WHO, UNICEF and Partners Receive First Batch of Billion Dollars Project of COVID-19 Vaccines

By Isaac Unisa Kamara.

Sierra Leone country representatives of WHO, unicef, and other partners receive the first batch of 96,000 doses of Astra Seneca COVID-19 vaccines under the COVAX Facility.

 The consignment according to WHO Country Chief is donor driven, and has it main supporters from USA with $2.5 bill, Germany – $1.097bill, £735 mill, European Union $485 mill, Japan $200mill, and among others.

The consignment consist of the first batch of 528,000 of the vaccine that was produced by Serum Institute of India and approved by the World Health Organization for emergency response on COVID-19 virus.

Country Representative of WHO, Dr. Steven Velabo Shongwe, on the 8th March, 2021, at the Lungi International Airport, while receiving the consignment said the moment was a historic one. 

“We gather here to witness the arrival of this first batch out of the 528,000 allocated for Sierra Leone,” Dr. Shongwe said, continuing that, the COVAX Facility through a very strong collaboration is supporting low and middle-income countries including Sierra Leone under its Advance Market Commitment (AMC). “The global COVAX Facility partnership brings together Coalition for Epidemic  Preparedness Innovation (CEPI), Gavi, UNICEF and WHO,” he added. 

Further, he said the arrival of the first consignment provides the country with an additional public health tool in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. This initial batch and immediat subsequent shipment will prioritize critical target groups like frontline health professionals, vulnerable groups like the age and people with underlying health conditions informed the WHO Boss

Shongwe assured that, the vaccines are safe and efficacious, will help to save lives, reduce the severity of the viruses and improve the quality of life for individuals. “The deployment of the vaccine should be one of the critical measures that have to be taken in addition to the strict adherence to other public health measures,” he cautioned, while commending the government for providing leadership in the development of national COVID-19 vaccine deployment plan with the support of implementing partners.

Country Representative of UNICEF, Dr. Suliaman Braimoh congratulated the government for its leadership and commitment in signing up to the COVAX Facility. He said through this global collaboration, the vaccine would be accessible to everyone regardless of ones economic status. He noted that, for the fact that they have come together to complement government effort on the fight, their collective strides towards tackling the virus will prove worthy results.”UNICEF hereby reiterate its commitment to support the COVAX vaccine deployment in the country through ensuring that the population is well informed of the vaccination,” he disclosed, while commending the conserted efforts of frontline health workers and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, which he said has helped to slowdown the transmission of the disease.

Minister of Health and Sanitation said the arrival of the vaccines will switch on the vaccination of 20% of the country’s 8,000,000 population. “Our health facilities throughout 2020 have been challenged by the task of responding to the pandemic while trying to balance our roles towards our normal health services,”  he said, adding that Sierra Leone is delighted to receive its first COVAX vaccine doses as it looks forward to the launching of the vaccination campaign in the coming days.

 “This arrival of the vaccine is a testimony of global solidarity in response to a global health and development  crises,” said Mr. Babatunde Ahons, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Sierra Leone.

Helen Keller trains Kombra Network members ahead of major NTDs campaign

Helen Keller International (HKI) has trained members of the Kombra Network (KN) as part of preparation for an upcoming campaign against Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).

The campaign which entails mass drug distribution is scheduled for February and targeting people in four districts. 

NTDs are viral, parasitic and bacterial diseases that affect poor countries. They include Lymphatic Filariasis (LF) or Elephantiasis, which is also called ‘bigfut’ in the local krio language; Onchocerciasis, also known as River Blindness; Schistosomiasis; the African Sleeping Sickness; and Chagas disease. 

In Sierra Leone, four NTDs – LF, Onchocercasis, Schistosomiasis and Soil-Transmitted Helminths – are known to be endemic. And they are the target of the Integrated Neglected Tropical Diseases Programme (INTDP) of the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS), which is supported by local and international partners by HKI. 

