WORLD NEWS

Getting countries ...
Select countries and read reports below or

Brazil

General

 Brazil is the largest country in South America and extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean to the depths of the Amazon basin. The climate varies throughout the country but generally it experiences a humid

tropical climate.

Safety & Security

The level of crime in many of the main urban centres is certainly rising and tourists need to be aware of the risks involved in travelling particularly in the evening hours. It is wise to use an official taxi for any journeys after dark. It is sensible not to flaunt any personal wealth and to use the hotel safety boxes for any valuables and your travel documents. The amount of crime against tourists tends to be greater in areas surrounding hotels, discotheques, bars, nightclubs and other similar establishments that cater to visitors, especially at dusk and during the evening hours. There are frequent reports of theft on city buses and such transportation should be avoided. A number of the main cities have established specialised tourist police units to patrol areas frequented by tourists. Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Brasilia all continue to experience a high incidence of crime.

Road Safety

Throughout this huge country the state of the roads varies greatly. In many regions the roads are dirt tracks and assistance would be hard to obtain for those travelling off from the main tourists routes. Bag snatching from traffic lights occurs in the main cities. If considering hiring a car make certain that your travel insurance is sufficient.

Jet Lag

After your flight you will experience a degree of jet lag. Travelling from Europe this will be less than when you travel home but nevertheless it will still cause your body to complain for 24 to 48 hours. Try to have a more relaxing time for the first few days (and also after returning home if possible!). Be careful not to fall asleep by the pool and then awaken with sunburn which could ruin your time abroad.

Medical Facilities

In any country of this size the level of medical care will vary greatly. This is particular true out side the main tourist resorts. English speaking doctors should be available but the level of hospital care can be worrisome. Make certain you carry sufficient supplies of any medication you may require for your entire holiday. Essential drugs (asthma, diabetes, epilepsy etc) should be divided for security.

Sun Exposure and Dehydration

The hot humid tropical climate often leads to quite significant problems for the Irish traveller. Make sure you cover your head when out in the sunlight and drink plenty of fluids to replenish that lost through perspiration. Replace the salt you loose by eating crisps etc orby putting salt on your meal (providing there is no contraindication).

Visiting the Iguassu Falls

These huge waterfalls border Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. There is only minimal risk of malaria and so malaria prophylaxis is not generally recommended. Also, Yellow fever is not transmitted in this area but mosquitoes can abound. Sensible insect bite precautions should be followed at all times.

Food & Water

Many tourists who visit Brazil stay in the main resorts along the southern coast. The food and water preparation in the hotels is normally excellent but eating food from street vendors is generally unwise. Shell fish (bivalve oysters, mussels, clams etc) are unwise even in a five star hotel. Check the water from the cold water tap in your room. If you can’t easily smell chlorine (swimming pool style) don’t use it even for brushing your teeth. If travelling around the country (Caribbean coast or into the Amazon regions) take significantly more care.

Rabies 

This viral disease occurs throughout Brazil and it is usually transmitted through the bite from an infected warm-blooded animal (eg dogs, cats & monkeys). Any contact should be avoided but if it occurs treat it very seriously and seek competent medical attention immediately after you wash out the area and apply an antiseptic.

Malaria

The risk of malaria is significant all year throughout the Amazon regions. There is insignificant risk for those staying along the coast up as far as Fortaleza and for those remaining in this region prophylaxis is not usually recommended. The risk in the region of Brasilia is also thought to be minimal though this is an area which has unusually experience an outbreak of Yellow Fever recently, and so the situation will require review.

Mosquito Borne Diseases  Apart from malaria the other two main diseases transmitted by mosquitoes which cause problems in Brazil are Dengue Fever (mainly along Caribbean Coast but has been reported much further south) and Yellow Fever (mainly in the Amazon Basin but thought to be spreading to other regions). Avoidance techniques are important at all times throughout the day. Swimming **************************************** Most of the main tourist swimming pools will be well maintained and the smell of chlorine will be evident. If sea swimming is on your agenda make sure you go where there are plenty of others and never swim alone. Look for warning signs and pay attention to local advice. Be very careful of local currents which can be dangerous. Vaccinations **************************************** The Brazilian Embassy is advising all travellers to Brazil to have vaccination cover against Yellow Fever. Also for your personal protection it is wise to consider some further vaccines. Generally we would recommend the following vaccination cover; * Yellow Fever (mosquito borne) * Tetanus (childhood booster) * Typhoid (food & water borne) * Hepatitis A (food & water borne) For those travelling more extensively or staying in the country for longer periods we would usually suggest that further vaccines are considered including Hepatitis B, Meningitis and Rabies. Summary **************************************** Many travellers to Brazil will remain perfectly healthy and well providing they follow some sensible precautions. Further information is available from either of our centres regarding any recent disease outbreaks.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed 9 Oct 2019
Source: OP9 [in Spanish, trans., abridged, edited]

In one week, Pernambuco recorded 14 new cases of measles. According to the latest epidemiological bulletin released on Wednesday [9 Oct 2019] by the State Department of Health (SES), the state has accumulated, in 2019, 37 confirmations of the disease. Since the beginning of the year [2019], 799 suspected viruses have been reported in Pernambuco cities. Among the investigated cases, 284 were discarded and 515 are still under evaluation. The state is one of 16 federation units with active disease outbreak in Brazil.

