Sunday, January 31, 2016

More Than 2100 Pregnant Women Infected By Zika In Colombia

Zika Virus is transmitted through mosquitoes in South America and Central America, The Caribbean and Mexico, and it is causing major health problems for pregnant women.

Nigeria’s minister of health Isaac Adewole said the travel restriction, especially on pregnant women, will be on until the situation improves worldwide.

An emergency committee from the World Health Organization will meet February 1 to discuss the global threat from Zika, which it says could infect as many as 4 million people in the Americas this year, based on models from the spread of dengue. For that reason women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant should avoid travel to affected countries if at all possible.

But the state Department of Public Health said, “While the association is compelling, it is not known if the increase in microcephaly cases is directly caused by Zika virus infections”.

Genetically modified mosquitoes that will help fight the Zika virus are getting urgent attention from American regulators.

On Friday, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff vowed to “win the war” against the virus, but some experts criticized her government’s response and warned the Olympics could fuel the disease’s spread.

Only 31 travelers have returned to the US with Zika virus infections since it was first detected in Brazil in May 2015. The outbreak in Brazil led to reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome and pregnant women giving birth to babies with birth defects and poor pregnancy outcomes. Health officials are fighting back with pesticides and warnings for people to remove standing water and to cover up.

In the event of a strong outbreak of the disease in Argentina, the specialist said the northeastern provinces would face the greatest risk due to their proximity to countries where the largest number of cases have been reported and because their high temperatures would allow an infected mosquito to live longer.

Child Neurologist Vanessa Van Der Linden observes the X-ray of a baby’s skull with microcephaly at the hospital Barao de Lucena in Recife, Brazil, January 26, 2016.

The mosquito-borne illness may cause birth defects.

It said men should wear condoms for 28 days after “return from a Zika transmission area” if they experience no symptoms of unexplained fever and rash. Companies and scientists are racing to develop a safe and effective vaccine for Zika, but one is not
expected to be ready for months or years.

Leprosy: Nigerians Still Living In Ignorance Of Its Causes, Symptoms


(NIGERIA) -- Another World Leprosy Day has come and gone and the disease is still spreading with 3,000 new cases been reported annually in Nigeria, especially with the involvement of child-related cases. KUNI TYESSI in this report highlights the causes, symptoms, treatment as well as preventive measures as many still live in ignorance of it.

Known as Hansen’s Disease, leprosy is caused by a type of bacteria otherwise known as mycobacterium leprae and is known to multiply very slowly. Its incubation period is said to be between 5 years while symptoms can take 20 years to appear and it mainly affects the skin and peripheral nerves.

Throughout its history, leprosy has been feared and misunderstood with several mythical and cultural undertone attached to it. For a long time, it was thought to be a hereditary disease, a curse, or a punishment from God as there are stories in the Bible that suggests this.

Before and even after the discovery of its biological cause, leprosy patients were stigmatized and shunned. For example, in Europe, historical fact records that during the Middle Ages, its sufferers had to wear special clothing and ring bells to warn others that they were close, and even walk on a particular side of the road, depending on the direction of the wind. Even in modern times, its treatment has often occured in seperate hospitals and live-in colonies called leprosariums because of the stigma of the disease.

Contrary to the social stigma, it is not highly contagious, and does not cause body parts to fall off. It is not also caused by witchcraft, neither are the suffers witches or wizards. In fact, 95% of the world’s population is naturally immune to the disease and once diagnosed, a person is easily cured.

It is not highly infectious and transmission from human to human is through respiratory droplets from the nose and mouth, during close and frequent contacts with untreated cases. It’s also possible to get the bacteria from armadillo and other non-human primates.

Leprosy, if left untreated is capable of causing damage to the nerves, limbs, skin and eyes as seen in most patients. The deformities in the fingers and toes occure due to cartilage being absorbed back into the body and they are not leprosy but the aftermath of late diagnosis and treatment and this can happen in the case of other diseases.

This damage gives the patient decreased feeling in the areas affected. The decreased feeling can leave the patient unaware that they have injured themselves and they can get secondary infections. These infections result in the loss of body tissues.

The symptoms are wide and can start out mild and progress into presentations that are the subject of misconceptions and cultural beliefs. The hallmark signs of leprosy are hypesthesia, which is an abnormally weak sense of pain, cold, heat, or touch, skin lesions, and peripheral neuropathy.

The first visible indication that someone has leprosy usually has to do with the skin. Things like painless skin patches (lesions) that are not itchy begin popping up. They tend to be circular with a dry scaly centre. These usually first present themselves on the buttocks, face, and the surfaces of limbs. This is because the bacteria prefer cooler zones of the body. In fact, the organisms involved grow best at 80-86 degrees Fahrenheit.

As the disease progresses, the skin’s features like sweat glands and hair follicles are destroyed. Further, the nerves become enlarged and can become quite painful. The patient loses their ability to “feel” and they can injure themselves easily. These injuries lead to muscle atrophy, weakness, and infections. This can cause “foot drop” or clawed hands. Ulcers can also form on the hands and feet.

As the face becomes involved, a person can begin to sound hoarse, loose their eyebrows, and eyelashes. Their nasal cavities may collapse because of the breakdown in the septum. When the eyes become involved in the process, the person can get glaucoma or keratitis. The facial skin can also become thickened and corrugated. When it remains untreated, the progressive impairment becomes permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes. Early diagnosis and treatment with multidrug therapy (MDT) still remains the key elements in eliminating the disease as a public health concern.

In 1991, WHO passed a resolution that would eliminate leprosy as a problem by the year 2000 (the definition of a problem meaning less than 1 case per 10,000 people). Due to the advances in drug treatments and the use of multi-drug therapies, WHO did accomplish their goal. In 1995, they began offering free therapies to any patient in the world who contracted the disease. Nigeria still records about 3000 cases annually and more disturbing are cases of children who have been affected by the disease, thereby leaving experts in the field of medicine and other stakeholders to declare that on no account must children be allowed to suffer such.

A person is also not contagious after a few weeks of the treatment. This, combined with many surgical options that decrease a person’s deterioration and increase their nerve function, give leper colonies everywhere something to party over.

The national director of The Leprosy Mission, Nigeria, Dr Moses Onoh, further creates awareness about the disease so that people can understand it’s signs, symptoms, prevention as well as treatment, based on the standard of the World Health Organisation, WHO.

He said referring to victims of the disease as lepers is derogatory and as such, the proper way to define them is “ persons affected by leprosy” as it is a disease that can affect anyone and therefore called for good general hygiene as the disease is caused by germs that reside and breed in dirty environments.

