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Albania

Albania US Consular Information Sheet November 04, 2008

 COUNTRY DESCRIPTION

Albania is a parliamentary democracy that is transforming its economy into a market-oriented system. Albania's per capita income is among the lowest in Eu

ope, but economic conditions in the country are steadily improving. Tourist facilities are not highly developed in much of the country, and though Albania's economic integration into European Union markets is slowly underway, many of the goods and services taken for granted in other European countries are not yet available. Hotel accommodations are limited outside of major cities. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Albania for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS

 A passport is required. All travelers entering or exiting Albania must have six months or more validity on their passport. Customs officers strictly enforce this law. U.S. citizens do not require a visa prior to entering Albania, but those traveling without a visa will be charged a fee for an entry stamp at the point of entry, which is valid for a stay of up to 90 days. This fee is currently 10 Euros, or the equivalent in any easily convertible currency, including U.S. dollars. Travelers without a visa who intend to stay in Albania for more than 90 days should be aware that Albanian law allows a traveler without a visa to remain in Albania for 90 days only within a specific 180-day period. That 180-day period is defined from the first day of entry. For example, a traveler entering without a visa on January 1 may remain in Albania for 90 days total during the period of time between January 1 and June 28. Departing Albania during this time period does not "restart the clock." Travelers attempting to reenter Albania without a visa and within 180 days of a previous entry and after an aggregate stay of 90 days may be denied entry. For stays exceeding 90 days within a 180-day period, those interested must apply for a Residency Permit at the police station with jurisdiction over the city of residence. Information on how to apply for a residency permit is available on the Embassy of Albania web site at http://www.embassyofalbania.org/. There is also a departure fee of ten Euros, or the equivalent in any easily convertible currency, including U.S. dollars. Visit the Embassy of Albania web site at http://www.embassyofalbania.org/consular.html#visa for the most current visa information. Dual Nationality: The Albanian government considers any person in Albania of Albanian parents to be an Albanian citizen. In addition to being subject to all Albanian laws affecting U.S. citizens, dual nationals may be subject to Albanian laws that impose special obligations. Male Albanian citizens are subject to compulsory military service regulations. If such persons are found guilty of draft evasion in Albania, they are subject to prosecution by the Albanian court. Those who might be affected should inquire at an Albanian Embassy or Consulate outside Albania regarding their status before traveling. In some instances, dual nationality may hamper U.S. Government efforts to provide protection abroad. 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

Although the overall security situation in Albania has improved in recent years, organized criminal activity continues to operate in all regions, and corruption is pervasive. US Government employees need permission to travel to the northern administrative districts of Shkoder, Malesi E Madhe and Tropoje (with the exception of the route along the national road to Montenegro and the city of Shkoder) and to the southern town of Lazarat, with such travel restricted to secure vehicles with escort. Travel restrictions for U.S. Government employees have been lifted for overnight stays in the city of Shkoder. In most cases, police assistance and protection is limited. A high level of security awareness should be maintained at all times. Photographing anything that authorities regard as being of military or security interest may cause travelers problems. All gatherings of large crowds should be avoided, 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 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 A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME

In the latest State Department assessment, Albania’s crime rating is “medium.” Crime against foreigners is rare in Albania, as targeting foreigners is often viewed as too risky. Visitors should maintain the same personal security awareness that they would in any metropolitan U.S. city. Caution should be exercised in bars in Tirana where violent incidents, some involving the use of firearms, have occurred in the past, particularly in the early morning hours. Within the last years there have been fewer cases of carjacking compared with previous years. Anyone who is carjacked should surrender the vehicle without resistance. Armed crime continues to be more common in northern and northwestern Albania than in the rest of the country. Street crime is fairly common in Albania, particularly at night. Criminals do not seem to deliberately target U.S. citizens or other foreigners, but do seek targets of opportunity, and select those who appear to have anything of value. Vehicle theft is still one of the biggest problems in Albania. Pick-pocketing is widespread; U.S. citizens have reported the theft of their passports by pick-pockets. INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line is 129, though coverage is inconsistent at best. See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION

Medical facilities and capabilities in Albania are limited beyond rudimentary first aid treatment. Emergency and major medical care requiring surgery and hospital care is inadequate due to lack of specialists, diagnostic aids, medical supplies, and prescription drugs. Travelers with previously diagnosed medical conditions may wish to consult their physicians before travel. As prescription drugs may be unavailable locally, travelers may also wish to bring extra supplies of required medications. Recent electricity shortages have resulted in sporadic blackouts throughout the country, which can affect food storage capabilities of restaurants and shops. While some restaurants and food stores have generators to properly store food, travelers should take care that food is cooked thoroughly to reduce the risk of food-borne illness. Water in Albania is not potable. Visitors should plan to purchase bottled water or drinks while in country. The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Albania. 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 (CDC) 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 Albania is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. Major roads in Albania are often in very poor condition. Traveling by road throughout Albania is the most dangerous activity for locals and tourists. Vehicle accidents are the major cause of death, according to police statistics. Electricity shortages have resulted in sporadic blackouts throughout the country that can happen any hour of the day or night. Such outages affect traffic signals and street lights, making driving increasingly treacherous at any time of day. Travel at night outside the main urban areas is dangerous and should be avoided due to deplorable road conditions. During the winter months, travelers may encounter dangerous snow and icy conditions on the roads throughout mountainous regions in northern Albania. Buses travel between most major cities almost exclusively during the day, but they are often unreliable and uncomfortable. Many travelers looking for public transport prefer to use privately owned vans, which function as an alternate system of bus routes and operate almost entirely without schedules or set fares. Please note that many of these privately owned vans may not have official permission to operate a bus service and may not adhere to accepted safety and maintenance standards. Persons wishing to use privately owned vans should exercise caution. There are no commercial domestic flights and few rail connections. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office at www.albaniantourism.com.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT

