Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sweatshops, blood diamonds, rape and minerals in Congo

Congo Rapes Spotlight New 'Conflict Minerals' Law

By Joe Lauria  - see full story click here.

WeNews correspondent
Thursday, September 9, 2010

The recent mass rapes in a mineral-rich area of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo underscore the urgency of a new U.S. law to certify consumer goods free of "conflict minerals" tied to the violence. The law may be hard to enforce but supporters have high hopes.

UNITED NATIONS (WOMENSENEWS)--The rape of approximately 500 women in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in recent weeks has underscored the urgency of a new U.S. law intended to choke off an illicit mineral trade that helps finance and motivate some of the brutality.                [.....]

Margot Wallstrom, the special U.N. representative on ending conflict-zone sexual violence, called the new law a great idea at an Aug. 31 press conference in New York. She said she was trying to persuade European legislators to follow. "Hopefully we will find a global system and the U.S. is showing the way," she said.
Lawlessness and banditry rule in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where local and Rwandan Hutu rebels often fight each other and the government mainly for loot. Complicating matters further, at least 10 of the recent victims were raped by government soldiers, who sometimes also take part in the illicit mineral trade, the U.N. says.
Wallstrom said rebel leaders organized mass rapes as a reward for their troops and as part of their looting of villages. She added that the violence helped rebels assert control over mining areas, where many local men normally sell small amounts of minerals they find on their own.            [...]
Rape a 'Cheap, Effective and Silent Weapon'

"Rape in war and conflict is a cheap, effective and silent weapon and it is used exactly to terrorize and put fear in a whole society," Wallstrom said in the press conference. "It lasts for generations: when the children see this how can they ever feel secure?"

The new U.S. law is an attempt to prevent American consumers from purchasing cell phones, computers and even hybrid cars that are manufactured by U.S. companies using minerals bought from rebel-controlled mines. The law is buried in section 1502 of the financial reform bill, which was signed into law by President Obama a little more than a week before a four-day reign of terror began for the rape victims in Luvungi and 12 other villages in North Kivu province on July 30. These were followed by attacks in South Kivu.  [...]
The rebels have found a ready market for their loot with legitimate companies mostly in the West and China, as documented by years of U.N. investigations. The proceeds from these sales are fueling the deadliest conflict since World War II, with as many as 5 million people killed over the past decade and more than 200,000 women violated.
The law calls on U.S. firms, including brand name consumer electronics makers, mineral processors, jewelers and automobile manufacturers, to report annually to the Securities and Exchange Commission if their products use any gold, tungsten, tantalum or cassiterite (tin ore) that was either directly imported from the Democratic Republic of Congo or smuggled through nine neighboring countries.

The Most Ubiquitous Metal  Tantalum is perhaps the most ubiquitous of these metals since it is found in electrolytic capacitors, which are inside nearly all cell phones and personal computers. Companies using such minerals must demonstrate how they are tracing the supply chain beginning with the original mine.  [...]

Jewelers of America lobbied strenuously against inclusion of Section 1502 in the financial reform bill, arguing that it would be too difficult to implement. The New York-based industry group said it will also be expensive as the law requires companies to hire outside auditors to prepare their reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

But firms that can prove their products do not contain illicit minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo could gain a competitive advantage with consumers. Seeing the new law coming, Intel and Motorola--two electronics giants--in June began developing a process to audit their tantalum purchases.

John Crawley, an executive committee member of the Tantalum-Niobium International Study Center, based in Lasne, Belgium--the Democratic Republic of Congo's former colonial ruler--also hailed the law.
"I think companies do have a responsibility to trace and audit their supply chains," Crawley said, adding that while gold may be difficult to trace, tantalum was not. "I believe that we can easily certify the supply chain and we in the tantalum industry have been further along in this process."   [...]

The U.N. reported late last year that a mineral company begun by Crawley's father in Hong Kong, and on which Crawley is a board member, used a "front company" and a suspected smuggler to hide purchases of rebel-controlled minerals. The U.N. backed up its case with numerous documents. The Washington-based Enough Project also produced shipping records that suggested that Crawley's own company in Nevada was importing conflict minerals.   [...]

