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Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan - US Consular Information Sheet
March 02, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Turkmenistan is a Central Asian nation roughly the size of California.
It shares borders with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Iran.
Turkmen
stan gained its independence in 1991 during the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Primarily a desert country, it has a population of around six million people. Tourist facilities, especially outside of the capital city of Ashgabat, are not highly developed.
Many of the goods and services taken for granted in North American and Western European countries are not yet available. Travel within the country can be difficult due to limited infrastructure and government-imposed internal travel restrictions.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Turkmenistan for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
American citizens must have a valid passport and visa and/or letter of invitation from the Government of Turkmenistan to enter and exit Turkmenistan.
To apply for a visa, all U.S. citizens must complete an application and have a letter of invitation approved by the State Migration Service (SMS), formerly known as the State Service for the Registration of Foreigners (SSRF), in Ashgabat.
An individual or organization in Turkmenistan must submit the letter of invitation on behalf of an American citizen to the SMS accompanied by a copy of the traveler's passport ID page.
Each traveler’s passport must be valid for at least 6 months following the date of the application.
The SMS requires at least 15 working days for approval.
The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat does not issue letters of invitation to citizens interested in private travel to Turkmenistan.
Applications for a visa can be submitted to the Embassy of Turkmenistan in Washington, D.C., or directly to the SMS in Ashgabat.
Under local law, a traveler with a stamped and approved invitation letter may also obtain a visa at the Ashgabat International Airport upon arrival in Turkmenistan; however, some travelers have reported difficulties with airlines not boarding passengers who only have approved invitation letters in lieu of a visa for onward travel to Turkmenistan.
Travelers are strongly recommended to obtain a visa before traveling.

The price for the visa will vary according to the intended length of stay.
For an additional charge, the SMS can extend a visa in Ashgabat beyond its initial validity.
Any traveler arriving without a visa or without the documents necessary to obtain a visa will be denied entry and may be held at the airport or border until the traveler has secured transportation out of Turkmenistan.
Based on past incidents, the Embassy discourages travelers from planning to use transit visas in lieu of obtaining tourist visas through a travel agency.
The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat is unable to intervene with Turkmenistani authorities regarding the admission of private travelers to Turkmenistan.
Travelers departing Turkmenistan must have a current valid visa or they will be denied exit until they have extended the validity of the visa through their departure date.
In addition, U.S. citizens traveling in Turkmenistan should be aware that they need special permission from the SMS to travel to areas of the country that have been restricted by the Government of Turkmenistan, including almost all border areas.

Upon arrival at an airport or border entry point, foreigners will be charged approximately $12 for an immigration card issued by Turkmen authorities.
All foreigners are required to carry this immigration card for the duration of their stay in Turkmenistan.
Authorities will collect the immigration card upon departure.
Those departing Turkmenistan from the Ashgabat airport and flying with a non-Turkmenistani flagged carrier are required to pay a $25 departure fee.

In addition to the immigration requirements mentioned above, foreigners are subject to local registration requirements.
Americans who plan to stay more than three working days in Turkmenistan must register with the SMS.
SMS offices are located in all of Turkmenistan's five major cities: Ashgabat, Dashoguz, Mary, Turkmenabat and Turkmenbashy.
Foreigners who plan to travel outside of the city in which they will register must inform the SMS in advance; otherwise travelers will face fines or deportation.
One day prior to their departure from Turkmenistan foreigners must return to an SMS office to register the departure.
Foreigners should be registered and deregistered at the SMS in the city in which their sponsoring organization is located.
Foreigners who fail to register their departure may be prevented by immigration authorities from leaving the country until they have done so.
The penalties for remaining in Turkmenistan with an expired visa or for failing to register with SMS include fines, arrest, and/or deportation.
Foreigners who are deported for these violations may be prohibited from returning to Turkmenistan for up to five years.
American citizens in Turkmenistan are strongly urged to ensure that their visas do not expire and that they register with SMS upon arrival and upon departure.

Visitors holding tourist visas organized by a travel agency must stay in hotels; other visitors may stay in private accommodations whose owner must register the visitor's presence.
Visit the Embassy of Turkmenistan web site for the most current visa information.

Several popular travel guides discuss traveling by “ferry” across the Caspian Sea from Baku, Azerbaijan, to the port of Turkmenbashy in western Turkmenistan.
Some travelers have faced problems attempting to travel to Turkmenistan by boat.
Travelers should be aware that these “ferries” are in fact cargo ships that take on some passengers incidental to their primary function.
Passengers are generally not provided food or water on these ships, and sleeping and sanitary facilities are likely to be rudimentary.
Travelers should be aware that ships arriving at the port of Turkmenbashy often wait days offshore for outgoing ships to vacate the dock to allow incoming ships to disembark.
Some travelers have spent more than a week offshore while their ship awaited permission to enter the port, and they have run out of stores of food and water, or had their Turkmen visas expire before they could be used.
For this and other reasons travelers, especially those who plan to enter Turkmenistan by boat, are discouraged from using transit visas to enter Turkmenistan.

