Category Archives: Poverty

The Empire Report: The corrupt Saudi state

In her latest edition of The Empire Files, Abby Martin takes on the corrupt Saudi royal house and their brutal campaigns of repression and class warefare, armed and supported by Barack Obama’s government.

Sexual repression, assassinations of labor leaders, and massacres of political protesters have been part of the House of Saud’s leadership style for generations, and Abby Martin lays it all out in context.

From Telesur English:

The Real House of Saud – Saudi Arabia’s Oil-For-Tyranny

Program notes:

Meet the new head of the United Nations panel on Human Rights: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Abby Martin takes us inside the brutal reality of this police-state monarchy, and tells the untold people’s history of resistance to it. With a major, catastrophic war in Yemen and looming high-profile executions of activists, The Empire Files exposes true nature of the U.S.-Saudi love affair.

Chart of the day: Chinese rank their own woes

From a new report [PDF] from the Pew Research Center:

Microsoft Word - Pew Research Center China Report FINAL Septembe

R. Cobb and Tom Bates, a study in contrast

To esnl, R. [Ron] Cobb was America’s best cartoonist of the 1960s, surpassing even the estimable Paul Conrad.

Cobb never won a Pulitzer, unlike Conrad, no doubt because Cobb worked for an underground paper, the late, lamented Los Angeles Free Press [“the Freep” to fans] while Conrad drew for the Los Angeles Times.

But, like Conrad, the earthiness of Cobb’s characters and his skill with the pen [remember those?] imparted a power to his images that makes them as relevant today as when he drafted them a half-century ago.

We periodically surf the Web in search of “new” Cobb cartoons [meaning those offerings which haven’t appeared online before], and today we found several, including one especially relevant for Berkeley in the second decade of the 21st Century, featuring a figure who could well be esnl on Shattuck Avenue in downtown Berkeley, circa 2030, though the notion that the city might provide a bench is ludicrous:

BLOG RCobbBerkeley

My primary beat during the six years I spent reporting for the late, and also lamented, Berkeley Daily Planet was land use — which was the one issue dominating a cash-strapped city government headed by a mayor and city council majority whose election campaigns were primarily funded by the real estate development sector.

Mayor Tom Bates, himself a one-time developer and subsequently state legislator, never met a development he’d didn’t love, nor a developer who wasn’t an instant BFF as well as a near-certain future campaign contributor.

Bates also prides himself on being a Cal Bears Rose Bowl starter in 1959, and his alumni status has been exploited by UC Berkeley’s real estate development arm as the school increasingly builds and leases off-campus, removing property from property tax roles [even that leased property is stricken form the rolls for the duration of the lease], while other administrators press for more high-rise apartment buildings, driven by the end of construction of new university-owned student housing.

In addition, Bates has thoroughly backed the push for the destruction of the city’s last industrial district to pave the way for university-spawned corporate startups.

The next result is a push for downtown high-rise proliferation, eased measures for destroying landmark buildings, and a push for gentrification of the city’s few remaining lower-income neighborhoods housing the folks needed to keep all those glistening new erections working.

Berkeley is losing its historic character, and the latest monstrosity planned for the city center will actually block the view of San Francisco Bay from the university’s signature campanile, which was designed by architect John Galen Howard to offer an unimpaired view of the world-renowned Golden Gate. The project is being ramrodded by Mark Rhoades, formerly the city’s Land Use Planning Manager.

The end result is that the city loses character and rich developers get richer building costlier apartments that force students deeper into debt to pay enrich all those developers and the former public servants on their payrolls and help them bankroll elections to make them even richer.

Meanwhile, Bates and his allies regularly reduce requirements for fixed percentages of low-income housing in new buildings as developers plead poverty.

Ain’t it grand?!

John Oliver skewers ‘justice’ in a plutocracy

John Oliver continues to prove that he’s more than a worthy successor to the 60 Minutes of yore, tackling social issues with thoroughness and a touch of surrealism in a way that renders some of society’s most grievous injustices in a way that makes that both intelligible and memorable.

Consider, for instance, this segment on the nation’s deeply flawed system for providing constitutionally mandated criminal defense attorneys to the nation’s poorest.

From Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Public Defenders

Program notes:

The Miranda warning includes the right to a public defender. It doesn’t include the fact that public defenders are highly overworked and grossly underpaid.

Note that among the most overworked public defenders in the nation are in California’s Fresno County, with each members of the agency’s staff assigned an average of a thousand cases a year.

Oliver’s opinions matter, so much so that an 8 March segment he aired on the lack of civil rights in America’s offshore territories was cited in a 26 August decision [PDF] of the nation’s second highest court, the United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

EnviroWatch: Ills, climate, toxins, water, nukes

We begin with an outbreak from Outbreak News Today:

Ecuador city declares chikungunya ‘state of emergency’

The northwestern Ecuadorian city of Esmeraldas has declared a state of emergency due to the spread of chikungunya, according to a Globedia report (computer translated).

Esmeraldas mayor, Lenin Lara, declared the state of emergency to allocate resources to combat the spread of the mosquito borne viral disease.

Since the first autochthonous transmission of chikungunya reported was reported in the country in December, Ecuador has seen in excess of 200 cases, with approximately half being reported from the city of Esmeraldas, which borders Colombia.

Another epidemic via Outbreak News Today:

Dengue fever in the Americas: 100,000 cases through February

Brazil has reported the most cases in the Americas with 72,254 of the 106,465 suspected and confirmed cases, or 68 percent.

Following Brazil in case burden is Colombia, which has seen 11,242 cases to date. Paraguay and Peru have reported in excess of 1,000 cases this year.

Central America and Mexico account for more than 17,500 cases with Mexico (6391), Nicaragua (3823) and Honduras (4302) seeing the most.

From the Associated Press, a connection:

UNICEF warns lack of toilets in Pakistan tied to stunting

More than 40 million people in Pakistan do not have access to a toilet, forcing them to defecate in the open, which in turn is a major contributor to stunting in the country, a top UNICEF official said.

“There are 41 million people who do not have access to a toilet in Pakistan and as a result they are defecating in the open. And open defecation has significant health and nutritional consequences,” said Geeta Rao Gupta, deputy executive director at UNICEF. She recently spoke to The Associated Press during a trip to Pakistan to draw attention to the problem.

“Open defecation is a major contributor to stunting and that’s why we’ve got to do all we can to stop it,” she said.

Pakistan is the third-largest country when it comes to people going to the bathroom in the open, behind India and Indonesia. The problem can spread disease and lead to intestinal infections, which can contribute to stunting in young children, she said.

And from BBC News, a canine diagnostician:

Frankie the dog ‘sniffs out thyroid cancer’

A dog has been used to sniff out thyroid cancer in people who had not yet been diagnosed, US researchers say. Tests on 34 patients showed an 88% success rate in finding tumours.

The team, presenting their findings at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, said the animal had an “unbelievable” sense of smell.

Cancer Research UK said using dogs would be impractical, but discovering the chemicals the dogs can smell could lead to new tests.

From the Guardian, accelerating:

Global warming ‘set to speed up to rates not seen for 1,000 years’

  • By 2020 the average temperature rise per decade will be 0.25C in the northern hemisphere, more than double the 900 years preceding the 20th century

People need to brace themselves for accelerating climate change that could alter the way we live even over short time scales, scientists have warned.

New evidence suggests the rate at which temperatures are rising in the northern hemisphere could be 0.25C per decade by 2020 – a level not seen for at least 1,000 years.

The analysis, based on a combination of data from more than two dozen climate simulation models from around the world, looked at the rate of change in 40-year long time spans.

Lead scientist Dr Steve Smith, from the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said: “We focused on changes over 40-year periods, which is similar to the lifetime of houses and human-built infrastructure such as buildings and roads.

“In the near term, we’re going to have to adapt to these changes.”

And from the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, Republican insanity:

In Florida, officials ban term climate change

The state of Florida is the region most susceptible to the effects of global warming in this country, according to scientists. Sea-level rise alone threatens 30 percent of the state’s beaches over the next 85 years.

But you would not know that by talking to officials at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state agency on the front lines of studying and planning for these changes.

