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Liberia

Liberia - US Consular Information Sheet
February 21, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Liberia is a country in West Africa that suffered from years of instability and conflict from 1990 - 2003, with attendant destruction of buildings, roads, and infras
ructure and public institutions.
A comprehensive peace accord ended the conflict in August 2003 and a United Nations peacekeeping force (UNMIL) was deployed to facilitate disarmament and demobilization, help arrange democratic elections and provide for security of the country.
In late 2005, Liberians went to the polls and elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as president.
The new government was inaugurated in January 2006, and has made tremendous progress towards restoring security and stability to the country.

Despite nearly four years of peace and a renewal of economic growth, Liberia is still one of the poorest countries in the world and many basic services (public power, water and sewage, land line phones) are either limited or unavailable.
Facilities for foreign visitors are adequate in the capital, Monrovia, but virtually non-existent in the rest of the country.
The official language of Liberia is English.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Liberia for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and a visa are required for entry, as is evidence of a yellow fever vaccination and a physician's letter attesting to absence of communicable diseases.
Visa applicants may also be asked to provide evidence of health insurance.
Immigration officials no longer issue visas at the airport.
Persons arriving without a visa may be deported immediately, without leaving the airport.
Persons arriving from the United States must obtain a Liberian visa before traveling.
There is a US $25 airport tax on departing passengers, although this is usually collected as part of the ticket price.
For the latest information on entry requirements, visa fees and airport tax for Liberia, contact the Embassy of the Republic of Liberia, 5201 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20011, tel. (202) 723-0437, web site www.embassyofliberia.org.
Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Liberian embassy or consulate.

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:
The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to plan proposed travel to Liberia carefully and to exercise caution when traveling in Liberia.
Neither public transport nor taxis are available at the international airport, which is located 40 miles outside of Monrovia; therefore, before traveling to Liberia, Americans are urged to make arrangements for transportation from the international airport into the city center.
Americans traveling to Liberia are also urged to ensure that they have confirmed reservations at a reputable hotel, as rooms can be scarce and difficult to find without advance plans.

Americans who travel to or reside in Liberia should realize that Liberia's police force is in the process of being rebuilt.
There is a UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), but its mandate is to ensure political stability in Liberia.
Americans who travel around Liberia must realize that the role of UN Police (UNPOL) officers is to serve as advisors to the Liberia National Police. Accordingly, they do not have the authority to arrest or detain, and they are unarmed.
The Liberia National Police, for its part, has a limited presence in Monrovia, and even less of a presence outside of Monrovia.
In addition, police officers can be a source of problems for visitors as well as a source of aid or assistance.
Although problems with corruption have improved, travelers may be detained by police officers who solicit bribes.
Americans are encouraged to carry a photocopy of their passports with them at all times so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available.
If detained or arrested, U.S. citizens should always ask to be allowed to contact the U.S. Embassy.

U.S. citizens in Liberia should be aware of their surroundings at all times and use caution when moving around, especially at night.
The U.S. Embassy recommends that American citizens observe a suggested curfew of 2:00 a.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Travel outside of Monrovia after dark is strongly discouraged as roads are in poor condition and thus dangerous to navigate at night.
U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Internet web site, where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Crime in Liberia is rated high and is exacerbated by the high rate of unemployment.
Theft, assault, sexual crimes, and murder are problems, and they occur more frequently after dark.
Foreigners, including U.S. citizens, have been targets of street crime, robbery, and sexual assault.
Women have been attacked on deserted beaches.
Residential armed break-ins occur.
The police are ill equipped and largely incapable of providing effective protection or investigation.
Criminal activity is reported in both urban and rural areas.

Perpetrators of business fraud often target foreigners, including Americans.
Formerly associated with Nigeria, these fraud schemes are now prevalent throughout western Africa, including Liberia, and pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm.
An increasing number of American citizens have been the targets of such scams.
The best way to avoid becoming a victim of fraud is common sense – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Any unsolicited business proposal originating in Liberia should be carefully checked before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel.
There is also an increase in Liberian/American Internet relationships, where there are eventual requests for financial assistance under fraudulent pretenses.
For additional information, please see the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure International Financial Scams.

Petty corruption is rampant; poorly paid government officials are not immune from the temptation to collect fees for doing their job.
The result is that travelers may be asked for bribes and inconvenienced for not paying them.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Hospitals and medical facilities in Liberia are very poorly equipped and are incapable of providing many services.
Emergency services comparable to those in the U.S. or Europe are non-existent, and the blood supply is unreliable and unsafe for transfusion.
Americans with serious medical problems travel or are medically evacuated to the United States, Europe or South Africa.
Medicines are scarce, often beyond expiration dates, and generally unavailable in most areas.
As there is neither an effective garbage removal service nor a functioning sewer system, the level of sanitation throughout urban areas is very poor, which increases the potential for disease.
Upper respiratory infections and diarrhea are common, as well as the more serious diseases, typhoid and malaria.
All travelers to Liberia must be vaccinated against yellow fever and should carry a supply of all prescription medication, plus anti-malaria medication, adequate for their entire stay.
A typhoid vaccination is also recommended.

