Monday, 26 April 2010

Interesting Ways to Combat Malaria: Reflections on World Malaria Day

If there are two things that I can readily point to that I hate with a passion, they are the mosquito and the disease that it spreads, malaria. Last Sunday, 25th April, was World Malaria day, and as usual Ghanablogging decided to make it a blog action day. Below is my post:

Malaria is undoubtedly one of the parasitic infections of prime medical concern, as more than half of the earth's population are at the risk of this dangerous disease. World Health Organization (WHO) statistics show that the situation is particularly dire in Africa:
One in every five (20%) childhood deaths is due to the effects of the disease. An African child has on average between 1.6 and 5.4 episodes of malaria fever each year. And every 30 seconds a child dies from malaria.
In spite of this grim revelation, the incidence of the disease is actually declining in many countries on the continent. Most of the gains made in containing the spread of malaria are as a result of interventions such as sanitation campaigns, Insecticide-Treated Nets (ITNs) and combination therapy. In addition to the above measures, there are a number of interesting ways through which people hope to reduce the spread of malaria all over the world.

Short Message Service (SMS) Technology
Many organizations are taking advantage of the ubiquity of mobile phones in even the remotest areas to introduce innovative applications based on SMS technology to combat malaria on many fronts. One of the interesting solutions I found is called SMS for Life, which is a partnership between Norvatis, Roll Back Malaria, Vodafone, IBM and Tanzania's Ministry of Health. SMS for Life uses a combination of various technological tools to track and measure the delivery of essentials to rural health facilities. The pilot programme that was run in Tanzania delivered astounding results.

Genetically-Modified (GM) Mosquitoes
The vector of the malaria parasite, the female Anopheles mosquito, can be manipulated genetically in order to limit its ability to carry the plasmodium parasite. Since DNA ultimately controls biological processes in living organisms, this method promises to be very effective in controlling mosquito populations, and hence malarial infections. Further, male mosquitoes can also be sterilized, preventing them from fertilizing the female mosquitoes, thus depriving the malarial pathogens of a suitable host. Preliminary research have produced some successful results but it may take a while for actual application due to ethical reasons.

New Diagnostic Methods, New Drugs and Vaccines
The incidence of resistance observed in the Plasmodium parasite the world over presents a grave danger to malaria control measures. However, teams of researchers and scientists are rising up to the challenge, bringing out brilliant and innovative new diagnostic methods, drugs and vaccines. Immunochromatographic methods are fast gaining reputation as diagnostic methods of choice as they score quite highly when criteria such as affordability, technical level of staff, accuracy and speed are taken into consideration. Also, antibiotics such as tigecycline are opening new windows of hope against Multi-Drug Resistant (MDR) Plasmodium falciparum as demonstrated in Bangladesh. In the area of new vaccines, many research teams are striving to be the first to introduce a very effective and widely used antidote to the noxious scourge of malaria. It is refreshing that African scientists are playing a central role in this development since Sub-Saharan Africa is the most badly hit region.

The Way Forward
There are lofty international targets that must be met by 2015 in the fight against malaria. Although these targets are unlikely to be met by the deadline, recent overall progress worldwide leaves a warm glow in my heart. All members of the international community including Ghana must work extra hard to meet national roadmap deadlines as spelt out in their national strategies. Finally we must all start thinking of how we can contribute to rolling back malaria in our various communities.

Do you have great ideas of your own about how malaria can be contained? What are some of the success stories that you know about anti-malaria work? What are thoughts about malaria? What experiences have you had with the disease? Please hit me with your stories!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Improving Your Website/Blog's Rankings: SEO Views from Ghana

At the last GhanaBlogging group meeting, which was held on Thursday, I was privileged to give a talk on Search Engine Optimization, a way to improve how highly a website or blog ranks during web searches for specific keywords. In this post, I will attempt to break down the complexity surrounding performing SEOs, in my own way, based on information I got from several sources. Your questions and views are very much welcome.

Advantages of Performing SEO
There are quite a number of advantages that one stands to gain from performing search engine optimization, but the one that stands out is that your website becomes more visible during web searches and this increases the amount of quality traffic that comes to your site or blog. Performing SEO helps to reduce your site's bounce rate. So, SEO helps to attract your target users to your site, just as they're looking out for you all over the web. This will culminate in better site performance: higher ad revenues, recognition, higher sign up for social causes, etc.

How to Go about Optimizing your Site
One way is a simple three step process: plan, execute, manage. The third stage is very important because SEO is an ongoing process.

The planning stage involves studying user behaviour, ie understanding what visitors to your site want or will want. Are they there simply to get information or they're there to purchase a product? This comes in handy when you're formulating keywords. Again, it is very important to research on potential keywords that are related to your site's content at this stage. Tools such as Google search-based keyword tool will help you to zero in on appropriate keywords.

During execution, the first thing to do is to ensure that you determine the keywords that are relevant to each page of your site. A general rule is to to ensure that each page has between 2-3 keywords. The next thing to do is to submit your URL to the various search engines. You can can submit your URL to Google now. Further, you've to generate a Sitemap, that you save in the appropriate directory of your web host and then submit it to your search engine. There are many ways of building Sitemaps but XML-Sitemap generator is one of the most popular ones. Wordpress has in-built tools for handling Sitemaps. There's info at the Google Feedburner Help page about how to generate a Sitemap for a Blogger blog. To submit your Sitemap to Google, you've to be signed up for Google Webmaster Tools. There is documentation to take you through the process of submitting your site/blog and Sitemap to Google.