The municipalities with confirmed measles cases in Pernambuco are as follows: Northern Taquaritinga (14), Caruaru (6), Strands (5), Recife (3), Capibaribe Holy Cross (3), Toritama (3), Calves (1), Friar Miguelinho (1), Jaboatao of the Guararapes (1).

Despite the significant number of new confirmations, the state secretary of health, Andre Longo, considers that the new cases included in the newsletter are old. "These are people who fell ill between July and August [2019]. All measures to treat patients and investigate and block new cases are implemented soon after notification," he says.

According to the secretary, regardless of the positive result after laboratory tests, suspected cases are treated as if it were a confirmed case. The intention, according to the SES, is to prevent sequelae and deaths in patients and death and minimize the possibility of contagion. With the strengthening of vaccination, until 4 Oct [2019], 507 814 people were immunized with the triple virus in Pernambuco.

Among the number of vaccinated patients, 215 986 doses were administered to children between 6 months and 4 years. The figures also reveal that the state was able to achieve 98% coverage in the 1st dose of the triple virus in one-year-olds. In the 2nd dose, which should be done 3 months after the 1st dose, the coverage is lower: 74.5%.

According to the Ministry of Health, children are the most susceptible to complications and deaths from measles, since the incidence of cases in children under one year is 9 times higher than the general population. The 2nd-most-affected age group is 1-4 years.

Since the 2nd half of August [2019], immunization of infants between 6 months and 11 months with the triple virus has been instituted throughout Brazil. Until then, the vaccination schedule of the 3 diseases began only after the 1st year. After administration of the "zero dose," it will still be necessary to follow the basic vaccination schedule from 12 months, with one more dose and a booster at 15 months.

Little coverage of 2nd dose of vaccine in children is still worrying in Pernambuco Although Pernambuco has already reached the minimum target of vaccination of the 1st dose of the triple viral in children up to 12 months, the index was not reached in the set of municipalities of I and VIII Regional Health Management (Abreu e Lima, Aracoiaba, Cabo de St. Augustine, Camaragibe, Big Ch, Tea of Joy, Glory of Goita, Fernando de Noronha, Igarassu, Ipojuca, Itamaraca, Itapissuma, Jaboatao of the Guararapes, Moreno, Olinda, Paulista, Pigeons, Reef, Sao Lourenco da Mata Antao, Afranio, Cabrobo, Sleepers, Big Pond, Oroco, Petrolina, Santa Maria da Boa Vista).

"These are populated areas that have a large circulation of tourists all the time. That is why the importance of intensifying actions and actively searching to avoid pockets of unprotected children," points out the superintendent of immunization of the State Department of Health (SES-PE), Ana Catarina de Melo. According to her, regarding the 2nd dose of the vaccine, considered essential for the protection of children, only the Geres de Palmares and Salgueiro were able to reach the minimum target of 95%.

Children between 6 months and under one year old, residing in the following 9 municipalities, should [get vaccinated] take one dose of the triple viral: Recife, Paulista, Calves, Caruaru, Santa Cruz do Capibaribe, Taquaritinga do Norte, Vertentes, Friar Miguelinho, and Salgueiro. Importantly, these children will need to follow the normal immunization schedule from 12 months.

At the moment, vaccination is still indicated for children from 6 months to under one year who are going to move to municipalities with an active measles outbreak. Immunization must be done at least 15 days before travel.
Date: Thu, 3 Oct 2019 03:41:42 +0200 (METDST)
By Allison JACKSON

Rio de Janeiro, Oct 3, 2019 (AFP) - Dengue-resistant mosquitoes breed in a Rio de Janeiro laboratory, producing offspring infected with bacteria packing a punch in the fight against the deadly virus, which is exploding across Brazil this year.   Scientists are using Wolbachia, a bacteria common among insects except the dengue-transmitting Aedes aegypti mosquito, to dent the spread of the debilitating virus and other illnesses including Zika and chikungunya.

Since 2015, the Fiocruz institute in Rio has been producing mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia and releasing their dengue-hardened offspring into the densely populated city and neighboring Niteroi.   The hope is they will spread the bacteria by reproducing with wild mosquitoes.   Wolbachia works in two ways: it boosts a mosquito's immune system, making it less likely to contract dengue.   But if the mosquito does get dengue, Wolbachia makes it harder for the virus to grow inside the insect and be transmitted to humans.   So far, results are promising.    Scientists involved in the trial report a "significant reduction" in cases of dengue and chikungunya in targeted neighborhoods.   Tests show more than 90 percent of mosquitoes in areas where the first infected insects were released more than three years ago have the bacteria.