The upcoming campaign, which has been slated for the second week of February, entails the administration of drugs for LF in the four districts of Bombali, Karene, Koinadugu and Falaba, which are still said to be having transmission of the disease. The treatment comprises a combination of Albendazole and Ivermectin tablets. Volunteers will also administer Ivermectin tablets only as treatment for Onchocerciasis in the eight other districts, excluding the Western Area Urban and Rural.

LF, alongside other NTDs, is a leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the World Health organization (WHO).

Like malaria, the anopheles mosquito serves as vector of the organism that causes LF. But unlike malaria, LF takes a longer period to develop and manifest itself in its victim – between 10 and 20 years. The symptoms of the onset of LF include swollen legs, swollen breasts and hernia, which start occurring after 10 years of infection.

Rapid treatment is crucial to stop development of the disease. Full blown infection is irreversible, and at this point patients can only get treatment to suppress pain and further growth of the parasites in the victim. Treatment for LF patients is also important to prevent infection of people they live with.

The training for the Kombra Network is part of a collaboration between Helen Keller and the local NGO FOCUS 1000 and it is geared towards supporting the upcoming campaign to increase the country’s treatment coverage. The participants included the 12 members that make up the National Executive of the Kombra Network and staff of FOCUS 1000 in the four LF districts.

A country requires a minimum of 65 percent treatment coverage to be considered as having effective epidemiological coverage of NTDs. Assessment for this is done every two years. The next assessment is slated for 2022.

The four LF districts in Sierra Leone have failed the assessment three times, according to officials. The last assessment was done in November 2020, when Kailahun and Kenema districts passed, bringing the total number of districts which have passed the test in the country to 12.

The training was designed to capacitate the participants on the distribution process. The sessions touched on the reality of NTDs, vis-à-vis their prevalence in the country, as well as efforts being undertaken by the government and its partners as part of global efforts to end transmission of the diseases which are said to be causing suffering for over one billion people globally, with most of those needing intervention found in developing countries like Sierra Leone.

Helen Keller hopes to use the Kombra Network’s wide presence in the country to reach usually difficult-to-reach parts of the country.

Mohamed S. Bah, Coordinator of the NTDs Programme at Helen Keller, said over the last 10 years they have been distributing medications but that they have been facing challenges in the four LF districts where either communities are hard to reach or certain groups of people have been reluctant to comply with the treatment due to misconceptions and sociocultural factors.

The involvement of the Kombra Network, Mr Bah said, was necessitated by the role traditional healers play in influencing health seeking behaviors in communities.

“We found out that a lot of Sierra Leoneans go with the idea that ‘bigfut’ is caused by witchcraft and traditional healers play a lot of role in their treatment,” he stated. 

Bah explained that not only does the treatment by traditional healers add to the predicament of the victims, but it causes delay which makes it impossible to prevent a full blown infection in many cases.

“We see that traditional healers are a stumbling block because while we try to get the people to seek proper treatment, they go to the traditional healers. And we see that the only way to resolve that it to bring them on board,” Bah added.

The beneficiaries of Saturday’s training will be deployed across the four LF districts to train up to 200 volunteers, mostly traditional healers and religious leaders, who will go into the communities to administer the drugs during the campaign which is scheduled to last for five days.

Mohamed Bailor Jalloh, CEO of FOCUS 1000, said the training marked a progress in the collaboration between FOCUS 1000 and Helen keller.

“The main objective of what we are doing is to save lives, which is the main important thing,” he said.

This will be the first time distribution of drugs for NTDs will take place as a campaign.

Writing and editing by Kemo Cham

At least 188 676 people require health assistance after Cyclone Kenneth pummels north-eastern Mozambique

The World Health Organization said at least 188 676 people are in need of health assistance or are at risk of disease in Mozambique after the destruction by Cyclone Kenneth.

Homes are flooded in the aftermath of Cyclone Kenneth, at Wimbe village in Pemba. Photo credit: The National

At least 17 health facilities are damaged and the number is expected to increase as inaccessible areas open up. In the worst-affected districts of Quissanga, Macomia and Ibo, entire villages are reportedly devastated with up to 4 199 houses destroyed and over 38 000 partially damaged.

