Tag Archives: Ebola

How Not to Catch Ebola: A Wise Traveler’s Guide

26 Oct

 

who.org/ebola West Africa 2014

who.org/ebola
West Africa 2014

The sign above warns people in West Africa: Attention Ebola!,  Don’t  Touch Anyone,  Don’t Manipulate Objects, The Animals You’ll Find Dead in the Forest

Last week a dear friend and neighbor called to ask about her chances of contracting the Ebola virus if she was traveling back from West Africa on an airplane. She had no intention of taking a flight to anywhere in Africa but it bothered her that she had no idea what to do if she ever encountered this situation while traveling abroad. She had heard me talk about living with the threat of Ebola while traveling through East and Central Africa and felt that the media in the United States had not told  the American public the entire truth. After I answered her questions and told her what steps she could take to keep herself safe she felt somewhat better and  more in control of her life. Then she begged me to write this post in order to educate anyone else who felt as she did. So this one is for you Diane, I truly hope the information I’ve included in this post helps save lives one day. I have meticulously researched and referenced all of the factual information presented in the post and matched it to that cited by the World Health Organization as well as the Center for Disease Control. I have also included direct  links to each of these web pages so my followers can check out this information for themselves.

http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/

So what have I learned about Ebola during my summers in East and Central Africa and what do I do to keep myself safe? First, out of all the diseases one can catch in East Africa, like AIDS, Malaria, Yellow Fever, Blackwater Fever, Tuberculosis and hundreds of parasitic illnesses – it’s Ebola that terrifies my African friends and colleagues the most. “ Three Days,” ( the time they believe it takes the virus to kill them) they whisper after I ask about Ebola then either make the sign of the cross over themselves repeatedly or shake their heads back and forth in absolute dread. When travelers meet on back roads throughout the bush, its news about Ebola they ask for first and the name, itself has the power to turn a cheerful, laughing Ugandan into a silent, nervous wreck. But knowledge is power and so there are certain things you can do to protect yourself against bringing this virus into your body and infecting you with the disease.

Ebola has been classified as a virus and as such there are a few things you need to remember about this virus in particular when traveling that can keep you safe. A person can only spread Ebola if they are in the active symptoms stage. That means they are either running a high fever, vomiting, experiencing diarrhea, severe headaches, muscle pain, weakness, abdominal pain, or unexplained bleeding around or from any opening in their body. And they don’t have to have all of these symptoms – one is enough. But these symptoms also describe other illnesses such as influenza so a blood sample must be taken and examined by a laboratory to confirm whether it’s actually Ebola or not. This makes the disease very difficult to detect and confirm especially in rural districts where lab reports are not readily available and by the time competent medical staffers have been called in an entire village could be infected. Doctors have determined that there is a definite incubation period between 2 to 21 days (time between becoming infected and the actual onset of the physical symptoms) but it is not the same length of time in all patients so this has caused a lot of confusion in the past. How would I even suspect I had the disease if I didn’t show any symptoms until 21 days later? By then most people who had come in contact with Ebola would feel they were free from the disease. Plane travel from Africa to the United States usually takes two separate flights and between twelve to sixteen hours depending on the European airport selected for the second flight. Hypothetically I could travel through the first flight symptom-free but develop stage one symptoms like a high fever during the second flight. That means I could become contagious while in-flight and have no idea what’s happening to me. And now you’re sitting next to me. So what can you do to protect yourself?

A person demonstrating active stage one symptoms of Ebola can transmit the virus through all of his/her bodily fluids like sweat, mucus, tears, saliva, urine, feces, and blood. You infect yourself when you come in contact with my Ebola-rich body fluids and bring them into you own body through any open cut/wound or bring your contaminated fingers to your eyes, nose, or mouth. So I advise when on an airplane where there is reason to suspect Ebola that you wear a surgical mask and either sunglasses that thoroughly surround/cover your eyes or clear glasses that do the same thing. You may not look like the sexiest person in Coach or Business Class but you’ll go a long way in protecting yourself from this debilitating disease. Before you hit the airport remember to examine your body closely especially any exposed areas like hands and feet making sure that all cuts, no matter how tiny- even hangnails have been thoroughly covered up by Band-Aids or adhesive strips. Make sure to bring extra ones with you and if you have a deep wound on your hand I would wear a pair of gloves while traveling. Make sure to pack these things in a carry-on bag when leaving the US for any country in Africa- you’ll never know when you’ll need them. Remember, “ an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