“They are not lepers but persons affected by leprosy. The reason why the ailment still persists is because most people do not know the signs and symptoms and so do not come out early enough for treatment. “

“The deformities you see on persons affected by leprosy is a result of late treatment but is not leprosy in itself. Most of them do not come for treatment until they are faced with the deformities. It’s just a deformity which can also occur in other ailments.

It is not contagious and can be treated and the treatment is free.”

“We always advise that once a patch is discovered on the skin, such persons should go for test because it can be a sign of leprosy. The patches do not often itch and are not painful. However, that a patch has been seen on the skin doesn’t mean it is leprosy until a test has been done and proven otherwise.”

He said there are wonder drugs that care cure the disease and called on medical doctors to always refer pregnant women for test whenever a patch has been noticed on their bodies during check-up as loss of fingers is not a parameter to diagnosing the disease.

He revealed that there are four organisations in Nigeria which oversee leprosy- related diseases and are committed to its total eradication. They are based in Enugu, Enugu state, Jos, in Plateau state, Ibadan in Oyo state and Abuja the federal capital territory which are situated in the south-east, south-west, north-central and the nation’s capital respectively.

African Union Buckles As Burundi Force Blocked By Government Refusal

Clashes between government loyalists and the opposition have become increasingly violent.


The unrest began in April when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a controversial third term, which he went on to win in July ( Carl de Souza (AFP/File) )
"Carl de Souza (AFP/File)"

African leaders failed on Sunday to authorize a proposed peacekeeping force to stem violence in Burundi in the face of vehement opposition from the government in Bujumbura.
Instead, the African Union is to send envoys for more talks, although previous negotiations have done nothing to end months of conflict.
The United Nations has warned that Burundi risks a repeat of the 1993-2006 civil war, with hundreds of people killed since April 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would stand for a controversial third term.
At least 230,000 people have fled to neighboring countries.
Burundi has consistently opposed the idea of the AU's planned 5,000-strong peacekeeping mission, saying the deployment of troops without its express permission would be tantamount to an "invasion force".
The AU charter's Article 4(h) gives the pan-African bloc the right to intervene in a fellow nation state "in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity".
But top AU diplomat Ibrahima Fall said Sunday that sending troops without Burundi's approval was "unimaginable," with the bloc deciding to send envoys to hold talks with the government.
"There is no will neither to occupy nor to attack," AU Peace and Security Council chief Smail Chergui added, saying that troops could be sent in the future "if Burundi accepts it".
Clashes between government loyalists and the opposition have become increasingly violent.
"We want dialogue with the government, and the summit decided to dispatch a high level delegation," Chergui told reporters, without giving more details.
Burundian Foreign Minster Alain Aime Nyamitwe told reporters he was "satisfied" at the decision and said Bujumbura was "open to cooperating with the international community, particularly the African Union."
But he also questioned why AU envoys would want to take the time to travel to Bujumbura "since "everyone is aware of the position of Burundi" already.
Chad's President Idriss Deby, speaking after he took over the post of African Union chairman on Saturday, warned colleagues against inaction.
"Our organisation acts as it has for the past 20 or 30 years: we meet often, we talk too much, we always write a lot, but we don't do enough, and sometimes nothing all," Deby said.
Analysts say other African nations are wary of setting a precedent of deploying troops against the government's wishes.
AU leaders spent two days debating the crisis in Burundi -- as well as conflict in South Sudan and Libya -- at the 54-member bloc's summit in Ethiopia.
"It was never the intention of the African Union to deploy a mission to Burundi without the consent of Burundian authorities," Ibrahima Fall, AU Special Representative for the Great Lakes Region, told French radio RFI.
"This is unimaginable," the Senegalese diplomat added.
Nkurunziza's quest to remain in power sparked weeks of street protests that were brutally suppressed, and a failed coup.
The political rhetoric has also become more ethnically-charged, sparking fears the ruling party may be trying to drive a wedge between majority Hutus and minority Tutsis.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking on Saturday as the summit opened, made clear that troops were needed to stem the violence.
"Leaders who stand by while civilians are slaughtered in their name must be held responsible," Ban said, insisting that the Burundi crisis required the "most serious and urgent commitment".
He said the UN backed the AU's proposal "to deploy human rights observers and to establish a prevention and protection mission".
Rwanda hosts the next AU summit, slated for July.
Relations between Rwanda and neighboring Burundi are tense, with Bujumbura accusing Kigali of backing opponents of Nkurunziza, claims Rwanda denies.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Burundi Crisis: Amnesty International Claims Evidence Of Mass Graves For People Killed By Government Forces

The charity says they have satellite images, video footage and witness accounts showing five possible mass graves on the outskirts of the capital Bujumbura


The site in Burundi where Amnesty International say five mass graves could be located

Evidence has emerged of multiple mass graves containing the bodies of dozens of people killed by Burundian security forces in December, Amnesty International reports.

The charity released satellite images, video footage and witness accounts of five possible mass graves in the Buringa area on the outskirts of the capital Bujumbura - which has been targeted by security forces in recent months as it is seen as an opposition stronghold.

Witnesses told Amnesty how police and local officials surrounded several neighbourhoods in the capital to retrieve the bodies of those who were killed late last year and took them to undisclosed locations.

The charity said: “The imagery, dating from late December and early January, shows disturbed earth consistent with witness accounts.

“Witnesses told Amnesty International that the graves were dug on the afternoon of 11 Dec, in the immediate aftermath of the bloodiest day of Burundi's escalating crisis.”

In co-ordinated attacks on 11 December, gunmen stormed three military installations.

The next day 28 people were found shot dead in three Bujumbura neighbourhoods.

One witness said some of the dead had their hands tied behind their backs.

Another said the security forces found their victims using a door-to-door search.

Burundi’s government dismissed the report saying it was based on false information supplied by their opponents.

It comes as Burundian police arrested 17 people - including a British and French journalist who were later released - in a security sweep.

The French government said it had suspended its security and defence activities activities in Burundi over the arrest of Le Monde journalists Jean Philippe Remy and Phil Moore.

The incident is the latest in the political crisis which began in April last year when President Pierre Nkurunziza declared he would serve a third term in office - which opposition groups said was unconstitutional.

He was elected in a contested vote in July which was boycotted by opposition groups.

The UN has said at least 439 people have died in the conflict andnearly quarter of million have fled the East African country as it teeters on the verge of civil war.