At Ashgabat International Airport, most airlines do not accept payment for tickets by credit card, or in any currency other than US dollars or Turkmen manat.
Travelers planning direct transit through Turkmenistan en route to another country should be aware that if they are stranded due to a missed connection, they will not be allowed to leave the arrival detention area until they are able to buy a ticket for an onward flight out of Turkmenistan.
For this reason, the Embassy discourages travelers from planning to directly transit through Ashgabat International Airport.

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:
Those considering travel to Turkmenistan should take the country's proximity to regions of past and current instability into account before making any plans.
The Government of Turkmenistan has designated many areas throughout the country as “restricted zones,” particularly the border areas next to Iran, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan, the entire region of Dashoguz (including Dashoguz city), and areas of the Caspian coast.
Travel to these areas by foreigners is forbidden without special permission from the Government of Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan Airlines, the national airline, will not sell a ticket to any traveler who intends to travel to a “restricted zone” without proof of permission from the government.
Travelers who wish to visit a “restricted zone” must have a valid passport and visa and must apply to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a special permit.
There is a minimum processing time of 10 working days for these permits.

Visible police and military presence in Turkmenistan is common.
Both uniformed and plainclothes officials frequently ask to see passports, visas, migration cards, and SMS registrations.
Travelers should ask to see identification if they are not certain that the person requesting the information is an official.
These documentation checks, and residence and vehicle searches, are common.
Security personnel maintain checkpoints on major roads.

Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance.
Hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.
Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest, such as government buildings, may result in problems with authorities.
Visitors should ask whether buildings may be photographed.

Supporters of extremist groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Al-Qaeda, and the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement remain active in Central Asia.
These groups have expressed anti-U.S. sentiments and may attempt to target U.S. Government or private interests in the region, including in Turkmenistan.
Terrorists do not distinguish between official and civilian targets.
Because of increased security at official U.S. facilities, terrorists are seeking softer civilian targets such as residential areas, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, hotels, schools, outdoor recreation events, resorts, beaches, maritime facilities, and commercial aircraft.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the 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 A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
Although the government's official policy is to report that there is no violent crime, there are incidents of assault, rape, and murder sometimes directed at foreigners.
Prostitution, heroin use, and economic conditions are all factors contributing to the incidence of violent crimes.
Petty theft is common in crowded public places such as the local bazaars.
Visitors should take appropriate measures to safeguard their passports and valuables in such areas.
Also, visitors should not leave their valuables in plain view within a parked vehicle.
Several recent cases suggest that there has been an increase in theft from parked vehicles.

Foreign visitors, including American citizens, present an attractive target for criminals.
Travelers should exercise the same common sense, good judgment, and caution as they would in any major U.S. city.
For instance, one should avoid carrying large sums of money in public.
Travelers should avoid walking alone after dark, and women specifically should avoid being alone in isolated areas.
Most taxis are not regulated by any government licensing agency and drivers are usually private citizens looking to make money.
The majority of cars will not have seat belts or other safety devices, and drivers may not have had any formal driver training.
For safety reasons, visitors should strongly consider hiring a private car and driver through their travel agency or hotel.
There is one government-owned and regulated taxi company, operating in Ashgabat, which charges a flat fee of 45,000 Old Turkmen Manat/9 Denominated Turkmen Manat (about $3.25 at the February 2009 exchange rate) for a one-way trip within Ashgabat city limits.
Its telephone number is: (993 12) 32-97-75.
If using local unregulated taxis, passengers should always negotiate fares with taxi drivers in advance, and extreme caution should be used when using taxis after dark, especially when there are other passengers in the vehicle.

Prostitution is illegal, and prostitutes have been known to accompany men to their residences or hotel rooms in order to steal from them, sometimes with the help of an accomplice.
The authorities will generally consider any woman leaving a discotheque with a foreign man late at night to be a prostitute, and on that basis, the foreigner may be detained.
In recent years, at least one foreigner was kept in jail for fifteen days on charges of soliciting prostitution.
Travelers should be aware that U.S. law provides for criminal prosecution in U.S. federal courts of American citizens who have solicited a prostitute under the age of 18 while traveling abroad.

Police can ask anyone to present identity papers at any time, but authorities are especially aggressive late at night.
Even if valid papers are presented, the police may ask for a bribe.
For this reason, those going from place to place late at night should consider using a trusted driver.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing these products back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. More information on this serious problem is available from the U.S. Department of Justice, Computer Crime & Intellectual Property Section.