I heard a newsman on television say that you can’t catch the Ebola virus from a sneeze. Wrong, wrong, inexcusably wrong!!! Technically you can’t catch the virus from airborne particles released through your nose during a sneeze but when people sneeze they usually release some saliva from their mouths as well. Think about your last hearty sneeze- I know I do and I bet you do too. That means that saliva from an infected person’s mouth could be sprayed out onto your hands, shoulder, head, lap, or even food depending on how close he/she was when the sneeze occurred. If a person with active symptoms sneezes on you, spits on you, vomits on you, bleeds on you, or you come in contact with his/her urine or feces you’d better have any wounds covered up and your eyes, nose, and mouth covered too or you’re at risk for infecting yourself with the virus.

Now this virus can live for hours outside its host’s body so carry disposable wipes soaked in bleach with you and use them to wipe down the tray in front of you, both metal side arms; then give the cloth seat a quick swipe too before sitting down. Wipe down any earphones and touch screens before using them as well. I always take a large African scarf with me and wrap myself up in it during the flight. No airplane pillows or blankets for me. Using the bathroom can be especially dangerous if you have bleeding hemorrhoids or any other open wounds in that area of your body. Make sure to take your bleach wipes with you and make a thorough swipe of the toilet seat before sitting down. Wash your hands well with plenty of soap and make sure to wipe your hands with fresh wipes before and after using the toilette and sink. When eating your meal watch what the people on either side of you are doing. If for some reason they sneeze on your food leave it alone!!! It’s better to go hungry than sicken yourself with Ebola. And watch where you put your hands. Do not put them anywhere near your eyes, nose, or mouth without wiping them off with bleach wipes first. Once you arrive home take all clothes off immediately and throw them in the washing machine. If you have worn a suit or “dry clean only” garments place them on a hanger and put them outside in the sunlight for a day or two. Other things that can kill the virus once it’s outside of its host- hand soap, detergent, hand sanitizers, heat, and alcohol- the kind you drink as well as rubbing alcohol and hydrogen- peroxide. Remember people who tend to sick Ebola patients can be infected by handling bedding, clothes, cups, dishes, or utensils so they must take the proper precautions as they minister to them. Following these steps may make you feel embarrassed at first- even look like you suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder but who cares? Would you rather be pretty or dead? Adults traveling with children will have a more difficult time enforcing many of these protocols but remember they work and have been designed to save you and your family members from a terribly painful illness you might not survive.

Stage two of the disease according to one friend, “is a journey into hell and back”. The infected person suffers from extreme bouts of vomiting and diarrhea, agonizing rashes, and gradually his/her liver as well as the kidneys slowly shut down. There’s lots of bleeding from every orifice in the body and much more pain. The very old and the very young succumb first as well as anyone in poor health at the onset of the disease. Many East Africans will tell you that anyone who catches Ebola dies but WHO maintains that the average fatality rate is more like 50 %. It all depends on the general health of the person at the onset of the disease. And according to the CDC, those people who do manage to survive develop personal antibodies that remain in their blood stream and protect them from further infection from Ebola for up to 10 years; although scientists are not sure if these survivors are immune to the four other species of Ebola or mutations of each strain as well. There is no cure or vaccine for Ebola at the moment although blood transfusions and a serum called Z-Mapp was used on the doctors who became infected with Ebola in West Africa but  is still in the experimental stage.

And now the most crucial fact in preventing epidemics like the one that occurred in West Africa. People can fully recover from the Ebola virus and still remain infectious (that means they can still infect others) as long as their blood and/or other body fluids including semen and breast milk contain the Ebola virus. Men who have recovered from the disease and demonstrate no symptoms whatsoever can still transmit the virus to others in their semen for up to 7 weeks after recovery. Doctors who have been treating male patients in West Africa who survived Ebola are advising them to abstain from all forms of sex for 30 days and to wear condoms after that. According to Mother Jones, in one 2000 study a woman who recovered from Ebola still had the virus in her breast milk weeks after she made a full recovery and her infant eventually died from the disease. It is not clear if she transmitted the virus to her infant and more research needs to be conducted before scientists can establish a direct cause –effect relationship between breast milk and the transmission of the virus.

