Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New Sickle-Cell Initiative Draws Medical Partnership

March 22, Luanda — The Angolan Health Ministry (MINSA), the US Oil Company "CHEVRON" and Baylor International Pediatric Aids Initiative (BIPAI) from Houston, Texas announce the creation of a sickle cell anemia screening program in the country.

Sickle-cell disease usually presenting in childhood, occurs more commonly in people (or their descendants) from parts of tropical or sub-tropical regions where malaria is or was common.  One-third of all indigenous inhabitants of Sub-Saharan Africa carry the gene.  Angola has one of the highest rates of infection of falciform anemia (sickle-cell disease) in the world. It is estimated that 10,000 Angolan children are born every years with the disease, which contributes to the aggravation of the death rate of children less than five years of age. 

United Nations statistics record that 220 out of every 1000 Angolan children in the country are born with sickle cells anemia and die before reaching five years of age. Sickle-cell disease, usually presenting in childhood, occurs more commonly in people (or their descendants) from parts of tropical and sub-tropical regions where malaria is or was common.  One-third of all indigenous inhabitants of Sub-Saharan Africa carry the gene. 

Sickle cell anemia is a disease passed down through families in which red blood cells form an abnormal crescent shape. Red blood cells are normally shaped like a disc.  Sickle cell anemia is caused by an abnormal type of hemoglobin called 'hemoglobin S' which distorts the shape of the red blood cells, especially when exposed to low oxygen levels.  Almost all patients with sickle cell anemia have painful episodes (crises), which can last from hours to days. These crises can increase the prevalence of strokes and affect the bones of the back and the chest. Patients with sickle cell disease need ongoing treatment, taking supplements of folic acid, antibiotics and vaccines to prevent bacterial infections, and blood transfusions to ultimately treat a sickle cell crisis. 

The screening program, as part of Chevron's social corporative responsibility in Angola, will start in late in 2011 with an estimated USD $4 million budget. (Angop, UN WHO Reports 2011)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Stemming the HIV Tide

With an estimated 2% of the adult population living with HIV, at the moment Angola has one of the lower HIV prevalence rates in sub-Saharan Africa as deemed by UN health agencies.  During the 1975–2002 Angolan civil war, cross-country travel was nearly impossible, impeding the spread of HIV/AIDS. Since the war, however, movement has become less restricted, and the likelihood of HIV reaching once-isolated communities has increased dramatically. In 2009, UNAIDS estimated that 200,000 people in Angola were HIV positive.

With a relatively young population, coupled with widespread high-risk sexual behaviors and an ambivalence toward safe health practices, puts Angola in danger of a more severe HIV/AIDS epidemic.

This trend was experienced first-hand by Dr. Nicholas Comninellis, visiting doctor to CEML Hospital.  He writes:

"I first worked in Angola during its civil war and encountered all the injuries and disease of poverty one can possible imagine: gun shots, land mines, measles, malaria, typhoid fever.  What i did not see was HIV disease.  While the rest of Africa was being ravaged by HIV, Angola was spared - largely because no one from neighboring nations had any reason or courage to travel to Angola.  But now peace has come, so has commerce and tourism, and HIV.  For several days I've been caring for Paula, a young woman with TB infection in her lungs. Her vomiting has been constant, and malnutrition worsening day by day.  Her arms and legs are literally skin and bones.  I'm treating her with TB medications and IV fluids, but she's just not getting better.  This morning I tested Paula for HIV, and her positive result helps explain why Paula continues to decline.  Some in the US are lured into thinking that we're overcoming this disease - but its true of wealthier nations. Here the epidemic continues to be explosive.  Indeed, life in Angola is far better than during the war, but HIV reminds me that both peace has its costs, and peace also allows us to effectively mobilize again this and the other heartbreaking diseases of poverty!" 