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, help you 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.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Turkmenistan is 03.
Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Turkmenistan’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Turkmenistan 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 our information on Criminal Penalties.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Turkmenistan has a cash-only economy.
However, several new hotels accept credit cards.
Vnesheconombank and the National Bank of Pakistan cash traveler’s checks and personal checks for a fee, although cashing a personal check is a lengthy process that could require up to two months.
Vnesheconombank also accepts Visa for cash advances, for a fee.

Although the manat is the official currency, U.S. dollars are widely accepted and are required as payment for certain goods and services.
Travelers may wish to bring sufficient U.S. currency to exchange into manat to cover expenses not payable in U.S. Dollars.
Old U.S. dollar bills (issued before 1990) and/or those in poor condition (with tears, writing or stamps) are not acceptable forms of currency in Turkmenistan.
Banks frequently do not have small bills for change.
In 2008, the government of Turkmenistan unified its dual currency exchange rate by bringing the commercial and governmental exchange rates together.
This change occurred incrementally, contributing to wild currency speculation by average citizens, many of whom keep their savings in U.S. dollars in their homes, rather than in bank accounts.
As a result, the banks, at times, have imposed limits on the amount of currency that could be exchanged by an individual on a particular day.
Travelers should check with their travel agencies to discuss options for currency exchange if a limitation should happen during their visit to Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Turkmenistan of items such as carpets, jewelry, musical instruments, pieces of art, archaeological artifacts, antiques, protected animals, etc.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Turkmenistan in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Travelers who wish to take carpets out of Turkmenistan must obtain a certificate from the Carpet Museum in central Ashgabat indicating that the carpet is not of historical value.
Some private shops may have carpets for sale for which they have already obtained certificates; buyers should be sure to ask about customs certificates before purchasing any carpet.
In addition, buyers may have to pay a tax calculated according to the size of the carpet.
Travelers who have purchased other items that could be perceived to be of historical value, such as jewelry, have also reported difficulties in taking these items out of Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan's indigenous dog, the Alabay, is considered a national treasure and is banned for export without prior permission.
American citizens should also check to ensure that any item they intend to bring into the United States is permitted by U.S. customs regulations.

U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports and visas with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship, are readily available.

Travelers to Turkmenistan should be aware that there are several types of poisonous snakes and insects indigenous to the country. Even in cities, it is common to encounter cobras and scorpions, especially in areas covered with tall grass.
Travelers are advised to be alert to these dangers to avoid being bitten or stung. Please see our Customs Information sheet.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in Turkmenistan is limited and well below North American and Western European standards.
All visitors are strongly advised to purchase medical evacuation insurance to cover costs associated with transporting them to adequate medical facilities in the event of serious illness or injury.
Such travel can be expensive if undertaken under emergency conditions, and absent this insurance, medical evacuation travel may be logistically impossible on an emergency basis.
Travelers with medical conditions should consult their regular physician to determine whether travel to Turkmenistan is advisable in light of the level of available health care.
Resident American citizens travel to Western Europe or North America for treatment of any serious medical condition.
The U.S. Embassy maintains a list of public hospitals and English-speaking physicians in the country, however the standard of care at these hospitals cannot be considered comparable to Western standards.
Basic medical supplies, including disposable needles, anesthetics, and antibiotics are often in short supply.
Two private clinics have foreign medical practitioners (generally Turkish) who may be available for consultations and treatment; these clinics, however, have refused in some cases to admit patients with serious conditions, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay for treatment.
Even at these hospitals, the standard of care is low compared to Western standards.
Travelers requiring prescription medications should bring sufficient supplies of all necessary medications and appropriate documentation to ensure no problems with customs officials upon arrival.

Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to and foreign residents of Turkmenistan.
Currently, HIV tests are not required for applicants requesting tourist visas; however, should an individual be discovered to be HIV positive, that status would be grounds for denial of a visa or deportation.
All individuals requesting residence visas are required to submit to an HIV test.
Please verify this information with the Embassy of Turkmenistan before you travel.
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.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site.
Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Turkmenistan is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Road conditions in Turkmenistan make driving difficult and sometimes dangerous.
Most roads outside of major cities are narrow, riddled with potholes, unlit at night, and without proper road signs.
Driving at night on these roads should be avoided.
City roads are better in comparison to rural routes but may be hazardous due to potholes, uncovered manholes, poor lighting, and heavy pedestrian traffic.
Pedestrians frequently cross against traffic and create dangerous conditions.
Traffic accidents involving serious injury to drivers, passengers, and pedestrians are common.

In general, visitors should use caution when driving in Turkmenistan.
Drivers pay little attention to lanes and other road markings, with weaving and sudden lane changes a common occurrence (usually without use of a turn signal).
Drivers will often encounter cars going the wrong way on one-way streets or divided highways.
Cars also frequently make left-turns from the right lane and vice-versa.
Pedestrians regularly walk or stand in the middle of busy streets during the day and night, often without paying attention to oncoming traffic.

