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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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Samoa

General:
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Cuba is an independent island country situated in the Caribbean. It is the largest of the islands and covers 42,000sq miles. The climate is sub tropical throughout the year with most of the rainfall in
the northern parts of the country. Temperatures of between 20C to 35C are fairly standard throughout the year. Generally the winter effects of the American continent only last for short periods.
Safety & Security:
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The majority of tourists visiting Cuba will have no difficulty but bag snatching and other street crime appears to be increasing. The old Havana area and other major tourist resorts may be particular areas of concern in this regard. On arrival be careful to only use your recognised tour operator. If you are taking a taxi at any stage make sure it is a registered one and not a private vehicle. It is unwise to carry large quantities of money or jewellery away from your hotel and try not to flaunt wealth with your belongings. Pickpockets are too common an occurrence on buses and trains and at train stations so be careful with your essential documents and credit cards. Valuables should not be stored in suitcases when arriving in or departing from Havana as there have been a number of thefts from cases during the time the cases are coming through baggage handling. There is an airport shrink-wrap facility for those departing Havana which reduces the risk of tampering. Remember to carry a photocopy of your main documents (passport, flight tickets etc).
Road Safety:
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Following a number of serious road accidents involving tourists, you are advised not to use mopeds for travelling around Cuba or in Havana. Also, if you are involved in any accident a police investigation will be required to clear you and this may significantly delay your travel plans. On unlit roads at night there have been a number of accidents associated with roaming cattle (sounds like Ireland!). The traffic moves on the right side of the roads. There is a main highway running the length of the country but many of the country roads are in poor repair.
Local Laws & Customs:
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When arriving into Cuba make sure you are not carrying any items which could be considered offensive. Any illicit drug offense is treated very seriously and Cuban law allows for the death penalty to be used under these circumstances. If you require personal medication for your health, make sure it is in original packing and carry a letter from your doctor describing the medication. Never agree to carry any item for another individual and always secure your cases once they are packed. Taking photographs of military or police installations or around harbours, rail and airport facilities is strictly forbidden.

Currency:
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Since 1993 it is now possible to use US dollars for all transactions within Cuba. Remember, there is a 20$ airport departure tax. Certain travellers cheques and credit cards may not be acceptable within Cuba. This is particularly true of American Express cheques and cards but check your situation with the travel operator before departure.
Health Facilities:
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Generally healthcare facilities outside of Havana are limited and many standard medications may not be available. It is important to carry sufficient quantities of any medications which may be required for the duration of your time in Cuba.
Food & Water:
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The level of food and water hygiene varies throughout the country and between resorts. On arrival check the hotel cold water supply for the smell of chlorine. If it is not present then use sealed bottled water for both drinking and brushing your teeth throughout your stay. Cans and bottles of drinks are safe but take care to avoid pre-cut fruit. Peel it yourself to make sure it is not contaminated. Food from street vendors should be avoided in most cases. Bivalve shellfish are also a high risk food in many countries and Cuba is no exception in this regard. (Eg Mussels, Oysters, Clams etc)
Malaria & Mosquito Borne Diseases:
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Malaria transmission does not occur within Cuba and so prophylaxis is not required. However, a different mosquito borne disease called Dengue has begun to reoccur in the country over the past few years. This viral disease can be very sickening and even progress to death. It is rare for tourists to become infected but avoiding mosquito bites is a wise precaution.
Swimming, Sun & Dehydration:
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The extent of the Cuban sun (particular during the summer months (April to October) can be very excessive so make sure your head and shoulders are covered at all times when exposed. Watch children carefully as they will be a significant risk. Drink plenty of fluids to replace what will be lost through perspiration and, unless there is a reason not to,
take extra salt either on your food or in crisps, peanuts etc. Take care if swimming in the Caribbean to stay with others and to listen to local advice. Never swim after a heavy meal or alcohol.
Rabies Risk in Cuba:
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This viral disease does occur throughout Cuba and it is essential that you avoid any contact with all warm blooded animals. Dogs, cats and monkeys are the most commonly involved in spreading the disease to humans. Don't pick up a monkey for a photograph! If bitten, wash out the wound, apply an antiseptic and seek urgent medical attention.
Vaccinations for Cuba:
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There are no essential vaccines for entry / exit if coming from Ireland. However, for your own personal protection travellers are advised to have cover against the following;
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Tetanus (childhood booster)
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Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
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Hepatitis A (food & water borne disease)
For those planning a longer or more rural trip vaccine cover against conditions like Hepatitis B and Rabies may also need to be considered.
Summary:
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Cuba is becoming a popular destination for tourists and generally most will stay very healthy. However commonsense care against food and water borne disease is essential at all times. Also take care with regard to sun exposure, dehydration and mosquito bites.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 00:51:07 +0100 (MET)
By Neil SANDS

Wellington, Dec 4, 2019 (AFP) - Samoa entered a two-day lockdown Thursday as authorities launched an unprecedented mass vaccination campaign to contain a deadly measles outbreak that has devastated the Pacific island nation.   Officials ordered all businesses and non-essential government services to close, shut down inter-island ferry services and told private cars to keep off the roads.

Residents were advised to stay in their homes and display a red flag if they were not yet immunised as hundreds of vaccination teams fanned out across the nation of 200,000 in the early hours of the morning.   The operation, carried out under emergency powers invoked as the epidemic took hold last month, is a desperate bid to halt an inexorably rising death toll that reached 62 on Thursday, most of them young children.   "I've seen mass mobilisation campaigns before, but not over an entire country like this," UNICEF's Pacific island chief Sheldon Yett told AFP.   "That's what we're doing right now. This entire country is being vaccinated."

Immunisation rates in Samoa were about 30 percent before the outbreak and have risen to more than 55 percent since a compulsory mass vaccination campaign began a fortnight ago.   Yett said the aim of this week's two-day drive was to push the rate above 90 percent, which should help curb the current outbreak and stop future epidemics.   He said the normally busy streets of the capital Apia were almost deserted early Thursday.   "It's very, very quiet out here. I can just hear a few barking dogs. The streets are empty. There are no cars," he said.   "People are staying at home waiting for the vaccination campaign. The teams are getting their supplies together and getting ready to go out."   Even Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi's residence had a red flag fluttering outside it, with the leader saying his nephew had recently arrived from Australia and needed a measles shot.

Malielegaoi said he was angered by anecdotal reports that some parents were encouraging their children to hide from the vaccination teams to avoid the mandatory immunisation injection.    "The message is that we have vaccinated a lot of people and they are OK," he told reporters.   "The only cure for this is vaccination... having your children vaccinated is the only way."   Children are the most vulnerable to measles, which typically causes a rash and fever but can also lead to brain damage and death.

The latest figures show that 54 of the 62 dead were aged four or less and infants account for most of the 4,217 cases recorded since the outbreak began in mid-October.   There have also been measles epidemics in neighbouring Fiji and Tonga, but higher immunisation rates mean they have been more easily contained, with no fatalities.
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2019 06:07:45 +0100 (MET)

Wellington, Dec 3, 2019 (AFP) - The World Health Organisation warned of a "slide back" in global efforts to eliminate measles Tuesday, as the death toll from an outbreak that has killed dozens of children in Samoa continued to climb.   A total of 55 people have died since the epidemic began in mid-October, 50 of them children aged four or under, officials in the Pacific nation said Tuesday.   Another 18 infants are critically ill in hospital and the crisis shows no sign of slowing, with 153 new cases in the past 24 hours, taking the national total to 3,881 in a population of 200,000.   Emergency measures including compulsory mass immunisations and school closures have so far done little to stop the virus spreading in a country that was particularly vulnerable to measles due to low vaccination rates of about 31 percent.

World Health Organisation (WHO) medical officer for the western Pacific, Jose Hagan, said it was a grim reminder of the danger posed by "probably the most infectious disease that we know of".   "Unfortunately the case (to) fatality rate of measles is much higher than people realise," he told Radio New Zealand.   "This is quite a severe disease and we just aren't used to seeing it, so it comes as quite a surprise when we see how fatal it can be."   He said the fatality rate in Samoa was less than two percent but had been known to reach five percent in developing countries.

Hagen said increased access to measles vaccines was estimated to have saved 21 million lives over the past 20 years.   "But we are starting to have a slide back and there are outbreaks happening all over the world in all WHO regions and it's leading to the virus being exported through international travel," he said.   Cases have skyrocketed in Europe, leading to Britain, Greece, the Czech Republic and Albania all losing their measles-free status in August.   The United States narrowly maintained its "measles eliminated" status a few months later, despite experiencing its worst outbreak since 1992.   The WHO has pointed to various reasons for declining immunisation rates including lack of access to healthcare and complacency about the need to vaccinate.

Another major factor, which has been cited by the WHO as a reason for the severity of the Samoa outbreak, is misinformation about immunisation from anti-vaccine campaigners.   Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi this week said vaccination was the only answer to the epidemic.   He has ordered the government to cease non-essential operations on Thursday and Friday so public servants can help a mandatory vaccination campaign that aims to give anti-measles jabs to everyone aged below 60.
Date: Mon, 2 Dec 2019 08:16:50 +0100 (MET)

Wellington, Dec 2, 2019 (AFP) - Samoa ordered a government shutdown to help combat a devastating measles outbreak Monday, as five more children succumbed to the virus, lifting the death toll in the tiny Pacific nation to 53.   The government said almost 200 new measles cases had been recorded since Sunday, with the rate of infection showing no sign of slowing despite a compulsory mass vaccination programme.   The scheme has so far focussed on children but Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said it was time to immunise everyone in the 200,000 population aged under 60.

To achieve the goal, he said government services and departments would close on Thursday and Friday this week in order to allow all public servants to assist with the mass vaccination campaign throughout the country.   He said only electricity and water utility workers would be exempt and called on the nation to stand together to contain the outbreak.   "In this time of crisis, and the cruel reality of the measles epidemic, let us reflect on how we can avoid recurrence in the future," Malielegaoi said in a national address.

Since the crisis began in mid-October, there have been 3,728 measles cases, accounting for almost two percent of the population.   Infants are the most vulnerable and form the bulk of infections, with 48 of the fatalities aged four or less.   A state of emergency was declared in mid-November, with schools closed and children banned from public gatherings, such as church services, to minimise the risk of contagion.

The outbreak has been exacerbated by Samoa's low immunisation rates, which the World Health Organisation blames on overseas-based anti-vaccine campaigners.   Malielegaoi was unequivocal in his message, telling his people "vaccination is the only cure... no traditional healers or kangen (alkaline) water preparations can cure measles".   "Let us work together to encourage and convince those that do not believe that vaccinations are the only answer to the epidemic," he said.    "Let us not be distracted by the promise of alternative cures."

Officials say the anti-vaccination message has resonated in Samoa because of a case last year when two babies died after receiving measles immunisation shots.   It resulted in the temporary suspension of the country's immunisation programme and dented parents' trust in the vaccine, even though it later turned out the deaths were caused when other medicines were incorrectly administered.
Date: Wed, 27 Nov 2019 17:25:19 +0100 (MET)
By Nina LARSON

Geneva, Nov 27, 2019 (AFP) - A measles epidemic raging in Samoa has killed 37 people, the World Health Organization said Wednesday, blaming an anti-vaccine messaging campaign for leaving the Pacific island nation vulnerable to the spread of the virus.   The UN health agency warned that a steep decline in vaccination rates in Samoa, a Pacific Ocean island nation halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, had paved the way for a "huge outbreak", with more than 2,500 cases in a country of just 200,000 people.   The death toll has been rising steadily since the country declared a national measles epidemic in mid-October. WHO said another five people had died Wednesday, bringing the total number of deaths to 37.   Measles is caused by a virus and can lead to serious complications including pneumonia and inflammation of the brain that can do permanent damage and be deadly, especially in small children.

Kate O'Brien, director of the WHO's immunisation department, told reporters in Geneva that "very low coverage of measles vaccine" was to blame for allowing the highly contagious disease to rapidly spread in the country.   In 2018, only 31 percent of children under five had been immunised, she said.   "When measles enters a country like that, there is a huge group of people who are not immune," she said.   The tragedy, she said, was that immunisation rates used to be far higher in Samoa, with coverage measured at 84 percent just four years ago.

- Misinformation taking toll -
Officials have blamed the low rates in part on fears sparked last year when two babies died after receiving measles vaccination shots.   This resulted in the temporary suspension of the country's immunisation programme and dented parents' trust in the vaccine, even though it later turned out the deaths were caused when other medicines were incorrectly administered.   O'Brien said that an anti-vaccine group had been stoking these fears further with a social media campaign, lamenting that "this is now being measured in the lives of children who have died in the course of this outbreak."   Misinformation about the safety of vaccines, she said, "has had a very remarkable impact on the immunisation programme" in Samoa.    Ian Norton at WHO's Emergency Medical Team Unit meanwhile warned that the outbreak was taking a heavy toll on the small country's entire health system.   "It has really spiked dramatically," he told reporters, pointing out that more than 200 new cases arrive at hospital every day.