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/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
For travel to Liberia, obtaining separate medical evacuation insurance before arriving in Liberia is strongly recommended.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
SWIMMING HAZARD:
Liberia has many excellent beaches along the Atlantic coastline that tourist and those who live in the country enjoy throughout the year, however American citizens should be aware of the threat of dangerous rip currents better known as rip tides.
These strong currents can occur anywhere on the coast given the right surf conditions.
The Liberia Weather Service does not provide information on where and when these tides form and there are no lifeguards posted on beaches.
American citizens who plan to swim in the Atlantic should read from various sources e about the dangers of rip currents and how to navigate if you find yourself in such a situation; or better still do not swim if you are unfamiliar with swimming in water where very strong rip currents occur.

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 Liberia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Road travel in Liberia can be hazardous.
Potholes and poor road surfaces are common, making safe driving extremely challenging.
Cars, trucks, and taxis are often overloaded with people and goods and make frequent stops without signaling.
Drivers overtake on the right as well as the left.
Many vehicles operate with threadbare tires, and blowouts are frequent.
Public taxis are poorly maintained and usually overloaded.
Intersections must be approached with caution.
The absence of public streetlights makes pedestrians walking in the city streets and those walking on country roads difficult to see at night.
Drivers and pedestrians are cautioned that high-speed car convoys carrying government officials require all other vehicles to pull off the road until they have passed.

Travelers should expect delays at UNMIL security checkpoints, as well as time-consuming detours around the many bridges and roads damaged by war, neglect, or the heavy annual rains, which occur from May to November.
Travelers can expect strict enforcement of border controls by Liberian, Ivorian, Sierra Leonean, and Guinean authorities.
At times border crossings to neighboring countries are closed.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service between the United States and Liberia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Liberia’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Lodging, fuel, transportation, and telephone services are unevenly available in Liberia, and are nonexistent or severely limited in rural areas.
Neither water nor electricity is commercially available in Liberia, including the capital of Monrovia.
Most hotels have utilities available, but not always on a 24-hour basis.
There is no working landline telephone system in Liberia.
Several cell phone companies provide service in Monrovia and some areas outside the capital.
US cellular phones do not always work in Liberia and it is advisable to rent or purchase a local cellular phone.
The postal system is slow and unreliable.
Commercial air courier service is available through UPS, Federal Express (FedEx), and other companies.

The U.S. dollar is readily accepted in Liberia, and there is no limit on the amount of foreign currency that can be transported into and out of the country, provided one follows the specific regulations on how such transfers must be done.
Sums in excess of US $10,000 must be reported at the port of entry and no more than US $7,500 in foreign currency banknotes can be moved out of the country at one time.
Larger sums must be transferred via bank drafts or other financial instruments; persons without a Liberian bank account are limited to two outgoing US $5,000 over-the-counter cash wire transfers per month.
Wire transfers are not widely used and are subject to substantial fees.
ATMs are unavailable and Traveler's checks and credit/debit cards are not accepted anywhere in Liberia.

Photographing military installations, air and seaports, and important government buildings is prohibited.
Visitors should not take photographs of sites or activities that might be considered sensitive, or police are liable to confiscate the camera.

Please see our information on Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Liberian law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Liberia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
The U.S. Embassy does not always receive timely notification of the arrest of U.S. citizens by Liberian authorities.
If arrested, U.S. citizens should ask to be allowed to contact the U.S. Embassy (see the Registration/Embassy Location section below).
Americans should carry a photocopy of their U.S. passport with them at all times.
The consular section of the U.S. Embassy cannot give legal assistance but can provide a list of Liberian attorneys if one is required.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Liberia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Liberia.
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 111 United Nations Drive, Mamba Point, Monrovia; telephone 231-77-054-826; fax 231-77-010-370; web site http://monrovia.usembassy.gov.
U.S. citizens who wish to write to the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia may address letters to the Consular Section, 8800 Monrovia Place, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20521-8800, or send emails to ConsularMonrovia@state.gov.
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This replaces the Consular Information Sheet on Liberia dated June 15, 2007 to include a caution on swimming at local beaches.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 23 Sep 2019 19:35:57 +0200 (METDST)

Monrovia, Sept 23, 2019 (AFP) - More than 10,000 Liberian health workers began a strike Monday to demand salary arrears and regular supplies of medicine and equipment in a country ravaged by civil war and an Ebola epidemic.   Battered two back-to-back civil wars and then in 2014-16 by the worst Ebola epidemic in history, Liberia's health sector is on its knees.   The crumbling infrastructure lacks almost everything -- medicine, beds, equipment, ambulances, even a reliable electricity supply.   "We are striking because we do not have medicines in the hospitals, no materials like gloves to protect ourselves before treating the patients which is dangerous for us, the laboratories are unequipped.... until today most of the workers have not got their July salaries," George Williams, secretary general of the Health Workers Association, told AFP.   "We have realised the exchange rate with the US dollar is so terrible, and these salaries we are making are the same we have been making since eight years, the cost of living has tripled," he said.   State-run hospitals and clinics were closed, sparking protests from patients in Monrovia.   Some 40 pregnant and sick women blocked a road in the northern suburb of Paynesville, shouting slogans.   "I don't have money; I am not rich like the big people, so I cannot afford to go in any private clinic. I am eight months pregnant," Annie Sieh, 35, said.
Date: Mon 2 Sep 2019
Source: Daily Observer [edited]

Just 5 years after containing the deadly Ebola virus disease (EVD), authorities at the Ministry of Health (MoH) have confirmed an outbreak of Lassa fever across the country.  The situation is so serious that Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Francis Nah Kateh, has warned Liberians to take the necessary preventive measures, "even though this is what we have been taking care of all the while. For the disease to spread to Grand Kru County, gives health authorities the cause for concern."  According to MoH data, a total of 92 suspected cases between 1 Jan-25 Aug 2019, including 21 deaths, have been reported.  "Of these, 25 cases have been confirmed by RT-PCR (Nimba-9, Bong-10, Grand Bassa-5, and Grand Kru -1), while 9 remain suspected cases," the release recorded.  The case fatality rate among confirmed cases is 36% (9 deaths out of 25 confirmed cases). Males are mostly affected by the disease (56%) of confirmed cases as compared to females.

