Uganda Seeks Ebola Funding Amid Exposure of 65 Health Workers

All, News

The World Health Organization and Ugandan authorities are seeking nearly $18 million to help contain the Ebola outbreak in the country for the next three months. The initiative comes as Uganda registers the death of the first health worker in the current Ebola outbreak and brings the total number of confirmed cases to 35, with seven deaths.

The death of the first medical worker during the current outbreak was revealed by Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, Uganda’s minister for health, as she spoke to the media after a high-level closed-door meeting organized by the WHO in Kampala

On Thursday, the ministry announced that six health workers had been confirmed to have the Ebola Sudan strain and two more were in critical condition. 

The health worker who died, a Tanzanian national, was moved to an isolation facility at a hospital in the neighboring district of Fort Portal in the Mubende district, where he had handled the first Ebola case.

Because of what Aceng called some mistakes, more health workers have been exposed to Ebola. 

“Today, we have 35 confirmed cases. And we have lost seven people, unfortunately. And one of them is a medical doctor,” Aceng said. “It is true that we have 65 health workers who have been exposed. Now all these 65 health workers are under quarantine.” 

The current Ebola Sudan strain so far has affected four districts in Uganda, including Mubende, with the epicenter in Madudu sub county, Kyegwegwa, Kassanda and now the Kagadi district. 

Aceng revealed the main commonality with the four affected districts. 

“People from Madudu run to these districts because they thought there was witchcraft in Madudu,” she said. “And they were running away either to find a safe haven or to reach out to relatives to help them … treat what to them was a strange disease that they did not understand. However, with the various interventions that we have had, the people of Madudu have now understood that it is Ebola and not witchcraft.” 

Regardless of what course the spread of the Ebola Sudan strain will take, there is still no vaccine. Health officials in Uganda, including those from the WHO, are mobilizing and seeking the funds to control the outbreak. 

Dr. Yonas Tegegn Woldermariam, the WHO representative to Uganda, said he is worried the money being sought might not cover all costs. 

“If we go into the preparedness, we are talking, even for the three months, three times or four times that amount,” he said. “Plus, there are things which we take for granted, assuming the system will provide them. Those are additional costs like transportation, like fuel, like human resources, which we have to consider to also fund as we go ahead.” 

The Sudan Ebola virus is less common than the Zaire Ebola virus, and there is currently no effective vaccine. The Sudan Ebola virus was first reported in southern Sudan in 1976. Although several outbreaks have been reported since then in both Uganda and Sudan, the deadliest outbreak in Uganda was in 2000, claiming more than 200 lives.   

Uganda’s last Ebola outbreak, in 2019, was confirmed to be the Zaire ebolavirus. It last reported a Sudan ebolavirus outbreak in 2012.

your ad here

UN Calls for End to Discrimination Against Elderly

All, News

The United Nations is calling for an end to discrimination against older people and for recognition of their contributions to society, as it marks the International Day of Older Persons Saturday.   

With 1.4 billion people estimated to have reached at least 60 years old by 2030, U.N. officials say that is too many people to ignore and dismiss as inconsequential, especially as older people still make many significant contributions.

At 73, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres demonstrates that. In celebration of the day, he commended the accomplishments of older people, whom he called a valuable source of knowledge and experience.  

He also praised the resilience of the more than 1 billion older people in facing adversity in a rapidly changing world.

“The past years have witnessed dramatic upheavals and older people often found themselves at the epicenter of crises,” Guterres said. “They are particularly vulnerable to a range of challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the worsening climate crisis, proliferating conflicts, and growing poverty. Yet in the face of these threats, older people have inspired us with their remarkable resilience.” 

The World Health Organization says longer life brings opportunities to pursue new activities, such as further education or a new career, depending on a person’s health.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called it important for countries to work together to foster healthy aging — an effort that must include older people themselves.  

“A collaboration to improve the lives of older people, their families, and their communities,” said Tedros. “In practice that means keeping alert for ageism and supporting older people by engaging them in the community, providing responsive health care, and quality long-term care for those who need it.”  

The U.N. says it is important to challenge negative characterizations and misconceptions about the elderly. It calls for an end to age and gender discrimination and for communities to create opportunities for older people who live in them.

your ad here

Indian Capital Gears Up to Tackle Air Pollution Ahead of Winter

All, News

The Indian capital of New Delhi will enforce a 15-step action plan to curb pollution ahead of the arrival of winter, when a haze of toxic smog envelops the world’s most polluted city.

High pollution is an annual sore point for Delhi, especially in October and November.

Authorities urge people to stay indoors as burning of crop waste ahead of a new sowing season and lower temperatures trap pollutants in the air for longer, often forcing the closure of schools, with curbs placed on use of private vehicles.

“We are announcing a 15-point winter action plan,” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal told a news conference at which he laid out the measures to reduce pollution, though the annual campaign has had little impact for years.

Measures to help limit dust in the air will include installation of anti-smog guns and water sprinklers, he added.

The government will also ensure that people do not burn waste materials, a major cause of pollution.

Tough measures to check vehicular pollution include curbs on the usage of diesel-fueled vehicles older than 10 years and petrol-run vehicles older than 15.

Pollution levels also peak during Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, which falls on Oct. 24 this year. The government renewed a ban on firecrackers this month.

The Delhi city government will draft thousands of volunteers to ensure the anti-pollution measures are followed, Kejriwal added. He urged neighboring states to ensure a constant supply of electricity and so limit use of diesel-run power generators.

your ad here

Nobel Prize Season Arrives Amid War, Nuclear Fears, Hunger 

All, News

This year’s Nobel Prize season approaches as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shattered decades of almost uninterrupted peace in Europe and raised the risks of a nuclear disaster.

