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Andorra

General
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This small country is situated between France and Spain. Because of its elevation and proximity to the Pyrenees the climate is generally pleasant throughout the year.
Climate
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During the summer months the temperatures can rise to 30c but there is usually a cooling breeze. Lightening storms can occur during the summer months associated with torrential rain.
Sun Exposure and Dehydration
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Those from Northern Europe can develop significant sun exposure and so remember to use a wide brimmed hat when necessary. The altitude can also lead to significant tiredness and dehydration so take sufficient initial rest and drink plenty of fluids.
Safety & Security
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The level of crime throughout the country directed at tourists is very low. Nevertheless take care of your personal belongings at all times and use hotel safety boxes where possible.
Local Customs
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There are strict laws regarding the use of illegal drugs. Make sure you have sufficient supplies of any medication you required for your trip and that it is clearly marked. The European E111 form is not accepted in Andorra and so it is essential that you have sufficient travel insurance for your trip.
Winter Sports
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Andorra is one of the regions where many travel to partake of their winter sport facilities. Generally this is well controlled and one of the safer regions. Nevertheless, make certain your travel insurance is adequate for the activities you are planning to undertake.
Vaccination
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The only standard vaccine to consider for Andorra would be tetanus in line with many other developed countries of the world.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 12 Jul 2018 15:24:06 +0200

Andorra la Vella, Andorra, July 12, 2018 (AFP) - The tax haven of Andorra has long been a favourite destination for smokers looking to stock up on cheap cigarettes, but the enclave said Thursday that it would soon stop advertising the fact.   The government said it had signed up to the World Health Organization's (WHO) anti-tobacco convention, which aims to encourage people to quit smoking and combat contraband sales.   "The goal is to contribute to public health and pursue the fight against trafficking," government spokesman Jordi Cinca said at a press conference.

The tiny principality of Andorra, perched in the Pyrenees on the border between France and Spain, attracts millions of shoppers each year to duty-free stores, where prices of alcohol, cigarettes, electronics and clothes can be up to 20 percent cheaper than elsewhere in the EU.   High taxes on tobacco imposed by many countries to help people kick smoking make Andorra's cigarettes a particularly good deal.   The average pack costs just three euros ($3.50) compared with eight euros in France, which has said it will gradually raise the price to 10 euros a pack by November 2020.

Tobacco sales bring in some 110 million euros a year for Andorra, whose economy is otherwise based almost entirely on tourism.   It is also an enticing destination for smugglers, with French and Spanish border agents regularly seizing cartons from people trying to sneak them out, either by car or by hiking down the mountain trails which criss-cross the Pyrenees.   No date has been set for the advertising ban, which will come into effect three months after the ratification of the WHO accord is voted by parliament.
Date: Fri, 16 Mar 2018 02:41:51 +0100

Andorra la Vella, Andorra, March 16, 2018 (AFP) - The tiny principality of Andorra is witnessing a once in a generation phenomenon -- a widespread strike.   Around a third of civil servants across the mountainous micro-state have walked out to protest proposed reforms to their sector in what has been described as Andorra's first large-scale strike since 1933.

With no negotiation breakthrough in sight, picket lines are expected to be manned again on Friday with customs officers, police, teachers and prison staff among those taking part.   The first major strike in 85 years was sparked by plans from the government of Antoni Marti to reform civil servant contracts.   He has assured officials "will not do an hour more" work under the reforms and that 49 million euros would be allocated for the next 25 years to supplement civil servant salaries.   But government workers are unconvinced with unions warning the reforms could risk their 35 hour working week and pay.

Customs officers involved in the strike interrupted traffic on the Andorran-Spanish border this week, according to unions, while some 80 percent of teachers have walked out of classes.   Strikers have occupied the government's main administrative building and held noisy protests outside parliament calling for Marti's resignation.    "We have started collecting signatures to demand the resignation of the head of government and now nobody will stop us," Gabriel Ubach, spokesman for the public service union, told reporters.
Date: Mon 27 Sep 2017
Source: Contagion Live [edited]

A recent Dispatch article published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, offers insight into a large norovirus outbreak that sprung up in Spain in 2016 that had been linked with bottled spring water. The Public Health Agency of Catalonia (ASPCAT) reported a staggering 4136 cases of gastroenteritis from 11-25 Apr 2016. Of the 4136 cases, 6 individuals required hospitalization. The CDC defines a "case-patient" as an "exposed person who had vomiting or diarrhoea (3 or more loose stools within 24 hours)," as well as 2 or more of the following symptoms: nausea, stomach pain, or fever.

ASPCAT investigators traced back the outbreak to contaminated bottled spring water in office water coolers. The water came from a source in Andorra, a small independent principality located between Spain and France. Norovirus is a "very contagious virus," according to the CDC, and it is common for individuals to become infected by eating contaminated food. Although it is possible to be infected by consuming contaminated drinking water, this mode of transmission is "rare in developed countries," according to the article.

The investigators collected water samples from a total of 4 19-L water coolers in 2 different offices located in Barcelona, "from which affected persons had drunk; samples 1 and 2 came from 2 water coolers in one office, while samples 3 and 4 came from 2 water coolers in another office. Using "positively charged glass wool and polyethylene glycol precipitation for virus concentration," the investigators tested the samples.

"We detected high RNA levels for norovirus genotype I and II, around 103 and 104 genome copies/L, in 2 of the 4 water cooler samples concentrated by glass wool filtration and polyethylene glycol precipitation," according to the article. The investigators noted that a drawback of using molecular methods is that they are not able to differentiate between particles that are infectious and those that are not. Therefore, they "predicted the infectivity of norovirus in the concentrated samples by treating the samples with the nucleic acid intercalating dye PMA propidium monoazide and Triton X surfactant before RT-qPCR," which allowed them to "distinguish between virions with intact and altered capsids."

In those 2 water samples, they found high genome copy values -- 49 and 327 genome copies/L for norovirus genotype I and 33 and 660 genomes copies/L for norovirus genotype II. This was not an unexpected finding, due to the large number of infected individuals associated with the outbreak. Through "PMA/Triton treatment before RT-qPCR assays," the investigators found that the proportion of infected virions accounted for 0.3% to 5.6% of the total number of physical particles in the water samples, "which was enough to cause gastrointestinal illness."

The investigators also analyzed faecal samples collected from infected individuals who worked at the office in which the 1st 2 water samples were collected. They detected the following genotypes in those faecal samples: GI.2 and GII.17. In the faecal samples collected from the other office, they isolated the following genotypes: GII.4/Sydney/2012, GI.2, GII.17, and GII.2.

"We hypothesize that the spring water was contaminated by all 4 strains (GI.2, GII.2, GII.4, and GII.17) but levels of viral contamination for each genotype were not homogeneous in all bottled coolers," the investigators wrote. "We may have detected only the GII.4 genotype in water samples 1 and 2 because of a higher concentration of this specific genotype or because of bias caused by the sampling, concentration, and molecular detection procedures."

The investigators admit one limitation to their study: the small number of water samples collected and analyzed. They attribute this to the fact that on 15 Apr 2016, 4 days after the onset of the outbreak, the company that produced the drinking water recalled over 6150 containers of water "of suspected quality" as a precautionary measure. The recall prevented the investigators from collecting more samples to assess, according to the article.

Although the exact cause of the contamination has not yet been identified, the investigators posit that "the high number of affected persons from 381 offices that received water coolers, and the many different genotypes found in some patients' faecal specimens" suggest that the spring aquifer had been contaminated by "sewage pollution," and the Andorra Ministry of Health and Welfare banned further use of the spring.

The investigators suggest that assessing commercially-produced mineral waters for different harmful pathogens, such as norovirus would be beneficial. They note, however, that creating, enhancing, and managing such "virus surveillance systems" would be costly. Thus, the investigators suggest taking a "balanced approach to keep both the cost and the time required for the analyses within feasibility limits."  [Byline: Kristi Rosa]
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[The interesting article published in the September 2017 issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases is:
Blanco A, Guix S, Fuster N, et al: Norovirus in bottled water associated with gastroenteritis outbreak, Spain, 2016. Emerg Infect Dis. 2017; 23(9): 1531-34; https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/23/9/16-1489_article. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[Catalonia and Andorra can be located on the HealthMap/ProMED-mail map at http://healthmap.org/promed/p/1341. - ProMED Sr.Tech.Ed.MJ]
Date: Thu, 26 Dec 2013 22:25:05 +0100 (MET)

ANDORRA LA VELLA, Andorra, Dec 26, 2013 (AFP) - A Spanish skier and a French snowboarder have died in avalanches in different mountain ranges in Europe, officials said Thursday.

The 27-year-old skier, a woman from Barcelona, died Wednesday while going off-piste alone in the Soldeu resort in Andorra, in the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain, a resort manager told AFP.   Although she was rescued within 10 minutes, after her glove was spotted on the surface, she was unable to be revived despite a helicopter dash to hospital.

In the Italian Alps, close to the border with France, a 24-year-old Frenchman who was snowboarding with three friends on a closed run died Thursday when an avalanche swept over him in the resort town of Les Arnauds.   Local officials said he succumbed to multiple injuries, asphyxia and hypothermia.

Avalanches are common in Europe's ski resorts at this time of year, when early snows are heavy with moisture, and several deaths occur each winter.   Last Sunday, a 35-year-old Frenchman died in an avalanche in the Alps near the Italian border while on a three-day trek with a friend.
Date: Fri 7 Feb 2003 From: Jaime R. Torres Source: EFE Salud, Thu 6 Feb 2003 (translated by Maria Jacobs) [edited] -------------------------------------------------- Close to 300 students in one school and 173 tourists staying in 7 hotels in the Principality of Andorra have been affected by outbreaks of gastroenteritis that, according to local authorities, are not related to each other. Monica Codina, Minister of Health, stated that the outbreak that has affected almost 300 children and 8 adults in the San Ermengol school was detected last Monday [3 Feb 2003] but that it may have started Wednesday or Thursday of the previous week. The epidemiological surveys of a group of pre-school and grammar school students that may also be affected have not been performed yet. Also pending are the results of the microbiological tests of the food and water served in the school dining room, but the minister has indicated that the probable cause of the outbreak is the fact that water pitchers were filled with hoses directly from the faucet. The Minister stated that this outbreak of gastroenteritis is not related to the one that affected 173 tourists, most of them young people on holiday, who where staying in 7 hotels of the Principality. The government is also investigating the cause of this outbreak and has indicated that an anomaly in the system that supplies water to the hotels was detected, requiring a process of chlorination, which has not been carried out due to the heavy snowfall of the past few days. * * * * * * * * * * [The suspicion that defective water supplies may be responsible for all of these independent outbreaks suggests that the etiologic agent may be an enterovirus, hepatitis A virus, or non-viral, rather than one of the noroviruses associated with sudden-onset viral gastroenteritis. Information on the outcome of diagnostic tests in progress would be welcomed. - ProMed Mod.CP]
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Puerto Rico

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 24 Sep 2019 07:27:34 +0200 (METDST)

Miami, Sept 24, 2019 (AFP) - A strong 6.0 magnitude struck off the northwest coast of Puerto Rico late Monday, the United States Geological Survey said, although no casualties or damage were reported.   The quake struck 62km northwest of San Antonio at 11:23 pm local time (03:20 GMT) at a depth of 10km, the agency said.  San Antonio is home to Rafael Hernandez Airport, a key air link to the mainland US.    In 2010 nearby Haiti was struck by a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people and crippled the nation's infrastructure.
Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2018 05:54:19 +0100

San Juan, Feb 12, 2018 (AFP) - Most of San Juan and a strip of northern Puerto Rico municipalities were plunged into darkness Sunday night after an explosion at a power station, five months after two hurricanes destroyed the island's electricity network.

The state electric power authority (AEE) said the blast was caused by a broken-down switch in Rio Piedras, resulting in a blackout in central San Juan and Palo Seco in the north.   "We have personnel working to restore the system as soon as possible," the AEE said.   San Juan's mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, said on Twitter that emergency services and local officials attended the scene in the neighbourhood of Monacillos, but no injuries were reported.

Meanwhile, the Puerto Rican capital's airport said it was maintaining its schedule using emergency generators.   The blackout comes as nearly 500,000 of AEE's 1.6 million customers remain without power since Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the US territory in September 2017.   AEE engineer Jorge Bracero warned on Twitter that the outage was "serious," and advised those affected that power would not be restored until Monday.
Date: Wed, 13 Dec 2017 03:08:12 +0100
By Leila MACOR

Fajardo, Puerto Rico, Dec 13, 2017 (AFP) - Until Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Jose Figueroa did brisk business renting kayaks to tourists itching to see a lagoon that lights up by night thanks to millions of microorganisms.   Today, things are so dire he's considering selling water to motorists stopped at red lights.   "Now we are trying to survive," the 46-year-old tour guide said.

It used to be that visitors had to reserve a month in advance to get one of his kayaks and paddle around in the dark on the enchanting, bioluminescent body of water called Laguna Grande.   But tourists are scarce these days as the Caribbean island tries to recover from the ravages of the storm back in September.   "We do not know if we will have any work tonight," Figueroa said. "Last week, we worked only one day."    He and another employee of a company called Glass Bottom PR are cleaning kayaks on the seaside promenade of Fajardo, a tourist town in eastern Puerto Rico whose main attraction is the so-called Bio Bay.

The year started off well for Puerto Rico, with the global success of the song "Despacito" by local musicians Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee.   The catchy tune helped promote the US commonwealth island of 3.4 million people, which is saddled with huge debts and declared bankruptcy in May.    But the hurricane turned what should be an island bustling with tourists into one with deserted beaches, shuttered restaurants and hotels full of mainland US officials working on the rebuilding of the island.   "What few tourists we have are the federal officials themselves," said Figueroa.

- Locals only -
The grim outlook spreads up and down the seaside promenade of Fajardo, where many restaurants are closed because there is no electricity.   On this particular day around noon, the only restaurant open is one called Racar Seafood. It has its own emergency generator.   "We get by on local tourists," said its 61-year-old owner, Justino Cruz.   "Our clients are local -- those who have no electricity, no generator, cold food or no food."

Puerto Rico's once-devastated power grid is now back up to 70 percent capacity, but this is mainly concentrated in the capital San Juan.   So while inland towns that depend on tourism are struggling mightily, things are getting better in San Juan as cruise ships are once again docking.   On November 30, the first cruise ship since the storm arrived with thousands of vacationers on board. They were received with great fanfare -- quite literally, with trumpet blaring and cymbals crashing.

- Pitching in to help -
The World Travel & Tourism Council, based in London, says tourism accounted for about eight percent of Puerto Rico's GDP in 2016, or $8.1 billion.   Hurricane Maria's damage has been uneven. Although some tour guides now have no work and many eateries are shut down, hotels that have their own generators are doing just fine.   Thanks to the thousands of US government officials and reconstruction crew members that came in after the storm, the hotels that are open -- about 80 percent of the total -- are pretty much full.

These people are starting to leave the island this month but hotels may receive tourists around Christmas, at least in San Juan, where power has for the most part been restored.   The hurricane "undoubtedly cost billions in lost revenue," said Jose Izquierdo, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company.    But Izquierdo nevertheless says he is "optimistic" and suggests an alternative: put tourists to work as volunteers in the gargantuan reconstruction effort that the island needs.   "We want to look for travellers who want to travel with a purpose, who might have the commitment to help rebuild," said Izquierdo.

The program, called "Meaningful Travel" and launched in mid-November, organizes trips on which residents, Puerto Ricans living abroad and tourists are invited to help the island get back on its feet.   "The plan aims to create empathy with this tourist destination," said Izquierdo.    "We want to be like New Orleans after Katrina, where 10 years after the hurricane, tourism is the driving force of its economy. We want to build that narrative of recovery," he added.   "There are different ways in which the world wants to help Puerto Rico. The best way is to visit us."
Date: Thu, 9 Nov 2017 12:39:04 +0100
By Marcos PÉREZ RAMÍREZ

San Juan, Nov 9, 2017 (AFP) - Andrea Olivero, 11, consults her classmate Ada about an exercise during their daily English class at San Juan's Sotero Figueroa Elementary School. The task: list the positive and negative aspects of Hurricane Maria's passing almost two months ago.

The girls only have to look around. There is no electricity and they "roast" in the heat, Andrea says. At the back of the room, computers and televisions collect dust.   "We would like to move past the topic of the hurricane a bit. It is already getting repetitive," Andrea told AFP.   She is one of more than 300,000 pupils in the public education system, although only half of schools are functioning. Barely 42 per cent of Puerto Ricans have electricity seven weeks after Maria struck, killing at least 51 in the American territory.

The lack of power has prompted disorienting timetable changes on the tropical island, to avoid both the hottest hours of the day and the use of dining facilities.   "The children are very anxious. We manage to make progress in lessons and they change the hours again. Everything is messed up and we fall behind," English teacher Joan Rodriguez explained.   "We can't use the computers to illustrate classes," she said. "They are reading the novel "Charlotte's Web," and we wanted to do exercises comparing it to the film version. But we cannot use the television.

- Suspicions -
From October 23, some directors reopened their schools in the western region of Mayaguez and San Juan.   But last Thursday, the Department of Education ordered their closure, insisting they must be evaluated by engineering and architectural firms, then certified by the US Army Corps of Engineers.   One of those schools was Vila Mayo, also in San Juan. The community presumed it would open, as it had been used as a shelter, its electrical infrastructure had been inspected and it had not suffered structural damage.

