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Health scare as Botswana patient receives syphilis-infected blood infusion

 

 

The Botswana Ministry of Health (MoH) has suspended three clinical officers from the country’s biggest public hospital for negligence after they infused a patient with a pint of blood that later tested positive for syphilis.

MOH Permanent Secretary Shanaaz El Haabi said the ministry was still investigating how up to six pints of syphilis-infected blood were delivered to the Princess Marina Hospital in the capital Gaborone and the Scottish Livingstone Memorial Hospital in Molepolole.

She said five pints of infected blood were detected and disposed of before they could be administered on patients at Scottish Livingstone Memorial, while one pint was discovered after it had already been administered to a patient at Princess Marina hospital.

El Haabi said preliminary investigations had since established that the contaminated samples were distributed and administered due to negligence and human error because the suspended clinical officers should have tested and detected the status of the samples before use.   

“This time we have suspended the officers because it was human error and not system failure as opposed to the previous case, which resulted from the system failure,” El Halaabi said. She said the ministry had started treating the infected patient and would upgrade its systems to guard against similar incidents in future.

Early this year, at least five patients from the Princess Marina and Livingstone Memorial Hospital had to undergo emergency treatment after being infused with blood that was infected with syphilis. Back then, the government said the mix-up in blood samples was caused by a new and defective blood bank system.

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HOW AFRICA CAN BENEFIT FROM BREXIT

 

The last few months have seen some significant developments for African trade and integration. These advances come at a crucial time for African countries, which have been particularly hard hit by the slump in commodity prices, China’s economic downturn, and higher external borrowing costs. This has resulted in slower GDP growth than expected, currency fluctuations and reduced investment—particularly in resource-rich countries.

New dynamics are emerging as a result of two major developments: first, a set of agreements between regional African blocs and the European Union, as well as between African countries themselves. Second, Brexit may change the thrust of African trade with both the EU and Britain.

Combined, they are likely to have some positive economic implications for Africa.

Intra-African trade has comprised about 15 percent of Africa’s total trade over the last decade. This compares with intra-regional trade rates of, for example, 17 percent in South and Central America, and 62 percent in Asia. African exports to the EU have increased substantially in recent years, from €85 billion in 2004 to more than €150 billion in 2014.

The recent trade and integration developments should raise economic activity and competitiveness in non-extractive sectors, leading to higher GDP growth and greater economic diversification. They are intended to boost intra-African trade, particularly in goods, and may increase African trade with the EU and Britain.

Trade to drive economic integration

In June, African leaders signed the Tripartite Free Trade Area agreement. This has created a free-trade zone stretching from Cape Town to Cairo, covering 26 countries and representing almost half of African Union member states.

The agreement unites three existing trade blocs—the Southern African Development Community, the East Africa Community, and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa. At least half of the member states are expected to ratify the tripartite agreement within the coming year, enabling implementation to begin.

The tripartite agreement promises to remove trade barriers within this extended region and increase market size and economic activity. Critically, it will reduce the cost of goods traded within the affected zones. It is a key achievement in the rationalisation of Africa’s trade agreement landscape.

Not all member countries will benefit equally from the agreement. Notably, countries with smaller economies and limited goods export capacity, such as Rwanda, may lose out to stronger regional economies where production centres may consolidate, such as South Africa.

Since member states will be required to remove protectionism from domestic industries, infant industries are likely to struggle to compete unprotected in the free trade zone. This may hamper industrialisation efforts in smaller economies.

A notable weakness is that the tripartite agreement does not cover trade in services, such as legal, accounting and IT services. Services represent more than 50 percent of exports in value-added terms and has been the largest contributor to GDP in 35 African countries.

Achieving greater integration through implementation of the tripartite agreement will require considerable investments in improving infrastructure and connectivity across member states.

This is essential to reduce transaction costs, which remain disproportionately high across much of Africa. It costs more in time and money to import and export containers of goods in sub-Saharan Africa than any other region. For example, it takes U.S. $2,567 and 37 days to import a container in sub-Saharan Africa, compared to US$1,612 and 19 days in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The tripartite agreement is expected to form the basis of the Continental Free Trade Area negotiations, which are due to be completed by October 2017.

The continental agreement aims to join the 15 countries of Economic Community of West African States to the tripartite free trade area. Africa’s economic powerhouses of Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt recently pledged to consolidate their efforts in pushing for the finalisation of these negotiations.

Taking advantage of Brexit

The Southern African Development Community signed a new economic partnership agreement with the EU in June. This is to facilitate trade between some of the region’s member states (Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland) and the EU. This deal was signed shortly before Britain voted to leave the EU.