DEP officials have been ordered not to use the term “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

The policy goes beyond semantics and has affected reports, educational efforts and public policy in a department with about 3,200 employees and $1.4 billion budget.

“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”

Homeland Security News Wire adds a complication:

Sea level rise causing changes in ocean tide levels, tidal ranges

Scientists have found that ocean tides have changed significantly over the last century at many coastal locations around the world. Increases in high tide levels and the tidal range were found to have been similar to increases in average sea level at several locations.

Scientists from the University of Southampton have found that ocean tides have changed significantly over the last century at many coastal locations around the world. Increases in high tide levels and the tidal range were found to have been similar to increases in average sea level at several locations.

The findings of the study are published online in the journal Earth’s Future.

While the New York Times discovers greener ag in the heartland:

Farmers Put Down the Plow for More Productive Soil

Gabe Brown is in such demand as a speaker that for every invitation he accepts, he turns down 10 more. At conferences, like the one held here at a Best Western hotel recently, people line up to seek his advice.

“The greatest roadblock to solving a problem is the human mind,” he tells audiences.

Mr. Brown, a balding North Dakota farmer who favors baseball caps and red-striped polo shirts, is not talking about disruptive technology start-ups, political causes, or the latest self-help fad.

He is talking about farming, specifically soil-conservation farming, a movement that promotes leaving fields untilled, “green manures” and other soil-enhancing methods with an almost evangelistic fervor.

Such farming methods, which mimic the biology of virgin land, can revive degenerated earth, minimize erosion, encourage plant growth and increase farmers’ profits, their proponents say. And by using them, Mr. Brown told more than 250 farmers and ranchers who gathered at the hotel for the first Southern Soil Health Conference, he has produced crops that thrive on his 5,000-acre farm outside of Bismarck, N.D., even during droughts or flooding.

From the Guardian, a call to clear the air:

‘Environmental racism’: Bronx activists decry Fresh Direct’s impact on air quality

Whites and minorities in the US breathe different quality air, with the latter exposed to 38% higher levels of nitrogen dioxide. And it is decisions like the one to place trucking operations for Fresh Direct in the Bronx, says activist group South Bronx Unite, that exacerbate the problem

A comprehensive 2006 study carried out by NYU researchers found a direct correlation between the air pollution (diesel fumes in particular) in [Danny] Chervoni’s neighborhood and the high rates of asthma among residents. The densely populated area – there are over 90,000 people living within 2.2 sq miles – is surrounded by four major highways funneling commercial and other traffic in and out of Manhattan. And the waterfront, where as a child Chervoni and his friends used to swim in the river and pick fruit from the apple and pear trees, is now home to several fossil fuel plants, a 5,000-ton-a-day waste transfer station, a sewage treatment facility, a FedEx hub and a Wall Street Journal/New York Post printing and distribution center.

One of the key recommendations of the NYU study was to curb pollution from truck exhaust. So when state and local officials proposed in 2012 to subsidize the relocation of Fresh Direct, a major trucking business, to one of the few remaining vacant lots on the waterfront – a move that would add an estimated 1,000 more truck trips through the neighborhood every day – a variety of community groups decided enough was enough. They joined together to form South Bronx Unite, and they’ve been fighting the proposal ever since.

The group contends that the levels of pollution their community is being subjected to is “environmental racism”. It is a claim echoed by many low-income communities of color around the country, whom research has shown are disproportionately impacted by polluting industries – specifically trash incinerators, landfills and fossil fuel power plants.

From the Guardian, more water woes ahead:

Why fresh water shortages will cause the next great global crisis

  • Last week drought in São Paulo was so bad, residents tried drilling through basement floors for groundwater. As reservoirs dry up across the world, a billion people have no access to safe drinking water. Rationing and a battle to control supplies will follow

Water is the driving force of all nature, Leonardo da Vinci claimed. Unfortunately for our planet, supplies are now running dry – at an alarming rate. The world’s population continues to soar but that rise in numbers has not been matched by an accompanying increase in supplies of fresh water.