But Luis Orengo, the education department's director in San Juan, told protesters outside the school it was closed as inspectors' findings had not reached the central government.   "This is unacceptable! The school is ready to give classes but they don't want to open it. Our children cannot lose a year," fumed Enid Guzman, who protested with her 11-year-old son, Reanny De la Cruz.   There are suspicions the stalled reopening of schools is, in part, related to the prior closure of 240 schools over the past year during Puerto Rico's long-running financial crisis.   The fiscal difficulties have seen the island's population drop over the past decade by 14 percent, leading in turn to a fall in school enrolment.

Before the storms, 300 schools were at risk of closure -- and for the president of Puerto Rico's federation of teachers, Mercedes Martinez, the government's aim is clear.   "Secretary (Julia) Keleher seems to have an orchestrated plan to close schools," she said, referring to the education secretary. "Why do you have to wait 30 days to get a certification so a school can open?"   Keleher has announced she expects most schools to be open by the middle of November.
Date: Tue 24 Oct 2017
Source: KFOR Oklahoma News4 [edited]

Puerto Rico has reported at least 76 cases of suspected and confirmed leptospirosis, including a handful of deaths, in the month after Hurricane Maria, said Dr. Carmen Deseda, the state epidemiologist for Puerto Rico.

Two deaths involved leptospirosis confirmed through laboratory testing, and "several other" deaths are pending test results, Deseda said. The 76 cases, up from 74 last week, also include one patient with confirmed leptospirosis who is currently hospitalized.

The island typically sees between 63 and 95 cases per year, she said. Health officials had expected that there would be a jump after the hurricane. "It's neither an epidemic nor a confirmed outbreak," Public Affairs Secretary Ramon Rosario Cortes said at a news conference Sunday [22 Oct 2017]. "But obviously, we are making all the announcements as though it were a health emergency."

Leptospirosis may be treated with antibiotics, but many people recover on their own. "The majority of leptospirosis cases is a mild, subclinical disease with no complications," Deseda said. "But one out of 10 people who have leptospirosis develop severe illness." In the 1st stage of leptospirosis, symptoms vary widely from fever and headache to red eyes and rashes. Some people may have no symptoms at all. But a small number will develop dire complications: meningitis, kidney and liver damage, bleeding in the lungs and even death.

Doctors are required to report any potential leptospirosis cases to health authorities, Deseda said. Those cases must then be tested to confirm the bacteria, since the symptoms can be difficult to tell apart from other illnesses. After that, health officials may look for patterns or clusters and determine whether there is an outbreak.

The lab tests on the suspected cases have been sent to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Deseda said. The turnaround time is about 5-6 days.

Doctors on the island have expressed concerns about burgeoning health crises amid hospitals that are overwhelmed, undersupplied and sometimes burning hot. Influenza is another concern on the horizon, Deseda said. Drinking water is also hard to come by on many parts of the island.

Dr. Raul Hernandez, an internist in San Juan, told CNN that people were drinking water from whatever sources they could find, such as rivers and creeks. If that water contains urine from a [leptospirosis-infected rat], those people will be at risk, he said.

Deseda said people should be discouraged from walking barefoot, drinking or swimming in potentially leptospirosis-contaminated waters.

"These diseases are everywhere, and there's a way to prevent them," she said.
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[Leptospirosis is a zoonotic, spirochetal infection that occurs worldwide and is transmitted to humans by exposure to soil or fresh water contaminated with the urine of wild and domestic animals (including dogs, cattle, swine, and especially rodents) that are chronically infected with pathogenic _Leptospira_. _Leptospira_ may survive in contaminated fresh water or moist soil for weeks to months. Outbreaks of leptospirosis frequently follow heavy rainfall, flooding with fresh water, and increasing rodent numbers.

Parts of Puerto Rico saw more than 30 inches of rain and consequent flooding with recent Hurricane Maria. A map showing the estimated rainfall across Puerto Rico with this hurricane is available at <https://twitter.com/NWSSanJuan/status/910983698597777409/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url>.

With continued absence of potable water, inadequate sanitation, and flooding in the streets for a large proportion of the population in Puerto Rico, food- and water-borne diseases, like leptospirosis, will be a major problem. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
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Benin

Benin - US Consular Information Sheet
April 28, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Benin is a developing country in West Africa. Its political capital is Porto Novo. However, its administrative capital, Cotonou, is Benin's largest city and the
site of most government, commercial, and tourist activity. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Benin for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa are required. Visas are not routinely available at the airport. Visitors to Benin should also carry the WHO Yellow Card (“Carte Jaune”) indicating that they have been vaccinated for yellow fever. Contact the Embassy of Benin for the most current visa information. The Embassy is located at: 2124 Kalorama Road NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel: 202-232-6656.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.
U.S. citizens should not walk on the beach alone at any time of day. It is also highly recommended not to carry a passport or valuables when walking in any part of the city. Travelers should carry a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport (see Crime section). They should not walk around the city after dark, and should take particular care to avoid the beach and isolated areas near the beach after dark.
The ocean currents along the coast are extremely strong and treacherous with rough surf and a strong undertow, and several people drown each year.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME: Street robbery is a significant problem in Cotonou. Robbery and mugging occur along the Boulevard de France (the beach road by the Marina and Novotel Hotels) and on the beaches near hotels frequented by international visitors. Most of the reported incidents involve the use of force, often by armed persons, with occasional minor injury to the victim. Travelers should avoid isolated and poorly lit areas and should not walk around the city or the beaches between dusk and dawn. Even in daylight hours, foreigners on the beach near Cotonou are frequent victims of robberies. When visiting the beach, travelers should not bring valuables and should carry only a photocopy of their passport. If you are a victim of crime, you should contact the U.S. Embassy immediately. There has been a continued increase in the number of robberies and carjacking incidents after dark, both within metropolitan Cotonou and on highways and rural roads outside of major metropolitan areas. Motorists are urged to be wary of the risk of carjacking. Keep the windows of your vehicle rolled up and the doors locked. Stay alert for signs of suspicious behavior by other motorists or pedestrians that may lead to carjacking, such as attempts to stop a moving vehicle for no obvious reason. Travelers should avoid driving outside the city of Cotonou after dark and should exercise extreme caution when driving in Cotonou after dark (see Traffic Safety and Road Conditions below). Overland travel to Nigeria is dangerous near the Benin/Nigeria border due to unofficial checkpoints and highway banditry.
Travelers should avoid the use of credit cards and automated teller machines (ATMs) in Benin due to a high rate of fraud. Perpetrators of business and other kinds of fraud often target foreigners, including Americans. While such fraud schemes in the past have been largely associated with Nigeria, they are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including Benin, and are more frequently perpetrated by Beninese criminals. Business scams are not always easy to recognize, and any unsolicited business proposal should be carefully scrutinized. There are, nevertheless, some indicators that are warnings of a probable scam. Look out for:

Any offer of a substantial percentage of a very large sum of money to be transferred into your account, in return for your "discretion" or "confidentiality";

Any deal that seems too good to be true;
Requests for signed and stamped, blank letterhead or invoices, or for bank account or credit card information;
Requests for urgent air shipment, accompanied by an instrument of payment whose genuineness cannot immediately be established;
Solicitations claiming the soliciting party has personal ties to high government officials;
Requests for payment, in advance, of transfer taxes or incorporation fees;
Statements that your name was provided to the soliciting party either by someone you do not know or by "a reliable contact";
Promises of advance payment for services to the Beninese government; and
Any offer of a charitable donation.
These scams, which may appear to be legitimate business deals requiring advance payments on contracts, pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm. Recently more American citizens have been targeted. The perpetrators of such scams sometimes pose as attorneys. One common ploy is to request fees for “registration” with fictitious government offices or regulatory authorities. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Travelers should carefully check out any unsolicited business proposal originating in Benin before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel. For additional information, please see the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, International Financial Scams.

Scams may also involve persons posing as singles on Internet dating sites or as online acquaintances who then get into trouble and require money to be "rescued." If you are asked to send money by someone you meet online please contact the U.S. Embassy before doing so.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical facilities in Benin are limited and not all medicines are available. Travelers should bring their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. Not all medicines and prescription drugs available in Benin are USFDA-approved. Malaria is a serious risk to travelers to Benin. For information on malaria, its prevention, protection from insect bites, and anti-malarial drugs, please visit the CDC Travelers' Health web site at http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s website at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Benin is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

With the exception of the road linking Cotonou in the south to Malanville on the border with Niger in the north, and from Parakou in central Benin to Natitingou in the northwestern part of the country, roads in Benin are generally in poor condition and are often impassable during the rainy season. Benin's unpaved roads vary widely in quality; deep sand and potholes are common. During the rainy season from mid-June to mid-September, dirt roads often become impassable. Four-wheel drive vehicles with full spare tires and emergency equipment are recommended.
Most of the main streets in Cotonou are paved, but side streets are often dirt with deep potholes. Traffic moves on the right, as in the United States. Cotonou has no public transportation system; many Beninese people rely on bicycles, mopeds, motorbikes, and zemidjans (moped taxis). All official Americans are required to wear safety helmets when on a motorcycle and are strongly discouraged from using zemidjans. Travelers using zemidjans, particularly at night, are much more vulnerable to being mugged, assaulted or robbed. Buses and bush taxis offer service in the interior.
Gasoline smuggled from Nigeria is widely available in glass bottles and jugs at informal roadside stands throughout Cotonou and much of the country. This gasoline is of unreliable quality, often containing water or other contaminants that can damage or disable your vehicle. Drivers should purchase fuel only from official service stations. There are periodic gas shortages, which can be particularly acute in the north of the country where there are few service stations.
U.S. citizens traveling by road should exercise extreme caution. Poorly maintained and overloaded transport and cargo vehicles frequently break down and cause accidents. Drivers often place branches or leaves in the road to indicate a broken down vehicle is in the roadway. Undisciplined drivers move unpredictably through traffic. Construction work is often poorly indicated. Speed bumps, commonly used on paved roads in and near villages, are seldom indicated. Drivers must be on guard against people and livestock wandering into or across the roads. Nighttime driving is particularly hazardous as vehicles frequently lack headlights and/or taillights, and brake lights are often burned out.
With few exceptions, Cotonou and other cities lack any street lighting, and lighting on roads between population centers is non-existent. The U.S. Embassy in Cotonou prohibits non-essential travel outside of metropolitan areas after dusk by official Americans and strongly urges all U.S. citizens to avoid night driving as well. There have been numerous carjackings and robberies on roads in Benin after dark, several of which resulted in murder when the driver refused to comply with the assailants' demands. The National Police periodically conduct vehicle checks at provisional roadblocks in an effort to improve road safety and reduce the increasing number of carjackings. When stopped at such a roadblock, you must have all of the vehicle's documentation available to present to the authorities.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.benintourisme.com.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Benin, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Benin’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
U.S. citizens are advised to keep a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport with them at all times when traveling in Benin.
The Embassy has had a few reports of officials requesting a "gift" to facilitate official administrative matters (e.g., customs entry). Such requests should be politely but firmly declined.
It is prohibited to photograph government buildings and other official sites, such as military installations, without the formal consent of the Government of Benin. In general, it is always best to be courteous and ask permission before taking pictures of people. Beninese citizens may react angrily if photographed without their prior approval.
Obtaining customs clearance at the port of Cotonou for donated items shipped to Benin from the United States may be a lengthy process. In addition, to obtain a waiver of customs duties on donated items, the donating organization must secure prior written approval from the Government of Benin. Please contact the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou for more detailed information.Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Benin laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Benin are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Benin are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Benin. Americans withoutInternet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Rue Caporal Anani Bernard in Cotonou. The Embassy's mailing address is B.P. 2012, Cotonou, Benin. The 24-hour telephone numbers are (229) 21-30-06-50, 21-30-05-13, and 21-30-17-92. The Embassy’s general fax number is (229) 21-30-06-70; the Consular Section’s fax number is (229) 21-30-66-82; http://cotonou.usembassy.gov/.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Benin dated August 17th, 2007 to update sections on Safety and Security and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 10 May 2019 19:38:30 +0200
By Hazel WARD and Daphne BENOIT

Paris, May 10, 2019 (AFP) - French special forces have freed two French hostages, an American and a South Korean in northern Burkina Faso in an overnight raid in which two soldiers died, authorities announced Friday.   The operation was launched to free two French tourists who had disappeared while on holiday in the remote Pendjari National Park in neighbouring Benin on May 1.

But during the raid, the French troops were surprised to discover two women also in captivity, with top officials saying they had been held for 28 days.    The French tourists were identified as Patrick Picque, 51, and Laurent Lassimouillas, 46, but the women's identities were not immediately clear.     "No one was aware of (the women's) presence," French Defence Minister Florence Parly told reporters, while French armed forces chief Francois Lecointre said.   "We know little about these other two hostages," Parly told reporters, saying that even Seoul and Washington did not appear to be aware the pair were in increasingly unstable Burkina Faso.    The raid was approved by French President Emmanuel Macron in what was seen as the last opportunity to stop the hostages being transferred to lawless territory in Mali to the north.

Parly said it was "too early to say" who had snatched the two French nationals from Benin, which has long been an island of stability in a region where Islamist militants are increasingly active.   "The message to terrorists and criminal gangs is clear: those who attack France and its nationals know that we will not spare any effort to track them down, find them and neutralise them," she said.   Four of the six kidnappers were killed in the raid.    French forces, helped by intelligence provided by the United States, had been tracking the kidnappers for several days as they travelled across the semi-desert terrain of eastern Burkina Faso from Benin to Mali.   They seized the opportunity to prevent "the transfer of the hostages to another terrorist organisation in Mali," Lecointre said, referring to the Macina Liberation Front (FLM).   The FLM is a jihadist group formed in 2015 and headed by a radical Malian preacher, Amadou Koufa. It is aligned with Al-Qaeda in the region.

- US intelligence support -
In a statement, Macron congratulated the special forces on the operation, in which he also expressed sorrow over the death of the two soldiers "who gave their lives to save those of our citizens".   And Parly thanked authorities in Benin and Burkina Faso for their help with the "complex operation", as well as the United States which provided intelligence and support.

The operation was also made possible by the presence of France's Operation Barkhane, which counts some 4,500 troops deployed in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad to help local forces battle jihadist groups.   American special forces and drones are also known to operate in the violence-wracked Sahel region, which France fears could become further destabilised as jihadist groups are pushed out of north Africa, Iraq and Syria.   Burkina Faso has suffered from increasingly frequent and deadly attacks attributed to a number of jihadist groups, including the Ansarul Islam group, the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.

- Relief and sadness -
The French tourists -- Patrick Picque who works in a Paris jewellery shop, and Laurent Lassimouillas a piano teacher, -- went missing with their guide on the last leg of their holiday in usually peaceful Benin.   The Pendjari wildlife reserve, which is famed for its elephants and lions, lies close to the porous border with Burkina Faso.   The badly disfigured body of their guide was found shortly after they disappeared, as well as their abandoned four-wheel Toyota truck.   The two freed men will be flown back to France on Saturday, alongside the South Korean woman, where they will be met on arrival by Macron and other top French officials.   Washington thanked the French forces for freeing the American hostage, with France saying she would likely be "repatriated independently" from the other three. 

The two dead French soldiers were named as Cedric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello, decorated naval special forces members born in 1986 and 1991 respectively.   They were part of the prestigious Hubert commando unit of the French naval special forces which was deployed to the Sahel at the end of March.   A total of 24 French soldiers have died in the region since 2013 when France intervened to drive back jihadist groups who had taken control of northern Mali. The last death was on April 2.
Date: Tue 15 Jan 2019
Source: Punch [edited]

The Kwara state government has confirmed 2 cases of Lassa fever infecting a husband and wife in the state.

Speaking with newsmen on Tuesday [15 Jan 2019] at a news briefing, the Kwara commissioner for health, Alhaji Usman Rifun-Kolo, said the outbreak of Lassa fever was identified in a farm settlement in Taberu, Baruten local government area.

He explained that the 2 cases of the disease affected a husband and wife, natives of Benin republic, which shares a border with the state. He added that the husband and wife are farming in Baruten. "These cases of Lassa fever originated from Benin republic, whose citizen have interrelations with people in the Baruten area," he said.

According to him, the husband and wife were diagnosed in a health facility, and the state government had already deployed a disease-surveillance team to identify those who have been in contact with the patients.

Rifun-Kolo further explained that the surveillance team identified 4 people with a history of fever in the area. He said that the 4 cases raised suspicion of Lassa fever, which prompted them to take samples from the individuals for further investigation. He noted that the 4 individuals have commenced treatment in Taberu, Baruten LGA.
=====================
[The above report states that the couple was infected in Benin, although the timeline when that may have occurred is not given. The report also mentions 4 individuals in the Kwara state who had a history of Lassa fever, implying that the virus is present in that state in Nigeria as well. In December [2018], there were Lassa fever cases in Benin that were imported from Nigeria as well as infections that were locally acquired in Benin, so the Lassa fever cases cross the border in both directions. The source of the infecting virus for any of these cases is not mentioned. - ProMED Mod.TY

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Kwara state, Nigeria: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/19690>]
Date: Wed 26 Dec 2018
Source: Quotidein Le Matinal [in French, trans. ProMED Corr.SB, edited]

Minister of health Benjamin Hounkpatin confirmed on Wednesday [26 Dec 2018] 4 new cases of Lassa haemorrhagic fever in Benin, including one in Cotonou. This occurred in the period from 15-26 Dec 2018.