Apia's main hospital, which normally has just four beds in its intensive care unit, currently has 14 children on ventilators, Norton said, stressing that this poses "a huge, huge burden".   He said mass vaccination was the only way to rein in epidemic.   The UN children's agency UNICEF has sent than 110,000 doses of measles vaccine and medical teams from Australia and New Zealand are helping administer them.   Norton said Britain was also preparing to send a support medical team, adding that WHO has sent out an appeal to other countries in the region to send medical teams.   Samoa is not the only place struggling with measles.

WHO data for the first six months of 2019 shows the highest number of measles cases reported worldwide since 2006, and there are currently several large outbreaks raging in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar and Ukraine.   And the UN health agency has been sounding the alarm over vaccination rates around the globe as the anti-vaccine movement gains steam, driven mainly by fraudulent claims linking the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella to a risk of autism in children.
Date: Tue, 26 Nov 2019 06:49:36 +0100 (MET)

Wellington, Nov 26, 2019 (AFP) - The death toll from a measles epidemic in Samoa rose to 32 on Tuesday as infection rates continue to soar out of control in the Pacific island nation, official data showed.   According to government figures, 28 of the dead were children aged four or under. The total number of measles cases was 2,437.   Samoa has declared a state of emergency but overstretched medical services are struggling to contain the outbreak, which has been exacerbated by the country's low vaccination rates.   The number of cases has risen five-fold in the past week and fatalities have more than tripled, despite the government launching a compulsory vaccination programme.

A total of 57,000 people in the nation of 200,000 have been vaccinated in recent weeks but Prime Minister Tuilaepa Malielegaoi said every citizen needed to be vaccinated.   "We have come a long way in a matter of days but there is more to done," he said late Monday.   "We cannot afford to relax our response until everyone is vaccinated."   Children are the most vulnerable to measles, which typically causes a rash and fever but can also lead to brain damage and death.   Schools and kindergartens have been closed and children have been banned from public gatherings, such as church services, to minimise the risk of contagion.
More ...

Russia

General Information
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Russia is one of the largest land masses throughout the world covering an expanse of 6,592,849 sq. miles. The country stretches from the Baltic sea in Europe to the Pacific Ocean in the
east and from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Black Sea in the south. Moscow, the capital city, is situated in the western region of the country. The nation is undergoing profound political and economic changes. There have been Bank closures and this can make access to funds more difficult for travellers.
Safety & Personal Security
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Certain regions of the country are closed to travellers and it is important to confirm your itinerary before leaving. Entry to the Caucasus region is restricted. Kidnapping of tourists is well reported in some outlying regions. Good tourist facilities are present in Moscow, St Petersburg and many of the other large cities but many shortages can occur at times. Crime against foreigners can be a problem and it is essential not to flaunt personal wealth and to take care if you need to travel at night. The underground walkways, subway, train stations and airports are particular risk locations. Don’t share a taxi with strangers.
Customs Regulations
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On entry you will need to complete a form declaring all items of value. Keep this form safe as it will be required on leaving. Take care to obtain receipts for any expensive items to purchase while in Russia.
Stringent controls at Customs when leaving the country may cause significant delays if it is felt that the traveller is trying to export items of historical value.
General Health Precautions
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The medical services available throughout Russia may not reach Western European standards. Severe shortages of even basic medical supplies are regularly reported. It is wise for travellers to ensure that they are in good general health and that dental work should not be required while abroad. Carry an adequate supply of any medications which you normally take, as these may not be available in many parts of Russia. Adequate travel insurance is essential for your trip.
Diphtheria in Russia
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Again, according to press reports, over 4000 cases of diphtheria were reported during the outbreak in the early 1990’s. Approximately 104 deaths occurred. At that stage the disease was mainly found in St Petersburg, Moscow and Krasnodar and in the eastern parts of Valdivostok and Saratov. Vaccination (with Tetanus) is usually recommended for all travellers. As Diphtheria is mainly an airborne disease it is usually wise to avoid local public transport if possible.
AIDS risk in Russia
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The blood supply throughout Russia may not be fully screened against blood borne pathogens and so blood transfusion should be avoided where at all possible. The most common reason that a traveller requires blood is following a road accident. Take special care crossing roads etc. The actual extent of the AIDS problem throughout Russia is uncertain with inaccurate reporting of statistics at this time. Obviously all care should be taken to avoid possible infection. AIDS testing is required for persons staying 3 months or longer.
Hiking in Russia
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Tick-borne encephalitis has been reported in the vicinity of Novosibirsk, Vladivostok and in the Sverdlovsk Oblast.
Pre-exposure vaccination against this disease is recommended for anyone who will be spending prolonged periods outdoors in the infested areas of Russia. Hikers should wear protective clothing and insect repellent against tick bites throughout rural Russia. Any bite should be reported to competent medical personnel as soon as possible.
Insect Bites
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Mosquitoes do occur during the summer months. Though there is thought to be no risk of malaria in Russia itself, though there are reports from some of the surrounding CIS countries. Sandflys may also be found during the summer months in the hotter southern areas.
Food Precautions
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Eat only well cooked foods while they are still hot or fruit that you peel yourself. Always avoid roadside stands and street vendors as the level of hygiene is usually far below acceptable standards. Only purchase ice-cream products from established shops and never from the street side seller. Only pasteurised dairy products should be consumed. Outbreaks of a parasitic disease known as Trichinellosis has been reported from some regions of Russia. This disease is transmitted through eating undercooked meat so all food should never be rare when consumed.
Water Precautions
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Smell the tap water for a distinct chlorine odour. In many regions the water supply may not be potable and so travellers should where possible drink bottled beverages or beverages made from boiled water (tea/coffee). Do not use ice-cubes in your drinks and never use the mains tap water for drinking or brushing your teeth.
Occasional outbreaks of Typhoid, Cholera are reported and the St Petersburg mains water supply has been closely linked with an intestinal parasite, Giardia lambia.
General Vaccine Information
***************************************
Due to the general economic situation throughout Russia it is reported that there has been a significant shortage of vaccines to combat diseases such as measles, polio, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. This has led to a worsening of the risk for the local population and the possibility that travellers may be more exposed.
Vaccines for Travellers
***************************************
Most travellers to Russia will need to consider routine vaccination cover against the following;
Poliomyelitis, Typhoid,
Tetanus & Diphtheria and Hepatitis A.
Longer term travellers or those trekking may also need to consider vaccination cover against Rabies, Hepatitis B, Meningococcal Meningitis and Tick Borne Encephalitis.
Summary
***************************************
The majority of travellers to Russia who exercise due caution will remain in good health. Special care must be taken regarding your food and water consumption. Care against accidents and sensible precautions to avoid petty crime are also essential. If trekking about the country check your itinerary carefully and keep those at home in touch with your plans.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 6 Dec 2019 10:30:54 +0100 (MET)

Moscow, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - More than 50 polar bears have gathered on the edge of a village in Russia's far north, environmentalists and residents said, as weak Arctic ice leaves them unable to roam.   The Russian branch of the World Wildlife Fund said climate change was to blame, as unusually warm temperatures prevented coastal ice from forming.   The WWF said 56 polar bears had gathered in a one-square-kilometre (0.4-square-mile) area near the village of Ryrkaipy in Chukotka on the north-eastern tip of Russia.

There were concerns they could enter the village, home to fewer than 1,000 people, and patrols had been set up to monitor their movements.   "The number of human and predator encounters in the Arctic is increasing," the WWF said in statement.    "The main reason is the decline of sea ice area due to the changing climate. In the absence of ice cover, animals are forced to go ashore in search of food."

Residents had gathered walrus carcasses in the area to try to keep the bears from wandering into the village.   "We have created a feeding point with walrus carcasses that we gathered along the coast," Tatyana Minenko of the local "Bear Patrol" told news agency RIA Novosti.   "As long as there is no big freeze, the sea ice will not form and the bears will stay on the coast," she said.

Russia's weather service said temperatures in the region should fall from Saturday and that coastal ice should freeze by December 11.    Polar bears regularly visit areas inhabited by humans in Arctic Russia to search for food, often in rubbish tips.   But the number of visits has been growing as the melting of Arctic ice from climate change forces the bears to spend more time on land where they compete for food.
Date: Wed, 31 Jul 2019 18:00:57 +0200 (METDST)

Moscow, July 31, 2019 (AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday called in the army to fight forest fires that have been raging across vast expanses of Siberia for days, enveloping entire cities in black smoke.   Environmentalists have warned that the scale of the blazes could accelerate global warming, aside from any immediate effects on the health of inhabitants.   Around three million hectares (7.4 million acres) of land in the centre and east of the country were in the grip of fires on Wednesday, authorities said.

The acrid smoke has affected not only small settlements but also major cities in Western Siberia and the Altai region, as well as the Urals such as Chelyabinsk and Yekaterinburg, and disrupted air travel.   "After reviewing a report from the emergency situations minister, Putin instructed the ministry of defence to join the effort to extinguish the fires," the Kremlin's press service told Russian media.   Some 2,700 firefighters were already working to tackle the blazes, Interfax news agency reported.   The defence ministry told news agencies that 10 planes and 10 helicopters had been dispatched to the Krasnoyarsk region, one of the worst affected.

- Spread by strong winds -
The Kremlin press service said the armed forces in the Irkutsk region, also badly hit, had been put on high alert, without providing further details of military involvement.    The fires, triggered by dry thunderstorms in temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), were spread by strong winds, Russia's federal forestry agency said earlier.    States of emergency have been declared in five Russian regions.    People living in these regions have uploaded images to social media showing roads hazy with smoke and the sun barely visible in the sky.   The majority of the fires, however, are raging in remote or inaccessible areas. Authorities make the decision to extinguish them only if the estimated damage exceeds the cost of the operation.   A petition launched on change.org a week ago calling on authorities to do more to tackle the fires has gathered more than 800,000 signatures.

Summer fires are common in Russia but this year they have spread further than usual.   According to the Russian branch of Greenpeace, almost 12 million hectares of forest have been burnt this year -- causing significant CO2 emissions and reducing the future capacity of forest to absorb the carbon dioxide.   A spokesman for the environmental organisation told the Echo of Moscow radio station that the involvement of the military would not "drastically change" the situation with the forest fires.    Deploying army units to the forest could do more harm to the operation than good, Grigory Kuksin said.    The spokesman also criticised authorities for what he said was a delayed response to the crisis.
Date: Mon, 1 Jul 2019 18:20:04 +0200

Moscow, July 1, 2019 (AFP) - Twelve people have died and nine are missing after heavy rainfall flooded dozens of villages in Russia's south-eastern Siberia, the deputy prime minister said Monday.    A state of emergency has been declared in Siberia's Irkutsk region, where dozens of villages have been partially destroyed by floods after river levels began rising dramatically.   "Unfortunately, twelve people have died and nine are being searched for," Vitaly Mutko said during a government meeting in the Moscow region.

Mutko said some 32,700 people in 83 villages were affected by the floods.  "751 were injured, 153 have been hospitalised," he added.  Infrastructure has also been affected, he said, with around 13 roads and several bridges damaged.    Russia's defence ministry said it had sent more than 1,300 servicemen, vehicles, a plane and two helicopters to the affected areas.

Earlier on Monday, the country's emergency situations ministry said it had evacuated 2,273 people.    Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the region on Sunday, on his way back from the G20 summit in Japan.    He held a meeting with local authorities in Bratsk, a city 4,820 kilometres (3,000 miles) east of Moscow on the Angara River.    The Russian leader called on authorities to compensate those who suffered from the floods and to begin work repairing houses.          "Here the summer is short, winter comes quickly, there is very little time," Putin said in a video published by the Kremlin.
Date: Wed, 8 May 2019 11:35:32 +0200

Moscow, May 8, 2019 (AFP) - Seven hikers were missing and feared dead after an avalanche in Russia's Altai mountains, emergency officials said Wednesday, as search parties were dispatched to the area.   Nine people were caught in the avalanche Monday in the so-called Chuya Alps of Russia's Altai republic in southern Siberia, close to Kazakhstan and China.    "Two people managed to get out" and informed authorities on Wednesday, said the head of Altai's emergency services, Andrei Burlakov.   "Since the avalanche is rather large, the search and rescue operations can stretch out to an indefinite amount of time," he said.

The hikers were experienced adults following a complicated mountain route which was approved by the authorities, their instructor Vladimir Yudin told the BFM news website, adding that a comprehensive search would probably have to wait for the summer season.   He said the hikers were part of a group based in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk.
Source: Belsat TV [in Russian, machine trans., edited]

An outbreak [of suspected echinococcosis] among cadets in Ulyanovsk Suvorov Military School, was discovered in early February [2019]. At least, 49 cadets of the military Suvorov school, instead of 26 as reported earlier, are infected with _Echinococcus_.

