Then came Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The war between two of the world’s largest exporters of food and energy led to a big surge in prices, especially for importers like Ghana. Consumer prices have gone up 30 percent for the year through June, according to data from the research firm Moody’s Analytics. For household essentials, annual inflation has reached 60 percent or more this year, the S&P data shows.

To illustrate this, consider the price of a barrel of oil in dollars versus the Ghanaian cedi. At the beginning of October last year, the price of oil stood at $78.52 per barrel, rising to nearly $130 per barrel in March before falling back to $87.96 at the beginning of this month, a one-year increase of 12 percent in dollar terms. Over the same period, the Ghanaian cedi has weakened over 40 percent against the dollar, meaning that the same barrel of oil that cost roughly 475 cedi a year ago now costs over 900 cedi, almost twice as much.

Adding to the problem are large state-funded subsidies, some taken on or increased through the pandemic, that are now weighing on government finances.

Ghana’s president cut fuel taxes in November 2021, losing roughly $22 million in projected revenue for the government — the latest available numbers.

In Egypt, spending on what the government refers to as “supply commodities,” almost all of which is wheat for its long-running bread subsidy, is expected to come in at around 7 percent of all government spending this year, 12 percent higher — or more than half a billion dollars — than the government budgeted.

As costs ballooned throughout the pandemic, governments took on more debt. Ghana’s public debt grew to nearly $60 billion from roughly $40 billion at the end of 2019, or to nearly 80 percent of its gross domestic product from around 63 percent, according to Moody’s.

It’s one of four countries listed by S&P, alongside Pakistan, Nigeria and Sri Lanka, where interest payments alone account for more than half of the government’s revenues.

“We can’t forget that this is happening on the back end of a once-in-a-century pandemic in which governments, to try and support families as best they could, did borrow more,” said Frank Gill, an analyst at S&P. “This is a shock following up on another shock.”

In May, Sri Lanka defaulted on its government debt for the first time in its history. Over the past month, the governments of Egypt, Pakistan and Ghana have all reached out to the International Monetary Fund for a bailout as they struggle to meet their debt financing needs, no longer able to turn to international investors for more money.

“I don’t think there is a lot of appetite to lend money to some of these countries,” said Brian Weinstein, co-head of credit trading at Bank of America. “They are incredibly vulnerable at the moment.”

That vulnerability is already reflected in the bond market.

In 2016, Ghana borrowed $1 billion for 10 years, paying an interest rate of just over 8 percent. As the country’s financial position has worsened and investors have backed away, the yield — indicative of what it would now cost Ghana to borrow money until 2026 — has risen to above 35 percent.

It’s an untenable cost of debt for a country in Ghana’s situation. And Ghana is not alone. For bonds that also mature in 2026, yields for Pakistan have reached almost 40 percent.

“We have concerns where any country has yields that calls into question their ability to refinance in public markets,” said Charles Cohen, deputy division chief of monetary and capital market departments at IMF.

The risk of a sovereign debt crisis in some emerging markets is “very, very high,” said Jesse Rogers, an economist at Moody’s Analytics. Mr. Rogers likened the current situation to the debt crises that crushed Latin America in the 1980s — the last time the Fed sought to quell soaring inflation.

Already this year, more than $80 billion has been withdrawn from mutual funds and exchange-traded funds — two popular types of investment products — that buy emerging market bonds, according to EPFR Global, a data provider. As investors sell, the United States is often the beneficiary, further strengthening the dollar.

“It’s by far the worst year for outflows the market has ever seen,” said Pramol Dhawan, head of emerging markets at Pimco.

Even citizens in some of these countries are trying to exchange their money for dollars, fearful of what’s to come and of further currency depreciation — yet inadvertently also contributing to it.

“For pockets of emerging markets, this is a really challenging backdrop and one of the most challenging backdrops we have faced for many years,” Mr. Dhawan said.

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Strong Dollar Is Good for the US but Bad for the World

The Federal Reserve’s determination to crush inflation at home by raising interest rates is inflicting profound pain in other countries — pushing up prices, ballooning the size of debt payments and increasing the risk of a deep recession.

Those interest rate increases are pumping up the value of the dollar — the go-to currency for much of the world’s trade and transactions — and causing economic turmoil in both rich and poor nations. In Britain and across much of the European continent, the dollar’s acceleration is helping feed stinging inflation.

