Category Archives: Community

And now for something completely different

In Hamburg, Germany, one city’s had enough with drunken revelers urinating on their walls.

And now it’s peeback time!

From IG St. Pauli:

St. Pauli pinkelt zurück // St. Pauli Peeback

Program notes:

Hamburgs Partyviertel St. Pauli pinkelt ab sofort zurück: Die Interessengemeischaft St. Pauli e.V. hat eine Aktion gestartet, bei der im ganzen Viertel oft heimgesuchte Wände mit superhydrophobem Lack beschichtet wurden. Dieser ist so wasserabweisend, dass er Urin zurückspritzt. So sollen Wildpinkler gestoppt werden.

In Hamburg, St. Pauli, it’s peeback time. St. Pauli’s Community of Interest (IG St. Pauli e.V.) initiated an action where frequented walls in the neighbourhood were sprayed with a superhydrophobic coating. This coating is so water-repellent that urine splashes right back. By doing so, we want to stop those who pee wherever they please.

EbolaWatch: Numbers, pols, cases, economics

We begin with the latest case numbers for the three African nations hardest hit by the crisis, via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

BLOG Ebola

From FrontPageAfrica, screening countries:

New Tool Can Help Identify Nations Vulnerable To Ebola

Public health experts can identify nations that are vulnerable to the occurrence and impact of future outbreaks of Ebola or other emergencies by using a screening tool that evaluates a nation’s strengths across a wide range of measures such as political strength and health care capabilities, according to a new analysis from the RAND Corporation. The process is part of a suite of “proof-of-concept” tools developed to help policymakers prepare for and respond to health disasters, such as Ebola.

“While these tools need further refinement, our work suggests these methods can be useful to identify future ‘hot zones’ before they develop and help emergency workers evaluate their options for response,” said Dr. Melinda Moore, the project’s leader and a senior natural scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

The tool uses widely available statistical indicators to assess nations across four broad domains — political, economic, socio-cultural and health. Individual topics that make up each of the domains include items such as government effectiveness, availability of communications, and the status of a nation’s health care infrastructure and workforce. RAND researchers used the preliminary tool to show how it could help identify possible future hot zones for Ebola. For illustrative purposes, they selected a handful of nations to examine in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia.

On to Liberia and a deal, via Monrovia’s Liberian Observer:

Liberia, EU Sign €279m for Development

Liberia and the European Union (EU) have signed a €279 million development package under the European Union National Indicative Program (NIP) for EU 11th Development Cooperation in Liberia.

The EU cooperation program with Liberia, which covers 2014 to 2020, will seek to address key priority areas that are essential to growth and recovery from the medium to the long-term.

According to a dispatch from Brussels, Belgium, at the ceremony, which was witnessed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s National Authorizing Officer and Finance and Development Planning Minister, Amara M. Konneh, signed on behalf of the Liberian Government while the European Union Commissioner for International Development, Neven Mimica signed on behalf of the EU. The event took place on the sidelines of the high-level international conference on Ebola.

The New York Times covers not unreasonable reticence:

Trickle of Liberian Children Returning to School Reflects Lingering Ebola Fears

About eight months after governments in the region closed schools to stop the spread of Ebola, uniformed and backpack-carrying schoolchildren have returned to the streets of Monrovia, the capital, perhaps the most visible sign of the epidemic’s ebb.

Though Ebola cases have all but disappeared in Liberia, with the Health Ministry saying Wednesday that the last patient in treatment had tested negative for the virus, lingering fear and a depressed economy have dampened the turnout at schools. Many have yet to reopen, having failed to meet the minimum requirements put in place to prevent transmission of the virus.

Many of those that have reopened are struggling. Just as Liberia’s weak health care system collapsed as Ebola began raging across the country, many people here worry that the nation’s schools may be ill equipped to handle even the tail end of the epidemic.

And a university prepares to reopen, via the News in Monrovia:

UL Resumes Classes March 17

An official of the University of Liberia has disclosed that plans are underway to re-open the institution on March 17 with the resumption of classes for only junior and senior students.

UL Vice President for Media Relations, Norris Tweah, said this is to afford pending and would-be graduating seniors the opportunity to complete their courses, while awaiting the timetable for graduation later this year.

Speaking on the Truth FM ((96.1) Breakfast Show Wednesday, Mr. Tweah further disclosed that the entity would endeavor to reopen for regular classes, including the freshman and sophomore students, by September this year.

In July 2014, the Liberian Government ordered the closure of all academic and vocational institutions as part of measures to stop the spread of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).

From the Liberian Observer, claims of a clean slate:

Liberia Discharges Only Confirmed Ebola Case Today

Liberia will today discharge the only confirmed Ebola case remaining in the country, according to the Incident Management System (IMS) boss and Assistant Minister for Preventive Service, Tolbert Nyenswah.

Making the disclosure yesterday at the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism on Capitol Hill in Monrovia, Minister Nyenswah explained that with the current status of the fight against the Ebola virus in the country, Liberia is close to reaching zero Ebola case, but “we need to be vigilant in our fight against the virus throughout the country.”

