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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: 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:
Date: Thu, 19 Oct 2017 16:37:27 +0200
By Ricardo ARDUENGO, con Nelson DEL CASTILLO en San Juan y Leila MACOR en Miami

Utuado, Puerto Rico, Oct 19, 2017 (AFP) - It's been a month since Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico and Samuel de Jesus still can't drive out of his isolated, blacked-out town.   In fact, much of the US territory in the Caribbean is still a crippled mess four weeks after that fierce Category Four storm.

The bridge connecting Rio Abajo to the rest of the island was swept away when Maria slammed the island on September 20. For two weeks Rio Abajo, located in a mountainous region in central-western Puerto Rico, was cut off and forgotten, without power or phone service.   "We didn't know what to do. We were literally going crazy," said de Jesus, 35.   "Those were difficult, desperate days. We could not find a way out, and the hurricane caused extensive damage," he told AFP.

During the two long weeks following Maria, the 27 families living in Rio Abajo saw their supplies quickly deplete.   De Jesus, who has diabetes, needed to keep his insulin refrigerated. The storm blew away the island's already decrepit power grid, so people resorted to emergency generators.   "But I was running out of gasoline to run the generator," he said.   A helicopter now makes regular deliveries of food, water and medicine because with the bridge washed out, there is no other way in or out of town.

People can't wade across the river because it is contaminated with human waste after a pipe broke when the bridge went.   Some brave souls use a precarious ladder rigged to get across the water, but for most people it is too dangerous.   We need a bridge "to take out our vehicles and leave in case of emergency, or if there is a landslide," he said.   Where the bridge once stood, residents set up a system of ropes, pulleys and buckets to move supplies over the river, which has been contaminated with sewer water since the hurricane.   Over the remains of the bridge locals hung the single-star, red, white and blue flag of Puerto Rico and a sign that reads "the campsite of the forgotten."

- Desperate need for electricity -
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello visited the surrounding municipality of Utuado on Wednesday to deliver supplies, but he did not stop in Rio Abajo.   "Utuado is certainly one of the most severely affected municipalities in all of Puerto Rico," Rossello said.   "Our commitment is to give it support and aid during the whole road to recovery."   Eighty-one percent of Puerto Rico remains blacked out one month after Maria struck. Clean water for drinking, cooking and bathing is scarce, too.

Puerto Ricans' main obstacle to getting back to some semblance of normality is the slowness of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority in getting the power grid back up and running.   The lack of power has paralyzed a key industry -- pharmaceutical production -- and most businesses including restaurants are closed or operating at great cost through the use of diesel powered generators.

This nightmare comes about a year after the US government established an external fiscal control board for the island after it declared bankruptcy because of 73 billion dollars in debt.   Economist Joaquin Villamil told AFP that damage from Hurricane Maria is estimated at 20 billion dollars -- four times that of Hurricane Georges in 1998, when measured in 2016 dollars.

Villamil said reconstruction money provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and from insurance companies will have a positive impact on the island's economy in the second half of fiscal 2018 and in fiscal 2019, but this boost will just be temporary.   "From an economic point of view there is not much net gain," said Villamil, who works for a consulting firm called Estudios Tecnicos.   He said the economy has been shrinking since 2006 and Maria will delay any prospect of recovery.   It will take at least until 2026 to get back to the GDP level of 2006, he added.

Making things worse, people are leaving the island for the mainland US. Forecasts are that the population now at 3.4 million will go down to 3.1 million or even less by 2026, said Villamil.   The government of Florida estimates that since October 3 -- the day a state of emergency to deal with an influx of Puerto Ricans was declared -- more than 36,000 people from the island have poured in.
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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".
More ...

Latvia

Latvia US Consular Information Sheet
October 02, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Latvia is a stable democracy with a developing economy. Most tourist facilities found in a western European city are available in the capital city of Riga. However,
some of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries are not yet available in other parts of the country. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Latvia for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Latvia is a party to the Schengen agreement. As such, U.S. citizens may enter Latvia for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa. The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay. For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet. Travelers remaining in Latvia for more than 90 days, including 180 day periods that cross over two half-calendar years, must apply for temporary residence. All travelers must have a valid insurance policy, covering medical expenses while in Latvia. Repatriation costs, including funeral and disposition of remains costs also have to be covered by the policy. In addition, upon entering or exiting the country, travelers must declare cash in excess of 10,000 euros to Latvian customs. For more information, travelers may contact the Latvian Embassy, at 2306 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel. (202)328-2840, fax (202) 328-2860. For further information, visit http://www.latvia-usa.org. Within Latvia, contact the Ministry of Interiors Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs at Ciekurkalna 1, linija 1,k,3,Riga, LV 1026. Tel. (371)67219645, (371)67219679, (371)80007657, fax (371)67219654, e-mail: pmlp@pmlp.gov.lv, web site http://www.ocma.gov.
Any traveler to Russia, even in transit, is advised to obtain a visa prior to entry into Latvia. The process of obtaining a visa at the Russian Embassy in Riga can be lengthy, and involve surrender of the passport for an undetermined period of time. Visit the Embassy of Latvia web site at http://www.latvia-usa.org for the most current visa information.
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.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Civil unrest is not a problem in Riga. Nonetheless, in the past, Riga has seen large, peaceful demonstrations related to internal political issues. While demonstrations have been peaceful, American citizens are nevertheless cautioned to avoid any large public demonstrations. There have been no incidents of terrorism directed toward American interests. Incidents of anti-Americanism are rare. However, instances of racially motivated verbal harassment, and on occasion, physical assaults on non-Caucasian foreigners, have occurred in Riga. There have also been reports of non-Caucasian foreigners being subjected to extra scrutiny by security guards in shops and malls in Riga. Additionally, individuals displaying alternative lifestyles have experienced harassment.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s 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 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 notice A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Crime in Riga is generally non-violent. The majority of non-violent crime tends toward acts of pickpocketing, identity theft, and personal scams. However, there have been instances of serious violent assaults and robberies. Street crime is a serious problem, particularly for tourists. In addition to pickpockets in all public areas, there are numerous scam artists targeting foreigners in the tourist pubs and restaurants. There have been a number of reports recently of foreign tourists being charged xorbitant prices for drinks in bars. Some have then been assaulted or forced to withdraw money from an ATM to pay the bill. You can avoid situations like this by ensuring that you check the price of drinks before ordering, pay for one round at a time and seek recommendations for bars from trustworthy sources. There have also been a few cases of tourists and residents being drugged in bars and restaurants and then taken outside or to their residences and robbed. In any public area, one should always be alert, particularly to being surrounded by two or more people at once. It is not uncommon for groups of pickpockets to attempt to overwhelm their victim. Gangs of professional pickpockets are specifically targeting foreigners, particularly those carrying backpacks. In addition, Riga has one of the highest rates of car theft in the world.
Internet crime is a growing concern in Latvia. Common fraudulent schemes involve both Internet auction sites and Internet job search sites. In the first scam, criminals offer valuable items for sale at low prices on Internet auctions and request that payments be sent by wire transfer to a bank in Latvia or through a fraudulent escrow site that they have created themselves. In this scheme, the money passes through a bank in Latvia and is quickly withdrawn by ATM or transferred to a bank in another country. It is very difficult in these cases to discover the identities of the account holders or recover the funds.
The second common scam involves identity theft through false job offers. In this scheme, a company claiming to be located in Latvia, but which has a non-existent address, offers the victim employment as a U.S. – based agent or freight forwarder. When the victim responds to the job offer, commonly posted on one of several popular Internet job sites, a Social Security Number and other identifying information needed for the identity theft is required under the guise of conducting a background check.

