Synchronoss Announces Closing of $235 Million of Common Stock and Senior Notes Offerings

In addition, Synchronoss raised $75 million through a
private placement of preferred stock

Net proceeds used to refinance the company's capital structure

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. , June 30, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Synchronoss Technologies, Inc. (NASDAQ: SNCR), a global leader and innovator of cloud, messaging and digital solutions, today announced that on June 29, 2021 it closed an underwritten public offering of 42,307,692 shares of common stock, which included 3,846,154 shares issued in connection with the underwriters' option to purchase additional shares, at a price to the public of $2.60 per share, for gross proceeds of approximately $110 million. The Company also announced that on June 30, 2021 it closed an underwritten public offering of $125 million aggregate principal amount of 8.375% senior notes due 2026, which included $5 million aggregate principal amount of senior notes issued in connection with the underwriters' option to purchase senior notes. Gross proceeds for both offerings are exclusive of underwriting discounts and commissions and estimated offering expenses payable by the Company.

Synchronoss and the senior notes both received a rating of BB– from Egan–Jones Ratings Company, an independent, unaffiliated rating agency. The notes are expected to begin trading on the Nasdaq Global Select Market under the symbol "SNCRL" as early as July 1, 2021.

In addition to the public offerings, on June 30, 2021 the Company closed a private placement of 75,000 shares of its Series B Perpetual Non–Convertible Preferred Stock to B. Riley Principal Investments, LLC for an aggregate purchase price of $75 million.

The two public offerings and the private placement resulted in net proceeds of approximately $300 million after deducting underwriting discounts and commissions, but before expenses. On June 30, 2021, the Company used the net proceeds in part to fully redeem all outstanding shares of its Series A Convertible Participating Perpetual Preferred Stock owned by an affiliate of Siris Capital Group and to repay amounts outstanding under the Company's revolving credit facility.

"Synchronoss has emerged from this comprehensive refinancing process with a solid financial foundation that will support our mission to empower our customers to connect with their subscribers in trusted and meaningful ways," said Jeff Miller, President and CEO of Synchronoss. "Today we have a sustainable financial environment that gives us the operating flexibility required to invest in delivering and enhancing great cloud, messaging and digital experiences for our customers; to enable long–term growth; and to deliver higher stockholder value to those who invest in the company."

The refinancing has also led to the departure of Synchronoss Board of Directors members Frank Baker, Peter Berger and Robert Aquilina, each of whom is associated with Siris Capital Group. "On behalf of the entire Board and management, I would like to thank Frank, Peter and Bob for their contributions to Synchronoss over the last three years and for their generosity as advisors to me personally," said Miller.

In conjunction with this new capitalization, B. Riley Financial, Inc., including certain of its affiliates, serve as Synchronoss' anchor investor. Synchronoss has granted B. Riley representation on its Board.

Bryant Riley, Chairman and Co–CEO of B. Riley Financial, Inc., commented: "We are pleased to serve as a strategic partner and financial sponsor to Synchronoss on this capitalization and are committed to leveraging the full operational and financial capabilities of our platform to support Synchronoss in its strategy to deliver value. We look forward to continuing to work closely with Jeff and the entire management team as Synchronoss enters this exciting new phase for its business."

B. Riley Securities, Inc., acted as the lead underwriter and sole book–running manager for the common stock offering. Northland Capital Markets acted as co–manager for the common stock offering.

B. Riley Securities, Inc. acted as the sole book–running manager for the senior notes offering. Northland Capital Markets, Aegis Capital Corp. and EF Hutton, a division of Benchmark Investments, LLC acted as lead managers for the senior notes offering.

The common stock and senior notes were offered under the Company's shelf registration statement on Form S–3, which was declared effective by the Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") on August 28, 2020. The offerings were made only by means of a prospectus supplement and accompanying base prospectus. Copies of the prospectus supplement and the accompanying base prospectus for the offering may be obtained on the SEC's website at www.sec.gov, or by contacting B. Riley Securities by telephone at (703) 312–9580, or by email at prospectuses@brileyfin.com.

This press release shall not constitute an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy, nor shall there be any sale of these securities in any state or jurisdiction in which such offer, sale or solicitation would be unlawful prior to registration or qualification under the securities laws of any such state or jurisdiction.

About Synchronoss

Synchronoss Technologies (NASDAQ: SNCR) builds software that empowers companies around the world to connect with their subscribers in trusted and meaningful ways. The company's collection of products helps streamline networks, simplify onboarding and engage subscribers to unleash new revenue streams, reduce costs and increase speed to market. Hundreds of millions of subscribers trust Synchronoss products to stay in sync with the people, services and content they love. That's why more than 1,500 talented Synchronoss employees worldwide strive each day to reimagine a world in sync. Learn more at www.synchronoss.com

Safe Harbor Statement

This release contains forward–looking statements within the meaning of Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, including but not limited to statements regarding the closing of the public offering and the anticipated use of the proceeds thereof. These forward–looking statements are subject to a number of risks, including the satisfaction of customary closing conditions related to the public offering and the risk factors set forth from time to time in Synchronoss' SEC filings, including but not limited to the risks that are described in the "Risk Factors" and "Management's Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations" sections (as applicable) of Synchronoss' Annual Report on Form 10–K for the year ended December 31, 2020 and Quarterly Report on Form 10–Q for the period ended March 31, 2021, which are on file with the SEC and available on the SEC's website at www.sec.gov. In addition to the risks described above and in Synchronoss' other filings with the SEC, other unknown or unpredictable factors also could affect Synchronoss' results. No forward–looking statements can be guaranteed and actual results may differ materially from such statements. The information in this release is provided only as of the date of this release, and Synchronoss undertakes no obligation to update any forward–looking statements contained in this release on account of new information, future events, or otherwise, except as required by law.

