Category Archives: Africa

EbolaWatch: Numbers, fear, aid, politics


From the Centers for Disease Control, the latest Ebola numbers for the three hardest hit West African countries:

BLOLG Ebola cases

From the CDC report, the latest corresponding Ebola curves:

BLOG Ebola curves

The Washington Post covers a high level visit:

UN chief visits Ebola-ravaged West African nations

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised health workers battling Ebola in Sierra Leone and Liberia on Friday, saying they have shown “the most noble face of humankind” amid an epidemic that has killed more than 6,900 people in West Africa.

Ban, who made stops in both countries on Friday, travels Saturday to Guinea where the Ebola virus first emerged a year ago.

“Today we have reason to be cautiously optimistic that this terrible outbreak can be defeated,” said Ban at a news conference with Liberia’s president.

“Our response strategy is working — where people are gaining access to treatment, where contacts are being traced, burials are becoming safer, communities are mobilizing to protect themselves,” he said.

Then to Liberia for that election, via the New York Times:

Liberia Will Proceed With Senate Vote Delayed by Ebola

Senate elections that were repeatedly delayed because of the Ebola epidemic and legal challenges, and further complicated by a presidential ban on large political gatherings in the capital, will finally be held in Liberia on Saturday. Whether they will be fair, peaceful and safe is unclear.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has said the elections, first scheduled more than two months ago but postponed twice, must be held, otherwise the nine-year terms of half the members in the 30-seat Senate will expire with no successors, provoking a constitutional crisis. Critics have said mass gatherings at the polls raise the risk of more contagion that would aggravate the Ebola crisis, which had shown signs of easing in this country of four million.

Last Saturday, the Supreme Court agreed with Ms. Johnson Sirleaf, saying it would not halt the vote. “It is not our place to decide whether it is appropriate to conduct elections at this time or any other time,” said the chief justice, Francis S. Korkpor.

The elections are not only seen as a test of whether Liberia, one of the three worst-hit West African countries in the Ebola epidemic, can conduct the voting without inadvertently spreading an insidious disease. They are also seen as a barometer of Ms. Johnson Sirleaf’s popularity. The most hotly contested Senate seat pits her son, Robert, against George Manneh Weah, a former soccer star and presidential aspirant. The seat represents the capital region, where nearly half the country’s people live.

Next, on to Sierra Leone and a dose of seasonal angst from NBC News:

Could Christmas Worsen Ebola’s Spread?

  • It worries Dr. Dan Kelly. And officials in Sierra Leone were concerned enough to limit public gatherings for the holidays.

Right now, Ebola is raging out of control in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown. It’s barely under control in outlying districts like Kono and Kenema. The epidemic started as people traveled across the region’s porous borders, and this will be the first Christmas and New Year holiday since the epidemic started.

“You have a couple of million people in Freetown and I’d say 50-plus percent of those people in Freetown are interested in traveling back to remote villages for the holidays,” Kelly told NBC News.

“And they’ll spend a week there,” added Kelly, who’s worked in Sierra Leone on and off since 2006. “It could spread Ebola all around the country and just create hundreds of hotspots for sure.”

Sierra Leone’s president, Ernest Bai Koroma, says travel between all parts of the country has been restricted as part of “Operation Western Area Surge,” an effort to get a handle on the epidemic. He says public gatherings will be strictly controlled in the run-up to Christmas.

The Sierra Leone Concord Times covers belated vaccinations coming:

Ebola vaccine to be available in March

Director of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine yesterday revealed in Freetown that a new vaccine for the deadly Ebola virus disease, which has claimed the lives of more than 2,000 Sierra Leoneans, will be available in March 2015.

Speaking at a press briefing organised by the Ministry of Information and Communications, Professor Peter Piot said they were in the country to have first-hand information about the disease, do research for developing an Ebola vaccine and getting prepared for a further outbreak.

“Since the first outbreak in 1976 in Congo, we have not been able to develop any effective cure for it. But we will make sure not to miss this opportunity to develop a vaccine that will be first implemented here in February or March 2015,” said the professor who co-discovered the Ebola virus in Zaire while working at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium.

A perspective of bodies from two different tragedies, via the Washington Post:

In Sierra Leone, the ghosts of war haunt an Ebola graveyard

To find Andrew Kondoh, walk through the gates of this city’s largest cemetery, where teams in moonsuits bury more than 50 bodies in white plastic bags each day. Look for the man with the wispy goatee and big belly, who is overseeing one of the world’s most chaotic, dangerous graveyards as if he’s done it all before.

That’s because he has.

Twenty years ago, when he was 13, Kondoh took it upon himself to guard a heap of bodies, people killed by rebels during the country’s civil war. For three years, as the pile grew, he protected them from being trampled or picked at by dogs. When that conflict ended, Kondoh made a promise to himself. He was done working with the dead.

Then Ebola surged in Sierra Leone.

“It’s like I’m back there again,” Kondoh said. “Except this time I don’t see the faces in the body bags. I just imagine them.”

The United Nations Development Programme covers a novel way to pay front line workers:

Mobile money for 16,000 Ebola workers

Marion Sesay gossiped with her two work colleagues while they waited in the shade of a local money handler for their names to be called.

She and her friends, nurses at a nearby hospital, are entitled to hazard pay, an extra bit of money every two weeks to offset the risk of working in health care during Ebola times.

“The money is helping us greatly,” Ms. Sesay said. “We can use the money for our kids, for our families. The money is good, but we just want this thing to end.”

For the third installment of their hazard pay entitlement, Sesay and her national colleagues, some 16,000 recipients across Sierra Leone, received text messages on their phones: how much money to expect and where to pick it up with a security code.

The system, a mobile money transfer scheme, was implemented for the first time the week before Christmas with a great deal of satisfaction.

UPDATE: We inadvertently omitted a video, forthwith rectified. From Agence France-Presse:

Sierra Leone bikers spread the message to fight Ebola

Program notes:

More than 100 motorcyclists hit the road to spread awareness messages about Ebola. Nearly 7,000 people have now died from the virus, almost all of them in west Africa, according to the World Health Organization.

A call for a debt jubilee from the Sierra Leone Concord Times:

Calls for IMF, World Bank to cancel Salone debts

The Budget Advocacy Network (BAN) and Jubilee Debt Campaign UK are calling for the immediate cancelation of debts owed by Sierra Leone externally, especially those owed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

The IMF is demanding that Sierra Leone repay the sum of US$2.7 million this week, a further US$1.8 million on Christmas Eve and US$1 million on 29 December this year.

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone owe a whopping US$464 million to the IMF, out of a total debt of US$3.6 billion.

In 2015, the debt payments of the three countries worst affected by the Ebola outbreak are expected to be US$130 million, including US$21 million to the IMF.

And the president’s State House Communications Unit covers a notable visitor:

Ebola Scientist Assures President Koroma

The Director of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) Professor Peter Piot Thursday 18 December assured government of their support in the fight against Ebola through the development of a vaccine that will bring a final halt to the spreading virus.

He made this assurance during a courtesy call on President Ernest Bai Koroma at State Lodge, Hill Station.

The distinguished Belgian microbiologist well-known for his research on Ebola and AIDS is in the country to support government’s fight against the disease and discuss how best science, innovation and discovery can better contribute to defeating the virus.

Welcoming the delegation, President Koroma expressed his profound delight for receiving Prof. Piot, who had been involved with Ebola outbreaks since 1976 and has played a significant role trying to bring a closure to the epidemic.

EnviroWatch: Climate, health, pollution, nukes


And food, via the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Climate change could cut world food output 18 percent by 2050

Global warming could cause an 18 percent drop in world food production by 2050, but investments in irrigation and infrastructure, and moving food output to different regions, could reduce the loss, a study published on Thursday said.

Globally, irrigation systems should be expanded by more than 25 percent to cope with changing rainfall patterns, the study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters said.

Where they should be expanded is difficult to model because of competing scenarios on how rainfall will change, so the majority of irrigation investments should be made after 2030, the study said.

“If you don’t carefully plan (where to spend resources), you will get adaptation wrong,” David Leclere, one of the study’s authors, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Infrastructure and processing chains will need to be built in areas where there was little agriculture before in order to expand production, he said.

Another food threat from the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Tropical deforestation threatens global food production

Tropical deforestation in the southern hemisphere is accelerating global warming and threatening world food production by distorting rainfall patterns across Europe, China and the U.S. Midwest, a study released on Thursday said.

By 2050, deforestation could lead to a 15 percent drop in rainfall in tropical regions including the South American Amazon, Southeast Asia and Central Africa, the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change said.

Much of the logging taking place is to clear land for agriculture. This can cause a vicious cycle, increasing global warming, lowering food production on farms which in turn leads to growers cutting down more trees for farmland, experts say.

