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United States of America

FCO - UK information on the United States
Updated: 25 July 2002

SUMMARY
Most visits to the United States are trouble-free. However, visitors should continue to be vigilant about their personal security.

SAFETY AND SECURITY<
R />Travellers to the United States should use common sense and take basic precautions.

If staying in a hotel, do not leave your door open at any time.

Do not wear ostentatious jewellery and avoid walking in obviously run down areas.
If arriving at night, take a taxi to your hotel and collect your hire car the next day.
If departing on an evening flight avoid leaving luggage and souvenirs in view in your hire car during the day. Thieves are targeting these vehicles and stealing the contents.
Drive on main highways and use well-lit car parks.

Do not stop if your car is bumped from behind. Instead, indicate to the other driver to follow you to the nearest public area and call for police assistance.
Do not sleep in your car on the roadside or in rest areas.
LOCAL LAWS AND CUSTOMS
Travellers wishing to visit Canada during their stay should contact the Canadian Consulate and US Immigration and Naturalisation Service for entry clearance requirements. If travellers have 90 day visa waiver for US, they should not wait until the end of their stay to travel between US and Canada. Travellers must not overstay past expiration date of their visa as they may risk being denied entry in either country or be deported. Travellers need to carry passports, round trip airline tickets showing their confirmed departure for return from US or Canada to country of origin, and they may need to show proof of sufficient funds to cover their stay.

Travellers should be aware that the age of consent varies from state to state in the US, as does the age at which someone may legally buy and consume alcohol.
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS
Foot and Mouth Disease:
Travellers are prohibited from carrying into the US any agricultural products, particularly animal products – including dairy products – that could spread FMD. (Some hard cheeses and canned meats are permitted. If you are in any doubt, you must check with a US customs or US Department of Agriculture (USDA) official immediately on arrival in the airport terminal). Passengers are required to tick the appropriate box on the US Customs declaration form if they have recently visited a zoo, or been on a farm or in contact with livestock. Passengers are specifically required to identify any farm contacts to US Customs and USDA officials. All luggage is subject to inspection. Penalties for not declaring farm visits or prohibited items can run to $1,000.

All US ports of entry and airports are on heightened alert to ensure that passengers, luggage and cargo are checked as appropriate. This includes placing additional inspectors and dog teams at airports to check incoming flights and passengers.

USDA are saying that soiled shoes, clothing or luggage will be disinfected on arrival. Food products and any other items suspected of potentially carrying the FMD virus will be confiscated and destroyed.
HEALTH
Medical treatment can be very expensive; there are no special arrangements for British visitors. The British Embassy and Consulates-General cannot assist with medical expenses.

Travellers who are HIV-positive
Travellers to the United States who are HIV-positive are not eligible, under current United States visa law, to travel visa free under the Visa Waiver Programme. They are required to apply for a visa and a waiver of the ineligibility before travelling. US immigration authorities state applicants’ details will remain confidential and an applicant’s HIV status will not/not be declared on their passport. For more details contact the US Embassy in London.
GENERAL
Comprehensive travel and medical insurance is essential.
NATURAL DISASTERS
Visitors to the United States will be aware of reports of large-scale wild and forest fires throughout the country. Those travelling to affected areas should be particularly vigilant and pay attention to advice from local authorities and press and radio announcements about personal safety and how to avoid starting fires. Further information can be obtained from the National Interagency Fire Centre, 3833 S. Development Avenue, Boise, Idaho, 83705-5354; tel: +1 208 387 5512; Website: www.nifc.gov

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon 13 May 2019 11:59 AM
Source: KOB4 [edited]

Officials with the New Mexico Department of Health have announced that a 2nd person has died in association with the recent hepatitis A outbreak. The department has confirmed 103 cases of hepatitis A in adults ages 19 to 64 in Bernalillo county since October 2018 in addition to 1 confirmed case in Santa Fe county.

Officials say the virus primarily impacts people who use injection and non-injection drugs as well as people experiencing homelessness.

