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Samoa’s Measles Death Toll Rises to 68

Samoa said Sunday its death toll from measles has risen to 68, with three fatalities recorded in the previous 24 hours.  The Health Ministry has confirmed 4,581 cases of the disease.  Most of the victims have been young children.The South Pacific island has declared a state of emergency, closing all schools and banning children from public gatherings.”Your own son [dying] is the most complicated and painful thing in life,”  Alieta Iosefa said at her 10-year-old son’s funeral. The anguished mother said her son was a “cancer survivor” who “caught from the hospital, the germs of measles.”  She said her son’s immune system was “very low.”The ministry said Saturday almost 90% of its population has received the measles vaccine.The worldwide measles vaccination rate has “stagnated for almost a decade,” the World Health Organization reports. 
Samoa’s measles vaccination rate tumbled from 59% in 2017 to 31% in 2018, according to WHO and UNICEF, “largely due to misinformation and mistrust among parents.”This year the United States reported the most cases of measles in 25 years.Last year, four European countries — Albania, the Czech Republic, Greece and the United Kingdom — lost their measles elimination status after “protracted outbreaks of the disease,” according to WHO.Samoan authorities think a traveler from New Zealand introduced the measles virus.




Congo Authorities Say Ebola Survivor Falls Ill Second Time

An Ebola survivor has fallen ill with the disease for a second time in eastern Congo, the Congolese health authorities said on Sunday, saying it was not yet clear if it was a case of relapse or reinfection.The Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo has infected over 3,300 people and killed more than 2,200 since the middle of last year, making it the second worst year on record.Experts say there has been a working assumption that Ebola survivors generally have immunity from the disease. There have been no documented cases of reinfection but some researchers consider it to be at least a theoretical possibility, while the recurrence of a previous infection is considered extremely rare.In a daily report on the epidemic, the Congolese health authorities reported that a survivor in Mabalako, North Kivu province, had fallen ill with the virus again, but did not give further details.Representatives of the World Health Organization and Congo’s National Institute of Biomedical Research (INRB) said tests were being carried out to determine what had happened.”Clinically, we will check whether it is a reinfection to know if it is the same virus and if the person has been infected by another source,” Ahuka Steve Mundeke, a virologist at INRB, told Reuters.”We have had cases where the virus persists in immune reservoirs,” said Margaret Harris, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization (WHO). “In rare cases the virus can cause symptoms again. We are investigating now to see whether this was what happened.”A survivor working in an Ebola treatment center fell sick again with the virus and died in July, but it has not been determined if she relapsed, was reinfected or had a false positive the first time she was ill.Progress in containing the disease has been hampered in the last month by a surge in violence that forced aid groups to suspend operations and withdraw staff from the epidemic’s last hotspots.Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said they pulled their staff out of Biakoto region in Ituri province on Dec. 4 following two fresh attacks on their health centers by groups of people armed with sticks and machetes.”MSF cannot work if the security of our staff and patients is not ensured,” the aid group said in a statement.Mai Mai militia fighters and local residents have attacked health facilities on several occasions since the outbreak began, sometimes because they believe Ebola does not exist, in other cases because of resentment that they have not benefited from the influx of donor funding.
 




Samoa’s Measles Death Toll Rises

 Samoa said Saturday the death toll from measles has risen to 65.  Most of the victims were young children.The Health Ministry said 103 new cases have been reported since Friday.The new figures were released after a two-day lockdown, allowing the government to conduct a mass immunization campaign.The ministry said almost 90% of its population has received the measles vaccine.The South Pacific island has declared a state of emergency as the virus has infected more than 4,500 people.  Schools have been temporarily closed.    “The fact that any child dies from a vaccine-preventable disease like measles is frankly an outrage and a collective failure to protect the world’s most vulnerable children,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus, the World Health Organization director-general, said earlier this week. “To save lives, we must ensure everyone can benefit from vaccines – which means investing in immunization and quality health care as a right for all.”The worldwide measles vaccination rate has “stagnated for almost a decade,” WHO reports.Samoa’s measles vaccination rate tumbled from 59% in 2017 to 31 % in 2018, according to WHO and UNICEF, “largely due to misinformation and mistrust among parents.”This year the United States reported the most cases of measles in 25 years.Last year, four European countries — Albania, the Czech Republic, Greece and the United Kingdom — lost their measles elimination status after “protracted outbreaks of the disease,” according to WHO.