“When you deforest the tropics, those regions will experience significant warming and the biggest drying,” Deborah Lawrence, a University of Virginia professor and the study’s lead author, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Coal, the gift that keeps on giving, via the Washington Post:

Dam breaks, tainted wells prompt new look at coal-ash dumps that escaped EPA review

Since the 1970s, utility companies have been allowed to dispose of coal-ash under state laws that vary widely across jurisdictions. The exemption was created by Congress, which, to avoid rules that might discourage the use of coal, blocked the EPA from classifying coal ash as hazardous waste, or even subjecting it to the same national standards that apply to other kinds of solid waste.

That could change as early as Friday as the EPA prepares to issue new rules that will, for the first time, include coal ash in federal guidelines for waste disposal. The long-awaited decision could significantly increase disposal costs for utility companies, depending on whether the EPA decides to classify coal ash as “hazardous” waste, requiring more stringent standards for disposal and cleanup.

Industry officials are bracing for tighter rules while hoping the EPA will opt for something short of a “hazardous” label that they say will hurt companies and raise utility rates. Thomas H. Adams, executive director of the American Coal Ash Association, said stricter laws are unnecessary for a waste product that has been deemed harmless enough for use as an additive in cement and tarmac. He accused “anti-coal groups” of promoting a “steady stream of misleading publicity regarding the safety of coal ash.”

But community activists and environmental groups point to a decades-long record of dam breaks, spills and leaks in demanding greater protection for those living near such dumps. Hardly harmless, residue from coal-burning contains significant concentrations of arsenic, mercury and heavy metals that are toxic to humans and wildlife, environmentalists and regulators say.

Fears of a British health crisis from the Independent:

Norovirus closes wards in nine hospital amid fears of winter NHS crisis

Nine hospitals have been forced to close wards because of outbreaks of the norovirus, according to a report.

As the flu season got underway, ITV News reported that five wards had closed to visitors and all other adult wards had restricted visiting hours at Warwick Hospital. Four wards at Southampton General have stopped taking new patients and Weston General in Weston-super-Mare had been closed.

Hull Royal Infirmary, Diana Princess of Wales Hospital in Grimsby, James Paget Hospital in Great Yarmouth, Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, Warwickshire’s Ellen Badger Hospital and Royal Bournemouth have also been affected.

From McClatchy Washington Bureau, more fruits of neoliberalism:

Most states unprepared to handle infectious disease outbreaks, health group says

Most states are not prepared to handle outbreaks of severe infectious diseases, according to a new report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“Outbreaks: Protecting Americans from Infectious Diseases” found that half the states and the District of Columbia scored five or lower out of a possible 10 on measures related to the prevention, diagnosis, detection and response to disease outbreaks.

Maryland, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia led all states, each scoring eight out of 10. California, Delaware, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were next, scoring seven out of 10.

Arkansas had the nation’s lowest score with two. It was followed by Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, Ohio and Wyoming, which each scored a three.

Another gift of fuelishness, via Bloomberg News:

Air Pollution Exposure in Pregnancy Linked to Autism in Study

Women who are exposed to high levels of air pollution during their third trimester of pregnancy may be twice as likely to have an autistic child, a study found.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found the risk of autism rises in parallel with exposure to fine particulate matter during pregnancy, with the biggest effect occurring in the final months of gestation. The results appear in the Dec. 18 edition of Environmental Health Perspectives.

The findings add to other research suggesting the environment plays a role in the development of autism, a developmental disorder marked by repetitive behaviors and trouble communicating and socializing. The study, which started in 1989 and involved more than 100,000 nurses from across the U.S., will help researchers home in on the causes of autism and potential ways to prevent it, said Marc Weisskopf, a senior study author.

And from the Center for Public Integrity, a very generous giver in a ten-gallon Stetson:

Texas weakens chemical exposure guidelines, opens door for polluters

In 2007, Texas regulators quietly relaxed the state’s long-term air pollution guideline for benzene, one of the world’s most toxic and thoroughly studied chemicals. The number they came up with, still in effect, was 40 percent weaker, or less health-protective, than the old one.

The decision by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) was a boon for oil refineries, petrochemical plants and other benzene-emitting facilities, because it allowed them to release more benzene into the air without triggering regulatory scrutiny. But it defied the trend of scientific research, which shows that even small amounts of benzene can cause leukemia. The American Petroleum Institute, lobbyist for some of the nation’s largest benzene producers, privately acknowledged as early as 1948 that the only “absolutely safe” dose was zero.

It’s “the most irresponsible action I’ve heard of in my life,” said Jim Tarr, an air-quality consultant who worked for the TCEQ’s predecessor agency in the 1970s. “I certainly can’t find another regulatory agency in the U.S. that’s done that.”

The benzene decision was part of Texas’ sweeping overhaul of its air pollution guidelines. An analysis by InsideClimate News shows that the TCEQ has loosened two-thirds of the protections for the 45 chemicals it has re-assessed since 2007, even though the state’s guidelines at the time were already among the nation’s weakest.

A Big Agra GMO win in China, via Shanghai Daily:

Green light for GM crops from US

CHINA has approved the import of a genetically modified corn strain it blocked last year, and has given clearance to biotech soybeans that had been waiting years for clearance in a sign of warmer ties with the United States.

US Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said China had approved imports of American-grown Viptera corn developed by Swiss-based Syngenta, known as MIR 162, as well as shipments of biotech soybeans developed by DuPont Pioneer and Bayer CropScience.

Industry sources and analysts said China’s change of heart was due to a warmer political climate between Beijing and Washington since the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum last month, where the two nations announced a joint plan to limit carbon emissions and made breakthroughs on eliminating duties on technology products.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Japan Times:

3,700 Fukushima evacuees running out of time to claim compensation

Some 3,700 of those forced to flee during the Fukushima nuclear crisis in March 2011 have yet to exercise their right to claim compensation from Tokyo Electric Power Co., a company executive said Thursday.

Tepco has received claims for provisional compensation from some 166,000 evacuees who fled coastal areas around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant because of the triple core meltdown.

Of them, 3,713 had yet to apply for full compensation as of the end of November, Tepco Executive Vice President Yoshiyuki Ishizaki said in an interview.

A bill due for the reactors’ owner, via the Yomiuri Shimbun:

TEPCO’s 1st repayment due for emergency loan

Tokyo Electric Power Co. will soon repay some of the ¥2 trillion in emergency loans it took out just after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, according to sources.

TEPCO will repay a total of ¥150 billion in loans due on Dec. 26 to main creditor banks Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp., Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ and Mizuho Bank.

The firm will make the repayment because it hopes to take out fresh loans from the three banks in fiscal 2015 and later to secure enough operating funds.

In a business rationalization report, TEPCO said it needs ¥300 billion in funds in fiscal 2015 and an additional one trillion yen by the end of fiscal 2016, during which the company aims to return to the corporate debt market.

EbolaWatch: Worries, vaccines, campaigns, fire


From IRIN, the malady lingers on:

Mystery over Ebola survivors’ ailments

For some Ebola survivors, overcoming the lethal viral assault has not heralded a full return to good health. An array of ailments including headache, joint pains, vision and hearing problems have afflicted convalescents; experts are still uncertain of the exact cause.

Not all survivors of the virus, which has been rampant in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since earlier this year and killed some 70 percent of patients, suffer the symptoms, the extremes of which include amenorrhea (the absence of menstruation) and erectile dysfunction. It is also not yet known why only some are affected.

Margaret Nanyonga, World Health Organization (WHO) consultant clinician, who has assessed 85 Ebola survivors with various symptoms in Sierra Leone’s eastern town of Kenema, told IRIN that some of the ailments were treated, but others such as vision and hearing problems tended to persist.

“The ladies complained of menstrual failure, but these resumed after three months. They also complained about hair loss. Men complained of testicular pains. We don’t know whether it can lead to impotence or not. That is a worry. Some men have reported erectile dysfunction. There are also psychosocial disorders, loss of sleep, anxiety and depression,” she said.
Focus on survivors

Nanyonga explained that the clinic she operated in Kenema is still the only one of its kind in the country dealing with post-Ebola conditions. Responding to Ebola outbreaks in the past, she said, has often ended when the virus is brought under control.

“No one had taken interest in the survivors. After fighting the epidemic, that was the end. But before, there were fewer people surviving Ebola,” she said.

More on a story we posted Wednesday, via the Guardian:

World Health Organisation and DfID slow to react on Ebola, say UK MPs

  1. Parliamentary committee censures WHO and Department for International Development and warns of dangerous inadequacy of global health systems

The House of Commons international development committee has criticised the WHO and also the Department for International Development (DfID) for not reacting quickly enough when the virus took hold earlier this year.

