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Finland

Finland - US Consular Information Sheet
January 13, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Finland is a highly developed democracy with a modern economy.
It is a member of the European Union.
Tourist facilities are widely available.
Read
the Department of State Background Notes on Finland for additional information.
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:
Finland is a party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter Finland for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.
The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.
For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our Schengen fact sheet.

Travelers can contact the Embassy of Finland at 3301 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20008, tel: (202) 298-5800, or the Finnish Consulates General in Los Angeles or New York.
Additional information is available via the Internet at http://www.finland.org.
The U.S. Embassy in Helsinki is not able to assist private U.S. citizens in obtaining any necessary visas for neighboring countries, including Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union.

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:
Finland remains largely free of terrorist incidents.
However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Finland’s open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity.
Elements of organized crime groups operating in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe are present in Finland, but these do not represent a specific danger to U.S. citizen residents or tourists.
Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.
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 United States and Canada, or for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
Although the crime rate in Finland is low compared to the U.S. and most European countries, it has increased in recent years; however, Finland remains a relatively safe environment.
Americans visiting Finland are seldom victims of crime, but visitors should not be complacent regarding personal safety or the protection of valuables.
The same precautions employed in the U.S. should be followed in Finland.
Finnish police services are excellent. Travelers should be aware that some police officers speak little English.
Due to the low crime rate, Finland has one of the lowest numbers of police officers of any European nation.
Outside of key sites in major urban centers, they rarely project a visible presence; consequently, response times to crisis situations may be unpredictable.
All forms of public transportation are considered safe.
Street crimes, such as muggings and pick-pocketing, remain uncommon, but do occur.

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, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Finland has a program to provide financial compensation to victims who suffer serious criminal injuries.
According to existing regulations, the victim must report the incident to the police and file an application for compensation within 10 years of the date of the crime.
Finnish police routinely inform victims of serious crime of their right to seek compensation.
The relevant forms and further information can be obtained from http://www.treasuryfinland.fi.
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Finland is 112.
Please see our additional information for Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Finland’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Finland are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Commercial and financial transactions in Finland are increasingly automated and on-line.
Cash is almost always acceptable (the currency is the euro), but most major credit cards are widely recognized.
Automatic Teller Machines are very common and many U.S.-issued bankcards are compatible with them.

MEDICAL FACILITIES and Health information:
In Finland, medical facilities and their staff are generally excellent and are widely available for emergency services.
English is commonly spoken by Finnish medical personnel.
Helsinki is a frequent medical evacuation point for emergency cases from the countries of the former Soviet Union.
The public hospital system and many private hospitals honor foreign credit cards.
Most pharmacies (“apteekki” in Finnish) are open during normal shopping hours and major cities have at least one 24-hour service pharmacy.
If you are a tourist or temporary visitor to Finland and you require immediate emergency medical assistance, you may visit a local medical center or clinic, called “ensiapuasema” (first-aid station) in Finnish.
Usually these stations are located at hospitals and provide a full range of services.
The emergency telephone number, 112, can be used throughout Finland to contact emergency medical services.
For more detailed information on medicines and medical issues, please visit the website of the Finnish Embassy in Washington, DC at http://www.finland.org.
Travelers with special medical needs should consult with their personal physicians and take appropriate precautions, including bringing adequate supplies of necessary medication.
Medicines may be brought into the country as long as they are intended for the traveler’s personal use, however, there are special requirements concerning the quantity.
Medications categorized as narcotics may only be brought into the country to cover the traveler’s personal use for a maximum of 14 days and must be accompanied by a medical certificate stating why the traveler needs them.
For more detailed information, please contact the Finnish Embassy in Washington, DC at http://www.finland.org
In addition, stringent Finnish customs regulations prohibit travelers from receiving drugs from abroad after having arrived in the country.
Travelers may also find local physicians reluctant to prescribe equivalent quantities of dosages.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Finland.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and 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 Finland is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Finnish roads are comparable to those in the U.S., though secondary roads may be less heavily traveled due to Finland’s sparse population outside the major urban areas.
These secondary routes often narrow to two lanes with a wider shoulder.
Slower vehicles are expected to move onto the shoulder to allow faster moving vehicles to pass.
Finland has an extensive network of highways throughout the country, as well as excellent public transportation services.
A valid U.S. driver’s license may be used while visiting Finland, but drivers must be at least 18 years of age.
Driving in Finland is on the right.
Traffic approaching from the right usually has priority, even if entering a primary roadway from a secondary one.
Road signs use standard international symbols and Finnish text.
Many urban streets have traffic lanes reserved for public transportation only.
Unless otherwise noted on traffic signs, the speed limit is 50 km/h in urban areas, 80 km/h on open roads, and 120 km/h on expressways during summer (reduced to 100 km/h during winter).
Vehicles must use headlights at all times.
Use of seatbelts is mandatory for drivers and all passengers.
Minor children must be seated in approved child or booster seats.

