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  • Christine Chumbler
    Malawi president gains majority A surprise deal with a bitter rival has given President Bingu wa Mutharika a majority in Malawi s parliament. With the National
    Message 1 of 102 , Jun 21, 2004
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      Malawi president gains majority

      A surprise deal with a bitter rival has given President Bingu wa
      Mutharika a majority in Malawi's parliament.
      With the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) seats, the governing United
      Democratic Front (UDF) now has enough MPs to pass parliamentary bills.

      The move follows presidential hopeful Gwanda Chakuamba's decision to
      drop his legal challenge to the May polls and accept a post in

      NDA leader Brown Mpinganjira said he forgave the UDF for the past.

      "NDA wants to contribute to the development of the country and we can
      only do that in government," he said at a signing ceremony at former
      President Bakili Muluzi's private residence.

      Politicking over

      Mr Mpinganjira, who came fourth in the presidential elections, was once
      the former president's right-hand man, but was expelled from the UDF in
      2000 for alleged corruption.

      Mr Muluzi, still the UDF's national chairman, said that the time for
      politicking was over.

      "Malawi has had a very fragmented political situation with so many
      political parties and yet this country is a very poor country. We need
      to be working together and we must work together," he said.

      With the eight MPs from Mr Mpinganjira's NDA, 25 from other opposition
      parties and at least 22 independent MPs, over 100 MPs now back Mr
      Mutharika in the 193-seat parliament.

      But President Mutharika was conspicuously absent from the signing
      ceremony attended by key leaders of both parties.

      The BBC's Raphael Tenthani says Mr Mutharika is seen by some as a
      lame-duck president with Mr Muluzi still in control behind the scenes.

      Talk is already rife that Mr Mpinganjira is being groomed to be a UDF
      candidate in the 2009 presidential elections, our correspondent says.

      Before leaving the UDF, Mr Mpinganjira had been tipped to take over
      from Mr Muluzi.


      Youth Take HIV/Aids Awareness Head-On

      The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)

      June 20, 2004
      Posted to the web June 21, 2004

      Wezie Nyirongo

      Youth Ambassadors on HIV/AIDS have stressed their commitment in
      spreading the awareness message on the pandemic through drama, poems,
      debates and public lecturers to fellow youth in secondary and tertiary

      One such group is Bunda Ensemble Theatre, a drama group formed in the
      year 2000 by students of Bunda College of Agriculture (BCA) with the
      objective of educating, entertaining and informing fellow students on
      issues relating to HIV/AIDS.

      In an exclusive interview with The Chronicle, Secretary for the group
      Esmie Sokosa said since its inception, the group through drama has
      reached out to about 3,250 students country wide with one message
      'ABSTINENCE' as the only true and trusted way of avoiding being infected
      with HIV.

      'In our plays we preach total abstinence as the only true and trusted
      way of protection from HIV/AIDS. We do not encourage condom use because
      we target young people who are still in academic institutions and,
      promoting condoms would be encouraging promiscuity among them,' said
      Sokosa whose drama group comprises 16 members, 10 boys and 6 girls.

      Sokosa said 'Stop the fire', a play written by Smith Likongwe is the
      one used in their outreach activities in different academic institutions
      across the country in advocating messages related to HIV/AIDS.

      'There is no protected sex in condom use, the first time I would use
      the condom, the next encounter will be skin to skin, the condoms were
      for my friends to see...' is an extract from their play.

      She further said they have stressed their commitment to inform youth
      after realising that most graduates from colleges are infected with the
      pandemic and die just soon after graduating. This is a loss to the
      country because they die before serving the nation.

      'We have decided to step up our commitment towards awareness messages
      on the pandemic after realising that most graduates die because they are
      exposed to drinking, smoking and socialising which leads them to indulge
      in unsafe sexual relationships,' she added.

      Another member, Chipaso Nkhonjera, the chairperson for the group added
      that through the project they have discovered that their target group
      which are youth know about HIV/AIDS but do not have the necessary
      information on protection and behavioral change.