The secretive Nobel committees never hint who will win the prizes in medicine, physics, chemistry, literature, economics or peace. It’s anyone’s guess who might win the awards being announced starting Monday.

Yet there’s no lack of urgent causes deserving the attention that comes with winning the world’s most prestigious prize: wars in Ukraine and Ethiopia, disruptions to supplies of energy and food, rising inequality, the climate crisis, the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The science prizes reward complex achievements beyond the understanding of most. But the recipients of the prizes in peace and literature are often known by a global audience, and the choices — or perceived omissions — have sometimes stirred emotional reactions.

Members of the European Parliament have called for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the people of Ukraine to be recognized this year by the Nobel Peace Prize committee for their resistance to the Russian invasion.

While that desire is understandable, that choice is unlikely because the Nobel committee has a history of honoring figures who end conflicts, not wartime leaders, said Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Smith believes more likely peace prize candidates would be those fighting climate change or the International Atomic Energy Agency, a past recipient. Honoring the IAEA again would recognize its efforts to prevent a radioactive catastrophe at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant amid fighting in Ukraine, and its work in fighting nuclear proliferation, Smith said.

“This is a really difficult period in world history, and there is not a lot of peace being made,” he said.

Promoting peace isn’t always rewarded with a Nobel. India’s Mohandas Gandhi, a prominent symbol of nonviolence, was never so honored.

In some cases, the winners have not lived out the values enshrined in the peace prize. 

Just this week the Vatican acknowledged imposing disciplinary sanctions on Nobel Peace Prize-winning Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo following allegations he sexually abused boys in East Timor in the 1990s.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won in 2019 for making peace with neighboring Eritrea. A year later, a largely ethnic conflict erupted in the country’s Tigray region. Some accuse Abiy of stoking the tensions, which have resulted in widespread atrocities. Critics have called for his Nobel to be revoked, and the Nobel committee has issued a rare admonition to him.

The Myanmar activist Aung San Suu Kyi won in 1991 for her opposition to military rule but decades later has been viewed as failing to oppose atrocities committed against the mostly Muslim Rohingya minority.

In some years, no peace prize has been awarded. The Norwegian Nobel Committee paused them during World War I, except to honor the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1917. It didn’t hand out any from 1939 to 1943 because of World War II. In 1948, the year Gandhi died, the committee made no award, citing a lack of a suitable living candidate.

The peace prize also does not always confer protection.

Last year journalists Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia were awarded “for their courageous fight for freedom of expression” in the face of authoritarian governments.

Following the invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin has cracked down even harder on independent media, including Muratov’s Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s most renowned independent newspaper. Muratov himself was attacked on a Russian train by an assailant who poured red paint over him, injuring his eyes.

The Philippines government this year ordered the shutdown of Ressa’s news organization, Rappler.

The literature prize, meanwhile, has been anything but predictable.

Few had bet on last year’s winner, Zanzibar-born, U.K.-based writer Abdulrazak Gurnah, whose books explore the personal and societal impacts of colonialism and migration.

Gurnah was only the sixth Nobel literature laureate born in Africa, and the prize has long faced criticism that it is too focused on European and North American writers. It is also male dominated, with just 16 women among its 118 laureates.

A clear contender is Salman Rushdie, the India-born writer and free-speech advocate who spent years in hiding after Iran’s clerical rulers called for his death over his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. Rushdie, 75, was stabbed and seriously injured in August at a festival in New York state.

The list of possible winners includes literary giants from around the world: Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Japan’s Haruki Murakami, Norway’s Jon Fosse, Antigua-born Jamaica Kincaid and France’s Annie Ernaux.

The prizes to Gurnah in 2021 and U.S. poet Louise Gluck in 2020 have helped the literature prize move on from years of controversy and scandal.

In 2018, the award was postponed after sex abuse allegations rocked the Swedish Academy, which names the Nobel literature committee, and sparked an exodus of members. The academy revamped itself but faced more criticism for giving the 2019 literature award to Austria’s Peter Handke, who has been called an apologist for Serbian war crimes.

Some scientists hope the award for physiology or medicine honors colleagues instrumental in the development of the mRNA technology that went into COVID-19 vaccines, which saved millions of lives around the world.

“When we think of Nobel prizes, we think of things that are paradigm shifting, and in a way I see mRNA vaccines and their success with COVID-19 as a turning point for us,” said Deborah Fuller, a microbiology professor at the University of Washington.

Physics at times can seem arcane and difficult for the public to understand. But the last three years, the physics Nobel has honored more accessible topics: climate change computer models, black holes and planets outside our solar system.

Some harder-to-understand topics in physics — like stopping light, quantum physics and carbon nanotubes — could capture a Nobel award this year.

The Nobel announcements kick off Monday with the prize in physiology or medicine, followed by physics on Tuesday, chemistry on Wednesday and literature on Thursday. The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on October 7 and the economics award on October 10.

The prizes carry a cash award of 10 million Swedish kronor (nearly $900,000) and will be handed out on December 10.

your ad here

FBI Joins Australian Hunt for Data Hackers

All, Business, News, Technology

Australia has asked the American FBI to help catch computer hackers responsible for one of Australia’s biggest data breaches. Personal details, including home addresses, driver license and passport numbers, of more than 10 million customers of the Singapore-owned telecom giant Optus were stolen.

A massive amount of personal information about Optus customers in Australia was stolen and an extortion threat made to the company. But then there was an apparent twist. An apology was issued on an online forum by an account that investigators believe belonged to the alleged hacker, who had been unnerved by the attention the case had generated.

