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Cocos Islands

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

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

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Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2019 04:57:44 +0200
By Fran BLANDY

Udier, South Sudan, April 19, 2019 (AFP) - By the time he was brought into the remote clinic in northeastern South Sudan, two-year-old Nyachoat was already convulsing from the malaria attacking his brain.   After being given medication he lies fast asleep, naked and feverish, attached to a drip, his anxious mother sitting on the bed next to him.   Nyachoat could be saved, but others are not so lucky.   In South Sudan mind-bending horrors abound of war, ethnic violence, rape, hunger and displacement.

But for civilians living in the shadow of conflict, the greatest danger is often being cut off from health services, whether due to violence or lack of development in the vast, remote areas that make up much of the country.   According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which supports the tiny clinic where Nyachoat is recovering in Udier village, 70 percent of all illness deaths are due to easily treatable malaria, acute watery diarrhoea and respiratory infections.   In case of more serious illness there is "no place" to go, said Nyachoat's 22-year-old mother Buk Gader.

A study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) last year showed almost 400,000 people had died as a result of South Sudan's nearly six-year war.   Half of these were due to violent deaths, and half because of the increased risk of disease and reduced access to healthcare as a result of the conflict.   ICRC health field officer Irene Oyenya said the Upper Nile region was particularly affected.   "There were (aid) organisations which were supplying primary healthcare, but then during the war, most of the organisations got evacuated" and pulled out of the country, she said.

- Blocked by swamps -
Udier is a village with a dirt airstrip whose sun-baked sand, which when not used by twice weekly ICRC flights bringing medicine and supplies, serves as a football pitch for youths. It is also a pedestrian highway for those who come from far flung huts and cattle camps to market.   In the tiny market, there is little fresh food available. Villagers can buy red onions or sit for a strong Sudanese coffee, infused with ginger, while in the dry season nomadic Falata herdswomen in flowing dresses sell milk from their cattle.   A brick building next to the airstrip, its roof long blown off in a storm, is the village school, but for several days in a row no teacher shows up.   In the surrounding villages, women are hard at work mudding their huts and re-thatching the roof in anticipation of the rains to come within weeks.

When they do come, swelling the swampy marshlands and rivers for miles around, roads will become impassable.    It becomes "difficult for young children to swim or women or men to carry patients to reach here," said Oyenya.   Marginalised for decades prior to independence from Sudan in 2011, and engulfed in war since 2013, South Sudan has seen little development. The healthcare sector is one of many propped up by international aid organisations.   However, the country is also the most dangerous for humanitarian workers with around 100 killed over the past five years, according to United Nations figures. Dozens of organisations have been forced to pull out of areas they served due to the conflict.

The Upper Nile region, where Udier is situated near the borders of Sudan and Ethiopia, was wracked by conflict in 2017 as government forces waged a major offensive to seize the opposition-held town of Pagak.   The ICRC was forced to evacuate patients and staff from its hospital and health centre in the village of Maiwut which was looted, leaving "not even a needle on the ground", according ICRC's Oyenya.   Many relocated to Udier, which was spared from fighting.   A year later in 2018, angry protesters looted around 10 humanitarian agency compounds in the town of Maban, 72 kilometres (44 miles) north of Udier.   ICRC's head of delegation in South Sudan, James Reynolds, said a peace deal signed in September 2018 "has improved security, mobility, and access for humanitarian workers".   But fresh fighting in the southern Equatorias region "has made access to certain areas very difficult."

- Women bear the burden -
In opposition-held Udier, the clinic supported by the ICRC provides crucial healthcare support to the region, where like throughout South Sudan, maternal and child mortality is sky-high.   Every day a small group of patients sits outside under a fragrant Neem tree, waiting to be helped, some from nearby while others have walked for a day or two.   Oyenya says a major challenge is that women, who do all the heavy work and take care of up to 10 children, may delay bringing them to the centre in time. That can be deadly.

Sometimes the children come alone: a nine-year-old girl in a purple polka dot dress confidently tells Oyenya she is suffering from bloody diarrhoea and, she thinks, malaria. Her parents are nowhere in sight.   For anything more serious, such as pregnancy complications, blood transfusions and operations, the nearest hospital is in government-held Maban, a five-hour drive away or a three-day walk.   The other option is a three-day walk to Gambella in Ethiopia.   "They may reach there alive, or they may not reach there alive," said Oyenya.
Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2019 03:13:16 +0200
By Andrea PALASCIANO

Naftalan, Azerbaijan, April 19, 2019 (AFP) - Immersed up to her neck in a dark viscous liquid, Sulfiya smiles in delight, confident that the fetid substance will cure her painful condition.   Sulfiya, a Russian woman in her 60s, has travelled to Azerbaijan's north-western city of Naftalan in the hope that crude oil baths at a local sanatorium will end her years of suffering from polyarthritis, a disease affecting the joints.   "This is so pleasant," she enthuses, despite the reek of engine oil.