On Monday, the British pound touched a record low against the dollar as investors balked at a government tax cut and spending plan. And China, which tightly controls its currency, fixed the renminbi at its lowest level in two years while taking steps to manage its decline.

Somalia, where the risk of starvation already lurks, the strong dollar is pushing up the price of imported food, fuel and medicine. The strong dollar is nudging debt-ridden Argentina, Egypt and Kenya closer to default and threatening to discourage foreign investment in emerging markets like India and South Korea.

the International Monetary Fund.

Japanese yen has reached a decades-long high. The euro, used by 19 nations across Europe, reached 1-to-1 parity with the dollar in June for the first time since 2002. The dollar is clobbering other currencies as well, including the Brazilian real, the South Korean won and the Tunisian dinar.

the economic outlook in the United States, however cloudy, is still better than in most other regions.

loss of purchasing power over time, meaning your dollar will not go as far tomorrow as it did today. It is typically expressed as the annual change in prices for everyday goods and services such as food, furniture, apparel, transportation and toys.

A fragile currency can sometimes work as “a buffering mechanism,” causing nations to import less and export more, Mr. Prasad said. But today, many “are not seeing the benefits of stronger growth.”

Still, they must pay more for essential imports like oil, wheat or pharmaceuticals as well as for loan bills due from billion-dollar debts.

debt crisis in Latin America in the 1980s.

The situation is particularly fraught because so many countries ran up above-average debts to deal with the fallout from the pandemic. And now they are facing renewed pressure to offer public support as food and energy prices soar.

Indonesia this month, thousands of protesters, angry over a 30 percent price increase on subsidized fuel, clashed with the police. In Tunisia, a shortage of subsidized food items like sugar, coffee, flour and eggs has shuttered cafes and emptied market shelves.

New research on the impact of a strong dollar on emerging nations found that it drags down economic progress across the board.

“You can see these very pronounced negative effects of a stronger dollar,” said Maurice Obstfeld, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and an author of the study.

central banks feel pressure to raise interest rates to bolster their currencies and prevent import prices from skyrocketing. Last week, Argentina, the Philippines, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Sweden, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Britain and Norway raised interest rates.

World Bank warned this month that simultaneous interest rate increases are pushing the world toward a recession and developing nations toward a string of financial crises that would inflict “lasting harm.”

Clearly, the Fed’s mandate is to look after the American economy, but some economists and foreign policymakers argue it should pay more attention to the fallout its decisions have on the rest of the world.

In 1998, Alan Greenspan, a five-term Fed chair, argued that “it is just not credible that the United States can remain an oasis of prosperity unaffected by a world that is experiencing greatly increased stress.”

The United States is now facing a slowing economy, but the essential dilemma is the same.

“Central banks have purely domestic mandates,” said Mr. Obstfeld, the U.C. Berkeley economist, but financial and trade globalization have made economies more interdependent than they have ever been and so closer cooperation is needed. “I don’t think central banks can have the luxury of not thinking about what’s happening abroad.”

Flávia Milhorance contributed reporting from Rio de Janeiro.

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Russia’s Unfounded Claims of Secret U.S. Bioweapons Linger On and On

The United States secretly manufactured biological weapons in Ukraine. It trained birds to carry pathogens into Russia. It created Covid-19. It operated laboratories in Nigeria that engineered this year’s outbreak of monkeypox.

Of the many falsehoods that the Kremlin has spread since the war in Ukraine began more than six months ago, some of the most outlandish and yet enduring have been those accusing the United States of operating clandestine biological research programs to wreak havoc around the globe.

The United States and others have dismissed the accusations as preposterous, and Russia has offered no proof. Yet the claims continue to circulate. Backed at times by China’s diplomats and state media, they have ebbed and flowed in international news reports, fueling conspiracy theories that linger online.

international treaty that since 1975 has barred the development and use of weapons made of biological toxins or pathogens, gives member nations the authority to request a formal hearing of violations, and Russia has invoked the first one in a quarter-century.

the origins of Covid-19 has.

“The message is constantly about these labs, and that will erode confidence in that infrastructure and the work that’s being performed,” said Filippa Lentzos, an expert on biological threats and security at King’s College London. “And it will significantly undermine global biosafety and biosecurity efforts, so it does have consequences.”

