Kenya: New Lands’ Data Centre

The Lands Ministry will set up a geospatial data centre to make national geographic information available to Kenyans. The open data initiative will help investors and other stakeholders get accurate and reliable information on location of land, ownership, administrative boundaries and features on and beneath the land.
In a speech read by Lands PS Mariamuel Maawy during the relaunch of a one stop data centre, Lands Secretary Charity Ngilu said the government is committed to set up a geospatial data centre. She said poor economic growth and poverty are key challenges in sustaining a geospatial data centre. Ngilu said lack of clear policy guidelines has made individuals duplicate information by collecting already existing data. She said the Lands Ministry has already marked Nairobi and Lamu digitally.
Regional Centre for Mapping and Regional Development director general Dr Hussein Farah said the initiative will enable sharing of information that is held by different data collection agencies. This will save on time and resources and avoid duplication of data. He said KNSDI will ensure that data received from collecting agents and other stakeholders meet the required standards.
The need for a central data centre was first initiated in 2001 but failed to kick off until 2010 when KNSDI got a budget. KNSDI works with other stakeholders including the Survey of Kenya, Metrological Department, physical planning department, Central Bureau of Statistics, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, among others.
Lack of a legal framework has scared away private data collectors who feel they will be exploited and risk losing patents if they submit information to KNSDI.
—Adopted from The Star–


China: Seven deaths after inoculation with a hepatitis B vaccine

Chinese health authorities are investigating after seven infants died following inoculation with a hepatitis B vaccine, state media reported on Monday. State news agency Xinhua said that of the seven deaths from the hepatitis B vaccine in the latest case, four were in the southern province of Guangdong. The other cases were in the provinces of Hunan and Sichuan. The official China Daily said that all hospitals using the vaccine, made by Shenzhen-based BioKangtai, had been ordered to take it off their shelves while the Health Ministry investigates the company’s products and the deaths.

The company said in a statement last week, carried by state media, said that it rigorously followed safety rules but that they were testing the batches suspected of causing the deaths. Many Chinese people are suspicious that the government tries to cover up bad news about health problems, despite assurances of transparency. In 2003, the government initially tried to cover-up the outbreak of the SARS virus.


GSK to stop paying doctors in major marketing overhaul

GlaxoSmithKline will stop paying doctors for promoting its drugs and scrap prescription targets for its marketing staff – a first for an industry battling scandals over its sales practices, and a challenge for its peers to follow suit.

Britain’s biggest drugmaker also said on Tuesday it would stop payments to healthcare professionals for attending medical conferences as it tries to persuade critics it is addressing conflicts of interest that could put commercial interests ahead of the best outcome for patients.

The move may force other companies to act, since the entire drugs industry has been under fire for aggressive marketing tactics in recent years.

“Where GSK leads we must hope that other companies will follow,” Fiona Godlee, editor of the British Medical Journal and an influential campaigner against undue industry influence in medical practice, told Reuters.

“But there is a long way to go if we are to truly to extricate medicine from commercial influence. Doctors and their societies have been too ready to compromise themselves.”

GlaxoSmithKline’s GSK.L move comes amid a major bribery investigation in China, where police have accused it of funnelling up to 3 billion yuan ($494 million) to travel agencies to facilitate bribes to boost its drug sales.

However, the company said the measures were not directly related to its Chinese problems and were rather part of a broad effort to improve transparency.

In the United States, the industry’s biggest market by far, many companies have run into conflicts over improper sales tactics and GSK reached a record $3-billion settlement with the U.S. government last year over charges that it provided misleading information on certain drugs.

A number of other firms have taken some steps to clean up their marketing practices and companies are being forced to disclose payments to doctors under U.S. healthcare law.

Similar laws requiring firms to make public the names of doctors they have paid will take effect in Europe from the start of 2016.


Woman in China dies from new strain of bird flu – Xinhua

A 73-year-old woman in China has died from a new strain of bird flu, the H10N8 virus, the Xinhua state news agency reported on Wednesday.

Xinhua cited unidentified experts as saying that the case in Nanchang, the capital of the landlocked southeastern province of Jiangxi, was an individual one and the virus had a low risk of spreading to humans.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention had identified the strain as the H10N8 avian influenza virus, Xinhua said.

The Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) did not have any information about the virus on its website. A WHO spokeswoman said a statement would be issued later on Wednesday.

The woman died on Dec. 6 due to respiratory failure and shock, Xinhua said. She had sought treatment at a hospital in late November.

She had visited a live poultry market and was exposed to the live poultry business, Xinhua said, adding that people who had had close contact with her had not exhibited any abnormal symptoms.

China is at the beginning of its traditional flu season, and has long had a problem with bird flu.

The H7N9 strain of bird flu emerged this year in China and has infected at least 139 people in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, killing 45 of them.

Experts say there is no evidence of any easy or sustained human-to-human transmission of H7N9.

But a scientific analysis of probable transmission of the H7N9 virus from person to person, published in August, gave the strongest indication yet that it can at times jump between people and so could potentially cause a human pandemic.

Source: Reuters


U.N. told up to 500 killed in South Sudan clashes -diplomats

The United Nations received reports from local sources in South Sudan on Tuesday that between 400 and 500 people had been killed and up to 800 wounded in the latest violence, and the government said it had arrested 10 politicians in connection with a “foiled coup”.

“Two hospitals have recorded between 400 and 500 dead and (up to) 800 wounded,” a diplomat in New York said on condition of anonymity, citing an estimate United Nations peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous gave during a closed-door briefing for the 15-member body.

Another diplomat confirmed Ladsous’ remarks, adding that the United Nations was not in a position to verify the figures.

Earlier on Tuesday, a South Sudanese health ministry official told Reuters that at least 26 people were dead after fighting in Juba between rival groups of soldiers from Sunday night into Monday morning. Sporadic gunfire and blasts continued up to Tuesday evening.

The Juba government said it had arrested 10 major political figures and was hunting for its former vice president, accusing him of leading a failed coup in the oil-producing country’s capital, where gunfire rang out for a second day.

The prominence of the names, including former finance minister Kosti Manibe among those who had been detained, underlined the size of the rift in Africa’s newest state, less than 2-1/2 years after it seceded from Sudan.

The United States urged its citizens to leave the country immediately, and said it was suspending normal operations at its embassy.

White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice in a post on Twitter said, “Deeply, deeply concerned by violence in South Sudan,” and the White House said President Barack Obama was getting briefings on the situation.

President Salva Kiir, dressed in military fatigues, said on television on Monday that forces loyal to former vice president Riek Machar, whom he sacked in July, had attacked an army base in a bid to seize power.

South Sudan is one of the poorest and least developed countries in Africa despite its oil reserves, and it is plagued by ethnic fighting.

The rift at the heart of its political elite will dismay oil companies that had been counting on a period of relative stability after South Sudan’s independence so they could step up exploration. France’s Total and some largely Asian groups, among them China’s CNPC, have interests there.

It will also be closely watched by South Sudan’s neighbours, which include some of the continent’s most promising economies, including Ethiopia and Kenya.

After its meeting on the crisis in New York, the U.N. Security Council issued a statement saying it “urged all parties to immediately cease hostilities, exercise restraint and refrain from violence and other actions that could exacerbate tensions.”

French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud, president of the council this month, told reporters the council would meet again in coming days on the upsurge in violence in South Sudan.


Kiir and Machar are from different ethnic groups that have clashed in the past. Machar leads a dissident faction inside the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and was planning to run for the presidency.

Fighting erupted outside his compound in Juba on Tuesday, but his whereabouts were unknown, foreign affairs spokesman Mawien Makol Arik told Reuters. Machar has so far not released a statement.

The government on Tuesday accused him of being the “coup leader” and listed four other wanted men, including Pagan Amum, the SPLM’s former Secretary General and the country’s main negotiator in a prolonged oil dispute with Sudan.

“Those who are still at large will be apprehended,” Information Minister Michael Makuei said in a statement on a government website. He said he believed they had fled to an area north of the capital.

The 10 officials had been arrested “in connection with the foiled coup attempt,” the statement said.