The consequences are proving to be profound. Across the globe, reports reveal huge areas in crisis today as reservoirs and aquifers dry up. More than a billion individuals – one in seven people on the planet – now lack access to safe drinking water.

Last week in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, home to 20 million people, and once known as the City of Drizzle,drought got so bad that residents began drilling through basement floors and car parks to try to reach groundwater. City officials warned last week that rationing of supplies was likely soon. Citizens might have access to water for only two days a week, they added.

In California, officials have revealed that the state has entered its fourth year of drought with January this year becoming the driest since meteorological records began. At the same time, per capita water use has continued to rise.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Mainichi:

Radiation decontamination volunteers not supported by national gov’t

At least 30,000 volunteer workers have been involved in forays into areas in Fukushima Prefecture that fall under direct management of the national government due to high level of radiation, it has been learned from volunteer organizations.

These volunteer workers, who are not given any support by the national government for the management of their radiation levels, have engaged in decontamination work such as cutting grass over 2,500 times, efforts supposed be carried out by the government.

While the national government introduces volunteers to work in areas of relatively low radiation that are being decontaminated by municipal governments, it has little awareness of volunteer work in areas under its own direct jurisdiction.

From JapanToday, a continuing conflict:

Fukushima residents torn over nuclear waste storage plan

Norio Kimura lost his wife, father and 7-year-old daughter Yuna in the March 2011 tsunami.

Now, he fears he may lose his land, too, as Japan’s government wants to build a sprawling radioactive waste storage site in the shadow of the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant.

Like many here, Kimura is angry the government is set to park 30 million tons of radioactive debris raked up after the nuclear accident on his former doorstep. Few believe Tokyo’s assurances that the site will be cleaned up and shut down after 30 years.

“I can’t believe they’re going to dump their trash here after all we’ve been put through,” said Kimura, 49, standing near the weathered planks on a shrub-covered hill that represent all that’s left of his home.

From the Asahi Shimbun, piling up:

FOUR YEARS AFTER: Radioactive debris continues to stack up at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant

With nowhere to put it, refuse and debris contaminated with radioactive materials continue to pile up at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant here.

A total of 258,300 cubic meters of radioactive debris was produced from the March 2011 accident to the end of this January in the plant, where decommissioning work is under way.

The amount is equivalent to the capacity of about 650 25-meter-long swimming pools.

NHK WORLD covers a delay:

Public housing for Fukushima facing delays

Construction of public housing in Fukushima Prefecture is facing significant delays. The housing is meant for those forced to leave their homes after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and the ensuing nuclear accident.

Fukushima Prefecture plans to build around 2,700 units for people affected by the earthquake and tsunami. 4,900 are planned for those affected by the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

But only 44 percent of the units for quake and tsunami victims were ready for occupancy at the end of February. Only 5 percent has been completed for the nuclear evacuees.

And from the Mainichi, a symbolic move:

Evacuated Fukushima town to remove ironic nuclear signboards

The town of Futaba, which has been evacuated since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, decided Monday to remove street signboards propagating the positive aspects of nuclear power.

The signboards in desolated streets carry slogans promoting atomic energy, including one reading, “Nuclear power: the energy for a bright future.” Town officials said they will be removed because they have become decrepit.

The town authority on the same day submitted to the municipal assembly the fiscal 2015 draft budget earmarking some 4.1 million yen for the removal. If the budget is approved, the removal will begin from as early as in August, the officials said.

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, climate, water, nukes

We begin with measles, via Deutsche Welle:

Berlin measles epidemic reaches new high

  • A measles outbreak in Berlin continues to see a rise in new cases. Calls for compulsory vaccination are becoming ever louder, with a strong majority of Germans supporting a new law in favor of vaccination.

A measles outbreak in Berlin continues to see a rise in new cases. Calls for compulsory vaccination are becoming ever louder, with a strong majority of Germans supporting a new law in favor of vaccination.

Berlin saw 111 new cases of measles this week, health officials said on Friday, making it the worst for new infections since the current outbreak began in October.

A spokeswoman for the State Office of Health and Social Affairs said 724 people had sickened since the start of the epidemic, an overwhelming majority of whom had not been vaccinated. Around a quarter of the infected patients have required hospital treatment. Seventy babies under the age of one have also caught the illness.