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/10/how-long-ebola-sperm

As of October 24, 2014 five countries located in West Africa have had outbreaks of Ebola Hemorrhagic Virus in the past several months: Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Senegal. Of these, Nigeria and Senegal have been classified by the World Health Organization (WHO, 2014) as “Ebola –Free” with no new reported cases of this disease for six weeks in a row. This was the largest and most complex outbreak of Ebola ever recorded with more deaths than all other outbreaks combined. To show you how contagious this virus can be according to the CDC the first case in West Africa was confirmed in March of 2014. It started in Guinea then was spread by land to Sierra Leone, after that one traveler was responsible for spreading the virus by airplane to Liberia, then one traveler spread it to Nigeria by land, and one traveler spread it to Senegal by land. It seems that the world’s attention was focused exclusively on West Africa when in fact there had also been an outbreak of Ebola in Central Africa, in Lokolia, south of Equateur Province in the northwestern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as of September, 2014 with a confirmed tally of 68 cases of Ebola and 41 deaths. But Ebola outbreaks have occurred in the past in the DRC, Uganda, South Sudan, and Gabon.

http://www.who.int/csr/disease/ebola/en/

According to historical data on Ebola supplied by the Center for Disease Control (CDC, 2014) the Democratic Republic of the Congo has experienced 7 outbreaks of Ebola in the last 38 years- more than any other country in the world and the Congo Basin has been identified by scientists as the source of several major pandemics. As far back as 1976 the first recorded cases of Ebola came out of the Congo Basin in the DRC, the second largest tropical rain forest in the world. What’s more, it is now believed that Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) emerged from the same rain forest sometime in the late 1920’s after that virus crossed from chimpanzee into human blood streams.

This has also made the doctors serving the populace of the DRC some of the most knowledgeable “ Ebola Doctors” in the world. And one of the very best is the virologist and professor Dr. Jean- Jacques Muyembe Tamfum, who heads the Institut National de Recherche Biomedicale, at The University of Kinshasa in the DRC’s capital city of Kinshasa. It was Dr. Tamfum who identified the Ebola virus 38 years ago. According to Dr. Tamfum, “Ebola is the most dangerous virus in the world at this time classified as a ‘level four’ virus and there are more just like it out there.”

Five species of the virus have been identified so far: Zaire, Bundibugyo, Sudan, Reston, and Tai Forest. And each of these has the ability to mutate. The most recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa has been attributed to a mutation of the Zaire species which according to the CDC is the most deadly strain.

According to Jonna Mazet, global director of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) “Predict Program,” a five year project charged with identifying viruses before they become a threat and building a global database to store this information, “most of the global epidemics in the world originated in these same forest ecosystems. The three areas in the world currently classified as “Virus Hot Spots,” the Amazon Basin in South America, the Congo Basin in Central Africa, and Southeast Asia- all three have the heat, the water, and the tree cover to act as pathogen incubators. According to the latest version of the Thorndike- Barnhart Dictionary- a pathogen is “any infectious agent that can produce illness in its host and can appear in the form of viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other micro-organisms.” The medical community at large knows by now that viruses mutate easily enough inside their host, some can live outside of their host for hours on end, and all are not easily treated. Mazet goes on to say,” In the last five years we have detected over 800 viruses globally and 540 of these viruses have never been seen before. Many could be just as deadly as Ebola.” This means that a good 68% of these new viruses have the potential to be as destructive to humans and animals as Ebola and AIDS have been. Scientists have also determined that 60% of the emerging diseases that infect humans worldwide are “crossovers” that originally came from animals, especially wild ones.

http://www.usaid.gov/ept2

An estimated 270 species of animals and 40 million people call the Congo Basin home. In a country identified by the United Nations Human Development Index as 186 out of a total of 187 countries (only Niger was given a lower score) it has the poorest quality of life in the entire world. Locals around the Basin eke out a living from the forest each day or literally die of starvation. As I discussed before in my blog on Ebola after the Ugandan outbreak of 2012 while traveling through the infected area of Uganda near the DRC/ Uganda border, primates such as monkeys and apes can catch Ebola just like humans who are also primates. Because Gorillas share 95% of their genetic code with humans it is extremely easy for the virus to cross over between the two causing prolonged outbreaks of the disease. Contrary to Americans’ preferences for red meat, the Congolese will hunt and eat wildlife in any form they find it. Animals such as bats, monkeys, chimpanzees, forest antelope, and porcupines are caught and sold in outdoor markets as fresh or cooked meat and eaten by a community that truly enjoys this cuisine. Unfortunately, these are the same animals that have been identified as the culprits responsible for spreading the Ebola virus in the Congo Basin especially into hunters who handle the infected blood, bodily fluids, and feces of the wounded or dead animals before they’re cooked. The CDC currently believes that it is a species of fruit bat living in the Congo Basin that’s primarily responsible for holding the Ebola virus in its blood stream between outbreaks.

