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Afghanistan

Afghanistal US Consular Information Sheet March 03, 2009


COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:


Afghanistan has made significant progress since the Taliban were deposed in 2001, but still faces daunting challenges, including de

eating terrorists and insurgents, recovering from over three decades of civil strife, dealing with years of severe drought and rebuilding a shattered physical, economic and political infrastructure. Coalition and NATO forces under ISAF work in partnership with Afghan security forces to combat Taliban and al-Qa’ida elements who seek to terrorize the population and challenge the government. Violence in 2008 reached unprecedented levels, as both ISAF/Afghan forces and the Taliban initiated more battles than ever before. President Hamid Karzai was sworn in as President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on December 7, 2004 and the Afghan Parliament was subsequently convened in late 2005. The government is working to develop a more effective police force, a more robust legal system, and sub-national institutions that work in partnership with traditional and local leaders to meet the needs of the population. The U.S. works closely with the international community to provide coordinated support for these efforts. An Afghanistan-hosted Peace Jirga with Pakistan resulted in a commitment to cooperate in combating terrorism, facilitate the return of Afghan refugees, and support regional economic activity. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Afghanistan for additional information.


ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:


 A passport and valid visa are required to enter and exit Afghanistan. Afghan entry visas are not available at Kabul International Airport or any other ports of entry in Afghanistan. American citizens who arrive without a visa are subject to confiscation of their passport and face heavy fines and difficulties in retrieving their passport and obtaining a visa, as well as possible deportation from the country. Americans arriving in the country via military air usually have considerable difficulties if they choose to depart Afghanistan on commercial air, because their passports are not stamped to show that they entered the country legally. Those coming on military air should move quickly after arrival to legalize their status if there is any chance they will depart the country on anything other than military air. Visit the Embassy of Afghanistan web site at http://www.embassyofafghanistan.org for the most current visa information. The Consular office of the Embassy of Afghanistan is located at 2233 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Suite 216, Washington, DC 20007, phone number 202-298-9125. 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:


The latest Travel Warning for Afghanistan emphasizes that the security situation remains critical for American citizens. The Taliban and associated insurgent groups, al-Qaida network terrorist organizations, and narco-traffickers oppose the strengthening of a democratic government. These groups aim to weaken or bring down the Government of Afghanistan and to drive Westerners out of the country. They do not hesitate to use violence, including targeting civilians. Terrorist activities may include, but are not limited to bombings -- including improvised explosive devices and car bombs -- assassinations, carjackings, rocket attacks, assaults and kidnappings. There were over 120 suicide attacks in 2008. There is an ongoing threat to attack and kidnap U.S. citizens and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) workers throughout the country. In 2008,, more than 30 NGO workers were killed (six foreigners) and at least 78 NGO staff members (seven foreigners) were abducted. Over 25 other foreign civilians, including journalists, were kidnapped. Kabul continues to experience suicide bombings against Afghan government personnel and installations, Afghan and coalition military assets, and international civilians. Riots -- sometimes violent -- have occurred in response to various political or other issues. Crime, including violent crime, remains a significant problem. Official Americans' use of the Kabul-Jalalabad, Kabul-Kandahar highways and other roads throughout the country is often restricted or completely curtailed because of security concerns. Insurgents continue to use roadside and car bombs to conduct attacks and abductions along major highways. Millions of unexploded land mines and other ordinance present a constant danger. The country faces a difficult period in the near term, and American citizens could be targeted or placed at risk by unpredictable local events. Americans should not come to Afghanistan unless they have made arrangements in advance to address security concerns. The absence of records for ownership of property, differing laws from various regimes and the chaos that comes from decades of civil strife have left property issues in great disorder. Afghan-Americans returning to Afghanistan to recover property, or Americans coming to the country to engage in business, have become involved in complicated real estate disputes and have faced threats of retaliatory action, including kidnapping for ransom and death. Large parts of Afghanistan are extremely isolated, with few roads, mostly in poor condition, irregular cell phone signals, and none of the basic physical infrastructure found in Kabul or the larger cities. Americans traveling in these areas who find themselves in trouble may not even have a way to communicate their difficulties to the outside world. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.


CRIME:


 A large portion of the Afghan population is unemployed, and many among the unemployed have moved to urban areas. Basic services are rudimentary or non-existent. These factors may directly contribute to crime and lawlessness. Diplomats and international relief workers have reported incidents of robberies and household burglaries as well as kidnappings and assault. Any American citizen who enters Afghanistan should remain vigilant for possible banditry, including violent attacks.


INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:


The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Kabul for assistance. The Embassy 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 provide a list of attorneys if needed. The local equivalent to the "911" emergency line in Afghanistan is: 119 Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.


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 Afghanistan’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. During the last several years, there have been incidents involving the arrest and/or detention of U.S. citizens. Arrested Americans have faced periods of detention—sometimes in difficult conditions—while awaiting trial. Penalties for possession or use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Afghanistan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Another sensitive activity is proselytizing. Although the Afghan Constitution allows the free exercise of religion, proselytizing is often viewed as contrary to the beliefs of Islam and considered harmful to society. Proselytizing may lead to arrest and/or deportation. 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.


SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:


Because of the poor infrastructure in Afghanistan, access to banking facilities is limited and unreliable. Afghanistan's economy operates on a "cash-only" basis for most transactions. Credit card transactions are not available. International bank transfers are limited. Some ATM machines exist at Standard Charter Bank and Afghan International Bank (AIB) in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood of Kabul, but some travelers have complained of difficulties using them. International communications are difficult. Local telephone networks do not operate reliably. Most people rely on satellite or cellular telephone communications even to make local calls. Cellular phone service is available locally in Kabul and some other cities, but can be unreliable. Injured or distressed foreigners could face long delays before being able to communicate their needs to family or colleagues outside of Afghanistan. Internet access through local service providers is limited. In addition to being subject to all Afghan laws, U.S. citizens who are also citizens of Afghanistan may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on Afghan citizens. U.S. citizens who are also Afghan nationals do not require visas for entry into Afghanistan. The Embassy of Afghanistan issues a letter confirming your nationality for entry into Afghanistan. However, you may wish to obtain a visa as some Afghan-Americans have experienced difficulties at land border crossings because they do not have a visa in their passport. For additional information on dual nationality in general, see the Consular Affairs home page for our dual nationality flyer. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passport with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available. As stated in the Travel Warning, consular assistance for American citizens in Afghanistan is limited. Islam provides the foundation of Afghanistan's customs, laws and practices. Foreign visitors -- men and women -- are expected to remain sensitive to the Islamic culture and not dress in a revealing or provocative manner, including the wearing of sleeveless shirts and blouses, halter-tops and shorts. Women in particular, especially when traveling outside of Kabul, may want to ensure that their tops have long sleeves and cover their collarbone and waistband, and that their pants/skirts cover their ankles. Almost all women in Afghanistan cover their hair in public; American women visitors should carry scarves for this purpose. Afghan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Afghanistan of items such as firearms, alcoholic beverages, religious materials, antiquities, medications, and printed materials. American travelers have faced fines and/or confiscation of items considered antiquities upon exiting Afghanistan. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements. Travelers en route to Afghanistan may transit countries that have restrictions on firearms, including antique or display models. If you plan to take firearms or ammunition to another country, you should contact officials at that country's embassy and those that you will be transiting to learn about their regulations and fully comply with those regulations before traveling. Please consult http://www.customs.gov for information on importing firearms into the United States. Please see our Customs Information sheet.


MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:


Well-equipped medical facilities are few and far between throughout Afghanistan. European and American medicines are available in limited quantities and may be expensive or difficult to locate. There is a shortage of basic medical supplies. Basic medicines manufactured in Iran, Pakistan, and India are available, but their reliability can be questionable. Several western-style private clinics have opened in Kabul: the DK-German Medical Diagnostic Center (www.medical-kabul.com), Acomet Family Hospital (www.afghancomet.com), and CURE International Hospital (ph. 079-883-830) offer a variety of basic and routine-type care; Americans seeking treatment should request American or Western health practitioners. Afghan public hospitals should be avoided. Individuals without government licenses or even medical degrees often operate private clinics; there is no public agency that monitors their operations. Travelers will not be able to find Western-trained medical personnel in most parts of the country outside of Kabul, although there are some international aid groups temporarily providing basic medical assistance in various cities and villages. For any medical treatment, payment is required in advance. Commercial medical evacuation capability from Afghanistan is limited and could take days to arrange. Even medevac companies that claim to service the world may not agree to come to Afghanistan. Those with medevac insurance should confirm with the insurance provider that it will be able to provide medevac assistance to this country. There have been outbreaks of Avian Influenza in poultry in Afghanistan, to include the areas of Nangahar, Laghman, and Wardak provinces, and in the city of Kabul, however, there have been no reported cases of the H5N1 virus in humans. Updates on the Avian Influenza situation in Afghanistan are published on the Embassy’s web site at http://kabul.usembassy.gov/information_for_travelers.html. For additional information on Avian Influenza, please refer to the Department of State's Avian Influenza Fact Sheet available at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/health/health_1181.html Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Afghanistan. For further information, please consult the CDC's Travel Notice on TB. 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 Afghanistan. However, if one has questions, please inquire directly with the Embassy of Afghanistan at http://www.embassyofafghanistan.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 and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site. Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.


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 Afghanistan is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. All drivers face the potential danger of encountering improvised-explosive devices and land mines that may have been planted on or near roadways. An estimated 5-7 million landmines and large quantities of unexploded ordinance exist throughout the countryside and alongside roads, posing a danger to travelers. Robbery and kidnappings are also prevalent on highways outside of Kabul. The transportation system in Afghanistan is marginal, although the international community is constructing modern highways and provincial roads. Vehicles are poorly maintained, often overloaded, and traffic laws are not enforced. Vehicular traffic is chaotic and must contend with numerous pedestrians, bicyclists and animals. Many urban streets have large potholes and are not well lit. Rural roads are not paved. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.


AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:


As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Afghanistan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s internet website at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa. U.S. Government personnel are not authorized to travel on Ariana Afghan Airlines or any other airline falling under the oversight of the Government of Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority, owing to safety concerns; however, U.S. Government personnel are permitted to travel on international flights operated by airlines from countries whose civil aviation authorities meet international aviation safety standards for the oversight of their air carrier operations under the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program.