Contacts

Media
Anais Merlin, CCgroup (International)
Diane Rose, CCgroup (North America)
synchronoss@ccgrouppr.com

Investors
Todd Kehrli/Joo–Hun Kim, MKR Investor Relations, Inc.
investor@synchronoss.com


The International Action Centre issues the following statement on: CAPE VERDE TAKES ON THE UNITED NATIONS

PRAIA, Cape Verde, June 30, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — In a decision on interim measures dated June 8, the United Nations Human Rights Committee called on Cape Verde to "refrain from extraditing Mr. Alex Saab to the United States of America" and to "take all necessary measures to ensure access to appropriate health care ["] by independent and specialized physicians of his choice". This decision ordering interim measures is the first urgent step resulting from the registration of a complaint filed by Alex Saab before United Nations Human Rights Committee.

In an interview on June 29, 2021, the Cape Verdean Prosecutor General, Mr Jose Luis Landim, makes a frontal attack on the United Nations, claiming that the UN Human Rights Committee does not have the competence to impose the suspension of the extradition of Alex Saab from Cape Verde to the United States of America.

Such a position is alarming and is a legal, strategic and ethical mistake.

First, this position is completely wrong in law. We would like to remind Mr Landim that Cape Verde has chosen to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights since August 6, 1993 and the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights since May 19, 2000. It must therefore comply with its international obligations in good faith and fully respect the decisions of the expert body responsible for interpreting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Human Rights Committee. Saying that the Committee does not have the power to request the suspension of an extradition that may expose someone to risks of irreparable harms and of violations of the right to life and right of physical integrity, is an unforgivable legal error totally incompatible with the rule of law.

Second, such a position is a frontal attack on the United Nations and the human rights that are at the heart of the values that the Organization defends. It sends a clear message to the world that Cape Verde can exercise its sovereignty to violate human rights while ignoring the norms of international human rights law to which it has subscribed and ignoring international decisions. In doing so, Cape Verde, after defying the ECOWAS Court of Justice which ordered it to release the arbitrarily detained Alex Saab, after violating Alex Saab's diplomatic immunity as a Special Envoy and an Ambassador to the African Union, is taking a hostile stance towards the United Nations and placing itself on the outside of the international community.

Third, such a position is a mistake in terms of fundamental ethical values. By requesting the suspension of Alex Saab's extradition pending the examination of the merits of the case, the Human Rights Committee was inviting Cape Verde to show humanity and common sense by considering that the extradition would be detrimental to the physical integrity and life of Alex Saab. The Committee did not take a political position, but a purely humanitarian one.

MEDIA Contact:
Sara Flounders
International Action Center
Https://www.iacenter.org
E–mail: iacenter@iacenter.org
Tel: +1 212–633–6646


Survey Projects Demand for Business School Graduates to Rebound in Post-Pandemic Era

RESTON, Va., June 30, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), a global association of leading graduate business schools, today released its annual 2021 Corporate Recruiters Survey. The report found that corporate recruiters project a robust demand for business school graduates, with nine in ten of them expecting it to increase or remain stable in the next five years. In addition, a higher proportion of recruiters in 2021 (37%) expect the demand to increase than that in the previous year (30%), with more than half of the European recruiters (54%) sharing such a view compared to their Asian (32%) and American (34%) counterparts.

"In a little more than a decade, the proportion of surveyed recruiters planning to hire MBA graduates has grown significantly, a trend especially notable in Europe, where the percentage jumped from 44 percent in 2010 to nearly twice as much (86%) in 2021, and in the United States, where it grew from 56 percent to 94 percent, a 68 percent increase," said Sangeet Chowfla, president and CEO of GMAC. "As corporations recover from the pandemic and rebuild their workforces, it is no surprise that business school graduates " with their leadership and managerial skills in high demand " are specially strengthened in their value proposition as an employee and uniquely positioned to meet today's economic challenges."

Key Findings

MBA salary and hiring are expected to return to pre–pandemic levels

In 2020, the projected MBA median salary reached an all–time high of $115,000 before COVID–19 severely disrupted the global economy and caused it to drop down to $105,000 three months into the pandemic. However, the median MBA salary for 2021 is projected to recover to its pre–pandemic 2020 level of $115,000. At this rate, the median salary of MBA graduates is 77 percent more than those with a bachelor's degree ($65,000) and 53 percent higher as compared to those hired directly from industry ($75,000). This salary premium shows that investing in an MBA credential continues to pay off over the time, helping an MBA graduate earn $3 million more in his or her lifetime than someone holding only a bachelor's degree. GMAC's own mba.com offers a helpful tool to calculate the return of investment (ROI) for business school graduates.

Before the pandemic, 92 percent of recruiters indicated they were planning to hire MBA graduates in 2020. However, the disruptions caused by COVID–19 adversely affected those plans, and hence the actual hiring of MBA graduates (80%) was lower than 2020 projections. Looking ahead, the proportion of recruiters planning to hire MBAs in 2021 (91%) returns to the same level as pre–pandemic 2020 (92%). The MBA hiring projections exhibit strength across key regions and industries. Specifically, 95 percent of the recruiters in the consulting sector, an industry in most demand by MBA graduates, are projecting to hire them""a reversal from the 2020 actual hiring of 76%.

Technology sector embraces MBA graduates for hiring and promotion

According to survey respondents, demand for MBA graduates by the technology industry is anticipated to increase by 10 percentage points in 2021 compared to pre–pandemic 2020. In fact, with 96 percent of tech recruiters projecting to hire MBA graduates in 2021, the demand for MBA talents tops the previous three years. The data also show that two in three (68%) recruiters in the technology sector agree that leaders in their organizations tend to have a graduate business school education""an increase of 11 percentage points from 2020 (57%).

"Technology companies are placing a high value on leaders who are not just technically skilled, but also have strong strategic, interpersonal, communication and decision–making skills, as well as an understanding of the importance of diversity and inclusion and sustainability in their organizations – these will be critical to driving organizational growth and innovation,” said Peter Johnson, Assistant Dean of UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business. “These core skills represent the signature business schools are imbuing in graduates from their MBA and business master's programs."