“Too many eyes,” it read. “We will not sale (sic) data to anyone. Sorry to 10.2m Australians whose data was leaked. Ransom not paid but we don’t care anymore.”

The Australian government has blamed Optus, one of the biggest telecommunications companies in the country, for the breach. Australia’s cybersecurity minister, Clare O’Neil, said the company had made it easy for hackers to get in.

“What is of concern for us is how what is quite a basic hack was undertaken on Optus,” she said. “We should not have a telecommunications provider in this country which has effectively left the window open for data of this nature to be stolen.”

But Optus Chief Executive Officer Kelly Bayer Rosmarin denied the company’s cyber defenses were inadequate. She said the data was encrypted and there were multiple layers of protection. But for many Optus customers, there is deep anxiety that their personal information has been compromised.

The FBI has joined the hunt for the Optus data thieves.

Frank Montoya Jr, a former FBI special agent, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that a foreign government could be involved.

“We try to determine if it is a nation state or if it is a criminal enterprise,” he said. “Now, that can be a challenge, too, because sometimes the nation state is the criminal enterprise, and I think of North Korea, for instance, and how they go after these databases for various reasons. But sometimes it is just about selling it on the dark web so they can get access to hard currency.”

Australian cyber security experts have warned that unless companies do more to protect their customers’ personal information, a data breach like the Optus theft could happen again.

your ad here

Cholera Surging Globally as Climate Change Intensifies

All, News

Cholera is surging around the globe, the World Health Organization warns.

Flareups of the deadly disease have been reported in 26 countries in the first nine months of this year. In comparison, fewer than 20 countries reported cholera outbreaks per year between 2017 and 2021. In addition to greater frequency, the WHO reports the outbreaks themselves are larger and more deadly. 

While poverty and conflict are major triggers of cholera, climate change is a growing threat. 

Philippe Barboza, WHO team lead for Cholera and Epidemic Diarrheal Diseases, said climate change presents an additional layer of complexity and creates the conditions for cholera outbreaks to explode. 

“This is what we have seen in southern Africa with the succession of cyclones that affected the eastern part of the African Coast,” Barboza said. “The drought in East Africa is driving population movements, reducing access to water, which is already needed. So, of course, it is a key factor, which is fueling the outbreak. And the same in Sahel and other places.”   

Fifteen of the 26 cholera-infected countries are in Africa, according to the WHO. 

Barboza said massive climate-induced floods in Southeast Asia also have resulted in large outbreaks of cholera in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Many countries that have made significant progress in controlling cholera are now back to square one, he added.   

Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease caused by contaminated food or water. It can kill within hours if left untreated. Cholera outbreaks can be prevented by ensuring access to clean water, basic sanitation, and hygiene, as well as stepping up surveillance and access to health care, Barboza said. 

“This is what we need countries to do, but that is easier said than done. Although many of the cholera-affected countries are actively engaged in these efforts, they are facing multiple crises, including conflict and poverty, and this is why international action is so important,” he said.  

Cholera is a preventable and treatable disease, Barboza said, so with the right foresight and action, the current global crisis can be reversed. 

 

your ad here

Challenges and Hope as India Makes Home for African Cheetahs

All, News

Eight cheetahs have been brought from Africa to India this month to conserve a species that became extinct in the South Asian country seven decades ago. While the project is hugely challenging, conservationists say the benefits go beyond conserving the world’s fastest land animal – if successful, it could help save neglected ecosystems such as grasslands. Anjana Pasricha report from New Delhi.

your ad here

New Asteroid Strike Images Show Impact Much Bigger Than Expected

All, News

The James Webb and Hubble telescopes on Thursday revealed their first images of a spacecraft deliberately smashing into an asteroid, as astronomers indicated that the impact looks to have been much greater than expected.

The world’s telescopes turned their gaze toward the space rock Dimorphos earlier this week for a historic test of Earth’s ability to defend itself against a potential life-threatening asteroid in the future.

Astronomers rejoiced as NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) impactor slammed into its pyramid-sized, rugby ball-shaped target 11 million kilometers (6.8 million miles) from Earth on Monday night.

Images taken by Earth-bound telescopes showed a vast cloud of dust expanding out of Dimorphos — and its big brother Didymos, which it orbits — after the spaceship hit.

While those images showed matter spraying out over thousands of kilometers, the James Webb and Hubble images “zoom in much closer,” said Alan Fitzsimmons, an astronomer at Queen’s University Belfast involved in observations with the ATLAS project.

James Webb and Hubble can offer a view “within just a few kilometers of the asteroids and you can really clearly see how the material is flying out from that explosive impact by DART,” Fitzsimmons told AFP.

“It really is quite spectacular,” he said.

An image taken by James Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) four hours after impact shows “plumes of material appearing as wisps streaming away from the center of where the impact took place,” according to a joint statement from the European Space Agency, James Webb and Hubble.

Hubble images from 22 minutes, five hours and eight hours after impact show the expanding spray of matter from where DART hit.

‘Worried there was nothing left’ 

Ian Carnelli of the European Space Agency (ESA) said that the “really impressive” Webb and Hubble images were remarkably similar to those taken by the toaster-sized satellite LICIACube, which was just 50 kilometers from the asteroid after separating from the DART spacecraft a few weeks ago.

The images depict an impact that looks “a lot bigger than we expected,” said Carnelli, the manager of the ESA’s Hera mission, which intends to inspect the damage in four years.

“I was really worried there was nothing left of Dimorphos” at first, Carnelli told AFP.

The Hera mission, which is scheduled to launch in October 2024 and arrive at the asteroid in 2026, had expected to survey a crater around 10 meters (33 feet) in diameter.

It now looks like it will be far bigger, Carnelli said, “if there is a crater at all; maybe a piece of Dimorphos was just chunked off.”