Her naked dip in oil heated to just above body temperature lasts 10 minutes, after which an attendant scrapes the brown oil off her skin and sends her into a shower.   The native of Russia's Tatarstan region said she and her friends "have long dreamed of coming" for treatment in Naftalan.   The petroleum spa resort in the oil-rich Caucasus country is a draw for visitors despite its proximity to Nagorny Karabakh, a region disputed between Azerbaijan and Armenia in a long-running armed conflict.

After 10 days of bathing in crude oil Sulfiya says she now feels "much better" and has even reduced her medication for the polyarthritis that she has had for 12 years.   "It is a gift from God," agrees 48-year-old Rufat, an Azerbaijani journalist and opposition party member who is undergoing treatment in the sanatorium called Sehirli, or "magic" in Azerbaijani.   Azerbaijan's vast oil deposits were discovered in the mid-19th century, making what was at the time part of the Russian Empire one of the first places in the world to start commercial oil production.

Oil exports to markets all over the world are the largest sector of Azerbaijan's economy, but the crude that comes from subsoil reservoirs in Naftalan is not suitable for commercial use.   Instead the local oil is used to treat muscular, skin and bone conditions as well as gynaecological and neurological problems.   According to a legend, which spa staff readily tell clients, the healing properties of Naftalan's "miraculous oil" were discovered by accident when a camel left to die near a pool of oil was cured.

The small town of Naftalan some 300 kilometres (185 miles) from the capital Baku became a popular health resort for Soviet citizens in the 1920s.   "In the past, when there weren't any hotels or sanatoriums, people would come to Naftalan and stay with locals," said one of the doctors at the Sehirli sanatorium, Fabil Azizov, sitting in her office under a portrait of strongman President Ilham Aliyev.   "But as time passed, sanatoriums were built and treatment methods developed."

- Controversial benefits -
Some specialists warn the method has dangerous side effects.   "Despite the stories of past cures, the use of crude oil for medicinal purposes has been condemned by Western doctors as potentially carcinogenic," former journalist Maryam Omidi wrote in a 2017 book published in Britain about Soviet-era sanatoriums.

In fact, the oil at Naftalan is almost 50 percent naphthalene, a carcinogenic substance found in cigarette smoke and mothballs that in large amounts can damage or destroy red blood cells.   But doctors and patients at Naftalan brush aside any misgivings and the sanatorium even has a small museum displaying crutches that once belonged to patients who have recovered from their illnesses.

- 'We heard gunshots' -
During its heyday in the 1980s, Naftalan would host more than 70,000 visitors a year.    But in 1988, a bloody war began with neighbouring Armenia for the control of Azerbaijan's separatist Nagorny Karabakh region, which unilaterally proclaimed independence from Baku in 1991.

The conflict claimed the lives of some 30,000 people from both sides and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.   A 1994 ceasefire agreement ended hostilities, but the arch foes have yet to reach a definitive peace deal and there are frequent skirmishes along the volatile frontline.   During the war, the sanatoriums in Naftalan -- a few kilometres from the frontline -- were converted into hospitals for wounded soldiers and temporary accommodation for refugees.

Over the last two decades, the Azerbaijani authorities have worked hard to re-establish Naftalan's reputation as a health resort.    They resettled refugees in other regions, demolished decrepit Soviet-era sanatoriums and built brand-new tourist facilities.   Modern Naftalan is a blend of kitsch-looking high-end spas where a week's treatment costs some 1,000 euros, and modest sanatoriums where a week's treatment costs around 100 euros.   The simmering Karabakh conflict may be out of sight, but guests can still feel uncomfortably close to the military action.   During one of the deadliest recent bouts of fighting in April 2016, "we heard gunshots," said a member of staff at Naftalan's luxurious Garabag spa, adding quickly that "everyone stayed on."
Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2019 02:59:34 +0200

Montreal, April 19, 2019 (AFP) - Three world-renowned professional mountaineers -- two Austrians and an American -- were missing and presumed dead after an avalanche on a western Canadian summit, the country's national parks agency said Thursday.   American Jess Roskelley, 36, and Austrians Hansjorg Auer, 35, and David Lama, 28, went missing Tuesday evening in Banff National Park, according to media reports. Authorities launched an aerial search the next day.

