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Nigeria

Nigeria US Consular Information Sheet
June 02, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Nigeria is a developing country in western Africa that has experienced periods of political instability. It has the largest population on the continent, estimated at
44 million people, and its infrastructure is not fully functional or well maintained. Read the Department of State’s Background Notes on Nigeria for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa are required. The visa must be obtained in advance from a Nigerian Embassy or Consulate. Visas cannot be obtained on arrival at the airport. Promises of entry into Nigeria without a visa are credible indicators of fraudulent commercial schemes in which the perpetrators seek to exploit the foreign traveler's illegal presence in Nigeria through threats of extortion or bodily harm. U.S. citizens cannot legally depart Nigeria unless they can prove, by presenting their entry visas, that they entered Nigeria legally. Entry information may be obtained at the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 3519 International Court NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 822-1500, or at the Nigerian Consulate General in New York, telephone (212) 808-0301. Overseas, inquiries may be made at the nearest Nigerian embassy or consulate.

Visit the Embassy of Nigeria web site at http://www.nigeriaembassyusa.org/ for the most current visa information.

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 continues to caution U.S. citizens about the possible dangers of travel to some parts of Nigeria. [Please also see the Crime Section below.] In light of the risk of kidnapping, crime, militant activity, or armed attacks, the U.S. Mission restricts the travel of U.S. government personnel to the following states to official travel only: Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom in the Niger Delta, and Edo and Imo in the south. Only essential travel by non-official Americans is recommended to these areas. In addition, the military's Joint Task Force patrols the creeks in the Niger Delta because of ongoing militant and piracy incidents, especially against oil-related facilities or infrastructure, so individuals may be questioned, detained or arrested when traveling in these sensitive areas without evidence of permission from the Nigerian government or for carrying electronic equipment such as cameras, recorders, etc. Periodically, travel by U.S. mission personnel is restricted in certain parts of Nigeria based on changing security conditions, often due to crime, general strikes, or student/political demonstrations or disturbances. See the Department of State’s Travel Warning for Nigeria for more information.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where current Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and the Worldwide Caution can be found.

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

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

CRIME: Violent crime committed by individual criminals and gangs, as well as by some persons wearing police and military uniforms, is a problem, especially in Lagos, Abuja and other large cities, although it can occur anywhere. Some visitors and resident Americans have experienced armed muggings, assaults, burglary, carjacking, kidnappings and extortion, often involving violence. Home invasions are on the rise in Lagos, with armed robbers accessing even guarded compounds by following, or tailgating, residents or visitors arriving by car into the compound, subduing guards and gaining entry into homes or apartments. Armed robbers in Lagos also access waterfront compounds by boat. U.S. citizens, as well as Nigerians and other expatriates, have been victims of armed robbery on roads to airports during both daylight and evening hours. Law enforcement authorities usually respond to crimes slowly or not at all, and provide little or no investigative support to victims. U.S. citizens and other expatriates have experienced harassment and shakedowns at checkpoints and during encounters with Nigerian officials.

Nigerian-operated fraud scams, known as 419s, are noted for their cleverness and ingenuity. These scams target foreigners worldwide, posing risks of both financial loss and personal danger to their victims. Scams are often initiated through internet postings or from internet cafes, by unsolicited emails, faxes, and letters, or can involve credit card use. As anywhere else, no one should provide personal or financial information to unknown parties or via Nigerian telephone lines. The expansion of bilateral law enforcement cooperation, which has resulted in numerous raids on commercial fraud premises, has reduced the overall level of overt fraud activity, but new types of sophisticated scams are introduced daily.

American citizens are very frequently the victims of Nigerian confidence artists offering companionship through internet dating websites. These confidence artists almost always pose as American citizens visiting or living in Nigeria who unexpectedly experience a medical, legal, financial or other type of “emergency” that requires the immediate financial assistance of the American citizen in the United States. In these cases, we strongly urge the American citizen in the United States to be very cautious about sending money to any unknown person purportedly acting on their behalf, or traveling to Nigeria to meet someone with whom their sole communications have been via the internet. Other common scams involve a promise of an inheritance windfall, work contracts in Nigeria, or an overpayment for goods purchased on-line. For additional information on these types of scams, see the Department of State's publication, International Financial Scams.

Commercial scams or stings that targets foreigners, including many U.S. citizens, continue to be a problem. One needs to be alert to scams that may involve U.S. citizens in illegal activity, resulting in arrest, extortion or bodily harm. These scams generally involve phony offers of either outright money transfers or lucrative sales or contracts with promises of large commissions or up-front payments, or improperly invoke the authority of one or more ministries or offices of the Nigerian government and may cite, by name, the involvement of a Nigerian government official. In some scams, government stationery and seals are also improperly used to advance the scam. The ability of U.S. consular officers to extricate U.S. citizens from unlawful business deals or scams and their subsequent consequences is extremely limited. U.S. citizens have been arrested by police officials and held for varying periods on charges of involvement in illegal business activity or scams. Nigerian police or other law enforcement officials do not always inform the U.S. Embassy or Consulate immediately of the arrest or detention of a U.S. citizen. The U.S. Department of Commerce has advisories to the U.S. business community on a variety of issues that should be seriously reviewed with respect to doing business in Nigeria. To check on a business’s legitimacy while in the United States, contact the Nigeria Desk Officer at the International Trade Administration, Room 3317, Dept. of Commerce, Washington, D.C. 20230, telephone 1-800-USA-TRADE or (202) 482-5149, fax (202) 482-5198. If you are abroad, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

The Department of State encourages all travelers abroad to register their travel. The most convenient way to do so would be through the online travel registration page. Travelers may also register in person at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja or the U.S. Consulate General in Lagos. See the section on Registration / Embassy Location below.

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, for example, can provide you with a list for appropriate medical care, or contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred to you to cover unexpected costs. 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 the Department of State’s information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: While Nigeria has many well-trained doctors, medical facilities in Nigeria are in poor condition, with inadequately trained nursing staff. Diagnostic and treatment equipment is most often poorly maintained, and many medicines are unavailable. Caution should be taken as counterfeit pharmaceuticals are a common problem and may be difficult to distinguish from genuine medications. This is particularly true of generics purchased at local pharmacies or street markets. Hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their health insurance policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation from a foreign country to the United States or another location. Please see the our brochure on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Nigeria is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Roads in many areas are generally in poor condition, causing damage to vehicles and contributing to hazardous traffic conditions. There are few working traffic lights or stop signs. The rainy season from May to October is especially dangerous because of flooded roads and water-concealed potholes.

Excessive speed, unpredictable driving habits, and the lack of basic maintenance and safety equipment on many vehicles are additional hazards. Motorists seldom yield the right-of-way and give little consideration to pedestrians and cyclists. Gridlock is common in urban areas. Chronic fuel shortages have led to long lines at service stations, which disrupt or block traffic for extended periods.