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease. It can be mild, lasting a few weeks to a severe illness spanning many months. It is contracted when a person ingest faecal matter from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated with faeces of an infected person. "Vaccinating people a risk of exposure is the most effective tool we have to prevent the spread of hepatitis A infection during an outbreak," said New Mexico Department of Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel.  [Byline: Marian Camacho]
=====================
[Kentucky still leads the pack of increasing numbers of states with outbreaks of hepatitis A (<https://chfs.ky.gov/agencies/dph/dehp/idb/Pages/hepAoutbreak.aspx>) with, as of 27 Apr 2019, 4594 cases and 53 deaths.

As the numbers of cases continue to rise in a number of states, and news of smaller (so far) outbreaks occur in others, the question at the end of ProMED post http://promedmail.org/post/20190104.6241686 by a Kentucky official, "This is a disease of developing countries. One has to ask: Why are we seeing it in the USA?" is more and more relevant. We are seeing these outbreaks because of the inability to deal with marginalized populations among their midst. The dramatic cutbacks in public health infrastructure in some of these states clearly feed the fire of these outbreaks. They must be addressed by bolstering public health resources and education and directly addressing the needs of these marginalized populations. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of New Mexico, United States:
Date: Mon 13 May 2019 4:49 PM EDT
Source: The State [edited]

What began as a spike in reported hepatitis A cases in Aiken county has now spread to other parts of South Carolina, prompting state public health officials [Mon 13 May 2019] to declare a state-wide outbreak. Since 1 Nov 2019, the state has recorded 86 reported cases of the contagious disease, more than 4 times what state officials normally expect to see, a state health official said Mon 13 May 2019. Most have occurred in Aiken county, and almost half of all cases involve individuals who reported drug use, said State Epidemiologist Linda Bell. Over the last 10 years, South Carolina averaged 19 reported cases of hepatitis A annually.

Bell, though, cautioned the general population need not "be overly concerned about" the surge in people across the state contracting the virus. "But we are seeing cases higher that what we expect to see," Bell said. "And so it's important for us to do our prevention efforts early to reach those high-risk groups, get them vaccinated ... so that we can prevent" a severe outbreak.

As part of its outreach, DHEC [Department of Health and Environmental Control] says it is offering no-cost vaccines to groups the agency has identified as high risk, which are drug users, homeless, formerly incarcerated and sexually active gay men, according to DHEC. Additionally, health officials recommend all children get 2 doses of the vaccine as part of their immunization schedule.

The surge in hepatitis A cases state-wide coincides with a national outbreak that began in 2016. But the outbreak is worse in other states, Bell said. "Many of those states are seeing hundreds to, some states, thousands of cases of hepatitis A."

Of the 86 reported cases in South Carolina, 59 have led to hospitalization and one resulted in death, according to the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control.

State public health officials in February 2019 declared an outbreak in Aiken county after an employee at a second restaurant in Aiken tested positive for the virus, according to DHEC. Bell, though, stressed transmission by food or beverage is uncommon. "Most transmission in the United States is through person-to-person contact," Bell said. "Good hygiene -- diligently washing your hands -- is a good way to prevent hepatitis A, as well as not sharing personal items," including drug equipment, she said, adding the state has received reports of hepatitis A from people using various drugs, "everything from marijuana to meth."  [Byline: Tom Barton]
=======================
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of South Carolina, United States:
Date: Mon 13 May 2019 5:53 PM EDT
Source: South Florida Sun Sentinel [edited]

Despite giving out more than 6900 free hepatitis A vaccines last week [week of 6 May 20190], Florida saw its biggest weekly increase in new cases of the contagious liver disease. The Florida Department of Health reported an additional 92 hepatitis A cases during the week ending 11 May 2019, bringing the total since the beginning of 2019 to 1129 people. The 92 new cases -- 4 of them in South Florida -- represent the most reported in one week since the hepatitis A outbreak started in 2018.

Every county in Florida now has at least one reported case of hepatitis A. Unlike measles, which traces its spread to international travel, about 97 percent of hepatitis A cases are likely to have been acquired in Florida, according to health officials.

The contagious virus spreads through the faeces of people, primarily when they don't wash their hands after using the bathroom. The faeces can transfer to objects, food, drinks, or drugs. Sometimes, it is spread by infected restaurant workers who touch food before it is served. Drug use is the most commonly identified risk factor. Symptoms includes sudden nausea and vomiting, fatigue, loss of appetite, low grade fever, dark urine, and joint pain.

