Category Archives: Schools

EbolaWatch: Numbers, pols, cases, economics


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

BLOG Ebola

From FrontPageAfrica, screening countries:

New Tool Can Help Identify Nations Vulnerable To Ebola

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

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

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

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

Liberia, EU Sign €279m for Development

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

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

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

The New York Times covers not unreasonable reticence:

Trickle of Liberian Children Returning to School Reflects Lingering Ebola Fears

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

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

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

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

UL Resumes Classes March 17

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

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

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

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

From the Liberian Observer, claims of a clean slate:

Liberia Discharges Only Confirmed Ebola Case Today

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

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

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

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

Refugees in Liberia record seven Ebola deaths- official

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

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

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

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

And from the Monrovia Inquirer, another remedial measure:

Cash Assistance To Former Bush Meat Sellers Enters Third Phase

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

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

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

On to Sierra Leone with the Guardian:

Ebola ‘leaves 12,000 orphans in Sierra Leone’

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

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

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

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

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

CCTV Africa covers economic impacts:

Ebola’s Devastation on Sierra Leone’s Economy

Program notes:

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

And StarAfrica offers some criticism:

S/Leone CSOs fault post-Ebola plan

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

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

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

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.

MexicoWatch: Pope, protests, violence, arrests


We begin with an ongoing search, via AJ+:

Searching Every Inch Of Mexico For The Missing

Program notes:

In Mexico, people aren’t searching just for the kidnapped Ayotzinapa students. Mario Vergara shows AJ+ how the Committee of Families of Victims of Enforced Disappearances of Iguala is scouring the region for family and friends – like his brother Tomas, who was last seen in 2012. The UN estimates that more than 23,000 have gone missing in recent years. From video journalists Alba Tobella, Sara Pedrola and Pepe Jiménez in Mexico.

Borderland Beat covers a notable arrest:

Iguala mayor finally charged in the disappearance of normalistas; if justice was served in another case the students would be alive

  • Infamous former Iguala mayor, José Luis Abarca, has finally been indicted for crimes connected to the case of the missing normalistas.

Mayor Abarca is charged in the murder of activist Arturo Hernández -witnesses testify Abarca shot and killed  Hernández, and now is charged  in the disappearance of 43 normalistas

BB reporter Chivis has long contended that the case of the normalistas against the former Iguala mayor and his wife was worrisome, lacking strong evidence.  She hoped that the case of Mayor Abarca killing a social activist,  Arturo Hernández Cardona, in front of witnesses, would go forth, as it was the easier of the two cases to successfully prosecute.

And that perhaps the winning of a conviction in the Hernández case would lend credence to the normalistas case, and fearful witnesses would then come forward.

From the Associated Press, a violent protest:

In Mexico, protesters drive bus into police lines

Protesters drove a bus into police lines in the Pacific coast resort of Acapulco, injuring at least seven officers, according to Mexican federal officials.

The Interior Department said that five protesters also were injured in the confrontation Tuesday evening, which came after thousands of protesters had tried to block entrances to the Acapulco airport, prompting police to ferry tourists to the terminal in trucks.

When police tried to open the entrance roads, a protester drove a bus into them. The department said some protesters had been detained, but did not give a precise number.

The estimated 4,500 demonstrators belong to two radical unions protesting the Sept. 26 disappearance of 43 students. Those students were detained by police in the city of Iguala in the same state. The city police turned them over to a drug gang, which apparently killed them and incinerated their remains.

Followed by lethal violence, via teleSUR:

Mexican Teacher Killed After Police Attack Protestors

  • The victim was an active participant in protests in the Mexican state of Guerrero and was known for leading chants during marches.

On Wednesday, an official with the government of the Mexican state of Guerrero confirmed the death of a teacher after police violently attacked a protest by teachers.

The victim has been identified as Claudio Castillo Peña, a retired 65 year-old teacher. According to the secretary of civil protection, Castillo died as a result of head trauma.

“Comrade Caludio Castillo Peña died as a result of blows at the hands of the Federal Police, a comrade who had poliomyelitis, who as a result could not defend himself nor run due to his physical condition and his age,” said a statement posted online by the teachers’ union.