The MoH release also said that although Lassa fever is not new to Liberia, it is a deadly viral disease that requires urgent attention. The disease is spread by rodents or rats and through close contact with infected persons.  "We are concerned about the sporadic increase of Lassa fever cases outside the Lassa Belt in Liberia," meaning Nimba, Bong, and Grand Gedeh counties.  "For Lassa fever to affect Grand Kru other than those counties it has previously affected, gives us the fear to raise the alert," Dr Kateh told the Daily Observer via mobile phone on [Fri 2 Sep 2019].

Henceforth, MoH authorities in collaboration with partners and the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), said they are responding to the Lassa fever outbreak in the country.  According to a release issued in Monrovia on 22 Aug 2019, Bong County Health Team notified NPHIL and MoH of the disease's outbreak following the confirmation of one case from Suakoko District, Bong County.  The case concerned the death of a 30-year-old male and a laboratory technician; a health worker, who previously worked with the Phebe Hospital, and a resident of Phebe Airstrip.  "Our hearts are broken, and we express our heartfelt condolences to members of the bereaved family," MoH said in a release on [Fri 30 Aug 2019].  Similarly, on 24 and 25 Aug 2019, the National Public Health Reference Laboratory confirmed 2 additional cases of Lassa fever infection in a 46-year old male as well as a 14-year old female, both residents of Suakoko Town, Bong County.

So far, the release said a total of 30 contacts, including 18 health workers, have been line-listed and are being followed up to the extent that 2 of the contacts have become symptomatic, though one of them have been tested negative. Additionally, 2 cases (one contact) remain in isolation and are undergoing Ribavirin (Lassa) treatment, "because this is the 10th confirmed case being detected from Bong County since [the beginning of] 2019." In response to the outbreak, MoH, NPHIL, World Health Organization (WHO), United States-based Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC), and partners are providing technical, financial, and logistical support to the District Response Teams.  "No epidemiological link has been established between these cases. However, there is a likelihood for these cases to be linked based on history of the source of infection," the release declared.

Health authorities are therefore advising people to "Keep your environment clean; cover your dishes to prevent rats excreting or urinating on them; cover food in tightly-closed containers to prevent rats from playing in food or drinking water; do not eat rats, because you can get the sickness by coming in contact with their blood, [urine, or feces] do not dry food in open places where rats can reach; avoid body contact with infected persons and endemic zone; and visit a health facility immediately when you feel sick."

Meanwhile, NPHIL, MoH, and partners have appealed to the general public to take necessary preventive measures, and kindly report cases of fever (any kind) to the nearest health facility.  "We continue to improve our rapid response teams at county, district, and community levels through the County Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs), and to provide technical, financial and logistical support to the outbreak," the release said.
Date: Mon 6 May 2019
Source: Front Page Africa [edited]

The emergence of a rare skin disease known in Liberia as "Be Serious" has sparked fear amongst residents of Charlie Town in Rivercess County. Residents, mainly parents, say children who are under 15 years of are seriously infected. They are afraid that the disease is contagious and is fast spreading rashes on the bodies of school-going-kids.

They are afraid that the situation will become an emergency, due to lack of adequate medication at the only clinic in the area. Joe Gbessigie, a resident of the town, says he's worried that instead of providing medicines, the clinic only gives patients prescriptions to buy drugs from private pharmacies.

Nathaniel Zoklah, the Township Commissioner, says some kids who are affected by the disease are in school, and he is concerned that the situation poses risk to other pupils. "At this time of the school year, keeping children who are affected with the disease may affect their education, so the kids are in schools with their friends but it is risky also," Commissioner Zoklah said. "They are interacting, eating together and this disease has the ability to spread through contact, so more children risk being affected."

The residents have not been able to state the actual cause of the disease, but some are assuming that it is waterborne. Some of the residents in Charlie Town and its surroundings said the hand pumps that are a major source of drinking water are all damaged, forcing residents to fetch water from creeks.  [Byline: Willie N. Tokpah]
===========================
[The disease referred to in this report and its accompanying photograph is most likely to be scabies.  Scabies is a skin infestation by the scabies mite - _Sarcoptes scabiei_. The infection is found worldwide and is transmitted under poor hygienic conditions. The mite is transmitted by physical contact and poor hygiene is a main risk factor. Outbreaks are seen in refugee camps and nursing homes.

An outbreak is handled by ensuring that the affected people and close contacts at risk have a frequent bath and change clothes daily. The traditional treatment is pyrethroid containing ointments which kill the mites, but ivermectin orally is easier to administer and thus more acceptable and ensures better compliance. Especially in an outbreak in a school the best way to stop the outbreak would be administration of ivermectin to all children. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Rivercess County, Liberia: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/42309>]
Date: Tue 23 Oct 2018
Source: The Bush Chicken [edited]

The director for immunization at the Ministry of Health says there are currently 29 reported measles cases in Grand Gedeh, with 7 of those cases confirmed.

