Thursday, 15 March 2018

San Francisco and Oakland to host AIDS 2020

The International AIDS Society (IAS) has announced that San Francisco, California, in partnership with nearby Oakland, will host the 23rd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2020).

To find the best host for each International AIDS Conference, the IAS conducts an extensive, open-bid process that begins 18 months before a decision is made. For AIDS 2020, we engaged more than 20 cities across the world, starting in 2016.

Our process involves an extensive evaluation that determines each city’s ability to house the meeting and its delegates, commitment to supporting scientific research and implementation, and inclusion of civil society and communities living with HIV in their local response. Each city is required to represent a cross-section of policymakers, scientific researchers and civil society as part of the bid.

It is always our preference to represent different geographies in hosting the International AIDS Conference. For many years, we were fortunate to identify willing government and community partners in resource-limited settings that allowed us to host the meeting while maintaining our commitment to access for people around the globe. For AIDS 2020, only cities in the global North completed a bid application. Even after direct engagement from IAS staff and site visits to potential hosts in the global South, we did not receive any applications.

This is understandable. Being selected as a host city for the International AIDS Conference is not a reward; it is a recognition that there is something particularly unique and challenging about the epidemic in that setting. It is a commitment by conference organizers and local partners to shine a light on strengths and weaknesses in the response. For a variety of reasons, including political climate, not every country is willing to make this commitment.

Many previous conference sites were chosen to directly challenge political and social norms. AIDS 2020 is no exception.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

World Conference on Tobacco or Health 2018 announces key science

Breaking research on e-cigarettes, the impact of tobacco point-of-sale display bans, the growing trend towards flavoured cigarettes and the financial impact of smoking on economies and individuals feature in the scientific programme of the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH)
Regional science presented at the conference includes smoking and HIV and TB in sub-Saharan Africa and ante-natal tobacco smoke exposure in South Africa
Thursday, 1 February, 2018 (Cape Town, South Africa)--Organisers today announced the scientific programme of the  17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH) to be held in Cape Town, South Africa, 7-9 March this year.

The growing debate amongst public health practitioners around tobacco harm reduction is reflected in the conference scientific programme with research on e-cigarettes featuring prominently including a much anticipated study on Electronic cigarette use and conventional cigarette smoking initiation among youth in the United States authored by researchers based at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A ban on the open display of tobacco products in the United Kingdom was phased in between 2012 and 2015. Measuring the success of that ban, researchers from the University of Stirling in Scotland will present the study: The impact of a tobacco point-of-sale display ban on youth in the United Kingdom: findings from a repeat cross-sectional survey pre-, mid- and post-implementation.

There have been growing concerns amongst tobacco control practitioners around the trend towards the manufacture and marketing of flavoured cigarettes to young adults. The impact of such a trend is the focus of a study by Brazilian researchers: Use of flavoured cigarettes in the first few puffs: a step toward smoking initiation and nicotine addiction? Data from a national survey among Brazilian adolescents.

The emergence of data on the economic impact of tobacco smoking at the country and individual levels is vital too for policy making and both are addressed in the study Individual cost of smoking in a study population (US) and in the study Economics of tobacco control in Nigeria: modelling the fiscal and health effects of a tobacco excise tax change (Nigeria).

“The high quality of the science being presented in Cape Town comes at a pivotal moment in tobacco control,” said Professor Harry Lando, Chair of the 17th WCTOH Organising Committee. “On the one hand we will see research being presented confirming the astounding public health progress made to eliminate smoking over the past decade but challengingly, we will also see research on trends that are currently shaping the  future  battle lines of tobacco control on a global scale.”

“For the past 50 years, WCTOH has been the premier international forum on tobacco control and this year’s event – the first to be held on the African continent – is expected to attract over 2,000 researchers, scientists, civil society, healthcare professionals, policymakers and media representatives from more than 100 countries. Tobacco use is the world’s leading preventable cause of death killing more than seven million people each year,” said Dr Flavia Senkubuge, President of the 17th WCTOH.

The conference will also feature a number of key sessions focusing on the upcoming challenges for tobacco control. The opening plenary session, Priorities for Tomorrow’s Tobacco Control Agenda and Sustainable Development on Wednesday 7 March will feature Head of Secretariat for the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva. And on Thursday 8 March – International Women’s Day – WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti will be joined by Dr Lorraine Greaves, Senior Investigator at the British Columbia Centre for Excellence on Women’s Health, for the second plenary which will discuss Women, Development and Tobacco Control.

