Albania US Consular Information Sheet November 04, 2008
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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".
March 10, 2009
Bermuda is a highly developed British overseas territory with a stable democracy and modern economy. Tourist facilities are widely available. Read the Department of
Travelers may contact the British Consulate in New York, telephone (212) 745-0273/3206/0281, or the British Consulate in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, or San Francisco or the Bermuda Department of Immigration.
All Americans traveling by air outside of the United States are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States.
This requirement will be extended to sea travel (except closed-loop cruises), including ferry service, by the summer of 2009.
Until then, U.S. citizens traveling by sea must have government-issued photo identification and a document showing their U.S. citizenship (for example, a birth certificate or certificate of nationalization), or other WHTI compliant document such as a passport card for entry or re-entry to the U.S.
Sea travelers should also check with their cruise line and countries of destination for any foreign entry requirements.
Applications for the new U.S. Passport Card are now being accepted and have been in full production since July 2008.
The card may not be used to travel by air and is available only to U.S. citizens. Further information on the passport card and upcoming changes to U.S. passport policy can be found on the Bureau of Consular Affairs web site.
We strongly encourage all American citizen travelers to apply for a U.S. passport well in advance of anticipated travel.
American citizens can visit our web site or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on how to apply for their passports.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, 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.
Bermuda has a moderate but growing crime rate. Recent crime statistics can be viewed at the official web site of the Bermuda Police Service.
Examples of common crimes include theft of unattended baggage and items from rental motorbikes, purse snatching (often perpetrated against pedestrians by thieves riding motorbikes), mugging, and theft from hotel rooms. Valuables left in hotel rooms (occupied and unoccupied) or left unattended in public areas are vulnerable to theft. The Consulate regularly receives reports of thefts of money, valuables, and passports and advises that travelers keep their hotel windows and doors locked at all times. Criminals often target transportation systems and popular tourist attractions.
Travelers should exercise caution when walking after dark or visiting out-of-the-way places on the island, as they can be vulnerable to theft and sexual assault, and because narrow and dark roadways can contribute to accidents.
In the past, there have been incidents of sexual assault and acquaintance rape; the use of “date rape” drugs such as Rohypnol has been reported in the media and confirmed by local authorities. Travelers should also note an increase in gang presence in Bermuda and should take regular precautions to avoid confrontation. The back streets of Hamilton are often the setting for nighttime assaults, particularly after the bars close.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
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 Bermuda laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Bermuda 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.
The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against taking any type of firearm or ammunition into Bermuda.
Entering Bermuda with a firearm, some kinds of knives or even a single round of ammunition is illegal, even if the weapon or ammunition is taken into the country unintentionally.
The Bermudian government strictly enforces its laws restricting the entry of firearms and ammunition.
Permission to import or own a gun in Bermuda must be sought in advance from the Bermuda Police Service. Any privately owned firearms must be secured at Bermuda Police Headquarters. Violations may result in arrests, convictions, and long prison sentences.
ATMs are widely available in Bermuda. Local banks may not accept checks drawn on U.S. accounts, but some Front Street stores catering to the tourist trade will accept U.S. checks as payment. The local American Express office will cash U.S. checks up to $500.00 for a three-percent fee. Credit cards are widely accepted at all establishments.
U.S. citizens who are taking prescription medication must inform Bermuda customs officials at the point of entry. Medicines must be in labeled containers. Travelers should carry a copy of the written prescription and a letter from the physician or pharmacist confirming the reason the medicine is prescribed.
Bermuda customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Bermuda of items such as animals, arms, ammunition and explosives, building sand, crushed rock, gravel, peat and synthetic potting media, foodstuffs (animal origin), fumigating substances, gaming machines, historic articles (relating to Bermuda), lottery advertisements and material, motorcycles, motor vehicles, obscene publications, organotin anti-fouling paint, plants, plant material, fruits and vegetables (living or dead, including seeds), pesticides, prescription drugs, prohibited publications, seditious publications, soil, VHF radios, radar and citizens band (CB) radios. For additional information on temporary admission, export and customs regulations and tariffs, please contact Bermuda Customs at telephone 1-441-295-4816, by email, or visit the Bermuda Customs web site.