Public transportation vehicles are unsafe due to poor maintenance, high speeds and overcrowding. Motorbikes, known in Nigeria as "okadas," are a common form of public transportation in many cities and pose particular danger to motorists, their own passengers and pedestrians. Motorbike drivers frequently weave in and out of traffic at high speeds and observe no traffic rules. Motorbikes are banned within Abuja's city limits. Passengers in local taxis have been driven to secluded locations where they were attacked and robbed. Several of the victims required hospitalization. The U.S. Mission advises that public transportation throughout Nigeria be avoided.

It is recommended that short-term visitors not drive in Nigeria. A Nigerian driver's license can take months to obtain, and to date an international driving permit is not recognized. Major hotels offer reliable car-hire services complete with drivers. Reliable car-hire services can also be obtained at the customer service centers at the airports in Lagos, Abuja, and Kano. Inter-city travelers must also consider that roadside assistance is extremely scarce, and as noted above medical facilities and emergency care are poor, meaning that being involved in a traffic incident might result in a lack of available medical facilities to treat either minor or life-threatening injuries.

All drivers and passengers are reminded to wear seat belts, lock doors, and raise windows. It is important to secure appropriate automobile insurance. It is also important to be aware that drivers and passengers of vehicles involved in accidents resulting in injury or death have experienced extra-judicial actions, i.e., mob attacks, official consequences such as fines and incarceration or involvement with the victim's family. Night driving should be done with extreme caution, but it is recommended to avoid driving between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. as bandits and police roadblocks are more numerous at night. Streets are very poorly lit, and many vehicles are missing one or both headlights, tail lights, and reflectors.

The Government of Nigeria charges the Federal Road Safety Commission with providing maps and public information on specific road conditions. The Federal Road Safety Commission may be contacted by mail at: Ojodu-Isherri Road, PMB 21510, Ikeja, Lagos; telephone [243] (1) 802-850-5961 or [234] (1) 805-684-6911.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Nigeria, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Nigeria’sCivil 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.

The Port Harcourt International Airport, which was closed in mid-2006 for rehabilitation, resumed operations in December 2007 for domestic daylight flights. Installations and improvements needed for international flights and night operations are expected to be completed in 2008.

For additional information on aviation safety concerns, see the Department of State’s Travel Warning for Nigeria.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Permission is required to take photographs or videotape any government buildings, airports, bridges, and in areas where the military is operating throughout the country. These sites include, but are not limited to, Federal buildings in the Three Arms Zone (Presidential palace area, National Assembly, Supreme Court/Judiciary) of the capital of Abuja, other government buildings around the country and foreign Embassies and Consulates. Many restricted sites are not clearly marked, and application of these restrictions is subject to interpretation by the Nigerian security services and can result in detention. Permission may be obtained from Nigeria's State Security Services, but even permission may not prevent the imposition of penalties or detention. Penalties for unauthorized photography or videography may include confiscation of the still or video camera, exposure of the film or deletion of film footage, a demand for payment of a fine or bribe, and/or detention, arrest, or physical assault. For these reasons, visitors to Nigeria should avoid taking still photos or videotaping in and around areas that are potentially restricted sites, including any government sites.

The Nigerian currency, the naira, is non-convertible. U.S. dollars are widely accepted. Nigeria is a cash economy, and it is usually necessary to carry sufficient currency to cover the expenses of a planned visit, which makes travelers an attractive target for criminals. Credit cards are rarely accepted beyond a few upscale hotels. Due to credit card fraud in Nigeria and by cohorts in the United States, credit card use should be considered carefully. While Citibank cashes some traveler’s checks, most other banks do not. American Express does not have offices in Nigeria; however, Thomas Cook does. Inter-bank transfers are often difficult to accomplish, though money transfer services such as Western Union are available. For further information, visitors may contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Please see the Department of State’s 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 Nigerian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, detained, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Nigeria are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see the Department of State’s information on Criminal Penalties.

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Nigeria are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Nigeria and other general information.Americans withoutInternet 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 1075 Diplomatic Drive, Central Area, Abuja. American citizens can call [234] (9) 461-4176 during office hours (Monday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.). For after-hours emergencies, call [234] (9) 461-4000. The email address for the Consular Section in Abuja is ConsularAbuja@state.gov.

The U.S. Consulate General is located at 2 Walter Carrington Crescent, Victoria Island, Lagos. American citizens can call [234] (1) 261-1215 during office hours (7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.). For after-hours emergencies, call [234] (1) 261-1414, 261-0050, 261-0078, 261-0139, or 261-6477. The e-mail address for the Consular Section in Lagos is Lagoscons2@state.gov.

The Embassy and Consulate website is http://nigeria.usembassy.gov/.
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated April 16, 2007, to update sections on Country Description, Safety and Security, Crime, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Aviation Safety Oversight, Special Circumstances and Registration / Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sun 15 Sep 2019
Source: This Day [edited]

The Bauchi State Government yesterday [Sat 14 Sep 2019] unveiled anti-yellow fever campaign to immunise 500,000 people in Alkaleri and Tafawa Balewa Local Government Areas to curtail the spread of the acute viral haemorrhagic disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes.

The state governor, Senator Bala Mohammed disclosed the plan at the unveiling of aerial spray of Quella birds, mosquitoes and reactive vaccination in response to yellow fever at the Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa International Airport, Bauchi.

Mohammed explained that the exercise, which involved spray of affected areas and vaccination against yellow fever, was a testimony of the commitment of the administration to health issues and response to emergency.

The governor stated that the vaccination would be conducted for people in high risks areas of Alkaleri and Tafawa Balewa LGAs, thereby urging people living there to come forward for the vaccination.

He commended traditional rulers in the state particularly the Emir of Dass, Alhaji Bilyaminu Othman for creating awareness among their subjects regarding the outbreak of yellow fever in parts of the state. He also commended the development partners including the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Federal Ministry of Health, among others for supporting the state.

On the aerial spray of Quella birds, the governor lamented the menace of the birds on farm produce. He, however, commended the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development for providing aircraft needed to spray 38 rusty[?] sites. [The Quella birds mentioned are probably red-billed quela, _Quela quela_ that have nothing to do with yellow fever virus maintenance, movement or transmission].

He said: "The aircraft came at the needed time. We are leveraging on the federal government's gesture to use the aircraft to spray the areas where the vector carrying yellow fever are believed to be."

He added that his administration "will continue to give priority to health and preventive medicine, hence the declaration of state of emergency in the health sector and increase of the health budget to 16 % in the 2019 budget.

