Measles, measles everywhere

Several Measles outbreaks are currently underway.
In Romania, a major outbreak there has already killed over 20 people. The number of cases is heading to 5,000.
In Italy, over 1,600 cases of Measles have been reported since the start of the year, higher than the total number of cases seen during all of 2016. Some blame has been placed on the antivaccine Five Star Movement. Also, a nurse was caught faking giving children vaccines.
In Minnesota, the Somali community has suffered an outbreak. Fears over the discredited link between vaccines and autism led to a fall in vaccination rates to 42%, which has now culminated in the current situation.
In Portugal, a 17 year old has died.
Measles is one of the most infectious diseases around. The Community immunity threshold is 95%. This means that in order for the disease to not spread, 95% of a community must be up to date with their MMR/MMRV vaccinations. The ongoing outbreaks are the inevitable result of the fearmongering and lies spread by antivaccination groups and individuals, and the loss of Community immunity.

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Mad March? More like Mad April

April is Autism Awareness Month. Several organisations and areas (like Guam, for instance) have “lit it up blue”. I, like many self advocates, am “toning it down taupe”, as “Light it up blue” was started by “Autism Speaks”.
There has been a Meningitis C outbreak in Nigeria. The WHO and others have been supplying vaccines to contain infection.
I’m going to a SIGiST Meeting next week Wednesday. I’ll write about it.
Finally, even I’m getting fatigued with what’s happening in South African political circles. Shortly after Midnight on March 31, President Jacob Zuma dismissed Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas, and replaced them with Mmalusi Gigaba and Sfiso Buthelezi respectively.
The response was immediate. Ratings Agencies Fitch and Standard and Poor’s downgraded South Africa to Junk Status, and Moody’s will almost certainly also do so. On April 12, Jacob Zuma’s 75th birthday, mass protests organised by opposition political parties called on him to step down. ANC insiders have also urged Zuma to reverse his decision or resign the presidency. Zuma, however, has declared he is staying put.
Hoo boy.

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A Scandalous week

In the last week, South Africa was rocked by five scandals. Any one of the five on its own would have been shocking. Collectively, they are an utter disgrace.

Durban loses the right to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games

On Monday, the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) announced that they were looking for an alternative city to host the 2022 Commonwealth games after original host city Durban failed to meet certain commitments. Financial issues, including the refusal of the South African Government to provide guarantees, and the missing of several deadlines, like the failure to appoint a Local Organising Committee, led to the decision. The original budget requested was far too small to pay for everything needed to host the Games. In the end, Durban presented the option of a scaled down 2022 Games. This was unacceptable to the CGF, and Durban was stripped of the right to host the Games.
Another alleged problem is government interference. It has been claimed that Government wanted to run the Games. If true, this would be most inappropriate as this area is the responsibility of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc).
It is estimated that R118-million was spent on the bid. That is money that could have been spent on things like schools, bursaries and social grants now gone down the drain. Why did Durban bid when there weren’t the resources to carry it out?
This is also a huge embarrasment to South Africa. On the same day the CGF made its announcement, a team arrived to inspect the country’s bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Make no mistake, this has damaged our prospects. It also means that any talk of South Africa hosting an Olympic Games will remain just that for the foreseeable future: talk.

DPCI Head dismissed

On Friday, a full bench of the High Court in Pretoria ruled that Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko’s 2015 decision to appoint Lieutenant General Berning Ntlemeza to head the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) aka the Hawks was unlawful and invalid, and set it aside. Two Courts had ruled that Ntlemeza was dishonest, had lied under oath and lacked integrity.
In 2015 Judge Elias Matojane had set aside Ntlemeza’s suspension of then Gauteng Hawks head Anwa Dramat for his alleged involvement in the illegal repatriation of a group of Zimbabwean nationals in 2010. In his verdict, Matojane said that Ntlemeza “lacks integrity and honour” and had perjured himself under oath.
Also in 2015, the High Court in Durban set aside the suspension of Kwazulu-Natal Hawks Head Johan Booysen. Judge Anton van Zyl found that Ntlemeza embarked upon action which was simply unsustainable if he had considered the information at his disposal, and had supported the case on pure speculation. When Booysen made detailed submissions to Ntlemeza, he ignored them and suspended Booysens anyway. Because of Ntlezema’s conduct van Zyl made a costs order against the Police.
Nhleko ignored two High Court Judgements and appointed Ntlezema over other perfectly qualified and far less controversial candidates. His conduct in the matter could politely be called suspicious.