Perceptions of online programs are mixed depending on region, sector

Online programs have been gaining traction in recent years. According to GMAC data, 50 more online MBA programs accepted GMAT scores in the testing year (TY) 2020 as compared to five years earlier in TY 2016. In addition, 84 percent of online MBA programs reported an increase in applications in GMAC's 2020 Application Trends Survey.

However, when corporate recruiters were asked about their level of agreement with the statement "My organization values graduates of online and in–person programs equally," only one–third (34%) of them agreed. In terms of industries, recruiters from the finance and accounting industry (41%) are more likely to view graduates of online programs as equal to their on–campus peers, compared to their recruiting counterparts in consulting (25%) or technology (28%). As online programs are clearly a fast–growing area of graduate management education, the sustainability of demand will require a higher level of acceptance by employers, particularly when GMAC's latest candidate research suggests a similar disparity in terms of perception of online versus in–person programs.

"As business schools continue to evolve modalities and more candidates are able to access MBA and business master's programs through online delivery, this presents the graduate management education community with an opportunity to align expectations and outcomes for graduates and corporate recruiters," said Chowfla.

About the Survey

GMAC has been conducting the Corporate Recruiter Survey on behalf of the graduate management education community since 2001. This year's survey, administered in partnership with the Association of MBAs (AMBA), the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD), MBA Career Services & Employer Alliance (MBA CSEA), and career services offices at participating graduate business schools worldwide, received 529 responses between February 25 – March 31, 2021. More details of the full report, and other research series produced by GMAC, are available on gmac.com.

About GMAC

The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) is a mission–driven association of leading graduate business schools worldwide. Founded in 1953, GMAC creates solutions and experiences that enable business schools and candidates to better discover, evaluate, and connect with each other.

GMAC provides world–class research, industry conferences, recruiting tools, and assessments for the graduate management education industry, as well as tools, resources, events, and services that help guide candidates through their higher education journey. Owned and administered by GMAC, the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) exam is the most widely used graduate business school assessment.

GMAC also owns and administers the NMAT by GMAC (NMAT) exam and the Executive Assessment (EA). More than 7 million candidates on their business master's or MBA journey visited GMAC's mba.com last year to explore business school options, prepare and register for exams, and get advice on the admissions process. BusinessBecause and The MBA Tour are subsidiaries of GMAC, a global organization with offices in China, India, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

To learn more about our work, please visit www.gmac.com

Media Contact:

Teresa Hsu
Sr. Manager, Media Relations
202–390–4180 (mobile)
thsu@gmac.com


COVID-19 Pandemic Exacerbates Domestic Workers’ Plight in Bangladesh

A domestic worker in her house in the Dhaka’s Malibagh slum. She no longer has work because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Courtesy: Rafiqul Islam

A domestic worker in her house in the Dhaka’s Malibagh slum. She no longer has work because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Courtesy: Rafiqul Islam

By Rafiqul Islam
DHAKA, Jun 30 2021 – Rani Akter, a mother of five, usually works as a domestic helper in Dhaka’s Zikatola area. When the coronavirus pandemic broke out in Bangladesh last March, her employers asked her not to come to their homes for fear of infection.

“I lost my work in three houses one after the other, which became a nightmare for me. My rich employers did not allow me in their homes as they thought that I might carry the invisible virus,” Akter told IPS.

Akter’s husband also lost his job because of the COVID-19 lockdown and the family fell on hard times.

“We had nowhere to go. Once we had a home in Mehendiganj in the coastal Barishal district, but riverbank erosion engulfed our home eight years ago. That’s why we were compelled to stay in the city,” she said.

Akter began knocking on doors, looking — unsuccessfully — for work.

“We did not find government relief or cash assistance. But we had to survive and that’s why at first we were bearing family expenses from our savings. And when the savings were spent, we started borrowing from our relatives. We’ve already borrowed Tk 40,000 ($ 471). We are taking Tk 5,000 to 6,000 ($ 58 to $ 70) in loans per month from neighbours and relatives to meet our food demand and pay rent,” Akter said.

She said her family was running into debt and she did not know when their suffering would end.

Shahana Akter (20), a single mother who works as a domestic helper in Netrakona town, also lost her work when the pandemic started. But she was more fortunate that most.

“When I lost my work, I thought how my five-year-old son and I would survive. I had no savings. But I was lucky enough as I got a new work after two months of the lockdown,” Shahana Akter told IPS.

Millions of domestic workers lost their jobs because of COVID-19

There is no official data on the number of domestic workers in Bangladesh. But according to Rezaul Haque, additional secretary (Labour Wing) of Bangladesh’s Labour and Employment Ministry, around 95 percent of domestic helpers are women and girls.

A 2006 International Labour Organisation (ILO) study estimated that Bangladesh had four million domestic workers in a country with a population of 163 million.

While a recent study by the National Domestic Women Workers Union (NDWWU) showed there are about 2.2 to 2.5 million domestic workers, of which about 60 percent or 1.5 million were live-out workers with the remaining 40 percent living their employer’s homes.

According to NDWWU general secretary Murshida Akter Nahar, when the coronavirus outbreak began here in March 2020, many domestic workers lost their jobs without notice and without being paid the wages owed to them. 

It is estimated that around 1.2 million live-out workers lost their jobs since March 2020.

“And many domestic helpers were forced out of their employers’ houses, so they had to suffer a miserable life during the lockdown last year. They had no shelter to live and no food to eat in Dhaka city. That was why many of them were compelled to leave the city,” she told IPS.

Once the COVID-19 infection rate reduced, many domestic workers returned to the city, hoping to be re-employed by their former employers. But most did not get their jobs back.

Nahar said those domestic helpers who had been able to find employment, lost their jobs when the coronavirus situation started deteriorating once again this March. “But they did not get enough support from the government.”

She said many domestic workers started begging, resulting a rapid rise of beggars on the city streets.        