The outbreak has provoked new calls for vaccination against measles and other preventable diseases to be made compulsory in Germany. According to a survey commissioned this week by public service broadcaster ARD, 72 percent of Germans are in favor of compulsory vaccination.

From the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a climate/illness linkage:

Malaria resurfaces in Rio as drought displaces mosquitoes

Malaria has resurfaced in Rio de Janeiro as a historic drought in Brazil’s southeastern region is driving mosquitoes in the Atlantic Forest to seek water in areas frequented by people, such as waterfalls.

“The mosquitoes in this area habitually lay their eggs in water collected in bromeliads (plants), deep in the forest,” said infectologist Alberto Chebabo.

“So the drought probably forced them to look for water in more humid places, such as rivers and waterfalls, where people often go at this time of year,” Chebabo, of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, said in a recent interview.

“This may have increased contamination.”

From Outbreak News Today, an old familiar returns:

Chickenpox outbreaks in California and Indiana schools

The vaccine preventable childhood disease, chickenpox, has been implicated in school outbreaks in California and Indiana, according to local health officials.

In Santa Barbara County, CA, the health department  has confirmed 5 cases of chickenpox and 1 case of shingles associated with a yet unnamed local school in the county. The majority of confirmed cases were in children who were not vaccinated.

In Central Indiana, parents received an email yesterday notifying them that there are an unspecified number of confirmed cases of chickenpox in the Carmel Clay Schools. Indiana law requires that all students in kindergarten through 12th grade have two doses of the varicella vaccine, unless the child has a history of chickenpox.

From CBC News, Big Pharma victims get a long-delayed payout:

Thalidomide survivors to receive $125,000 lump sum payment each

  • Compensation package also includes up to $168 million for ongoing medical assistance

The federal government is offering a $125,000 lump-sum payment to each of Canada’s 95 thalidomide victims.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose said the money is tax free and intended to cover urgent health-care needs.

The long-awaited compensation package also includes a total of up to $168 million for ongoing medical assistance based on individual circumstances.

“I would like to express heartfelt sympathy and great regret for the decades of tremendous suffering and personal struggle that exposure to thalidomide has inflicted on survivors and their loved ones,” Ambrose told a news conference in Edmonton.

From BBC News, a subject we’ve been devoted to since our first posts:

Sex-change chemicals in Potomac

An investigation into the cleanliness of rivers feeding Washington’s Potomac River has revealed the presence of sex-changing chemicals.

Pollutants which contain the chemicals, known as endocrine disrupters, were found in several tributaries and in the smallmouth bass fish living within. The US Geological Survey (USGS) study followed the discovery of high numbers of intersex fish in the Potomac basin.

Endocrine disrupters can mimic or block hormones in the body. Either naturally occurring or man-made, they can interfere with the endocrine system causing birth defects and reproductive irregularities.

More from BBC News:

Chemicals linked to problems with otters’ penis bones

Otters’ reproductive organs may be affected by chemicals in our waterways, according to scientists.

Experts studying the reproductive health of the mammals in England and Wales were concerned to find a decrease in the weight of otters’ penis bones.

Other health problems in males included an increase in undescended testicles and cysts on sperm-carrying tubes. Experts suggest that, based on previous research, the changes could be linked to hormone-disrupting chemicals.

The study, funded by the Environment Agency, was co-authored by the Chemicals, Health and Environment (CHEM) Trust and the Cardiff University Otter Project, and features on BBC One series Countryfile.

The Guardian examines an ancient toxic pollutant:

20th century lead pollution in South America was worst in two millennia

  • Lead pollution tripled after 1960s to highest levels on the continent in 2,000 years, despite region’s long history of mining

Mankind’s increasing potential to damage and then partially remediate the environment has been underlined by a new study of lead pollution found in Bolivian ice cores.

Swiss researchers found that less than half a century of leaded gasoline use in South America caused more Pb pollution (lead in the periodic table) than anything else in the previous two millennia, despite the long, precolonial history of mining and metal work in the region.