He said as a demonstration of the commitment of his administration to the sector, the state government had paid N200 million [USD 554,017] as counterpart funds to the Melinda and Bill Gates and the Dangote Foundation, UNICEF and USAID.  "Despite the state of emergency to reposition the health sector, indices such as the rates of infant and maternal mortality are worrisome. I have therefore given marching order to the Commissioner for Health to convene a health summit to enable us to know the gaps."

Earlier in his remarks, the Director of the state Primary Health Care Developments, Dr. Rilwanu Mohammed praised the state government for the prompt response to address the acute viral haemorrhagic disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes.  [Byline: Segun Awofadeji]
==========================
[The above report does not mention if there were more than the one confirmed and one suspected YF cases that were acquired in the Yankari Game Reserve, Bauchi state [see Undiagnosed illness - Nigeria (02): (BO) fatal, poss. link to game reserve, RFI http://promedmail.org/post/20190906.6660123]. There were 16 college girls who also visited this game reserve and became ill, 4 of whom died. Samples were sent for laboratory diagnosis of these girl's illnesses but no results have been announced so it is still not known if YF was involved. However, the occurrence of a YF case and possibly another in the Yankari Game Reserve that the students also visited, indicates that YF virus was circulating there and there were additional YF cases in the state. Vaccination of 500,000 people in the state will provide [better] longer-term protection against YF than spraying will. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Maps of Nigeria:
and <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/62>. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Bauchi State, Nigeria: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/3741>]
Date: Sat 7 Sep 2019
Source: WHO Africa [edited]

The federal government, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and partners, is launching a yellow fever (YF) reactive vaccination campaign in 3 states to help control an expanding YF outbreak in Nigeria identified in Ebonyi.

The 10-day campaign (7-16 Sep 2019), to be implemented in parts of Ebonyi (3 LGAs), Benue (2 LGAs) and Cross River (1 LGA) States, targets vaccination of 1.6 million people (aged 9 months to 44 years old) to contain the outbreak in affected areas. The campaign, supported by Gavi, will use 1 802 044 vaccine doses provided by the International Coordination Group (ICG) on Vaccine Provision, funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

"This vaccination campaign will be a crucial activity to stop the spread of the outbreak and ensure that all people at highest risk are safe," says Dr Clement Peter, Officer in Charge, WHO Nigeria. "We encourage all eligible persons in the target LGAs to come forward and get vaccinated,"

Since May 2019, more than 55 suspected cases have been reported across 8 LGAs in Ebonyi State, most of which have been reported in recent weeks from Izzi LGA. Already, 9 of the suspected cases had samples that tested positive for yellow fever, and further tests are pending. The outbreak has resulted in a high number of deaths, as 20 of the suspect cases have died (case fatality ratio (CFR) 40%). The scope of the response is, therefore, in Izzi LGA and surrounding LGAs with contiguous borders (such as, Abakaliki in Ebonyi State, Yala LGA in Cross River state, and Ada and Oju LGAs in Benue State).

A rapid response team (RRT) under the leadership of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), composed of Ebonyi State health authorities, WHO and other partners, was deployed to investigate the cases, strengthen efforts to control virus circulation and sensitize health workers and communities on prevention methods against yellow fever.

While vaccination is the best-known measure for keeping people protected for life, Dr Joseph Oteri, NPHCDA Director Disease Control and Immunization, implores people to protect themselves and their families. According to him, "Reducing exposure to mosquitoes, including the use of insect repellent to avoid bites both during the day and at night and removing potential breeding sites such as standing water containers are also effective."

The response of the outbreak in Ebonyi State is part of the global strategy to Eliminate Yellow Fever Epidemics (EYE) by 2026. With the support from WHO, UNICEF, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and more than 50 partners, Nigeria has developed a 10-year strategic elimination plan to improve yellow fever diagnosis capacity, childhood immunization and overall population immunity in all states.

Nigeria is a priority country for the EYE Strategy, and it is expected that more than 75 million people will be protected against yellow fever in the country by the end of 2021.

The impact of the EYE strategy is already tangible, with more than 35 million people vaccinated during outbreak response and preventive mass campaigns aimed at establishing high population immunity. Efforts will continue towards full implementation of the EYE 10-year plan to eliminate yellow fever outbreaks.

"Thanks to the leadership of the Nigeria Center for Disease Control, yellow fever surveillance has strengthened and improved, enabling quick outbreak detection and rapid response," said Thabani Maphosa, Gavi Country Programmes Managing Director. "However, the global vaccine stockpile is our last line of defense against the growing threat of yellow fever outbreaks. The most important long-term strategy is high coverage of yellow fever vaccination during preventive campaign and in routine immunisation so every child is protected, preventing outbreaks from happening in the 1st place."

For the record, from the onset of the outbreak in September 2017 to December 2018, 3902 suspected cases were reported from all 36 states and the FCT in Nigeria. Out of the 3295 samples collected and tested, 185 were presumptive positive in country and were sent for confirmation to the Institute Pasteur (IP) Dakar for further testing. From the results, 78 positive cases from 14 states (Kwara, Kogi, Kano, Zamfara, Kebbi, Nasarawa, Niger, Katsina, Edo, Ekiti, Rivers, Anambra, FCT, and Benue States) were confirmed at IP Dakar (Source: NCDC).

Furthermore, Gavi-supported YF preventive mass vaccination campaigns were conducted in 6 other states (Borno, Kebbi, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto and the FCT) between 22 Nov - 2 Dec 2018, bringing the total states covered by preventive mass vaccination campaigns in Nigeria to 12.

Yellow fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes. The "yellow" in the name refers to the jaundice that affects some patients. Symptoms of yellow fever include fever, headache, jaundice, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting and fatigue. Vaccination is the most important means of preventing yellow fever. To prevent further spread, pre-emptive vaccination campaigns are required in neighboring areas not directly affected by the ongoing yellow fever outbreak and reactive campaigns but which face heightened risk and vulnerability.
=========================
[This report provides a broader overview of the recent yellow fever (YF) situation in Nigeria. Although the current cases occurred in Ebonyi state, local government areas in adjacent Benue and Cross River states are considered at risk and are prudently included in the vaccination campaign. The previous report indicated that as of Wed 31 Jul 2019, 78 cases have been laboratory confirmed in Nigeria in 2019 (see Yellow fever - Africa (11): Nigeria (EB) http://promedmail.org/post/20190814.6622764). There is still no confirmation of the cause of 8 illnesses and 6 deaths of schoolgirls who had visited a national park where there was one confirmed and one probable YF case (see Undiagnosed illness - Nigeria (02): (BO) fatal, poss. link to game reserve, RFI  http://promedmail.org/post/20190906.6660123).