      'One thing we have discovered through our project is that the youth
      know about HIV/AIDS but do not have the necessary information pertaining
      to protection and behavioral change,' he said adding: 'However, we are
      receiving positive response from the students in their participation and
      contributions through debates and public lecturers because we are also
      youth and we speak the same language.' Nkhonjera pointed out that in the
      course of their activities they face many problem one being that some
      students do not take them seriously because they are college students
      who mostly are associated with reports of immorality and violence.

      He said: 'Since we know that they have negative reaction about us, as
      role models we try our level best to create a positive image towards
      them to prove them wrong.' Although the project is funded by the
      National AIDS Commission through the Global Fund, the group says the
      funds are not enough to sustain their project and reach out to all
      institutions to equip their fellow youth with awareness messages
      relating to HIV/AIDS.

      Meanwhile, NAC had provided a grant of K1 million to the group to
      implement advocacy for behavioral change through theatre in 10 different
      academic institutions across the country.

      The group has so far reached out to six secondary schools namely,
      Likuni Girls, Ntchisi, Balaka, Lisumbwi, Nkhamenya and Mzuzu government
      School The National AIDS Policy launched early this year stipulates that
      government shall ensure that all educational institutions have
      appropriate safeguards in place that are enforced to prevent students
      from being sexually abused, harassed or exploited by peers or

      Additionally the policy says children and young people are socially and
      culturally disadvantaged because they cannot make their voices heard if
      they are being exploited or abused. The power relations in the school
      setting may make them particularly vulnerable.


      K187m. Scam: Chilumpha Exposed! As Leaked Document Implicates the Vice

      The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)

      June 20, 2004
      Posted to the web June 21, 2004

      Levison Mwase, Wezie Nyirongo & Pilirani Phiri

      As the K187 Million Education Corruption Scam case resumes this week, a
      document leaked to The Chronicle alleges that Vice President Cassim
      Chilumpha, who was then Minister of Finance at the time of the scam,
      instructed officials in his ministry and that of Education to prepare
      Completion Certificates, Payment Vouchers and actual payments for work
      that was still in progress as well as for contracts whose work had not
      yet started.

      In the period between 1998 and 1999 the Ministry of Education was
      allegedly swindled of the sum of K187 million after contractors were
      paid, in advance and contrary to procedure, for uncompleted, substandard
      and ghost buildings because, it is alleged, the UDF party was
      desperately looking for campaign funding.

      The document alleges that in 1999 Chilumpha instructed Brighton
      Chakhaza, who by that time was Division Manager for Central-East
      Education Division to issue contracts to Greselder Geoffrey wa Jeffrey,
      one of the contractors whose case is still in court.

      The documents say Geoffrey wa Jeffrey, who is close to Chilumpha,
      received about fifty contracts to rehabilitate, maintain and construct
      classroom blocks for schools in Salima, Nkhotakota, Dowa, Ntchisi and
      Kasungu districts. These districts are in the Central-East Division and
      were directly under Chakhaza.

      'During this period Chilumpha, apart from being Finance Minister was a
      Parliamentary candidate for Nkhotakota Central and Chakhaza was
      contesting in the Parliamentary elections for Dowa Central Constituency.
      Both needed money to support them in the elections. Chilumpha won the
      elections while Chakhaza lost and was later posted to Paris, France as
      Malawi's Deputy Ambassador,' says the document.

      Allegations stipulate that Chakhaza was instructed not to inform the
      Ministry of Education head office about the contracts because payment
      would come directly from the Finance Ministry to the contractor without
      going through ministry headquarters.

      The information alleges that Chakhaza, with the assistance of one of
      his senior officers at the Division Office prepared Completion
      Certificates for uncompleted work by Geoffrey wa Jeffrey without the
      involvement of the Education Physical Facilities and Development Unit in
      the Ministry of Education which is responsible for the evaluation of all
      contracts being carried out in the ministry and the issuing of
      Completion Certificates before payments could be made.