In Angola, tuberculosis (TB) co-infection with HIV is a major concern. TB is the leading cause of death among people who are HIV positive. After decades of civil war, the country’s health infrastructure is not adequate to address the TB epidemic. In 2008, TB incidence was 290 cases per 100,000 population, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Nineteen percent of newly diagnosed TB patients are also HIV positive. (USAID Angola Report 2011)

Check out Dr. Cominellis' blog inmedblog.us/nicholascomninellis and website for more information on international medicine INMED  www.inmed.us

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Impact of Protestant Missions on Angola

In their writings, Angolan historians do not understate the important role that Protestant Missions played in Angola's history. In the 19th century, with an growing interest in Angola, western nations made significant contributions and service to the country in efforts to give indigenous populations knowledge and training. Protestant missionaries built churches, schools, hospitals, and invested in agriculture and husbandry, training teachers, stonemasons, carpenters, tailors and nurses among others.

Beginning with the Evangelical Congregational Church of Angola (ECCA), this organization's presence dates back to 11 November 1880, when the first American missionaries arrived in Benguela. The head of the mission was 32-year-old Reverend William W. Bagster. He was accompanied by the 25-year-old Reverend William Henry Sanders, and the architect and teacher Samuel Taylor Miller. He was the very first black missionary to come to Angola. Others followed, and they spread throughout the nation, founding missions and contributing in this way to the education and training of countless Angolans. Missionaries built churches, schools and hospitals and instructed people how to till the land and how to raise farm animals. They trained teachers, stonemasons, carpenters, tailors, and nurses. They gave training to church workers, to catechists who gave religious instruction, to deacons, and to both male and female pastors.

The EECA came about with the creation of the Evangelical Missions of Bailundo, Camundongo, Chissamba, Dondi, Chilesso, Elende, Lutamo / Dondi, de Silva Porto, Bunjei, Litoral/Lobito, and Nova Lisboa/Bomba. Over time, the Evangelical Congregational Church of Angola was handed over to Angolans to run. 

The EBCA (Evangelical Baptist Church of Angola) is another important religious institution that was set up in Angola many years ago. It was founded in the North of Angola, and the EBCA today has churches in more than half the provinces of Angola, among them Zaire, Uige, Luanda, Cabinda Benguela, Bengo, Huíla, Lunda-Norte, Kwanza-Norte. 
The first missionaries reached the city of Mbanza Congo (formerly São Salvador), in 1878 from Britain. Then, in 1899, the British missionaries founded the Kibokolo Mission and in 1932 the Bembe Mission. The outbreak of hostilities in the war for Independence led to the Portuguese destroying the last two missions. The Mbanza Congo Mission was transformed into a Portuguese military barracks.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Historic City Series: Soyo

Located in the northwest corner of Angola, Soyo is a historic city that well reflects the encounter between peoples of different cultures. It was in this region where the first contacts occurred between the first landed-Europeans and ancient peoples from the Kingdom of Congo in the fifteenth century, precisely at the mouth of the great Zaire or Congo’s river, which traverses the city of Soyo.
Formerly known as Santo António do Zaire, Soyo is a city located in the province of Zaire in Angola and has recently become the largest oil-producing region in the country, with an estimate of 1,200,000 barrels per day.
It was in Soyo at the mouth of the Zaire or Congo’s river, where the Portuguese navigator Diogo Cão docked his caravels in 1482, in the fifteenth century, serving King D. João II of Portugal.  He arrived in the territory that today comprises Angola, having found a well-organized administrative region. Thinking he had reached the extreme point of Africa (originally called the “Cape of Storms”, then Cape of Good Hope), Diogo Cão entered the river and reached M'Banza Congo, capital of the ancient Kingdom of Congo, which, like the Soyo watched the arrival of the Portuguese and later the Christian evangelization.

At the time, Soyo was a province of the Kingdom of Congo, which stretched from Gabon to the mouth of the Kwanza River in the present province of Luanda, which was the one that had the greatest influence among the six that constituted that ancient and powerful kingdom. After some initial suspicion, the people of the region received the Europeans, who left there some evidence of their territorial "discoveries".