While tobacco use is decreasing in many countries, evidence has shown that smoking rates in Africa are anticipated to rise dramatically. By 2030 the number of smokers in the region is projected to increase by 40 percent from 2010 levels, unless there is significant intervention. Africa continues to be aggressively targeted by the tobacco industry, as it represents an opportunity for considerable market growth.

“It is highly significant that the WCTOH is taking place on the African continent for the very first time – in many ways the region is a test case for the future direction of tobacco control and its ability in the coming years to rein in aggressive interference from Big Tobacco,” said José Luis Castro, Executive Director of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), the WCTOH Secretariat.

The theme of the conference is Uniting the World for a Tobacco-Free Generation with an overarching focus on expediting progress to reduce tobacco use in all populations around the world – using new research and innovative approaches in public health, as well as powerful but under-used policies, including tobacco taxation and those aimed at preventing industry interference.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Life after prison: A tale of an ex-convict

Life after prison: A tale of an ex-convict.

 Hope Mafaranga profiled one of the ex-convict on the challenges they face after prison.

Life after prison: A tale of an ex-convict

Life after prison: A tale of an ex-convict.

 Hope Mafaranga profiled one of the ex-convict on the challenges they face after prison.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Camp life inspired me into farming

By Hope Mafaranga
Elengo training his worker how to use the machine
When we left the camp in 2006, we had nothing to turn to as most of our houses, crops and animals were destroyed by the 20 year old of the war of the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) and one had to think out of the box to ensure his family survives.
 The memories of the LRA seems fresh in the mind of Patrick Alengo, 50 , a resident of Onil Village, in Aloi sub-county, Alebtong district.

He remembers the suffering as if it just happened yesterday. Alengo a father of seven and a catechist at St Nichols, Awiny said, when they returned from the camps, they had nothing to feed their children on and had no shelter at all.

“We use to live on aid from non-government organisations and life was a nightmare. I had to do something extra ordinary to sustain my family,” he said.

An opener
 He said one day, he attended a meeting organised by Care international which was intended to sensitising war returnees about food security and it opened his eyes.

He said the meeting restored hope in him and started thinking about farming as he used to do before the war broke out. 

His family like any other affected by war, was living in Aloi internal displaced persons camps. However his family returned when peace prevailed in 2006.

Upon coming back from the meeting, Alengo sat his wife Florence Adong down and decided to utilise their land to grow food for the family and also grow for sell to other war returnees.
“I started growing beans, maize and ground nuts for home consumption and I would sell the surplus to other people for little money,” he said.

As the region stabilised, Alengo was among the few farmers, that were growing food and he was invited to the Aloi sub-county headquarters for a farmer’s meeting.

 He said during the meeting, they were told to focus on growing crops that will generate income and uplift the standards of their living.

 How he started
Alengo shows off some of his cassava
He said the meeting discussed a number of crops that could help farmers make money and one that caught his eye was cassava growing. 

In 2007, again he sat his wife down and made a decision to sell the seven cows they got brought using the money from the maize, ground nuts and beans to open the first of land for cassava growing.

 Growing cassava
Alengo who inherited 500 acres of land from his father, started with 12 acres in 2007 when peace was returning to the region and he has gradually upscale to 250 acres. 

Value addition
 He acquired chips cutting machines which he used to cut cassava in small pieces which helps to dry the cassava and now sells to Mbale, Lira and Kenya.
He said the machine has the capacity of crushing over 5000 kilogrammes a day and because they are in small pieces it dries faster and reduces on the risk of rotting especially during rain session.
He also said the machine reduces the level of contamination since few hands touch the cassava.
 The machine is sold at sh 8.5m in agro input shops and uses only three liters of fuel every day.

Community involvement
After leaning the skills, Alengo saw the need of sharing with other members of the community and he started  Aneni Can Mega cluster group of 99 members . The group has 56 women and 43 men. He said one of the reasons of why they started a group, they wanted to get market for their cassava, fight food insecurity and increase on household income.

Alengo’s support is among the over 8,000 members trained by International Fertisers Development Center (IFDC) and the organisation also linked them to market.

He said they now sell cassava cuttings to Operation wealth creation and NAADs and sell the tubers to the organisation that makes ethanol.

 Future plans
 He plans to buys a tractor at sh130m to easy his farming activities and currently he has sh 525m on his account which he wants to buy a bus.
“I want to venture into transport business in order to expand on his business empire,” he said.
He also wants to educate all his seven children and nine orphans he picked during the war he is taking care of up to University.

