• 12-year-old pens first book

    Kande Summers pens her first book entitled ‘Going Home: Diary of a Teenage Alien’. The book is written through the adolescent lens of the main character called Liz, who adopts a dystopian and explorative perspective of how an intergalactic war would impact life on earth.

    Kande, 12, is the first in a generation of her family to have written and published a book, which she has achieved at a very young age. As a reserved and curious child, she began reading at a very early age, while attending Oldfield Primary School in Maidenhead, England.

    At the age of 7, she immigrated with her parents to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where she attended English-speaking schools in the emirates of Abu Dhabi, where she began to develop a love of English literature and various writing styles, especially poetry. Influenced by her growing interest in writing, Kande’s first venture into writing began at the age of 10, by virtue of her effervescent younger brother, which inspired her to write a poem entitled ‘My Spirited Little Brother’.

    She has had the good fortune of attending numerous book fairs, with her parents. Her path to writing success began in 2020 after she entered a writing competition, which she chose to write about her mum. She then became motivated by her unexpected win in the writing competition and began the writing process with the support of her parents. 

    Having tasted success, she embarked on a strategy of independent research, in the world of book publishing, eventually finding a suitable publishing company and inexpensive publishing platform. This is what enabled her to publish her very first book, of which she produced the entire content, including all the illustrations. 

    ‘Going Home: Diary of a Teenage Alien’ is now available to purchase on Amazon, in both Kindle and paperback format for those who still love the feel of a book in their hand as well as smell the paper. The book was launched at the 39th staging of the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) 2020 and featured at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair 2021.

    This is where Kande signed copies for readers who were able to get their hands on the book, which sold like hotcakes, due to her popularity at the book fair. SIBF is the largest book fair in the Middle East and Africa, as well as the 4th largest book fair in the world.

    She has managed to secure and sign an undisclosed deal with Kotopia Publishing House of Egypt, to have the Arabic translation of the book published in the summer of 2021. Apart from writing, Kande is also an accomplished artist and performer.

    Buoyed by the success of ‘Going Home: Diary of a Teenage Alien,’ the UAE resident is currently writing her second book and said that she hopes to inspire young people like herself to achieve the impossible that many people have not achieved but only dream of achieving in their lifetime.

    To learn more about Kande’s work, you can follow her on Instagram @royalkween.art and Twitter @ks_summers12.

  • 15 Commonwealth innovators awarded for ground-breaking work on sustainability

    Fifteen individuals and groups have been recognised for making a significant impact on communities, countries and regions of the Commonwealth, by creating innovative solutions to pressing development challenges.

    This year’s winners of the Commonwealth Secretary-General’s Innovation for Sustainable Development Awards each received a trophy, £3,000 in prize money and the opportunity to scale up their innovations in collaboration with partners and mentors across the Commonwealth.

  • 15-Year Old High School Senior Wins Global Math Competition

    Faith Odunsi, a 15-year old Nigerian high school student, has won the 2021 Global Open Mathematics competition.

    She bested contestants from many countries around the world including the U.S., China, Australia, and others. Odunsi excelled in all rounds of the competition and even got to answer more questions than her competitors in the final round. But she said she didn’t really think she would win.

    She said: “I was already tense, so I just smiled. I was too anxious to dance. I was tense because it was a tough competition.” Odunsi managed to win by a 30-point margin, setting a new record. She received a $1,000 prize for winning the contest.

    Currently a senior high school student at the Ambassadors School in Ota Ogun State, she did not let the competition affect her academic activities. She prepared for the contest after class with her teacher who coached her and she also studied at night from 11 pm to 12 am.

    She plans to someday study computer engineering in college.

  • 2021 seen in with New Year's fireworks and light show

    As revellers were not able to ring in the New Year in the usual way because of the coronavirus pandemic, in seeing off 2020, 2021 was celebrated with a fireworks and light display over London that included tributes to NHS staff as people, instead, were told to stay at home. But the 10-minute show over the Thames was broadcasted at midnight. Edinburgh's traditional Hogmanay street party was cancelled, with videos of a drone display released instead.

    The series of videos showed a swarm of 150 lit-up drones over the Scottish Highlands and Edinburgh were released, which organisers said it was the largest drone show ever produced in the UK. Despite the cancellation the Hogmanay celebration - which normally attracts 100,000 people on the city's streets - there were some people who ignored the pleas to stay at home. Crowds of several hundred people gathered at Edinburgh Castle to see in the new year. They sang Auld Lang Syne and danced before eventually dispersing when several police vans and cars pulled on to the castle esplanade.