In the case of Cotonou, a 28-year-old (has been infected). His case was detected on 24 Dec [2018], but his illness commenced the previous week. He had a fever, a cough, a cold, and fatigue. Due to the persistence of the cough and cold, and with the appearance of traces of blood in nasal discharge on 24 Dec 2018, the alert was given.

The patient was placed in isolation on [Tue 25 Dec 2018], and on the morning of Wed 26 Dec 2018, his result from the laboratory came back positive [for Lassa fever]. Subsequently, the patient was isolated and put on treatment.

According to the details provided by Hounkpatin, there is no indication of travel [by the patient] to an epidemic locality of Lassa fever. According to the patient's statements, there is no known contact with rodents.

Taking advantage of this opportunity, the minister reassured the public that public health measures are underway. He also reminded people of the behaviours that will help avoid becoming infected. This involves washing hands regularly with soap and water; avoiding contact with stool, sperm, urine, saliva, vomit, and contaminated objects from a person suspected to be ill or dead from Lassa; and protecting food and keeping it in a safe place, out of reach of rodents.

It should be recalled that 7 cases have been recorded since the beginning of the epidemic to date, including 5 positive cases.
=======================
[One case is located in Cotonou on the Benin coast and apparently was locally acquired, perhaps from contact with the rodent host or its excrement. The location of the other 3 cases is not mentioned, but a 13 Dec 2018 report indicated that there were 3 cases in the municipality of Parakou in Borgou Department, in the northern part of Benin. Perhaps these 3 cases, which came from the village Taberou (in Nigeria), located 5 km [3.1 mi] from Tandou in the commune of Tchaourou, are the ones mentioned in this report.

The previous Lassa fever cases in Benin this year [2018] occurred in January and also involved case importation from Nigeria. A previous WHO report stated that Lassa fever is endemic in bordering Nigeria, and, given the frequent population movements between Nigeria and Benin, the occurrence of additional cases is not unexpected. Strengthening of cross-border collaboration and information exchange between the 2 countries is, therefore, needed. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Images of the rodent reservoirs of Lassa fever virus can be seen as follows:
For _Mastomys natalensis_, see
For _M. erythroleucus_ and _Hylomycus pamfi_, see

HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Date: Fri, 29 Jun 2018 13:37:32 +0200

Cotonou, June 29, 2018 (AFP) - Benin's Constitutional Court has banned the right to strike by workers in the country's defence, security, justice and health sectors, sparking concern among union officials and legal observers.   The ruling, issued late on Thursday, came after months of wrangling between the government and the court, which had previously said the measure was unconstitutional.

"Civil servants, public security forces and equivalents should fulfil their duties in all circumstances and not exercise their right to strike," the court said in its new ruling.   "There should be no disruption to the duties of public sector defence, security, justice and health workers."   The decision was taken "in the public interest" and for "the protection of citizens", it said.

Speaking on Friday, one senior union leader, who asked to remain anonymous, described the ruling as shocking and a "hammer blow".   And Benin legal affairs expert Albert Medagbe told AFP the decision was a "worrying sudden legal U-turn".   Earlier this month, a close ally of President Patrice Talon, Joseph Djogbenou, was elected to lead the Constitutional Court during a vote held behind closed doors.   Djogbenou is Talon's former personal lawyer and was previously  Benin's attorney general.

Until his arrival, the court had strained relations with Talon, and had criticised the government for misunderstanding and failing to respect the constitution.   The small West African nation was last year hit by a wave of public sector strikes, which brought the education, health and justice system to a near halt.   The industrial action was sparked by Talon's attempts to introduce free-market reforms.
Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2018 17:31:52 +0100

Cotonou, Feb 21, 2018 (AFP) - Nine people appeared in a Benin court Wednesday on charges of selling fake drugs at the start of a landmark trial in a regional campaign against illicit medicines.   The suspects, who include executives from major pharmaceutical companies operating in the West African nation, were remanded in custody until March 6 on technical grounds.   They are accused of "the sale of falsified medicines, (and) display, possession with a view to selling, commercialisation or sale of falsified medical substances."   A tenth defendant, the head of the Directorate for Pharmacies, Medications and Diagnostic Evaluation (DPMED) under the control of the ministry of health, was not in court on the trial's opening day.   He is accused of failing to prevent the offences.

Benin launched the crackdown last year after mounting alarm about the scale of the trafficking of expired and counterfeit drugs in West Africa.   Fake medicines are drugs that are bogus or below regulatory standards but often are outwardly indistinguishable from the genuine product.   Taking them may do nothing to tackle an illness or -- in the case of antibiotics -- worsen the problem of microbial resistance.   According to an investigation by the Paris-based International Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM), West African markets are awash with fake drugs made in China and India.

In 2015, the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene estimated that 122,000 children under five died due to taking poor-quality antimalarial drugs in sub-Saharan Africa.   A 15-nation regional body, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), last April announced an investigation into the fake drugs business.   A lawyer for the civilian plaintiffs told AFP that the trial in Benin was adjourned until March 6 at their request "in order to incorporate another case, of illegal pharmaceutical practice".
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Lithuania

Lithuania US Consular Information Sheet
May 19, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Lithuania is a stable democracy undergoing rapid economic growth. Tourist facilities in Vilnius, the capital, and to a lesser extent in Kaunas and Klaipeda, are simi
ar to those available in other European cities. In other parts of the country, however, some of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries may not be available. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Lithuania for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required to enter Lithuania. As there are no direct flights from the U.S. to Lithuania, U.S. citizens should be aware of passport validity requirements in transit countries. American citizens do not need a visa to travel to Lithuania for business or pleasure for up to 90 days. That 90-day period begins with entry to any of the “Schengen Group” countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and Sweden. Multiple visits to Schengen countries may not exceed 90 days in any 6 month period. Travelers remaining in Lithuania for more than 90 days within any six-month period must apply for temporary residency.

Lithuanian authorities recommend applying or a residency permit through a Lithuanian embassy or consulate before initial entry into Lithuania, as processing times can run beyond 90 days. All foreigners of non-European Union countries seeking entry into Lithuania must carry proof of a medical insurance policy contracted for payment of all costs of hospitalization and medical treatment in Lithuania. Visitors unable to demonstrate sufficient proof of medical insurance must purchase short-term insurance at the border from a Lithuanian provider for roughly $1.00 per day. The number of days will be calculated from the day of entry until the date on the return ticket. Children residing in Lithuania must have written permission to travel outside the country from at least one parent if their parents are not accompanying them on their trip. This policy is not applicable to temporary visitors. See our Foreign Entry Requirements brochure for more information on Lithuania and other countries. Visit the Embassy of Lithuania web site at www.ltembassyus.org for the most current visa information.
Note: Although European Union regulations require that non-EU visitors obtain a stamp in their passport upon initial entry to a Schengen country, many borders are not staffed with officers carrying out this function. If an American citizen wishes to ensure that his or her entry is properly documented, it may be necessary to request a stamp at an official point of entry. Under local law, travelers without a stamp in their passport may be questioned and asked to document the length of their stay in Schengen countries at the time of departure or at any other point during their visit, and could face possible fines or other repercussions if unable to do so.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information abut customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: Civil unrest is not a problem in Lithuania, and there have been no incidents of terrorism directed toward American interests. Incidents of anti-Americanism are rare.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Lithuania is a relatively safe country. Visitors should maintain the same personal security awareness that they would in any metropolitan U.S. city. Large amounts of cash and expensive jewelry should be secured in a hotel safe or left at home. Crimes against foreigners, while usually non-violent, do occur. Pickpocketing and thefts are problems, so personal belongings should be well protected at all times. Theft from cars and car thefts occur regularly. Drivers should be wary of persons indicating they should pull over or that something is wrong with their car. Often, a second car or person is following, and when the driver of the targeted car gets out to see if there is a problem the person who has been following will either steal the driver’s belongings from the vehicle or get in and drive off with the car. Drivers should never get out of the car to check for damage without first turning off the ignition and taking the keys. Valuables should not be left in plain sight in parked vehicles, as there have been increasing reports of car windows smashed and items stolen. If possible, American citizens should avoid walking alone at night. ATMs should be avoided after dark. In any public area, one should always be alert to being surrounded by two or more people at once. Additionally, criminals have a penchant for taking advantage of drunken pedestrians. Americans have reported being robbed and/or scammed while intoxicated.
Following a trend that has spread across Eastern and Central Europe, racially motivated verbal, and sometimes physical, harassment of foreigners of non-Caucasian ethnicity has been reported in major cities. Incidents of racially motivated attacks against American citizens have been reported in Klaipeda and Vilnius.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. More information on these serious problems is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. For more information about assistance for victims of crime in Lithuania, please visit the Embassy’s web site at http://vilnius.usembassy.gov/service/crime-victim-assistance.html.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in Lithuania has improved in the last 15 years, but medical facilities do not always meet Western standards. There are a few private clinics with medical supplies and services that nearly equal Western European or U.S. standards. Most medical supplies are now widely available, including disposable needles, anesthetics, antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals. However, hospitals and clinics still suffer from a lack of equipment and resources. Lithuania has highly trained medical professionals, some of whom speak English, but their availability is decreasing as they leave for employment opportunities abroad. Depending on his or her condition, a patient may not receive an appointment with a specialist for several weeks. Western-quality dental care can be obtained in major cities. Elderly travelers who require medical care may face difficulties. Most pharmaceuticals sold in Lithuania are from Europe; travelers will not necessarily find the same brands that they use in the United States. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation can cost thousands of dollars or more. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services, particularly if immigration status in Lithuania is unclear.

Tick-borne encephalitis and lyme disease are widespread throughout the country. Those intending to visit parks or forested areas in Lithuania are urged to speak with their health care practitioners about immunization. Rabies is also increasingly prevalent in rural areas.
The Lithuanian Government does not require HIV testing for U.S. citizens. However, sexually transmitted diseases are a growing public health problem.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. All foreigners of non-European Union countries seeking entry into Lithuania must carry proof of a medical insurance policy contracted for payment of all costs of hospitalization and medical treatment in Lithuania (please see entry/exit requirements above). Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Lithuania is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
The Police allow Americans to drive in Lithuania with an American driver’s license for up to 90 days. Americans who reside in Lithuania for 185 days or more in one calendar year and who wish to continue driving in Lithuania must acquire a Lithuanian driver's license. The foreign license must be given to the Lithuanian Road Police to be processed by the Consular Department of the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which in turn sends it to the U.S. Embassy’s Consular Section, where the owner is expected to claim it.
Roads in Lithuania range from well-maintained two- to four-lane highways connecting major cities to small dirt roads traversing the countryside. Violation of traffic rules is common. It is not unusual to be overtaken by other automobiles, traveling at high speed, even in crowded urban areas. Driving at night, especially in the countryside, can be particularly hazardous. In summer, older seasonal vehicles and inexperienced drivers are extra hazards. Driving with caution is urged at all times. Driving while intoxicated is a very serious offense and carries heavy penalties. The speed limit is 50 km/hr in town and 90 km/hr out of town unless otherwise indicated. The phone number for roadside assistance is 8-800-01414 from a regular phone and 1414 from a GSM mobile phone.
Seatbelts are mandatory for the driver and all passengers except children under the age of 12. During the winter, most major roads are cleared of snow. Winter or all-season tires are required from November 10th through April 1st. Studded tires are not allowed from April 10th through October 31st. Drivers must have at least their low beam lights on at all times while driving. Public transportation is generally safe.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at www.tourism.lt and at www.lra.lt/index_en.html.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Lithuania, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Lithuania’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization ICAO aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Lithuanian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning the temporary importation into or export from Lithuania of items such as firearms and antiquities. Please see our Customs Information.
Telephone connections are generally good. American 1-800 numbers can be accessed from Lithuania but not on a toll-free basis; the international long distance rate per minute will be charged. Local Internet cafes offer computer access. ATMs are widely available. Most hotels and other businesses accept major credit cards.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Lithuanian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Lithuania are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or possessing or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. For more information about arrest procedures in Lithuania, please visit the Embassy’s web site at http://vilnius.usembassy.gov/arrests.html. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues web page.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Lithuania are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Lithuania. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Akmenu Gatve 6, tel. (370) (5) 266-5500 or 266-5600; fax (370) (5) 266-5590. Consular information can also be found on the Embassy Vilnius web site at http://vilnius.usembassy.gov/.
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated November 5, 2007 to update sections on Crime and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed 7 Aug 2019 01:17:58 EEST
Source: Xinhua News Agency [edited]

The rate of tick-borne encephalitis in Lithuania remains the highest in Europe, announced the country's Center for Communicable Diseases and AIDS (ULAC) on [Tue 6 Aug 2019].

According to ULAC, the rate of tick-borne encephalitis cases was 16.6 cases per 100 000 population in 2017, based on the latest data provided by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in its latest annual epidemiological report.  "In Lithuania the rate of encephalitis remains the highest in Europe," said ULAC.

Lithuania was followed by the Czech Republic and Estonia with the rate of 6.4 cases per 100 000 population, according to ULAC.  ULAC notes the largest proportion of tick-borne encephalitis cases is at the age group of 45-64 years and the lowest among the children of the age of 0-4 years.  "ULAC medics remind vaccination is the most reliable protection from tick-borne encephalitis," said ULAC in the announcement, noting vaccines have a reliability rate of 98 percent.

ULAC's warning comes amid increasing number of tick-borne encephalitis cases this year [2019] in Lithuania, a Baltic country with a population of around 3 million.  More than 90 cases of tick-borne encephalitis were reported during the 1st half of the year [2019] in Lithuania, 1/3 more compared to the same period last year [2018], according to local data by ULAC.

According to the ECDC's report, the highest prevalence of tick-borne encephalitis historically is found in the Baltic countries. Tick-borne encephalitis usually reaches its seasonal peak during the warmest months -- July and August.

Tick-borne encephalitis is a human viral infectious disease of central nervous system caused by infected ticks, usually found in woodland habitats. The disease manifests itself with symptoms similar to fever, fatigue, headache, nausea, and can cause meningitis.
=====================
[Cases of tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) have been reported before (see ProMED mail archive Tick-borne encephalitis - EU (Czech Rep., Latvia, Lithuania) http://promedmail.org/post/20040624.1677). Given the high rate of TBE cases in Lithuania reported above, there doubtless have been cases occurring there annually in recent years.

A report in Eurosurveillance Weekly in 2004 stated, "Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is endemic in virtually all countries in Central and Eastern Europe. It is caused by several closely related but distinct flaviviruses. 3 subtypes are recognised at present: a Far-Eastern subtype, a Siberian subtype and a European subtype. The Siberian subtype is associated with Russian spring-summer encephalitis and is transmitted predominantly by the tick _Ixodes persulcatus_, whereas the European subtype causes central European encephalitis and is transmitted by _Ixodes ricinus_.

The clinical spectrum of acute TBE ranges from symptoms of mild meningitis to severe meningoencephalitis with or without myelitis. The incubation period of central European TBE is 7-14 days. Onset is generally biphasic. The 1st phase involves a non-specific influenza-like illness with fever, headache, nausea, and vomiting, lasting about a week. After a period of remission lasting a few days, the fever returns with aseptic meningitis or encephalomyelitis. The case fatality rate is 1-5 percent and about 20 percent of survivors have neurological sequelae. Residual motor defects are rare." - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Lithuania:
Date: Wed, 3 Jul 2019 15:49:43 +0200

Vilnius, July 3, 2019 (AFP) - Lithuania declared an emergency on Wednesday as a severe drought hit the Baltic EU state, threatening to slash this year's harvest by up to half.   Apart from jeopardising crops, scant rainfall has also drastically reduced water levels in some rivers, threatening fish stocks and shipping activities.

The formal declaration of an "emergency situation" will allow the government to compensate farmers for some losses as well as help them to avoid EU financial sanctions should they fail to reach production goals.   "Farmers believe their harvest can be slashed by 40 percent or 50 percent, while fish stocks are also endangered," environment minister Kestutis Mazeika told AFP.

Mazeika said "nobody has any doubt" that global climate change is behind the prolonged and more intensive dry spells and heatwaves in recent years.   He also appealed to neighbouring Belarus to increase the water level in the Neris river by allowing more water to flow from its reservoirs.   Last month was the hottest June ever recorded with soaring temperatures worldwide capped off by a record-breaking heatwave across Western Europe, satellite data showed Tuesday.   Lithuania also registered its hottest-ever June, with a peak of 35.7 degrees Celsius (96.2 degrees Fahrenheit) recorded on June 12.

Over the last week, firefighters have fought wildfires triggered by the heat in peat bogs in western Lithuania and neighbouring Latvia.   Elsewhere in Central Europe, Polish authorities said this week that varying degrees of drought have put grain crops at risk in 14 of the EU country's 16 regional districts.   The Czech Academy of Sciences said it expects drought to affect the entire country, with 80 percent of the territory facing "exceptional to extreme drought".
Date: Thu, 13 Jun 2019 15:12:32 +0200

Vilnius, June 13, 2019 (AFP) - Lithuanian temperatures have hit record June highs, meteorologists said Thursday, as a heatwave forced school closures and threatened to reduce harvests in the draught-hit Baltic region.   Kaisiadorys in central Lithuania was the hottest place at 35.7 degrees Celsius (96.2 degrees Fahrenheit) on Wednesday, the highest-ever temperature recorded for June in the country, weather forecaster Paulius Starkus told AFP.   Six people drowned in the Baltic EU state on Wednesday, the deadliest day of the year to date, while some schools put classes on hold or cut lessons short due to the heatwave.

