Category Archives: News

African Union to immediately receive close to USD 18.5 Million direct support to its Ebola operation ASEOWA

AU-FLAG2

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia–08 September 2014: The African Union and partners met Monday on the side lines of the emergency meeting of the African Union Executive Council to announce pledges by the African Union Partners Group (AUPG) to the African Union Support to Ebola Outbreak (Operation ASEOWA).

 

The United States Government announced USD10 million and the European Union 5 million euros to be made available immediately to support the African Union Operation to end the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The Republic of China last week announced USD 2 million to ASEOWA.

 

The Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Mr. Erastus Mwencha, expressed gratitude to partners for the generous response to support the African Union operation ASEOWA and for all the concerted efforts to respond rapidly to the outbreak.

 

“The focus should be on containing the epidemic to make sure that it does not spread further, improve the capacity of health facilities, which have been overstretched and monitor contacts and manage the confirmed cases”, the AUC Deputy Chairperson said.

 

The African Union this week received the assessment report from the mission that it sent to the affected countries which will inform its path breaking response.

 

“The United States is absolutely committed to working with the international community to increase response efforts in West Africa and help bring this outbreak under control”, said Ambassador Reuben E. Brigety, adding “We commend the AU for sending an assessment team and welcome its findings and we urge the AU to ensure that its mission is working through its operations on the ground and in accord with WHO Ebola response roadmap”.

 

The ASEOWA operation aims at filling the existing gap in international efforts and will work with the African Humanitarian Action in mobilising medical and public health volunteers across the continent and will compliment ongoing efforts by various humanitarian actors who are already on the ground.

 

The African Union made a historic decision end of August by declaring Ebola a threat to peace and security in Africa invoking article 6 (f) relating to its mandate with regard to humanitarian action and disaster management at its 450th meeting. The meeting authorised the immediate deployment of a joint AU-led military and civilian humanitarian mission to tackle the emergency situation caused by the Ebola outbreak. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about USD600 million is needed to put the epidemic under control.

 

Click here to read: African Union’s Executive Council Urges Lifting of Travel Restrictions Related to Ebola Outbreak

Click here to read: ASEOWA Pledge

Click here to read: African Union Urges Member States to Find Collective Response to Ebola Outbreak and Show Solidarity with Affected Countries

Gambia’s President Jammeh asked to reject anti-gay law

Gambia President

Leading rights groups have called on Gambian President Yahya Jammeh not to approve tough new anti-gay legislation.

 

Homosexual acts are already illegal in The Gambia, but MPs passed a bill on 25 August imposing life sentences for "aggravated homosexuality".

 

The bill promoted "state-sponsored homophobia", the rights groups said.

 

Mr Jammeh is known for his strong opposition to gay rights. He has called gay people "vermin" and once threatened to behead them.

 

Uganda's Constitutional Court struck down a similar law last month on the grounds that it was passed by MPs without a quorum.

 

'Deep fear'

Its ruling followed an outcry from rights groups and Western governments – US President Barack Obama described the legislation as "odious".

 

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the definition of "aggravated homosexuality" was vague in The Gambian bill.

 

Among those who could be given the life sentence were "repeat offenders" and people living with HIV who are suspected to be gay or lesbians, they said in a joint statement.

 

A person who had homosexual relations with a minor could also be convicted of "aggravated homosexuality", Reuters news agency reports.

 

"President Jammeh should not approve this profoundly damaging act that violates international human rights law," said Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty's deputy regional director for West and Central Africa.

 

Graeme Reid of HRW said it would "only heap further stigma on people who are already marginalised and living in a climate of deep fear and hate in Gambia".

 

Under current laws, homosexual acts are already punishable by up to 14 years in prison in The Gambia.

 

Mr Jammeh has 30 days from the date the bill was passed to sign it into law or return it to parliament for further review.

 

The Gambia is a popular tourist destination, famous for its beaches.

 

By BBC News Africa

10 September 2014

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-29145397

Ebola: How bad can it get?

How bad can it get 1

This isn't just the worst single Ebola outbreak in history, it has now killed more than all the others combined.

 

Healthcare workers are visibly struggling, the response to the outbreak has been damned as "lethally inadequate" and the situation is showing signs of getting considerably worse.

 

The outbreak has been running all year, but the latest in a stream of worrying statistics shows 40% of all the deaths have been in just the past three weeks.

 

So what can we expect in the months, and possibly years, to come?

 

Taking off

 

Crystal-ball gazing can be a dangerous affair, particularly as this is uncharted territory.

 

Previous outbreaks have been rapidly contained, affecting just dozens of people; this one has already infected more than 3,900.

 

But the first clues are in the current data.

 

Dr Christopher Dye, the director of strategy in the office of the director general at the World Health Organization, has the difficult challenge of predicting what will happen next.

 

He told the BBC: "We're quite worried, I have to say, about the latest data we've just gathered."

How bad can it get 2

Up until a couple of weeks ago, the outbreak was raging in Liberia especially close to the epicentre of the outbreak in Lofa County and in the capital Monrovia.

 

However, the two other countries primarily hit by the outbreak, Sierra Leone and Guinea, had been relatively stable. Numbers of new cases were not falling, but they were not soaring either.

 

That is no longer true, with a surge in cases everywhere except some parts of rural Sierra Leone in the districts of Kenema and Kailahun.

 

"In most other areas, cases and deaths appear to be rising. That came as a shock to me," said Dr Dye.

 

Cumulative deaths – up to 5 September

How bad can it get 3

Only going up

 

The stories of healthcare workers being stretched beyond breaking point are countless.

 

A lack of basic protective gear such as gloves has been widely reported.

 

The charity Medecins Sans Frontieres has an isolation facility with 160 beds in Monrovia. But it says the queues are growing and they need another 800 beds to deal with the number of people who are already sick.

 

This is not a scenario for containing an epidemic, but fuelling one.

 

Dr Dye's tentative forecasts are grim: "At the moment we're seeing about 500 new cases each week. Those numbers appear to be increasing.

 

"I've just projected about five weeks into the future and if current trends persist we would be seeing not hundreds of cases per week, but thousands of cases per week and that is terribly disturbing.

 

"The situation is bad and we have to prepare for it getting worse."

 

The World Health Organization is using an educated guess of 20,000 cases before the end, in order to plan the scale of the response.

 

But the true potential of the outbreak is unknown and the WHO figure has been described to me as optimistic by some scientists.

 

International spread?

How bad can it get 4

The outbreak started in Gueckedou in Guinea, on the border with Liberia and Sierra Leone.

 

But it has spread significantly with the WHO reporting that "for the first time since the outbreak began" that the majority of cases in the past week were outside of that epicentre with the capital cities becoming major centres of Ebola.