“Liberia has clearly passed 12 days without any new confirmed Ebola case. The only patient remaining in an ETU will be discharged from the Chinese ETU as a special event.

But another story, this time from StarAfrica, casts doubt on the official account:

Refugees in Liberia record seven Ebola deaths- official

The Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) has disclosed that a total of seven refugees residing in former refugee camps and host communities in Montserrado County have succumbed to the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).

LRRRC Executive Director Cllr. [Counseloresnl] Abla Williams said of the total number of deaths, six were Sierra Leonean nationals, while one was a Ugandan doctor, all of whom were residents of communities that previously hosted refugee camps in Montserrado County.

Cllr Williams made the disclosure at the Ministry of Information daily Ebola press conference in Monrovia on Wednesday.

The LRRRC boss noted that there were also several cases of Ebola infection in the former refugee communities of VOA, Low Cost Village, Banjor and Samukai Town in Montserrado county, but indicated that none of the infected persons had died from the virus.

And from the Monrovia Inquirer, another remedial measure:

Cash Assistance To Former Bush Meat Sellers Enters Third Phase

One Hundred and Twelve marketers, mainly women, have benefitted from cash transfer assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The marketers, former Bush Meat Sellers, each received US$100. They are from the Rally Time market, one of four markets in Monrovia, designated to benefit from the cash transfer assistance. The other markets are Red-light, Waterside, and Duala.

The cash assistance is to help women in this category, find alternative livelihoods in the wake of the ban placed on the sale of bush meat. According to health authorities, Bush meat is one of the major sources for the rapid spread of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).

On to Sierra Leone with the Guardian:

Ebola ‘leaves 12,000 orphans in Sierra Leone’

  • UK charity’s survey shows scale of crisis caused by disease, with children who lost parents facing a dire future

The devastating impact of the Ebola crisis was laid bare this week with a report showing more than 12,000 children have been orphaned by the disease in Sierra Leone.

They have been identified in the first national survey of orphans, which was conducted by the British charity Street Child. It says the future for these children is dire. Many are living in fear without the support and security of parents, but the charity says there is light at the end of the tunnel “if the international aid community works together”.

The charity found that some children, rejected by their friends because of the stigma of Ebola, have tried to take their own lives, while girls are being forced into commercial sex work to earn money for food their parents would have previously provided.

Its case studies expose the vulnerability of those left behind without an adult for support.

CCTV Africa covers economic impacts:

Ebola’s Devastation on Sierra Leone’s Economy

Program notes:

Sierra Leone is to receive more than 80 million dollars immediately to help the country end the Ebola outbreak and recover from its effects. The IMF pledged a 187 million dollars financial aid package for Sierra Leone to support the country’s struggling economy.

And StarAfrica offers some criticism:

S/Leone CSOs fault post-Ebola plan

Three civil society organizations have criticized the Sierra Leone government`s approach towards its post Ebola development plan, describing it as deeply flawed.

Health Alert, Health for All Coalition and WASHNet Sierra Leone in a joint statement released Wednesday said the government’s failure to engage local communities in drawing the plan, which is being presented at the ongoing anti-Ebola conference in Brussels, makes it unlikely to succeed.

“We noticed that the engagement process has been going on but not participatory. There is no real involvement of community people,” said Victor Lansana Koroma, Executive Director of Health Alert.

EnivroWatch: Illness, pols, climate, water, nukes

We begin with the latest measles update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, first with the numbers:

BLOG Measles graf

Then the distribution:

From January 1 to February 27, 2015, 170 people from 17 states and the District of Columbia were reported to have measles [AZ (7), CA (113), CO (1), DC (2), DE (1), GA (1), IL (15), MI (1), MN (1), NE (2), NJ (2), NY (3), NV (8), PA (1), SD (2) TX (1), UT (2), WA (7)]†. Most of these cases [125 cases (74%)] are part of a large, ongoing multi-state outbreak linked to an amusement park in California.

From January 1 to February 27, 2015, 170 people from 17 states and the District of Columbia were reported to have measles [AZ (7), CA (113), CO (1), DC (2), DE (1), GA (1), IL (15), MI (1), MN (1), NE (2), NJ (2), NY (3), NV (8), PA (1), SD (2) TX (1), UT (2), WA (7)]†. Most of these cases [125 cases (74%)] are part of a large, ongoing multi-state outbreak linked to an amusement park in California.

From the United Nations News Center, another global health tragedy:

Over 5 billion people worldwide lacking access to essential medicines, says UN Report

Three quarters of the world population has no access to proper pain relief treatment, according to a report by the United Nations body charged with overseeing Governments’ compliance with international drug control treaties, which was released in London today.

Around 5.5 billion people still have limited or no access to medicines containing narcotic drugs such as codeine or morphine the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) says in its Annual Report for 2014, which went on to point out that around 92 per cent of all morphine used worldwide is consumed by only 17 per cent of the world population, primarily living in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

The report, which calls on Governments to address the discrepancy in order to comply with International Drug Control Conventions, notes that natural disasters and armed conflicts around the world can further limit access to essential medicines and the Board stressed that in cases of emergency medical care, simplified control measures can be applied.