The emergency number in Bermuda for police, fire, and medical assistance is 911.
Please see our Customs Information.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:. Good medical care is available, though extremely expensive. The hospital performs general surgery and has an intensive care unit. Serious or complex medical problems will likely require medical evacuation to the United States. Most Bermudian health care providers (including the local hospitals) do not accept overseas insurance and will expect payment at the time of service.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Bermuda.
However, visitors with visible indicators of any communicable disease can be refused entry into Bermuda.
Foreign residents who test positive for TB are required to submit x-rays before approval is granted for them to reside in Bermuda.
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.
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 Bermuda is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Traffic in Bermuda moves on the left side of the road and the roads are very narrow, often with no defined shoulder. The maximum speed limit in the city of Hamilton is 25 kph (15 mph) and 35 kph (21 mph) on the rest of the island. Under Bermudian law, non-residents are not allowed to own, rent, or drive four-wheeled vehicles. Non-residents must rely on taxis, the excellent local bus system, or motor scooters. Traffic is moderate, but road accidents - particularly involving motorbikes - are common and often result in serious injuries or death.
Rental motor scooters are readily available, and the required helmet is provided. However, visitors should carefully consider whether or not it is worth the risk to ride a scooter. Motor scooters provide the greatest road peril in Bermuda; local operators tend to abuse the speed limit more than other drivers, and they will often pass on the left or right with no warning. Those unfamiliar with driving on the left are likely to find the roundabouts and regulations for yielding at junctions confusing and dangerous. In addition, vehicles often stop on the side of the road, blocking one lane of traffic. Main roads, while generally in good condition, are extremely narrow and tend to be bordered by heavy vegetation or low stone walls. Travelers who rent scooters should be aware that scooter accidents involving visitors are relatively common, and they can be fatal or involve serious injuries.
Taxis are readily available. The local bus system, which is excellent and relatively inexpensive, services the length of the island and stops close to most beaches, hotels, the downtown shopping area, and other points of interest. In addition, water ferry service to a variety of stops around the island is available seven days a week, and is a very safe and enjoyable mode of transportation.
For specific information concerning Bermuda driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact the Bermuda Department of Tourism offices at 310 Madison Avenue, Suite 201, New York, NY, telephone (212) 818-9800.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
You may also visit Bermuda’s Ministry of Tourism and Transportation online.
Emergency services may be called at 911, and response time is generally good.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Bermuda’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Bermuda’s air carrier operations.
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 Bermuda are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Bermuda.
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. Consulate General is located at Crown Hill, 16 Middle Road, Devonshire DV03, and telephone 1-441-295-1342. Office hours for American Citizens Services are 1:30-3:30 Monday-Wednesday and 8:30-10:30 on Thursdays, except Bermudian and U.S. holidays. American citizens in need of after-hours emergency assistance may call the duty officer at telephone 1-441-335-3828. The Consulate General’s American Citizen Services office provides routine information online.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Bermuda dated 23 June 2008, to update sections on entry/exit requirements, crime, information for victims of crime, special circumstances and medical facilities & health information.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
WASHINGTON, Oct 16, 2014 (AFP) - Hurricane Gonzalo gained strength overnight into Thursday as it barrelled in the Atlantic toward Bermuda, which was bracing for a hit from the powerful Category Four storm. Gonzalo's winds were whirling at 140 miles (220 kilometres) per hour, taking it back up a notch on the five-point Saffir-Simpson scale, The US National Hurricane Center said. It was expected to pass Friday near Bermuda, which could see flooding along the coast. A hurricane warning was in effect for the British overseas territory.
At 1200 GMT, it was located about 525 miles (225 kilometres) south-southwest of the Bermudian archipelago. It was moving north at nine miles per hour, according to the Miami-based NHC. "This general motion is expected to continue today," the NHC said. "A turn toward the north-northeast and an increase in forward speed are expected tonight and Friday." But the forecasters stressed that major hurricanes like Gonzalo tend to fluctuate in strength. The storm could weaken later Thursday and on Friday, but Gonzalo is on track to be a "dangerous hurricane" when it moves near Bermuda, the NHC said.