But it commended DfID for the “vigorous efforts” now being made in Sierra Leone, where Britain has taken the lead in international aid, mirroring the US role in neighbouring Liberia and France’s role in Guinea.

The international development committee warned that the global health system “remains dangerously inadequate for responding to health emergencies” and said “DfID should not wait for its 2015 multilateral aid review” to do something about this, adding: “The urgency of the situation warrants immediate action.”

It pressed the international development secretary Justine Greening to move quickly and decisively to guard against a repeat of the disaster, which has claimed the lives of almost 7,000 people in west Africa.

Newsweek covers the Cuban contribution:

To Fight Ebola, Cuba Is Sending Its Biggest Export – Doctors

Cuba’s export of medical professionals has gained the Communist country much praise, including most recently from the island’s neighbor and nemesis, the United States, where top officials have praised Cuba’s response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. The Cuban contingent of medical professionals sent to the epidemic’s hot zone was larger than any other country’s.

Cuba has trained many more medical professionals per capita than any other developing or developed country. In 2010 it had 6.7 doctors for every 1,000 citizens, according to the World Bank. In the United States in the same year, there were 2.4 doctors for every 1,000 Americans. Unlike America, however, in Cuba the government alone finances medical studies, and it then controls the careers of medical professionals.

When Cuba sent 256 health workers to combat Ebola in West Africa in October, Havana was universally applauded. The World Health Organization (WHO) is “extremely grateful for the generosity of the Cuban government and these health professionals for doing their part to help us contain the worst Ebola outbreak ever known,” said Margaret Chan, the WHO’s director general.

Another vaccine heads to trials, via Reuters:

China approves experimental Ebola vaccine for clinical trials

China has approved a domestically developed experimental Ebola vaccine for clinical trials, the official Xinhua news agency said on Thursday, citing the People’s Liberation Army logistics unit.

Scientists around the world are racing to develop Ebola vaccines after the world’s worst outbreak of the virus, which has killed more than 6,000 people in West Africa this year.

The Chinese vaccine is being developed by the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, Xinhua said, a military research unit which is also involved in developing a drug to treat the disease.

Another trial, via StarAfrica:

Kenya begins Ebola Vaccine trials

Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) researchers in Kilifi County in the country’s coastal region have started the human testing of a vaccine designed to protect against Ebola.

The first dose of the VSV Ebola vaccine was administered to a health worker on Wednesday evening at the Kilifi County Hospital. The Phase 1 trials are part of a wider World Health Organization (WHO) led consortium (VEBCON) funded by the Wellcome Trust.

The Kenyan trials, and other trials that are taking place in the USA, Germany, Switzerland and Gabon, will test the vaccine’s safety and its ability to generate an immune system response in healthy adults.

The vaccine is administered as a single dose after which the participants will be monitored closely. Early trial results will be provided in February 2015.

From Sierra Leone, a double tragedy via the Associated Press:

Ebola: 11th Sierra Leone doctor dies; fire destroys supplies

One of Sierra Leone’s most senior physicians died Thursday from Ebola, the 11th doctor in the country to succumb to the disease, a health official said.

In neighboring Guinea, a fire destroyed medicine crucial to fighting Ebola. The fire engulfed a warehouse at the Conakry airport and burned everything inside, said Dr. Moussa Konate, head of logistics for Guinea’s Ebola response. He could not immediately say how much had been lost.

The death of Dr. Victor Willoughby, who tested positive for Ebola on Saturday, was a major loss for Sierra Leone, said Dr. Brima Kargbo, the country’s chief medical officer.

“Dr. Victor Willoughby was a mentor to us physicians and a big loss to the medical profession,” said Kargbo. “He has always been available to help junior colleagues.”

The 67-year-old died Thursday morning, just hours after an experimental drug arrived in the country for him. The arrival of ZMAb, developed in Canada, had raised hopes for Willoughby’s survival. But he died before a dose could be administered, said Kargbo. ZMAb is related to ZMapp, another experimental drug that has been used to treat some Ebola patients. The drugs’ efficacy in treating Ebola has not yet been proven.

More on the fire from the U.N. News Center:

Ebola: ‘Regrettable loss’ caused by warehouse fire in Guinea

A fire engulfed a United Nations warehouse in Guinea today that contained medicines and laboratory materials used for the fight against Ebola, causing no casualties but “a regrettable loss” in supplies, which the UN mission there vowed to quickly replace. An investigation into the fire was underway.

“This is a regrettable loss, but no one was hurt and we will move quickly together with our partners to replace the lost supplies”, said Anthony Banbury, Head of the UN Mission for Emergency Ebola Response (UNMEER).

“We certainly won’t be deterred in our fight against Ebola,” he said.

UNMEER reported that the fire in the warehouse, mainly containing medicines and laboratory materials, was discovered around 8:00 a.m. local time when workers arrived at facility in the main humanitarian logistics base of the airport and of the city of Conakry, the capital of Guinea – one of the three most affected countries by Ebola in West Africa.

No casualties had been reported, the mission said, and added that the personal protective equipment stored in tents next to the warehouse had not been touched by the fire.

The exact amount of property and material damaged as a result of the fire is not yet known, and an investigation into the fire was underway, according to UNMEER.

The UNMEER warehouse is used by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the World Health Organization (WHO), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Red Cross, the World Food Programme (WFP), and Pharmacie Centrale de Guinée to store supplies for their Ebola Emergency Response.

Preparations, via Sky News:

Sierra Leone Braced For More Ebola Cases

  • Fears of a sharp increase in cases mean even those who have not died from the disease are being buried in Ebola graveyards

Sierra Leone, caught in the grip of the Ebola crisis, is bracing itself for a sharp increase in cases of the killer disease over the Christmas period.

The Government is so worried about the situation it has outlawed any seasonal public celebrations and soldiers are being put on the streets to make sure no one disobeys the directive.

The outbreak of the virus, which began a year ago in neighbouring Guinea and quickly spread to Liberia, is now dominating the lives of everyone in Sierra Leone.

The western part of the country, including the capital Freetown where around a third of the population of more than six million lives, is bearing the brunt of the current upturn in cases.

And the response, via Reuters:

Health teams scour Sierra Leone capital in Ebola drive

Health workers in Sierra Leone began combing the streets of the capital Freetown for Ebola patients on Wednesday, moving house-to-house as the government launched a major operation to contain infection in West Africa’s worst-hit country.

President Ernest Bai Koroma said on national television that, as part of “Operation Western Area Surge”, travel between all parts of the country would be restricted and public gatherings would be restrained in the run-up to Christmas.

An encounter in the Devil’s Hole neighbourhood just outside Freetown showed why the programme was vital. Ibrahim Kamara sat in a discarded vehicle tyre, his eyes glassy and his breath coming in gasps, as he tried to answer questions from Ebola surveillance officers.

“Is the body weak?” a surveillance officer shouted. Kamara, 31, nodded despondently while onlookers gathered round.

“Vomiting,” the officer asked. Kamara nodded again.

And a video report from CCTV Africa:

Sierra Leone Launches Teams & Ambulances Dispatched to Prevent Spread of Ebola

Program notes:

Sierra Leone launched Western Area Surge in the capital Freetown on Wednesday, in an effort to contain an alarming rise in Ebola cases. The emphasis will be on safe burials, ambulance dispatching and quarantine activities. CCTV’s Clementine Logan reports.

While the Sierra Leone Concord Times covers qualified reassurance:

‘It’ll take hard work to end Ebola’

…CDC chief warns

Director of the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has said that only hard work, resilience and collaborative efforts will help put a final halt to the deadly Ebola disease that continues the ravage the lives of Sierra Leoneans since the outbreak hit the country some seven months ago.

Dr. Tom Frieden, however, said he was encouraged by the response of the government of Sierra Leone and its partners in putting mechanisms in place to contain the epidemic.

The CDC boss was speaking yesterday at a press conference held at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Aberdeen in Freetown where he noted that “time is of essence for sick people to quickly go for medical examination” if they notice signs and symptoms of the Ebola disease.

On to Liberia and Ebola labor politics from the Liberian Observer:

Liberian Truckers Take WFP to Task

  • Complain to Four Gov’t Ministries, Agencies

The Port Truckers Association (PTA) of Liberia has taken serious exception to a recent contractual agreement signed between the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) Conakry and United Mining, a Guinean trucking company, to provide transport services in Liberia on behalf of WFP Monrovia’s Ebola response.

The Liberian truckers have rejected the agreement, describing it as an attempt to undermine the Liberianization policy and hurt the viability of the country’s transport industry.