The true measure of DART’s success will be exactly how much it diverted the asteroid’s trajectory, so the world can start preparing to defend itself against bigger asteroids that could head our way in the future.

It will likely take Earth-bound telescopes and radars at least a week for a first estimate of how much the asteroid’s orbit has been altered, and three or four weeks before there is a precise measurement, Carnelli said.

‘Huge implications’

“I am expecting a much bigger deflection than we had planned,” he said.

That would have “huge implications in planetary defense because it means that this technique could be used for much larger asteroids,” Carnelli added.

“Until today, we thought that the only deflection technique would be to send a nuclear device.”

Fitzsimmons said that even if no material had been “flung off” Dimorphos, DART still would have slightly affected its orbit.

“But the more material and the faster it’s moving, the more of a deflection there will have been,” he said.

The observations from James Webb and Hubble will help reveal how much — and how quickly — matter sprayed from the asteroid, as well as the nature of its surface.

The asteroid impact marked the first time the two space telescopes observed the same celestial body.

Since launching in December and releasing its first images in July, James Webb has taken the title of most powerful space telescope from Hubble.

Fitzsimmons said the images were “a beautiful demonstration of the extra science you can get by using more than one telescope simultaneously.” 

your ad here

UN: Food Loss, Waste Exacerbate Global Hunger, Climate Change

All, News

U.N. agencies are calling for an end to food loss and waste as the United Nations marks the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste Thursday.

A U.N. Environment Program report says over 930 million tons of food waste were generated in 2019. The chief of UNEP’s energy and climate branch, Mark Radka, said that represents about 20% of available food.

“There is evidence that household food waste is generated at a similar per capita level in all countries, regardless of country income level,” he said. “So, households, on average generate about 74 kilograms per person, per year in food waste.”  

It has serious implications, given the U.N.’s latest estimates that 828 million people globally are going hungry. Food and Agriculture Organization findings indicate 14% of the world’s food is lost after harvest. An estimated 17% is wasted in retail and at the consumption stage.

FAO Senior Enterprise Development Officer Rosa Rolle calls food loss and waste a global problem that has significant impact on climate, food security, and the sustainability of agri-food systems.

“Over the past two years, agri-food systems across the globe have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and the war in Ukraine, pushing millions of people into food insecurity, with hunger and malnutrition on the rise,” she said.

The FAO says food waste and loss accelerate climate change and harm the environment. It says about 31% of total greenhouse gas emissions, which lead to global warming, are attributable to the agri-food system.  

The UNEP says reducing food loss and waste could decrease methane emissions by 15% by 2030.  It notes methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere. It says at least 25% of today’s global warming by methane is caused by human action.

your ad here

Uganda Fights Deadly Ebola Outbreak as President Assures It’s Under Control

All, News

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has assured the country that an Ebola outbreak is under control and that no restrictions on movement are needed. The country’s health officials confirmed cases of a deadly Sudan ebolavirus with six reported deaths out of 31 confirmed cases. Uganda’s medical association says some of its members are critically ill and has threatened to join a strike by medical interns over what they say is inadequate personal protective equipment. 

In an address to the nation Wednesday night, President Yoweri Museveni urged Ugandans to avoid coming in contact with body fluids such as blood, feces and vomit from infected people.

Even though the source for the Sudan ebolavirus, a strain for which the World Health Organization says cross-protection of vaccine for other Ebola strains has not been established, Museveni warned Ugandans against eating meat from monkeys, chimpanzees and gorillas.

“I want to reassure Ugandans and all residents that the government has the capacity to control this outbreak as we have done before. Therefore, there’s no need for anxiety, panic, restriction of movement or unnecessary closure of public places like schools, markets, places of worship etc. as of now,” he said.

The 31 Ebola cases confirmed so far include six health care workers, including four doctors, one anesthesiologist and one medical student who was exposed to the first case in the district of Mubende, Kyegegwa and Kassanda.

Museveni who cautioned Ugandans against shaking hands also says Uganda is still discussing a vaccine for the Sudan ebolavirus that was first reported on August 6. Uganda only has a stock of the Zaire ebolavirus that was reported in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. There is currently no approved vaccine for the Sudan ebolavirus.

“One of the issues we were debating the other day was, why not use the vaccine of Ebola Zaire. Even though it’s not specific for Ebola Sudan, but it’s Ebola,” he said. “They share some of the characteristics. And it is safe. And we have used it on our soldiers. So, is there any harm in trying it?”

The government has now set up an Ebola treatment unit with a 51-bed capacity for confirmed cases and 80 beds for suspected cases.

To shorten the turnaround time of sampling, processing and improving patient care, two mobile diagnostic laboratories will be deployed in the Mubende district by Friday.

Health Minister Dr. Jane Ruth Acheng also allayed fears among health workers especially those infected with the virus.

“We want to appreciate the work that they are doing. But also reassure them that they will be taken care of and given the necessary supportive care and treatment so that we ensure that we don’t lose them,” she said.

President of the Uganda Medical Association Dr. Sam Oledo, however, describes a different situation in the affected districts for health workers.

“When we start losing health workers, I don’t think it can be under control. It’s painful that this morning the intern and the SHO [Senior Health Officer] are on oxygen, and they are not doing well. What we are trying to mobilize now is ICU management. We cannot afford to have the corpse of a medic at such a time. And I assure you, if the worst happens, we shall withdraw services in Mubende,” he said.

The Sudan ebolavirus is less common than the Zaire ebolavirus and has no current, effective vaccine. Sudan ebolavirus was first reported in Southern Sudan in 1976. Although several outbreaks have been reported since then in both Uganda and Sudan, the deadliest outbreak in Uganda was in 2000 claiming over 200 lives.