But Wolbachia is not the silver bullet for eliminating dengue, Luciano Moreira, head of the project in Brazil, tells AFP in a lab as workers walk around waving electrified mosquito racquets to zap insects that have escaped from test tubes.    "Where there are people, there are mosquitoes," Moreira explains, surrounded by hundreds of tubes holding thousands of Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes.    "We always say we are not the solution, it has to be an integrated process done together.   "People still have to destroy breeding sites at home. You want to have less mosquitos, but mosquitoes with Wolbachia.   "If there is a vaccine you can use it in conjunction with that ... it has to be a combination."

Brazil is one of several countries holding trials of the so-called Wolbachia method, which began in Australia in 2011, to tackle the virus that infects tens of millions around the world every year.    The self-sustaining process does not involve genetic modification (GM), which has been tested in Brazil and elsewhere.   In one GM trial, thousands of male mosquitoes carrying a "self-limiting gene" designed by British biotech company Oxitec were released in the eastern Brazilian state of Bahia between 2013 and 2015.   The number of viable offspring fell dramatically, suppressing the wild mosquito population by an average of 70 percent compared with before the release, Oxitec found.   But mosquito numbers rebounded after the project ended.    Moreira says previous attempts to wipe out mosquito populations have failed.   "There are too many (mosquitoes)," he says.

- Fresh blood is best -
Thousands of bacteria-carrying mosquitoes at Fiocruz institute are the descendants of insects originally infected with Wolbachia at Australia's Monash University.    Researchers there took the bacteria from fruit flies and injected it into mosquito eggs using a very fine needle.   The Brazilian insects are kept in small boxes in a temperature- and humidity-controlled room.   During their brief lives, which can be as long as 100 days in the lab, females have sex with their male counterparts multiple times.   After mating, the females dine on human blood supplied by a blood bank, and then deposit their eggs on the surface of water held in plastic containers.   The eggs, which inherit Wolbachia from the female, are harvested and transferred to large test tubes.

Only female mosquitoes consume blood, which they need to produce eggs, Catia Cabral, supervisor of the insectary, tells AFP during a recent visit.    Any blood type is ok, but fresh is always best.    "She is going to prefer 1,000 times more the blood from my arm, but she can't choose here so she has to eat this blood," says Cabral, showing AFP a bag of blood from a bank.   Within two weeks, the infected offspring have grown into adults and are ready for release.   Brazil's health ministry plans to expand the program to municipalities in other parts of the country to see if similar results can be produced in different environments.   But state and federal government budget cuts mean no more Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes will be released in Rio or Niteroi after December, Moreira says.    He is lobbying authorities to keep the program going.   "Rio (state) has had quite large financial problems in recent years and for that reason cannot invest in this project," Moreira explains.

The decision comes as Brazil sees a spike in the number of cases of dengue, which causes fever, rash, nausea and -- in some cases -- death.   More than 1.4 million cases were registered in the first eight months of this year, health ministry figures show, up 600 percent on the same period in 2018.    Nearly 600 people have died so far.   Moreira blames this year's surge on the return of type two dengue, which has not been seen in Brazil for years, meaning many people have no resistance.   Unseasonal rain and high temperatures are also fueling the outbreak, the health ministry says.   A vaccination for the four types of dengue was in the "final stage of tests," Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta announced last month.    Mandetta hopes it will be ready next year. In the meantime, he said, Brazilians should brace for a "very tough summer."
Date: Thu 29 Aug 2019
Source: Yahoo News [abridged, edited]

Brazil's Health Ministry said Thursday [29 Aug 2019] that a 42-year-old man died from measles in Sao Paulo. He was not vaccinated against the disease.

Nearly all the measles cases recorded this year [2019] in Brazil are in the state of Sao Paulo, where health authorities have confirmed 2457 cases.

Brazil received a measles eradication certificate from the Pan American Health Organization in 2016, but the disease returned in January 2018 from people immigrating from Venezuela.

Measles cases also have surged in Europe and parts of the United States. Health authorities blame that on people refusing vaccines.

The Pan American Health Organization says Brazil recorded more than 10 000 cases of measles with 12 deaths last year [2018].
Date: Fri 9 Aug 2019
Source: Folha de S. Paulo [trans. Kiratiana Freelon; abridged, edited]

A mutated measles virus is responsible for the recent outbreak of the virus that has led to 1000 cases in the the Sao Paulo area, according to Edison Luiz Durigon, a professor at USP's Institute of Biomedical Sciences and one of the country's most respected virologists.

The previous outbreak of the disease, which was considered eradicated in Brazil in the past decade, occurred in 1999. The current version of the virus, however, is another.

Still, the vaccine protects against this type of measles virus, the D-8. But the amount of antibodies in the body of an immunized person (made with the type A virus) drops after 15 years of application. Therefore, anyone who has never been immunized or injected for a long time should be vaccinated. WHO estimates that from 2000-2017, 21 million measles deaths were prevented by the vaccine.

With the amount of antibodies generated by someone who recently took the vaccine, the body can neutralize viruses of various types (8 in all, from A to H) and subtypes (24, distributed between types).