    Much of the UK saw in the new year while under lockdown rules, with about 44 million people in England - or 78% of the population - in tier four, the top level of restrictions. Mainland Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are also under lockdown.

    On New Year's Eve, Health Secretary Matt Hancock called on people to take "personal responsibility" and stay at home to avoid spreading Covid-19. Light projections lit up the sky over the O2 Arena, in London, including the NHS logo in a heart accompanied by a child's voice saying: "Thank you NHS heroes".

    Captain Sir Tom Moore, who raised £33m for the NHS by walking laps of his garden, was also featured in the display, with an image of him shone over the arena.

    Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he was proud of the show, which he said "paid tribute to our NHS heroes and the way that Londoners continue to stand together".

    "We showed how our capital and the UK have made huge sacrifices to support one another through these difficult times, and how they will continue to do so as the vaccine is rolled out."

    Usually, around 100,000 people pack into the streets around Victoria Embankment to watch the New Year's Eve fireworks. But this year, people were warned not to attend any parties outside their own homes, there were many people around the country who ignored the rules.

    Elsewhere, other forces also broke up parties and handed out hundreds of fines. They included Greater Manchester Police, which issued 105 fixed penalty notices at house parties and larger gatherings. And Leicestershire Police had to issue six on-the-spot £10,000 fines to party organisers.

    In his New Year's message, the Archbishop of Canterbury will say he saw "reasons to be hopeful for the year ahead" despite the "tremendous pain and sadness" brought by 2020.

    The Most Reverend Justin Welby speaks of his experience volunteering as an assistant chaplain at St Thomas' hospital during the pandemic, saying: "Sometimes the most important thing we do is just sit with people, letting them know they are not alone."

    In his message, he says: "This crisis has shown us how fragile we are. It has also shown us how to face this fragility. Here at the hospital, hope is there in every hand that's held, and every comforting word that's spoken.

    "Up and down the country, it's there in every phone call. Every food parcel or thoughtful card. Every time we wear our masks."

  • 300 million unapproved Covid jabs ordered by India

    India has ordered 300 million doses of an unapproved coronavirus vaccine amid a devastating second wave. The unnamed vaccine from Indian firm Biological E is in Phase 3 trials, and had showed "promising results" in the first two phases, the federal government said in a statement.

    The $206m order is the first India has signed for a jab that has not received emergency approval. This comes as the country struggles to speed up its lagging vaccine drive.

    India has administered just over 220 million jabs so far, although much of its 1.4 billion population is now eligible for the vaccine. Less than 15% of the country has received at least one dose of the vaccination, largely because of a severe shortage of doses.

    Although Covid case numbers have been dropping, India is still adding more than 100,000 news cases a day. It has recorded more than 340,000 deaths from the virus so far, but experts say the number is vastly underestimated.

    India's federal government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been criticised for not placing huge orders ahead of time with either Indian or foreign vaccine makers. India is currently giving three vaccines - Covishield, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), and Covaxin, developed by Indian firm Bharat Biotech and the government's Indian Council of Medical Research, and Sputnik V, which is developed by Moscow's Gamaleya Institute.

    Compared to the single order from Biological E for 300 million doses, India brought about 350 million doses from both Covishield and Covaxin between January and May. India's drug regulator gave Covaxin emergency approval in January before trials were completed - data on its efficacy is yet to be released.

    The new vaccine from Biological E is "likely to be available in the next few months," according to the government. Mr Modi's government is racing to shore up its vaccine stocks as Covid numbers dip, hoping to be well-prepared for what experts say is an inevitable third wave.

    India's vaccine drive, which had a promising start in January, began to slow down because vaccine hesitancy crept in as cases dropped. But numbers soon rose again in a deadly second wave that saw hospitals falling short of beds and crematoriums running short of space.

    Hoping to stem the tide, the government threw open the drive in May to everyone above the age of 18 but India's two vaccine makers - Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech - could not guarantee supply at that scale. But shortages persist and have also led to vast inequalities in access with rural areas, the poor and women falling behind in the line for jabs.

  • 6-year old the youngest to have products sold in Walmart

    Lily Adeleye is once again making history at the age of 6. As the founder of Lily Frilly, a popular girl's fashion brand, she is now the youngest entrepreneur to have a brand being sold in Walmart stores. It comes just barely one year she made history as the youngest person to have her products sold in Target stores nationwide.