Uganda’s last Ebola outbreak, in 2019, was confirmed to be the Zaire ebolavirus. It last reported a Sudan ebolavirus outbreak in 2012.

your ad here

Nations Must Work Together to Fight Online Fraud, UN Official Says

All, Business, News, Technology

A top U.N. official last week said the syndicates running Asia’s massive online fraud industry will rotate operations among lawless areas of Southeast Asia unless governments cooperate to bring them down, after Cambodia said it was cracking down on cybercrime compounds.

The networks have swindled hundreds of millions of dollars, regional police have told VOA, setting up fake profiles offering romance, moonshot investment schemes with huge returns or posing as police officers to solicit payoffs. They target residents of countries from China to Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, the United States and Australia.

“The response needs to be strategic and regional, because today it might be a location in Cambodia but tomorrow a group uproots under pressure and shifts to Myanmar, Laos or the Philippines,” Jeremy Douglas, the Bangkok-based regional representative of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime told VOA.

“Until governments across the region address, disrupt and police the places organized crime groups are using to run online casinos, scams and other illicit businesses, and in particular special economic zones and autonomous regions, the situation won’t fundamentally change,” he said.

Compounds for industrial-scale scamming in are operated in converted casinos in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, as well as special economic zones in Myanmar and Laos by Chinese gangsters who dominate regional gambling but lost their main income source during the pandemic, according to Douglas and victims who spoke to VOA.

The foot soldiers of the operations are young Chinese and Southeast Asians. Some joined willingly, many others thought they had obtained high-paying overseas work in call centers or online sales.

Malaysian, Taiwanese and Thai officials have said hundreds of their citizens remain trapped in a Myanmar border zone tied to scam operations, run by ethnic militias and beyond the law, despite its location a few hundred meters from Thailand.

Chou Bun Eng, vice chair of Cambodia’s National Committee for Counter Trafficking in persons, said Cambodia is a victim of sophisticated criminal gangs and is doing everything it can to put the syndicates out of business.

“We began an operation on August 22 throughout the kingdom,” she told VOA by phone.

“We are aware that there are victims all over the kingdom in what is a new form of crime committed by foreigners. … Cambodia does not serve criminals,” she said.

Social media videos since the crackdown have shown thousands of people apparently leaving several Sihanoukville megacompounds, in images shared by Douglas.

State media in China, the source of most of the workers and the biggest target, said the country is barring its citizens from traveling to Cambodia without good reason and warned telecommunications companies that they could be held responsible for scams carried out over their networks.

On Sept. 23, however, Cambodian authorities said at least one person had died after a boat carrying dozens of Chinese people sank on its way to Sihanoukville. Cambodian  state media Fresh News said they had traveled from, Guangdong, hundreds of kilometers away. The incident is suspected of being tied to scam operations and now under investigation.

Ransoms and beatings

Disturbing testimony has emerged from scam agents who tried to leave the compounds, including reports of routine torture, sale to other networks and ransom payments required to gain freedom.

A 26-year-old Thai mother of three, told VOA she asked to quit her job in Manila after six days when she was forced to swindle women online.

She said she took an online sales job in early August, desperate for the $1,000 salary plus commissions. She said she soon realized her real job was to steal the identity of wealthy Thai men and persuade women looking for love to transfer money.

When she refused to work, she was taken to a room with others who had also refused.

“One by one, they took us out to kick, punch, claw our hair and zap us with electric wire,” she said, asking that her name not be used, out of fear of reprisal.

“They forced the head of one of the older women underwater in the bathroom and then beat her some more.”

It took another 14 days for her to get free with a $3,000 payment to break her verbal agreement and she returned to Bangkok on Aug. 27.

Once back, her boyfriend had to sell the equipment for his T-shirt business, sinking them further into money troubles, which had led to her leave Thailand in the first place.

your ad here

Rohingya Seek Reparations from Facebook for Role in Massacre

All, Business, News, Technology

With roosters crowing in the background as he speaks from the crowded refugee camp in Bangladesh that’s been his home since 2017, Maung Sawyeddollah, 21, describes what happened when violent hate speech and disinformation targeting the Rohingya minority in Myanmar began to spread on Facebook.

“We were good with most of the people there. But some very narrow minded and very nationalist types escalated hate against Rohingya on Facebook,” he said. “And the people who were good, in close communication with Rohingya. changed their mind against Rohingya and it turned to hate.”

For years, Facebook, now called Meta Platforms Inc., pushed the narrative that it was a neutral platform in Myanmar that was misused by malicious people, and that despite its efforts to remove violent and hateful material, it unfortunately fell short. That narrative echoes its response to the role it has played in other conflicts around the world, whether the 2020 election in the U.S. or hate speech in India.

But a new and comprehensive report by Amnesty International states that Facebook’s preferred narrative is false. The platform, Amnesty says, wasn’t merely a passive site with insufficient content moderation. Instead, Meta’s algorithms “proactively amplified and promoted content” on Facebook, which incited violent hatred against the Rohingya beginning as early as 2012.

Despite years of warnings, Amnesty found, the company not only failed to remove violent hate speech and disinformation against the Rohingya, it actively spread and amplified it until it culminated in the 2017 massacre. The timing coincided with the rising popularity of Facebook in Myanmar, where for many people it served as their only connection to the online world. That effectively made Facebook the internet for a vast number of Myanmar’s population.

More than 700,000 Rohingya fled into neighboring Bangladesh that year. Myanmar security forces were accused of mass rapes, killings and torching thousands of homes owned by Rohingya.