As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Albania, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Albania's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For further information, travelers may visit the FAA's web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Albania's customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Albania of some items. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Albania in Washington, D.C. or one of Albania's Consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. As noted previously, the Albanian government considers any person in Albania of Albanian parents to be an Albanian citizen. In addition to being subject to all Albanian laws affecting U.S. citizens, dual nationals may be subject to Albanian laws that impose special obligations. Male Albanian citizens are subject to compulsory military service regulations. See our information pertaining to dual nationality. Albania is a cash economy. Credit cards and travelers checks are not generally accepted, except at the major new hotels in Tirana and some international airline offices. Travelers' checks can be changed at banks in larger towns. Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are available in most cities. 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 Albania’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Albania are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties. Under Albanian law, police can detain any individual for up to 10 hours without filing formal charges. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times to show proof of identity and U.S. citizenship if questioned by local officials.

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 Albania 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 Albania. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Rruga Elbasanit 103, tel. (355)(4) 2247285; fax (355)(4) 2232222. The U.S. Embassy web site is http://tirana.usembassy.gov/ * * * This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated June 10, 2008, to update sections on Entry and Exit Requirements, Medical Facilities and Health Information, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 9 Mar 2018 16:28:50 +0100

Tirana, March 9, 2018 (AFP) - The military has been deployed in northern Albania to help hundreds of people trapped by floods following heavy rainfall, authorities said on Friday.   More than 9,230 hectares (22,800 acres) of agricultural land is underwater in the Shkodra region, including villages where the only means of transport is by boat, the defence ministry said.

Army personnel are evacuating residents and securing food supplies in the affected areas, 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of the capital, Tirana.   The torrential rain in recent days has caused landslides damaging dozens of homes and flooding roads, said the transport ministry.   The rain has also forced the Albanian authorities to release excess water from a hydroelectric plant, which has added to the flooding in northern areas of the country.   Weather forecasters say the rain is likely to ease from Saturday.
Date: Sun, 3 Dec 2017 12:29:40 +0100

Tirana, Dec 3, 2017 (AFP) - Thousands of police and soldiers have been deployed in Albania to rescue stranded residents after heavy rainfall triggered major flooding, and caused the death of a utility worker, officials and the power company said Sunday.   The victim, Sabri Vlinga, died while he was working on a electricity pole at Roskovec in the flooded south of the country, the power company said in statement.   Two other people were injured in similar accidents. it added.   Some 6,400 police and soldiers have been sent to help rescue people stranded by the floods, Prime MInister Edi Rama said Saturday, calling the situation "very critical".

Around 1,500 people in the affected areas have been rescued, while several thousand homes were without electricity as many utility poles have been swept away by mudslides, said Shemsi Prenci, head of civil protection.   More than 7,874 hectares (19,450 acres) of farm land as well as 3,193 homes are under water and several roads in the south remained impassable.

Army forces have built a temporary bridge at Darezeze, about 70 kilometres (44 miles) from the capital Tirana, to come to the aid of 2,000 residents stranded by the floods, the defence ministry said.    In neighbouring Macedonia, the heavy rains have also caused flooding as several rivers include the main Vardar river have burst their banks, the MIA news agency reported.
Date: Sat 5 Aug 2017
From: Edmond Puca <edmond_puca@yahoo.com> [edited]

Here in Albania, we have 2 imported cases of haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS), one imported from the north of Greece and another from Macedonia in a village near the border with Albania.

The patient from Macedonia is 25 years old. He presented in the emergency room on 31 Jul [2017]. Right now, he is in good condition and will survive. He presented with fever, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, and lower back pain.

The other patient from Greece had been in our service for the previous 2 weeks and now is at home in good condition.

The disease is caused by Dobrava-Belgrade virus infection.
---------------------------------
Dr Edmond Puca
Infectologue
Department of Infectious Disease
UHC "Mother Teresa"
Tirana, Albania
===================
[ProMED-mail thanks Dr Edmond Puca for sending in this report.  This and the previous report are the 1st reports of hantavirus infections in Macedonia that ProMED-mail has posted. There is also evidence of HFRS in Greece, although ProMED-mail has not posted reports previously. Sero-epidemiological investigations conducted in several Balkan countries revealed an overall seroprevalence of 4 per cent in Greece (<http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168170213004887#>). There doubtless have been Dobrava-Belgrade virus infections in Greece and the Balkans over the years, given that this virus is known to circulate widely in the Balkans.

The yellow-necked field mouse (_Apodemus flavicollis_) is the principle vertebrate host for Dobrava-Belgrade virus. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: Mon, 6 Feb 2017 04:30:32 +0100
By Briseida MEMA

Tirana, Feb 6, 2017 (AFP) - Emira Sela covers her face with her hand to hide a disfiguring abscess, the traumatic result of unregulated cosmetic treatments now rampant across Albania.   The 31-year-old began to worry when wrinkles appeared on her face. Sela's hairdresser told her that a simple injection, costing around 60 euros ($65), would banish the signs of ageing.   "She assured me that I would not risk anything. She even listed well-known names" of women who had undergone such treatment, said Sela.   "I did not think twice, I trusted her without asking questions," said the blonde woman with green eyes, her voice trembling.