A later development, via Fox News Latino:

Most jailed teachers freed after deadly clash with police in Mexico port city

Authorities have released the vast majority of the more than 100 teachers arrested after clashes with police in the southern Mexican port city of Acapulco, an incident that left one protester dead, union officials said Wednesday.

A member of the State Coordinator of Education Workers of Guerrero, or CETEG, told Radio Formula that 65-year-old retired teacher Claudio Castillo Peña died as a result of Tuesday night’s crackdown on the protest.

“He lost his life at 4:00 a.m. (Wednesday) due to the blows he received,” said Manuel Salvador Rosas, who added that Castillo Peña was one of the detained protesters who were taken to hospitals in Acapulco, a Pacific port located in the southern state of Guerrero.

From VICE News, analysis:

Fatal Protest in Acapulco Shows Tensions Remain High in Troubled Guerrero, Mexico

The clashes showed that tensions have far from subsided in the state since a group of 43 rural teaching students were abducted by police and turned over to a drug gang in the city of Iguala last September.

Tuesday’s demonstration was called because teachers said they wanted federal officials to guarantee that wages would not be delivered late, as occurred in January, according to La Jornada Guerrero.

Members of CETEG have clashed with authorities at demonstrations across the state in recent months. In December, the teachers union set fire to several police vehicles in the state capital of Chilpancingo, leaving more that half a dozen people injured, including one police officer.

And from neomexicanismos, an image:

BLOG Ayotz gun

The Los Angeles Times covers a papal apology:

Vatican apologizes to Mexico over pope’s comment on drug trafficking

The Vatican is issuing a mea culpa in a spat with Mexico over critical remarks by Pope Francis on the “terror” engulfing the Latin American country.

In a private email to a friend, Francis had warned against the “Mexicanization” of their native Argentina, a reference to the dominance of drug-trafficking and violence.

The friend, Gustavo Vera, an activist in Buenos Aires, published the pope’s email on his foundation’s website, touching off anger within the Mexican government. The Foreign Ministry sent a letter of protest to the Vatican, asking for an explanation and expressing “sadness and concern,” Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade said.

“The pope did not mean to hurt the feelings of the Mexican people, nor did he intend to minimize the efforts of the Mexican government” in the fight against drug trafficking, papal spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters in Rome.

Fox News Latino covers the acceptance:

Mexico: Any differences with pope now “completely settled”

Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretary Jose Antonio Meade said Wednesday that any differences with the Vatican were now “completely settled,” after Pope Francis had warned in a private letter of the risk of the “Mexicanization” of Argentina, and he added that the invitation for the pontiff to visit Mexico “remains open.”

In a meeting with reporters, Mexico’s top diplomat said that after the pope made reference to the increase in drug trafficking in his native Argentina, any “difference that there could have been” with the Holy See had been “completely settled” through dialogue.

“Mexico’s relationship with the Vatican … (and) with the pope is a relationship of great importance, … fond and close, as the Vatican said” on Tuesday, he noted.

From teleSUR English, organizing:

Mexican youth mobilize in support of Ayotzinapa

Program notes:

The Inter-University Assembly, which includes more than 90 institutions of higher learning throughout Mexico, has been a very useful tool for students to express their outrage over cases such as the disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students. The assembly has been an organizing center for mobilizing youth and is currently a key player in the protests demanding the return of the Ayotzinapa students.

EbolaWatch: Politics, cases, food, fraud, schools


And more, starting with sex, via Reuters:

Fear of Ebola’s sexual transmission drives abstinence, panic

Worries over sexual transmission risk adding to the stigmatisation Ebola survivors already face, and are protracting the emotional burden of families often struggling to overcome the deaths of relatives.

While men like Pabai have taken the WHO’s advice a step further by separating themselves from their loved ones, some traumatised communities have imposed more draconian measures.

“We’ve got people being treated horrendously,” said Margaret Harris, a spokeswoman on Ebola for the WHO. “In Sierra Leone particularly male survivors have been put in a form of concentration camp.”

Harris said men had been detained in Bombali, a district northeast of the capital Freetown, highlighting how public hysteria had become a real danger.

