North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Saturday, March 29, 2014

India declared polio free ...

A wonderful milestone!

On Thursday, March 27, as noted in a CNN article, "India and Southeast Asia were officially certified by the World Health Organization as being polio-free -- a momentous achievement for global public health and the worldwide effort to eradicate polio."

The article, written interestingly by the Indian actress, Freida Pinto, who starred in the movie, "Slum Dog Millionaire" also relates a bit of history that in the mid-1980s, 150,000 to 200,000 people were afflicted by polio, and, "even as recently as 2009, was home to nearly half the world's new polio cases."

In a Teatree blogpost of February 12, 2012, we saw where India at the time had been declared free of wild polio virus for one year by the World Health Organization (WHO). For today's post, apparently the WHO needs to see three years where no new cases have been reported, and that is the case.

India recognized by the WHO for its efforts and accomplishment, photo from The Guardian

The article continues, "Great achievements don't just happen; they require the great efforts of many. The polio eradication movement, started in 1988, was a joint effort between the Indian government; WHO; Rotary International; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; UNICEF and various other NGOs; the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and about 2 million workers who vaccinated nearly 170 million throughout the country to finally wipe out the disease. Truly, this worldwide effort should serve as a reminder that when the global community bands together to solve an issue, great things can be achieved. And today should serve as a call to not simply continue the efforts but to exponentially increase them."

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Happier futures in store for the Indian population ... photo from the

In a wider context, India was one of 11 Asian countries declared polio free, resulting in an estimate that the disease for 80% of the world's population has been eradicated. In a Guardian UK article, the wider story continues,

"There are only three countries where polio is still endemic: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. However, isolated outbreaks in the Horn of Africa and war-torn Syria emerged as causes for concern in 2013, and vaccination workers in Pakistan are still being killed by the Taliban. "Until polio is globally eradicated, all countries are at risk, and the region's polio-free status remains fragile," WHO's regional director, Poonam Khetrapal Singh cautioned."

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This graphic, contributed by reader in comments, shows it well. In a world of conflict and setbacks, enjoy this miraculous progress. Graphic from

India's story is remarkable all alone as has been noted, it was just 5 years ago the site of half of all the world's polio cases. A truly worthwhile effort which now must concentrate on the violent situation in Pakistan & Afghanistan, the chaotic and violent situation in Nigeria, and the anarchic situations in Somalia and Syria.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Guinea tackles Ebola virus by banning bat meat sales

Not exactly weighty? Perhaps - but as blood disorders are on Teatree's mind these days, the Ebola virus is a virulent deadly disease with global concerns.

Where is Guinea? It is a small West African country, population a little over 10 million - mired in poverty with great mineral wealth among its resources. It has a French colonial background, has had a variety of [mis]governance issues since independence from France in the late 1950s.

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Just in case Guinea isn't obscure enough, there are two other West African nations whose names contain the same term. Graphic from

Bats and Ebola virus

The Ebola virus is, according to, one of 30 viruses capable of causing viral hemorrhagic fever syndrome. Particularly virulent, with symptoms including internal and external bleeding, diarrhoea and vomiting, it kills between 25% and 90% of victims, depending on the strain of the virus...

The genus Ebolavirus is currently classified into 5 separate species, four of which are found in Africa, while interestingly, the fifth is associated with Reston, Virginia, USA: Sudan ebolavirus, Zaire ebolavirus, Tai Forest (Ivory Coast) ebolavirus, Reston ebolavirus, and Bundibugyo ebolavirus.

Locations of the five ebola virus strains in Africa. Graphic from

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Ebola haemorrhagic fever outbreaks occur primarily in remote villages in Central and West Africa, near tropical rainforests. The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.Fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are considered to be the natural host of the Ebola virus.

As of yet, there is no known cure or vaccine.

The fruit bat

Poor little thing. Bats already suffer from a stigma of vampire varieties, general creepiness, and halloween stereotypes. Now this mammal which eats fruit is found to be a host - meaning it lives with the virus inside it, without suffering ill effects. And from this reservoir of the virus, outbreaks can occur.

A single fruit bat "in hand" Photo from

A flock or herd of bats in the wild. (Actually called a colony or camp of ...) Interestingly, deforestation has been linked in West African countries as a factor in dislocating bats into areas with more human contact, with poor results. Bats are eaten more regularly, and humans contract Ebola in return Photo from

Enter the ban in Guinea

The country of Guinea has had an outbreak of the virus, causing 62 deaths and others possible in neighboring countries. As a result, the government has banned the sale and eating of bats as a way to lower the risk of infection.

