Convicted Killer Turned Tech Whiz Confronts His Sordid Past

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When he was 20 years old, Harel Hershtik planned and executed a murder, a crime that a quarter of a century later is still widely remembered for its grisly details.

Today, he is the brains behind an Israeli health-tech startup, poised to make millions of dollars with the backing of prominent public figures and deep-pocket investors.

With his company set to go public, Hershtik’s past is coming under new scrutiny, raising questions about whether someone who took a person’s life deserves to rehabilitate his own to such an extent.

“When I was young, I would say that I was stupid and arrogant,” said Hershtik, now 46. “You can be a genius and yet still be very stupid and the two don’t contradict each other.”

Today, Hershtik is the vice president of strategy and technology at Scentech Medical, a company he founded in 2018, while behind bars, which says its product can detect certain diseases through a breath test.

In a three-hour interview with The Associated Press, he repeatedly expressed remorse for his crime.

Hershtik was convicted of murdering Yaakov Sela, a charismatic snake trapper he met when he was 14. The two had a bumpy relationship.

Sela was known for having numerous girlfriends at once, one being Hershtik’s mother. Hershtik said he felt uneasy with how Sela treated some of the women, including his mother.

In early 1996, Sela discovered that Hershtik had stolen 49,000 shekels (about $15,000 at the time) from him, and the two agreed that instead of involving the police, Hershtik would pay him back double that amount. Court documents say Hershtik instead planned to murder Sela.

Pulled over during a drive to gather the money, an accomplice of Hershtik’s fired three shots at Sela, using Hershtik’s mother’s pistol. He then handed Hershtik the gun, according to the documents, and Hershtik shot Sela in the head at close range.

The pair shoved Sela’s body into the trunk and buried it in a grove in the Golan Heights, according to the documents. Weeks later, hikers saw a hand poking up from the earth, and Sela’s body was found.

The sensational crime gripped the nation.

In court documents, prosecutors say Hershtik lied repeatedly in his attempt to distance himself from the murder.

Hershtik said he was compelled to lie so that he could protect the others involved in the scheme, which included his mother.

Hershtik was sentenced to life in prison for premeditated murder and obstructing justice, among other crimes.

He would serve 25 years, during which time Hershtik earned two doctorates, in math and chemistry, and got married three separate times. He said he established 31 companies, selling six of them.

But prison was also a fraught time for Hershtik. He said he spent 11 years in quarantine because of health issues. He was punished twice for setting up internet access to his cell, in one case building a modem out of two dismantled DVD players.

Last year, a parole board determined he had been rehabilitated and no longer posed a danger to society.

As part of his early release and until 2026, he is under nightly house arrest from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. He must wear a tracking device around his ankle at all times and is barred from leaving the country.

A free man, Hershtik sat recently with the AP in his office in the central city of Rehovot, Israel.

His start-up is waiting for regulatory approval to merge with a company called NextGen Biomed, which trades on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and would make Scentech public.

Hershtik said the company’s product is being finalized for detecting COVID-19 through a patient’s breath, and it is working to add other diseases such as certain cancers as well as depression. The product is meant to provide on-the-spot results in a non-invasive way.

The company has received a patent for its technology in Israel and said it is preparing to apply for FDA approval soon.

Hershtik said the merger values the company at around $250 million and that he has raised more than $25 million in funding over the last two years through private Israeli investors. A large part of the investment is from Hershtik’s own money, although he won’t say how much. Prisoners in Israel aren’t barred from doing business, but

Hershtik’s success is rare.

His company is backed by prominent Israeli names, including Yaakov Amidror, who chairs NextGen and is a former chief of the country’s National Security Council.

“According to the rules of the country, the man is allowed to rehabilitate. He paid his price and he rehabilitated. So there is no reason not to help him rehabilitate,” Amidror, who testified to the parole board on Hershtik’s behalf, told the AP.

But Hershtik’s past is already haunting him. Hershtik was demoted from CTO earlier this year to his current position, in part because he didn’t want his crime to scare away investors.

“Harel has always said if for some reason his presence is a problem and the company would be better off without him, that he’s willing to leave the company,” said Drew Morris, a board member and investor.

As Scentech seeks to take its product to market, investors will need to decide whether Hershtik’s rap sheet influences where they put their money.

Ishak Saporta, a senior lecturer at Tel Aviv University’s Coller School of Management, said he believed investors would be drawn to the company’s potential for profit rather than deterred by Hershtik’s history.

“What concerns me here is that he became a millionaire. He paid his debt to society in jail. But does he have a commitment to the victim’s family,” Saporta asked.