Director for immunization at the Health Ministry Adolphus T. Clarke said reports of the outbreak in Tchien district 1st emerged on [Wed 17 Oct 2018]. Speaking to The Bush Chicken in an exclusive interview, Clarke said out of the 29 cases reported, health officials in the area realized that 11 children under 5 years of age were affected by the disease. The other children were older than 5.

"The 29 cases identified were managed at the Martha Tubman Memorial Hospital in Zwedru, and the affected children fully recovered with no death reported."

With support from the Ministry of Health, Clarke said the county responded quickly with vaccinations. "The exercise has concluded, and health officials were able to reach a total of 1551 children not less than 5 years," he said. "So I can say that the county responded swiftly to the outbreak of the disease and recorded zero deaths."

However, things did not go smoothly. Due to the poor road conditions in the south-eastern region, Clarke said some health officials who left Monrovia with vaccinations for Grand Gedeh endured difficulties during the journey. "Others had to travel through neighbouring Ivory Coast to reach the country," he said.

The director indicated that, due to the challenge in attaining high vaccination coverage, health authorities in the country knew that, at some point in time, there would be sporadic outbreaks of the disease in the county.

Clarke said the current outbreak was not severe, because the ministry has dealt with sporadic outbreaks of measles in the past. He noted that health officials in Grand Gedeh have now been encouraged to carry out vaccination campaigns in affected and nearby communities as the dry season approaches.

"We have encouraged mothers to make use of the health facilities in the county and ensure that their children are vaccinated against all the diseases the ministry is preventing," Clarke said.  [Byline: Zeze Ballah]
Date: Thu 27 Sep 2018
Source: Front Page Africa [edited]

The National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MoH) and partners is investigating a suspected case of yellow fever in Grand Kru County.

According to a release issued in Monrovia, the suspected case is a 2-year-old female from Farina Town, Barclayville Health District. There has been no death or new cases reported. The suspected case has been managed and is in good health.

A blood specimen has been collected and sent to the National Public Health Reference Laboratory (NPHRL) for confirmation. According to the release, health authorities in the county are conducting an active case search, risk assessment, and planning for a possible reactive vaccination exercise, pending the laboratory result.

Since January 2018, this is the 2nd reported suspected case from Grand Kru County. The 1st was a 29-year-old female from Dorbor District.

There have been no confirmed cases of yellow fever in the country since the 2009 nationwide preventive vaccination campaign. The release also noted that a total of 94 suspected cases of yellow fever have been recorded across the country since the beginning of 2018.

Yellow fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes. The symptoms include fever, headache, jaundice, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. Communities have been advised to report unexplained deaths for safe and dignified burials as measures to prevent infection. Community engagement and response activities have been intensified in the area.

Meanwhile, the public is advised to take the following public-health measures:
- Keep your environment clean
- Visit a health facility immediately when you feel the symptoms of yellow fever
- Continue sleeping under treated bed nets

Yellow fever is not transmitted through body touch or body fluids.
=====================
[Yellow fever (YF) cases have occurred sporadically in Liberia, although the last YF ProMED-mail post was in 2009. The 94 suspected YF cases this year (2018), including the most recent one above, is a cause for serious concern. It is important to have a timely laboratory diagnosis and well-developed contingency plans should YF be confirmed. YF can quickly spread if a significant proportion of the human population is unvaccinated and the vector mosquitoes are abundant. The above report does not indicate the number of unvaccinated individuals nor the status of the vector mosquito population. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Grand Kru County, Liberia: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/32407>]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 18 Nov 2019 08:37:15 +0100 (MET)

Jakarta, Nov 18, 2019 (AFP) - An endangered Sumatran Tiger has mauled to death an Indonesian farmer and seriously injured a domestic tourist, a conservation official said Monday.   The fatal attack happened Sunday at the farmer's coffee plantation on Sumatra island where the 57-year-old wrestled with the big cat before it killed him, according to Genman Hasibuan, head of the South Sumatra conservation agency.   "The farmer was attacked while he was cutting a tree at his plantation," he told AFP on Monday.   The mauling came a day after the same tiger attacked a group of Indonesian tourists who were camping at a local tea plantation in South Sumatra's Mount Dempo region.

One of the tourists was rushed to hospital for wounds to his back after the cat stormed into his tent, Hasibuan said.   The animal, which remains loose in the protected-forest area, is believed to be one of just 15 critically endangered tigers in South Sumatra, which has seen five tiger attacks this year, including two fatal incidents, Hasibuan said.

Human-animal conflicts are common in the vast Southeast Asian archipelago, especially in areas where the clearing of rainforest to make way for palm oil plantations is destroying animals' habitats and bringing them into closer contact with people.   In March last year, a man was killed by a tiger in Sumatra's Riau province while several months earlier a tiger also killed a plantation worker in the area.   Sumatran tigers are considered critically endangered by protection group the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with 400 to 500 remaining in the wild.
Date: Fri, 15 Nov 2019 17:12:24 +0100 (MET)

Karachi, Nov 15, 2019 (AFP) - Pakistan has become the first country in the world to introduce a new typhoid vaccine, officials said Friday, as the country grapples with an ongoing outbreak of a drug-resistant strain of the potentially fatal disease.   The vaccine, approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), will be used during a two-week immunisation campaign in southern Sindh province.