      It is further alleged that Chakhaza was later instructed to hand over
      the Completion Certificates and payment vouchers to Geoffrey wa Jeffrey
      because Chilumpha wanted to authorise the payment for all the contracts
      given to her because he (Chilumpha) was tipped to be shifted from the
      Ministry of Finance to that of Education in a impending cabinet

      Chilumpha was indeed moved from the Finance Ministry to Education after
      all the payments were made to Geoffrey wa Jeffrey.

      Documents show that Chilumpha, after getting the Completion
      Certificates and Payment Vouchers, handed them over to the then Director
      of Budget, a Mr. Mwadiwa for payment.

      Most of the payments were made using government accounts maintained at
      the First Merchant Bank and Stanbic Bank formerly Commercial Bank of
      Malawi (CBM) in Lilongwe.

      'Most of these bank accounts were different donor funded accounts. For
      example cheque number 267869, dated June 4, 1999 for K1.8 million was
      paid from Structural Adjustment Loan Account maintained at the then
      Commercial Bank of Malawi, Lilongwe Branch,' 'Another cheque number
      00515 dated June 23, 1999 for K379,102 was paid from Privatisation
      Social Project Account maintained at the First Merchant Bank, Lilongwe
      Branch,' reads the document in part.

      It is reported that Mwadiwa acknowledged, before the Parliamentary
      Public Accounts Committee at Parliament Building on July 2000 to have
      made the above and other payments after directives from Chilumpha.

      The document implicates more than 55 contractors in the scandal that
      forced Muluzi to drop some of his ministers including Cassim Chilumpha
      and Peter Chupa.

      The case involving Geoffrey wa Jeffrey is expected to resume tomorrow
      (Tuesday) and will be held in Ntchisi and Nkhotakota rather than in open

      The High Court will sit in the two districts to visit sites where
      construction work is said to have failed to take place, four years after
      the scam was made public. The Chronicle has received information that
      indicates that the work on the sites continued after the scam was made
      public. This has resulted in the completion of some of the projects.

      During his swearing in acceptance speech the newly elected President
      Bingu Wa Mutharika promised to deal with corruption 'at all levels' and
      would not spare anybody who was involved in corruption.

      The Malawi Constitution is silent on the immunity of the vice president
      on whether he can be sued in any civil proceeding or fraud cases.
      Section 91(1) stipulates immunity of the serving president saying: 'No
      person holding the office of President or performing the functions of
      President may be sued in any civil proceedings but the office of
      President shall not be immune to orders of the courts concerning rights
      and duties under this constitution'.

      And sub-section (2) adds: 'No person holding the office of President
      shall be charged with any criminal offence in any court during his (or
      her) term of office, except where he or she has been charged with an
      offence on impeachment'.

      The Vice President Cassim Chilumpha has remained detached and has
      distanced himself from the allegations. He has maintained that he is no
      way involved in the scam. Numerous attempts to contact him for comment
      on the allegations contained in the document leaked to The Chronicle
      were unsuccessful.


      Shrinkage & Pilferage At Lilongwe Central Hospital

      The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)

      June 20, 2004
      Posted to the web June 21, 2004


      After assessing the drug situation at health centre and district
      hospital levels, we moved up the ladder to Lilongwe Central Hospital,
      the only referral hospital for the central region serving a total
      population of over 3 million people. Knowing that it is the most
      prestigious health establishment in the public health system in the
      region we were hoping to find a better picture. But to our surprise even
      at this upper stage of the system, the situation was worse.

      A clinician, who refused to be identified, informed us that the
      hospital received a lot of drugs but the problem was that most of them
      disappeared to private clinics which several individuals working at the
      hospital have opened.

      'For many months now,' our informant began, 'the hospital lacks a whole
      range of antibiotics such as Ciprofaxine, Augmentin or Amoxilin. We may
      have some of them for one month and then they vanish for another six
      months. Can you imagine that?

      'Ciprofaxine, Amoxilin are normally used for minor infections. In the
      absence of these first line antibiotics, prescribers are forced to
      resort to using second line antibiotics. This practice brings about
      resistance. This is why more and more diseases are becoming difficult to
      treat - TB for instance.' We also learnt that, unlike at most district
      hospitals, the drug committee was available there and met quite often.
      But this committee mainly comprised of specialists who, by nature of
      their professional status, have very little knowledge of the day-to-day
      drug administration at the hospital. Clinicians, who are involved on a
      daily basis, are only represented by one of them and his views are often
      not accommodated.