For example in the Philippines following the destruction by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the Board pointed out to all countries as well as to providers of humanitarian assistance the simplified procedures for the export, transportation and delivery of medicines containing substances under international control.

In its Report, the INCB notes that drug control measures do not exist in a vacuum and that, in their implementation of the drug control conventions, States must also comply with obligations under other treaties, including international humanitarian law and their international human rights obligations, such as allowing civilians to have access to medical care and essential medicines during armed conflicts.

Additionally, the INCB noted that States were charged with deciding specific sanctions for drug-related offences, but should avoid application of the death penalty for such cases.

Newswise covers a question of costs:

U.S. Spends More on Cancer Care, Saves Fewer Lives than Western Europe

  • Dartmouth study finds costly U.S. cancer care may provide less value than previously thought

Despite sharp increases in spending on cancer treatment, cancer mortality rates in the United States have decreased only modestly since 1970, Samir Soneji, PhD of Dartmouth’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center and The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice has found. Refuting previous studies, Soneji published his paper “New Analysis Reexamines the Value of Cancer Care in the United States Compared to Western Europe,” today in the March issue of Health Affairs.

“Our results suggest that cancer care in the U.S. did not always avert deaths compared to Western Europe and, when it did avert deaths, it often did so at substantial cost,” explained Soneji. “The greatest number of deaths averted occurred in cancers for which decreasing mortality rates were more likely to be the result of successful prevention and screening rather than advancements in treatment.”

U.S. cancer mortality rates decreased by 12 percent since 1970, compared to a 62 percent decrease for heart disease. Such findings have raised questions about the additional value of U.S. cancer care derived from the additional spending, in comparison to the situation in other high-income countries. This study compared U.S. and Western European spending between 1982 and 2010 for 12 of the most common cancers.

Compared to Western Europe, the U.S averted 67,000 breast cancer deaths, 265,000 colorectal cancer deaths, and 60,000 prostate cancer deaths between 1982 and 2010. The U.S. experienced 1,120,000 excess lung cancer deaths in this study period compared to Western Europe. The ratio of incremental cost to quality-adjusted-life-years saved equaled $402,000 for breast cancer, $110,000 for colorectal cancer, and $1,979,000 for prostate cancer. These amounts exceed most accepted thresholds for cost-effective medical care. The U.S. lost quality-adjusted-life-years despite additional spending for lung cancer where the cost was negative $19,000 per quality-adjusted-life-year saved.

From the Washington Post, a medical enigma:

Mystery paralysis in children is perplexing parents — and researchers

For most of the children who fell ill last year during an outbreak of enterovirus, the symptoms were relatively mild — fever, runny nose, coughing and sneezing.

But then there was this mystery: More than 100 kids suffered an unexplained, polio-like paralysis that struck quickly but even now continues to stump researchers and upend the lives of the families across the country.

For Priya Duggal and her colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, the biggest puzzle is why those children became paralyzed while their brothers and sisters, who also were exposed to the virus, escaped largely unscathed.

From the Times of India, tallying an outbreak’s toll:

40 more dead as swine flu toll climbs to 1,115

Swine flu claimed the lives of 40 more people in the country as the toll from the disease reached 1,115 while the total number of cases breached the 20,000 mark.

The Health Ministry said that 1,115 persons have succumbed to the H1N1 virus while the number of those affected by it stands at 20,795 on March 1.

With heavy rainfall lashing Delhi and other parts of the north, health officials said it was difficult to ascertain whether the rains will have any effect on the incidence of swine flu.

However, the officials said that, during monsoon, the virus increases and it was possible that whatever decline was being seen over the last few days in the intensity of the disease may not continue. They said that there will be no decrease in the virus due to the rains and added that high temperatures are a deterrent for the virus.

Outbreak News Today covers an online virus of another sort:

Colorado: Craigslist kitten turns out rabid, 20 people get rabies prophylaxis

A 6-month-old kitten obtained on Craigslist has turned out positive for the nearly 100 percent lethal virus, rabies, requiring nearly two dozen people to receive rabies post-exposure prophylaxis.

The family of four from northeast Colorado Springs named the kitten Jello. The owners said the cat was fine for 2 weeks and then the black cat “took a turn for the worse” and got very sick. The family’s two other dogs and a cat had to be put down since they were exposed.

El Paso County Public Health officials say the kitten tested positive for rabies late last week.  The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Laboratory performed the initial test and the CDC is in the process of determining the type of rabies the kitten had.

Another group of Liberian healthcare workers asks for hazard pay, via the Liberian Observer:

Health Workers at TB Annex Demand Hazard Benefits

At least 101 workers at the TB Annex Hospital are demanding payment of hazard benefits owed them by the Ministry of Health for the past six months.

The patients at the hospital, located directly behind the Health Ministry in Oldest Congotown, are infected with tuberculosis which is a very highly contagious disease.

The health workers told this paper that their benefits are due for the period September 2014 to February 2015.

They stated that during the heat of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) crisis, they did not close the hospital but remained there at their own risk, taking care of hundreds of TB patients who came in daily when most other health centers and hospitals were closed.

