Date: Fri, 9 Mar 2018 14:56:51 +0100

Bissau, March 9, 2018 (AFP) - Eleven people died when a minibus became trapped in a forest fire in rural Guinea-Bissau, police and doctors said on Friday.   The accident happened on Thursday night, after the overcrowded vehicle left the village of Konkoli, near the capital Bissau, on an 80-kilometer (50-mile) trip to a market in Bissora.   "The driver tried to go down a track in a forest which was on fire. There was no visibility because of the smoke and fire," a police official said. "(...) The passengers were trapped and died of suffocation."

Police recovered nine bodies, and two people who were injured later died, the official said. Nine others are being treated for injuries.   The toll was confirmed by sources at the local hospital.   The cause of the fire was not immediately known. At this time of the year, farmers in Guinea-Bissau often set fire to harvest stubble to eliminate weeds, and the blaze can spread from fields to the bush.   On January 5, a head-on collision west of Bissau between an overladen minibus and a truck hauling bricks left 18 dead and 14 injured.
Date: Mon, 28 Nov 2016 04:16:16 +0100
By Fabien OFFNER

Soga, GuinĂ©e-Bissau, Nov 28, 2016 (AFP) - The vivid red wound at the base of Gina's ankle has remained open for three months and refuses to heal, leaving the Guinea-Bissau islander in constant pain.   "I thought it was from a piece of wood," she told AFP, recalling the day when a snake sunk its fangs into her leg.    "They had to carry me back home because I couldn't walk," she said, sitting in front of a thatched hut decorated with white sea shells.   Gina lives on Soga, a tiny speck of land that is one of the 88 islands of the Bijagos archipelago, an Atlantic paradise home to dolphins, tortoises -- and forests full of deadly snakes.   Home to some 30,000 people, the islands are recognised by the UN's world heritage body (UNESCO) for their exceptionally diverse ecosystems, but there is one creature in particular that thrives among the mangroves.

"The Bijagos islands are reputed for their snakes. All the deadliest species live there, including mambas and cobras," says Aissata Regolla, a researcher at Guinea-Bissau's Institute for Bioversity and Protected Marine Areas (IBAP).   "On certain islands, our staff can't walk more than five minutes without seeing one."   Gina should perhaps count herself lucky. Every year around 125,000 people die after being bitten by a snake, 30,000 of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Many more are left with life-changing injuries or amputations.   But finding an antivenom which is affordable is becoming increasingly difficult, prompting a warning from the World Heath Organization last year.   "The price of some antivenoms has dramatically increased in the last 20 years, making treatment unaffordable for the majority of those who need it," the UN health agency said.

- Long and complex process -
On the continent, antivenom treatments are not generally cost-effective for the drug companies that make them.    In 2010, French pharmaceuticals giant Sanofi stopped producing its widely-used Fav-Afrique serum, which is effective against the venom of 10 different snake species, with the last batch expiring in June of this year.   Sanofi Pasteur, its vaccines division, said it had been edged out by cheaper competitors.   But several studies have shown these low-cost rivals are far less effective in treating bites, while the delicate process of cultivating an antivenom further complicates delivery.

"Antivenom is a biological product. You have to buy the venom, draw out the antibodies, purify them... it's an arduous and complex process," explains Jean-Philippe Chippaux, a snake bite expert at France's Institute of Research for Development (IRD).   "Governments, local authorities and companies should all make a contribution. Today no ministry is capable of saying where the problem lies, how many bites there are or where they took place."   Worst hit are children and farmers working the land.   Cacutu Avis earns his living cutting down trees in the forest between the coast and the village of Eticoba.    "The cacubas are the most deadly, generally if they bite you, you are a goner," he says, using the local word for mambas.    "They are often in the trees and palm leaves."