Scientists say the extreme weather is in part a result of climate change.   "Lithuania used to have heatwaves but now they occur more often and are more intense due to climate change," Vilnius University climatologist Donatas Valiukas told AFP.   Starkus said a downpour with thunder and hail could follow in some areas on Thursday afternoon.   Agriculture Minister Giedrius Surplys told lawmakers that some areas were experiencing "a real climatic draught" threatening harvests, while hydrologists warned that river water levels posed a threat to fish.   Demand for air-conditioning has also soared in recent weeks.   Lithuania's hot weather is expected to last through the week, then temperatures may ease below 30 degrees Celsius starting Monday.   Fellow Baltic state Latvia is also experiencing unusual heat for June, with temperatures over 32 degrees Celsius.

In recent days, Latvia's western region of Kurzeme saw thunderstorms with hail damaging buildings, smashing greenhouses and tearing power lines.   Two people have been hospitalised in the northern Latvian town of Cesis after a tree fell on their camper van while they were inside.    Fellow Baltic state Estonia had a heatwave last week and is now experiencing rainy and windy weather.   Poland has also been experiencing high temperatures this month, which has resulted in increased air-conditioner use. The power transmission system operator PSE said that on Wednesday there was record electricity demand for a summer morning at nearly 24.10 gigawatts (GW).   Forty-two people have already drowned in Poland this month, according to the government security centre RCB.
Date: Sat 30 Mar 2019
Source: PM News Nigeria [abridged, edited]

Measles in Lithuania is up to 310 cases this year [2019] compared to 30 cases for 2018 in total. The number of measles cases is projected to increase further in Lithuania, as people have lost their collective immunity to this highly contagious viral disease, Director of Lithuania's Centre for Communicable Diseases and AIDS (ULAC), Saulius Caplinskas, said on Fri [29 Mar 2019].  "The collective immunity has been lost, as a 95 per cent measles vaccination coverage rate is considered as minimum to prevent an outbreak. There are new suspected cases of measles; blood samples are being examined. I have no doubt that in the nearest future, there will be new cases,'' Caplinskas was quoted as saying by local news website lrt.lt.

Recent data from ULAC shows that the proportion of children vaccinated against measles in the country has decreased from 97 per cent in 2009 to 92.2 per cent in 2018 due to parents' reluctance to vaccinate their kids.  According to ULAC, every year, some 5000 children are not vaccinated in Lithuania. "Measles outbreaks feature certain upswings and descents, yet we will have to live under the threat of measles for a while,'' Caplinskas said.

In total, 310 cases of measles have been registered as of Fri [29 Mar 2019] in Lithuania this year [2019], compared to 30 cases for the whole of 2018, ULAC data showed.  The largest number of cases, 149, was registered in Kaunas, Lithuania's 2nd largest city. In Vilnius, the capital, 39 measles cases have been registered to date. Measles is a highly contagious, serious disease caused by a virus, says the World Health Organization.
Date: Thu, 11 Oct 2018 13:38:41 +0200

Vilnius, Oct 11, 2018 (AFP) - Lithuania's parliament on Thursday passed a law that will allow doctors to prescribe marijuana-based medicine in the Baltic EU state.   The lawmakers voted 90-0 with three abstentions in favour of the legislation that will now go to President Dalia Grybauskaite to be signed into law.   "It is a historic decision to ensure that patients can receive the best possible treatment," said lawmaker Mykolas Majauskas who tabled the bill.

Other European countries have legalised cannabis for medical purposes including Austria, Britain, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece and Italy among them.   "Of course, it does not mean cannabis will be available to get at a drugstore to smoke before going to a nightclub," Majauskas said.   The law will come into force in May next year. Selling the drugs will require a licence from the state regulator.    Recreational use of marijuana remains illegal in Lithuania, a Baltic state of 2.8 million people.
More ...

Barbados

General
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Barbados is an island country in the West Indies. This Caribbean Island gained its independence from Britain in 1966 and enjoys a pleasant climate throughout much of the year. The main rainfall occurs betwe
n May to October and it may be affected by hurricanes along with many other Caribbean countries during September or October. The tourism facilities are well developed and Barbadian English is the main spoken language.
Safety & Security
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The level of street crime is low but tourists are encouraged to maintain a close eye on personal processions and to use the hotel safety boxes for any particular valuables. Take care when walking through crowded market places, using a body pouch for your belongings. Ask advice before walking along deserted beaches at nighttime. If necessary, use an authorised taxi at all times to and from nightclubs.
Medical Facilities
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Health care facilities throughout the main tourist regions are good but if travelling around the island you should be aware that these facilities are less developed. It is wise to ensure that you carry sufficient personal medication for the duration of your trip though medical supplies within Barbados are usually excellent.
Road Travel
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The traffic in Barbados travels on the left side of the road and generally the infrastructure is well maintained along the tourist routes. Nevertheless, hiring cars or mopeds is usually not recommended due to the high risk of accidents. Hiring a taxi is usually a safer option.
Local Customs
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Many countries (including Barbados) have strict rules regarding the possession of illegal drugs. Never carry any item for another individual and always make sure your own personal medications are well marked at all times. Sometimes it is wise to have an official letter from your prescribing doctor outlining the reason for your medication.
Swimming
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As always when abroad, make sure you take heed of local advice before swimming in the Caribbean. Strong currents can occur and occasionally passing cruise ships or tankers may pollute the sea. Never swim alone, away from the main tourist resorts or soon after a meal. Take care to watch children at all times even around the hotel swimming pools. If planning to undertake water sports while abroad make sure your travel insurance is sufficient and always check that the company you use has well maintained equipment and that good safety procedures are in place. Talking to other tourists or the hotel representative before booking will help give you a clearer picture of the facilities on offer.
Sun Exposure & Dehydration
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The temperature in Barbados is generally similar throughout the year with levels between 20 to 30C at most times. Sun exposure most commonly occurs in those who do not cover up sufficiently and particularly if asleep beside the pool, exhausted due to jet lag, soon after arrival. Take care that children are kept cool, drink plenty of fluids and take extra salt in their diet (crisps, salted biscuits etc) to help overcome these effects.
Food & Water
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The level of food hygiene in the main tourist resorts is high but care should be taken with regard to the consumption of seafood. Contamination of fish and shellfish has been reported in the past. Ciguatera poisoning associated with consumption of snappers, parrot fish, mackerel, moray eels and barracudas has been reported. Water hygiene is usually excellent though drinking bottled water is usually a wise precaution while abroad.
Rabies risks
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Barbados has been rabies free for over 150 years. Nevertheless, avoiding animal bites is still a wise option and particularly take care that young children do not befriend any animals including birds, monkeys, cats and dogs.
Malaria & Mosquito Bites
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Malaria transmission does not occur within the West Indies including Barbados. However other mosquito borne diseases such as Dengue Fever can be a significant problem. Mosquitoes that tend to bite in urban areas during the daylight hours transmit this disease and so care against insect bites is encouraged throughout the whole day.
Vaccinations for Barbados
******************************
There are no vaccines required for entry to Barbados from Ireland. However, most tourists would be encouraged to consider cover against the following:
*
Tetanus (childhood booster)
*
Typhoid (food & water borne)
*
Hepatitis A (food & water borne)
Those planning a more extensive trip or undertaking adventure sports should also consider cover against Hepatitis B.
Summary
******************************
The majority of tourists to Barbados will enjoy a healthy time on the island with little reason for concern providing they follow some simple commonsense rules regarding seafood consumption, sun exposure and dehydration. Further information, including any recent news reports, is available through the Tropical Medical Bureau at the numbers below.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri 17 Aug 2018
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

Barbados health officials are reporting an increase in syphilis in pregnant women in recent years. The health ministry is now seeing an abnormally high rate of syphilis in pregnant women and, by extension, an increase in the number of babies born at risk for congenital syphilis.

Statistics show a rise from the average one or 2 cases a year of syphilis in pregnant women to 17 in 2016. According to the Ministry official, preliminary analyses from 2017 show a similarly high rate.

Dr. Anton Best, senior medical officer of health with responsibility for the HIV/STI programme, said that effective prevention and detection of congenital syphilis depends on the identification of the sexually transmitted infection (STI) in pregnant women. He noted that the Ministry of Health and Wellness' guidelines make it clear that all pregnant women should be offered a screening test for syphilis at booking and at 28 weeks gestation.
===================
[The number of syphilis cases in Barbados was reported to have started to increase in 2012, from 24 in 2011 to 41 in 2012 and to 112 in 2013, and then to have stabilized in 2014 (100 cases), 2015, and 2016 (<http://www.nationnews.com/nationnews/news/98007/stis-major-concern-ministry-health>).  72 percent of new syphilis cases reportedly occurred in men between the ages of 15 and 49 years old, with the average age being 34; more than 95 percent of pregnant women were screened for syphilis during pregnancy, and no increase in syphilis cases in pregnant women occurred during a 4-year study (2011-2014), with only one case of syphilis being transmitted through birth in 2014  (<https://caribbeannewsservice.com/now/syphilis-outbreak-in-barbados/>).

However, the news report above says that, although only one or 2 cases a year of syphilis occurred in pregnant women previously, 17 cases occurred in 2016, and a similar number occurred in 2017, but we are not given the number treated or outcome of these pregnancies.

Syphilis is a bacterial infection caused by the spirochete _Treponema pallidum_. Transmission from mother to fetus occurs via the bloodstream during maternal spirochetal infection. Transmission may also occur during delivery if maternal genital lesions are present. Late abortion, stillbirth, and neonatal death may result from congenital infection in untreated pregnancies. Among survivors, manifestations that develop in the 1st 2 years of life are called "early" and are similar to adult secondary syphilis; manifestations that develop after age 2 years are called "late" and include tooth abnormalities (Hutchinson teeth), bone changes (saber shins), "Clutton's joints" (bilateral painless swelling of the knee joints), neurological involvement, blindness, and deafness.

Control of congenital syphilis is achieved by antenatal screening and treatment of mothers who are infected. Routine serologic screening should be done at the 1st prenatal visit in all pregnant women, and, in communities and populations in which the risk for congenital syphilis is high, serologic testing and a sexual history also should be obtained at 28 weeks gestation and at delivery. Groups at high risk include uninsured women, women living in poverty, sex workers, illicit drug users, women diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases, and those living in communities with high syphilis morbidity (<http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/uspstf09/syphilis/syphpgsum.htm>). No mother or neonate should leave the hospital without maternal serologic status having been documented at least once during pregnancy and, if the mother is considered high risk, also at delivery.

Barbados, with a population of 277 821 residents, is a sovereign country and the easternmost island in the Caribbean region of North America; its capital and largest city is Bridgetown  (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbados>).

A map showing the location of Barbados can be found at
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Indies#/media/File:Caribbean_general_map.png>. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Tue, 9 Feb 2016 20:01:58 +0100

Miami, Feb 9, 2016 (AFP) - Barbados on Tuesday confirmed three cases of Zika in pregnant women, bringing to seven the number of people on the Caribbean island with the virus, which is believed to be linked to birth defects.   The women will be given specialized obstetric care, the Ministry of Health said in a statement. The new cases were announced on the Barbados government information services Facebook page.

Zika, a primarily mosquito-borne illness, has spread rapidly through Latin America and the Caribbean. It generally causes mild symptoms but has been blamed for a rapid rise in the number of children born with microcephaly -- abnormally small heads and brains.   Barbados said that link has not been confirmed.    "The situation is still evolving and information is being updated regularly," the Ministry of Health said.   The World Health Organization has declared a global medical emergency to combat Zika and individual countries and regions are beginning to mobilize. With no cure or vaccine for the virus, some countries have taken the extraordinary step of urging women to delay getting pregnant.

According to the Pan-American Health Organization, 26 countries have confirmed cases, spanning 7,000 kilometres (4,400 miles) from Mexico to Paraguay.   The hardest hit country is Brazil, which hosts the Summer Olympics starting in August.   Brazil has warned pregnant women not to travel there but Games organizers have said by the time the Olympics start, the main mosquito season will be over and they don't expect the illness to affect the sporting extravaganza.
Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2014 11:17:11 +0100 (MET)

WASHINGTON, Feb 18, 2014 (AFP) - An earthquake measuring 6.7 struck Tuesday in the Caribbean near the island of Barbados, the US Geological Survey said.   The quake hit at 0927 GMT about 170 kilometers (110 miles) northeast of the town of Bathsheba on Barbados, the USGS said.   It struck at a depth of 172 kilometers (11 miles).   There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries in Barbados media outlets.   The Daily Nation newspaper said people called radio stations to report the quake.
Date: Mon, 8 Jul 2013 11:53:25 +0200 (METDST)

MIAMI, United States, July 08, 2013 (AFP) - Tropical Storm Chantal, which formed in the Atlantic overnight, headed towards the Caribbean Sea on Monday, the US National Hurricane Center reported.   At 0900 GMT Chantal was located about 1,130 kilometers (705 miles) east of Barbados packing maximum sustained winds of 65 kilometers (40 miles) per hour, the NHC said.

The storm is moving in a northwesterly direction at 43 kilometers per hour.   If it continues on its current path it will reach southern Puerto Rico and the island of Hispaniola -- shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti -- on Wednesday or Thursday, according to the NHC forecast.   Tropical storm warnings are in effect for the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, as well as for Barbados, Dominica and Santa Lucia, the NHC said.

Chantal is expected to strengthen during the next 48 hours and "produce rain accumulations of two to four inches over the Leeward and Windward Islands, with maximum amounts of six inches possible," the NHC said.   Poverty-stricken Haiti, which is still recovering from a devastating earthquake in January 2010, is especially prone to landslides triggered by heavy rain.
Date: Fri, 3 Aug 2012 06:28:26 +0200 (METDST)

MIAMI, Aug 3, 2012 (AFP) - Tropical storm Ernesto, the fifth of the Atlantic hurricane season, threatened Barbados and the Windward Islands Friday as it advanced across the Atlantic with winds of 85 kilometers per hour.

At 0300 GMT, the storm's center was 130 kilometers (80 miles) east of Barbados and 295 kilometers (185 miles) east of St Lucia, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said. "The center of Ernesto should pass near Barbados later tonight, be near the northern Windward Islands by early Friday and emerge over the eastern Caribbean sea by Friday afternoon," the center said. It said tropical storm warnings were up in Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, St Lucia, Martinique and Guadeloupe.

Ernesto formed on Thursday from a tropical depression, becoming the fifth tropical storm of the current hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30. The storm was expected to strengthen somewhat over the next two days, the center said. US weather forecasters have said they expect this to be a relatively mild hurricane season, with nine to 15 topical storms and between four and eight hurricanes.
More ...

Congo, Democratic Republic

Democratic Republic of the Congo US Consular Information Sheet
23rd September 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa) located in central Africa, is the third largest country on the continent. The capital
s Kinshasa. French is the official language. Years of civil war and corruption have badly damaged the country's infrastructure. Read the Department of State Background Notes on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport, visa and evidence of yellow fever vaccination are required for entry. Some travelers arriving in the DRC without proper proof of yellow fever vaccination have been temporarily detained, had their passports confiscated, or been required to pay a fine. Information about yellow fever vaccination clinics in the U.S. may be found at http://www2.ncid.cdc.gov/travel/yellowfever/.
Visas must be obtained from an embassy of the DRC prior to arrival.
Travelers to the DRC frequently experience difficulties at the airport and other ports of entry, such as temporary detention, passport confiscation and demands by immigration and security personnel for unofficial “special fees.”
All resident foreigners, including Americans, are required to register at the office of the Direction General de Migration (DGM) in the commune of their place of residence.
Visitors who wish to travel in any mining areas must first obtain government approval from various government agencies or ministries, an often cumbersome and time consuming process.
Dual nationals arriving in the DRC should carefully consider which passport they use to enter the DRC. For departure from the DRC, airlines will require a valid visa for all destination countries before they will issue a ticket or allow a passenger to board. Airlines also require that the passenger have the correct entry stamp in the passport they wish to use to exit the country. Passengers who are unable to leave the country on the passport they used to enter the DRC may not be able to continue on their travel itinerary.
Additional information about visas may be obtained from the Embassy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1726 M Street NW, Washington, DC 20036, tel. (202) 234-7690, or the DRC's Permanent Mission to the UN, 866 United Nations Plaza, Room 511, New York, NY 10017, tel. 212-319-8061, fax: 212-319-8232, web site http://www.un.int/drcongo. Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Congolese embassy or consulate. Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
See the Department of State’s Travel Warning for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Though the DRC is now significantly more stable than it has been over the past decade, security remains problematic. The first democratic elections in more than forty years were held in 2006, and a new government is now in place. Post-election disturbances occurred as recently as March 2007 in Kinshasa, resulting in deaths of civilians and military personnel. During civil disturbances in 2007 there were incidents of hostility towards U.S. citizens and other expatriates.

Both inside and outside Kinshasa, there can be roadblocks, especially after dark. Vehicles are often searched for weapons and valuables, and travelers are checked for identity papers. Security forces regularly seek bribes. If confronted with such a situation, it is suggested that U.S. citizens remain courteous and calm. If detained, report the incident to the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa as soon as possible.