The Ministry of Defense of Russia excludes that the infection could have been transmitted through the food and believes that it happened by touching contaminated dogs.

Echinococcosis was initially suspected in 5 cadets. Their X-rays showed suspected cysts in the lungs.

On [5 Feb 2019], a criminal case under part 1, article 236 of the criminal code suspected violations of the sanitary and epidemiological rules, which led to mass disease. On [6 Feb 2019], at the Suvorov School, representatives of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation met with the parents of the students. They reported the investigation, rejecting the version of infection through food in the school's canteen. The head of the institution, Vladimir Shkirkov, and the chief parasitologist of the Ministry of Defense, Sergey Kozlov, informed the parents that the cadets could have become ill by stroking an infected dog, Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported. On [14 Feb 2019], the newspaper "Izvestia" published a new version: the students were infected during the use of nasvaya smokeless tobacco mixture made from chicken or camel dung.

The publication refers to an anonymous source close to the investigation, but it gives the opinion of researchers who believe this option unlikely. The newspaper claims to have found several more sick cadets, 2018 graduates. But on [2 Feb 2019] the media reported about disease among staff of the school cafeteria.

The response of the Ministry of Health to [Ulyanovsk Region State Duma Deputy] Alexei Kurinny, it was specified that the ministry had performed a full examination of more than 518 and 305 employees of Suvorov military school.
********************************
Date: Fri 1 Mar 2019
Source: OTR (Public Television of Russia) [in Russian, machine trans.,
abridged, edited]

As of [20 Feb 2019] it is known about 49 cases in the military Suvorov school.

Foci of infection also have been found in the liver, pancreas, brain, eyes, and spleen.
********************************
Date: Mon 4 Feb 2019
Source: Interfax-Russia [in Russian, machine trans., abridged,
edited]

Initially, echinococcosis was detected during routine examination in 5 cadets after X-ray of the lungs. None of them had health complaints. On [4 Feb 2019], Mass Media published information of already 25 cases among cadets.
=====================
[Infection of humans with _Echinococcus granulosis_ happens when eggs are ingested and hatch in the intestines, penetrate the intestinal wall, and migrate to different organs. The infection can happen through eggs from dog feces contaminating water, greens, and berries.

The notions that the subjects has consumed "nasvaya-tobacco mixture made from chicken or camel dung" does not explain infection with _Echinococcus_ and neither camels nor or chickens excrete _Echinococcus_ eggs in their feces. If the "tobacco" was made from dog feces it could be a source of infection.

The incubation period is usually years, and for instance a study from Kirgyzstan estimated an incubation period of 15 years (Usubalieva J et al. Human alveolar echinococcosis in Kyrgyzstan. Emerg Infect Dis. 2013; 19(7): 1095-7. doi: 10.3201/eid1907.121405).

The news report in item [3] above only mentions chest X-rays, but the article in item [1] mentions "suspected cysts in the lungs" and the article in item [2] mentions that foci of infection [cysts?] have been found in multiple other organs. In 95% of human cases the liver is involved because it receives the blood draining the intestines.

Given the long incubation period of _Echinococcus_, an outbreak involving at least 49 persons developing symptoms within a few months with a common source of infection is highly unlikely if not impossible.

What else can it be?
If the lesions were limited to the lungs TB is much more likely, but an outbreak of pulmonary TB would not be associated with multiple lesions in other organs. Foodborne infections could be caused by _Trichinella_, but _Trichinella_ does not result in cystic lesions; it is a multiorgan infection, it is foodborne, and several outbreaks have been reported from Russia.

ProMED will be happy to post more information including more information on the X-ray and CT results, and whether the patients had eosinophilia (sign of a helminth infection). - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Russia:
More ...

Brunei

Brunei US Consular Information Sheet
October 09, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Brunei Darussalam is a small Islamic Sultanate on the northwest coast of the Island of Borneo.
It is divided into four districts: Brunei/Muara, Tutong, Belait
nd Temburong.
The capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, is its only major city.
Brunei’s official language is Malay, but English is widely understood and used in business.
Tourist facilities and services are generally available throughout the country.
For more information concerning Brunei, please see the Government of Brunei web site at http://www.brunei.gov.bn.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Brunei for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
U.S. passport-holders must have at least six months’ validity remaining on their passport before entering Brunei for business or pleasure and are required to obtain a visa prior to arrival in Brunei for visits of 90 days or longer.
Diplomatic and official passport-holders are also required to apply for a visa to enter Brunei Darussalam.
There is an airport departure tax.
For further information about entry or exit requirements, travelers may consult the Consular Section of the Embassy of Brunei, 3520 International Court NW, Washington, DC
20008, tel. (202) 237-1838, or visit the Embassy of Brunei web site at http://www.bruneiembassy.org for the most current visa information.
As of June 12, 2004, immigration offenses are punishable by caning.
Workers who overstay their visas can face jail sentences and three strokes of the cane.
Those associated with violators, such as contractors or employers, are subject to the same penalties if the violator is found guilty.

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:
Following the October 2002, August 2003, September 2004 and October 2005 terrorist bombings in Indonesia, the Department of State continues to be concerned that terrorist groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) that have transnational capability to carry out terrorist attacks may do so in various Southeast Asian nations, including Brunei.
JI is known to have cells operating in Southeast Asia and to have connections with Al-Qaeda and other regional terrorist groups.
JI also has been tied to previous regional terrorist attacks.
As security is increased at official U.S. facilities, terrorists will seek softer targets.
These may include, but are not limited to, facilities where Americans and other Westerners are known to live, congregate, shop or visit, including, but not limited to, hotels, clubs, restaurants, shopping centers, housing compounds, transportation systems, places of worship, schools or outdoor recreation events.
Americans in Brunei should continue to be vigilant with regard to their personal security, maintain a low profile, vary times and routes during their daily routines and report any suspicious activity to the local police or to the U.S. Embassy's Regional Security Officer, who can be reached at the phone number listed at the end of this information sheet.

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 other callers, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

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

CRIME:
Though there is some crime, violent crime is rare.
Burglaries and theft are on the rise. Americans are reminded to be prudent in their own personal security practices.

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 provide a list of attorneys if needed.

In Brunei, the local equivalents to the “911” emergency line are:
993 for Brunei Police, 955 for
Fire
& Rescue and 998 for Search & Rescue.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
There is adequate care for basic medical conditions in Brunei; however, due to unpredictable shortages of materials and uncertain support staff, elective surgery or complicated care is best obtained in Singapore or elsewhere.

Brunei has imposed HIV/AIDS travel restrictions as part of a ban on communicable diseases.
In October 2003, Ministry of Health (MOH) of Brunei Darussalam required all travelers entering Brunei to fill out a Health Declaration Card and submit it to the Officer-In-Charge (MOH) upon disembarkation.
Under Section 7, Infectious Diseases Order 2003 of MOH, travelers may be subjected to a medical examination upon arrival in Brunei Darussalam.
Travelers also may be quarantined if infected or suspected to be infected with infectious disease or in if travelers have had contacted with such a person, under Section 15, Infectious Diseases Order 2003 of Ministry of Health Brunei.
Please inquire directly with the Embassy of Brunei at http://www.bruneiembassy.org before you travel.

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 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 Brunei is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Brunei has an extensive network of roads throughout the country of generally good, though varying quality.
Holders of foreign driving license are permitted to drive in Brunei Darussalam for 90 days only.
For longer stays, a foreign driving license must be endorsed to a Brunei driving license, available at any Land Transport Department office.
Drivers must obey traffic rules at all times and should take extra caution when approaching traffic signals.
In urban areas, some local drivers have run through red lights, resulting in several deadly accidents in recent years.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the website of the Brunei National Tourism at http://www.tourismbrunei.com/ and the web site of Brunei Land Transport Department at http://www.land-transport.gov.bn/ for more details on road safety information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Brunei’s Department of Civil Aviation as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Brunei’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Immigration Violations:
Americans in Brunei are subject to the laws of the country and may be arrested for violation of immigration regulations, or any other law.
In such cases, the U.S. Embassy will provide consular services to American citizens arrested in Brunei, in accordance with international law and U.S. regulations.
However, the Embassy may not intervene in local judicial matters.
Americans should be aware that the immigration law is stringent and less flexible than the previous one, with harsher penalties.

The Embassy strongly recommends that U.S. citizens on contract in Brunei be fully aware of their immigration status, as well the status of employees and staff and of crucial dates regarding contract extensions and renewals and have employment documents in order.

Dual Nationality:
Brunei does not recognize or permit dual nationality.
Brunei nationals are expected to enter and exit on their Brunei passports.
Should Brunei authorities learn that a person is a dual national, they may require immediate renunciation of either the citizenship of the other nation or Brunei citizenship.

Customs Regulations:
Brunei customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, medications, business equipment, currency, ivory and alcohol.
For non-Muslims, limited amounts of alcohol for personal consumption are permitted.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Brunei in Washington, D.C. for specific information regarding customs requirements.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available.
Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. 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 Brunei laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession or use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Brunei 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 Brunei are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Brunei.
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 on the 3rd floor, Teck Guan Plaza, at the corner of Jalan Sultan and Jalan McArthur, Bandar Seri Begawan BS 8811, Brunei Darussalam.
Mail sent from the United States can be addressed to the Embassy's address:
American Embassy, P.O. Box 2991, Bandar Seri Begawan BS8675, Negara Brunei Darussalam.
The telephone number is 673-222-0384, fax number (673) (2) 225-293 and e-mail address amEmbassy_BSB@state.gov.
The Consular section's e-mail address is: ConsularBrunei@state.gov.
The Embassy's after-hours number for emergency calls is (673) (8) 730-691.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Brunei dated February 19, 2008, to update section on Entry/Exit Requirements, Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Special Circumstances and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Brunei

- National. 9 May 2018. Brunei has recorded 37 dengue cases in the 1st 4 months of 2018, with half of them detected in Kampong Ayer, the Ministry of Health (MoH) said on [Tue 8 May 2018]. MoH expects the number of dengue cases to rise and is urging residents to maintain good hygiene.

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map
Date: Sat 5 Dec 2015
From: Steve Berger <steve@gideononline.com> [edited]

Recently, ProMED reported that 2 tourists from Singapore acquired _Plasmodium knowlesi_ malaria in Brunei.

Malaria rates reported by both Brunei and Singapore have been strikingly similar since the 1990's, and Singapore has reported both autochthonous and imported cases of _P. knowlesi_ infection since 2007. See graph at <http://www.gideononline.com/wp/wp  content/uploads/BruneiMalaria.png>.

During the 1950's, Brunei reported low levels of malaria from the interior regions and coast adjacent to mountainous areas. The predominant infecting species and vector were _P. falciparum_ and _Anopheles leucosphyrus_, respectively [1]. Brunei was officially declared "malaria-free" by WHO in 1987. A single publication reported a case of _P. knowlesi_ malaria in this country in 2013.

Although official sources do not routinely recommend malaria prophylaxis for travelers, the recent report in ProMED suggests careful review of the current status of the disease in Brunei.

Reference:
[1] Berger SA. Infectious Diseases of Brunei, 2015. 374 pages, 60 graphs, 1448 references. Gideon e-books,
--------------------------------------------
Professor Steve Berger
Geographic Medicine
Tel Aviv Medical Center
Tel Aviv Israel
=========================
[ProMED thanks Steve Berger for this background information. The recent reports from northern Borneo indicate that _P. knowlesi_ may be emerging there. The ProMED report from 18 Nov 2015 "Malaria, P. knowlesi - Malaysia (03): (SA)" reports that _P. knowlesi_ is now the most common malaria species in humans in Sabah province, Malaysia.

_P. knowlesi_ is different from the other 4 plasmodia species infecting humans in that it is primarily a zoonosis, with the reservoir being Macaque monkeys. An increase in the Macaque reservoir, closer proximity to human habitats, or increases in the anopheles vectors are all possible explanations.

The importance of _P. knowlesi_ infections in humans was highlighted by a study published in 2004 (Singh B, et al. A large focus of naturally acquired _Plasmodium knowlesi_ infections in human beings. Lancet. 2004;363:1017-24), and data from before 2004 classified P. knowlesi and _P. malariae_.

