Elephantiasis linked to volcanic soils found in Uganda

By Esther Nakkazi

[KAMPALA] A surge in elephantiasis in Uganda is being linked to people walking barefoot on volcanic soils which contain tiny, sharp mineral crystals that penetrated the feet, a study says.

Elephantiasis is a neglected tropical disease (NTD) caused mainly by parasitic thread-like worm called Wuchereria bancrofti, resulting in painful swelling of arms or legs.

“It is a disease that is totally preventable by simple foot hygiene like washing feet after work and wearing shoes.”

Christine Kihembo, Ugandan Ministry of Health

But another form of elephantiasis called podoconiosis is linked to long-term contact with irritant red clay resulting from volcanoes.

“People who [did] not wear shoes were 13 times more likely to have podoconiosis,” says Christine Kihembo, a senior field epidemiologist with the Uganda Ministry of Health and lead author of the study.

Kihembo tells SciDev.Net that the disease is common among women and farmers as well as those who did not wash their feet at least two hours after attending to their gardens.

According to the WHO, this type of elephantiasis is typically associated with farming and years of working barefoot in freshly-turned soil.

The research published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene this month (10 April), says the investigation was by a team of experts from the Uganda Ministry of Health, the WHO and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Uganda.

The study was prompted by what appeared to be an intense outbreak of elephantiasis in 2014 and 2015 in the Kamwenge District of western Uganda, an area not previously known to harbour it.

Scientists reviewed medical histories of 52 suspected victims, conducted blood tests for absence of W. bancrofti to rule out elephantiasis and concluded they were suffering from podoconiosis.

Kihembo notes that the risk increased with age.

“It is a disease that is totally preventable by simple foot hygiene like washing feet after work and wearing shoes,” she says.

In Kamwenge early signs of podoconiosis went undetected because neither the settlers nor healthcare workers had any experience with it as it is mostly known to occur around Mount Elgon in Uganda. It also occurs in Eastern Africa region — more commonly in Ethiopia — and in Southeast Asia, Central and South America.

“Our findings have raised awareness [on the disease] and it is our hope that they can lead to public health interventions and action,” says Kihembo.

Bashir Mwambi, a microbiologist and lecturer at the Uganda-based International Health Sciences University, adds that the study is relevant partly because it distinguishes podoconiosis from lymphatic filariasis.

But Mwambi says that the researchers should have done biopsy — removal of a sample of tissue from the body for examination — and used silicon presence in swellings for podoconiosis diagnosis rather than using absence of W. bancrofti.

“There was high chance of information bias on shoes wearing by people and therefore experiments are needed to correlate presence of silicon and not wearing shoes,” Mwambi explains.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Nets Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.



Christine Kihembo and others Risk factors for podoconiosis: Kamwenge, Uganda (American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 10 April 2017


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Lake Tanganyika’s fate lies in the balance

Andrew Cohen, University of Arizona

Standing on the steep rocky shores of Lake Tanganyika at sunset, looking out at fishermen heading out for their nightly lamp-boat fishing trips, it’s easy to imagine this immense 32,900km2 body of water as serene and unchanging. The Conversation

Located in the western branch of the great African Rift Valley it’s divided among four countries; Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, and Zambia. It’s one of the oldest lakes in the world, probably dating back about 10 million years.

Lake Tanganyika fishing

The declining fishing yield in the Lake Tanganyika region is being exacerbated by an influx of refugees.
Reuters/Sala Lewis


That expanse of geological time has permitted literally hundreds of unusual species of fish and invertebrates to evolve in isolation – organisms that are unique among the world’s lakes. Every day millions of people rely on the lake’s riches.

But despite being a world class reservoir of biodiversity, food and economic activity, the lake is changing rapidly and may be facing a turbulent future.

Lake Tanganyika was recently declared the “Threatened Lake of 2017” – adversely affected by human activity in the form of climate change, deforestation, overfishing and hydrocarbon exploitation.

The threats

Beginning in the late 1980s scientists studying the lake began to notice significant and concerning changes caused by human activity.

But at the time worldwide attention was focused on other African Great Lakes, particularly Lake Victoria where evidence was beginning to emerge of the enormous impact the Nile Perch – an introduced species – was having.

The problems in Tanganyika were somewhat different.

Fortunately, no major exotic species introductions have occurred up to now. Instead, evidence shows that underwater habitat degradation is taking place adjacent to hill slopes. They are being rapidly deforested – converted to agricultural lands or for urban expansion –in the fast growing population centres around the lake. This activity has led to a rapid increase in the amount of loose sand and mud being washed into the lake which is smothering the lake floor.

