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Africa Science Media Centre (AfriSMC) Press Briefing
What: Genome Editing Africa: A game changer for cassava improvement for Africa
When: Wednesday 28th April, 2021
Time: 9:00am -10:30am, Abuja, Nigeria or 11:00am -12.30pm (EAT)
Where: Zoom webinar (details below)
You are invited to a press briefing on how Africa is using Genome Editing for crop improvement and biofortification. Case in place is genome editing for cassava which has become a game changer for the crop improvement for Africa.
In the press briefing, the Expert Dr Ihuoma Okwuonu, who has been leading the Cassava improvement program, will spotlight how she has been applying the cutting-edge technologies, such as genome editing, to improve cassava micronutrients, starch content, yields and seed systems in Nigeria.
Cassava is an important staple food and cash crop in many developing countries. It occupies both functional and strategic importance to their economies. The Food and Agriculture Organization has identified a cassava crop in Africa’s agricultural transformation agenda for food security and poverty reduction.
Cassava is a basic staple to more than 500 million people around the world and over 200 million people in Africa depend on it for daily calories. It is a choice food for many families, especially in Nigeria, which is the highest producer of the crop, according to the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Thus, improving the nutritional value of cassava should be ranking highly in Africa’s crop improvement priority list as a sure way of dealing with malnutrition on the continent.
Speaker: Dr Ihuoma Okwuonu
Dr Okwuonu is a Plant Biotechnologist and the Chief Research Scientists at the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) in Umudike, Nigeria. She is the coordinator of the Institute’s Biotechnology Research Programme. She is an alumni of the University of Nigeria (BSc), the University of Jos (MSc), and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (PhD).
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Covid-19 Facts and Myths, Kenyan Experience
Nairobi, 16th April, 2021:-There are high hopes COVID-19 Vaccines will help end the pandemic. However, there have been claims about these vaccines that have received mixed reactions from all quarters some advocating for while others criticizing the vaccines.
Prof Walter Jaoko, Director KAVI-Institute of Clinical Research, speaking during a press briefing by Africa Science Media Center, shed light on the facts and myths around Covid-19 vaccines. Prof Jaoko argued that some of the myths surrounding the Covid-19 vaccines are based in the manner in which the
vaccines were hurriedly developed and approved raising concerns on safety and efficacy.
He said all Covid-19 vaccines being used in the world currently have been tested for safety at various stages from pre-clinical trials to clinical trials. In human beings, the vaccines have gone through 3 phases – phase one focusing on safety; phase two focusing on whether they stimulate responses that can help the body to fight the virus causing Covid-19; and phase three showing that the vaccine works in either preventing people from getting Covid-19, or causing it.
Prof Jaoko explained that the technology being used was not from a scratch but enhanced from previous existing vaccines for past viral disease outbreaks to develop the current ones. “Governments also put more money to help quicken the research and development of the vaccines as pandemic was worldwide concern,” he added
Covid vaccine cannot cause Covid as claimed on social media. The materials used to make the vaccines are made from plasmid and viral vector vaccine and there is no way they can cause Covid.
“It is important note that vaccines are different from medicines. When one takes medicine, it is the medicine itself that fights the disease-causing germ. It is therefore required that it remains in the body for a long time so as to keep fighting the germ. Vaccines on the other hand do not fight the germ but
instead they stimulate the body to produce either antibodies or special white blood cells that fight the germs when the body comes into contact with it,” the KAVI Director explained.
All medicines and vaccines have side effects, he clarified, adding that what was important before a drug or vaccine was registered for use was to ensure that the side effects must be tolerable and not serious. The Covid-19 vaccines being used now have been shown to be safe when they were tested in thousands of people who participated in the trials, he affirmed. However, he clarified that since the vaccines are now being given to millions of people, Scientists do not know if there will be new side effects that were not seen during the trials.
“So far the side effects being experienced were same as in the trials. They include pain and swelling at the vaccination site, feeling tired, fever, muscle ache, headache and nausea not very severe as alleged. These can last a few days and mostly disappear on their own without requiring any treatment,”Director of KAVI-Institute of Clinical Research affirmed.
Concerning the blood clots, Prof Jaoko disclosed that only two vaccines have been associated with them: AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. However, he said that there were still no clear nexus between these vaccines and the blood clot adding that more investigations were needed ascertain the
connection. The possibility blood clots being related to vaccines are very minimal but there are several studies going on to establish if there was any association. People should also weigh between benefits and the risks involved in the vaccines.
In Kenya, there is a number or an App where vaccinated people can give information on reactions, side effects and how they are feeling. So, it is possible to generate information and the database helps in identifying and evaluating unreported adverse reactions.
