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NO WOMAN SHOULD EVER DIE GIVING LIFE

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By –Sheikha Hend Al Qassimi and Siddharth Chatterjee

Rafiullah Wardak looks upon his newborn daughter Amina, recovering after being wounded by gunmen who stormed a maternity award in Kabul on May 19, 2020. Mr. Wardak’s wife, Nazeya, was among at least 24 people killed in the attack, including women, nurses, and newborns. Photo – Courtesy of the Rafiullah Wardak family published @csmonitor

Consider this. 24 women, children and babies were murdered at a hospital in Kabul, the Afghan capital. Even by standards of a country as accustomed to bloodshed as Afghanistan, the May 12 attack on a Kabul maternity clinic was an event of unmitigated horror.  

That anyone could target women at their most vulnerable and infants in their first hours of life defies belief and makes one despair of the world that welcomed little Amina. Born just two hours before the attack that killed her mother, Amina’s leg was shattered by a bullet.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “Any attack on innocents is unforgivable, but to attack infants and women in labour… is an act of sheer evil”.

The incident throws into relief the need to protect vulnerable populations even as the world struggles with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Health workers operating in difficult circumstances, such as the heroic Dr Najibullah Bina who led the team that conducted the first surgery on little Amina’s leg, continue to expose themselves and their families to the virus as well as to terror attacks.

The pandemic has an alarming potential to reverse hard-won socioeconomic gains inspired the March 2020 appeal by UN Secretary-General António Guterres for an immediate global ceasefire, which asked all warring parties to silence their guns to facilitate the delivery of aid and open up space for diplomacy.  

Women generally are at specific risk and disadvantage in Afghanistan, largely for reasons of culture. Their lives, quite separately from their deaths, are constrained in many ways that affect their health, education, nutrition and well-being. One of the most dangerous places in the world for a woman to give birth, Afghanistan is a microcosm of vulnerability for women and children, with a maternal mortality rate of around 638 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births and around two physicians for every 10,000 people.  

Afghanistan must figure out how to best support women and children when health efforts are under threat by both terrorists and a dangerous virus.

Around the globe, COVID-19 is worsening the situation for women already at risk, such as those in abusive relationships. Many millions are now required by emergency regulations to remain at home with their abusers, removed from the gaze of those who might otherwise see them and offer help. 

And with one in every three women globally experiencing physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime, the issue is startlingly grave.  

UNFPA, the UN’s Population Fund, says the COVID-19 lockdown is disproportionately affecting women and children. It is resulting in millions more cases of violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation and unintended pregnancy. “The new data shows the catastrophic impact that COVID-19 could soon have on women and girls globally,” said Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA’s Executive Director.

Their well-being and economic resilience are threatened not only by the lockdown itself, but also by scaling down of health services and support such as hotlines, crisis centres, shelters, legal aid, protection, and counselling services.

The horror in Afghanistan further illustrates the urgency of the UN Secretary General’s clarion call for the peace-humanitarian action-development nexus to deal with      conflicts, violent extremism, and other forms of instability.  Now more than ever, there is a need for approaches that address social, economic, and political drivers of radicalisation.

There will be no one-size-fits-all model, and each country must continually assess which members of society are at the highest risk. If vulnerable groups are not properly identified and suitable responses developed, the consequences of this pandemic may be more devastating than we have dared to imagine.

Humanity has often been guilty of detachment regarding the plight of vulnerable populations.  The COVID-19 threat is an opportunity to change course.  While the virus does not discriminate, we must be careful lest our responses to it end up further entrenching current inequalities.

Images of two-hour-old Amina, swaddled in a blood-drenched blanket and with a bullet in her tiny bones must exponentially rouse our collective humanity and question the normalisation of indifference to the most vulnerable. 

About the Authors

Sheikha Hend Al-Qassemi

Sheikha Hend Al Qassimi, a multifaceted Emarati Princess, is an accomplished editor and writer, successful entrepreneur and architect and a committed philanthropist. She has a Masters in Marketing, Management & Communications from the Paris Sorbonne University. A Bachelor of Arts and Design with a double major (Architecture and Design Management) from the American University of Sharjah.  Follow her on twitter- @LadyVelvet_HFQ

Siddharth Chatterjee

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya. He has served in various parts of the world with UNFPA, UNICEF, UNDP, UNOPS, UN Peacekeeping and the Red Cross Movement. A decorated Special Forces veteran, he is an alumnus of Princeton University. Follow him on twitter-@sidchat1

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South Africa Readies 1.5 Million Graves For Coronavirus Mass Burials

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South Africa’s most populated province, which includes the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria, is preparing some 1.5 million gravesites for potential mass burials, its top health official says, as coronavirus cases in the country begin to spike.