CHILDREN'S ISSUES:


 For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction. R


EGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:


Americans living or traveling in Afghanistan are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Afghanistan. Americans without internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located in Kabul on Great Massoud (Airport) Road, local phone number 0700-108-001 or 0700-108-002, and for emergencies after hours 0700-201-908. The web site is http://kabul.usembassy.gov/ * * * * * This replaces the Country Specific Information dated June 16, 2008 to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Information for Victims of Crime, Criminal Penalties, Special Circumstances, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sun 1 Sep 2019
Source: MENAFN - Afghanistan Times [edited]

Two new polio cases have surfaced separately in capital city of Tirinkot and Chora district of southern Uruzgan [Oruzgan] province, a statement from the relevant ministry said [Sun 1 Sep 2019].

A 30-month-old child and another 6-month-old infant were permanently paralyzed as a result of the polio virus.

According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), the total number of polio cases in 2019 reached 15 with the 2 new cases, saying all of these cases had been reported from inaccessible areas.

"Of the 15 polio cases this year [2019], 14 have been reported from the southern region of Afghanistan,' the statement said, adding "7 positive cases came from [Oruzgan], 5 from Helmand, and 2 other from Kandahar."

Only 1 out of 12 polio cases was reported from eastern Kunar province while the rest happened in the southern zone.

"Access to health services is the right of every citizen of the country," said Dr Ferozuddin Feroz, the Minister of Public Health. "We are deeply concerned about the increasing polio cases and the number of children who still don't have consistent and proper access to vaccination," he added.

He said the virus could spread further in the country and more children would be affected and paralyzed by polio virus.

He called upon people to 'work together and protect innocent children against polio and facilitate a safe and secure environment for our frontline workers in order to enable them administer vaccine drops to children in every nook and cranny of the country."

Polio is a crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease. There is no cure and the vaccine is the only safe and effective way to protect children.

The polio vaccine is safe and harmless for new-born children whether they are sick or not. It is very important that new-borns and sick children get the vaccine because they may have lower immunity which makes them more susceptible to the virus.

Polio vaccination has also been strongly endorsed by national and global Islamic scholars.
========================
[As I mentioned in the moderator comment of the last post (Poliomyelitis update (71): global (Pakistan, Congo DR) http://promedmail.org/post/20190901.6651501), "While there have been no newly confirmed cases reported from Afghanistan this week nor have there been positive environmental samples reported from either Pakistan or Afghanistan, it doesn't mean the virus is not still circulating, just that there aren't new confirmations." Unfortunately there were cases under investigation.

As correctly stated in the media report above, the addition of these 2 newly confirmed cases brings the number of confirmed WPV1 cases reported by Afghanistan during 2019 to date to 15.

Oruzgan is located in the central part of Afghanistan, sharing southern and southwestern borders with Kandahar and Helmand provinces where other polio cases have been reported this year (2019) as well (<http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/middle_east_and_asia/afghanistan_admin-2009.jpg>).

HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Afghanistan:
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2019 13:26:06 +0200 (METDST)

Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - Scores of people including children were wounded Monday after a series of explosions shook the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, as the country's independence day was marred by bloodshed.

As many as 10 blasts were reported in and around the city in Nangarhar province, authorities said, and casualty numbers rose as the day wore on.   "The explosions were caused by IEDs in different parts of the city and as groups of people were celebrating independence day," the Nangarhar governor's spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said, referring to improvised explosive devices.   Jalalabad is the scene of frequent bomb attacks, and the surrounding terrain is home to both Taliban fighters and the Islamic State group's local affiliate.

At least 52 people were wounded, Khogyani said. Zaher Adel, a spokesman for a local hospital, said 66 wounded people had been brought in. An AFP correspondent saw children among the victims.   This year's August 19 celebrations mark 100 years of Afghan independence from British influence.   The day was supposed to be one of national pride and unity, but was overshadowed by an IS suicide attack Saturday on a crowded Kabul wedding hall that killed at least 63 people.

In Kabul, locals took to the streets to wave the black-red-and-green Afghan flag, but several public events to commemorate the date were scrapped as Kabul mourns and due to fears of a fresh attack.    "We postponed the celebrations to honour the victims, but we will definitely take revenge for our people," Afghan President Ahraf Ghani said.   "We will avenge the blood of our people, every drop of it."

Mayhem from Afghanistan's war continues to wreak havoc on Afghans every day, even though the US and the Taliban are in final negotiations for a deal that would see US troops begin to quit Afghanistan and could potentially lead to a reduction in violence.
Date: Sun, 18 Aug 2019 11:47:26 +0200 (METDST)
By By Emal Haidary and Mushtaq Mojaddidi

Kabul, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Joy and celebration turned into horror and carnage when a suicide bomber targeted a packed Afghan wedding hall, killing at least 63 people in the deadliest attack to rock Kabul in months, officials and witnesses said Sunday.   The massive blast, which took place late Saturday in west Kabul, came as Washington and the Taliban finalise a deal to reduce the US military presence in Afghanistan and hopefully build a roadmap to a ceasefire.   The groom recalled greeting smiling guests in the afternoon, before seeing their bodies being carried out hours later.

The attack "changed my happiness to sorrow", the young man, who gave his name as Mirwais, told local TV station Tolo News.   "My family, my bride are in shock, they cannot even speak. My bride keeps fainting," he said.   "I lost my brother, I lost my friends, I lost my relatives. I will never see happiness in my life again."   Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said at least 63 people had been killed and 182 injured.   "Among the wounded are women and children," Rahimi said. Earlier he stated a suicide bomber carried out the attack.

Afghan weddings are epic and vibrant affairs, with hundreds or often thousands of guests celebrating for hours inside industrial-scale wedding halls where the men are usually segregated from the women and children.   "The wedding guests were dancing and celebrating the party when the blast happened," recounted Munir Ahmad, 23, who was seriously injured and whose cousin was among the dead.   "Following the explosion, there was total chaos. Everyone was screaming and crying for their loved ones," he told AFP from his bed in a local hospital, where he is being treated for shrapnel wounds.

Images from inside the hall showed blood-stained bodies on the ground along with pieces of flesh and torn clothes, hats, sandals and bottles of mineral water. The huge blast ripped parts of the ceiling off.   The wedding was believed to be a Shia gathering. Shia Muslims are frequently targeted in Sunni-majority Afghanistan, particularly by the so-called Islamic State group, which is also active in Kabul but did not immediately issue any claim of responsibility.

Wedding guest Hameed Quresh told AFP the young couple were saying their vows when the bomb went off.    "We fainted following the blast, and we don't know who brought us to the hospital," sobbed Quresh, who lost one brother and was himself wounded.   Another guest told Tolo that some 1,200 people had been invited. With low security, weddings are seen as easy targets.   The attack sent a wave of grief through a city grimly accustomed to atrocities. President Ashraf Ghani called it "barbaric", while Afghanistan's chief executive Abdullah Abdullah described it as a "crime against humanity".

- Withdrawal deal expected -
The attack underscores both the inadequacy of Afghanistan's security forces and the scale of the problem they face. While the police and army claim they prevent most bombings from ever happening, the fact remains that insurgents pull off horrific attacks with chilling regularity.   On July 28, at least 20 people were killed when attackers targeted Ghani's running mate Amrullah Saleh as he campaigned in presidential elections.    The incident showed how even amid tight security and known threats, insurgents can conduct brazen attacks.   The issue also goes to the heart of a prospective deal between the US and the Taliban that would see Washington begin to withdraw its approximately 14,000 soldiers from Afghanistan.

The deal relies on the Taliban providing guarantees they will stop jihadist groups such as Al-Qaeda and IS from using Afghanistan as a safe haven. Saturday's attack suggests any such promise would be tough to keep.   The "Taliban cannot absolve themselves of blame, for they provide platform for terrorists," Ghani said.   Few believe such a deal will bring quick peace.

Many Afghans fear the Taliban could return, eroding hard-won rights for women in particular and leading to a spiralling civil war.   Meanwhile, in the northern province of Balkh, 11 members of the same family were killed when their car hit a roadside bomb, officials said. The provincial governor blamed the Taliban for planting the device.
Date: Mon, 1 Jul 2019 11:19:17 +0200

Kabul, July 1, 2019 (AFP) - At least one person was killed and dozens wounded in a Taliban-claimed attack which saw a powerful car bomb rock Kabul early Monday, followed by gunmen who battled special forces in an area housing military and government buildings.   Many children were among the wounded, according to a hospital statement, after the rush-hour explosion sent a plume of smoke into the air above the Puli Mahmood Khan neighbourhood of the Afghan capital and shook buildings up to two kilometres (1.2 miles) away.

AFP reporters could hear gunshots and multiple smaller explosions as fighting between the gunmen and special forces continued more than four hours after the attack began.   "At first, a car bomb took place and then several attackers took over a building. The area is cordoned off by the police special forces and (they) are bringing down the attackers," interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said.    He later said that at least one attacker had been killed.   Health ministry spokesman Wahidullah Mayar said that at least one person had been killed and 65 wounded -- including nine children -- and warned that casualties could rise.   "Among the wounded, many children who were going to school," said the Twitter account of the Emergency Hospital in Kabul, where many victims were taken.   Some social media images purportedly taken at the hospital showed wounded, stunned children in school uniforms, still clutching books as they arrived for treatment.

The Taliban claimed the attack, which came just two days after the insurgents began a seventh round of talks with the US in Qatar as Washington eyes a breakthrough before Afghanistan's September presidential election.   Militant spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid released a statement saying the insurgents had targeted a defence ministry building in the area, which was quickly blocked off by Afghan forces and ambulances, with helicopter gunships seen overhead as firing continued.   Authorities have not confirmed the target.    "We were sitting inside the office when the world turned upside down on us," Zaher Usman, an employee at a branch of the culture ministry, which he said stands just 150 metres (yards) from the blast.