Russia added the outbreak of monkeypox to its list of American transgressions in April. Gen. Igor A. Kirillov, the head of the Russian Army’s radiological, chemical and biological defense force, insinuated that the United States had started the latest outbreak because it supported four research laboratories in Nigeria where the epidemic began to spread.

In the months after the general’s comments, there were nearly 4,000 articles in Russian media, many of them shared on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms, according to research conducted by Zignal Labs for The New York Times.

For evidence of a conspiracy, some of the Russian reports pointed to a simulation in 2021 at the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering of defense officials and experts from around the world. The simulation, intended to test how well countries would contain a new pandemic, posited a hypothetical monkeypox outbreak that began in a fictional country called Brinia and caused 270 million deaths.

a statement in May trying to tamp down any misconception.

routinely amplifies Russian claims about the war with Ukraine and about secret biological weapons research, as part of its own information battle with the United States that began with the debate over the spread of Covid-19.

China’s heavily censored internet, which aggressively stifles unwelcome political opinions, has also freely circulated conspiracy theories about a possible American role in the spread of monkeypox, as Bloomberg reported.

Russia’s efforts to push the claims about biological weapons come from an old Russia propaganda playbook, adapted to the age of social media.

Researchers at the RAND Corporation called the Russian strategy a “fire hose of falsehood,” inundating the public with huge numbers of claims that are designed to deflect attention and cause confusion and distrust as much as to provide an alternative point of view.

died on Tuesday, that it would hurt newly warming relations with the West.

Russia’s propaganda model today has been adapted to take advantage of “technology and available media in ways that would have been inconceivable during the Cold War,” according to the RAND study.

Despite “a shameless willingness to disseminate partial truths or outright fictions” and a disregard of consistency, the strategy can often be persuasive to some, especially those who have preconceived biases, one of the authors, Christopher Paul, said in an interview.

“There are still people who believe the C.I.A. caused AIDS in Africa, even though that idea has been thoroughly debunked,” Mr. Paul said. “Not many, but some.”

Like many disinformation campaigns, Russia’s accusations on occasion have a passing relationship to facts.

Even before the war in Ukraine, Russia raised alarms about U.S. efforts to establish closer defense and research ties with several of Russia’s neighbors, including other former republics of the Soviet Union.

invoked a special session was in 1997, when Cuba accused the United States of spraying a plume of insects over the country’s crops, causing a devastating infestation.

The proceedings were not public, but several nations later submitted written observations about Cuba’s claims and the United States’ rebuttal. Only North Korea supported Cuba’s claim. Eight countries — Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Japan, the Netherlands and New Zealand — concluded there was no link. China and Vietnam said it was impossible to determine. (Russia submitted no response.)

“There’s a big silent majority that just wants to sit on the fence,” Dr. Lentzos said. “They don’t really want to take a side because it could hurt their interests either way. And so the big question is not ‘Do these guys believe it, or not?’ It’s to what extent are they motivated to act on it and speak out.”

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Polio In U.S., U.K. And Israel Reveals Rare Risk Of Oral Vaccine

Since 2017, there have been 396 cases of polio caused by the wild virus, versus more than 2,600 linked to the oral vaccine, according to the WHO.

For years, global health officials have used billions of drops of an oral vaccine in a remarkably effective campaign aimed at wiping out polio in its last remaining strongholds — typically, poor, politically unstable corners of the world.

Now, in a surprising twist in the decades-long effort to eradicate the virus, authorities in Jerusalem, New York and London have discovered evidence that polio is spreading there.

The original source of the virus? The oral vaccine itself.

Scientists have long known about this extremely rare phenomenon. That is why some countries have switched to other polio vaccines. But these incidental infections from the oral formula are becoming more glaring as the world inches closer to eradication of the disease and the number of polio cases caused by the wild, or naturally circulating, virus plummets.

Since 2017, there have been 396 cases of polio caused by the wild virus, versus more than 2,600 linked to the oral vaccine, according to figures from the World Health Organization and its partners.

“We are basically replacing the wild virus with the virus in the vaccine, which is now leading to new outbreaks,” said Scott Barrett, a Columbia University professor who has studied polio eradication. “I would assume that countries like the U.K. and the U.S. will be able to stop transmission quite quickly, but we also thought that about monkeypox.”

The latest incidents represent the first time in several years that the vaccine-connected polio virus has turned up in rich countries.

