Category Archives: Poverty

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

EbolaWatch: Numbers, food, borders, schools


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

BLOG Ebola

Next, from the Guardian, an ongoing concern:

Ebola: how to prevent a lethal legacy for food security

  • The World Food Programme warns that 1.4 million people could become malnourished because of Ebola. We must act quickly to avoid catastrophe

The Ebola outbreak did what outbreaks do: affected movement. People were afraid of the virus and governments made concerted efforts to contain Ebola’s spread. In doing so, food-producing parts of the countries found themselves isolated from urban cash economies. Traders willing to maintain trading routes, or with sufficient stock, often hiked prices to capitalise on the increase in demand as people panic-bought. Stocks decreased, prices rose and the purchasing power of people decreased as income-generating activities were affected by the outbreak.

The resilience of communities and national and international aid efforts helped to mitigate the effects of these shocks, but only temporarily. There is growing evidence that the number of food-insecure people in these countries is rapidly increasing. In October 2014, a report released by Action Against Hunger and the University of Naples Federico II estimated that Ebola could make up to 700,000 additional people undernourished across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Recent estimates by the World Food Programme suggest that the number of people who could become food-insecure by March 2015 could be as high as 3 million, 1.4 million because of the effect of Ebola. If WFP’s estimates prove correct, Ebola will have doubled the number of food-insecure people in these three countries.

As new Ebola cases start to decrease – along with much of the media attention – the wider and longer-term implications for the people in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea are becoming increasingly clear. And the picture that is emerging is troubling. The World Bank estimates that the final economic toll from the epidemic will be over $30 billion by the end of 2015, an amount three times larger than the combined GDP of these three countries in 2013. The inability of Ebola-affected countries to single-handedly absorb the economic costs has led to high-level requests to the International Monetary Fund to cancel their debt. While the world debates the viability of that, the challenges for the average citizen are more stark: how to put food on the table.

From the Guardian, conditions declared:

Aid donors say Ebola-hit countries must direct effort to rebuild their economies

  • With Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea due to present economic plans, donors do not want to dictate terms despite fears that corruption will undermine recovery

Leaders of the three west African countries worst affected by Ebola will meet donors and partners in March to discuss how to regenerate their economies.

The outbreak of the disease in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, combined with a fall in commodity prices, has interrupted a period of growth in economies worn down by decades of war and corroded by corruption.

The countries will present recovery plans at a summit in Brussels, which will bring together representatives from the UN, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and NGOs.

Medication news from NBC News:

Pill May Help Save Patients with Early Ebola Infections

The experimental flu drug favipiravir doesn’t help patients with advanced Ebola infections but it may help patients if they get it a little earlier, a trial from Guinea in West Africa shows.

French researchers tested the drug, made by a Japanese company, in 80 real-life Ebola patients hit in the ongoing epidemic.

The drug did not appear to help people who arrived for treatment already very ill with high levels of virus in their blood, the team at the French medical institute INSERM said. Even with treatment, 93 percent of them died. But if they weren’t already seriously ill, only 15 percent of them died.

From BBC News, an investigation broadens:

UK Ebola medics under investigation

Five UK Ebola nurses and doctors are under investigation by regulators, Public Health England says.

They are looking into the screening of medics who flew back to England on 28 December after treating patients in Sierra Leone.

On this flight was Scottish nurse Pauline Cafferkey – who developed Ebola – and some of her colleagues. Questions have arisen over the health assessments and protocols that were followed.

From the Asahi Shimbun, Japanese Ebolaphobia prevails:

Japan shelves SDF deployment to Ebola-plagued Sierra Leone

Facing political opposition, the Defense Ministry decided on Feb. 23 not to dispatch Ground Self-Defense Force troops to Sierra Leone for assisting international efforts to battle an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.

The ministry was considering dispatching a GSDF transportation unit to be tasked with ferrying doctors and medical supplies in the western African nation, which has experienced more than 3,000 deaths from Ebola.

But opposition arose from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s inner circle, as well as the SDF, out of concerns for the risk of infection to GSDF members and possible public opposition to the deployment.

On to Sierra Leone and the latest alarm from BBC News:

Ebola crisis: Sierra Leone orphanage quarantined

An orphanage run by a UK charity in Sierra Leone has been quarantined after one of its local staff was diagnosed with the deadly Ebola virus. Augustine Baker is said to be in a stable condition at a local treatment centre after becoming ill last week.

St George Foundation orphanage co-founder Philip Dean told the BBC that 33 children and seven staff were now in isolation.

“Augustine collapsed at a staff meeting and several of his colleagues helped get him to hospital,” UK-based Mr Dean told the BBC. “It’s possible that they have been exposed. It’s a very worrying time,” he said.

And a border still closed, at least for now, via Shanghai Daily:

Ebola-hit Liberia, Sierra Leone border remains closed

The Sierra Leone-Liberia border is still closed, local residents said on Monday.

Jubilant crowd who had trekked long distances from villages near the Sierra Leone-Liberia border Sunday to witness the reopening of the bridge linking the two Ebola-hit countries were disappointed because it did not take place.

Witnesses told Xinhua the Sierra Leone side of the border is still closed Monday despite meeting held Sunday between officers of the two countries at the border post.

Citizens on both sides of the bridge upon receiving information that the bridge would be reopen Sunday, embarked on a cleanup campaign to give the vicinity a face-lift.

But FrontPageAfrica has a contradictory story from the other side of the border:

One Thermometer; No Handwash Station, As Liberia Reopens Borders

Citizens of Liberia and Sierra Leone rejoiced at their respective sides of the borders as Liberian government officially opened entry points with neighboring Sierra Leone. But the goodwill on the Liberian side was not reciprocated as the Sierra Leoneans kept their side of the border closed. A Sierra Leonean soldier was seen forcibly preventing Liberians from going over into the country and warning his citizens that if they crossed over into Liberia, they might not have the chance to go back.