From SciDev.Net, a failure to engage:

Ebola struggle hit by failure to involve local people

Efforts to save lives in the West African Ebola outbreak have been undermined by a failure to involve local people more closely in communication about treatment and ethical decisions about trials, says a report published last week (17 February).

The report’s authors, who are all involved in Ebola vaccine work, made recommendations focusing on Ebola vaccine research, manufacturing and the process of getting vaccine approval in the developed world. They were convened by UK medical research funder the Wellcome Trust and the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, United States.

Considering real human and social factors is vital for stemming the Ebola outbreak, says Clement Adebamowo, the chairman of the Nigerian National Health Research Ethics Committee and one of the report’s 26 advisers.

The New Dawn in Monrovia, Liberia, covers visitors:

US Health officials Visit Liberia, Guinea

The U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary for Health, Karen DeSalvo,  Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs, Jimmy Kolker, and Deputy Chief of Staff Dawn O’Connel will visit Liberia and Guinea for three days this week to visit Ebola response sites in the region, the U.S. embassy here has disclosed.

In Liberia, they will tour the Monrovia Medical Unit (MMU), a 25-bed field hospital dedicated to providing care to health care workers who become infected with Ebola, and the Liberian Institute for Biomedical Research, one of only a few laboratories in Liberia where Ebola specimens are sent to be tested. They will also meet with key representatives from the Government of Liberia, the World Health Organization and additional U.S. agencies involved in the Ebola response.

The MMU is staffed by the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, an elite uniformed service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. U.S. Deputy Surgeon General RADM Boris D. Lushniak is currently the commanding officer of the MMU.

From StarAfrica, the newest hot spot:

Liberia: Four new Ebola cases discovered in Margibi County

The Margibi County Health Team has disclosed that four new confirmed cases of Ebola have been discovered in the county.Margibi Community Health Services Director Joseph Korhene told the county weekly Ebola Taskforce meeting in Kakata that the new cases could be traced to a lady, who brought her sick husband from Monrovia to the county on February 4, this year.

Korhene told stakeholders at the meeting that the lady took her husband to a local clinic in Kakata upon their arrival in the county on a commercial motorbike and then to a village known as Gaygbah Town in the county where he later died.

He said in line best practice, Gaygbah Town and nearby villages have been quarantined by the County Health Team (CHT) and that the victims are currently receiving treatment at the Kakata Ebola Treatment Unit.

From FrontPageAfrica, a notable number:

509th Patient Recovered From Ebola in ELWA III in Liberia

For the 509th time an Ebola survivor has left ELWA3, the Ebola Centre managed by Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Monrovia. A thirteen year-old boy was driven home by a MSF vehicle on 19February to be reunited with his big sister and two younger brothers.

“He has been our only confirmed patient for a few weeks. The entire medical team was caring for him,” said Gloria Lougon, head nurse in ELWA3. “All our energy and determination was put into helping this boy fight the virus and recover.”

As the young patient is a football lover, the team organized the screening of a legendary football game (Brazil – Germany in the World Cup 2014). Three days later his blood sample finally tested Ebola-negative, meaning the kid could be brought home. Before leaving ELWA3, the last survivor left his tiny handprint on the walls to remind everyone an important message: yes, it is possible to beat Ebola.

SOS Children’s Villages Canada covers a complication:

Lack of clean water takes toll on Ebola-stricken Liberia

As schools in Liberia start reopening after nearly six months of closure due to the Ebola epidemic, one challenge still looms: access to clean water.

In response, SOS Children’s Villages is constructing a hand pump for Managbokai Elementary School. The school offers formal education to 200 children from marginalized families in a rural region of the country.

“This is the only school for children in Bomi County,” said the vice principal of the school, Kona Goll. “We appreciate the contribution of SOS Children’s Villages Liberia. The installation of a hand pump at the school is vital for the health and academic achievement of everyone here.”

Even before the Ebola crisis, access to safe water was a challenge. Managbokai Elementary School only had four teachers and the problem of water added to this difficulty and the progress of the students. Teachers would have to leave their classrooms and walk with student for 10 minutes to get drinking water. Students were also becoming ill from drinking the unsafe creek water that runs through the village. Fortunately, access to clean water will soon improve for children living in Bomi County, Liberia.