Earlier this year, officials in Israel detected polio in an unvaccinated 3-year-old, who suffered paralysis. Several other children, nearly all of them unvaccinated, were found to have the virus but no symptoms.

In June, British authorities reported finding evidence in sewage that the virus was spreading, though no infections in people were identified. Last week, the government said all children in London, ages 1 to 9, would be offered a booster shot.

In the U.S., an unvaccinated young adult suffered paralysis in his legs after being infected with polio, New York officials revealed last month. The virus has also shown up in New York sewers, suggesting it is spreading. But officials said they are not planning a booster campaign because they believe the state’s high vaccination rates should offer enough protection.

Genetic analyses showed that the viruses in the three countries were all “vaccine-derived,” meaning that they were mutated versions of a virus that originated in the oral vaccine.

The oral vaccine at issue has been used since 1988 because it is cheap, easy to administer — two drops are put directly into children’s mouths — and better at protecting entire populations where polio is spreading. It contains a weakened form of the live virus.

But it can also cause polio in about two to four children per 2 million doses. (Four doses are required to be fully immunized.) In extremely rare cases, the weakened virus can also sometimes mutate into a more dangerous form and spark outbreaks, especially in places with poor sanitation and low vaccination levels.

These outbreaks typically begin when people who are vaccinated shed live virus from the vaccine in their feces. From there, the virus can spread within the community and, over time, turn into a form that can paralyze people and start new epidemics.

Many countries that eliminated polio switched to injectable vaccines containing a killed virus decades ago to avoid such risks; the Nordic countries and the Netherlands never used the oral vaccine. The ultimate goal is to move the entire world to the shots once wild polio is eradicated, but some scientists argue that the switch should happen sooner.

“We probably could never have gotten on top of polio in the developing world without the (oral polio vaccine), but this is the price we’re now paying,” said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “The only way we are going to eliminate polio is to eliminate the use of the oral vaccine.”

Aidan O’Leary, director of WHO’s polio department, described the discovery of polio spreading in London and New York as “a major surprise,” saying that officials have been focused on eradicating the disease in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where health workers have been killed for immunizing children and where conflict has made access to some areas impossible.

Still, O’Leary said he is confident Israel, Britain and the U.S. will shut down their newly identified outbreaks quickly.

The oral vaccine is credited with dramatically reducing the number of children paralyzed by polio. When the global eradication effort began in 1988, there were about 350,000 cases of wild polio a year. So far this year, there have been 19 cases of wild polio, all in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Mozambique.

In 2020, the number of polio cases linked to the vaccine hit a peak of more than 1,100 spread out across dozens of countries. It has since declined to around 200 this year so far.

Last year, the WHO and partners also began using a newer oral polio vaccine, which contains a live but weakened virus that scientists believe is less likely to mutate into a dangerous form. But supplies are limited.

To stop polio in Britain, the U.S. and Israel, what is needed is more vaccination, experts say. That is something Columbia University’s Barrett worries could be challenging in the COVID-19 era.

“What’s different now is a reduction in trust of authorities and the political polarization in countries like the U.S. and the U.K.,” Barrett said. “The presumption that we can quickly get vaccination numbers up quickly may be more challenging now.”

Oyewale Tomori, a virologist who helped direct Nigeria’s effort to eliminate polio, said that in the past, he and colleagues balked at describing outbreaks as “vaccine-derived,” wary it would make people fearful of the vaccine.

“All we can do is explain how the vaccine works and hope that people understand that immunization is the best protection, but it’s complicated,” Tomori said. “In hindsight, maybe it would have been better not to use this vaccine, but at that time, nobody knew it would turn out like this.”

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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The Meaning Behind Pope Francis’ Meeting With Transgender People

Some say Pope Francis’s meeting with transgender people may not translate into doctrinal change, but it could lead to cultural acceptance.

Father James Martin has taken his message of prayer and inclusivity just about everywhere, from “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” to the halls of the Vatican.

In May, he wrote to Pope Francis with a few questions.

“I just wanted to give him a time to briefly talk to LGBTQ Catholics,” Martin said.

Francis has extended apologies to the abused and a welcome to the historically rejected. According to the Vatican News, he recently met with transgender people near Rome, Italy.

So Martin’s questions aren’t so random.

