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Speaking to The New Times, Edson Rwagasore, the Division Manager, Public Health Surveillance and Emergency Preparedness and Response at the Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC) said the country has picked a number of lessons from the previous outbreaks in the region and locally like Ebola and Covid-19 and is partly what inspired advanced preparedness.

He said, “This includes three surveillance systems, the use of electronic community-based surveillance, Integrated disease surveillance, one health tool, and ecological investigation."

Rwagasore added that the country has set up systems capable of identifying outbreaks before they become pandemic.

He talked about the seasonal flu, saying that it's not a new outbreak and that the virus infection is very common. He added that the number of people infected each season cannot be estimated because not everyone will seek medical care or get tested.

Rwagasore added that people should seek treatment for such infections and not undermine the flu to avoid spreading it.

Referring to the CDC study, he said that children are most likely to get flu and that people aged and above are also at a high risk of getting infected.

Median incidence values (or attack rate) by age group were 9.3 per cent for children aged 0-17 years, 8.8 per cent for adults aged 18-64 years, and 3.9 per cent for adults aged 65 years and older.

This means that children younger than 18 years are more than twice as likely to develop a symptomatic flu virus infection than adults 65 and older.

According to the numbers shared by the Ministry of Health, they show an increase in seasonal flu cases during rainy seasons the national laboratory surveillance testing shows that H3N2 influenza virus remains the most prevalent in Rwanda.

According to a report from CDC flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death.

The report also says that most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by tiny droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze, or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes. - Esther Favour, The New Times

 

Rwanda is set to invest $6.8 million (Rwf7.2 billion) from 2022 to 2027 in managing hazardous chemical waste.

Hazardous chemical waste is defined as any liquid, gaseous, or solid chemical that is ignitable, corrosive, reactive, toxic, or persistent, and is no longer useful or wanted.

According to Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), the project will prevent chemicals containing Persistent Organic Pollutants and Mercury from entering Rwanda.

It will also minimize the generation, release, and emission of hazardous waste, as well as enhance the management and disposal of existing and yet-to-exist harmful chemicals, and products in Rwanda.

Juliet Kabera, the Director General of REMA said that the investment will help to establish hazardous waste treatment facilities including interim storage, and identify types, volumes, and locations of chemical, toxic, and hazardous waste generation and key sectors such as industries, healthcare, pharmacies, and agriculture, among others.

So far, she said, Rwanda is counting storage of around 122 metric tonnes of PCB oil to be managed and treated over the next five years.

PCBs are chemical pollutants found in electrical transformers that harm human and environmental health.

The country is also counting the storage of around three metric tonnes of POPs pesticides, and 44 metric tonnes of non-POP pesticides.

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are chemicals of global concern due to their potential for long-range transport, persistence in the environment, as well as their significant negative effects on human health and the environment.

Over 35,000 metric tonnes of PBDE-containing waste, 250 metric tonnes of PCB –contaminated soil, and 40 metric tonnes of Mercury (Hg)-containing waste will also be treated.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) belong to a class of chemicals that are added to certain manufactured products in order to reduce the chances that the products will catch on fire while mercury is Mercury is a naturally occurring element that is found in air, water and soil.

Exposure to mercury – even small amounts of it– may cause serious health problems and is a threat to the development of the child before and after birth.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), inhaling mercury vapour can have harmful effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs, kidneys and skin, and may be fatal.

The inorganic salts of mercury are corrosive to the skin, eyes and gastrointestinal tract, and may induce kidney toxicity if ingested

Kabera said, “All are being targeted to be disposed of at the end of this project which will be resulting in reducing and avoiding 24.5 Gigatonnes of emissions.”

“We have also started the engagement of the private sector including the waste collectors in the sound environmental handling and disposal of hazardous waste streams,” she said.

Financed by Global Environment Facility (GEF) and UNDP, the project is expected to benefit 300,000 beneficiaries directly through awareness about hazardous waste and job creation.