- Reliance on healers -
Soga is half an hour from the larger island of Bubaque, which has a basic hospital, and more than five hours from the capital, Bissau.   But with a single dose of life-saving antivenom costing up to $150 (141 euros) -- often more than a month's salary -- many are forced to turn to traditional healers.    "People have died in front of me at the healers' places, but others have survived," said Jose Nactum, director of the hospital in Bubaque.   "We don't have antivenoms adapted for different species and we have a lot of difficulty identifying the type of snake," he admits.    Antivenom must also be kept chilled in the fridge, yet only 10 percent of the country has access to electricity.   Even for the new players in the market, making the antidotes cost-effective is a huge challenge.   "Antivenoms don't bring in enough for the big pharma houses compared with other products," says Juan Silanes, president of Mexico's Inosan Biopharma, now Africa's top provider of snakebite serum.   "But if there is a product that's fairly good, and at a good price, that could change things," he adds.
Date: Fri, 23 Sep 2016 05:30:45 +0200
By Fabien OFFNER

Cacheu, Guinea-Bissau, Sept 23, 2016 (AFP) - The museum's first display spares little: a naked slave kneels with her hands tied, right shoulder freshly branded with her owner's mark by a white man with sleeves rolled to his biceps.   The town of Cacheu on the coast of Guinea-Bissau was a Portuguese trading post where millions of slaves saw west Africa for the last time, bound, branded and shipped off to the Americas.

A new memorial has opened to commemorate the exiled sons and daughters of this impoverished nation, not only to recall Portugal's brutal venture into Africa but also to establish itself on the historical tourism circuit.   "The idea is to show that Cacheu was the first place where Europeans practised transatlantic slavery on an industrial scale," said Alfredo Caldeira, who heads the archives of the Mario Soares foundation -- named after the late Portuguese president -- which helped create the memorial.

Among the items on display are wooden collars that slaves were bolted into two by two and a huge, rusty pot where slaves' rations were cooked.   "Despite its size, it wasn't enough to feed everyone. The portions were very small and the dishes quite basic. It was all cooked quickly so they could get back to work," said tour guide Joachim Lopes.   After taking in the horrors, retail therapy is at hand, with t-shirts and caps splashed with a chain logo available from the shop.   "The tourist aspect is important," said Caldeira. "But the main thing is to allow these people to rediscover a collective memory and dignity."

- Cultural potential -
Cacheu is home to fewer than 10,000 people today, but was the capital of Portugal's former colony from the 16th century onwards, trading in people until the late 19th century.   The Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach Africa in exploratory missions dispatched in the early 15th century. They would go on to trade, with Brazil's help, an estimated five million of the 11 million humans believed to have traversed the Atlantic, according to historians.

The idea for the memorial came in November 2010 when the first "Quilombola" festival was held in Cacheu, a name that refers to communities in Brazil formed by escaped slaves.   Their descendants from Brazil and the Caribbean had made an emotional pilgrimage to the land of their ancestors after identifying their roots through their DNA.   "They told us their stories. A lot of people cried that day. Some of them asked themselves if they were kin. We danced, we hugged, we shook hands," said high school teacher Augusto Joao Correia.

The Cacheu memorial's founders now hope for success akin to neighbouring Senegal's celebrated Goree island, another Atlantic "point of no return" for slaves that has become a must-see for visiting heads of state and celebrities.   "Despite its contested position as a hub for the slave trade, Goree is key for tourism in Senegal, visited by several US presidents," said Djiguatte Amede Bassene of the African Research Centre for the Slave Trade (CARTE) based in Dakar.

"Elsewhere in Africa, other countries are asking: 'why not us'?"   Cacheu may also have in its sights a UNESCO project linking and promoting sites of historical interest and research into the slave trade, in which Goree is already involved.   The European Union donated 519,000 euros ($579,000) to the Cacheu project, 90 percent of its total cost, with the specific aim of increasing the cultural potential of such sites as a source of sustainable income for the country.

- Rare hope -
Lined with palm trees and painted a brilliant white, the three years of work by Portuguese architects have culminated in an impressive structure that stands out in a quiet, crumbling town that suffers in the rainy season.   The edifice was once the headquarters of the Casa Gouveia, the name of the Portuguese colonial-era firm that traded all kinds of goods, including people.   "In this building, local and European products were exchanged for men.

Several of the objects testify to that," said the memorial's coordinator Cambraima Alanso Cassama.   Development of the site has not been without controversy.   A four-storey salmon-pink hotel has sprung up a few hundred metres (yards) away, but developers are accused of destroying human bones buried where the foundations were laid.   Other marks of the past are left to rot: the "bridge of no return" -- the slaves' final boarding point -- has partially collapsed and flounders among the rigging and nets of fishermen.