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 or Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to 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, see Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in Latvia is steadily improving, but remains limited in several important respects. There are a few private clinics with medical supplies and services, including disposable needles and basic modern diagnostics, which are nearly equal to Western Europe or U.S. standards. However, because of the lack of equipment and resources, most major invasive procedures or surgeries in Latvia are not recommended. Hospital services have shown good progress but are still not equal to Western standards. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Most, but not all, antibiotics and prescription medications are available but as they are generally produced in Europe or Latvia, they often have different names and instructions are usually not printed in English. Diphtheria, hepatitis and tick-borne encephalitis are present. According to the World Health Organization, tuberculosis is a significant problem in Latvia, with 9% of all cases being multi-drug resistant. For further information, please consult the CDC’s Travel notice on TB at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx. State ambulance service for emergencies is available by dialing 112 anywhere in Latvia. However, response time is poor in rural areas. Air ambulance service is available for medical evacuations. In general, private air ambulance services are very expensive and require advance payment before the patient is transported.
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. 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 Latvia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Foreign visitors to Latvia planning to operate a motor vehicle are required to obtain an International Driving Permit. These may be obtained through the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance for a small fee. A U.S. state driver’s license is not sufficient. These requirements apply to those operating rental cars as well, whether or not the rental company chooses to enforce the requirement as a condition of rental. Individuals driving without an International Driving Permit may have their vehicle confiscated by the police. Americans resident in Latvia for more than six months are required to apply for a Latvian driver’s license. Upon receipt of a Latvian driver’s license, American citizens are required to surrender their US driver’s license to the Latvian authorities. The licenses are then returned to their respective states of issuance. For more information, visit the Latvian Road and Traffic Safety Department at http://www.csdd.lv
Latvia has one of the highest rates of automobile accidents and fatalities in Europe. While recent reports show a decrease in the number of traffic accident fatalities, there are still a number of hazards to watch out for. Drivers should be alert for pedestrians and slow moving vehicles in traffic. Additionally, violation of traffic rules is common, and it is not unusual to be overtaken by other automobiles traveling at high speeds, even in crowed urban areas. Drivers do not always yield to pedestrians, even at marked intersections. During winter, most major roads are cleared of snow. However, drivers should be alert for fog, snow, and ice while driving. Driving while intoxicated is a very serous offense and carries heavy penalties. Local authorities use roadblocks and Breathalyzer tests as enforcement tools. Drivers and pedestrians should be alert to the possibility of drunk drivers and drunken pedestrians wandering on the road. Drivers must use their headlights at all times. Speed limits are usually 50 km/hr in the city and 90 km/hr on the highways. Public transportation is generally considered safe, but travelers are encouraged to select well-marked taxis. Emergency services are fair but improving (See section on Medical Facilities above); response time may be especially slow in traffic or in rural settings. Dial 112 for ambulance service.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for information. Visit the website of Latvia’s national tourist office at http://latviatourism.lv/info.php and the national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.csdd.lv/
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Latvia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Latvia’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:
Banks and currency exchange counters may refuse to accept U.S. currency that is crumpled, torn, discolored or defaced (even small pen stokes, hand written numbers and letters are considered defacing). If such notes are accepted for exchange, an additional processing fee, based on the size of the transaction, may be charged. ATMs are widely available in Riga and in major towns. For security purposes, it is recommended that visitors use ATMs located inside major hotels or shopping malls, versus those located on the street, in high-volume tourist areas. Telephone connections with the United States are reliable. However, 1-800 numbers cannot be accessed from Latvia. Please check with your long distance carrier before departure to see if they offer service in Latvia. Local Internet cafés offer computer access, and fax machines are widely available.
Latvian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Latvia of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, medications, business equipment, drugs, etc. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Latvia in Washington or one of the Latvian consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements at http://www.latvia-usa.org.
Please see our information on 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 Latvian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Latvia are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in illicit 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 web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION/EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS: Americans living or traveling in Latvia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy of Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/ and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Latvia. 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 7 Raina Blvd. Riga, LV-1510, and may be reached by dialing +371-703-6200. The fax number for the Consular American Citizen Services section is+371-781-4088. You can find the ACS section online at http://riga.usembassy.gov/
* * * * * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated March 12, 2008 with updated information on Entry Requirements.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 15 May 2019 19:20:02 +0200

Riga, May 15, 2019 (AFP) - A second Albanian soldier has died of his injuries from a World War II landmine blast last week during a NATO exercise in Latvia, the Baltic state's defence minister said Wednesday.   Klodian Tanushi, who held the rank of major, died following surgery at a Riga hospital over the weekend, days after the landmine explosion that also killed another soldier.    "I would like to express my deepest sympathy to the soldiers' relatives and friends, to their fellow service members and to the people of Albania," Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabriks told AFP.    "Latvia is very grateful to our ally Albania for contributing to NATO's expanded presence in Latvia."

In 2016, NATO deployed four multinational battalions to Poland and the Baltic states to guard against possible Russian adventurism.   The defence group's rotating battalion in Latvia is led by Canada and also includes soldiers from Albania, the Czech Republic, Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.   Tanushi, a father-of-three, was the commanding officer of the Albanian contingent stationed at the NATO base in the central village of Adazi.    Both world wars left Latvia littered with many unexploded sea and landmines as well as artillery shells, which continue to be found on a daily basis.    Clearing areas of such explosives is a frequent focus of NATO military exercises in the region.
Date: Sun, 22 Jul 2018 18:58:20 +0200

Riga, July 22, 2018 (AFP) - Fires raging for five days have destroyed more than 800 hectares (2,000 acres) of western Latvia, authorities said Sunday, with continuing extreme temperatures hampering firefighters' efforts.   Satellite images showed the fires have wiped out 170 acres of forest, 257 hectares of scrubland and nearly 400 hectares of peatland.

A peat fire in the Courland region broke out last Tuesday and spread eastwards, with the smoke noticeable in the resort town of Jurmala, more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) away in the neighbouring Riga region.   "Peatland fires burn downward, but when there's wind, which brings oxygen, the fires can erupt into flames," Latvian fire services spokesman Inta Palkavniece told reporters.   "The main goal is to prevent the fires from spreading," he added.   The fire services said on its website that firefighting efforts would be "long and troublesome".    "The weather is unfavourable to firefighting and will remain so over the next days," it said.

The Courland region is sparsely populated, with few roads and many areas inaccessible because of its vast marshes.   Residents of Stikli, a village that was evacuated because of the fire, began to return home after the wind changed "of their own accord", the mayor of its municipality Ventspils, Aivars Mucenieks, told reporters.   Pupils of a school for disabled children in Stikli will not return until the situation is fully under control, he added.

Meteorologists warned that the high temperatures are persisting and no rain is expected for the next two weeks.   Latvia has experienced severe drought over the last few months, prompting authorities to declare a natural catastrophe in the agricultural sector.   The Baltic country has not yet asked for help from other European countries and has no proposals to do so for the time being.   But other countries in Europe have been in the grip of an unusually long heatwave for recent weeks with little prospect of rain for the time being.

In Sweden, where temperatures are the highest for a century, farmers are even sending their animals to slaughter because there is no hay left to feed them.   It has asked for help from other European countries, because of the lack of manpower and capacity to tackle such natural catastrophes.   Poland has asked the EU for financial aid after more than 91,000 farms were affected by an unusual spring drought, according to the agriculture ministry.   In Germany, which suffered a drought in May and June, agricultural producers warned the harvest this year will be down by between 20 and 50 percent.
Date: Wed, 18 Jul 2018 19:41:17 +0200

Riga, July 18, 2018 (AFP) - Latvian authorities on Wednesday ordered the evacuation of a village threatened by a wildfire in the west of the Baltic state as firefighters struggled to control the blaze.   Clouds of smoke and ash from the fire choked the small community of Stikli, forcing the evacuation of dozens of residents including handicapped children from a boarding school, the state fire and rescue service said.   The fire broke out in a peat bog in the Kurzeme region on Tuesday before quickly engulfing bone-dry forests nearby.

The blaze covers an area of nearly 200 football pitches (180 hectares, 444 acres), according to firefighters.   "Firefighting is very problematic, as this part of Kurzeme is only sparsely populated, the roads are few and narrow and many areas are inaccessible due to vast marshlands," said Zigmunds Jaunkirkis, an official with the State Forestry Department.   The army and national guard deployed a specialised helicopter on Wednesday to help firefighters fight the flames.