While hepatitis A typically is not considered fatal, more than a thousand people in Florida have been hospitalized since 1 Jan 2018, because of their hepatitis A infection, and 18 have died, according to the Florida Department of Health. As the number of new cases climbs, health officials are stepping up efforts to vaccinate the at-risk population in Florida. Groups that are considered high-risk are people in jail, the homeless, and drug users and men who have sex with other men. In the last month alone, the Florida Department Health has vaccinated more than 5000 people a week who are uninsured or under-insured.

The virus, spread from person to person, can live on a surface and spread when someone touches that surface and puts their hand in their mouth. "The disease is very hardy," said Carina Blackmore, the Florida Department of Health's state epidemiologist. "It can survive in the environment for long periods of time." Health officials urge good hand washing but say they best protection is vaccination.  [Byline: Cindy Krischer Goodman]
====================
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Florida, United States:
Date: Tue 7 May 2019
Source: Loveland Reporter Herald [edited]

Larimer County has announced a confirmed case of rabies in a steer -- the 1st case in a mammal other than a skunk this year [2019].

The Larimer County Department of Health and Environment said rabies is most common in skunks and bats but will occasionally cross over into other species. So far this year [2019], Larimer County has the highest confirmed rabies infections in animals across the state with 26 skunks confirmed with rabies. Skunks are more likely than bats to pose risk to pets and livestock because they may have more interaction with those other animals.

Health officials remind residents to have their animals, including livestock, vaccinated by a licensed veterinarian. This can prevent the spread of the infection to other animals and to humans and can prevent lengthy and costly quarantines if livestock or a pet encounters a rabid animal.

Rabies is spread by saliva, primarily through the bite of a rabid animal, according to information from the Larimer County health department. Once symptoms [in people, or signs in animals - ProMED Mod.TG] appear, there is no cure, the health department reports.

People who have been exposed to rabies can receive medical treatment before symptoms of the infection appear, according to information from the health department.

The Larimer County Department of Health offers the following advice to protect against rabies:

- Do not feed or touch wildlife.
- Teach children to notify an adult if there is a wild animal in the area or if they are bitten or scratched.
- Eliminate food sources for wild animals. Do not feed pets outdoors, close pet doors especially at night, and tightly close garbage cans and feed bins.
- Ensure your pets, horses and livestock are up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations.

For the latest information on rabies in Larimer County, visit
<http://www.larimer.org/rabies>.  [Byline: Pamela Johnson]
Date: Wed, 8 May 2019 23:41:05 +0200

Chicago, May 8, 2019 (AFP) - Flooding caused by heavy rains on Wednesday claimed one life and led to evacuations and travel disruptions in the central United States.

From Texas to Wisconsin, flooding affected various communities along a north-south path more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometres) in length.    Evacuations were reported in Kansas and one person was killed by floodwaters in Austin, Texas.    "This is a long haul event, so be prepared for more rain and more flooding," the National Weather Service warned on Twitter.

The weather service predicted that  rainfall amounts of five to 10 inches (13 to 25 centimetres) would inundate portions of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi through the weekend.    Texas appeared home to some of the hardest-hit communities Wednesday. Severe thunderstorms struck across the state's eastern sections and hundreds of flights were cancelled at Dallas and Houston airports.

In Austin, rescuers pulled the body of an unidentified man in his 50s from a swollen waterway in the city's downtown, according to officials and media reports.    Officials said Houston, which was inundated in 2017 during Hurricane Harvey, was experiencing flooding in some areas that left motorists stranded.    Hundreds of students were also stuck at a Houston school during the night while their campus was surrounded by floodwaters.

More heavy rain was expected there over the next few days.    Rising waters were also battering parts of the Midwest that had already experienced recording-breaking floods this spring.    Much of Nebraska and parts of Iowa were hardest hit in the earlier floods, which killed at least three people and caused losses estimated at more than $1 billion.   Tornados struck rural areas of Oklahoma during the latest weather disturbances.