Tovia Bat-Leah, who had a child with Sela, suggested he help fund her daughter’s education or create a reptile museum in Sela’s name.

“He served his time but he should also make some kind of reparation,” she said.

Hershtik sees the good that could come about from the company as the ultimate form of repentance. He said he could have used his smarts to create any sort of company with no benefit to society but chose health tech instead.

“Trust me, this is not for the money,” he said.

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IBM: 6 Black Colleges Getting Cybersecurity Centers

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Six historically Black universities in five Southern states will be getting the first IBM cybersecurity centers aimed at training underrepresented communities, the company said.

The schools are Xavier University of Louisiana, that state’s Southern University System, North Carolina A&T, South Carolina State, Clark Atlanta and Morgan State universities, according to a news release Tuesday.

“Technology-related services are in constant demand, and cybersecurity is paramount,” said Dr. Ray L. Belton, president of the Southern University System based in Baton Rouge.

The centers will give students, staff, and faculty access to modern technology, resources, and skills development, said Dr. Nikunja Swain, chair and professor of the Computer Science and Mathematics Department at South Carolina State, in Orangeburg.

“It will further enhance our ongoing activities on several key areas, including cybersecurity, data science analytics, cloud computing, IOT, blockchain, design thinking, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence,” he said.

IBM said it plans more than 20 such centers at historically Black colleges and universities nationwide.

The company said each school will get customized courses and access to company academic programs. They also will be able to experience simulated but realistic cyberattacks through IBM Security’s Command Center.

The company said it also will provide faculty and students free access to multiple SaaS IBM Cloud environments.

Xavier is in New Orleans, North Carolina A&T in Greensboro and Morgan State in Baltimore.

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US Abortion Rights Activists Start ‘Summer of Rage’ With Saturday Protests

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Abortion rights supporters will protest in cities across the United States on Saturday, kicking off what organizers said would be “a summer of rage” if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide.

Planned Parenthood, Women’s March and other abortion rights groups organized more than 300 “Bans Off Our Bodies” marches for Saturday, with the largest turnouts expected in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Chicago.

The demonstrations are in response to the May 2 leak of a draft opinion showing the court’s conservative majority ready to reverse the 1973 landmark decision that established a federal constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

The court’s final ruling, which could give states the power to ban abortion, is expected in June. About half of U.S. states could ban or severely restrict abortion soon after a ruling vacating Roe.  

Organizers said they anticipated hundreds of thousands of people to participate in Saturday’s events, which they said would be the first of many coordinated protests around the Supreme Court’s decision.

“For the women of this country, this will be a summer of rage,” said Rachel Carmona, president of Women’s March. “We will be ungovernable until this government starts working for us, until the attacks on our bodies let up, until the right to an abortion is codified into law.”

Democrats, who currently hold the White House and both chambers of Congress, hope that backlash to the Supreme Court decision will carry their party’s candidates to victory in the November midterm elections.  

But voters will be weighing abortion rights against other issues such as the soaring prices of food and gas, and they may be skeptical of Democrats’ ability to protect abortion access after efforts to pass legislation that would enshrine abortion rights in federal law failed. 

On Saturday, demonstrators in New York City plan to march across the Brooklyn Bridge, while protesters in Washington will meet at the Washington Monument and then head to the Supreme Court. Los Angeles protesters planned to meet at City Hall, and a group in Austin was to convene at Texas’ state capitol.

In the past week, protesters have gathered outside the homes of Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh, who have voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, according to the leaked opinion.

Students for Life of America, an anti-abortion advocacy group with campus chapters across the country, said it was holding counter protests on Saturday in nine U.S. cities, including in Washington.

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New Zealand Prime Minister Tests Positive for COVID-19   

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New Zealand’s prime minister has tested positive for COVID.

Jacinda Ardern’s office said in a statement Saturday that she has mild symptoms and has been in isolation since Sunday, when her partner, Clarke Gayford, tested positive.

Ardern is required to be in isolation until May 21, preventing her from being in Parliament for the release of the Government’s Emissions Reduction Plan on Monday and the country’s budget on Thursday.

“This is a milestone week for the government, and I’m gutted I can’t be there for it,” Ardern said.

Meanwhile, an Associated Press report says that four U.S. Air Force Academy cadets may not graduate or receive a military commission because they have refused COVID-19 vaccinations.

AP reports that Air Force officials say the cadets may also have to “pay back thousands of dollars in tuition costs.”

The Asian Football Confederation announced Saturday that the Chinese Football Association will not be able to host the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.

The confederation said in a statement that it “acknowledges the exceptional circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the relinquishment by China PR of its hosting rights.”