The United Nations has its largest peacekeeping operation in the world in the DRC. Known by its French acronym of MONUC, it has close to 17,000 peacekeepers deployed in the country – primarily in the east. Violence nevertheless persists in the eastern DRC due to the presence of several militias and foreign armed groups, with sporadic outbreaks occurring in North Kivu, South Kivu, and northern Katanga provinces, as well as in the Ituri District of Orientale province. Members of the Lord’s Resistance Army entered into northeastern DRC from Sudan in 2005, and have camps in an isolated region of the DRC, Garamba National Park, where they killed eight MONUC peacekeepers in January 2006.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for overseas callers, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
In the DRC, poor economic conditions continue to foster crime, especially in urban areas. Travel in many sections of Kinshasa, Kisangani, Lubumbashi and most other major cities, is generally safe during daylight hours, but travelers are urged to be vigilant against criminal activity which targets non-Congolese, particularly in highly congested traffic and areas surrounding hotels and stores. Outlying, remote areas are less secure due to high levels of criminal activity and the lack of adequate training, supervision, and salary payments to the security forces present.

Vehicle thefts, burglaries, and armed robbery occur throughout the country; there have been recent reports of after-dark carjackings, resulting in deaths in the North Kivu area. It is recommended to drive with doors locked and windows closed at all times. If confronted by members of the military or security forces, visitors should not permit soldiers or police officers to enter their vehicles nor get into the vehicle of anyone purporting to be a security official. It is recommended that in such instances U.S. citizens remain courteous and calm and, if threatened, not resist. All incidents should be reported to the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa.

Consistency in administering laws and regulations is notably absent. Travelers should note that in cases of theft and robbery, legal recourse is limited. Therefore, valuable items may be safer if kept at home or another secure location.

Security officials and/or individuals purporting to be security officials have detained and later robbed American citizens and other foreigners in the city of Kinshasa. This type of crime has increased in recent months, but generally occurs more frequently during the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

Travelers using public transportation or visiting high pedestrian traffic areas of any type are advised to be vigilant against robbery and pick-pocketing which is a persistent problem in all major cities in the DRC. The presence of “street children”, who can be persistent and sometimes aggressive, remains a problem particularly in Kinshasa.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
In the DRC, medical facilities are severely limited, and medical materials are in short supply. Travelers should carry properly labeled prescription drugs and other medications with them and should not expect to find an adequate supply of prescription or over-the-counter drugs in local stores or pharmacies. Payment for any medical services required is expected in cash, in advance of treatment.

Malaria is common throughout the DRC and outbreaks of cholera, typhoid, yellow fever, the Ebola virus, and hemorrhagic fever occur.
Travelers should take appropriate precautions to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in the DRC.
For further information, please consult the CDC's Travel Notice on TB at: http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of the DRC.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
For planning purposes, the minimum estimated cost of medical air evacuation to the nearest suitable health care facility (in South Africa) is $35,000.

The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning the DRC is provided for general reference only, and may vary according to location or circumstance.

Inter-city roads are scarce, and throughout the DRC roads are generally in poor condition, and often impassable in the rainy season. When driving in cities, keep windows up and doors locked. At roadblocks or checkpoints, documents should be shown through closed windows. In the event of a traffic incident involving bodily injury to a third party or pedestrian, do not stop to offer assistance under any circumstances. Proceed directly to the nearest police station or gendarmerie to report the incident and request official government intervention. Attempting to provide assistance may further aggravate the incident, resulting in a hostile mob reaction such as stoning or beating.

Presidential and other official motorcades pose serious risks to drivers and pedestrians in Kinshasa. When hearing sirens or seeing security forces announcing the motorcade's approach, drivers should pull off the road as far as possible, stop their vehicles, and extinguish headlights. Vehicles should not attempt to move until the entire motorcade has passed by; the security forces will physically indicate when this has occurred. Failure to comply may result in arrest, and/or vehicle damage with possible personal injury.

Public transportation of all forms is unregulated and is generally unsafe and unreliable. Taxis, mini-buses, and trains are in poor mechanical condition and are invariably filled beyond capacity.

Visitors who wish to travel in any mining areas must first obtain government approval from various government agencies or ministries, an often cumbersome and time consuming process.

Drivers should stop their cars and pedestrians should stand still when passing a government installation during the raising and lowering of the Congolese flag. This ceremony occurs at roughly 7:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of the DRC’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of the DRC’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
Civil aviation in the DRC continues to experience air incidents and accidents; more than a dozen crashes and in-flight accidents resulted in more than 300 fatalities between 2000 and August 2008. Incidents included hard landings, engine failures, collapsed landing gear, and planes veering off the runway.
In-country air travel schedules are unreliable and planes are frequently overloaded with passengers and/or cargo.
The U.S. Embassy in the DRC has prohibited official travel by U.S. government employees and contractors on all DRC-owned and -operated commercial air transportation services due to concerns regarding safety and maintenance.
International flights on foreign-owned and -operated carriers are not affected by this notice.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Photography: Travelers should note that photography in public places in Kinshasa and around any public or government building or monument in the DRC is strictly forbidden. Persons caught photographing such sites will likely have their photographic equipment confiscated and risk detention and possible arrest.

Travel to and from Congo-Brazzaville (Republic of Congo): Ferry service to and from Kinshasa and Brazzaville stops running in the late afternoon, does not operate on Sundays, and may close completely with minimal notice. If ferry service is functioning, a special exit permit from the DRC's Immigration Service and a visa from the Republic of the Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) are required for U.S. citizens to cross the Congo River from Kinshasa to Brazzaville.

Ferry and riverboat service to the Central African Republic is suspended due to rebel control of the Ubangui River.
Phone Service: In the DRC, cellular phones are the norm, as other telephone service is unreliable. Depending on the type of phone, it may be possible to locally purchase a SIM card to use an American-compatible cell phone in the DRC.

Currency: U.S. currency is widely accepted in the urban areas, but most vendors and banking institutions will accept only Series 1996 bills or newer, with the large, off-center portraits, that provide stronger protection against counterfeiting. In addition, bills must be in near perfect condition; even those with minor stains or small tears will be rejected. One dollar bills are rarely accepted, even if in mint condition. U.S. bills should be examined before they are accepted to ensure that they are legitimate, as counterfeit currency is widely circulated. It is recommended that currency exchange be conducted at reputable banks and not on the street where several schemes exist to either short-change the unwitting customer or to pass counterfeit bills.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in any foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe in the DRC than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Congolese laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the DRC are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Accusations of engaging in crimes against the security of the State, which are loosely defined, often result in detention for prolonged periods without being formally arrested. The DRC’s justice system remains plagued by corruption and uneven application of the law. Attorney fees can be expensive and are expected to be paid in advance of services rendered.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in the DRC are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site, so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within the Congo. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at 310 Avenue des Aviateurs; tel. 243-081-225-5872 (do not dial the zero when calling from abroad). Entrance to the Consular Section of the Embassy is on Avenue Dumi, opposite the Ste. Anne residence. The Consular Section of the Embassy may be reached at tel. 243-081-884-6859 or 243-081-884-4609; fax 243-081-301-0560 (do not dial the first zero when calling from abroad).
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, dated April 29, 2008, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 12 Dec 2019 21:25:36 +0100 (MET)

Kinshasa, Dec 12, 2019 (AFP) - Twenty-three cases of Ebola have been recorded in four days in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where deadly violence is hampering efforts to end the 16-month-old epidemic, authorities said on Thursday.   Ten cases were recorded on Tuesday alone in Mabalako in North Kivu province, after six on Monday, according to the Multisectoral Committee for Epidemic Response (CMRE).   Three out of the six were practitioners of traditional medicine, it said.

On Wednesday, three cases were recorded in North Kivu, including one in the Biena neighbourhood -- which has had no new Ebola cases for the last 85 days.   More than 2,200 people have died since the epidemic was declared on August 1, 2018.   As of November 22, the rate of new cases had fallen to 10 per week.   CMRE said "security reasons" -- attacks on Ebola health workers and sites by armed groups and angry youths -- had "paralysed" work in the key zones of Beni, Biakato and Mangina.   The attacks led to a pullout of locally-employed Ebola workers in Biakato by the UN's World Health Organization (WHO) and Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
5th December 2019
World Health Organisation

Measles vaccination drive launched, North Kivu targets 2.2 million children 
 
https://www.afro.who.int/news/measles-vaccination-drive-launched-north-kivu-targets-22-million-children

Kinshasa, 5 December 2019 – Around 2.2 million children are to be vaccinated against measles in North Kivu, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where efforts are underway to curb the world’s second-worst Ebola outbreak amid persistent insecurity.

The DRC is also currently experiencing the world’s largest and most severe measles epidemic, affecting all its 26 provinces. Since the start of 2019, more than 250 000 suspected cases and over 5000 deaths mostly among children under 5 years, have been recorded.

This drive closes the second phase of a preventive vaccination campaign and will be followed by a third and final phase planned in 10 remaining provinces: Bas Uélé, Equateur, Haut Katanga, Haut Lomami, Haut Uélé, Kasai Oriental, Lualaba, Maniema, Mongala and Tshuapa.

This mass follow-up campaign will ultimately reach 18.9 million children across the country by the end of the year, particularly targeting those who may have been missed by routine immunization.

“While the Ebola outbreak in the DRC has won the world’s attention and progress is being made in saving lives, we must not forget the other urgent health needs the country faces,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “This new vaccination campaign aims to protect children in North Kivu, as well as other parts of the country from a disease that is easily preventable with a vaccine.”

Low immunization rates and high levels of malnutrition have contributed to the measles epidemic and associated high rates of mortality.

In North Kivu, the measles vaccination is being carried out under a challenging context, with high insecurity particularly around Beni town and Masisi territory.

“In the context of North Kivu, where the population is highly mobile, it is imperative that we reach out to travellers and ensure that their children are also covered. Every child should receive his or her vaccine so that they are well protected and can grow up healthy,” said Dr Deo Nshimirimana, WHO acting Representative in the DRC.

The five-day campaign is being implemented by the Ministry of Health with the support of WHO and partners and is fully funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. WHO staff are assisting the health ministry’s national and field coordination efforts, case management, epidemiological surveillance and deployment of a post campaign survey.

“Sadly, measles has claimed more Congolese lives this year than Ebola. We must do better at protecting the most vulnerable, who are often also the hardest to reach. This campaign is an important step in that direction,” said Thabani Maphosa, Managing Director of Country Programmes for Gavi. “For maximum impact, campaigns must be combined with the strengthening of routine immunization and health systems.” 

Strengthening routine immunization, measles case-based surveillance and case management will contribute to ending the current outbreak and eliminating measles as a public health threat in the DRC.  

Lack of funding has hampered efforts for reactive campaigns. To date, US$ 27.5 million have been mobilized; however, another estimated US$ 4.8 million are needed to complete the vaccination campaign and response and to strengthen other elements of response such as disease surveillance, case management and communication.
Date: Wed, 4 Dec 2019 22:05:06 +0100 (MET)

Goma, DR Congo, Dec 4, 2019 (AFP) - Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Wednesday it was pulling its non-local staff from an eastern region of Democratic Republic of Congo after it said an armed group tried to enter its compound.    The NGO becomes the latest aid agency to withdraw its staff from the Biakato region after an unclaimed attack last week saw three Ebola workers killed at an accommodation camp in Biakato Mines in Ituri province, causing the World Health Organization to withdraw its staff from the area.     MSF and an Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC), which is treating two people with confirmed cases of Ebola and nine suspected cases, decided to stay in the Biakato region despite last week's incident.

The NGO said that on Tuesday night a group wielding machetes and sticks broke into the Biakato Health Centre, which houses the ETC, but did not cause any casualties and did not enter the Ebola facility.   A separate group with the same weapons then tried but failed to enter the MSF facility in Biakato Mines. The NGO said they threw stones but did not do any damage.   "Due to a deterioration in the security situation, MSF made the difficult decision to withdraw all non-local staff from the Biakato region," MSF said in a statement.    According to local authorities, the attackers from last week's incident are likely to be members of the Mayi-Mayi militia group.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is undergoing its 10th Ebola epidemic, which is the second deadliest on record.    An outbreak of the much-feared haemorrhagic virus has killed 2,206 people mainly in North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri, according to the latest official figures.   Insecurity has complicated the epidemic from the outset, compounding resistance within communities to preventive measures, care facilities and safe burials.   On November 4, the authorities said more than 300 attacks on Ebola health workers had been recorded since the start of the year, leaving six dead and 70 wounded, some of them patients.
Date: Fri, 29 Nov 2019 20:07:23 +0100 (MET)

Bukavu, DR Congo, Nov 29, 2019 (AFP) - At least four people, including two children, have died in flooding in the Democratic Republic of Congo, days after 41 died when the capital Kinshasa was battered by torrential rains and landslides.   The victims died in the eastern South Kivu province amid the country's worst flooding in 25 years.   "There have been four deaths and one person missing, 10 injured and more than 70 homes damaged," local administrator Aime Kawaya told AFP.   The latest deaths happened after the heavy rains caused a river to overflow its banks in the Fizi area of south Kivu on Wednesday.   Seven deaths were reported in neighbouring North Kivu earlier this week.
Date: Thu, 28 Nov 2019 19:12:51 +0100 (MET)

Goma, DR Congo, Nov 28, 2019 (AFP) - Four Ebola workers in eastern DR Congo were killed and six injured, adding to the toll of people who have died fighting the nearly 16-month-old epidemic, the UN said Thursday.   A member of the vaccination team and two drivers were killed at an Ebola workers' accommodation camp in Biakato Mines in Ituri province, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.   The attack occurred two kilometres (one mile) from a temporary base used by UN peacekeepers, one of whom was injured in an operation to repel the assailants, the UN said.   A second attack claimed the life of a police guard at an Ebola coordination office in Mangina, a few dozen kilometres (miles) away in North Kivu province.   "We are heartbroken that people have died in the line of duty as they worked to save others," said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.   "The world has lost brave professionals," he said, quoted in a WHO statement issued in Geneva.

Michael Ryan, WHO director of emergency operations, said that after the attack all staff were moved from Biakato Mines to Goma, one of the main cities in the region.   There was no immediate claim for the attacks, which DR Congo's national coordinator for Ebola, Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, said occurred "almost simultaneously, around midnight."   Ryan said that he knew of "no specific intelligence regarding an imminent attack" at Biakato Mines.   None of the dead were WHO staff but a worker with the UN agency was injured, Ryan said.   An outbreak of the much-feared haemorrhagic virus has killed 2,199 in North and South Kivu and Ituri provinces since August 1, 2018, according to the latest official figures.   It is the Democratic Republic of Congo's 10th Ebola epidemic and the second deadliest on record after an outbreak that struck West Africa in 2014-16, claiming more than 11,300 lives.   Mangina is the historic starting point of the epidemic. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres visited the town on September 1.

- Security fears -
Insecurity has complicated the epidemic from the outset, compounding resistance within communities to preventive measures, care facilities and safe burials.   On November 4, the authorities said more than 300 attacks on Ebola health workers had been recorded since the start of the year, leaving six dead and 70 wounded, some of them patients.    The WHO said that last week, seven cases of Ebola had been recorded, compared with the peak of more than 120 per week in April 2019.    "Ebola was retreating. These attacks will give it force again, and more people will die as a consequence," Tedros warned.    "It will be tragic to see more unnecessary suffering in communities that have already suffered so much. We call on everyone who has a role to play to end this cycle of violence."   Vast tracts of eastern DRC are in the grip of armed groups, especially a shadowy militia called the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).   The armed forces launched an offensive in the region on October 30, prompting a wave of massacres of civilians by suspected ADF men.   Ninety-nine people have been killed by armed groups in the Beni area alone since November 5, according to the not-for-profit Congo Research Group (CRG).   The bloodshed has sparked a wave of anger at the authorities and the UN mission in the DRC, MONUSCO. Seven people have died in protests since Saturday.

- Low profile -
The latest deaths sparked an immediate reaction Thursday in Beni, where many responders kept a low profile and vaccination teams were not at work, AFP journalists saw.   "A suspected case of Ebola has been reported from the health centre. The investigator has gone there quietly on foot to avoid drawing attention," said Michel Kalongo, a local doctor involved in the anti-Ebola fight.   Normally, an ambulance would have been despatched to conduct tests.   But responders on Thursday did not wear their uniforms, nor did they openly display their medical kits.   "We are blending in with ordinary motorcyclists to avoid public anger," said Timothee Pothsola, a motorbike driver who transports Ebola teams.   Pierre Vernier of the medical charity MSF (Doctors Without Borders) said, "Because of the lack of security, lab work is problematic. It's hard to gather samples."   But, he said, "the real problem is that Ebola monitoring teams cannot carry out work on the ground" to follow up cases where people may have been exposed to the virus.   "Part of the personnel have been evacuated... only veterans who are used to tense situations like this have stayed behind."
More ...

Bulgaria

Bulgaria US Consular Information Sheet
September 20, 2007
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Bulgaria is a quickly developing European nation undergoing significant economic changes.
Tourist facilities are widely available, although conditions vary and
ome facilities may not be up to Western standards.
Goods and services taken for granted in other European countries may not be available in many areas of Bulgaria.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Bulgaria for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A United States passport is required for U.S. citizens who are not also Bulgarian nationals.
As of September 1, 2006, U.S. citizens who enter the country without a Bulgarian visa are authorized to stay for a total of 90 days within a six-month period.
This law is strictly enforced.
An application to extend one’s stay beyond the original 90 days can be filed for urgent or humanitarian reasons, but must be submitted to regional police authorities no later than five days prior to the end of the original 90-day period.
Travelers who have been in the country for 90 days, and then leave, will not be able to reenter Bulgaria before the six-month period expires.
Travelers using official or diplomatic passports must secure visas prior to arrival.
Upon entering the country, Bulgarian immigration authorities request that all foreigners declare the purpose of their visit and provide their intended address.
U.S. citizens intending to live or work in Bulgaria for more than 90 days within six months (or more than six months within a year) must obtain a “D” visa prior to arrival.
The practice of switching from tourist status to long-term status when already in Bulgaria is no longer allowed.
Those wanting to do so must leave Bulgaria and apply for a “D” visa at a Bulgarian embassy or consulate.
This procedure takes from two to four weeks.
American citizens who marry Bulgarian nationals and want to switch to long-term status must also leave the country, present their marriage license at a Bulgarian embassy or consulate in a neighboring country, and apply for a “D” visa.