Neighbouring Lithuania has also sent a helicopter while residents from the nearby port city of Ventspils have started to form volunteer units.   Daytime temperatures of up to 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) and strong winds have fanned the flames amid a long heatwave.   No substantial rain is forecast for the next two weeks.    An EU and NATO member of 1.9 million people, Latvia has suffered from severe drought in recent months, forcing its government to declare a national disaster in the farm sector in June.
Date: Tue, 26 Jun 2018 18:23:31 +0200

Riga, June 26, 2018 (AFP) - Latvia's government on Tuesday declared a national state of disaster in its agricultural sector as a result of a prolonged drought that has affected most of the Baltic state and which some call the worst in decades.

The westernmost region of Kurzeme has been hit hardest, though several areas have not seen proper rain since April, resulting in burnt-up fields and lost crops.    "Last year we had heavy rainfall and a flood. My fields were submerged, and I wasn't able to harvest crops. This year: the complete opposite. I worry about my bank loans," said Dainis Rutenbergs, a farmer near the central town of Dobele.

"My red beet seeds didn't even sprout. There's an empty field where there should be beetroots right now," he told AFP.   Rutenbergs said his losses could reach 10,000 euros, ($11,700) -- a considerable amount for a small family-owned farm -- adding that he hopes to make up some of the difference on autumn berries, which have not been affected.

Because of the state of disaster declaration, banks will be forbidden from foreclosing on farms, and farmers will get some leeway to finish development projects in time to secure EU funding.   Agriculture Minister Janis Duklavs told reporters that the financial losses incurred by farmers "will not be directly compensated by the state budget".

However he added that the government has already asked the European Commission to provide its promised farming subsidies ahead of schedule.    "This is the worst drought in 40 years," Gundega Mertena, editor-in-chief of the regional newspaper Ventas Balss, said of the situation in Kurzeme.    "Last weekend we had some raindrops, but it was insufficient for the fields. Crops have died out along with cattle fodder," she told AFP, adding that farmers have been forced to butcher some of their animals.
Date: Mon 22 May 2017
Source: The Baltic Course [edited]

The Latvian Infectology Center has received this season's 1st 2 patients with alleged tick-borne encephalitis, Riga Eastern Hospital Representative Aija Lietina said.

This year [2017] 343 ticks have been removed from patients and inspected, and 17 of them were infected with encephalitis [virus].

The 1st tick this year was brought for inspection on 18 February [2017], and the next one on 8 March [2017].

Tick season usually lasts from March to October, but could be longer during a warmer autumn.

Persons are asked to be careful when walking through forests and fields. Experts remind that in order to avoid tick bite, clothes must be adjusted so that ticks could not get under the clothes - trousers must be tucked into socks, shirt - in trousers, the cuffs and the collar must be tight. It is advisable to wear light clothes while outdoors so as to notice the tick and flick it off in time.
======================
[Discovery of active ticks reported above is early in the season. Finding tick-borne encephalitis virus in these ticks is a warning that the transmission season is beginning. Tickborne encephalitis is a viral infection caused by one of 3 tickborne encephalitis virus (TBEV) subtypes belonging to the Flaviviridae family: Central European, Siberian, and Far Eastern (formerly known as Russian spring-summer encephalitis). The Central European subtype is found in Latvia. It is transmitted to humans there through the bite of infected sheep ticks, _Ixodes ricinus_. The WHO states, "Approximately 10 000-12 000 clinical cases of tick-borne encephalitis are reported each year, but this figure is believed to be significantly lower than the actual total. Immunization offers the most effective protection. Currently, there are 4 widely used vaccines of assured quality: FSME-Immun and Encepur, manufactured in Austria and Germany respectively, and based on European strains of the virus; and TBE-Moscow and EnceVir, manufactured in the Russian Federation and based on Far-Eastern strains. The 4 vaccines are considered to be safe and efficacious." (<http://www.who.int/immunization/topics/tick_encephalitis/en/>). - ProMED Mod.TY]

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

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea - US Consular Information sheet
October 17, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Papua New Guinea is a developing country in the Southwest Pacific. The capital is Port Moresby. Tourist facilities outside major towns are limited. Crim
is a serious concern throughout Papua New Guinea (please see the section on crime below). Read the Department of State Background Notes on Papua New Guinea for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Travelers must possess a valid passport, onward/return airline ticket, and proof of sufficient funds for the intended visit. Travelers may obtain business or tourist visas (valid for stays of up to 60 days, with extensions available for an additional 30 days) upon arrival at Jacksons International Airport in Port Moresby. All persons boarding international flights originating from Papua New Guinea pay a departure fee, which should be included in airline fares. Travelers may obtain more information on entry and exit requirements from the Embassy of Papua New Guinea, 1615 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20009, tel. 202-745-3680, fax 202-745-3679, e-mail kunduwash@aol.com, or via the Papua New Guinea Embassy web site at http://www.pngembassy.org/
Travelers who plan to transit or visit Australia must enter with an Australian visa or, if eligible, an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA). The ETA replaces a visa and allows a stay of up to three months. It may be obtained for a small service fee at http://www.eta.immi.gov.au/. Airlines and many travel agents in the United States are also able to issue ETA’s. Travelers may obtain more information about Australian entry requirements from the Australian Embassy at 1601 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036, tel. 202-797-3000, or via the Australian Embassy's web site at http://www.austemb.org/.

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:
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.
Civil Unrest/Political Tension: Tension between communal or clan groups, particularly in the Highlands region, occasionally leads to outbreaks of tribal fighting, often involving the use of firearms. Travelers should consult with their tour operator, the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby, or with Papua New Guinean authorities before visiting the region.

Visitors intending to travel to the autonomous region of Bougainville Island should contact the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby for updated security information. Bougainville Island is not peaceful, law enforcement is weak, and tourist and transportation facilities are limited. We advise travelers to Bougainville, as in other parts of Papua New Guinea, to exercise a high degree of caution. Areas near the Panguna mine, located on the southern part of the Island of Bougainville, have been officially designated “no go zones” by the Autonomous Government of Bougainville; Americans should avoid those areas.
Up-to-date information on 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 that travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Papua New Guinea has a high crime rate. Numerous U.S. citizen residents and visitors have been victims of violent crime in recent years, and they have sometimes suffered severe injuries. Carjackings, armed robberies, and stoning of vehicles are problems in and around major cities such as Port Moresby, Lae, Mount Hagen, and Goroka, but can happen anywhere. Pickpockets and bag-snatchers frequent crowded public areas. Hiking or other travel in rural areas and visiting isolated public sites such as parks, golf courses, beaches, or cemeteries can be dangerous. Individuals traveling alone are at greater risk for robbery or gang rape than are those who are part of an organized tour or under escort. Visitors to Papua New Guinea should avoid using taxis or buses, known as Public Motor Vehicles (PMV's), and should instead rely on their sponsor or hotel to arrange for taxi service or a rental car.
Road travel outside of major towns can be hazardous because criminals set up roadblocks near bridges, curves in the road, or other features that restrict vehicle speed and mobility. Visitors should consult with the U.S. Embassy or with local law enforcement officials concerning security conditions before driving between towns. (See also Traffic Safety and Road Conditions below). Travel to isolated places in Papua New Guinea is possible primarily by small passenger aircraft; there are many small airstrips throughout the country. Security measures at these airports are rare. Organized tours booked through travel agencies remain the safest means to visit attractions in Papua New Guinea. The Embassy recommends that prospective visitors consult a Primer on Personal Security for Visitors to Papua New Guinea at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1757.html
Kokoda Track: Americans should exercise a high degree of caution when walking the Kokoda Track and traveling through the areas adjacent to each end of the track. Travelers should travel with guides from a reputable tour company. This is particularly important given occasional threats by villagers to close parts of the track because of local land and compensation disputes. Trekkers should ensure that their tour company provides a permit in return for fees paid for this purpose. The Kokoda Track Authority (KTA) has stationed rangers along the track and at airports to collect fees from trekkers who have not obtained a valid trekking permit. The KTA can be contacted on telephone (675) 325 6165 regarding payment of the applicable fee.
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, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds may be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney, if needed.
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Papua New Guinea is: 000
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical facilities in Papua New Guinea vary from hospitals in Port Moresby and the larger towns to aid posts (including some missionary stations) in remote areas. Medical facilities vary in quality, but those in the larger towns are usually adequate for routine problems and some emergencies. However, equipment failures and sudden shortages of common medications can mean that even routine treatments and procedures (such as X-rays) may become unavailable. A hyperbaric recompression chamber for diving emergencies is available in Port Moresby. Pharmacies in Papua New Guinea are found only in urban centers and at missionary clinics. They are small and may be inadequately stocked. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for medical services.
Medical conditions arising as a result of diving accidents will almost always require medical evacuation to Australia, where more sophisticated facilities are available. Medical evacuation companies could charge thousands of dollars to transport a victim to Australia or the U.S. A last-minute, one-way commercial ticket from Port Moresby to Brisbane or Cairns costs upwards of US$250 for economy class and upwards of US$550 for business class. The most commonly used facilities are in Brisbane and Cairns, both in the Australian State of Queensland. Travelers who anticipate the possible need for medical treatment in Australia should obtain entry permission for Australia in advance. Entry permission for Australia can be granted by the Australian Embassy in Port Moresby, but it is easier to obtain it prior to leaving the United States (see section above on Entry/Exit Requirements).
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Papua New Guinea. The Government of Papua New Guinea does not currently have any policy guidelines that prevent entry into the country by short- and long-term travelers and/or residents.

