Guinea worm disease could be second ever human illness to be eradicated
As cases fall, the condition that once affected millions of people in Africa and Asia could also be the first to be wiped out without medicines
The number of cases of a painful and debilitating tropical illness fell last year to a record low, fuelling hopes that it will soon become the second human disease in history to be eradicated.
Only 13 cases of guinea worm disease were reported worldwide in 2022, a provisional figure that if confirmed would be the smallest ever documented, the US-based Carter Center has said.
The tiny number of cases, down from 15 the previous year, is the result of more than four decades of global efforts to stamp out the parasitic disease by mobilising communities and improving drinking water quality in transmission hotspots.
If those efforts ultimately prove successful, guinea worm will not only be the second disease in history to be eradicated, after smallpox, it will be the first to be wiped out without a vaccine or medicine.
“Our partners, especially those in the affected villages, work with us daily to rid the world of this scourge. We are heartened that eradication can be achieved soon,” said Jimmy Carter, the former US president who co-founded the Carter Center in 1982.
When the centre took on leadership of the global eradication programme in 1986, about 3.5 million human cases were recorded annually in 21 countries in Africa and Asia. Pakistan, India and Uganda are among the countries that have eradicated it. Last year the Democratic Republic of the Congo joined the list.
The remaining endemic countries are Chad, where six of last year’s human cases occurred; South Sudan, which recorded five; Ethiopia, which saw one; and Angola, Mali and Sudan, which recorded no cases. The Central African Republic, a non-endemic country, reported one case, which is under investigation.
For guinea worm to be declared eradicated, cases in animals also need to be eliminated and here, too, the numbers are going in the right direction. Infections in animals fell by more than a fifth last year, the Carter Center said.
Once a person is infected with guinea worm, or dracunculiasis, there is no known way to stop the disease taking its course. About a year after the guinea worm larvae have entered the body, usually through drinking contaminated water, the affected person will experience severe pain due to the formation of a blister on their skin and the slow emergence of one or more worms measuring up to a metre. The person can be debilitated for weeks or months.
Adam Weiss, director of the Carter Center’s guinea worm eradication programme, said: “We continue to study ways to defeat and prevent this infection … We won’t stop until the last guinea worm is gone.”
Archaeologist hails possibly oldest mummy yet found in Egypt
The 4,300-year-old mummy was found at the bottom of a 15-metre shaft near the Step Pyramid at Saqqara
Egyptologists have uncovered a Pharaonic tomb near the capital, Cairo, containing what may be the oldest and most complete mummy yet to be discovered in the country, the excavation team leader has said.
The 4,300-year-old mummy was found at the bottom of a 15-metre shaft in a recently uncovered group of fifth and sixth dynasty tombs near the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, Zahi Hawass, director of the team, told reporters.
The mummy, of a man named Hekashepes, was in a limestone sarcophagus that had been sealed in mortar.
“This mummy may be the oldest and most complete mummy found in Egypt to date,” said Hawass, one of Egypt’s former ministers of antiquities.
Among other tombs found was one belonging to Khnumdjedef, an inspector of officials, a supervisor of nobles and a priest during the reign of Unas, last pharaoh of the fifth dynasty. It was decorated with scenes of daily life.
Another tomb belonged to Meri, “keeper of the secrets and assistant to the great leader of the palace”.
Numerous statues were found among the tombs, including one representing a man and his wife and several servants, the statement said.
The psychedelic ibogaine can treat addiction. The race is on to cash in
Clinics and scientists around the world aim to turn a profit from a powerful Gabonese plant – but it’s an ethical and legal wild west
ynn Smith was lying in a bed on the third floor of a beachfront house, unable to move her body from the neck down. A buzzing grew louder in her eardrums; just when she thought she couldn’t take it any more, it stopped. Then the visuals started.
For 22 hours after a nurse administered three pills of a psychedelic called ibogaine, Smith relived the series of events that had led her to this treatment clinic just south of Tijuana, including being ejected from a truck years prior. The accident left her with a crushed skull and prescriptions for the opioids she was addicted to for almost 20 years.
“It was horrific, it was the worst thing in the world, what I saw,” said Smith (whose name has been changed to protect her identity) referring to her experience on ibogaine. Behind closed eyelids, she also witnessed wires in her brain being ripped apart, singed, and pieced back together like a puzzle. Under the watch of a nurse who kept an eye on her vitals, Smith’s body shot straight upright in bed then flopped back down before darting up again – all part of an ibogaine trip.
She spent five weeks at the clinic, where, not unlike upscale in-patient substance use disorder treatment centers in the United States, she was offered psychotherapy sessions, acupuncture, and lounge chairs overlooking the beach. But the main attraction was the powerful psychedelic, an experience Smith, now an in-home caretaker in Arizona, believes saved her life. “It’s like I was put back to the day before I ever used a drug,” she said.
