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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: Mon 2 Dec 2019
Source: China.org.cn, Xinhua News Agency report [edited]

One fresh polio case had been detected in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province, a local newspaper reported on [Mon 2 Dec 2019].

"With this new case, the total number of polio cases in 2019 reaches 22 in the country. The latest polio case has been reported from Kandahar city, capital of Kandahar province which permanently paralyzed an 18-month-old child," Daily Afghanistan-e-Ma reported.

The paper added that polio is a crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease.

"Most of the Afghan children affected by poliovirus this year [2019] are living in areas where kids do not have access to health facilities and regular anti-polio vaccination campaign. However, this time a child has been affected in a large city where anti-polio vaccination had been conducted repeatedly this year," the report said.

There is no cure for polio and the polio vaccine is the only safe and effective way to protect children.

The ongoing conflicts have been hindering the efforts to stamp out the infectious disease in the mountainous country.
===================
[The addition of 3 newly confirmed cases of polio (all 3 due to WPV1, as per End Polio Pakistan <https://www.endpolio.com.pk/polioin-pakistan/polio-cases-in-provinces>) in Pakistan and one newly confirmed case of polio in Afghanistan brings the total number of WPV1 associated cases with date of onset in 2019 to 116 (94 in Pakistan and 22 in Afghanistan). The key question here is whether Afghanistan and Pakistan, with all the challenges in vaccinating the susceptible populations due to a variety of anti-vaccination impediments, will be able to interrupt transmission of the WPV1 in both countries simultaneously.

Maps of Afghanistan:
and <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/137>. - ProMED Mod.MPP]
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.
More ...

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:
More ...

Macedonia

Macedonia US Consular Information Sheet
August 15, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Macedonia is a parliamentary democracy that is steadily transforming its economy. Tourist facilities are available in the capital, Skopje, and other major towns.
In tourist centers, such as Skopje and Ohrid, European-standard hotels and other travel amenities are available, while the standard of facilities throughout the rest of the country varies considerably. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Macedonia for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Short trip for business or tourism:
A valid passport is required for travel to Macedonia.
A visa is not required for U.S. passport holders for tourist and business trips up to 90 days during a six-month period.
Entry stamps are issued at airports or land border crossing points, which grant permission to remain 90 days.
All foreign citizens must register with local police within 24 hours of arrival.
Those staying in private accommodation or renting an apartment should register in person at the police station nearest his/her place of residence, and should be accompanied to the station by the owner or landlord of the apartment.
Hotels are responsible for the registration of foreign guests.
If the foreigner changes address in Macedonia, he or she should notify the police station where s/he initially registered and reregister with the police station closest to the new place of residence.

An unaccompanied minor U.S. citizen who enters Macedonia should be in possession of a parental or guardian statement of consent to enter and stay in the country.
The statement of consent must be certified by a competent authority of the country from which s/he arrives or by a diplomatic or consular mission of the Republic of Macedonia abroad.

NOTE:
A U.S. citizen who possesses more than one passport is required to leave the country with the travel document used for entry into the country.

Temporary residence:
Individuals intending to work, study or remain longer then 90 (ninety) days in Macedonia, must obtain an entry visa prior to their arrival in Macedonia.
The practice of switching from tourist status to long-term status when already in Macedonia is no longer allowed.
Those wanting to do so must leave Macedonia and apply for a long-term visa at a Macedonian Embassy of Consulate.
Macedonian visas, as opposed to entry stamps, can only be issued at a Macedonian Embassy or Consulate in a foreign country.

American citizens resident in the United States may apply at:
Macedonian Embassy in Washington D.C.2129 Wyoming Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20008, Tel: (202) 667-0501; Fax: (202) 667-2131;
E-mail: washington@mfa.gov.mk; usoffice@macedonianembassy.org, Website: http://www.macedonianembassy.org.

The passport should be valid for at least three months longer than the validity of the visa.
For additional information about the conditions and procedures for visa issuance, the applicant should contact the Embassy or Consulate of the Republic of Macedonia.
Using the list of diplomatic and consular missions of the Republic of Macedonia abroad (which can be found at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website at www.mfa.gov.mk), a visa applicant can choose the most convenient Embassy/Consulate to the submit the visa application.

Travelers should be aware that all
border areas apart from designated border crossings are restricted zones. Presence in these zones is forbidden without prior official permission.

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 security situation in Macedonia is stable, although occasional criminal violence does occur. Americans should avoid areas with demonstrations, strikes, or roadblocks where large crowds are gathered, particularly those involving political causes or striking workers.