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 (CDC) 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: 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 if 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 Papua New Guinea is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Traffic in Papua New Guinea moves on the left. Travel on highways outside of major towns can be hazardous. Motor vehicle accidents are a common cause of serious injury in Papua New Guinea, especially when passengers are sitting in the open bed of a pickup truck. Drivers and passengers are advised to wear seatbelts. There is no countrywide road network. Roads are generally in poor repair, and flat tires occur routinely as a result of potholes and debris on the roadways. During the rainy season landslides can be a problem on some stretches of the Highlands Highway between Lae and Mount Hagen. Criminal roadblocks have occurred during the day and more widely after dark on the Highlands Highway. Visitors should consult with local authorities or the U.S. Embassy before traveling on the Highlands Highway.
Crowds can react emotionally and violently after road accidents. Crowds form quickly after an accident and may attack those whom they hold responsible, stoning and/or burning their vehicles. Friends and relatives of an injured party may demand immediate compensation from the party they hold responsible for injuries, regardless of legal responsibility. Persons involved in accidents usually should proceed directly to the nearest police station rather than stop at the scene of the accident.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of Papua New Guinea’s national tourism office and national authority responsible for road safety. For specific information concerning Papua New Guinea driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact Papua New Guinea’s Tourist Promotion Authority via the Internet at http://www.pngtourism.org.pg/.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Papua New Guinea, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Papua New Guinea’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:
Customs: Papua New Guinean and Australian customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Papua New Guinea and Australia of items such as firearms, certain prescription drugs, wooden artifacts, exotic animals, food, and sexually explicit material. Other products may be subject to quarantine. It is advisable to contact the Embassies of Papua New Guinea and Australia in Washington, D.C. for specific information regarding each country’s customs requirements. (See the contact information in the section on Entry/Exit Requirements above.)
Natural Disasters: Papua New Guinea is prone to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and sudden tidal movements. There are numerous active volcanoes throughout Papua New Guinea. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.
Documentation: U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times, so that if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available.

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 offences. Persons violating Papua New Guinea‘s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession or use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Papua New Guinea 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. Homosexual activity is illegal in Papua New Guinea. 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 AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS: Americans living or traveling in Papua New Guinea 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 Papua New Guinea. The U.S. Embassy website is http://portmoresby.usembassy.gov. Americans without Internet access may register directly at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby and obtain updated information on travel and security within Papua New Guinea. The U.S. Embassy is located on Douglas Street, adjacent to the Bank of Papua New Guinea, in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. That address should be used for courier deliveries. The mailing address is P.O. Box 1492, Port Moresby, NCD 121, Papua New Guinea. The Embassy's telephone number is (675) 321-1455; after hour’s duty officer telephone number is (675-601-9689); fax (675) 321-1593. Americans may submit consular inquiries by e-mail to ConsularPortMoresby@state.gov
****
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Papua New Guinea dated July 18, 2008 to update the section on Safety and Security.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 7 May 2019 01:11:25 +0200

Port Moresby, May 6, 2019 (AFP) - A powerful but deep 7.2-magnitude earthquake rocked Papua New Guinea on Tuesday, officials said, cutting power and knocking items off shelves though there were no immediate reports of serious damage.

The quake struck at a depth of 127 kilometres (80 miles) about 30 kilometres (20 miles) from the town of Bulolo at 2119 GMT Monday according to the US Geological Survey, and was felt in the capital Port Moresby about 250 kilometres away.   Officials said there were no immediate reports of major damage and the depth of the tremor meant there was no tsunami threat.   "We have no reports as yet" of serious damage, Inspector Leo Kaikas, Bulolo police station commander, told AFP. "We are still assessing the situation," he said.

Staff at Bulolo's Pine Lodge hotel said there was very minor damage from objects falling off tables, but nothing more serious.   Residents in Lae, more than 100 kilometres away, said the quake knocked things off shelves and worktops and cut electricity in some areas.   "I had just woken up," Christopher Lam, a designer who lives in the city, told AFP. "It lasted a little more than 30 seconds. We had household items knocked off their shelves and the power got cut.   "Things seem to have returned to normal. No structural damage here, though I'm not sure about other buildings in the city."   There are estimated to be around 110,000 people living within 50 kilometres of the epicentre, according to UN data.

The Moresby-based National Disaster Management office said while there were no early reports of damage, but news from the quake zone could take time to trickle in.  "We are awaiting assessments," a spokesman told AFP.   The country's rugged highlands region was hit by a 7.5-magnitude quake in February last year that buried homes and triggered landslides, killing at least 125 people.

The scale of that disaster did not become apparent for days due to PNG's poor communications and infrastructure.   There are regular earthquakes in Papua New Guinea, which sits on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire -- a hotspot for seismic activity due to friction between tectonic plates.   Along the South Solomon trench, an area of the Pacific that includes PNG, there have been 13 quakes of magnitude 7.5 or more recorded since 1900, according to USGS data.
Date: Mon, 14 Jan 2019 08:57:58 +0100

Kokopo, Papua New Guinea, Jan 14, 2019 (AFP) - Weeks of heavy rains and flooding have killed at least nine people in Papua New Guinea, with authorities warning more bad weather and devastation could be on the way.   Central Province Disaster Division Coordinator Tumai Ipo told AFP Monday they have received reports of at least nine deaths, with many more families left homeless or without access to safe drinking water.

Near the capital Port Moresby, there have been unconfirmed reports of children being washed away by floodwaters, while further down the coast, high winds generated by Cyclone Penny -- which hit northern Australia -- have destroyed homes.   Rising rivers have left many bridges unusable, stranding travellers.   The storms have lashed the country's southern coast since late December but have also caused problems in the north.   Three people are missing after setting out from the mainland to Manus Island on a dinghy around Christmastime. The National Maritime Safety Authority conducted an aerial search on January 5, but failed to locate them.

Authorities have warned airlines and shipping vessels to take precautionary measures.   Samuel Maiha, director of the National Weather Service, said the worst of the rain may have passed, but with Papua New Guinea now in the first months of the 2019 monsoon season, more could be on the way.   "Even after this system is gone, we will still have another four months yet to expect more weather changes, including possible tropical storms and increasing risk of landslides," he told AFP.
Date: Tue, 8 Jan 2019 08:02:28 +0100

Sydney, Jan 8, 2019 (AFP) - One of Papua New Guinea's most active volcanoes has erupted, authorities said Tuesday, pummelling villages on a remote island with volcanic rock before subsiding.   Manam island is a volcanic cone that towers out of the sea north of the Papua New Guinea mainland and has a history of eruptions, with major activity in November 2004 forcing the evacuation of some 9,000 people.