“I asked him, ‘What would you most like them to know about the church?'” Martin said. “He said, ‘Read Acts of the Apostles,’ which was really interesting because there’s a church that’s kind of mixing it up. Then also, ‘What would you say to an LGBTQ Catholic who felt rejected by the church?’ And he said very interestingly to remember that it’s not the church that rejects you, the church loves you, but it might be individual people in the church.”

It isn’t the first time Francis has corresponded directly with Martin on LGBTQ relations or the first time he has spoken up about their place within the Catholic church.

In 2016, Francis agreed the church should apologize to not only gay people but other marginalized groups, like the poor. He’s also called for parents to accept their LGBTQ children.

Francis’ gestures are one thing; changing church doctrine, which teaches that the act of homosexuality is sinful, is another.

“What would have happened really, in a sense, is for theologians working together, along with church officials, to come to some newer understanding of how they can accommodate for older church teaching on these issues, to show that the church evolves rather than dramatically changing,” said Michele Dillon, professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire. “Because the church is not going to say, ‘Oh, we were wrong.’ It’s very rare.”

“If he were to do that, which I don’t think Pope Francis will, but if he were to do that, he would not want to do it without support from the Curia and the College of Cardinals,” said Cristina Traina, professor of Catholic theology at Fordham University. “He would not want to do it without tracing a pathway theologically.”

Instead, Francis has gone another direction: one met with both criticism and praise, uplifting LGBTQ Catholics while simultaneously reiterating church doctrine.  

NEWSY’S AMBER STRONG: Is he sort of riding the line between saying that this is doctrine, and doctrines not going to change. But, we also still need to love and affirm people as well?

FATHER JAMES MARTIN: I think that’s a good question, and I think he is kind of trying to straddle that line. But I think one thing to remember is that what seems very bland and tepid in the United States — overseas is a big deal. In the U.S., we might say, ‘Oh, big deal. Of course, you should welcome your kids.’ If you’re in Eastern Europe or sub-Saharan Africa or Latin America or India, that’s a big deal. So, we have to remember that he’s speaking to the whole church.”

According to Pew Research, 76% of U.S. Catholics say society should be accepting of homosexuality. That’s below the rate of Catholic support in countries like Spain and the Netherlands but far higher than places like Lebanon and Nigeria.

Some theologians argue that Francis’ support could have a trickle-down impact on individual Catholics and parishes.

“These things can do a lot to encourage Catholics to embrace LGBTQ people with love and compassion and mercy and not to see them as the Antichrist, the anathema, the enemy of salvation,” Traina said.

In 2021, a group of catholic leaders, including a cardinal and archbishop, signed a statement calling for widespread support of at-risk LGBTQ youth. According to an NCR analysis of recent listening sessions among U.S. Catholics, there was a growing call for LGBTQ inclusion and more opportunities for women.  

“To me, there’s no such thing as an empty gesture because, yes, many times people want to see more clear cut evidence of change and of their acceptance within the church, but sometimes it’s in small steps,” Dillon said.

In 2021, Martin, a Vatican appointee under Francis, launched Outreach: a website that provides resources to LGBTQ Catholics and leaders. It’s an effort Pope Francis has encouraged.

“He hasn’t changed any church teaching,” Martin said. “I’m not advocating for any church teaching, but he’s advocated a more pastoral response, listening to them, welcoming them, treating them with the respect.

Source: newsy.com

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New York City Declares Monkeypox A Public Health Emergency

By Associated Press
July 30, 2022

New York state health department called monkeypox an “imminent threat to public health.”

Officials in New York City declared a public health emergency due to the spread of the monkeypox virus Saturday, calling the city “the epicenter” of the outbreak.

The announcement Saturday by Mayor Eric Adams and health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan said as many as 150,000 city residents could be at risk of infection. The declaration will allow officials to issue emergency orders under the city health code and amend code provisions to implement measures to help slow the spread.

In the last two days, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul declared a state disaster emergency declaration and the state health department called monkeypox an “imminent threat to public health.”

New York had recorded 1,345 cases as of Friday, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. California had the second-most, with 799.

“We will continue to work with our federal partners to secure more doses as soon as they become available,” Adams and Vasan said in the statement. “This outbreak must be met with urgency, action, and resources, both nationally and globally, and this declaration of a public health emergency reflects the seriousness of the moment.”

The World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global health emergency on July 23. The once-rare disease has been established in parts of central and west Africa for decades but was not known to spark large outbreaks beyond the continent or to spread widely among people until May, when authorities detected dozens of epidemics in Europe, North America and elsewhere.