Public transport in Finland is of good quality and is the recommended method of travel.
Passenger trains, intercity buses, and air flights provide regular service over longer distances.
Public transportation in urban centers includes buses, subways, trams, suburban trains, and taxis.
Taxis are more expensive than in major U.S. cities.
Most local residents use public transport in Helsinki as parking can be hard to find and expensive.
The bus, train, and subway systems are relatively safe.
Travelers should be aware that drunk-driving laws are strict and acceptable blood alcohol levels are much lower in Finland than in the U.S.
Police strictly enforce all traffic laws and institute random roadside breath analyzer tests.
Drivers who register .05 or above alcohol content are subject to immediate arrest.
Drivers should be aware that regulations and traffic signs differ significantly from those in the U.S.
Visitors should be familiar with both prior to operating a vehicle in Finland.
Driving in Finland during the winter months can be hazardous.
Daylight hours are very short and one should be comfortable with driving in darkness.
Icy road conditions are common.
If driving in Finland, the vehicle must be winterized with studded snow tires and engine heaters are strongly recommended.
When driving at night, drivers must be alert to moose wandering onto major roadways.
There have been incidents of moose being struck by vehicles, causing severe damage to the vehicle and injury, sometimes fatal, to the occupants.
For real-time updates on road conditions throughout Finland, see the Finnish Road Administration’s travel and traffic information web site at http://www.finnra.fi
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.mek.fi
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Finland’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Finland’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
Please see our information on customs regulations.

CHILDREN’S ISSUES:
For information, see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION AND EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Finland are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov, so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Finland.
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 Itainen Puistotie 14B.
The telephone number for the American Citizens Services unit is 358-9-616-25-701, 0830 to 1700 Monday to Friday (after hours, 358-9-616-25-0); the fax number is 358-9-616-25-800; e-mail:
HelsinkiACS@state.gov.
The address of the Embassy’s Internet home page is http://www.usembassy.fi
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This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated May 23, 2008 to update the sections on Information for Victims of Crime and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri 14 Dec 2018
Source: UUTISET [edited]

An unvaccinated individual, who caught the contagious disease in Poland, attended a large church service in Tampere and infected at least 2 other people. Three adults have been diagnosed with measles in Tampere after attending a Catholic parish church event in late November along with more than 100 people, according to the Pirkanmaa Hospital District.

Two of the adults diagnosed have been vaccinated, so they are not contagious. The source of the outbreak is an unvaccinated person, who caught the measles in Poland. But according to the Pirkanmaa Hospital District, further cases may still arise.

In 1975 Finland began to administer a single dose of the measles vaccine to all one-year-olds and by 1982 Finland began administering the vaccine in 2 doses between the ages of 1 and 6. However some people born in the 1970s are among those who received only one jab. MMR is a triple-dose vaccine that provides protection against measles, mumps and rubella.

Measles spread at religious event
---------------------------------
The event in question was Tampere's Pyhan Ristin (Sacred Cross) Catholic Parish church mass on 25 Nov 2018. It was attended by more than 100 people, including children. Pirkanmaa Hospital District doctor Kirsi Valve, a specialist in infectious diseases, confirmed that the infected individual who caught the measles in Poland was at the church event. The cases came to light when 2 vaccinated individuals contracted high fevers and came down with skin rashes. The unvaccinated person, who infected the others, has had more severe symptoms than the vaccinated individuals.

"The individuals quickly got in touch with healthcare services owing to high fevers, and skin rashes that rapidly spread all over their bodies," says Valve. "It was confirmed that on 25 Nov 2018 the unvaccinated individual who caught the measles in Poland and brought it back to Finland was at the parish event and is the source of the outbreak."

As the source of the outbreak is known, healthcare officials are also looking into whether the person could have possibly exposed others.

Measles in the news
-------------------
Measles has been on the agenda this winter after an unvaccinated child in Ostrobothnia took ill with measles. Meanwhile, it also came to light that many adults in Finland may not have been vaccinated against measles during the early 1970s.

Measles is a rare disease. The previous outbreak was 2 summers ago when 4 vaccinated children caught measles in Italy and started showing symptoms after returning to Finland. The Pirkanmaa Hospital District recommends that anyone who attended the Catholic parish event in late November 2018 and exhibits symptoms that suggest measles or anyone who hasn't been vaccinated with the MMR vaccine contact their healthcare centre.