 

Additionally one person took the infection to Nigeria, where it has since spread in a small cluster and there has been an isolated case in Senegal.

 

Prof Simon Hay, from the University of Oxford, will publish his scientific analysis of the changing face of Ebola outbreaks in the next week.

 

He warns that as the total number of cases increases, so does the risk of international spread.

 

He told me: "I think you're going to have more and more of these individual cases seeding into new areas, continued flows into Senegal, Cote d'Ivoire, and all the countries in between, so I'm not very optimistic at the moment that we're containing this epidemic."

How bad can it get 5

There is always the risk that one of these cases could arrive in Europe or North America.

 

However, richer countries have the facilities to prevent an isolated case becoming an uncontrolled outbreak.

 

The worry is that other African countries with poor resources would not cope and find themselves in a similar situation to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

 

"Nigeria is the one I look at with great concern. If things started to get out of control in Nigeria I really think that, because of its connectedness and size, that could be quite alarming," said Prof Hay.

 

End game?

 

It is also unclear when this outbreak will be over.

 

Officially the World Health Organization is saying the outbreak can be contained in six to nine months. But that is based on getting the resources to tackle the outbreak, which are currently stretched too thinly to contain Ebola as it stands.

 

There have been nearly 4,000 cases so far, cases are increasing exponentially and there is a potentially vulnerable population in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea in excess of 20 million.

 

Prof Neil Ferguson, the director of the UK Medical Research Council's centre for outbreak analysis and modelling at Imperial College London, is providing data analysis for the World Health Organization.

 

He is convinced that the three countries will eventually get on top of the outbreak, but not without help from the rest of the world.

 

"The authorities are completely overwhelmed. All the trends are the epidemic is increasing, it's still growing exponentially, so there's certainly no reason for optimism.

 

"It is hard to make a long-term prognosis, but this is certainly something we'll be dealing with in 2015.

 

"I can well imagine that unless there is a ramp-up of the response on the ground, we'll have flare-ups of cases for several months and possibly years."

 

It is certainly a timeframe that could see an experimental Ebola vaccine, which began safety testing this week, being used on the front line.

 

If the early trials are successful then healthcare workers could be vaccinated in November this year.

 

Here forever

 

But there are is also a fear being raised by some virologists that Ebola may never be contained.

 

Prof Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham, describes the situation as "desperate".

 

His concern is that the virus is being given its first major opportunity to adapt to thrive in people, due to the large number of human-to-human transmissions of the virus during this outbreak of unprecedented scale.

How bad can it get 7

Ebola is thought to come from fruit bats; humans are not its preferred host.

 

But like HIV and influenza, Ebola's genetic code is a strand of RNA. Think of RNA as the less stable cousin of DNA, which is where we keep our genetic information.

 

It means Ebola virus has a high rate of mutation and with mutation comes the possibility of adapting.

 

Prof Ball argues: "It is increasing exponentially and the fatality rate seems to be decreasing, but why?

 

"Is it better medical care, earlier intervention or is the virus adapting to humans and becoming less pathogenic? As a virologist that's what I think is happening."

 

There is a relationship between how deadly a virus is and how easily it spreads. Generally speaking if a virus is less likely to kill you, then you are more likely to spread it – although smallpox was a notable exception.

 

Prof Ball said "it really wouldn't surprise me" if Ebola adapted, the death rate fell to around 5% and the outbreak never really ended.

 

"It is like HIV, which has been knocking away at human-to-human transmission for hundreds of years before eventually finding the right combo of beneficial mutations to spread through human populations."

 

Collateral damage

How bad can it get 8

It is also easy to focus just on Ebola when the outbreak is having a much wider impact on these countries.

 

The malaria season, which is generally in September and October in West Africa, is now starting.

 

This will present a number of issues. Will there be capacity to treat patients with malaria? Will people infected with malaria seek treatment if the nearest hospital is rammed with suspected Ebola cases? How will healthcare workers cope when malaria and Ebola both present with similar symptoms.

 

And that nervousness about the safety of Ebola-rife hospitals could damage care yet further. Will pregnant women go to hospital to give birth or stay at home where any complications could be more deadly.

 

The collateral damage from Ebola is unlikely to be assessed until after the outbreak.

 

No matter where you look there is not much cause for optimism.

 

The biggest unknown in all of this is when there will be sufficient resources to properly tackle the outbreak.

 

Prof Neil Ferguson concludes: "This summer has there have been many globally important news stories in Ukraine and the Middle East, but what we see unfolding in West Africa is a catastrophe to the population, killing thousands in the region now and we're seeing a breakdown of the fragile healthcare system.

 

"So I think it needs to move up the political agenda rather more rapidly than it has."

 

Ebola virus disease (EVD)

How bad can it get 9

·         Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage

·         Spread by body fluids, such as blood and saliva

·         Fatality rate can reach 90% – but current outbreak has mortality rate of about 55%

·         Incubation period is two to 21 days

·         There is no proven vaccine or cure

·         Supportive care such as rehydrating patients who have diarrhoea and vomiting can help recovery

·         Fruit bats, a delicacy for some West Africans, are considered to be virus's natural host

 

By James Gallagher

6 September 2014

Source: www.bbc.com/news/health-29060239

LGBT Visibility in Africa Also Brings Backlash

homosexuality.jpg4

Eighteen-year-old Gift Makau enjoyed playing and refereeing football games in her neighbourhood in the North West Province of South Africa. She had come out to her parents as a lesbian and had never been heckled by her community, according to her cousin.

 

On Aug. 15 she was found by her mother in a back alley, where she had been raped, tortured and killed.

Shehnilla Mohamed, Africa director for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGHLRC), said that Gift’s murder was part of a disturbing trend in which gender-nonconforming individuals are targeted for so-called corrective rape.

 

“Corrective rape is really the attempt of the society to try to punish the person for acting outside the norm,” Mohamed said.

 

In the past 10 years in South Africa, 31 lesbians have been reported killed as the result of corrective rape, she said.  A charity called Luleki Sizwe estimates that 10 lesbians are raped or gang raped a week in Cape Town alone.

 

Transgender, gay or effeminate men are also the subject of corrective rape, but they are less likely to be murdered and are less likely to report it.

If this is happening in South Africa, the only mainland African country to allow legal same-sex marriage, what is it like to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) elsewhere on the continent?

 

“The type of brutality that you see happening to lesbians and to homosexuals in parts of Africa is just beyond comprehension,” Mohamed told IPS. “It’s like your worst horror movie, and even worse than that.”

 

More than two-thirds of African countries have laws criminalising consensual same-sex acts, according to IGLHRC.

 

“Overall what we’ve seen is a fairly bleak picture that’s emerging,” said Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT Program at Human Rights Watch (HRW).

 

Africa is seeing “an intensification of the political use of homophobia,” he said.