The EU agreement with the southern African bloc appeared to yield a fairer dealcompared to previous agreements. For example, flexible rules of origin were adopted, allowing for partial processing in more than one of the included southern African countries. This will contribute significantly to strengthening regional value chains.

In addition, for the first time, the Southern African Development Community agreement prohibits the EU from using agricultural export subsidies. This might ease constraints on African farmers’ competitiveness.

While the Common Agricultural Policy has already undergone much reform, removal of the remaining protectionist provisions is likely boost GDP and reduce poverty in Africa, as shown in a case study on Uganda.

Pressure may be mounting for the EU to extend similar (or better) terms for the East African Community. A broadly similar revised EU agreement has been negotiated recently but its signing was recently delayed. Tanzania demanded a moment of pause citing turmoil in the EU after the Brexit vote.

It is too early to be certain, but this may be the first sign of African countries using Brexit to renegotiate and leverage fairer trade terms with the EU.

When Brexit finally takes effect, Britain will have no valid agreements with either African trade blocs or individual countries. New agreements with Britain will need to be negotiated. This may be a costly exercise for African countries but can be made easier by negotiating as regional blocs.

Britain’s immediate concern will be trade negotiations with the EU and other large trading partners. African trade blocs are therefore unlikely to be addressed for some time, and the uncertainty created by this delay may be damaging to African exporters. This lack of clarity could be mitigated by an early signal from Britain as to its planned stance.

Brexit will have both positive and negative effects

On the negative side, British consumer demand for imports from Africa could drop as the pound weakens and the British economy goes into a mild, Brexit-inducedrecession. African countries more integrated into global markets will be most affected, notably South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria.

On the positive side, Brexit could possibly result in fairer trade deals for Africa, both with Britain and the EU.

But until Britain’s post-Brexit trade policy is established, it is not possible to assess how progressive it may be. A weakened EU may be forced to compromisemore, enabling African countries to secure fairer deals.

 

Despite some deficiencies with the trade blocs and agreements, these developments have the potential to significantly expand trade and economic growth in Africa. They may increase competition and strengthen regional value chains. Further gains will also be achieved if the free-trade zones are expanded to cover trade in services.

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Our living dinosaurs

 

"I don't think anybody in the world has seen the number of dead elephants that I've seen over the last two years," ecologist Mike Chase says. 

From above, we spot an elephant lying on its side in the cracked river mud. From a distance it could be mistaken for a resting animal. 

But the acrid stench of death hits us before we even land. 

Up close, it is a horror. 

He was a magnificent bull right in his prime, 45 to 50 years old. To get at his prized ivory tusks, poachers hacked off his face.  

Slaughtered for their ivory, the elephants are left to rot, their carcasses dotting the dry riverbed; in just two days, we counted the remains of more than 20 elephants in a small area.  

Visitors and managers at the tourist camps here are frequently alarmed by the sound of gunshots nearby. 

And Chase worries that if Botswana can't protect its elephants, there's little hope for the species as a whole. 

Chase, the founder of Elephants Without Borders (EWB), is the lead scientist of the Great Elephant Census, (GEC) an ambitious project to count all of Africa's savannah elephants - from the air.

Before the GEC, total elephant numbers were largely guesswork. But over the past two years, 90 scientists and 286 crew have taken to the air above 18 African countries, flying the equivalent of the distance to the moon - and a quarter of the way back -- in almost 10,000 hours.  

Prior to European colonization, scientists believe that Africa may have held as many as 20 million elephants; by 1979 only 1.3 million remained - and the census reveals that things have gotten far worse. 

According to the GEC, Africa's savannah elephant population has been devastated, with just 352,271 animals in the countries surveyed - far lower than previous estimates. 

Three countries with significant elephant populations were not included in the study. Namibia did not release figures to the GEC, and surveys in South Sudan and the Central African Republic were postponed due to armed conflict. 

In seven years between 2007 and 2014, numbers plummeted by at least 30%, or 144,000 elephants. 

And the specific cases are even more disturbing: 

In the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania, and Mozambique's Niassa Reserve, elephant populations have plummeted by more than 75% in the past ten years as poachers cut down family herds, according to the survey. 

The Babile Elephant Sanctuary in Ethiopia hasn't lived up to its name: Chase and the team counted just a single herd of 36 elephants - the last in the Horn of Africa, a vast area roughly the size of Mexico.

"When you think of how many elephants occurred in areas 10 or 20 years ago, it's incredibly disheartening," says Chase. 