Danger of sediment

The biodiversity of Lake Tanganyika can be imagined like a thin bathtub ring. It hugs the shallow zones around a deep and steep bottomed lake, up to 1470m in its deepest parts. The hundreds of species that inhabit the sunlit shallows give way to a dark expanse of water lacking oxygen and, so, animal life.

This narrow strip of extraordinary biodiversity is on the front line. Eroded sediments are being carried into the lake, affecting this strip.

Researchers have begun to document where the impact is being felt. They are also looking back in time by collecting sediment cores with fossils of the many endemic animals to see when the impact was first felt.

They have found that some heavily populated regions lost much of their diversity more than 150 years ago. Other regions, particularly in the more southerly past of the lake, are seeing these effects unfold only in recent decades.

Other pressures

Excess sedimentation is just one problem. Fishing pressure and climate change are also affecting the lake.

Large scale fisheries for the lake’s small sardines started in the 1950s, quickly mushrooming into a major industry. They export up to 200,000 tons of fish per year and make up a very large portion of the average person’s animal protein intake in the surrounding regions.

In recent years this fishing yield has declined dramatically. This has been partially caused by the unsustainable growth in fisheries, and exacerbated by large numbers of refugees flooding into the region because of conflicts in Rwanda, Burundi and the DRC during the 1990s.

It’s now increasingly clear that another factor has also been at play.

Starting in the early 2000s, scientists began to document that the surface waters of Lake Tanganyika were warming rapidly. This is most likely because of global climate change related to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. This warming has had serious consequences for the lake’s fragile ecosystems.

Warming lake

Warm water is relatively light and struggles to mix with the deeper layers of the lake. This in turn keeps the vast pools of nutrients from being churned back to the surface by waves. It cuts down on the growth of floating plankton, which is what the lake’s many fish populations eat.

Scientists have been able to show that the decline in fish populations began well before the onset of commercial fishery in the 1950s. This implicates climate change and lake warming as the probable cause for much of the fishery’s long-term decline.

Unfortunately, this trend is unlikely to be reversed as long as the climate in the region continues to warm.

A related consequence of the reduction of mixing in the lake, is a continuous shallowing of the transition from the oxygenated to deoxygenated waters on the lake floor. This means there’s less of an oxygenated ring, reducing the habitat area within the bathtub ring of biodiversity from below.

As if scientists and lake managers at Lake Tanganyika didn’t have enough on their plates, a new problem has emerged: the search for oil and gas deposits.

Rift lake sediments of the type found in Lake Tanganyika are well known among geologists as reservoirs of hydrocarbons, as over millions of years vast quantities of plankton have died and settled on the lake floor.

The consequences of actual production are still unknown. But the recent record of catastrophic oil spills, for example along the Niger River Delta, highlight the critical need for very careful study and environmental planning before production proceeds in fragile Lake Tanganyika.

The biological and economic riches produced by 10 million years of evolution could lie in the balance.

Andrew Cohen, University Distinguished Professor Joint Professor, Geosciences and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Reliable weather data affect farmers’ yields

By Alex Abutu

[ABUJA, NIGERIA] A project that started in 2012 is helping smallholders in 17 African nations obtain reliable and accurate weather data to increase crop yields.

Lack of reliable weather information in most parts of Africa is making many households lose from agriculture, experts say.

The Trans-African Hydro-Meteorological Observatory (TAHMO) project was started in 2012 with an ambitious plan of establishing 20,000 weather stations across Africa to help farmers in particular.

“Providing a reliable source of weather information gives farmers some degree of certainty in weather measurement.”

Nick van de Giesen, Delft University of Technology

TAHMO stations are typically installed at local schools, where they can be used for educational purposes. The innovation known as ATMOS 41 is an all-in-one weather station that fulfils all weather measuring needs such as air temperature, relative humidity, vapour pressure, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, solar radiation, precipitation and lightning.

Data generated by TAHMO stations is sent to an internet platform to aid accessibility and analyses to guide farmers. TAHMO explains that most all-in-one weather stations provide the option to measure either solar radiation or precipitation, but the ATMOS 41 provides both measurements in one device.

The weather patterns largely determine agricultural performance. More accurate weather information would allow smallholder farmers make better resource management decisions. Weather information also gives farmers access to services such as crop insurance.

“Providing a reliable source of weather information gives farmers some degree of certainty in weather measurement,” said Nick van de Giesen, a director of the project and a professor of the Netherlands-based Delft University of Technology, in an interview with SciDev.Net last month (26 March).

“In Africa, weather influences how households decide to farm and the amount of household income coming from crop sales. When rains fail or prolong, livelihoods are lost,” van de Giesen explains.

According to van de Giesen, the project was developed because of the “near complete lack of systematic climate observations on the African continent” which hinders scientific and economic development.

He adds that the project has been able to establish 105 stations in 17 African countries including Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda to help farmers.