Human to human transmission of _P. knowlesi_ has still not been demonstrated. - ProMed Mod.EP]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: Wed 2 Dec 2015
From: Hsu Li Yang <hsuliyang@gmail.com> [edited]

_Plasmodium knowlesi_ malaria, human, Temburong National Park, Brunei
---------------------------------------------------------------------
We report 2 cases of _Plasmodium knowlesi_ malaria that occurred after a camping trip involving 24 teenagers and 3 adults in Temburong National Park, Brunei. The trip occurred between 2-9 Nov 2015, and the onset of illness was on 20 Nov 2015 for both individuals. Diagnosis of _P. knowlesi_ was made via PCR speciation. None of the participants of the trip received malaria prophylaxis.
------------------------------
Hsu Li Yang
Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health,
National University of Singapore,
Singapore
======================
[ProMED-mail would like to thank Dr. Hsu Li Yang for submitting this first hand report. - ProMed Mod.MPP]

[The report is in line with previous ProMED reports, especially the last report from 18 Nov 2015 (archive no http://promedmail.org/post/20151118.3801294), that _P. knowlesi_ is the most common malaria parasite found in humans with malaria in Northern Borneo (Malaysia, Sabah, and Sarawak and Brunei). - ProMed Mod.EP]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: Sun 27 Oct 2013
Source: Bru Direct [edited]

The Ministry of Health (MoH) issued a press release to inform the public about cases of Japanese encephalitis (JE) infections that have been recently detected in Brunei Darussalam.

According to the press release, JE is a viral infection that is transmitted by mosquitoes, similar to other infections such as dengue, malaria, chikungunya and filariasis. The JE [virus] infection is endemic in many countries in Asia.

Medical research has shown that most cases of JE [virus] infection do not present with any symptoms. However, in a small number of cases, infected persons may show signs and symptoms such as fever, headache, nausea and vomiting. After a few days, the infection may cause mental abnormalities, neurological symptoms, weakness and motor disturbances. Convulsions may also occur, especially among children.

JE [virus] infection has never been previously detected and reported in the Sultanate. However, since 17 Oct this year [2013], a total of 12 patients with symptoms of encephalitis have been reported. Of these, 9 cases are from the Belait District, 2 from Tutong and one from Brunei-Muara.

To date, 6 patients have recovered and were discharged home, and 2 patients who also have other pre-existing medical conditions are currently receiving intensive care in hospital. They are, however, in a stable condition.

Following detailed investigations on all patients, only 3 patients from the Belait District have been confirmed by laboratory tests to have been infected by the JE virus.

There are no specific treatments for JE infection. There is only supportive treatment to relieve symptoms, and there is close monitoring in hospital if required. Patients should take their medications as instructed by the doctors and have adequate rest and fluids.

The MoH will continue to monitor the situation and take necessary measures including informing the public of any developments.
=======================
[Brunei (Brunei Darussalam in the Malay language) is a sovereign state on the north coast of Borneo Island. It is geographically within the Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) endemic area of Asia, so it is not surprising that the virus is there and causing cases of human disease. Rice cultivation was intensified as a governmental agricultural initiative beginning in 2009. An increase in rice paddies would doubtless be accompanied by an increase of the _Culex_ mosquito JEV vectors. Additional cases in the future can be expected.

A map showing the location of Brunei can be accessed at
<http://healthmap.org/r/8UJm>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Thu 29 Apr 2010
Source: Asia One Health [edited]
<http://health.asiaone.com/Health/News/Story/A1Story20100429-213104.html>

From January to the 1st week of April this year [2010], 77 people contracted dengue fever in the country. The number surpasses the 37 cases recorded for all of 2009, according to the Ministry of Health.

Senior Public Health Officer Kamaludin Mohamad Yassin from the Entomology and Parasitology Unit under the ministry's Environment Health Services, said the increase in the number of cases is alarming. This marks a rise of 24 cases during the 1st week of April alone this year [2010], as it was stated in an earlier report that there were only 53 cases from January to the beginning of April 2010. The report also stated that for the 1st time, Brunei has reported 2 cases of dengue haemorrhagic fever, which is a more virulent form of dengue [disease] whereby a patient bleeds through his skin, nose or eyes.

"Even though this figure is small compared with some of our neighbouring Southeast Asian countries, this is still a worrying figure when taking into context the size of our population," said the senior public health officer on the sidelines of the Ministry of Health's briefing on dengue fever and environmental hygiene yesterday [28 Apr 2010] at the Muhibah Hall, Brunei-Muara District Office. He told the media that a majority of these cases were from Kampong Ayer, where pools of stagnant water can be found due to poor sewage management. "There are areas in Kampong Ayer with a lot of rubbish floating in the water. This rubbish is not being cleared or taken care of appropriately, which results in a breeding place for the _Aedes_ mosquitoes," he said, explaining that the _Aedes_ mosquito is a known vector for carrying the dengue virus. [Rubbish can collect fresh water, the breeding sites for _Aedes_ mosquitoes. However, sewage is not a breeding site. - ProMed Mod.TY]

Kamaludin added that other possible causes for the increase of the disease, seen not only in Brunei but throughout the whole world, included the unusually high rainfall experienced in the Sultanate during the 1st 3 months of the year [2010] and also the storage of water in homes. "We have to keep the water covered to prevent the mosquitoes from breeding," the senior public health officer said. With this in mind, Kamaludin added that the public cannot be complacent in trying to prevent dengue fever.

During his presentation, the senior public health officer told participants of the briefing that of the total 77 cases recorded this year [2010], 67 were from the Brunei-Muara District. Kuala Belait had 5 cases followed by Tutong with 4 and Temburong, one case. As much as 86 percent of this year's infection was recorded from Kampong Ayer, a change in trend compared to the previous 5 years when only an average of 13 percent of the Sultanate's cases were from the water village.

Asked if there were any "serious" cases recorded recently, Kamaludin recalled only one, which occurred in 2009. "But this person had underlying chronic illnesses. ... The virus lowered his immunity, which made him more susceptible to other illnesses," said the senior public health officer.
==================
[The location of Brunei on the north coast of Borneo Island can be accessed on the HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map at <http://healthmap.org/promed/en?v=4.5,114.8,5>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
More ...

Zimbabwe

General
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This southern African country is a popular destination for travellers from Ireland. Victoria Falls must be one of the main tourist attractions but many other visitors will explore the rich s
fari parks and many other attractions, which Zimbabwe has to offer. Unfortunately the stability throughout the country has decreased considerably during the past two years and it will be essential that travellers stay within well defined itineraries agreed with recognised tour operators.
Safety & Security
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The level of petty crime is increasing throughout the country as stability decreases. Muggings and pickpocketing occur too often in the main urban areas and especially in the capital - Harare. Care should be taken when getting money from ATM’s or when leaving the banks. Try to have a companion with you and avoid busy market places and crowded local transport. Use hotel safe boxes and don’t leave personal belongings on view where possible. Avoid flaunting personal wealth, only use authorised taxis and take care if visiting late-night bars etc. Credit care fraud is becoming more common so ensure that your card never leaves your sight.
Travel in Zimbabwe
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Hiring cars or motorbikes is unwise as the number of serious accidents involving tourists is considerable. Many hazards occur along the roads including unlit abandoned trucks, stray livestock and pedestrians and poor fuel supplies. Many roads are in a poor state of repair and those requiring assistance may have to wait many hours in a deserted location. Car jacking and theft from cars is increasing. If driving long distances you should ensure that you have sufficient fuel and adequate supplies of food and water in case of emergency. A torch and sensible medical kit are also prerequisites.
Health Facilities
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Outside of the main urban centres of Harare and Bulawayo the level of healthcare for tourists may be very limited. Even in the cities shortages of some main medications may lead to inadequate treatment and evacuation to South Africa may become necessary. Any tourist on personal medication (asthma, diabetes, contraceptive pill etc) should make certain that they have sufficient supplies with them to complete their journey through Zimbabwe.
Rabies
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The risk of rabies occurs throughout the country for those exposed to infected warm-blooded animals. This will be mainly following a bite from an infected dog but cats and monkeys and many other animals also carry the disease. Returning to Harare and possibly to South Africa will be essential to ensure adequate early treatment.
Playing Golf in Zimbabwe
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Many tourists visiting Zimbabwe will play golf on some of their many courses. Golf tends to be played during the hours soon after dawn and towards dusk when mosquitoes may abound. They should be aware that there is an increased risk of malaria from mosquito bites (in infected regions) but also of wandering into the rough to retrieve a ball and being bitten by snakes or ticks or stung by scorpions. Avoiding the rough is a wise precaution!

White Water Rafting & Bungee Jumping
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Many tourists to the Zambezi region partake of adventure sports including white water rafting and bungee jumping. Check whether of not your travel insurance covers these activities and be aware that both activities can carry significant risks. The bungee jump at Victoria Falls is recognised as one of the highest in the world at 111 metres. Generally the safety and security is good but accidents do occur. The risks of serious injury from white water rafting are also present both from direct trauma (eg bruising, drowning, fractures etc) and also from exposure to Schistosomiasis in the calm fresh water regions along the Zambezi. This parasitic disease is more common in those who swim in Lake Malawi but does occur in Zimbabwe. Serious long-term effects are regularly reported in those returning after fresh water contact in Africa.
Food & Water Facilities
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Despite the diminishing security situation throughout the country and the food shortages which have been reported among the local population, the main tourist hotels are still receiving sufficient supplies. This situation may change and travellers should be aware that the level of service may be affected. Lettuce and cold foods may not be adequately treated and should be avoided. Unpeeled fruits should be fine but tap water should not be used for brushing your teeth unless you can easily smell chlorine.
Insect & Mosquito Bites
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The Zambezi valley region (including Victoria Falls) is probably the single highest risk region for tourists developing malaria throughout the world. It is essential that adequate malaria prophylaxis is used at all times of the year for those visiting this region. Those remaining in the central highlands (cities of Harare and Bulawayo) will not need prophylaxis as the risk of this mosquito borne disease is very small. Tsetse flies transmit sleeping sickness and this may be a risk for those visiting some of the safari parks. Good repellent and adequate light coloured clothing is essential.
Sun Exposure & Dehydration
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It is important to increase your intake of fluids and salt while perspiring significantly in a hot climate. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat is also important.
Vaccines for Zimbabwe
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There are no essential vaccines for entry into Zimbabwe from Ireland. However those crossing into Zambia at Victoria Falls (and having their passport stamped) may find that the authorities demand evidence of cover against Yellow Fever before re-entry. Otherwise most tourists are advised to consider adequate cover against:
*
Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
*
Tetanus (childhood booster)
*
Typhoid (food and water disease)
*
Hepatitis A (food and water disease)
Those planning a longer or more rural trip will also need to consider cover against diseases like Hepatitis B and Rabies.
Summary
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The majority of tourists visiting Zimbabwe will remain very healthy and well providing they remain conscious of the prevailing local uncertainty and follow some simple precautions against food and water disease, mosquito bites, and accidents.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 4 Dec 2019 15:50:07 +0100 (MET)
By Ish MAFUNDIKWA, with Zinyange AUNTONY in Bulawayo

Harare, Dec 4, 2019 (AFP) - The floor is dusty, the walls filthy and the furniture decrepit, but for two weeks last month a tiny flat in a Harare township was transformed into a maternity clinic where scores of babies were born.   Its owner, 69-year-old Esther Gwena, says she helped to deliver 250 infants as Zimbabwe's health sector tottered -- a feat that earned comparisons to Florence Nightingale, the pioneer of modern nursing.

Hundreds of junior medics at state hospitals began a strike three months ago because their salaries -- less than $200 a month -- are not enough to live on in a country gripped by 500 percent inflation.   Nurses are only working two days a week.   Those who can't afford private care -- the majority of the 14 million people reeling under an economic crisis compounded by acute food shortages -- suffer at home or seek help from people like Gwena.   Senior doctors, in a letter last week, said state hospitals had become a "death trap" and warned of a "slow genocide".   Gwena, a widow and member of the local Apostolic Faith sect, is a self-taught midwife.   When the health services strike peaked last month, she came to the rescue.

- 'I had to do something' -
"A man came to me and said there were two women in advanced labour at (a nearby clinic) but the place was closed because the nurses were on strike," she told AFP in her two-room flat in Mbare township.   She rushed there and found that one of the women had a baby which had died.   "I took the other one to my place, where I helped her. The baby survived. From that time, I knew I had to do something," she said.   Word that she was helping deliver babies for free spread quickly.

The state-owned television ZBC described her as "a modern Zimbabwean version of Florence Nightingale" and First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa visited Gwena and donated food, detergents and blankets.   A funeral services company chipped in with a mobile water tank and pitched a tent outside to serve as a waiting room for women before they went into advanced labour.   "I helped to deliver 250 babies ... (they) are alive and kicking and at home with their mothers," Gwena said.   Two weeks later, the government asked her to stop after a nearby maternity clinic reopened.   Winnie Denhere, 35, cradled her two-day-old baby boy outside the clinic, where she had taken him for an immunisation injection.   "Everything went very well, she didn't ask us for money," she said, speaking of Gwena, who brought her child into the world.