“Meta — through its dangerous algorithms and its relentless pursuit of profit — substantially contributed to the serious human rights violations perpetrated against the Rohingya,” the report says.

A spokesperson for Meta declined to answer questions about the Amnesty report. In a statement, the company said it “stands in solidarity with the international community and supports efforts to hold the Tatmadaw accountable for its crimes against the Rohingya people.”

“Our safety and integrity work in Myanmar remains guided by feedback from local civil society organizations and international institutions, including the U.N. Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar; the Human Rights Impact Assessment we commissioned in 2018; as well as our ongoing human rights risk management,” Rafael Frankel, director of public policy for emerging markets, Meta Asia-Pacific, said in a statement.

Like Sawyeddollah, who is quoted in the Amnesty report and spoke with the AP on Tuesday, most of the people who fled Myanmar — about 80% of the Rohingya living in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine at the time — are still staying in refugee camps. And they are asking Meta to pay reparations for its role in the violent repression of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, which the U.S. declared a genocide earlier this year.

Amnesty’s report, out Wednesday, is based on interviews with Rohingya refugees, former Meta staff, academics, activists and others. It also relied on documents disclosed to Congress last year by whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former Facebook data scientist. It notes that digital rights activists say Meta has improved its civil society engagement and some aspects of its content moderation practices in Myanmar in recent years. In January 2021, after a violent coup overthrew the government, it banned the country’s military from its platform.

But critics, including some of Facebook’s own employees, have long maintained such an approach will never truly work. It means Meta is playing whack-a-mole trying to remove harmful material while its algorithms designed to push “engaging” content that’s more likely to get people riled up essentially work against it.

“These algorithms are really dangerous to our human rights. And what happened to the Rohingya and Facebook’s role in that specific conflict risks happening again, in many different contexts across the world,” said Pat de Brún, researcher and adviser on artificial intelligence and human rights at Amnesty.

“The company has shown itself completely unwilling or incapable of resolving the root causes of its human rights impact.”

After the U.N.’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar highlighted the “significant” role Facebook played in the atrocities perpetrated against the Rohingya, Meta admitted in 2018 that “we weren’t doing enough to help prevent our platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence.”

In the following years, the company “touted certain improvements in its community engagement and content moderation practices in Myanmar,” Amnesty said, adding that its report “finds that these measures have proven wholly inadequate.”

In 2020, for instance, three years after the violence in Myanmar killed thousands of Rohingya Muslims and displaced 700,000 more, Facebook investigated how a video by a leading anti-Rohingya hate figure, U Wirathu, was circulating on its site.

The probe revealed that over 70% of the video’s views came from “chaining” — that is, it was suggested to people who played a different video, showing what’s “up next.” Facebook users were not seeking out or searching for the video, but had it fed to them by the platform’s algorithms.

Wirathu had been banned from Facebook since 2018.

“Even a well-resourced approach to content moderation, in isolation, would likely not have sufficed to prevent and mitigate these algorithmic harms. This is because content moderation fails to address the root cause of Meta’s algorithmic amplification of harmful content,” Amnesty’s report says.

The Rohingya refugees are seeking unspecified reparations from the Menlo Park, California-based social media giant for its role in perpetuating genocide. Meta, which is the subject of twin lawsuits in the U.S. and the U.K. seeking $150 billion for Rohingya refugees, has so far refused.

“We believe that the genocide against Rohingya was possible only because of Facebook,” Sawyeddollah said. “They communicated with each other to spread hate, they organized campaigns through Facebook. But Facebook was silent.”

your ad here

Oregon Town Hosts 1st Wind-Solar-Battery ‘Hybrid’ Plant

All, News

A renewable energy plant being commissioned in Oregon on Wednesday that combines solar power, wind power and massive batteries to store the energy generated there is the first utility-scale plant of its kind in North America.

The project, which will generate enough electricity to power a small city at maximum output, addresses a key challenge facing the utility industry as the U.S. transitions away from fossil fuels and increasingly turns to solar and wind farms for power. Wind and solar are clean sources of power, but utilities have been forced to fill in gaps when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining with fossil fuels like coal or natural gas.

At the Oregon plant, massive lithium batteries will store up to 120 megawatt-hours of power generated by the 300-megawatt wind farms and 50-megawatt solar farm so it can be released to the electric grid on demand. At maximum output, the facility will produce more than half of the power that was generated by Oregon’s last coal plant, which was demolished earlier this month.

On-site battery storage isn’t new, and interest in solar-plus-battery projects in particular has soared in the U.S. in recent years due to robust tax credits and incentives and the falling price of batteries. The Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility in Oregon, however, is the first in the U.S. to combine integrated wind, solar and battery storage at such a large scale in one location, giving it even more flexibility to generate continuous output without relying on fossil fuels to fill in the gaps.

The project is “getting closer and closer to having something with a very stable output profile that we traditionally think of being what’s capable with a fuel-based generation power plant,” said Jason Burwen, vice president of energy storage at the American Clean Power Association, an advocacy group for the clean power industry.

“If the solar is chugging along and cloud cover comes over, the battery can kick in and make sure that the output is uninterrupted. As the sun goes down and the wind comes online, the battery can make sure that that’s very smooth so that it doesn’t, to the grid operator, look like anything unusual.”

The plant located in a remote expanse three hours east of Portland is a partnership between NextEra Energy Resources and Portland General Electric, a public utility required to reduce carbon emissions by 100% by 2040 under an Oregon climate law passed last year, one of the most ambitious in the nation.

PGE’s customers are also demanding green power — nearly a quarter-million customers receive only renewable energy — and the Wheatridge project is “key to that decarbonization strategy,” said Kristen Sheeran, PGE’s director of sustainability strategy and resource planning.