At KAVI- Institute of Clinical Research, Prof Jaoko said they are involved in pharmacovigilance where the institution follows -up people who have been vaccinated to see how long the immunity lasts. So, for physicians who have been vaccinated, keeps on collecting blood to see whether the immunity responses which have been generated by the vaccines lasts or how long it would last.
About claims that people allergic to certain foods, especially to proteins like eggs should not get vaccinated is not true. The severe allergy Scientists are concern about is a very severe allergy known as Anaphylaxis. Even when one is vaccinated in a health facility, he/she is observed for 15-30 minutes for
any severe reactions to be addressed before they are released, because reactions happen almost immediately.
The myth that the vaccines cause infertility is not true because all the studies done in animals did not show any vaccines affecting reproductive organs of both male and female animals.
He clarified that vaccination does not prevent one from getting Covid-19 as most people think it does. “What has been shown is that vaccines prevent people from getting severe disease that leads to hospitalization and needing oxygen, prevents people from requiring ICU treatment, and therefore prevents death.”
There are vaccines that are given once and some that are given twice at an interval of 21 days and some at an interval of 28 days. This is based on findings of what worked during the clinical trials. The best dose, the best route and best frequency of vaccination is determined during phase 2 clinical trials, he
For AstraZeneca vaccine commonly used in Africa, the intervals between the first and the second doses vary between 6 weeks to 12 weeks. The prolonged intervals allows for effectiveness of the vaccine to build strong immunity to body.
“Every adult should be vaccinated,” Prof Jaoko admitted. However because we do not have enough vaccines to go round, this have to be prioritized,” he explained. Adding: “Priority groups include healthcare workers because of their increased risk of infection, those working in the uniformed forces,teachers, elderly people, those with other disease conditions (Comorbidities) that put them at the risk of getting severe Covid-19 disease, such as those with diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and kidney disease.”
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Africa Needs to Scale Up Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Capacity
Nairobi, 8th April 2021:-Unless Africa ramps up its capacity to mitigate and adapt to climate change, it will be hit the hardest with its effects.
Speaking on How Africa can mitigate and adapt to climate change effects during a media briefing held by Africa Science Media Centre (AfriSMC), Prof. Shem Wandiga, a retired professor of Chemistry and former Acting Director Institute for Climate Change and Adaptation (ICCA), said that African governments are failing to prioritize climate change mitigation and adaptation activities, citing the low investment in technology development and weak financial transparency in some of the countries.
“African governments must have robust action plans to reduce emission of greenhouse gases by venturing into new innovations, including the use of electric vehicles, solar energy, geothermal energy, wind energy and hydropower,” he said
Other innovations Prof Wandiga said should be prioritized include increased efficient use of energy in domestic buildings, transport systems, cycling and sharing of rides to work places.
Focusing on energy, he noted that only three countries- South Africa, Morocco and Egypt- have major energy projects of over 100MW power. The rest have the “curse of power project agreements” characterized by missed deadlines and overpricing while energy consumers complain of being burdened by high cost of electricity by power companies, Prof. Wandiga said.
The African energy situation is so dire yet only 3,106 solar power plant projects worth 236,211 MW are operating in Africa. The good news is that there are 249 projects are being constructed worth 42,649MW while 2,324 projects worth 294,096MW are in planning stages.
Currently the continent has five biggest solar power plant projects namely, Noor Solar complex in Morocco, Benban Solar Park in Egypt, De Aar Solar Power, Ilanga Concentrated Solar Power 1 and Kathu Solar Park all located in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa.
The Garissa Solar Plant in Kenya is the largest grid connected solar power plant in Eastern and Central Africa, generating about 50MW. The project is contributing about 2% of the national energy mix and has led to a significant reduction of energy costs in the country.
Prof Wandiga said Africa urgently needs embrace sustainable climate change adaptation strategies given its vulnerability despite its negligible contribution to carbon emissions, adding that adaptation spending is the continent’s climate investment priority as per the African Union.
He disclosed that the most relevant studies suggest adaptation costs in the African region ranges between US$ 20-30 billion per annum over the next 10 to 20 years.
Prof. Wandiga cautioned that corruption should not be used as an excuse by developed nations to stop assisting Africa financially with regards to climate change.
“There is a pressing need to mobilize resources to address the continent’s current limitations to deal with climate events, as well as resources to deal with future climate change,” he said, adding: “Adaptation investments substantially reduce the hardship of climate change in Africa. The potential benefits of adaptation spending need not be undermined by concerns about absorptive capacity. “
Africa’s immediate adaptation priority, Prof. Wandiga stated, is to improve its current adaptive capacity, much of which will be operationally indistinguishable from – and needs to be fully integrated with –traditional development activities.
Beyond this, he said, a series of more targeted adaptation investments are required and it is crucial that African decision-makers factor climate change into all long-term strategic decisions starting immediately.
He pointed to several areas- water resources, agriculture and land management- where adaptation practices could apply in the African context.
