AT a popular herbal clinic in Ngara, Nairobi, a woman enquires whether there are herbal contraceptives on sale.
An elderly attendant at the desk responds in the affirmative and fishes out tiny pink tablets from one of the drawers. Each pill goes for USD 5.00.
The pills have Chinese writings on them and the woman can’t read Chinese, so she engages the attendant for more information.
The pills go by the name Sophia, she is told, and they are taken once every month.
But the woman is still skeptical and keeps asking about the side-effects and the efficacy of pills. What if they don’t work? What if they make her bleed? she asks.
Seemingly worked up, the attendant hands back her money and asks her to leave, saying she cannot guarantee that the pills will not have negative side-effects on her.
“There are no contraceptives without side-effects,” the attendant says. “All I know is that we serve hundreds of clients every month and none of them has come back to say that the pills have given them problems.”
The Chinese contraceptives are on sale in many herbal clinics in the country. Most of those who sell them and those who use them do not seem to have much information on these pills because they are packaged in Chinese. The name of the pills and instructions on how to use them are all in Chinese.
In 2009, then Director of Medical Services Dr Francis Kimani raised the alarm on reports of health complications linked to the use of the Chinese contraceptives, but the warning seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
Kimani said children under the age of three were having enlarged breasts and uteruses after their mothers used these contraceptives. Breastfeeding children developed swollen feet, knock knees and stunted speech.
Mothers reported feeling pregnant all the time, while others went into depression. Kimani said the pills contain high levels of hormones, about 40 times those in conventional contraceptives.
Despite this warning, the Chinese contraceptives continue to be popular among women in Kenya. Most of the users interviewed said the pills are convenient since they are taken only once every month, unlike conventional pills that have to be taken daily. The pills also cause increased sex drive, a welcome side-effect for many women.
“For me the only side-effects I experienced are the good ones,” says Jane Maingi, a housewife in Nairobi. “My libido was so high that I used to beg my husband to sneak out from work and come back home.”
Maingi was on the pill for two years but then stopped because she wanted another baby. She is now eight months pregnant and plans to continue using the Chinese pills after giving birth.
The housewife says if the pills had any negative effects, she would have known by now. She says while she was on the pill, she made several visits to her gynaecologist and got a clean bill of health each time. Even her current pregnancy has been uneventful.
Annete Akinyi, a Busia businesswoman, says she has been on the pill for 10 years. Every time she travels to China for business, which is twice a year, she buys enough stock for herself and her friends.
“One of the people I sell the pills to is a doctor,” she says.
Akinyi says ordinary contraceptives suppressed her libido and made her gain weight. Since she discovered the Chinese contraceptives, she has never looked back.
The once-a-month contraceptive pill has been used in China since the 1960s. The pill is taken on the fifth day of menstruation for the first time, then after 20 days and after every 30 days thereafter.
Even though they are marketed as herbal products, studies conducted on the contraceptives show that they have high doses of estrogen and progestogen, which are artificial hormones.
A 2007 study published by the US National Institutes of Health says lack of good quality data prevents confident assessment of the safety and efficacy of the once-a-month pills. The report, however, notes that available evidence indicates a high incidence of bothersome side-effects and hypertension. About 5.8 per cent of the pill users developed hypertension during the first year of use.
The report says the high monthly hormone doses raise questions about the safety of the pills.
Since the contraceptives are sold in herbal clinics as herbal medicine, it is difficult for the government to regulate their sale and use. There are no control mechanisms for herbal medicines at the moment. In 2010, the Pharmacy and Poisons Board issued guidelines on the regulation of herbal medicine but these guidelines are yet to take effect.
Dr Joachim Osur, the technical director of reproductive, maternal and child health at Amref, says the Health ministry has no control over the so-called herbal contraceptives because they are not registered under the ministry.
“People selling herbal medicine are registered under the Department of Cultural Services. So the Health ministry has no control over them,” he says.
The reproductive health expert says even the director of medical services cannot ban the Chinese medicine because they do not fall under his jurisdiction.
Osur says the drugs are probably imported as herbal medicine or supplements and that is why they have never come under the radar of the Pharmacy and Poisons Board.
“If they are imported as medicine, they have to be registered in Kenya,” Osur says. “The registration process is very stringent and thorough. It takes about one or two years. As long as the Chinese contraceptives come in as herbal supplements or herbal medicine, then the board has no control over them.”
