Heavy rains, storms affect over 1,000 in eastern Uganda

By XINHUA

FILE PHOTO: Motorcycles pass through water in a street after torrential rains in Kampala, Uganda. (Photo by Lubowa Abubaker/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Heavy rains and storms on Sunday affected more than 1,000 people in the eastern Ugandan district of Sironko, a humanitarian agency said.

Uganda Red Cross Society in a statement issued late on Sunday said that heavy rains and storm that lasted for about three hours caused damage to communities in four villages of Kirombe, Garage Vill, Highway and Nagayira valley.

“Over 1,000 people have been affected and 50 households roofs blown off, crops destroyed, two people severely injured were rushed to Sironko Health Center III and others had minor injuries,” the statement said.

“No deaths registered so far. Red Cross RCAT (Response Action Team) volunteers are on the ground,” the statement said.

The agency said the Sironko Red Cross disaster response team was conducting a rapid assessment of the damage caused.

Uganda’s ministry of water and environment last month warned that the country will face destructive flash floods, strong hailstorms and landslides as the first major rain season starts for the next three months.

The ministry said heavy rains above the normal level will lead to flash floods, strong winds and landslides in eastern, western and south-western regions of the country and may cause loss of lives and destruction of property in different parts of the country.

Rwandan short film gets international screening

By Halligan Agade

Rwandan short film “Breaking Ground” has been shortlisted among movies set to be screened at the ongoing 47th edition of Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) 2021 that kicked off virtually on April 8.

This year’s film festival edition will see a total of 92 features and 126 short films from 69 countries get a screening alongside daily events, talks and Q&As lined up for the festival which runs until April 18.

Breaking Ground“, a production by Imitana Productions, is a short movie project directed by fast-rising young female film director Inès Girihirwe about a woman who is suffering from the relationship with her abusive husband.

Inès Girihirwe is the brains behind Breaking Ground. /Twitter

It was produced in early 2020 on the occasion of the ‘Power In Constraints’ workshop, hosted by filmmakers Sharangabo Mbabazi, Samuel Ishimwe Karemangingo.

It is the 23-year-old’s very first film since she launched her filmmaking career in 2017.“Happy to announce that “Breaking Ground” has been officially selected for the 47th Seattle International Film Festival 2021. A special thanks to everyone who contributed/supported from the beginning to the end,” Girihirwe posted on her social media platforms.

‘Breaking Ground’, which clocks 13 minutes and eight seconds, had its world premiere in Los Angeles, United States during the 2020 American Film Institute (AFI) Film Festival, an annual movie event that champions progress in visual storytelling to empower storytellers, inspire story lovers and further the limitless power of the moving image.

“After another incident with her husband, a mistreated woman seeks old adventures from her neighbors’ house where she decides to change the course of her life,” reads the film synopsis.

Girihirwe made an incredible start to film making when a film project that she directed during a workshop became a world-class movie which immediately got recognized with a premiere at an internationally recognized film festival of AFI Fest’s caliber.

“It’s a good motivation to me. When you do such movie work and you see people appreciate it, you feel you can only do greater things,” Girihirwe told The New Times.

Starring in ‘Breaking Ground’ is actress Rosine Bazongere, who has made a name for herself in acting at different local popular local movies like City Maid TV Series,

Other characters in the film include Alphonse Karangwa, Cheryl Isheja, Natacha Muziramakenga and Micheline Muhimpundu.

About SIFF Festival

The annual Seattle International Film Festival traditionally attracted nearly 150,000 attendees to celebrate films from more than 80 countries and regions around the world.

A series of screenings of movies varying from features to short films and documentaries make the festival an amazing event to discover new and underrepresented voices and stories.

SIFF believes in film’s unique power to share original stories, diverse perspectives, and rich emotional journeys.

Beginning in 1976, the annual Seattle International Film Festival, which expanded into year-round programming, offers experiences that bring people together to discover extraordinary films from around the world for nearly five decades.

(Source: Rwanda Times)

World Bank, GAVI call on countries with surplus coronavirus vaccines to release them

By Grace Kuria

World Bank Group and GAVI have urged countries with excess coronavirus vaccines to release them as soon as possible.