 

Nigeria and Uganda made headlines in early 2014 when they signed anti-homosexuality bills that handed out long prison sentences for being homosexual or for refusing to turn in a known homosexual.

 

On Aug. 1, Uganda’s law was declared unconstitutional on procedural grounds by its supreme court, but Shehnilla Mohamed expects that it will be back on the table again once international attention shifts away.

 

Long-time African leaders who wish to extend their stay in office often try to whip up anti-homosexuality sentiment.

 

“Homophobia becomes both a ruse and a distraction from other real substantive issues, whether those are economic or political,” Graeme Reid said.

Chalwe Mwansa, a Zambian activist and IGHLRC fellow, told IPS that in his country, politicians equate cases of pedophilia and incest with homosexuality, fabricating sensational stories to inflame the public. This strategy diverts attention away from problems with unemployment, poverty, health and education.

 

Some leaders also claim that homosexuality is an un-African, Western imposition. Mohamed believes it is the exact opposite.

 

Homosexuality “existed in a lot of the African cultures and a lot of the African traditions,” she told IPS. “It was quite an accepted pattern.”

 

Same-sex relationships did not begin to develop a negative connotation until after colonisation brought Western religion, she said.

 

In an environment of antipathy, LGBT individuals have few places to turn to for help. The police station is often not a sanctuary for those who have been raped.

 

Mohamed recently spoke to a transgender man in South Africa who was accosted in the lobby of his block of apartments by a group of men who thought he was a woman. When they found out he was a man they raped and “beat him so badly that he was totally unrecognisable,” she said.

 

The man ended up contracting HIV/AIDS.

 

In South Africa, after being raped, a person is supposed to report it to the police and receive a free post-exposure prophylaxis within 72 hours to minimise the risk of transmission. However, this man was too afraid to go into the station, knowing that the police would most likely feel that he had deserved it.

 

The problem is even worse in countries like Nigeria that have criminalised homosexuality. According to Michael Ighodaro, a fellow at IGLHRC from Nigeria, after its anti-homosexuality bill was passed in January, 90 percent of gay men who were on medications stopped going to clinics to receive them, out of fear that they would be arrested.

 

Even at home, LGBT individuals in Africa face an uphill struggle. Anti-homosexuality laws do have a current of support throughout society. LGBT people often fear ostracisation by their families, so hide their sexual or gender identity.

 

The increased prominence of LGBT issues in national debates in Africa in the past decade has inspired a bit of a backlash.

 

Njeri Gateru, a legal officer at the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission of Kenya, says that Kenya lies in a tricky balance. Society does not actively persecute LGBT individuals if they outwardly conform to sexual and gender norms, but “problems would arise if people marched in the streets or there was an article in the press.”

 

“We cannot continue to live in a balance where we are muzzled and we are comfortable being muzzled,” Gateru said at a HRW event in New York.

 

Religion plays a significant role in the lack of acceptance of gender non-conforming groups in Africa.

 

IGLHRC’s Mohamed said that even “people with master’s degrees, who are highly educated, who work in white collar jobs will say ‘God does not like this.’”

 

“I think pointing out that LGBTI people are human beings, are God’s creation just like everybody else is really something that we’ll keep on pushing,” she said.

 

According to Gateru, even when churches open their doors to LGBT groups, they sometimes do it for the wrong reasons.

 

A year or so ago, a group of Kenyan evangelical leaders announced that they were going to stop turning LGBT individuals away from churches because, in their words, ‘Jesus came for the sinners, not the righteous.’

 

The churches are “welcoming you to change you or to pray for you so you can change, which is really not what we want,” said Gateru. “But I think it’s a very tiny step.”

 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has repeatedly and consistently criticised discrimination against LGBT groups and condemned new anti-homosexuality laws.

 

Activist groups welcome the support of prominent religious leaders such as Tutu, and are planning a conference in February to bring together pastors, imams and rabbis to discuss LGBT issues and religion in Africa.

 

In general, LGBT activist organisations have their work cut out for them.

 

LGBT advocacy groups “most of the time are working undercover, are working underground, or if they are registered and are working as an NGO, are constantly being harassed by the authorities or by society,” Mohamed said.

 

IGLHRC was founded in 1990, and helps local LGBT advocacy groups around the world fight for their rights through grant making and work on the ground.

 

“What we really need is to mainstream homosexual rights, LGBTI rights into the basic human rights discourse,” said Mohamed.

 

During August’s U.S.-Africa summit in Washington, IGLHRC urged the U.S. to hold African leaders to account.

 

Depending on the country, the U.S. does have an ability to advance human rights through external pressure. Mohamed speculated that the striking down of Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill just days before the summit was a public relations stunt by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, since he wanted a warm reception by the White House.

 

Nigeria, the other country to introduce a new law in 2014, is more difficult to influence than Uganda, according to Michael Ighodaro. Because of its oil wealth, the Nigerian government would not care if the United States were to pull funding.

 

The U.S.-African summit, since it was focused on business, offered an opportunity for LGBT advocacy groups to point out the economic costs of sidelining an entire sector of the population.

 

Mohamed said that LGBT individuals are often “too scared to apply for certain jobs because of how they would be treated. If they did apply they probably would never get the jobs because of the stigmas attached.”

 

Despite the difficult journey to come, supporters of LGBT rights in Africa can look back to see that some progress has been made.

 

HRW’s Reid said that the LGBT movement was practically invisible in Africa just 20 years ago.

 

“In a sense this very vocal reaction against LGBT visibility can also be seen as a measure of the strength and growth of a movement over the last two decades,” he said.

 

Things may get a little tougher before they get better, Njeri Gateru told IPS, but “history is on our side.”

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 9 2014 (IPS) 

Edited by Kitty Stapp

By Joel Jaeger

10 Septermber 2014

Source: http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/lgbt-visibility-in-africa-also-brings-backlash/

Ebola death toll reaches 2,288, says World Health Organization

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed 2,288 people, with half of them dying in the last three weeks, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

Ebola 1

It said that 47% of the deaths and 49% of the total 4,269 cases had come in the 21 days leading up to 6 September.

The health agency warned that thousands more cases could occur in Liberia, which has had the most fatalities.

The outbreak, which was first reported in Guinea in March this year, has also spread to Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

In Nigeria, eight people have died out of 21 cases, while one case of Ebola has been confirmed in Senegal, the WHO said in its latest update.

ebola 2

'Latter-day plague'

On Monday, the agency called on organisations combating the outbreak in Liberia to scale up efforts to control the outbreak "three-to-four fold".

Ebola spreads between humans by direct contact with infected blood, bodily fluids or organs, or indirectly through contact with contaminated environments.