The NHC noted that elevated and hilly terrain could face especially strong winds, since wind speeds atop and on the windward sides can often be up to 30 percent stronger than at the surface. "A dangerous storm surge is expected to produce significant coastal flooding in Bermuda," the NHC said. "Near the coast, the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves." Up to six inches (15 centimetres) of rain were expected over Bermuda. Large swells triggered by Gonzalo were already affecting parts of the Virgin Islands, the northern coast of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, as well as portions of the Bahamas.
Swells were expected to reach much of the US East Coast and Bermuda later Thursday. "These swells are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions," the NHC said. Three people were reported missing in the islands of St Martin and St Barthelemy after the storm passed, and French authorities expressed concern about four other people they were trying to contact. The storm caused property damage on both islands, which were battered by strong winds and heavy rains.
- Seventh storm of the season -
Gonzalo is the seventh storm of the Atlantic season -- which stretches from June to November -- and the third hurricane to slam the Caribbean this year. Hurricane Cristobal left at least four people dead in late August when it trashed the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands and Dominican Republic with heavy rains causing serious flooding. The NHC predicted that storm activity will be lower than average this year.
MIAMI, Aug 26, 2014 (AFP) - Strengthening Hurricane Cristobal killed at least four people in the Caribbean and then trained its deadly sights Tuesday on the holiday paradise of Bermuda, officials and meteorologists said. The storm dumped torrential rain on the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands and Dominican Republic, triggering flooding and killing four people, authorities there said.
Cristobal was packing maximum sustained winds of 75 miles (120 kilometres) per hour, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in its latest forecast, at 2100 GMT. It was moving north towards Bermuda at 10 miles per hour, the NHC said, warning its impact was also being felt in the United States. "The centre of Cristobal is expected to pass northwest of Bermuda on Wednesday and Wednesday night," the NHC said. It added: "Swells generated by Cristobal are affecting portions of the United States coast from central Florida northward to North Carolina and will spread northwards later this week."
A tropical storm watch was already in effect for Bermuda, forecasters said, meaning inclement conditions were possible in the next 24 hours. Cristobal, a category one hurricane, is the third hurricane of the Atlantic storm season. It comes hot on the heels of Hurricane Marie, which briefly reached the highest possible category five destructive power but was weakening in the Pacific off Mexico. Marie's crashing waves over the weekend caused a fishing vessel to capsize, with three of its occupants still missing and presumed dead.
WASHINGTON, Aug 26, 2014 (AFP) - Hurricane Cristobal churned slowly toward Bermuda on Tuesday after dumping rain on the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, US forecasters said. The storm was due to pass west and north of Bermuda on Wednesday, the US National Hurricane Center said. Cristobal was packing maximum sustained winds of 75 miles (120 kilometre) per hour as it whirled some 655 miles southwest of Bermuda.
A turn to the northeast with a gradual increase in forward speed is forecast to occur over the next 48 hours, an NHC bulletin said. A tropical storm watch was in effect for Bermuda. Meanwhile, Hurricane Marie was pounding heavy waves into Mexico's Pacific coast, where three fishermen went missing after their boat capsized. An estimated 10,000 families were affected by the storm as it flooded homes, damaged roads and caused rivers to overflow their banks. The storm weakened to a category three hurricane on the five-point Saffir-Simpson scale late Monday. No coastal watches or warnings were in effect.
MIAMI, Florida, Sept 10, 2013 (AFP) - Bermuda braced Tuesday for Tropical Storm Gabrielle, as US forecasters warned it was strengthening and on track to hit or closely pass by the popular vacation spot. Meanwhile, fellow Tropical Storm Humberto, churning far off land in the Atlantic, appeared on the cusp of becoming a hurricane.
Packing maximum sustained winds near 70 miles per hour (110 kilometers per hour), Humberto was about 245 miles (400 kilometers) west of the southernmost Cape Verde Islands, the National Hurricane Center said. "Humberto (is) almost a hurricane," it said in a 2100 GMT advisory, adding the storm could surge to hurricane force either later Tuesday or Wednesday. However, no coastal watches or warnings were in effect.