In a meeting, World Bank Group President David Malpass and José Manuel Barroso, Chair of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance also discussed various challenges facing acquisition and deployment of COVID-19 vaccines by developing countries.

President Malpass also expressed his desire to work closely with Gavi on a 2022 strategy, including helping expand vaccine production capacity for developing countries.

World Bank President, David Malpass
Photo courtesy: Reuters

The World Bank President also expressed appreciation for the partnership between the World Bank Group and Gavi on vaccine issues in developing countries, including in response to COVID-19.

He noted the World Bank’s actions to help countries assess and increase their vaccination capacity and to provide funding for vaccine purchases, which to date have committed $1.7 billion with around $4 billion expected to be approved by mid-year.

The World Bank President further reaffirmed that this financing may be used by countries to make co-payments to COVAX, as well as to purchase the necessary additional doses beyond the basic 20% population coverage.

WHO: COVID-19 pandemic ‘a long way from over’

By Grace Kuria

World Health Organization, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said that “Confusion and complacency in addressing COVID-19 means the pandemic is a long way from over, but it can be brought under control in months with proven public health measures.”

While addressing a media briefing, the Director General insisted that “The COVID-19 pandemic is a long way from over. But we have many reasons for optimism. The decline in cases and deaths during the first two months of the year shows that this virus and its variants can be stopped,

“Transmission was being driven by confusion, complacency and inconsistency in public health measures.” He added.

Adhanom also spoke of the world now having seven consecutive weeks of increasing COVID-19 cases and four weeks of increasing deaths globally.

“In January and February, the world saw six consecutive weeks of declining cases. We have now seen seven consecutive weeks of increasing cases, and four weeks of increasing deaths. Last week was the fourth-highest number of cases in a single week so far,” Tedros said.

“We too want to see societies and economies reopening, and travel and trade resuming.

But right now, intensive care units in many countries are overflowing and people are dying – and it’s totally avoidable.” He said.

So far some 780 million vaccines have been administered globally, with a total of 137,322,644 people testing positive for COVID-19 globally,  2,961,025 deaths, 110,521,058 recoveries.

African leaders urge continent to produce its own COVID-19 vaccine

By XINHUA

“Africa must put in place resources and measures to ensure it produces its own vaccines for the current crisis and the future,” Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) said during Africa’s vaccine manufacturing virtual conference on Monday.

During the conference, leaders including African countries’ presidents and those from health and business world noted that producing their own vaccines would lead to the continent’s health and economic security.

Okonjo-Iweala explained that to achieve the goal of vaccine production, different manufacturing centers of excellence should be established in various parts of the continent. “A vaccine needs many components and each doesn’t need to be manufactured at the same place. They can be manufactured in different countries which is why we need to look at and establish centers of excellence on the continent,” she said.

Vera Songwe, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) said in countries where vaccines are available, there has been a huge turnaround in their economies. “This is an example Africa needs to emulate by producing its own vaccines so that it does not rely on imports,” she said.

Songwe observed that the continent should not only produce its vaccines but also the entire inputs like syringes, reagents and drugs. “The vaccine value-chain can create six million jobs in Africa. It is not only a discussion about our health, but also our economy and livelihoods,” she said.

According to Songwe, in Africa, there are about 6,000 pharmaceutical value chain players, which are producing healthcare materials. “The continent, therefore, has its own expertise to produce vaccines,” she said.

Akinwumi Adesina, the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB) noted that Africa imports up to 70 percent of pharmaceutical needs while produces only some 1 percent of its vaccines. “We should take this opportunity and turn it around to produce our own vaccines. To achieve public health security, African countries should aspire to boldly produce their own vaccines and drugs,” Adesina said.

He said AfDB is working on a strategy for the pharmaceutical industry, which has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are ready to offer financial support to governments to build at least two vaccine production hubs across Africa. We can also partner with China and India so that they relocate some production work to Africa to work with local manufacturers,” he said.