      'This is a very awkward arrangement since it alienates Clinical
      Officers and Medical Assistants from serious drug administration issues.
      Every day we see drugs going out of the hospital and yet people who sit
      on the drug committee are not even aware of what is happening,' charged
      one clinician who opted to speak off the record. He continued, 'are you
      surprised that the hospital is rocked with severe shortages of essential
      medicines and drug pilferage? Go to Biwi and you will find private
      clinics run by staff of this hospital - do you wonder where these people
      take the medicines from that are used there?'

      The poor documentation and record-keeping syndrome which we observed at
      health centers and district hospitals is also crippling the referral
      hospital. Patient registration books had no serial numbers and date and
      remarks columns. This makes effective drug audits almost impossible and
      cheating on drugs by hospital staff very easy. Just as at the lower
      levels, unused drugs (mainly due to deaths, change of prescription and
      patient abscondment) at the wards are not entered on any record, let
      alone returned to the pharmacy for re-entry.

      'Let's say I prescribed Chloramphenicol for fourteen days to a patient
      - and the patient in the ward dies or absconds or my senior changes my
      prescription after one day,' argues our clinical informant at Lilongwe
      Central Hospital, 'where will the vials or tablets that the pharmacy
      sent to the ward go to? Now, a hospital as big as Lilongwe Central
      Hospital admits thousands of patients a week. Deaths, patient
      abscondment and prescription changes occur every day - how many
      Chloramphenicol vials or tablets go unaccounted for at the wards in a
      day, a week, a month or a year?' Entering the pharmacy at this large
      hospital the team of journalists was highly impressed with the perfect
      manner in which the pharmacy and the rest of the hospital were designed.
      For those who have never been at this once well-taken-care-of complex -
      the pharmacy was conveniently built, separate from all other departments
      of the hospital. Four or more different wings of the hospital encircle
      the pharmacy. Some of these wings are: the in-patient wing on the South;
      the out-patient and Administration wings on the West; the Dental wing on
      the East and the Eye Department in the North.

      In the pharmacy you will find two drug stores: the Tablet Store and the
      Injectables Store. You will find staff, beautifully dressed in white,
      performing two main drug distribution functions. Some dispensing drugs
      to patients who are not admitted (who normally stand for long hours in
      queues), while others are packing and sending drugs to the wards - where
      the patients that are admitted receive treatment. Within the pharmacy
      there is what they call an In-Patient Office. This room serves as a
      drug-handling center for drugs heading for the wards. The nearest ward
      is situated some two hundred meters (200m) away from the pharmacy
      complex. On a good day you will see hospital maids, who are dressed in
      green uniforms ferrying big boxes containing drugs from the pharmacy to
      the wards on their heads. It is in this room, manned by a Mr. Mitochi,
      where we came face to face with serious anomalies in the drug
      distribution system at this important hospital.

      In this room the orders coming to the pharmacy from the wards were
      written on unofficial pieces of paper, most of which were not dated or
      signed by individuals raising the orders from the wards. Redge Mitochi
      said that the pharmacy did not have proper documentation procedures when
      dispensing tablets to the various wards. We discovered that no recording
      of tablets is done in his office before they are taken to the wards.
      Only injectables leaving the injection room were recorded.

      When cornered with questions he replied: 'I just dip my hand into the
      tin and put the tablets into the boxes. In the past I hear they used to
      count the tablets that went to the wards one by one but in the recent
      years the counting has become boring and tiresome. And no follow up is
      done by anyone to ensure that the drugs arrive at the wards safely.

      'How does one follow up drugs in a system where recording is not up to
      date and no book inspection is done by anyone?' argues Mitochi: 'You
      see, many times we work without proper guidelines. We cannot afford to
      follow all the recommended procedures any more,' he concludes.