Additional reporting by agencies

Thursday, January 28, 2016

NIGERIA: Buhari Rejects Naira Devaluation


President Muhammadu Buhari has said he is yet to be convinced that Nigerians will benefit from an official devaluation of the Naira.
He spoke on Wednesday at an interactive meeting with Nigerians living in Nairobi,  Kenya.
President Buhari, in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, maintained that while export-driven economies could benefit from devaluation of their currencies, devaluation will only result in further inflation and hardship for the poor and middle class in Nigeria’s import-dependent economy.
He said he had no intention of bringing further hardship on the country’s poor who, he said, have suffered enough.
Likening devaluation of the Naira to having it “killed”, President Buhari said the proponents of devaluation will have to work harder to convince him that ordinary Nigerians will gain anything from it.
The President also rejected suggestions that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) should resume the sale of foreign exchange to Bureaux de Change (BDCs), saying that the bureau de change business has become a scam and a drain on the economy.
“We had just 74 of the bureaux in 2005, now they  have grown to about 2,800,” President Buhari noted.
He alleged that some bank and government officials used surrogates to run the BDCs and  prosper at public expense by obtaining foreign exchange from the government at official rates and selling it at much higher rates.
The President said: “We will use our foreign exchange for industry, spare parts and the development of needed infrastructure.
“We don’t have the dollars to give to the BDCs. Let them go and get it from wherever they can, other than the Central Bank,” President Buhari told the gathering.
The President reaffirmed his conviction that about a third of petroleum subsidy payments under the previous administration was bogus.
“They just stamped papers and collected our foreign exchange,” he said.
The President urged Nigerians studying abroad to bear with his administration as it strives to address the challenges they are facing as a result of new foreign exchange measures.
He is optimistic that the economy will stabilise soon with the efficient implementation of measures and policies that have been introduced by his administration.
 The President said that for peace to reign in the world, the global community must develop and implement comprehensive and coordinated counter-extremism strategies at sub-regional, regional and continental levels.
He spoke during the opening of bilateral talks between Nigeria and Kenya. He said radicalisation and violent extremism were taking root across Africa and must be tackled head-on and with brand new strategies.
His words: “The threat posed to national, regional and global peace and security by terrorists has taken an alarming dimension in recent times.
“In Nigeria, Boko Haram has caused havoc, especially in the Northeastern part of the country – killing, maiming, destroying livelihoods and displacing hapless citizens, majority of who are women and children.
“In Kenya, you also face terrorist challenges. Similarly, Iraq and Syria are facing their own brand of terrorism which has thrown the entire Middle East into turmoil. Terrorism does not respect religion, creed, race or national boundaries.  No country is safe from the menace.
“This is why the entire global community must work in a concerted manner, particularly in areas of sharing intelligence and pooling resources and finance, to confront the scourge. Our armed forces and security services should also be adequately supported and well-motivated to fight terrorism.
“It is worth emphasising that terrorists are continually changing tactics, building alliances, merging and generally getting more sophisticated, all in an attempt to build their capacity to inflict pain and misery on societies.
“To win the war on terror, therefore, we must respond to this phenomenon by developing new and versatile strategies. Together with our allies, Nigeria and Kenya can successfully tackle these challenges that have traumatised and brought untold suffering to our people.”
At the Nigeria–Kenya Business Forum, President Buhari expressed the confidence that the Nigeria-Kenya Business Council and the Kenya-Nigeria Agribusiness Forum will serve as platforms for the promotion of intra-African trade.
The two countries plan to launch five-year business visas for business people operating in both countries to allow ease of doing business.
While signing various bilateral trade agreements in Nairobi, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Buhari committed themselves to removing barriers to trade between the two countries.
They pledged to jointly fight corruption and insecurity in a bid to strengthen trade ties between the East and West African nations.
Kenya also announced that it will host the inaugural Kenya – Nigeria Joint Commission for cooperation later this year.
Kenya and Nigeria began the process of reviving investment and trade agreements signed eight months ago.
The two countries are keen on establishing a joint commission for cooperation aimed at boosting ties in trade, tourism, security, agriculture and energy.
Kenyatta said:  ”The streaming of immigration issues, particularly the issuance of the five-year visas for our businessmen, will invigorate our trade and business ties, the Kenya-Nigeria joint trade commission for cooperation remains an important implementation and monitoring mechanism for the agreements that our two countries have signed.”
Buhari and Kenyatta pledged to cooperate in the war against terrorism and corruption.
Both countries are battling the threat of terrorism within their borders, Nigeria from Boko Haram and Kenya from the Al Qaeda-linked militant group Al Shabab.
Kenya has recently discovered oil in the North of the country and is seeking expertise from Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, which Buhari pledged to give.
Buhari said: “We congratulate Kenya for discovering oil and gas. There we believe with indigenous technology from Nigeria we will be able to help. In other areas we are going to benefit from agriculture in Kenya.”
Official figures indicate that trade between Kenya and Nigeria stood at $190million in 2013.

Drug Traffickers Seek Safe Haven Amid Legal Marijuana


Employees tends to marijuana plants at a grow house in Denver. According to law enforcement officials, Colorado’s legal marijuana marketplace is in some cases serving as cover for a host of illegal drug traffickers who hide their product among the state’s many legal growing operations, then covertly ship it elsewhere and pocket millions of dollars from its sale.

DENVER (AP) — Seeking a safe haven in Colorado's legal marijuana marketplace, illegal drug traffickers are growing weed among the state's sanctioned pot warehouses and farms, then covertly shipping it elsewhere and pocketing millions of dollars from the sale, according to law enforcement officials and court records consulted by The Associated Press.

In one case, the owner of a skydiving business crammed hundreds of pounds of Colorado pot into his planes and flew the weed to Minnesota, where associates allegedly sold it for millions of dollars in cash. In another, a Denver man was charged with sending more than 100 pot-filled FedEx packages to Buffalo, New York, where drug dealers divvied up the shipment. Twenty other drug traffickers, many from Cuba, were accused of relocating to Colorado to grow marijuana that they sent to Florida, where it can fetch more than double the price in a legal Colorado shop.

These cases and others confirm a longstanding fear of marijuana opponents that the state's much-watched experiment in legal pot would invite more illegal trafficking to other states where the drug is still strictly forbidden.

One source is Colorado residents or tourists who buy retail pot and take it out of state. But more concerning to authorities are larger-scale traffickers who move here specifically to grow the drug and ship to more lucrative markets.

The trend also bolsters the argument of neighboring Nebraska and Oklahoma, which filed a lawsuit in late 2014 seeking to declare Colorado's pot legalization unconstitutional, arguing that the move sent a tide of illicit weed across their borders. The Obama administration last month urged the Supreme Court to reject the suit, saying that the leakage was not Colorado's fault.

