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.


На фінал Ліги чемпіонів прилетіли 3 тисячі фанів, очікується ще 30 тисяч – Слободян

До Києва літаками прибуло вже понад 3 тисячі уболівальників, повідомив журналістам в аеропорту «Бориспіль» речник Державної прикордонної служби Олег Слободян. За його словами, загалом очікується прибуття ще 30 тисяч фанів: протягом 25 і 26 травня до столичних аеропортів прибуде 150 чартерних літаків із ними.

Вчора до летовищ Києва прибули гравці футбольних клубів «Ліверпуль» та «Реал Мадрид». Українські прикордонники зустрічали їх, розмалювавши обличчя у кольори команд. Це саме планується і для зустрічі фанів.

Фінал Ліги чемпіонів між іспанським «Реал Мадридом» та англійським «Ліверпулем» відбудеться 26 травня на НСК «Олімпійський» у Києві.

Читайте також: Де і коли дивитися фінал Ліги чемпіонів

Для «Реала» це буде четвертий фінал цього турніру за останні п’ять сезонів: мадридці перемагали в Лізі чемпіонів у 2014, 2016 та 2017 роках. Загалом іспанська команда вигравала трофей 12 разів.

«Ліверпуль» востаннє грав у фіналі найпрестижнішого європейського клубного турніру у 2007 році. Тоді англійці програли італійському «Мілану». На рахунку «Ліверпуля» п’ять перемог у Лізі чемпіонів та Кубку європейських чемпіонів (так турнір називався до 1992 року). Одну з них «червоні» здобули, здолавши у фінальному матчі «Реал». Це сталося у 1981 році.





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.


Kenya Moves to Regulate Digital-Fueled Lending Craze

Kenya built a reputation as a pioneer of financial inclusion through its early adoption of a mobile money system that enables people to transfer cash and make payments on cellphones without a bank account.

Now, a proliferation of lenders are using the same technology to extend credit to the banked and unbanked alike, saddling borrowers with high interest rates and leaving regulators scrambling to keep up.

This week, the finance ministry published a draft bill on financial regulation that covers digital lenders for the first time. A key aim is to ensure that providers treat retail customers fairly, it said.

“We have a lot of predatory lending out here, which we want to regulate,” Geoffrey Mwau, director general of budget, fiscal and economic affairs at the treasury, told reporters Thursday.

Test case for lending

As it was for mobile cash, Kenya is something of a test case for the new lending platforms. Several of the companies involved, including U.S. fintech startups, have plans to expand in other frontier markets, meaning Kenya’s regulation will be closely watched.

From having had little or no access to credit, many Kenyans now find they can get loans in minutes.

George Ombelli, a salesman for a company importing bicycles who also owns a hair salon and cosmetics shop with his wife, has borrowed simultaneously from four providers over the past year.

He took small loans from two Silicon Valley-backed U.S. fintech firms, Branch and Tala, to see what rates he would get, as well as from a new mobile app launched by Barclays Kenya in March and a business loan from Kenya’s Equity Bank.

Citing a slowdown in his business because of elections-related political turmoil last year, Ombelli said he has fallen behind on some of his payments. He fears he will be reported to one of Kenya’s three credit bureaus, jeopardizing his chances of being able to borrow more to grow his business.

​‘Too many loans is a problem’

“I’ve realized having too many loans is a problem,” the 38-year-old father of three said in an interview in a coffee shop in Nairobi’s business district.

He is not alone. In the last three years, 2.7 million people out of a population of around 45 million have been negatively listed on Kenya’s Credit Reference Bureaux, according to a study by Microsave, which advises lenders on sustainable financial services.

For 400,000 of them, it was for an amount less than $2.

Global implications

Some of the fintech lenders are expanding into other African countries and into Latin America and Asia, saying their aim is to help some of the billions of people who lack bank accounts, assets or formal employment climb the economic ladder.

Tala says it has granted more than 6 million loans worth more than $300 million, mainly in Kenya, since it launched in Kenya in 2014. It is expanding its newer businesses in Mexico, Tanzania and the Philippines and is piloting in India.

Tala and Branch argue that their technology, which relies on an algorithm that builds a financial profile of customers, minimizes the risk of default. They say they strive to play a helpful role in planning for tighter regulation.

“We believe that credit bubbles and over-indebtedness will be a challenge over the next decade. (Credit Reference) Bureaus and regulation will be a big part of the solution,” said Erin Renzas, a Branch spokeswoman.

Branch says it expects to grant about 10 million loans worth a total of $250 million this year in Kenya and its other markets, Nigeria and Tanzania.

High interest rates

The current status of the sector, outside the direct remit of the central bank, allows providers, both banks and others, to skirt a government cap on interest of four points above the central bank’s benchmark interest rate, which now stands at 9.5 percent.

Market leader M-Shwari, Kenya’s first savings and loans product introduced by Safaricom and Commercial Bank of Africa in 2012, charges a “facilitation fee” of 7.5 percent on credit regardless of its duration.

