Ebola spreads, Oxfam's verdict, and PEPFAR cuts: This week in development

A health worker checks the temperature of a man as he crosses the Mpondwe border point separating Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as part of the Ebola screening at the computerized Mpondwe Health Screening Facility in Uganda. Photo by: REUTERS / Newton Nabwaya

Uganda confirms Ebola cases, PEPFAR threatens funding cuts, and Oxfam faces its verdict. This week in development:

Two people have died as the Ebola virus outbreak spreads to Uganda. The country’s ministry of health and the World Health Organization confirmed on Tuesday that a 5-year old boy contracted the disease, and two other family members have since been confirmed to be infected. The boy was traveling in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with 13 other family members, several of whom were experiencing symptoms. Six of them fled a treatment center in DRC and crossed the border to Uganda, where the boy was transferred to the Bwera Ebola Treatment Unit, according to WHO’s country office. On Wednesday, the boy died from the disease, and on Thursday, Uganda’s health ministry confirmed the death of the boy’s 50-year old grandmother. Given the rapid increase in Ebola cases in recent months, many — including the government of Uganda — had anticipated that the outbreak could spread outside DRC. Uganda has already taken extensive measures to prepare for potential Ebola cases inside its borders, including vaccinating nearly 4,700 health workers in 165 health facilities, according to WHO. On Wednesday WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced that the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee will meet on June 14 in Geneva, “to ascertain whether the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.” Responders have been stymied by insecurity in eastern DRC, including targeted attacks on health workers and facilities.

The U.K. charity regulator has hit Oxfam GB with an official warning as it published its long-awaited inquiry into the NGO’s handling of allegations of abuse during the humanitarian response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The scandal played a key role in kicking off the #AidToo movement when details were leaked to the press last year and prompted investigations by the Charity Commission as well as an independent commission of nine experts appointed by Oxfam. Both groups finally delivered their verdicts this week, accusing Oxfam of a series of safeguarding failings that put communities at risk in order to protect donor relations, while also pointing to wider safeguarding problems across the aid sector as a whole. Oxfam has accepted the findings and vowed to do better. The Charity Commission has given Oxfam until the end of the month to deliver a new action plan.

The U.S. global AIDS coordinator has threatened funding cuts to countries deemed to have made insufficient progress toward HIV epidemic control, Devex reported on Tuesday. Two of the 13 President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief “priority countries” — Kenya and Tanzania — have been targeted for dramatic cuts in their fiscal year 2020 allocations, according to letters sent from PEPFAR chief Amb. Deborah Birx to each country’s U.S. ambassador. Planned spending in Kenya fell from $505 million in last year's country operational plan to $350 million in next year's plan, while Tanzania fell from $512 million to $395 million. The reductions are seen as an effort to compel policy changes in both countries. In Kenya, PEPFAR has pointed to a shortage of health workers and the delayed release of an important impact survey. In Tanzania, U.S. officials have warned about the government's growing intolerance of marginalized groups, especially men who have sex with men. Civil society groups in Kenya have expressed dismay about planned cuts to the country’s programs for key populations, while global health experts told Devex that Birx has wielded a heavy hand in the initiative’s budgeting process.

Botswana’s high court overturned colonial-era laws criminalizing homosexuality on Tuesday, in a victory for civil society campaigners and a hopeful signal to other countries with similar laws still on the books. "Human dignity is harmed when minority groups are marginalized," Judge Michael Elburu said in the ruling. The decision comes just weeks after Kenya’s court upheld a similar law — a ruling that activists plan to appeal. Thirty-one of Africa’s 54 countries have laws against same-sex relations, many of which are rooted in colonial power structures that restricted civil society.

About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.