Cyclone Kenneth, the second category 3 cyclone to hit Mozambique within five weeks, brought widespread destruction and displacement and exacerbated health risks in the north-eastern province of Cabo Delgado after making landfall on 25 April. 

The cyclone struck populations already vulnerable due to a fragile health system and weak water and sanitation infrastructure.

The situation of people in villages along the coast is similar, such as Ponta Pangane and Mucojo, which are also beach attractions. The deluge of rains over the past three days has flooded many parts of Pemba city and the districts of Mecuge and Mecufi. 

Due to lack of accessibility, the full extent of damage to the health system and the heightened health risks is not yet known. The World Health Organization (WHO) is conducting evaluations, alongside the Ministry of Health, to generate the most up-to-date health information. 

While heavy rains and flooding continued, WHO and UNICEF sent tents, a water purification unit, body bags, disposable gloves and water purification powder, enough to purify 1 000 000 litres of drinking water.

A WHO team of epidemiologists, public health specialists and logisticians originally deployed to Beira in response to Cyclone Idai, which left more than 1 000 people dead, have been re-deployed to Cabo Delgado to assess cyclone Kenneth’s impact on people’s health. 

Due to the heavy rains and latrine exposure, the Provincial Health Directorate is stepping up efforts for a cholera treatment centre in Pemba and Macomia as a preparatory measure. They will also set up a field hospital in Macomia with support from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), equipped with one month of supplies. 

“There is still time to manage the risk of cholera, but we need to act now,” says Dr Djamila Cabral, WHO Representative in Mozambique. “We had an incredibly quick response in Beira, and we need to do the same work in Cabo Delgado.” 

A cholera risk assessment will be conducted for Cabo Delgado Province and the priority districts to determine urgent needs for medical supplies, where cholera treatment centres and oral rehydration posts are needed and which populations to target for vaccinations in case of need.

WHO and the Provincial Health Directorate have created disaster response subcommittees for epidemiological surveillance, logistics, management of medicines and health supplies, communication, immunization, human resources, endemic diseases and data management.

‘We cannot lose momentum’ on the road to peace in Yemen, UN envoy warns

UN Photo/Loey Felipe
Martin Griffiths (on screen), Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, briefs the Security Council on the situation in Yemen. 9 January 2019.

“The difficult part” of reaching a lasting political settlement in Yemen “is still ahead of us” said the UN Special Envoy on Wednesday, urging the Security Council to support the “speedy implementation” of the fragile ceasefire agreed in and around the crucial port city of Hudaydah, at breakthrough talks in Sweden last month.

Martin Griffiths told Council members he was “under no illusion that these are very sensitive and challenging days” for both the Government coalition, and opposition Houthi leaders, “and for Yemen as a whole.”

Mr. Griffiths updated the Council that since the consultations in Stockholm, President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and Abdelmalik Al-Houthi, leader of Houthi opposition movement Ansar Allah, have recognized the meetings “as an important step towards a comprehensive resolution to the conflict” and were determined to build on that progress through more dialogue.

Noting that the 18 December ceasefire in and around Hudaydah had been largely adhered to, Mr. Griffiths said the fighting was now “very limited” compared to the clashes beforehand, which threatened the lives of hundreds-of-thousands of civilians living inside the Houthi-held port and city.

“This relative calm, I believe, indicates the tangible benefit of the Stockholm Agreement for the Yemeni people and the continued commitment of the parties to making the agreement work,” he asserted.

The special envoy credited the Council’s “swift authorization” of December’s  resolution 2451, and rapid deployment of ceasefire monitors as “a clear signal to the parties and the Yemeni people of the international community’s desire to turn the agreement into facts on the ground” and hoped that security arrangements and the humanitarian access routes agreed in Stockholm will be implemented swiftly.