Sasha Lezhnev, a consultant to the Enough Project, the law's chief lobbying group, noted that the law had seized the attention of CEOs and corporate legal departments and expressed confidence it would be enforced. He said nongovernmental organizations like Enough would help companies set up a certification regime.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Drug Production in Cameroon to start soon

Actually production of IV fluids has been taking place in Yaounde and Mutengene for years now. SIPP, based in Yaounde has been supplementing the governments tender of imported IV fluids with up to 10% and would love to expand its production. AIDSfreeAFRICA is working on a deal of having SIPP produce urgently needed diagnostic reagents.

The Cameroonian Baptist Convention has been producing IV fluids as wellas bottled water, ointments, eye drops and antiseptic soaps, but is limited to production for internal use by their hospitals and clinics.

By far the most advanced production however, is taking place in Douala, Cameroon's industrial capital. Dr. Etame (left picture receiving a copy of the Merck Index through AIDSfreeAFRICA) has been producing malaria, cough and pain in form of syrups. she recently added vitamins and is in the process to produce solid oral tablets for malaria. 

Producing solid oral tablets happens to be AIDSfreeAFRICA's definition of "drug production". However, a pharmaceutical industry needs more than one player to become reality.

Cinpharm, a cooperation with the help of India based generic manufacturer CIPLA and a loan guarantees from the Germans is owned by Celestin Tawamba, generally known as the pasta king for his success producing past in Cameroon and exporting pasta throughout central Africa. At the time of my last departure from Cameroon Cinpharm was still hiring and training people to possibly run the complex production: the equipment, water purification, clean air, intake, storage, warehouse, quality control and quality assurance labs, and so forth. The company even features an auger spin coating machine. I wish we had access to this machine a couple of years ago when Hoffman La Roche offered us through their technology transfer initiative to spin coat one of their AIDS drugs. Unfortunately this initiative has been "completed" - that means terminated, for undisclosed reasons. As far as we know a company in Kenya is one of maybe some others who were able to take advantage of the initiative. 
With three companies in the running, Cameroon may very well be the front runner for West Africa's emerging pharmaceutical production. AIDSfreeAFRICA is doing its best to support the efforts with GMP training and attempts to attract professionals from the industry to come to Cameroon and volunteer their time and expertise.   

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Designer, businessman and hospital owner

Blaz Essomba had big plans and turned them into reality. He built a large two story Hospital for his wife, a nurse by training. When the crates filled with modern equipment arrived the hospital was too small. He added its mirror image doubling the size of the building making it spacious and comfortable. 
I was introduced to Blaz through christopher Ekom, from the business development office of the US Embassy in Yaounde, Cameroon. Owning a hospital Blaz was concerned about drug access. Christopher knew AIDSfreeAFRICA was working on just that. 
When I met Blaz it was a meeting of minds. I also met the Prime Minister Philomon Young, who immediately arranged for a followup meeting for me and Blaz. 
This happened January of this year (2010). In May when I returned Blaz was at a business meeting in Washington DC. His right hand man showed me the newly opened hospital. There were patients in the wards. 
A premature baby had been saved by c-section surgery. Mother ande baby were doing well.

Another women was recovering from having a large tumor removed from her belly.

That Saturday, a dozend or so nurses and staff were busy, but you would not have guessed that the hospital had just opened 2 weeks prior to my unannounced visit. They were a team, working together as if they had been there years. Every place was friendly, colorful with small designs sprinkled into the shiny tiles to break the monotony of hallways and doors. 
This shows that where there is will there is a way and a poor country such as cameroon can have a state of the art hospital, with modern equipment and capacity to do surgery and safe pregnent women and their babies.
Not to take away from Dr. Christopher Anyangewe from the Alpha Rroyal Clinic in Bamenda, who successfully treated me experiencing a blinding gallstone attack and got me on my feet and back to pursue the mission of AIDSfreeAFRICA, but if I needed surgery, I'd check myself in to Blaz's hospital in Sam/Yaounde/Cameroon.