No one knows exactly how much pot leaves Colorado. When illegal shipments are seized, it's often impossible to prove where the marijuana was grown. But court documents and interviews with law enforcement officials indicate well-organized traffickers are seeking refuge in Colorado's flourishing pot industry.

"There's no question there's a lot more of this activity than there was two years ago," said Colorado's U.S. attorney, John Walsh. Some in the legal industry say police have exaggerated the problem and put unfair scrutiny on people who legally grow pot on behalf of patients. Lawmakers last year limited unregulated pot growers to no more than 99 plants in an effort to crack down on those selling untaxed pot.

The federal government allowed Colorado's experiment on the condition that state officials act to keep marijuana from migrating to places where it is still outlawed and out of the hands of criminal cartels. Federal authorities acknowledge that both things are happening but say that, because the state is trying to keep its industry tightly regulated, there's no reason to end the legal pot trade.

The pot industry also acknowledges the criminal activity and insists it is doing all it can to keep legally grown weed from crossing state lines. Among other safeguards, Colorado law requires growers to get a license and use a "seed-to-sale" tracking system that monitors marijuana plants at every stage.

Many of the illicit growers come from elsewhere, never obtain a growing license and "don't even attempt to adhere to the law," said Barbra M. Roach, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Denver field division.

"It's like hiding in plain sight," she said. Authorities in Washington state, which also allows recreational marijuana, have noticed more marijuana leaving the state. But more reports are coming from Colorado, which has the nation's most robust commercial market and an international reputation for producing premium, high-potency pot.

"It's a brand name now," Roach said. Jason Warf, head of the Southern Colorado Cannabis Council, said people are "coming from out-of-state, buying products from licensed stores and being arrested on their way home."

That "is really hard to curb," he said. "We can't essentially babysit adults and their behavior." The Colorado Department of Revenue's marijuana-enforcement division cites shops if pot is unaccounted for but "after it's sold, we have very little control what happens to the marijuana," Director Lewis Koski said.

Police agencies seized nearly 2 tons of Colorado weed from drivers who had intended to take it to 36 other states in 2014, the year legal pot shops opened, according to the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a federally funded drug task force. By comparison, they seized less than a ton in 2009.

U.S. postal inspectors seized about 470 pounds of Colorado pot from the mail in 2014, up from 57 pounds in 2010, according to the task force, whose findings are based on voluntary submissions from law enforcement agencies and are largely anecdotal.

Some cases have comic overtones, like when a Wyoming patrolman discovered 7 ounces of high-grade weed in trick-or-treat bags the day after Halloween, or when police in northern Colorado seized stuffed animals full of marijuana destined for Florida.

Other operations are more sophisticated, like the one in which authorities say 32 people used skydiving planes and posed as licensed medical marijuana caregivers and small business owners to export tens of thousands of pounds of pot grown in Denver warehouses, usually to Minnesota. The organization made more than $12 million over four years, according to a state indictment.

When they busted illegal pot farms in southern Colorado in September, state and federal agents found 28 guns, more than 1,000 plants and $25,000 in cash. A local UPS facility intercepts about 50 pounds of pot headed out of state each week, said Todd Reeves of the Colorado Drug Investigators Association. "We don't have the resources," he said, "to be able to go after every single one of these cases."

UN Health Chief: Zika Virus Is 'Spreading Explosively'


An army soldier and a health agent from Sao Paulo's Public health secretary check a residence during an operation against the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is a vector for transmitting the Zika virus, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has called for a meeting of the member nations of South America's Mercosur trading bloc to discuss ways to join forces to eliminate the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

GENEVA (AP) — The Zika virus is "spreading explosively" in the Americas, which could see up to 4 million cases over the next year, international health officials said Thursday, announcing a special meeting next week to decide if they should declare an international health emergency.

The warning from the World Health Organization came amid a call to arms by officials on both sides of the Atlantic over the mosquito-borne virus, which has been linked to a spike in a rare birth defect in Brazil.

Brazil's president — noting there is no medical defense against the infection — called for a crusade against the mosquitoes spreading it. "As long as we don't have a vaccine against Zika virus, the war must be focused on exterminating the mosquito's breeding areas," said President Dilma Rousseff.

The U.N. health agency called the special session in part to convey its concern about an illness that has sown fear among many would-be mothers. It may also have acted quickly because the agency was criticized for its slow response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

Meanwhile, U.S. health officials said Thursday while they have not yet seen spread of the disease in the 50 states, the number of U.S. travelers infected over the last year in the Caribbean or Latin America has climbed to 31.

The Zika virus was first discovered in Africa in 1947. But until last year, when it was found in Brazil, it had never been a threat in the Western Hemisphere. The virus causes no more than a mild illness in most people. But there is mounting evidence from Brazil suggesting infection in pregnant women is linked to abnormally small heads in their babies — a birth defect called microcephaly.

Earlier this month, U.S. health officials advised pregnant women to postpone visits to Brazil and other countries in the region with outbreaks. "For the average American who's not traveling, this is not something they need to worry about," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But "for people who are pregnant and considering travel to the affected areas, please take this seriously," she added. "It's very important for you to understand that we don't know as much as we want to know about this yet."

In Geneva, WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan noted it had been less than a year since the virus arrived in the Americas, "where it is now spreading explosively." Although there is no definitive proof that the Zika virus is behind the spike in brain defects in Brazil, "the level of alarm is extremely high," she added.

"The possible links, only recently suspected, have rapidly changed the risk profile of Zika from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions," Chan said. Researchers are also looking into a potential tie between Zika infections and cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can cause temporary paralysis.

According to the CDC, the Zika virus is now in more than 20 countries, transmitted by the same mosquito that spreads other tropical illnesses such as dengue and yellow fever. Sylvain Aldighieri, head of WHO's epidemic response team in the Americas, estimated there could be 3 million to 4 million Zika infections in the region over the next year. He said the agency expects "huge numbers" of infections because of the widespread presence of the Aedes mosquitoes that spread Zika and because people in the region have no natural immunity.

The same mosquito species spreading Zika in Latin America is also found in the southern United States. However, U.S. health officials reiterated Thursday they don't think the United States is vulnerable to a widespread outbreak of the Zika virus.

WHO warned China and all other countries that have dengue fever to be on the lookout for Zika infections. The agency said it could be many years before a vaccine is available and it might take six to nine months before there's any data showing a causal relationship between Zika and the babies born with malformed heads.

Monday's special session does not guarantee that a global emergency will be declared — WHO has held 10 such meetings to assess the Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome coronavirus and no emergency has been announced.