    Her Florida-based company recently launched exclusive designs of the brand's products into 1,102 Walmart stores and on their website. The new colourful and stylish hair bow designs include Gold & Glitter, Galaxy Girl, Safari Party, and Candy Rush.

    Lily and her mother, Courtney Adeleye, who is also an entrepreneur, are both excited about their second historic retailer launch. They hope the brand could inspire other little girls to dream big and be confident to achieve it, while at the same time keeping their cuteness.

    "Lily Frilly started out as a brand my daughter Lily and myself created, as I have always believed it's important to let your children follow their passions, whether that be art, sports or in this case, growing a business," Courtney said in a statement.

    "Now, Lily Frilly has become so much more than just that – it's become a brand children love, as well as a symbol of inspiration and confidence for young girls as well as for the black community. It's amazing to see what kids can do, and we're so glad Walmart is providing this platform to give Lily Frilly the room and attention it warrants."

  • A controversial Nile dam might fix Sudan floods

    Unprecedented flooding in Sudan this year led to the deaths of more than 100 people and affected 875,000 others. Entire residential neighbourhoods were destroyed while power and water supplies were disrupted when the River Nile recorded its highest level in living memory.


    Some experts said that if the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, upstream on the Blue Nile tributary, had been fully operational, the effect on Sudan would have been less disastrous.


    Ethiopia started building the dam in its northern highlands, from where 85% of the Nile's waters flow, in 2011 and this year the reservoir behind the dam started to fill.


    When it is fully operation in several years' time it will become Africa's largest hydroelectric plant. But it has been fraught with controversy as Egypt, which is downstream, fears the $4bn (£3bn) dam will greatly reduce its access to water.


    Negotiations, which have not reached a deal, are centred on how fast to fill the dam - and Sudan has been stuck in the middle.


    Salman Mohamed, a Sudanese expert on international water law and policy, says Egypt's Aswan dam shows how flood waters can be regulated effectively on The Nile.


    "We lost people, and properties of billions of pounds, but look at Egypt - they haven't lost a single seedling because they normally keep the flood water in their high dam and we don't have one like that, so the Ethiopian dam could have saved all that," he said.


    Sudan does have eight dams on The Nile.


    "But our dams are too small," says Dr Mohamed, who is a fellow at the International Water Resources Association. "Egypt has managed to use the flood water it collected for its agricultural projects in the desert."


    During fraught talks over the filling of the dam and how much water it should release - which recently restarted under the auspices of the African Union - Sudan has tended to side with Egypt. This stance was adopted under the government of former President Omar al-Bashir - and the generals who remain part of the transitional government now ruling Sudan after the 2019 coup are strong allies of Egypt.


    Sudan's negotiator under Bashir, Ahmed El-Mufti, had also raised concerns about safety and security of the dam. He said that if it was destroyed, it could damage the entire region, including Sudan's capital, Khartoum - where the White and Blue Nile meet. In fact Sudanese officials are walking a tight rope to avoid any conflict.


    This was not helped last week when US President Donald Trump said - whilst on a joint phone call to the Sudanese and Israeli prime ministers about the restoration of their countries' relations - that Egypt might "blow up" the dam. Asmaa Abdallah, Sudan's transitional foreign minister until July, has always maintained dialogue is the only solution.


    Sudan wants to have a peaceful resolution as it can see the benefits of the mega dam - not only in terms of regulating flood water, which is often a problem.


    According to Dr Mohamed, it will also enable Sudan's own dams to generate more electricity as well as buying cheap and clean electricity from Ethiopia. He says it will also allow for three growing seasons - at the moment crops are harvested around October or November - but if the flow is regulated, farmers will be able to plant and irrigate more often. In years of drought, when usually there is very little water - the dam would ensure a supply.


    As it is Sudan only uses about 12 billion cubic metres or 64% of the water it is entitled to annually under the 1959 treaty signed with Egypt over sharing the resources of the Nile, says Dr Mohamed. Given that the UN says about 10 million people in Sudan are facing food shortages this year - partly caused by coronavirus lockdown measures - he can only see the long-term benefits of the mega dam project.


    Opinion on the streets in and around the capital tends to be more in sympathy with Ethiopia.



  • A five-second video brings India and Pakistan together

    A five-second video has done the impossible - brought social media users in India and Pakistan together. When Pakistani video creator Dananeer Mobin uploaded the video on her Instagram page on 6 February, little did she know that she would become an overnight internet star in both nations.