To date, there have been more than 22,000 monkeypox cases reported in nearly 80 countries since May, with about 75 suspected deaths in Africa, mostly in Nigeria and Congo. On Friday, Brazil and Spain reported deaths linked to monkeypox, the first reported outside Africa. Spain reported a second monkeypox death Saturday.

The virus spreads through prolonged and close skin-to-skin contact as well as sharing bedding, towels and clothing. In Europe and North America, it has spread primarily among men who have sex with men, though health officials emphasize that the virus can infect anyone.

The type of monkeypox virus identified in this outbreak is rarely fatal, and people usually recover within weeks. But the lesions and blisters caused by the virus are painful.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Democratic Republic Of Congo Using Cassava Flour Amid Wheat Shortage

By Chris Ocamringa
July 25, 2022

The Democratic Republic of Congo is among the African countries that rely on Russian and Ukrainian wheat to meet their consumption needs.

A new baker’s confectionery in the Democratic Republic of Congo is making bread and pastries from ground cassava as an alternative to wheat flour. Cassava is a starchy root tuber that’s widely grown in Africa and South America. 

One workshop at the University of Kinshasa is churning them out across this city of bread lovers. And some people have taken a liking to them. 

“If you were blindfolded and made to eat bread made from cassava flour, you won’t be able to tell the difference between it and the one made from wheat flour,” University of Kinshasa anthropology student Bertin Tshama said.

Surging wheat prices caused by the war in Ukraine led University of Kinshasa professor Marie-Claire Yandju to start using cassava flour to bake bread. 

“Everyone is concerned about the shortage of wheat flour and the rising prices in our markets,” she said. “I decided to start using cassava flour to bake bread and cakes because we have plenty of cassava here.” 

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the DRC is the world’s third-largest producer of cassava after Nigeria and Thailand. 

The crop is a reliable source of food during drought. 

The global shortage of wheat flour and rising prices have made some bakers in the DRC substitute wheat with cassava flour that has the potential of increasing the incomes of small-scale farmers who largely grow the crop for home consumption.  

The Congolese government is promoting the use of cassava flour to reduce the cost of wheat imports estimated at $87 million a year. That has been hailed by many farmers, like Joseph Ungu.

“We should utilize this ground that God gave us for growing cassava,” he said. “It will nurture us and our future generations fully.” 

Professor Yandju is now training her students to seize the business opportunity. 

“We have decided to focus on doing research on cassava in order to improve the livelihood of our citizens and people in other countries like Ukraine,” University of Kinshasa biology student Nahomie Nyange said. 

The DRC is among the African countries that rely on Russian and Ukrainian wheat to meet their consumption needs. 

Other African countries are also encouraging their farmers to grow more cassava to reduce their dependence on wheat.  

The shortage of wheat stirred Professor Yandju to offer Congolese citizens a new taste of cassava that she hopes will encourage other people to find homegrown solutions to global challenges. 

Source: newsy.com

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UN Health Agency Chief Declares Monkeypox A Global Emergency

The declaration could spur further investment in treating the once-rare disease and worsen the scramble for scarce vaccines.

The chief of the World Health Organization said the expanding monkeypox outbreak in more than 70 countries is an “extraordinary” situation that now qualifies as a global emergency, a declaration Saturday that could spur further investment in treating the once-rare disease and worsen the scramble for scarce vaccines.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the decision to issue the declaration despite a lack of consensus among experts serving on the U.N. health agency’s emergency committee. It was the first time the chief of the U.N. health agency has taken such an action.

“We have an outbreak that has spread around the world rapidly through new modes of transmission about which we understand too little and which meets the criteria in the international health regulations,” Tedros said.

“I know this has not been an easy or straightforward process and that there are divergent views among the members” of the committee, he added.

A global emergency is WHO’s highest level of alert, but the designation does not necessarily mean a disease is particularly transmissible or lethal. WHO’s emergencies chief, Dr. Michael Ryan, said the director-general made the decision to put monkeypox in that category to endure the gobal community takes the current outbreaks seriously.

Although monkeypox has been established in parts of central and west Africa for decades, it was not known to spark large outbreaks beyond the continent or to spread widely among people until May, when authorities detected dozens of epidemics in Europe, North America and elsewhere.