Around 16,000 people had taken refuge in U.N. compounds in Juba by noon on Tuesday and the numbers were rising, the United Nations said.

Streets were empty at the start of a dawn-to-dusk curfew, ordered by the president. Mobile phone signals were down for a second day.

“Food and water are an issue for the population as they don’t have fridges or city power so they buy food almost daily,” said one aid worker in Juba, who asked not to be identified. “They haven’t stocked up and are getting worried.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke to Kiir on Tuesday and called for his government to provide an “offer of dialogue to its opponents and to resolve their respective differences peacefully”.

The president, who comes from South Sudan’s dominant Dinka ethnic group, sacked Machar, a Nuer, after mounting public frustration at the government’s failure to deliver tangible improvements in public services and other basic demands.

The government played down suggestions that the conflict had an ethnic element, and said Kiir had met Nuer leaders to dispel the “misleading information” that they were being targeted.

Tensions have been building in the army, broadly along ethnic lines, independently of the Kiir-Machar rivalry, said analysts.

“The personalities involved are clearly important, but we think this is more fundamentally about the SPLA rather than necessarily being completely controlled by the SPLM political figures,” said Cedric Barnes, Crisis Group project director for the Horn of Africa, based in Nairobi.

South Sudan is the size of France but has barely any paved roads. The government’s critics complain it suffers the same ills as old Sudan – corruption, poor public services and repression by the state of opponents and the media.

Source: Reuters


In Cameroon, women “iron” daughters’ breasts to ward off men

When Mick-Sophie Anne started showing signs of puberty at age 10, her mother took a hot stone and firmly pushed it down on her daughter’s breasts in an attempt to flatten her chest.

At dusk, in a small, dark kitchen out of sight of the neighbours, Priscille Dissake would heat the fist-sized stone on a charcoal fire and press Mick-Sophie’s breasts every evening for two months. Dissake’s sister would help by pinning the girl down on the cold, hard floor to stop her running away.

New government research shows that ‘breast ironing,’ as the harmful custom is known, has seen a 50 percent decline since it was first accidentally uncovered during a 2005 survey by the German Technical Cooperation Agency (GTZ) on rape and incest in Cameroon.

A successful nationwide awareness campaign in schools, churches and across media outlets has drawn attention to the harmful physical and psychological consequences. However, despite the work of children’s rights activists, 1.3 million girls are still victims of the brutal practice today.

Mothers do it to try to protect their daughters from premarital sex, early pregnancy and rape.

“Mick-Sophie started developing breasts very early and she was becoming attractive. I wanted to guard her childhood and protect her from men,” said Dissake, 46, speaking in the same kitchen where she had applied the burning stone to her daughter’s body more than 20 years ago.

“I had Mick-Sophie when I was just 14, but her father was never around. It was a really hard time for me and I didn’t want the same thing to happen to my only girl.”

Dissake’s efforts were in vain. By her own account and that of her mother, Mick-Sophie was raped by an uncle at age 13. A year later, she started having sex with a classmate. At 16, she gave birth to her first child. The baby was six weeks premature and died a few hours later.


Although Cameroon is the only country where thorough research has been carried out on breast ironing, rights groups believe the practice is widespread across the region and among the West African diaspora, including in Western countries with stringent child-protection laws.

“We Africans take our culture everywhere we go, so I am sure it is happening in Britain and America too,” said Margaret Nyuydzewira, who was born in Bamenda in northwest Cameroon, where breast ironing is common.

Nyuydzewira co-founded CAWOGIDO, an organization that campaigns against breast ironing in Britain, where 9,600 Cameroonians live according to the last census in 2011.

She said a couple of cases of breast ironing had been reported in Birmingham and London over the past few years, but the prevalence is likely to be far higher.

“People within the practising community know that it is happening, but it is hidden and done at home. It’s like FGM (female genital mutilation) – you know it’s going on, but you will never see anyone doing it,” she said.

“It’s happening in Nigeria, in Burkina Faso, in Chad, in CAR (Central African Republic) and other countries in the region too. They just call it a different name in their local language,” she said.