Jonna Mazet warns that the Congo Basin is home to millions of viruses and many of them could be far more virulent than Ebola or HIV. As the rain forest in the Congo Basin is being destroyed to accommodate a growing population of Congolese citizens they in turn are coming in contact with new and deadlier microorganisms like never before and who knows what the repercussions will be for the global community at large? And for those who doubt me! In 2009 a new virus was discovered in Mangala, a small village deep within the Congo Basin’s rain forest. Three people had been stricken with a mysterious fever that suddenly spiked and began to vomit up blood. Two of the patients died within three days of demonstrating active symptoms and the third survived the disease going on to develop preventive antibodies in his blood stream. It was first thought that they had contracted the Zaire species of Ebola virus but then it was confirmed through laboratory tests that the villagers had become infected by a totally new virus. It was eventually named the Bas- Congo Virus and there have been no reported cases of the Bas- Congo Virus since. Virologists finally determined that it had been spread by insects.

Voyons ce que demain nous, mes amis!

Kat Nickerson      Kingston, RI   USA

 

Vaccinations in East Africa: Effective or Evil?

14 Aug

 

Amuru District, Northern Uganda- On August 8, 2012, 50 pupils at Kaladima Primary School, Lamogi collapsed on the second day of an immunization program to prevent River Blindness. According to the District Health Officer, Dr. Patrick Okello Olvedo the teachers had administered the drug, Praziquanthel to the children before they had eaten. Apparently this drug can cause dizziness and fainting when taken on an empty stomach. On the first day the children received two other drugs and on the second two more. It was on the second day that they took the drug Praziquanthel which has been identified as the cause of the problem. This school vaccination program is part of a mass immunization program launched by President Museveni of Uganda to combat the disease River Blindness, a parasitic infection carried by the Black Fly which he believes is somehow causing the mysterious Nodding Disease in children. Nodding Disease has already infected around 7,000 children and a few adults in Northern Uganda. The Acholi Elders of Amuru district are concerned about this vaccination initiative and have accused the government of carelessly embarking on its course of action without a proper investigation into the vaccines that are being used in the program or a knowledgeable plan.

This alarming headline from the Acholi Times made me sit up and take notice last week. Was another vaccination scandal about to take place in northern Uganda just like it has occurred around the world many times before? And is Museveni trying to connect Nodding Disease to River Blindness because it is a simple solution to a much more complicated problem?

In 2001, John Le Carre, a British novelist published a novel, The Constant Gardener about a English diplomat whose wife is murdered because she discovers that a pharmaceutical company has tested a new tuberculosis drug on AIDS patients without informing them. It is eventually found that this new drug has had deadly side effects but the company decides to cover up what it has done and chooses not to help the people whose lives it has knowingly destroyed. Le Carre chose to locate his novel in the country of Kenya, East Africa but the real story was based on an American pharmaceutical company that conducted its own unethical trial in Kano State, Nigeria. According to Le Carre the actual incident was far crueler than his story.

In 1996 in Kano State, Nigeria the American pharmaceutical company Pfizer conducted a test of its new drug, Trovan during a meningitis outbreak that was already killing children in the area. Trovan is a broad spectrum antibiotic that had yet to be tested on real people. In the trial one hundred children were administered the new drug Trovan, and one hundred more were given the drug Chloramphenicol, which had been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO). Out of the entire group of 200 children, eleven deaths were attributed to taking the drug Trovan and low dosages of Chloramphenicol but the survivors suffered irreparable side effects and permanent injuries such as paralysis, deafness, blindness, brain damage, liver damage, and joint disease from ingesting Trovan in the dosages prescribed by the company. In 1997 The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA, 2000) approved Trovan for use with adults but by 1999 after becoming aware of a range of harmful side effects decided to severely restrict its use with all patients. Europe banned any and all use of the drug Trovan within its borders.

