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The Scientific twists and turns of Covid-19

The-Scientific-twists-and-turns-of-Covid-19

The world is racing towards a Covid-19 vaccine; and amidst the wait there has been so many twists and turns; albeit science clashing with politics in some instances. All the while scientists have been saved by their phlegmatic approach to issues hence neutralizing the somehow polemical politicians.

According to NBC News via their Covid-19 Vaccine Watch, by end of this week there were 139 vaccines in development; and 28 vaccines in human trials. The world is hoping and waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine and treatment breakthroughs. These statistics are all in the backdrop of a Russian ‘breakthrough’ which has attracted criticism from rivals in the political and scientific world.

The world has already seen the twists and turns of remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, favipiravir, and others. There was another potentially dangerous hypothesis that raised eyebrows and drew outright hostility in some quarters – that claimed nicotine could potentially play a role in treating COVID-19!

Back home in the capital Gaborone, the Acting Coordinator of the Covid-19 Task Team, Professor Mosepele Mosepele announced on national broadcaster, BTV that they have a new definition of ‘Recovery’ for Covid-19 patients. Patients who have been with the virus for over 10 days and are certified by a medical professional to be well shall be deemed a ‘Recovery’. This is in line with the latest WHO standards, he said.

Pliable as they are, to WHO protocols, Botswana’s Covid-19 Task Team has not been excited by the plethora of covid-19 remedies being brandished wishy washy style in the global arena. They were not inch moved by Madagascar’s herbal concoction hailed by that country’s president. In any case the hype around the concoction dissipated within a matter of days.

Meanwhile as the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom assembled over 200 scientists on Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine research team and came up with an Oxford candidate vaccine, called AZD1222; the University of Botswana was also taking a shot at local herbal plants to see if they could not sum up a Covid-19 remedy. At Oxford, AZD1222 seems to have no serious side effects and triggered an immune response among over 1,000 people involved in the trials. However, there is still a long way to go before the vaccine can be declared ready for widespread usage.

AZD1222 is one of several potential COVID-19 vaccines being developed around the world. Batswana are still waiting for the latest report from University of Botswana scientists as far as the research on Covid-19 remedy is concerned.

Scientists are using four platforms to generate monoclonal antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein: human antibody phage display; immunized human antibody transgenic mice; antibodies isolated from the blood of people who have recovered from infection; and computational structure-based antibody design.

In parallel to work on antibodies, scientists are using all of their expertise in medicinal chemistry and chemical assets to find small molecule inhibitors. In some parts of the world they are screening their entire molecular library of more than one million compounds to identify those with potential activity to treat COVID-19.

They are using computational screening to speedily search this huge resource, starting with two priority viral targets: SARS-CoV-2 main protease and SARS-CoV-2 papain-like protease. The expertise they have built in artificial intelligence-aided optimization of drug candidates will speed their path, they say.

Russia blows own BIG trumpet

Russia’s Vladmir Putin has been blowing his own trumpet lately. His social media platforms were pregnant with enthusiastically worded self-approvals of a vaccine that has been developed in Russia and was about to be released to the public. In fact his daughter has already received the first dosage of the vaccine.

Reports indicate that initial batches of Russia’s coronavirus vaccine will roll off production lines within as soon as two weeks. The plan is to immunize doctors before going to the general public, the country’s health minister said Wednesday. Vaccine production in Russia will be domestic-oriented, geared to covering internal demands, Mikhail Murashko said at a news conference in Moscow giving additional details about the much-anticipated vaccine.

Meanwhile, the Russian Fund of Direct Investment (RDIF) is negotiating the production of the vaccine abroad. Asked about safety, Alexander Gintsburg, head of the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology – which developed the pioneering vaccine – said the vaccine is based on a well-researched scientific platform dating back decades.

“The platform has been in development for 25 years for the purpose of gene therapy, but at the end of 2014 it was used to create drugs to fight the most rapidly changing viruses,” he said. Meanwhile Russia has dismissed mounting international concern over the safety of its locally developed Covid-19 vaccine as “absolutely groundless”.