And FrontPageAfrica covers education in education:

Liberia’s MCSS Schools Get Ebola Prevention Training

In continuation of the fight against the deadly Ebola virus, especially with the resumption of schools, the Monrovia Consolidated School System, a conglomerate of public schools in collaboration with Lone Star cell MTN Foundation is currently conducting a three day workshop in Monrovia on Ebola prevention.

Speaking during the start of the workshop, the Superintendent of the MCSS School system, Benjamin Jacob said the workshop is aimed at providing training for employees and staffs of the MCSS to enable them deal with any possible Ebola related cases.

“We are trying to run safe schools in the midst of Ebola by enlightening teachers, principals and other administrators. Doctors will be talking about the preventative methods, to all those people who are in the MCSS schools” Jacob said.

While the News covers an ongoing weakness:

Our Laboratories Had Challenges Before Ebola

… Coordinator

The National Laboratory Coordinator of the National Incident Management Team, Henry Kohar has highlighted the challenges laboratories in Liberia faced prior to the Ebola outbreak.

Mr. Kohar told the Ministry of Information regular press briefing Tuesday that operational funding was a serious problem for laboratories in the country.

According to him, prior to the outbreak, laboratory technicians had problem with the maintenance of equipment, noting “you will find out that most of our microscopes and other machines were non-functional due to the lack of maintenance.”

He disclosed that most of the laboratories machines were broken down due to the lack of electricity.

The National Coordinator also cited the lack of water supply as one of the problems technicians were faced with prior to the Ebola outbreak.

StarAfrica covers another:

W/Bank wary of Liberia food shortage

The World Bank has warned that food shortages will persist in Liberia where nearly three-quarters of households are worried over enough harvest to eat.The Bank issued a statement Tuesday noting that despite improvement in the outlook over the Ebola epidemic, agriculture remains a concern as nearly 65 percent of agricultural households surveyed in December believed that their harvests would be smaller than it had been in the previous year.

The fear is based on 80 percent labour shortages and the inability to work in groups due to Ebola infection which continues to pose a problem for agricultural households.

The bank also recalled the lack of money by households for food as a cardinal problem in buying enough to feed their families.

On to Sierra Leone and a call for vigilance from the Sierra Leone Concord Times:

In Kono: VP Sumana admonishes more vigilance as Ebola ebbs

Addressing hundreds of stakeholders at Kaiyima in Sandor Chiefdom, and Kangama in Gorama Kono Chiefdom while on his social mobilization tour of Kono district, Vice President Chief Alhaji Samuel Sam-Sumana thanked the Chiefdom Ebola Task Force, nurses, contact tracers and Paramount Chief Sheku A.T. Fasuluku Sonsiama III, and chiefdom authorities for their tremendous role in the fight against Ebola.

The vice president informed the large crowd that the Ebola virus may be gradually declining in size, strength and power across the country, yet the battle against the invisible enemy was still raging as “the virus still exists with us and we are in the most dangerous period of the fight”.

He thanked His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma “for his fabulous work in leading the fight against Ebola”, thus admonishing the people of Sandor, Nimikoro and Gorama Kono chiefdoms to be more vigilant “during this causal period in the fight against the Ebola virus”.

StarAfrica covers a crisis of corruption:

S/Leone parliament to discuss Ebola funds report

Sierra Leone’s parliament is set to begin looking at a controversial report on how funds meant to fight the Ebola epidemic were used. Deputy Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in parliament, Komba Koydeyoma, was quoted in local media Tuesday saying that they would start hearings on the Ebola audit report on Wednesday.

It followed heated debate after the report was released earlier this month revealing how millions of US Dollars went unaccounted for after been used without proper documentation.

The report has set the government, particularly MPs, against the public, after the House of Representatives attempted to prevent public discussion of its details. The MPs argued that the PAC must first look at it and makes its own findings before it could be public document.

And some praise, via the Sierra Leone Concord Times:

Defence Secretary praises UK troops for efforts in Salone

UK Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, has said that UK personnel have made a vital contribution to tackle Ebola, during a visit to Sierra Leone.

Arriving in Freetown, Mr. Fallon met with President Ernest Bai Koromo at State House. Their meeting began with an ‘Ebola handshake’, a greeting now widespread in Sierra Leone where elbows are offered to avoid any potential transmission of the disease through body contact.

