Category Archives: Health

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

Big Pharma and ISPs hook up to stalk you


Yahoo! and other Internet providers are hooking up with the goal of learning all about your medical history, they targeting you with ads peddling expensive drugs.

It’s a particularly noxious use of metadata and amounts to a form of cyberstalking to our way of thinking.

BloombergBusinessweek’s Jordan Robinson and Sharon Pettypiece dissect the practice:

The Big Business of Selling Prescription-Drug Records

Since the days of 19th century remedies such as castor oil laxatives and mercury syphilis tablets, pharmacists and patients have had a tacit understanding: Whatever you buy is confidential. No longer. Drugmakers and Internet companies are quietly joining forces to link pharmacy records with registrations at websites to target ads to people reflecting their health conditions and their prescription drugs.

In a process known as a matchback, third-party companies assign patients unique numerical codes based on their prescription-drug records. Websites use the same process to assign codes to registered users. Then databases can be linked—without names changing hands. That lets pharmaceutical companies identify groups who use a specific medicine and send them tailored Web ads.

Drug companies say the technique complies with federal medical privacy laws because patients’ names are concealed. Still, critics see it as a breach of confidentiality. “Marketers are treating our health data as if we were buying a pair of pants or a book,” says Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy group in Washington. “That’s unconscionable.”

And here’s Pettypiece describing the practice in a Bloomberg Business interview:

How Marketers Know If You’re Buying Viagra

Program notes:

Drugmakers and Internet companies are quietly joining forces to link U.S. pharmacy records with online accounts to target ads to people based on their health conditions and the prescription drugs they buy.

You have to wonder at what point people are going to say “Enough.”

That our most sensitive of personal is parsed through the metadata game should be troubling to everyone. Are you taking an antidepressant? Taking an antiviral for a sexually transmitted disease? If so, you’re fair game for targeting, just as surely as a drone operator tracks a faceless subject then fires off a Hellfire missile.

To quote an old friend, “This shit has gotta stop.”

UPDATE: Reflections on medical times past. . .

Born at the very first stage of the Baby Boom, we grew up an America where the level of inequality was the lowest in the nation’s history in which young white people looked forward to prosperous futures. [Not so for people with more melanin in their skin, but for one young Midwesterner, a world of possibilities seemed to lie ahead].

Back in those days, prescription drug advertisements were barred from television, radio, and general audience newspapers and magazines. Only medical trade journals carried the ads, in which glowing claims and increasingly glizty graphics were with a large gray mass of data, including [supposedly] all the bad things that might happen to patients prescribed the nostrum in question.

Consumers could find that same information, but since there wasn’t an Internet in those days and long distance calls cost big money [up to $100 or more in 2014 dollars], finding out meant a trip to the library.

In other words, it took a real effort. But in those days, you got to know your doctor, and if you were too sick to make into his [almost always his] office, he’d come by the house to question, probe, probe, and stick as needed. And in making that house call, the doctor learned a lot more about his patient, ranging from home cleanliness and even eating habits should he ask to look around the kitchen.

But these days, much of our medical world experience is commercially mediated, and we are inundated with medical ads tailored for our personal circumstances, our prescription intake monitored not only by online efforts, but also by those discount cards needed to get the good prices at drug stores grown big as supermarkets, with drugs occupying only a small portion of floor space.

Those cards track your every purchase, compile the data, then sell it to, among other enterprises, insurance companies which can alter you rate should they see you’re buying notable quantities of sweets.

The medical relationship has transformed for a personal interaction to a mediated experienced tailored to sucker us into with buying vastly overpriced drugs that are often only slightly tweaked versions of medicines gone generic after patent expiration.

While the doctor of our youth, the man in the white coat, exercised considerable power, it was a relationship tempered by community mores and values and legislation limiting the ability of corporations to direct hustle the afflicted.

Which model is the better to build on?

EnviroWatch: Species, air, water, bugs, & fuels


We begin with the first major downer of the day, via the Independent:

Earth could face sixth mass extinction within 100 years

The earth could face a mass extinction by the next century if species continue to disappear at the current rate, according to a report by the scientific journal Nature.

Despite conservation attempts by governments across the world to save endangered species, thousands of animal types continue to face extinction every year.

Nature found that 41 per cent of all amphibian species are threatened with extinction, the highest at risk group. A more modest, but still alarming, 26 per cent of mammal species and 13 per cent of bird species are also threatened.

And from the New York Times, the first of three headlines abut the same event:

Climate Deal Would Commit Every Nation to Limiting Emissions

Negotiators from around the globe reached a climate change agreement early Sunday that would, for the first time in history, commit every nation to reducing its rate of greenhouse gas emissions — yet would still fall far short of what is needed to stave off the dangerous and costly early impact of global warming.

The agreement reached by delegates from 196 countries establishes a framework for a climate change accord to be signed by world leaders in Paris next year. While United Nations officials had been scheduled to release the plan on Friday at noon, longstanding divisions between rich and poor countries kept them wrangling through Friday and Saturday nights to early Sunday.

The agreement requires every nation to put forward, over the next six months, a detailed domestic policy plan to limit its emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases from burning coal, gas and oil. Those plans, which would be published on a United Nations website, would form the basis of the accord to be signed next December and enacted by 2020.

That basic structure represents a breakthrough in the impasse that has plagued the United Nations’ 20 years of efforts to create a serious global warming deal. Until now, negotiations had followed a divide put in place by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which required developed countries to act but did not demand anything of developing nations, including China and India, two of the largest greenhouse gas polluters.

Next, via, a less affirmative headline from CBC News:

UN climate negotiators pass watered-down deal in Lima

  • Wide range of options on the table for global deal at 2015 conference in Paris

Negotiators have reached a watered-down deal at U.N. talks in Peru that sets the stage for a global climate pact in Paris next year.