And the marks of the past are also present at the nearby port in M'Pinda, where a huge cross marks the first Catholic Mass prayed in Angola. At the base of the cross, says: "From the Cross the Light" and "In Memory of the First Baptizes" (where the first inhabitants of Soyo were baptized in 1491, including Mani-Soyo, uncle and representative of King Nzinga Nkuvo from Congo, who was baptized 'Manuel').

At the time, M'Pinda was an important port of Soyo, where the first product trades such as copper and ivory were made, but then was used to trade slaves. It is estimated that more than 60,000 slaves were sent to S. Tomé and Brazil from M'Pinda; trades that would eventually provoke rebellion against the Portuguese colonists.

A gift of nature geographically adjacent to Soyo is the passage of the Zaire River, the second largest in Africa after the Nile; it is also the second in flow and forms the second largest hydrographic basin in the world. At its present flow levels, it is the seventh largest river in the world and the second in extend of water. It is navigable in Angolan territory to the county of Nóqui, about 80 nautical miles from the city of Soyo, along which inhabit small fishing communities.

The province of Zaire, where Soyo is located has six municipalities, about 600 000 inhabitants and borders with the Democratic Republic of Congo. The climate is tropical humid, suitable for the production of coffee (which is no longer made), cassava, sweet potato, banana, beans, citrus fruits, peanuts and cashews, among others, as part of a subsistence peasant agriculture. (TAAG Austral Magazine)

Friday, March 4, 2011

In Search of 'Good Hair'

Like all modern societies, Angolan's place a great emphasis on their hair styles and hair care.  But beyond the current fashion trends, the history of hair styles has a social and cultural significance intrinsic to each beautiful strand.

As in most African societies, hair functioned as a carrier of messages.  Within these societal cultures, hair was an integral part of a complex language system.  Ever since African (or Angolan) civilizations bloomed, hairstyles have been used to indicate a person's marital status, age, religion, ethnic identity, wealth and rank within a community.  In some cultures, a person's surname and geographical origin could be ascertained simply by examining the hair because each clan had its own hair style.

In some Angolan cultures, hair was only groomed by a family member because only a relative could be trusted with such an important task.  In Angolan tribal traditions, most all women were taught about hair care and how to braid while they were young girls.  In social circles amongst women, offering to braid someone else's hair was a way of asking them to be your friend.  Hair braiding sessions are a time of share confidences and laughter; the circle of women who do each other's hair are friends bound together in a fellowship.

To traditional Angolans, and most Africans in general, the hair's value and worth is heightened by its spiritual qualities.  Anthropologists observed the belief systems that supports that since 'the hair is the most elevated point of your body, it is the closest to the divine.  Because the hair is the closest thing to the heavens, communicating from the gods and spirits was thought to pass through the hair to get to the soul".  Because a person's spirit supposedly nestled in the hair, the hairdresser always held a special place in community life.  The hairdresser was often considered the most trustworthy individual in society.

Clearly, hair has never been a purely cosmetic attribute for Angolans or for Africans in general.  It is a testament to the strength of these that most of the same rituals and beliefs regarding the hair remain in traditional Angolan societies today. (Hair story: untangling the roots of Black hair in America.  By Ayana D Byrd, Lori L Tharps)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Hometown Beverage; Ocissangua

Amongst the traditional Ovimbundu people in southern Angola, the homemade beverage ocissangua or kissangua is regularly consumed and plays an important part in the culture of the people.  The drink is made solely of corn flour and water and is permitted to ferment slightly for a better taste.  (I have often been offered the drink as a guest when I thought that it was let to ferment far too long!!)

According to culture, the drink is required to be on hand at all times in order to be given as the 'first meal' to visitors and to other special honorable guests in the home in order to quench or 'kill' their hunger and thirst.  Considering the economic limitations of the rural Angolans and their large supply of corn, this drink is often consumed more than water if the water supply is contaminated.