1 New Ebola Death Confirmed in Congo, Bringing Total to 12

Another person has died in Congo of a confirmed case of Ebola, bringing the number of fatalities to 12, said the country’s Health Ministry.

The new death happened in Iboko, a rural area in northwestern Equateur province, said the Health Ministry statement released Sunday. There are also four new suspected cases in the province, said the statement.


Congo now has 35 confirmed Ebola cases.


Health workers have identified people who have been in contact with confirmed Ebola cases in three areas in Equateur province, the rural areas of Bikoro and Iboko and Mdbandaka, the provincial capital of 1.2 million that is a transport hub on the Congo River.


Congo’s health minister Saturday flew by helicopter to Bikoro and Iboko to see the deployment of health workers who will be tracing those who have been in contact with Ebola cases and inoculating them with a new experimental vaccine. Health minister Oly Ilunga was accompanied by representatives of the World Health Organization and UNICEF. The vaccination campaign in those rural is to begin Monday.


The vaccination campaign is already under way in Mbandaka, where four Ebola cases have been confirmed. About 100 health workers have been vaccinated there as front-line workers face high risk from the virus, which is spread via contact with the bodily fluids of those infected, including the dead.


The next few weeks are crucial in determining whether the outbreak can be brought under control, according to the World Health Organization. Complicating factors include its spread to a major city, the fact that health workers have been infected and the existence of three or four “separate epicenters” that make finding and monitoring contacts of infected people more difficult.


WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a meeting in Geneva on Saturday that ”I am personally committed to ensuring that we do everything we can to stop this outbreak as soon as possible.”


WHO is using a “ring vaccination” approach, targeting the contacts of people infected or suspected of infection and then the contacts of those people. More than 600 contacts have been identified.


WHO also is accelerating efforts with nine neighboring countries to try to prevent the Ebola outbreak from spreading there, saying the regional risk is high. It has warned against international travel and trade restrictions.


This is Congo’s ninth Ebola outbreak since 1976, when the hemorrhagic fever was first identified.


There is no specific treatment for Ebola. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and at times internal and external bleeding. The virus can be fatal in up to 90 percent of cases, depending on the strain.





Noise Pollution Reaching Unsafe Levels in Karachi, Pakistan

Smog, industrial waste and contaminated water are just a few of the environmental problems facing many of the biggest cities today. But there is another type of pollution that’s becoming increasingly prevalent in our cities: noise pollution. Medical experts say people exposed to constant noise can suffer from a variety of psychological and physical ailments. As Saleem Shayan reports, it’s a particularly serious problem in megacities like Karachi in Pakistan where noise is a constant companion.


DRC Ebola Outbreak Threatens Children

The UN children’s fund warned the Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo threatens the health and well-being of children, and special care must be taken to help them survive. 

Ebola is highly contagious, killing between 20 and 90 percent of its victims, and the UN children’s fund is engaging communities in the fight against Ebola.  UNICEF spokesman, Christophe Boulierac said schools are crucial for minimizing the risk of transmission among children.

“UNICEF is scaling up prevention efforts in schools across all three affected health zones,” he said. “This includes on-going efforts to install hand washing units in 277 schools and supporting awareness raising activities reaching more than 13,000 children in Mbandaka, Bikoro and Iboko.” 

Previous outbreaks of Ebola in DRC and most recently in the horrific epidemic in West Africa have shown the high-level of trauma experienced by children at the loss of family members.   Boulierac told VOA orphaned children often become social outcasts because of their association with this fatal disease.

“There is as you mention, rightly, the risk of stigma and the risk that the child when his father, his care-giver, his mother is affected; the child is psychologically affected,” he said.

Boulierac said UNICEF is taking preventive measures, including providing trained therapists to families affected by the Ebola outbreak and helping children cope psychologically with the trauma of losing loved ones.


Real-World Debates Permeate Venice Biennale on Architecture

Real-world debates permeate this year’s Venice Biennale on architecture, from commemorating spaces once part of the U.S. slave trade to maintaining the delicate status quo at religious sites in the Holy Land.

