Saturday, March 10, 2012

Nodding Syndrome

The article below was written by Andrew Harding, BBC Africa correspondent. It's amazing that after all this time no progress has been made on this disease. 10 years is a long time.

It is deadly and indiscriminate. And it is killing children across northern Uganda and South Sudan.

But I'm not talking about Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army which, despite its sudden brush with global infamy, has not been seriously active inside Uganda for some six years.

I'm referring instead to a mysterious disease that I first encountered in the region in 2003. It is called Nodding Syndrome, and I was shocked to discover this week that nearly a decade since it was first detected, almost no progress has been made in identifying, treating or containing the disease.

Nodding Syndrome targets children exclusively, causing its victims to spasm uncontrollably and eventually to waste away and die. Many thousands of children are believed to be affected.

Scott Dowell - an American doctor I was in contact with in Asia where he was involved in the global battle against bird flu - is now helping the Ugandan authorities to fight Nodding Syndrome.

"It's frustrating not knowing the cause. I was hopeful for a quick answer when we first started studying the disease in 2009," he told me, on the phone from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, USA.

Instead, like several other neurological disorders, Nodding Syndrome remains a complete mystery. "It could take a while to crack this," he admitted.

Doctors initially suspected the syndrome was psychological, rather than physical, in origin
Initially, the CDC suspected it might be a psychogenic episode - something like mass hysteria. But brain scans quickly confirmed that they were dealing with a disease that causes measurable brain atrophy.

Has the outside world been slow to investigate? It is fair to assume that if a disease were killing children in Europe with such brutal efficiency, more attention would have been paid to it by now.

The World Health Organization, Unicef and the Ugandan Health Ministry are closely involved, but a Ugandan official in the north of the country, William Oyet, expressed concern to me that "the number of cases is increasing".

Dr Dowell says he cannot speak for what happened before 2009, but insists that Nodding Syndrome is now "high on the short list of about half a dozen" mystery diseases that the CDC is targeting.

"We'd really like to get to the bottom of this… because it's got a big impact on public health. It's hugely important to the children and families affected.

"It's also interesting from a scientific point of view - the fact that we can't figure it out. And thirdly, we are kind of hooked. We've worked with the population over a couple of years and so we're really committed to these communities," he said.

The CDC has confirmed 194 cases, but has heard credible reports of "many thousands" more affected children.

Unlike bird flu, Nodding Syndrome shows no indication of being transmitted from person to person, so "we don't have the sense that it is likely to be a threat to the rest of the world in the way bird flu is", said Dr Dowell.

"We have the funding we need to do our investigations. We are pursuing a number of leads and haven't run out of leads," he said.

But when it comes to helping communities affected by the disease, Dr Dowell is less optimistic. "The affected villages… are now facing a future with large populations of disabled kids, with all the cost implications for families and communities. That part is clearly not funded."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"Are there any f*cking Germans in here?"

I've published a few posts about Stewart without mentioning much about its quirky little neighbour, Hyder. Dubbed "the friendliest Ghost town in Alaska", Hyder is more a village than a Town with its population under 100. It has no paved roads, no school, and land phones and cable services are provided from the Canadian side of the border...Hyder is a throwback into another era, a time capsule of sorts to what America was 50-60 years ago…Oh there is no law enforcement presence in the Town either.

There is no land connection with the rest of Alaska and the main road through the town only provides access to the gold and silver mines for both Canadian and American companies. Precious metals’ mining is on the rise again as prices have gone up in recent times.

Hyder is not only lagging behind in modern niceties but it is also has more than its fair share of bizarre personalities. Only recently a California man was captured after years on the run for a murder committed decades ago. He had successfully acquired a new identity and lived and raised a family in Hyder and no one caught on to it.

This brings me to a story that I heard about an incident that happened in a local Alaskan bar. It was the summer time and a few friends decided to cross the border into Alaska to have a few drinks at the end of the day. The local brew was flowing, and all was well…or so they thought. In the middle of all the merriment , there was a huge bang at the entrance as a scruffy looking man burst in armed with a rifle.

He was dirty, reeked of alcohol and was almost toothless… “ARE THERE ANY FUCKING GERMANS IN HERE?” he yelled...The whole bar came to a halt…[To be Continued]

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Life On The Edge of The World...

I’ve lived in Canada for years now and yet after spending time in Stewart, I feel like I’m in a different country. It feels like I live on the very edge of civilization, with no cell phones or Tim Hortons and one Gas station.

The closest closest major town, Terrace, ( pop: 10,000) is well over 300 km away from here on wet, winding roads at the foot of majestic , snow-capped mountains. Vancouver is about 1,400 km away. Every now and then as I drive down to Terrace, I’d see a black bear on the edge of the road, munching away at its food and casting a lazy glance at me as I speed by. Sometimes they would wander across the road so that I have to slow down and repeatedly honk my horn to get them out of the way… They look at you as if to say "Whats your problem? can't you see I'm walking here".

