Top of the Morning: Guinea Worm Nearly Eradicated; Progress on Child Mortality; Pirates in West Africa

Top stories from DAWNS Digest. 

Pirates Seize 24 Hostages in Attack on Greek Oil Tanker off the Coast of Togo

Pirates are not only a problem in the Horn of Africa, but in the Gulf of Guinea as well. This has been an increasing problem over the course of the year, and now it looks like pirates have succeeded in their most audacious attack so far. “Pirates attacked an oil tanker Tuesday off the coast of Togo, taking control of its bridge and kidnapping 24 sailors before escaping amid an exchange of gunfire with a naval patrol boat, an anti-piracy organization said.It wasn’t immediately clear if anyone was injured in the attack on the Greek-owned oil tanker, which had been anchored about 17 nautical miles (19 miles) away from Lome, Togo’s capital. The pirates took control of the vessel quickly, though an alarm from the ship alerted the Togolese navy, said Noel Choong, an official with the International Maritime Bureau. The navy boat trailed the tanker and sailors exchanged gunfire with the pirates before the tanker escaped, Choong said. A naval spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday. Tuesday’s attack is just the latest to target West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, which follows the continent’s southward curve from Liberia to Gabon. Over the last year, piracy there has escalated from low-level armed robberies to hijackings and cargo thefts. Last year, London-based Lloyd’s Market Association — an umbrella group of insurers — listed Nigeria, neighboring Benin and nearby waters in the same risk category as Somalia, where two decades of war and anarchy have allowed piracy to flourish.” (NBC

UNICEF: World is Near Child Mortality Breakthrough

Some heartening news from UNICEF, which says that a sharp focus on countries with the worst child mortality levels plus the lowering in price of vaccines is yielding impressive results. “Dr. Mickey Chopra, chief health officer at Unicef, the UN children’s agency, said investment now would lead to massive strides in meeting the millennium development goals of reducing maternal deaths by three-quarters (MDG4) and the deaths of children under five by two-thirds (MDG5), both by 2015. ‘If we make the kind of investment we need now, which is not huge, we could achieve a ‘man on the moon’ moment,’ Chopra told the Guardian. ‘We have a clearer idea why and where children are dying. Twenty-four countries account for 80% of the deaths. We know where they are dying within those countries. Combined with effective interventions such as vaccines and breastfeeding, we have the potential to reach kids in the most cost-effective manner.’ Since 1990, annual maternal deaths have declined by almost half and the deaths of young children have fallen from 12 million to 7.6 million in 2010. Some of the world’s poorest countries have achieved impressive progress in reducing child deaths. Rates of child mortality in many African countries have been dropping twice as fast in recent years as during the 1990s. (Guardian

Guinea Worm Near Eradication

World historic news from the WHO. “The World Health Organization reports Guinea Worm disease, which has plagued people for thousands of years, is on the verge of eradication. The U.N. agency says fewer than 400 cases of the infectious parasitic disease exist in four African countries, and that it will soon become only the second, after smallpox, to be wiped off the face of the earth. A third contender for eradication is polio. WHO officials report 396 cases of Guinea worm disease in the first six months of this year compared to 807 cases in the same period in 2011, a dramatic decrease in incidence since the mid-1980s, which saw an estimated 3.5-million cases in 20 countries in Asia and Africa. According to Dr. Gaitam Biswas, Guinea Worm Eradication Program team leader, the worm is now present only in Mali, Ethiopia, Chad, and newly independent South Sudan, which has an estimated 99 percent of remaining cases. “I think the efforts are on so that we can very quickly interrupt transmission so that the world can be certified as free of the disease,” he said. ‘When it is done, Guinea worm disease will be the first parasitic disease to be eradicated from the world, and that without any vaccine or medicine.’ (VOA