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EU’s Avramopolous denies Greek bribery allegations

The EU’s migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopolous, on Friday strenuously denied claims that he ..

The EU’s migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopolous, on Friday strenuously denied claims that he took bribes from Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis.

He’s one of a number of senior Greek officials implicated in a transatlantic corruption investigation that dates back to the financial crisis.

According to documents seen by POLITICO from Greece’s special prosecutorial body fighting corruption, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, witnesses claim Novartis paid millions of euros in bribes in return for gaining unfettered access to the Greek health sector. Avramopolous was Greek health minister for part of the period covered by the investigation.

Avramopolous said Friday he would file a lawsuit at the Greek Supreme Court asking for the unnamed witnesses who have accused him of taking bribes to be identified.

“No hood and no shaming will cast shadow on my face. It is a matter of moral order and dignity,” he told a news conference at the European Commission’s office in Athens.

The commissioner, who was health minister between 2006 and 2009, also accused witnesses in the case of trying to damage his reputation. “In addition, these pseudo-testimonial statements, targeting and accusing political figures in Greece, are based, as you know, on speculation, obsession and supposed rumors in the market,” he said. “They are not accompanied by any evidence. In other words, they are false.”

According to investigators in Greece, the case also involves Antonis Samaras and Panagiotis Pikramenos, two former prime ministers. The inquiry spilled into the public domain on Tuesday after the names of 10 politicians, including Avramopolous, linked to the investigation were announced to lawmakers in the Hellenic parliament. All of the officials deny the allegations.

One of the claims in the documents is that PR company Communication in Practices — which worked in partnership with the Ministry of Health — received a one-off payment of €50,000, which was indirectly used to pay for favors from the ministry in 2008.

Witness testimony also alleges that Avramopolous and other senior health officials received hefty bribes from Novartis in return for buying large amounts of the firm’s vaccinations against the H1N1 swine flu pandemic in 2009.

“Two decisions were adopted by the health minister at the time, D. Avramopoulos, to cover the need to buy vaccines … D. Avramopoulos received for this reason a big amount of money, for sure more than 200,000 [euros],” one of the court documents states.

Avramopolous said Friday the vaccines’ procurement was carried out in line with Greek legal procedures and recommendations of the World Health Organization. He said the procurement case had already been investigated by Greek prosecutors in 2014, and the case was closed.

U.S. officials confirmed American authorities had launched an investigation into Novartis but stressed it was separate from the probe into Greek politicians. Two judicial officials in Athens briefed on the Greek case verified the authenticity of the court documents, which have been widely published online in Greece.

Novartis said it was co-operating with Greek and U.S. authorities.

“We are aware of reports relating to our business practices in Greece. We continue to cooperate with requests from local and foreign authorities,” a spokesperson for the company said. “Neither Novartis nor any of our current associates have received an indictment in connection to the case that is being considered by the Greek parliament.”

“We take any allegation of misconduct extremely seriously and thoroughly review all reports,” he added.

The U.S. Department of Justice did not respond to questions about the documents presented to the Greek parliament. However, a spokesperson for Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Friday the government would recommend setting up a parliamentary committee to carry out an inquiry into the claims made against the high-ranking politicians.

Before the case can move forward, the Greek parliament would have to waive the immunity of the officials.

While the allegations continue to make noise in Greece, some in the country are criticizing the timing of the case file being given to the Parliament. One senior judicial official in Athens, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to speak publicly about the case, said the case appeared to be based solely on witness testimonies.

In order to move the case forward, the official said, investigators would need to prove details such as which bank accounts were used to pay the alleged bribes and whether or not the money was later laundered out of the country.

“I understand that they still do not have that evidence. They have witness testimony and that is it for the moment,” the Greek official said.

The case into Novartis has been spearheaded by Heleni Touloupaki, who took over Greece’s special prosecutorial body fighting corruption almost a year ago. She has also given fresh momentum to an investigation into Germany’s Siemens over payments made in the run-up to the 2004 Olympic Games and led a team of investigators tasked with identifying high-ranking Greeks with links to offshore financial holdings.

Last May, Touloupaki pressed charges against Yiannos Papantoniou, a former defense and finance minister who was found to have more than €3 million in undeclared income in the name of his wife. Greek judicial officials said Touloupaki is expected to bring forward her first charges in the Novartis case during the first quarter of this year.

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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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