By 2000 a Nigerian report was published that exposed Pfizer’s poorly conducted trial and the host of side effects suffered by the young patients who had survived the Meningitis outbreak and the drug Trovan. There were demonstrations and demands for justice for the victims all over Nigeria. In 2001 thirty families sued Pfizer in a group action suit. And in 2007 both the Government of Nigeria and Kano State Municipal Government filed separate law suits and sued for damages. In February 2009, The Pfizer Pharmaceutical Company settled with all parties for a reported 45 million dollars US.

In 2003 the World Health Organization attempted to conduct a polio vaccination program in Nigeria. People there had not forgotten about the last disastrous drug trial conducted by an American Drug company in Kano State and were suspicious of any medicines from the United States of America. Tempers flared and ugly demonstrations broke out on the streets. The Nigerian government halted the WHO Polio Vaccination Program after Nigerians refused to come into the clinics for these polio vaccinations or bring their children, boycotting the WHO’s initiative. The Nigerian government only resumed the program when a polio vaccine was brought in from Indonesia which is a Muslim country and many of the affected families in Nigeria and in Kano State were Muslims. The people found this vaccine acceptable after their Muslim leaders approved it and the WHO Polio Vaccination Program in Nigeria resumed.

In 2010, The Finnish National Institute for Health (THL) proposed suspending vaccinations for H1N1 swine flu, due to suspected links to increased narcolepsy in children and adolescents. This was in response to six cases of narcolepsy, a chronic disorder that causes excessive daytime sleepiness and extreme fatigue. All of these patients were reported to have been given the H1N1vaccine containing the adjuvant, Pandemrix. According to Webster’ Dictionary – an “adjuvant” is an agent that may stimulate the immune system and increase the response to a vaccine, without provoking the antibodies itself. Six cases of narcolepsy occurred immediately after these patients had been vaccinated, and nine additional cases were been reported but not yet confirmed.

In August 19th, 2010, the Medical Products Agency of Sweden initiated its own investigation for the same reason. Sweden bought 18 million doses of H1N1 vaccine, sufficient for everyone in the country to receive two injections. In Europe, about 30 million people have been vaccinated, and worldwide at least 90 million. During the winter of 2009, 29 million children in the United States were given a seasonal influenza shot that incorporated the swine flu vaccine but they did not receive the vaccine containing the adjuvant, Pandemrix- only European countries received that.

By February, 2011, a Finnish study found that the H1N1 flu vaccine may have contributed to a spike in narcolepsy cases in that country among 4-to-19-year-olds.  Sixty children and adolescents had developed narcolepsy, and 52 of them had received the flu vaccine Pandemrix.

According to Finnish officials “people who received the injection had a nine-fold increased risk of narcolepsy over those in the same age group who had not been vaccinated.” It’s not known just how many children and adolescents were vaccinated with Pandemrix. So far 12 of the 47 countries that used the vaccine containing Pandemrix, including Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Great Britain, and Ireland have reported increases in the number of individuals diagnosed with narcolepsy.

And then there is the belief that childhood vaccines could lead to Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in children. Current Figures from the CDC state that 1 in 88 children have been diagnosed with ASD. This estimate is considerably higher than previous estimates from the early 1990s. I have met parents at ASD workshops who have sworn to me that their child was never the same after receiving his/her vaccines as a toddler. One vaccine ingredient that has been suspected by many is Thimerosal, which once was used as a preservative in childhood vaccines. In 2001 Thimerosal was removed or reduced to trace amounts in all childhood vaccines except for one type of influenza vaccine, and Thimerosal-free alternatives are available for influenza vaccine. Evidence from several studies claim that there is no connection between the presence of Thimerosal in a vaccine and the presence of autism. If so, then what about the Somali children now living in Minnesota?

In August 2008, the online newspaper MinnPost first reported that “12 % of kindergarten and pre-school children with autism in Minneapolis speak Somali at home, and more than 17 percent of the kids in the early childhood autism program have parents born in Somali.” The Minneapolis Star tribune published that among Somali students in the district, “3.6 % had autism – a rate of 360-per-10,000, (or 1 in 28). This is twice as high as the district’s average and more than five times the national average. “Virtually all of these children were the children of Somali refugees and born in the United States. They appear to be the most severely affected children with autism in the district: Last year, one-in-four children in the preschool class for the most severe cases was Somali.”

And what will come as no surprise -none of the refugees surveyed had ever seen or heard of a single child who displayed any of the common symptoms of autism when living in Somalia. These parents are desperate to know what is hurting their children and there is a nagging belief prevalent throughout the Somali community that it is the vaccines their children were required to receive from the community health clinics that have changed them in this way.

