Thursday, February 26, 2009

Home from Home

Just received this message ... watch out for Jaime!

Dear children, parents, schools, embassies, refugee groups, and anyone else who helped make this project possible,
Last year, or before, you helped photographer Caroline Irby in her search for a child from every country in the world now living in the UK. As you know, this work was published in the Guardian magazine and on their website a few months ago.

Caroline is currently away on a new photographic expedition in Africa but has asked us here at Eleven Film to inform you that she has made a new series of four short films, using the photographs and interviews she collected. The series, titled 'Home from Home' will air on Channel 4 at 7.55pm on Monday 16th, Tuesday 17th, Wednesday 18th and Thursday 19th March 2009.

Whereas in the Guardian magazine only some of the children/nationalities could be shown, a child from every country will appear in this TV series.

Thank you again for your help and participation. We hope you enjoy the films.

Very best

Joe Murray
pp Caroline Irby

Joe Murray
Eleven Film
3-4 Portland Mews
Off d'Arblay Street


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Coup d'Etats and other funny going-ons - Part II: The Wonga Coup

Beware, beware the Bight of Benin
For few come out though many go in.

Less than a year later, March 2004, saw a coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea (EG). Richer pickings this time as EG is the third largest oil producer (after Nigeria and Angola) in Africa.

After independence from Spain in 1967 it was led by Macias Nguema whose brutality can be compared with that of Uganda's Idi Amin and the Central African Republic's Bokassa (shall we make a league table of the most brutal dictatorships that exist/have existed in Africa/the world? Perhaps by those killed or tortured per 1000 heads of population?) Anyway. his nephew Obiang, the current president, overthrew him in a coup in 1979 and promptly had him executed by a Moroccan firing squad. His own human rights record is only just slightly better than his uncle's.

In 2003 Simon Mann, a Brit who had run a mercenary business Executive Outcomes which gained fame in Sierra Leone and for whom several ex-Buffaloes worked, got together with some of his chums and decided to launch a coup in EG. They started off by setting up a "front" company led by a certain Nick du Toit supposedly to invest in fishing industry and recruited several other South African ex-special forces colleagues. He also befriended Obiang's younger brother, Armengol Nguema, the head of EG's security services and with a ruthless reputation. One of Nick's colleagues Sergio Cardoso travelled to Sao Tome on more than one occasion to seek advice from Arlecio Costa, the ex-Buffalo who led the attempted coup here and other Santomense ex-Buffaloes.

Prior to their arrival in Bioko another ex-Buffalo, Johannes Smith, had set himself up as an independent security advisor to the EG government.

Mann remained in South Africa doing the logistics - procuring arms, recruiting ex-special service "foot soldiers" and arranging transport. The cover story was protection of a mine in the southern Democratic Republic of Congo. Recruitment was not a problem - there were promises of rich pickings but arms and transport proved to be. Time was getting short as they hoped to install exiled EG politician Severo Moto as president before (obviously to be rigged) elections in March 2004. Transport proved problematic - he persuaded ex-UK prime minister's son Mark to finance the purchase of a helicopter (Mark Thatcher later claimed before a S. African court he had been misled into believing it was to be used in a new air ambulance company - oh yeah!). An airliner big enough to transport the troops and collect the arms cargoes was more problematic - eventually he bought one from a US family-owned company Dodson Aviation with an office in S. Africa and it was personally flown to S. Africa by a member of the Dodson family. Arms were an even greater problem and he eventually approached the state-owned Zimbabwe arms supply company (he should have contacted Viktor Bout!) and placed an order to be collected on the Dodson plane on its wat to Malabo with the foot-soldiers.

Loose talk!

Our previously mentioned Johannes Smith got wind of it and informed the EG government which contacted the cash-strapped Zimbabwe government and in an oil-for-action swap, Zimbabwe agreed to the arrest of everyone on the Dodson plane.

Nick du Toit made a final pre-coup visit to South Africa. He was returning to Bioko on a privately chartered jet which stopped off in Sao Tome to refuel and dropped off a South African businessman assisting and investing in a company helping the Santomense ex-Buffaloes to develop a luxury tourism complex on the north coast of Sao Tome.