In a statement issued on Thursday, December 10 the PTA announced that it has filed formal complaints with several regulatory institutions in the country, including the National Port Authority (NPA), the Ministry of Labor, Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Transportation, respectively, seeking their immediate intervention in investigating the contract entered into between the WFP Conakry Office and the private Guinean company.

From Heritage, recognition:

Internal Affairs Minister wants Burial Team remembered

Internal Affairs Minister Morris Dukuly has called on the Government of Liberia (GoL) to remember the Ebola burial team across the country. Minister Dukuly said the burial team needs to be remembered, because according to him, the team has sacrificially served the country.

He said the job of the burial team had been at very high risk in contracting the virus, and as such, there is a need for prayers and support to the team.

The MIA boss was speaking Monday, December 15 at the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT) regular Ebola Hour.

“The burial team also needs to be remembered by national government, because they are sacrificing their lives to have our people buried in a decent and dignify manner” he stated.

And from the Monrovia Inquirer, taking the campaign to the street vendors:

Marketers Committed To Ebola Fight

The Liberia Marketing Association through its president Madam Lusu Slong has committed itself to the “Ebola Must Go” Campaign which was recently launched by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

The campaign is aimed at achieving zero Ebola infection comes December 31 of this year.

The head of the Liberia Marketing Association has called on all marketers to join the fight against the Ebola virus by observing all the necessary preventive measures given by the Ministry of Health and its local and international partners.

Madam Slong stressed that since the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, market women have been finding it difficult to carry out their daily activities something she described as troubling for them noting that most women have to sell in order to sustain their families.

InSecurityWatch: Cuba, cops, Sony, war, woes


We open with the long-overdue, via the New York Times:

Obama Announces U.S. and Cuba Will Resume Relations

The United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century after the release of an American contractor held in prison for five years, President Obama announced on Wednesday.

In a deal negotiated during 18 months of secret talks hosted largely by Canada and encouraged by Pope Francis, who hosted a final meeting at the Vatican, Mr. Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba agreed in a telephone call to put aside decades of hostility to find a new relationship between the United States and the island nation just 90 miles off the American coast.

“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” Mr. Obama said in a nationally televised statement from the White House. The deal will “begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas” and move beyond a “rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”

Hosting a sit-down with the Associated Press:

Canada hosted secret meetings between Cuba and US

Canada hosted about seven meetings between the U.S. and Cuba that helped lead to President Barack Obama’s announcement Wednesday that the two countries will establish full diplomatic relations, a senior Canadian government official said.

The meetings were held in Ottawa and Toronto from 2013 to 2014, according to the official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, lacking authority to discuss the meetings publicly.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada did not play a role in the discussions themselves.

“I don’t want to exaggerate Canada’s role. We facilitated places where the two countries could have a dialogue and explore ways on normalizing relations,” Harper told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. “We were not trying in any way to direct or mediate the talks. We just wanted to make sure they had the opportunity to have the kind of dialogue they needed to have.”

Anticipating another missile crisis, presumably non-Cuban this time, via the Christian Science Monitor:

Pentagon’s floating missile defense future: a pair of billion-dollar blimps

  • The Pentagon previewed two helium-filled surveillance airships Wednesday. The giant dirigibles are expected to be deployed over the East Coast in February as the United States’ new missile defense system.

Two US military blimps flying 10,000 feet above the East Coast will act as a new missile defense system for the United States.

The giant airships, known as the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, or JLENS within the Pentagon, will be able to scan the oceans and coastline in a 340-mile radius, or from Norfolk, Va., to Boston.

It is designed to defend against cruise missile attacks, or the sort of rogue aircraft incursions that happened during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The US military previewed the giant balloons, which cost a reported $2.8 billion, in the skies near Baltimore for the media on Wednesday. They are expected to be fully operational by February and will be integrated into the defense systems of US Northern Command, which can respond with patriot missiles in the event of an attack on the US homeland.

On to U.S. domestic issue of the day, via the Smoking Gun:

“Witness 40″: Exposing A Fraud In Ferguson

  • TSG unmasks witness who spun fabricated tale

The grand jury witness who testified that she saw Michael Brown pummel a cop before charging at him “like a football player, head down,” is a troubled, bipolar Missouri woman with a criminal past who has a history of making racist remarks and once insinuated herself into another high-profile St. Louis criminal case with claims that police eventually dismissed as a “complete fabrication,” The Smoking Gun has learned.

In interviews with police, FBI agents, and federal and state prosecutors–as well as during two separate appearances before the grand jury that ultimately declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson–the purported eyewitness delivered a preposterous and perjurious account of the fatal encounter in Ferguson.

Referred to only as “Witness 40″ in grand jury material, the woman concocted a story that is now baked into the narrative of the Ferguson grand jury, a panel before which she had no business appearing.

That cop thing, much closer to Casa esnl, via the Oakland Tribune:

Berkeley: Police Department denounced at raucous City Council meeting

A smaller-than-expected crowd showed up at a rescheduled, venue-changed City Council meeting on a rainy Tuesday night, but what the gathering may have lacked in size, it more than made up in passion.

More than 50 speakers denounced, in often scathing terms, the conduct of Berkeley police and other cities’ forces that assisted them during recent, mostly peaceful protests against decisions by grand juries in Missouri and New York not to indict white police officers who killed unarmed black men.

But perhaps the biggest beating Tuesday was to Berkeley’s image as the most liberal city in America, a phrase used derisively by several speakers. Many painted a picture of a Berkeley not much different from Ferguson, Missouri, or the New York City borough of Staten Island, as a place where people of color as well as people with mental health issues bear the brunt of police suspicion and use of force.

“We haven’t come to grips with some of the issues that have plagued us for over 400 years in this country,” Councilman Max Anderson said during a break. “For us to have to declare, in 2014, that black lives matter, is an indictment of our failure to address the problems that beset us in this society.”

Terror ties question from StarAfrica:

Mauritania trade union wants CIA links clarified

The General Confederation of Mauritania Workers (CGTM) has demanded the government to clarify its alleged cooperation with the CIA over the presence of secret prisons in the country.

Over the last few days, some of the nation’s media have published articles, quoting [The Independent], suggesting information relating to a CIA program to build secret prisons in some countries, CGTM claimed in a statement.

According to the statement published in Nouakchott on Tuesday, the newspaper listed Mauritania among countries cooperating with the program.

For CGTM, “these practices banned by international conventions, including the Geneva Convention, must be prohibited and denounced by all those who have deep love for peace and justice.”

Old school spookery, via intelNews:

Estonian intel officer comes out as Russian spy in TV interview

Estonian authorities have charged a retired officer in the country’s internal intelligence service with espionage, after he revealed in a television interview that he spied for Russia for nearly 20 years.

Uno Puusepp retired from the Internal Security Service of Estonia, known as KaPo, in 2011. He first joined the Soviet KGB as a wiretapping expert in the 1970s, when Estonia was part of the USSR. Following the dissolution of the USSR, when Estonia became an independent nation, he was hired by KaPo and worked there until his retirement, three years ago, at which time he moved permanently to Russian capital Moscow.

Last Sunday, however, Puusepp was the main speaker in a documentary entitled Our Man in Tallinn, aired on Russian television channel NTV. In the documentary, Puusepp revealed that he was a double spy for the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), which is KGB’s successor, from 1996 until his retirement.

And the possibly related, via RT:

Italian ex-MEP arrested, kicked out of Estonia & called Russian ‘agent of influence’

Journalist and former European Parliament member, Giulietto Chiesa of Italy, was detained by the Tallinn police due to his pro-Russian views, which make him a threat to Estonia’s national security, the country’s Foreign Ministry told RT in an e-mail.

Chiesa spent several hours behind bars after being taken into custody from his hotel in center of the Estonian capital Monday. The police told the Italian politician that he had violated a ban on entering the country imposed on him on December 13.

“Due to the current activities of Mr Giulietto Chiesa, there is a good reason to believe that he is involved in the Russian influence operations and his stay in Estonia may pose threat to Estonia’s security, its public order and public safety,” Mari-Liis Valter, Estonia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, wrote in answer to questions from RT.

On to the hack of the year, first with the Los Angeles Times:

Sony Pictures cancels Christmas Day release of ‘The Interview’

Sony Pictures Entertainment has canceled the Christmas Day release of “The Interview” after the nation’s major theater chains said they would not screen the film.

The studio said “we respect and understand our partners’ decision” and “completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theatergoers.”

Regal, AMC and Cinemark — the three largest chains in the United States — decided not to screen “The Interview” starting on Christmas Day in the wake of threats made by Sony hackers, said people familiar with the decision. The chains asked Sony to postpone the release date of the controversial film.

“Due to the wavering support of the film “The Interview” by Sony Pictures, as well as the ambiguous nature of any real or perceived security threats, Regal Entertainment Group has decided to delay the opening of the film in our theatres,” Regal said in a statement.

