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Irish opposition leader swings behind legalizing abortion

Ireland’s opposition leader catalyzed the country’s abortion debate Thursday by saying he would defy..

Ireland’s opposition leader catalyzed the country’s abortion debate Thursday by saying he would defy the majority of his party to repeal a ban on terminating pregnancies.

Citing the “cruel inflexibility and unintended consequences” of the ban, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he would support expanding access to abortion, despite his concern for the “unborn.”

Martin is one of the country’s political heavyweights, and his remarks capped two days of emotional parliamentary debate about Ireland’s abortion law, in which there was clear momentum for a referendum to change it, as early as May or June. His remarks in the lower house seize the political initiative from Prime Minister Leo Varadkar of the Fine Gael party, who has yet to make his views clear, and dodged questions on the issue this week in Strasbourg.

The lawmakers are slated to vote in March on whether to hold the referendum, but the outcome seems all but certain.

If a vote takes place, it could overturn one of the final bastions of Irish exceptionalism in Europe. Along with Poland and Malta, Ireland is among Europe’s last holdouts in banning abortion in most circumstances.

In practical terms, however, the EU’s right to free movement (as well as contraband mail-order pills) already make abortion a reality for Irish women.

Martin stressed that was now an inescapable fact. “Nothing we say or do here could make Ireland a country without abortion,” he said.

Catherine Connolly, an independent lawmaker from Galway, had earlier insisted it was time to end the ban which forced Irish women to “come back bleeding through airports … It is time to treat this society as a secular society.”

If Irish voters do overturn the ban, it would be the latest step in a whirlwind period of social change in the predominantly Catholic nation. Divorce became legal in the mid-1990s. Two decades later, in 2015, voters backed gay marriage. Now campaigners are gearing up for a referendum to repeal the constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which established an unborn child’s right to life as equal to the mother’s in 1983.

Michael Healy-Rae, an independent, was one of just a handful of parliamentarians who spoke against revisiting the ban.

“I believe that Ireland is special, and I don’t want to see us go down the road … of England, of America, where human life can be so disregarded,” he said during the debate on Wednesday night.

Crossing the sea

The Irish road to abortions has long led to England: More than 270 Irish residents a month had abortions in England and Wales in 2016, according to government statistics. Those figures are actually down substantially since 2001, but only because the abortion pill is growing in popularity. Netherlands-based nongovernmental organizations are a key source of subtly packaged prescriptions meant to slip past Irish customs. The Netherlands is also a fall-back destination. (Irish women can’t just hop north of the border; Northern Ireland has similar restrictions.)

Legally, a pregnancy can be terminated in Ireland only if the mother’s life is at stake. A parliamentary committee last year recommended allowing abortion up to 12 weeks for any reason, and beyond that when the mother’s health is at stake, the fetus has a fatal defect or cases of rape. But before that can be enacted, citizens must scrap the constitution’s Eighth Amendment.

Opponents of the abortion ban repeatedly mocked it as an “Irish solution to an Irish problem” in the parliamentary debates. This sarcastic phrase dates back to an earlier fight over reproductive rights, in 1979. Opponents of a compromise proposal on contraception — which made it available, but only through prescription (including condoms) — mocked the health minister’s claim that it was an Irish solution to an Irish problem. It’s as though the Irish possess “unique aspects of sexuality unknown in other European countries,” one lawmaker said at the time. (Successive liberalizations have since brought Ireland’s contraception policies into the mainstream.)

Gerry Adams, the Sinn Féin leader, offered a republican rationale for repeal: The numbers of women traveling to the U.K. are “an English solution to an Irish problem,” he said Wednesday.

Other repeal backers said it was time to follow the rest of Europe: Alice Mary Higgins, a senator, argued that Italy and Turkey liberalized abortion laws without seeing increases in the procedure. (Though Italy is also an example of how religious traditions die hard: Conscientious objection means it can be hard to find a doctor willing to perform the procedure.)

Ireland faces external pressure to change its laws. A U.N. panel in June said Ireland violated the human rights of a woman who had to travel to the U.K. to abort a fetus with a likely fatal condition — a year after the government paid €30,000 in a similar case.