Gabrielle, with maximum sustained winds near 60 miles per hour (96 km/h), was some 55 miles (88.5 km) south of Bermuda, according to a separate 2100 GMT advisory from the Miami-based center. "Gabrielle is expected to pass over or near Bermuda in the next few hours," the forecasters said. Winds have already picked up on Bermuda as Gabrielle -- which could strengthen further over the next 48 hours -- approaches, they added. A tropical storm warning was in effect for the tourist haven, which could see up to six inches (15 centimeters) of rainfall and storm surges of two to three feet (0.6 to 0.9 meters) above normal.
[Bermuda may be located on the HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map at <http://healthmap.org/r/2zK_>.
<http://www.colorado-serum.com/vets/vol_1/vol1_8.htm>. - pROmED Mod.TG]
World Travel News Headlines
Khartoum, May 21, 2019 (AFP) - Sudanese protest leaders called on their supporters Tuesday to prepare for a general strike after talks with the country's military rulers stalled on who will lead an agreed three-year transition. Protest leaders had reached agreement with the ruling military council on the other main aspects of the transition. But early on Tuesday, the generals who overthrew veteran president Omar al-Bashir last month baulked at protesters' demands for a civilian head and a civilian majority for an agreed new sovereign council to lead the transition.
"In order to achieve a full victory, we are calling for a huge participation in a general political strike," said the Sudanese Professionals Association, which took the lead in organising the four months of nationwide protests that led to Bashir's ouster. "The strike is our revolutionary duty and the participation in the sit-in ... is a crucial guarantee to achieve the goals of the revolution."
Protest leader Madani Abbas Madani told AFP the preparations for a "general political strike and civil disobedience" were already under way. "Whenever we will decide on applying these plans, we will make an announcement," said Madani, a prominent leader of protest umbrella group the Alliance for Freedom and Change. The two sides launched what had been billed as a final round of talks on the transition late on Sunday.
The military council has faced pressure from Western government and the African Union to agree to a civilian-led transition -- the central demand of the thousands of demonstrators who have spent weeks camped outside army headquarters in Khartoum. When talks broke up early on Tuesday, neither side said when they would resume.
Protest leader Siddiq Yousef told reporters they had been suspended. "The main point of dispute that remains is concerning the share of representatives of the military and the civilians in the council and who will be the head of the new body," the two sides said in a joint statement. The military council has been pushing for its chairman General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan to head the new sovereign council but protest leaders want a civilian.
By John WESSELS with Samir TOUNSI in Kinshasa
Butembo, DR Congo, May 21, 2019 (AFP) - People in Ebola-hit eastern DR Congo are struggling to come to terms with high-security burials that are part of a hard-pressed strategy to roll back the disease. Anyone who dies of the highly infectious haemorrhagic fever has to be buried in carefully-controlled conditions designed to minimise the risk of infection from body fluids. But that means ceremonies are carried out in sanitised conditions, with relatives and friends kept at a distance -- for many, a traumatic break with traditions that demand the body of a loved-one be seen or touched. "We're astonished she's being buried like this," said Denise Kahambu as she watched the specially-prepared burial in Butembo of her 50-year-old cousin, Marie-Rose. "They said she died of Ebola," she said sceptically. First declared last August, the epidemic has now claimed nearly 1,200 lives -- 200 of them in May alone. The outbreak is the second deadliest on record, after an epidemic that killed more than 11,300 people in West Africa in 2014-16.
The burial in Butembo followed strict precautions. A pick-up truck delivered the coffin to the burial site, where a grave had been prepared, as the family stood by at a distance. Gloved Red Cross workers handled the burial, which took place in silence and without a religious ceremony. A family member or loved one was allowed only to place a cross on the tomb, once they too had donned protective gloves. Half a dozen police officers escorted the convoy and remained on guard throughout. On Friday, two burial teams from the treatment centres were attacked by stone-throwing crowds at Butembo and Bunia, a little further north in Ituri province, according to the health ministry. One burial worker was injured.
- Culture shock -
"The custom is that the body of the deceased first returns to the home. And once people have mourned, they have the chance to touch the body for the last time," said Seros Muyisa Kamathe, a guide and interpreter in Beni and Butembo. "Before going to the cemetery, you open the coffin so people can take one last look at the deceased."