The sprawling exhibition, which opens Saturday for a six-month run, reflects not only on the political implications of what gets built but also on the empty spaces in between.

“We have to be aware of the political issues in order to make buildings which protect, in so far as we can, the status of the human being in the world,” said Shelley McNamara, co-curator with Yvonne Farrell of the main exhibition, “Free Space.” “We are acutely aware of the things that are threatening the quality of life of human beings.”

Israeli Pavilion

The Israeli Pavilion, subtitled “structures of negotiation,” outlines the consequences of multiple claims on revered religious places and how daily use defines monuments.

It doesn’t comment on how the Trump administration’s recent decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv might impact the Middle East conflict. But the curators agreed it is easy to draw inferences.

“What we know is that sometimes political events have a very heavy impact on the status quo of the holy places and vice versa, and even if the equilibrium of the status quo in the holy places is for some reason violated it has an influence on the political situation,” said the pavilion’s co-curator Tania Coen Uzzielli.

Take the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, revered as the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial and one of the pavilion’s five case studies. The exhibit features a color-coded, three-dimensional model of the church made for an Ottoman-era pasha to make clear which denomination controlled which area.

In the early part of the last century, a conflict over who had the right to clean a raised stone in the church courtyard led to violence, said pavilion co-curator Deborah Pinto Fdeda.

“Tens of people died,” she said. “It is through the usage of places over time that these communities gain or lose power.” Yet even there the status quo evolved: “Today the Latins and Orthodox agree to clean it as if the other doesn’t exist.”

​US pavilion

The U.S. pavilion comments on the meaning of citizenship as governments dictate who belongs and who doesn’t.

Amanda Williams and Andres Hernandez created, in collaboration with Shani Crowe, “a pocket of retreat” in the courtyard behind a protective veil of black braids. The refuge is built on a rail, symbolizing the underground railroad that helped bring slaves to freedom. It projects upward, toward a better future.

“The piece tries to embody that trajectory from fighting and surviving for your citizenship to thriving,” Williams said.

Inside, a group called Studio Gang brought 800 stones from a 19th century landing in Memphis linked to the slave trade. Co-curator Ann Lui said the project was about “taking a moment to think about these fraught sites” without proposing, yet, how to remember them.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is one of six countries participating for the first time in the architectural Biennale, with a project that focuses on urban sprawl in the kingdom’s four major centers: political capital Riyadh, religious capital Mecca, the oil city of Dammam and the port city of Jeddah.

“The sprawl is the result of the oil boom but the result of the sprawl is actually social isolation,” said curator Sumayah Al-Solaiman.

Participation in the Biennale is yet another sign of recent opening in Saudi Arabia, giving Saudis an important chance to communicate their experiences directly to the world.

“I think it is becoming more and more relevant to be involved in things that relate in art and culture,” said architect Abdulrahman Gazzaz. “I think it is truly fascinating to us to be present at such a wonderful shift in the dynamic of the country.”

​The Vatican

The Vatican also is participating for the first time in the Biennale of architecture after joining the contemporary art fair in 2013 and 2015. The Holy See entrusted world-renowned architects including Norman Foster to create chapels in a wooded area on an island in the Venetian lagoon.

Curator Francesco Dal Co said the woods provided a metaphor “of where you get lost in life” and the chapels “are always a place of encounter, meeting experience and orientation.”

The chapels may stay on as a permanent presence on San Giorgio island after the Biennale closes on Nov. 25.


Using Gene Therapy to Defeat Cancer, Hereditary Disease

Gene therapy could potentially allow doctors to cure some of the deadliest types of cancer and rare hereditary diseases with one injection. The FDA recently approved the use of three anti-cancer drugs, all based on genetically modified human cells. Scientists say up to 80 percent of all types of cancer will respond to gene therapy treatments in the future. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as Daria Dieguts reports.


Scientists Find Opioids, Antibiotics in Puget Sound Mussels

Scientists who track pollution have discovered traces of antibiotics and the pain reliever oxycodone in some Puget Sound mussels.