Map of Nigeria:

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Thu 5 Sep 2019
From: Marycelin Baba [edited]

The number of deaths is still uncertain. It has been presumptively diagnosed as yellow fever. Knowing the mode of transmission of yellow fever and the low population immunity especially in Borno State, more transmission is ongoing. I think ELISA was used for the presumptive diagnosis. Plans are being made to ship the IgM positive samples to Dakar for confirmation. I have also requested that part of the samples should be sent to the Arbovirus Laboratory at University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH) for confirmation. At UMTH, plaque assay would be used for confirmation within 4 days.
---------------------------------------------
EpiCore Surveillance Project member
Professor Marycelin Baba
University of Maiduguri
Nigeria
**************************************
Bauchi: Yankari Game Reserve
Date: Fri 6 Sep 2019
Source: EpiCore Global Surveillance Project [edited]

[The following information was submitted by an EpiCore Surveillance Project member who wishes to remain anonymous.]

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control [NCDC] has confirmed 4 cases of yellow fever in Bauchi State. 3 of the confirmed cases are residents of Alkaleri Local Government Area (LGA) and the 4th case is a tourist who was visiting Kano State and also visited the Yankari Games Reserve in the same LGA in Bauchi State.

NCDC was first notified on [29 Aug 2019], when it received the report of a confirmed case of yellow fever in Kano State from a laboratory in its yellow fever laboratory network. Subsequent investigations led by the Kano State Epidemiology Team established that this confirmed case of yellow fever was from a patient who visited the Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi, in August 2019 with his father. Unfortunately, the father died with similar symptoms before a sample could be collected and tested.

Subsequently, on [3 Sep 2019], the Borno State Epidemiology Team reported deaths among students of Waka College of Education in Biu LGA Borno State. These students visited the Yankari Game Resort in August 2019. Of the 95 students who visited the resort, 8 developed symptoms and 6 had died as at the time of the report. The others are in a stable condition. Samples from these cases are being tested.

Intensification of surveillance activities has led to the identification of 3 more confirmed cases who are all resident in Alkaleri Local Government Area (LGA), of Bauchi state.

Altogether, 4 cases of yellow fever were confirmed in people that either live or have visited Bauchi in the last one month.

Since it was notified, the NCDC has collaborated with the State epidemiologists of the affected States and the World Health Organization country office to investigate these events. The agency has also deployed a rapid response team to support Bauchi State to carry out further in-depth investigations, including case finding, risk communications, and support the management of cases. Samples of the other suspected cases from Bauchi and Borno states are currently being transported to the NCDC National Reference Laboratory in Abuja for further testing.
******************************************
Osun: ACEGID offer of assistance
Date: Thu 6 Sep 2019
From: Philomena Eromon <Eromonp@run.edu.ng> [edited]

With the recent development in Biu [Local Government Area in southern Borno State], I am very much concerned as a citizen of Nigeria, who also has a connection with Biu. I am a research scientist with the African Center of Excellence for the Genomics of Infectious Disease [ACEGID]. We are located in Redeemers University Ede Osun State and we're concerned with outbreaks as this. My advice will be to send plasma samples of those who are sick and their possible contact for a whole genome sequencing which will unravel these mysterious illness. We have the platform and have used it in such capacity. Contact me at <Eromonp@run.edu.ng> should you want more information. You can also check our site <http://www.acegid.org>
-----------------------------------------------
Philomena Eromon
African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases,
Redeemer's University
Ede
Nigeria
===========================
[ProMED thanks Philomena Eromon, Prof Baba, and anonymous EpiCore members who have submitted rapid responses to this request for further information. The possibility of toxic ingestion as well as yellow fever are discussed by other ProMED moderators as follows. - ProMED Mod.LXL]

[These cases, if limited to the Waka Biu College group, would be unusual for yellow fever on epidemiological grounds. However, the occurrence of a yellow fever case in the Yankari Game Reserve that the students also visited indicates that YF virus was circulating there and there were additional YF cases in the state. Nonetheless, the occurrence of a cluster of 16 simultaneous cases with just one report of other cases in the area where the students and photographers had been argues against yellow fever virus transmission. One would expect to see a chain of cases, not an abrupt outbreak with all coming down with illness at the same time. Sylvan spill-over of YF virus is also unlikely for the same reason. However the case fatality rate (4 dead of 16 cases) is about right for YF. It would be important to know if any of the ill individuals had been vaccinated against YF. Laboratory confirmation of the etiology of these 16 student cases is essential to know the cause of their illness. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[There are very few clinical signs to attempt to make a diagnosis. However, if the individuals did not purchase water or food, then one wonders whether the food they may have taken with them was spoiled in some way. These individuals swam in the water. A number of things come to mind, such as blue-green algae or cyanobacteria, that could be the cause. One also wonders whether the water had coliform or other bacteria or toxins which could have affected these individuals in the manner described. If others have additional information, we would appreciate knowing. Please send to <promed@promedmail.org>. - ProMED Mod.TG]

[Maps of Nigeria:
Date: Wed 4 Sep 2019
Source: Premium Times [edited]

At least 4 people have been confirmed dead and 12 hospitalized after students of the College of Education, Waka-Biu in Biu Local Government Area of Borno State returned from a Yankari Games Reserve field trip. According to witnesses who spoke to Premium Times on [the] phone from Biu, those that lost their lives complained of abdominal pains after which they vomited blood. Initially, the death toll was put at 9, a figure which the Provost of the school, Mohammed Audu, said was incorrect.

Biu has been thrown into confusion in the last few days as the strange illness continues to affect mainly students of the institution. One of the dead students is the daughter of the caretaker chairman of Biu Local Government Area. The Borno State Deputy Governor, Umar Kadafur, who hails from Biu, has also confirmed the development.

Speaking through his Press Secretary, Bulama Alkali, the deputy governor, said the Borno State health ministry and the federal ministry of health have been directed to investigate the matter. "For now the deputy governor may not have ample information that will enable him [to] make [an] informed comment on the matter," said Mr. Alkali. "However the deputy governor, just like any other parent, is very much saddened and concerned about the development," he added.

The College Provost, Mr. Audu, said the students were on holiday at the time they embarked on the field trip to Yankari. He said the "school was closed for the season on 10 Aug 2019. But the students had to return to the campus to embark on the excursion because it was already planned, and they had to go for the trip as part of their course work."

He said the field trip was done in 3 batches, and the last batch that encountered the problem was "batch C" who travelled on 21 Aug 2019 and returned a day later. The excursion has been an annual event for students, he said. "When they returned, they left for their homes and there was no issue until Saturday, 31 Aug 2019, when the daughter of [the] Biu local government chairman died," he said. The provost said even when the female student died, her death was not immediately linked with the Yankari trip.