Roadside assistance does not exist in Turkmenistan, where vast stretches of highway are often unmarked.
Police checkpoints (where cars are required to stop and register) are a common feature on major routes between cities.
The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat has received reports that police stationed at checkpoints may arbitrarily fine motorists.
Local law requires that traffic fines be paid within 12 hours.
If a fine is not paid within that period, the amount may double every 12 hours up to 72 hours, after which time the vehicle in question may be seized.

Travelers who wish to drive in Turkmenistan must have a valid international driving permit.
Foreigners who plan to reside in Turkmenistan must apply for a local driver's license with the Road Police Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Turkmenistan.
American citizens who want more specific information about driving in Turkmenistan should contact the Embassy of Turkmenistan at 2207 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington DC
20008, telephone (202) 588-1500.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
For specific information concerning Turkmenistan driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Turkmenistan National Tourist Organization offices at its Permanent Mission in New York.
The address is: 136 East 67th Street, NY, NY 10021.
The phone number is 1-212-472-5921.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Turkmenistan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Turkmenistan’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.

Travelers may experience significant delays, unexpected re-routing, and sudden cancellations of flights, including those of Turkmenistan Airlines (Turkmenhowayollary), the national airline.
Travelers have reported difficulties securing reservations and purchasing tickets from Turkmenistan Airlines on both domestic and international flights, which are routinely overbooked.

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Turkmenistan are encouraged to register with the 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 Turkmenistan.
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 9 1984 (Pushkin Street), off Magtymguly Street, tel. (993-12) 35-00-45; fax (993-12) 39-26-14.
The Consular Section can also be contacted by e-mail.
The Consular Section is open for American Citizens services every Monday through Friday afternoon, excepting holidays.
American Citizens are requested to call for an appointment for services except in cases of emergency.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Turkmenistan dated September 2, 2008 without substantive changes.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 9 Sep 2016 19:53:02 +0200

Avaza, Turkmenistan, Sept 9, 2016 (AFP) - Turkmenistan strongman President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov on Friday opened a giant five-star hotel worth over $100 million, shaped like a cruise ship, at the country's main Caspian Sea resort.   The 13-floor, 350-room hotel is the biggest in Turkmenistan's Avaza tourist zone, which the government is trying to promote despite an incredibly restrictive visa regime for foreigners.

"The purpose of this resort is to create the best conditions for interesting recreation time for the Turkmen people," Berdymukhamedov said of Avaza, adding that the hotel was called "Gami", or "Boat" to symbolise "the boat of our friendship."    "And since we are on a boat, we will be having nautical pasta -- a cheap Soviet pasta dish with minced pork and beef -- for lunch," he joked, before the dish was served to officials, diplomats and journalists at the ceremonial lunch.   The Central Asian country's leader, 59, also quoted a nautically-themed poem by Russian wordsmith Mikhail Lermontov.   The 90-metre by 200 metre (300 by 650 feet) white marble-clad hotel was built to echo a "snow-white ocean ship" a representative of the state company that ordered it built, told AFP.

A giant portrait of Berdymukhamedov spanned three floors of the building as dancers performed in front of it.   The hotel was built by the Turkish construction and logistics firm Ekol.   Hydrocarbon-rich Turkmenistan's secretive government has a reputation for lavish spending on frivolous architectural projects, even in times of economic crisis.   The country devalued its manat currency by around twenty percent in early 2015 under pressure from low prices for hydrocarbons, which account for practically all of the country's exports.

On the black market the currency's value can fetch up to 6 manats to the dollar against an official rate of 3.5 to the dollar, down from 2.8 to the dollar in 2014.    Despite Berdymukhamedov officially encouraging belt-tightening, the country has continued to spend heavily on infrastructure ahead of the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games it will host in the capital Ashgabat.

In 2013 Ashgabat earned a Guinness World Record as the city with the highest density of white marble-clad buildings.    "If the marble was laid out flat, there would be one square metre of marble for every 4.87 m³ of land," Guinness said at the time.   The city also hosts a golden statue of Berdymukhamedov and a similar statue of predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov, which once rotated with the movements of the sun.
Date: Wed, 6 Apr 2016 16:21:20 +0200

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, April 6, 2016 (AFP) - Turkmenistan has passed a law making HIV tests mandatory prior to marriage, state media reported on Wednesday, in a sign the reclusive Central Asian state fears the spread of a disease it has always downplayed.    The law is the closest the highly secretive state of 5 million has come to acknowledging a public health threat from the disease which is prevalent throughout the former Soviet Union.

The law, which aims to "create conditions for healthy families and prevent the birth of HIV-infected children" was published in the state newspaper on Wednesday and is effective immediately.    An official from the country's national AIDS Center, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that the new law was "very necessary" given the "high risk" of the spread of the virus.   The official cited use of intravenous drugs, mostly sourced from neighbouring Afghanistan, and prostitution as the main means of transmission.