“As far as I’m concerned my border remains closed. I have not received orders to reopen this border,” he shouted. “We are awaiting word from Freetown that is the only way they border will reopen. Anyone who crosses this point will not enter Sierra Leone.”

Though the government of Liberia has reopened the border with Sierra Leone, there are serious binding constraints that have not yet been addressed. As the border on the Liberian side opened and people from the Sierra Leonean side tried to get in, there were no buckets or hand washing stations at the border entry for hand washing. People walked through the gates without their temperatures tested.

George J. Reeves is an officer responsible for Port Health at the Bo-Waterside crossing in Grand Cape Mount County. At a short meeting with stakeholders before the border was reopened, Reeves complained that he was not fully equipped with the right tools needed to fight Ebola at the border with Sierra Leone now that it is open.

StarAFrica covers numbers:

Liberia: 8 Ebola cases reported in three weeks-Official

Liberian Deputy Information Minister for Public Affairs, Isaac Jackson, has disclosed on Monday that about eight confirmed Ebola cases were reported from the 19 Ebola Treatment Units (ETU) across the country in the past three weeks.

He explained that Margibi and Montserrado Counties are now the epicenters where the new cases are being recorded. “That shows a good sign that Liberia is on the verge of getting to zero cases,” Jackson said at the Ministry of Information daily Ebola press briefing at the ministry Monday.

He however cautioned that citizens still need to desist from complacency and continue to adhere to the preventive measures outlined by health authorities to prevent a resurgence of the virus.

And a pair of videos, first on the reopening of the nation’s curfews and borders from Agence France-Presse:

Liberians rejoice as Ebola curfew is lifted

Program notes:

It is the early hours of the morning and bars in the Liberian capital are packed as revellers drink, sing and rejoice their first night of freedom with the Ebola curfew lifted.

And from IRIN Films, a back-to-school report:

Liberian students return amid Ebola fears

Program notes:

Schools in Liberia have begun to reopen for the first time in more than six months, due to the Ebola outbreak.

From StarAFrica, a quota exceeded:

Liberia: Vaccine trial exceeds estimated target – official

The co-investigator on the Liberia-U.S. Clinical Research Partnership team, Stephen Kennedy, has disclosed that in addition to the projected 600 people being targeted in the phase two clinical trials of two vaccines to prevent Ebola, a total of 120 persons are on the stand-by to be vaccinated.

Kennedy affirmed that the additional 120 persons means that the vaccine trial has exceeded its target, which signifies that the team of experts supervising the process had done exceptionally well since the lunch of the trial.

He made the statement at the Ministry of Information daily Ebola press conference held at the ministry in Monrovia on Monday.

Giving statistical details, Kennedy disclosed that 108 persons were vaccinated during the first week, while 96 persons were vaccinated during the second week.

Economic concerns from the central bank, via Heritage:

CBL Boss: Ebola has put Liberia’s economy in new territory Featured

The Executive Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia, Dr. J. Mills Jones,  has asserted that   the Ebola virus has put Liberia’s economy  in a new territory,  and as such, it was necessary for a forceful action in order to restore it to normalcy.

The CBL Governor said the situation (poverty) still remains and that effort to restore Liberia’s economy cannot be overemphasized.

“That is why the Board of the CBL decided to take step to help put new life into the microfinance sector of the country, he added.

And from the Monrovia Inquirer, help promised:

China Vows To Help In Post-Ebola Recovery

The Ambassador of the Peoples’ Republic of China to Liberia, ZangYue, has announced China’s commitment to contribute meaningfully to Liberia’s post Ebola recovery program especially in medical assistance.

The Chinese Ambassador noted that China will be sending medical personnel to Liberia to help in this regard coupled with assistance to refurbish Liberia’s health delivery system.

Ambassador Yue said doctors who will be sent to Liberia will also assist in the training of medical personnel while playing a pivotal role in revamping the overwhelmed Liberian Health sector as a result of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).

Abby Martin pulls the plug on Breaking the Set


Abby Martin, who launched her television career on Berkeley Community Television and landed her own show on RT America, is pulling the plug on Breaking the Set, which will end in another week.

Here’s how she explains it in a post on Media Roots, an advocacy group she started:

RT has given me opportunities I will be eternally thankful for and hosting Breaking the Set has been the best and most invaluable experience of my life. I never imagined the kind of support it would generate, proving how many people are hungry for raw truth and systemic change.

Throughout the course of the show, I’m most proud of the stories we’ve done on the road – Pine Ridge, Detroit, Gulf Coast, Guantanamo Bay and soon to be released Cuba. As such, after almost three years of reporting from the studio I’ve decided to focus on investigative field reporting.

Please note I’m not stopping or going anywhere. If I can’t find a platform to host my show vision with the same editorial freedom, I will turn to crowdsourcing. And until I establish my next venture I’ll be writing daily, podcasting, producing video shorts and doing talks around the world.

Please follow me on facebook, youtubetwitter and my website Media Roots to stay tuned.

I’m excited to put all my heart into the last two weeks of the most hard hitting show on TV and celebrate a great run, all of which wouldn’t have been possible without you.

Much love and appreciation to everyone for supporting me and my future endeavors.

Never Stop Breaking the Set.

We watched her evolution into a self-assured and provocative journalist, and she has covered some of the most critical issues of the day with an increasingly authoritative voice.

We hope she finds a new source for funding that will enable her to address the same range of issues and attract the same notable interview subjects. While the costs have come down on the technical end, journalism isn’t cheap.