Declaring a global emergency is akin to an international SOS signal and usually brings more money and action to address an outbreak. The last such emergency was announced for the devastating 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which eventually ending up killing over 11,000 people. Polio was declared a similar emergency the year before.

Marcos Espinal, WHO's director of infectious diseases in the Americas region, said Brazil is conducting studies to determine if there is scientific evidence that Zika virus causes birth defects and neurological problems. More than 4,000 suspected cases have been reported in Brazil since October. However, tests so far have shown hundreds of them were not microcephaly.

Brazilian authorities estimate the country could have up to 1 million Zika infections by now. Most infected people don't get sick and those who do mostly suffer mild symptoms such as fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes.

The outbreak has mostly been in the poor and underdeveloped northeast, but the prosperous southeast, where Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are located, is the nation's second hardest-hit region. Rio de Janeiro is of special concern, since it will host the Aug. 5-21 Summer Olympic games that are expected to be attended by millions from around the world.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said the fact the Olympics will be held in August — during Brazil's winter — could limit Zika's impact on the games. Cooler weather tends to cut down mosquito populations.

Earlier this week, officials in Rio ramped up their fight against the mosquitoes that spread Zika, dispatching fumigators to the Sambadrome, where the city's Carnival parades will take place next month.

There is no treatment or vaccine for Zika, which is in the same family of viruses as dengue. Scientists have struggled for years to develop a dengue vaccine; the first such shot made by Sanofi Pasteur was licensed last year in Brazil.

Stobbe reported from New York. AP medical writer Maria Cheng in London contributed to this report.

Pick To Lead Afghanistan Forces Says Situation Is Worsening


Army Lt. Gen. John Nicholson Jr. testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016, before the the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination to become the next top American commander in Afghanistan.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's nominee to be the next U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Thursday the security situation in the war-torn country is deteriorating and assured senators he will do a thorough review of American troop levels needed to stabilize the nation.

Army Lt. Gen. John W. "Mick" Nicholson Jr. told the Senate Armed Services Committee he will have a better sense of conditions in Afghanistan within a few months if he is confirmed by the Senate. As wartime commanders must often do, Nicholson walked a fine line during his confirmation hearing. He supported the Obama administration's exit strategy, which critics have derided as politically driven, while also promising the senators his decisions will be grounded in sound military strategy.

He peppered his answers with phrases like "right-sized" and "right-sourced" to make sure Afghanistan didn't devolve into the same terrorist harbor it was before the 9/11 attacks. The U.S. mission in Afghanistan is to conduct counterterrorism missions and to train and assist the Afghan security forces.

Nicholson would succeed Gen. John F. Campbell, who is expected to retire. There are about 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. At Campbell's urging, Obama decided last October to abandon his plan to reduce troop levels to near zero by the end of 2016. Instead, he said they would shrink to 5,500 by the end of the year. His advisers could press Obama to maintain the current level of 9,800 troops until he leaves office in January 2017.

Asked at a Pentagon news conference whether the Taliban is making a comeback, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said: "That's happened this past fighting season. We expected that." And while the Afghans fought well last year, he said, they are still "a force-in-the-making" that can be expected to perform better this year as they gain more experience and capability.

Carter said Campbell has not recommended to him any increase in U.S. troop levels. During an exchange with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Nicholson said he would be concerned that the military would not be able to perform counterterrorism operations if the number of American troops fell to a hypothetical 1,000 suggested by Graham.

Nicholson said he supported the decision to retain the 9,800 American troops and he agreed with Campbell's approach. But the general also said at numerous points during the hearing that he would conduct his own assessment.

Although American forces are no longer engaged in direct action missions against the Taliban, Nicholson said he could not envision U.S. troops remaining on the sidelines if the strategic city of Kandahar were at risk. Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, is the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban.

"We need to prevent Kandahar from falling into the hands of the Taliban," Nicholson said. The committee chairman, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., opened Nicholson's confirmation hearing with a blistering assessment of Obama's handling of the war in Afghanistan and the president's adherence to a "calendar-based withdrawal."

"By now, we should have learned from the precipitous withdrawal from Iraq and the disaster that ensued that wars do not end because politicians say so," McCain said. "Nor will any politician be able to schedule an end to the threat of radical Islamist terrorism emanating from Afghanistan or the region more broadly."

McCain prefaced a question to Nicholson about the security situation in Afghanistan with his own stark appraisal of the conditions there. He cited recent battlefield successes by the Taliban, who he said are being aided with weapons from Iran, and the presence of the Islamic State extremist group in Afghanistan.

"The view of many of us is that the security situation in Afghanistan has been deteriorating rather than improving," McCain said. "Sir, I agree with your assessment," Nicholson said. Later, he added, "This is Afghanistan. There will always be some level of violence in Afghanistan."

Nicholson, a 1982 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a career infantry officer, is currently commander of NATO's Allied Land Command, headquartered at Izmir, Turkey. Among numerous tours of duty in Afghanistan starting in 2006, he served as deputy chief of staff of operations for the international military command and for U.S. forces in 2010. Before that he spent 14 months as director of the Pentagon's Afghanistan-Pakistan coordination cell.

Associated Press writer Robert Burns contributed to this report.

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IRA Worth Millions A Tax Problem?


Billionaire startup founders and private equity executives may have more of an advantage than you realize.

If you put $5,500 in an IRA every year beginning this year and earn 6% returns on average, it would take roughly 42 years for your account to grow to $1 million.

Yet, a very small percentage of the population has the opportunity to grow their IRAs to gargantuan proportions. Startup founders, for instance, may get the chance to put nonpublicly traded shares of their burgeoning business into a retirement account before the company goes public. If the company takes off, the price of the shares could balloon from fractions of a penny to millions of dollars.

If that IRA account happens to be a Roth IRA, it's like winning the tax-free lottery since only contributions to a Roth, not earnings, are subject to tax. If it's a traditional IRA, Uncle Sam will get his due, eventually.

That may be cold comfort for the taxman. In November 2014, the Government Accountability Office released a report suggesting steps Congress can take to close up the loophole, but not everyone thinks it needs to be fixed.

"There are going to be cases that are extreme, but it's an honest system and encourages saving and personal responsibility. I don't think that is something they would want to tamper with," says E. Brian Finkelstein, a partner at Broad Financial, a provider of self-directed IRAs and solo 401(k)s.
GAO and the giant IRA

The GAO's report broke down the landscape of IRA ownership and told how a few people came by their vast IRA fortunes.