Declaring a global emergency means the monkeypox outbreak is an “extraordinary event” that could spill over into more countries and requires a coordinated global response. WHO previously declared emergencies for public health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2014 West African Ebola outbreak, the Zika virus in Latin America in 2016 and the ongoing effort to eradicate polio.

The emergency declaration mostly serves as a plea to draw more global resources and attention to an outbreak. Past announcements had mixed impact, given that the U.N. health agency is largely powerless in getting countries to act.

Last month, WHO’s expert committee said the worldwide monkeypox outbreak did not yet amount to an international emergency, but the panel convened this week to reevaluate the situation.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 16,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 74 countries since about May. To date, monkeypox deaths have only been reported in Africa, where a more dangerous version of the virus is spreading, mainly in Nigeria and Congo.

In Africa, monkeypox mainly spreads to people from infected wild animals like rodents, in limited outbreaks that typically have not crossed borders. In Europe, North America and elsewhere, however, monkeypox is spreading among people with no links to animals or recent travel to Africa.

WHO’s top monkeypox expert, Dr. Rosamund Lewis, said this week that 99% of all the monkeypox cases beyond Africa were in men and that of those, 98% involved men who have sex with men. Experts suspect the monkeypox outbreaks in Europe and North America were spread via sex at two raves in Belgium and Spain.

“Although I am declaring a public health emergency of international concern for the moment, this is an outbreak that is concentrated among men who have sex with men, especially those with multiple sexual partners,” Tedros said. “That means that this is an outbreak that can be stopped with the right strategies in the right groups.”

Emergencies chief Ryan, explained what preceded the director-general’s decision.:

“(Tedros) found that the committee did not reach a consensus, despite having a very open, very useful, very considered debate on the issues, and that since he’s not going against the committee, what he’s recognizing is that there are deep complexities in this issue,” Ryan said. “There are uncertainties on all sides. And he’s reflecting that uncertainty and his determination of the event” to be a global emergency.

Before Saturday’s announcement, Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at Southampton University, said it was surprising WHO hadn’t already declared monkeypox a global emergency, explaining that the conditions were arguably met weeks ago.

Some experts had questioned whether such a declaration would help, arguing the disease isn’t severe enough to warrant the attention and that rich countries battling monkeypox already have the funds to do so; most people recover without needing medical attention, although the lesions may be painful.

“I think it would be better to be proactive and overreact to the problem instead of waiting to react when it’s too late,” Head said. He added that WHO’s emergency declaration could help donors like the World Bank make funds available to stop the outbreaks both in the West and in Africa, where animals are the likely natural reservoir of monkeypox.

In the U.S., some experts have speculated whether monkeypox might be on the verge of becoming an entrenched sexually transmitted disease in the country, like gonorrhea, herpes and HIV.

“The bottom line is we’ve seen a shift in the epidemiology of monkeypox where there’s now widespread, unexpected transmission,” said Dr. Albert Ko, a professor of public health and epidemiology at Yale University. “There are some genetic mutations in the virus that suggest why that may be happening, but we do need a globally-coordinated response to get it under control,” he said.

Ko called for testing to be immediately scaled up rapidly, saying that similar to the early days of COVID-19, that there were significant gaps in surveillance.

“The cases we are seeing are just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “The window has probably closed for us to quickly stop the outbreaks in Europe and the U.S., but it’s not too late to stop monkeypox from causing huge damage to poorer countries without the resources to handle it.”

In the U.S., some experts have speculated that monkeypox might become entrenched there as the newest sexually transmitted disease, with officials estimating that 1.5 million men are at high risk of being infected.

Dr. Placide Mbala, a virologist who directs the global health department at Congo’s Institute of National Biomedical Research, said he hoped any global efforts to stop monkeypox would be equitable. Although countries including Britain, Canada, Germany and the U.S. have ordered millions of vaccine doses, none have gone to Africa.

“The solution needs to be global,” Mbala said, adding that any vaccines sent to Africa would be used to target those at highest risk, like hunters in rural areas.

“Vaccination in the West might help stop the outbreak there, but there will still be cases in Africa,” he said. “Unless the problem is solved here, the risk to the rest of the world will remain.”

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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WHO Again Considers Declaring Monkeypox A Global Emergency

Monkeypox has been entrenched for decades in Africa. It’s circulated in Europe, North America and beyond since May among gay and bisexual men.