- Brief lockdown -
"When I opened my eyes, the office was filled with smoke and dust and everything was broken, my colleagues were screaming," Usman told AFP by telephone.   Shams Amini, a spokesman for the Afghan Football Federation, told AFP that the blast occurred near their HQ gates, and said some colleagues had been injured.   Nearby Shamshad TV station, which was attacked in 2017, aired images of broken glass and damage to its offices. "I was terrified," Shamshad anchor Hashmat Stanikzai told AFP.

The explosion came as the US was set to begin a third day of negotiations with the militants in Doha. There was no immediate confirmation if they would go ahead after the blast.   With the attack still ongoing, the Taliban spokesman in Doha again insisted that the insurgents will not negotiate with Kabul.   "Once the timeline for the withdrawal of foreign forces is set in the presence of international observers, then we will begin the talks to the Afghan sides, but we will not talk to the Kabul administration as a government," Suhail Shaheen tweeted. 

The insurgents have long refused to negotiate with the Western-backed government, whom they deem puppets.   The talks have so far centred on four issues -- counter-terrorism, the foreign troop presence, an intra-Afghan dialogue and a permanent ceasefire.   A potential deal would see the US agree to withdraw its troops after more than 17 years in Afghanistan, igniting deep concerns among Afghans who fear Washington will rush for the exits and allow the militants to return to some semblance of power.   In return, the Taliban would guarantee the country would never again become a safe haven for violent extremism, as happened with Al-Qaeda before the September 11, 2001 attacks.   However, US officials have insisted that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed", including intra-Afghan talks.
Date 24 Jun 2019
Source: Mena FN [edited]

The number of polio positive cases in Afghanistan has reached 10 so far in 2019, with 4 cases reported from Uruzgan [Oruzgan] province and 1 new case detected in the Mehr Abad area of Tirinkot, the provincial capital.

According to Ministry of Public Health, a 21-month-old girl is permanently paralyzed in Tirinkot, making 10 cases of polio in Afghanistan so far [in 2019].

The Health ministry in a statement said that last week, another polio case was reported from Trinkot, which paralyzed a 30-month-old boy [see Poliomyelitis update (50): Afghanistan (OZ) http://promedmail.org/post/20190619.6528976].

House-to-house polio campaigns have been banned in this area since May 2018. This means children under [5 years of age] living in the area have not been vaccinated and protected from the virus since then, the ministry added.

Only one out of 10 polio cases were reported from Eastern Kunar province, while the rest have been reported from the southern region: 4 cases in Urozgan [Oruzgan], 3 in Helmand and 2 cases in Kandahar.

"Access to health services is the right of every citizen of the country," said Dr. Ferozuddin Feroz, the Minister of Public Health of Afghanistan. "We are deeply concerned about the increasing polio cases and the number of children who still don't have consistent access to vaccination. The virus could spread, and more children will be affected and paralyzed by polio virus in Afghanistan. I ask everyone to work together and protect innocent children against polio, to provide a safe and secure environment for our frontline workers to vaccinate children in every corner of the country."

The polio vaccine is safe, even for sick and new-born children. It is very important that new-borns and sick children get the vaccine, because they may have lower immunity, which makes them more susceptible to the virus.

Polio vaccination has also been strongly endorsed by national and global Islamic scholars, the statement added.
======================
[In last week's report on the 30-month-old male child from Oruzgan, there was mention that the vaccination teams were unable to enter the zone where the child lived due to security concerns. The media report above mentions there haven't been vaccinations provided through household visits in this zone since May 2018.

Oruzgan is located in the central part of Afghanistan, sharing southern and southwestern borders with Kandahar and Helmand provinces where other polio cases have been reported this year (2019) as well (<https://www.afghana.com/GetLocal/Afghanistan/Provinces.htm>).

With the addition of this newly confirmed case, there have now been 10 cases of confirmed poliomyelitis reported from Afghanistan since the beginning of 2019. Add these to the 27 cases confirmed in Pakistan, and there are now 37 cases reported this year (2019), 4 more than the total number of cases reported during 2018.

HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/1257>  - ProMED Mod.MPP]
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Comoros

Comoros US Consular Information Sheet
May 21, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Union of the Comoros is a developing nation located in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa.
Comoros consists of three islands, Ngazidja (also known
s Grand Comore), Moheli, and Anjouan, that cover about 900 square miles.
A fourth island, Mayotte, is claimed by Comoros but remains a territory of France.
Ngazidja is home to the capital city, Moroni, and is the most developed of the three islands.
Facilities for tourism are limited and telecommunication links are unreliable.
French, Arabic, Swahili, and Comorian Creole are spoken.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on the Union of Comoros for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and onward/return ticket are required.
Visas are available from the Comoran Mission to the United Nations in New York; American citizens visiting Comoros can obtain a free, 24-hour transit visa upon entry.
The following day, visitors are required to go to the immigration office in Moroni to change their visa status.
A fee is charged, depending on length of stay.
Travelers should obtain the latest details from the Mission of the Union of Comoros, 420 East 50th Street, New York, NY 10022; telephone number (212) 972-8010, fax (212) 983-4712.

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:
Comoros has experienced frequent strikes and civil unrest, resulting in violent clashes between police and demonstrators.
The most recent unrest involved the de facto separation of Anjouan from the Union government.
In March 2008, Union forces re-took Anjouan and are preparing the island for elections.
The former leader of Anjouan, Mohamed Bacar, has applied for asylum with France and is being held on the French Island of Reunion while his asylum claims is adjudicated.
As the government completes the transition to constitutional federalism and as Bacar’s asylum claim is pending, periodic strikes and protests will likely continue to occur.
U.S. citizens should avoid political rallies and street demonstrations as even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.
American citizens are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations.
Conditions are subject to rapid change on each of the three islands of the Comoros due to weak political institutions and a lack of economic development.
In a rare, apparently religious-based attack, a clinic run by a foreign Christian organization was firebombed on the island of Grande Comore in August 2007.
Religious intolerance and religious-based violence remain very unusual in Comoros.

Although foreign residents and visitors have not been targeted, the potential for further outbreaks of civil disorder remains high, and Americans should exercise caution and good judgment, keep a low profile, and remain vigilant with regard to their personal security.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Antananarivo, Madagascar, if visiting or residing in Comoros.
Embassy contact information is provided below.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Public Announcements, including the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
U.S. travelers are advised to be vigilant against pick-pocketing and other forms of petty crime when visiting crowded market areas, parks, and at the beaches.
Violent crime is uncommon.
The most commonly reported crime is breaking into homes.
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, help you find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities in Comoros are poorly equipped.
Travelers should bring their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. Malaria is prevalent in Comoros.
Travelers to Comoros should take malaria prophylaxis.
The serious and sometimes fatal strain of malaria, P. falciparum, is resistant to the anti-malarial drug chloroquine.
Because travelers to Comoros are at high risk for contracting malaria, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that travelers should take one of the following antimalarial drugs: mefloquine (Lariam™), doxycycline, or atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone™).
The CDC has determined that a traveler who is on an appropriate antimalarial drug has a greatly reduced chance of contracting the disease.
In addition, other personal protective measures, such as the use of insect repellents, help to reduce malaria risk.
Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area and up to one year after returning home should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician their travel history and what antimalarials they have been taking.
For additional information on malaria, protection from insect bites, and anitmalarial drugs, please visit the CDC Travelers' Health web pages.
The East African Indian Ocean islands have seen a rise in the cases of chikungunya, a viral dengue-like ailment, and dengue itself.
As with malaria, chikungunya and dengue are transmitted by mosquitoes.
Every effort should be made to use repellants, proper clothing and barriers that discourage/prevent mosquito bites.
The CDC web site contains further information on chikungunya at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/chikungunya/ and dengue at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-DengueFever.aspx.
There have been occurrences of measles in Comoros, with outbreaks of greater severity on the islands of Anjouan and Moheli.
Travelers are advised to ensure that their measles vaccinations are up to date.
Further, information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and if it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Comoros is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
In Comoros, one drives on the right side of the street.
Roads are ill-maintained, congested, very narrow and poorly lit at night.
Travelers should exercise extreme caution when driving after dark.
Most urban roads are paved, but many rural roads are not.
Many roads are full of potholes and dangerous curves.
Most roads have no posted speed limits, but road conditions limit speeds to below 30 miles an hour.
Drivers and front seat passengers are required to wear seat belts.
There are no laws regarding child safety seats.
There are no organizations in Comoros that provide emergency or roadside assistance.
Individuals involved in accidents rely on passersby for assistance.
Taxis or a rental car with driver are preferable to public transportation.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Comoros, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Comoros’ Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: While religions other than Islam are permitted in Comoros, evangelization is illegal.
Violators of this law can be fined or imprisoned.
Few establishments accept credit cards in the Comoros and most prefer Comoran Francs or Euros to dollars.
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 the laws of Comoros, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Comoros are strict, with convicted offenders receiving a mandatory minimum five-year jail sentence and heavy fines.
Engaging in sex 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:
The United States has no Embassy in Comoros.
Americans living or traveling in Comoros are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Antananarivo, Madagascar through the State Department's travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Comoros.
Americans without Internet access may register in person at the U.S. Embassy in Antananarivo.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at 14-16 Rue Rainitovo, Antsahavola, Antananarivo.
The mailing address is B.P. 620, Antsahavola, Antananarivo, Madagascar; telephone [261] (20) 22-212-57; fax [261] (20) 22-345-39.
The Embassy web site is http://www.usmission.mg/.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated October 26, 2007 to update the section on Safety and Security.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat 11 May 2019
Source: Revue Francophone des Laboratoires May 2019, no. 512, p. 18 [in French, transl., abridged, edited]

In February 2019, 63 cases of Rift Valley fever were diagnosed by PCR at the Mayotte hospital laboratory. The first 5 cases were detected in November 2018 by the hospital laboratory and confirmed by the Reunion Reference Center. The vector control center and the health emergency unit of the ARS OI [The Indian Ocean Health Agency] were able to analyze the epidemiology of 36 cases: 21 subjects had been in direct contact with animals and 5 others lived nearby; the last 5 declared no direct or indirect contact with animals. In addition, in 15 cases, patients had consumed raw or curdled milk. Finally, it is interesting to note that 21 patients resided in the communes of west-central Mayotte. With regard to the 63 confirmed cases, the average age of the patients was 38 years (range, 10 to 74 years), of which 16% were under 20 years, with a male/female sex ratio of 4. In addition, 29 patients lived in rural or semi-urban dwellings, 9 of whom lived in traditional huts. In terms of symptoms, 24 patients had headache, 19 arthralgia, 17 myalgia, 14 asthenia, 6 retro-orbital pain, and 6 nausea and vomiting. An entomological survey found several mosquito species, especially _Culex_, _Aedes_, _Anopheles_ and _Mansonia_.