And normally it would be the family and neighbours who would take responsibility for digging the grave -- and deciding where if should be. Ebola experts say denial and resistance were familiar obstacles in the 2014-16 epidemic in the West African states of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The World Health Organization (WHO) has a 12-step protocol for dealing with burials so that handling of the remains is kept to a minimum, but it also emphasises the importance of respect and mourning. "The burial process is very sensitive for the family and the community and can be the source of trouble or even open conflict," it acknowledges. No burial should begin until family agreement has been obtained, and workers should engage with the community "for prayers to dissipate tensions
- Armed escorts -
The burial process is part of the notoriously time-consuming and labour-intensive task of combatting Ebola. And in this troubled region, the challenge has been further complicated by bloody deadly attacks on Ebola treatment centres by local militias. Suspicion, political infighting in the capital Kinshasa and militia violence provide a fertile breeding ground for the virus. Sometimes local people cover the graves overnight as a sign of their opposition, the ministry said. In Butembo, health workers need an armed escort when they go looking for cases of Ebola in some neighbourhoods, an AFP photographer noted during one outing Saturday evening.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, at the opening of the organisation's annual assembly on Monday, described the outbreak as "one of the most complex health emergencies any of us have ever faced." "Unless we unite to end this outbreak we run the risk it will become more widespread and more expansive and more aggressive," he said. "We are not just fighting a virus," Tedros insisted. "We're fighting insecurity. We're fighting violence. We're fighting misinformation... and we're fighting the politicisation of an outbreak." On the plus side, health officials are keen to emphasise some important gains. More than 118,000 have been vaccinated against the virus, and no cases have been recorded in neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda.
Milan, May 20, 2019 (AFP) - Alitalia has scrapped around half its flights scheduled for Tuesday after a call to strike by Italian pilots, cabin crew and ground staff. The industrial action by employees of Alitalia, Blue Air and Blue Panorama was confirmed Monday over the future of the sector and specifically that of the troubled national carrier. Alitalia has cancelled around half its flights on Tuesday, as well as some late Monday and early Wednesday. The company said it hoped to get 60 percent of passengers to their destination.
Unions lamented "on the one hand, a rising number of passengers and flights, and on the other a proliferation of bankruptcies", a statement said. They are worried about Alitalia's future and want their jobs protected. The Italian government earlier this month extended to June 15 a deadline for the state railway to submit a concrete takeover offer, following a request from Alitalia's administrators for more time. Italy's state railway Ferrovie dello Stato (FS) floated a bid to buy Alitalia at the end of October, but it does not want to hold more than 30 percent in the airline. The railway has been discussing a potential partnership with Atlanta-based Delta airlines, which is interested in a 15-percent stake.
Giza, Egypt, May 19, 2019 (AFP) - A bomb blast hit a tourist bus near Egypt's famed Giza pyramids on Sunday, wounding some of them, including South Africans, in the latest blow to the country's tourism industry. The roadside bomb went off as the bus was being driven in Giza, also causing injuries to Egyptians in a nearby car, medical and security sources said. Security and medical sources in Egypt said 17 people were injured, without giving a breakdown of their nationalities. No deaths were reported. South Africa said in a statement that the "bus explosion" injured three of its 28 citizens who were part of the tourist group. They would remain in hospital while the rest would return home on Monday, said the statement from the department of international relations. "A device exploded and smashed the windows of a bus carrying 25 people from South Africa and a private car carrying four Egyptians," the security source said.
Video footage captured by AFP showed the bus and car with broken windows on the side of the road. According to the security source, the wounded were being treated for scratches caused by the broken glass. Sunday's incident comes after three Vietnamese holidaymakers and their Egyptian guide were killed when a roadside bomb hit their bus as it travelled near the Giza pyramids outside Cairo in December. It also comes just little more than a month before the African Cup of Nations hosted by Egypt is to kick off. Egypt has been battling an insurgency that surged especially in the turbulent North Sinai region following the 2013 military ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who was replaced by former army general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. In February 2018, the army launched a nationwide operation against militants, focusing mainly on the North Sinai region.