"People began to raise eyebrows some days after when 3 other students who were in the same trip batch died after exhibiting similar health conditions," he said. Mr. Audu said tension began to mount when more of the students fell ill. "Of the 4 that died, 2 were not our students but the commercial photographers that usually accompany the students on such trips," he said. One of the photographers was said to be asthmatic.

The provost explained that he wrote to the General Hospital in Biu alerting the Principal Medical Officer (PMO) of the situation in the college following the death of one of the students. He said he also alerted the state government, which deployed an emergency medical response team to Biu from Maiduguri. "Meanwhile, the PMO in Biu had mobilized his team to the school after all the students on the last batch that contracted the unknown disease were summoned back to the campus," Mr. Audu said.

Mr. Audu said the students were questioned on the kind of food they ate and the water they drank. "Most of them said they couldn't eat the food sold in Yankari because [it was] very expensive, but they all said they swam in the stream there. The PMO assured them that though the strange ailment has no signs of being communicable, it's root cause has to be verified in a laboratory test."

The provost informed Premium Times that some of the students that were examined exhibited symptoms of being ill. A total of 12 of them were not feeling very well, and the medics gave them some medication and asked them to return for further medical examination by the medical team from Maiduguri. "However, the PMO had to refer 3 of the ill with more severe case[s] of ailment to be admitted at the hospital," he said.

Efforts to contact the Borno State health commissioner and his counterpart in the ministry of higher education were not successful, as they could not be reached on their known mobile lines.

Premium Times gathered that the Waka Biu students' travail may not have been isolated. One of the medical personnel was quoted to have said that a similar case was reported in Kano after a set of students from the Northwest state visited Yankari reserve on the same day, 21 Aug 2019.

Although Premium Times has not independently verified that piece of information, the medical personnel feel strongly that the strange illness has a lot to do with the popular games reserve. The medical team from Maiduguri is expected to reexamine the students.  [Byline: Abdulkareem Haruna]
====================
[The etiology of these illnesses is unclear. With the bleeding, a viral hemorrhagic fever such as Lassa or yellow fever could be considered. ProMED would appreciate any information regarding this outbreak.

Yankari National Park (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yankari_National_Park>) is a large wildlife park located in the south-central part of Bauchi State, in northeastern Nigeria. It covers an area of about 2244 square km (866 sq mi) and is home to several natural warm water springs, as well as a wide variety of flora and fauna. Its location in the heartland of the West African savanna makes it a unique way for tourists and holidaymakers to watch wildlife in its natural habitat. Yankari was originally created as a game reserve in 1956 but later designated Nigeria's biggest national park in 1991. It is the most popular destination for tourists in Nigeria and, as such, plays a crucial role in the development and promotion of tourism and ecotourism in Nigeria. It is also one of the most popular eco-destinations in West Africa. - ProMED Mod.LL

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Borno State, Nigeria: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/621>]
Date: Fri 23 Aug 2019
Source: Pulse [abridged, edited]

The director-general of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu said, "DSNOs (disease surveillance notification officers) and health facilities in high-risk areas and the technical working group (TWG) members, with a team from John[s] Hopkins University, visited 4 states to conduct training on use of measles RDTs (rapid diagnostic test kits). "They planned to follow up with states to ensure continued vigilance and early reporting" and "to also conduct state-level training on sample management and RDT testing for other high-priority states and to conduct community sensitisation across all LGAs (local government areas) of Adamawa State," he said.

Speaking on measles, he disclosed that there were 470 suspected cases reported from 136 LGAs in 28 converted states and the FCT. He added that none were laboratory confirmed, and no deaths were recorded.

Ihekweazu said that the multi-agency National Measles TWG was monitoring and coordinating response activities across the states. "TWG is working closely with [the] National Measles Technical Coordination Committee  (NPHCD) towards the upcoming measles supplementary immunisation activity (SIA), and introduction of [the] 2nd dose of measles vaccination.

"They conducted a planning meeting for AAR [after action report? - ProMED Mod.SH] and [a] measles guideline review meeting, also [devised] a travel advisory [notice] on [the] measles outbreak, shared across different media platforms," he said. The NCDC boss said that the centre would continue the review of measles surveillance data, across the nation, and also [would] continue planning for [the] AAR and measles guideline review meeting.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue 17 Sep 2019
Source: Boston Globe [edited]

Rhode Island officials announced Tuesday [17 Sep 2019] that 2 more human cases of eastern equine encephalitis [EEE] were confirmed in the state.

The 2 people -- one a Coventry child younger than 10 and the other a person in their 50s from Charlestown -- have been discharged from the hospital and are recovering, according to a statement from the state's Department of Public Health.

Authorities think the 2 people contracted EEE in late August [2019]. The cases were confirmed by tests done at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been 3 confirmed EEE cases in Rhode Island this year [2019]. A West Warwick resident diagnosed with the mosquito-borne illness died this month [September 2019].

All 3 people contracted EEE before areas at critical risk for the disease were aerially sprayed with pesticide, state officials said.

EEE is a rare but potentially fatal disease that can cause brain inflammation and is transmitted to humans bitten by infected mosquitoes, according to federal authorities. About 1/3 of infected people who develop the disease will die, officials have said, and those who recover often live with severe and devastating neurological complications. There is no treatment for EEE.

"This [2019] has been a year with significantly elevated EEE activity, and mosquitoes will remain a threat in Rhode Island until our 1st hard frost, which is still several weeks out," said Ana Novais, the deputy director for the state's health department. "Personal mosquito-prevention measures remain everyone's 1st defence against EEE. If possible, people should limit their time outdoors at sunrise and sunset. If you are going to be out, long sleeves and pants are very important, as is bug spray [repellent]."

EEE was also confirmed in a deer in Exeter this week [week of Mon 16 Sep 2019].

In Massachusetts, 8 human cases of EEE have been confirmed this year [2019]. Last month [August 2019], a Fairhaven woman with EEE died.
========================
[The 1st Rhode Island case died. Now there are 2 additional EEE cases who have recovered sufficiently to have been discharged from the hospital. Although most reported cases of EEE this year [2019] have occurred in horses, there have been several recent human cases as well. Individuals living in areas where human or equine EEE cases have occurred should heed the above recommendations to prevent mosquito bites. Avoidance of mosquito bites is the only preventive measure available. Fortunately, horses can be vaccinated, but there is no vaccine available for humans.

The risk of EEE virus infection for humans and horses will continue in Rhode Island and the other affected states until the 1st killing frosts occur, likely in October (2019). - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Rhode Island, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/241>]
Date: Tue 17 Sep 2019
Source: Detroit Free Press [edited]

State health officials said Tuesday [17 Sep 2019] that 3 Michiganders have died from the rare and dangerous mosquito-borne virus eastern equine encephalitis [EEE], and 4 others have been sickened by the disease, amid the biggest outbreak in more than a decade.