Other than "persons entering marriage", the legislation also enforces HIV tests for blood donors, "persons suspected of narcotics use", prisoners, citizens of foreign countries applying for work visas and stateless persons.    According to the law signed by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the government will guarantee anonymity and free treatment for sufferers of the disease.

Turkmenistan, which remains largely closed to the outside world, has always downplayed the prevalence of HIV, a disease that attacks the human immune system and is transmitted from person to person via bodily fluids.   In 2002, the health ministry, which does not publish data on infectious diseases, claimed the country had only two cases of HIV and that both patients had been infected outside Turkmenistan.
Date: Tue, 21 Jul 2015 17:03:00 +0200 (METDST)

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, July 21, 2015 (AFP) - Health-obsessed former Soviet Turkmenistan is the country with the world's lowest proportion of smokers, World Health Organisation chief Margaret Chan said during a visit to the isolated nation on Tuesday.    Chan said that  just 8 percent of the population smoked, according to WHO figures.   "Recently a WHO overview showed that in Turkmenistan only 8 percent of the population smokes," Chan told the country's authoritarian President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who is a dentist by training.   "This is the lowest national indicator in the world. I congratulate you on this achievement," she said at a health forum in the capital Ashgabat.

Cited by state media, Chan noted that the country ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2011 by which time it had already banned smoking in public places.   Also speaking at the forum, Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, Head of the Convention Secretariat, challenged the Central Asian state to drive smoking down to five per cent of the population in the coming years.   In 1990, 27 percent of Turkmen males over 15 and 1 percent of females smoked.

A decade later Turkmenistan banned smoking in public places, state buildings and the army, as well as all forms of tobacco advertising.   By comparison, 31.1 percent of the global male population over the age of 15 smoked in 2012, while 6.2 percent of females were smokers.   President Berdymukhamedov, in power since the death of eccentric predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006, is a keen equestrian, while Niyazov campaigned against smoking and built a 36-kilometre "path of health" into the mountains surrounding Ashgabat which government officials were forced to walk.   This April the gas-rich country of more than five million held a month of public exercises and sporting events under the slogan "health and happiness."
Date: Wed, 1 Jul 2015 17:54:35 +0200 (METDST)

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, July 1, 2015 (AFP) - Turkmenistan reported its hottest June on record Wednesday, as a heat wave envelops former Soviet Central Asia.   "June 2015 was the hottest June since 1891 when records began. Daytime temperatures exceeded 40 degrees Celsius in the shade 16 times," a spokeswoman at Turkmenistan's state meteorological service in the capital Ashgabat told AFP Wednesday.   She noted that Tuesday, when temperatures reached 47.2 degrees Celsius, was the hottest June day in Ashgabat in the recorded history of the energy-rich country.   Many Muslims fasting for the Ramadan holy month in the secluded Caspian state have taken time off work and are shutting themselves away in air conditioned rooms, one observant Muslim who did not wish to be named told AFP.

In Kazakhstan temperatures, while set to vary in the coming week, remain very high in the southern regions of the country.   "In the afternoon the streets are empty," said Shafarat Sataeva, 72, from the southern region of Kyzylorda, where temperatures reached 42 degrees Celsius in the shade on Wednesday, the highest anywhere in the country.   In Tajikistan over 50 people including three Russian soldiers stationed at Russia's military base in the country drowned in mountain rivers and lakes as they sought to cool themselves.   The country's meteorological service said temperatures are expected to pass 40 degrees Celsius in the capital Dushanbe and warned of mudflows from high levels of glacial melt in the mountainous country.
Date: Tue, 15 Jul 2014 05:22:34 +0200 (METDST)
by Igor Sasin

AVAZA, Turkmenistan, July 15, 2014 (AFP) - Better known for its inhospitable desert plains than beach breaks, isolated ex-Soviet Turkmenistan this month welcomed an unlikely group of visitors: a sun-tanned crop of the world's top windsurfers.   Bordering Iran and Afghanistan, the energy-rich Central Asian country played host to a leg of the windsurfing World Cup at a sparkling new Caspian Sea resort that authorities hope can turn the once hermit state into a water sports hub.

International competitors bobbed and weaved through the foaming surf as their sails glistened in the sweltering heat -- an unfamiliar sight in a nation that until 2006 was cut off from the rest of the world by the eccentric two-decade rule of former dictator Saparmurat Niyazov.   "This is such a chance for me!" said a joyous Orazmyrat Arnamammedov, one of only a handful of windsurfers in Turkmenistan.   "It's happiness for me to take part in a competition with sportsmen who are known around the world," the 32-year-old sports instructor told AFP.

Turkmenistan is on a drive to promote itself as a destination for sports, adventure travel and even beach holidays in a bid to boost tourist numbers from the current 15,000 visitors per year.   "Holding world-class windsurfing competitions will be a significant step, taking Turkmenistan to a new level," President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said at the opening of the Turkmenistan PWA World Cup windsurfing event.