At the same time, samples taken from farms in which abortions were reported identified 33 outbreaks of 1 to 6 animals, including 25 cattle and 8 small ruminants [the figures have increased since; see in comments].

Rift Valley fever, which has been present in Mayotte for a long time, had disappeared in the past decade, with 10 patients detected in 2008 following an epidemic in Kenya. Then there was a steady regression of verified seroprevalence on ruminants. But this seroprevalence rose to 3.6% in 2017 and then to 10.1% in 2018, indicating a new circulation of the virus. This is probably due to illegal and continuous importation of contaminated livestock.  [By: Dr. Patrice Bouree]
============================
[Mayotte's health authorities published on Sat 11 May 2019 the following update.

"Epidemiological situation as of May 10, 2019. In total, since the beginning of the epidemic (end of November 2018):
1. Animals.
Samples taken by veterinarians on sick animals or during abortions have identified 119 foci of sick animals (of which 95 are cattle and 24 small ruminants). Animal foci are mainly located in the center and northwest of the island. Additional outbreaks have appeared since the end of March [2019] in the communes of Dembeni, as well as on Petite Terre.
2. Humans.
The CHM laboratory reported 130 human cases of RVF [Rift Valley fever] at the monitoring and health emergencies platform of the ARS OI (CVAGS) of Mayotte.

The number of reported cases has remained stable since the beginning of April [2019] (on average, 4 to 5 reported cases per week). Since the beginning of the health alert, human cases have remained mainly in the center and northwest of the island." (<https://lejournaldemayotte.yt/2019/05/11/fievre-de-la-vallee-du-rift-a-mayotte-stabilite-du-nombre-de-nouveaux-cas/>).

Application of the following measures will contribute to the prevention of future RVF events in animals and humans in Mayotte:
1. Preventing illegal introduction of ruminants;
2. Preventive vaccination of cattle, sheep and goats (preferably, with an inactivated RVF vaccine; see http://promedmail.org/post/20190422.6434655). - ProMED Mod.AS]

[It would be of interest to know what role, if any, mosquito vectors are playing in transmission of RVF virus during the current outbreak. If _Aedes_ mosquitoes are involved, there is a risk of transovarial transmission of the virus that can persist for months in mosquito eggs with resumption of transmission when those eggs hatch and infected adult female mosquitoes emerge. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Region d'outre-mer de Mayotte, France:
Date: Mon, 25 Mar 2019 15:42:31 +0100
By Philippe ALFROY

Bambao, Comoros, March 25, 2019 (AFP) - The Bambao hospital, nestled in a tropical forest on Anjouan island in the Comoros, was meant to bring state-of-the-art medical care to the poor Indian Ocean nation.   Just two years later, the hospital is deep in debt and shunned by potential patients who find it too costly.   "A poisoned chalice", "a colossus with feet of clay", "a sinking ship" are among the cliches that chief paediatrician Ahmed Rakibou used to describe the facility funded and built under a Chinese aid scheme.   "If they had consulted us while building it, this could have been a jewel," the doctor said, regretting that "today it's all going straight to hell".   The hospital is some 30 kilometres (about 20 miles) east of Mutsamudu, the capital of Anjouan, the poorest of the three islands comprising the Union of the Comoros.

The aim was to make the hospital a flagship of Comoran healthcare, with 120 beds in a brand-new building, a team of 167 staff, many recruited locally, and modern equipment including a digital radio scanner.   China's ambassador to the Comoros, Xiao Ming, hailed a "new page in the annals of cooperation" at the opening ceremony, saying "public health has always had a priority place in Sino-Comoran cooperation".   But a project that cost four billion Comoran francs (8.1 million euros, $9.2 billion) today looks more like a ghost ship, with a handful of patients wandering its corridors in stifling heat. For lack of funds, about 100 staff jobs have not been filled.

- 'Not many patients' -
In the emergency ward, a doctor silently examines a child's injured arm. The lethargic mood is broken only by the arrival of an ambulance carrying the victim of a motorcycle accident.   "Our activity is very varied," nurse Ali Mosthadoi says cautiously before going further. "In fact, we don't have many patients."

Deputy director Sidi Chaanbane was more forthcoming. Since the hospital was opened by President Azali Assoumani in 2017, it has faced mounting difficulties, he said.   "At the start, the road from Mutsamudu was in a very bad state and patients had trouble getting here," the administrator said. "It's been repaired since, but our real problem is that we sorely lack equipment and staff."   In addition to staff salaries, the Comoran state provides just five million francs (10,000 euros) a month, but the hospital needs three times as much to pay its bills.   "We can't balance the budget," Chaanbane said.

Day-to-day management is a nightmare. The scanner broke down soon after it was first used. Repairs were not covered by the Chinese cooperation agreement, so the hospital took out a loan to get the machine working again.   The main problem is the cost of treatment, which is not free in the former French colony, independent since 1975.   Much of the funding comes from the French Development Agency (AFD) in its aid budget. France still rules over the fourth major island in the archipelago, Mayotte.   The three islands forming Comoros lack the standard of living on Mayotte and are far from able to make up the remaining health budget.

- 'Expensive' -
Rakibou said the hospital charges 125,000 Comoran francs for a Caesarean birth.   "What Comoran can pay that?" he asks. "No -- this hospital is not made for the population."   Kanissa Adbou, 27, brought her eight-year-old daughter who trod on a nail to the hospital. "The treatment is expensive. If I could afford it, I would go to Mayotte because there, hospital is free."   Those who believed that providing a modern hospital on Anjouan would dissuade Comorans from trying their luck on Mayotte have been disappointed, although the trip is illegal.   "People here prefer to pay 1,000 euros to go to Mayotte by kwassa kwassa (human traffickers' dugouts) than to come to us," a nurse said. "They trust only white doctors."

The failure to put the sophisticated equipment at Bambao to regular good use enrages Ahmed Abdallah, secretary general of the Hombo public hospital in Mutsamudu.   "The money spent there would have been enough to repair our buildings, replace our equipment and build roads so that sick people could come from nearby villages," he said.   "We don't have even a single ambulance, yet the government has I don't know how many four-wheel drives."   Health Minister Fatma Mbaraka declined to respond to requests for comment from AFP.   But Rakibou refuses to throw in the towel. He hopes that the winner of Sunday's presidential election and the international community will come up with increased funding. "It wouldn't take much to change our lives!" he said.
Date: Fri 15 Mar 2019
Source: Le Journal de Mayotte [in French, trans. ProMED B, edited]

The circulation of Rift Valley fever (RVF) continues in Mayotte. An animal disease of viral origin, Rift Valley fever mainly affects domestic ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats), causing abortions and high mortality in young animals. It can be transmitted from the infected animal to humans.

In total, since the beginning of the epidemic (end of November [2018]),
- samples taken by veterinarians from sick animals or during abortions led to the identification of 8 new outbreaks this week [week of Mon 11 Mar 2019], for a total of 60 cases in animals (including 49 cattle). Animal foci are located mainly in the centre and north west of the island;
- a total of 101 human cases of RVF have been reported to the platform/cell watch and health emergencies of the ARS OI (CVAGS) of Mayotte by the CHM laboratory. Of those who could be interviewed, almost 80% report having been in contact with animals;
- since the beginning of the health alert, human cases have been located mainly in the centre and north west of the island, with nearly 60% of cases in Chiconi and Tsingoni.

Since 25 Feb 2019, the weekly number of new human cases has been on the decrease.  [byline: Anne Perzo]
========================
[This Rift Valley fever (RVF) outbreak has been going on since November 2018. The number of human cases of RVF has increased from 82 to 101 in about 2 weeks. However, it is good to learn that the number of new human cases is decreasing. The above report implies that the human infections are the result of contact with infected animals or their products, with fewer from virus transmission by mosquito vectors. The cattle cases certainly are the result of mosquito transmission.

Because RVF virus can be transovarially transmitted in populations of aedes mosquito vectors, and those resulting eggs can persist for a long period of time in nature, cases can occur periodically when the virus-containing eggs hatch, and infected adult females emerge from them. There is a risk that RVF will reappear on the island after the current outbreak has ended.

Recent studies have shown that RVF virus may severely injure human foetuses if contracted by mothers during pregnancy. There is no indication of whether any of the 101 RVF virus-infected people were pregnant. Abortions in infected livestock are common. There is no vaccine available for human use, but there is for livestock. There is no mention of whether the livestock populations in the area have been vaccinated.

The clinical findings related to the above human cases are not mentioned. In an earlier comment, ProMED noted that: "The most common complication associated with RVF is inflammation of the retina. As a result, approximately 1-10% of affected patients may have some permanent vision loss. Approximately 1% of humans that become infected with RVF virus die of the disease." - ProMED

[ealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Region d'outre-mer de Mayotte, France:
Date: Fri 22 Feb 2019
Source: Le Journal de Mayotte [in French, trans. ProMED Corr. SB, edited]

Rift Valley fever (RVF) continues to circulate in Mayotte among the herds of ruminants, and the number of human cases is increasing.

The prefecture of Mayotte, in collaboration with the ARS Indian Ocean and the Directorate of Food, Agriculture and Forestry of Mayotte (DAAF) reminds the population of the importance of implementing recommendations and preventive actions to avoid being ill.

Epidemiological situation as of 22 Feb 2019:
- Samples taken by veterinarians from sick animals or during abortions have identified 33 animal FVR outbreaks.
- Since late November [2018], 63 human cases of RVF have been reported to the monitoring and health emergencies platform of the ARS OI (CVAGS) of Mayotte by the CHM laboratory.