Those who live in all 8 of the affected counties -- Kalamazoo, Cass, Van Buren, Berrien, Barry, St. Joseph, Genesee, and Lapeer counties -- are urged to consider canceling, postponing, or rescheduling outdoor events that occur at or after dusk, especially those that involve children, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. This would include events such as late-evening sports practices or games or outdoor music practices "out of an abundance of caution to protect the public health, and applies until the 1st hard frost of the year [2019]," according to an MDHHS news release.

The 3 people who died were all adults and lived in Kalamazoo, Cass, and Van Buren counties, [respectively], said Bob Wheaton, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The 4 other confirmed cases are in Kalamazoo, Berrien, and Barry counties.

Animals have also been confirmed to have the virus in St. Joseph, Genesee, and Lapeer counties.

The Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Department also issued a recommendation to local communities and school districts to consider canceling outdoor events at dusk or after dark, when mosquitoes are most active, or move [the events] indoors.  "Michigan is currently experiencing its worst eastern equine encephalitis outbreak in more than a decade," said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, MDHHS chief medical executive and chief deputy for health. "The ongoing cases reported in humans and animals and the severity of this disease illustrate the importance of taking precautions against mosquito bites."

EEE is one of the deadliest mosquito-borne viruses in the US. One in 3 people who are infected with the virus die. The only way to prevent it is to avoid mosquito bites. The MDHHS says residents should
- apply insect repellents that contain the active ingredient DEET or other US Environmental Protection Agency-registered product to exposed skin or clothing, and always follow the manufacturer's directions for use;
- wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors. Apply insect repellent to clothing to help prevent bites;
- maintain window and door screening to help keep mosquitoes outside;
- empty water from mosquito breeding sites around the home, such as buckets, unused kiddie pools, old tires, or similar sites where mosquitoes may lay eggs; and
- use nets and/or fans over outdoor eating areas.

Symptoms of EEE include
- sudden onset of fever, chills;
- body and joint aches, which can progress to a severe encephalitis;
- headache;
- disorientation;
- tremors;
- seizures;
- paralysis; and
- coma.

Anyone experiencing these symptoms should visit a doctor.

[Byline: Kristen Jordan Shamus]
=======================
[The number of human cases remains at 7. However, 3 of these have died since the 6 Sep 2019 report (see Eastern equine encephalitis - North America (18): USA human, horse, deer http://promedmail.org/post/20190910.6667626). However, even among the survivors, there is a significant risk of permanent neurological damage following clinical encephalitis. CDC reports that many individuals with clinical encephalitis "are left with disabling and progressive mental and physical sequelae, which can range from minimal brain dysfunction to severe intellectual impairment, personality disorders, seizures, paralysis, and cranial nerve dysfunction. Many patients with severe sequelae die within a few years" (<https://www.cdc.gov/easternequineencephalitis/tech/symptoms.html>). - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Michigan, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/225>
Michigan county map:
Date: Mon 16 Sep 2019
Source: Patch [edited]

The state Department of Public Health is warning that an adult resident of East Lyme has tested positive for eastern equine encephalitis (EEE). This is the 1st human case of EEE identified in Connecticut this season [2019].  The patient became ill during the last week of August [2019] with encephalitis and remains hospitalized. Laboratory tests, which were completed today at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Laboratory in Ft. Collins, Colorado, confirmed the presence of antibodies to the virus that causes EEE.  "EEE is a rare but serious and potentially fatal disease that can affect people of all ages," said DPH commissioner Renee Coleman Mitchell in a release. "Using insect repellent, covering bare skin, and avoiding being outdoors from dusk to dawn are effective ways to help keep you from being bitten by mosquitoes."  The EEE virus has been identified in mosquitoes in 12 towns and in horses in 2 other towns.

Towns where mosquitoes have tested positive for EEE include Chester, Haddam, Hampton, Groton, Killingworth, Ledyard, Madison, North Stonington, Plainfield, Shelton, Stonington, and Voluntown. Horses have tested positive for EEE virus in Colchester and Columbia this season, and the virus has been detected in a flock of wild pheasants.  Other states throughout the northeast are also experiencing an active season for EEE. In addition to the virus being found in mosquitoes, there have been a total of 8 human cases of EEE infection in Massachusetts and one human case in Rhode Island, with one case in each state resulting in a fatality. "This is the 2nd human case of EEE ever reported in Connecticut," said Dr. Matthew Cartter, director of infectious diseases for the DPH. "The 1st human case of EEE reported in Connecticut occurred in the fall of 2013."

The DPH advises against unnecessary trips into mosquito breeding grounds and marshes, as the mosquitoes that transmit EEE virus are associated with freshwater swamps and are most active at dusk and dawn. Overnight camping or other substantial outdoor exposure in freshwater swamps in Connecticut should be avoided. Even though the temperatures are getting cooler, the DPH is advising that mosquito season is not over, and residents should continue to take measures to prevent mosquito bites, including wearing protective clothing and using repellents.  Although EEE-infected mosquitoes continue to be detected in the south-eastern corner of the state, the numbers are declining, and we are not experiencing the excessively high levels of activity seen in Massachusetts. There are currently no plans to implement widespread aerial pesticide spraying in the state.

Severe cases of EEE virus infection (involving encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain) begin with the sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills, and vomiting. The illness may then progress into disorientation, seizures, and coma. Approximately 1/3 of patients who develop EEE die, and many of those who survive have mild to severe brain damage, according to the DPH.

There is no specific treatment for EEE. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, and no effective anti-viral drugs have been discovered. Severe illnesses are treated by supportive therapy, which may include hospitalization, respiratory support, IV fluids, and prevention of other infections. It takes 4-10 days after the bite of an infected mosquito to develop symptoms of EEE.

The management of mosquitoes in Connecticut is a collaborative effort involving the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, and the DPH, together with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Pathobiology at the University of Connecticut. These agencies are responsible for monitoring and managing the state's mosquito population levels to reduce the potential public health threat of mosquito-borne diseases.