Sindh is where most of Pakistan's 10,000 cases of typhoid have been documented since 2017.    "The two-week campaign beginning from today would target over 10 million children of nine months to 15 years of age," Azra Pechuho, the health minister in Sindh province, said in Karachi on Friday.   The new vaccines have been provided by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to the Pakistani government free of cost.

After the two-week campaign, it will be introduced into routine immunisations in Sindh, and in other areas of Pakistan in the coming years.   Pakistan spends a meagre amount of its national resources on public health and a majority of its population remains vulnerable to contagious diseases such as typhoid.   In 2017, 63 percent of the typhoid cases documented and 70 percent of the fatalities were children, according to a joint press release from the Pakistani government, WHO and Gavi.
Date: Sat, 16 Nov 2019 05:50:25 +0100 (MET)
By Abhaya SRIVASTAVA

New Delhi, Nov 16, 2019 (AFP) - A thick grey smog choked New Delhi for the fifth day Saturday, adding to a mounting pollution health crisis, but retired naval commander Anil Charan is one of the vast majority of the city's 20 million inhabitants who do not wear a mask.   Indian media is packed with warnings about the risk of premature death, lung cancer and particular danger to children from PM2.5 -- tiny particles that get into the bloodstream and vital organs -- carried in the smog.   But the smartly-dressed Charan was among shoppers in Delhi's upmarket Khan Market district browsing the luxury clothes and jewellery stores without a mask, seemingly oblivious to the risk.   Many are too poor to afford protection but others simply do not like the way a pollution mask looks.

Charan, wearing aviator sunglasses, said it did not fit his "rough and tough" image.   "I have been brought up in this kind of atmosphere, the smog and all, so I am kind of used to it. And being a naval officer I think if I wear a mask I will think I am a sissy," he said.   Doctors say face masks must be worn and air purifiers used at home and in offices.   There are a variety of masks to choose from. A basic cloth version can cost as little as 50 rupees (70 US cents) but the protection they offer is debatable.    More reputable types start from 2,500 rupees ($34) while some Khan Market stores charge more than 5,500 rupees ($75) for top of the range imported models.

- Bare-faced bravado -
The mask-look worried a lot of the Khan Market shoppers and diners however. Some said the danger had been overblown.   "I know I am risking my health but I am not very comfortable wearing them (masks)," said Ritancia Cardoz, who works for a private company.   "I don't find it appealing," she told AFP.   Lopa Diwan, on a visit to the capital from the provinces, said the Delhi air was "not as bad as it is being made out to be."   "So many people advised me not to go to Delhi because of the pollution but I don't think it's that bad. I don't see people dying," she said.

Pollution -- blamed on industrial and car emissions mixed with stubble fires on thousands of farms surrounding the city -- has been building up each winter for the past decade. The past five years have been particularly bad.   The toxic air cuts short the lives of one million people in India every year, according to government research published earlier this year.    Concentrations of the most harmful airborne pollutants in Delhi are regularly about 20 times the World Health Organisation safe limit. That rams home the city's reputation as the world's most polluted capital.   Some foreign companies and embassies now do not let families move to Delhi, or at least give strong warnings about the pollution.

The Delhi government has given out hundreds of thousands of masks to children and closed schools for four of the past five days. Construction is banned and cars can only go on the roads on alternate days.   But still only a tiny number of inhabitants follow medical advice when outside. Rickshaw drivers who earn about $7 a day on an average say they cannot afford masks.   Chand Babu, a car park attendant at Khan Market, said he could buy one of the cheaper masks but it was too much of a hassle to wear.   "I have to blow the whistle all the time so it's inconvenient."   Babu does worry, however, about his three children who also do not have masks. "They go outside to play. The problem is real, but what do we do, tell me?"
Date: Sun, 17 Nov 2019 14:28:44 +0100 (MET)
By Filippo MONTEFORTE with Charles ONIANS in Rome

Venice, Nov 17, 2019 (AFP) - Venice's St Mark's Square was closed on Sunday as the historic city suffered its  third major flooding in less than a week, while rain lashing the rest of Italy prompted warnings in Florence and Pisa.   Venice's latest "acqua alta", or high water, hit 150 centimetres (just under five feet) on Sunday, lower than Tuesday's 187 centimetres -- the highest level in half a century -- but still dangerous.   "The water has stopped rising," tweeted mayor Luigi Brugnaro, who has estimated damage so far from the invading salt water at over one billion euros (dollars).   "High of 150 centimetres... Venice is working to restart," Brugnaro said after the sea water swamped the already devastated city where authorities have declared a state of emergency.   To the south, Tuscany president Enrico Rossi tweeted a warning of a "flood wave" on the Arno and said boards were being installed on the swollen river's banks in Pisa "as a precautionary measure".

The Italian army tweeted photos of paratroopers helping to bolster river defences in Pisa, with authorities monitoring the same river in Florence after heavy rain made it rise dramatically overnight.   Arno flooding devastated Renaissance jewel Florence in 1966, killing around 100 people and destroying thousands of priceless works of art. Civil protection units in Florence advised citizens "not to stand near the Arno's riverbanks".   Firefighters tweeted footage of a hovercraft being deployed to rescue stranded citizens in southern Tuscany's Grossetano province.