The Bulgarian authorities do not consider presentation of a copy of the passport sufficient for identification purposes.
Visitors should carry their original passports with them at all times.
For further information concerning entry requirements, travelers should contact the Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria at 1621 22nd St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008; http://www.bulgaria-embassy.org; tel. (202) 387-7969 (main switchboard (202) 387-0174), or the Bulgarian Consulate in New York City at 121 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10021; http://www.consulbulgaria-ny.org; tel. (212) 935-4646.
See our Foreign Entry Requirements brochure for more information on Bulgaria and other countries.
Visit the Embassy of Bulgaria web site at http://www.bulgaria-embassy.org for the most current visa information.
Traveling with Bulgarian minors: Bulgarian authorities are particularly strict in matters involving the travel of Bulgarian children.
Adults, other than a child’s parents, departing Bulgaria with a Bulgarian national (including dual or multi-national Bulgarian) child, must present to authorities a certified/legalized declaration signed by the child’s parents authorizing custody for travel purposes.
This holds true even if the adult is otherwise related to the child.
If the declaration is signed in Bulgaria, certification by a Bulgarian notary public is required.
If signed in the U.S., the declaration must be certified by a notary public and the court in the jurisdiction where the notary is licensed.
The declaration must then be legalized with an apostille issued by the individual state's Department of State or the Governor’s office.
Please note Bulgarian authorities do not require such documentation for minors who are not Bulgarian.
Find more information about dual nationality and the prevention of international child abduction on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union has enhanced the overall security environment for tourist and business travelers.
However, the country still suffers from many of the ills of a former Eastern Bloc country in transition.
Organized crime groups and criminals who specialize in petty crimes and credit card fraud are highly prevalent in Bulgaria’s largely cash economy.
Petty criminals such as pick-pockets and purse snatchers operate in crowded public areas and on public transportation.
Also, technology exists in Bulgaria to clone credit cards and trap ATM cards for later retrieval.
Suspected organized crime members often travel in convoys of late-model SUVs and luxury sedans, accompanied by armed men, and frequent expensive restaurants, hotels, and nightclubs.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Petty street crime, much of which is directed against persons who appear to have money or to be foreign, continues to be a problem.
Pocket picking and purse snatching are frequent occurrences, especially in crowded markets and on shopping streets.
Con artists operate on public transportation and in bus and train stations.
Credit cards and ATMs should be used with caution.
Be wary of people who approach you at an ATM and offer assistance.
Do not give your PIN number to anyone under any circumstances. (See the Special Circumstances section below.) Travelers should be suspicious of "instant friends" and should also require persons claiming to be government officials to show identification.
There have been incidents in which tourists have been drugged or assaulted and robbed after accepting offers of coffee or alcoholic beverages from "friendly” individuals met by “chance” at hotels, the airport, or at bus or train stations.
Travelers should be wary of unfamiliar individuals who encourage them to drink or eat products, as these may be tainted with strong tranquilizers (such as valium) that can lead rapidly to unconsciousness.
Reporting a crime immediately to the police has helped recover money and valuables on more than one occasion and is recommended.
To avoid becoming a victim of more serious crimes, one should use the same personal safety precautions that they would use in large urban areas of the United States.

Travelers should pay special attention to the drink prices at high-end bars and nightclubs.
There have been instances of travelers being charged exorbitant prices, especially for champagne and hard alcohol.
Bills have been as high as several thousand dollars for drinks, and in some establishments the management may use force to assure payment.

On occasion, taxi drivers overcharge unwary travelers, particularly at Sofia Airport and the Central Train Station.
We recommend travelers use taxis with meters and clearly marked rates displayed on a sticker on the passenger side of the windshield.
Travelers should be aware that there is no official commission that sets taxi cab rates.
Taxi drivers are within their full rights to charge passengers any price they want, provided that it corresponds with the price shown on the windshield sticker.
At the airport, there is a clearly marked booth within the arrivals terminal, which arranges for metered taxis at a fair rate.
Finding reputable taxis at the Central Train Station is more difficult.
It is recommended to inquire about the fare first, to avoid excessive payment if a metered taxi cannot be found.
Always ensure that you have and account for all luggage, packages and hand-carried items before you pay and release a taxi.
The likelihood of retrieving articles left behind in a taxi is remote.
Because pilferage of checked baggage may occur at Sofia Airport, travelers should not include items of value in checked luggage.
Automobile theft is a concern, with four-wheel-drive vehicles and late model European sedans the most popular targets.
Very few vehicles are recovered.
Thieves smash vehicle windows to steal valuables left in sight.
Break-ins at residential apartments occur as frequently as in major cities everywhere.
Persons who plan to reside in Bulgaria on a long-term basis should take measures to protect their dwellings.
Long-term residents should consider installation of window grilles, steel doors with well-functioning locks, and an alarm system that alerts an armed response team.

Travelers should also be cautious about making credit card charges over the Internet to unfamiliar websites.
As recent experience has shown, offers for merchandise and services may be scam artists posing as legitimate businesses.
A recent example involves Internet credit card payments to alleged tour operators via Bulgaria-based web sites.
In several cases, the corresponding businesses did not actually exist.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
While Bulgarian physicians are trained to a very high standard, most hospitals and clinics, especially in village areas, are generally not equipped and maintained to meet U.S. or Western European standards.
Basic medical supplies and over-the-counter and prescription medications are widely available, but highly specialized treatment may not be obtainable.
Pediatric facilities are in need of funding and lack equipment.
Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States may cost thousands of dollars.
Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s Internet site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
All foreign citizens traveling to Bulgaria should be prepared to present valid evidence of health insurance to the Bulgarian border authorities in order to be admitted into the country.
The insurance should be valid for the duration of the traveler’s stay in Bulgaria.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Bulgaria is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
The Bulgarian road system is largely underdeveloped.
There are few sections of limited-access divided highway.
Some roads are in poor repair and full of potholes.
Rockslides and landslides may be encountered on roads in mountainous areas.
Livestock and animal-drawn carts present road hazards throughout the country, especially during the agricultural season.
Travel conditions deteriorate during the winter as roads become icy and potholes proliferate.
The U.S. Embassy in Sofia advises against driving at night because road conditions are more dangerous in the dark.
Some roads lack pavement markings and lights, and motorists often drive with dim or missing headlights.
Driving in Bulgaria is extremely dangerous.
Aggressive driving habits, the lack of safe infrastructure, and a mixture of late model and old model cars on the country’s highways contribute to a high fatality rate for road accidents.
Heavy traffic conditions have led to a significant increase in “road-rage” accidents.
Motorists should avoid confrontations with aggressive drivers in Bulgaria.
In particular, drivers of late-model sedans (BMW, Mercedes, Audi) are known to speed and drive dangerously.
Motorists should exercise caution and avoid altercations with the drivers of such vehicles, which may be driven by armed organized crime figures.
In some cities traffic lights late at night blink yellow in all directions, leaving rights-of-way unclear and contributing to frequent accidents.
Heavy truck traffic along the two-lane routes from the Greek border at Kulata to Sofia and from the Turkish border at Kapitan Andre to Plovdiv creates numerous hazards.
Motorists should expect long delays at border crossings.
A U.S. state driver's license is valid in Bulgaria only when used in conjunction with an International Driving Permit.
For information on how to obtain a permit, please see our road safety information.
If pulled over by a police officer, motorists should remember that, under Bulgarian law, police officers may not collect fines on the spot; they may only issue a ticket with the fine to be paid at the motorist’s local regional tax office.
Buses, trams, and trolleys are inexpensive, but they are often crowded and of widely varying quality.
Passengers on the busiest lines have reported pick pocketing, purse slashing, and pinching. The use of seat belts is mandatory in Bulgaria for all passengers, except pregnant women.
Children under 10 years of age may ride in the front seat only if seated in a child car seat.
In practice, these rules are often not followed.
Speed limits are 50 km/h in the cities/towns, 90 km/h out of town, and 130 km/h on the highways.
For motorcycles, speed limits are 50 km/h in the cities/towns, 80 km/h out of town, and 100 km/h on the highways.
Motorcyclists must drive with helmets and with lights on at all times.
At crossings that are not regulated, the driver who is on the right has the right-of-way, but this rule, too, is frequently ignored.
Drivers may be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood level as low as 0.05 percent.
Right turns on red lights are not permitted unless specifically authorized.
The penalties for drivers involved in an accident resulting in injury or death range from a 25 U.S. Dollar fine up to imprisonment for life.
A new law requires the use of headlights day and night from November 1st through March 31st.
The most generally encountered local traffic custom is a driver flashing high beams, which usually means that a traffic police post is ahead.
In case of emergency, drivers should contact the police at telephone number 166 and/or Roadside Assistance at telephone number 146.
For an ambulance, please call 150.
The fire department can be reached at 160.
For specific information concerning Bulgarian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, please contact the Bulgarian Embassy via the Internet at http://www.bulgaria-embassy.org.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.bulgariatravel.org/eng/index.php and the web site of the Bulgarian national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.kat.mvr.bg.
[Note: the latter web site is available in the Bulgarian language only.]
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Bulgaria’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of Bulgaria’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Bulgaria is still largely a cash economy.
Due to the potential for fraud and other criminal activity, credit cards should be used sparingly and with extreme caution.
There have been reports of false ATM fronts on bona fide machines that capture cards and PINs for later criminal use, including unauthorized charges or withdrawals.
In connection with such scams, travelers should be extremely wary of friendly bystanders near ATMs who offer assistance.
Any time a card is not returned the traveler should immediately report the card as lost/stolen to the card-issuing company.

Visitors may exchange cash at banks or Exchange Bureaus, but they should know that Exchange Bureaus sometimes post misleading rate quotations that confuse travelers.
People on the street who offer high rates of exchange are usually con artists intent on swindling the unwary traveler.
Damaged or very worn U.S dollar bank notes are often not accepted at banks or Exchange Bureaus.
Major branches of the following Bulgarian banks will cash travelers' cheques on the spot for Leva, the Bulgarian currency, or another desired currency:
Bulbank, Bulgarian Postbank, Biochim, First Investment Bank, and United Bulgarian Bank (UBB).
UBB also serves as a Western Union agent and provides direct transfer of money to travelers in need.
There are also many Western Union branches in major towns and cities.
Most shops, hotels, and restaurants, with the exception of the major hotels, do not accept travelers' cheques or credit cards.
Only some local banks can cash U.S. Treasury checks and the payee may need to wait up to a month to receive funds.
Corruption remains an important concern of the Government.
The Commission for Coordinating of the Activity for Combating Corruption manages the efforts of each government agency’s internal inspectorate in fighting public corruption and engages in public awareness campaigns.
Complaints of public corruption can be made to it at the Ministry of Justice, 2A Knyaz Dondukov Blvd., 1055 Sofia, Bulgaria, email: acc@government.bg, 359-2-980-9213, 359-2-923-7595, 359-2-940-3630 or to the Ministry of Finance hotline: 0800180018.
Please see our Customs Information.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Bulgaria’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Bulgaria are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Bulgaria are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Bulgaria.
Americans without Internet access may use a public computer at the U.S. Embassy to register.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at 16, Kozyak St., Sofia1407; tel.: (+359 2) 937-5100; fax (+359 2) 937-5209; web site: http://sofia.usembassy.gov/.
Questions regarding consular services may be directed via email to: niv_sofia@state.gov (for non-immigrant visa matters); iv_sofia@state.gov (for immigrant visa matters) and acs_sofia@state.gov (for American Citizen Services matters).
*

*

*
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated March 28, 2007, to update the sections on Entry and Exit
Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Children’s Issues, and Registration/Embassy.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri 23 Aug 2019
Source: Ekathimerini [edited]

Two cases of the West Nile Virus [WNV] have been confirmed in Bulgaria, with one of the patients said to have lived in Cyprus during a part of the summer.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bulgaria has not issued an update as of [Thu 22 Aug 2019] morning, but according to Philenews, the health ministry in Bulgaria had issued a statement regarding a 48-year-old Bulgarian man who was diagnosed with WNV [infection]. The man, said to be from Pazardzhik in southern Bulgaria, is a construction worker who had been living for the last 2 months in Cyprus.

Upon his return to his country, according to Bulgarian officials, the worker started running a fever and generally feeling unwell. He was then immediately admitted to hospital with a known WNV infection.

Other towns were also on alert in Bulgaria, with an official statement saying clinics for infectious diseases in Belgrade and Nis have reported infected people. Most cases were associated with summer flu symptoms while the nervous system was affected in a number of other cases.

Based on additional media reports, there were other places besides Cyprus on the radar of Bulgarian officials regarding possible WNV infections.

According to State Medical Services of the Republic of Cyprus, 9 WNV cases have been confirmed in the south this year up until [16 Aug 2019]. All cases involved the neuroinvasive disease of the virus, with 2 patients remaining critical and 4 others being discharged from hospital.

Earlier this week, one confirmed WNV death was recorded in greater Nicosia with officials saying the patient was very senior.
Date: Mon 5 Aug 2019, 11:33 AM
Source: Novinite.com [edited]

Mosquitoes carry viral meningitis in Bulgaria. There are nearly 1/3 more cases of meningitis since the beginning of the year [2019] than the previous year [2018]. The state has allocated another BGN 2 million [USD 1 783 680] to deal with mosquitoes.

The disease is not typical for Bulgaria's latitudes, but has started to manifest itself with climate change, said Prof. Dr. Tatyana Chervenyakova of the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Bulgaria. The infection is transmitted through mosquitoes, and if there are complications, hospitalisation may be needed. However, the complications are only about 1% of the cases, said Prof. Chervenyakova.

Most of the cases pass the disease slightly - with fever and general malaise. It usually goes away after 2-3 days.

"It is very difficult to control the mosquitoes in these rainfalls. After every rainfall it must be sprayed. We shouldn't think that all mosquitoes are infected with the virus. The individual protection is the availability of repellents, the other is within the reach of the state " Dr. Tatiana Chervenyakova, said in an interview for Bulgaria ON ON AIR.
=======================
[This report deals with mosquito-borne virus infections, but does not indicate which one, nor is the number of cases to date given. There are 2 possible arboviruses involved as the etiological agents of these cases: West Nile virus or Usutu virus. Both have been found in Central Europe. As noted in a previous ProMED-mail post, "West Nile virus (WNV) and Usutu virus (USUV) are phylogenetically closely related mosquito-borne members of the family _Flaviviridae_, and belong to the Japanese encephalitis antigenic complex of the _Flavivirus genus_ (1,2). Both viruses have been isolated from numerous ornithophilic mosquito species, mainly _Culex_ spp. (1,2). In the enzootic cycle of WNV and USUV, avian species are also involved and serve as amplifying hosts. Mosquitoes facilitate virus transmission to humans and equids which then remain incidental hosts as they are not able to produce a level of viraemia sufficient for further virus transmission by mosquito bites (2)." (see  <https://www.eurosurveillance.org/content/10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2019.24.28.1900038>  for complete reference list, including those cited here).

ProMED-mail would appreciate a response indicating which virus or viruses are involved in these cases in Bulgaria. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: 30 Aug 2018
Source: Euro Surveillance [summarized, edited]

In June 2018, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) was diagnosed in a Greek construction worker who returned home after becoming ill with fever and haemorrhagic symptoms in south-western Bulgaria. Here, we describe the case along with the epidemiological investigation and phylogenetic analysis.

On 30 May 2018, a Greek male in his late 40s returned to Greece after spending 23 days in a forested area in Blagoevgrad province, south-western Bulgaria, where he was working in bridge construction. Three days earlier (27 May 2018, day 1), while in Bulgaria, he developed fever, severe headache, myalgia (mainly in the lower extremities), malaise and loss of appetite; on 28 May 2018 he visited a local hospital and received symptomatic treatment as an outpatient. As his condition deteriorated (onset of photophobia and abdominal pain) he returned to his permanent residence in northern Greece. On 31 May 2018 (day 5), the patient was admitted to a local hospital.

He was transferred to the university hospital in Alexandroupolis the next day because he presented severe thrombocytopenia and leukopenia; elevated levels of liver enzymes, creatine phosphokinase (CPK) and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH); and prolonged activated partial thromboplastin time (aPTT) (Table). On day 6, his headache was resolved, but his fever (38.2 C [101 F]), malaise and myalgia were ongoing. The main laboratory findings were thrombocytopenia, prolonged aPTT (82 s) and increased level of aminotransferases. His laboratory parameters indicated rhabdomyolysis (CPK 1739 U/L) and slightly elevated urea and creatinine levels (Table). A bone marrow biopsy showed haemophagocytosis. ...