GMOoooos, via BBC News:

Scientists produce TB-resistant cows

Scientists in China have produced a herd of genetically engineered cows that are better able to ward off bovine TB infection.

The long-term goal of the research is to avoid the need to cull livestock by breeding disease resistant cattle.

Bovine TB is a risk in many areas, including New Zealand, England and Wales, and parts of Africa and Asia. In the UK over 26,000 cattle were slaughtered in 2013 at a cost to taxpayers of £100m.

Politically cowed, via the New York Times:

Indian State Passes Beef Ban Championed by Right-Wing Hindus

The western state of Maharashtra this week became the first Indian state to ban the possession and sale of beef, imposing fines and up to five years in prison for violations.

The ban, which was passed on Monday, came as an amendment to a 1972 law prohibiting the slaughter of cows, which has been expanded to ban the slaughter of bulls, bullocks and calves. The slaughter of water buffaloes will still be allowed under the new law, subject to permission from the authorities. The populous western state includes Mumbai, the Indian financial capital.

The Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, championed by right-wing Hindu organizations, was first passed in 1995 but languished for two decades under a governing coalition between the Indian National Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won a clear majority in state elections last October, after Narendra Modi, the party’s leader, took office as prime minister in May.

Cognitive pollution, via  Medical Daily:

Air Pollution Slows Cognitive Development In Children Due To Brain Inflammation

Schools that are located near busy roads may be more dangerous than remote schools due to the increased levels of air pollution generated by passing cars, a new study finds.

Toxic chemicals found in the air pose a growing concern for scientists studying brain health, especially among adolescents. Experts call them neurotoxicants, and they’ve been linked with a higher risk of suicide, autism, and the myriad direct physical effects of breathing in harmful air, such as asthma and diseases of the lungs.

“From animal studies we know that ultrafine particles cross the blood brain barrier, interact with the microglial cells, which in turn affects neurons,” said Dr. Jordi Sunyer, lead author of the recent study from the University of Barcelona. This can result in chronic low-grade brain inflammation, he added, which delays brain maturation.

And from EcoWatch, Oedipus Bush:

Jeb Bush Trashes Father’s Clean Air Legacy to Woo Far Right-Wing

Jeb Bush trashed the Clean Air Act last week. He was speaking to the far right-wing Club for Growth, notorious for mounting mostly unsuccessful challenges from the right against Republican candidates during congressional primaries.

The Clean Air Act is estimated to achieve almost $2 trillion in yearly benefits to the American people by 2020. These vast benefits are delivered in the form of “significant reductions in air pollution” related premature death and illness, improved economic welfare of Americans, and better environmental conditions.” The estimated annual costs to achieve these benefits will be about $65 billion by 2020.

So this staggering Bush senior achievement is one that Bush junior singles out for condemnation. It’s bewildering. One might even say it takes one’s breath away.

After the jump, endless drought woes for the Golden State, a rich California coastal city looks to desalination, an Environmental Protection Agency disclosure fail rebuked, air pollution kills hundreds of thousands of Europeans a year, China hopes for an air pollution reprieve, mineral water home delivered as Sao Paulo taps run dry, a Mexican mine hit with a river pollution fine, a call for Costa Rican shark protection, prison-farmed fish for sale at Whole Foods, a new threat from the DEA — Utah rabbits dazed on legal weed, a key African food staple lags behind growing populations, and the FBI comes a-knockin’ at the doors of Keystone Pipeline foes, then on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with another year’s radioactive water cleanup delay, an Olympic Fukushima food fare bid, and corporate payouts continue, plus Mount Everest grows a crown of human feces. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Cautions, risks, protest, an arrest

And more, but we begin with the cautionary, first from the Guardian:

Ebola death toll in west Africa ‘could be much higher than initial estimates’

  • Brussels conference attended by three west African presidents warned of funding shortfall in reaching zero-cases target and a death toll higher than first thought

Regional and world leaders have called on the international community to scale up their efforts to rebuild the nations devastated by Ebola amid fears the death toll from the outbreak could be even higher than previously thought.

Although the epidemic, which has ravaged Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, appears to be drawing to a close, the secretary general of the Red Cross warned that the true number of victims could be substantially greater than official estimates.

“Even though statistics show that over 9,000 people died of Ebola, our volunteers on the ground were called on to bury 14,000, which means that many more died from Ebola,” Mohammed El-hadj Assy told a conference on the Ebola crisis in Brussels on Tuesday.

Another cautionary note, via the United Nations News Center:

Ebola: UN tells Brussels meeting world must ‘stay on course’ to get to, remain at zero cases

Representatives of United Nations organizations engaged in the response against Ebola today pledged their support to the worst-affected West African countries in “each stage of this journey; the drive to zero, the early recovery, the medium and longer term development.”

The pledge was made at a high-level international conference on Ebola sponsored by the European Union in Brussels, Belgium, aimed at maintaining global attention on the crisis, taking stock of the fight against the epidemic and on coordinating next steps and discussing the recovery process.

The UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, said that current phase of the response “is the hardest part and a bumpy road” and urged the international community to remain fully engaged until the task is completed, especially as the virus is moving and as some communities are reticent about being engaged in the response.