- Tourism recovery -
Some 650 militants and around 45 soldiers have been killed since the start of the offensive, according to separate statements by the armed forces. Since first being elected in 2014, Sisi has presented himself as a bulwark against terrorism, promising stability and increased security. Recently, the country's vital tourism industry has started to slowly rebound after suffering strong blows due to deadly attacks targeting tourists following the turmoil of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak. Figures by the official statistics agency showed that tourist arrivals reached 8.3 million in 2017, compared with 5.3 million the previous year. Authorities have gone at great lengths to lure tourists back, touting a series of archaeological finds and a new museum next to the pyramids, as well as enhanced security at airports and around ancient sites. But that figure was still far short of the record influx of 2010 when more than 14 million visitors flocked to see the country's sites.
Tegucigalpa, May 19, 2019 (AFP) - Four Canadians and an American pilot died Saturday when their small plane plunged into the sea off the Honduran island of Roatan where they were vacationing, firefighters said. The plane crashed near the town of Dixon Cove, a few minutes after taking off from the island's airport, rescuers said. The dead were identified as Bradley Post, Bailey Sony, Tomy Dubler and pilot Patrick Forseth.
The other Canadian pilot, Anthony Dubler, briefly survived the crash but died at the Roatan hospital of his injuries. The causes of the crash and the registration information for the aircraft were not immediately available. It occurred as the tourists were headed toward the city of Trujillo, about 77 kilometres (48 miles) from Roatan.
London, May 17, 2019 (AFP) - London warned British-Iranian dual nationals against all travel to Iran on Friday due to Tehran's "continued arbitrary detention and mistreatment" of such citizens. The move comes as Britain continues to try to secure the release from jail of dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Tehran has also recently sentenced an Iranian British Council employee, Aras Amiri, to 10 years in prison on charges of spying. In a statement, the Foreign Office said British-Iranian dual nationals faced an "unacceptably higher risk of arbitrary detention and mistreatment" than nationals of other countries. "The security forces may be suspicious of people with British connections, including those with links to institutions based in the UK, or which receive public funds from, or have perceived links to, the British government," the statement said. British-Iranian mother Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested by Iranian authorities in 2016 as she was leaving Tehran.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was put on trial and is now serving a five-year jail sentence for allegedly trying to topple the Iranian government. "Dual nationals face an intolerable risk of mistreatment if they visit Iran," Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said. "Despite the UK providing repeated opportunities to resolve this issue, the Iranian regime's conduct has worsened. "Having exhausted all other options, I must now advise all British-Iranian dual nationals against travelling to Iran. "The dangers they face include arbitrary detention and lack of access to basic legal rights, as we have seen in the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been separated from her family since 2016." The Iranian government does not recognise dual nationality, meaning the Foreign Office's ability to provide consular support is limited. Hunt added: "Regrettably, I must also offer a message of caution to Iranian nationals resident in the UK -- but who return to visit family and friends -- especially where the Iranian government may perceive them to have personal links to UK institutions or the British government."
Nairobi, May 17, 2019 (AFP) - Flooding in Tanzania has killed five people and forced about 2,500 to flee their homes after a week of torrential rain in the country's south, an official said Friday. Schools have closed in Kyela, a district on the border of Lake Malawi, and families fled to shelters after losing everything in the rising waters. "The damage from these floods is enormous," Salome Magambo, the district's administrative secretary, told AFP. "Since the beginning of the week we have reported five people killed and 2,570 homeless, some of whom are staying with friends or in schools and churches."
Food and medical services have been extended to those stranded, she added. Farming land in the district known for its rice production has also been inundated, destroying crops and raising fears of food shortages in coming months. In April 2018 at least 14 people were killed in torrential rains and flooding in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's economic capital.
Washington, May 16, 2019 (AFP) - The Church of Scientology said Thursday all the passengers from a cruise ship that was quarantined over a measles case had been cleared to leave. "All passengers and crew (100%) of the Freewinds have been fully cleared of any possible risk of being infected by the measles or infecting others," the organization said in a statement. "All passengers and crew are free to come and go as they wish," a spokesman added to AFP.
The infected individual was a member of the crew who, according to the Church, had fully recovered and was given a clean bill of health a week ago. She had been earlier confined on the ship. The ship, which is based in Willemstad on the island of Curacao in the Dutch West Indies, was quarantined after its arrival in Saint Lucia on April 30. It remained there for two days before returning to Willemstad on May 4 where local authorities ordered a fresh quarantine to give them time to confirm the passengers were either immunized or had no risk of contracting the virus.