    On the face of it, there is nothing special about it. She says: "This is our car, this is us, and this is our party". The video shows a bunch of young people enjoying themselves. And that is where the answer lies. When the news has been mostly about death and despair recently, the happy faces in the video cheered people up in the two countries - who are usually at odds on most things because of the decades of sometimes deadly animosity between the two nations.

    "What could be better than sharing love across the border at a time when there is so much trouble and so much division around the world," she said. "I'm glad my neighbours and I are partying together now because of my video."

    Dananeer Mobin, 19, whose Instagram bio says "call me Geena", is a social media influencer from Pakistan's northern city of Peshawar. Her posts usually centre around fashion and make-up.

    In the viral video, she says the line in her native Urdu "Yeh humari car hai, Yeh hum hain, aur yeh humari pawri ho rahi hai" (you already know the translation!), swinging the camera around as she speaks to the viewer. She uses the English word for "party" but pronounces it "pawrty".

    She explains in text below the video that she's poking fun at "burgers", who come to visit the northern mountainous parts of Pakistan on holiday. Pakistanis use the term "burger" to describe the rich elites who may have studied or worked outside Pakistan and speak with an American or British-tinged accent. The burger was very expensive when it first came to Pakistan, as opposed to the local version - the humble bun kebab.

    "It's not my style to talk like this in burger style…. I did it just to make you all (my Instagram followers) laugh," Dananeer says. She even says in the post that this is meme-worthy content. And she was clearly right.

    Far from being offended, Pakistanis starting recreating the short clip and doing what Pakistani Twitter does best: making memes. It wasn't long before some high-profile actors and cricketers got involved.

    The Pakistan Cricket Board shared a video of the Pakistani national team doing their version of the video after winning a series against South Africa. It also saw an explosion in popularity across the border after an Indian DJ took her phrase "ye humari pawri hori hai" (we are partying) and turned it into a catchy song.

    Yashraj Mukhate, who has taken meme-able videos and turned them into songs before, gave a shout out to the "pawri girl @dananeerr".

    Have a listen.

    Soon, Indian social media users also jumped into the "memefest". And then the floodgates opened - from brands to police officials, all of them joined the "pawri" mood. And here is India's Press Information Bureau wading in to tell people about their fact checking initiative.

    The police in India's Uttar Pradesh state also joined in to tell people that they could be called in case a "pawri" in the neighbourhood was disturbing their sleep. But as everyone gets in on the action, Dananeer would like to make one thing clear.

    "I know how to say party - and I know it is not pawri," she says.

  • A Mardi Gras with no Bars Open in New Orleans

    New Orleans announced on Friday that it will be ordering the closure of all indoor and outdoor bars and banning to-go drinks starting through Mardi Gras day today. During a news conference, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell called the large crowds seen on Bourbon Street last weekend "unacceptable."

    Cantrell referred to the crowds as superspreader events, calling them dangerous and a risk to lives and the progress the city has made in stopping the spread of Covid-19. In addition to indoor and outdoor bar closures, Cantrell said bars operating as restaurants will also be closed to the public. Packaged liquor sales will be prohibited in the French Quarter and the Central Business District, and all sales of to-go drinks will be banned during this time.

    "I think we were all hopeful that we could strike the necessary balance for a safe and fun Mardi Gras, but given these new variants, the recent large crowds in the Quarter and the potential for even larger crowds this weekend and as we move into the weekend of Mardi Gras, it has become very apparent that it is hard to do" Cantrell said. The city's website also cited last year's Mardi Gras celebrations, where community spread of coronavirus caused New Orleans hospitals to reach capacity.

    The mayor said she would rather be accused of doing too much than doing too little when it comes to the health and safety of the residents, especially hospitality workers. The Mardi Gras closures have many businesses frustrated. Scott Wood, who owns Courtyard Brewery in the Lower Garden District, said this is probably the seventh or eighth time he's shuttered his business during the pandemic.

    "The city had known Mardi Gras was going to be a problem for months and had no clear plan disseminated. For them to spring this on us a week out, while Mardi Gras festivities are already in swing, is unfortunate and frustrating," Wood said via email. The new restrictions involving bars and alcohol sales will be in place from 6 a.m. today, through 6 a.m. Wednesday, February 17.