"Historically these ecosystems supported many thousands of elephants compared to the few hundreds or tens of elephants we counted." 

The current rate of species decline is 8%, meaning that elephant numbers could halve to 160,000 in nine years if nothing changes, according to the survey - and localized extinction is almost certain. 

Even before the census offered proof, scientists calculated that far more elephants were dying than being born. Now the species has reached a tipping point. 

Chase and other scientists feared they were in a race against time, which is where the Great Elephant Census came in.

The speed and scale of the project is unprecedented. Funded by Microsoft co-founder and Vulcan CEO Paul Allen, it brought together some of the best-known conservation groups and individuals, and teamed them up with the best bush pilots.

Small workhorse planes like the Cessna 206 were transformed into viewing platforms, using frames made up of rods - in some cases telescopic golf ball retrievers - fixed to the wing struts. 

Observers on board the planes counted every elephant they saw within the grid, from Kenya's Maasai Mara to the Zambezi floodplains in Zambia. 

As well as the GEC, Chase and his colleagues in EWB are tracking the movements of Africa's elephants using satellite collars which transmit real-time data on the elephants' movements.

Their work has brought to light signs of elephants' extraordinary intelligence, including evidence that they recognize a host of man-made threats - and are willing to cross borders to escape them. 

Northern Botswana is a well-known elephant corridor for herds moving from Botswana's arid Central Kalahari to the lush savannahs and forests of Angola and Zambia. 

During Angola's long civil war, elephants avoided the country. After peace was declared, they moved back in -- but now, with the dramatic spike in ivory poaching, they're staying away again. 

"This is really the front line," says Chase. "This is as far as they come. They will no longer move across eastern Namibia into Angola and Zambia, fearful of the consequences of poaching. Their home ranges have shrunk to within the relative safety and security of northern Botswana."

In northern Botswana, the Linyanti river's proximity to Namibia's Caprivi Strip - a thin finger-like stretch of the country just 30 kilometers (18 miles) wide in parts - makes it an ideal target for gangs of poachers. 

"Poachers can act with impunity here, because there is nothing blocking their movements," explains Chase. "These borders are open to wildlife, and within a matter of minutes [they] can be in three different countries." 

He looks through a neat record of GPS coordinates recorded in a leather bound notebook, listing possible elephant carcasses spotted by commercial pilots flying over the area. 

Their corpses rot in the dry river grass down below. One bull's trunk has been hacked off and placed nearby -- the poachers' signature. 

The killers often don't even wait until the elephant is dead before they begin their ugly butchery.    

The grotesque scene is repeated again and again across Africa's savannahs. 

"I've been asked if I'm optimistic or pessimistic about the future of Africa's elephants, and on days like today, I feel that we are failing the elephants," says Chase. 

Botswana is one of the last strongholds of savannah elephants. Along with South Africa and Zimbabwe, it accounts for more than 60% of all elephants tallied in the Great Elephant Census. 

To protect the country's wildlife from poachers, the Botswana Defense Force (BDF) has deployed an infantry battalion of specially-trained soldiers; more than 700 are stationed across 40 bases in the far north. 

In an immaculate camp on the banks of the Linyanti, a lieutenant lays out the morning's foot patrol on the detailed operations map. 

The soldiers are armed with a controversial shoot-to-kill policy for poachers, but this is an unconventional war. 

"There is no clearly identified enemy," explains Brigadier Joseph Seelo. "The enemy can be everybody, an enemy could be someone we are living with on a daily basis."

Though poachers are often foreigners, Seelo says their deadly work is supported by locals, who help coordinate the teams, bury water and food, and mark the spots with GPS tags.  

And every poaching team has at least one or two shooters; BDF officers say they're often ex-Zambian special forces, equipped with high caliber weapons. 

But many poachers across Africa are less sophisticated, emptying out the entire magazine of an AK-47 to pierce an elephant's tough hide, using poison-tipped spears, spiked traps and snares, or poisoning water holes.

In Angola, poachers even use grenades and mortars left over from the war to kill the animals. 

"They will use anything that has the potential to inflict serious harm or kill an animal," says Chase. "This is a dismal fate." 

"Who are we to sentence this animal to the verge of extinction using the most inhumane and cruel means?" 

Despite the poachers' desire to make a quick buck, elephants are actually far more valuable alive than dead. 

Every elephant killed will earn a poacher just a few hundred dollars - the overwhelming majority of the tens of thousands of dollars its ivory fetches on the black market go to middlemen and organized crime gangs. 

 

By contrast, a live elephant can earn more than a million dollars for communities involved in eco-tourism, according to a report from The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. 

 

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