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Burkina Faso: Growing Violence Threatens Health Care

Away from the worlds attention, Burkina Faso has been slipping into violence. In less than a year, t..

Away from the worlds attention, Burkina Faso has been slipping into violence. In less than a year, the number of displaced has increased fivefold, from 50,000 last December, to 270,000 in August. As ever, the most vulnerable suffer most: the very young, and the very old.

When Alidou Sawadogos elderly mother fell ill, he faced a long and dangerous journey to get treatment for her.

“When she collapsed, a friend called me,” he explains. “By the time I arrived she was already unconscious. I decided to take her to the health center and luckily someone who had a motorcycle helped me. Because of the violence many people who are sick wait at home and die. Everyone is afraid of taking the road to the health center in Barsalogho.”

Across Burkina Faso, the rising insecurity has forced over a hundred health centers to close, or to limit their work. Half a million people now have little or no access to health care. Dedicated health workers, among them Dr Bertrand Dibli in Barsalogho, are struggling to meet the needs, and to stay safe themselves.

“This is one of the few health centers that isnt closed,” he says. “We dont have enough equipment. And the insecurity has caused huge anxiety among health workers. Even coming here to Barsalogho is a huge challenge because the route is so dangerous.”

The ICRC has been working to support Burkina Fasos health professionals, with medical kits, and vaccination campaigns. During his visit to the country, ICRC President Peter Maurer expressed his concern at the multiple challenges facing Burkina Fasos people.

“We are very concerned,” he said. “Very worried about the upsurge in violence, its a vicious circle that is trapping the civilian population between armed groups.”

“We also see,” Mr Maurer added, “that it is not only the violence that is affecting the country, it is also under development, and climate change. Together with the violence that is obstructing the health services, its an accumulation of factors.”

And so the ICRC – jointly with the Burkinabé Red Cross – is also delivering food to the displaced, and helping to improve access to water supplies. All of this, says nurse Jeanette Kientega, is desperately needed by a population uprooted by conflict, and denied access to basic health care.

“By the time they are able to get here, it is often too late” she says. “Sometimes we can help, but if they have already been ill a long time, it is difficult. We try to do what we can.” (more…)

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World Bank and WHO Statement on Partnership & Deployment of Financing to WHO for Ebola Response in DRC

WASHINGTON, August 23, 2019—The World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO), along with the G..

WASHINGTON, August 23, 2019—The World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO), along with the Government and other key partners, are working in close partnership on the Ebola Crisis Response in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Central to this partnership is the assessment of the financing needs, and deployment of resources, with the goal to put an end to the current deadly outbreak.

The World Bank is today announcing that US$50 million in funding is to be released to WHO for its lifesaving operational work on the frontlines of the outbreak. The WHO is announcing that this US$50 million in funds will close the financing gap for its emergency health response in DRC through to the end of September 2019, and is calling on other partners to mirror this generous support in order to fund the response through to December.

The funding comprises US$30 million from the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF) and US$20 million from the World Bank. The US$50 million in grant funding is part of the larger financial package of approximately US$300 million that the World Bank announced last month to support the fourth Strategic Response Plan for the DRC Ebola outbreak.

“WHO is very grateful for the World Banks support, which fills a critical gap in our immediate needs for Ebola response efforts in DRC, and will enable the heroic workers on the frontlines of this fight to continue their lifesaving work,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization. “We keenly await further funding from other partners to sustain the response through to the end of the year.”

The DRC government, working in collaboration with the World Bank, WHO, and other key partners, has finalized the Fourth Strategic Response Plan (SRP4), which outlines the total resources needed for the DRC Ebola Crisis Response from July to December 2019. The financing announced today is part of the World Banks previously announced financial package of up to US$300 million and covers over half of SRP4s needs, with the remainder requiring additional funding from other donors and partners.

“The World Bank is working closely with WHO, the Government of DRC, and all partners to do everything we can to put an end to the latest Ebola outbreak,” said Annette Dixon, Vice President, Human Development at the World Bank. “The partnership between our organizations and the Government is critical for responding to the emergency as well as rebuilding systems for delivery of basic services and to restoring the trust of communities.”