Information on what can be done to prevent getting bitten by mosquitoes and the latest mosquito test results and human infections is available online.  [Byline: Rich Kirby]
===========================
[This has been an active year for EEE virus transmission in the eastern USA from the upper Midwest to the northeastern states and south to Florida. Although historically, EEE human cases in Connecticut have been very rare, the occurrence of a human case in the state this year (2019) is not surprising. There have been equine and/or human EEE cases this summer (2019) in the 3 bordering states: Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York. Interestingly, pheasants are mentioned in the above report. They are susceptible and, after being infected with the virus from the bite of an EEE-carrying mosquito, become ill or moribund with viremia titers that can reach 10^9 per ml. Ill or moribund pheasant can be attacked and cannibalized by pen mates that, in turn, are infected orally and may become ill and die as well. As the above report cautions, the only way to avoid infection is for people to avoid mosquito bites. Although the incidence of EEE cases and virus-positive mosquitoes may be declining, there is a risk of infection until the 1st killing frost occurs in autumn, when the mosquitoes are no longer active. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Connecticut, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/210>]
Date: Wed 11 Sep 2019
Source: BBC Afrique [In French, trans. Mod.LXL, edited]

At least 18 people died in 10 days after eating pesticide-contaminated food in 2 localities in Burkina Faso. A dozen still remain under observation in hospitals, according to the Minister of Health.  The 1st cases were reported on [1 Sep 2019] in the town of Didyr in the centre-west of the country, said Professor Claudine Lougue, Minister of Health.  About 15 members of the same families felt unwell after eating local dishes made from bean leaves and small millet seeds, which are actually seed remains. Thirteen died later despite medical care.

On Monday [2 Sep 2019], the ministry received another alert, this time from the central-eastern region. Here again, 14 people from the same family were admitted to the health centres. Five have lost their lives. After analysis, doctors diagnosed massive food poisoning, said the minister. Complementary examinations incriminate pesticides, she said.  "Investigations have been made on samples of biological products such as blood and urine, and we found an unusually high level of pesticides in foods that were consumed. There was an abnormally high level of pesticides, and these pesticides were strongly incriminated," said the minister.

The remains of food have been secured, announced Professor Lougue, who calls on citizens to observe strict hygiene measures in the use of plant leaves for consumption. Pesticides are used for the needs of field work, especially in the countryside during this period of wintering.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 16:44:19 +0200 (METDST)

London, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - British Airways pilots on Wednesday cancelled a strike that had been due September 27, the British Airline Pilots Association union said after two walkouts last week that cost the company dear.   "Someone has to take the initiative to sort out this (pay) dispute and with no sign of that from BA the pilots have decided to take the responsible course," BALPA General Secretary Brian Strutton said in a statement.    The union chief added that the airline's "passengers rightly expect BA and its pilots to resolve their issues without disruption and now is the time for cool heads and pragmatism to be brought to bear.    "I hope BA and its owner IAG show as much responsibility as the pilots," he added.   It was now "time for a period of reflection before the dispute escalates further and irreparable damage is done to the (BA) brand."

However the union added that should the airline "refuse meaningful new negotiations, BALPA retains the right to announce further strike dates".   British Airways, which likes to call itself "the world's favourite airline", flew into turbulence last week as pilots staged a costly and historic two-day strike, tarnishing its global reputation according to aviation analysts.   Pilots walked out for the first time in the company's 100-year history, sparked by a bitter and long-running feud over pay.   BA faced the embarrassment of grounding its entire UK fleet on September 9 and 10, causing the cancellation of about 1,600 flights.   The move sparked travel chaos for about 200,000 passengers who had been due to fly in and out of London's Gatwick and Heathrow airports.

The disruption continued into September 11 because half of BA's 300 aircraft and more than 700 pilots were mostly in the wrong place.   As a result, BA was forced to cancel approximately ten percent of its daily 850 flights in and out of Britain that day.    BALPA and its members are demanding a bigger share of British Airways profits.   The airline has offered a salary increase of 11.5 percent over three years, which it argues would boost the annual pay of some captains to £200,000 ($250,000 or 226,000 euros).   However, the union has rejected the proposal made in July.   BALPA meanwhile estimates that last week's 48-hour strike cost the airline £80 million.   BA is owned by IAG, which was formed in 2011 with the merger of British Airways and Spain's Iberia. IAG has since added other carriers, including Austria's Vueling and Ireland's Aer Lingus.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 12:26:37 +0200 (METDST)
By Sam Reeves

Kuala Lumpur, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - Toxic haze from Indonesian forest fires closed schools and airports across the country and in neighbouring Malaysia Wednesday, while air quality worsened in Singapore just days before the city's Formula One motor race.   Illegal fires to clear land for agriculture are blazing out of control on Sumatra and Borneo islands, with Jakarta deploying thousands of security forces and water-bombing aircraft to tackle them.

Indonesian blazes belch smog across Southeast Asia annually, but this year's are the worst since 2015 and have added to concerns about wildfire outbreaks worldwide exacerbating global warming.   On Wednesday, air quality deteriorated to "very unhealthy" levels on an official index in many parts of peninsular Malaysia, to the east of Sumatra, with the Kuala Lumpur skyline shrouded by dense smog.    Nearly 1,500 schools were closed across Malaysia due to the air pollution, with over one million pupils affected, according to the education ministry.

A growing number of Malaysians were suffering health problems due to the haze, with authorities saying there had been a sharp increase in outpatients at government hospitals -- many suffering dry and itchy eyes.   Indonesian authorities said hundreds of schools in hard-hit Riau province on Sumatra were shut, without providing a precise number, while about 1,300 were closed in Central Kalimantan province on Borneo.    Borneo is shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.   Poor visibility closed seven airports in the Indonesian part of Borneo, the transport ministry in Jakarta said. Scores of flights have already been diverted and cancelled in the region in recent days due to the smog.

- Singapore smog race? -
Air quality in Singapore worsened to unhealthy levels and a white smog obscured the striking waterfront skyline, featuring the Marina Bay Sands casino resort with its three towers and boat-shaped top level.    The worsening pollution increased fears that this weekend's Formula One race may be affected. Organisers say the possibility of haze is one of the issues in their contingency plan for Sunday's showpiece night race, but have not given further details.

The city-state's tourism board said spectators would be able to buy masks as protection from the haze if conditions did not improve and assistance would be provided for those who feel unwell, the Today news portal reported.   The fires have sparked tensions between Indonesia and Malaysia.    Indonesia's environment minister initially suggested the haze was from Malaysian fires despite satellite data showing hundreds of blazes in Indonesia and only a handful in its neighbour, prompting anger from her Malaysian counterpart.

Indonesia later sealed off dozens of plantations where it said fires were blazing, including some owned by Malaysia-based firms, deepening the row.   But Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has struck a diplomatic tone throughout the crisis, said Malaysia may pass legislation forcing its companies to tackle fires on plantations abroad.   Malaysia wants its firms with sites overseas to put out blazes contributing to the haze, he said, adding: "Of course, if we find they are unwilling to take action, we may have to pass a law to make them responsible."