    The Mardi Gras restrictions also include limiting vehicle and pedestrian traffic at certain times on busy streets including Bourbon Street, Frenchman Street and Decatur Street.

    Parades, second lines and other gatherings were already prohibited under the current Modified Phase Two restrictions in the city. Outdoor gatherings are limited to 25 people and indoor gatherings may include no more than 10 individuals. Masks and social distancing are required.

  • A message of peace delivered to Ethiopia by fellow African leaders

    African leaders speaking at the inauguration celebration for Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed called for “peace” following his election victory. They also spoke about bringing the nation together at the public ceremony in the capital, Addis Ababa.

  • A Tribute to Chief Chimezie Francis Okwudiri Diele

    Widely known as CBN (which denotes central bank of Nigeria), this name came to the fact that he, Chief Francis Diele, worked with the central bank of Nigeria.

    He once worked at the head office in Abuja as the deputy director of human resources, before subsequently being transferred to Portharcourt (Ph) as the branch controller. There he worked until his death.

    Called ‘a father’, ‘an angel’ ‘a friend’, ‘a rock’, and a man fiercely loved by all, he stood tall and sure, whose strength and values were inestimable.

    A father to all, Chief was seen as the only one who people felt they could count on whose legacies and foot prints will never be departed from.

    He left a big hole in people’s hearts. God used him to be a vessel to a source of joy and inspiration - not just to his people’s class but to all who came across him. He was strong through to the very end.

    Although the world is full of pains, God has used him here on earth to be a pillar of strength. In him a king was seen by all.

    This, by many, is not end, but a time to soar with the angles and praise the Lord. He will be seen again, by his followers, once their own race is accomplished here on earth.

    Chief Diele, Chimezie Okwudiri Francis was a man of honour, who will watch over all so they can feel his presence always.

    Losing him now just doesn’t seem fair. On behalf of 2018 class (PH.D) Esut Nigeria.

    by Emeka Alex Akwaeze

  • A woman gives birth to nine babies

    A 25-year-old Malian woman has given birth to nine babies - two more than doctors had detected during scans.

    Halima Cisse gave birth to the nonuplets in Morocco. Mali's government flew her there for specialist care. A woman who had eight babies in the US in 2009 holds the Guinness World Record for the most children delivered at a single birth to survive.

    Two sets of nonuplets have previously been recorded - one born to a woman in Australia in 1971 and another to a woman in Malaysia in 1999 - but none of the babies survived more than a few days. World record holder Nadya Suleman's octuplets have grown up and are now 12 years old.

    She conceived them through in vitro fertilisation. Mali's health minister, Fanta Siby, congratulated the medical teams in both countries for the happy outcome.

    Ms Cisse's pregnancy became a subject of fascination in Mali - even when it was thought she was only carrying septuplets. Doctors in the West African nation had been concerned for her welfare and the chances of the babies' survival - so the government intervened.

    After a two-week stay in a hospital in Mali's capital, Bamako, the decision had been made to move Ms Cisse to Morocco on 30 March, Dr Siby said. After five weeks at the Moroccan clinic, she gave birth by Caesarean section on Tuesday, the minister said.

    Her husband Adjudant Kader Arby is still in Mali with the couple's older daughter, but he says he has been in constant touch with his wife in Morocco and says he is not worried about the family's future. He said: "I'm very happy.

    “My wife and the babies - five girls and four boys - are doing well. God gave us these children.” He said the family has been overwhelmed by the support they have received.

    “Even the Malian authorities called to express their joy. I thank them… Even the president called me."

    The mother and her new nine babies are expected to return home soon.

  • Abdulrazak Gurnah announced Nobel Literature Prize 2021 Winner

    Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah has been awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize for Literature. The prize is awarded by the Swedish Academy and is worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.14m / £840,000).

  • Abolitionists who fled slavery in US honoured with Blue Plaque

    A married couple who escaped slavery in the US and fled to England to campaign for abolition have been honoured with a Blue Plaque.

    Ellen and William Craft travelled 1,000 miles from Georgia to freedom in the north, with Ellen disguised as a white man and William as her servant.

  • Afghanistan female surgeon 'General Suhaila' dies

    Suhaila Siddiq, Afghanistan's only female lieutenant general and one of a small number of women to hold a ministerial post in the country, died in hospital at the age of 72. She had Alzheimer's disease for about six years.

    The country's top leaders, medical professionals and women were among those mourning her death.

