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Women enjoy a laugh together while working on a soil conservation Quick Impact Project. Photo IOM/Amaury Falt-Brown

 

Burundi, 20 Jan 2022 – Pushing his prized bicycle along the fissured dirt roads of Tura Hill, past lush banana plantations and earthen huts, Anicet beams with pride as he traces the story of his reintegration from life as a refugee in Tanzania to his return to Burundi.

“During the political instability of 2015, there was a shortage of food [in the community] so my family and I left Burundi to look for something to eat,” says Anicet. Unaware of the struggle that awaited them, he went on to find out that life as a refugee was itself a life of hardship.

Without land of his own, for three years the proud farmer lived in squalid conditions while working on other people’s farms to make ends meet. As time went by, however, he heard that stability might be returning to Burundi.

Eventually, in 2018, news of a more peaceful environment back home pushed the father of three and his wife to migrate once more – this time, as returnees to their native Burundi.

“I was so happy to come home to the country of my birth,” he says, “[even though] the livelihood of a returnee is not always easy.”

With initial support from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the family benefitted from an assisted voluntary return programme and was given transportation to Burundi and a starter fund to get back on their feet.

Nevertheless, without land or a source of income, Anicet, like tens of thousands of others, faced the struggle of reintegrating into the community he was once a part of.

“With some money that I obtained from a community microfinance scheme, I tried to open a fish trading business, but it failed,” he says. As time went by and living conditions did not improve, a weary Anicet began to once again consider life as a refugee.

Refugees returning to their country of origin often face high risks and have no steady income – a key component of the reintegration process. Returning to communities where resources are already scarce can strain the local population and lead to social conflicts between host communities, returnees and the many internally displaced persons (IDPs) who are there.

The International Organization for Migration ’s (IOM) Quick Impact Projects (QIPs) help ease tensions in provinces of high refugee returns in Burundi.

QIPs are designed to cushion the dual blows of instability and poverty, while offering beneficiaries hope of a decent life. They also serve to reduce the risk of social conflict by providing communities with opportunity.

Alva Fredman Klockar, project manager with IOM's transition and recovery department, says stronger social ties follow. "When returnees, IDPs and host community members come together to decide which public infrastructure to rehabilitate, it strengthens social ties between the different groups, gives them an opportunity to earn an income and contributes to the common good of the community."

IOM-organized dialogues guide the process of selecting and implementing a pertinent QIP – in collaboration with the local population, authorities and IOM’s implementing partner – Help a Child.

Anicet was a beneficiary of a QIP. Like thousands of others, he benefitted from the Cash for Work system that is the backbone of Quick Impact Projects – essentially, cash in exchange for labour.

With the funds earned from IOM, he decided to stay in Burundi rather than to migrate again. He used the cash to invest in livestock and then revived his fish trading business.

“After buying my livestock, I worked very hard, going to the river every day to buy fish and my capital started to grow,” Anicet says. “With the funds I earned I then bought a bicycle. This allowed me to bring back even more fish [to sell] from the river. Now, I also gather grasses, which I transport on my bicycle to feed my livestock.”

With the support of the Federal Republic of Germany and the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO), families such as Anicet’s are rebuilding their livelihoods and investing in their futures.

UNHCR estimates that there are around 300,000 Burundian refugees still living abroad, many of whom are in the process of coming home. In 2021 alone, over 60,000 have returned, prompted by an increasingly stable climate since the Burundian presidential elections of 2020.

The lingering question is, how do provinces of high returns accommodate citizens who wish to come home without cracking an already fragile social system?

Michel Ndururutse, a member of the local Tura administration in the country’s north-east, believes that QIPs are a key part of the solution. “The population is very happy with the work being done by IOM. It is creating lasting change as the people benefit from the long-term effects of these projects,” he says.

Belise, a 21-year-old returnee from Tanzania, shares that view: “With the money that I earned from building the two classrooms of our community, I was able to buy livestock that has helped to stabilize my family life. I am very proud to have been a part of the school building,” she says.

Belise explains that thanks to her involvement in the school building project, her family is connected to their neighbours. Soon, she adds, her four-year-old daughter will be going to school in the same classrooms she helped to build.

