Foreign News

WHO Approves World’s First Malaria Vaccine

The World Health Organisation (WHO) yesterday endorsed the first ever vaccine to prevent malaria, debuting a tool that could save the lives of tens of thousands of children in Africa each year.

Called Mosquirix, the new vaccine is given in three doses to children between ages five and 17 months, and a fourth dose roughly 18 months later. Following the clinical trials, the vaccine was tried out in three countries

Malaria is among the oldest known and deadliest of infectious diseases, killing about half a million people each year, nearly all of them in sub-Saharan Africa and among them 260,000 children under age five.

The new vaccine, made by GlaxoSmithKline, rouses a child’s immune system to thwart Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest of five malaria pathogens and the most prevalent in Africa.

The New York Times reported that the vaccine was not just a first for malaria, but the first developed for any parasitic disease.

However, the report stated that in clinical trials, the vaccine had an efficacy of about 50 per cent against severe malaria in the first year, but dropped close to zero by the fourth year.

In addition, it stressed that the trials did not measure the vaccine’s impact on preventing deaths, which has led some experts to question whether it is a worthwhile investment in countries with countless other intractable problems.

But severe malaria accounts for up to half of malaria deaths and is considered “a reliable proximal indicator of mortality. I do expect we will see that impact,” Dr. Mary Hamel, who leads the WHO’s malaria vaccine implementation programme, said.

A modelling study last year had estimated that if the vaccine were rolled out to countries with the highest incidence of malaria, it could prevent 5.4 million cases and 23,000 deaths in children younger than age five each year.

A recent trial of the vaccine in combination with preventive drugs given to children during high-transmission seasons found that the dual approach was much more effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalisation and death than either method alone.

To have a malaria vaccine that is safe, moderately effective and ready for distribution is “a historical event,” Director of WHO’s Global Malaria Programme, Dr. Pedro Alonso said.

Parasites are much more complex than viruses or bacteria, and the quest for a malaria vaccine has been underway for a hundred years, he added, stressing, “It’s a huge jump from the science perspective to have a first-generation vaccine against a human parasite.”

The malaria parasite is a particularly insidious enemy, because it can strike the same person over and over.

In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, even those where most people sleep under insecticide-treated bed nets, children have on average six malaria episodes a year.

Even when the disease is not fatal, the repeated assault on their bodies can leave them weak and vulnerable to other pathogens, permanently altering the immune system.

Malaria research is littered with vaccine candidates that never made it past clinical trials. Bed nets, the most widespread preventive measure, cut malaria deaths in children under age five by only about 20 per cent.

Against that backdrop, the new vaccine, even with modest efficacy, is the best new development in the fight against the disease in decades, some experts said.

“Progress against malaria has really stalled over the last five or six years, particularly in some of the hardest hit countries in the world,” said Ashley Birkett, who heads malaria programmes at PATH, a non-profit organisation focused on global health.

With the new vaccine, “there’s potential for very, very significant impact there,” Birkett added.

Following the clinical trials, the vaccine was tried out in three countries — Kenya, Malawi and Ghana — where it was incorporated into routine immunisation programmes.

More than 2.3 million doses have been administered in those countries, reaching more than 800,000 children. That bumped up the percentage of children protected against malaria in some way to more than 90 per cent from less than 70 per cent, Hamel said.

“The ability to reduce inequities in access to malaria prevention — that’s important. It was impressive to see that this could reach children who are currently not being protected,” Hamel added.

It took years to create an efficient system to distribute insecticide-treated bed nets to families. By contrast, making Mosquirix a part of routine immunisation made it surprisingly easy to distribute, he Hamel added — even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted lockdowns and disrupted supply chains.

“We aren’t going to have to spend a decade trying to figure out how to get this to children,” he said.

This week, a working group of independent experts in malaria, child health epidemiology and statistics, as well as the WHO’s vaccine advisory group, met to review data from the pilot programmes and make their formal recommendation to Director-General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus.

According to the NYT, the next step is for Gavi, the global vaccine alliance, to determine that the vaccine is a worthwhile investment.

If the organisation’s board approves the vaccine — not guaranteed, given the vaccine’s moderate efficacy and the many competing priorities — Gavi will purchase the vaccine for countries that request it, a process that is expected to take at least a year.

But as with COVID-19, problems with vaccine production and supply could considerably delay progress and the pandemic has also diverted resources and attention from other diseases, said Deepali Patel, who leads malaria vaccine programmes at Gavi.

“COVID-19 is a big unknown in the room in terms of where capacity is currently in countries, and rolling out COVID-19 vaccines is a huge effort. We’re really going to have to see how the pandemic unfolds next year in terms of when countries will be ready to pick up all of these other priorities,” Patel said.