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

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

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Crime in Macedonia is low by U.S. standards, and violent crime against Americans is rare. Pickpocketing, theft, and other petty street crimes do occur, however, particularly in areas where tourists and foreigners congregate. American travelers are advised to take the same precautions against becoming crime victims as they would in any U.S. city. Valuables, including cell phones and electronic items, should not be left in plain view in unattended vehicles. Windows and doors should be securely locked when residences are not occupied. Organized crime is present in Macedonia; organized criminal activity occasionally results in violent confrontations between members of rival organizations. ATM use is safe, as long as standard safety precautions are taken.
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 a victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to the local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends, and explain how funds 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 find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Macedonia is:
police 192 and ambulance 194
If you are outside the city of Skopje you need to dial 02 first.

For additional assistance see our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Although many Macedonian physicians are trained to a high standard, and a number of well-equipped private clinics are available especially in Skopje, most public hospitals and clinics are not equipped and maintained at U.S. or Western European standards. Basic medical supplies are usually available, but specialized treatment may not be obtainable. Travelers with previously diagnosed medical conditions may wish to consult their physician before travel.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of [country]. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en/
MEDICAL INSURANCE: 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 Macedonia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Driving safely in Macedonia requires excellent defensive driving skills. Many drivers routinely ignore speed limits and other traffic regulations, such as stopping for red lights and stop signs. Drivers may make illegal left turns from the far right lane, or drive into oncoming lanes of traffic. The combination of speeding, unsafe driving practices, poor vehicle maintenance, the mixture of new and old vehicles on the roads, and poor lighting contributes to unsafe driving conditions. Pedestrians should exercise extreme caution when crossing the street, even when using crosswalks, as local drivers rarely slow down or stop for pedestrians.

A valid U.S. driver’s license in conjunction with an International Driving Permit is required for Americans driving in Macedonia. Driving is on the right side of the road. Speed limits are generally posted. Most major highways are in good repair, but many secondary urban and rural roads are poorly maintained and lit. Horse-drawn carts, livestock, dead animals, rocks, or other objects are sometimes found in the roadway. Some vehicles are old and lack standard front or rear lights. Secondary mountain roads can be narrow and poorly marked, lack guardrails, and quickly become dangerous in inclement weather. Overall, public transportation in Macedonia is dilapidated. Roadside emergency services are limited.
In case of emergency, drivers may contact the police at telephone 192, the Ambulance Service at telephone 194, and Roadside Assistance at telephone 196.

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 Macedonia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Macedonia’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Macedonian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation to or exportation from Macedonia of certain items, including items deemed to be of historical value or significance. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities. Visitors should always observe “no photographing” signs. If in doubt, please ask permission before taking photographs.

The local currency is the denar. While credit cards are accepted in larger stores and restaurants, cash in local currency is advised for purchases in small establishments.

Upon entry into Macedonia, every foreigner must declare all cash amounts of foreign currency greater than EUR 2,000 at the Customs Control Office. Failure to report funds in excess of this amount may result in the confiscation of the entire amount by the customs service. After going through the court system, an individual is normally required to pay a fine and the National Bank will also keep a certain percentage of the undeclared amount before it is released.
Please also 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 Macedonian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Macedonia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Prostitution is illegal in Macedonia. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Macedonia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Macedonia. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy in Skopje is located at Ilindenska bb, 1000 Skopje, tel. (389) (2) 311-6180, fax (389) (2) 321-3767, email: consularskopje@state.gov; web site: http://macedonia.usembassy.gov
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Macedonia dated March 05, 2008 to update the section on Entry/Exit Requirements.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon 29 Jul 2019
Source: Institute of Public Health of Republic of North Macedonia [abridged, edited]

Information on the situation of measles in the Republic of North Macedonia in 2018-2019, 25 Jul 2019
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
In the period from 20 Jul-25 Jul 2019, a total of 5 cases of measles were reported. From the total number of newly reported cases, 4 cases are from Skopje, while one is from Kumanovo.

In total, since the onset of the epidemic in December 2018 as of 25 Jul 2019, 1870 cases of measles have been registered in the Republic of North Macedonia with a disease rate of 90.4 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Due to the epidemiological criteria, a measles epidemic is ongoing in the entire territory of the Republic of North Macedonia.