Mahmuda Begum (40) lives in a small rented house in the city’s Zikatola area and she had also worked in the area as a domestic helper. When the pandemic began she lost her job overnight.

“I lost my only livelihood option due to COVID-19. I spent all the savings that I had. Now I have no money to pay house rent (Taka 5,000 per month or $58) or buy food and other essential goods. That’s why I had no option but to borrow money at high interest,” Begum told IPS.

Begum, a widow and mother of two, said she did not pay her rent for four months and her family often have to starve for lack of food. “We cannot eat meals three times in a day,” she added. 

Shahana Akter (20), a single mother and domestic worker in Netrakona town, also lost her work when the pandemic started. She was able to find employment again. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Shahana Akter (20), a single mother and domestic worker in Netrakona town, also lost her work when the pandemic started. She was able to find employment again. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Domestic work is an unregulated sector

Rights bodies have been demanding ratification of the ILO Convention 189 and implementation of the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy. In 2015, the Bangladesh government adopted the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy aiming to ensure the rights of domestic workers and they were supposed to be a registration process. 

“But the government is yet to implement the policy. We are also demanding the government include the domestic work issue in the Labour Act to be amended,” Nahar said.

Domestic Workers Rights Network coordinator Abul Hossain said: “At the onset of the lockdown enforced in Bangladesh, the domestic workers faced a lot of suffering. About 30 percent of them, who lost work, were compelled to return to their villages and those who were in the city did not have any work. A majority of them did not get any government support.”

He said that many were now in a difficult situation as they could not pay rent and were trapped in debt. He said this also resulted in a rapid rise in family feuds.

Hossain, also a trade union leader, said it was impossible to currently ensure the rights of domestic workers and suggested bringing them under a legal framework to establish their rights.

Haque, additional secretary (Labour Wing) of the Labour and Employment Ministry, said the government distributed cash assistance and relief among the unemployed by preparing their lists. He said that there was no specific social protection scheme for domestic workers as they worked in the informal sector.

Haque said that if the proposed Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy Act was passed, the rights of domestic workers could be established.

“Talks continue with stakeholders concerned to formulate a law to ensure the rights of domestic workers,” Haque said.      

_______________________________________________________________________________

This feature was made possible by a donation from Farida Sultana Foundation, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Farida Sultana passed away in December 2020 after battling COVID-19 for two weeks. 

 


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CasperLabs & SJM Group Partner to Promote Web3 Adoption in the United Arab Emirates

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, June 30, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Today, CasperLabs, a leading blockchain services company and developer of the Casper Network, announced a partnership with His Highness Sheikh Juma bin Maktoum Al Maktoum's SJM Group of Companies to establish their local presence to facilitate use for the Casper Network in the UAE.

In tandem with Lead Ventures, CasperLabs will work closely with local government agencies and UAE–based enterprises to conceptualize, develop and implement innovative use cases that leverage Casper's unique combination of enterprise–grade security, scalability and decentralization.

The partnership is the latest milestone in CasperLabs' expanding presence in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and comes on the heels of Saeed Hareb Al Darmaki's appointment as Managing Director, MENA for CasperLabs. CasperLabs first entered into the region earlier this year through a strategic partnership with Lead Ventures and the endorsement from His Highness will further drive momentum in the market.

Since its mainnet launch this spring, Casper has emerged as the only true enterprise grade blockchain on the market, offering a compelling alternative to networks that have failed to garner adoption for enterprise use cases. A growing number of organizations are building on Casper, citing its more predictable and cost–effective gas pricing, ease of migration for existing apps/dapps, the more environmentally–friendly energy consumption model and CasperLabs' whiteglove support and services as primary factors for choosing to build on the network.

Known globally for its spirit of innovation, the UAE is exploring building on Casper for various use cases such as financial services; proven authenticity and sourcing for the Dubai Gold and Commodities Exchange; creation of a national UAE identity solution; certificate, registry and notary signing using a dapp like CasperSign; and university credential verification, to name a few.

"Our Group's vision is aligned with the initiatives of the UAE Government and the regional companies who have consistently accepted and implemented newer technologies in their daily needs. We are pleased to have CasperLabs partner with us to bring its expertise to develop further growth in these sectors," said HH Sheikh Juma Bin Maktoum Al Maktoum, Chairman SJM Group of Companies.

"CasperLabs is honored to be partnering with His Highness' SJM Group of Companies and the UAE on government initiatives. We have seen a remarkable demand for Web3 solutions in this region and we are excited to finally be able to deliver a network that meets the needs for a robust enterprise network. We are honored to be building out the Casper ecosystem in the region with the support of a visionary leader," said Mrinal Manohar, CEO & CoFounder CasperLabs.

About CasperLabs
CasperLabs provides professional services and support for organizations building on the Casper network. Guided by open source principles, CasperLabs is committed to supporting the next wave of blockchain adoption among businesses and providing developers with a reliable and secure framework to build private, public and hybrid blockchain applications. Its team possesses deep enterprise technology experience, hailing from organizations including Google, Adobe, AWS, Dropbox and Microsoft.

To learn more, visit casperlabs.io.

Media Contact
Kara Miley
kara@serotonin.co


New COVID-19 testing equipment deployed in Tonga

By External Source
Tonga, Jun 30 2021 (IPS-Partners)

Last week, the Tonga Laboratory Services completed the installation of a 4 module GeneXpert testing equipment used for diagnosis of COVID-19 infection and to increase SARS-coV-2 testing capacity.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, each Pacific Island Country and Territory (PICT) had one or two GeneXpert equipment for diagnosis of tuberculosis (TB) and sexually transmitted infections (STI), supported by Global Fund. The same equipment had been used for COVID-19 testing in the last 12 months.

The progressive increase in demand for COVID-19 testing in PICTs over the past months resulted in frequent equipment downtime due to repair and maintenance affecting not only COVID-19 testing but also TB and STI testing. Therefore, the need to have a dedicated equipment for COVID-19 SARS-CoV-2 testing was critical.