Meanwhile, here’s the latest edition of Breaking the Set:

Brainwashing American Youth, AIPAC 2015 & Cancer at the Dollar Store

Program notes:

Abby Martin Breaks the Set on Rewriting History, AIPAC 2015, The Real Media Lies, and AUMF Again

LIKE Breaking the Set @ http://fb.me/JournalistAbbyMartin
FOLLOW Abby Martin @ http://twitter.com/AbbyMartin

EPISODE BREAKDOWN: On this episode of Breaking the Set, Abby Martin talks about a recent proposal in the Oklahoma State Legislature that would ban Advanced Placement US History courses for being “un-American” for teaching events like the Trial of Tears. Abby then speaks with Israeli dissident Ronnie Barkan then joins Abby to discuss the role Zionism and AIPAC play in US politics in light of the upcoming AIPAC conference in DC .

Abby then juxtaposes the outrage over Brian Williams’ lie about his experience in Iraq with the lack of concern with lies peddled by journalists like Judith Miller in the lead up to the Iraq War. Abby then interviews journalist Sam Sacks on Obama’s recent request for Congressional approval to use force against ISIS.

Abby wraps up the show with Lee Camp and John F. O’Donnell of Redacted Tonight to discuss everything from factory farms to Walmart’s recent announcement that they will raise their minimum wage… to $9.

InSecurityWatch: Crimes, hacks, terror, war


And so much more. . .

We begin with the most fundamental sort of domestic InSecurity, via the Oakland Tribune:

Criminalization of homeless expensive, inhumane and ineffective, UC law team says

When homelessness increased nationwide in the early 1980s, California cities responded with ever more laws that unfairly punished the poor and failed to improve the problem, according to a critical UC Berkeley report released Thursday.

Over the past 30 years, cities statewide “have been engaged in a race to the bottom by increasing criminalization, hoping to drive homeless people away and make them someone else’s problem,” the study says.

The 53-page report, authored by the UC Berkeley School of Law Policy Advocacy Clinic, says the rising number of anti-homeless laws has been costly for taxpayers and brought more hardship than help to the state’s most vulnerable residents.

From TheLocal.fr, sounding the intolerance alarm across the Atlantic:

‘France must combat rising racism urgently’

A damning report from the Council of Europe has concluded that the French public are becoming more racist and more intolerant towards minorities, including Muslims and Jews and that there was an urgent need to combat it.

France has “issues” with intolerance, racism, and respect for the human rights of migrants, according to a new report by the Council of Europe, an independent body which aims to improve cooperation between European countries.

The Council’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, based his findings on a visit in September last year – long before the Charlie Hebdo attacks that left the nation traumatized.

From TheLocal.at, a case of Austrian mistaken identity:

Suspect ‘Isis’ house turns out to be drug den

Armed police were called to a council flat on Vienna’s Margaretengürtel on Wednesday after a bailiff reported having seen an Isis-like flag with Arabic writing in the apartment.

The bailiff had entered the apartment because the tenants had not paid a mobile phone bill – but he quickly retreated and called the police when he saw what he thought was an Isis-flag in the hallway.

When armed police and sniffer dogs entered the empty apartment they found that rather than harbouring suspected extremists it appeared to be an amateur drugs lab, where the tenants may have been trying to manufacture crystal meth.

A report in the Heute tabloid said that police found Isis-flags, swords and machines guns in the apartment, but Vienna police spokesman Thomas Keiblinger said this was nonsense and that there was no evidence that the tenants had been radicalized or had anything to do with Isis. The flag with Arabic script was religious rather than Islamist, he said.

From Network World, hacking the world:

NSA, UK’s GCHQ reportedly hacked encryption of SIM card maker

U.S. and U.K. intelligence agencies have reportedly hacked into the computer network of giant SIM card maker Gemalto and taken smartphone encryption keys potentially used by customers of hundreds of mobile phone carriers worldwide.

The Gemalto hack, by the U.S. National Security Agency and the U.K. Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), allowed the two spy agencies to monitor a large portion of the world’s mobile phone voice and data traffic, according to a story in The Intercept.

The hack was detailed in a 2010 GCHQ document leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the story said.

From the Guardian, a petition for British spooky disclosure:

Thousands sign petition to discover if GCHQ spied on them

  • Privacy International campaign comes after tribunal rules that sharing between US and UK of intercepted communications was unlawful

More than 6,000 people in 24 hours have signed up to a campaign to discover if Britain’s communications intelligence agency, GCHQ, has illegally spied on them.

Privacy International launched the campaign in the wake of a court ruling this month that said regulations governing the sharing between Britain and the US of electronic communications intercepted in bulk breached human rights law for seven years until last December.

Privacy International says the decision by the investigatory powers tribunal allows anyone in the world to ask GCHQ if the US unlawfully shared their individual records with Britain. “Did GCHQ illegally spy on you?Have you ever made a phone call, sent an email, or, you know, used the internet? Of course you have,” says the campaign.

Homeland Security News Wire covers the universalized panopticon:

Sensor network

  • Wireless sensors transform real-time monitoring infrastructure

Small wireless computing devices, ranging from the size of a matchbox to the size of a dime, are going to change the way Florida monitors its water quality, sea level rise, hurricanes, agriculture, aquaculture, and even its aging senior population. The types of sensing devices developed by computer scientist Jason Hallstrom, Ph.D., who recently joined Florida Atlantic University, can collect information about the surrounding environment and transmit that information to cloud-based computing systems that store, analyze and present that information to educators, researchers and decision-makers. Deployable at massive scales, the technology represents a paradigm shift in how our world is observed and managed.