However, the WHO says conventional means of controlling the outbreak, which include avoiding close physical contact with those infected and wearing personal protective equipment, were not working well in Liberia.

ebola 3

The reason for this remains unclear; however, experts say it could be linked to burial practices, which can include touching the body and eating a meal near it.

There are also not enough beds to treat Ebola patients, particularly in the capital Monrovia, with many people told to go back home, where they may spread the virus.

Sophie-Jane Madden, of aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres, told the BBC that health workers at the largest treatment centre in Monrovia were completely overwhelmed: "Our teams are every day turning away people who are desperately seeking healthcare."

ebola 4

Meanwhile, the US says it will help the African Union mobilise 100 African health workers to the region and contribute an additional $10m (£6.2m) in funds to deal with the outbreak.

The announcement comes as a fourth US aid worker infected with the deadly virus was transported to a hospital in Atlanta for treatment.

The identity of the aid worker has not yet been revealed.

Two other aid workers who were treated at the same hospital have since recovered from an Ebola infection.

Separately on Tuesday, the UN's envoy in Liberia said at least 80 Liberian health workers had died from Ebola, according to the Associated Press.

Karin Landgren described the outbreak as a "latter-day plague" that was growing exponentially. She added that health workers were operating without proper protective equipment, training or pay, in comments to the UN Security Council.

By BBC News Africa

9 September 2014

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-29131065

Premature School Resumption Involving Up to 80 million Children, Adolescents, Students & Teachers is High-Risk Strategy – For Children, Parents, Nigeria & ECOWAS.

Ebola

Has the Nigerian Ministry of Education taken a high-risk decision to bring forward re-opening of primary and secondary schools before the country’s Ebola outbreak is certifiably over?

The evidence indicates that this may be so.

Two full incubation periods (21 days x 2 / 42 days) without cases is the global health standard for declaring an Ebola outbreak over in a particular location.

Going by the official Ministry of Health Ebola update (of 1st September) – “the total number of cases of EVD in Nigeria stands at sixteen (16); the number of contacts under surveillance in Lagos stands at 72 while in Port Harcourt, the total number of contacts under surveillance stands at 199” – i.e. for a minimum of 21 days.  The update further confirmed that “No contact in Port Harcourt has completed the 21 day observation period”. The Ministry of Health has also warned that it is likely there will be more confirmed cases of Ebola

Yet – on the 5th of September, the Ministry of Education announced that it has reversed its earlier decision (of 26th August) to postpone schools resumption till the 13th of October – and announced that schools would now re-open sooner – on the 22nd of September.

This negated a key pillar of the 26 August announcement that the Minister of Education and Commissioners of Education from the 36 states of the federation “will meet on 23rd September to review the situation in all states”.

What has prompted this apparently hasty review?

Would it not have been much safer – to wait for some time after the outcomes of the minimum 21 day incubation period covering the last batch of persons placed under surveillance – before reviewing the date for school resumption?

There Is Far Too Much At Stake For Questions Not To Be Asked.

Moving millions of children and adolescents within and across 36 states before the Ebola outbreak is fully under control may turn out to be an unwise decision.

The percentage of Nigerian population under 15 years of age is estimated at 44.23%, and although not every child is in school, this reflects in the country’s school population.

The total population of students in Nigeria surpasses the combined population of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone where the current Ebola epidemic has been declared by experts as out of control:  Pre-primary (ages 3 to 5) – population of Nigerian students is estimated at 15.9 million; Primary (ages 6 to 11) 27.04 million; Secondary (ages 12 to 17) 21.8 million; and Tertiary (ages 18 years and above) 15.3 million.

The populations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are: 11.4 million; 4.1 million; and 5.9 million respectively.

Throwing about 80 million Nigerian children, adolescents, and young adults – (across an estimated 100,000 or more schools) into a potential Ebola mix, at a time when an abundance of caution is crucial – can hardly be described as a low, or even medium risk strategy.

If the Ministry of Education strategy goes horribly wrong – all the hard work of the Lagos, Rivers State and Federal Ministry of Health in containing the outbreak could be undone, with serious consequences for Nigeria, ECOWAS and all of Africa.

Is the Call for Caution Misplaced?

The evidence from Liberia and Sierra Leone where there have been riots, disruption to food production, manufacturing, mining, education, retail; and announcements of nationwide lock downs suggests not.

To quote the Deputy director of US Centre for Disease Controls National Centre for Emerging Zoonotic and Infectious Diseases:

“If there was no cases identified after today, we would still be committed to waiting 42 days from today to declare the outbreak fully over.  The concern is that the outbreak can be reseeded much like a forest fire, with sparks from one tree reseeding it.  That is clearly what happened in Liberia".

Liberia was a situation they did not have any new cases for more than 21 days in the first wave of the outbreak and they were reseeded by cases coming across the border.  Until we can identify and interrupt every chain of transmission, we will not be able to control the outbreak.”

Some Luck, Courage, Sacrifice and Efforts of Health Officials Have So Far Contained the Ebola Outbreak in Nigeria

In Nigeria, all 18 cases (so far) in the transmission chain are linked to a single person who travelled from Liberia to Lagos on 20 July. A combination of circumstances, incredible courage by two brave women – a doctor and nurse (now dead from Ebola) –  that identified the index case and restrained him – and round the clock work by health officials and partners has so far ensured that – the transmission chain has been traceable and contained.

Among the contacts of the index case, one person knowingly evaded surveillance and travelled to Port Harcourt (to seek private treatment) triggering another chain of transmission, which killed the doctor that treated him. The doctor in turn infected his wife (also a doctor) and she helped alert the authorities. The involvement of health workers affected, and their ability to recognise the situation, has so far been key to halting a disaster in the making.

If there is an Ebola outbreak in Nigeria’s massive 80 million strong school population after the 22nd of September, can the health system cope with tracing, containment and treatment?  The evidence indicates that the answer is a resounding NO. To put this in context Nigeria has only 4.1 doctors per 10,000 of the population (an estimated 58,363 doctors) – way below the 23 per 10,000 required for successful primary health care interventions.

And if schools shut down again after a new outbreak involving children and adolescents – and millions of students are reshuffled back home including across 36 states – what happens?

The Question Then Has To Be Asked – Why Has the Ministry of Education Reversed Its Earlier Decision Re-Open Schools In October?

Even basic disease prevention in Nigerian schools is a challenge as majority of schools are notorious for their lack of water and sanitation facilities, including lack of personal hygiene facilities for female students

The Ministry of Education directive that – “at least two (2) staff in each school, both Public and Private, are trained by appropriate health workers on how to handle any suspected case of Ebola” by 15th September – is ill informedEven doctors with 6 – 7 years of training cannot identify Ebola just by looking at patients with early symptoms that could be anything from Malaria to Typhoid fever. (See appendix to Editorial for questions about the precautionary measures directed by the Ministry of Education)

The WHO listed Ebola symptoms include: fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat – followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function. To these the Nigerian Ministry of Information Facebook page has ominously added “red eyes, cold, depression and confusion” – as symptoms of Ebola.  The potential for chaos when schools resume can only be imagined.