Foreign News

Nigeria rejects Guinea coup, soldiers plan transitional govt

Soldiers who staged an uprising in Guinea’s capital on Sunday said on state television that they had dissolved the West African nation’s government and constitution and closed all land and air borders.

However, the defence ministry said an attack on the presidential palace in Conakry had been repelled.

This is just as the government of Nigeria rejects the coup, describing it as a violation of the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.

Reuters reports that fighting broke out near the palace on Sunday morning, with several sources saying an elite national army unit, led by a former French legionnaire, Mamady Doumbouya, was behind the unrest.

Videos shared on social media on Sunday afternoon, which Reuters could not immediately authenticate, showed President Alpha Conde in a room surrounded by army special forces.

Conde won a third term in October after changing the constitution to allow him to stand again, despite violent protests from the opposition.

Doumbouya appeared on state television draped in Guinea’s national flag and surrounded by eight other armed soldiers, saying his supporters planned to form a transitional government and would give further details later.

“We have dissolved government and institutions,” Doumbouya said. “We call our brothers in arms to join the people.”

As the defence ministry said security forces loyal to Conde had repulsed the attack and were restoring order, people emerged onto the streets during the afternoon to celebrate the uprising’s apparent success.

Reuters witness saw pick-up trucks and military vehicles accompanied by motorcyclists and cheering onlookers. “Guinea is free! Bravo,” a woman shouted from her balcony.

But the Federal Government condemned the military coup in Guinea.

It called on those behind the unconstitutional change of government to restore constitutional order without delay and protect lives and property.

The FG in a statement on Sunday by the spokesperson, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mrs Esther Sunsuwa, said it was saddened by the development in Guinea.

The statement titled, ‘Nigerian government condemns coup d’etat in Guinea,’ reads, “The Nigerian government is saddened by the apparent coup d’etat in the Republic of Guinea, in clear violation of the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.

“The government of Nigeria strongly condemns and rejects any unconstitutional change of government and therefore, calls on those behind this coup to restore constitutional order without delay and protect all lives and property.”


Foreign News

Nigeria is Not Only Country with Human Rights Challenges, Says UN

The United Nations (UN) has said Nigeria is not the only country facing myriad human rights challenges.

Speaking yesterday in Abuja at a programme, titled, “UN and Partners Dialogue on Human Rights Priorities in Nigeria,” the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Edward Kallon said, “Like other countries, Nigeria faces myriad human rights challenges. As Nigeria strives towards a nation that acknowledges the rights of all human beings with strong and effective national protection systems, UN instruments and the mechanisms they have established as well as the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 sets the agenda for much of the work.”

The programme, the first of its kind, is an initiative of the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) in collaboration with the National Human Rights Commission, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Women.

Kallon, who was represented by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, said, “Through this consultation, we aim to reach a common understanding between the Government, human rights partners, civil society, and the UN on human rights priorities in Nigeria.”

As part of efforts made by Nigeria to ensure respect of human rights, Kalli said, “Nigeria has ratified the nine core UN human rights treaties, including other regional instruments. The Nigerian Constitution has elaborate provisions on the protection of human rights.

“In the last five years, Nigeria has been reviewed by three treaties bodies, namely, the Human Rights Committee, Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Committee of the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

“Since 2014, the country has hosted eight special procedures mandate holders. Nigeria has been reviewed thrice under the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council (UPR) namely in 2009, 2013 and 2018. During its third UPR process, Nigeria received 290 recommendations out of which it supported 240.

“The supported recommendations relate to legal and general framework of implementation, universal and cross-cutting issues, civil and political rights, economic, social, and cultural rights, women’s rights, and rights of other vulnerable groups and persons.”

He also revealed that most of the 290 recommendations related to SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions), SDG 5 (gender equality), SDG 10 (reduced inequalities), SDG 1 (no poverty) and SDG 4 (quality education).

Kallon said to effectively address protracted human rights crises around the world, the Call to Action must move beyond words and be expeditiously implemented, noting, “This initiative today, is a step towards realising, in Nigeria, the dreams captured in the Call to Action for human rights.”

He added that already several UN agencies, funds and programmes are supporting various human rights initiatives in the country, while stressing, “This consultation with Government and national partners will aim to streamline these efforts and achieve coherence, building the necessary momentum for results.”

In his remarks, Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission, Tony Ojukwu, said, “This kind of dialogue, though long overdue, could not have come at a better time. This is because the country continues to face numerous human rights challenges in the face of activities of both state and non-state actors and we must, as a people, think outside the box for viable solutions out of this conundrum.”

He said it was important for all of stakeholders to reflect deeply on the human rights situation in Nigeria with a view to drawing up a priority plan that could effectively engage the human rights challenges of the country.

Ojukwu said, “As a necessary stakeholders, the UN, MDAs and CSOs should be very interested in a priority plan that could result from a dialogue like this.”