- Brief respite -
The renewed threat from exceptionally high tides in Venice came after a brief respite on Saturday.   Emergency workers removed temporary walkways from St Mark's Square as the water started to rise on Sunday, with only police and soldiers visible at around midday.   The top tourist site had already been shut for several hours on Friday as strong storms and winds battered the region, leaving it submerged by sea surges.

Churches, shops and homes have also been inundated in the Renaissance city, a UNESCO World Heritage site.   A massive infrastructure project called MOSE has been under way since 2003 to protect the city, but the multi-billion euro project has been plagued by cost overruns, corruption scandals and delays.   "We weren't expecting the high waters to be so exceptionally high," said Guido Fulgenzi, who had planned to open his cafe on St Mark's square this week.   "We're paying the price" for the MOSE project not being completed, he said, sloshing around in his flooded kitchen and pointing to Tuesday's high water mark on the wall.   The crisis has prompted the government to release 20 million euros ($22 million) in funds to tackle the devastation.   Culture Minister Dario Franceschini has warned that the task of repairing the city, where more than 50 churches have suffered damage, will be huge.

- Hotel reservations cancelled -
Residents whose houses have been hit are eligible for up to 5,000 euros in immediate government aid, while restaurant and shop owners can receive up to 20,000 euros and apply for more later.   Most of the city's cash machines were no longer working, making life even more difficult for tourists and Venetians.   "We didn't expect there to be so much water, now we're soaked," said French tourist Magali Mariolou, visiting Venice for her wedding anniversary.   "We'll come back another year when it's a bit drier. The boots are heavy, they're full of water!"

Older residents who remember the infamous "acqua alta" of 1966, when the water rose to 1.94 metres, say they have not seen such frequent flooding before.   Hotels reported cancelled reservations, some as far ahead as December, following the widespread diffusion of images of Venice underwater.   Tuesday's high waters submerged around 80 percent of the city, officials said.   Many, including Venice's mayor, have blamed the disaster on global warming and warned that the country prone to natural disasters must wake up to the risks posed by ever more volatile seasons.   The Serenissima, as the floating city is called, is home to 50,000 residents but receives 36 million visitors each year.
Date: Mon, 18 Nov 2019 06:41:11 +0100 (MET)

Wellington, Nov 18, 2019 (AFP) - Samoa finalised plans for a compulsory measles vaccination programme Monday, after declaring a state of emergency as a deadly epidemic sweeps the Pacific nation.   At least six fatalities, including five children, have been linked to the outbreak of the virus, which has also hit other island states such as Tonga and Fiji.   Samoa is the worst affected with more than 700 cases reported from across all areas of the country, prompting the government on Friday to invoke emergency powers.

Declaring a state of emergency, the government said plans for compulsory measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) immunisations would be published on Monday.   "MMR vaccinations for members of the public who have not yet received a vaccination injection is now a mandatory legal requirement for all of Samoa," it said.   A national emergency operations centre to coordinate the measles response in the nation of 200,000 people was opened on Monday, with children aged six months to 19 years and non-pregnant females aged 20-35 given priority.

However, no information was immediately available on how the vaccinations would be administered or whether those who were not immunised would face sanctions.   Children are the most vulnerable to measles, which typically causes a rash and fever but can also lead to brain damage and death.   Samoa has closed all schools, kindergartens and the country's only university in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.   New Zealand, which is experiencing its own measles outbreak in the Auckland region, will this week send 30 nurses, 10 doctors and 3,000 MMR doses to Samoa.

University of Auckland immunologist Helen Petousis-Harris said even though measles was already widespread, the mass rollout of vaccinations could help limit the number of cases and reduce the death count.   She said it was also important to boost Samoa's low levels of immunisation and help prevent future outbreaks.   "In Samoa, the proportion of people who are immune to measles is very, very low, one of the lowest in the world," she told AFP.   "So if they aren't able to improve that, this is going to happen again."   The country's vaccination programme was briefly suspended last year when two babies died shortly after being given the MMR vaccine.   Subsequent investigations found the problem was not the widely used vaccine but the fact that nurses had prepared it incorrectly.

Neighbouring Tonga last week announced government primary schools and kindergartens would be closed until later this month as the number of measles cases in the kingdom approaches 200.   Fiji has reported four cases but says they are contained to a township west of the capital Suva.
Date: Sun, 17 Nov 2019 18:10:23 +0100 (MET)

Johannesburg, Nov 17, 2019 (AFP) - South African unions on Sunday called on all aviation workers to join striking South African Airways (SAA) staff after the cash-strapped airline failed to meet their demands.   The country's embattled flag carrier has been losing 52 million rand ($3.5 million) per day since more than 3,000 workers started an open-ended strike on Friday -- forcing the airline to cancel hundreds of flights.   Talks with the two unions representing the striking workers ended without resolution on Saturday, prompting threats of further action.   "In response to this deliberate provocation by the SAA board and its executive management, (the) NUMSA (metalworkers' union) is in the process of consulting workers for a secondary strike in aviation," NUMSA spokeswoman Phakamile Hlubi-Majola told reporters outside the SAA headquarters in Johannesburg.