In Kansas, the city of Wellington experienced severe flooding that damaged homes and vehicles, according to television station KAKE. Officials ordered evacuations in some areas of the state.    "Lots of additional rain is expected in the next few days. Flash flooding is a very real threat," the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency said.    Forecasters even predicted spring snow in the northern-most reaches of the central US.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 21 May 2019 12:37:30 +0200

Khartoum, May 21, 2019 (AFP) - Sudanese protest leaders called on their supporters Tuesday to prepare for a general strike after talks with the country's military rulers stalled on who will lead an agreed three-year transition.   Protest leaders had reached agreement with the ruling military council on the other main aspects of the transition.   But early on Tuesday, the generals who overthrew veteran president Omar al-Bashir last month baulked at protesters' demands for a civilian head and a civilian majority for an agreed new sovereign council to lead the transition.

"In order to achieve a full victory, we are calling for a huge participation in a general political strike," said the Sudanese Professionals Association, which took the lead in organising the four months of nationwide protests that led to Bashir's ouster.   "The strike is our revolutionary duty and the participation in the sit-in ... is a crucial guarantee to achieve the goals of the revolution."

Protest leader Madani Abbas Madani told AFP the preparations for a "general political strike and civil disobedience" were already under way.   "Whenever we will decide on applying these plans, we will make an announcement," said Madani, a prominent leader of protest umbrella group the Alliance for Freedom and Change.   The two sides launched what had been billed as a final round of talks on the transition late on Sunday.

The military council has faced pressure from Western government and the African Union to agree to a civilian-led transition -- the central demand of the thousands of demonstrators who have spent weeks camped outside army headquarters in Khartoum.   When talks broke up early on Tuesday, neither side said when they would resume.

Protest leader Siddiq Yousef told reporters they had been suspended.   "The main point of dispute that remains is concerning the share of representatives of the military and the civilians in the council and who will be the head of the new body," the two sides said in a joint statement.   The military council has been pushing for its chairman General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan to head the new sovereign council but protest leaders want a civilian.
Date: Tue, 21 May 2019 05:22:30 +0200
By John WESSELS with Samir TOUNSI in Kinshasa

Butembo, DR Congo, May 21, 2019 (AFP) - People in Ebola-hit eastern DR Congo are struggling to come to terms with high-security burials that are part of a hard-pressed strategy to roll back the disease.   Anyone who dies of the highly infectious haemorrhagic fever has to be buried in carefully-controlled conditions designed to minimise the risk of infection from body fluids.   But that means ceremonies are carried out in sanitised conditions, with relatives and friends kept at a distance -- for many, a traumatic break with traditions that demand the body of a loved-one be seen or touched.   "We're astonished she's being buried like this," said Denise Kahambu as she watched the specially-prepared burial in Butembo of her 50-year-old cousin, Marie-Rose.   "They said she died of Ebola," she said sceptically.   First declared last August, the epidemic has now claimed nearly 1,200 lives -- 200 of them in May alone.    The outbreak is the second deadliest on record, after an epidemic that killed more than 11,300 people in West Africa in 2014-16.

The burial in Butembo followed strict precautions. A pick-up truck delivered the coffin to the burial site, where a grave had been prepared, as the family stood by at a distance.   Gloved Red Cross workers handled the burial, which took place in silence and without a religious ceremony.   A family member or loved one was allowed only to place a cross on the tomb, once they too had donned protective gloves.   Half a dozen police officers escorted the convoy and remained on guard throughout.    On Friday, two burial teams from the treatment centres were attacked by stone-throwing crowds at Butembo and Bunia, a little further north in Ituri province, according to the health ministry. One burial worker was injured.

- Culture shock -
"The custom is that the body of the deceased first returns to the home. And once people have mourned, they have the chance to touch the body for the last time," said Seros Muyisa Kamathe, a guide and interpreter in Beni and Butembo.   "Before going to the cemetery, you open the coffin so people can take one last look at the deceased."

And normally it would be the family and neighbours who would take responsibility for digging the grave -- and deciding where if should be.   Ebola experts say denial and resistance were familiar obstacles in the 2014-16 epidemic in the West African states of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.   The World Health Organization (WHO) has a 12-step protocol for dealing with burials so that handling of the remains is kept to a minimum, but it also emphasises the importance of respect and mourning.   "The burial process is very sensitive for the family and the community and can be the source of trouble or even open conflict," it acknowledges.    No burial should begin until family agreement has been obtained, and workers should engage with the community "for prayers to dissipate tensions
and provide respectful time," it says.