Disappearing Frontier: Alaska’s Glaciers Retreating at Record Pace

Alaska will soon close a year that is shaping up as its hottest on record, with glaciers in the “Frontier State” melting at record or near-record levels, pouring waters into rising global seas, scientists said after taking fall measurements.Lemon Creek Glacier in Juneau, where records go back to the 1940s, had its second consecutive year of record mass loss, with 3 meters erased from the surface, U.S. Geological Survey glaciologist Louis Sass told Reuters.Melt went all the way up to the summit, said Sass, one of the experts who travel to benchmark glaciers to take measurements in the fall.”That’s a really bad sign for a glacier,” he said, noting that high-altitude melt means there is no accumulation of snow to compact into ice and help offset lower-elevation losses.At Wolverine Glacier on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage, loss was the second highest in a record that goes back to the 1960s. Sass said it failed to match the record set in 2004 only because so much of the glacier had already melted.”The lower part’s completely gone now,” he said.FILE – U.S. President Barack Obama views Bear Glacier on a boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park in Seward, Alaska, Sept. 1, 2015.Drastic melting was also reported at Kenai Fjords National Park, which former President Barack Obama once visited to call attention to climate change. There, Bear Glacier, a popular tourist spot, retreated by nearly a kilometer in just 11 months, according to August measurements by the National Park Service.”It’s almost like you popped it and it started to deflate,” said Nate Lewis, a Seward-based wilderness guide who takes travelers into the new lake that has formed at the foot of the shrinking glacier.Even one of the few Alaska glaciers that had been advancing, Taku just southeast of the city of Juneau, is now losing ice at a fast clip.Particularly ominous is the high altitude at which Taku is melting, said Mauri Pelto, who heads the North Cascades Glacier Climate Project. This year, the summer melt reached as high as 1,450 meters, 25 meters above the previous high-altitude record set just last year, he said.Casting off chunksNow that it is retreating, Taku is expected to start casting off big ice chunks, increasing Alaska’s already significant contribution to rising sea levels, according to a study co-authored by Sass and Shad O’Neel, a glaciologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. The study is scheduled to be presented at the annual conference of the American Geologic Union next week in San Francisco.FILE – Chugach National Forest ranger Megan Parsley holds photos showing this summer’s ice loss at the face of Portage Glacier, Alaska, Aug. 17, 2019.Alaska recorded its warmest month ever in July and the trend has continued.”Alaska is on pace to break their record for warmest year unless December is dramatically cooler than forecasted,” Brian Brettschneider, a climatologist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ International Arctic Research Center, said in a Dec. 1 tweet.Alaska’s glaciers account for far less than 1 percent of the world’s land ice. But their melt contributes roughly 7 percent of the water that is raising the world’s sea levels, according a 2018 study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters and co-authored by O’Neel.There are also local impacts. Scientists say glacial melt affects salmon-spawning streams and harms marine fish and animal habitats. It is creating new lakes in the voids where ice used to be, and outburst floods from those lakes are happening more frequently, scientists say.Changes in the glaciers and the ecosystems they feed has been so fast that they are hard to track, said O’Neel at USGS, who measured the melt at Wolverine Glacier in September.”Everything’s been pretty haywire lately.”
 




Drones: A New Weapon in the Fight Against Malaria in Tanzania

Drones are being used as a new weapon in the fight against Malaria on the island of Zanzibar. In the village of Cheju in particular, drones are spraying a silicone-based liquid on large stretches of stagnant water in rice paddies where malaria-carrying mosquitoes lay their eggs. VOA Correspondent Mariama Diallo reports on how the country is using the new method to combat the disease




Clamor as Greta Thunberg Joins Climate Activists in Madrid

Climate activist Greta Thunberg arrived in Madrid Friday to join thousands of other young people in a march to demand world leaders take real action against climate change.
                   
After making it through a swarm of media cameras and microphones at the Spanish capital’s northern train station, the Swedish teen posted an ironic tweet saying that she had “successfully managed to sneak into Madrid.”
                   
“I don’t think anyone saw me,” she added. “Anyway it’s great to be in Spain!”
                   