Dr. Nabarro, as well as World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan, both emphasized the need to build trust with communities to eradicate the disease, which has affected nearly 24,000 people with more than 9,714 deaths.

“We need to build trust with the communities,” Dr. Chan said, and added: “Without meaningful community engagement, we will not get to zero cases.”

More cautionary news, via NBC News:

The Next Ebola Zone: Report Finds 28 High-Risk Countries

Where else could an epidemic of Ebola or some other disease come? Try Somalia, Chad, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Haiti, Ethiopia, Central Africa Republic, Guinea, Niger, and then Mali. They all have weaker health care systems than Sierra Leone, Save the Children warns [PDF].

The group, which has been fighting the epidemic ravaging Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, says 28 countries have near-nonexistent health systems.

Public health experts agree that poor health systems helped Ebola turn from a series of outbreaks into a full-fledged epidemic. It’s infected nearly 24,000 people and killed around 10,000 by official count. People carried the virus to the U.S., to Europe and to neighboring countries.

Another Save the Children story, via the Guardian:

Save the Children head apologises for upset over award to Tony Blair

  • Charity’s UK chief executive admits its ‘global legacy’ honour to former British prime minister has damaged the organisation

Save the Children has apologised to those who were upset by its decision to give Tony Blair a “global legacy award” last year, saying the prize was bestowed solely for the former British prime minister’s work on Africa and was not intended as a celebration of his “wider legacy”.

On Tuesday Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children UK and a former aide to Blair, admitted the move had damaged the international charity.

The prize, which was given to Blair by the US arm of Save the Children (STC) last November, drew immediate criticism from inside and outside the organisation.

An internal letter, signed by more than 500 staff members, said the award was not only “morally reprehensible, but also endangers our credibility globally”, and called for it to be withdrawn.

Reuters covers calls for help:

Ebola-hit countries seek help to repair their economies

The three West African states hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak asked for help from donors on Tuesday to repair the damage to their economies now that the epidemic seems to be waning.

Leaders of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone voiced confidence at a major international conference on the Ebola outbreak in Brussels that they were winning the battle but said they must remain focused on stamping out new infections.

The epidemic has killed around 10,000 people in the three countries and delivered a severe setback to their economies, which had previously been performing well.

“Victory against the virus is in sight but we must guard against complacency. There will not be total victory until we get to a resilient zero (new cases) in the three most affected countries,” Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma told the conference.

The Associated Press covers one of those pleas:

Liberia calls for Ebola ‘Marshall Plan’ to rebuild economies

Liberia’s president on Tuesday called for an Ebola “Marshall Plan” to help rebuild economies in West African nations devastated by the virus.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said that “we need our international partners to remain committed to us,” as the number of deaths from the disease approaches 10,000.

Sirleaf told fellow regional leaders and delegates at an international conference on Ebola in Brussels that restoring economic growth in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone is a long-term and costly task.

And from FrontPageAfrica, opposition encountered:

How Liberian Protester Upstage EJS White House Welcome

The central theme in the long sought meeting on the part of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf with US President Barack Obama took place on Friday at the White House, and ironically “corruption” became the menu and not the usual diplomatic pomp and pageantry reserved for visiting deserving heads of state, especially for a leader who “won” the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize that deservedly was also won by historical black heroes: Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Barack Obama himself.

That this dreaded word, corruption became the focus of the US President in lecturing Sirleaf may have had a sidekick to it by engineered a determined group of Liberians in the United States who not only protested but also wrote the US President.  And how they did it so effectively forms the basis for this essay..

The group knew it would be the second and perhaps the last of such meetings between the two: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first woman president, a publicity craving Nobel Laureate and lame duck leader invited into the most powerful office on earth, and coincidentally and historically is occupied by the first black president of the United States of America. So what could have gone wrong for President Obama to preach corruption to Ellen?

After the jump, a notable Liberian landmark, on to Sierra Leone and Ebola official detained, a call for a young leadership, prenatal care suffers under Ebolaphobia, on to Guinea, with hunger and anger on the rise, plus Liberians blocked at the border. . . Continue reading

MexicoWatch: Investigations, murders, & pols

We begin with an investigation, via teleSUR English:

Independent Ayotzinapa investigation begins

Program notes:

The 5-member Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will begin an independent analysis of the disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students, meeting with family members and lawyers as a first step. Clayton Conn reports from Mexico City for teleSUR

From Mexico News Daily, one investigation challenges another:

Fire experts confirm Ayotzinapa findings

  • They dispute UNAM physicist’s claims regarding the fuel required

How much fuel — such as wood and tires — does it take to turn 43 bodies to ash?

Of the doubts that have been sown over the official version of what took place on the night of September 26 in Iguala and Cocula, Guerrero, the most credible is that concerning the incineration of the 43 bodies of the missing students of Ayotzinapa.

A physicist at the National Autonomous University (UNAM) has disputed the official findings, claiming that the fire would have required 33 tonnes of four-inch-diameter tree trunks — or 995 tires — to achieve the required temperature of 900 degrees C for a sufficient length of time to completely burn the bodies.