- Armed escorts -
The burial process is part of the notoriously time-consuming and labour-intensive task of combatting Ebola.   And in this troubled region, the challenge has been further complicated by bloody deadly attacks on Ebola treatment centres by local militias.   Suspicion, political infighting in the capital Kinshasa and militia violence provide a fertile breeding ground for the virus.   Sometimes local people cover the graves overnight as a sign of their opposition, the ministry said.   In Butembo, health workers need an armed escort when they go looking for cases of Ebola in some neighbourhoods, an AFP photographer noted during one outing Saturday evening.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, at the opening of the organisation's annual assembly on Monday, described the outbreak as "one of the most complex health emergencies any of us have ever faced."   "Unless we unite to end this outbreak we run the risk it will become more widespread and more expansive and more aggressive," he said.   "We are not just fighting a virus," Tedros insisted. "We're fighting insecurity. We're fighting violence. We're fighting misinformation... and we're fighting the politicisation of an outbreak."   On the plus side, health officials are keen to emphasise some important gains. More than 118,000 have been vaccinated against the virus, and no cases have been recorded in neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda.
Date: Mon, 20 May 2019 15:09:54 +0200

Milan, May 20, 2019 (AFP) - Alitalia has scrapped around half its flights scheduled for Tuesday after a call to strike by Italian pilots, cabin crew and ground staff.   The industrial action by employees of Alitalia, Blue Air and Blue Panorama was confirmed Monday over the future of the sector and specifically that of the troubled national carrier.   Alitalia has cancelled around half its flights on Tuesday, as well as some late Monday and early Wednesday. The company said it hoped to get 60 percent of passengers to their destination.

Unions lamented "on the one hand, a rising number of passengers and flights, and on the other a proliferation of bankruptcies", a statement said.   They are worried about Alitalia's future and want their jobs protected.   The Italian government earlier this month extended to June 15 a deadline for the state railway to submit a concrete takeover offer, following a request from Alitalia's administrators for more time.   Italy's state railway Ferrovie dello Stato (FS) floated a bid to buy Alitalia at the end of October, but it does not want to hold more than 30 percent in the airline.   The railway has been discussing a potential partnership with Atlanta-based Delta airlines, which is interested in a 15-percent stake.
Date: Sun, 19 May 2019 21:55:33 +0200

Giza, Egypt, May 19, 2019 (AFP) - A bomb blast hit a tourist bus near Egypt's famed Giza pyramids on Sunday, wounding some of them, including South Africans, in the latest blow to the country's tourism industry.   The roadside bomb went off as the bus was being driven in Giza, also causing injuries to Egyptians in a nearby car, medical and security sources said.   Security and medical sources in Egypt said 17 people were injured, without giving a breakdown of their nationalities. No deaths were reported.   South Africa said in a statement that the "bus explosion" injured three of its 28 citizens who were part of the tourist group.   They would remain in hospital while the rest would return home on Monday, said the statement from the department of international relations.   "A device exploded and smashed the windows of a bus carrying 25 people from South Africa and a private car carrying four Egyptians," the security source said.

Video footage captured by AFP showed the bus and car with broken windows on the side of the road.   According to the security source, the wounded were being treated for scratches caused by the broken glass.   Sunday's incident comes after three Vietnamese holidaymakers and their Egyptian guide were killed when a roadside bomb hit their bus as it travelled near the Giza pyramids outside Cairo in December.   It also comes just little more than a month before the African Cup of Nations hosted by Egypt is to kick off.   Egypt has been battling an insurgency that surged especially in the turbulent North Sinai region following the 2013 military ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who was replaced by former army general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.   In February 2018, the army launched a nationwide operation against militants, focusing mainly on the North Sinai region.