As the World Health Organization’s emergency committee convenes Thursday to consider for the second time within weeks whether to declare monkeypox a global crisis, some scientists say the striking differences between the outbreaks in Africa and in developed countries will complicate any coordinated response.

African officials say they are already treating the continent’s epidemic as an emergency. But experts elsewhere say the mild version of monkeypox in Europe, North America and beyond makes an emergency declaration unnecessary even if the virus can’t be stopped. British officials recently downgraded their assessment of the disease, given its lack of severity.

Monkeypox has been entrenched for decades in parts of central and western Africa, where diseased wild animals occasionally infect people in rural areas in relatively contained epidemics. The disease in Europe, North America and beyond has circulated since at least May among gay and bisexual men. The epidemic in rich countries was likely triggered by sex at two raves in Spain and Belgium.

Some experts worry these and other differences could possibly deepen existing medical inequities between poor and wealthy nations.

There are now more than 15,000 monkeypox cases worldwide. While the United States, Britain, Canada and other countries have bought millions of vaccines, none have gone to Africa, where a more severe version of monkeypox has already killed more than 70 people. Rich countries haven’t yet reported any monkeypox deaths.

“What’s happening in Africa is almost entirely separate from the outbreak in Europe and North America,” said Dr. Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at Britain’s University of East Anglia who previously advised WHO on infectious diseases.

The U.N. health agency said this week that outside of Africa, 99% of all reported monkeypox cases are in men and of those, 98% are in men who have sex with other men. Still, the disease can infect anyone in close, physical contact with a monkeypox patient, regardless of their sexual orientation.

“In these very active gay sexual networks, you have men who really, really don’t want people to know what they’re doing and may not themselves always know who they are having sex with,” Hunter said.

Some of those men may be married to women or have families unaware of their sexual activity, which “makes contact tracing extremely difficult and even things like asking people to come forward for testing,” Hunter said, explaining why vaccination may be the most effective way to shut down the outbreak.

That’s probably not the case in Africa, where limited data suggests monkeypox is mainly jumping into people from infected animals. Although African experts acknowledge they could be missing cases among gay and bisexual men, given limited surveillance and stigmatization against LGBTQ people, authorities have relied on standard measures like isolation and education to control the disease.

Dr. Placide Mbala, a virologist who directs the global health department at Congo’s Institute of National Biomedical Research, said there are also noticeable differences between patients in Africa and the West.

“We see here (in Congo) very quickly, after three to four days, visible lesions in people exposed to monkeypox,” Mbala said, adding that someone with so many visible lesions is unlikely to go out in public, thus preventing further transmission.

But in countries including Britain and the U.S., doctors have observed some infected people with only one or two lesions, often in their genitals.

“You wouldn’t notice that if you’re just with that person in a taxi or a bar,” Mbala said. “So in the West, people without these visible lesions may be silently spreading the disease.”

He said different approaches in different countries will likely be needed to stop the global outbreak, making it challenging to adopt a single response strategy worldwide, like those for Ebola and COVID-19.

Dr. Dimie Ogoina, a professor of medicine at Nigeria’s Niger Delta University, said he feared the world’s limited vaccine supplies would result in a repeat of the problems that arose in the coronavirus pandemic, when poorer countries were left empty-handed after rich countries hoarded most of the doses.

“It does not make sense to just control the outbreak in Europe and America, because you will then still have the (animal) source of the outbreak in Africa,” said Ogoina, who sits on WHO’s monkeypox emergency committee.

This week, U.S. officials said more than 100,000 monkeypox vaccine doses were being sent to states in the next few days, with several million more on order for the months ahead. The U.S. has reported more than 2,000 cases so far, with hundreds more added every day.

Some U.S. public health experts have begun to wonder if the outbreak is becoming widespread enough that monkeypox will become a new sexually transmitted disease.

Declaring monkeypox to be a global emergency could also inadvertently worsen the rush for vaccines, despite the mildness of the disease being seen in most countries.

Dr. Hugh Adler, who treats monkeypox patients in Britain, said there aren’t many serious cases or infections beyond gay and bisexual men. Still, he said it was frustrating that more vaccines weren’t available, since the outbreak was doubling about every two weeks in the U.K..

“If reclassifying monkeypox as a global emergency will make (vaccines available), then maybe that’s what needs to be done,” he said. “But in an ideal world, we should be able to make the necessary interventions without the emergency declaration.”

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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