Albanian hair and beauty salons lacking expertise and medical supervision are offering such cosmetic treatments, unregulated in a legal vacuum, much to the alarm of qualified doctors.   A single injection of a product whose content and dosage Sela knew nothing about was enough to ruin her life in late August.    Despite antibiotics she has permanent pain, fever and nausea, while the abscess on her right cheek forces her eye to half-close and her face is nearly paralysed.   "I am so disfigured that I tried to commit suicide," said Sela, who lost her job in a bank. Her only hope now is corrective surgery at an Italian hospital, scheduled for this month.

- Desiring Kardashian look -
"There are more and more impostors with syringes," said Panajot Papa, a plastic surgeon at a private clinic in Tirana.   "The problem is also the products... Forbidden in Europe, they enter illegally from Turkey or China."    Eriona Shehu, a dermatologist at Tirana's university hospital, said these unregulated synthetic products, such as injected liquid silicone and acrylamide, were being offered at temptingly low prices.

"Cosmetic interventions have become a lucrative industry. The patient is only a customer, exposed to a number of risks."   Shehu said the desire to look like voluptuous US reality television star Kim Kardashian was "destroying the lives of young Albanian girls looking for beauty".   Albanian doctors say the typical age of clients for such procedures is between 16 and 28.    In the country of about three million people, the demand for cosmetic interventions rose more than 50 percent in 2015, according to a study published by Albania's economic magazine Monitor.

Promotional offers can be seen everywhere, such as a beauty salon advertising 20 percent reductions for three people coming together for treatment during the holiday season.   Papa says he has treated a dozen young women aged between 20 and 27 who suffered complications after having their lips and cheekbones swollen with injected liquid silicone for 40 to 50 euros.    The product has been banned for cosmetic use in countries such as Italy and France for more than 15 years.   Papa said such botched interventions left these women prone to particularly bad swellings during their menstrual period, requiring further treatment -- and he warned they may suffer such symptoms for life.

- Closing legal gap -
Albanian doctors are worried about foreign practitioners who come from Italy, Turkey and Greece to work just for a weekend.   "They may not have a diploma, qualification or licence for these kind of interventions or for assuming the responsibility of a patient's medical follow-up," said Besim Boci, head of the otolaryngology department at Tirana's university hospital.   Due to legal loopholes, the judiciary cannot step in.    A spokesman at Tirana's tribunal, Alba Nikolla, admits that it is currently impossible to "open investigations and prosecute based only on complaints" against practitioners.

But authorities are set to tackle this with a draft law to control cosmetic products and beauty salons, which is due to be introduced in parliament in the next few months.   The law complies with the requirements of the European Union, which Albania aspires to join, and will enable authorities to shut down rogue establishments using synthetic products.    When health is adversely affected, practitioners could be imprisoned for three to 10 years.    Such regulations could go some way to easing the trauma of women like Elisa Lura, a 22-year-old economics student.   She underwent a laser treatment to restore her natural look after paying 50 euros to a neighbourhood salon for permanent eyebrow tattoos, which went wrong. But the laser made things much worse.   "Everything is spoiled!" she said of her face now covered with painful scars.
Date: Wed, 13 Jan 2016 04:21:54 +0100
By Briseida MEMA

Tirana, Albania, Jan 13, 2016 (AFP) - With her sick daughter in the arms, Mira Lela pushes her way through the hallway of the doctor's clinic, crowded with patients ailing from heavy pollution in Albania's capital.   "This is an emergency, she has difficulty breathing," said the tearful woman, forcing open the door to the office of Bardhyl Vaqari, who has worked in the specialist Tirana clinic for more than 20 years.   "An acute asthma attack," said the doctor on seeing the child.   "The number of people with respiratory allergies and cardiovascular problems has greatly increased," he told AFP, adding that the number of patients on the clinic's books has more than doubled to 8,000 in the last four years.

On the noisy and congested streets outside, clapped-out bangers and Hummer trucks cross paths with Mercedes, BMWs and overloaded buses that leave a trail of black smoke and heavy odour.    Having been cut off from the world under a strict communist regime until 1991, the Western Balkan city had just a few hundred cars on its roads in the 1990s.

But today, through a mixture of pride, luxury-seeking and necessity, given the lack of public transport, there are more than 190,000 cars circulating in a city of about one million people.   "Albanians take the car even when going to buy bread in a nearby store. That's why the traffic is overloaded all day and this increases pollution levels," said Altin Duka, a despairing 65-year-old shopkeeper.

The average age of vehicles on Tirana's roads is around 16 years, twice the European average, according to Gani Cupi, deputy manager of Albania's Road Transport Services.    Many of the vehicles do not meet the standards of the European Union, which Albania hopes to join.   "The traffic load, the age of vehicles, their technical condition but also the poor quality of fuel are all factors contributing to the capital's pollution," said Cupi.

- Taxing dilemmas -
In a bid to clean up the air, Albanian authorities considered doubling taxes on ageing vehicles but then dropped such plans. Analysts suggested the cost would weigh too heavily on citizens in one of the poorest countries in Europe.   New cars are already exempt from paying annual tax for the first three years, but authorities in 2012 lifted a levy on the import of old vehicles as the EU considered it a "fiscal discrimination".