According to the place of permanent living, measles cases are registered in 24 towns, of which 979 cases are from Skopje, Kumanovo 231, Tetovo 194, Struga 112, Kicevo 59, Veles 53, Gostivar 69, Ohrid 35, Gevgelija 19, Debar 22, Prilep 11, Stip 40, and in other cities less than 10 cases were registered (Chart 1). The highest incidence is registered in Skopje (158.5/100 000, Struga (165.1/100 000, Kumanovo 161.9/100 000)

According to the vaccine status, 1501 or 80.3% of diseased people are unvaccinated, incompletely vaccinated or with unknown vaccine status. >From the non-vaccinated persons, 320 (21.3%) are under the age of 12 months and are not subject to vaccination, according to the Immunization Calendar.

According to the results obtained from the samples sent to Luxembourg's reference measles laboratory, the B3 Dublin genotype circulates in the country, which is circulating also in the neighbouring countries.
 
The total number of immunized people aged 14 years with MRP [morbilli, rubella, and parotitis epidemica/MMR measles, mumps, rubella] vaccine since the start of the epidemic in the republic is 33,729.  From the beginning of the epidemic to present date, in the Centers for Public Health, a total of 6032 people have been vaccinated, of which more than 60% are health workers, students, and pupils in secondary medical schools, the rest are persons over 14 years of age.

[Available at the source URL:]
Chart 1. Geographic distribution of measles in N. Macedonia, December 2018-July 2019
----------------------------------------------
Communicated by:
Aleksandar Jovicic
==========================
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Republic of North Macedonia:
Date: Fri 29 Mar 2019
Source: Institute of Public Health of Republic of Macedonia [abridged, edited]

Information on the situation of measles in the Republic of North Macedonia in 2018-2019, 29 Mar 2019
-------------------

In the period 23 Mar-29 Mar 2019, a total of 109 cases of measles (laboratory confirmed or related to the epidemiological link) were reported.

Out of the total number of newly reported cases, 49 cases are from Skopje, with 89.8% of them incomplete vaccinated, unvaccinated, or with unknown vaccine status. The remaining 60 patients are from 11 other cities in North Macedonia:

- From Kumanovo and Struga, 30 cases (15 cases in each) were reported, of which 90% were unvaccinated, incomplete vaccinated, or with unknown vaccine status;
- From Tetovo and Debar: in 7 cases from Tetovo, 6 were unvaccinated, incomplete vaccinated, or with unknown vaccine status; from Debar, one case was unvaccinated and one with unknown vaccine status;
- From Gostivar, there are 6 cases, of which 5 are unvaccinated, incomplete vaccinated, or with unknown vaccine status;
- 4 cases were reported from Kicevo, with 2 of them unvaccinated and incomplete vaccinated;
- From Veles, 2 cases, with 1 unvaccinated and 1 incomplete vaccinated;
- 1 new case each was reported from Stip (unknown vaccine status), Ohrid (incomplete vaccinated), Radovis (not vaccinated), and Prilep (completely vaccinated).

In total, since the onset of the epidemic in Skopje in December 2018, as of 29 Mar 2019, 767 measles cases were registered in the Republic of North Macedonia, of which 575 were epidemiologically related and reported in the epidemic in Skopje.

According to the place of permanent living, measles cases were registered in 20 towns in Macedonia, of which 521 were from Skopje, 63 from Tetovo, 61 from Kumanovo, 27 from Struga, 18 cases from Gevgelija and Debar, 15 from Gostivar, 12 from Veles, 11 from Kicevo, 4 from Kocani and Shtip, and in sporadic cases in the other 9 cities. The highest incidence per 100 000 inhabitants is registered in Struga (97.3), Skopje (84.4), Debar (64.9), Kumanovo (42.8), and Gevgelija (41.8).

The largest number of cases are from the age group over 30 years, with 305 or 39.8% of the total. A high percentage of patients is also registered in the age group of 0-4 years, with 37.9% of the total number of cases (n = 291).

Out of 150 children aged 1-4 years, 137 or 91.3% were unvaccinated or with unknown vaccine status; from 412 patients in persons over 20 years of age, 69.2% (n = 285) were unvaccinated, incomplete vaccinated, or with unknown vaccine status.

Out of the total number of 767 registered cases of measles, the highest number and percentage, 369 or 48.1%, are laboratory confirmed, 193 or 25.2% are epidemiologically linked, while 205 cases (26.7%) are measles with clinical features.

>From the beginning of the epidemic in Skopje, the total number of vaccinated people under 14 years of age who are subject to 1st or 2nd vaccination is 11 475 children. In the rest of the republic, from the beginning of the epidemic, the total number of vaccinated people up to 14 years of age with a 1st or 2nd dose is 6776 children.