But the newspaper Milenio reports today it has consulted two international experts in the behavior of fire and its effects on the human body. One of the them, American forensic anthropologist Elayne Juniper Pope, has actually conducted experiments on bodies, burning them on the surface of the ground and inside excavated pits.

The verdict: yes, it would be possible to incinerate that number of bodies within 24 hours and without the volume of fuel suggested by researcher Jorge Antonio Montemayor of UNAM. Pope said subcutaneous body fat alone is a fuel source that can feed a fire for hours.

From VICE News, and not surprising:

Human Rights Crisis Threatens to Overshadow Mexican President Peña Nieto’s Visit to UK

Mexico’s beleaguered President Enrique Peña Nieto touched down in London on Monday for a three-day state visit intended to strengthen trade and cultural ties between Mexico and the United Kingdom.

Peña Nieto has been lauded on the international stage for passing an array of market-friendly reforms and jailing some of Mexico’s top drug lords, including Servando “La Tuta” Gomez, the head of the Knights Templar cartel, who was captured on Friday after an eight-month manhunt.

However, his image has been tarred by recent corruption scandals and the likely massacre of 43 teachers college students last September, which caused the United Nations to condemn Mexico’s record on forced disappearances last month.

Murders, via teleSUR:

14 New Murders in Town Where 43 Mexican Students Disappeared

  • The fresh bloodbath took place over 72 hours.

Bloodshed has returned to the Mexican town of Iguala, where 14 murders took place in less than 72 hours last week.

In the the same town where 43 students were kidnapped by police after protesting in September last year, more than a dozen people were killed in the space of a few days last week.

The scope of victims in the town in the ultra-violent state of Guerrero was broad and apparently indiscriminate: a pregnant woman stabbed to death; a doctor gunned down; an official killed outside his home; two young men killed in plain view in the middle of the town.

More murders from Borderland Beat:

Dozens of Catholic Priests murdered by Organized Crime during Calderon-Peña Administrations

The fact that Mexico is one of the most dangerous places on earth for reporters is well known, what is far less written about is the violence perpetrated against  Catholic Priests.

Mexico is officially now the most dangerous place on earth for Catholic Priests.  While long in the top group of most dangerous places for priests, Mexico is now its leader.  For the sixth consecutive year, Mexico tops the list in murders and disappearances of Catholic priests in Latin America.

What must be established, murders and kidnappings of priests receive little attention outside regional reporting hubs.  It is a perplexing, how a story of dozens of  priests being murdered by cartels during  2 administrations goes unrecognized, or for example, a story  about 5 priests being killed in November–December of 2013 in Tamaulipas and Veracruz,  is but a tiny blip on the media radar.

And some controversy, via teleSUR:

Controversy Hovers Over Mexico’s New Attorney General

  • Arely Gomez is set to take the country’s highest law enforcement post, yet her connections to a private media company is shadowing her credentials.

Gomez is the sister of a vice president of media giant, Televisa, a company that owns more than 70 percent of Mexico’s television market.

In recent years Televisa has been accused of playing an influential role in Mexican politics. During the 2012 presidential campaign, the company was accused of giving favorable coverage and airtime to then candidate Peña Nieto. Meanwhile the president’s wife, First Lady Angelica Rivera, is a former soap opera actress who worked on Televisa productions.

Arely Gomez’s appointment will be voted upon by the entire Senate Tuesday.

More controversy, via the Latin American Herald Tribune:

Former Mexico City Mayor Quits PRD

Former Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard has resigned from the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD.

The former mayor said in a letter to PRD chairman Carlos Navarrete that was posted on Twitter this weekend that his successor, Miguel Angel Mancera, had blocked his efforts to run for the presidency and the PRD had moved too close to the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

Ebrard, who served as the Mexican capital’s mayor from 2006 to 2012, said his resignation was final and “irrevocable.”

“The progressive alignment of the party’s leadership with (Mexican President) Enrique Peña Nieto” and the PRI “is incompatible with the political objectives and duties of the Mexican left,” Ebrard said.

And our graphic of the day, featuring the names of Aytozinapa students, via Puro Pinche:

BLOG Ayotz

Abby Martin’s swan song: An insightful look at Cuba

Abby Martin’s final week at the helm of RT America’s Breaking the Set with an insightful look at Cuba, offering a rare, and comprehensive, look at the people and its political, economic, and agricultural systems.

In the face of overwhelming opposition and subversion from Washington, fueled by the Cuban exile dominance of the electoral votes of Florida, the small island nation 90 miles from U.S. shores, and the subsequent fall of the Soviet Union, its main base of support, Cuba faced enduring struggles, yet endured.

In the process, it has created revolutions in healthcare and agriculture, becoming the only nation in which cities provide most of their own food from intensive and organic neighborhood gardens and educating a cadre of physicians who have provided much, often most, of the total global response to medical emergencies around the world.

The outstanding examples set by Cuba in these fields have made a mockery of the enduring U.S. embargo against the island nation, leaving Israel Washington’s only ally in opposition to full normalization of relations.

In these three segments, Abby Martin demonstrates the skills she has honed during, first, her years as an unsalaried journalist at Berkeley Community Television, then during the three years at the helm of her RT America news magazine.

