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Botswana study links La Nina to increased diarrhoea cases

A study carried out in Botswana by the US-based Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health scientists has found that spikes in cases of life-threatening diarrhoea in young children are associated with La Niña climate conditions.

The findings published in the journal Nature Communications could provide the basis for an early-warning system that would allow public health officials to prepare for periods of increased diarrhoea cases as long as seven months ahead of time. It said in low- and middle-income countries, diarrhoea is the second leading cause of death in children younger than five years of age, with 72 percent of deaths occurring in the first two years of life. 

Rates of under five diarrhoea in Africa are particularly high, with an estimated incidence of 3.3 episodes of diarrhoea per child each year and one-quarter of all child deaths caused by diarrhoea. The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a coupled ocean-atmosphere system spanning the equatorial Pacific Ocean that oscillates in a 3-to-7-year cycle between two extremes, El Niño (warmer ocean temperatures) and La Niña (cooler ocean temperatures).

The ENSO cycle affects local weather patterns around the world, including temperatures, winds, and precipitation. Researchers analysed associations between ENSO and climate conditions and cases of under five diarrhea in the Chobe region in northeastern Botswana.
They found that La Niña is associated with cooler temperatures, increased rainfall, and higher flooding during the rainy season. In turn, La Niña conditions lagged 0–7 months are associated with about a 30-percent increase in incidence of under-5 diarrhea in the early rainy season from December through February.

“These findings demonstrate the potential use of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation as a long-lead prediction tool for childhood diarrhea in southern Africa,” says first author Alexandra K. Heaney, a former doctoral student in environmental health sciences at Columbia Mailman and now a postdoctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley. “Advanced stockpiling of medical supplies, preparation of hospital beds, and organisation of health care workers could dramatically improve the ability of health facilities to manage high diarrhoeal disease incidence.”

Previously, El Niño events have been linked to diarrhoea outbreaks in Peru, Bangladesh, China, and Japan, but until now studies of the effects of ENSO on diarrhoeal disease in Africa have been limited to cholera — a pathogen responsible for only a small fraction of diarrhoeal cases in Africa. Infectious diarrhoea is caused by many different pathogens (viruses, bacteria, and protozoa) and meteorological conditions can have a critical influence on pathogen exposures, in particular, those associated with waterborne transmission.

For example, extreme rainfall events may contaminate drinking water by flushing diarrhoea-causing pathogens from pastures and dwellings into drinking water supplies, and drought conditions can concentrate animal activity increasing the movement of diarrhoea – causing pathogens into surface water resources.

The researchers speculated that the centralised water disinfection processes currently used in the Chobe region may be insufficient to deal with changes in water quality brought on by extremes of wet and dry weather, although they caution that further confirmatory studies are needed. Earlier research by the Columbia Mailman researchers in the Chobe region found that cases of diarrhoea in young children spiked during extreme climate conditions, in both the wet and dry seasons.

A second study reported on a method to forecast childhood diarrhoeal disease there. Because climate conditions vary from region to region, forecasts for infectious diseases must be region-specific. In other studies, the team of scientists has created forecasts for influenza, Ebola, and West Nile Virus. During the influenza season in the United States, they publish weekly regional forecasts with predictions on whether cases are expected to rise or fall and by how much.

Research into links between climate systems and infectious disease in Botswana also provides insights into long-term changes in weather patterns coming as a result of climate change. “In Southern Africa, precipitation is projected to decrease,” says Jeffrey Shaman, professor of environmental health sciences at the Columbia Mailman School.

This change, in a hydrologically dynamic region where both wildlife and humans exploit the same surface water resources, may amplify the public health threat of waterborne illness. For this reason, there is an urgent need to develop the water sector in ways that can withstand the extremes of climate change.”

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Ministers key to Masisi presidency revealed

7th December 2021
President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi

President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi has identified at least 12 cabinet ministers who form part of his long-term plans owing to their loyalty and tenacity in delivering his vision. Masisi, who will see-off his term in 2028 — provided he wins re-election in 2024 — already knows key people who will help him govern until the end of his term, WeekendPost has learnt.

Despite negative criticism towards ministers from some quarters over a number of decisions and their somewhat cold deliberations and failure to articulate government programs, Masisi is said to be a number one cheer leader of his cabinet. He is said to have more confidence in his cabinet and believes going forward they will reach the aspired levels and silence the critics.

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Free at last: Ian Kirby Speaks Out

6th December 2021
Justice Ian Kirby

The outgoing President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ian Kirby, shares his thoughts with us as he leaves the Bench at the end of this year.

WeekendPost: Why did you move between the Attorney General and the Bench?

Ian Kirby: I was a member of the Attorney General’s Chambers three times- first in 1969 as Assistant State Counsel, then in 1990 as Deputy Attorney General (Civil), and finally in 2004 as Attorney General. I was invited in 2000 by the late Chief Justice Julian Nganunu to join the Bench. I was persuaded by former President Festus Mogae to be his Attorney General in 2004 as, he said, it was my duty to do so to serve the nation. I returned to the Judiciary as soon as I could – in May 2006, when there was a vacancy on the High Court Bench.

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Civil society could rescue Botswana’s flawed democracy’ 

6th December 2021
Parliament

Botswana’s civil society is one of the non-state actors that could save the country’s democracy from sliding into regression, a Germany based think tank has revealed.  This is according to a discussion paper by researchers at the German Development Institute who analysed the effects of e-government usage on political attitudes In Botswana.

In the paper titled “E-government and democracy in Botswana: Observational and experimental evidence on the effects of e-government usage on political attitudes,” the researchers offer a strongly worded commentary on Botswana’s ‘flawed democracy.’  The authors noted that with Botswana’s Parliament structurally – and in practice – feeble, the potential for checks and balances on executive power rests with the judiciary.

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