Importantly, the WHO underlines that other diseases to be ruled out before a diagnosis of Ebola can be made include: malaria, typhoid fever, cholera, plague, rickettsiosis, relapsing fever, meningitis, and hepatitis to mention a few. How can a teacher with 3 weeks ‘Ebola training’ and no diagnostic equipment on site manage this? And if they suspect it is Ebola what do they do? There is no effective states or national ambulance service to call.

Even without Ebola, a look at some annual and cumulative health indicators for children, adolescents and young adults in Nigeria demonstrates the country's healthcare system is already inadequate, with successive Ministers of Health struggling to perform miracles with insufficient resources

  • Distribution of causes of death in children under 5 years include: Malaria – 20%; Acute Respiratory Infections – 16%; Diarrhoea – 10%; HIV/AIDS – 3%; Measles – 1%.
  • Only 31% of children under 5 years with Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI) symptoms are taken to health facilities.
  • Only 38.1% of children under 5 years with diarrhoea receive oral rehydration therapy (ORT).
  • Only 41.9% of children under 5 years with fever received treatment with any anti malarial.
  • Only 18% of pregnant women living with HIV received antiretroviral for preventing mother to child transmission.
  • Number of children living with HIV – 400,000.
  • Polio vaccination coverage – 59%
  • Measles cases – 6,447

Some other overall annual or cumulative health indicators for the general population – indicative of capacity to deal with Ebola outbreak:

  • Malaria cases = 2,087,086 (2.08 million) / Malaria Deaths = 7,734
  • People living with TB- 270,000 / TB Deaths, 27,000
  • People living with HIV – 3,200,000 (3.2 million) / Treatment Coverage 20%

Nigeria’s HIV indicators are especially significant given that men who have recovered from Ebola can still transmit the virus through their semen for up to 7 weeks after recovery from illness.  As immune systems are  critical to survival of Ebola; sexual and reproductive health education and commodities are crucial for adolescents and young adults .

If the health care system is unable to cope as illustrated above in ‘normal times’, how can teachers be expected to manage an Ebola outbreak?

The federal government and the Ministry of Education need to re-consider the announcement to re-open schools on the 22nd of September – and to do this before the 22nd – especially if more cases of Ebola are detected.

No one hopes for the worst – but even as we hope for the best – we must make every effort, and take every precaution to prevent the worst. Ebola is currently a disease with no treatment and no vaccine.

If the Ministry of Education and government maintain the decision to re-open schools by the 22nd of September especially if there are more confirmed Ebola cases – the 21 days (Ebola incubation period) following September 22nd 2014 will be the most tension soaked and longest 21 days in Nigeria’s health and education history.

While schools cannot remain closed indefinitely, and we cannot rule out a separate Ebola outbreak in the future – The situation in Liberia and Sierra Leone demonstrates that waiting 21 to 42 days could make the difference between complete chaos, and a resolution of the present Ebola outbreak in Nigeria.

Statement Ends: For further information contact kindly contact us through email: media[a]afri-dev.net

 

Appendix:

Excerpts And Questions Arising – From Initial Ministry Of Education Announcement Postponing Schools Resumption Till 13th Of October

“All Primary and Secondary schools, both Public and Private are to remain closed until Monday 13thOctober, 2014 which is the new school resumption date for all schools throughout the Federation.  This is to ensure that adequate preventive measures are put in place before the students report back to school.”

“All Summer Classes currently being conducted by some private schools should be suspended with immediate effect until 13th October, 2014.”

“All Private Primary and Secondary Schools must comply with the directives given under these preventive measures”

“All Tertiary Institutions are advised to suspend exchange of staff and students programs, visits and major International seminars and workshops until further notice.  They are also to monitor the movement of foreign students in their campuses.  They are to liaise with appropriate Government Health Institutions to organize and ensure effective sensitization program for all their teaching and non-teaching staff”

“The Minister of Education and all State Commissioners of Education will meet again on 23rd September, 2014 to review the situation in all States.”

The New Announcement of 5th September Negating This Previous One and Re-directing Schools to Re-open By 22nd September Raises Many Questions.

  • What changed in the 10 days since the earlier announcement was made?
  • Have all the precautionary conditions announce by the Minister of Education been met?
  • Where those conditions adequate in the first instance?

Key Amongst The Precautionary Conditions Announced Where?

1). “ All State Ministries of Education are to immediately organize and ensure that at least two (2) staff in each school, both Public and Private, are trained by appropriate health workers on how to handle any suspected case of Ebola - and also embark on immediate sensitization of all Teaching and Non-Teaching Staff in all schools on preventive measures. This training of staff must be concluded not later than 15th September, 2014.”

  • Has this training been concluded? Even if concluded is it sufficient?

2). “All State Ministries of Education should establish a Working and Monitoring Team for effective supervision of school activities before and after opening of schools.”

  • Have these monitoring teams been put in place?
  • What is the composition of these teams?
  • What is their mandate and how will the monitoring be carried out?
  • Are they empowered to make recommendations for school closure?

3). “Each State Ministry of Education should appoint a designated [Ebola] Desk Officer not later than 1st September, 2014, who should also receive appropriate training and who must report on daily basis to the Honourable Commissioner on situation in the schools.  The names of such Desk Officers, their phone numbers and e-mail addresses should be communicated to the Headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Education not later than 1st September, 2014.”

  • Have these desk officers been appointed?
  • Who has been designated to train them?
  • What is the composition of this training?
  • Has the training been accomplished?
  • Could any such training have been done in 6 days (between 26th August and 1st September)?
  • Have their details been forwarded to the Federal Ministry of Education as of the 1st of September?

4). “All Primary and Secondary schools, both Public and Private should be provided with a minimum of two (2) appropriate/recommended Temperature Measuring Equipment by the State Ministries of Education.  The State Ministries should determine the number of such equipment required and forward same to the Federal Ministry of Education not later than 1st September, 2014.  The Federal Ministry of Education will liaise with the Federal Ministry of Health to ensure that appropriate equipment are procured.”

  • Have all the 36 state Ministries of education determined the number of temperature measuring equipment to be procured in each state?
  • Have the requests been forwarded to Federal Ministry of Education by the 1st of September?
  • Has the order for them been placed? Will these be supplied and be in place by the 22nd of September?
  • What about protective clothing?

i.e. WHO recommendation is that – “When in close contact (within 1 metre) of patients with Ebola, health-care workers should wear face protection (a face shield or a medical mask and goggles), a clean, non-sterile long-sleeved gown, and gloves (sterile gloves for some procedures).” Will these be provided in schools?