“When I picked those kids , I chose to be their father and I wanted to give them a permanent home . I will take care of them until the end,” he said.

 The last born out 10 and the son of Fenekansi Eyit and Norah Abiri, Alengo, was inspired by the suffering of war and wanted to keep his father’s legacy.
“Being the only boy in a family of 10, I knew that all my sisters would get married and I needed to keep the family going as a man,” he said.

He advised the youth to come back after school and engage in farming. He says this is the only sure way of creating jobs and fighting unemployment.

 He urged the youth to stop giving excuses and wasting time in gambling and betting but come back start with the smallest land they have to engage in commercial farming.

“There is money in farming because people will never stop eating, there is ready market for food crop and youth should come back to dig,” he said.

He advised farmers to stop subsistence farming but put their energies in commercial farming, to get money. 

Alengo said that farmers also need to exercise some patience so that they can get the best yield out of their gardens.

The growth  
 According to Alengo,  in one acre of cassava, a farmer needs to invest in sh 120,000 for ploughing,  buy five bags of cassava cutting  at sh 50,000, sh 50,000 for weeding and sh 80,000 for planting, which comes to sh 300,000.

 He said one acre of land is capable of giving a farmer sh 6m from the cutting and sh 5m from tubers.

He employs 10 permanent staff at his farm who he pays between sh 80,000 to 150,000 and gives them other incentives like food, cassava cutting and recommends them for trainings in cassava growing. 

 When the weed is too much, he also hires prisoners about 40 every day and at cost of sh 4,000 each.

His biggest challenges are weather related which he has nothing to do about them.
“ Aleptong sometimes floods and when it’s a dry session, it dries so much that we lose our crops,” he said.

Stabilising and picking the pieces from the camp is one of the most significant achievement Alengo mentions.
Being able to get market outside Uganda, educating his children, expanding his farming and becoming popular are some of the significant gains he has attained.

Vanilla farmers rejoices as the price shots up

 By Hope Mafaranga
In 2004, when the vanilla prices dropped in Uganda, many farmers abandoned the crops.  However a few in Bundibugyo district, in western Uganda never gave up planting it, despite the unexpected drastic fall in the farm-gate prices of vanilla.

It is such kind of persistence, resilience and patience that kept Amon Matte 32, a resident of Bumara village, Bumate parish, Harugare sub-county in Bundibugyo going.

 He said many farmers saw the fall in price as a curse that was leading them to poverty.

"Many of my colleagues considered the fall in vanilla prices as a big misfortune and a bad omen.  
 They even advised me to quite but I was thinking ahead and I knew that the condition would not be permanent," Matte said.

 What kept him going?
The senior  four drop out and a father of four says,  positive attitude kept  him going , adding that he had had  banana plantation in Mbarara, Kabarole and Bushenyi , which was affected by the banana bacteria wilt but kept on growing more matooke.

He said the price fell from sh 150,000 per kilogramme to sh5, 000 which discouraged many who had invested in their money from growing it.
"I drew my strength from some of those farmers who never gave up on banana growing. I persisted and kept away from people who were discouraging me from growing vanilla," he said.

He even laughed at people who were cutting and abandoning Vanilla farming, saying they lacked a vision at that time and now they are panicking because the price has gone up.

"The price has reached sh 100,000 per kilogramme, you move in the villages and see how people are rushing to replant vanilla.  Imagine Vanilla takes three years to mature and by the time it grows, I would have harvested a lot of money and I will be definitely ahead of them," he revealed. 

Matte treats his vanilla farming as a permanent job. "After realising that this is a life time job, I gave it time because is where I get money to feed my family," he says.

 Vanilla on demand
He says the price has been stabilising, attributing it to the current improved quality of seed, which are being harvested. He also says that Ugandan vanilla attracts a higher international price because it is organic and farmers do not use any ferlisers due to its fertile soil and relatively good weather. 

" I and many of my colleagues in vanilla growing do not use artificial fertilizers in our  vanilla garden and our vanilla is organically grown and because of this it has a high vanillin content and excellent aroma, which is the most preferred on the world market," he said.

He also attributed the high demand of Ugandan Vanilla to its poor harvest in Madagascar one of the leading vanilla growing countries in the world.
"The quality of our vanilla beans is of high quality compared to that produced in other vanilla-producing countries like Madagascar," matte who owns three acres of vanilla said.

How to plant vanilla
 Matte explains you dig a one feet and plant a three feet of vanilla veins and cover part of it with little soil then leave about two feet that you tie on the pole ( ekisoga-soga) to support its growth.