The three men were attempting to climb the east face of Howse Pass, an isolated and highly difficult route, according to Parks Canada.   They were part of a team of experienced athletes sponsored by American outdoor equipment firm The North Face, the company confirmed to AFP.   Rescuers found signs of several avalanches and debris consistent with climbing equipment, Parks Canada said, leading them to presume that the climbers were dead.

Poor weather conditions have increased avalanche risks in the mountainous area on the border between Alberta and British Columbia, with the search halted for safety reasons.   It is unlikely the three men survived, John Roskelley, father of missing Jess Roskelley, told local media in the US state of Washington.   "This route they were trying to do was first done in 2000. It's just one of those routes where you have to have the right conditions or it turns into a nightmare. This is one of those trips where it turned into a nightmare," he told the Spokesman-Review.   Himself considered one of the best American mountaineers of his generation, John Roskelley climbed Mount Everest with his son in 2003, making then 20-year-old Jess Rosskelley the youngest person to have conquered the summit.
Date: Thu, 18 Apr 2019 17:35:41 +0200

London, April 18, 2019 (AFP) - Climate change activists on Thursday brought parts of the British capital to a standstill in a fourth consecutive day of demonstrations that have so far led to more than 400 arrests.   Hundreds of protesters continued to rally at several spots in central London, where they have blocked a bridge and major road junctions this week as part of a Europe-wide civil disobedience campaign over the issue.   The Metropolitan Police said, as of 0830 GMT on Thursday, that 428 people had been arrested since the protests began on Monday, with reports of further detentions during the day.   Meanwhile, a judge denied bail to three people who appeared in court charged with obstructing the transport system at financial hub Canary Wharf on Wednesday.

District judge Julia Newton ordered the trio, who allegedly glued themselves to a train, be held in custody until their next court appearance on May 16.   Under pressure in the media to crackdown on the distruptive demonstrations, interior minister Sajid Javid warned "unlawful behaviour will not be tolerated" after meeting Met Commissioner Cressida Dick.   "No one should be allowed to break the law without consequence," he said in a statement, adding he expected police "to take a firm stance".   Protesters have been snaring traffic and setting up impromptu encampments at Waterloo Bridge, Parliament Square and at Oxford Circus in London's busy West End entertainment and shopping district.   They laid trees in pots along the bridge's length and also set up camps in Hyde Park in preparation for further demonstrations.

More than 1,000 officers were being deployed to the streets of the capital each day this week, according to the interior ministry.   The police have ordered the protesters to confine themselves to a zone within Marble Arch, a space at the junction of the park, Oxford Street and luxury hotel-lined Park Lane.   The protests are being spearheaded by the "Extinction Rebellion" activist group, which was established last year in Britain by academics and has become one of the world's fastest-growing environmental movements.   It has vowed to maintain the protests for weeks in a bid to force state action over climate change, with Heathrow Airport -- Europe's busiest flight hub -- the latest site to be targeted on Friday.

The group wants the British government to declare a climate and ecological emergency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025, halt biodiversity loss and be led by new "citizens' assemblies on climate and ecological justice".   Its protesters say they are practising non-violent civil disobedience and aim to get arrested to raise awareness of their cause.    The majority arrested this week were detained for breaching public order laws and obstructing a highway.   However, police seized three men and two women outside the UK offices of energy giant Royal Dutch Shell on suspicion of criminal damage after they allegedly daubed graffiti and smashed a window there.
Date: Thu, 18 Apr 2019 07:40:27 +0200

Taipei, April 18, 2019 (AFP) - A 6.0-magnitude earthquake jolted Taiwan on Thursday, the US Geological Survey said, shaking buildings and disrupting traffic.   In the capital Taipei, highrises swayed violently while some panicked school children fled their classrooms in eastern Yilan county, according to reports.      Local media said the quake had been felt all over the island and a highway connecting Yilan and Hualien was shut down due to falling rocks.    The quake struck at 13:01 pm (0501 GMT) at a depth of 19 kilometres (11.8 miles) in eastern Hualien county. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The island's central weather bureau put its magnitude at 6.1.   The Japan Meteorological Agency warned people living near the coast could notice some effects on sea levels, but said there would be no tsunami.   "Due to this earthquake, Japan's coastal areas may observe slight changes on the oceanic surface, but there is no concern about damage," the agency said.   Hualien was hit by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake last year that killed 17 people.    Taiwan lies near the junction of two tectonic plates and is regularly hit by earthquakes.    The island's worst tremor in recent decades was a 7.6 magnitude quake in September 1999 that killed around 2,400 people.
Date: Thu, 18 Apr 2019 03:07:58 +0200

Canico, Portugal, April 18, 2019 (AFP) - Twenty-nine German tourists were killed when their bus spun off the road and tumbled down a slope before crashing into a house on the Portuguese island of Madeira.   Drone footage of the aftermath of the accident showed the badly mangled wreckage of the bus resting precariously on its side against a building on a hillside, the vehicle's roof partially crushed and front window smashed.