Telesia Apikotoa, Laboratory Manager at Tonga Laboratory Services, said this equipment will help them prepare for the worst should an outbreak occur. “This equipment will strengthen our COVID-19 testing capabilities and receiving 4 additional modules for testing is of great help to us. We acknowledge the support received since the beginning of this pandemic to improve our laboratory’s services and capabilities”.

Dr Eka Buadromo, Senior Laboratory Advisor at the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Public Health Division, said that SPC continues to provide technical support to Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) during this COVID-19 pandemic through the provision of polymerase chain reaction testing facilities, equipment, consumables, and reagents required for SARS-CoV-2 testing.

“The deployment of GeneXpert equipment to PICTs specifically to test for SARS-CoV-2 will improve diagnostic accuracy, turnaround time of test results and also lengthen the life-span of the instrument”.

This has been made possible by the Pacific Community (SPC) with financial support from the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) Grant and European Union (EU), while purchased through the UNICEF-procurement system for COVID-19 emergency supplies.

So far, 12 PICTs have received GeneXpert equipment and SPC continues to work with the Joint Pacific COVID-19 Incident Management Team and other donor partners to support the supply of GeneXpert testing cartridges and further ensure that PICTs are well prepared to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Source: The Pacific Community (SPC)

Education Cannot Wait Develops Groundbreaking Curriculum for Crisis-Affected Adolescents – Derived from Viktor Frankl’s Seminal Work ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’

Credit: UNICEF Uganda/2021/Abdul

By External Source
NEW YORK, Jun 30 2021 (IPS-Partners)

Education Cannot Wait (ECW) – the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies – is developing a curriculum derived from the seminal work of world-renowned psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”, and its related branch of psychotherapy, Logotherapy. The curriculum, which has been preliminary field-tested in Uganda, aims to fully tap into the resilience of girls and boys living in crisis settings.

Psychosocial support is a core component of the holistic education programmes supported by ECW and its partners to help adolescent girls and boys in armed conflicts, forced displacement, climate change-related disasters and protracted crises to cope with the incommensurable hardship and adversity they face.

“Crisis-affected girls and boys endure abnormal challenges of armed conflicts, widespread violations of their human rights, chronic insecurity and constant threats to their lives and sense of safety. To achieve quality learning outcomes and empower them to thrive towards their potential, one must address their trauma and experiences of adversity. By empowering them to find a meaning in their experience, they stand greater chances of healing, unleashing their resilience and becoming positive agents of change in all walks of life. Logotherapy is a forward-looking and profound approach that ignites the strength of the human spirit,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait.

“With this ground-breaking curriculum we want to shift the dominant narrative that hardship prevents young people from achieving their goals or fully living their story of life. Viktor Frankl provides an empirical and inspiring example of how extreme hardship can actually fuel global contributions. At Education Cannot Wait, this is also our stance. We want to empower children and adolescents in armed conflicts and forcible displacement to turn their gruesome adversity into ultimate hope and capacity to shed their light of knowledge, wisdom and compassion onto their communities, nations and the rest of the world.”

Frankl posits that human beings can withstand significant suffering if they can access meaning and hope and recognize their choices and potential. Frankl tested his research while enduring Nazi concentration camps in World War II. The themes he conveys include dehumanization, profound loss, injustice, and unspeakable cruelty. Without making comparisons, Frankl presented logotherapy in his world-renowned book, “Man’s Search for a Meaning,” which is today universally recognized as one of the top schools of thoughts in Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS). Thus, all of these concepts are relatable and relevant to adolescent girls and boys living in conflict and disaster-affected communities.

By providing a curriculum as a global good, ECW aims to offer a structured alternative approach to partners who work with adolescents experiencing hardship. Through dialogue, reflection and activities focused on the life and teachings of Viktor Frankl – as well as role models such as Malala Yousafzai, Wangari Maathai, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela – young people will explore how to create connection, find meaning, imagine a different future, and contribute to the world in big and small ways. ECW supported the field-testing of the curriculum package – titled “An Instruction Manual for Life” – with groups of adolescents in a non-formal community setting with upper secondary students in Northern Uganda in early 2021.

Initial results from the testing found that young people and facilitators enthusiastically embraced the curriculum as “relevant, exciting, engaging, and new.” Youth reported high satisfaction and showed that they learned and internalized key concepts. Facilitators expressed strong interest in the curriculum as they felt that local schools fell short in supporting adolescents in profound and critical thinking, individual expression and self-reflection to access their resilience, inner strength, hopes and dreams.

Based on the feedback of the field testing, ECW filmed introductory videos to accompany each of the three “blocks” of the curriculum: “Deep Dive”, “Find Your Meaning” and “Dream Big.”

Watch videos

Watch all the ECW Logotherapy Life Lessons Videos on our playlist.

Additional testing will be conducted before the curriculum is finalized and published.
For more information on the curriculum, please contact info@un-ecw.org

 


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Excerpt:

This first of its kind curriculum acknowledges the immeasurable resilience of adolescents living in crisis settings, encouraging them to use their experience to become their potential.

“We Need to Act Now” — as Sub-Saharan Africa Faces Third Wave of Covid-19

Health workers on Bwama Island on Lake Bunyonyi in Uganda prepare to administer COVID-19 vaccines. “The threat of a third wave in Africa is real and rising”, said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “Our priority is clear – it’s crucial that we swiftly get vaccines into the arms of Africans at high risk of falling seriously ill and dying of COVID-19.” Credit: UNICEF/Catherine Ntabadde

By Kristalina Georgieva and Abebe Aemro Selassie
WASHINGTON DC, Jun 30 2021 – Sub-Saharan Africa is in the grips of a third wave of COVID-19 infections that threatens to be even more brutal than the two that came before.

This is yet more evidence of a dangerous divergence in the global economy. One track for countries with good access to vaccines, where strong recoveries are taking hold. And another for those countries that are still waiting and at risk of falling further behind.