    Abdullah Abdullah, a former de facto prime minister and foreign minister, said her role in establishing a place for women in the fields of medicine, military and in wider society had been "commendable and undeniable".

    "She was a pioneer for countless others in uniform and will continue to be an inspiration," one social media user wrote.

    "Your memories and your entire life has been a true inspiration to all of us," another said.

    Ms Siddiq was born in 1948 in Afghanistan's capital Kabul to a wealthy family.

    She studied medicine in the city and completed her medical training in Moscow before returning to Afghanistan to work as a doctor.

    Ms Siddiq first came to prominence during the Soviet era, when she was awarded the title of general by the pro-Moscow government. She soon became widely known in the country by the name "General Suhaila", and built a reputation as the country's most respected surgeon.

    Her work saw her spend decades in Kabul's 400-bed military hospital, where her abdominal surgery was credited with saving hundreds of lives.

    She also played a key role in keeping the hospital going in the 1990s, when rocket attacks killed and injured thousands.

    Her former colleague and student Dr Yaqoob Noorzai said that she would regularly distribute her salary among the workers in need in the hospital.

    "She was a serious defender of the rights of her colleagues," he said

    When the Taliban took power in 1996, women's rights in Afghanistan were eroded.

    During their rule, the Taliban barred women from education and employment and imposed their own austere version of Islamic laws. But months after leaving her job, Ms Siddiq said the Taliban took the extraordinary step of asking her to return, realising they needed her surgical skills.

    "They needed me and they asked me to come back," she recalled.

    She agreed, but only on the condition that she and her sister did not have to wear the all-covering burka.

    "It was not exactly a victory for me, but they certainly needed me to be there. Even when I went to Kandahar (the birthplace of the Taliban) I never wore a burka," she told the Guardian.

    She was also, however, dismissive of emphasis being placed on the burka.

    "The first priority should be given to education, primary school facilities, the economy and reconstruction of the country but the West concentrates on the burka and whether the policies of the Taliban are better or worse than other regimes," she was quoted as telling reporters in late 2001.

    After the fall of the Taliban, she made her move into government, when she was appointed minister of public health.

    She was one of two women ministers appointed to the country's post-Taliban government.

    As minister, she oversaw the vaccination of millions of children against polio, and spoke about the need to tackle HIV and Aids.

    She asked the UN to help train female medical workers, and the UN Population Fund to help coordinate efforts to improve the reproductive health of Afghan women.

    After finishing her role as minister in 2004, she returned to her medical work.

    Dr Noorzai said that when colleagues used to ask her why she had not married, she said it was because she was "in love with her profession and her profession was her life".

    She was 72

  • Africa declared free of wild polio in 'milestone'

    Africa is to be declared free from wild polio by the independent body, the Africa Regional Certification Commission.

    Polio usually affects children under five, sometimes leading to irreversible paralysis. Death can occur when breathing muscles are affected by the paralysis. There is no cure but the polio vaccine protects children for life.

    The disease is now only found in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nigeria is the last African country to be declared free from the disease, having accounted for more than half of all global cases less than a decade ago.

    Polio is a virus which spreads from person to person, usually through contaminated water. It can lead to paralysis by attacking the nervous system. Two out of three strains of wild polio virus have been eradicated worldwide. On Tuesday, Africa is to be declared free of the last remaining strain of wild poliovirus.

    More than 95% of Africa's population has now been immunised. This was one of the conditions that the Africa Regional Certification Commission set before declaring the continent free from wild polio. Now only the vaccine-derived polio virus remains in Africa.
    This is a rare form of the virus that mutates from the oral polio vaccine and can then spread to under-immunised communities.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified a number of these cases in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic and Angola. Without a cure a vaccine developed in 1952 by Dr Jonas Salk gave hope that children could be protected from the disease. In 1961, Albert Sabin pioneered the oral polio vaccine which has been used in most national immunisation programmes around the world.

    In 1996 poliovirus paralysed more than 75,000 children across the continent - every country was affected. That year Nelson Mandela launched the "Kick Polio Out of Africa" programme, mobilising millions of health workers who went village-to-village to hand-deliver vaccines.

    Since 1996 nine billion oral polio vaccines have been provided, averting an estimated 1. The last communities at risk of polio live in some of the most complicated places to deliver immunisation campaigns.

    Nigeria is the last country in Africa to have reported a case of wild polio - in Borno state in Nigeria's remote north-east, and the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurrection, in 2016. At the time it was a frustrating set-back as the country had made huge progress and had gone two years without any cases being identified.