If the answer to any of these questions is No – then the Ministry of Education has failed even by the precautionary standards it set for itself.

Why take the risk of daily movement of a combined school population of about 80 million children, adolescents and young adults – including secondary school and higher education students that will travel within and between the 36 states of the country.

But Two Even Bigger And More Important Questions Should Be Answered.

  • Why has the government and the Ministry of Education decided that it is not necessary to wait for the two full incubation periods (21 days x 2 / 42 days) without cases – which is the global health standard for declaring an Ebola outbreak over in a particular location?
  • Is the decision to convert teachers to emergency health workers conditions appropriate?

Teachers are trained to teach, not be health workers. Should teaching staff be placed in the trenches to fight Ebola, or should health workers have been designated to assist schools?

The House of Representatives, the teaching unions and health workers unions and associations need to be brought into this discussion and unravel how and why this decision was taken, and if it should stand.

By Afri-Dev

Source: http://www.afri-dev.info/content/special-afri-devinfo-editorial

Experimental Ebola vaccine

Ebola

Monkeys that got a booster shot following a regular vaccine shot showed “durable” immunity, the new research published in the journal Nature Medicine said.

In the end of August, after animal trials the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) said that the new vaccine will be tested on humans starting with early September.

If approved, "this vaccine will be beneficial for populations at acute risk during natural outbreaks or others with a potential risk of occupational exposure," said the study's authors.

The results of the human trials are estimated to be completed by the end of 2014.

The new study said that vaccine provides "durable protection" against Zaire Ebola virus, which took the lives of 1,841 of the 3,685 people infected in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to World Health Organization (WHO) numbers.

The vaccine delivers traces of Ebola virus. The material is non-infectious and helps the cells build an immune response against the disease.

Four lab monkeys were given one shot of the vaccine and reported to have been immune to the virus five weeks later. But the effects of the vaccine wore off over a longer period of time. After 10 months, only two of the monkeys still had immunity.

At the same time, the monkeys that received a single shot, followed by a booster vaccine recorded long-term immunity.

The human trials will be conducted among the individuals not infected with the Ebola virus and researches will be observing if the vaccine triggers the appropriate immune response.

On Friday Sierra Leone announced it will implement a four-day “lockdown” across the country in an attempt to contain the spread of Ebola.

The move came as the World Health Organization stated that the virus has so far claimed over 2,000 lives in Africa.

By RT News

8 September 2014

Source: http://rt.com/news/185840-ebola-vaccine-human-trials/

Premier Zille: wrong – again

Zille

DA leader and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille has again entered the HIV prevention arena, telling us we are failing to deal with HIV because we don’t have the right approach to taking personal responsibility for sexual behaviours.

 

In an article on the DA website, she argues that HIV continue to spread because no one talks about ‘sugar daddies’ and ‘multiple concurrent partnerships’, and she suggests that we need to criminalise HIV transmission.

 

Her previous foray three years ago famously led to her referring to the HIV treatment activist community as the 'AIDS Gestapo’ when she was challenged.

 

Unfortunately, her piece is a confused mess of poor science, incorrect history, moralising, and an appeal to what seems to her to be ‘common sense’, despite good scientific evidence to the contrary. It’s hard to believe that anyone with an interest in AIDS for the past ten years hasn’t heard repeated discussions about sugar daddies and multiple concurrent partnerships, and hasn’t seen failed behaviour change initiatives attempting to respond to these now largely discredited theories.

 

It appears Zille hasn't looked on the web for freely and widely available data. Nor has she asked some of the world’s experts living in her town. A good start would be Brian Honerman’s superb The Boogeymen of HIV that Never Were, but let’s unpick some of the article’s claims.

 

Her call to specifically criminalise deliberate transmission of HIV is a discredited health and legal position. South Africa, like most countries, has legislation in place to allow for the prosecution of people who try to harm people, including the deliberate spread of HIV (she even mentions this in her article). She says “Every time I raise this question there is an outcry.” Well, I haven’t heard an outcry, but yes, it’s a dumb idea, because the law is a dreadful way to police sexual behaviours, even in places with well-functioning legal systems. Further, there is no evidence to suggest that HIV is being spread by people who know that they are positive and are reckless.

 

On the contrary, all the evidence is that people who know their status are careful. This measure would further stigmatise HIV, allocate responsibility unfairly (people who have sex without knowing their HIV status are, arguably, just as responsible), but not reduce the spread of infection.

 

Uganda’s ‘success story’: Many people contest the very rosy HIV history that she portrays for Uganda. But even assuming this history is right, the rise in new HIV incidence predates antiretrovirals (ARVs), so she is wrong that the introduction of ARVs led to increased risk taking behaviour.

 

This then raises the issue of 'disinhibition': she asserts that access to ARVs leads to more sexual risk taking. This is a legitimate concern, and was raised in regard to male circumcision programmes. However, multiple studies have shown either no change or actual improvement in sexual risk taking, after ARVs are started (we see the same after circumcision, and when someone tests positive for HIV). I have yet to see a properly done study demonstrating anything to the contrary.

 

She rightly is concerned about the billions of Rands allocated to HIV. But the scale of the epidemic remains vast, and it’s an appropriate allocation considering the sickness and death extracted by the condition, when you look at the overall health budget. People on ARVs don’t get sick or die nearly as young, and they avoid expensive medical care.

 

In addition, she completely ignores the fact that people on ARVs taking their treatment will not transmit the virus. Treatment is by far the most effective form of prevention, and the money spent is an investment not just in personal health, but in prevention.

 

Her assertion that multiple concurrent sexual partnerships drive the epidemic: This has pretty much fallen off the prevention radar after a well-done study in KZN showed that there was no correlation between concurrency (a hazy concept at the best of times, where it includes faithful polygamists and excludes someone with a new sexual partner every night). Even her assertion around age discordant relationships is contested after a recent study found that ‘sugar daddies’ don’t seem to add risk, and may even be protective.

 

She says that people are not willing to discuss this for fear of being called racist (and by inference, that she is being brave by doing so), and says “no-one dares confront the stigma of talking openly about the health crisis occasioned by multiple, concurrent sexual partners and inter-generational sex”. I don’t know where she’s been hiding, but the HIV prevention field has talked of little else for the last few years, and I haven’t heard accusations of racism. The literature is full of the debates, conferences discuss it, and I alone have been on umpteen radio shows to discuss these issues.