A Schedule I substance (the same category as heroin, cannabis and peyote) in the US, ibogaine is a controlled substance with no recognized medical benefits and a high risk of abuse. It is illegal in the US, but in countries such as Costa Rica, Mexico, New Zealand and the Netherlands, it is unregulated, which has allowed clinics to flourish. Starting in the early 2000s, the opioid crisis – in April 2021, annual overdose deaths in the US reached 100,000 for the first time; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 76,000 of these deaths were from opioids – gave way to a booming industry of makeshift ibogaine treatment clinics like the one where Smith was treated, often set up in rented houses located right across the US border.
A simple internet search for ibogaine therapy in Mexico will reveal plenty of options – mostly unregulated, with some existing only on social media. A few are fully accredited medical facilities, others do not include any medical personnel at all and most sit somewhere in between – a local doctor may have a relationship with a provider and clear patients for an ibogaine dose, but may not be present during the treatment. Some are run solely by people who have used ibogaine to get clean and want to help others do the same. They are generally more affordable than traditional rehab clinics in the US (Smith paid $12,000) and offer opioid users another option when rehabilitation and 12-step programs have failed.
Over the past decade, ibogaine’s popularity has incentivized poachers to target shrubs in Gabon, one of the few places Tabernanthe iboga, the plant ibogaine is most commonly derived from, naturally propagates. Consumed in small doses, iboga root bark acts as a stimulant, often brewed into palm wine or chewed to curb hunger and fatigue. In larger doses, iboga has powerful psychoactive effects, which have been harnessed for centuries by the Fang, Mitsogo and Punu people of the Congo Basin, as part of the Bwiti religion. The ongoing poaching is depleting natural reserves of iboga in Gabon’s forests and cutting Gabonese people out of an industry that would not exist without their Indigenous knowledge.
The popularity of ibogaine treatment has also caught the interest of researchers and drug developers, posing ethical questions regarding who has a right to profit off of Indigenous knowledge. Psychedelic therapies are expected to grow into a nearly $11bn industry in the next five years. If developed, synthetic drugs derived from the compounds in ibogaine could offer hope for addiction treatment and decrease demand for poached plants. But as researchers continue to untangle the pharmacological potential of ibogaine, and drug companies take an interest, the people of Gabon are grappling with how they will fit into the equation.
Meanwhile, in Mexico, supply is striving to match demand. Tom Feegel is CEO of Beond, an ibogaine therapy provider in Cancun that opened in February of 2022 and is a fully certified Class 1 medical facility credentialed by the federal government of Mexico. It offers holistic treatment to a maximum of 30 people at a time. There is no database that tracks the exact number of people providing ibogaine therapy, but Feegel estimates as many as 150 ibogaine providers are operating worldwide. He estimates only about 10 are correctly certified as accredited medical clinics.
Wake up, Davos … global leaders must think local to solve the world’s problems
Last week’s Swiss pow-wow was all very well, but the solutions to poverty and climate change lie in the field.
t the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, corporate CEOs, world leaders and philanthropists convened to discuss steps to solve our biggest global problems. While these leaders sought solutions to climate change and world hunger, I was at home in Kenya, working directly with community organisations that have some of the answers.
People focused on Davos may not have heard about the success of organisations like Fundación Paraguaya, which is working with families to help end poverty, or Maono Africa, which has been educating women and girls in Kenya. These innovative and critical perspectives, which hold the key to progress, weren’t present because localisation wasn’t on the agenda at Davos.
Grassroots leaders like myself know that the world’s “big problems” are only fixable when we tackle them from a local perspective – yet community-based organisations are vastly underfunded, and need support. If the WEF wants to see real change, it must put the work of community leaders at its centre, and those in attendance must be willing to shift funds and decision-making power directly to the people leading this critical work.
My organisation, Shining Hope for Communities (Shofco), in coordination with the Global Alliance for Communities (GAC) and a network of funders, is exploring ways to flip this power dynamic and bring local perspectives to the forefront of conversations on global development.
In 2021, we hosted the first-of-its-kind World Communities Forum (WCF), which pushed for greater accountability and the development of local leaders. The forum was inspired by my first time in Davos. This year, we have developed a roadmap that identifies the barriers to localisation and the solutions to achieveit, to support funders in their efforts to meet their commitments and make sure communities can get much needed resources.
When we ask community leaders what they need to drive local change, their demands are clear. They don’t need advice on how to solve poverty, educate women and girls or address the climate crisis locally. They need trust, real decision-making power and funding to effectively lead on their work.
If those in Davos want to create real, sustainable change, this is where they should start.
