Category Archives: Development

EbolaWatch: Numbers, politics, orphans, burials


We begin with the latest case counts, via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

BLOG Ebola

Next, via the New York Times, a diagnosis:

Ebola-Stricken Countries Lagged in Health Systems

The world has spent more than $4 billion fighting Ebola, but according to a new report from Save the Children, it would have cost only $1.6 billion to bring health care systems up to minimum standards in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, which might have prevented the outbreak or ended it faster.

Even before Ebola struck West Africa, more than 25 countries had health care systems worse than those in impoverished Liberia and Sierra Leone, the report also found.

The assessment, released last week, relied on typical health measures like infant mortality, childhood immunization rates and numbers of health care workers per capita. But it also included assessments of fairness, such as government health spending and how often the poorest of the poor had doctors, nurses or midwives present at births.

On to Liberia with numbers from StarAfrica:

Liberia’s deaths at 6,097 since Ebola epidemic – official

A total of 6,097 deaths were recorded nationwide since the outbreak of the deadly Ebola epidemic in Liberia, according to an official of the Incident Management System (IMS).

Dehwehn Yeabah who heads, the Dead Body Management Team of the IMS told the Ministry of Information’s daily briefing in Monrovia on Monday that the figure represents the combined total of both Ebola and non-Ebola deaths from March 2014 to February 2015 nationwide.

Yeabah explained that of this figure, 2,711 bodies were cremated, while 3,386 bodies were safely buried by burial teams around the country. According to Yeabah, oral swab procedures were performed on a total of 70.61 percent of the recorded bodies.

Next, via Sputnik, a declaration nears:

Liberia is Close to Be Declared Ebola-Free

Good news is coming from Liberia, as the country may soon be declared Ebola-free. To mark this, the government in Monrovia decided to dismantle a crematorium and remove drums containing the ashes of over 3,000 Ebola victims.

The Liberian government decided to dismantle a crematorium and remove drums that contain the ashes of more than 3,000 Ebola victims who were cremated at the height of the deadly epidemic.

Liberia began to cremate the bodies of Ebola victims after communities across the country rejected traditional burials, fearing that the deadly virus could contaminate the soil and spread further. At the same time, traditional burial practices include customs, like washing and touching of the dead, which could further spread the disease. Therefore, it was decided that it would be safer for everyone to cremate the bodies of the dead.

From the Associated Press, a major landmark:

Liberia removes Ebola crematorium as outbreak is contained

Marking the progress in controlling its Ebola outbreak, the Liberian government dismantled a crematorium and removed drums containing the ashes of more than 3,000 Ebola victims cremated during the height of the epidemic, whose last patient was discharged last week.

Liberia resorted to cremating the bodies of Ebola victims when communities rejected burials in their areas for fear the disease could spread and contaminate their soil and affect them. The cremations were very controversial because they were against traditional burial practices. But those customs, including washing and touching the dead, spread the deadly Ebola which brought the government to impose cremations.

Religious leaders gathered Saturday at the former crematorium outside Monrovia and prayed for the victims who came from many different religious groups, Acting Information Minister Isaac Jackson told The Associated Press.

More from FrontPageAfrica:

‘Gross Disrespect’: Ebola Victims Get Befitting Burial

It was a scene of grief and sorrow as the remains of nearly 3,000 victims of the deadly Ebola Virus were transferred from the Boys Town crematorium to the new cemetery specifically for Ebola burials, located at Disco Hill on the Roberts International Airport highway. Relatives of the dead showed up in their numbers clad in white suits and red head ties as the drums of bones were lifted from pickup trucks dripped with white and red binding cloths.

Cecelia Parker lost three of her relatives to the deadly Ebola virus, as she saw the drums filled with ashes, she broke down in tears. Like many of the families who showed up at the site the grief was difficult to endure. “I lost three persons and their ashes are in there; my sister, my two sisters, and a cousin and it hurts and you see me; my two sisters left eight children with me. Right now, I just need the government to help me with the education of the children,” she said weeping bitterly.

Marvin Wesley came all the way from Bomi County to see the last resting place of his relatives who succumbed to the deadly virus last year. He was in tears and said his heart was heavy because he lost two of his family members to the virus at the Island Clinic Ebola Treatment Unit. But Wesley said he is relieved that the ashes of his brothers have finally found a proper and decent resting place.

From the New Dawn, a political verdict:

Saah Joseph on Sierra-Leone’s Ebola Response

The head of the First Response Ebola Team from Liberia to Sierra Leone, Montserrado County Representative Saah Joseph, says his team in Sierra Leone was making all mobilization efforts in villages for awareness on the Deadly Ebola Virus.

Representative Joseph told the Truth FM Breakfast show on Monday that members of his the team walk were trekking from village to village and home to home to create awareness on the necessary preventive measures against Ebola, saying the First response has made a difference towards these efforts, and that the people of Sierra Leone were positively responding, as well as showing respect and trust in the team.

He added that the people of Sierra Leone see the entire team as the representative of the Government and people of Liberia. He noted that five members from the Team have been deployed to the border between Sierra Leone and Liberia to test anyone coming and going out of the two countries, not only for Ebola cases, but any other related disease.

From AllAfrica, a call for support:

Liberia: Health Official Wants Support for Ebola Survivors

The Coordinator of the Ebola Survivors Network at the Ministry of Health, Rev. Meekie Glayweon, says the ministry is currently collaborating with partners to provide care for the estimated 2,000 Ebola survivors in the country.

Rev. Glayweon said more than 900 of the Ebola survivors reside in Montserrado County, the capital, according to the Liberia News Agency.

She disclosed that the World Food Program (WFP) is providing food items and cash support through mobile money to 2,000 survivors across the country for a period of three months.

Another political judgment, via the News:

‘Liberia Is Not Out Of The Woods’

…Ellen Tells ACP-EU Parliamentarians

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has told parliamentarians of the Asian, Caribbean, Pacific (ACP) and European Union (EU) Joint Parliamentary Assembly that Liberia is not out of the ‘’woods’‘ yet but has made tremendous progress since the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease.

According to a Dispatch from Brussels, President Sirleaf made the statement when she addressed the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly in Brussels on Wednesday, March 4, 2015.

The Liberian leaders said though there has been no new case in recent days, Liberians remain cautiously optimistic about progress made thus far in the fight against the disease. She said through a concerted regional approach that will handle clear surveillance programs, border monitoring, rapid response, upgrade of health facilities and systems, share health data and other information, the situation in the most affected countries will be addressed.