D-8 viruses circulated generally in Europe and began to pop up about a year ago in Venezuela and the northern part of the country. "Because there were a few cases, we thought the disease was spreading among unvaccinated people."  [Byline: Gabriel Alves]
Date: Thu 25 Jul 2019
Source: Teresina Prefecture [in Portuguese, trans. ProMED Mod.TY, edited]

PI [Piaui state] has been following with attention and care the developments regarding the 3rd confirmed case of West Nile fever in Piaui. Since 2013, all suspected cases admitted to the municipal public network have been subjected to an investigation protocol implemented by the FMS [Fundacao Municipal de Saude de Teresina; Teresina Municipal Health Foundation] that includes West Nile virus, among several others of important relevance.

The patient in question, a victim of encephalitis, coming from Piripiri in Piaui, received all possible assistance in the intensive care unit of the Teresina Emergency Hospital, but suffered several clinical complications that, due to her advanced age and the presence of comorbidities, led to her death.

The coast and the interior of the state of Piaui are located on migratory bird routes, identified as important links in the spread of the disease [virus], according to the National Center for Research for the Conservation of Wild Birds (CEMAVE / ICMBIO). The virus was also detected in the state of Espirito Santo in 2018 and in the state of Ceara in 2019.

From 2014 to 2019, the FMS investigated 399 suspected human cases of severe West Nile fever disease from various cities in Piaui and neighbouring states: 319 were discarded, 35 had "undetermined" results, and 42 remain under investigation. All hospitals in the municipality are trained to investigate and treat any new suspicious cases.  [Byline: Amariles de Souza Borba]
=======================
[West Nile virus transmission has been active in several spots in Brazil this year [2019]. There have been recent equine cases in Ceara and Espirito Santo states, so it is not surprising that a human case has occurred in Piaui state as well. As ProMED Mod.CRD noted in a previous ProMED-mail post (West Nile virus (19): Americas (Brazil) horse, OIE; archive no. http://promedmail.org/post/20190725.6586397), "West Nile fever is a mosquito-borne viral disease that can affect birds, humans, and horses causing inapparent infection, mild febrile illness, meningitis, encephalitis, or death. West Nile virus (WNV) is a member of the genus _Flavivirus_ in the family Flaviviridae. The arbovirus is maintained in nature by cycling through birds and mosquitoes; numerous avian and mosquito species support virus replication" (see  Source:<http://www.oie.int/fileadmin/Home/eng/Health_standards/tahm/3.01.24_WEST_NILE.pdf>).

Hosts are birds, some of which may succumb to fatal systemic illness. Among mammals, clinical disease is primarily exhibited in horses and humans, but they are dead-end hosts and cannot infect mosquitoes. There is a vaccine available for equine animals but not for humans. The best preventive measure is to avoid mosquito bites. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 11:08:10 +0200 (METDST)

Manila, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Parents lined up from sunrise holding sleeping infants as the Philippines launched a campaign on Monday to vaccinate millions of children against polio, which has re-emerged nearly two decades after the nation's last cases.   Years of falling vaccination rates, made worse by the botched rollout of a dengue vaccine, culminated in an outbreak of the preventable disease in September.   "This is for the welfare of my child," Ruth Miranda told AFP after the vaccine was squirted into her child's mouth at the Manila slum they call home.

Miranda's child is among scores who are unprotected in the capital of about 13 million people, where vaccination rates of young children plunged from 77 percent in 2016 to a mere 24 percent in June.   The atmosphere at the event in Manila was festive -- with ice cream vendors and music -- but the stakes for the campaign are high.

Polio, which can cause paralysis and can be fatal in rare cases, has no cure and can only be prevented with several doses of oral and injectable vaccines.   Two cases were detected in September, the first polio infections in the Philippines since 2001, adding to the woes of a country already hit by deadly measles and dengue epidemic.   The risk of the disease spreading within the Philippines is high, according to World Health Organization, due to low immunisation coverage partly blamed to a dengue vaccine scandal.

The Philippines was the first nation to use Dengvaxia in a mass programme in 2016, but a botched rollout led to claims that children had died after being vaccinated.   A dramatic drop in vaccine confidence followed, with trust plunging from 93 percent in 2015 to 32 percent in 2018, according to a study led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.   The Philippines polio outbreak has been traced back to the weakened form of the virus used in vaccines, which is excreted by people for a time after they receive it.   According to the WHO, that form can mutate and spread in the surrounding community when immunisation rates get too low.
Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 10:25:38 +0200 (METDST)
By Shingo ITO, Sara HUSSEIN

Tokyo, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of rescue workers in Japan battled on Monday to find survivors of a powerful typhoon that killed at least 43 people, as fresh rain threatened to hamper efforts.   Typhoon Hagibis crashed into the country on Saturday night, unleashing high winds and torrential rain across 36 of the country's 47 prefectures, and triggering landslides and catastrophic flooding.   "Even now, many people are still unaccounted for in the disaster-hit area," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told an emergency disaster meeting on Monday.   "Units are trying their best to search for and rescue them, working day and night," Abe said.