While this confirms one of the enormous negative impact of motor traffic and increased fossil fuel use, the study also showed that intervention by policymakers can make a significant difference because Pb levels dropped rapidly following the introduction of unleaded petrol.

From Reuters, Big Pharma doing what Big Pharma Does to atone for doing it:

GSK sacks 110 China staff in wake of drug bribery case: sources

Drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L), which was fined 3 billion yuan ($479 million) in China last year for bribery, is dismissing 110 employees in the country for misconduct, people familiar with the matter said on Friday.

The British company confirmed it had taken disciplinary action against staff whose conduct contravened its values and code of conduct but declined to specify the number involved. The misconduct took place before mid-2013, GSK added in a statement.

The dismissals follow detailed investigations into wrongdoing by employees in the wake of the corruption scandal, which badly damaged the drugmaker’s reputation and hit its business in a fast-growing emerging market.

Chinese police first accused GSK of bribery in July 2013, alleging the firm had funneled as much as 3 billion yuan to travel agencies to facilitate bribes to doctors and officials.

From the New York Times, what could possibly go wrong?:

F.D.A. Approves Zarxio, First Biosimilar Drug

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first so-called biosimilar drug for use in the United States, paving the way for alternatives to an entire class of complex and costly drugs to go on the market.

The drug, called Zarxio, produced by Sandoz, Inc., is used to help the body make white blood cells in cancer therapy and is a close copy of an existing medication called Neupogen. It was approved in Europe in 2009 as Zarzio but has not been used in the United States, in part because no regulatory pathway existed to bring copies of biologic drugs to market.

But in January an expert panel unanimously recommended that the F.D.A. approve it, and the agency on Friday announced that it had taken the panel’s advice.

To to California parched, first with the Los Angeles Times:

Rising temperatures are amplifying drought effects, study finds

Climate change is increasing the risk of severe drought in California by causing warm periods and dry periods to overlap more often, according to a new study.

Rising temperatures resulting from increased greenhouse gas emissions mean warm and dry periods are coinciding more frequently, the study authors say. And that is amplifying the effects of low precipitation.

“The key for drought stress is not just how much precipitation there is,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, the paper’s lead author and an associate professor at Stanford University’s School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences. “Temperature is an important influence on the water available in California.”

Higher temperatures decrease soil moisture, increase evaporation and intensify California’s annual dry season. All of these accentuate the effects of below-normal precipitation.

From the paper [PDF], published by in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, three graphs representing the drought index, precipitation, and temperatures in California over the span between 1896 and 2014:

BLOG Cal drought

And a side effect, from the Los Angeles Times:

A dry January pulled down water conservation rate in California

After getting a gold star for saving water in December, California’s conservation efforts flagged in January.

Urban water use figures released Tuesday by the state show that Californians in January again fell far short of the 20% conservation goal set a year ago by Gov. Jerry Brown. Statewide, water use dropped 8.8% from January 2014’s level. In December, it was down 22.2% from the same month a year earlier.

The reason lies in the weather extremes between the two months. December was wet, and people turned off their sprinklers. They apparently turned them back on the next month, which was the driest January on record in parts of the state.

After the jump, still more California water woes and an El Niño letdown, water woes in a Caribbean island, Europe adopts climate talking points, dangerous Indian program gets revived, drug violence and illegal mines fuel a Colombian refugee crisis, China purges a hugely popular pollution documentary, and on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with that leak thing, radioactive agricultural waste piles up, up to six more years for communities to recover, an interactive regional food radiation map debuts, and fears still keep the seafood industry in recession. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Vaccines, recovery, bribes, Pyongyang

We begin with vaccines, first from the New York Times:

Doctor’s Mishap Sheds Light on Ebola Vaccine’s Effects

The moment he felt a needle jab into his thumb last September on an Ebola ward in Sierra Leone, Dr. Lewis Rubinson knew he was at risk of contracting the deadly disease. What could he do but wait to see if he got sick, and hope that treatment would pull him through?