The Lima agreement was reached early Sunday after late-night wrangling between rich and poor countries.

About 190 nations agreed on the building blocks of a deal to combat climate change in 2015 amid warnings that far tougher action will be needed to cut rising world greenhouse gas emissions.

Finally, the downer, via the Observer:

World set for climate disaster, say activists, as Lima talks falter

  • Proposals too weak to keep global warming to the agreed limit of two degrees above pre-industrial levels

Frustrated climate campaigners have claimed that the world was on course for an unsustainable four-degree rise in temperatures, as two weeks of negotiations for a climate change agreement headed for an unsatisfying conclusion.

The proposals, still under discussion on Saturday, a day after the talks were scheduled to end, were too weak to keep global warming to the agreed limit of two degrees above preindustrial levels, setting the world on course to a climate disaster, according to developing countries at the summit.

“We are on a path to three or four degrees with this outcome,” said Tasneem Essop, international climate strategist for WWF.

She said the final draft text, a five-page document put forward for approval on Saturday, offered little assurance of cutting emissions fast enough and deeply enough to curb warming. “We are really unhappy about the weakening of the text. This gives us no level of comfort that we will be able to close the emissions gap to get emissions to peak before 2020,” she said. Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development, put it even more succinctly: “It sucks. It is taking us backwards.”

CBC News looks ahead:

Rising sea levels could make Florida residents ‘climate refugees’

  • 3.5 million Canadians travel to the sunshine state every year

Florida’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change doesn’t seem at first blush to be a Canadian issue.

But every year, some 3.5 million Canadians travel to the sunshine state. What’s more, about half a million Canadians own property in Florida, much of it at risk from rising sea levels.

A lot of that property, particularly if it’s situated along one of the coveted stretches of Miami’s fabled beaches, could well be worthless and literally underwater in a few decades, says Harold Wanless, the chair of the department of Geological Sciences at the University of Miami.

His word for the future of Miami and much south Florida? Doomed.

The “monster” in climate change, as Wanless sees it, is a warming ocean. Sea levels will rise because water expands as it gets warmer, and oceans are taking up vast amounts of heat produced by global warming.

And the Observer looks at one dry spell not attributed to climate change [or some day]:

American drought: California’s crisis

A storm has hit California, but that’s not going to end the ‘worst drought in a generation’ that is turning much of the centre of the state into a dust bowl. Chris McGreal reports on the drought bringing one of the richest states in America to its knees

Esidronio Arreola never gave much thought to the well that so reliably pumped water to his traditional clapboard house in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. But one day in March, he opened the tap and all he got was air.

Through the searing summer heat, the Mexican immigrant to California’s Central Valley and his family endured a daily routine of collecting water in his pickup truck from an emergency communal tank, washing from buckets and struggling to keep their withering orchard alive while they waited for snow to return to the mountains and begin the cycle of replenishing the aquifer that provides water to almost all the homes in the region.

But as more of Arreola’s neighbours in East Porterville, a ramshackle, low-income town in sprawling Tulare County, reported their wells running dry, and state officials warned that the most severe drought in living memory may well extend into 2015 and beyond, he realised he might not have water for years to come.

So Arreola, who makes his living dealing in old fridges and washing machines from his garage, bit the bullet and borrowed the lion’s share of the $11,000 it cost to drill a new well four times as deep as his old one. In mid-November, seven months after the pipes went dry, water began flowing to his taps again. Arreola just doesn’t know for how long.

Another water problem, via Want China Times:

Yangtze water not a cure-all for Beijing’s thirst

Beijing is looking to water from the Yangtze river to ease its drought, but experts say the ambitious south-to-north water diversion project is not a cure-all for the capital’s thirst.

With Yangtze water piped in, Beijing will have 150 cubic meters per person, an increase of 50%, according to figures provided by the Beijing water authority.

It said the Chinese capital’s per capita water volume is currently 100 cubic meters, only 1.25% of the world’s average level.

Beijing needs at least 3.6 billion cubic meters of water a year to supply its 20 million residents and to keep local businesses running, but its own water supply was only 2.1 billion cubic meters annually in the past decade.

“The city is facing a severe water crisis,” said Xu Xinyi, a water conservancy specialist with Beijing Normal University. “It’s like five people stuffed into a room designed for two.”

Protest over anticipated water problems to come, via TheLocal.es:

Protesters strip off to oppose Repsol plans

Protesters plunged half-naked into the icy sea and unfurled banners Saturday to try to stop oil prospecting near Spain’s Canary Islands, a major tourist destination.

Ten boats from the archipelago took protesters eight nautical miles from where Spanish firm Repsol is exploring with a view to possibly drilling off the islands in the Atlantic ocean.

Protesters warn the oil and gas project is a threat to the environment and the tourist industry on which the Canary Islands rely.

They say drilling would raise the risk of an oil spill like the Deepwater Horizon disaster that struck at a BP oil prospect in the Gulf of Mexico in
2010.

And from Want China Times, another water protest:

Thousands take to street in Nicaragua to protest China canal deal

A massive demonstration rocked Nicaragua’s capital of Managua as protestors opposed to the construction of a US$50 billion Nicaragua Canal took to the streets on Wednesday. Protesters said the construction will damage local freshwater sources and the environment, reports Shanghai-based newspaper the Paper.

Some protesters held banners reading “Chinese gets out!” and “No canal.” The project, which is to begin construction on Dec. 22 and scheduled to be completed in 2019, will dwarf the neighboring Panama Canal. It will be 278 kilometers in length and pass through Central America’s largest lake.