Bamako, May 16, 2019 (AFP) - Heavy floods claimed 15 lives Thursday in the Malian capital Bamako along with serious property damage, authorities said. A statement said the flooding claimed a "provisional toll" of 15 dead and two injured. "Teams are in place to rescue the distressed people," the government said, calling on residents to be "prudent" in the face of the disaster. Flooding is common in Mali, located in the semi-desert Sahel region.
By Ashraf KHAN
Rato Dero, Pakistan, May 16, 2019 (AFP) - Parents nervously watch as their children wait to be tested for HIV in a village in southern Pakistan, where hundreds of people have been allegedly infected by a doctor using a contaminated syringe. Dispatched to keep order, police scan the anxious crowd as families hustle into one of five different screening rooms set up in the last month in the village of Wasayo, on the outskirts of Larkana in Sindh province.
Health officials say more than 400 people, many of them children, have tested HIV positive in recent weeks as experts warn of a surge in infection rates across Pakistan, due to the use of unsanitary equipment and rampant malpractice -- often at the hands of quack doctors. Anger and fear continue to swell in the desperately poor village hit hard by the epidemic, which authorities say could be linked to either gross negligence or malicious intent by a local paediatrician. "They are coming by the dozens," says a doctor at the makeshift clinic, beset by a lack of equipment and personnel to treat the surging number of patients.
Mukhtar Pervez waits anxiously to have her daughter tested, worrying a recent fever may be linked to the outbreak. For others, their worst fears have already become a reality. Nisar Ahmed arrived at the clinic in a furious search for medicine after his one-year-old daughter tested positive three days earlier. "I curse [the doctor] who has caused all these children to be infected," he says angrily. Nearby Imam Zadi accompanies five of her children to be examined after her grandson tested positive. "The entire family is so upset," she tells AFP. Others worry their children's futures have been irreparably harmed after contracting HIV, especially in a country whose masses of rural poor have little understanding of the disease or access to treatment. "Who is she going to play with? And when she's grown up, who would want to marry her?" asks a tearful mother from a nearby village, who asked not to named, of her four-year-old daughter who just tested positive.
Pakistan was long considered a low prevalence country for HIV, but the disease is expanding at an alarming rate, particularly among intravenous drug users and sex workers. With about 20,000 new HIV infections reported in 2017 alone, Pakistan currently has the second fastest growing HIV rates across Asia, according to the UN. Pakistan's surging population also suffers the additional burden of having insufficient access to quality healthcare following decades of under-investment by the state, leaving impoverished, rural communities especially vulnerable to unqualified medical practitioners. "According to some government reports, around 600,000 quack doctors are operating across the country and around 270,000 are practicing in the province of Sindh," said UNAIDS in a statement.
Provincial health officials have also noted that patients are at particular risk of contracting diseases or viruses at these clinics, where injections are often pushed as a primary treatment option. "For the sake of saving money, these quacks will inject multiple patients with a single syringe. This could be the main cause of the spread of HIV cases," said Sikandar Memon, provincial programme manager of the Sindh Aids Control Programme.
The large number of unqualified doctors along with the "reuse of syringes, unsafe blood transfusions, and other unsafe medical practices" have all led to the spike in HIV cases in recent years, explains Bushra Jamil, an expert on infectious diseases at the Aga Khan University in Karachi. "Rampant medical malpractices without any effective checks and balances are causing repeated outbreaks in Pakistan," said Jamil. Authorities investigating the outbreak in Sindh say the accused doctor has also tested positive for HIV.
From a ramshackle jail cell in the nearby city of Ratodero, he denied the charges and accusations he knowingly injected his patients with the virus, while complaining of being incarcerated with common criminals. But for the parents of the newly diagnosed, the ongoing investigation means little if they are unable to secure access to better information and the necessary drugs that can help stave off the deadly AIDS virus. "We are helpless. I have other children and I am afraid they might catch the disease," says another mother whose daughter recently tested positive for HIV. "[Please] send some medicine for our children so that they can be cured. If not, all of our children will die, right?"