 

She again engages in ad hominem attacks on the 'AIDS industry’ which is presumably the activist community, researchers, health workers and pharmaceutical companies. This is the 'industry' that got us one of the most miraculous medical interventions to the poorest areas of the globe, raised South Africa’s life expectancy by a decade, led a human rights revolution for everyone from gays to sex workers, and has had a positive knock on effect on the rest of the health system. AIDS activism has spawned movements of people being arrested for demanding access to basic health care in the Free State, the campaign for text books in Mpumalanga, and sanitation in the Western Cape. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s an industry that has had an extraordinary impact, and one I’m proud to be a part of. Calling us an industry is as cynical and unhelpful as me calling her out for being part of the 'politician industry'.

 

There are dozens of medical conditions which are so-called ‘personal choices’, ranging from obesity to drug addiction to violence to sports injuries, where we often have a poor understanding of the causation, allowing for unhelpful moralising and bad public health interventions. In HIV, we still don’t know why a young black KZN woman’s risk of contracting HIV is several thousand-fold greater than her contemporary in London, Rio or Delhi despite similar kinds and amounts of sex. We’re not clear why South Africans are so overweight, why South Africans have so many car accidents, or why Cape Town has so much TB. While behaviours may drive these, it’s not always clear what these behaviours are or what makes people do them, and one of the failures of the HIV prevention science community is explaining the incredible.

 

I share Zille’s frustration with HIV prevention failure. Science has a lot to do to explain the disproportionate burden of HIV in our region, and many public health specialists were irresponsible in confidently assigning behaviours as high risk. and allowing these assumptions to determine subsequent programmes.

 

The premier laments that too much responsibility is being placed on the state and too little on individuals. But yet she thinks the state has the power to dictate to people how to run their sexual lives. She should know that it has been tried, with the ABC campaign, with what charitably can be called very limited success.

 

We certainly could be doing more. Some things worth trying are ensuring that all schools have condoms and that there is a much better defined life-skills curriculum (and let's call it sex-education, damn it) that teaches accurate information about how to avoid contracting sexually transmitted infections and about having sex for pleasure. We could change the laws around sex workers to make it easier to provide health services to them, because recent data suggests this has a major beneficial impact on new HIV infections. Yet, these straightforward measures are ones that moralising politicians continue to avoid implementing.

 

When she says ‘take responsibility’ at the end of her article, the main responsibility that needs taking is politicians too lazy to get the facts, unfortunately something that seems to happen intermittently across South African political parties. If politicians want to enter the arena, they should take the time to meaningfully engage with the science. We deserve a better level of debate.

 

By Francois Venter

 

4 September 2014 

 

Professor Venter is an HIV clinician and scientist, and the former president of the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society.

 

Link to Original Article:

http://groundup.org.za/article/premier-zille-wrong-%E2%80%93-again_2207

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New study highlights the need for evidence-based sexual and reproductive health education

big

A new national survey reveals that the political divide among red-versus-blue states does not support the hypothesis that knowledge about abortion and health is shaped by the state in which one lives.

 

August 19, 2014

 

Research led by Danielle Bessett, a University of Cincinnati assistant professor of sociology, was presented at the 109th Meeting of the American Sociological Association in San Francisco.

 

Bessett says that regardless of political viewpoints, only 13 percent of the 569 people polled in the national survey demonstrated high knowledge of abortion, correctly answering four or five questions. Seven percent mistakenly thought that abortion until 12 weeks gestation was illegal (another 11 percent didn't know if it was illegal or not).

 

More than half the sample (53 percent) reported living in a blue (considered liberal) state; 26 percent reported living in a red (considered conservative) state and 20 percent reported living in a "purple" state – swing states such as Ohio, in which Democrats and Republicans have strong support.

 

Although initial results showed some support for the red-versus-blue state divide when it came to abortion health knowledge (but not legal knowledge), this difference between states disappeared when researchers took into account individual-level characteristics, including respondents' political beliefs, their beliefs about whether abortion should be permitted and whether or not they knew someone who had an abortion.

 

"Because the issue of abortion is an exemplar of polarization, it provides a useful way to test the red states v. blue states hypothesis," write the authors. Bessett says she and her co-researchers found that their "data does not support the red-versus-blue state hypothesis: geography does not dictate the world views of Americans. Some individuals in all settings do have accurate information about abortion, regardless of political context."

 

An online questionnaire was administered to 586 randomly selected men and women ages 18 to 44 via SurveyMonkey Audience. The findings focused on answers from 569 respondents (91.7 percent of the sample) who were born in the U.S. Participants responded to five survey items related to knowledge about abortion health and one exploring legal knowledge about abortion:

 

Survey Questions

·         What percentage of women in the U.S. will have an abortion by age 45?

Correct answer: 33 percent

Percentage of respondents with correct answer: 41 percent

·         Which has a greater health risk: An abortion in the first three months of pregnancy or giving birth?

Correct answer: giving birth

Percentage of respondents with correct answer: 31 percent

·         A woman who has an abortion in the first three months of pregnancy is more likely to have breast cancer than if she were to continue the pregnancy.

Correct answer: disagree somewhat/disagree strongly

Percentage of respondents with correct answer: 37 percent

·         A woman who has an abortion in the first three months of pregnancy is more at risk of a serious mental health problem than if she were to continue that pregnancy.

Correct answer: disagree somewhat/disagree strongly

Percentage of respondents with correct answer: 31 percent

·         A woman having an abortion in the first three months of pregnancy is more likely to have difficulty getting pregnant in the future.

Correct answer: disagree somewhat/disagree strongly

Percentage of respondents with correct answer: 35 percent

·         Abortion during the first three months of pregnancy is legal in the U.S.

Correct answer: true

Percentage of respondents with correct answer: 83 percent

 

Based on their findings, the researchers conclude that men and women making sexual and reproductive health decisions may not be well informed about the relative safety and consequences of their choices, highlighting a need for the provision of better, more comprehensive and evidence-based sexual and reproductive health education.

 

Survey Demographics

 

Fifty-three percent (313) of the respondents were male; 47 percent (273) female; 49 percent reported an age between 18-29 and 51 percent reported being between 30-44; the majority of the respondents (78 percent) identified as white; 11 percent Hispanic; four percent black and seven percent identified as "other" race or ethnicity.

 

Thirty-seven percent described themselves as very or somewhat liberal, 38 percent felt they were moderate and 25 percent identified as somewhat or very conservative.

 

Forty-one percent did not affiliate with any religion, 16 percent identified as Catholic and 35 percent identified as Protestant. Twelve percent reported they had a personal experience with abortion and 65 percent reported knowing someone who had an abortion. Eighty-seven percent believed that in most instances, abortion should not be restricted.

 

Additional authors on the paper are Caitlin Gerdts, an epidemiologist at University of California, San Francisco; Lisa Littman, an adjunct professor of preventative medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital; Megan Kavanaugh, Guttmacher Institute; and Alison Norris, MD, assistant professor, College of Public Health, The Ohio State University.