Regardless, the memorial is a rare spark of hope for Cacheu's residents: the World Bank describes Guinea-Bissau as one of the world's "poorest and most fragile countries". A series of coups and economic crises have also left it vulnerable to drug smugglers.   And the country's slave-trade story remains largely untold. One of the last traces was a 500-peso bank note that showed slaves lining up to board two vessels on the beach.   The bank note, however, dropped out of circulation when Guinea-Bissau joined the CFA-franc zone in 1997.
Date: Fri, 2 Sep 2016 10:14:39 +0200

Geneva, Sept 2, 2016 (AFP) - Zika cases found in Guineau-Bissau do not stem from the virus strain linked to a surge in birth defects in Latin America, the World Health Organization said.   When Guinea-Bissau announced in early July that it had recorded several cases of Zika, it was believed to be the second country in West Africa hit by the so-called Asian strain of the virus after Cape Verde.

That strain has been spreading like wildfire in Latin America since 2015, and has more recently taken hold in Asia, with researchers warning Friday that 2.6 billion people worldwide were in danger of infection.   But in a report published late Thursday, WHO said that "in Guinea-Bissau, the gene sequencing results of the four confirmed Zika cases sent in July have preliminarily confirmed that the cases are of the African lineage."   This, it said, means that the cases were "not (from) the predominant global outbreak Asian lineage."
 
The African strain of the Zika virus, which takes its name from Uganda's tropical Zika forest where it was first discovered in 1947, has been widespread on the continent since then.   But until recently, Zika caused little concern, as it usually led only to mild, flu-like symptoms, with many Africans appearing to have built up immunity against the virus.

It remains a mystery whether immunity to the African Zika strain can offer protection against the Asian strain.   Benign in most people, Zika has been linked to a form of severe birth defect called microcephaly which causes newborns' heads to be abnormally small.   It can also cause rare adult-onset neurological problems such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), which can result in paralysis and even death.

- 'Further surveillance needed' -
In its report, WHO said "investigation of five reported cases of microcephaly" was ongoing in Guinea-Bissau.   While the African strain of the virus found in the country had "not been associated with microcephaly and other neurologic complications, further surveillance is needed," the UN health agency said, pointing out that so far there had been "very few confirmed cases of the African lineage."   "At this point it is still too early to dismiss this possible threat," it added.

In an outbreak that started mid-2015, more than 1.5 million people have been infected with Zika in Brazil, and more than 1,600 babies born with abnormally small heads and brains.    Seventy countries and territories have reported local mosquito-borne Zika transmission, with Brazil by far the hardest hit.   WHO declared the outbreak an international public health emergency last February, and the UN agency was due later Friday to say whether that still stands.
Date: Sat, 2 Jul 2016 19:22:39 +0200

Bissau, July 2, 2016 (AFP) - Guinea-Bissau has recorded three cases of Zika, becoming the second country in West Africa where the dangerous viral disease has been detected, the government said on Saturday.   "Three cases of contamination by Zika virus have been confirmed," a statement quoted Health Minister Domingos Malu as saying.

The cases occurred in the Bijagos archipelago, a group of 88 islands of which 23 are inhabited, Malu told a cabinet meeting on Friday.   The communique gave no further detail about the  three cases, their location or how the disease may have arrived on the Bijagos.   A hospital source told AFP that investigations were underway but the first case may have occurred early last month on Bubaque, one of the Bijagos islands.

A former Portuguese colony of 1.6 million people, Guinea-Bissau suffers from chronic poverty and instability.   Previously, the only other country in West Africa where Zika had been detected was Cape Verde, an archipelago in the Atlantic, where 7,500 cases have been recorded since October 2015.   Saturday's statement said the authorities were taking steps to prevent further spread of the mosquito-borne virus.   It announced that an anti-Zika commission had been set up, comprising several ministers under the authority of Prime Minister Baciro Dja.

Zika is benign in most people but has been linked to microcephaly -- a shrinking of the brain and skull -- in babies, and to rare adult-onset neurological problems such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which can result in paralysis and death.   In an outbreak that started last year, about 1.5 million people have been infected with Zika in Brazil, and more than 1,600 babies born with abnormally small heads and brains.
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