“This is a thrilling time to join Florida Atlantic University,” said Hallstrom. “The university is on an amazing trajectory, driven by capabilities and opportunities that span every college, at every campus. There is incredible capacity to build interdisciplinary teams here, teams that are going to have a fundamental impact on the state and the nation.”

An FAU release reports that Hallstrom, a professor in FAU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science, will serve as director of the Institute for Sensing and Embedded Network Systems Engineering at FAU (ISENSE@FAU). ISENSE will serve as an interdisciplinary research hub, drawing talent from both within and outside FAU to tackle grand challenge problems head-on through novel hardware, software and ideas.

From El País, automotive panopticon disclosure in Spain:

Spanish highway agency to reveal locations of all speed cameras

  • Motorists to be given early warning of upcoming traffic controls, both fixed and mobile

Drivers on Spanish roads will soon know the location of all speed cameras and speed traps and receive early warnings of their presence, the head of Spain’s DGT national highway agency announced on Wednesday.

“Our 2014 figures consolidate us as one of the safest countries in terms of moving around,” said DGT director general María Segui during a congressional appearance.

But the announcement follows news that the decline in road deaths appears to have bottomed out after a decade of sharp drops: 1,131 people died in traffic accidents last year compared with 1,134 in 2013.

From Nextgov, a cell for your cell?:

Justice, DHS Quarantine Smartphones Returning from Abroad

Officials at the departments of Justice and Homeland Security typically expect employees’ smartphones will be bugged when they travel overseas. So, they are experimenting with various ways to neutralize foreign spy gear.

For years, the FBI has warned government and corporate executives not to use hotel Wi-Fi connections, because of reports that foreign travelers were unknowingly downloading spyware.

When DHS personnel travel, “we understand you go there, you go to Ukraine, you come back, there’s a good chance that the BlackBerry or any other device, Androids, iOS, whatever, is probably owned. We get that,” said Vincent Sritapan, a cybersecurity division program manager at the DHS Science and Technology Directorate.

To contain the damage, Homeland Security limits what employees can see on their mobile device overseas, and “when it comes back, it’s usually quarantined,” he added.

From the Yomiuri Shimbun, lost in translation:

Documents leaked through free online translation service

Documents, including customers’ information of a megabank, have been posted on the Internet without owners’ knowledge after they were translated through a free online translation service, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

There are at least 30 cases of e-mail leaks in which the senders of the information were identified. They include e-mails between a ministry’s official and a major home appliance maker’s employee as well as e-mails from an automobile manufacturer to the company’s affiliate in Indonesia.

This online translation service is not that of major website operators such as Google, Yahoo and Excite. However, about 60 languages, including those spoken in Southeast Asian countries, are translated through the service.

From BBC News, hacked in the factory:

Lenovo taken to task over ‘malicious’ adware

Computer maker Lenovo has been forced to remove hidden adware that it was shipping on its laptops and PCs after users expressed anger.

The adware – dubbed Superfish – was potentially compromising their security, said experts.

The hidden software was also injecting adverts on to browsers using techniques more akin to malware, they added.

Lenovo faces questions about why and for how long it was pre-installed on machines – and what data was collected.

A hacking conviction via Network World:

Swedish man pleads guilty to peddling Blackshades malware

A Swedish man pleaded guilty Wednesday to peddling one of the most prevalent spying programs called Blackshades that was widely used by the criminal underground.

Alex Yucel, 24, pleaded guilty to one count of distributing malicious software. He could face a maximum of 10 years in prison, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York said. He is expected to be sentenced on May 22.

BlackShades, a remote access trojan, was marketed by its developers as a program for legitimate computer monitoring but was mostly used for stealing payment card data, recording a computer’s keystrokes and secretly controlling webcams. It was sold for between US$40 to $100.

A corporate snooping limitation: in Germany, via Deutsche Welle:

In ‘sick-leave secretary’ ruling, federal court limits spying on employees

  • A secretary on sick-leave for two months who was spied on has won a suit against her employer in Germany’s highest labor court. The ruling defines when detectives can be used to monitor employees.

Only under very limited circumstances can German companies spy on their workers, said judges of the Federal Court of Labor on Thursday, in a case that weighed a complaint by a secretary who claimed she had been unlawfully spied on.

“Only when an employer’s suspicions of a breach of duty are concrete and based on fact can a detective be used to monitor an employee,” the judges in Erfurt said on Thursday.

Specifically, the judges said that the secretary – who had been on sick leave – at a small metal parts plant in the western German city of Münster had been unlawfully spied on; her boss, they said, hadn’t possessed concrete justification for hiring a private detective to determine the veracity of her claims.

From the TheLocal.no, a Norse alarm:

Norway hunts suspected suicide bomber

Norway’s intelligence services have put out an international alert warning about a female Norwegian Islamic militant suspected of planning a suicide attack in Europe.

According to Sweden’s Göteborgs Tidning newspaper, Norway’s Police Security Service (PST) has put out an “orange notice”  warning that the woman, who has they believe has received weapons training in Syria, is now back in Europe.

According to the newspaper, the agency had received a tip-off from friends of the woman, who said that she may have had weapons training in Syria, and could be planning a suicide attack.

The woman has not been seen by her relatives for more than two months and there are fears that she may have crossed the border into Sweden. Swedish police and security services have been asked to keep an eye out for the potential terror suspect and to pass on any relevant information to authorities in Norway.

Danish announces a $150 million in new anti-terror security measures, via TheLocal.dk:

Denmark announces new anti-terror initiatives

The Danish government will spend nearly one billion kroner over the next four years to better defend the nation against terror, the prime minister announced Thursday.

In the aftermath of the twin shootings over the weekend that shocked the nation, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt on Thursday presented a new 12-point plan to combat terror.