- 'People dying' -
But while some laud Gwena as a selfless do-gooder, doctors worry that she exposed herself, the mothers, the babies to infection.   "We need to do something about our facilities so no one goes to her," Harare's director of medical services Prosper Chonzi, said.   Medicines have been in short supply and broken machines go unrepaired.   The government has fired 448 junior octors for striking.    Senior doctors last week also stopped work in protest over the sacking of junior colleagues. Dozens marched in Harare on Monday.   "People dying has become the order of the day in our hospitals," said the vice-president of the Senior Hospital Doctors Association Raphael Magota.

He told AFP machines were breaking down and that intensive care units were only able to treat two or three people "due to lack of equipment".     A senior doctor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the situation has become untenable.   "There is no public health in Zimbabwe at the moment; everything has come to a standstill," he said.   Even the scarce equipment is often not right.   "One needs gloves that fit just right when performing delicate operations, but we get old gloves that are too big," said another doctor.   A UN special rapporteur on food security, Hilal Elver, last week spoke of "disturbing information" that public hospitals had exhausted food stocks, forcing them to seek humanitarian aid and that medical equipment in some cases was "no longer operational".

In the second largest city of Bulawayo, Zimbabweans living abroad are helping in a small way by crowdfunding and sending money back home to offer health care for the vulnerable.   One such initiative is Citizwean Clinic, which opened its doors last month and attended to hundreds of patients in the first five days -- providing free consultation and drugs.   "We go to the hospital these days it's bad, there are no doctors. We heard that there were doctors here," said hypertensive patient Elina Dzingire, 63.    "We've really been helped here," she told AFP from the clinic in the city's Cowdray Park township.    Health Minister Obadiah Moyo admitted the situation in hospitals is constrained but says the government will soon advertise the posts left vacant by the sacked doctors.
Date: Tue, 26 Nov 2019 05:04:53 +0100 (MET)
By Ish MAFUNDIKWA

Mhondoro Ngezi , Zimbabwe, Nov 26, 2019 (AFP) - Miller Chizema walked through the forest near his home and came across a pile of freshly-cut logs -- a sight that spurred the 82-year-old villager to dismay and anger.   The logs were arranged in such a way that they were ready to be burnt into charcoal -- a fuel that has become a substitute for Zimbabwe's energy shortages, at a terrible cost to its forests.   "It hurts to see forests decimated like this," said Chizema, who lives in Mhondoro Ngezi, in the centre of the country, 150 kilometres (90 miles) southwest of Harare.

Some loggers come from as far as Harare, "where we hear there is a big demand for charcoal," he said.   "We, as elders, try to discourage the practice, but it's all about money and survival."   For nearly six months, Zimbabwe has been in the grip of chronic power cuts, sometimes running to 19 hours a day.   The price of cooking gas has increased more than six-fold since the start of the year, placing it beyond the reach of many.   For many lower-income urbanites, firewood and charcoal have become the go-to sources of substitute energy -- and rogue logging is the result.

Zimbabwe is losing more than 330,000 hectares (815,000 acres) of forest annually, according to Abednigo Marufu, general manager of the Zimbabwe Forestry Commission.    That's the equivalent to nearly half a million football pitches.   "Zimbabwe is losing quite a lot of trees and forests... everywhere because there is no electricity and our people need to feed themselves, they need heating in their homes," he told AFP.   Even so, "agriculture is still the number one driver of deforestation," he said.   A controversial land reform programme launched in 2000 saw a surge in the loss of forest cover as people cleared land for cultivation.    "Some of them started growing tobacco and cut down trees to use for curing their crop."    The practice continues, as farmers view wood to be free compared to other options.

- Dilemma -
Authorities are confronted with an enforcement conundrum.  Charcoal production is outlawed in Zimbabwe but it can be imported from neighbouring Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi, with special permits.   But Marufu said no such licences had been issued for over a year, yet Zimbabwe was awash with charcoal.   "How do you then know what charcoal is imported and locally produced?" Marufu asked rhetorically.

A lot of the older indigenous mopani trees have been reduced to stumps. AFP journalists saw numerous darkened patches where the logs had been piled and burnt into charcoal in the forests at Mhondoro-Ngezi.   Best Muchenje has been the district's forestry officer for the past two years.   "Deforestation was already bad when I came here," he told AFP.   "But the power crisis has worsened the situation, (and) the mopani tree is a target because it is hard and produces quality charcoal."   Mopani is one of the country's iconic indigenous trees that easily survive hot and dry conditions.   The law allows those living in the sparsely populated villages to cut trees for personal use and not for commercial purposes.

- 'Forests or humans' -
But for unemployed villagers like Enia Shagini, lack of money forces them to risk being fined or even jailed for cutting down trees for charcoal.   She sells a 50-kilogram (110-pound) bag for the equivalent of less than 50 US cents (40 euro centimes).   "We have children to send to school," said the mother of three, bemoaning a crackdown on illicit charcoal production which has widely been ignored.    In the capital, charcoal vendors at the Mbare market, just a few minutes' drive from downtown Harare, display dozens of 50-kilo polythene bags of charcoal for sale.

Prudence Mkonyo claimed she got her charcoal from Nyamapanda, near the border with Mozambique.   "It's difficult bringing the stuff to Harare," she said.   "We ferry it on trucks at night but sometimes you have to deal with the police at roadblocks. You need to be prepared to pay them bribes when you get stopped."   She sold her charcoal at the equivalent of between US$2.50 and US$3.00 a bag, but sales are slow.   People are struggling with unemployment and the country's worst economic crisis in a decade.   "There isn't much money going around so business is really bad. Some people are burning discarded plastic soft drink bottles for cooking."

While the law is clear on production of charcoal, the government is in a dilemma.   "It's a very complicated issue," Nqobizitha Ndlovu, newly-appointed minister for the environment and climate change, told AFP.   "We acknowledge the shortage of electricity and that gas is expensive, so wood and charcoal are alternatives. So while we are worried about forests, we also worry about human beings."
Date: Fri 8 Nov 2019
From: CBS News [edited]

Weak from hunger and thirst, the elephant struggled to reach a pool of water in this African wildlife reserve. But the majestic mammal got stuck in the mud surrounding the sun-baked watering hole, which had dramatically shrunk due to a severe drought. Eventually park staff freed the trapped elephant, but it collapsed and died. Just yards away lay the carcass of a Cape buffalo that had also been pulled from the mud but was attacked by hungry lions.

Elephants, zebras, hippos, impalas, buffaloes and many other wildlife are stressed by lack of food and water in Zimbabwe's Mana Pools National Park, whose very name comes from the 4 pools of water normally filled by the flooding Zambezi River each rainy season, and where wildlife traditionally drink. The word "mana" means 4 in the Shona language. At least 105 elephants have died in Zimbabwe's wildlife reserves, most of them in Mana and the larger Hwange National Park in the past 2 months, according to the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. Many desperate animals are straying from Zimbabwe's parks into nearby communities in search of food and water.

Mana Pools, a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its splendid setting along the Zambezi River, annually experiences hot, dry weather at this time of year. But this year [2019] it's far worse as a result of poor rains last year [2018]. Even the river's flow has reduced.

The drought parching southern Africa is also affecting people. An estimated 11 million people are threatened with hunger in 9 countries in the region, according to the World Food Program, which is planning large-scale food distribution. The countries of southern Africa have experienced normal rainfall in only one of the past 5 growing seasons, it said.

Seasonal rains are expected soon, but parks officials and wildlife lovers, fearing that too many animals will die before then, are bringing in food to help the distressed animals. The extremely harsh conditions persuaded park authorities to abandon their usual policy of not intervening. Each morning, Munyaradzi Dzoro, a parks agency wildlife officer, prays for rain. "It's beginning to be serious," he said, standing next to the remains of the elephant and buffalo. "It might be worse if we fail to receive rains" by early November [2019]. The last substantial rains came in April, he said.

An early end to a "very poor rainy season" has resulted in insufficient natural vegetation to see the animals through, said Mel Hood, who is participating in the Feed Mana project, which is providing supplementary feeding. Most of the animals in Mana Pools "are more or less confined to the barren flood plains," where temperatures soar to 113 deg F (45 deg C), she said.

Separated from neighboring Zambia by the Zambezi, the region's once reliable sources of water have turned into death traps for animals desperate to reach the muddy ponds. Like the elephant and buffalo, many other animals in the park have gotten stuck in the clay while trying to reach Long Pool, the largest of the watering holes at 3 miles (5 km) long.

The animals were pulled out by rangers, but they could not survive predators on the pounce for weak prey. "The carnivores attacked it from behind," Dzoro said of the buffalo. The elephant carcass had been there for almost a week and emitted a strong stench as flies feasted on it.

At just 5% of its normal size, Long Pool is one of the few remaining water sources across the park's plains. On a recent day, hippos were submerged in some puddles to try to keep their skin from drying out in the extreme heat while birds picked at catfish stranded in the mud.

Two others of Mana's pools have completely dried up, while the 3rd is just 20% to 30% of its usual size and dwindling, Dzoro said.

There are more than 12 000 elephants roaming Mana's flood plains, as well as an abundance of lions, buffaloes, zebras, wild dogs, hyenas, zebras and elands. The animals are visibly affected by the drought. Some impalas show signs of skin mange. In addition to the land animals, the park has 350 bird and aquatic species, according to the parks agency.

In other parts of Mana, park authorities are pumping water from deep boreholes, but the supplies are barely enough, he said. "We used to say nature should take its course," Dzoro said of the park's normal policy of not intervening and allowing the ecosystem to find its own balance. "We are now forced to intervene, which is manipulative conservation, because we are not sure when and how we will receive the rain. To avoid losing animals we have to intervene to maintain population sizes," Dzoro said.

With the acacias, other indigenous trees and grasses that provide the bulk of food for herbivores like elephants and buffaloes also decimated by the drought, authorities began supplementary feeding in July [2019].

Trucks and tractors ferry hay to various locations in the 2196-square km (848-square mi) park. In some spots, elephants, buffaloes and zebras are fed next to each other. The Feed Mana project has so far trucked 14 000 bales to the park, said Hood, the animal welfare campaigner. The group has been appealing for "urgent" donations of items such as soy bean hay, grass and cubes made of nutritious grains and molasses. "Although it may not be enough to stave off all the hunger pangs, it is certainly giving these animals a chance to survive until conditions improve," Hood said.

Zimbabwe has an estimated 85,000 elephants and neighbouring Botswana has more than 130,000. The 2 countries have the largest elephant population in the world. Zimbabwe says it's struggling to cope with booming numbers of wild elephants and is pushing to be allowed to sell its ivory stockpile and export live elephants to raise money for conservation and ease congestion in the drought-affected parks.

Other African countries, especially Kenya, are opposed to any sale of ivory. And earlier this year [2019] the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species voted to continue the ban on all ivory sales.

At Mana Pools, saving the animals is a challenge, and officials say Zimbabwe is severely affected by climate change that has changed weather patterns. In past years, Mana Pools would get up to 24 inches (600 mm) of rain per year, said Dzoro, the wildlife officer. Now it's lucky to get half that. With such a dramatic reduction, "we can't have perennial sources to sustain animals and some of the perennial springs have dried up. Climate change is affecting us. That's why the manipulative way now is the only way to rescue our fauna," Dzoro said.  "Climate change is real for sure, we are witnessing it," he said.
-------------------------------------
Communicated by:
ProMED-mail Rapporteur Joseph P. Dudley, PhD
Research Scientist II
Institute of Arctic Biology - University of Alaska Fairbanks
=====================
[Previous severe droughts associated with significant levels of elephant mortality also occurred in this region during the early 1980s and mid-1990s (1980-1984, 1993-1995). As much as 10% or more of the total population of Hwange National Park may have died during the 1993-1995 drought (1).

It appears that there has been a delay in the onset of the rainy season onset this year (2019). Rainfall data from Hwange National Park in western Zimbabwe, one of the areas mentioned in this article, show that the onset of the rainy season in Zimbabwe usually occurs in October, peaks during December and January, and tapers off during March and April (based on 80-year dataset spanning the period from 1918 to 1998).

Temperature data from Hwange National Park for the period from 1951 through 1994 indicate a progressive warming trend with an increase in the mean monthly maximum temperature of approximately 1.5 deg C in the park for the period between 1950 and 2000.

Satellite monitoring data for precipitation during the past 90 days support drought references in the CBS article. Precipitation anomaly maps indicate rainfalls have been on order of 25% to 50% below the historical average. And mature trees -- especially baobab and mopane -- will likely be getting really hammered this year (2019) from debarking and ring-barking by elephants.

Reference
1. Dudley JP, Craig GC, Gibson DStC, et al. Drought mortality of African bush elephants in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. Afr J Ecol 2001;39:187-94.  - JP Dudley]

[Our thanks to Joe [JP Dudley] for his informed rapporteur's information and comments. While we concentrate on infectious disease, we must not forget that nature can effective cull populations on its own. This drought is affecting the whole of southern Africa, so we can fully parallel die-offs elsewhere. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Mon, 21 Oct 2019 18:48:23 +0200 (METDST)

Harare, Oct 21, 2019 (AFP) - At least 55 elephants have died in a month in Zimbabwe  due to a lack of food and water, its wildlife agency said Monday, as the country faces one of the worst droughts in its history.   More than five million rural Zimbabweans -- nearly a third of the population -- are at risk of food shortages before the next harvest in 2020, the United Nations has warned.