And it’s not just theatrical release that’s DOA, reports USA Today:

Some industry insiders speculated Sony might release the film in the video-on-demand format, but the studio tells USA TODAY there will be no further release plans of any kind.

“I think they just want to wash their hands of it,” says Matthew Belloni, executive editor of The Hollywood Reporter.

Internal blowback, again via the Los Angeles Times:

Sony hack draws lawsuits by former employees

The massive computer breach at Sony Pictures Entertainment could test laws that require companies to protect their employees’ personal and medical information.

Lawyers representing former Sony Pictures employees have separately filed in Los Angeles two lawsuits that seek class-action status, alleging Sony Pictures Entertainment was negligent in the months leading up to the devastating hack. One of the complaints — a 45-page federal lawsuit, which seeks to represent former and current Sony employees — contends that Sony ignored warnings that its computer network was prone to attack.

Sony “failed to secure its computer systems, servers and databases, despite weaknesses that it has known about for years” and “subsequently failed to timely protect confidential information of its current and former employees from law-breaking hackers,” according to the federal complaint filed late Monday.

The other suit, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday, also alleges negligence and invasion of privacy of former Sony employees.

The United Press International fingers a suspect:

Reports: U.S. officials blame Sony hacking on North Korea

U.S. officials believe those responsible for hacking into Sony Pictures were working under the direction of the North Korean government, several media organizations reported Wednesday.

Sources with direct knowledge of a U.S. government investigation into the security breach told the Wall Street Journal it is believed a North Korean government hacking team known as Unit 121 is behind the attack. The sources were not identified.

CNN, also quoting unnamed sources, reported that an official announcement is expected Thursday blaming the Pyongyang-based group called Bureau 121.

The London Daily Mail covers the sadly inevitable:

State Department saw graphic Kim Jong-un death scene in ‘The Interview’ and ‘approved of it,’ hacked emails reveal

  • Sony executives hired an foreign policy analyst to consult after North Korea called the film The Interview ‘an act of war’ for depicting the assassination of Kim Jon-un
  • The consultant gave a greenlight and said the scene showing the dictator’s death could be good for Koreans – on both sides of the dividing line
  • Consultant also said he spoke about the film to US envoy for North Korean issues
  • Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton said he also talked to a ‘very senior’ official at the State Department

And from the London Daily Mail again, , another film dies:

Hollywood studio pulls the plug on Steve Carell’s new movie Pyongyang just hours after Sony scraps release of The Interview

New Regency decided to cancel production of the thriller based on graphic novel by Guy Delisle

  • Movie that was set to be directed by Gore Verbinski, with Carell playing an American living in Pyongyang
  • The cancellation comes in the wake of Sony hacking scandal

The Sony hacking scandal continued reverberating throughout the Hollywood film industry Wednesday, leading New Regency studio to pull the plug on a new film about North Korea starring Steve Carell.

The announcement was made just hours after Sony scrapped the release of the controversial Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy The Interview, which was scheduled to premiere Christmas Day.

Titled Pyongyang, New Regency’s now-defunct film has been described as a thriller based on Guy Delisle’s eponymous graphic novel about his experiences living in the totalitarian state, reported The Wrap.

Following the news that Pyongyang has been scrapped, Steve Carell tweeted to his 3.64million followers: ‘Sad day for creative expression,’ followed by the hashtag, ‘feareatsthesoul.’

After the jump, it’s on to drone anxieties and a proposed Big Apple ban, Arab Springs succeeded by what was before, a born again demand on Swedish Jews, Nigerian mutiny ends in 54 death warrants, top Afghan spook bids a sad farewell to Western boots on the ground, a plea from Pakistan to Afghanistan to help catch the butchers of children, a lethal retaliatory assault, another killer drone strike, Pakistan’s peculiarly spooky complications, and the zealot in question whose most notable prior action made a Pakistani girl a Nobel Peace Price winner, and a solidarity demonstration for the children in Berkeley, Thai police launch an international hunt for lese majeste suspects, Chinese nuclear aircraft carrier ambitions, Obama and Abe — Trans-Pacific BFFs, and a university stands up to Tojo revisionism. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Delays, numbers, politics, zeal


We open with a critique, via the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Donors and WHO responded too slowly to West Africa Ebola outbreak – report

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the nations that fund it failed to respond quickly and effectively to the deadly West Africa Ebola outbreak despite repeated warnings by aid agencies, a UK parliamentary committee said on Thursday.

Ebola cases are rising dramatically in Sierra Leone, and the House of Commons International Development Committee said the  international response was still “being outpaced on all fronts” by the spread of the Ebola virus in the former British colony.

The Ebola virus has killed more than 6,800 people and infected around 18,500 since March in West Africa, where poverty, corruption and civil war have left weak healthcare systems unable to cope with the spread of the disease.

The WHO’s response has been characterised by unnecessary bureaucracy and a failure to “see some fairly plain writing on the wall,” the report said.

The medical aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres had warned that the epidemic had reached unprecedented proportions in June 2014, it added.

The New York Times covers travel:

U.N. Secretary General to Visit Ebola-Plagued Nations

The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, plans to visit the three West African countries that have been hit the hardest by the Ebola outbreak, according to a senior United Nations official.

Mr. Ban is to make the announcement at a year-end news conference on Wednesday. The director general of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, and his special envoy on Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, are to accompany him to West Africa.

The trip, which is to begin later this week, seems designed to send a message of solidarity with the three affected countries: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Reuters has the latest numbers:

Ebola toll nears 7,000; rate of spread slows in Sierra Leone – WHO

The death toll in the Ebola epidemic has risen to 6,915 out of 18,603 cases as of Dec. 14, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

There are signs that the increase in incidence in Sierra Leone has slowed, although 327 new cases were confirmed there in the past week, including 125 in the capital Freetown, the WHO said in its latest update.

“A major operation has been implemented to curb the spread of disease in the west of the country,” it said.

The totals for the three hardest hit countries from the latest World Health Organization Situation Report, released Wednesday:

BLOG Ebola cases

The World Food Programme sounds a hunger alert:

Ebola Leaves Hundreds Of Thousands Facing Hunger In Three Worst-Hit Countries

  • Lack of access to food in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone could threaten over one million people

The number of people facing food insecurity due to the Ebola epidemic in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone could top one million by March 2015 unless access to food is drastically improved and measures are put in place to safeguard crop and livestock production, two UN agencies warned.

The disease’s impact is potentially devastating in the three countries already coping with chronic food insecurity, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) said in three country reports published today.

Border closures, quarantines, hunting bans and other restrictions are seriously hindering people’s access to food, threatening their livelihoods, disrupting food markets and processing chains, and exacerbating shortages stemming from crop losses in areas with the highest Ebola infection rates, the FAO-WFP reports stressed.

In December 2014, half a million people are estimated to be severely food insecure in the three worst hit Western African countries.

From El País, Spanish Ebola problems:

Multiple deficiencies uncovered at hospital that treated Ebola victims

  • Madrid’s Carlos III had confusing protocols and inadequate personnel training, report finds

The Madrid hospital where nursing assistant Teresa Romero contracted Ebola while treating an infected patient suffered from multiple deficiencies, a new report finds.

Insufficient personnel training, changing protocols, inadequate facilities for putting on and taking off protective suits, and other shortcomings were all listed in the study of La Paz-Carlos III hospital carried out by work inspectors.

The center has treated all of Spain’s Ebola cases, which include two patients repatriated from Africa as well as Romero, who was an employee there. Several dozen people who came into contact with the nursing aide while she was contagious were also kept under observation at Carlos III.

On to Africa, starting with a suspected case from StarAfrica:

Ebola: Guinean under close watch in G/Bissau

A citizen of Guinea Conakry is under close medical watch in Guinea Bissau’s Gabu hospital under suspicion of contracting Ebola, according to national radio quoting hospital sources on Tuesday.According to sources, the individual who is around 40 years of age has been showing symptoms similar to the virus including a temperature of just over 38 degrees.

However, the same sources were quoted by the national radio as pointing out that the suspected patient’s body temperature gradually decreased in recent hours.

In any case, he will be remaining under medical observation for 21 days, sources indicated.

On to the hardest hit country with Sky News:

Sierra Leone Braced For Increase In Ebola Cases

  • Fears of a sharp increase of cases mean even those who have not died from the disease are being buried in Ebola graveyards

Sierra Leone, caught in the grip of the Ebola crisis, is bracing itself for a sharp increase in cases of the killer disease over the Christmas period.

The Government is so worried about the situation it has outlawed any seasonal public celebrations and will be putting soldiers on the street to make sure no one disobeys the directive.

