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Unexpected Struggles in the Fight Against Ebola

LOS ANGELES SENTINEL — The battle to knock out the Ebola virus should have its eyes on the goal. Instead, politics and a divisive struggle between two drug makers has interfered. A key health minister in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has resigned in protest. In his resignation letter, Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga condemned President Felix Tshisekedi ‘s takeover of the country’s Ebola response, removing him as head of the Ebola response team.

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By Global Information Network

The battle to knock out the Ebola virus should have its eyes on the goal. Instead, politics and a divisive struggle between two drug makers has interfered. A key health minister in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has resigned in protest.

In his resignation letter, Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga condemned President Felix Tshisekedi ‘s takeover of the country’s Ebola response, removing him as head of the Ebola response team.

He also criticized what he described as outside pressure to roll out a second experimental Ebola vaccine.

Oly Ilunga Kalenga  defended the work of his ministry, saying it had communicated daily on the situation in the ongoing outbreak “to reassure and show the world that the country is managing this epidemic.”

But on Saturday, Tshisekedi’s administration announced that direct supervision of the Ebola response was being placed with a team of experts under the direction of Jean Jacques Muyembe Tamfum, director-general of the DRC’s National Institute for Biomedical Research (NIBR) and a microbiologist at the University of Kinshasa’s medical school. Tamfum has studied Ebola and responded to outbreaks for more than 40 years.

The change in leadership came days after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. “There is no sign of this epidemic slowing down. We therefore welcome the DRC President’s bold decision to change strategy and bring the Ebola response under his direct supervision,” Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said in a statement.

Since August 2018, the DRC has recorded more than 2,500 cases of Ebola and, among them, more than 1,700 deaths.

In his resignation letter, Kalenga attacked efforts to launch trials of an experimental vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson (J&J) in the country. A Merck & Co. vaccine is already in use there.

Groups backing the use of the J&J vaccine include the Wellcome Trust, Doctors Without Borders, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), WHO, J&J, and NIBR.

But there are important differences from Merck’s vaccine that have to be taken into account, he said. Made from a live, replicating virus, Merck’s vaccine mounts protection against Ebola in about 10 days. While the J&J immunization appears to raise the body’s defenses for the long-term, it’s administered in two shots, about two months apart.

“We have developed a vaccine for a time of peace,” said Paul Stoffels, J&J’s chief scientific officer. He worked in clinics in poor African communities in Congo and elsewhere for years before coming to the company.

How much, if any, protection a person gets from the first shot before getting the second isn’t clear. Ensuring people are fully vaccinated with the two-shot regimen would be challenging among mobile populations, especially in people fleeing conflict, and could stoke suspicions.

This article originally appeared in The Los Angeles Sentinel.

Activism

City Receives $3 Million Grant to Advance Violence Prevention Among School-Age Youth

Although the Department of Violence Prevention works to advance community outreach with life coaching, gender-based violence services, violence interruption, and community healing, this funding is focused on the family systems model, targeted specifically at Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) schools for school-site violence intervention and prevention teams.

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Guillermo Cespedes is the head of Oakland’s Dept. of Violence Prevention.
Guillermo Cespedes is the head of Oakland’s Dept. of Violence Prevention.

By Post Staff

The City of Oakland’s Department of Violence Prevention (DVP) has received a $3 million, three-year grant to support its violence interruption efforts.

In partnership with the Oakland Public Fund for Innovation, the Gilead Foundation awarded the grant to invest in health equity strategy, including a focus on prevention and intervention services to school-age youth, disrupting the pattern of violence.

“The Gilead Foundation is proud to support the Oakland Fund for Public Innovation and the City of Oakland’s Department of Violence Prevention,” said Kate Wilson, executive director of Gilead Foundation.

Chief of Violence Prevention with the City of Oakland Guillermo Cespedes said the grant will allow “DVP to strengthen families and protect its members from becoming involved in lifestyles associated with violence, while increasing educational outcomes and lifelong learning skills.”