After three weeks,   the garden is covered with grass (mulching) to prevent the weed from growing.
 Vanilla can only be intercropped with matooke, which Matte says also provides a shed for the vanilla.
He says it not advisable to use a hoe in a vanilla garden because the roots are almost on top of the soil, to avoid cutting them.
"You have to use a slasher and every time you slash you must mulch so that you cover the roots and shield them from the sun," he advises.

 He said in order for the vanilla to have enough space and sufficient sun and nutrients, farmers should only plant 1,500 plants.
"If you plant more than 1, 500 veins in an acre, you suffocate them.   

Vanilla needs to be spaced well so that you get many green and health beans. This is also good because when the beans are healthy, they are heavier which means a farmer gets more kilogrammes from a plant," he says. 


 Matte, who has three acres of vanilla has invested in farming since  adding that one has to wait for three years to start harvesting.
 In his three acres, he has 4,500 plants and 4,500 supporters (bisoga-soga). He said he buys each veins of vanilla at sh 2,000 meaning he injected sh 9m and he buys the bisoga-soga each at sh700 making it sh 3.1m.
 He also spends on slashing and mulching which he does twice a year at cost of sh 500,000.
Matte also say he pays security personnel about sh 1.5m a year to guard his vanilla from thieves.
"Averagely I spend about sh 14m a year but this is nothing compared to what I get from it," he says.

According to Matte, he takes care of his vanilla well and each plant is able to give him  seven kilogrammes, in terms of money a plant makes sh 1m.

Market is not one his challenges , he  sells his vanilla to Esco Uganda limited and Ndali Company ltd  that exports it to other countries.

The only challenge he has are thieves who sell his green beans. He says this also affects the quality of vanilla because the thieves steal it when it's not mature sells it lower prices.

Tom Ndyanabo the Red Cross Bundibugyo manger also added his voice to Matte saying that many farmers had left vanilla growing which posed a challenge of vein (seeds) multiplication.

Ndyanabo said  because of the demanded they have come up to  mitigate it by distributing  2,550 vanilla veins to  40 groups with support from Belgian Red Cross due  in order to boost farmers in the district.
“Due to the incre
ased demand as a result of increase in vanilla prices, farmers  are now going back to grow the crop but they do not have the veins to plant," he said.  

 The chairperson of the Rwenzori Vanilla Association, Elisha Matte Kajumba, said because of the current demand for vanilla and the increasing prices most people who did not grow vanilla are stealing from other people's farms.
He said this has forced the farmers to sell immature vanilla to avoid losing their entire crop harvest to thieves.

Maj. Alex Baguma the operation wealth creation liaisons officer at the ministry of agriculture, animal and fisheries said government is currently rolling out vanilla production in Uganda.

"Vanilla has not been on the list of priorities which we have been championing but we have asked the ministry of agriculture to ensure that farmers are supported in the next financial year because it is on a very high demand and the market is ready," Baguma said.

He said about 40 districts in Uganda are now actively growing vanilla, reducing the production strain on Mukono and Bundibugyo.

Ugandan farmers celebrate the passing of GMO Bill

 By Hope Mafaranga
Now that we have a law in place, drought and diseases will become history as we will be able to apply modern technology backed by research for better yields, this is the kind of excitement Joseph Katushabe a farmer in Ibanda district in western Uganda had to say upon hearing that Parliament passed the National Biotechnology and Biosafety (NBB) Bill, 2012.

  The controversial Bill, which was passed at the beginning of October 2017, has been on and off the shelves since 2012, leaving both politicians and scientists divided.
Joseph Katushabe in his gardern of Tomatoes in Ibanda district
Among the clauses that were controversial included transporting of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for export or import without the approval of a competent authority will become criminal in Uganda. 

 Defaulters risked paying a fine of 2.4 million Uganda shillings or be jailed for five years. 
Katushabe, other farmers and scientists will be able to use technology in farming, after the Bill that is now awaiting the President Yoweri Museveni’s signature to become law without any legal fear.

President Yoweri Museveni is to sign the Bill into Law

If the president signs it into law, it will consolidate all regulatory frameworks that facilitate the safe development and application of biotechnology by establishing a competent authority, designating a national focal point, a national biosafety committee, institutional biosafety committees and also providing mechanisms to regulate research and the general release of GMOs.