PRASA

This week, Popo Molefe, the former chairperson of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) filed an urgent application to have the dissolution of PRASA’s Board declared unlawful and set aside. Last week, Transport Minister Dipuo Peters dissolved the Board. On Monday, she appointed a new Board. Molefe alleges that the Board was about to take the Hawks to Court over their inaction in investigating and bringing charges against PRASA members fingered in varous investigations.

SAA

South African Airways has reported that its projected losses for the 2016/17 financial year amount to R3.5-Billion, more than double the original estimate of R1.7-Billion. This loss will have to be made good by taxpayer money. Global ratings firm S&P Global this week warned that South African SOEs like SAA were putting a massive strain on the economy, and that continued bailouts will ultimately push the country’s sovereign debt below investment grade.

SASSA

The biggest and most shocking of the stories involves SASSA, the South African Social Security Agency. On Thursday, the Constitutional Court heard a case brought by the Black Sash and Freedom Under Law about the contract between SASSA and CPS, a subsidiary of Net1 that had been contracted to distribute grants.
The story begins in 2012 when Cash Paymaster Services (CPS), a subsidiary of Net1, was given a contract by SASSA to distribute grants. But a losing bidder took the matter to Court. In 2014, the Constitutional Court invalidated the contract due to severe tender irregularities. However, because the distribution of Social Grants is so vital, the Court allowed CPS to continue administering the grants‚ while SASSA was instructed to devise an in-house payment system or choose a new distributor.
Despite having more than two years to either build a system or pick another distributor for grants, SASSA did neither. A new round of bidding for distributing grants failed when none of the applicants met the requirements, and SASSA did next to nothing to build internal capacity so that it could distribute grants.
There are suspicions that SASSA’s failures to pick a new distributor and to build capacity were deliberate. Two years is ample time to do both, never mind either. Even if there was no company with the capacity to carry out the distributions, any competently run company would have found a way to build that capacity in well under a year.
Net1 and CPS also seem to have dirty hands in this affair. As part of its role, CPS was given broad access to beneficiary data to enable it to distribute grants. The undertaking was that the data would be used for distributing grants only. But Amabhungane, the investigative arm of the Mail and Guardian Newspaper, claims to have evidence that beneficiary data was used by other companies in the Net1 group to market financial services to grant recipients, and to directly debit their grants to repay those services. CPS and Net1 deny the claims. If true (and I am confident that Amabhungane has the evidence), this is at best a gross abuse of CPS’s position, and at worst illegal.
On Friday, the Constitutional Court ruled that the invalid CPS contract be extended for another 12 months. The judges were so unhappy with the conduct of Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini that they have ordered her to provide reasons why she should not be held accountable for court costs in her personal capacity. SASSA must now report back to the Constitutional Court every three months with evaluations on the process to find a new service provider, or with taking the grants payments in-house.
The entire situation stinks.

Here’s hoping that next week, next month, next year will see less idiocy.

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On camouflaging signs and traits of autism

So I read an interesting article on the “Spectrum News” website. Autistics often engage in camouflaging – hiding their autistic behaviours – but autistic females are generally better at it. As the article says:
As a group, women with autism have higher camouflaging scores than men, the researchers found. This finding meshes with anecdotal reports that women feel pressure to fit in and try to do so by imitating socially successful peers. This may also contribute to the gender bias in autism — that is, more women have autism than the reported sex ratio indicates because many women with the condition fly under the diagnostic radar.
Food for thought.