But even as rescuers, including troops, combed through debris, the country's weather agency forecast rain in central and eastern Japan that it warned could cause further flooding and new landslides.   "I would like to ask people to stay fully vigilant and continue watching for landslides and river flooding," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.   In Nagano, one of the worst-hit regions, rain was already falling and was expect to intensify.   "We are concerned about the impact of the latest rain on rescue and recovery efforts," local official Hiroki Yamaguchi told AFP.   "We will continue operations while watching out for secondary disasters due to the current rain."

- 43 dead, 16 missing: NHK -
By late Monday afternoon, national broadcaster NHK said the toll had risen to 43 dead, with 16 others missing and over 200 people injured. The government gave lower figures but was continuing to update its information.   The dead included a municipal worker whose car was overcome by floodwaters and at least seven crew from a cargo ship that sank in Tokyo Bay on Saturday night, a coast guard spokesman said.   Four others, from China, Myanmar and Vietnam, were rescued when the boat sank and the coast guard was still searching for a last crew member.   While Hagibis, one of the most powerful storms to hit the Tokyo area in decades, packed wind gusts of up to 216 kilometres (134 miles) per hour, it was the heavy rains that caused most damage.

A total of 142 rivers flooded, mainly in eastern and northern Japan, with river banks collapsing in two dozen places, local media said.   In central Nagano, a levee breach sent water from the Chikuma river gushing into residential neighbourhoods, flooding homes up to the second floor.   As water slowly receded Monday, television footage showed patients being transferred by ambulance from a Nagano hospital where some 200 people had been cut off by flooding.   Elsewhere, rescuers used helicopters to winch survivors from roofs and balconies, or steered boats through muddy waters to reach those trapped.

- Japan dedicates rugby win to victims -
By Monday afternoon, some 75,900 households remained without power, with 120,000 experiencing water outages.   The disaster left tens of thousands of people in shelters, with many unsure when they would be able to return home.   "Everything from my house was washed away before my eyes, I wasn't sure if it was a dream or real," a woman in Nagano told NHK.   "I feel lucky I'm still alive."   The storm brought travel chaos over the holiday weekend, grounding flights and halting commuter and bullet train services.

By Monday, most subway trains had resumed service, along with many bullet train lines, and flights had also restarted.   The storm also brought havoc to the sporting world, forcing the delay of Japanese Grand Prix qualifiers and the cancellation of three Rugby World Cup matches.   But a crucial decider pitting Japan against Scotland went ahead, with the hosts dedicating their stunning 28-21 win to the victims of the disaster.   "To everyone that's suffering from the typhoon, this game was for you guys," said Japan captain Michael Leitch.
Date: Sun, 13 Oct 2019 23:31:57 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, Oct 13, 2019 (AFP) - Doctors will use a second Ebola vaccine from November in three eastern provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo to fight the deadly virus, medical officials said Sunday.   "It's time to use the new Ad26-ZEBOV-GP vaccine, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson's Belgian subsidiary," said Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, who leads the national anti-Ebola operation in the DRC.    It will arrive in the eastern city of Goma, in North Kivu province, on October 18 and be used from the beginning of next month, he added.   DRC's latest Ebola epidemic, which began in August 2018, has killed 2,144 people, making it the second deadliest outbreak of the virus, after the West Africa pandemic of 2014-2016.

Muyembe said the communes of Majingo and Kahembe had been selected to receive the vaccine as they were considered the epicentres of the epidemic.   "We will extend this vaccination to our small traders who often go to Rwanda to protect our neighbours," he added.   "If it works well, we will expand vaccination in South Kivu and Ituri."   DR Congo's eastern provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu sit on the borders with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.   The Belgian laboratory will send a batch of 200,000 doses to neighbouring Rwanda and 500,000 doses in the DRC, Muyembe said.   More than 237,000 people living in active Ebola transmission zones have received a vaccination produced by the pharma company Merck Sharpe and Dohme since August 8, 2018. 

The J&J vaccine had been rejected by DRC's former health minister Oly Ilunga, who cited the risks of introducing a new product in communities where mistrust of Ebola responders is already high.   But Ilunga's resignation in July appears to have paved the way for approval of the second vaccine. He currently faces charges that he embezzled funds intended for the fight against Ebola.   In his letter of resignation Ilunga said "actors who have demonstrated a lack of ethics" want to introduce a second vaccine, but did not elaborate.    Muyembe, who took over the Ebola fight in the DRC in July, said "The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has the most science-based data."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 20:02:59 +0200 (METDST)
By Robbie COREY-BOULET

Addis Ababa, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - A palace that once housed Ethiopia's emperors and also served as a torture site under the communist Derg regime is to open to the public in a controversial government tourism project.    The palace compound in Addis Ababa, which Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government has rebranded "Unity Park", was formally launched Thursday and will be open from Friday.    Abiy's office said on Twitter Thursday that the project "symbolises our ability to come together".