Turkmen officials said holding sporting championships is part of the government's plan to develop tourism.   Next year the country will host the world championship in belt wrestling -- a traditional form of the sport -- in November and the 2017 5th Asian Indoor-Martial Arts Games.   "Sports and travel are the new trend for international tourism in Turkmenistan," said an official in the state tourism committee who asked not to be named.

- Resort rising from desert -
The sprawling Caspian Sea town of Avaza, which hosted the windsurfing competition from its 16 kilometres of beach, is a key part of that plan.    By 2020 Ashgabat hopes to transform the desert resort, whose name means "singing wave" in Turkmen, into a vast complex that can compete with Turkey's huge southwestern sea resort of Antalya.   "Avaza has every chance of becoming a major attraction for tourists, both from neighbouring countries and also from overseas," Berdymukhamedov said recently.   "In this part of the Caspian, the water is exceptionally clean and there are good beaches and a mild climate."   Since work started in 2007, six hotels and other accommodation for some 7,000 visitors has been built by mainly Turkish firms at a cost of around $2 billion (1.5 billion euros). 

But the resort -- where US pop star Jennifer Lopez was jetted in to perform last summer -- is set to grow into a vast complex with at least 60 hotels, as well as sanatoriums, rest homes, cottages and camp sites, that the the state tourism committee boasts will be "up to world standards".   An artificial river runs through the town and a new airport has been opened in the nearby city of Turkmenbashi.    A winter sports stadium with an ice rink and a 2,000 seat Palace of Congress are also in the pipeline, with the total price tag for the development expected to hit $7 billion.

- 'Why go to Avaza?' -
But some locals are not convinced that the Turkmen resort can bring in the crowds.   A week's package holiday for international visitors costs around $1,500, said Mukhamet Begliyev, who works at a private travel agency.   "Even if someone rich enough turns up, what do we have to offer except the sea and the hotels? The entertainment sphere isn't developed at Avaza at the moment," Begliyev said.   The "international" airport in Turkmenbashi so far only accepts domestic flights and getting a visa to the country is still a major hurdle.

For the moment that means the resort is largely attracting domestic holidaymakers, although Turkmenistan's low wages mean it is beyond the means of many.    For 28-year-old Gozel Akhundova from Dashoguz, a city in the country's north, even a brief stay in an Avaza hotel at $70 a night was an expensive treat.   "We'll only spend three days here. If it was cheaper, we'd stay longer," she said.   And the fledgling resort still has a long way to go to compete with more established holiday spots.     "Why should I go to Avaza, when there is Antalya?" asked Akhmet, a 22-year-old student in Ashgabat who said he planned to holiday in Turkey this summer.   "The service is good, there's plenty of fun activities and it's cheap," he said.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Sun 3 Nov 2019
Source: Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) [edited]

Highlights
- In the reporting week 44 (28 Oct - 3 Nov 2019), 11 new confirmed** cases were reported from Ondo (6) and Edo (5) states with one new death from Edo state.
- From 1 Jan - 3 Nov 2019, a total of 4396 suspected* cases have been reported from 23 states. Of these, 754 were confirmed positive, 19 were probable, and 3623 were negative (not a case).
- Since the onset of the 2019 outbreak, there have been 158 deaths in confirmed cases. Case-fatality ratio in confirmed cases is 21%.
- A total of 23 states (Edo, Ondo, Bauchi, Nasarawa, Ebonyi, Plateau, Taraba, Adamawa, Gombe, Kaduna, Kwara, Benue, Rivers, Kogi, Enugu, Imo, Delta, Oyo, Kebbi, Cross River, Zamfara, Lagos, and Abia) have recorded at least one confirmed case across 86 local government areas [LGAs] - Figure 1.
- 93% of all confirmed cases are from Edo (38%), Ondo (31%), Ebonyi (7%), Bauchi (7%), Taraba (5%), and Plateau (5%) states - Figure 1.
- Predominant age group affected is 21-40 years (range: greater than one month to 98 years; median age: 34 years) - Figure 6.
- The male-to-female ratio for confirmed cases is 1:1 - Figure 6.
- In the reporting week 44, no new healthcare worker was affected. A total of 19 healthcare workers have been infected since the onset of the outbreak in 10 states: Edo (6), Ondo (4), Ebonyi (2), Enugu (1), Rivers (1), Bauchi (1), Benue (1), Delta (1), Plateau (1) and Kebbi (1) with 2 deaths in Enugu and Edo states.
- Nine patients are currently being managed at various treatment centres across the country: Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital (ISTH) treatment Centre (7) and Federal Medical Centre, Owo (2).
- A total of 8400 contacts have been identified from 21 states. Of these, 356 (4.2%) are currently being followed up, 7967 (94.8%) have completed 21 days follow-up, while 12 (0.1%) were lost to follow-up. A total of 132 symptomatic contacts have been identified, of which 65 (49.2%) have tested positive.
- National Lassa fever multi-partner, multi-sectoral Technical Working Group (TWG) continues to coordinate response activities at all levels.