The total number of immunized people aged 14 years with the MRI vaccine since the beginning of the epidemic is 18,251.  Submitted by: Aleksandar Jovicic.
=========================
[HealthMap/ProMED map of North Macedonia
http://healthmap.org/promed/p/55666. - ProMED Mod.MPP]
Date: Fri 8 Mar 2019
Source: IPH (Institute of Public Health of Republic of Macedonia) [abridged, edited]

This week [week of Mon 4 Mar 2019], a total of 81 cases of measles have been reported (laboratory confirmed or with an epidemiological link). A total of 45 cases of measles have been reported from Skopje (of whom 73.3% were incompletely vaccinated, unvaccinated, or with unknown vaccine status) while the other 36 are from 9 other cities in Macedonia.

From Gevgelija, 7 cases were reported, 6 of them unvaccinated. From Kumanovo, 8 cases were reported, 7 unvaccinated. From Tetovo, 7 new cases were reported, 6 of which were not vaccinated, with incomplete vaccine status. From Struga, 5 cases were reported, of which 3 were incompletely vaccinated with unknown vaccine status. Three new cases have been reported from [each of] Debar and Veles; [of these,] 5 persons have been incomplete vaccinated or with unknown vaccine status. Also, one new case from [each of] Kriva Palanka (not vaccinated), Kicevo (unknown vaccine status), and Kocani (completely vaccinated) [were reported].

A total of 493 cases of measles have been registered in Macedonia since the beginning of the epidemic in Skopje since December 2018, of which 410 have been linked to the epidemic in Skopje.

According to the place of permanent living, measles cases were registered in 17 towns in Macedonia, of which 366 cases were from Skopje, 39 from Tetovo, 25 from Kumanovo, 16 from Gevgelija, 9 from Debar, 7 from Struga, 6 from Gostivar, 6 from Veles, 5 from Kichevo, and 4 from Kocani, and the other 7 cities are sporadic cases.

The largest number of cases are from the age group 0-4 years: 220, or 44.6% of the total. A high percentage of patients is also registered in elderly groups. Persons older than 30 years account for 36.9% (n = 182) and persons from 20-29 years for 10.3% (n = 51).

Out of a total of 122 cases of children aged 1-4 years, 105 (86%) were unvaccinated, and out of 233 cases in people over 20 years of age, 70.8% (n = 165) were unvaccinated, incompletely vaccinated, or had unknown vaccine status.

From the total number of registered 493 cases of measles, the highest number and percentage -- 278 (56.4%) -- are laboratory confirmed; 117 (23.7%) are epidemiologically related, while 98 cases (19.9%) are measles [presumably this means clinically diagnosed but not laboratory confirmed. - ProMED Mod.SH].

Since the onset of the epidemic, in Skopje, total of 9958 children under 14 years of age have been vaccinated as part of the response to the outbreak with a 1st or 2nd dose. In the rest of the republic, since the epidemic began, a total of 5193 children up to 14 years have been vaccinated with a 1st or 2nd dose. The total number of those aged 14 years [and under] who have received MRP vaccine since the start of the epidemic in the Republic of Macedonia is 15 151.
Date: Sat 9 Feb 2019
Source: China.org.cn, a Xinhua report [edited]

The Macedonian Health Minister Venko Filipce confirmed on [Fri 8 Feb 2019] the death of a 6-month-old baby related to measles. According to Filipce, the baby was under treatment for lung complications and was not vaccinated.

The minister said vaccination in Macedonia should continue in order to strengthen the immunity of the population after the significant drop on vaccination coverage in 2014.  Filipce also confirmed that 2 children are treated for lung complications but are not in life-threatening conditions. The minister made the remarks after his visit at the Neurology Clinic in Skopje. On [2 Jan 2019], the Health Ministry in Macedonia declared the outbreak of measles in the capital of Skopje.
Date: Wed 2 Jan 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [abridged, edited]

Health officials in Macedonia are reporting a measles outbreak in the capital city of Skopje. Minister of Health Assoc. Dr. Venko Filipce announced the outbreak declaration today [2 Jan 2019].

In addition to the 7 cases that appeared in the Skopje settlement Radishani 10 days ago, there are now 12 new cases from almost all municipalities in Skopje, of which 6 are officially laboratory confirmed and 6 have a clear clinical picture and are awaiting official laboratory confirmation. The outbreak has affected both children and adults, all of whom were unvaccinated.

"Of the 15 000 unvaccinated children with vaccine calls, only 310 were vaccinated, which is a small figure. It is a good circumstance that schools [were closed] because of the holidays.