China maintains a zero-COVID policy that has forced thousands of people to go into quarantine for long periods of time.

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported more than 520 million COVID-19 cases early Saturday and over 6 million deaths.

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Storm Chasers Face Host of Dangers Beyond Severe Weather

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The deaths of four storm chasers in car crashes over the last two weeks have underscored the dangers of pursuing severe weather events as more people clog back roads and highways searching for a glimpse of a lightning bolt or tornado, meteorologists and chasers say.

Martha Llanos Rodriguez of Mexico City died Wednesday when a semitrailer plowed into her vehicle from behind on Interstate 90 in southwestern Minnesota. The car’s driver, Diego Campos, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he and Rodriguez and two other weather experts had been chasing violent weather and were hit after he stopped for downed power lines on the road.

More people are hopping into their cars and racing off after storms, jamming up roads, running stop signs and paying more attention to the sky than traffic, said Marshall Shepherd, director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia.

“There is such a volume of chasers out there on some storms sometimes that it creates potential traffic and other hazards,” Shepherd said. “Seeing storms within their natural context has scientific and broader value so I am not anti-chasing, however, there are elements that have become a little wild, wild West-ish.”

Popularized in the 1996 movie “Twister,” storm chasing involves pursuing severe weather events such as electrical storms and tornadoes, often in cars or on foot.

Some are researchers looking to gather data, such as verifying computer models predicting storm behavior. Some are looking to get in touch with nature. Others are photographers. And still others are just looking for a rush, said Greg Tripoli, an atmospheric and oceanic sciences professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who taught a class on storm chasing.

“Seeing a tornado is a life-changing experience,” Tripoli said. “You want to see one instead of just talking about them. It’s really just one of the excitements of life. You’ve got to take chances and go out there and go after your passions. It’s no different from rock-climbing or deep-sea diving.”

The storms themselves present dangers to inexperienced chasers who get too close. They can get hit by debris, struck by lightning or worse. Tripoli said he decided to stop teaching his storm chaser class and taking students into the field in the early 1990s after university officials stopped insuring the trips.

Nature isn’t the only threat. Storm chasers spend long hours on the road traveling from state to state like long-haul truckers, inviting fatigue. When they catch up to the storms, they can often keep their eyes on the skies instead of the road, sometimes with deadly consequences. Tripoli said he would warn students in his storm chaser class that the most likely way they would get hurt is in a car crash.

Three University of Oklahoma students were killed on April 30 after traveling to Kansas to chase a tornado. According to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, the students’ car hydroplaned on the interstate in Tonkawa, about 85 miles (137 kilometers) north of Oklahoma City. They slid off and back onto the interstate before a semitrailer hit them.

The University of Oklahoma has a policy stating that anyone who chases storms does so at their own risk and that storm chasing isn’t part of the school’s meteorology curriculum.

The mother of one of the students, 19-year-old Gavin Short of Grayslake, Illinois, told WMAQ-TV that her son loved to chase storms.

“He loved it, and we were so happy for him,” Beth Short said. “And it just, this is just the worst nightmare for us and two other sets of parents.”

Chaser traffic jams are becoming more common, said Kelton Halbert, a University of Wisconsin atmospheric and oceanic sciences doctoral student. He said he’s been chasing storms since he was 16 because he wants to feel closer to nature’s beauty and verify his forecast modeling, mostly by taking video of storms’ behavior.

“Unless you’re with one of these research institutions, storm chasers don’t have the ability to collect a lot of hard data,” he said. “For most … it’s the beauty, it’s the photography and then obviously the thrill seekers and adrenaline seekers. You can have people tailgating you, people in the middle of the road. If you’re in Texas, Oklahoma or Kansas on a high-risk day, yeah, you can see hundreds of them. Given the recent couple weeks, I’ve definitely felt more apprehensive. It brings back to the forefront that every time you do this you’re taking a risk.”

Wednesday’s storm in the Upper Midwest left tens of thousands of homes and businesses without power into Thursday. More potentially severe weather was forecast into Thursday evening that could bring hail, high winds and tornadoes from the Dakotas and Minnesota into other parts of the Midwest, the Storm Prediction Center said.

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Interfaith Group Asks Starbucks to Drop Vegan Milk Surcharge

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A group of Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish leaders is asking Starbucks to stop charging extra for vegan milk alternatives, saying the practice amounts to a tax on people who have embraced plant-based lifestyles.

In a statement issued Friday, an interfaith coalition led by Nevada-based Hindu activist Rajan Zed pressed the coffee chain to end the surcharges it called “unethical and unfair.”