Figures [available at the source URL above]
-------------------------------------------
Figure 1 [map]. Randomised distribution of confirmed Lassa fever cases in Nigeria as at 3 Nov 2019.
Figure 2 [map]. LGAs with confirmed Lassa fever cases in Nigeria as at 3 Nov 2019.
Figure 3 [graph]. Epicurve of Lassa fever confirmed cases (754) in Nigeria - week 01-44, 2019.
Figure 4 [graph]. November 2019. Weekly trends of Lassa fever confirmed cases in Nigeria, 2016/week 01-2019/week 44.
Figure 5 [graph]. Confirmed Lassa fever cases in Nigeria with state-specific case-fatality rates (CFR) as at 3 Nov 2019.
Figure 6 [graph]. Age-sex distribution of confirmed Lassa fever cases in Nigeria as at 3 Nov 2019.

*Suspected case describes any individual presenting with one or more of the following: malaise, fever, headache, sore throat, cough, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, myalgia, chest pain, hearing loss, and either (a) history of contact with excreta or urine of rodents or (b) history of contact with a probably or confirmed Lassa fever case within a period of 21 days of onset of symptoms, or any person with inexplicable bleeding/hemorrhagia.
**Any suspected case with laboratory confirmation (positive IgM antibody, PCR, or virus isolation)
==================
[The 11 new confirmed and 4396 suspected cases indicate that Lassa fever (LF) virus transmission is continuing. Nigeria should be in the period of the year when fewer cases usually occur, as illustrated in the graph in Figure 3 (at the source URL above), but more cases are still occurring. There has been a peak in case numbers between weeks 1 and 11 (January-March) over the past 3 years and probably will be the case again next year (2020).

The number of confirmed deaths has increased by 2 to 158. Fortunately, there are no new healthcare workers infected during this reporting period, and the total number of infected healthcare workers remains at 19, a likely indication that effective barrier nursing and the use of personal protective equipment are being employed. This outbreak remains widespread so far in 2019, with confirmed cases occurring in 23 states, and the number of affected LGAs remains at 86. ProMED-mail readers may wish to see the maps and graphs (Figures 1-6) that are available at the source URL above.

Transmission of LF virus occurs when individuals are in contact with rodent reservoir host excreta or are within healthcare facilities. It would be interesting to know whether the prevalence of Lassa fever virus has been increasing in populations of rodent hosts in areas where human cases are occurring.

Images of the rodent reservoirs of Lassa fever virus:
_Mastomys natalensis_:
_Mastomys erythroleucus_ and _Hylomyscus pamfi_:

There is no mention in the plans above of public education for avoidance of contact with these rodents and their excreta. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Maps of Nigeria:
Date: Thu 14 Nov 2019
From: Larry Lutwick <lutwick.larry@mayo.edu> [edited]

Over the past 5 days, our health care facility in northwest Wisconsin, USA, has seen 3 women hospitalized with _E coli_ O157 infection. All presented with significant abdominal pain without fever and watery diarrhoea which in 2 progressed to bloody diarrhoea. None of the 3 have manifested any evidence of haemolytic-uremic syndrome. Both of the women seen by the Infectious Diseases service stated that their diet contains a lot of salads.

We would appreciate any reports of upswings in the number of cases of this process in the upper Midwest USA or elsewhere.
--------------------------------------------
Larry Lutwick MD
Eau Claire, Wisconsin
=========================
[Although the classical source of enterohemorrhagic _E. coli_ infections is ground beef, fresh produce as in salad ingredients are also well represented as vehicles of transmission. ProMED would appreciate any further reports as the country health departments work on this as yet small outbreak. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Wisconsin, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/250>]
Date: Tue 12 Nov 2019
Source: Daily Times [edited]

[_Naegleria fowleri_] has claimed another life in Karachi on [Mon 11 Nov 2019]. This was the 16th death reported in the ongoing year [2019] because of the disease. According to details, a 28-year-old resident of New Karachi area was brought to a private clinic 4 days ago where he died of the disease during treatment.

According to the researchers, _Naegleria_ has a fatality rate of more than 98%. Infections can happen when contaminated water enters the body through the nose. It cannot be passed person-to-person.

The amoeba travels from the nasal membranes to the brain. Symptoms are initially very mild, including a headache, stiff neck, fever, and stomach pain. Death usually occurs 5 to 7 days after infection.

_N. fowleri_ is a microscopic amoeba, which is a single-celled living organism. It can cause a rare and devastating infection of the brain called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). The amoeba is commonly found in warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers, ponds, and canals.