On a loan with a month’s term, this equates to an annualized interest rate of 90 percent. The shortest loan repayment period is one week. A Safaricom spokesman referred Reuters to the CBA for comment. Calls to their switchboard and an email were not answered on Thursday.

Tala and Branch, number four and six in a ranking based on usage data by FSD Kenya, offer varying rates depending on the repayment period.

Their apps, downloaded by Reuters, each offered a month’s loan at 15 percent, equating to 180 percent over a year. Both companies say rates drop dramatically as people pay back successive loans.

Barclays Kenya launched an app in March offering 30-day loans with an interest rate of just less than 7 percent, still a hefty 84 percent annual equivalent rate. Reuters was unable to reach their spokespeople by telephone.

The new draft bill says digital lenders will be licensed by a new Financial Markets Conduct Authority and that lenders will be bound by any interest rate caps the Authority sets. But it is not clear if digital lenders are subject to such caps and the current government cap on banks’ interest rates is under review.

Introduced in 2016 to stop banks charging high interest rates, the cap has stifled traditional bank lending and the International Monetary Fund has conditioned Kenya’s continued access to balance of payments support on its removal.

But members of parliament say the public has had enough of high interest rates and the draft does not say the cap will be lifted. The finance ministry will come up with a final version of the bill in the next few weeks before sending it to parliament.


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.


Markets Disrupted as Italy’s Populists Negotiate Cabinet

Italy’s prime minister-designate, Giuseppe Conte, a political novice and obscure law professor accused of padding his resume, put the finishing touches to his cabinet lineup Friday. And initial reaction from financial markets was far from approving.

Italian government bond prices slumped and the country’s ailing banks saw their stock prices hit an 11-month low. Italy’s outgoing economy minister, Pier Carlo Padoan, warned the incoming coalition government of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and far-right League not to underestimate the power of the markets.

“The most worrying aspect of the program, which this government is working on, is its underestimation of the consequences of certain choices,” Padoan told the Il Sole 24 Ore newspaper.

M5S and the League unveiled their government agreement a week ago, after more than 70 days of tortuous talks, following the country’s inconclusive parliamentary elections in March. The polls saw establishment parties trounced.

The coalition partners’ program includes massive tax cuts favoring the rich — a League demand — additional spending on welfare for the poor, and job-seekers and a roll-back of pension reforms that helped Italy weather the multi-year-long eurozone debt crisis which bankrupted Greece.

Investors — domestic and foreign — are expressing alarm about what the next few months may hold for an Italy governed by unlikely political partners. Fears include a public sector spending spree that will put Rome not only on a collision course with the European Union over budget rules. It also will weaken the already perilous state finances of Italy, the third largest economy in Europe and the second most indebted.

Some financial analysts say investors are becoming wary about European equities in general, fearing political and economic unpredictability in Italy could trigger contagion, prompting a new eurozone crisis. European markets were on track Friday to record collectively their first weekly decline since March — and investors last week withdrew the most money in nearly two years from western European funds.

“Investors should take caution as far as European equities go,” Boris Schlossberg, managing director of FX Strategy at BK Asset Management, told CNBC’s cable TV show Trading Nation this week.


EU officials in Brussels and Italy’s half-a-million migrants are as anxious as investors. They are bracing for confrontations with the incoming populist government, whose two halves agree about very little, except when it comes to euro-skepticism and disapproval of migrants. M5S itself is split sharply between liberals and conservatives.

Earlier this week Italian President Sergio Mattarella approved Giuseppe Conte, aged 54, as the coalition’s nominee for prime minister — despite evidence that the academic had padded his resume with stints at New York University, Girton College, Cambridge and France’s prestigious Sorbonne. None of them had any record of his official attendance, although he was granted a visitor’s library card by NYU.

Conte also claimed in his resume to have founded a prominent Italian law practice, but was only an external contributor, according to the firm.

A figurehead?

Few here in Rome believe Conte, who was born in the southern region of Puglia, will be anything but a figurehead. The mutually antagonistic party leaders, M5S’ Luigi Di Maio and the League’s Matteo Salvini, weren’t prepared to give way to each other and let the other have the job — hence Conte’s nomination, which still has to be approved by parliament.

The Economist magazine suggested he might end up as the fictional valet Truffaldino, a character in an 18th century Italian comedy entitled “Servant of Two Masters.” Whether he will be able to bridge disagreements between Di Maio and Salvini is unclear — and a testimony to that, say analysts, is the party leaders’ decision to set up a “conciliation committee” to adjudicate disputes.

“Nobody knows what will happen, because this is a government without precedent and the two parties are virtually incompatible,” said Sergio Fabbrini, director of the LUISS School of Government in Rome.


The parties were locked in dispute Friday with no agreement about who should occupy the key position of economy minister. The League has been pushing for 82-year-old economist Paolo Savona, a former industry minister who wants Italy to drop the euro as its currency, which he describes as “a German cage.” Savona opposed Italy signing in 1992 the Maastricht Treaty, a key document that started the process of closer EU political integration.