The shortages have been caused by the combined effects of an economic downturn and a drought blamed on the El Nino weather cycle.   The impact is being felt at Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe's largest game reserve.   "Since September, we have lost at least 55 elephants in Hwange National Park due to starvation and lack of water," Zimbabwe National Parks spokesman Tinashe Farawo told AFP.   Farawo said the park was overpopulated and that food and water was scarce "due to drought".

Africa's elephant numbers have dropped from around 415,000 to 111,000 over the past decade, mainly due to poaching for ivory, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).   But Zimbabwe, like other countries in the southern African region, is struggling with overpopulation.   "Hwange was meant for 15,000 elephants but at the moment we are talking of more than 50,000," Farawo said.   "The situation is dire. We are desperately waiting for the rains."   An adult elephant drinks 680 litres (180 gallons) of water per day on average and consumes 450 kilogrammes (990 pounds) of food.

Hungry elephants have been breaking out of Zimbabwe's game reserves and raiding human settlements in search for food, posing a threat to surrounding communities.   Farawo said 200 people have died in "human-and-animal conflict" in the past five years, and "at least 7,000 hectares (17,300 acres) of crop have been destroyed by elephants".   The authorities took action earlier this year by selling nearly 100 elephants to China and Dubai for $2.7 million.   Farawo said the money had been allocated to anti-poaching and conservation projects.   Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe have called for a global ban on elephant ivory trade to be relaxed in order to cull numbers and ease pressure on their territories.
Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 17:55:47 +0200 (METDST)

Harare, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Striking Zimbabwe doctors on Monday defied a court order to return to work, saying a pay rise offered by the government failed to meet everyday costs.   Doctors remained home for a 43rd consecutive day, striking for better pay after their salaries were eroded by the country's spiralling inflation.   Zimbabwe's labour court ruled the action "unlawful" on Friday and ordered the medics back to their wards within 48 hours.

The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) announced Sunday it would appeal to the Supreme Court.    "We noted the court order but unfortunately we don't have the means by which to comply," said ZHDA spokesman Masimba Ndoro on Monday.   "We remain incapacitated... There is nothing we can do when we don't have the means to go to work and to meet our basic needs," he told AFP.   The doctors say the value of their pay shrank 15-fold over the past year -- a legacy of hyperinflation caused by economic mismanagement under ex-president Robert Mugabe.   His successor Emmerson Mnangagwa has so far failed to redress the situation.    Fuel prices have increased by more than 400 percent since the start of the year, and the ZHDA said that doctors had to use their savings just to show up to hospital each morning.

Negotiations with the government have been deadlocked since the ZHDA rejected a 60-percent salary rise offer.   With pay slips worth less than the equivalent of $100 (91 euros) in some cases, they are demanding doctors' salaries be pegged to the US dollar and have appealed to international bodies to supplement their wages.   "While doctors would want nothing more than to return to work in service of their patients, they continue to be incapacitated and lack the resources to comply with the Labour Court judgement," the ZHDA said in a statement on Sunday.   Nurses joined in the action last week.   "We have reduced the number of days we are coming to work initially to three days a week now we are down to two days," Zimbabwe Nurses Association spokesman Enoch Dongo told AFP.   "If the issue of salaries is not urgently addressed we will soon have a situation where nurses will no longer be able to come to work," he said, adding that nurses were "taking turns" in coming to hospital.      Rural teachers also embarked on strike action on Monday with a stay-at-home protest "against underpayment".   "We urge the government to respect our right to engage in job actions and peacefully protest demanding a living wage," the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe posted on Twitter.
More ...

Congo, Democratic Republic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

5th December 2019
World Health Organisation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Low profile -
The latest deaths sparked an immediate reaction Thursday in Beni, where many responders kept a low profile and vaccination teams were not at work, AFP journalists saw.   "A suspected case of Ebola has been reported from the health centre. The investigator has gone there quietly on foot to avoid drawing attention," said Michel Kalongo, a local doctor involved in the anti-Ebola fight.   Normally, an ambulance would have been despatched to conduct tests.   But responders on Thursday did not wear their uniforms, nor did they openly display their medical kits.   "We are blending in with ordinary motorcyclists to avoid public anger," said Timothee Pothsola, a motorbike driver who transports Ebola teams.   Pierre Vernier of the medical charity MSF (Doctors Without Borders) said, "Because of the lack of security, lab work is problematic. It's hard to gather samples."   But, he said, "the real problem is that Ebola monitoring teams cannot carry out work on the ground" to follow up cases where people may have been exposed to the virus.   "Part of the personnel have been evacuated... only veterans who are used to tense situations like this have stayed behind."
Date: Wed, 27 Nov 2019 18:26:08 +0100 (MET)

Geneva, Nov 27, 2019 (AFP) - Measles has killed more than 5,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo since January -- more than double the toll in the country's Ebola epidemic -- the World Health Organization said Wednesday.   "The DRC (measles) outbreak is the largest outbreak worldwide. It is one of the largest that we have seen," Kate O'Brien, director of the WHO's immunisation department, told reporters in Geneva.   As of November 17, the country had registered 250,270 measles cases, including 5,110 deaths, the WHO said.

DRC declared its latest measles epidemic in June, and in September the country launched an emergency vaccination campaign to counter the outbreak.   WHO said that campaign was still ongoing, but was expected to be completed by the end of the year.   O'Brien said the epidemic was still "all over the country", pointing out that most of those affected were "children and babies".   Measles is a highly-contagious disease caused by a virus that attacks mainly children. The most serious complications include blindness, brain swelling, diarrhoea, and severe respiratory infections.

The rapid spread of measles in DRC has garnered far less attention than the Ebola epidemic that has also been raging in the east of the country since August 2018. That outbreak has killed some 2,200 people.   Ian Norton, at WHO's Emergency Medical Team Unit, said the UN agency had begun training some of the Ebola teams in DRC to also manage measles cases, "because there is such a large burden".   Efforts to rein in the spread of both Ebola and measles are meanwhile being hampered by violence and unrest across the country, and especially in the east.   On Tuesday, WHO said it had moved 49 Ebola-response staff out of the eastern town of Beni as insecurity in the area surged.

Ninety-four civilians in the Beni area have been killed by armed groups since November 5, following the launch of an offensive by the country's army, according to the Congo Research Group (CRG), a not-for-profit organisation.   "The Ebola response is being hampered by the insecurity," Norton told reporters.   "The same can be said... for the measles response, not just in Beni but across the entire country," he said.   Attacks, even when not directed at medical staff or facilities, can block health workers from getting to work, and can prompt people feeling ill to stay home instead of seeking help.   Norton said the WHO was "extremely worried" by the growing insecurity, warning it had a dire "impact on the management of disease".
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Fri, 6 Dec 2019 10:30:54 +0100 (MET)

Moscow, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - More than 50 polar bears have gathered on the edge of a village in Russia's far north, environmentalists and residents said, as weak Arctic ice leaves them unable to roam.   The Russian branch of the World Wildlife Fund said climate change was to blame, as unusually warm temperatures prevented coastal ice from forming.   The WWF said 56 polar bears had gathered in a one-square-kilometre (0.4-square-mile) area near the village of Ryrkaipy in Chukotka on the north-eastern tip of Russia.

There were concerns they could enter the village, home to fewer than 1,000 people, and patrols had been set up to monitor their movements.   "The number of human and predator encounters in the Arctic is increasing," the WWF said in statement.    "The main reason is the decline of sea ice area due to the changing climate. In the absence of ice cover, animals are forced to go ashore in search of food."

Residents had gathered walrus carcasses in the area to try to keep the bears from wandering into the village.   "We have created a feeding point with walrus carcasses that we gathered along the coast," Tatyana Minenko of the local "Bear Patrol" told news agency RIA Novosti.   "As long as there is no big freeze, the sea ice will not form and the bears will stay on the coast," she said.

Russia's weather service said temperatures in the region should fall from Saturday and that coastal ice should freeze by December 11.    Polar bears regularly visit areas inhabited by humans in Arctic Russia to search for food, often in rubbish tips.   But the number of visits has been growing as the melting of Arctic ice from climate change forces the bears to spend more time on land where they compete for food.
Date: Fri, 6 Dec 2019 10:28:26 +0100 (MET)
By Joseph Schmid

Paris, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - Travellers across France endured a second day of chaos on Friday as unions vowed to keep up their strike until President Emmanuel Macron backs down on controversial pension overhauls.   Rail operator SNCF said 90 percent of high-speed TGV trains were again cancelled, and several airlines dropped flights including Air France, EasyJet and Ryanair.

Nine of the capital's 16 metro lines were shut and most others severely disrupted, sparking some 350 kilometres (220 miles) of traffic jams in the Paris region, well above the usual 200 km, the traffic website Sytadin reported.   Many employees were unable to get to work and several schools again provided only daycare, though fewer teachers were on strike compared with Thursday when some 800,000 people demonstrated across the country according to the interior ministry.   Bike paths were crowded with bikes and electric scooters, with metro operator RATP sponsoring special deals for commuters with a range of ride-hailing companies and other transportation alternatives.

The walkout is the latest test for Macron after months of protests from teachers, hospital workers, police and firefighters as well as the "yellow vest" movement demanding improved living standards.   Unions say his "universal" pension system, which would eliminate dozens of separate plans for public workers, forces millions of people in both public and private sectors to work well beyond the legal retirement age of 62.   Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said Friday that the government had "heard" the protesters' anger and would meet with union leaders to discuss the reform on Monday.   The government has yet to lay out the details of its plan, and Buzyn told Europe 1 radio that "there is indeed a discussion going on about who will be affected, what age it kicks in, which generations will be concerned -- all that is still on the table".

- Macron 'determined' -
Yves Veyrier, head of the hardline FO union, warned Thursday the strike could last at least until Monday if the government did not take the right action.   But it remains to be seen if the protests will match the magnitude of the 1995 strikes against pension overhauls, when France was paralysed for three weeks from November to December in an action that forced the government to back down.

Macron, a former investment banker, has largely succeeded in pushing through a series of controversial reforms, including loosening labour laws and tightening access to unemployment benefits.   But this is the first time the various disgruntled groups have come together in protest.   So far Macron has not spoken publicly on the stoppages though a presidential official, who asked not to be named, said Thursday that the president was "calm" and "determined to carry out this reform" in a mood of "listening and consultation".

While most of Thursday's rallies were peaceful, police fired tear gas to disperse dozens of black-clad protesters smashing windows and throwing stones during the Paris march, with one construction trailer set on fire. Sporadic clashes were also reported in some other cities.   Many people were bracing for further disruptions over the weekend, including the prospect of fuel shortages as unions blocked most of the country's eight oil refineries.

The minimum pension age in France is 62, one of the lowest among developed countries, but there are 42 "special regimes" for railway workers, lawyers, opera employees and others offering earlier retirements and other benefits.   The government says a single system will be fairer for everyone while ensuring its financial viability while acknowledging that people will gradually have to work longer.
Date: Fri, 6 Dec 2019 04:23:51 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - Three hundred animals have been evacuated from a wildlife park north of Sydney as massive bushfires encircled Australia's largest city and foreign firefighters arrived to relieve beleaguered local forces.   Walkabout Wildlife Park said it had shipped out lizards, dingoes, peacocks and marsupials, as firefighters battled more than 100 fires up and down the eastern seaboard.   "This fire has been doing some crazy things, so we have to be prepared," general manager Tassin Barnard told AFP.

Prolonged drought has left much of eastern Australia tinder dry and spot fires have raged every day for the past three months, leaving firefighters struggling to cope.   New South Wales rural fire chief Shane Fitzsimmons said Friday that some US and Canadian firefighters had arrived to help out, easing the strain on the exhausted largely volunteer Australian force.

The incident-management and aviation specialists will help ease "fatigue and crew rotations" he said.   "We are not only appreciative of their presence here today, but of their sacrifice," said Fitzsimmons -- who has become a fixture on Australian television screens for weeks, updating the public on blazes in towns, national parks and backwaters.    "They are volunteering to sacrifice time from loved ones, from families, to give up that special time of the year around Christmas and New Year to come down here and lend us a hand," he said.

More than 600 homes have been destroyed and six people have died since the crisis began in September. That is many fewer than Australia's deadliest recent fire season in 2009 when almost 200 people died, but 2019's toll belies the scale of devastation.    Millions of hectares have burned -- the size of some small countries -- across a region spanning hundreds of kilometres (miles).   Bushfires are common in Australia but scientists say this year's season has come earlier and with more intensity due to a prolonged drought and climatic conditions fuelled by global warming.