So sit back and enjoy a remarkable work of journalism.

From Breaking the Set:

Cuba Part I: Revolution, Sabotage & Un-Normal Relations

Program notes:

On this special episode of Breaking the Set, Abby Martin highlights BTS’ eight day trip to Havana, Cuba, starting with a historical look at the tensions between the US and Cuba that have led the two countries to the negotiating table to normalize relations. Abby then discusses the major areas of contention when it comes to these negotiations and where they currently stand. BTS producer, Cody Snell, then speaks with members of the largest delegation of peace activists to visit Cuba since the normalized relations announcement, highlighting the role of grassroots diplomacy. BTS than talks to average Cubans both in Havana and in Miami about their views on the state of US-Cuban relations. BTS wraps up the show with an interview with Kenia Serrano, a high ranking Cuban parliament member and President of The Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, about everything from internet access to the crackdown on free speech in the country.

Cuba Part II: Ebola Solidarity & Castro’s Daughter on Gay Rights

Program notes:

On this special episode of Breaking the Set, Abby Martin highlights part II of BTS’ eight day trip to Havana, Cuba, starting with an interview with Cuban doctor, Katiel Llorente Izabelez, who explains how Cuba has managed to maintain such a high life expectancy rate, despite the lack of access to up to date medical supplies. BTS producer, Cody Snell, then speaks with students at the Latin American School of Medicine, an international medical school set up by the Cuban government that provides free tuition to low income individuals that want to become doctors. Abby then discusses how Cuba managed to send the largest contingent of doctors to fight the ebola crisis in West Africa, and how this is just the latest example of the country’s medical internationalism. Abby then goes over the US programs meant to encourage Cuban doctors to defect and how this undermines international health efforts. BTS wraps up the show with an exclusive interview with Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President, Raul Castro, and director of Cuba’s sexual education program CENESEX, about the biggest challenges facing Cuba’s gay community.

Cuba Part III: The Evolution of Revolution

Program notes:

On this special episode of Breaking the Set, Abby Martin features the third installment of BTS’ trip to Cuba, focusing on reforms to the country’s economic and agricultural models. Abby first gives an overview of how Cuba’s organic movement evolved and the challenges of the country’s food subsidy system. Abby then speaks with agricultural co-op founder, Miguel Angel Salcines Lopez, about how Cuba’s cooperative and food system works. Abby then talks to Ernesto Blanco, owner of La Fontana restaurant in Havana, about the difficulties of operating a private business in Cuba and how entrepreneurs are being impacted by recent economic reforms. Abby then speaks with Ricardo Alarcón, Cuba’s former minister of foreign affairs and president of the People’s National Assembly of Power, about the normalization process with the US and the biggest hurdles still remaining in the negotiations.

EbolaWatch: Numbers, warnings, cases, money

We begin with the latest numbers, via the World Health Organization [click on the image to enlarge]:

BLOG Ebola

Next, a warning from the U.N. News Center:

Amid uptick in Ebola cases, UN agency cites challenges in reaching affected communities

New cases of Ebola rose again in Guinea and transmission remains widespread in Sierra Leone, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) reported as it and the UN Ebola response mission both raised concerns about challenges in engaging communities to win the fight against the disease.

Both WHO and UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) also noted unsafe burials of those who died from the disease posed as a challenge and that “a significant number” of individuals are still either unable or reluctant to seek treatment for Ebola, which has affected over 23,500 people and killed more than 9,500 mainly in the Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

In its latest update issued Wednesday afternoon, WHO reported that new cases in Guinea continued to arise from “unknown chains of transmission” and that transmission remained “widespread in Sierra Leone” but transmission continued at very low levels in Liberia, with 1 new confirmed case reported in the 7 days to 22 February associated with a known chain of transmission.

“Engaging effectively with communities remains a challenge in several geographical areas,” WHO said in its most recent update Nearly one-third of prefectures in Guinea reported at least one security incident in the week to 22 February, often as a result of rumours and misinformation linking response efforts with the spread of EVD [Ebola Virus Disease], according to WHO.

From the Guardian, excoriation:

US quarantine for Ebola health workers ‘morally wrong’

  • Bioethics commission blasts 21-day confinement for medical staff and says government must prepare better for health emergencies

Quarantine restrictions imposed in the US on healthcare workers returning from saving lives in the Ebola epidemic in west Africa were morally wrong and counterproductive, according to Barack Obama’s bioethics commission.

A comprehensive report on the US response to Ebola at home and in Africa found there was no good scientific evidence for the mandatory 21-day quarantine imposed in states including Maine, which tried to confine nurse Kaci Hickox to her home on her return from Sierra Leone. Hickox defied the order and went for a bike ride, later challenging the restrictions in court and winning permission to move freely while regularly monitoring her temperature.

The presidential commission for the study of bioethical issues said the US must be better prepared for a future emergency, arguing that the federal government has a moral and prudential responsibility to get involved in the global response.