Fruitbats for sale in African market ... seems to Teatree like such an easy choice to avoid. Photo from

Let's hope that helps in Guinea, and that research continues on a larger scale. The deadliness of this disease has been referenced when terror experts talk of deliberately introduced diseases, and somehow acts as a background for the zombie apocalypse genre.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Russia confronts the West over Ukraine

In a recent post (February 23, 2014) on the Ukrainian revolution, the reader can find a number of maps and graphics that merely underscore the recent moves by Russia to address Soviet Empire legacies.

Here, in mid March, Russia under the leadership of Putin, has used the ruse of protecting ethnic Russians in the Crimean Peninsula (part of Ukraine)to first activate troops already stationed in the oblast as part of its Black Sea Fleet, to hold key access points of the region (airports, border crossings, infrastructure).

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Possession is 9 tenths of the law goes a meaningless phase that somehow seems pertinent here. Despite howls of outrages from the US, Western Europe, and the Ukraine, Russia has a firm grip on the Crimean Peninsula. Graphic from the

In a second major move, Putin and pro Russian leadership in the Crimea hastily organized a referendum asking whether the residents would rather be part of Russia or remain with the Ukraine. The voting results on Sunday night, March 16, were 95% for joining Russia.

Ethnic Russians in the Ukraine ecstatic about rejoining their homeland.

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UK Foreign Secretary William Hague (left), US Secretary of State John Kerry, and UK Prime Minister Cameron (right) talk and talk about the Russian fait accompli Photo from

Russian President Putin, and military leaders on the move. Where is the "mission accomplished" banner? Photo from

Items to ponder:

Russia claims that it is concerned over the safety of Russians (ethnic, formal citizenship??), using that as the prime reason to have made its Crimean move. There are a lot of of Russian remnants around Europe. This Crimean incursion is the third such move in the past several years. Two breakaway provinces in Georgia claimed affinity with Russia, and Russian arms ensured they could make their choice.

The precedent being set here certainly opens the door for many ethnic groups to claim affinity with neighboring nations. It may embolden or further inflame longstanding ethnic enclaves in nations, however the pattern Russia has established is: 1)safety of ethnic Russians at stake; 2) military moves to ensure safety; 3) once in control, hold a referendum of some sort to allow protected Russians their voice. Other groups around the world may or may not find a champion to militarily protect them before a vote.

Even China seems a little ambivalent - after all both China and Russia have long been the champions of internal affairs being the responsibility of the sovereign nation. "Don't interfere in Syria, don't interfere in Libya, don't interfere in Darfur," "certainly not Tibet," and even now the sole supporters of North Korea - all these stances have suddenly been cast aside when it comes to Ukraine.

We'll see whether Europe and the US for that matter have the fortitude to make Russia feel the pain - with economic sanctions for example. Will such sanctions be painful enough to be noticed, or would it be more of a salve for the Western leadership to say, look what we've done.

To date, Russian President Putin has apparently looked over the current crop of Western leaders, including the US, and decided he can make these moves with little concern - a bit of spitting, perhaps some sanctions that are more than likely to be tolerated, but nothing he is not willing to pay.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Uganda anti-gay law breathtaking step backward

While the world's attention is on the Ukraine/Russia confrontation, it would be remiss to pass by the recent anti-gay legislation signed into law on February 20, 2014 in Uganda. If ever there was a beam to be removed from one's eye first before addressing a mote, this is probably a leading candidate.

Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa, acting as a "hub" between its 5 neighbors. It is about the size of the US state of Oregon, or the European country of Romania. But with a population slightly more than Canada, 10 times that of Oregon, and 1/3 more than Romania, it is an important East African country. Graphic from

Uganda, as with so many other sub-saharan African countries, has a troubled colonial and post-colonial history. In spite of the challenges left behind by the colonial period and the first few national leaders, the country under the leadership of its current President Museveni, has actually been one of the steadier success stories over the past two decades. Museveni was instrumental in overthrowing the notorious Idi Amin in the late 70s and came to power in the mid 80s.