Chinese-funded Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment won the bid for the project and the right to operate the canal and its facilities for 100 years. One protester said he does not want to see the lake being cut in half and the fact that a foreign company will operate the canal for a century means that not even his children will see benefits from the project.

From Want China Times yet again, China’s killer air:

Air pollution cause of high lung cancer rate in China: experts

China’s chronic air pollution is being named the key culprit behind the prevalence of lung cancer, with cases predicted to top 1 million by 2025, the highest worldwide, according to Chinese-language Economic Information.

Lung cancer has topped the list of cancers in China, passing liver cancer as the number of lung-cancer patients has doubled every 10-15 years in the past decades, according to statistics of the National Cancer Registration Center.

China now has 3.12 million new cancer cases a year and over 2 million Chinese people die of cancer annually. The number of lung-cancer patients has been increasing at an annual clip of 26.9% in recent years, with the disease’s mortality rate surging 465% over the past 30 years, which makes it the most lethal cancer, according to NCRC data.

From VOA Video, another report about the intersection of things inhaled and lung health:

Gold Miners Join Class Action Suit in South Africa Over Lung Disease

Program notes:

Five of South Africa’s largest gold mining companies recently announced they will create a working group to deal with the issue of occupational lung disease. This move comes as the sector faces what could be South Africa’s biggest-ever class action lawsuit. More than 25,000 miners are seeking compensation from gold mining companies, saying they failed to protect them from Silicosis, a debilitating and incurable lung disease. Emilie IOB reports from South Africa and neighboring Lesotho.

From JapanToday, amazing if confirmed:

Tohoku University team discovers blue light is effective at killing insects

And now in a report published in Scientific Reports, a team of researchers from Tohoku University have found a new use for blue LED. When used in the right frequency it can be an effective, safe, clean, and cheap way to kill insects. For the first time, they showed that visible light around the blue part of the spectrum is lethal to insects such as mosquitoes and fruit flies.

In the experiment, the team of Masatoshi Hori, Kazuki Shibuya, Mitsunari Sato, and Yoshino Sato gathered samples of three species of insects; fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster), London Underground mosquito (Culex pipiens f. molestus), and confused flour beetles (Tribolium confusum). The names of these bugs are probably worthy of their own article, but we can’t get sidetracked now.

The team then hit these insects with different intensities of colored lights at different stages of their development from egg to adult. Interestingly, they found that wavelengths of light from ultraviolet (378 nanometers) to visible blue-green (508nm) killed off the bugs, whereas wavelengths of light in red and yellow had essentially no effect.

Even more interestingly, the wavelength of light did not directly correspond to its lethalness. For example, fruit flies dropped dead with under a 467nm far more efficiently than with any other longer or shorter wavelengths. Mosquitoes on the other hand were weaker to a more lavender 417nm wavelength light. When swapped, only a few fruit flies went down under 417nm, whereas mosquitoes barely flinched at the 467nm light.

And from CBC News, another grab for Arctic oil, gas, and minerals:

Denmark says Greenland subsea ridge gives it a claim to North Pole

  • Denmark says scientific data shows Greenland’s continental shelf is connected to a ridge beneath the Arctic Ocean, giving Danes a claim to the North Pole and any potential energy resources beneath it.

Denmark will deliver a claim on Monday to a United Nations panel in New York that will eventually decide control of the area, which Russia and Canada are also coveting, Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard said.

Lidegaard told the Associated Press he hopes the other nations that also have made claims in the Arctic will continue to keep to “the rules of the game.”

The United States, Russia, Norway, Canada and Denmark all have areas surrounding the North Pole, but only Canada and Russia had indicated an interest in it before Denmark’s claim.

EbolaWatch: An all-Africa edition today


Unusually, all the stories today are from more than just about Africa and the political and corporate involvements of the North. All originate from the continent itself, albeit sometimes through a Western media lens.

We begin with the intersection of labor and the outbreak in Guinea, via Voice of America:

Guinea Fights to Reduce Ebola Risks to Miners

Health teams working in Guinea are ramping up outreach efforts in the country’s mining regions, where a concentrated and mobile workforce provides a ripe environment for spreading the deadly Ebola virus, according to a UNICEF representative.

“The situation in Guinea remains worrying,” Christophe Boulierac, a Geneva-based spokesman for the United Nations children’s agency, said after completing a 10-day tour there last week.

Ebola has sickened at least 2,000 people in Guinea and killed at least 1,233, with the infection rate rising slightly since October, the World Health Organization reported in its latest status update.

Boulierac traveled to two regions of Guinea: the West African country’s northern mining region and its southeastern rainforest, where the current outbreak began nearly a year ago.

On to Liberia and a legal decision from the New York Times:

Liberian Court Rejects Petition to Delay Elections Over Ebola

Liberia’s Supreme Court on Saturday said it would not halt Senate elections scheduled for Tuesday, rejecting a petition calling for the vote to be delayed because of the Ebola crisis.

The court said its role was not to make decisions on political affairs. “It is not our place to decide whether it is appropriate to conduct elections at this time or any other time,” said Chief Justice Francis S. Kporkpor.

The court had suspended campaigning for almost two weeks while it considered petitions that sought to suspend voting until the Ebola outbreak was brought under control. The petitioners said they feared that the virus could be spread as people campaigned and turned out to vote in large numbers.

Two of the five justices dissented, saying the government was not prepared to conduct the elections safely. They also said that holding elections in the current climate violated civil and political rights.

From FrontPageAfrica, a member of the court explains the rationale for the decision:

FPA WEB TV: ‘THAT IS THE LAW’

Program notes:

Kabineh Ja’neh, Associate Justice of Liberia’s High Court Explains Controversial Election Opinion

While Liberia’s traditional forms of electioneering are largely banned during the outbreak, via the Liberian Observer:

New Election Date: Dec. 20

  • No Street Parades, NEC Warns

National Elections Commission (NEC) has again somersaulted on its mandate to conduct polling for the 2014 Special Senatorial Election.

