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Nairobi National Park: Thousands of elephants have been killed in recent years for their ivory

Kenya conducted the event to demonstrate that ivory has no value to anyone except elephants

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Kenya conducted the event to demonstrate that ivory has no value to anyone except elephants. President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged his country’s support for a complete ban on the ivory trade at the conference for the global conservation body known as CITES, which opens Saturday in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, is expected to make a determination on whether countries in Africa should destroy seized ivory or be allowed to sell it to fund conservation efforts. The question has sparked heated debate on the continent, with some arguing that the future of elephants is at stake.

FILE - A worker carries spray bottles of gel fuel to help the burning, as he walks past pyres of ivory that were set on fire in Nairobi National Park, Kenya, April 30, 2016.
FILE – A worker carries spray bottles of gel fuel to help the burning, as he walks past pyres of ivory that were set on fire in Nairobi National Park, Kenya, April 30, 2016.

“Our philosophy has been to burn the entire stockpile,” said Judy Wakhungu, Kenya’s Cabinet secretary for the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, “because this is one way of demonstrating to the world that if you offer trade in ivory, we give the misimpression that, actually, ivory is available. And yet it’s this very ivory that’s endangering our species.”

Tens of thousands of elephants have been killed in recent years for their ivory, as a result of strong demand from Asian markets. The recent “Great Elephant Census” showed a 30 percent decline in African savanna elephants between 2007 and 2014.

About 30 African countries, including Kenya, want a comprehensive ban on all international trade in ivory.

“Nobody should buy ivory in the world,” said Paul Udoto, corporate communications manager for the Kenya Wildlife Service.

Request to sell

Namibia and Zimbabwe have officially requested through CITES the right to sell their ivory stockpiles. Along with South Africa, these countries say they want to put the proceeds toward conservation efforts.

Zimbabwe’s finance minister, Patrick Chinamasa, suggested to parliament in July that there could be other uses for the funds from ivory sales.

FILE - A Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management official checks ivory inside a storeroom in Harare, Aug. 22, 2012.
FILE – A Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management official checks ivory inside a storeroom in Harare, Aug. 22, 2012.

“We have $9.6 billion worth of ivory in the country, sufficient to write off our debt,” Chinamasa said. “So this is the paradox of Africa. Rich Africa, poor Africans. Because the policies are coming from outside, and imposed on us. They don’t have elephants, but they become members of CITES to ban and stop us from disposing of our own assets.”

South Africa says destroying ivory makes it scarcer, upping the black market price and driving more poaching.

‘For the good of the elephants’

Kenya argues that previous “one-time” sales have demonstrated the opposite is true, and that opening up trade for some countries puts elephants across the continent at risk.

“It is very, very hard to distinguish between legal and illegal ivory,” said Philip Muruthi, vice president of species conservation at the African Wildlife Foundation. “And that means that having a legal supply of ivory in the market perpetuates the killing. And so, the cycle continues. Where you have trade, you have benefits going to a few kingpins, and you deny livelihoods to communities, and the populations continue to suffer.”

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Muruthi also emphasized the importance of a united African voice during the upcoming CITES talks.

“I know there are challenges, but I do believe an agreement will be found and it will be found for the good of the continent. It will be for the good of the elephants, and for the many, many communities and national economies that depend on elephants,” he said.

Although elephants are the top issue for Africa at the CITES talks, trade restrictions and allowances for close to 500 other plant and animal species — including pangolins, tigers, snakes, sharks and rosewood — will also be on the table. (VOA)

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Hospitals Worldwide Detain Patients If They Cant Pay The Bill

Earlier this month, the High Court ruled again that imprisoning patients “is not one of the acceptable avenues [for hospitals] to recover debt.

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Margaret Oliele, a former detained patient, poses for a portrait in her home in Nairobi, Kenya. VOA

Doctors at Nairobi’s Kenyatta National Hospital have told Robert Wanyonyi there’s nothing more they can do for him. Yet more than a year after he first arrived, shot and paralyzed in a robbery, the ex-shopkeeper remains trapped in the hospital.

Because Wanyonyi cannot pay his bill of nearly 4 million Kenyan shillings ($39,570), administrators are refusing to let him leave his fourth-floor bed.

At Kenyatta National Hospital and at an astonishing number of hospitals around the world, if you don’t pay up, you don’t go home.