Rescue workers attended to injured passengers among the undergrowth where the bus came to rest, some of them bearing bloodied head bandages and bloodstained clothes, others appearing to be more seriously hurt.   Local authorities said most of the dead were in their 40s and 50s.   They were among the more than one million tourists who visit the Atlantic islands off the coast of Morocco each year, attracted by its subtropical climate and rugged volcanic terrain.   "Horrible news comes to us from Madeira," a German government spokesman tweeted after the crash.   "Our deep sorrow goes to all those who lost their lives in the bus accident, our thoughts are with the injured," he added.

German holidaymakers were the second largest group after British tourists to visit the islands -- known as the Pearl of the Atlantic and the Floating Garden in the Atlantic -- in 2017, according to Madeira's tourism office.    The islands are home to just 270,000 inhabitants.    Filipe Sousa, mayor of Santa Cruz where the accident happened, said 17 women and 11 men were killed in the crash, with another 21 injured.    A doctor told reporters another woman died of her injuries in hospital.   "I express the sorrow and solidarity of all the Portuguese people in this tragic moment, and especially for the families of the victims who I have been told were all German," President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa told Portuguese television.   He said he would travel to Madeira overnight.

- 'Profound sadness' -
Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa added on Twitter that he had contacted German Chancellor Angela Merkel to convey his condolences   "It is with profound sadness that I heard of the accident on Madeira," he wrote on the government's Twitter page.   "I took the occasion to convey my sadness to Chancellor Angela Merkel at this difficult time," he added.  The regional protection service in Madeira confirmed 28 deaths in the accident that happened at 6:30 pm (1730 GMT) Wednesday, while hospital authorities said another woman later died of her injuries.

The bus had been carrying around 50 passengers.   Regional government Vice President Pedro Calado said it was "premature" to speculate on the cause of the crash, adding that the vehicle was five years old and that "everything had apparently been going well".   Judicial authorities had opened an investigation into the circumstances of the accident, the Madeira public prosecutor's office told the Lusa news agency.   Medical teams were being sent from Lisbon to help local staff carry out post-mortems on the dead.
Tanzania - National. 11 Apr 2019

Tanzania on Thursday [11 Apr 2019] confirmed an outbreak of dengue fever, saying the business capital, Dar es Salaam, has reported 252 cases and Tanga has 55 diagnosed cases.
- La Reunion. 10 Apr 2019

From 800 confirmed cases the previous week, the dengue epidemic increased to 904 cases in the week.
<https://la1ere.francetvinfo.fr/reunion/dengue-barre-900-cas-confirmes-semaine-est-depassee-698934.html> [in French, trans. ProMED Corr.SB]

- La Reunion. 12 Apr 2019. Dengue La Reunion (French overseas territory): dengue cases near 5000 in Q1 2019. New transmission zones have been identified in Saint-Andre, Saint-Denis, Sainte-Marie, and Sainte-Suzanne. In addition, the number of hospitalizations is increasing with 25-30 recorded weekly.

- La Reunion. 27 Mar 2019. The circulation of the dengue virus continues at a sustained level, say the prefecture and the ARS. From 11-17 Mar 2019, 682 cases of dengue fever were confirmed. Since the beginning of the year [2019], 153 emergency room visits have been recorded and 80 patients have been hospitalized. In addition, 5 deaths have been reported since the beginning of 2019, of which 2 have been considered, after investigation, as directly related to dengue fever. The most active households are located at: the Saint-Louis River, Saint Louis, Saint Pierre, the Etang-Sale Cabris Ravine.
- Cook Islands. 12 Apr 2019

As of Wednesday [10 Apr 2019], the Ministry for Health has 18 confirmed and 12 probable dengue fever cases. This is a total of 30 cases compared to 24 previously identified.
- Taihiti (French Polynesia). 13 Apr 2019

DEN-2 confirmation of several autochthonous cases