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Jerome Starkey

The Times
Jerome Starkey, Africa Correspondent

There are few heart-warming moments inside an ebola ward. For Géraldine Begué, a nurse from Luxembourg, one was peering through the goggles of her plastic isolation suit to see a five-year-old girl “acting as mother” to a two-year-old.

Both had been infected with the virus that has killed almost 700 people across West Africa in the latest outbreak. First discovered in Central Africa in 1976, there is still no known cure. It makes victims bleed through their eyes as their bodies dissolve. Last week, there were only two days in the clinic on which nobody died.

“They die in quite a lot of pain,” said Ms Begué, outside a purpose-built clinic run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Kailahun, close to the border with Liberia and Guinea, where the outbreak started.

“They die with eyes open, their mouths open,” she added, haunted by the memories from just 10 days on the ward in Sierra Leone. “I keep seeing these people because they really look terrible. I think about it a lot.”

Of 131 patients admitted since June 25 only 12 have been discharged.

Cut off from the outside world to stop the spread of the disease, their only proper human contact is with each other. Sick adults care for orphaned children, children care for babies, and friendships form among the doomed.

“They really get to know each other,” said Ms Begué. “Sometimes they move beds to be closer to each other. Last week we had three children who were the same age and we gave them toys and dolls to play with.” Two of them recovered, one is still infected.

The medical staff who care for them are hidden behind layers of latex gloves and head-to-toe protective suits, which take about 15 minutes to don every time they cross into the “high-risk zone”, where the sick are quarantined.

It makes it much harder to comfort the dying, Ms Begué said, because the staff never spend more than three hours in the ward at a time.

“It makes you feel as if you are never doing enough, but it’s really, really hot,” she said. “You have plastic from your face to your feet, you sweat three litres. When your goggles start to fog up, if you can’t see anymore you have to leave, because you are not safe.” (Read more…)

The Times
Jerome Starkey, Africa Correspondent

The widow of a Liberian man who died of ebola said today that he had been planning to visit his daughters in America in just a few weeks’ time, underlining fears that the virus could be spread beyond West Africa by passengers on commercial flights. (Read more…)

The Times
Jerome Starkey, Africa Correspondent

Countries infected by the deadly ebola virus in Africa were last night resorting to increasingly desperate measures to control the worst outbreak the world has ever known.

Liberia’s president closed all but four of the country’s borders while Nigeria shut and quarantined a hospital yesterday as the death toll rose to at least 674 people in four countries.

President Sirleaf also restricted public gatherings and quarantined the most heavily affected communities in Liberia after one of the doctors who was treating ebola patients in Monrovia, the capital, died of the disease on Saturday. (Read more…)

The Times
Jerome Starkey, Africa Correspondent

The United Nations has accused two advisers to the Somali president of sending arms to al-Shabaab in a shipment which arrived just weeks after the Islamist militant group’s fightersstormed a shopping mall in Nairobi last September and killed at least 64 people. (Read more…)

The Times
Jerome Starkey, Africa Correspondent

An American doctor treating patients infected with ebola has tested positive for the disease, his employers said today, amid growing fears that the virus is outpacing international efforts to contain it.

Dr Kent Brantly was working for the Christian charity Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia, which has borne the brunt of the current outbreak. His wife and two children have returned to the United States, a spokeswoman said.

“He is currently undergoing treatment at a Samaritan’s Purse isolation centre,” the organisation said. “Samaritan’s Purse is continuing medical operations at our Ebola Case Management Centres in co-operation with the Centres for Disease Control, the World Health Organisation, the Liberia Ministry of Health, and other global health authorities.” (Read more…)

The Times
Jerome Starkey and Adam Sage

A passenger plane that crashed as it crossed the Sahara yesterday — apparently killing all 116 people on board — had asked to change course because of a storm moments before it disappeared from radar. (Read more…)

SSUDAN-0146 on Flickr.