The outbreak of the virus, which began a year ago in neighbouring Guinea and quickly spread to Liberia, is now dominating the lives of everyone in Sierra Leone.

The western part of the country, including the capital Freetown where around a third of the population of more than six million lives, is bearing the brunt of the current upturn in cases.

From BBC News, desperate measures:

Ebola: Sierra Leone begins house-to-house searches

Sierra Leone has begun house-to-house searches in the capital Freetown to find hidden cases of Ebola.

President Ernest Bai Koroma said that Sunday trading would be banned and travel between districts restricted. The president said that as Christmas approached, people would need to be reminded that Sierra Leona was at war with a “vicious enemy”.

Sierra Leone has overtaken Liberia to have the highest number of Ebola cases, World Health Organization figures show.

The president said that while many districts of the country had made progress in fighting Ebola, challenges still remained in the western part of the country, which for the past two weeks had accounted for 50% of new infections.

He said that he was introducing an action plan, Operation Western Area Surge, to encourage people to come forward if they had a fever or other symptoms of Ebola.

He said it was necessary to introduce such stringent measures even though it was the festive season – a time when people would normally “celebrate with their families in a joyous manner”.

And a video report from CCTV Africa:

Ebola: Sierra Leone President bans Christmas Celebrations

Program notes:

Sierra Leone’s president confirmed a ban on parties and other festivities over the Christmas and New Year holidays and a “surge” to hunt for hidden Ebola patients. This as registered cases reach alarming numbers. CCTV’s Clementine Logan reports

Presidential spin from the State House Communications Unit:

CDC Chief Impressed with President Koroma

Director for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States Dr Tom Frieden has described the “Western Area Surge” as a step in the right direction, adding that President Koroma’s leadership of the national response against Ebola is very effective.

“Last time when we met I was deeply impressed by your understanding of the virus,” he told the president.

The CDC Director expressed these sentiments during a courtesy call on President Koroma at State House, Freetown where they assessed the response to the outbreak so far. After one hundred days since he last visited Sierra Leone, Dr Frieden’s visit is part of concerted efforts by CDC and other United States Government agencies and international partners to take aggressive steps to control the spreading virus.

Welcoming the delegation, President Koroma stated that the country has made tremendous progress in building its capacity to fend off the disease. “We now have an increase in treatment and holding centers, laboratory capacity has also increased and spread out across the country; a situation that has limited the movement of people from one region to the other for treatment,” he said.

The Sierra Leone Concord Times covers the youngest victims:

Street Child supports over 1,000 Ebola orphans in South-East

One of Sierra Leone’s leading child protection agencies working with Ebola orphans in the country, Street Child of Sierra Leone (SCoSL), has provided food and non-food items to some one thousand and ninety-one (1,091) children orphaned by the deadly outbreak in eight chiefdoms in Kailahun district and three chiefdoms in Kenema district respectively. The donated items include rice, cooking condiments, toiletries and mattresses.

SCoSL’s Head of Communications, Advocacy and Mini Projects, Moses Lamin Karama, told Concord Times that his organization has supported a total of 656 Ebola orphans in 194 families in eight chiefdoms – Luawa, Kissi Teng, Kissi Tongi, Kissi Kama, Upper Bambara, Mandu, Jawei and Njaluahun – in the Kailahun district, as well as 535 orphans in 45 families in the Kenema district.

Explaining about SCoSL’s Ebola orphans project, Kamara said the organisation has its own unique definition of who an orphan is, and also does things differently from the others.

And the World Bank moves to keep things clear:

World Bank Group Supports Budget Management and Fiscal Transparency as Sierra Leone Responds to the Ebola Crisis

The World Bank Group’s Board of Executive Directors today approved a US$30 million grant to support the Government of Sierra Leone in its efforts to respond to the unprecedented challenges posed by the Ebola crisis.

Today’s financing includes a US$10 million grant from the World Bank Group’s International Development Association’s (IDA)* Crisis Response Window (CRW), which is designed to help low-income IDA countries recover from severe disasters and crises.

The Emergency Economic and Fiscal Support Operation will support Sierra Leone as it seeks to bring the Ebola epidemic under control by strengthening government budget management and reducing fiscal risks heightened by the crisis.

“The advent of the Ebola virus in May 2014 and the subsequent acceleration of the outbreak in late July have put extraordinary strain on the country,” said Francis Ato Brown, World Bank Country Manager for Sierra Leone. “This operation will benefit the people of Sierra Leone and the global community by minimizing the economic impact of the outbreak and thereby improving prospects for jobs, growth and other livelihood enhancing activities.”

And from the Sierra Leone Concord Times, a new modality:

President Koroma opens new Ebola Care Centre at Newton

President Ernest Bai Koroma yesterday opened a new Ebola Community Care Centre (CCC) at Newton, in the Western Rural as part of a scale up of services in the district to help stop the spread of Ebola.

“The Western Area is an Ebola hot zone,” said President Koroma. “The Community Care Centre provides an alternative to Ebola Treatment Units, where residents can seek diagnosis, isolation and early treatment in a safe and protected environment close to their homes. This is the first of two centers to be established in the district.”

Funded by DFID, UNICEF – in partnership with the government and NGOs – is constructing CCCs throughout Sierra Leone in response to the Ebola outbreak. The CCCs are small tented structures with an 8-24 bed capacity and can separate patients with dry and wet symptoms.

After the jump, on to Liberia and one complication from running an election during an outbreak, a harsh judicial critique of the election and a street bloody brawl between supporters of rival candidates [one being the president’s son], ports continue to be spared the epidemic, U.N. extends its military mission and announces a political campaign role, a day in a front line sprayer’s life, and the schools chief is eager to go. . . Continue reading

InSecurityWatch: Terror, cops, hacks, war, zones


Much ground to cover, mostly because of illness yesterday and overnight that leaves us two days worth of gleanings. So on with the show, with little preamble.

From Sky News, the deplorable:

Pakistan Militants Kill 141 In School Massacre

  • One boy describes his friends “lying injured and dead” around him as the Taliban says it wanted them to “feel our pain”

Taliban gunmen have killed 141 people, including at least 132 children, in a school attack in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Nine men stormed the army-run school while around 500 children and teachers were believed to be inside, with many students taking exams at the time.

Most of the victims of the country’s deadliest terror attack were killed in the first few hours as the gunman fired bullets indiscriminately at pupils and teachers.

A local hospital said the dead – and the more than 120 who were injured – were aged from 10 to 20 years old.

The Independent covers Cold War 2.0 in escalation:

As Russia unveils nuclear subs with underwater drones and robots, the stealth race heats up: governments pour cash into secret armies

Russia, apparently not wanting to be overshadowed by yesterday’s announcement that China has built a long-range heat ray weapon, has revealed plans for its nuclear submarines — including on-board battle robots and underwater drones.

Through small, unmanned drones in the air, to the invisible pain gun like that made by China, the race in military tech is to create weapons that can go mostly unnoticed, while at the same time managing for control on the battlefield and during civil unrest.

Russia’s new submarine takes that battle underwater, too.

The country’s new fifth generation submarines could feature drones that can be released by submarines and stay still, while the ship itself moves away. That would allow the submarine to evade anyone watching by giving the impression it has stayed in place, while only the drone has done so.

Meanwhile, a sidebar to the story most Western media devoured, via New York Times:

In Sydney Hostage Siege, Australia’s New Antiterrorism Measures Proved Ineffective

Around the time that grisly images of beheadings circulated across the world this fall, Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia introduced a raft of laws in response to what he said was an increasing threat that the Islamic State jihadist group would attempt a bold act of terrorism on Australian soil.

The laws, which passed Parliament with wide support, made it an offense to advocate terrorism; banned Australians from going to fight overseas; allowed the authorities to confiscate and cancel passports; and provided for the sharing of information between security services and defense personnel. The government also deployed hundreds of police officers in counterterrorism sweeps across the country.

None of these measures prevented a man with a long history of run-ins with the law, known to both the police and leaders of Muslim organizations as deeply troubled, from laying siege to a popular downtown cafe this week and holding hostages for 16 hours. The attacker, Man Haron Monis, an Iranian immigrant, and two of the 17 hostages were killed early Tuesday amid the chaos of a police raid. The victims were identified as Katrina Dawson, 38, a lawyer, and the cafe’s manager, Tori Johnson, 34.

BBC News covers the ironic:

Sydney gunman was ‘wanted in Iran’

Iran says it requested 14 years ago the extradition of Man Haron Monis – the gunman behind the Sydney siege – but Australia refused to hand him over.

The head of Iran’s police, Gen Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, told reporters that Monis was wanted for fraud at the time.

He said Monis had fled to Australia via Malaysia in the late 1990s.