And just to remind you all- “A vaccine is a biological preparation usually a serum that improves immunity to a particular disease. It is often made from the weakened or killed forms of the microbe itself, its toxins, or one of its surface proteins.” This tells me that every time I am given a vaccination I receive a weak form of the actual disease itself. I remember preparing for my first visit to East Africa in 2005. Like all obedient Americans I went to the local travel clinic and submitted to all of the shots they prescribed. I had shots for Hepatitis B, Polio, Yellow Fever, Tetanus and others I can’t remember over a three month period. About four weeks later I noticed a bright red rash that started on my side and followed across my back in lines and it hurt. I didn’t know what it was and showed it to a friend who ran the Copy Center at my university. She immediately knew what it was and sent me over to Health Services, who sent me right away to my own doctor- who confirmed that I had Shingles. He fixed me up and I was over it by the time I left for Kenya in May.

Well I took the liberty of including what the CDC says about Shingles. “Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays in the body in a dormant (inactive) state. For reasons that are not fully known, the virus can reactivate years later, causing Shingles. They went on to say that it usually happens in people over 60 years of age which was not me and then “People who have medical conditions that keep their immune systems from working properly, such as certain cancers, including leukemia and lymphoma, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and people who receive immunosuppressive drugs, such as steroids and drugs given after organ transplantation are also at greater risk of getting shingles.”

And I knew that those many different shots all pumping weak dosages of very bad diseases into my bloodstream seriously compromised my immune system- enough so, that they caused my Shingles. Prior to this I had been in exceptionally good health and my immune system had been just fine. If the shots I received did this to me, and there is no doubt in my mind that they did,  then I believe that there is a viable chance that something inside of vaccinations can be dangerous even deadly to some people.  We all know of someone who has deadly allergies to things that the rest of eat without thought or suffer through just fine such as nuts, sea food, and bee stings. Some of us are highly allergic to medications such as codeine but didn’t know until we had health problems that required us to take these drugs. So it’s possible that there is a percentage of the world’s population that could be adversely affected by vaccines.  And I believe that there are a lot more than just a few.

I found this quote when researching about the H1N1 vaccine and narcolepsy. “According to a World Health Organization panel, genetic factors may have played a role in Finland’s Pandemrix-narcolepsy cases. WHO tested 22 narcolepsy patients and found that all had a gene commonly associated with narcolepsy. About 30% of people in Finland have that particular gene, compared with 15% in the rest of Europe,” according to Patrick Zuber, WHO’s top vaccine safety official. So could other children around the world have a gene that makes them dangerously susceptible to whatever is inside certain vaccines?

A connection between River Blindness as the cause of Nodding Disease is still inconclusive.   While in Uganda this summer I extensively researched the possibility that children in the north had been part of a vaccination trial but found no recorded evidence that some children contracted Nodding Disease after receiving vaccinations. I asked the Acholi villagers I visited and no one had heard of or taken their children to clinics to be vaccinated- they would have told me if they had. Although the Center for Disease Control suspects that there is a strong link between the parasite that causes River Blindness and the onset of Nodding Disease they’re still not sure what. There are many other children in Northern Uganda who have been diagnosed with River Blindness but have not contracted Nodding Disease. So how one becomes or leads to the other is not known at this time.  Removing the threat of River Blindness from the districts is a good thing but using vaccinations without serious consideration as to the range of possible consequences may not be the best idea. I pray that the government of Uganda takes this vaccination process more slowly and plans each move more thoughtfully than last week’s incident at the school implies; because the lives of the rest of the children in northern Uganda, not infected with Nodding Disease, may very well depend on it.

Kat Nickerson      Kingston, RI    USA

Mountain Gorilla in Peril: Ntaganda Continues His War

20 May

It’s the third week in May, 2012 and Bosco Ntaganda, along with many of his former CNDP troops, was finally driven out of the Masisi highlands in the eastern Congo through a unified effort by soldiers from the Congolese Army. But he and his troops were not captured so were able to  move off into a section of The Virunga National Park presently occupied by the endangered Mountain Gorillas. The world’s remaining mountain gorillas live within four national parks in Central/East Africa, split in two territories that are about 28 miles apart. One group inhabits the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda where a 2006 census identified that about 302 gorillas lived there. The second group lives at a higher altitude in a mountainous region called the Virungas, which includes Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (Uganda), Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda) and Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of Congo). A 2010 census revealed that about 480 gorillas live throughout this mountain range. The World Wildlife Federation has reported that a total of 23 adult mountain gorillas have been killed by rebel forces during the first and second Congo Wars that had been fought throughout this region. It is not known at this time how this new round of conflicts has impacted the daily lives of the gorilla groups. But in total, 782 are all that is presently left of the Mountain Gorillas in this region.