The hospitals often illegally detain patients long after they should be medically discharged, using armed guards, locked doors and even chains to hold those who have not settled their accounts. Even death does not guarantee release: Kenyan hospitals and morgues are holding hundreds of bodies until families can pay their loved ones’ bills, government officials say.

An Associated Press investigation has found evidence of hospital imprisonments in more than 30 countries worldwide, according to hospital records, patient lists and interviews with dozens of doctors, nurses, health academics, patients and administrators. The detentions were found in countries including the Philippines, India, China, Thailand, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Bolivia and Iran. Of more than 20 hospitals visited by the AP in Congo, only one did not detain patients.

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A relative adjusts the oxygen mask of a tuberculosis patient at a TB hospital on World Tuberculosis Day in Hyderabad, India. VOA

Millions possibly affected

“What’s striking about this issue is that the more we look for this, the more we find it,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. “It’s probably hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people that this affects worldwide.”

During several August visits to Kenyatta National Hospital — a major medical institution designated a Center of Excellence by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the AP witnessed armed guards in military fatigues standing watch over patients. Detainees slept on bedsheets on the floor in cordoned-off rooms. Guards prevented one worried father from seeing his detained toddler.

Kenya’s ministry of health and Kenyatta canceled several scheduled interviews with the AP and declined to respond to repeated requests for comment.

Health experts decry hospital imprisonment as a human rights violation. Yet the United Nations, U.S. and international health agencies, donors and charities have all remained silent while pumping billions of dollars into these countries to support their splintered health systems or to fight outbreaks of diseases including AIDS and malaria.

“People know patients are being held prisoner, but they probably think they have bigger battles in public health to fight, so they just have to let this go,” said Sophie Harman, a global health expert at Queen Mary University of London.

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Detained patients lie on beds in the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya. VOA

Hospitals often acknowledge detaining patients isn’t profitable, but many say it can sometimes result in a partial payment and serves as a deterrent.

‘A way to conduct business’

Festus Njuguna, an oncologist at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret, about 300 kilometers northwest of Nairobi, said the institution regularly detains children with cancer who have finished their treatment, but whose parents cannot pay.

“It’s not a very good feeling for the doctors and nurses who have treated these patients, to see them kept like this,” Njuguna said.

Still, many officials openly defend the practice.

“We can’t just let people leave if they don’t pay,” said Leedy Nyembo-Mugalu, administrator of Congo’s Katuba Reference Hospital. He said holding patients wasn’t an issue of human rights, but simply a way to conduct business: “No one ever comes back to pay their bill a month or two later.”

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FILE – A Yemeni woman suspected of being infected with cholera receives treatment at a hospital in the capital Sanaa. VOA

Global health agencies and companies that operate where patients are held hostage often have very little to say about it.

The CDC provides about $1.5 million every year to Kenyatta National Hospital and Pumwani Maternity Hospital, helping to cover treatment costs for patients with HIV and tuberculosis, among other programs. The CDC declined to comment on whether it was aware that patients were regularly detained at the two hospitals or if it condones the practice.

Dr. Agnes Soucat of the World Health Organization said it does not support patient detentions, but has been unable to document where it happens. And while the WHO has issued hundreds of health recommendations on issues from AIDS to Zika virus, the agency has never published any guidance advising countries not to imprison people in their hospitals.

‘Cruel, inhuman and degrading’

Many Kenyan human rights advocates lament that hospitals continue to hold patients despite what was seen as a landmark judgment in 2015.

Back then, the High Court ruled that the detention of two women at Pumwani who couldn’t pay their delivery fees — Maimuna Omuya and Margaret Oliele — was “cruel, inhuman and degrading.” Omuya and her newborn were held for almost a month next to a flooded toilet while Oliele was handcuffed to her bed after trying to escape.

Cholera, hospitals
A doctor gestures outside a hospital in the Algerian town of Boufarik, as the country faces a cholera outbreak. VOA

Earlier this month, the High Court ruled again that imprisoning patients “is not one of the acceptable avenues [for hospitals] to recover debt.”

Omuya said she is still psychologically scarred by her detention at Pumwani, especially after another recent run-in with a Nairobi hospital.

Also Read: Kenya’s First Breast Milk Bank to Combat Newborn Mortality

Several months ago, her youngest brother was treated for a suspected poisoning. When Omuya and her family were unable to pay the bill, the situation took a familiar but unwelcome turn: he was imprisoned. Her brother was only freed after his doctor intervened.

“Detentions still go on because there are no rights here,” Omuya said. “What I suffered, I want no one else to suffer.” (VOA)