John Selker, a professor of biological and ecological engineering at the US-based Oregon State University and co-director of the project, was quoted in a TAHMO press release on 22 March statement as saying that there is a decline in climate observation in Africa due to absence of equipment for real-time reporting and weather monitoring are not top priorities.

“In Africa the opportunity to improve yields is phenomenal,” Selker says.

Niyi Sunmonu, a researcher with the Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria, tells SciDev.Net: “TAHMO, like other meteorological data, will be of immense benefits to African farmers as it will provide basic meteorological information across different parts of Africa.”

Most African farmers depend on the rain, and thus the project is providing information such as the onset and cessation of rainfall across different parts of Africa to guide farmers, he explains.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.


This article was originally published on SciDev.Net. Read the original article.

How Africa Got Left Behind

by Marian L. Tupy

Robert Colvile’s excellent article on Prince Charles’s misunderstanding of the causes of African poverty provides a good opportunity to take a closer look at Africa’s economic history.

African poverty was not caused by colonialism, capitalism or free trade. As I have noted before, many of Europe’s former dependencies became rich precisely because they maintained many of the colonial institutions and partook in global trade. African poverty preceded the continent’s contact with Europe and persists today. That is an outcome of unfortunate policy choices, most of which were freely chosen by Africa’s leaders after independence.

Like Europe, Africa started out desperately poor. The late Professor Angus Maddison of Groningen University has estimated that, at the start of the Common Era, average per capita income in Africa was $470 per year (in 1990 dollars). The global average was roughly equal to that of Africa. Western Europe and North Africa, which were parts of the Roman Empire, were slightly better off ($600). In contrast, North America lagged behind Africa ($400). All in all, the world was both fairly equal and very poor.

The origins of global inequality, which saw Western Europe and, later, North America, power ahead of the rest of the world, can be traced to the rise of the Northern Italian city-states in the 14th century and the Renaissance in the 15th century. By 1500, a typical European was about twice as rich as a typical African. But the real gap in living standards opened only after the Industrial Revolution that started in England in the late 18th century and spread to Europe and North America in the 19th century.

Africa progress prosperity graph

In 1870, when Europeans controlled no more than 10 per cent of the African continent (mostly North and South Africa), Western European incomes were already four times higher than those in Africa. Europe, in other words, did not need Africa in order to become prosperous. Europe colonised Africa because Europe was prosperous and, consequently, more powerful. Appreciation of the chronology of events does not justify or defend colonialism. But it does help explain it.

Africa’s fortunes under colonial rule varied. Much progress was made in terms of health and education. Maddison estimates that in 1870, there were 91 million Africans. By 1960, the year of independence, the African population grew more than threefold – to 285 million. The OECD estimates that over the same time period the share of the African population attending school rose from less than 5 percent to over 20 percent. On the down-side, Europeans treated Africans with contempt, and subjected them to discrimination and, sometimes, violence.

That violence intensified during Africa’s struggle for independence, as the colonial powers tried to beat back African nationalists. As a result, African leaders took over countries where repression of political dissent was already firmly established. Instead of repealing censorship and detention laws, however, African leaders kept and expanded them.

It was precisely because colonial rule was so psychologically demeaning to Africans in general and nationalist leaders in particular that post-independence African governments were so determined to expunge many of the colonial institutions. Since rule of law, accountable government, property rights, and free trade were European imports, they had to go. Instead, many African leaders chose to emulate the political arrangements and economic policies of a rising power that represented the exact opposite of Western free market and liberal democracy – the Soviet Union.

Emulating the USSR in the 1960s was not altogether irrational. During the 1930s, the country underwent speedy industrialization, transforming a nation of peasants into a formidable power. Industrialization came at the cost of some 20 million lives, but it allowed the USSR to triumph over Hitler’s Germany (at a cost of an additional 27 million lives). By the early 1960s, the country not only produced massive amounts of steel and armaments, but also seemed poised to win the scientific contest with the West, when Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space on April 12, 1961.

The astonishing wastefulness and backwardness of the Soviet economy did not become apparent until the 1970s. By that time, unfortunately, the socialist bacillus infected much of Africa, which adopted one-party government that destroyed accountability and the rule of law, undermined property rights and, consequently, growth. Price and wage controls were imposed, and free trade gave way to import substitution and autarky.

Africa prosperity progress

Africa’s love affair with socialism persisted until the 1990s, when, at long last, Africa started to reintegrate into the global economy. Trade relations with the rest of the world were somewhat liberalized and African nations started to deregulate their economies, thus climbing up the rankings in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report.

That said, even today, Africa remains the least economically free and most protectionist continent in the world. That – and not free trade – is the problem.

Republished from CapX.