KIRO-TV reported this week that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife obtained clean mussels from Penn Cove on Whidbey Island and put them in different areas to test for water contamination.

Scientists worked with the Puget Sound Institute to analyze the data and discovered three out of 18 locations came back positive for trace amounts of oxycodone.

State Fish and Wildlife biologist Jennifer Lanksbury said the contamination most likely came through wastewater treatment plants.

She said the chemicals might be having an impact in fish and shellfish in the areas.

Mussels at a restaurant or store are safe to eat because they come from clean locations, Lanksbury said.


US Conservationists Sue Trump Administration Over Migratory Bird Policy

A coalition of conservation groups sued the Trump administration on Thursday, accusing the government of slashing protections for migratory birds.

At issue is the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which the National Audubon Society and other plaintiffs say has been undermined. In the past, the act helped hold parties responsible for actions that killed or injured migratory birds.

But in December, the Trump administration said energy companies and other businesses that accidentally kill migratory birds will no longer be criminally prosecuted.

“As you can imagine, many causes of bird fatalities — including oil spills — could fall into this ‘unintentional’ category, so we’re taking the administration to court,” David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said in a statement.

Plaintiffs also include the American Bird Conservancy, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Defenders of Wildlife. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Defendants are the U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Daniel Jorjani, the Interior Department’s principal deputy solicitor.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, representing the government in the lawsuit, declined to comment. Representatives for the Fish and Wildlife Service, interior and justice departments also declined comment.

The Trump administration’s December move, in a legal memo from the Interior Department, reversed a longstanding practice at the agency and a last-minute rule implemented by the outgoing Obama administration. It came after several appeals courts ruled that the government was interpreting a century-old law aimed at protecting birds too broadly.

In the legal opinion, Jorjani said that a 1918 law that officials have used to prosecute those who kill birds “incidentally” as part of doing business was really aimed at preventing poaching and hunting without a license.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act “applies only to direct and affirmative purposeful actions that reduce migratory birds, their eggs, or their nests, by killing or capturing, to human control,” Jorjani wrote.

The memo is already being followed, the lawsuit said, and one or more companies constructing natural gas pipelines were told they may cut down trees with nesting birds during the breeding season.

The conservation groups request that the court vacate the memo and declare the defendants “revert to their prior, correct longstanding interpretation and policy,” the lawsuit said.


Health Experts: Ebola Patients Must Be Isolated

The World Health Organization (WHO) says people diagnosed with Ebola must be kept isolated to prevent the spread of the highly contagious disease. The WHO has updated the number of Ebola cases since the outbreak started in the Democratic Republic of Congo on May 8, confirming 31 of 52 probable and suspected cases, including 22 deaths.

The escape of two Ebola patients earlier this week from a treatment center in Mbandaka, a city of more than one million people, has raised fears of a rapid spread of the disease. The families of the patients reportedly helped them leave.

World Health Organization spokesman Tarik Jasarevic called the incident very unfortunate, but not unexpected.

“It is only human that people want to be with their loved ones and family want them to be at home in what could be the last moments of life,” he said.  “… Keeping a sick person at home not only decreases the chances of survival for this person, because this person is not receiving supportive treatment. It is also putting at risk the whole family.”

Ebola is highly contagious. The virus is transmitted through direct contact with infected bodily fluids. The fatality rate is between 20 percent and 90 percent.

Jasarevic said it is important to improve efforts to engage with communities so they understand how the virus is spread and how they can protect themselves from becoming infected.

“People who fall sick go to an isolation unit and receive treatment because that treatment will significantly increase their chances of survival,” he said. “…Getting IV fluids, getting antibiotics as a supportive means, if necessary, is something that reduces the risk of that.”

Jasarevic said it is important to trace every person who has come into contact with an Ebola patient. Those who have been identified are likely to receive an experimental vaccine that has shown good protective qualities, he added.

Since a vaccination campaign began on Monday, he said 154 people have been inoculated. They include high risk health workers and some particularly vulnerable people from local communities in Mbandaka.