Rift Valley fever (RVF) is a zoonosis (infectious disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans) of viral origin, which mainly affects domestic ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats), causing abortions and high mortality in young animals.

Transmission to humans can occur in different ways:
- By contact with blood, body fluids, or tissues of a sick animal (during slaughter, cutting of meat, calving, care, etc.). The most exposed people are therefore professionals such as breeders, slaughterhouse employees, and veterinarians.
- By mosquito bite, vectors of the disease near infected flocks, often in the rainy seasons.
- When eating unboiled milk or unpasteurized curd from an infected animal.

There is no [direct] person-to-person transmission of RVF [virus].

The disease in humans is usually manifested by an influenza-like illness that clears in a few days and includes symptoms such as high fever (39 deg C [102 deg F]), muscle and / or joint pain, intense headaches, and fatigue. However, in 5% of cases, more serious forms may occur: ocular meningitis / meningoencephalitis, haemorrhagic fever.

Recommendations for protection against the disease-causing virus:

For farmers and people in contact with animals:
- Wash hands with soap after contact with domestic ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats).
- Do not handle unprotected or diseased animals or abortion products without protection.
- Do not handle animal carcasses without protection.
- Wear gloves, goggles, and especially a mask for the slaughter of any animal. Infected animals may have no signs, although they can transmit the virus.

For food consumption:
Transmission by ruminants
- Boil the milk
- Do not consume curd unless it has been boiled and curdled with lactic fermentation.
- Wash hands after cutting meat.
- Do not eat uncooked meat.
- Do not consume the meat of a sick animal.

To protect yourself from mosquito bites:
- Eliminate breeding sites; empty all containers that may contain water.
- Use mosquito nets and repellents.

In case of appearance of symptoms, consult your doctor immediately.

Management measures:
By the Directorate of Food, Agriculture, and Forestry: The monitoring of Rift Valley fever involves the monitoring of abortions. Farmers are asked to report to veterinarians without delay any abortions occurring in their animals in order to take samples for the disease. The prevalence of RVF in the exchange zone with Mayotte being important, the risk of spread of the disease is not negligible in case of uncontrolled import of animals.

By the Indian Ocean Health Agency: Since the1st report, each ill person is interviewed by the ARS Indian Ocean to identify the risk factors for the disease.

A treatment of larval breeding and a mosquito control are done by the service of the Anti-vector Fight [unit] to the homes of the sick persons and around the houses. Information to health professionals was made to strengthen surveillance and identification of human cases.  [Byline: Anne]
======================
[This Rift Valley fever (RVF) outbreak has been going on since November 2018. The numbers of human cases of RVF have increased from 31 to 63 in about 2 weeks. The above report does not indicate whether the human infections are the result of virus transmission by mosquito vectors, but the cattle cases certainly are. Because RVF virus can be transovarially transmitted in populations of _Aedes_ mosquito vectors, and those resulting eggs can persist for a long period of time in nature, cases can occur periodically when the virus-containing eggs hatch and infected adult females emerge from them. Recent studies have shown that RVF virus may severely injure human fetuses if contracted by mothers during pregnancy. There is no indication of whether any of the 63 RVF virus-infected people were pregnant. Abortions in infected livestock are common. There is no vaccine available for human use, but there is for livestock. There is no mention of whether the livestock populations in the area have been vaccinated.

The clinical findings related to the above human cases are not mentioned, but the symptoms associated with RVF infections in general are listed. In an earlier comment, Mod.CP noted that, "The most common complication associated with RVF is inflammation of the retina. As a result, approximately 1-10% of affected patients may have some permanent vision loss. Approximately 1% of humans that become infected with RVF virus die of the disease." - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Region d'outre-mer de Mayotte, France:
Date: Fri 1 Feb 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

In the Indian Ocean, between Madagascar and the coast of Mozambique, sits the archipelago of Mayotte, a Department of France.  Health officials have reported an increase in autochthonous Rift Valley fever (RVF) cases in the past 6 weeks. Since the 1st human case was detected on [Tue 11 Dec 2018], health officials have reported 19 human cases. Most of the cases were located in the western part of the island.  Samples made on ruminants present around human cases were analyzed at CIRAD in Reunion for the search for the RVF virus. The results identified several positive animals in different villages located in west and center of the island.

In addition, an IgM-positive cattle has been reported in Mamoudzou. This 2-year-old cattle belongs to a breeding herd of 8 cattle, including 4 adults and 4 2-month-old calves. Biological control and investigations are underway.  ECDC reports that the detection of autochthonous Rift Valley fever cases on Mayotte is not unexpected, but the occurrence of 19 cases within a short time period is of concern, as current weather conditions (rainy season from November to March) are favorable for the vectors.

Rift Valley fever (RVF) is an illness that is primarily spread by direct contact with blood, fluids, or tissues of infected animals such as cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, and camels. Less commonly, it can also be spread through mosquito bites.  Most people with RVF do not feel sick or have only mild illness. Symptoms of RVF include fever, weakness, back pain, dizziness, and weight loss. However, a small percentage (8-10%) of people may have more serious illness, such as severe bleeding, swelling of the brain, or eye disease. Approximately 1% of people who get RVF die from the disease.  [Byline: Robert Herriman]
*************************************
Date: Sat 2 Feb 2019
Source: ECDC Communicable Diseases Threats Report Week 5, 27 Jan - 2
Feb 2019 [edited]

According to Institut de Veille Sanitaire (InVS), from 11 Dec 2018 - 28 Jan 2019, 19 Rift Valley fever cases were confirmed on Mayotte. All cases were locally acquired. Among these cases, 14 are male and 5 are female, with an age range of 27-64 years.

Most of the cases were located in the western part of the island. Further investigations identified several positive ruminants in the western and central parts of the island.

According to CIRAD, Rift Valley fever seroprevalence among ruminants has decreased from 2008 to 2017, but significantly increased in 2017 and 2018 (3.6%, CI 95% [2.3-5.6%]) and 2018 and 2019 (10.1% CI 95% [6.5-15.3%]). In addition, according to InVS, one case imported from Comoros was reported by authorities on Mayotte in 2011.

The detection of autochthonous Rift Valley fever cases on Mayotte is not unexpected, but the occurrence of 19 cases within a short time period is of concern, as current weather conditions (rainy season from November to March) are favourable for the vectors.

ECDC will continue monitoring this event through epidemic intelligence activities and report again if there is a relevant epidemiological update.

[Map] Distribution of RVF human cases and ruminants, Mayotte, 11 Dec 2018 to 28 Jan 2019

[Graph] Distribution of RVF confirmed human cases, Mayotte, 11 Dec 2018 to 28 Jan 2019

Year-Week / Number of cases
2018-50 / 1
2018-51 / 0
2018-52 / 2
2019-01 / 2
2019-02 / 0
2019-03 / 2
2019-04 / 8
2019-05 / 4
========================
[It is not surprising to have both human and cattle Rift Valley fever (RVF) cases occur simultaneously. The above report does not indicate if the human infections are the result of virus transmission by mosquito vectors, but the cattle cases certainly are. Because RVF virus can be transovarially transmitted in populations of _Aedes_ mosquito vectors, and those resulting eggs can persist for a long period of time in nature, cases can occur periodically when the virus-containing eggs hatch and infected adult females emerge from them. Recent studies have shown that RVF virus may severely injure human fetuses if contracted by mothers during pregnancy. There is no indication if any of the 19 RVF virus-infected people were pregnant. Abortions in infected livestock are common. There is no vaccine available for human use, but there is for livestock.

The clinical findings related to the above human cases are not mentioned. In an earlier comment, ProMED Mod.CP noted that, "The most common complication associated with RVF is inflammation of the retina. As a result, approximately 1-10% of affected patients may have some permanent vision loss. Approximately 1% of humans that become infected with RVF virus die of the disease. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Region d'outre-mer de Mayotte, France:
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Guam

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue 19 Mar 2019
Source: Daily Post [edited]

The Department of Public Health and Social Services is monitoring an outbreak of shigellosis on Guam. Shigellosis is an infectious disease caused by a group of bacteria called _Shigella_. Most who are infected with _Shigella_ develop diarrhoea, fever, and stomach cramps starting a day or 2 after they are exposed to the bacteria.

So far in 2019, a total of 10 cases have been reported, 9 have been confirmed. In 2018, a total of 29 cases of shigellosis were reported; 23 were confirmed.

Shigellosis usually resolves in 5 to 7 days. However some people who are infected may have no symptoms at all, but may still pass the _Shigella_ bacterium to others. The spread of shigellosis can be stopped by frequent and careful hand washing with soap and taking other hygiene measures.
=========================
[_Shigella_ was discovered more than 100 years ago by the Japanese microbiologist Kiyoshi Shiga, for whom the genus is named. There are 4 species: _S. boydii_, _S. dysenteriae_, _S. flexneri_, and _S. sonnei_. _Shigella_ organisms can survive transit through the stomach because they are less susceptible to acid than other bacteria; for this reason, as few as 10 to 100 organisms can cause disease. Ingested bacteria pass into the small intestine where they multiply; large numbers of bacteria then pass into the colon, where they enter the colonic cells. Given its relatively low infectious dose, transmission can occur via contaminated food and water or via direct person-to-person spread, including sexual practices more common in MSM (men who have sex with men). Humans are the only natural reservoir for the disease.

The bacterium is the classical cause of bacterial dysentery (formerly known as flux or the bloody flux) is an inflammatory disorder of the colon, which results in severe diarrhoea containing mucus and/or blood in the faeces with fever, abdominal pain, and rectal tenesmus (pain while passing the diarrhoea).

Guam (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guam>) is an unincorporated and organized territory of the United States in Micronesia in the western Pacific Ocean. It is the easternmost point and territory of the USA, along with the Northern Mariana Islands. The inhabitants of Guam are called Guamanians, and they are American citizens by birth. Indigenous Guamanians are the Chamorros, who are related to other Austronesian natives of Eastern Indonesia and Philippines and Taiwan.  - ProMED Mod. LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Wed, 23 Aug 2017 10:40:35 +0200

Tokyo, Aug 23, 2017 (AFP) - Guam's number two politican Wednesday rolled out the welcome mat to tourists, promising his sun-kissed tropical island is safe -- despite North Korea's threat to launch missiles toward the Pacific US territory.   Lieutenant Governor Raymond Tenorio made the comments in Tokyo where he was joined by Guam's tourism boss Jon Nathan Denight, amid fears that Pyongyang's sabre-rattling will hammer the key tourism industry.