“A coffee company should not be in the business of taxing individuals who had chosen the plant-based lifestyle,” said Zed’s statement, which was also signed by Thomas W. Blake, an Episcopal priest; Greek Orthodox clergyman Stephen R. Karcher; Buddhist priest Matthew Fisher; and Jewish rabbi ElizaBeth Webb Beyer.

The religious leaders cited numerous reasons why some Starbucks customers prefer alternatives to dairy, including dietary restrictions, ethical issues, environmental concerns, lactose intolerance, milk allergies and animal welfare.

Those who want plant-based milk should not have to pay more, they said, calling on the Seattle-based company’s CEO, Howard Schultz, and board chair Mellody Hobson to immediately drop the surcharge.

Starbucks outlets in the United States typically charge 50 cents to a dollar more for drinks made with plant-based milks.

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Canada Blazes Path in Space Law

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The Canadian government is amending its criminal law to include any crimes committed by citizens who one day go to the moon.

While the move seems far-fetched, experts say that because of the growing interest in and feasibility of space tourism, countries should begin thinking about how crimes committed in space will be adjudicated, and they suggest the coming Canadian legislation could become a model for other countries.

Legal procedures are already in place to deal with crimes committed aboard the International Space Station, which is divided into different sections controlled by individual countries.

If two Americans were involved in a crime in the American part of the station, it would be prosecutable under U.S. law. If an astronaut of one nationality was accused of a crime against a one of a different nationality, the two countries would have to negotiate which would prosecute or possibly extradite the suspect.

Now Canada is looking beyond the laws governing low Earth orbit and considering legal scenarios on another celestial object — in this case, the moon. Language buried deep within the 443 pages of this year’s budget implementation bill stipulates that any Canadian crew member who commits an offense in space is deemed to have committed it in Canada.

Steven Freeland, a professor emeritus of international law at Western Sydney University in Australia, says current laws on the space station will not work for something more complex, such as a lunar settlement.

Freeland, who has been involved extensively with space law for several years, told VOA that Canada’s action has created interesting questions about rights and obligations because space travel now includes tourists going into orbit and — one day — possibly staying on the moon.

He says new laws are needed that will apply to every person, regardless of their earthly nationality.

“And it’s not just about murder,” Freeland says. “It’s about, you know, those people might want to get married. (Under) what law did they get married? Those people might want to have children. You know, what nationality, you know, what is the nationality of the child and etc., etc. … as those quote-unquote ‘settlements’ become more and more sophisticated?”

Professor Ram Jakhu, acting director of the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University in Montreal, says that as technological advances make space travel more common, laws must reflect that reality.

“The technology is being tested. It is becoming safer. I think five, six years, and here you will see a number of people going to space for all kinds of things — for tourism, for, you know, having lunch or dinner somewhere. There are honeymoons or manufacturing of some products,” he said.

“And those things are going to happen. And this is no more science fiction. That is for sure.”

Michelle Hanlon, co-director of the Center for Air and Space Law at the University of Mississippi School of Law, says the original international treaties concerning outer space were designed in the 1950s and were less about human space flight than about assets such as satellites. The Canadian amendment is a reminder to space-bound humans that earthly laws follow them, she says.

“And so, to just sort of reinforce the fact that as a Canadian, and soon Americans will probably do the same thing, and then it will probably be a requirement in order to join Lunar Gateway,” a U.S.-led international project to establish a space station in lunar orbit that can serve as a launching pad for exploration of the moon and deep space.

“You know, just a reminder, you’re human, but all of these laws still apply to you. Your laws will follow you into space,” Hanlon said.

Canadian Minister of Justice David Lametti was unavailable for an interview, but in a written statement, his office called the new amendment a response to a bilateral memorandum of understanding between Canada and the United States over the Civil Lunar Gateway Initiative. It said the amendment is required to ensure that Canada’s criminal jurisdiction can also apply to the country’s Lunar Gateway crew members.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is working toward an unmanned Orion capsule lifting off to the moon on top of the Artemis 1 rocket this summer. The first crewed mission is scheduled for May 2024.

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Baby Formula Shortage in the US Challenges Families 

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One of the three companies that make baby formula in the U.S. has halted production, adding to what was already a baby formula shortage due to supply chain issues and other factors. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it is doing everything in its power to ensure that an adequate supply of the product is available. And even the White House says it’s taking steps to alleviate the crisis. VOA’s Laurel Bowman has more. 

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Moon Goes Blood Red This Weekend: ‘Eclipse for the Americas’

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A total lunar eclipse will grace the night skies this weekend, providing longer than usual thrills for stargazers across North and South America. 