Breast ironing is a relatively new practice that only began to gain popularity around the 1930s when Cameroonians started moving from their rural homelands to cities in search of jobs, anthropologist and aid worker Flavien Ndonko said.

“In these cities, there was less social control and norms as different cultures mixed freely. Soon, as girls started going to school and finding opportunities outside the household there was more chance of premarital sex,” said Ndonko, who works for GIZ, the German state-owned development agency.

“Meanwhile better hygiene, nutrition and healthcare means that girls are shooting (growing) breasts much earlier, making them look older than they are. The average age of breast growth for girls in Cameroon has dropped from around 13-1/2 years old to just under 12 in the last 100 years.”

As Cameroon remains a deeply conservative nation where getting pregnant outside marriage is frowned upon and abortion is highly restricted, mothers use breast ironing as an unorthodox form of contraception to ensure their daughters don’t fall pregnant and drop out of school.

The most recent social and demographic health survey conducted in Cameroon in 2011 showed that 20 to 30 percent of Cameroonian girls get pregnant before the age of 16 and a third abandon their studies.

These figures could explain an unusual aspect of this practice. The new research found that around 16 percent of girls – especially in the Far North region where there is a tradition of child marriage – try to flatten their own breasts with hot stones or pestles so they can delay their sexual maturity and continue going to school.


Despite what Dissake and other mothers say about their good intentions towards their daughters, they unknowingly risked leaving them with severe physical and psychological problems, health workers say.

The government survey, funded by GIZ, found that a number of respondents had a range of medical problems, including breast cancer.

“We found 20-year-old girls who had already been diagnosed with breast cancer,” Ndonko said. “We don’t know if there is a direct link between the practice and cancer, but it certainly raises suspicions.”

Thirty-two percent of respondents complained about pain in the breasts and 17 percent spoke of cysts and abscesses. Thirteen percent suffered heaviness of the breasts and eight percent permanent deformation, according to the study

The lasting physical scarring and damage can have a long-term psychological impact too, it concluded.

“As the girls sexually mature, they feel they cannot show their breasts to their boyfriends or husbands,” Ndonko said. “Some girls felt so ashamed they were having sex without fully removing their clothes so they can hide their breasts.”

Ndonko coined the term “breast ironing” to try to convey the pain and trauma adolescent girls feel. But both Ndonko and Nyuydzewira believe mothers should not be criminalized but should be informed of the consequences of the practice.

“We should educate them first, and then we should punish them if they continue,” said Nyuydzewira.

Punishing mothers could prove difficult. In many cases, the girls go along with it willingly, believing their mothers are protecting them. But for Nyuydzewira, even if there is not a clear villain, there is a clear victim.

“The responsibility has to lie with the mother because the girls are still children and they are agreeing to do it out of fear and respect,” she said.

In the gloom of her kitchen, Dissake was overwhelmed with guilt. “I meant well. I ask for forgiveness for what I thought was wisdom but turned out to be ignorance,” she said.

“Breast ironing hurts more than childbirth,” said Mick-Sophie Anne. “I forgive my mother, but I’ll never forget it.”

—-Adopted, as is, from Thomson Reuters Foundation—–


Barclays Bank Takes GBP Deposits For New UK Bitcoin Exchange Bit121

Barclays is taking sterling deposits for a new bitcoin exchange, making it the only UK bank to do so currently.

Banks in the UK have avoided working with bitcoin exchanges so far, but customers of new bitcoin exchange Bit121 can deposit their sterling to a Barclays account with a Canary Wharf address.

The account belongs to a payment service provider called PacNet Services Ltd, which Bit121 works with. Barclays therefore does not have a direct relationship with the bitcoin exchange.


Aid agencies paid Al-Shabaab for right to deliver aid

Aid agencies paid Somali militant group Al-Shabaab for permission to deliver aid in areas controlled by the Islamist group during a famine, a report by two think-tanks said on Monday. Harakat Al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabaab) imposed registration and security fees ranging from $500 to $10,000 on humanitarian agencies delivering aid in the areas it controlled. NGOs that paid the fee were also placed under surveillance. Al-Shabaab would force them to hire individuals chosen by the militants who would then monitor their aid work.