Last year, Japanese tourists made up about half of the 1.5 million visitors to the island, which is about a four-hour flight from Tokyo.   "We're one of the most protected and safe islands you'll find in the world," Tenorio told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan.   He added there was a big US military presence on Guam, a strategic outpost in the Pacific with its own missile defence system.

Added Denight: "Guam's brand image was built as a very safe and family-friendly destination. I want to reassure people of Japan that there has been no change and Guam is safe for travel."   The unusual appeal to tourists comes several weeks after Pyongyang said it was considering firing a salvo of missiles toward the island -- prompting an angry reaction from US President Donald Trump.

Unlike Trump, however, Guam's 162,000-odd residents seem to be taking it all in stride, including Tenorio.   "By and large, 99 percent of our population just go about their lives every single day. Things are normal on Guam," he said.   "I have to admit sometimes it's really hard to do my job in my office. If you look outside...(from) where I'm sitting at my desk many times you'll see dolphins chasing the fish."
Date: Fri, 11 Aug 2017 12:10:33 +0200

Hagatna, Guam, Aug 11, 2017 (AFP) - Tourism-dependent Guam is looking to cash in on its new-found fame as a North Korean missile target, tapping an unlikely promotional opportunity to attract visitors to the idyllic island and prove that all publicity is good publicity.   Pyongyang's threats to launch four missile strikes near the US territory has stirred global curiosity in the remote Pacific destination, with it trending heavily on search engines as social media users wondered, "what is Guam?"

Although Guam hosts two US military installations and 6,000 US soldiers, making it the target of North Korea's wrath, tourism authorities are keen to dispel any impression of danger to the tranquil island and its secluded beaches.   "The circumstances are unfortunate but this is a good opportunity for us to educate the world about Guam and our culture, about where we are, and who we are," said Josh Tyquiengco, marketing director at Guam Visitors Bureau, the official agency for the island.

"Guam is more than a military base. We are a safe family destination. We reassure potential visitors that we continue to be a safe... place to visit," Tyquiengco told AFP.   Despite North Korea's threats to prepare plans within days that would surround Guam with "enveloping fire", fears of a potential attack have not deterred tourists from visiting Guam, he said.   "We heard about a few booking cancellations from South Korea, but it's too minimal to affect the industry," he said. 

Governor Eddie Calvo, in a briefing late Friday, said any attack on Guam "would be met with overwhelming force", pointing out that the biggest threat facing the island was the looming typhoon season.   "With that, everybody should conduct their lives like business as usual. It's the weekend. Go out, have a good time, enjoy the beaches tomorrow and live your lives.   "At this point, there are thousands of tourists coming in on a daily basis... from Japan, (South) Korea, Taiwan and China and other areas. It is our belief that they should enjoy themselves here."

As aircraft after aircraft -- packed with tourists -- landed Friday at Guam's international airport, the latest visitors to the island appeared untroubled by the prospect of missile strikes.   Sun Doojin, who arrived with her husband and two-year-old daughter on a flight from Seoul, responded with an emphatic "no" when asked if she was concerned about an attack during her visit.

- 'A hidden gem' -
The Guam Daily Post, in an editorial, said the spotlight on the territory offered an opportunity to show the world why an island of 162,000 people draws more than 1.5 million tourists a year.    "The beach waters are crystal clear, beaches aren't overrun, and nature hiking trails are very accessible.   "The different cultures that are showcased on the island through food make Guam a hidden gem, a tropical vacation getaway but with the amenities and comforts of some of the small cities stateside."

Guam's history of earthquakes and typhoons mean its infrastructure is built to robust standards and authorities insist that the island is prepared for any emergency, including a North Korean strike.   Homeland Security spokeswoman Jenna Gaminde told the Guam Daily News that in the event of an attack, residents would be immediately notified by sirens from the All-Hazards Alert Warning System located throughout the island.   "If you hear the sirens, tune into local media -- radio, print, television -- for further instructions," she said. 

Pyongyang has said it would take less than 18 minutes for a missile to cross the 3,400-kilometre (2,100-mile) distance to the US territory.   In addition to the US military bases, Guam is also equipped with the sophisticated THAAD weapons system which is capable of destroying intermediate-range missiles in the final phase of flight.

Officials, however, have sought to brush off fears and say there has been no change in the threat level for now.   "I don't think there's anything to worry about. No missile is going to land on Guam," said Carl Peterson, who serves on the Guam Chamber of Commerce's armed forces committee.   "We've got defense mechanisms in place... they have the ability to seek out the missiles with kinetic energy and destroy it."
Date: Thu, 8 Jun 2017 21:02:05 +0200

Miami, June 8, 2017 (AFP) - Five percent of women in the US territories who were infected with the Zika virus while pregnant had fetus or babies with defects, including microcephaly, government health data said Thursday.   The report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention covered the US territories of Guam, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands, Micronesia, the Republic of Marshall Islands and Puerto Rico.   The report is the first based on data from the US territories and the largest study of its kind to date.

CDC experts said the findings are consistent with previous findings about Zika cases in the mainland United States.   "Women in the US territories and elsewhere who have continued exposure to mosquitoes carrying Zika are at risk of infection," said CDC acting director Anne Schuchat.    "We must remain vigilant and committed to preventing new Zika infections."   The rate of birth defects was slightly higher -- eight percent, or one in 12 -- in women whose infections were confirmed early in the pregnancy, during the first trimester, said the report.

The findings were based on the cases of 2,549 women with possible Zika virus infection who completed their pregnancies.   Among these women, 1,508 had confirmed Zika virus infection from January 1, 2016 to April 25, 2017.   Over 120 pregnancies resulted in Zika-associated birth defects, including infants born with unusually small heads, an irreversible condition known as microcephaly.   Other complications in babies included seizures and problems with movement, coordination, eating and near constant crying.

Zika can be spread by the bite of infected mosquito or via sexual contact.  Pregnant women are urged to avoid areas where Zika is spreading.   Since Zika erupted on a large scale in mid-2015, more than 1.5 million people have been infected, mostly in Brazil and other countries in South America.    Some 70 countries have been impacted.   Zika may lead to an itchy rash and although it is dangerous for pregnant women and their fetuses, it often causes no symptoms in adults.   In November 2016, the World Health Organization announced that the Zika virus outbreak no longer poses a world public health emergency, though it warned the epidemic remains a challenge.
Date: Fri 27 Mar 2015
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

Health authorities on the Pacific Island of Guam say the pertussis, or whooping cough outbreak has reached 11 cases to date. This comes after the Department of Public Health and Social Services (DPHSS) received 3 additional laboratory confirmed cases of the vaccine-preventable disease in a 9 month old child, 3 year old child, and 41 year old adult. Investigation into the newest cases show no epidemiological linkage with each other or previous reported cases.  [Byline: Robert Herriman]
=======================
[Guam is an organized, unincorporated territory of the United States in the western Pacific Ocean. A map of the island can be found at <http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/islands_oceans_poles/guam.gif>.

There are likely a number of reasons for the upswing of pertussis in the USA and elsewhere, which include the well-recognized normal swings in incidence, the increase in the number of unvaccinated individuals whose parents chose not to vaccinate them, and waning immunity which has caused public health officials to advise boosters for all adults and especially pregnant women. However, research by both Dr Frits R Mooi from the Netherlands (Pertussis - Australia (04): newly emerging clones, discussion 20120322.1078115) and Dr Lyn Gilbert from Australia (Pertussis - Australia (03): newly emerging clones 20120321.1076103) have been previously highlighted in ProMED-mail, reflecting antigenic changes in circulating clones of _Bordetella pertussis_ which may be causing the increased number of pertussis cases throughout the world. These changes may result in a need for modifications of the currently used acellular pertussis vaccines. - ProMED Mod.LL]
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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
**********************************************
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
**********************************************
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
**********************************************
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
**********************************************
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: 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.
Date: Tue, 3 Sep 2019 12:05:34 +0200 (METDST)

Harare, Sept 3, 2019 (AFP) - Hundreds of doctors in public hospitals across Zimbabwe went on strike on Tuesday demanding their salaries be pegged to the US dollar in the face of spiralling living costs.   "We are not in the wards, we are not at the hospitals. We simply do not have the means, we are incapacitated," Peter Magombeyi, president of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association, told AFP by phone.   Salaries are fast losing value as the southern African country battles a currency crisis and triple-digit inflation.

A junior doctor's monthly salary in the Zimbabwe currency is now equivalent to around $100, Magombeyi said.   "We don't have money for transport, we don't have money for food, we don't have money to pay our kids schools fees, we don't have rental and we can't keep on subsidising the employer anymore."   Talks with the government on Monday failed to yield any solution.   "We were called to a meeting yesterday and they don't have any solid answer, they didn't give a position which addresses our concerns," said Magombeyi.   The doctors want salaries to be pegged to the prevailing foreign exchange interbank rates.

This is the second time in less than a year that government doctors have embarked on a work stoppage.    They went on strike in December over salaries and conditions, and only called it off after 40 days on promises to resolve their grievances.   State hospitals cater for the majority of Zimbabweans who cannot afford private care while wealthier patients, including top politicians, fly out to neighbouring South Africa and even beyond to Asian countries for medical attention.

Zimbabwe's health system has collapsed in recent decades as the economy tanked, with  shortages of basics like cash, fuel, bread and medicines and surging prices when the goods are available.   President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took over from long-time ruler Robert Mugabe and won a disputed election in July last year, pledged to revamp the already ailing economy.   But the country has seen growing strikes and protests as the economy continues to falter.
Date: Sat 27 Jul 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

Officials in the capital city of Zimbabwe, Harare, report seeing 858 new typhoid cases in the last 6 months, with the suburbs of Glen View and Budiriro hit the hardest according to a report in The Herald. No deaths have been recorded.