The growth of infections in sub-Saharan Africa is now the fastest in the world, with an explosive trajectory that is outpacing the record set in the second wave. At this pace, this new wave will likely surpass previous peaks in a matter of days—and in some countries, infections are already more than double, or even triple, their January peaks.

The latest (delta) variant—reportedly 60 percent more transmissible than earlier variants—has been detected in 14 countries.

When the pandemic first hit, quick action by policymakers helped prevent infection rates seen elsewhere around the world. But it pushed already strained local health systems to the breaking point.

Only six months after the initial crisis, the region experienced a second wave that swiftly outpaced the scale and speed of the first. Now, another six months on, sub-Saharan Africa faces its third devastating wave.

The only way for the region to break free from this vicious pandemic cycle is to swiftly implement a widespread vaccination program.

A still-vulnerable region

The sheer speed of this third wave highlights the difficulty policymakers in sub Saharan Africa face in heading off a crisis once it gets under way. In Namibia, for example, new cases reached the previous January peak within only two weeks, and tripled another two weeks later. For many countries, by the time a new surge is identified, it may already be too late.

And the options employed during previous waves may no longer be feasible. The re-imposition of containment measures would likely come at too high an economic and social cost, and is simply unsustainable—and unenforceable—over a prolonged period.

Looking back, most sub-Saharan African countries entered the second wave in a more difficult economic position than the first, with shrinking fiscal resources to protect the vulnerable, additional millions thrown into poverty, and depleted household balance sheets.

While some countries have taken steps to improve preparedness, unfortunately, very few have had sufficient resources—or time—to strengthen public health systems.

And, now, the scale of the current wave is once again threatening to overwhelm local health systems. News reports across the region point to overwhelmed hospitals. The sick are dying while waiting for a bed. Non-emergency surgeries have been canceled to preserve space for COVID-19 patients.

And military hospitals have been opened for civilian use. Oxygen has become a key constraint, with supply already failing to keep up with the demand for critically-ill patients. The region’s scarce health workers continue to be at risk.

The risks of leaving Africa behind

The vaccine rollout in sub-Saharan Africa remains the slowest in the world. Less than 1 adult in every hundred is fully vaccinated, compared to an average of over 30 in more advanced economies. This means even most essential frontline workers continue to work unprotected. In this context, some of the world’s more fortunate countries have stockpiled enough vaccines to cover their populations many times over.

Without significant, upfront, international assistance—and without an effective region-wide vaccination effort—the near-term future of sub-Saharan Africa will be one of repeated waves of infection, which will exact an ever-increasing toll on the lives and livelihoods of the region’s most vulnerable, while also paralyzing investment, productivity, and growth.

In short, without help the region risks being left further and further behind.

And the longer the pandemic is left to ravage Africa, the more likely it is that ever more dangerous variants of the disease will emerge. Vaccination is not simply an issue of local lives and livelihoods. It is also a global public good. For every country—everywhere—the most durable vaccine effort is one that covers everyone, in every country.

What can be done to speed up the vaccine effort?

IMF staff has put forward a global proposal that targets vaccinating at least 40 percent of the total population of all countries by end-2021, and at least 60 percent by the first half of 2022.

Africa is expected to receive 30 percent vaccination coverage through COVAX and another 30 percent coverage through the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), established by the African Union under the leadership of President Cyril Ramaphosa.

We see seven key steps to ensure these vaccination targets are met:

    • • First, it is essential to deliver vaccines to sub Saharan Africa as soon as possible. Given that much of the global supply of vaccines for 2021 has already been bought up, many countries will be forced to wait until 2022 to get them. So, the fastest way to get vaccines to sub Saharan Africa is for advanced economies to share their stockpiles bilaterally or through multilateral initiatives. COVAX has already received pledges for over half a billion doses. But these need to turn into actual deliveries as soon as possible to make a difference. Indeed, the goal should be to get a quarter of a billion doses to the region by September.

 

    • • Second, vaccine manufacturers should speed up supply to Africa for the rest of this year. Advanced economies with vaccine manufacturing capabilities should encourage their manufacturers to do so, especially when demand at home is falling short of supply.

 

    • • Third, AVATT should be fully financed to ensure coverage of 30 percent of the African Union population. This requires an estimated $2 billion, that would for example allow AVATT to execute its optional contract of 180 million doses with J&J.

 

    • • Fourth, remove cross-border export restrictions on raw materials and finished vaccines. This includes ensuring that the Aspen facility in South Africa—a key supplier to AVATT—is operational at full capacity, and resuming exports from the Serum Institute of India to COVAX. African vaccination plans rely heavily on these two facilities.

 

    • • Fifth, financing of at least $2.5 billion and upfront planning will also be critical to ensure health systems can deliver shots-in-arm promptly as vaccine supply ramps up. Many countries in the region, including eSwatini, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, and Rwanda, have quickly and effectively administered their limited supplies. These countries, along with others in the region, have had to place their vaccine campaigns on hold as they wait for the arrival of the new supplies that they have recently procured at comparatively high cost or the donated supplies from other countries’ stockpiles. It is these shortages—rather than the ability to administer shots—that has so far been the biggest constraint. But when supply picks up, health systems must be prepared to vaccinate as many people as possible. And this is doable as the experience in many developing countries show—the likes of Seychelles, Mongolia, Bhutan, and Maldives impressively scaled-up vaccinations quickly once their vaccine supplies arrived.

 

    • • Alongside vaccination efforts, countries must also ensure that their public health systems are able to handle an influx of cases. This includes accelerating the acquisition of vital COVID-19 health tools, including therapeutics, oxygen, and personal protective equipment. No matter what the speed of vaccinations, these supplies are needed now to help save lives. This will require urgent grant financing to pre-emptively procure and deliver a minimum package of critical COVID-19 Health Tools to address the rising health and economic costs arising from the surge in cases driven by the delta variant.