As Nick and colleagues disembarked in Malabo, they were arrested. As Simon Mann and the "foot-soldiers" landed in Zimbabwe to collect the arms, they were arrested. South Africa negotiate for most of the "foot-soldiers" to be released after c. 1 ome year. Nick du Toit and colleagues langiush in the infamous Black Beach Prison as does Simon Mann who was extradited from Zimbabwe to EG.

Reference: The Wonga Coup by Adam Roberts

EDM 754 - MMR vaccine and the Media

I am pleased to see the parliamentary webpage for EDM 754 MMR Vaccine and the Media has now been updated and that 65 MPs have now signed the motion including my own. For an EDM this is quite a respectable number.

See NHS Blog Doctor and Ben Goldacre's Bad Science for the background to this story.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Coup d'Etats and other funny going-ons - Part I

Some funny things have been going on in the region in the last few days ...

First, last week security forces arrested a group of c. 40 people here claiming they were planning a coup d'etat. Then in the early hours of Tuesday morning a group of men turned up in two boats in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea on the island of Bioko and attempted to storm the presidential palace. There ensued a three hour gun battle until the invaders were repulsed. The Equatorial Guinea government claims they were members of the Nigerian Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND - a direct descendant of the Biafran war in 1967-70) who have denied their involvement. Yesterday the Nigerian governnmet did not deny MEND involvement but denied its own involvement,

So first a history lesson ...

Equatorial Guinea gained its independence from Spain in 1967 and Sao Tome e Principe (STP) from Portugal in 1975. Most Portuguese left in 1974-75 but a handful stayed on and when in 1977, the government claimed they had discovered plans for a coup d'etat as part of a larger international plot to topple tht MPLA government in Angola, they were rounded up and briefly imprisoned. On their release some stayed, some returned to Portugal. I was given names last weekend but obviously will not repeat them here

Over the coming years there were largely unsubstantiated rumours of planned coups but in 1978 a body of Angolan armed forces arrived on Sao Tome to assist STP in its defense.

No further "serious" attempts occurred until 1986 when a Santomense, Manauel Afonso Rosario dos Santos, resident in Gabon, had formed a political grouping the "renovated FRNSTP " which joined forces with another exile group to form the UDISTP. Improved relations between the STP and Gabonese presidents led to him being expelled from Gabon and he ended up in Cameroun. His supporters in Gabon were increasingly pressurised by the Gabonese government and, having been refused entry to Cameroun, ended up in Namibia where the apartheid regime offered them the choice of prison or military service in South Africa's crack and clandestine military unit the 32 Battalion (widely known as the "Buffaloes") who were fighting the Nambian independence movement SWAPO in northern Namibia/southern Angola).

In 1988 a group of c. 45 men arrived in small trawlers in ST, led by Rosario dos Santos, and attempted a coup but were quickly rounded up. Rosario dos Santos (now deceased) , who personally led the expedition, was soon released and in the light of democratic reforms founded a (pretty unsuccessful - no seats in the National Assembly) political party - Frente Democratico Cristao (FDC - translation the Christian Democratic Front).

The 32 Battalion was mainly composed of black South Africans, Angolan and Mozambican exiles with this small group of Santomenses. Apparently ruthless.

With the end of apartheid the 32 Battalion was disbanded and gradually, the Santomense elements drifted back here.

In July 2003 the Santomense ex-Buffaloes, along with some discontented members of the local armed forces led an attempted coup.

At that time we lived just behind the Prime Minister's house - I heard shots at 4 am, turned over and went back to sleep. At 0630 am a Santomense friend phoned me and told me of the coup - the president was out of the country at the time, they rounded up all the members of government and incarcerated them in the capital's military HQ.

The US Ambassdor to STP with entourage, based in Gabon, were in STP at the time to give a reception celebrating the two countries' independence days given the two holidays fall within a week of each other. Their hotel was just around the corner from our residence so I spoke to my boss and asked if I should check up on them on my way to work. He replied "Yes".

I stopped at the junction of our backstreet with the PM's street, looked right towards her house, saw soldiers outside so took a left. Arrived at the hotel to find the US Ambassador having a breakfast crisis meeting with his team. His first, obvious, concern was the safety of the few other US citizens on the island but he wouldn't let his own US citizen diplomatic staff out of the hotel. So, I volunteered to go and find them and report back on their "safety". I was fortunately accompanied in this mission by another UK citizen working for the US embassy in Gabon (obviously the US ambassador wasn't too concerned with UK citizens). So Joan and I became firm friends and, after avoiding a few road blocks, were able to report that all his citizens were fine. I then ran errands, interpreted, translated etc for the US ambassador for the following few days ... a welcome distraction from my normal job!