"But, of course, we have the situation under control. This is an extremely serious disease that, unfortunately, is sometimes fatal to the lives of children. Any disregard for the recommendations is an additional risk for the health of the whole population," said Minister Filipche (computer translated).  [Byline: Robert Herriman]
=========================
[A total of 310 children vaccinated of 15 000 is only 2% of the children immunized. This is an unacceptably high risk for the children. - ProMED Mod.LK]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Skopje, Macedonia (FYROM): <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/1999>]
More ...

Samoa

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General
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Morocco is a North African country and a favourite destination for many Irish tourists. The climate, relative shortness of the flights and the idyllic swimming conditions encourage many to vis
t.
Safety & Security
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The border regions of the country can be volatile and travellers planning to visit away from the main tourist routes should take extra precautions. The Western Sahara region is still in dispute though there has been an official cease-fire in place since 1991. The possibility of unexploded mines exists though it should be remembered that this area is many miles away from the normal tourist resorts. The level of street crime in Morocco is low but growing. Busy market places, parks and beaches are popular locations for petty criminals. Tourists should take care not to flaunt personal wealth and to avoid travelling away from the main tourist zones late at night. Travelling alone is a particular risk and only authorised guides and taxis should be used. Tourists have been threatened with serious injury at knife point if they have refused to purchase cannabis.
Laws & Customs
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It is an Islamic country and ladies in particular should take care to dress modestly. Islamic festivals can cause significant changes to occur which affect tourists including the holy month of Ramadan when all street cafés close until 5.30pm each day as strict Muslims do not eat during the daylight hours. The main tourist hotels continue to serve food as normal but many shops will remain closed. During these times tourists will need to carefully check their tickets and any travel arrangements may need to be changed. Banks and larger shops will remain open between 9am and 3pm Monday to Friday. Drug offences are treated very seriously and those visiting the Rif Mountains should realise this is a major cannabis growing area. Visitors with Arabic Bibles or those involved in any perceived outreach activity may find they are subjected to prolonged interrogation.
Health Facilities
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The level of health care available in many of the main hotels and resorts is perfectly adequate but care should be taken if your illness necessitates admission. Communication in English may be difficult and many medications will be unavailable. Frequently small private hospitals are used where standards vary greatly. Check that your travel insurance provides adequate cover for repatriation if required.
Food & Water Facilities
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The food and water provided in many of the main tourist resorts is very satisfactory but variations can easily occur and travellers should be careful at all times. Lettuce, undercooked bivalve shellfish (mussels, oysters, clams etc) and untreated water are all frequently implicated in sickness among travellers. Eating previously peeled fruit is also unwise and should be avoided. Bottled water purchased from main shops or hotels should be used for drinking and brushing your teeth.
Insect Bites & Mosquitoes
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There is only a very small risk of malaria transmission throughout Morocco and prophylaxis is not recommended for the majority of tourists. However, sandflies do abound during the summer months and can transmit a nasty disease known as Leishmaniasis. These small flies tend to hover close to the ground in shaded areas and can easily bite without the individual noticing. It is essential to use good insect repellent when at risk and to report any slow healing bite or sore to a doctor after your return home.
Sun Exposure
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The level of sun exposure in Morocco during the summer months can be intense. Take care to avoid the midday sun and use high sun blocking creams at all relevant times. Take particular care of children while in such a hot climate. Extra water and salt will be required to replace the amounts lost through perspiration. Salted crisps and nuts will be a useful source of salt.
Water Sports & Activities
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Many tourist locations in Morocco offer extended water sport facilities for tourists. Always check out what the standard of care is before agreeing to take part. Ask tourists who arrived before you and check with your holiday representative if possible. Confirm that good safety procedures are in place and that your travel insurance covers any accidents as a result of your activities.
Cash Facilities
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Traveller’s cheques and credit cards are accepted in many of the main tourist resorts. ATM machines are available in Casablanca and Rabat. It may be difficult to reconvert Moroccan money back to sterling and so care should be taken not to change too much initially until you clarify your expenses.
Travel by Train
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To visit other parts of the country many travellers use the train journey south from Tangier. However, be wary of any invitation from fellow passengers to alight at Asilah rather than continuing the journey south. A number of tourists have been held hostage and forced to make credit card transactions or cash withdrawals before being freed.
Road Transport
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Many tourists to Morocco hire motorbikes or cars to see more of the country. This is regarded as a high-risk activity and special care will be required at all times. Driving practices throughout Morocco are poor and traffic signals do not always function. Modern freeways link the main cities of Tangier, Rabat, Fez and Casablanca. Flash flooding can occur during the rainy season (November – March).
Rabies
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Rabies does occur in Morocco and it is essential that you avoid any and all contact with at risk animals. Typically this includes dogs, cats and monkeys but this viral disease can infect any warm-blooded animal. Take particular care to warn children to avoid animals and to report any contact as soon as possible.
Vaccinations
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There are no essential vaccines for entry into Morocco from Ireland. However most tourists are advised to consider adequate cover against:
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Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
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Tetanus (childhood booster)
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Typhoid (food and water disease)
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Hepatitis A (food and water disease)
Those planning a longer or more rural trip will also need to consider cover against diseases like Hepatitis B and Rabies.
Summary
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The majority of tourists visiting Morocco will remain very healthy and well. However, following simple precautions against food and water disease and sun exposure will be essential.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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.
Date: Fri, 27 Sep 2019 06:34:45 +0200 (METDST)
By Sophie Pons