On sustainable water resources, he noted that adaptation practices include: water roof catchment, sand dams for water filtration and ground, water recharge, prevention of salt water intrusion into fresh water reservoirs, desalination, and conservation of forests and rivers.
Prof. Wandiga said there is need for conserving national game-parks, restoring degraded land by putting portable fencing to manage grazing of high livestock density and trampling to help control soil erosion.
On sustainable agriculture, he noted the need for proper use of manure, intensive bio-farming, water harvesting under conservation agriculture, among others, which are better ways of conserving agricultural land.
The retired Professor of chemistry emphasized the need for widespread adoption of conservation agriculture to promote maintenance of a permanent soil cover, minimum soil disturbance (i.e. no tillage), and diversification of plant species.
Sustainable land management would involve land revitalization where farmers turn abandoned, idle, or underused sites to productive use. Planting trees and crops together and harvesting in ways that produce natural nitrogen fertilizers in the soil for longevity are beneficial to the land.
Please, feel free to reach out to us for Prof Wandiga’s contacts if you would like to conduct direct media interviews on this subject.
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**Embargo: 20.30 PM[NAIROBI time] Wednesday 24th March 2021**
The Lancet: First continent-wide analysis confirms Africa’s second COVID-19 wave was more severe than its first
**Country-level data available in the article**
- Almost 3 million COVID-19 cases and more than 65,000 deaths were reported in Africa between 14th February and 31st December 2020.
- Although case numbers and deaths in Africa as a whole were low compared to many other parts of the world, country-level analysis reveals particularly high incidence rates in some nations (including Cabo Verde, South Africa, Libya, and Morocco), which are similar to other countries across the world.
- Despite daily infections being 30% higher during the rise of the continent’s second wave compared with the peak of the first wave, most countries implemented fewer public health measures
- With further waves of COVID-19 infections expected in Africa, the authors call for continued monitoring of COVID-19 data, improvements to testing capacity, and renewed efforts to adhere to public health measures.
Africa’s second wave of COVID-19 was more severe than the first, according to an observational study published in The Lancet journal. In the first-ever continent-wide analysis, authors found that daily infections were approximately 30% higher during the rise of Africa’s second wave as compared to the peak of the first wave.
The authors say African countries’ rapid, coordinated initial responses to the pandemic likely limited severity of the first wave. Subsequent loosening of public health measures and a drop in adherence to public health and social measures (PHSMs) after the first wave (probably due to adherence fatigue and economic necessity) are thought to have contributed to the greater impacts observed during the second wave.
The surge of cases during the second wave is also likely to have been partly driven by the emergence of COVID-19 variants, some of which are more transmissible than the original strain, though it was not possible to assess their affects in the analysis.
With African countries expected to face further COVID-19 infection waves, findings from the study highlight the need for ongoing monitoring and analysis of COVID-19 data to help nations balance controlling transmission with supporting economies and livelihoods.
Previous research suggests that COVID-19 spread more slowly across Africa than other parts of the world. However, to date, no in-depth assessment has been made of the nature of the pandemic across all of the continent’s regions and the 55 African Union (AU) Member States, which are home to more than 1.3 billion people.
Dr Justin Maeda, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), Ethiopia, said: “This first comprehensive analysis of the pandemic in Africa provides greater insights into the impacts of COVID-19 on the continent as a whole, and within its diverse regions and Member States. Better understanding of the challenges posed at national, regional, and continental levels are essential for informing ongoing efforts to tackle current outbreaks and future waves of infections.” 
The authors analysed COVID-19 cases, deaths, recoveries, and tests carried out across all 55 AU Member States between 14th February and 31st December 2020, using data collected by the Africa CDC. Analysis of PHSMs (such as school closures and travel restrictions), in place during the same period, was conducted using publicly available data on the Partnership for Evidence-Based Response to COVID-19 dashboard and Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker.
As of 31st December 2020, Africa had reported 2,763,421 COVID-19 cases – around 3% of the global total – and 65,602 deaths. A mean number of 18,273 new cases were reported each day during the first peak in mid-July 2020. However, by the end of December 2020, when approximately 65% of countries (36) had experienced, or were currently experiencing, a second wave of infections, the mean number of new daily cases had risen by 30% to 23,790.
Analysis of public health measures in place at the same time confirms that countries initially acted quickly to implement PHSMs, which appeared to slow progress of the pandemic in Africa. Among the 50 countries for which PHSM data were available, nearly 72% (36 countries), implemented their first strict control measures approximately 15 days before reporting their first COVID-19 case. By the 15th April 2020, almost all countries (96%, 48 countries), had at least five strict PHSMs in place.