    Outside Nigeria, the last place to have seen a case of polio was in the Puntland region of Somalia in 2014. Conflict with the Islamist militant group Boko Haram has made parts of Nigeria particularly difficult to reach, Borno state in particular.

    More than two million people have been displaced by the fighting. Frontline workers, 95% of whom are women, managed to navigate areas of conflict like Lake Chad by boat and deliver vaccines to remote communities. Widespread rumours and misinformation about the vaccine have also slowed down immunisation efforts.

    In 2003, Kano and a number of other northern states suspended immunisations following reports by Muslim religious leaders that the vaccine was contaminated with an anti-fertility agent as part of an American plot to make Muslim women infertile. Laboratory tests by Nigerian scientists dismissed the accusations. Vaccine campaigns resumed the following year, but the rumours persisted. In 2013 nine female polio vaccinators were killed in two shootings thought to be carried out by Boko Haram at health centres in Kano. It has taken decades to achieve eradication and overcome suspicion around the vaccine.
    Winning the trust of communities has been key.

    Misbahu Lawan Didi, president of the Nigerian Polio Survivors Association, says that the role of survivors has been crucial in persuading people to accept the campaign. "Many rejected the polio vaccine, but they see how much we struggle to reach them, sometimes crawling large distances, to speak to them. We ask them: 'Don't you think it is important for you to protect you child not to be like us?'"

    From polio survivors, to traditional and religious leaders, school teachers, parents, volunteers and health workers, a huge coalition developed to defeat polio. Working together they travelled to remote communities to immunise children. Polio, or poliomyelitis, mainly affects children aged under five.

    Initial symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness of the neck and pains in the limbs. It also invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis. Among those paralysed, 5% to 10% of people die when their breathing muscles become immobilised.

    Polio can be easily imported into a country that is polio free and from there it can spread rapidly among under-immunised populations. This happened in Angola, which despite decades of civil war, defeated polio in 2001.

    The country remained free from polio for four years until 2005 when a number of cases were thought to have been brought in from outside the country. The WHO says that it is important countries remain vigilant and avoid complacency until there is global eradication.
    If they let down their defence by failing to vaccinate, then wild polio could once again begin to spread quickly.

    For all types of polio to be eliminated, including vaccine-derived polio, vaccination efforts will need to continue alongside surveillance, to protect children from being paralysed by the disease in the future.

  • Africa urged not to destroy out-of-date Covid jabs

    The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Africa Centres for Disease Control (Africa CDC) have urged African countries not to destroy Covid-19 vaccines that have expired.

    The call comes after Malawi and South Sudan said they would discard more than 70,000 doses of the AstraZeneca jab that were out of date

    "Our advice would be that countries should ensure that they store the vaccines safely as we continue to study and try to get definitive advise on whether the vaccines can be used for longer," the WHO's Africa regional director Matshidiso Moeti said.

    The Africa CDC says it has spoken to the manufacturer, Serum Institute of India (SII), and has been reassured that the vaccines are still safe.

    "The vaccine landscape is extremely challenging and the advise we got from SII is that the vaccines can still be used even after nine months," John Nkegasong, the head of Africa CDC said.

    Many vaccines can be used up to 36 months after manufacture, but because Covid-19 jabs are so new, there is not enough data to prove their effectiveness over longer periods.

    Whatever the guidance, the final decision rests with national drug regulators.

    However, the issue will further increase the challenges around persuading people on the continent to get vaccinated.

    The rollout of Covid-19 vaccines in Africa has been slow, partly because of supply issues and scepticism about the jab.

    Out of 55 African countries, 41 have benefitted from the delivery of vaccines via the global-sharing scheme Covax. Seven are yet to receive their first batch.

  • Africans ‘will run out of food in lockdown’

    More than two-thirds of people surveyed in as much as 20 countries in Africa said that it would be likely that they would run out of food and water if they had to stay at home under lockdown.

    Just over half of the people who responded said that they would run out of money.

    The research carried out by The African Centre for Disease and Prevention was conducted to help governments to map out further policies on how to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

    It warns that if no measures are adapted to local needs, there is a high risk of unrest, rebellion and violence.

    The research was conducted in 28 cities in 20 countries to assess the impact of the life-some areas.

    Several African countries which had responded swiftly to the coronavirus threat are now easing restrictions.