The celestial action unfolds Sunday night into early Monday morning, with the moon bathed in the reflected red and orange hues of Earth’s sunsets and sunrises for about one-and-a-half hours, one of the longest totalities of the decade. It will be the first so-called blood moon in a year. 

Observers in the eastern half of North America and all of Central and South America will have prime seats for the whole show, weather permitting. Partial stages of the eclipse will be visible across Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Left out: Alaska, Asia and Australia.  

“This is really an eclipse for the Americas,” said NASA’s Noah Petro, a planetary geologist who specializes in the moon. “It’s going to be a treat.” 

All you need, he noted, are “patience and eyeballs.” 

A total eclipse occurs when Earth passes directly between the moon and the sun and casts a shadow on our constant, cosmic companion. The moon will be 362,000 kilometers (225,000 miles) away at the peak of the eclipse — around midnight on the U.S. East Coast. 

“This is this gradual, slow, wonderful event that as long as it’s clear where you are, you get to see it,” Petro said. 

If not, NASA will provide a livestream of the eclipse from various locations; so will the Slooh network of observatories. 

There’ll be another lengthy total lunar eclipse in November, with Africa and Europe lucking out again, but not the Americas. Then the next one isn’t until 2025. 

Launched last fall, NASA’s asteroid-seeking Lucy spacecraft will photograph this weekend’s event from 103 million kilometers (64 million miles) away, as ground controllers continue their effort to fix a loose solar panel. 

NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins, a geologist, plans to set her alarm clock early aboard the International Space Station. 

“Hopefully, we can be up in time and be at the right place at the right time to catch a good glimpse,” she told The Associated Press earlier this week. 


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April 2022 Tied for Earth’s 5th Warmest Ever, NOAA Reports

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Scientists with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Friday that April 2022 tied April 2010 as the fifth warmest April on record. 

In a release, NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information said the average global temps in April were 0.85 of a degree Celsius above the 20th century average of 13.7 C. 

NOAA said the global temperature for the year through April 2022 was 0.87 of a degree C above average, making it the fifth warmest such year through April on record. 

They report Asia recorded its warmest April ever this year, with temperatures running 2.62 degrees above average. The agency says unusually high temperatures in India and Pakistan during the month contributed to the region’s record heat. 

The agency’s Global Annual Temperature Rankings Outlook reports there is a virtual certainty — greater than 99% — that 2022 will rank among the 10 warmest years on record. 

NOAA reports that the 10 warmest Aprils globally have all occurred since 2010, with 2014-2022 all ranking among the 10 warmest Aprils on record. 


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Malawi Moves to Administer Cholera Vaccines as Cases Rise

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Plans are underway in Malawi to start administering the cholera vaccine in some southern districts, as the number of cholera cases has been rising since an outbreak began in January.

According to a daily update released Thursday by the Ministry of Health, Malawi has registered more than 200 cases, with seven deaths and 26 hospital admissions. 

The update says the outbreak that started in Nsanje district in January has spread to four other areas in southern Malawi: Neno, Chikwawa, Machinga and Blantyre. 

Records show that as of Thursday, Nsanje had 97 registered cases, Blantyre had 53, Neno had 38, Chikwawa had 12 and Machinga had two. 

Wongani Mbale, deputy spokesperson for the district health office in Blantyre, blames the outbreak on poor sanitation. 

“According to what we have gathered, it seems that a lot of people are using unprotected wells, which are a source of infections,” Mbale said. “The water is contaminated. So as a district, we think that the cause is the use of contaminated water.” 

Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection caused by ingesting food or water contaminated with bacteria. The disease affects both children and adults and, if untreated, can kill within hours. 

To contain the outbreak, Malawi’s government has announced plans to start administering the cholera vaccine this month in all affected districts. 

Health Ministry spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe told a local newspaper that the government has 2.9 million doses of vaccine to be administered orally starting May 23. 

Mbale of the Blantyre health office said his office has started taking measures to combat the vaccine hesitancy that hindered the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“Starting from next Monday, we are having some briefings to health workers to train HSAs (Health Surveillance Assistants) on how they can implement this activity,” he said. “After that, we will have orientation and sensitization meetings with the community so that they can receive the vaccine without any doubt, as you know that the majority are fearing the vaccine, saying that maybe it’s for COVID.” 

George Jobe, executive director for Malawi Health Equity Network, a health rights organization, said cholera aside, there is a need for the government to address sanitation problems in many rural areas in Malawi.   

“In Neno, for example, water has been a challenge. There was a time when [people in] Neno suffered typhoid because of water. And we also understand that the places that have been affected are relying on the Lisungwi River. In this case, there is a need for clean water to be made available even in hard-to-reach rural areas,” Jobe said. 