But critics have dismissed it as vanity project for Abiy that could prove divisive.   Backed by the United Arab Emirates, the project cost more than $160 million (145 million euros), Ethiopian officials told reporters at a briefing earlier this week.    Built in the late 1800s by Emperor Menelik II, who founded Addis Ababa, the palace was the residence of Ethiopia's rulers for more than a century.   Abiy himself does not live there, and it has seen little activity in recent years.    Abiy's advisers say he has taken a keen interest in transforming the palace into a tourist attraction since coming to power in April 2018 -- visiting the site every day in recent weeks to monitor progress.

The government's "Home-Grown Economic Reform" agenda, unveiled last month, describes tourism as a primary engine of potential job creation.    On Thursday, government officials and the diplomatic corps toured the expansive site before attending a banquet that was expected to draw five regional heads of state and other dignitaries.    The restored rooms feature items like Menelik's sword and a life-size wax replica of former Emperor Haile Selassie, who lived at the palace and was then etained there after the Derg overthrew him in 1974.

The site also includes a sculpture garden with installations representing Ethiopia's nine regions, and a zoo is expected to open by the end of the year.    Aklilu Fikresilassie, an Ethiopian employee of the United Nations who attended the launch Thursday, said he was "really fascinated" to set foot inside a place that had been closed to the public his entire life.    "For us it's like a government house, so now when you enter that palace it tells you that we are getting somehow closer to our leaders," he said.

But not everyone is convinced the palace will succeed in bringing Ethiopians together.   In a country grappling with ethnic divisions, some worry that the palace could alienate ethnic Oromos who contend that their ancestors were forced off their land when Addis Ababa was built.    Journalist and former political prisoner Eskinder Nega said the renovations were undertaken "without consultation from the public", which he called "a huge mistake."    "This is all about heritage, about preserving heritage. The people should have had a say in it," he said.    "Like everything else this was decided from the top and implemented only by the decision of the prime minister."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 13:13:57 +0200 (METDST)

Hanoi, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - Selfie-snapping tourists railed against the closure of Hanoi's 'train street' on Thursday after police blocked off the Instragram-famous tracks for safety reasons.   The narrow railway corridor in central Hanoi has become a hotspot among visitors seeking the perfect holiday snap on the tracks -- often dodging trains that rumble through daily.    But Hanoi authorities said this week they would block people from the tracks to avoid accidents, and police on Thursday erected barricades to keep out disappointed visitors.    "I'm very frustrated because today I can't go in and take a picture," Malaysian tourist Mustaza bin Mustapha told AFP, vowing to come back later.

Dozens of other tourists were turned away, though some managed to get onto still-open sections of the railway, moving out of the way as an afternoon train chugged past.    Built by former colonial rulers, the railway once shipped goods and people across France's former Indochina colony and remains in use today by communist Vietnam's state-run railway company.    The stretch of the tracks was once known as a rough part of town, occupied by drug users and squatters until their recent discovery by camera-wielding holidaymakers who have splashed images of the area across social media.

Cafe owners complained that business would be hurt thanks to the new regulations, and that tourists always moved out of the way for oncoming trains.   "There has never been any regretful accidents here," said Le Tuan Anh, who runs a cafe from his home along the tracks.   "Compared to traffic density elsewhere in the city, this is much safer," he said, referring to Hanoi's chaotic, motorbike-clogged streets.   New signs were installed in the area Thursday, warning passersby not to take photos or videos in the "dangerous area", much to the chagrin of British tourist Harriet Hayes.   "People come from all over the world to Hanoi just to see the train go past," she told AFP.   "It's such a shame that we come and have been told that we have to leave."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 06:51:42 +0200 (METDST)
By Holly ROBERTSON

Sydney, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - Large numbers of tourists are rushing to scale Uluru -- also known as Ayers Rock -- ahead of a looming ban on climbing a site sacred to indigenous Australians.   Photographs of hundreds of people clambering up the giant red monolith have provoked a social media backlash, with critics lashing as "ignorant" those going against the wishes of the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land, the Anangu.   "A mass of morally and ethically bankrupt people," indigenous woman Laura McBride tweeted alongside an image showing a queue of people snaking up the side of Uluru.    "One even hiking a toddler up, teaching the next generation how to be ignorant."   "Imagine rushing to climb Uluru before it closes just so you could brag about disrespecting the oldest living culture in the world," tweeted National Indigenous Television journalist Madeline Hayman-Reber, who called the scenes "embarrassing".

Officials say the ban, which comes into effect on October 26, is intended to show respect for cultural practices, protect the site from further environmental damage and to ensure visitors' safety.    More than 395,000 people visited the Uluru-Kata National Park in the 12 months to June 2019, according to Parks Australia, about 20 percent more than the previous year. Around 13 percent of those who visited during that period made the climb, park authorities said.    More recent figures are not available but Tourism Central Australia CEO Stephen Schwer said there had been a "significant jump" in the number of people visiting in recent weeks, with the period leading up to the ban coinciding in part with school holidays.   "Its been very busy, particularly down in the national park precinct itself," he told AFP.   "We've had quite an issue with accommodation availability, because there's a lot of people want to climb Uluru before it closes. It's been a busier than normal holiday period."   Japanese visitors and Australians on driving holidays were most likely to want to scale Uluru, Schwer said, though he urged them not to do so.