He recalled that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action adopted at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, Austria in 1993 requested that, “Each State considers the desirability of drawing up a national action plan identifying steps whereby the State would improve the protection and promotion of human rights.”

Ojukwu added, “On its own part, the Commission has developed a strategic work plan to effectively and successfully discharge its mandate for promotion and protection of human rights of Nigerians. It has established offices across all 36 states to increase access to Nigerians.

“Addressing human rights issues for a huge country like Nigeria requires collaborative approach. The Commission has also coordinated the development of the current draft NAP Document on human rights.

“The Commission has fully collaborated with all CSOs and Development partners who have extended the hand of partnership to it. I am happy to say that the participants across this room are all key partners of the Commission and we cherish our partnerships with you all.”


Foreign News

BREAKING: No new Afghan government until last US soldier leaves —Taliban

The Taliban will not announce the makeup of its government until the United States completes its troop withdrawal, two sources in the movement told AFP Monday.

“It has been decided that the formation of the government and cabinet will not be announced as long as a single US soldier is present in Afghanistan,” a Taliban source said, and this was confirmed by a second insider.

Details later

Foreign News

Nigeria, US to sign agreement on cultural property trafficking

The Federal Government and the United States of America have agreed to sign a bilateral agreement stopping illicit trafficking in cultural property and artefacts.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed disclosed this in Washington DC after a closed-door meeting with the US Acting Assistant Secretary of State on Education and Culture, Mr Mathew Lussenhop.

Briefing the News Agency of Nigeria after the meeting, the minister said the agreement which would be signed in Nigeria soon, would expand cooperation between the two countries in the area of cultural property.

Specifically, the minister said the agreement would prevent stolen artefacts in Nigeria from getting into the US to prevent the harrowing experiences passed through in retrieving looted Benin bronzes from Germany.

He said the agreement included capacity building for Nigerians and the country was the second in Africa to enter into it with the US after Mali.

“We agree on the final draft of the MoU which will be ready after vetting by our Ministry of Justice, and anytime soon, there will be a signing ceremony in Nigeria.

“The agreement is to prevent artefacts and cultural property that people want to illicitly ship to the U.S.

“In addition to artefact, the agreement also extends to illicit drug trafficking and the FBI is involved,’’ he said.

Mohammed said that there were few stolen artefacts that Nigeria was expecting mostly from private museums in the US.

“They have invited us and the National Commission for Museum and Monument is working hard on this.

“In particular, there are about two or three private collectors who had voluntarily surrendered the artefacts which they believed were either illegally trafficked or stolen from Nigeria,’’ he said.

The minister recalled that he was in Germany in July on the trail of thousands of artefacts looted from the Benin Kingdom during the 1897 British expedition.


Foreign News

Afghan provincial officials jailed, missing after Taliban takeover – Reports

Media on Friday,  reported that several government officials and Police chiefs in the Afghan provinces of Laghman and Ghazni, have been jailed or missing after the Taliban took power in Kabul.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban Spokesperson, said at the militants’ first news conference after taking control of the capital,  that they would not seek revenge on their rivals.

The Taliban  also declared  amnesty across Afghanistan.

However, relatives of several Afghan officials, including the governor and the police chief of Laghman, told TOLO News that they were still in Taliban custody, after surrendering to the militants.


Foreign News

Taliban renames country Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan

The Taliban has renamed Afghanistan the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ after its fighters swept into the capital, Kabul, a bustling metropolis of six million that has turned into a male-dominated city without police or traffic controls.

Aljazeera reports that scores of Afghans ran alongside a US military plane as it taxied on the runway and several clung to the side as the jet took off with Senior US military officials confirming to Aljazeera that the chaos left seven dead, as well as several who fell from the flight.

According to AP, the Taliban, a militant group that ran the country in the late 1990s, have again taken control.

The US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 ousted the insurgents from power, but they never left.

After they blitzed across the country in recent days, the Western-backed government that has run the country for 20 years collapsed.

CNN reports that hundreds of people poured onto the tarmac at Kabul’s international airport, desperately seeking a route out of Afghanistan on Monday after the Taliban’s sudden seizure of power sparked a chaotic Western withdrawal and brought to a crashing end the United States’ two-decade mission in the country.

Meanwhile, at a special session of the UN Security Council in New York, UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, urged Taliban to show “the utmost restraint to protect lives” and demanded that anyone who wanted to leave the country must be able to do so.

US President Joe Biden also received a briefing by top security officials on the situation in Afghanistan, the White House said.

“This morning, the President was briefed by his national security team, including the Secretary of Defense and Chairman Milley, on the security situation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, and ongoing efforts to safely evacuate American citizens, US Embassy personnel and local staff, SIV (special immigrant visa) applicants and their families, and other vulnerable Afghans,” it said in a statement.