On Tuesday, it said a vaccine had been given regulatory approval after less than two months of testing on humans. But experts were quick to raise concerns about the speed of Russia’s work, and a growing list of countries have expressed scepticism. Scientists in Germany, France, Spain and the US have all urged caution.

“It seems our foreign colleagues are sensing the specific competitive advantages of the Russian drug and are trying to express opinions that… are absolutely groundless,” Russia’s Health Minister Mikhail Murashko told the Interfax news agency on Wednesday.

Trump trumpeted hydroxychloroquine

In late March and early April, American President, Donald Trump repeatedly proclaimed that hydroxychloroquine could prevent or treat COVID-19. Reports from the USA show that within days, the number of prescriptions for the drug skyrocketed even though evidence it could safely prevent or treat the disease was at the time very weak.

“A casual remark by a president who is not in any way a medical expert somehow led thousands of U.S. physicians to write prescriptions for a drug that had never before been used to treat a viral illness.”
On March 21 President Trump touted hydroxychloroquine – and its biochemical cousin, chloroquine – as potential “game changers” in the battle against COVID-19. Two months later, he announced on national television that he had been taking the drug himself as a preventative treatment.

Statistics shared from America indicate that during the 10-week period between Feb. 17 and April 27 doctors wrote approximately 483,000 more prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine than in the same time period in 2019. The week after President Trump mentioned the drug during a press conference, prescriptions were up more than 200% compared to the previous year.

“The vast majority of excess prescriptions were written between March 14 and April 4, but as news spread about shortages of the drug and the lack of evidence to support its use, prescribing returned quickly to normal,” reports one of the news hubs based in the USA.

“Research now shows that this once-promising drug likel isn’t effective for preventing or treating COVID 19, but the damage was already done. Hundreds of thousands of Americans unnecessarily took medicine that can have dangerous side effects. Additionally, many people with an actual medical need to take hydroxychloroquine – like those living with lupus and related autoimmune diseases – found themselves unable to obtain the drugs they needed.” In Botswana, thanks to the sagacious Covid-19 Task Team, Batswana stayed away from the politically charged blanket prescription.

Amid all these twists and turns, Botswana has kept it simple, the World Health Organisation (WHO) remains the template. This is notwithstanding the political gymnastics playing out here at home, occasionally giving accretion to social media misinformation; and acerbity in political speeches.

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Sex on the Alter: Demons lurking within holy walls

29th September 2020
Sex-on-the-Alter--Demons-lurking-within-holy-walls-

From time immemorial the church was seen as a sacred haven for weary souls and those who need rest from worldly aches and pains. This is even written in the Holy Bible; “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” Matthew 11:28-30.

This being said, anyone would be forgiven to think that the first place to run to would be the church. Time has however changed this.

The atrocities perpetrated by the church and their pastors or those who have been called upon to ‘lead the flock’ have not only distorted their mission, they have caused followers immeasurable pains.

Adorned in the finest regalia in church, the so called men of God are nothing but wolf in sheep’s clothing as they lurk in church corners to prey on the innocent and vulnerable in a place where victims thought was their ‘Father’s house’.

Behind every monster are those who clean up after it and in this case, these are church followers who are alive to the inhumane acts caused by the very men of God whom they have put on pedestals. These followers, more often than not are Elders in the church or those in the revered pastor’s inner circles. These followers would, in an attempt to shield their ‘man of God’, portray the victim as a Jezebel, and shield their pastor and the church’s reputation, forsaking the trauma inflicted upon the victim.

The author of ‘Sex on the Alter’, Kaelo McCoffee was inspired to pen down his book after seeing the endless and unreported incidents that occurred within church walls.

It’s like a play, a drama based on true stories of how “men of God” abuse women sexually, use them and dump them.  Not just that, but it addresses how desperate women are for marriage and relationships, resulting in pain. This is covering ill activities happening in the church,” said McCoffee.

“The purpose of this book is to open someone’s eyes, not just ladies, even guys, that church might be seen or recognised as a good place to be, that might be true yes, but people shouldn’t feel comfortable because they are in church. They should be aware of the dangers that can happen to them in church, like I talked about abuse. I wrote this book to bring awareness, mostly to women because they’re the ones always going through such mostly.”