Australian tourist Belinda Moore, 33, drove to Uluru from her home in central Queensland state to ascend the rock, an experience she said she "absolutely loved".   "It's always been something to tick off the bucket list and when we heard it was closing, we knew it was now or never," she told AFP.   Moore said she did not think her climb was disrespectful to traditional owners as she was not Aboriginal.    "It may be for their own people, because it's their sacred site," she said.   "I'm pretty sad that they're closing it, but it's still amazing just to see it. I would still recommend it."   The climb will be permanently closed as of October 26, the anniversary of ownership being handed back to the Anangu people.

Uluru has great spiritual and cultural significance to indigenous Australians, with their connection to the site dating back tens of thousands of years.   Though visitor numbers were expected to decline once the ban was in place, Schwer said local tourism operators were "not particularly concerned" as it would return the area to normality.   "People need to remember that in central Australia we're a very interconnected community," he said. "The people who are requesting the climb closure are our friends and colleagues.   "We're just looking forward to being able to have the climb consigned to the annals of history."
Date: Wed, 9 Oct 2019 22:01:17 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, Oct 9, 2019 (AFP) - Six people were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo after torrential rains hit the capital Kinshasa, flooding several neighbourhoods. a local official said.    The bodies were found between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.    Five people were killed in the capital's Selembao municipality where around 30 houses collapsed, local mayor Augustin Mankesi told Top Congo radio station.   One woman died in the Pelende district after she was electrocuted, he added.    "Our community is stricken," Mankesi added, calling on the Congolese authorities for help.   Fatal floods and rains are frequent in Kinshasa. In January last year 48 people were killed in landslides, floods and after houses collapsed, according to authorities.    Residents told AFP the road from the sea port district of Matadi to the Kinshasa turnoff has been closed due to erosion caused by the rain.    The passage is Kinshasa's main supply route for imported goods and also serves as an exit point for exports.
Date: Tue, 8 Oct 2019 04:13:25 +0200 (METDST)
By Margioni BERMÚDEZ

Caracas, Oct 8, 2019 (AFP) - The small waiting room at the home of self-styled healer "Brother Guayanes" in Caracas' rundown Petare district fills up quickly with patients -- business has never been better.   With Venezuela's chronic medicine shortages and hyperinflation, more and more people are turning to alternative medicine to treat common ailments in the crisis-wracked South American country.   "We go to the hospital and there's nothing there. They don't have medicines, or they're too expensive, what are we to do?" said Rosa Saez, 77, who has come to get treatment for a painful arm.   Carlos Rosales -- he uses the more ceremonious "Brother Guayanes" for his business -- is finishing up a "spiritual intervention" on a patient in what passes for his surgery.   The patient lies, eyes closed, on a cot as, in a series of swishes and clicks, the healer waves five pairs of scissors one after another over his prone body.    The healer says he performs 200 such interventions a week in a dim, candle-lit room that features two camp beds and an array of plaster statues that Rosales says represent "spiritual entities".   A regular visitor to the spiritual center, Saez says she has faith in Rosales' methods: "He healed my kidneys."

- Natural healing -
All across Venezuela, but particularly in poor areas like Petare, patients cannot hope to afford the price of medicines that due to the economic crisis, have become exceedingly rare.  Venezuela's pharmacists' federation say pharmacies and hospitals have on average only about 20 percent of the medicine stock needed.   Rosales' clinic is muggy with the smell of tobacco. A crucifix suspended from a chain around his neck, he practices a seeming mixture of smoke-blowing shamanism, plant-based medicine and mainstream religion.    Posters hung near the entrance remind clients to arrive with a candle and tobacco and "Don't forget that payment is in cash".   Much like a general practitioner, Rosales spends time consulting with his patients, examining them with a stethoscope, before offering a diagnosis. Often he prescribes potions based on plants and fruit, such as pineapple and a type of local squash known as chayote.   "We know medicines are necessary," he says. "I'm not against medicine, but my medicine is botany."

- Plants replace drugs -
At her stall in a downtown Caracas market, 72-year-old Lilia Reyes says she has seen her trade in medicinal plants flourish.   "I can't keep up with the demand," she said at her stall, bathed in the aroma of camomile, one of the 150 plants she sells.   Careless consumption of some herbs can be deadly, warns Grismery Morillo. A doctor at a Caracas public hospital, she says she has seen many cases of acute liver failure in people who have eaten certain roots.   According to Venezuela's opposition parties, some 300,000 chronically ill people are in danger of dying from the shortages of medicines.