Based on the patient's clinical presentation, and as he was bitten by a tick in an area of Bulgaria where CCHF cases have been reported previously, CCHF was highly suspected. Typically, the incubation period of CCHF after a tick bite is short (1-3 days), but the exact date of the bite was unknown in this case. The treating physician contacted the National Reference Centre for Arboviruses and Haemorrhagic Fever Viruses in Thessaloniki, and the suspected case was immediately notified to the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention (HCDCP). ...

The HCDCP investigated the case immediately after the diagnosis of CCHF (through telephone interviews with a close family member and with the patient, after recovery, to confirm the dates) and his contacts while he was ill (household members, co-workers, roommates in Bulgaria and relatives who visited him in the hospitals). Close contacts were tested for CCHF and monitored for 14 days for any symptom development. The risk for further transmission was also assessed. The HCDCP promptly informed the Bulgarian health authorities about the case; they also informed the patient's Greek co-workers in Bulgaria about prevention and proper management of tick bites (informative material in Greek was sent to them) advising them to seek medical care in case they develop symptoms.

No other cases were reported among the patient's co-workers in Bulgaria, up to the end of July 2018. The regional and local public health authorities were also informed about the case, and they performed further contact investigation in Greece. No secondary cases were detected. The HCDCP raised awareness for CCHF among health professionals working in local health centres and hospitals in northern Greece, especially in areas with populations travelling to Bulgaria for occupational reasons.

The patient and his laboratory samples, apparel, waste and cleaning procedures were managed in accordance with the national guidelines for viral haemorrhagic fevers (available in Greek from HCDCP website: <http://www.keelpno.gr/>). In particular, upon the suspicion of CCHF (day 8), the patient was immediately isolated, and strict barrier precautions were utilised (waterproof gowns, gloves, FFP3 respiratory masks, goggles), and personal protective equipment was used by healthcare workers (HCWs) and visitors; however, visitors were discouraged from entering the isolation room. The HCDCP sent guidelines for contact tracing and active surveillance of symptoms in HCWs possibly exposed to CCHFV. Patients who were hospitalised in the same room with the patient before the suspicion of CCHF (2 patients in the 1st hospital (days 5-6), and 3 patients in the 2nd hospital (days 6-8)), were also monitored for symptoms for 14 days after their last contact with the patient. No secondary cases were observed. ...

Discussion
---------
CCHF was 1st recognised in Bulgaria in 1952; since then, several cases have been reported. Genetic characterisation of the Bulgarian strains showed that they cluster into the clade Europe 1. Our patient was infected in an area that was considered at low risk for CCHF outbreaks up to 2008, when a cluster of cases was observed in the region. Although the seroprevalence in the human population in Blagoevgrad province is low (1 percent), a seroprevalence of 41.9 percent in livestock was reported recently. Since CCHFV is transmitted mainly by bites of infected Ixodid ticks, persons living in rural areas are at increased risk for acquiring the infection. This was the reason that information about preventive measures was sent to our patient's Greek co-workers in Bulgaria, and all related public health authorities were informed about the case.

Regarding Greece, no other imported cases have been reported so far, and the only autochthonous CCHF case was observed in 2008. A review of travel-associated CCHF cases published during 1960-2016 reported 21 cases; 2 imported cases have been reported within Europe: Bulgaria to Germany in 2001 and Bulgaria to the United Kingdom in 2014.

Due to the high pathogenicity of CCHFV, the absence of a specific drug treatment or vaccine, and the risk of person-to-person transmission, rapid diagnosis is crucial to ensure that appropriate infection control measures (e.g. isolation of patient and barrier precautions) can be implemented in a timely manner. A detailed medical history of the patient, including travel history and possible risk factors, is important for the timely diagnosis of the disease. In our case, information regarding the tick bite was not provided immediately, and this, in combination with the non-specific initial symptoms, meant that CCHF was 1st suspected on day 8 of illness. Despite this delay, the patient fully recovered, and no secondary cases of CCHF have been reported. Since the northern part of Greece is close to CCHF-endemic countries, HCWs in this region should be made aware of CCHF, including the provision of training to better help them address questions from patients about travel history (to identify potential risk of exposure). Physicians should include CCHF in the differential diagnosis for patients with haemorrhagic syndromes, especially if patients report a tick bite, outdoor activities, or occupation in rural areas and recent travel to an endemic area.
=======================
[The above report provides an excellent example of CCHF transmission in a case with no history of conventional professional contact with infected cattle, such as cattle rearing or butchering. History of travel to a location that has reported human cases, presence of the vector, and the clinical picture should raise suspicions in health care providers, with appropriate diagnostic tests conducted as soon as possible. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED maps available at:
Date: Thu, 8 Mar 2018 12:10:48 +0100
By Diana SIMEONOVA

Bansko, Bulgaria, March 8, 2018 (AFP) - "Unlimited Ski and Fun!" promises a pamphlet touting the Bansko ski resort, a magnet for bargain-hunting holidaymakers in southwest Bulgaria.   But nature lovers are demanding limits to the growth of the bustling resort carved into the majestic pine forests of Pirin National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983.

The clearance of more than 160 hectares (400 acres) of centuries-old forest to build the ski zone already prompted UNESCO in 2010 to remove the area from the World Heritage designation, labelling it a "buffer zone".   Now a much larger area could come under threat after a government decision in December opened 48 percent of the park's 40,000 hectares for construction, sparking weekly protests attended by thousands across the country.

Protestors accuse the government of favouring business interests in a country ranked by watchdog Transparency International as the EU's most graft-prone, with one huge banner at a recent rally in the capital Sofia reading: "Corruption! Save Pirin".   But the resort is the area's biggest employer and locals have responded with their own demonstrations in favour of expansion.   At issue in particular is a plan to build a second ski lift to ease persistent queues at the sole six-person lift, which currently takes 2,200 skiers per hour up to the 75 kilometres (46 miles) of runs.

- 'Horrific' queue -
British holidaymaker Carolyn Bennett, 30, is among the skiers who come in droves to Bansko from Britain, Russia and Bulgaria's Balkan neighbours, attracted by the cheap food and lift passes as well as budget flights.   But even on a supposedly quiet day, she was among scores of people at the foot of the ski lift, where queues form from early morning and waits can last up to three hours.

"Another gondola is going to have a huge impact environmentally but I imagine coming here in peak season, that queue would probably be horrific," she shrugged in the crammed gondola cabin.    "With a daily lift pass costing 28 euros ($34), Bansko is the cheapest resort of its capacity in Europe, and even if our queues have become notorious, people keep pouring in," Bansko's marketing chief Ivan Obreykov told AFP.   Daily lift passes at ski resorts in France and Austria typically cost twice as much.

Bansko hosts some 35,000 to 40,000 visitors per month during the winter season. On a busy day, up to 7,000 people could hit the ski lift at the same time in the mornings.   Booming construction in the once quiet town of 9,500 inhabitants has seen its two-storey houses and cobbled streets surrounded by hotels and luxury apartments with space for 18,000 guests.   While ugly concrete skeletons of a number of hotel projects abandoned after the 2008 financial crisis mar the landscape, pressure is mounting to expand both the town and the ski zone.

- Trojan horse claim -
Obreykov praised the government's green light for the second ski lift, adding that its construction was the resort's "first and most pressing task".   But those opposed to the plan say it is a Trojan horse to cover up previous unauthorised building and encourage even more expansion.   "If they wanted to do just a second gondola, they would not have opened almost half of the territory of Pirin National Park for construction," WWF's Konstantin Ivanov said at a rally in Sofia.   "We don't buy their promises that nothing more will be built there," he added.   WWF claims the ski zone has already grown to cover 60 percent more territory than initially agreed and points to as yet unapproved plans for huge expansion of the resort.    Obreykov denied the charge, adding that new ski runs could be built only within the current area of the ski zone.

A recent study for the WWF concluded that the resort has already inflicted "irreparable damage" on the reserve, calling for UNESCO to inscribe Pirin on its List of World Heritage in Danger if new construction begins.    A report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in November also said the conservation outlook for Pirin National Park -- home to bears, chamois and wolves -- was of "significant concern" and just one step away from the final "critical" stage.   IUCN also underlined the "threats of disturbance and fragmentation of the site associated with the exclusion of the skiing areas as incompatible with its World Heritage status."

- 'Deepening mistrust' -
For economist Petar Ganev, of the Sofia-based Institute for Market Economics, the row is an example of "deepening mistrust in Bulgaria's institutions".   On the one hand, Ganev said Bansko is "a positive example of a very poor place which grew into a prosperous resort" and that building a second ski lift could be justified for that reason.   But, he added, suspicions that development is not being regulated fairly will "continue to bring people out on the streets".   "The problem is not the second gondola but the corruption in the country," Ganev said.
Date: Fri 1 Dec 2017 15:26
Source: Focus News Agency [edited]

The hepatitis A outbreak in the Kosharnik, an all-Roma neighbourhood of Montana, is spreading, the number of people infected has reached 15, Dr. Mariya Kamenova, Deputy Director of Montana Regional Health Inspectorate (RHI) told FOCUS Radio . Another 8 cases were registered for the period from [Fri 27 Oct 2017] until the end of November 2017, adding up to the 7 cases registered by [Thu 26 Oct 2017]. Those 1st 7 cases were children under 14, while the newly infected are 4 children under 4 years of age, 2 children aged 5 to 9, and 2 children aged 15 to 19.

A 51-year-old male from the neighborhood is also probably hepatitis A infected, but his tests are pending. The Montana municipality has taken measures and the streets in Kosharnik and the yards of the infected families have been disinfected every month. The RHI has said that they will continue to monitor the situation.
=====================
[The location of Montana in Bulgaria is north and west of Plovdiv where HAV is being reported in the Roma community there. Montana's location can be seen on a map at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montana,_Bulgaria>. Since most ca es of
HAV in children are unrecognized, being either asymptomatic or anicteric (without jaundice), the total number of cases are likely to be much higher. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 16 Dec 2019 10:21:01 +0100 (MET)
By Marie-Pierre FEREY

Paris, Dec 16, 2019 (AFP) - French commuters endured a twelfth day of misery on Monday as the government and unions traded blame for a crippling transport strike over a pensions overhaul that has put holiday travel plans at risk for thousands.   Some 630 kilometres (390 miles) of traffic jams clogged Paris and its suburbs during the morning rush hour, nearly double the average levels, as most metro lines were again closed or operating just a handful of trains.

Across France, just one in three high-speed TGV trains and one in four regional trains were running, though most cities were not enduring the chaos seen in the capital.   "Until now I've been working from home or taking my car," a man who gave his name as Francois told AFP at the Saint-Lazare station in Paris, saying he had left home at just before 5:00 am.   "But the car is no longer an option, because of the cost but also because it's exhausting."   Unions plan a fresh day of mass demonstrations on Tuesday and insist the government must abandon planned pension reforms that they say could force millions of people to work longer before retiring.

Mass walkouts are again expected by teachers, hospital workers and other public employees as well as by lawyers protesting over plans to introduce a single pension system that would do away with 42 separate regimes.   The government has said it is willing to negotiate, in particular a "pivot age" of 64 that would grant rights to a full pension, but has defended a key project of President Emmanuel Macron's wide-reaching reform drive.    "Going on strike is legitimate, but you can also respect events like the year-end festivities," Environment Minister Elisabeth Borne told France 2 television, saying it would be "irresponsible" of union leaders to "ruin vacations".

Rail operator SNCF has already warned that unless the strike ends in a few days, it will not have time to get service back to normal by December 25.   "We're going to try to make miracles happen" for the Christmas holidays that begin on Saturday, SNCF's Rachel Picard told the Parisien newspaper over the weekend.   "If the government drops its project and we start serious talks on how to improve the system... everything will be fine," Philippe Martinez of the hardline CGT union said Sunday.   "Otherwise, the strikers will decide on what to do on Thursday or Friday."
Date: Mon, 16 Dec 2019 09:52:36 +0100 (MET)
By Ferdh Cabrera

Padada, Philippines, Dec 16, 2019 (AFP) - Rescuers in the southern Philippines used heavy equipment and their bare hands on Monday in hopes of finding several people feared trapped beneath a building toppled by a powerful earthquake that claimed at least three lives.   Sunday's tremor cracked schools, toppled homes and injured dozens but largely spared big cities on the island of Mindanao, which is still recovering from a string of deadly quakes in October.

Searchers have pulled survivors from the collapsed market building in the town of Padada, but were still looking for a person who had texted authorities saying six people were trapped under the rubble.   "The person can no longer be reached," fire official Fred Trajeras told reporters, adding that rescuers' held out hope survivors could be found.   A young child was killed when a family home collapsed near the epicentre, and searchers pulled the bodies of two victims from the collapsed market building.

However applause erupted after Lesley Jane Gatos, 31, was pulled from the rubble on Sunday, shortly after the tremor.   Gatos used her phone to call for help and then began making noise to attract the attention of rescuers, who reached her after clearing a path in the debris.   "Finally I was able to get out. I saw people. They clapped because I was the first one rescued," she told AFP.   The collapsed building was near the epicentre of the 6.8 magnitude quake and is in the same region that was hit by three tremors above 6.0 in a matter of weeks in October.   Those quakes killed some two dozen people and forced tens of thousands into shelters as well as heavily damaging homes and offices.

The Philippines is situated on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches from Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.   Searchers were fanning out across the quake-hit areas of Mindanao on to fully assess the damage, but have already reported several schools and hospitals were cracked.   President Rodrigo Duterte, who is from Davao and was there during the quake, was not hurt.  "The first lady... said the car she was riding (in) was swaying," spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
Date: Mon, 16 Dec 2019 04:25:33 +0100 (MET)
By Holly ROBERTSON

Sydney, Dec 16, 2019 (AFP) - Australia's biggest city is facing a "public health emergency" over the bushfire smoke that has choked Sydney for weeks, leading doctors warned Monday after hospitals reported a dramatic spike in casualty department visits.   Hundreds of climate change-fuelled bushfires have been raging across Australia for months, with efforts to contain a "mega-blaze" burning north of Sydney destroying an estimated 20 homes overnight and fires near Perth threatening towns.

More than 20 medical groups including the Royal Australasian College of Physicians -- which represents 25,000 doctors and trainees -- released a joint statement Monday calling on Australia's government to address the toxic air pollution.   "The air pollution in NSW is a public health emergency," the Climate and Health Alliance said.   "Smoke from bushfires has produced air pollution of up to 11 times the base 'hazardous' level in parts of Sydney and New South Wales.   "Bushfire smoke is particularly hazardous because of the high levels of tiny particles (PM2.5)."   The New South Wales state health department said it recorded a 48 percent increase in the number of people visiting hospital emergency rooms with respiratory problems in the week ending December 11 compared to the five-year average.   Visits spiked 80 percent on December 10, when air quality plummeted across Sydney prompting up to 20,000 residents to march in protest the following day.

The Climate and Health Alliance called on the government to take urgent action to curb emissions, saying climate change is worsening bushfires that are having "devastating impacts on human health".   "The air pollution events resulting from bushfires will become more and more frequent and are a result of climate change," it said.   "Our governments must act quickly to rapidly and deeply reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which we know are driving climate change."   Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week made a rare admission that climate change is one of the "factors" behind the fires, but defended Australia's record on emissions reduction and failed to announce further measures to address the issue.

- 'Heartbreaking' -
Six people have been killed, more than 700 houses destroyed and at least three million hectares (7.4 million acres) of land burned this bushfire season.   More than 100 fires are currently burning in New South Wales, where efforts to contain a 400,000-hectare blaze near Sydney using backburning are believed to have sparked another fire that destroyed an estimated 20 homes.   A New South Wales Rural Fire and Rescue Service spokeswoman told AFP the fire was "likely the result of embers from the backburning operation" but that work had been "absolutely critical" and many more homes could have been lost without it.   The devastating fires have focused attention on climate change, with scientists saying the blazes have come earlier and with more intensity than usual due to global warming and a prolonged drought that has also caused towns to run out of drinking water and forced farmers off their land.

More than 35,000 people living in a drought-stricken area of southern Queensland will be restricted to using a maximum of 80 litres (21 US gallons) of water each per day under "emergency" rules from Thursday, as local authorities begin trucking in water from other regions.   "The rain has gone around us now for three years. It's been heartbreaking," Southern Downs Council mayor Tracy Dobie told ABC.   Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Monday singled out bushfires and drought as the biggest domestic challenges for the economy, telling reporters in Canberra the dry spell had taken a quarter of a percentage point off GDP growth and reduced farm output by "a significant amount" over the past two years.   Official data shows 2019 is on track to be one of the hottest and driest years on record in Australia, with the country set to experience a heatwave this week that forecasters predict will break temperature records -- and firefighters say will make their job even tougher.
Date: Sat, 14 Dec 2019 04:27:07 +0100 (MET)
By Béatrice DEBUT

Adelaide, Afrique du Sud, Dec 14, 2019 (AFP) - South African farmer Steve Bothma heaved a sigh of relief when the weatherman finally predicted rain.   His excitement was short-lived. Just a few days later, the forecast changed. It was back to cloudless sunshine.   In South Africa's Eastern Cape province, no one can remember the last proper downpour. Some say it was five years ago, others six. "This is a disaster," said Bothma, 51, who in his three decades working the land has never seen such dry weather.     "Older people who are 70 or 80 years old would tell you exactly the same thing," he added.

Southern Africa is grappling with one of the worst droughts in decades -- the outcome of years of absent or erratic rainfall, and temperatures that have reached record highs.   Millions are facing hunger due to poor harvests and dwindling livestock.    "It is usually beautifully green at this time of the year," said Bothma, as a hot gust of wind swept through his sheep pen.   "But now even the pine trees are dying."