First, big donors and policymakers must learn to trust. Local leaders understand the cultural, political and social dynamics that influence how successful programmes and approaches could be. We can’t expect attendees at the WEF or any other conference to know what works for every community in the world – which is why they need to learn to trust and fund local leaders to enact solutions they know will work.
Second, leaders must be willing to shift power. Shifting power isn’t just the latest trend in philanthropy. The power dynamics in international development have always disadvantaged community leaders, and we must be willing to change them. Transferring decision-making to communities allows leaders to create solutions that meet local needs, and will work for the next generation, not just for the next five years. There is no one-size-fits-all solution – every community is different, and we must give local leaders the power to find and deliver the unique solutions that will work.
Third, funders must be flexible and remove barriers that stand in the way of progress. For big philanthropy, this means moving away from funding short-term, single-issue projects, which forces local organisations to focus on one specific thing rather than address the long-term systemic problems they encounter. Investments should be long-term and flexible, allowing organisations to strategically plan for the future and react to ever-changing needs on the ground.
It is not naive to think that the global community can tackle the lofty goals the WEF sets out to achieve. In fact, we should be aiming high. But real change will not come without listening to local leaders. Through a collective commitment to fund and trust local organisations, global convenings like those in Davos could become a major catalyst for change.
Kennedy Odede is the founder and CEO of Shining Hope for Communities (Shofco)
that the interest they paid to the West was a fraction of the 'foreign aid' the West gave them in return
Descendants of Namibia’s genocide victims call on Germany to ‘stop hiding’
Herero and Nama people demand direct talks and take Namibian government to court for accepting reparations on their behalf for 1904-1908 killings
Descendants of victims of genocide in Namibia have called on Germany to “stop hiding” and discuss reparations with them directly, as they take their own government to court for making a deal without their approval.
The Herero and Nama people have gone to Namibia’s high court, rejecting an apology made in 2021 after years of talks between Namibia and Germany, which they say falls short of atoning for the 1904 to 1908 genocide, the first of the 20th century.
“We were not involved at any stage. The government set the agenda, it discussed what it discussed and never disclosed it until we saw a joint declaration last year,” said Prof Mutjinde Ktjiua, chief of the Herero.
The declaration included a German pledge of €1.1bn (£980m) in development projects over 30 years but Ktjiua said the tribes want direct reparations to address the poverty and marginalisation that resulted from the genocide.
“It is critical because we know without any doubt that we have in this country a government that is misappropriating resources. A government that has for all these years denied that Hereros and Namas were [subject to genocide] – now you trust them to manage this?” said Ktjiua.
The German empire unleashed a campaign of killing and torture after the tribes rejected colonial rule in 1904. An estimated 80% of all the Herero people and 50% of Nama were killed; estimates vary between 34,000 and 100,000 people. They are now politically marginalised minorities in Namibia.
Herero lawyer Patrick Kauta argued that the joint declaration breaks a 2006 Namibian parliamentary motion to seek reparations from Germany.
Gaob Johannes Isaak, chair of the Nama Traditional Leaders Association, said reparations needed to address the loss of 80% of Nama ancestral land – much of it now occupied by farmers of German descent – as well as generational damage to livelihood and identity.
“Reparations would bring back dignity, self-worth and play a meaningful role in our own development and education for the Nama people so we can share equally in the resources of Namibia,” said Isaak.
“For us, it’s not about politics, we want our Namibian government to be on our side against Germany. It’s not about money – the joint declaration does not address our needs. Let it be clear: we want to negotiate directly for the blood of our ancestors,” he said. “Let the two governments stop hiding behind the issue of state-to-state [negotiations].”
The joint declaration admitted “a moral, historical and political obligation to tender an apology for this genocide”, accepting that the killings amounted to genocide “from today’s perspective”.
A spokesperson for the German foreign office said only the Namibian government had the mandate and “democratic legitimacy” to negotiate with Germany, but the federal government had sought the voices of the descendants of victims, including through an advisory committee of five people who worked with the Namibian negotiator, who was himself Herero.
“The federal government calls the crimes committed against the Herero, Nama, Damara and San by their name: genocide. The fact that we use this term in its historical rather than its legal sense is because the Genocide Convention of 9 December 1948 cannot be applied retrospectively,” the spokesperson said.
Karina Theurer, an adviser to the Namibian lawyers, said Germany has argued against responsibility, referring to the historical legal position when European powers distinguished between “civilised nations and the savage or wild nations”.
“You cannot today rely and base your legal arguments on such a racist distinction,” she said, adding that the case could “open the floodgates” for other former colonies to demand reparations against occupying powers.
“We really think that our domestic litigation makes some legal arguments which can be used by others in their quest for reparations and that is the reason why it is so important from an international perspective as well. It can really be a historic milestone when it comes to those quests for reparations worldwide,” she said.