Casablanca, Morocco, Sept 27, 2019 (AFP) - In Morocco, the struggle against HIV has been so successful in recent years that campaigners worry about losing funding for combatting the virus, but for people living with the disease it remains a heavy stigma.   In Casablanca, a group therapy workshop offers HIV patients a rare opportunity to speak openly about their disease.   "Here I feel normal, I'm treated like a human being," said Zineb, a 29-year-old mother.

Organised by the Association for the Fight Against AIDS (ALCS), on a recent Thursday the workshop brought 12 HIV patients together with a psychologist and a therapist.   The ALCS also organises follow-up therapeutic care in hospital, and prevention and screening campaigns, with funding from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.   These programmes were developed shortly after the first HIV case was detected in Morocco in 1986.   This early start is partly why UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, calls Morocco a "model country" for its HIV response.   Thanks to improved screening, access to treatment and monitoring, new HIV infections in Morocco declined by 42 percent between 2010 and 2016, compared to an average reduction of four percent across the rest of the Middle East and North Africa.

Morocco had 350 deaths from AIDS in 2018, from a population of about 35 million.   But some groups remain vulnerable, with intravenous drug users, men who have sex with other men, and sex workers accounting for two thirds of Morocco's 21,000 identified cases.   And the stigma attached to those infected remains high, even within the family.   "My mother treated me like a murderer. For a long time I felt alone in the world," said Youssef, a 28-year-old who has twice attempted suicide.   Like other HIV patients interviewed by AFP, he asked to be identified by a pseudonym.   And all of them -- save for a 40-year-old considered very lucky by the group -- have either hidden their illness or been rejected by loved ones.

- 'Don't tell him anything' -
In this conservative Muslim society, where sex outside marriage and homosexuality are illegal, HIV patients seldom talk publicly about the virus.   "The subject is taboo, because the infection is linked to sex, itself a taboo subject in Morocco," said Yakoub, a 25-year-old ALCS worker.   "The social rejection is such that some (HIV patients) lose everything: family, friends, work, home," he said.

Zineb, like many HIV patients, hides her medication to conceal her illness.   For 10 years, the former teen mother has told her family that she is being treated for diabetes. "My 17-year-old son knows nothing, I can't bring myself to tell him, I'm too afraid," she said with a sad smile.   "Once you're sick, you're no longer a person," said Sakina, a mother who says she never speaks of her illness except with doctors, the ALCS staff and other HIV patients.

Like 70 percent of HIV positive women in Morocco, Sakina was infected by her husband. She cannot bring herself to tell her 15-year-old son that he is also infected.    She has always lied to him but she can "no longer sleep at night", she told the group through tears.    "My advice: above all, don't tell him anything," said a young man.   "For your sake, let him find out from someone else," another group participant suggested.   Then the psychologist interjected to say that private sessions are available to "reflect on these difficult questions".

The shame of HIV is so entrenched, it even permeates the medical establishment.   "For 30 years we've been talking about it, the virus is well known but the discrimination is still there," said Dr Kamal Marhoum El Filali, head of the infectious diseases department at Ibn Rochd Hospital in Casablanca, which hosts an ALCS branch.    "The stigmatisation isn't just from society but also from medical staff within the hospital environment."

Amina, another group therapy participant, experienced this first hand.   "When I went to the hospital to give birth, no one wanted to take care of me, no one wanted to touch me, I ended up in intensive care," she recalled indignantly.   Others in the session though were grateful for the care they had received.    "We are lucky to be under the care of the infectious diseases department: we are well cared for compared to others, considering the lack of funding and disrepair in Moroccan hospitals," said another participant