The volcano has erupted a number of times since then and spewed lava and ash last month.   A series of tremors around Manam triggered a warning system on Monday and the volcano began erupting shortly after, the Rabaul Volcanological Observatory said.   The eruption continued into early Tuesday, Ima Itikarai of the observatory told AFP.   An observatory report said there were "small ongoing eruptions" from the main crater early Tuesday.

Lava was channelled into a nearby valley and "intermittent bursts" of volcanic rock falling on villages, adding to a heightened risk of mudflows, it added.   The level of sesmic activity declined later in the day after jumping early Tuesday, the agency said.   But it warned that Manam was "still dynamic and volatile and therefore the potential for further eruptive activity in the future is still high".

Papua New Guinea has many volcanoes, particularly on its offshore islands, as the country lies at the junction of two tectonic plates.   Some islanders who were evacuated from Manam 15 years ago and resettled elsewhere on Papua New Guinea recently complained they were still struggling with their new lives, The National newspaper reported.
Date: Mon, 3 Dec 2018 05:47:33 +0100
By Andrew BEATTY

Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea, Dec 3, 2018 (AFP) - Decades after polio was eradicated from Papua New Guinea, the crippling and sometimes deadly disease has returned, leaving doctors scrambling to revive long-lapsed vaccination programmes.   Until earlier this year, the polio virus was endemic in only three countries in the world: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.   But a relatively rare strain is now spreading throughout rugged, jungle-cloaked Papua New Guinea, one of the world's poorest countries.   Since the first case was detected in April -- paralysing a six-year-old boy named Gafo near the northern coast -- polio has infected dozens more nationwide, prompting the government to declare a national emergency.

Papua New Guinea, which today has a population of around eight million people, thought it had eradicated the wild variant of the virus in 1996, and was certified polio-free in 2000.   But since then, experts say, lapsed vaccination programmes and poor sanitation have left an open invitation for the prehistoric disease to return.   "It's not a sudden surprise," said Monjur Hossain, a UNICEF expert living in Port Moresby.   "The government knew about it," he told AFP. "We all knew about it."

In a cruel twist, the virus afflicting Papua New Guineans today -- clinically known as VDPV1 -- started life as a vaccine.   The much-weakened version of the polio virus was first ingested as an oral vaccine, before spreading throughout the community via feces.   Because of low-levels of immunisation, the harmless attenuated virus continued to circulate person-to-person for a long period of time, allowing it to mutate into a more virulent strain.

Similar localised outbreaks of vaccine-derived polio have been previously detected in the Horn of Africa, Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.   Still, healthcare workers are adamant that the benefits of vaccination programmes massively outweigh the risk of vaccine-derived polio.   World Health Organization experts estimate well over 10 million cases of polio have been averted worldwide since widespread vaccination began two decades ago, a 99 percent reduction.   But even with modern treatment, an estimated one in 100 cases of polio results in irreversible paralysis. A fraction of those who are paralysed die.

- 'Very expensive, very tough' -
Doctors in Papua New Guinea are trying to respond to the crisis by providing countrywide immunisation -- with at least three oral doses for each child.   Hundreds of thousands have already been vaccinated.   Despite government and international support, the country's lack of roads and unforgiving terrain -- particularly in the central highlands -- have made that task difficult.   Many villages can only be reached by air, or by day-long river trips.

Throw into the mix tribal violence, malnutrition, drought, multiple outbreaks of other diseases like measles and the aftermath of a massive February earthquake and things become more difficult still.   "It's really challenging in terms of access, in terms of logistics," said Hossain. "It's very expensive and very tough."   One answer has been to create mobile clinics that travel to villages far from populous areas like Mount Hagen -- which itself has very few paved roads.   At one such clinic near Mount Hagen's rough-and-tumble market, health worker Margaret Akima is virtually dragging mothers and their children into her barebones trailer.

In the first few days after setting up, she administered more than 100 doses of polio vaccine a day. By the final day of the two week stint, it is down to around 50.   From amid the throngs of bored men -- fighting, shouting and playing darts -- Akima picks out 37-year-old Maria Ponde.   She has travelled to Mount Hagen with her six-year-old daughter Warapnong to buy a spade head.   "I was not expecting her to get vaccinated," Ponde said as the dose was administered to her daughter.   Warapnong has already missed a few courses of the vaccine and only received this one by fluke, underscoring how scattershot the response still is.
Date: Wed 31 Oct 2018
Source: The National [edited]

Southern Highlands has reported the country's 19th polio case since June [2018] and 3 cases are pending confirmation. The provincial health authority's emergency operation centre in Mendi confirmed the case through the Health Department on [Fri 26 Oct 2018]. One child has died.

Disease surveillance officer with the emergency operation centre Ken Siki said the victim was a 1-year-old male from Yaria village in the Lower Mendi LLG of Imbonggu who had a paralysed leg. He said the child missed out on polio emergency vaccination when tests were conducted after he was admitted to for treatment and samples were sent to Port Moresby. "We did our best to make sure all the children were vaccinated in the 2 rounds but this total negligence by parents has resulting in the child being affected," Siki said.

"The reported case from Southern Highlands now brings the total to 19 the number of polio victims in the country while 3 more suspected cases are still pending confirmation." He said there needed to be more awareness done in the 3rd round of vaccination to make sure those who had missed out in the 1st and 2nd rounds were vaccinated. It is now the duty of parents and guardians to ensure their children are vaccinated.  [Byline: Peter Wari]
=======================
[Presumably this most recent confirmed case was associated with a cVDPV1 (circulating vaccine derived poliovirus type 1) and this will be reflected when the official report of this case is available. Unfortunately not all of the target population is reached during these vaccination campaigns, resulting in residual susceptible population.

A map showing the provinces of Papua New Guinea can be found at:

The HealthMap/ProMED map of Papua New Guinea:
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/188>. - ProMED Mod.MPP]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 24 Jun 2019 16:11:10 +0200

Kinshasa, June 24, 2019 (AFP) - More than 1,500 people have died in a nearly 10-month-old outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the health ministry said Monday.   As of Sunday, 1,506 people have died out of 2,239 recorded cases, it said.   Earlier this month, the virus claimed two lives in neighbouring Uganda among a family who had travelled to the DRC.   Nearly 141,000 people have been vaccinated in the affected eastern DRC provinces of Ituri and North Kivu, the epicentre of the outbreak.

Ebola spreads among humans through close contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected person, or objects contaminated by such fluids.   The current outbreak in the DRC is the worst on record after an epidemic that struck mainly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone between 2014-2016, killing more than 11,300 people.   Chronic violence and militia activity in Ituri and North Kivu as well as hostility to medical teams among locals have hampered the response.

On Monday, a crowd of people opposed to the burial of two Ebola victims in the Beni area burnt the vehicle of a health team, local police chief Colonel Safari Kazingufu told AFP.   He said a member of the medical team had been injured in the attack and taken to hospital.    The United Nations in May nominated an emergency coordinator to deal with the crisis. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) said this month the outbreak currently did not represent a global threat.
Date: Mon, 24 Jun 2019 20:27:21 +0200

Ouagadougou, June 24, 2019 (AFP) - Hundreds of doctors and nurses demonstrated Monday in the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou to protest against declining health facilities and to demand better working conditions.   The main doctors' union also warned it would stage a general strike from June 30 to July 7 to demand "concrete responses" to their grievances.

Health professionals staged a series of strikes at the end of May, seriously disrupting work at health centres in the poor West African country.   "We are... asking health authorities not to underestimate the health crisis," said Alfred Ouedraogo, general secretary of the Union of Burkina Doctors.   "For several months, there have been recurring breakdowns in laboratories," he said. "In most health centres, there are no X-ray films."    The protesters marched to the health ministry and submitted their demands.

Health worker Idrissa Compaore said that ever since the introduction of free medical care for children under five and pregnant women, "basic goods were regularly lacking" at health facilities.   "The situation is the same in health centres," he said.   The doctors also want the implementation of an accord signed with the government in 2017 promising better working conditions which they say remains only on paper.   If their demands are not met, the health workers could launch an open-ended strike which would affect consultations and surgeries, Ouedraogo said.
Date: Wed 19 Jun 2019
Source: InSight crime [edited]

Disease outbreaks show desperate Venezuelans have migrated to illegal gold mining areas for work.