Osur says it is difficult for health experts to talk about the drugs’ efficacy and side-effects because they do not know what they contain.
“We don’t know whether they have negative side-effects because we don’t know what chemicals they contain. Sometimes those chemicals have long-term effects so we can’t tell what effects they will have on users in the long run. It is until someone carries out a chemical analysis on them that we can say whether they are safe or not,” Osur says.
The head of reproductive health division at the Health ministry declined to comment on the matter.
Source: The Star
Ndola High Court dismisses UPND petition, to stay the decision by ECZ to ban campaign rallies, describing it capricious and without authority of law
THE Ndola High Court has dismissed an application by the United Party for National Development (UPND) in which it asked the court to quash the decision by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) to ban campaign rallies.
In its petition filed in the Ndola High Court, party secretary general,
Batuke Imenda asked the court to stay the decision by ECZ to ban campaign rallies, describing it capricious and without authority of law.
Mr Imenda also contended that the decision by ECZ not to prescribe the amount of airtime in any given language on public television, radio and electronic media all the participating political parties and independent candidates is illegal.
He further argued that ECZ abrogated its responsibility under television, radio and print media for the benefit of all participating political parties and independent candidates for the forthcoming national polls.
When case came up today, Ndola High Court judge Mary Mulanda dismissed the petition to allow campaign rallies.
Judge Mulanda however granted the party leave to apply for judicial in respect to its demand that public television, radio and electronic media should allocate equal airtime in any given language to all participating political parties and independent candidates.
Judge Mulanda said the decision by ECZ to ban campaign rallies is in the best interest of Zambia and her people.
“It’s not the campaigns that were suspended but the rallies and political parties were advised to use appropriate campaign strategies such as mobile public address system, distribution of fliers and other political party materials with minimal or no contact to the crowd. For the reasons stated, I am not satisfied that there is case fit for further investigation at a full inter partes hearing, according I refuse to grant the applicant leave to apply for judicial review of the first respondent’s decision to ban the campaigns rallies during the campaign period leading up to the general elections scheduled for August 12,” judge Mulanda said.
Meanwhile the judge has granted the party judicial review in which it has argued that the public are not giving equal airtime to all political parties including independents.
Marcopolo tiles declares dividends to Workers’ Compensation Fund Control Board (WCFCB)
Can Debt for Nature Swap offer some relief to debt distressed African Economies?
By Nachilala Nkombo, WWF Zambia Chief Executive Officer
What does 2021 Africa month mean to 1.2 billion Africans seeking a better and secure future amidst the global health pandemic? While the COVID-19 death toll is lowest in the continent of Africa compared to other parts of the world, Africa has to prepare for the worst in terms of the economic and social impacts of Covid-19. African economies are expected to be in a sharp recession as they depend largely on external financial flows from economies that have been hit hardest by Covid-19. Most financial inflows into the African economy are from tourism and other raw materials it exports to Europe and Asia such as copper, timber and oil.
Prior to Covid-19, African policy-makers were grappling with two significant challenges; rising poverty and rising national debts, which have not gone away. According to the World Bank, Africa is the only continent in the world that is seeing a rise in the number of people living with poverty. The absolute number of people living below the poverty line was estimated to have grown to 433 million Africans in 2018, rising from 284 million in 1990. With Covid-19 now, we expect that the number of people living below poverty will increase and will do so exponentially. With regard to its total debt burden, the total debt stock of the continent stood at over 67% of its GDP in 2020, above the levels of Debt sustainability as guided by the International Monetary Fund(IMF). For us who care about natural capital, we know that high debts and high poverty represents a bleak future for nature that we must arrest.
Despite Africa’s resources and people having created fortunes for a number of successful multinationals and a few individuals from within and outside Africa, poverty and national debts are rising exponentially. If not well managed, these realities will halt recovery of Africa’s economy during and post Covid-19. To the fallen Africa independence hero, high poverty and high national debts are not the freedom she or he died for. Zambia is the poster child for an African country that failed to honour its debt service obligations due to the size of the debt relative to the economy and the Covid-19 induced negative growth rates.