However, when faced with a second wave of cases later in the year, many countries did not enforce PHSMs as strongly as they had done during the early stages of the pandemic. Of the 38 countries that had previously experienced, or were experiencing, a second wave, and recorded PHSMs, almost half (45%, 17 countries) had fewer – typically two less – in place during the second wave.
While the analysis indicates that Africa, as a whole, did not report as many COVID-19 cases and deaths as many other parts of the world, it reveals considerable variations across the continent. At the country-level, some nations were worse affected than others, with nine AU Member States accounting for most cases (83%, 2,283,613/2,763,421). In addition, while every nation except the Seychelles reported COVID-19 deaths, more than three quarters of these (78%, 50,974/65,602) occurred in five countries: South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. The highest incidences of cases per 100,000 population were recorded in Cabo Verde (1973.3), South Africa (1819.6), Libya (1526.4), Morocco (1200.0), and Tunisia (1191.2). Full country-level data is presented in Table 2.
Of the 53 countries that reported more than 100 COVID-19 cases, one third (34%, 18/53) had case fatality ratios (CFRs) – the proportion of deaths compared to total cases – higher than the global average of 2.2%.
Due to the high case and death rates in some countries, major differences were detected at the regional level, with the Southern region accounting for close to half of Africa’s cases (43%, 1,185,617/2,763,421) and deaths (46%, 30,453/65,602). The Northern region was also heavily affected, with more than one third of all cases (34%, 932,564/2,763,421) and deaths (37%, 24,323/65,602) occurring there. The Eastern region accounted for 12% of cases (325,472/2,763,421) and 9% of deaths (6,082/65,602), with 9% of cases (244,602/2,763,421) and 5% of deaths (3,261/65,602) in the Western region, and 3% of cases (75,166/2,763,421) and 2% of deaths (1,483/65,602) in the Central region.
By the end of March 2020, most countries (89%, 49/55) had the ability to run COVID-19 PCR tests, and, by July 2020, all were able to do so. As of 31st December 2020, more than 26 million COVID-19 tests had been carried out in the 55 AU Member States. However, the analysis indicates that many countries were unable to meet demand for tests (based on a WHO recommendation of ‘test per case’ ratios greater than 10) during peak outbreak periods. While more than two thirds of countries (70%, 28/40) that recorded the relevant data had enough testing capacity when the first wave began, only one quarter (26%, 14/53) could meet the demand for tests at the peak of the first wave. At the peak of the second wave, just one third of countries (36%, 4/11) could meet demand for tests.
Dr John Nkengasong, from the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), Ethiopia, said: “Our findings indicate that several factors likely led to Africa’s larger second wave of COVID-19 cases. Alongside reports that adherence to public health measures – such as mask wearing and physical distancing – has decreased, they highlight the importance of continued monitoring and analysis, particularly in light of the emergence of new, more transmissible variants.
“These insights also reveal a need to improve testing capacity and reinvigorate public health campaigns, to re-emphasise the importance of abiding by measures that aim to strike a fine balance between controlling the spread of COVID-19 and sustaining economies and people’s livelihoods.” 
The authors acknowledge some limitations to their study. As the analysis concluded on 31st December 2020, it was not possible to assess the effects of new COVID-19 variants, including the South African variant B.1.351. A scarcity of case-specific data such as age, gender, occupation, or underlying conditions limited the authors’ ability to gain insights into any impacts of these variables, highlighting a need for improved data collection systems. Not all countries reported cases and testing data on a daily basis, and a variety of testing approaches were used, which may have affected the analysis.
Writing in a linked Comment, Professor Yap Boum, Dr Lisa M Bebell, and Professor Anne-Cécile Zoung-Kanyi Bisseck (who were not involved in the study), from Médecins Sans Frontières, Harvard Medical School, and the Ministry of Public Health of Cameroon, echo the authors’ call for country-specific solutions to tackle the pandemic: “As African countries continue to face the COVID-19 pandemic, innovative and homegrown solutions, including local production of vaccine and rapid diagnostic tests, stronger involvement of community workers in disease surveillance, and telemedicine, have never been more important. Local solutions should ensure COVID-19 is not only a challenge that is met, but also an opportunity to strengthen health systems before the next pandemic.”
NOTES TO EDITORS
This study received no designated funding. It was conducted by researchers from Africa Centres for Disease
Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), Ethiopia; US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC), USA; Ministry of Health, Morocco; Nigeria Centre for Disease Control; National Institute for Communicable Diseases, South Africa; and Ethiopian Public Health Institute.
Country-specific data on COVID-19 cases, deaths, recoveries, and tests as of 31st December 2020 are in Table 1.
The labels have been added to this press release as part of a project run by the Academy of Medical Sciences seeking to improve the communication of evidence. For more information, please see: http://www.sciencemediacentre.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/AMS-press-release-labelling-system-GUIDANCE.pdf if you have any questions or feedback, please contact The Lancet press office email@example.com
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