VCG

John Nkengasong, director of Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said there is hope in vaccine development in Africa. “Starting September, Algeria would start producing Sputnik V vaccine,” he said. “We have an urgent need for vaccine manufacturing in the continent due to strong demand, vaccine insecurity and emerging infectious disease.”

Nkengasong called on the region to have a continental agenda on vaccines that seeks to reduce reliance on imports, mitigate risks on global vaccine challenges and strengthen vaccine continental research and development capacity.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa observed that the continent’s response to COVID-19 has shown the depth of scientific expertise in the region and has provided an opportunity for unprecedented scientific collaboration. Ramaphosa noted that partners in various countries could offer technological expertise, financing and investment.

“Africa needs to harness its own continental capabilities and identify opportunities for collaboration across several countries of the continent. This means that in the medium-term, we need to expand existing capabilities into regional hubs that serve the continent as a whole,” he said.

According to Ramaphosa, the continent’s leaders have demonstrated the political will to act decisively in the face of the grave threat to health and well-being.

“As we seek to make our own vaccines, our immediate task currently is to secure vaccines for the continent. Through initiatives like the Africa Medical Supplies Platform, the continent has pioneered new ways of ensuring access to vital personal protective equipment as well as diagnostics and therapeutics,” he said.

Oil prices drop as coronavirus caseloads rise

By Reuters

Refining towers and fuel storage tanks are seen at the Zawiya oil refinery near Tripoli, Libya, on Monday, Aug. 29, 2011. Photographer: Shawn Baldwin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil slipped on Monday in thin trading as rising COVID-19 case numbers in some parts of the world kept a lid on prices, even as the Federal Reserve signalled the U.S. economy may soon rebound as vaccinations accelerate.

Brent was up 28 cents, or 0.4%, at $62.67 a barrel by 0635 GMT, having risen to as high as $63.30 earlier. U.S. crude was down 23 cents, or 04%, to $59.09 a barrel, after rising as much as 46 cents earlier.

Prices have changed little since a period of volatile trading ended last Monday.

“At the moment, the market lacks direction,” the Schork Report, founded by Stephen Schork, said in a note. “We are waiting for a breakout of the current range.”

While the United States has fully vaccinated more than 70 million people, and in Europe, new infection numbers are falling as lockdowns take effect, India is reporting record new cases and other parts of Asia are seeing caseloads rise.

That is likely to continue to keep a lid on any revival of global travel and keep prices rangebound as the summer approaches, analysts and traders said.

Botswana probes deaths of two people who took AstraZeneca shot

By Reuters

AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine. /Joel Saget/AFP

Botswana is investigating the deaths of two among thousands of people who had been given doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine to see if there is any link, the health ministry said.

The southern African country has so far administered about 31,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the only vaccine it has started rolling out.

India donated 30,000 doses of the vaccine that were manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), and Botswana bought 33,000 doses that were made in South Korea from the global vaccine distribution scheme COVAX.

The two people who died had taken the shots made in India.

AstraZeneca and the SII did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Reuters. Botswana’s health ministry did not say how the people died.

Millions of doses of the AstraZeneca shot have been safely administered around the world. The European Medicines Agency received reports of 169 cases of the rare brain blood clot by early April, after 34 million doses had been administered, Sabine Straus, chair of the EMA’s safety committee, said.

Most of the cases reported had occurred in women under 60.

The Botswana health ministry said in a statement late on Sunday that the two deaths were of elderly people. It did not elaborate. The AstraZeneca doses were made in India and are being distributed under the brand name COVISHIELD.

“The ministry has referred the matter to the regulator being BOMRA for immediate investigation. It is expected that BOMRA investigation will seek to establish the cause of two deaths as well as whether they are in any way linked to the COVID vaccine which was administered,” the statement read.

It advised the public to remain calm and said people who were recovering from recent severe illness should consider delaying getting the vaccine.

Botswana’s investigation comes after Europe’s drug regulator said it had found a possible link between AstraZeneca’s vaccine and very rare cases of blood clots.

Experts say that, even if a causal link is proved between the vaccine and blood clots, the risks of getting a serious clot are a minute compared to the risks from possible COVID-19 infection, which can cause similar clots along with other serious symptoms.