If those who attended the parish event are healthy, but have not been vaccinated, the Pirkanmaa Hospital District recommends that they contact their healthcare centre to be vaccinated. The measles vaccine is free and administered as part of the MMR shot, which also provides protection against rubella and the mumps.
Date: Fri 2 Nov 2018
Source: UUTISET [edited]

Around 1/3 of the ticks in Finland -- mostly found in the south -- carry at least one pathogen, and 2 percent of the persistent arachnids carry several disease-causing agents, researchers at Turku University said.

About 30 percent of common ticks and 24 percent of taiga tick populations have been found to carry one disease pathogen. Common ticks more commonly carry several disease-causing pathogens than taiga ticks, according to the researchers.

The most common pathogen found in the ticks was _Borrelia burgdorferi_, the bacterial species that causes Lyme disease in humans, an illness referred to locally as borreliosis. The pathogen was found in 17 percent of the ticks at the university's growing tick database bank.

Lyme disease cases are treated with aggressive antibiotics without necessarily determining which specific bacterium is responsible for the infection.

Thanks to a growing tick database at the University of Turku, researchers have new insights into the disease pathogens that the tiny, blood-sucking arachnids carry.

New research has revealed that ticks on the south coast carry the most pathogens, but the region is almost exclusively home to the most common ticks: _Ixodes ricinus_, or castor bean ticks).

Both castor bean ticks and taiga ticks [_Ixodes persulcatus_] are now commonly found in areas across central Finland, the researchers said. Even further north, the tick populations are quite similar to ones in central areas, but the taiga has become more common in the north.

About 3 years ago, researchers at the university asked members of the public to send in ticks they had found, and now the institution has received more than 20 000 ticks. The researchers say that they want to take advantage of the significant amount of information they can learn from the specimens.

Examination of those thousands of tiny arachnids have uncovered many types of disease-causing bacteria, and researchers have new insights into the arachnids themselves and the potential illnesses they carry.

The researchers said they hope to learn more about ticks, saying that their research has only begun, and that their study of the ticks will continue for several years. Ultimately, their goal is to find how tick-borne illnesses are transmitted, they said.
======================
[This is an interesting example of how a large group of people, many undoubtedly non-scientists, can contribute to an effort that requires many hours of collection effort. Although _Borrelia burgdorferi_ is endemic in Finland, finding it and possibly other bacterial pathogens in about 1/3 of the 20 000 ticks collected is of public health significance. _Ixodes ricinus_ is also the tick vector of European tick-borne encephalitis virus, but no mention is made of it in the above report. Perhaps it was not tested for. Images of both ticks can be found in the above report. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Thu, 1 Nov 2018 16:46:12 +0100
From: topic@afp.com

Helsinki, Nov 1, 2018 (AFP) - Santa Claus has already begun his preparations in Lapland -- by protecting himself from winter viruses and making sure he hires enough elves.   On Thursday nurse Tiia Kahkonen administered an anti-influenza vaccine to Santa, at his village in the Arctic Circle town of Rovaniemi, northern Finland. 

The jab is likely to be a sensible precaution, as the flu season coincides with the busiest time of the year by far in Lapland.    In December last year 390,000 foreign visitors spent a night in Finnish Lapland, an increase of almost ten percent on the previous Christmas.    By far the largest group of Christmas holidaymakers were Brits, followed by Russian, French and German tourists, according to official statistics.

Meanwhile a recruitment agency in Finnish Lapland, inside the Arctic circle, has put out a call for Christmas elves to look after the hordes of tourists who come to visit Santa in his natural habitat during the winter months.   Prior experience is not essential as the advert, posted by the firm Lapland Staff, promises that training will be provided in "the required elfing and communication skills."   Successful applicants will also be given tips on how to deal with the cold in northern Finland where temeratures rarely rise above zero degrees Celsius, and can drop as low as minus 40.

Although handling Santa's reindeer is not listed among the job's duties, elves will need to herd groups of visitors on and off buses, as well as keep tourists entertained. "Looking after the fireplace and pouring hot juice" are also required, as is supervising the toboggan hill.   Tourism to Lapland has reached an all-time high in recent years, with visitors spending 3.5 million nights in Lapland across the whole year, up from 2.6 million a decade earlier, according to Statistics Finland.    Much of the recent growth has been driven by tourism from Asia.
Date: Sun, 17 Dec 2017 04:43:36 +0100
By Camille BAS-WOHLERT

Rovaniemi, Finland, Dec 17, 2017 (AFP) - In the run up to Christmas tourists from around the world flock to the Santa Claus Village, an amusement park in Finnish Lapland, where temperatures can hit nearly -15 degrees Celsius (5 Fahrenheit).    They buy soft toys and souvenirs from pricey gift shops while a bearded Santa receives hundreds of admirers a day throughout December before embarking on his world tour from the valleys of Finland to the skyscrapers of New York and beyond to deliver gifts.