From the Monrovia Inquirer, a plea:

Ebola Orphans Cry For Help

Some Ebola orphans from the Taffi Dollars Children’s Welfare Center (TDCWC) yesterday gathered in front of the Ministry of Gender with placards requesting for support from government to enable them get back to school.

The children had lots of placards like “I am Joshua Kangar; I am from Dolo Town; my father, Rev. Brown Kangar died of Ebola so please help me.” Another one stated, “Thank God for Taffi Dollar Children’s Welfare Center (TDCWC).” Another placard read, “We are 100 children orphaned by Ebola sponsored by ALC at TDCWC.”

The Spokesperson for Taffi Dollars Children Academy, Julius S. Jarwood, in an interview with the Press also expressed concern over how the children have been left alone after their parents have died from the deadly Ebola virus.

AllAfrica covers a denial:

Liberia: Ebola Survivor Denied of Properties in Fuamah District, Lower Bong County

An Ebola Survivor is calling on the Government of Liberia and the International Communities to come to her aid by helping her in order to claim her late mother’s properties. Speaking to the Inquirer recently at the C.H. Rennie Hospital, Helena Henry said after the death of her mother, she also came down with the virus and was later taken to the Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) at ELWA in Monrovia but survived by the grace of God.

She further narrated that eight persons along with her mother died from the virus, and as such, she is the only survivor in her family.

Madam Henry added that since the death of her mother, she has been asked by some citizens of Bong Mines in Fuamah District, Lower Bong County not to step in that part of the county, because they alleged that it was her mother who took the virus to the District, something she said, the situation has made it difficult for her to get her late mother properties back.

And from the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a Sierra Leonean tragedy abroad:

Sierra Leone athlete freed in Britain, appeal raises 23,000 pounds

Jimmy Thoronka, a Sierra Leonean sprinter who competed in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and spent the winter sleeping rough in London after hearing his family had died of Ebola, was weighing up his options on Monday.

Thoronka was arrested on Friday for overstaying his visa, but was released from police custody a day later – to find that an online appeal had raised thousands of pounds to help him.

While competing in the Games last summer, Thoronka heard that his whole family had died in the Ebola epidemic ravaging the west African country.

After the Games, he wanted to go to London but his passport and money were stolen and he was afraid to go the police in case he was arrested, press reports said. Since reaching London, he had been sleeping rough.

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, oil, air, climate, nukes


And more. . .

We begin with the Express Tribune and a Pakistani vaccination crisis:

Sehat ka Ittehad struggles as WHO recommends extension of restrictions

There has been no documented international spread of the poliovirus since March 2014 – with the exception of “one new exportation from Pakistan into Afghanistan documented after 13 November 2014″.

The fourth meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee announced the spread of polio still constitutes a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern”. The committee has recommended extending the “temporary recommendations” for another three months. Among others, these include declaring a national public health emergency, restricting departure of any residents from the country if they lack an international certification of vaccination and maintaining these measures till the country has stopped exporting polio. The WHO statement is available on their website.

Hours after the WHO pointed to Pakistan as the only country still spreading the preventable, crippling virus. Sehat ka Ittehad’s recent drive came to a close and left at least 33,601 children unvaccinated, but not without efforts to the contrary.

And closer to home for esnl, a deadly hospital-based outbreak spreads, via the Guardian:

Cedars-Sinai hospital in LA investigates outbreak of deadly ‘superbug’

  • Hospital says four patients have been infected with bacteria from a contaminated medical scope, and 67 other people may have been exposed

The Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles announced a possible “superbug” outbreak linked to gastrointestinal devices, the second hospital in a month to link the potentially deadly germs to devices called duodenoscopes.

The bug, called carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE), is a bacteria resistant to some of medicine’s strongest antibiotics. The duodenoscope is a difficult-to-clean, complex flexible tube inserted through the throat of patients to check for issues in the upper intestines.

Cedars-Sinai hospital officials linked four transmissions of CRE to duodenoscopes. The hospital sent letters and home-testing kits to 71 more patients who may have been exposed between August 2014 and February 2015, “out of an abundance of caution”.

From the Associated Press, regulatory failure:

Maker of device in ‘superbug’ outbreak lacked FDA clearance

The manufacturer of a medical instrument at the center of a recent “superbug” outbreak in Los Angeles did not receive federal clearance to sell an updated version the device, according to officials from the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA confirmed that Olympus Corp. did not seek agency clearance for the redesign of its specialized endoscope, which it began selling in 2010. FDA clearance is required for all substantive updates to medical devices sold in the U.S.

Despite the lack of clearance, the FDA said doctors should continue using the device because it’s not clear that a federal review would have prevented the recent infections in patients.

From National Geographic, a story we’ve been covering since our earliest posts:

Chemical Exposure Linked to Billions in Health Care Costs

Researchers conclude they are 99 percent certain that hormone-altering chemicals are linked to attention problems, diabetes, other health problems.

Exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals is likely leading to an increased risk of serious health problems costing at least $175 billion (U.S.) per year in Europe alone, according to a study published Thursday.

Chemicals that can mimic or block estrogen or other hormones are commonly found in thousands of products around the world, including plastics, pesticides, furniture, and cosmetics.

The new research estimated health care costs in Europe, where policymakers are debating whether to enact the world’s first regulations targeting endocrine disruptors. The European Union’s controversial strategy, if approved, would have a profound effect on industries and consumer products worldwide.

Linda Birnbaum, the leading environmental health official in the U.S. government, called the new findings, which include four published papers, “a wake-up call” for policymakers and health experts.

From Newsweek, one of those chemicals and twisted regulatory semantics:

BPA Is Fine, If You Ignore Most Studies About It

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is either a harmless chemical that’s great for making plastic or one of modern society’s more dangerous problems. Depends whom you ask.

BPA is in many types of plastics and the epoxy resins that line most aluminum cans, as well as thermal papers like receipts. It is an endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen, a hormone especially important in sexual development, and the fact that it’s all over the place worries many people. Newsweek spoke with about 20 scientists, leaders in the field of BPA research, and the majority say it is likely (though not certain) that the chemical plays a role in a litany of health concerns: obesity, diabetes, problems with fertility and reproductive organs, susceptibility to various cancers and cognitive/behavioral deficits like ADHD.

“There’s too much data consistent across studies…time and time again…to ignore it and suggest BPA has no effect on humans,” says Gail Prins, a physiologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

But the plastic industry, researchers it funds and, most important, many regulatory agencies—including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)—say BPA is safe for humans at the levels people are exposed to.