“Our security level is high. Preparedness is high. But we are also challenged. Militant Islamists are constantly developing new ways of challenging our security,” the PM said at a press conference where she was joined by her ministers of justice, defence and the interior.

The plan will enable the intelligence services to better monitor Danes travelling abroad to fight with Isis, while also targeting the radicalisation of prisoners in jails.

And from Deutsche Welle, a comforting embrace:

Norwegian Muslims show solidarity with Jewish shooting victims

  • Norwegian Muslims are planning to form a “ring of peace” around a synagogue in the country’s capital, Oslo. Deadly shootings targeting free speech and the Jewish community in Copenhagen last week sparked the idea.

Young Muslims in Norway announced an event to a show of solidarity with Jews across Europe, as well as with their neighbors in Denmark: building a peace ring around a synagogue.

On a Facebook invitation for the event, to be held on Saturday, organizers say “Muslims want to show that we strongly reject any type of anti-Semitism and that we are here to support them.”

By Thursday, around 1,500 people had accepted the invitation.

The head of Oslo’s Jewish community, Ervin Kohn, told Norwegian broadcaster NRK he welcomed the idea, and hoped lots of people would turn up.

After the jump, Turkey alarms NATO with a possible Chinese missile deal, Washington reveals an Iraqi military move, Western doubts over more military involvement in Libya, Washington sets parmenters, and a pro-ISIS militia seizes a university, Boko Haram loses ground to Chad troops in Nigeria, Washington promises anti-Boko Haram forces intel and hardware, Afghan Taliban seek Pakistani talks and Pakistan sends signals, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe outline legal plans for military support abroad, more questions overs Abe’s WWII apology, and Japanese banks get government data to shut out Yakuza, Abe says gay marriage barred by constitution, and a curious case of corporeal intelligence. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, pollution, climate. . .


And more. . .

We begin with the Thomson Reuters Foundation and a call worthy of heeding:

Diseases affecting the poorest can be eliminated, scientists say

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday urged developing countries to invest more in tackling so-called neglected tropical diseases such as yaws, saying more investment would alleviate human misery and free people trapped in poverty.

Yaws affects mainly children and causes unsightly skin ulcers and painful bone infections that can make walking difficult. In some rare cases it can eat away people’s noses.

At least 50 million people were affected by the bacterial infection in the 1950s. When the WHO launched mass treatment campaigns with penicillin vaccines, the number of cases plummeted by 95 percent by the end of the 1960s, according to David Mabey, an expert in yaws and professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“But then it fell off the agenda. And we’re trying to put it back on,” Mabey said in an interview.

A video report from Agence France-Presse:

WHO urges billions to fight neglected tropical diseases

Program notes:

The World Health Organization urges countries to invest billions of dollars to tackle 17 neglected tropical diseases – including dengue fever, leprosy and sleeping sickness – which kill 500,000 people globally each year.

From Medical Daily, a measles update:

California Confirms 119 Cases Of Measles In State

Public health officials said on Wednesday that six more cases of measles had been confirmed in California, bringing to 119 the total number of people infected by a strain of the virus that has also been linked to a large outbreak in the Philippines.

More than 150 people across the United States have been diagnosed with measles, many of them linked to the wave of illness that authorities believe began when an infected person from out of the country visited Disneyland in late December.

California Department of Public Health researchers, in a report to federal officials released on Friday, said that specimens from 30 of the state’s measles patients had been genotyped and that all were of the same strain that has caused an outbreak in the Philippines.

A serious outbreak at a renowned hospital via the Los Angeles Times:

Superbug outbreak at UCLA: FDA warns medical scopes may spread deadly bacteria

The Food and Drug Administration warned hospitals and medical providers Thursday morning that a commonly used medical scope may have facilitated the deadly outbreak of a superbug at UCLA.

The warning posted by the federal agency comes after a Los Angeles Times report that two people who died at UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center were among seven patients there infected by a drug-resistant superbug. Hundreds of patients at medical centers around the country, including Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center, may have been exposed to the bacteria after physicians used the scopes in their treatment.

The FDA cautioned that the design of the scopes may make them more difficult to effectively clean. And the agency called on medical providers to meticulously wash the devices.

But even washing the scopes may not be adequate, the FDA warned. “Meticulously cleaning duodenoscopes prior to high-level disinfection should reduce the risk of transmitting infection, but may not entirely eliminate it,” the warning noted.

More from BBC News:

Nearly 180 people at a Los Angeles hospital may have been exposed to a deadly strain of bacteria from contaminated medical equipment. Two deaths at UCLA Medical Center have been linked to the case and seven others are being treated.

The patients were exposed to Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) during endoscopic procedures between October and January. A similar outbreak was reported last month in Seattle. Eleven patients died.

The infections are difficult to treat because many strains are resistant to antibiotics.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that CRE can lead to death in up to half of seriously infected patients.

An infectious disease abated, via StarAfrica:

Somalia being polio free for six months-UN

Somalia is marking six months since the last polio case was recorded in the country following an outbreak that affected 199 people, mostly children, reports said on Thursday.Polio was detected in Somalia in May 2013, for the first time in six years, after parents of a two-year-old girl in Mogadishu found she was unable to walk.

The virus, which can cause paralysis or even death, spread quickly affecting 194 people in 2013.

However, the number was contained to just five cases in 2014, one of them an adult who died, all in the remote Mudug region of Puntland, north-eastern Somalia. The last case was reported in Hobyo district, Mudug on 11 August 2014.

Since the outbreak began, the authorities, with the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) have targeted more than 2 million children under the age of five for vaccinations as well as children aged from five to 10 and adults in some areas.