If one is to look at the grabbling GBV cases within Botswana that occur on a daily basis, one would expect the church to intervene. Not this time around, seeing as how the church is marred with such cases.

“I’ve seen young girls being used because they fell in love with the guy in a nice suit, they get deceived by material things, they get lied to, “I’ll marry you” but after sleeping with them, they leave them, young girls end up reporting cases of rape, yet the truth is they were in love, but because the promises weren’t fulfilled there’s always drama. Some get paid to be silent. I won’t mention anyone by names, but this is what has been happening in many churches, hearts are being broken in the name of the “anointed one”. I’m not saying every man of God, I’m talking about things I know of and I’ve heard happening,” he said.

“And to God it’s an abomination to drag His name into sin and claiming to be righteous, if God has promised in His word that His servants will even face more punishment for diverting His people into wrong doings then they deserve to be punished, they’re humans and they are not even doing what they preach. If the men of God in the Bible got punished for such doings what more of these guys who mess with our sisters.”

In an Interview with WeekendPost, the founder of Epistle of Power International Church (EPIC), Duncan Katse confirmed with this publication that these devious acts are very much present within churches and orchestrated by the so called ‘pastors’.

“It is true and one thing that makes it true is that we have got a lot of pastors who are not really trained in the area of becoming a pastor and there was no discipline instilled. Young ladies also trust their pastors and spiritual mentors with their all; their lives, their bodies. So when these pastors notice that they are highly regarded they can do anything. If there is no alignment in the mentorship, it is easy for the pastor to manipulate the congregants with spiritual things.”

“Some would say ‘God wants us to have our moment alone’, they will start manufacturing funny prophecies to make the person comfortable to relax with them. Sometimes in private spaces, which becomes very dangerous for a young lady. Not all the ladies who go to church have the intension of sleeping with the man of God. Most women do not report these cases because some judge themselves and are afraid to be accused for falsely accusing the man of God,” said Katse.

How women are raped in church

According to close sources, these so called ‘men of God’, threaten young girls after sleeping with them and that they will be cursed should they decide to speak out. Some will be threatened with the infamous line; ‘touch not my anointed.’

“They use their spiritual and prophetic authority to manipulate these women into raping them. There is also an oil called ‘do as I say’ and most of the girls who became victims will tell you, after being raped, they did not know how the rape occurred. Once they apply that oil, whatever they say you are going to do it whether you like it or not.  That is why most of these girls are raped and left sick because most of these men of God are sick. They are sick of HIV/AIDS and STI’s. Before raping these women they prepare them emotionally by taking them out for dinners and they end up raping them.”

Botswana Council of Churches responds

Sexual violence and abuse has been an enormously painful and common feature of our collective past. No sector of society, churches included, has been immune to the problem of sexual violence. It is horrible. Whenever we have seen sexual violence, it has always been an offence to God, and a shattering of God’s good, redemptive hopes for the human story. Sexual abuse is clearly a shattering of God’s intentions for our humanity,” said Bishop Metlha Beleme from Botswana Council of Churches

“When God’s ways are honoured, there is love, because love – the Scriptures tell us – is the very nature and character of God. When you think about it, sexual violence does all the opposite of 1Corinthians 13:4-7, which talks about love. God wants us to experience love. So, apart from the laws of the land, the Church also has Canon law and the Church court for the trial of such offences as Sexual Immorality.”

Beleme further highlighted that; ‘‘there are other healing processes that follow e.g. forgiveness and reconciliation, counselling. Amongst other things we can confess that Church Leaders and Pastors are sinners too, and must be held accountable,” he said.

Maybe when all is said and done, the long arm of the law will forever elude churches as evidenced by the many cases internationally regarding the Catholic church and the cases of paedophilia and child molestation that have been ongoing for years on end. And very rarely in Botswana do pastors face criminal charges in court for sex offenses and that may also be because very few women come forth for fear of being ostracised by both church and society.

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Parliament caucus: The toxic destruction of MPs’ legislative duty

29th September 2020
Parliament

Every five years, a cohort of newly elected Members of Parliament (MPs) gather at parliament buildings to take a symbolic oath to assume new role as rarefied individuals who make Botswana’s laws — as prescribed in the constitution — for the good governance of Botswana. Staff Writer ALFRED MASOKOLA observes an abdication of responsibility that has become a new normal in the business of parliament. 