Madrid is hosting two-week, United Nations-sponsored talks aimed at streamlining the rules on global carbon markets and agreeing on how poor countries should be compensated for destruction largely caused by emissions from rich nations.
                   
The talks came as scientific evidence mounts about disasters that could ensue from further global warming, including a study commissioned by 14 seafaring nations due to be published Friday predicting that unchecked climate change could devastate fishery industries and coral reef tourism.
                   
Thunberg paid a surprise visit to the venue of the talks and joined a group of some 40 teens staging a sit-in there to demand real action against climate change.
                   
Holding hands, the teens sang a version of John Lennon’s “Power To the People” and displayed banners with the logo of Fridays for Future, the global climate movement inspired by Thunberg.
                   
Thunberg did not appear unsettled by the commotion surrounding her presence.
                   
“It’s absurd. I laugh at it. I do not understand why it has become like this,” the 16-year-old was quoted as saying by Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, whose reporter rode with them in an electric car in Madrid.
                   
“I don’t like being at the center of the focus all the time, but this is a good thing,” she told Aftonbladet. “As soon as the media writes about me, they also have to write about the climate crisis. If this is a way to write about the climate crisis, then I guess it is good.”
                   
While Thunberg seemed bemused by the attention, her father Svante was startled, saying it was total madness.''
                   
“I have never seen anything like this,” he told Aftonbladet.
                   
The study commissioned by seafaring nations says climate change  could cause hundreds of billions of dollars in losses by 2050, adding that limiting global warming would lessen the economic impact for coastal countries, but that they also need to adapt to ocean changes.
                   
The presence in Madrid of Thunberg is expected to shift the attention to demands for greater action by non-governmental organizations and a whole new generation of environment-minded activists.
                   
Past appearances have won her plaudits from some leaders and criticism from others who've taken offense at the angry tone of her speeches.
                   
An advocate for carbon-free transportation, Thunberg traveled by train overnight from the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, where she arrived earlier this week after sailing across the Atlantic Ocean from the United States by catamaran.
                   
That became necessary after a sudden change of venue for the COP25 summit following a wave of anti-government protests that hit Chile, the original host.
                   
Separately Friday, an alliance of American states, cities, academic institutions and companies opened its own venue at the U.N. climate talks, aiming to show that despite the federal administration's decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris accord, many Americans remain committed to the treaty's goal of curbing global warming.
                   
Elan Strait, who manages the “We Are Still In” initiative for the environmental conservationist World Wildlife Fund, said the movement is
a short-term band-aid not only to get those carbon dioxide emissions down but also to encourage policymakers to lay the ground for further achievements.”
                   
“And that, regardless of the color of the government that is in power,” Strait said.
                  
Over 3,800 organizations and corporations representing 70% of U.S. economic output have joined the coalition, organizers claim, amounting to roughly half of the country’s emissions.
                   
The U.S. Climate Action Center is hosting Mandela Barnes, the lieutenant governor of Wisconsin; Pat Brown, the chief executive of non-meat burger company Impossible Foods; Bill Peduto, the mayor of Pittsburgh; and others.
                   
The venue is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, a charitable organization founded by billionaire businessman and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is now seeking the Democratic nomination to run in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.