Holding their winter beanie hats in their hands, visitors wait patiently in line for a brief encounter with "Joulupukki" -- the Finnish word for Santa Claus -- and a photo opportunity in exchange for hard currency.    "We've seen other Santas but that wasn't the real one. But we're told that is the real one," said Mary Gleadall, an eight-year-old tourist from Southampton in the UK, visiting the amusement park with her parents, brother and sister.    According to Christmas lore, Santa lives in a secret place in the middle of the snowy pines of the North Pole. But the question is where?     Since 2010, Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland, has marketed itself as Santa's "official home".    Situated a few miles from the city, the Santa Claus Village is located in front of a huge gas station. 

Tourists rush to cross the Arctic Circle, marked by a white line, to meet Santa Claus in his wooden home with a pointed roof.    But entering his private cottage is out of the question as Mother Claus is reportedly protective of their privacy.    In a large room, the white-bearded old man sits in an armchair next to a chest full of letters.    Each year, he receives more than 300,000 visitors, a deluge he embraces with humility.    "I'm very happy. I'm not exhausted but, of course, I get tired once in a while" he says.    And how does Santa Claus regain his energy?    "I love to take nap every once and then. Fifteen minutes sleeping and then all is very good." he says.

- Exalted tourists -
Shizuka Kawahara and Saki Itoi, Japanese tourists in their thirties, flew for more than 24 hours to hug Santa for a few seconds in a precious moment immortalised with a photograph taken by an elf.    The price for one shot starts at 30 euros ($35). Photographing with one's own camera is forbidden as it would ruin the magic of the moment, says the staff of the house.     Four-year-old Harry Gleadall, Mary's brother, approaches Santa without fear.    He quickly states his list of what he wants for Christmas: Transformers and some more Transformers before he skeptically shakes Santa's hand.    "But what if it wasn't the real Santa Claus?" Harry asks with concern.    Eager to set the record straight -- and justify the long trip -- his mother quickly assures him that the chubby red-clothed man is indeed the real deal.    After a tour around the shop which sells hand-made "Lapland" emblems and tons of souvenirs, the family is back in the village square, surrounded by wooden homes, Christmas carols piped out of nearby speakers.

- Polar safari -
In this winter wonderland, tourists have the opportunity to go on a reindeer sleigh ride.    A snow "safari" of 400 metres costs 14 euros per child and 18 euros per adult, an exotic experience for many foreigners who seek to discover the arctic landscapes steeped in pink light.    The -13 degrees Celsius does not discourage the plucky visitors bundled up in their ski suits.    "Everything that have been told to me during childhood, it's come true," said Perpetua, a tourist from Dubai, describing the break from the year round desert climate as "heaven".   "We expected magic and this is what we found," added Max, an Italian tourist. "Everything seems to be magic, the lights, the place, everything here".   But Miriana, a 24-year-old Italian on a university exchange programme in southern Finland, was less convinced.   "The place is really nice. But I think nevertheless that it's a bit commercial," she said.
Date: Tue 18 Oct 2016
From: Tiina Nokireki <tiina.nokireki@evira.fi> [edited]

The Finnish Food Safety Authority (Evira) received a bat (Daubenton's bat, _Myotis daubentonii_) for laboratory analyses. The bat was found by a private person. The bat had neurological signs and then died.

Laboratory analyses conducted during the 13 and 14 Oct 2016, confirmed the presence of rabies by FAT. The virus was then identified as European Bat Lyssavirus type 2 (EBLV-2) by RT-PCR and partial sequencing of the gene for the nucleoprotein. Also cell culture is positive.

The bat originated from Inkoo in the province of Southern Finland and is part of the Uusimaa region. This is the 2nd case of EBLV-2 in a bat in Finland.
-----------------------------------------
Tiina Nokireki
Head of Section, DVM, Specialist in Veterinary Medicine, Infectious
Diseases
Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira
Research Department, Veterinary Virology
Mustialankatu 3,
FI-00790 Helsinki,
Finland
=========================
[Special thanks to Dr. Nokireki for this important contribution. Infections by European Bat Lyssavirus type 2 (EBLV-2) have been previously reported in Northern Europe, not only in bats, but also in humans. EBLV-1 appears to be more prevalent, accounting for the vast majority of all EBLV-infected bats. Reports of EBLV-2 correspond to Daubenton's bats (_Myotis daubentonii_), indicating that this bat species is the reservoir of this _Lyssavirus_ strain.

For a picture of a Daubenton's bat go to

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
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World Travel News Headlines

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