A notable vaccine trial in Africa, via Outbreak News Today:

HIV vaccine trial, HVTN 100, launches in South Africa

A clinical trial called HVTN 100 has been launched in South Africa to study an investigational HIV vaccine regimen for safety and the immune responses it generates in study participants. This experimental vaccine regimen is based on the one tested in the U.S. Military HIV Research Program-led

RV144 clinical trial in Thailand—the first study to demonstrate that a vaccine can protect people from HIV infection. The HVTN 100 vaccine regimen was designed to provide greater protection than the RV144 regimen and has been adapted to the HIV subtype that predominates in southern Africa. The results of the HVTN 100 trial, expected in two years, will help determine whether or not this vaccine regimen will be tested for efficacy in a large future study in South Africa.

“A safe and effective HIV vaccine is essential to reach a timely, sustained end to the HIV/AIDS pandemic,” said Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. “The launch of HVTN 100 marks an important step forward in building upon the promising results of the RV144 trial to produce an HIV vaccine that could have a significant public health impact in southern Africa, where the HIV/AIDS pandemic is most pervasive.”

A Florida GMO fight takes wing, via New York Times:

Battle Rises in Florida Keys Over Fighting Mosquitoes With Mosquitoes

In this bite-size community near Key West, like so many other mosquito-plagued spots up and down the Florida Keys, residents long ago made peace with insecticides dropped into town by planes or rumbling by on trucks. Cans of Off are offered at outdoor parties. Patio screens are greeted with relief.

But Keys residents are far less enamored of another approach to mosquito control — a proposal to release the nation’s first genetically modified mosquitoes, hatched in a lab and pumped with synthetic DNA to try to combat two painful, mosquito-borne viral diseases, dengue and chikungunya.

If the federal Food and Drug Administration gives the go-ahead for the trial, Key Haven, with 444 houses built on a tiny peninsula, would become the focal point of the first American release of several million mosquitoes genetically altered by Oxitec, a British biotechnology company.

For denizens of a chain of islands notorious for their renegade spirit — Key West once jokingly broke away from the United States as the Conch Republic — this possibility is fraught with suspicion and indignation.

More flame retardant toxic concerns, via Newswise:

Flame Retardants Found to Cause Metabolic, Liver Problems

  • Findings Suggest Strong Link to Insulin Resistance, Obesity

Chemicals used as synthetic flame retardants that are found in common household items such as couches, carpet padding, and electronics have been found to cause metabolic and liver problems that can lead to insulin resistance, which is a major cause of obesity, according to new research from the University of New Hampshire.

“Being obese or overweight increases one’s risk of many diseases including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, gall bladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and certain cancers,” said Gale Carey, professor of nutrition and the lead researcher. In 2003, overweight and obesity-related medical expenses were 9.1 percent of total U.S. medical expenses at about $80 billion. New Hampshire’s portion of this expense was $302 million.

Carey and her team of researchers found that laboratory rats exposed to polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, experienced a disruption in their metabolism that resulted in the development of metabolic obesity and enlarged livers.

“Despite the plethora of resources devoted to understanding the roles of diet and exercise in the obesity epidemic, this epidemic continues to escalate, suggesting that other environmental factors may be involved. At the biochemical level there is a growing body of experimental evidence suggesting certain environmental chemicals, or ‘obesogens’, could disrupt the body’s metabolism and contribute to the obesity epidemic,” she said.

Mashable covers a notable African health win:

How Guinea worm disease went from 3 million cases to 126

Program notes:

In the late 1980s, Guinea worm disease — a nasty, parasitic infection caused from drinking contaminated water — affected more than 3 million people in Africa. Now, only 126 cases remain.

From Newswise, toxic concerns in the laundry room:

Laundry Detergent Pods: What You Need to Know

Laundry detergent pods became available on the US market in 2010 and are easy to use. They are a single detergent packet that can be easily dropped into a load of laundry. These pods contain highly concentrated detergents wrapped in a thin film that easily dissolves in water. They may resemble a small, brightly colored piece of candy which may be easily mistaken by children. These pods can also break when light pressure is applied to them. The appeal and design of laundry detergent pods has already resulted in many reported poisonings among children.

What do laundry detergent pods contain that is so toxic and what are the symptoms of exposure?

The film that surrounds the pod is often made of polyvinyl alcohol. It acts as a poor barrier between the person handling the pod and the detergents inside. The film dissolves easily and is safe for washing clothes. The detergents inside the pod are actually a cocktail of harsh chemicals. Ingredients are frequently disclosed on manufacturer websites.

These chemicals may include surfactants, bleaches, solvents, optical brighteners, enzymes, and preservatives. Relative to conventional laundry detergents, pods contain higher concentrations of surfactants which are often ethoxylated alcohols, of which 1,4-dioxane is a known carcinogenic byproduct. Other common ingredients include but are not limited to propylene glycol, ethanolamine, disodium distyrylbiphenyl disulfonate, and fragrances which are often volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

California takes on Big Soda, via the Guardian:

California takes fight to soft drink industry with plan for warning labels

  • State Democrats introduce bill that would require labels with warnings about obesity and tooth decay but admit industry is ‘formidable lobbying force’

Campaigners against sugary drinks have opened a new front in California with a proposal to label the drinks with warnings about obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.

Bill Monning, the state’s senate majority leader, and an influential Democrat, has introduced a bill which would require labels be placed on the front of containers or at the point of purchase.

If passed, it will set a precedent in the US and potentially transform public health policy, according to supporters.

“The root motivation for this is the continued epidemic of preventable diabetes and obesity in young people in California,” Monning told the Guardian. The problem was not just sodas, but sweet teas, sports drinks and energy drinks, he said.