From VICE News, and not so surprising for students of history:

Deforestation May Be Helping to Spread the Plague in Africa

The destruction of forests is known to cause the release of massive amounts of greenhouse gases, destroy critical wildlife habitat, and increase soil erosion, which can lead to deadly floods and landslides.

But converting forests to farmland can also increase the spread of the plague, according to researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB).

“It pops up every other year or so, and the number of cases per year is quite variable and it’s also poorly reported,” Hillary Young, an ecologist at UCSB, who led the study, told VICE News. “So we don’t have a good sense of the number of cases per year in the region.”

Madagascar’s complex climate woes, via IRIN:

Disaster-prone Madagascar battles flooding and drought

Authorities in Madagascar are struggling to respond to increasingly severe flooding in the central highlands region of the country that includes the capital, Antananarivo, in addition to a prolonged drought in the south.

The latest round of flooding, which started when three rivers that cross Antananarivo – the Sisaony, Ikopa and Imamba – burst their banks during a storm on 24 February, has left 19 people dead and an estimated 36,000 displaced, according to the National Office for the Management of Risks and Catastrophes (BNRGC in French). A further 40,000 people were displaced in 13 other districts.

On Wednesday, BNRGC issued a new alert warning that a low-pressure system just off the island’s west coast was expected to bring more torrential rainfall to the central highlands region. Several neighbourhoods in Antananarivo remain braced for further flooding and landslides over the coming days.

Getting bad air off their chest, via the Los Angeles Times:

Cleaner air is linked to stronger lungs in Southern California children

Cleaner air has for the first time been linked to bigger and stronger lungs among school-age children, according to findings released Wednesday from a two-decade study in Southern California.

The research by USC scientists, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found the region’s steep decline in air pollution since the mid-1990s is strongly associated with “statistically and clinically significant improvements” in children’s lung function and growth.

The analysis, which studied more than 2,000 children in five cities over the years, provides the strongest evidence yet that years of government regulations to reduce air pollution in California and across the nation are paying off with measurable improvements in children’s health.

The accompanying graphic tells the story:

BLOG Lungs

From the Associated Press, and we wonder just how safe those “small” levels are over time?:

FDA study finds little evidence of antibiotics in milk

In an encouraging development for consumers worried about antibiotics in their milk, a new Food and Drug Administration study showed little evidence of drug contamination after surveying almost 2,000 dairy farms.

In response to concerns, the agency in 2012 took samples of raw milk from the farms and tested them for 31 drugs, almost all of them antibiotics. Results released by the agency Thursday show that less than 1 percent of the total samples showed illegal drug residue.

Antibiotics and other drugs can end up in milk when they are used on dairy cows to keep them healthy. Small levels of drugs are allowed in milk, but residues that go beyond certain thresholds are illegal.

Some delightful news for bees, via DutchNews.nl:

Amsterdam bee population is booming

Amsterdam bee population is booming Society March 5, 2015 Honey comb and a bee workingBee populations may be in trouble elsewhere but in Amsterdam there are now 61 different bee species, up from 51 in 2000, according to new research.

The most common bee in the city is the common furrow (Lasioglossum calceatum) while the hairy-footed flower bee, which was very rare in 2000, now lives in abundance in the city’s Vondel park, the research shows.

The research was commissioned by the city council. Bee expert and researcher told the Parool the city council should be extremely pleased the city has such committed people managing its green spaces. ‘The city can thank their expertise for the increase,’ he said.

Ten years ago the city council took a new, environmentally-friendly approach to its green areas and roadside verges. It no longer uses pesticides and wild flowers have been sown in many places. Specific bee friendly projects have also been set up.

After the jump, Brits sign a Mexican dirty energy deal, an oil company settles a cleanup complaint in Peru, Britain’s central bank sounds a fossil fuel alert, Oklahoma scientists play Big Oil’s music, Feds find the Arctic oil they want drilled will most likely lead to a major oil spill, allegations industry corrupted Europe’s clean air laws, separating fossil fueled climate change from oceanic changes, flooding predicted to triple in 15 years, a new African environmental alliance announced, Brazilian peasants seize a paper plant over plans to plan GMO trees, Arctic Sea ice thinning accelerates, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with more radioactive leaks, local communities protests TEPCO’s concealing of a major leak for ten months, another radioactive fuel removal planned, evacuees plagued with blood clots, the governor calls for extending reconstruction programs, Japanese tourism recovers from Fukushimaphobia, nearby factories suffer from major labor shortages, regulators find major flaws in plans for the restart of another Japanese nuke plant shut down after the earthquake that shattered Fukushima, a lawsuit challenges plans for a new British nuke plant, and, finally, fears over new Nuclear plants in a Pakistani seismic hot spot. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, autism, fracking, nukes


And more. . .

We begin with a new outbreak from Outbreak News Today:

Norovirus: Dozens of staff and patients sickened at Phoenix VA

At least 35 people, including 16 patients and 19 staff members at The Carl T. Hayden Veterans Affairs Medical Center have contracted norovirus. According to a hospital press release, everyone infected was from two inpatient mental health units and to date, all but three have fully recovered.

The Phoenix VA hospital stopped taking new patients at two mental health units with 48 beds on the hospital’s fifth floor. VA officials have embarked on a cleaning regimen to rid the hospital of the highly-contagious virus. Some steps included limiting staff members who are allowed to access the affected floors and using paper trays to deliver food, according to Phoenix VA Health Care spokeswoman Jean M. Schaefer.

Norovirus is a highly contagious viral illness that often goes by other names, such as viral gastroenteritis, stomach flu, and food poisoning.

From Al Jazeera America, deadly outbreaks from an instrument of healing:

Medical scope now tied to Wisconsin superbug outbreak

  • Congressman considers bill to force states to notify federal agencies of superbug outbreaks and medical device failures

A medical device called a duodenoscope that’s been linked to recent deadly superbug infections across the country was also connected to a 2013 outbreak at a Wisconsin medical facility that infected five people, America Tonight has learned.

Health officials at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services confirmed the five patients were sickened with NDM1 – a subgroup of an antibiotic-resistant “superbug” known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, that’s responsible for two deaths at UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center in Los Angeles since October and dozens of serious infections around the country in recent years.

Meanwhile, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, another Los Angeles hospital, announced Wednesday that four patients there were infected with the deadly superbug due to a dirty duodenoscope and that 64 more patients may have been exposed since August.