From the Guardian again, a notable example:

New York Ebola doctor criticises ‘vilification’ by politicians and media

  • Dr Craig Spencer says his case was ‘caught up in election season’
  • Controversy included quarantine rules imposed by Christie and Cuomo

Craig Spencer, the doctor who was found to have Ebola days after returning to New York City from Guinea, wrote in an essay published on Wednesday that he was mistakenly cast as a “fraud, a hipster, and a hero” by the media as he fought for his life from a hospital bed.

“The truth is I am none of those things,” Spencer wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine. “I’m just someone who answered a call for help and was lucky enough to survive.”

In the essay, Spencer details how his diagnosis and illness affected him physically and psychologically during the 19 days he spent recovering at New York’s Bellevue hospital.

“Though I didn’t know it then – I had no television and was too weak to read the news – during the first few days of my hospitalization, I was being vilified in the media even as my liver was failing and my fiancée was quarantined in our apartment,” he wrote.

GlobalPost covers strategy:

EU, African countries to convene on Ebola recovery

The European Union (EU) has invited African countries for a high level conference in Brussels to review current efforts of fighting Ebola and place a plan to help Liberia and the other African countries to recover from the hit of the disease.

An emailed EU statement reaching Xinhua on Thursday said the presidents and ministers of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Togo as well as representatives of the African Union Commission, the UN, the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) and the European Union will all be attending at the very highest level.

Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson- Sirleaf will co-chair the conference on Ebola and she will be speaking as spokesperson for the Mano River Union (MRU).

During this High Level Conference, the 11th European Development Fund National Indicative Program for Liberia 2014-2020 will be signed between Liberia and the EU.

From the New York Times, some notably good news:

Fatality Rate in West Africa Ebola Clinics Is Dropping

As the Ebola epidemic in West Africa wanes, physicians from Doctors Without Borders are confronting a mystery: More of their patients are surviving. They do not know why.

“The reasons are really unclear,” said Dr. Gilles van Cutsem, who helped run the agency’s response in Liberia and gave a presentation describing its experience at an AIDS conference here.

Doctors Without Borders, better known by its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières — has cared for more Ebola patients in West Africa than any other organization. At its peak, it was running 22 centers; it now runs eight.

Since last March, the average death rate at those remaining centers has dropped to 52 percent, from about 62 percent.

On to Liberia, first with a withdrawal from CBC News:

Ebola outbreak: U.S. military ends mission in Liberia months early

  • More than 4,000 Liberians have been killed by the virus

The U.S. military officially ended a mission to build treatment facilities to combat an Ebola outbreak in Liberia on Thursday, months earlier than expected, in the latest indication that a year-long epidemic in West Africa is waning.

Washington launched the mission five months ago and the force peaked at over 2,800 troops at a time when Liberia was at the epicentre of the worst Ebola epidemic on record.

“While our large scale military mission is ending…the fight to get to zero cases will continue and the (Joint Force Command) has ensured capabilities were brought that will be sustained in the future,” said U.S. Army Maj.- Gen. Gary Volesky.

The Monrovia Inquirer covers some numerical good news:

Only 2 Ebola Confirmed Cases Now…Mont. Goes 7 Days Without New Outbreak

It has been announced in Monrovia that of the nineteen Ebola Treatment Units (ETU) spread through the country, only two confirmed Ebola cases are being treated as of February 14, 2015.

Acting Information Minister, Isaac W. Jackson told the daily Ebola press briefing yesterday that this is an indication that Liberia is making significant progress in the fight against the Ebola demon.

Minister Jackson used the occasion to dispel rumors that there is a new outbreak of Ebola in Margibi County but noted that there were only two cases which have since been dealt with.

Minister Jackson also disclosed that for the past seven days there has been no new case of Ebola in Montserrado while Lofa County which was the epicenter for the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) has had no new case in more than forty days.

More numbers, first from the New Dawn:

Liberian households return to work

-as Ebola wanes

The World Bank Group says nearly 20 percent of Liberians, who had stopped working since the Ebola crisis, have returned to work in the last month.

The Bank’s report is contained in its most recent round of cell-phone surveys, signaling both important progress and the magnitude of the challenge ahead.

The report, released Tuesday, described this improvement as an encouraging sign of a shift toward economic normalization, mainly driven by a large increase in wage work in urban areas.

According to the World Bank Group, a substantial percentage of those working pre-crisis remain out of work, however; those in self-employment continue to be the hardest hit by the Ebola crisis, pointing to a lack of working capital and a lack of customers as the main barriers to their operation.

More from AllAfrica:

Liberia: World Bank Spots Food Insecurity in Liberia

The World Bank says food insecurity will persists nationwide in Liberia as nearly three-quarters of households are worried over enough harvest to eat.

The World Bank in a release noted that despite improvement in the outlook of Ebola cases in the country, agriculture remains a concern as nearly 65 percent of agricultural households surveyed believe that their harvest would be smaller than the previous year.

However, the 65 percent fear is a decrease from the 80 percent in the previous survey in December 2014.

The survey noted labor shortages and households inability to work in groups.

After the jump, giving the press a vaccination briefing, finds for assessing psychological impacts, on to Guinea and a debunking of deadly Ebola myths, on to Sierra Leone and a call for a corruption purge and a case of missing connections. . .   Continue reading