KEY FACTS

  • Dr. Bandile Masuku, the health representative on the Gauteng province executive council, said the graves are being prepared, but he hopes they are not needed.
  • Coronavirus cases and deaths are on the rise in South Africa, and the country has now reported more coronavirus cases than any other on the African continent, which had largely been spared the severe impact coronavirus has had on the rest of the world so far.
  • But Masuku said in an interview with the South African Broadcasting Company that a major coronavirus surge is coming.
  • He expects the current spike will continue to worsen until mid-August, but if additional restrictions are put in place, the severity of the spike could be lessened with its peak pushed back until September.
  • Even in a worst-case scenario, Masuku said he doesn’t expect to utilize all the graves, which would require 10% of Gauteng’s 15 million-person population to die, but said it’s better that the province is at least prepared for all the space it could possibly need.
  • Those who are put in the graves will not have individual headstones, Masuku said; instead, there will be one headstone for large numbers of coronavirus victims.

BIG NUMBER

546,318 — That’s how many deaths have been reported worldwide in the pandemic so far, according to Johns Hopkins University—3,502 of which are from South Africa.

KEY BACKGROUND

Much of Africa has not dealt with a significant coronavirus surge like many populated areas in the rest of the world. But still, South African officials have moved to reopen many aspects of what had been a largely shut down country. South Africa is currently in “Level 3” of its reopening, which it entered into in mid-June, easing some restrictions on restaurants, casinos and movie theaters, among other businesses.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Gauteng plans to have 500 beds ready for a coronavirus hospital opening at the end of next week. Another 500 beds should be added by the end of July, Masuku said.

Nicholas Reimann, Forbes Staff, Business

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[IN NUMBERS] Coronavirus Update: COVID-19 In Africa

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While most cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus have been reported in the U.S. , Europe, and China, the virus is spreading rapidly across the African continent.

The confirmed worldwide cases for the virus have surpassed 11 million with the current figure being at 12,415,672.

The increase in new reported cases around the world has led the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the coronavirus a global pandemic.

The death toll continues to rise globally. It is currently at 557,925.

The U.S. leads with 135,828 deaths. Brazil is second with 69,254. The U.K is third with 44,602. Italy is fourth with 34,926, and Mexico is fifth with 33,526.

China, where the virus originated from, maintains that the country’s death toll is at 4,634.

The figure of the global recoveries stands at 7,241,644.

The African continent has 545,313 cases of Covid-19, while the death toll stands at 12,503. The continent has made 266,082 recoveries.

Here are the numbers in Africa:

Country Confirmed Cases Confirmed DeathsConfirmed Recoveries
Algeria14,65792810,342
Angola140661
Benin2707228
Botswana60124
Burkina Faso89453804
Burundi85145
Cameroon12,59231310,100
Cabo Verde (Cape Verde)7506301
Central African Republic (CAR)2,2227369
Chad85073720
Comoros1762114
Congo72824221
Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)9,702684,381
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)7,1891762,317
Djibouti4,704554,550
Egypt79,2543,61722,753
Equatorial Guinea1,30612200
Eritrea9639
Eswatini (formerly Swaziland)4904249
Ethiopia5,8461032,430
Gabon5,513422,508
Gambia28124
Ghana18,13411713,550
Guinea5,404334,346
Guinea-Bissau1,46015153
Kenya6,6731492,089
Lesotho42
Liberia45832219
Libya4541063
Madagascar1,29010384
Malawi547669
Mali1,8091041,088
Mauritania4,4721291,677
Mauritius33710325
Mayotte2,298191,790
Morocco13,2152309,158
Mozambique5833151
Namibia3217
Niger98066885
Nigeria27,11061610,801
Reunion4951460
Rwanda5822332
Sao Tome and Principe66112177
Senegal7,0541214,599
Seychelles1111
Sierra Leone1,16951680
Somalia2,61888577
South Africa238,3393,720113,061
South Sudan1,6932749
Sudan9,5736024,606
Tanzania50921183
Togo53113299
Tunisia1,09649998
Uganda705299
Western Sahara918
Zambia1,358111,122
Zimbabwe383454

Note: The numbers will be updated as new information is available.