Outbreaks of malaria and diphtheria in a region of Venezuela where these diseases are rare has revealed how armed groups are organizing a vast migration to illegal mines.

The outbreaks show that criminals operating in the state of Miranda found a way to make money amid the country's worsening crisis by moving into the illegal gold mines of Bolivar state, in the south of Venezuela.

In the middle of 2017, doctors witnessed an unusual, sustained, and inexplicable malaria outbreak in Valles del Tuy, a region in the state of Miranda located between the coast and the center of Venezuela where the mosquito-borne disease is seldom seen, Efecto Cocuyo reported.

The startling epidemic offered the 1st clue to the changing criminal dynamics in the region.

"Malaria was not a disease native to states in the center of the country, so this caught our attention. We started to ask patients about it to find out how they contracted it. The surprise came when one of the patients told me that he had caught it in the mining region in the state of Bolivar, where they went to work in gold mining," explained a doctor whose practice is in Charallave, the municipal seat in Cristobal Rojas municipality in Miranda state. The doctor asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.

Pressured by the economic situation and massive inflation, residents of the Valles del Tuy region began working during their vacations in the illegal mines in Bolivar, more than 500 kilometers [about 311 mi] away. The doctor said that they were recruited by 'pranes', or prison gang bosses, who had previously been the leaders of local 'megabandas' in Valles del Tuy.

The megabandas' grip on Valles del Tuy began in 2013, when various sites were converted into so-called peace zones, areas where security forces could not enter.

Later, when kidnappings and extortion stopped being profitable in the poor areas where they operated, members of the same megabandas migrated to the mining region in search of other sources of income, and to escape police and military raids.

InSight crime analysis
----------------------
Criminals are not immune to the effects of Venezuela's current economic, political, and social crisis.

Many criminals, primarily pranes and leaders of megabandas, have been forced to abandon their former strongholds and change the pattern of their criminal activities, according to investigations conducted by InSight Crime.

Criminals are trading robbery, petty theft, and kidnappings for drug trafficking and illegal mining. Additionally, they are migrating to states where these illicit economies are strongest: Sucre, Zulia, Tachira, and Bolivar. In the south of Venezuela, Bolivar has become the principal destination for the pranes of Valles del Tuy.

Ramon Teran Rico, alias "Monchi," for example, was the leader of one of the largest criminal organizations in the state of Miranda. Community representatives told InSight Crime that he fled to Bolivar's mines 2 years ago.

Monchi was the 1st crime boss to try his luck at the Orinoco Mining Arc, a transnational mining project created in 2016. He gradually moved his henchmen there from the Valles del Tuy. Sources in his circle of friends say that he even purchased his own dredge to extract gold.

Leaders of other criminal structures operating in the Valles del Tuy have also had to reinvent themselves in order to survive, and have moved into southern Venezuelan states where they operate comfortably.

Hundreds of residents of the towns in Valles del Tuy have migrated to the mining region. "All of the families here have at least one person that has gone to work in the mines," said a resident of Ocumare del Tuy in Miranda state, who reports seeing his neighbors' children and relatives head for the mines.

In November 2016, a case of diphtheria, an acute infectious disease [that most commonly affects the throat and the tonsils], was detected in the Sucuta sector of Ocumare del Tuy, alerting health authorities to the re-emergence of a disease rarely seen in the center of the country.

Follow-up with the patient found that he had contracted the infection in the Bolivar mines.

Health authorities developed prevention plans targeted at the neighborhoods where criminal groups operate. Investigations conducted by health authorities demonstrated that the men that go to work in the mines, as well sex workers or women who work in the kitchens there, carried these diseases back to the Valles del Tuy.

The public health problem shed light on the fact that an illegal gold mining fever had emerged -- an economic lifeline that is now strengthening organized crime.  [Byline: Venezuela Investigative Unit]
=======================
[Malaria has surged in Venezuela over the past 9 years (see ProMED reports below). Control measures have ceased to exist and drugs for treatment have become difficult to find. The association with illegal haphazard mining was reported from Bolivar state in 2012, and the present report underlines that such activities constitute high risk for malaria and other diseases.

The diphtheria outbreak that began in July 2016 remains ongoing. Through February 2019, Venezuela has seen a total of 2726 suspected cases (1612 confirmed), including 164 in 2019 to date (<http://outbreaknewstoday.com/diphtheria-update-venezuela-60872/>). - ProMED Mod.EP]

[Maps of Venezuela:
Date: 23 Jun 2019
Source: Outbreak News [edited]

The Malaysia Ministry of Health is reporting a methanol poisoning cluster believed linked to counterfeit alcohol.

For the period of 11-21 Jun 2019, 3 methanol poisoning clusters were reported to the National Crisis Preparedness and Response Center (CPRC). The incidents involved 19 cases from the following states:
Penang (8), Johor (6) and Negeri Sembilan (5). The cause of the methanol poisoning was believed to be due to the counterfeit liquor branded by Myanmar Whiskey, Miludeer Beer, Whiskey 99 and Martens Extra Strong.

The cluster of methanol poisoning cases in Penang began on 11 Jun 2019 and involved 8 Myanmar citizens. Two of the cases have died. They had been drinking Myanmar branded whiskey. The drink was purchased from the same seller who sells directly at the premises where these poisoning victims work. On 21 Jun 2019, one methanol poisoning case was still being treated at a Penang hospital in critical condition, while 5 others were discharged.

In the state of Johor, reporting of methanol poisoning cases has been received since 18 Jun 2019. It involves 6 cases, 3 Malaysians and one Pakistani, Nepalese and Indian, respectively. Three of the cases involved were found to have consumed a drink believed to be counterfeit branded Miludeer Beer. Four of the cases of methanol poisoning have died. On 21 Jun 2019, one case was still being treated at the Sultanah Aminah Hospital (HSA) in critical condition, and one more reported case of blurred vision was being treated in a regular ward at Sultan Ismail Hospital, Johor Bahru, Johor.

The Negeri Sembilan Health Department (JKNNS) reported one methanol poisoning cluster on 20 Jun 2019 involving 5 cases from the Port Dickson district including 2 deaths. It involves 3 Malaysians, one Indian citizen and one Myanmar citizen. Investigations found cases involved drinking alcoholic beverages allegedly branded Miludeer Beer (2 cases), Whisky 99 (1 case) and Martens Extra Strong (1 case), while one case had no brand information. On 21 Jun 2019, 3 cases were being treated at Port Dickson Hospital, 2 critical cases, and one case in a regular ward.

Clinical samples were taken from all 19 cases for methanol test analysis. The results showed 5 positive cases of methanol and one negative case of methanol but showed symptoms and clinical signs of methanol poisoning. Laboratory results for the remaining 13 cases are still pending.

The Penang State Health Department, Negeri Sembilan and the State of Johor have collaborated with the Royal Malaysian Police and Royal Malaysian Customs in an investigation to identify the sources of the counterfeit alcoholic drink.

The MOH continues to monitor the situation and take preventative and control measures to address these methanol poisoning incidents. Consumers are advised to ensure each purchased alcohol product has a label containing complete manufacturer, importer, agent and listing information.

Consumers are also advised to avoid consuming home-brewed alcoholic beverages or alcohol being sold at low prices.

If individuals have symptoms of methanol intoxication such as stomach-ache, nausea, vomiting, headache, and vision loss within 5 days of consuming an alcoholic drink, MOH advises them to seek immediate treatment at any clinic or the closest hospital.
===========================
[Methanol toxicity initially lacks severe toxic manifestations. Its pathophysiology represents a classic example of lethal synthesis in which toxic metabolites cause fatality after a characteristic latent period. In other words, these people may not realize they are sick or ill until some time after consumption.

Methanol is sometimes used as an ethanol substitute for alcohol. Foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, fruit juices, fermented beverages, and diet soft drinks containing aspartame are the primary sources of methanol in the human body, but [they contain] minute quantities.