Dr. Rubinson, an intensive-care specialist and associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, chose another option, described in an article and editorial published on Thursday in The Journal of the American Medical Association. He was quickly given a shot of an experimental vaccine, a type that had been used in only one other person. The hope was that if he had been exposed to Ebola, the vaccine would stimulate his immune system to fight off the virus.

As it turns out, it is not clear whether the vaccine could have protected him against Ebola, because blood tests indicate he was almost certainly never infected. It is clear, though, that the vaccine stirred up his immune system: He had fever, chills, nausea, muscle pains and a headache. But the symptoms ebbed after a few days, and when it was all over blood tests suggested that he was probably immune to Ebola.

Although it is impossible to draw broad conclusions from a single case, doctors said the information was nonetheless useful. There is hardly any other data on how the vaccine affects people, and knowing how Dr. Rubinson fared may help other health workers potentially exposed to Ebola decide whether to be vaccinated.

And a trial commencing, via the World Health Organization:

Ebola vaccine efficacy trial ready to launch in Guinea

Based on promising data from initial clinical trials in late 2014, WHO with the Health Ministry of Guinea, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Epicentre and The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), will launch a Phase III trial in Guinea on 7 March to test the VSV-EBOV vaccine for efficacy and effectiveness to prevent Ebola. The vaccine was developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada. A second vaccine will be tested in a sequential study, as supply becomes available.

“We have worked hard to reach this point,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan. “There has been massive mobilization on the part of the affected countries and all partners to accelerate the development and availability of proven interventions. If a vaccine is found effective, it will be the first preventive tool against Ebola in history.”

Vaccination will take place in areas of Basse Guinée, the region that currently has the highest number of cases in the country. The trial strategy adopted will be “ring vaccination”, based on the approach used to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s. This involves the identification of a newly diagnosed Ebola case – the “index case” – and the tracing of all his/her contacts. The contacts are vaccinated if they give their consent.

“The Ebola epidemic shows signs of receding but we cannot let down our guard until we reach zero cases,” said Assistant Director-General Marie-Paule Kieny, who leads the Ebola Research and Development effort at WHO. “An effective vaccine to control current flare-ups could be the game-changer to finally end this epidemic and an insurance policy for any future ones.”

On to Liberia with Heritage, and a landmark declared:

Liberia discharges last Ebola case today Featured

Liberia will today, Thursday, March 5  discharge the only confirmed Ebola case in the country, the head of the Incident Management Team on Ebola Mr. Tolbert Nyensuah has disclosed.

Mr. Nyensuah, who is also the Assistant Minister for Preventive Services at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, said the last case will be discharged from the Chinese Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) at the Samuel Kanyan Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville, outside Monrovia.

The health ministry official made these comments yesterday  at the regular Ebola Hour hosted by the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) in Monrovia.

“The good news is that the only confirmed Ebola case that we have in the country will be discharged tomorrow from the Chinese ETU at the Samuel Kanyan Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville,” said the Incident Management Team head.

The Liberian Observer covers an NGO’s assistance:

YMCA Wages Intense Ebola Fight in West Point

The YMCA continues its fight against the deadly Ebola virus in West Point with the recruitment and temporary employment of forty residents every week to clean all the township’s seven communities.

The 40 volunteers, under the scheme, Food for Work (FFW) receive a 25k bag of rice, a gallon of cooking oil, half dozen tins of sardines and 50 pieces of Vital Cube at the end of the week.  A new team of 40 volunteers is hired each week.

The uninterrupted cleaning campaign which began in October 2014, is one of YMCA’s initiatives to stop the spread of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).

The project, titled: Saving Lives and Restoring Livelihoods in West Point,’ was awarded by Y Care International and funded by Comic Relief, UK.

From IRIN, a look ahead:

Ebola: Liberia’s long road to recovery

Liberia has lifted nationwide curfews and reopened its land borders with key trading partners Sierra Leone and Guinea, but a full recovery from the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak will take time, experts say.

“The reopening of the border is going to have an impact immediately, both in terms of livelihoods and the availability of food, as well as informal trade,” said Errol Graham, the World Bank’s country economist for Liberia, who spoke to IRIN from Virginia. “But there is going to be a lot of asymmetry between the [speed of] recovery and the crisis. The crisis was an immediate thing because of fear and aversion. The recovery is going to take a little longer.”