“We are the government of this area and responsible for your security; unfortunately, we do not have enough to pay our soldiers, so you should pay us for providing protection,” an aid worker was told by Al-Shabaab, said the report by the Overseas Development Institute and the Mogadishu-based Heritage Institute for Policy Studies.

“Al-Shabaab prohibited agencies from employing Somali women in any capacity or even from making contact with them, with the exception of healthcare provision actions,” according to the study. In case of disobedience, agencies would be banned by the militants, often facing espionage accusations.

CARE and the International Medical Corps were expelled from the Denmark-size region under Al-Shabaab’s control in 2008, accused of providing the US with the information that had killed the group’s first leader, Aden Hashi Ayro. UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) was also expelled, in December 2009, following accusations of bribery and of signposting vital and sensitive areas controlled by the Mujahideen, the report said. In the same year, Al-Shabaab enforced tighter regulations for the agencies working in the areas of Bay and Bakool, pushing 11 conditions and higher payments that could reach $20,000 to be paid twice a year. Subsequently, the World Food Programme withdrew before Al-Shabaab banned it. The Islamist group proscribed 16 international organisations, including several UN agencies, for “illicit activities and misconduct”, the report noted.

Other organisations decided to put up with the conditions in order to assist about 750,000 Somalis affected by the famine in 2011, many living in the militant-controlled region. The organisations had to put more money on the table, with the ‘government in waiting’ (as the group saw itself) taxing them on local aid workers’ salaries, transportation costs, property rentals and other revenue-raising activities.

The association with the aid agencies benefited Al-Shabaab, not only financially, but it also enhanced its image by showing the positives it had to offer to supporters and citizens. The report said that the Islamist group barred aid agencies from engaging in any activities supporting local or traditional leaders outside Al-Shabaab.

The militants currently control south-central Somalia and represent a great obstacle ‘to reaching people in need of assistance’. “Somalia remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers,” the report said.

—–Adopted,as is, from Thomson Reuters——


World’s Largest Bitcoin Exchange BTC China Now Requires ID

Users of the world’s largest bitcoin exchange, BTC China, claim the site now requires them to provide some form of identification to create or use a trading account. Logging into BTC China produces the following message: “In response to a recent policy shift, BTC China now requires users to submit identification or a passport number. Existing users will need to provide this information upon login. We apologise for any inconvenience.”

Despite the ID requirement, there does not seem to be an ID verification process for users outside China. Some users posted on reddit that they were able to continue trading immediately after submitting a number. This move comes after the People’s Bank of China issued clarification on bitcoin’s status. While the Bank appeared to forbid any traditional financial institutions from trading digital currencies themselves, it added that other merchants and bitcoin exchanges should be able to continue with their business, so long as they complied with the necessary KYC and AML regulations.

Mt. Gox, one of the original bitcoin exchanges, and still one of the largest, has required ID with verification for deposits and withdrawals in non-bitcoin currencies since May 2013. Government fears of criminal activity involving large amounts of bitcoin and the abrupt closures of other, smaller exchanges have all led to a general reduction in anonymity for bitcoin users using online trading platforms.


France’s central bank issues a warning against the risks of bitcoin trading

France’s central bank issued a warning against the risks of bitcoin trading. Last week, the bank warned that the price of bitcoin is inherently volatile, and that some users may find it difficult to convert their bitcoins into real money. They also highlighted the fact that bitcoin is anonymous and its unregulated nature made it suitable for money laundering and even sponsoring terrorism. The bank stressed that bitcoin is not a credible investment vehicle yet, and that it does not pose a threat to financial stability, but, importantly, that it also poses a risk for those who choose to invest, mainly due to the fact that it has no intrinsic value.

The Chinese central bank issued a warning along similar lines earlier the same week, citing mass speculation in bitcoin as a source of concern. This is a valid argument backed by many bitcoin supporters who see hoarding and speculation as the biggest threats to the development of a healthy bitcoin economy.

The European Commission does not appear to have a clear stance on bitcoin. The commission insists that all those involved in illegal activities using bitcoin should face penalties, but in essence this position is largely meaningless, as it already applies to ‘regular’ currency.