The fires have taken a toll in Sydney and other major cities, which have been blanketed in toxic smoke for weeks and occasionally sprinkled with snow-like embers.   Fitzsimmons said he could not "overstate the effect that this profound drought is having" as he warned of a long, painful summer ahead.   "There is an absolute lack of moisture in the soil, a lack of moisture in the vegetation... you are seeing fires started very easily and they are spreading extremely quickly, and they are burning ridiculously intensely."
Date: Fri, 6 Dec 2019 03:03:18 +0100 (MET)
By Pierre-Henry DESHAYES

Half Moon Island, Antarctica, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - The swimsuit-clad tourists leap into the icy water, gasping at the shock, and startling a gaggle of penguins.   They are spectators at the end of the world, luxury visitors experiencing a vulnerable ecosystem close-up.   And their very presence might accelerate its demise.   Antarctica, a vast territory belonging to no one nation, is a continent of extremes: the coldest place on Earth, the windiest, the driest, the most desolate and the most inhospitable.   Now, it's also a choice destination for tourists.

All around Half Moon Island, off the Antarctic Peninsula, blocks of ice of all sizes float by on a calm sea, their varying forms resembling weightless origami shapes.    On this strip of land, that juts out of the Antarctic Polar and towards South America, visitors can see wildlife normally only viewed in zoos or nature documentaries along with spectacular icy landscapes.   The ethereal shades of white that play across the pillowy peaks change with the light, acquiring pastel hues at dawn and dusk.   "Purity, grandeur, a scale that's out of this world," says Helene Brunet, an awestruck 63-year-old French pensioner, enjoying the scene.    "It's unbelievable, totally unbelievable. It's amazing just to be here, like a small speck of dust."

AFP joined the 430 passengers on board the Roald Amundsen, the world's first hybrid electric cruise ship, on its maiden voyage in the Southern Ocean.    "It's not your typical beach, but it's awesome to do it," says a numb Even Carlsen, 58, from Norway, emerging from his polar plunge in the three-degree C (37.4 F) water.   When tourists go ashore, bundled up in neon-coloured windbreakers and slathered in SPF50 sunscreen, they have to follow strict rules: clean your personal effects so you don't introduce invasive species, keep a respectful distance from wildlife to avoid distressing them, don't stray from the marked paths and don't pick up anything.   "We mucked up the rest of the world. We don't want to muck up Antarctica too," says an English tourist, as she vacuums cat hair off her clothes before going ashore.

- 'Heart of the Earth' -
The Antarctic peninsula is one of the regions on Earth that is warming the fastest, by almost three degrees Celsius in the past 50 years, according to the World Meteorological Organization -- three times faster than the global average.    In March 2015, an Argentinian research station registered a balmy 17.5 degrees Celsius, a record.    "Every year you can observe and record the melting of glaciers, the disappearance of sea ice... (and) in areas without ice, the recolonisation of plants and other organisms that were not present in Antarctica before," said Marcelo Leppe, director of the Chilean Antarctic Institute.

Antarctica is "like the heart of the Earth," he added, saying that it expands and contracts like a heart beating, while the mighty current which revolves around the continent is like a circulatory system as it absorbs warm currents from other oceans and redistributes cold water.   The Antarctic Treaty, signed 60 years ago by 12 countries -- it now has 54 signatories -- declared the area a continent dedicated to peace and science, but tourism has gradually increased, with a sharp rise in the past few years.   Tourism is the only commercial activity allowed, apart from fishing -- the subject of international disputes over marine sanctuaries -- and is concentrated mainly around the peninsula, which has a milder climate than the rest of the continent and is easier to access.

Cruise ships have roamed the region for around 50 years, but their numbers only started to increase from 1990, as Soviet ice-breakers found new purposes in the post-Cold War era.   Some 78,500 people are expected to visit the region between November and March, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO).   That's a 40-percent increase from last year, due in part to short visits by a few new cruise ships carrying more than 500 passengers, too many to disembark under IAATO regulations.     "Some might say 'Well, 80,000 people, that doesn't even fill a national stadium'... (and that it) is nothing like Galapagos which welcomes 275,000 a year," says IAATO spokeswoman Amanda Lynnes.    "But Antarctica is a special place and you need to manage it accordingly."

- 'Leave Antarctica to the penguins' -
It is Antarctica's very vulnerability that is attracting more and more visitors.   "We want to see this fantastic nature in Antarctica before it's gone," Guido Hofken, a 52-year-old IT sales director travelling with his wife Martina, says.    They said they had paid a supplement to climate compensate for their flight from Germany.

But some question whether tourists should be going to the region at all.   "The continent probably would be better off being left to penguins and researchers, but the reality is, that is probably never going to happen," said Michael Hall, professor and expert on polar regions at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.   "Vicarious appreciation never seems to be enough for humans. So with that being the case, it needs to be made as low risk to the Antarctic environment and as low carbon as possible," said Hall.    "However, when the average tourist trip to Antarctica is over five tonnes of CO2 emissions per passenger (including flights), that is a serious ask."

Soot or black carbon in the exhaust gases of the scientific and cruise ships going to the region is also of concern, said Soenke Diesener, transport policy officer at German conservation NGO Nabu.   "These particles will deposit on snow and ice surfaces and accelerate the melting of the ice because the ice gets darker and will absorb the heat from the sun and will melt much faster," he told AFP.   "So the people who go there to observe or preserve the landscape are bringing danger to the area, and leave it less pristine than it was," he added.

- Responsible tourism -
Antarctic tour operators insist they are promoting responsible tourism.   The trend is for more intimate, so-called expedition cruises, in contrast to popular giant cruise liners elsewhere which are criticised for being invasive and polluting.   With greener ships -- heavy fuel, the most commonly used for marine vessels, has been banned in Antarctica since 2011 -- cruise companies have sought to make environmental awareness a selling point, occasionally earning them accusations of greenwashing.

Global warming, pollution and microplastics are the result of human activities on other, faraway continents, say tour operators.   Here, their motto is "Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints, keep nothing but memories".   But before they've even set foot on the cruise ships departing from South America -- the most common itinerary -- visitors to Antarctica will already have flown across the world, causing emissions that harm the very nature they have come so far to admire.

Most visitors hail from the Northern Hemisphere, and almost half are from the United States and China, IAATO says.   "I'm a tourist who feels a little guilty about taking a flight to come here," admits Francoise Lapeyre, a 58-year-old globetrotter om France.   "But then again, there are priorities. There are some trips I just won't take, because they leave a big footprint and they're not worth it.   "Crisscrossing the planet to go to a beach for example," she says.

- Don't mention climate change -
Like other expedition cruises where accessible science is part of their trademark, the Roald Amundsen, owned by the Hurtigruten company, has no dance floor or casino.  Instead, there are microscopes, science events and lectures about whales and explorers like Charles Darwin.   But they steer clear of climate change, which is only mentioned indirectly.   That's a deliberate decision as the subject has proven "quite controversial", said Verena Meraldi, Hurtigruten's science coordinator.   "We held several lectures dedicated specifically to climate change but it leads to conflicts. There are people who accept it as a fact, others who don't," she said.   Onboard, "passengers" are referred to as "guests" and "explorers" rather than "cruisers".   "Explorers" are typically older, well-heeled, often highly travelled pensioners who are handed walking sticks as they step ashore.   "My 107th country," says a Dane, stepping ashore onto Antarctica.

The Roald Amundsen "guests" choose between three restaurants, from street food to fine dining -- a far cry from the conditions endured by the Norwegian adventurer for whom the ship is named, who had to eat his sled dogs to survive his quest to reach the South Pole in 1911.   They have paid at least 7,000 euros ($7,700) each for an 18-day cruise in a standard cabin, and up to 25,000 euros ($27,500) for a suite with a balcony and private jacuzzi.   Other cruises are banking on ultra-luxury, with James Bond-like ships equipped with helicopters and submarines, suites of more than 200 square metres (2,153 square feet) and butler services.   With a seaplane to boot, the mega-yacht SeaDream Innovation will offer 88-day cruises "from Pole to Pole" starting in 2021. The two most expensive suites, with a price tag of 135,000 euros per person, are already booked.
 
- Worlds collide -
Outside, in the deafening silence, wildlife abounds.   All around are penguins, as awkward on land as they are agile in water. Massive and majestic whales slip through the waves, and sea lions and seals laze in the sun.   On Half Moon Island, chinstrap penguins -- so called because of a black stripe on their chin -- strut about in this spring breeding season, raising their beaks and screeching from their rocky nests.   "This is to tell other males 'This is my space' and also, maybe, 'This is my female'," ornithologist Rebecca Hodgkiss, a member of the Hurtigruten's scientific team, explains, as a group of tourists stroll around ashore.   The colony of 2,500 penguins has been gradually declining over the years, but it's not known if that is man's fault or they have just moved away, according to Karin Strand, Hurtigruten's vice president for expeditions.   Invisible to the naked eye, traces of humankind are however to be found in the pristine landscape.   Not a single piece of rubbish is in sight but microplastics are everywhere, swept in on ocean currents.   "We've detected them in the eggs of penguins for example," Leppe told AFP.

- Venice under water -
The Antarctic, which holds the world's largest reserve of freshwater, is a ticking time bomb, warn experts and studies.   They say that the future of millions of people and species in coastal areas around the world depends on what is happening here.   As a result of global warming, the melting ice sheet -- especially in the western part of the continent -- will increasingly contribute to rising sea levels, radically re-drawing the map of the world, says climate scientist Anders Levermann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.   This meltwater will contribute 50 centimetres (almost 20 inches) to the global sea level rise by 2100, and much more after that, he said.   "For every degree of warming, we get 2.5 metres of sea level rise. Not in this century, but in the long run," he said.

Even if the international community meets its obligations under the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to under two degrees Celsius, sea levels will still rise by at least five metres.   "Which means that Venice is under water, Hamburg is under water, New York, Shanghai, Calcutta," he said.   It's impossible to predict when, but the scenario appears unavoidable, says Levermann.   In the same way that a cruise ship powering ahead at full speed can't immediately stop, sea levels will continue to rise even if all greenhouse gas emissions were to cease immediately, a study has said.

- Changing the world? -
The tourism industry says it hopes to make "ambassadors" out of Antarctica visitors.   "It's good for the animal life and for the protection of Antarctica that people see how beautiful this area is, because you cherish what you know and understand," said Hurtigruten chief executive Daniel Skjeldam.   Texan tourist Mark Halvorson, 72, says he is convinced.   "Having seen it, I am that much more committed to having a very high priority in my politics, in my own inner core convictions to being as environmentally friendly in my life as I can," he said.   So, do Guido and Martina Hofken see themselves as future "ambassadors of Antarctica"?    "Just a little bit, probably. But I don't think I will change the world," Guido Hofken concedes.    "The best thing would be for nobody to travel to Antarctica."
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 16:37:37 +0100 (MET)

Paris, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - French rail operator SNCF said Thursday that it had cancelled 90 percent of all high-speed TGV trains and 70 percent of regional trains for Friday due to a strike over the government's pension reforms.   SNCF said that services would "still be very disrupted" on the second day of the biggest transport strike in the country in years, with the Eurostar service to Britain and the Thalys service to northern Europe set to be "very heavily disrupted".   In Paris, where only two of 16 metro lines were operating normally Thursday, public transport workers voted to remain on strike until Monday.

France's civil aviation authority meanwhile told airlines to cut 20 percent of their flights in and out of airports in Paris, Beauvais, Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse and Bordeaux on Friday, the same proportion as on Thursday.   Striking transport workers, air traffic controllers, teachers, fire fighters, lawyers and other groups all fear they will have to work longer or receive reduced pensions under the government's proposal to scrap 42 special pension schemes and replace them with a single plan.   Anticipating the worst travel chaos in years, many employees opted to work from home on Thursday. Those who did venture out travelled mainly by car, bicycle, electric scooter or on foot.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 12:19:45 +0100 (MET)
By Sofia CHRISTENSEN

Johannesburg, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - South African Airways was placed under a state-approved rescue plan on Thursday to avoid the embattled airline's collapse following a costly week-long strike last month.   Thousands of South African Airways (SAA) staff walked out on November 15 after the flag carrier failed to meet a string of demands, including higher wages and job in-sourcing.   The strike was called off the following week after SAA management and unions eventually clinched a deal.

But the walkout dealt a severe blow to the debt-ridden airline, which has failed to make a profit since 2011 and survives on government bailouts.   "The Board of SAA has adopted a resolution to place the company into business rescue," said a statement by South Africa's Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, adding that the decision was also supported by the government.   "It must be clear that this is not a bailout," said Gordhan. "This is the provision of financial assistance in order to facilitate a radical restructure of the airline."   The business rescue process will be directed by an independent practitioner. It is meant to prevent a "disorderly collapse of the airline", he added.   Gordhan said the government would provide 2 billion rand ($136 million) to SAA in "a fiscally neutral manner".   Existing lenders will also provide a 2 billion rand loan guaranteed by the government.