But despite the risks, people like Carmen Teresa say they have no alternative.    In the kitchen of her restaurant which closed down three years ago as the economic crisis took hold, the 58-year-old Colombian prepares an infusion of fig leaves to treat "diabetic neuropathy".   The painkillers needed for the condition are "too expensive" and prices are going up due to hyperinflation, so she is cutting back on the pills and supplementing her treatment with herbal infusions.   She needs at least four tablets a day to keep her diabetes at bay. Her mother, bedridden since breaking a leg a year ago, suffers from Alzheimer's disease and needs five pills a day for hypertension.   "I'm still taking my pills, but I reduced the dose," says Teresa, who is also replacing cholesterol pills with lemon juice.
Date: Sun, 6 Oct 2019 12:04:37 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, Oct 6, 2019 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia announced Sunday it would allow unmarried foreign couples to rent hotel rooms together as the ultraconservative kingdom begins offering up tourist visas for the first time.   The tourism authority said in a statement published on Twitter that Saudi women travelling alone would also be able to check into a hotel by presenting valid ID.

In the past, couples wanting to stay in a hotel had to prove they were married.    "This is no longer required for tourists," the statement said.   Saudi Arabia announced on September 27 it was opening its doors to holidaymakers with the goal of diversifying its oil-dependent economy.   The kingdom had previously only issued visas to Muslim pilgrims, foreign workers, and recently to spectators at sporting or cultural events.

Kickstarting tourism is one of the centrepieces of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform programme to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.   Citizens from 49 countries are now eligible for online e-visas or visas on arrival, including the United States, Australia and several European nations.   On September 28, Saudi authorities warned that tourists who violated "public decency", including with immodest clothing and public displays of affection, would be subject to fines.
Date: Sat, 5 Oct 2019 03:30:17 +0200 (METDST)
By Giovanna FLEITAS

Petorca, Chile, Oct 5, 2019 (AFP) - For Erick Hurtado, the worst thing about the drought that has devastated his family farm in Chile is the dead animals.   "Going out and seeing the animals dead on the ground is so horrible," Hurtado says as he gazes across the dusty paddocks of his farm in Petorca, near the coastal city of Valparaiso.

Farmers are counting the cost of one of the driest austral winters in six decades, which has destroyed crops and left tens of thousands of farm animals dead in the fields of central Chile.   Hurtado's farm, owned by his grandfather, has lost half its 60 head of cattle.   So far, 106,000 animals have died due to lack of water and fodder, mostly goats, cattle and sheep, according to the agriculture ministry.   President Sebastian Pinera, who last month announced a $5 billion plan to improve water distribution, this week set up a crisis group of government agencies to tackle the water crisis, which he said had become "more extensive and more intense."

In Colina, north of the capital Santiago, the drought has been hard on small farmers. Scrawny cattle pick at sprigs of strawy grass on pastures that have turned to dust. Cows, goats and horses roam hungry on hills have turned to a dry muddy brown.   "The drought has been disastrous for us," said Sandra Aguilar. Her family owned about a hundred head of cattle. Today, only half survive thanks to a trickle of water provided by a neighbor who still has some reserves.   "The situation is complicated," said Javier Maldonado, governor of the province of Chacabuco, where several agricultural areas have been hit particularly hard by the drought.    "We have to be realistic, climate change is here to stay," he said.

- Water shortages -
Dominga Mondaca points out the deep fissures that run through the garden behind her house in the village of La Ligua near Valparaiso. The garden used to be full of strawberries and citrus trees; now it's cracked earth.    "We have had many years with little water. But the last year, it didn't rain at all," said the 73-year-old, one of more than 600,000 people the government is supplying by tanker trucks as part of emergency measures.   She says she has had to give up raising chickens, in order to keep what little water she and her husband receive for their own consumption, washing and cleaning. Whatever is left, she uses to sprinkle on herbs in a small kitchen garden.   The agriculture ministry says 37,000 family farms need assistance in the central Chile.

- Thirsty avocados? -
In Petorca, some rivers have run dry, and the landscape has been left parched, but lush avocado and citrus plantations are nevertheless thriving.   Locals in Petorca say the real, long-term problem is the mismanagement of water resources.    "There is an excess of monoculture plantations that consume all the water," said Diego Soto of the Movement for the Defense of Access to Water, Land and Environmental Protection (MODATIMA) told AFP.   Avocados need a lot of water to grow, said Soto.   "An avocado tree needs 600 liters of water per week, whereas humans consume 50 liters a day, or 350 liters a week," he said.   Producers refute these figures and say the real problem is a lack of infrastructure to store water, both above and below ground.    "The avocado is not a crop that needs more water," insisted Francisco Contardo, chairman of the local producers' committee.   Avocados are a key export for Chile, mostly to the US and China, but drought has reduced exports by 25 percent.

- Less snow -
For many though, the changes being wrought by climate change are overwhelmingly obvious. Snow in the highlands of central Chile was relatively scarce this year.    Scientists predict an average decrease of between five and 10 percent snowfall every 10 years in almost the entire Andes mountains, one of the country's main sources of water.   "The central zone of Chile is highly dependent on the summer melt season, its snow and glaciers, which means that if the snow cover is reduced, there is also a reduction in the availability of water resources," said Paul Cordero, climate change expert at the University of Santiago.   Weak snowfall forced the country's main ski resorts to use artificial snow machines much earlier and more often this season than in previous years.    "Chile has been living as if it were a country with an abundance of water," said Pinera.   "Climate change and global warming have changed this situation probably forever."