Botswana has recorded around 40,000 coronavirus cases and 630 deaths during the pandemic, few by comparison with many other countries around the world, but its diamond-driven economy was hit hard last year, contracting almost 8%.

AstraZeneca’s shot is the cheapest and most readily available. It does not need to be kept at extremely cold temperatures unlike some other vaccines, making it a mainstay of many vaccination programmes in the developing world.

AstraZeneca’s diabetes drug Farxiga fails in COVID-19 study

By Reuters

Data from a late-stage research to test if AstraZeneca’s diabetes drug Farxiga could treat patients hospitalised with COVID-19 and at risk of developing serious complications fell short of its main goals, the drugmaker said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Diabetes drug Farxiga. /VCG

The Farxiga data did not achieve statistical significance in cutting the risk of the disease worsening and death in such patients, the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker said.

AstraZeneca has had a rollercoaster ride with its coronavirus vaccine, as nations restricted its use after European and British regulators confirmed possible links to rare blood clots.

However, the company has also been working on developing new treatments and re-purposing existing drugs to prevent and treat coronavirus infections.

In the Farxiga study, the drug was given over 30 days in a global trial of 1,250 patients hospitalised with COVID-19, in addition to the local standard of care, AstraZeneca said.

Patients in the trial also had a medical history of hypertension, cardiovascular disease and heart failure, type-2 diabetes or chronic kidney disease.

The trial did not achieve statistical significance for the main goals of prevention and recovery at 30 days, but AstraZeneca said the safety and tolerability profile was consistent with the medicine’s established safety profile.

One of the company’s other treatments is an antibody cocktail called AZD7442, designed to treat the disease rather than prevent it as the vaccine aims to do.

The treatment, which is in late-stage trials, is one of several being developed for COVID-19, including efforts by rivals Moderna Inc and Eli Lilly.

In March, AstraZeneca said it would supply up to half a million extra doses of the antibody cocktail to the United States, building on an October 2020 contract for initial supplies of 200,000 doses, for a value of $726 million.

Somalia receives 200,000 doses of Sinovac COVID-19 vaccines

By Grace Kuria

Somalia has on Sunday received 200,000 doses of Chinese Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine. Somali minister for health, Dr. Fawziya Abikar, various government officials and Chinese ambassador to Somalia Qin Jian were present at the Mogadishu airport to receive the shipment, said a ministry statement.

The delivery of the vaccine follows a deal signed by Somali government and Sinopharm, the Chinese company that produces the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine last week.

Somalia receives 200,000 doses of Sinovac COVID-19 vaccines
Source: Chinese Embassy in Somalia

The Horn of Africa nation’s ambassador in Beijing, Awale Kullane, signed the agreement on behalf of his country in a ceremony witnessed by deputy head of mission, Said Mire. The acquisition of the Chinese-manufactured vaccines is expected to boost the country’s mass vaccination drive.

This comes barely a month after UN delivered 300,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from the international COVAX vaccine initiative.

The country rolled out its mass inoculations on March 16. Somalia has so far recorded 12,271 coronavirus cases and 605 deaths.

Africa’s COVID-19 cases pass 4.34 million: Africa CDC

By XINHUA

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa has reached 4,340,817 as of Sunday, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.

The Africa CDC, the specialized healthcare agency of the African Union (AU), said the death toll from the pandemic stood at 115,418 while 3,897,927 patients across the continent have recovered from the disease.

South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Ethiopia and Egypt are among the African countries with the most cases in the continent, according to the Africa CDC.

In terms of the number of cases, southern Africa is the most affected region, followed by northern Africa and eastern Africa regions, while central Africa is the least affected region in the continent, according to the African health agency.

South Africa has recorded 1,557, 527 COVID-19 cases, the most among African countries.

On Friday, Morocco became only the second African country to pass the 500,000 COVID-19 infections mark. Morocco has registered 501,688 COVID-19 cases as of Sunday.

Five Countries account for about 64 percent of all cases reported in Africa. These five African countries are South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Ethiopia.

According to the Africa CDC, the African continent accounts for 3.3 percent of total COVID-19 cases reported globally.