The reason for the outbreak is failure to constantly supply clean water and delays in attending to sewer bursts or leakages, local authorities state. Harare Town Clerk Engineer Hosiah Chisango said: "The drivers for water-borne diseases (cholera and typhoid) have been water cuts or availability of municipal water, contaminated water, sewer bursts or leakages, use of shallow wells, illegal vending of cooked food, attending gatherings during an outbreak, poor hygiene practices, and household contact to a case."

Typhoid fever is a potentially life-threatening illness caused by the bacterium _Salmonella_ Typhi. _Salmonella_ Typhi lives only in humans. Persons with typhoid fever carry the bacteria in their bloodstream and intestinal tract. In addition, a small number of persons, called carriers, recover from typhoid fever but continue to carry the bacteria. Both ill persons and carriers shed _S._ Typhi in their faeces.

You can get typhoid fever if you eat food or drink beverages that have been handled by a person who is shedding _S._ Typhi or if sewage contaminated with _S._ Typhi bacteria get into the water you use for drinking or washing food. Therefore, typhoid fever is more common in areas of the world where handwashing is less frequent and where water is likely to be contaminated with sewage.

Typhoid fever can be successfully treated with appropriate antimicrobials, and persons given antimicrobials usually begin to feel better within 2 to 3 days.
====================
[Typhoid fever, so-called enteric fever caused by _Salmonella enterica_ serotype Typhi, has a totally different presentation from that of the more common kinds of salmonellosis. Epidemiologically, usually spread by contaminated food or water, typhoid is not a zoonosis like the more commonly seen types of salmonellosis. Clinically, vomiting and diarrhoea are typically absent; indeed, constipation is frequently reported. As it is a systemic illness, blood cultures are at least as likely to be positive as stool in enteric fever, particularly early in the course of the infection, and bone marrow cultures may be the most sensitive.

The symptoms of classical typhoid fever typically include fever; anorexia; lethargy; malaise; dull, continuous headache; non-productive cough; vague abdominal pain; and constipation. Despite the (often high) fever, the pulse is often only slightly elevated. During the 2nd week of the illness, there is protracted fever and mental dullness, classically called coma vigil. Diarrhoea may develop but usually does not. Many patients develop hepatosplenomegaly (both liver and spleen enlarged). After the 1st week or so, many cases develop a maculopapular rash on the upper abdomen. These lesions ("rose spots") are about 2 cm (0.78 inch) in diameter and blanch on pressure. They persist for 2-4 days and may come and go. Mild and atypical infections are common.

The word typhoid (as in typhus-like) reflects the similarity of the louse-borne rickettsial disease epidemic typhus and that of typhoid fever; in fact, in some areas, typhoid fever is still referred to as abdominal typhus. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Zimbabwe:
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Thu, 21 Nov 2019 22:38:09 +0100 (MET)

Bogota, Nov 21, 2019 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of Colombians took to the streets of the capital Bogota on Thursday amid a general strike to protest the policies of President Ivan Duque's right-wing government.   There were no reported outbreaks of major violence as trade unions, students, opposition parties and the South American country's indigenous organizations challenged the full gamut of Duque's economic, social and security policies.   "It is an accumulation of situations that we hope to see reviewed after today, including a great national dialogue of conciliation," Robert Gomez, president of the main workers' union, told AFP.   The protest comes amid social upheaval across South America, as a wave of unrest over the past two months has battered governments in Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador.   The popularity of Duque's right-wing government -- a key US ally -- has been on the wane since his election 18 months ago, as it deals with hosting 1.4 million refugees from neighboring Venezuela's economic meltdown as well as the complex fallout of a 2016 peace deal with FARC rebels and rampant drug trafficking.

- Troops deployed -
Troops were deployed in the capital and other cities to protect "strategic facilities," authorities said.   The Colombian office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights voiced concern over the deployment, saying states must limit the use of military forces "for the control of internal disturbances."   Authorities said the protests were largely peaceful, though riot police fired tear gas to break up groups of demonstrators in isolated clashes in Bogota and the western city of Cali. Blocked roads in some areas snarled transportation.

The general strike was widely followed in Bogota, and other big cities like Bucaramanga in the northeast and Medellin in the northwest.   Several separate marches converged on Bolivar Square, the historic center of the capital close to the presidency.   "We are marching because in Colombia we are tired of corruption, of impunity, that the government does nothing for the poor," Olga Canon, 55, told AFP.   Organizations that participated in the strike take issue with Duque's security policy as well as attempts to introduce a more flexible labor market, weaken public pension funds and raise the retirement age.   Students are demanding more funding for education, while indigenous communities insist on greater protection in remote areas where 134 activists have been killed since Duque came to power in August 2018.

- 'Afraid to march' -
"We are very afraid to march in the streets but we do it anyway because the state is spreading so much fear with its militarization and by closing the borders," political science student Valentina Gaitan, 21, told AFP.    Duque admitted some of the criticisms were legitimate in a televised speech on the eve of the strike, but said the campaign against his government was based on lies seeking to provoke violence.   "We recognize the value of peaceful protests, but also guarantee order," he said.   The borders with Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela were closed until Friday to avoid any threat to "public order and security," authorities said.   Political analyst Jason Marczak said the outrage against the government, the target of several demonstrations in recent months, is part of a "considerable demonstration of discontent in the region."   "The unsatisfied claims and deep polarization are the basis for this massive event," said Marczak, of the Washington-based Atlantic Council.
Date: Thu, 21 Nov 2019 09:12:36 +0100 (MET)

Bangkok, Nov 21, 2019 (AFP) - A shallow 6.1-magnitude earthquake hit north-western Laos near the Thai border early Thursday, the United States Geological Survey reported, alarming locals who felt buildings shake as far away as Bangkok.  The quake hit at 6:50am (2350 GMT Wednesday), roughly three hours after a 5.7-magnitude earthquake in the same region triggered an immediate suspension to Laos' largest-capacity power plant located near its epicentre.    Tremors could be felt more than 700 kilometres (435 miles) away in the Thai capital, where Pope Francis is currently on a four-day visit.    "The shaking... was the main shock from a quake in Laos at 6:50 am and was felt in northern and northeastern Thailand and Bangkok and suburbs," said Sophon Chaila, an official at the Thai Meteorological Department.

The department said the quake affected nine provinces in Thailand and there were four lesser aftershocks.    It also became a top trending topic on Twitter in Thailand, as locals shared videos of swaying overhead lights and rattling window blinds in office buildings.    Residents in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi also felt buildings sway.    "The ceiling lights were shaking quite strongly. I felt dizzy and scared," said Hanoi resident Tran Hoa Phuong, who felt the earthquake in her 27-storey apartment building.    After the first quake, the 1,878-megawatt Hongsa Power Plant -- Laos' largest-capacity thermal energy generator -- immediately suspended operations according to a statement from the Thai-owned company.

No "fundamental" damages or injuries have been found so far, "merely damages to the external texture of the buildings", it said, adding that Hongsa is expected to take 24 hours to complete its inspection.    Photos shared by Thai news showed portions of the power plant's walls had collapsed, and debris littered its premises.    Nearby Xayaburi dam project, one of Laos' largest hydropower dams, has seen "no impact" so far, and is continuing to generate electricity "as normal", said a statement from CK Power.   Information is slow to trickle out of the closed communist state, and there were similarly no official reports of injuries after the twin quakes hit early Thursday.

Impoverished Laos has ploughed ahead with ambitious dam-building projects that critics say lack transparency and stringent safety measures.   The cost was laid bare last year when a massive hydropower project collapsed in southern Laos, killing dozens and leaving thousands homeless.   Pope Francis arrived in Bangkok on Wednesday and has a busy agenda Thursday meeting officials and the Thai king before he leads a mass in the evening.    There was no word from his team on whether he felt the quake.    Powerful earthquakes occasionally strike hard in Southeast Asia.   In 2016 a 6.8-magnitude quake struck Myanmar, killing at least three people and damaging temples in the ancient temple town of Bagan.
Date: Tue, 19 Nov 2019 14:25:40 +0100 (MET)

Ottawa, Nov 19, 2019 (AFP) - Train operators at Canadian National Railway went on strike on Tuesday after months of contract talks failed, effectively shutting down the largest rail network in Canada.   The union representing more than 3,000 CN workers had given a midnight (0500 GMT) deadline to reach a deal to replace an agreement that expired in July.   "Unfortunately, we were unable to reach a deal with CN," the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference said in a statement.   "The company remains unwilling to address our member's health and safety issues. As a result, members at CN will be on strike... at 00:01 Eastern Time."

The workers had expressed concerns over long hours and fatigue leading to dangerous working conditions. Wages are not in dispute.   The labour dispute follows layoffs of 1,600 staff in North America announced by CN on Friday.    Employment Minister Patty Hajdu has encouraged both sides to continue the negotiations and reach an agreement.    "We are monitoring the situation closely," she said on Saturday after the Teamsters gave a 72-hour strike notice.
Date: Tue, 19 Nov 2019 09:24:19 +0100 (MET)

Wellington, Nov 19, 2019 (AFP) - The death toll from a measles outbreak raging in the Pacific nation of Samoa has risen to 15, with most of the victims young children, UNICEF said Tuesday.   The UN children's agency said that suspected measles cases had topped 1,000 in the island nation, which has declared a state of emergency and launched a compulsory vaccination programme.   "The epidemic has claimed the lives of 14 children under-five years old and one adult," it said in a statement.   UNICEF said it was in the process of delivering more than 110,000 doses of measles vaccine to Samoa's population of about 200,000.   With the virus sweeping through the South Pacific, the agency said it had also sent vaccines to Tonga and Fiji.

Officials were also helping with preparations for potential outbreaks in Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, the Cook Islands, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia.   It said Samoa, which is by far the worst affected, had low measles vaccination rates of 28-40 percent.   In Tonga and Fiji, which have vaccination rates of 99 percent and 81 percent respectively, the outbreak is more contained and there have been no fatalities.   Children are the most vulnerable to measles, which typically causes a rash and fever but can also lead to brain damage and death.   Samoa has closed all schools and kindergartens, as well as banning children from public gatherings, in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.    After initially facing criticism for its slow response, the government had opened a national emergency operations centre to roll out mass vaccinations.
Date: Mon, 18 Nov 2019 19:25:45 +0100 (MET)

Srinagar, India, Nov 18, 2019 (AFP) - An avalanche on Monday hit an Indian patrol in the world's highest militarised zone in the Himalayas, killing four soldiers and two porters, an army spokesman said.   The disaster was the latest on the Siachen Glacier at more than 5,000 metres (16,500 feet) that is claimed by India and rival Pakistan.