From the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control [PDF], measles numbers on another continent:

Germany- update

A large measles outbreak is ongoing in Berlin. As of 24 February 2015, media report nearly 600 cases. The outbreak that started in October 2014 initially affected asylum seekers from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia but has now spread to the general population. According to media, at least two cases in Berlin have been linked to the United States. One involved a woman who developed symptoms in the United States before travelling to Berlin. A second involved a child who developed the infection after returning from the United States of America. There has been one death in an 18 months old unvaccinated toddler. The child fell ill in the Reinickendorf district of Berlin on 12 February with fever and cough and later rash. The child was hospitalised due to worsening condition on 14 February and died in hospital on 18 February. The child was not vaccinated against measles and had no pre-existing conditions.

Denmark

Media report two epidemiologically linked cases of measles in children in Copenhagen.

Serbia- update

Since November 2014 and as of 13 February 2015, 228 cases of measles have been reported in Serbia in several outbreaks affecting numerous areas of the country. This is an increase of 105 cases since 26 January 2015, the last monthly update.

Kyrgyzstan – update

According to WHO, Kyrgyzstan has reported 7477 cases between May 2014 and February 2015. The first case was identified in Bishkek city on 3 May 2014, but the number increased dramatically in 2015.

From BBC News, causation:

Autism is largely down to genes, twin study suggests

Autism is caused by genetic make-up in 74-98% of cases, a Medical Research Council study of 516 twins indicates.

The King’s College London team said 181 of the teenagers had autism, but the rate was far higher in the identical twins, who share the same DNA. The researchers told JAMA Psychiatry tens if not hundreds of genes were involved, and they do not rule out environmental factors entirely.

Both twins in each pair had been raised by their parents in the same household.

The World Health Organization issues a call:

WHO calls on countries to reduce sugars intake among adults and children

A new WHO guideline recommends adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake. A further reduction to below 5% or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits.

Free sugars refer to monosaccharides (such as glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) added to foods and drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.

“We have solid evidence that keeping intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake reduces the risk of overweight, obesity and tooth decay,” says Dr Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development. “Making policy changes to support this will be key if countries are to live up to their commitments to reduce the burden of noncommunicable diseases.”

The WHO guideline does not refer to the sugars in fresh fruits and vegetables, and sugars naturally present in milk, because there is no reported evidence of adverse effects of consuming these sugars.

Much of the sugars consumed today are “hidden” in processed foods that are not usually seen as sweets. For example, 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains around 4 grams (around 1 teaspoon) of free sugars. A single can of sugar-sweetened soda contains up to 40 grams (around 10 teaspoons) of free sugars.

From the Los Angeles Times, kicking the habit. . .sort of:

McDonald’s to phase out serving chicken raised with antibiotics

McDonald’s Corp. will phase out over the next two years the use of chickens raised with antibiotics important to human health in a step to combat resistance to antibiotics.

The Oak Brook, Ill. fast food giant said Wednesday that later this year it will also begin selling only milk from cows that are not treated with the artificial growth hormone rbST.

Farmers in the company’s supply chain can continue to use ionophores, a type of antibiotic not used for humans, on their chickens.

From the Guardian, Aussie bananas threatened:

Queensland banana farm quarantined after testing positive for fungal disease

  • Biosecurity experts warn Panama TR4 disease could pose a serious threat to the banana industry in Australia

A north Queensland banana farm has been quarantined after testing positive for a potentially destructive fungal disease.

Biosecurity Queensland has warned that the Panama TR4 disease would have serious consequences for the state’s banana industry if it spread from the plantation near Tully, south of Cairns.

Panama, a soil fungus, was found in the Northern Territory in 1997 and has since spread to a number of areas in the Top End, but this is the first time it has been detected at a Queensland plantation.

Science covers sewer diagnostics:

Pollution, human health tracked with sewage microbes

Microbiologists have a new way to tell whose sh-t is dirtying the waters. A survey of sewage across the United States shows that every city has a distinct microbial character that can reveal signs of health, such as how obese its residents tend to be. Dozens of the microbes identified in the survey are common throughout the United States, and could provide better ways to tell whether bacterial pollution comes from humans.

The human gut is filled with microbes that are proving ever more important to health and disease. To understand the diversity of these bacteria—collectively called the gut microbiome—and how their numbers and types vary through time, microbiologists have isolated and sequenced DNA from stool samples of hundreds of individuals. But Mitchell Sogin, a molecular evolutionist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and Sandra McLellan, a microbiologist at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, wanted to take a much broader view and study the microbiomes of entire human communities. In addition, they were looking for a better indicator of human fecal pollution.

To do that, they needed to figure out how to assess the microbiomes of large numbers of people at once. They recruited wastewater treatment plant operators from 71 U.S. cites to collect more than 200 samples of incoming sewage. They then sequenced DNA in the samples and determined its origin. About 15% of the isolated sewage DNA belonged to microbes found in humans, Sogin and McLellan’s team reported online last week in mBio. Many of the rest are microbes that live in sewer pipes. Using a technique developed by Sogin and his colleagues, which can more precisely determine which bacteria are present in a large sample of feces, the researchers identified about 60 types of bacteria that were common to people in all of the cities. Because they seem to be found wherever humans are, these 60 may be a more reliable way to determine if human feces are contaminating a waterway, McLellan says.

From StarAfrica, African climate change costs:

Africa’s climate adaptation costs to hit $50 billion -UNEP

Africa, the continent with warming deviating most rapidly from “normal” conditions, could see climate change adaptation costs rise to $50 billion per year by 2050, even assuming international efforts keep global warming below 2°C this century, according to a new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report.

Released on Wednesday at the 15th African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), Africa’s Adaptation Gap builds on UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2014, which showed that the world is not currently headed in the right direction for holding global warming below 2°C.

This latest Africa Adaptation Gap report also builds on UNEP’s Global Adaptation Gap Report 2014, which found that adaptation costs in all developing countries together could climb as high as $250-500 billion per year by 2050.

Produced in collaboration with Climate Analytics and the African Climate Finance Hub, the report says deep global emissions reductions are the best way to head off Africa’s crippling adaptation costs.

After the jump, California beach town voters nix downtown oil drilling, groundwater-endangering oil wells ordered to close in the Golden State, a vote to overturn Obama’s Keystone veto fails, Canadian frackers cast eyes on Spain, Chinese media invoke a foggy Cone of Silence, termites saving the soil, an endangered Cuban bat, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with massive numbers on a radioactive water leak, an order to look for all possible sources, and a long time remains before a watery resolution, and very slow progress in securing land for interim radioactive soil storage, lifelong monitoring ordered for Fukushima cleanup workers, massive dissatisfaction over the government’s handling of the disaster, more delays for another reactor restart, and desperate dreams of a nuclear power economic boom zone. . . Continue reading

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.