Mr. Fallon then visited sites where the British military has provided key support, including the Kerry Town Treatment Unit (KTTU) where regular and reserve military medics are treating healthcare workers with Ebola; the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Argus which deployed in September and has been providing reassurance and aviation support to the people of Sierra Leone; and the District Ebola Response Centre (DERC) in the northern town of Port Loko.

And on to Guinea with the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

First Ebola survivors talk of hope and despair in Guinea

Lying in an Ebola treatment centre in southeast Guinea, hidden behind thick plastic sheets and surrounded by nurses in yellow protective suits, Rose Komano feared she would not survive the virus that had robbed her of so many loved ones.

“Everyone before me had died, I was terrified,” Komano recalled.

But the 18-year-old became the first person to beat Ebola in the region of Gueckedou, where the latest outbreak of the disease was initially detected in March 2014.

Almost a year after she was released from a treatment centre run by medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), Komano, who contracted the virus while caring for her sick grandmother, still mourns the deaths of her relatives.

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: Curves, warnings, vaccine, schools


We begin with the latest weekly case curve from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, reflecting the rise and fall of weekly new case counts since the West African outbreak began [click on it to enlarge]:

BLOG Ebola curve

From the New York Times, enduring danger:

Ebola Risks Linger, Officials Warn

Top United Nations officials on Wednesday warned against complacency over the waning Ebola epidemic in three West African countries and emphasized the difficulty of eradicating the disease that has left nearly 9,400 people dead.

Speaking to the General Assembly, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon noted that Liberia had progressed rapidly over the past month and was now reporting fewer than five new cases per week. But new cases have generally been increasing in Guinea and Sierra Leone in recent weeks, and Mr. Ban said that more than half of the newly infected people in those two countries had not been in contact with people known to have been infected. “This reminds us that setbacks can quickly follow apparent gains,” he said.

Dr. David Nabarro, appointed by Mr. Ban to lead the United Nations anti-Ebola effort, also spoke to the General Assembly and expressed concern about unsafe burials of Ebola victims, considered a major source of new transmissions. He said an Ebola-infected corpse, not handled safely, could spread the virus to as many as 30 others.

Another troubling development from the Washington Post:

Limited airborne transmission of Ebola is ‘very likely,’ new study says

A team of prominent researchers suggested Thursday that limited airborne transmission of the Ebola virus is “very likely,” a hypothesis that could reignite the debate that started last fall after one of the scientists offered the same opinion.

“It is very likely that at least some degree of Ebola virus transmission currently occurs via infectious aerosols generated from the gastrointestinal tract, the respiratory tract, or medical procedures, although this has been difficult to definitively demonstrate or rule out, since those exposed to infectious aerosols also are most likely to be in close proximity to, and in direct contact with, an infected case,” the scientists wrote. Their peer-reviewed study was published in mBio, a journal of  the American Society of Microbiology.

The study’s lead author, Michael T. Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, touched off a small furor and was condemned by some experts last Sept. 11 when he raised the same possibility in an op-ed piece in the New York Times as concern over the spread of the deadly disease was increasing rapidly.

From SciDev.Net, a call for inclusion:

How building community trust helps combat epidemics

Public health responses to the Ebola crisis neglected to build trust among affected people, and more must be done to engage with the ‘human factor’ when disease outbreaks occur, anthropologist Heidi Larson warns.

Larson, director of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, United Kingdom, says crisis response programmes must address public fears around disease.

One critical lesson to emerge from the Ebola epidemic, she says, is that failing to focus on communication and trust-building with communities early on can lead to heightened fears and misinformation that jeopardises safety and helps a disease spread.

Social scientists and medical experts need to work hand-in-hand to devise responses, Larson says, because “a public health or medical expert and an anthropologist will look at the same situation and notice very different things”.

While South Africa’s Independent Online notes that enduring cultural obstacle:

More unsafe burials in Ebola-hit states

Ebola-hit Sierra Leone and Guinea saw an increase in the last week in unsafe burials that risk spreading the disease, the World Health Organisation reported.

In Guinea, there were 39 unsafe burials and in Sierre Leone, there were 45 reported in the week to February 15, WHO said in a report late on Wednesday.