Wood alcohol is also known as methanol. It is a commonly used toxic organic solvent causing metabolic acidosis, neurologic issues, and death when ingested. It is a part of many commercial industrial solvents and of adulterated alcoholic beverages or is mistaken as being the same as alcohol for ingestion. Methanol toxicity remains a common problem in many parts of the developing world, especially among members of lower socioeconomic classes.

Neurological complications are recognized more frequently due to advanced technologies and because of early recognition of the toxicity and advances in supportive care. Hemodialysis and better management of acid-base disturbances remain the most important therapeutic improvements.

Serum methanol levels of greater than 20 mg/dL correlate with ocular injury. Funduscopic changes are notable within only a few hours after methanol ingestion. The mechanism by which the methanol causes toxicity to the visual system is not well understood. Formic acid, the toxic metabolite of methanol, is regarded as being responsible for ocular toxicity, and blindness can occur in humans.

The prognosis in methanol poisoning correlates with the amount of methanol consumed and the subsequent degree of metabolic acidosis; more severe acidosis confers a poorer prognosis. Methanol has a relatively low toxicity. The adverse effects are thought to be from the accumulation of formic acid, a metabolite of methanol metabolism. The prognosis is further dependent on the amount of formic acid that has accumulated in the blood, with a direct correlation existing between the formic acid concentration and morbidity and mortality. Little long-term improvement can be expected in patients with neurologic complications.

The minimal lethal dose of methanol in adults is believed to be 1 mg/kg of body weight. The exact rates of morbidity and mortality from methanol intoxication are not available.

Rapid, early treatment is necessary for survival, but sequelae such as blindness may be permanent.

Metabolic acidosis in methanol poisoning may necessitate the administration of bicarbonate and assisted ventilation. Bicarbonate potentially may reverse visual deficits. In addition, bicarbonate may help to decrease the amount of active formic acid.

Antidote therapy, often using ethanol or fomepizole, is directed towards delaying methanol metabolism until the methanol is eliminated from the patient's system either naturally or via dialysis. Like methanol, ethanol is metabolized by ADH, but the enzyme's affinity for ethanol is 10-20 times higher than it is for methanol. Fomepizole is also metabolized by ADH; however, its use is limited because of high cost and lack of availability.

Hemodialysis can easily remove methanol and formic acid. Indications for this procedure include (1) greater than 30 mL [1 oz] of methanol ingested, (2) serum methanol level greater than 20 mg/dL, (3) observation of visual complications, and (4) no improvement in acidosis despite repeated sodium bicarbonate infusions.

Intravenous administration of ethanol in a 10 percent dextrose solution may be helpful. As ethanol prolongs the elimination half-life of methanol, the treatment may take several days, and the patient should be hospitalized. Dialysis may be necessary to prevent kidney failure as well. Hemodialysis remains an effective treatment.

Portions of this comment were extracted from:

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Fri 21 Jun 2019
Source: WHO/EMRO (Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean) [edited]

Situation reports on Al-Hol camp, Al-Hasakah
--------------------------------------------
- Over the past 2 weeks, a total of 633 people have left the camp. This number includes 107 people who returned to their homes in north-east Syria. There were no new arrivals during the reporting period.
- 9 medical points are reporting regularly to the disease Early Warning And Response System (EWARS). Leishmaniasis, acute diarrhoea, bloody diarrhoea, and severe acute malnutrition (SAM) remain the most commonly reported diseases.
- 38 new cases of leishmaniasis were detected. All patients are being treated by a WHO-supported mobile team in coordination with the Al-Hasakeh Directorate of Health.
- 7 suspected cases of measles were reported. No new cases of tuberculosis were detected during the reporting period.
- 30 children with severe acute malnutrition with medical complications were admitted to Al-Hikmah hospital during the reporting period, of whom 22 were discharged, one died, and the remainder are still under treatment. Mortality rates related to severe acute malnutrition remain below the emergency threshold.
- 2 new static health care points have been established, bringing the total number to 12. There is still an acute shortage of health care points in the Foreign Annex.
- 35 water sources were tested for microbial contamination in Al-Hasakeh water national laboratory during the reporting period. All 35 samples tested negative for contamination. WHO continues to test the quality of water from different sources in the camp.
- Stool samples from patients with diarrhoea were tested for
_Salmonella_, _E. coli_, and cholera, with all samples testing negative. Blood samples from patients with suspected measles were also sent for testing, and all samples tested negative.
- Following intensive negotiations by WHO, the local authorities have given their approval in principle to evacuate a patient requiring advanced mental health treatment
===================
[Leishmaniasis has surged throughout Syria during the civil war on all sides and continues to be a health problem in the refugee population. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Syria:
Date: Mon, 24 Jun 2019 05:38:33 +0200

Jakarta, June 24, 2019 (AFP) - A powerful magnitude 7.3 quake struck eastern Indonesia on Monday, US seismologists said, but no tsunami warning was issued and there were no immediate reports of major damage or casualties.   The quake hit at a depth of 208 kilometres (129 miles) south of Ambon island in the Banda Sea at 11:53 local time, the US Geological Survey said.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there was no threat of a tsunami as the quake was too deep.   The strong temblor came hours after a 6.1-magnitude earthquake hit Papua, also in the eastern part of the Southeast Asian archipelago.   That quake hit about 240 kilometres (150 miles) west of the town of Abepura in Papua province, at a relatively shallow depth of 21 kilometres, according to the USGS.

There were also no immediate reports of casualties after the earthquake.   A shallower 6.3-magnitude hit the area last week, but the damage was not extensive.   Indonesia experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", where tectonic plates collide.   Last year, a 7.5-magnitude quake and a subsequent tsunami in Palu on Sulawesi island killed more than 2,200 with a thousand more declared missing.   On December 26, 2004, a 9.1-magnitude earthquake struck Aceh province, causing a tsunami and killing more than 170,000.
Date: Sat, 22 Jun 2019 21:45:46 +0200
By Anna SMOLCHENKO with Irakli METREVELI in Tbilisi

Moscow, June 22, 2019 (AFP) - Russia's government on Saturday banned Georgian airlines from flying into its territory, extending restrictions imposed by President Vladimir Putin as part of growing tensions between Moscow and its ex-Soviet neighbour.   Putin had signed a decree late Friday banning Russian airlines from flying to pro-Western Georgia from July 8 in response to anti-Moscow rallies in the Georgian capital Tbilisi.

The protests broke out after a Russian lawmaker addressed parliament from the speaker's seat earlier this week, a hugely sensitive move for two countries whose relations remain tense after a brief war in 2008.   The rallies have morphed into a broader movement against the Georgian authorities while the Kremlin has branded them a "Russophobic provocation".   On Saturday, protesters took to the streets of the Georgian capital for a third day of rallies, with some 3,000 demanding snap elections and electoral reform.   The crowd sang a profanity-laced, anti-Putin chant and some of the demonstrators held up placards insulting the Russian president.   Demonstrators also shot paper airplanes into the sky in response to the Russian bans.

Russia's transportation ministry said that from July 8 two Georgian airlines would be banned from flying to Russia, citing the need to ensure "aviation safety" and debt owned by the Georgian companies.   The Kremlin has said the ban against travel to Georgia was to "ensure Russia's national security and protect Russian nationals from criminal and other unlawful activities."

Authorities recommended travel companies stop selling holiday packages to Georgia and advised Russian tourists to return home.   Russia's travel industry and ordinary Russians hit out at the decision by the Kremlin, saying it was a politically motivated move that has little to do with safety concerns.   "Tourism in Georgia is on the rise, and the decision has shocked the whole industry," Aleksan Mkrtchyan, head of Pink Elephant, a chain of travel agencies, said in a statement.

- 'This is politics' -
The ban during high season is expected to hit the travel industry in both countries hard and become a major nuisance for Russian holidaymakers.   Russia and Georgia fought a brief but bloody war in 2008 and tensions between the two governments remain high.   But Georgia -- known for its picturesque Black Sea resorts, rich national cuisine and generous hospitality -- has emerged as one of the most popular destinations for Russian tourists over the past few years, with more than 1.3 million visiting last year.