Although the Department of Violence Prevention works to advance community outreach with life coaching, gender-based violence services, violence interruption, and community healing, this funding is focused on the family systems model, targeted specifically at Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) schools for school-site violence intervention and prevention teams.

Students who are routinely exposed to violence at home or in the community often experience toxic stress that leads to cognitive impairment, hyperactivity, and attention deficits that make it challenging to succeed in the classroom.

Exposure to violence also contributes to lower school attendance and a higher likelihood of suspension, which further promotes disengagement from school.

Using a public health approach, the DVP will strengthen family, school, and community contexts for OUSD school students living in neighborhoods with high rates of violence, to reduce their exposure to violence and increase their chances of succeeding academically.

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Activism

We Will Not Incarcerate Our Way Out of This

Housing is a human right. We can use public resources to ensure everyone has a safe place to live and effective mental health and substance use treatment. Instead, we’ve gutted our social programs to the point where they don’t function and assume this lack of functionality means there’s no solution.

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As we’ve overfunded police and underfunded housing, treatment, and other essential services, we’ve seen more policing but less safety.
Last week, California Highway Patrol (CHP) and CalTrans violently evicted the Wood Street community, the largest encampment in the Bay Area.

People Are Liberating Public Spaces to Fight the Criminalization of Poverty

By Cat Brooks

How many times have you walked by an unhoused neighbor and told yourself it’s their fault, that they made the wrong life choices?

But the truth is that our unhoused crisis is the result of decades-long policies that criminalize poverty, addiction and mental health disabilities and treat human beings like garbage to be swept away with Friday’s trash while ignoring root causes.

Every city in the U.S. responds to visible poverty with fences, fines, cops, courts, and cages. These shortsighted responses make great photo ops, and let politicians pontificate, but all only accomplish terrorizing the most vulnerable, who move into new neighborhoods and reestablish their right to exist.

No matter how many arrests or evictions, the people will continue to be, and as part of that being — reclaim public spaces.

When San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen called for the erection of fences around the 24th Street Bart Plaza, the community struck back and retook the plaza. @MissionDeFence_SF posted a statement in solidarity with other current public land struggles, including: People’s Park in Berkeley, Parker Elementary in Oakland, Echo Park in Los Angeles and Mystic Garden in Daly City.

These struggles are proof positive that the power lies with the people who will rise up, resist and reclaim the people’s space.

Last week, California Highway Patrol (CHP) and CalTrans violently evicted the Wood Street community, the largest encampment in the Bay Area. CHP (the 4th most murderous law enforcement agency in California) descended on the camp for phase one of an armed eviction that will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Wood Street’s estimated 200-300 residents are being offered little relocation support or resources. Only a fraction has been given shelters or RV spots. Two were arrested for non-violent civil disobedience amidst an outpouring of community support.

Most of the Wood Street folks are Black, several are elders, many extremely vulnerable, and almost all are victims of gentrification and criminalization.

I was there to bear witness as the state demolished a tiny home, towed RVs, and destroyed lives. No effort was made to move their homes and belongings. Mayor Libby Schaaf doesn’t believe the city has any obligation to do so.

In an open letter to Schaaf, Governor Gavin Newsom, and others, residents offered concrete solutions and laid out their needs. They’ve been asking for sanitation services and fire safety for years. They’ve been ignored.

In their letter, they wrote, “The Wood Street community stands strong in our determination to keep our community together. We plan to continue organizing and fighting for long-term and permanent housing solutions.”

For now, they’ll be forced to move into residential areas where NIMBYS will call cops to protect their fragile senses from the brutality of visible poverty. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

This story is playing out across California.  Instead of meeting people’s basic needs, the state legislature does things like “CARE Courts” — to force unhoused people into court-ordered treatment that will cost millions and target Black and brown folks. The bill is Governor Newsom’s brainchild and a continuation of criminalizing the unhoused under the guise of “care” which he’s done since his days as mayor of San Francisco.

Housing is a human right. We can use public resources to ensure everyone has a safe place to live and effective mental health and substance use treatment. Instead, we’ve gutted our social programs to the point where they don’t function and assume this lack of functionality means there’s no solution.