Turning to the major city Taiz where the two sides have battled for control for more than three years, the UN envoy recalled its “enormous historic significance” and called its people a driving economic and cultural force.

“Civilians in Taiz have suffered far too much for too long, and the destruction in the city has been terrible”, he underscored. “The flow of humanitarian aid needs to increase, and people need the chance to rebuild”, he added, pointing out that the Stockholm consultations provided a platform for this.

On the prisoner exchange agreement, Mr. Griffiths said that although implementation has been “gradual and tentative”, the UN was working with both parties to finalize the lists each submitted in Stockholm and would follow up with talks on 14 January in Amman, Jordan.

“I hope these talks will allow many thousands of prisoners to go home and be reunited with their families”, he said, asking for the Council’s support in encouraging the parties to “overcome any challenges that may be encountered along the way.”

Mr. Griffiths lamented that no consensus was reached on the Central Bank of Yemen or opening the Sana’a airport, which would significantly contribute to the economy and help relieve humanitarian suffering.

“I continue to work with the parties to resolve them,” he maintained, urging both sides to “exert restraint in their media rhetoric”.

With the goal of reaching a lasting political settlement, Mr. Griffiths said “Sweden was just a start” and that it was important to keep up the momentum in moving the process forward.

Calling speedy implementation “crucial”, he stressed that a lot of work needs to be done “before the parties can reach a comprehensive peace agreement”.

The UN envoy spelled out: “We need to convene the next round, but we need substantive progress on what was agreed in Stockholm”.

“Progress in Sweden is a basis for confidence. It would be conducive to further progress at the next round of consultations”, he concluded.

Dozen people reported dead after boat capsized off Libya

A handout photo released on September 24, 2018 by SOS Mediterranee shows migrants being rescued. Photo credit:  Yahoo Finance

At least a dozen people are dead after a rubber boat which spent more than 10 days at sea capsized off Misrata, Libya, on Monday.

Ten survivors were rescued and returned to Libya where they were treated by IOM medical staff. Three other passengers remain missing.

“The survivors were all suffering from complete dehydration and exhaustion after being stranded at sea for days,” said IOM physician Dr. Mohamed Abughalia.

“People suffered from trauma, severe malnutrition and burns sustained from the boat’s engine fuel.”
Four cases in need of emergency medical care were transferred to a private hospital in Tripoli.

Six others were moved to detention centres by Libyan authorities, where IOM continues to provide medical care.

“We continue to advocate for alternatives to detention for migrants returned to Libyan shores, specifically for those most vulnerable,” said IOM Libya Chief of Mission Othman Belbeisi, who also expressed concern about the lack of search and rescue capacity as the weather worsens with the onset of winter.

“The absence of mechanisms to better manage returns coupled with reduced search and rescue capacity at sea is making the crossing increasingly dangerous for migrants. There are more possibilities to die at sea now than one year ago. This is not acceptable. Saving lives at sea should be the number one priority, and search and rescue operations clearly need to be reinforced.”

Media accounts of the migrants’ ordeals differ, but it appears the boat, which was attempting to travel to Italy, was blown hundreds of kilometres off course. Red Crescent spokesman Baha al-Kawash told Agence France-Presse the migrants left for Italy from the city of Sabratha, west of Tripoli, but their vessel was blown 270km east and later overturned.
IOM is following up on the current humanitarian and medical needs of migrants in the detention centre and hospital to ensure they receive adequate assistance. The Organization will provide mental health and psychosocial support to the survivors.

USD 38 Million Sought to Aid Conflict-Affected People in Ukraine throughout 2018

Four years into the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, acute humanitarian needs persist. These include the basics – access to health care, food, water and employment. IOM, the UN Migration Agency, is appealing for USD 38 million to assist 340,000 people in critical need this year, an increase from the 215,000 people the Organization has assisted over the four years since the start of the conflict.

UkraineSince April 2014, over 10,000 people have been killed in the fighting in Eastern Ukraine and a further 24,000 have been injured. In total, 3.4 million people require humanitarian assistance. According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Social Policy, about 1.5 million people are registered as internally displaced persons.