Uber Reports More Than 3,000 Sexual Assaults in US in 2018

Uber, as part of a long-anticipated safety report, revealed that more than 3,000 sexual assaults were reported during its U.S. rides in 2018.That figure includes 235 rapes across the company’s 1.3 billion rides last year. The ride-hailing company noted that drivers and riders were both attacked and that some assaults occurred between riders.The Thursday report, which the company hailed as the first of its kind, provides a rare look into the traffic deaths, homicides and reported sexual assaults that took place during billions of rides arranged in the U.S. using Uber’s service. It is part of the company’s effort to be more transparent after years of criticism over its safety record.In 2017, the company counted 2,936 reported sexual assaults, including 229 rapes, during 1 billion U.S. trips. Uber bases its numbers on reports from riders and drivers, meaning the actual numbers could be much higher. Sexual assaults commonly go unreported.“I suspect many people will be surprised at how rare these incidents are; others will understandably think they’re still too common,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi tweeted about the report. “Some people will appreciate how much we’ve done on safety; others will say we have more work to do. They will all be right.”Uber, Lyft criticizedUber’s share price dropped more than 1% in after-hours trading.Uber and competitor Lyft have faced harsh criticism for not doing enough to protect the safety of their riders and drivers. Dozens of women are suing Lyft, claiming the company should have done more to protect them from driver assaults.London refused to renew Uber’s license to operate in the city in November in light of a number of company safety issues, including concerns about impostor drivers. Uber said it will appeal the decision.The companies have both formed partnerships with sexual assault prevention networks and other safety groups, and have touted their background check policies for drivers. But many say they haven’t gone far enough to protect passengers and drivers, who are contract workers for the companies.“Keeping this information in the dark doesn’t make anyone safer,” Uber said in a statement announcing the report. It plans to release its safety report every two years going forward.Lyft yet to release reportLyft said last year it would also release a safety report. A company spokeswoman confirmed Thursday that it “remained committed” to releasing a report, but did not say when it would be released.Mike Bomberger, a lawyer representing more than 100 victims of sexual assault in lawsuits against Uber and Lyft, applauded Uber for releasing the numbers.“One of the problems with both of these companies is that they have hidden and have tried to conceal the number of sexual assaults that occur in their vehicles,” he said.The report stated that Uber rides were involved in 97 reported crashes in 2017 and 2018, resulting in 107 deaths. The company said the figure represents about half of the national rate for fatal crashes.The company also said Uber rides were involved in nine homicides during 2018, and 10 during 2017. Uber noted that the vast majority — 99.9% — of its rides had no reported safety issues.




When Did You Last See an African Video Game Hero? 

What’s wrong with being a plucky hero running from demon monkeys or a glamorous model in dress up games? Players too often get sucked into worlds full of violence and unhealthy body images, according to Jay Shapiro, co-founder of Kenya-based Usiku Games.The Canadian entrepreneur hopes to shake up the games market in Kenya — and Africa — by offering not only the “adrenaline rush” of competing to win, but also subtle messaging on relatable themes like conservation, climate change and culture.“When was the last time you saw an African hero in a video game?” Shapiro asked ahead of the Dec. 14 official opening of Usiku Games offices and the Nairobi Game Development Center, a high-tech co-working space also created by Shapiro.“We looked at how can we make games that are unlike what’s out there at the moment. That are made in Africa, for Africa, with African heroes in African environments … so that when somebody plays it, they see themselves reflected in the game.””Turkana,” a video game by Usiku Games, allows players to direct water from Kawalasee River to a farm.10 games so farUsiku Games has so far developed 10 brain-teasing and trivia games for Africa’s mobile phone users aimed at fostering a #GamingForGood culture, with scenarios where the player has to save lions from poachers or solve traffic congestion.The game “Turkana” — named after Kenya’s arid northwestern county — allows players to direct water from the Kawalasee River to a farm while in “Jam Noma” they get to drive a local matatu minibus and navigate congestion to complete the journey.The company, which has 16 staff, also employs youths from Nairobi’s Kibera, a sprawling informal settlement housing more than 200,000 people, to provide the voices and produce the rap music for the games in English, Swahili and local slang, Sheng.”Jam Noma,” a video game from Usiku Games allows players to drive a local matatu minibus and navigate congestion.Positive messagesOther games the company is developing including “Seedballs” a reforestation game where the player has to drop seeds at targets on the ground, and “BeYOUtiful,” which is a dress up game for girls with African characters.“These dress up games for preteen girls are very popular, but everyone in them has a white woman in her 20s with ‘Barbiesque’ curves that are impossible to attain,” said Shapiro.“If I’m a little Kenyan girl playing this game, the game is subliminally telling me that the standard for beauty is this blonde, white, skinny woman. We think that’s wrong.”The games are currently free but Usiku Games plans to charge users about 10 shillings ($0.10) to play a game in future, with the winner earning coins, some of which can be converted to cash in a mobile savings account to pay school or medical fees.“It’s great Usiku Games is focusing on socially responsible bite-sized games,” said Gautam Shah, founder of Internet of Elephants, which makes conservation games, adding that most popular games focus on subject matter that is far from Africa.“I think their success will rely on how relatable these games are to local users.”