At first the only diplomats from "major" countries were from the US and Portugal and they initiated negotiations with the Buffaloes. Then delegations from the Economic Community of Central African States, Angola and South Africa turned up and tried to turf the Americans out ... only after protests by Portugal and S. Africa (if I remember rightly) was the US Ambassador permitted to rejoin the negotiations.

Upshot of the negotiations:

1. More US support for the Santomense military (yes it has happened).
2. More Portuguese support for the Santomense military (?)
3. More South African support for the Santomense ex-Buffaloes

Part II next week.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Letter from Parliament

A staff member in my MP's office has written to tell me he will be signing EDM 754 regarding the MMR vaccine and the media.

Meanwhile on his website he writes:

"A couple of weeks ago I went to the open day organised by Care UK of the mobile CATS (Clinical Assessment and Treatment Services) units at the top of Yorkshire Street. These are five brand new shiny units costing several million pounds which will visit Rochdale four days every month to provide consultations and treatment not by the NHS but by private companies.

At about the same time I was being given information that hospital services at the Infirmary were under severe pressure. For example the Ambulance Service’s target of eight minutes for blue light emergencies was only being met in 60% of cases.

Staff at the Accident and Emergency during the same period were dealing with record numbers of patients – the highest of the four hospitals in Pennine Acute yet the government insist that Rochdale be downgraded to an Urgent Care Unit by 2012.

Similarly our maternity unit is due to close in 2012 yet in 2007 had a record number of births. Across Greater Manchester the Healthy Futures and Making it Better proposals are unravelling even before they are fully implemented.

Would the millions spent on giving private health companies lucrative contacts be better spent on improving our local hospital? In a reply to a letter I sent to the Health Minister Ann Keen dismissed those concerns saying “the performance of Rochdale A&E of 96.8% remains high but does need to improve”. Try saying that to those staff giving 110% in A&E? - how pompous and out of touch!

The operation of the Choose and Book system is another issue which was taken up in debate by my colleague Andrew Stunell MP for Hazel Grove. This is a system which is supposed to enable patients to choose their Consultant and hospital for an outpatient clinic. However despite assurances given during the Healthy Futures Consultation it is virtually impossible to get an appointment at Rochdale Infirmary because the consultants are refusing to hold clinics there. Andrew quoted the experience of one Rochdale resident. "

Couldn't agree more.

Friday, February 13, 2009

MMR Vaccine and Leukaemia

In the light of my previous two posts on take-up of the MMR vaccine and Ben Goldacre's Bad Science's spat with Jeni Barnett and the LBC radio station, I have keenly been following the on-going story. I really feel Adrian Sudbury, Josie Grove, Davo, Christian and the many others who have died of immuno-suppresive diseases would be turning in their graves - I truly hope they come back to haunt Jeni Barnett and LBC management. The degree of support Ben is receiving from both the medical and non-medical blogosphere is impressive and again I implore all my UK readers to write to their Members of Parliament to support the EDM 754 in the UK Parliament encouraging up-take of the MMR vaccine. I have already written to mine (and, as an aside, was surprised to read of his vociferous opposition in parliament to the recent Israeli activities in Gaza. but then again, being the cynical sod I am, I have to remember that many of his constituents are infidel sooties). In the light of their support for the late Adrian Sudbury's but on-going campaign to encourage education about Bone Marrow Transplantation in the last years of secondary schools,I am surprised to see that our Prime Minister, Secretary of State for Health Alan Johnson ( and Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families Ed Balls ( (after all they are all MPs - do parliamentary rules not permit cabinet members to sign EDMs?) have not signed the EDM, especially given the Department of Health's memorandum reproduced below. Many thanks to HolfordWatch in a comment on one of Ben's posts on this for bringing this official DoH memo to my attention.
Subject: Public Health Link: MEASLES - PROTECTION OF HEALTH PROFESSIONALS [NONURGENT (cascade within 48 hours)]
Importance: High

To: NHS Trusts - Medical Directors (England)
Primary Care Trusts - Medical Directors

Cc: NHS Trust Chief Executives
PCT Chief Executives
Public Health Link
Regional Directors of Public Health
SHA Chief Executives

From: Professor David M Salisbury CB - Immunisation Policy -
Monitoring and Surveillance - Department of Health
Date: 19 May 2008
Reference: CEM/CMO/2008/07

Category: NON URGENT (cascade within 48 hours)


To: Medical Directors

Cc(for information only): Chief Executives of PCTs, Foundation Trusts, SHA Chief Executives, RDPHs and Public Health Link

Dear Colleague


I am writing to you to let you know about my concerns about protection of health staff and the risks to patients at a time when there are increasing number of cases of measles. I have recently learned of a junior doctor who whilst working on an oncology ward developed measles. The doctor had not been vaccinated.