The Times
Jerome Starkey and Tristan McConnell

A public relations company led by the former foreign minister Mark Malloch-Brown was involved in a state-sponsored “cover-up”, to hide massive corruption in the Somali President’s office, according to a leaked investigation by the United Nations.

The report, seen by The Times, accused FTI Consulting of working with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to cover-up, rebut and discredit allegations of “corruption and mismanagement of Central Bank Funds”.

The allegations had threatened to derail international support for President Mohamud and his embattled, aid-dependent government.

The former university professor, who worked for the Department for International Development as a consultant, was widely seen a white knight of Somali politics, before he was mired in financial scandals last year.

The latest findings are likely to embarrass David Cameron, who had pinned his hopes on President Mohamud to lead Somalia’s recovery.

According to the leaked report, which was sent to the Security Council earlier this month, President Mohamud conspired with a US law firm, Schulman Rogers, “to divert the recovery of overseas assets,” through a web of secret contracts which blurred the lines between the his office and the Central Bank, and created opportunities for “pie-cutting” and misappropriation of public money.

FTI Consulting was hired as part of a $1million “counter-investigation,” in the wake of a report by the United Nations Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group, which claimed millions of dollars had gone missing from Mogadishu port, and the Central Bank. (Read more…)

The Times
Jerome Starkey, Africa Correspondent

Police have arrested eight staff at a medical college after they found 85 bin bags stuffed with human body parts in a residential area in Dar es Salaam. (Read more…)

The Times
Philip Willan in Rome and Jerome Starkey, Africa Correspondent

A Sudanese Christian who gave birth in chains after being sentenced to death for refusing to renounce her faith met the Pope today, hours after arriving in Italy at the end of a year-long ordeal.

The Pope thanked Meriam Ibrahim, 27, for her “faith and courage” the Vatican said, while she thanked him for his prayers and solidarity in a “very affectionate meeting”. (Read more…)

The Times
Jerome Starkey, Africa Correspondent

A gun attack in Kenya’s second city of Mombasa has left at least three people dead and six others seriously injured, police said yesterday. (Read more…)

Lamu-8690 on Flickr.

The Times
Jerome Starkey, Lamu

There is a turbaned ex-con from Harlem sipping rosé in the hotel bar. A Kenyan-born Danish fisherman smokes cherry pipe tobacco, while a doting bull terrier sleeps at his feet.

Between them, on a barstool, a painter from Bermuda faces out towards the Lamu channel, which is lapping at the seawall. Her suntanned neck is covered with bright red beads. There is a retired smuggler and an opera singer, a soldier turned yoga instructor and an Australian designer who has transformed a ruined mosque into an artist’s studio and coffee shop.

While tourist numbers may have plummeted following a spate of attacks along Kenya’s coast, Lamu’s hardcore seem unperturbed. These are the drifters, hippies and adventurers, an eclectic yet enchanting group of expatriates who have made the archipelago their home.

“I have been to 33 different countries. I find this place to be as close to paradise as I can think of,” said Lee Harvin, 74, who spent 17 years in prison for killing two people in 1958 and 1963, in “stick-ups” that went wrong.

He first visited Lamu in 1983 and settled five years ago, when he worked as a counsellor to help the island’s small community of drug addicts. “If I was scared, I’d leave. If I thought there was any chance of anyone coming here to hurt me, I’d leave. I’m not stupid,” he said. Instead, he is encouraging his son to visit. “People here ask me about Paris and New York,” he added. “I say to them, you think these people who have all that money, do you think they would come here if there was something else better? You have got it made. This is paradise.” (Read more…)

The Times
Jerome Starkey, Africa Correspondent

An inked print Nelson Mandela made of his hand a few years before his death has been auctioned for more than £13,000 to raise money for a foundation set up by Ndileka, his granddaughter. (Read more…)

The Times
Jerome Starkey, Africa Correspondent

Oscar Pistorius went binge drinking and got into a bar fight on Saturday, because he feels lonely, alienated, and he struggling to cope with “an extreme level of emotional pain,” after shooting dead his girlfriend, his family said today. (Read more…)