      And when we went to check the recording system in the wards Mary
      Kumwenda, Sister-In-Charge for Ward I informed us that the drug
      administration situation was in a sorry state, mainly because nobody
      took any interest in checking on what happens in the ward order books.
      She showed us some of the books which were scattered, all over the room.
      'Look at these order books here, they were not enough for the wards and
      we had to cut them into half so that we can have enough for all the
      wards. This is why half of them don't have serial numbers.' We further
      learnt that when they were used up nobody came to collect them, until
      they turned into litter and the hospital cleaners threw them into the
      rubbish pit where they are burned.

      Asked why such irregularities occur at such a prestigious hospital the
      Chief Pharmacist, Francis Chafulumira, who assumed his responsibilities
      at the hospital in January, 2003, says: 'This can among other things be
      attributed to inadequate financing, inadequate staffing and a long
      history of drug indiscipline. For a long time the hospital has operated
      with inadequate and under-qualified pharmacy staff who did not fully
      comprehend the fact that drugs were expensive and a very important
      commodity in the health sector of any country.

      'Secondly, the hospital lacks modern drug ordering systems. As you can
      see this pharmacy has not yet been computerized so that a lot of what we
      do is done manually. This makes following up drugs in the wards at such
      a big hospital naturally difficult. And there is a problem of security.
      People, including staff take a lot of drugs out of the hospital.'
      Chafulumira admitted while complaining of a weak legal system that has
      allowed culprits go unpunished. 'This has killed the hospital's interest
      to push issues further sometimes,' he concludes.

      And as our discussion with him gathered momentum, Chafulumira, one of
      the only four pharmacists that the entire public health sector has in
      Malawi, disclosed that the shoddy manner in which drugs are recorded at
      the hospital has cost the nation a lot in terms of money and of drugs.
      He says that 'ghost orders' and 'ghost patients' have often been used to
      siphon drugs from the pharmacy.

      'A lot of these people lingering around in the hospital premises are
      not guardians or patients. They are vendors who have come to buy
      medicine from hospital staff. People take advantage of these loopholes,'
      he informs.

      Chafulumira informed us that hospital maids steal drugs from the ward
      and throw them into the waste-basket, hide them in the dust-bin and then
      throw them into the rubbish pit outside the building. At night they come
      back, retrieve them and take the drugs home for re-sale.' When asked
      about what the hospital is doing to address this kind of cheating,
      Chafulumira said that the hospital is planning to build a fence around
      the rubbish pit to discourage staff from throwing medicines into it with
      the hope of collecting the same at night.

      We also learnt from the Chief Pharmacist that some hospital maids steal
      drugs when they carry them from the pharmacy to the wards and between
      Lilongwe Central Hospital and Lilongwe Bottom Hospital, which is another
      wing of the referral hospital. Since the boxes in which drugs are
      transported between the two destinations are not locked, the maids take
      whole tins or packets of drugs in their pockets. He told us that funds
      willing, his office would solve this problem by replacing the current
      boxes with lockable ones.

      'Each box will have two keys. One will be kept in the pharmacy and a
      duplicate will be kept by the Sister-In-Charge of a particular ward.
      This system will ensure that the maids don't dip their hands into the
      boxes,' he says. continued next week


      VCT Fears Turn Into Smiles .... a Story of Likwenu Secondary School

      The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)

      June 20, 2004
      Posted to the web June 21, 2004

      Pilirani Phiri

      For 20 year old Florence, the idea of going for HIV/AIDS Voluntary
      Counselling and Testing (VCT) has always sent chills down her spine.

      Too frightened to know her sero status, she often asks herself: Why in
      the face of there being no cure for the pandemic should anyone go for

      As her views on VCT are concerned, only a miracle will change her
      decision not to undergo VCT although she thinks that she is not HIV
      positive because all her life she has slept with only four different

      Florence's question: "Why in the face of there being no cure for the
      pandemic should anyone go for VCT?" is asked by many, but according to
      the World Health Organisation (WHO), the reason for VCT is simple and
      practical; life goes by choices and knowledge helps people make informed
      choices, therefore VCT enables people to have control and authority over
      their lives. "In these days of anti-retroviral drugs, knowing one's sero
      status is the first step in deciding whether or not to go for these life
      prolonging drugs.