EnviroWatch: Measles, water, climate, & nukes


From the Guardian, An outbreak in Chicago:

Measles cluster at Chicago daycare prompts health department investigation

  • Five children younger than 12 months old – under the recommended age to receive the measles vaccine – diagnosed with infectious disease

Diagnoses of measles for five children in a Chicago-area daycare prompted an investigation by the Illinois department of public health on Thursday, although the source of the infection remained unknown.

All five children were younger than 12 months old and attended the Palatine KinderCare Learning Center in Palatine, Illinois. Two unvaccinated children tested positive for measles and results were pending for the other three, who were diagnosed based on clinical criteria, Cook County officials told reporters.

Dr Terry Mason, chief medical officer for Cook County, said there were “at least 15 children” causing concern after being “potentially exposed” to the infected infants. Mason said the county’s investigation confirmed that two cases were linked to the daycare’s common room, at which point officials contacted staff there.

The latest California numbers, via CNN:

CA confirms 99 cases of measles

California says the number of confirmed measles cases in the state is growing.

The number now stands at 99.

Many of those cases are connected to December’s outbreak at Disneyland.

And numbers for Germany, via  TheLocal.de:

Berlin counts 254 new cases of measles in 2015

Measles have taken hold in Berlin in an outbreak that could have been entirely preventable with vaccines, the federal authority for disease control said in an interview published on Thursday.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) is reporting that in Berlin alone, there have been 375 people infected with measles since the beginning of an outbreak in October, dampening the federal government’s goal to have the disease eradicated by the end of this year.

Germany had signed on to the WHO’s pledge to eliminate the disease by 2015, but that doesn’t look possible, says the RKI.

And a vaccine that doesn’t work, via the London Telegraph:

Flu vaccine given to millions in the UK barely works

  • A warning has been circulated that the main strain of influenza has mutated since the jab was prepared

The flu vaccine given to millions of people in the UK barely works, health officials have admitted, amid warnings that the number of deaths this winter will be the worst for 15 years.

Public Health England (PHE) warned that the main strain of influenza in circulation – which is particularly lethal among the elderly – has mutated from the type that was used in the jab.

As a result, it is working in just three per cent of people given it, when it is normally effective in around half of cases.

And it has no effectiveness at all against the dominant strain of flu in circulation this winter, which is particularly dangerous in the elderly.

A big number for another disease, via Newswise:

Lyme Disease Costs Up to $1.3 Billion Per Year to Treat, Study Finds

  • Research suggests prolonged impact of the tick-borne illness in some patients is greater and more widespread than previously understood

Lyme disease, transmitted by a bite from a tick infected by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, had long been considered easy to treat, usually requiring a single doctor’s visit and a few weeks of antibiotics for most people.

But new research from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests that a prolonged illness associated with the disease is more widespread and serious in some patients than previously understood. With an estimated 240,000 to 440,000 new cases of the tick-borne illness diagnosed every year, the researchers found that Lyme disease costs the U.S. health care system between $712 million and $1.3 billion a year — or nearly $3,000 per patient on average — in return doctor visits and testing, likely to investigate the cause of some patients’ lingering symptoms of fatigue, musculoskeletal pain and memory problems. These visits come after patients have finished their original course of antibiotics.

Some doctors call those persistent symptoms post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS); others call it chronic Lyme disease. Still others attribute the complaints of fatigue, headaches and memory problems to the hum of daily life, the aches and pains that come with aging. At the core of the controversy is whether PTLDS can be a severe and chronic condition that requires more than reassurance and symptomatic therapy. While a blood test can confirm Lyme disease, there is no definitive test for PTLDS and there are no approved or proven treatments. It’s a controversial topic in medicine, the Hopkins researchers say.

A report on the findings is published online Feb. 4 in the journal PLOS ONE.

Veggie validation, via Medical Daily:

Occasionally Buying Organic Produce Significantly Reduces Exposure To Pesticides

Organophosphates (OPs) are the most common and toxic pesticides used today, namely on conventionally grown produce. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classified OPs as highly or moderately toxic; low levels are suspected to be enough to affect the human nervous system. While prior research deduced these conclusions by relying solely on urinary biomarkers, a new study predicts exposure to OPs based on people’s diets.

“The magnitude of pesticide exposure from diet depends partly upon personal decisions such as which foods to eat and whether to choose organic food,” researchers wrote. So they culled data from 4,466 participants already taking part in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis — a medical research study involving men and women from six communities in the U.S. This data included the types and amounts of produce each participant ate in a year, as well as how often each participant ate organic foods.

Participant-level exposure was estimated by combining the information on typical intake of specific foods with average OPs residue levels on those items. And among conventional participants (they reported rarely or never eating organic produce), researchers assessed the levels of pesticides excreted in urine. They found among “conventional consumers,” increased OPs exposure from produce was associated with higher OPs in their urine.

As for participants who bought organic produce, levels were significantly lower — and that’s if they occasionally bought and ate organic produce. For those who often or always bought organic fruits and vegetables, they experienced around 65 percent lower levels of pesticides in their urine. Live Science reported this study is among the first to consider pesticide residue levels through a person’s diet.

A Big Agra butterfly threat from EcoWatch:

Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Crop System Puts Monarch Butterflies at Brink of Extinction

Center for Food Safety (CFS) released today a detailed, 80-page scientific report, Monarchs in Peril: Herbicide-Resistant Crops and the Decline of Monarch Butterflies in North America. The comprehensive report reveals the severe impacts of herbicide-resistant genetically engineered (GE) crops on the monarch population, which has plummeted over the past twenty years. The report makes it abundantly clear: two decades of Roundup Ready crops have nearly eradicated milkweed—the monarch caterpillar’s sole source of food—in cropland of the monarch’s vital Midwest breeding ground. At the urgent request of scientists and public interest groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently considering listing the monarch as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The report is being presented to Congress today at an expert briefing on the decline of monarchs.

“This report is a wake-up call. This iconic species is on the verge of extinction because of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crop system,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at Center for Food Safety. “To let the monarch butterfly die out in order to allow Monsanto to sell its signature herbicide for a few more years is simply shameful.”

Monarch population numbers have fallen by 90 percent in less than 20 years. This year’s population was the second lowest since careful surveys began two decades ago. The critical driver of monarch decline is the loss of larval host plants in their main breeding habitat, the Midwestern Corn Belt. Monarchs lay eggs exclusively on plants in the milkweed family, the only food their larvae will eat.