Tirana's Mayor Erion Veliaj has pledged to battle against the fumes by increasing the number of green spaces, introducing hybrid buses and improving infrastructure in the city, which is crammed with mostly illegal constructions.   "The number of vehicles does not stop growing," he told AFP, pointing out that about 500 people die in the city each year "because of respiratory or cardiovascular problems related to pollution".

A report this year from the European Environment Agency noted a 20 to 30 percent decrease in Tirana's concentration levels of PM10 and PM2.5 -- damaging particulate matter -- according to data assessment from 2011 to 2013.   But Laureta Dibra, head of the air and climate change department at Albania's Environment Ministry, told AFP that PM10 levels had actually been rising in areas of heavy traffic in recent years.   Tirana remains "among the most polluted cities in Europe", added the director of the National Environment Agency, Julian Beqiri.   "The level of the population's exposure to pollutants is still a problem," he said.

- On your bikes -
In an effort to improve air quality in the capital and educate residents, Tirana organised two car-free days in 2015, when the air was said to be at least four times less polluted than usual.   Worried activists are campaigning to promote the bicycle as a means of transport and a way of life.   Ecovolis, a bike sharing system, rents out at least 200 bicycles from different tations around Tirana, at 60 leke (44 euro cents, $0.47) per bike per hour -- but many people still prefer getting behind the wheel.

Although Albania's energy minister claims that 95 percent of fuel meets the required standards, even Prime Minister Edi Rama attacked its quality in May last year.   "It is so bad that even a strong car like a Mercedes ends up being bad for Albanians' lungs," he said, calling for urgent measures to improve fuel controls.   The government says restrictions have since been tightened, but those at the frontline of the fumes remain unhappy.   "I come home in the evening with a completely dry throat and a bitter taste my mouth," said Bequir Veseli, 37, a traffic policeman who spends eight hours a day at the centre of a chaotic roundabout.   "I have trouble breathing but what can I do? The next day I have to go back to my post".
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Thu, 21 Feb 2019 07:52:47 +0100
By Amelie BARON

Port-au-Prince, Feb 21, 2019 (AFP) - With flaming barricades and widespread looting, 10 days of street violence in Haiti have all but buried a tourism industry that managed to resurrect itself after a devastating earthquake in 2010.   Ugly, violent footage beamed around the world has again sent the message that this impoverished Caribbean country is politically unstable and no place to go on vacation.

The final straw was the helicopter evacuation last week of 100-odd Canadian tourists trapped as angry protesters demanded the resignation of the president, whom they accuse of corruption.   "We have been through 12 days of hell. We managed the crisis but today we are suffering from the aftershocks," said Tourism Minister Marie-Christine Stephenson.

- Blacklist -
Beside the direct effects of the demonstrations, the United States delivered another crushing blow on February 14 when it urged its citizens not to travel to Haiti, which thus joined a no-go list with war-torn countries like Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.

The minister said the US travel alert for Haiti was too harsh, calling the riots something that flared up unexpectedly and are now over.   "OK, they lasted 12 days but I am not sure that other Caribbean countries, which have had riots of their own, have been punished as severely and quickly as we have," said Stephenson.   Overnight, the decision by the US State Department hit the tourism industry hard. Travel web sites simply stopped offering flights to Haiti's two international airports.   Hotels are reporting cancellation of reservations and many empty rooms.

Officials in the industry have yet to tally up the damage but say that for the second time in less than a year, they will have to lay off workers.   In July of last year, three days of riots over a government attempt to raise fuel prices ruined the summer vacation season for Haiti's tourism industry.   It is not just hotels that will suffer again, said Beatrice Nadal-Mevs, president of the Haitian Tourism Association.   "This is going to affect everyday people because these are direct jobs that are going to be lost and supply chains will be threatened: farming, fishing, crafts, transport," Nadal-Mevs said.

- Mardi Gras cancelled -
With the opposition planning more demonstrations to seek the resignation of President Jovenel Moise, the sector got yet more bad news with word that Carnival celebrations have been called off in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.   City Hall said it could not guarantee revelers' safety.   The festivities, which this year were planned for March 3-5, usually draw many Haitians living abroad and fleeing the winter cold in Canada and the eastern US.

Another major Carnival celebration is scheduled to take place in the city of Gonaives, but the government has not said if it will go ahead.   As grim as things are, some foreign tourists have gone ahead with visits to Haiti.   On Wednesday, a group of Australians under police escort visited a square featuring statues of heros of Haiti's independence from France. Days ago, demonstrators at the same plaza were throwing rocks at police, who responded with volleys of tear gas grenades.

A woman named Carole, who did not want to give her last name, said, "I trust the company we're traveling with. They not only want to take us but they want to bring us back."   Kevin McCue, another of the people in the group of 20, said he was glad that their tour operator had not opted for Plan B, which would have meant skipping Haiti and spending the whole week in the neighboring Dominican Republic.   "Tourism is alive and well here. People should come. The more they come, the better they spread some money among people who need it and the better for Haiti," said McCue.
Date: Thu, 21 Feb 2019 07:20:54 +0100
By Shafiqul ALAM

Dhaka, Feb 21, 2019 (AFP) - At least 70 people were killed when fire tore through crumbling apartment blocks in a historic part of Dhaka, setting off a chain of explosions and a wall of flames down nearby streets, officials said Thursday.    It started in one building where chemicals for deodorants and other household uses were illegally stored and spread at lightning speed to four nearby buildings, the fire service said.    People became trapped by the flames at a nearby bridal party and a restaurant. TV images showed the gates to one building were chained up so residents were unable to escape.