I cannot emphasise enough the risk that measles presents to immunosuppressed individuals, particularly children. Between 1974 and 1984, of 51 children who died when in the first remission from acute lymphatic leukaemia, 15 of the deaths were due to measles or its complications. While the incidence of measles has declined since then and the coverage of measles-containing vaccine has increased, there have been about 1000 confirmed cases reported in England and Wales in the last 12 months. There are ongoing outbreaks in other European countries.

MMR vaccine cannot be given to immunosuppressed individuals, so their protection is dependent on avoiding exposure to the virus. Protection of healthcare workers, particularly those in contact with immunosuppressed patients, is an essential part of infection control in hospital and other healthcare settings. Under the Health Act 2006, specific duties are required of NHS bodies in England to control respiratory viruses including an alert system for suspect cases, isolation criteria and infection control measures. Occupational Health Services should include relevant immunisations (see ... /DH_081927).

In light of the above incident, I am writing to advise you of the importance of ensuring that staff working with immunosuppressed individuals are protected against measles – for the benefit of their patients and themselves. Advice is available in the chapter on measles in the book “Immunisation against Infectious Disease” (see: ... DH_4097254).

Unless the relevant staff can provide written evidence of having received two doses of MMR or laboratory evidence of immunity to measles, I strongly recommend you ensure all staff in contact with of immunosuppressed patients or paediatric patients are given MMR vaccine. If a staff member is unable to have the vaccine for any reason, you will need to consider the potential risk to patients.

Yours sincerely

Professor DAVID SALISBURY CB, FRCP, FRCPH, FFPH Director of Immunisation This document has been authorised by the Department of Health: Gateway reference no: 9949
P.S.  ... I forgot to curse another person as well. Dr Andrew Wakefield. 

Thursday, February 12, 2009

What Does It Matter?

What does it matter to you and me
Whether it's halfast eight or three?
The nursey clock has just gone one;
And hark, the clock in the hall's begun!
But it must be wrong, for it's striking seven;
And there goes another one, on to eleven!
And I think it's four,
But it might be more -
Oh, what does it matter to you and me?
Let's have dinner and call it tea!
And we'll all go to bed and wake at three,
For the Sun will be right in the morning.

E. V. Rieu

MMR Vaccine

Following on from our last post, if you a UK citizen please contact your Member of Parliament and ask them to sign Early Day Motion #754 supporting uptake of the MMR vaccine.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

MMR and Bad Science

Much is being discussed in the blogosphere about Ben Goldacre's criticism on his Bad Science blog of the LBC radio station journalist Jeni Barnett's casting doubts on the MMR vaccine.

I curse her - if you are the parent of a child at my daughter's school who has chosen not to give your child the vaccine because of the likes of Jeni, you put my immuno-depressed daughter at great risk of catching M or M or R and possibly dying - then I curse you.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Polyclinics, Lorenzo and other Madness

I am generally sympathetic with the UK GP blogging community's (or at least those that I read) criticisms of NuLabour's policies on reform and the advancement of quality in the National Health Service and Lord Darzi's Next Stage Review where he and the party promote the creation of large geographically distant "polyclinics" to replace local GP services, where local hospital A & E services are to be replaced by Emergency Care Units with only the more urgent cases to be transported to a more distant hospital within the ambulance service's government's target times, in both of which you will probably first be seen by a "nurse specialist" rather than a doctor (how is Tom Reynold's to evaluate where to take me? Is Tom Reynold's or his control centre going to decide - methinks Tom you ain't seen nuffink yet - when NuLabor really turns its eye on ambulance services).

A brief explanation to any international readers - our primary care medical system is based on private general physicians contracted by the NHS to provide primary care services to the NHS.