Henning Melber, president of the European Association of Development Institutes, said the declaration should be shelved. “One of the most scandalous parts of the whole joint declaration for me, it’s not only the money, it’s that it says Germany will apologise to the Namibians and then it continues to say the Namibians accept their apology.
“Come on. Can it be more colonial as an agreement? They are not even given the opportunity to reject the apology,” he said.
High-profile lawsuit against Meta can be heard in Kenya, Nairobi court rules
Decision on case of ex-Facebook moderator, who claims the work left him with PTSD, hailed as win for accountability of big tech in Africa
A Kenyan court has ruled that a case brought against Facebook by a former content moderator can go ahead.
Daniel Motaung, who was hired as a Facebook content moderator by the tech firm’s subcontractor Sama in 2019, filed a suit against the two companies last year, alleging that he had been exposed to graphic and traumatic content at work, without adequate prior knowledge or proper psychosocial support – which he says left him with post-traumatic stress disorder.
He also claimed he was unfairly dismissed after trying to unionise his co-workers to fight for better conditions.
Facebook’s parent company, Meta, contested its involvement in the case, saying that Sama was Motaung’s employer, and Meta could not be subjected to a hearing in Kenyan courts because it was not registered, and did not operate, in the country.
However, on Monday the judge found that the tech giant was a “proper party” to the case.
The Kenya employment and labour relations court is yet to release its full ruling on Motaung’s case, but the decision – the first of its kind in Africa – is already being hailed as a win for the accountability of big tech on the continent, and in the global south.
“If the attempt by [Meta] to avoid Kenyan justice had succeeded, it would have undermined the fundamental tenets of access to justice and equality under the law in favour of foreign privilege,” said Irũngũ Houghton, executive director of Amnesty International Kenya.
“We finally have an avenue for accountability,” said Odanga Madung, senior researcher for platform integrity at Mozilla. “It calls for tech giants to make serious changes within their companies that take into consideration their workers and users outside the US and Europe.”
Cori Crider, director of Foxglove, a UK tech justice non-profit, which supported the Motaung case, said social media platforms should not outsource critical online safety functions like content moderation. “It is the core function of the business. Without the work of these moderators, social media is unusable. When they are not able to do their jobs safely or well, social media’s safety brutally falters.”
Meta is facing a second court case in Kenya, which was due to be heard this week but has been postponed. It was filed by two Ethiopian petitioners and a Kenyan rights advocacy group, Katiba Institute, who claim that the company failed to take online safety measures to manage hate speech on the platform during northern Ethiopia’s civil war – which they say fanned the conflict, with serious offline consequences.
The father of one of the petitioners was killed after a violent Facebook post that was reported, but not acted on in time. The petitioners claim that Facebook also failed to recruit enough moderation staff to its regional hub in Nairobi.
“There are problems with Facebook’s woeful failure to value or to staff content moderation outside of the English-speaking United States,” said Crider, adding that Monday’s ruling could have global and regional implications on how tech firms think about and manage content moderation.
If it cared, TikTok could stop itself being used to stir up tribal hatred in Kenya
Leah Kimathi, a convenor for the Council for Responsible Social Media, agrees. “Big tech should not just look at Kenyans as a market, but should be accountable and alive to the nuances, needs and peculiarities of Kenya, especially when it comes to content moderation.”
Facebook has more than 13 million users in Kenya. It and Meta’s WhatsApp are the most commonly used social media platforms in the country.
A nationwide poll conducted in 2022 by the Council for Responsible Social Media showed that 68% of Kenyans who have internet access get their news from social media, and that a majority of these feel that social media platforms could do more to remove harmful content.
Polls have shut in Nigeria, after tens of millions cast their votes to decide a tight and unpredictable contest for the presidency and parliament of Africa’s most populous nation and its biggest economy.
The opening of more than half of all polling stations was delayed by at least an hour with many others suffering problems with new voting technology, civil society groups said. There was some sporadic violence across the country, including a suspected attack by Islamic extremists and some disruption by hired thugs.
Fears of widespread chaos appeared unfounded as night fell, however. An official announcement of results could take between three and five days, but it is probable that the winner of the presidency will be obvious much sooner as the count of individual polling stations becomes known.
In the commercial capital, Lagos, large numbers of voters waited cheerfully for much of the morning for election officials to arrive, often two or even three hours late.
The supreme court of Kenya has criticised the government for failure to register an association for LGBTQ+ people, saying the decision discriminates against the rights of the community.
Although same-sex unions remain illegal in Kenya, the court ruled that everyone has a right of association. It is the culmination of a decade-long legal battle, and a victory for the LGBTQ+ community.
In a majority decision, the court ruled that the non-governmental coordination board was discriminatory and infringed on the community’s constitutional right to association by refusing to register any of six names proposed by the community’s representatives, among them the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and the Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Council.