Posted in Autism Awareness, Background Data

Running back towards the cliff

On Tuesday, Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan delivered the Budget Speech.
One fact was abundantly clear: the tax kitty is depleted. South Africa’s government doesn’t have the money to fulfill all its obligations.
In the same week as Gordhan’s Budget Speech, the Minister and Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources (Mosebenzi Zwane and Godfrey Oliphant) were allocated a Mercedes Benz S400 and Porsche Cayenne respectively. This is despite “austerity measures” which supposedly limited the cost of new vehicle purchases to R750,000. In addition, Brian Molefe, who as CEO of Eskom drove the State Owned Enterprise into the ground, was appointed a Member of Parliament.
What the actions above show is a government that doesn’t understand, doesn’t care, or both. Almost 23 years of bad decisions, incompetence, corruption, patronage and snouting have caused matters to reach a critical point. Yet still it continues on its course, refusing to address the issues and their underlying causes. And how can it, when the President was found liable for using state money upgrades at his private residence, and yet only had to pay back a fraction of the money squandered?
Some people have mentioned a tax boycott. I don’t have that option as my income tax is taken off my salary directly. Yet I completely understand the anger. Ferial Haffajee, Editor at Large for Huffington Post South Africa, has an Opinion Piece “I Want Some Service For My Tax“. I totally agree with her. Like her, over the last few years, I have been paying more and more and getting less and less. And so has everyone else. And I’m fed up.
Unless things change very soon, South Africa will become another African failure: a country that started out with so much promise, only to be brought down by corruption and incompetence.

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Barden Lanka Case overturned on appeal

The heading of the article by Pepijn van Erp says it perfectly.

Disappointing outcome of Bardens vs. Lanka: measles proven to exist, but anti-vaxxer Lanka keeps his money

I’ve blogged about this before. Antivaxxer Stefan Lanka offered a 100,000 Euro Prize to anyone who could show him proof that Measles Virus exists. A young doctor named David Bardens took up the offer. Lanka refused to pay out, so Barden took him to court.
And won.
Sadly, the verdict has now been overturned on appeal. van Erp’s article has the details.

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Trump isn’t as bad as I feared…

He’s worse.
Three weeks into his term as President, he has already shown that he is unfit for the office. Not just through his actions, but his appointments. KellyAnne Conway has been mercilessly and deservedly mocked over her phrase “Alternative Facts”. But it is Trump’s appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary for Education that is most concerning. And by “concerning”, I mean she will be an absolute disaster in the role, particularly for autistics.
To call DeVos wholly unsuited for the position is an understatement. I would hope that anyone being considered for the role of Secretary of Education would have both extensive qualifications, and significant experience, in the field. She has neither. In fact, her only “qualification” for the position appears to be that she donated large sums of money to Trump’s campaign.
DeVos is not merely incompetent, but anti-competent. She is a firm proponent of charter schools who has argued against strong oversight for them. She also supports a voucher system for schooling. Both of these can potentially harm disabled students by limiting their access to special education.
A school voucher, aka an education voucher, is a certificate of government funding for a student at a school chosen by the student or the student’s parents. The funding is usually for a particular year, term or semester (thank you Wikipedia). Charter Schools are similar in concept to the former Model C Schools in South Africa. They are state-aided but independent, and unlike the Model C schools, can’t charge fees and have to be open to all pupils. Critics say that they underperform compared to traditional schools. They seem to have pretty good evidence to back these criticisms up.
The main argument against school vouchers and education tax credits is that they put public education in competition with private education, threatening to reduce and reallocate public school funding to private schools.
Part of Trump’s campaign was based on “Drain the Swamp”. It now appears as if he drained it just to refill it with his own people.

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