Hundreds of troops from both sides have died in avalanches and from the fierce climate in the region over the past three decades.   An Indian military spokesman told AFP that the avalanche engulfed eight people in the patrol at the northern end of the glacier in the Karakoram mountain range.   Rescue teams managed to dig the patrol members out of the snow, and they were taken by helicopter to hospital.   "Despite best efforts, six casualties which includes four soldiers and two civilian porters succumbed to extreme hypothermia," said the spokesman, Colonel Rajesh Kalia.

Avalanches are common on the 700-square-kilometre (270-square-mile) glacier, where temperatures regularly fall to minus 60 degrees Celsius (-76 Fahrenheit).   In 2016, 10 Indian soldiers were buried and killed.   About 900 Indian soldiers alone have died on the glacier since 1984, when Indian forces took complete control of Siachen.   The glacier is located at the northern end of the Line of Control that divides Kashmir, which India and Pakistan have fought over since 1947.
Date: Mon, 18 Nov 2019 16:10:29 +0100 (MET)

Vienna, Nov 18, 2019 (AFP) - A man died on Monday in a landslide that destroyed much of his home in southern Austria, which has been hit by heavy rainfall and snow affecting transport and electricity.   The retiree was behind his house in Carinthia state when part of the hill above it slid off, killing the 79-year-old, police said.   Earlier Monday, two women were rescued from the rubble of two houses after another landslide, this one in the spa town of Bad Gastein in Salzburg state.   Salzburg, Tyrol and Carinthia states have all seen heavy rain and snowfall since last week, leading to power cuts in thousands of homes.   Many roads and railway lines have also been cut, and several schools in these areas remained closed on Monday.
Date: Fri, 15 Nov 2019 13:19:27 +0100 (MET)

Karachi, Nov 15, 2019 (AFP) - Lightning strikes killed at least 18 people and injured several more during a deadly night in Pakistan's Thar desert, police said Friday, describing the deaths as "unprecedented".   Thunderstorms and a heavy downpour caused havoc in several villages, destroying dozens of homes, in an unusual rainfall event that a meteorologist says could be linked to climate change.

It was the lightning strikes in 18 different places which had the greatest impact.   "We have so far confirmation of 18 deaths in our district," Abdulah Ahmed, the police chief of the region -- which is located in southern Sindh province and stretches over 22,000 square kilometres (8,500 square miles)-- told AFP.   He said that officers in each village had verified that each death was caused by lightning strike.    In contrast, lightning kills an average of three people each year in the UK, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

The Thar desert, straddling the Indian border and one of Pakistan's poorest areas, is dependent on monsoon rains.   But such a heavy rainfall in November is "unusual", while "lightning of that intensity is unprecedented," said Dr Syed Sarfraz, a senior meteorological officer in Karachi.   He said the causes were still being investigated but suggested hot air over the desert had met with a cold air mass entering from Iran, fuelling the storms. Climate change could also be playing a role, he added.    Dozens of tents and blankets were dispatched from Karachi in a relief effort for the families who lost their homes in the rain.
Date: Fri, 15 Nov 2019 09:41:09 +0100 (MET)

Phnom Penh, Nov 15, 2019 (AFP) - Cambodia will ban all elephant rides at the country's famed Angkor temple park by early next year, an official said Friday, a rare win for conservationists who have long decried the popular practice as cruel.   The Angkor archaeological complex in northern Siem Reap attracts the bulk of the kingdom's foreign tourists -- which topped six million in 2018 -- and many opt for elephants rides around the ancient temples.

But these rides "will end by the start of 2020", said Long Kosal, a spokesman with the Apsara Authority, which manages the park.   "Using elephants for business is not appropriate anymore," he told AFP, adding that some of the animals were "already old".   So far, five of the 14 working elephants have been transferred to a community forest about 40 kilometres (25 miles) away from the temples.   "They will live out their natural lives there," Kosal said.   The company that owns the elephants will continue to look after them, he added. 

Cambodia has long come under fire from animal rights groups for ubiquitous elephant rides on offer for tourists, also seen in neighbouring Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.    The elephants are broken in during training and rights groups have accused handlers of overworking them.   In 2016, a female elephant died by the roadside after carrying tourists around the Angkor Wat temple complex in severely hot weather.   The animal had been working for around 45 minutes before she collapsed.
Date: Fri, 15 Nov 2019 05:28:34 +0100 (MET)

Bangkok, Nov 15, 2019 (AFP) - A French tourist has died after falling from a waterfall while trying to take a selfie in Thailand, police said Friday.   The accident happened Thursday afternoon on the tropical island of Koh Samui, whose palm-fringed, white-sand beaches are a magnet for both backpackers and high-end tourists.   The 33-year-old man fell from Na Mueang 2 waterfall, the same spot where a Spanish tourist died in a fall in July, Lieutenant Phuvadol Viriyavarangkul of the island's tourist police told AFP.

"It took several hours to retrieve his body because the waterfall is slippery and steep," he said by phone, adding that the spot is roped off and there is a sign warning tourists of the danger.   "His friend said he was trying to take a selfie and then he slipped and fell."   Thailand is largely considered a safe destination for tourists and typically draws more than 35 million visitors each year.    But the industry took a hit in 2018 after a ferry carrying Chinese visitors in the country's south sank last year, killing 47 people.   The accident highlighted lax safety rules in the tourism sector and authorities have been scrambling to restore the country's image since.
Date: Fri, 15 Nov 2019 01:13:41 +0100 (MET)
By Sophie PONS

Dakhla, Western Sahara, Nov 15, 2019 (AFP) - In the heart of disputed Western Sahara, a former garrison town has become an unlikely tourist magnet after kitesurfers discovered the windswept desert coast was perfect for their sport.  In Dakhla, an Atlantic seaport town punctuated with military buildings in Morocco-administered Western Sahara, swarms of kitesurfers now sail in the lagoon daily.y    "Here there is nothing other than sun, wind and waves. We turned the adversity of the elements to our advantage: that's the very principle of kitesurfing," said Rachid Roussafi. 

After an international career in windsurfing and kitesurfing, Roussafi founded the first tourist camp at the lagoon at the start of the 2000s.    "At the time, a single flight a week landed in Dakhla," the 49-year-old Moroccan said.   Today, there are 25 a week, including direct flights to Europe.   "Dakhla has become a world destination for kitesurfing," said Mohamed Cherif, a regional politician.

Tourist numbers have jumped from 25,000 in 2010 to 100,000 today, he said, adding they hoped to reach 200,000 annual visitors.    The former Spanish garrison is booming today with the visitor influx adding to fishing and trade revenue.   Kitesurfing requires pricey gear -- including a board, harness and kite -- and the niche tourism spot attracts well-off visitors of all nationalities.    Peyo Camillade came from France "to extend the summer season", with a week's holiday costing about 1,500 euros ($1,660). 

Only the names of certain sites, like PK 25 (kilometre point 25), ruined forts in the dunes and the imposing and still in-use military buildings in Dakhla, remind tourists of the region's history of conflict.   In the 1970s, Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, and fought a war with the Algeria-backed Polisario Front from 1975 to 1991, when a ceasefire deal was agreed.   A United Nations mission was deployed to monitor the truce and prepare a referendum on Western Sahara's independence from Morocco, but it never materialized.   Without waiting for the political compromise that the UN has been negotiating for decades, hotels have sprouted from the sand along the coast, and rows of streetlights on vacant lots announce future subdivisions.

- 'Good communication' -
"The secret to success is to develop kitesurfing with good communication focused on the organisation of non-political events," said Driss Senoussi, head of the Dakhla Attitude hotel group.    Accordingly, the exploits of kitesurfing champions like Brazilian Mikaili Sol and the Cape Verdian Airton Cozzolino were widely shared online during the World Kiteboarding Championships in Dakhla last month.   The competition seemed to hold little interest for Dakhla's inhabitants however.

Only a few young people with nothing to do and strolling families found themselves on the beach for the finals.   Just as rare are the foreign tourists who venture into the town of 100,000 residents to shop.   Like her friends, Alexandra Paterek prefers to stay at her hotel, some 30 kilometres (19 miles) from downtown.    "Here is the best place in the world for learning kitesurfing," said the 31-year-old Polish stewardess.    On her understanding of the broader regional context, she said: "It's an old Spanish colony and they have good seafood, for sure."

Like many tourists, she was under the impression that the area belonged to Morocco, as the destination tends to be marketed in the travel industry as "Dakhla, Morocco".   That angers the Polisario, which wants independence for the disputed region and tried last year in vain to sue businesses it said were "accomplices to the occupying military power."   The independence movement is now focused on challenging commercial deals between Morocco and the European Union that involve Western Sahara, according to the group's French lawyer Gilles Devers.   Moroccan authorities are looking actively for investors for their development projects on the west coast, the most ambitious being the Dakhla Atlantique megaport with a budget of about $1 billion to promote fishing.

- Environmental concerns -
On the lagoon, surrounded by white sand and with its holiday bungalows, "there is a struggle between developing aquaculture and tourism," said a senior regional representative, who spoke on condition of anonymity.    "One has less impact on the environment, but the other generates more revenue and jobs," said the representative, adding that "pressure from real-estate investors is very high."

With the influx of tourists, the protection of the environment has become a major concern.   "Everything is developing so quickly... we need to recycle plastic waste and resolve the issue of wastewater," said Rachid Roussafi.    Daniel Bellocq, a retired French doctor, worries for the future of this lagoon, that was "once so wild" that he has kitesurfed in for 20 years.   "There is green algae that wasn't there before, it's becoming a septic tank," he said.   Regional councillor Cherif, though, insists the bay is clean, saying: "All the hotels are equipped with wastewater management systems."   For him, the real threat is from plastic waste, whether it is dropped by tourists or brought by sea currents.