- Tourism recovery -
Some 650 militants and around 45 soldiers have been killed since the start of the offensive, according to separate statements by the armed forces.   Since first being elected in 2014, Sisi has presented himself as a bulwark against terrorism, promising stability and increased security.   Recently, the country's vital tourism industry has started to slowly rebound after suffering strong blows due to deadly attacks targeting tourists following the turmoil of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.   Figures by the official statistics agency showed that tourist arrivals reached 8.3 million in 2017, compared with 5.3 million the previous year.    Authorities have gone at great lengths to lure tourists back, touting a series of archaeological finds and a new museum next to the pyramids, as well as enhanced security at airports and around ancient sites.    But that figure was still far short of the record influx of 2010 when more than 14 million visitors flocked to see the country's sites.
Date: Sun, 19 May 2019 05:17:37 +0200

Tegucigalpa, May 19, 2019 (AFP) - Four Canadians and an American pilot died Saturday when their small plane plunged into the sea off the Honduran island of Roatan where they were vacationing, firefighters said.   The plane crashed near the town of Dixon Cove, a few minutes after taking off from the island's airport, rescuers said.   The dead were identified as Bradley Post, Bailey Sony, Tomy Dubler and pilot Patrick Forseth.

The other Canadian pilot, Anthony Dubler, briefly survived the crash but died at the Roatan hospital of his injuries.   The causes of the crash and the registration information for the aircraft were not immediately available.   It occurred as the tourists were headed toward the city of Trujillo, about 77 kilometres (48 miles) from Roatan.
Date: Fri, 17 May 2019 16:32:13 +0200

London, May 17, 2019 (AFP) - London warned British-Iranian dual nationals against all travel to Iran on Friday due to Tehran's "continued arbitrary detention and mistreatment" of such citizens.   The move comes as Britain continues to try to secure the release from jail of dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.   Tehran has also recently sentenced an Iranian British Council employee, Aras Amiri, to 10 years in prison on charges of spying.   In a statement, the Foreign Office said British-Iranian dual nationals faced an "unacceptably higher risk of arbitrary detention and mistreatment" than nationals of other countries.   "The security forces may be suspicious of people with British connections, including those with links to institutions based in the UK, or which receive public funds from, or have perceived links to, the British government," the statement said.   British-Iranian mother Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested by Iranian authorities in 2016 as she was leaving Tehran.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was put on trial and is now serving a five-year jail sentence for allegedly trying to topple the Iranian government.   "Dual nationals face an intolerable risk of mistreatment if they visit Iran," Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said.   "Despite the UK providing repeated opportunities to resolve this issue, the Iranian regime's conduct has worsened.   "Having exhausted all other options, I must now advise all British-Iranian dual nationals against travelling to Iran.   "The dangers they face include arbitrary detention and lack of access to basic legal rights, as we have seen in the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been separated from her family since 2016."   The Iranian government does not recognise dual nationality, meaning the Foreign Office's ability to provide consular support is limited.   Hunt added: "Regrettably, I must also offer a message of caution to Iranian nationals resident in the UK -- but who return to visit family and friends -- especially where the Iranian government may perceive them to have personal links to UK institutions or the British government."
Date: Fri, 17 May 2019 11:42:01 +0200

Nairobi, May 17, 2019 (AFP) - Flooding in Tanzania has killed five people and forced about 2,500 to flee their homes after a week of torrential rain in the country's south, an official said Friday.   Schools have closed in Kyela, a district on the border of Lake Malawi, and families fled to shelters after losing everything in the rising waters.   "The damage from these floods is enormous," Salome Magambo, the district's administrative secretary, told AFP.   "Since the beginning of the week we have reported five people killed and 2,570 homeless, some of whom are staying with friends or in schools and churches."

Food and medical services have been extended to those stranded, she added.   Farming land in the district known for its rice production has also been inundated, destroying crops and raising fears of food shortages in coming months.   In April 2018 at least 14 people were killed in torrential rains and flooding in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's economic capital.
Date: Thu, 16 May 2019 23:41:35 +0200

Washington, May 16, 2019 (AFP) - The Church of Scientology said Thursday all the passengers from a cruise ship that was quarantined over a measles case had been cleared to leave.    "All passengers and crew (100%) of the Freewinds have been fully cleared of any possible risk of being infected by the measles or infecting others," the organization said in a statement.   "All passengers and crew are free to come and go as they wish," a spokesman added to AFP.