Foreign News

UNICEF: Over Half of Nigerian Children’s Births Unregistered

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has decried the low birth registration in Nigeria, stating that more than 50 percent of the births of children under 5 remain unregistered in the country.

UNICEF, while lamenting that Africa has the lowest birth registration among all the continents, lamented that the births of 166 million children under 5 have never been recorded worldwide.

A statement issued yesterday by UNICEF noted that with only 44 per cent of children registered at birth, even as millions of deaths also go uncounted each year.

Nigeria alone accounts for 11 per cent of unregistered children in West Africa.

The statement noted that as Nigeria joined the rest of the world to commemorate the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) Day yesterday, addressing structural, normative and operational challenges to birth registration should be on the front burner.

The statement emphasised that birth registration is a one-off event that gives every child a unique identity which will give them better access to vital services like health, education, and social protection.

The statement quoted the UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative, Peter Hawkins, to have said: “Every child counts, and we must ensure that we count every child so that they can best benefit from important services like health and education,”

He stressed that: “We need to work together to ensure effective coordination to make this happen. Functional systems that allow for the sharing of data across information management databases that are integrated with other vital services are necessary to push the birth registration rate in Nigeria up, and make sure every child is counted.”

Meanwhile, the National Population Council (NPC) has identified information and communication technology assets to support effective CRVS systems that are integrated with other governmental systems, such as health and identity management, to ensure the highest standards of data protection and confidentiality of personal data to promote birth registration among civil registration, health, and identity management systems.

Hawkins said: “Every child has a right to a name, a nationality and a legal identity. Working together, we can and must bring Nigeria to meeting its SDG obligation to provide a legal identify for all, including through birth registration.”

The statement revealed that the NPC in partnership with Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) entities with support from UNICEF co-created a roadmap for Digital Universal Birth Registration in Nigeria, which laid out a clear vision, delineates the roles of different government agencies, builds the government’s capacity to deliver, formulates an action plan, sets a timetable and milestones, and optimizes the cost of the digital birth registration process in the country.



Hushpuppi to Plead Guilty to Money Laundering

Arrested alleged international fraudster, Ramon Abbas, popularly known as Hushpuppi, is to plead guilty to charges including wire fraud, money laundering, felony and others brought against him by the United States District Court for the Central District Of California.

Hushpuppi, 37 years old was arrested in Dubai in June 2020 alongside 12 other members of his crew. The Dubai Police later handed them over to the FBI in the United States and they had since been arraigned on charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering, among others.

But in a plea agreement document signed by Hushpuppi; his lawyer, Loius Shapiro; Acting United States Attorney, Tracy Wilkison, Hushpuppi consented to plead guilty as charged.

According to the document, Hushpuppi risks “20 years’ imprisonment; a 3-year period of supervised release; a fine of $500,000 or twice the gross gain or gross loss resulting from the offence”.

“Defendant (Hushpuppi) admits that defendant is, in fact, guilty of the offence to which defendant is agreeing to plead guilty.

“Beginning no later than on or about January 18, 2019, through on or about June 9, 2020, defendant knowingly combined, agreed, and conspired with multiple other persons (“coconspirators”) to conduct financial transactions into, within, and outside the United States involving property that represented the proceeds of wire fraud.

“These coconspirators included the persons referred to in the Information as UICC 1 and UICC 2, as well as other coconspirators not referred to in the Information. The coconspirators targeted multiple victims and laundered and/or attempted to launder funds fraudulently obtained, and attempted to be fraudulently obtained, through bank cyber-heists,1 business email compromise frauds, and other fraud schemes.”

“Defendant understands that the statutory maximum sentence that the Court can impose for a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1956(h), as charged in the Information, is: 20 years’ imprisonment; a 3-year period of supervised release; a fine of $500,000 or twice the gross gain or gross loss resulting from the offence, whichever is greatest; and a mandatory special assessment of $100,” the document noted.

It also noted that the parties (US Attorney Offices and Hushpuppi) agreed that “the agreement will be considered part of the record of the defendant’s guilt plea hearing as if the entire agreement had been read into the record of the proceeding”.


Foreign News

UK offering consular assistance to Nnamdi Kanu – High Commissioner to Nigeria

British High Commissioner to Nigeria,  Catriona Laing, yesterday said  the Commission has offered consular assistance to leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu.

Speaking on a television program monitored in Lagos on the trail of Kanu, Laing said:  “On Nnamdi Kanu, all I would say is that we are on record of saying that we can offer consular assistance to British nationals as requested. That is all I am prepared to say in this interview.”

Kanu  is also British citizen,  and many have insisted he should be protected by the British government having been arrested in Kenya with a UK passport and not with his Nigerian passport.

When pressed to speak further on the subject, Ms Laing responded: “I haven’t said anything about his trial. What we have said on record is that we would do all we can and we do offer consular assistance and in this case we have offered consular assistance to Nnamdi Kanu.’’