After the jump, an unpalatable petro pollution policy in California, deforestation leads to Brazilian drought, and the drought spreads to another Brazilian city, parsing the climate debate, on to Fukushimpaocalypse Now!, as American sailors press for damages, another reactor plant hits another restart roadblock, and an active fault is found near another plant, plus another exposure of the “low carbon” nuclear myth. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Alarm, end game, schools, economy


We begin with the latest U.S. alarm, and not all that far from Casa esnl, via the Los Angeles Times:

Possible Ebola patient at UC Davis Medical Center

A person has been checked into UC Davis Medical Center with symptoms consistent with Ebola, the hospital announced in a statement Thursday.

The person was transferred to the hospital Thursday morning from Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento, said UC Davis Medical Center spokeswoman Dorsey Griffith.

The hospital could determine if the patient has Ebola by the end of the day Thursday, she said.

If the person is diagnosed with Ebola, UC Davis is well prepared, Griffith said.

A video report from KCRA News in Sacramento:

Suspected Ebola patient treated at UCD Medical Center

Program notes:

Health officials confirmed a patient suspected of having the Ebola virus is being treated at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento after the person was transferred from Mercy General Hospital.

More from the Sacramento Bee:

Patient being treated at UC Davis Medical Center for possible Ebola

The isolation room in which the patient is being held is “properly equipped and segregated,” and the patient poses “no risk to the public or medical center patients,” according to a statement from the hospital.

Dr. Gil Chavez, state epidemiologist and deputy director of the Center for Infectious Diseases at the California Department of Public Health, said in a statement that the patient was being evaluated for Ebola but officials had not confirmed if the virus was present. Without specifically addressing whether the patient had been in West Africa, Chavez referred to protocols used whenever a person displays Ebola-like symptoms and has recently traveled to Sierra Leone, Liberia or Guinea.

The patient is considered low-risk, and health officials are gathering more information, said Laura McCasland, spokeswoman for the county health department. UC Davis canceled a press conference at the last minute Thursday afternoon with little explanation. It was unclear when test results would come back.

From the Guardian, the/an end in sight:

Ebola outbreak moves into endgame

  • With fewer than 100 cases of deadly virus reported in west Africa in last week, focus turns to contact-tracing

Fewer than 100 cases of Ebola have been reported in west Africa in the last week, according to the World Health Organisation, which says the outbreak has now effectively moved into the endgame.

The massive effort that went into building treatment centres for thousands of sick people was now being diverted as quickly as possible into contact-tracing. All previous Ebola outbreaks, although on a far smaller scale, have been stopped by the efficient tracing and monitoring of every person who might have come into physical contact with someone with the virus.

In Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, “efforts have moved from rapidly building infrastructure to ensuring that capacity for case finding, case management, safe burials and community engagement is used as effectively as possible”, said the WHO’s latest situation report.

More from the United Nations News Center:

With new Ebola cases reaching record low, UN health agency targets ending epidemic

This week, the number of new Ebola cases recorded in West Africa fell below 100 for the first time in seven months, the World Health Organization reported today as it announced that the battle against the deadly virus has shifted from slowing transmission to ending the epidemic.

“To achieve this goal as quickly as possible, efforts have moved from rapidly building infrastructure to ensuring that capacity for case finding, case management, safe burials, and community engagement is used as effectively as possible,” WHO said in its latest update containing data up to 25 January 2015.

The WHO announcement came as the United Nations focused on recovery aspects of the Ebola epidemic that affected Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone the most.

The Special Representative of the Secretary General on Ebola, Ould Cheikh Ahmed, was to participate in a UN-African Union stakeholders meeting in the Ethiopian capital on the reconstruction of the affected countries, as the Executive Boards of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) was meeting today on Ebola Recovery at UN headquarters.

According to WHO, the response to the Ebola epidemic has now moved to a second phase, “as the focus shifts from slowing transmission to ending the epidemic.”

The latest UN Ebola case map [click on it to embiggen]:

BLOG Ebola map

From Deutsche Welle, a note of qualification:

Lindner: ‘Ebola crisis is by no means over’

The worst Ebola virus outbreak in history has killed nearly 9,000 people, almost of them in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. The WHO says the worst is over but Germany’s Ebola envoy says there is need for caution.

DW: The World Health Organization says the number of new Ebola infections is falling and the tide may be turning. You have just returned from Sierra Leone, one of the worst affected countries. Do you share this view?

Walter Lindner: Indeed I have just returned from my fifth visit in the region within four months. It’s true, I could really see a change. For the first time there is a light at the end of the tunnel but we have to be careful because walking this last mile will be a very difficult thing to do. There are dangers on the way, people are losing their attention, they are going back to school, and they are touching each other again. In short, if we are too relaxed about this, then the whole thing could turn for the worse again. It is a turn of the tide, that’s true and we might get down to zero (cases) within the next months but we really have to keep up our efforts.

DW: The epidemic has had a catastrophic effect on the economies of the affected countries. Aid agency OXFAM has called for a program to start up the economic motor again and says there can be no excuse for other countries not to help. This is also being discussed at the African Union summit now underway in Addis Ababa. What could Germany’s contribution be?

Walter Lindner:I think everyone is aware that we all came late, except for very few organizations like Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders). They were the ones who were warning earlier on that this could be a big epidemic. We came late, but we came. I think the (international) presence is now everywhere in all the three countries. This is during the time of need and humanitarian assistance. But of course after the humanitarian assistance there will be the development partners and the development people. There might be different people who will be present but of course one part of the lessons learnt from Ebola is that we have to make sure that the health system, educational system and other things in those countries which were already weak before Ebola, should be strengthened. Only then can we avoid another outbreak of the same dimension.

And a call for help, via the U.N. Global Ebola Response:

UNMEER Chief Hails AU Contribution to Ebola Fight, Calls for Continued Global Support

Today, at a meeting of global stakeholders to review progress on the Ebola response, the Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) called on all leaders to maintain commitment until the goal of zero cases is reached.

At the United Nations – African Union Stakeholder Meeting on Ebola, being held as part of the 24th AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed addressed government representatives, principals from regional bodies, and bilateral and civil society partners, thanking them for their support thus far in the fight to stop the Ebola outbreak, and urging them to keep up their efforts.

“The situation is still perilous. There is still Ebola in more than 25 of the 66 districts, counties and prefectures in the region,” said Ould Cheikh Ahmed. “I ask you all to maintain support until the task is completed.”