The new date set for the election is now Saturday, December 20, 2014 and not December 16, as was previously announced, NEC indicated yesterday in Monrovia.

According to a press statement signed by the Commission’s Communications Director Joey Kennedy, NEC took the hard decision in collaboration with political parties and independent candidates at an urgently arranged meeting at the Commission’s headquarters in Sinkor, Monrovia.

“The decision to reschedule the election from December 16 to December 20, 2014, is intended to compensate for time lost as a result of the Stay Order imposed on the election and campaign activities by the Supreme Court,” the electoral body said.

Tracing the outbreak, from the the Liberia News Agency:

UNICEF Intervenes In New Ebola Outbreak In Gbarnga

Two new positive cases of Ebola leading to one death, have been reported in the Gbarnga suburb of Sugar Hill Community in Bong County.

According to the head of UNICEF county team, E. Dutch Hamilton, the new Ebola cases are said to have emanated from a young man who reportedly brought his sick father to the community from Monrovia on Sunday, December 7 in search of alternative remedies for his ailment.

Hamilton said the two had gone to Monrovia to provide care for one of the man’s children who died during their stay in the capital.

When community members noticed the abnormal health condition of the family, they immediately contacted the county health team who placed the entire family under quarantine.

A diagnosis from the Liberian Observer:

‘Liberia Still in 18th Century Health System’

  • -Eminent Liberian Doctor Blasts

An eminent and specialized Liberian medical doctor and surgeon has described the Liberian healthcare delivery system as an “18th century health system” with Liberians only surviving through goodwill gesture of foreign partners.

Dr. Vuyu Golakai, who is also the Dean of the A.M. Dogliotti College of Medicine at the University of Liberia, stressed in a power point presentation during Liberia’s observation of the 21st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that, for people to feel the impact of good a  healthcare system, government needs to generate a condition that will bring to realization such impact.

He noted that availability of healthcare, accessibility, acceptability and quality make the impact of healthcare felt.

The fearless and outspoken Liberian medical doctor emphasized that the health system of Liberia has remained vulnerable as a result of failure and unfairness on the part of government to invest therein.

On to Sierra Leone and aid from Down Under finally up and running, via the Guardian:

Ebola: Australian-run centre in Sierra Leone opens for business

  • Foreign affairs minister announces another $3m for the centre, bringing Australia’s contribution in Ebola fight to $45m

An Australian-run medical centre for Ebola patients has opened in Sierra Leone overnight, the foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, has announced.

Britain recently completed the building, which is near Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown.

“Patients will be referred to the centre and in line with best practice it will commence operations with five beds,” Bishop said in a statement. “Operations will be gradually scaled up to full capacity at 100 beds under strict guidelines to ensure infection control procedures are working effectively and trained staff and safety practices are in place.”

Another front line fighter stricken, via the Associated Press:

Another Sierra Leonean doctor sick with Ebola

An official in Sierra Leone says one of the country’s top doctors has contracted the Ebola virus. Dr. Victor Willoughby is the 12th Sierra Leonean physician to become infected — 10 of whom have died.

Government Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brima Kargbo confirmed Sunday that Willoughby had tested positive for Ebola.

Nearly 1,800 people have died from Ebola this year in Sierra Leone amid the regional epidemic. Doctors and nurses have been especially vulnerable because the disease is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of the sick.

Junior doctors in Sierra Leone last week launched a strike to demand better medical treatment for health workers who contract the disease. Kargbo said Sunday that skeleton crews have returned to aid the senior doctors.

Next to Sierra Leone and another diagnosis from Reuters:

Shock treatment: what’s missing from Sierra Leone’s Ebola response

The failure of Sierra Leone’s strategy for fighting Ebola may be down to a missing ingredient: a big shock that could change people’s behaviour and finally prevent further infection.

Bruce Aylward, the head of Ebola response at the World Health Organisation, said Sierra Leone was well placed to contain the disease — its worst outbreak on record — with infrastructure, organisation and aid.

The problem is that its people have yet to be shocked out of behaviour that is helping the disease to spread, still keeping infected loved ones close and touching the bodies of the dead.

“Every new place that gets infected goes through that same terrible learning curve where a lot of people have to die … before those behaviours start to change,” Aylward told Reuters.

EnviroWatch: Climate, fracking, water, Fukushima


And much more. . .

We begin with an impasse from the Guardian:

Lima climate summit extended as early optimism is overtaken by discord

  • Talks stumble amid rising frustration over ‘ridiculously low’ cash commitments for emissions cuts from rich nations

Climate talks in Lima ran into extra time amid rising frustration from developing countries at the “ridiculously low” commitments from rich countries to help pay for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

The talks – originally scheduled to wrap up at 12pm after 10 days – are now expected to run well intoSaturday , as negotiators huddle over a new draft text many glimpsed for the first time only morning.

The Lima negotiations began on a buoyant note after the US, China and the EU came forward with new commitments to cut carbon pollution. But they were soon brought back down to earth over the perennial divide between rich and poor countries in the negotiations: how should countries share the burden for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and who should pay?

Good news from StarAfrica:

Gambia malaria infection on the wane – Report

The infection level of malaria in The Gambia is gradually declining according to a report resulting from the latest medical research on its prevention in the country. According to the report, published in The Lancet, the world’s leading general medical journal and seen by APA on Friday the research was carried out in 96 Gambian villages targeting 8,000 children who were tested for malaria this year.

It attributed the drop in infection to the massive distribution of long-lasting insecticide treated bed nets across the country.