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President Museveni after voting in a recent election. Photo from the BBC

Over the years of his governance, Uganda has moved forward in terms of internal stability, economic growth, reducing the country's poverty rate, and using its military for regional peacekeeping efforts. To his credit, Museveni was in the forefront of acknowledging the scourge of AIDS/HIV in his country and the continent from the mid 80s on, overseeing the growth of a capable network of health workers and clinics to provide medicines to combat its effects. But as noted last fall in an article in the Irish Times, "For many Ugandans, Yoweri Museveni is the president who brought democracy to a country reeling after decades of dictatorship and went on to steer it towards strong economic growth. For other more critical voices, however, he is the leader who, after almost three decades in power, increasingly looks like Uganda’s president for life...."

The last several years have seen a more mixed record. Uganda has continued to creep up the charts regarding the prevalence of corruption, and reports are plentiful of government elites enriching themselves as a cost of doing business. Uganda was quick to intervene in the recent South Sudan/Sudan conflict, but could find it less easy to disengage.

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The latest placement of Ugandan troops is in South Sudan, to support the government against a rebellion. Photo from

All of this is background to the recent law the Ugandan parliament passed, and Museveni recently signed, even though he reduced or removed some of the very onerous elements.

Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014

Passed in Parliament in late December, it was signed by President Museveni in late February, though only after he negotiated some of the more egregious provisions out of the law, such as the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality." As the BBC summarizes the law, "The new law is blunt and uncompromising. Having spelled out its definition of homosexuality - which includes touching another person "with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality" - the act concludes that convicted offenders will be sentenced "to imprisonment for life." The offence of "aggravated homosexuality" - which includes having sex with "a person living with HIV" or being "a serial offender" - will also lead to life imprisonment.

Homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda (albeit due to laws put in place by colonial powers). ... However the new law makes it a criminal offence to conduct a marriage ceremony between persons of the same sex, or to promote homosexuality in any form. Individuals can be sentenced to seven years in jail."

According to another BBC article, "government spokesman Ofwono Opondo told Reuters news agency Mr Museveni wanted "to demonstrate Uganda's independence in the face of Western pressure and provocation" while the President was also quoted by Time, as editorializing, “What sort of people are they?” he asked in the interview. “I never knew what they were doing. I’ve just been told recently and what they do is terrible. Disgusting.” And within a day, a Ugandan tabloid provided a list of 200 individuals the paper claimed as homosexuals.

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First bit of advice, stop reading tabloids! Photo from

Where does this go from here?

The western world and institutions have been quick to react. The World Bank postponed a loan to Uganda in protest, though ironically, the loan was to cover further health care programs (again the little people bear the brunt ...), and the UN Human Rights Office condemned the measure. The US has announced it is reviewing its relations with Uganda (though ironically, there are reports that a few US evangelical personalities have had much to do with members of Uganda's parliament initiating the measure to begin with.)

Hopefully, in response to this legislation, there will be a similar backlash in the form of some responsible education on the subject, as well as challenges to a variety of prevailing social norms. Photo from

Internally, the country could pursue a witchhunt, or provoke a backlash under the legitimate question, "if that was a list now, who might be on the next list for what new reason."

The larger silence

What has Teatree riled up in addition to the legislation at hand, is that this action comes from a country within a continent where HIV/AIDs has decimated the future of many nations and institutions, all stemming from sexual predation of the young by the adults, to put it bluntly. Despite the millions of deaths from sexually transmitted diseases, there persists beliefs in sleeping with virgins to cure AIDS (of the male), a need to pleasure and satisfy women so they won't get out of hand, and a backroom chortling over conquests and easy liaisons that seems to often be role-modeled by political leaders themselves (thinking South Africa here). The simple fact remains, African countries have done little to question these long held social norms or beliefs, which have indirectly resulted in an explosion of the numbers of orphans and orphanages, and the loss of institutions themselves (for example, more teachers dying in given years than are being trained ...). At the very least, it seems that there are always other issues to garner attention rather than the most far-reaching and devastation. Anti-gay legislation is the most recent case in point.

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The prevalence of AIDS/HIV cases across the continent - each dot representing not only 10,000 people living with AIDS, but futures on hold or in ashes, and often children with dim prospects. Graphic from

Children who have lost one or both parents to AIDS. To be fair, Uganda's high numbers may reflect its more accurate and comprehensive surveying ... Graphic from

How can it be that in the 21st century, albinos are being hunted down in Tanzania for body parts that provide "magical powers." But what does come to the surface? A Ugandan (and Nigerian) crackdown on gays.

Teatree can only hope that out of this maddening focus on homosexuals, at least a few African countries decide to make a stand and address not only this injustice, but the larger unspoken issues regarding sexual practices and beliefs in their own societies.