From AllAfrica, spot on:

Tanzania: Ebola Has Exposed Global Unpreparedness, Says Kikwete

THE Ebola outbreak in West Africa has been devastating because the world is unprepared for such deadly pandemics, President Jakaya Kikwete has said.

President Kikwete made the observation in Berlin where he was attending the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) meeting. Africa was represented by President Kikwete and Malian President Babacar Keita in the meeting.

The Ebola outbreak, he said, has exposed weaknesses in public health systems of some countries making it impossible to deal with pandemics and that they needed to learn lessons from the crisis.

“The world does not have the needed capability to deal with outbreak of pandemics as it has been proven by the Ebola disease,” he said.

From BBC News, changes being made:

Ebola outbreak: Virus mutating, scientists warn

Scientists tracking the Ebola outbreak in Guinea say the virus has mutated.

Researchers at the Institut Pasteur in France, which first identified the outbreak last March, are investigating whether it could have become more contagious.

Scientists are starting to analyse hundreds of blood samples from Ebola patients in Guinea. They are tracking how the virus is changing and trying to establish whether it’s able to jump more easily from person to person

“We know the virus is changing quite a lot,” said human geneticist Dr Anavaj Sakuntabhai. “That’s important for diagnosing (new cases) and for treatment. We need to know how the virus (is changing) to keep up with our enemy.”

Looking for realization, via FrontPageAfrica:

Liberia’s Ebola Prospects: What it Takes to Get to Zero?

The medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) set on fire portion of its Ebola Treatment Unit where patients who tested positive for the deadly virus were being cared for.

The decommissioning of this first section of the ELWA-3 ETU on Monday is the first time a part of the center is actually taken apart. The number of beds at the ETU had previously been reduced from 250 to 60 and other ETUs across the country continue to report a rapid decline in Ebola cases. With this rapid reduction in the number of cases, Liberia seems to be moving to a sustainable lead in its response to the deadly epidemic.

For people who have been affected by the deadly epidemic either living in Liberia or in the diaspora, the news of a rapid reduction in Ebola cases is a sigh of relief considering the level of trauma, the virus brought with it.

Amos KwesiJ essy is an Ebola survivor who now works with MSF as a security guard. For him, news of a steady reduction in Ebola cases brings relief, but at the same time a moment of reflection on all that Liberians have faced during the epidemic. Said Jessy: “Today brings a memory of joy and sadness. Joy because gradually we are bringing Ebola to an end; sad because most of the Ebola patients that entered this compound, in search of recovery, could not make it.”

After the jump, more Liberian counties on the Ebola-free list, it’s back to school time [though some dissent], one group of returnees receives special care, but Liberian economic recovery remains a distant goal and the country’s healthcare woes remain exposed, on to Sierra Leone and more economic woes, economic woes for laid-off frontline healthcare workers, and computers are brought to bear. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Numbers, the upbeat, the admonitory


We begin with the latest numbers, via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

BLOG Ebola

From Reuters, an enigmatic controversy:

Scientists ask if Ebola immunises as well as kills

A recent sharp drop in new Ebola infections in West Africa is prompting scientists to wonder whether the virus may be silently immunising some people at the same time as brutally killing their neighbours.

So-called “asymptomatic” Ebola cases – in which someone is exposed to the virus, develops antibodies, but doesn’t get sick or suffer symptoms – are hotly disputed among scientists, with some saying their existence is little more than a pipe dream.

Yet if, as some studies suggest, such cases do occur in epidemics of the deadly disease, they may be a key factor in ending outbreaks more swiftly by giving secret protection to those lucky enough to be able to bat the infection away.

“We wonder whether ‘herd immunity’ is secretly coming up – when you get a critical mass of people who are protected, because if they are asymptomatic they are then immune,” Philippe Maughan, senior operations administrator for the humanitarian branch of the European Commission, told Reuters. “The virus may be bumping into people it can’t infect any more.”

Next, from the U.N.’s Global Ebola Response:

UN Stresses Need for Ebola Surveillance in Border Towns

Representatives of the Governments of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire today began meeting in Freetown, under the umbrella of the Mano River Union, a sub-regional political grouping comprising the four countries, to agree on methods to control and prevent disease outbreaks in the border areas.

The United Nations supports the initiative, according to Amadu Kamara, Crisis Manager for the UN Mission Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) in Sierra Leone. Kamara told the gathering that included Ebola Response administrators, medical officers, technical and operational planning experts from all four countries that Ebola could not be defeated without “addressing its regional dimensions.” The virus should be seen as “one epidemic with many fronts,” he said.

Dubbed the “Sub-regional Ebola Technical Meeting on Border Surveillance and Disease Control,” participants hope to formulate guidelines that will regulate how patients, corpses and laboratory samples are transferred across borders. Such guidelines will also focus on cross-border surveillance conduct and contact tracing.

There is a UN mandate to support “efforts to rationalize resources, provide the strategic framework for a regional approach, as well as to ensure that our borders do not make it easy for the disease to escape,” stressed Kamara. Currently, he said: “We have moved from a phase where we were being hounded and hunted to a stage where we are now hunting Ebola.” Recent figures by the World Health Organization show that transmission rates are declining in all three countries.

From IRIN, the quest continues:

Ebolanomics – the search for a vaccine

When Ebola hit West Africa last year, it was a disease with no sign of a vaccine or cure. To those affected that may have been an indication that the wider world didn’t care about them or the diseases that affected them, but in truth there has simply been no incentive for anyone to develop these therapies. Yet now pharmaceutical companies are racing to produce an effective vaccine, and on 23 January the British company GlaxoSmithKline shipped the first 300 doses of its candidate to Liberia to start phase II trials.

At an event in the UK Houses of Parliament to discuss the economics of developing such vaccines, Jon Pender, a vice president of GSK, said he had been surprised, in the circumstances, that companies had any possible candidates at all on their shelves which could be developed and tested. He challenged suggestions that this was just because Ebola epidemics happened in poor countries where there was little scope for profit.

“That isn’t the reason why we don’t have vaccines for Ebola. The reason we don’t have a vaccine is because it wasn’t a priority for anyone, and there are understandable reasons for that…. The number of people affected each year was very small and the overall disease burden, in comparison to other disease like malaria or HIV, is tiny. The fact is that in the forty years that we have known about Ebola, including the present outbreak, there have been about 24,000 known cases. There are that many cases of malaria every hour.”