IRAs for the superrich
IRA balanceEstimated number of taxpayers$1 million or less 42,382,192
> $1 million to $2 million 502,392
> $2 million to $3 million 83,529
> $3 million to $5 million 36,171
> $5 million to $10 million 7,952
> $10 million to $25 million 791
> $25 million 314

Source: GAO analysis of IRS data. From "IRAs: IRS Could Bolster Enforcement on Multimillion Dollar Accounts, but More Direction From Congress Is Needed."

A handful of people have amassed more money than would be possible from prudent saving and wise investing. Instead, startup founders and private equity executives were able to build their balances by putting nonpublicly traded securities with very low valuations into their retirement accounts.

"The investments are priced low because they are illiquid and there is no guarantee that they will have any value in the future. However, one would not go through all this trouble (of opening a self-directed IRA) if they did not anticipate rapid growth," says Stuart Caplan, chief investment officer at Apex Financial Advisors in Yardley, Pennsylvania.

Why the GAO is concerned

The GAO is concerned that a few people are using IRAs in a way that was not intended by Congress and that the IRS could be losing out on millions in tax revenue.

"There are a lot of assets being held in the accounts, and the government wants to track it better so that when people are taking distributions of not cash -- assets -- they can be more sure that the assets are being valued correctly," says Jaime Raskulinecz, CEO and founder of Next Generation Trust Services, a provider of self-directed retirement account services in Roseland, New Jersey.

For instance, if you own a racehorse through your IRA and decide you would like to take a distribution from the account in the form of 1 equine, the IRS wants to know how much that horse is worth to better calculate taxes owed.

"A number of industry stakeholders we interviewed expressed concerns that individuals who invest in nonpublicly traded shares … using IRAs and (defined contribution) plans may undervalue these assets, thus substantially increasing their tax benefits," the GAO report stated.

Investigating valuation issues requires hiring outside experts and attorneys, and that gets expensive. Taxpayers foot the bill, and the IRS has only 3 years to detect and go after improper valuations.
IRS collecting new information

The IRS now asks for the following data from custodians, the financial institutions that hold IRAs.

New data requested on Form 5498:
How much of the IRA's value is attributed to nonmarket assets.
The type of nonmarket assets.

New data requested on Form 1099-R:
Identifies distributions of IRA assets that do not have a readily available fair market value.
Other GAO recommendations

Questions about valuations often don't arise for many years. The GAO recommended expanding the 3-year statute of limitations on IRA violations. The report also suggested that a warning be added in Publication 590 about the risks of prohibited transactions and fudged valuations in retirement accounts.

A section of the report directed at Congress proposed some changes to IRAs that could include:
Limiting the types of assets permitted in IRAs. It's not just shares of startups that populate self-directed IRAs. Self-directed IRAs can invest in real estate, timberlands, racehorses, Broadway shows, cattle, precious metals and even interests in oil wells.
Requiring a minimum valuation for an asset purchased by an IRA. Founders of startups and their employees may get nonpublicly traded shares valued at less than $0.01.
Putting a cap on the amount of money that can be accumulated in IRAs. Congress could require an immediate distribution of balances above the ceiling, the report suggested.
Alternative assets and you

Technically, anyone can invest in alternative assets in an IRA, but they have to first find a custodian who will be willing and able to hold the account. It's a good idea to deal with experienced firms because a misstep could cause your IRA to become just an A -- with all the associated taxes and penalties.

"Clients come to invest in, among other things, real estate assets -- maybe they buy a condo on the beach in Florida or the Carolinas and rent it. The IRA will hold it and all rent and expenses flow through the IRA," says Raskulinecz.

"There has also been a big increase in clients that are making equity investments in startups or loans that may turn into equity investments if the startup gets a big infusion of capital or is sold," she says.

Maybe one day those accounts will turn into mega-million-dollar IRAs. In the meantime, critics of the conclusions drawn by the GAO report, such as Tim Gagnon, say people need more carrots for retirement savings, not fewer.

"They are going after an underlying issue that isn't the underlying issue. It's more worrying that people don't put money aside for retirement, rather than rich people with large accounts," says Gagnon, an assistant academic specialist of accounting at the D'Amore-McKim School of Business and program director for the online Master of Science in Taxation program at Northeastern University.

Encouraging everyone to step up their retirement savings is never a bad idea. Is any real harm done if a few people manage to parlay their IRAs into a vast fortune?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

US, China Spar Over North Korea, South China Sea

BEIJING (AP) — The United States and China sparred Wednesday on how to deal with North Korea's latest nuclear weapons test and ease rising tensions over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry listens to an opening statement by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a news conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016, on the final leg in Kerry's latest round-the-world diplomatic mission.

After meeting for more than four hours in Beijing in what they both termed "constructive" and "candid" discussions, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi nonetheless presented sharply opposing positions on the two issues at a news conference.

Kerry acknowledged that "our differences will continue to test us" but stressed that the world benefits when the United States and China are able to work together, including on the Iran nuclear deal and climate change.

On North Korea, Kerry said the United States wanted new U.N. Security Council action that would impose "significant new measures" to punish Pyongyang for its latest test earlier this month and boost pressure on it to return to disarmament talks.

"There's been a lot of talk about North Korea through these past years. Now we believe is the time for action that can bring North Korea back to the table," Kerry said. Wang said China agreed on the need for a new resolution, but suggested that Beijing would not support new sanctions. "Sanctions are not an end in themselves," he said.

"The new resolution should not provoke new tension in the situation, still less destabilize the Korean peninsula," Wang said. China is North Korea's most important ally, chief trading partner and a key source of economic assistance. While it condemned the latest test, Beijing has balked at imposing harsh sanctions that could destabilize the hard-line communist regime.

Kerry noted that sanctions had brought Iran to the nuclear negotiating table. "With all due respect," he said. "More significant and impactful sanctions were put in place against Iran, which did not have a nuclear weapon than against North Korea, which does."

"All nations, particularly those who seek a global leadership role, or have a global leadership role, have a responsibility to deal with this threat," he said, referring to China. Kerry said the sides agreed both on the need for a strong new resolution on North Korea, but also to accelerate talks on what that would entail.

"It's good to agree on the goal. But it's not enough to agree on the goal, we believe we need to agree on the meaningful steps necessary to get to the achievement of the goal to the negotiations that result in denuclearization," Kerry said.

For his part, Wang also took umbrage at U.S. complaints that China is not doing as much as it can with the leverage it has on North Korea to stop the destabilizing behavior. He noted that China's position has been consistent in opposing North Korea's nuclear weapons program and supporting a diplomatic resolution to the matter.