The report also pointed out that using treated bed nets is more effective than spraying insecticide chemicals in homes. “High bed net coverage is sufficient to protect people against malaria in areas of low or moderate transmission” it added.

The Lancet said the study is deemed significant as it was conducted in areas with differing transmission rates of malaria to further assess the effectiveness of combining insecticide sprays with treated bed nets.

Jiji Press sounds an alarm:

Japan on High Alert for Bird Flu

Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is on high alert for bird flu, faced with outbreaks around the world.

This year, 245 avian influenza cases have been confirmed in South Korea, and the same bird flu virus strain spread in Europe, leading an official of the ministry to be concerned about “worldwide simultaneous, multiple outbreaks.”

In Japan, bird flu viruses have been found in the droppings of wild birds one after another. Almost throughout the year, South Korea has seen outbreaks of the highly pathogenic H5N8 subtype bird flu virus.

Water woes lead to a food crisis, via the Guardian:

UN: drought in Central America has pushed 2.5m people into food insecurity

  • Subsistence farmers, farm labourers and low-income families especially at risk as UN warns of ‘creeping humanitarian crisis’

A drawn-out drought in Central America has pushed 2.5 million people in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador into food insecurity, the UN warned Friday.

The drought in the three countries is “turning into a creeping humanitarian crisis”, Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN’s humanitarian agency, told reporters in Geneva.

Subsistence farmers, farm labourers and low-income families were especially at risk, with young children and pregnant women considered the most vulnerable, he said.

A full 80% of farmers in the worst-hit areas of El Salvador had reported losing all of their crops, while 75% of maize and bean crops in Honduras and Guatemala had failed. The lack of rain has also resulted in the death of thousands of cattle.

Water woes farther South, from the Los Angeles Times:

Sao Paulo, Brazil, officials downplay water crisis as residents suffer

The water crisis is so bad in South America’s largest city that when rain began to dribble from the sky recently, workers in a downtown office high-rise stood up and cheered, running to the windows to celebrate each drop.

A majority of city residents recently surveyed said their water has stopped flowing at some point, usually at night. In some neighborhoods, people say their homes have no water service at all. Although scientists say that the drought has its roots in such changes as deforestation, analysts say poor planning and political manipulation by local authorities have exacerbated the crisis.

Authorities insist that they have not shut off the supply to any neighborhoods and that problems caused by a loss of water pressure may affect 1% to 2% of homes. They recommend that residents use home water tanks. But they acknowledge that without huge amounts of rain over the next months — “floods,” said National Water Agency President Vicente Andreu — the crisis will intensify.

From CBC’s News’s The National, a Canadian import:

Toxic waste from Love Canal coming to Canada

Program notes:

Up to 100 truckloads of toxic material that traces back to Love Canal are being sent to Canada.

Euopean neoliberal deregulation advances in Europe, via EurActiv:

Commission plans to ditch circular economy and air pollution rules

The European Commission plans to scrap its flagship Circular Economy package and anti-air pollution rules next week.

The executive will ditch the rules from its 2015 work programme, sources told EurActiv. That is set to be announced on Wednesday (17 December).

The Circular Economy package is designed to increase resource efficiency and recycling, and the Clean Air Package imposes rules that set member states’ air quality targets.

Sources told EurActiv that Commissioners were handed a secret document yesterday (10 December) at their weekly meeting. The document, outlining a list of bills to be killed off by Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, was taken back from the Commissioners, after it was read and discussed.

Getting slick with United Press International:

Oil slick threatens N.J.’s Sandy Hook Bay

An oil slick discovered in Sandy Hook Bay off the coast of New Jersey could threaten marine life and a federal park, officials said.

The 1-mile-long, 50-yard-wide slick was discovered Thursday about 1.5 miles west of the U.S. Coast Guard station at the northern tip of Sandy Hook. When it was first discovered, the slick had measured 2 miles long and 400 miles wide, but had shrunk as of Friday.

Coast Guard crews installed a boom off Horseshoe cove to protect an environmentally sensitive area from the oil spill.

“We’re concerned. We’re very concerned about this,” said Pete McCarthy, unit coordinator of Sandy Hook for the National Park Service. “We’re worried about what it’s going to do to the shoreline, obviously, (and) what it’s going to do to wildlife.”

Degreening, via the Independent:

New era of cheap oil ‘will destroy green revolution’

The collapsing oil price that is reshaping the global economy could derail the green energy revolution by making renewable power sources prohibitively bad value, experts have warned.

Oil tumbled below $60 a barrel for the first time in more than five years yesterday – a fall of 44 per cent since June. It is forecast to fall further.

“Renewable energy subsidies have been mostly sold to the public on the basis of the economic benefits,” said Peter Atherton, an energy analyst with Liberum Capital. “But the economic arguments hinged on the idea that fossil fuel prices would get more expensive, while expensive renewable subsidies would be able to come down over time. That’s looking doubtful now.”

Anne Robinson, director of consumer policy at the uSwitch price comparison website, said: “More subsidies are likely to be needed [for green power] as the gap between the cost of fossil fuel power and renewable power gets bigger.” The extra subsidies would be borne by households in the form of higher energy bills.

After the jump, more studies reveal fracking health risks as Spain’s neoliberal regime makes a fracking push, then on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with a deal struck to an interim nuclear waste storage site, a regulators decree that a cement fix will plug underground hot water leaks, nuclear watchdog calls for a massive radioactive water release into the Pacific, South Koreans book a visit, while a volcanic eruption warning sounds for a volcano in the same province, a reactor startup nears in another province, and reactor restarts figure in regional politics as protests continue, While Germans remain nuclear power consumers thanks to a Swiss connection. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Broken systems, numbers, fear


First some good news from Berkeley for a had-pressed Liberian newspaper via the paper in question, FrontPageAfrica:

Berkeley Professor Donates Anti-Ebola Gears, Cameras to FPA

Rachel Mercy Simpson, Department Chair of Multimedia Arts, at  Berkeley City College, knew she had to step in when she heard the Publisher of FrontPageAfrica describe to NPR’s “On the Media” the  challenges he and his team of reporters are going through on the front line of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia.

