday.

About 14,000 have been rescued since Monday amid calm seas, and there have been at least three confirmed instances of boats sinking. But the number of dead can only be estimated based on survivor testimony, which is still being collected.

"We will never know exact numbers," Medecins San Frontieres said in a Tweet after estimating that 900 had died during the week. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said more than 700 had drowned.

Migrants interviewed on Saturday in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo told of a large fishing boat that overturned and sank on Thursday with many women and children on board.

Initial estimates were that 400 people died, but the UN Refugee agency said on Sunday there may have been about 670 passengers on board.

According to testimony collected by EU border agency Frontex, when the motorless fishing boat capsized, 25 swam to the boat that had been towing it, while 79-89 others were saved by rescuers and 15 bodies were recovered. This meant more than 550 died, the UNHCR said.

The migrants -- fleeing wars, oppression and poverty -- often do not know how to swim and do not have life jackets. They pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to make the crossing from Libya to Italy, by far the most dangerous border passage for migrants in the world.

This week's arrivals included Eritreans, Sudanese, Nigerians and many other West Africans, humanitarian groups say. Despite the surge this week, as of Friday 40,660 arrivals had been counted, 2 percent fewer than the same period of last year, the Interior Ministry said.

Most of the boats this week appear to have left from Sabratha, Libya, where many said smugglers had beaten them and women said they had been raped, said MSF, which has three rescue boats in the area.

The migrants are piled onto flimsy rubber boats or old fishing vessels which can toss their occupants into the sea in a matter of seconds.

About 100 are thought to have either been trapped in the hull or to have drowned after tumbling into the sea on Wednesday.

On Friday, the Italian Navy ship Vega collected 45 bodies and rescued 135 from a "half submerged" rubber boat. It is not yet known exactly how many were on board, but the rubber boats normally carry about 300.

"Some were more shaken than others because they had lost their loved ones," Raffaele Martino, commander of the Vega, told Reuters on Sunday in the southern port of Reggio Calabria, where the Vega docked with the survivors and corpses, including those of three infants.

"It's time that Europe had the courage to offer safe alternatives that allow these people to come without putting their own lives or those of their children in danger," Tommaso Fabri of MSF Italy said.

Reuters

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Cameroon Concord  is an online publication covering and reporting on  local and world news, sports, entertainment, politics, business, and religious news. Serving Cameroonians .

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