IOM’s reintegration programme not only seeks to promote community cohesion in areas of voluntary return but aims to provide communities with the means to shape more prosperous and stable futures.

Anicet says IOM’s help made all the difference. “Everything I have now is thanks to the support I received. Before that, I was ready to go back to Tanzania. This assistance allowed me to stay [in Burundi].” - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., IOM Burundi

MUTATED PARASITE: Malaria is caused by Plasmodium parasites, which are spread to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. Photo via The Star

 

Individuals who carry the sickle cell trait, a condition in which red blood cells are abnormally shaped, have always been highly protected against severe malaria.

However, new research by the Kenya Medical Research Institute shows the malaria parasite has adapted to overcome this protection.

The study, published in Nature, found variants of the malaria parasites that have evolved to infect and cause serious disease in people who carry sickle haemoglobin.

“In this study, we searched for an association between candidate host and parasite genetic variants in 3,346 Gambian and Kenyan children ascertained with severe malaria due to Plasmodium falciparum,” the researchers said.

They found that malaria in children with sickle cell tended to be caused by a certain type of mutated parasite.

The researchers suggested that the sickle cell trait may have applied pressure on the plasmodium parasite over time, forcing it to adapt.

This led to a variant that can now infect people with sickle cell as well as those with normal red blood cells.

“We identified a strong association between sickle haemoglobin in the host and three regions of the parasite genome, that is not explained by population structure or other covariates, and that is replicated in additional samples,” the researchers said.

The study is titled "Malaria protection due to sickle haemoglobin depends on parasite genotype."

The researchers are from Kemri-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, Wellcome Sanger Institute, the University of Oxford, the MRC Unit The Gambia at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), along with collaborators from the US and Mali.

The scientists said this is the first time this phenomenon has been observed in a study and further research is needed to understand the biological mechanisms behind this.

Prof Tom Williams, a senior fellow at Kemri, said, “Previously, sickle haemoglobin was believed to have a protective effect against severe disease.

"However, this study highlights the importance of continually investigating this parasite so that we can be informed about how it adapts against selective pressures.”

Normal blood cells are disc-shaped while sickle cells are irregularly shaped. Individuals carrying just one copy of the sickle cell can lead normal lives and do not develop sickle cell anaemia.

Past research has confirmed these individuals are highly protected against severe malaria. This explained the high prevalence of sickle cell in geographical areas where malaria is endemic, such as western Kenya.

The sickle-shaped cells have porous membranes that leak nutrients that the malaria parasites need to survive and reproduce. The immune system then clears the infected cells before the parasite can complete its life cycle and infect other red blood cells.

Individuals, therefore, tend to get milder forms of malaria rather than the life-threatening kind that can afflict people with normal blood cells.

But from the Kemri study, the defiant malaria parasites are now overcoming this protection.

The researchers said understanding how this happens could lead to new ways to protect against and treat malaria.

“Greater clarity on the ways that P. falciparum evades the human body’s defences could lead to new opportunities for protecting against malaria and treating those living in the most affected areas,” Prof David Conway, the study author and professor of biology at LSHTM, said in a statement. - John Muchangi, The Star

(Edited by Bilha Makokha)

Kigali, Rwanda. Photo via Jacolene/iStock/Getty Images Plus

 

Government officials representing the African nation of Rwanda have announced changes to its COVID-19 protocols for arriving international travelers.

All arriving airline passengers must quarantine for 24 hours at a designated hotel while waiting for results from the mandatory PCR coronavirus test administered upon arrival in the country’s capital city, Kigali.

The mandatory quarantine period has been shortened from three days to 24 hours.

In addition, travelers must take a second PCR test on the third day in Rwanda at their own cost at designated testing sites, and quarantining tourists will be responsible for the cost of the period in an approved hotel.

International visitors will need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure for the country and then take the second test administered at Kigali International Airport.

The coronavirus-related requirements apply to all travelers, regardless of vaccination status, and other safety protocols also remain in place throughout the country.

Rwanda reopened to international travel on November 5 and announced a series of updated entry protocols to battle the Omicron variant.

For the latest travel news, updates, and deals, be sure to subscribe to the daily TravelPulse newsletter. - DONALD WOOD, TravelPulse

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