Ensuring safe burials of the highly contagious bodies of those who die from the virus has been a top priority in fight against the deadly virus.

WHO also warned that more than 40 new confirmed Ebola cases in the two countries had been identified only after the infected people had died in their communities, and not in treatment facilities.

On to Liberia and classroom help promised, via the Liberian Observer:

Plan International to Assist Schools in Observing Ebola Protocols

Plan International, a non-governmental organization engaged in education and child protection in Liberia, has disclosed plans to liaise with schools to help them to fully observe the Ebola protocols as schools resume classes.

Speaking recently to the Daily Observer in Ganta where Plan International (PI) conducted a daylong workshop for school administrators and heads of parent- teacher associations, Plan’s education emergency coordinator, Miriam Murray, said PI will be closely working with schools in the county to ensure the safety of children.

In addition to providing some materials to encourage the observance of the protocols, Ms. Murray indicated that PI will be reaching out to campuses to observe hand washing, teaching administrators how to detect quickly an Ebola patient, how to get a sick child to the parent and monitor cleanliness on school  campuses to ensure  students’ safety.

She gave further assurances that besides the hand washing materials and thermometers provided to schools, PI, in collaboration with UNICEF, will be providing kits to students.

An enforcement call, via the New Dawn:

Miatta wants preventive measures enforced

Former Montserrado County senatorial candidate and veteran artist, Miatta Fanhbulleh, has stressed the need for authorities at the Ministry of Education to ensure that students returning to school follow Ebola preventive measures while they are on various campuses.

Miss Fahnbulleh, an educator herself, said County Education Officers and District Education Officers in the 15 counties must monitor and report items that are lacking in schools across the country.

She also emphasized the need for CEOs and DEOs to go into counties and districts to conduct high level evaluation of school campuses, and to remain teachers not to forget about Ebola prevention materials distributed by authorities of the Health Ministry.

Miss Fahnbulleh spoke Thursday, February, 18, 2015 at the daily press briefing of the Ministry of Information on Capitol Hill.

A call for alliance, via the Monrovia Inquirer:

PTA Must Organize Ebola Committees…Amb. Miatta Fanhnbulleh Urges

The Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Maternal Child Health, Madam MiattaFahnbulleh, has recommended that the Parent Teachers Associations (PTAs) in schools in the country must organize PTA committees for the prevention of the Ebola virus in schools in the post Ebola era.

Speaking at the Ministry of Information’s regular press briefing on Wednesday, February 18, 2015 Ambassador Fahnbulleh said it is not time to haggle over whether schools should be re-opened in February or in March as each school will reopen when prepared to do so.

According to Madam Fahnbulleh, who is also a proprietor of a private school, the prevention of Ebola in the classrooms should begin from the homes.

“It should be incumbent on parents not to allow their children to go to school without checking their temperatures and every household must not allow their children to go when they have fever,” she advised.

Religious schools plead for help, via Heritage:

Private schools crave for financial support

Following  the reopening of schools across the country, some authorities of private institutions have appealed to the Government of Liberia (GoL) through the Ministry of Education (MOE) for financial aid to settle their teachers’ salaries  to enable them reopen for this academy year.

Speaking at the Ministry of Information, Culture Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) daily press briefing Wednesday, February 18,  the Director of Education of the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) School System,  Madam Theresa Dweh Sirleaf, said the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) has created financial crisis, which has also affected the running of schools across the country.

Madam Sirleaf noted that the SDA schools hire teachers on permanent basis and not contractual basis, and as such, the teachers are paid monthly regardless schools are closed or not.

She disclosed that their teachers have threatened to stay away from the classrooms unless their salaries are settled.

After the jump, a regional school Ebola protocol laid dawn, the chief justice pledges more Ebola support, escapees and a community initiative in Lofa County, the national Olympic committee joins in, on to Sierra Leone and food depriving quarantines, and a major vaccination campaign prepares to launch, plus more allegations against the man who won New York’s Ebola cleanup contract. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, water, fracking, nukes


We begin with the latest measles news, via the Los Angeles Times:

California measles identical to type found in Philippines

As California health officials search for the origins of the Disneyland measles outbreak, some of their detective work is pointing to the Philippines.