South Africa is one of the world's driest countries at the best of times.   Rapid urbanisation and growing water consumption have placed a strain on water reserves and caused the coastal city of Cape Town to almost run dry in 2018.   But the ongoing drought has compounded the situation.    Dam levels dropped dangerously low in October, prompting President Cyril Ramaphosa to call for "drastic measures".   South Africa is in "a dire situation", said Ramaphosa in October, highlighting that five out of nine provinces were badly hit.

- To the slaughterhouse -
Bothma has had to cull around 60 percent of his merino sheep, including lambs.   Because of the drought, he could only afford to keep 2,000 as "breeding stock".   "Usually I keep them until they are five or six years old," Bothma explained, as his staff selected animals for the next trip to the slaughterhouse.

The price he gets for his merino wool has plunged by around 40 percent over the past year due to the drought and a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in the north of the country.      "The wool is full of dust and not very strong," said Bothma.   Years of dry weather have left scars in the landscape.   Arid fields flanked the windy gravel road leading to the nearest town of Adelaide, tucked at the bottom of a mountain range.    Cows chewed pieces of wood and sheep ambled in search of food.   In town, livestock roamed the streets and nibbled at scorched grass on the golf course.   The nearest dam dried up at the start of the year.

- 'Can't wash' -
Some of Adelaide's 15,000 inhabitants had been without running water for seven months.  A South African aid group, Gift of the Givers, has been helping by delivering water to the area since April.     On a recent water mission, hundreds of people In the township of Bezuidenhoutville rushed up with an array of empty bottles, buckets, iceboxes and even paint cans.      "We are keeping it for food and drink," said Rodney Douglas, 59, pushing a wheelbarrow piled high with plastic jerrycans.

Assanda Sais, 38, complained that she could only spare enough water to bathe once a week and that her house was "smelling".    "We keep dirty water to flush," she explained.   Bezuidenhoutville's local middle school has had to shorten its week by half a day due to the lack of water.    Many children were missing class altogether.   "Kids have to help parents to carry water," said teacher Zeenat Gangat, sweltering as the sun beat down on the container walls of a classroom.   "They can't wash," she added. "They complain about stomach issues."

- Poor infrastructure -
Local authorities have tried to ease the situation by connecting sections of the town to a reservoir fed by Fish River, around 50 kilometres (30 miles) away.   The water is allocated on a rotational basis, but even then the pipeline to the river is way too narrow.   Adelaide deputy mayor Bornboy Ndyebi said the town's pipelines were in poor shape, and Thandekile Mnyimba, who heads the regional district of Amathole, told AFP that water trucks supplied by the government had broken down.

South Africa's main opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has accused the ruling party of acting too late.   "It is only when the dam reached a very low level - around four percent -- that they woke up," said DA councillor Ernie Lombard.   Ramaphosa has sought to pin the blame on years of poor governance under former president Jacob Zuma, whom he succeeded in 2018.   "Corruption in the water sector has in no small part contributed to the situation we currently face," he declared.

- 'Can't sleep at night' -
Water insecurity could become "the biggest developmental and economic challenge facing this country," Ramaphosa added.   Adelaide is already suffering from South Africa's ailing economy, marked by low growth and chronic unemployment.    Close to 70 percent of the small town's inhabitants are out of work. When houses go up for sale, they stay on the market.

The manager of Adelaide's only hotel said she was worried if too many rooms were booked at the same time, as "it takes two weeks to do the washing".   On nearby farms, high-yielding avocado trees now barely produce 10, low-grade fruit instead of 50.   Helpless farmers watch their animals succumb to thirst and hunger. Alton Snaer has lost nine of his 15 cows.   "I can't sleep at night," said the retired farmer.   Bothma feared that more months without rain would force him "to close the books".   "Farmers are taking their life," he said, eyes reddened by the dust. 
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2019 16:41:23 +0100 (MET)
By Mariëtte Le Roux and Joseph Schmid

Paris, Dec 13, 2019 (AFP) - French commuters gritted their teeth for a ninth day of public transport strikes Friday, with unions vowing to keep up their protest against a pension overhaul through the holidays unless the government backs down.   Officials have said they are ready to negotiate, with Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer meeting teachers' representatives on Friday to try and stave off another day of class shutdowns.   "It was an intense and frank meeting... but we still need details, and maintain our call to strike on Tuesday," Stephane Crochet of the SE-Unsa union said.

Unions are hoping for a repeat of 1995, when they forced a rightwing government to back down on pension reforms after three weeks of metro and rail strikes just before Christmas.   The prospect of a protracted standoff has businesses fearing big losses during the crucial year-end festivities, and travellers worried that their Christmas plans may be compromised.   "Right now it's a catastrophe here, but we're hoping there will be a solution before Christmas," Frederic Masse, a foie gras producer at the huge Rungis wholesale food market south of Paris, told AFP on Friday.

The capital city was again choked by huge traffic jams as most metro lines remained shut, only a handful of buses and trams were running, and one in four TGV trains were cancelled.   "I'm sick of this, and I won't be able to keep working if it goes on," Zigo Makango, a 57-year-old security agent, told AFP onboard a bus in the Bobigny suburb northeast of Paris.   To get home at night Makango said he has to use taxis, but "my boss doesn't reimburse me for that".

- 'Historic reform' -
President Emmanuel Macron on Friday expressed his "solidarity" with people impacted by the strike, "but I want the government to continue its work" in forging a single pension system, a key campaign promise.   "It's a historic reform for the country," he told journalists at an EU summit in Brussels. 

The overhaul unveiled by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe would do away with 42 separate regimes, some of which offer early retirement and other benefits to public-sector employees such as train drivers, dockers and even Paris Opera employees.   But Philippe angered unions further by proposing a reduced payout for people who retire at the legal age of 62 instead of a new, so-called "pivot age" of 64.

They have called for new mass demonstrations for next Tuesday, the third since the action started on December 5 in the biggest show of strength in years by France's notoriously militant unions.   Philippe insisted on Twitter that "My door is open and my hand outstretched".   But Laurent Brun of the hard-line CGT union, the largest among public-sector workers including those at rail operator SNCF, has already warned "There won't be any Christmas truce" unless the government drops the plan entirely.

- France divided -
A poll released Thursday by the Elabe institute found France evenly divided on Philippe's plan, with 50 percent for and 49 percent against.  But 54 percent rejected the mooted 64-year cutoff for a full pension, and 54 percent supported the protest.

Staff at four of France's eight oil refineries were on strike Friday, affecting output and raising fears of shortages down the line.   And both Paris operas, the Garnier and the Bastille, again cancelled Friday performances and others through the weekend.   Macron's government insists the changes will make for a fairer system and help erase pension system deficits forecast to reach as much as 17 billion euros ($19 billion) by 2025.   The average French person retires at just over 60, years earlier than most in Europe or other rich OECD countries.
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2019 14:05:22 +0100 (MET)

Milan, Dec 13, 2019 (AFP) - More than 300 flights were cancelled Friday in Italy due to a planned one-day strike by workers from Alitalia and Air Italy.   Alitalia said in a statement that 315 flights were cancelled on Friday, with another 40 cancelled Thursday night and Saturday morning. It was not immediately clear how many flights were cancelled at Air Italy.   The 24-hours strike, which involves pilots, flight attendants and ground personnel, was called by three unions to draw attention to what they called "the ongoing crisis at Alitalia and Air Italy."

The strike was felt most in Sardinia, with about 30 flights cancelled.    Money-losing Alitalia has been under special administration since 2017 when employees rejected a restructuring plan that would have laid off 1,700 workers out of an approximately 11,000.   The government has so far looked for buyers without success.    Unions plan to meet on Tuesday with Economy Minister Stefano Patuanelli.    A potential consortium of buyers for the ailing carrier fell apart last month after Atlantia, which operates Rome's airports, pulled out.
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2019 05:24:44 +0100 (MET)
By Neil SANDS

Wellington, Dec 13, 2019 (AFP) - Adventure tourism is a key part of New Zealand's international appeal but the White Island volcano eruption is a tragic reminder that such activities carry genuine risk that must be better explained to travellers, experts say.   The South Pacific nation offers a wealth of adrenaline-fuelled pursuits, from heli-skiiing on snow-capped mountains to ballooning and blackwater rafting through caves.

Some, such as bungee-jumping, jet-boating and zorbing -- where you hurl yourself down a hill inside an inflatable ball -- were invented or popularised in a country that prides itself on catering to intrepid visitors.   The tourism industry as a whole is among New Zealand's biggest earners, generating about NZ$16.2 billion ($10.7 billion) and attracting 3.8 million international visitors annually.     "Adventure tourism is a massive sector in New Zealand. We are promoting ourselves as the adventure capital of the world," professor Michael Lueck, a tourism expert at Auckland University of Technology, told AFP.

New Zealand is also renowned for its rugged landscapes, which feature prominently films such as Kiwi director Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings".   Day-trips to White Island combined both, taking tourists including cruise ship passengers to a desolately beautiful island off the North Island coast where they could experience the thrill of standing on an active volcano.   Instead, at least 16 people are believed to have died and dozens suffered horrific burns when 47 tourists and guides were caught on the island during Monday's eruption.

The disaster has raised questions about why tourists were allowed on a volcano where experts had recently raised threat levels, as well as broader issues about the regulation of risky activities in the tourism sector.   "There will be bigger questions in relation to this event," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told parliament after the eruption.   "These questions must be asked, and they must be answered."

- 'Slapdash' or world's best? -
The disaster on White Island -- also known as Whakaari -- is not the first mass-fatality accident to affect tourists in New Zealand.   In 2015, seven people were killed when a scenic helicopter flight crashed into Fox Glacier. Two years earlier, a hot-air balloon claimed 11 lives and in 2010 nine died when a plane carrying skydivers plunged into a paddock.

Briton Chris Coker's son Brad, 24, died in the skydive plane crash and since then he has campaigned from afar for tighter regulations in New Zealand's adventure tourism sector.   "In my opinion, the New Zealand authorities... are still slapdash about tourist safety," Coker told news website stuff.co.nz after the White Island eruption.   "To run tourists there is insane. I know they signed a waiver and so on, but it's not really taking care of people."

Trade body Tourism Industry Aotearoa disputes such assessments, saying operators are "working within a world's best regulatory framework", but could not eliminate risk completely.   "Operators put safety first, but adventure activity inherently carries some risk and it's critical that 'adventure' remains in adventure tourism," TIA chief executive Chris Roberts told AFP.   "Operators take all practical actions to minimise the risks and the safety culture of individual operators remains the key factor in preventing accidents."

Roberts said the issue was not tourism operators, but the alert system they relied on at volcanic destinations such as White Island, which attracts about 17,000 visitors a year.   The GeoNet monitoring agency raised White Island's threat level in the week before the eruption but also advised current activity "does not pose a direct hazard to visitors".   "The reviews need to look at the science and specifically the guidance provided about volcanic activity, and whether the operating practices followed for the past 30 years need to change," Roberts said.

- 'Understand the risks' -
Travel companies such as White Island Tours brief customers before setting off and require them to sign a waiver declaring they understand the risk, as well as supplying equipment such as hard-hats and gas masks.   However, some relatives of those affected by the eruption have expressed scepticism that their loved ones truly appreciated the potential danger they faced.   Options for legal redress are limited under New Zealand's Accident Compensation Commission scheme, which covers victims' medical bills and provides modest compensation but does not allow civil suits for damages.

Neither Roberts nor Lueck expected the White Island eruption to hit international arrivals in New Zealand, which have continued to climb despite major earthquakes in 2011 and 2016.   The nature of any review arising from White Island remains uncertain, but Lueck said at the very least tourists needed to be better informed about any risks.   "Operators and tourism boards should have tourists understand what these risks are, and not brush over quickly signing a waiver," he said.   "Only then can tourists make an informed decision and decide whether or not they want to take that particular risk."
Date: Thu, 12 Dec 2019 21:25:36 +0100 (MET)

Kinshasa, Dec 12, 2019 (AFP) - Twenty-three cases of Ebola have been recorded in four days in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where deadly violence is hampering efforts to end the 16-month-old epidemic, authorities said on Thursday.   Ten cases were recorded on Tuesday alone in Mabalako in North Kivu province, after six on Monday, according to the Multisectoral Committee for Epidemic Response (CMRE).   Three out of the six were practitioners of traditional medicine, it said.

On Wednesday, three cases were recorded in North Kivu, including one in the Biena neighbourhood -- which has had no new Ebola cases for the last 85 days.   More than 2,200 people have died since the epidemic was declared on August 1, 2018.   As of November 22, the rate of new cases had fallen to 10 per week.   CMRE said "security reasons" -- attacks on Ebola health workers and sites by armed groups and angry youths -- had "paralysed" work in the key zones of Beni, Biakato and Mangina.   The attacks led to a pullout of locally-employed Ebola workers in Biakato by the UN's World Health Organization (WHO) and Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
Date: Thu, 12 Dec 2019 15:59:23 +0100 (MET)

Juba, Dec 12, 2019 (AFP) - Devastating flooding in South Sudan following a fierce drought could tip parts of the country into famine in the next few months, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned on Thursday.   According to the UN refugee agency nearly one million people were affected by floodwaters that submerged entire towns, compounding an already dire humanitarian situation after six years of war.

The WFP said that 5.5 million people are expected to be going hungry in early 2020 -- the time at which the population is generally benefiting from their harvest in October and November of the previous year.   An earlier harvest failed due to drought. This time crops have been washed away.    "The number of people in need is likely to increase because of the catastrophic level of destruction caused by floods since October following a drought that hammered parts of the country earlier in the year," the agency said in a statement.

The floods wiped out 73,000 metric tons of potential harvests as well as tens of thousands of cattle and goats, said the WFP.   "We know the problems that we've been having in South Sudan, but the rains and the floods have led to a national disaster and are much worse than anyone could have anticipated," said WFP Executive Director David Beasley.    "In fact, if we don't get funding in the next few weeks and months, we are literally talking about famine. We need support, we need help and we need it now."   The agency estimated its needs at $270 million (242 million euros) for the first half of 2020.   South Sudan declared a "man-made" famine affecting around 100,000 people in 2017. 

The term "famine" is used according to a scientific system agreed upon by global agencies, when at least 20 percent of the population in a specific area has extremely limited access to basic food; acute malnutrition exceeds 30 percent; and the death rate exceeds two per 10,000 people per day for the entire population.   "Famine in South Sudan was defeated after four months in 2017 by a concerted large-scale humanitarian response," said the WFP.   "Experts now say the country's food security outlook has never been so dire."   Political instability is also high as President Salva Kiir and his rival Riek Machar have again delayed their formation of a power-sharing government, this time by 100 days until February 2020.
Date: Wed, 11 Dec 2019 09:33:13 +0100 (MET)
By Holly ROBERTSON

Sydney, Dec 11, 2019 (AFP) - Up to 20,000 protesters rallied in Sydney on Wednesday demanding urgent climate action from Australia's government, as bushfire smoke choking the city caused health problems to spike.   Sydney has endured weeks bathed in toxic smoke as hundreds of blazes have raged across the countryside, with hospitals recording a 25 percent increase in the number of people visiting emergency departments last week.   On Tuesday smoke alarms rang out across Australia's biggest city, with thick haze triggering smoke alarms and forcing buildings to be evacuated, school children to be kept indoors, and ferries to be cancelled.   The devastating fires have focused attention on climate change, with scientists saying the blazes have come earlier and with more intensity than usual due to global warming and a prolonged drought.   Police estimated the crowd size at 15,000, organisers put the figure at 20,000.

Many of the protestors voiced anger at the government's silence in the face of the crisis.   "The country is on fire" said 26-year-old Samuel Wilkie attending his first climate protest. He described politicians' response as "pathetic".    "Our government is not doing anything about it," said 29-year-old landscape gardener Zara Zoe. "No one is listening, no one is doing anything."   Prime Minister Scott Morrison -- a staunch backer of Australia's vast coal industry -- has said little about the smoke since the crisis began, preferring to focus on fire-hit rural communities.   Organiser Chloe Rafferty said that had created anger at the conservative government's inaction.   "I think the wider public can see that we are not expecting the climate crisis in the future but we are facing the climate crisis now," she told AFP.   "People are experiencing it in their day-to-day lives."   As well as a rise in people visiting hospitals with smoke-related health symptoms, the number of emergency calls for ambulances spiked 30 percent last week.    "For most people, smoke causes mild symptoms like sore eyes, nose and throat," top health department official Richard Broome said.   "However, people with conditions like asthma, emphysema and angina are at greater risk because the smoke can trigger their symptoms."

Smoke from bushfires is one of the biggest contributors to air pollution in Australia, releasing fine particles that can lodge deep within people's lungs and cause "severe" health impacts over time, according to scientist Mick Meyer from government-funded scientific research agency CSIRO.   "The impact of smoke on people remote from the fires may, on occasion, substantially exceed the direct injury to people within the fire zone," he wrote in The Conversation.   "But we currently lack the operational tools to understand the extent of these impacts or to manage them."   Six people have been killed and more than 700 houses destroyed in bushfires this fire season.   Though the human toll has been far lower than the deadliest fire season in 2009 -- when almost 200 people died -- the scale of this year's devastation has been widely described as unprecedented.   Three million hectares (7.4 million acres) of land has been burnt -- the size of some small countries -- and vast swathes of koala habitat scorched.   Official data shows 2019 is on track to be one of the hottest and driest years on record in Australia.