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Empty Roads, Occupied Minds

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With a deadly virus still lurking in the streets and tougher times ahead, traders in South Africa’s colorful townships desperately look to resuscitate their businesses with creative offerings online. 

It’s almost two months into lockdown in South Africa and the country’s townships, once bustling hubs of trade, are slowly bracing themselves, with every ounce of willpower left in them, for the unprecedented reality that is ‘the new normal’.

For many, the national shutdown and closed shutters have meant lost jobs, stalled incomes and empty pockets, not to mention a deadly virus stalking them in every street and alley. The small entrepreneurs here – the lifeblood of any economy – now on their last pennies, are still hopeful their re-evaluated strategies and revamped resilience will see them through this fearful nightmare, as the restrictions ease and the townships will slowly crawl back to life again.

Behind the respectful veneer of the lockdown, some of the smaller traders hustle on illegally, under the radar, dodging police patrols and armed surveillance. They have no choice but to stick to their street-smart ways, to survive and feed their families. 

In the township of Soweto, bigger, popular establishments such as The Box Shop on Vilakazi Street – the historic stretch home to Nobel Peace Prize winners Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the country’s former President Nelson Mandela – are looking to the future with great uncertainty, and have been forced to devise alternative digital strategies as lifelines for the present.

Sifiso Moyo founded The Box Shop, a lifestyle and retail outlet with his business partner, Bernard Msimango, and today, the street it’s located on, which attracted thousands of local and international tourists every day prior to the pandemic, is eerily quiet.

It will be a while until planes of international visitors land again, so the duo have chosen to go to them – online.

“For The Box Shop, we built hype around online and have taken the entire offering that existed in our physical infrastructure into a digital platform and that has made us into an innovation space, giving us access to a global audience. We are beginning to see our products being sold in places like Switzerland and the United Kingdom and we now have started harnessing partnerships,” says Moyo.

The website was launched in May, but the bigger vision for the entity was to start as a retail outlet and work backwards into the manufacturing space.

Moyo says the coronavirus taught them two things – to adapt digitally, and to work in the value chain.

The shop now also makes face masks, sold to public hospitals and NGOs.

A short drive from Vilakazi Street is a restaurant named Sancho, selling African cuisine and founded by Thato Mothopeng, a serial entrepreneur who also founded the popular annual Soweto Camp Festival.

Mothopeng is one of the few entrepreneurs in the tourism sector without a formal degree or training, but has had a roaring business nevertheless and is quite well-known in the circuit.

Mothopeng says all SMMEs are at a standstill because business thrives on human contact. But business also needs to be flexible, he adds.

“There are opportunities in the harshest environments. I am using this time to review my strategies. I am also not panicking because the country is managing the crisis; this is an opportunity for SMMEs to reflect because our people are sober now.” 

He had to let go of a few employees and is working remotely.

Further in the township of Soweto, Thembeka Nkosi, the founder of Le Salon, has also developed her own coping mechanisms.

Her shop is shut, but people still seek her grooming advice. As per South Africa’s Level 4 lockdown restrictions, salons and beauty parlors are not allowed to operate.

“This [lockdown] is very stressful, more especially now because other businesses are operating. I still can’t make money, I still have to stay at home and not work,” rues Nkosi.

In addition to getting to spend more time with her five-year-old son, she has recently started sharing her haircare tutorials on social media.

“Now that shops are open to buy hair products, I send video clips to my clients and that brings me joy, knowing that I am still useful to them; even though it’s not making me any money yet, at least I am interacting with my clients,” she says, looking at the bright side.

Ronewa Creations is yet another small business in these parts.

Founded by Lesego Seloane and Dinah Kgeledi, the business offers landscaping services, garden maintenance and water harvesting solutions, and employs seven full-time workers. None of these services are allowed in the current phase of lockdown.

“Now that our province is still on Level 4, it is really difficult to focus because when we were working out our plans, there was so much uncertainty and we didn’t know how they could actually be implemented,” says Seloane.

She is grateful the duo have been active on social media, running a garden makeover campaign and offering landscaping designs for free.

“We are using a three-dimensional technology that revamps the look of gardens to give people an idea of how their gardens could potentially look like in the end.”

Despite the challenges, the two keep sane by spending time with family.

“If the business fails, I fail. If I don’t come out of my down moment quick, then I will fail and the entire organization fails,” says Seloane.

You can detect the determination in her voice to overcome this period, come what may.

Like many around her staring fear in the face, she has no other choice.

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