The infected individual was a member of the crew who, according to the Church, had fully recovered and was given a clean bill of health a week ago. She had been earlier confined on the ship.   The ship, which is based in Willemstad on the island of Curacao in the Dutch West Indies, was quarantined after its arrival in Saint Lucia on April 30.   It remained there for two days before returning to Willemstad on May 4 where local authorities ordered a fresh quarantine to give them time to confirm the passengers were either immunized or had no risk of contracting the virus.
Date: Thu, 16 May 2019 18:37:39 +0200

Bamako, May 16, 2019 (AFP) - Heavy floods claimed 15 lives Thursday in the Malian capital Bamako along with serious property damage, authorities said.   A statement said the flooding claimed a "provisional toll" of 15 dead and two injured.   "Teams are in place to rescue the distressed people," the government said, calling on residents to be "prudent" in the face of the disaster.   Flooding is common in Mali, located in the semi-desert Sahel region.
Date: Thu, 16 May 2019 04:40:13 +0200
By Ashraf KHAN

Rato Dero, Pakistan, May 16, 2019 (AFP) - Parents nervously watch as their children wait to be tested for HIV in a village in southern Pakistan, where hundreds of people have been allegedly infected by a doctor using a contaminated syringe.   Dispatched to keep order, police scan the anxious crowd as families hustle into one of five different screening rooms set up in the last month in the village of Wasayo, on the outskirts of Larkana in Sindh province.

Health officials say more than 400 people, many of them children, have tested HIV positive in recent weeks as experts warn of a surge in infection rates across Pakistan, due to the use of unsanitary equipment and rampant malpractice -- often at the hands of quack doctors.   Anger and fear continue to swell in the desperately poor village hit hard by the epidemic, which authorities say could be linked to either gross negligence or malicious intent by a local paediatrician.   "They are coming by the dozens," says a doctor at the makeshift clinic, beset by a lack of equipment and personnel to treat the surging number of patients.

Mukhtar Pervez waits anxiously to have her daughter tested, worrying a recent fever may be linked to the outbreak. For others, their worst fears have already become a reality.   Nisar Ahmed arrived at the clinic in a furious search for medicine after his one-year-old daughter tested positive three days earlier.   "I curse [the doctor] who has caused all these children to be infected," he says angrily.   Nearby Imam Zadi accompanies five of her children to be examined after her grandson tested positive.   "The entire family is so upset," she tells AFP.   Others worry their children's futures have been irreparably harmed after contracting HIV, especially in a country whose masses of rural poor have little understanding of the disease or access to treatment.   "Who is she going to play with? And when she's grown up, who would want to marry her?" asks a tearful mother from a nearby village, who asked not to named, of her four-year-old daughter who just tested positive.  

- 'Helpless'-
Pakistan was long considered a low prevalence country for HIV, but the disease is expanding at an alarming rate, particularly among intravenous drug users and sex workers.    With about 20,000 new HIV infections reported in 2017 alone, Pakistan currently has the second fastest growing HIV rates across Asia, according to the UN.   Pakistan's surging population also suffers the additional burden of having insufficient access to quality healthcare following decades of under-investment by the state, leaving impoverished, rural communities especially vulnerable to unqualified medical practitioners.    "According to some government reports, around 600,000 quack doctors are operating across the country and around 270,000 are practicing in the province of Sindh," said UNAIDS in a statement.

Provincial health officials have also noted that patients are at particular risk of contracting diseases or viruses at these clinics, where injections are often pushed as a primary treatment option.   "For the sake of saving money, these quacks will inject multiple patients with a single syringe. This could be the main cause of the spread of HIV cases," said Sikandar Memon, provincial programme manager of the Sindh Aids Control Programme.

The large number of unqualified doctors along with the "reuse of syringes, unsafe blood transfusions, and other unsafe medical practices" have all led to the spike in HIV cases in recent years, explains Bushra Jamil, an expert on infectious diseases at the Aga Khan University in Karachi.   "Rampant medical malpractices without any effective checks and balances are causing repeated outbreaks in Pakistan," said Jamil.   Authorities investigating the outbreak in Sindh say the accused doctor has also tested positive for HIV.

From a ramshackle jail cell in the nearby city of Ratodero, he denied the charges and accusations he knowingly injected his patients with the virus, while complaining of being incarcerated with common criminals.   But for the parents of the newly diagnosed, the ongoing investigation means little if they are unable to secure access to better information and the necessary drugs that can help stave off the deadly AIDS virus.   "We are helpless. I have other children and I am afraid they might catch the disease," says another mother whose daughter recently tested positive for HIV.   "[Please] send some medicine for our children so that they can be cured. If not, all of our children will die, right?"