Monis and two hostages were shot dead on Tuesday morning, when commandos stormed the Sydney cafe where he had been holding captives for 16 hours.

Sky News adds that he. . .

. . .fled to Malaysia after committing fraud while working as the manager of a travel agency in 1996.

Following legal proceedings in 2000, Iran’s judiciary reportedly informed Interpol about his crime and demanded his extradition from Australia.

Australia allegedly refused to do so, saying it did not have a criminal extradition agreement with Iran.

The Daily Californian covers a Berkeley media event:

Artists claim responsibility for depictions of apparent lynchings hung from Sather Gate

On Sunday, a Bay Area collective of artists released a statement taking responsibility for the installation of the effigies.

The group identified itself as AnonArt Oakland and described its members as consisting of queer and black members. According to the statement, the group intended the project to be in “unambiguous alignment” with the affirmation of black lives and apologized for the disturbance it caused.

The statement emphasized that the images of historical lynchings remain relevant today, as the recent deaths of black men, such as Garner, illustrate the consequences of systemic racism.

“For those who think these images depict crimes and attitudes too distasteful to be seen — we respectfully disagree. Our society must never forget,” the statement read. “We apologize solely and profusely to black Americans who felt further attacked by this work. We are sorry — your pain is ours — our families’, our history’s.”

More from the Guardian:

“We are sorry – your pain is ours, our families’, our history’s,” the group wrote. But they also refused to back down. “For those who think these images no longer relevant to the social framework in which black Americans exist everyday – we respectfully disagree.”

The effigies, found hanging with virtually no context or explanation of intent, left the campus community baffled and on edge after their discovery on Saturday morning. Each cutout featured the name of a lynching victim and year of death, but only one had a modern point of reference: the words “can’t breathe” – an allusion to the last words of Garner, an unarmed black man whose July death at the hands of a white policeman has prompted protests around the US.

The group wrote that they vehemently disagreed with the suggestion that the cutouts were racist, and said they “intended only the confrontation of historical context”. The statement explained that the group meant the effigies to represent crimes that “are and should be deeply unsettling to the American consciousness”.

The collective refused to heed the call of the UC Berkeley chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, that the group responsible identify itself: “We choose to remain anonymous because this is not about us as artists, but about the growing movement to address these pervasive wrongs.” Before the collective posted its statement, Dirks had called for calm and unity, and said that regardless of intent “the imagery was deeply disturbing”.

And still more from the Washington Post:

Leigh Raiford, an associate professor of African American studies at UC Berkeley, told the Chronicle she didn’t think the effigies were intended to threaten students.

“To me this suggested a really powerful public art installation that was trying to provoke people to make a historical connection between the history of lynching, state violence against black folks and the contemporary situation that we’re faced with around police brutality and these non-indictments,” she said.

The San Francisco Chronicle covers belligerence blowback:

San Jose cop on leave over tweets on protests

A San Jose police officer was placed on leave after he posted, and later deleted, two threatening Twitter messages directed at protesters rallying against police brutality.

Officer Phillip White tweeted on Saturday, “By the way if anyone feels they can’t breathe or their lives matter I’ll be at the movies tonight, off duty, carrying my gun.”

White also tweeted that he would use his “God given and law appointed right and duty to kill” anyone who threatens his family. He ended the message with the hashtag #CopsLivesMatter — a twist on the popular #BlackLivesMatter hashtag used during protests following grand jury decisions not to indict police officers for killing unarmed black men in Missouri and New York.

White later deleted his tweets, and eventually his entire account, but Buzzfeed captured screen shots of the remarks. The San Jose Police Department said it is taking “the matter very seriously” and conducting an internal investigation.

From Associated Press, influence exerted:

Police altering tactics after killings, protests

With tensions running high over the killings of blacks by police, departments around the country are changing policies and procedures to curb the use of deadly force, ease public distrust and protect officers from retaliation.

New York City plans to issue stun guns to hundreds more officers. The Milwaukee department is making crisis-intervention training mandatory. And in Akron, Ohio, police have begun working in pairs on all shifts for their own safety.

Police departments are constantly updating training. But some of the more recent measures have been prompted by rising anger toward police. And in some cases, departments are making sure to let the public know about these changes.

“It’s not a mistake or a coincidence that a lot of these departments are publicizing their training or are perhaps revamping their training guidelines and things like that in the wake of these really high-profile incidents,” said Kami Chavis Simmons, director of the criminal justice program at the Wake Forest University School of Law in North Carolina and a former federal prosecutor in Washington.

A Monday protest in the neighborhood, via the Oakland Tribune:

Oakland: Two dozen arrested in protest at police HQ

More than 250 protesters blocked Oakland’s downtown police headquarters for more than four hours Monday morning, including some who chained themselves to the front doors and one who clambered up a flagpole.

A total of 25 protesters were arrested for blocking access to a public building and obstructing or delaying a police officer, among other charges, Officer Johnna Watson said.

The mostly peaceful protest by Black Lives Matter began about 7:30 a.m. outside the police administration building at 455 Seventh St. and ended about 1:35 p.m.

By midmorning, one man had climbed a flagpole in front of the building, and police were trying to persuade him to come down. Six people chained themselves to the pole, and protesters chanted “Justice for Mike Brown is justice for us all.”

The bar barring, via the Los Angeles Times:

Lawyers lie down in the rain to protest killings by police

Amid calls for justice and chants of “black lives matter,” more than 100 lawyers, law students and others staged a “die-in” outside a downtown Los Angeles courthouse Tuesday, arguing that the legal system in which they operate is broken.

The group blocked a lane of traffic and clogged the walkway leading to the Hill Street entrance of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse, making it virtually impossible for passing motorists and court visitors to ignore their message.

“The issue of police brutality is not about any single officer or victim, nor is it about good people versus bad people,” Priscilla Ocen, a law professor, declared over a bullhorn. “The number of unjustified homicides is a result of an entire system left too long without the leigitimate checks necessary to ensure accountability and justice.”

The Oakland Tribune covers the sadly expectable:

Fallout grows over Richmond police chief’s participation in #BlackLivesMatter protest

One week after photos of him holding a “#BlackLivesMatter” sign at a peaceful local protest went viral on social media, Richmond police Chief Chris Magnus is still grappling with the fallout — including accusations from his department’s police union that he broke the law — but says he has no regrets.

“It wasn’t the easiest statement to make,” Magnus said by phone Monday morning, “but it was the right thing to do.”

Since the small protest, Magnus has been flooded with more than 300 emails, dozens of phone calls and a flurry of messages on Twitter and Facebook. He estimated that more than 70 percent of the responses have been in support.

From the Guardian, detox for the fruit of the poisonous tree:

Supreme court: car stop was mistake, but drugs found are legal evidence

  • Rules 8-1 against driver stopped for invalid reason found to have drugs in car
  • Chief justice says officer’s error did not violate driver’s constitutional rights

The US supreme court on Monday ruled that a police officer in North Carolina lawfully stopped a car with a faulty brake light – and then found a stash of cocaine in the vehicle – even though driving with one working light is not illegal in the state.

In an 8-1 decision, the court ruled against Nicholas Heien, who had argued that the sandwich bag of cocaine found in the April 2009 search should not have been allowed as evidence when he was charged with drug trafficking because the Surry County sheriff’s department sergeant had no valid reason to stop the car.

Heien, who consented to the search of the car after he was stopped, pleaded guilty and was given a maximum prison term of two years.

After the jump, a Texas cop tasers an innocent 76-year-old, a Tennessee cop charged with rape, body cams for L.A. cops on the way, commodifying a whistleblower, torturers in white coats, cell phone interception sites in Norway prompt demands, Pyongyang tweaks Washington over torture, and on to the hack of the year with a new threat, warnings of theatrical attacks, exploding head suspicions, Sony claims high moral ground over media, Sorken gets sore, hospital gets ransom demand over stolen patient data, malware spam attacks accelerate, a data theft at UC Berkeley, corporate data theft in the cloud, Dutch fine Google for Gmail and search data consolidation for marketing, Google News completes retreats from Spain, pushing the West to intervene in Libya, t Chinese fighting for ISIS, the Syrian war continues,  Spain cracks an ISIS recruiting ring, anti-Islamic far right surges in Germany, Netanyahu’s settlement surge, a plea for troops in the Congo, A Chinese drone shootdown brings calls for a crackdown, the final Occupy Hong Kong eviction, China admits a fatal miscarriage of justice, and predictions of a Sino/American Game of Zones confrontation, and on to Japan for a Red victory of sorts, Abe sets his revisionist militarized agenda and his newly elected legislators back his play, Abe looks to Washington with details to come [but the public dissents], some things just aren’t said, Tojo fans threaten a newspaper, and hate speech aimed at Japan’s Koreans continues. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Numbers, campaigns, predictions


We begin with the New York Times and a positive note:

Fewer Ebola Cases Go Unreported Than Thought, Study Finds

Transmission of the Ebola virus occurs mostly within families, in hospitals and at funerals, not randomly like the flu, Yale scientists said Tuesday, and far fewer cases go unreported than has previously been estimated.