    The report said; ‘The proliferation of peaceful protests demanding government relief is evidence of the strain that some people are already under and highlights gaps in current responses.’

    It did, however, find that there was currently general support for restrictions that had been put in place.

    Opposition was highest to measures such as closing workplaces and shutting down markets.

    Matshidiso Moeti, Africa director of WHO (World Health Organisation), said: “What we’ve learned from Ebola and other outbreaks is that countries need decentralise the response to the community level and increase their capacity to identify and diagnose cases”.

    Governments in Africa have been facing a dilemma when deciding how best to respond to the pandemic.

    Millions need to leave their homes every day to go and work to feed their families.

    ‘Countries must now find a balance between reducing transmission while preventing social and economic disruption’, the report said.

    To date, Africa has recorded nearly 50,000 cases of coronavirus, with under 2,000 fatalities.



  • AI and 5G researchers to map remote island wildlife as part of international climate action initiative

    A new climate action research initiative will use 5G, AI and data science to map wild plants and ancient forests on remote Indonesian islands, using experience gathered from a similar biotechnology project in the UK’s legendary Sherwood Forest.

    A research team from Birmingham City University, in collaboration with the University of Tokyo in Japan and Gorontalo State University in Indonesia, will deploy cutting edge technology across the Wallacea series of islands located between Asia and Australia to record biodiversity and sources of bioenergy, and identify routes for ecological management.

    The British Council-funded six month initiative is led by Associate Professors Taufiq Asyhari and Adel Aneiba at Birmingham City University, and builds on their experience delivering the Connected Forests 5G project to improve connectivity, environmentalism and tourism in the royal forest in Nottinghamshire, UK, known for its associations with the legend of Robin Hood.

    The researchers will report interim findings at the UN’s Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), hosted in Glasgow in early November 2021.

    COP26 will bring together heads of state, climate experts and campaigners to agree coordinated action to tackle climate change. As holders of the COP26 Presidency, the UK is committed to working with all countries and joining forces with civil society, companies and people on the frontline of climate change to inspire action ahead of the conference.

    The project seizes the opportunities around ‘net zero’ through a newly formed international collaboration, leveraging expertise in AI-driven smart environmental know-how 5G, AI sensing, energy and process integration, and forestry plant sciences.

    Project lead Associate Professor Taufiq Asyhari said, “We are thrilled to be working with international partners on this ground breaking project that sees the application of world leading digital technologies in areas of the world that are facing significant environmental challenges. The project offers a fantastic opportunity to share interim findings at COP26 in the UK and produces a powerful testament to international collaboration on the Climate Emergency.”

    Named after Alfred Russell Wallace FRS,  a British naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist and biologist, Wallacea - in the mainly Indonesian archipelago - is known for its mega biodiversity. Wallace was best known for independently conceiving the theory of evolution through natural selection. His papers on the subject were jointly published with some of Charles Darwin’s writings in 1858, which prompted Darwin to publish On the Origin of Species.

    Scaling-up Indonesian Bioenergy Potential through Assessment of Wallacea’s Plant Species: Data-Driven Energy Harvesting and Community-Centred Approach, A British Council COP26 Trilateral Research & Innovation Initiative, is one of only two one-off grants offered by UK Government in this research area.

    Professor Julian Beer, Deputy Vice Chancellor at Birmingham City University said, “As the effects of climate change increase dramatically, the application of digital technologies can contribute to a more sustainable future. This work is very much in tune with our vision and longstanding commitment to social responsibility, and our tradition of harnessing entrepreneurial and knowledge leadership in digital innovation.” 

    Professor Hanifa Shah, Pro Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean of the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment at Birmingham City University said, “It is thrilling to see that our growing expertise in 5G, AI and Future Telecommunications is being recognized internationally. We believe this project will strengthen the UK’s position as a research base for producing outcomes that impact economic and social welfare in developing economies. I am pleased to see this building on the collaboration and knowledge leadership stemming from the £10m 5G Connected Forest project funded by DCMS.”

  • Annual H20 Health Summit Keynote address from Commonwealth Secretary-General The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC

    “It is an honour to be able to speak to you, leaders from across the world, men and women who in the past year have been part of the fight against our common enemy the Covid-19 pandemic.

    “Many of you will have spent sleepless nights and long hours struggling to ensure the safety and future of your people. You will have spent restless days working to hold back the tide of infection and striving to find a way to keep your people, your country, indeed your very society safe. You have shown leadership and I thank you for that.