The Government of DRC requested US$30 million from the PEF Cash Window to be paid directly to WHO. The PEF Steering Body approved the request bringing the PEFs total contribution to fighting Ebola in DRC to US$61.4 million. The PEF is a financing mechanism housed at the World Bank; its Steering Body is co-chaired by the World Bank and WHO, and comprises donor country members from Japan, Germany and Australia. The quick and flexible financing it provides saves lives, by enabling governments and international responders to concentrate on fighting Ebola—not fundraising.

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Borno State launches first Malaria Operational Plan, reawakens fight against malaria

Maiduguri, 13 August 2019 – Following recommendations from malaria interventions in Borno State Nige..

Maiduguri, 13 August 2019 – Following recommendations from malaria interventions in Borno State Nigeria, the Malaria Annual Operational Plan (MAOP) was developed and launched on 08 August 2019 with technical support from the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners. Aligned to the National Malaria Strategic Plan (2014 -2020), MAOP was developed through a broad-based stakeholders workshop involving malaria stakeholders, reviewed on different thematic areas and endorsed by the Commissioner for Health and Permanent Secretary, Borno State Ministry of Health.

Speaking during the launch, the Borno state Malaria Programme Manager, Mr Mala Waziri described the MAOP as the first to be endorsed and disseminated in Borno State. “WHO has made us proud by supporting the first ever Malaria Operational Plan right from development, review, printing to dissemination.”

Dr Ibrahim Kida, the Ministerial Secretary Borno State Ministry of Health and Incident Manager of the state, described the launch as “an historic event as stakeholders across the health sector made commitments to use the document as an implementation guide for all malaria programs”. The plan was also described as an advocacy tool for planning domestic funds mobilization.

The MAOP has seven objectives among which are: provide at least 50% of targeted population with appropriate preventive measures by 2020; ensure that all persons with suspected malaria who seek care are tested with Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) or microscopy by 2020 and all persons with confirmed malaria seen in private or public health facilities receive prompt treatment with an effective anti-malarial drug by 2020.

The MAOP will further ensure that at least 50% of the population practice appropriate malaria prevention and management by 2020, ensuring timely availability of appropriate anti-malarial medicines and commodities required for prevention, diagnosis and treatment of malaria in Borno State by 2020.

In addition, it seeks to ensure that all health facilities report on key malaria indicators routinely by 2020 and finally strengthen governance and coordination of all stakeholders for effective program implementation towards an A rating by 2020 on a standardized scorecard. These strategic objectives have specific targets and the MAOP takes into account the humanitarian response.

“Malaria remains a leading cause of poor health in Nigeria. According to the 2018 WHO Malaria Report, 53million cases are recorded annually in Nigeria, roughly 1 in 4 persons is infected with malaria contributing 25% of the global burden,” says Dr Nglass Ini Abasi, WHO Malaria Consultant for the North East.

“Furthermore, 81,640 deaths are recorded annually (9 deaths every hour), which accounts for 19% of global malaria deaths (1 in 5 global malaria deaths) and 45% malaria deaths in West Africa. The Nigeria Malaria Strategic Plan (NMSP) 2014-2020 has a goal to reduce malaria burden to pre-elimination levels and bring malaria-related mortality to zero and WHO is working assiduously with Government to ensure the burden is reduced accordingly.”

Results from WHO’s Early Warning, Alert and Response System (EWARS) week 30 report from 223 sites, (including 32 IDP camps) show that malaria was the leading cause of morbidity and mortality accounting for 35% of cases and 46% of reported deaths. In addition, results from the Nigeria Humanitarian Response Strategy (NHRS 2019-2021) indicate 7.1million people are in dire need of healthcare and 6.2million are targeted for immediate attention.

Despite recent improvements, insecurity remains a challenge limiting access to the functional health facilities. Easily preventable and treatable diseases such as malaria, acute respiratory infection and diarrheal diseases account for the greatest proportion of morbidity and mortality among the vulnerable population. Furthermore, Malaria is endemic in North East Nigeria and the transmission is perennial with a marked seasonal peak from July to November every year. (more…)

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