The government said it is distributing chlorine in affected areas for water treatment, as well as sending out cholera control information to people through various channels of communication. 


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US, China Vie for Africa Mobile Phone Sector

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Africa, in recent years, has become the new frontier where China and the United States, the world’s two biggest economic superpowers, are competing for influence in a key industry: telecommunications.

This week, Ethiopia celebrated the launch of a 5G network powered by China’s telecom giant Huawei in Addis Ababa.

Just before that, on a visit to the continent last week, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited U.S. mobile company Africell’s offices in Angola, where the firm has amassed some 2 million users since it was launched just over a month ago.  

“Today in Luanda, I visited @AfricellAo, an innovative, state-of-the-art U.S. company expanding 5G access in Angola with trusted technology components,” she wrote in a tweet.

Asked in a subsequent press briefing whether the tweet wasn’t a dig at Huawei – which already has a huge digital foothold in Africa but which was sanctioned in the U.S. in 2019 by then-President Donald Trump – Sherman was unequivocal.  

“It’s not about throwing shade (being critical) on Huawei. We’ve been very direct. We believe that when countries choose Huawei, they are potentially giving up their sovereignty,” she said. “They are turning over their data to another country. They may find themselves bringing in a surveillance capability they didn’t even know was there.”  

Washington has long expressed concern that Beijing is trying to monopolize networks and possibly use them for espionage, while Huawei has repeatedly denied the allegations.  

“So, we’ve been very public about our concerns about Huawei, and so we are glad that Africell can provide to the people of Angola a safe, capable tool in their hands to reach out to the world,” Sherman added.  

The deputy secretary’s comments raised ire in Beijing, where they were met with a stiff rebuke from Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.  

“Chinese companies including Huawei have conducted mutually beneficial cooperation with many countries in Africa and the world beyond, contributed to the improvement and development of the countries’ communications infrastructure, provided advanced, quality, safe and affordable services for the local people and won great support,” he said on Chinese state media.  

“There is not a single case of cyber security accident, surveillance or wiretapping in the course of the cooperation,” he added, going on to allege that the U.S. has long been responsible for such spying activities itself.  

Zhao noted that it is up to African governments to decide with whom to cooperate.

In Angola, the company already has a significant presence, with mobile operator Unitel linked to Huawei, which is also building two technological training centers, worth $60 million, in the country in order to develop the digital economy.  

And with Huawei widely available in South Africa, only one of the five people VOA spoke to at a local shopping center was even aware of the controversy over the brand.  

Cheris Fourie, a sales consultant at a cellphone shop in Cape Town’s Blue Root Mall, said Huawei handsets aren’t that popular anymore, not because of concerns over any nefarious activities by the company, but rather because Google services are no longer on the devices. Google is no longer available because of a U.S. Huawei ban.  

David Devillieras, who was sitting at a cafe at the mall using his Samsung phone, told VOA he’d never heard of the possibility Huawei was involved in surveillance. He added that he wouldn’t buy a Huawei phone having heard that.  

“I wouldn’t go there at all, not for one second. I wouldn’t buy a Chinese phone,” he said.

One shopper, Steve Elliot-Jones, said he “wouldn’t trust anything that comes out of China,” but thought other countries could also be using mobile networks to spy.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if technology companies including the states or anywhere else for that matter… I wouldn’t say anyone’s actually innocent. I think they’re all probably all up to selling information and making money on the side and denying it if it comes out.”

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Musk Says $44-billion Twitter Deal Temporarily On Hold

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Elon Musk said on Friday his $44-billion deal for Twitter Inc was temporarily on hold, citing pending details on spam and fake accounts.

“Twitter deal temporarily on hold pending details supporting calculation that spam/fake accounts do indeed represent less than 5% of users,” Musk said in a tweet.

Shares of the social media company fell 20% in premarket trading. Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The company had earlier this month estimated that false or spam accounts represented fewer than 5% of its monetizable daily active users during the first quarter.

It also said it faced several risks until the deal with Musk is closed, including whether advertisers would continue to spend on Twitter.

Musk, the world’s richest man and the chief executive of Tesla Inc, had said that one of his priorities would be to remove “spam bots” from the platform.

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Bracing For Her Future: Baby Giraffe Fitted With Orthotic

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Over the past three decades Ara Mirzaian has fitted braces for everyone from Paralympians to children with scoliosis. But Msituni was a patient like none other — a newborn giraffe.

The calf was born Feb. 1 at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido, north of San Diego, with a front leg bending the wrong way. Safari park staff feared she could die if they didn’t immediately correct the condition, which could prevent her from nursing and walking around the habitat.