"For many years China has been working hard to implement these," he said. "We have delivered on our obligation." Wang said China's position is "clear cut" and "responsible." "Our position will not be swayed by specific events or the temporary mood of the moment," he said. "We reject all groundless speculation or distortion of China's position."

Kerry, though, pressed ahead, saying that China is North Korea's main link to the outside world, and that it could do more to limit cross-border transactions that benefit North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his government.

Kim Jong Un's actions in testing the latest device was "reckless and dangerous," Kerry said, vowing that the U.S. would take whatever steps it needed to protect itself and its allies. Kerry, who after meeting with Wang was set to see State Councilor Yang Jiechi and President Xi Jinping, also called on China to halt land reclamation and construction of airstrips in disputed areas of the South China Sea, steps that have alarmed its smaller neighbors.

"I stressed the importance of finding common ground among the claimants and avoiding the destabilizing cycle of mistrust or escalation," Kerry said. Wang, though denied that China has was doing anything other than protecting its territorial sovereignty. And, he rejected accusations from the United States and others that China was not interested in peaceful resolutions to the disputes or militarizing the areas. "We cannot accept the allegation that China's words are not being matched by actions."

Kerry arrived in China from stops in Laos and Cambodia, where he called on the two members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to present a united front in dealing with increasing Chinese assertiveness over the South China Sea claims. His visits to Vientiane and Phnom Penh come ahead of a summit with the leaders of all 10 ASEAN nations that President Barack Obama will host next month in California.

China, which claims sovereignty of much of the territory in the South China Sea, rejects claims from countries like the Philippines and Vietnam and has bristled at U.S. warnings that its activities threaten the freedom of navigation in some of the world's busiest commercial shipping lanes. Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also have overlapping claims in the strategically vital sea, through which around $5 trillion in world trade passes each year.

The U.S. says it takes no position on the claims but says developments in the South China Sea are a national security interest. It has urged that the disputes be settled peacefully and that a binding code of conduct be established for the area.

Tensions have been especially high since Beijing transformed seven disputed reefs into islands, where it is now constructing runways and facilities that rival claimants say can be used militarily. China has said it built the islands primarily to foster safe civilian sea travel and fishing.

In response, the U.S. sent a guided-missile destroyer close to one of the Chinese-built islands, called Subi Reef, in October in a challenge to Beijing's territorial claims, sparking warnings from China. U.S. officials vowed to continue maneuvers to protect freedom of navigation and overflight.

Recent developments, including China's movement of an oil rig into a zone disputed with Vietnam and warnings against Philippines overflight of what it claims to be its territory, have raised those levels of concern. China dismisses the warnings as unwarranted, but has harshly criticized a U.S.-Philippines defense pact that allows American forces, warships and planes to be based temporarily in local military camps. China says that will "escalate tensions and undermine peace and stability in the region," echoing language the United States uses to criticize China's actions.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Vatican: Iran Must Join Fight Against Terrorism

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis held talks with Iran's president at the Vatican Tuesday, calling on Tehran to play a key role in stopping the spread of terrorism as Iran tries to improve its image in the global arena following an agreement on its nuclear program.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, left, and Italian Premier Matteo Renzi talk to each during their meeting at the Campidoglio, Capitol Hill, in Rome, Monday, Jan. 25, 2016. Rouhani arrived Monday in Rome on the first state visit to Europe by an Iranian president in almost two decades, eager for foreign investments after the lifting of international sanctions.

The pontiff warmly clasped the hand of President Hassan Rouhani in the first official call paid on a pontiff by an Iranian president since 1999. They held 40 minutes of private talks before Rouhani met with other top Vatican officials,

The talks "delved into the conclusion and application of the nuclear accord, and the important role that Iran is called upon to play, together with other countries of the region, was highlighted," the Holy See said.

It added that that role should "foster adequate political solutions to the issues plaguing the Middle East, fighting the spread of terrorism and arms trafficking." The "cordial" talks also stressed common spiritual values, the statement said.

Usually it's the pope who asks his audience to pray for him. This time, after the two men spoke with the help of Italian and Farsi language translators, it was the guest who asked the pope for prayers. "I ask you to pray for me," Rouhani said.

The Vatican meeting was a key part of the Iranian effort to take a more prominent place on the world stage after the nuclear deal with Western powers. Iran, which agreed to limit its nuclear activities in exchange for an end to economic sanctions, is eager to carve out a bigger role in mediating Middle East conflicts. Francis' papacy has emphasized mediation and conflict-resolution, including his role in helping Cuba and the United States to normalize their relations.

Rouhani heads to France Wednesday on his four-day European trip seeking to boost Iran's image abroad as well as to rehabilitate economic ties with a continent that had been a big trade partner before the sanctions.

Francis gave Rouhani a medal depicting St. Martin giving his cloak to a poor man in the cold, describing the saint's act as "a sign of unsolicited brotherhood." Rouhani brought a gift of a hand-made rug that he said was made in the Iranian holy city of Qom.

Before going to the Vatican, Rouhani told a forum of business leaders in Rome that "Iran is the safest and most stable country of the entire region." Italy also sees Iran as a potential peacemaker in Syria's civil war, as the Italian government fears the warfare will further destabilize Libya — just across the Mediterranean from southern Italy — fuel terrorism and jeopardize energy security.

"Italy has always backed the role of Iran as a regional player in resolving tensions in the area, starting with the Syrian crisis," Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said after meeting his Iranian counterpart, according to his office.

Rouhani has described the political talks leading to the nuclear deal as a potential blueprint for pursuing peace in the Middle East. His European trip was originally planned for November but postponed because of the attacks in Paris.

Danish Lawmakers OK Seizing Valuables From Migrants

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK(AP) — Danish lawmakers voted Tuesday to let police seize valuables worth more than $1,500 from asylum-seekers to help cover their housing and food costs while their cases are being processed.

Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen from The Red-Green Alliance speaks in Parliament, in Copenhagen on Tuesday Jan. 26, 2016. Denmark's Parliament is expected to vote allow police seizing valuables worth more than $1,500 from asylum-seekers to help cover their housing and food costs while their cases were being processed. (Peter Hove Olesen/ POLFOTO via AP) DENMARK OUT

After more than three hours of debate, the minority Liberal Party government's bill was adopted in an 81-27 vote, with the support of the opposition Social Democrats and the anti-immigration Danish People's Party — Denmark's two largest parties. One lawmaker abstained and 70 others were absent.

Amendments were made, including raising the value of items the asylum-seekers can keep from 3,000 kroner ($440) to 10,000 kroner ($1,500). That brings it in line with welfare rules for Danes, who must sell assets worth more than 10,000 kroner before they can receive social benefits.