This measles virus shares the same genetic material as the type most commonly found in the Philippines, according to lab tests of the virus.

The highly contagious disease is a much larger problem in the Philippines, where more than 50,000 were sickened and 110 were killed in the last year.

Scientists said the findings make it likely that the virus originated in the Philippines. But they still don’t know exactly how it got into the United States and ultimately to Disneyland.

Here the latest measles numbers nationally from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

BLOG Measles chart

And the map of their distribution, with the Disneyland-related cases singled out:

BLOG Measles

From the Oakland Tribune, a senatorial rant:

In Emeryville, Sen. Barbara Boxer slams anti-vaccination parents

Sen. Barbara Boxer pummeled parents who refuse to vaccinate their children during a tour of a YMCA Head Start school Wednesday where she promoted her bill requiring children in the program nationwide to be immunized.

Boxer made the comments in the midst of a national measles outbreak that started in California. She criticized parents who are not vaccinating their children because of unfounded concerns spread by people outside the medical establishment.

“All I’m saying is, we have doctors we can trust and you should listen to them and not some quack who comes up with a theory that is disproven,” Boxer said. “I say to all those people who have a theory that has been disproven, you are not acting in the right way for your family or for society. People don’t understand how dangerous this disease is. It blows my mind. You are not only endangering your child, but others and that is not right.”

NHK WORLD covers measures addressing an Asia outbreak:

Health ministry compiles dengue fever guidelines

Japan’s health ministry has released guidelines for handling a possible outbreak of dengue fever.

The recommendations are the first of their kind related to the mosquito-borne disease, which is commonly seen in the tropics and subtropics.

An expert panel compiled the guidelines on Wednesday. The move comes after an outbreak that began last August in Tokyo, which was the first in Japan in about 70 years. More than 160 cases of infection were confirmed.

From the Guardian, nuke ‘em:

Tsetse fly: can castration end one of Africa’s oldest development problems?

  • Radiation castration is helping to eradicate tsetse populations that have been preventing farmers from using animals to work their land

From the Sahara to the Kalahari, the tsetse fly has plagued African farmers for centuries. Dating back to prehistoric times, this tiny insect – just eight to 17 mm long – has prevented farmers from using domestic animals to work the land, limiting production, yields and income. The economic impact of the tsetse fly on Africa has been estimated to be as much as $4.5bn. But a simple dose of radiation castration is helping to eradicate the pests in small pockets, enabling farmers to bring animals back into agriculture.

When tsetse flies bite, the parasites (trypanosomes) transferred cause sleeping sickness in humans, and nagana (animal African trypanosomiasis) in animals – mostly cows, horses, donkeys and pigs. The parasites cause confusion, sensory disturbances and poor coordination in humans, and fever, weakness and anemia in animals. Both can be fatal if left untreated.

“In areas with tsetse, people tend not to use intensive forms of agriculture where you use animals or manure on the fields,” says Marcella Alsan, assistant professor of medicine at Stanford University who has researched the tsetse fly’s impact on development. Farmers in these areas use slash and burn agriculture instead but “the issue with that strategy is that you can’t constantly use the land in the production cycle, so it supports fewer people,” says Alsan.

Xinhua covers a very hopeful development:

Experimental drug shown to block all HIV strains: study

U.S. researchers on Wednesday announced “a remarkable new advance” in the development of a potent drug to protect against infection of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, the deadly disease currently without cure.

They reported in the British journal Nature that an experimental protein-based drug they developed blocks every strain of HIV-1, HIV-2 and the simian version of the virus, SIV, that has been isolated from humans or rhesus macaques, including the hardest-to-stop variants.

The drug, named eCD4-Ig, also protects against much-higher doses of virus than occur in most human transmission and does so for at least eight months after injection.

And from Consumer Reports, cola cancer:

Another reason to cut back on soda

  • Some soda contains a potential carcinogen, and a new Consumer Reports’ study shows many Americans drink enough to put their health at risk

The amount of soda you sip not only boosts your sugar intake and packs on pounds—it might also increase your risk for cancer.