Biotechnology is a technique that uses living organisms or substances from living organisms to have or modify a product, improve plants, animal breeds or micro-organisms for specific purposes. Biosafety means safe development, transfer, application and utilisation of biotechnology and its products. While presenting the report of science and technology committee that studied  the Bill, the chairperson, Kafeero Ssekitoleko said  Uganda has no specific law regulating the development and use of modern biotechnology, it had, on the other hand, ratified a number of international treaties, such as the convention on biological diversity in 1993 and the Cartagena Protocol Biosafety of 2001. 

“Our scientists are working for Uganda to own its patents and technology so that we are not obliged to foreigners,” Sekitoleko said.

The Bill gave a green light to the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNSCT) as the competent authority for biotechnology and biosafety that will approve the development, testing and use of GMOs.
Dr. Peter Ndemere also Executive Secretary of UNCST said biotechnology is very critical with many exciting products being developed especially in agriculture in trying to address food security, climate change and nutritional needs.

The members of parliament passed the Bill
Dr. Ndemere also said GMOs have been used in Uganda for many years by several industries to process wine and beer, cheese and yoghurt, bread, extraction of cobalt and welcome it a positive thing to enhance food security and fight crop diseases and pests.

 “With law in place, our food insecurity worries and climate change challenges are solved. We are proud that the policy that started in 2008 transformed into a Bill in 2012 is finally becoming a law,” he said.

The UNSCT will work alongside the Ministry for Water and Environment which will act as the national focal point for the purposes of the Cartagena Protocol, the registrar of biotechnology and biosafety and institutional biosafety committees.

 The advocates of the Bill note that GMOs have the potential to boost food, fuel and fiber production, which will accelerate economic growth and foreign exchange earnings, like in South Africa and Burkina Faso.

Dr. Barbara Zawedde Mugwanga, the co-coordinator of the Uganda Biosciences Information Centre said the passing of the Bill means that the country can regulate what is coming in. 

“We can now also choose what we want to use in modern biotechnology in agriculture, medicine, environment management and medicine,” she said.

Dr. Godfrey Asea, the director of National Crops Resources Research Institute, Namulonge in Wakiso district congratulated Parliament for passing the Bill.

 “I am happy that we have a legal framework to conduct research outside the institutes,” he said.
The Bill was passed a few after the Agri-Biotechnology and Biosafety Communications (ABBC) (2017 Africa Symposium) held in Uganda recently.

The symposium that was organised by a consortium of partners led by the Africa Biosafety Network of Expertise in partnership with UNCST, Uganda Biosciences Information Center (UBIC), and the International Service for the acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) and the Programme for Biosafety Systems (PBS) had called upon parliament to pass it to give a better working environment to scientists. 
Dr. Karembu say the law will enhance food security
Dr. Margaret Karembu the director ISAAA said agriculture continues to remain the backbone of many African economies which is facing several constraints including climate change, pests and diseases.

“Adoption of new technologies like genetically engineered crops will offer an opportunity for advancement an addressing these challenges,” she said

Dr. ELlioda Tumwesigye minister of science, technology and innovation said  Uganda boasts of having the best research scientists on the continent especially in the areas of agriculture in general and biotechnology in particular. 

 He further noted that the Government of Uganda is aware of this fact hence continues to create enabling environment for scientist and innovators to excel in order to have a vibrant technology and science driven society.
Dr. Tumwesigye asked Ugandan to embrace science
Prof. Yaye Gassama, the former Minister and Vice-chair Senegal Academy of Science said biotech has set deep roots in lives of people, causing new paradigms. 
“We need to capture this favorable momentum to communicate the benefits of biotech,” she noted. Christopher Kibazanga the state minister of agriculture, said  the sector plays a central role in in economic growth, development and poverty alleviation in Uganda which is key to why ‘Vision 2040’ and the National Development Plan.

Kibazanga stated that the majority of the Ugandan population depends directly or indirectly on agriculture which has a huge potential to transform Uganda’s economy. 

Describing the country’s biotech research capacity, the minister said institutions like National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) and Makerere University among others are producing important novel technologies to improve farm productivity. 

He said such technologies should be promoted adding that ignoring such research and innovations would mean nullifying the efforts of the country’s scientists.

Citing some of the ag-biotech research on-going in the country especially on key food security crops such as cassava, banana and maize, Kibazanga said there was evidence from research conducted by NARO showing that modern biotechnology can be used to address some of the most difficult constraints in crop and animal agriculture.

San Francisco and Oakland to host AIDS 2020

The International AIDS Society (IAS) has announced that San Francisco, California, in partnership with nearby Oakland, will host the 23rd ...