Managing/measuring your site performance is very easy. Again there are tons of tools for doing this. Fortunately, there are in-built tools in the Google Webmaster Tools environment for doing this. In addition, you can employ Google Analytics and Sitemeter to track the behaviour of your site/blog's visitors. This will give you an indication of what keywords bring visitors to your site and whether your SEO operation has achieved its goals. After performing the necessary evaluation, you can then refine your SEO strategy.

It's important for every webmaster and blogger to ensure that their sites' pages are well optimized. I hope my tips have been helpful to make the subject a bit clearer. Always remember that SEO is an ongoing process and not a one-off event. Therefore we must continue to go throught the steps again and again to achieve meaningful results.

If you're a newbie, I guess you might be inundated with loads of new information. However, this is just a broad overview of the SEO process to get you started. I hope to return pretty soon with more posts on SEO tips, resources, alternative tools to Google's and other ways of making your blog visible. A big shout out to my GhanaBlogging colleagues, especially Kajsa, who steered the meeting so efficiently, and Nana Yaw, for his thoughtful questions. Flood me with your questions in the comments section.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Thoughts on TEDxYouthInspire

TEDxYouthInspire, the first TEDx event targeted exclusively at African youth is underway at Ghana’s Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT. Under the theme, a good head and a good heart, culled from one of iconic former South African President Nelson Mandela’s autobiographies, the conference promises to be an inspiring as well as awakening experience for the over 100 young invited attendees, and thousands more who will be following events closely through the power of the world wide web.

A conference of this nature, at this point in African history, holds some significance as many African countries mark their 50th milestone of liberation from the shackles of colonialism this year. It is therefore imperative for one to reflect on the progress that Africa has made in the space of the past 50 years, specifically examining the lives of today’s African youth as compared to those of their colleagues at the dawn of independence. Armed with the knowledge that overall progress on the continent over the span of the past 50 years has been marginal, perhaps one question then becomes pertinent at TEDxYouthInspire: “In what ways can African youth contribute to the reversion of the retrogression seen on the continent for large periods of its post-independence history?” Indeed, such introspection resonates well with the conference’s theme taken from the book a long walk to freedom.

Apart from its historical significance, the event has the potential to be a life-changing experience for both speakers and attendees. Many of our promising speakers will have their first major public speaking experience and the limelight of the TEDx stage will not only establish them as role models for their contemporaries, but will also open the doors of opportunity wider for them in various aspects of their lives. Event attendees and followers on the other hand will be challenged and motivated by the exploits of their peers, stimulating more creative, entrepreneurial and productive activity among them.

Further, a major topic that is running throughout the day’s deliberations is the role of leadership in the transformative process of the continent. Leadership’s role is instructive because it inspires ideas, strategies, action, discipline, direction, reflection and celebration. Without good leadership, there is no way that we will see the kind of change we want to see happen in Africa. Patrick Awuah, from Ashesi University captures this philosophy rather succinctly in his now renowned TED talk at Arusha, Tanzania. We’re hoping that TEDxYouthInspire will help raise the next generation of African changemakers. As leadership is a prevailing thought of the times, it is by no accident that it ties in nicely with the theme of the last BarCamp Ghana: “leadership for our times-cultivating changemakers.” Submissions from various attendees also attest to the importance of leadership.

TEDxYouthInspire started at 9:00 am and will be running until 6:00 pm. The day is not all about talks as there are other items lined up to engage the attention of young leaders. There is a cultural performance, screening of TED talks and a movie, lunch and plenty of opportunity for interaction. TEDxYouthInspire is being hosted by Google Ghana’s Country Lead Estelle Akofio-Sowah. The speakers are MacJordan Holdbrooks-Degadjor, Shirley Osei Mensah, Esi Yankah, Aboyeji E. Iyinoluwa and Yawa Hansen-Quao. From the rich menu presented, TEDxYouthInspire is proving to be enjoyable, excting, educationally enriching, culturally awakening, socially engaging and technologically revealing. If you're unable to be at KACE-AITI today, you can follow the event live via livestream, twitter and facebook. You wouldn’t want to miss this for anything!

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Press Release from Museke


Online African music bible to honour African artists

After three-and-a-half years developing the online portal for information on African music, is honoured to announce the launch of the annual Museke Online Music Awards (MOAMA’s). started out in 2006 with the aim of becoming a one-stop-shop for everything related to African music in every genre. Since then, the website has grown from strength to strength, featuring lyrics, interviews, biographies, new music and videos of multitudes of African artists from the continent and the Diaspora across the board.

With the 2010 FIFA World Cup putting the entire African continent on the international map, it is only fitting that the continent’s deserving artists are put on a pedestal, and what better way to do that than with the first ever online music awards that caters to all music tastes on the continent? The continent is alive with different sounds, voices and rhythms, and the MOAMA’s seek to further promote this music through various platforms online. Through the annual MOAMA’s, Museke aims to encourage the unity of Africans through our music.

With a total of 130 nominations in 28 categories which will cover different genres and regions, the MOAMA’s prides itself in encompassing all African music, regardless of video submission, language, genre and country in recognition of excellence in music over the last year. The winners of these prestigious online awards will be rewarded through various avenues of online promotion, which will gain the artists global recognition on as well as various other media outlets. Nominees will be announced on 8 April and voting will take place on until 15 May, with winners being announced on 1 June.