Zambia’s public external debt position as of the end of December 2020 had increased by 9 per cent to US $12.74 billion from US$11.65 billion as of the end of December 2019. Regarding debt service, a total of US $639.68 million was paid to various creditors compared to the US $1,091 million in 2019, a decrease of 41.4 per cent. The significant reduction in external debt service is explained by the debt service suspension granted to Zambia by members of the G20/Paris Club and other private creditors from May to December 2020, under the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI).
The Zambian Government has equally engaged the International Monetary Fund(IMF) for Extended Credit Support, but the negotiations have protracted, with some analysts reporting that the deal won’t be closed any time soon. Equally, the discussions for debt service suspension with the Euro Bondholders have not yielded any fruit, with the Zambian Government electing not to make the semi-annual bond repayments. Angola and the Republic of Congo have similar levels of indebtedness.
As the debt stress levels continue to increase, innovative financial mechanisms are needed to safeguard a series of African countries from worsening economic, health and environmental circumstances.
Reversing these high poverty rates growing exponentially will be difficult with a huge debt burden, but not impossible to resolve. In addition to the proposals laid out by the G20 countries to re-negotiate debts G20 countries owe the world whose repayments have been made difficult by the Covid-19 induced meltdown of the global economy, Africa, can however capitalise on its natural resources by considering debt settlements instruments that help to restore nature and simultaneously drive a green recovery and create green jobs.
One approach that can achieve these aims is the use of Debt for Nature Swaps. Debt for Nature Swap is a transaction where a country has its debt purchased, renegotiated or forgiven by its creditors (fully or partially) with specific conditions, for example, that savings on debt service are invested in environmental conservation activities (Mathias, et al., 2018). Therefore, the country is freed from the strict debt service payment on one end and invests towards conservation and enacting environmental protection measures on the other end.
The concept of Debt for Nature Swaps was first initiated in 1967 by James Goff of the Experimental Conservation Agency with association to the Bidborough Badgers as an opportunity to deal with the problems of developing nation indebtedness and its consequent deleterious effect on the environment (Visser & Mendoza, 1994). Lovejoy (1984) suggested that ameliorating debt and promoting conservation could be a win-win situation for the country and for nature.
Countries that have leveraged the debt-for-nature swaps typically have several threatened or endangered species, experience rapid deforestation, and have relatively stable, often democratic, political systems. Since 1987, Debt-for-Nature agreements have generated over US$1 billion for conservation in developing countries (Sheikh, 2010).
Zambia’s failure to agree with its creditors on a debt service suspension programme represents an opportunity for a Debt for Nature Swap which it has experience with. Learning from the past and similarly structured transactions, the Government of Zambia in 1993 established a debt conversion programme that permitted an orderly conversion of external debt owed to its creditors purchased by many NGOs to restore nature.
In this programme, funded by the World Bank debt buy-back and facilitated by the Debt-for-Development Coalition (a non-profit institution that executed debt-for-nature swaps on behalf of single NGOs), NGOs purchased Zambian debt at 11 per cent. They received a dollar-denominated note worth 16.5 per cent (WWF Report, 2003).
Despite being viewed as an innovative financial option to relieve debt distress and achieve environmental and developmental outcomes; Debt-for-Nature swaps have yet garnered worldwide recognition. International observers have raised concerns over the perceived inefficiency of debt-for-nature swaps compared to other financial mechanisms and the potential risks that debt relief deals pose to a developing country’s sovereignty (Didia, 2016).
However, failure to enter into such deals can only make the countries with high levels of debt not only default but also continue with the massive degradation of the environment as they try to find solutions out of a vicious debt trap.
In conclusion, Debt for Nature swaps can only really work when the country is at a high risk of defaulting on the debt payments mainly because the debt is bought at a discount. With the Zambian credit rating being low graded and with a record of a default, it is the right time to look at issuing Debt for Nature swap.
Another issue the Debt for Nature swaps would address is the significant challenge of attracting more private investment with conservation objectives over the long term and also helping to relieve the country from debt distress aggravated by the impact of Covid-19. Beyond the debt challenge, the Covid-19 pandemic has yet again exposed the weaknesses that characterise most African economies that need urgent transformation.
These include high vulnerability of Africa’s nature due to high levels of poverty and a drive for growth; a high import bill for agriculture and manufactured goods that could have been produced locally that have a huge global carbon footprint, export of raw materials such as copper, cocoa and unprocessed oil and inadequate financial and trade linkages between African economies.