Under the partnership, PGE owns one-third of the wind output and purchases all the facility’s power for its renewable energy portfolio. NextEra, which developed the site and operates it, owns two-thirds of the wind output and all of the solar output and storage.

“The mere fact that many other customers are looking at these types of facilities gives you a hint at what we think could be possible,” said David Lawlor, NextEra’s director of business development for the Pacific Northwest. “Definitely customers want firmer generation, starting with the battery storage in the back.”

Large-scale energy storage is critical as the U.S. shifts to more variable power sources like wind and solar, and Americans can expect to see similar projects across the country as that trend accelerates. National Renewable Energy Laboratory models show U.S. storage capacity may rise fivefold by 2050, yet experts say even this won’t be enough to prevent extremely disruptive climate change.

Batteries aren’t the only solution that the clean energy industry is trying out. Pumped storage generates power by sending huge volumes of water downhill through turbines and others are experimenting with forcing water underground and holding it there before releasing it to power turbines.

But interest in batteries for clean energy storage has grown dramatically in recent years at the same time that the cost of batteries is falling and the technology itself is improving, boosting interest in hybrid plants, experts say.

Generating capacity from hybrid plants increased 133% between 2020 and 2021 and by the end of last year, there were nearly 8,000 megawatts of wind or solar generation connected to storage, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which is managed by the University of California.

The vast majority of such projects are solar power with battery storage, largely because of tax credits, but projects in the pipeline include offshore wind-plus-battery, hydroelectric-plus-battery and at least nine facilities like the one in Oregon that will combine solar, wind and storage. Projects in the pipeline between 2023 and 2025 include ones in Washington, California, Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, Illinois and Oregon, according to Berkeley Lab.

Many researchers and pilots are working on alternatives to lithium ion batteries, however, largely because their intrinsic chemistry limits them to around four hours of storage and a longer duration would be more useful.

“There is no silver bullet. There’s no model or prototype that’s going to meet that entire need … but wind and solar will certainly be in the mix,” said PGE’s Sheeran.

“This model can become a tool for decarbonization across the West as the whole country is driving toward very ambitious climate reduction goals.”

your ad here

Vultures, Nature’s Cleanup Crew, Get New Lease on Life in Cyprus

All, News

Cyprus released griffon vultures into the wild on Wednesday in the latest attempt to boost a once thriving population now critically endangered by poisoning. 

The island’s largest bird of prey has seen its population fall dramatically to the smallest in Europe in recent decades, either from accidental poisoning or changing farming techniques leaving them short of food. 

Earlier this year, the population suffered a massive loss from poisoning, reducing numbers to just 8, conservationists say. 

They will be joined by eight vultures from Spain, home to Europe’s largest population of griffon vultures, which were released on Wednesday in the mountains north of the coastal city of Limassol. They form a group of 15 brought to the island last year, with seven released in mid-September. 

Another 15 are expected from Spain in November. In the past decade, Cyprus had also brought griffon vultures from Crete. 

“We were only left with eight birds because of the poison baits placed in the countryside mainly to kill foxes and dogs,” said Melpo Apostolidou, project coodinator at BirdLife Cyprus, one of the partners in the part EU-funded Life with Vultures project. 

The birds with names like “Pablo” and “Zenonas” have been fitted with satellite trackers to monitor their movements. 

Big, gangly and smelly, griffon vultures play a vital role as nature’s cleanup crew, feeding off dead carcass and reducing the spread of disease. But the use of banned poisons to kill perceived pests which the scavenging bird will then feed on has a knock-on effect. 

Nicos Kassinis, a senior officer with Cyprus’s Game and Fauna Service, said authorities were operating several feeding stations and had set up dog units trained to detect poison bait. “It is a serious problem,” he said. 

Conservationists say only when the use of poison is effectively addressed can the bird start to thrive again. “Even if we continue to bring vultures from elsewhere, we are just delaying their extinction if we don’t do anything to reduce the frequency of poisoning incidents,” Apostolidou said. 

 

your ad here

Experimental Alzheimer’s Drug Said to Succeed in Slowing Cognitive Decline

All, News

An experimental Alzheimer’s drug developed by Eisai and Biogen significantly slowed cognitive and functional decline in a large trial of patients in the early stages of the disease, the companies said Tuesday. 

The injected drug, lecanemab, slowed progress of the brain-wasting disease by 27% compared with a placebo, meeting the study’s main goal and offering an apparent win for the companies and potentially for patients and their families desperate for an effective treatment. 

Eisai said the results from the 1,800-patient trial prove the longstanding theory that removal of sticky deposits of a protein called amyloid beta from the brains of people with early Alzheimer’s can delay advance of the debilitating disease. 

“It’s not a huge effect, but it’s a positive effect,” said Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in Rochester, Minnesota, adding that the results were extremely important for Alzheimer’s research. 

“This means that treating amyloid is a step in the right direction,” he said. 

Results considered a “win”

Wall Street analysts, such as Salim Syed at Mizuho Securities, have said the results would be considered a “win” if lecanemab slowed the rate of decline by about 25%, and that shares of both companies could jump on the news. 

Shares of Biogen and Eisai were halted, but shares of Eli Lilly, which is also developing an Alzheimer’s drug, were up 6.7% in after-hours trading. 

Lecanemab, like the companies’ previous drug Aduhelm, is an antibody designed to remove those amyloid deposits. Unlike Aduhelm, lecanemab targets forms of amyloid that have not yet clumped together. 

The so-called amyloid hypothesis has been challenged by some scientists, particularly after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s controversial approval of Aduhelm in 2021 based on its plaque-clearing ability rather than proof that it helped slow cognitive decline. The decision came after the FDA’s own panel of outside experts had advised against approval. 