NUMSA and the South African Cabin Crew Association (SACCA) first threatened to strike after SAA announced this week that almost 1,000 employees could lose their jobs as part of a restructuring process.   Initial talks with management deadlocked after they failed to agree on wage hikes, prompting the unions to press on with their threats.   SAA is offering a 5.9 percent pay rise, while unions are demanding an eight percent across-the-board hike and a three-year guaranteeof job security.   They are also asking the airline to in-source more jobs.    "We are fighting against retrenchment, corruption and privatisation," Hlubi-Majola told journalists.   She said discussions with SAA subsidiaries, South Africa's airport management company and airline service providers were under way.   Two transport unions have also been called on to join the action.   "This secondary strike will have the impact of shutting down the entire aviation sector," NUMSA and SACCA said in a joint statement.   SAA CEO Zuks Ramasia voiced "concern" about the unions' intentions and urged them to "reconsider".   "The intent of a secondary strike is to cause disruption, bring all airport operations to a halt and create huge damage to the South African economy," Ramasia said in a statement on Sunday.

- Embattled airline -
The CEO added that SAA could not "afford to pay any salary increases" and reiterated the 5.9 percent rise offer.   "The company has repeatedly communicated the precarious financial position of the company," Ramasia said.      More than 300 SAA flights have been grounded as a result of the open-ended strike.   International flights started slowly resuming on Sunday, while regional and domestic flights remain grounded.   "We hope all our customers understand that the cancellations have been beyond our control," Ramasia said.   South Africa is struggling to get its state-owned companies back on track after nine years of corruption and mismanagement under former president Jacob Zuma.   SAA -- one of Africa's biggest airlines -- is deep in debt and has not posted a profit since 2011, despite several government bailouts.   Finance Minister Tito boweni announced in February that the government would reimburse the company's 9.2 billion rand ($620 million) debt over the next three years.   Ramasia said discussions with unions would resume once the airline had considered "options on the way forward".
Date: Tue, 12 Nov 2019 13:10:01 +0100 (MET)
By Holly ROBERTSON, Andrew BEATTY, with Daniel De Cartert in Hillville

Sydney, Nov 12, 2019 (AFP) - Bushfires raging across eastern Australia singed Sydney's suburbs on Tuesday, with firefighters scrambling planes and helicopters to douse a built-up neighbourhood with water and red retardant.   Experts have described the conditions as the worst on record, as spring temperatures climbed toward 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) and winds topped 80 kilometres (50 miles) per hour across a zone which has been plagued by persistent drought.   Although the bushfire season is in its infancy, scientists predict it to be one of Australia's toughest ever, with climate change and unfavourable weather cycles helping created a tinderbox of strong winds, low humidity and high temperatures.

Twin blazes in the north shore suburb of Turramurra -- around 15 kilometres (nine miles) from the centre of Australia's largest city -- tore through a eucalypt forest park and sparked spot fires in homes, before eventually being brought under control.   As night fell, authorities said they were bringing another "clearly suspicious" blaze in a national park in the city's southern suburbs under control.    Throughout the day, more than 300 bushfires burned up and down Australia's east coast, fanned by gale-force winds, scorching temperatures and tinder-dry bushland that has brought some of the most dangerous conditions the country has seen.

In Turramurra, gardens smouldered, thick smoke hung heavy in the air and cars, houses and roads were caked in raspberry-red retardant as if hit by a giant paintball.   "It was the embers that floated up that actually went across and set off spot fires in the front yards" resident Nigel Lush told AFP, adding that one roof had been set alight.   Another resident, Julia Gretton-Roberts, said the blaze spread shockingly quickly.   "Next thing I know the fire was opposite our house and it was massive and the police came and grabbed our kids and took them away," she said.   "My daughter is pretty freaked out."   Firefighter Andrew Connon told AFP "a number of homes were threatened but it was contained by the aerial bombing".

- 'Catastrophic conditions' -
From early morning thousands of firefighters spread out across New South Wales in anticipation of what they called "off the scale" fire risk and "catastrophic" conditions.   They were unable to prevent several bushfires from breaching containment lines and trapping residents who had not already evacuated.   New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said so far only a dozen buildings had been damaged Tuesday and a handful non-life-threatening injuries were reported, but the crisis was far from over.

Firefighters will be "working on these fires for days and weeks given the enormity of the firegrounds," he said.    Even before unfavourable weather hit, days of fires had killed three people and destroyed at least 150 homes.   "The conditions are expected to get worse," Fitzsimmons said, warning residents in adjacent areas to stay alert.   "Complacency kills," he added.   Up to 600 schools were closed, as well as many national parks, a total fire ban was introduced for the affected area and Rally Australia -- due to be held in Coffs Harbour at the weekend -- was cancelled.   The military pitched in, helping firefighters with logistics and water-dropping sorties using more than 100 aircraft.

- 'We'll fight it first' -
In the town of Hillville a fire that has ripped through an area the size of 25,000 soccer fields approached the home of Daniel Stevens.   Like many, his family -- including his mother nursing a broken leg -- have packed their bags, but have resisted leaving their house and everything they own.    "We'll fight it first," he told AFP, "but if it jumps the fence line into the paddock, we'll go."

In the nearby town of Taree, dozens of people have already moved to a showground that has become a makeshift evacuation centre.   Fifty-nine-year-old Caroline Watson arrived last night with her husband and their dog.    "The fires are just rife. They are absolutely everywhere" she told AFP. "They didn't ask us to get out, but we figured it was coming."