“As an award-winning newspaper, FrontPageAfrica is in a powerful position to communicate with people across West Africa, to encourage safer practices and to reduce the spread of Ebola. FPA reporters put their lives on the line to cover the stories even though they lack rudimentary safety gear. I want to help them out,” wrote Mercy-Simpson to her family and colleagues. Mercy-Simpson, who is married to a Tanzanian and whose father is from South Africa, says while neither countries are neighbors to Ebola-hit Liberia, she felt a need to reach out. “We care about what’s going on in Africa. The devastation to families and the economy in Liberia is terrible. And no one wants to see Ebola spread any further.”

When she learned from the NPR interview that FrontPageAfrica reporters lacked safety gear, Mercy-Simpson immediately contacted the FrontPageAfrica publisher and asked how she could help. “As a filmmaker, I grasped the danger of their not having a telephoto lens and how FPA reporters needed to get close to people who were very sick in order to photograph them.”

The accompanying photo:

BLOG Prof

From Deutsche Welle, numbers:

WHO releases latest Ebola figures

  • The latest figures from the World Health Organization show another increase in the Ebola death toll. Nearly 6,600 people have died from the virus since the worst outbreak on record began early this year.

The latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) show 6,583 people have died out of 18,188 recorded Ebola cases.

The Geneva-based UN health agency reported that the majority of infections and deaths were in the West African states of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The WHO said earlier in the week that the death toll had remained the same in other countries also affected by the disease: six in Mali, one in the US and eight in Nigeria, which was declared Ebola free in October. Spain and Senegal have also counted one case of infection each, but were declared free of the virus in recent weeks.

Numbers contested, via StarAfrica:

S/Leone: Information Minister challenges WHO Ebola figures

Sierra Leone’s Information Minister said Thursday contrary to figures reported by the Western media and the World Health Organization (WHO), cases of infection by the Ebola epidemic were reducing in the country.Alhaji Alpha Kanu said, based on figures from the Ministry of Health and the National Ebola Response Center (NERC), the country was recorded an average of less than 40 new infections a day, “contrary to what you hear on BBC, courtesy of WHO,” he said.

He said what the media is reporting falls far behind the reality on the ground. “That’s patently not true,” he told reporters at the weekly government press conference.

At a separate engagement via an online press conference with the international media, Mr Kanu was cited disputing WHO`s report on the diamond-rich Kono which claimed 87 dead bodies were discovered with 123 sick people from “forgotten” part of the district.

Ebolaphobia strikes again, from AllAfrica:

Sudan Repatriates 26 Nigerians Over Ebola Fears

The Sudanese authorities have denied 26 Nigerians entry into their country over suspicion that they were possibly infected by the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease, one of those repatriated has told PREMIUM TIMES.

Hauwa’u Ibrahim Bakori, a second year student of Pharmacy at Al Ahfad University for Women, Omdurman, said she and 25 others were denied entry after arriving Khartoum Airport on Wednesday.

They were detained, and then deported to Nigeria on Thursday, Ms. Bakori said.

Ms Bakori is in her second year at the Sudanese university and had travelled to Nigeria on holidays.

From teleSUR, an aid effort praised:

UNICEF Recognizes Cuban Efforts in Fight Against Ebola

  • The children’s rights organisation is the latest body to highlight Cuba’s role.

The representative for the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) regional office in Central Africa recognized Cuba’s humanitarian efforts to fight Ebola on Saturday.

Cuba has sent more than 460 doctors and nurses to nations struck by Ebola such as Sierra Leone.

‘’We are carrying out a series of gatherings with nations that offer cooperation like the case of Cuba, we want to take those countries into account for next year’s Unicef aid programming in African nations,’‘ said UNICEF’s Brigitte Helali, from Equatorial Guinea where she is evaluating Unicef aid programs.

Helali also highlighted the progress Cuba has made in healthcare overall with special mention for their work with pregnant women and children under five years old.

From the Associated Press, that same effort stymied by Washington:

US embargo stalled payment to Cuban Ebola doctors

A World Health Organization official says Cuba had to cover food and lodging expenses for dozens of its doctors fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone after the U.S. embargo made it impossible for the global health group to pay them.

U.S. officials as high as Secretary of State John Kerry have praised the Cuban effort against Ebola. But the longstanding embargo affects virtually all dealings with Cubans, even for banks outside the U.S., because they depend on dollar transfers through U.S. institutions.

Jose Luis Di Fabio, the health agency’s representative for Cuba, said it had to request special licenses from the U.S. Treasury Department to transfer money to the doctors in Africa.

The government-employed doctors only recently received payments dating as far back as October, he said.

And from teleSUR English, what those doctors are doing in the country where the need is most great:

Sierra Leone: Cuban doctors reducing Ebola cases

Program notes:

While new cases of Ebola continue to arise in Sierra Leone, the Cuban medical teams on the scene, working alongside local health care workers, are confident that they can continue to contain and reduce the epidemic. Close collaboration and friendships have been forged with US medical workers who admire Cuba’s role and record in providing health care to all. Oskar Epelde reports from Porto Loko

A honcho named, via AllAfrica:

West Africa: UN Chief Appoints New Envoy for Ebola

The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Friday appointed Ismail Ahmed of Mauritania as his new Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, UNMEER.