Agence France-Presse covers a toxic holiday traditional fruit:

Toxic ‘Tet’ kumquats highlight Vietnam’s pesticide problem

Program notes:

Come the Lunar New Year, most Vietnamese families buy a kumquat tree — a symbol of prosperity whose candied fruits were once a delicacy but are now left uneaten as food safety scandals batter consumer confidence in Vietnam’s produce.

Agrochemical health fears in the Argentine, via VICE News:

Argentina’s Soybeans Help Feed the World But Might Be Making Locals Sick

Silvina Bettini is a bubbly young woman with purple makeup and matching earrings who lives six blocks from a soybean field in central Argentina. Already the mother of one child, she had hoped for another until a medical survey by a German NGO in April 2013 suggested her blood is contaminated with agrochemical residue from pesticides, including a toxic insecticide that is banned in most countries. Now she’s worried about what could happen to her baby.

Like many residents of Argentina’s farming communities, Bettini is concerned by a growing list of cases of birth defects, cancers, and other health problems that locals and some experts attribute to the ubiquitous use of agrochemicals in Argentina’s agriculture industry, the country’s economic engine. Argentine officials and Monsanto, the American agribusiness giant that manufactures the most common type of the herbicide, deny that the health problems are linked to the chemicals.

The agrochemical issue is most evident in Argentina’s soybean industry. The country is the world’s third-largest producer of soybeans. The crop is a staple ingredient of livestock feed, and therefore plays a part in almost every bite of commercially produced meat in the world. At the same time, most of Argentina’s soybeans — 98 percent — are genetically modified.

Because Argentina is the world’s biggest soybean exporter, selling significantly more soybean to foreign markets than Brazil or the United States, the soy sent from Argentina to the rest of world may pose a threat to global food security if levels of agrochemicals in exported products are not properly monitored, experts told VICE News.

After the jump, how the sun keeps burning even after you’ve escaped its rays, rising seas endanger millions of Bangladeshi islanders, climate change claims lemurian land, climate change suspected in a California sea lion crisis, evacuation by drought feared in Brazil, Chinese profits from Myanmar conflict logging, foreigners grab land in malnourished Mozambique, China takes a first in oceanic plastic dumping, Washington sets up air monitors in overseas missions, renewed hopes for a European tar sands oil ban, petro layoffs and a slowdown in Mexico, on to Fukushimapocalype Now!, with a stark declaration about lost fuel and a fear of regulatory collapse, plus dreamas of Liberian environmental banking. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Numbers, food, schools, vaccines


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

BLOG Ebola

More on the numbers from the News in Monrovia, Liberia:

WHO Reports Spike In Ebola Cases

The number of new Ebola cases rose for the second week in a row in West Africa, nearly doubling in Guinea, suggesting declines in the disease seen earlier this year had stalled, the World Health Organization stated in its latest situation report.

Efforts to wipe out the deadly virus are being hampered by people’s mistrust of health workers, and the number of people continuing to hide sick friends and relatives from authorities, particularly in Guinea’s capital Conakry, officials said.

West Africa recorded 144 new confirmed cases of Ebola in the week to Feb. 8 compared with 124 the previous week, the WHO said in a report.

“Despite improvements in case finding and management, burial practices, and community engagement, the decline in case incidence has stalled,” the U.N. agency said.

From the Associated Press, the high price of Ebolaphobia appealed:

Morocco appeals sanctions for refusing to host African Cup

Morocco has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against the heavy sanctions it faces for withdrawing as host of the African Cup of Nations because of the Ebola epidemic.

Morocco was expelled from the 2017 and 2019 tournaments and was fined $1 million by the Confederation of African Football. CAF also demanded a further $9 million in compensation.

CAS says it received the appeal Tuesday from the Moroccan Football Federation, which seeks to have the sanctions lifted and requested that a final ruling be issued by the end of March.

Next up, food, first from Outbreak News Today:

Ebola impact in Guinea: 470,000 people might be food insecure by March

Tens of thousands of people in rural areas of Guinea worst-hit by the Ebola epidemic will receive training on how to prevent the spread of the disease and support in producing food and generating income, through an agreement involving the World Bank, the country’s government, and FAO.

As part of the initiative, $5 million will be invested in FAO’s Ebola Response Programme which aims to assist rural households whose livelihoods and access to food are severely threatened by the impact of Ebola.

“The funding is a much needed contribution towards building the resilience of communities whose already precarious situation of chronic food insecurity has been exacerbated by Ebola-related disruptions to farm labour, agricultural production and food markets,” said Bukar Tijani, FAO Assistant Director-General/Regional Representative for Africa.

More on the African food situation from IRIN:

A map of hunger in 2015 – where to watch

Food shortages are often portrayed as random – the result of freak weather conditions or short-term political crises. Yet they are often deeply predictable – while short-term trends can exaggerate the impact, most of the causes are structural.

Last week the Famine Early Warning System (FEWS Net) released its latest forward-looking analysis of food needs in key countries. The data track not just which countries are likely to have food shortages this year but when they are likely to occur.

IRIN’s interactive map highlights countries that are particularly prone to crisis. Click on a country to see how many people are at risk, the level of crisis and when the potential lean season is.

FEWS Net doesn’t cover all countries with food crises. Syria, India, and Iraq, for example are excluded. This is partly due to FEWS Net’s  background – it was founded in Africa – and also partly because in the case of Syria and Iraq these trends are still new.

And the map itself:

BLOG Africa hunger

From the United Nations News Center, a tour draws to a close:

Ebola: UN development chief begins last leg of West Africa mission

The top United Nations development official today began the last leg of her Ebola-recovery focused visit to West Africa a day after she witnessed the reopening of schools in Liberia and urged the international community to support “recovery from this terrible crisis” beyond the emergency phase.