The Indonesian government has insisted it is doing all it can to fight the blazes. But this year's fires have been worsened by dry weather and experts believe there is little chance of them being extinguished until the onset of the rainy season in October.   Indonesia's meteorology, climate and geophysics agency said Wednesday that over 1,000 hotspots -- areas of intense heat detected by satellite that indicate a likely fire -- had been sighted, most of them on Sumatra.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 12:14:44 +0200 (METDST)
By Aishwarya KUMAR

New Delhi, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - India announced on Wednesday a ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes, as a backlash gathers pace worldwide due to health concerns about a product promoted as less harmful than smoking tobacco.   The Indian announcement, also outlawing production, import and distribution, came a day after New York became the second US state to ban flavoured e-cigarettes following a string of vaping-linked deaths.   "The decision was made keeping in mind the impact that e-cigarettes have on the youth of today," Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters in New Delhi.

E-cigarettes do not "burn" but instead heat up a liquid -- tasting of everything from bourbon to bubble gum and which usually contains nicotine -- that turns into vapour and is inhaled.   The vapour is missing the estimated 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke but does contain a number of substances that could potentially be harmful.   They have been pushed by producers, and also by some governments including in Britain, as a safer alternative to traditional smoking -- and as a way to kick the habit.

However critics say that apart from being harmful in themselves, the flavours of e-cigarette liquids appeal particularly to children and risk getting them addicted to nicotine.   Some 3.6 million middle and high school students in the United States used vaping products in 2018, an increase of 1.5 million on the year before.   The New York emergency legislation followed an outbreak of severe pulmonary disease that has killed seven people and sickened hundreds.   President Donald Trump's administration announced last week that it would soon ban flavoured e-cigarette products to stem a rising tide of youth users.

- Big E-Tobacco -
Although few Indians vape at present, the Indian ban also cuts off a vast potential market of 1.3 billion consumers for makers of e-cigarettes.   Tobacco firms have been investing heavily in the technology to compensate for falling demand for cigarettes due to high taxes and public smoking bans, particularly in the West.

In 2018 Altria, the US maker of brands such as Marlboro and Chesterfield, splashed out almost $13 billion on a stake in one of the biggest e-cigarette makers, Juul.   A few Indian states have already banned e-cigarettes although the restrictions have been ineffective since online sale of vaping products continue.   The new ban does not cover traditional tobacco products in India.   According to the World Health Organization, India is the world's second-largest consumer of tobacco products, killing nearly 900,000 people every year.

Nearly 275 million people over 15, or 35 percent of adults, are users, although chewing tobacco -- which also causes cancer -- is more prevalent than smoking.   India is also the world's third--largest producer of tobacco, the WHO says, and tobacco farmers are an important vote bank for political parties.   According to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry, an estimated 45.7 million people depend on the tobacco sector in India for their livelihood.   Tobacco is also a major Indian export, and the government holds substantial stakes, directly or indirectly, in tobacco firms including in ITC, one of India's biggest companies.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 03:56:31 +0200 (METDST)

Washington, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - Hurricane Humberto strengthened to a major Category 3 storm on Tuesday and was expected to pass near Bermuda, threatening it with dangerous waves and heavy rain, the US National Hurricane Center said.   "Hurricane conditions are expected to reach Bermuda by Wednesday night and continue into early Thursday morning," the Miami-based NHC said.   "Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or so, but Humberto should remain a powerful hurricane through Thursday," it said.   As of 8:00 pm (0000 GMT), the storm had maximum sustained winds of 115 miles per hour (185 kilometers per hour) and was moving east-northeast at 12 miles per hour.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 01:36:21 +0200 (METDST)

Dakar, Sept 17, 2019 (AFP) - Four people died after a boat carrying dozens of tourists capsized during heavy storms in Senegal, authorities and emergency services said Tuesday.   The death toll could rise as three passengers were said to be missing after the accident.  The boat was carrying several Senegalese nationals, six French people, two Germans, two Swedes and one person from Guinea-Bissau, when it turned over Monday in driving rain and a heavy swell, fire department chief Papa Angel Michel Diatta said.   All the dead were Senegalese, officials and emergency services said.

Two worked in a national park, one was a woman and the other victim was a child, Diatta said.   The boat was heading for the Madeleine islands, site of an offshore national park popular with tourists who travel from Dakar, coastal capital of the West African country.   Senegalese President Macky Sall appealed for "greater caution and respect for existing security norms duing the rainy season" in a tweet.

Emergency services continued to look for those missing on Tuesday. AFP journalists saw a dozen divers at the scene. Distressed families were waiting on the shore to get news of their loved ones.    "The gendarmerie called us at 5:00 am (GMT and local time). My brother was on the boat. The worst thing is not knowing," said Aminata Diop, who was among the relatives on the beach.   There are "four dead bodies and between three and four people are missing. Thirty-five people were on the boat. Search and rescue operations are continuing this morning," Interior Minister Aly Ngouille Ndiaye told AFP by telephone.

The causes of the accident were unclear. The interior minister told Senegalese media overnight that several tourists were worried about the heavy rains and wanted to return to the pier but others wanted to stay on the boat.   The survivors spent the night on the island, Ndiaye told local radio on Tuesday. Blankets and food were sent to them and they were to be ferried back to the mainland in the morning, he added.   The rainy season arrived late this year and heavy storms have resulted in several casualties this month.    Two fishermen were killed on their canoe in the same area nearly two weeks ago.
Date: Tue, 17 Sep 2019 15:38:37 +0200 (METDST)

Jakarta, Sept 17, 2019 (AFP) - Massive forest fires in Indonesia that have caused a toxic haze to spread as far as Singapore and peninsular Malaysia are also seriously affecting endangered orangutans and their habitat, a rescue foundation said Tuesday.   Jakarta has deployed thousands of troops as temporary fireman and deployed dozens of water-bombing aircraft to battle blazes that are turning pristine forest into charred landscape in Sumatra and Borneo islands.   The fires -- usually started by illegal burning to clear land for farming -- have unleashed a choking haze across parts of southeast Asia.

The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation said Tuesday that the haze was affecting hundreds of great apes in its care at rescue centres and wildlife re-introduction shelters.   "The thick smoke does not only endanger the health of our staff... but also it affects the 355 orangutans we currently care for", the foundation said in a statement, referring to just once cetre in Kalimantan   "As many as 37 young orangutans are suspected to have contracted a mild respiratory infection," it added.   Conditions were so bad at their Samboja Lestari facility in East Kalimantan that outdoor activities for the animals had been restricted to a few hours a day.

Orangutans have been particularly vulnerable to commercial land clearances and have seen their natural habitat shrink dramatically in the last few decades.   The population of orangutan in Borneo has plummeted from about 288,500 in 1973 to about 100,000 today, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.   The toxic smoke caused by the forest fires is an annual problem for Indonesia and its neighbours, but has been worsened this year by particularly dry weather.   On Borneo island, which Indonesia shares with Malaysia and Brunei, pollution levels were "hazardous", according to environment ministry data.   Hundreds of schools across Indonesia and Malaysia were shut.