This was contained in a statement issued by Ban’s Spokesperson, Stephane DuJarric in New York.

According to the statement, as Special Representative, Mr. Ahmed will work closely with the Special Envoy on Ebola, David Nabarro and with the governments of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone and other partners.

Mr. Ahmed succeeds Anthony Banbury of the U.S., who would return to New York in early January 2015.

And from the U.S. News Center, an urgent plea:

UN meeting urges critical improvements to health systems of Ebola-affected countries

The international community must help Ebola-affected countries reboot their health systems so that they emerge from the current crisis more resilient and more focused on prevention efforts than ever before, a high-level meeting coordinated by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva heard today.

“People in Ebola-affected countries are dying – not only from Ebola but also from other causes – because the majority of health facilities in these countries are either not functional or people are not using them for fear of contracting Ebola,” said Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, the WHO’s Assistant Director-General of Health Systems and Innovation, in a news release.

“A health system has to be able to both absorb the shock of an emergency like Ebola, and to continue to provide regular health services such as immunization and maternal and child care.”

At the meeting, participants – which included Ministers of Health and Finance from countries at the epicentre of the Ebola epidemic as well as international organizations and development partners – discussed methods of integration for health services spanning clinical care to surveillance, health promotion, disease prevention and management and palliative care.

In particular, noted the WHO news release, areas of improvement included “significantly strengthening” the health workforce; enhancing community trust, engagement and ownership; and ensuring the development of resilient sub-national health systems. In addition, the movement of people across the borders of the Ebola-affected countries spotlighted the “important” need for a greater coordination of trans-national health plans and an alignment of surveillance systems.

Another expanded effort, via Voice of America:

UNICEF Expanding Fight Against Ebola

The U.N. Children’s Fund is appealing for an additional $300 million to expand its fight against Ebola in the three heavily affected West African countries over the next six months. UNICEF said gaining the confidence of community members, increasing their awareness and knowledge of modes of transmission and prevention are key to winning the battle against this deadly disease.

UNICEF officials said money from the appeal would be used to tackle two major drivers of Ebola transmission: lack of early isolation of patients and unsafe burials.  Both of these issues are wound up with traditional cultural practices, which often have stymied aid agencies’ efforts to prevent people from getting infected with the disease and spreading it to others.

Community involvement is absolutely essential to ending this epidemic.  UNICEF’s crisis communications chief, Sarah Crowe, said recent surveys indicate people gradually have been changing their behavior for the better.

And from the New York Times, contesting the Ebola fight:

Contest Seeks Novel Tools For the Fight Against Ebola

The well-prepared Ebola fighter in West Africa may soon have some new options: protective gear that zips off like a wet suit, ice-cold underwear to make life inside the sweltering suits more bearable, or lotions that go on like bug spray and kill or repel the lethal virus.

Those ideas are among the contenders to win the Ebola “Grand Challenges” contest announced in October by the United States Agency for International Development, or among those being considered by the agency without having formally entered the contest.

All still need to undergo testing, and some may prove impractical, but the 1,500 contest submissions “blew the roof off the number of responses we’ve ever had,” said Wendy Taylor, director of U.S.A.I.D.’s Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact.

The agency’s Grand Challenges, modeled on those begun a decade ago by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have produced some nifty inventions, the best known of which is a device for helping women in obstructed labor that was invented by an Argentine auto mechanic after he saw a YouTube video on using a plastic bag to get a cork out of a wine bottle.

After the jump it’s on to Sierra Leone with doctors sounding the alarm, how a single case triggered a chain reaction of death, the U.N.’s Ebola emissary calls for an anti-epidemic surge, Freetown charges chiefs with containing the epidemic, Christmas and New Year’s gatherings banned, and the capital sends a strong anti-graft warning, then on to Liberia and the debilitating impacts of two viral epidemics on the economy, why the U.N. is maintaining a Liberian arms embargo, motorcycle transport riders join the Ebola fight, 1,300 volunteer case trackers recruited by the UN, healed patients head home, and an education system left in shambles. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Health, land, water, nukes, more


We begin with the fruits of over-prescribed antibiotics, poorly compliant patients, and endless dosing of livestock crammed together in factory farms, via BBC News:

Superbugs to kill ‘more than cancer’ by 2050

Drug resistant infections will kill an extra 10 million people a year worldwide – more than currently die from cancer – by 2050 unless action is taken, a study says.

They are currently implicated in 700,000 deaths each year.

The analysis, presented by the economist Jim O’Neill, said the costs would spiral to $100tn (£63tn). He was appointed by Prime Minister David Cameron in July to head a review of antimicrobial resistance.

Mr O’Neill told the BBC: “To put that in context, the annual GDP [gross domestic product] of the UK is about $3tn, so this would be the equivalent of around 35 years without the UK contribution to the global economy.”

Médecins Sans Frontières battles another lethal epidemic in the Ebola hot zone:

Sierra Leone: 1.5 million people in a country affected by Ebola receive drugs to prevent malaria

As part of its ongoing emergency response to Ebola in West Africa, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has carried out the largest-ever distribution of antimalarials in Sierra Leone, alongside the Ministry of Health. Teams distributed 1.5 million antimalarial treatments to residents of Freetown and five districts in the surrounding Western Area over four days, with the aim of protecting people from malaria during the disease’s peak season.

“In the context of Ebola, malaria is a major concern, because people who are sick with malaria have the same symptoms as people sick with Ebola,” said Patrick Robataille, MSF field coordinator in Freetown. “As a result, most people turn up at Ebola treatment centres thinking that they have Ebola, when actually they have malaria. It’s a huge load on the system, as well as being a huge stress on patients and their families.”