“Due to the protracted nature of the conflict, slow economic growth and increased social tensions, 2018 is a critical year for the crisis response efforts,” said Thomas Lothar Weiss, IOM Ukraine Chief of Mission. “We are working intensively with our partners in the Humanitarian Country Team and the Government of Ukraine to bridge the gap between humanitarian and development interventions. This is critical if we are to address the urgent and longer-term needs.”

The number of conflict-affected people in Ukraine who do not have enough food has almost doubled to 1.2 million people since 2016. Additionally, over three million people in the Eastern Conflict Area do not have sufficient water to drink, cook and wash with, as infrastructure has been damaged by the ongoing hostilities.

IOM’s humanitarian relief efforts will include water, health and sanitation, and rehabilitation of infrastructure in the non-government controlled area (NGCA), and winterization and hygiene assistance on both sides of the contact line. IOM will also provide cash transfers for the most vulnerable residents of the Government-controlled parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

In addition to that, as a part of its recovery programme, IOM plans to further support internally displaced persons and their host communities through business training and grants. IOM’s economic empowerment programme will be expanded to include other vulnerable population categories, such as veterans of the current conflict.

IOM will also rehabilitate important critical and social infrastructure such as healthcare facilities, geriatric centres, and schools; host community events; and provide psychosocial assistance where needed.

The ongoing unrest has provoked an increase in human trafficking.

“Last year, we assisted over 1,200 victims of trafficking, nearly all of whom were trafficked and exploited during the years of conflict,” said Weiss. “The true numbers may be even higher. To alleviate risks and protect people from exploitation and abuse, we are focusing our anti-trafficking efforts on people living near the contact line.”

IOM’s National Monitoring System will conduct regular surveys among internally displaced populations and returnees on their situation, intentions and movements. This will inform strategic planning by Government counterparts, NGOs and the international community.

The United States announced nearly $16 million in humanitarian assistance for Venezuelans



U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green

On Friday, The United States announced nearly $16 million in humanitarian assistance for Venezuelans who have fled their country due to the crisis there.


The funding from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development includes a contribution to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)’s regional response to the Venezuela crisis and humanitarian aid to Venezuelans and host communities in Colombia and Brazil.

This assistance will help provide the people of Venezuela safe drinking water, hygiene supplies, shelter, protection from violence and exploitation, and work and education opportunities, in coordination with other humanitarian organizations and government partners.

The funding is in addition to the $2.5 million for emergency food and health assistance the United States provided last month and the more than $3 million we provided to UNHCR that assisted Venezuelans in FY 2017.

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green said the humanitarian assistance is not about politics, but helping the victims of a massive crisis. “This aid is based upon need and need alone, because America will always stand with the hungry and the displaced.  That’s simply who we are as Americans”.



Millions affected by the Crisis in Venezuela 

In total, the U.S. humanitarian response to the Venezuela crisis comes to more than $21 million since FY 2017.


The United States remains very concerned about the struggle Venezuelan citizens face every day to meet their families’ basic needs. As a hemisphere we must increase our support for the well-being of the Venezuelan people and the restoration of their democracy.

Mark Green also noted on Saturday while making remarks on Humanitarian assistance for Venezuela, “As good neighbors and supporters of the Venezuelan people, we are glad to be able to help, but we all know that this action is merely a short-term response, not a solution. For the sake of the Venezuelan people and the entire region, we must hope that the Maduro regime releases its crushing grip and that we see a return to democracy and to rule of law, for the sake of the Venezuelan people who deserve a peaceful, hopeful future.”

“We greatly appreciate the generosity and compassion of countries throughout the hemisphere who are hosting hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans fleeing the crisis in their country. These include Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Guyana, Suriname, Panama, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, Aruba, and Curacao. We commend the humanitarian contributions made by all donors, and encourage additional contributions to meet growing humanitarian needs.”