- 'Victim of own success' -
The emergency room at Ibn Rochd is sometimes overwhelmed with doctors each seeing up to 40 patients a day.   But the infectious diseases department is always spotlessly clean, providing personalised support as ALCS staff liaise with the medical teams.   But how much money Morocco will receive to continue its fight against HIV will be determined at a three-yearly conference for the Global Fund in October.   With funding declining globally and controversy surrounding the management of UNAIDS, ALCS president Mehdi Karkouri fears financial cuts.   "We are a victim of our own success: because our results are good, we risk losing funding," he said.
Date: Mon, 2 Sep 2019 21:08:54 +0200 (METDST)

Rabat, Sept 2, 2019 (AFP) - Morocco authorities said Monday they had found the body of a person missing after a flood hit a football pitch, bringing to eight the number of people killed in last week's tragedy.   The flood took place when a nearby river burst its banks in the southern region of Taroudant on Wednesday.   A 17-year-old boy and six elderly men were killed and have since been buried, while rescuers continued the search for an eight victim who was swept away by the flood, authorities said.

The last body was found some 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the village of Tizret near where an amateur football tournament had been taking place.   Photographs and videos shared on social media showed muddy waters carrying away people who had clambered on top of a building flattened by the flood.   Authorities have opened an investigation and the government has promised to take several measures to avoid such tragedies in the future.   Morocco's national weather service had warned of the risk of stormy rains on Wednesday afternoon in several provinces.    The heavy downpour followed a dry spell, making the floods more violent, local media reported.

Floods are common in Morocco. In late July, 15 people died in a landslide caused by flash floods on a road south of Marrakesh.   In 2014, floods killed around 50 people and caused considerable damage in the south of the country.   Between 2000 and 2013, a series of 13 major floods killed a total of 263 people in Morocco and caused considerable damage to infrastructure worth $427 million, according to the World Bank.   A study published in 2015 pointed to multiple failures in infrastructure maintenance, prevention, warning and emergency management.
Date: Thu, 29 Aug 2019 00:08:33 +0200 (METDST)

Rabat, Aug 28, 2019 (AFP) - At least seven people died Wednesday when a river burst its banks and flooded a village football pitch where a game was being played in south Morocco, local authorities and a witness said.   Eight men who had sought refuge in the changing rooms were swept away in the floodwater after heavy showers hit the Taroudant region late in the day, an eyewitness told AFP on condition of anonymity.   "We're in shock, I'm 64 years old and I've never seen such a downpour," the witness said.

Search and rescue operations were under way to find further victims, officials said.   Photographs and videos shared on social media showed muddy waters carrying away people who had clambered on top of a building flattened by the flooding.    Morocco's national weather service had warned of the risk of stormy rains on Wednesday afternoon in several provinces.    The heavy downpour followed a dry spell, making the floods more violent, local media reported.   Floods are common in Morocco. In late July, 15 people died in a landslide caused by flash floods on a road south of Marrakesh.
Date: Fri, 26 Jul 2019 15:26:58 +0200

Rabat, July 26, 2019 (AFP) - Moroccan emergency crews pulled 15 bodies from the mud after a rare summer downpour triggered a landslide that buried a minibus, authorities said Friday, providing the first official toll.   The victims -- eleven women, three men and one child -- were found in the bus buried some 20 metres (more than 60 feet) under the masses of earth and rock dislodged by the rain, local authorities said.    "There are no survivors," they said in a statement.

The official toll comes after public broadcaster 2M reported Friday morning that 16 bodies had been recovered.   The bus was buried Wednesday evening when a deluge in the Atlas mountains south of Marrakesh triggered flash flooding.   Images released by the authorities show excavators working to dig a path to the bus, more than 24 hours after it was engulfed by the debris.

A weather alert on Tuesday warned of storms in several provinces in the North African country, which rarely receives summer rains.   Investment in Morocco's road network has largely focused on the main transport arteries and many rural areas can be reached only by dirt tracks that are vulnerable to extreme weather.   Every year, nearly 3,500 people are killed on the North African country's roads.
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World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Available at:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Yemen:
Date: Tue 3 Dec 2019
Source: Cordoba Epidemiology Report and Los Tiempos news article [in Spanish, trans., edited]
<http://www.reporteepidemiologico.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/REC-2264.pdf>

Los Tiempos, Bolivia, 2 Dec 2019 Confirmation of the 1st case of the year (2019) of human rabies in Cochabamba After confirming the death of rabies of a 7-year-old girl in the southern area of Cochabamba, the Departmental Health Service (SEDES) and the Zoonosis Unit of the Mayor's Office intensified prevention actions to prevent the proliferation of the virus. This would be the 1st case confirmed so far this year [2019].