Even if the League fails in its bid to secure the economic portfolio for Savona, there are plenty of likely policy clashes ahead between the EU and Western Europe’s first all-populist government, despite the fact the League is no longer demanding Italy drop Europe’s single currency and M5S is no longer pushing for a referendum on Italy’s future EU membership.

Both party leaders now talk about reforming the EU from within.

Trouble ahead

Nonetheless, flashpoints are on the near horizon. Salvini, a hardline migrant opponent, is likely to become interior minister and will oversee the coalition’s agreed to anti-immigration plans, many of which are in violation of EU law. They include truncating asylum procedures, the forcible detention of irregular migrants and the repatriation of half-million migrants, most from sub-Saharan Africa, to their countries of origin.

Next month, EU leaders are due to extend the European bloc’s sanctions on Russia, but Italy’s coalition partners are opposed, viewing Moscow as a partner, rather than foe. Both M5S and the League want the sanctions lifted that were imposed on Russia for its 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Some analysts predict the new government’s slim majority — only seven in the Senate — as well as fiscal realities, will constrain the revolutionary fervor of Italy’s populists. But others envision instability and unpredictability in the weeks and months ahead.

On Friday, the European Commission’s vice-president for the euro, Valdis Dombrovskis, issued a stark warning to Italy: “Our message from the European Commission is very clear: that it is important Italy continues to stick with responsible fiscal and macro-economic policies.”


Discharged and Jobless: US Veterans Seek Change in Hiring Rules

Military veterans who were discharged for relatively minor offenses say they often can’t get jobs, and they hope a recent warning to employers by the state of Connecticut will change that.

The state’s human rights commission told employers last month they could be breaking the law if they discriminate against veterans with some types of less-than-honorable discharges. Blanket policies against hiring such veterans could be discriminatory, the commission said, because the military has issued them disproportionately to black, Latino, gay and disabled veterans.

At least one other state, Illinois, already prohibits hiring discrimination based on a veteran’s discharge status, advocates say, but Connecticut appears to be the first to base its decision on what it deems discrimination by the military. Regardless of the state’s reasons, veterans say, the attention there could at least educate employers.

“You may as well be a felon when you’re looking for a job,” said Iraq War veteran Kristofer Goldsmith. Goldsmith said the Army gave him a general discharge in 2007 because he attempted suicide.

An honorable discharge is the only type that entails full benefits. A dishonorable discharge is given after a court-martial for serious offenses, which can include felonies. Other types of discharges in between — known by veterans as “bad paper” — are issued administratively, with no court case, and can stem from behavior including talking back, tardiness, drug use or fighting.

The commission says its guidance focused on that middle class of discharges.

Sometimes such discharges are given to veterans whose violations stemmed from post-traumatic stress disorder, like Goldsmith’s, or brain injuries. Many private employers may not be aware of those extenuating circumstances or understand the differences between discharges, critics say.

And they either won’t hire bad-paper veterans or won’t give them preferences an honorably discharged veteran would get, the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School told the Connecticut commission.

The clinic, acting on behalf of the Connecticut chapter of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, showed the commission job postings that require applicants who have served in the military to have been honorably discharged.

It also cited a 2017 report by the advocacy organization Protect Our Defenders that found black service members were more likely to be disciplined than white members. And the commission’s guidance to employers notes thousands of service members have been discharged for their sexual orientation.

Employers might require an honorable discharge as an easy way to narrow the pool and get strong applicants, said Amanda Ljubicic, vice president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut.

“At face value it seems like a simple, logical cutoff to make as an employer,” she said. “Certainly this new policy forces employers to think about it differently and to think about the complexities.”

The Vietnam Veterans of America asked for a presidential pardon for bad-paper veterans. President Barack Obama didn’t respond as he was leaving office, nor did President Donald Trump as he was entering, said John Rowan, the organization’s president. He was unsure whether activists would ask Trump again.


More than 13,000 service members received a type of discharge for misconduct, known as other than honorable, between 2011 and 2015, despite being diagnosed with PTSD, a traumatic brain injury or another condition associated with misconduct, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, under an order from Congress, expanded emergency mental health coverage to those veterans for the first time last year.

Passing new laws to address the effects of bad paper is probably not the best solution, said U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who pushed for the changes; rather, he said, the military should stop issuing bad-paper discharges to injured veterans.

Goldsmith, 32, said he developed PTSD after his first deployment to Iraq. He was set to leave the military and go to college when the Army extended his active-duty service and ordered him back in 2007. Goldsmith said he attempted suicide shortly before he was due to deploy.

Because of his general discharge, Goldsmith lost his GI Bill benefits. He didn’t know how he’d find a job. If he didn’t mention his military service, he would have a four-year gap on his resume. But if he did, he would have to disclose medical information to explain why he left.

A friend eventually hired him to work at a photo-booth company, and Goldsmith began contacting members of Congress to press for health care for veterans with bad paper.

“Things like addressing employment discrimination on the national level are so far from possible,” he said, “I don’t think any of us in the advocacy community has put enough pressure on Congress to handle it.”