      Knowledge of one's sero-status also helps when deciding one's
      lifestyle, the kind of food to eat, beverages to drink, exercises to
      take part in and the need to urgently seek treatment against
      opportunistic diseases," advises the WHO.

      Recently, about thirty students from Likwenu Community Day Secondary
      School (CDSS) in Zomba who, like Florence, were also too scared to go
      for VCT ultimately decided to take the plunge. The rest is now history:
      They are the school's VCT models. "All thirty students who went for VCT
      belong to the school's HIV/AIDS Toto Club. We talked to them about the
      need for knowing their sero-status.

      Reluctantly they went for VCT and after that day they all said they
      will now make plans for their lives because they know their status in as
      far as the HIV/AIDS pandemic is concerned," said the head teacher Mrs.
      Kamatiya flanked by Imuran Malidadi of Malosa Community Based
      Organisation (MACOBO) who works hand in hand with the school's AIDS

      Aware of their sero-status, the students told The Chronicle at the
      school during an HIV/AIDS Media Tour organised by the National AIDS
      Commission (NAC), that they are now VCT models and are lobbying fellow
      students to follow suit. "After knowing my sero-status I have made my
      mind up on life's choices that I will be following from now on. And I am
      encouraging my fellow youth to go for VCT. They should not live a blind
      life but know their sero-status. Being found HIV/AIDS positive is not
      the end of life but the beginning of your new life because it helps in
      deciding one's lifestyle," said 17 year old Emily Welemu who is in form

      Another form 4 student, 19 year old Asidi Chamatwa who also went for
      VCT said knowing your sero status leads one to have a free mind so that
      one can plan their life accordingly. "VCT is the best gift that one
      should give to his/herself, especially this time when life is about
      plans and living with a purpose in life," he said.

      The students who went for VCT also indicated that since they have known
      their HIV/AIDS status they will encourage friends, especially their girl
      or boyfriends to also go for VCT, saying if you know your status there
      is no sense in going out with a lover who is not willing to go for VCT.

      At a time when the HIV/AIDS pandemic is wrecking havoc on young adults
      and adolescents who are regarded as future leaders of our country, it is
      imperative that they be encouraged to discover their sero-status in
      order to change their behaviour. They can also make informed choices
      about their lives.

      Latest statistics indicate that young people below the age of 24 years
      make up almost 60 percent of the country's population; 47 percent of the
      population is under the age of 15 and adolescents between ages of 10 -
      19 constitute 25 percent of the country's population.

      Studies have also shown that 28 percent of adolescents have their first
      sexual encounter before the age of 14 and some as early as 8 years while
      46 percent of primary and 66 percent of secondary youth are already
      sexually active.

      However, it is estimated that in the 12 countries of sub-Saharan
      Africa, including Malawi, only 10 percent of people living with HIV know
      their positive sero status. This is attributed to the fact that most
      people shun VCT.

      But despite people's reluctance to undertake VCT, the country's
      National HIV/AIDS Policy titled - A Call To Renewed Action - launched
      this year stipulates that government shall promote and provide adequate,
      high quality, cost-effective, totally confidential, accessible VCT
      services country-wide.


      People Speak Out On Nkhwazi

      The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)

      June 20, 2004
      Posted to the web June 21, 2004

      Zondani Mbale

      Movement for Genuine Democracy [MGODE] parliamentary candidate Rodger
      Nkhwazi did not make it to parliament because voters said he did not
      initiate many development projects in the five years he represented
      Mzuzu City constituency, it has emerged.

      The people say that they had to vote him out because he failed to live
      up to the people's expectations - ensuring development in the city.

      'During the campaign period in 1999 he had promised many things if we
      voted for him but soon after his victory he failed and he didn't even
      come back to thank the people,' said one of the concerned resident.

      The residents further described Nkhwazi as not development conscious,
      saying that all that he said was mere lip service which voters were fed
      up with.

      'We decided to vote for someone who would have the welfare of people at
      heart rather than voting for someone who always plays his cards close to
      his chest and generally fails to match his words with action,' said
      Mavuto Phiri one of the residents.