Aduhelm was the first new Alzheimer’s drug approved in 20 years after a long list of high-profile failures for the industry. 

Eisai, leader of the 50-50 partnership’s lecanemab program, is seeking FDA approval under the same accelerated pathway as Aduhelm, with a decision expected in early January. But on Tuesday, the Japanese drugmaker said it would use the new efficacy results to submit lecanemab for traditional FDA review. 

The company said it will also seek authorization in Japan and Europe during its current fiscal year, ending March 31. 

The Phase III trial evaluated the drug’s ability to reduce cognitive and functional decline based on the Clinical Dementia Rating-Sum of Boxes (CDR-SB), a numerical scale used to quantify the severity of dementia in patients in areas such as memory, orientation, judgment and problem-solving and personal care. 

Brain swelling 

The rate of ARIA-E, a brain swelling side effect associated with anti-amyloid treatments, was 12.5% in the lecanemab group, versus 1.7% in the placebo group. 

While the side effect showed up on imaging, many of these cases were not symptomatic, the companies said. Symptomatic brain swelling was seen in 2.8% of those in the lecanemab group and none of the placebo group, they said. 

The trial also tracked the rate of micro hemorrhages in the brain, which occurred at a rate of 17% in the lecanemab group, and 8.7% in the placebo group. 

The total incidence of both conditions was 21.3% in the lecanemab group and 9.3% in the placebo group, rates that fell within an expected range, the companies said. 

Petersen said the side effect was present, but much less than with Aduhelm, and “certainly tolerable.” 

Aduhelm’s approval was a rare bright spot for Alzheimer’s patients, but critics have called for more evidence that amyloid-targeting drugs are worth the cost. 

The controversy and reluctance by some payers to cover Aduhelm led Biogen to slash the drug’s price to $28,000 per year from an initial $56,000. 

But Medicare, the U.S. government health plan for people 65 and older, this year said it would only pay for Aduhelm if patients were enrolled in a valid clinical trial, which sharply curtailed the medication’s use. Since Alzheimer’s is a disease of aging, an estimated 85% of patients eligible for the drug are covered by the government plan. 

The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s is expected to rise to about 13 million by 2050 from more than 6 million currently, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Globally, that figure could rise to 139 million by 2050 without an effective treatment, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International. 

your ad here

As Ebola Spreads, Ugandan Medical Interns Strike Over Safety

All, News

As Uganda reports more deaths from the latest Ebola outbreak in the country, medical interns at the hospital handling most of the cases have gone on strike. The interns say they are not being provided with adequate personal protective equipment against the deadly virus, which causes a hemorrhagic fever. Uganda’s health ministry has so far confirmed five deaths and 18 probable fatalities out of 36 cases.

Ugandan Health officials say they are holding talks with striking interns at central Mubende district’s hospital, which is handling most of the country’s spreading Ebola outbreak.

President for the Federation for Uganda Medical Interns, Dr. Musa Lumumba, says there is not enough personal protective gear for the interns at the hospital.

Speaking to VOA by phone, he called on Uganda’s Ministry of Health to urgently address the issue to protect doctors-in-training. 

“The issue of not having accommodation, so they stay in communities, which communities have got cases of Ebola,” Lumumba said. Protection of those at the frontline. And those at the frontline are the health care workers.”

Uganda Medical Association President, Dr. Samuel Oledo, told VOA one intern, three staff, and a medical student have been confirmed for exposure to the virus and at least three senior health officers (SHO) are showing symptoms.  

“We have 34 interns in Mubende.  And we have less than 12 doctors employed on the ground,” Oledo said. “If you have interns and they are pulling out at once, it’s catastrophic.  And the justifications are clear, honestly.  Results have come out today and one of the SHOs who actually performed surgeries with one of the interns on one case has become positive of Ebola.”

Oledo said they suspect as many as 104 medical students in Mubende hospital have been exposed to the virus.   

Uganda’s Ministry of Health has yet to confirm the exposures and infections of students and staff at the hospital.   

Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Ainebyoona denied there is a lack of protective equipment there to guard against Ebola.  

“All the protective gear to safeguard their life is available,” Ainebyoona said. “But like [with] any other infectious disease, fear will be expected. But we are working to ensure that we engage and counsel.  And ensure that there are teams to respond.”

Despite the spreading virus, Uganda’s Health Ministry said the situation is under control but acknowledged that three people suspected of being infected with the virus fled Mubende’s isolation unit on Monday.

Officials say security has been beefed up since to avoid a repeat. 

Uganda’s Ebola outbreak was first detected last week in Mubende, a central district, but has since spread to neighboring districts Kyegegwa and Kasanda.  

Some schools in Kyegegwa have shut down for two weeks to protect students.

First reports of a possible Ebola outbreak came from Kyegegwa’s Kyaka 11 refugee camp, raising alarm bells of a possible quick spread in the packed camp.  

But testing ruled out an outbreak in the camp.  

After Mubende’s cases were confirmed, the U.N.’s Refugee Agency UNHCR said it added controlled entry measures at refugee settlements.

“We are stepping up some assistance programs that had been curtailed due to lack of funding since July,” said Matthew Crentsil, the UNHCR Uganda representative. “That is procurement of soap. You would agree with me, this is fundamental in curbing the spread of Ebola.”

Uganda has yet to identify the source of the Ebola outbreak, which is the Sudan strain of the virus.  

The Sudan strain is less common than the Zaire strain and has no current, effective vaccine.

Uganda’s last Ebola outbreak in 2019 was the Zaire strain.  It last reported a Sudan strain outbreak in 2012.

your ad here