Jeanne D’arc Mujawamariya, the Minister for Environment says as a fast-growing economy, with rapid urbanization, Rwanda is experiencing an increase in the amount of domestic and municipal waste, as well as the increase of toxic, hazardous, and chemical wastes from Industrial and economic sectors.

“These wastes have significant impacts on land, air, and the quality of water bodies,” she said.

This project came at the time the country seeks to implement the $221 million National Circular Economy Action Plan up to 2035.

“Growing sectors such as industry, agriculture, and health lead to the release of persistent organic pollutants, mercury, and other harmful chemicals through air emissions, waste disposal, and soil contamination which gives the private sector a uniquely placed to contribute to this effort given its role in setting consumption trends by developing and promoting new technologies,” she noted.

According to Maxwell Gomera, the UNDP representative in Rwanda, “Waste management is a key stepping stone towards a circular economy. The first step is to eliminate waste and pollution to reduce threats to biodiversity.” - Michel Nkurunziza, The New Times

 

The Burundi government has indicated that it will not allow the importation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the country despite some East African Community member states opening up for the products.

“GMO is not allowed in Burundi, not even importing them; they are totally prohibited. It’s only the hybrids and even [for] the hybrids, you have to get an authorisation to import,” the director-general of mobilisation for self-development and agriculture extension Clement Ndikumasabo told The EastAfrican.

This comes as Kenya has for the first time allowed for the importation of genetically modified maize to address the food crisis in the country where millions are said to be at risk of starvation. However, this has been met with opposition from certain quarters, especially by leaders from the country’s maize-growing Rift Valley region.

At least 4.2 million Kenyans, especially in pastoralist areas, are facing hunger due to severe drought that has persisted for prolonged periods, leading to food shortage.

No sound justification

“Indeed, there is no sound justification for this as the region has the capacity and capabilities to produce non-GMO products. Our message is clear that we should encourage and promote organic products as opposed to GMOs,” said John Bosco Kalisa the East African Business Council CEO.

With Burundian law prohibiting the importation of genetically modified products, experts have warned that lack of proper equipment may see GMOs imported into the country.

Mr Willy Irakoze, a research director at the Burundi Institute of Agronomic Science (ISABU), decried the absence of equipment capable of detecting the entrance of GMOs into the country, calling for better ways to protect the lives of Burundians and the environment.

 “The GMO is not eligible in Burundi but what is worrying is that at the border or at the airport, we do not have equipment and personnel capable of detecting if it is the GMO that is entering or not. So, it is difficult to say that there are no GMOs in Burundi,” he said.

According to the Burundian government, a batch of 120 tonnes of PAN 53 maize seeds was received at Kobero border in Muyinga Province from Zambia while another six hundred tonnes are on the way.

Hybrid maize

Mr Irakoze admitted that hybrid corn is more profitable in terms of production than composite maize and that the certified hybrid corn can contribute to the change of farmers’ lives “because they are three to four times more profitable in terms of production than composite maize”.

Burundi currently imports the PAN 53 maize seeds while some local companies produces the Longe 7 H seeds, the type of certified corn in Burundi that meets the same characteristics as PAN 53 in terms of production. According to agriculturalists, both PAN 53 and Longe 7H are not GMOs.

“As mentioned earlier, they are hybrids which means that they have been selected because they meet desirable characteristics, such as disease resistance,” Mr Irakoze.

“GMO means that before cross-breeding it, we import the gene from an organism (another species) other than maize or simply we import the gene from an animal and we inject it into the corn,” he explained.

“It is urgent for the government to strengthen the institutions that control quarantine, so that imported food is subjected to analysis in well-equipped laboratories but also with personnel who also have the necessary means and the capacities required,” he added.

According to ISABU, Burundi should invest in the establishment of laboratories and capacity building on the plant protection department and the Burundi Bureau of Standards.

“First of all, you must ensure that biosafety has been well controlled, this means that after injecting a GMO from another organism into a plant such as corn, it can cause metabolites that are very harmful to human health. These metabolites produced must be checked before releasing them to be sure at a 100 percent that there is no negative impact on human health or the environment,” said the ISABU research director. - MOSES HAVYARIMANA, The EastAfrican

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