I remember the first time I got here, when seeing a bear was a novelty, now its become almost routine. Something like Canada geese on UW’s campus, but nowhere near as irritating. I’ve settled into a pretty rigorous routine of waking up at 5a.m., breakfast at 6 a.m. and a 45 minute drive up rugged mountain side to our construction office.

I tend to drive in the middle of the road because I neither want to get too close to the mountain as there is a risk of rock falls nor do I want to get too close to the edge…a 600 ft+ drop that no one could possibly survive. There’s not much room for manoeuvre when you encounter another vehicle on the road so there are always scary moments when I’m going around bends and I can’t see what’s coming at me. It doesn’t help that there are some absolutely mad individuals on that road that do 100 km/h on stretches that I would hesitate to do 50. It takes some getting used for sure but i certainly prefer it over a Mississauga traffic jam.

It’s helped considerably that the tourists are no longer in town, driving up to see the breathtakingly beautiful Salmon Glacier. The comedy of watching old couples driving up in huge RVs along narrow roads is something I miss but the frustration of having to wait behind them bothered me no-end….

I’ve seen all types of cars come up these roads, everything from 7 series BMWs to Fiats and Jettas, Jeeps and Corollas. The summers make this place a true beehive of activity as tourists from all the U.S and Canada swarm the tiny little town. I've seen plates from Quebec, Florida, New York, Michigan...places thousands of miles away. Occasionally you see a clueless bastard try to get cell phone service when they are walking around Town…there’s nothing up here of course, but no one says a word …it’s too much fun watching their faces as they figure it out…

Friday, September 30, 2011

For 10 years, we've lied to ourselves to avoid asking the one real question

The article below was written by Robert Fisk. I read this today and remembered my "Freedom Fighters" post. I just thought i'd share. A link to Mr Fisk's column is attached below. He has some insightful material

By their books, ye shall know them.

I'm talking about the volumes, the libraries – nay, the very halls of literature – which the international crimes against humanity of 11 September 2001 have spawned. Many are spavined with pseudo-patriotism and self-regard, others rotten with the hopeless mythology of CIA/Mossad culprits, a few (from the Muslim world, alas) even referring to the killers as "boys", almost all avoiding the one thing which any cop looks for after a street crime: the motive.

Why so, I ask myself, after 10 years of war, hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths, lies and hypocrisy and betrayal and sadistic torture by the Americans – our MI5 chaps just heard, understood, maybe looked, of course no touchy-touchy nonsense – and the Taliban? Have we managed to silence ourselves as well as the world with our own fears? Are we still not able to say those three sentences: The 19 murderers of 9/11 claimed they were Muslims. They came from a place called the Middle East. Is there a problem out there?

American publishers first went to war in 2001 with massive photo-memorial volumes. Their titles spoke for themselves: Above Hallowed Ground, So Others Might Live, Strong of Heart, What We Saw, The Final Frontier, A Fury for God, The Shadow of Swords... Seeing this stuff piled on newsstands across America, who could doubt that the US was going to go to war? And long before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, another pile of tomes arrived to justify the war after the war. Most prominent among them was ex-CIA spook Kenneth Pollack's The Threatening Storm – and didn't we all remember Churchill's The Gathering Storm? – which, needless to say, compared the forthcoming battle against Saddam with the crisis faced by Britain and France in 1938.

There were two themes to this work by Pollack – "one of the world's leading experts on Iraq," the blurb told readers, among whom was Fareed Zakaria ("one of the most important books on American foreign policy in years," he drivelled) – the first of which was a detailed account of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction; none of which, as we know, actually existed. The second theme was the opportunity to sever the "linkage" between "the Iraq issue and the Arab-Israeli conflict".

The Palestinians, deprived of the support of powerful Iraq, went the narrative, would be further weakened in their struggle against Israeli occupation. Pollack referred to the Palestinians' "vicious terrorist campaign" – but without any criticism of Israel. He wrote of "weekly terrorist attacks followed by Israeli responses (sic)", the standard Israeli version of events. America's bias towards Israel was no more than an Arab "belief". Well, at least the egregious Pollack had worked out, in however slovenly a fashion, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had something to do with 9/11, even if Saddam had not.

In the years since, of course, we've been deluged with a rich literature of post-9/11 trauma, from the eloquent The Looming Tower of Lawrence Wright to the Scholars for 9/11 Truth, whose supporters have told us that the plane wreckage outside the Pentagon was dropped by a C-130, that the jets that hit the World Trade Centre were remotely guided, that United 93 was shot down by a US missile, etc. Given the secretive, obtuse and sometimes dishonest account presented by the White House – not to mention the initial hoodwinking of the official 9/11 commission staff – I am not surprised that millions of Americans believe some of this, let alone the biggest government lie: that Saddam was behind 9/11. Leon Panetta, the CIA's newly appointed autocrat, repeated this same lie in Baghdad only this year.