But they had no experience with fitting a baby giraffe in a brace. That proved especially challenging given she was a 178-centimeter-tall newborn and growing taller every day. So, they reached out to experts in orthotics at the Hanger Clinic, where Mirzaian landed his very first animal patient.

“It was pretty surreal when I first heard about it,” Mirzaian told The Associated Press this week during a tour to meet Msituni, who was strutting alongside the other giraffes with no troubles. “Of course, all I did was go online and study giraffes for like 24/7 until we got out here.”

Zoos increasingly are turning to medical professionals who treat people to find solutions for ailing animals. The collaboration has been especially helpful in the field of prosthetics and orthotics. Earlier this year, ZooTampa in Florida teamed up with similar experts to successfully replace the beak of a cancer-stricken great hornbill bird with a 3D-printed prosthetic.

The Hanger team in California had fit orthotics for a cyclist and kayaker who both went on to win medals at the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil and customized a brace for a marathoner with multiple sclerosis who raced in seven continents.

And in 2006, a Hanger team in Florida created a prosthetic for a bottlenose dolphin that had lost its tail after becoming tangled in ropes from a crab trap. Their story inspired the 2011 movie Dolphin Tale.

But this was a definite learning curve for all, including Matt Kinney, a senior veterinarian for the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance in charge of Msituni’s case.

“We commonly put on casts and bandages and stuff. But something that extensive, like this brace that she was provided, that’s something we really had to turn to our human (medicine) colleagues for,” Kinney said.

Msituni suffered from hyperextended carpi — wrist joint bones in giraffes’ front limbs, which are more like arms. As she overcompensated, the second front limb started to hyperextend as well. Her back leg joints also were weak but were able to be corrected with specialized hoof extenders.

And given that she weighed more than 55 kilograms at birth, the abnormality was already taking its toll on her joints and bones.

While the custom braces were being built, Kinney first bought post-surgery knee braces at Target that he cut up and re-sewed, but they kept slipping off. Then Msituni wore medical grade braces for humans that were modified for her long legs. But eventually Msituni broke one.

For the custom braces to work, they would need to have a range of motion but be durable, so Hanger worked with a company that makes horse braces.

Using cast moldings of the giraffe’s legs, it took eight days to make the carbon graphite braces that featured the animal’s distinct pattern of crooked spots to match her hide.

“We put on the giraffe pattern just to make it fun,” Mirzaian said. “We do this with kids all the time. They get to pick superheroes, or their favorite team and we imprint it on their bracing. So why not do it with a giraffe?”

In the end, Msituni only needed one brace. The other leg corrected itself with the medical grade brace.

When they put her under to fit the custom brace, Mirzaian was so moved by the animal’s beauty, he gave her a hug.

“It was just amazing seeing such a big, beautiful creature just lying there in front of me,” he said.

After 10 days in the custom brace, the problem was corrected.

All told, she was in braces for 39 days from the day she was born. She stayed in the animal hospital the entire time. After that, she was slowly introduced to her mom and others in the herd. Her mom never took her back, but another female giraffe has adopted her, so to speak, and she now runs along like the other giraffes.

Mirzaian hopes to hang up a picture of the baby giraffe in her patterned brace so the kids he treats will be inspired to wear theirs.

“It was the coolest thing to see an animal like that walk in a brace,” he said. “It feels good to know we saved a giraffe’s life.”

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Meatpackers Convinced Trump Officials to Keep Plants Running During COVID Crisis, Report Says

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Top U.S. meatpacking companies drafted the executive order issued by President Donald Trump in 2020 to keep meat plants running and convinced his administration to encourage workers to stay on the job at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report released Thursday by a U.S. House panel.

The report by the House of Representatives Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis details the meat industry’s influence on Trump’s White House as it tried to keep production rolling even as employees fell ill.

More than 59,000 meatpacking workers at plants owned by the nation’s top five meatpackers contracted COVID-19 in the first year of the pandemic and at least 269 died, according to the first report by the panel, released in October.

“The shameful conduct of corporate executives pursuing profit at any cost during a crisis and government officials eager to do their bidding regardless of resulting harm to the public must never be repeated,” committee chair Representative James Clyburn said.

The North American Meat Institute, the leading meat industry trade group, said the report “distorts the truth” and “uses 20/20 hindsight and cherry picks data to support a narrative that is completely unrepresentative of the early days of an unprecedented national emergency.”

The report, based on thousands of documents and interviews with workers, union officials and experts, found that in April 2020, meatpacking companies led by Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods drafted an executive order invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA) to keep meat plants open.