When we had to evacuate Kezia to the UK for her leukaemia, she was seen in the local hospital A & E and then paediatric department on a Sunday by a "sooty" SHO (i.e. still in training and if my future head of state can call my daughter Sooty then I am permitted to call him and my daughter, stepson and wife Sooty and Sweep , chimney sweeps - just as the Royal Estate of Sandringham has been selling golliwogs) who provisionally diagnosed correctly leukaemia. Dr. Khalil - you're a wog. Rochdale Infirmary's A & E and paediatric departments are to be closed, the former to be staffed I assume by "nurse practitioners".

But I do have a little tiny bit of sympathy with the "polyclinic" idea.

Over the Xmas period Nanda, Kezia and I all came down with a nasty cold which pretty much knocked us out for a couple of days. In the case of Nanda and myself there was really no point in wasting our GP's time with a viral infection for which you can just drop paracetamol to alleviate the symptoms whilst you sit it out. But in Kezia's case I thought it wise to telephone the hospital, which advised us that in the first place we should go and see the GP practice with whom we are registered and got an apointment for Kezia to be seen within the hour - impressive indeed!

No problems at all - a 10 minute bus/taxi ride and we were seen within 5 minutes of arrival. The doctor we saw was efficient, if somewhat impersonal (another "Sooty" by the way - but Rochdale is full of "Sooties" so we need a few culturally sensitive "Sooty" doctors). Kezia is prescribed paediatric paracetamol, and, as a prophylaxis, an antibiotic. Excellent!

In the physically-connected building next door is another GP practice. My brother and sister-in-law are registered there. On our arrival in the UK my brother recommmended we register with their GP practice. We duly went and were told there were no "spaces" - "Try next door".

It seems that two senior partners had a row and divided the practice and the building.

So we have two GP practices, serving the same community, receiving funds from the same Primary Care Trust, next door to each other. My brother Pete reommended the one to which he and Paula are registered so I went to register us all only to be to told "our books are full - try next door". Next door welcomed us with "open arms".

(A question to Drs Crippen and Rant - under your practice NHS contracts are you allowed to turn us away?).

So with presciption in hand we cross the road from the two neighbouring GP practices to two pharmacies accepting (in the case of a child under-five, free) NHS presciptions with four doors separating them.

Meanwhile our GP practice has been trialling for the Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale Primary Care Trust (PCT) the new NHS Connecting for Health system for electronically communicating test results from the nearest hospital lab (x miles away in Oldham) to their practice. They have concluded it is brilliant. So it is going to be deployed it in every GP practice in the PCT. So at least one function of our Connecting for Health IT programme functions in the north-west where the Lorenzo Patient Summary Care Record has been a complete fiasco/disaster.

More lunacy follows ...

My employer and its employees have decided to recvise the local medical compensation plan (part of the larger local compensation plan). One of the revised clauses states that the cost of "over-the-counter" medications, even if prescribed by a licensed physician, would not be reimbursed. In Africa any drug available in a pharmacy, from aspirin though diazepam to morphine is available "over-the-counter". So any medication that work doc does not have in work supplies but presribes will now have to come out of our own pockets.

By the way, the new head of state of the most powerful state in the world is not called Barack Obama, but Sooty.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


A prize (please suggest what - a piece of singed stage cork?) to the first reader who can suggest an appropriate royal epithet for the Prince who will insult a coffee-coloured UK citizen who happens to be a health tourist within the royal countries of the Commonwealth (and empire) over which our head of state presides?

I hope Kezia never lives in a country where the head of state or her off-springs refer to my daughter or any of her/his subjects as Sooties (black coal-covered Dickens chimney sweeps).

Paki, Nigger, Black, Gypsy, Jew, Arab, ... name it. Fuck-off - my daughter is beautiful and if you ever ever take that away from me and her I will never forgive you.

Aphorisms VIII

"Day & Night, Black & White, Wrong & Right, Spin & Spin, Stupid Heart Cupid Heart".

Before all of this (a child with leukaemia), I was not overly concerned and perhaps am still not

When Kezia was still real small she and Jaime (and me) would dance to Don Van Vliet/Captain Beeefheart's Bat Chain Puller. A song and an album - it talks so much of our new aphorism above, which, to confess, I don't understand. An amalgam of rhymes from the aforesaid album.

Kezia would dance and dance and dance to it ...