Few days before President Sir Ketumile Masire cleared his desk at Office of the President to end an eventful and successful 18 year presidency, his apparent heir, Festus Mogae was reaching out to opposition legislators in a bid to solicit for support for his choice for Vice President.

Since 1997 constitutional amendments, parliament has been mandated with the responsibility of endorsing the Vice President before assuming office.

Mogae was scheduled to ascend to the highest position in the land in wake of series of events in the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) that made him the only viable candidate. Beleaguered by factions, Mogae could not count on his polarised party.

As many noted, Mogae was relatively a new entrant in the BDP politics. Though he was an accomplished technocrat, he was not a political power horse and was without the charisma that the likes of Daniel Kwelagobe, Ponatshego Kedikilwe and the late Lt General Merafhe had.

Luckily for Mogae, his choice for Vice President was a likeable figure — Lt Gen Ian Khama — and accepted across factional divide, and even more remarkably, by some in opposition ranks. The name was endorsed by all BDP MPs, and the cherry on top; by additional two opposition MPs.

The build-up to this accomplishment however highlighted one major thing that Mogae never took for granted — the legitimate power of MPs.

Even in his presidency, Mogae sought to use parliament caucus for the purpose of achieving consensus rather than imposing his own will. Throughout his presidency, Mogae had to navigate through the hostile factions that kept him on his toes.

In 2003, Mogae in what proved to be naïve, publicly endorsed his Vice President- Khama, in the party chairmanship race against Kedikilwe, the co-leader of what was then known as Kwelagobe/Kedikilwe faction, and later Barataphathi.

Inevitably, Khama won the chairmanship — a development that saw Barataphathi losing control of the Central Committee, for the first time since 1981. With victory in 2003, emerged a rebranded faction called A-Team, led by Merafhe and Jacob Nkate.

The faction will come to dominate both the Central Committee and cabinet after 2004 general elections. Mogae had left out Kwelagobe, Kedikilwe, and GUS Matlhabaphiri out of cabinet after 2004 general elections, inadvertently strengthening the backbench which closed ranks with opposition MPs to subject the executive to scrutiny.

At the height of exercising their power, the backbench blocked and rejected government policies and other pieces of legislation brought before parliament.

By 2006, cabinet found it difficult to pass bills, including the Judges Pension Bill and the crucial intelligence bill which created the DIS in 2007.

Faced with a rigid backbench, Mogae reshuffled his cabinet in 2007 restructuring ministries to accommodate members of rival faction in cabinet. Thereafter, the relationship between cabinet and backbench became cordial.

“I am fully aware that the MPs, both the former ministers, the cabal of some new MPs and the rest of the House, can make and unmake me politically,” Mogae famously said at 2001 BDP Congress in Palapye, as he deliberated on some of the demands brought forward by MPs.

Like anywhere else in democratic dispensations, MPs hold their own and are not pushovers, even in instances where the executive belongs to the same political party that controls the legislative house.

Mogae had accepted that MPs have their own responsibility and that their power was legitimate. Throughout his presidency, his modus operandi was to consult MPs through caucus whenever an important decision was to be made in parliament.

The approach was also the tradition during the presidency of Masire, the founding father of both the BDP and the nation. Masire considered therisanyo paramount prior to any decision making and was described by Mogae during his memorial as, “consultative, collaborative and patient.”

In 2008, things started to change. In recent years, BDP caucus has become increasingly powerful. Unlike in the past, instead of seeking consensus, MPs have been forced to support decisions of the cabinet, even when MPs are not in agreement.

“Caucus has always been there and it is part and parcel of parliament in democracy. Caucus can be flexible depending on leadership. Some issues are allowed conscience debate if caucus cannot reach consensus,” said a high ranking BDP member who served as MP under both Mogae and Khama.

“Mogae was liberal and allowed MPs to use their conscience when there was no consensus. Caucus only became a contentious issue during Khama [Ian] presidency and today.”