Traffic jams in the clogged narrow streets held up the rescue operation.   Bangladesh fire chief Ali Ahmed said at least 70 people were killed but that the toll would likely rise.    "The number of bodies may increase. The search is still going on," he told AFP.   Doctors said at least 10 of the scores of injured were in critical condition.   Firefighters who took almost 12 hours to bring the fire under control, went through the blackened floors of the building, littered with spray cans, looking for bodies.

The fire started at about 10.40pm (1640 GMT) on Wednesday at Chawkbazar in the old Mughal part of the capital.   Ahmed said it may have been started by a gas cylinder and quickly spread through the building where chemicals were stored in rooms alongside the apartments.   Chemicals used for household products were also stored in the nearby buildings. They exploded as the fire spread, witnesses said.     "There was a traffic jam when the fire broke out. It spread so quickly that people could not escape," the fire chief said.   Another fire official told reporters the blaze was under control but was not extinguished despite the efforts of more than 200 firefighters.   "It will take time. This is not like any other fire," he said, adding that the inferno had been made more devastating by the "highly combustible" chemicals.   Fire trucks had struggled in the narrow streets to reach the scene and there was also a lack of water for the battle, officials said.   The main gate of one five storey building was chained up, trapping residents inside, according to images shown on Bangladesh television.

- 'Flames were everywhere' -
Members of a bridal party in a nearby community centre were also caught in the fire and many were injured. Others were caught in small restaurants.   Dhaka deputy police commissioner Ibrahim Khan said at least two cars and 10 cycle rickshaws were burned in the fire.   "The victims included passersby, some people who were eating food at a restaurants and some members of the bridal party," he told AFP.   "I saw the charred body of a woman who was holding her daughter in her lap as their rickshaw was caught in the fire," said one witness.

Haji Abdul Kader, whose shop was destroyed, said he only survived the blaze as as he had left to go to a pharmacy.   "When I was at the pharmacy, I heard a big bang. I turned back and saw the whole street, which was jam packed with cars and rickshaws, in flames. Flames were everywhere," he told AFP.   "I got burned and rushed to hospital," he said.

Doctors at Dhaka Medical College Hospital said at least 55 people were injured, including 10 in a critical condition.   Hundreds of people rushed to the hospital looking for missing relatives.  However, most of the bodies of the dead were charred beyond recognition.    Sohag Hossain, one of the injured, told the Daily Star that he and two friends were working at a plastic factory in one of the buildings at the time of the fire.    They heard an explosion and could not escape the flames.

A similar blaze in 2010 in an old Dhaka building, which was also used as a chemical warehouse, killed more than 120 people in one of the worst fire disasters in the city of 20 million people.      Dhaka authorities launched a crackdown on chemical warehouses in residential areas following the blaze, but efforts to rein in the practice have waned.   Many buildings in Bangladesh lack adequate fire safety measures and the enforcement of fire regulations in factories and apartment buildings is lax.  
Date: Wed 20 Feb 2019, 2:13 PM CET
Source: El Pais in English [edited]
<https://elpais.com/elpais/2019/02/20/inenglish/1550655774_604104.html>

An investigation has been opened to determine the cause of death of a 46-year-old woman, who became ill after eating at a one-star Michelin restaurant called RiFF in Valencia. A total of 23 other patrons, including the victim's husband and 12-year-old son, also fell sick after the meal but their symptoms were mild and they have reportedly all recovered. The case was confirmed by regional health chief Ana Barcela, who expressed her condolences to the family and said that an investigation was already underway. "We've conducted a primary inspection of the establishment and everything appears to be normal," she said. "Analytical tests will now be carried out on the food products."

Barcela explained that the regional public health department will be in charge of the investigation and for determining the causes behind the woman's death. According to sources from the regional health department, the food poisoning outbreak was reported on [Sun 17 Feb 2019], after the 3 family members fell ill. They began to show symptoms of food poisoning - vomiting and diarrhoea - on [Sat 16 Feb 2019]. According to Europa Press, the father and son recovered but the woman's symptoms were more severe, and she died in her home early on the following morning. The investigation into the death revealed that a total of 9 patrons had experienced illness, mainly vomiting, after eating at the same restaurant.

Subsequently, it emerged that a further 14 people had also suffered light symptoms. "17 people have been interviewed, of whom 14 stated that they had some kind of mild symptoms," explained regional health chief Ana Barceló today, [Wed 20 Feb 2019]. "The samples that have been collected over the last few days have been sent to the National Toxicology Institute to be analyzed." Public health officials inspected the restaurant on [Mon 18 Feb 2019], but did not find any problems that could have contributed to the food poisoning. Investigators also collected samples of ingredients and raw food products that were part of the menu, and are currently analyzing them.

Barcela added that at this point she could not confirm whether the sickness had been caused by morel mushrooms that were on the restaurant's menu. "We will have to wait for the autopsy to be carried out on the woman before we can determine whether it was the ingestion of a food that directly caused her death, or whether it prompted a state that led to this fatal outcome, or if she had an existing condition," she explained on [Wed 20 Feb 2019].