 

    • Finally, the magnitude of the region’s financing needs requires a coordinated effort on the part of the international community. Few countries have the fiscal space to finance this effort on their own, considering the region’s already elevated debt levels and already pressing spending needs. Most of the international community’s financial assistance will need to come in the form of grants or concessional loans. With our colleagues from the World Bank, WHO, WTO, and others, the IMF has formed a special task force to ensure that countries get the resources and vaccines they need.

As always, Africa can count on the IMF. We remain deeply committed to all countries in the region. We’ve ramped up our lending to sub Saharan Africa—last year it was more than 13 times our annual average—and support to increase our access limits will allow us to scale up our zero-interest lending capacity.

And the unprecedented $650 billion new SDR allocation, far and away the largest in the Fund’s history, once approved will make $23 billion available to member countries in sub Saharan Africa.

Yet the gravity and urgency of the situation requires the global community working together. We all have a stake in this. So, in all countries—advanced and emerging alike—we can reclaim our physical and economic health from the pandemic. And so that sub Saharan Africa can resume its path toward a more prosperous future.

Kristalina Georgieva is the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Abebe Aemro Selassie is the Director of the IMF’s African Department.

 


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Anti-Gay ‘Therapy’ Offered at Uganda Health Centres Run by Aid-Funded Groups

Illustration by Inge Snip. Credit: openDemocracy

By Khatondi Soita Wepukhulu
KAMPALA, Jun 30 2021 – At Mulago, Uganda’s biggest public hospital, a receptionist at an HIV clinic for marginalised and ‘most at risk’ populations, including LGBT people, said that an undercover reporter’s 17-year-old gay brother could “quit” his same-sex attraction.

“Whoever wants to quit homosexuality, we connect them,” she said – to external counsellors, who have included Pastor Solomon Male, a locally known anti-gay campaigner. She also gave our undercover reporter the phone number of a man who “was once a patient here” and “was once a homosexual but isn’t anymore”.

The USAID aid agency – which says it supports LGBTQI+ inclusive development – gave the Most At Risk Populations Initiative (MARPI) that runs this clinic a $420,000 grant in 2019, ending this September. (It is unclear if any of this money went to this specific clinic.)

It is just one of several examples of health centres in Uganda where our undercover reporters caught staff providing, or providing referrals for, controversial anti-gay ‘therapies’.

Our investigation identified similar support for ‘anti-gay’ counselling activities at three hospitals in the Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau (UCMB) network. This network received more than $1m from USAID between 2019 and this April, though it is unclear whether the specific hospitals identified in this investigation received any of this money.

At one of these hospitals – Nsambya, Uganda’s biggest private health facility – staff referred our reporters to the private office of Cabrine Mukiibi, on the outskirts of Kampala, who mixed Freudian theories, biblical quotes and anti-gay insults in his diagnosis.

Mukiibi, who is also a staff counsellor at Nsambya, stated that sex without procreation “becomes evil” – before recommending what he called “exposure therapy”, telling our undercover reporter to “get a housemaid” that her supposedly gay teenage brother can “get attracted [to]’’, one who is “between 18 and 20 years of age”.

A spokesperson from the US embassy in Kampala, Anthony Kujawa, said that ‘conversion therapy’ goes against “the policy of the United States to pursue an end to violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics”.

In response to questions from openDemocracy, Kujawa explained that US funding for UCMB was supposed to support the capacity of Catholic health facilities involved in HIV and AIDS care. He said: “USAID does not fund or promote anti-LGBTQI+ conversion therapy and will investigate any report that a USAID funded partner is doing so.”

Rosco Kasujja, director of mental health at Makerere University’s school of psychology and head of the Uganda Clinical Psychologists Association, called openDemocracy’s findings “disturbing”. He blamed the lack of a national regulator for psychologists, which could ensure that all patients receive quality care.

“It’s really frustrating that we don’t have any power,’’ he said, in reference to his association’s voluntary and non-binding standards. “People are playing by their own rules and [we] can’t do anything about it.”

 

‘Extremely unethical’

Globally, more than 65 associations of doctors, psychologists or counsellors have condemned ‘conversion therapy’ practices, according to a 2020 report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) rights group.

Three countries (Brazil, Ecuador and Malta) have banned these practices – which range from ‘talk therapy’ to physical ‘treatments’ including so-called aversion therapy, while Germany has banned them when applied to minors. Several US states have also passed bans, while the UK recently pledged to do the same nationwide.

Anal sex is illegal in Uganda, and homosexuality is heavily stigmatised. It is unclear how common ‘conversion therapy’ is, but openDemocracy teamed up with local researchers to document the experiences of 20 LGBT Ugandan survivors of such ‘treatments’.

Interviewees said such ‘therapy’ “felt like murder” and that they “suffered depression and anxiety”, drug dependence and suicidal thoughts. Mulago and a hospital in UCMB’s network were among the facilities they named as having provided the treatments.

Godiva Akullo, a feminist lawyer in Kampala, said of those providing ‘conversion’ therapies: “I think it’s extremely unethical behaviour.”

 

Unregulated therapy

In Kampala, openDemocracy undercover reporters visited three hospitals in the aid-funded UCMB network, looking for ‘treatment’ for same-sex attraction, and were referred to providers of such therapy either within the health facilities or externally.

At Kisubi Hospital’s “youth-friendly” clinic, a counsellor offered a session for 50,000 Ugandan shillings ($14), saying a “17 [year-old] is still a small child we can modify”.

At Lubaga Hospital, Matthias Ssetuba introduced himself as the facility’s “mental health focal person”. He claimed that homosexuality is caused by factors ranging from peer pressure to the internet, and also said that it can be “changed”.

“It is a mental health issue,” he added, “because once you start having sex with the same sex, much as those whites are saying ‘it’s normal’, in our society it’s abnormal. And anything to do with abnormality has something to do with mental health.”

He stressed that a person “has to accept” that they need help “in converting”.

In an email to openDemocracy afterwards, Ssettuba said it was the first time he’d had “such a case at the hospital”, which “has never aided any anti-LGBT conversion therapy”.