In 2011, weeks after civil servants called off strikes that lasted nearly three months, and crippled the economy, then junior minister in the ministry of Local Government, Kentse Rammidi resigned from the cabinet amid a position taken by the party.

In trying to deal with power of civil servants, cabinet brought before parliament a Bill that sought to prevent a number of cadres in the civil service including teachers from participating in industrial action by making them essential service.

Rammidi, who had sympathised with workers during the strike chose to quit the party after BDP caucus forced MPs to support the bill which was to be brought to parliament by then Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Peter Siele.

The development set had ushered in a new era in the governance of BDP, with the Executive effectively rendering Parliament — which by all intent and purpose is meant to prove checks on it — a rubber stamp.

The BDP caucus effectively derives its mandate from President as the head of executive.

The latest victim of the domineering caucus is Jwaneng-Mabutsane MP, Reggie Reatile.

Two months ago, the maverick MP was slapped with suspension for abstaining instead of voting alongside agreed party caucus positions.

In the build-up to his suspension, Reatile had on numerous occasions voted against the BDP on the Parliament floor. Reatile also abstained when voting was called on the Botswana Defense Force (BDF) Amendment Bill meant to create the position of Judge Advocate General.

Reatile was also the BDP black sheep that voted against Speaker of Parliament, Phandu Skelemani’s decision to suspend Leader of Opposition (LOO) Dumelang Saleshando, from parliament last month.

Prior to Reatile, maverick Ignatius Moswaane, Francistown West legislator, was also suspended. Moswaane has also proved to be a thorn in the flesh of the ruling party as he consistently refused to toe the party line, instead following his conscience.

Moswaane has since resigned from the BDP in favour of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).

The insistence on block voting have seen parliament being ultra-polarised, and inadvertently at the expense of the public and good governance.

Despite the country grappled with rising incidence of Gender Based Violence (GBV), the ruling MPs rejected a motion tabled by Mahalapye East MP, Yandani Boko, following a caucus decision.

Boko had tabled a motion on urgency calling for parliament to request President Mokgweetsi Masisi to set-up a Commission of Inquiry on Gender Based Violence (GBV) and other Sexual Offences.

During the BDP caucus, it was agreed that the motion should not be agreed upon, but instead be countered with a suggestion that the duty be referred to an Inter-Ministerial Committee.

Commissions of Inquiry Act empowers the President to set-up a commission and to set its terms of reference.

The motion was however withdrawn by the mover following lack of support from BDP majority.

The rejection of the motion is part of many that have not survived the might of BDP caucus.

In the run-up to 2019 general election, Masisi promised to repeal the infamous Media Practitioners Act passed during his predecessor’s administration. The promise was buttressed in the BDP 2019 election manifesto.

However, when Selibe Phikwe West lawmaker, Dithapelo Keorapetse, brought before parliament the same bill, the ruling party caucus tore it apart. In brief; it was rejected.

The constitution of Botswana, adopted in 1966 following independence, vests legislative powers in parliament. Parliament, through its committees is empowered to provide oversight.

Parliament, indirectly elects the President and also has power to dissolve parliament through a pass of motion of no confidence on government supported by simple majority.

Parliament also approves national spending and also entitled to amend certain provisions of the constitution, save for entrenched provisions.

In giving parliament the legislative duties, the constitution also gives the President the power to ascent to bills passed by parliament or return them to parliament if not satisfied. Nevertheless, if parliament insists on not making any amendments, the President is compelled to ascent to the Bill failing which parliament will lead to the dissolution of parliament, necessitating new elections.

With so much power at its disposal why is parliament abdicating its true responsibility?

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Gov’t urged to stimulate economies until 2021

29th September 2020
Gov’t-urged-to-stimulate-economies-until-2021-Women-are-amongst-the-most-vulnerable-and-hard-hit-groups,-including-migrants,-young-people-and-informal-workers

The latest edition of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Monitor shows the continuing and devastating impacts of the pandemic on jobs and labour income since early 2020, and the massive disruptions in the labour market that will persist into the fourth quarter of this year.

ILO analysts argue that policymakers will need to maintain support to employment and incomes over the coming months and well into 2021, and to address key challenges.

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