 

Source: University of Cincinnati 

http://www.news-medical.net/news/20140819/New-study-highlights-the-need-for-evidence-based-sexual-and-reproductive-health-education.aspx

Fluid identities: hijab to bike helmet

zainabgraffiti

Identities are fluid, and often difficult to map on a straight line between "traditional" and "modern." Or between "hijab" and "helmet," in the case of author Zainab bint Younus's short story about a gang of "Hooris," deeply religious Muslim women turned vigilante biker chicks. 

 

HOOR AL-'AYN, Zainab bint Younus, Canada.

 

#EqualityIs 

 

Muslim women being seen as agents of their own fates, able and active in fighting for their own causes – not as helpless victims.

 

"Hoor al-‘Ayn" is a short story centered around the idea of a group of young Muslim women who, on one hand, would be considered not just religious, but conservative (their leader wears niqab, the face-veil); and who, on the other hand, break the very idea of what "conservative" means by forming a vigilante biker gang in a semi-fictionalized Californian inner city.

 

These young women embody many of the emotions and experiences of Muslim women around the world. They are devoted to their faith, and it is their faith which empowers them, even as they turn the idea of a “pious Muslim woman” on its head. They reclaim and redefine what it means to be a Muslimah, as is reflected in the name they chose for themselves: “Hoor al-‘Ayn.” In Islamic belief, Hoor al-'Ayn is the name given to the otherworldly handmaidens in Paradise. The young women in this story challenge Muslims and non-Muslims alike in how they choose to present themselves to the world.

 

These Hoor al-‘Ayn are dedicated to a higher cause: the pleasure of God in the pursuit of justice for all. In the inner city, just as in rural villages, women tend to be amongst the most vulnerable members of the population, and the Hoor al-‘Ayn are willing to take drastic measures to ensure that the women around them are able to feel safe and fight back for their rights. They have the added challenge of facing cultural norms of gender-based injustice found within the Muslim community. Although the issues are the same as those faced by women in other religious and ethnic communities – domestic violence, alas, is a global phenomenon and not unique to Muslims – it is the cultural justifications and normalization of these problems which are most difficult to eradicate.

 

In short, the Hoor al-‘Ayn of this story are a force of faith, power, and justice to be reckoned with.

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

 

At 5 feet 3-and-a-half inches exactly, 20 year old Sameera’s petite form was unremarkable. Swathed in a flowing black abayah and matching shayla, she was just another young Muslim woman from a conservative Muslim community in the inner city. Perhaps the only thing that made her stand out was the niqaab she wore in addition to the abayah and hijab, a sight not often seen in her neighborhood.  

 

Sameera smiled grimly in the mirror as she pulled down her niqab and whipped off the length of chiffon away from her face, revealing a shock of rainbow-colored hair, multiple ear piercings, and a henna tribal tattoo on her neck. There was absolutely nothing conservative about her appearance now. The truth was, she loathed being "normal," hated being "just another Muslimah." The only time she felt free, that she felt truly herself, was when she was on-duty. Luckily for her, she had patrol tonight. 

 

Shrugging off her abayah, Sameera exchanged it for a floor-length leather duster that hung on a mannequin’s torso in her bedroom. The soft, simple shayla was replaced with one of sturdier material, designed not to flutter or slip as much as the chiffon was wont to do. Wrapping it around her face, the hair, tattoo, and piercings disappeared again, although Sameera pinned this hijab in place with a dagger-shaped pin. A pair of fingerless leather gloves, adorned with a strip of small metal spikes, and matching knee-length boots with steel-tipped toes completed her ensemble.

 

Sameera’s reflection stared back at her, a slow smug smile conveying her satisfaction at this wardrobe adjustment. Tugging her niqab up to cover the smile, Sameera’s back straightened and her muscles flexed in anticipation.

 

She was ready to prowl. 

 

The Hoor al-‘Ayn, as they had named themselves, or “those Muslim biker chicks,” as they were known by the rest of the city, believed themselves to be nothing more than a product of their environment.

 

Several of them came from Muslim homes, often conservative, but living in the inner city meant that every day was a survival of the fittest. And usually, the fittest carried around a pair of brass knuckles and steel-toed boots; a speedy ride was helpful, too. 

 

All cultures adapted to Islam – or was it the other way around? Either way, the Hooris were a reflection of both their faith and their neighborhood. The seven or eight girls all observed hijab; their abayas were suited for the concrete jungle they lived in – slashed at the sides for ease of movement, particularly jumping onto and climbing off their motorcycles. Many sported fingerless gloves, mostly leather and accessorized with metal studs or spikes. Matching jackets – emblazoned with the gang’s logo, a veiled woman holding aloft a machine gun – and riding boots completed their practical ensemble. Of course, each girl sported her own custom bike, choice of concealed weaponry, and personalized accessories. 

 

They were all still young, and ranged in age from their mid-teens to early 20s, but growing up in the middle of a battlefield had taken its toll. Though their eyes sparkled and many still had puppy fat clinging to their cheeks, jaded cynicism tipped their smiles like jagged arrowheads and their shoulders were tense with the constant wariness of those who are both predator and prey. 

 

At the moment, the Hooris were milling about the masjid parking lot, a motley crew of bikes, hijabs, and helmets. This evening, they were on-duty: the masjid had a neighborhood watch program that they took part in regularly. 

 

After 9/11, the existing tensions of the inner city turned into an inferno of hate, violence, and fury. When the men of the Muslim community decided to form a protective force, the women refused to be left out. Sameera had been the first to storm into the Imam’s office and demand that she and her friends be allowed to join the nightly patrol. 

 

After much debate (between the Imam and Sameera), argument (between the men of the community and Sameera), and threats (from Sameera to the men in the community), it was finally agreed that the newly-formed Hoor al-‘Ayn would assist the as-yet-unnamed group of Muslim men in monitoring the neighborhood’s activities. Their main focus was to protect the Muslim homes located near and around the masjid, but their overall goal was to serve the cause of justice and strike fear in the heart of the scum who lurked the streets. 

 

And today, they had a mission to carry out.

 

About the Author

 

Zainab bint Younus (also known as The Salafi Feminist) is a young Canadian niqaabi and a Goth, (Steam)Punk, zombie-loving, wannabe-biker niqaabi feminist who may or may not be a Salafi according to your definition thereof. Her dream is to become a classically-trained orthodox Islamic scholar, and possibly a superhero. In the meantime, she is a writer dedicated to learning and sharing stories of powerful Muslim women throughout Islamic history; a proponent of grassroots da'wah and activism; and an absent-minded mother to a pretty awesome toddler (mashaAllah). She writes for SISTERS Magazine, her blog, and can be found on Twitter.

 

- See more at: http://imaginingequality.imow.org/content/hoor-al-ayn#sthash.psEjyea2.dpuf