Once the amoeba enters the nose, it travels to the brain where it causes PAM (which destroys brain tissue) and is usually fatal. Infections usually occur when it is hot for prolonged periods of time, which results in higher water temperatures and lower water levels.
====================
[Even though the weather has cooled considerably in northern parts of the country, Sindh province, which includes Karachi, continues to experience hot and humid climate which is conducive to the proliferation of the Naegleria parasite.

A public awareness message from the Government of Sindh Health Department can be seen at

Optimum chlorination is the key measure to prevent _Naegleria fowleri_ infection. In the absence of chlorination of the supply water in the city, residents need to clean water tanks and chlorinate water in the tanks. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Tue 12 Nov 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

Moncton is a city of some 85,000 people in south-eastern New Brunswick, Canada. In a CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) report today [12 Nov 2019], it is reported that a 3rd Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) case this year [2019] -- all 3 cases had cataract surgery at the Moncton Hospital.  In April [2019], Moncton Hospital reported the identification 2 separate cases where a patient with probable Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) had cataract surgery in the facility.

Dr Gordon Dow, division head of infectious diseases at the Moncton Hospital, said even he was shocked when another case of CJD was discovered.  "I think even though there's the overwhelming weight of evidence suggesting that we've had a cluster of sporadic cases, there is no need for public alarm," Dow said. "This is not an indication that there's been an outbreak of CJD."

Prion diseases are rare, fatal, degenerative brain disorders that are thought to occur worldwide in both humans and animals. They belong to the general category of brain diseases called proteinopathies, which also includes Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Although there are several forms of human prion disease, the most common is Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD).  Since January 1998, Canada has reported 1037 definitive and probable CJD cases and New Brunswick has seen 31 cases during this period.
Date: Mon 11 Nov 2019
Source: Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)

Mexico has become the 1st country in the world to receive validation from the World Health Organization (WHO) for eliminating dog-transmitted rabies as a public health problem. "Eliminating [dog-transmitted] rabies doesn't happen by accident," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. "It takes political resolve, careful planning, and meticulous execution. I congratulate the Government of Mexico on this wonderful achievement and hope many other countries will follow its example."

Rabies causes 60,000 deaths each year, mainly in Asia and Africa. In Latin America and the Caribbean, new cases of rabies were reduced by more than 95 percent in humans and 98 percent in dogs since 1983.

"By eliminating human rabies transmitted by dogs, Mexico is showing the world that ending infectious diseases for the next generation is possible and is the right way forward," said PAHO Director, Carissa F Etienne.

Mexico's achievement
--------------------
In order to achieve elimination, the country has implemented a national strategy for the control and elimination of rabies. This includes free, mass vaccination campaigns for dogs, that have taken place since the 1990's with more than 80 percent coverage; continuous and effective surveillance; public awareness-raising campaigns; timely diagnosis; and the availability of post-exposure prophylaxis in the country's public health services.

As a result, the country went from registering 60 cases of human rabies transmitted by dogs in 1990, to 3 cases in 1999, and zero cases in 2006. The last 2 cases occurred in 2 people from the State of Mexico, who were attacked in 2005 and presented symptoms in 2006.

The validation process
----------------------
WHO considers a country to be free of rabies after registering 2 years of zero transmission of rabies to humans. However, there was previously no process to verify the achievement of this goal, until this was developed by PAHO/WHO. Mexico became the 1st country in the world to begin this in December 2016.

The validation process was extensive and included the creation of a group of independent international experts established by PAHO/WHO. It also included the preparation, by Mexico, of an almost 300-page file containing all historical information about the situation of rabies in the country. PAHO and its specialized center in veterinary public health, PANAFTOSA, accompanied and supervised the implementation of the validation process throughout.

The group of experts carried out a mission to Mexico in September 2018 to review the file and verify the country complied with all WHO requirements. In September 2019, the group recommended the Director General of WHO and PAHO validate the elimination.

Moving forward
--------------
In order to sustain elimination, PAHO/WHO recommends continuing all rabies prevention, surveillance and control actions, particularly as rabies virus continues to circulate among wild animals such as bats.

PAHO collaborated with the countries of the Americas to eliminate rabies through technical cooperation, staff training, periodic meetings between those responsible for the issue in-country, and through the provision of recommendations on international standards. As of September 2019, there have been zero cases of rabies transmitted by dogs in humans in the Americas.

In addition to rabies, Mexico eliminated onchocerciasis in 2015 and trachoma in 2017, 3 of the more than 30 infectious diseases and related conditions that PAHO's new Communicable Disease Elimination Initiative in the Region of the Americas has set as a goal for elimination from the continent by 2030.
===================
[This is certainly an outstanding achievement and should be celebrated by all. It is also an example to other countries.  Of course, someone acquiring rabies from a bat would be outside of this situation. This WHO/PAHO validation specifically refers to rabies acquired from dog bites. This is a great milestone. Congratulations Mexico! - ProMED Mod.TG]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Mexico:
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.