Now, clearly, it has become a priority. So if it isn’t just about money, how do you persuade the pharmaceutical industry to work on a normally obscure disease like Ebola? Adrian Thomas is a vice-president at Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, which is also now working to get an Ebola vaccine to market. He says, “The first question is, what is the strength of the science? The second thing is to what extent there is a reward for innovation or a willingness to risk-share. And the third is, will we actually reach people? I think we have to understand what are the clear priorities for global health…

On to Liberia, first with Voice of America:

Official: Liberia Entering Last Lap in Ebola Crisis

A senior Liberian official says most of his country is Ebola-free and he is optimistic that cases of Ebola can be brought down to zero in a matter of weeks.

Ebola cases in Liberia have declined from a peak of more than 300 a week in August to fewer than 10 per week in January.

Liberia’s Minister for Commerce and Industry, Axel Addy, said Monday that 13 of 15 counties now are reporting zero cases of Ebola for 21 days, the period of incubation for the disease.

He said only about 31 patients currently are being treated nationwide in ETUs, or emergency treatment units. He said the dramatic drop in the number of people falling ill from the virus is giving rise to hopes that this menace is nearing its end.

“We think we can make it to zero by end of February [at] the latest. We are very close to that. The border towns are being monitored very closely with Sierra Leone and Guinea and we are working with the teams in those countries to make sure that the cases in those areas do not spread beyond the borders,” said Addy.

The exception, via the Liberia News Agency:

Montserrado ‘Active Transporter Of Ebola’ – Nyenswah

Montserrado County is the only place in Liberia that is now the “active place of the transport of the Ebola virus,” the head of the Incident Management Team (IMT), Tolbert Nyenswah, has disclosed.

He said the fact that 13 counties have reported no new cases recently shows “there is a drastic reduction in new Ebola cases in the country,” the Liberia News Agency reports.

Nyenswah made the disclosure when he addressed the MICAT regular Ebola press briefing at the ministry Tuesday.

From the Liberian Observer, winding down:

CAAE-Ebola Massive Awareness Campaign Ends in Lofa

  • Leadership Sends SOS for Post-Ebola Challenges, Awareness

A massive awareness and sensitization campaign against the deadly Ebola virus under the banner of Citizens Action Against Ebola (CAAE) has  ended in seven administrative districts in Lofa County.

However, initial preparations for the Ebola virus awareness and sensitization activities were characterized by some serious challenges and constraints that ranged from financial and logistical constraints in Monrovia and the various districts of Lofa County.

The Ebola virus awareness and sensitization initiatives were carried out during the height of the medical crisis for almost six weeks by volunteers of the CAAE’s leadership in Lofa County.

From IOL News, shutting down:

Ebola: Liberia closes clinic

Liberia’s president on Monday announced the closure of an Ebola treatment facility which lay at the epicentre of the virus’s worst outbreak in history, as the disease’s spread has slowed in the country.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf warned Liberians that while they could not yet afford to relax, the country had made significant progress in the fight against Ebola, and thanked states who helped Monrovia combat the virus.

“Lofa, the epicentre of the virus, has had no new cases for over 70 days,” she said in the speech at the national parliament.

“The Ebola Treatment Unit in Foya is closed,” she said, referring to an area in the north of the country near its border with Guinea, where the virus hit Liberia for the first time.

FrontPageAfrica covers the lingering human cost:

200 Children Orphaned By Ebola Virus in Liberia’s West Point

The deadly Ebola epidemic caused so many children to become orphans in Liberia. Many children lost one or both of their parents and most of them were rejected by family members for fear that taking them may lead them to contracting Ebola. In the suburb of West Point, which was quarantined at the height of the epidemic, it has been discovered that over two hundred children are orphaned by the deadly virus outbreak.

Jacob Dennis, 7 and his sister lost their parents to the Ebola virus. He lives with his aunt in West Point but said he has never been in the classroom. The child has said he wants to go to school but with his parents dead, he does not know if he would make it to the classroom. Dennis has a two-year-old sister and both children cannot recall how their parents died.

Agatha Tagbeh, 14, like Dennis is another Ebola orphan, she said her mother contracted the deadly virus when she went to mourn the death of a friend. She said the mother came home and became sick. She said when her mother became sick, her father started to care for her with all of them sleeping in the same room.

She said she was attending the N.V Massaquoi Public School in West Point before the epidemic struck and in the 4th grade. “My ma went on her family mat and that’s how she brought Ebola to us, we are three children, two girls one boy, one is eight years and the other is one year,” she said.

Across the border with the Sierra Leone Concord Times:

Cuban doctor who survived Ebola returns to Kerry Town

A Cuban medical doctor who was treated for Ebola returned to Kerry Town to thank the UK Military Health Care Workers who helped him to defeat this terrible disease.

Dr. Felix Baez was admitted to the now 20 bed Ebola Virus Disease Treatment Unit in November after becoming infected. Although the World Health Organisation took the decision to move him to Geneva for treatment, there was no doubt in his mind that the treatment he received from British Military staff was second to none.

Dr. Baez was accompanied by his colleagues Felippo and Jorge Delgado Bastillo to meet the Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Alison McCourt and her team of Health Care Workers.  After their first meeting in very different circumstances two months ago, Dr. Baez was “very happy” to see Alison and her team again.

From the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a call:

Post-Ebola plan needed to avert “double disaster” in West Africa – Oxfam

The three West African countries worst hit by Ebola risk a “double disaster” unless a multi-million dollar plan is put in place to help their economies recover, Oxfam said on Tuesday.

In Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone people were struggling to make ends meet having seen their incomes plummet, the aid agency said.

“The world was late in waking up to the Ebola crisis, there can be no excuses for not helping to put these economies and lives back together,” Mark Goldring, Oxfam’s chief executive, said during a visit to Liberia.

He said a post-Ebola “Marshall Plan” should address three areas of urgent need: cash for families affected by the crisis, investment in jobs and support for basic services.

More from the Associated Press:

Oxfam: Rich countries must support Ebola recovery

Rich countries must act swiftly to repair battered health systems and get cash to millions of families in the three countries hit hardest by the world’s worst Ebola outbreak, the international development agency Oxfam said Tuesday.

Though the economies of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia were recording strong growth prior to the outbreak, the countries remain some of the world’s poorest and incomes have shrunk dramatically since the first Ebola cases were confirmed in Guinea last March.

New cases now appear to be on the wane, but Oxfam said donor countries should commit to a post-Ebola “Marshall Plan” that would address urgent cash shortages and crippling damage to social services like health, education and water and sanitation.