The culprit? A chemical called 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI). This potential carcinogen is found in some types of caramel color, the artificial ingredient used to turn colas and other soft drinks brown. Every day, more than half of Americans between the ages of 6 and 64 typically drink soda in amounts that could expose them to enough 4-MeI to increase their cancer risk, according to a new analysis of national soda consumption conducted by scientists at Consumer Reports and the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The study was published today in the scientific online journal PLOS ONE.

This analysis was a follow-up to testing we did in 2013 to measure 4-MeI content in soft drinks. We looked at 110 samples of colas and other soft drinks purchased in California and the New York metropolitan region. Excluding a clear soda used as a control, we found that average 4-MeI levels in the samples we tested ranged from 3.4 to 352.5 micrograms (mcg) per 12-ounce bottle or can. There’s no federal limit for the amount of 4-MeI permitted in foods and beverages currently, but California requires manufacturers to label a product sold in the state with a cancer warning if it exposes consumers to more than 29 mcg of 4-MeI per day. We submitted our test findings to the California State Attorney General’s office, and we’ve also petitioned the federal government to set limits for 4-MeI in food.

From Channel NewsAsia Singapore, another smoking hazard:

Thai health ministry incensed over Chinese New Year joss sticks

Thailand’s health ministry has urged people to stop lighting joss sticks and placing them near ritual offerings of food during Chinese New Year, warning that consuming the food could cause cancer.

Joss or incense sticks are burnt by the faithful during religious rituals in Asia, and are common in the run-up to the Lunar New Year, which begins on Thursday.

The public health minister said on Wednesday the consumption of food exposed to incense ash could lead to heavy metal poisoning, but he stopped short of banning the tradition.

Meanwhile, from the London Daily Mail, another kind of health crisis:

BLOG Lunches

From Environmental Health News, porcine pollution:

Pig poop fouling North Carolina streams; state permitting questioned.

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources treats large swine farms – operations with thousands of pigs and up – as “non-discharge facilities,” exempt from state rules on having to monitor the waste they dump in rivers and streams. The case for that exemption is dubious, suggested Steve Wing, a professor and researcher at the University of North Carolina who co-authored the January study, published in “Science of the Total Environment.”

“You have evidence of pig-specific bacteria in surface waters, next to industrial swine operations,” he said.

For about a year, from 2010 to 2011, researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the University of North Carolina tested water both upstream and downstream from fields in eastern North Carolina where pig poop from large factory farms is applied.

From Florida Today, yet another form of oceanic pollution:

Fireproofing chemicals found in lagoon marine life

Flame retardants and pesticide byproducts are showing up at potentially toxic levels in sharks, rays and other marine life in the Indian River Lagoon and in the ocean just off Brevard County.

Little is known about the health effects of these long-lasting compounds on the marine food web or on those who eat lagoon seafood. But scientists point to their widespread presence as yet another example of the ominous effects long-term pollution is having on local waters.

Among the substances a new study found in samples of shark livers are byproducts of DDT and other pesticides banned decades ago.

From the Guardian, oh fercrissakes!:

Canadian mounties’ secret memo casts doubt on climate change threat

  • Intelligence report identifies anti-petroleum movement as a threat to Canadian security and suggests those concerned with climate consequences occupy political fringe

The US security establishment views climate change as real and a dangerous threat to national security. But Canada takes a very different view, according to a secret intelligence memo prepared by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

The memo, stamped “Canadian eyes only”, repeatedly casts doubt on the causes of climate change – the burning of fossil fuels – and its potential threat.

The 44-page intelligence assessment of Canada’s environmental protest movement was prepared for the government of Stephen Harper, who is expected to roll out new anti-terror legislation.

In the memo, obtained by Greenpeace and seen by the Guardian, the RCMP repeatedly departs from the conclusions of an overwhelming majority of scientists – and the majority of elected leaders in the international arena – that climate change is a growing threat to global security.

After the jump, a California water woes crackdown, water woes in Brazil — slightly abated, California cracks down on bird-killing rat poison, Dutch ignored fracking earthquake dangers, another California refinery explosion, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with an underage radioactive cleanup worker, a stern warning from a former Japanese prime minister, a welter of cracks in a Belgian reactor lead to a global inspection call, And Taiwan looks for an overseas nuclear waste reprocessor. . . Continue reading