There have been movies, too. Flight 93 re-imagined what may (or may not) have happened aboard the plane which fell into a Pennsylvania wood. Another told a highly romanticised story, in which the New York authorities oddly managed to prevent almost all filming on the actual streets of the city. And now we're being deluged with TV specials, all of which have accepted the lie that 9/11 did actually change the world – it was the Bush/Blair repetition of this dangerous notion that allowed their thugs to indulge in murderous invasions and torture – without for a moment asking why the press and television went along with the idea. So far, not one of these programmes has mentioned the word "Israel" – and Brian Lapping's Thursday night ITV offering mentioned "Iraq" once, without explaining the degree to which 11 September 2001 provided the excuse for this 2003 war crime. How many died on 9/11? Almost 3,000. How many died in the Iraq war? Who cares?

Publication of the official 9/11 report – in 2004, but read the new edition of 2011 – is indeed worth study, if only for the realities it does present, although its opening sentences read more like those of a novel than of a government inquiry. "Tuesday ... dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the eastern United States... For those heading to an airport, weather conditions could not have been better for a safe and pleasant journey. Among the travellers were Mohamed Atta..." Were these guys, I ask myself, interns at Time magazine?

But I'm drawn to Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan whose The Eleventh Day confronts what the West refused to face in the years that followed 9/11. "All the evidence ... indicates that Palestine was the factor that united the conspirators – at every level," they write. One of the organisers of the attack believed it would make Americans concentrate on "the atrocities that America is committing by supporting Israel". Palestine, the authors state, "was certainly the principal political grievance ... driving the young Arabs (who had lived) in Hamburg".

The motivation for the attacks was "ducked" even by the official 9/11 report, say the authors. The commissioners had disagreed on this "issue" Рclich̩ code word for "problem" Рand its two most senior officials, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, were later to explain: "This was sensitive ground ...Commissioners who argued that al-Qa'ida was motivated by a religious ideology Рand not by opposition to American policies Рrejected mentioning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict... In their view, listing US support for Israel as a root cause of al-Qa'ida's opposition to the United States indicated that the United States should reassess that policy." And there you have it.

So what happened? The commissioners, Summers and Swan state, "settled on vague language that circumvented the issue of motive". There's a hint in the official report – but only in a footnote which, of course, few read. In other words, we still haven't told the truth about the crime which – we are supposed to believe – "changed the world for ever". Mind you, after watching Obama on his knees before Netanyahu last May, I'm really not surprised.

When the Israeli Prime Minister gets even the US Congress to grovel to him, the American people are not going to be told the answer to the most important and "sensitive" question of 9/11: why?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

"Life is not a bed of roses"

“Life is not a bed of roses”…

If you grew up in Sierra Leone, like I did, someone must’ve thrown this expression across your path at some point. Whether it was a parent or probably a teacher because it was definitely a favourite amongst my teachers…someone, in authority, must’ve uttered that line to you at some point, I guarantee it. I never liked that saying though, because it always meant I didn’t get what I was looking for and there was scarcely anything I could do about it. In hindsight, I could’ve argued that life is indeed a bed of roses...pretty to look at but a huge challenge to get through…

Growing up I’ve always been frustrated with the lack of clarity when I’ve asked for advice on how to proceed on certain things. “Well…you know…it’s difficult to say…these things aren’t precise…”…There was a shrug of the shoulders, a story about an era with which you could never relate, an old wise saying that you never full understood etc etc you get the picture…with time of course those sayings made sense, what was vague became crystal clear and all of this happened, of course, after the fact. When the shit had hit the proverbial fan and I was standing there amply fertilized...

Age teaches us that clarity is best confined to childhood, Mama and Papa may not know everything and there are times when no matter how close we are to family, we feel all alone. There are times when we have a million questions, yet the only answers we have to make do with are vague at best. We come to the unsettling conclusion that nobody really knows it all…that I think is the moment everyone starts to grow up.

My “holy shit” moment as I like to refer to this point in my life came when I was in my late teens just about to get into University…Given all this, at some point or the other, we all ask ourselves what’s the bloody point? What’s the point of sitting there and listening to all these people reminisce about the “good old days” when they were your age…

The answer I settled on after years of pondering through my teens is that listening to older people is not about getting the exact road map to life’s successes…nobody can offer that. It’s about gathering from those stories and experiences the strength to keep on going in life, the strength to pick yourself up when you’ve been let down…the kind of strength that allows self-belief to flourish and resilience to become second nature.

Growing older, It's harder to maintain a youthful zest for life and all its wonderful times when all you seem to face in life is troubles and deceit… cynicism becomes a solace for some although I personally refuse to give in. That strength to hang in there and persevere is weak or non-existent if those stories and experiences weren’t shared with you earlier in your life...