      He said categorically: 'He failed us and we decided to boot him out.'
      However, Nkhwazi is on record as having said he had vast natural support
      in the constituency that would make him emerge victorious.

      Nkhwazi lost the parliamentary seat in Mzuzu City constituency to
      Republican Party [RP] candidate Good Kayira in the May 20 parliamentary

      Kayira is one of 16 RP MPs that succeeded in the elections.
    • kristen cheney
      But good info for my childhoods class which will be doing projects on child labor. Maybe having the info will spur people to change things. I still hold out
      Message 102 of 102 , Aug 24, 2009
      • 0 Attachment
        But good info for my childhoods class which will be doing projects on child labor. Maybe having the info will spur people to change things. I still hold out hope...
        How's the home solar project??

        On Mon, Aug 24, 2009 at 9:26 AM, Christine Chumbler <wartpiggy@...> wrote:

        Nothing to be proud of here, I'm afraid.

        Malawi's child tobacco pickers 'poisoned by nicotine'

        Aug 24 2009 07:05

        Children in Malawi who are forced to work as tobacco pickers are exposed to nicotine poisoning equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes a day, an investigation has found.

        Child labourers as young as five are suffering severe health problems from a daily skin absorption of up to 54mg of dissolved nicotine, according to the international children's organisation Plan.

        Malawian tobacco is found in the blend of almost every cigarette smoked in the West. The low-grade, high-nicotine tobacco is often used as a filler by manufacturers, reflecting a long-term global shift in production.

        Tobacco farms in America declined by 89% between 1954 and 2002. Three-quarters of production has migrated to developing countries, with Malawi the world's fifth biggest producer.

        Seventy percent of its export income comes from tobacco and the country is economically dependent on it.

        Plan cites research showing that Malawi has the highest incidence of child labour in Southern Africa, with 88,9% of five to 14-year-olds working in the agricultural sector. It is estimated that more than 78 000 children work on tobacco estates -- some up to 12 hours a day, many for less than 1p an hour and without protective clothing.

        Plan's researchers invited 44 children from tobacco farms in three districts to take part in a series of workshops. They revealed a catalogue of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and spoke about the need to work to support themselves and their families and pay school fees.

        The children reported common symptoms of green tobacco sickness (GTS), or nicotine poisoning, including severe headaches, abdominal pain, muscle weakness, coughing and breathlessness.

        "Sometimes it feels like you don't have enough breath, you don't have enough oxygen," one child said. "You reach a point where you cannot breathe because of the pain in your chest. Then the blood comes when you vomit. At the end, most of this dies and then you remain with a headache."

        GTS is a common hazard of workers coming into contact with tobacco leaves and absorbing nicotine through their skin, particularly when harvesting. It is made worse by humid and wet conditions, which are prevalent in Malawi, as residual moisture on the leaves helps nicotine to be absorbed quicker.

        Everyday symptoms of GTS are more severe in children than adults as they have not built up a tolerance to nicotine through smoking and because of their physical size. There is a lack of research into the long-term effects of GTS in children, but experts believe that it could seriously impair their development.

        Neal Benowitz, professor of medicine, psychiatry and biopharmaceutical sciences at California University in San Francisco, said: "Numerous animal studies have shown that administration of nicotine during infancy and adolescence produces long-lasting changes in brain structure and function, as well as behavioural changes that are not seen when nicotine is administered to adults.

        "The brain of a child or adolescent is particularly vulnerable to adverse neurobehavioural effects of nicotine exposure."

        Plan called on Malawi's government to enforce existing child labour and protection laws and on plantations to provide safer, fairer working conditions for those children forced to work. It demanded that multinational tobacco companies scrutinise their suppliers far more closely and follow their own corporate responsibility guidelines.

        Macdonald Mumba, Plan Malawi's child rights adviser, said: "This research shows that tobacco estates are exploiting and abusing children who have a right to a safe working environment.

        "Plan is calling for better enforcement of child labour laws and harsher punishment for employers who break them. These children are risking their health for 11p a day." - guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2009

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