Within hours of the reopening of the border, people and merchandise began to flow from one side to the other. Local markets, once again stocked with fresh produce, meat and home goods, buzzed with activity, for the first time in more than six months.

In the interior of Liberia, Graham said, “We are also seeing, with the abatement of the crisis, people starting to go back to work and we expect to see more of that over time. And as foreigners who were involved in concessions in the natural resource sector come back, we expect to see more improvements in the employment situation.”

But even for those back at work, business remains sluggish.

The New Dawn covers a political pronouncement:

Regional approach, collaboration key to zero Ebola cases

-Pres. Sirleaf

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says strong and concerted regional support with help from international partners is needed to achieve a robust recovery program, similar to what she called a ‘’Marshall Plan” that will demand huge resource allocation.

According to a Dispatch from Brussels, Belgium, the Liberian leader, who spoke Tuesday on behalf of the three most affected Ebola countries (Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone) at the European Union high-level Ebola Conference, said over the past decade, the three affected Mano River Union (MRU) countries made significant gains in the process of reconstruction after years of conflict.

She stressed that as a result of the Ebola outbreak, families and communities were torn apart, and doctors, teachers, mothers, religious leaders and other opinion leaders were greatly affected, while the disease robbed the communities of its ability to care for its own people.

The Liberian leader indicated that the countries’ health systems collapsed when health care workers, nurses and doctors died, trying to treat the sick, not knowing the nature of the disease they were dealing with.

On to Sierra Leoine and a controversy surrounding the late spokesperson for the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party, via the the Sierra Leone Telegraph:

Chaos and confusion in Freetown as unlawful exemption granted for burial of SLPP Tamba Sam

Tonight there is confusion and chaos in Freetown, as reports emerged of members of the opposition SLPP party storming Connaught hospital, where the Ebola burial teams were making arrangements for the immediate burial of Tamba Sam who died on Monday.

According to the Ebola state of emergency regulations, all burials – irrespective of whether death was caused by Ebola or not, must be carried out by the Ebola burial teams within twenty-four hours of death.

The Sierra Leone Telegraph has been reliably informed that since the passing of the safer burial regulations, government officials and the police have been granting exemptions to those with connections in high places and can afford to pay bribes.

Although the number of new Ebola cases has declined in the last three months by more than fifty-percent, there are serious concerns regarding the recent spike in the numbers, especially in the ruling APC party’s Freetown-northern heartlands, where Ebola has become firmly entrenched.

The Sierra Leone Concord Times covers another NGO’s efforts:

Peace Mothers intensify campaign to make Libeisaygahun Chiefdom Ebola free

Fambul Tok Peace Mothers in Libeisaygahun Chiefdom, Bombali District continue to complement the national effort to eradicate the Ebola disease in the country by engaging in house-to-house visits to ensure the disease does not enter their chiefdom.

Surrounded by a number of Ebola affected chiefdoms including Gbendembu Ngowahun, Sanda Tendaren and Makari Gbanti, Libeisaygahun is the only chiefdom that is yet to record a single case of Ebola due to the efforts of the Peace Mothers in collaboration with community members.

Explaining their success story, Chairlady of Peace Mothers in Batkanu Section, Ella Sesay, said before the outbreak of the disease sick people were taken to the chiefdom headquarter town of Batkanu for proper health care.

And from the Associated Press, Pyongyang eases up:

After Ebola ban, N. Korea opens marathon to foreigners

After lifting travel restrictions it imposed because of concerns over the Ebola virus, North Korea says foreigners can now take part in one of its most popular tourist events — the annual Pyongyang marathon, a travel agency said Thursday.

Even though no cases of Ebola had been reported anywhere near North Korea, the country shut out foreign tourists in October with some of the strictest Ebola regulations in the world, including saying that only local runners would be allowed into the marathon in April.

But Uri Tours, one company that takes tourists into North Korea, said on its website Thursday that it had been informed that North Korean authorities had “decided to re-open the doors to foreign amateur runners for the 2015 Pyongyang Marathon.”