“We would only wish to support those who might want to do so at their own will,” he said. He did not reply to further questions about his statements to our undercover reporters.

Homosexuality, said Cabrine Mukiibi (the counsellor referred by Nsambya Hospital) is often caused by “unresolved competition” between a child and a same-sex parent for the attention of an opposite-sex parent during their development’s “phallic stage”.

He wore a label on his coat saying “clinical psychologist” when he met our reporters. He has also been quoted in local media as a “clinical psychologist”.

He said he had just finished (but not yet been awarded) a master’s degree in clinical psychology at Uganda Martyrs University, which is affiliated to the Catholic Church. But this degree is not listed on the university’s website, and Uganda’s higher education regulator told openDemocracy the university is not accredited to offer this programme.

Nsambya Hospital’s director Peter Sekweyama told openDemocracy that Mukiibi is “just offering counselling”, and that he is “trained in something like humanities”.

Kasujja, head of the psychologists’ association, said hospitals have a responsibility to ensure their staff are qualified – but warned that without national regulation of counsellors and psychologists, “there is going to be lots of abuse, […] lots of harm.”

No one from Kisubi Hospital responded to openDemocracy’s requests for comment. UCMB and the HIV clinic at Mulago Hospital also did not respond.

The US embassy in Kampala did not say if USAID funding to UCMB has been renewed.

Noah Mirembe, a human rights lawyer and trans man in Kampala, said that Ugandans who have been harmed by ‘conversion therapy’ practices and are interested in legal redress should contact the Taala Foundation (an organisation he co-directs) for support.

* Additional reporting by Nnanda Kizito Sseruwagi

 

This story was originally published by openDemocracy

Zoom to Acquire Kites GmbH

SAN JOSE, Calif. and KARLSRUHE, Germany, June 29, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Zoom Video Communications, Inc. (NASDAQ: ZM) today announced it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Karlsruhe Information Technology Solutions – Kites GmbH ("Kites"), a start–up dedicated to developing real–time Machine Translation ("MT") solutions. The terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Kites was founded in 2015 and has academic roots with Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, where co–founders Dr. Alex Waibel and Dr. Sebastian Stker are faculty members. Kites' talented team of 12 research scientists will help Zoom's engineering team advance the field of MT to improve meeting productivity and efficiency by providing multi–language translation capabilities for Zoom users.

"We are continuously looking for new ways to deliver happiness to our users and improve meeting productivity, and MT solutions will be key in enhancing our platform for Zoom customers across the globe," said Velchamy Sankarlingam, President of Product and Engineering at Zoom. "With our aligned missions to make collaboration frictionless "" regardless of language, geographic location, or other barriers "" we are confident Kites' impressive team will fit right in with Zoom."

"Kites emerged with the mission of breaking down language barriers and making seamless cross–language interaction a reality of everyday life, and we have long admired Zoom for its ability to easily connect people across the world," said Dr. Waibel and Dr. Stker. "We know Zoom is the best partner for Kites to help advance our mission and we are excited to see what comes next under Zoom's incredible innovation engine."

Dr. Stker and the rest of the Kites team will remain based in Karlsruhe, Germany, where Zoom looks forward to investing in growing the team. Zoom is exploring opening an R&D center in Germany in the future. Dr. Waibel will become a Zoom Research Fellow, a role in which he will advise on Zoom's MT research and development.

Forward–Looking Statements
This press release contains express and implied "forward–looking statements" within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 related to Zoom's acquisition of Kites that involves substantial risks, uncertainties and assumptions that could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied by such statements. Forward–looking statements in this communication include, among other things, statements about the potential benefits of the transaction, our development of our MT solutions, our ability to integrate the Kites team, and potential growth opportunities. In some cases, you can identify forward–looking statements by terms such as "anticipate," "believe," "estimate," "expect," "intend," "may," "might," "plan," "project," "will," "would," "should," "could," "can," "predict," "potential," "target," "explore," "continue," or the negative of these terms, and similar expressions intended to identify forward–looking statements. However, not all forward–looking statements contain these identifying words. By their nature, these statements are subject to numerous uncertainties and risks, including factors beyond our control, that could cause actual results, performance or achievement to differ materially and adversely from those anticipated or implied in the statements. These assumptions, uncertainties and risks include that, among others, the possibility that the anticipated benefits of the transaction are not realized when expected or at all, division of management's attention from ongoing business operations and opportunities, potential adverse reactions or changes to business or employee relationships, the ability to integrate Kites successfully, and other factors that may affect future results of Zoom. Additional risks and uncertainties that could cause actual outcomes and results to differ materially from those contemplated by the forward–looking statements are included under the caption "Risk Factors" and elsewhere in our most recent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the "SEC"), including our quarterly report on Form 10–Q for the quarter ended April 30, 2021. Forward–looking statements speak only as of the date the statements are made and are based on information available to Zoom at the time those statements are made and/or management's good faith belief as of that time with respect to future events. Zoom assumes no obligation to update forward–looking statements to reflect events or circumstances after the date they were made, except as required by law.

About Zoom
Zoom is for you. We help you express ideas, connect to others, and build toward a future limited only by your imagination. Our frictionless communications platform is the only one that started with video as its foundation, and we have set the standard for innovation ever since. That is why we are an intuitive, scalable, and secure choice for individuals, small businesses, and large enterprises alike. Founded in 2011, Zoom is publicly traded (NASDAQ:ZM) and headquartered in San Jose, California. Visit zoom.com and follow @zoom.

About Kites
Karlsruhe Information Technology Solutions "" Kites GmbH is a start–up company founded in 2015 by Dr. Sebastian Stker and Dr. Alex Waibel with the express purpose of transforming the latest research in speech translation technology into viable products. Kites' mission is breaking down language barriers and making seamless cross–language interaction a reality of everyday life. Kites aims to provide custom services to its customers in order to provide technology and services that fit and are operated and maintained at the necessary quality levels.

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