The DPA, which was enacted in 1950, gives the president emergency powers to control the domestic economy.

The companies sent the draft to Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials and corresponded extensively with the White House, USDA, and other administration officials before the order was finalized and signed on April 28, the report found.

Industry executives argued at the time that domestic meat supply was threatened by worker absenteeism.

Those concerns were “baseless,” the House report said. USDA data showed meatpackers had 622 million pounds of frozen pork in March 2020 and that top meatpackers’ pork exports grew as much as 370% in the first year of the pandemic.

Jim Monroe, Smithfield vice president of corporate affairs, said the company is proud of its pandemic response.

“Did we make every effort to share with government officials our perspective on the pandemic and how it was impacting the food production system? Absolutely,” he said.

Gary Mickelson, a Tyson spokesperson, said the company’s top priority is worker health and safety and that it has collaborated with federal, state and local officials in its pandemic response in the interest of protecting workers.

In April 2020, meat industry executives also lobbied the USDA to encourage workers to report to plants as absenteeism rose, resulting in a public statement to that effect from former Vice President Mike Pence, the report found.

The industry worked closely with political appointee Mindy Brashears, the USDA undersecretary of food safety, and corresponded with her via her personal email and cell phone, a potential violation of the Federal Records Act, the report found.

The former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Redfield, also told the House committee that he added softening language, like “if feasible,” to CDC guidance for managing COVID-19 spread in meat plants because he was “persuaded by industry concerns” about the potential impact of the guidance.

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North Korea’s Kim Orders Lockdown as First COVID-19 Outbreak Is Confirmed

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered a nationwide lockdown Thursday to try to contain a highly transmissible variant of coronavirus that causes COVID-19, which was confirmed in the country this week for the first time.

The official Korean Central News Agency said genetic sequencing analysis of samples collected from a group of people on Sunday in Pyongyang had identified the BA.2 strain, also known as the “stealth omicron” for its relative difficulty of detection.

While calling the situation a “most critical emergency,” the report did not say how many infections had been confirmed nor how many people had been tested. North Korea has maintained a strict border closure since February 2020 and instituted its own quarantine measures amid the pandemic, which have now officially been breached.

BA.2 became the world’s dominant strain in March, the World Health Organization said. It was also responsible for driving up infections in South Korea to highs unseen before. In late April, North Korea closed its rail line into China’s border city of Dandong after it registered a spike in COVID-19 cases.

The detection of omicron and Pyongyang’s public admission of it came as North Korea remains one of the last remaining countries yet to run a vaccination program for its 26 million people.

And given that its medical system still significantly lags behind those of its Asian neighbors, observers say it appeared unlikely that Pyongyang would shift from its yearslong stance of rejecting vaccine help and stick to its only allowable option of a border closure.

‘A most serious emergency’

Kim was seen wearing a mask for the first time at an early morning politburo meeting, which he took off only when addressing his masked aides.

He ordered a “thorough lockdown” in all cities and counties, KCNA said Thursday. He directed businesses and construction projects to continue to operate but in isolation to “perfectly block” the spread of the virus.

“They only have one option: simply lock down their country and try to prevent the spread of the omicron virus,” Park Won-gon, professor of North Korea studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, told VOA. “Because North Korea doesn’t have simple medicines, much less a medical system comparable to other countries, even if they had the vaccines, they would not be able to stop omicron.”

Park doesn’t think North Korea will be looking to solicit vaccines from outside parties; what it really wants is a simple cure, which the world has yet to develop more than two years into the pandemic.

North Korea will institute draconian measures to those of its biggest ally, China, if not even more severe, Park predicted.

Based on several studies conducted on the contingency of North Korea, Park said, there was a single scenario that would incite a people’s uprising, and possibly the regime’s collapse: a pandemic paired with extreme economic difficulty. “That is why, for more than two years, North Korea has been very sensitive and serious about this pandemic, even at the deep economic cost of closing its border with China.”

Extended impact

North Korea is already dealing with a difficult rice planting season, an important time on the socialist state’s calendar, challenged by droughtlike conditions and a shortage of necessities such as fertilizer. Even prior to the pandemic’s official entrance to the country, the state had relocated office workers and laborers to its agricultural regions to assist in building trenches for water transport, according to the official newspaper Rodong Sinmun.

The movement restrictions set to be enacted could complicate the effort, Park said, in a country that has chronically experienced the shortage of food. “It will definitely have a huge negative impact on their food supply in the near future.”

Still, Kim, in Thursday’s politburo meeting, said more dangerous than the virus were “unscientific fear, lack of faith and weak will” as he expressed confidence in the people’s ability to organize and get behind a cause.

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