That implies, they said, that the epidemic is unlikely to reach the gloomy scenarios of hundreds of thousands of cases that studies released in September had forecast were possible; the most pessimistic one, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had predicted up to 1.4 million cases by late January.

The new study, led by epidemiologists from the Yale School of Public Health, was published online by the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. Scientists from Texas, Brazil and the Liberian Health Ministry contributed to the research.

Leaving Al Jazeera English with the downbeat:

Survivors cope with new Ebola after-effects

  • Victims spared by the deadly disease are reporting blindness and other unexpected post-Ebola health issues

“My eyes are dark,” she said sadly. “Even when the sun is shining, my eyes are dark.” Kamara said she was happy to have survived Ebola, but fear and misery were etched onto her face.

Kamara is one of 40 percent of Ebola survivors to have gone on to develop eye problems, according to a recent study carried out by the World Health Organisation and Kenema’s District Health Management Team. It has been more than a month since the district saw it’s last case of Ebola, and attention is turning to the plight of survivors.

The results of the survey, a copy of which was seen by Al Jazeera, outline a raft of physical, social and psychological problems the survivors are experiencing.

Seventy-nine percent, for example, now suffer from joint pain; 42 percent have problems sleeping, while more than one-third of those surveyed experienced peeling of the skin. Many others reported problems with their reproductive system.

From the Washington Post, a plea for what should be a given, in both senses of the word:

UN commission asks for Ebola debt forgiveness

A U.N. commission is asking for more debt cancellations for the three West African nations hardest hit by the Ebola virus.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa said Monday that it is crucial that the current Ebola health crisis not be a catalyst for financial distress in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

Carlos Lopez, a U.N. under secretary-general and the executive secretary of the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa, appealed in Ethiopia on Monday for loan forgiveness.

A new report on the socio-economic impact of Ebola said the overall impact on Africa should be minimal because the three countries account for only 0.68 percent of Africa’s GDP. The report estimates that Ebola’s impact on the continent’s GDP levels in 2014 and 2015 will be only -0.19 percent and -0.15 percent.

On to Liberia, where BBC News covers an infusion of help:

Ebola serum supply reaches Liberia

Liberia has begun treating Ebola patients with serum therapy – a treatment made from the blood of recovered survivors.

Doctors hope the experimental treatment could help combat the virus that has been sweeping West Africa and killing thousands of people.

If a person has successfully fought off the infection, it means their body has learned how to combat the virus and they will have antibodies in their blood that can attack Ebola.

Doctors can then take a sample of their blood and turn it into serum – by removing the red blood cells but keeping the important antibodies – which can be used to treat other patients.

Ebola patients treated in the UK and the US have already received this type of treatment.

Decline affirmed, via the Monrovia Inquirer:

Ebola Cases Still Decreasing…Internal Affairs Minister Discloses

Internal Affairs Minister, Morris Dukuly, has corroborated reports that the Ebola virus is still decreasing as efforts continue by government and its partners to eradicate it in the country.     Speaking at the Ministry of Information regular press briefing on Ebola, the Minister said as the Ebola crisis continues to decrease in the country, members of the Ebola Burial Team need to be remembered and considered as heroes as well as health workers.

The Minister noted that the burial team has played a significant role in the fight against the virus and as such they should be encouraged and appreciated, noting that they stand a high risk of getting in contact with the virus. “ As we all know, since the outbreak of the virus people have always talked about the nurses and doctors who have fallen prey to the virus and those who are still in the fight but not many attentions have been paid to the Burial Team something I think we need to consider. Those young men are risking their lives on a daily basis, so it is fair enough for us to appreciate them as well.”

Minister Dukuly encouraged citizens to continue all the necessary preventive measures given by the Ministry of Health and its partners noting that Ebola is real and it is still in the country and as such people should not be complacent of the fact that cases are on the decrease.

Front line fighters recover, via the NewDawn:

Liberian healthcare providers discharged

D’Geedawoi stops just long enough to look back and share a smile with the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps officers waiting beside the Ebola survivor board for the release of the next patient.

D’Geedawoi, a father of 4 children, 2 boys and 2 girls, with his wife Sadatu age 32, is grateful for all that was done for him at the Monrovia Medical Unit (MMU) but he is anxious to get home.

D’Geedawoi, age 46, is full of energy and ready to return to his work as a Drug Dispenser and Contact Tracer.  He told us, “ever since I experienced the illness of Ebola all I could think about was death.”

He went on to say that after being infected and then getting the news that he was negative, he felt encouraged to tell others about this place.

D’Geedawoi said, “I will be happy if I can be of any kind of assistance for you all. I want to get out in the field and get the message out there because I have been saved.”

The Liberian Observer covers a showdown over a government-imposed ban on political assemblies:

Looming City Lockdown: CDC Plans 3-Day March

Opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) has decided to stage another “city lockdown” in and around Monrovia, the party’s vice chairman for Operations, Mulbah Morlu, has announced.

Addressing a news conference yesterday in Monrovia, CDC disclosed the staging of a three-day political rally aimed at creating the platform where their political leader, Ambassador George M. Weah, will interact with the “ordinary Liberian people.”

According to Morlu, who is also CDC deputy campaign manager, the party has decided to begin “a three-day roadmap to victory,” parade through the streets of Monrovia, beginning with various market places in the city.

“CDC will begin parading the streets with Amb. Weah beginning with the Small Town Community behind our party’s headquarters and move on to the Peace Island Community in Congo Town.

From the NewDawn, a warning:

Another Serious Ebola Outbreak is Possible, If…

National and international publicity characterizing what may appear to be a gradual decline in the spread of the deadly Ebola virus disease in Liberia may not have just done justice to the fight against the epidemic, but encouraged complacency among some Liberians.

As a result of such publicity, some, including those involved with political campaigns, especially in Monrovia and its environs, have already been disregarding the public health laws, as well as preventive measures authorized by the Government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Health and partners.  Political rallies are occasioning huge gathering of supporters and sympathizers of candidates, while hugging and handshaking has resumed; vehicles carrying supporters of candidates are over-loaded with the belief that “Ebola is finishing.”

These violations of the public health laws may not necessarily be occurring un-noticed by the National Elections Commission, Ministry of Health and Liberia National Police. Whether or not it is out of embarrassment or fear that actions are yet to be taken against these violators, it is yet to be established. All we say is that these violations are taking place, while those responsible to enforce the laws remain conspicuously silent.

And should these violations continue as they are under the eyes of those who should enforce the laws, the possibility of another serious Ebola outbreak is high.  While we highlight the foregoing issues, the attention of the Government of Liberia and partners must again be drawn to the current severity of the Ebola outbreak in neighbouring Sierra Leone. Even though we may be aware that the Liberian health authorities are cognizant of such development, the issue of border control is very paramount.

And from FrontPageAfrica, a faith-based effort:

Ebola Outreach Goes To Muslim Neighborhoods in Liberia

A team from the Montserrado Community Based Initiative Project (MCBIP) over the weekend took Ebola sensitization outreach to Muslim neighborhoods in West Point. The team headed by Varlee Sanor, United Nations Volunteer (UNV) Field Associate on the MCBI project, held meetings with Muslims at the West Point Central Mosque on Saturday and Sunday.

The meeting was intended to solicit the views of members of the Muslim community and to seek possible ways of collaborating to battle the deadly Ebola virus disease in communities. These are efforts geared toward promoting and enforcing the Liberian Government “zero new Ebola cases” by December 25. The gathering was necessitated by reports about continuous denial, secret burials in the communities, hiding of sick and other anti-Ebola practices in the communities.

During the meetings, Sanor told the Muslims not to be complacent, as the virus was still in the country and continues to kill people in communities in Liberia. He said many people in Liberia have heard and accepted the preventive messages, but continue to be blinded by different cultural and traditional practices.”The fight against the Ebola virus has been difficult not because the messages are not reaching the people, but because of culture and traditions…” Mr. Sanor said.He told the Muslim community that the government and partners were working to ensure that their dead family members are handled with the care and respect they deserve.

After the jump, on to Sierra Leone with a strike threat followed by help from the U.N., the government mobilizes fear for the fight, British predictions of better times ahead coupled with word to America to keep out, a chief calls for quarantine, and the plight of Sierra Leone’s Ebola victims, Mali nears an all-clear, and concluding with a soap brigade in Guinea. . . Continue reading