Forensic teams are working to determine whether she could have been poisoned by something she ate, or whether she may have choked on her own vomit. In a statement, the owner of RiFF, Bernd H. Knaller, announced that the restaurant will remain closed until the cause of the food poisoning outbreak is determined and "activities can resume with full assurances for the staff and the patrons." The owner said he has been cooperating with the regional health department on the investigation and pointed out that the inspection "showed that the restaurant complies with all sanitary regulations." He added: "Regardless of what caused the situation, I want to convey my deep regret for what happened, and I hope all of the facts will be clarified shortly." [Byline: Cristina Vazquez]
Date: Mon 18 Feb 2019
Source: The News International [edited]

An elderly man died due to complications of the Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF), commonly known as Congo virus, at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) on early [Sun 17 Feb 2019] morning, becoming the 2nd victim of the deadly tick-borne disease in the city [Karachi] in 2019.

"MUY, an elderly person of 75 years of age, died due to CCHF complications at JPMC on early [Sun 17 Feb 2019] morning," said JPMC Executive Director Dr. Seemin Jamali while taking to The News. She added that the deceased had earlier been taken to a private hospital from where he was shifted to Jinnah hospital.

It is the 2nd death in the city caused by the CCHF within a week as earlier on [Tue 12 Feb 2019] morning, a 35-year old woman from Orangi Town had died of Congo virus at an isolated ward of the JPMC.

CCHF is a tick-borne viral disease, which is caused when a person comes in contact with an animal infected with the Congo virus due to the presence of the parasite on its skin. Mostly butchers, sheep and animal herders and those who are associated with cattle farming become victims of the CCHF, which has a 40 to 50% mortality rate.

Dr. Jamali said both the woman from Orangi Town and the latest CCHF victim, who lived in the Landhi area of the city, were brought to the JPMC from Liaquat National Hospital where they had tested positive for the lethal disease.

She said the 2nd victim had a history of dealing with cattle and was in a serious condition when brought to the JPMC. He was suffering from high grade fever as well as internal and external bleeding, low platelets count and other comorbidities.

"We had moved both the patients to an isolation ward where they were given antiviral drugs, mega units [blood/platelets?] and other symptomatic treatment, but they could not survive due to the complications of the lethal ailment. All precautionary measures had also been adopted to prevent other patients and the medical staff from contracting the viral infection," she said.

"There were many people who contracted this disease in Karachi during their interaction with cattle, but they survived due to their strong immunity and the medical care they received at hospitals, including the JPMC. People should take precautionary measures while dealing with cattle and livestock," Dr. Jamali said. She added that in case the symptoms of red spots on the body, high-grade fever and blood oozing from mouth and nose are found in any patient, they should be rushed to a major hospital.

According to Dr. Kamran Rizvi, district officer (preventive) of Karachi Metropolitan Corporation, around 16 people died at various hospitals in Karachi last year [2018] due to CCHF, a majority of whom were residents of different areas of Balochistan, including Quetta, as people from the province are now regularly brought to Karachi for treatment.

He said a total of 41 Congo virus patients were brought to different hospitals in Karachi last year [2018], of whom 16, mostly males, could not survive while the others were successfully cured.
=====================
[The CCHF virus is now endemic in both rural and urban parts of the country, and he best safeguard on the human side is to inform the public regarding the risks and provide education on the use of appropriate practices and protection measures.

Persons working in close contact with animals are at risk for CCHF due to presence of ticks that can transmit the virus through bites or crushing during removal through skin cuts, etc. The animals do not show clinical disease during viraemia and the virus can be transferred in butchering, handling of meat and hides, etc.  The veterinary aspect of the problem requires establishment of animal screening with measures for tick control. Collaborative work by health and veterinary sectors with support of entomologists for setting up CCHF surveillance can help plan prevention and control programs - ProMED Mod.UBA]
[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Tue 19 Feb 2019, 1:32 PM
Source: KCRG-TV9 [edited]

TV9 has learned the Johnson County Public Health Department and the Iowa Department of Public Health are investigating reports of food poisoning following an event in Swisher, Iowa.

The illnesses have been linked to the Swisher Men's Club's Game Feast Dinner this past weekend [16-17 Feb 2019]. The group's Facebook page says the fundraiser has been going on for 15 years and features dishes that include meat from animals that are often hunted. The health departments are looking for anyone who may have attended the meal to try to track down the source of the illnesses. It's asking attendees to email <diana.vonstein@idph.iowa.gov> with their contact information.

Johnson County Public Health Director Dave Koch tells TV9 part of their investigative efforts have included taking part in a conference call with officials from the Iowa Department of Public Health on [Tue 19 Feb 2019]. Koch says part of the investigation will also include testing samples of the food that was served along with conducting tests on any individuals who think they may have contracted an illness.

It is unclear how many people may be claiming to be sick however the club posted the following message to their Facebook page which reads in part: "The Swisher Men's Club is aware of a number of illnesses as a result of our Game Feast Dinner. We are actively working with the county and state health departments to determine the cause of these illnesses."