What’s more is that the latest Human Rights Report ( HRW:May, 2012) states that Ntaganda has started to conscript child soldiers again. This time he has taken about 149 boys and young men between the ages of 12 and 20, some  from their classrooms and is making them fight alongside his troops. Ntaganda has already been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for recruiting children as a deputy commander in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), an armed political group that fought in the northeast Congo during the country’s second civil war.

The Virunga National Park was created in 1925 by the Belgian colonial government making it one of the first national parks created in East Africa and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. The park covers over 7,800 square kilometers in Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The park’s territory in the Democratic Republic of the Congo stretches between two mountain ranges: the Virunga ( Southern border) and the Rwenzori (Northern border). The Virunga National Park also abuts Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and two national parks in Uganda: Rwenzori National Park and Queen Elisabeth National Park. This park is currently managed by the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) as well as the British Africa Conservation Fund and receives most of its financial support from the European Union.

Mountain gorillas are large, powerful primates with long, muscular arms, massive chests, and broad hands and feet. They prefer colder climates and dwell in the higher latitudes up in the Virunga Mountains. Despite their enormous size and strength they are gentle, shy animals who have demonstrated close connections with other members of their primary group. A gorilla family can consist of anywhere between 2 and 40 gorillas, and the average number of gorillas within one family is about 11. Each family is led by a dominant male referred to as a “silverback” and named for the swath of silver hair present along the top of its back. Although strong and powerful, the leader will only fight to protect  members of his family and usually only attacks as a last resort. The leader decides all of the everyday affairs for the other members of the family, like when and where the family will eat or sleep. He also settles disputes between family members and protects the family from being stolen away by other dominant males or harmed by human predators. The total population of Mountain Gorillas in Virunga will not increase rapidly because females give birth only every three to five years and might have between 3 and 8 babies during their entire lifetime. This slow reproduction rate leaves the Mountain Gorilla groups very vulnerable and is the primary reason they have been placed on the endangered species list. These foraging herbivores are known to ingest more than 100 types of trees and shrubs. In one day an adult gorilla can consume about 40 pounds of plant material, so the  survival of the group depends on ensuring that a large territory of protected forests is reserved to meet their needs. The Mountain Gorilla of Central-East Africa has been placed on the International Union for Conservation and Natural Resources, Red List of Threatened Species( IUCN,2012).

Bosco Ntaganda’s situation seems to be steadily worsening though. Two days ago Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands announced to the world press that he was adding the charges of murder, ethnic persecution, rape, and sexual slavery to the existing criminal indictments brought against General Ntaganda and is also issuing an arrest warrant for Sylvestre Mudacumura, military commander of the Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR). This group composed of Hutu militia was forced out of Rwanda after its participation in the Rwandan genocide of 1994 where it fled into the Democratic Republic of the Congo and has been camping out in the region around the Virunga National Park ever since. Several of Ntaganda’s compatriots felt that he would have already been given asylum in Rwanda. Ntaganda, although a General in the Congoloese Army before his defection,  is actually Rwandan and a Tutsi. He has had very close ties in the not so distant past to Rwandan President Paul Kagame through his former leadership in the CNDP. Several Congolese Army officers currently involved in routing out Ntaganda and his old CNDP troops believe that Ntaganda is already receiving monetary support which he has used to continue the fighting in Masisi. When asked in public to comment upon Ntaganda’s actions, President Kagame coolly replied that Bosco’s mutiny was a “Congolese affair.” Yet the world community is aware that Rwanda has continued its relationship with the CNDP, a Rwandan rebel militia group living in the Kivu area, and still profits illegally from the sale of “conflict minerals” that have been mined in the DRC and shipped to Rwanda.