- 'Financial challenges' -
South Africa is struggling to get state-owned companies back on track after nine years of corruption and mismanagement under former president Jacob Zuma.   Its national airline -- which employs more than 5,000 workers and is Africa's second largest airline after Ethiopian Airlines -- had been losing 52 million rand ($3.5 million) a day during the strike.   SAA's board said the business rescue, scheduled to start immediately, was decided after consultations with shareholders and the public enterprises department "to find a solution to our company's well-documented financial challenges".

"The considered and unanimous conclusion has been to place the company into business rescue in order to create a better return for the company's creditors and shareholders," said the SAA board of directors in a statement.   The rescue plan will include a "new provisional timetable" and ensure "selected activities... continue operating successfully".   With a fleet of more than 50 aircraft, SAA flies to over 35 domestic and international destinations.   "SAA understand that this decision presents many challenges and uncertainties for its staff," said the board.   "The company will engage in targeted communication and support for all its employee groups at this difficult time.

- 'Lesser evil' -
Unions told AFP they would comment later on Thursday.   They have agreed to a 5.9-percent wage increase backdated to April, but which would only start to be paid out next March depending on funding.   SAA had initially refused any pay rise.    The cash-strapped airline needs two billion rand ($136 million) to fund operations through the end of March. But it was unable to cover all of its staff salaries last month.    "Business rescue allows for the airline to continue to operate while it is being restructured, as opposed to liquidation," analyst Daniel Silke told AFP.   He said the rescue was a "lesser evil for SAA" and would save more jobs than a "shutdown".

But Silke still expected jobs to be cut as SAA attempted to reduce costs.   "Various divisions that make of SAA could be privatised," he said. "There will be a review of SAA aircraft and routes covered by SAA."   Unions had already demanded a three-year guarantee of job security following an announcement last month that almost 1,000 SAA employees could lose their jobs as part of another restructuring plan.   SAA pledged to defer that process to the end of January as part of the deal that ended the strike.
Date: Wed 4 Dec 2019
Source: Stock Daily Dish [edited]

Out of the 7 patients who were admitted to the hospital suspecting Nipah virus infection, one has been tested positive while the other 6 have been tested negative.

Kerala health minister K K Shailaja said at a press briefing in Kochi on Thursday [28 Nov 2019] that of "7 patients admitted to the hospital, one patient's result is positive for Nipah virus, while 6 patients' results are negative. No one has been discharged from the isolation ward. The source of the virus is not confirmed yet."

On the other hand, 2 persons suffering from high fever were put under observation at Trivandrum Medical College on Thursday [28 Nov 2019]. Their samples have been sent for examination.

On 4 Jun [2019], a 23-year-old-man had tested positive for Nipah virus infection, which killed 17 people in Kerala last year [2018].

As of now, a total of 15 people are under observation in the state.

Union minister for health and family welfare Dr Harsh Vardhan had said on 4 Jun [2019] that the centre had rushed a team of doctors to Kerala for investigation in the wake of the scare of Nipah virus. Vardhan had asserted that he was "very vigorously" following the situation.

Nipah virus is transmitted from animals [bats] to humans and then spreads through people to people, causing respiratory illness. Its symptoms include fever, muscle pain, headache, fever, dizziness, and nausea.

The Health Department in Karnataka issued a circular asking administration in Chamarajanagar, Mysuru, Kodagu, Dakshina Kannada, Uttara Kannada, Udupi, Shivamogga, and Chikkamagaluru districts to immediately convene interdepartmental coordination committee meetings, including the veterinary department, the Indian Medical Association, and the Indian Academy of Pediatrics.

Authorities in these 8 districts have been directed to identify 2 isolation beds to quarantine suspected human cases. They have been asked to keep all the logistics available at all levels, read the circular. The department has also asked district authorities to direct government and private hospitals to keep an eye on suspected cases.

Once a patient shows symptoms of Nipah, the hospitals have to monitor for acute encephalitis syndrome, check all vital parameters, and take a travel history of the patients.

The district hospitals should have an ICU with ventilator facilities and capacity to receive emergency cases, the circular read.

The department asked the districts to furnish a daily outbreak report regarding Nipah virus. It also directed authorities to sensitise health assistants and ASHA workers.
==================
[This is the 3rd case of Nipah virus infection [NVI] in Kerala state this year (2019). It is prudent that surveillance and patient-care capacity have been increased. Last year (2018), as of 17 Jul 2018, a total of 19 Nipah virus (NiV) cases, including 17 deaths, were reported from Kerala state: 18 of the cases were laboratory confirmed, and the deceased index case was suspected to have NVI but could not be tested. The 2018 outbreak was localized to 2 districts in Kerala state: Kozhikode and Malappuram.

The exact circumstances under which this or the previous confirmed Nipah virus cases this year (2019) acquired their infections are not stated in the above or in previous reports, nor is it stated whether these individuals had contact with flying fox fruit bats (_Pteropus giganteus_), the reservoir hosts of Nipah virus, or fruit that the bats may have contaminated. It is interesting to note that 12 of 36 fruit bats tested at the National Institute of Virology were positive for Nipah virus. Although Kerala health minister KK Shailaja officially had declared Ernakulam district Nipah-free, it may have been free of human cases but is unlikely to have been free of the virus in _Pteropus giganteus_ fruit bats. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Maps of India:
Date: Wed 4 Dec 2019
Source: Stock Daily Dish [edited]

Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey on [Sat 30 Nov 2019] said the state government is doing its best to save children, as the death toll due to acute encephalitis syndrome [AES] in Muzaffarpur mounted to 73.

Pandey said doctors and nurses are being called in from Patna for additional help. "We are trying everything and anything that can save children's lives. Everything is being made available from medicines to doctors. We have even called doctors and nurses from AIIMS in Patna," he said. "There is a protocol regarding what kind of medicines and facilities should be given and we are doing the same. We are monitoring things regularly and trying to save our children."

Recalling the situation that prevailed 5 years ago, Pandey said a team that was formed to ascertain the cause of this disease concluded that sleeping empty stomach at night, dehydration due to humidity and eating lychee on empty stomach were some of the causes of encephalitis.

"Our government has tried to spread awareness which will be beneficial as well. Advertisement in newspapers, radio jingles, pamphlets and mic [microphone] announcements are going to spread awareness regarding the disease. Health ministry is also working on it," he said.

On being asked about spread of ASE in Gorakhpur last year [2018], he said, "From Gorakhpur to Muzaffarpur region, this disease had spread last year and the Union government had worked on this and we will continue to fight it now."

"This incident in Muzaffarpur is very saddening and we also feel bad when children of our nation die like this. Not the whole district is affected but a large part is suffering from it," he added.

From [1 Jan 2019], until now [5 Dec 2019], 220 children were admitted in Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital in Muzaffarpur due to AES, out of which 62 lost their lives.

As per the data of SKMCH hospital, 235 children were admitted, of which 89 died; in 2013 - 90 children were admitted, of which 35 died; in 2014 - 334 children were admitted, of which 117 died; in 2015 - 37 children were admitted, of which 15 died; in 2016 - 31 children were admitted, of which 6 died; in 2017 - 44 children were admitted, of which 18 died; and in 2018 - 43 children were admitted, of which 12 died.

Meanwhile, Minister of State for Union ministry for home affairs, Nityanand Rai, visited Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital to review the situation after the outbreak of AES.

Encephalitis is a viral disease, which causes mild flu-like symptoms such as high fever, convulsions and headaches and has been claiming lives in the district for the past few weeks.
======================
[The dates within which these AES cases have occurred is not stated. The urgency that has prompted Behar health officials to request the aid of physicians and nurses from adjoining Patna suggests that the AES outbreak is going on currently. The uncertainty about the etiology of AES continues. It is curious that the above report makes no mention of negative or positive tests for Japanese encephalitis among the AES patients, although that virus is endemic in northeastern India, including Bihar state. Neighboring Uttar Pradesh state has had JE cases as well this summer (2019) but has intensified its JE vaccination program.

The issue of the aetiology of AES has been under discussion for a long time. Lychee fruit contain toxins. Encephalopathy and hypoglycaemia have been associated with consumption of lychee fruit contains phytotoxins, specifically alpha-(methylenecyclopropyl)glycine (see ProMED-mail archive no. http://promedmail.org/post/20150201.3132842). However, the current cases cannot be due to lychee consumption, since the season for that fruit has passed.

AES has continued to be attributed to a variety of aetiologies, including Reye syndrome-like disease, possible enterovirus infection from polluted water, heatstroke, lychee fruit consumption, and scrub typhus (_Orientia tsutsugamushi_). A recent publication (reference below) states that dengue virus is one of the 3 most common agents identified in AES, but existing surveillance for AES does not include routine testing for dengue. Until the etiology (or etiologies) of these AES cases is determined, effective and efficient prevention of these cases will not be possible.

Reference:
Ravi V, Hameed SKS, Desai A, et al. Dengue virus is an under-recognised causative agent of acute encephalitis syndrome (AES): results from a 4-year AES surveillance study of Japanese encephalitis in selected states of India. Int J Infect Dis 2019;84 Suppl:19-24. <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijid.2019.01.008>.

Available at:

[Maps of India:
HealthMap/ProMED maps available
at:<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/364>, and Bihar, India:
Date: Thu 5 Dec 2019 6:11 PM EET
Source: Enab Baladi [edited]

[Leishmaniasis] is spreading widely among residents of Deir ez-Zor, and especially children. Some of the areas affected are controlled by the Kurdish self-administration while others are under the control of the Syrian regime. Medical sources counted hundreds of infected civilians and confirmed the disease's rapid spread.

According to Atef al-Tawil, a manager of the Leishmania & Environmental Health Programme at the Syrian regime's Ministry of Health, most infections in eastern Deir ez-Zor are spread among school children.

In a Facebook comment on a post by Twasol agency, al-Tawil claimed that cases of leishmaniasis were detected, at the end of November [2019], in primary schools in eastern Deir ez-Zor and its surrounding villages (al-Jalaa, al-Salihiyah, al-Tawtha, al-Abbas, al-Mujawdeh, al-Hasarat, al-Saial, al-Ghabrah).

According to al-Tawil, 455 infections of children were detected. A treatment team of 10 members was formed in the affected locations, to help control the disease to aid in early detection.

The Syrian Ministry of Health acted after several appeals by civilians residing in the area as they noticed the disease spreading among their children. Al-Tawil said that this rapid spread was due to the fact that all the infected people have lately returned to their original areas which lack medical centers.

Autonomous administration areas
-------------------------------
According to Euphrates Post network, leishmaniasis is also widely spread in areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). In its post on [Sun 1 Dec 2019], the network claimed that the spread of leishmaniasis is mostly concentrated in the eastern countryside of Deir ez-Zor.

According to the network, unofficial statistics by the SDF-affiliated local council shows more than 7000 leishmaniasis infections among children in al-Baghouz, Hajin, Diban, al-Sha'afa, al-Kishkiye, Abu Hamam, and Gharanij. The local councils' attempts of controlling the disease are still substandard, according to the Euphrates Post.

The network also quoted doctors and nurses calling for international organizations to interfere and provide hospitals and clinics with the required vaccine [there is no vaccine for leishmaniasis; ed.], and to train specialized medical staff in each clinic to deal with the disease.

The autonomous-administration-affiliated media center in Deir ez-Zor also confirmed the spread of leishmaniasis and pointed out that the authorities took actions, by the end of November [2019], to provide treatments.

According to the media center, special medical teams and cadres were distributed among the clinics to provide 12,000 ampoules of the required [medicine] to treat leishmaniasis with the support of the World Health Organization.

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease transmitted by the bite of infected female phlebotomine sandflies -- a very small yellow fly that is active at night and makes no sound when it bites -- and the main cause for its spread is dirt and lack of hygiene.  [Byline: Enab Baladi]
========================
[Deir ez-Zor is east and south of the locations in the previous ProMED reports (see below), indicating further increase in cases of cutaneous leishmaniasis beyond its historical concentration in western Syria (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4861536/>) and beyond the area of the MENTOR initiative in northern Syria (<https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/24/11/17-2146_article>).

Cutaneous leishmaniasis is endemic in Syria with its reservoir in rodents. It has been a problem throughout the Syrian civil war and in ISIS controlled areas during the war due to a breakdown in rodent and vector control. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[Maps of Syria:
Date: Tue 3 Dec 2019
Source: Twitter feed in Arabic [machine trans., edited]

Taiz health official: 24 laboratory-confirmed cases of West Nile virus and more than 300 suspected cases. #Republic_Yemen
===================
[Any information on the actual number of WNV cases, their lab confirmation, and public health response activities in this regard will be highly appreciated. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Yemen: