Downgraded Agatha Brings Heavy Rain to Southern Mexico

The storm that came ashore in southwestern Mexico as Hurricane Agatha is expected to dissipate late Tuesday, but after dropping more heavy rains over the region. Oaxaca Governor Alejandro Murat urged people to remain cautious Tuesday with the ongoing threat of rain, but he said there were no reports of any deaths from the storm. Agatha made landfall Monday near the Oaxaca town of Puerto Angel, bringing flooding rains and strong winds, and triggering several mudslides. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm, which was rated a Category Two hurricane, was the strongest to make a May landfall on Mexico’s Pacific coast since record keeping began in 1949. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters …

New WHO Panel to Speed Up Pandemic Response, Address Shortcomings

The World Health Organization’s governing board agreed on Monday to form a new committee to help speed up its response to health emergencies like COVID-19.  The U.N. Health Agency faced criticism for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the pace of its response to early cases that may have delayed detection and helped the virus to spread. Some disease experts say that governments and WHO must avoid repeating such early missteps with other outbreaks like monkeypox. Read full story.  The resolution, passed unanimously at the 34-member Executive Board’s annual meeting, will form a new Standing Committee on Health Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response to help address some of the perceived shortcomings.    Formal WHO meetings are sometimes spaced months apart, and under the new initiative, the new body would meet immediately after the director-general declares a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) — a decision that triggers calls for extra funding, public health measures and a series of recommendations aimed at controlling disease spread.  “This was probably one of the weakest points during the last pandemic that member states or governing bodies didn’t have the opportunity to have immediate consultations after this PHEIC of the last pandemic was declared,” Austria’s Clemens Martin Auer, who proposed the resolution, told the Executive Board.    He added that the new committee would also conduct oversight of WHO’s health emergencies program in ordinary times to ensure it is fit to respond.  “I think the standing committee will be an indispensable part of the new …

Ghanaian Lawmaker Abolishes Medical Exam Fees for Sexual Assault Victims

In Ghana, sexual assault victims must show medical reports to prove they have been assaulted before a rape suspect can be prosecuted. These medical examinations come at a relatively high cost, and are not covered by the national health insurance, and so can deter a victim from pressing charges. Now, a lawmaker is seeking to abolish the health exam requirement so that more women are able to pursue justice. Senanu Tord reports from Battor, Ghana. …

WHO: Monkeypox Won’t Turn into Pandemic, But Many Unknowns

The World Health Organization’s top monkeypox expert said she doesn’t expect the hundreds of cases reported to date to turn into another pandemic, but acknowledged there are still many unknowns about the disease, including how exactly it’s spreading and whether the suspension of mass smallpox immunization decades ago may somehow be speeding its transmission. In a public session on Monday, WHO’s Dr. Rosamund Lewis said it was critical to emphasize that the vast majority of cases being seen in dozens of countries globally are in gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men, so that scientists can further study the issue and for populations at risk to take precautions. “It’s very important to describe this because it appears to be an increase in a mode of transmission that may have been under-recognized in the past,” said Lewis, WHO’s technical lead on monkeypox. Still, she warned that anyone is at potential risk of the disease, regardless of their sexual orientation. Other experts have pointed out that it may be accidental that the disease was first picked up in gay and bisexual men, saying it could quickly spill over into other groups if it is not curbed. To date, WHO said 23 countries that haven’t previously had monkeypox have reported more than 250 cases. Lewis said it’s unknown whether monkeypox is being transmitted by sex or just the close contact between people engaging in sexual activity and described the threat to the general population as “low.” “It is not yet known …

2021 Another Record Year for Meth Seizures in Southeast Asia

Methamphetamine seizures across East and Southeast Asia hit yet another record high in 2021, proof of the “staggering” scale and reach the region’s drug gangs have gained after a decade of steady growth that looks set to continue, the United Nations says in a new report. In Synthetic Drugs in East and Southeast Asia: Latest Development and Challenges, issued Monday in Bangkok, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime says seizures of meth tablets topped 1 billion for the first time last year. While crystal meth, or ice, seizures dipped slightly to 79 metric tons, it says, total meth seizures by weight were a record 171.5 metric tons in 2021, nearly eight times the total seizures a decade ago. Combined with stable or falling street and wholesale prices across the region, the UNODC says the spiraling drug hauls are evidence of soaring production more than stepped-up law enforcement. “It is fair to say the region is struggling badly to address meth, and frankly to deal with other synthetic drugs as well,” Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC’s representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, told VOA. “There needs to be a radical policy shift and rebalancing if the region wants to get to a point of managing the meth problem or making some headway,” he added. Border battle With fewer and fewer busts of meth labs across the region, the UNODC says production continues to concentrate in the notorious Golden Triangle, a rugged and remote domain of warlords, drug gangs and gunrunners …

Shanghai to Lift ‘Unreasonable’ Curbs on Firms, Beijing Eases Restrictions 

Shanghai said on Sunday “unreasonable” curbs on businesses will be removed from June 1 as it looks to lift its COVID-19 lockdown, while Beijing reopened parts of its public transport as well as some malls and other venues as infections stabilized. The Chinese commercial hub of 25 million people aims to essentially end from Wednesday a two-month lockdown that has severely damaged the economy and seen many residents lose income, struggle to source food and to cope with the isolation. The painful coronavirus curbs in major Chinese cities run counter to trends seen in the rest of the world, which has largely tried to return to normal life even as infections spread. Shanghai, China’s most populous city, will end many conditions for businesses to resume work from June 1. The city also launched measures to support its economy, including reducing some taxes on car purchases, accelerating issuance of local government bonds, and speeding up approvals of real estate projects. Shanghai will ask banks to renew loans to small and medium firms worth a total of $15 billion this year. “We will fully support and organize the resumption of work and production of enterprises in various industries and fields,” vice mayor Wu Qing told reporters, adding that “unreasonable” COVID restrictions on businesses would be lifted. Wu did not give details of which restrictions would be cancelled. Shanghai in April started publishing “white lists” of important manufacturers in the auto industry, life sciences, chemicals and semiconductors allowed to resume operations. But many …

Baby Formula Shortage Highlights US Racial Disparities

Capri Isidoro broke down in tears in the office of a lactation consultant.  The mother of two had been struggling to breastfeed her 1-month-old daughter ever since she was born, when the hospital gave the baby formula first without consulting her on her desire to breastfeed.  Now, with massive safety recall and supply disruptions causing formula shortages across the United States, she also can’t find the specific formula that helps with her baby’s gas pains.  “It is so sad. It shouldn’t be like this,” said Isidoro, who lives in the Baltimore suburb of Ellicott City. “We need formula for our kid, and where is this formula going to come from?”  As parents across the United States struggle to find formula to feed their children, the pain is particularly acute among Black and Hispanic women. Black women have historically faced obstacles to breastfeeding, including a lack of lactation support in the hospital, more pressure to formula feed and cultural roadblocks. It’s one of many inequalities for Black mothers : They are far more likely to die from pregnancy complications, and less likely to have their concerns about pain taken seriously by doctors.  Low-income families buy the majority of formula in the U.S., and face a particular struggle: Experts fear small neighborhood grocery stores that serve these vulnerable populations are not replenishing as much as larger retail stores, leaving some of these families without the resources or means to hunt for formula.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 20% …

Weather’s Unwanted Guest: Nasty La Nina Keeps Popping up

Something weird is up with La Nina, the natural but potent weather event linked to more drought and wildfires in the western United States and more Atlantic hurricanes. It’s becoming the nation’s unwanted weather guest and meteorologists said the U.S. Western states megadrought won’t go away until La Nina does. The current double-dip La Nina set a record for strength last month and is forecast to likely be around for a rare but not quite unprecedented third straight winter. And it’s not just this one. Scientists are noticing that in the past 25 years the world seems to be getting more La Ninas than it used to and that is just the opposite of what their best computer model simulations say should be happening with human-caused climate change. “They (La Ninas) don’t know when to leave,” said Michelle L’Heureux, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast office for La Nina and its more famous flip side, El Nino. An Associated Press statistical analysis of winter La Ninas show that they used to happen about 28% of the time from 1950 to 1999, but in the past 25 winters, they’ve been brewing nearly half the time. There’s a small chance that this effect could be random, but if the La Nina sticks around this winter, as forecast, that would push the trend over the statistically significant line, which is key in science, said L’Heureux. Her own analysis shows that La Nina-like conditions are occurring more often in the last …