The head of the Epidemiology Unit of SEDES, Arturo Fernando Quiaones Lapez, reported that in the last rabies vaccination campaign for dogs more 1000 doses were given. "We suspected rabies in the case of this minor. She tested positive by laboratory both in cerebrospinal fluid as well as in brain tissue," according to lab results obtained on 2 Dec 2019. The victim died on 26 Nov 2019 after being hospitalized in intensive care of the Children's Hospital for 2 days with signs of rabies," said Dr Manuel Ascencio Villarroel.

The patient's relatives reported the girl had contact with a puppy which died a month ago. The dog did not receive rabies vaccines and belonged to someone the family knows. Quiñones mentioned the family members of the girl and the owners of the animal are receiving preventive treatment. Meanwhile, the head of Zoonosis of the Mayor's Office, Javier Humberto Rodraguez Herrera, stated on 2 Dec 2019 a "massive focus blockade" will be held with the participation of 8 health centers to prevent the circulation of the virus in the area.

He commented that, to date, 11 cases of canine rabies have been recorded in the municipality. In more than 11 months of 2019, SEDES identified 25 positive cases of canine rabies, the majority in the metropolitan region. Quiaones asked the population to report the death of their pets with signs of rabies at health centers for follow-up to fight the disease. Meanwhile, from the City Hall, the owners of dogs were urged to have their dogs vaccinated. Javier Rodra­guez added another risk factor is when animals are collected from the street and they are not vaccinated.
===================
[The rabies virus attacks the nervous system in animals.  When a rabid animal bites a human being, it can transfer the virus, contained in saliva, to that individual. "After inoculation, rabies virus may enter the peripheral nervous system directly and migrates to the brain or may replicate in muscle tissue, remaining sequestered at or near the entry site during incubation, prior to central nervous system invasion and replication. It then spreads centrifugally to numerous other organs. The case-fatality ratio approaches unity [100%], but exact pathogenic mechanisms are not fully understood. "Susceptibility to lethal infection is related to the animal species, viral variant, inoculum concentration, location and severity of exposure, and host immune status.

Both virus-neutralizing antibodies and cell-mediated immunity are important in host defense. "Early diagnosis is difficult. Rabies should be suspected in human cases of unexplained viral encephalitis with a history of animal bite. Unvaccinated persons are often negative for virus-neutralizing antibodies until late in the course of disease. Virus isolation from saliva, positive immunofluorescent skin biopsies or virus neutralizing antibody (from cerebrospinal fluid, or serum of a non-vaccinated patient), establish a diagnosis. "Five general stages of rabies are recognized in humans: incubation, prodrome, acute neurologic period, coma, and death (or, very rarely, recovery).

No specific anti-rabies agents are useful once clinical signs or symptoms develop. The incubation period in rabies, usually 30 to 90 days but ranging from as few as 5 days to longer than 2 years after initial exposure, is more variable than in any other acute infection. Incubation periods may be somewhat shorter in children and in individuals bitten close to the central nervous system (such as the head).

Clinical symptoms are first noted during the prodromal period, which usually lasts from 2 to 10 days. These symptoms are often nonspecific (general malaise, fever, and fatigue) or suggest involvement of the respiratory system (sore throat, cough, and dyspnoea), gastrointestinal system (anorexia, dysphagia, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea), or central nervous systems (headache, vertigo, anxiety, apprehension, irritability, and nervousness).

More remarkable abnormalities (agitation, photophobia, priapism, increased libido, insomnia, nightmares, and depression) may also occur, suggesting encephalitis, psychiatric disturbances, or brain conditions. Pain or paraesthesia at the site of virus inoculation, combined with a history of recent animal bite, should suggest a consideration of rabies. "The acute neurologic period begins with objective signs of central nervous system dysfunction.

The disease may be classified as furious rabies if hyperactivity (that is, hydrophobia) predominates and as dumb rabies if paralysis dominates the clinical picture. Fever, paraesthesia, nuchal rigidity, muscle fasciculations, focal and generalized convulsions, hyperventilation, and hypersalivation may occur in both forms of the disease. "At the end of the acute neurologic phase, periods of rapid, irregular breathing may begin; paralysis and coma soon follow. Respiratory arrest may occur thereafter, unless the patient is receiving ventilatory assistance, which may prolong survival for days, weeks, or longer, with death due to other complications.

"Although life support measures can prolong the clinical course of rabies, rarely will they affect the outcome of disease. The possibility of recovery, however, must be recognized, and when resources permit, every effort should be made to support the patient. At least 7 cases of human "recovery" have been documented." (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK8618/>)

A very sad situation which could have been prevented if the animal had been vaccinated. Responsible owners vaccinate their animals. Condolences to the family. - ProMED Mod.TG]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Bolivia: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/55162>]