Irina Tyurina, a spokeswoman for the Russian Tourism Union, said that most in the industry believed that Georgia was not a dangerous destination.   "Georgians have traditionally treated Russians well," Tyurina told AFP.    It was too early to estimate potential industry losses from the ban, she said.   More than 7,000 people have signed a petition calling on Moscow to resume flights.

Russian tourists in Tbilisi expressed regret at the restrictions.   "We are against the ban," Nina Guseva told AFP in the Georgian capital. "We are not guilty and we do not have to suffer."   Fellow traveller Mikhail Strelkov added: "This is politics and has nothing to do with people on holidays."   In Russia, many struck a similar note.   Elena Chekalova, a prominent chef and culinary blogger, said the latest Kremlin move "shocked" her.   "Why are they deciding for us what we cannot eat, where we cannot fly, who we cannot be friends with?" she wrote on Facebook.

- Simmering discontent -
Moscow has suspended flights to Georgia before -- during a spike in tensions in October 2006 and in August 2008 following the outbreak of the five-day war over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.   "Putin decided to punish Georgia because there are street protests there," opposition leader Alexei Navalny said on Twitter.   A senior government official in Tbilisi said the Kremlin ban was politically motivated.   "Putin's decision is of course political and has nothing to do with safety concerns," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Analysts say the latest restrictions may further fuel simmering discontent with Kremlin policies.   Since 2014, Russians have been chafing under numerous rounds of Western sanctions over Moscow's role in Ukraine and other crises, with real incomes falling for the fifth year in a row.    During an annual phone-in with Russians this week, Putin dismissed calls to "reconcile" with the West to alleviate economic hardship, saying Moscow needed to protect its interests and "nothing" would change anyway.
Date: Sat, 22 Jun 2019 04:35:24 +0200
By Alexandre MARCHAND

Chennai, India, June 22, 2019 (AFP) - Angry residents fight in queues at water taps, lakes have been turned into barren moonscapes and restaurants are cutting back on meals as the worst drought in living memory grips India's Chennai.   The hunt for water in south India's main city has become an increasingly desperate obsession for its 10 million residents after months with virtually no rain.   The bustling capital of Tamil Nadu state usually receives 825 million litres of water a day, but authorities are currently only able to supply 60 percent of that.   With temperatures regularly hitting 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), reservoirs have run dry and other water sources are dwindling each day.

A rainstorm on Thursday night, the first for about six months, brought people out onto the streets to celebrate, but provided only temporary relief.   "We don't sleep at night because we worry that this well will run out," said Srinivasan V., a 39-year-old electrician who starts queueing for water before dawn in his home district near Chennai airport.   The 70 families who use the well are allowed three 25-litre pots each day. Most pay high prices to private companies to get the extra water they need to survive.   Local officials organise a lottery to determine who gets to the front of the queue. The lucky first-comers get clear, fresh water. Those at the end get an earth-coloured liquid.

- Long, hot wait -
Srinivasan said he waits about five hours each day in water queues and spends around 2,000 rupees ($28) a month on bottled water or paying for a tanker truck to deliver water.   It is a big chunk of his 15,000-rupee monthly salary. "I have loans, including for the house, and I can't repay them now," he said.

The desperation has spilled over into clashes in Chennai. One woman who was involved in a water dispute with neighbours was stabbed in the neck.   In another suffering Tamil Nadu city, Thanjavur, an activist was beaten to death by a neighbouring family after he accused them of hoarding water.   Many in Chennai do not have the money to pay for extra supplies, and arguments in queues for free water often turn violent.   The hunt for H2O dominates daily life.   Some Chennai restaurants now serve meals in banana leaves so that they do not have to wash plates. Others have stopped serving lunch altogether to save water.

- Isolated showers -
Families have had to reorganise daily life, setting up schedules for showers and devoting up to six hours a day to line up for water -- three in the morning, three in the afternoon.   Most of those queuing are women, including housewife Nagammal Mani, who said looking for water was like "a full time job".   "You need one person at home just to find and fill up the water while the other person goes to work," she said.   Chennai gets most of its water from four lakes around the city. But it had a poor monsoon last year and levels have not recovered since.   The bones of dead fish now lie on the cracked bottoms of the lakes.   While weak rainfall is a key cause of Chennai's crisis, experts say India's poor record at collecting water does not help, particularly as the country of 1.3 billion people becomes increasingly urbanised.   The drought is seen as a symbol of the growing threat faced in many of India's highly vulnerable states, which have been hit by longer periods each year of sweltering heat that has devastated food production.

Hundreds of villages have already emptied in the summer heat this year because their wells have run dry.   Pradeep John, a local weather expert known online as "Tamil Nadu Weatherman", said if families in the area had spent their money on rain-collection equipment instead of truckloads of water they would be "self-sufficient" now.   "We've got almost 1,300-1,400 millimetres of rainfall every year. So that is a very significant amount of rainfall," he told AFP.   "So we have to find out where the problem lies, where the problem of urbanisation lies -- whether we are encroaching into the (rain) catchment areas -- improve these catchment areas, and then find a long-term solution."   John said there is no immediate hope for rains to end the crisis, with the monsoon not expected before October.   "If the water doesn't come, people will be shedding blood instead of tears," said housewife Parvathy Ramesh, 34, as she endured her daily queue in Chennai's stifling heat.
Date: Fri, 21 Jun 2019 22:49:46 +0200
By Laure FILLON

Paris, June 21, 2019 (AFP) - Forecasters say Europeans will feel sizzling heat next week with temperatures soaring as high as 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in an "unprecedented" June heatwave hitting much of Western Europe.   From Great Britain to Belgium to Greece, a wave of hot air coming from the Maghreb in North Africa and Spain will push up temperatures starting this weekend and hitting a peak around mid-week.    Spain's meteorological agency (Aemet) has issued a "yellow alert" for severely bad weather for Sunday and says it expects the country to see a "hotter than usual" summer, like last year.

In Germany, forecasters are predicting temperatures up to 37 degrees C on Tuesday and 38 C on Wednesday, with similar hot weather also expected in Belgium and Switzerland.   The British MetOffice said it was particularly concerned that the heatwave could trigger "violent storms" and warned Britons to expect "hot, humid and unstable" weather.   Greece will be one of the countries most affected by the heatwave with temperatures hitting 39 degrees C at the weekend.

In France, meteorologist Francois Gourand said the heatwave is "unprecedented for the month of June" and will no doubt beat previous heat records.    Back in the summer of 2003, France suffered an intense heatwave that led to the deaths of nearly 15,000 mostly elderly people.   Starting on Tuesday, France will see temperatures from 35 to 40 degrees C, which will remain high at night offering little respite from the heat, forecasters predicted.   "Since 1947, only the heatwave of 18 to 28 June, 2005, was as intense," said Meteo France, adding the scorching weather would probably last a minimum of six days.   This latest intense heatwave again shows the impact of global warming on the planet, and such weather conditions are likely to become more frequent, meteorologists said.
Date: Thu, 20 Jun 2019 13:08:42 +0200

Berlin, June 20, 2019 (AFP) - German cabin crew union UFO called Thursday for a strike against airline giant Lufthansa in July, threatening travel chaos during the busy summer holiday season over a wage dispute.   Employees of Lufthansa's subsidiaries Eurowings and Germanwings are expected to vote next week on whether to take action.   Depending on the ballot, dates for the walkout are to be announced for July.   In the coming weeks, UFO union members will also decide whether to go on strike at main company Lufthansa.   "Lufthansa has deliberately managed to escalate wage disputes with its employees," said UFO vice-president Daniel Flohr in a statement.

Lufthansa called off talks with UFO last week and Flohr warned that strike action could cause "flight attendants, passengers and shareholders an additional worry this summer".   With most German schools shut for summer holidays in July, the industrial action could seriously disrupt travel plans in the peak season.   However, a Lufthansa spokesman insisted "there can be no strike, as currently there are neither wage agreements still open nor concrete demands".  The German airline reacted angrily with spokesman Boris Ogursky telling AFP it wants a "reliable collective bargaining partner" to be able to "jointly  develop solutions in the interest of employees and the company.  "At present we cannot see when and how UFO can once again fulfil its role  as a predictable, constructive bargaining partner.    "Therefore, no talks are currently taking place."