Further south in the Blue Mountains on the outskirts of Sydney, veteran Winmalee firefighter Alan Gardiner said locals were "terrified and on edge".    The town still bears the scars of a 2013 blaze that destroyed 200 homes, and residents are acutely aware that with few roads in and out of the mountains, a decision to leave late can be fatal.   Efforts to burn fuel in a controlled way have been limited by months of drought-like conditions that made it too dangerous.
Date: Tue, 12 Nov 2019 10:03:07 +0100 (MET)

Denpasar, Indonesia, Nov 12, 2019 (AFP) - An Australian tourist who fly-kicked a motorcyclist and assaulted a man in his own home during a drunken rampage was jailed for four months on Tuesday.   The ruling comes after Nicholas Carr's antics were caught in a viral video that saw him carry out a campaign of destruction in Seminyak, a popular tourist area on the Indonesian holiday island.   "The defendant Nicholas Carr is found guilty and is sentenced to four months" in jail, presiding judge Soebandi, who goes by one name, told the Denpasar District Court.    A lawyer for Carr, charged with assault and property damage, said the 26-year-old would not appeal the ruling.    He is expected to be released next month because of time already served.   In August, Carr ran barefoot on to a street and shouted expletives before the apprentice builder slammed into the bonnet of a moving car and then fly-kicked an unsuspecting motorcycle rider.

The biker, who was thrown from the moving scooter, sustained minor injuries -- later the pair embraced during a court hearing as Carr apologised to the victim.   Carr also shattered a convenience store's glass door before stealing a motorcycle.   Later, he broke into a house where he assaulted the sleeping homeowner, leaving him with injuries, police said earlier.    He was eventually caught by locals and police and taken to hospital.    Pictures that circulated on social media showed at the time showed Carr bloodied and bruised, and trussed with hosepipe and rope.   Shortly after his arrest, Carr apologised and admitted drinking more than 10 small bottles of vodka as well as other alcohol.

After a string of embarrassing incidents by tourists, Bali officials recently warned that boorish visitors may be kicked off the island, which attracts millions annually to its palm-fringed beaches, colourful nightlife and ancient temples.   Australian professional rugby league player David Fifita returned home this week after he was briefly arrested in Bali for assaulting a nightclub security guard.   Several days after Carr's arrest, a Czech couple who were slammed for disrespecting a Balinese temple took part in a ritual purification ceremony.
Date: Mon, 11 Nov 2019 16:19:54 +0100 (MET)

Lyon, Nov 11, 2019 (AFP) - An unusually strong earthquake hit south-eastern France on Monday, injuring four people, one of them seriously, authorities said.   A physicist at a geophysics institute the IPGP said that quakes of this strength are rare in that region, but warned of possible aftershocks and said people should leave fragile buildings.   The quake, with a magnitude of 5.4, was felt in a vast area between the cities of Lyon and Montelimar which are about 150 kilometres (93 miles) apart, the national seismological office said.   "I was leaning against the oven in my mother's bakery when I felt the tremor," said Victoria Brielle, a resident in Privas, some 25 kilometres from the quake's epicentre.   "A customer said her sideboard had moved and all her crockery was broken,"  she said.

Another resident in the area, Didier Levy, who lives in a 15th century castle, told AFP that "chandeliers were still trembling" several minutes after the quake.   Levy, who said his dog starting barking even before humans felt the tremors, added: "I have never experienced anything like it, I could feel the trembling even though these wall are one metre thick."   One person was seriously hurt when some scaffolding collapsed, the regional prefect's office said.   Three other people in the neighbouring Ardeche region were slightly injured.

Quakes in this region are rarely higher than Magnitude 5, said Mustapha Meghraoui of the IPGP's office in Strasbourg.   "We can say that this is a rare one," he added. But he said there might be an aftershock of around 4.5.   "If people are in a fragile house, they would be better leaving it" for something more robust for a while, he said.   The scale of the damage suggested the quake happened at a depth of between five and 10 kilometres, he added. But they were working on a more accurate reading.
Date: Mon, 11 Nov 2019 13:19:54 +0100 (MET)

Goma, DR Congo, Nov 11, 2019 (AFP) - A local radio station that has been involved in the fight against Ebola in eastern DR Congo said Monday it was closing down after one of its broadcasters was murdered.   Joel Musavuli, head of Lwemba radio in Mambasa in Ituri province, told AFP that the station had been targeted by armed groups hostile to the campaign to roll back the Ebola epidemic.

"Each of us have received threats since last month. We have now decided to stop broadcasting, Musavuli said, adding that he himself had escaped two kidnap attempts.   "We are victims of our commitment to the awareness campaign about the spread of Ebola virus disease. We don't know why the militiamen are targeting us."   Nearly 2,200 people have died since the notorious haemorrhagic disease erupted in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in August 2018, according to the latest official figures.

The fight against the outbreak has been hampered by local fears and superstititions, exploited by militia groups that are rampant in the remote region.   Several health workers have been killed and media that have supported the campaign have received threats.

Several radio stations in the Mambasa area say they have stopped broadcasting anti-Ebola messages because of intimidation.   On November 2, Lwemba broadcaster Papy Mahamba was killed at his home by unidentified men. His wife was injured and their house set ablaze.    The station said the authorities had failed to take action against the threats. It said it would resume broadcasts after "the state has restored authority in the area".