TV9 has reached out to the Swisher Men's Club for comment. President Mike Brown, Jr. referred back to the statement provided on Facebook. Brown declined TV9's offer for an on-camera interview, but did say they are relaying all necessary information to the Iowa Department of Public Health.  [Byline: Josh Scheinblum & Aaron Scheinblum]
Date: January 2019
Source: Nigeria CDC: Nigeria monkeypox monthly situation report

Nigeria monkeypox -- monthly situation report
---------------------------------------------
Key indicators / Numbers
New suspected cases reported / 6
New confirmed cases / 3
Total deaths / 0
Healthcare worker infection / 0

Epidemiological summary
- Nigeria continues to report sporadic cases of monkeypox after the index case reported in September 2017.
- In the reporting month (January 2019), 6 new suspected monkeypox cases were reported in 4 states (Bayelsa - 2; Rivers - 1; Bauchi - 1; Lagos - 1; Borno - 1; Delta - 1) out of which 3 confirmed cases were recorded in 2 states (Rivers - 1, Bayelsa - 2). - No death recorded.
- All reported cases (suspected and confirmed) are males.
- The confirmed cases are all between 32-39 years of age.
- The South-South region of the country has the highest burden of monkeypox.
- Since the beginning of the outbreak in September 2017, 311 suspected cases and 7 deaths have been reported in 26 states. Of this, 132 were confirmed in 17 states (Rivers, Bayelsa, Cross River, Imo, Akwa Ibom, Lagos, Delta, Edo, FCT [Federal Capital Territory], Abia, Oyo, Enugu, Ekiti, Nasarawa, Benue, Plateau, Anambra)
- Results of animal surveillance carried out in 2 states are awaited.

[Available at the source URL above]:
Figure 1 [graph]: weekly trend of Nigeria monkeypox cases as at 31 Jan 2019
Figure 2 [graph]: line graph of Nigeria monkeypox cases weeks 31-52, 2017; 1-52, 2018 and 1-2, 2019
Figure 2 [map]: map of Nigeria showing distribution of monkeypox cases by LGA [local government area], September 2017-January 2019
=======================
[The number of monkeypox cases in Nigeria continues to increase slowly but steadily, with 6 new suspected and 3 new confirmed cases in January 2019. Interestingly, all cases are male individuals. Monkeypox virus transmission continued over a broad geographic area in Nigeria last year (2018). The report above provides the most recent update of the monkeypox situation in Nigeria. This outbreak has been unusual. Rather than sporadic or rare cases, there have been over 100 cases scattered over a large geographic area since 2017 and again this year (2019). The reasons for this relatively sudden appearance are not clear. Perhaps there has been an epizootic of monkeypox virus infections among its rodent hosts, with spill-over to people. As mentioned earlier, prevention will require a proactive public education effort to convince local people to take measures to prevent contact with the infected rodents and their excreta to avoid transmission, a difficult task involving so many local people over such a large geographic area.

Interested readers can see the graphs of cases by week and a map showing the location of cases by state.

Non-human primates are not monkeypox virus reservoirs. The main reservoirs of monkeypox virus are suspected to be rodents, including rope squirrels (_Funisciurus_ spp, an arboreal rodent) and terrestrial rodents (genera _Cricetomys_ and _Graphiurus_). - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Maps of Nigeria:
Date: Wed 20 Feb 2019
Source: Daily Times [edited]

The Sindh Health Department, on Tue 19 Feb 2019, admitted its failure to formulate an action plan to prevent the spread of the extensively drug-resistant (XDR) strain of typhoid fever in the province. The provincial minister for health, Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho, sighed that the health department still awaited vaccines for XDR typhoid from the federal government as the province battles the outbreak caused by a bacterial strain resistant to most known antimicrobials. She added that the strain had claimed 4 lives since its outbreak from Hyderabad [Sindh] in November 2016, which later spread to Karachi and other cities and towns of the province.

Dr Pechuho said that the Sindh Health Department had asked the local governments to improve the chlorination in water supplies, noting that the disease had spread due to the lack of sanitation and the presence of open garbage dumps in Karachi and other places. More than 5000 children have been affected by this typhoid strain, she continued. XDR typhoid is caused by antimicrobial resistant (AMR) strains of _Salmonella enterica_ serotype Typhi (or _S._ Typhi) and has been declared by WHO as a notable public health concern.

A report by the Provincial Disease Surveillance and Response Unit (PDSRU) reported 5274 cases of XDR typhoid out of 8188 typhoid fever cases in Sindh from 1 Nov 2016 through 9 Dec 2018. 69 percent of these cases was reported in Karachi, while 27 per cent in Hyderabad district, and 4 percent in other districts across the province.

The WHO recommended typhoid vaccination in response to confirmed outbreaks of typhoid fever. These vaccinations should be implemented in combination with other efforts to control the disease. At present, azithromycin remains the only affordable first-line oral therapeutic option to manage patients with XDR typhoid in low-resource settings.
====================
[The following is extracted from the CDC notice regarding this multiply-resistant typhoid strain in Pakistan

"The XDR strain of _Salmonella_ Typhi is resistant to most antibiotics (ampicillin, chloramphenicol, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, ciprofloxacin, and ceftriaxone) used to treat typhoid fever. Healthcare providers should:
- Obtain a complete travel history (asking about travel to South Asia, including Pakistan) from patients with suspected typhoid fever.
- Collect stool and blood cultures from patients with suspected typhoid fever and request antimicrobial susceptibility testing on isolates.
- Be aware that the Pakistan outbreak strain remains susceptible to azithromycin and carbapenems. Azithromycin is effective for uncomplicated (diarrhea or bacteremia without secondary complications) typhoid fever and should be used to treat patients with suspected uncomplicated typhoid fever who have traveled to Pakistan. When culture and sensitivity results are available, adjust treatment accordingly. Adult azithromycin dosage is usually 1000 mg orally once, then 500 mg orally daily OR 1000 mg orally once daily for at least 5-7 days. Pediatric azithromycin dose is 20 mg/kg orally, once then 10-20 mg/kg orally once per day (maximum 1000 mg per day) for at least 5-7 days.
- Carbapenems should be used for patients with suspected severe or complicated typhoid fever who have traveled to Pakistan. Severe or complicated typhoid fever would include, but not be limited to, patients with gastrointestinal complications (such as typhoid-related intestinal perforation, peritonitis, intestinal haemorrhage, hepatitis), neurologic complications (such as typhoid encephalopathy, including altered consciousness, delirium, confusion), or bacteraemia with sepsis or shock. When culture and sensitivity results are available, adjust treatment accordingly. Consider getting an infectious diseases consultation for these patients.
- Be aware that relapses can occur, often 1-3 weeks after clinical improvement.
- Be aware that most (90%) _S._ Typhi isolates from patients coming from South Asia have decreased susceptibility or resistance to fluoroquinolones, including ciprofloxacin; therefore, fluoroquinolones should not be used as empiric treatment for suspected typhoid fever in patients who have traveled to this area.
- Report all cases of confirmed typhoid fever to the appropriate local or state health departments." - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Pakistan:
Date: Tue, 19 Feb 2019 21:26:43 +0100