Poverty is a political choice. Oakland’s unhoused population increased 24% since 2019 (thank you Libby), yet the Town spends 10 times as much on police as it does on housing.

As we’ve overfunded police and underfunded housing, treatment, and other essential services, we’ve seen more policing but less safety. We are less safe when we build walls to keep unhoused neighbors out of public spaces. We are less safe when we respond to mental health crises with a badge and gun.

We are less safe when the treatment plan for substance use problems is a cage.

If seeing unhoused people makes us uncomfortable, then we should invest in housing for all. If public drug use offends us, then we should invest in safe injection facilities (a proven public health intervention that Newsom just vetoed).

If watching someone experience a mental health crisis is distressing, then we should invest in community-driven approaches to support individuals in crisis.

Until we do these things, no matter how much our elected officials try to sanitize the crises we face, the people will keep knocking down fences to liberate public spaces.

Cat Brooks is co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, executive director of the Justice Teams Network and host of Law & Disorder on KPFA, a new show that exposes the cracks in our system and agitates for resistance.

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Activism

Oakland Promise and Kaiser Support Promising Student

Kaiser Permanente gave a significant grant to Oakland Promise, helping it reach a $50 million goal for its Generation Fund, which will offer college savings accounts and scholarships to all low-income Oakland public school students while they’re pursuing college degrees or trade certificates.

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Kaiser Permanente partners with Oakland Promise to cultivate mentor program, scholarships, academic guidance. Pictured, Kaiser Permanente mentor Ingrid Chen, MD, at right, with Sandy La, who begins her second year of college this fall.
Kaiser Permanente partners with Oakland Promise to cultivate mentor program, scholarships, academic guidance. Pictured, Kaiser Permanente mentor Ingrid Chen, MD, at right, with Sandy La, who begins her second year of college this fall.

By Carla Thomas

When Sandy La applied to two programs while a senior at Oakland High, she had no idea the Oakland Promise program would truly reward her for being a promising student on the rise. Now a successful student at UC San Diego majoring in Public Health, La has spent over 12 months mentored by Kaiser Permanente Oakland psychiatry resident Ingrid Chen. For Chen, mentoring a student and just being there for her was key.

Kaiser Permanente gave a significant grant to Oakland Promise, helping it reach a $50 million goal for its Generation Fund, which will offer college savings accounts and scholarships to all low-income Oakland public school students while they’re pursuing college degrees or trade certificates.

“The program is very well organized, and very accessible for busy working people,” said Dr. Chen. Kaiser Permanente is partnered with Oakland Promise to cultivate mentor programs, scholarships and academic guidance.

La was one of the lucky few of 300 to 400 Oakland high school students who received college scholarships ranging from $2,000 to $16,000 each year from Oakland Promise, and Dr. Chen is one of the 34 mentors from Kaiser Permanente who help keep them in college, often forming long lasting friendships.

“When I first moved to Oakland in 2020 to start my residency, the social justice movements spotlighting racial inequality in our society inspired me to help the community,” said Dr. Chen. “My parents are first generation Taiwanese immigrants, so I have a heart for immigrant families and other groups that are often marginalized in society.”

Dr. Chen makes herself available to La and one other student to talk about anything and help them identify opportunities in college and beyond.

“It’s been great to have someone to talk to and support me,” said La, who says the extra support really matters.

Dr. Chen says it has been great getting to know La and supporting her. La says the support has been a great confidence booster and she now pays it forward while counseling incoming freshmen. “I’m majoring in public health because I want to make a difference in health care and solve some of the disparities in the field,” said La.

Kaiser Permanente is also a founding sponsor of Oakland Promise, said Yvette Radford, Kaiser Permanente Northern California vice president of External and Community Affairs. “Oakland Promise is creating brighter futures for children and families by supporting children at every stage in their lives, from the day they’re born to the day they graduate from college,” said Radford. “This innovative public-private partnership is helping Oakland’s children become more successful in school and in life.”

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