Before leaving the Liberian capital, Monrovia, Helen Clark, Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), said late Monday that the crisis will not be over until there are zero cases of Ebola, which has affected more 23,000 people, with some 9,300 deaths. “It is clear that no one will be happy until there are zero cases across all three epicentre countries,” the UNDP Administrator told a press conference in Monrovia. “But the important message now is that international solidarity with Liberia should not end at the end of the emergency phase. It must continue in support of recovery from this terrible crisis.

Noting schools had re-opened in Liberia on Monday, shuttered for more than six months to help prevent transmission, were finally re-opened, she said Liberia was emerging from a “very traumatic time”. There was now, she said, reason for hope.

Tasked by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the lead the UN system’s recovery efforts, UNDP is committed to working with Liberia as it follows its path to recovery in a way that is consistent with the Government and people’s own longer term development aspirations.

From the Guardian, another European alarm:

Ebola: British health worker brought to UK from Sierra Leone for assessment

  • Woman potentially had contact with virus but Public Health England stresses risk of infection is very low

A British health worker potentially exposed to Ebola has been brought back to the UK for assessment and monitoring.

Public Health England (PHE) said the woman had potential contact with the deadly virus while in Sierra Leone.

“The individual has not been diagnosed with Ebola, does not currently have any symptoms and their risk of developing the infection remains very low,” PHE said.

On to Sierra Leoneitself and a vaccine trial with StarAfrica:

S/Leone: Ebola vaccine trial begins in March

Sierra Leone will commence the first trial of Ebola vaccine in the second week of March, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation said on Tuesday. The Sierra Leone Ebola Vaccine Evaluation Study (SLEVES) will take part in the exercise in four districts, including the capital, Freetown, covering all areas of the country currently hardest hit by the disease.

At least 6000 people will take part in the trial, mostly health workers and other people involved in the fight against the epidemic, Dr Mohamed Samai, Provost of the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences, University of Sierra Leone, said Tuesday.

Dr Samai told reporters at a special press briefing marking the formal presentation of the program that Sierra Leone has lost 12 doctors, among them hundreds of other health workers, and that as such it was crucial that they were protected.

FrontPageAfrica covers back to school day:

‘Poor Show’: Some Schools Resume Classes in Liberia

The resumption of schools in Liberia got off to a slow start Monday, as many schools in the country did not reopen as expected. In Monrovia, most of the Private schools appeared to have opted to resume classes on March 2, 2015, the previous date announced by the government before it somersaulted less than a day later to February 16. Students turned up at the William V. S. Tubman High School one of the most prestigious government-run high schools in the country in drops.

Many of the students were seen in color clothes instead of uniforms with some wearing flip-flops on their feet. They seemed happy to be back though after the long break caused by the deadly Ebola Virus Disease. Theo Jallah, a student at the school said he could not be in school because he only had a uniform shirt and no trousers. He said things have been tough and he lost a lot during the Ebola Outbreak.

“I cannot wear a uniform to school right now because I don’t have it. I have lose many things during the last year and the Ebola situation made it worse,” he said. Peter Okoka, a 12th grader says he is happy to be back in school because he just sat at home idle with nothing to do.

And a second FrontPageAfrica story on the topic:

UNICEF Provides Ebola Prevention Kits to Aid Schools

As schools begin reopening in Liberia today, thousands of kits containing basic hygiene items and thermometers are helping parents, staff and other community members keep children safe from infection from Ebola. In partnership with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), UNICEF has provided over 7,000 kits, which partners have been distributing to over 4,000 schools in all 98 school districts. School normally resume academic activities in September, but had remained closed because of Ebola.

“The Ebola outbreak has had a devastating effect on our health and education systems and our way of life in Liberia. We have managed to beat back the spread of the virus through collective efforts,” said Hon. Etmonia D. Tarpeh, Liberia’s Minister of Education. “Reopening and getting our children back to school is an important aspect of ensuring children’s education is not further interrupted,” she added.

With the support of UNICEF, and other international partners, the Government of Liberia has developed protocols for the safe re-opening of schools. Among other steps, these protocols call for setting up hand-washing stations, checking the temperature of anyone entering the school, establishing an isolation area for children and staff who may fall ill, and having in place a system of referral to the nearest health facility.

From the News, vaccine questions:

Civil Society Meet On Trial Vaccines

The Civil Society Ebola Response Task Force on Tuesday, February 10 held a consultation with Dr. Stephen Kennedy, Co-investigator of the Partnership for Research on Ebola Vaccines in Liberia (PREVAIL).

The meeting which was held at Search for Common Grounds in Sinkor was geared towards educating members of the Civil Society Task Force and media practitioners about the ongoing trials of two experimental Ebola vaccines in Liberia.

Dr. Kennedy told the gathering that PREVAIL is a joint Liberia – US partnership geared towards developing Liberia’s capacity to study common infectious diseases in Liberia and developing the country’s clinical research capacity.

And the Liberian Observer covers an ongoing crisis:

Ebola Survivors and Workers against Discrimination & Stigmatization

..Says Mercy Corps

Several Ebola survivors and health workers in Liberia’s fifteen counties have expressed displeasure about the issue of discrimination and stigmatization in their communities and country at large.

The survivors and Ebola health workers made the disclosure recently following Mercy Corps massive citizen-led community survey of people’s attitude and behavior relating to Ebola, which has so far received over 12,500 responses from across Liberia.

According to the survey, half of those surveyed said, that they would be uncomfortable visiting the house of an Ebola survivor while  nearly two thirds said they are not  comfortable eating from the same bowl as an Ebola worker.

The survey also proves that survivors and workers are also facing serious discrimination of which their families and frontline workers is having sometimes tragic Psychological and economic consequences, the NGO cautioned.