Geneva, Feb 19, 2019 (AFP) - An avalanche left four skiers injured Tuesday at a resort in the Swiss Alps where rescue operations went on after dark with police fearing people could still be trapped under the snow.   The authorities held a press conference to announce the injuries, including one person seriously hurt, after local reports said up to a dozen people were engulfed by the avalanche.   Police officers said that based on witness reports other skiers could still be buried and the search would continue into the night.

Swiss RTS television said the army had set up lighting to aid the 240 rescue workers at the site.   The police had earlier tweeted that several people were under the avalanche that hit early afternoon on a slope 2,600 metres (8,600 feet) up at Crans-Montana, which was busy with skiers during school holidays.   A local newspaper, Le Nouvelliste, had quoted the head of Crans-Montana's municipal government, Nicolas Feraud, as estimating that "between 10 and 12 people" were buried under the snow.   "We are shocked and hope for good news about these people," Feraud was quoted as saying. 

A first attempt at locating victims using sniffer dogs was unsuccessful, a rescue worker told Le Nouvelliste, with four helicopters joining the search from the air.   Pierre Huguenin, of the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research, described the snow in the area as damp and dense.   According to statistics from his institute, after 15 minutes under an avalanche, the chances of survival are no more than 50 percent.   Le Nouvelliste said the avalanche swept over 300 to 400 metres (yards) of the lower section of the Kandahar piste.   It quoted rescue workers as saying the snow was compacted and more than two metres (seven feet) thick.

Crans-Montana's website had listed the risk of an avalanche at two on a scale that runs from one (lowest risk) to five.    As the victims were on a designated ski slope, they were unlikely to have detector equipment to help rescue workers locate them.   The vast majority of deadly avalanches in the Alpine nation hit people skiing off-piste.    "We don't know yet whether the avalanche detached by itself or was set off by skiers, or a rockfall," Swiss avalanche expert Robert Bolognesi told the daily 20 Minutes.
Date: Wed, 20 Feb 2019 16:17:29 +0100

Prague, Feb 20, 2019 (AFP) - Czech authorities said Wednesday they would slap checks on beef imported from Poland after veterinarians found the dangerous Salmonella bacteria in a 700-kilogramme batch of Polish beef.   "Tests have shown the presence of Salmonella enteritidis, which can cause serious diarrhoea and affect human health, in beef imported from Poland on February 13," Agriculture Minister Miroslav Toman told reporters.

Czech veterinary authorities have warned the European Commission and Polish authorities through a rapid warning system, he said, adding that they are also checking whether any of the meat has been consumed.   "The State Veterinary Administration (SVS) will immediately adopt an extraordinary measure -- all beef imported from Poland must be tested in a lab before hitting the market," Toman added.

SVS head Zbynek Semerad said meat from the 700-kilo (1,500-pound) batch had been distributed to five "places" in the Czech Republic and one in Slovakia.   "I will inform my Slovak counterpart. As far as we know, not all of the meat has been distributed to the end customer," Semerad said.   The case comes on the heels of a scandal which saw Poland export a total of 2.7 tonnes of suspect beef to around a dozen fellow EU members, triggering an EU probe.

The scandal erupted in January when the TVN24 commercial news channel aired footage of apparently sick or lame cows being butchered at a small slaughterhouse in northeast Poland in secret late at night when veterinary authorities were unlikely to visit.   Poland is a leading producer and exporter of meat in Europe, turning out around 600,000 tonnes of beef per year and exporting most of it mainly to the EU, according to meat producer associations.
Date: Wed, 20 Feb 2019 09:56:54 +0100

Kuala Lumpur, Feb 20, 2019 (AFP) - Six people, including three foreigners, were killed when a fire broke out Wednesday in a Malaysian karaoke centre, with rescuers describing scenes of chaos as the blaze engulfed the building.   The fire erupted before dawn on the fourth floor of an eight-storey building in the city of Ipoh, northern Perak state.

Firefighters rushed to the scene and found the bodies of six people who had died of smoke inhalation, Perak fire department acting director Sayani Saidon told AFP.   "We came across two locals, two Vietnamese women and a Bangladeshi man. We are still determining the identity of the sixth person," she said.

Firefighters rescued eight people alive, including two in critical condition, she added.     People inside were unable to find the way out after the fire erupted as exit lights did not come on, she said. Those that survived had run to an upper level to escape the flames.   "When the fire happened, all the electricity went out, and it was dark, so the exit signs weren't clear," she said.   The building was originally an office block, and had 30 karaoke rooms on the fourth and fifth floors.