Sierra Leone has the fifth highest prevalence of malaria globally, and the disease is the biggest killer of children under five in the country. Malaria symptoms include high fever, dizziness, headaches, muscle aches and fatigue, many of which are similar to the symptoms of early stage Ebola.

The United News Press Center covers food worries:

UN agency reports record cereal crop as Ebola, conflict threaten food security

Despite world cereal production likely to reach an all-time record of more than 2.5 billion tonnes in 2014, a total of 38 countries are at risk of food insecurity, including 29 in Africa, with food insecurity worsening in several countries due to civil conflicts, adverse weather and the Ebola outbreak, according to a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report released today.

The latest Crop Prospects and Food Situation Report shows that while bumper crops in Europe and a record maize output in the United States of America pushed cereal output 0.3 per cent higher than last year, agriculture and food sectors in many countries were hit by significant, damaging shocks.

In West Africa, the Ebola outbreak, which began when crops were being planted and gathered pace during the farming cycle, led to a reduced harvest. Rice and cassava prices showed “notable increases” in the Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown, and other cities in September. Harvests were also reduced by bad weather in the Sahel region, with agricultural output in Senegal expected to be 38 per cent below average.

Conflict was responsible for serious impacts on food insecurity in several countries, including Syria, where a weak harvest, due to abandoned land, scarce labour, and damaged infrastructure, was exacerbating the effects of worsening civil conflict. An estimated 6.8 million Syrians – some refugees in neighbouring countries – faced severe food insecurity, with the situation in Iraq, where 2.8 million people were displaced, also acutely serious.

In the Central African Republic (CAR), increased violence, coupled with crop production 58 per cent below average, put one third of the population in need of urgent food assistance. Prices of agricultural commodities have shot up by as much as 70 per cent this year and one in four households has resorted to negative coping strategies, including selling productive assets and slaughtering livestock.

Pressure on food supplies also came from refugee movements, the report said, especially from Sudan’s Darfur region, northern Nigeria, the CAR and Mali. More than 6.5 million people need food and livelihood assistance in Chad, South Sudan, Sudan and Somalia.

From the Guardian, eugenic medicine in Old Blighty:

Devon drops plan to ban smokers and the obese from routine operations

  • Health bosses previously said that due cuts patients would need body mass index below 35, while smokers would have to quit

Health bosses in Devon have abandoned plans to ban smokers or the morbidly obese from undergoing routine operations until they quit the habit or lose weight.

The Northern, Eastern and Western Devon clinical commissioning group had previously said that due to temporary cost-cutting measures, patients would be expected to have a body mass index below 35, while smokers would have to quit eight weeks before surgery.

The proposals announced last week made national headlines and even led to one Labour MP claiming in the House of Commons that the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, and communities secretary, Eric Pickles, would be refused operations on smoking and weight grounds respectively.

The land game goes on, via the Los Angeles Times:

Massive bill would protect some wilderness, open other public land

A massive military policy bill approved by the U.S. House of Representatives last week, now awaiting approval by the Senate, contains something you might not expect: dozens of public-land measures that would redefine the use of hundreds of thousands of acres of wildland across America.

The bill, scheduled for a key procedural vote in the Senate on Thursday, designates nearly 250,000 acres of new wilderness in several Western states and places hundreds of thousands of additional acreage off-limits to drilling and mining. It also opens up more than 110,000 acres of wildlands as far away as Alaska for logging, oil and gas development, mining and infrastructure improvements.

It’s the biggest wilderness-lands bill since 2009, the product of a rough compromise that manages to protect such treasures as the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana while opening up majestic stands of old-growth timber in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to the chain saw. All of this is under the umbrella of a bill to authorize $585 billion needed to keep the U.S. military in business — who wants to vote no?

A grim statistic from BuzzFeed News:

There Are 48 Times More Pieces Of Plastic In The Ocean Than There Have Been Humans Ever

There are “at least 5.25 trillion plastic particles” in the world’s oceans, a new study found.

The study, published Wednesday in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, points out that “plastic pollution is ubiquitous throughout the marine environment.” To study the problem, scientists consequently embarked on a series of 24 expeditions to look at and haul up plastic. The researchers ultimately visited 1,571 locations around the world.

The researchers also estimated that all the plastic in the ocean weighs 268,940 tons. And that’s “highly conservative,” they wrote, because even more plastic may be lying around on beaches, inside animals, on the seabed, or hidden elsewhere in the water.

Of course, a lot of those pieces are very, very small. The study found that 92.4% of the particles were “microplastics” that are 4.75 millimeters or less thick. Still, most of those particles came from larger pieces breaking up. And larger “macroplastics” — things like fishing gear, old buoys, and bottles — actually contributed the most to the overall weight of the the oceans’ plastic content.

The energy flows, via the Guardian:

Tony Abbott says Australia may send uranium and coal to Ukraine

  • Prime minister tells Ukraine’s president exports from Australia could help secure Ukraine’s energy source

Australia is considering exporting coal and uranium to Ukraine it was announced, as the leaders of the two countries met for a historic state visit.

President Petro Poroshenko became the first Ukrainian leader to visit Australia, after accepting an invitation from the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, to discuss security issues in the wake of the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in July.

“The MH17 atrocity has brought our countries together in a remarkable way,” Abbott told reporters on Thursday.

“I want to say thank you to you, Petro, for the help and assistance that Ukraine and your government gave to Australia and our citizens in the aftermath of that terrible atrocity. And coming from this tragedy, I believe will be a strong and lasting friendship between the Australian people and the Ukrainian people,” Abbott said.

After the jump, rhino horn trade explodes, government officials are suspected, and an ivory smuggling suspect is busted, Fukushima-pocalypse Now! ain’t goin’ green, and anti-nuclear activists target California’s last working nuclear power plant. . . Continue reading