And as if this situation was not confusing enough there is a second group of soldiers who are not allied with Ntaganda but did leave the Congolese army at the same time Ntaganda’s men deserted their camps in eastern Congo in April 2102. These other soldiers are led by Colonel Sultani Makenga, another Congolese army officer who launched a separate mutiny on May 3, 2012. Colonel Makenga has made it clear that his men do not fight for Ntaganda. About 300 of these former Congolese soldiers mutinied because of grievances they had with low salaries, lack of promotions in the Congolese Army, and concerns about the mistreatment of members of the Tutsi community in Eastern Kivu by soldiers in the Congolese Army. This second group of soldiers are Tutsi and also served in the CNDP during the second Congo War. They call themselves “M23” in reference to the March 23, 2009 peace agreement between the CNDP and the Congolese government. Ntaganda and Makenga are also Tutsi and served together during the second war in the Congo in the Rwanda-backed CNDP rebel militia but are not aligned together at the moment. The Congolese army is now also battling these “M23” deserters in Rutshuru territory, North Kivu as well. President Kagame of Rwanda has urged President Kabila of the DRC to investigate “M23’s” claim that Tutsi civilians are being harassed and attacked by members of the Congolese army. The Rwandan president stated that “ this is why the Tutsi community have left the eastern Congo region and are now fleeing into Rwanda.”

This new series of conflicts between Ntagnda and the Congolese Army have caused fear and mistrust to move through the area again. Tens of thousands of Congolese citizens have fled their homes for refugee camps in the neighboring countries of Rwanda and Uganda. Some 30,000 Congolese have entered Uganda in order to escape the fighting that began on May 10, 2012 and more than 8,000 Congolese refugees have been registered in the Rwanda camps since April 27th.

This is the most recent blog posted by Park Ranger Emanuel on May 18, 2012: “It has, once again, been a long week, with the sounds of war in the distance.  We are still trying to understand the conflict on our doorstep, and much of our information suggests that it will get worse before it gets better.  There was heavy shelling again this morning towards Bikenge on the edge of the forest.  This is where the Rugendo and Lulengo gorilla families tend to live, so we are very worried about them.  It is also hard on our staff, as the fighting in 2008 and the attack on Rumangabo is still fresh in their memories.”(ICCN, 2012)

Gorilla ACDBlog:  http://gorillacd.org/blog/

Some 400 very loyal and courageous park rangers protect Virunga National Park. Two previous civil wars in the Congo have taken their toll on the Park Ranger Corps and around 160 rangers have died as a result of poachers’ bullets or from conflict-related crimes in the past ten years.  In January of last year, three rangers and five Congolese soldiers were killed when their car was hit by a rocket-launched missile while patrolling the main road that runs directly through the Virunga National Park. Their attackers were members of the Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) Hutu militia who had taken up residence in the park after they had been expelled from Rwanda because of their participation in the genocide in 1994. Officials confirmed that the attack was in retaliation for the destruction of  the Hutus’ camps by park rangers the previous year. It was reported that around 700 Hutu rebels had been living in the park where they were burning sections of the park’s tropical forest in order to make charcoal which they then sold in the local markets for money. According to the rangers, four different armed militia groups have been camped out in the park since May 2012. While these rebels may not deliberately seek to harm the gorillas around them,who knows what the consequences of the fighting will be on the two gorilla families? Remember that in the two previous civil wars male gorillas had been deliberately killed and sometimes eaten by rebel forces.

Despite the two wars and by the use of effective park management techniques the rangers have actually helped the gorilla population in the DRC to increase. At the very end of the war in 2006 there were only about 300 Mountain Gorillas left in the world, but by 2011 the population was  estimated to be closer to 800. But now at least two gorilla families have been caught up in the middle of the conflict and are in peril as the Congolese Army has begun to launch  land missiles towards the rebel troops. Park officials have only been able to monitor the situation from planes because it has become too dangerous for the rangers to complete their ground patrols. We can only pray that the gorillas will sense that they are in real danger and move higher up into the mountains to avoid being killed during the fighting.

It will be interesting to learn if Bosco Ntaganda has remained with his men during this most recent encounter with the Congoloese Army or if he has already been transported to a safe location by one or more of the sympathetic governments he has so graciously helped out in the past. Will Ntaganda be arrested and sent to the Hague to stand trial for his war crimes against the Congolese people or will he be made to stand trial in the Democratic Republic of the Congo instead? Or in the end, will General Bosco Ntaganda suddenly and totally up and disappear saving all parties involved a lot of  embarrassing publicity? Who knows what the “korongo” will bring forth next? 

Kat Nickerson   Kingston, RI   USA