Marian L. Tupy Africa progress

Marian L. Tupy is the editor of HumanProgress.org and a senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Shakespeare in South African schools: to die, to sleep – or perchance to dream?

Chris Thurman, University of the Witwatersrand

South Africa’s education authorities are reviewing the school curriculum. Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has confirmed that the review will feature a focus on “decolonisation” reflecting the need to move towards the use of more African and South African novels, drama and poetry. This might spell the end of William Shakespeare in the country’s classrooms. The Conversation Africa’s education editor Natasha Joseph asked Professor Chris Thurman about the implications of the proposed review. The Conversation

How much Shakespeare currently features in the South African English curriculum?

I’m not an authority on the current arrangements nationwide and it’s difficult to generalise; in addition to annual curricular changes – not just to set works but to teaching and learning materials, methods and outcomes – within any given year there’s a lot of variation between provinces, across grades, between schools and even (potentially) between learners at the same school.

William Shakespeare South Africa

William Shakespeare is a sometimes controversial figure in South Africa’s school system.
Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA


So let’s focus on Grade 12. Learners doing English as a First Language would be likely to study a Shakespeare play in this final year at school. At government schools in the Gauteng province in 2017, for instance, this is Hamlet; favourites over the years have been Othello, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet. English First Additional Language learners would be more likely to do a play such as South African playwright and actor John Kani’s Nothing But The Truth.

In 2016 the Independent Examinations Board (IEB), the regulatory body for private schools, introduced Coriolanus as the compulsory Grade 12 Shakespeare set work. In some schools learners in earlier grades will have exposure to Shakespeare, depending on school or teacher preference. There are also “advanced” programmes where senior learners will do extra Shakespeare.

Do you think there’s room for both Shakespeare and African authors? And is Shakespeare actually relevant for pupils in South Africa today?

There’s limited room. English at school level is not purely literary studies; its scope can range from basic language and literacy skills to film and media studies. Add to that slower reading rates among learners combined with the inevitable orientation towards exams and – in terms of “long” texts like novels or plays – teachers have to pay close attention to fewer texts rather than offering a wider selection.

But this limited space could still accommodate writers representing both “Western” (a dubious term, but let’s use it) and South African, African or postcolonial authors. The question is whether or not Shakespeare needs to be the “representative” of English – as in British – literature when there are hundreds of other, more accessible authors to choose from.

This links to your second question. For me the problem is not relevance but accessibility. If you adopt the view: “I am a human being, therefore nothing that is human can be alien to me”, then of course Shakespeare’s plays are – or can be made – relevant. But doing so requires teacherly skills and knowledge that cannot be assumed or taken for granted. It requires resources that grant learners access to performances of the plays on stage or at least on screen. I would also argue that it requires an approach to the barrier of early modern English that includes the learners in processes of translation and modernisation.

I think it’s fair to say that those things simply can’t be, or aren’t yet, found at most South African schools.

Decolonisation has become a hot topic in South Africa over the past three years but it’s been debated across the continent for decades. Does Shakespeare’s work feature in the curricula of other African countries?

Most other African countries have a less fractious or problematic relationship to Shakespeare than South Africa. This is primarily because their colonial and post-colonial histories are different to ours. You can still find Shakespeare in high school curricula across the continent.

But you will find him alongside authors from those countries or from other post-colonial environments. Perhaps even in conversation with (or challenged by) those authors: Aime Cesaire’s Une Tempete, which tackles Shakespeare’s The Tempest, is prescribed in Cameroon. This example also attests to a different view of Shakespeare in Francophone Africa.

Is part of the solution to making Shakespeare’s work more relevant lie in how it’s taught or performed for young people?

Absolutely. Curriculum transformation and the decolonisation of education – at secondary and tertiary level – is as much about how material is taught as it is about what is taught.

When I teach Shakespeare my students and I end up engaging with the history of an organisation like the African National Congress: from Sol Plaatje (ANC co-founder and translator of Shakespeare into Setswana) via Robben Island to Thabo Mbeki and the Polokwane conference at which he lost the party presidency to Jacob Zuma.

Or we experiment with bringing languages other than English into the classroom to invigorate Shakespeare’s text by translating it into isiZulu, isiXhosa or Afrikaans and then back into contemporary/colloquial English.

But, again, it’s not as easy to do this in a high school classroom as it is at university level. And, as I’ve said before, it may be preferable for high school learners not to experience “studying” Shakespeare as a form of torture but to encounter him in other ways. This may be through performance, whether performing the plays themselves – for example through the Shakespeare Schools Festival – or watching professional or student productions. It may be through appropriation and adaptation in films, TV series, fiction, visual art. It may be in fragments; it may be in loose translation in any number of contexts. It doesn’t have to be through a formal curriculum.

Chris Thurman, Associate professor, University of the Witwatersrand

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.