Denmark received about 20,000 asylum-seekers last year, one of the highest rates per capita in the EU. "We are talking about a real exodus," said Martin Henriksen, immigration spokesman for the populist Danish People's Party. "More needs to be done: we need more border controls. We need tighter immigration rules."

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, criticized Denmark, saying people who make the effort to reach Europe "should be treated with compassion and respect" and with full rights as refugees.

Two small centrist parties and two left-leaning groups opposed the law and attacked the government for tightening Denmark's immigration laws. "This is a symbolic move to scare people away" from seeking asylum in Denmark, said Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen of the opposition left Red-Green Alliance that opposed the law. Her party colleague Henning Hyllested called the law "sickly nationalism."

"I don't think anyone who comes here has 10,000 kroner, because if I had 10,000 kroner I wouldn't be here," said Feraidoon Ferogh, a 24-year-old asylum seeker from Afghanistan. Denmark is not the only country taking such action. Some German states do take funds from refugees and Switzerland requires asylum-seekers to hand over cash of more than 1,000 francs ($996).

The bill was part of a raft of measures that included extending from one year to three the period that family members must wait before they can join a refugee in Denmark. Denmark already tightened its immigration laws last year, reducing benefits for asylum-seekers, shortening temporary residence permits and stepping up efforts to deport those whose applications are rejected.

Associated Press reporters Cara Anna in New York and David Keyton in Copenhagen contributed to this report.

UK Actress Slaying SuspectTo Return From Ghana Voluntarily

ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — A suspect in the slayings of a British actress and her two young sons has told a Ghana court he will return to the UK voluntarily, the court and his lawyer said Tuesday.

Arthur Simpson-Kent after his appearance for extradition to Britain at the Law court complex in Accra, Ghana, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016. Arthur Simpson-Kent, 48, who was the boyfriend of former "EastEnders" actress Sian Blake, appeared in a magistrate court in Ghana for the second time for extradition to Britain, for possible murder charges.

On the first day of an extradition hearing Tuesday, the head of Arthur Simpson-Kent's legal team, Justice Srem-Sai, said that his client has decided to return voluntarily and waived his right to challenge the proceedings. Simpson-Kent will remain in custody until a departure date is set, the lawyer said.

When Ghana High Court Judge Merley Wood asked if he had voluntarily made the decision, Simpson-Kent replied "yes," adding that he had not been coerced into the decision. He first appeared in court on Jan. 12.

State attorney Rebecca Adzalo had earlier informed the court they had received a 200-page extradition order against Simpson-Kent from the British High Commission through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Ghana police arrested the 48-year-old on Jan. 9 in the western coastal town of Butre. He fled to Ghana after speaking to detectives in Britain on Dec. 16 following the killings of his partner, former "EastEnders" actress Sian Blake, and her sons 8-year-old Zachary and 4-year-old Amon.

Blake, 43, appeared in the long-running East-Ender's soap opera in 1996-1997.

Monday, January 25, 2016

£3 Billion Pledge To Help End Malaria Deaths


Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates (L) speaks as he sits with Britain's Chancellor George Osborne during a visit to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in Liverpool, Britain January 25, 2016.

Deaths from Malaria could be nearly eliminated in the next 15 years thanks in part to a landmark £3 billion funding commitment announced today by the Chancellor and Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Speaking at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, George Osborne, Bill Gates and International Development Secretary, Justine Greening revealed a significant funding package to ramp up efforts to fight Malaria, centred on a £3 billion commitment over five years and a mission to support the World Health Organisation's goal of reducing malaria deaths by 90% by 2030, on a path to malaria free world.
The Chancellor George Osborne said:
I am determined that our overseas aid budget is spent on the challenges people in Britain want to see addressed - and those that threaten global and national security.
Across the globe over a billion people are infected with malaria and it's a cause of both untold misery and lost economic potential.
That's why, working with Bill Gates, I'm determined that Britain leads the world in the fight against this disease.
Already we've made great progress. Now, together with the Gates Foundation we are announcing £3bn over the next five years to start the work on eradicating malaria altogether.
Some of that money will be spent here in the Northern Powerhouse, and the brilliant science we want to see here. The Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine is the oldest such institution in the world and is at the cutting edge of the war against malaria.
Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates said:
Britain is a global leader in the fight against deadly diseases like malaria - a disease that still claims the life of a child every minute. From the strength of its scientific community, to the bravery of the ordinary men and women who go out to fight these diseases, the UK's commitment to global health is building healthier futures for people living in the world's poorest places and making the world a safer place for all of us.
Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening said:
We can be incredibly proud of Britain's contribution to the battle against malaria. Thanks to the efforts of the UK and others over the past 15 years, more than six million lives have been saved.
However, malaria still causes one out of ten child deaths in Africa and costs Africa's economy billions every year. Our new commitment will save countless more lives and build a safer, healthier and more prosperous world for us all which is firmly in the UK's national interest.
Director of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), Professor Janet Hemingway CBE said:
As the world's oldest Tropical Medical Institution dedicated to improving health, LSTM is delighted to see the growing partnership between the UK government and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, providing leadership and support to the fight against the global health challenges of malaria and NTDs.
These diseases are indicators and drivers of poverty, and this partnership will help increase know-how, advocacy and funding, making a significant contribution to rapidly reduce the disease burden imposed by these infectious diseases and improve the quality of life for many of the world's poorest populations.
The funding announced today will mean £500 million a year invested by the UK government for the next five years.
The Gates Foundation will spend $200 million in 2016 to support R&D for malaria and to accelerate regional malaria elimination efforts, with a similar amount over each of the following four years.
Together this amounts to a minimum £3 billion commitment from the two partners to support global efforts to fight malaria.
The announcement builds on the new £1 billion Ross Fund announced by the government and the Gates Foundation in November - named after Sir Ronald Ross, the first-ever British Nobel Laureate who was recognised for his discovery that mosquitoes transmit malaria.
The Ross fund aims to develop, test and deliver a range of new products (including vaccines, drugs and diagnostics) to help combat the world's most serious infectious diseases in developing countries.
The Ross Fund will target drug resistant infections including malaria and TB, outbreak diseases such as Ebola, and neglected tropical diseases.
The Gates Foundation has committed to a five year partnership with the Ross Fund, aligning efforts with the UK Government to fight infectious disease in developing countries.
Today's commitment also delivers on the pledge, first made by George Osborne on a visit to Uganda in 2007, to spend £500 million a year battling malaria.
Bill Gates also announced today that his foundation would partner and invest in the Global Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) Research Innovation Fund announced by the Prime Minister and President Xi of China in October 2015.